…Or the horse. You choose. At more than 50 pounds, armor does come to mind, though.
The Swiss, ingenius folk that they are, figured out a long time ago that a bicycle could drastically increase the mobility of their troops. Where a foot soldier can walk 20-25 miles a day, a pedaling soldier can cover double that or more. Thus the Militarvelo was born. The idea must have had some credence since one or another version of the MO-05 was produced from 1905 to 1989 (this particular one was made in 1943).
Riding a Militarvelo is reminiscent of the old British rod brake bikes, though the quality is noticeably better and the bike fits better. That likely has something to do with the smaller 26″ wheels as opposed to the DL-1’s 28 inchers. As heavy as the bike is, it doesn’t feel lethargic of loafy. On a slight downhill there is a feeling of, dare I say, efficiency, as it glides quietly along, out-coasting most anything on the road. That might have something to do with shear weight and momentum but I contribute it to the bike’s Swiss bearings which I swear feel smoother and more precise than the Brit or American equivalents.
Like a Swiss Army knife, the bike is loaded with extra goodies, all which all stock. There is a front-wheel dynamo, head and tail light, frame pump, rear carrier, and three different storage areas (a canvas handlebar bag and a leather frame case and leather wedge bag behind the seat tube which holds a set of 4 bicycle-specific tools). There’s also a bell, a wheel lock, and leather saddle and mudflap. A set of riding googles were hanging from the canvas bag when I got the bike. I don’t know whether they’re original issue or not, but I do like the look of them and think they’re period correct so there they stay.
Maybe my favorite part of riding the Militarvelo is choosing how to stop; there’s a spoon brake that pushes down on the front tire, a rear coaster brake, and also a rear drum brake. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself trying different variants of the three to see which I like the best. The only sure conclusion I’ve come to is, when going down a steep hill the answer is always, “all three.”
The latest completed project is this 40 year old Gitane. It arrived a year ago, missing well over 50% of its parts and certainly in need of a redo (“before” photos of the frame at the bottom of the post). Unfortunately, the chrome was too far gone to save, but the bike overall was definitely worth the time and effort.
Thanks to Roland Della Santa, Jim Allen and Chad Kortan for all the help along the way. It sure is nice to have such a great group of friends to pitch in or bounce ideas off. Finally, thanks to Craig Miller for entrusting me with the project in the first place.
I just finished up a minor overhaul on this Stevenson the other night. It arrived with an interesting mix of components; Campagnolo Record Ergo shifters running a Daytona front derailleur on a Centaur triple crankset and same rear derailleur. I wasn’t entirely sure that the combination would work, but so far so good.
Stevensons, as you may or may not know, are made by father/son team Bill and Sean Stevenson out of Olympia, Washington. Not sure of the exact age of this bike nor its provenance. When I get a chance I’ll ply the builders for info. In the meantime if you’d like to share any information about the builders and/or their bikes please feel free to chime in.
This Mercian arrived over a year ago, but ended up hanging in the shop until this last July. It took me awhile to decide what to do with it. You see, the components weren’t bad, it’s just that they weren’t in keeping with the spirit of the bike. The frameset looked to have originally been built as a day-tourer with a longish wheelbase, cantilever studs and lots of dropout eyelets. The components were more in keeping with a racing bike with double chainrings, lightweight wheels and downtube shifters. I’d always wanted to build up an vintage bike with a Campagnolo touring setup so this looked like the perfect opportunity. I began hunting parts down; a Nuovo Record triple crankset here, a Rally rear derailleur there, until I had everything I needed to dive in.
…And that’s when the Mercian started fighting. For some reason the “correct” bottom bracket length ended up not being the right bottom bracket length, the Mafac cantilever brakes wouldn’t work with the pads I’d chosen, and I couldn’t for the life of me get the fenders spaced evenly around the wheels. I cleaned, overhauled and polished a set of Nuovo Record hubs, built them into wheels, only to find out that the rims were too small in diameter. The cantilever studs had been mounted for taller 27″ wheels. I overhauled a new set of Campy hubs, built them into the new rims, but forgot to space the rear hub correctly.
Along the way, I ended up installing the Campagnolo bar-end shifters multiple times, something you don’t want to do with these irascible pieces. First, I forgot to mount the Mafac brake levers so off the levers came off, then I had to remove them to switch the Mafac brake levers with Campagnolos when I discovered the Mafacs I’d chosen were an unmatched set. Then the shifters came off and on again when I found the matching single Mafac at the bottom of the parts box. What were three brake levers doing in the box to begin with?
Somewhere in the midst of this I started making mental mistakes, cutting cable housing and fender braces too short, for example. I also completely monkeyed up the first round of bar tape. I bet I hadn’t messed up a tape job that bad in 20+ years. It was becoming pretty clear the bike was possessed. Originally the job had been one that shouldn’t have taken more than a week. It had now been in the stand for well over a month.
For my part, I began second-guessing every step. I also questioned my supposed bike knowledge, fussed and worried to no end, and even went on the wagon for the better part of a week in hopes that I might be able to reach a higher level of mechanical consciousness.
About the time I was seriously considering involving the clergy the project finally started seeing headway. in the end the Mercian went together when it was damned good and ready. The final irony of the whole deal is that it is a real pleasure to ride. Any of the possessed qualities it showed in the workstand never showed up on the road. It rides like a champ and shifts surprisingly well given all the extra gears. The Mafac cantilever brakes have no devilish tendencies and grab the rims with aplomb. The frame feels light and efficient to the point where sometimes I forget it isn’t a true racer.
Currently the bike sits in the living room. Normally finished projects don’t stay in the house as long as the Mercian, but I like having it around if only to remind me that it isn’t downstairs, still in the workstand.
I try to air out and air up the contents of The Wheelhouse at least once a year. Often it happens if the bikes are heading off to a local show or display. This year it was just a random day. Still fun, though. Here are some photos.
From the nether regions of the Buzz Bomb basement workshop, a fine example of “Donkey Wheel”.
I know, I know. I should be working and not goofing off, but I’m so easily entertained by sounds from my truing stand.
These all arrived the same week so I took the opportunity to photograph them all together. Shown are a 1949 Phantom, 1995 Anniversary Phantom, and early 21st century Nexus-hubbed Cruiser 7. Among other things, note how the fenderlight position has changed over the years.