Thursday, September 11, 2014

1979 Ross Professional Gran Tour and Then Some

In the previous post, I briefly mentioned how lugging 45 pounds of steel up the hills between the University of Michigan campuses was quite literally a pain in the butt.  I love my Raleigh Sports so much and the ride quality is unlike any other, but I don't really want to keep arriving to class all sweaty and out of breath.  I wanted something lighter for daily commuting, but I didn't want to retire the old 3-speed entirely.  Also, I can't say that the energy and time invested in keeping my 50+ year old bike in nice shape hasn't been worth it, but there is always a nagging possibility in my mind that something could happen to it.  It's nearly bulletproof, but I don't want to beat it up.  I wouldn't like to be hit by a car while riding it, and other students' bikes scratching it up at a rack is always likely.

Enter the 1979 Ross Professional Gran Tour.  Described as being "neither professional, grand, nor touring" by someone on an online forum, it is now my daily driver/beater.

The bike was another "you can have her if you can fix her" deal and is in very rough shape but still mostly functional.  There are weird pieces of blue tape everywhere.  As you can see above, it's missing the front derailleur.  I could manually move it between chain rings before leaving, but the lowest hill-climb ratio is really what I need.  I can't go that fast in Ann Arbor, either.  I could buy a derailleur for as little as $20 and stab it in but after my first day of commuting up and down the hills, it doesn't feel necessary.  I already spent more money on a lock than I did on this bike, anyway.

This bike was made during the '70s-'80s American bike boom where relatively heavy, steel "ten speeds" got Americans back into cycling for hobby.  For the previous half century, bikes were seen more as playthings than as modes of transportation because automobiles completely dominated the country.  This bike, previously a ten-speed, received a new pair of aluminum wheels (I nearly forgot what braking power was!) with a 7-speed rear cassette some time ago.  After a few twists of the limit screws, the shifter and derailleur were working fine.  The biggest initial issue was that the chain was nearly seized up with rust and required a ton of WD-40 and lots of pulling.  After that was resolved, I began to realize that it seemed like the smallest two gears were either chewed up or slipping.  A friend told me that derailleur had lost its tension.  I can't even put any power down in those two gears without clicking and skipping.  It's not a big deal at all though: I seldom reach the speeds to necessitate those gears in Ann Arbor anyway.

It's not clear from these photos, but the upper brake handle on the left side (for the front brake) is gone.  The rear brake is also all out of whack and even with adjustment, it isn't working right.  The cable is probably just stretched out or something and I think the spring is tired, stuck, or both.  I'll let the WD-40 be the judge of that. The front brakes work great to my standards, though.  I might try to move the upper lever to the left side.  I know the upper levers are less effective because they bend and I know they're not perfectly interchangeable between sides, but we'll see.  I spend most of my time on the drop bars anyway.

Fork's bent...? Some I saw online looked like this, at least.  

During my research, I found out that one of the more prominent features of this bike in its day was the ultra-stiff frame, achieved by dunking the whole thing into molten salt to braze things on.  I can confirm that the bike is indeed VERY stiff.  Well, that's coming from a person who's used to riding a '50s ladies' frame bike with a spring saddle.  It's not that unpleasant, though.  I think I can deal with it when my backpack loads are lighter.  I find this bike to be pretty ideal for pounding between North and Central campus.  Braking power is sufficient, I have five ratios to use instead of three (although of a shorter range), and it's less uncomfortable to haul up hills. The crouched down position makes wind resistance far less than in my usual upright position.  Most of all, it's a structurally-sound POS that I don't really have to take extra care with.

I don't want to spend much money, if at all, on the Ross.  Even the $16 for a lock felt a bit expensive.  I think it'll last as long as I need in its current condition and the only things I'd consider buying for it are lights.  I almost considered fenders since I love blasting through water on the 3-speed, but even the cheapest ones are too expensive.  I'll still be using the Raleigh 3-speed regularly, such as for shopping trips, cruising around, or when my backpack is too heavy.  I definitely don't want to ever stop riding it.

Parked next to the Ross in the above photo is the Univega Metro Three that I found at the recycling center.  

I cleaned the frame off with WD-40 and the paint is in pretty nice shape, The wheels are rusty though and I was going to shine them up like I did for the Raleigh this past summer, but the friend who's strongly considering buying it doesn't really mind so I'm not sure.  I'm not selling it for as much as I wanted because come on, who doesn't give a friend a discount, right?

The Shimano 3-speed coaster brake hub is kind of different from the Sturmey-Archer that I'm used to.  The shifts are a bit more consistent and on-the-spot because the shifter isn't nearly as worn down. The pulling mechanism has a nice dot to line up when adjusting tension to make the job quick.  I definitely prefer the non-coaster brake hub, though.

The red Univega, which is probably from the early '80s, is a ton lighter than my Raleigh but the frame is too small so it's not as pleasant for me to ride.  Something nice about it is that it feels pretty effortless and forgiving; the Raleigh feels as if it crashes over small-ish bumps due to the enormous momentum of the frame and wheels (wheels weigh 6-7 pounds each with tires).  The red bike feels cheap though and it probably wouldn't have withstood 50+ years of abuse as well as the Raleigh did.  I know the Univega is just a department store bike but I'm glad that it's going to a knowledgeable friend who will treat it well.