Bicycles with 650B wheels are nicely suited to a relaxed riding style. The wider rims and greater clearances on the bike’s frame allow for plump, comfortable tires. Often, vintage 650B bicycles are set up as city style bikes, with minimal gears and an upright position for the cyclist.
My recently acquired early 1980’s Meral randonneuse cried out for a 650B conversion. It was built with Vitus 788 tubing around a set of narrow, 700c rims. The bike as originally configured had a high bottom bracket and minimal tire clearances. These elements would normally indicate an ideal bicycle for a 650B conversion. Still, I wasn’t sure if I would be successful converting the bike, because the brake clearances were odd – with the front brake having less reach than the rear brake. In times past, competitive oriented bicycles were sometimes built with more brake reach in the rear than the front, and that was so that a shorter reach and therefore stronger brake could be used at the front end.
The rear brake reach on this bike is greater than the front by more than several millimeters. When it came time to install the Mafac Raid long reach brakes, this fact made me concerned. In order to have the rear Mafac Raid brake pads contact the new 650B rim, I needed to angle them down slightly, which is not ideal. There are other options for dealing with brake reach problems, including installing brackets (a la Sheldon), and filing some material off of the caliper arms, to allow the brake pads to sit a bit lower. None of those options appealed to me.
Vintage Mafac Raid brake calipers with V-O squeal free pads.
I decided to ignore the problem for now, as the front brake reach was perfect for the conversion to 650B, with plenty of room to position the brake pads correctly. I am using Velo-Orange’s smooth post “squeal free” pads for this set up – and they are working perfectly and as advertised. Since the front brake provides 70% of a bike’s stopping power, I haven’t noticed any issues involving the angled rear brake pads. Meanwhile, here are some photos of the rest of the build:
Brooks leather grips, Tektro vintage style levers, V-O thumbies, Campagnolo shifter
Velocity A23 650B rims
Shimano Tiagra hubs
Meral custom steel fenders, wine cork spacers
Meral custom steel rack, with mounts for front flashlight.
This project was loads of fun, thanks to the beauty and quality of this vintage Meral bicycle. The custom fenders and rack were a perfect match to its new Town and Country personality. V-O’s thumbies worked well for this build – they can be used with just about any type of shifter so are more adaptable than their Paul’s competitor.
I used a lower end 650B wheelset that I will not purchase again, and I consider the wheels as a placeholder for now. Probably I will build the ideal wheelset for this bike when the time comes, and will sort out the lighting options at that time. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these photos of this amazing vintage bicycle which now has a new lease on life. I have included the specs and full build list at the bottom of this post.
A view from the back – with a tiny vintage reflector installed on the custom fenders.
Original Brooks Pro saddle. Through the frame brake cable routing for the rear brake.
Campagnolo shifter on the seat tube braze on – intended for a BB mounted dynamo. Nicely executed seat cluster.
This gorgeous custom Meral steel rack can also be installed at the rear of the bike.
The drive train is a single 42 tooth drilled ring up front, with a 7 speed cassette at the back, controlled with a vintage friction Campy shifter.
The specs and build list are as follows:
Frame and fork: Early 1980’s Meral with Vitus 788 steel tubing, 54 cm ST, 56 cm TT, through the frame brake and dynamo wiring, 2 rack mounts on the seat stays, 2 rack mounts on the fork, bottle cage mount, shifter braze-ons, ST dynamo braze-on, 127 rear spacing.
Drive Train: Vintage Sugino crankarms and Sugino drilled 42T ring; new 7 speed cassette, vintage Lyotard pedals, Shimano SLX rear derailleur, original T.A. bottom bracket, replacement T.A. spindle of shorter length, V-O thumbie with vintage Campagnolo friction shifter.
Braking: Vintage Mafac Raid long reach centerpull brakes, new V-O smooth post pads, new Tektro vintage style levers, new blue color matched housing.
Wheelset & Tires: New 650b wheelset: Shimano Tiagra hubs on Velocity A23 rims (purchased from Harris), tires and wheelset are placeholders for now.
Saddle and Seatpost: Original Brooks Professional saddle, original JP Routens slanted seatpost clamp.
Bars, stem and headset: new Soma Oxford handlebars and Nitto Technomic stem (sanded to French 22.0 steerer size), original French Stronglight headset.
Accessories: Original Meral custom steel fenders, original Meral custom steel front rack, new V-O bottle cage.
Ready for a leisurely ride wherever you want to go.