Adjusting the Fit

Yes, I’m fiddling around with things again. Although I really love the look of the gold anodized bars, stem, and levers that have graced my 1971 Raleigh International, I’ve run into a problem recently: The stem no longer wants to snug down. Now I don’t know about anyone else, but having the bars come loose as I’m barreling down a steep hill is not a thrill I want to experience. In fact, having them come loose as I pedaled from a dead stop through an intersection at about 2 MPH was freaky enough. (For those interested in a first hand account, let me just say that I felt like I’d hit an oily or soapy patch on the road…no control whatsoever.)

I gritted my teeth and pulled over. This was the third time in a couple of days and I had finally come to the realization that if I wanted to ensure a future where I could grit my teeth at other things, I’d better reconsider my cockpit. I already knew that my optimal setup, like my Boulder, involved randonneur handlebars and more rise. I prefer the feel of rando bars while I ride. And as it happens, I had an unused set of bars and a long rise stem hanging about.

The first bike tool I reached for was my camera. I needed to make some precise comparisons between the control (my Boulder Brevet) and the bike I wanted to adjust. After a lot of adjustment and experimentation, the Boulder fits me better than any other bike, so it operates as my baseline.

In this photograph, notice that I’ve placed guidelines to indicate the top of the bars and saddle position, as well as the location of the bottom bracket. These the the relevant points of contact for me. The bottom bracket, regardless of location on the frame, isn’t a variable. The pedals meet my feet, and that simply doesn’t change so I make two photographs of the bikes in exactly the same position, then superimpose the images with the bottom brackets oriented to the same location. Because everything else is a variable, I can compare the bike I want to adjust to the variables on the bike I want to adjust.

Notice how in this superimposed image the two bottom brackets are aligned, but that the other points of contact – i.e., the saddle and bars – are clearly located in different places relative to the bottom bracket. Because I already know that the Boulder is an optimal fit, I can begin my analysis with this information.

A couple of notable observations can be made here. First, the saddle is lower on the International. Raising it is easy, of course. But doing so would play havoc with the reach and drop to the bars. But that’s ok because the second thing of note is that the bars need to be raised in order to better match the fit of the Boulder. Seems simple, but there’s not enough rise on the gold stem…and heck, it’s not staying secure anyway.

Assuming I had adequate rise with the original stem (which I don’t), simply raising the height doesn’t come anywhere close to matching the rise or grip points of contact on the Boulder. This is where the randonneur handlebars come into the picture: because the curves rise and the bars themselves have a more forward position, my points of contact are higher, with a more stretched out and longer reach. I happen to like longer reach, and raising the original bars would effectively shorten the reach.

All of which takes me back to the photo at the top of this post. Replacing the lovely, but unworkable gold bars and stem with a tall Nitto and rando bars combination left me with a ride that rivals my Boulder. The superimposed photos are precise enough to have helped me adjust the new setup with almost no additional adjustments after the initial installation. Yesterday, I pedaled up and down the street feeling like I was riding a completely different bike. Please remember that I already liked the ride of this International, so discovering that the comfort and bike position was now almost the duplicate of my Boulder, and then realizing that this adjustment left me with a significantly more efficient pedal stroke… well, let’s just say that I’m more than pleased.

An afternoon shakedown ride today confirmed my initial assessment, by the way. A quick fifteen mile route of hills, mixed terrain, and flats; stopping and starting, curves, etc. takes away some of the chagrin I feel at having to put the gold stuff up on the wall.

Think I’ll celebrate this win over an excellent glass of wine. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day.


Disappointment is Waning.

It’s been two weeks since mounting Clement Strada LGG 28 x 700 tires onto my 1966 Paramount. In my last post I voiced disappointment that the tires came nowhere close to a measurement of 28. I hoped the tires would stretch over time, and in fact a reader wrote me with an assurance this would be the case.

Taking calipers to tires this morning I find that the tires have indeed stretched. No, they are still not quite 28 – the front is 26, and the rear mics out at almost 27. But that is, ultimately, a whole lot better than the skinny initial result after installing them.

An Unexpected Unfolding of Events

(Continued from yesterday.) Shaun’s timing was nothing if not impeccable. In fact, I had the Hobbs up on the bike stand the very afternoon I received his email enquiring if I’d learned anything else about the bike, the original owner, or the cycling club painted on the top tube. A quick response on my part led to an equally quick retort from Shaun:

Hello Mark,

Nice to meet so to speak.

I’m often surprised where these bikes can turn up so I guess there must be a story behind your frame travelling so far across the world.

I will pass an email around the older members of the club and see if anyone can help with memories of this former member.  Dick Poole was a near contemporary of Mal Rees and our president Mike Crane has been with the club since the early 1950’s, not bad going compared to my mere 6 years.  As soon as I hear anything that may be useful to you I will pass it on.

Older bikes are a passion of mine though I’ve never owned a Hobbs.  A couple of years back I was lucky to acquire a lovely 1956 Major Brothers of Thornton Heath which is in South London.  The frame had a person’s name and club painted on the top tube much like yours and I was lucky to trace the former owner who is elderly but happily alive and well.  The information he gave me regarding the frame was priceless so it is possible.  I will see what I can do for you. Something of interest for you Mark, I’ve just had a brief email from Mike,  Alistair Burnet is the full name pertaining to your frame and I’ll get more facts tomorrow when he’s free.

Kind regards,


Dick Poole? I recognized that name. Wasn’t he a record holder in the Land’s End to John o’Groats route? Before I even had a chance to Google it, Shaun had followed up:

Hello Mark,

This is proving to be a fascinating subject.

First of all Mike apologises, the name should be Andy Burnet and not Alistair.  Andy Burnet was no less a founder member of the Middlesex RC in 1937.  He lived in St Albans, Hertfordshire which is a few miles north of London.  In 1949 he became a vice president of the club – there were 8 of these which gives you an idea of the large size of the Middlesex RC in those days.  Mike suggests that Hobbs bikes were rarely seen in the area of West London which is where the club drew most of its members from.

Dick Poole has also replied to me and has asked me for your email address so he can contact you directly, I have forwarded it to him.  I would add that Dick Poole is something of a living legend in the Middlesex having been a record breaking 24 hr racer and holder of the Lands End to John O’ Groats record, just two of his many and varied feats.  He says that Andy Burnet used to assist him on the 24 hr events.

I think it is remarkable that a bike which has a connection with our club and above all, a founder member still exists and it’s fortunate that it is owned by someone like you who appreciates this sort of thing.  Hobbs bikes may not command great sums of money but what you have I think is priceless.  Do you know how it came to be in the States?

Hope this all helps.

Best wishes


As for how the bike came to be here, I’m at a loss. At one time there was a website dedicated to the Hobbs name, and by happenstance the webmaster mentioned a completely intact bike with a serial number that matches mine exactly. At the time I came across that mention it appeared the site had not been updated in several years. Despite sending messages to the email address on that site, my queries went unanswered. Clicking on the saved link for the site shows that it has disappeared entirely. That is frustrating because unless the serial number was typed incorrectly, there was a good chance of a direct connection. Somewhere along the way the various parts were pirated. When I found the bike, it had been in the hands of a dealer in the American South for several years (of all places) and then sold as a complete warehouse to a fellow in St. Louis, Missouri. He, in turn, sold the frame, fork, bottom bracket, and partial headset to me.

Our correspondence was taking off and it wasn’t much longer before my phone chimed again, letting me know I had mail. But this new message wasn’t from Shaun:

Hello Mark,

I saw the mails concerning Andy Burnet and as one of his closest friends felt I had to reply. I think it must have been in 1947 when I first met Andy, and it was he that in fact introduced me to the Middx R.C. who that year won the team National Best All Rounder time-trial competition. I was 15 then and very impressed with the presentation of the national prizes which was then held at the Albert Hall. I believe Andy was then riding 24 hour time trials and I remember riding about 50 miles out to Bedfordshire to hand him up a drink in the famous North Road C.C. event – I shall never forget what he said to me at the time “ one of these days I shall be doing this for you “. A very prophetic few words because in 1959 I rode my first of 13 24 hour events and Andy helped in at least half of those – he was utterly dependable and would always be where I wanted him to be.

Perhaps I should at this stage tell you that in 1965 I tackled the Land’s End to John O’Groats record a distance of 868 miles and was the first rider to complete the distance in under two days, and of course Andy was one of the helping team. Later that year I rode the National 24 hour Championship and finished third with a distance of 480 miles. It was Andy that first suggested that I should go for this record, but unfortunately due to business problems he was unable to organise it. I shall never forget Andy – he was truly my mentor early on and guided me into riding distance events. A perfect gentleman – I never ever heard him swear ! As I said before he was completely dependable and a great clubman, a man I was privileged to know. I was away on holiday when he died and was unable to attend his funeral – I was completely devastated when I heard the news- even now writing about him brins tears to my eyes – he was such a great mate.

Well Mark there’s not a lot more I can add, but I’m attaching a photo of Andy (at the top of this post) that one of his daughters kindly sent me – I don’t know if it’s the Hobbs he’s riding, but I suppose it could be. I’m 85 in February but still managing a few miles now and then but a lot slower than I was !

With all Best Wishes,

Dick Poole

This was certainly an unexpected unfolding of events. (To be continued.)






The Third Life of a Phoenix

“The Phoenix.” Hmm. I typed that title on a whim, but I like it. Maybe I need to have that in subtle, elegant calligraphy across the top tube? It’s a thought.

Why “Phoenix,” though? Well, I consider this the third life of my 1971 Raleigh International. She came to me a few years back in pretty sad condition, paint flaking off in strips, generally abused and neglected over time. The previous owner rode it as a touring bike for many years, through all sorts of conditions. He had eventually aged out of the bike and out of riding, and she sat in his workshop for a long time until  I adopted her. Her second life was as a long distance three-speed.

This morning was the inaugural shakedown “third life” ride following last week’s rebuild. During her second life she was a wonderful reimagining of a club racer – a venerable British lightweight drop bar frame with a three speed internally geared hub. I’ve loved that configuration, but in honest self reflection I find that nearly all of my riding is done on my Boulder Brevet. I asked myself why that was, and the answer – not surprisingly – was: Fit, gearing, build, and ride quality.

Hence, the third life is a return to the roots of this bike, with more than a few nods towards those things that make my life feel better on two wheels.

So, the inaugural shakedown ride is a short twelve mile route of hills and flats that I use to test new builds. My initial assessment? A/A+…and now I’m REALLY jazzed about  installing 700 x 38 Compass Barlow Pass tires that I can run at lower pressure.  (I’ve got 700 x 28 Gatorskins on the rims at the moment, and while they are definitely the most bullet proof tires I’ve ever ridden, they are far from being describable as “supple.” And they are a total bitch to get over the lip of the rim. God help me if I ever have a frickin’ flat out on the road…)

To say that I’m pleased with this rebuild would be a gross understatement. The bottom bracket is perfectly tuned and the Stronglight 48/40/28 triple yields a very nice range of low and middle range gears when paired up with the 13-30 Ultra 6 freewheel. A Mountech FD handles the jump between 40 and 28 without blinking an eye. And the Mark Pace-built rear wheel turns out to have been an outstanding decision. It’s riding very nicely indeed.

While I wait on tires to arrive I’ll head out to the studio to engineer a nicer looking light bracket. I also need to camouflage/protect the exposed wiring running from the dyno hub to the light unit. That’s (mostly) cosmetic, but I appreciate a well designed system.

Motobecane Mixte à la Randonneuse

This photo essay begins with a crappy Motobecane frame and fork that I’ve tentatively dated to 1972 – 73. My best guess is that this is the Grand Touring model. The paint is terribly chipped – “cosmetically challenged”, but the tubes are straight and without dents. Most importantly, after careful measurements I believe this will fit my wife.

I’ve several French bottom brackets and headsets in good working condition, so the first task was installing those components. All of my Stronglight and TA cranksets have tall chainwheels so I decide to go with a nice, lightweight 52/40 SR. As it happens, I also have a nice, lightweight pair of randonneur bars, an Atax stem, and a couple of excellent sets of MAFAC Racer brakes.

The bars and stem polish up nicely with Mothers, and on a whim I wrap the bars in blue. (Originally, I’d planned to go with tan or brown to match the saddle but this color grew on me.)

Comparing the head badge design to Motobecane catalogs helped me to narrow down the year. After 1973, the design became a circular motif.

The first mock up included a saddle that was situated waaaay too high. It was perched precariously atop the seat tube on a seat pin that was the wrong size. It took some digging, but eventually I did locate the correct diameter seat pin.

I tried out several options for the fenders and wound up choosing a pair that are a sort of satin, brushed aluminum.

I’d planned to run a Simplex Prestige but got worried about it being able to handle a big 32t cog in back. Instead, I’ve installed a period-incorrect Shimano rear derailleur that I know can make the jump.

And here we are, mostly mocked up, ready to fine tune and tighten everything down. Red housing? Yup. Another wild hair, I suppose.

I’ll add a chain tomorrow. Now let me think…where on earth did I store those KoolStop brake pads for MAFAC?

Swap meet score

The best ten dollars I’ve spent in a long time: Several pairs of CLB brake hoods for MAFAC Racer brake levers, new in the bag and still incredibly supple; ten real, honest-to-goodness rubber tire patch kits (not pictured)…the glue is questionable, but the patches are like gold to me; a pair of obnoxiously bright pink toe straps (the wife’s bike gets pinker and pinker every day); several NOS cycling caps…all in all, a nice little score for a tiny little swap meet. And the best part is that the big one – the El Torreon swap meet – is still yet to come this Sunday!

It was fun.

Well, so much for two days of riding. All week long the forecast called for a pretty spectacular January weekend, but Sunday has arrived cold and miserably windy. I will likely bundle up, get outside, and put in a few miles on the Boulder, and pretend that I’m enjoying myself. It looks and feels like January out there.

Yesterday, by contrast, was more like late March or April. The sun moved in and out, one minute gloomy and the next cheerful. Despite the cool, blustery conditions, it was pleasant enough and I took the 1946 Hobbs of Barbican Superbe out to the downtown airport for an initial test ride.

The downtown airport was at one time the Kansas City International airport. KCI moved twenty miles north decades ago, but this place still operates for small jets and aircraft. Located right next to the river, there’s little in the way of windbreak – but it’s also relatively flat, with only two rises along the 6 kilometer route that laps the grounds. Traffic, other than bikes, is almost nonexistent and accordingly it’s a popular spot for area cyclists to ride, especially those who live and work downtown.

“Flat” was what I wanted for testing out my fixed wheel build and so this location was as good as any for the maiden voyage.

I’m always excited to try out a new bike build. Because this is the first fixed wheel I’ve built up, I was a little apprehensive, hoping I hadn’t forgotten to tighten up one of the components. (I sincerely hoped I had been diligent – the only tool I had on me was a 15mm box wrench…!)

Gingerly pedaling out of the parking lot, I was immediately aware of everything: pedals in motion, getting seated, hand position. I was listening for any suspicious noises from the chain, the crank, the pedals. And unlike bikes with a freewheel, the fixed gear isn’t particularly forgiving when it comes to one who forgets what bike one is riding and attempts to coast!

For about the first 5km I found myself learning to ride all over again. My pedal strokes were deliberate and my cadence kept going up and down. After the first lap, I found myself settling in and  the crank began to revolve smoothly. After forgetting myself and attempting to coast on one of the two short descents, the bike reminded me that I needed to keep pedaling at all times. I relaxed and pedaled with the bike from that point onward.

Weaving in and out of the carbon fiber crowd felt good, and checking my iPhone app I was even a little surprised at the pace I was making. Two of the six laps clocked in at just over 30kph. Considering that I am not particularly fast, wasn’t particularly trying to go fast, and riding a 70 year old racing bike… well I felt pretty good about it.

My immediate take away was how much fun it is to ride this bike. Yes, I was riding in circles. Yes, the route was almost entirely flat. Yes, I got passed by every single racer wannabe out there. But it was fun.

And that’s what it’s all about.