Sunday, October 9, 2011

"and now for something entirely different"

In my last positings I neglected - forgot - to mention that I sold both remaining veterans, the 1954 BSA A7 unrestored and licensed and the 1955 Mondial , also licensed and running - quite well as I was able to log up a couple of hundred Kms before parting with it this year. It has gone to a (hopefully) better home.

That does not mean that I have lost interest in two-wheelers. Not in the least.
I have renewed my very old interest in bicycles and bike riding, though to be truthful, that was never actually completely dormant.
But as one gets older, it becomes increasingly evident, that one is responsible for one's own well-being. Now at 67 I decided that some more time spent actively with the bike was worthwhile. This means of course, unless one has unlimited free time, that other things like motorcycle riding or restoring one's own material have to be curtailed.

My courtyard looks like a bike store. Five racing bike of various flavors hang from their wheels at the front corner, behind that with the basket on the bars, our everyday but nevertheless custom-built "Lea" mixte of 1974. Farther back in the other shot another Lea mixte, this one from 1986 with derailleur and not all Campagnolo. Not seen, a Marin hard-tail mountain bike and a Specialized racing BMX from the early day of real BMX racing. This one lives as a collector's item on the upstairs wall; the little kids are not allowed to use it.

Les Cycles Lea was founded in 1893 in Bruges and was disolved only recently because there was no one left to run the business.
I discovered Eric Prooft , the owner of LEA, during my first visit to the Festival van Flaanderen in 1974. This music festival with playing competition for harpsichord and later fortepiano with exhibition wis carried out every three years. !974, my wife and I were only tourists and, having discovered this fantastic 19th.c. store with real-life master bike maker, I had the first Lea made for my wife. Eric made the frame for these in batches to standard size and geometry as a typical bruggsche fiets, that is a Bruges bicycle. traditionally these differ from say an Antwerpsche fiets. This is due to the very different topography of the two cities and the street surfaces: Bruges mostly cobble stones, Antwerp mostly brick. As long as bike were made in smaller shops by artisans, such differences were catered to. The differences are both visible and obvious for the rider. French mites are different again. Unfortunately most all of this has died out with the artidan makers and the influx of cheap (in every respect) mountain bikes. Anyway, with the idea of getting a bike, we went to the historic shop just a few yards down the street from the gothic town hall and requested such. Between Eric's rudimentary English and my rudimentary French managed to convince him that we really wanted one of his bikes. From then the stock pile on the counter grew. What color, please; the frames were hanging high under the ceiling in metallic red, green or blue. He could do other colors but we would have to wait either until the new batch was finished or he would have to strip one a repaint it. He had his own enamel baking oven at the back, this, too, historic. We chose green. Good, the frame and a fork to match were laid on the counter. How should the wheels be? How much may they cost? What do you recommend? Fine; the hubs, rims and spokes were also laid on the table. Cranks and chainwheel? Fenders? Brakes? Saddle? I really highly recommend this one; it is very dear but will last for decades. OK (and it, a real leather woman's saddle, is still in everyday use!). Bars and Stem? etc etc. at the end a large stock pile covering the counter, all tallied up in pencil one the shop slip. Fine. 'Now you come back at the end of the week and I will have it ready to be adjusted and ridden.' So we came back on Friday and new bike home. It was not cheap. It has Campagnolo Record high flange hubs spoked with Mavic rims for tubulars, Campagnolo pedals, Stronglight D49 cotterless dural cranks and TA chainwheel, Mafac Racer center-pull brakes. A bike like that cannot be cheap. It is still going strong, so at the bottom line it was dirt cheap and it is still much lighter than other everyday bikes and lighter than a lot of would be racers. It has no shift at all; in Bruges you don't need one.

1977 and 1978 we bought each a 24" and 22" Lea mixte for the two daughters. These have been passed on in the meantime.

1982 while passing through Bruges from England - the ferries were still running from Zeebrugge and Ostende to Dover - I dropped in on Eric and had him take measure for a new road racing frame built to his best specifications for the flemish one day classics. The following year, I would be back to the Festival with my harpsichords and we would then finish the bike. All Reynolds 531 double-butted tubing with Campagnolo dropouts, this one got real baked-on enamel. Eric was only to glad for this since he did not like the metallic lacquers at all and only did them because they sold better. Wheels were again Campi high flange Record with Mavic GP4, 28 spokes in front, 36 at the rear with a then revolutionary 6 speed freewheel. Campi cranks and chainwheels, Campi derailleurs, Modolo Speedy brakes ( a small but high quality Italian company), Campi seat post, TTT bars and neck, Campi pedals. Some things have been changed since then. There is now a TA triple chainwheel crank set, a newer more modern Specialized saddle, Miche 302 click pedals and a Dura-Ace rearwheel with 7 speed freewheel. While this is a modern hub-integrated freewheel, unlike the screw-ons used on those historic Campi hubs, cogs for it are no longer available; Shimano changed the spline. Too bad, since the hub is really every bit as good as the Campis. I am making a new rear wheel with Miche B-Box hub with Campi splined drum laced into a brand-new(!) 32 spoke Mavic Monthlery rim which I chanced onto.
I finally found a rather rare Campi rear derailleur (Ebay France like that TA crank set) with long cage arm to manage wide ratio setups so the new wheel will have a 9 speed cluster.

Behind my two bikes in the second photo, there are two bikes with very small frames for the grandchildren. A Bianchi with aluminum frame, carbon fiber fork, and relatively modern Schimano 501 group. It is also the only bike with clincher tires. I bought this one used. Next to that and barely visible, an 80ies Pinarello "Treviso" road frame I built up as fixie so they are forced to learn an even, round cadence.
In the first photo, a japanese Koga Myata I bought for my wife many years ago, but which she does not ride, preferring the younger of the two Leas with derailleur. Altho a bit small, I will put fenders, lights, and Mafac brakes on it this week for myself to use in the winter.

Saving the best for last, This is the bike I ride most.
Made to measure for me in 1962 by Oscar Wastyn Sr. in Chicago, this is one of those professional 6 days bikes referred to on their homepage. Typical of the time, all Reynolds 531, with Nervex Pro lugs, and Campi dropout ends on the fork. I restored it a few years ago to nearly original condition, adding the single brake for everyday use but have since removed it again. Since I started training again, my condition has imporved to the point that I no longer think I need it. The Miche 502 clip pedals are of course not original; I used Campis, but the rest is still as it was, including the then high-tech Unica Nitor Mod.50 saddle: Campi Record high flange hubs, Gran Sport seat post, and pedals (originally), Mavic rims. Stronglicht bottom bracket and 49 cranks (Two sets with 165 and 170mm) and TA chainwheels, Ambrosio stem and track bars.
At the moment I am using campi Super Record road cranks with a 42t ring because I am unable to get new TA chainwheels. I will have a couple made this winter and put the Stronglight cranks back on.

As I said, this is the bike I ride most. If you have not ridden a fixed gear, preferably a real track bike, you don't know what a bike really is. After that you are spoiled. Even the best pro road bike is a clumsy makeshift by comparison.

While I have no need or desire for a modern road bike, I do test ride everything I can get my hands on, regardless of whether I could afford it or not. No aluminum bike has ever impressed me and few are that much lighter than my Lea and only very few carbon fiber bikes. Even the ones that did impress me I would not trade for my Lea. It weighs all of 9kgs with the vintage parts. With modern material like radial spoked carbon fiber rims and a carbon fiber group it could easily be reduced to about 7. With the Reynolds 531 steel frame.

What I really do want, however, is a track tandem like this:

I procrastinated and so missed this one that was for sale in France. There will be another chance. Or have one made.
Bob Jackson Cycles would make one, silver brazed with Reynolds 631 tubing, for 1600£.