Iconic English sports car company, Morgan Motors, has jumped on the popular cycling bandwagon by announcing a limited edition bicycle of its own – the Morgan Two. The two-speed bike weighs a bulky 15kg or so, has a Brooks saddle, handlebars and saddlebag, and uses a Shimano Tiagra front caliper brake to complement the Sturmey duo-matic hub with pedal brake on the back. According to the web site, “The special edition revolves around cromoly 4130 double butted steel frame manufactured by Foffa of London, which makes it sturdy on the roads and at the same time light as steel can get.” Clearly, they don’t know about Reynolds 953, and wouldn’t it be nice if they could spell ‘chromoloy’ correctly?
Looking the spec, this is a totally unremarkable bike which, at £1196.40 is expensive. In fact, the only remarkable thing about this bicycle is the over-inflated price. This is just one example of a far better machine at half the price. Alright, the Morgan Two is being produced as a limited edition of 50, but you’d need a very limited knowledge of what makes a worthwhile bike to spend your hard-earned cash on this one.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This US book, subtitled “The DIY Guide to Building, Rebuilding, Tinkering with, and Repairing Your Bicycle for City Living” (perhaps a record length for a subtitle?) is the most comprehensive I’ve read on the subject. If you’re an experienced cyclist the first few chapters are going to seem very basic and mundane as they carefully describe the different types of bicycle, where they came from and what’s suitable for what. All but the most knowledgable of us will find something new here though in a book that’s as clearly and simply written as it is informative. With chapters that cover choosing your bike, city riding, cycling attire, bicycle customisation and even how to go on a cycling date or holiday, it’s the most comprehensive book I’ve found that’s entirely dedicated to bikes and cycling. It will be particularly useful to those who want to encourage friends or family to take up cycling because it provides a gentle introduction to the subject and explains any cycling jargon as it goes along. Easy to read and a mine of information. Even at a rather pricey £9.78 for the Kindle edition, I recommend it.
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.
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…..
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.
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.
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).
Ellie Bennett’s book is subtitled “Cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats (via the pub)” and really is more about pubs and beer than cycling or bikes. In fact, having read if from cover to cover (if you can do such a thing on a Kindle) I’m still not sure what kind of bike she was riding. The book is easy reading. It has the usual complaints about hills, rain and headwinds but is full of very interesting historical stuff about the places that Ellie and her companion Mick pass through or visit along the way.
My only reservation is that the style sometimes seems to change very abruptly between the general narrative and descriptions of places or events. It feels like chunks of it have come from from tourist guides or history books before Ellie drops back into her own easy-going writing again.
The beer bibliography is extensive; how she managed to complete the journey with so much drinking along the way is baffling. The book shows that even if you’re 50-plus, and perhaps not in peak condition, you can still achieve, and enjoy, great bike rides in the UK. (I’ll correct this post in due course if Scotland votes for independence; if that happens, it might be a nice challenge to be first to complete the Land’s End to John O’Groats run through two independent states!)
In a very imaginative brand extension, New York’s Cooper Spirits International LLC, which owns the St Germain French drinks brand, is selling a single-speed bicycle complete with bottle holder on the crossbar and a free bottle of the firm’s sweet spirit drink. The $1000 steel-framed bike, which is described as a ‘limited edition’ (although no numbers are quoted by the company) uses a coaster brake and combines combines clean, classic looks with some nice bits from Brooks, North Road and Michelin.
Choose a medium (20 inch) or large (23 inch) frame in any colour you like, so long as it’s navy blue.