A Job Well Done

1929 Griffon wheel hub overhaul

Spending precious time maintaining and overhauling stuff that already exists and can be replaced with something new and shiny is considered a waste of time in current U.S. culture.  Why not just buy whatever you want on Amazon and be done with it?  Then, your free time can be spent on other time-wasting activities that do not involve brain power, pride of workmanship, and plain old satisfaction in a job well done.  Instead, no analysis is given to the environmental cost of throw away technology, not to mention the cost to your creativity and skill set.

Mid Century Mercier Meca Dural bottom bracket and spindle

Even if you are not a Buddhist, you may be able to appreciate the joy one can derive from honoring the work of one’s elders.  Every time I overhaul a vintage bicycle I am overwhelmed with enthusiasm and respect for the work of those innovators who came before me.  Bicycle lore, including engineering concepts and technological breakthroughs,  was well established by the early 20th century, a fact which will shock many cyclists today.

Simplex bell crank actuated rear derailleur

Derailleur design, frame geometry, tubing construction, hub generators, gear ratios, and many other concepts were worked out long ago, and very elegantly. Modern components focus only on simplicity for the cyclist rather than on something which will endure over the ages.

A 1941 Goeland owned by Annie Laurin

Vintage components were designed to last over decades of use.  That’s what makes my job so restorative to my soul.

1975 Centurion Semi Pro

This evening as I walked into my shop I smiled with joy at the classic machines I am privileged to ride, including this 1975 Centurion Semi Pro.  Tomorrow will be a dry day here in Pdx, and I’m looking forward to my bicycle commute – and smiling because I don’t even know which bicycle I will choose.  Working on all these wonderful vintage bicycles is an honor, and I hope, a job well done.

A 1975 Centurion Semi Pro

I’ve finished my re-interpretation of this 1975 Centurion Semi Pro, with today’s late fall Pacific Northwest sunshine providing warmth and dry roads for its first test ride.

1975 Centurion Semi Pro in original configuration

After purchasing the bike a few months ago, I disassembled it, assessed its frame and components, and then re-built it as a city commuter, to reflect the kind of riding I currently enjoy.  The frame was free of rust, and in unusually nice condition for its age.  This Centurion Semi Pro had been upgraded at original purchase to Shimano Dura Ace components and a 27″ tubular wheelset.

I kept as much as I could of the original Dura Ace components, but I knew that I would replace the wheelset, not wanting to ride on 27 inch 20mm tubulars through downtown Portland.  At first, I considered a 650b conversion as the best option for adapting this bike to my riding style.  But, the close clearances on this frame designed for 27″ wheels meant that I was looking at an 87mm brake reach to accomplish the conversion.  While possible, this amount of reach is not ideal.  There are brake calipers which have enough reach to accomplish the conversion, but they are not in my constellation of desirable components.  Instead, I converted it to 700c, using the existing anodized Dura Ace calipers, which had plenty of reach for a 700c wheelset.

Campagnolo Record quick release skewer, SunTour GS Chromed dropouts with adjuster screws and single eyelets.

Mavic Open Pro 700c rims

Campagnolo Record hubs

Pasela 700 c 35 mm tires

And that wheelset turned out to be one that I had built a while back and which I had used on my old Davidson:  Campagnolo Record 36 hole hubs built up on new Mavic Open Pro rims.  The blue rim logo picks up nicely on the Centurion’s sky blue frame paint. The tires are Panasonic Pasela 700 x 35. They have a tread pattern which is different from all other Pasela tires.  The big tires on 700c wheels make for a tall bike, which I noticed throwing a leg over and while riding in its new upright position. Being visible is a plus for cycling commuters.

Blackburn rack with single stay attachment to the brake bridge

For the modifications to convert this bike to city use, I selected some of my favorite components:  a Stronglight 99 crankset with 48/37 rings, a SunTour gold 14-32 freewheel, SunTour bar mount ratcheting shifters, Dia Comp brake levers, and french Sufficit grips glued to a steel Northroad bar.  Most useful was a NOS Jim Blackburn rear rack with its single stay attachment to the rear brake bridge – a great solution for bikes without rear rack mounts.

When I was selecting and testing components, the original Shimano Crane GS rear derailleur presented some problems:  the amount of tension needed to shift to larger rear cogs was significant.  And that tension helped to explain the scratch damage on the frame from the shifter clamp moving down the downtube.  I found that the original Shimano Crane GS rear derailleur was not performing as expected.  I disassembled the derailleur (thank you RJ the bikeguy) and found that the springs and pivot bolts were caked in grime and dirt.  However, after cleaning and lubrication, the Shimano Crane derailleur still requires a significant amount of cable tension to move the parallelogram.  Shifting the bike today on its test ride required overshifting on the up shifts, and a lot of adjustment on the downshifts.  I expect that I will probably replace the Shimano Crane with a SunTour derailleur to improve the rear shifting.

When I ventured out today, I planned on riding my usual route around my hilly neighborhood. I enjoyed getting out for a ride on this Centurion Semi Pro. There seemed to be almost no interference between my crank inputs and the bike’s outputs.  The ride was smooth and effortless.  The way back home to my house involves choosing among several different routes, varying in difficulty.  With this bike’s easy pedaling, I chose the most difficult route home, one that I have dubbed the “TDF” route, with its cobblestones and steep inclines.  That’s a route I only ride on my ALAN or Guerciotti – lightweight and high performance bikes.  So, even as converted to a city style bike, this Centurion Semi Pro has impressed me.

A Portland Sunday on a Bridgestone MB3

My winter/errand bike has been a well used 1987 Panasonic MC 7500. I bought that bike as a frame and fork many years ago, and then built it into a Portland workhorse. Rigid lugged steel vintage “mountain bikes” serve as excellent platforms for conversion to a sturdy errand/winter/commuter bike.

The Bridgestone MB3 frame sat in my shop for a few months, as I had purchased it only for its lavender Nitto stem to use on my newly built up Rivendell Appaloosa.  Well, sort of but not really.  The Bridgestone frame was in great shape, and it kept staring at me every time I loaded another bike into the work stand.  Finally, I gave in, transferring many of the Panasonic components, which I disassembled, over to the MB3.  The build was pretty straightforward, and would have been completed much sooner had I not decided to use Suntour cantilevers, whose set up required more time.  Finally, the bike was ready for a few assignments.

Denison Farms Organic Veggies at the Montavilla Farmers Market

A happy classical guitarist at the Montavilla Farmers Market

Veggies loaded into my Jandd grocery pannier.

First, I headed over to the Montavilla Farmers Market.  This weekly Sunday event features an extravaganza of luscious fruits and veggies, homemade honey, jams and jellies, along with flower bouquets, wines, breads and baked goods, and some mellow classical guitar to accompany your shopping experience.

“Fancy Cycling”

Up and over Mt. Tabor

After dropping the veggies off at my house to stay cool on this hot day, I pedaled over Mt. Tabor and headed down to my local Powell’s bookstore on Hawthorne.  While there, I discovered this 2013 reprint of a 1901 cycling manual by Isabel Marks.  Major score!  The book contains instructions and photos on how to do some “fancy cycling” by performing tricks on your bike.  It looks like I have lots of work to do, as my track stands are not done while seated backwards in the saddle, one of the many tricks illustrated in the book, with period photos as illustrations of each maneuver (more on this book in a subsequent post).

The Bridgestone frame is a bit different from the Panasonic MC 7500 in a few ways:  the Bridgestone has slacker angles, shorter chainstays, a shorter wheelbase, and a longer top tube.  The Panasonic is a classic diamond frame, whereas the Bridgestone has a slightly sloping top tube.  While the Bridgestone is made from triple butted Ishiwata tubing, the Panasonic’s Tange Prestige double butted tubing feels a bit more lively.  Even so, both bikes are comparable and nice to ride, never feeling bogged down while climbing.  Below are photos of the components I selected:

Vintage Suntour bar mount ratcheting friction shifters

Suntour XC low profile cantilevers.

I re-used the original Shimano Deore derailleurs and the 12-28 Shimano 7 speed cassette.

I discarded the Biopace crankset, and replaced it with this modified Stronglight 99 with drilled rings. The crankset was originally a triple 52/42/32, but I removed the big ring and converted it to a double 42/32. I used the original Deore bottom bracket and front derailleur, and it somehow all worked out well.

Original Ritchey Vantage wheels on Shimano Deore hubs.  The wheels needed re-tensioning and truing, and the hubs were rebuilt and now spin smoothly.

Northroad bars with Suntour levers and shifters. The Suntour levers offer easily adjustable brake reach – a nice feature for riders with smaller hands.  A Cardiff leather saddle is shown in the background.

The 1989 Bridgestone MB3 as converted to a Portland commuter

While I’m not sure yet whether I will replace my Panasonic MC 7500 with this bike, I have enjoyed my experience so far.  The bike received some nice comments today from passersby.  It’s a good looking bike, and as configured performs just as I would expect from a quality steel frame and excellent vintage components.