Saturday, October 17, 2009

Now we got a problem

When I took the fork out of the Alex Singer to overhaul the headset, I was able to lift the bottom headset cup out of the head tube with my fingertips. To call it finger tight would imply it had any grip at all on the head tube. It was rattling in there.

And I'd thought that the big hassle would be chasing 52 5/32" ball bearings across the floor.

Good luck finding an easy fix for any major problem on a bike that is A) old and B) French. Tubing diameters are different (though bottom bracket shell i.d. is not). Threading can be different (such as right-hand thread bottom bracket fixed cups.) Steerer tubes are skinnier inside and out, as well as having French thread. Crown race seats are quite likely to be 27.0 mm instead of the more common 26.4. While you can get headsets with 27.0 crown races, they aren't the highest quality. None of them have French thread.

The head tube itself seems undistorted. The aluminum headset cup has a very short skirt (oo la la!) so it was able to work in the head tube, wearing away the softer alloy. The play went from bad to worse as the skirt wore down.

Getting the Singer back on the road depended on being able to use all the frame-specific parts. However, headsets act like two separate bearing assemblies. The parts of each assembly have to match each other, but the scheming mechanic can mix upper and lower assemblies as long as the total stack height works with the existing fork. If anything had to go wrong, this was the thing.

To make matters better, high-end French bikes might use the ISO standard 26.4 crown race. This significantly increases the available stock of donor organs. This bike turns out to have a 26.4 crown race. I have some period-appropriate headset parts in my stash. They won't be as weirdly cool as the Edco Competition that was in there, but the top end of the headset will still say Edco. Good thing, too, because that's the French threaded part. Down low I hope to graft in an old Cycle Pro alloy headset. It was a Campy copy in unmarked aluminum.

Here are a few more pictures from the work in progress:

We actually had a TA crank bolt wrench hanging around.

Here's the underside of the BB shell, showing the brazed-on cable guides. That's the Kingsbridge fixed cup tool sticking through. Loose balls in that bottom bracket, by the way.

Here's a cleaner shot of the logo. I still haven't gotten one in focus of the head tube.

The number 1394 is stamped on the fork end and on the left rear dropout.

The bottom bracket is Campagnolo, but the cups don't have that wicked cool reverse thread around the bottom bracket axle. The reverse thread would cause a little bit of grease to extrude during pedaling, helping to keep dirt out.

The owner put some miles on this thing before she took her long hiatus from riding. The current management of Alex Singer hasn't answered an email I sent them (en Anglais, excusez-moi) asking if they had any records of Old 1394. I might take some time to frame the inquiry en Fran├žais. At least it will give them something to laugh about.

Rims are on their way. Velo Orange gives their stamp of approval to the Sun CR 18s I had already selected.

I also need to get some Simichrome polish. This bike actually has parts you can polish. I miss that smell.

A bike that remains in active use is as much a part of the present day as it is part of its era of origin. The rear dropouts on the Singer only measure 120 mm wide. The rear hub is about 122 over the locknuts. That would make updating the drive train to current-size cassette hubs difficult. Could the frame be cold set 10 millimeters to 130? I don't know, myself, but I know several torch and tubing types I could ask. I keep meaning to mangle some 8-9-speed hubs to see what I can do to slim them down to meet the older frame half way. It's good to have options.

If the owner of an older bike wants to keep as closely as possible to period-appropriate components, that's a different challenge. At some point the frame or the parts thereon seem like more of a part of our history and heritage than an endlessly mutable machine for immediate wish fulfillment. That was one reason I finally retired my Super Course frame and quit beating the crap out of my Eisentraut. The 'traut only had five out of eight original frame tubes and was on its third fork when I got it back from its last repair. If I felt like having a museum I would build it up with all my 1980s parts...the ones I'm not still using.


Steve A said...

I have other TA crank tools if you need them.

cafiend said...

Thanks, Steve. We actually have an interesting collection of crank and freewheel tools including the Park shop tool that had the requisite thread on one side. I hope the rest of the work will proceed smoothly.