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.
December 22, 2012 & September 8, 2013
For more photos and narrative covering my adventures with bikes, see https://twofootartist.com/bikes-and-biking-year-two/
And check out my newest build, a Surly Cross-Check with components from the Fuji and the Jamis, including the 8-speed Alfine hub, at https://twofootartist.com/surly-cross-check-trail-bike/ and my next build at https://twofootartist.com/dirt-trail-camargue-bike/