Removing (or Not) a Stuck T.A. Fixed Cup

I recently took my 1980 Meral out for a spin, and found myself not enjoying the ride.  At first I thought the problem was me – I’ve been getting back in shape after a long and unpleasant illness over the winter and spring.  But as I climbed Mt. Tabor heading home, I realized that something must be going on with the bike.  When I pulled into my garage I remembered that I hadn’t overhauled the bike since building it up back in 2013.  Um, that’s 6 years!  Whoops! So, I put it up into my stand and found that the rear wheel hub was rough, and the bottom bracket was REALLY rough.

I had purchased the frame and fork, which included the T.A. BB, in late 2012 from a French seller on eBay.  In early 2013 I built it up, converting it to 650b in the process.  One of the issues I encountered during that process was not being successful at removing the T.A. fixed cup from the bottom bracket, even after putting it in my vise and using the frame for leverage.  I built it up and went about my business, using the original T.A. 374 spindle with its 122mm length.  I remember that I had a lot of trouble getting the BB adjusted correctly, and at the time wondered if the lock ring had been cross threaded at some point.

New (1953) lockring threaded on to 1980 T.A. adjustable cup.

Original locking on top, replacement on the bottom. The 1953 replacement is oddly in much better shape than its 1980 counterpart.

When I removed the adjustable cup and lockring I found that it had indeed been cross threaded at some point.  Fortunately, the threads on the cup were fine, so I located a suitable French threaded lockring replacement – this one from a 1953 BB that used a cottered crank spindle.  It was in great shape and threaded on to the cup beautifully.  So, that problem was solved, and I proceeded to clean the cups, repack them with grease, and install new bearings.  But, the same problem I had encountered initially did not go away.  I could not get an adjustment that eliminated freeplay but also allowed for a smooth feel when turning the spindle.

Locking adjustment method NOT recommended by Sheldon Brown.

I did a little research and even tried out Sheldon Brown’s lockring adjustment method which involves NOT holding the adjustable cup in place while tightening the lockring, and instead letting them move together for the final adjustment.  This is not how I learned to adjust BB’s, but the method seems to have some merit:  because of the design of the threaded cup, tightening the lockring while holding the cup with the spanner tool, could actually loosen the adjustment.  Ultimately, neither method (mine or Sheldon’s) would give me a perfect adjustment.  At that point I concluded that maybe I just wanted to replace the BB with something different.  Let the torture begin!

Fixed cup removal tool – a la Sheldon

Various wrenches for providing leverage, including a Park alignment tool

Tightening the fixed cup tool using some torque wrenches.

The process for removing a French threaded fixed cup with Sheldon’s removal tool is different from a “normal” fixed cup because the threads are right hand instead of left hand so the cup is removed with a counter clockwise motion.  After tightening the hell out of the nut on the outer side of the fixed cup so that it can’t be tightened any further, you then tighten the bolt on the inside, thus moving the washers in a counter clockwise motion.  I tried out all of my tools at hand and even attached the Park took to my breaker bar for extra leverage, but had no luck in turning the BB shell.  I also tried the reverse process, just in case this was one of those French BB’s that was threaded in a non French way, but to no avail.

So, to kick it up a notch, I soaked the BB with penetrating oil for a week.  In order to keep the oil inside the cup, which I filled to the brim, I used a Belgian Ale cork, more dense than a regular wine cork, and shaved it to fit into the lower opening of the fixed cup, then held the frame horizontal in my stand.  A few drops leaked out over the week (it IS penetrating oil after all), but the bulk of the oil stayed inside the cup, hopefully breaking through the frozen threads.  Hope springs eternal!

But that did not work at all.  Even after getting more leverage on my breaker bar by placing the bike upside down and using all my body weight to push down on the Park tool attached to the breaker bar, the fixed cup would still not turn.  Foiled!

Now was the time to end my suffering by accepting reality.  The fixed cup was here to stay.  So, then I pondered whether the T.A. 374 spindle was slightly warped, thus making it impossible to achieve an adjustment.  I searched my parts bin for a replacement and found a Stronglight 118 mm spindle that was in nice condition.  The 4 mm shorter spindle would not cause any problems because I already had plenty of chainring clearance with the other spindle (using 2 rings on a T.A. crankset).  I put the replacement spindle in, and achieved a perfect adjustment on the first try!  So, while I was never able to removed the fixed cup, at least I’m going to be able to continuing enjoying my sweet little Meral 650b.

A Bike to Make You Smile

1987 Panasonic MC 7500

Last summer, I set aside my 1987 Panasonic MC 7500 frame, after transferring many of its components to a 1989 Bridgestone MB3.  I rode the Bridgestone through the summer and fall, but found myself riding it less and less, and ultimately it sat unridden since last December.  Although that frame is similar in size to the Panasonic, its geometry is slightly different, with a longer and sloping top tube and shorter chain stays.

 

You can see the slight differences in frame geometry in the above photos. The Panasonic is a more traditional frame, with more of the rider’s weight closer to the front end of the bike.  For commuting and all-round riding, I like having the weight more evenly distributed, especially given that I haul stuff primarily on the rear rack.

While frame size issues can often be overcome with the right mix of handlebars, stem, and seatpost setback, when a bike isn’t ridden, there’s usually a reason, and sometimes no amount of tweaking the components will solve the problem.

The Bridgestone didn’t make me smile.  So, with anticipation, I brought out the Panasonic frame from storage and began the process of bringing it back to life.  I first did a complete inspection of the frame and fork, cleaned all of the threaded surfaces, applied clear touch up paint where needed, and washed the frame.  Then I polished and waxed it (with several coats), and also treated the inside of the tubes with WD-40.  Then it was time to build it up.

 

I had some inspired moments, deciding to use some period correct Shimano cantilevers, which offer much better modulated braking power than the new Tektro’s I had previously used.  At the rear is a U brake, very fiddly to set up, but the Dia Compe set installed there works fine, so long as I set the pads very close to the rime.

I also decided to go with a double crankset, instead of the single chain ring I had always used when riding the bike previously.  Wanting to keep the weight down (smaller riders benefit greatly from weight savings) I selected a Shimano Crane long cage rear derailleur, along with the drilled Stronglight crankset that I had been using with the Bridgestone.  Velo-Orange porter bars, SunTour bar mount ratcheting shifters and a 6 speed Shimano freewheel finished out the build.

I reinstalled my hand built 26” wheels, which have a V-O rear hub and Quando front hub, both with cartridge bearings, laced to SunRims CR18 rims, which have held up well (although the rear Quando hub failed prematurely a few years back, replaced by the V-O hub).

 

I’m riding the bike this summer without fenders, because I’m researching some different fender options.  As I was getting under way for my first test ride I suddenly remembered that riding a bike with cantilevers, sans fenders, can be a safety hazard.  This is because if the front brake cable fails, the straddle cable can get caught up in the tire and fork crown and cause an endo, with related potentially dangerous injuries.  So, I hastily installed a tire saver to hopefully prevent disaster, even though my cables are all new, just in case.  A reflector bracket will also work for this purpose.

My first test ride on the new build was a delight.  This machine has carried me through cold, rainy winters, and has hauled a lot of groceries and garden supplies.  It’s a beautiful but well used frame, made with double butted Tange tubing, and featuring lovely chromed rear stays.  It’s 80’s color scheme is very visible, especially with the bright orange donor fork that replaced the original fork long before the frame came into my stable.  The bike is a good friend, and it does, indeed, make me smile.

Winter Ride Around Canby, Oregon

For the past several years, I have been drawn south to Canby from my Portland home base for winter cycling.

The Willamette River bends in a sharp s-curve at Canby before heading north toward its confluence with the mighty Columbia River.  Its beauty calls to me.  Fall colors, winter which promises spring, and the mesmerizing quiet of the ride offer a compelling contrast to cycling in Portland.

Today, I followed this little town’s cycling loop, rather accidentally.  I’ve ridden here a lot, and have ventured east of town up onto the plateau that sits above the river, and boasts the best of Oregon farm country – hazelnut groves, vegetable crops, and horses, cattle, sheep, and llamas a-plenty.  The basic route depicted above is a totally flat 11 mile loop.  It’s easy to add side trips to your journey, as there’s lots to explore around this sweet little town.

I’ve recently converted my 1980’s custom Meral 650b bicycle to more upright style handlebars.  On today’s ride one of my goals was to evaluate the bike’s ergonomics with the new Velo-Orange Tourist handlebars.

I wasn’t sure how to think about the brake levers for this bike – I wanted to stay true to its French heritage, and resisted purchasing new brake levers for the upright bar.  I finally settled on these black vintage Mafac levers.  I also removed 3 cm of bar material from each bar end of the V-O tourist bars.  I have found that modern upright style bars are generally too wide and long, and without cutting them down can give your bike an out of balance appearance, not to mention being uncomfortable.

To keep the bars free for additional hand positions I opted for stem mounted shifters.  These SunTour ratcheting shifters performed just fine, but I did have to adjust the position of the rear derailleur on down-shifts, whereas upshifts were near perfect.  I may replace these with some stem mounted Simplex Retrofriction shifters once I have a mounting option identified.

Oregon City Falls

The City of Canby sits along the Willamette River, upstream from the falls and locks at the historic town of Oregon City.  Today, the river was swift moving.  Maybe, I was too.

My 1980’s Meral is built with Reynolds 531 tubing, with a fully chromed fork (and with chromed main tubes underneath the dark lavender paint). That, plus converting the bike to 650b has made it one of my most treasured bicycles.  Happy riding in 2019!