Cantilever Conundrum

4 different cantis – vintage to modern- Mafac Criterium; Shimano BR-AT50; Dia Compe 960; Shimano BR-R550

An upcoming bike build will need cantilever brakes.  The frame is new (more on that later), but vintage cantis would not be inappropriate for the project.  As I am not a fan of V-brakes for road bikes, I am exploring the many cantilever options which are available for a frame with canti braze-ons.

Modern cantilever brake options include Paul’s, shown above, as well as other models from Shimano, Dia Compe, Velo-Orange, Avid, and Tektro..  With all these alternatives, it can be hard to determine the best set of cantilevers for a given application.

Shimano BR-R550 with integrated springs

Beautiful Dia Compe 960 Cantis – in as new condition.

But before that a primer on cantilever brakes was in order.  While there are many factors to consider, one of the important ones involves whether you want your springs integrated into the brake or not.  Newer cantilevers, such as the Shimano’s shown in the top photo, have integrated springs that allow for separate spring tension adjustment on each caliper.  Older cantis, such as the Dia Compe’s in the lower photo above have external springs.  The only way to adjust spring tension on older cantis is to mount the spring into a different hole on the canti brake boss (some bosses have 3 separate holes to allow for this).  Or, the spring can be modified with “strong arm” force by changing its shape.

Fortunately, the bike I am working on has 3 hole canti bosses, so I can take the time to evaluate vintage vs. modern caliper options.

1940’s Mafac Cantilever boss

If you have a newer bike and you want to change your cantilever bosses, you can unscrew them from the frame and add a different plate or a different length stud.  Paragon Machine Works is a good resource for sourcing canti studs and plates.

Meanwhile, one has to wonder about the shape and angle of the caliper arms.  It would seem logical to conclude that the arms with the widest angle would have the most mechanical advantage.

But apparently one must think again.  Low profile cantilever brakes can have as much mechanical advantage as calipers with a more extreme angle.  Why?  It all depends on the position of the straddle cable, according to Sheldon Brown.

I experienced this when setting up Tektro canti’s on my 1987 Panasonic commuter bike.  I had to position  the straddle cable very low, but in doing so I found that the brake performed quite well.  The rule of thumb is to not set the yoke below the bottom of the fork crown.  While the angle of the straddle cable looks extreme, the brakes work just fine.

The Mafac cantilevers in my collection are the lightest weight calipers among the group.  Their springs are external of course,  but with the 3 hole option on the frame’s canti bosses, I am leaning toward installing them.  We’ll see!

More Than Eye Candy

1973 Jack Taylor

Drooling over gorgeous vintage bicycles is one thing, but appreciating their enduring ride quality is another thing altogether.  This 1973 Jack Taylor Tourist has been with me for over eight years, and while I rode it quite a bit initially, I eventually set it aside.  The bike is larger than my usual size, and I did not adequately assess the lack of comfort associated with a 55 cm top tube length, given that I normally ride a 51.

Adding to that are the big 27 inch wheels and 29 cm bottom bracket height.  Throwing a leg over this bike is like mounting one’s 16 hand steed for a ride in the country side.  However, the very tall riding position is great for commuting.  It puts your head up above the fray and helps make you more visible to the car driving masses.  So, in order to enjoy this bike I needed to make some ergonomic changes.  Back to the drawing board.

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I needed to bring the bars closer to me. The tall Nitto Technomic stem came to the rescue.  Drop bars or mustache bars would push my arms out too far for this top tube length, so I located a vintage city style bar that had the right clamp size for the Nitto Stem.  I used Velo Orange levers to complete the vintage look.  Even though new, they are quite a bit more sturdy than the Weinmann and DiaCompe flat bar levers made in the 70’s.  Their only downside is that the levers sit out pretty far from the bar, so they are not the best choice for smaller hands.  I couldn’t resist using some bright yellow Benotto bar tape, which when wrapped three times over fit perfectly on the grip side of the bars, and which brings out the bike’s vibrant yellow highlights.

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This bike is unique in many ways, and one of them is the rear wheel which features this Sachs-Fitchel 2 speed Orbit hub.  The internally geared hub takes the place of a front derailleur and extra chain ring.  I had sent the hub out for a rebuild 8 years ago, not daring to do it myself at the time.  It still feels smooth, so I resisted the very faint urge to tear it down.  The internal gears can be lubricated by removing the spindle and squirting in a bit of automotive oil.  Easily done.  The spindle broke apart a number of years ago, so I did my own repair job using a tiny brad which I banged into the chain links.  The repaired link is slightly bigger than it should be, but hasn’t caused any problems.  One of the nice things about this gearing arrangement is being able to shift to a lower gear when stopped.  That’s not something you can do with a 100% derailleur equipped bicycle.

Whenever a bike sits for a while, all kinds of things go wrong.  Grease congeals, one kind of metal fuses itself to another kind of metal, bearings embed themselves into their cups and cones, and rust seems to form everywhere.

So, there were lots of other issues to address:  pitted bottom bracket cups, which I replaced with an exact and pristine match that I happened to have in stock; broken wiring for the sidewall driven Soubitez dynamo; and various rusted areas on the frame which needed to be sanded and then painted (I use clear Testor’s paint).  I had considered replacing the dynamo with something newer, but it is actually working just fine, and I can use it as a back up to my battery powered light if needed.  (P.S. I hate dynamos).

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Soubitez dynamo headlight is working!

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Testor’s Paints – I use clear paint for touch ups.

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Inelegant wire routing. Oh well.

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Perfect for commuting – Lyotard pedals with reflectors and cage tabs to keep your shoe in place.

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Frame touch up – sanded and painted.

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Very tight clearance due to low tread Stronglight 99 crankset.

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IRC Road Winner 27 x 1 1/4 tires

I really like these IRC 27 x 1 1/4 inch tires.  I purchased them eight years ago and unfortunately, they can no longer be found.  Not not only do they have a nice appearance, the sidewalls are very supple and the ride quality is even better than the much beloved Panaracer Pasela’s I have ridden.  I hope to ride these tire until the bitter end, and replace them only when absolutely necessary.  One issue with these older rims is that they cannot tolerate high pressures, due to their design.  So, I have blown these tires off the rim more than a few times.  Finally, I have settled on 70 psi in the rear and 65 psi in the front, and have had no blow outs since.

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In addition to rebuilding the pedals, front hub, and bottom bracket, I also replaced the straddle cables for the Mafac Cantilever brakes.  The brakes, while very powerful, are noisy under hard braking, partly because I am using these Kool Stop pads which not only don’t allow for toe-in, they seem to provide for the opposite of toe-in.  Even so, I would rather have these strong and reliable cantilevers for commuting in Portland.

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And finally, I sourced an exact match for the taillight with the broken reflector. I kind of miss the look of the bare bulb, though.

Now it’s time to get back out on this bike into this Fall’s windy, rainy weather and ride the leaf strewn avenues of Portland – hopefully in comfort!

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.