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Upgrading an Old Steel Commuter

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Upgrading an Old Steel Commuter

Old 08-06-15, 11:17 PM
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milbournosphere
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Upgrading an Old Steel Commuter

Disclaimer: I'm mechanically inclined, but pretty new to this cycling stuff.

I'm commuting to work using an '87 Nishiki I bought from a friend for peanuts. It's been a good bike so far, but on parts of my ride I find myself moving too fast for the top gear to be useful, and I really am not overly happy with the downtube shifters. They're indexed but finicky; from what I've gathered, SunTour's indexing couldn't really keep up with Shimano.

Given that the rattle-can paint job is also starting to give up the ghost, I find myself wondering if a bit of a restore/build is in order.

The bike is running what I believe is the original SunTour group (SunTour a-4050 derailleurs Sugino VL crankset, DiaCompe a-5000 brakes, 2x6 gearing). My initial thought was to maybe getting a NOS SunTour 7000 group off of ebay to replace what I have, but I'm wondering what my options might be for going a bit more modern. My two primary goals are better gearing for my ride and possibly moving to STI shifters. Improved braking wouldn't hurt, either.

My LBS wasn't overly encouraging; they recommended I just get a new bike. However, plenty of folks around seem to be loving and upgrading their old steel bikes.

My commute is ~15 miles round trip, uphill both ways. I'm not looking to set speed records, I'm only looking to take my bike up a notch as I get in better shape. What would you do as a cost-effective option?

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Old 08-06-15, 11:43 PM
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That bike is actually not too bad. The one thing I'd look into is tires. A good set of supple tires, largest that will fit on your bike will do wonders. Yes, I said largest, there's plenty of testing done recently that shows that skinnier tires take up more energy from flexure than fatter ones, all things being equal, and up to a point-and that point is much larger than what your bike will fit. My best guess is that you could go up to 28mm.

You're spinning out on the top end-just can't pedal faster in the highest gear? How many teeth are on your smallest cog in the back? If you're still spinning out in a 52-12 on flats, you need to consider racing.

Brakes can be improved with some of the more modern dual-pivots, but I'd try just some better brake pads.

If you don't like the downtube shifters, there are other options, but brifters (integrated shifters and brake levers) would require a lot more work and complication. Bar end shifters or stem shifters are options, although your friends might not think them very racy.

That just for starters, could think of more, but let's let the rest of the community add something.
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Old 08-07-15, 12:04 AM
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Is that running a freewheel?

DNP Epoch makes 7, 8, and 9 speed freewheels that begin with an 11T sprocket. Unfortunately not too tight of gear progression.

Or, you could build a cassette wheel to take modern cassettes.
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Old 08-07-15, 12:21 AM
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sales duch: "don't overhaul it. buy a new one."

the donald of cycling: "and let china win? **** you!"

end scene

here's your chance to tune your wheels perfectly, change out the bar tape, mount the levers exactly where you want them, pick the tires of your choice, and make sure the bearing bearing components are performing as they did decades ago.

bearing bearing components. including the rear derailleur, which has two big ones.

bearings.

it would drive me crazy if my indexed dt shifters and gearing weren't crisp and smooth.
i'd get that sorted pronto (maybe just an adjustment issue).

if my top gear weren't enough going uphill both ways, i'd say i'm a ******* badass and get a bigger chainring. 53t? maybe some ankle weights?

add a new and nice sram or kkt chain (if it's been a while) and road pedals with clips and straps (unless you're commuting in wingtips). some sort of foot retention completely changes the cycling experience. and you'll need an even bigger chainring.

just don't ever buy splash tape.
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Old 08-07-15, 12:24 AM
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Bar-end shifters. Abandon indexing in favor of Suntour Cyclone, and... oh.
More modern.
Not sure I'm familiar with that concept. Sorry. Carry on!
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Old 08-07-15, 05:08 AM
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Get a new LBS.
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Old 08-07-15, 06:29 AM
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A couple of thoughts...

First- Sweet Bike!

Second- Suntour Accushift 6 speed is pretty much equal with SIS as long as you're using the correct parts. (Accushift shifters and derailleur- Suntour/Shimano/Sun Race/IRD freewheel)

Third- Accushift "@xxxx" were the lower offerings- so they're going to not be as nice as the GPX, Cyclone, Sprint, Superbe, XC, XC Comp, XC Pro stuff.

Fourth- I don't know your budget, but new brake pads are a good investment- Better brake pads (Kool Stop) will make the most out of single pivots. Dual pivot brakes really do make a big difference over even the nicest single pivot brakes. Stopping is NOT underrated.

Fifth- I'm sure you know this- but the number of speeds is not directly related to the top end speed. More steps between gears make it easier to increase speed, but as said before, if you're maxing out that 52-12 combo... I guess that means looking for 53/54T big chainrings. I don't see the Sugino VL on Velobase- but my guess is that it's a 130 BCD crankset.

Finally... Your bike (and six speed bikes in general) is from the era of downtube shifters, so your options are kind of limited. I prefer not to have downtube shifters- what I did is go to the dead technology of Suntour Command Shifters- the "butterfly" shifters that go inboard of the brake levers. The big drag about that is that they're old and not made anymore- so they're not only difficult to find, but they're also disproportionately expensive. If you're up into keeping that bike (and it looks to be a good platform for what you want ) transforming it into a bike that is the pinnacle of 1991 technology would be fun and give you a great bike that would stand out. So if'n it were me, I'd throw a metric ****-ton of money at the bike- a good rear rack, Command Shifters, Cyclone or Sprint derailleurs, new Tektro dual pivots and maybe a new big chainring, paint when you're ready.

This is what I did with a bike that was similar to yours- it's only taken me some 5 or 6 years to get to this point...

http://www.bikeforums.net/classic-vi...e-project.html
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Old 08-07-15, 06:47 AM
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Answers like you got from your LBS is why I do almost all of my own bike maintenance now.

The detailed description you provided of your bike makes me think you are likely able to do simple stuff like bike tuning, etc., but just in case, could the poor shifting simply be a need for a new chain or worn cogs?

I prefer brifters over down tube shifters (sorry everybody) but I wouldn't go through the hassle of upgrade for commuting. In fact my regular commuter was a single speed and I just mashed it up the hills.

+1 on new brake pads but I will say I particularly like more modern brakes with a centering screw as I wrestled with being able to center older brakes my entire cycling life.
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Old 08-07-15, 07:25 AM
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Wide range of suggestions to consider. If it were me, I would start with baby steps.

First would be to have some confidence I could stop. KoolStops will get you an improvement. You will need to decide if it is enough. Of course, make sure your cables operate easily without friction. Same goes for your calipers. They look like they could use cleaning and lubrication. If needed, replace cable housing and cables. They look good to me from the pictures.

Next would be the issue of gearing. It is hard for me to accept that you are overspinning with that gear configuration. I don't know if you are aware that a good crank cadence for riding is between 85-95 rpm, depending on what shape you are in. Select the gearing to get you close. A commute may range from 65-120 depending on how energetic you feel!

Clean your drive train, chain, SPROKETS (cogs are gears that mesh together like in a transmission) and chain ring. Derailleurs are worth a good cleaning and lubing too. Don't forget the cabling as well as the shifters. I suspect you have a freewheel. If so, you may want to invest a few bills in a removal tool. Check the spacing between the smallest sprocket and the drop out/stays. If the gap looks big, you may be able to drop a 7 speed freewheel in there. My '83 Colnago accommodated this upgrade without a problem. Determine how many teeth are on all the sprockets, including the chain rings, and use this site to determine your gear spacing. This will help you understand what you have and may help you understand options.

Adjust the derailleurs would be my next step. Every bike is different and it may be that all you need is adjustments. This is a nice bike and Suntour has a really good reputation for many of its drivetrain components. It is worth a try before throwing the baby out with the bath water. IOW, don't fix what ain't broke. If you still can't get it to meet your expectations, then you have some serious evaluation to do, driven by how much you want to spend along with how much time and effort will be required.

Tires might be the next item or anytime. There is a lot of discussion about what works best. You are the best judge of that and it may require a little experimentation. If you like a soft ride, big and supple side walls will be the criteria. Watch the weight, a heavy tire will slow you down, or more correctly, spin up will require more effort.

I would not attack the paint issue until I determined that the bike is a keeper. Any rust can be addressed with converter or other approaches. WD-40 is a great rust inhibitor for exposed parts once cleaned. I have two frames with no paint that I keep coated with WD-40 and they have been that way for 1 1/2 years.

So like many, I am a bit tight on throwing money at any bike. If you have a fair amount of disposable funds, look at Bike Direct and sell the Nishiki for the funds!

Oh! Make sure the wheels are true. You want someone who will check the spoke tension as part of the truing. Proper spoke tension will ensure durability and a true wheel for a longer period of time, not to mention avoiding spoke breakage!

Double Oh! Fit. Make sure the bike fits you! That's a whole topic unto itself!
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Old 08-07-15, 07:55 AM
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You need to disclose your budget. If you are willing to spend $500, you could get a whole new 105 groupset and wheels. $350 for 10 speed Tiagra + wheels (works better than everything you have now).

Next step down would be:
Good new tires. See if you can squeeze 700 x 28s in there. Huge ride improvement.
Dual pivot brakes. Shimano Tiagras can be had for $35 at Ribble. Awesome brake for the money.
Brifters. Get a 7 speed freehweel and Shimano ST-A070 brifters for about $100ish and a new 7 speed chain ($20ish). The brifters come with good quality Shimano cables & will work perfectly with Suntour deraileurs (I've used these shifters on several projects + love 'em).
Bar tape: I like any cork tape (black!) with no adhesive. Cinelli gel, Profile etc. $10
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Old 08-07-15, 09:06 AM
  #11  
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Obviously, you're gonna hear lots of different advice here. As for what I'd do...

1. You're feeling like your top gear isn't high enough? How many teeth are on the smallest cog on your freewheel? I'm gonna bet you've got a 14-28 freewheel on there. Your first move should be to get a DNP Epoch 11-28. It's a 7-speed, but it will probably fit on your bike. Which brings us to...

2. Shifters. If you don't like downtube shifters, try bar-ends. I'd recommend friction, rather than indexed -- indexing is annoying, especially with mixed systems. Friction becomes second nature very quickly, and you always get the chain exactly where you want it. I'd look on eBay for Suntour bar-end shifters (AKA "Barcons") -- there are a bunch of them at decent prices right now. Another good move with the 7-speed would be Suntour Command "Butterfly" shifters, but as somebody mentioned above, they're hard to find. You could also go for thumb-shifters or stem shifters, and if people think it's uncool, just run 'em over. For any of these options, you'll (obvi) need downtube cable stops.

3. Braking: try Kool-Stop pads first. If that doesn't do it for you, then you can look into different brakes. If you do switch to those tiny li'l modern brake calipers, be aware that they might make it difficult to mount fenders, and if there's anything a commuter bike needs, it's fenders (you'll find this out when you're commuting in the rain). Actually, the brakes you've got on there might be a little tight for some fenders, already.

You should be able to do all three of the above upgrades for less than $100. I think you'll be pretty happy. Oh, and yeah -- get a new LBS.

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Old 08-07-15, 09:51 AM
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Whoa, so many responses!

On the budget: My budget would be ~$300-350. I'm mainly cycling to get to work, and I've burned through my toy budget for the year, so the wife has put this in the 'what you win at poker night' budget priority.

On the top gear: I am generally spinning out on the flat areas of the ride. I feel like I could get more speed but I find myself peddling very quickly (I aim for 80-90rpm, like what I would on an stationary gym bike; slower on the big hill I have to tackle). Tooth count on the smaller rear sprocket is 14. I'm riding to get into shape, so the hills still kick my ass, but I feel like I could definitely get more out of the flats on my route.

On the downtube shifters: I semi-regularly have 'bad shifts', so to speak; I'll overshoot a gear, or get it 'almost' into gear and slip. I'd liken it to a automotive clutch that needs some love. Upon closer inspection, quite a few of the teeth on the sprockets are starting to get that shark-fin look, so it could be time to replace the freewheel. That, combined with the fact that I have no idea how old the chain is, along with the need for indexing adjustment could be why I am not happy with the downtube shifters. I've read that the a-4050 was at the beginning of SunTour's Accushift product line and required more frequent adjustments to keep the indexing how it's supposed to be. Perhaps a better period-correct Suntour DR set, new chain and freewheel would help that? After writing all of this, I suppose I would be fine with the downtube shifters if I could get more reliable shifts out of them.

On the brakes: Thanks for the tips on the better pads, I'll look into the KoolStops.

On the tires/wheels: The hubs are aftermarket, as are the wheels and tires. I had the wheels true'd when I took it to the LBS for a basic tune-up. The wheels are basic, but not too heavy. The tires are Specialized All Condition 700x23. They're on the newer side; my buddy (previous owner) bought the new tires a few years ago but never really rode the bike except occasionally.

Last edited by milbournosphere; 08-07-15 at 09:55 AM.
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Old 08-07-15, 10:23 AM
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These wheels for $84

Tiagra groupset for $275

$360ish. If you are patient, Ribble has frequent sales. Like every week. Should be easy to get it all under $350.

Modern Tiagra is very nice. A HUGE improvement over what you have now. Much stiffer BB and cranks, buttery smooth 10 speed shifting, better gear ratio (52 x 11 high end), and strong smooth dual pivot brakes.
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Old 08-07-15, 02:24 PM
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Just saw this.
How To Convert From Downtube Shifters To STI Shifters (Brifters) On Vintage Bike - YouTube
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJJyl0xPrJ0
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Old 08-07-15, 03:46 PM
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Are you going to be doing all of the work? If you aren't you would probably be better off following th LBS's suggestion of buying a new bike.

I would not put $350-$400 and $100-$150 for labor into updating that old bike.

The wheels suggest in the previous post look like a good value/buy, but I would not want to commute on them (20/24 spoke wheels), they are too light, and don't see them holding up very well in a commuter situation. Buy stronger heavier wheels with 32 spokes if you want them to last.

For less money than that, you good buy a used bike that already has those features, and keep some money in your pocket. Buying a good used bike with the features you are interested in will give you a chance to try out the new features, and if you decide you want them, you could still buy a new groupset to install on your old frame, OR you could use the new/used bike as a donor to bring your old bike up to date.
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Old 08-07-15, 04:09 PM
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Originally Posted by The Golden Boy View Post

Finally... Your bike (and six speed bikes in general) is from the era of downtube shifters, so your options are kind of limited. I prefer not to have downtube shifters- what I did is go to the dead technology of Suntour Command Shifters- the "butterfly" shifters that go inboard of the brake levers. The big drag about that is that they're old and not made anymore- so they're not only difficult to find, but they're also disproportionately expensive.

http://www.bikeforums.net/classic-vi...e-project.html
+1 on the ST Command shifters, and -$150 or more for a pair! I never use the lower part, not in the drops that much. I'm thinking a standard thumb shifter might work about as well.
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Old 08-07-15, 04:18 PM
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Originally Posted by milbournosphere View Post
Whoa, so many responses!

On the budget: My budget would be ~$300-350. I'm mainly cycling to get to work, and I've burned through my toy budget for the year, so the wife has put this in the 'what you win at poker night' budget priority.

On the top gear: I am generally spinning out on the flat areas of the ride. I feel like I could get more speed but I find myself peddling very quickly (I aim for 80-90rpm, like what I would on an stationary gym bike; slower on the big hill I have to tackle). Tooth count on the smaller rear sprocket is 14. I'm riding to get into shape, so the hills still kick my ass, but I feel like I could definitely get more out of the flats on my route.

On the downtube shifters: I semi-regularly have 'bad shifts', so to speak; I'll overshoot a gear, or get it 'almost' into gear and slip. I'd liken it to a automotive clutch that needs some love. Upon closer inspection, quite a few of the teeth on the sprockets are starting to get that shark-fin look, so it could be time to replace the freewheel. That, combined with the fact that I have no idea how old the chain is, along with the need for indexing adjustment could be why I am not happy with the downtube shifters. I've read that the a-4050 was at the beginning of SunTour's Accushift product line and required more frequent adjustments to keep the indexing how it's supposed to be. Perhaps a better period-correct Suntour DR set, new chain and freewheel would help that? After writing all of this, I suppose I would be fine with the downtube shifters if I could get more reliable shifts out of them.

On the brakes: Thanks for the tips on the better pads, I'll look into the KoolStops.

On the tires/wheels: The hubs are aftermarket, as are the wheels and tires. I had the wheels true'd when I took it to the LBS for a basic tune-up. The wheels are basic, but not too heavy. The tires are Specialized All Condition 700x23. They're on the newer side; my buddy (previous owner) bought the new tires a few years ago but never really rode the bike except occasionally.
Really sounds like you know quite a bit already!

Knowing whereabouts you're riding will help a lot with our suggestions. For example, if you're in Phoenix, AZ, I won't try to sell you on a pair of fenders. Flatlanders need different gear than hill country, which is different from steep mountains. That and some of the forum members have offered free services/trade for beer, or even real reasonable prices for good quality, vintage bits. We just want someone else to share our addiction with...

Those Specialized All Condition tires are rocks compared to many alternatives. I had a pair of those in 700x28, they wore like steel, didn't have flats like steel, but also rode like steel! I changed to some Panaracer Paselas (a great value tire) in the same size, and what a difference it made. 700x23 in those must be rough on you-28mm Paselas will feel like little clouds under your bum, and roll faster to boot.

So you've got some good recommendations on brake pads (kool stop is a favorite here), tires (max out on the frame and make sure they're supple), freewheel (a nice 7 speed 12-28 or higher would help on both ends of the spectrum), and some "if you want to spend a bit more" insights.
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Old 08-07-15, 05:46 PM
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I think you have a excellent basis for a top-notch commuter there. I tend to concur with SJX426's suggestions for a systematic approach. Replace what is worn or time-ex'd, adjust/tune everything properly; and go from there. Since it appears you're probably in for a new freewheel, the low cost avenue is staying with 6 speed and just tuning up the derailleur and shifters, just find a new or NOS 13-28 freewheel - there must be a few out there; if you're bent on ditching the DT shifters, others are better qualified than myself to lay out your best options. You could do a pretty low cost upgrade to 7sp or 8sp with Shimano or Shimano compatible RD, freewheel & thumbie shifters mounted on the curves. I've done the thumbies on the curves mod on a couple of bikes, and it works quite well for me, since I ride primarily on the drops. The problem with STI is that it's damned expensive, even for the entry level Sora stuff. Not to mention vulnerable in a crash and not very repairable. Let me know if you want to see my thumbies on curves photos.

I do tend to agree with your feeling of spinning out with 52-14; I get the same feeling. But for me, 52-13 does the trick; when I max out on that setup I'm not really interested in going any faster

Well, best wishes with your quest, and keep us posted, and Welcome to Bike Forums!
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Old 08-07-15, 07:11 PM
  #19  
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Originally Posted by gugie View Post
+1 on the ST Command shifters, and -$150 or more for a pair! I never use the lower part, not in the drops that much. I'm thinking a standard thumb shifter might work about as well.
I flip around between pushing and pulling with my fingers and thumbs- although I mostly use the upper lever.
The bottom lever is hooked just right to use the thumb underneath...



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Old 08-07-15, 08:03 PM
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Originally Posted by The Golden Boy View Post
I flip around between pushing and pulling with my fingers and thumbs- although I mostly use the upper lever.
The bottom lever is hooked just right to use the thumb underneath...
Here's mine:

Maybe it's time for a "show me your Command levers" thread?
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Old 08-07-15, 11:26 PM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by gugie View Post
Maybe it's time for a "show me your Command levers" thread?
That's a really good idea; there's 6, 7 and 8 speed Command Shifters - and at least two different lever/body styles.

I have several sets, they're all 6 and 7 speed- and the first lever style. While that lever style makes sense to me, they're the only ones I've used.
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Old 08-08-15, 05:52 AM
  #22  
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I had a bike with Accushift 4050 RD and it was quite solid. That was the high (top?) model of the index Suntour in its day.

I will 3rd or 4th doing things step by step, dealing with what is worn out and needs replacement rather than going crazy and replacing everything.

If it was my bike and my money I would:

1. Try a set of Koolstop Salmon pads with your existing brakes.
2. Go to the local bike coop if available (or bike shop) and have your chain and rear gears checked for wear. Replace what is needed.
3. If you need to replace the freewheel select one that give you a higher gear so you are not spinning out on the flats.
4. If your tires are worn upgrade to something nice with great flat protection. (lots of threads on that topic)
5. Look into moving to bar end, command or even (of god forbid) stem shifters if the downtube setup is really not working for you.

If you are looking to have brifters and such modern touches, I would wait and save up some more cash and get new when you can.

Good luck and happy riding!
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Old 08-09-15, 02:50 PM
  #23  
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After reading up on this thread and others, I think I'm going to approach it in this order:
  1. New Brake Pads. Still trying to figure out which of the koolstop pads will work with my older brakes.
  2. Sweet new grip tape. This bike is begging for a bright tape color.
  3. Replace freewheel and chain. After a quick self-diagnosis per Sheldon Brown's guide, it looks like I have worn cogs on a few of the sprockets on my freewheel. Looking at the state of my front sprockets, they are worn as well, particularly the inner gear.
  4. Proper adjustment of derailleurs. Replace if indexing slips. From what I've gathered the a-4050 was a second-gen mid-range piece of kit. They came out in '88. The 4050 is the 2nd best of the Alpha kit; Alpha series seems meant for the 'sport' rider, and looks to be the lowest of the Alpha, Cyclone and Sprint groups available for that gen of groups. Catalog page here.
  5. Look into tires. I'm not really sure how to determine 'suppleness' of a tire other than perhaps by $$$ cost.
  6. Sweet paint job. The rattle-can doesn't look great in person; the frame wasn't stripped before painting, and was hurried. I think it brings down the overall look of the bike. Color ideas?
I ride in sunny San Diego, so I guess that would make me a fair-weather rider, since we never have anything but! I think I'm going to try for NOS replacements if possible, and avoid replace the DT shifters. My issue with them isn't placement; rather, it's the smoothness and ease of shifting, which sounds like it might be able to be resolved with mechanical fixes.

Originally Posted by RoadGuy View Post
Are you going to be doing all of the work?
My hope is to do the work myself, as I'd like to treat it as a learning opportunity. I'll probably farm out the paint job to a powdercoater.

Thanks again for suggestions and feedback.

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Old 08-09-15, 03:55 PM
  #24  
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You're in San Diego? Then the World is your oyster. There are dozens/hundreds of good used bikes advertised for sale on Craigslist in the San Diego Edition. I drove down and bought five Trek road and mountain bikes from San Diego last year (separate trips, 90 minutes one way for me), because I found all kinds of deals down there.

I would again recommend that you shop some used bikes down there for a bike that has the components you want on it. You will have a choice of many newer used bikes with brifters, or down tube shifters for less than $250, with between 7 and 10 speeds.
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