Let’s get out and ride!

IMG_0944

Spring is definitely here in western Europe. The daffodils are already fading, primulas still going strong. Tulips and magnolias in full flower.

So if you’re lazy like me, and preferred to hibernate in the winter months (despite all the warm weather cycling gear you bought), there’s no more excuses.

Time to get out and ride.

Here’s some great photos to kickstart your next excursion!

http://blog.flickr.net/2015/04/11/let-me-spin-my-wheels/

Coffee and Bicycles

On a recent trip to Milan I happened across the Bianchi café.

FullSizeRender

It’s in a bit of an odd location, tucked away on a side street the wrong side of Piazza San Babila from the Duomo (the wrong side for customer traffic that is)

Now, Italy is really good at a lot of things, but two things they do better than anyone else are coffee, and bicycles. So surely combining the two must be the stuff of legends!

It probably is, but I wonder why anyone would bother to do so…

In Italy you go to a bar (café) for a coffee, and a chat, not to patronise a brand you like. In fact, the place was basically empty except for one chap who I’m guessing wasn’t a cyclist.

A friend (also a keen cyclist) also travelled to London recently and posted pictures from the Rapha café, so this is clearly a growing trend in cross-sector business development, but it does seem a bit odd.

I wouldn’t buy a television made by Volkswagen, or Nike toothpaste or a lawnmower made by Levi’s.

But I would buy a Bianchi bike, and I would buy Italian coffee.

In the same place? Sure, if I happened there by chance, but would I make a pilgrimage?

Doubt it. Would you? More than that one time, just for the novelty factor?

Dear Santa…

This is probably the fifth or sixth request to Santa for ridiculously awesome bicycles in the first three months of this year.

Not driven by greed at all. Honest. It’s just that there are so many beautiful bicycles out there. And the right number of bicycles is N+1. Limited mostly by budget, space and spouses…

This is a fantastic patina-rich Bianchi from 1953, which I have had the great pleasure of riding alongside. It’s even nicer in the flesh.

bianchi_tour_de_france_1953

Motobecane Eclair (1986?) pt.2

IMG_0938

A couple of weeks back I posted about the latest addition to the Velobrico pile of bicycles. A mysterious Motobecane Eclair. Mysterious mostly in that I couldn’t find out much information about the bike.

Since then, I found that Motobecane went bankrupt in 1983. The remaining assets were purchased by multiple parties, including Yamaha, and rebranded MBK.

I found a French Motobecane brochure from 1986, but no Eclair. All brochures I could find from after this date were for mountain bikes or BMXs, under the MBK badge.

So still no trace of the Eclair (which from looking at the components, should date from about 1986).

Then a breakthrough clue. Through a Google image search I found some photos of a couple of Motobecane Eclairs. All had been repurposed as fixies or otherwise lightly modified, but were always in the same colour scheme and interestingly also in the same large frame size.

And only ever located in Germany….

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 13P1050451

The other clue as to provenance came from a sticker on the down tube with ZEG written on it. This stands for “Zweirad Einkauf Gemeinschaft“, which I understand to be a bulk purchasing cooperative.

IMG_2753 ZEG

So I’m guessing when MBK went bankrupt, they sold their remaining inventory, along with exclusive licences to sell Motobecane branded bikes in certain national markets.

So Germany got the Eclair, and similar variants may have appeared in other countries. I wonder if Spain got the Profiterole, and Italy the Paris-Brest (yes, it is the name of a patisserie as well as a bike race)…

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 09

Has anyone spotted something similar? Just this morning I saw a MBK (not Motobecane) Mirage with a similar looking frame (internal cable routing and same seatpost clamp under the rear stays) in Zurich.

IMG_0942

The Eclair needed quite a bit of tweaking before it could be safely ridden, but eventually I got it out the door and went for a fairly long 65km test ride.

Prior to the test ride I noticed the rear wheel was untrue and had very loose spokes. I tightened them, trued the wheel, and after a few small test runs they seemed to loosen again. So further tightened them, same story. Then I switched out the spoke nipples on the loosened spokes.

This was sufficient for it to survive the test ride, but the spokes definitely loosened again by the end of the ride. Given I can’t remove the spokes without removing the freewheel and can’t do that without a tool that doesn’t disintegrate on the first use, it seems easier to just switch out the rear wheel with a new one. I can’t really imagine why spoke threads could be stripped (which seems the only explanation for the continual loss of spoke tension). Does anyone have experience with that?

IMG_0947The test ride was otherwise very positive. The brakes are good, though not as powerful as modern equivalents. The mudguards kept me clean =). I was glad not to have to use the lights as the dynamo seems to add 5kgs to the bike when in use…

The handlebar position gave me pins and needles. I get that on some of my bikes but not on others, and have never figured out exactly why that is. Reach/top tube length?

The VP Components pedals were a pleasant surprise, well built comfortable and suitable for both regular shoes or MTB cleats. Apparently the low cost B’Twin pedals sold in Decathlon are made by VP Components, so buy with confidence.

IMG_0939

The bar tape has stretched apart in the usual spot, on the tops behind the brake levers. The downward pressure applied by one’s hands spreads the wrap open over time. This is very common but is so easily avoided by “reverse wrapping”, where you rotate the tape outward from the top (right bar clockwise, left bar counter-clockwise). It’s a neat technique, and worth trying if you haven’t done so already.

I averaged 29 km/hr for first 18kms of my ride (until my phone died) and never did the bike feel unstable. Not bad for a purpose-confused frame! While the test ride was successful, and this frame offers a good ride, it is just too big for me.

The current saddle doesn’t look good, so I intend to swap that onto another bike and replace it with a more comfortable one, more suited to a hybrid bike and less “race-y”.

IMG_0940

For me this bike makes a better a road racer than a commuter, but that’s just because I have never been a huge fan of commuting on drop-handlebar bikes. I find the riding position not ideal for stop-start riding from traffic light to traffic light, and the skinny tyres poorly suited to cobble stones and tram tracks! But as a weekend racer for a taller cyclist. This bike would be great.

As a final thought, while browsing the Motobecane catalogues, I came across this most fetching photo from 1984.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 21

I just couldn’t wear shorts that… short. Maybe that’s why I’m not a fan of Motobecanes?

IMG_0938

Motobecane Eclair (1986?) pt.1

IMG_2780

The newest addition to the Velobrico stable is an unusual Motobecane road bike.

I say unusual because, while at first glance it looks pretty normal, a second glance invites a few questions.

IMG_2749IMG_2747

First off, from the rear you might notice the rear stays are particularly thin, aero indeed. Secondly there’s the internal brake cable routing which also gives it a clean sleek look. But also the front and rear mudguards and the internal electrical cable routing for the dynamo powered lights (brazed on fork mounts). Finally, the frame is larger than one typically sees. And this all seems to be a stock set-up, not subsequent modifications.

IMG_2750IMG_2742

So it’s effectively half urban commuter, half racer. A bit of a confused identity then.

IMG_2738

To be honest, I never really cared for Motobecanes. Of all the major French bikes, I always found them to be a bit ordinary, humdrum and uninteresting. I’d always more fancy a Peugeot, or a Mercier. Though I’m sure someone can convince me they are actually great, so please feel free to do so!

IMG_2763IMG_2764

Nonetheless, if you want to find info on a Motobecane, there’s an obvious place to turn.

Except that no French website, ad site or forum would yield any info, or even a photo of a Motobecane Eclair. Rien du tout…

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 21IMG_2758

No Motobecane brochures I sourced contain any evidence of the Eclair. But they do show very similar frames, labelled as “inexternal brazing, lugless”.

The first appearance is in the 1981 catalogue, showing a “velo course Profil” with internal routing and aero rear stays, similar to the Eclair. But it’s definitely not a commuter.

So, a little more detective work was required.

Starting with the apparently original parts: The bike has a nice Shimano Golden Arrow crankset (FC-S125 1983-1986), Shimano Light Action rear derailleur (RD-L523 1986-1988), Shimano 105 indexed 6 speed downtube shifters (SL-1050, mid-late 80s), Weinmann brakes (570).

IMG_2773IMG_2774IMG_2769IMG_2781

So the bike seems to date from 1986, but made no catalogue appearances, and there is no evidence of it ever having existed in France… A mystery indeed.

Eclair means lightning bolt in French, but it’s also the name of a nice oblong pastry filled with crême patissière and chocolate icing, which you may be familiar with. So maybe this bike is a hybrid: half electric, half doughnut… Seems oddly fitting.

Looks like some further detective work is required. Watch this space.

Some see death trap, I see… opportunity!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I happened across an advert for the Peugeot Galaxie by accident.

At the time I had never seen such an elegant, early aluminium frame, and was not yet familiar with the lovely Vitus 979, 989 and 992 aluminium frames.

I really like the unpainted look, so you can see the material from which the bike is made, without much embellishment.

That’s probably why I like my Lemond Chambery so much, though the clear lacquer over the aluminium is prone to damage and bubbling.

I have never seen a Peugeot Galaxie in the flesh, so would be keen to see if and how the aluminium is treated to stop “worming” and other effects of aluminium corrosion.

1987_Galaxie A500 (external cable routing)

In summary, I think the lines of the Peugeot Pechiney Alumiunium frames are really quite beautiful. Simple, raw, sleek.

In the mid 1980s, Peugeot partnered with French aluminium manufacturer Pechiney, to develop an innovative new frame. The end result was a full lugged aluminium frame + fork weighing about 2kgs, held together without any bonding. Total weight including all components would be just under 9kgs.

A quick bit of googling will tell you these bikes are death traps, and that if you even look at one, you will spontaneously combust.

Pechiney Peugeot frame fault exampleApparently, the frame is prone to cracking at the bottom bracket and lugs, so definitely worth close examination before buying.

While I can well believe that early designs using new engineering concepts can have inherent design or manufacturing flaws, I wonder how much these are exaggerated by word of mouth. This does seem to be an issue with these frames, but surely this only affects a certain percentage of bikes?

As this technique is not used today, that does suggest this was a failed experiment, but it remains interesting from an engineering and aesthetic perspective nonetheless.

One positive outcome of fear is that it keeps buyers away, and prevents a bike becoming so sought after that it is unreasonably expensive. Not that this was ever a top line racing frame with high-end components…

1987_Galaxie A500.Comete A400Peugeot_1987_FR Galaxie A500Peugeot_1987_FR Comete A400.Cosmic A300

There seem to be three variants built around the same frame. In order of prestige and original sale price, these are: Galaxie (Shimano components), Comete, Cosmic (both with French components). Oddly, some Galaxies have external cable routing, and some internal, though they were only sold for a couple of years.

These come up regularly on French second hand websites for not much money, often misdescribed, and one day I will pick one up.

If I stop posting after I buy one, it’s because I spontaneously combusted.