1980 Meral 650b Evolution

1980 Meral

1980 Meral 650b conversion – before

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1980 Meral 650b Conversion – different fenders and racks – and showing a little wear

Two years ago, I built up this lovely Reynolds 531 1980 Meral sport touring frame, and converted it to 650b (it was originally built for 700c wheels with minimal clearances).  I used a combination of new and vintage components.  My initial build had some issues, primarily involving fork shimmy as well as the Panaracer Col de la Vie tires feeling ponderous and slow.  That problem was easily solved with the amazing Compass Loup Loup Pass tires.2015-05-07 005

With that issue resolved, I began riding the bike a lot more and using it as my primary commuter and weekend rider. But then, it was a dark and rainy night when…I was climbing a steep hill, approaching a light, suddenly a pedestrian walked in front of me, and I had to swerve while driving the pedal down.  That caught my shoe up in the fender stay bolts of the pretty hammered fenders I had installed, and I nearly crashed.  While I knew about the toe overlap issue with this build, and had adjusted to it, more or less, this was one of those situations when toe overlap became unacceptable.

As I was thinking about changing out the fenders, I felt it was the perfect time to consider replacing the heavy and not so attractive Ticino rear rack.  While rummaging through my parts bins, I came across some rusted old F. Fiol front and rear racks, which I had removed from an early 60’s rando bike.  They are made from stainless steel tubing, which I discovered once I started cleaning the rust off with a brass brush and some cleaning oil.

I didn’t want to give up the beautiful hammered fenders, but finally concluded that I had to do something different.  I probably needed narrower fenders, which didn’t use a stay mounting system with large bolts sticking out.

Then I remembered the simple but sturdy aluminum fenders I had used on my old Centurion Pro Tour.  I dug them out, and realized that their stays were flush mounted to the interior of the fenders (just what I needed), and that they were a bit narrower, albeit with much less bling, being of a very understated design.  Amazingly, they still looked great, even after about 40,000 miles of use.  So, I embarked on a whole new fender/rack installation.

The racks mount to the fenders, and are made from very small diameter steel tubing.  Even so, they are much stronger than expected and I have had no qualms about hauling groceries and commuting gear on these racks.  Admittedly, I will not try to haul really heavy items, but I actually think I could even carry minimal camping gear, and certainly enough gear for credit card touring with these racks.

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F. Fiol rear rack

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F. Fiol front rack

Once that was done, I decided to tackle the other issue that had been bothering me about the build – the constant trimming needed on the front derailleur (a Shimano Ultegra designed for a double crankset).  I realized that I had a NOS Simplex Super LJ front derailleur in my inventory, and kind of wondered why I didn’t think of using it before…but, once installed it worked perfectly with the T.A. triple crankset.  It requires a bit more robust up-shifting, but there is now no trimming needed, and I was able to reinstall the original 8 speed cassette I wanted to use (replacing the lower geared 7 speed cassette I ended up using with the Ultegra).

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During this time, I also decided to stop using clipless pedals on all my bikes.  Because a lot of my riding is commuting, the constant clipping in and out at stop lights and intersections caused some chronic pain and swelling in my “clip out” foot.  So, what was old is new again.  I have always loved toe clips, and even though I have used clipless pedals for about 15 years, it felt great to go back to my roots, and that resolved the issue with my swollen ankle.  I had originally chosen these beautiful Lyotard pedals to use on the bike, so it was nice to put them back on, and you’ll see I’m using Velo-Orange leather straps – very well designed because the extra material below the clamp helps to keep everything aligned, making it very easy to slip my shoe in and out of the clip.

Lyotard pedals, Velo Orange leather straps.

Lyotard pedals, Velo Orange leather straps.

I am very happy with the rest of the build:

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Cardiff leather saddle – very comfortable, and showing no wear at all.

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Velo Orange front pads – I replaced the Kool Stop brake pads with these to get some better toe-in – and they work great.

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Reynolds 531 frame is very responsive.

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Yes, battery powered lights, for now.

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A nice clean bottom bracket, thanks to my Velo Orange mud flap

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It was easy to transfer the mudflap to the new (old) fenders.

Meral at Champoeg Park

A delightful bike – comfortable, handles well, eats up miles – and no toe overlap. See you out there!

 

Book review – Lugged Bicycle Frame Construction

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I have recently been considering getting some brazing equipment so that I could make repairs to frames that have minor failures, rather than sending out to a frame builder for this service.  Having taken UBI’s lugged frame building class a few years back, I had a general idea of what I might need, but didn’t want to go any further until I re-familiarized myself with the topic of brazing.

I found Marc-Andre Chimonas’ book, Lugged Bicycle Frame Construction, on the evil empire (Amazon) website, with what appeared to be some favorable and thoughtful reviews by actual readers.  When the book arrived, I immediately delved into it and have now read if not studied much of the book.

It is written with a dry, understated wit, with an emphasis on the science of frame building.  There are numerous zingers in the text, hidden amongst the tables and formulas.  Consequently, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  The author is a physician (which he describes as his “day job”), a writer (of both technical manuals and fiction), and a frame builder.

After reading just the first few chapters, I began to seriously question the idea that anyone can take a frame building class that lasts only two weeks, and from which an actual frame is produced.  Whether that frame is safe to ride may be another thing altogether.  My own frame has several flaws that can probably be corrected, but more on that later.

The book is logically organized and takes the reader through introductory concepts such as nomenclature, frame geometry, measurement and sizing protocols and includes helpful tables for determining angles and lengths for different sized riders.  He naturally recommends smaller wheels for smaller frames, and there is a good discussion of toe overlap and bottom bracket height.  He states his opinions about frame geometry as if they were facts, and that may irritate some readers, but I found it refreshing.  For instance, recommended BB height is 25 cm for pretty much all types of normal road riding.  This is a lot lower than you will find in production bikes.

Another interesting concept that I found both helpful and puzzling was the idea of controlling the variables in frame building.  He differentiates between “operator controlled” variables and “outcome” variables.  Outcome variables are the result of the frame builders operator controlled variables.  But, he describes outcome variables to include BB drop and toe overlap, which in my mind are operator controlled.  At any rate, what is clear is that frame design is a highly complex  undertaking, and one that is aided by software.  He recommends using excel and offers a link to a useful frame design spreadsheet, which is available on the author’s website.

There is a quick trigonometry and metallurgy review (which the author calls optional), and then the theory turns into fabrication as the author goes through chapters on frame parts, tools, mitering, torches, brazing technique, and lug modification.  Again, the author doesn’t hesitate to state his recommendations, even down to a specific brand or manufacturer of a particular tool.  For me, someone who didn’t take shop class in high school, the specific advice is extremely helpful.

After digesting many of the chapters, I decided to drag out the frame I completed 2 years ago but never finished filing or painting.

My frame with front-center at 59 cm - a little shorter than I wanted.

My frame with front-center at 59 cm – a little shorter than I wanted.

I built this frame for myself, designed around a 650b wheel size.  I wanted enough front-center distance to allow for fenders and decent sized tires.  The book uses a formula to determine an ideal length.  I plugged my numbers into his formula and found that I won’t have toe overlap with this frame, so that is a relief.  I did have to use a longer than usual (for me) top tube length to get this much front center distance (combined of course with all the other measurements).  That means I’ll use a short reach stem when I eventually build the bike up.

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One of the things that troubles me about my frame is that it was built so hastily and with so little actual knowledge.  Well, after reading the brazing chapter I think I have reason to be concerned.  I remember having a lot of trouble sanding enough material off the top of my fork blades, and off the inside of the fork crown so that the legs could be inserted without a lot of force.  After hours of filing, I still wasn’t happy, but ran out of time so just brazed the fork legs into the crown even though the fit was tight.  This is definitely a no-n0 – there needs to be enough room for the silver to flow into the joint.

Here are some other details of the frame I built.  Using this book as a resource, I will be able to correct the other two (known) mistakes on the frame.  I may decide, however to build a new fork.  And, I now know what kind of equipment to purchase and how to use it safely, so I am looking forward to being able to do my own small repairs.

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Nice looking BB

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Mistake on the seat stays – they are out of alignment

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Drive size DO not yet cleaned up and filed – you can see I got the tubes a bit hot.

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Aaack! Seriously out of whack shifter bosses – the jig probably got bumped when I turned away to get more silver.