Thursday, January 28, 2021

Townie Update

My 1978 Trek converted to single speed and 700c wheels
 I mentioned those old Dura Ace hubs and Salsa Cycles Delgado Cross rims back a week or so ago now. Well, here is where those ended up. This is an old 'barn-built' Trek that I acquired several years ago. I had tried it as a Gravel Mutt back in 2013 or so, and then it ended up on a hook shortly thereafter. so, like nearly eight years later.....

I built up those Dura Ace hubs and Salsa rims and thought about what to put them on. This bike seemed like a good place. And as I said, this will end up becoming my townie after I divested myself of the old Surly 1X1. That was my go-to errand rig for a while there.

Looking back at the back story on this bike, I realized that my intentions all along were to make this bike into a single speed. Ha! Things have finally come full-circle then. And I think that's a good thing with this bike. While I did do a gravel ride or two on this, it is a 'road bike' in the old-school, classical sense of the term. It isn't meant for anything too rowdy like a gravel road can be like. 

No, bikes built with the classic road racing ideal in mind back then all featured certain ideas about how the end user was to be sat on the thing. It was all about nose-to-the-stem, butt-in-the-air, aero type positioning. You get that feeling immediately when you sit on this bike, even though I fitted some old Origin 8 Gary Bars with a super-shallow drop. Your face is 'out in the wind' and the whole experience is one of feeling as though that if the front wheel hit a stick you'd come flying straight off the front of the thing as the bike stopped dead in its tracks. Personally, I find this feeling to be quite uncomfortable. Especially on gravel.

Maybe that's because we've grown accustomed to bikes where the front is higher, the front-center is longer, and the angles are slacker. These things all push the front end 'out there' with the front wheel way out from underneath you. Even older MTB off-road machines weren't like this, and they were a lot more like this old Trek is. The old style of positioning along with the geometry is night-and-day different than it is now. 

The old brass head badge has a nice patina on it.

But this won't be anything but an errand bike now, so I am okay with doing short rides to pick up things here and there. The simplicity of the frame- no braze ons- makes for a really clean look, although I'm not a fan of the outboard, full-run housing rear brake. 

One thing that always strikes me about older steel road bikes is that they look like they are barely here in this world. I mean, look at those skinny steel tubes! Handle bars have larger diameter tubing. The seat stays are truly 'pencil thin'. It just looks like it would be impossible to ride it. Too flexy! How can it hold up? 

But therein lies the magic of steel tubing. Strength is not measured by visual mass. But most folks would never buy into a bike built with such gossamer thin tubes anymore. It just looks too weak! But it isn't! Maybe that is inherently why these old bikes are fascinating to some people. More than any space-aged carbon doohickey, a good steel frame is far more amazing to the eye upon closer inspection. The engineering principals are honed to their finest points. The connection method- lugged and brazed- is as minimal as it can be, yet if done properly, amazingly long lasting and strong. Add in wire spokes and a relatively weak aluminum hoop that becomes another thing when tensioned and laced to a stout hub, and the package is simply mind boggling, yet so familiar we lose sight of the marvel that is a bicycle. 

So, to me this is a classic example of the bicycle as it appeared most often throughout its history. It will glide along just fine on the streets of the city. Now I need to figure out just how I want to accessorize it- or not- to aid me in my goal. I could find a rear rack and that would open up some great possibilities, or I could just use a messenger bag. I have several. I also could go the top-tube bag route, or get a frame bag. So, we'll see. 

Not a lot of room here!

I did find that I needed every bit of space here to allow for the 36mm Panaracer Pasela tire to spin freely. This may end up being swapped for a 35mm tire at some point, but for now, my brief test ride gave me some hope that it will be okay. Tons of clearance elsewhere, of course. It's always at the chain stays where things get tight. 

The gear will stay. I like the ratio for city cruising. So, the 39T chain ring and the 20T free wheel. Seems about right. Plus the added bonus of having a longer lasting set of parts versus spinning smaller diameter components is a nice thing. 

Now, the rear brake was an issue going way back, and that due to a missing, rare bit that Dia Compe had to work as a cable stop inside their levers. I had forgotten that I came up with a kludge to get myself by. It was to use a fixing nut from a linear pull brake as a cable stop. Good idea but for the fact that by pulling the lever the pressure created stripped the plastic cover off the housing and the spiral reinforcing wire pulled through the opening in the nut. There was my problem with the rear brake! 

So I fixed that by installing a step-down ferrule on the new run of housing I installed and then have that go into the nut. Perfect! Now I could set up the rear brake and have decent stopping power. Nothing like a disc brake, mind you. Brakes back then were pretty much 'speed modulators' more than they were brakes. I probably could stand to use some real pads here, but that'll come later. This is basically an effort to prove the concept. 

The brake issue has been solved.....for now

So, besides making the rear brake functional, I had to re-wrap the handle bars as well. I found a couple forgotten rolls of fizik tape I had and used that on the Gary Bar. This bar is a pretty radical take on a flared drop bar. It has extreme flare and super-minimal drop. The ramps are really steep and the extensions are short. It happens to work, ergonomically, as long as you don't ever ride on the hoods, because that position is too weird on this bar. 

This oddness makes it a really tough bar to wrap too. I had to really take my time, and fizik's faux-leather like material they use is not very forgiving. So, I had to be patient and take my time. It ended up going well. I like how it turned out for now. This may end up getting changed anyway depending on what I decide with the stem. Yeah.......that old school stem! 

Of course it is a negative rise, old forged, no face plate style bit that was once super commonplace. It is a big reason I feel so much like falling off the front of this thing. I was thinking as I test rode this that I might like a taller front with less reach in the stem, but I am going to live with this for now. That said, I have a strong desire to get a stem with some rise and swap this out. Of course, that will ruin the classic lines this bike has. I could always opt for a flat bar with a shim....... Nah! If I start messing with that I'll end up wanting to swap out the seat post for an offset head one, (I happen to have the perfect Campy Record post for this) and that will be another thing to mess with. Besides, I nailed the position on that Brooks. Why mes with a good thing? 

Let's see......There is only one other nit I would have to address if I end up going with this, as I think I am going to do. That is the head set. It is the original component to the bike and it is indexed pretty badly. That isn't a good thing for city riding. I will have to see about turning the crown race 90°, an old trick used by racers back in the day to extend the life of their head sets. If that doesn't work, I'll have to source a new head set. Maybe..... I may have a Campy head set somewhere.....

The test ride was successful, even though I had to ride on some snow.

 So, now I will have to strip this back down, clean up some bits, and then decide if I want to powder coat this jalopy or if I want to just touch up the paint job with some fingernail polish and leave it at that. The old Treks were painted with wet paint, Imron if I am not mistaken, and that is some pretty brittle paint. This could be a never ending touch-up job. That's why I am considering powder coating it for the more durable- but not original- finish. 

For now I want to get the necessities done. The head set being number one there. Then I'll go from that point and either rack this up, or whatever. Stay tuned.......


MuddyMatt said...

Ha! I have a Trek District as my townie which has seen a LOT of use during lockdown. I'm really enjoying riding it, having had it from new in 2013.

It's a belt drive singlespeed, bought as an experiment and I think I have finally worked out how to keep it running quietly; you occassionally get squeaks that drive me crazy. The secret sauce is a really thin Muc-off wet lube applied ultra sparingly ultra rarely. But don't tell Gates (belt makers) that!

It's 55 x 22 due to the way the belt doesn't really want to bend too tight. 66 gear inches, gives a comfortable cruise in the 14 mph range but topped out at over 20! It could do with lower gearing for town cruising and hauling though.

It's amusing to me that the aesthetic is channeling your bike with aluminium instead. The ride position is so comfortable and it carves turns nicely, but it's the only one of my gravel and MTB mix that gives toe overlap. It's one of my favourite bikes.

Next job is a pannier rack but trying to find a silver in this pandemic is proving tricky.

As for your comments on the wonders of bike engineering - yes it truly is a wonder how something so simple only works if every piece of the jigsaw is doing its job.

Phillip Cowan said...

Lookin' good! I love seeing old bikes like this repurposed and saved from the smelter. Seeing your bike reminds me of the one big irritation I have with old frames, no water bottle bosses. It weakens the frame they used to say. Everyone knows it was just a way for companies to cheap out back then. Anyway it's a plus for powdercoating because you can add the bosses yourself.

Steve said...

Hi GT,
The other old headset trick is to ditch the retainer and put in loose ball bearings, one more than the retainer held. Then they don't fall into the holes anymore!
Love the look of those skinny tubes....

Guitar Ted said...

@MuddyMatt - Squeaky Gates belt? You don't say! My friend in SoCal had an issue with a squeaky Gates belt from time to time. His method of quieting it down was to spray it with some silicone spray. He claimed that would last quite a while but then would need reapplying. He lived in a dry climate though, so this may not work for you.

@Phillip Cowan - Thank you! Great idea on the water bottle bosses if I go the powder coat route. That is annoying to not have those!

@Steve - Thank you. Yes- you are correct. I had forgotten about that trick! I could do that if it hasn't already been done. I have not cracked it open yet to find out.

Owen said...


Don't underestimate the performance of these old Treks. I have an '83 610 I converted to 650b and gave the full Jan Heine treatment, thanks to a similar conversion done by another BQ contributor. It's now my main road bike and sees frequent use on smoother gravel--it's fast, good handling, and comfy as hell.

I had the same issue with my headset, be careful replacing these as the crown race is sometimes 27.0 mm. Tange Levin headsets are still available in this size, high quality and won't set you back much. Modern Kool Stop salmon pads are a worthwhile upgrade to bring those brakes into the 21st. century, they can approach sidepull-like performance when set up right.

Let me know if you want more info on my build or conversion, enjoy!

Skidmark said...

Greets GT, if you flipped those handlebars over would you have a Nitto North Road//Rivendell?

Guitar Ted said...

@Skidmark - Vaguely similar, but not in a good way.

baric said...

I second the KOOL STOP brake pads with compressionless housings on virtually any rim brake application. Quiet and powerful. Pair up especially well with Avid Single Digit 7 Vee brakes.