Old School Touring

1985 Nashbar Toure MT

1985 Nashbar Toure MT

Of all the fads and trends in the cycling industry, the touring era that accompanied the 1976 BikeCentennial in the U.S. was probably the most positive.  While not everyone wants or needs a touring bike – a touring bike is a bike that can work well for all kinds of riding.  And, due to economic conditions during this era – favorable exchange rates for the Japanese yen and the oil crisis of the early 70’s – the U.S. market was flooded with low cost, high quality touring bikes in the mid 70’s to mid 80’s.  These bikes often survive intact, as they were quite well made to begin with, and were usually equipped with top of the line components.

Japanese brands like Centurion, Nishiki, Bridgestone, Fuji, Miyata, Panasonic, and Univega were among the most well known manufacturers to build high quality touring bicycles.  Raleigh, Peugeot, Trek, Specialized, Austro-Daimler, Gitane, Motobecane, Mercier, and others also joined in to build some of the nicest touring bikes ever mass produced.

These touring bikes of the late 70’s and early 80’s hold a special place in my heart.  Their excellent build quality and beautiful design represent freedom, exploration, and adventure.

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This lovely 1985 Nashbar Toure MT is a great example of the quality that could be had for a reasonable price.  The frame was built for Nashbar by Maruishi – a Japanese builder not as well known as others, but still producing a beautifully brazed machine of double butted cro-mo steel.  The gorgeous blue sparkle paint and well brazed seat cluster show off its quality.

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All the finish work is top notch.  This is a bike I would keep for myself if it were my size.

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Brazed on rack mounts

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Sealed Tange headset

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SunTour downtube shifters.

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SunTour sealed cartridge bearing bottom bracket with chain line adjuster on the drive side.

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Sealed cartridge bearing hubs. No maintenance required.

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Classic Blackburn bottle cage.

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2nd bottle cage mount underneath the downtube.

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Seat tube has no bottle cage braze-ons – left clean for mounting a frame pump.

There are so many nice features on this amazing bike that it’s hard to list them all.  One reason that the bike is so pristine, however, is because long ago the SunTour Mountech rear derailleur had failed, and the bike was put away, thankfully in a dry, clean space.

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So, I replaced the rear derailleur with a Shimano 600 long cage mechanism from the same era.  It works perfectly with the original 100% SunTour drivetrain.

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Triple crank with half step gearing.

This bike was built in the days of gear shifting pattern obsession.  Half step gearing was a way to have a routine shifting pattern that would maintain cadence as the terrain changed.  In practice, at least for me, I prefer not having to constantly double shift, so I am not enamored with half step gearing and have, when confronted with it, replaced the large middle chain ring with something smaller, such as a 40 or 42.  But, some riders love half-step gearing and more power to them (pun intended).

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Araya 27 Inch rims.

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Nashbar logo on the downtube.

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Sealed cartridge bearing hubs, Suntour freewheel.

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SunTour Mountech front derailleur

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SunTour chromed forged dropouts with single eyelets on the rear.

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Powerful Dia Compe cantilevers.

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Lowrider fork mounts.

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SunTour sealed cartridge bearing bottom bracket with chain line adjuster on the drive side.

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Beautifully machined BB shell.

It would be tough to find a similarly engineered touring bike with these quality components, for a price that even remotely comes close to what you can buy this bike for now.  One problem is that most cyclists associate Nashbar with low end liquidation components, rather than any kind of quality.  But, back in the 1980’s, the arrival of the Nashbar mail order catalog was an exciting event.  I ordered many wonderful and interesting components for my old 1976 Centurion from Nashbar back then.  Today, however, the company is known for its discounted and discontinued parts, rather than for quality bicycles, for better or for worse.

This wonderful old touring machine is going to a friend’s stable in Southern Oregon, where I know it will be ridden and appreciated.  I hope to join him and his spouse on some wonderful rides through Southern Oregon wine country, and I will be a bit jealous his bike.2016-09-13-001

 

First ride on the 1972 Mercian

1972 Mercian

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.

1972 Mercian

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.

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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

Suntour adjustable BB with sealed cartridge bearings.

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Suntour SL High Normal front derailleur.

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Suntour Perfect 14-32 5 speed freewheel.

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Suntour Vx rear derailleur.

Vintage Huret Shifter

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.1972 Mercian

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.1972 Mercian

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.

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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.

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GB Stem

Mercian headbadge

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.

1972 Merican in Mt. Tabor Park

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.

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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.

1978 Centurion Pro-Tour

1978 Centurion Pro Tour

Here is a stunning and near-perfect 1978 Centurion Pro-Tour.  This bike was a joy to work on – everything was in almost new condition, so the work went very quickly.

Although the Pro-Tour was a production touring bike, the build quality of this frame rivals that of any custom builder.  It’s the reason both Richard Ballantine and Sheldon Brown dubbed the Centurion Pro-Tour one of the finest production touring bikes ever made.  And, I should know because I rode a 1976 Pro-Tour for 20 years and put about 40,000 miles on the bike, before I crashed it irreparably.  There are very few touring bikes built today that equal the quality of the Pro-Tour, which went for about $500 back in 1976.

The frame was fully chromed, then painted with the seat lug, drop-outs and head lug masked, leaving them as chrome.  The rear drop-out is vertical, making flat repairs much easier, with double eyelets front and rear for fully loaded touring.  Drop-outs are by Suntour.

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The finish work on the seat lug is outstanding.  The frame features a brake bridge and brazed on centerpulls.

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All eight tubes are Tange Champion chrom-moly tubes.  The condition of the paint is amazing.  The components are all in as-new condition.  I love these Dia-Compe brazed on centerpulls.  They work well and never go out of adjustment.

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The wheelset needed some truing, but the cups and cones were in really nice shape.  The rims are double wall Araya laced to Sunshine Pro-Am hubs which feature bearing seals -shown above.

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The drive train is 100% Suntour, with Suntour ratcheting bar-end shifters, Suntour Cyclone front and rear derailleurs, and Suntour 5 speed 14/30 freewheel.  There’s nothing sweeter than the sound of a Suntour freewheel.  The SR Apex triple crankset is color matched with 52/42/30 chainrings.   After thoroughly cleaning the chain, I put it back on because I liked the bi-color look and because it was not stretched and showed no wear.

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The hoods on the drilled Dia-Compe levers are in excellent shape, with no cracking, and the levers feature a quick release mechanism.  SR Sakae stem and Randonneur bars – my favorite bar shape.  I kept the original color matched housing in both an effort to keep the bike original, and because with a little lubrication, they are working fine.  New cables, of course.

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Here are more details:

1978 Centurion Pro-Tour  53 cm ST, 54 cm TT.  Weight as pictured:  23.6 lbs.  Original MKS Unique Royal Touring Pedals,  Original Avocet Leather Touring saddle, new Panaracer Pasela 27″ x 1 tires, new tubes.

Alas, the bike is not my size and I will be putting it up for sale soon.  I hope someday I’ll find a Pro-Tour in my size that I’ll be able to keep and treasure.

UPDATE December 19, 2013:  SOLD!  Congratulations to Randy in Minnesota.