Ten Speed + Delta Cruiser Creams = Budget Country Bike

To my mind, the main feature that makes the venerable ten speed bicycle a far more practical real world road bike than its modern descendent is tyre clearance. An average modern road bike will take accommodate a maximum tyre of around 25mm wide – some, more by luck that good jugdment, might squeeze in a 28mm, but only just.

Plenty of clearance under those Weinmann 500s for 35mm tyres.

Ever since acquiring my late eighties Peugeot ten speed, I’ve been keen to exploit its big tyre potential – I’m a firm believer in the dictum that states if you’re not racing, you should fit the plushest tyres that your frame will allow. Doing so will dramatically improve comfort, protect the bike and rider from road shock and open up new routes on more varied surfaces. With big tyres on your road bike, that enticing gravel road shortcut is suddenly a real option.

With the Delta Cruisers in place, the Peugeot feels right at home on this sort of 'road'.

I was always aware that the clearances on the ten speed would allow plusher tyres than the 23mm gumwalls that it was specified with back in 1987. Indeed I’d been running 25mm Specialized All Conditions with 35mm fenders, with no issues at all. However, lately I began to think of bigger tyres, initially pondering a set of 28mm hoops – assuming that this would possibly be the biggest tyre that would fit comfortably.

It was then that I had the brainwave of seeing if my 35mm Schwalbe Delta Cruisers (in cream) would fit between the Peugeot’s slender stays. If nothing else, the experiment would set some outer limits on tyre size.

Cream tyres and blue frame - pleasing, at least to my eye.

And so it came to pass – I was dubious yet hopeful as I uninstalled the fenders and removed the skinny 25mm tyres, before slipping the gorgeous cream Delta Cruisers onto the Weinmann rims. At this point, I was hoping against hope that they would work, purely on aesthetic grounds – the wide cream tyres looked amazing on the vintage polished aluminium rims and slender Maillard QR hubs – I would be gutted if they didn’t work.

With some trepidation, I slipped the rear wheel back between the dropouts, aligned it and snugged up the QR. So far so good, plenty of clearance at the brake bridge, between the stays and under the chainstay bridge too. However, the real test would come when the tyres were inflated to a working pressure. I attached the track pump and began to inflate – 30, 40, 45, 50 psi – and lo! still plenty of room (around 8mm each side and over 1cm beneath the bridge)! Praise the Lord! Fat tyre compatibility had been verified.

It was a similar story at the front end, with around 1cm clearance beneath the Weinmann 500 caliper (regarded as a ‘short reach’ brake in its day but now firmly in the ‘medium’ camp). OK, there’s no chance of fitting a fender now, but the benefits in terms of ride, practicality and looks are well worth the sacrifice.

Spring has indeed sprung in Croxteth Park and even on an Easter weekend, it's possible to find a 'solitary glade' such as this. Pug and I pause for a photo.

My first proper ride on the newly shod bike was a revelation, made all the more pleasant by the UK’s currently sublime spring weather. My test ride location was Croxteth Country Park, my favourite destination for a local spin on the paths, gravel tracks and hardpack trails. Today the park was alive with families enjoying the Easter weekend. However I could still find that counterpoint of solitude in the park’s farthest reaches – at one point I seemed to be riding through a dreamscape – a secluded bluebell wood with blossom descending like snow from the branches above, the birds in full spring tune and the smell of wild garlic heavy in the air. Rolling along on the ultra plush 35mm tyred Peugeot in such a scene was a little slice of cycling heaven – the bike is still responsive, yet has an unstoppable, steamroller feel.

I think I may have unwittingly created a retro country bike – a quick, lively, sporty bike that will eat gravel roads all day long.

Anyone else out there created a budget country bike from a ten speed?

‘Good setup’ beats ‘high end’ every time

I’ve never been one for high end kit. I’ve never owned a really posh bike in my life. I’ve owned a few decent ones and a lot of entry level bikes. I’ve also ridden a lot of very expensive bikes over the years.

As regular readers of this blog will be aware, my current bicycle of choice is an old ten speed racer, upon which I’ve been having, these past few weeks, a cycling epiphany. Riding my entry level 1987 Peugeot racer has shown me that good bike setup, good maintenance and inherently ‘right’ design is at least as important as ‘high-end’ in terms of that slippery value of ‘performance’.

The great Grant Petersen is right to point out that performance comes essentially from the rider. The notion of a ‘performance bicycle’ is somewhat misleading. No matter what bike you ride, the motive power comes from you, the rider.

Now I’m not saying (and neither is GP) that the bike is not implicated in the whole performance issue. What I am saying is that a strong rider on a humble yet well set-up, well adjusted and lubed bike can be at least as quick or quicker than someone on a high-end bike that’s poorly maintained. ill-fitting or both.

There’s nothing like the feeling of getting on a bike and it just fitting perfectly. And that’s what happened when I climbed aboard the Peugeot for the first time. Top tube reach and handlebar height was perfect (the big 60cm frame would no doubt be regarded as HUGE for a 6ft rider in the eyes of modern bike fitting experts). The old fashioned Solida double cranks had a narrow Q factor, keeping my feet close together and allowing me to maximise the efficiency of my pedalling.  The 73 degree seat and head tube made the bike respond snappily to pedalling and steering input. Put simply, good design costs nothing and pays back massively.

I’ve had a lighter road bike before, made from aluminium and carbon but it didn’t have that elusive ‘rightness’ that this bike has, low end steel and all. The bars weren’t in the right place – I was constantly swapping stems, rotating bars and moving the seat up, down, fore and aft – to no avail. It just wasn’t right.

The other big factor here is the efficiency that comes from a well lubed and adjusted bike. Wheel bearings set just-so, pedals and bottom bracket slick. Chain lightly oiled and silent. Headset smooth, brakes sharp, tyres at the right pressure. Add all of these small percentage gains together and even an old cheap bike can be fast, efficient and fun.