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.

1989 Bridgestone MB3 vs. 2018 Rivendell Appaloosa

I’ve been riding my accidentally acquired 1989 Bridgestone MB3, and my newly built up 2018 Rivendell Appaloosa for about the same amount of time, over the same terrain, having put several hundred miles on each bike.  That’s enough saddle time to work out kinks as well as develop riding preferences.  I put together both bikes earlier this year, using vintage components, with an emphasis on SunTour. The MB3 was a complete bike as purchased, so I re-used the components that I liked such as the Ritchey/Shimano wheelset and the Deore derailleurs, but replaced the cantilever brakes, levers and bar-mount shifters with SunTour components.  I also set aside the Deore bio-pace triple crankset and replaced it with a drilled Stronglight 99 double.  The Appaloosa was purchased as a frame, along with a new 650b wheelset.  The rest of the Appaloosa build consists entirely of vintage SunTour components, with the exception of the porteur bars and brake levers – both supplied by Velo Orange.

Since both bikes shared the lavender anodized Nitto stem (now on the Appaloosa), as well as the creative influence of Grant Peterson, it seems fair to make a comparison between these two machines, separated by three decades.  I built up both bikes to serve as daily Pdx commuters on my hilly route, and to be errand bikes and grocery getters.  I have also used both bikes for weekend jaunts over mixed terrain.

1989 Bridgestone Frame Geometry Table

1989 Bridgestone Specs

Rivendell Appaloosa frame geometry

It’s nice to have these frame specs for comparison purposes. Rivendell specs do not mention wheelbase length, whereas the Bridgestone specs refer you to a separate table. Wheelbase length is one of the most significant differences between the two bikes – 104 cm vs 112 cm.  If you need to haul your bike inside a building or home, the 112 cm wheelbase on the Rivendell makes for a difficult task involving bashing the bike against stair landings and hallways.  But, if you live in a Downton Abby mansion with wide staircase landings and huge entryways – the Rivendell is for you!

Brake bridge and stay clearance are not reported.  Standover height, the most misused and misunderstood spec of all time is provided by Bridgestone as well as Rivendell, failing to mention that top tube length is the correct way to determine the best bike for your human body.  I have also noticed that while early Rivendell frames sported Peterson’s much touted and desirable low BB heights, modern Rivendells have the most negligible BB drop – 66 mm for my 51 cm Appaloosa frame.  That is the kind of drop that would qualify a vintage bike for a 650b conversion, except that the Appy is already designed for 650b!

Both bikes use the vintage Suntour cantilevers that I installed.  The Appy has the champagne colored version, while the Bridgestone has the XC Pro black model.  Both brakes worked well once the intital set-up torture was complete.

SunTour Cyclone rear derailleur on the Appaloosa

Vintage SunTour Sprint Crankset – 48/39 – on the Appaloosa

Stronglight 99 with drilled 42/32 rings – on the Bridgestone Mb3 build

Original Shimano Deore 7 speed cassette and rear derailleur – Bridgestone MB3

I set up the gearing on the Bridgestone to be a little lower than the Rivendell, as I thought I would use it for more serious hauls of goods and groceries.  The gear inch range for each is as follows: Bridgestone:  28 – 87 gear inches; Appaloosa:  31 – 104 gear inches.  I haven’t used the big gear on the Appy, and that means that it might be better to alter the gearing down a bit. Both gear inch ranges are adequate for the riding I enjoy.  So in that way both bikes are comparable.

The ergonomics of both bikes are very similar, with an upright position and easily accessible shifting –  SunTour barends on the Rivendell and SunTour bar mount shifters on the Bridgestone.

Both bikes are also similar in weight – with the Rivendell at 29 lbs and the Bridgestone at 28 lbs.  While I love riding light weight machines, I know that for commuter bikes it is difficult to achieve weight savings.  A bike that is set up to haul stuff can easily weigh 28 – 30 lbs.  For me, 29 lbs is the cut off point for enjoyment.  So, both bikes are also comparable in the weight categaory.

I love riding both bikes, but the Bridgesonte MB3 edges out the Rivendell.  It is a very nice handling machine – more responsive than the Appy, and the shorter wheelbase makes it easier to accomplish the tasks that I require: moving the bike onto Max trains, hauling it up stairwells, and riding it over a variety of terrains.  The MB3 is actually slower than the Appy, so that is my caveat:  different criteria determine different results.  The Rivendell Appaloosa is a strong, relaxed monster of a bike, but it is also a very comfortable and competent machine.  The Bridgestone MB3 is a wonderful example of the quality and riding characteristics that were unique to the 1980’s but may still apply to today. Vintage Mountain Bikes make for very nice modern day commuters, and the Bridgestone MB3 is no exception.