10 Speed Dreams – Part 3 “Ten to the Dozen”

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.

The original 5 speed block - plenty of room betwixt bottom cog and dropout.

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.

With new wheel and 6 speed block installed - tighter clearance between 14t sprocket and dropout but just enough with narrower fender bolt.

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.

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Bring Back the Humble 10-Speed

Our friend above is right to look proud of his Schwinn 10 speed - it's probably still knocking around today.

Some might say that the mountain bike revitalised the bike industry when it arrived in the late eighties. And if you look at the sales figures, it’s probably true. The MTB was a huge shot in the arm for an ailing bike industry. However, at the same time as stimulating bike sales, it put the final nail in the coffin of a bike style that dominated for over a decade – in the US, it was termed the Ten Speed – in the UK is was just called a Racer.

The genus of bike we’re talking about here is the lugged steel, drop handlebar bike, with clearance for reasonable tyres (28-32mm) and provision for mudguards and a rack. It wasn’t made of exotic materials (usually hi-ten steel) and basic models came with steel wheels and low end components – however, the bikes themselves were robust, cheap, and unlike the entry level MTB and hybrid of today – efficient, fast and fun to ride. Tour de France winners they weren’t, but as everyday bikes, they excelled. So much so that many survive to this day – hand-me-down machines serving out life sentences in the hands of students looking for a cheap and funky way of getting around.

Since the death of the ten speed, a process of velo-diversification as occurred – the MTB arrived in the bicycle-gene pool and eventually mutated into various different sub-species – cross country, downhill, freeride to name but three. The hybrid bike was a further mutation of the MTB and a nod back to the big-wheeled efficiency of the ten speed – but the ‘beige slacks and sensible shoes’ image of the hybrid has been hard to shake. Road racing bikes have undergone a renaissance since the MTB era but the template of the rugged 10 speed racer has been lost and forgotten.

However, a few manufacturers remembered the 10 speed/Racer with fondness and have recreated neo-ten speeds, or at least something close. Minneapolis based Surly Bikes have created a range of rugged steel road bikes, the Pacer, Cross-Check and Long-Haul-Trucker, ranging from lightweight road bike thru to expedition tourer. But these bikes aren’t cheap. Sure they’re great value, quality cromo-framed machines, but they’re not the cheap-as-chips, lock-and-leave everyday bikes that the old ten speeds were. Similarly, Rivendell Cycles’ range of practical road bikes, the Sam Hillbourne, A Homer Hilsen, Ramboiullet and the Bleriot have all rekindled the spirit of the ten speed, but in a boutique, high-end format. What we need is a rugged, no-nonesense ten speed for a new generation.

Modern day fixed wheel bikes are perhaps the closest modern day approximation of the 10 speed ideal – tough, low key steel frames, yet light and nimble enough to be a fun ride in the city. I wish that just one of the multitude of fixed gear producers would just slap a derailleur hanger and some gears on one of their low end steel fixie frames and reinvent the ten speed – I’m convinced they’d sell in container loads, to a huge swathe of riders, from baby boomers to jaded fixie riders whose knees are crying out for some lower gears for the hills.

Ideal Spec: Neo-Ten Speed

So what’s the blueprint for a modern day ten speed? Here’s my stab at an ideal spec:

Frame – lugged steel (and I mean plain old hi-tensile steel) – skinny, round tubes, horizontal top tube, clearance for 32 mm tyres, braze ons for rack, guards and brake bridges positioned for deep drop brakes calliper brakes.

Fork – lugged crown steel with a classic curve

Wheels – tough 36 hole rims (wide enough for 32mm tyres) on sealed freehubs – nothing fancy.

Brakes: Tektro deep drop callipers with separate (i.e. no STIs) brake levers

Gears: Bar end/down tube shifters (with friction option)

Bars: Traditional round bend (i.e. not anatomic)

Stem: traditional quill

Tyres: 32mm Panacer Pasela or similar

Saddle: Brooks B17

The whole bike would weigh in at around 30 lbs and combine ruggedness and speed in a way that modern bikes just can’t match.

Examples of the breed:

Raleigh Winner: early 1980s

Image by rodcorp on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rodcorp/3560756408/

Object of desire for 70s kids like me – available everywhere from bike shops to mail order catalogues – remember putting an ambitious felt-tip ‘x’ by it in the leadup to Christmas. Steel frame, steel wheels, Weinmann brakes, Simplex gears – drop bars, suicide levers and a bottle and cage thrown in. A winner in every sense

Falcon ‘Team Banana’

image at http://www.retrobike.net

Lugged steel bike in the classic ‘team replica mode’. Fast, fun and hugely robust for a bike with skinny tyres. Got me to and from my first job twice as fast as an MTB – cruelly stolen from me one summer day…

Falcon Eddy Merckx – 1970s

Inspired by the great Belgian Cannibal, made in Brigg, Lincolnshire - image from here: http://www.kichline.com/chuck/bikes/default.htm

Lugged steel, Rigida Supercromix rims, Simplex gears, Weinmann Brakes – orange and blue team replica colours – tough as nails, my first ‘racer’ – ignited a lifelong love affair with the bike.

But enough from me – let us know your ten-speed memories. Would you like to bring back the ten speed? Share your dream ten speed spec (remember, nothing expensive or exotic).