Sunday, August 13, 2017

Fewer Gears for More Hills

Introducing: The 2werkules.


I've written about this 1965 Hercules (made by Raleigh) before, but not in this configuration. I originally built it in 2015 for one of my best friends and my then-roommate. By the time he traded it back for a larger-framed Triumph, built in the same fashion, I already had plans for another custom Raleigh Sports build and this bike was the perfect platform. I boxed it up in anticipation for the move to Pittsburgh, since I figured a boxed bike was easier to transport than a fully-built bike, and I had no time to spare anyway. I gathered parts: hubs, rims, saddle, etc. and threw them into the box with the frame.


This build sort of has the flavor of my '72 Schwinn, but it's even "more" of it in every way. While I gave the Schwinn alloy (lighter, but still cheap) 700c deep V rims and a 3-speed coaster brake hub with no hand brakes, this bike loses it final cable and has some more hardcore 700c wheels and tires. The Hercules now has a Sturmey-Archer S2C rear hub, which is a 2-speed kickback coaster brake. Having already experimented with the SRAM Automatix non-coaster-brake hub on a track frame, I decided that a kickback coaster would suit me better because I still wanted to maintain control over the shift point and figured I might as well rid myself of all other cables if I was already going to do away with the shifter cable. The build required no spreading of the frame dropouts, which is the first time I've been this lucky (well, not truly, because I planned it this way) on any of my past four custom Raleigh builds. I bought a worse-than-Sturmey-Archer, NOS "Sheffield" front hub with a 90mm width to avoid having to re-space the fork, and the S2C is marketed toward fixed-gear or single speed riders who use track frames with 116mm rear spacing.


I chose 36-hole Weinmann DP18 rims first because of cost, but also because they are known for their strength. Many people complain about their weight, but that obviously doesn't bother me. They still weigh a little bit less than the original Raleigh steel rims and that's good enough for me. For spokes, I went with the usual stainless DT Champion straight-gauge from wheelbuilder.com (great service, by the way - I would recommend) and spent a little extra on anodized yellow nipples. I am now wishing that I colored the hubs gold with Duplicolor Metalcast but it's too late now and there's no way I'm rebuilding the wheels. The rear wheel is laced 3-cross for strength, and the front is laced 1-cross just to change things up. I didn't quite want to go full radial because of the front load.


I heard from someone else that the hub does not come with an outer dust cap, and indeed it did not. I had to buy one separately. I'm not sure why it's not standard. The ball ring bearings are even more poorly sealed than the ones in the old AW hub. For heaven's sake, you can even see them! The axle also uses the old Sturmey-Archer 13/32" thread, as opposed to the more modern standard 3/8" that the new rotary series hubs use. I suppose it does give a little more extra thickness for strength, and thankfully, I have more Sturmey-Archer nuts than I do standard ones.


The 700x25c Continental Ultra Sport tires were previously on my Lenton. While they rode harshly on the road bike, somehow, they feel just fine on this one. I run them at about 75 psi, and I think the higher handlebars, front load, and softer frame help absorb the shock for my wrists. I really wanted to keep the stock fenders while using 700c wheels and I heard that it limited tire width and height to 28mm.  After fitting the completed wheels and tires on this bike, I realized that 28 was a liberal estimate, assuming the fenders were in pristine condition: the sheet metal on this particular bike was slightly warped from 50 years of less-than-ideal care, so it was no surprise that I had to massage the front point a little bit to clear the 25's. Also keep in mind that the lower-end Raleigh products used wire braces that were bolted to the fenders, not welded, so there's a additional rub point where the bolt protrudes into the wheel well. I originally intended to use Continental's tougher Super Sport tires, which I will switch to once these wear out.


I intend for the Hercules to be my short errands bike. That includes carrying laundry (for which the basket will be strapped on) and dinner. Wrestling the bike in and out of the apartment for quick runs is much easier without the cables snaking about and boxes of tacos from Las Palmas make less of a mess when they're not tipped sideways in my usual pannier. I also chose the stem and handlebars that were taken off the brown '76 Sprite because of their flatter, less rear-swooping bend and longer forward run. The hand position that these bars provide is more suited to a front load, as well as mashing harder against the pedals going uphill or using the coaster brake.


I geared this bike with 46/21-tooth cogs because the hub gives a direct drive ratio and a 138% ratio. Low gear is low enough where I can crawl up the street between the river trail and my home (which is a 10-16% grade most of the way) without standing up to grind, still high enough to accelerate with traffic. Once I kick it into high gear, I can easily pass the cars going 20-25 mph downtown.


One thing about the 2-speed kickback hub that I could not have foreseen without having read somebody else's account was mastering the "double kick." This is when you're cruising at a low speed in a crowded area or park and you need to brake but then keep going. Braking once would land you in high gear at walking pace which is not entirely ideal, so the hub necessitates you kick backward again to return to low gear. Fortunately, this did not take much time for me to get used to, and even better yet, the external gear ratio I chose makes it so it's not the end of the world when I find myself in high gear when the light turns green. One thing I would like to change, though, is a switch to longer cranks. I anticipated this and ordered a square taper spindle but it was taking a while to arrive so I threw on the original cottered 165mm crankset for the time being. The new cranks will be 170mm.


I got this pristine 1970s Brooks vinyl mattress saddle off a bike that I parted out. It still isn't nearly as comfy as the Schwinn Approved mattress on my green Speedster, but it still weighs less and is not bad for rides less than 15 miles.


Upon completion, I took this bike out on a long-ish ride downtown to get dinner, cruise the river trails, and back home. It handled beautifully with the ~10-pound load up front and as mentioned previously, the tires felt better on this bike than they did on the Lenton. The bike was not only able, but eager to keep up with traffic, but it also did not encourage me to go too-fast on the well-populated riverside trail like the single-speed Rollfast did. It also did not leave me wanting more. Strangely enough, even though Pittsburgh is more hilly than Ann Arbor, starting in direct drive feels like less work than starting in 2nd gear (also direct drive) on a three-speed with the same gearing. It could be the lower inertia of a lighter wheel, but I'm not sure. It just feels right, and it's fun to ride. I think I'll end up using this for more than just short errands.