Schwinn Collegiate

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Cyclocross Conversion

I was so entranced with how fun cyclocross looks that I really thought it would be cool to give it a shot.  Granted a race looks way too scary, but puttering about on and off the road looks fun.  I really just wanted to roll onto a race course after the race is over and ride it a couple times.  Regardless, I was painfully aware that I was deficient in a cyclocross bike.  This of course could be a good excuse to go out and purchase another bike, but I am a bit inundated with bicycles, so I have to make do with what I have.

Cyclocross began as a way for riders to stay in shape during the off season, so the first cyclocross racers rode road bicycles with knobbier wheels.  Over time bicycle manufacturers began to make cyclocross specific bikes.  Of course these do not come cheap.  Nashbar offers a clearance cyclocross bike for $399 and this was by far the cheapest bike I found.  In reality, $600 is more of the starting point for a cyclocross bicycle.  Seems like a lot of money for a bike that I don't know anything about and will most likely ride once, find really hard, and give up on.

So what does a cyclocross bike need to be?

1.  Small and light - they need to be lifted and mounted and dismounted easily.
2.  Thin knobby tires - they should be thin enough to race on, but knobby enough to survive some off-road excitement
3.  Wide tire clearance - mud needs to be able to move easily under the fork and seatpost stays.
4.  Cantilever brakes - again, mud needs to be able move under the brakes, so cantilever (and now disc brakes) are a must
5.  Cable housing on top of the top tube - So that the cables don't interfere with the lifting of the bike and to keep them out of the mud as much as possible.
6.  STI or bar-end shifters - I'm sure this is a good reason other than convenience....I'm sure...
7.  Drop bars - because straight bars are for amateurs

Well, I knew I only had two bikes with cantilever brakes so that would largely narrow down my choice for what bike I could convert to a cyclocross bike.  It was between my new Univega Specialissima and my Univega Gran Touring.  I really though the Miyata 914 would be an excellent choice as it is already equipped with STI and is a smaller triple-butted frame.  Unfortunately, it has caliper brakes and barely any clearance.  It also already has 700c tires making it impossible to put smaller tires on it to increase the tire clearance.

I just got my Specialissima, and it is my dream bike, so I would never risk its life.  So it all fell on the shoulders of the Gran Touring.  I went out to the garage and looked at it.  It is small (but still fits me) light (triple-butted), equipped with cantilever brakes, and has large tire clearance even with its larger 27" tires.  I also don't think it is the most beautiful bike, so I wouldn't be heart-broken if it got scratched a bit.  So now it just needs two things: cyclocross tires and STI shifters.....oh, Miyata 914! I'm coming to get you!!!

Friday, October 5, 2012

When I asked one of my students what type of bike he has, he told me a Shimano.  While I have heard that Shimano made bikes at some point in the past, I was certain that my student didn't have one.  Instead he probably had a bike that had a Shimano sticker on it because it had Shimano derailleurs on it.  I tried to explain to him that almost all bikes come with Shimano stickers now.  This got me thinking about Suntour.  So many of my vintage bikes have Suntour components, and I really like them.  So whatever happened to good old Suntour?

It seems that Suntour hit is peak in the late 70s and early 80s.  It made some great components and sold them at a reasonable rate.  Ironically, this business plan may have lead to its reputation being tarnished and people assuming their products were low-end.

I think there is an ongoing argument about whether Suntour or Shimano made the better components in the 80s, but by the 90 Suntour was clearly failing.   From what I can tell, come the mid-80s, Suntour was skimping on R&D and the devaluing of the Yen (which crushed many Japanese bike brands) also hit Suntour hard.  Of course this hit Shimano hard, too but Suntour's reluctance to transfer manufacturing to cheaper Taiwan and their limited funding of R&D were to cost them dearly.

Then it all came down to indexed shifting.  In 1985 Shimano introduced the Shimano Indexed Shifting (SIS).  By the time Suntour released their answer to SIS (the Accushift), Shimano could afford to insist that manufacturers outfit their bicycles with complete SIS systems.  Suntour, desperate for orders at this point, couldn't afford to make such stringent requirements.  As a result manufacturers mixed Accushift components with others which hindered their correct performance.  This caused further criticism of Suntour's Accushift system and eventually led to the company's fall.  It seems unlikely that any of my students will ever mistakenly think they ride a Suntour.