About Nola Wilken

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

Simplex Tour de France Rear Derailleur Adjustment

It’s been quite a few years since I last posted about how to set up a Simplex Tour de France rear derailleur.  These mechanisms were found on bikes dating from the late 1940’s to the early 1960’s, but are not in any way intuitive to fine tune.

The routing of the chain through the pulleys was so puzzling that Simplex had to include a chart in their technical instructions to indicate how this was to be done.  In fact, when I had first started my vintage bike restoration endeavors many years ago I had taken a vintage Peugeot to a reputable bike shop for some repair help with a rear wheel.  When the bike was returned to me, the chain had been incorrectly routed through the Simplex rear derailleur.  That shows just how perplexing this rear derailleur can be.

1953 French mystery mixte with Oscar Egg lugs

Recently, I have been working on my mystery French mixte with its Oscar Egg lugs.  The bike was equipped with tubulars which have proven to be a challenge to keep maintained, as I haven’t ridden this bike on a regular basis, even though they do offer a beautiful and comfortable ride. The glue holding the tires to the rims is no longer robust.  So, upon deciding to temporarily replace the tubular wheelset with a clincher set from the same early 1950’s era, I needed to perform a few tweaks to the Simplex TDF rear derailleur in order to get this bike set up so that I can ride it with more regularity.

My replacement clincher wheels are 700c 1950’s Super Champion rims laced to Normandy hubs.  I wanted to lower the gearing from the the original configuration, but had read that these rear derailleurs can only manage about 24-25 teeth maximum on the freewheel.  I found a 5 speed freewheel with French threads with a largest 25 tooth cog, and then adjusted the internal threaded shaft on the Simplex TDF rear derailleur to tune out the highest fifth gear, as this derailleur can only accommodate 4 gears.  (The bikes’ original drilled Regina freewheel’s largest cog is 21T).  This is accomplished by loosening and removing the nut on top of the knurled washer, and turning the threaded shaft as needed to position it correctly so that the chain lines up with the smallest and largest cogs as the pull chain is moved through its range of motion.  It takes a bit of trial and error.  The knurled nut is meant to be used to turn the shaft, but if that proves difficult, there are flats on the shaft which engage with a 12mm wrench.

Once the alignment to the cogs was correct, I proceeded to adjust the derailleur using the two spring tension adjustments available in this 1950’s rear derailluer:  chain tension, and pulley tension.  The chain tension is controlled by the spring on the arm, and the pulley tension is controlled by the tension on the pulley spring, using the notched mechanism, shown above.  Moving the pulley spring’s position clockwise increases the pulley tension.

Before going further into the weeds, it’s always a good idea to look at a component’s schematics.  Here is the front page of the TDF instruction guide included with these models.  I also consulted the excellent advice from Peter Underwood at the Classic Lightweights website.  After some contemplation, I decided to overhaul a NOS Simplex TDF that I had in inventory, which needed cleaning and re-greasing, hoping this would illuminate this derailleur model’s nuances.

Upon removing the outer nut with a 17mm wrench, I proceeded to removed the pulley cage, which takes an 11m wrench.  The outer steel flexible cover over the shaft reveals an internal spring.  This model had lots of extra washers, which I ended up not replacing (more later!).  After cleaning and lubricating all the parts, came the difficult task of getting the pulley cage back on to the shaft, with its attendant spring.  After some trial and error, I realized there is always a trick to getting derailleur spring back where it should be.

After taking time to review the schematics, I realized that I needed to move the threaded shaft as close as possible to the notched piece, so as to push the moveable part of the shaft down as far as possible.  While holding the spring and cover tightly in place, I was finally able to thread the pulley cage back on, sans a few washers!

And finally, I was successful at re-assembly.  This NOS derailleur now has free-running pulleys with all parts lubricated and is ready to roll.

Meanwhile, I had tried various adjustment scenarios, changing the chain tension and the pulley tension.  The above is a video I made discussing the various adjustments possible for this derailleur.  I initially set the chain tension to push the derailleur back so that I could use the 25T freewheel I had selected.  But, you will see from this video, that by doing so, my shifting performance has suffered.

So I decided to reduce the chain tension by adjusting the nut at the back of the mounting bolt (which has the chain tension spring threaded around it).  This is done by removing the spring from the arm, releasing the bolt, moving the spring back or forward (in this case, forward to reduce tension), and re-tightening the nut.

You can see from the above video that my shifting has improved dramatically.  However, upon taking the bike on a test ride, the torque on the drive train while riding caused the derailleur pulley to contact the 25T cog, making the bike unrideable in that gear.  So, back to the drawing board!  I’ll either switch the freewheel back down to a 24T model, or fiddle with the tension adjustments yet again (NOT!), and most likley swap out the front chain ring for something a bit smaller to help make this bike more rideable for a Portland commute.

Goodbye, Old Friend

I’ve bought and sold a lot of bikes and frames over the years.  Some were bikes that I meant to restore/refurbish and pass on, others were bikes that I rode for a while and decided against keeping them as daily riders. Letting a bike go doesn’t really mean much about the bike itself, but does mean something about the rider.  Each of us has unique interests, passions, body geometry, needs, desires, and energy, and some of these might change over time.  The right bike will be transformative.  Knowing when to let go of a bike is an elusive skill set.  Here are a few bikes I’ve passed on for others to enjoy:

A 1960’s Raleigh Royale, converted to 2 speed:  This bike was one of my forays into single speed riding.  I kept the close ratio double front crank, and used a single speed freewheel at the rear, with no front derailleur.  Riding this bike helped me realize how much I didn’t want to ride single speed or fixed.  The idea was that I would move the chain by hand on the front (a la the old days before front derailleurs) and then move the hub in the dropouts to adjust chain tension.  In practice, I never did this.

A Bridgestone X0-5:  this bike came to me with all original but low-end components.  I removed those and replaced them with some much nicer parts., including a SunTour Sprint crankset.  The very nice Cro-Mo frame on these bikes is the same as the higher end versions, and so with a bit of upgrading this was a wonderful bike to ride.  I kind of regret selling it now, but on several occasions I’ve spotted this bike out in Portland’s wild, ridden by its very happy new owner.

A Reynolds 531 Cilo Pacer:  this was my first foray into Swiss bikes.  Cilo went bankrupt in 2002, but prior to that was known for building some very nice machines.  The frame had some minor rust, and the components were racing oriented.  I decided to pass the bike on without building it up, as I wasn’t sure it would be right for me.  It was equipped with a full Campy groupset, which I saved, and ended up selling the frame to a very interested younger cyclist.

A 1979 Large Peugeot Mixte:  this basic Carbolite 103 Mixte was actually really fun to ride.  Everything on this bike worked well, with very little restoration needed.  It’s an extra large mixte – perfect for taller commuting cyclists, and features a front bottle dynamo, working perfectly.  I hope whoever has this bike is enjoying it.

A Schwinn Passage touring bike:  this is the bike that “got away”, and I now wish I still had this one in my stable.  It’s an amazingly competent and practical touring bike that works equally well for commuting and sport riding.

An Early 1980’s Davidson:  I wanted to love this bike, but never was able to come to terms with its geometry.  I put a lot of miles on the bike before selling the frame and fork to a cyclist planning a touring adventure.  I kept the original Shimano 600 components, transferring many of them to my early 1990’s Terry Symmetry.

If a bike doesn’t feel right for you, even after making a few modifications, then it’s time to pass it on to another rider.  A bike that gets ridden adds so much value to the whole scheme of life.  Bikes are highly personal, very unlike cars.  The comfort of the cyclist is paramount, so don’t feel bad about selling a bike on.  Its new owner may find a lifelong friend.

Portland Bikeshare 2.0 – E-bikes!

Many cities have gone to e-bikes for their bikeshare programs, and Portland is one of them.  Its first bikeshare launch several years ago was pretty much a bust, although PBOT and the Biketown folks will certainly never admit this.  Those bikes were clunky, bad handling, heavy, and exceedingly unpleasant to ride.  I used that system exactly 2 times, swearing to never ride them again, and as I love to ride all kinds of bikes, that should tell you something.

In early September, the “old” fleet was decommissioned (not without some controversy), and the new e-bikes hit the streets.  The new system is run by Lyft, which will be a familiar platform for many city dwellers who use ride share.  The launch experienced some unfortunate timing problems:  dangerous wildfire smoke enveloped the city for many days, causing a temporary shut-down of the new bikeshare program, then torrential rains and winds followed shortly thereafter, meaning that no one was biking in Pdx.  But finally, clean air and good weather returned, giving me the opportunity to test out these bikes in Portland’s ideal fall weather.

My first test ride was totally unplanned:  I came across a stable of these bikes on one of my noon walks, and decided spontaneously to hop on and go for a ride.  The process was very easy.  I downloaded the Biketown app, scanned the code on the rear fender, and bam! the bike was unlocked.  Before doing this, I checked all the bikes in this line-up for the one with the best feel on the brake levers and tires, and checked to make sure that the seatpost clamp would hold (something I learned from my prior and limited experience with Portland Bikeshare).  The bikes are tall, and weighty – somewhere between 75 and 85 lbs, according to various web sources.  They feature a front disk brake and rear drum.  The gears (using a continuously variable rear hub) are controlled by a simple grip shifter.  The drive train uses a chain instead of the unpleasant shaft drive on the previous models.  The power is always on, and theoretically delivers juice based on the cadence and force on the crank.  The front and rear lights come on once the bike is underway.  There is a minimal front rack (more on this later), which is (over) rated for 25 lbs.

On my first ride, learning how to unlock the bike wasn’t immediately intuitive.  I tried pulling the cable straight out, but it wouldn’t budge.  Finally I jiggled it a bit and it broke free.  Once out, you put the locking end into the pink “holster” shown above, while riding.  When you are ready to terminate the ride, you park the bike (properly  – more on this later!) and secure it by putting the lock back in place.

The Schwalbe tires were fine, offering some shock absorption, but the bike did bounce around and rattle a quite a bit while underway. The front-end handling of this bike is vastly improved over its predecessor, but even so it wants to fall into corners and is wobbly while getting underway, a fact made much worse by its sit up and beg riding position which doesn’t allow the cyclist to weight the bars for control.  Even so, slowing down while approaching stop lights, I was able to avoid putting a toe down (a long ways down it is!) for the most part, so slow speed handling is not bad for such a heavy machine.  While stopped with your foot down, the bike’s front end will flop over, so you have to actively keep the fork pointed straight ahead it to keep it upright.  The battery is mounted on the sloping downtube, and contains some very simplistic instructions on how to unlock and lock the bike.

The bike’s front rack is too small to hold a standard sized brief case, and the very tight bungee cord supplied will squash your bag and possibly even damage its contents.  Fortunately, I was using my “vegan” brief case which can take extreme abuse, as shown above, and still bounce back to normal.  There’s no bottle cage mount, and the rack itself is shallow.  Riding with a bag, even my lightweight one shown above, adversely affected the handling and made the front end more ponderous than in its unladen condition.  I smooshed my water bottle in, and hoped that it wouldn’t pop out while underway, which fortunately it did not.

Biketown does not provide any technical data regarding these bikes, except perhaps upon request, but I have been able to determine that the rear hub is a Nuvinci continuously variable unit as licensed to Enviolo.  I don’t know what groupset this is, but I did feel that the gear range provided was adequate for the steep hills I encounter on my usual routes.  You move the grip shift forward to lower the gearing, and back to ride in higher gears.  Shifting was seamless, as expected, but power delivery was very uneven.  On uphill stretches, it seems that the motor only responds to a higher cadence rather than to pressure on the cranks, which I found out while trying to get myself up Mt. Tabor.  Pedaling an 85 lbs bike up a steep hill with very little power assist is the stuff of muscle strains, as I found out the next day.  Finally, when I shifted to a REALLY low gear, the power kicked in and I was spinning away to the top.

Braking performance was adequate, but with such a heavy bike it takes longer to stop, so planning ahead is needed when approaching stops.  The rear brake was almost useless, but the front performed reasonably well on the four different journeys I took.  You’ll notice the difference in the feel of the brake levers – they are clearly operating two different kinds of brakes.  I worry about less experienced riders not understanding the extra time needed to slow down, especially in emergency situations, and given that average speeds are much higher on e-bikes.  But, there’s no danger of doing an endo on these machines.

The Biketown app is user friendly and intuitive to use.  When you want to ride, you open up the app and up pops a map of the bikes available in your area.  The app shows battery life (in miles) for any bike you click on, and also shows you the number of minutes estimated to walk to the bike of your choice, which you can reserve in advance if you want.  That, so far, would be completely unnecessary, as virtually no one is currently riding these bikes.  The above shows a recent screen shot taken from my iPhone app.  The map contains no legend, which turned out to be an important omission, potentially costing a lot of money to unsuspecting riders (see more below).

Pricing of rides has been controversial.  For the four rides I took recently, I spent a total of $15.60 and traveled a mere 7 miles.  At 20 cents per minute (without $99 membership fee which lowers the price to 10 cents per minute), I also racked up extra $1 charges whenever I didn’t park the bike at at “station”.  Even though the instructions on the bike say it can be parked at any “public” bike rack, there’s a $1 charge whenever it is not left at a “station”.  The map on my iPhone doesn’t clearly identify stations, but even if it did, parking the bike wherever one ends up is the ideal situation, and I think it’s unfortunate that the Biketown folks decided to tack on this extra charge, as it reduces the bikes’ usefulness as an alternative to other transport modes.

To determine whether you should spring for the $99 annual fee, I created this formula, where X represents the breakeven number of rides and Y = the average number of minutes per ride.  In the formula below, I’ve set Y at 15 minutes, which then yielded 40 rides per year as the breakeven for buying a membership:

(15*.2)*X+(X*1)=99+((15*.1)*x))

My last ride of the four I took on these bikes ended unpleasantly.  I wanted to ride the bike home, and park nearby.  Of course, there are no public racks in Portland’s residential neighborhoods (but clearly there should be).  So, the next best thing was to leave the bike in Mt. Tabor park, locked up to a sign post, but away from the right of way for pedestrians.  As it turns out, I was charged a $25 fee, later waived, for parking in a “no parking zone”.  How do we know it’s a no parking zone?  As I said, there’s no legend on the map, but I finally learned that anything outlined in red is a no parking zone.  So, beware, and study your map closely before locking up.

All of which is counterproductive to the whole idea behind these bikeshare programs. If the goal is to reduce driving, I can’t see that happening with this program, except for maybe the short “last mile” jaunts or quick trips near someone’s workplace.  If the goal is economic justice and greater access to transit for low income populations, these bikes fail on three counts:  stations are non existent along large swaths of north and northeast Portland, the cost is astronomical compared to public transit, and the bikes are not capable of hauling groceries and work tools.  While they do go faster than regular bikes, that efficiency is quickly lost in the time it takes to locate and walk to one of these bikes. The lack of available helmets, combined with the extra speed and ponderous handling characteristics raises safety concerns as well.

I do think that e-bikes represent a great opportunity to get people out of their cars and moving for transit, but I don’t see bikeshare as a way to optimize this.  Someday, I may own an e-bike, and be glad for it, but in the meantime I’m planning on enjoying my vintage, lightweight steel machines, with their wonderful performance and superb handling.