Dropping Out

Early 1950’s Simplex dropout – long, horizontal, with eyelet.

Rear dropouts determine what derailleur options are available for a given frame. Rear dropout spacing also determines hub options, with derailleur equipped vintage bicycles having narrower spacing than their modern counterparts.  And, the shape and style of the dropout are important as well:  horizontal dropouts allow for wheel adjustment fore and aft, whereas vertical dropouts make rear wheel removal easier.  Eyelets on the dropouts mean integrated fender and rack mounts, a definite plus.

Little attention is paid to this important feature of any vintage steel bicycle. Vintage dropouts include:  old style Simplex dropouts (shown above – but often model specific), newer style Simplex dropouts,  Huret drop outs (several styles), Campagnolo dropouts, Shimano and Suntour dropouts, and stamped or forged dropouts with no integrated derailleur hanger. Some vintage bicycles feature chainstays with integrated braze-ons or dropouts for Simplex, Cyclo, Huret and other rear derailleurs.

Chainstay braze-on for a Cyclo rear derailleur

1947 Simplex TDF with claw mount

Plain dropouts require a “claw” attachment for the rear derailleur or a braze-on or clamp for the chain stay.  For vintage bicycles, plain dropouts without a hanger do not in any way indicate a lower end frame.  Many nice upper end vintage steel frames did not have manufacturer specific brazed dropouts.  So, do not be afraid of the “claw”.  In fact, having plain dropouts on a vintage bicycle can be helpful, because derailleur options are automatically expanded, depending on the style of claw chosen.

The above Daniel Rebour drawings depict two different styles of Huret dropouts.  Huret rear derailleurs can be a bit (translate “a lot”!) more difficult to set up than Simplex derailleurs. By contrast, setting up Shimano, Suntour or Campagnolo derailleurs with their matching tabbed and threaded dropout at 7 o’clock seems almost too easy.

1972 Mercian Shimano dropout

After the early 1980’s or so, dropout hangers were not so much an issue, because dropouts on derailleur equipped bikes after this point in time featured standard Shimano/Campagnolo hangers which were adopted as the standard by other component manufacturers.

Sheldon Brown’s dropout chart

Sheldon Brown developed this helpful chart shown above, although it is missing some key information.  He does not address the baffling array of hanger styles which existed in days of yore.

A Simplex early style dropout with tab on the non drive side.

Hangerless dropout, requiring a claw

Campagnolo semi-horizontal dropouts on a 1970’s Jack Taylor

Stamped plain dropouts on an early 1970’s Raleigh with a 531 frame

There is only one resource on the web that seems to have a comprehensive overview of dropout styles and rear derailleur compatibility issues.  This helpful chart can be found at a site called The Headbadge.  Velobase also has an extensive database of vintage style dropouts. These resources can help anyone restoring a vintage bicycle determine whether and how to change the existing rear derailleur, and how to determine compatibility options.

In addition, there are a few other web resources that can help you with derailleur and dropout considerations:

An early 1978 article on derailleurs and dropouts by Sheldon Brown, with interesting discussion of Type H and Type S rear derailleurs.

An historic overview of gear selection options through the decades by Bainbridge Classic Cycles, featuring an interesting photo of a freewheel with moveable cogs and a stationary rear derailleur.

The Dancing Chain by Frank Berto is also an important resource – even more so because it is in book form.  If you don’t want to explore vintage derailleurs and dropout styles, the information presented in Chapter 15 – “How Derailleurs Work” will be worth the cost of purchasing this book.  The author’s discussion of derailleur composition, chain gap, pulley spacing, cage geometry, and spring loaded pivots is invaluable to an understanding of how derailleurs work.

1953 Follis with integrated two hole Simplex bracket


A 1972 Mercian

2972 Mercian

I recently purchased this Mercian on eBay.  The seller described it as a 1960’s model, but with its Shimano dropouts, I suspected it was actually made a bit later.

1972 Mercian

The bottom bracket shell seems to indicate this is a 1972 model.  A name appears to be etched above the serial number, but I can’t quite make it out.  Perhaps this was the owner’s name.  Having looked through the available Mercian catalogs on-line, and after taking frame measurements, I still don’t quite know what model this is.

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However, given that it has decent length chain stays (44mm), and single eyelets front and rear, it is possible that this is the Campionissimo or Olympic model, off the shelf frames designed for light touring and randonneuring, but with no customizing available except choosing the color.

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The lugs are ornate, and unusually shaped, although not a great deal of time was spent filing them.  The frame is equipped with pump pegs and a full set of cable stops.  The pump pegs are mounted slightly off center below the top tube, to prevent interference with the cable stops also mounted slightly off center on the opposite side.

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I measured the frame and took some preliminary angle readings.  It is a 49 cm x 51 cm frame (or, speaking British, a 20 inch frame – which the company measures center to top).  The angles appear fairly steep, at about 74 degrees for both the head tube and seat tube.  Of course, there is a margin of error using this method, and once the bike is built I will re-measure the angles using a level to correct for errors.  I also checked brake reach using 700c wheels (I think the frame was built for 27 inch wheels).  It looks like I will need about 65 mm of brake reach to use 700c wheels with this frame – that is definitely doable.

However, the biggest challenge will be determining whether the paint damage and oxidation to the top tube will mean having to re-paint the frame, something I am loathe to do.  If the paint damage is just at the surface level, and there’s no rust underneath, I’d like to preserve the beautiful patina of this nice Reynolds 531 hand built frame.

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Thankfully, it was a rainy, stormy day today, not suited for riding.  A perfect shop day.  I got out my various cleaning products and began to experiment on the back side of the fork legs, so that if I did something irretrievably bad, it would not be so visible.  As it turned out, the most effective product was an automotive paint cleaning compound.  Applied vigorously, and polished vigorously afterwards, this product was best at removing the years of neglect.  I was worried about taking off too much paint however, and I only gently cleaned the Mercian logos.   I definitely did not want to damage these as they were all in great condition.  The photos above show the frame after several hours of cleaning and polishing – there is a definite improvement!  That gave me the impetus to start working on the top tube.  I figured that no matter how hard I rubbed, I couldn’t make it worse than it already was.  I really wanted to see what the damage looked like underneath the oxidized paint.

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The good news is that underneath the oxidation was nice silver-colored steel, with no rust visible at all.  The bad news is that the top tube looks pretty funky, still.  I will probably clean it up a bit more and then apply some clear paint to protect the exposed areas.  After more cleaning, I will also apply many coats of wax to the entire frame, just to make sure that it remains protected in the elements.  You’ll note from the above photo that I also removed the California bike license tag.  While I usually keep these kinds of artifacts intact, this one really detracted from its appearance.  Underneath was the original frame color – a very vibrant red.  Well, now the bike is a very cool orange color!

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It’s now time to start thinking about the components.  Since the frame has such a vintage look, I think it would be best to build it up with period components.  Fortunately, the old Mercian catalogs will provide a lot of information about how these machines were typically configured.  I have these GB 88 brakes which would be from the period, and which have just the right amount of brake reach.  My crankset collection includes two Stronglight candidates.  The crankset at the left is a Spidel/Stronglight set from the 80’s – meant to be a copy of a Campy Super Record Crankset, and the one at the right is a 1970’s model with the star shaped spider that I love.  I will probably go with the more vintage look.  The frameset came shipped with a TDC headset, probably orginal, and a Sugino bottom bracket, which may or may not be original.  By this time, Shimano and other Japanese components were beginning to be considered on par with the best French, British and Italian component makers of the time.

Dura Ace high flange hub

I have been wanting to find the right home for this beautiful Dura Ace high flange front hub with its smooth as butter cups and cones.  It is laced to a 700c Araya rim.  I might decide to use an unusual rear hub, such as a 2 x 6 Sachs-Fitchel hub, or even a Sturmey Archer, in keeping with its British heritage.  That is part of the fun – envisioning the many interesting ways this frame can be configured.  I look forward to riding it and getting this great old frame back out on the road.