Back Out on the Road

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It’s been exactly three months since I’ve thrown a leg over and navigated a beloved steel framed bicycle.  That’s how long it’s taken for me to recover from my unfortunate mishap involving a ladder and my fibula. But once I got my doctor’s go-ahead to begin cycling again, I was anxious to get back out on the road, although also strangely apprehensive.

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At Benham Falls

The last time I was on my bike was in Central Oregon’s fall glory, enjoying the dry climate and the very nice bike paths leading to Benham Falls.  I was riding my Terry, feeling slightly under the weather due to a dodgy restaurant experience earlier in the day.  But, once my riding buddy and I arrived at the Falls, all was well with the world.  The bike paths were strewn with slippery pine needles which kept getting caught in my “over the top” fenders, but this was less worrisome than the gravel portion of the journey over lava rock and loose gravel.  Fortunately, the Terry handled well, with its 32mm Pasela’s and great frame geometry.

1987 Panasonic MC 7500

1987 Panasonic MC 7500 converted to city errand bike

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McClure Pass Tires

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Velo Orange 126mm freewheel hub

So, for my first adventure back in the saddle I decided to ride my 1987 Panasonic MC 7500 commuter bike.  It is a very forgiving bicycle, although a bit tall due to its high bottom bracket. Before my leg injury I had installed some new tires on this bike to replace the heavy Specialized Armadillo tires, which had literally split at the seams, with something a little nicer – Compass McClure Pass 26 x 1.5 ” tires.

I had been riding these tires for a few months before my mishap and was looking forward to reporting on their ride quality, which I can now do. These tires have allowed me to ride in one higher gear overall, as compared to the Armadillo tires I previously used.  They feature a bit of a tread pattern which can help on non-paved surfaces, and are very responsive and comfortable.  I’m sold!  I also wanted to provide an update on the Velo Orange freewheel hub which I used to replace the failed Quando sealed bearing rear hub – a hub which failed after only about a thousand miles of use.  My new VO is working perfectly, and shaved some weight off the bike due to its drilled flanges.

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Cardiff leather saddle.

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Gardening with the Panasonic.

I use the Panasonic a lot for around town errands.  To make this bike a little more comfortable I added a Cardiff leather saddle, replacing the the old vintage Avocet touring saddle I was using.  I like the Cardiff saddle as a Brooks alternative – the saddle rails are a bit longer allowing for greater adjustment nuances, and there is something about its shape and geometry that seems to work well for me.  My first ride today went very well.  I didn’t experience any mysterious lapses in “bike memory”, nor did I have trouble climbing or descending.  Although it is winter, I’m looking forward to some enjoyable riding on the warmer and drier days which can sometimes appear unexpectedly. See you out there!

Tired

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While sitting around in my back yard staring off into space and listening to the birds, I suddenly got the urge to turn my Panasonic winter bike upside down to take a look at the bottom bracket and the frame from underneath.  Every now and then, it’s a good idea to get a different perspective on your bike, especially with an older frame, and one such as this that has so many cosmetic challenges.  Once I had the bike upside down, the afternoon lighting suddenly illuminated something I wasn’t actually looking for:  huge sidewall cracks in my 6 year old bullet proof commuter tires.  As I looked more carefully, I also saw that the tread (which still shows no wear) is also separating from the sidewall casing.  Uh oh!

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These are Nimbus Armadillo 26 X 1.5 inch tires, and they are aptly named.  I have never had a flat during the entire time I have used them.  They are not particularly comfortable tires, but the trade-off in commuting reliability has been worth the sacrifice to comfort.  The front tire had fewer sidewall cracks than the rear tire, as one would expect, but I decided not to take any further chances of a blow-out and replace them.

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On hand, the only 26″ tires I had were some Panaracer Pasela folders which are the extras I carry when I am using my Terry on tours or longer rides.  They are 26 x 1.25, so are about  6 mm narrower than the old Nimbus Armadillos.  But, they will have to do for now, and they are perfectly decent tires. I didn’t have any Schrader valved tubes which would fit these narrower tires.  But, it’s really no problem to use Presta valves with Schrader rims.

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While you can purchase special grommets which will adapt a Schrader rim to a Presta valve, I have always just used a boot made from a small piece of rim protector, as shown above.  I’ve never had a problem with this approach.

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While the bike was upside down, I looked at the bottom bracket, the brakes, and the chainstays.  The bike is getting some rust in the area where it experienced some massive chain suck, so I’ll need to file that down and paint the area to keep it protected.  I also like to look at the U-brakes from this perspective.  The straddle cable is very fiddly and difficult to access when the bike is right side up. You can see how narrow the straddle cable has to be to accommodate this design. Otherwise, everything looks good!

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The narrower Pasela tires look a bit odd with the wide Planet Bike fenders, but the ride quality will probably be nicer, and the bike will be faster (fun!).  Meanwhile, I have ordered a set of Compass’ 26 x 1.5 McLure Pass tires.  I look forward to trying them out on this bike.  The tires will be much lighter than the old Armadillos, and should provide for an amazing ride in comparison.  Flat resistance will probably be not as good, but I am hopeful.  I have been using Compass’ 650b Loup Loup Pass tires on my Meral and have been amazed at their comfort and performance – and I’ve had not a single flat on those tires.

It’s Not Me, It’s the Bike

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These are the words I say to myself when I am riding especially fast.  Or especially slowly, as of late.

This winter I have been using my Panasonic MC 7500 winter bike as my primary commuter, which is a change from past winters, partly driven by this winter’s wet and colder conditions which heralded the onset of a typically Portland rainy season last November.  Very recent winters have been gloriously warm and dry, so my choice of commuting vehicles was vastly expanded and even included scooter rides in the dead of December.  But, not this winter.  Portland is back to typical seasonal weather which can include anything from 35 degrees and raining hard, to light sprinkles in the lower 50’s (like today), and the occasional freezing rain and snow.  The short days also come with twilight seeming to descend in apocalyptic fashion in the middle of the afternoon.

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This bike was actually quite the machine in its day – the top of the line Mountain Bike in Panasonic’s line up in 1987.  It is built with Tange Prestige Cro-Mo double butted tubes, with forged drop outs and chromed chain stays.  The geometry on the smaller frame that I am riding features a slack 70 degree head tube combined with minimal fork rake, which would normally make it less than ideal for commuting, but its long wheelbase (107 cm) makes up for the higher than ideal wheel flop.  Consequently, I can usually avoid putting my foot down as I approach red lights and four way stops.

I bought this Panasonic as a frame and fork, then built it into a city commuter.  It went through various iterations, and now is set up for maximum comfort and utility.

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I was using a Shimano grip shifter and a 6 speed cassette, but after a black ice crash in 2012, the shifter broke apart (because it is made of plastic), so I splurged on a $7 no name friction shifter, made of good old steel.  That meant that I could install a 7 speed freewheel, and increase the bike’s gear range a bit.

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I had been using these UNO city bars, pictured above, but the shape and width did not agree with my anatomy, so I swapped them out for a vintage steel Northroad bar.  This bar is a great improvement in comfort, being narrower and putting my hands and shoulders in a much more neutral position, and increases the bike’s un-coolness factor by a few thousand degrees.

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Steel Northroad bars

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Further agitating bike snobs in Pdx, the Panasonic is sporting a duct tape rear fender repair job, and a ghastly kickstand.

The kickstand is a convenient accessory, and this design is useful for any bike where mounting in back of the bottom bracket is not an option (in this case due to the U-brakes residing there).  The stand is adjustable to any wheel size, and keeps the bike secure, even when I have my bags loaded up with groceries.

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I like using these Jandd Hurricane bags, which are aptly named and can handle just about any kind of weather.  Their vibrant colors augment my winter bike’s 1980’s color scheme, and add a lot to its visibility.  If you haven’t used Jandd bags, you are missing out on the ultimate in practicality and quality.  I have a set of Jandd panniers that are 30 years old, and still look new.

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The Panasonic MC 7500 is a bike that enthusiasts have embraced, but the frame does have its downsides – one of them being that on some builds, holes drilled in the seat stays (necessary to allow heat to escape while brazing), were actually drilled very close to the seat stay attachment.  Fortunately, on my frame, the holes have been drilled near the dropouts.  Unfortunately, the seat stay holes have caused a stress riser to appear on this cyclist’s bike.

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Paul’s chain keeper for my 1×7 drive train, with vintage Peugeot branded crankset.

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Specialized Nimbus Tires. Never a flat in six years, and the exact opposite of supple side walls.

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Possible stress crack

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After sanding to remove the paint, no stress crack visible.

On my own frame, I had concerns about the paint cracks which had developed near to the U-Brake braze-ons on the chain stays.  Whenever you heat the tubes to braze, there is a danger of overheating and weakening them. Since the frame was already cosmetically challenged, I had no qualms about taking my emery cloth and sandpaper to this area to see what lay beneath the cracked paint.  Fortunately, nothing at all.  But now I can monitor this area.  I will paint it with Testor’s clear paint so that I can watch for any future changes.

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SunRims on the wheelset I built for this bike – holding up okay but the sidewalls have been scored by my too hard brake pads.

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Offending hard pad on the U Brake – showing no wear which is a bad sign. Meaning that my rims have suffered instead.

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Repair job on the broken fender attachment.

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Repaired fender bracket.

While I had the bike in the shop stand, I decided to do a full tune-up.  I washed the wheels (a new wheelset which I built last year, and which are working well), picked rim material out of the brake pads, sanded the rear ones, replaced the too hard original Tektro pads which had messed up my new rims, and cleaned and lubricated the SunTour freewheel (more on that, below).  I repaired the broken fender attachment by rummaging through the parts bin to find a reasonable facsimile with which to repair the broken bracket.  I drilled a new hole through the center of the fender, and installed the new bracket.  Hopefully, it will survive and thrive.

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New front Kool Stop pads – replacing the original Tektros which badly scored my new rims.

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But now, to my chagrin, my newly cleaned and lubricated 7 speed Suntour freewheel is making very odd grinding and clunking sounds.  I have always loved Suntour freewheels, and have never had one fail on me.  After doing some research, Sheldon Brown (RIP) came to the rescue.  He described a situation similar to mine, where my newly lubricated freewheel began sounding clunky under load, and noisy while freewheeling.  I believe the problem may be a loose cover plate.  Meanwhile, I have a fun old Atom 5 speed freewheel from the 1970’s with English threads which I am going to install while I troubleshoot the beloved Suntour. The higher geared old Atom freewheel should make me ride even more slowly.  But, as I said before, it’s not me, it’s the bike.

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28 lb machine ready to hit the road.