Schwinn Collegiate

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Univega Gran Turismo

This isn't my image, but rather came from this great website
The Gran Turismo was usually Univega's second from the top of the line of their grand touring bikes.  It was a triple with 5 and then 6 gears in the back. I have seen a couple for sale from the late 1970s, and may have been the top of the line at the time.  I know the 1977 was hi-ten 1024 butted steel, and that they were woefully without any water bottled bosses.  They came with suntour barcons, Sakae Randonneur drop bars, Sakae RG cranksets, Suntour SL front derailleurs, Suntour V-GT Luxe rear derailleurs and Dia-Compe center pull brakes and brake levers.  Araya aluminum wheels featured Sunshine hubs with 36 spokes.  These bikes featured a chromed fork, a head badge, a Selle Italia saddle suede saddle and MKS AR-3 quill pedals, and even came in a mixte.  The 1970s bikes are identifiable by serial numbers that start with an A-H and the older style logo with the wide "V".  They also seem to lack braze-ons for cable routing and featured safety brake-levers.

I am fairly certain by 1980 (I estimate 1979 to actually be the turn-around) these bikes were definitively second from the top behind the Specialissima.  At this point, they were straight-gauge chromoloy frames with a single settle of water bottle bosses and a fluted seat post.  The reason I think they may have stepped down to second in the hierarchy at this point is because they were now straight gauged, instead of the V-GT Luxe they now featered V-GT rear derailleurs, and instead of bar-end shifters, they now featured down-tube shifters.  Other than that, they were almost exactly  the same with the

Though not a major change, I will note that in 1981 (at the very least), Univega made several bikes in a unique orange color

The next major change seems to have been in 1982 when the Gran Turismo got cantilever brakes and upgraded to the Suntour BL (blue line) front and rear derailleur.  Additionally, a second set of water bottle bosses were added along with rear-rack braze-ons.  This year also seems to feature a wonderful brazed-on slap guard.  At this point the frame was double-butted as well.

By 1987 the Gran Turismo was replaced by the Gran Touring and was no longer manufactured in Japan, but instead in Taiwan.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Types of Steel Tubing

Understanding steel tubing can be a real mystery challenge. A secret decoder ring would really go a long way in this matter. Until someone is kind enough to manufacture that specific cracker jack prize, let me do my best.

To start, you need to determine the tubing of your bike. Usually bikes will have stickers on the seat tube that indicate its tubing. When these are absent, you can sometimes guess based on the weight of the bike.

Unlabeled tubes: Usually these are made of a mild steel that is very low quality and hence very thick and heavy. It could be the case though that the sticker was removed/painted over though, so this is not necessarily the case.

High tensile steel (hi-ten steel): This is the lowest quality steel, and so manufacturers generally make up for its low quality by making its tubing particularly thick. This makes for a heavy bike. Often time people use the derogatory term "gas pipe tubing" in order to indicate its low quality and heavy weight.

High carbon tubing: These are a step up from hi-ten steel, but are still relatively low quality. They include Columbus Aelle, Reynolds 500, and Valite. I have little experience with riding or even seeing these tubes.

Steel alloy tubing: These are the next step up in tube quality and include Reynolds 853, True temper OX Platinum, and Columbus Foco.

Chromium-molybdenum steel (chromoloy or Cromo/CrMo): This is the term for a variety of lighter steels that have the numerical designation of 4130. Generally, these are the highest quality steel frames. Reynolds, Columbus, Dedacciai, and True Temper all make chromoloy tubing, but higher quality tubes are made by Ritchey, Tange, and Ishiwata.

Be aware, that many companies now try to disguise the quality of their tubing by giving it a clever name. Do your research and google the name to determine if it is quality or just a clever name for hi-ten steel.

Another important detail often found on the frame sticker is how much of the bike is comprised of Chromoloy. Sometimes, the sticker will read "three main tubes" or something similar that shows that the fork is actually hi-ten along with the chain stays etc. This doesn't make the bike bad, but it is important to be aware of the true nature of your frame.

The final consideration is the butting of the tubes. Butting simply means that one of the tube is made thicker than the rest of the tube. Or, to be more precise, the entire tube is made thinner, except at one end. This allows the bike to be both lighter and more comfortable (as it is more flexible). Usually only the main frame tubes are butted. Additionally, some bikes are double, triple, or even quadruple butted. This of course saves more and more weight and makes the bike increasingly more flexible/comfortable.

Types of Vintage Road Bikes

In general vintage road bikes can be grouped into three types: racing, touring, and sport.  I'm not counting track bikes because they are meant for tracks, and I'm not counting upright bikes as they clearly different

A racing bike is one specifically meant for speed, responsiveness, performance, and short periods of time in the saddle.  To attain maximum speed, racing bikes are light and have a geometry that lends itself to speed.  This often translates into lightweight frames that are butted, components made of lightweight alloys (remember we're talking vintage bikes), and smaller more compact frames that lack the frills of eyelets and excessive braze-ons.  Unlike touring bikes, racing bikes have fewer gearing options and a saddle meant less for comfort and more for putting the rider into a powerful riding position.  This means that there is a double in the front and a narrow selection of gears in the rear cassette.

A "sport" bike is just that; a bicycle meant for sport.  It is a casual bicycle for someone to ride for exercise.  It has a more comfortable geometry than a racing bike and is generally made with lower-end components and cheaper tubing.  Often a single eyelet can be found on the rear stays.  These bikes are generally the most affordable and are often converted to the purpose of commuting.

The touring road bikes are aimed at people who are more interested in taking long trips on their bikes.  Often these are pictured with a couple crisscrossing the country on their bikes, which are fully loaded with their gear. Touring bikes have a more relaxed frame geometry with more flexible tubes for a comfortable ride (even if it generates slightly less power). Their frames are also sometimes longer to avoid conflicts between luggage and pedaling. Often the wheels have more spokes to support more weight, and these bikes usually come with a greater number of braze-ons so as to accommodate racks, panniers, fenders, etc. Additionally, the saddles are shaped a bit differently in order to provide greater comfort on a longer ride and sometimes the handlebars are shaped differently for increased hand comfort and position variety.  These bikes are generally equipped with a triple in the front and a wide range of gears in the freewheel/cassette so that the rider can tackle a wide variety of terrains.

Toe Overlap

What is toe overlap? Toe overlap is when a rider's feet are at 3 o'clock and he turns his handlebars, and the back of the tire hits the front of his foot. This is more of a challenge with bikes that are shorter and more compact in length. Generally, on an upright city bike this is more of a problem because riders make more sharp turns, and so must turn their front tire more drastically. Yet, even on a road bike this can be a problem. This problem can also be exacerbated if you have fenders on the bike.

Unlike many issues on bikes, there is no adjusting things to get rid of this problem. This is simply something that must be dealt with (other than getting a different frame or removing your fenders). Instead, a rider must learn to cope with this and alter his technique. This means keeping the pedals in an up and down position when turning. This takes some getting used to, but it is also really the only way to cope with this problem.

Safety Levers

Most people start biking on bikes that have flat handlebars. Because of this, when we get on our first road bike, we try to ride the "tops" (see top right picture below) of the drop bars and look to have our hands on the brake levers while we do it.

However, when riding the tops one can't reach the brake levers, and it can send a new road bike rider into a place of fear and uncertainty. During the bike boom of the early 1970s, many new riders were on bikes that they didn't quite fit correctly and so "safety levers" were introduced as a secondary method of braking. These were essentially bent pieces of metal that facilitated braking from the tops of the drop bars.

These are convenient and perhaps do add a level of safety to riding with drop bars, but they also have developed a bad rap. There are stories of some braking leading them to be nicknamed "lawsuit bars" or "suicide bars". They also have the derogatory nickname of "turkey wing brakes" because of their physical appearance. Whether they are unsafe or not, they have become indicative of lower-end bikes. For this reason, when I am looking at a photo of a bike for sale, I almost always skip over bikes that have safety levers. This is not to say that a bike with safety levers is no good. Flower's Univega Viva Touring is equipped with them and yet it is a light-weight chromoloy touring frame with cantilever brakes. My Panasonics both had them, but also had double-butted chromoloy frames.

Eventually, this technology was improved and decent/safe ones exist. However, today bikes are instead often equipped with interrupter brakes, which are small brakes that look like they belong on flat bars. The brake cable is fed from the aero levers through the interrupter levers to the brakes.

The fixed gear bike

To talk about a "fixie" in cycling circles is to invoke an emotional response. To talk about a "fixie" in certain social circles is to invoke an emotional response. To talk about a "fixie" in almost any other circle is to raise eyebrows of confusion and elicit an "eh?".

At its core a fixie is a fixed gear bike. Once upon a time all bikes were fixed. This means that the rear wheel is fixed to the cog that the chain sits upon. Eventually, this became replaced by the freewheel. Freewheels only spin in one direction. This makes it so that when you pedal forward, it propels the bicycle. But when you pedal backwards, nothing happens. With a fixed gear bicycle, pedaling backwards propels the bicycle backwards (were one to have better balance than I have!). Of course if the bicycle is in forward motion, and one resists the forward momentum, then the bike slows. The two major effects of this is that one must always pedal when riding a fixie (there is no coasting) and one has very little need for brakes (especially the back one) because one can simply slow the bike by resisting the forward momentum.

For those outside of bicycling, this probably warranted little more than an "oh." Perhaps even a "that's weird." So the next question is "why all of the emotional reactions?" The answer to this revolves around an urban subculture. The members of this subculture, sometimes called "hipsters" (rarely in a flattering way) are the main riders of fixies. The riding of fixed geared bikes became popular with bike messengers who were looking to gain control of their bikes in the tight urban environment of big cities. The fixed gear bikes also offered them simple bikes that were easy to maintain.

So how did a bunch of hipsters end up with these bikes? This I cannot entirely answer. Trends spread, especially in urban environments and within subcultures. For whatever reason, fixies have become popular in the this subculture and even beyond. Not only do people ride fixed gear bikes, but they make them fashion statements. They are often repainted or powder coated bright colors or a matte black. In contrast various components are often bright loud colors. It is not uncommon to see brightly colored cranks, handlebars, chains, wheels, saddles, and more. These make for wonderful simplistic works of art. However, this of course augments the notion that these riders are more interested in making a fashion statement than riding a fixed gear bike.

Fixies also lend themselves to stunt riding (riding backwards, skid stopping, etc.) and can have a bit of a learning curve for new riders. This leads to the occasional blunder as riders fail an attempt at a "cool" trick or forget themselves and attempt to coast at an inopportune time. This of course garners annoyance and subsequent ridicule from drivers and pedestrians (not to mention other riders). Hence the emotional reactions begin. Many bicycle enthusiasts see fixie riders as wannabe hipsters who just want to ride (or perhaps just own a bike) to be cool and hence degrade the hobby that the enthusiasts love so dearly.

Those who resent fixie riders for social reasons are usually part of the same subculture or one in close contact with it. Part of this subculture is the need to constantly be original and differentiate oneself, and of course conforming to fixie riding is grounds for sanctions as a conformist. Of course those who aren't part of the subculture probably see it as a badge for that subculture and may resent fixie riders for the same reason.

The Bike Boom

While there are a couple of waves of biking popularity in history, the "bike boom" really refers to the explosion of 10 speed adult bikes with derailleur drive-trains from about 1965-1975. The wave of popularity peaked in the early to mid 1970s.

Before the bike boom, in the 20th century, bicycles were generally seen as kids toys. With the boom this all changed. The cause of the boom was a convergence of baby boomers becoming adults who were looking for bikes for recreation and exercise and an increased environmental awareness. There is also contention over whether the 1974 oil crisis was a factor, however the boom was in decline by this point, so while it may have prevented the boom from ending earlier, it seems not to have been a cause.

At first bicycle companies were overwhelmed by demand. English and French companies ruled the American roads. Companies like Raleigh and Peugeot produced bicycles that Americans flocked to. Japanese companies were making quality bicycles at the time, but they didn't understand the American market. Because of the incredible struggles Japan faced during and after World War II, many Japanese people were considerably smaller than Americans of the time.

Eventually, with the help of the Boston importer Eugene Ritvo, one Japanese model started making inroads in the American market. He helped Fuji to realize the size and weight difference of the average Japanese rider and American rider, and they started building larger stronger bikes. With the Fuji S-10-S, Japan started to take American road bicycling by storm.

Like what Japan later did to the American automotive market, the Japanese bicycle manufacturers built better more reliable bikes than the Europeans were making. While most European bikes were still cottered and used weak cotton tires, Japanese bikes were cotterless with new stronger nylon tires. Additionally, the S-10-S came with a leather seat, aluminum wheels, and aluminum handlebars. Japanese brands started to dominate the market and continued to do so until the late 80s when the dollar dropped in value and Japanese bikes became too expensive for Americans. At this point (about 1987)manufacturing was moved to Taiwan where labor and production was much cheaper.

These Japanese bikes are some of the best from the era (with perhaps the exception of high end European bikes). While all brands had entry level models as well as high end models, the following is a list of Japanese brands from the era.

American Eagle (Became Nishiki)
**Bianchi (This is an Italian brand, but some models were made in Japan in the late 80s)
*C. Itoh (A Bridgestone name)
Matsushita (Panasonic's Japanese mother company)
**Panasonic (Matsushita's bicycle company. It also made bikes for some other companies including Schwinn. Schwinn's "world" bikes and Le Tour model)
**Peugeot (These are French bikes, but some Peugeot mountain bikes were made in Japan in the mid to late 1980s)
**Puch (This is an Austrian model, but some were made in Japan)
**Raleigh (This is a British brand, but during the 1970s, some models were made in Japan)
Rampar (Subsidiary of Raleigh, some of which were made in Japan in the 1970s)
*Royce Union
***Schwinn (Panasonic and Bridgestone both produced bikes for Schwinn)
Terry (Some were made in Japan)
***Univega (Starting in the early 1970s up until about 1986, these frames were made by Miyata in Japan. After this, they moved production to Taiwan).

The asterisks indicate how often I see these in the Boston area

* I see one around every once in a while
** I see them around from time to time
*** Throw a stone; you just hit one!

Ask the universe if you should convert a hybrid to drop-bars, and it shall answer

I've been nervous to commute on a road bike that I love throughout the winter.  If I rode a multi-speed bike, I'd need to lock it to the bike rack and leave it to the mercy of the heathen students, or I'd need to luck it up two flights of stairs.  I also had to deal with large black streaks on my pant legs.  Because of this, I'd been riding my Jamis Beatnik, but its incessant clicking and the poor fit of the fenders on it drove me crazy.  I also worried about it not being the best choice for icy and snowy roads.  With this in mind, I starting hunting for a vintage mountain bike that I could do a drop bar conversion on and leave out in the jungle...that is, the bike rack.  I finally found a worthy candidate with this inexpensive 1990ish Specialized Crossroads Cruz.  While it is more a hybrid than a mountain bike, it had a triple in the front, mountain bike derailleurs and tires, and cantilever brakes, so I knew it'd be perfect for the job.

I took it home, road around the block, and reveled in my mountain bike glory by popping little wheelies on and off of a couple curbs.  I hadn't ridden a mountain bike since middle school, and it was the last type of bike I'd ridden before my decade bicycle hiatus.  I found it to be heavy and sluggish, but I didn't much mind, it was kind of fun.  I rode it to school, locked it to the rack, and road it home.

Of course on the way home I flipped over the handlebars and landed on my face.  That's right, after a year of riding road bikes, my first fall came off a slow moving mountain bike on my daily commute.  When I tell people that I fell off my bike, they always ask how, and the truth is that I'm just not really sure.  Maybe I just didn't notice, or maybe the smack in the face knocked it out of my mush of a brain, but I simply don't know for sure.

I know that I remember hitting my face on the cement and everything hurting.  I remember desperately trying to get up before anyone could notice, but a lady in a van came around the corner and asked if I was ok.  I want to describe her as a "nice lady" who asked me if I was ok, but for some reason the way I remember it she seemed less compassionate and more like she was implying that I was a moron.  Maybe that was because of my humiliation or my head injury or maybe she saw what happened and knows something that I don't.  But one way or another, I claimed I was fine and fumbled back up off the ground.

I tried to get back on my bike, but I quickly realized that the cantilever brake was jammed under the rim (the cause or the effect of the accident?).  I tried to wrestle with it,but ultimately had to remove the wheel to fix it.   I then started to pedal as quickly as possible towards home.  At this point I noticed my handlebars were bent too.  That certainly cemented my decision to convert to the drop bars.  I ached with pain as I pedaled the flat tired lead Flinstone-mobile home.  As I rode each wound took its turn aching.  I could see out of the corner of my eye that I'd torn up my cheek (and the visor of my helmet).  My teeth ached.  The inside of my knees ached.  My  wrists ached.  Everything was hazy.  I hurried home.

After a day of being a bit muddled in my mind, I finally was clear-headed.  At the insistence of my special-lady friend, I'd applied ice to many of my wounds, and it really  helped the swelling to subside.  But at this point, the back pain set-in.  In fact, everything felt better, but my back suddenly ached.  Moreover, so did my teeth.  Immediately after the accident I thought my mouth was full of blood, but after I spit, there was no blood in it.  I tried wiggling my teeth, but they weren't loose.  What could possibly be the problem?  Well according to the dentist I most likely cracked one of them.  This of course didn't show up on the x-rays which made me feel insecure and unsure about myself.  But with a week having gone by, I am fairly certain it must be a crack..  The treatment?   A root-canal :(