The Duke entered my life as a frame, fork and wheelset plucked from Craigslist. I have briefly looked around the net for information about the maker, but have so far found nothing. The frame seems to be English and the bottom bracket threads support this guess so I’ll leave it there.
I had low expectations for the future of this frame and fork as the fork did not rotate freely. This should always be a big red flag when you are shopping for used bicycles. Assume you’ll need a new fork and evaluate the price accordingly. This fork bound when turned sharply to the left or right and appeared to be bent a bit away from the frame (think damage due to heavy landings when the poor thing should never have been airborne). It is more common to see forks bent slightly toward the frame. Seeing a fork bent any which way, you also need to carefully inspect the frame, paying attention to the underside of the downtube near the head tube. Also the top tube near the head tube. Look for buckling or bulges or even flaking paint. See anything other than perfection? Move on.
I just wanted a project, sensibility be damned, so I removed the fork, clamped it in the bench vice and gave it a purposeful pull in the direction I guessed it started its life. I pulled slowly and the resistance was even until the very end of the pull at which point the resistance decreased. The change in the resistance was disconcerting. It looks fine, but don’t ask to test ride this bicycle. I barely trust it enough for short and slow casual rides with me aboard, but I won’t put anyone else at risk. Luckily (or maybe not), upon reassembly the fork rotated freely. I’ll have to keep an eye on that fork. As soon as it starts binding again, I’ll look for a new one.
If the fork hadn’t been damaged, I would have considered building it up with sort of nice parts and selling it. Since it won’t be sold, I decided to build it up with the most uninteresting parts I had on hand and use it as a carefree errand bicycle. Except for a very few new parts, the parts I used are of zero interest to me. Most were badly worn. In fact, I removed from many of the parts my handwritten price tags from last year’s garage sale (they read $1.00).
The frame came with a spindle installed for cottered cranks. I don’t have any cottered cranks, so I removed that spindle and installed a Shimano cartridge bottom bracket which I had labeled “worn-out.” Why did I keep it if it was worn-out? Such is my way and today I was glad to have it. It didn’t spin perfectly, but it would work for this project.
The cranks came from a Fuji (obviously), the pedals are an abomination (obviously) and the only single chainring bolts I had were a NOS set of Zeus bolts. These bolts might be the most interesting things on the whole bicycle (and they are barely so at that). If I keep this bicycle in motion long enough to buy it a present, these will be the first. Shhhh!
The derailleur is a Shimano Titlist (yawn). Note the blue bag behind the derailleur. Want to guess what is in there? Frida could tell you. I resisted the urge to disassemble and clean the derailleur (along with every other part I hung on the bicycle) just so that I wouldn’t become attached to the bicycle. I’ve become attached to the most pedestrian of parts once I disassemble and service them.
I used the wheels that came with the bicycle. Rigida 27″ rims with one nasty flat spot per rim. I loosened the spokes at the flat spot, suspended the wheel between the jaws of my bench vice (opened to about twelve inches), placed a wood block on top of the flat spot on the inside of the rim and pounded out the flat spots. I used my new rim pliers to straighten the sidewalls and then trued both rims as best I could. They are surprisingly round and true, and they run smoothly when braking. The spokes on the right side of the rear wheel are chewed badly from a chain dropping between the freewheel and the spokes. After so much effort, I have little hope for the longevity of this wheelset.
I added SR bars and stem with Weinmann brake levers and black cotton tape that I had left together from some project long ago. The ends of the bars seemed pushed inward. Not sure how that happened, but it seemed unlikely the shape was intentional. Drops I’ve seen are either vertical or splayed outward. I clamped one flat drop into the bench vice and pulled on the other until they looked right. Quite a lot of force was required, so I am glad they didn’t come apart and send me backward into the row of bicycles just behind me.
Keeping with the mongrel theme, the rear brake is a Weinmann center pull and the front is a Raleigh badged side pull (surely Weinmann or Dia Compe). The front brake worked well with new Koolstop pads, but the rear brake hated the Koolstops. I couldn’t stop the squealing. I toed in the pads to no avail. I then lightly sanded the rim and cleaned it with alcohol but nothing would quiet the brake down. I ended up sanding the original dry pads and using those instead. They don’t brake very well, but they are perfectly quiet. The front brake provides most of the stopping force anyway simply by virtue of it being in front (the rear wheel is unweighted during hard braking).
I didn’t have a cable hanger for the rear brake cable so I fashioned one from a spoke. It flexes a lot and would probably come apart if enough force was applied, so I will need to get a proper hanger as soon as I can. I also considered bending another from a spoke so that a U is formed with overlapping circles on each end of the U to hold the cable. Two circles instead of one would make the hanger much stiffer and safer. If I had a welder, a couple of small welds would make this design doubled circle design perfectly safe. This idea sort of borrows from the Surly design (and they surely borrowed it from somewhere, as I am sure I have seen this style of hanger before Surly existed).
I only had one five speed freewheel (Suntour) on hand and it was badly worn on the smallest cog. I didn’t have enough axle to modify the spacing for use with a six speed freewheel (I have a ton of those). I simply adjusted the rear derailleur to use only the four biggest cogs, so the bicycle is now a four speed. The gearing is perfect for slow rolling.
I hadn’t seen a unit like my Sanyo before, but I just noticed one on a friend’s Giant. On his bike, Giant had included a shift lever on the back of the seat tube so that the generator could be operated while in motion. I would have never expected such a great detail on a Giant, but I saw it with my own eyes.
I didn’t have a seat clamp for railed saddles, so the Persons saddle is all I can install at present. The saddle is a nightmare. Sort of comfortable, but it would be better on a bicycle which positions the rider bolt upright. I can accept a little discomfort, but the noise! Every bump and even every turn of the crank gets the springs singing as they rub against their metal beds. Noises seem to be coming from every corner of the bicycle, but in actuality most are from the saddle. If I stand while rolling on smooth pavement, the bicycle is silent. This saddle will come off as soon as I get the right seat clamp. I also think the bearings are shot on the Sanyo generator. It intermittently emits unearthly squeals that, until addressed, will stop me form using the lights.
The tires are ancient Specialized jobbies. They were my favorite tires 30 years ago, but these are probably 30 years old by the looks of the dry sidewalls. They are way skinnier than I would otherwise put on a bicycle like this, but the price was right and lower rolling resistance isn’t the worst thing in the world. The tubes are used ones with plenty of patches. Is there anything on this bicycle that doesn’t scream danger? Again, don’t ask to ride it. I am not sure I should be, but I won’t be able to resist for a time.
The lugs are pretty nice and it is nice to see them outlined in gold, but the fork crown is sad. Except for the headbadge, all the brand identifications are on surface stickers. The subdued colors and graphics are wonderful (I wish more makers would decorate their bicycles with such restraint). What a hodgepodge of cosmetic offerings!
I love the fit. The 58cm frame brings the bars up to the height of the saddle. The ride is fine, almost regal, as you would expect from a heavy, flexy steel frame. The parts perform as you would expect. A new chain goes some distance to making the drivetrain feel right and the shifts aren’t spanning many teeth so they are crisp.
All in all, I am happy with the outcome. The frame, fork and wheels were free. The only new parts I added to the project were a chain and a rear brake cable, so the total investment is well under fifty bucks. Not bad for what ends up half looking like a well worn randonneur.
To Mahar’s! Slowly.
Until they open, the new album from My Morning Jacket just arrived. I know how to use a coozy, but I haven’t opened up the album to see why they included 3D glasses. The ever escalating race to make music packaging more interesting continues unabated! I am confident the music will not disappoint.