Sunday Ride

My old friend, Katie, is fond of opining that the downfall of our society occurred when stores began to stay open on Sundays.  From there, she says, it’s been a downhill slide.  She might be right.

My childhood Sundays were a mixed bag:  enforced church attendance (faking an illness having been exhausted as an excuse years earlier), my mother’s dutiful Sunday dinner executed with earnestness if lacking in passion and culinary talent, and then the blessed release of the children out into the wild. My Dad would daze himself on TV football, and my Mom retreated for her quiet time.  There was no business to conduct, and there were no tasks to complete other than the usual chores required to run a household and small farm, and these were kept to a minimum on Sundays. God’s day of rest.

With God and parents at rest, my older brother and younger sister were my playmates on Sunday afternoons.  But, as we approached our teenage years, more and more often we chose our own separate pursuits on Sundays.  And that’s when I began what has become a lifelong tradition: a Sunday bike ride.

I don’t quite remember the bike I rode in the mid-1960’s (this was before getting my green sparkle Spyder with banana seat), but I do remember that it had an internal hub. I suspect that it was something like the 1968 Sears Econo model depicted above, but was probably the smaller child’s version.  It was a diamond frame, with upright bars, and definitely sported a battery powered headlamp.  It was challenging to ride, because it had no low gears, and while I understood the basics of derailleur shifting back then, I was confounded by what could possibly be going on inside the internal hub.  My father would attempt to explain that there were gears inside, and something called a planet.  I would stare endlessly at the tiny chain emerging from inside the hub and imagined that it housed a miniature derailleur on the inside.  I could not figure it out.

But that did not stop me from riding that bike.  The countryside around our home was hilly, but along the base of the hills was the Applegate River Valley of Southern Oregon.  The road running through the valley was in no way designed to accommodate a 10 year old on a bicycle.  There are blind curves, no shoulders, and narrow lanes.  That’s another thing that’s changed since then:  today’s parents would never allow their unaccompanied 10 year old to ride these roads.  It was a different time, where the pace was slower and neighbors watched over each other’s kids, at least to some degree.

To prepare for my ride, I would pack up snacks, water, and tools (like a good Girl Scout) into my bike’s front wire basket.  My adventures took me off road, sometimes walking my bike up the steep dirt logging roads in the area.  I cycled past streams, irrigation canals, and small creeks.  Upon return, my basket almost always carried something I hadn’t started with:  a wounded bird, a small turtle, a beautiful stone.

When I lived in Newport, Oregon in the late 1970’s, my Sunday ride was the trip up Yaquina Bay.  That ride was mostly flat, along the Yaquina River estuary, an important waterway and resource for the Siletz tribe who lived in the area, before they were forced out by white invaders in the mid 1800’s. When I visit Newport, I usually plan a ride up Yaquina Bay Road.  Every time I ride this road I am greeted with Nature’s enduring beauty, and I try to imagine this bay as it was hundreds of years ago.

Today’s Sunday ride took me out to Oak’s Bottom where I was treated to a Bald Eagle flying overhead.  On the way through the wetlands I saw Great Blue Herons, Northern Flickers, and a rarely observed Green Heron, among the other wintering birds.  While I didn’t add anything to my “basket”, I brought home instead the images and memories of today’s ride with its bright, low end-of-the-year sunlight, and bone-chilling wind.  A perfect way to end this year and begin anew.

A 1972 Mercian

2972 Mercian

I recently purchased this Mercian on eBay.  The seller described it as a 1960’s model, but with its Shimano dropouts, I suspected it was actually made a bit later.

1972 Mercian

The bottom bracket shell seems to indicate this is a 1972 model.  A name appears to be etched above the serial number, but I can’t quite make it out.  Perhaps this was the owner’s name.  Having looked through the available Mercian catalogs on-line, and after taking frame measurements, I still don’t quite know what model this is.

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However, given that it has decent length chain stays (44mm), and single eyelets front and rear, it is possible that this is the Campionissimo or Olympic model, off the shelf frames designed for light touring and randonneuring, but with no customizing available except choosing the color.

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The lugs are ornate, and unusually shaped, although not a great deal of time was spent filing them.  The frame is equipped with pump pegs and a full set of cable stops.  The pump pegs are mounted slightly off center below the top tube, to prevent interference with the cable stops also mounted slightly off center on the opposite side.

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I measured the frame and took some preliminary angle readings.  It is a 49 cm x 51 cm frame (or, speaking British, a 20 inch frame – which the company measures center to top).  The angles appear fairly steep, at about 74 degrees for both the head tube and seat tube.  Of course, there is a margin of error using this method, and once the bike is built I will re-measure the angles using a level to correct for errors.  I also checked brake reach using 700c wheels (I think the frame was built for 27 inch wheels).  It looks like I will need about 65 mm of brake reach to use 700c wheels with this frame – that is definitely doable.

However, the biggest challenge will be determining whether the paint damage and oxidation to the top tube will mean having to re-paint the frame, something I am loathe to do.  If the paint damage is just at the surface level, and there’s no rust underneath, I’d like to preserve the beautiful patina of this nice Reynolds 531 hand built frame.

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Thankfully, it was a rainy, stormy day today, not suited for riding.  A perfect shop day.  I got out my various cleaning products and began to experiment on the back side of the fork legs, so that if I did something irretrievably bad, it would not be so visible.  As it turned out, the most effective product was an automotive paint cleaning compound.  Applied vigorously, and polished vigorously afterwards, this product was best at removing the years of neglect.  I was worried about taking off too much paint however, and I only gently cleaned the Mercian logos.   I definitely did not want to damage these as they were all in great condition.  The photos above show the frame after several hours of cleaning and polishing – there is a definite improvement!  That gave me the impetus to start working on the top tube.  I figured that no matter how hard I rubbed, I couldn’t make it worse than it already was.  I really wanted to see what the damage looked like underneath the oxidized paint.

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The good news is that underneath the oxidation was nice silver-colored steel, with no rust visible at all.  The bad news is that the top tube looks pretty funky, still.  I will probably clean it up a bit more and then apply some clear paint to protect the exposed areas.  After more cleaning, I will also apply many coats of wax to the entire frame, just to make sure that it remains protected in the elements.  You’ll note from the above photo that I also removed the California bike license tag.  While I usually keep these kinds of artifacts intact, this one really detracted from its appearance.  Underneath was the original frame color – a very vibrant red.  Well, now the bike is a very cool orange color!

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It’s now time to start thinking about the components.  Since the frame has such a vintage look, I think it would be best to build it up with period components.  Fortunately, the old Mercian catalogs will provide a lot of information about how these machines were typically configured.  I have these GB 88 brakes which would be from the period, and which have just the right amount of brake reach.  My crankset collection includes two Stronglight candidates.  The crankset at the left is a Spidel/Stronglight set from the 80’s – meant to be a copy of a Campy Super Record Crankset, and the one at the right is a 1970’s model with the star shaped spider that I love.  I will probably go with the more vintage look.  The frameset came shipped with a TDC headset, probably orginal, and a Sugino bottom bracket, which may or may not be original.  By this time, Shimano and other Japanese components were beginning to be considered on par with the best French, British and Italian component makers of the time.

Dura Ace high flange hub

I have been wanting to find the right home for this beautiful Dura Ace high flange front hub with its smooth as butter cups and cones.  It is laced to a 700c Araya rim.  I might decide to use an unusual rear hub, such as a 2 x 6 Sachs-Fitchel hub, or even a Sturmey Archer, in keeping with its British heritage.  That is part of the fun – envisioning the many interesting ways this frame can be configured.  I look forward to riding it and getting this great old frame back out on the road.

1977 Jack Taylor 650b Tandem

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This is an unrestored Jack Taylor Touring Tandem, built for 650b wheels.  I had it shipped from England several years ago, but haven’t started work on it yet.

Even in its present state, it’s quite a pretty bike.  The frame color is silver, but with plenty of bright highlights that include red, yellow, green, blue and white.

The frame is built with Reynolds 531 tubing, and is fillet brazed.  It features a sloping top tube, giving 23″ and 21″ seat tube lengths for the front and rear positions.  Components include Maxi-car hubs, Campagnolo shifters and derailleurs, Weinmann 650b rims, Taylor Bros hammered fenders, front and rear constructeur racks, Mafac cantilever brakes, plus a front Maxi-car drum brake.

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Double front brakes – cantilevers + drum; Mafac levers and hoods in great shape.

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Jack Taylor transfers in really nice condition

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Smooth brazing and a U.K. touring club sticker

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Simple cable stop,, elegantly brazed seat stays

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Reynolds transfers in great shape

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Pin striping is still in really nice shape

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Maxi Car hubs, Campagnolo dropouts – with SN 7183

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TA crankset – there are two cranksets and each has at least one chain ring mounted on each side

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A type of presta valve I hadn’t seen before – there’s nothing under this cap – just an open valve – but I popped my presta fitting on anyway and pumped air into the tube.

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TA triple crankset with 50/40/28 rings

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Eccentric bottom bracket plus internal routing for the dynamo wiring

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Redundant chainring on the drive side front crank

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Campagnolo front derailleur

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Very cool Zefal pump

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Mafac cantilevers

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Campagnolo Rally rear derailleur, with Suntour Perfect 14/24 freewheel

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Color matched Milremo stem, Stronglight headset

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Dynamo and wiring

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Brooks saddles – a B-72 in the back and a B-17 in front

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Some pitting in the top tube’s stoker section.

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Fork blades feature brazeons for the drum cable routing.

One of the things that surprised me about this bike was how similar it is in many ways to my 1973 Jack Taylor.  That bike is is also fillet brazed, and sports the exact same lighting system and rack design as this tandem.  In fact, its rear reflector is also broken, just like this.

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Another broken reflector

However, this reflector got broken in the shipping process.  One thing that I did was to have the bike shipped intact from England.  It boarded the Rio Mediera in Southampton, but was detained when it reached port in New York as suspected contraband.  The large container, built by Sheffpack, bore a suspicious resemblance to an arms shipment, and so it had to be x-rayed before it could continue its journey to the Port of Portland.  Consequently, the bike spent many weeks inside its shipping container, before it was finally literally broken open by port workers using hammers and tire irons.

However, it is safe and sound now, and with the fall and winter months looming ahead, this might be the perfect project to occupy the colder and wetter days ahead.