It appears I’m going down this rabbit hole. After 53 years of making my own way re: two-wheelers, I’ve enlisted the help of harnessed electricity in an effort to make riding fun again.
One could ask why someone who absolutely adores old bicycles would consider an e-bike, arguably the polar opposite in so many ways. The simple, honest answer is that I needed help getting back on the road. Over the past 7 years I’d found myself coming up with innumerable excuses to not ride on a regular basis, and during the last two years I’d discovered plenty more to justify riding at all. Loving old bikes and working on old bikes, but not riding old bikes wasn’t working out all that well. Who knew a new bike would solve the problem.
I’d felt a loss of stamina and output over the years, not uncommon for sure, but maybe more dramatic. I was having a hard time getting up enough energy to pedal anywhere, ever. Added to the mix the usual busy work/family life excuse and my particular brand of frequent and inherent sloth and what we had was a first-rate Catch 22. Not riding, after all, leads to more not riding, which eventually leads to not being about to ride, at least not comfortably. Even short rides were painful. After I contracted Covid the modest little hill on our street positively winded me. Something, as they say, had to change.
By pure chance and luck, I was offered an E-mt. bike from “The Dropout”, Chad and Yvette’s happy little bike shop in downtown Reno. Yvette was considering an upgrade so I got to ride her 2017 Scott Strike E-Ride for a month.
There are those moments that you just know are going to change your life. I was in the hills above Reno just noodling along on a sidehill road when I realized I was really having a fantastic time. Not a good time, but a fantastic time. By the end of the 1.5 hour long ride I’d visited terrain I hadn’t been on in twenty years. Best of all, I’d seen it and ridden it without feeling like my heart was going to go off like a grenade. I was tired and sweaty, but I wasn’t miserable. The heavens had opened and I had been enlightened. Glory, Hallelujah!
I told everyone who would listen about my epiphany. Friends, acquaintances, distance relatives, the grocery bagger at Raley’s… Most smiled and nodded politely, unaware of the true substance of my revelation. Isn’t that always the case? You feel the hand of God reach down and touch you and nobody else seems to think all that much of it. We’re all the main actors in our own plays, I guess.
After giving back Yvette’s e-bike I ordered my own slice of heaven and then promptly went back into horizontal mode until it arrived. With post-pandemic supply chains stressed to the limit it would take nearly 7 months for the Ransom to arrive.
When it finally hit Reno I put it in the living room and stared at it for a whole evening. What a majestic beast. I rode it a few times then panicked about getting it scratched (I’m awfully good at panicking when I want to). After ordered BikeWrap I put off-road riding until I could ensure some protection. I can deal with patina on an old bike, but I hate (with a capital “H”) scratching up new stuff. The clear film would help but wouldn’t totally alleviate this, something I’m still quite aware of. I’m trying to resolve the issue, telling myself that this bike, beyond all others requires that I ride the heck out of it.
So far, so good. If you’re wondering if I still get the same sense of exuberance when I go out for a ride, the answer is a resounding yes. It could be from lack of oxygen but I often feel giddy. Bless the bike that causes that.
(All hail The Dropout. Thanks to Yvette and Chad <pictured> for getting me back on the road, dirt, whatever.)
I fell in love with this Fiorelli the moment I saw it on the ol’ online auction monopoly. It’s old Campy bits, its whitewall Fiorelli tires, its rain catchers, and of course, its redness. Soooo, red….
Regarding the crazy position of the brake levers, rather than move them to a more convenient (i.e. less deadly) position I left them how they came. They’re not terribly functional in that state but who am I kidding. I’ll never subject those tires to pavement.
I ended up given this old Frenchy a chance. Sure, it ate up some parts and a whole lot of time – probably more of both than the bike is worth – but as always, it’s hard for me to know when to quit. If the paint had been beat up the decision would have been easier.
Beyond the bits, the bike now has a few new decals, both on the frame and on the Ambrosio rims.
I actually put the bike together two months ago but there were a couple small issues I wanted to address before I photographed it. During that time other projects came in and out, plenty worth mentioning, but I kept thinking, “Don’t post anything else until you’ve put up the Gios.” So nothing else got posted. Dumb idea.
Anyhow, here she is, ready to go out into the world and get dirty and scratched up.
Who am I kidding?
Here she is, all ready to be displayed in the shop.
P.S. I just noticed the “before” photos in the November, 2020 post had gone missing. They’re now reloaded in that section.)
Back in 1985 when I worked at College Cyclery the collective dream mt. bike for all the mechanics was the Alpina Ultima. It would be a year or two before the shop started carrying handbuilt mt. bikes so nice production ones were the best we could get. Even so, the Ultima was better than most anything on the market, production or otherwise. Beyond its substantial double-butted chromoly frame and beautiful tapered fork crown, the Ultima had all the best components; Sugino AT triple crankset, Nitto forged stem, Dia-Compe textured brake levers and so much more. It even had that wacky/wonderful double-quick release seatpost that was popular for, like, 20 minutes.
Sealed bearings were a real big deal, and the Ultima was the most “sealed up” bike you could find. Not only where the hubs, bottom bracket and headset touted as sealed, even the pivot points on the rear derailleur were buttoned up. The Suntour Superbe Tech rear derailleur was undoubtedly the shining star on an already wonderfully appointed bike. Beyond its sealiness, the Superbe Tech also pulled differently from any other derailleur out there, and as we all knew, different meant cool. Rather than the cable looping around to the back, it came angling directly in from its proprietary cable clamp mounted on the chainstay.
The Superbe Tech derailleur also employed the double-pivot system used on various other Suntour rear derailleurs, the Mountech being one of the most popular. It was always a treat to build an Ultima just so you could watch that rear derailleur articulate while in the bike stand.
The bad news was that the Superbe Tech actually didn’t work all that well. It was prone to having play in its pivot points which made for sloppy shifting. We even had one wrap itself around the rear wheel after errantly grabbing a spoke. The upper jockey wheel was also unique to the system, and not in a good way. It wore quickly and was a really pain to replace if indeed you could find a replacement. More than a few Ultimas were converted to standard derailleurs as a result.
I was thus shocked to find this complete Ultima a couple weeks ago. It had all its proper bits and pieces, including its original Superbe Tech. True to the derailleur’s nature, it nearly took out the rear wheel the first time I shifted it, but after some tightening and adjusting it more or less worked as it should. If I were going to ride the bike for any extended time I’d put the Superbe Tech aside and use a more modern derailleur. The Ultima will likely be getting more display time so keeping it stock will be the order of the day.
Actually, more like one half a Grand Jubile’, whatever one half a grand is (500?). It’s missing its wheels, front derailleur, saddle and original crankset. …And the handlebars are bent. …And some of the little Mafac bits are broken. …And the Vitus decals are pretty worked over. …And the seatpost looks like it was gnawed by beavers.
This will either turn into a good “before and after” story, or it’ll be a dismal failure. Stay tuned!
Little Cat “B” (aka son Lewis) has recently shown interest in learning the family trade. We thus decided to pick a bike to work on together, a wonderful Norman Rockwell father-son moment, if you will. Among the choices; a Motobecane Gran Jubile’, a Univega Gran Turismo, and any of the different Raleigh or Schwinn 3-speeds that had been littering the place as of late. There were also a couple ‘high-enders”, a beautiful C-Record equipped Scapin and the blog aforementioned Gios, but honestly, who’d let a newbie 16-year old boy with a crescent wrench near one of those?
Lewis was fine with any choice, as long as it wasn’t the “President”, a real heaper of a bike. It had been donated and even then I’d nearly turned it away as it was representative of a low point in bicycle manufacturing. Its redeeming qualities were, in order, uhhh…
Ok, so it didn’t have any. It weighed a ton, was poorly equipped and even more poorly constructed. For instance, rather than being spot on parallel with the top tube, the slot at the top of the seat tube was a full 20% off center. That’s a lot. Whoever had welded in the tube had either been blind as a bat or drunk as a skunk. And speaking of frame tubes, the President’s were hollow, but just barely, more akin to gas pipe.
What the bike lacked in desirability or performance it did make up for in expendability. If the President ended up becoming an actual running bike, well then great. If, however, it ended up falling prey to teenage overconfidence or any under-developed skills, no biggie. It was the perfect bike to bounce wrenches off. Though Lewis was less than thrilled by the choice he gamely agreed to give it a go. Good on him because he well knew it was the least palatable choice.
Right off the bat I started second-guessing my decision. The President was going to need more work and more parts than I’d initially figured (big shock). Worse, I found myself making excuses for the semi-functionality of all the subpar components (“Yep, that’s about as true as those rims can be”, or, “You really can’t make these brakes work any better.”) Was there anything to be learned from working on a bike that really wouldn’t improve much, even under the tutorship of a supposed old hand? Would this whole deal be rewarding to Lewis, or was it going to be an exercise in futility? …On his first bike, no less? Maybe he’d end up deciding bicycles were a gigantic pain in the ass and settle on a dull life like in, say, accounting. You know, like his mother.
Through all the many subsequent hours of toil the President sat there, much like the real President during these Covid times; it wasn’t helping out and it didn’t much care, either. Together, Lewis and I took parts off, cleaned and shined them up and then re-installed them in the hope that they’d work, a least a little.
We agreed to work a hour a day but I found myself putting in many more hours in the shop on my own, trying to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear of my own choosing. Lewis started taking Rocket (his beloved cat) for backyard walks during our daily work time and I’d never seen him take such an interest in the less apparent going’s on of nature in general. He’d stare at the little songbirds at the thistle feeder, watch the winter clouds as they wandered over us, and the bathroom breaks were getting longer and longer. I couldn’t blame him as the bike really was a “Shop-Vac” in that it both sucked and blowed.
New saddle, new tires, new tubes. We threw out the lame 5-speed drivetrain in favor of a period-correct 3-speed setup. New grips, new chain, new handlebars. We scrubbed surface rust from chrome as much as we could, trying to make the bike appealing, at least aesthetically. We put on new fenders because the old ones were deemed unworthy of more effort. We replaced bearings, cables, housing, brake pads and did our level best to make the “bike” an actual bike.
On Day-2 we exceeded the original retail price of the President, on Day-5 we surpassed what any sane person would actually ever pay for it. By Day-8 the total invested was upside down by a factor of 3, possibly 4. The goal was never to recoup every cent, but it was getting ridiculous. It was no longer a bike project, more in line with one of Roosevelt’s New Deal projects.
..And still the bike just looked and functioned ok. OK was not going to cut it, but that’s the best we could hope for. Hoover Dam may have cost a bunch but it really did work quite well. Not so the President.
Coincidentally, we finished the President this morning, the same day our new president was sworn into office. I’d usually attempt some clever comparisons or heady remarks, but I’m tired and just want to put it behind me. The end result of the “Bike New Deal”? It surprisingly looks ok, kinda nice, even. Especially at dusk, though closer to actual nighttime. Lewis test rode it this morning and his take was, “It actually rides ok, Dad. It’s not too bad at all.” High praise indeed.
Normally I’d build this recent arrival up with Campagnolo Nuovo or Super Record. That being said:
A: I don’t have a complete NR or SR group hanging around,
B: This particular Woodrup is a light touring model with eyelets, rack mounts, etc. so a standard racing group wouldn’t really be appropriate anyway.
If I really wanted to put Campy on it I’d thus have to hunt down a triple setup and that’s never an easy or inexpensive option. My current plan, which will likely change 19 times between now and when I actually start, is to outfit the bike with a nice period Suntour touring kit: Mountech derailleurs, Suntour barcon shifters, and maybe a beefier set of side pulls. The Sugino AT crank won’t need to be changed because they’re already period-correct and of great quality, but most everything else will have to go.
A by-product of Covid must be Raleigh 3-speeds.
In the past I’ve usually run across one locally every year or two. Sierra Cyclery sold Raleighs in the 1960’s-70’s, but the population of Reno was only 50,000 so there were never too many out there to begin with.
Since Covid started Raleighs have been coming out of the woodwork, to the tune of 8 in as many months. The first two arrived last March, a pair of beautiful deluxe Sports. Next came a Raleigh Twenty, then a women’s Superbe followed by a pair of black men’s Sports, and then another pair of Sports, this time blue and red. All but the Twenty had stickers from Sierra Cyclery.
If my three-speed overhauling skills had ever fallen off they’re certainly getting refreshed now. I’ve been overhauling Dyno hubs, re-keying locking forks, re-dyeing Brooks saddles and generally having a fantastic time.
I also got Covid which wasn’t so fantastic. …Not much of a fan of the virus but I do love the Raleighs so in some small sense it’s been worth it.
(The green Raleighs are done, the Twenty is mostly done and all the others are most certainly not done.)
The bike is back up and running. Even with the narrow bars and short stem the International isn’t a bad fit for me. I am also surprised by how stable yet peppy it is. Maybe it’s because I’ve been test riding a bunch of Raleigh and Schwinn 3-speeds of late, but the International is, dare I say, sporty.
Highlights of the bike in my mind are the rebuilt wheels with those shiny stainless spokes, the high polish on the brake calipers (I don’t often go to that extent) and the NOS gold bicycle chain. I wouldn’t dare put a gold chain on a new bike but it’s perfectly at home next to the gold on the Suntour freewheel.