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Monday, September 26, 2016

Built For The Long Haul: 1986 Panasonic Touring Deluxe

For nearly 5 months now, I've been working on building up a 1986 Panasonic Touring Deluxe frame. I could've pretty easily done it in half that time, if not less. But I had no budget for this project, so much of the delay in getting the bike built was due to continuously searching for steep discounts on components and parts. This project was also a bit of an oddity. It's a vintage bike and I wanted to stay true to its origins. But it's also a machine I wanted to reliably put thousands of miles on. For this reason, I struck a balance between new and old - seeking out used, vintage-era components when I felt that newer parts weren't needed, and bolting on brand new parts when I needed the advantage of a modern component.

So this was not a restoration project. Think of it more as a resto-mod. Whatever it is, this is my personal tourer and I can't wait to start cranking out some mileage on it.

The Frame: In a previous post, I discussed details of the frame, so I won't rehash those. Before I started buying parts for this build, though, I wanted the frame to be in top condition. I picked up some automotive touch-up paint from my local auto supply store and hit the more worrisome spots on the chainstays and fork with a couple coats. Once it had been touched up, I hosed down the inner surfaces of the tubing with Frame Saver. Then I used a polishing wax to clean it up and make the paint shine, followed by a coat of hard shell wax to protect the paint and minimize further oxidation in the areas where the paint was chipped or scratched.

The Drivetrain: The front and rear derailleurs are period-correct Shimano Light Action derailleurs (FD-Z204 and RD-L523, respectively). They're controlled by a set of clamp-mount Shimano L412 Light Action downtube shifters. A Shimano TZ20 6-speed freewheel, Hyperglide chain, and UN26 bottom bracket round out the Shimano-heavy drivetrain. The whole thing is pushed by a Takagi crankset. I don't know much about this crankset, as it came with the frame when I bought it. What I do know is that it's not original to the bike. However, it's in very good condition and a perfectly serviceable crank. I may someday replace it with something closer to original, but as for now it will do nicely.

The Brakes: As I discussed in a previous post, I had some issues finding suitable brakes for this build. Stopping power is provided by a beautiful set of Shimano 600 EX BL-6208 brake levers that I picked up on eBay and Shimano Altus CT91 cantilever brakes. While the CT91s don't quite have the vintage look of brakes like the Tektro CR720s or the Paul Neo-Retros, they're decent brakes that can be purchased for shockingly low prices, so I'm sufficiently satisfied with the end result.

The Wheels: This was one of my favorite parts of this project: building wheels. These particular wheels are a creation of my own design. I picked up a pair of vintage Shimano 105 HB-1050 front and rear 36-hole hubs that match the OLD on the old Panasonic frame for a great price from my LBS. I laced them to a set of brand-new Velocity Dyad 700c touring rims using DT Swiss Champion 2.0mm straight-gauge spokes. After all, it's a heavy duty bike that deserves heavy duty wheels. These fully custom, hand-built wheels are the ultimate in old-meets-new for the purpose of maintaining a vintage look - as well as compatibility - while maintaining maximum performance. Not so different from the rest of the machine!

The Accessories: In typical touring style, the saddle is a honey color Brooks B17 saddle, with matching honey color Brooks Microfiber bar tape. The tires are Schwalbe Marathons in a 700x32c size, and I'm currently using Shimano A530 pedals. I topped the whole thing off with a Racktime Add-It rear rack and a set of Jenson stainless bottle cages that give the bike a nice vintage - and slightly wonky - flair.

Monday, August 15, 2016

When You're Ready To Make a Vintage Touring Bike Your Own...

If you've ever considered getting your hands on an old touring bicycle or frame, this is a great starting point: a 2013 post on about restoring a vintage Panasonic Pro Touring model.

I should point out that while the finished bike looks fantastic, I'm not a huge fan of some of the methods employed in this project. Most notably, I'm not big on powdercoating vintage frames. Powdercoating ends up looking thick and gummy and tends to soften the sharp details - lug intricacies, embossing, etc. - that make old steel frames such beautiful works of art-meets-engineering. For older frames, repainting beats powdercoating any day. But the 'before' pictures show what appears to be a perfectly serviceable frame, so I probably would've opted to touch up the paint, polish the shit out of it, and then protect it with a hard shell wax.

I'm also not so sure about using low-load front and rear racks on a frame that's designed for medium-to-heavy touring. The Pro Touring is known to be an extremely sturdy frame, so it seems like a waste to not set it up for full touring loads. And what's up with converting it to bar-end shifting? Why does everyone suddenly hate on the tried-and-true downtube shifters?

On the other hand, there's a lot to like about this project. It's a beautiful machine. And they appear to have reused the original Shimano groupset that came on the bike, which is a plus. While not particularly functional, I have to say, I love the Iris bottle cages with classic steel canteens. That was certainly a nice classy touch.

But the bike restoration isn't really the reason that I've called out this post. The reason I've gone back to the site so many times over the past few months isn't because of the Panasonic Pro Touring restoration itself, but because of the unexpectedly comprehensive list of vintage steel-frame touring bikes at the bottom of the post. It almost seems like an afterthought - just a list of old bikes right before the comments section - but it was an extremely useful guide as a I was looking for what would eventually become my Panasonic Touring Deluxe project. In fact, I haven't found any other resource that was as helpful in identifying makes and models of vintage tourers than the list at the bottom of the Bikepacking post. So when you're ready to pick up an old touring rig, be sure to bookmark the above post and use it as your guide as you search for your next iron steed (I've also copied the list below for convenience).

  • Bridgestone RB-T; T-500; T-700
  • Centurion Pro Tour; Elite GT
  • Centurion Elite GT
  • Fuji Touring Series
  • Kuwahara Caravan
  • Lotus Odyssey
  • Miyata 610; 1000
  • Nishiki Continental; Cresta GT; International; Riviera GT; Seral
  • Panasonic PT-3500; PT-5000; Pro Touring; Touring Deluxe
  • Raleigh Portage; Alyeska; Kodiak; Super Tourer; Touring 18
  • Schwinn Paramount P15-9 Tourer; Passage; Voyageur
  • Specialized Expedition; Sequoia
  • Takara Overland
  • Trek 520; 620; 720
  • Univega Gran Tourismo; Specialissima

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Modern Cantilever Brakes on a Vintage Touring Frame: A Cautionary Tale

In general, older brakes don't have quite the same stopping power and responsiveness of newer versions. The return springs tend become less sharp in pulling calipers or cantilevers back to their resting positions and the parts just don't seem to engage with one another quite like a brand new set of brakes. Plus, my Panasonic Touring Deluxe uses cantilever touring brakes, and finding original-era parts can be difficult and expensive (used versions of the Shimano AT-50 cantilevers that originally came on the bike can easily fetch $50-100 for a full set on eBay - comparable to many brand new cantilever brake sets).

Luckily, the resurgence of touring bicycles and the creation of multi-use styles such as cyclocross, hybrid, and gravel bikes have brought cantilevers and V-brakes back onto the market in a big way. So after reading numerous reviews, taking careful consideration of my limited budget, and accounting for the look and aesthetics that I'm targeting with the finished machine, I decided to go with Tektro CR720 cantilever brakes on the Panasonic touring bike. The CR720s have a fantastic, vintage-touring look and feel, are fairly well regarded by other touring cyclists, and are somewhat inexpensive. I found a great price for the brakes online and bought them.

Soon after receiving my Tektro CR720s, though, I discovered a problem. When I slid the brake arm and return spring over the post, I immediately noticed that the arm was extended so far outward that it was slumping downward. And the brake pad hit the braking surface of the rim at an angle, so no matter how much I fiddled with it in the slot of the brake arm, it was always contacting the rim along the edge of the pad where it would do almost nothing to slow or stop the bike. There just wasn't enough room for the brake to contact the rim appropriately. The rim and cantilever post were too close to each other.

I read through bicycling forums and quickly found that others had run into the same problem. Cantilever post spacing on older bikes is much more narrow than on modern frames and often won't accept newer canti brakes. So I was left with two choices: bite the bullet and pick up a set of vintage cantilever brakes at a premium price or keep buying different models of cantilever brakes until I found a set that worked through trial-and-error.

That's when I remembered that I had stashed away an extra pair of old Shimano Altus CT91 brakes that I had mounted onto my GT Outpost mountain bike. I dug out one of the brake arms and slid it over one of the Panasonic's front cantilever posts. After a bit of tinkering with the position and angle of the brake shoe, Voila! It fit perfectly! Even better, the CT91s are still widely available and can be purchased new very inexpensively (it's not uncommon to find them on sale for under $10 a pair). Admittedly, they don't have the same vintage look of the Tektros - in fact, I'd go so far as to call them ugly as hell. On the other hand, they've got fairly long brake arms that are pulled tangentially to the arm's direction of travel, giving them a decent braking force compared to the more widely-set touring and cyclocross brake arms of other models. And speaking from years of experience using them on my GT Outpost, they're pretty much indestructible.

They may not be pretty, but the Shimano CT91 brakes should work out well. In fact, they may be the only modern cantilever brakes that will work on my vintage touring frame.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Nostalgia is a Child Carrier on an Old Raleigh

Growing up, my parents rode matching coffee-colored Raleigh Sports roadsters that they purchased when they were in college (they still have them). And when my sister and I were very young, we cruised around in a rear-mounted child carrier on the back of one of those Sports. I have no memory of riding in that carrier, but I recall seeing my sister ride in it as I got older. It was a pale yellow plastic contraption, with foam pads in the seat and woven nylon seat belts. My folks were avid recreational bicyclists and bike commuters, and I imagine I spent a great deal of time on the back of the Raleigh enjoying leisurely rides around the neighborhood.

Ginger and I decided that, at 10 months old, our youngest has grown big enough to ride in a child carrier, so we went for a family bike ride last weekend. Ginger opted to haul the baby in the rack-mounted child carrier, as the tag-along trailer cycle hitch was already bolted onto my bike. Her Motobecane couldn't be used for carrying the baby, due the steel rack and prune box already on the back of the bike. That only left the '72 Raleigh Sports.

A photo posted by Ginger Stringer (@gingerstringer) on

I attached the rack and child carrier to the back of the Raleigh, and was struck by fond memories of seeing that old yellow child carrier on the back of my parents' bikes. After all, my love of bikes can be directly traced back to early exposure to the joys of bicycling. And riding in that child carrier back in the early 80's would've been my very first exposure to bikes. I don't know if my kids will follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents and find a passion for bicycles, but if they do, I hope they think back to weekend bike rides and a funky plastic baby carrier mounted to the back of a vintage Raleigh as the source of that passion.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Beers to Go!

I kind of hate Lovely Bicycle! for alerting me to this, as it's not available in the US, but HonestBrew's Howlers are just sick. Three craft beers in a cylindrical tube that's small enough to fit in your rig's bottle cage. How great is that?

Unfortunately, Howlers are only available in the UK. So no dice here in the heartland of the US. Maybe we'll see something like this launch closer to home. Guess I'll just have to live vicariously through Velouria over at Lovely Bicycle!