Braking News

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Recently I overhauled a few of the Mafac Racer brakes I had in my bin. Why? Perhaps to keep the demons at bay.  Anyone involved in the vintage bicycle “industry” (an apt word involving boatloads of industrious activity) knows that Mafac centerpulls are the best.  However, Mafac Racer brake calipers are ubiquitous, and therefore of very little re-sale value.  In a few thousand years, archaeologists will find these brakes in their dig sites and ponder their significance.

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One of the nice things about Mafac Racer centerpull brakes is that they can accept these little T.A. front racks, which bolt directly on to the arms.  On the above brake I have added a vintage looking battery powered headlamp, which clamps conveniently on to the supplied T.A. bracket.  The little rack is really only good for strapping on a rain jacket, loaf of bread, or tiny tool kit, but it does come in handy as a light mount, and looks very elegant.

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Mafac Dural Centerpulls

Overhauling brakes is really a very easy process, and simply involves disassembly, cleaning, polishing, lubrication, and reassembly.  I won’t detail the steps here, as there are many other resources on the web and in print (Dr. Coles to the rescue), to help you through the process.  If you want to spend far more money than your brakes will ever be worth overhauling your Mafac centerpulls, you can purchase a restoration kit from Compass Cycles for about $125.00 or so.   As I was overhauling these Mafac brakes, I found that I didn’t need to replace any parts – they just needed to be cleaned and lubricated. Mainly, the steel bolts and nuts can rust, and sometimes the red washers can disintegrate – although that is pretty rare.  These brakes were meant to last, and they do.  I didn’t need to replace any parts on the brakes I overhauled – including the washers, which really held up well over many decades.

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Mafac Raid Centerpull Brakes

One exception to the devaluation of Mafac brakes is the consumer demand for and rarity of Mafac Raid brakes.  These are extra long reach brakes that can be used to accomplish a 650b conversion.  It is difficult to find these brakes, and I have horded the few sets that I have on hand.

One of the things that fascinates me about Mafac brakes is how un-glitzy they are.  The stamped logos are odd and unprofessional-looking, and it seems strange to me that their model names include quotation marks.  Yet, engineering-wise, these are far superior to many of the competitors out there.  A rare example of substance over form.

Theresa’s New (Old) Raleigh

1976 Raleigh Gran Sport

1976 Raleigh Gran Sport

My partner in all things, Theresa, has been riding a Raleigh Alyeska touring bike for the last decade or so.  While it is a great bike, it is a touring bike and relatively heavy.  So, when we ride together I often feel that I am cheating by zipping around on one of my nimbler machines.  And, the Alyeska’s top tube is just a bit shorter than she prefers, so I decided to build up this Raleigh Gran Sport, which has a longer top tube, into a lighter weight iteration of its original self.

The early 60’s version of the Gran Sport was something of a sought after machine, with Sheldon Brown describing his lust for its Campagnolo components, even though at this time the frame was built with standard tubing.  This model, which I have dated to approximately 1976, is built with Reynolds 531 tubing for both the frame and fork, and it sports a Carlton logo as well.  However, some of its original components left something to be desired, such as the low end plastic Simplex derailleurs and shifters.

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I admit to a great fondness for this beautiful sky blue color scheme.  It is reminiscent of my 1976 Centurion Pro Tour.  With the white accents, I decided it was really necessary to use white cable housing.  I set up the drivetrain using Suntour components.  I had a NOS Suntour V-GT rear derailleur that I mated to a single bar end shifter.  I used a vintage Sugino crank with an SR drilled 42 tooth ring.  The freewheel is an early index version 6 speed 14/30 Shimano.  Index freewheels actually work better with friction shifters than non-index versions.

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I wanted to keep this bike very light and simple, so there is no front derailleur or extra shifter.  To add to its elegance and feathery weight, I decided to use my treasured Campagnolo/Mavic wheelset.  This was one of the first sets I built, using smooth as butter vintage Campy hubs laced to new Mavic Open Pro 36 hole rims.  That meant a conversion to 700c, from the bike’s original 27 inch wheel diameter – not a problem at all.

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The blue color in the Mavic logo nicely accents the sky blue frame.  For the riding position, Theresa expressed a preference to be more stretched out as well as upright enough to make city riding safe and enjoyable.  I was thinking of using these big ol’ Soma bars, but I knew I would need a pretty long reach for the stem.  I found this Nitto stem with a whopping 130 mm of reach, but it had to be shipped from Japan!

Soma Oxford bars Cardiff saddle

I also ordered this very pretty Cardiff saddle, a brand which I have come to love (one is installed on my Meral), and I will be curious to see how she likes this compared to the Brooks on her current bike.  I used Mafac Racer centerpull brakes, and installed a small TA randonneur rack to mount to the front calipers.  Probably we will add a minimalist rear rack at some point, as well as some fenders.  These 35 mm Panaracer Paselas will be perfect for the kind of riding we do.  One of the very nice features on this frame is the elegant cable stop for the rear brake.

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I found some light blue cloth bar tape from Velox that matches the frame perfectly.  To keep with the vintage appearance I used Velo Orange’s City brake levers.  Now this nice old Raleigh has a new look and a new lease on life.  I am looking forward to Theresa’s first test ride!

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1970’s Peugeot Mixte Porteur

peugeot-mixte-531-porteur-1Here is a a 1970’s Peugeot Mixte frame made from Reynolds 531 tubing that I purchased from a French seller several years ago.  My goal in building the bike up was to recreate a Peugeot PR65, whose photo is shown below, and whose style is evocative not only of Peugeot’s legacy and its consistent focus on women riders, but also of that amazing decade known as the 70’s. 1978_11 The PR65 Mixte model seemed to exist only for year or two.  I love the porteur bars and the cable routing, not to mention the super nice components. 1978_10 This 1978 Dutch Peugeot catalogue reveals that the frame was built with Reynolds 531 7/10 butted tubing and Nervex lugs, brazed below 600 degrees using silver, with brazed on cable guides.  Components included a Stronglight 48/38 crankset weighing 650 grams, which is lighter than modern day Ultegra and Dura Ace cranksets.  The rear derailleur was a Simplex SX410T with a 30 tooth cog capacity, and the front was a Simplex LJA302. L1010522L1010523L1010536

I decided to go all out and use Simplex Super LJ derailleurs front and rear.

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This frame’s Reynolds 531 transfers were in excellent shape, and the bike shop sticker from the shop where this bike was first sold is up in the Pyrenees, on one of the Tour de France routes.  Drop-outs are by Simplex, and the fork is fully chromed underneath the paint.  No model number is indicated on the frame, and I am not aware of any other mixte frames that Peugeot built during this era with Reynolds tubing.

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I used vintage Mafac Racer brake calipers, and a Pivo stem mounted with new Velo-Orange porteur bars. I had to spread the clamp a bit.  The shifters are Suntour ratcheting bar ends, which are great to use with these bars because they are close at hand.  Believe it or not, I used Raleigh’s steel brake levers because they feel much more solid and sturdy than the flimsier Weinmann and Dia-Compe levers of this era.

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peugeot mixte 531 porteur 008The wheelset is an early 80’s Shimano 600 set, with Wolber Super Champion Gentlemen 81 rims, and I managed to find some NOS Bluemels fenders complete with front mudflap.  I don’t want to talk about the hours spent installing and adjusting the Velo Orange front porteur rack.  Let’s just say that a certain amount of pain was involved.  The tight clearances also made it necessary to carefully adjust the fenders to avoid rubbing.

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I ended up swapping out the Zeus crankset shown on the left post with this Stronglight, which has smaller chain rings and is better suited for the kind of riding I do.  I have had fun commuting and grocery shopping on this bike.

Small Ortlieb panniers fit fine on the Velo Orange front rack.

Peugeot PR65

After a rainy ride the bike stayed dry and clean thanks to the Bluemel’s fenders.

It takes a little while to get used to hauling a front load, but after a few rides, it starts to feel natural.  Now that the bike has been thoroughly test ridden and vetted, it’s time to put it up for sale.  It’s hard to properly price a bike like this.  Many hours went into creating it, and many dollars went into the parts, and most importantly, I hope is the value of the creative process.  But, the flood of low-priced Chinese-made bikes in the U.S. has created an expectation gap among bike consumers, and there is a real lack of understanding about why it is possible to buy a cheap bike from their LBS, and what the real cost of that cheap bike may be.  But, that rant is for another blog post.

More photos can be seen on this FB Album.