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  1. #1
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    Upgrade 16 yr old Bianchi?

    I'm currently riding one of the original Bianchi Volpes. A Japanese steel frame with Tange forks, it was originally positioned as a sort of crossbike. Once I took the 35cm semi-knobby off and replaced it with a 29cm Panaracer, the only thing that makes it not look like a typical tourer is the little bracket brazed on top of the bottom bracket where the cables run (protecting them from what?).

    I still find it a comfortable and fast ride, able to blow past mountain bikes even on some towpaths. It has full braze-ons, and I think the steel lugged frame looks like a bike is supposed to look.

    Does anybody think that makes no sense to continue using this frame and try to squeeze some upgrades on it?

    I've just had the bike shop reduce the size of all 3 chainrings--should have done this years ago, but I didn't have as many hills to deal with before. I've got knee probs and like to pedal fast, but not push hard.

    Whether or not the frame is out of date, the late 80s, 6-speed Suntour 4050 drivetrain components were received with giggles in the local bike shop. It would be nice to squeeze another gear or two into the back. What is the potential for upgrading the rear derailleur and migrating to a cassette with more gears? Can I find a bike shop in the London area that can do this, possibly stretching the chain stays farther apart?

    I rented a cheap bike in Edinburgh recently (strongly recommend Adrian's Edinburgh City Cycle Tour) and while it felt really dead compared to my vintage Bianchi, the V-brakes were really sweet. Anybody have any experience moving from calipers to Vs? I don't have fenders right now, but it would be an appealing idea in any normal English year. What do I need to look out for when moving to V-brakes? (I sent the bike shop out to find a set of Dia-Compe 237 levers compat with my current brakes, and they came up with some used levers that seem acceptable, but why can't they just order from Nashbar if appropriate levers are not avail here?)

    I'm happy with the bike now, although I wish the drive train were better. It certainly is more fun to ride than anything I've ever rented. It is adequate on towpaths, and flies on roads. That said, I'm toying with the idea of looking for a similar configuration from a custom shop. I recently met a couple with a pair of Waterford tourers (S&S couplers too) and I have to say that they were a beautiful looking pair of bikes, besides being configured with gearing, drop bars, and frame geometry just like I think I want.

    I enjoy 30 mile day trips, and want to do some longer rides and multi-day trips soon. I peddle about 85-90 rpm. I don't usually dawdle much, but I don't have any burning desire to go over 30 MPH. I find drop bars a lot more comfy for back and shoulders. Bike paths are nice, but I keep wandering back to roads with better surface and fewer pedestrians & dogs.

    What am I missing by sticking with a 16-yr old frame and not just starting from scratch with a new bike?

    Thanks in advance for your experience and for your insight.

  2. #2
    Year-round cyclist
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    There are a few upgrades you might do and there are some you shouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole.

    Overall, frames of that period are a bit more flexible than modern touring frames (like Trek 520, Cannondale T series and Thorn, for example), but that shoiuld not be a problem unless you do very heavily loaded tours, with 60-70-lb panniers, for example.

    BTW, for all that, as well as for maintenance of your old bike, try to find a shop that only repairs bicycles, and one that deals with old bikes or used bikes. They may also have good used parts to sell at a lower price. Bonus, these parts are more likely to be compatible.

    See Sheldon Brown's glossary for any "missing term": http://www.sheldonbrown.com/glossary.html

    - Brakes. You probably have centrepull brakes with 16-year-old pads. I would suggest that you change the brake pads to install Kool-Stop Salmon (not the red ones) or Dual pads. The ones that are screwed on (either the Thinline (v-brakes compatible) or the thicker ones) fit on old-style cantilevers.
    It is sometimes possible to "improve" the geometry of the brakes by finding a straddle cable of a different length and therefore making the brakes firmer. I also honestly don't know if using new "Aero" brake levers would improve the performance of the brakes, but if you can borrow one, it might be worth a try.

    V-brakes or cantilever brakes are impossible to install on your bike, because you will need to braze on the appropriate studs. This means finding someone to braze them, then repaint the frame.

    If your bike already has cantilever brakes (could be as it's about when they appeared in the market), see Sheldon's article on cantilever brakes adjustment. In a few words, using Kool Stop dual pads and adjusting them properly will make them as brutal as v-brakes.


    - Wheels: I don't know if you have 27" or 700c wheels. If you have 700c wheels, you have the new standard. If you have 27" wheels, it might be wise to replace them by 700c wheels when and only when the wheels need replacing. Those sizes are fairly similar, but you first need to check that the brake pads may indeed be lowered by 4-5 mm. BTW, it's quite possible to ride with one 700c and one 27" wheel. It's only a problem if you tour in remote areas and need to bring 2 spare tires (tubes are the same).

    - b]Gears.[/b] I'm fairly certain that you have a 6-speed freewheel.
    A cheap improvement might be to replace it with a 7-speed freewheel, but I don't think it's worthed unless you need a wider range (ex.: lower gear) or your freewheel is shot.
    Another option would be to change the wheel by a "new" one with a freehub and cassette. Your bike probably has 126-mm spacing, which means that a 7-speed freefub will fit as is. You may also get a modern "road" hub (130-mm spacing) or a "mountain" hub (135-mm spacing). You might spread or have a LBS spread the frame. Going to 130-mm is trivial; going to 135 might be risky.
    Personnally, I don't like that and would prefer to stick with a 7-speed freehub... and while at it, get it in the 700c format if the brakes fit. Then either get a 7-speed cassette, or buy a 9-speed cassette, remove one gear (any but the small cog) and make a "8-speed on 7" cassette. See Sheldon's page for that : http://www.sheldonbrown.com/k7.html

    Incidentally, cassettewise, "7-speed", "Road" and "Mountain" hubs are compatible with eachother, it's just marketing. The 7-speed is obviously narrower than the 8/9 speed hub.


    - Shifters. That's the tricky part. Tricky as in "expensive". If you already had friction (there were a few indexed shifters back then), you can't change anything on your drivetrain unless you change the shifters to friction ones.
    If you have friction and stay with friction (i.e. you feel your shifts and move the lever appropriately), your current derailleur and shifter will work fine with a 7-speed cassette or with 8-speed-on-7. With a real 9-speed, either the derailleur or the shifter (or both) might not move enough to serve all gears.
    If you insist on indexed, then you'll have to upgrade the derailleur and shifters, and especially if you want briefters (aka STI or Ergo), it might even be cheaper to get a new bike...

    Basically, unless you can get away with basic changes, like a "new" used wheel with a 7-speed cassette, why not keep this bike as a commuter or even as a lightweight "fast" bike (with skinnier tires) and get a Waterford, Heron Touring, Atlantis, Trek 520, Cannondale... with the specs i]and the gearing[/i] you want. The frame will definitely be more rigid and it will handle much better when loaded

    Regards,
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

  3. #3
    Junior Member
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    Wow, Michel, that is exactly the information I was hoping for. Very helpful--thanks.

    You've second-guessed most of the things that I didn't include, so here are a few clarifications. At the time, the bike seemed very progressive:

    Brakes are indeed cantilever. I did replace the pads about 4 years ago, but I've been looking for something that grips better and smoother--thanks for the pointers to the Sheldon Brown site. I'm in the process of getting new levers because the original ones are not very comfortable as hand grips.
    I'm a bit concerned that the LBS will have some cable routing probs because the fixed point above the straddle cable is on a bracket attached just under the bars.

    700C wheels. Originally 35cm knobby tires and I'm using 28cm road tires right now. The 700c vs 26" seems to be a religious argument right now, but from an aesthetic point of view, there is no comparison. ;-) 700C looks like a 'real bike'.

    Lots of good ideas on upgrading gears. Thanks. Putting in the 7-speed casssette would mean getting a new hub? A new hub and a new wheel lacing would be a lot of money for just one more gear. I have Barcon shifters and the rear is indexed. It recently shifted into friction mode and I went hundreds of miles without noticing it. I don't think I can expect super-crisp shifting on a bike like this, so indexing isn't essential--I went for a couple decades without it.

    Your advice on use of the bike is also what I was looking for. I don't think it'd make much sense to upgrade to a contemporary equiv to this bike, like the Trek 520 or the latest Volpe--I'd get a few more gears and a bit of frame stiffness that I probably don't need for credit card touring. If I were going to upgrade, it'd be to a custom frame. Waterfords look nice, but I'm going to check out some of the frame builders in England.

    Thanks very much,

    Jay

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