Friday, January 11, 2013

Fuji S12-S Review

This is my Fuji S-12 S from, I believe about 1982, as it appeared when I got it. I've got to say I'm pretty tickled with it. I got it back in October and for that month it was my stay-sane-during-school-project. Due to the timing of it's arrival I've only gotten out for a few rides on it however I must say I'm quite tickled with it.

Back in the summer I became interested in fixies. Not interested enough to invest in one but interested nonetheless. I ended up buying an old Raleigh ten-speed (check out my biking history here if you're interested) of unknown model and while I didn't like the bike itself I became quite interested in the bike's style. The bike shifted quite nicely and so I quickly became unwilling to de-gear it. Before long I realized I liked this style of riding. I was trying to decide whether to upgrade the frame to quality components when this Fuji popped up for less than a cheap aluminum wheel-set on Kijiji. Where the Raleigh was all odd-sized cheap steel components this had a good frame, fit better, and good components. The price was fantastic. As it turned out, a fellow who had no interest or idea in bikes had been offered the bike as partial payment for removing some scrap metal from someone's yard. He knew enough not to scrap it but was asking not much more than the scrap value would have been. I suspect it would have met it's end if not enough interest was shown in his ad. The end result was that I got a nice bike and he got a few bucks in his pocket. It was good for both parties.

As you can see, it was in good shape but needed a bit of work. All the grease had gone rubbery in the bearings. The brake hoods had deteriorated into a sticky mess. The grip tape was torn and not very comfortable. The chain was pretty stiff with way too much grease. The seat was hard as a rock. Surface rust had begun to form. The paint was looking old. It pulled quite badly to the right. On the upside, I thought the tires looked quite good and the cables looked good enough. It had nice reflectors that were mounted sensibly. It had a frame sticker that indicated it was made of Fuji straight-gage chromoly tubing with Suntour forged dropouts and fork-ends. It had eighteen gears made possible by a front granny gear chainring. It had aluminum bars, stem, micro-adjust seat post, hubs, rims, cranks, pedals, front chainrings, brakes, levers, and shifters. Basically everything metal that was not the frame, bearings, or axels was aluminum. Both wheels had quick-release skewers. The shift levers were the Suntour shifters that had a ratchet mechanism inside making the pressure equal for shifting up and down. The paint, I thought, was quite nice and in quite good shape. This was a bike I could certainly work with.

I began by stripping components from the frame. One of the first things I noticed about this bike was that the components were made of nice materials and were well-designed which made the bike extremely easy to clean up and pleasant to work on. The biggest problem was cleaning up the old grease. It had turned orange and not only gotten hard but sticky and rubbery. Usually old grease comes off relatively easy but this grease took some work. I finished the cleaning process by washing every part with dish soap and hot water in the laundry tub, being careful to rinse off all of the soap when finished. I next began inspecting the front forks. They were chrome tipped with a chrome crown that had "Fuji" stamped on the top. I thought this looked great however the paint was coming off in big flakes. Initially I thought about repainting them but I doubted I could match the paint well. I soon realized that the whole fork was chromed which was probably why the paint wasn't sticking well like it was on the frame. In the end I decided to strip the paint and polish up the chrome underneath for a full chrome fork. They turned out great although I will say that I liked the black better. Removing the paint was the right decision as I doubt I could match the paint well-enough for it to look right. Even if I could match the paint the forks would look too new compared to the older frame. I then waxed the frame and polished every component to as high a shine as I could either with the wax if it was painted or with the metal polish if it was chrome or aluminum. Some of the aluminum bits were quite oxidized and some (like the seat-post) was quite scratched. In the lighter cases I used very fine sandpaper or a wire brush to remove the oxidation and then polished to a shine. In the heavy cases I used coarser sandpaper to only remove the high parts of the scratches and then polished. The only bits I couldn't get to were the insides of a few allen-key sockets. I may still try for those because it looks quite bad compared to the rest of the bike and bothers me. In reassembly I used marine trailer wheel-bearing grease. It'll resist water and is about the same consistency as the stuff the guy at my bike shop uses.

The wheels were a little tricky. To clean them I used a pot scrubber and hot soapy water and they turned out not bad. I didn't get them to 100% because it's like trying to push a rope up hill. On my motorcycle I realized the only way to do a satisfactory job is to rebuild the wheel, polishing each spoke individually. On a showpiece this is great. On something to be used this is overkill. I didn't want polish on them because I didn't want to affect braking on the rim and I didn't want to miss globs of polish on the difficult hub and criscross bits. The pot scrubber worked really great. It was fake steel wool my mother found. That's all I can tell you. Don't use steel wool as it'll leave ferrous deposits, this was some kind of similar plastic. The brake pads had left big black streaks in the rims. These scrubbers took them out no problem when a stiff brush did nothing. As I also mentioned, the bike pulled to the right quite badly. At first I was worried something was bent. I began, however, to suspect the front wheel was not dished right. For this I had to make a makeshift dishing gage. I used scrap wood that I had around and put a screw through the centre to check the dish. It actually worked very well. So well it's going to be kept rather than thrown back into the wood pile. It turns out that the wheel was dished 5mm to one side. The wheel was entirely in true and the spokes were properly tensioned. Somehow it was intentionally dished 5mm to one side. It now rides like a dream. I trued both wheels using the fork from an old CCM Targa with a ruler strapped to it in a vise. I had no tension gage and so I used an idea from a link on Sheldon Brown's site of using a pitch-pipe to get them close enough. Quite happy with the result.

I also added a few things. On the handlebars I replaced the polkadot bar tape with some black Bontrager gel/cork bar tape. I like a bit of spongy feeling to the bars. While I was at it I replaced the brake levers with a set of aero-levers. My LBS had some used Dia-Compe levers that were pretty ugly but still mechanically just fine. I sanded off the paint and then used the metal polish to protect them. They now look like brand new and match the bike better than they would have new. I did this for two reasons. The first was now that I had a road-bike without safety levers I wanted something easier to squeeze because my left hand is a little weak. I wasn't positive these were the answer, hence why I bought used. They do seem to be easy to squeeze however I do have trouble using the lever with my left hand. The horn is comfortable to ride on but the lever is difficult to operate. I've routed the right lever to the back brake as I can make it work but am more comfortable with my right. I may look into different levers in the future. I also wanted aero-levers for cable-routing purposes. I like to set the bike upside down if I need to fix something in a pinch and I've screwed up too many cable housings this way. In addition they get in the way when you put the bike in tight places. With the frame-shifters and aero levers there is now hardly a cable to be seen. I can throw the bike in the trunk and have one less thing to worry about. It's great. I also think they look better. Lastly, I got a nice King of Ding bell for Christmas. I don't like bells, however you have to have one. I hate it when they fall apart or jingle when you go over bumps. This one has a really nicely made stainless clamp and brass bell. It looks like it'll withstand a nuclear blast. I can now forget about needing a bell. I must say it's nice looking too.

In terms of the frame, I mounted the Brooks Flyer from my Superbe. I got this saddle for half price last year at a local bike shop. It was a sweet deal, sweet enough for me to go with a non-correct saddle for the Superbe. It's supposed to have a B66. The Flyer is a nice compromise, medium width saddle with some springs in it. It's meant for a more aggressive bike but with comfort in mind. A great touring saddle. When I finished the Fuji I realized it was just a better fit on the Fuji than the Superbe. The Superbe is just too upright for a narrow saddle like that. In addition I ditched the broken water bottle cage and lock mount. If I carry a lock I refuse to do so with a frame mount, there are better ways. Right now I have a cable lock anyway. As for the water bottle mount, I am as yet undecided whether I will leave it off or put a new one on. I like the bare look better. I really like the saddle bag I added. It's an old WWII surplus ammunition case (I think) that has been kicking around the house for aeons. I took the strap off and fastened it on with zip ties. It's just enough to fit a lock, a couple tools, a small towel, and a few other odds and sods. If I'm going for a longer ride I can fit a big water bottle in it and carry a smaller one on my removable beverage cage on the handlebars.

I've realized I like toe-clips quite a bit. I would never use them with cleats but it's just the right amount of foot retention for the shoes I tend to wear. As such I bought some nice Zefal Christophe clips and black straps. The white Raleigh had nylon straps and clips which were good but I found they flexed too much. The steel clips stay put much nicer and I just like the leather straps better. I've also found the metal clips more adjustable which is nice since I have a lot of toe-out on the left.

Lastly, I ended up having to put new tires on the bike. The tires that it came with looked fine to me but I had a blowout that made it obvious I needed new ones. It's a funny story actually because I was en-route to another town and had the bike in the back of my hatch back. I had filled the tires at 0C but the car had warmed up to about room temperature, causing the pressure in the tires to rise and quickly. The dog was lying in the back beside the bike when the tire went off with quite a bang. It tore a two inch gash in the sidewall, filled the car with talcum powder, and raised the air-pressure quite noticeably in the car for several seconds. Not to mention scaring the bejezus out of the dog. The tires I bought are Vittoria Zaffiros. I know little about them. My bike shop didn't have a lot of choice in 27inch tires and I wanted a decent tire rather than a bargain tire. They're supposed to be tough. I think they look reasonable but only time will tell. One thing I can say about them is they were quite significantly lighter than the previous tires, in fact I think the front wheel as a whole weighs half of what it did before. For some inane reason I also decided to switch to presta-tubes too. It seemed like a good idea at the time but it wasn't worth the bother of making them work in Schrader holes. Now I look like a poser until I use up these tubes plus my spare. Oh well.

What I ended up with is what I'd call a life bike. It's certainly not exotic but it's a good standard quality bike. Parts are less likely to break and when they do they'll be easy to replace at any bike shop. I like that the frame is straight-gage chromoly. It's a good non-exotic alloy and will take some abuse. I've heard one must be careful of dents with butted. I couldn't care less if the bike was lighter. I think it's hovering around 23-25lbs which is more than fine by me. It also leaves the door open for loading the bike up in the future. Knowing what the frame is made out of and knowing it's decent material means to me it's worth maintaining as well. In the future I won't have to decide between a new (used) bike or fixing a component. I'll just fix a broken component.

Just like these,
I don't have a good picture.
Speaking of components, it has nice ones. Again, not exotic but quality with a few nice touches. For one it shifts quite nicely. It's an old Suntour groupset with some decent components for the time. It has a granny chain ring making it eighteen speeds for getting up steep grades, my nemesis on the three-speed Sturmey-Archer powered Superbe. The rear six-speed Suntour cluster is some kind of higher end unit. It's sort of a gold-tinged chrome color. I once looked up what it was but have since forgotten. It looks nearly brand new and cleaned up nicely. I am actually most impressed with the shift-levers. I like friction-shifters for their simplicity. Most frame-shift levers I've seen are simple friction devices. These however have a ratchet mechanism which means you don't have to overcome cable tension. Usually I'd say this is overcomplicating things but it's a pretty foolproof mechanism. On the upshift (releasing tension) the derailleur springs counter-act friction as usual. Upshifting requires a typically light touch. On the downshift, however, the ratchet mechanism lets the friction mechanism stay stationary, meaning you only have to counter-act the derailleur spring tension - requiring an equally light touch. It's just a pleasant feature that did not have to be added but was and I suspect will have few - if any - problems.

Most other bits are nice but probably not worth mentioning as they're fairly standard. As I said, single bolt aluminum micro-adjust seat post, aluminum stem and bars, aluminum Dia-Compe side-pull brakes, aluminum wheels with front and rear quick release, cool aluminum cotterless cranks with "Fuji" written on them.

The last thing I'll mention, and I suspect this is the previous owner's doing, is the way the reflectors are mounted. Of course as usual they are mounted to the brake pivots. Instead of having some stupid plastic setup or something else (or no reflectors at all) these have a simple one inch by four inch strip of galvanized sheet-metal (as I said, this is a home remedy) that is screwed to the back of the reflector and to the nut on the brake pivot. It's really simple but it's nice. I've knocked them a few times already and rather than breaking they just bend back into place. It's just a nice simple solution that I'll be doing on future bikes, though maybe I'll find some stainless instead of galvanized sheet metal.

In terms of improvements, I have a few. After a couple of rides I'm not sure how I feel about the pedals. They are meant for cycling shoes, at least for stiffer-soled shoes than my Chuck Taylor's I tend to ride in. As such the edge of the quill style pedal digs into my foot and my foot is sore after a decently long ride. This causes all kinds of other pains to crop up elsewhere. In addition they have no flat on the bottom of the pedal which makes the few times I want a standard pedal a pain. What I'm thinking of doing is upgrading to some MKS GR9 platform pedals. Possibly there are other similar pedals that would also work. This way I could keep my clips yet have a pedal that doesn't dig in. I was also contemplating playing with some aluminum BMX platform pedals and clips. I'll look into it further in the spring. I'd also like to replace the brake pads with some cool stops or something similar at some point. These pads are good enough but should probably be replaced and I've heard enough about the cool-stops that I'm going to try to go that route if I can get them. I also need a different cargo solution. The ammo-bag is good for short trips where I just need a few little things. I don't like riding with back packs, especially for longer rides which is what I got this bike for. The largest thing I need to carry is my laptop. I wouldn't carry this often with me. However I would like to be able to carry a book, some food, a change of clothes, and maybe some light shopping. I'm a big fan of panniers but I feel like they might be a little much for my intentions on this bike. I think ideally a large handlebar bag would be nice but one big enough for my laptop could get ridiculous. Currently I'm in the market for a pump. Initially I wanted a floor pump but I may go for a good frame pump and mount it on this bike.

As far as riding the bike goes, I'm pretty happy with it so far. I might cave and go get it fitted because I'm not sure I know what I'm doing. It handles quite nicely, I can take my hands off of the bars with ease, and there are plenty of hand positions. Often I just rest my hands on the bars rather than grasping them. I feel comfortable doing this over bumps etc. It won't do anything erratic although it seems to weave a bit with each pedal stroke. It could be a too-loose headset or a headset that wants to move to the edges. When stopped the headset really turns to the side quickly. However when I walk the bike I merely need a hand on the saddle and it easily goes in a straight line. Having said this, it really doesn't bother me. It feels fast and agile enough yet it has a solid well-built feel. My first ride on it was 30km. Since then I've done several 20km rides and I've been riding it on a trainer I got for Christmas. It's taking getting used to the position but I have weak core muscles and I'm not sure the seat is dialed-in yet. I feel like I'm putting too much pressure on my wrists and wanting to come forward on the seat. Having said this, I think just today I got the seat in the right angle and forward-back adjustment. I can quite comfortably ride on the trainer sitting straight up and down with no hands on the bars. It's when I bend forward that I want to keep going and I'm not sure whether this is a riding position thing or a weak core-muscle thing. With every ride on the trainer the position gets a little better. I suspect by the spring it'll be perfect.

Overall, as I said I'm quite tickled with this bike. The more I ride it the better it gets, too. It's light. It's reasonably quick. It keeps getting more comfortable. I can put it in my trunk and take it with me. And frankly, I think it's beautiful. In fact, my Dad who is skeptical of my current bike obsession and a little fed up with three bikes in his garage, keeps walking by and telling me what a pretty bike it is. He's not the type to do that, especially with bikes. This photo doesn't really do it justice, so here's another from a fantastic ride along the waterfront. Not the whole bike, but what a scene. What I missed was the mist hanging over the water when I first hit the waterfront path. I want this snow gone now.


  1. Thanks for your review. I always get my ratchets from this place - they provide great service, and they are long-lasting quality tools for your bicycles. I recommend them to everyone.
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  2. Great bike. I have the same exact one, and I am also very happy with it. Consumer Reports, BTW, gave it a stellar review "back in the day". You can check the Classic Fuji website for a copy of the original sales brochure with the bike's specs.