Sunday, April 24, 2016


So, where do we begin?

This 1981 Lotus Excelle mixte is my newest, lightest ride but if you know me, this isn't saying much. Pictured on the left is how the original owner had it - mostly original with Shimano 600 Arabesque drivetrain components and newer upright bars. On the right is how I bought it - the bare frame constructed of Tange Champion chrome-moly steel tubing.  My plan here was to create Version 2 of what I thought was my ideal commuter bike. My first attempt, the 1979 Raleigh Superbe restomod, was what I would call a success in that it was everything I thought it would be but in the end, it wasn't different enough from the rest of my classic Raleighs to justify such a high cost. I learned that Raleigh 3-speeds are best appreciated for what they are. This time, I wanted to go back to a "step-through" frame but make everything lighter and slightly more aggressive. I liked the mixte not only because it was more rigid than a traditional step-through, but also for the drop-dead gorgeous twin top tubes. 

My plan was to give it a 3x2 drivetrain: an old-school Sturmey-Archer AW 3-speed hub in the back since it's still my favorite piece of drivetrain on a town bike, but use the double front chainring to split the ratio gaps in half in case of a headwind. Aside from that, I planned to use the drivetrain as more of a 4-speed, as I would start on low-1 and bang it into high-1 to keep my momentum going, then cruise around on the three rear ratios. I used Sheldon Brown's gear calculator and decided that 40 and 46 teeth up front and 18 in the back would give me a good spread of ratios. With a jump of only six teeth, shifting would also be quicker. I had a Shimano UN55 bottom bracket installed (since I did not have the tool at the time) and bought a set of Sugino XD 170mm tandem cranks and chainrings. My first time assembling cranks and chainrings for a derailleur bike was easy enough.

I was not incorrect in my gear calculations. After I ground down the 1/8" cog to accept a 3/32" chain, I threw the rest of the bike together, minus the rear brake and lighting system. I used another Sturmey-Archer shifter to control the front gears but it did not give enough leverage to be able to shift on the fly. The main problem with my initial gearing was that the chain tensioner could not make up for a six-tooth difference. Therefore, I shortened the chain and replaced the 46t with a 44. Now, I know I could have just used an old derailleur to take up tension, but then it wouldn't look as clean (whines)!

Because the road bike frame had a rear dropout spacing of 130mm and the old Sturmey-Archer had an O.L.D. of 110, I simply spaced it out with more nuts. I ended up having to buy a new axle of 6-1/4" length and replace the original 5-3/4" axle because there weren't enough threads showing to use the proper, thick, anti-rotation washers. Something else that I have been trying lately is that if the shifter cable is clean enough, instead of bolting the ugly-looking OEM cable tension adjuster onto the cable, I will actually solder an end to the cable and use the original-style one piece barrel adjuster. It looks much cleaner and so far, it looks like my soldering job is holding up. 

To go with the Sturmey-Archer rear hub, I was prepared to buy a new 6-volt 3-watt Sturmey-Archer dynohub and build it into the front rim. However, I found the "Stout" by Intelligent Design Cycles, which is a Sanyo dynohub laced into a really nice rim with machined brake tracks and stainless spokes, fully assembled for $95. The deal sounded so insane that I grabbed one and didn't look back - and this wheel performs extremely well to my standards. I can sometimes feel the vibrations from the dynamo but less so than with the newer Sturmey-Archer. I feel like someone would have to spend well over twice the money to get a setup that was noticeably better. We'll see how it holds up to my abuse but for now, I am very happy. 

The rear wheel, as previously mentioned, contains a Sturmey-Archer AW 3-speed hub dated April 1966, exactly 50 years prior. I built it into a Sun CR18 700c alloy rim with DT Champion stainless spokes and some brass washers. A bulletproof combo that's hard to go wrong with. Remember when I said I hated building wheels and never wanted to do it again? Well, I did it again and I'll probably be doing it for the rest of my life. Anyway, I had to drill out both front and rear rims to accept a Schrader valve (because I hate Presta valves) so I hope they don't split from there. Right now, the hub has an issue that even if the cable is tightened all the way, it slips from 1st to 2nd gear. Another one of my 3-speeds has this problem. Even when replacing the axle and packing the bearings, I did not inspect the hub because I thought it was fine. It is possible that the clutch is chipped from being ridden out of adjustment previously. I hope that is the case because I have a bunch of new clutches. 

Moving on, other town-bike goodies include SKS B45 fenders with a painted-on tail and added reflector to mimic the old English 3-speeds, juicy Continental Sport Contact 700x37 tires that fill the fenders to the max, Herrmans H-diver headlight and H-track tail light, and a Planet Bike eco-rack. The computer from the Raleigh adds to the controlled-rats'-nest of cables. I actually received what might be an old version of that headlight that did not have a standlight, much to my dismay, so a with-standlight version is on its way. Routing the wire from back to front was an adventure in itself. I connected the wiring of both lights up front and ran a single cable down the fork. After I get the headlight business taken care of, the bare wiring will be covered with caps and shrink tubing. In the meantime, I put a piece of tape above the light to keep the glare from hurting my eyes. These lights are BRIGHT. I love them. 

Brake calipers are Dia Compe DC-730 from a 1984 Schwinn World Tourist and pads are Kool Stop cross pads with replaceable innards. I routed stainless cables through nicer (read "less-compressible") Sturmey-Archer cable housing from the green Raleigh as it was being un-built and installed interrupter levers on the top bars for the first time. It takes a bit of coordination and more precise measurement but isn't too hard. I'm not sure why, but the short upper levers give more braking power than the lower ones. The 48 cm heat-treated Nitto Dirt Drop bars are plenty wide, allowing me to use the tops comfortably and giving more leverage for control. They will be wrapped soon. The 100? mm adjustable stem is also nice, expanding the cockpit of the small-ish frame to fit me better. In terms of comfort and ergonomics, I am extremely satisfied with I managed to cobble together here 

I bought a lightly used Brooks B17 saddle at about half price. It looked to have been ridden a few times by a very heavy person but not broken in so it still has almost its full life ahead. The leather is stiff and still looks new, but it is stretched downward. It ended up being very comfortable for me so I think I'll stick with it. The saddle bag was an afterthought but because I keep the oft-used bungee cords and saddle cover in it, I think it will stay. Also, the lock fits perfectly between the tubes. Very satisfying. 

I also outlined the lugs with a gold paint pen. Mmm.

The bottle cage does not get in the way where it is mounted now and there really isn't anywhere else to put it so I'm glad it works there. The flashlight will be gone once the proper headlight arrives. As for the bell, I have found Crane bells to be mostly awesome. They look great, sound great, and aren't pricey, but the Suzue model shown here is extremely loud - good in traffic, but not if you just want to tell somebody you're on the left and don't want to scare them and their dog. I tried the Karen model which had a heavy ball attached to a coil spring to act as a bendy "hinge." It was quieter and volume was more easily controlled, but it would ring every time I hit a bump. I went back to the Suzue. A late '50s Sturmey-Archer shifter and a new SunRace friction shifter control the gears. After moving the shifters around a bit, I think this is the best location. 

I do not seem to have a good photo of the Nashbar Double Track pedals, but they are for downhill racing, meaning they are flat on one side and SPD clipless on the other. Riding in my regular shoes, keeping the flat side up is much less of an issue than I thought it would be. Just today, I rode with my new Giro Grynd clipless shoes for the first time and noticed an immediate increase in speed. Clipping in and out is easy enough to get used to, as is pulling on the up-stroke as the pedals come back around. I have to say that these pedals might have to go on a more road-oriented bike, or maybe a track bike (future story!) because clipping on and off and having to change shoes is not something I want to do for a quick squirt around town. 

So, how did the hybrid gearing work out? Well, it could have been great ... I have to say my first mistake was going for the tandem crankset. It was the only crankset I could find in the catalog at Midwest Bike and Tandem with a 110 mm bolt circle diameter (by the way, they are in no way responsible for this message save for the exceptional service they provide - Midwest is the best shop in Ann Arbor, in my opinion). Why did I need the 110 mm BCD? Well, because I needed a 40-tooth chain ring. Or so I thought. The Sugino goodies were also the least expensive. Anyway, since the tandem crankset had extra spacing on the inside for the inner pulley, I had issues with chain line being way off because the rings were way out to the right and the hub gear was more toward the center. That itself was not too much of an issue, but then came the fact that the derailleur could not physically go out far enough to pull the chain onto the outer ring with ease. 

Two small reflectors stuck on both sides of the frame and a few on each wheel. 

I quickly realized that I could spend much more time and money trying to make this work AND have to cut a chain guard to fit around the front derailleur, or just ditch the whole hybrid drivetrain idea. To be honest, I did not actually need the in-between ratios since drop bars solved the headwind problem and the whole 3x2 thing would have been for a "cool factor" at this point. The bike is also light enough that I do not need a granny gear for starting. As for the next step, there are two options that I am seriously considering. First is to just get a 42-tooth chainring and ride the heck out of the AW hub as I planned. These things don't break and if they do, I have a wealth of spare parts. Second is that I could keep the 44/18 gear ratio and actually insert the internals of a FG hub (four speed+dynamo) into a 3-speed shell. That would give me the absolute perfect ratio spread plus regain a bit of that cool-factor. It also has a the longer axle. 

Back in the 1950s, Sturmey-Archer made the FW which was the plain 4-speed that shared the shell with the AW, and the FG which had different low gear pawls to make room for the dynamo. I have a 1956 FG hub-minus-dynamo. Somebody got rid of the screws that held the low gear pawl-ring into the shell and welded it together. I would have to cut that out, grind it round, and also cut out part of the left side cup of an AW hub. I would then weld the left part of the FG onto the AW shell and fiddle with the bearings to give them a dust cap. Figuring out spacing for the pawls would be important. I could see this being a huge undertaking, but probably worth it. Or we can see if I find an FW hub with 36 holes. Anyway, if I do go through with this, there will be a separate article written so don't worry if this is hard to understand. Sadly, there is literally no way for me to explain this simply and concisely with no process photos. Anyway, the only thing possibly deterring me from this operation would be the availability of FG parts if something was to break (unlikely). 

*Deep Breath* So, since I haven't had the chance to sort out the next step, I have been cruising around just fine with the chain on the 44t ring. Gearing is a bit high but with the bike at 30 pounds being so much lighter than what I am used to, it's not a big deal. Nothing has actually gone wrong with the bike, if you discount the aforementioned problems due to parts compatibility. So far, every ride has been a shakedown ride (I mean, this is Ann Arbor) and the bike holds up marvelously. I am very happy with how this bike turned out and happy with what I have learned so far. You just have to learn some things by trying them first.