This week I sort of finalised a project that I started 9 years ago or so. At that time I was unemployed, a bit idle, and wanter to have a proper road bike to roam the countryside around the house.
I was lucky to find an supposedly new old stock steel bike frame on the local ads. The guy I bought it from was a retired bike mechanic, who had been teaching the matter for some time, and had set to take on horse riding for his retirement.
The bike build was a challenge, because the standards it had been built to had mostly disappeared from the bike parts market : 1 inch head tube, french threaded bottom bracket were the most limiting, but those could be overcome. The other main issue I saw was with the down tube lever shifters, and the 5 speed hub, with 126mm chainstay width.
I hadn't anticipated all of these, but they had a consequence on the choice I made to go for a fixie setup. The hype was also in full rage, but the prospect of keeping things simple was appealing because I wasn't too sure I could succeed in building a bike after all. Not everything went well, and I had my fair share of but set-backs but all in all I managed to build a decent bike that has taken my further than any other bike before.
More recently I have been considering getting a serious bike, something with at least 5 speeds, but first and foremost, a comfortable bike. This directly ruled out super-stiff aluminium and carbon bikes. Steel or tinanium was the way to go, but these don't come cheap nowadays, and I would have to part with at least two grands. The problem was that I could not get a bike fit on this kind of product locally. Spending heaps of money on a bike if you're not sure it fits would have been nonsense. Sometimes I wonder who can spend 4000 euros on a bike (if they have a spouse, that is).
My shopping list looked like this :
This is why I chose to revisit what I have, and in a sense it felt better, because I really loved the fixy's smooth rides, also because it would mean not piling up bikes in the garage, and it would provide the benefit of "DIY pride". There were two problems left to solve : the downtube shifters and the chainstay width.
For the first one, I found that some downtube cable holders are actually still in use in present bikes. They fit the square attachment welded on the frame and don't protrude too much. I ignored they existed. They work with current shifters from Shimano.
The second problem was more scary to address : how do you fit a present day 130mm hub on a 126mm frame ? It turns out that steel is flexible enough that this is possible, as suggested by the late Sheldon Brown. Whilst his pages suggest using a 2x4 timber to just bend the frame, one side at a time, and verifying symmetry as you go, I preferred to use the more progressive approach of using a threaded pole. To reach a permanent gap of 130mm, I had to spread the frame some 180mm. But that turned out to be effective.
With this, I had to add a read derailer, front "1x" chainring, a couple of brake and shifters levers (all of that from Shimano 105 series, sold cheaper as a mini-group), and a new pair of wheels to accomodate the new cassette. Not exactly cheap, but way more cost-effective than new bike of similar specs.
I also took the opportunity to change the tyres, once again in search of maximum comfort, I opted for Grand Bois extra-légers.
The result is rather pleasing, although I sort of fear the mechanical sound of gears passing, being somewhat afraid that the derailleur may go out of adjustment. I just need to get used to it, and build more trust into this new bike. All of my shopping list is in check, except for the mudgard and panier mounts.
Now I can go climb some hills...