Ten Speed Dreams – Part Two – The Reality

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.

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16 thoughts on “Ten Speed Dreams – Part Two – The Reality

  1. KarlT

    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.
    You are Grant Peterson, and I claim my five pounds!

      1. Karl Tomlinson

        I used to enjoy reading the Bridgestone catalogues (or ‘The Thoughts Of Chairman Peterson’ as someone once called them). I’m a fan of indexed gears, and I’ve never had any problems with them other than those caused by gummed up cables, which would affect non-indexed gears too. Like you, I grew up with non-indexed gears, and changing gear was just something you did. Yes, there was a certain finesse to it, but it’s not necessarily hard, particularly with a 5 speed cassette. You mentioned upgrading to a 6 speed block. A trivial process with non-indexed gears of course, but a potential pain in the posterior otherwise.
        Love what you’ve done with the Peugot, incidentally. You got a bargain there, and have saved a neat little machine from contracting fixiematosis!

      2. theeverydaycyclist

        Fixiematosis – like that (and may steal it!) – noun – a highly contagious condition amongst hipsters.

  2. f winter

    How about 7 speeds? I found that a 1 x 7 setup can be run easily with a single friction shifter. 42T up front and 11-28 at the back gives you all the gears you need with the bonus that the middle sprocket (straightest chainline) is the perfect flat road gear. Less to clean and adjust – this is the thinking man’s singlespeed for me!

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      Single front ring setups are indeed superb. For a while, Resurrectio, my ‘country bike’, rolled with a 39t chainring and 11-28 cassette and I very rarely had a ‘forced dismount’. Since getting the Pug, the 52t outer ring has been a mere ornament! Every now and again I’ll shift up onto to just so it doesn’t feel left out!

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      Thanks Chris – I’ll keep you posted. Just got some vintage Weinmann box section aluminium rims for the Pug, which will further improve the ride, without degrading the ‘authenticity’ of the experience. Also, halfway through reading ‘Shop Class as Soulcraft.’ A massively compelling and thought provoking read. I read the essay after I saw your blog post, but have only just gotten around to reading the book itself. Thanks for the tip-off.

      1. KarlT

        I knew I’d heard the name Pondero somewhere. That very blogpost was mentioned on (I think) a vintage BMW motorbike newsgroup. I like his stuff- I tend to read it in my head in a Garrison Keillor voice. Yes, I know Keillor is Minnesotan rather than Texan.

  3. Chris Thompson

    I’m still liking this project of yours. I’ll be patrolling the yard sales again this year for a similar candidate.

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      Thanks George. You’re very kind. Good to be back too. Hopefully the simple charms of the Pug will inspire more miles and more writing.

  4. Geoff Briers

    Love the post – great read! I’ve got a chance of a similar project myself. I used to have an RJ Quinn 1 x 5 speed (Liverpool frame builder) in the mid 70’s and have many fond memories of fantastic CTC Sunday runs on it. By the early 80’s I was more into motorbikes and gave/sold (can’t remember) the bike to a pal. I hadn’t seen him for ages but bumped into him recently, and yes he’s still got it, it’s unused, somewhere at the back of his mum’s garage, condition unknown as it’s not seen sunlight since the mid 90’s, and yes I can have it back!!! Just need to get my act together and go fetch it!!

  5. OliB

    Great blog on the old Pugs of the 80’s. My brothers and I had one each as kids, and I’ve just got hold of a lovely example from eBay, in a fit of nostalgia. You are right, they still are great fun to ride, but you’ve rbrought back long-lost memories about the rear-clenching moments whilst braking in the wet!

  6. Drewrockstarr

    Thank you for the great read. Having just moved to the coast Hove, I have caught the bug for vintage bikes. My two expensive mountain bikes have been relegated as clothes hangers. I have three vintage bikes Dawes, Raleigh Chiltern which was left by the bins to be thrown out, and Peugeot 5 speed mixte frame. There’s a gorgeous Puegeot Premier on sale which has brought me to your articles. Thank you for the inspiration. I use my classic Raleigh Chiltern daily for my city commute in London. She is a beauty black with fenders intact. I’ll see how long I can resist from purchasing the Peugeot Premier.

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