Monday, June 19, 2017

20 Upgrades for the Twenty

I acquired a 1971 Raleigh Twenty folding bike a year ago intending to keep it mostly in its original configuration, save for maybe a couple minor upgrades.

As I should have predicted, I can never leave well enough alone. Even so, I soon found out that the bike was not actually "well enough" in the first place. The bottom bracket, which I previously didn't touch, was making awful crunching noises and the cranks were bent. The rear rim was terrible in every way - rusty, heavy, and not good for braking. The tires that I installed were terrible. The headset was also atrocious. The nylon upper bearing had stopped being good over the years and if I adjusted the headset so that it had no play, it would take lots of effort to steer. And, as the icing on the cake, the seat post was just a tad too short. I took this as a cue to restomod the heck out of the bike and work started in late October. Unfortunately, school and other projects got in the way and after it saved me when I lost my car keys (it was in the trunk, which I could access, but I could not start the car), I never rode it again until just this morning.

1. Where should we start. I guess one of the first things I did to the bike was to chop the old hub out of the old wheel and lace it into a Sun CR-18 rim (they come in practically every size) ...

2. ... with DT Champion stainless spokes. This was a very welcome change to the ride quality of the bike.

3. I overhauled the bottom bracket and installed a 36-tooth 152 mm crankset that I bought off a kind soul who came to my rescue on bikeforums. My stock 165mm cranks were already bent and kept hitting the ground.

4. I happened to have a 13t rear cog which gave the perfect gear ratio. I actually had to remove the dust cap behind the sprocket to make the chain line right. The new crank had the chain ring set inward a little more. Unfortunately, the 13t sprocket was so small that the chain would ride on the dust cap instead. I figured since this bike isn't going to be my primary commuter, it won't get dirty so quickly. Also, while the hub still works properly, it is extremely worn and I have enough spare hubs that when it finally gives up the ghost, I can replace it and salvage the better parts for future use. Unless somebody comes out with a 3-speed kickback hub. I would really love to have one on this bike.

About the bottom bracket. To my delight, the whole thing came apart without complaint. I found that all of the horrible noises coming from the bearings was sand. I also found that the balls, cups, and races were in perfect shape, if not a little bit "extra polished." I couldn't believe it. They were still good after being ridden with sand! If this isn't a testament to the quality of old Raleigh bearings, I don't know what is. Do people still make bearings this good? I guess we'll find out in 40 years.

5. My Falter folding bike folds the opposite way that the Twenty does. I wanted a set of folding pedals for that one too but didn't want to spend the money. I realized that since these bikes fold to one side, one of the folding pedals is essentially wasted. I took the left folding pedal on this bike and put it on the Falter, and put the Falter's nylon platform pedal and put it on this bike. Perfect.

5. I bought this 1970s Brooks "Champion S" (likely a B66 Champion S) saddle and had it on my '79 Superbe for a little while, but it found a better home here. For whatever reason, even though it felt too short on the Superbe, it feels just right on this bike. The very soft springs and soft leather also take the harshness out of the small-wheel ride.

6. I bought a 400 or 450mm seat post for a mountain bike so I could finally have enough leg extension. Especially important given the new cranks are shorter. I had to make a MDF spacer and use a longer bolt to make the clamp double-rail compatible. The Breezer double rail adapter was way too expensive.

7. I clamped a bottle cage to the seat tube

8. I installed a tiny brake light between the arms of the rear caliper. It's fun.

9. New stainless brake cables and housings. The old cables worked okay, but I needed cables with the road-style head because of the new levers (to be discussed below). The rear inner cable proved to be too short and top-entry somehow proved to be the shortest way to run the cable, unlike with full-size bikes.

10. I installed a Biologic Joule II dynamo front wheel, which itself was quite an undertaking. This is what effectively put a stop to the project in November. The hub had a 74 mm OLD which was intended for a Dahon fork. My fork had already been set to 100 mm by the previous owner to fit a modern wheel. I knew that I had nothing to lose by setting the fork back so I did, since I would either buy a new fork immediately, or buy a new fork after ruining the old one ... and it was the latter. The fork gave in after a certain point so I used two tubes to pull it back to the right spacing. I knew at that point that the brazes on the crown had been weakened. I put the Joule wheel back on, rode it for the last time, and then looked for a new fork. All of the 74mm Dahon forks had super short steerers and I didn't know how to braze a steerer extension so that was out of the question. It took a super long time to find the right fork, which I will get to later.

11. The fork had a 100mm OLD and it was the kind that could not be cold set, so I opted to install a longer axle on the hub. Having never serviced a modern generator hub before, I did research and found this article to work off of.

I initially tried to avoid having to undo the soldering but eventually had to anyway.

 I had also never dealt with cartridge bearings before so I wasn't sure if I was going to damage them while pressing them out.

I initially wanted to bolt the front axle on and was about to use a longer rear quick release axle that was lying around, but the non-threaded shoulder in the middle was too long. I happened to have a front QR axle that was the perfect length so I used that. After the delicate operation of reattaching the solder and other nuts without pulling out the wire, I tested the hub. Whew, success.

Now for the fork and headset. I wasn't sure about the order in which to place these events because many of them took place at the same time. So I'll outline them here. In November, I decided to follow Sheldon's advice and use a threadless headset. However, I wanted to keep using the quick release clamp for the stem. I measured and found that the headset stack was 1/4" too high so I actually ground the head tube of the frame down to the correct height. I was very pleased with the new headset. That was when I decided to get the new front wheel. So, after I had already ground the head tube down to fit the old fork, I had to find a new fork.

As a side note, I had no access to a machine shop that could grind the head tube, so I used a piece of tape to mark the place, measuring a few times to be as precise as possible. I used an angle grinder to do the bulk of the work, then used a Dremel as I got closer, and then a hand file to finish it off. Not the most perfect method but it seemed to work just fine.

12. That fork ended up being a NOS 1980s KF BMX fork. It had a curve to it too - not as much rake as the old fork, but better than nothing. No other fork that I found had the 10" steerer that I needed. The very last thing I did to the bike this morning was to grind a notch in the steerer so I could keep using the quick release clamp. The other fitting on there in the photo was just used to chase the threads after cutting.

After that whole debacle, I got an even better headset. It took a lot of force to install. I couldn't even seat the crown race with my usual chopped frame tube, so I took it to my favorite shop ... who ended up using the exact same method. Aside from actually using a Park Tool-branded tube, he walked out and smacked it against the parking lot just as I did. The race got cracked but luckily I had another. It turns out the shoulder on the fork was an entire millimeter too wide so I filed it down by hand and installed a new race.

So After All Of That Trouble, I mocked up the headset exactly how I wanted it. I put a 1" dia. threadless spacer above the upper cup so the lamp bracket would not get in the way of a wrench. I then added the original lamp bracket, then a lock nut, and then a keyed washer above it so I wouldn't mess with the lock nut every time the quick release lever was bumped. To complete it, an actual headset topper lock nut was used just to give the notched steerer some strength. But remember how I had chopped 1/4" off the head tube already. Notice that spacer? It just so happens to be 1/4" high. That's what happens when you don't plan a build and do everything out of order.

13, So the aforementioned headset is a Velo Orange that I purchased for a very low price because it didn't have a lock nut. I obviously knew I was covered in that respect. The lamp bracket and quick release lever are original, but I had to use a different lock nut and topper nut because the old Raleigh ones were 26 tpi as opposed to the standard 24. This headset is wonderfully smooth compared to the worn-out original.

14. I loved the original handlebars, but I couldn't ride the bike without having them move. I had a very tall stem so I took that, removed the quill and bolt, and plugged up the hole on top.

15. I can no longer remember why I decided to take Sheldon's particular approach again but I then took a pair of old drop bars. mounted them upside down with the brake levers facing the right way, and chopped the handlebar where I felt it was appropriate. I also ran the cables upside down so when brakes are applied, the lever pulls the housing downward and the cable end stays put at the top. This makes it so I won't accidentally kink the cables when moving the bike in and out of small spaces. I think this handlebar setup lets me put more weight on the bars and therefore makes the smoother headset easier to handle (remember, the purpose of the original nylon bearing was to dampen the quick steering of the small-wheeler).

Also, note the position of the bell. I had it sitting on top of the bar, but moved it down so I could flip the bike over at one point. I then discovered this morning, upon reassembly, that this position was even better. Like the shifter, I can use my index finger to flick it, rather than having to swing my thumb above the handlebar. I also no longer have a gigantic bell staring directly in my face.

16. I loved the old headlight but after getting rid of the old handlebars, I didn't have a good place to put it. I got the bright idea to take the Herrmans H-diver headlight that was previously on my Lotus, gut the old headlight, line the inside of the headlight bucket with handlebar tape (tack welding it with a red-hot spoke head), chop the clamp off the Herrmans light, stick the light into the bucket, run the wires out, and use Herrmans' mounting hardware on the old headlight bucket. That itself was attached to the front brake bolt. I'm not sure why I can't find any assembly photos and that makes me sad.

17. I stuck one of Adam LZ's stickers on the front fender for the heck of it. I already had a BMX sticker in an inconspicuous spot on the rear fender and I thought this gold rainbow one would be fun.

18. A Herrmans tail light graces the rear of the rack. I really liked the boxy '80s look of this one and thought it would look good here. I guess it doesn't look bad. Not that it really matters. It does its job.

19. I got rid of the crummy rack trunk that I first bought for this bike and gave it a Nashbar trunk bag. Much better in every way.

20. Schwalbe Marathon tires. The white wall tires I previously had on this bike looked kinda cute but were not very good. Within a couple weeks, I rode over a patch of broken glass that littered one portion of my commute. It wasn't until a few moments later that I realized I wasn't riding with my usual puncture-protected tires. The bike got me home just fine later on, but the next day, I went to ride it and found the rear tire flat. I took a chance on one of those flat-less solid tubes and that proved to be a good lesson. Too heavy and too soft. Made for children. I also snapped the bead of the tire trying to get it on but it wasn't a problem in itself since the solid tube didn't actually have pressure. The Marathon tires not only have great puncture protection, but roll much more easily. I like them at 60 or 70 psi which is much higher than the previous tires could take. I no longer feel like my tires are mushing around under me and slowing me down.

The Kool Stop white vans brake pads still adorn the bike but are much more effective now with the new wheels.

I took this bike out for a test before photographing it and I am very happy with the results. I can't wait to ride it more. The handling is smooth and no longer wonky, but it's not as twitchy as a small wheel bike usually is due to the low handlebars. The ride is also not very harsh at all. The seasoned saddle is just perfect and no doubt has a hand in smoothing out the bumps. The tires also absorb a surprising amount of shock, despite being at 70 psi, and despite having a more rigid BMX fork. I think the shifter cable housing is wearing out but other than that, the bike is done for now. I'm so glad that the bike is finally roadworthy again after seven months.