L’Eroica on a £35 bike that went on to become a great winter hack – Part 1

Having enjoyed greatly the 2012 L’Eroica on my beautiful 1965 Hetchins, I decided to try a more modest approach in 2013. I needed a period bike – it had to be pre-1987 – but something that would not cause me to worry about the propensity of some baggage handlers to lose or damage my stuff. Along came a 1978 Falcon Westminster offered at £45 for which I finally parted with just £35.  The bike was described as having a 23 inch frame. However, it turned out to be nearer 24 inches – 60cm – centre-to-top of the seat tube, but I took a chance that I’d be able to ride it.

The Falcon Westminster in its original condition

The Falcon Westminster in its original condition

I did a little research. There’s not much about Falcon Westimsters online, except that they were modest machines with mid- to low-end components. However, they’re made from the rightly-revered Reynolds 531 tubing, so they’re not especially heavy. The bike looked a mess but having stripped and cleaned the headset and bottom bracket it was apparent that there was no discernible wear to either. In fact, when they were re-assembled the cranks spun freely, without the slightest wobble, and the chrome polished up well with some very fine wire wool and oil.

Now the confession. What started as £35 bike did end up costing me a bit more. I threw away the badly rusted steel wheels and replaced them with a second hand pair of wheels with Miche hubs laced to Mavic MA3 rims (£60). I replaced the saddle and seat post with parts from my junk box, and the original friction shifters with a used pair of Suntour Powershifters (£20). I then added a wide range 5-speed  freewheel (£25) – 15 to 32 teeth – to complement the original Stronglight double chainset, which has 48 and 36 chainrings. Period Bluemels mudguards (£50) were added after a very successful 75km L’Eroica ride in October to get the bike ready for winter.

The next step was to make it look a little more presentable. The bike was certainly not worth the cost of a professional restoration so I decided to see what could be done with some spray cans of car paint from Halfords – Americans call them “rattle cans” – very descriptive. Sanding, undercoating, painting and lacquering took 20 minutes a day for a week with the frame hanging from a tree in the garden so that I didn’t succumb to the paint fumes. It’s now Ford Monza Blue, and touch up paint is readily available.

The 'New Look' Falcon Westminster -  a faultless L'Eroica ride and joy to ride in winter

The ‘New Look’ Falcon Westminster – a faultless L’Eroica ride and joy to ride in winter

The end result is a very rideable and good looking bike that cost less than £250, including the parts that were replaced. It’s certainly a far better mount than you could buy new for £250 and has the unique character of a vintage bike.

The New Look head badge causes some confusion

The New Look head badge causes some confusion

The finishing touch was a new head badge found on eBay with the logo ‘New Look – all steel bicycle’. I can’t find any reference to New Look bicycles, so it may be that the badges are produced for refurbishments like mine. The puzzled faces of fellow cyclists trying to figure out the brand of bike are well worth the £1.95 it cost me.

Really good bikes need not cost the earth. The few other Falcon Westminsters I’ve seen online typically fetch arond £50, yet they’re make from top class materials and, where needed, replacement components from the 70s and 80s can be found at very modest prices. Another one to look out for is the Diavolo – an Italian road bike sold in the UK in the 1980s. Not a well known brand, so they don’t attract high prices, yet the frames are made from Columbus SL and they were often equipped with good quality parts.

New Year’s resolution – and a quick tip for retouching your bicycle’s paintwork

Having had an 8 month rest from blogging – at least about bikes – I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to write at least one cycling post per week. Like most such resolutions, it may well fail – but here goes with the first one!

It won’t be a surprise to anyone whose worked on bikes for a while that nail varnish is great for retouching small paint chips on frames and forks. It’s often better than paint because it will go straight onto bare metal (or carbon fibre) and stick, it’s cheap, comes with its own brush and, perhaps most important, is very readily available in a dazzling array of colours – many more than you’ll find in standard paint ranges. The only downside is having to carry your bike around with you until you find the colour that you want. Here’s an easier way to find a match.

A print-your-own Pantone chart provides a cheap and simple way to match touch up paint or nail varnish to your bike

A print-your-own Pantone chart provides a cheap and simple way to match touch up paint or nail varnish to your bike

The Pantone colour chart is primarily intended for use by graphic designers and printers. You can buy one at great expense, or simply download this 18-page version. When you’ve done that, sit your bike next to your computer and print out the page containing the colour that most closely matches your frame. I like to print onto glossy photo paper because the paint on my bikes tends to be shiny, but it’s not critical. In fact, if the printer doesn’t print in accurate Pantone colours it doesn’t really matter. That’s because we’re going to be using comparative rather than absolute colour references.

 

Hold your freshly-printed colour chart up to the frame, ideally in daylight so that you can see the nearest match accurately. Mark the nearest Pantone colour then take your chart to the nail varnish shop and repeat the exercise – matching the nail varnish to the colour marked on the chart. If you can’t achieve an exact match, I find it’s generally better to err on the slight darker side for the nail varnish.

A successful improvement to the Kinetics Brompton 8 speed conversion

I’ve now fitted an FSA Vero crankset to the Brompton, removing the outer ring and adding a 3.2mm of washer spacing (2mm + 1.2mm from SJS Cycles) between the spider and the inner 34-tooth chainring to move the latter a little closer in. I used the original chainring bolts and now have a front chainline of about 43mm.

The original Sturmey Archer crankset with 33-tooth fixed chainring

The original Sturmey Archer crankset with 33-tooth fixed chainring

At first, I tried the FSA crankset, that has a JIS square taper, on the original Brompton bottom bracket, which uses an ISO square taper axle. The chainline was out at 50mm or so. I decided that for the modest cost involved it would be better to change the 119mm Brompton bottom bracket (not sure who makes it) for a 118mm Shimano one with JIS taper. It was easy to change and the Shimano BB allows a much greater choice of  cranksets, including those designed for single speed set-ups.

The FSA chainring clears the rear triangle by about 2 – 3mm when folding the bike, so I could probably move it in another mm or two to improve the chainline marginally. The original 100-link chain for the 6-speed Brompton, which I retained intact to use with the 33-tooth Sturmey crankset supplied by Kinetics, works fine with the new 34-tooth FSA one too. 

The new FSA Vero crankset, using the inner ring only from a compact double and mounted on a new Shimano 118mm BB

The new FSA Vero crankset, using just the inner ring from a compact double and mounted on a new Shimano 118mm BB

Despite around 4mm difference between the front and back chainlines, there is no noticeable chain noise and everything feels very smooth. The crankset looks much smarter, the chainring is replaceable, the chainline is adjustable by adding or removing washers under the chainring bolts (either side), and I have a great choice of chainrings if I want to adjust the gearing in future. You can buy chainrings with anything from 33 to 50 teeth that will work with this 110mm BCD crankset. In fact, I think I discovered a chainring with just 30 teeth while researching what to fit to my Brompton, but I haven’t been able to find it again, so maybe I was imagining it! Onto the handlebars…my next target for customisation.

 

The Bicycle Book, Bella Bathurst – a book that really gets under the skin of what it is to be a cyclist

This is undoubtedly the best book on cycling that I read in 2012. It ranks alongside Mark Beaumont’s “The Man Who Cycled the World” and Rob Penn’s “It’s All About the Bike”, both of which were 2011 favourites. Bella really gets under the skin of what it is to be a cyclist and, presumably because she’s a writer first and a cyclist second, rather than the other way around, the writing style is deeply expressive and easy to read. She describes the different cycling “tribes” from racers to couriers and everything in between.

The Bicycle Book

A fascinating and beautifully written book about bikes, cyclists and the relationship between them

The various types of bicycle are analysed in some detail too. But most importantly, Bella captures the relationship between people and bikes, whether those people are commuters or top class athletes.

Today, some travel writers are jumping on the cycling bandwagon by penning what are essentially travel guides with the odd mention of a bicycle thrown in for good measure. The Bicycle Book is certainly not that. It’s totally  focused on bikes (including their history) and the people who ride them and, through a series of fascinating interviews says much about how those who build bikes (such as legendary frame builder Dave Yates) and ride them relate to their machines.