Friday, January 31, 2020

Wait, did you really say typewriters?

Why yes, yes I did say typewriters.

I first became fascinated by typewriters as a little kid, tapping away at my late grandfather's machine, a shiny black 1935 Corona Standard portable.  Of course, at the time I had no idea about any of those details, I just knew it was fun to see how tapping a lettered key made that letter appear on a piece of paper.  I even recall typing up things using carbon paper, to make multiple copies, but I can't for the life of me think of what a ten year old kid might need multiple copies of.  Then again, this was about the same time I discovered tape recorders, which lead to endless fun.  But that's for another day...

My grandfather's 1935 Corona Standard today

High school came along, and one of the electives many took was typing.  I'm not sure exactly why I signed up for it... I probably just thought it would be a good idea to be able to type properly, since I knew college papers and such were most often typewritten.  To put it in context, I graduated from high school in 1979, right on the cusp of the personal computer revolution, though we didn't know it at the time.  The typing class was actually quite helpful and fun, and the main reason I can actually touch type on computers or typewriters.  I'm pretty sure the machines we used were some Royal standard style typewriter, big hulking grey things that were built like tanks.

Once I got to college, as expected, I needed to type papers for my classes.  I'm not sure why, but I never had a machine of my own in college, but borrowed friends' when I needed them.  There seemed to be ready access to a typewriter whenever I needed it, anyway.  Most of the time I used manual portables, as I recall mostly Smith-Coronas in various pastel colors, but at least once I borrowed an electric and was amazed at the ease and speed with such a machine.  It seemed like magic at the time.  How was I to know their days were numbered?

The year I graduated college, Apple introduced the Macintosh, which many would say demystified computers and opened up a new technology to a lot of people.  Other people wouldn't be so enthusiastic in their appraisal of the Mac, but I have to admit, I've always been a fan, and am in fact writing this on a Mac Mini right now.  Anyway, by the time the Mac hit the market in 1984, the personal computer in various forms had been finding its way into homes and offices for nearly a decade.  That being said, when I was in college, a "computer science" course involved gigantic computers feeding a basement printer spewing out green bar paper, and I stayed the heck away from that.

Of course, like most of us, the day came when I embraced (well, not literally, that would be creepy) the personal computer, and bought my own Mac.  And from that day forward, it was my machine of choice for most writing aside from personal correspondence and journals, which I did by hand, in my shockingly illegible handwriting.  No, really, ask anyone who has tried to decipher something I've written by hand.  It's atrocious.  I'm the one kid in my family that never went to Catholic school, so maybe that's it.

Fast forward to sometime around 2010 or so - I don't recall exactly how it came about, but I got to asking my mom about her father's old Corona.  Maybe I'd seen a few in antique stores, or photos online.  Anyway, she told me where in the house it was, and I dug it out and looked it over.  It all seemed clean and functional, though a bit stiff from lack of use.  It even had a usable ribbon.  My mom had someone service it years back, and then it went into storage, so it really had very little use since the work.  Around the same time, a woman I was dating found her grandfather's '30s Underwood, and we had some fun re-discovering manual typing.

That was about it for a few years, the occasional tapping out of something or other, and looking idly at machines in antique shops and such.

Then I watched the documentary "California Typewriter", which features two writers whose work I really like, historian David McCullough, and the late Sam Shepard, both of whom talked about how and why they used typewriters for their writing.  Also in the film is Tom Hanks, who at the time had a collection of something like 250 typewriters, and talked very enthusiastically about them.  I even bought a book about them, by a guy named Richard Polt, featured in the film as well - The Typewriter Revolution, full of fascinating facts, photos, stories of how people use typewriters in the 21st century, and tips on buying and fixing machines. After seeing all the many types of machines from all the different eras, the bug bit me, and I started looking actively for typewriters.  I've now got a pretty good collection of my own going, and enjoy sitting down and typing out things like my thoughts of the day, the odd letter to friends or family, etc.  I've even started trying to get into the habit of typing up the notes I take on my walks on the C&O Canal so I can read them later (see above comment about my handwriting).

Here's a few photos of some of the machines I have.  I'll write more about them in more detail in time.  Hopefully some of you will find it interesting!

Olympia SF Deluxe, SF, and Splendid 66 ultraportables
Sears Tower Chieftain, made by Olivetti

1941 Corona Zephyr and Zephyr Deluxe ultraportables.

1956 Royal Quiet Deluxe

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Specialized Sequoia Makeover Project - Pt 2

Cleaned up, reassembled, mostly complete.
When I first got the bike, I figured it was in decent mechanical shape, but a bit grungy and rough looking.  So then I got down to taking it all apart and cleaning the frame, which turned out to be in much better shape than I had expected.  Under the grime, there was bright, clear paint, and very, very few scratches or flaws.  Even the decals were pretty much perfect, which is pretty rare on a frame this old and clearly ridden a lot.  The various components were pretty grungy and needed cleaning and overhaul, but I also looked at the parts mix and gave some thought to changing it.  As I explained in an earlier post, as near as I have been able to determine, the 1982 Sequoia was sold as a frameset, and built up to the buyer's requests.  This freed me to rebuild it with my own preferred mix, keeping some parts and changing others.

SunTour Cyclone II derailleurs and Sugino AT crankset
To start with, the bike had Campagnolo Nuovo Record cranks, which back in my younger days, I might have kept, since they are great quality and worked great if you could live with the gearing options they offered.  I'm older now, and appreciate having lower gears, or at least a "bail out" or "granny" gear, and that wasn't an option with those cranks.  Furthermore, the arms themselves were a really long 180mm (170 is pretty typical for road bikes of this era), and while I'm tall with long legs, I don't really feel I need them that long.  In their place, I installed a set of one of my favorite cranksets, a Sugino AT with three chainrings instead of two, giving a wider, more versatile range of gears.  As an added bonus, I found someone who wanted to buy the long Campy cranks, which brought in almost half of what I had paid for the bike.  Initially set up with MKS Sylvan Track pedals and toe clips, I later put a set of Wellgo SPD pedals instead.  I figure I can swap them out depending on mood.

SunTour Superbe brakes
In a similar vein, the rear derailleur was a lovely, early version of the Shimano Dura-Ace mechanism.  Those are really great, smooth shifting units, but designed solely for racing, and very limited in the range of rear sprockets they can work with.  So I opted for a SunTour Cyclone GTII ofr the correct period, which would work with the wide range chainrings up front, as well as giving me more options at the rear.  And the Cyclone was a match for the front derailleur the bike came with, which I kept.  Likewise, the original owner had put SunTour bar end shifters ("barcons") on the bike, and they are a personal favorite of mine, so they stayed.  Very smooth operating and right at your fingertips at the end of the handlebars.

Nitto bars and stem, Superbe brake levers, SunTour barcons
Speaking of handlebars, the bike came with a very aggressively curved drop handlebar, a style I really just don't care for, and a stem that didn't bring the bars up very high, so those were also discarded and replaced with a more conventional Nitto B115 bar and Technomic stem.  The original brakes were odd, in that the front was a standard reach Campy sidepull, but the rear was short reach with a drop bolt.  No idea why they would have done that.  I had a set of SunTour Superbe levers and calipers and used those instead.  Gorgeous and they work great.  I kept the original seat post, and ultimately put a Brooks B17 saddle on it. 

Avocet Mod II hubs, Super Champion Gentleman rims
Finally, the wheels and tires.  The bike came with a set of wheels built around Avocet Mod. II hubs with sealed cartridge bearings, laced to Super Champion Gentleman 20mm wide clincher rims.  Once I checked and found the hub bearings perfectly smooth, I just couldn't think of a better option for this bike. Avocet was a USA based company that offered a range of components made by Ofmega of Italy, including hubs, cranks, and seat posts. They were probably better known for a longer time as selling some really nice tires, but they closed down operations some years ago. Super Champion was a French rim maker who were among the first to offer a narrow, lightweight box section rim that brought higher performance to clincher wheels.  I tried the bike out with the original Specialized tires for a ride or two, but they didn't ride that great, so I changed them over to some Compass/Rene Herse 700x28 Chinook Pass tires, which are high end, supple and fast tires.

So, how does the bike ride?  In a word, great.  Tim Neenan really hit a home run with the design of the Sequoia in my opinion.  Reasonably light, stiff enough for good power transmission, but with enough "give" in the frame for comfort.  As I said at the beginning of this, when I was younger I really wanted the stiffer, racier Allez model, but for where I am now the Sequoia is just about perfect.  If I wanted, I could put wider, cushier tires on it, even with fenders, and there are mounts for a rear rack if I wanted to carry some stuff.  It's not really designed for fully loaded touring, but if I wanted to do some long day rides, or some "credit card touring", I'd certainly consider this bike for it.  And it's a really beautiful bike too, without being overtly flashy.  I'm really glad I found it... or it found me.

Finished bike after a ride.  Yes, white tape.

I never did find out who told the owner they should bring it to me, but I'll always be grateful to whomever it was.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Specialized Sequoia Makeover Project - Pt 1

Note: you might want to read my earlier post "It followed me home..." if you haven't read it yet to see the backstory to this bike.

I'm the sort of guy who wants to know as much about a bike I own as I can learn - when and where was it built, by whom, how was it originally equipped, and anything else I can find out about it.  So, once I got this Sequoia, I went to the internet to see what I could piece together.  Here's what I've learned or surmised, based on material found online and asking in a couple of internet discussion groups.  One bit of luck, I got input from Jim Merz, who was a product designer for Specialized starting shortly after this bike was built, it seems.

Serial numbers are a very good place to start when investigating a bike.  That is typically the most reliable way to find out who built the frame, and when it was built.  Now, some of you might be sitting there thinking "Doesn't the fact it has that 'Specialized' decal on it tell you who built it?  Well, it's not that simple.  The company name on a bike does not always tell you who actually built the bike.  In fact, in the heyday of Japanese road bikes (1970s - 90s), more often than not, the brand name was just that - a brand, a label, usually cooked up by some importing company.  For example, there was no Specialized factory back when this bike was built.  Specialized (at the time Specialized Bicycle Imports) was one of those importers who contracted with a variety of manufacturers to make their products for them, including bikes.

So, if Specialized didn't actually make this bike, who did?  Well, thanks to past experience, I had a suspicion, and when I went to a couple of internet mailing lists where people know these things, I found out I was right.  It helped tremendously that Jim Merz, who was a product and bike designer for Specialized in the early days, was on one of the lists I checked.  What I've learned is that the frame was built by a Japanese company by the name of Miki, who built frames for a number of different brands.  In fact, the orange Centurion I own that I've written about several times, was also built by Miki.  I've seen several examples of their work, and it's very high quality work.

Serial number stamped in bb shell. M = Miki 82 = year built.
The second thing I learned from the serial number is that the frame was built in 1982.  Further research, and examining the parts on the bike have lead me to believe the original owner bought it as a frame and fork, and built it up (or had a shop build it up) using a mix of parts that the owner specified.  In fact, I'm pretty sure in 1982 that was the ONLY way you could get a Specialized bike, as the only literature I've been able to find shows only frames and forks for sale, not complete bikes.  This goes a long way toward explaining the mix of Campagnolo and Shimano and SunTour parts on the bike, as few, if any bike companies would mix and match like that for a stock build.

Next I'll write out the whole overhaul and rebuild, explaining my choices along the way.  To tide you over, here are a few shots of details of the frame once I got it cleaned.

 Oh, a good place to start in researching serial numbers for some brands of bikes built in Asia:

Stay tuned!

Seat cluster showing the scalloped seat stay tops and thinned lug.

Bottom bracket area.

Main triangle.

Rear brake bridge with reinforcements.

Rear dropouts.  Frame is chromed under the paint.

Left chain stay with name of Tim Neenan, who designed the original Sequoias.  He currently builds under the Lighthouse Cycles brand.

Fork crown.

Friday, January 10, 2020

It followed me home...

... well, not exactly.  What really happened is that one day at the shop, totally out of the blue, a guy came in and asked if I was Tim.  When I said I was, he said "I met a guy who told me I should show you a bike I have."  I was puzzled, but thought, okay, why not, and went outside to take a look.  I really wasn't expecting much, honestly.

When I got outside, I was really surprised to see an early 80s Specialized Sequoia road bike, a very early one that you don't see very often.  At first I wasn't sure if he was just showing off a cool bike, or looking for a buyer, but pretty soon it was clear it was the latter.  And given what it was, and the fact that it was my size, I was definitely intrigued.  It looked to be in good shape, though sorely in need of a good cleaning and overhaul, and some new bar wrap and cable housing.

Specialized Sequoia, as it arrived.
For a little bit of background, while Specialized is one of the really big names in bikes these days, back in the late 70s/early 80s, they were a new company offering a small selection of good quality, imported products for bikes.  At the time, the name of the company was Specialized Bicycle Imports, and were probably best known for their line of high quality clincher tires, a relatively new thing back then.  Somewhere around 1980-82, they introduced a small selection of bicycles, first starting with framesets, then full bikes, as I recall.  The first two models offered were the Allez, designed for road racing, and the Sequoia, more of a general, all around road bike, what used to be called a "sport tourer" back then.  When I was younger, I really wanted an Allez, with it's racing geometry and striking, simple red finish.  Now that I'm older, and will never race again, the Sequoia is much more my style... though truth be told, if an Allez in my size came my way, I wouldn't pass it up!

Back to the bike in question... the fellow who owned it said he'd seen similar bikes on eBay for $XXX, but he'd be willing to sell it to me for half that.  Now, I do keep my eye on the classic bike market, so I knew that a) he was right about asking prices on eBay and b) the offered price was very fair, even a bit of a bargain.  Not a steal, but a good deal for sure, especially for an uncommon bike in a fairly uncommon size.  I told him I'd think about it, and we exchanged information.  It didn't take me 24 hours to decide I wanted it, once I had some time to think and do some research.  So I met up with him, and exchanged cash for the bike.

Here are a few shots of some details of the bike:
Early 80s Shimano Dura Ace rear derailleur.

Campagnolo Nuovo Record crankset, with 180mm arms (really long!) and Look pedals.
Rear Avocet Mod. II hub and SunTour 6 speed freewheel.
Campagnolo Record sidepull brakes.
Front Avocet Mod. II hub and Super Champion Gentleman rim.
Specialized stem, Cinelli deep drop bars, Campy brake levers, SunTour bar end shifters.
Next time... cleaning it up and making it "mine!"  Hint - I didn't keep all the parts that it came with.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Another try...

Well, the last attempt to get this blog rolling again sputtered and died.  Why?  I'm not totally sure, but I think part of it was I just wasn't feeling very inspired to write, and didn't feel like I had much to say about anything.  Has that changed?  Well, I think so, otherwise I wouldn't be trying to rev it up again.  Part of it is just having a bit more gumption, and part of it is feeling like I have some new things to write about and some potential for regular material to share on something like a schedule.  Not a fixed, rigid schedule, just a sense that I can find things to write about often enough to be interesting to me and any audience I might have.

By way of a preview, I'll throw out some topics I plan to post about as I go forward:

Bikes I own and ride, especially projects in the works or completed:

 A relatively recently developing interest of mine... old typewriters!  Yes, you read that right, typewriters:

Outdoor adventures, especially exploring one of my favorite parks in the US, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal:

And of course, combined with  all of the above, my photography.

Stay tuned!  I'm feeling good about this, so we're off to a good start.  I hope you'll stick around.