A Velo-Orange Shipment

I order components from a variety of sources, but one of my favorite suppliers is Velo-Orange.  Even though its founder, Chris Kulcaycki, sold the company earlier this year to two of his long time employees, I haven’t noted any negative impacts on the quality and variety of products offered.  I think the company is well positioned amongst its competitors, namely Compass Bicycles – Boulder Bicycle – Rene Herse (all owned by Compass Bicycles/Jan Heine), Rivendell (Grant Peterson), and Harris Cyclery (Sheldon Brown’s shop), as a purveyor and innovator of bicycle frames and components for cycling enthusiasts, and especially for those who appreciate the quality and reliability of steel frames, comfortable, wide tires, and retro-inspired components.

My haul today included some of the parts needed to complete the 650b/city bike conversion for the early 1980’s Meral Randonneur bike I recently purchased.  In my box of goodies was a full length chain guard, Velox rim strips (more on that later), V-O thumb shifter mounts (competing with Pauls’ Thumbies), Tektro brake levers, and a new KMC 8 speed chain.

I also ordered an extra 8 speed chain (you can never have enough chains), as well as my favorite brake pads:  V-O’s non-squeal smooth post pads, which work really well with Mafac long reach brakes.

I also use these bake pads on any bike with cantilevers – they really are almost 100% squeal proof and provide excellent stopping power.

But what prompted this order was the extraordinarily bizarre experience I had attempting to mount a set of Grand Bois 32 mm 650b tires to the Velocity A23 650b wheelset I had purchased from Harris Cyclery for $289.  Yes, that was the price for both wheels, which feature Shimano Tiagra hubs.  Well, you get what you pay for.  I purchased these wheels as a placeholder to see if a 650b conversion would really work for this bike, so that is why I went with the cheapest offering out there.  The downside was discovering the the holes drilled in this narrow rim end up partially on the upper edge inside the rim where the tire’s beads need to mount.  Installing the necessary narrow rim strip meant not covering these very sharp edged holes completely, which I knew would lead to flats and blow-outs later on.  I tried installing a wider strip, but that interfered with the Grand Bois tires’ beads.  Many swear words ensued at this point.  Finally I took to the internet to see who else had experienced this problem.  Turns out – everyone.  The best advice I read was to use three narrow rims strips on each rim, carefully positioned to cover the holes without interfering with tire mounting.  We will see how that goes (subsequent blog post forthcoming!).

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to setting up the other components, such as these very elegant Tektro brake levers.  Using 32 mm tires means that I will be able to re-install the lovely custom stainless steel Meral fenders.  It will also be interesting to try out the full length chain guard for this build which I envision with a single chain ring up front, as well as to experiment with V-O’s version of Paul’s thumbies.  Stay tuned.

Cycling Bags & Panniers

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Carradice Long Flap saddlebag

I have used quite a few cycling bags over the years.  But, bags and panniers can be tricky.  How well they work depends not only on the mounting system designed for the bag, but also on what kind of rack system you have, or whether you have racks at all.  And, for saddlebags, the question of whether they will work for you depends a great deal upon your bike’s rear triangle geometry, as well as whether or not your are using fenders. In order to use front bags and panniers you need not only to have a front rack, fork braze-ons, and handlebar or stem mounting system, but the success of carrying a front load also hinges on whether your bike has the right front end geometry to carry a load there.

I have always had a special obsession with bike bags, which started back in my touring days when I would load up my 1976 Centurion Pro Tour and head out to explore my surroundings.

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I was happy that my handlebar bag and rear panniers were purchased from REI – a consumer cooperative being somewhat radical back then (even though REI was founded decades earlier).  The handlebar bag mounted with a removable rack which rested on the handlebars and stem.  The lower part of the front bag was secured to the front dropouts via a stretchy cord, which as you can see in the above photo, got overstretched so that I had to tie a knot in the cord to keep tension on the bag while underway.

I liked the rear panniers, but didn’t like the front bag so much.  It interfered with the beam of my battery powered head light. And, probably the Pro-Tour’s geometry was not ideal for carrying a front load.  However, one nice feature was the map case on the top of the bag.  In those pre-iPhone days, having my maps at the ready proved invaluable, although I will say that often my maps were totally wrong!

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Velo Orange Handlebar Bag

Eventually I stopped using front bags altogether until I began building up my 1980 Meral as a 650b Randonneur, a few years ago.  Even so, I am not all that thrilled with front bags, finding them fidgety, noisy, and irritatingly intrusive on my hands.  Perhaps a decaleur could solve these problems.  But, for now, I only occasionally use this really nice Velo Orange front bag.  I have not used low rider front panniers, but have occasionally used small panniers mounted to the front racks of various bicycles I have ridden.  Mastering a front load requires a bit of saddle time.

Below is a list of some of the many cycling bags I have used over the years, as well as my comments on their utility.  If you have been searching for the right bag for your bike, perhaps this highly personal list will be of use:

Jandd

IMHO, Jandd is the gorilla manufacturer of cycling bags.  Their bags last forever.  They never wear out.  They are intelligently designed and reasonably priced, given their longevity.  They are not particularly pretty, but offer the best in bike bag value and utility.

Here are the Jandd bags that I have used over the last 35 years:

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Grocery panniers – large, securely mounts to most racks, holds an actual grocery bag, unlike other competitors which are much smaller and less robust.  I have a set of Jandd grocery bags that I purchased in the early 90’s and they are still in use.

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Hurricane panniers – These are the grocery panniers on steroids.  Excellent mounting, total weather protection, tons of visibility.  But, there are also very heavy weighing about 2 lbs each, unladen.  I use these on my Panasonic winter/errand bike.  A perfect utility bag.

Jandd Trunk rack bags – I used a Jandd trunk bag for many years.  It never wore out, and I finally gave it to a friend, as I don’t use trunk bags any more.

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Jandd Throw-over small panniers – I am using these “small” panniers on my 1980 Meral.  They are deceptive in nomenclature and appearance – I have managed to jam all kinds of stuff into these bags.  Lightweight, fits any rack.

Brooks

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Brooks Roll Up Panniers – who can say anything bad about a Brooks bag?  These are beautiful bags, with appropriately lovely packaging.  They are NOT waterproof, and they do not have any attachment at the base of the bag.  I am using these on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist, which is perfect for what they are designed for.

Ortlieb

Terry Symmetry in Ashland

Various “roller” models – Ortlieb bags are the perfect Portland commuter bag, being totally waterproof, easy to mount on any rack, and with a lot of visibility.  Newer models have internal organizing pockets.  These are my commuting bags of choice.  I have these smaller panniers, pictured above, as well as an older set of larger panniers.  The smaller model is actually able to carry quite a bit of stuff, and I have successfully loaded these panniers with way more than I would have anticipated, so I use the smaller bags pretty much all the time.

Electra Ticino

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Electra Ticino Large Canvass Panniers – I hate these bags and have them sitting in my shop – awaiting some kind of disposition that I haven’t thought of yet.  The bags are narrow, heavy, and feature the worst mounting system I have ever seen.  After having these bags pop off the rack while riding at speed, and thankfully not crashing as a result, these bags are on my s$#t list.

Detours

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Detours seatpost mount quick release bags – I own three of these bags.  These are excellent bags for bikes which cannot take rear racks.  However, based on a recent search it looks like these bags are no longer offered by the company.  That’s too bad as I find these bags quite useful.  They are not as big I would like, but can still hold enough stuff for a day’s adventure.

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Sackville Bags from Rivendell   For awhile I used these Sackville front and rear rack bags, which I purchased from Rivendell.  The color scheme went well with my 1973 Jack Taylor Tourist.  However, these bags have no internal pockets, are not expandable, and so are of very limited utility.  They do have visibility, as you can see from the above photo.  Because of their limitations, they are sitting in my shop now awaiting some purpose in their lives which I haven’t thought of yet.

Other Bags I Have Used:

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While too numerous to list here I have tried out many different kinds of cycling bags.  Trunk bags, which I used for a time, put the weight up high and also make it difficult to throw a leg over (depending on how tall your rack is).  I no longer use trunk bags at all.  Saddlebags often interfere with your thighs while pedaling, and can also swing from side to side while you are climbing.  Mostly, I only use saddlebags on bikes that I will not ride vigorously, and where I can position the bag to sit far enough away from my legs – mostly this would be on larger bicycle frames.

For most riders, carrying weight on the rear of the bike will feel the most stable and natural, but it is is a good idea to think about your bike’s geometry and purpose before embarking on a new bag/rack experience.  You can measure your bike’s angles by using an angle finder, and you can take a rudimentary trail measurement of the front fork rake by following instructions which are readily available on the internet.

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!