Diamond in the Rough

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This is the first in a series of posts we will be doing on the various restoration projects we take on through our Upcycling program. We hope that through it you may develop a better understanding of our intent, and thought process behind selling awesome old bikes.

I bought this bike, along with a pink Nishiki, off of a man and his wife. Or rather, a Man who spoke  of his wife constantly and fondly in the present tense, but neither me or my dad ever saw her for the hour or so we were with him.

It is an ancient cabin near Ottawa, plucked from some (I’m sure) equally ancient European settlement. I find it difficult to picture a place more apt than this setting, besides the roof which was black and plastic and covered with solar panels. A thin stream breaks off from a small brook, into a filter, into a hose, into his house. The Gatineau River barely peeks through the dense overgrowth.

The bikes he had to show me were in some of the nicest shape I’ve come across in my time doing restorations. Both had been left inside, and despite several paint chips there wasn’t a speck of rust to be found on either. The tires were dry and un-cracked, the chains cleaner than my own with fresh lubricant and very little wear.

I tried to negotiate on price, but I couldn't keep a poker face about how much I liked the bikes and ended up paying the very reasonable asking price. He rewarded me by bringing out an awesome cache of vintage accessories from the era he bought the bike, including water bottles, patch kits, pumps, lights, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of it was  worth more than the bike, to certain collectors.

The bikes had been originally purchased in the early eighties from Pecco’s in Ottawa, near where I snagged them. This one would have been pretty near to Miele’s top of the line mountain bike at the time, with the only one higher being the fillet brazed 1000 with Tange Prestige tubing. Over a couple of years, they used the bikes to roam the gravel paths and dirt roads around the Gatineau area, before they (he and his wife) packed them up and moved them to Tanzania, where they lived for the better part of a decade working with children. I imagine after that they must have slowed down a bit, because the bikes are still caked with the concrete-hard dust from their time in the sub-Saharan plains and jungles. They have been stored indoors for at least a decade when I get to them. Me and my dad load the bikes into the car, and my real work begins.

 This is the building of the old Miele factory, a few blocks from the very first shop I ever worked at.

This is the building of the old Miele factory, a few blocks from the very first shop I ever worked at.

THE BIKE/BUILD:

Frameset: The frameset is very high quality. Miele frames were made in Mississauga out of high quality Japanese or Italian tubing, and were very popular in the day for the high value they represented to Canadian customers.

The lugs on this bike are cast, with a classic and simple shape to them.  The paint has the most depth I’ve seen on a bike from this vintage, which only revealed itself after a, frankly, silly amount of time polishing/sanding/waxing. I appreciate the cleanliness of the workmanship on the braze-on fittings and joints, and though the unicrown fork is nothing to write home about the quality remains consistent here. The bike is made from a very high quality Double Butted Ishiwata MTB tube set, which is light enough to make for a fun bike and plenty stout enough to handle a fair bit of weight if it were to be loaded for touring.

Group: Oh boy, here we go. This bike comes with, from a historical perspective anyways, what might be my favourite pairing of shifter/derailleur of all time. Suntour Power XC Thumb represent the peak of quality Suntour workmanship and finishing from the last hurrah of a low Japanese Yen. They have a directly vertical extension off of the bar allowing them be mounted in places you'd never expect. They are heavy, indestructible, immeasurably pretty, infinitely rebuildable (I’ve made bushings out of fender parts for these), shiny, and HAVE NOT BEEN MADE FOR DECADES, WITH NO COMPARABLE DIRECT REPLACEMENT. There are the Rivendell Silver Shifters, I suppose, but the mountain is a touch different and really doesn't fare as well with placing the shifters inboard of the brake hoods. They are retro- friction shifters, meaning that there is no defined click for every gear. The friction is only felt in one direction, to equalize the feel of the derailleur spring to the resistance in the bushing. While this is a little archaic if you are used to indexing, it means literally any derailleur/cassette combination will work for you. Stranded in the wilderness with an 11 speed derailleur and a 7 speed freewheel, you could make it work. If you have a 3 speed Shimano nexus hub, while it may be a bit difficult, this can work. Basically, it wouldn’t have mattered to the previous owner if his derailleur had exploded in Gatineau or Tanzania, because the closest pile of scrap bikes would have always had what he needed.

Speaking of exploding derailleurs, lets talk about the Suntour Mountech derailleur for a second. This product is frequently cited as the one that killed Suntour in the high-end parts market. This design is modelled around the much revered Huret Duopar derailleur. There is a very good article that goes into a lot more detail of the politics and marketing of the era on Disraeli Gears. The earlier design had a spring that would frequently fail, causing either decreased performance or failure after several months use. The reason Suntour was willing to take such a risk on this mechanism is because it functions better than anything before or since when paired with a modern chain/cassette combo. It has an extra spring and pivot, which allows the upper pulley wheel 2 points of adjustment to track the cassette closer and in a way no other derailleur ever could. Basically, If you miss a shift with this thing, it’s only your fault. The second generation of this mech, which is what comes on this bike, is basically perfect. It can be taken apart for maintenance, and the assembly is very simple and straightforward. Finish quality is top notch, like all Suntour parts of that era, and I happen to think they look dang nifty, like some sort of retro-styled concept part from the future. The front derailleur, while certainly good quality, is just a front derailleur. While there is a tendancy for Duopars to wear out a bit quicker because of the extra pivot, that's as a result of wear from poor maintenance over anything else. This (rear derailleur) is not an easy piece to replace, but the versatility of the shifters means literally any other derailleur with the same bolt (anything in the last 60-odd years) will work. It has been completely stripped and re-greased to ensure many more years of reliable function, but maybe just take it a bit easy on rough stuff since it's always a bit disappointing to go back to a standard slant paralellogram design.

Wheels: The stock rims, Italian made Ambrosio pieces, and hubs, French made Malliard hubs, and spokes, mild steel reshaped wires, are almost adorable in how they contrast the capability and reliability of the rest of the bike. The gigantic 14-34t 6sp freewheel with chain must weigh as much as the entire new front wheel, maybe a touch more. The original Panaracer mountain tires are in nice shape, but not nice enough to use and they wouldn’t fit the theme I had in mind for the bike. They will be replaced with some slightly-narrower-but-still-chubby Panaracer Pasela tires to leave a bit of room for fenders depending on who wants to make this bike their own. This might be the most common wheel size on the planet, so even if the quality won't be the same, availability of spare tires anywhere on earth is a non-issue.

For the new wheel set I had a distributor assemble them to my specifications, and then finished them myself for quality control. The rims are double wall/eyeleted Sun Rims CR18’s in the polished finish, each built up with 36 spokes for maximum durability. The hubs are rim-brake-specific Shimano Deore LX hubs, meaning that the cones/bearings can be replaced an infinite number of times over the course of use, and nearly every bicycle shop on the planet will have replacement parts for them. By adding a cassette in place of the freewheel, a ton of weight has been saved, and the likelihood of finding a spare should the need arise might even be easier than finding a freewheel. Also, this lets it have a maximum of 11 speeds instead of a maximum of 7 on the rear. The spokes are DT Swiss Champion straight gauge, very well suited to riding with loads, and exact spares are very easily available at 99% of quality bike shops.

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The crank set is an old, cold-forged Shimano touring crank with a 110 BCD and the option to add a third ring for a triple crankset. This is the same size used on 99% of the bikes out there, once again making availability a non-issue for the foreseeable future. Bottom Bracket is a sealed Shimano BB-UN55, so it should at least last a few seasons and be the cheapest/easiest to replace from an availability standpoint. The chain is a Shimano HG-40, pretty well the benchmark for reliability and smooth shifting, and again availability.

Brakes are Shimano Deore II cantilever brakes, with the pads changed to the M740 XT cartridge style. We like Shimano pads because they produce much less dust in our experience. We also like options for spares, and by using the standard v-brake cartridge fitting, every brand should have several options for pads that fit, optimized for different riding conditions.  I also like that the design is asymmetrical from front to rear, for less noise, more clearance, and easier wheel removal. Also, long term availability for spares is decades at the very, very least.

The cockpit is the biggest departure from the previous setup on this bike. I added Nitto Olympiad handlebars paired to a 100mm Nitto Young 3 quill stem. This stem has a nice long shaft for maximum adjustability, and the bars have a classic look with a more modern shape that fits well with the Tektro aero-style brake levers I chose. Fizik Endurance bar tape looks quite authentic to the era, and provides more than enough vibration dampening, especially with the fat n’ supple Panaracer tires. As a light touring bike this should provide enough room and hand positions for most riders, and the versatility of the shifters leaves the bar setup open to whatever the owner desires, from mustache, flat, butterfly etc. without worrying about making them fit.

The rack, which came on the bike, has an extra strut on it, so it is considerably more stable than most modern cheap rack offerings. The tubing also appears to be of a thicker inner gauge than what’s typical, so I’d feel pretty safe loading it up to a point. The bottle cages were replaced with King Cage IRIS pieces made out of stainless steel. This is the type of bike where you can accessorize it to last a lifetime, and King Cage products should do just that. Also, they will keep your bottles nice and shiny for a bit longer.

Cables are all Shimano SLR/SLS with the appropriate Shimano PFTE cable grease used (not very sparingly).

The Finished Product:

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So why “Diamond in the Rough?”

The story of where I got the bike from is a big part of it, for sure. The gentleman who sold it to me, also fits that description. But no, the name is inspired by the diamond's most notable properties: 1) the sheen, and 2) incredible hardness. You don’t buy a diamond to sell it, you buy it to keep. It is your diamond, just like this is your bike. A coat of ceramic sealer and some wax gives the paint a depth that must be seen to be believed. The rough is anything you want it to be, the forest down the street from your house, the trans-Canada trail, deserts, mountains, islands, jungles and rain forests, beaches and boardwalks, cities and towns, and literally EVERYWHERE in between. It’ll even be pretty good on XC singletrack. If it’s the most beautiful sunrise you’ll ever see over a national park, or if it’s a dark and crowded city street at night, the bike shines like a diamond and stays just as tough. And at the end of it all, if you want to ride this bike for your entire life, you can. If you take the time to maintain it, and even if you don’t, it won’t ever fail you without warning. Chain is loud, get a new one. Brakes are worn, replace the pads. Gummy cables, install new ones in minutes (and you don’t have to do the shifting). Everything will still be available. In another 35 years, a kid just like me will be able to find it, rebuild it, and have it working just as well as it always did. If the derailleur is messed, I’m sure the Shimano XTR 10,000 mechanical derailleur (as if…) will still be compatible with your shifter. It can be the bike your teenage son eventually gets stolen while drunk at a party with his friends, and even then the bum who stole it could ride it for his whole life too. It can be the bike you ride to the bar with every night when you’re well and retired, and when you look down, it’ll be the same shifters, same stem, handlebars and stem and and and… It will be the same bike, your bike, the whole way through, ready to glow again with just a simple coat of wax and some elbow grease.