2010 Custom Cyclocross Sweetpea

This 2010 Sweetpea is NOT a vintage bicycle. But, it was custom made here in Portland by Natalie Ramsland, frame builder and owner of Sweetpea Bicycles.  It is a fillet brazed steel frame featuring curved rear stays and an 11 degree sloping top tube, with braze-ons for cantilever brakes and over the top tube cable routing, as well as fender and rack mounts.

I purchased this bike as a frame and fork in 2011, after it had been ridden for one season as a cyclocross racer by a team rider here in Portland.  The rider had been recruited to a new team with its own brand, so she wasn’t going to be competing on the Sweetpea any longer, which had been custom built for her cyclocross racing endeavors. So she listed the frame for sale and that’s when I snapped it up.  The original fork was carbon, shown above, painted to match the frame.  I rode the bike with the carbon fork for several hundred miles after building the bike up.  The feel of the carbon fork was very alarming to me. It felt dead and kind of strange. The fork had no control feel as compared to the precision and comfort provided by a steel fork.  Once removed from the frame, I examined the beautifully painted carbon fork only to discover tiny cracks around the fork crown.  My conclusion was that the carbon fork was failing.  I sourced an exact match in length and rake from Surly – a black lugged steel fork with cantilever braze-ons – and then removed the Surly logos once I had the new fork mounted.  What a difference that made to the handling and comfort of this bicycle.  And, I really like the contrast of the black fork against the cream colored frame paint.

Ramsland’s work on this frame is very nice and the custom paint job draws much attention.  For the rear brake hanger, I used a Problem Solver’s solution to accommodate the small space between the hanger and the straddle cable.

The rest of the build was done with some of my favorite components, as well as a few new ones that I wanted to try out:  Paul’s cantilevers, Shimano derailleurs, and a Velo Orange compact crankset.

I used  700c Mavic CXP 21 32 spoke rims on Shimano Ultegra hubs – a very beautiful and competent wheelset.

Here is the complete build list and frame geometry information:

Fillet brazed steel frame with lugged steel Surly fork, custom geometry. Shimano 8 speed bar-end shifters; Shimano levers, 105 front derailleur, Deore rear dear derailleur Shimano 11-30 8 speed cassette, Shimano cartridge sealed bottom bracket. Velo Orange Grand Cru crankset 48T/34T. Nitto Crystal Fellow seat post; B 115 bars, Selle Italia Lady Gel Flo leather saddle, 700c Mavic CXP 21 rims on Ultegra hubs, 32 spokes front and rear (built by Wheelsmith), Michelin Trans World Sprint cross tires, Velo Orange Headset and Stem, Wipperman chain, Paul Touring Cantilevers, Newbaum’s cloth bar tape, Gear inch range: 30 to 116.

Frame geometry:

Seat tube 49.5 cm (effective)

Top tube 52 cm


Wheelbase: 100cm

HT degrees 72 degrees

Fork rake:


Top tube slope 11 degrees

Seat tube degrees 71.5

Rear spacing 130 mm

Frame brazeons:

2 bottle cages, rear rack mounts, fender eyelets front and rear

The bike is for sale on my Store page. If you are interested in purchasing just the frame and fork, please get in touch.

650B Conversion Misconceptions


1980 Meral sport touring frame

A while back I received a hostile diatribe in my comment queue about my Meral 650b conversion.  I spammed the comment, but then thought it was potentially illustrative, albeit rude and obnoxious.   The moron’s comment appears at the end of this post, and because it is full of misconceptions and mythologies couched as “expertise”, I’d like to thank him for inspiring this post.

I purchased my 1980 Meral 700c sport touring frame after researching the ideal geometry and clearance requirements for a wheel size conversion. I consulted Sheldon Brown’s 650B conversion guide, as well as resources available from many other cyclists, mechanics, and frame builders. A particularly easy to read guide is available at Rivendell’s site. Since that time, I have done a number of other wheel size conversions, from 650c to 26 inch, and from 700c to 650c.


Mafac Raid brakes-to supply adequate reach to the 650B rims.


Before building up the frame I dry mounted many of the components to check for clearance and chain line.

Those of us who have undertaken 650B conversions understand the brake reach, tire clearance and other considerations that must be explored when contemplating whether to convert a bike to 650B.  My spammer, however, believes that one can alter the geometry of a frame by changing the wheel size.  Without a blow torch, that would not be possible.


After the conversion to 650B, the bike looks beautiful and eats up the miles.


Wine cork spacer for the rear fender.

The outer diameter of a 38 mm 650B tire is only a bit smaller than that of a 700c x 20 tire.  The effect of the 650B conversion is to give one a chance to ride on wider tires, making the bike more useful and comfortable, and to provide for fender clearance that didn’t exist with the larger wheel size.  And, as I have stated in past posts, you don’t want to convert a frame to a smaller wheel size if your frame has a lot of bottom bracket drop.  Rivendell recommends no more than 70 mm, but you may be able to get away with a bit more drop if you are using shorter cranks.  Many bicycles from the 1970’s on have way too high bottom brackets to begin with, so lowering the bottom bracket a bit will improve the bike’s handling and cause no negative side effects.

My own Meral has very little bottom bracket drop, so the conversion improved the handling, by dropping the bottom bracket height DOWN to 27.5 cm, still very high, and much higher than recommended by some frame builders.  My trail went from 43 mm to 41, and my wheel flop stayed the same at 12.  The world did not stop spinning due to my audacious acts.  What are the factors at work that cause these changes?


Rake and Trail, drawing courtesy of Dave Moulton.

When you install smaller diameter wheels, there will be a change in the distance from the center of the axle to the ground, thus reducing the distance of the horizontal line between a straight line following the fork/headtube angle, and a vertical line from the wheel axis to the ground.  Smaller wheel diameter = less trail.  More rake also = less trail, which you can determine from the above drawing by imagining the vertical line through the axis, moving forward, reducing the trail line.  Less trail almost always equals less wheel flop, which can provide improved handling for carrying front end loads.  Wheel flop is a function of head angle and trail, so you can alter wheel flop also by changing to a longer or shorter fork, and/or to a fork with less or more rake.  But in a well thought out 650B conversion, there’s no need to worry about changing the fork.

Another misconception is that a 650B conversion causes fork shimmy.  Even though no one seems to know what does cause shimmy, I think we can say for certain that it is not caused by the “wrong combination of rake, trail and head angle.” which of course a 650B conversion does not affect anyway (rake and head angle being impossible to change without changing the fork).  Fortunately, I eliminated the shimmy on my initial build by using different tires – I switched from the ponderous Panasonic Col de la Vie tires to the comfortable, delightful and fast Loup Loup Pass tires from Compass.

Finally, here is the comment which inspired this post, in full and unedited, with misspellings and grammatical errors intact:

“As you state, the frames is well designed and its construction very well crafted; it was mostly likely built by Francis Quillon the head framebuilder at Meral..and he would be proud of it. However..he designed the bike around 700c wheels and would be astonished that you have fitted 650B, thereby upsetting all the correct design features that he had used in the frames constructions ie head angle, front end clearance, fork rake and trail…all those important features that govern how a bike handles..OH! not forgetting the height of the bracket.
Shimmy is often a result of the wrong combination of fork rake, trail and head angle..compounded, without doubt by using the wrong wheel size. So what you have managed to do is to take a delightful frame that was intended for fast road riding ie sportif use, and try to turn it into a type of randonneur…which it was never designed from the box of frame tubes , lugs etc to be.
As for the massive amount of handlebar stem quill that protrudes dangerously out of the fork column, Quillon would be alarmed at the thought ..and the sight it presents. The least you could do would be to buy one of those elegant Stronglight extra long headset lock-nuts that would both add about 30mms of extra grip to the quill while at the same time making the bike look less ridiculous than it does now…
Never mind the chrome hilights, the wonderful deep purple flamboyant paintwork..you have turned the bike into a travesty of what the designer/framebuilder intended and,
in doing so, insulted his skills.
If you really need so much seat pillar projecting from the seat cluster and such a high riding position, I suggest you get a frame that is more appropriate to your inner leg and body length.
Just a footnote…no French builder, large or small would ever let a bike with toeclip overlap leave their workshop or factory.”


Shockingly tall seatpost?

This diatribe points out how narrow minded some cyclists are –  adhering to the idea that if they do not personally experience something, then it must not exist.  One of the reasons the seat post and stem are tall is because I am using 160mm cranks, which help to eliminate toe overlap.  Shorter cranks means a taller seat post, which in turn means a taller stem.  And yes, this frame had toe overlap with the larger 700c wheels, and it was indeed designed that way – something that happens when small and even medium sized frames are built around 700c wheels.  Whether the builder considered this a necessary compromise to please a particular customer, we will never know.  Most disturbing about this rant is the ridiculous concept that style trumps comfort when setting up a bike for a particular rider.  Many riders know that taller stems mean more hours of comfortable riding.


NItto Technomic stem, sanded to French size, a la Sheldon Brown, Shimano 600 French headset.

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A travesty?

Apparently, the original Shimano 600 French headset is an absolute eyesore, when paired to the tall Nitto stem.

So hideous is the bike that it is now a “travesty”.  Well, me and my travesty will see you out on the road.  Happy riding!

The More You Pay, The More It’s Worth

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Saint Tropez mixte

I was humming Don McLean’s tune as I was working on this 1980’s mixte with questionable provenance, a bike which I had recently accepted back into the fold after years of  hanging at a friend’s business location as a display bike.

I have come to embrace this Don McLean lyric, at least with regard to consumers and their bicycles.  Notice, I did not say riders.  Too many Americans buy things which they do not actually use, and that means that buying a bicycle does not make you a cyclist.

The irony, nuance, and humor of McLean’s lyric resonates with me.  There are so many ways to experience the value vs. outlay idea.

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I had planned on simply donating this mixte to my favorite bicycle charity:  the Community Cycling Center.  But, when the bike arrived unexpectedly at my office, several interested parties emerged, especially after learning that I planned to donate the bike immediately.  This made me think about what it means to “give”, as well as what risks and rewards are involved in giving a bicycle away.  I was feeling especially philosophical as I pondered these questions.  The antidote to that was to get the bike into my shop and give it an overhaul.

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The first problem was that the headset’s grease had congealed into something resembling hard wax that got left in the can too long, and the steerer would barely turn.  Possibly the bike was hanging near a heat vent during the last 5 years?  I couldn’t imagine sending this bike out without having at least applied some fresh grease to the headset, but after 5 years of not being ridden, anything was possible.  The headset condition made me do a complete evaluation of the whole bike, which I had apparently converted to a single speed, lo those many years ago.

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Stronglight crankset with 42 T ring.

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Shimano single speed 18 T freewheel. Nice forged dropouts.

There was a time when I tried out single speed riding.  I found it didn’t suit me, although not having to worry about shifting was kind of nice in its own quirky way. Recently I had a single speed adventure on my 1929 Griffon, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  So, I may re-think my aversion, but for now I focused on my task which was to make sure the bike was safe to ride and properly set up.  The gearing on this bike, with its 42 tooth front ring and 18 tooth cog yields a 63 inch gear (or 4.7 gain ratio), given its 27 inch wheels.  As an all-round gear, maybe that’s okay for a reasonably fit rider using the bike on surface streets.

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This is a Saint Tropez mixte built with Ishiwata 4130 Chro-Mo tubing.  It is not a low end frame, but what I remember about the bike is that it had a number of low end (or unknown) components, as originally configured.  Like so many mixtes, this bike is NOT designed for a small rider.  The effective top tube length on this bike is 56 cm, even though the seat tube measures 50 cm.  I will reiterate again that mixtes are for people who want to step through the frame rather than swing a leg over the bike.  Mixtes are ideal for cyclists who prefer riding in street clothes or business attire.  Mixtes ARE NOT automatically ideal for smaller riders.

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SunTour mountain bike levers.

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Araya 27″ alloy rims laced to Suzue hubs.

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Polygon brake calipers.

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Chain stay/fender zip tie attachment.

I set this bike up with upright bars and mountain bike levers.  There was no bridge at the chainstays, so I zip tied the fender bracket to the seat tube.  The bike has single eyelets front and rear, and braze-ons to accommodate both center pull and side pull brakes.  The gray Dia Compe replacement pads work well with these Araya alloy rims – there is no break squeal and they are very effective at stopping the bike without being grabby.  Probably they would work well with steel rims as well.

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But what the heck is this bike?  It appears that Saint Tropez was a Japanese marque which seemed to exist in the 80’s and possibly early 90’s (and maybe the late 70’s).  The SN on the bottom bracket indicates that this might be a 1985 model, which corresponds with the bike’s appearance and components.  The engraved seat stay attachment is a surprising feature, given the simple lugs.  The gold sparkle and black paint scheme is really attractive, though.

So, as a “gift”, what is this bike worth?  Will it be valued by its new rider, or will it have no value, because nothing was paid for it?  I do hope that its new owner enjoys riding it.  I hope it is worth more than what was paid.

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