Velobrico Tinkering: Dynamo lights

Though I have absolutely no experience with dynamos, nor any real idea how they work, last Sunday I decided to tackle the non-functioning rear light from the Tigra ladies’ bike.

This bike has a dynamo installed, even though it is not such an old machine. I was recently told that in Germany it is illegal to ride a bike with battery powered lights. I’m not sure if that is true, (German cycling laws here…) as it does sound pretty nonsensical, though I’m pretty certain you are allowed to ride in Switzerland with whatever lights you want.

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Once I figured out how to engage the dynamo so it would work from tyre rotation (this seriously took me a few days of prodding and pulling to figure out), the front light functioned fine but the rear refused to shine.

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First, I removed the plastic housing and checked the bulb. Filament looked ok. Checked continuity with the multi-meter, all good. Screwed it back in. Crossed my fingers. Nothing.

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Then I had a look at the wiring. The dynamo has two wires coming out of it, one for the front light, another for the rear. Not sure how this can make a complete circuit, but I guess that’s not necessary for DC power. The bulb socket seems to be connected to the mudguard itself, so presumably being grounded is sufficient for a DC circuit. My lack of electrical knowledge is by now apparent.

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The wire hanging out of the bottom of the dynamo seemed loosely connected, but I noticed a spring-loaded connector in the bottom which holds it in place just fine. The wires head into the rear mudguard, then follow a crimp in the side until exiting through a hole in the rear, into the light fitting. This wire is then connected to another metal clip, basically wedged into a bent flap, held in place only by the “springy-ness” of the metal itself…

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The wire going into the rear light fitting looked a bit corroded, so I took it out, sprayed some white vinegar on it (helpful for oxidation), dried it, rubbed it with some steel wool. The copper colour shone nicely, so I “re-twizzled” the strands, rubbed the metal clip with the steel wool and reinserted the wire. Crossed my fingers. Tested it it again. Nothing.

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Then I removed the bulb and filed a tiny bit off the bottom to ensure good contact. No joy.

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I now removed the wires from the dynamo and did the vinegar, steel wool and “twizzling”. Crossed fingers. Tested again. Nothing.

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Not to be deterred, I removed the bulb again, and found bits of spider eggs or some other insect leftovers. Blew those out. Another round of vinegar, steel wool, scraped a bit with a screwdriver, dried it, sprayed a bit of WD40 on it.

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While I was at it, I sprayed a bit of WD40 on the metal clip and the wires at the dynamo. A bit of WD40 often works wonders.

Screwed the bulb back in. Crossed my fingers. And it worked!

A well earned cup of tea followed. If only every Sunday were so productive!

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Velobrico Workshop: Motobecane Eclair (1986) update 

A couple of weeks back I posted about the latest addition to the Velobrico pile of bicycles. A mysterious Motobecane Eclair. Mysterious mostly becuase 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 all located in Germany….

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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.

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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 maybe 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).

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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.

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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?

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The 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 or 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.

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The bar tape has stretched apart in the usual spot, on the tops behind the brake levers.

Basically, the downward pressure applied by one’s hands spreads the wrap open over time. This is very common and 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 hybrid/aero/tourer/commuter frame!

While the test ride was successful, and this frame offers a good ride, it is just far 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”.

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For me this frame makes for a better a road racer than a commuter, mainly because I have never been a fan of commuting on drop-handlebar bikes. I find the riding position awkward 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.

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I just couldn’t wear shorts that… short.

Maybe that’s why I’m not a fan of Motobecanes?

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Retro Rescue: A wolf for halloween!

Definitely the best curb find yet, I recently came across an abandoned MTB frame, partly stripped and left by some bins. At first glance it looked like an unloved low-end mountain bike, but a second glance revealed some nice components which would never grace a supermarket bike.

I had never heard of “Steppenwolf”, which isn’t perhaps the most inspiring name for a frame. Nonetheless, a little research revealed they are a German frame builder, based in Munich. There isn’t much talk of them on UK/US cycling forums, but what little I did find was positive.

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The “Tundra” is one of their mid-level aluminium hard-tail all-mountain frames. This is a 2007 model, and was originally specced with a 100mm Reba front fork. Unfortunately, this one has lost its fork, wheels, stem, saddle, seat post and handlebar. So quite a bit of rebuild work needed! Still, scavengers can’t be choosers, right?

The aluminium frame has some nice braze-on cable guides, varied tube diameter, and interestingly allows for both v-brakes and disc brakes (not sure if this is normal in the MTB world, but it seems smart). The tubes have some fairly monstrous welds in them, and while aluminium does need larger welds than steel frames, the welding quality (or final grinding/finishing) on my 2007 Lemond Chambery does seem better. That said, a MTB will be subjected to more stress at the head tube, so maybe this is intentional.

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While the bike needs quite a bit of work and lot of new components to resurrect it, it is a terrific piece of luck to have found such an interesting frame, and will inspire a rebuild that would otherwise not have taken place.

What a great find for halloween. Werewolf or Steppenwolf? Surely the bike was “born to be wild” (sorry, I just couldn’t help it…), now it’s on the road to be re-born to be wilder… or something like that =)

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Velobrico Rides: TD3-14

As mentioned in an earlier post, I recently came across an interesting event in Switzerland, the Tour des Trois.

In a nutshell, the principle is to gather a group of cyclists, with a passion for vintage bicycles, and riding, and ride together through three countries, in a single day, in a matching historical cycling outfit.

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The ride covers c.130kms and 1,900m total elevation, with one long, steep climb of 400m close to the start, at Gempen in Switzerland. The ride begins in Leymen, France in Alsace (Haut Rhin), proceeds east into Switzerland into the canton of Solothurn, swings north through canton Basel, across the Rhine into Germany (Baden-Württemburg), before crossing the Rhine again back into Alsace, and looping south back to Leymen.
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For my part, I had never done such a long group ride before, or put so many kms on any of my old bikes, nor strained them with any heavy climbs, so was unsure as to whether it would be possible without mishap. But to spoil the plot early on…. It is entirely possible, and everyone of the 50 or so riders finished with beaming smiles and nothing worse than a few punctures.

I had intended to complete the ride with my 70s Mercier (which has not yet featured on the blog), but the combination of heavy forecast rain, weak Mafac brakes, steep descents, tubular tyres and a high proportion of unsurfaced gravel track on the route pushed me to make a last minute switch to my more modern (yet still “vintage”) bike, the Fuji Del Rey (1983). 2014-06-29 06.36.26

The weather forecast up to a week before the ride was for constant rain and thunderstorms all day, and the forecast worsened the closer the day came. The night before the ride, after some last minute preparations to the Fuji, I could hear the rain lashing down and could only imagine what it might be like to ride 130kms in constant rain, with or without a rain jacket, in 15°C… (esp. after being used to riding for the last 3 years in Singapore between 28-32°C!).

Weather-wise, the day went like this: Got up fairly early (rain), drove to Basel (in the rain), got out of the car (rain stopped…), sun shone more or less all day, finished the ride, drank a beer, said goodbyes, got in the car (rain restarted immediately…). The timing of the weather was so freakishly perfect, literally to the minute, that I’m not sure who bribed the clouds but am eternally grateful for it!

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While the Fuji had better brakes, better derailleurs, better shifters, better tyres, and a generally more modern, comfortable and planted feel than the Mercier, it also happens to have much higher gearing (to which I hadn’t previously paid any attention… not sure if the freewheel/cassette is original). As a result, the ride up to Gempen was a punishing slog, and I’m not entirely sure how I did it. But I did! This gearing would also explain why I had previously struggled to make much progress with the Fuji in the Alps. I am pleased to now be able to blame my corncob freewheel for my poor climbing instead of my weak thigh muscles =), and from now on will pay more attention to counting teeth…

The Fuji was one of the least glamorous bikes of the day, and there was a fantastic display of bicycles from 1953 onwards. Italian, French, Austrian, German, Swiss and British bikes were all ridden, mostly steel, but some nice early lugged aluminium frames too (e.g. Alan). IMG_1194 IMG_1079

The best thing for me was to see such beautiful bikes being ridden. Properly ridden. Not just on roads, but through mud, tree roots and over gravel, through puddles, pot-holes and up big hills, even though most of them have tubular tyres.

It is a real pleasure to see museum pieces being used, not just kept for show like china dolls, by individuals who both appreciate their beauty, engineering and historical significance, but aren’t afraid to get them muddy, risk a crash or a failed and difficult to replace component.

The TD3 is organised by a great team of guys, mostly based in the Basel area, and has now run for 7 years or so. Flash provides friendly tech support, and takes some great photos, in his fantastic red VW combi van. Many of the pics in this post are his, and you can see much more interesting information about Hetchins bikes on his great website. There are a number of pitstops around the route for food/coffee/fruit/granola bars etc., and the event manages to be casual, yet very well organised in a seemingly effortless manner (which hides significant preparations on behalf of Stefan and his team).

The ride is open to all, subject to application, and using a pre ’85 bike with matching outfit, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it. Many of the participants travelled from far afield to join the ride, e.g. from Berlin, or Austria, so while the number of participants is relatively small, it’s a dedicated and friendly group of guys.

Check out the TD3 website for application opening for the TD3 15. I hope to meet you there. With a nicer bike than mine.

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Vintage gear for a vintage ride

At the end of the month I’m participating in a historical bike ride of c.130km through France, Switzerland and Germany (tour des trois).

I plan to ride my late 70s/early 80s Mercier (which has not been featured on the blog before! Though it has made a guest appearance in the blog logo…..) with tubular tyres and all French components. A restoration post will follow shortly!

130km is a long ride by any standards, let alone on a 40 year old bike. Wish me luck! I’m not sure which will fail first, me or the bike… Here’s hoping I finish.

Also, while participants are to ride pre ’85 bikes, they must also be dressed in vintage (or replica vintage) cycling gear. I’ve got the bike, but didn’t have the clothing!

Thankfully ebay came to the rescue. I not only found a vintage cycling top, but one from a cycling club in the very city where I grew up, Newcastle upon Tyne! This seems to be from the Tyne Electric CC cycling club. Anyone know anything about it or a bit about the club?

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I also found and old pair of cycling gloves from when I was a teenager. They’re horribly coloured so should be suitable as early 1980s…! However, they seem to have mud on them.

Possibly a stupid question, but does anyone know the best way to clean them? Just pop them in the machine on a gentle wash??

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