1953 French Mystery Mixte Out on the Road

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I decided to take the 1953 French Mystery Mixte out for its first test ride today.  I headed over to Sellwood so I could start the Springwater trail from Sellwood Park, and avoid downtown traffic.  This year, Summer riding in Portland has been a mixed bag.  It has been easy to be beckoned by the dry weather, but the recent heat waves and high humidity have made it challenging to enjoy even my regular commute.  Although cool and breezy, today was more humid than I expected, so my single water bottle turned out to be inadequate.

I was anxious to see how the Challenge Strada Bianca tubular tires felt.  I even wondered if somehow the ride would be transformed by the legendary smoothness and purported supple sidewalls of tubular tires.  I was brought back to reality worrying that I might get a flat.  But, one upside to tubular tires is not having to carry a spare tube, patches, or tire irons.  I can’t imagine what it was like to actually have to carry an entire spare tire (or two, plus glue and a sewing kit).  So, I didn’t even bother with a pump, and just stuffed a few tools and my cell phone into a tiny seat bag.

As I got underway, I felt like I was riding an e-bike. Wait. The bike is long and tall, and  I was in a fairly upright position with the city style bars.  Yet I was positively rolling!  Could it be the tubular tires?  Well, it turned out to be a tailwind, which I discovered when I reversed direction to head back to my starting point on the trail.

After this moment of elation, I concentrated on what the bike was telling me as I sped along, passing nearly everyone:  responsive frame, comfortable saddle, smooth-as-glass hubs, easy shifting, and no lateral flex (thanks to the twin sloping top tubes of this mixte frame).  The tires felt fast, yet more comfortable than similar 30mm width tires that I have ridden, and handled the brief time I spent on hard packed dirt when I took a detour with no mishaps.

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The gearing is very high, and even moderate hills required a standing position to maintain cadence.  I ended up not using the highest gear, and rode the bike as a three speed.  Fortunately, the Simplex Tour de France derailleur can handle up to a 24 tooth cog, which means that the gearing could be lowered from its current 59-83 gear inch range, down to a low gear of 52.  That would help make this bike more versatile.  Even so, hill climbing will remain challenging.

A tubular tire oddity is that they lose pressure very quickly.  They will lose several pounds overnight, and a lot of air after a week.  That’s one reason you’ll see bikes with tubular tires kept elevated, so that no flat spots or creases develop in the sidewalls.  For this outing, I had inflated the tires the night before with about 85 lbs in the rear tire and 75 lbs in the front, but as I was riding I felt sure that I had lost pressure especially in the rear tire.  In the future I will plan to inflate the tires before each ride – which is a good practice anyway.

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I enjoyed using the old Lyotard Marcel Berthet pedals with their original clips and straps.  I hadn’t rebuilt them yet, and even so they performed just fine for this short trip, and were easy to get my shoe in and out of.

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The narrow braking surface of the Clement rims is imprinted with a pattern, theoretically to improve braking.  In practice, the rims emitted a high pitched whining sound whenever the brakes were applied.  While the noise did alert others to my presence, I want to find a way to make braking silent, so will be experimenting with some different brake pads.  I also still have friction in the rear brake cable, which I need to troubleshoot.

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1953 French Mixte at Tilikum Crossing

1972 Mercian

1972 Mercian

Yesterday, I had taken the 1972 Mercian out for a spin, so it was interesting comparing the riding experience of these two different bicycles.  The Mercian is a classic 1970’s road bike, using 700c tires on a small frame which happens to fit me perfectly.  It has a 100cm wheelbase, but similar (and higher than I prefer) wheel flop and trail numbers (wheel flop 17 and trail 59).  I was not disappointed in the handling of the mixte.  I did not have any trouble maneuvering at slow speeds, whereas the Mercian does exhibit the unwieldy feel of a high wheel flop bike when riding at slow speeds. The long 109cm wheelbase helps to keep the bike feeling more stable than it otherwise would. Both bikes are comfortable yet performance oriented, and versatile enough for any kind of riding, with the right gearing.  Neither bike has rack mounts, but both have fender eyelets.  With a saddlebag support, either bike could be put into daily service as a commuter, and the Mixte’s high gearing and light 22 lb weight could allow it to do double duty as a training bike.

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The city style bars have flush mounted levers, which although stylish-looking, means that the only way to adjust the position of the levers, is to adjust the handlebars.  My wrists and hands were uncomfortable after a while, because they were not in a neutral position, so I’ll be making adjustments to the bars as well as completing a few other minor tweaks.

The bike’s first ride left me impressed.  Riding it today reminded me again of how well the cycling industry had developed by the end of WWII.  Its high end components and beautiful Oscar Egg lugs translate into a well-appointed, lightweight bicycle that is perfectly competent and comfortable to ride. I am looking forward to riding it again.

Book review – Lugged Bicycle Frame Construction

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I have recently been considering getting some brazing equipment so that I could make repairs to frames that have minor failures, rather than sending out to a frame builder for this service.  Having taken UBI’s lugged frame building class a few years back, I had a general idea of what I might need, but didn’t want to go any further until I re-familiarized myself with the topic of brazing.

I found Marc-Andre Chimonas’ book, Lugged Bicycle Frame Construction, on the evil empire (Amazon) website, with what appeared to be some favorable and thoughtful reviews by actual readers.  When the book arrived, I immediately delved into it and have now read if not studied much of the book.

It is written with a dry, understated wit, with an emphasis on the science of frame building.  There are numerous zingers in the text, hidden amongst the tables and formulas.  Consequently, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  The author is a physician (which he describes as his “day job”), a writer (of both technical manuals and fiction), and a frame builder.

After reading just the first few chapters, I began to seriously question the idea that anyone can take a frame building class that lasts only two weeks, and from which an actual frame is produced.  Whether that frame is safe to ride may be another thing altogether.  My own frame has several flaws that can probably be corrected, but more on that later.

The book is logically organized and takes the reader through introductory concepts such as nomenclature, frame geometry, measurement and sizing protocols and includes helpful tables for determining angles and lengths for different sized riders.  He naturally recommends smaller wheels for smaller frames, and there is a good discussion of toe overlap and bottom bracket height.  He states his opinions about frame geometry as if they were facts, and that may irritate some readers, but I found it refreshing.  For instance, recommended BB height is 25 cm for pretty much all types of normal road riding.  This is a lot lower than you will find in production bikes.

Another interesting concept that I found both helpful and puzzling was the idea of controlling the variables in frame building.  He differentiates between “operator controlled” variables and “outcome” variables.  Outcome variables are the result of the frame builders operator controlled variables.  But, he describes outcome variables to include BB drop and toe overlap, which in my mind are operator controlled.  At any rate, what is clear is that frame design is a highly complex  undertaking, and one that is aided by software.  He recommends using excel and offers a link to a useful frame design spreadsheet, which is available on the author’s website.

There is a quick trigonometry and metallurgy review (which the author calls optional), and then the theory turns into fabrication as the author goes through chapters on frame parts, tools, mitering, torches, brazing technique, and lug modification.  Again, the author doesn’t hesitate to state his recommendations, even down to a specific brand or manufacturer of a particular tool.  For me, someone who didn’t take shop class in high school, the specific advice is extremely helpful.

After digesting many of the chapters, I decided to drag out the frame I completed 2 years ago but never finished filing or painting.

My frame with front-center at 59 cm - a little shorter than I wanted.

My frame with front-center at 59 cm – a little shorter than I wanted.

I built this frame for myself, designed around a 650b wheel size.  I wanted enough front-center distance to allow for fenders and decent sized tires.  The book uses a formula to determine an ideal length.  I plugged my numbers into his formula and found that I won’t have toe overlap with this frame, so that is a relief.  I did have to use a longer than usual (for me) top tube length to get this much front center distance (combined of course with all the other measurements).  That means I’ll use a short reach stem when I eventually build the bike up.

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One of the things that troubles me about my frame is that it was built so hastily and with so little actual knowledge.  Well, after reading the brazing chapter I think I have reason to be concerned.  I remember having a lot of trouble sanding enough material off the top of my fork blades, and off the inside of the fork crown so that the legs could be inserted without a lot of force.  After hours of filing, I still wasn’t happy, but ran out of time so just brazed the fork legs into the crown even though the fit was tight.  This is definitely a no-n0 – there needs to be enough room for the silver to flow into the joint.

Here are some other details of the frame I built.  Using this book as a resource, I will be able to correct the other two (known) mistakes on the frame.  I may decide, however to build a new fork.  And, I now know what kind of equipment to purchase and how to use it safely, so I am looking forward to being able to do my own small repairs.

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Nice looking BB

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Mistake on the seat stays – they are out of alignment

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Drive size DO not yet cleaned up and filed – you can see I got the tubes a bit hot.

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Aaack! Seriously out of whack shifter bosses – the jig probably got bumped when I turned away to get more silver.