It seems like a simple enough project — bring an old bike up to date so that it can be ridden once more.
And, if most of the parts on the old bike are still functional (or easily replaced), it is, or can be: Clean off the years of accumulate neglect, tune up the moving parts, and ride.
That’s basically where I’m at with my Puch project bike: Once I got things cleaned up, and fixed a few minor issues with wheels and tubes, the bike pretty much was functional. I could ride it, and it rode pretty well.
But beyond basic functionality is the question of suitability. Yes, the bike works, but is it right for me? Is it’s performance optimized? Can it be improved?
That’s where things get more complicated.
Yes, the bike is rideable. No, it’s not quite suitable.
First off, the bike is a bit large for me. I’m just slightly “stretched out” when I ride it. Seems that there are a few changes that could be made to improve this:
- Shorten the stem
- Raise the handlebar (would would bring the bar slightly back)
- Change the handlebar style, to one with less “reach” and “drop”
Here’s the complexity: The Puch used French sizing for the stem and bar. A 22.00mm quill stem, and a handlebar with 25.00mm clamp area. Both of these measurements are just slightly off from “standard” sizes (22.2mm stem and 25.4mm clamp).
So I can’t (easily) put a different handlebar in the existing stem, and I can’t easily change the stem without also buying a new handlebar. I can scrounge up old compatible parts, but that takes a lot of time and expense (since the old parts are relatively rare, they’re pricey).
And as for the second option — raising the bar — the stem is already at it’s minimum insertion depth. So once again a new, taller, stem would be needed. Same problem with availability and cost.
Related issues with the cockpit are that I didn’t like either the old-style brake levers (with the “suicide” bars and cable coming out the top) or the shifters (located on the stem). Also, the handlebar, in addition to being a shape I didn’t like, was made of steel (heavy) and was thinner than I’d like.
As a first attempt at a solution, I went to a local swap meet, and procured possible solutions. I bought an older handlebar, old brake levers, and old bar-mount shifters.
The bar is a Specialized/WTB RM-2. This is the famous “Dirt Drop” bar that I’ve read about many times, so I was pleased to stumble across one (at a very reasonable price), and anxious to give it a try.
The brake lever are Shimano 105 aero levers, so the brake cable is routed along the bar (rather than coming out the top and getting in the way). They’re not pristine, but appeared functional.
The shifters are Shimano Deore Light Action SIS 7s thumb-shifters that support both 7-speed indexed (for the rear) and friction shifting. The shifters included strange-looking mounts.
After getting them home and doing some research, I determined that the mounts were called WTB Multi-Mounts, and provided an alternate way to attach thumb-shifters to drop handlebars. The Shimano shifters originally came with mounts that allowed the shifters to be located on the top bar (much as current MTB shifter are mounted on flat bars).
I couldn’t really see how they were supposed to work, or where on the bars they were supposed to be mounted. I eventually located this photo (from mtbr.com) showing one possible placement:
Weird. I’m not even going to try setting that up.
As for the bar, I did manage to get that installed, after some work.
It just so happened that I had an old short stem in my parts box. It was 22.2mm size, of course, with a 25.4mm clamp, but I hoped I could get it to work. The plan was to use sandpaper to remove 0.2mm from the stem to allow it to fit into the steer tube. And for the clamp, I assumed I could spread it far enough to squeeze the 26.0mm bar in.
Here’s the result of my sanding (with the sanded area being the bottom 1/3 of the stem, and the little pile of aluminum dust next to it). It didn’t take long at all, and was a tight fit, but I did manage to slide it into the steer tube. For the clamp area, I used a flat screwdriver to pry it apart just enough to get the bar into the clamp.
After adding the aero brakes, here’s what I ended up with:
Taking it for a short ride, it felt reasonably comfortable. It was possible to ride on the tops, on the hoods, or in the drops, but not on the bends. The brakes were easily reachable from the drops, which was good.
However, after taking it for a longer ride the next day, I decided that it wasn’t going to work for me. Riding in the drops, the bar was just too wide for me.
This is me holding the original Puch handlebar. The rule of thumb is that the bar should be as wide as the rider’s shoulders. Well, the Puch bar is a pretty good fit, in that regard:
The bars measures 38cm (center-to-center). The bar on the LHT measures 42 cm, so it’s probably a bit wide for me (which is what I was told when a fitting was performed at the bike shop). The WTB measures about 46cm in the hooks, and a whopping 57cm at the end of the bars. So yeah, it’s really wide!
So, I decided to go back to the original bar, which meant back to the original stem. But with new brake levers, maybe it’d feel different?
It did, actually. Here’s the setup I ended up with (for now):
In addition to adding the brake levers, I rotated the bars slightly down, making the drops closer to parallel with the ground (compare that to the original setup with the old levers). Even so, the brake levers are shaped to provide a better “hood” position than with the old levers, with a more comfortable transition between the bar and the hood.
(Yes, the “new” brake levers are a little scratched up, and a piece of the hood is torn off on this side. But they’ll do.)
Of course, with the old non-standard bar size, the brake lever clamps didn’t fit. So I shimmed it with a piece of inner-tube — crude but effective:
The levers will handle 23.8-24.2, according to the size stamped on the clamps. My bar measures 22mm, so quite a difference.
And yes, those are MTB grips on drop bars. Weird, I know, and probably considered an abomination. But I don’t want to tape the bars until I’m reasonably sure I’ll be happy with their setup. And actually, the grips are really pretty comfy. I almost never ride “in the hooks” anyway, so the grips are where my hands spend the most time. I might just keep them.
I still feel a bit stretched out with this setup. With the better brake levers and the cushy grips, I don’t hate the bars anymore. But a shorter stem would still be helpful. So I guess I’ll keep an eye out for a suitable bar that I can use with the shorter stem I already have (i.e. a handlebar with a 25.4mm clamp area). But if I don’t find one, this old setup just might work out all right.
As an indication of how comfortable I’m beginning to feel on this bike, there have been several times I’ve been riding in the drops, and reached to the bar-end to make a shift, just like I do on the Surly, only to find nothing there. The stem-mounted shifters still feel awkward.
So perhaps that‘s the next step — changing the stem-mounted shifters to bar-end shifters. I’ve priced both new Shimano shifters like I have on the LHT, and vintage Suntour Bar-Cons, but both are more than I’d prefer to pay. If I keep looking, maybe I’ll stumble across a deal somewhere…
As I’ve ridden this bike around, and spent more time with it, the word I’ve come up with to describe how it feels (compared to the LHT) is “unencumbered”.
I “feel” faster (but don’t have a computer on it yet to verify that), and the lack of racks and fenders and multiple bags, along with the bigger wheels and skinnier tires, definitely makes for a fun ride that is very different than the LHT.
I’ve never spent much time on a true modern road bike, but I imagine that’d be another level entirely. It’s probably best for my wallet that I never find out for sure… 😉