Why I Love Cycling

1974 Touring Bicycle with fillet brazed joints – Photo credit – DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles & Bicycling.

In 1974 I was a high school senior, soon to graduate. I often rode to classes on my 5 speed derailleur bicycle, and that involved a number of steep hills, some of which I dismounted to ascend.  The bike I rode seemed incredibly incompetent, heavy, and badly geared.  At that time, I knew nothing about lightweight steel tubing, expertly brazed and filed lugs, and quality components.  I was riding the bike my parents purchased for me, after much goading on my part.  I can’t even remember if my 5 speed was a Sears or a Schwinn, but I think it was the former.  All I knew then was that I loved to ride bicycles, and wanted to be on my bike whenever possible.  My parents did their best to accommodate this odd request coming from their middle child – a daughter no less.

Baby blue Volkscycle

Upon graduation, my parents presented me with a beautiful blue Volkscycle. I was in heaven, as this was the nicest bike I had ever ridden.  After riding this bike in my college days in the late 70’s, I took a hiatus from school, and moved to the Oregon coast.  That was when my cycling energy surged. Every Sunday I mounted my blue Volkscycle and rode inland up Yaquina Bay, to Toledo, and back.  I rode this bicycle whenever I could, leaving my funky Datsun 510 truck in the carport most of the time.

After a while, I began to realize that the Volkscycle might not be the best bicycle out there for me. There was no internet at this time, so my knowledge came word of mouth talking to other cyclists, some of whom were part of the 1976 BikeCentennial.

Later, I acquired my 1976 Centurion Pro-Tour – a bike which really defined my cycling experience.  The frame was “too big” for me, and yet I toured all over the Pacific Northwest on this amazing bicycle.  I crashed it back in 1999, and that is what prompted a life long search for an equal partner.

But that never happened.  Instead, I ride on several bicycles regularly.  I have never found my one true love – the bicycle of my youth which comported me over miles of challenging terrain.  I don’t know what to think about why that is – but the upside is that I now enjoy riding a number of wonderful and interesting machines.

1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist – 45 lbs of Riding Pleasure

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I recently cycled home from work on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist.  The bike had been sitting at my office for a while.  One of the reasons I haven’t ridden it with greater frequency is that the full chain guard (“gearcase” for those who speak British) and the drive side crank arm contact each other with an annoying noise with each pedal stroke.  Previously, I had tried to solve this problem by mashing various parts of the gearcase with my hands to see if I could force it into a different position that would provide clearance for the crank arm.

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As I was noisily making my way up Clinton Street, I came upon a rider on a Mercian.  We chatted for a while and I learned he was riding an early 80’s model that a friend had given him as a frame (nice gift!), which he then built up.  That’s only the 2nd Mercian I have spotted in Pdx, aside from my own.  Interestingly, because my Raleigh is geared so high, I ended up surging past him in my big (but lowest) 52 gear inch as we began to climb the steeper hills, and so we parted company.

When I arrived home, sans heart attack, I put the bike into the shop stand, determined to solve the gearcase/crank arm clearance problem.  The first thing I did was to mark the position of the axle in the dropout and the adjuster on the shifter cable.  This way, I could restore the wheel and cable back to their current position – something which took a while to perfect so that the hub shifts correctly.

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One thing I’ve gotten questions about before is how to get the gearcase off the bike.  There are two pieces at the back of the gearcase which can be removed by unscrewing the bolts which attach them to the main part of the gearcase.  After that, there is a bracket which attaches the gearcase to the chainstay, plus a bolt which holds the front part of the gearcase, and attaches near the bottom bracket.  Once those are removed, then it’s a matter of re-positioning the gearcase and sliding the opening at the back through the narrowest part of the drop out.  The photos above show how this is done.

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Once I had the gearcase off, I took my mallet to it and tried straightening it out a bit.  Then, I tried various methods of altering the position of the gearcase once I re-mounted it to the frame, but nothing worked.

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Finally, I took my files and filed away a small section of the metal on the inside of the crank arm, to provide more clearance.  I didn’t want to take a lot of material off.  But with these solid steel crank arms, I probably have nothing to worry about.  Ultimately, I was successful in adjusting the gearcase cover to eliminate any contact with the crank arm.

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Since I had the pedals off, I thought it might be time to overhaul them. Their last overhaul was 8 years ago.  Sure enough, the grease was pretty dirty.  Fortunately, the brilliant design of the cone and lock washer made the process incredibly quick and easy.  The tabs on the back of the cone make it simple to adjust the cone to perfection.  Once adjusted, the cone’s tabs lock into position with the grooves on the lock washer.  If your adjustment needs a tweak or two, just loosen the nut and move the cone one notch at a time.  If only all pedals were designed this way!

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I headed out on the bike today and thoroughly enjoyed not only the new, silent drive train, but the amazing ride quality of this bike.  The steel frame and steel wheels absorb road shock very well, so that even the upright riding position does not transmit pain waves to your spine.  With the inertia of the heavy steel wheels, the bike really rolls once it gets going.  In my high gear, I have even passed a carbon fiber bicycle or two, much to their riders’ surprise.  The components, the paint, and the attention to detail in every aspect of how this bike was manufactured puts modern quality control to shame.

The bike responds to pedal strokes and never feels mushy or bogged down.  The geometry is perfect for the type of bike it is, and it does not wobble at slow speeds and provides for fun descents and excellent cornering at high speeds.  In fact, the ride quality of this bike is a sharp contrast to another 45 lb. machine I recently rode – the SoBi bicycles which are part of Pdx’s new Biketown bike share program.  Those bikes are made with large diameter aluminum tubing, and also feature an upright riding position, although much more extreme than that of the Raleigh.  The stiff aluminum frames, bad geometry and questionable component quality provide for a really unpleasant riding experience.

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It would be fun to see a bike share program which used quality vintage bicycles and de-emphasized modern technology (which serves as a barrier to those who cannot afford the latest internet device) as a way to introduce new riders to urban commuting. There are so many quality vintage bicycles out there. Find one and ride it!

Theresa’s New (Old) Raleigh

1976 Raleigh Gran Sport

1976 Raleigh Gran Sport

My partner in all things, Theresa, has been riding a Raleigh Alyeska touring bike for the last decade or so.  While it is a great bike, it is a touring bike and relatively heavy.  So, when we ride together I often feel that I am cheating by zipping around on one of my nimbler machines.  And, the Alyeska’s top tube is just a bit shorter than she prefers, so I decided to build up this Raleigh Gran Sport, which has a longer top tube, into a lighter weight iteration of its original self.

The early 60’s version of the Gran Sport was something of a sought after machine, with Sheldon Brown describing his lust for its Campagnolo components, even though at this time the frame was built with standard tubing.  This model, which I have dated to approximately 1976, is built with Reynolds 531 tubing for both the frame and fork, and it sports a Carlton logo as well.  However, some of its original components left something to be desired, such as the low end plastic Simplex derailleurs and shifters.

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I admit to a great fondness for this beautiful sky blue color scheme.  It is reminiscent of my 1976 Centurion Pro Tour.  With the white accents, I decided it was really necessary to use white cable housing.  I set up the drivetrain using Suntour components.  I had a NOS Suntour V-GT rear derailleur that I mated to a single bar end shifter.  I used a vintage Sugino crank with an SR drilled 42 tooth ring.  The freewheel is an early index version 6 speed 14/30 Shimano.  Index freewheels actually work better with friction shifters than non-index versions.

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I wanted to keep this bike very light and simple, so there is no front derailleur or extra shifter.  To add to its elegance and feathery weight, I decided to use my treasured Campagnolo/Mavic wheelset.  This was one of the first sets I built, using smooth as butter vintage Campy hubs laced to new Mavic Open Pro 36 hole rims.  That meant a conversion to 700c, from the bike’s original 27 inch wheel diameter – not a problem at all.

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The blue color in the Mavic logo nicely accents the sky blue frame.  For the riding position, Theresa expressed a preference to be more stretched out as well as upright enough to make city riding safe and enjoyable.  I was thinking of using these big ol’ Soma bars, but I knew I would need a pretty long reach for the stem.  I found this Nitto stem with a whopping 130 mm of reach, but it had to be shipped from Japan!

Soma Oxford bars Cardiff saddle

I also ordered this very pretty Cardiff saddle, a brand which I have come to love (one is installed on my Meral), and I will be curious to see how she likes this compared to the Brooks on her current bike.  I used Mafac Racer centerpull brakes, and installed a small TA randonneur rack to mount to the front calipers.  Probably we will add a minimalist rear rack at some point, as well as some fenders.  These 35 mm Panaracer Paselas will be perfect for the kind of riding we do.  One of the very nice features on this frame is the elegant cable stop for the rear brake.

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I found some light blue cloth bar tape from Velox that matches the frame perfectly.  To keep with the vintage appearance I used Velo Orange’s City brake levers.  Now this nice old Raleigh has a new look and a new lease on life.  I am looking forward to Theresa’s first test ride!

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