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.

Cycling Along the Columbia Slough to Smith & Bybee Lakes

Winter cycling can bring surprises.  Recently I wanted to try a different route out to Smith & Bybee Lakes involving less street cycling and more options for fewer total miles.  I was yearning to spend some time in nature, and especially wanted to enjoy the wintering birds which populate this watershed of the Columbia River Basin.

I did some research to see if there were some alternate routes which were new since I last ventured out this way.  I found the above map from the City of Portland site, which shows a possible 24 mile loop beginning up in North Portland.  I didn’t choose the recommended starting point and instead drove my bike out to the Smith & Bybee Lakes parking lot, but used the map as a reference for choosing as many off-road trails as possible.

From the parking lot I first ventured east, and stopped at one of the Smith Lake viewing spots.  This experience changed my whole outlook on the ride.  I took a few videos with my iPhone, shown above, which depict the Lake’s natural beauty and teeming wildlife.  There are over 200 species of birds which have been identified in this area, and it is a destination point for birders.

Continuing east I crossed Portland Road and continued along the off-road path which is best described as “occasionally paved”.  Fortunately, the 32mm 650b tires on my 1975 Centurion Semi-Pro worked well for this road surface.  The route is almost completely flat and passes by a sewage treatment plant (not pictured!) and a golf course.  Bald eagles flew overhead while I observed snowy egrets and great blue herons hunting on slough’s banks.

40 years ago, I regularly rode my 1976 Centurion Pro Tour from my house in SE Portland out to Kelly Point Park and back, so it seemed fitting to take the Semi-Pro out for this ride.  I’ve got it set up with Northroad bars for a comfortable but reasonably vigorous riding position.  Back then, the entire route was on streets and highways, and I’m glad now to have the option to explore this region without having to deal with the stress of road cycling.  In those days, there were no cell phones to contribute to distracted driving, and no gigantic SUVs and trucks to kill you instantly.

I cycled out to the end of the path at Vancouver Avenue, then turned around and headed west back to the lakes.  I was saddened to see the trash around the campsites which line the slough near the Vancouver Avenue overpass, but upon returning felt rejuvenated as the skies opened up and delivered a touch of blue.  I continued on toward Kelly Point park, then circled back to stop again at the Lakes, which cannot be explored by bike.  Dismounting is required to protect the natural areas.  I walked my bike slowly along the trails leading to the view points, but a rack is provided at the trail head if you prefer to lock your bike up.

Smith & Bybee Lakes offer a respite from city cycling, even though they are surrounded by industrial lands and were once a dumping site for toxic waste.  If you venture out here on your bike, be sure to stop and take in the sights, smells, and sounds.  You won’t be disappointed.

A 1975 Centurion Semi Pro

I’ve finished my re-interpretation of this 1975 Centurion Semi Pro, with today’s late fall Pacific Northwest sunshine providing warmth and dry roads for its first test ride.

1975 Centurion Semi Pro in original configuration

After purchasing the bike a few months ago, I disassembled it, assessed its frame and components, and then re-built it as a city commuter, to reflect the kind of riding I currently enjoy.  The frame was free of rust, and in unusually nice condition for its age.  This Centurion Semi Pro had been upgraded at original purchase to Shimano Dura Ace components and a 27″ tubular wheelset.

I kept as much as I could of the original Dura Ace components, but I knew that I would replace the wheelset, not wanting to ride on 27 inch 20mm tubulars through downtown Portland.  At first, I considered a 650b conversion as the best option for adapting this bike to my riding style.  But, the close clearances on this frame designed for 27″ wheels meant that I was looking at an 87mm brake reach to accomplish the conversion.  While possible, this amount of reach is not ideal.  There are brake calipers which have enough reach to accomplish the conversion, but they are not in my constellation of desirable components.  Instead, I converted it to 700c, using the existing anodized Dura Ace calipers, which had plenty of reach for a 700c wheelset.

Campagnolo Record quick release skewer, SunTour GS Chromed dropouts with adjuster screws and single eyelets.

Mavic Open Pro 700c rims

Campagnolo Record hubs

Pasela 700 c 35 mm tires

And that wheelset turned out to be one that I had built a while back and which I had used on my old Davidson:  Campagnolo Record 36 hole hubs built up on new Mavic Open Pro rims.  The blue rim logo picks up nicely on the Centurion’s sky blue frame paint. The tires are Panasonic Pasela 700 x 35. They have a tread pattern which is different from all other Pasela tires.  The big tires on 700c wheels make for a tall bike, which I noticed throwing a leg over and while riding in its new upright position. Being visible is a plus for cycling commuters.

Blackburn rack with single stay attachment to the brake bridge

For the modifications to convert this bike to city use, I selected some of my favorite components:  a Stronglight 99 crankset with 48/37 rings, a SunTour gold 14-32 freewheel, SunTour bar mount ratcheting shifters, Dia Comp brake levers, and french Sufficit grips glued to a steel Northroad bar.  Most useful was a NOS Jim Blackburn rear rack with its single stay attachment to the rear brake bridge – a great solution for bikes without rear rack mounts.

When I was selecting and testing components, the original Shimano Crane GS rear derailleur presented some problems:  the amount of tension needed to shift to larger rear cogs was significant.  And that tension helped to explain the scratch damage on the frame from the shifter clamp moving down the downtube.  I found that the original Shimano Crane GS rear derailleur was not performing as expected.  I disassembled the derailleur (thank you RJ the bikeguy) and found that the springs and pivot bolts were caked in grime and dirt.  However, after cleaning and lubrication, the Shimano Crane derailleur still requires a significant amount of cable tension to move the parallelogram.  Shifting the bike today on its test ride required overshifting on the up shifts, and a lot of adjustment on the downshifts.  I expect that I will probably replace the Shimano Crane with a SunTour derailleur to improve the rear shifting.

When I ventured out today, I planned on riding my usual route around my hilly neighborhood. I enjoyed getting out for a ride on this Centurion Semi Pro. There seemed to be almost no interference between my crank inputs and the bike’s outputs.  The ride was smooth and effortless.  The way back home to my house involves choosing among several different routes, varying in difficulty.  With this bike’s easy pedaling, I chose the most difficult route home, one that I have dubbed the “TDF” route, with its cobblestones and steep inclines.  That’s a route I only ride on my ALAN or Guerciotti – lightweight and high performance bikes.  So, even as converted to a city style bike, this Centurion Semi Pro has impressed me.