I’ll admit it, this winter got to me. Snow. Cold. Long. It crept in and colored the day to day and the week to week.
Now it’s the end of March and my project has stalled out for two months. There are extenuating circumstances at play here – life got busy, we had some house projects, and I got lazy. But as the days are filled with more light, more melting, and more bikes, I realize I need to move on this project.
This sunny Sunday with temps at 40 degrees kicked me into gear. I packed up the Gitane and brought it over to the Portland Gear Hub for the next steps: brake cables, brake adjustments, handlebar fine tuning, bar tape, and truing the wheels. I arrived just as they opened.
Not only do they have all the tools you need, but there is an expert mechanic to help figure stuff out.
We looked at the wheels, they are true. They spin smoothly, no wobble, no sway. I ran the cables and housing back when I did the gear cables, so they are in place, just not set up.
I first adjusted the pads to line them up with the rim. They need to hit the rim evenly and be level so the braking is solid. Next I need three to four hands for tightening up the cables. I had to pull the cable, push the cable yoke, and tighten down the nut that keeps the cable taut. Not an easy task. Apparently, tool companies make a “third hand” tool. I stick with the kind folks at the Hub. With relative ease, we got both brakes on, good tension on the cable, and stopping these wheels on a dime.
I run through the brakes one last time, we adjust the front again as it had too much play in the cable, we picked up a 1/4″ of slack, so even better braking!
After I pack up, I head over to Back Bay Bicycle to peruse the bar tape. I had contemplated leather wraps, but it wasn’t something I felt was a fit for this bike. And true to form, this bike had bar tape on it from the factory, so bar tape it is. The black tape offers a classic look with the white Gitane.
Wrapping bars is not my forte, but I made it work.
All that remains are the tires. I’ve ordered a pair of Compass “Stampede Pass” 32mm in all black. These wider tires allow a lower rolling resistance, with lower air pressure, as well as extra light casing to provide a supple and smooth ride, all in the name of comfort. I hope to have them on by next weekend for a maiden voyage.
Today I went over to the Portland Gear Hub to see about getting in gear (sorry, there are too many puns concerning bikes to not entertain them). The gear in particular, is number six.
Gears one – five are smooth and fluid. But six, six is a train wreck. I’ve backed off the limit screw till it nearly falls out and still no luck.
At the gear hub (located in the bottom of the Portland based, Cumberland County YMCA) they offer not only used gear of all vintages (as well as skis, snowshoes, and etc), but help. Sundays (as well as Thursdays 4-6) from noon – 2PM you can clamp your bike to a stand, use their vast tool library, and get support on your project.
We start by looking for what could be hindering the derailleur. The bolt on the bottom of the derailleur is semi-stripped which does impede the function of keeping the cable taut, we swap it out. The new cable I had put on has been manhandled by this man (me) and gotten a kink-size kink in it, so we swap that out as well.
With a fresh cable, a better bolt to button it all in, we are hopeful. And, at times, there are glimmers of hope and function. But it’s still not spot on. With a running start from fourth, we can make it leap effortlessly to sixth. But five to six, nope, ain’t happening.
Time has flown by and the bench time is wrapping up. But before packing things up we adjust the front derailleur and have it running smoothly. It was a matter of the limit screws and my limit in seeing theirs.
Next weekend, I tackle the brakes.
Over the holidays I had hoped to get some work done – shifter cables, bars placed, brakes. One can hope, right?
I started with the shifter levers and cables. Thought it’d be an easier place to start than with brakes and handlebar alignment.
Threading the cable is pretty simple and self explanatory – hook one end (the end w/ a little stopper on it) into the the top of the shifter and down to the cable guide.
Front Derailleur: First, I aligned the derailleur by eye, from the side and above. It needs to line up with the chain ring. I measured the space between the chain and the underside of the derailleur (about 1.5-2mm). With this scientific part out of the way, it was on to the next steps.
When the cable reaches the bottom of the down tube, it is guided through a small (3-4″) bit of cable housing to direct the cable up to the cinch bolt on the derailleur. *Anytime you need to bend a cable, the housing and guides are what is needed to make this happen. Using pliers, I put tension on the cable and with another pair of pliers tighten the fix bolt. And like that, it worked, pretty well. The Suntour Cyclone moved the chain where it should, with a degree of awkwardness.
Fine Tuning: There are two “limit” screws that help center the derailleur so it doesn’t get all wanky and dropping the chain. But something isn’t quite right. The limit screws are limited in their ability to line this up just right. I can’t seem to zero it in on where it should be.
How about the rear derailleur?
Rear Derailleur: The rear can be more problematic from what I’ve read. Same process as with the front, thread the cable, guide it back to the welded guides and insert it into a small amount of housing to bend and meet the derailleur. Fairly simple. If the housing is too small it won’t work, tool long and it’s a one way ticket to sloppy-shifting-ville. The cable meets the tension bolt and again, tighten it to keep it in place. Now the test.
The first few gears work, success! Then it doesn’t.
I repeat the process and big surprise here – same results. I consult Zinn’s book and learn about the “b-screw” on the back of the derailleur. This little guy puts tension on the chain and brings smoother shifting.
Tighten things up, run through the gears, cable gives way. I come at this over and over. Read more, watch videos, takes brakes, watch more and read more. In the end, I’m able to get 5 gears shifting smoothly. The chain won’t make the jump to the lowest gear. It’s as if there is not enough cable? Did I cut the housing too short?
I’ve pulled all the cables off, started from the start. Still same place – no dice.
Soldiering on: Brakes? Brake Cables? Bars? I greased the stem, threaded the bars, set the brake levers, and ran the housing and cables for the brakes. I set the bars to “classic”. The bottom (*the drops) of the bars are set to level. OK, done. Then the brake levers level with the bottom of the bars (utilize a level here) and see how they “feel”. This is tough to do with no tires on yet, but I can get a sense of how it’ll feel and there is room to adjust, so all is cool. I cut the housing to the right length, and file the ends for a clean fit. The cables and the housing ran fairly smooth. I haven’t tightened or adjusted the cables yet, just got it in place. One of the brakes is missing a bolt to hold the cable in place, so I quit while ahead. But overall, it “looks” right?
But I need some help. I need to call a “wrench” (the industry term for a mechanic). However, I’m not looking to just have someone “do this” for me. I want to do it with guidance and learning from them. This is where the Portland Gear Hub comes into play. Not only do they have great deals on bikes, a wealth of used vintage parts, but they work with you to get your bike rolling. I’m making some time for this Sunday.
This year I spent more time on my bike than I ever have. I rode meandering roads by the ocean, hilly routes that traversed across the state, group rides with great friends for great causes, and for most of the summer I commuted a couple miles to and fro.
Last weekend I took a break from working on the the Gitane and hit the road.
Temps here in Maine got above 35 degrees and I took the Masi off the trainer and went for a cruise.
It’s worth noting, I found out why the Masi was making all kinds of noise. I incorrectly threaded the chain, which rubbed a chain guide in the rear derailleur cage (where the two little jockey pulleys are). The kind folks over at Port City Bikes worked with me to fix the chain.
While there, I also looked through their selection of used bars. The current drop bars that came with the Masi are too wide for me, 48cm. I’m looking for a standard 44cm. I checked out some used randonneuring bars. Rando bars have a bit more flare and some sway. Flare in the drops, less incline behind the brakes, and sometimes a sway coming out of the stem. There was a pair I was interested in, but they didn’t fit my stem (sometimes new and old parts don’t match up). The owner, Pete, has a pair of Nitto Noodle bars on a bike at home that he is looking to part with. So I’ll check those out next time.
The ride was so lovely. I feel fortunate to pedal around Maine. The day was full of bright blue skies, plenty of ocean, and roads mostly free of dirt.
With the holidays I’ll have some extra time to dig back into the Gitane, and possibly get another ride in. The forecast calls for 40+ and clear skies after Christmas.
I left in the quiet of morning for a longer ride. The day was cool and sunny. My mind was clear and open.
I planned for 75 miles. The loop around Merrymeeting Bay in coastal Maine is gorgeous. With its stunning scenery and beautiful roads each mile is lovely.
I adore solo rides. They provide the space for concentration and focus on technique and also, and more importantly, the opportunity to settle into being. I think of them as rolling meditations. Letting go of time, schedules, and responsibility, and the space to sink into the present of each moment.
I stopped often. Sat beside gentle rivers, took pictures, drank a lot of coffee, sought refuge from the sun beside the road under big shade trees, and soaked in the beauty of the day.
The Gitane rides smoothly over the hills and along the stretches of flat that snug up against the bay.
Over one year into riding the Tour de France and it’s as enjoyable as the inaugural ride. I have some modifications I think about – wider bars and a new stem. But not much else. It’s without braze ons for racks. There are other solutions, but I’m not sure this 70’s racer is happy with too much weight. I think I’ll keep it as a medium – longer distance day ride.
The sun rose quickly. The day got hot, fast. By the time I reached the outskirts of Bath, I was feeling the heat. More coffee and a smoothie kept me going. I stopped in Brunswick on the bike path that hugs route one. My wife had just sent me a text. “It’s hot, how about I come meet you and we get lunch?” It was such a lovely message to read – thoughtful and at the right moment. And how could I say no?
Part of me thought about “completing” the ride, finishing the 75 miles to kick my spring riding into high gear. Another part thought about attachment to an outcome. What did completing really mean? Did it matter? I had enjoyed every moment of the ride, why persevere and for what?
I felt good changing course and letting go of my own expectations and the clinging I’d had to an outcome.
We’d meet at Frontier Cafe in Brunswick. I asked her to bring a change of clothes, soft cotton is joyous after hours in lycra / spandex. I got to the restaurant quickly as I was only a couple of miles from it. I rested and cooled off under a shade tree and watched the traffic roll by.
I had some extra time, as I was early. So, I went over to the flea market and flipped through records. I found a lovely and pristine copy of John Coltrane’s “Coltrane Plays the Blues” and Prince’s “Around the World in a Day” and had a good chat with Dave, the proprietor of Vinyl Junkie Records.
Jocelyn met me at Frontier and had brought all I needed and more. A thoughtful bag with a wash cloth, dry clothes, and more, it was so sweet and kind. I felt refreshed, rejuvenated, and loved.
For lunch I devoured a burger and fries while Jocelyn had a mixed vegetable tart.
We meandered our way home from Portland, enjoying the drive. Hours later, we found a Lady Slipper in the woods near our house, it felt like finding a treasure, both of us excited and remembering how cautious we both were as kids finding one.
We picked up our annual park pass, took a quick and cold swim, showered off under the even colder outdoor faucet. The beginning of our swimming ritual over the summer.
We were hungry. We headed for dinner to cap off the day, not caring that a fish shack on the water would be packed or that we’d have to wait. What was the rush?
We had a feast of onion rings. A fish sandwich. A hot dog. Blueberry crisp. Indian pudding.
We drove home our belly’s full and happy. We went on the back porch and took in the stillness at the end of a most lovely day.
I’ll admit, it was sorta anticlimactic. By it, I mean the first ride. It wasn’t really, but let me explain.
As mentioned previously, I got the tires installed and came home early evening and put the wheels on. We had plans that night and I had minutes to get ready. But, how could I not just take one little lap around the block, just one?
I put on the wheels, my shoes, and the Gitane on the road.
The first pedal stroke is smooth and joyous. Gliding down the small hill by house I hit the brakes. My body jerked and recoiled at the screaming sound from the brakes. Damn. Painful. My neighbor was up the street and quickly turned around with a look of shock / horror on his face as I came shooting towards him. I zipped by, nervous smile in tow, not wanting to touch the brakes I couldn’t say how the bike felt. All I could hear, feel, and think about was those banshee brakes.
The first ride, it was done in moments.
The brakes came with instructions on how to “toe in” the shoes. This positions the front of the pad to connect with the rim at the front of the pad and then the rest of the pad makes contact. It eliminates “chatter”, vibrations, and most importantly the scream.
Place a couple of business cards at the back of the brake. Squeeze the brake (*a friend or wiling family member is helpful, but I used a speed clamp and my son’s help), and then loosen the shoes. The cards allow the back of the pad to stay out while the front end makes contact with the rim. I had to do this twice on the back brake to get the right adjustment, but bye bye squeaky town.
On a warmish (*42 degrees) evening after work a couple of days later and I head out for a spin.
Damn. I mean, damn, this ride is nice. Reynolds 531 steel. Compass tires. Both make for an incredibly smooth and comfortable ride. I cruised along the flat, fly up hills, and careened around corners. It felt exhilarating and a bit scary at the same time. The bars are thinner in diameter and more narrow than the other bike, so there is a feeling of twitchy-ness that I’m not used to. But 25 mile ride later and I have better insight on the feel of the bike. I note some adjustments to make – bars up a tad, the brake lever position needs to roll inward a bit, and to raise the seat.
I have to admit, and for as odd as it may sound, this bike has been liberating.
I kept the baskets on the pedals, so no special shoes to speak of. And I have to say, it’s pretty great. And interestingly enough my pedal stroke is smoother and more fluid than with clip in shoes.
There is no onboard computer. On my normal routes, I know the distance, but I’m not constantly aware of it. I have a sense of speed, but not obsessed. But it’s so freeing to not have speed and distance numbers in front you and not be wondering how you are stacking up, against who, yourself? In the few rides I’ve done, I’ve noticed it just hasn’t mattered.
I put the seat up a quarter / half an inch, gave a little tilt to the bars and made a minor adjustment to the brake levers.
I’ve been uncertain about putting a water bottle cage on the tubes. The decals could easily get marred and charred. But after a bit of consideration I was able to put one low enough on the down tube to miss the decals (there are no pre drilled holes here, clamp bottle cages only).
I can’t get over how smooth a ride this is. The 40+ year old cranks and bottom bracket are smooth and easy. Pedal strokes just feel good. In comparison, my other bike (2007 Masi) has drag to it and sometimes feels sluggish. I can’t speak to why. This bike is thinner and lighter and cruises along effortlessly. Perhaps the components, but perhaps a better fit.
The Compass Tires are sweet. They handle effortlessly all while being a wider tire (32MM) with a lower level of air (70PSI) compared to 25MM and 90PSI on my other bike. I could wax wistfully about them, but I think you get the drift.
With the down tube friction shifting (no clicks, just find it and don’t grind it) I feel more connected to the gears. Again, it may sound fru-fru, it feels more natural? You know the exact gear you’re in and when you need to shift and what each gear can accomplish.
I spend more time in the drops. I never did. The distance of the bars on the Masi doesn’t feel great, so I stay away from them. On the Gitane, I live in them. They are solid, comfortable, and confident.
While the bike has a couple of years on me, there is some enjoyment to be turning 40 this weekend and riding a 40+ year old bike. And the bike has been a great reminder of simplicity. No frills. Just a bike. But, what a bike.
So is this it? An end? Thinking no, there’ll be more.
But for this 1972 Gitane “Tour de France”, it is reborn, onto its second life, experiencing its revival.
Soundtrack: Frightened Rabbit (Sings the Greys), Cat Power (Cherokee), De La Soul (3 Feet High and Rising), Nina Simone (collection).
Tire selection, it wasn’t a labored decision. I had narrowed it down over the winter.
I wanted something wide, comfortable, and light. The choice was easy, Compass Tires.
These tires are made in Japan by Panaracer (a top tire company). They are lightweight, supple (their word not mine), and smooth.
I have little to compare them to. I’ve only had a few different tires.
The instructions for installation made me overly cautious. I’ve installed a couple of tires, but not many. There were lots of precautions (understandably). I got the front tire on, but struggled with the back. There are little lines that need to be even and not dip below the rim or be too high. I felt a sense of paralysis when reading the instructions.
I brought my other tire over to my pals at Back Bay Bicycle. They installed the tire and said the front was fine. While I probably would’ve been OK to put the back tire on, however, I wanted to be sure my investment wouldn’t blow out.
I’ll have images of the finished bike up soon as well as my experience of riding a lovingly restored, 40+ year old bike.