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.

Restoring a 1965 Sears Puch 3 Speed

Today was the perfect day to finish the restoration of this 1965 Sears/Puch 3 speed. It was cold, rainy, windy, and the streets were strewn with wet leaves.  In other words, a typical Autumn day in Portland and one that shows off the practical gear on this 56 year old bicycle – fenders, internal gears, chainguard, and flat pedals.

I enjoyed my first spin on this bike so much, that I quickly rode back to my shop and installed a kickstand (a replacement from the original – slightly shorter to allow a better angle when parked) and a rear saddlebag so I could go on a longer jaunt if needed.

On the initial test ride, I found that the single bolt handlebar/stem adjustment was not sufficiently tight, and also found myself freewheeling when trying to shift from 3rd to 2nd gear – a sign that the shifter cable needed a little more tension. Those were easy fixes, but the restoration itself was a little more involved.

The headset turned out to be a 3 notch model, and one for which I needed a special tool.  That meant purchasing this nifty Hozan which has a bottom bracket lock ring remover on one end, and a properly sized tool for removing this type of headset on the other end.

I wasn’t able to get a proper bottom bracket adjustment with the existing cups, so I replaced them with a British model, and then also need to use its special tool – a Park HCW-11 which fortunately I already had on hand.  That did the trick, and the bottom bracket adjustment came out beautifully.

Although built in Austria by Puch, the bike was equipped with an interesting array of OEM parts from various countries, including a Raleigh spindle and cottered crankset, which was easily removed and reinstalled using Bikesmith’s cotter pin press.

The bike also had a mismatched wheelset, with the rear rim being a British Dunlop, and the front a Japanese Araya.  Likewise, the brake levers were also a mismatch with an older Swiss Weinmann on the left and a newer Japanese Dia-Comp on the right.  Probably, the Japanese parts were installed after a mishap, likely back in the 70’s judging by the style of the components.

Added to the mix were the brake calipers – the front being a “Schwinn-approved” and the rear a Weinmann.  Schwinn didn’t make calipers at this point in history so I believe this one was also made by Weinmann, but probably dates to the 1970’s and was a replacement part.  I like keeping a bike’s history intact so I left everything as it was.  All of these components are very nice and are working perfectly.

Setting up the Sturmey Archer 3 speed system took as much time as much of the other mechanical work.  While the hub cleaned up beautifully and was in great condition after lubrication, it took a few passes to get the cable tension just right so that shifting was spot on. It’s been awhile since I have worked on a Sturmey Archer set-up and had forgotten about using this all important clamp to help with the initial cable tension.  It has a special ferrule with shoulders that fit over the clamp.  Once the the cable is installed in the shifter, this clamp can be loosened and repositioned to get the first pass at cable tension after the indicator spindle has been connected.

I also spent a lot of time cleaning and waxing the paint, and doing a little touch up painting on the more egregious areas of paint loss.  While the quality of the paint and frame tubing is not up to Raleigh standards, the bike looks attractive and offers a similar ride to my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist.  By lowering the gearing with a new SA 22 tooth cog, this bike cruises along at just the right cadence on level roads, and can get up the hills so much easier in first gear.  The new gear inch range is 40 – 73, a significant improvement over the 50 -88 range with the original 18 tooth cog.  That’s going to be perfect for my plans for this bike – an office errand machine for noon time jaunts and lunch outings.  I’m looking forward to putting it into service, and it will be easy to enjoy this bike in all types of weather, even today’s.

Reconversion Therapy: 700c to 650b to 700c

I’ve had a long and interesting relationship with this early 1980’s Meral Sportif.  It’s actually the bike that inspired me to start this blog.  I acquired it as a frame and fork back in 2012.  It was going to be the platform for a 650b conversion – the first one I had attempted.

While the conversion to 650b went fine, there were some issues with the bike:  the frame was slightly too small for me, and the bike had serious toe overlap with the fenders I had installed.  I later changed the build in a number of different ways, installing upright bars and different fenders that had a flush connection to the front stays, so as not to engage my shoes.  I put a lot of miles on the bike, and enjoyed tweaking the components, but a couple of years ago I stripped it down to the frame, and set it aside, not knowing what I would do with it.

Recently I have been searching for a project that I could actually start and finish within a reasonable period of time, having become frustrated with a number of other vintage builds presenting road blocks at every turn.  And, I have been wanting to move toward selling many of the bikes in my too large collection.  Due to the pandemic there’s not only a shortage of new bikes and parts, but also a renewed interest in cycling.  So, this seems the perfect time to thin out the stable.

My first thought was to accept the bike as it is:  a small frame designed around 700c wheels. I focused on making the bike true to its French heritage and to its original purpose as a sport riding machine, but with enough all-rounder gear to make it useful for all kinds of riding.

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I was pleasantly surprised to find that even with these 32mm Paselas, there’s enough room for fenders at the fork crown and rear brake bridge.  I installed a set of beautiful Shimano 600 side pulls, which work very well with the Dia Compe levers on the Phillipe bars.  The bike has its original Shimano 600 headset, French sized, so I didn’t mind mixing all kinds of components, both Japanese and French.

The drive train consists of a Sugino GT crankset with 50/45/34 rings, paired with a NOS Suntour Ultra 13-30 6 speed freewheel.  This gives a wide gear inch range of 30 – 104 – perfect for full speed blasting and hill climbing.  I used a Shimano Deore long cage rear derailleur, the same one I have always used with the bike, as well as a vintage Shimano front derailleur.

Gear changes are seamless with these Suntour stem-mounted ratcheting shifters. It’s nice to have the shifters close at hand rather than on the downtube.  Previously I had installed a converted Huret shifter clamp, allowing Shimano pods to be mounted.

The “new” 700c wheelset consists of vintage Campagnolo Record hubs laced to new Mavic Open Pro rims, a set that I built a while back.  As expected, these wheels are smooth running and spin forever.

The rear rack adds utility, but with the porteur bars up front, a front rack would fit nicely as well.  The frame size is 49 cm (seat tube) X 51 (top tube), perfect for someone about 5’2 to 5’4, but with a shorter inseam than my 30 inches.  I’ll be listing this bike along with some of my others over the winter months and I hope its new owner gets to enjoy it as much as I have.