For the past several years, I have been drawn south to Canby from my Portland home base for winter cycling.
The Willamette River bends in a sharp s-curve at Canby before heading north toward its confluence with the mighty Columbia River. Its beauty calls to me. Fall colors, winter which promises spring, and the mesmerizing quiet of the ride offer a compelling contrast to cycling in Portland.
Today, I followed this little town’s cycling loop, rather accidentally. I’ve ridden here a lot, and have ventured east of town up onto the plateau that sits above the river, and boasts the best of Oregon farm country – hazelnut groves, vegetable crops, and horses, cattle, sheep, and llamas a-plenty. The basic route depicted above is a totally flat 11 mile loop. It’s easy to add side trips to your journey, as there’s lots to explore around this sweet little town.
I’ve recently converted my 1980’s custom Meral 650b bicycle to more upright style handlebars. On today’s ride one of my goals was to evaluate the bike’s ergonomics with the new Velo-Orange Tourist handlebars.
I wasn’t sure how to think about the brake levers for this bike – I wanted to stay true to its French heritage, and resisted purchasing new brake levers for the upright bar. I finally settled on these black vintage Mafac levers. I also removed 3 cm of bar material from each bar end of the V-O tourist bars. I have found that modern upright style bars are generally too wide and long, and without cutting them down can give your bike an out of balance appearance, not to mention being uncomfortable.
To keep the bars free for additional hand positions I opted for stem mounted shifters. These SunTour ratcheting shifters performed just fine, but I did have to adjust the position of the rear derailleur on down-shifts, whereas upshifts were near perfect. I may replace these with some stem mounted Simplex Retrofriction shifters once I have a mounting option identified.
Oregon City Falls
The City of Canby sits along the Willamette River, upstream from the falls and locks at the historic town of Oregon City. Today, the river was swift moving. Maybe, I was too.
My 1980’s Meral is built with Reynolds 531 tubing, with a fully chromed fork (and with chromed main tubes underneath the dark lavender paint). That, plus converting the bike to 650b has made it one of my most treasured bicycles. Happy riding in 2019!
I purchased this 1962 Daniel Rebour Cycle booklet from Jan Heine about 5 years ago. Back then I carried it with me whenever I took public transportation to work (TriMet) so I could peruse its French language pages and stare longingly upon its Daniel Rebour drawings at my leisure. While I have never taken a French language class, I studied Spanish extensively in my youth and was at one time fluent in that language. That made it easier to have a rudimentary comprehension of what I was engrossed in while bumping along toward downtown Portland on the bus. Eventually I realized that I didn’t want the pages of this rare vintage publication to become dog-eared, so I set the booklet aside in my special bin for special stuff not to be messed with.
Unusual through the frame cable routing for rear centerpull Mafac brakes.
I have consulted this little tome a few times since then when I needed some background information on components and bicycles produced in the early 1960’s. Recently, I dug it out because I had remembered an odd through the frame cable routing for a rear centerpull (Mafac) brake. And even more recently, I wondered if this little booklet contained any information about French Cyclo rear derailleurs. I figured probably not, as these derailleurs were becoming obsolete by the late 50’s. And, I was right about that. But, I once again was drawn into this publication, which is organized by bicycle component categories: Frames and tubing (Le Cadre); Bottom Brackets (Les Roulements); Cranksets (Le Pédalier); Chainrings (Les Plateaux); Pedals and Toe Clips (Pédales et Cale-Pieds); Wheelsets (Les Roues); Tubular Tires (Les Boyaux); Derailleurs (Les Derailleurs); Brakes (Les Friens); and the remaining chapters on saddles, handlebars, and accessories.
Sunglasses in your kit – 1962!
Mudflap with 3 point attachment.
Classic Rene Herse 3 arm crankset.
A 1961 Goeland.
Daniel Rebour’s treasured drawings are featured in a number of print publications. One of these is Frank Berto’s The Dancing Chain. I frequently consult Berto’s book for insight and guidance on setting up vintage derailleurs.
Daniel Rebour contributed significantly to our understanding of vintage bicycle components. He left a legacy that all cyclists benefit from, especially those of us committed to preserving the legacy of vintage bicycles, and we are all the better for it. I am grateful for his contribution.
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.
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.
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 with sealed cartridge bearings.
Suntour SL High Normal front derailleur.
Suntour Perfect 14-32 5 speed freewheel.
Suntour Vx rear derailleur.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.