September 2011 – Back to Biking
Six years ago, after two decades of seldom riding, I bought a new bike. It was a fairly expensive ($800+) Jamis Coda Comp, known at the time as a “cross bike” but now more often called a hybrid. It had laid-back frame geometry, mountain bike brakes, straight handlebars, super-light wheels, and 27 gear ratios ranging from 25 to 128 inches.
I was hooked by the polished Reynolds double-butted stainless steel frame and carbon fiber fork. The bike was lively and fast. It didn’t take long, though, to learn that cross bike means it combines the worst attributes of a road bike with the worst attributes of a mountain bike, with few of the benefits of either. The derailleurs were finicky, I had trouble adapting to the clipless pedals after 40 years of riding with toe clips, and the straight bar gave me numb hands after only a few miles of riding.
After taking a bad spill and suffering a painful knee injury when the chain jammed and I couldn’t get my foot loose from the pedals, I hung this bike in the cellar and didn’t use it for nearly five years. Here is what it looked like as built, except for the seat which I had immediately replaced when I first bought it. Left click on the photos to enlarge them to full size.
And here is what it looks like after I rebuilt it into an 8-speed internal hub geared town bike:
I kept only the frame, fork, handlebar, seat, and brakes. Everything else went to eBay, where it sold for $99. I then invested more than $1200 in new components. These included more robust wheels, wider (32mm) tires, Sugino cranks and bottom bracket, Civia mudguards and rack, LED lights, and the Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub, shifter, and chain tensioner.
Gear range is 27 to 83 inches, using a 22-tooth rear cog and a 42-tooth Shimano Biopace chainwheel that I found unused in my parts box from the 1980s. I sold enough vintage gems from this parts box on eBay to cover the cost of the upgrade and buy a new set of tires for my GMC Envoy. This range allows me to climb the steepest hills or go as fast I would want to on a down grade with the wind at my back. In my opinion no casual rider needs more gears or a wider range than this hub offers.
This is now my favorite bike. It shifts instantly and silently, whether I am pedaling, coasting, or standing still. It is quick, comfortable, and predictable. I use it mainly for running errands and leisurely rides on the many bike trails here on Cape Cod. The slightly lower seat, slightly higher bar, and some new grips have eased the numb hand problems, but I am not likely to use this bike for rides longer than 20 – 25 miles.
October 2011 – An Ugly Bike
Here is an earlier stab at a town bike. I found this one at L.L. Bean about ten years ago and bought it on a whim. I only rode it once – about ten miles along the Cape Cod Canal. I found it to be slow and oddly uncomfortable for a “comfort bike”. The second time out, I got a flat tire and never rode it again. It collected dust in my garage for nearly a decade before I finally fixed the flat, cleaned it up, and sold it. I first listed it on eBay but got no bids. Then I put it up on Craig’s List Cape Cod and sold it to a woman with legs long enough to straddle the 34″ standover height.
November 2011 – Cross-Country Dreams
In 1985 I was working in Boston, sitting in a corner office on the top floor of a building overlooking Back Bay and dreaming of biking coast to coast. I had dropped my membership in the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen and sold both my Raleigh Professional and a custom built, all Campagnolo, road bike. For the cross-country trip I bought a Fuji Tourer frame and built it for the long haul. It has a long wheelbase, comfortable geometry, and more braze-ons than you can imagine. It even has clips on one chainstay for spare spokes.
I added 27″ wheels with 1-3/8″ Michelin tires, Sun Tour sealed bearing hubs, and straight gauge stainless steel spokes. The Specialized cranks are 180mm long, with Shimano Biopace triple chainwheels, and Specialized sealed-bearing pedals fitted with nylon toe clips and straps. Derailleurs are the wonderfully smooth Sun Tour Cyclones.
The handlebar is a rare GB tourist bend that I found in a Cambridge bike shop in 1970. It is characterized by a shallow drop and angled ends. I originally set it up with Huret Randonneur brake levers, which I quickly came to despise. I also disliked the down tube shifters. I bought a pair of brake levers designed for small hands that fit the tight handlebar bend, and a set of Sun Tour 6-speed bar end shifters, but did not install them at the time.
For carrying baggage, I had Blackburn racks front and rear, although I never installed the front one. Chromed plastic mudguards and a comfortable saddle finished off the equipment.
Not long after I had assembled this bike, however, I went into business for myself and lost any hope of doing the cross-country ride – or any other biking. Over the next 25 years I only rode this bike a few times, totalling only a few hundred miles.
Last summer I pulled this bike out of the basement, stripped it down to the bare frame, and then cleaned, polished, and lubricated every part. I sold the heavy-duty Blackburn racks, replacing the rear one with an even older rack from another bike (see below). I found the small brake levers and six-speed Sun Tour bar end shifters still in their original packaging and finally installed them. New tires, tubes, rim strips, cables, cable housings, and brake pads finished off the rebuild.
I now use this bike for exercise runs and plan to resume club rides with it. Since taking this photo, I have replaced the outer chainwheel with a carbon fiber chain guard, and installed a larger Biopace middle chainwheel. This has reduced it from 18 speeds to twelve, which is more than enough for casual riding and greatly simplifies shifting and maintenance. In this age of 12-speed freewheels and outrageous gear ranges, I have become a strong advocate of fewer gears. I even considered installing the Alfine hub on this bike too.
December 2011 – A Classic Reborn
The biggest transformation of all, though, was my Raleigh Super Tourer. For years this was my favorite. I pedalled it thousands of miles with the Narragansett Wheelmen Sunday rides. I took it to League of American Wheelmen rallies in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and western Massachusetts. I rode it across the Newport Bridge (with police escort) several times. And I once rode it completely around Cape Cod and Massachusetts’ South Coast: 300 miles in four days. It was comfortable, lively, and eminently predictable.
Here is what it looked like after two decades in storage. It was covered with mold and dust, the tires were rotten, the brake lever covers had disintegrated, and the Campagnolo bearing grease had dried into lumps.
And here is what it looked like after restoration:
I completely disassembled the bike and spent more than 25 hours cleaning, polishing, and lubricating every part. I removed and sold the GB handlebar, Sun Tour bar end shifters, and TA front rack, raising enough income to pay for new tires, tubes, cables, brake pads, and levers. The Kool Stop salmon brake pads molded in the characteristic style of the Mafac pads they replaced came from Velo Orange. VO also sold me the brand new old stock C.L.B. City brake levers. This bike cleaned up remarkably well despite its age and almost looks like new.
At the end of January 2012 I sold this bike at auction on eBay. I like this bike and was reluctant to sell it, but it doesn’t fit the type of riding I do now or expect to do ever again. I expect the new owner will enjoy it as I did. It still has lots of good miles to go.
February, 2012 – Winter Exerciser
Finally, I dug out the old Vetta trainer that has been kicking around my garage for the last 15 years. It was rusty, dusty, and ready for the dump, but still worked. A bit of metal polish, some silicon spray, a dash of oil, and about an hour worth of elbow grease brought it back to usable condition. It’s not good as new, but it is good enough for the living room. The raised hearth provides a handy step for mounting and dismounting.
May 28, 2012 – A New Temptation
I thought I was set for life with the two good bikes that I kept, but I’ve been bit again and am now considering blowing my budget on another one. Surly is now making its Long Haul Trucker with a 64cm frame that perfectly fits my size and style of riding. It even has 37mm wide tires that should be a good choice for the new rail trails in Maine and New Hampshire that are paved with crushed stone.
Icing on the cake is that it comes in a gorgeous dark green color, and is fitted out with excellent quality components – not the cheap Chinese junk now found on so many bikes. I would swap out the crankset for the 180mm cranks and Biopace chainwheels from my Fuji. The Fuji would then become my exercise bike, with the Surly taking over for longer rides. I still like the Jamis a lot, although I find it tiring after about 18 miles.
June 29, 2012 – Reality Check
After a disasterous attempt at a club ride last Sunday, I have reevaluated my biking situation in light of advancing age and a major reality check.
Less than a mile into the group ride on busy roads in Duxbury, I realized I was way over my head. I had become so used to the easy shifting of the Alfine hub that I had trouble going back to the derailleur system on my Fuji. And the first fast downhill in close formation on a state highway left me absolutely terrified. At that point I told the co-leader I was dropping out, and cautiously made my way back to the starting point.
A week of soul-searching brought me to the reality that I am now 71 and no longer able to do what I did at 35. There are twice as many cars on the road now as there were then, and far too many drivers are drunk, stoned, elderly, angry, distracted, or otherwise impaired. My reflexes aren’t as good as they were and are likely to get worse in coming decades.
I have decided to limit my riding to rail trails, of which there are many all over New England. I’m also going to limit my rides to 25 miles or less and pace to 10 mph or less. That means I don’t need a new road bike, and that my reconfigured Jamis should serve my needs for the rest of my life.
So, given that the Jamis will be getting a lot more use, I ordered a pair of Cane Creek bar ends. I found that holding the bar at the ends relieves the carpel numbness and these extensions will give me something better – and a lot more comfortable - to hold onto.
I also splurged on a pair of White Industries urban platform pedals and nylon toe clips. These pedals are wider than most, have large kick plates, and should be comfortable and efficient with any shoes.
I will keep the Fuji for exercise a while longer, but will eventually sell it, probably selling the frame and components separately.
But, then again, that Long Haul Trucker sure looks like a sweet ride.
July 19, 2012 – Unexpected Expenses
Riding the Jamis along the canal last weekend, I noticed a persistent clicking sound with each revolution of the cranks. When I got back home, I oiled the chain, checked its alignment, cleaned the chain tensioner, adjusted the transmission cable, changed the pedals, and tightened the cranks and chainwheel. I also added spacers between the chainwheel and chain guard. It still clicked.
So yesterday I took the bike to Serious Cycles in Plymouth, where I bought it seven years ago. They confirmed my suspicion that the bottom bracket was shot. While it was there, I asked them to also shorten the chain and adjust the front brake, which was dragging on one side.
Some $225 later I now have a new bottom bracket, shorter chain, and new brakes. This was not the original bottom bracket; it was a Sugino that Harris Cyclery installed less than 200 miles ago. The replacement was about $65 installed, which I expected. What I didn’t expect was a front brake that needed to be replaced.
In all fairness, the tech offered an Alivio unit for $20, but I opted instead for the more robust Deore at $60 plus labor. When I saw the new brake, I had him replace the rear one too, so the total came to about $150 for the brakes. Chain adjustment and a new chainwheel nut wrench rounded out the bill. The broken brake was one of the very few components I had kept from the original equipment. It was apparently as shoddy as all the other components.
Fortunately, the frame and fork were among the last that Jamis had made in Taiwan before switching to mainland China. The same model that I bought a month later for my now ex-wife was far inferior, with a chrome-plated frame and stamped rather than forged drop-outs. That bike got her into cycling, though, and she now rides a carbon-fiber Trek road bike.
July 20, 2012 – Equipment Update
The new White Industries pedals are simply incredible. They look more like aerospace components than bike parts. The large flip tab makes slipping into them easy and intuitive. The inboard location of the outer bearing, and the small end cap, allow safe cornering even with long cranks and a low bottom bracket.
I found that the Mt. Zefal nylon toe clips fit my cycling shoes so snugly that I no longer need straps. They don’t work well with my street shoes or sandals, however, so I’m using them on my Fuji instead of on the Jamis.
The Cane Creek bar ends are also a big improvement. They are about twenty percent smaller than I expected, but are surprisingly comfortable and easy to use. I expect they will help avoid the carpel tunnel numbness by giving me an extra handhold that puts the pressure on a different part of my hands.
While I had my tools out working on the Jamis, I also made some changes to the Fuji. I took the carbon fiber chain guard off and replaced the 48-tooth outer chainwheel, restoring this bike to 18 speeds and giving me a few more downwind gears. I then attached a VO polished alloy chain guard that I had on hand. I also replaced the rear brake pads with Kool-stop salmon units to try to improve the brakes. They didn’t help much.
August 18, 2012 – New Grips (again)
Although I like the Specialized grips and Cane Creek bar ends on my town bike, today I switched them out for a set of Ergon GP-3L grips. These are Ergon’s most comfortable grips, with an integrated four-finger extension that can be separately adjusted. This model is apparently no longer being made but I found a set on-line for a good price.
At the same time, I cut an inch off each end of the bar. I’ve never been a fan of long-horn bike bars and felt that the 58cm bars on this bike were just a bit too wide. I was pleasantly surprised to find that these bars are hardened aluminum alloy. I thought they would be steel like the original seat post.
August 19, 2012 – Testing the Changes
A 14-mile ride along the Cape Cod Canal today, along with some further tweaking of the grips, showed that the changes I made yesterday were all good. The Ergon bar ends are quite different from the Cane Creek ends, but I cannot say that one feels better than the other. The Ergon ends definitely look better, though.
August 28, 2012 – Still Tweaking
Dimension finally made another run of its 135mm stems, so I ordered one the first day they hit the market. This stem moves the bar about 1/2 inch forward and up, bringing it level with the top of the saddle. I was pleasantly surprised to see it did not have the Dimension logo applied.
I also picked up a pair of Lyotard #23 platform pedals with 9/16″ English threads, and an extremely rare Sugino chain guard on eBay. I will store the pedals for future use on a trail bike, but the chain guard will replace the garish one on the Jamis, eliminating even more unwanted logos.
December 22, 2012 & September 8, 2013
For more photos and narrative covering my adventures with bikes, see http://twofootartist.com/bikes-and-biking-year-two/ and http://twofootartist.com/bikes-and-biking-2013/
And check out my new build, a Surly Cross-Check with components from the Fuji and the Jamis, including the 8-speed Alfine hub, at http://twofootartist.com/surly-cross-check-trail-bike/ and my next build at http://twofootartist.com/dirt-trail-camargue-bike/