Friday, October 30, 2009

Last Singer Pics (I promise)

The sun, the Singer and I were finally all in the same place at the same time. I couldn't resist getting some sun on all that polished aluminum.

The blinding glory of the brakes

Seconds ago I loaded the bike into the owner's car. She did share more information about it today. Her husband bought it in Salinas, California, second hand. The frame and many of the parts could date back to the patent year on the Campy derailleur, which was probably late 1960s or early 1970s. But bikes are so rebuildable that parts of any vintage could have been grafted on at any time. The only odd notes in the generally European lineup were the Suntour Cyclone rear derailleur and Dia Compe brake levers.

It's on its way. The owner is pleased. Now I'm trying to reorganize the workshop, but people keep bringing in work. Nothing interferes with productivity like customers.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The SRAM Box Problem

SRAM chains come in these plastic boxes. They're too substantial to throw away, but they don't have an obvious secondary use. I've used some of them to organize small parts. They also make handy trays for cleaning parts in a shallow solvent bath. They accumulate faster than I can find uses for them. Maybe I'll try building a house or at least a small shed when I get enough of them. Nah. I don't have that much ambition. But you could. Or you could seal them and make a bunch of them into a raft.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Singer Ready to Roll

On a day that never got light I reassembled the Singer. Because of the relentless rain I was not able to take it out to an uncluttered background for photos.
If I get a chance I'll take a better shot.

The mid section.

The control room

This is your stem on Simichrome.

The bike was finally all together. I turned the cranks to check the gears. The vintage Sedisport chain ran through the derailleur pulleys. A faint tick caught my ear. When its rhythm became clear I knew the bike was tossing me a final challenge. After careful scrutiny I found the missing roller on one pin of the chain.

I wasn't about to junk a Sedisport chain in good condition. I really miss those chains and the drive trains that could use them. The Sedisport was the greatest cheap chain ever made, and by that I mean it was one of the best in any category. It could shift narrow-spacing or conventionally spaced freewheels smoothly and it never seemed to wear out. It felt like a worn chain when you first poured its sinuous length out of the plain paper package it came in.

Other chains of the era, the Regina Oro for instance, started out very stiff laterally. Their shifting speed came from that tendency for several links to move laterally together when the derailleur pushed or guided them. If you held one up on its side, it would stick out and droop only slightly. The Sedisport looked and felt floppy. But its flared inner plates (as opposed to Shimano's flared outer plates on the Uniglide chain) and beveled outer plates would easily catch the next cog when the snaky chain was pushed over. Lengthwise, it retained its proper pitch for many miles.

Given a Sedisport in workable condition, I wanted to repair the link. But we expended our stash of Sedisport links long ago. We installed so many, back in the day, that I was able to assemble more than one complete chain for my own use from the links removed for sizing new chains to customer bikes. I knew I had some spare links at home. I just wanted to get this job done so the owner can enjoy some of the beautiful weather that lay in the forecast.

I poured out our bucket of extra chain links, hoping an overlooked Sedisport link pair might lie beneath all the SRAM and Shimano dreck. With ever narrower chains needing ever more perfect riveting, chain repairs require more than just a chain tool and a chunk of leftover chain. We can resection them using the new tool-free connecting links. Those are very handy. In fact, just before Sachs-Sedis disappeared into the maw of SRAM, the last of their chains came in with connecting links. The problem now is that links and chains have to be compatible and don't work with chains of older generations.

No archaeological treasures lay beneath the newer pieces. But then I had a thought. Our chain whips are old. Sure enough, the chains on them were Sedisport. I swiped a link pair from one of them and used it to fix the Singer's chain.

I went crazier than usual on this overhaul because of the unique value of the bike. I would ordinarily take off chain rings and grease chainring bolts in an overhaul, but I would not polish chain rings and crank arms. The TA also uses a six-bolt circle to attach the big ring to the crank arm and a five-bolt circle to attach the other two rings to each other and the big ring. Nothing on the chain rings points obviously to the correct orientation of these to each other to allow the easiest possible tool access to all bolt heads. Also, the chain rings are held apart by ten spacers that have to be kept in place while long bolt assemblies are fitted.

The bottom of the head tube did show some wear from its unfortunate experience with the Edco headset. The Edco was not really well designed. If a better French thread headset were to come along I would suggest that the owner replace the remaining Edco portion. The top cone in the head tube has the same short skirt as the lower cup had. It fits snugly, but not very tightly. It only survived because the top end has a lot less leverage exerted against it.

The bottom headset assembly I installed is okay, given what I had to work with. I beefed up the interface with a bedding compound even though the longer skirt did reach a less deformed area of the tube. The head tube itself is not very thick. You make a bike light by using lighter materials or by using less of a heavier one. Each approach can have its pitfalls.

The Mafac brakes took a quick, high shine with just a little polish. Too bad they're the same crap they always were. But what the hell. Bernard Thevenet won the 1975 Tour de France on a Peugeot with those brakes. Gold anodized no less. Perhaps his reluctance to make them squeal in their well-known fashion contributed to his blistering speed up and down the mountain stages. Especially down.

The 700x28 Panaracer Paselas are such a plump 28 that I had to remove the quick release skewer from the rear hub to coax the axle around the end of the dropout. The chainstay bridge is set a bit far behind the bottom bracket. A 700x25 or a slimmer 28 would slide in at the limit. Once the Pasela is in place it has plenty of clearance all around.

I hope the owner likes it, after all this. I'd been a bit vague in the estimate, just telling her it would easily exceed $300. It did. And it stopped short of the next hundred, but barely.

The value of a bike far exceeds its purchase price if the bike was decent to start with. A really cool custom or semi-custom bike like this has some collector value as well as usability value. But any well-designed frame can be fitted with many configurations of parts to meet changing needs through the years. If a rider learns mechanical skills, acquires tools and amasses parts, the cost of all this goes down dramatically. Even if the rider needs to buy some or all of the skilled labor, the result could be better than a new bike bought for the same amount of money.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More Progress on the Singer

This is the stuff. Cal found some at Sanel Auto Parts.

Here is what it does. The directions on the package say to avoid contact with the skin, but at $12 a tube I would apply the stuff with my tongue sooner than waste any of it on a rag. I did start using a rag, but only after I had spread polish with my fingers. Once a small section of the rag was well charged with polish I used it to spread subsequent applications.

A hubcupine!

Commencing to hook up the spokes.

Wheel builder style: hub label visible through the valve hole. All labels read to the right.

The TA crank, après Simichrome.

The bike is all in pieces at the moment, but those parts are nearly ready to merge back into a whole machine.

Day of the Dirt

There have been rumors of a cougar on the outer reaches of the local bike path. The woods seem wild when you get a couple of miles out of town. I use the path for the park and ride variation of my commute in the season when night comes early. I'm not worried, though. I am far too old to interest a cougar.

The park and ride variation lets me salvage some riding from a day when I need to do something after work that requires the cruising range or cargo capacity of the motor vehicle.

On Wednesday, the theme was "Dirt." About halfway to town in the morning I crossed a road to the next section of trail, going at a brisk pace, only to round a bend and wallow into truckloads of loose fill that had been dumped on the trail in a layer about eight inches deep. It stretched ahead many yards to where a mound of it blocked the path completely. I turned back to the road and took the highway into town.

In the evening the fluffy section had been packed down enough to ride through. I enjoyed the peaceful darkness. The light array on my bike is working well. I have two on the handlebars, one on the fork on an accessory mount designed to hold computers on tri bars, and a Black Diamond Cosmo headlamp strapped on my helmet. The helmet light is handy when oncoming cars don't dim their lights. I can aim it in the windshield to get the message across.

Feeling very relaxed I emerged from the trail onto a quiet road that leads to the wide gravel area where I leave the car, at the intersection with another road. It's not posted with any warning signs. I've used it for several years.

When I arrived there on Wednesday in the deepest dusk, I looked over at where I had parked and could see only an enormous pile of dirt. When I got far enough around I could see that it did not bury my car, but it had been dumped absolutely as close as it could get without burying it. Then the humorists had driven a piece of equipment into the pile from the end next to my car. It was an impressive demonstration of precision and skill. I had to laugh.

For the next two days I rode from home. I'll figure out the parking thing next week when I need it again.

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 Français. 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.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Quick and dirty late-day video

Just to see how it would come out, I rode the interesting part of the local path at about half speed, holding the camera in one hand. If I'm going to do more video I'll have to rig a hands-free mount and do some music and editing. Or not...

Friday, October 09, 2009

Hey, an interesting project.

A nice woman asked if we might possibly be interested in working on her "old racing bike." Of course we would. We assured her she should bring it in. She displayed the modesty verging on shame that seems to afflict many owners of older bikes. We are constantly urged to scorn and discard old products in favor of new ones. If we did not succumb to this pressure the economy would grind to a halt. Right?

What she brought was this fascinating Alex Singer Mixte-frame touring bike. The mix of componentry suggested it was made between 1979 and 1982. I'll dig deeper as I go forward with the overhaul and other work.

I grabbed a few quick shots when I checked the bike in. The afternoon darkened rapidly as rain clouds thickened.
Details, details.

The barcon shifters are an excellent choice. This bike would be far less fun to ride with down tube shifters. Notice that this master builder, known for clever innovation, did NOT put the cable stops right at the head tube.

Alex Singer's shop was known for making many parts beyond just the frame and fork. This stem bears his name stamp. I suspect the seatpost is Singer work as well.

Look at those nice long dropouts!
The wheels have Super Champion Arc-en Ciel rims, for sewup tires, laced with 36 stainless spokes to Campagnolo Record hubs. I'm going to rebuild those to nice clincher rims for her, so she can run a little wider tires on the challenging road surfaces she will encounter here.

She said she bought the bike to ride with a racing-oriented club in California in the early 1980s. Her husband picked it out for her. Then they had to move, so she never really rode it as much as she hoped she would. Now she wants that chance.

I had the little front rack that bolts to Mafac brakes, but I gave it to a friend of mine for one of his bikes. He's an eccentric character who is spending his under-funded retirement building and maintaining a small fleet of odd bikes. He's been a lot of things: prep school teacher, dish washer, bike mechanic, coma patient...when I show him this jewel he may decide it needs the rack to complete it. In any case, he'll like it.

Cheap production versions of the standard 1970s mixte bike were a dime a dozen back in the day. Even so, this bike just looks classy, even with its hard grips, center-pull brakes and bland aluminum brake levers. The frame details and componentry give it elegance like the deceptive simplicity of a designer suit.

When the owner asked what it might be worth I sounded like Antiques Roadshow as I explained what I have read about the vagaries of the collector bike market. According to the little I've gleaned so far about this particular brand, the fancy randonnee models with custom racks, fenders and light sets can go for thousands of dollars. The more stripped-down performance models draw less interest. And bike value is very subjective. To many people this would just look like a used "ladies' bike" they wouldn't buy for $20 at a yard sale. "How come the shifting doesn't click?"

It has some paint flaws and pinpoint rust in the chrome on the stem. I hope I can clean most of that off. It's great to have something in very good condition as a starting point. We're not equipped to handle a restoration project.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Inside the brain case

A piece of the skull of this RSX front shifter had fractured and fallen out, revealing a rare glimpse of the brain of a Shimano STI road shifter.  The mountain shifters are fairly easy to open.  The road shifters don't give up their secrets as easily.  My preferred tools have been a large nutcracker, a vise or a four-pound sledge.

Conveniently, I needed to get into this mechanism to remove some especially stubborn earwax.  The congealed grease originally applied in a softer form by the manufacturer had completely prevented the ratchet pawls from operating.  If you zoom in you can see the yellowish glop.  A few minutes picking it out with a sharpened spoke and flushing the shifter with Pro Link returned it to full function.

The second picture shows a flat-bar shifter pod from a fairly recent Specialized Sirrus.  This pod had prematurely earwaxed.  It also contained the carcass of a small insect.  You might be able to make it out at the bottom of the silver disc in the center of the shifter.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Assembly Line

The repair queue has brought in a steady trickle of jobs, most of them somewhat interesting.  After 20 years wrenching in the same place it takes something extraordinary to climb above the "somewhat" interesting category.  At least I got to build a couple of wheels.

More than 50 Fuji bikes arrived, the bulk of them on towering, three-tiered pallets on a big truck.  That's an intimidating stack in shrink wrap.  The driver did a commendable job getting the top level down without dropping a bike.

We're assembling a selection of each model for the unpredictable fall bike business.

The trouble with assembling many bikes of the same type in quick succession is that you can easily forget where you are.

Quality control is irregular in this shipment.  It almost seems like a new batch of workers is learning their trade somewhere in China.  We've seen the learning curve before as companies open up new countries in search of affordable labor.  The first batches show a wide variation of precision.  China's not a new source for the bicycle industry, but the facility making these bikes could be new or have changed a lot of personnel.  Or maybe the trainees get assigned to the line for customers who drive a hard bargain on costs.  I haven't begun to try to find out.

I'm eager to see what's in the boxes that say, "made in Kazakhstan."

I made a test track around the sales floor.  It's pretty tight.  I took out a couple of displays before I got the corners wired.  They were just stacks of cardboard boxes or overflowing bins, not any glass cases or sexually suggestive face plants into mannequins.  Maybe today I'll move some mannequins.  We just don't have any really good ones.