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 Mystery Vintage Touring Bike Courtesy of Fred DeLong

I discovered Fred Delong’s publications much too late in my life.  DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles and Bicycling, first published in 1974 (the year I graduated from high school), is a treasure trove of both technical and non-geeky information, and includes photos and material I have never seen elsewhere.

Fred was a lifelong cyclist, author, and bike guru, and was inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 2001, six years after he passed away in 1995.

His book is unusual for its time in American cycle publishing.  It features French, Italian, and British built bicycles, and includes discussions of 650b tires with supple sidewalls mounted on low trail camping bikes, avoidance of toe overlap on touring bikes, and the importance of clearance in frame builds to allow for wider tires, as well as eyelets and baze-ons for fenders and racks.  Sound familiar?

The above photos are close up crops of the original photo shown as figure 2.11 in DeLong’s 1974 guide.  While most of the other photos in the book contain credits or are otherwise referenced, this image was not referenced or credited anywhere in the book.  That means we don’t know who built this bike.

So, let’s start with what we do know about this bike.  According to DeLong, this bike’s features are as follows:

“Wide tubular platform carrier with pannier bags mounted…

Hollow aluminum alloy rims on Phil Wood sealed precision bearing hubs…

Alloy mudguards, front with sliding fender flap in raised position and built-generator lighting…

Mafac Cantilever tandem brakes, rear brake cable direct routing (200 degree cable arc) with hooded levers

Aluminum alloy Randonneur handlebars

531 chrome-molybdenum braze-welded frame – 71 degree head and seat tube angles

15-speed wide-range gearing (23-116) on TA alloy crank and chainwheel set.”

Remember, this book was published in 1974. The photos in the book are all probably from at least one or two years earlier.  Phil Wood founded his hub manufacturing company back in 1971 when, as a racer he became frustrated with hubs developing play and needing an overhaul after each competition. That led him to explore sealed bearing designs for hubs and bottom brackets.  By the time of the 1976 BikeCentennial, Phil Wood’s hubs were all the rave, with touring cyclists ordering up Phil Wood hubs for their wheel builds, in preparation for a cross-country journey.

The above photo depicts an extremely unusual (for the time) sloping top tube.  The builder’s logos are not clear enough to make out, but the down tube seems to indicate “XP SR”.  The seat tube reflects some circular and elliptical logos, presumably also indicating the builder/manufacturer and/or frame tubing transfers.  Is this a custom frame?  I think not.  A custom frame wouldn’t ordinarily have what appear to be model monikers on the down tube. As DeLong indicates in the text, the frame is made of 531 steel and is fillet brazed.  The rear brake features through the frame routing for the “200 degree” cable arc.  While not necessarily a custom feature, it is also certainly unusual for a non-custom frame built in the early 1970’s.

The other intriguing elements of this bike include:

An extension (presumably) on the Mafac levers

A cover (or something similar) on the rear derailleur

A front tire which appears to be wider than the rear tire

A very long reach stem – possibly to accommodate a shorter than desired top tube length

Generous fork rake combined with slack angles

Half step gearing with a tiny third ring

Who made this bike?  Ideas and speculations are welcome.  In the meantime, I discovered a bicycle ridden by DeLong which went up for sale a while back.  The photo below shows the bike, a French JB Louvet built with Reynolds 531 tubing, in disrepair.  But, it may give some clues about DeLong’s interests and preferences.

Fred Delong’s JB Louvet – courtesy of http://bikeville.blogspot.com/

 

Removing and Replacing Vintage Bicycle Grips

1947 C. Daudon blue Velox grips

The baby blue original Velox grips on my 1947 Camille Daudon were faded, dry, cracking and incomplete.  I usually love to re-use all original equipment on any vintage bicycle I restore, but these grips were damaged beyond repair.

Wood grips from the 1940’s

Earlier period vintage bicycles sometimes feature wood grips, which require a different algorithm for restoration and replacement.  The Daudon’s grips were rubber, and so I searched the internet for a suitable replacement.

I was lucky to find these French NOS Felt grips which matched the shape of original Velox grips exactly.  The blue color is very vibrant, and is a little bit lighter than the color of the original grips, which have faded and darkened over time.

The Daudon’s Stronglight crankset features matching blue highlights.  Even the crank bolt is colorized.

When I restore or “preserve” any vintage bicycle, I do my best not to ruin any original parts or accessories in the process.  I wanted to remove the original grips without damaging them. Parts that I remove and replace are kept for a future owner of the bicycle.  That’s the best way to document a bicycle’s provenance.  Using a surfactant, in this case Finish LIne’s pink bike wash, is the best way to soften the dry grips and begin the removal process.  By slowly and carefully inserting the blade of a small narrow screwdriver, and then spraying the bike wash into the opening, the dry grips began to soften.  After about 1/2 hour of this process I was able to remove both original grips intact without destroying them.

For installing the new grips, I will use that most mysterious of products:  hairspray.  An adhesive not to be messed with.

Before that, I will remove the brake levers and stem from the alloy bar, clean and polish all the parts, and then put everything back together.  This bicycle’s stem mounts directly to the steerer tube, and is fashioned from lugged steel, chromed, with sets of 8 mm mounting bolts on the stem and steerer sections.  The Daudon’s levers are alloy, but unbranded.  The handlebar assembly will be lovely and functional when completed, and then I can move on to the rest of the restoration process.