Sourcing Vintage Cycling Components and Hardware

 

As part of reviving and restoring any vintage bicycle, it may become necessary to replace components with period correct counterparts.  Replacing fasteners and other hardware can also present challenges, given not only their special purpose, but also their one-off threading, which may be French, not-so-French, Italian, and other threading anomalies. Over the last 10 years I have restored a number of vintage bicycles that presented challenges in both the component and hardware categories.

Huret derailleur

Simplex chain stay mounted bell crank derailleur

The mid-century Mercier Meca Dural that I restored a few years ago was fitted with an incorrect wheelset and rear derailleur.  The Huret unit, depicted first, was installed on the bike’s vertical dropouts, yet this rear derailleur is designed for horizontal dropouts.  This was an example of modifications made to the original bike, with bad results.  The incorrect Huret derailleur mounted on the vertical drop-outs resulted in no chain wrap, and poor shifting.  After seeing that the bike had also been modified with an incorrect and too large wheel size, I took to French eBay to source a NOS chainstay mounted Simplex bell crank derailleur – a component which was standard fare on vintage Mercier Meca Dural bicycles of this era.

When the NOS derailleur and shifter arrived, I rejoiced in how beautiful and functional this vintage component was.  Searching foreign language sites broadens the scope of your endeavor, and may make the difference between success and failure.

Simplex was notorious for using oddball threading on its components.  The 2nd photo above shows a Simplex shifter with M6 x .8 threading – instead of the standard M5 x .8 on all other shifter bolts of this era.  I have a tap and die set of tools in my shop to use in the event that re-tapping is necessary.  However, I try avoid this if replacement vintage components can be found with the original threading.

Sometimes, things work out well, as was the case with this mid century mystery French mixte with Oscar Egg lugs.  The Simplex components on this bike were clearly all original and worked perfectly once the bike was overhauled.

If you will need to add or replace fenders on a vintage bicycle I recommend exploring Velo-Orange, Rivendell, and Compass.  These vendors offer different products and hardware from a variety of manufacturers, and you may be able to find just the right fender width and hardware for your application.  Fender stays, bridge mounting hardware, and daruma and eyelet bolts are usually included in your purchase of new fenders.  Meanwhile, I can’t think of any manufacturers today who are making a fender resembling these lightweight and well engineered steel fenders shown on this early 1980’s Meral, above. These fenders mount easily with the original hardware and work fine with a 650b conversion.  They are an example of the unsurpassed beauty and utility of vintage components.

Look Ma, No Clearance

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Yes, I sliced up a set of funky vintage Bluemels in order to safely get full coverage fenders on my regular commuter – a 1990’s Terry Symmetry.  At first I had mounted them intact underneath the brake bridge and fork crown – leaving me about 4 mm of clearance, and that was after I switched to narrower 28 mm tires.  I knew I was tempting the clearance gods, and sure enough, a small piece of debris got wedged in there while I was traveling very slowly (thank those gods), and that was enough to convince me that it was time to try a different solution.

Fortunately, many have heard the call of frustrated road bike riders who want full coverage fenders but who purchased their machines during the dark, racing-fad era that finally ended just a few years ago. Such bikes are typically built with inadequate clearance for fenders, and no clearance at all if you want to run wider tires.  Now, you can find conversion brackets at a number of outlets that will allow you to essentially use modified rack mounting brackets to mount fenders over the top of the rear brake bridge and on either side of the fork crown.  River City offers a set for a mere $15.

Since I already had a bunch of these brackets lying around, I decided to make use of what I had available.  I also needed to create some more of Sheldon’s “fender nuts” which involves tapping the recessed brake mounting nut (not too far down), and using a short bolt.

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After measuring, I cut a small section out of the rear fender.  I didn’t like the look of two giant brackets, so for the seat post side of the rear fender I used a small bracket from a hardware store and modified it, which gives a cleaner look.  That took about 10 minutes.

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For the front fender, I did not remove any material, but cut it directly in front of the fork crown mounting bracket.  That way I could get more coverage around the front wheel.  The front section is cantilevered over the tire, and it does rattle every now and then, but not excessively so.  The mount behind the fork crown was more problematic.  I needed to get the fender up higher than the original bracket provided for, so I mangled up another hardware store bracket to come up with this unattractive solution.  I’ll replace this with a simpler and prettier solution (someday, maybe, when I get around to it, probably, eventually).

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Meanwhile, the fenders are doing their job.  My homemade mudflap is picking up the debris that would normally hit my bottom bracket, which now looks pristine, even after a rainy, muddy ride.  And the fenders themselves feel very securely mounted – I’ve had no trouble with them at all.  Even better, I was able to remount my 32 mm tires, which I much prefer to use, especially during the winter.  And, it’s nice to be able to ride around with some vintage Bluemel’s, which look great on the Terry, and add to its fun mix of new and vintage components.

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1970’s Meral 650B Randonneur

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This bike came to me as a frame, fork, fenders, shifters, headset and rack.  It is a 1970s Meral 650b Randonneur. The Meral shop, located in France, built custom bikes up through the mid 80’s.  Their custom racks and fenders are as beautiful as their frames.  This frame features double rack mounts front and rear so that Meral’s custom camping racks could be added.  Note:  these photos were taken before final assembly and QC – the brake holders are mounted backwards.  The closed section of the holder should be facing the front of the bike, so that the pads don’t slide out!  (Everybody knows that, right?)

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The fenders are stainless steel – and looked beautiful after just a bit of polishing.   I needed a number of parts to get the bike completed, and ended up deciding to build the wheelset using a set of NOS Italian Gnutti hubs, since the spacing at the rear was 120 mm.  It can be difficult to find a nice wheelset with this spacing these days, and I didn’t want to cold set the frame to wider spacing, as I usually strive to keep a wonderful bike like this as original as possible.

2032 2026The hubs are very pretty and look a lot like older Campy hubs.

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I used Weinmann 650b rims, and removed the labels for a clean look.  Even though this bike features through-the-frame dynamo wiring, I decided not to use a generator hub, both to save weight and to keep the bike simple and closer to original.  I am not a huge fan of generator lighting, and find that for the riding I do I can use simple, lightweight, and inexpensive battery-powered lights.

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The original cork spacers are still in perfect condition.  However, my fender line needs some more work.  Installing and fine tuning racks and fenders can easily take as long as building up the bike itself.  This frame is designed with tight clearances, so I could only use 32 mm tires.  I chose these Grand Bois Cypres tires from Compass Bicycles, and they are fabulous.  The ride is really just about the smoothest I have experienced.  The only down side may be their puncture resistance, which I haven’t put to the test.

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I used Simplex Super LJ derailleurs, which are not only beautifully made, but work perfectly with this drive train.  A Stronglight crankset and IRD 6 speed freewheel finish off the drive train.  The IRD is just a placeholder – I no longer trust these freewheels due to their high failure rate, which I have experienced personally on two separate freewheels in use for under a thousand miles.

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I used NOS Zeus pedals, which are some of the nicest I have seen, and Mafac levers to match the Mafac Racer centerpulls.  The bars are Nitto World Randonneur and the stem is a French sized SR.

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The frame was built with Columbus Aelle tubing, for a stronger frameset, or perhaps for a heavier rider.  Even so, the bike weighs 26.6 lbs, including the rack fenders, Brooks saddle and pedals – that is amazing.  The paint is still very vibrant and in beautiful condition.  More photos of this bike can be found on my FB page.