Upright Handlebars for Smaller Cyclists

With many new cyclists dusting off the bikes hanging in their garages, and trying to get them road-worthy I thought it might be a good time to discuss handlebar options.

Handlebar and stem choices are two of the most important elements contributing to rider comfort.  The above chart from Fred DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles and Bicycling, published back in the 1970’s, provides a nice visual for the effect of hand position on the cyclist’s head and eyes.  Commuting requires attention to all one’s surroundings, so a more upright position is the absolute ideal for a commuter bike.

Velo-Orange Tourist Bars

Don’t be fooled by “flat bars”, often marketed as suitable for commuting.  Flat bars have no rise, the distance which the bar rises above the stem clamp, and no “sweep”, the degree to which the bars angle back toward the rider.  The Velo-Orange Tourist bars, pictured above, have 60 degrees of sweep, and 70 mm of rise.  Depending on your stem selection, that might be just about perfect for commuting.

However, most commuter style bars are too wide for comfort.  V-O’s Tourist bars are 57 mm wide, significantly wider that the drop bars on most road bikes.  For smaller cyclists, I find that it’s best to cut down the bars to the desired width, which will also help prevent the bars from contacting your knees while turning at slow speeds.  The above photos show this process for a Nitto City Bar, which has a slightly higher rise than its V-O counterpart.  These bars are about 52 cm in width, with a long grip area.  After determining my ideal width for these bars, I removed 3 cm of material off of each bar end. I score the bars to the desired length with my caliper gauge, then take a hack-saw to the bars, being careful to cut a straight section off of each end.  I finish that off with a file and then de-burr the inside of the bar.  The result should look clean and even, so that the grips will settle properly on each bar end.  Many commuters do not have access to a vise and the other tools needed to accomplish this.  However, any LBS will accommodate your request to cut down a set of bars to your specs.

The next question is stem choice.  Generally, a shorter stem with longer reach will be needed if you are switching from drop bars to commuter bars.  This Nitto Young stem, pictured above, is an ideal length (height of the stem) for this type of bar conversion.  These stems come in a variety of reach lengths (distance from center of stem to clamp).  Bars come in different clamp sizes, so they need to match the clamp size of the stem.  The two most common clamp sizes are 25.4 and 26.0.

Bars also come in two different diameters – 22.2 and 23.8 are the most common sizes for city and road style handlebars.  Switching from road bars to city bars means new brake levers, shifters, housing, cables, and grips.  Velo-Orange products, shown above, are generally designed for 23.8 diameter bars, but come with shims so that you can also install them on 22.2 mm bars, which is the diameter of the bars shown above.

The number of handlebar options currently available is overwhelming.  From my own experience, I’ve narrowed down my favorite suitable bars for commuting to three options:  V-O’s Tourist Bars, Nitto’s City bars (B483), and Nitto’s Northroad bars (302AA). Other considerations include the length of your top tube.  If you are riding on a too long top tube (something many smaller cyclists must endure), porteur bars are an option when used with a taller stem.

For this conversion, from drop bars, I used V-O’s Grand Cru levers and Shimano bar end shifters mounted to the bars using V-O’s thumb shifter mounts.

You’ll notice that I like to set up the shifters some distance away from the brake levers.  This is so that I can create an extra hand position, shown above, in addition to the position on the grips.  The cockpit area now looks very inviting!

And…here is the end result for the conversion of my 1990’s Georgena Terry road bike to upright handlebars.

1977 Jack Taylor Tandem Restoration- the Beginning

Mafac hood with dual cables

I’ve been waiting to get in the right frame of mind to begin restoration of a 1977 Jack Taylor Tandem that I had shipped from England back in 2012.  Clearly, I’ve been waiting quite a while, but during that time I have corresponded with the original owner’s son, who has provided valuable information about the bike’s history as well as a few family photos of the tandem’s exploits.

Jack Taylor frame at bottom left

I also needed more shop space to enable me to use two stands to aid with disassembly.  That finally happened last Fall, and I now have not only more shop space, but additional bike storage space as well, all in one location.

So I was finally able to remove the components to begin the process of bringing this tandem back to its original glory.  I had already removed the 650b Maxi-Car wheelset and worked on getting the wheels back in order.

I still need to re-glue one of the brake shoes in the front drum hub, but the rear wheel has been overhauled and adjusted.

Jack Taylor frames are built with Reynolds 531 tubing.  The specs for each Reynolds tubeset will vary based on customer request and on the particular application.  A serial number is stamped on the rear drop-out and the steerer tube.  You can see the matching numbers in the above photo – 7183 – indicating this is a probably a 1977 frame, based on the helpful chart provided by Joel Metz at his blackbirdsf.org site.  This chart was developed from information provided by Mark Lawrence, who happens to be the individual I purchased this tandem from.  He sold the bike on behalf of the original owners.  Mark was a long-time friend of the Taylor brothers.

Tandems differ from regular bikes in a number of ways.  There are naturally two bottom brackets, one of which is an eccentric, which aids in adjusting the timing chain so that that both sets of cranks are positioned at the same angle on the spindle, and so that chain tension is properly maintained.  The matching crank arm position is important for cornering, as you want both crank arms upright when descending at speed while leaning over.  Both bottom brackets are T.A. models, and the threaded eccentric appears to say “Rogers”.  It taps out of the frame after loosening the bolts.  Adjustment is made by loosening the bolts, twisting the eccentric to the desired position, and re-tightening.

The components on this tandem indicate that it was the Super Touring Deluxe model, spec’d with Mafac Tandem cantilever brake calipers (plus a Maxi drum brake up front), Stronglight headset, Campagnolo derailleurs and shifters, Campagnolo drop-outs, SunTour Perfect 5 speed freewheel, T. A. cranksets, plus Maxi-Car 650b wheels.

1977 Jack Taylor Tandem with kiddie crank and trail-a-bike

Four cranksets was one more than expected.  Upon corresponding with the son of the original owners, I learned that this was needed to set up the “kiddie-crank” for the young stoker.  His sister contributed to the effort on her trail-a-bike.

As originally purchased 1977 Jack Taylor Tandem

As I’ve researched the history of Jack Taylor Cycles I’ve come across a few sites I hadn’t accessed before.  One of these is the Stockton-on-Tees History site, which has several wonderful posts regarding the history of the “works” building and of the Taylor brother’s exploits:

Jack Taylor Cycles

Jack Taylor Cycle Maker

While the restoration process may take some time, I’m hopeful about the result.  This is a machine worth preserving.

Pandemic Stress Release: A Few Product Reviews

I’ve been thinking about the different ways people cope with stress as we go through this difficult and unprecedented (for most of us) time.  For me, cycling, walking, gardening, and having the opportunity to work have helped a great deal.  But, when all of that fails, it’s time to go shopping!

First up was a pedal replacement for my 1975 Centurion Semi-Pro.  The bike came to me with these amazing Barelli Supreme cartridge bearing pedals, which were designed for toe clips.  As I no longer ride with toe clip pedals, I removed them and installed some low-end Wellgo pedals that were sitting around in my shop.  While moderately acceptable, I wanted to find some quality pedals that could provide more comfort for my aging feet, which have become sensitive to pedal pressure points.

After looking around for options I settled on these Velo-Orange Touring pedals.  I was looking for a pedal that was of medium size, durable, and with good grip for rain riding, as well as offering a better distribution of weight across the pedal body and cage.  As you can see from the above photo, these pedals feature two adjustable pins on the outside of the pedal plus ridges on the cage to help lock your shoes in place.  You can easily pop out the reflectors, but since I love reflectors, I left them there.

They install with an Allen wrench, not a 15mm pedal wrench.  As with many cartridge bearing systems, the pedals did not spin as freely when initially installed, as cup and cone pedals will.  But, I’ve been cycling with them for about a week now and they have loosened up a bit.  Most importantly, they are amazingly comfortable pedals, offering support for my whole foot, not just around the cage.  My feet are happier.

Next up was a saddlebag for the R. Ducheron bike I’ve been restoring.  The bike has no rack braze-ons.  With its beautiful new paint job (see below), I decided not to even consider mounting a rear rack with clamps.  The bike has a small custom front rack designed to support a rando bag, but for my kind of riding, I needed a more substantial bag to handle errands, commuting, and shopping.

Cue this Carradice Cadet saddlebag, which I purchased from Ben’s Cycle, located in Milwaukee and established in 1928 and now owned by the third generation of the family.  Ben’s is a wonderful online source for many cycling related products.

I wanted a saddlebag that would not be wider than the bars, but would still hold all that I needed.  A tall order, for sure, but this Carradice Cadet bag fills the bill with its 13 litres of interior space.  The bag closes with a draw string, and the cavernous area is best organized with smaller containers for tools and supplies.  But, it meets my requirements and will be put to good use, being also waterproof.

A related product is these V-O saddlebag loops which clamp on to the saddle rails.  I was surprised that my Rebour-blessed Ideale saddle didn’t have loops, but fear not:  these V-O loops when installed look like they have always been there.

Next up:  a wax/polish product designed for restorers of vintage machines.  I first heard about Renaissance Micro-Crystalline Wax Polish from one of my favorite sites:  VintageBicycles.com.

I’ve been working on a number of projects lately, including a 1977 Jack Taylor tandem, as well as the R. Ducheron bike featured above.  I’ve been looking for a product that would help to preserve these older machines.  This wax/polish was initially formulated by the British Museum’s research lab as an alternative to regular wax which contains beeswax and carnuba, both of which contain acids which can harm a painted finish over time.  At least that’s its claim.

In practice, this wax will make any already nice paint look show-stopping.  The above photo is the R. Ducheron frame after a few applications of Renaissance wax.

So, I wondered how this wax would work on a highly compromised frame, such as the above 1970’s Mercian.  These before and after photos show that Renaissance wax/polish does help to revitalize faded colors, in addition to protecting the the finish over time.  I’m going to try out the wax on the 1977 Jack Taylor tandem I’ve been (slowly) restoring.  More info to come!