Sunday, March 15, 2009

Schwinn Le Tour II Restoration, Phase 2

In my last post, I wrote about buying the 1976 Schwinn Le Tour II bike and my plans on fixing it up into a road worthy bike.

A couple of weeks later, the bike is ready to ride. There are still some things that need some attention, but I think it's ready for casual riding. My initial goal is to sample road cycling at minimal cost. Should I enjoy the activity, and should the Schwinn frame seem suitable, then I may begin to upgrade components.

Now, let's cut to the chase and see how it's worked out so far.



Note that the before picture was taken in the evening, and the after picture was taken during the day. So, literally, the difference here is "night and day."


In reality, not much has changed. There are very few new parts:
  • tires
  • tubes
  • cables
  • cable housings
  • brake pads
  • bar tape
  • chrome valve stem caps, given to me for free at the auto parts store when I went for some bearing grease. The manager discovered he'd been shipped a pack of caps with only three in the package. "I can't sell these, do you want them?"
Everything else was just cleaned up:
  • rims, spokes cleaned with WD40 and fine steel wool
  • cranks, pedals, chain rings, all other shiny parts also polished
  • frame wiped down
  • chain lubed
I learned a little maintenance:
  • trued the wheels (they aren't perfect and should probably be taken to the bike shop for a proper truing
  • overhauled the front and rear hubs; took apart, degreased with WD40, wiped clean, and repacked using fresh grease
  • stripped off all old cabling, replaced housing and cabling for brakes and derailleurs
  • the worst bar tape job since the invention of bar tape, but it will last until I replace the handlebar with something to match my shoulder width
And discovered more things wrong with it:
  • 1970s braking systems pale to modern brakes. If this bike is to be ridden with any regularity, especially in commuter traffic, the brakes must be upgraded
  • both axles are warped slightly
  • a big rust spot on the inside of one of the rims (see photos). Chromed steel rims should probably be replaced with modern aluminum rims
  • handlebars are just too danged narrow for me
In summary, if I enjoy riding this bike and consider it a "keeper," then all of the 1970s components will need to go and be replaced with moderns ones:
  • wider, more comfy handlebars
  • clipless pedals
  • new brakes
  • new shifters, derailleur system
  • new wheels, including hubs, and hardcase tires
  • new saddle
  • maybe a rack for commuter bags or maybe I'll wear a messenger bag
I really appreciate all the comments and advice I've received on this project. I welcome further comments and suggestions.


brady said...

It's amazing what a little TLC, elbow grease, bar tape, cable housing and a *fine* set of chrome valve stem caps can do for a bike refresher. Nice job, Scott.

Are you going to ride it to work tomorrow?

munsoned said...

Yup, that bike does look spiffy now, but you are correct. Bike technology has changed a ton since the 70's and all for the better.

Upgrading is a slippery slope. I'd almost say, if you are going to keep going with the roadie thing, that you should look at a new modern bike. Cause you can get close to spending the equivalent of a new bike, just on upgrade parts for an old bike. That is, unless you can find a softie like me who'll sell you an entire shifting system and wheelset for a song. Just ask Brady.

EB said...

I echo Mr. Munson,
Don't let it turn into a money pit.
Just Pedal until she breaks.

Scott Redd said...

Hey Brady:

Yes, I rode it this morning. I moved the lights over from the hybrid and found a roomy backpack in a closet to carry my clothes and stuff.

I don't know if it was just extra enthusiasm, but it felt like the ten speed was speedier and more nimble than the 7300. I didn't get down into the aero position, preferring to stay on the top of the bar, but it seemed like I got up to speed more quickly and easily.

The brakes definitely need some adjustment (replacement!). Coming downhill on Leavenworth at 16th street, I had to stop at a light that went from yellow to red. I couldn't keep from rolling into the intersection, so I had to dump onto a sidewalk. Yikes!

A few times I kicked my feet off the pedals, and I can hear that the front dérailleur needs an adjustment, but otherwise, it was fun. It's definitely different than the hybrid experience, but so far, so good.

Biker Bob said...

Well done. It's fun learning how to work on bikes, and saves you a lot of money in the long run.

I agree with Munson and EB that you want to be careful not to make it a money pit. When you start upgrading wheels and drive-train, it's almost worth it to get a newer bike.

Enjoy the ride.

erik said...

well done scott, it looks like a great ride. If you need to upgrade the brakes, you might want to take a peak at some of brakes developed by the folks at rivendell--I'm thinking the silver would have plenty of reach to make things comfortable for you, and could allow a simple 650b conversion if you ended up wanting to make the bicycle a bit more all-purpose while replacing the wheels at some point (far down the road?). There's a tektro generic equivalent out there too, somewhere. Either way, it's a great brake for most any bike and gives a great amount of clearance (much closer to the original clearances you had with the schwinn, if not a bit more).

"Bike technology has changed a ton since the 70's and all for the better." -- not true. Case in point, that you've made this a rideable bicycle. The majority of contemporary frames, built of plastic and riddled with suspension, will not make for much in 30 years and will not be safely recyclable (carbon racing forks have a life of about 5 years). Perhaps not your particular schwinn, but many an exquisite bicycle was built in years past that more than rival anything the consumer-model driven bicycle giants of today put out.

query "the golden age of hand built bicycles" and you'll see instances of technologies superior to current trends, developed in the 40s (let alone that of the 70s). It makes a lot of stuff pitched as superior today look laughable, even short-lived failure-prone carbon parts are heavier than certain elegant counterparts of yore made of metal.

If being able to ride home on a broken spoke, avoiding catastrophic failure thanks to the superior material dynamics of steel, avoiding abusive 3rd world factory production, and having a bicycle that is simply more useful for anything short of the contemporary race circuit is important--you're on the right track. It's a really good one, and great for folks who don't care so much about racing and shaving seconds as they do about the art and tradition itself, since it takes so much of the pressure to perform off and lets you just enjoy a good day spent upon the saddle.

Those aren't requests for argument, simply observations meant to expand upon a statement rather unfair to the likes of many an expert frame builder, whose craft fair surpasses any.

Enjoy that bicycle, it's a great learning tool such that when the time comes to upgrade the frame you'll be in good position to do so and much of the invested equipment will be transferable so long as you choose it wisely. Newer doesn't always mean better, especially in this case--though it can.

By the way, thanks for the vegan cheese recommendation--Emily and I stopped by whole foods last night after work, and we're liking it.

Biker Bob said...

On the topic of using an older steel frame, does anyone know of a person that can re-space the dropouts on a steel frame bike. I'm still toying with building up that Colnago. If I do, I might want to put a more modern drivetrain on there.

EB... did you know somebody that is capable of doing something like this?

RD said...

The only people who come in mind would be the war-axe guys in Lincoln. EB would know

erik said...


It's easy enough that you could probably do it yourself. Especially if you're going from 126 to 130 (i assume it's a 10speed to modern road wheel conversion)? Even a 126-135 is not too hard. Since you're only look for, at most, less than 1.5cm you can just cold set a steel frame. One of the many great properties of steel!

Read more here, courtesy of the immutable sheldon brown;

It's what a frame builder would most likely do, if you asked them. Afterward, it might help to stop by a bike shop to borrow a dropout alignment tool to make sure they are still straight relative to each other (olympia let me use theirs for free a few months ago, even helped me brace the frame actually).

I'd also point out that if you're only going from 126 to 130, you can probably just pull the dropouts apart enough to slide the wheel in. Some modern frames come 132.5 to allow either mountain or road wheels (the surly crosscheck and riv rambouillet come to mind here).

erik said...

I'd help you do it some weekend, i should add. I'm no more an expert than anyone else, having only done it once (with great success). You can also make a dropout alignment gauge out of some bolts and nuts, if you feel like going that route (sheldon speaks about that a bit i believe?)--it's easy enough to imagine.



Biker Bob said...

I've read Sheldon's article before. What worried me was the dropout alignment, and the frame alignment. Stretching the right side more than the left would make the rear wheel track weird.

Still just thinking it through. I'd have to sell the Bianchi Roger if I decided to do it. I'm Riding the Roger this week, so I'll know by Friday if I want to keep that one or sell it so I can fund the Colnago buildup.

erik said...

i understand. doing a good alignment took me about an hour, but it took a lot more patience than i expected.

I think if you're going less than .5cm, you may as well just spread the dropouts by hand when you drop the wheel in--you'll be slowed down a few seconds when you go to fix a flat or swap a tire, but it's no big deal in the long run.

munsoned said...

Erik, I should have clarified more. The ergonimic factor is what I was referring to. Bars are no longer just 38cm. Brake levers don't have cables sticking out of the top. Brakes actually stop you now.

Standardization has made swapping things easier too(mainly for bike fit since that's paramout to anything else). Modern road frames have 1-1/8th's steerers, 27.2 seatpost, 68mm bottom brackets, and 130mm dropout spacing. Before standardization, all those numbers could be all over the place. Any time I tried to mess with an old frame, I just got frustrated by having some non-standard part to deal with.

I believe in using the correct tool for the job. Want a bike to ride comfortably and last for a couple lifetimes - buy steel, fit it with rugged parts and call it good. Want to race - go aluminum, titanium, or carbon fiber. We're on the same page that America trends toward racing more than using a bike for it's original purpose - just to get around. But America is a consumerist nation and that's what we have to deal with. Either that or move somewhere else. I'm afraid if I even visit Amsterdam, I'll never leave.

munsoned said...

Oops, I meant Copenhagen.

Scott Redd said...

I appreciate all of the comments on this restoration, and on restorations in general. This is all very good conversation, and I'm learning a lot from your discussions.

I'll never race, though I might partake in a group ride here and there, or meet up with you fasties for a moderately paced "recovery ride," perhaps, so a bike that's faster and more nimble than my hybrid is probably a good idea. I'll always commute, in all weather, and ride for utility. I'll also ride for fun when time allows.

I don't own a bike rack for our cars, so to get on the trail, I have to ride to trail. I'll need a bike that's not afraid to pop curbs, ride on gravel or charge through a puddle. I'll also concede to wanting the bike to have a little bit of traditional style to it.

I think the answer to these requirements is to gradually build up this older bike to something faster and sportier than my hybrid, but still capable of handling diverse terrain and daily riding like a hybrid. Perhaps through rims that can accommodate a fatter tire, the addition of fenders, and brakes with stopping power. I can deal with the ancient shifters for now, and haven't yet completely ruled out a single-speed conversion.

Who knows, I may yet decide to buy new (in the future, as long as I can convince my wife how much money we're am saving on parking and gas by daily commuting), or build up another one to serve as a "go fast" bike. For now, I'm having fun tinkering, learning, and riding, what to me, feels like a completely different bike than my Trek 7300 hybrid.

munsoned said...

That's the ticket, Scott. No bike is a money pit if you are happy with it. The other guys and I were just speaking from past experiences where we bought one thing, weren't happy for various reasons (see my fit comment to Erik) and wished we hadn't bought it.

Since you're just getting into it, tweak the parts as money/time allows and find out what works best for you. That way, if you do get a chance to buy completely new, you know what you like and can buy with confidence.

Have fun with your project. Again, my offer still stands to let you borrow a wide bar with newer brake levers. Granted that would over-ride your well done current re-cabling, but at least you'd get to try something new. My bars/levers are just sitting in a box waiting to be used.

The Douglas said...

Congrats on the resto project. I just completed my 1980's Bianchi Sport SS project bike ...deliciously lugged and ready to ride. I did a single speed convert on mine, which was a $50 investment. The rest of the 7-speed drive train was parked until I resell the bike or convert it back. I've been riding this bike the past week and can understand your enthusiasm. I agree with the others that a careful evaluation should be made of the integrity of the frame before dumping too much money into your project. If the bike fits you properly and doesn’t show signs of rust or damage then you can’t go wrong investing money into this bike...assuming you keep it for a while. My recommendation is to hit some of the local shops and see if they have any inexpensive “take-off” wheel sets that they can part with. I mounted a set of 130 wheels on my 126.5 drop-out frame, which isn’t a problem. You simply spread the stays when installing the wheel. This is one of many nice things about steel.

Looking forward to riding with you soon. Perhaps you can join us on Friday…with the new (old) bike of course.

Scott Redd said...

Hi Munson:

I rather like the look of the cables coming out the tops of the brakes. As Sheldon says, it gives me a place to secure my French bread loafs. I'd be interested in hearing more about the handlebars. The only way I know to measure them in my limited experience is to hold them up on my shoulders. Can you tell me what the width would be from the inside bends across the top? If you were to sell them, what would be your price?

Douglas: I'm toying with taking a half day off on Friday so I don't have to ask for the super long lunch for the downtown planning meeting. In that case, I'd be available for the post meeting ride you mentioned over in this comment. If so, you fasties better keep a close eye on your bikes, as I'm liable to snip a shifter cable or let some air our your tires so I can keep up. :)

If I make this meeting, perhaps one of you experts could give the frame a quick go-over and let me know if there's anything grossly, or subtly wrong with it that I've missed that might warn me not to put any more money in it.

I rode out of downtown this afternoon and hit the Keystone to meet my wife near Maple. We rode back home together, with a stop at the grocery store, at a moderate pace, with a generous wind at our backs. My morning commute was 5 miles, and my afternoon was 15. After spending 20 miles in the saddle today, I can say the stock saddle is OK, but not as comfy as the one on my hybrid. I'll need a couple of more longish rides to finalize that decision. Riding with a loaded backpack made my shoulders sore. I normally ride the Trek with a roomy pannier toting my stuff. I'm wondering if a cycling specific messenger bag would be a good solution. I understand they are low slung, easing pressure on the upper back.

The Leavenworth climb to Elmwood was easier on the 10 speed versus the hybrid. The differences in the gearing, and maybe the rolling resistance and weight were very noticeable when I rode with my wife. She also has a 7300. There were times we'd go single file, and then I'd turn the cranks a few times to catch up with her. I'd stop pedaling so as not to overtake her, only to glide right on past while she's still cranking away. Do the 27 inch wheels, with their smaller diameter than the 700c, make for faster acceleration?

I'm beginning to understand that there's no end to joy and discovery when it comes to cycling. I expect it to be a lifelong lesson.

Scott Redd said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the "cheese," Erik. Did you make pizza? I'm on the lookout for an easy, vegan Indian naan recipe. Let me know if you can recommend one.

Thanks for the info on the brakes, and the 650B reference as well. 650B is a possibility for this bike. I still need to study it more.

The Douglas said...

Heh. By "fasties" you must be referring to EB.

We'll firm things up, but I'm thinking what ever ride we do after the meeting will be casual and conversational. Being a tourist in downtown I'll let someone else pick the route. I'm more interested in the drinks that follow.

We'll post something on Pedal-Omaha about Friday's fun-time.

munsoned said...

Scott, the bars I have are 44cm. They're a little wider than the widely used 42's, but it can make for more comfort that way.

I'll let you borrow them for a while, then if you like them, you can pay me in burritos or a gift card to Blue Planet. I'm pretty flexible.

erik said...

Scott: pizza, good indeed.
Let me know if you end up deciding to go 650B, I have a wheelset on Emily's Saluki we could use to check clearances before you made the jump--I think waiting for now is more than a good idea though, as well. Parts like those will more than likely transfer easily to future bicycles (be they frames of yore or new, with just some consideration ahead of time).

Let me know if you could use any help with figuring out any of this. I have my opinions about bicycle design, but i think they're pretty good for the type of riding you describe as the goal.

munson; i believe in standardization too, which is why i think it's quite sad professional cycling has become much more about the technology of the bicycle than the oft-drug-addled rider upon it. I'd also note that modern standards, if anything, have diversified incredibly (BB spindles seem a good quick example). I'd love to see racing set standards upon bicycles (let them remain carbon or otherwise), and stop the megabrand-sponsored million dollar bike madness, too. A steel framed bicycle, with all metal componentry, can easy flirt that 15 pound ideal--for not much money it's not hard to hit 18-19 pounds--I'm thinking about a geared riv legolas build that would be right at 18.3 lbs (with 32h metal spokes/hubs/rims even!). It only takes some standards at the top, the UCI needs to get it together in more than one domain there though...

munsoned said...

Ah yes Erik, I did speak too soon. You are correct about the explosion of changing standards when it comes to carbon bikes. I have never had one and don't plan on getting one, so that's why I forgot to mention it.

I guess standardization has it's specific eras. We've had a decade or so of current standards, but before that, I'm sure the bike industry stuck with 126 rear spacing, 1" headsets, etc. for quite a while. Hopefully, for bike shop's sake, the industry decides on a new standard for carbon frames; 1-1/8" upper race/1-1/4" lower race of headsets and steerer tubes, and then finally choose between BB30 and BB86(both of which I don't completely understand).

That Riv Legolas sounds like a dream bike. I'm slightly frustrated with the whole "one bike to do everything" deal. I keep trying to find a bike that's sturdy enough, has clearance for fatter tires/fenders, but also is light and stiff enough when stripped down to be used as a get up and go group ride machine. 18 lbs is all the lighter I would need, but I can't seem to find a bike that has that and space for wider tires. I guess I'm also looking at cheaper bikes. Maybe I need to look at the mid price range and/or custom. Looking on the Rivbike website, I don't see the Legolas. Was that an older model?

Very interesting stuff. (Sorry Scott, on highjacking your post)

Scott Redd said...

I had a "duh!" moment this afternoon and then moved the clipless pedals over to the Schwinn to try that out. I find out tomorrow morning if it was worth it.

I expect it will.

Due to the pain in the neck friction shifting, I find myself not downshifting often when slowing and stopping, rather I suffer the slow starts. The clipless pedals will make a difference in that regard, for sure.

erik said...

scott: never give up friction shifting, it is glorious and problem free when set up correctly. If anything, you just need to clean the shifters/replace them depending on the model (may also be the rear derailer acting up). I'd recommend rivendell's "silver" shifters as a moderately priced replacement (and about 1/10 the cost of indexed brifters).

back to derailing yet another commentary: munson: yes, the legolas doesn't seem to be available any longer, and most of the riv frame prices have shot up significantly (1600-2000 in 3 months!) as our economy has tanked (and toyo, their builder in japan, has remained strong with the yen). So unfortunately for both of us, dreams of a badass steel frame road bike will have to wait. I am intrigued by the idea of going with a builder like ira ryan, who is expensive (too much for me right now and for the far future), but can build a great all purpose frame for about 2 grand--you may as well go custom, is what I'm intending to state. Though rivendell is still king, and there's more than enough reasons to go with them.

It's hard to imagine a sufficiently light yet multipurposed bike, but even harder when the material doesn't lend itself to such constructions. One of the many reasons why carbon bikes aren't super popular in cross racing, where clearances and durability are paramount.

With the atlantis and quickbeam, one bought used and the other before the latest price increase (and as a frameset), I feel pretty lucky. My next step will probably be just waiting and paying off debts, always with an eye to those exquisite lugged steel racing frames of yore. I think a steel framed bike under 20 pounds, with 28mm tires (32 w/o fenders) and strong wheels, would be incredible--I'd probably change my tune and want to race the thing (I'll make the couple pounds difference for carbon by losing the residual pizza/beer/cookie tissue about my body).


Though I think about bicycles too much as it is!

Scott Redd said...

The difference with the clipless pedals this morning was noticeable. I can't believe I didn't think of that sooner.

I adjusted the limit screws on the front dérailleur last night and got most of the chain chatter to go away. Now I can't shift into the big chainring. :-) More adjusting tonight. It's all fun, though.

By not utilizing the shifting so much, I'm feeling the road a little more, and enjoying it. With the index shifting on my hybrid, it's easy to mindlessly "click click," "click click" without giving my legs a chance to deal with the change in the road.

Does anyone have any recommendations on a comfortable, roomy messenger bag? There's Amazon... any local suppliers? The backpack is giving me a literal pain in the neck (and shoulders).

The Douglas said...

I'll bring tools with me tomorrow just in case there's something I, or EB can do to tweak your drive train.

Your observation of feeling the road is leading me to believe you would enjoy a single speed. When geared right there's nothing more simple and enjoyable than a single gear. No maintenance. No worry. (besides chain tension).

I did the backpack thing for years and had the same issues. My wife bought me a Chrome messenger bag for Christmas and I can't say enough good things about it. I can carry a load of 30-40 pounds and can't feel it on my back. The bags are designed very well and are bomb proof. However I've never been bombed. Only issue is the cost. They are pricey. I know Bike Masters sells Chrome, as well as Monkey Wrench in Lincoln.

Biker Bob said...

+1 on the Chrome Messenger bag. Bike Master's has several in stock. I think they had two messenger style ones the last time I was there. I don't have a Chrome bag, but it's on my wish list.

I also use Chrome shins and love them.

Oh... and chrome is having a "back door" sale right now.

Scott Redd said...

I saw that Chrome backdoor sale last night. That's a great price on the "Kremlin" bag, but it looks huge! I don't know if I could use a bag that big.

I've got some Amazon gift card money, but unfortunately Chrome is not for sale there. I may have to limit my choices to what I can find on Amazon. There's Timbuk2, Manhattan Portage, and some others.

Thanks for the recommendations.

munsoned said...

I have a Timbuk 2 and like it well enough. It's a fairly basic, mid-sized model, but it gets the job done. It doesn't have a pad for the shoulder strap and only when I'm carrying very heavy stuff does it get noticeable. Mine was an older model on sale so I think all the newer ones have a shoulder strap pad.

Have fun with your project. Sounds like you're learning stuff every day.

RD said...

i got my chrome almost 2 years ago... still looks brand new you can fit a lot of stuff in it and you get sweet buckle....i'm into shinning things....
yes it's true

Scott Redd said...

I am not sure if anyone is still tracking on this old post.

Saturday I went to the Re-Cycle bike shop and walked out with the Schwinn converted to a 700C single speed.

I had Dan at the shop do most of the work, but I had the pleasure of installing new brake levers, cabling and bar tape.

It looks pretty sweet with the really clean lines, no shifter levers and derailleurs, and under the tape brake cabling, and I can't wait to give it a ride tomorrow and see if I can handle the neighborhood hills.

I make a proper post with pictures later.

Biker Bob said...

cool. Look forward to seeing it. SS is a lot of fun.

The Douglas said...

Very cool Scott. Get the pics up ASAP.

Agreeing with B.Bob. SS is a heck of a lot of fun. My 30-year old Bianchi that I converted has been my choice bike to ride, especially for daily commuting and errand running. The bike cost me $75 plus the cost of the conversion. This is probably 10% of the cost of my carbon road bike, which isn't as much fun to ride as my old steel SS.
Have fun! Looking forward to the pictures.

Scott Redd said...

Hey Bob and The Douglas.

I rode it in this morning. Fun and snappy, and very comfortable.

You were right. I can really tell a difference with the more direct linkage to the wheel, and climbing with the taller gear than I would choose if I had shifters isn't as bad as I thought it would be.

Pics and write up here.

The Douglas said...

Nice looking bike Scott. Enjoy the new ride!

Cuzin Dave said...

I'm an American expat living in Germany. A few years ago I bought a 74 Le Tour while in Virginia. This country is paradise for bike riders and I'm enjoying the old girl immensely. The old chrome parts are a little rusty though and I'd like to redo her this winter. How did you take care of the rusted assessories?

Scott Redd said...

Hi Cuzin Dave:

The current of state of the Schwinn Le Tour II has less chrome than the one pictured in these photos.

Check out the new single speed conversion here.

Gone are the chromed wheels, as they've been replaced with aluminum 700Cs. I put the chromed wheels on my daughter's Varsity.

I had some luck using WD40 and steel wool to remove rust. You might try that.

Tony said...

Looks great. I have a 76 le tourII also and I love riding it. I fit it with a gel seat, straight bars and wider tires(only slightly wider would fit). It rides and operates like new but it's more of a hybrid looking bike now. It's still only a Sunday bike for me though it looks Gorgeous with like a bright purplish, pinkish color. I kept all the parts, seat, handle bars and cables.