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.

Love the One You’re With

Whenever I ride my 1980’s Guerciotti I am amazed at its performance.  It is more responsive and faster than any of my other bikes, some of which are no slouches in the performance department.  The only reason I don’t ride this bike more often is that 650c tire sizes are limited to fairly narrow widths, and given its racing heritage, it can’t (and doesn’t want to) haul a bunch of stuff.

The frame is built with Columbus Aelle tubing.  The seat stays are small diameter, and the fork crown and seat cluster feature beautiful engravings accented with white paint against the royal blue main color.

I used Paul’s thumbies to bring the shifters up to the bar.  The Tektro long reach brakes worked perfectly for this wheel size conversion (from 700c to 650c).

The frame had no eyelets or braze-ons for racks and fenders.  So, I used zip ties to secure the fenders at the rear and p-clamps for the front fenders and front rack.

In keeping with its Italian heritage, I used a Campagnolo crankset, bottom bracket, and headset when building up the bike.  The crankset’s arms are 170mm, and if I were to replace the crankset I would choose one with shorter arms as to address the low bottom bracket height after the conversion to 650c.

After 5 years of use, all these modifications are still working perfectly – it is a delight to ride and handles beautifully.

 

650B Conversion Misconceptions

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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?

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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.”

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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.

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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!