A Portland Sunday on a Bridgestone MB3

My winter/errand bike has been a well used 1987 Panasonic MC 7500. I bought that bike as a frame and fork many years ago, and then built it into a Portland workhorse. Rigid lugged steel vintage “mountain bikes” serve as excellent platforms for conversion to a sturdy errand/winter/commuter bike.

The Bridgestone MB3 frame sat in my shop for a few months, as I had purchased it only for its lavender Nitto stem to use on my newly built up Rivendell Appaloosa.  Well, sort of but not really.  The Bridgestone frame was in great shape, and it kept staring at me every time I loaded another bike into the work stand.  Finally, I gave in, transferring many of the Panasonic components, which I disassembled, over to the MB3.  The build was pretty straightforward, and would have been completed much sooner had I not decided to use Suntour cantilevers, whose set up required more time.  Finally, the bike was ready for a few assignments.

Denison Farms Organic Veggies at the Montavilla Farmers Market

A happy classical guitarist at the Montavilla Farmers Market

Veggies loaded into my Jandd grocery pannier.

First, I headed over to the Montavilla Farmers Market.  This weekly Sunday event features an extravaganza of luscious fruits and veggies, homemade honey, jams and jellies, along with flower bouquets, wines, breads and baked goods, and some mellow classical guitar to accompany your shopping experience.

“Fancy Cycling”

Up and over Mt. Tabor

After dropping the veggies off at my house to stay cool on this hot day, I pedaled over Mt. Tabor and headed down to my local Powell’s bookstore on Hawthorne.  While there, I discovered this 2013 reprint of a 1901 cycling manual by Isabel Marks.  Major score!  The book contains instructions and photos on how to do some “fancy cycling” by performing tricks on your bike.  It looks like I have lots of work to do, as my track stands are not done while seated backwards in the saddle, one of the many tricks illustrated in the book, with period photos as illustrations of each maneuver (more on this book in a subsequent post).

The Bridgestone frame is a bit different from the Panasonic MC 7500 in a few ways:  the Bridgestone has slacker angles, shorter chainstays, a shorter wheelbase, and a longer top tube.  The Panasonic is a classic diamond frame, whereas the Bridgestone has a slightly sloping top tube.  While the Bridgestone is made from triple butted Ishiwata tubing, the Panasonic’s Tange Prestige double butted tubing feels a bit more lively.  Even so, both bikes are comparable and nice to ride, never feeling bogged down while climbing.  Below are photos of the components I selected:

Vintage Suntour bar mount ratcheting friction shifters

Suntour XC low profile cantilevers.

I re-used the original Shimano Deore derailleurs and the 12-28 Shimano 7 speed cassette.

I discarded the Biopace crankset, and replaced it with this modified Stronglight 99 with drilled rings. The crankset was originally a triple 52/42/32, but I removed the big ring and converted it to a double 42/32. I used the original Deore bottom bracket and front derailleur, and it somehow all worked out well.

Original Ritchey Vantage wheels on Shimano Deore hubs.  The wheels needed re-tensioning and truing, and the hubs were rebuilt and now spin smoothly.

Northroad bars with Suntour levers and shifters. The Suntour levers offer easily adjustable brake reach – a nice feature for riders with smaller hands.  A Cardiff leather saddle is shown in the background.

The 1989 Bridgestone MB3 as converted to a Portland commuter

While I’m not sure yet whether I will replace my Panasonic MC 7500 with this bike, I have enjoyed my experience so far.  The bike received some nice comments today from passersby.  It’s a good looking bike, and as configured performs just as I would expect from a quality steel frame and excellent vintage components.

Stronglight Competition Headset

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While problem solving a fork issue on the 1940’s/50’s Mercier Meca Dural that I have been restoring, I thought about changing its headset so that I could mount a different fork with a slightly shorter steerer tube.

That effort was, sadly, unsuccessful.  But in the process, I had to compare various French headsets that I had on hand to determine which one might solve the problem of needing a slightly shorter stack height.

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1950’s Stronglight Competition Headset

One of the headsets in my bin was a 1950’s Stronglight Competition headset.  The rest of the French headsets I had one hand were 1970’s French headsets – probably all of which were made by Stronglight, but which are unbranded.  When I began comparing this older headset to the (relatively) newer ones, I was amazed at the difference in quality.

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1950’s Stronglight Competition headset cups and cones

The cups and races are beautifully machined, and are of much higher quality than the their 1970’s counterparts, shown below.

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French headset – 1970’s

The photos don’t quite do justice to the quality differential.  But, if you hold these cups and races in your hands and look at them with bare eyes, the difference is clear.  According to this helpful post from Classic Lightweights, the 1950’s Competition headset is made from hardened chrome nickel steel, and feature V shaped races which provide for more bearing contact (thanks to Jim at Bertin Classic Bicycles for clarifying this important distinction).  The newer 1970’s versions are made from lower grade steel, and have U shaped bearing races.

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The nice branding on all of the pieces really motivated me to try to make this headset work on my restoration project.

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Peugeot fork – 1970’s – looks great on the Mercier Meca Dural frame

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Original Mercier steel fork on the right, Peugeot fork on the left

The original fork was seriously compromised with rusting and pitting on the fork blades.  I had sanded off the pitting and have been searching for the right solution which would result in either an original newly chromed fork, or an original newly painted fork.  I was not able to find any painter or chrome-plater in the Portland region that I wanted to trust with this vintage fork.  So, I looked around at the forks I had on hand.  One of them was a 1970’s fork from a silver Peugeot.  The steerer tube was shorter than the original fork by about 5 mm.  Drinking some Kool-Aid, I decided that maybe I could make this work, after all, the fork looked perfect with the Meca Dural aluminum frame, as you can see from the above photo.

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After doing a bit of research, I determined that I could eliminate the lock washer and instead apply some Locktite to the steerer threads.  That would save about 2 or 3 mm.  But, to make this work I needed to Dremel off the pin on the top of the 1970’s headset that I originally envisioned as my solution to the problem.  Okay, that was easy.

Unfortunately, when I dry mounted the fork into the headtube, I forgot about the space that the 5/32 inch bearings would need.  So, I ended up with only 2 or 3 threads showing on the steerer tube above the upper cup, after installing the bearings.  That’s not enough.  You really need at least 5 or 6 threads showing in order to feel confident that the steerer tube will stay in adjustment, especially if you are going to remove the lock washer.

So, it’s back to the drawing board with the fork.  I either need to find an appropriate replacement fork, or the right company to chrome-plate or paint the original fork so that the bike can be restored to its original glory.  But, the 1950’s Stronglight Competition headset gives further evidence to the quality of vintage cycling components as compared to their modern day counterparts.