Bum Deal

I haven’t written much about bicycle saddles, and there is a reason for that:  saddle preference is a matter having little to do with “cycling lore” and much more to do with your body, the bike you are riding, and your riding style.  Just because I like a particular saddle on a particular bike does not mean anyone else will feel the same way.  That simple fact must be maddening for saddle manufacturers, which may explain the vast array of saddle choices available in the marketplace.

Leather saddles have survived the test of time, and are enjoying a resurgence of popularity today.  I ride on a couple of leather saddles on a regular basis.  However, there have been a few leather saddles that I have simply had to remove from my bike due to the astounding discomfort I experienced.  Over time, I have developed my own technique for breaking in leather saddles, which is probably true of many cyclists who prefer leather over other materials.  Daniel Rebour had his proprietary break-in technique as well. I also ride regularly on some leather and non leather covered plastic base saddles, which I have found to be on par with the comfort offered by some leather saddles.  Comfort being a relative term.

WTB Deva saddle with cro-mo rails

One of the plastic base saddles that I find very comfortable is this WTB Deva saddle with cro-mo rails, shown above as mounted on my 1972 Mercian. Bearing a strong resemblance to an ironing board, it is a saddle that many riders would probably eschew.  But, actual comfort is counter-intuitive when it comes to bicycle saddles.  Thick padding decreases comfort.  Wide and heavy saddles with large suspension springs may not necessarily be comfortable either.  I discovered this WTB Deva saddle only because it arrived on a frame and fork I had purchased a while back.  I was going to donate that well-worn saddle to the Community Cycling Center, but decided to try it out first on one of my bikes.  I was amazed at the comfort the saddle provided – it supported my bum in all the right areas, and was equally comfortable on a bike with low handlebars as well as a bike with a more upright riding position.  I tried riding the saddle with jeans, and after experiencing no discomfort, decided to purchase several of these saddles to keep on hand in case I wanted to install them on some of the bikes I ride regularly.  One thing I have learned about cycling components is that if you like an item now, buy several, as you may never find that model again.

One saddle that I could never make peace with is this beautiful Brooks Team Pro saddle.  I have never ridden on a more uncomfortable saddle, and I’ve ridden on a lot.  This Brooks would not break in, even after years and miles of use.  It has been treated, lubricated, left in the sun for days, pushed and pulled, but the saddle has never relented.

Here is the Brooks Team Pro on my old Davidson.  On this journey, about a decade ago, I decided to explore the cranberry bogs of Bandon, Oregon.  Unfortunately, the saddle became so unacceptable on my little tour, that I cut it short and headed home.  Bad, bad, saddle.

But, there have been several Brooks saddles that I have loved, two of which were used on my Cannondale T2000 for many years – a Brooks Champion Flyer and a Brooks B-17.  Both saddles broke in easily and provided many miles of service.

Because of the inconsistency in Brooks saddles I have used, I currently ride Cardiff leather saddles.  Shown above is the Cardiff on my Meral (left) and the Cardiff on my Panasonic (right).  These saddles resemble the Brooks B-17 saddles, but have a slightly different shape, as well as longer saddle rails.  This model is the “Mercia” which is 10 mm wider at the back than its Brooks B-17 counterpart.  As with all leather saddles, each one is different, even though the same model. The darker saddle on the left is actually far more comfortable than the saddle on the right.  Why?  It could simply be that the saddle mounted on my Meral is more optimized for a less upright riding position than that of my Panasonic winter bike.

From my own experience, Ideale leather saddles seem to have it all over Brooks and other competitors.  The saddles shown above are just a few examples of the many models manufactured by Tron and Berthet – a company founded back in 1890 and which went out of business 100 years later.  Too bad.  These are probably the nicest leather saddles ever made.  Below is an advertisement dating to the 1960’s.  Each time I have ridden an Ideale saddle on one of my restorations, I have been pleasantly surprised by the comfort Ideale saddles provide.

1969 Tron & Berthet brochure

Back Out on the Road

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It’s been exactly three months since I’ve thrown a leg over and navigated a beloved steel framed bicycle.  That’s how long it’s taken for me to recover from my unfortunate mishap involving a ladder and my fibula. But once I got my doctor’s go-ahead to begin cycling again, I was anxious to get back out on the road, although also strangely apprehensive.

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At Benham Falls

The last time I was on my bike was in Central Oregon’s fall glory, enjoying the dry climate and the very nice bike paths leading to Benham Falls.  I was riding my Terry, feeling slightly under the weather due to a dodgy restaurant experience earlier in the day.  But, once my riding buddy and I arrived at the Falls, all was well with the world.  The bike paths were strewn with slippery pine needles which kept getting caught in my “over the top” fenders, but this was less worrisome than the gravel portion of the journey over lava rock and loose gravel.  Fortunately, the Terry handled well, with its 32mm Pasela’s and great frame geometry.

1987 Panasonic MC 7500

1987 Panasonic MC 7500 converted to city errand bike

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McClure Pass Tires

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Velo Orange 126mm freewheel hub

So, for my first adventure back in the saddle I decided to ride my 1987 Panasonic MC 7500 commuter bike.  It is a very forgiving bicycle, although a bit tall due to its high bottom bracket. Before my leg injury I had installed some new tires on this bike to replace the heavy Specialized Armadillo tires, which had literally split at the seams, with something a little nicer – Compass McClure Pass 26 x 1.5 ” tires.

I had been riding these tires for a few months before my mishap and was looking forward to reporting on their ride quality, which I can now do. These tires have allowed me to ride in one higher gear overall, as compared to the Armadillo tires I previously used.  They feature a bit of a tread pattern which can help on non-paved surfaces, and are very responsive and comfortable.  I’m sold!  I also wanted to provide an update on the Velo Orange freewheel hub which I used to replace the failed Quando sealed bearing rear hub – a hub which failed after only about a thousand miles of use.  My new VO is working perfectly, and shaved some weight off the bike due to its drilled flanges.

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Cardiff leather saddle.

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Gardening with the Panasonic.

I use the Panasonic a lot for around town errands.  To make this bike a little more comfortable I added a Cardiff leather saddle, replacing the the old vintage Avocet touring saddle I was using.  I like the Cardiff saddle as a Brooks alternative – the saddle rails are a bit longer allowing for greater adjustment nuances, and there is something about its shape and geometry that seems to work well for me.  My first ride today went very well.  I didn’t experience any mysterious lapses in “bike memory”, nor did I have trouble climbing or descending.  Although it is winter, I’m looking forward to some enjoyable riding on the warmer and drier days which can sometimes appear unexpectedly. See you out there!

1980 Meral 650b Evolution

1980 Meral

1980 Meral 650b conversion – before

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1980 Meral 650b Conversion – different fenders and racks – and showing a little wear

Two years ago, I built up this lovely Reynolds 531 1980 Meral sport touring frame, and converted it to 650b (it was originally built for 700c wheels with minimal clearances).  I used a combination of new and vintage components.  My initial build had some issues, primarily involving fork shimmy as well as the Panaracer Col de la Vie tires feeling ponderous and slow.  That problem was easily solved with the amazing Compass Loup Loup Pass tires.2015-05-07 005

With that issue resolved, I began riding the bike a lot more and using it as my primary commuter and weekend rider. But then, it was a dark and rainy night when…I was climbing a steep hill, approaching a light, suddenly a pedestrian walked in front of me, and I had to swerve while driving the pedal down.  That caught my shoe up in the fender stay bolts of the pretty hammered fenders I had installed, and I nearly crashed.  While I knew about the toe overlap issue with this build, and had adjusted to it, more or less, this was one of those situations when toe overlap became unacceptable.

As I was thinking about changing out the fenders, I felt it was the perfect time to consider replacing the heavy and not so attractive Ticino rear rack.  While rummaging through my parts bins, I came across some rusted old F. Fiol front and rear racks, which I had removed from an early 60’s rando bike.  They are made from stainless steel tubing, which I discovered once I started cleaning the rust off with a brass brush and some cleaning oil.

I didn’t want to give up the beautiful hammered fenders, but finally concluded that I had to do something different.  I probably needed narrower fenders, which didn’t use a stay mounting system with large bolts sticking out.

Then I remembered the simple but sturdy aluminum fenders I had used on my old Centurion Pro Tour.  I dug them out, and realized that their stays were flush mounted to the interior of the fenders (just what I needed), and that they were a bit narrower, albeit with much less bling, being of a very understated design.  Amazingly, they still looked great, even after about 40,000 miles of use.  So, I embarked on a whole new fender/rack installation.

The racks mount to the fenders, and are made from very small diameter steel tubing.  Even so, they are much stronger than expected and I have had no qualms about hauling groceries and commuting gear on these racks.  Admittedly, I will not try to haul really heavy items, but I actually think I could even carry minimal camping gear, and certainly enough gear for credit card touring with these racks.

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F. Fiol rear rack

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F. Fiol front rack

Once that was done, I decided to tackle the other issue that had been bothering me about the build – the constant trimming needed on the front derailleur (a Shimano Ultegra designed for a double crankset).  I realized that I had a NOS Simplex Super LJ front derailleur in my inventory, and kind of wondered why I didn’t think of using it before…but, once installed it worked perfectly with the T.A. triple crankset.  It requires a bit more robust up-shifting, but there is now no trimming needed, and I was able to reinstall the original 8 speed cassette I wanted to use (replacing the lower geared 7 speed cassette I ended up using with the Ultegra).

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During this time, I also decided to stop using clipless pedals on all my bikes.  Because a lot of my riding is commuting, the constant clipping in and out at stop lights and intersections caused some chronic pain and swelling in my “clip out” foot.  So, what was old is new again.  I have always loved toe clips, and even though I have used clipless pedals for about 15 years, it felt great to go back to my roots, and that resolved the issue with my swollen ankle.  I had originally chosen these beautiful Lyotard pedals to use on the bike, so it was nice to put them back on, and you’ll see I’m using Velo-Orange leather straps – very well designed because the extra material below the clamp helps to keep everything aligned, making it very easy to slip my shoe in and out of the clip.

Lyotard pedals, Velo Orange leather straps.

Lyotard pedals, Velo Orange leather straps.

I am very happy with the rest of the build:

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Cardiff leather saddle – very comfortable, and showing no wear at all.

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Velo Orange front pads – I replaced the Kool Stop brake pads with these to get some better toe-in – and they work great.

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Reynolds 531 frame is very responsive.

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Yes, battery powered lights, for now.

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A nice clean bottom bracket, thanks to my Velo Orange mud flap

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It was easy to transfer the mudflap to the new (old) fenders.

Meral at Champoeg Park

A delightful bike – comfortable, handles well, eats up miles – and no toe overlap. See you out there!