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Modifying old bikes for commuting

Old 08-14-19, 09:54 AM
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iamacat
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Modifying old bikes for commuting

Hey all,

My idea is to take an old bike with 27" wheels, replace the wheelset with 700c, swap out the old center-pull calipers for some long-reach dual-pivots like the Tektro R559 and thus gain more clearance for fatter tires and fenders. Does that sounds reasonable or am I missing something?

The reason I ask is that in my area (Seattle) there are a lot of old 70s and 80s bikes for sale. I like these old frames but in order to be a decent commuter bike for Seattle, I need slightly wider tires (at least 30mm, hopefully more for the potholes), fenders (rains all the time) and non-mushy brakes for all the hills. All of the old bikes I've tried have terrible (outright dangerous, IMO) brakes and they generally don't have clearance for much wider tires with fenders.


Thanks!

Last edited by iamacat; 08-14-19 at 10:04 AM.
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Old 08-14-19, 10:18 AM
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Be sure you get a frame and fork that will indeed clear 700-30 tires with fenders. Many will not. You might consider a new bike specifically suitable for what you want such as the Surly Cross Check (rim brakes) or Straggler (disc brakes) both of which will accept up to 700-40 with fenders.
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Old 08-14-19, 10:19 AM
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While modern, long-reach, dual-pivot brakes are better than old single-pivot, they’re not as crisp as modern, short-reach brakes.
I replaced a pair of Saccon side-pulls with just that model Tektros.
Improvement - certainly.
”Fully updated” - hardly.
Depending on your comparison point, you may not be entirely pleased with the results.
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Old 08-14-19, 10:36 AM
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Originally Posted by HillRider View Post
Be sure you get a frame and fork that will indeed clear 700-30 tires with fenders. Many will not. You might consider a new bike specifically suitable for what you want such as the Surly Cross Check (rim brakes) or Straggler (disc brakes) both of which will accept up to 700-40 with fenders.
Any recommendations for frames/forks that'll work? I would like a Surly (or something else designed for this purpose) for sure but wanted to see if I could save some money by fixing up an older bike.

Originally Posted by dabac View Post
While modern, long-reach, dual-pivot brakes are better than old single-pivot, they’re not as crisp as modern, short-reach brakes.
I replaced a pair of Saccon side-pulls with just that model Tektros.
Improvement - certainly.
”Fully updated” - hardly.
Depending on your comparison point, you may not be entirely pleased with the results.
Good to know! Can I replace center-pulls/old side-pulls with anything that'll give me good braking AND big tire+fender clearance? AFAIK canti's and V brakes won't work because the posts are below the rim.

Last edited by iamacat; 08-14-19 at 10:42 AM.
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Old 08-14-19, 11:00 AM
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Originally Posted by iamacat View Post
Any recommendations for frames/forks that'll work? I would like a Surly (or something else designed for this purpose) for sure but wanted to see if I could save some money by fixing up an older bike.
None I know specifically except perhaps an old touring frame like a Trek 520. I do know that many older frames, even if originally fitted with 27", wheels don't gain a lot of tire clearance by going to 700c wheels. I had a '84 Trek 400 I bought used in the late '90's. It came OEM with 27x1-1/8 (630-28) tires and barely cleared fenders. I changed the wheel to 700c with 700-23 tires and obtained good fender clearance but it still wouldn't clear tires much larger than 700-28 with adequate fender clearance.

Frankly, by the time you spend the money and effort retrofitting an old frame, something substantially more suitable and modern won't cost much more.
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Old 08-15-19, 02:10 PM
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"an old bike with 27" wheels" will likely have 120 or 126mm frame spacing.
Have you found suitable wheels that fit?

There are so many bugaboo's when doing this.
Find a more modern frame with 130mm spacing and life will be so much easier.

I spent way too much money upgrading my late brother's 72 Takara road bike. (2X5)
I never would have done it except for sentimental reasons.
It's on "permanent loan" to a much younger family friend with the understanding he passes it down to his off spring or returns it. Meanwhile, it's on the road again. I can't ride road bikes, so I think my brother would approve.
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Old 08-15-19, 07:00 PM
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If you want wider tires, keep in mind that 27 x 1/4 is pretty much equivalent to 700 x 32. If you find a bike with 27" wheels in good condition that has room for mudguards as is, all you need is to add the fenders. There are lots of late 70's and early 80's bikes out there that fill your bill. You just have to look for them. To me, 27" wheels ride better than 700c wheels with equivalent width tires. Stands to reason, they have a larger diameter
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Old 08-15-19, 09:00 PM
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Originally Posted by iamacat View Post
Hey all,

My idea is to take an old bike with 27" wheels, replace the wheelset with 700c, swap out the old center-pull calipers for some long-reach dual-pivots like the Tektro R559 and thus gain more clearance for fatter tires and fenders. Does that sounds reasonable or am I missing something?

The reason I ask is that in my area (Seattle) there are a lot of old 70s and 80s bikes for sale. I like these old frames but in order to be a decent commuter bike for Seattle, I need slightly wider tires (at least 30mm, hopefully more for the potholes), fenders (rains all the time) and non-mushy brakes for all the hills. All of the old bikes I've tried have terrible (outright dangerous, IMO) brakes and they generally don't have clearance for much wider tires with fenders.


Thanks!
I did exactly what you are thinking of doing and rode my Peugeot U08 happily and comfortably on hilly 10 mile each way daily commutes for over 4 years and 8K miles. I swapped out the original steel, cottered crank for a semi-compact 50/34, used Tektro 559 which worked very well, 32mm tires with plenty of room to spare and a rack. I loved the setup and tweaked it over time. This was the final setup that worked seamlessly. I did end up selling it a few months ago and now commute with another older frame built up with modern components.

Untitled by irishbx4th, on Flickr
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Old 08-16-19, 08:15 AM
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Originally Posted by alcjphil View Post
If you want wider tires, keep in mind that 27 x 1/4 is pretty much equivalent to 700 x 32. If you find a bike with 27" wheels in good condition that has room for mudguards as is, all you need is to add the fenders. There are lots of late 70's and early 80's bikes out there that fill your bill. You just have to look for them. To me, 27" wheels ride better than 700c wheels with equivalent width tires. Stands to reason, they have a larger diameter
That was my thought, although I'm not sure that my tuchus could tell the difference between 311 and 315mm radius tires! Suffice to say, they can give very similar rides for similar setups. The point is, if the bike has good 27 inch wheels, why change? You can find reasonable 27 inch tires. Replacing and relacing is gonna cost, what, 60-150 bucks a wheel for spokes and rims? For the price of the 27 inch bike plus 300 I bet you could find an old 90s 700c bike that would better suit you and would require fewer replacement components.

If you must change, you'd be better off getting a modern 700c wheelset for around 125 or 150. But then you have to deal with long-reach (long-enough reach?) brakes and such. Building such a bike would be fun and interesting, but it wouldn't be cost effective unless the 27 inch bike you started with was pretty special.

But I'm a reactionary curmudgeon. Just relaced some Schwinn Superior 27 inch wheels (Normandy high-flange hubs, Weinman non-boxed rims) with new spokes and put new Panaracers on it. The bike rides great, but it wasn't cost effective. For the cost and time I'll have in it I could have bought a good used bike with more modern components.

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Old 08-16-19, 08:17 AM
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Nicely done upgrade, greg3rd48.
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Old 08-16-19, 08:41 AM
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I've done 2 conversions, no issues. And used the same teckros. The 700c are maybe 5? mm smaller. Look for a basic bike, the race bikes might have less room for bigger tires. I love giving new life to older bikes. A 126 rear spacing? Just pry it wider, stuff in the 130 hub. It's 2 mm on each side no biggie for a steel frame. Post back with results.
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Old 08-16-19, 08:56 AM
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Originally Posted by greg3rd48 View Post
I did exactly what you are thinking of doing and rode my Peugeot U08 happily and comfortably on hilly 10 mile each way daily commutes for over 4 years and 8K miles. I swapped out the original steel, cottered crank for a semi-compact 50/34, used Tektro 559 which worked very well, 32mm tires with plenty of room to spare and a rack. I loved the setup and tweaked it over time. This was the final setup that worked seamlessly. I did end up selling it a few months ago and now commute with another older frame built up with modern components.


Untitled by irishbx4th, on Flickr
Please, what rear rack is that on the Peugeot?
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Old 08-16-19, 09:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Leebo View Post
I've done 2 conversions, no issues. And used the same teckros. The 700c are maybe 5? mm smaller. Look for a basic bike, the race bikes might have less room for bigger tires. I love giving new life to older bikes. A 126 rear spacing? Just pry it wider, stuff in the 130 hub. It's 2 mm on each side no biggie for a steel frame. Post back with results.
700c are 4mm smaller in radius (the bead seat diameters are 622 and 630 for 700c and 27 inches, respectively).

Agree that you CAN just spread the frame each time you replace the wheel, and if you don't do much maintenance or repair work, it would be fine, but I prefer to adjust the frame to fit the wheel, and to check the alignment. If you just pull em out each time, you may get a good ride. If you properly bend the things you don't have to worry about misaligment and such. My preference - you obviously get what you need without doing this. It is 2mm each side - easily adjusted with a length of 2x4 in, like, 5 minutes.
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Old 08-16-19, 09:44 AM
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Ignore the naysayers. Literally thousands of people have done this conversion. Knock yourself out.
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Old 08-16-19, 09:54 AM
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Originally Posted by ksryder View Post
Ignore the naysayers. Literally thousands of people have done this conversion. Knock yourself out.
Yes they have and, with the exception of those who have a sentimental attachment to the old bike or those who have a substantial collection of useable parts already on hand and do their own work, most of them spent more than starting with a newer bike would have cost.

I gather the OP is looking to buy and older 27" bike and retrofit it, not upgrade a bike he already has. Why not start with something more suitable?
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Old 08-16-19, 09:57 AM
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My all-weather commuting bike was an old Raleigh Super Course. I decided to build new wheels with drum brakes (IGH) in the rear and found them to be a very nice solution, especially in wet weather. The fattest tires I could fit on the bike were 35-622 and they were real tight with fenders. When they wore out, I replaced them with 32-622s. Consider dropping down to 650b rims. You may be able to fit 40-42mm tires then, but this would make the brake reach a bit more difficult. I've found that Tektro R559 calipers do work on the road bike I converted to 650b.

When I was looking for frames that would work, I carried a "story stick" with measurements marked with the rim diameters. This allowed me to figure out where a particular size rim would be so I could assess both brake reach and tire clearance.

Good luck
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Old 08-16-19, 10:15 AM
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Just as an aside, Velomine has got the 2013 Jamis Satellite Sport on closeout for two hundred and fifty bucks. Pretty good deal. Only catch is you gotta ride a 51. Only the one size available.
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Old 08-16-19, 10:55 AM
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Originally Posted by iamacat View Post
Hey all,

My idea is to take an old bike with 27" wheels, replace the wheelset with 700c, swap out the old center-pull calipers for some long-reach dual-pivots like the Tektro R559 and thus gain more clearance for fatter tires and fenders. Does that sounds reasonable or am I missing something?

The reason I ask is that in my area (Seattle) there are a lot of old 70s and 80s bikes for sale. I like these old frames but in order to be a decent commuter bike for Seattle, I need slightly wider tires (at least 30mm, hopefully more for the potholes), fenders (rains all the time) and non-mushy brakes for all the hills. All of the old bikes I've tried have terrible (outright dangerous, IMO) brakes and they generally don't have clearance for much wider tires with fenders.


Thanks!
...I think this should work, but I'd add that you ought to look for either a 70's bike or an 80's touring bike to have the space for fatter tyres and fenders. Personally, I think that spending the cash to convert to a compact crank is wasted. You can get the gearing you need with the original crank if you just experiment with downsizing the chain wheels. This is more easily accomplished with a Shimano or other 130 bcd crank on your purchase, because there are a lot of old chainrings for those in the used parts stream.

I commuted here for 20-30 years, on and off, on just such bicycles. If there's a lot of traffic you need to watch out for, in order to avoid death by driver, you're better off converting to a flat bar with a slightly shorter stem length to get a more upright riding position. This gives you better visibility. You can spend the money you save on the crank swap on new bar, stem, and levers.
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Old 08-16-19, 12:25 PM
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Originally Posted by HillRider View Post
Yes they have and, with the exception of those who have a sentimental attachment to the old bike or those who have a substantial collection of useable parts already on hand and do their own work, most of them spent more than starting with a newer bike would have cost.

I gather the OP is looking to buy and older 27" bike and retrofit it, not upgrade a bike he already has. Why not start with something more suitable?
I mean, if you want to do something that makes sense and is somewhat fiscally responsible, then sure. Seems unorthodox to me
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Old 08-16-19, 02:14 PM
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Maybe a 26" old bike, this one got given to me & accepts 700c wheels, & shorter reach brakes meant for those wheels...no problemo
28mm tyres, but you could of course go way wider

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Old 08-16-19, 02:31 PM
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Originally Posted by HillRider View Post
I gather the OP is looking to buy and older 27" bike and retrofit it, not upgrade a bike he already has. Why not start with something more suitable?
That's correct. And really the main reason is that I don't see a lot of good, cheap steel 700c bikes with good clearance for ~30mm tires and fenders for sale in my area. There are a TON of 27" bikes though.
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Old 08-16-19, 02:38 PM
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.
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Old 08-16-19, 03:12 PM
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OK, What's the matter with centre pull brakes? They came with my GP, but i haven't restored the bike yet to try em out.
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Old 08-16-19, 04:52 PM
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I've done this with 80's lugged steel Schwinn frames, which seem to be plentiful and similar to the other Japanese / Taiwanese frames of the day. My 1982 "Traveler" easily accommodates 700c x 35 mm tires, though I didn't check for fender clearance. My "World Tourist" has 27" x 32 mm tires, and fenders, so I see no reason why it wouldn't also clear the slightly smaller diameter of 700c.

The cost picture depends entirely on how many "keeper" parts are on the used bike. I look for bikes that have a square taper crank with bolt-on chainrings, and horizontal dropouts per my preference for IGH and single speed builds. Some Schwinn frames have a derailler mount, others require the "claw" mount which limits your drivetrain options. There's about a 50% chance the bottom bracket will have been neglected to its detriment.

If the bike has good 27" wheels, I'd at least ride them until the tires wear out. I have a rule never to replace a tire until I've used up the rubber that I paid for.
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Old 08-16-19, 04:54 PM
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Originally Posted by le mans View Post
OK, What's the matter with centre pull brakes? They came with my GP, but i haven't restored the bike yet to try em out.
Maybe nothing is wrong with good ones. I don't know. Just all of the ones I've tried were terrible compared to the dual-pivots on my road bike. From what I've read online the dual pivots are a newer technology and are stronger brakes. It matched with my (limited) experience and so I assumed that i was the case.

Center pulls do have a bit more clearance it seems. Maybe not more than the Tektros that I mentioned.
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