Short People Got Nobody

1980s’s ALAN with 24 inch wheels

Randy Newman’s silly tune “Short People” was unfortunately taken literally rather than as its intended satire by the listening public when it was released back in 1977.  So, I heard this song all too often in the wrong context in those days – with people I knew laughingly singing the lyrics while mocking their friends of shorter stature, seemingly with full license from Randy himself.

But, the song was intended instead to mock those who held such discriminatory, narrow views of other humans who were ever so slightly different from themselves – a problem of human nature which seems to know no end or bounds (current events confirm this resoundingly).

The cycling industry is a casualty of such views, not only with regard to human stature, but also with regard to gender and race.

One of my quests has been to educate cyclists about the world they encounter when trying to find the appropriate bicycle for their needs.  In an ideal world, there would be no bias toward any particular size or type of bicycle.  Instead, bicycles would be manufactured according to the variation of human sizes, and according to their intended purposes (and that is to say that only a tiny fraction of bicycles would be “racing bicycles”).

1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist with 26″ wheels

The opposite was true for many recent decades.  Bicycles manufactured to fit only a certain taller human were offered, and all such bicycles were conceived as racing machines, since that is what appealed to the western, white male mass culture of the times.

The needs of daily riders, smaller cyclists, older cyclists, non-male, and non-white cyclists, and differently-abled cyclists were never considered.  Economic justice issues as they relate to transportation were not even in the vocabulary.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about what has changed and is changing in the industry, and how those changes address these basic inequalities:

1980’s Viner – converted to 650c

Wheel size:  the move toward smaller wheels for smaller frames is finally underway…again.  There was no bias in the early days of cycling toward any particular sized wheel.  Velocio” championed small wheeled bicycles from the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s as more efficient, even though he was of taller stature than most humans.  Georgena Terry is a modern day pioneer of small wheeled bicycles.  She continues to design frames around the anatomy of cyclists who are of smaller stature. Rodriguez Cycles, builder of custom frames in Seattle, also figured this out long ago, offering many frames designed for  650b, 650c and 26″ wheel sizes. Brompton, Bike Friday and other builders of small wheeled and foldable bicycles (which can be ridden by humans of any size) are also part of the solution.  Grant Petersen of Rivendell began offering smaller frames designed for 26″ and 650b wheels decades ago, well ahead of any current wheel size trends.

1990’s fillet brazed Terry Symmetry

Frame size, construction and materials:  While I love and prefer lugged steel frames, fillet brazed steel frames offer much in the way of customization for tube angles.  Georgena Terry’s smaller frames feature fillet brazing, with a sloping top tube.  Purchasers of her custom built frames can specify the degree of slope they prefer.  But one thing to remember is that for any cyclist who is actually riding a bicycle with appropriate sized wheels, they also need to carefully consider top tube length, which for me is the most important measurement on a bike’s frame.  The Terry that I include in my constellation of daily riders is a fillet brazed off the shelf Tange steel model from the 90’s.  The short 51 cm top tube means that I experience a comfortable ride, even on long hauls.  The 559 wheels allow for a large head tube – and that means an overall very comfortable ride, with more steel underneath the rider to absorb road shock.  Shorter cyclists should rule out most modern aluminum frames, as they will be much too stiff and uncomfortable due to their smaller overall size.  One exception is vintage ALAN frames (or any other bonded aluminum frame) from the 70’s to the 90’s.  These aluminum frames can actually be more flexible and comfortable than their steel counterparts.

Photo credit J. Maus

The crazy obsession with stand over height:  When was the last time you had an unfortunate encounter with your bike’s top tube?  Probably, if you are an adult, the answer is NEVER.  There really is no reason to fret over whether you have just the right amount of stand-over height for your bicycle (whatever that is) unless you are planning to use your bike for stunts.  It’s very easy to dismount a slightly taller bike than one you would normally ride and lean it over at stops.  If you have ever been to Portland, you’ll enjoy seeing the occasional tall bike making its way through traffic.  The rider has no chance of putting a foot down at stops, and instead learns to balance and maneuver their odd contraption, sans traditional bike fitting advice.

1980’s Panasonic Mountain Bike converted to City Commuter

1980 Meral custom frame converted to 650b

And, summing up:  if you are a shorter cyclist looking to get back in to cycling, or to find a bicycle better suited for your build, DON’T go to your Local Bike Shop (at least not initially).  Look at the bike you currently have:  can it be converted to a smaller wheel size?  If not, I advise purchasing an appropriate frame (or having it custom built), and then building it up to your spec’s from there.  Better yet, learn how to do this yourself by enrolling in the many bike maintenance classes that are available in your city.  Smaller lugged steel mountain bike frames make wonderful and inexpensive commuter bikes – but pay attention to the top tube length.  And, there are many lugged steel vintage 700c frames that are good candidates for conversion to 650b.

1980’s Peugeot 650c Conversion

 

Peugeot Canada

I came across this Canadian Peugeot on eBay. Before I converted it to a 650c city bike, it was equipped with a mix of Shimano 600 and 105 components, and even sported some brifters, which of course had failed some time ago.  Probably, the bike was garaged after this and that is why it was in pretty decent shape.  Thank you, Shimano.

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There was a little bit of rust in the bottom bracket shell, so I decided to treat the frame with Weigle’s frame saver.  It was nice to see the vertical drop-outs, and the cutouts on the lugs were a surprise.  Most of the finish work is very good, except for the sloppy work on the seat stay brake bridge.  Of course, the serial number is  meaningless, except the “Y” makes me wonder if this was a PY model.  Canadian Peugeot’s were manufactured by Pro Cycle beginning in 1978.  The company used lug construction vs. the French models which were internally brazed.   The frame and fork are Reynolds 531.  The fast back seat stays and the unicrown fork, as well as the style of the Reynolds stickers (which are in French) made me date this bike to the mid-80’s.  I’ve never seen a Peugeot in British racing green, but I really do like this color.  There are even some gold racing stripes on the left side seat stay.  So, it doesn’t look as French as it does British.  (And, I guess that’s why it’s Canadian.)

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I salvaged the nice Shimano 105 rear derailleur by inverting the b-screw, a la Sheldon Brown.  That made it possible to use a 32 tooth cog on the rear cassette.  For this city drive train I used a 45 tooth SR ring, a Velo Orange chain guard, and a 165 mm SR Signature crank.  With this wheel size, that yields a gear inch range of 34-93 with the 12-32 7 speed cassette pictured.  That’s just about right for any kind of city riding that involves hills.  I used Tektro’s long reach brakes, which are what I use for all my 650c conversions, and 650c Terry Tellus 28 mm tires. These tires ride quite well and are virtually bullet proof.  The wheelset is comprised of 28 hole Dura Ace hubs laced to Mavic XP12 rims in a 2 cross style.  This wheelset came off of a late 90’s titanium triathlon bike. While this set may seem positively robust by today’s standards, I am a big fan of strong wheelsets with at least 3 cross lacing and 32 spokes front and rear.  However, for a small and light-weight rider, which is who I designed this bike for, this wheelset should work just fine.

Peugeot 531 City Bike Conversion

For the rest of the build, I chose an upright position using Velo-Orange’s Monmartre handlebar with reverse Dia Compe levers.  I had some matching Shimano 105 shifters, so used those to complement the rear derailleur.  They can be used in friction or index mode with this 1 x 7 drive train.

The standover height is 29 1/2 inches.  The bike weighs 21 lbs as pictured, so it will make a very nice and responsive city bike for a small rider.

For sale now.

1980’s Viner City Bike Conversion

1980's Viner

A few posts back I featured this Viner that I had purchased with the intention to disassemble it and keep the frame on hand for a potential build.  Well, I kept looking at the frame and couldn’t help thinking how much fun it would be to convert the bike to 650c (from 700c) and to build it into a city bike.  A city bike in Portland, Oregon is not the same as a city bike in other cycling hubs across the globe.  We have hills here, we have bridges, shockingly little cycling infrastructure, and hence relatively fast commutes compared to more laid back cities such as Amsterdam.  The ideal city bike in Portland (at least for now) is a bike that is nimble, fast, and lightweight.

Tektro Long Reach Brakes, Terry 650c tires

Tektro Long Reach Brakes, Terry 650c tires

So, I built the bike back up, keeping as many of the original components as would make sense for the build.  However, once I got into the project I could see that the only components that should be kept were the original crankset (Ofmega Mistral with Campagnolo rings), Shimano Italian threaded bottom bracket,  Shimano 105 front derailleur, Atax stem, and Shimano 105 shifters.

During the time I was working on the bike, I heard from a reader who asked me how you can tell a real Viner from a fake one.  Well, I was surprised that anyone would even try to fake a Viner, but apparently this has happened.  After doing some research I found an informative blog that helped to clarify this point:  all real Viner’s have their bottom brackets stamped with the seat tube length ( in cm) on the underside of the BB.  This is how you can be certain that you are riding a real Viner vs. a fake.  This Viner has “49” stamped on the underside of the BB, and it is a 49 cm frame.1980's Viner

The success of converting a bike from 700c to 650c depends on the original frame geometry.  A bike with a lot of BB drop, and with a shallow head tube angle can present more of a challenge than a bike that has a steep head tube and not so much BB drop.  Also, a bike with very little fork rake combined with a slack head tube angle can also present a challenge when converted to 650c.  Unfortunately, this little bike had all of those frame geometry problems.  It’s a small bike that should probably never have been built for 700c tires.  To shorten the top tube a very steep 74 degree seat tube angle was used, combined with a slack 71 degree head tube angle, and very little fork rake at 45 mm.  The result:  a bike with more wheel flop and trail than is ideal in my opinion.  However, converting the bike to 650c IMPROVED the wheel flop and trail numbers substantially – going from a wheel flop factor of 21 to 19 mm and a trail measurement of 69 to 58 mm.  I did this frame a favor by converting it to 650c.  Some vintage Viners (all of which were hand-built) feature very fancy lugs with cutouts.  This frame is simpler, but all of the finish work is outstanding.

Beautiful finish work on the seat lug, Columbus Cromor tubing

Beautiful work on the seat lug, Columbus Cromor tubing

Columbus drop-outs, fully chromed chain stays

Columbus drop outs, fully chromed chainstay

I used a Shimano Deore XT rear derailleur in case the new owner of this bike wants to use index shifting (which works fine with the Shimano 105 downtube shifters and this derailleur) and/or larger cogs in the back.  With the 42/52 rings, lower gearing in the form of larger cogs for city riding can be helpful.  The cassette I installed is 12-30, giving a low gear of 34 inches for this wheel size.  If the new owner wants to convert the bike back to a road bike, all that is needed would be to swap out the bars and levers for road-type equipment and possibly change out the cassette.  Here are some photos of the rest of the build:

Omfega Mistral crankset with Campagnolo rings 42/52

Ofmega Mistral crankset with Campagnolo rings 42/52

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Mavic CXP33 black rims with silver sidewalls

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Nitto Northroad bars with Lizard Skin red white and blue grips and original Atax stem

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Ultegra hubs with 32 holes front and rear

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Ofmega Mistral crankset – considered one of the nicest cranksets ever made

One of the nice things about this Viner is the color of the frame.  It is seemingly black – but also purple/brown in low light.  The black Mavic rims with the silver sidewalls seemed to be just about perfect in highlighting the frame color.  I had fun building up this bike, but I do NOT want to have too much fun test riding it – I have too many bikes in my stable already.