Monday, November 7, 2011

Jo Routens front derailleur project

Cable operated front derailleurs have been easily available since as early as 1930 and possibly before then. Why is it then that some of the more well respected French custom bikemakers of the fifties and sixties made their own? Rene Herse and Alex Singer both made
rod operated derailleurs and Jo Routens made a cable operated device.

Rene Herse front derailleur from the 1950s.

Simplex cable operated front derailleurs from the 1930s.>

I acquired a small, nicely constructed Routens frame some years ago but the Routens derailleur and its left hand down tube control lever had been sawn off by the previous owner, presumably so that a standard model could be fitted.
A customer was very interested in the frame but only if I could replicate the original derailleur and lever.
I managed to find photos of Routens bikes, some of which showed good images that I could use as patterns.

The original Jo Routens front derailleurs

The derailleur is pretty simple and my replica works really well.

The replica.

I set it up with TA 26/49T double chainrings and the chain makes the jump both up and down very smoothly.

However I cannot see that it works any better than a Simplex or Huret model that would have been available to Jo Routens when he built the bike. So why go to all the bother? Just to say “I can” I suppose.

I made a lever to accommodate the twin (loop) cable.

The derailleur and lever parts are off to the chromer now and the frame to Velocolour for painting. I will post images of the complete bike when it is finished,

Monday, October 24, 2011

Racing gears, then and now.

We have a small club here in Toronto for those interested in vintage and “Classic” bikes. The No-Click Club meets once a month and we endeavour to get a member to present a talk on a relevant subject. The name “No-Click” refers to bikes built before the days of clipless pedals (click in) and indexed gears (click in). Generally this refers to bikes made before 1980.
Occasionally we organize rides on the quieter, and often dirt, roads north of Toronto. About a dozen members turn up on a variety of old bikes. On the last ride, I took out my 1951 Cinelli which was one of three vintage Cinellis present. It was the first time I have ridden it since it was restored and, in fact, the first time I had ridden it in 40 years. It rode very well--as well as any of my much more modern bikes. Although, one major feature, the derailleurs, are not nearly as good. In the late 1950’s and early 60’s when I was racing on this bike the components were ‘state of the art’. The derailleurs are Campagnolo Gran Sport with down tube levers. They are non-indexed of course. At the time I thought they worked really well but now compared to modern equipment they are terrible.
The other noticeable feature is the gear ratios. For all of my ten years of racing in Britain I used the same ratios. A five speed freewheel with 14/16/18/21/24 teeth and TA double chainrings with 48/52 teeth. This was standard on almost every race bike at the time, even the European stars riding the Alps and Pyrenees rode similar ratios. What a contrast to today.
While at the Giro d’Italia this year I managed to spend a few hours with Geoff Brown, a friend who is the Garmin Cervelo Team head mechanic. He was preparing the bikes for the next day’s mountain time trial. For the steep ascent he was fitting ten speed cassettes with sprockets from 11-32 teeth and chainrings with 36T and 52T. That gives a gear range of 30-127 inches compared to the ratios on my Cinelli of 54-100 inches. Even ten years ago it was rare to see a sprocket on a pro bike larger than 26 teeth with an inner ring of 39 teeth. That’s a bottom gear of 40 inches.
Over the years racing cyclists’ gear ranges have become steadily wider. In the early 1950’s, 47/50 on the front with a five speed freewheel with 15-23T on the back was almost standard. By the later 60’s and early seventies 52/42 and a six speed freewheel with 13-23 was the popular choice. The 1980’s brought seven speed freewheels with the possibility of 12 tooth first position sprockets and the popularity of 53T chainrings. The 1990’s brought cassette hubs with eight sprockets and new design cranksets with 39T inner rings. Since then the number of sprockets has increased to ten or eleven with the smallest having 11 teeth.
It wasn’t until the last couple of years that the low gear ratios used by the pros were lower than 39x25. Now we see very large sprockets with 30 or 32T and so called “compact” cranksets with 34T inner rings.
Why did it take so long for the lower gears to become popular? The number of gears available on modern bikes makes it possible. It was always possible to obtain large sprockets in the past but with only five or six cogs on the back the gaps between the gears becomes too great for efficient riding. We have the ten and eleven speed cassettes to thank for the wider gear ranges and the small gaps between ratios. The introduction of easily accessible shift levers combined with the brake levers make it very convenient to select those gears.
Today’s gears and shifters are by far the greatest improvement in racing bikes in the sixty years that I have been around them.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cycling in Spain and England, a cycle jumble and three old derailleurs

I've spent the last couple of months in Girona, Spain which has given me a chance to avoid the Toronto winter weather and get a few miles in on the bike. The weather has been generally great for riding, quite cool in the mornings but warming to 15 to 20 degrees in the afternoon. Most days there is barely a cloud in the sky. In the two months there has been about three days with rain. Not bad compared with a normal winter in Canada.

During the time here I did go up to London for ten days. That is one of the benefits of living in Europe, one can take a trip to another country and another culture very easily and inexpensively. My return fare to London from Girona was twenty euros, about thirty dollars, via Ryanair.

While in London I visited many old friends, some of which I hadn't seen for almost fifty years. One of these was Mick Ayliffe who I last saw at Easter 1964 when I rode the Isle of Wight Three Day, my last race before emigrating to Canada. Mick and I had driven down to the race in his Morris Minor van, pure luxury in those days.

A 1970 Morris Minor Van, similar but perhaps a little fancier than Mick's 1960 version.

It rained all three days of the race and we were staying at a bed and breakfast with no heat except for a gas heater in our room which had to be fed with a two shilling coin every 15 minutes. Cold, wet cyclists' ingenuity enabled us to undo the bottom of the coin box which allowed us to recycle our one two shilling coin. Each evening was spent huddled around the heater with our wet woollen race clothes drying on the backs of chairs.
The highlight of the race for me was a death defying descent to the finish on the last day when I won the bunch sprint for third place. There were no closed roads for the race and the descent was through a busy town centre mixing it with buses and cars. I could descend quite well in those days I couldn't do it now.

Frequently in England there are cycle jumble sales. It seems that there at least one a month around the London area. Fortunately there was one scheduled at a village hall in Essex not far from where I was staying. It was a great event. The place was packed, the car park overflowing. The hall was filled with vendors tables each piled with all sorts of bike bits for sale, everything from old used bottom bracket axles to new carbon parts and complete bikes. Most of those browsing didn't really seem too interested in buying anything. Most were using it as a social occasion, a time to chat with mates and have a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich. I met a good few old friends and racing colleagues from the fifties and sixties.

I had wanted to get there early as I'd heard that some notorious ebay dealers get there as soon as the place opens and scoop up any collectables. I was on the look out for any old derailleurs that I could add to my collection. I managed to find three interesting ones. The first was a 1949 British Hercules Herailleur in used but good condition. The Herailleur is an indexed three speed . The control, which I didn't get, was a trigger mounted on the handlebar. Quite advanced thinking in 1949.

A 1949 Hercules Herailleur.

Next I found a c1938 British Trivelox. It is in unused condition but again there was no control with it. This unit was interesting to me as most Trivelox derailleurs are unusual in that the sprockets move laterally rather than the derailleur mechanism. I have one of those but I knew that Trivelox had introduced a less expensive conventional model but I hadn't seen one. This was a good addition to my collection.

The Trivelox.

The "Standard" Trivelox , where the sprockets move laterally and the derailleur stays put.

The third derailleur that I found was a "no name". I am sure that it is French and that it is probably a Super Champion but I am not sure. If anyone knows what it is please leave a note in the comment box. I would guess that it is from the fifties

The unknown make French touring derailleur.

Another item that I found at the jumble was this Gian Robert shift lever. The Italian Gian Robert Company is not too well known but has produced some nicely constructed and aesthetically pleasing derailleurs. What were they thinking when they produced this? It is good to see that they patented it.

The cycling scene is flourishing in Britain, certainly around the London area anyway. The congestion charges on motorists entering central London have really decreased motor traffic and there are bikes everywhere. New shops are springing up, it seems, on every corner. Outside of London many of the country lanes are still practically free of motor traffic but the main roads are far too dangerous for me to even think about riding on. If one is willing to use a map or GPS and avoid main roads I think riding in Britain can be as pleasuarable as it was when I left forty seven years ago.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Doc Morton

William ‘Doc' Morton played a large part in Canadian cycling history but very little is known about him these days.

Morton won a bronze medal in the 1908 Olympic Team Pursuit. It has been reported that he competed in the 1901 "Pan American Championships" but I cannot find any reference to such an event. There was a Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo New York that year. Possibly there was a bike race but i cannot find any confirmation of it..

Later in the twenties he opened a bike shop in the West End of Toronto. I understood that the shop was on Dundas West but I have recently read that it was called Lakeshore Cycles which doesn’t make sense if it was on Dundas. I’m pretty sure that he had nothing to do with the Lakeshore Cycles in Mimico.

He built frames which were in great demand by the top riders of the day. In those days the only race bikes were what we would now call track bikes, as fixed wheel was used both on road and track.

I also understand that Morton had a velodrome built in Toronto's Christie Pits.

Some years ago I was given a couple of Doc Morton bikes from an ex racer who competed in the thirties. One was a bike that he had purchased in the late twenties He later fitted a very early Simplex derailleur to it. . The other was a tandem that Doc Morton had built for a Canadian pair to ride the 1932 Olympics. However it never made it to the Games.

Morton also made large flange hubs which were machined from aluminum This was quite a development in those days, when most hubs were made of steel.

Just recently Walter Lai took the following terrific photos of the Doc Morton bike fitted with the three speed Simplex.

If anyone has any more history on Doc Morton I would be very pleased to hear it.

c1928 Doc Morton fitted with a Simplex derailleur and Resilion brake.

The early Simplex derailleur. The tension arm is mounted beneath the bottom bracket and a derailling fork is mounted under the chainstay. This derailleur is very similar to the Super Champion Osgear of the same period.

Early indexing.

CCM cotterless cranks. The very best there were for many years

Resilion Cantilever brake. This was state of the art in the thirties.

Close-up of the brake. It is operated by a complicated "Y" cable.

The Resilion brake lever wasn't the most comfortable to operate from 'the tops'.

It looks as if Morton used CCM lugs and fork crown.

Of course a Brooks saddle was a 'must'.

All of the above photos were taken by Walter Lai.