Friday, December 9, 2011

Hey Mikey! He Likes It!

Just realized that in two posts, I've used up my monthly quota of exclamation points in titles. Bummer.

As the resident bike geek amongst the people who tolerate my non-virtual presence, I often volunteer to make sad bikes (and consequently, sad bikers) happier. The latest such project comes from Pal Mike of the Epic Beard. Mike's a former corporate drone who just up and decided to hop off the treadmill, go back to school, and become a teacher. And he likes to ride this to work:
 I only have "after" photos, so pretend it looks worse than this.

That right there is (I'm guessing) a mid-90s Trek 720, photographed (as required by Bike Photographer Law) in front of the garage door here at The Cycle World Headquarters. When it reached my door, it was suffering a host of maladies:
  • One almost-entirely-exploded Grip Shift -- which, if you remember 90s Grip Shift, wasn't exactly precision equipment in the first place.
  • Half its drivetrain (i.e., front derailleur and the second Grip Shift) missing.
  • One of those Shimano cranksets with the riveted/press-fit rings -- and the rivet/press-fit was failing, leading to some pretty wacky chainring wobble.
  • Wheels that hadn't seen trueness since the late-grunge era.
  • Brakes that, well, didn't.
  • General bearing sadness all around.

Underneath all that, though, is a pretty darn nice frame: U.S.-made, chromoly, brazeons all over, good tire clearance, not terribly heavy, and a fairly springy ride. If I didn't know that the 520 tourers of that era had level top tubes, I'd think they shared a frame -- the details look that good. It just got junked down with some of the low-end parts of the MTB Boom era, parts that probably did fine for a few years but couldn't hang for the long haul.

First up, I tried to see what I could do with a little simple tuning -- no major surgery. Once the hubs and headset were properly adjusted, they felt pretty good. The wheels trued up surprisingly well. The brakes were cheap low-profile cantilvers which -- unless I went all Sheldon on them -- were never going to be great. I did the best I could, put on some fresh pads, and called it good. The exploded Grip Shift, while quite awful, was still making a valiant effort to move the chain thanks to some carefully applied electrical tape (I didn't do it, but it did my Mennonite heritage proud to see it). In short, it rode.

At that point, I consulted with Mighty Mike, and we decided that a little drivetrain work could make a big difference. He'd been riding on one chainring for years and it didn't bother him, so we stuck with that. I chucked the lousy crankset, swapped in a single-ringer from my stash, ordered a fresh right-side shifter, cassette, and chain, and tah-dah!
I liked it, so I put a ring on it.

A bike from the 90s gets one of those trendy new 1xn drivetrains all the cyclocrossers are raving about. For the gear geeks, that's a 40-tooth BMX chainring driving a 7-speed 11-28 cassette... a range of 38"-98" on Mike's 700x32s. Good spread for an urban runabout. (Confession: I just happened to have the 40-tooth ring, so it isn't like I planned this.)

Oh, and a word on those tires: At some previous tuneup (perhaps with Electrical Tape Guy?), Mike's Bike had picked up a set of Serfas Tuono 700x32 slicks. Not a particularly fancy/expensive tire, but I was duly impressed during my (admittedly short and nowhere near scientific) test rides. They have some kind of puncture-resistant belt (which is supposedly the kiss of death when it comes to ride quality), but I found them plenty lively. They looked pretty true to size too, which could make the 700x38 a real sleeper hit amongst the go-fast tourist crowd.

So there you go, Mike. Hope it brings a smile to your beard.

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