A Bike to Make You Smile

1987 Panasonic MC 7500

Last summer, I set aside my 1987 Panasonic MC 7500 frame, after transferring many of its components to a 1989 Bridgestone MB3.  I rode the Bridgestone through the summer and fall, but found myself riding it less and less, and ultimately it sat unridden since last December.  Although that frame is similar in size to the Panasonic, its geometry is slightly different, with a longer and sloping top tube and shorter chain stays.

 

You can see the slight differences in frame geometry in the above photos. The Panasonic is a more traditional frame, with more of the rider’s weight closer to the front end of the bike.  For commuting and all-round riding, I like having the weight more evenly distributed, especially given that I haul stuff primarily on the rear rack.

While frame size issues can often be overcome with the right mix of handlebars, stem, and seatpost setback, when a bike isn’t ridden, there’s usually a reason, and sometimes no amount of tweaking the components will solve the problem.

The Bridgestone didn’t make me smile.  So, with anticipation, I brought out the Panasonic frame from storage and began the process of bringing it back to life.  I first did a complete inspection of the frame and fork, cleaned all of the threaded surfaces, applied clear touch up paint where needed, and washed the frame.  Then I polished and waxed it (with several coats), and also treated the inside of the tubes with WD-40.  Then it was time to build it up.

 

I had some inspired moments, deciding to use some period correct Shimano cantilevers, which offer much better modulated braking power than the new Tektro’s I had previously used.  At the rear is a U brake, very fiddly to set up, but the Dia Compe set installed there works fine, so long as I set the pads very close to the rime.

I also decided to go with a double crankset, instead of the single chain ring I had always used when riding the bike previously.  Wanting to keep the weight down (smaller riders benefit greatly from weight savings) I selected a Shimano Crane long cage rear derailleur, along with the drilled Stronglight crankset that I had been using with the Bridgestone.  Velo-Orange porter bars, SunTour bar mount ratcheting shifters and a 6 speed Shimano freewheel finished out the build.

I reinstalled my hand built 26” wheels, which have a V-O rear hub and Quando front hub, both with cartridge bearings, laced to SunRims CR18 rims, which have held up well (although the rear Quando hub failed prematurely a few years back, replaced by the V-O hub).

 

I’m riding the bike this summer without fenders, because I’m researching some different fender options.  As I was getting under way for my first test ride I suddenly remembered that riding a bike with cantilevers, sans fenders, can be a safety hazard.  This is because if the front brake cable fails, the straddle cable can get caught up in the tire and fork crown and cause an endo, with related potentially dangerous injuries.  So, I hastily installed a tire saver to hopefully prevent disaster, even though my cables are all new, just in case.  A reflector bracket will also work for this purpose.

My first test ride on the new build was a delight.  This machine has carried me through cold, rainy winters, and has hauled a lot of groceries and garden supplies.  It’s a beautiful but well used frame, made with double butted Tange tubing, and featuring lovely chromed rear stays.  It’s 80’s color scheme is very visible, especially with the bright orange donor fork that replaced the original fork long before the frame came into my stable.  The bike is a good friend, and it does, indeed, make me smile.

It’s Not Me, It’s the Bike

1990

These are the words I say to myself when I am riding especially fast.  Or especially slowly, as of late.

This winter I have been using my Panasonic MC 7500 winter bike as my primary commuter, which is a change from past winters, partly driven by this winter’s wet and colder conditions which heralded the onset of a typically Portland rainy season last November.  Very recent winters have been gloriously warm and dry, so my choice of commuting vehicles was vastly expanded and even included scooter rides in the dead of December.  But, not this winter.  Portland is back to typical seasonal weather which can include anything from 35 degrees and raining hard, to light sprinkles in the lower 50’s (like today), and the occasional freezing rain and snow.  The short days also come with twilight seeming to descend in apocalyptic fashion in the middle of the afternoon.

1987catMountainCat7500Page18

This bike was actually quite the machine in its day – the top of the line Mountain Bike in Panasonic’s line up in 1987.  It is built with Tange Prestige Cro-Mo double butted tubes, with forged drop outs and chromed chain stays.  The geometry on the smaller frame that I am riding features a slack 70 degree head tube combined with minimal fork rake, which would normally make it less than ideal for commuting, but its long wheelbase (107 cm) makes up for the higher than ideal wheel flop.  Consequently, I can usually avoid putting my foot down as I approach red lights and four way stops.

I bought this Panasonic as a frame and fork, then built it into a city commuter.  It went through various iterations, and now is set up for maximum comfort and utility.

062 1989

I was using a Shimano grip shifter and a 6 speed cassette, but after a black ice crash in 2012, the shifter broke apart (because it is made of plastic), so I splurged on a $7 no name friction shifter, made of good old steel.  That meant that I could install a 7 speed freewheel, and increase the bike’s gear range a bit.

003 - Copy

I had been using these UNO city bars, pictured above, but the shape and width did not agree with my anatomy, so I swapped them out for a vintage steel Northroad bar.  This bar is a great improvement in comfort, being narrower and putting my hands and shoulders in a much more neutral position, and increases the bike’s un-coolness factor by a few thousand degrees.

2016-01-23 001

Steel Northroad bars

2016-01-23 005 2016-01-23 014

Further agitating bike snobs in Pdx, the Panasonic is sporting a duct tape rear fender repair job, and a ghastly kickstand.

The kickstand is a convenient accessory, and this design is useful for any bike where mounting in back of the bottom bracket is not an option (in this case due to the U-brakes residing there).  The stand is adjustable to any wheel size, and keeps the bike secure, even when I have my bags loaded up with groceries.

2016-01-23 012

I like using these Jandd Hurricane bags, which are aptly named and can handle just about any kind of weather.  Their vibrant colors augment my winter bike’s 1980’s color scheme, and add a lot to its visibility.  If you haven’t used Jandd bags, you are missing out on the ultimate in practicality and quality.  I have a set of Jandd panniers that are 30 years old, and still look new.

2016-01-23 009 2016-01-23 011

The Panasonic MC 7500 is a bike that enthusiasts have embraced, but the frame does have its downsides – one of them being that on some builds, holes drilled in the seat stays (necessary to allow heat to escape while brazing), were actually drilled very close to the seat stay attachment.  Fortunately, on my frame, the holes have been drilled near the dropouts.  Unfortunately, the seat stay holes have caused a stress riser to appear on this cyclist’s bike.

2016-01-23 006

Paul’s chain keeper for my 1×7 drive train, with vintage Peugeot branded crankset.

2016-01-23 020

Specialized Nimbus Tires. Never a flat in six years, and the exact opposite of supple side walls.

2016-01-23 007

Possible stress crack

2016-01-23 024

After sanding to remove the paint, no stress crack visible.

On my own frame, I had concerns about the paint cracks which had developed near to the U-Brake braze-ons on the chain stays.  Whenever you heat the tubes to braze, there is a danger of overheating and weakening them. Since the frame was already cosmetically challenged, I had no qualms about taking my emery cloth and sandpaper to this area to see what lay beneath the cracked paint.  Fortunately, nothing at all.  But now I can monitor this area.  I will paint it with Testor’s clear paint so that I can watch for any future changes.

2016-01-23 019

SunRims on the wheelset I built for this bike – holding up okay but the sidewalls have been scored by my too hard brake pads.

2016-01-23 028

Offending hard pad on the U Brake – showing no wear which is a bad sign. Meaning that my rims have suffered instead.

2016-01-23 029

Repair job on the broken fender attachment.

2016-01-23 031

Repaired fender bracket.

While I had the bike in the shop stand, I decided to do a full tune-up.  I washed the wheels (a new wheelset which I built last year, and which are working well), picked rim material out of the brake pads, sanded the rear ones, replaced the too hard original Tektro pads which had messed up my new rims, and cleaned and lubricated the SunTour freewheel (more on that, below).  I repaired the broken fender attachment by rummaging through the parts bin to find a reasonable facsimile with which to repair the broken bracket.  I drilled a new hole through the center of the fender, and installed the new bracket.  Hopefully, it will survive and thrive.

2016-01-23 036

New front Kool Stop pads – replacing the original Tektros which badly scored my new rims.

2016-01-23 032

But now, to my chagrin, my newly cleaned and lubricated 7 speed Suntour freewheel is making very odd grinding and clunking sounds.  I have always loved Suntour freewheels, and have never had one fail on me.  After doing some research, Sheldon Brown (RIP) came to the rescue.  He described a situation similar to mine, where my newly lubricated freewheel began sounding clunky under load, and noisy while freewheeling.  I believe the problem may be a loose cover plate.  Meanwhile, I have a fun old Atom 5 speed freewheel from the 1970’s with English threads which I am going to install while I troubleshoot the beloved Suntour. The higher geared old Atom freewheel should make me ride even more slowly.  But, as I said before, it’s not me, it’s the bike.

2016-01-24 003

28 lb machine ready to hit the road.

A Town Ride on a Townie

001

With the temperatures dropping into the 70’s and overcast skies, today seemed like the perfect day for a town loop – out to Oak’s Park via 26th to Bybee, and then back into town via the Springwater Trail.  From my house, that’s about a 16 mile trip – perfect for the Panasonic MC 7500 that I had built into a low-maintenance errand/winter/do-it-all bike – a “townie”.

Panasonic MC 7500Thanks to the fatter tires on this bike, I can take the gravel shortcuts I know, and spend some time away from traffic.  On the way to Oaks Park there’s a great viewpoint of Oaks Bottom – a Portland wildlife refuge, minutes away from downtown.

005

You can see the wetlands of Oaks Bottom in the photo above, along with the carnival rides beyond at Oaks Park.

009

If you’re not in the mood for the festivities at Oaks Park, you can head to the Willamette River side of the park, where it’s a little quieter.006The river was nice today – not overly crowded with boats.  It was a gentle summer day, and it felt good to be outside on a ride.

012

Heading back toward town on Springwater Trail, I was enthralled by this beautiful ring of lavender wildflowers outlining the wetlands.  I didn’t see a lot of birds – just a few Great Blue Herons.

016

And I did see this skinny little fawn, along with her older brother or uncle (who was too shy to be photographed).  I hope she gets enough to eat today.

015

014

There are many hiking trails along the path, both on the river side and on the wetlands side.  Bald eagles and other rare birds draw lots of birders.  The last time I hiked here I saw two Lincoln’s Sparrows scrapping around in the brush, as well as several bald eagles and all kinds of water fowl.

1987 Panasonic MC 7500

I didn’t know much about Panasonic Bicycles until I bought this frame and fork a few years back.  I was impressed with its apparent quality and began doing some research.  This model is the Mountain Cat 7500, made in 1987.  It has Tange Prestige double butted tubing, and very nice lugs.  The rear stays appear to be fully chromed underneath the paint.  This particular model was the top of the line mountain bike back in its day.

19941995

The frame was cosmetically challenged, with a lot of chain suck damage to the paint on the chain stay, and at some point it lost its original fork.  I decided to build it up using inexpensive but reliable components, with a simple 1 x 6 drive train in friction mode.

1991

I used some parts-bin and vintage components, such as this old Peugeot crankset. The kitty-approved bear claw pedals, are new however.  The other new components are a Tange headset, funky $7 shifter, and townie-style handlebars.  I also sprung for new full-coverage fenders, and a new rear rack and kickstand.  The wheels are a mismatch with the front being an Araya rim on a Joytech hub, and the rear being a Weinmann rim on a no-name hub.

MC-7500

The original bike had a lot of nice features, as shown in this 1987 catalog – not to mention the 80’s color scheme.  Currently, vintage Panasonic bikes are sought after (at least some models), and the company is still making beautiful handmade lugged steel frames from their Osaka factory in Japan.  Yellow Jersey has some of these frames available through their website.