Sunday, January 30, 2011

Center-Pull Brakes

One of the parts that I would really like to use on this bicycle are the Dura Ace center-pull brakes I recently posted about.  This is probably the part that will determine whether I'll be getting a standard model or a custom built bicycle.  The reason for this is because I would want to have these brakes mounted to braze-ons which is not only strong, but I find it also attractive.

1973 Dura Ace center-pull brakes

Frame builders have been installing center-pull brakes mounted on these braze-ons for years for their strength and they are actually lighter than most modern brakes.  Builders famous for this are the obvious french constructeurs, Rene Herse and Alex Singer, but many custom builders continue to make bicycles using these braze-ons.  Traditionally you will see this treatment given to Mafac brakes, but I have a couple of issue with these brakes, namely that the pads are difficult to setup properly and any replacement parts are nearly impossible to find.  One feature that I feel makes these Shimano brakes superior is that any number of modern brake pads can be installed.  The Shimano brakes will also have plenty of room for fenders as well.

I am a fan of salmon Koolstop brake pads and use them on all of my bicycles.  I'm not sure whether I will use the pads pictured above or another version.  They work extremely well, even in wet weather, and are easily adjusted due to their conical washer design.  I will also be using a Salsa cable yoke, which can also be seen in the photo above.  I swiped the idea from an extremely nice road bike I saw on the now defunct Mariposa bicycles website.  These yokes not only look good, but should noticeably increase braking power too. 

Mariposa road bicycle showing Salsa brake yoke and brazed on Weinmann brakes
Of course if money was no object I would definitely be using Paul Components, Racer Medium brakes.  They are probably the best example of center-pull brakes ever made and with that quality comes a high price tag.  Depending on how long it will take for me to decide on a frame I may have time to save for these brakes or they could also be a future upgrade.

Paul Components, Racer Medium.  Probably the best quality Center-pull brakes ever made, but definitely not cheap.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Restoring Bicycle Parts

I recently found a nice, but beat up pair of Shimano Dura Ace center pull brakes that I am really hoping I can use on my bike.  I have had success in the past cleaning up aluminum brakes including some old Mafac racers and Shimano cantilever brakes.  In this post I will go through the process I use to clean up old bikes parts.  To start off here is a photo of what I'm starting off with.

A front on before shot of pre-restored brake.
To begin I generally dismantle the part as much as I can and either wipe/brush the part off using a rag and/or toothbrush or soak it in degreaser depending on how dirty or cumbersome the part is.  I like to use a vegetable based degreaser so that I don't have to worry about iritating my skin or poisoning myself.  A good rule to follow when dismantling parts is to either look up existing service documentation showing all of the parts and where they go, photographing the disassembly process as you go, place the pieces in an order that you'll remember how to reassemble the part, or in the case of brakes, only take apart one brake at a time.  That way if you forget how it goes together or where a part is suppose to go you'll have a perfect reference piece.

Cleaning and restoring tools; degreaser, toothbrush(not pictured), files, sandpaper, polish and rags.

After a thorough cleaning I begin roughly filing off any major scuffs and casting marks followed by a few rounds of sanding.  Naturally I start with a higher grit sand paper and work my way down to a finer one, sanding in a circular motion as to not make gouges in the aluminium.  The part should appear to have a dull but smooth surface.  The amount of sanding required also depends on whether the part was anodized.  I try to keep away from anodized parts as they are a pain to clean off.  There are also tons of different methods for removing anodizing on the web already, but I have only ever used sanding to clean off aluminum parts. After completing the sanding I then clean off the part's surface with soap and water or some more degreaser and a rag.  

The part is now ready for polishing.  I have tried a few different polishes in the past which all do what I felt like was a decent job until I tried Simichrome.  The thing is that they all polishes require a bit of elbow grease and time but the Simichrome blows every other polish I've used away.  Simichrome should be available at decent hardware or automotive stores, but a number of places sell it online including Velo Orange. After polishing the part for a short while use a clean rag to buff off the black residue left behind from the polish.  What you should be left with is an almost mirror finish.

A side view showing the before and after
Front view of before and after restoring

After I'm satisfied with the polish job I reassemble the part making sure to add grease to any moving parts.  You will be surprised how easy and rewarding restoring bike parts can be.  You can find some really great deals on used parts that can essentially be restored better than new.

The final product; after I add some new brake pads this brake will be good for another 30+ years of service.  

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Simplex Retro friction Shifters Part 2

According to velobase the next available version of retro friction shifters were produced by Simplex for Gipiemme in 1982.  These shifters are the ultimate version of retro friction shifters.  Not only were they the lightest version (70 grams) of retro friction shifters, but also easily the most attractive.  Looks and weight aside, these shifters are almost totally sealed.  The entire spring mechanism is held within the shifter body, therefore making  the shifting mechanism almost impossible for dirt and grime to infiltrate. 

Profile view of Gipiemme Crono Sprint retro friction shifters.

Often referred to as "coke spoon" shifters, given their elegant, spoon like shape, these shifters were likely able to shave extra weight by incorporating shaved down contours and less bulky shifter stops than on the "tear drop" style, which can be seen in the photo below.  The production of these shifters appears to have been quite limited as they were only available for a very short period of time.  Likely the cost associated with the extra nice polishing and more intricate shape made these shifters too expensive to continue producing. 

Profile comparison of Gipiemme Crono Sprint and 3rd generation Simplex SLJ shifters

Also around this time, Simplex began producing a newly styled version of their shifter lever.  Simplex removed the original "S" encircled with a star and replaced it with a "tear drop" shaped handle embossed with the company name.  The reason for this change was more than likely to reduce the weight of the shifters.  

Exploded diagram of the 3rd generation, "tear drop", retro friction shifters.

The earliest example of these levers I could find was in a french Peugeot catalogue from 1983.  These new style shifters appear on what I believe was Peugeot's introduction of the carbon fiber frame (PY 10 FC), which would give further credence to the idea that the design change was a weight saving measure.

Image of Phil Anderson from a 1983, french Peugeot Cataglogue showing the "tear drop" style retro friction shifters.

Aside from the change in looks, the shifter was still identical internally to the second generation shifters.  The weight was reduced by 20 grams, from 95 to 75 grams.  These shifter were still available in clamp-on and braze-on models.  During this time Simplex also produced these shifters for Spidel, Mavic and Gipiemme.  Spidel shifters had their name embosed on their shifters.  Mavic and Gipiemme shifters were identical, varying from the Simplex shifters by the fact that they were unbranded.  The unbranded shifters were available in both silver and a black anodized version and were included in various Mavic and Gipiemme groupsets starting around 1984.

1984/85 Mavic groupsets including "tear drop", unbranded retro friction shifters.

The "tear drop" version of retro friction shifter were likely produced until the late 80s when Simplex began their demise by bankrupting for the first time around 1985.  There was one more version of the retro friction to come, which was produced by Mavic and included in their ZAP groupset.  The Zap groupset was first introduced at the 1992 Tour de France and later publicly available in 1994.  Only the left shifter was retro friction.

The last retro friction shifter released by Mavic (821) as apart of its ZAP groupset.  Only the left lever in this set was retro friction.

This concludes the history I was able to dig up on the retro friction shifter.  If I come across any more info I'll make an updated post with corrections and/or new info.  Next post will likely be on my selection of brakeset.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Simplex Retro friction Shifters Part 1

With this posting I am trying to compile all the info I could find on the history of the Simplex retro friction shifters.

above; All of the retro friction levers I am aware of

Simplex introduced retro friction shifters in 1972 and continued producing them for a number of different brands until 1995 when the company went out of business.  During their production, they were manufactured under 4 different brands, Simplex, Spidel, Gipiemme and Mavic.

The first available retro friction shifters were the bar-end version in 1972 and were a part of SLJ groupset

First generation clamp-on SLJ shifter exploded diagram

The first generation of these shifters were available in two of Simplex's groups, LJ and SLJ.  These shifters were available as either braze-on, clamp-on or bar-end.  These shifters differed only by the material the shifter bodies were made of.  The internal parts were identical for both models.  The LJ model was made using delrin, a black plastic that was also used in the LJ group's derailleurs.  The SLJ model and its group derailleurs were made of aluminum.  Both of these shifter were marked with a Simplex 'S' surrounded by a star.  The feature that makes these first generation shifters different from other incarnations was an extra nub at the bottom of the shifter.  This nub held the spring mechanism in place.  The nub was removed on all future versions of the shifter, as the spring was later mounted pointing up the shifter body handle.

This appears to be either a dealer or commercial add for the LJ groupset featuring the delrin retro friction shifter.

Second generation SLJ retro friction shifters were nearly identical to the first generation.  They shared the same logo and lever handle shape, but the nub that held the spring was removed as the spring was re-positioned into the shift lever.  This change likely took place by 1975.  The levers did not change again until around 1983 when the shifter handle was re-designed.  Simplex also made a re-branded version of the LJ shifter for Gipiemme that bore a less impressive logo.  Both the LJ and SLJ levers were also included in groupsets sold under the Spidel name, however, the shifters were not re-branded as the derailleur in these groupsets often were.

above; the SLJ shifter without and the LJ shifter still with the nub

Also available during the both the first and second generation of the SLJ shifters was a gold anodized version, which was likely produced to match the anodized versions Mafac 2000 and competition brakesets and levers.  Shown below is a photo of a boxed, nos, gold, anodized SLJ groupset and  more diagrams of the second generation retro friction levers.

NOS, boxed, anodized, 1st generation Simplex SLJ groupset

Part 2 of this post will show the final versions of these shifters.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Friction Shifters

There are really only two shifters that I am considering using on this bike.  Rivendell silver (Based on Suntour ratchet shifters) and Simplex retro friction shifters.  Both of these shifters have their own benefits and detractors but I am pretty much set on the retro fiction shifters.  I have used Suntour bar-end and thumb ratcheting shifters for years, so I am very familiar with their feel and have no issue with them.  The Simplex shifters I am not familiar with.  I have used other Simplex shifters before, but not retro friction.  I basically want to just give them a try since they come so highly recommended by many bike aficionados and in my opinion they look much nicer than the Rivendell shifters.

above; Rivendell Silver shifters (Suntour ratcheting shifter copies)

So far I have acquired three different sets of the retro friction shifters.  The first set I found at a local DIY/used bike part shop.  They are first generation delrin (black plastic), which were a part of the Simplex LJ group.  I have been told by a fellow cyclist that despite the fact these shifters are made of delrin, they still function just as well as any of the other retro friction shifters.  Delrin components tend to have a bad rap which I feel came from the derailleurs Simplex was manufacturing in this same parts group.  I myself have snapped a rear Simplex derailleur made of delrin when adjusting the limit screws, but the derailleur was on a 1974 Peugeot, so I wouldn't exactly call a derailleur that has lasted for longer than I've been alive to be of poor quality.

left; Simplex LJ shifters. right; Simplex SLJ shifters.
The other shifters that I have to choose from are the aluminum, Simplex branded SLJ model and Simplex made for Gipiemme, GPM Crono Sprint 870BC, which I am waiting to receive in the mail.  The main difference between all of these shifter are looks and weight.  The internal mechanism is identical in all of these shifters, with the main difference being that the spring in the black, LJ model is upside down, which is the reason for the extra nub protruding at the bottom of the shifter.  Simplex likely made this change to save on material and a small amount of weight.  I think there was also a sort of inadvertent benefit to the original design as well, in that with the spring being somewhat shielded by the screw, less gunk was able to infiltrate the spring. 

Top; shows the first retro friction design with the spring wound into an extra nub 
on the shifter.  Bottom; shows later version with spring incorporated into the shifter lever.
Another note about the Gipiemme branded levers is that they have a separate shifter stopper which is clearly less bulkier than the one incorporated in the original Simplex shifters.  This will likely make the Gipiemme lever the lightest of the retro friction levers.  The entire shifting system also appears to be completely enclosed within the shifter.

above; Gipiemme GPM Crono Sprint 870BC

In a future post I plan on compiling a sort of history on the retro friction lever and all of it's incarnations.


When selecting components I keep three criteria in mind.  Functionality, quality and looks.  By functionality I mean exactly that, the component must function well.  By quality I mean that the component will not break down easily.  Finally, the least important criteria, looks.  Looks is a self explanatory criteria and an individual decision.  What I like the look of someone else may not and vice versa.  If I am stuck choosing between two components that have the functionality and quality covered, then I'd go to looks for the tie breaking decision.

One thing I don't really consider is weight.  For me, weight is not really much of a concern.  I give more credence to function and quality over weight.  I like to compete with myself when I ride by improving ride times, but I can do that through training.  Carry a bit of extra weight in parts isn't going to increase my speed that significantly.  Grant Peterson made a great excel chart that shows how insignificant frame and component weights are when you take into account a bicycle plus the weight of the rider.  As well I plan on using a good sided saddle bag with this bike and who knows what all I'll carry in it.

Now I've outlined my selection guidelines, here is a list of the components I will need to select

Handle bars
Brake Levers
F/R Derailleurs
and probably a few other things I have forgotten about.

Some of these Item I have already begun procuring and others I have yet to make a decision on.  In future posts I'll write about my thoughts on my selections.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I am writing this blog to cover my process of designing a yet to be built bicycle, which may end up being either a production model or custom bicycle.  The type of bicycle I am hoping to put together will have the following criteria: relatively fast, light, attractive and above all things functional .  I feel that a sportif or sport touring type bicycle will fit this bill well.  A sportif is somewhere in between a road bike and a randonneur, which is exactly the type of bicycle I feel will fill the gap I currently have in my bicycle roster.  To start things off I will post some photos and objective views of currently available sportif type bicycles that I am hoping to draw inspiration from.  The first bike up is the Rivendell Roadeo.

above; A standard Rivendell Roadeo with what they call a "wet-weather, hilly, super-comfort, but slightly heavier build.

I really like this bicycle, but there is one minor feature that detures me from it.  The feature I speak of or lack there of are down tube shifter bosses.  When Rivendell introduced this bike they were trying reach out to cyclist who aren't they're usual clientele, but at the same time they stuck with their core features.  Those features include a lugged, steel frame (of course) with great geometry, plenty of room for larger tire sizes and fenders and a number of useful braze-ons.  The lack of down tube shifter braze-ons, which were simply (replaced with cable stops) makes perfect sense as most Rivendell owners seem to prefer bar-end shifters, as well, the carbon converts they are trying to intice with this bicycle mainly use brifters (all in one brake and shifter).  I feel pretty adamant about using down tube shifter on this bicycle, as I have picked up some quite nice ones that I will discuss in a future post.  I have seen a photo of a Rodeo with downtube shifter, but I have not had any dialogue as of yet with Rivendell to see if this is a possible feature or if this was simply a prototype.  Other huge pluses about this bike are a great paint job and the fact that it is manufactured in the USA by Waterford in Wisconsin.

*I have since read on this roadeo owner's blog ( that "I had the D/T shifter mounts added by Joe Bell during the custom paint process."  Too bad this is not an option on this bike!*

above; A Rivendell Roadeo with custom down tube shifter braze-ons.  The owner of this bike had them added before getting a custom paint job by Joe Bell.

Bike number two, the Ebisu Road

The Ebisu Road model is another bike that I admire greatly.  It shares a lot of features with the Roadeo and even has down tube shifter bosses. Where it differs is mainly in its frame geometry and lack of braze-ons, which are actually available, but at an extra cost.  If you compare the photo of the Ebisu with the Rivendell, you can see a nearly level top tube and a slightly shorter rear chain stay.  The headtube angle is also sharper (only a 1 degree variance), making for a more "aggressive"  geometry.  Aggressive geometry can lead to a more twitchy steering response, but this can be made up for by using a wider tire and an appropriate headset, both of which I intend to use.  One other note regarding twitchy steering is that I intend on only loading the rear end of that bicycle which has little to no bearing on the steering as far as I have experienced.

Lastly, but not least, the Pashley Clubman Country

Pashley Clubman Country Classic Road Bike - Burgundy

This bicycle again is very similar to the previous two bicycles discussed, but the main feature is that it is actually made from Reynolds 531 tubing.  Last I checked this tubing has been discontinued for years, although it is sometimes available on the web.  That rather insignificant difference aside, this bike is also designed to be used with centre-pull brakes, which is made evident by the rear brake cable stop.  I was very much hoping to incorporate these style of brakes into the design of my sportif, but depending on whether I decide to go production or custom, I'd love for them to be of the braze-on variety.  

Similar to both of the above bicycles, this bike includes a lugged steel construction and allowances for wide tires and fenders.  This bicycle appears to share a similar more laid back geometry to the Rivendell as well as most of it's braze-on features, but I cannot confirm this for sure as Pashley does not post such details on their website.

The next step in designing this bicycle will be my selection of components...