Wednesday, August 14, 2013

One of my 2-Wheelers

In a comment on Martha's blog post about her "Other Wheels", I mentioned something about my old touring bicycle. She wanted to hear more about it. Back in 1976, I decided to get a new bicycle that could take me anywhere in the world. I looked into getting a custom frame made but they were a bit pricy. The owner of the local bicycle shop, who also happened to own a tandem bicycle manufacturing business, suggested ordering a bare frame made by a new company he heard good things of. That company was Trek. Back then, their first year, they only made frames not complete bicycles. I had the shop order a bare frame and his tandem shop did the braze-ons and paint (Honda green metallic using Dupont Imron).

This is the result, double butted chromoly tubing for light weight but plenty of strength at the joints. braze-on fittings for cantilever brakes, rear rack, fender eyelets, down tube shifters, cable guides and a water bottle cage. The weight of the completed bike including racks and sturdy wheels is 27 lbs. I removed the front rack since I am not doing any touring.

While the waiting for delivery from Trek, I started to accumulate components for the build. Some of them shown here are updated components from the original build. Back then, triple chainrings were unusual and I wanted a very low first gear. The small chainring on the Avocet crank is only 24 teeth. It is attached to a Phil Wood sealed bearing bottom bracket. The original TA triple crank was sold or traded. The Campagnolo steel cage pedals have been replaced with generic Japanese sealed bearing units.

The freewheel is an Ultra-6 and back then, you could have the bike shop build a freewheel anyway you want. To go with the 48 and 52 tooth chainrings, I managed to build up one with only a few overlapping gears. The rear derailleur is a Campagnolo Rally, one of the few available that could wrap up enough chain for the 24 tooth front chainring. The two larger gears in this freewheel are 28 and 32 teeth so the two lowest gears are less than one-to-one. Suitable for climbing just about anything. The first derailleur I installed (I think) was a Huret Duopar which was a great design and shifted much smoother but it wasn't made to last as the pivots became really loose and sloppy within 10K miles.

This is obviously not the original freewheel as, on a motorcycle, the gears wear out as the chain stretches. The idler gears are also sealed bearings.

This photo shows some of the braze-ons for the rear brakes and rack. These days, cantilever brakes are fairly common but in the mid-70s, you only found them on tandems, at least in the US. These are updated brakes replacing the original Mafac brakes. The wheels are somewhat unique. They are 700C aluminum rims laced with 48 stainless spokes (36 spokes is the norm) to Phil Wood sealed bearing hubs in a five cross pattern. Meaning each spoke goes across five other spokes. Three cross was the norm. More spokes and more crossing reduces the tension on any individual spoke lowering the probability of spokes breaking on rough roads. The downside is that the wheels are heavier as there are more, longer spokes and the wheels are more flexible. More flexible wheels reduce the efficiency as some of your effort just flexes the wheel instead of moving you forward. The strategy must work as I've never had a spoke break on these wheels and they still run true. This was the standard wheel for custom tandems back then though they used a longer axle to give you the option of running a disc brake on the rear wheel.

I tried a couple of saddles before settling on a classic Brooks leather with copper rivets. No padding and it takes thousands of mile to break one in but once it does, it is very comfortable. I've put in many 100+ mile days with this seat. In this picture, you can also see the top of the old plastic Silca tire pump which fits into the frame opening, no clips needed. It easily pumps up the tires to 100psi and was available for the presta tire valves which were the norm on high end bicycles. The Silca pump has had it's leather piston regreased many times and even after 37 years, works as as well now as when it was new.

Just a shot of the Phil Wood sealed bearing front wheel hub. At that time, sealed bearings were a real novelty on a bicycle, unlike now. Many cyclists didn't care for the stainless steel/aluminum industrial look of the Phil Wood hubs and preferred the more graceful Italian and Japanese alloy hubs. I wanted durability and strength. I built up a second set of lightweight wheels with 36 spokes, Campy hubs, and skinny tires that I used for commuting but gave them to a friend who needed a good set of wheels. Plus, I got tired of fixing flats everyday. Commuting on the streets of Los Angeles every day was hard on tires. Lots of potholes and broken glass.

Sealed bearings weren't available for the headset so I opted for one with tapered roller bearings. The original ball bearing model (name brand Italian headset) had hammered indentations into the races after only 10k miles and were replaced. I don't remember the manufacturer. Cinelli handlebars and stem. No complaints. This is the only nameplate on the bike and "Trek" is also cast into the lugs at the top of the rear stays below the seat. No decals anywhere except one identifying the type of steel used. The front brake braze-on cracked and needed to be re-brazed. I never bothered to repaint the front fork.

Rear hub showing the location for my speedometer pickup. The electronic gadget was a later addition and most of my mileage logs were from a Huret mechanical odometer on the front wheel driven by an "O" ring and pulley. This bicycle has logged well over 25K miles on it with many memorable trips.

Originally, I wanted to travel around North America and Europe with this bicycle but these days, I may just have to settle with the bike with an engine. Though I hear that New England in the Fall is especially nice.

Once I moved to Alaska, I sort of lost the passion for bicycle touring mostly due to the long winters. My first two winters, I attempted to stay in shape by riding rollers but very little effort after that until recently. I picked up a very lightly used Specialized Hard Rock mountain bike at a garage sale a few years ago. But that's another post....


  1. The Trek plate looks Art Deco! and gives your bike a very vintage look.

    Nice bike! Great leather saddle. You really used that bike, but it appears to be in excellent condition. It looks like you could take a long ride on it right now. Your original goal for touring is fabulous.

    I'm a fat tire fan. Maybe cyclo-cross, but I like riding trails. I envy your considerable street experience.

    1. Even in something as potentially mundane as a bicycle quality shines. I am not as impressed by anything quite so much as a 37 year old pump!

    2. I remember when the mountain bikes came out and one of them would have probably been a better choice. For trail riding, cyclo-cross was one way. I tried it but you ended up carrying the bike a lot.

      The bike still is in good condition and I would have no problem taking it on a long trip. Maybe some new tires.

    3. Conchscooter,
      Of course the pump still works well, it's Italian....

      Back then, most of the really good components came from Italy. The japanese components worked almost as well but didn't look as good.

  2. Wow, you still have your Trek from the 70's. Pretty cool.

    1. It doesn't get much use these days, unfortunately, especially since I started riding the motorcycle. In other words, getting the motorcycle has been bad for my health....