Friday, December 2, 2011

1973 Fuji "The Finest"

An affinity for particular bicycle brands is something that can be attained only over a period of time. I was late to becoming familiar with 80s era Fuji bikes. My first was an 80s Palisade I acquired around 2004, a bike I still use daily as a commuter. One Fuji bike led another and as of this writing I've rebuilt at least 10 other Fuji bikes. Vintage Fuji, even their better models have never quite had the same status as European bikes, but many of which beyond the lowest end models are fairly good.

As a follow-up to my last post on cotton handlebar tape, here's more of the story. I'd recently acquired a 1973 Fuji Finest with almost all original components, including the (super lightweight) tubular wheelset and rare original Fuji Belt leather saddle. This Fuji was originally a racing model, second to the Fuji Professional. The geometry is very responsive and stiff. The tubular tires still held air, but tires needed replacing. It had been retrofitted with Suntour "Power Shift" ratchet shifters on the down tube of the frame. The Power Shifters were a precursor to index shifters probably added in the 80s. Although outmoded now by today's standards with STI, the Suntour shifter design still works remarkably well. I switched from the tubular wheelset to a vintage MAVIC clincher wheelset with rare Specialized hubs and this bike still rides exceptionally well for when it was made.

Some of the decals were missing and I found replacements. One interesting and clever detail is the chain hanger built into the cable stop for the rear derailleur that keeps the chain off the ground when removing the rear wheel.

The Fuji Finest is a superb example of a classic vintage Japanese racing bike in the traditional European style.

A few years later, I encountered the same exact bike in the North Beach area of San Francisco parked in front of cafe. It had been converted to flat bars and the wheels were different. Then the day after the Eroica California 2016, a car pulled up with two bikes on the back, and one was, again, the Fuji Finest! The owner had ridden it in Eroica the day before.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cotton handlebar tape: It's a wrap

When you buy a used bike you often don't completely know what you're getting into. One bike from the early 1970s I acquired had some traditional cotton handlebar tape and I decided to rewrap the bars with same kind bar tape like the original.

I thought this would be easy. But, I was mistaken. It turns out the original owner, rather than replacing the old tape, simply wrapped over the tape that was on the bars. I had to peel back 3 layers to get to the bars.

Initially I tried a razor blade, but the adhesive on the base layer of tape had dried quite a bit, making this more difficult. I was able to soften up the dried up adhesive by pouring rubbing alcohol onto the old bar tape and letting it sit for about 15 minutes. Afterwards, it was much easier to remove the old tape.

I used lacquer thinner to remove what residue of the adhesive layer that was left with a rag, the tough parts scraped off easily now with the razor blade. Once all the old tape was removed, the vintage aluminum bars revealed a very nice patina.

Wanting to retape the bars in the traditional style, I'd bought some Velox cotton tape from a local bike shop. The Velox tape proved to be a challenge as well. It had probably been aged on shelf for a while and had dried out somewhat. The adhesive wasn't as sticky as it should be and didn't stretch very well making it hard to wrap without forming creases as you wrapped it. I had to pull it very hard and wrap it once to stretch and then undo and rewrap again to make it work.

Once I got the bars wrapped using the full length of the tape to exactly end where it should be near the bar stem on top, I gave the tape a coat of clear shellac that turned the tape color to a beautiful deep red.

I'll give it a second coat in a day or so. I don't know what it is about cotton tape and shellac, but this has it's own particular look that no modern bar wrap emulates, plus it has a great grip.

© 2011 VeloTouriste

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Local mix: cycling, California almonds and advertising

As a cyclist who frequently eats almonds or walnuts while on a bike and off, when I came across an ad circa 1991 with Tour de France champion Greg LeMond promoting California almonds recently, I was pleasantly surprised.

The ad was originally done for the California Almond Board. It seems amazing and rare today to see an ad with a Tour de France champion that isn't promoting a bicycle brand, a component or clothing manufacturer, an endurance supplement or a foundation... but, regional agriculture!

While commercial energy bars aimed at athletes had been around since 1983, i.e.: Powerbar (or "PowerBrick" depending on the ambient temperature), what's interesting is that this lifestyle/health-oriented ad promoting almonds as a healthy snack, was published in the December 1991 issue of Bon Appétit magazine.

The headline of the ad reads "California Almonds, The Healthy Snack You Can Win With" with the additional tagline "Great nutrition in a nutshell".

With it's clever copywriting, illustrated logotype and almond bordering, typography and layout (using artificially condensed Plantin type for text), the ad is polished, but seems to mimmick other design work being done around the same time for places like The Nature Company.

One amusing design flaw in the ad is the yellow rectangle with the headline plastered in the lower middle. Visually this gives the impression LeMond is about to run into a barrier he may not have seen while he's smiling at the camera. So much for healthy snacks.

Today, many farmers are pretty much at the mercy of big companies and/or brokers that tend to set modest prices on what they're willing to pay California growers, since almonds now come from all over the world. So it's interesting to see an ad like this from 20 years ago specifically promoting California almonds.

It would be great to see more ads like this in support of local agri-business rather than big name cycling brands. Maybe someone could sponsor a team. If someone did, I'd vote for "Team Almond Crunch"!

© 2011 Velotouriste

Thursday, May 19, 2011

On Commuting: Every Day is a Bike to Work Day

May 12 was bike to work day. To me, every day is a bike to work day. Why shouldn't it be? In January 2011 I stopped driving to my work from East Palo Alto to San Jose and have commuted entirely by bike and Caltrain.

In the last 10 years since I've lived on the Peninsula, the SF Bay Area seems to have become increasingly crowded on highways, for a variety of reasons. While Bay Area transit by bus and BART is good, suburbia basically is not conducive to public transit compared to the city.

But there are alternatives. Weekdays, I ride about 10 miles a day commuting by bike and taking CalTrain. It takes about an hour, I could drive in 1/2 the time. But, I get good exercise, and I never have to sit in traffic — this is the best reason for riding to work. I bought a CalTrain monthly pass that gives me more incentive to ride.

It's hard to commute by bike at first, you have to have all your gear together (key's, wallet, phone, toolkit, extra tubes, pump, change of clothes—check). But once you do this regularly, you get your system down. I prefer to commute in bike clothes and carry a change of clothes for work. Riding in jeans isn't great and wears these out. You have more freedom of movement with bike clothes. I carry an extra small lightweight musette bag so I can easily take the basics (tools, pump tube) if I ride somewhere for lunch. I also carry a canvas shopping bag and stretch cords that makes it easy to do a shopping run on my way home and strap the bag to a rear rack.

I prefer a traditional lugged steel road bike as opposed to a current hybrid bike with an upright position or mountain bike that is great for trails, but generally overweight for the street.

On a road bike you can ride fast and get more leverage with brake levers on drop bars when you need to accelerate quickly at times (i.e.: like when you're riding in traffic) — plus not feel like you're riding in the La Brea tar pits whenever you encounter wind since you can get low, drop a gear and power on.

This is just my preference, but any bike you ride to work is good. It helps the Bay Area environment. Taking CalTrain supports public transit as well.

To those driving to work: consider biking as an alternative. When you do, you'll pay less for car expenses ...and, get some fresh air in the process. © 2011 VeloTouriste.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Upgrading 27" wheels to 700c

Working on a vintage bike recently I wanted to rebuild this as close as possible to the original version, with one exception, the wheelset.

The bike came with 27" wheels with high quality Araya alloy rims and Sunshine hubs. Very good but the rim edges where the tire meets the rim are straight with no lip to hold a modern clincher tire bead. Most 27" tires only allow 90 psi max. I had mounted Panaracer Pasela 27" tires on these rims and they worked well. The rear wheel had a flat spot, but not noticable except on fast descents. The straight edge rim of 27s left me wanting me to be able to run a tire at 95-100psi that with these rims might be a problem. I rode this pair of 27" wheels with the Paselas over Ebbetts Pass in the Sierras and on a few others rides without a hitch. But to my shock I saw the 27" rims had no lip after fixing a flat. For tires, you really don't want to mess around, so this was the main reason for switching to a modern 700c wheelset As a replacement, I had built-up a new wheelset with some NOS Maxi CAR high flange hubs and of Mavic Open Sport rims. These are fantastic riding wheels.

The 700c (622mm) wheel diameter is shorter than 27" (630mm) but easily adaptable to most bikes that originally came with 27" wheels. I've upgraded a few bikes with 27" wheels to 700c that allow much more of a range in tire widths and tire types.

Plus you can use tubes with lightweight presta valves that are better suited for road bikes than schrader style valves commonly found on 27" and MTB wheels. © 2011 VeloTouriste.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rebuilding a "bike-boom" era Peugeot

After working on bikes over time, you may encounter recurring situations requiring an inordinate amount of patience.

French bikes always present their challenges, mainly with their obsolete threading. Most recently, it's been on rebuilding a 70s bike-boom era Peugeot UO-8 sport/touring bike. Although Peugeot has made great bicycles such as the renowned PX-10 racing bike, the UO-8 was one of the lower-end models, typical of the large volume of Peugeots sold in the US in the 70s for the mass market. I brought it home and considered how it could be best rebuilt. It made sense to make it a single speed, as the older, heavier steel frame would be well suited to a stripped down utility bike.

French bikes have unique threads that are difficult to deal with when you want to replace bearings. The steel cottered crankset and bottom bracket were pretty much obsolete. Once I actually was able to remove one side of the crank (extracting the pin that holds the crank arm) I found that trying to replace this with a square taper bottom bracket spindle wasn't going to work because the cottered bb spindle has different dimensions.

So I retrofitted it with aftermarket French thread bb cups and a modern sealed IRD bb. It turns out I managed to somehow cross thread one of the bb cups—no matter how much I tried, this just wasn't going to work.

Next stop: machine shop. I had the bottom bracket shell reamed and re-tapped.

Since spray can paint isn't very durable not being heat cured, I took the frame to a powder coater and had them redo the frame in a dark metallic blue. They did an excellent job and applied a clear coat that gives the normally dull powder coat finish a high luster.

I built the frame up as a single speed with a track wheelset. I chose to keep the original centerpull MAFAC Racer brakeset that has it's own history. Based near Auvergne region of France, MAFAC is an acronym for Manufacture Auvernoise de Freins et Accessoires pour Cycles.

More races have probably been won using on MAFAC Racer model brakes than any other brakes ever made. They present a mechanical challenge to adjust. The pads need to be exactly perpendicular to the rim when they come in contact and doing this is a feat by itself. Getting the right amount of gap between the rim and the pads is also somewhat of an art—enough gap so they don't rub, but tight enough so the brakes have enough grab, that has to do with the length of the brake straddle wire and where the center cable yoke is positioned...

The old black pads these came with have long since dried out and end up squealing and leaving deposits on rims. I replaced these with Kool-stop salmon pads. Also, the bushings for the bolts that hold the arms can wear over time and the slop can contribute to break squeal. If the brake assembly isn't lubricated this can rust and bolts can break. Although I lubed everything before reassembling and readjusting the brakes on this bike, I still managed to snap one of the brake arm mounting bolts and a center yoke bolt. Fortunately I had an extra set and I'll drill-out the broken bolt on the old pair sometime with a drill press. Once you get these brakes dialed in though they work well.

A general rule of thumb with all older brakes sets: you must lube all of the parts because these will surely break when you try to retighten things if they get corroded.

Once I retrofitted the Peugeot with new wheels, a new single speed drivetrain and new brake levers, I was having a really hard time with getting the rear brake to not squeal. I tried to "toe-in" the brakes and tighten the brake arms (why I broke one) to no avail. Eventually I reverted to a tip a mechanic gave me who's worked on cyclocross bikes "Sometimes all you can do is toe 'em in backwards".

After assembling the bike, I relettered the Peugeot logotype script from a vintage 50s catalog and had decals made. This old Peugeot is now transformed to a new life as a single speed and looks and rides fantastic.

The bike was too large for me and I ended up selling to a buyer in San Francisco. So if you see this bike around SF, you'll know this was rebuilt by someone who appreciates French bikes no matter what grade.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Replicant retro bike encounters

Riding back from work on my weekday commute recently on Caltrain, there was a woman in the bike car with a fairly opulent "mixte" bike (in the US, known as a women's bike with a lowered top tube and easier to step-over frame). It was made by Velo Orange, built-up in the classic French porteur style. It was equipped with the full array of VO branded parts, porteur handlebars, Peugeot style patterned fenders and racks with a wide platform porteur style rack up front.

In France porteur bikes were used by newspaper couriers often carrying very heavy stacks of newspapers, distributing them around the city. The VO bike had the porteur style rack and handlebars on these bikes, in a simple inverted U shape. It was medium blue with brightly contrasting orange cable guides. Not the usual commuter bike seen on CalTrain—as bikes can get beat up by other sometimes careless bicycle commuters.

I spoke with the owner of the VO mixte and she mentioned her boyfriend bought it for her at a local shop. She commuted from SF via CalTrain to San Jose had had a few different problems with this bike and really disliked it as a result. She'd had a blowout and the tire had to be replaced. The bike was set up with 700 x 28 Panaracer Pasela tires with gum sidewalls, they were blackened with brake pad residue from riding in wet/rainy conditions. Paselas are great for touring, but they don't take a city street beating so well. She mentioned previously she'd been riding a single speed that was "indestructable" in comparison and now wish she hadn't sold it.

As I sat riding the CalTrain, looking at the VO mixte in front of me, I noticed the plating on the front porteur rack wasn't so great and the rack was set-up too high and the fender was too short in front. Maybe the rack was added later. It had lower-end Tektro brakes. I couldn't help thinking this bike is basically a replicant of other better bikes from other more high end frame builders, that-is, this was a consumer-level replicant porteur style bike, (replicant, as used in the film "Blade Runner" based on the Philip K Dick story) compared to better made specialty bikes in the porteur or randonneur style such as Kogswell, Rivendell among other more reputable frame builders.

Knowing that the frame was made under the Velo Orange brand, using an art deco era typeface Parisian for it's logotype and most all of it's retro brand appearance, plus the fact that most all of the parts it sells under the VO brand are contracted out and made in Taiwan, I didn't say anything to the owner.

While the bike had a cool retro look, just a few problems can change any rider's view, especially if they are not so familiar with bike details. I understood the intent of the boyfriend in setting her up with a nicer bike—I know that setting up a bike for any friend can be a bit of challenge, since everyone's bike experience is subjective based on what they like.

Was this bike as good as perhaps an older bike built-up with better components as an urban commuter? After the owner mentioned she preferred her old single speed and would probably sell the VO, I couldn't blame her.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Guacamole... and cycling beyond the end zone

Today is Super bowl sunday, the culmination of the NFL football season. This is typically celebrated by people having parties at their homes with friends and/or going out to their local sports bar to revel for the best teams of the season in the carnage known in the US as the sport of football. Some people may watch more interested in the blockbuster half time show, or the unveiling of the multimillion dollar showcase of TV ads, a kind of a side super bowl of what the ad industry can do for clients willing to spend millions of dollars.

Fans gear up for this day. Just the other day I was at a local market and overheard a 20-something couple asking the grocer about making guacamole (chip dip): "How many avocados do we need to make guacamole for 9 people?" Although there are many varieties of avocados from California the market currently only had ones from Chile. The produce staff member responded with helpful advice. I was thinking. "Hey, guacamole isn't just for football parties!" but it underscored to me how we now live in a world where produce can be imported from elsewhere when it may not be in season where we happen to live. Lucky us.

Perhaps Super Bowl Sunday should be renamed "Super Guacamole Sunday" to help support avocado growers and the chip dip of NFL champions. That way fans can connect more with both their favorite sport and the avocados that help with the celebration.

Meanwhile: Super Guacamole Sunday, to cyclists, means something different. While NFL fans are occupied with enjoying the game on TV with friends, light beers and guacamole dip, this translates to fewer cars out on the road.

This day was no exception. Leaving in the mid afternoon today under perfect sunny clear skies, I did one of my regular 24 mile short loop rides and was pleased to find almost zero traffic.

On my way back I saw a christmas tree out on the street. This was really late, then I remembered neighbors I knew as a kid who would keep the tree up until the Super bowl game.

If people drove less and rode bikes more, perhaps roads could be more like they are on a Super Guacamole Sunday.