Group Rides

Join us for evening indoor training rides on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30pm at the Recycle Bicycle Shop in downtown Ellensburg.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What to do when the wind blows

In the lower Kittitas County we are blessed (cursed) with wonderful (horrendous) winds. These winds make our cycling joyous (infuriating) and often increase (diminish) our enthusiasm for riding. The winds are not discriminating. They will blow from the northwest in the morning and switch from the southeast in the afternoon. Sometimes they'll switch mid-ride eliminating that tailwind you were earnestly hoping for.

I don't have a real problem (hang up) with riding in the rain, cold, heat, sunshine, etc. but the wind can really cause some motivation problems. I have worked very hard over the past few years to get over my phobia about riding in the wind and last year was aided by the discovery of mountain biking in the hills. On days when the winds in the valley are over 20 miles per hour head to the hills - you don't feel that heavy wind up there which allows some "stress free" training.

However, the roads in the hills are not ridable this time of year because of snow and mud. So, what's a guy to do with low wind motivation. I had ridden last Saturday in moderate wind and Sunday it was blowing again. Thus the low motivation - I just didn't want to fight it again but felt I needed something to do. But, what?

The advantage of being into classic and vintage bicycles is the sheer volume of projects one can have. There are bearings to grease and repack, new cables and housing to run, switch out a stem, put on a new chain, switch tires/tubes and more.

My latest project was Gitane (French) road bike. Our wonderful local bike shop owner, Fred, had emailed me last spring and said he had old road bike stuff behind his shop that was just going to the dump. I drove by and saw this frame and instantly grabbed it.

The frame was a little too big but I already have two Gitane bikes (1984 models) and I like them a lot. It would be fun to work on another one. I knew this was one from at least the early 1970's based on the decals on the frame. The paint had a lot of "character" - quite a few scratches and bare spots and someone had tried to touch it up with a color that didn't match. But the character is a good thing as it means the bike was used by someone and just not left sitting in a shed somewhere. At least that is what I told myself and wanted to believe. I posted the frame on the forums for and it was determined the bike was actually from the late 1960's: most likely 1966 to 1968.

For the uninitiated it may help to understand that old bikes can be a challenge. Add to the mix that this is a French one and you really have some issues to work through along with patience and flexibility. French bikes were known for different measurements and threading than the rest of the modern cycling world. For example, the handlebar stem (part that holds the handlebar and inserts into the frame of the bike) for most bikes had a standard measurement of 22.2 mm. French bikes were 22.0. Standard handlebar clamp sizes were 25.4 and 26.0 mm. French bars typically measure at 25.0 mm. However, the biggest issue is the French threading of the bottom bracket (where the crank arms attach so you can pedal the bike) and the headset (how the front fork is attached to the bike). French threading has a different pitch then normal English or Italian threading. Most of the cycling world had moved to English threading by the early 1980's so finding replacement parts for early French bikes can be a challenge. Thankfully there is Craigslist, Ebay and many internet forums as outlets for parts searching.

The picture below is how I found the frame. Very dirty and only a few components on it including the original brakes, cranset, rear derailleur and handlebar stem. The seatpost turned out to be the wrong size (too big) and fortunately wasn't stuck like many in old vintage bikes. The first thing in order was a heavy duty bath for the frame. It cleaned up nicely and I was able to get a little more idea of what I had.

I disassembled the remaining parts and went to work on the pedals and crankset with 0000 grade steel wool and WD40. There was a lot of rust but a couple of hours later they came out looking almost brand new.

Next was the headset. I took out the handlebar stem and then began taking apart the headset. Several of the ones I've worked on in the past had caged bearings. Fortunately, for me I had put the frame on the ground and a tray with an old t-shirt on it under the fork. As I removed the fork little bearings started falling out. After a moment of intense panic I noticed they all landed on the t-shirt and stayed there. I actually had had a "smart moment" for once. The headset went back together with all bearings accounted for and at home in a new layer of grease.

Next up was the bottom bracket. The bottom bracket is comprised of cups (thread into the frame), bearings and a spindle or axle. The left side cup is referred to as the adjustable one and is comprised of the cup and a lockring. The right side is called the fixed cup even though it can be removed. On this bike, however, the fixed cup is truly fixed as in "it's in there really well". The spindle on this bike is a cottered one. This was found on many lower end bikes and also the really old ones. The crank arms slide onto the end of the spindle and then a cotter with a threaded end is pushed through the opening in the spindle. A nut is then screwed onto the end of the cotter to secure it in place.

Cottered cranks are relatively easy to work on if you have a press to remove the cotters. I, of course, didn't have one so I resorted to a hammer and block of wood under the bottom of the bike for support. Both cotters came out with only one having a slightly mushroomed end on the threaded part (it was not reusable) of one. The bottom bracket had caged bearings which I cleaned up and then regreased the entire unit and put it back together. Unfortunately, I couldn't get it set up just right - either it spun smoothly or I had some resistance with the bearings. I pulled it apart again and inspected the spindle and noticed the races (part the bearings come in contact with) had some pitting. This pitting was keeping the bearings from spinning smoothly. After a few months I was able to secure a replacement spindle from a member on After switching to that spindle and loose ball bearings the unit seemed to go back together alright.

Now it was just a matter of waiting to accumulate the last few parts. I needed a new seatpost, brake hoods and cables. I had wheels, shifters and a front derailleur from a bike flip project in the summer. I had brake calipers from a screaming deal for parts from Craigslist in the early summer and I had located another rear derailleur like the original one for $4 at a bike shop in Seattle.

I try really hard not to impact the family finances with my projects so I took a few guns to a shop to be sold and waited for the cash to get the last few parts. By the end of 2010 those guns had sold and I had my money and the final parts were purchased.

Now we are to the answer of my question at the beginning - what to do when the wind blows and the motivation is lacking for fighting it. Build a bike, of course.

I had already mounted the wheels, brakes, handlebar stem and handlebars, shifters and derailleurs. I started running cables and housing. I had shifter cables and quickly discovered that the ends of the cable were too large for the French Simplex shifters. Thanks again to the French I had to switch to different levers - Suntour Power Ratcheting ones. Now I'm looking at the bike and realizing I don't really want to go with the old Simplex rear derailleur now that I've changed the shifters so I swap it out for a Suntour V-GT Luxe long cage derailleur. I still have the Simplex front derailleur on the bike and wonder what I have for options. Off to the parts bin one more time. I have several low end Suntour front derailleurs but didn't really like the look of them. I have a high end Suntour Cyclone front derailleur and decided not to use it. So, the Simplex unit stayed put.

Next were the brakes. Many bikes from the 1960's and 1970's came with center pull brakes. The have straddle wire on the caliper and then the brake cable runs to a "hanger". When the lever is pulled it the tension pulls the straddle wire up closing the arms on the calipers and bringing the brake pads in contact with the rim. The rims I put on the bike were 27" just like the original that would have come on the bike. The replacement center pull brakes I had decided to use didn't have enough reach on the front and the brake pads partially impacted with the tire. That's not a good thing. Off to the parts bin again where I found a set of Weinmann 730 side pulls (the cable attaches to the side of the brake lever) and installed them. Thankfully I had enough reach. Just one more diversion from the plan I started the day out with. At least I hadn't pulled out too much hair at this point.

From here everything went together as expected and I was more than happy with the end result. It took three hours to work through all these issues which is a definite improvement over two years ago when I put my first bike together - that was close to eight hours.

In the end I was out of the wind and happy - a good day.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The flexibility of bikes

As spring (at least the past couple of days felt like spring) gets closer I can't help but think about the wonderful flexibility of bikes. Today's market seems to be so segmented with bikes for every type of riding: road racing, cruising, touring, downhill, cross country, hybrid, bmx and on and on. When you read Bicycling, Road Bike Action or other magazines your head can spin just looking at all the variations and specific markets for bikes. The neat thing, though, is what you can do with bikes.

For example, my friend Chris just recently took an old Sekai road bike frame and converted it to a commuter with rear rack, cyclocross style tires and a straight mountain bike handlebar with modern stem. It's the best of both types of bikes - speed and lighter weight from the road bike side of things and a little more upright, comfortable position from the mountain bike world.

I have done the reverse of what Chris did by converting a mountain bike into a commuter/errand/touring bike. I like the idea of using a mountain bike because of their inherent flexibility for off road and pavement riding plus the stability of the ride. Some models have longer top tubes which makes getting a comfortable fit a little tougher but not impossible. Converting these bikes is a fairly popular thing to do. has a entire thread dedicated to mountain bike conversions in their touring forum. It makes for some fun reading.

But, why would I do this? A little background might help. Bicycle touring is something I've always wanted to try but never really took seriously. You could say exploring by bike is in my blood. As teenagers my brother Kurt and I would take off in the summer on our old Schwinn Continental 10 speeds and traverse the back dirt roads between the wheat fields exploring abandoned farm houses, outbuildings and whatever else looked appealing.

I'm now in my mid-40's and ready to explore again, or at least try something different. The past couple of summers I've started using my old Nishiki as a errand bike on select trips. Biking has always provided a sense of freedom for me but the feeling I got using the bike to go to town for an errand or ride to a friend's house and drop something off was different. The bike became more of a tool - something that added value to my life beyond fitness.

I began wishing I could utilize a bike more for trips of any nature and searched for ways to figure out how to do that. Then one day while riding out highway 97 I passed a bike tourist. He wasn't moving fast and was fully loaded with gear. But, man, he looked "free". I was stupid and just flew past him when I should have slowed down and talked about his experiences and where he was going. I never saw that rider again and I've also never forgotten him. I began researching touring a little more and acquired a few books on the topic. I started reading blogs on the website Crazyguyonabike and liked what I saw. I read Kyle Unruh's (Ellensburg High School graduate) blog about his cross country tour home from college in New York and realized this is something I really wanted to try.

The "nail in the coffin" came last summer as I started spending a lot of time on a mountain bike in the Naneum State Forest and started thinking how cool it would be to go camping by bike. Maybe I could take my kids and then they would become more excited about riding by incorporating some other activity. I know, it's self-serving, but I want them to see the joy I have for cycling . Even if they don't ride as grow older and leave our home they will at least thing their dad is not a complete nut about cycling.

The problem I have is a large family with kids involved in sports and a busy job and this prohibits me from just up and leaving for 2-3 months on a bicycle tour. I had to come up with other options.

Enter the 1987 Trek 800 Antelope. It was a decent bike to ride, albeit pretty heavy. But, I had also bought another mountain bike and this one became more expendable and my eye kept going back to it. The original components were on it but the rear derailleur had issues. The original handlebar was fairly comfortable but I was worried about long distances and only having one hand position. The cool thing about the bike, and it was pointed out to me much later, was it had double eyelets for fenders and racks and also a mid-fork braze on for a lowrider front rack. This is often more desirable as it keeps the weight over the front wheel lower and the bike more stable, especially on descents.

So, in October I started working on converting this old, heavy mountain bike into something more flexible and usable for my needs. It took a couple of weeks to accumulate all the parts I needed. I then started by disassembling the bike and repacking bearings in the headset and bottom bracket and then building it back up. I kept the original brakes and front derailleur and changed to a Shimano Deore rear derailleur. The handlebars were replaced by road drop bars. The shifters are friction Suntour bar end and work flawlessly. Index shifting is great but there's something about the feel of shifting precisely to the next gear and being able to fine tune the chain position. It's sort of like the difference between a manual and automatic transmission in a car. I've always been drawn to the manual transmission because I feel more in touch with the car versus just putting the vehicle in drive and forgetting about it. The only new items were the bar tape, cables and cable housing.

The final pieces I needed was a sturdier rear rack (located at a garage sale for $2) and then a set of panniers (bags for carrying gear), a handlebar bag and a front rack. I located two front racks, a set of four panniers and a handlebar bag on Craigslist for $100. And, there I had it - a multipurpose touring/camping bike for around $200.

Before - the ugly, yellow beast

After - the tranformation.

Set up with panniers/racks (yes, the front rack is level now)