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.