About Nola Wilken

Cycling enthusiast and owner of Restoring Vintage Bicycles; CPA/Founder of Wilken & Company, P.C., CPAs

The Bridgestone is Back!

It’s been a typical gloomy winter in Portland this year, with plenty of grey, stormy days.  Normally I ride my winter bike – a 1987 Panasonic MC7500 which I converted to a commuter bike quite a while back.  But this winter, the bike just didn’t speak to me as it has in the past, and I’ve decided to sell it and let someone else enjoy its funky delights.  I had previously stripped the Bridgestone MB-3 bike down to the frame a while back as well, as the build I did at the time also didn’t really stick.  I guess I am fickle!

So, for this iteration of the 1989 Bridgestone MB3, I decided to focus carefully on what would make the bike a keeper for me.  As I’ve aged, I find that I want lower gearing, and I’ve also come to prefer index-style rear cassettes combined with friction shifting.  For commuting and roaming weekend rides I love the silent and immediate shifting this set up offers.

Of course, that meant using some NOS Suntour shifters mounted on V-O’s thumbies, which allow you to mount any brand of shifters so you can be as creative as you like (unlike Paul’s thumbies which are brand specific).  I also used a new V-O Tourist bar, which has a nice shape without a huge amount of rise.  For this build I did not cut the bars down because I wanted a little more room in the grip area.

I also used some NOS Suntour brake levers that came complete with the original cables and special ferrules.  These brakes have reach adjustment and are spring loaded, with a comfortable cover over the lever portion.  Very nice.

Continuing on with my Suntour NOS theme I used the Suntour XC cantilevers which I had used on the original build.  The set up for these is a bit of a learning curve, as the spring tension is adjustable on only one side.  What I’ve learned is that positioning the brake arm on the adjustable side so that it matches where the other non adjustable side falls is the quickest way to get the tension on both sides to be equal.  Once properly set up the brakes are not grabby and easy to modulate.  For the rear hanger, I used a model that has an angle adjustment screw which really helps with setting up cantis and centerpulls.  It is a very short hanger, which works very well with smaller frames, allowing more cable travel from the straddle cable.  You generally need at least 20mm of travel, but I’ve got lots more than that by using this shorter hanger.

At this point, my love affair with Suntour had to end.  I had originally thought about using some NOS BL Black derailleurs that I had in my collection, but they did not work well with my chosen 8 speed 12-34 cassette.  So, I went with the excellent offerings from Shimano:  a new long cage Deore rear derailleur mated to a NOS 105 derailleur up front.  The crankset is a new V-O 46/30 double.  This gives me a gear inch range of 22-95.

The wheelset is one that I built a while back – Shimano Ultegra hubs laced to Mavic X221 rims.  I’m trying out these Schwalbe Kojak 35 mm tires, which are tread-less.  They are designed as a road tire, but with extra flat protection for commuting.  They are lightweight at 295 grams each.  And they roll very well, a bit faster and quieter than the Pasela’s I usually use for commuting duty.  So far, I really like them which is amazing as I usually have nothing good to say about Schwalbe tires.

This model Bridgestone was built with Ishiwata triple butted 4130 Cro-Mo tubes, with a Cro-Mo unicrown fork.  The frame is lugged and has a couple of degrees of slope in the top tube, enough to allow a large enough head tube for lugs in this small framed bike.  The understated (for the 80’s) black and grey paint is still in excellent condition and the bike’s logos are vibrant and intact.  There are two bottle cage mounts, as well as fender eyelets and rack mounts on the seat stays.

I decided to finally use this wooden fender set that was given to me many years ago.  I never had the right project for them so they sat unused in my fender drawer.  The normally torturous process involved in setting up fenders and racks was no less so with this bike.  The wooden fenders have an unusual stay attachment with a shouldered washer that was difficult to master.  The fenders were originally designed for 700c wheels, so I’m letting them bend into place before I cut down the projectile-like stays to the right size.  Likewise, the rear rack required a bit of problem solving as I wanted to use this classic Italian Vetta rack with its single brake bridge stay.  Unfortunately the straddle cable for the cantilever brakes landed right in the path of the brake bridge stay, so I got creative and found a way to use the bike’s seat tube rack braze-ons with this vintage rack. 

The relatively short chain stays on this bike (42.5 cm) meant that I needed to use a narrow pannier to avoid heel strikes when pedaling.  These older and very inexpensive Avenir bags came to the rescue.  Although small, they can hold more than it would seem at first glance, so I plan to use them throughout the winter, as they are also reasonably waterproof.

On the bike’s first test ride I had an unpleasant experience.  While riding through Mt. Tabor park, an unleashed Pitbull escaped from the off-leash area, charged toward me with bared teeth and proceeded to latch on to my ankle as I was pedaling uphill.  After kicking him off (along with various shouted expletives), the dog then went for my wrist and at this point I had to stop pedaling to avoid crashing.  Fortunately, the dog’s apologetic owner arrived on the scene and finally got the dog leashed.  Because it was a rainy day I was wearing rain booties over my shoes, plus rain tights, and thick wool socks and so thankfully I had no broken skin on my ankle or wrist, and no trip to the emergency room was required.  The bike performed very well through this emergency and I did not crash.

Is this bike a keeper?  So far I’m thrilled with the silent, stable ride, the smooth shifting, and the lower gearing for hill-climbing.  The bike looks beautiful and has already garnered compliments. Hopefully I’ve landed on a winter bike that will keep me going for the years ahead.  We’ll see!

Sachs Orbit Hybrid Hub Overhaul

Sachs Orbit hub on 1973 Jack Taylor

Wanting to continue my deep dive into internally geared hubs, and looking for a few good projects to stave off the winter doldrums, I decided to overhaul the Sachs Orbit hybrid hub on my 1973 Jack Taylor, as it has been feeling a little sluggish and probably needs some attention, given that I’ve done nothing to it since I acquired the bike years ago except to give it a drop of oil now and then. The previous owner of my Jack Taylor had modified the original rear wheel to include this hub, instead of a standard freewheel type hub, thus allowing the removal of the front derailleur and one chain ring.

In researching the history of the hub, I discovered that the Orbit was part of a component group (the “Commander”) that featured index shifting and was introduced in the early 1980’s by Sachs-Huret, the original company Fichtel and Sachs having purchased a controlling interest in Huret at about this time.  This gave Sachs-Huret the jump on Shimano, who came out with their S.I.S. indexing system in 1984.  It should be noted that SunTour introduced its unpopular version of index shifting in 1969, and of course, index shifting existed far earlier than that with the Schulz Funiculo derailleur patented back in the early 1930’s (these derailleurs could also handle 40T cogs!).

The above catalog scans of the Commander groupset feature the six speed version of the 2 speed hybrid hub, giving 12 gears overall.  The Commander’s method of indexing used a clicking shifter paired with a cam on the derailleur parallelogram.  It never caught on, perhaps because of the clunky looking shifters and the mysterious hub, as well as the use of a cam on the derailleur which meant a little more difficulty in tuning the derailleur properly.  The whole thing may have been a bridge too far, and once Shimano came out with its easy to set up and use indexing, there was simply no way the Commander groupset could compete.  And that may explain why these hubs are so rare. Over its relatively short lifespan the Orbit was offered in 5, 6 and 7 speed versions, and many of these hubs came with drum brakes.

What is a hybrid hub? It’s an internally geared hub (IGH) that also has room for more than one cog on its driver/freehub.  This means that for bikes that cannot have a front derailleur (folding bikes come to mind), for bikes with small wheels that need taller gearing, or for cyclists that prefer not to have more than one chainring up front, adding a hybrid hub can provide the same gear range as a wide ratio triple crankset.  Over the next few decades SRAM went on to offer a whole range of hybrid hubs, but currently I believe that only Sturmey Archer is in the hybrid hub business.

Early 1990’s NOS Sachs Orbit hub

Because of the difficulty in finding parts for these hubs, I purchased a NOS version a while back.  This one was built in the early 1990’s.  Before overhauling the hub on my Jack Taylor I thought it wise to use the NOS hub as my learning platform.  In the process I noted some differences between the older and newer versions, which I will comment on below.

John Allen, on the Sheldon Brown site, has some good information on the Orbit hub as well as some links to other sites with helpful resources.  In addition, disraeligears.co.uk has extensive commentary regarding the Commander groupset and useful catalog scans as well.

Sachs Orbit schematics

Catalogue scan courtesy of disraeligears.co.uk

With its relatively simple operation, as compared to a three speed hub, I hoped to be able to overhaul the Orbit even though there are no service manuals available. The above hub schematics are useful, but don’t take the place of a step by step service manual.

The first step for my NOS hub was to remove the cogs (this hub unfortunately has no outer hardware, but if it did, you would remove that first).   The larger cogs are splined, and the smallest two cogs are threaded.  Each cog is separated with a spacer.  From there, it should be noted that the drive side cone is machined to the axle, so all work is done from the non-drive side.  These hubs do not use anti-rotation washers, and should work with fine with any kind of rear drop out, vertical or horizontal because the hub uses a derailleur for chain tensioning. The axle’s M10x1 threading is not compatible with Sturmey Archer, nor with other Sachs/SRAM hubs.

Once the non-drive side cone is removed, you can lift the hub shell out of the hub body.  The hub shell has ratchets on the inside to engage the pawls.  The hub body now consists of the driver, the planet cage and the pawl cage, as well as the clutch spring and “clutch pin”, also called the “sliding selector block” on the schematics.  There’s a circlip holding the clutch spring in place which is removed next, and the clutch spring comes out along with a stepped washer.  Then, the pawl assembly comes off.  You’ll note that the assembly has two sets of pawls, one set on the inside and one set on the outside.  You can also see that there is an outer gear ring on the pawl assembly that engages with the inner gear ring on the driver.

When the pawl assembly is off, the “clutch pin” has probably fallen away.  This is where the indicator spindle will connect so that the pawl assembly can be shifted.  The planet cage comes out next, but not before removing another circlip and washer, which hold the planet cage in place.  The washer is keyed and needs to be rotated to match the axle so that you can remove it.  The planet cage has another gear ring on its head portion that connects to the inner pawls of the pawl assembly.

There’s another piece inside the driver that helps to orient the planetary gears.  Once the parts are all out, the driver’s dust cap can be removed.  Note that it is “right side up” on this hub.  From here, I soaked all the parts in citrus degreaser, cleaned them with alcohol and then was ready to start re-assembly.  Since this is a NOS hub, there wasn’t much scrubbing involved.

Clean and shiny parts ready to go.

Clutch pin installed with spindle attached

Pulling up on the spindle the gear ring disengages from the driver

The pawl assembly at rest

The reassembly process went okay, except for a few problem areas to note:  you must reattach the spindle to the clutch pin after assembling the planet cage but before adding the pawl assembly.  When shifted, the pawl assembly is moved to the left side of the hub, disengaging it from the driver’s gear ring.  The inner pawls of the pawl carrier then engage with the planet cage’s smaller gear ring, thus giving a lower gear (about 25% lower).  Another difficulty in the reassembly is that the clutch spring must be compressed and held down while also trying to push the circlip into place, something that can take more than a few tries to complete.  And, don’t let your hands off the circlip, as it can go flying around if you fail to push it on to the axle, and since it is a small part it can be hard to locate.

Now it was time to overhaul the early 1980’s hub on the JT.  The first thing I noticed was that the older hub has a sealed bearing mechanism which includes a dust cap on top, as part of the cone, and an “upside down” dustcap underneath, which creates a seal, on both sides of the hub axle.

Whereas the newer hub has one regular dustcap on the drive side, and one upside down dustcap on the non-drive side.  No seal is created with this method.

Upon disassembly I found the JT hub to be pretty dirty, with a lot of black greasy oil accumulated around the planetary gears.  Also, there was an extra part on the planetary gear assembly that sits at the base that wasn’t part of the newer hub.  Its purpose may be to reduce drag, but I’m not sure about that.  Everything cleaned up fairly easily except for the tiny grooves in the gear rings, which needed extra cleaning with a brash brush and pipe cleaners.  The quality of the machining and the metals used seemed identical between the two hubs, and both appear to be well built and solid.

I was unable to remove the cogs on the older hub, but that fortunately did not interfere with the overhaul process as it’s easy to just leave the cogs on the drive.  It was a little more difficult to get the cogs clean, however.

Lubrication is important in these potentially inefficient hubs. While reassembling the NOS hub, I simply applied Phil’s waterproof grease to all the parts, plus some Tenacious Oil on the pawls, to protect it from shop wear.  But for the hub I am using I needed to gather together the MANY lubricants needed for these types of hubs:  marine grease for the troughs of the upside down dustcaps (to make a waterproof seal), Phil’s waterproof grease for all the bearing assemblies (less viscous than the marine grease), Sturmey Archer lithium grade “00” grease for the gear rings and planetary gears, and Phil’s Tenacious oil for the pawl springs and pawl bodies, then 10-30 automotive oil on all the rest of the internals.  After much reading on this subject, this combination seems best for weather protection and drag reduction.  Guidance on internal hub lubrication can be found at the Sheldon Brown site, the bikesmithdesign site, and at the Aaron’s Bike Repair Site.

The hub is now back together and ready to be taken for a test ride.  Hopefully it will feel more lively after being cleaned and with fresh lubrication.  I’ll have to save that for another day – it’s snowing outside!  Meanwhile, I plan to tackle the overhaul of a few more IGH hubs over the winter.

Easier Gearing on Older Three Speeds

There’s nothing like the comfort, reliability, and just plain fun of riding vintage three speed bicycles, especially those made by Raleigh and other U.K. manufacturers.  For decades, these bikes were the transportation of choice for the working class.  They are built to last, and their utility has already spanned across two centuries.  Properly cared for, these well built machines may outlast even our children’s children, and are a wonderful treasure to pass on to the future.

However, as built, these bikes are geared high and are difficult to ride uphill.  In practice, walking steep hills was the norm, as these bikes are also pretty heavy.

My 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist, weighing in at 45 lbs., is no exception.  Its gear inch range is 47-84 with its original 19T cog and 46T chainring.  Using the bike in my hilly neighborhood has meant being in the right frame of mind and sufficiently rested to be willing to put forth the physical exertion required.  But, why not gear it lower and get more enjoyment out of the bike given the environment in which I ride?

Well, one reason is that it is a sort of major PITA to remove the rear wheel.  Owning a bike with a full chainguard means a few extra steps to rear wheel removal.  Fortunately I’ve never had a flat in all of the 15 years I’ve had this bike, so I’ve lucked out in that regard but have of course removed the rear wheel on the few times over the years when I’ve given the bike a complete overhaul.  It rarely needs servicing, just a few drops of oil in the hub every now and then, so I’ve had this, one of my oldest bikes, in the shop stand much less often than my other bikes.

But, it’s actually not that bad once you get started.  There are two screws at the back and bottom of the chainguard which when removed allow you to remove a back section of the guard, and then the wheel can be dropped out (after first disconnecting the indicator spindle from the cable of course).

And, to remove the rear wheel I’ve found it easiest to flip the bike upside down rather than hoist it into the work stand.  You can see what you are doing much easier, and there’s less likelihood of “losing” the chain inside the chainguard.  Even so, I like to place something there to keep the chain accessible, such as this wrench pictured above.

At this point, the fairly straightforward process of swapping the old cog for a new one with more teeth would be the next step.  However, you can see from the above photo that my cog is threaded to a threaded driver.  There aren’t 3 little notches which line up to the splines on the driver.  Uh oh!

Sturmey Archer began using splined drivers in their hubs in 1951, making swapping cogs relatively easy.  Because my Raleigh was made earlier, it has a threaded cog/driver, not a splined one.  So, an easy cog swap was out.  After doing some research, I concluded that I had two options if I wanted to lower the gearing:  remove the original cog and screw on a track cog (which is said to have the same threading) or swap out the driver for a newer splined driver.

Thinking that the simplest approach would be to simply unscrew the old cog and screw on a suitable replacement, I needed to find a way to hold the driver in place while using a chain whip (as I had already removed the driver from the hub).  Thanks to a helpful tip from bikesmithdesign.com I took a couple of matching Shimano 600 headset removal tools (I needed two to make the platform wide enough) and lined the handles up in my vice so I could place the slots between the driver’s “legs” over them.  It’s probably better to use aluminum bar stock as recommended, but my hack worked fine. A better approach would have been to leave the driver in the hub so that it’s still attached to the wheel, which provides more leverage. Trying it both ways I still couldn’t get the cog to unscrew, even after soaking it in some penetrating oil. It’s been on there for 72 years and doesn’t want to budge.

So, I switched to Plan B.

I harvested a splined driver from a 1978 hub, shown above, first removing the outer nuts and then the locknut and lock washer.  I had previously removed the cog, circlip, dust cap and spacers.

Then I put the left side axle in the vise and began to unscrew the cone on the right side.  The driver sits right underneath the cone and carries the bearing cup.  Removing the driver helps you to see why you must never do your cone adjustment from the right side:  the driver’s position is controlled by the spring underneath pushing up into the cone above.  It needs to be adjusted exactly as specified by Sturmey Archer so that the correct movement of the driver when the clutch is engaged by the shifter is achieved.

Making sure not to dislodge the plastic washer atop the clutch spring, you can remove the driver, but leave the clutch spring intact along with the washer sitting on top.  The recipient hub is going to get the driver, the dust cap, spacers, and circlip.  I also transferred the cone as well, since it was in better shape the original.

I carefully installed the new replacement driver onto the 1950 hub, and screwed the cone down finger tight, then backed it off 1/2 turn as per the S.A. instructions.  From there, the lock washer and locknut are installed.  I checked the hub for free play and then did a slight cone adjustment on the left side (NEVER ON THE RIGHT!), leaving just a tiny bit of free play, as recommended.

Then the exciting part:  installing the new cog.  Not knowing how much room I would have inside the chainguard I went with a 22T cog.  I didn’t want to risk having the chain rub against the inside of the guard.  So, fingers crossed that this one will work.  After noting the dishing on my original cog:  “bubble side down” I oriented this cog the same way.  I installed the dust cap underneath first, and found I also needed an extra spacer which I fortunately had on hand, pushed on the cog and snapped in the circlip.

After adding two chain links to accommodate the larger cog I tried mounting the wheel to first make sure that I had the right chain length.  The axle should sit comfortably in the middle of the dropout, which it does.  From there I installed the outer washers and nuts.  At this point, I turned the bike over and put it into the shop stand, as it was time to reinstall the hub spindle and check that the shifting was working and that there were no other issues such as a chain line problem or chain rub on the guard.  Fortunately, all was in order and shifting was perfect once I retuned it.

1951 Raleigh Catalog

My new gearing gives me 41-54-72 gear inches.  My first test ride gave me a glimpse of the fun I’m going to have.  The 54 is a comfortable “cruising gear”, which I define as an easy cadence on flats.  The low 41 gear, although NOT a 30, is still much better than it was, and the high gear of 72 is just fine as I really don’t need to blast down the hills.

The hub on this bike has always seemed almost self propelling.  It spins very well and has little friction, especially as compared to my other Sturmey Archer equipped bikes (older is better?).  I plan to spin my way into the coming seasons and hope that I’ve given this bike a chance to keep on spinning for another 70 years or more.