My expectations were that this might turn out to be a fun and interesting curiosity. I mean after all, I was done – finished – with French frames. I’d sold off most of my French components, bars, stems, and pedals. A small voice in the back of my head whispered, “Hey dummy. You’ve got just enough French stuff left to build up a bike.”
Turned out, as a matter of fact, that the voice was wrong. I had unloaded more individual items than I remembered. Where, oh where is that perfect Simplex seat pin that would fit this frame perfectly? I really don’t remember selling or trading it, but I must have done. It’s nowhere to be found. (Surprisingly to those who know me well, my parts are moderately organized.)
So here I find myself – once again – with another fun and interesting curiosity. It’s a ‘cross bike. Heck, what I know about cyclocross is pretty much limited to the correct spelling. After my initial attempt to build up an all French roadie stalled, I started to poke around to find out more about how a cyclocross bike from the 70’s might have been built up. Did you know that there’s plenty of information available about contemporary ‘cross, but that there’s a dearth of anything resembling detail prior to the last twenty years?
I blame America, in part. We figure the world revolves around us. So despite the fact that ‘cross has flourished in parts of Europe for a very long time, it really didn’t existed at all until Americans “discovered” it a few years back. At least that might be the conclusion one could reach from researching the internet. I’ve tried to located images of cyclocross bikes that date to the 1970’s without much success. Sure, there are photos of events and riders, but most are those ubiquitous images you see of herculean guys covered in mud and carrying their bikes up a steep hill. Hard to tell what the heck components they’re using when everything is bathed in three inches of dripping goo.
After a brief fling with a kit of Zeus Criterium parts, I settled on something I definitely hadn’t anticipated putting to use: Suntour Superbe. After muddling around, I’ve managed to get it to shift my 13-26 five speed cluster very smoothly. The 52/42 road crank that was paired with these derailleurs in the early 80’s also functions very well. I began to compare popular contemporary ‘cross gearing to the recollections of a few people who were involved in the sport prior to 1990. 46/36 is often cited as a starting point for a crankset today; 39t singles are also popular. Comparatively speaking, that’s not a whole lot different than the 40t and 42t kits I’ve been told were used back in the day.
Obviously the rear cluster has changed a lot since the mid 70’s. This bike is spaced at 122, so a five or ultra-6 fits comfortably and easily. (I may see if a 7 or 8 will pop in without much fuss.) Today’s cross bikes have a much wider range of gearing, in 10 and 11 speeds. A lot of discussion focuses on using singles up front as opposed to compact double, and apparently it’s not a new conversation. I’m told that singles were popular in the past as well, their simplicity an attractive feature.
There’s also a fair bit of dialogue regarding single speed drive trains. I imagine it’s a lot easier to avoid huge clots of mud if you don’t have derailleurs hanging down and dragging through all that muck, so I kind of get the idea. I even considered that approach myself for the briefest of minutes. But we’ve got hills in these parts, so I’m not excited about the prospect of a bike that has such limitations…especially one that I’ve viewed from the start as a curiosity.
I was interested to read that bar end shifters were popular in the ‘cross crowd. I’ve got quite a few sets of these myself, my favorite of the bunch being the Suntour friction shifters. So the current version of this bike has a pair installed now.
So back to the confession. Despite having acquired this frame on a whim, and despite “knowing” all along that it would be an odd little curiosity that might get ridden occasionally, something odder still occurred to me this past week. Turns out I really like how this bike rides and how it fits me. I confess that I really enjoy taking it down the road. And now that I’ve (finally) got the MAFAC Competition brakes dialed in, I feel confident bombing down hills or turning onto one of our boulder and ravine strewn gravel paths that we use for country roads in Missouri.
I confess that I’m happily surprised to discover this isn’t anything at all like an odd curiosity after all.