Triples Are The New Doubles, Or Something

I gave up on myself long ago, but I want my bikes to be the best they can be. For this reason, and because winter’s a good time for tinkering, I’ve got various projects planned for various bikes. One of them concerned the A. Homer Hilsen, which today became the victim of my mechanical ineptitude:

Back in November I fitted the bike with drop bars, something I’d been thinking about for quite awhile, and I’m very pleased with the new configuration. The other change I’d been contemplating was converting the double-and-a-bash-guard setup to a proper triple to get some taller gears for the road:

Alas, I didn’t have any spare chainrings of the appropriate size, but recently it occurred to me that this bike had exactly what I needed:

Moreover, there’s no reason for a bike like this to have a 48-tooth chainring:

Not only is the 38-tooth middle plenty for a kid, but a double setup is just simpler, and they have a hard time using all three anyway. (So do most grown-ups, which is why the triple has gone extinct.) So I figured I’d take it for the Homer and replace it with the bash guard.

The derailleur on the Homer was a double, and I wasn’t sure it would handle the triple setup. So I figured I’d try out this specimen:

Over the holidays, Paul from Classic Cycle sent me some goodies for the Vengeance Bike (which will be the subject of another upcoming project), and also included some other vintage miscellany, including this derailleur. I have absolutely no prior experience with Simplex, but my research indicates that this was probably part of the coveted legendary completely forgotten “Ensemble Fun Bike:”

You know it’s fun because the letters are all askew:

So, having made a plan, I got to work. First, I stripped the Homer of chainrings, front derailleur, and chain:

I immediately ruled out setting it up as an incredibly low-geared 1x:

I also ruled out the so-hot-right-now wide-range double:

Nope, this was to be a good old-fashioned triple!

Next, I removed my donor chainring:

There’s always some weird little “gotcha” when you’re doing ostensibly simple bike stuff, and in this case it was that when I was reassembling everything I couldn’t hold the backs of the chainring bolts in place because the granny ring was ever-so-slightly in the way. So I removed the bolts:

Though there were also chainring bolt spacers that fell out in the process:

As it turns out it would have been easier to just pull the crank, but I got it all back together anyway, and it looks pretty good:

My older son has long grown out of this bike, and my younger son hasn’t grown into it yet, but it’ll be ready for him as soon as he does:

I’m also considering changing the bars and giving it a little mini-Riv treatment before that happens, since I think he’d really like it with some comfy swept-back bars.

Or maybe I’m just projecting.

In any case, with the Eye Of The Tiger, Jr. bike out of the way, I turned my attention back to the Homer. First I installed the chainrings, and then the derailleur:

The clamp was snug–at first I worried it was too snug–which is probably because it’s French, and of course the French have a different size for everything. Indeed, the catalog says it’s fits both the French size and the normal, non-perverse size:

I take this to mean not that there are two different versions of the derailleur, but that there’s only one that will sort of just barely fit either size, provided you don’t expect perfection and you approach installation with a Gallic shrug.

As for the materials and engineering, it’s not exactly a high-end component, and while it seems perfectly functional it does have the fit and finish of a Swingline stapler:

Still, it’s quirky, it’s black, it’s got cool-looking speedholes in the outer plate, and if you’ve ever perused the galleries on the Rivendell site you know all the cool people have at least one rare and/or ironic vintage component on their bikes. I’m not sure this qualifies, but I’ll pretend that it does.

I figured adding a big ring would also require a longer chain–and even if it didn’t I was still using the original chain that came on the bike and it was in very rough shape. Fortunately, I’d recently found a brand new chain in my parts garden:

I figured I’d first compare the new chain to the old one and then cut the new chain just a bit longer:

And you can imagine my surprise when the brand new uncut chain turned out to be shorter than the old one:

Fortunately I’ve got plenty of spare links and connectors, so I was able to lengthen it appropriately:

All this is of course due to the fact that Rivendells have very long chainstays, so if you’re undertaking a similar project be prepared with plenty of chain.

Once I’d gotten the chain on I made all the usual adjustments:

Then I headed out for a test ride:

The derailleur shifted flawlessly, and the 48-tooth chainring was exactly what I needed:

While the old setup was technically a double, in practice it was more a 1x in that I’d spend 99% of my time in that 38-tooth ring. It’s true that a 38×11 top gear is high enough for most non-competitive riding, and for gravely-type riding a quasi-1x is great, but it’s nice to be able to shift into a big ring on the road, and to have some higher gears for the descents:

I also replaced the 11-32 cassette with a lightly-used 11-34 I had on hand–not because there was anything wrong with the 11-32, but because I just figured I might as well:

Since the granny really only comes into play on the very steepest climbs, for general riding this bike’s low gear is the middle ring/large cog, so it’s good to have a couple extra teeth in back before having to engage the bailout gear.

All in all I’m very pleased, and while I’ve loved this bike from the beginning I think it’s becoming the bike it really wants to be:

All it needs now is a crabon fork.

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