Lighting. Damn it.

peugeot late 40's headlamp

I have not been a huge fan of generator lighting.  Part of the reason is that I am loathe to do anything that would reduce the efficiency of my pedaling efforts.  And, I usually only have to ride at night during the winter months when the daylight is scarce.  Since my commute is 30 to 40 minutes each way, battery powered lights work fine for me.  Guilt can be assuaged by using rechargeable batteries, and further assuaged by using a solar powered charger.

The other reason may be that my few experiences with generator lighting involved very inefficient bottle generators on old clunky bikes that belonged to friends and that I would occasionally borrow to ride as a child (my own childhood bikes were generator-free).  While I was busy contemplating how the generator worked, I would get more and more fatigued trying to ride up the hill to my house.  These devices put way too much drag on the tire, so I banished them to my minds’ nether-regions for decades.

Adding fuel to my flame, generator lighting is also often part of the standard equipment on a production hybrid or city bike, with poorly designed too-bright optics, which are sold to the enthusiastic masses, who then point their lights straight ahead, proceeding to blind all oncoming traffic.  I cannot tell you how many times I have been blinded in this way, one time from behind by a rider who was naively drafting too close at dawn, with her big bright light aimed horizontally, and when I looked behind to set up for a 3 lane left hand crossing, her light literally shocked and blinded me to such a degree that I nearly lost control of my bike. And I could not see past her light to the traffic I would soon try to cross.  Needless to say, I missed that turn.

Recently, I needed to install lighting on a few bikes I was working on, all of which used sidewall driven generators.  That got me thinking about installing lighting on my Meral, since I have begun using it as my primary commuter. I thought long and hard about that, and researched the pros and cons of bottle generators vs. hub dynamos.  I even explored a new technology – the rim driven dynamo built by Velogical.

Soubitez sidewall dynamo

Soubitez sidewall dynamo

If you are not an electrical engineer, dealing with the set up of a bottle dynamo can seem challenging.  First of all, it is very difficult to find wiring schematics and instructions for sidewall-driven generators.  These, I learned, are not technically dynamos, which generate DC power, but  magnetos, which generate AC power.  The only vintage shop manual in my collection which had more than a passing mention of generator lighting was Glenn’s New Complete Bicycle Manual, which is actually one of my favorite manuals because it has extensive guidance on rebuilding internal hubs.

Reading through Glenn’s guidance (who, in my mind, I refer to affectionately as “Dr. Glenn”), it is not hard to accept the old saying that mechanics do mechanical things and electricians do electrical things, and never the twain shall meet.

In days gone by, pretty much all bicycles were steel, and could be grounded with a simple contact to the bare frame or some other steel component.  This fork mounted dynamo on the Peugeot Mixte 650b that I recently restored is a good example of that:

Ducel fork mount dynamo

Ducel fork mount dynamo

The horizontal screw at the mount point provides the needed ground for this system.  As I was setting it up, I didn’t worry about much of anything as I wired up the lighting to this dynamo.  Thoughts of resistors, amps, volts, ground wires, and wattage never entered my brain.  And, after I connected the wiring, everything worked perfectly.  In fact, this little dynamo puts very little resistance on the sidewall, and I had fun riding around on this bike with my lights blazing.

But, that is a vintage system which requires only 1.8 watts at 6 volts.  Enter the new times, where 3 watts and 12 volt systems are the standard. (Question:  what are watts and what are volts – don’t ask me!)

Do you need resistors, double wires, and ground wires?  How do you set up a new system?  As I mentioned before, I seriously considered setting up generator lighting on my Meral, and toward this end I purchased a front wheel which featured a Shimano Deore LX hub (model DH-T670-3N), mounted to a Velocity Synergy 650b rim matching my existing rims.

Shimano Deore LX generator hub

Shimano Deore LX generator hub

I sourced a headlamp and tail lamp from Harris Cyclery and proceeded to test the system prior to mounting to my bike, to make sure I understood the wiring requirements. Once I figured out how to make the wires connect properly to the hub, I was able to mount the wheel into my truing stand, give it a whirl, and watch the lights illuminate my shop.  I even generated enough power to engage the standing lights, which remain on when the bikes is not moving.  But what really shocked me was the amount of resistance in the hub whenever I switched the lamps to the “on” position.  I had already read about these hubs having their cones being too tightly adjusted, which turned out to be true, and had fixed that.  Yes, these hubs were adjusted way too tight from the factory.  After that, I expected to experience only modest resistance when engaging the lights.  Not so.  Not so at all.  So I mounted the front light and installed the wheel into my Meral just to see if I was panicking for no reason.  As it turned out, the resistance in these hubs with the lights engaged is totally unacceptable to me, and I immediately switched back to my original wheel and battery powered lights.

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I am still interested in rim driven dynamos, and in generator hubs which have less resistance than the Shimano hub I tested.  Those are spendy options.  So for now, I will happily re-charge the batteries for my lights on all my bikes, and sleep well at night.

First ride on the 1972 Mercian

1972 Mercian

Test riding a newly built bicycle can be unnerving.  Will the bike be uncomfortable to ride?   Will the brakes fail while descending down a steep hill?  Will the shifters slip while climbing?   Will I drop the chain while crossing a busy intersection?   Well, now I can one more possibility to the list of dreaded catastrophes.  But first, let me share how I chose this 1972 Mercian frame’s components, which I recently acquired as a frame and fork with very compromised paint.

1972 Mercian

Here it is, after cleaning, reviving, and waxing the frame and building it up.  The tubes are double butted Reynolds 531, but the transfers were lost long ago.  Fortunately, there was no rust inside the bottom bracket shell or anywhere else on the frame.  And, the compromised paint on the top tube is not that visible from afar.

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I was surprised to find brass residue inside the bottom bracket shell, left over from brazing.  Normally I expect to see silver, as is typically used.  Since silver can be brazed at lower temperatures, there is less chance of overheating and weakening the main tubes.  That led me to research how these frames are built and I discovered the whole frame is heated, after tacking the lug points, in an open brick oven, with natural gas.  Apparently, this evenly heats the areas to be brazed, so the chance of overheating doesn’t exist, as when one directs a flame at the lug joints.  Each builder has their own preference as to brazing materials, some use brass and some silver.  The builder of this Mercian frame chose to use brass, at least for the bottom bracket shell.

After taking measurements and determining the rear spacing, I was inspired to set up the drive train using Suntour components combined with a Stronglight crankset and Huret shifters.

Suntour adjustable BB

Suntour adjustable BB with sealed cartridge bearings.


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Suntour SL High Normal front derailleur.

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Suntour Perfect 14-32 5 speed freewheel.

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Suntour Vx rear derailleur.

Vintage Huret Shifter

Huret drilled downtube shifters

The rear Vx derailleur works perfectly and provides very smooth shifting.  The front SL is a “high normal” front derailleur, and it was extremely easy to set up.  I chose it because its cable stops were what I needed, given the type of stops used on the frame.  The Suntour cartridge bearing bottom bracket is about as smooth and free of friction as they come, and it has lock rings on both sides which allow for a perfect chain line adjustment.  It would be nice if all BB’s were built this way.  The 14-32 Suntour Perfect freewheel is … perfect!  The low gear is a 33, but I found that I never actually needed it, even climbing the steep hills of Mt. Tabor Park.1972 Mercian

I still haven’t determined what model Mercian this is.  The lugs are fancy, and resemble the lugs used for the Olympique model of this era.  The fender eyelets and the 44 cm chainstays suggest the bike was meant to be an all-rounder – good for sport riding as well as light touring and randonneuring.  Mercian cycles are well regarded, so there are plenty of photos and websites available on the web.  One particularly fetching Mercian can be seen here.1972 Mercian

It has been a while since I have ridden on 700c wheels shod on a classic road bike. I was reminded how much fun it is to blast up the hills and to be inspired to sprint past other riders on their newer carbon fiber machines.  This bike is fast!  The downside to 700c wheels on such a small frame, however, brought me back to reality.  With headtube and seattube angles of 72 degrees, and fork rake at about 50 mm, this bike has tons of wheel flop and trail.  More than I like, and I noticed that right away when I rode into downtown Portland across the Hawthorne Bridge on a windy day – the front end was blown around due to the high trail.  And, at slow speeds the bike is not as stable as I would prefer.  However, at higher speeds and while descending, this bike performed well.

Mafac racersMafac racers

After spending way too much time trying to get a set of GB vintage centerpull brakes to work (due to the small amount of space at the seat stays), I finally switched over to a set of Mafac Racers, and was done with my brake set up in no time.  Really, no better engineered centerpull brakes can be found.  I had to clean and sand the rims, and install Kool Stop orange pads on the front set to eliminate brake squeal.

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GB Stem

Mercian headbadge

For the rest of the build, I used a Maillard/Weinmann wheelset from 1988 which was in great shape, and mounted Continental Gatorskins to the rims – great tires for 700c machines.  I had a GB stem and rando bars on hand, and decided to use some green cable housing to bring out the colors in the Mercian headbadge.

1972 Merican in Mt. Tabor Park

Now to the mishaps of its test ride.  First, I took the bike up to Mt. Tabor Park, prior to taping the bars, to see how the bike performed and determine if any changes were needed in the set up.  All good.  The bike fit me perfectly, and I really enjoyed the first ride.  Then,  I commuted to work on this bike, across the Hawthorne Bridge and into downtown Portland.  No problem, had fun, passed other cyclists, felt like a champ.  Then, it came time to venture back through downtown Portland.  There is an area of 4th Avenue that seems jinxed.  On this particular stretch I have experienced a tire blow out on my Jack Taylor, a rear flat on my Guerciotti, and too many near death experiences involving car drivers changing lanes into me or pulling out in front of me.  Today, something new happened.  As I was descending down 4th toward the Hawthorne Bridge ramp, I switched over to the far left lane to avoid traffic.  Then I encountered some kind of strange road surface anomaly that set up quite a bit of vibration on the front end.  As I was struggling to hold on to the brake hoods, the water bottle, which I had mounted to the handlebars, flew out and began a cannon-like descent down the street, fortunately not hitting any cars or pedestrians.  I quickly pulled over, spotted the water bottle, chased it down and polo-like was able to stop its progress, pick it up, and proceed on my way, quite daunted.

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And that’s when I remembered the bad ol’ days of putting 100 psi or more into my narrow road tires.  I had inflated these tires to 100 rear and 80 front.  As soon as this mishap with the water bottle occurred, I pulled over and lowered the pressures.  After that, I rode home in quite a bit more comfort.  And with a smile on my face.

My 1973 Jack Taylor Tourist

1973 Jack Taylor

I seem to be on a 70’s Brit-bike craze!  But it has lasted a while, as I have had this Jack Taylor Tourist Mixte for about 8 years.  At the time I purchased it from Hilary Stone, he thought it was a 1960s model.  After the bike safely made its crossing over the Atlantic, I disassembled it for cleaning and was able to read the matching serial numbers at both the rear dropout and the steerer tube more clearly, and have now dated this bike to 1973.

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The build quality of this bike is classic Taylor brothers, with incredibly smooth brazing at all the joints.  It is made, of course, with Reynolds 531 double butted tubing, and features Campagnolo dropouts, hand-hammered fenders, through-the-frame dynamo wiring, and those beautiful and colorful Jack Taylor logos.  The Taylor brothers followed the practice of building their mixte frames with a single sloping standard diameter top tube fillet brazed at the seat tube with the two extra mixte stays of fairly narrow diameter.  Having ridden all kinds of mixte frames, I have to say that this method is likely not the most ideal in terms of adequate frame stiffness.  On this bike, the head tube feels somewhat independent from the rest of the bike.  Mixte frames are best, in my opinion, when built with twin lateral sloping down tubes that extend to the rear dropouts, or if a single tube is used, extending the mixte stays beyond the seat tube also helps keep the frame adequately stiff, such as this design by Peter Weigle.

Stronglight 38T drilled

Sachs Orbit hubStronglight crankset

This is one of the few bikes I have ever ridden that was geared too low for me.  It was set up with a Stronglight 99 crankset carrying a single drilled 36 tooth ring (pictured first), mated to a Sachs-Fitchel Orbit 2 speed hybrid hub with a 6 speed cassette ranging from 14 to 28 teeth.  The hybrid internal hub is meant to take the place of the front derailleur (or add to it, if you are Sheldon Brown and want 63 gears), and it provides a direct drive, and one lower gear that is about 25% lower than the direct drive.  So, with this set-up, the lowest gear was around 24 gear inches – wow!  Unfortunately, the gearing topped out at 65 gear inches, and that meant that I didn’t have much in the way of a comfortable cruising gear, much less any way to power up to speed on a sprint.  Since I didn’t want to change out the Stronglight 99 crank, I replaced the 36 tooth ring with a 38, (pictured second), and that helped a bit.  Even so, I rarely engage the lower internal hub gear, as I really don’t need it, so I ride this bike as a 6 speed, for the most part.

1972 Jack Taylor

The photo above shows its original configuration as shipped, but it is very likely that the Sachs Orbit hub set up was not part of the original build, but was added later.  I don’t think these hubs were made until the 1980’s, and the 27 inch (yes, not 700c) rims do not match, with the rear being a Weinmann and the front rim remaining unbranded and probably the original wheel built by Ken Taylor.

This is one big mixte!  The seat tube measures 54cm and the effective top tube length is a whopping 55cm.  With its large wheels and big frame, it cuts an imposing  shadow.  The bike came equipped with no-rise French-sized mustache bars shimmed into a Milremo stem.

1973 Jack Taylor Tourist

So, I changed out the bars and stem to bring them closer to me using a tall no name stem with very little reach and some Soma Mustache bars.  I also swapped out the Madison leather saddle, which was pretty worn, with the Ideale Model 75 saddle pictured above.  Unfortunately, while looking very pretty, this leather saddle, though vintage, is still hard as a rock and needs some breaking in.  Here are photos of the rest of the components:

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Suntour V-GT rear derailleur

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Mafac cantilevers, of course.

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Milremo front hub with very stylish wingnuts.

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Soubitez dynamo

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Constructeur racks front and rear, mounted only to the fenders.

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Seat stay brazing, nice and simple. The paint now looks great after weeks and weeks of cleaning and polishing.

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This photo was taken before cleaning and polishing.


Original French mustache bars. SunTour Stem mounted shifters.

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Another broken reflector

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She’s a beauty!  I commuted on this bike for a few years, but haven’t ridden it much lately, as I still have not made ergonomic peace with it.  With spring coming, I think I will dust if off and see if I can’t make this ride a bit more comfortable for me.