Tuesday, February 7, 2023

My new cat buddy - Chester!

Chester, napping in his heated cat bed at the shop.  He likes his new life!

Chester joined my household and the crew at BIKES@VIENNA just after Thanksgiving of 2022, and most days we're open, you'll find him here, at least until we get to the season where we keep the doors wide open.

So, how did the little guy come to me?  Well, that's an interesting story.  On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I drove up to Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania, to stay in one of their cabins.  It's become something of a regular thing for me, a nice escape during the slow season, with simple, comfortable cabins and very few people around.  Plus, the park is convenient to the Great Allegheny Passage trail, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, the town of Ohiopyle, and lots of good hiking as well.

First sighting!
Monday morning I was sitting on the porch of my cabin, sipping some hot coffee, when I suddenly saw a small, grey shape hop up onto the picnic table at the next cabin.  At first I thought it might be a raccoon, but quickly figured out it was a small tabby cat!  There were no other people in that part of the campground, which is the "pet friendly" area, so I knew he didn't belong to a current camper. Eventually, he vanished around the far side of the other cabin. 

At the edge of my porch.
I soon decided I couldn't just ignore him, so I opened up a can of tuna and put it in a bowl and set it by the porch of the other cabin.  I returned to my cabin, and waited.  Sure enough, he eventually came out of hiding, and started eating, now and then stealing glances my way.  Over the next couple of days, I kept putting out tuna, and gradually moved it closer and closer to my cabin, and then onto my porch.  

Wednesday came, and it was a cold, wet morning, and no sign of my furry friend.  I waited until around noon, and then decided I'd get ready for a hike, as the weather was clearing.  Just as I was all packed up and ready to go, there he was, at the edge of my porch, eating the tuna.

Crossing the threshold.
The next two hours were all about refilling the dish, gradually moving it closer and closer to the open door of my cabin.  I stayed inside, sitting on the floor, watching him.  Ultimately, I brought it inside the cabin and waited.  He was cautious, but did eventually come in and eat, while I kept my distance.  Once he got to where he started to look around the cabin a bit, I quietly went to the door and closed it.

In the top bunk.
His first reaction was to run to each of the windows to look outside, then racing up to one of the top bunks, where he just lay down looking very unsure.  He stayed there a good long while, so I went to the park office to find out if they had any missing cat reports.

Now, at this point, I have to add an interesting twist to the story - exactly one year earlier, at the same park, in the same group of cabins, another cat appeared.  So this wasn't my first experience with luring a cat into a cabin with tuna.  That cat had a collar and tag, so I was able to reunite her with her family, who drove all the way up from Lynchburg, VA, the moment they got word their Brigita had been found.  She'd gone missing on a camping trip Memorial Day weekend, so the dear little girl had been out there for six months!  I was so glad to be able to reunite them.

Brigita at my cabin in 2021.

So, when I went to the park office, I explained that I was "the guy that found the cat last year" and we chatted briefly about Brigita.  I then told them I had yet another cat in my cabin, and they were understandably surprised and amused.  They checked for missing cat reports, and came up with nothing, so I asked if they knew where I could take this cat to get scanned for an ID chip.  Well, it turns out the park has a scanner, which they loaned me as I headed to a store to get cat food, a litter box, and litter.

When I got back to the cabin, he was tucked into a far corner, where I couldn't easily get to him, and meowed sadly now and then.  He came out for food, but then returned to his corner. Since I couldn't get him to come out of his hidey-hole, I finally went to bed after leaving some food out for him.

Around two am, I was woken by VERY loud meowing, and got up to find him by the front window, very agitated about something outside.  My best guess is a raccoon, but when I looked, I didn't see anything.  He seemed to calm down, and when I sat down on one of the bunks, he hopped into my lap!  Before long he was curled up purring, and eventually fell asleep.  I managed to slowly reposition myself to a position in which I could sleep, and we both fell sound asleep.

After that, he clearly decided I was okay, and hopped into my lap at every opportunity.  I was concerned he might try to get out, so I was very careful going in and out of the cabin.  As it turns out, whenever I went back in, he was comfortably curled up inside, and made it very clear he had no desire to be out in the cold again.

Hanging out on the cat tower at home.
When the time came to leave, I packed the little guy up in a carrier I'd bought the day before, and loaded him in the car.  There was some fussing and meowing for the first hour or so, but he ultimately settled down comfortably for the rest of the ride.  After a check up at the vet, a basically clean bill of health, neutering, and a chip implanted, we got him settled into the shop.  After a lot of thought and input from others, I finally settled on the name Chester Proudpaw, a play on a character name from the old radio version of Gunsmoke.  And his nickname Chessie is reminiscent of the mascot for the C&O Railroad many years ago, a tabby by that name.   Over time, I introduced him to my other two cats, Jinx and Zero, and they all get along great now.

Minding the front counter at work.

So now Chester commutes with me, and is very mellow about the whole thing.  Unlike my other two cats, he does not fuss about getting into the carrier, and seems to genuinely like being at the shop during the day.  He and my other cats play and groom each other at home, and Chester gets lots of attention at the store.

Next time you're in the area, why not come by the shop and say hi?  He's a very sweet little boy, and generally very friendly with strangers.  It might take a minute or two, but he generally warms up quickly.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

My "new" 1980s Vitus 979


Vitus 979 as purchased.

Some of you who have been following me for a long time or know me, either in person or through the internet cycling world, might be looking at this and thinking "Wait a minute, isn't that ALUMINUM?!?!?!?  I thought you were a steel frame fan!"

 Well, both are true.  The vast majority of bikes I have owned and ridden have been steel framed.  Many years ago I owned a mid-80s Cannondale road bike, but found it very responsive to hard pedaling, but also really stiff and harsh on anything but the smoothest surfaces.  Granted, it was an early Cannondale, back when they were still figuring out how best to create good riding frames with oversized, welded aluminum tubing.

A contemporary of the early Cannondales was the Vitus series of aluminum frames, but they were built in an entirely different manner.  Using tubing of the same outside diameters typically used in steel frames, Vitus chose to use cast aluminum fittings and adhesive to join the tubes together.  This resulted in a very light frame that had a lot more "give" than the Cannondales had, yielding a more supple and comfortable ride.


At least, that's what I've read and heard.  I've actually never ridden a Vitus, even now after buying one.  I've almost never bought a bike without at least a short test ride, but the tires on this bike were so rotted out there was no way to give it a try.  But the price was right, and I have wanted to try one out for a long, long time, so I figured it was worth the gamble.  If what I've heard about the bikes is true, I'm pretty sure I'm going to like it, and it will be different enough from my other bikes to be worth adding to my collection.  Worst case scenario, after I fix it up and get it rolling, if I don't like it I'm pretty sure I can make my money back selling it.

So, what are the details of the bike?  I'm not sure what year it was built, as the information I've found about serial numbers is a bit confusing.  I THINK it was most likely built in September of 1984, which would make it a 1985 model year frame.  The components, on the other hand, seem to date from 1986, so either the frame was sold through a bike shop and built up to a customer's specs some time later, or for some reason it sat around the Vitus factory for a year before being built up.  If I were to guess, the former seems more likely.  I've got another bike, my Mercian (see "Beautiful British Bicycle") the frame for which was built in 1977 and shipped from the UK factory to a shop in California, where it was eventually sold with a group of components dated 1981.

600 cranks w/Biopace rings
The drivetrain and brakes are all from the Shimano 600 SIS group from 1986.  This was the first generation of the 600 group to have indexed ("click") shifting, with six sprockets in back and two chainrings in front.  Speaking of chainrings, this was the age of Biopace, an oval chainring configuration that was claimed to improve power transfer through the rotation of the crank.  It's an idea that has come and gone from the bike industry a number of times, but it never seems to catch on for very long.  I might keep it on the bike to start with, just to give it a serious try.  I've done short test rides on bikes with Biopace over the years, but never long enough to really get a good feel for it.  I might like it, or I might not, but it's worth trying.

600 rear brake.

The wheels are Shimano 600 hubs laced to Mavic GP4 dark anodized rims for "sewup" (also called tubular) tires.  The GP4 was probably one of, if not the most popular such rim in the 80s.  Strong and light, it worked well for training and some levels of actual competition.  As mentioned in other posts, this type of tire is a bit trickier to mount and deal with, as they are glued to the rims.  I have a couple of other bikes that currently have sewup wheels on them, and for now at least, I'm going to keep these wheels the way they are, but with a new set of tires.  The bike came with Panaracer Practice tires, but I could literally put my finger through large gashes in the sidewalls see the back side of the base tape.  At this point I'm looking at putting some Vittoria Rally tires on the bike, which are pretty basic but good tires.

In addition, the handlebars and stem are Nitto, a brand I really like, so I'll be keeping those.  They had "aero" style bars bolted on, but I'm taking those off, as they really aren't appropriate for the riding I like to do, and frankly look ugly to me.  Pedals are and old set of Speedplay Zeros, which I will swap out for something compatible with Shimano SPD cleats, since that's the "clipless" pedal system I use.  Finally, the saddle is some old, somewhat worn suede-over-plastic model that will be replaced most likely with a Brooks saddle of some kind.

You can learn more about Vitus 979 bikes here:

Light & Legendary: Vitus 979

 And my Flickr album is here:

1985? Vitus 979

Sunday, November 20, 2022

1963 Witcomb update

 Well, it's slow going, as I don't have a huge amount of spare time, but I'm chipping away at cleaning up and overhauling that Witcomb track bike I shared a few weeks ago.  It's pretty remarkable how well it's cleaning up.  It seems there was just a fine layer of filth over a bike in otherwise great shape.

I stripped all the parts off the frame, and gave it a good washing, first with diluted Dawn dish soap.  For the more stubborn bits of grunge, I used Simple Green, and in a few spots, a bit of denatured alcohol.  I had to be very sparing with the latter, or it would take up paint.  For the chromed parts of the rear triangle and front fork, I used Quick Glo, which works really well for cleaning up chrome and making it shine.  You can see the results below.



I've also cleaned up most of the components, and have unlaced the wheels, since I won't be using the original sewup rims.  The front rim had a nasty dent in it, so it had to be replaced for sure, and since I was going to have to re-lace at least once wheel, I figured I'd swap out to clincher rims.  Clincher tires are just easier to deal with, and less expensive too.





One odd thing I discovered is the bar tape was originally blue, and appears to have been two different shades of blue.  I never would have guessed this from what it looked like on the bike, but as I stripped it off the original colors were revealed.

There were a few paint chips, and rather than try to find a good match, I decided to just cover the bare steel with clear nail polish.  I'll be waxing the frame with Meguiar's carnauba wax, and then the next step is to start putting it all back together again.  I need to lace up the wheels of course, using the original hubs, new spokes, and a set of Mavic MA-2 rims a friend is sending me.  One oddity is that the bike has 32 spokes in the front, 36 in the rear.  Most bikes of this era had the same number of spokes in both wheels, but the British did things a bit differently sometimes.  It does make sense, as the rear wheel sees more stress than the front.

Stay tuned for more updates as things progress.

Photo album, with new additions:

1963 Witcomb Track Bike

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

A teaser...

 ... of a post to come.

Vitus 979, on the roof of my VW.

Vitus 979, on the roof of my VW.

Just picked this up today, and I'm looking forward to fixing it up and getting it rolling.  Something different for me - a bonded (aka glued) Vitus 979 from the 80s!  

I've been curious about these since they were first introduced in the late 70s, and ridden by a number of pros, probably most notably Sean Kelly of Ireland.  This one showed up locally on Facebook, at a price that seemed reasonable, in a size that will fit me.  The tires (yet another bike with sewups!) are completely shot, so I couldn't take it for a test ride, but I've heard enough about these that I figured it was worth the risk.

Stay tuned for more news on the bike as I get a chance to start working on it, and then riding it!

Light & Legendary: Vitus 979


Sunday, November 6, 2022

My 1981 Austro-Daimler Vent Noir II

Here's another one of those "bikes of my youthful dreams" machines.  As regular readers (are there any these days?) know, back when I was a teenager growing up in the DC area, one my favorite pastimes was visiting bike shops.  We had some really great ones, from basic "mom and pop" stores to ones that catered to real aficionados, with high end racing and touring bikes.  It  really was the classic "kid in a candy shop" kind of situation, but the "candy" cost way more than I could ever afford back then.

1976 A-D catalog
On one of my visits to College Park Bicycles, I spotted a really sharp looking bike from a company I really didn't know much about - an Austro-Daimler Vent Noir.  This was the first version of the bike, which came in a striking all black finish, with gold lettering and trim, and gold rims.  It also featured the first version of Shimano's Dura Ace component group, anodized in black to match the bike.  Vent Noir means "black wind" in French, thus the color theme.  Back then, there just weren't very many dealers for the brand, so it was a fun surprise to see one, and one so eye-catching.

A few years later, at the same shop, I spied a newer version of the same bike, the Vent Noir II.  While I'm sure others will disagree, I found the new version even more beautiful than the original.  The frame was treated in a "smoked chrome" finish that was really remarkable, and like nothing I had ever seen.  The component group had also changed, to Campagnolo, the brand that was the "top dog" in road cycling back then.  On the Vent Noir II, they used the Nuovo Gran Sport group, rather than the higher end Nuovo Record or top of the line Super Record.  Functionally the differences aren't really all that great, and even the finish and appearance, while not as spiffy as the Record groups, was pretty darned nice.  The one exception is the rear derailleur, which is really rather homely for a Campy piece.  It works just fine, but I understand why some folks back in the day substituted either a Nuovo Record unit, or something from another brand entirely.  If you go back and look at the post about my Mercian, you'll see the original owner specced the Nuovo Gran Sport group, but got the lovely Huret Jubilee derailleur instead.

Craig's List photo of Vent Noir II
I kept my eye open for a nice, used Vent Noir (either version) for many years, but they just aren't that common, and finding one in a 62cm or thereabouts wasn't easy.  Fast forward to 2016, when I found a Craigs List ad for one in Fredericksburg, VA, about an hour and a half (depending on traffic) south of me.  The photos looked good, so I took the drive down to see it.  For a bike as old as it was, it was in really remarkable shape, and a quick test ride confirmed that I would enjoy riding it for years.  On top of all that, the price was fair, so we closed the deal pretty quickly.

Once I got it home and got a closer look at it, I was even more impressed with the overall condition.  Most of the decals were in good shape, with only a few spots where they had been scraped off, none bad enough to really bother me.  It's an old bike, so a little patina doesn't bother me.  Mechanically, it was in very good shape too, and about the only thing mechanically I decided to replace was the brake and shifter cables and housing.  As "correct" as it would be to have kept the original parts there, I'm a fan of functionality, and a set of new, modern cables and teflon lined housing definitely made things work better all around.

The other things I decided to change were the various "contact points" - saddle, bar wrap, and pedals.  The bike came with a cheap plastic saddle with crappy foam, so that got replaced right away with a Brooks B17 Special with copper rivets in the honey brown color.  To match that, I also used matching Brooks leather bar wrap in honey as well.  That color really complements the smoked chrome frame color!  Aside from missing a dust cap, the Campy pedals were fine, but the "quill" design does not work with my big feet, so off they came, replaced by a set of double sided SPD compatible pedals.  I like riding in SPD sandals, so that was an easy choice.  I have more "correct" looking pedals and toe clips I can use if the spirit moves me, though.

Finally, the last thing I changed was the tires.  It came to me with a set of low end Continental Ultra Sports, in 700x23 size, which are pretty narrow and harsh riding for my tastes.  It will come as no surprise to those who know me that I swapped those out for a set of Japanese Panaracer Paselas, in 700x28.  I really like those tires, because they look great with the tan, skin wall sidewalls, and they ride great too.  Much smoother than the Contis, but still plenty "fast" for me.  I could probably fit a wider 32mm tire, but for this bike the the 28s just seem right.

The finishing touch was a Carradice Barley saddlebag in olive green with brown straps, which again just looks great with the finish on the frame.  I think all in all it's a really classy looking bike, not really "flashy" at first glance, but beautiful when you stop to look.  And how does it ride?  Great!  Smooth, light, and fast rolling, and it handles really well too.  It's more at the "race" end of the spectrum than some of my bikes, but not to much so that it's twitchy of uncomfortable.  Having finally gotten my hands (and butt) on one after all those years, my early desire to own one seems well founded.

Here she is, after the changes I made, except for the pedals.

Here's my Flickr photo album for the bike:

1981 Austro-Daimler Vent Noir II

And here are a few online resources about the bike and brand that I found really helpful and informative:

Austro-Daimler: The Bicycle That The Owner Of A Bösendorfer Imperial Piano Would Ride

Bikes to Like: Ritchie’s 1979 Austro-Daimler Vent Noir II

Classic Austro-Daimler Bicycles

In the shop: Austro-Daimler Vent Noir

1979 Austro Daimler Vent Noir II

1976 Austro Daimler Vent Noir

By the way, if anyone has a source, online or physical, for a 1981 Austro-Daimler catalog showing the Vent Noir II, I'd love to see it.

I should mention that Austro-Daimler was actually one label of a company called Steyr-Daimler-Puch which produced bikes under the names Steyr, Austro-Daimler, and Puch.  In the US, it seemed there were more Puchs than the others, but that might have just been in my area.  The Steyr labeled bikes I've seen have all been utilitarian three speed "city bikes" much like the old English Raleigh Sports and similar bikes.  They also built bikes for Sears in the 60s under their J.C. Higgins, Ted Williams, and Free Spirit labels, including one model with 531 tubing and Campagnolo components.  Yes, from Sears!  There are other folk who know a lot more about that chapter than I do, so you might do some searching if you're really interested.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

My Other '73 Schwinn

Well, since I've actually managed to create a couple of new posts this year, let's see if I can keep it rolling.  The best way I think of to do that right now is to try to catch up on some of the bikes I have in my collection that I haven't written about.  Buckle up, because that's a surprisingly long list.  I don't know if I'll get to them all, but here's a start.  Some of you might have seen my posts about my 1973 chrome Schwinn Paramount.  The bike I'm writing about now was the next model down in the Schwinn product line, the Sports Tourer.

 Like many of my bikes, this is one I looked at longingly as a teenager.  We didn't really have a lot of Schwinn dealers near where I grew up, but they showed up in magazines and I got my hands on a catalog at some point, and got to know the various models.  Of course, like just about any cyclist in the 70s, I drooled over the top of the line, hand-built Paramount.  But another model in those catalogs that caught my eye was the Sports Tourer.  Made in the USA, and more affordable than a Paramount, it seemed like a great bike.  I didn't actually lay eyes on one until college, when a guy I shared an apartment with one summer had one, and that just made me want one even more, because in some ways it was like nothing I'd ever seen before.

1973 Schwinn Catalog Sports Tourer Page

 Now, when most people think about 70s Schwinns, the bike they are most likely to think of is the Varsity. One of the first things that comes to mind about that bike is the sheer heft of the thing.  While a lot of entry level 10 speed bikes weighed around 30 pounds, the Varsity tipped the scales at somewhere around 40!  Why is that?  And why was it so popular and sold in such huge numbers?  From what I've read over the years, Schwinn set out to build a 10 speed bike that could take the abuse dished out by a typical American adolescent, and I have to say, they succeeded.  While not light, they were definitely sturdy and durable, and you'll still see a fair number of them rolling along today.

The average person taking a quick glance at a Sports Tourer most likely wouldn't see a big difference between it and a Varsity.  While the Paramount used "lugged" frame construction, where the tubes are joined with the use of external sleeves, the Sports Tourer was built using "fillet brazing."  At first glance, the joints look a lot like the "electroforged" (welded) ones on the Varsity and other lower end Schwinns, but it's a totally different process, involving lower temperatures and higher grade steel tubing, to yield a lighter yet strong frame.  I won't get into the details, because it's better covered here:


And here:


 For many years, the idea of having one of the fillet brazed Schwinns was on my "one of these days, if one happens along" list.  It didn't quite make the "gotta have it" category like a Paramount, or some of the other high end bikes like Mercian or Proteus or Masi, but it was always there in the back of my mind.  Well, a few years back, I don't recall exactly how I stumbled across it, but I found a Craigs List ad for what looked to be a very nice 1973 Sports Tourer.  The only challenge was that it was about 300 miles from me, but it turns out only about 30 minutes from my older brother, who understands my bicycle collecting, since he has a rather large number of guitars in his house.  A few emails and phone calls later, and the bike was in my brother's hands.  It took a few months to work it out, but on a trip to the DC area, my brother brought the bike to our mom's house, where I picked it up shortly after.  Based on the photos in the ad, I figured it was in good shape, but it looked even better in person.

1973 Schwinn Sports Tourer, as it was when I first got it.

 Once I got it back to the shop, I started looking it over and thinking about things I liked and things I wanted to change.  For the most part, the bike seemed to have all of the original equipment, with a few exceptions.  I decided I wanted to get it closer to original while at the same time making it more enjoyable to ride.  The parts that were definitely not original were the freewheel cluster, which was a very narrow range "corncob" style, more suited to a racing bike, and the tires, which were a narrow, high pressure black wall from Continental.  The white Dia Compe brake lever hoods were also most likely not original, as the levers themselves were made by Weinmann, which I believe was standard for Schwinn back then, and the catalog shows bare levers.  (Correction, the hoods were Weinmann, not Dia Compe.) Also, the bike had Huret shift levers mounted on the down tube, while the catalog shows it with the rather imposing Schwinn Twin-Stik stem mounted levers.  Finally, the original pedals would probably have been made by Lyotard of France, not the slightly more modern SR pedals from Japan.

Now that I'd assessed the bike and given it some thought, I made the following changes:

  • Installed a period correct Shimano freewheel with 14 - 32 teeth, with "skipped teeth" on the largest sprockets.  This gave me both a more practical gearing range and the same or similar to what would have originally been on the bike.
  • Swapped the tires for some new 27 x 1-1/4" Panaracer Paselas, which not only look right for the era, but ride great, both swift and comfortable.  Some of you have probably noticed a lot of my bikes have the Paselas on them, so I clearly like them.
  • Replaced the brake lever hoods with black ones, because while originally there would have been no hoods at all, I prefer the feel of rubber hoods.  Also, the bike would have originally had "safety levers" on the brakes as well, but I don't care for those either, so I left those off.
  • While I like down tube shifter levers, I like bar end shifters even more, and I happened to have a set of Schwinn-Approved bar end shifters (made by SunTour), which the catalog refers to as optional "fingertip controls", so I installed those.
  • Finally, while I could have probably found a pair of the correct Lyotard pedals (I might actually have had a pair in a bin somewhere), I really prefer the very similar looking, but better made MKS Sylvan Touring pedals, so I put a set of those and some extra large toe clips on the bike, to accommodate my size 13-14 feet.

While I was at it, I gave the bike a thorough overhaul and cleaning, and even polished up some of the parts, like the funky Nervar triple crankset.  (Correction, as a reader pointed out, it's a DOUBLE crankset, not a triple.). The Brooks saddle that came with the bike was in excellent shape, but the bar tape wasn't that great, so I replaced it with a similar blue padded tape.  Finally, the spiffy little blue saddlebag was too cool to not keep, so it stayed on the bike, as did the classic Zefal HP pump.  

One of the nice features about the 1973 and later Sports Tourers is that they came with a Scwhinn-Approved Le Tour rear derailleur, which was essentially a re-badged Shimano Crane, one of the nicest shifting wide range derailleurs of the day.  Paired with the SunTour shift levers (a personal favorite), it changes gears just great.  The 1971-72 models had the Campagnolo Gran Turismo, which despite being made by the famous Italian company, didn't shift that great and was really, really heavy.  

I've thought about putting fenders on the bike, but haven't gotten around to it.  To be truly Schwinn-accurate, I'd probably have to find some chrome steel ones, but I'm not sure I want to add any more weight to what isn't a really light bike to begin with.  Of course, SKS (formerly ESGE) plastic fenders were popular back then, and even current models would look right.  Or maybe something shiny from Velo Orange, that's lighter but still shiny.   For now, I'll keep it as it is, and just watch the weather.

All in all, I'm really happy with how the bike turned out, and it's a lot of fun to ride.  Not the lightest or fastest bike out there for sure, but super comfortable and smooth. 

1973 Schwinn Sports Tourer, after overhaul and changes.

You can see more photos of the bike, both "before" and "after" shots, here:

1973 Schwinn Sports Tourer

A few links to other, similar bikes, and information on the line in general:




Monday, October 3, 2022

Sometimes, bikes find me!

 Honestly, I haven't been seeking out bikes to acquire for some time now.  But in the last two months, I've had two bikes turn up, and both of them too good a deal to pass up!

First was a bike that I found out about through the IBOB (Internet Bridgestone Owners Bunch) mailing list.  A member of the list posted "Motobecane Grand Record looking for a new home (Free)."  It caught my eye because I've always been interested in the Grand Record and Grand Jubile models from Motobecane, so I read the listing.  The next thing that caught  my eye was that the poster said the owner of the bike (not them) really wanted to do things locally, but might be willing to ship if need be, and that they were close to MY shop, so I could probably help with packing it up.  The final piece of the puzzle was seeing the photos and description, indicating the bike was my size!  A few emails back and forth, and a trip in my car, and the bike was mine.

Waiting for rebuild.

It's pretty filthy and in need of a lot of tlc, for sure, but I can handle all of that.  When I got it home, I was trying to figure out why the front wheel was cockeyed, and discovered that the front fork had a pretty serious bend to the left.  But I have the tools and know-how to fix that, and took the opportunity to make it a teaching moment with one of my staff.  Win-win!

Now, given the amount of work it's going to need, plus having to give some thought to just how I want to use it and thus how I want to build it up, I've put that bike on the back burner for a bit.  That decision was finalized when the second bike showed up, as it is going to be easier and faster to figure out and get rolling.

 My shop works with an organization called Bikes for the World, that collects donated bikes and ships them overseas to be used for transportation, mostly in Africa and Central America.  People that want to donate bikes can drop them off with us, and once a week or so, BFTW comes by with a truck and trailer to pick up anything we've taken in.  Typically, my staff and I will cast an eye over the giant pile of bikes on the truck/trailer rig, and now and then something interesting will be there.  Last week, as I was walking toward him, the driver said "there's one here you should take a look at!"

Well, I went over and looked, and it was quite a surprise.  There in the truck was a tall, yellow bike with drop handlebars like a road bike, but it wasn't a road bike.  No, it was a track bike, a "fixed gear" or "fixed wheel" as the Brits sometimes call it.  Which is probably the appropriate term, since it was built by Witcomb Lightweight Cycles of London.  Witcomb never really had a huge presence in the US market, but US frame builders Richard Sachs, Peter Weigle, Ben Serrota, and Chris Chance trained there in the early 70s, later going on to be major figures in the US bicycle industry.  There was also a Witcomb USA for a few years, which included Sachs, Weigle, and Chance as builders, but that's a different story.

After a short discussion, in which we agreed the bike made no sense for any of the partners in Africa or Central America, and the fact that BFTW had just held their annual sale of bikes that didn't suit the overseas partners, I was offered the bike for a good deal.  Anyone who knows me would not be surprised that I accepted it!  I honestly couldn't resist, as it's a pretty uncommon brand AND uncommon style of bike, plus, I was pretty sure it was pretty old, 70s or older.  It was covered in a pretty good layer of dust and other filth, but it didn't seem to have any serious rust or issues, so I was really looking forward to tear into it and get it rolling again.  Apparently, it had been left at the local transfer station (aka, the dump), which seems a sad end for such a fine bike.  My best guess is the original owner passed away, and whomever ended up dealing with their stuff had no idea it was worth saving.  I'm sure glad it came my way!

Right off the truck, sitting in front of the shop.

Over the last few days, I've had some time to get started, and learned a few things along the way.  First, based on the serial number, it was built sometime in 1963, which makes it one of the older bikes I own.  The seat tube measures 24", which is pretty much about as short as I'm comfortable riding in general, and the frame was built with Reynolds 531 butted main tubes.  The seat stay cluster is kind of cool, using a "full wrap" design.  I think most of the parts are original, aside from the Phil Wood sealed bearing bottom bracket and the Weinmann brake and levers.  In fact, being a fixed wheel, it might have had no brake at all originally, since traditionally they don't come with brakes, and brakes are not allowed in a velodrome.  The wheels have Campagnolo Pista (track) hubs, which have date codes indicating they were also made in 1963.  The rims are MAVIC Championat Du Monde, and the tires are Clement tubulars (aka sewups).  The crank is a Campy Pista with 165mm arms and 47 tooth chainring, for 1/8" chains, connected to a Campy track cog in back.  The handlebars and stem are from Cinelli, though I'm not sure which model at this point.

Full wrap seatstays

Campy Pista 165mm cranks

Campy Pista hub and cog, frame track ends with adjusters.

Cinelli bars and stem, Weinmann levers

I breathed a sigh of relief when I discovered the seat post and stem both moved easily once the bolts were loosened.  Sometimes you don't get that lucky, and it can be a huge challenge, and sometimes even completely impossible to budge those, rendering the frame pretty much useless.  On the other hand, the tires were shot (not a big surprise), and the front rim has a huge dent in it.  The rear rim MIGHT be ok, but honestly, I'm not that interested in using tubular tires on this bike, as the gluing and mounting process is kind of a pain, and not something I really love doing.  A few of my other bikes do have sewups, but I try to keep it to a small number.  So now I am working with a friend of mine who has a truly astonishing stash of bike parts, to see if he can come up with some good clincher rims that will look right on this bike.  One oddity is that the front wheel has 32 spokes while the rear has 36.  That actually makes a lot of sense, since the rear wheel sees more stress than the front, but you don't often see bikes that take that into account.  Based on my experience, back in the day, it was mostly the English who thought of such things, as the classic 3-speed "light roadsters" often had 32 in the front and 40 in the rear.

I've taken all of the parts off the frame at this point, and started cleaning it up, including polishing the chrome "socks" on the fork and rear triangle.  The chrome really cleaned up well, and the paint is looking pretty good too.  I need to be careful not to damage the decals any more than they already are, and not harm the paint either.  There's a little bit of rust on the bottom bracket shell where the paint got chipped, but nothing major.  I need to take a closer look inside the tubes, but I think at worst there's a little light surface rust, which is not uncommon at all with older bikes, and isn't a real concern.  Hopefully, over the next few weeks I will be able to rebuild the wheels with new rims and reassemble the bike and start riding it.  I'm pretty sure I'll have the only Witcomb track bike on my local multi-use path!

Painted parts of the frame are cleaning up pretty well.

Rear chrome "socks" looking good.

Left (in photo) fork leg has been polished, right has not.

I'll be posting updates as I move ahead with the work, along with photos, which you'll see here:

1963 Witcomb Track Bike