Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Building a 650A Randonneur

The idea of building a 650A Randonneur bike came about after reading articles in the US cycling press about 650B French Randonneur bikes. I have never liked the MTB 26” wheel size, as from my experience, I found they didn't roll as well as older British 26” wheel sizes. The French 650B size is not widely available in the UK or Ireland, but tyres and rims were available in 650A or 26 x 1 3/8. Could I build a randonneur bicycle with 650A wheels, with a Schmidt SON lighting system for under £1000? This was the challenge. I began by sourcing a suitable steel frame. It was tired as found and I had it powdercoated a pale blue colour. It was fitted with a new Tange-Seiki threaded headset. The frame was not to be altered as it was worth more in it's orginal condition, so this was the first compromise. I used SKS MTB muguards, with Brooks leather mudflaps front and rear. A new triple chainset for square taper bottom bracket was sourced and a sealed BB unit was also fitted.
I chose to use some Sunrace components as I wanted to see how they well they worked, when compared to the more expensive brand name parts. The front stainless steel rack is a Velo Orange 'PassHunter' which didn't fit the frame as received. It had to be cut and re-welded to make it fit.
The STI levers whilst comfortable, don't allow the use of a handlebar bag, because of the routing of the cables like Shimano. They do work very well though. The wheels were built with stainless spokes and alloy rims. Tyres are Schwalbe. I have received comment about Schwalbe tyres being heavy and not rolling well. (I don't believe the correspondent had actually used the tyres in question, but had obtained his information from internet forums). I have to say, I have found them great, they are 590 x 37, roll well, comfortable on our less than perfect road surface, offer some degree of puncture resistance and are a heck of a lot better than some of the tyres I have used over the past decades. I have no problem riding the bike on these tyres for day rides or keeping up with others on bikes equipped with 700c wheels. The lighting system with the Schmidt SON Klassic hub is brilliant. I use the hub with a B & M Cyo and B & M rear light and I have no problem being seen and more importantly, being able to see and ride safely on the rural roads of the area.
I was able to build the bike for less than £1000. Am I happy with it? Yes, I certainly am, but having built the bike up, I know the problems encountered and compromises I had to make, so a Mk2 version will address some of these shortcomings. I enjoyed building the bike and working out the solutions.
I am very pleased with how well the bike rides and intend to take it on a tour next year. This year in terms of touring, did not pan out, owing to a health problem requiring surgery. (I am now well into the post op recovery, but still not able to drive or ride the bike). I loaned the bike to a friend for his evaluation. He rode upwards of 500 miles on the bike in the autumn of 2012. His impression was favourable, particularly the lighting system. If you were to commission a custom made frame, then your bespoke frame could address many of the pitfalls of using an existing frame, however this would be at a significantly increased cost. My bike was built to test ideas, assess components and come in under a strict budget limit. There was always going to be compromises, as compared to a bespoke bells and whistles solution, with a budget for branded components. Has my idea worked and delivered a bike which is pleasant to ride and fit for purpose? I think so. Following his testing of the bike, my friend's comment was, 'You could ride round the world on it'.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Visit to Scottish Cycle Museum, Drumlanrig Castle

I posted earlier on 11th July about a track bike which I saw at the Scottish Cycle Museum in the Stableyard at Drumlanrig Castle. I spent a few enjoyable hours looking at the bikes. I have to confess that I have no real interest in early machines such as Hobbyhorses or Ordinaries. I accept that some people do have an interest and I acknowledge that without them, we wouldn't have the machines we use today. I suppose my interest in bicycles and cycling was shaped by the people I knew growing up, some of whom who had cycled from the first decade of the 20th century. I was more interested in hearing how the custom built lightweight bicycle had developed following the Great War. 

This was the machine that I could relate to, from my own experience of cycling. It was interesting, as a teenager, hearing tales of marques of machines and how folk cycled in the 1920s and 1930s. 
Having grown up in a cycling family, I was well versed in my parents experience of cycling after WW2. So my interest in cycling only goes back around 90 years.
I was very interested to see the examples of bicycles made by some of the Scottish framebuilders. Flying Scot are well known, but there were others builders, not only in Glasgow, but outside the central corridor.

I was particularly interested in the bottom bracket detail on the Lindsay of Dundee Scottish made bike, as the same detail was also found on some of the Leach Marathon frames, built by Bill Leach, a London builder. 

I really enjoyed the display of Scottish made machines and I would loved to have tried one or two, just to see how they rode. 

Another bicycle which caught my eye was a pre WW2 Granby. I was able to see it had the frame number stamped into the underside of the fork crown and had the Granby designed rear dropouts. 

More recent developments weren't ignored and there were two cast magnesium Kirk Precision frames there, a complete road bike and the MTB version – frame only. 

Mark Beaumont's Koga Miyata bike that he rode around the world to break the record on was also on display. 

If you are ever in or near Thornhill, the cycle museum at Drumlanrig Castle is well worth a visit.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Another Chapter Closes

It has been a week of sad news for anyone of a certain age in this corner of the world. Cliff Morgan, BBC sports commentator, former Welsh rugby international and Question of Sport team captain passed away. The news was quickly followed by the announcement of the passing of renowned poet and sometimes broadcaster, Seamus Heaney, then broadcaster and writer, Sir David Frost and yesterday, the passing of broadcaster David Jacobs. In the days before 24 hour television broadcasting and multi-channel, terrestial or satellite T.V., broadcasting started about lunchtime and finished around midnight. You had a choice of 3 television channels BBC1, BBC2 or ITV. If you wanted 24 hour broadcasting, you had radio. I knew David Jacobs best from BBC radio. He was the soundtrack of my childhood and early teens, journeys in my father's car, usually on a Saturday. Hearing David Jacobs broadcast on the radio immediately transported me back to those formative years. He was a still tangible link, to times and friends long gone. He was the radio soundtrack of my travelling to the first event of the race calender year, a circuit time trial, usually held on the last Saturday afternoon in February. His voice was as evocative to me, as the whiff of embrocation rubbed into the legs before the race. It just brings the memories flooding back. Unloading the bike in the pub car park. The wheels lifted out first, chrome spokes glinting in the light, then the frame wrapped in a blanket, blanket off and rubber car mats set on the ground to rest the upturned bike on. Wheels put into the frame, hub quick release tension adjusted before closing the levers, bike righted and tubular tyres pumped hard. Bike parked along the car park fence, along with all the others, changing bag with the kit in, collected from the car. Go into the pub, 'Whittley's Tavern', to sign on and collect your race number. Then into the 'changing room', a store at the back of the pub. Chamois cream rubbed into the chamois leather of your wool cycle shorts. Change, remembering to use the clip on braces to hold up your wool shorts, 'Belfast Telegraph' shoved up the front of your club racing jersey to keep out the worst of the cold and wind. Embrocation rubbed into your legs and arms, followed by a covering of olive oil to try and keep out the cold. Help a clubmate fix his race number to his race jersey with safety pins and he does the same for you. Black shorts, club jersey, white socks and 'Pete Salisbury' leather shoes with nailed on T.A. shoeplates on the soles. Clatter out to the toilet 'for a leak' as both nerves and cold are starting to have an effect, then collect your bag and gear and return them to the car. Collect your bike and take it to the scrutineer, brakes and bell, spare tub protectively wrapped and held under the saddle with a toe strap, pump, junior gearing, all correct. Get on the bike and off to the start. Time keeper is Tommy Taylor, and it will be either Jimmy Nichol, Jimmy McBride or Frank Mckeown who will be pushing off. Check the number of the rider waiting to start to see how much time you have and off down the road, in the opposite direction, to warm up. Back up to the start, two minutes to go, rider off, now the one in front and then it's my turn. Bike held, a bit of banter, time keeper studiously watches the stop watch, three.... two.... one.... GO!  A firm shove, turning the gear as fast as I can, as bike gets up to speed. Which way is the wind? Side wind, so no help today and head wind along the third leg. Breathing hard and cold air making the airway ache, I approach that first turn onto a main dual carriageway. The road undulates and is also quite open to the wind for the first quarter mile or so. How far can I get before my minute man catches me? Frustration builds as the cold and wind start to have an effect. Cars speed effortlessly past. Second turn left and now into the head wind. It becomes more of a grind and the seconds just slip past. Third turn and the climb up to the finish. Going as hard as I can, but another rider passes me just to add to the frustration of cold, tiring, muscles. Finish comes into sight at last, but doesn't seem to be getting much closer. It just seems to be a slow dance, then out of the saddle and all out effort for the line. Back to the car, collect my gear and back into the changing room. The shadows are lengthening and the cold is getting more intense. Jersey off and strip to the waist before rubbing down with a dry towel. No showers here. Warm dry clothes eagerly put on, then wipe legs down with a damp cloth, to remove the road dirt and remains of the olive oil, before drying. Finish getting dressed. The feeling of warmth is great. Back to the car, gear stowed, then the bike is dismantled and returned to the car boot. Off to the pub for a cup of hot tea, not old enough yet for the strong stuff. Walk down to the finish to check the results. First time I've ridden this event. Wasn't first, but hey, I wasn't last and I have now got a time to aim to beat next year......
That instant link to happy times is no longer tangible. It has now become a memory like those it formerly brought flooding back. I have a lot to thank David Jacobs for, although I probably didn't appreciate it at the time. His broadcasting touched me in a way that neither he, nor I, would have expected, but he certainly enriched my earlier years. For that I own him many thanks, may he rest in peace.