Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Dark Horse

I bought a pig in a poke.

For $10 on eBay I got an old ten-speed racer. A big framed Graecross Capri, with a 61cm (24inch) seat post and lots of rust.

After I stripped it back to the frame it looked like this...

And when I had it prepped and powder coated it looked like this...

Nice... Lewis & Sons in Morningside do a lot of bike frames. One of the sons is a BMX fan and takes care masking all the holes in the frame and keeping the powder out of the threads.

I started planning how to rebuild it...

There were a couple of options. The main problem was the size of the rear wheel hub. I was definitely going to need a new wheel set. The old ones were rusted beyond repair, but the rear frame spacing, the gap between the rear drop outs, where the wheel hub sits, was only 120mm.

Modern derailleur geared bikes carry 10 or more rear sprockets, in a cassette that fits on a freewheeling hub with an overlock nut dimension of 130mm or more. But this 20 year old frame was build to fit a 120mm treaded hub with a 5-speed freewheel. A new set of standard road wheels was not going to fit.

I could set up the bike as a single speed / fixe, using a 120mm track hub. I tried this out using the rear wheel from my dingle bike.

But if I wanted to build a bike with gears, I really only had two choices. I could use an internal geared hub, or try to find an old style wheel set like the one the bike originally came with. 

(Sheldon Brown can tell you how to cold set, or bend a frame to fit a wider hub, so there is a third option for those brave enough.)

Luckily, the bicycle designs that were state-of-the-art in the 70s are still being manufactured in factories in Taiwan and China. This on-line bike store had a good range of the parts I needed, and I also got some from this eBay store. I went for cheap and cheerful, in keeping with the spirit of the 70s 10-speed, except maybe not the suicide brakes

I was going to need a new wheel set, brakes and probably gears, bars and stem, but not all the old components were beyond salvage. The bottom bracket looked like this when I got the bike...

But after I soaked them in turpentine, cleaned them up and lightly sanded off some surface rust, the bottom bracket and head set parts looked like this...

Ready to pop back in to the frame with some grease and new ball bearings.

I also chose to keep the old stem shifters, partly because I liked this bolt-on down tube cable stop that went with them.

It polished up nicely with it's shiny Shimano brand showing. I think it's chrome plated, it's flaking off a little in the corners. The main bearings themselves are more or less stainless steel, but the shifters are something else. Not as shiny, and more rust prone, after a bit of work, you could read the brand and the message PRODUCT OF SINGAPORE.


I'm not an expert in asian industrial history, but I remember growing up in the 70s. There was a kind of inter-generational disconnect in attitudes about asian manufactured goods. Adults would say "made in Japan" with a sneer, expecting poor quality materials and work. That may have been true in the 50's and 60's, but kids knew that in the 70's lots of cool things, electronic equipment, bicycles, sporting goods and just about every decent toy that you wanted, came from Japan. Things made in Hong Kong or Singapore, were more likely to break and were a lot cheaper.

The word kaizen was first used to refer to industrial process control in 1951, in an American sponsored management training film titled Kaizen eno Yon Dankai, "Improvement in four steps". Japanese industry, particularly Toyota, took this idea of "continuous quality improvement", spun it into a culture and sold it back to the US via Anthony Robbins and co. They also developed in to the world's second largest economy and the great industrial innovators of the late twentieth century.

My old bike's origins had been glossed over when it was sold. A sticker on the frame said that it was "manufactured for Graecross industries Aust". I think the major part of the bike, the frame and the main bearings, came from Japan, where the heavier industrial processes of casting, machining and tube drawing were established, but the shifters from Singapore, show the movement off shore of lighter cutting and forming processes, as the Japanese economy started to heat up and industries started looking to save costs on cheaper real estate and lower wages.

Over the next few decades the changes continued. Now days something made in Hong Kong or Singapore is more likely to be a complex financial derivative than a simple bicycle part, and in Korea, Kia is looking like the new Toyota and Samsung is taking over the world of electronics. Most of the cheap and cheerful new parts for my 10-speed rebuild came from Taiwan or mainland China and the quality is not bad. It may not be too many more years before cyclists are looking for high end boutique parts from Shenzhen and getting their basic components from Borneo or West Africa. (Actually your boutique carbon frame probably already comes from China. Does the label say "manufactured for...")

So here's my cheap and cheerful restoration of a circa 1970s ten speed racer....

I probably could have cleaned up the old derailleurs, but it wasn't worth the work for the price of these brand new ones.

I already had some 170mm cranks, pedals and chainrings. I think they look ok and the sizes work.

These chunky double pivot caliper brakes are not the most streamlined you can get, but they will stop the bike and the 100kg rider going downhill.

I remember Diacompe components from my childhood. The other brand that wasn't Shimano, and a bit of a step up. They invented the suicide levers the bike originally came with. Apparently they traded the design in an intellectual property deal with European brake manufacturer Weinmann and became the leading Japanese brake supplier before Shimano.

These new levers are safer and I like the look. They're not Aero!? The quick release for the brakes is in the lever!  Now made in Taiwan.

These new 27" single wall aluminium rims are built on Joy Tech hubs that look like exactly like the ones on the bike when I bought it.

I kept the old saddle and I quite like it, although it does have a few holes.

And to ward off accidents, this brass temple bell.

So I start off down the hill outside my front door and chase the middle aged men in lycra. See if I can overtake them on the outside of the down hill corner on the way to the ferry stop, or on the inside of the round about.

One of my mates from uni has come back to town from Victoria. He says he hasn't cycled much since he decided not to turn professional out of high school. He alway rode a motor bike when I knew him, but he's got his old road bike working and we've been riding loops around the river on Sunday mornings. I've found a web site that has 27" racing tyres and I'm waiting for my order to arrive.


  1. Nice shots of front calipers and cranks. What did the headset bearing surfaces look like when you pulled them apart?

  2. If you click on the picture to enlarge it you can see the bearing surface on the crown race (front, right) has some notches in it.

    I read this on
    "Ideally, a "Brinelled" headset should be replaced, but you can often cure the problem by replacing the retainer with loose balls. You use the same size balls, but can usually fit more of them into the races if you leave the retainer out. As a result, the greater number of balls, closer together, no longer all line up with the dimples in the races."

    Which I did and the bike seems to ride ok.