Thursday, June 25, 2009

Clive's Rear Derailleur

This, friends, is a tale of an embarrassment of riches—of my struggle to choose between two very fine Mavic rear derailleurs.

Originally my plan was to use a Mavic 851 rear derailleur that I had picked up for no particular reason on eBay. I knew from the beginning that I would be using friction shifting. Weight was also a concern; and of course aesthetics are always in my mind. So why, I thought, use anything else? The Mavic 851 is a friction derailleur, is unbelievably light, and is for me unequivocally the most beautiful derailleur (nay, component!) ever made.

Well, the answer began to suggest itself when I tried actually using it. I installed in on my Fuji one day last spring just to "make sure" that it worked as well as the Campagnolo Centaur derailleur I'd been using. At first it didn't work at all; it simply wouldn't shift onto the big (24 & 26) cogs. Eventually I was able to figure out how to slide the cage to allow it to wrap around the 26—but then I lost all chain tension. So I took it off. Recently I gave it another try, and figured out the chain tension issue. But even perfectly set up it (1) couldn't take up all the slack on my 48/32 13-26 setup; (2) still skipped around on the big cogs; and (3) shifted really, really badly compared to the slant-paralellogram Centaur.

By this time I had grown very attached to the idea of using a Mavic derailleur. And though I knew the 840 existed, I wasn't very enthusiastic about it. For one, it seemed needlessly heavy and bulky compared to the 851. For another, new old stock 840s were going for $200+ on eBay. And though I liked it strange-looking cage plate, I didn't find it very attractive. This was especially evident in comparison to my very special 851, whose previous owner (a kindred spirit!) had taken the time to disassemble it, strip off all the clear anodizing, and polish the aluminum parts.

This dilemma resolved itself in three steps. First, I got over the weight issue and resolved myself to the fact that slant-parallelogram derailleurs work really well and I need one. Secondly, I found some poor soul who couldn't spell "derailleur" and whose listing for a "Mavic derrailer" (along with a nice pair of Mavic/Modolo brake levers!) attracted very little attention and came to me very cheaply. Finally, I disassembled the derailleur and sanded and polished the silver parts.

The result is a beautiful, functional derailleur in whose beauty I have a hand. Being involved in the "production" of one's posessions—rather than just "consuming" them—always adds enjoyment.



Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Clive's Cranks

Clive's cranks will be the venerable TA Pro 5 Vis, with 48- and 32-tooth chainrings, in a 170mm length. It would be hard to argue for any other crankset in a randonneur application: the TAs are exceptionally light, can take an incredible range of chainring sizes, have a very narrow tread, and are the nicest looking cranks ever made. That they have been made continuously since the 1930s (if we allow for a momentary confusion with the Stronglight 49d) doesn't hurt.

These particular ones are the "60th Anniversary" model, spruced up with crankarm decals and some NOS dustcaps. I bought the crankset from Mike Barry shortly after he officially closed Bicycle Specialties. They were the last pair he had. He didn't have any of the newer-production 48-tooth outer chainrings, so I got an older one, with holes for the cyclocross chainguards (these will be as close as Clive gets to "drillium"). The day that I picked these up there was a meeting of the "No Click Club" at Bicycle Specialties—a group of collectors and enthusiasts of vintage bikes. I somewhat shyly attended, using the crank-pickup as a pretext, and have been a regular ever since. Indeed, I'm going tonight!

The issue of which bottom bracket to use with this crankset has been a vexing one. I bought a 116mm TA Axix BB on eBay last year, assuming it would be fine. But on my Fuji, and with a 135mm rear hub, the clearances were very tight between crankarms, chainrings, and stays. I also got pretty carried away with the desire to use a "Singer-style" bottom bracket at one point. I was going to use the 116mm axle from my Mavic bottom bracket (it has locating areas for sealed bearings) and have Dan Polito make me a 74mm BB shell. Well, luckily a 35mm metric reamer (which was necessary) costs something like $1,200, so my plan was quickly made ridiculous. Now I have a cheap Taiwanese 118mm BB in my closet, which I'll use if the TA doesn't work. (By the way: during my lengthy deliberations over a BB for this crankset, the closest thing I've been able to get to an answer to the question, 'Do TA cranks take ISO or JIS BB spindles?' is 'Probably something halfway between the two.')

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cive's Brakes

For these images I have had to dip into my embarrassingly extensive collection of photographs of my bikes parts. The brakes themselves are in Cleveland.

The brakes are the beautiful and fairly rare engraved Mafac 2000s. The 2000s are distinguished from Racers by their always-brass bushings, their anodized finish, and their impossible-to-find proprietary, non-length-adjustable straddle cables. They have a longer reach that the otherwise similar Competitions. Unlike the later 2000s with the sticker logo, mine have a lovely round contour and, well, an engraved logo.

Though these are in retrospect the perfect brakes for Clive (well sized for 700x30 tires plus fenders; pretty, light, French) I didn't go specifically looking for them. I got them on my first ever visit to Bicycle Specialties in late 2007. All I knew was that I wanted some Mafac brakes, which I had been told were cheap and worked very well. I asked Mike Barry if he had any, and he came out with a dirty pair of old brakes. I was very much in awe of Mike at this point and so was too shy to ask how much they cost, or to refuse them. So I just bought them, and was a bit miffed to see that he had charged me $40 for the shabby pair. I consoled myself with the thought that it was at least cool to have bought something from such a legend, and to have done so in the last week the store was in business. Of course, when I got home and did an eBay search for completed listings of engraved 2000s, I realized what a favour Mike had done me.

I never did like the dull anodized finish, however. These brakes were my first experiment in anodizing removal. Taking lots and lots of time, I scraped all the anodizing off with sandpaper. I also did my first filing and took off the casting marks. The next step was to get some decent brake pads: the Kool Stops for old Campagnolo brakes, which also fit in Mafacs. The result of all this is a pair of beautiful and extremely good brakes. For Clive, they'll be mounted by Dan Polito on brazed-on pivots. And on the front, these pivots will support not only the brake (which I bought from Mike Barry) but also a Mariposa front rack (which Mike Barry made.) Clive is a bike with many makers!

"Before and after" shots below. (Note that I also got some brand-new, never-used straddle cables from Mike recently; further proof that the "impossible-to-find" is often neatly stored in one of Mike's many drawers.)

Before: a derelict duo.

After: a suave set.

I heard from Dan earlier this week, and he says Clive is coming along well and nearly done. His internet connection has been down, however, so there still aren't any new photos. Soon!

Update: Another email from Dan, who is about to begin brazing, and notes these final specs:

640 c-c seat tube
600 c-c top tube
80 bb drop
880 standover
650 front center
435 chainstays
805 saddle height from bb
105 stem extension
73* hta / 73.5* sta

Interesting that I can ride a 64cm c-c frame and still have 3.5cm standover clearance in bare feet. I'm taller than I imagined!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Clive's Handlebars and Brake Levers

I consider my handlebars to be the one compensation for my otherwise incredibly annoying experience with the Velo Orange Randonneur. While I was waiting (and waiting) for the frame (which of course never materialized) Chris K. posted on his blog about a treasure-trove of handlebars he had discovered. Among them was an all-black Philippe randonneur bar. I'd never seen one before and haven't since. I wrote to Chris right away to ask if he would sell it to me, and he, wishing to see it on one of one of his VO bikes, sold it to me. (NB: I continue to like Chris K. and VO very much. My "beef" with the framebuilder himself, however, remains!)

Besides being pretty, the bars have a nice shape: a long reach, shallow drop, medium flare, and flattish-but-not-flat ramps. They're about 40cm wide at the hoods and 42 at the drops. I think they'd look pretty bad on anything but a black bike—but since mine is black, I think they'll look very nice indeed! I'll use amber-shellacqued orange cloth tape on the bars, though at various points I've also considered white and black.

The brake levers are Mavic-branded Modolos with anatomic Modolo hoods. I bought them together on eBay, but they're actually not a proper pair. One of the two has a "hinged" cable anchor that can serve either in aero or non-aero mode. I will, of course, be opting for non-aero. The cable adjusters were taken from some Dia Compe Grand Compe levers. I had the Mavic levers threaded to accept them, since it didn't seem like I could put adjusters anywhere else. Hopefully they'll work well. (The adjusters still need little rubber o-rings.)

Further note: Why did I decide to use the adjusters from a pair of Grand Compe levers, but not to use the levers themselves? Well, a big reason is that I have a Mavic derailleur and skewers, and like for things to match. Another is the damning condemnation of Grand Compe levers in Eugene A. Sloane's legendary All New Complete Book of Bicycling (3rd edn., 1980). He compares the GC levers very unfavourably with Campagnolo levers (of which the Modolos are copies). His reason is that the Campagnolos have independent fittings of clamp and spindle—so the lever turns easily regardless of how tightly it's clamped, which isn't the case with the GCs. See pages 424-5. And for a glowing report on the GC's adjusters, see p. 440. (He's a thorough man!)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Taillight Post-Polishing

Imagine what must be going through this poor little guy's head. He sits happily oxidizing away in a French barn for forty years. Then all of a sudden he's dragged out, photographed, advertised on eBay, bought by a Canadian, packed in a box, sent halfway around the world, delivered, unwrapped, photographed, blogged about, sanded, polished, and then—if luck goes my way—stuffed full of LEDs, screwed on to a bike, and ridden many thousands of miles of year.

This state of polishedness is the result of about 30 minutes of sanding with 220, 600, and 1500 grit sandpaper and then Simichrome polishing. He could definitely get shinier—but I'll wait to see if he works as an LED conversion. The problem in that regard is that his lens almost certainly won't come off. I'm pretty sure it's glued on to the aluminum housing. Luckily he has a fairly wide opening at the back (almost exactly dime-sized) into which I'm hoping we can jam sufficient LEDs to make him bright. Maybe just a single, very bright LED? I know shamefully little about lighting.

Below is a photo of his opening (poor guy!), and another of the beautiful Star of David pattern his lens creates.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Clive's Lights

These both arrived today, so I'll discuss them now.

Clive's headlight, as I've already mentioned, was originally going to be an E6. But then Schmidt introduced the LED Edelux, and so I've bought one of those. It's brighter than the E6, just as attractive, and has a big added bonus: an automatic on/off switch, which also controls the taillight. I thought the one advantage of the E6 over the Edelux was the ability to mount it upside down. Well, the Edelux can't be mounted that way, but it's not a big deal for me: my Mariposa front rack places the light nice and low and (or so I presume) out of the way of the bag.

The taillight arrived today from France. It's a good thing I didn't need its "guts," for this little taillight is a gutless empty shell. I have no idea how we're going to get the red lens off and the circuitry in, but I'm hoping for the best. It certainly is beautiful—and with some polishing, it will be as shiny as its fancy German brother.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Clive's Saddle and Seatpost

In Part Two of our Series, we look at the saddle, and its means of attachment to the frame.

I got my first road bike (a Marinoni Special, no less) when I was in my second year of university. I rode it semi-seriously during my undergraduate years, and when I got to grad school finally met another cyclist. With him, I did my first "serious" ride: a crazy tour from LA to Eugene, Oregon on which we averaged about 160km/day (we were aiming for 220km/day, and Vancouver, BC).

I rode this tour with incredibly inappropriate equipment: a Marinoni racing bike with a bolt-on rack, all the weight on the rear, no fenders, awful battery-powered lights, etc. And though my friend encouraged me to at least buy a Flite, I rode the tour on an awful, cheap "Velo" saddle that hurt my bum the whole time. When I got home, the owner of my local bike store told me, "You should have used a Brooks."

Clive will take this advice.

I bought my first Brooks saddle a few years ago, drawn by their legendary comfort and gorgeous appearance. This first one was a black Professional, and it felt so perfect (even without breaking in) that my saddle experiments pretty much ended there. I did read various reports, however, about degradation of quality in post-Selle-Italia-acquisition Brooks products. Apparently they're not using the best leather these days, and the saddles tend to "sag" and wear out more quickly. While my own newly-made Pro was fine, I thought I would try to find a "NOS" Pro while I still could.

As it happens, I found two—both for less than the price of a new one. I've been using one made in 1999 for the past year, and have put many kilometers on it. The one photographed was made in 1989 (the serial numbers are pretty self-explanatory) and has small rivets, which is odd for Pros. But since this one isn't broken in, in all likelihood I'll put the 1999 saddle on Clive.

(The pictured saddle is the one I've been using on Niles. I tried out a Selle Italia Flite on Niles last weekend, just to make sure the 300 gram lighter Flite wasn't as comfortable as the Pro. And it's not.)

With the selection of seatposts, of course, there is much less at stake. My choice of a Campagnolo Nuovo Record 2-bolt post is based mostly on aesthetics and general "coolness" (if only I could use it still in its box!) But these posts do also work very well and never come loose. And this one's very short, which must mean it's fairly light.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Clive's Wheels

And now, Two Serious Readers, I will fill the tedious period between now and Clive's completion by talking about the parts I'm going to put on him. Many of these are currently in Cleveland or in the mail. But some are here.

First, the wheels. Like every part, these have been the result of much soul-searching, doubt, reversed decisions, and financial waste. Initially, in a fit of enthusiasm, I decided I wanted Phil hubs—a cassette rear and a low-flange front. So I bought a new pair for a very good price on eBay. Then I changed my mind, and sold them individually for a little more than I what I paid for them.

Front-wheel-wise, you see, I had decided I wanted a generator hub. The logistics of carrying around extra batteries for an LED flashlight had come to see impractical. So I bought a SON28, built it up, and then Schmidt had the audacity to produce the SON20R and Edelux. Ugh.

As for the rear wheel, I decided that the Phil cassette hub was overkill: too heavy, too expensive, and was set up to take too many gears. I wanted 6/7 speeds and friction at this point, and was seduced by a Rivendell Reader article about the 135mm-spaced Phil Wood "Riv" freewheel hubs with no dish (and thus even spoke tension on the drive and non-drive sides; this uneven tension being the source of most broken spokes). In the article that seduced me, Rivendell wheelbuilder Rich is quoted as saying "All the strength of a front wheel, with no disadvantages." Well, in the year-and-half that I've had this hub, I've thought of two disadvantages:
  1. The wide spacing at the rear, compared with the normal 126mm spacing of 6/7 speed rear hubs, means that you can't have as narrow Q-factor on your cranks. For example, I am using a 113mm BB on my Nishiki, with Stronglight 49d cranks and a 126mm rear end. On Clive, I'll need to use a 116 or 118 BB.
  2. The flange spacing on the "Riv" hub is narrow (about 50mm). I have a Mavic rear hub set up for a 7-speed freewheel and 135mm spacing, and while not dishless, it has much wider flange spacing, and sets up the bearings inside of the non-drive-side flange. So the Phil wheel is likely a bit weaker, and certainly there's a bit more stress on the bearings.
Neither of these reasons has convinced me I can't live with the "Riv" hub. 3-5mm of Q-factor isn't really a very big deal. And I'll see how the hub survives on the road before jumping to conclusions about wheel strength, etc.

Two bonus disadvantages in general of Phils vs. Maxi-Cars: no labyrinth-sealin' dustcaps on the bearings; and no keyhole spoke holes for on-the-fly drive-side spoke swaps (say this sentence aloud!) I think I can live with both.

As for rims: like everyone on earth, I was initially looking for Mavic MA2s. But, Lord, they go for a lot of money on eBay, etc. I found some Mavic MAs instead, on a local Kijiji. After some research, I wasn't able to find much of a difference between MAs and MA2s. So I bought these, and they were extremely cheap. I've had no second thoughts about them: cool labels, a clear anodized finish (shiny, but not requiring constant polishing), and nice and straight during wheelbuilding.

As for spokes: Wheelsmith 296mm 14/15 double-butted. I like the "dramatic" butts on the Wheelsmiths!

The freewheel is Shimano 600 6-speed Uniglide 13-26. This came to me on a Velo-Sport that my girlfriend bought me at a garage sale for $15. The bike was essentially unridden. I would pay a lot more than $15 just for this glorious freewheel. (In the photos you see a Sachs 7-speed 13-26. It's coming off before I start riding Clive.)

For tires I've chosen the Grand Bois Cyprès 700x30s. I haven't ridden these yet, but I like the 28s I have on Niles.

I rode the wheels on a few randonneur rides last year, and so far so good. But it will take many thousands of miles to decide if all the madness and dishlessness was really necessary.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Adios Stem Cap Switch

The accursed lighting system continues to cause difficulties.

From the start, I have been perhaps unreasonably excited about using a Bicycle Quarterly-style stem-cap switch. The idea is that you use a regular threaded headset and fork—but instead of using a quill stem, you braze in an extra tube into the steer tube, which extends a bit above the threaded portion. To this you clamp a stem. Why do all this? So that the steer tube is hollow and empty, which allows you to stick a switch in there, toggled by via a specially manufactured stem cap, and run wiring from it to front and rear lights.

It's a smart idea, and it's certainly different. I'm not sure I decided I wanted it for the former or latter reason. Well, in the last few days it has come to seem a needless complication. For two reasons:
  1. When the Edelux headlight came out, I was not very eager to read about it. I had just bought its halogen predecssor, after all, and didn't want to hear all the ways that the new light had rendered mine obsolete. Well, in the last week I've realized it would be silly to go to all the trouble of wiring up my "obsolete" light. So I got an Edelux. Which, as I now learned, has an auto-sensor on/off switch, which also controls a taillight. Which makes the whole remote-control stem cap switch somewhat unnecessary.
  2. My other "obsolete" piece of equipment, the SON28 generator hub, needs to be set in the dropouts so that the electrical terminals are on the drive side. My Mariposa rack places the light on the non-drive side. So foregoing the stem cap switch would result in awkward cable routing to and from the light. But the SON20R, which is press-fit rather than screwed together, can be mounted "backwards" in the dropout. So I guess I'll get one of those too, and have a very neatly-organized lighting system.
I suppose I'll sell the SON28 and the E6 on eBay. I'm not sure how much I'll get for them. At least I got a bit of use out of them last year on randonneur rides! A lesson for those on frame waiting lists: put off your lighting purchases!

All this also means I'll be using a normal quill stem rather than the combinated threaded/clamp setup. This may mean I can make use of another one of my silly purchases. I bought the above-photographed Rene Herse stem cap (the only item from that shop I will ever own, I figure) thinking it might be useful in the stem-cap lighting system. Well, it wasn't. But, ironically, it may be in my quill setup, which will likely be similar to this beautiful stem by Mitch Pryor.

Allow me to conclude this post by noting that Dan Polito is, thank goodness, a very patient person. I've sent him far too many emails in the last few days, and he hasn't complained.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Taillight for Clive

As a person of strong aesthetic commitments but limited mechanical knowledge, I am often driven mad by knowing exactly what I want but being unable to make it. With bicycles, this often leads to my fumbling slowly toward success, learning the easiest way of doing things only after significant trial and error. Thank God, for example, that I decided to take Doug Fattic's class and not just to "wing it" in framebuilding. I saved myself a lot of money, a lot of time, and more significantly, a lot of mental anguish.

Clive is generally much simpler: Dan Polito is doing all the work—except for the lighting system. I have taken it more or less on myself to design and install the lighting system, even though I know next to nothing about lights, electronics, soldering, etc. Worst of all, since no nice taillights are available commercially, I am on the hook to actually make (or, as I put it earlier and with more latinate diction, fabricate) a taillight.

In Bicycle Quarterly's article on the lighting system I'm attempting to recreate, Jan Heine makes the system sound easy: "Just make an epoxy mould from one of the many JOS taillights you have kicking around the house!" Well, friends, I'm ashamed to admit it: I have not a single JOS taillight. The other way to do it is to stick the LEDs into a cyclindrical aluminum housing, like this new "Rene Herse." But that just doesn't look as nice as, for example, the taillights that Peter Weigle makes.

What to do then? Well, find a nice, pretty old French taillight, take out all the antiquated halogen "guts," and replace them with LEDs. Then drill a hole in the back and epoxy in (OED editors take note: I am using "epoxy" here as a verb) a bolt for mouting to Clive's seattube light braze-on. I had been looking for one of these lights for some time on — although I'd only been using the search term "feu." My friend Olivier pointed out I should also have been searching for "phare," "lumière," "catadioptre" and "réflecteur."

Then, moments later, bless his soul, he found the ideal taillight for me. Best of all, the listing title was very vague—and as a result, I was the only bidder. For a grand total of $22 Canadian dollars, including shipping, the lights pictured above are now on their way from France. I suspect that the taillight is a Vitalux, as chronicled on Aldo Ross's fantastic and peculiar blog about French lights. I'm not sure I'll do anything with the headlight. But with a bit of polishing and some delicate operations, the taillight should be beautiful and befitting my Clive.

Also: before I go on another transatlantic quest, if anyone knows where I can get a fender-mounted reflector along these lines, please post a comment!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Baby Photos

The first photos of my little son, Clive, have been posted to the Cicli Polito flickr page!

Lots of progress has already been made—his tubes are mitred and his design is all set. The Mariposa rack apparently works perfectly with the frame, which is very good news. Now Dan has the huge job of organizing all the braze-ons.

The biggest worry for me is the lighting system. Of course, things are always more complicated once you actually get down to building them. I'm having trouble determining exactly how the switch sits in the stem-clamp tube, how to make a stem cap to attach to the switch, and what size to make the braze-on for the taillight. But these are small concerns compared to all the work Dan has ahead of him!

Another thing I've been debating is whether to stick with my Schmidt E6 headlight or buy one of the nice, but expensive and not-upside-down-mountable Edeluxes. This is one of the many problems of being on infinite long-term waitlists: you buy all your components, and then watch them slowly become obsolete...

Clive will be delivered some time toward the end of the month. Then he'll be off to Noah at Velocolour for painting (frame and derailleur) and chrome plating (stem and perhaps derailleur). It looks like I'll be able to get a few rides in before I leave to Hungary for four months in September.