Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sir Wild Toad

Can you see it?

I know I didn't pick the best background for this bike, but it does seem rather fitting, given the name. Anyway, here we are: my new 1957 Raleigh Lenton Grand Prix. A build like this is sure to ruffle some feathers given the heritage behind frames like this and the fact that I seemingly threw that out the window while choosing components. But with a quick peruse around this website, it becomes clear that history is indeed very important to me. So why is such a legendary vintage frame fitted with such a mashup of very old and very modern components? Did I ruin it?

Despite what purists may think, I strongly believe that this bike is not "ruined;" in fact, I think I'm tapping into potential that the original components could not access. I found this bare frame online for a very reasonable price. When it arrived to me from England, the amount of surface rust was quite a bit greater than I had initially thought. I figured it was because of the lighting, and I too found it difficult to capture the corrosion with the camera. Either way, it didn't matter too much to me. I knew the original components would be nearly impossible to gather, and a frame that was too pristine would discourage me from riding it.

Initially, I planned to build Sir Wild Toad completely out of components I had laying around: a 700c deep V wheel set laced with early 1950s Sturmey-Archer 3-speed and Dynohub pair, the ornate stem from a 1966 Schwinn Varsity, and the very slightly bent crankset from the Mr. Mrs. 1966 Raleigh Sports pair. I felt as if I was merely a temporary custodian of a frame that needed a new home, and I could keep it on sale. I wouldn't even have to cold set the frame to enjoy it in that configuration. When the time came to part ways, I could give the buyer the option to take the wheels with the frame just to make room in my apartment.

Naturally, plans changed. I think the switch happened when I received the frame and started gathering parts. One reason being the death of my Ross Gran Tour (wait, what? when! really? more on that later), leaving me without a road bike. I had also taken a particular liking to this frame. The rattiness of the finish, the history behind it, and the general excitement associated with touching a 531 frame for the very first time. I think it was then that I decided to keep it.

The 1957 Lenton Grand Prix (history and specs here and here, by the same author) was a "club" bicycle made of Reynolds 531 tubing, this particular one previously fitted with a Cyclo Benelux 2x4 drivetrain and suicide front derailleur. Although the outer tube diameters are standard, a quick tap comparing to the sound a Raleigh Sports frame makes it clear just how thin-walled and therefore lightweight this tube set was. The "pencil thin" seat stays are also a unique touch.

The only part left from the original drivetrain was the Raleigh Industries bottom bracket. I judged by the condition of the frame and amount of dirt around the cups and figured that the bearings would be pretty worn from high mileage, but I was wrong. They cleaned up perfectly, neither the balls nor the races showing any signs of pitting or excessive wear. The old grease also came off relatively easily, possibly indicating that this bike saw regular maintenance for a time.

Something interesting I noticed was that the bottom bracket shell, unlike that of a standard Raleigh, had a sleeve inside. I'm not completely sure what it could have been for, since there were holes carved out that made the compartment open to the other tubes. One thing I did notice, however, was the absence of dead bugs inside the bottom bracket when I cracked it open. I sprayed Frame Saver into the tubes just for good measure and seeing no reason to replace the balls (combined with the fact that I did not have extra balls of particularly high quality on hand), I put the old ones back in with a fresh supply of grease.

I had a pair of Mafac Racer brakes left over from a parted-out 1977 Peugeot. However, I had to file out the opening of the head tube brake hanger since it was intended for a French headset. Also, as predicted, the frame spacing was 90 mm up front and 120 mm in the back, so a bit of cold-setting was required (*cringe*) to get it to fit the 100 and 130 mm hubs. I had to file the lower side of the dropouts to accommodate the wider, non-flatted axles of the modern wheel set and then realign the dropouts.

The complete drivetrain of this bike consists of a bottom bracket spindle (longer on the right) and crankset from a 1971 Raleigh Sprite, a SunRace 11-34 tooth cassette, SRAM PC-1031 chain, and Shimano 105 5800 SS derailleur. The pedals are the Nashbar Double Tracks that I used to have on my Lotus so I can ride with cleated or regular shoes. I figured since this bike would be seeing less harsh weather and more clipped-in miles, these pedals would be at home here. And they are.

The extra-long Huret shift lever was taken from the same '71 Sprite that donated its crankset. I find it interesting how several parts from one donor bike have made it onto the same build on multiple occasions. I actually had to sacrifice a few different already-incomplete shifters for parts to make this one work properly. This lever with the 105 derailleur with the 10-speed cassette is the perfect combination. The shifter travels exactly 180 degrees from the lowest to the highest gear and the extra "throw" due to length of the shifter allows for easy, precise adjustment. 11-speed derailleurs have a different ratio than others; if I had chosen a 10-speed derailleur, the shifter would not have had enough trigger pull to reach all 10 gears. On an unrelated note, the way I happened to have it in the photos with the chain on the 5th largest gear, the upper and lower spans of chain are parallel, the chain line is spot on, and the shifter stands exactly perpendicular from the down tube. It's as if everything is perfectly matched and the bike was meant to be this way.

The wheelset was a pretty good deal, consisting of Sun Venus rims, Pure RT-100 hubs, and DT Competition double butted spokes, weighing in at about 1700 grams minus the skewers. They arrived fully assembled and completely true.

The saddle I chose for this build is the Middlemores B89, possibly from the 1960-70s, that came off my 1948 Raleigh Sports Tourist. The Sports now has a saddle that is more appropriate for upright riding. I was trying to decide between this saddle and a black Brooks B17 to keep in line with the color combo I had going, but I remembered the B17 actually being too wide for drop bar riding on my Lotus. The Middlemores saddle has a skinnier mid section and the sag that it currently has in the middle, while annoying on an upright-seated bike, is good for this one, even when I'm holding onto the top bars. On a different note, but since they're pictured here - I opted for a saddle-mount double bottle cage bracket because I didn't want to clamp the cages over the frame decals.

Now that I have learned a bit more about bike fit and what my body prefers, I was able to get much closer to the ideal cockpit configuration on the first try. The alloy handlebars from a 1986 KHS Grand Prix (ha) are 39 cm wide, giving the perfect balance of handling and aerodynamics. I'm not sure what the drop and run measurements are but they are pretty similar to what I've been using up to this point so I figured a 70 mm stem would be good. I went with a quill-to-threadless stem adapter to allow for quick stem swaps in case this one didn't work out. I'm glad I didn't go with the Schwinn stem which was 85 mm. And yes, it's slammed. Not for the sake of slamming, but because it's good like that. The tape is Nashbar Softgrip, comparable to the Specialized S-wrap that my friend Nikolai has on his bike. He also helped me wrap the bars and did a perfect job.

Brakes, as mentioned previously, are Mafac Racers with Kool Stop Eagle pads from a 1977 Peugeot UO-8. The levers are some nearly-new Tektros, which came with a quick-release/throw-range switch. Nikolai actually got the bright idea to release them while setting the brakes and then tighten again when the cables were locked down, resulting in what are perhaps the most precisely-adjusted center-pull brakes in all of history.

For tires, I opted for 700x25c Continental Ultra Sports. I was close to buying the red-wall Vittoria Rubino tires that Nikolai has so our bikes would match a bit better, but I was concerned with durability and puncture protection. At the moment I run the pressures at 85 psi front and 95 rear as suggested by Nikolai and they seem pretty ideal. As I get more used to skinny tires, I'll be able to pinpoint my preferred pressures.

The old Zefal frame pump had to be modified a bit to fit my frame. I couldn't find any good pumps that fit between the existing pegs in the first place. With the Zefal pump, I shortened the spring that holds it between the pegs so that it would fit, and then drilled a hole in one of the supposed frame contact points, as shown, so that it would stay in the peg. Ideally, I would have this held to the frame with velcro straps as an extra measure to prevent it from falling. I have replaced the rubber piston seal in the pump, but I think there is still something about the head that is making it not work. It looks like the seal was chopped short, making it unable to grip the valve stem

If this mishmash of parts is not the strangest part of this build, then surely it is the name. I actually found it through one of those dumb facebook posts that goes like "What's the name of your bike? Your first initial = ... your last initial = ... color of bike = ... " and I got Sir Wild Toad. I actually liked it, so the name stuck. It's actually quite fitting, seeing that this is a ratty old Raleigh with a rough, toad-like finish, fitted with SunRace, Sturmey-Archer, Shimano, SRAM, Huret, Mafac, Nashbar, and more. It's got parts from America, Asia, England, and continental Europe, all with their own characteristic differences. A wild one indeed, but with a touch of class. It is a "frankenbike" in every sense of the term, but in a super clean, buttoned-up kind of way. Just like an old muscle car with its original patina finish, fitted with brand new pro-touring suspension components, a roll cage, and a turbocharged LS engine (which is the "Shimano bolt-on" of the car world. Inexpensive, fast, good, and sometimes despised). Very different from my Ross, which was a frankenbike that worked flawlessly the way it was set up, but was very clearly cheaply done and rigged to heck.

While I was building this bike, I dreamed that it would be fast and smooth. I tried not to set my expectations too high since I didn't use the best of components and, after all, this was an old steel Raleigh. I knew they were fast from my past experience, but couldn't bring myself to expect too much. Somehow I thought I was going to be satisfied, yet mildly disappointed, but I was completely wrong.

The first surprise came when I weighed the bike and it came in at 20-21 pounds. I was shocked. It still had a solid steel crank! It's not as light as most modern road bikes, but still plenty competitive. Me and Nikolai went out for a short ride and I was gone. The bike just wanted so badly to move. Even the lightest of pedal strokes were rewarded with ample forward motion. The cockpit position was dialed, the handling was stable and smooth as one would expect from an old Raleigh, and the tires just wouldn't stop rolling. The Reynolds tubing soaked up bumps like nothing I have experienced before. I thought the down tube friction shifter would be a bit more finicky to operate but the way I set it up, the moment I start pulling, it shifts like butter into the next gear. Having less space between the cogs in a 10-speed cluster makes it impossible to noisily land in an in-between position. And usually I hate stem shifters and despise downtube shifters because I have to take my hands off the handlebar, but with this bike, even if I have to let up on the pedals to shift gears steadily, it doesn't lose momentum. Throughout our ride, going up and down the steepest of hills in town, I just barely touched the highest and lowest gears in my range, meaning that this combo was ideal. I had thought of upgrading to a double front chainring down the road, but that's no longer in the plans. And really, there are no further plans for this bike at the moment, except to ride it. Sir Wild Toad is amazing.