Since swapping out the steel rimmed wheels for a pair of period 1987 Weinmann rims on Maillard hubs my ten speed has inadvertantly lost ‘essence’. Problem is, my ten-speed is now a 12 speed.
Ten-speed has become a generic term (especially in the USA) for a low end road bike of the 70s and 80s, rather than a category of bicycle defined by its number of available cogs. However, the ten-speed purist might baulk at the thought of this upgrade – or indeed the idea of any kind of upgrade. Indeed, my purist streak was troubled by the swap from 5 to 6 rear cogs, but my tight-arsed streak won the day – I was buggered if I was going to buy a freewheel remover to take the lovely old Maillard-Huret 5 speed freewheel off the old wheels and put it on the new wheel.
The wheel swap also threw up a few minor technical challenges, which caused a few delays but in doing so, deepened my knowledge of old bicycle lore. My Peugeot is of 1987 vintage, at which point most low to mid road bikes had moved to 6 speed and the corresponding 126mm rear hub over-locknut dimension. Genuine 5 speeds of the 60s and 70s ran on 120mm spacing (like modern track bikes). However my Peugeot, being the entry level road bike of its day, was downgraded to 5 speed to save money, but ran on a 126mm axle setup, meaning that there was a healthy gap between the smallest rear sprocket and the rear dropout – enough room for a fender nut and bolt.
However, moving to 6 speed meant a wider freewheel block had to fit into the same space, meaning that the chain fouled the fender bolt when on the smallest 14t sprocket. After a little cussing and head-scratching, I found a solution – replace the wide nylock nut with a narrower one and pop a spacer washer behind the allen head bolt of the fender nut, buying me the few mm I needed to allow use of the 6th sprocket.
It’s funny how tiny little issues like this can render a bike unrideable!
Another delay to getting the new wheels on was finding a rear quick release of the right length. Buy a standard QR skewer for a rear wheel these days and it will be the right length for a 130 or 135mm hub and won’t have enough thread to wind down to the right width for an older 126mm hub. However, after a bit of online searching, I found an aesthetically appropriate QR with enough thread on the skewer to do the job, and after trimming the excess skewer off with a hacksaw, the upgraded twelve speed was ready to ride.
The result? The bike is now a full pound lighter, I’ve got quick release wheels, slightly tighter gear ratios, no more annoying buckaroo antics from the back wheel and vastly superior braking. Despite my purist reservations, I’m happy with the outcome.
As a footnote here are a few links which helped me with this task. Sheldon Brown was, as always, the go-to resource for archival knowledge on ‘obsolete’ technology, and the excellent Old Ten Speed Gallery has given me the feeling of not being alone in my ananchronistic ‘other life’. You’ll lose a few hours in both sites. Enjoy.
Having successfully sourced and restored my 10 speed bicycle, I was left with a number of choices. I could stow it in my shed and look at it occasionally, with a fondness tinged with regret. I could sell it on to a needy bicycle commuter or collector of items of 1980s pop culture, or I could press the old girl into immediate service as my daily commuting bicycle. I always intended of course, to choose the latter but it was with a little trepidation that I ventured out on the Pug (as she’s known pending a formal naming ceremony) for her first proper ride. Was my boyish dream of riding an 80s bike in 2011 a naive and frankly foolish flight into teenage nostalgia, or did this bicycle of time-honoured design still have some tricks up its sleeve?
Initial impressions of the bike were favourable – it tracked straight and true, cornered crisply yet predictably. What I immediately noticed was how lively it is compared with my usual bike, Resurrectio – a 30 plus lb touring bike. The Pug weighs in at around 27lbs – not light compared with modern roadbikes but nonetheless much easier to get up to speed, up hills and up flights of steps perched on my right shoulder. Its shorter wheelbase and steeper angles also make it more responsive and a lot more fun to ride than Resurrectio, bless her plain gauge chromo (and possibly jealous) heart.
There were a few components on the bike caused me some initial concern. The steel Rigida rims were a worry to begin with – memories of riding ten speeds in the eighties were filled with half-imagined horror stories of scary braking on steel rims. And this proved to be true on a recent wet ride, the rims needing a few seconds of prior warning before relinquishing some stopping power. However in the dry it was a different story – the patterned braking surface offering lots of power and that classic ten speed whirring brake noise (difficult to describe but instantly recognisable to the 10 speed cognoscenti). While hit and miss in the wet, the steel rims stay remarkably clean – no horrible aluminium brake sludge marring everything in sight on a rainy ride. For the latter reason I’ll be sorry to see the Rigidas go– but go they must – a horrible flat spot in the rear mars the overall ride and I feel I’d be riding my luck in the wet if I persisted with them.
Other components that caused some eyebrow articulation were the achingly beautiful Weinmann GT levers with extension – AKA ‘suicide’ levers; basically extension levers that allowed the novice drop handlebar bike rider to brake from the ‘tops’ – i.e. the flat section of the handlebars. Back in the day I always thought they looked very cool and never had a problem with them in practice and was interested to see if 25 years of brake development would alter my perceptions. And to be honest, it hasn’t. I find they work really well, (with well adjusted brakes) allowing me to brake from the tops and from the ‘ramps’ – the area behind the main brake lever. Maybe all of their detractors are weak handed cissies? Who knows…
Other component highlights that would be instantly scorned by the modern rider? The transmission – a 2 x 5 setup operated by, wait for it, friction down tube levers. Now I’m a bar end friction man myself so, personally, adaption has been as easy as pie. Die hard STI or Ergopower users would no doubt require psychotherapy of some kind before being able to align their on-demand world-view with the Spartan utilitarianism of down-tube friction levers. Here’s my, admittedly anachronistic, take on friction shifters and shifting; they’re robust, they cannot go out of indexed adjustment (‘cos there is no indexing), they develop in the rider an understanding of the mechanism of shifting (manual competence!) and best of all – they encourage a ‘shift only when necessary’ philosophy to gear-changing. I’ve found that since riding the Pug, I’m shifting less and varying my cadence and effort more – and I’m feeling fitter and stronger for it. Of the ten available gears I regularly use just three – the middle three rear cogs teamed with the inner 42t ring, whereas in my STI days I would shift gears if I encountered even the slightest change in required cadence or pedalling effort. Like I’ve said somewhere before – friction shifting is the thinking man’s single speed.
So we’ve examined the minutea of what makes the ten speed tick, but let’s pan out and get the verdict after a week of riding.
Put simply, its masses of fun. Despite all the advances in every aspect of bicycle design and manufacture, something has been lost if a low end steel framed Peugeot racer from 1987 can put such a big grin on my face. The fact that it’s a bike that I ogled in catalogues when I was 15 is probably a big factor but objectively I think that the bike industry was onto something special with the ten speed, budget racer. Mountain biking has advanced bike tech in innumerable ways, as well as re-energising an ailing bike market, but it killed the ten speed stone dead. This is a damn shame, because the ten speed’s basic skeleton, even hung with low end kit, was the result of a whole lot of velo-evolution. Before stumbling across the Pug in that junk shop, I’d been entertaining the idea of getting a neo-retro road bike or even a fixed wheel. Now, I don’t think I’ll bother. The Pug’s a blast, and it’s cost me peanuts.
I’ll check back soon with tales of our further adventures together.
First of all, apologies for the lack of posting lately. What can I say – I’ve been busy – work and life takes over. Also, to be frank, I haven’t had much to say, so I’ve taken the advice of sages and said nothing.
However, a new bike acquisition has awakened me from my blogular slumber. A while ago, I penned an article extolling the virtues of the 10 speed racer – that icon of the 70s and 80s – the Ford Capri of the bicycle world. The slender, light, rugged, affordable, yet much maligned ten-speed bicycle was the go-to bike for the 70s and 80s teenager – before the expression ‘go-to’ was even thought of. Go here for my full treatise on the matter.
Since writing the article I’ve been on the lookout for a suitable project bike that would enable me to test out a pet theory that I’d been toilet-training – that the 1970s/80s ten speed is still a viable and enjoyable bike for all round road riding.
It would have been easy to pay over the odds on Ebay for a questionable, unsighted example of the breed, so instead I decided to put the idea of 10 speed purchase on the back burner, until that fickle mistress called Serendipity cast her spell. Then a week ago I rode past a local junk shop and lo! Outside, under a layer of dust and rust, a metallic blue Peugeot 10 speed leaned gracefully against the glass. I circled from afar at first – downwind. She looked to be a late 80s example – around a 23 ½ inch frame – my ideal size. I returned the next day figuring if the bike was still there, negotiations would begin.
The next day, sure enough, the bike was still there. I approached and took a closer look. Everything was intact and original, if in need of a little renovation. The shop owner came outside and almost immediately said that he only wanted £10 for the bike – I’d figured on £30 so I bit his hand off – a crumpled note changed hands and I wheeled the bike home on flat tyres.
Once home and as soon as practicable, restoration began. A good wash and degrease revealed a fully working 10 speed drivetrain – Sachs Huret mechs with downtube friction levers. The tyres and tubes were shot, as was the bar tape. A quick trip to the local bike shop yielded a set of Specialized All Conditions 25-700c tyres at a clearance price, plus a roll of expensive but nice white Bontrager bar tape – it had to be white to complement the airy blue paint scheme. The saddle, though serviceable, was an ugly padded plastic item and was duly replaced with a 1960s or 70s Lycett l’Avenir leather saddle which I’d found on another discarded bike a few months previously. The only other addition was a set of SKS Olympic fenders and a fulsome application of T-Cut, Brasso, chain oil and grease (literal and elbow).
The result? Well, you can take a look for yourselves (pictures taken before application of fenders and ‘leathern’ saddle). Some might think ‘piece of crap’ but this beholder sees ‘beausage queen’. I’m really pleased especially taking into account the overall outlay:
Rim tapes: £6
Bar Tape: £11
Also on its way, via Ebay – a pair of period Weinmann alloy rims on Maillard hubs with a 6 speed block to replace the ‘nice but scary in the wet’ steel Rigida Superchromix hoops. I’d have kept them if it wasn’t for a nasty flat spot in the rear rim that no amount of spoke key twiddling will remove. The cost – the small matter of £10. So in total, a full restoration with upgrades for under the magic £100 mark.
How about the all important ride experience? We’ll talk about that in Part Two, along with further details of the bike itself.