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 Mystery Vintage Touring Bike Courtesy of Fred DeLong

I discovered Fred Delong’s publications much too late in my life.  DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles and Bicycling, first published in 1974 (the year I graduated from high school), is a treasure trove of both technical and non-geeky information, and includes photos and material I have never seen elsewhere.

Fred was a lifelong cyclist, author, and bike guru, and was inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 2001, six years after he passed away in 1995.

His book is unusual for its time in American cycle publishing.  It features French, Italian, and British built bicycles, and includes discussions of 650b tires with supple sidewalls mounted on low trail camping bikes, avoidance of toe overlap on touring bikes, and the importance of clearance in frame builds to allow for wider tires, as well as eyelets and baze-ons for fenders and racks.  Sound familiar?

The above photos are close up crops of the original photo shown as figure 2.11 in DeLong’s 1974 guide.  While most of the other photos in the book contain credits or are otherwise referenced, this image was not referenced or credited anywhere in the book.  That means we don’t know who built this bike.

So, let’s start with what we do know about this bike.  According to DeLong, this bike’s features are as follows:

“Wide tubular platform carrier with pannier bags mounted…

Hollow aluminum alloy rims on Phil Wood sealed precision bearing hubs…

Alloy mudguards, front with sliding fender flap in raised position and built-generator lighting…

Mafac Cantilever tandem brakes, rear brake cable direct routing (200 degree cable arc) with hooded levers

Aluminum alloy Randonneur handlebars

531 chrome-molybdenum braze-welded frame – 71 degree head and seat tube angles

15-speed wide-range gearing (23-116) on TA alloy crank and chainwheel set.”

Remember, this book was published in 1974. The photos in the book are all probably from at least one or two years earlier.  Phil Wood founded his hub manufacturing company back in 1971 when, as a racer he became frustrated with hubs developing play and needing an overhaul after each competition. That led him to explore sealed bearing designs for hubs and bottom brackets.  By the time of the 1976 BikeCentennial, Phil Wood’s hubs were all the rave, with touring cyclists ordering up Phil Wood hubs for their wheel builds, in preparation for a cross-country journey.

The above photo depicts an extremely unusual (for the time) sloping top tube.  The builder’s logos are not clear enough to make out, but the down tube seems to indicate “XP SR”.  The seat tube reflects some circular and elliptical logos, presumably also indicating the builder/manufacturer and/or frame tubing transfers.  Is this a custom frame?  I think not.  A custom frame wouldn’t ordinarily have what appear to be model monikers on the down tube. As DeLong indicates in the text, the frame is made of 531 steel and is fillet brazed.  The rear brake features through the frame routing for the “200 degree” cable arc.  While not necessarily a custom feature, it is also certainly unusual for a non-custom frame built in the early 1970’s.

The other intriguing elements of this bike include:

An extension (presumably) on the Mafac levers

A cover (or something similar) on the rear derailleur

A front tire which appears to be wider than the rear tire

A very long reach stem – possibly to accommodate a shorter than desired top tube length

Generous fork rake combined with slack angles

Half step gearing with a tiny third ring

Who made this bike?  Ideas and speculations are welcome.  In the meantime, I discovered a bicycle ridden by DeLong which went up for sale a while back.  The photo below shows the bike, a French JB Louvet built with Reynolds 531 tubing, in disrepair.  But, it may give some clues about DeLong’s interests and preferences.

Fred Delong’s JB Louvet – courtesy of http://bikeville.blogspot.com/

 

Old School Touring

1985 Nashbar Toure MT

1985 Nashbar Toure MT

Of all the fads and trends in the cycling industry, the touring era that accompanied the 1976 BikeCentennial in the U.S. was probably the most positive.  While not everyone wants or needs a touring bike – a touring bike is a bike that can work well for all kinds of riding.  And, due to economic conditions during this era – favorable exchange rates for the Japanese yen and the oil crisis of the early 70’s – the U.S. market was flooded with low cost, high quality touring bikes in the mid 70’s to mid 80’s.  These bikes often survive intact, as they were quite well made to begin with, and were usually equipped with top of the line components.

Japanese brands like Centurion, Nishiki, Bridgestone, Fuji, Miyata, Panasonic, and Univega were among the most well known manufacturers to build high quality touring bicycles.  Raleigh, Peugeot, Trek, Specialized, Austro-Daimler, Gitane, Motobecane, Mercier, and others also joined in to build some of the nicest touring bikes ever mass produced.

These touring bikes of the late 70’s and early 80’s hold a special place in my heart.  Their excellent build quality and beautiful design represent freedom, exploration, and adventure.

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This lovely 1985 Nashbar Toure MT is a great example of the quality that could be had for a reasonable price.  The frame was built for Nashbar by Maruishi – a Japanese builder not as well known as others, but still producing a beautifully brazed machine of double butted cro-mo steel.  The gorgeous blue sparkle paint and well brazed seat cluster show off its quality.

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All the finish work is top notch.  This is a bike I would keep for myself if it were my size.

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Brazed on rack mounts

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Sealed Tange headset

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SunTour downtube shifters.

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SunTour sealed cartridge bearing bottom bracket with chain line adjuster on the drive side.

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Sealed cartridge bearing hubs. No maintenance required.

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Classic Blackburn bottle cage.

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2nd bottle cage mount underneath the downtube.

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Seat tube has no bottle cage braze-ons – left clean for mounting a frame pump.

There are so many nice features on this amazing bike that it’s hard to list them all.  One reason that the bike is so pristine, however, is because long ago the SunTour Mountech rear derailleur had failed, and the bike was put away, thankfully in a dry, clean space.

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So, I replaced the rear derailleur with a Shimano 600 long cage mechanism from the same era.  It works perfectly with the original 100% SunTour drivetrain.

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Triple crank with half step gearing.

This bike was built in the days of gear shifting pattern obsession.  Half step gearing was a way to have a routine shifting pattern that would maintain cadence as the terrain changed.  In practice, at least for me, I prefer not having to constantly double shift, so I am not enamored with half step gearing and have, when confronted with it, replaced the large middle chain ring with something smaller, such as a 40 or 42.  But, some riders love half-step gearing and more power to them (pun intended).

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Araya 27 Inch rims.

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Nashbar logo on the downtube.

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Sealed cartridge bearing hubs, Suntour freewheel.

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SunTour Mountech front derailleur

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SunTour chromed forged dropouts with single eyelets on the rear.

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Powerful Dia Compe cantilevers.

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Lowrider fork mounts.

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SunTour sealed cartridge bearing bottom bracket with chain line adjuster on the drive side.

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Beautifully machined BB shell.

It would be tough to find a similarly engineered touring bike with these quality components, for a price that even remotely comes close to what you can buy this bike for now.  One problem is that most cyclists associate Nashbar with low end liquidation components, rather than any kind of quality.  But, back in the 1980’s, the arrival of the Nashbar mail order catalog was an exciting event.  I ordered many wonderful and interesting components for my old 1976 Centurion from Nashbar back then.  Today, however, the company is known for its discounted and discontinued parts, rather than for quality bicycles, for better or for worse.

This wonderful old touring machine is going to a friend’s stable in Southern Oregon, where I know it will be ridden and appreciated.  I hope to join him and his spouse on some wonderful rides through Southern Oregon wine country, and I will be a bit jealous his bike.2016-09-13-001