I complete my winter bike….just in time for spring

Despite owning a small collection of bikes, I didn’t really have anything ideal as winter trainer/commuter. I wanted something reasonably robust, not so valuable as to worry about adding a few chips and dings, yet good looking, responsive and fun to ride. With only about one month of winter left (I hope), I’ve now built the bike based on a resprayed Freddie Grubb 23-inch frame bought for about £120 on eBay. The forks are, I think, Reynolds 531 but the frame is not, although it doesn’t feel unduly heavy.

The Freddie Grubb winter trainer...born today!

The Freddie Grubb ‘winter bike’…born today! Vintage Brooks Champion saddle, Cinelli 1A stem, Cinelli 42cm bars, Tektro brake callipers, Dia-Compe levers, Suntour power shifters, 50-34 TA chainset, Sachs Huret 6000 Sport front derailleur Suntour 14-30 freewheel and Suntour VGT-X rear derailleur

It’s actually a Holdsworth bike; Holdsworth bought Freddie Grubb’s business in 1951, two years after his death, and used the brand until 1978. The frame was advertised as a 1960s one, although after a little research I suspect it is actually early 1970s. It had been resprayed and I made a few accidental marks in the rather soft blue paint during the build, but these will be easy to touch up. To build the bike, I mainly used up spare parts that were already in the junk box, including a 50-34 ‘compact double’ TA chainset (French manufacturer, Spécialités TA, pioneered aluminium chainrings as far back as 1947, and still makes them today), Suntour 14-30 freewheel, and Suntour V-GTX rear derailleur. I previously used this set up on my Hetchins for the L’Eroica ride in 2012.  The shifters are Suntour power shifters (99p on eBay).  Suntour were, I believe, the first to introduce ratchets into friction shifters. This prevents them slipping so you don’t have to keep tightening the little ring on the side after changing gear a few times.

With a wide-range freewheel like this Suntour 14-30, you need to select a derailleur that can handle the largest cog. The Suntour VGT-X does this admirably.

With a wide-range freewheel like this Suntour 14-30, you need to select a derailleur that can handle the largest cog. The Suntour VGT-X does this admirably.

The rear wheel of the new bike is the one I built last week – the first wheel I’ve ever built. It consists of a Campagnolo Record hub, Weinmann XR18 rim and plain spokes that came with the original wheel from which the rim was taken. The front wheel is a Quando hub with XR18 rim. I have a spare Campag Record front hub and I know the little inconsistency between the hubs will irritate me until I strip the front wheel and replace the cheap Quando hub with the Campag that matches one in the rear wheel.

The chainset/freewheel combination produces a wide gear range. With the 700C x 23 tyres and 172.5mm cranks I can select ratios from 29.8 gear inches to 93.9 gear inches.

Spécialités TA custom compact double chainset with 50 and 34-tooth chainrings

Spécialités TA custom compact double chainset with 50 and 34-tooth chainrings

A typical modern set up with a 52-39-30 up front and 12-25 cassette at the back would produce a range from 31.5 to 113.9 gear inches, so I actually have a lower “granny” gear and only miss out a little at the high end, which doesn’t worry me at all. (Sheldon Brown used a similar front-end set up on his Hetchins with a 50-28 chainset but 9-speed cassette on the back.)

One of the problems I encountered during the build up was that a 27.2mm seat post wouldn’t fit, but it was only slightly too large. In searching for something very slightly smaller, I came across this seller on eBay. He sells a choice of seat posts in fractional mm diameters from 25mm to 31.4mm. A 26.2mm post was a very good tight fit into the Grubb seat tube. (I have no commercial connection with they guy except I bought two seat posts from him – they appear to be good quality and were delivered fast.)

I’ve taken the bike for a very short test ride and it’s great – fits me well, the gears shift smoothly and the brakes work. Now I just need to add mudguards and a means of carrying a modest amount of luggage.

As is often the case when you build a bike from individual components, my Freddie Grubb is almost certainly not worth the money I paid for parts. But I’ve learned a lot while building it, it’s absolutely fit for purpose, I understand how every single part goes together, and it’s totally unique. All of which makes it priceless.

The joy of hubs…my next project

Last year I bought a restored A.S. Gillott frame from a dealer in South London. It has one or two very minor marks from where it was packed for delivery, but it’s pretty near perfect. A 1948 model, it may well have been built by Ron Cooper, who worked for Gillott, and I know that Ron was involved in its restoration, replacing one of the drop-outs.

A.S. Gillott frame

The beautifully restored 1948 A.S. Gillott frame

What I didn’t realise until the frame arrived was that the dropouts were designed for an Oscar Egg “Osgear” set up. It’s not possible to fit a conventional derailleur freewheel or cassette. I decided to make it a single-speed bike and found a nice pair of Charge track wheels, the rear one of which had a flip-flop hub, so I was able to build up the bike to be ridden either as a fixie or with a single-speed freewheel.

Oscar Egg dropouts

Oscar Egg dropouts are only suitable for Osgear, single-speed or hub gear set up

I decided that this was going to be my prettiest bike, so matched the brake and gear cables to the red of the decals and even bought a red and black saddle to complete the work of art. Looks lovely….rides like a shed on wheels!

I think the problem is partly the razor sharp saddle (back to a Brooks B17 any day now) but also the geometry of the bike. I haven’t measured it but the top tube seems particularly long. I feel like I’m stretching over the bike, even to ride on the tops of the Cinelli drop bars. And my feet feel as though they’re too far forward, wherever I position the saddle. It’s time to try a new set up – one that will make the bike as good to ride as it is to look at.

A.S.Gillott bike

The Gillott frame with as a single-speed set up with flip flop hub. Very pretty, note the glossy bar tape, but strange to ride!

Having appreciated the joys of Sturmey Archer hub gears last year, when I road my Thanet Silverlight with a 1949 4-speed hub from Barcelona to Bristol without a hitch, and inspired by the sight of the restored Bob Jackson bike mentioned a couple of days ago, I’ve decided to rebuild the Gillott frame.  Even though you have to stop pedalling for a second to change ratios with internal hub gears, each change is precise, silent and perfect – not like the rather crude process of dragging a chain across a bunch of sprockets to end up with yet another imperfect chainline. So the frame will be fitted with a Sturmey Archer S-RF5(W) 5-speed hub in the rear wheel (with a downtube shifter as a nod towards vintage styling), a B17 saddle and either a Mary bar or Mungo bar from On-One.  The bars are on offer at the moment and are so cheap I decided to buy both and try them out. The Sturmey Archer was chosen because Shimano hubs and others aren’t suitable for the relatively narrow dropout spacing of vintage bikes (125mm OLD). This combination should give me a lot more flexibility in setting up the bike for greater comfort, and make it practical for commuting. I’ve bought a couple of 27 x 1 1/4 wheels, which is the size the frame was originally designed to accomodate, and I’ll rebuild the back one with the new hub – that was a cheaper option that buying a pair of rims, a front hub and all new spokes.

The bike in 5-speed form will appear here soon….if all goes well.

The problem with fixies – they’re much too complicated

Advocates of fixies and other single-speed bicycles point to their glorious simplicity. No shifters, no derailleurs, no mysterious inner workings in hub gears. Sometimes, they don’t even fit brakes. But even the most stripped down fixie can’t match the sleek lines and minimal number of components of this wonderful machine, which was recently auctioned on eBay.

Velocipede

This Scottish-made velocipede would make an excellent winter trainer – there’s very little to go wrong

I can’t remember the name of the Scottish manufacturer but I believe the velocipede, draisine, or bone-shaker (a multiplicity of terms were used to describe these early bicycles) dates from around 1860. That’s well before the emergence of the car, and before speed limits of 4 miles per hour were imposed to protect pedestrians from the dangers of motorised transportation. Admire the sheer simplicity: 16 spokes per wheel, but no spoke nipples, hub bearings, inner tubes (with valves), tyres, or any of the other unnecessary extras found on the modern bicycle. By comparison, even the simplest fixie is a monumental piece of engineering complexity. Incidentally, the velocipede fetched £5400, a lot of money for a winter trainer, you might think. I wonder where you’d put the DI2 electronic shifters?

My first wheel build…slow but not painful

For a long time I’ve seen wheelbuilding as a bit of black art, and it’s a view shared by quite a few other cyclists I know. I’ve always wanted to acquire the skill, not least because it will enable me to build custom wheels for some of my projects. For example, having recently spotted a great looking Bob Jackson restoration on the Spindles and Sprockets community project website, I decided that a 5-speed Sturmey Archer hub on a 27-inch wheel would be ideal for my restored 1948 A.S. Gillott frame.

The "Sprockets and Spindles" community bike project in Corsham, Wiltshire, made a great job of restoring this Bob Jackson frame, which was rescued from a skip.

The “Sprockets and Spindles” community bike project in Corsham, Wiltshire, made a great job of restoring this Bob Jackson frame, which was rescued from a skip. It uses a Sturmey Archer 5-speed hub and has beautifully clean lines.

But you can’t buy one off-the-shelf so I concluded that I would prefer to build the wheel, rather than keep running back and forth to my local bike shop and paying £40 labour, plus parts, to have one made up.

I’ve considered going on courses; they seem to run for anything from one to three days. Surely anything that can be learnt, if not mastered, in such a short time cannot be that hard to teach yourself? So, having looked at several YouTube videos, read Sheldon Brown’s advice and then discovered “The Professional Guide to Wheelbuilding”, reviewed in yesterday’s post, I set about building my first wheel. Spoke lengths were calculated using this online tool. I made up a nipple driver from a piece of 6mm diameter aluminium rod that was lying around in the garage. (The book suggests bending and filing a screwdriver but mine is simpler and works perfectly well.)

I then started the project with an old, cleaned-up Campag Record hub and a vintage Mavic rim. This was my first mistake – ignoring the advice in the book  that it’s best to start with a new rim because then you know there are no problems with it. I built up the wheel with the correct length spokes, tightened the spokes as instructed, popped the wheel into the truing stand and it wobbled like a very, very wobbly thing. In all directions. I stripped it down again. The rim was far from flat and circular.

I didn’t have a spare rim but I did have a new Weinmann XR18 rim on a wheel with a pretty rough hub, the roughness caused by an earlier unsuccessful experiment in swapping axles. I stripped down the wheel to harvest the rim. Here’s another really valuable piece of advice from the book – don’t believe all the published measurements for wheel components, particularly the effective rim diameter (ERD) of rims, which is a critical measurement for calculating spoke length. I found an online reference to the XR18 having a 615mm ERD, then measured it as 610mm, using a simple homemade tool, described in the book.

Wheel

My first completed wheel build, complete with self-congratulatory glass of Bordeaux!

There is accurate online information on this too, but if I’d believed the first reference I found, I would have started building the wheel with spokes that were too long. Despite being a bit weary after my initial efforts on Saturday evening, I started building the wheel with the Weinmann rim. As I came to insert the last spoke into the rim, I realised there was no hole positioned to receive it. Somewhere along the way I had gone wrong, and I still don’t know where. Another lesson learned: don’t try to build a wheel when you’re tired – you’ll probably rush it and screw up.

The following morning, I took the wheel apart then, after about an hour, I had it re-laced and the spokes tightened evenly. It took another hour to get the wheel into its final shape, proving that building your first wheel is not rocket science, or a mysterious black art, but you do have to be methodical and patient – a bit like basket weaving, I guess. I’m looking forward to starting on the next one.

A brilliantly clear and concise guide to building wheels, and making the tools you need for the job

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had reservations about buying a book written by an author who describes himself as “one of the most respected professional wheelbuilders.” I went ahead anyway, downloading the £9 PDF version of “The Professional Guide to Wheelbuilding” by Roger Musson. And despite the confident-verging-on-arrogant tone in some places, this is a superb book for the novice wheelbuilder (i.e. me) and probably a very useful one for those more experienced in the craft.

Professional Guide to Wheelbuilding

A superb book for the novice wheel builder

Roger Musson doesn’t just describe how to build wheels but also gives detailed instruction for making most of the tools that you need for the task. I’m not sure I would have built his wheel truing stand. The potential for swearing due to my limited DIY skills probably made purchasing a ready-made one the right decision. But I would have made the dishing tool (saving £40) – that looks very simple, and I did make a rather simpler version of the nipple driver described in the book.

This really is a detailed guide that takes you through the process from start to finish. If you have  computer or iPad, I’d recommend the PDF version over the printed page. The PDF is quite high resolution, which means that you can zoom into the diagrams without losing details – something that very useful in some places. If you prefer paper, you can always print the pages that are most useful. The book is not only supremely practical, it also does into the theory of calculating spoke lengths and the author has a very good, simple tool for this on his web site. Amongst the very useful tips is to measure everything and not take the manufacturer’s data, or any other published information, as being accurate when you start to build a wheel. As I built my first wheel this weekend, that advice was invaluable. Highly recommended.

Get your free bicycle wheels, and other parts, here

As I’ve come to understand more about bikes over the last few years, I’ve learned a few things, usually the hard way. I found out that vintage bikes are fantastic value for money and really not that much different to ride than modern ones, especially if you get one with a good Reynolds 531 or Columbus SL steel frame. Whilst riding L’Eroica last year I cycled alongside one guy who had rescued his bike from a skip and another who’d bought his for £10 on eBay. It’s always possible to find a very respectable, sometimes vintage, 1970s, 80s or 90s bicycle online for £100 to £200, often less, and these bicycles will never depreciate. Pay that kind of money for a new bike and you have something that will not only be heavy and horrible to ride, but that will depreciate to almost nothing  within a year. As I’ve come to know more about bikes, I’ve moved from maintaining them to building them.

Bike parts

If you do by a bike just to get a pair of wheels, there’s always the temptation to start hoarding parts for future projects.

I like nothing better than to get hold of nice old frame then search out the parts to make up a new-old bike to add to my collection. But here’s an expensive lesson. If you buy individual components, even second hand ones, you end up paying a lot of money for the bike – far more than it’s worth after it’s been lovingly assembled. Fortunately, the solution is pretty simple. When you want a pair of wheels, or other parts for that matter, buy a complete bike. Strip it down for the parts you need then sell the remaining ones individually. That way, you’ll get the wheels free, and perhaps make a profit. Of course, the temptation is then to hang onto the frame and other parts of the second bike, and start going through the process all over again. It’s probably safest to buy a bike that you don’t like.

Classic bike ride in Italy, L’Eroica, changes entry rules – be sure to register in time

The timing of applications and entry rules for one of Europe’s classic and most popular cycling events, L’Eroica, have changed this year. Instead of applications opening during March on a first-come, first-served basis, the applications open on January 21st and initially close on March 3rd when a draw will be held to select participants for this year’s vintage bike extravaganza. It takes place in Tuscany, Italy, over the weekend of 5th and 6th October, the rides being on the 6th. It’s a phenomenal event and I’ll be heading over for the 75km ride this year, having staggered around the 205km one in 2012.

I arrive relieved and exhausted at the end of the L'Eroica 205km ride in 2012. Gary Smith from Yorkshire in the background checking he has all the stamps on his card. Thanks to Gary's brother for the photo - not at my best!

I arrive relieved and exhausted at the end of the L’Eroica 205km ride in 2012. Gary Smith from Yorkshire in the background checking he has all the stamps on his card. Thanks to Gary’s brother for the photo – not at my best!

It’s really not worth taking on the challenges of the long rides unless you want to prove something to yourself (or others) because the shorter rides leave you with a lot more time to soak up the atmosphere and go shopping for bikes and bits. You can download this year’s rules here. The notable exceptions to the entry draw are that anyone over 60 is guaranteed a place, as are “women of any age”. Sounds like a Silvio Berlusconi party!

Check out some of the videos on YouTube to get an idea of the charisma and charm of this event – there really is nothing else like it.

“You can’t really mess anything up by building your own wheel” – thebiketube

I’ve wanted to build my own wheels for some time but have been reluctant to take the plunge. It’s not that I don’t have the patience, or the time to do it, it’s just that my DIY track record is, well, variable. But I want to be able to build wheels because of the flexibility it gives me to experiment more with my bikes…. swapping out derailleurs for hub gears, trying my favourite hubs on different rims… you know the kind of thing.  The other factor is that it’s pretty much impossible to buy a 27-inch wheel for an old bike with 120mm dropouts that will have the correct dishing to fit a 5 or 6-speed freewheel. When they do take a screw-on freewheel, modern 700C wheels seem to be designed for the single-speed brigade.

I’ve considered taking a wheel building course but don’t really want to give up a day or more for something that really shouldn’t be that complicated. Some of the YouTube videos are pretty clear, Sheldon Brown’s web site gives quite detailed instructions, and this book looked like good value at £9, so I bought it (even though I was a little nervous about buying from an author who describes himself as “one of the most respected professional wheelbuilders.”) I’ll post a review of the book when I’ve found out if it works.

My first wheel build will use an old Campagnolo small-flange hub and a 700C Mavic G40 rim. I originally bought it as a complete wheel on eBay but I couldn’t get it perfectly true because the spoke nipples kept rounding off as I tried to turn them; they’ve seized to the spokes. I managed to remove a couple of spokes without damaging them (one from the drive side and one from the other side) and simply measured them to determine the lengths needed – there’s about 2mm difference between them.

Bicycle wheel

A leap in the dark – my first wheel build will actually be a rebuild of this Campy hub and Mavic G40 rim

Winstanley Bikes seemed to have a great range of spokes. (The biggest online bike retailers don’t come close.) I registered with them for the first time earlier today and placed my order. One hour and 35 minutes later, I had an email confirming that the spokes and spoke nipples has been sent by Royal Mail First Class. That’s great service…they might even be here tomorrow.

If thebiketube says, “You can’t really mess anything up by building your own wheel”, how tough can it be?  I’ll let you know…..

Chook’s rescue bike is equipped for any eventuality

Yesterday, New Year’s Eve, at Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia, I witnessed one of the most heavily laden bikes I’ve seen in a long time. Dressed in full fireman’s gear (despite the 30 degrees C temperature), “Chook” (real name Anthony) volunteered for duty on his Ricardo bike to protect party goers against something…..although I’m not sure quite what. The bike appeared to be equipped with at least two fire extinguishers, various fire blankets, a long handled broom, emergency medical kits, a two way radio, multiple flashing lights and heaven knows what else.

Chook, Sydney, Australia

Fireman “Chook” fully equipped to rescue party-goers from danger in Darling Harbour, Sydney on New Year’s Eve 2012

I had a few words with Chook, who described himself as a disabled volunteer for various organisations, including the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. It just goes to show how much you can pack onto a bike if you try, and that lycra is not always the most appropriate clothing for the job at hand.

December 2012: two British giants of bicycle design and manufacture died this month

December 2012 has been a sad month for those who admire great bicycle design and manufacturing. Dr. Alex Moulton passed away on December 9th at the age of 92. The Moulton Bicycle Company that he built is in Bradford-on-Avon, Wilthshire, less than 3 miles from where I live. The company’s success is based on the revolutionary small-wheel, full suspension Moulton bicycle. Originally a rather utilitarian design popularised in the 1960s, a Moulton AM7 model was ridden to a speed of 51.29 mph over 200m at the 3rd International HPV Scientific Symposium in 1986 – a new World Unpaced Cycling Record. Moulton bicycles still enjoy an enthusiastic following throughout the world and the top model costs over £14,000.

New Series Double Pylon Moulton

Perhaps the pinnacle of Dr. Alex’s Moulton’s bicycle design genius: the New Series Double Pylon

Alex Moulton was first and foremost a brilliant engineer whose collaboration with Sir Alec Issigonis led to the development of Moulton suspension, including ‘Hydrolastic’ and ‘Hydragas’ systems that were adopted for several British cars, perhaps most famously the original Mini. Here’s the BBC New video reporting Alex Moulton’s passing.

Just 3 days after Alex Moulton’s death, Ron Cooper, master bicycle frame builder died. Born in 1932, Cooper, who raced bicycles in his youth, originally built frames for A.S. Gillott but left the firm in 1967 and started building frames under his own name.

Ron Cooper bike

This touring bike may have been based on the the last frame built under Ron Cooper’s direction, according to the eBay advertiser selling it in December 2012

He believed that free hand brazing, done without the use of a jig, produces a better frame and his reputation for making great frames spread far and wide. By 1979 over half of Ron Cooper’s frames were sold to customers in the US. His workshop was most recently located in Deptford (S.E.London).