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.

Goodbye, Little ALAN

1980's ALAN Cyclocross

I have enjoyed riding around on this tiny ALAN cyclocross bike.  I originally purchased it several years ago for a family member who is about 5′ tall on a good day.  She had been riding a small framed newer Trek with 700c wheels, and while the Trek has nice components, the geometry is pretty awful.  But, many shorter riders have never experienced anything different, because the cycling industry has not met their needs.

Enter the ALAN.  It was designed around 24 ” wheels, with a 48 x 48 cm frame.  When I spotted it on eBay it looked like this:

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Those are 170 mm Dura Ace cranks – on a bike with a 24 cm bottom bracket height.  Needless to say, there is no way that you would pedal through corners on this configuration.  So, I began the process of modifying the bike,  and at first I tried this configuration:

I changed out the crankset for a single 152 mm 52T vintage crank.  Unfortunately, this just did not provide the right gearing for the bike.  So, I reconsidered the whole build.  The deep drop Cinelli bars made no sense for a small rider with short arms.  The downtube shifters were also a bit of a reach.  That made me think that a city-type build might be best for this bike.  So, I came up with this set-up using a double 152 mm 50/39 Sugino crankset.  I replaced the rear Dura Ace derailleur with a Shimano Deore XT long cage, but kept the Dura Ace front derailleur, Dura Ace headset, and Dura Ace bottom bracket.  I used some vintage upright bars with a Shimano 7 speed index system.

ALAN in city mode

And this is how I rode around on this bike for the last 2 years (test riding is very time-consuming).  Finally though, my thoroughly enjoyable test riding has come to an end.  So, I needed to really rethink how the new rider would use this bike, as well as how her small size would effect the choices I made.  Since she is used to a road bike configuration, I decided to replace the city bars and shifters with a narrow SR Randonneur bar, bar end shifters (for an easy reach), and these beautiful Modelo drilled levers, which have very small hoods and a short reach to the levers.

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I kept the rest of the bike pretty much the same – here are some photos of its features:

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Dura Ace calipers

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ALAN logo

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Beautiful engraving on the ALAN head lugs, Dura Ace headset

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Shimano Deore XT rear derailleur

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American Classic 25mm seatpost

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Sugino 50/39 crankset with 152 mm arms

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Dura Ace front derailleur

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Shimano 600 tri-color front and rear hubs on Mavic 24″ Open 4 CD rims

If you haven’t ridden an ALAN before, you are in for a treat.  The frame is very comfortable, and hill climbing is a breeze.  The aluminum tubes are screwed and glued into beautiful stainless steel lugs.  This little bike weighs in at 19 lbs!  I used this bike often for my daily Pdx commutes – what a joy.  The tiny wheels make for quick acceleration.  It has been one of the best city bikes I have ridden.

There were some challenges in setting up the bike.  The very short chainstays mean that it is not possible to select certain gearing configurations – namely the biggest ring on the biggest cog and vice versa.  But that is a normal limitation on many bikes.  Also, while I agree with most of the frame geometry decisions on this bike, I am puzzled by the amount of bottom bracket drop selected.  It would have been easy to build the bike with less drop, and that would make it more feasible to use a longer crankset without worrying about pedal strikes while cornering.

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Here is the bike now, ready for its transport to Central Oregon where I hope it will be well-loved and well-ridden.  The seat post and stem height are still set up for my size, showing how small this bike really is, given that I am 5’4″.  I’ll be test-riding it for a few more weeks to make sure everything is just right, and then it will be time to say good-bye to this wonderful machine.  It is a rare bike, and a great testament to the ALAN company’s frame building skills.  Thank you for building this little bike – it is a treasure.

1980's ALAN Cyclocross

 

Riding the ALAN on the Leif Erikson Trail

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I have been contemplating a road trip involving both urban and wildlife adventures, and wanted to take the “perfect bike” that would be suitable for both environs.  Could it be the ALAN?

Alan in cross modeALAN in city mode

When I first purchased the ALAN it was set up for Cyclocross.  Because the frame is very small (48×48), it uses 24 inch wheels and has way more standover height than I need.  The Cinelli stem combined with the small frame made the bars far too low for comfort, so I decided to build the ALAN into a city commuter.  Recently I decided to try out some mildly knobby tires to see how the bike performed on dirt and hard packed gravel.  The tires I originally ordered were out of stock so I swapped my order for these Vee Rubber micro knobbies  shown below.

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These tires come from Thailand, and since I have nothing against tires made there I thought I would give them a try.  I lowered my pressures to 45 in the back and 40 in the front.  In retrospect I could have run them a bit lower for more comfort and control over the wet rocks and muddy surfaces I encountered today.

ALAN on Leif Erikson ALAN on Leif Erikson

Leif Erikson Trail in Forest Park, Portland, Oregon, is just about the most gentle way you could introduce yourself to to off-road riding.  There is an easy climb to about 500 feet, and then for several miles the road flattens out, but it feels like you are coasting…uphill!  Along the way I was treated to mysterious and unknown bird calls, and a few darting chipmunks (rarely seen in Pdx).  The tires performed well.  I had already tried them out for commuting and, with pressures at about 65 in the back and 60 in the front, they worked really well and were very comfortable on the pavement.

ALAN with Dura Ace ALAN in the mud

Today was not the best day to do an off-road ride.  The weather fluctuated dramatically from overcast to sunny to outright downpours.  The trail surface was difficult for me to feel confidence on because I did not have clipless pedals, and with the wet and muddy conditions, my shoes slipped off the pedals disconcertingly on occasion.  I ended up riding slowly, and was worried about the descent and whether my shoes would keep contact with the pedals over the rocky surfaces.

ALAN CyclocrossALAN on Leif Erikson Trail

All turned out well, and I managed to escape the downpour of hail and rain that came a few minutes after I arrived at the Thurman Street gate.

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Leif Erikson Trail is really a runner’s trail, but bikes are allowed and I never felt unwelcome.  In fact, I often ran this trail back in the 1990’s when my offices were located nearby.  Today I encountered many runners and only a handful of cyclists.  What I learned was that the ALAN could handle off-road conditions, and that any climbs more serious than what I experienced today would mean installing a new cassette with some lower gears.  But, other than that I was very happy with its performance.  The flexible frame and perfectly decent tires made up for not having any fork suspension.  It was great to be out in nature – even if the weather did not cooperate.  So, yes, I have decided that the ALAN as equipped is going to be the perfect “do-it-all” bike for the road trip I have in mind.