Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Road Bike/Fixie/Frankenbike - Oh The Possibilities

I bought a used bike yesterday. It's a department store Raleigh road bike from the early 90's I paid $40 for. My main bike is my absolutely wonderful 1971 Raleigh Superbe, however I wanted to see what I was missing. Don't worry...I have a plan.

The Bike: The bike has its pros and cons.  Cons: It's a Canadian built Raleigh with no model name printed on it. I take this to mean bottom of the line of its day. It has safety levers on the brakes, steering tube shift levers, a kick stand, and no Reynolds tubing sticker. The internet told me those were the marks of a department store bike. On the other hand, it's got some nice aspects. Pros: it fits me very well. It has aftermarket cranks and pedals which seem pretty nice. The rear derailleur (the front is out of adjustment and I've not fixed it yet) shifts extremely nicely, and with the exception of a front brake cable and a too-short seat post it is in ride-away condition. Also, for what it's worth, the rear brake cable is routed through the top-tube. I'm not sure how light it is in the grand scheme of bikes—it's all steel—but it's about half the weight if not less of my Superbe. All in all, I have a quite rideable bike with road-bike geometry for about fifty bucks.

The Plan: My main bike is my Superbe. I love that thing. I was going to write a long explanation as to why. Instead I've decided to do a dedicated blog entry as to why it's so great. In place of that, let me assure you it's remaining the #1 bike. On the other hand I've been craving a bike to screw around with that I don't have to worry about screwing up. This is yet another reason as to why having a lower end department store bike is a plus. This way I will have a bike I could ride in salty conditions or try my hand at weird modifications if I like without hurting my beloved Superbe.

Phase One, Road Bike: The Superbe weighs 40 lbs without the half full panier of tricks I carry around everywhere with me. It has those old middle-sized 55psi tires with a largish contact patch. It has a dynohub. It is in need of wheel-bearing replacement (will happen when the snow comes and I go to replace the rims with nice aluminium (British bike) ones). The riding position is a non-aerodynamic upright. Long story short: it has higher than average rolling resistance. On top of that, while the three speed hub is good for most riding, the low gear is really too high for really steep hills and extended grades. A couple weeks ago my cousin and I went for a ride that began with crossing this bridge (above). Total rise and fall back to bay level is about a kilometre. I'm not sure how tall it is but it's tall enough. My cousin on his new Trek Soho with 8 Speed Nexus hub had no problem speeding up the bridge (crank spinning wildly) and left me groaning and whining the whole way up. He's in better shape than I am but my low gear was simply not low enough and it pretty much wrecked me for the rest of the ride.

What I mean to say is that I'm aware the Superbe has its limitations. What I'd like to know is what impact those limitations have. My plan is to ride around the new road bike for a couple of weeks—with high pressure tires, more efficient geometry, half the weight, and more efficient chain line—making sure I do some of the same routes I've done on the Superbe in order to see what the difference actually is.

Phase Two, Fixie Conversion: This bike is an ideal bike for an intro fixie conversion. I'm not ruining a classic. It's lightish. It has reasonably quality components. The idea of a fixie has been eating at me all summer. I have no idea if I'd like it but I'm aware it'll take a bit of riding to get used to it and I'm not willing to spend a few hundred dollars on something I could very well hate.

There are a few reasons I'm really into the idea of a fixie. First, it strikes me as the essence of simple and efficient biking. There are no frills. Surely those frills are quite useful and I'm a big fan of them but there's something about a machine that is just absolutely simple. No fiddling with derailleurs, very few cables hanging around, no lost efficiency, no clicking. Just a pure bike. Second, I like the idea of a bike that will force you to be artful in your riding and force good habits. With no gears to rely on, you need to choose a riding line that will get you up hills or around corners with minimum loss of efficiency. On top of that, you must always pedal. No coasting. Hopefully it will teach me better riding habits for when I am riding my Superbe and build muscles that I would otherwise not.

Optional Phase Three, Interesting Creation: I've had the itch to build a bike for a while. I have a vision in my mind that I would very much like to see come to fruition. If I do not like the fixie idea (or if I like it A LOT) this frame will be destined to this dream. I'm somewhat inspired by the Superbe. I am imagining all new components, 700c tires on new aluminum rims, internal gear rear hub, front generator hub with retro chrome LED powered light, inverted (to create a bit of a drop) north road handlebars, brooks saddle, simple black paint, and bent-wood laminated chain guard and fenders. We'll see how that goes though, as it'll add up to a few bucks that I won't have for a while.

So that's my story. Hopefully it's a project that won't take too much time. So far the only things I need are a new brake cable and a longer seat post. I'm debating a longer stem and clips or straps but we'll see. When the fixie conversion happens I'll definitely need some foot-retainment system, some spacers, and a cog. I've also got a set of drop bars off an old CCM Targa that I may try chopping to see if I like that. On the other hand that's not for a while. I'll update later. In the meantime, I'm in bike mode, so I'm going to do a review of the Superbe while I feel like it.

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