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Modern Component Groups on Vintage Frames

Upgrading a Vintage Bicycle to Modern Components ? Jon Fischer


Let me first say that by large, most vintage bicycles look best dressed in vintage components.? Be it a Schwinn Tempo, a Motobecane Record or Colnago Mexico, my first vote is usually to keep the bike true to its era.? Replacement of worn or broken parts with period correct replacements is usually the cheapest route and if the parts are of good quality and condition will give you a ride nearly equal to upgrading to a full modern group.? However, if you have your mind made up, and you want to put 10 speed Campagnolo Record or Shimano Ultegra on a vintage steel frame then there are things you need to know before diving in.? The purpose of this article is to discuss each of those points.? These points are:


  1. Drop-out width
  2. Derailleur hanger
  3. Wheel size / Brake reach
  4. Down-tube cable stops


The first hurtle standing in your way to putting a modern group on a vintage bicycle is centered on the rear wheel.? If you can not get a wheel with eight to ten cogs on it to fit between the dropouts then not much use worrying about anything else.? Modern bicycle wheels use a rear drop out width of 130mm, a standard that did not arrive till the early 90?s when 8 speed groups where introduced.? The redeeming feature of steel frames is that the steel is flexible; meaning frames that were built for six and seven speed wheels can often squeeze a 130mm wheel in with minimal effort.? I have routinely installed a 10sp Ultegra or Campagnolo hub into the dropouts of my Gazelle and Serotta, both frames have a rear spacing of 126mm.? The steel flexes outward the 2mm per side with little more than a gentle tug when installing the wheel.? If your desired frame has a rear spacing of less than 126mm, or if you want to forego the extra work needed to get the 2mm of stretch then you can Cold Set the rear dropouts.? Cold Setting a frame is beyond the realm of this article, however a Google Search should supply all the information needed on this topic.


The second hurtle once again finds your attention at the rear dropouts, only this time at the derailleur hanger, or more importantly the possible lack of one.? Modern indexed shifting groups require very carefully aligned derailleur hangers.? If the frame you want to upgrade has stamped steel dropouts with no derailleur hanger then the chance a modern group will work with any satisfaction is very low.? Frames without built in derailleur hangers require you to use an adapter claw, which rarely works as well as the integrated hanger.? Additionally, frames that were built with inexpensive stamped dropouts may not have been built with well-aligned dropouts to start.? Not the best starting situation when working with lots of gears.? The best situation is a quality, forged dropout with an integrated derailleur hanger that has not seen abuse or other damage.? A quick trip to your local bike shop can have the alignment of the hanger checked and adjusted if the years of use had knocked it out of true.? A short trip to the shop to have this checked can prevent hours of frustration later trying to figure out why you can?t get a smooth silent drive train.?


If you can fit the wheel in place in the rear drop-outs, you still need to be mindful of a possible difference in wheel size diameter.? Huge numbers of bicycles sold in the United States during the 70?s and 80?s were designed for 27? wheels while all new road bikes use the slightly smaller 700c standard.? The difference in rim radius between these two standards is 4mm.? Such a small difference is difficult to notice when looking at a bike from afar, but can mean trouble when upgrading to modern components and wheels.? If your frame is built for 27? wheels, you need to check if the brake pads can be moved down 4mm if you are planning to reuse the brakes on the bike.? If you are buying new brakes, measuring the reach from the brake bolt to the center of the braking surface will tell you what to look for in the new set of brakes.? While a large percentage of modern brakes are designed with a fairly short reach, Tektro and other brands do produce brakes with a longer reach which should allow you to slip a 700c wheel into the frame and still brake safely.


Vintage bicycles came with shifters in one of three places, either the stem, the ends of the drop bars, or most often on the down tube.? Additionally, many frames built in the early 80?s or older utilized a clamp style attachment on the down tube for the shifters or cable stop.? Best case scenario is that the frame you have has a brazed on boss on either side of the down tube where a set of down tube shifters would go, and these bosses are of the most common design.? The design you want to look for is a circular shaped boss with sections cut out on both the top and bottom so that the end looks rectangular with domed ends.? If your frame has this type of boss, then both Campagnolo and Shimano sell downtube cable stops that will screw onto these bosses to handle the derailleur cable housing running from the integrated shift/brake levers down to the frame.? If you are not as fortunate to have this style of boss you still have several options.? If your frame has another style of braze on boss, you can try to use the downtube cable stops produced by Campy or Shimano and possibly have to use a different side bolt or other minor modification to attach them to the frame.? If your frame does not have down tube bosses, but rather used a clamp on band for its shifters or cable stop you can do one of the following.? First choice is to try to find a clamp on band which has the same style ends sticking out the sides as the braze on bosses in the first scenario.? Shimano produced bands like this during the mid-80?s for many of it?s shifters that could be used either on the band or on bosses without having to produce two different models.? Supplies of these clamps are somewhat difficult to find, and most often you have to end up buying a pair of shifters that may or may not have the band design you want.? The second solution is to use an older style down tube cable stop that were used for stem or bar-end style shifters.? The problem with these cable stops is they do not have cable adjusters built into them.? Making it impossible to adjust the derailleur cables on the go, and gives you no fine control over the front derailleur cable at all.? While the rear derailleur cable can be adjusted at the derailleur, you will most certainly want some fine-tuning on the front derailleur.? The solution here is an inline cable adjuster that goes between two pieces of derailleur housing as the cable travels from the sifter down to the cable stop.? Many online bicycle retails carry these parts, and your local bike shop should as well.


A final point, which will not prevent you from using a modern group on a vintage frame, but is certainly worth noting is the aero cable routing on the brake and possibly the derailleur cable in the case of Campagnolo equipment.? The original handlebars on the bicycle most likely did not have cable grooves built into it to lay the housing in to.? You can either replace the bars with a newer set with either one or two sets of grooves for these housings.? Or you can do without the grooves and lay the cable housings down along the handlebar and wrap the bar tape over them, resulting in a slightly ovalized shape.? Some people may like this resulting shape as it may fit the hand better when riding with the hands on the top of the bars.? Your satisfaction with this may vary.? I personally like my cable grooves and a rounder shaped bar when all is said and done.


Good luck on the upgrades to your vintage frame.

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