Friday, May 29, 2009

And so it begins in earnest...

On Memorial Day, I met Jerry Campora. Jerry is semi-retired, lives in the Pittsboro area, and is the one name on everyone's lips when I ask about refinishing a bicycle frame.

Jerry came down a few years ago from the Northeast, where he was a crane operator. On the side, he was learning how to media blast and powdercoat, two things he wanted to learn so he could work on hot rods, one of his hobbies.

Richard's Red Raleigh was done by Jerry, and the results were pretty spectacular. Several of the fellas at the Clean Machine and the Bicycle Chain had previously had bike parts blasted and powdercoated by Jerry, and all had good things to say.

I met Jerry in the morning, on a beautiful day. He came out and shook my hand, and we looked at my frame and forks. Jerry said they were in pretty good shape, and would need no bodywork. He took me through his shop, showed me examples of his work. The shop was spotless. The equipment was clean and ready to use. His examples? He pulled a fork down off the wall.

"This is just an old trash fork I powdercoated," he explained.

It looked better than new. Folks, there are brand new bikes sitting on showroom floors that didn't look as good as the finish on that fork. It was french blue, with a high shine. The lugged fork crown was in stark relief; not too thick, not too thin. Just perfect. I was sold on Jerry's skills.

We dug out the color samples, and looked through them. I had decided, after seeing a particularly nice Rene Herse porteur online, that I was going to go as classic as possible, without going black. I went with a medium, non-metallic gloss grey. It's close to what you might call a 'flannel grey'. I also asked him to grind off the old cable guides, as I would not be needing them on a single speed bike.

(A Rene Herse Porteur from the mid-1950's. Classic.)

Jerry assured me he could give me an excellent finish on the frame and fork, and that all the un-coated areas would be kept pristine. We shook hands, and I left my baby in his capable hands.

The price was reasonable, and within my budget. I'm quite glad, because for the level of work Jerry was showing me, I had expected to pay a bit more. This will likely be the most expensive single part of my rebuild, and I want it done right.

Jerry called the next day to say the powder was ordered, and everything was on schedule. He was beginning prep work. I like Jerry, he answers calls and asks questions. If he says something is so, it will be so. That's how business should be done.

When he was prepping the frame, and preparing to grind off the old cable guides, Jerry noticed that the guides had been welded in such a way that grinding them off might grind into the frame. Instead of taking a chance, he called me, and recommended leaving them in place and coating them. I agreed.

The finished powdercoating should be back in my hands next week! I am a bit excited about this. I have moved out of the deconstruction, and into the re-construction! This makes me happy.

Future plans for the frame and forks include having the lugs all relief-pinstriped, and having old-style 1940's script logos painted on in the proper locations. Photos will be in the offing.

*does the happy-snoopy dance*

Save Our Parts! (They may be important!)

Ah, the joys of restoring a machine not made in this country.

So the French have a particular way of doing... well, just about everything. In the case of bikes, they have, until recently, been of a mind to do things their own way, and not anyone else's. What this means is that French bikes are notoriously difficult to get parts for.

Example: Most all the world makes their bottom brackets such that the right retaining cup screws and un-screws in the standard fasion (lefty loosey righty tighty) while the left retaining cup is reverse threaded. The reason for doing this is that the forward motion of the left crank has a tendency to loosen the left cup were it threaded the normal way. It's a simple solution to the problem.

The French couldn't be buggered to do that. They just made both retaining cups standard threading, and then tightened them down really tightly.

To be fair, if you use a bit of loc-tite, this is usually never a problem. However, since old French bikes used loose-bearing bottom brackets, instead of the modern sealed bearing brackets... it made them notoriously tetchy to work on, and no one made a viable replacement.

Until a few years back, when Phil Wood & Co. began making sealed hubs with available French-Threaded retaining cups. Now, let me just say, up front: Phil makes a freaking fantastic product. Basically, everything in their catalog is top-quality, outstanding manufacture, fit and finish. No one is better. Period. Now, that being said, they are freaking expensive compared with most other parts manufacturers. I will be getting a bottom bracket and cups from Phil Wood, but even with a discount, they will NOT be cheap.

Other French foibles include, apparently, the stem size. Most bikes which use a quill-type stem (like the Nitto Technomic I'm getting) use a standard 1-inch diameter fork steering tube. The French? Oh, they don't believe in inches, apparently. Older French steering tubes are just a tiny bit smaller. Less than 1/16th of an inch, but enough to keep the standard quill from inserting. And the REALLY old French designs used a different threading on their steering tubes, meaning one has to buy a French-specific headset.

Keep in mind, I threw my original stem, headset and bottom bracket bits away. They were shot.

I don't yet know if my fork steering tube is this foible-icious or not. I know the headset threading is standard, however, so I have hope that a standard quill will also fit. The changeover for these parts happened much earlier in time than the fix for the bottom-bracket issue. I'll check the fit when I get the forks back. More on that in a future post.

On an up note, I got the parts I'm saving and re-using cleaned last evening. The kind folks at The Clean Machine (the shop I once worked at) let me use their parts washer for an hour, with the really wickedly unhealthy degreasing/cleaning solution. (But man-oh-man the stuff works.) My parts are now pretty and prepped and ready for re-installation when the time comes. Chainrings, chainring guard, cranks, brakes and sundry small parts have been dipped and scrubbed clean, and await re-installation.

*Red grins* MMmmmm... shiiiiny. (^_^)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Picking Parts

(Above: Gentleman's Bike from Velo Orange)

So, now I had a direction, but what to actually DO was a daunting list. I needed to decide what parts I would want to use to achieve the look I had in mind, and also decide on a color scheme.

Fortunately, working for a chain of bike shops has many advantages here. I have a load of catalogs to look through, and easy access to special ordering. Even still, I ended up finding a lot of things I wanted online. The internet has been a source of not just inspiration, but fulfillment of those ideas in the form of bits.

I need a new stem, bars, cables, brake levers, hubs, rims, chain, freewheel, seatpost, seat, fenders... anything I can't get through the store, I find on one of my favorite classic bike parts dealers' websites. I've linked several of my favorite spots on the right-hand column.

I have to say, I plan on purchasing a number of hard-to-find parts from Velo Orange. No one else has taken the time and effort to create bars and racks and fenders, or source hard-to-find inverse levers, or round up lighting systems and accompanying hardware quite like the folks there in Annapolis.

Harris Cyclery will likely be supplying my hubs, and perhaps a few other small bits and bobs. Rims, stem, chain, seat and seatpost I'll be getting through Clean Machine, along with cables and cable housings for my brakes, and brake pads.

I found a lot of fenders out there, and have yet to decide between a classic alloy, or the sweet, warm novelty of steam-bent wood!

Then the big question of finish: what color to pick? Initially I wanted red... and then I met Richard, a local tattoo artist who rolls on a simply gorgeous Raleigh 3-speed with rod brakes... in a delicious fire engine red. If you've seen Richard rolling down Rosemary Street, you know what I'm talking about. Yes, the bike with the built-in bottle-opener on the seat downtube. I decided red was a bit too... easy for this build. I wanted something classy, but also... different. How about green? Blue? Black? None of them seemed right.

Then I got a look at an original Peugeot Porteur from the 1950's, still in its original paint... and it hit me.

It's ALL about the subtleties. You'll see.


One of the most difficult parts of this project has been the direction I want to take it in. You see, the direction has changed several times throughout the course of the project.

Initially, I was interested in a restoration to basically stock, but switching to fixed gear. Then it was a full-custom track-style fixie. I worked in a bike shop, it was all the rage... and the bikes just looked so darned cool, man.

However, as I thought more about it, I realized... this type of bike didn't fit my riding style. The older I get, the less interested I am in going fast, you see. I don't want to lean forward on my bike anymore... I want to sit more upright. I want to take lazy jaunts down country lanes in the crisp autumn air. I want to take a picnic basket along with me, and maybe a small thermos of fine ginger ale.

I started looking further into the past for inspiration, back to a time when gentlemen riders pedalled slowly, to work and back, or down a country lane on a weekend day, unhurriedly in search of what was around the next bend. A time when racing wasn't the raison d'etre of cycling... quite the opposite.

I found an interesting article about a type of bicycle long forgotten by most modern people: The Porteur.

Porteur bikes are bikes built to carry loads, in the most basic sense. The classic Porteur bike has a large front rack, fenders (mudguards) providing full coverage of the wheels, a low-mounted seat, and handlebars mounted to allow the rider a more upright position.

This style of bike was wildly popular for french companies like Peugeot, who had a Porteur in their lineup from the 1920's up through the 1950's.

Every major bicycle manufacturer on the European Continent had a bike for this segment. They were work bikes, designed to carry loads, and were wildly popular in the narrow streets of European towns. Bakers, butchers, tinkers, salesmen, paperboys, policemen, postmen.... they all used the porteur. In Paris, there was a famous rivalry among the newspaper delivery porteurs. Each vied to get their paper to the news stands first. So intense was the rivalry that, starting in the late 1920's, an official Porteur Race was held yearly in the streets of Paris!

Here was inspiration! A bike meant for riding everyday, with a heavy sprung seat, upright riding position, full fenders, and a proud, classic tradition. If I could make a good imitation of this style, simplifying along the way when possible, I could end up with a beautiful bike which was both comfortable and practical.

I found a number of similarities with the City Bike, a catch-all term used to refer to a (usually) 3-speed gentleman's bike for riding about town.

This bike was constructed at Velo Orange. It is based on City Bikes and Porteur Bikes, with a distinctly French flair. This was a direction I could get behind. Elegance, practicality... I now had my vision.

No racing for Red. I want a mode of transport. I want an everyday conveyance... with style.

Disassembly, research and discovery!

For those of you keeping track, I am posting a fair number of posts here in rapid succession. This will likely be the case until I am caught up to where I am currently in the rebuild process.

When I received the bike from Lefty and Isus, I was working in a bike shop in Carrboro. Which meant I had access to the Shop area, and the tools therein. (A huge boon for a rebuild!) The kind folks that run the shop, as well as the mechanics, welcomed me to begin my project by taking the bike apart.

What happened next was a three-hour adventure in rust, grease, and loose ball bearings.

For those of you not familiar with North Carolina, we have a lot of red clay here in our soil. A LOT OF RED CLAY. Which permeates most anything left outdoors after a period of time. Friends, when I opened up the bottom bracket, the grease was reddish-orange, caked and clotted, and the ball bearings were sealed in the death-grip of the stuff.

As I went through the parts, I kept a running list in my head of what looked salvageable, and what did not. Little did I know how important some things were going to become later, especially given the french construction of this bike.

The wheels were shot. The rims and hubs were both rusted, and one rim was slightly bent. The bars were almost solidified to the stem, and the bar wrap refused to come completely off without the threat of fire. The cables were caught in their housings. The rear derailleur was in working order, but of course, I had already decided to go single-speed with the rebuild. The cranks were Stronglight TS models, quite good quality, and still in very nice shape. I'll be reusing them. The pedals were alright, french Lyotard 136 touring pedals. I kept them, but was undecided on if I'd use them. The seat & seat post went in the bin. I knew I would be replacing the seat with some variety of Brooks leather saddle. The brakes were Swiss-made Weinmann center-pull brakes, complete and in working order, so I'll be keeping them. The shifters were Simplex, and in good working order, but I won't need them. (I kept them for possible resale.)

After much haranguing, I was able to get the stem, bars and headset off. Luckily, the fork steerer is the slotted AND threaded type, allowing me to use pretty much any one-inch headset I want; the bearings and races were loose, and I will replace them with sealed bearings when I rebuild the front end.

Overall, I threw a lot away. I kept the frame, fork, cranks, pedals, chainrings, brakes, and some other small fittings which were still in good shape. I was able to safely remove the near-pristine headbadge. I was sad to lose the wheels, but there was nothing for it. One of the mechanics said he would happily lace up a new set for me on the cheap, if I provided the rims and hubs.

During this time, I had also done some research. Thanks to the kind folks at Retro Peugeot, I discovered that the bike in my hands was a 1978 UO-8 Touring model. It was made with Peugeot Lightweight Steel (usually Reynolds 501) which is generally well-regarded by restorers and builders. The geometry of the bike, especially the trail and shape of the forks, was a typical French design intended for carrying weight, and rolling smoothly, as well as making steering easy. The bike was originally silver metallic. As of this writing, the remaining parts are in my car, awaiting cleaning and polishing.

A design theme was coming together in my noggin. I wanted something classic, that rode upright, and would carry my groceries. Something that would make a statement, but also be a practical, all-purpose around-town bike. And thankfully, History had an answer for me. More on that in coming posts!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

First Post! Re-Cycling is underway!

I'm starting this blog primarily as a way to document my first bike rebuild. Last fall, my good friends Lefty and Isus were getting ready to move. They had to clean out the shed, and one of the larger items therein was Lefty's old 10-speed, a relic from when he went off to college, fresh-faced, with the idea of zipping around campus on his trusty steel steed.

Years had not been totally kind to his fondly-remembered bicycle, however. After arranging to pick up what Lefty referred to as "the Peugeot", I went by their place late one evening to find the bike waiting for me on the back porch, per instructions left earlier that day by Isus.

It was a bicycle. That was about all that could be said for it, in reality.

Upon closer inspection the next day, I could tell that, indeed, the bike was a Peugeot, did have a lugged steel frame, and would be large enough for me. (Important, that, as I stand a bit over 6-foot-2.)

It was a french-built 10-speed with Simplex shifters mounted on the stem. The bike had been painted with a spraycan when Lefty bought it. It was red. There was rust, and pitted chrome. There was a chewed-up seat, and vinyl bar-tape. There were wheels, and they rolled. It had tires, flattened through disuse and age.

There were good elements and bad. Rust was present on the hubs, the stem was banged up and creased. But the frame and forks seemed straight and solid, which meant I could certainly use it as the basis for a custom rebuild.

I just had to decide what to keep and what to discard. I also needed more information on the bike. Research needed doing, and I needed to pick a path for the rebuild.