Gravel Bike Baby!

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Snow Bike

I did a couple gravel events last year, and in the snowy dark depths of winter, I started to think about the new biking season.  Actually so much so, that I started biking in the snow and ice, but maybe that should be another blog entry. I put this together (right) with a home made studded front tire.  Salt is brutal on bikes, though.

And I caught wind of the Dairy Roubaix, and signed up.  And started thinking about the upcoming season, and what I wanted to do, and to accomplish, on my bike.

And I needed a bike.  I rode my old Raleigh on a gravel event last year, and had a great ride.  But I don’t want to beat up the Raleigh, so needed something similar, that had the same kind of ride and fit as the Raleigh.

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The Raleigh International was a “sport touring” bike, if you will, with a longer wheelbase and slacker angles than the sportier racing models.  And built of light and lively steel tubing.  It wasn’t a racing bike, but wasn’t a full touring bike, either.  Somewhere in between.  And on gravel, in my opinion, all these things come together beautifully.

Roughly a year ago I started a project.  I had an old frame with bad paint, and decided I could practice brazing on it.  If I wrecked the frame, not a great loss.  If I succeeded, possibly a nice bike that could serve a variety of purposes.  I purchased all the little frame parts from a place that supplies that stuff to bike builders, a cheap brazing torch, and silver solder (and flux).  Learning to Braze and Part II.

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A couple of quick notes about the frame, why I thought it might be ideal.  One, the right size.  Another, steel, which can be brazed, and the ride quality, as previously noted.  And one more thing, but important–  the frame was originally made for 27″ wheels, a little bigger than the now standard 700c.  This creates an oppurtunity, as switching to the smaller wheels can allow a bigger tire and fenders, if desired.  And adding cantilever brake mounts gives the desired brake alignment to the smaller wheel size, and an all conditions brake.  One more thing, this lowered the frame which was really a size bigger than I usually ride, but helped to make the fit just right.

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Other things came up (last summer), personal things, and this project was hung up (literally), and almost forgotten.  And it can be hard to start again a project, there is a momentum that is lost.  But I needed a bike for the gravel races, and it occurred to me that this frame might be just what I needed.  After repair of some brazing errors, it was off to the powdercoater.

This is what the bike looked like completed.

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IMG_20130425_105813The color is an olive drab with low gloss, a color actually used by the military.  The bike is a mix of old and new.

The old, summarized-

  • vintage steel frame and fork
  • vintage quill stem and handlebars
  • vintage (80’s) hubs
  • vintage 7 speed cassette (customizable for gearing, longer lasting than modern 9, 10, or 11)

The new, summarized–

  • tubeless tires (awesome!)
  • modern cantilever brakes with advanced brake pads
  • modern crankset and pedals
  • very comfortable and effective brake levers
  • cartridge bearing headset (no longer offered by Shimano, though)
  • modern rims and spokes

The end result?  Well, I love the bike.  It eats up the gravel roads.  Just the right gearing for hills, mushy patches, or whatever.  Tires are, dare I say, the perfect combination of ride comfort, speed, and traction.  Tires did not slip on steep climbs, and helped me not go down when I hit a slippery section downhill at high speed.  Tires also are quite fast on pavement as well.  Steel frame absorbs road buzz and shock, and gives just the right amount of spring.  Brakes strong and confidence inspiring when going downhill and fast. Shifting  functioned without flaw.  Wheels strong, light, and compliant, adding to the comfort on a long ride or race.

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redneck ingenuity

I’m looking forward to more riding and racing this summer.

One more thing about this bike.  See the pulley?

I brazed on a post to mount a pulley, but managed to snap off a bolt in it, trying to fix the threads.  One prototype and then a second attempt resulted in this pulley, made from the clamp from an old front derailleur, and a derailleur pulley.  Works great.

All for now…

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