Saturday, 11 June 2016

Custom Bike?


A friend of mine often relates his experiences of meeting the modern breed of cyclist who normally greet him with “What are you riding that oul thing for?”, referring to his custom built Mercian bike.  He then explains the difficulty in trying to get the modern 'expert' to understand that his bicycle was custom built, i.e. made to measure for him.  The usual response is “Mine is custom built”, the tyro meaning, he got what bits he wanted, hung on his small, medium, or large size, carbon frame.  Ask the tyro about frame angles, chainstay length, fork rake and bottom bracket height and he is lost.  Does not compute at all, as rarely if ever covered in the UK cycling press, and besides it's all about the decals on the frame, x is better than y, irrespective that they are all made in the same huge factory in Taiwan.  Style and image are paramount. 




It was all once so very much different.   On joining a club as an impecunious teenager, some of the older members would take you aside when you turned up on your Hi-Ten 'gas pipe' tubed bike and offer the advice, “You need to get a good pair of wheels son”.  No criticism was offered of your bike. The order of upgrade, to make your machine more user friendly to cover miles, was wheels, saddle and gearing.  It was recognised that to have a custom made frame took money.  Fitness was as important as the bike.  If you were lucky, someone would help you out with bits for your bike.   A promising rider may have been given an old lightweight frame or given the opportunity to purchase a secondhand lightweight bike. 



A new frame was a significant and important purchase.   Firstly which framebuilder to use? What wheel size, frame angles and fork rake?  Do you want a square frame?, i.e. seat tube and top tube the same length.  Was it to be a track bike, pure road race bike or would it have to be used for touring/general riding as well, so mudguard clearance was necessary.  If you specified the old British 27”/630 wheel size there was plenty of clearance for 700C race wheels.   What about braze ons?  Campagnolo lever bosses, bottle cage bosses, cable guides on top tube?   What tubeset to use?  Reynolds 531 plain gauge, 531 double butted, 531 Superlight or that new Reynolds 753?  More exotic tubesets were available from Ron Kitching, listed in 'Everything Cycling', Columbus or Ishiwata.  What colour and finish do you want, flat enamel, metallic or pearl?  Any chrome plating to frame?  This will slow the delivery.  You could reasonably expect to wait for 4 to 6 months for your custom frame. Thought would have to be given to choice of headset.  The obvious preference would be for continental kit, Campagnolo or Stronglight.   Reality was you couldn't often afford it, so more likely the British made TDC or the Japanese Tange-Seiki was used instead.




The debate amongst cyclists was which was the better frame builder, especially where hand cut lugs were concerned, and what was the best frame geometry for the ideal bike?  Was it better to have the head and seat tube angles parallel?  72 or 73 degrees or have the head angle steeper than the seat tube angle – 74/73 for track, 73/72 for road.   Some argued this made the bike more comfortable but responsive when compared to a parallel frame.   Others advocated that the seat tube angle was steeper than the head tube, so 73/74, 72/73. 






The steeper head angle also brought the front wheel back towards the bottom bracket, so toe overlap could be a problem.   Fork rake could also be a factor here as well.  Fork rake for road bikes was generally in the range 1 3/4” (1.75”) to 2 1/2” (2.5”).  The fork rake for touring bikes was in the 2- 2.5” range.  Forks with less than 1.75” rake were generally fitted to track bikes, the shorter fork rake being more useful on a banked track and a more generous fork rake for grass track racing.  A further consideration was the shape of your fork blades, round (preferred for track frames), D to round, or oval.  Some riders wanted round forks for their road bikes in the early 1950s as they believed the forks were stronger.  Then there was the fork crown, double plate, square shouldered or semi sloping Italian?




How were the seat stays to be fitted to the seat lug?  Were the seat stays to be attached to the side of seat lug and finished off with a seat stay caps of  various kinds, or go for wrapover seat lugs which some alleged were much stronger?  Another important factor in the ride of a bike is the wheelbase.  Some advocated keeping the chainstays as short as possible to reduce 'frame whip' and to improve the power transmission.   The pre WW2 Baines Brothers V37 'Flying Gate', the Saxon Twin Tube and Sun Manx TT were all examples of this.  The significant thing is that up until the Second World War, most racing was time trials and frame design reflected this.  The fact that riders were not allowed to show any kind of advertising meant that some frame builders created unique designs which were readily identifiable in a photograph via the cycling press of the day without the need to see any decals.  The harsh draconian 'amateur' status was rigidly policed and enforced by the sports officials of the day.  Other attempts to increase the rigidity of steel frames and reduce frame whip from before WW2 was the Bates Brothers 'Cantiflex' tubing and 'Diadrant' forks and Bill Ewing's & Percy Dean's (Granby) 1925 patented 'Taper Tube' method of construction.  Maurice Selbach and Claud Butler also built frames using this tubing.  The Granby Taperlight tubing had the seat tube and down tube increasing in size towards the bottom bracket to increase frame stiffness.  The chainstays changed from round section just aft of the bottom bracket to square section before reverting back to round section towards the dropouts.  Granby also patented a design of bottom bracket and rear dropout.   A similar concept of frame using pressed steel for utility roadster bicycles was produced by New Hudson of Birmingham in 1936 as their 'Empire Roadster' model.  The Bates design had always been a topic of discussion with many dismissing the tubing and concept as a gimmick.  A frame was tested in the early 1990s by the UK National Physics Laboratory which confirmed the Cantiflex tubing and frame was stiffer than conventional Reynolds 531.







So a shorter wheelbase was advocated for a livelier ride.  Track bikes tended to have a shorter wheelbase than road bikes because of the shorter fork rake, steeper frame angles and rear facing rear dropouts.  Latterly track bikes were used solely on the track, so mudguards were not needed.  The influence here was track riding was less popular and increasing affluence meant people could afford more than one bike, so pure race and track machines were developed really from the late 1960s/1970s, a change from what had gone before when one bike had to do everything.  I had a road race frame built which had 74 degree parallel angles with a short fork rake for racing on short road circuits (kermesses) and time trialling.  The bike certainly felt much livelier than my other road race bike, but the trade off was comfort.  It transmitted a lot more road vibration and riding it in the Irish 50 mile TT championship event on the Navan Road proved to be an uncomfortable and unforgettable experience.  One which I never repeated.  It was one of the reasons that professional racing cyclists had a variety of bikes, some with different angles and gearing setups for the various stages they rode.  As an amateur you rode what you could afford.




Once you received your frame then the next job was to build it up.  The preferred choice of equipment by the 1970s was Campagnolo, but again it was available in 3 different price ranges, Gran Sport, Nuovo Record and Super Record.   The French did not produce 'a gruppo' like Campagnolo, but did make some really good kit. Maxicar hubs and the TA 5 bolt Cyclotourist chainsets were expensive but very good.  French derailleurs were not popular except on budget sports bikes, but Maeda Suntour were much cheaper than Campagnolo and very good.  The Suntour Superbe professional quality parts have now attained nearly legendary status.  The recourse for the financially challenged club cyclist was Ron Kitching's 'Milremo' range of parts, mostly of French or Italian manufacture but cheaper than their branded relations.  Most club cyclists bought what they could afford and would upgrade parts on their prize machine, with the removed parts cascading down onto your hack bike or part exchanged for some other bit of kit you wanted from a clubmate.  Once you had your bike in the trim you desired then any changes to be made were considered.   If it was broken then it didn't need fixing.  It was acknowledged that the tubular tyre fitted to your racing sprints could have a big impact.   Ron Kitching's 'Lion' brand GT30 or slightly better GT28 were the staple fare for many.  Getting a really good pair of wheels, Campagnolo Nuovo Record Hubs laced into Mavic GP4 sprint rims built by Pete Matthews and shod with Clement 'Criterium' tubular tyres was the best pair of race wheels I ever owned and with which I did some of my best racing performances. 




I knew exactly what kit I wanted on my bike and built it up myself.   If it didn't work then you only had yourself to blame, but equally I wouldn't let anyone else tinker with my bike.  Your hand made, made to measure frame was an investment which could be repaired if you crashed and damaged it.  It was built to last and do what it was built to do.  That is not say that frames didn't break because of poor workmanship, stress risers created in the manufacture causing frame failure, or too much heat used when brazing causing similar tube failures.   Not having the frame 'bonderized' or treated with Jenolite before painting, poor paint finishing and neglect by the owner of the paint damage could lead to a frame breaking through corrosion.  But steel would often give some warning of it's impending failure unlike aluminium, which would fail without much warning.  It was also readily repairable at a garage, where gas brazing was available.  The running repair would enable you finish your ride and get home, before getting the frame permanently repaired.




Self employed framebuilders putting their own name on the frame tended to be better.  Your best advert was your work.   If you built too many lemons you went out of business.  Some of the bigger operations struggled with quality of workmanship from time to time. (I have seen a new frame which was out of track).   It is why you can have two frames from the same source with apparently similar or identical geometry which ride completely differently.  One's a peach and the other a lemon.  Framebuilders bikes I remember seeing at that time were, Bates, Hetchins, Maclean, Viking, Harry Quinn, Ron Kitching, Witcomb, Holdsworth, Claud Butler, Charles Roberts, Stan Pike, Ken Bird, Harry Hall, Hill Special, Carlton, Wes Mason, Bob Jackson, Mercian, Woodrup, Wester Ross, Flying Scot, Jack Hearne.  Local Northern Ireland framebuilders I remember being raced, was Tommy Donaldson – Lurgan, County Armagh and Gordon Brothers – Hillsborough, County Down. The list is not prescriptive as there were many others.

Monday, 23 May 2016

1986 Ammaco 'Monte Carlo' Restoration - stripping the frame



The Springfield Cycle Collection recently acquired a 1986 Ammaco 'Monte Carlo' road bike. The seller has asked for photographs of the restored machine and it is intended to move this restoration up the works list.

Ammaco came to notice in 1985 when they jointly sponsored the 1980 and 1985 British UCI Professional Pursuit Champion, Tony Doyle with RMC-Security Grille Protections. Tony's professional Ammaco branded frames were built by Charles Roberts in London. The Ammaco professional team consisted initially of Tony Doyle but for 1986 became Ever Ready-Ammaco and also had Australian Danny Clark and Nigel Dean on their strength. The team increased in size to 7 riders for the 1988 season which marked the end of Ammaco's involvement as a major sponsor of professional cycling in Britain. The Ammaco brand is sold by the family owned chain of Cycle King cycle shops based in the English Midlands and southern England.  A major selling point appears to be price. 


The 1986 Ammaco bike frame has 3 x 4130 Cro-mo main tubes, but the forks are Hi-Ten.  The handlebar stem is a heavy 80mm alloy of Taiwanese manufacture and would indicate this is probably the source of the lugged steel frame. What is obvious is that price point was a major selling point, along with the similar colour scheme and branding to the professional team bikes. Having bikes and frames produced in the far east was nothing new as the now defunct Evian (G.B.) Limited had marketed a range of 'Hirame' branded bikes and frames in the late 1970s/early 1980s produced by Kuwahara in Japan. Their range started with Hi-Ten tubed road frames up to full Ishiwata tubed road frames. The Hirame frame in the Springhill Collection is nicely made with Kuwahara's own forged drop-outs.

The Ammaco machine came with some original parts, but the original paintwork is now very tired and in need of renewal. The frame has 'Ammaco' branded seat stay caps and fork crown. The first problem to be addressed for any potential restoration will be that of the availability of original pattern transfers/decals. The second problem is the actual stripping down of the bike, specifically, whether the seat post and handlebar stem are seized in the frame and the alloy cranks seized onto the steel crank axle. I intend to deal with the stripping down of the bike here. 




The threads for the screw in crank extractor were very, very dirty and required cleaning with Brunox and Scotchbrite before wiping clean with kitchen roll. The crank extractor then had to be carefully screwed into the righthand crank, checking that it was square to the crank as the initial first threads were damaged.  I wanted to make sure the remover was not cross threaded before fully screwing the remover home using a spanner/wrench.  Thankfully the crank did move relatively easily and the left crank was also successfully removed without any damage.  The chainset is a Japanese made Sugino 42/52T.  The chainrings are steel which are swaged onto the alloy crank.  It was typical fare on lower end sports road bikes in the 1970s/1980s with Peugeot using swaged Stronglight or Nervar and British manufacturers such as Dawes, Falcon or Raleigh using SR Silstar. The seat post was chromed steel and although rusty came out with the use of Brunox. The handlebar stem being alloy was more of a problem.  It was seized into the fork steerer tube.



I have written an earlier post about dealing with a seized handlebar stem.  The one thing to recognise is that it takes time to corrode in, so it logically follows, that it will take a bit of time to unseize it!  The first job was to put some PlusGas around the top of the headset locknut/handlebar stem interface and leave it for several hours.  I removed all the other components from the frame, chain, brake callipers, gear levers, front and rear derailleurs. The wheels were removed last and then the frame up ended so I could pour some more PlusGas down into the fork steerer tube and then leave it to soak for 3 days.  The wheels were then refitted to the frame, the allen key expander bolt loosened which showed the retaining bolt was still stuck in the fork head tube.  A sharp tap with a soft faced hammer released it, so the next thing was to try moving the handlebars and stem. I chose to use the original handlebars rather than substitute them for an MTB handlebar which would offer better leverage.   I wanted to initially try to see if I could move the stem with the steps I had already taken.  Obviously if I had failed, then it would have been back to a soak of PlusGas for a longer period and use of the longer MTB handlebar lever to break the bond. 

After gripping firmly and applying leverage, the stem moved. Brunox was then applied and the steerer moved again.  More Brunox was applied and the steerer moved more easily.  The same process was repeated until the stem was moving relatively easily and pulled upwards and out of the fork steerer tube.  There was plenty of evidence of galvanic corrosion on the shaft of the alloy stem as no grease appears to have been used to prevent it.  The photo shows the alloy stem after a quick clean with a brass brush. One alarming thing that did happen was one of the fork drop-outs cracked.  The fork drop-outs have the slot in the drop-out for the tang of a washer for what is euphemistically referred to as 'lawyers lips'. The drop-out cracked at this slot.   The frame will now have to go to a framebuilder for repair before it can be re-enamelled.




The frame once stripped is actually reasonably light.  The frame number is stamped into the bottom of the seat tube at the righthand (crank) side just above the bottom bracket shell.  The gear tunnels are plastic, afixed to the underside of the bottom bracket shell with a 5mm Phillips screw.  The frame has a chain stop brazed onto the righthand seat stay, double gear lever bosses brazed onto the down tube and three cable guides on the top of the top tube.  I will deal with components and transfers/decals in future posts.




Saturday, 30 April 2016

Cleaning alloy cycle components



I was doing some internet searching in relation to a bike I had to work on for the Springhill Cycle Collection. The bike, an early 1970s model, had been stored in less than ideal conditions and the alloy components were showing signs of surface corrosion - not been cleaned before it was stored. The components were a Spanish copy of Campagnolo and in parody of the great Roman cycling god, the copies were named after the ruler of the Greek Olympian gods, Zeus. Frank Berto in his tome 'The Dancing Chain' doesn't rate Zeus components. Zeus components were never very common in this part of 'the oul sod', so to get a bike equipped with Zeus is unusual. The bike is local, has been ridden and used judging by the layers of dirt and wear to the parts. Anyway to return to the point, the large flange hubs are not Zeus and turned out to be of Japanese origin. I haven't seen photos of this particular model of hub on the web.



However, here at Methuselah Towers I have a confession to make. I haven't bought a news stand cycle magazine in 10 years and don't frequent internet forums, so therefore cannot claim any kind of expertise other than experience. So I have to defer to the 'experts' on the web, who advocate using various grades of abrasive papers and buffing wheels to polish alloy components. Personally I would have grave reservations about such an aggressive approach, as I have experience of alloy components such as Campagnolo and Stronglight cracking and failing. I also don't agree with re-polishing old alloy to a very high surface shine, far removed from the original finish. To me it detracts from the originality of the parts/machine and can, in my humble opinion, be a case of 'over egging the pudding'.



I prefer a more subtle approach, one advocated by a long forgotten source. I was told to use a brass brush to clean alloy and then wipe the surface with oil. I now prefer to use WD40 or an equivalent solvent, on a soft cloth or a bit of kitchen roll, to wipe the burnished alloy. The brush will get rid of the surface bloom and expose the nature and extent of any surface pitting and corrosion. A decision can then be made about re-polishing if deemed necessary. It is surprising how much the brass brush will clean up the alloy, whilst still leaving a sympathetic finish to the metal. Where the corrosion is not too deep it can be polished out after cleaning, using Autosol and a soft cloth. A final clean with a silicone based car polish will give it the final seal as you have in all likelihood removed the original anodised finish. I have tried to show a few before and after photos to illustrate the point. The Maillard small flange hubs are ones I rescued from the scrap bin of a cycle business. 



Remember that you will need to keep an eye on your repolished alloy as it will now be more susceptible to corrosion as the anodised coating has been removed!


Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas - Joyeaux Noël - Weihnachtsgrüße

I would like to take the opportunity to wish all my readers 'seasons greetings' from this corner of Ireland.  The weather has not been that kind of late with one storm system after another depositing lots of liquid sunshine outside. With the strong winds, the only variation appears to be the 'angle of attack' of the liquid stuff. 2015 has been very wet and I would expect the yearly average to be at least 130% above the statistical mean.


Despite the gloomy weather, things move on apace and 2015 did see one or two highlights for me.  I did manage to get my Goeland Randonneuse out a few times for a run.  I really like the way the bike rides. Frame is 531 tubing and bike came equipped with 650B Michelin 'World Tour' tyres.  They are amber wall tyres and it is over 30 years since my bike was equipped with Michelin 'World Tour' tyres, so the clock has been well and truly wound back.  The Goeland dates from 1960 but the rear derailleur was updated in the 1970s to a Huret 'Duopar' longcage mech.  The only thing I have added to the bike was a Lion Bellworks engraved brass bell.  I really like these and unlike the alloy 'ping' bell that equipped my racing bike in the 1970s, this one has a loud, lingering melodious ring.  Despite it's efficacy for those of normal, unobstructed hearing, the bell's performance is limited, especially where joggers and walkers are concerned, those who are plugged into their personal music player but 'tuned out' of the real world.


A friend completed two restorations over the winter of 2014/15.  The first was a 1938 Saxon Twin Tube.  His reason for wanting another Saxon was the fact his father ran a cycle shop before and after WW2 and was an agent for Saxon.


His second bike was even more personal.  It was a Hill Special from Padiham, Lancashire and was one of four frames his father had bought to sell through the shop in the early 1950s.  The bike was one of these four and had one owner from new.  He was able to buy it back from the owner as he had got too old to ride it. The bike was actually built up by his sister and given the 'once over' quality control check by his father to make sure the bike was up to spec before it left the shop.  Components are original to the bike and have been re-chromed and polished where required.


The staff at the Springhill Cycle Collection have received a new recruit in keeping with the ethos of the collection.  Meg, a rescue dog, has joined the staff in a supervisory role. Apart from watching, to make sure the restorations are up to standard, she has undertaken the onerous task of dealing with the dodgy catering. She has to be let into this role slowly.....








Monday, 31 August 2015

The Titanic Quarter








I took advantage of the dry weather to enjoy the dog days of summer on my bike.  Today is the last day of late summer bank holiday weekend and I took the opportunity to ride into Belfast to visit the Titanic Quarter.  Belfast was not as busy as I expected with the cycle paths seeing fewer cyclists and pedestrians than anticipated, compared to last week when the P&O cruise ship 'Arcadia' was in port.  


I used the new pedestrian/cycle bridge at the Lagan weir to cross over the River Lagan onto what was once Queens Quay where the old Belfast & County Down Railway had it's Belfast terminus and Kelly's Coal Merchant had their offices and where coal was unloaded from their fleet of colliers into railway wagons on the quayside.  A lot of old Belfast has been swept away in redevelopment and the Belfast Odyssey Arena and W5 Centre were the first of the new buildings in the area. Residential housing, the Titantic centre, and the new Public Records Office have all been opened in the Quarter, as well as the restored White Star Line SS Nomadic which was built as a tender ship for the RMS Titanic.  


The Quarter is well worth a visit and the excellent Dock Cafe is popular with cyclists as the food and coffee are to be recommended.  The cafe also has a display of memorabilia about the Belfast Port and RMS Titanic.  There is a large public artwork in the communal area outside the cafe featuring RMS Titanic. It is easily reached by bicycle for the visitor to Belfast by using one of the bicycle hire scheme bicycles.