Brake Pads for Steel Rims

Fibrax leather faced brake pads

I’ve been enjoying cruising around on my newly restored 1965 Sears/Puch 3 speed, but was reminded during a recent excursion on a wet and windy day how poorly steel rims perform in the rain.  I needed to stop suddenly but was unable to do so, and it took several revolutions of the brake pads against the rims to clear the water and finally take hold.  By then, it was necessary to swerve!

I’ve known about leather faced brake pads for steel rims, but haven’t tried them until now.  I ordered enough pads for two bikes from an eBay seller.  Even though these pads shipped from the Leicester region of the U.K. and were expected to arrive in 30 days, I actually received them within two weeks (supply chain problems be damned).

These Fibrax pads do not have a directional notation as did the Weinmann’s which they are replacing, but they do have an orientation requirement.  The pads are angled to match the contour of the rim.

The pads need to be positioned as shown above so that they can contact the rims evenly when the brake levers are engaged.

It’s easy to assume that these older single pivot sidepull brake calipers don’t have any kind of quick release, which is true for the calipers themselves.  However, by squeezing the pads against the rim, you can slacken the cable tension and use the quick release available on the brake levers – just pull the ferrule out of its slot and let it go.  It’s best to do this after you’ve screwed the barrel adjuster all the way down, to provide further cable slack.  A slackened cable makes it much easier to get the pads in place.

So, how do these Fibrax leather-faced brake pads perform?  I took the bike out for a spin to try them out.  Today was a warm and glorious day, and the leaf strewn streets were drying out.  So, I found a few giant rain puddles in some shaded areas and splashed through to get some water up on the rims.  Then, I sped up and braked suddenly.  And, voila, they worked beautifully and I was able to stop as expected, without multiple revolutions of the wheel to clear the moisture off the rim.  On my ride today I thought about how 3 speed cycling is something everyone should try. I ended up going on a much longer jaunt than originally planned because this kind of bike with its upright position and simple shifting encourages a relaxed pace allowing for exploration, peace, and wonder – the things I love most about cycling.

The Many Faces of ALAN

My mid-80’s ALAN bicycle is one of my favorite rides.  For awhile it left my stable to seek accommodation with a small-of-stature family member, as it is a tiny bike with 24 inch wheels.  The bike didn’t work for that rider, so I regretfully (NOT!) accepted the bike back last winter.

For the past months I have happily ridden this bike all over the place.  It’s so little that I can easily transport it inside my Highlander with an internal bike rack.  Weighing in at 19 lbs means it can be lifted and carried just about anywhere, so it’s also a perfect bike for exploring unusual terrain involving a portage or two.  But, as you can see from the above photos, I had set this bike up for my family member with a simple 1×7 indexed drivetrain and a very upright riding position.  I had also used a 152mm crankset to accommodate the bike’s lower 25cm BB height, and that meant a lot of spinning. As I contemplated changes to make the bike more sporty and with better ergonomics for my own enjoyment, I realized that I hadn’t given the bike a complete overhaul since acquiring it 5 years ago.

The bike went through a number of iterations during that time, including several setups with drop bars and city style bars, but even after all that fun experimentation, the hubs, bottom bracket and headset hadn’t been touched since 2013.

ALAN frames are built with aluminum tubes screwed and glued into steel lugs.  When I stripped the bike down for an overhaul, I wanted to also examine all the lugs to make sure the frame was holding together after over 3 decades of use.  The bottom bracket shell provided my first look at how ALAN bikes are constructed. The main tubes appear to have flutes, which I can only imagine were installed after the straight portion of the tubes were screwed and glued into the BB shell.  You can see from the 2nd photo above that the BB shell was also threaded to accept the chainstays, but those tubes do not have flutes, but are simply the straight tubes threading into the shell.

As part of the overhaul I used my torque wrench to check the bolts joining the stays and brake bridges to the frame and lugs.  I haven’t been able to locate the torque setting recommendations for these bolts, so I intended to adjust any bolt with a lower torque to its corresponding bolt with a higher torque.  However, all the bolts were adjusted evenly so no changes were necessary.  As I examined the frame I noted the SN on the bottom bracket:  D26173, and wondered if this was a date code.  Based on my research, the BB number is not a date code, and it appears that some ALAN frames had a date code on the seat tube or on the seat tube lug.  This bike had a frame dimension code on the seat tube lug:  46 x 48, but no other SN.  And, its ALAN “headbadge” is on the seat tube. Fortunately, it is also possible to date a bike by its components.  The Shimano Dura Ace brake calipers were marked with a “KK” code, which means the brakes were manufactured in November of 1986.  So, I would surmise that this ALAN is a 1986 or 1987 model.

Once I overhauled the BB, headset, hubs, and pedals, it was time to think about the changes I wanted to make.  I swapped out the tall dirt drop stem for a less tall Nitto Technomic stem paired to a Nitto flat bar that I cut down (5 cm off each end) to make the bar more suited to this little bike.  But the real Tour de Force was installing Simplex Retrofriction shifters on Velo-Orange thumbies.  I hadn’t used these much praised shifters before, and was kind of skeptical about how they would perform.  How could they really be better than SunTour’s ratcheting shifters?  Simplex Retrofriction shifters are not a ratcheting mechanism, but instead have an internal spring acting as a directional clutch.  Using them was eye opening.  These shifters are far more subtle and precise that any others I have used.  The only downside is the ridiculous amount of travel when used with an 8 speed drive train, as you can see from the 2nd photo above.  That’s a small price to pay for the silence and precision of this amazing component.

I wanted to use a crankset with longer arms to provide for a more comfortable cadence, but not too long given the bike’s low BB height.  I sourced these NOS TA 160mm cranks from eBay, with 48/38 rings.  I was worried that the T.A. cranks would sit too far inboard on the Dura Ace 115 mm spindle.  They worked out well in this case, but with only a tiny bit of clearance from the drive side chainstay.  The bike’s very short chain stays means that one must not cross-chain this drive-train, but that is also sometimes true of bikes with longer chainstays.  In practice, this crankset was just right for this bike, although I had to get used to having the extra larger chainring for shifting to bigger gears!

Hailing from the 80’s, this bike’s wheelset is Shimano 600 tricolor hubs laced to 24 inch Mavic Open 4 rims.  The seatpost is the ALAN spec’d 25.0 American Classic that most early ALAN bicycles were equipped with.  I’m using MK3 Vee Rubber micro knobby tires, which have performed perfectly and with never a flat in the last five years.  My no longer available Detours seatpost bag serves as a de facto rear fender, blocking mud and debris from my backside.

Here is the ALAN as reconfigured, with a double TA 160mm crank, lower and flatter Nitto bars, and Simplex Retrofriction shifters mounted to Velo Orange thumbies.  I’m happy with this configuration, and hope to keep riding this one of a kind bike for years to come.

Welcome Home, Centurion

Here is lovely 1975 Centurion Semi Pro.  It has been well preserved over the decades by its original owner, and I am now the proud steward of this extraordinary machine.

As readers of this blog already know, I have been on a decades long quest to replace my crashed 1976 Centurion Pro Tour, a bike which was my only bike for over 20 years, and upon which I logged over 40,000 miles including tours of the Pacific Northwest, the San Juan Islands, and Canada, as well as serving as my daily commuter.  The Pro Tour was my original all-rounder.

So, when I saw this baby blue 1975 Centurion Semi Pro on eBay, I knew I would be honored to shepherd this bike into its next phase.

When the bike arrived, I unpacked it like a toddler with a new toy, and when I found these interesting frame transfers, they confirmed the information provided by the seller of the bike (who was not the original owner, but who sold it on their behalf).  The first human to ride this Centurion was a member of the US Cycling Federation (now known as USA Cycling), and had ordered the full Dura Ace upgrade for this bike, as well installing racing tubulars instead of the 27″ clincher rims offered as standard equipment.  The original owner was also a member of the League of American Wheelmen and had added these black and white racing flag transfers to the top tube.

While the bike clearly had a documented racing heritage, I was puzzled to find the Dura Ace crankset mounted with a chainguard.  And, you’ll note that the rings are not in racing configuration, but are a compact set-up with 52 teeth on the large ring and 39 on the small ring.  Both rings are Shimano Dura Ace.  Don’t forget to notice the lovely Dura Ace front derailleur.  The Dura Ace upgrade included:  the front derailleur, the anodized brake calipers, the drilled levers and the crankset:

These Dura Ace components are in amazing condition.  The drilled levers look new, but are given away by the gum hoods which have long ago lost their resilience.  The brake calipers are beautifully anodized.  The Dura Ace crankset with its 172.5 arms is in equally amazing condition, considering its 43 years in service.

I enjoyed seeing this unusual Huret wrap around chrome cable guide which provides shifter cable routing on both sides of the frame. This bike has zero braze-ons.  While it is built with Tange Prestige #1 tubing, during this era braze-ones were rare, and most needed accessories and cable guides were handled via clamps.

SunTour Mighty ratcheting downtube shifters

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Shimano Crane GS drilled long cage derailleur

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SunTour GS chromed dropouts with single eyelet and adjuster screws

The drivetrain consists of SunTour ratcheting Mighty shifters mated to the Dura Ace front derailleur and a Shimano Crane GS rear derailleur.  The Crane would be needed to handle the 52/39 rings up front.  The dropouts are by SunTour, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as lovely as these fully chromed SunTour GS dropouts.  Their unusual shape made me look up this component in the SunTour catalog.  You’ll note that the design pushes the dropouts inward toward the hub.  I wonder if this simplified mitering the rear stays.

The pedals also provided a surprise – they are very rare Barelli Supreme pedals, with the optional alloy cages.  According to the site Classic Lightweights, these pedals “were considered the Rolls Royce of pedals. The spindle was made from Nickel Chrome Steel and they were machined for accuracy at the bearing surfaces and they came with a life time guarantee”  That, and the other component upgrades help to explain why this bike weighs in at 22 lbs.

The upgraded wheelset consists of 27″ Super Champion Competition tubular rims laced to Sunshine Pro Am low flange hubs.  A new set of Pararacer 20mm tubulars were installed as part of the deal.  I’m not sure how well the new tubulars were glued, so I will probably install a clincher wheelset on hand for this bike’s first test ride.

The bars were upgraded to 3TTT, mated to a Cinelli stem.  The original SR seatpost looks beautiful with this Cinelli leather Unicantor saddle.  Unicantors were the first plastic base saddles of this era.  I haven’t ridden one before and look forward to trying it out.  You’ll also note the Centurion’s impressive, chrome wrap around seat stay.

This Semi Pro has the following SN:  M5J00027.  Consistent with all Centurion frames I have encountered, and as documented by others, the first letter indicates the frame builder, but no one knows who that is.  Since both my 1976 Pro Tour and this 1975 Semi Pro start with an “M” I will guess they were both built by the same manufacturer, probably Japanese.  The second numeral is a “5” and that indicates the year built – 1975 – which is consistent with the bike’s components.  Another way to date a bike without a reliable serial number is by the components.

Some readers might wonder about the photos in this post.  For the most part I used my Panasonic Lumix mirrorless camera, but I also brought out my Leica Digilux 2 for some of the photos seen here.

I look forward to venturing out on this extraordinary bike, and will keep you posted on our progress.

And, here are some related technical and historical documents:

1978 Centurion catalog (the 1975 catalog does not seem to exist online) – vintage centurion site – http://vintage-centurion.com/literature/centurion-catalogs.shtml

1975 Shimano Dura Ace – disraeligears site – http://www.disraeligears.co.uk/Site/A_Complete_Line_of_Shimano_1975.html

1976 SunTour catalog – Velobase site – http://www.velo-pages.com/main.php?g2_itemId=12472