Birds Of A Feather

Firstly, Bicycling wrote about my helmet video!

[Loving the irony of the Buick ad.]

The only thing worse than being talked about is being talked about at Bicycling, but only because they spell your name wrong:

It’s a fitting adjective, but it ain’t my name.

Secondly, consider the swan:

Elegant yet aggressive, it calls to mind another bird I know:

They could have named the company Swan instead of Kestrel. Though I guess you don’t make the cover of Bicycling with a bike named the Swan 4000:

I have, as I’ve said repeatedly, grown extremely fond of this bicycle. Not only has it become my favorite road bike to ride, but I also love immersing myself in the Campagnolo C-Record components, which are both beautiful and almost comically overbuilt–an irresistible combination for the compulsively inept home mechanic. Furthermore, while overall the bike is mechanically sound, at 36 years old it’s got its fair share of quirks, so I’ve been sort of working my way through it to make it the best bike it can possibly be…or at least the best bike I’m capable of making it, which is admittedly a pretty low bar.

All of this is to say I did a lot of fucking around with this bike over the past few days.

The first thing I did was finish rehabilitating the original derailleur, and the final piece of the puzzle was this thing, which I bought on eBay for about what a decent new derailleur costs:

It was worth every penny too, because it fits way better than the piece I transplanted from the donor derailleur, which resulted in cursing and binding. So if you’ve got an ailing first-generation C-Record rear derailleur in need of this part I can’t recommend it highly enough. I also replaced one of the chewed-up pulleys a reader was anal kind enough to point out, and finished it all up with a “new” (actually 20 years old but it seems to be in good shape) 10-speed Campagnolo chain I found deep in my chain drawer:

Now the bike shifted better than it has during any point in my tenure with it–including when it sported a far less sexy but objectively superior Shimano Ultegra derailleur. I’m guessing most of the improvement is a result of the modern chain, though that little piece of metal from eBay is also an important factor. By the way, it’s the little thing sandwiched between the derailleur and the hanger, and I’m posting a picture of it in situ because back when I was trying to figure out what was wrong with the derailleur in the first place and combing the Internet for information a shot like this would have really helped me out:

[SEO Terms: Campy, Campagnolo, C-Record, I’m a huge Retro-Fred, help my vintage Italian derailleur is fucked, etc.]

With the bike in such good working order I might have stopped there. But success had merely whetted my appetite, and the next day I delved deep into my package of goodies from Classic Cycle, which–besides those sweet grips–contained a 39-tooth chainring:

And a freewheel with a luxurious 24-tooth large cog:

Alas, this stuff arrived a mere five months too late for my surprise trip to Switzerland, which I did in a 42×21:

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve submitted the story of this trip to a well-known magazine, and you’ll read it just as soon as they decide to publish it…assuming they ever do, that is.

Not only did the new freewheel have extra teeth, but there was some actual shaping on those teeth, which promised to improve shifting even more:

After levering myself up all those giant mountains I wondered if that freewheel would ever come off again, but it did, and pretty easily, too:

Either my arms are stronger than I think they are, or my legs are weaker than I think they are.

The advent of freehubs and cassettes obviously made life easier…at least for awhile. But now that there are so many different cassette configurations I’m not sure that’s true anymore. Consider SRAM XD, the very latest in cassette technology (even though ironically the cassette threads on like a freewheel):

I guess the whole point is you can now have a 10-tooth cog, which…so what?

But hey, at least the cassettes are a bargain:

So yeah, a freewheel that you just screw on and off (and that can be had pretty cheap) seems refreshingly simple now. Plus, with friction shifting, you don’t even have to bother counting the cogs–though these are both 6-speed:

In my racing days I remember losing sleep because I hadn’t upgraded to 9-speed yet. Now I wonder why you need any more than 6-speed, go figure. Plus, 7-speed and under stays much cleaner. All those extra cogs are really good for is catching grease and grime.

Anyway, once I’d swapped the freewheel and inner chainring I headed out for a ride:

As I suspected, the shifting was even better:

And while the tight gearing had been part of the bike’s vintage charm, obviously it felt good to climb at more than three RPMs:

A less-dedicated (or perhaps more gainfully employed) person would have moved on from this bike to something more important. I did not. See the shifters?

They’re actually mismatched, which it took me months to notice. The right is a “retrofriction,” and it works great. But the left is a regular friction shifter, and it needs to be tightened regularly or it slips. I do that while riding without even thinking about it, but I still wanted to fix it. So after repeated disassembly and much perusing of vintage Campagnolo catalogs (Campy made roughly three zillion iterations of their shifters during the C-Record dawn-of-indexing era), I concluded there might be an extra washer in there that didn’t belong. So I removed it, and so far the results are promising, because while I have yet to put in any saddle time since then I can finally wiggle the lever back and forth repeatedly without watching the bolt visibly loosen, which is good.

Then there was the headset.

Ever since it loosened up on my aforementioned trip it seems to have developed a case of indexing. Some people don’t care about indexed headsets, but it drives me crazy, and as far as I’m concerned it’s essential to be able to ride a road bike no-handed (eating, texting, shedding layers…), which you can’t do when the headset is indexed. I’d regreased it and readjusted it several times, but the indexing always came back. So Paul included a potential donor headset in his package, and I figured I’d open everything up and replace any pitted races:

However, after removing the headset from the Kestrel, I noticed several things Firstly, examining them both side by side, I realized the two headsets were in fact slightly different and not cross-compatible. Secondly, the donor headset had a brittle plastic seal on the crown race, which I noticed was broken–possibly by me during all this futzing–and without it the lower bearings would be completely exposed, which was no good:

Thirdly, and most importantly, after thoroughly cleaning and examining the supposedly “indexed” headset from the Kestrel I found every single bearing surface to be perfectly smooth:

Not trusting my eyes, I traced every surface with a teeny tiny Allen key, and encountered not even the tiniest bump or snag. Even the crown race was perfect:

So I reinstalled it and now it’s smooth as can be. But, unnervingly, I was able to put the cups back in the headtube by hand–like, without using a press. They’re nice and snug, but still… Hopefully that’s not the underlying cause of the headset issues, and it simply needed a deep cleaning. This looseness is not an uncommon thing, at least in my experience; for example, the Faggin also has a similarly loosey-goosey headtube and it’s never been a problem. I guess I’ll find out…hopefully in a “Dammit, the headset’s being weird again way” and not a vintage crabon assplosion” way. But hey, they don’t call me the Old Crap Test Pilot for nothing:

Finally, by this point the Vengeance Bike was covered in greasy smudges, so I gave it a going-over with some Dumonde degreaser:

Hopefully the shifter and headset overhauls take and it keeps riding as good as it looks:

It’s becoming my White Whale.

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