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.