Austrian Anyone?

IronK spends quite a bit of time complaining about the number of bikes that I own. As a result, it just makes me want to change things so that every bike has a specific and useful purpose. This has resulted in my selling of my Surley Cross Check (which never fit right) and refurbishing the first road bike I ever purchased.

Okay, I was 13 years old when I bought in back in '82. I had previously had a 10-speed Schwinn that was stolen while I was buying D&D modules at the local hobby shop. My divorce-in-progress parents were not into getting me a new bike so I had made due with a Huffy Sante Fe that I got at a police auction. Finally, a year of saving and scrimping had netted me the $234.86 that I needed to buy my very first true "road bike", a Puch Alpina.

I road it for so many miles as a 13-15 year old. Every weekend was a new exploration of Cincinnati, Ohio and the many, many hills. Begin 13 isn't easy, and I now realize that this bike must have been an atrocious fit! But I paid for it, so it was wonderful.

In all the years since then, I have never gotten rid of the Alpina. My father finally bought me a Trek 2100 (which I also still own) when I was 25, but I kept this bike somehow. It had been behind the furnace for 10 years.

When I bought the Golden Goat, it came set up as a single speed and I promptly took all the parts off and put them in a box. I was lamenting the fact that, without the Surley, I had no winter bike! Then I was looking at Sheldon Brown's various faq's and thought about a single speed/fixey. He mentioned that the best type of bike to convert for the purpose was a 70s style road bike. Down the stairs and there it was: a nice steel frame with horizontal drop-outs and enough clearance for decent winter tires.

Quick trips to the LBS and the bike came to life. Sure the bottom bracket was a trashed mess. The headset was a mess too, but did clean up at least. I regret that I didn't take pictures of the process. The dearailleurs and brake calipers went to the trash, but I kept the mounting hardware and the cranks for posterity. So was born Rasputin (Marcy, the LBS manager, gets credit for the name).

The only issue is the headset. Though the original still works, the fork is a french-threaded one. I have now done more research than I thought possible on the history of bicycle headsets (I'm sure this will help me in some future trivia game). Back in "the day", there really were not the standards that exist now. Today, all threaded headsets (and even those are going away) are the ISO or British standard of 24 threads-per-inch (TPI). In the 60s and 70s, many European makers (including Puch) followed the now-extinct French standard of 25.4 TPI. There are other differences as well including the race size (French ones are a bit thinner in the head tube), but those can be subtly altered by a good bike shop. Hard to change the threads on the fork (though my metal-working artist friend BigG thinks that's do-able too).

I'd be okay with my French-style headset, but this was also before the days of sealed bearings. If I turn the bike upside down, I can see the lower race bearings rolling around in there. Okay now, but with winter grim and dirt, destruction is a foregone conclusion. So I am left with only a few options:
  1. Buy a new fork. Yuch! The original matches the very nice paint and has nice scalloping and lugging.
  2. Find a sealed bearing french-threaded headset. Promising, but even Ebay is having trouble. Seems that I am in line behind proud owners of classic Peugeots.
  3. Use the lower races only of an ISO headset - the upper races aren't so susceptible to weather. Advocated by Sheldon Brown, I like this approach, but at least two mechanics have been nay-sayers. I will have to consult Marcy.
  4. Get BigG or one of his friends to change the thread-size of the fork. Hmmm, might keep this one in the back pocket.
Since it is only fall, I am still riding the bike with the old headset. 27 years later, it fits very well. I remember the days when a bad dismount meant certain pelvic doom. Now I am amazed that I don't even have toe-overlap on the thing. Replaced the original drop bars with TT bars for stability over the winter. A bunch of frame saver and a bit of touch up nail polish (thanks Sally Hansen for all those color options) was all the frame needed.

Now if I can just find a reasonable headset...
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