Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Humble Schwinn Le Tour

The Schwinn Le Tour: The Original Touring Bike

Touring bicycles have been around long before the Schwinn Le Tour. The name "Le Tour" is a dead giveaway that this bike was inspired by it's predecessors from across the pond.  This bike however, was the first mass produced touring bicycle to enter the U.S market by a U.S owned company.

According to history, the mid 1970's oil crisis and a national interest in all things European at the time brought about the bike boom and most notably, the "touring" bicycle or ten speed as it was once called. Before then bicycles in the United States mainly consisted of cruiser-style single speed bikes with balloon tires, also known as paper boy bikes. These more common bicycles featured tanks, horns, fenders and many of them weighed in excess of fifty pounds. The concept of lightweight racing bicycles was a foreign one to most people at the time. This perception changed during the 70's, when a fuel shortage, a new environmentally conscious generation and an unpopular war paved the way for a bicycle revolution. Belgium and the Netherlands rolled with the movement and are now the most bicycle friendly countries in the world. The momentum in the U.S ended abruptly around the late 80's when the economy improved and technology rapidly advanced. From the 80's onward, bicycles have turned from a practical means of transportation to a form of exercise and recreation. Out of that bike boom era there arose a people's champion, a working man's fare, the Model T of touring bikes and a well made product forged in a Chicago factory. The humble but reliable Schwinn Le Tour.

Over the years I have owned several Schwinn Le Tours. The yellow Schwinn featured in the title heading of this bike blog was my first restoration. It has now left my possession as I have given it to my mom, who rides it regularly. Unlike their French counterparts at the time, these bicycles were all steel with metal shifters and derailleurs, making them reliable and durable. The strong metal used for the frames could take a sustained load without making the bicycle ride slower. The early Le Tours had almost all factory made components with all parts stamped "Schwinn Approved". Finding the date on an early Schwinn is as easy as looking at the head badge and hubs of the wheels.

The following two bikes are examples of an early Schwinn Le Tour model and one of the last Schwinn Le Tours that came out of the Chicago factory. Both have features of what was popular for bicycles at the time of their production. With a stronger focus on touring, comfort and practicality, the 1980 Schwinn Le Tour on the right was equipped with stem mounted shifters, steel rims, ergonomic handlebars with shallow drops and center pull brakes. The late 80's Schwinn on the left was made much more sportier, reflecting the shift from practical use to recreative use. The 1988 Schwinn features downtube shifters, side pull caliper brakes and alloy rims. Like the earlier model it came with a strong steel frame and eyelets for mounting racks on, heralding back to it's original purpose of touring. Both bikes can be equipped as touring bikes and in this regard no one bike is superior than the other. 

A 1980's Schwinn Logo

A 1980 Schwinn Le Tour with a logo design reminiscent of earlier models.

By the late 80's lighter steel such as true temper was being used for the Schwinn Le Tour

1020 Tubing is not light by modern day standards, however the bicycle rides like a lightweight bike due to it's road dampening qualities.

Early Schwinns featured stem mounted shifters, steel rims, "suicide" brake levers and lots of chrome

Although the later Schwinn model was designed to be faster than the earlier version, the early Schwinn can be a serious contender with alloy rims and some minor upgrades. As shown in this video, this bike is no wimp when it comes to speed. The video shows me whipping past carbon fiber roadies in their $3000 Wiliers and triathlon machines on my 79' yellow Schwinn.

These bikes can be found all day long on the online classifieds, at a good price too if someone is a shrewd buyer. The 1980 Schwinn cost me $40 and zero dollars in investment to get it in it's current condition. I bought the 88' Schwinn to help out a friend and it cost me twice as much.  These bikes can and do usually bring anywhere from $150 to $300 at resale. I personally have a hard time letting go of Schwinn Le Tours. They are such well built bikes and such a bargain for the money that I will usually hold onto them while usually getting rid of my more expensive bicycles. Having restored one from the ground up, I know firsthand the quality of their build and what this bicycle is capable of. For some reason unknown to me, these bicycles are usually passed up by collectors while inferior models like the Varsity and Stingray get all the attention. The Stingrays, Lemon Peelers and Fastbacks which sell in the thousands of dollars can barely be ridden by grown men while a good Schwinn Le Tour that is capable of beating the socks off of a modern day road bike doesn't even get an offer over $100 most of the time. 

One day when the Puerto Rican Schwinn club switches from vintage cruisers to vintage road bikes (I'm Puerto Rican, I can say that...) or when hipsters start to covet Schwinn bikes for their fixed gear fallacies, the collector's value on a Schwinn Le Tour will probably rise. When it does, just remember that I was riding Schwinn Le Tours before it was cool, before hipsters discovered it and before having knowledge of a Puerto Rican Schwinn club, of which I am probably now regarded as an honorary member. Even though my stable of bikes boasts the best of French, Italian and British imported vintage steel, I will always remember my roots and the bike that got me into restoring bikes in the first place. I can always make room for a humble Schwinn Le Tour.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Exploring Downtown Mckinney

Art Ideas: Exploring Downtown Mckinney

The perfect picture, staged unintentionally for someone like me.

I have been dwelling on starting a new painting lately. My last painting came out really well and I was exploring the idea of combining all my passions into a masterpiece. While out on my bike ride today through Downtown Mckinney, I found some awesome ideas.

Downtown Mckinney has some interesting architectural sights combined with an industrial vibe. At the same time, it is a very clean space and not a whole lot goes on there after hours. It's a great place to stop and take pictures or relax in one of two coffee shops there. Here's a couple of random shots that attempt to capture the essence of this town.

Cadence Cyclery Bike Shop in Downtown Mckinney

Many restaurants have outdoor seating and Menu on display at the door.

The sign does a good job at describing it's surroundings, as well any elements who might be living here.


I love this backdrop.
Some of the town's events include trade days and art shows. Every second Saturday of the month most businesses stay open late to cater to pedestrians. Next month there will be a bicycle race through the city, a competition known as Bike The Bricks. Mckinney is a cool destination for anyone living north of Dallas.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How I restored the Peugeot

My Peugeot UO-8 Restoration

I wrote an article about this bicycle last year but never got into any detail as to how I restored it. The restoration process was extensive so I didn't go into the details of how I got this bicycle to look the way it did. 

When I received this bike, the chrome parts had grit and a lot of surface rust. The shifters were broken and the derailleur no longer worked properly. The bearings in the crank arms were seized and the brake levers were toast. Nothing really moved on the bike except for the wheels, which spun smoothly. The frame, although scratched up and with a little surface rust, was solid and had no visible dents. 

The cottered cranks on this bike were the most difficult part of this restoration. The Nervar cranks were solidly installed and it seemed that nothing could take them out. I had to drill out the cotter pins in order to remove the crank arms and went through a few drill bits trying to loosen the metal pins. I could not get the drive side bottom bracket cup out so I had to send the frame for powder coating with it attached.  Here's a few pictures of the bicycle stripped down to the frame.

While the frame was getting powder coated, I went to work on removing the rust from the components using an oxalic acid bath. In hindsight, throwing the parts in Simple Green solution, which is safer for the environment, easier to dispose of and is not a health hazard like oxalic acid, would have been a better idea. At the same I had yet to experiment with Simple Green so I did what I knew could work. When the frame came back from powder coating, I proceeded to put the parts back on.

The cottered cranks gave me a hard time once again when I had to reinstall them on the bike. I had to order French cotter pins on ebay which cost about nine dollars and take the bike to a bike shop that had a cotter press lying around. At first one of the guys in the shop did not know what a cotter press was, a tool which is now obsolete. However, cottered cranks are still used on new bikes in third world countries like India. An older guy who worked there dug up the old tool from the back of the shop and called me in, allowing me to get behind  the counter to install the cranks. I had already established a good relationship with the guys at the bike shop, so it was no problem when a regular customer like me needed a favor. 

I also ordered some new old stock Shimano 600  brake levers to replace the broken Mafacs. Before putting the rest of the parts on the bike I called a guy who specializes in pin striping to repaint gold leaf paint on the lugs. I had met him at a swap meet a while back and saw that he did really good work. For about 25 bucks it added that extra detail that really made this bicycle pop. Afterwords I installed the rest of the parts. Here's a picture of the bike at this point of the restoration.

I then purchased some period correct decals for the frame from an australian guy off ebay and they took about a month to arrive. It was well worth the wait to make this bike complete. I first cleaned off the areas where the decals were going to be placed. Then I used a squeegee for applying vinyl like the ones used in sign shops. Here's a couple of pictures of the process.

Overall this bike is awesome. It is comfortable for riding around the countryside and pulling the child stroller behind. This isn't a race bike, however don't let that mistake you about it's speed. I have passed guys on time trial bikes in their drops who thought they were fast on this bicycle. The spring loaded saddle wasn't the best quality and has since been replaced with a vinyl leather imitation saddle. I plan to put money aside to get this bicycle a proper Brooks Flyer someday soon, as the geometry of the bike demands a suspended saddle in order to be comfortable. Hopefully this bike is around for another 30 to 40 years. I feel like the structure of the bike was well made and all it needed was some love and attention to give it's second lease on life. Stay tuned for more bicycle restoration articles and subscribe to my posts for more informative posts.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

I Keep On Rolling

Why my tires keep rolling after seven years of active cycling

Sometimes I quit on things. Somethings I give up on. Some people eventually quit and give up on me. Sometimes no matter how much I try to please others, I may at times end up alone. The people who quit on their dreams make me feel like there is something wrong with me for not quitting as well and for not accepting mediocrity in my life. But I can't stop and I won't stop riding my bike.

Even if I wanted to stop, I'm already being carried along by the momentum of my wheels, and I enjoy the feeling of movement too much to slam on my brakes. Even if I sold every bike in my possession, I will still end up buying a bicycle at some point or another and start riding again. This can't be said about other things that I have started, achieved a measure of short lived success on, and then eventually moved on to something else once I started to get bored. In addition to being a cyclist I enjoy painting, skateboarding, drawing, playing guitar and photography. Some of these things I am talented in and have even made a little money off of. But none of these things are things that I am consistently pursuing on a daily basis, that form a part of my routine. I ride my bike almost every day now that the weather is improving.  I have no self-rightous motives for this other that it makes me feel good and I am addicted to the Vitamin D of the sun's rays and the endorphin rush to my brain. 

I can't even say that I ride to stay fit anymore. I haven't lost any weight since picking up my cycling and I am not pretending that I will, although after a few months I always drop a couple of pounds. Within  my reasoning doing a short bike ride is better, in fact anything would be better than spending the evening planted on the couch, watching what is probably bad television and whatever pap the media wants to serve to the masses. This is the routine that many people are addicted to. They watch other people play sports on TV and they like to talk about sports, however they won't even go outside to toss the football around. They like to see other people become famous because of how well they can sing karaoke, but they themselves never bother to learn an instrument. People live their lives vicariously through the celebrities and Youtube sensations that are on display in their electronic devices. As I think about this I have to ask myself, "is that even a life at all?". 

Cycling is freedom, enlightenment and exercise all rolled into one beautiful package. Freedom from other's expectations that you too should be sitting down at work and sitting down at home. That eating out is supposed to be a form of socializing and entertainment rather than providing the body with basic sustenance. Enlightenment that there is a whole world out there beyond the realms of television that is unexplored. Why should we be labeled as weird, strange and crazy for trying to explore it? I think it is more crazy for people to be led to and fro from one cage at work to another at home, like dumb cattle from the corral to the slaughterhouse. The craziest part of it all is that no one complains or puts up a fight, in fact they are as happy as can be until they see someone who is different and does not share their insular view. Then like the stampeding cattle that they are they try to trample the more morally elevated health conscious individual down, whether by words or even by using their SUV on the road.

No one was born this way. No one starts off life saying "I'm cool just sitting on my butt all the time". Most people come out of the womb active, kicking and screaming. In the beginning we were all young and free children riding our bikes down our neighborhood blocks. Then we grow up. Some people along the way achieve titles and credentials and start to think of themselves as "important". Important people can't be seen idling in non-important activities, such as bike riding. That time has to be better spent working overtime to afford that new car payment. The car becomes everything at that point, a status symbol as well as the transporting cage from the cage at work to the cage at home. Some people don't shut up about their cars either. You'll see old men in shiny Corvettes or small men in giant Hummers. Sometimes people are classified by the cars they drive, regardless of who they really are. There is no such classification system that can be made for a bicyclist. At speed, all bicycles look the same, regardless of whether the bike cost $100 or $1000. This turns off "important" types from riding a bicycle having any respect or admiration for anyone who rides them. Little do they know that they are the ones with the mismatched priorities and that they are missing out on all the fun.

I have always been part of the not so silent minority. Rejection, alienation and social isolation are not things that are new to me. At different points of my life I have had to swim against the current and go against the grain of what the majority of the people were doing and thinking at that moment in time. Almost always I have been thankful that I did. Riding a bike is no different. It is not an activity that sits well with a lot of people or one that will grant me instant success, fame, money or popularity among my peers. But it is an investment I have made for my long term health and well being, one that I hope I can cash in on, even when most of the people that I know will be diabetic, dead, frumpy or morbidly obese.  

As I turn 30, I am already looking forward to seeing the first phase of my investment pay off. My Dad had really high cholesterol at my age, something I have been able to regulate with exercise thus far. Hopefully I can fend that off for a few more years as well as high blood pressure and diabetes. Hopefully I can also avoid the obesity my mom had from not taking care of herself during my childhood. If I can do even a little better than my parents did in this respect I will feel like I made a difference in my health. 

I am a cyclist. I may not look the part or be competitively fast, but I feel this is sticking with me wherever I go from now on. I might go back to drawing and painting (which I should) or photography later on in life, but I plan to always be riding my bike.  Like the song that was made in the 70's (who sung it, REO Speedwagon?) I keep on rolling, rollin' on despite the changes.