Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Time To Catch Up- Winter Projects

Only a few more weeks until the winter solstice. Yep, the days will start getting longer before we know it. Until then, we'll have to get on the bike at every opportunity and fill the long, dark hours as best we can.
For me, that usually means taking on some long-delayed projects. Some of those projects have a higher fun factor than others. Scraping out cracked grout from around our kitchen counters and replacing it with the proper caulk was a task that I had successfully delayed for more than a decade, but a recent rainy Sunday drove me to action. Other endeavors have included cleaning the chimney at our river house, having procrastinated since spring in calling a chimney sweep. The result was that I couldn't get a chimney service for weeks and, since we planned to spend Thanksgiving parked in front of the  fireplace,  I bought the tools and headed up a very tall borrowed extension ladder.

Preparing the tools for the job. The mighty 8" wire brush.
I know that "Chimney sweep" sounds like a glamour job, but I'm not so sure.
A more interesting project: The  1983 Trek 560
In 1983, my girlfriend decided that we needed road bikes, so I dutifully went to the bike shop of her choice and plunked down what seemed like a whole lot of money for the Trek 560 road bike. We were boaters and many of my paddling friends were actually athletes who excelled at such things as running and riding, while most of my non-whitewater pastimes were less ambitious and usually took place somewhere near beer.
In 1983, 419.00 bought Trek's next-to-the-top-of-line road bike, though I'm sure it was available with a Campy group upgrade.
This sleek beauty was built with double-butted Reynolds 501 tubing, and featured an Atom Helicomatic Freewheel. This was the first system that used a cassette cog system. Unfortunately, my research indicated that it was poorly engineered and executed, though the idea lived on.
I never really made it as a rider in the '80s. Riding back and forth on Rebsamen Park Road or circling Burns Park seemed to be my routes, and the occasional foray up Overlook was usually met with a hasty retreat. I was built for boating and aerobic exercise was not in my repertoire. In my defense, I will ask that you check out the gearing that was standard on this race machine. The 52-42 chainrings were matched with a 6-speed 13-24 cog set and a 170 MM crankset. Compare that to today's 50-34 compact rings and 11-speed cassettes that offer cogs up to 34 teeth, with 12-28 being common.
The frame was hand built in the USA, and the rest of the components were made in either France or in Japan. The group was SunTour Blueline, and Shimano was just starting to grow into favor. Campagnolo was the gear of choice among aficionados and my bike shorts had a real chamois leather chamois.
I've kept this bike for over 30 years. Every few years, I would air the tires and make another run at riding or I'd plant it on the trainer and spin for a couple of miserable sessions before returning the bike to a closet. That changed 10-years ago when I read an article about Orbea USA locating in North Little Rock that made note of its proximity to the River Trail. I decided to take the Trek out for a ride. I rode 10-miles that hot August day, never venturing more than a couple of miles from my truck, lest I needed to beat a hasty retreat. I went back the next day, and the next, and the next....
I ran into a neighbor, Darwin, who helped (and still helps) me learn a lot about the bike and about riding.
After a month or so, I decided that I needed a modern bike, so I headed to Bikeseller (aka:Competitive Cyclist) and bought a shiny new Cannondale. The Trek was once again relegated to storage, though it did see a short life as a single-speed. After spending years hanging on the JBar Bunker as a stripped down frame, a winter project brought it back to life.

The maiden ride of the "new" Trek 560.
I had most of a Shimano Ultegra 9-speed groupset in a box, having stored it when I converted the Cannondale to 10-speed. I picked up a pair of brakes and a Brooks professional saddle at the Biketoberfest swap meet, ordered a clamp-on cable stop to allow the STI shifters to be used in place of downtube shifters, and went to work. Vintage bike lovers may consider this a travesty, but I wanted to ride the bike in comfort and safety, while retaining some of the old school steel frame groove.
Ride report
I still have some minor fit issues to work out, but I can best describe the ride as silky smooth. The steel frame and fork soak up vibration and minor bumps, and the 9-speed Ultegra 5500 group shifts as flawlessly as ever. I really like this group. It has a very sure, smooth feel that can be described as "substantial". One component that I did not replace was the front derailleur. After shopping around for something to fit the 1 1/8" seat tube, I decided to just try to original SunTour. I had concerns about whether it would match the throw of the modern shifter or handle the 14-tooth drop of the 53-39 crankset, but after adjusting the limits, it works perfectly.
On the Brooks saddle
 I had heard horror stories about breaking in Brooks saddles.  I actually picked it up for my buddy Darwin, who swears by them, but I decided to give it a try myself so that I could make fun of them with more authority. I expected to suffer a bit and then hand it over to Darwin, but I found that it was pretty comfortable on the first ride. I had to be convinced of the requisite "nose up" positioning, but fear that I may become a convert.
The legendary comfort comes at a huge weight penalty. On modern high end bikes and components, you can count on spending about $10.00 for every gram of weight loss. At that rate, the Brooks diminishes the "weight value" of the bike by about $2000.00. As it sits now, the Trek weighs in at about 23lbs.

Other project bikes

Last year, I converted my 1986 Marin Pine Mountain all-steel mountain bike for use as a town bike.

The Mrin Pine Mountian dressed up for town.
I traded some lumber to my brother for this bike back in the late 80's. I decided that mountain biking was really hard and mostly used it to commute to my barn at Heber or to cruise with my young nephew. It was well-used but in pretty good shape. I started by replacing the knobbies with slicks, and replacing brake pads along with all of the cables and housings. A trip to Angry Dave's to get the wheels serviced and trued made the bike road ready. I installed a Topeak rear rack and bag system to add function. This generation of mountain bikes has a near road bike geometry, with wider forks and stays to accomodate fat tires, so the handling is very predictable and crisp on the road. The 3x6 gearing will get you up hills easily enough and the upright position is right for cruising. Panniers fold out of the trunk and will hold my yoga mat along with most anything else you might need to haul.
I made a similar conversion of my brother's old Klein, which is now doing duty in Fayetteville as our niece's commuter. 
I know that not everybody who rides wants to work on bikes, but I also know that a lot of riders have old bikes hanging in their garage that could be given new life with a little "repurposing". The classic steel frames may not rival the sex appeal of a sleek Euro-carbon race machine, but they can still add a lot of funk to a fuctional ride.

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