Saturday, February 28, 2015

Dyna-Drive - Letter to an Old Gearhead


Recently, I got into a long, rich e-mail exchange with a guy named Kevin, who is my friend John’s older brother.  I know almost nothing about Kevin because back when we all lived in Boulder, we were teenagers, and no teenager ever has anything to do with his kid brother’s friends.  But Kevin is restoring a 1983 Team Miyata, which instantly provided enough rapport for us to practically become pen pals.

That’s where you, vicious reader, come in.  (You didn’t think I was going to call you “gentle reader,” did you?)  Because I don’t know Kevin, he could be any 40-something collector of excellent old bikes and their paraphernalia.  If that’s you, read on.  If that’s not you, what’s wrong with you?  Racing bicycles of the early eighties are far cooler than fantasy football, online gaming, etc., and the sooner you realize it the better.  (If you love old bikes but are a young dude who can’t stand the thought of anybody being in his forties, click here instead.)

Dyna-Drive – Letter to an Old Gearhead

It’s been awhile ... maybe you thought I forgot about your Team Miyata restoration and the parts I offered you.  Not so.  And even if I did forget, my wife would’ve reminded me.  I told her about the project, explaining it in a way that would interest her (“I’m giving away some bike stuff”) and she asked, “Does this guy need any whole bicycles?”

So, I finally went out to The Box to find out if I really do have the parts I promised you.  Sorry it took me so long, but hauling out The Box is no small matter.  It’s buried under a bunch of other stuff in the garage, and the garage itself (a small one, built to accommodate a Model-T Ford) is like a jack-in-the-box, where when you pull out one thing, the top pops off and suddenly there’s crap everywhere and it looks like the home of a hoarder, so you can barely thread your way through it and then there’s a TV crew out there in the driveway wanting to film an installment of “Filthy Hoarders Bay Area:  Bike-Induced Squalor.” 

I also have to be braced emotionally for such archeological projects.  I start to get sentimental because whenever I blow up the garage, I come across relics of my daughters’ recent past that remind me how fast they’re growing.  I’m chucking aside new winter boots, winter boots that won’t fit anymore, little coats they barely got to wear, and then the rag bag, which is actually a box, which is always overflowing and is 90% kids’ garments.   I guess there’s some guilt there because we could have given these garments to the Goodwill, except they’re all stained because my kids are, apparently, slobs.  So I’m like, “Dang, Lindsay was wearing this dress only a month ago.”  The way the years have flown by, it’s like the kids just got here, but they’ve already got one foot (each) out the door.

Below the rag “bag” is the New Bike Stuff Box, which is a Huggies diaper box, so I feel guilty about that.  Should’ve used cloth.  In the New Bike Stuff Box are gobs of new cogs, new chains, new cleats, new Conti 4K tires, and little-used 4Ks I took off my bike so I could put on new tires for Everest Challenge but then afterward was too tired to put the old tires back on, and all of this is enough to make me drool over how well equipped I am for all the miles I have yet to ride, but of course there’s some guilt there, too, because I have so much, and there are people in this world riding Forté (i.e., house-brand) tires, or fricking Ultegra, or low-end Campy, or worse, some of them are on cobbled-together mixed-part mixed-vintage bikes like all those poor Europeans had who dropped my ass on Alpe d’Huez despite my big fancy American equipment and attitude.

So then I get to the second diaper box, which is The Box itself.  The Box is fricking heavy, with the accumulation of decades of bike stuff, and I dreaded hauling it out because my back is currently in the thrown-out state.  I don’t know how it got here.  I sat down too quickly, or got up too quickly, or sat too long, or blasphemed too many times, I have no idea.  A buddy of mine threw his back out putting on a sock.  It sucks being old, but I guess the alternative (i.e., being dead) is no better.  I wish you could have heard the wounded-animal noise I made hefting The Box onto a rubbish bin so I could rifle through it.  (Did I say “rubbish bin” instead of “trash can” just to sound British?  Of course.)

The stuff in that Box ... it’s just amazing.  It’s like the parts are copulating in there.  I always come across stuff I cannot account for, like (in this case) an extra Dura-Ace Dyna-Drive crankset.  I know I promised you some chainrings off this crankset, but since then I verified with my brother Bryan that I had actually put my extra Dyna-Drive crankset on his old Team Miyata a couple decades ago.  (My original Dyna-Drive crankset is on Full Slab.)  So I thought Bryan was going to have to send you the chainrings you need, which means you’d almost certainly never get them, because he has more kids than I do and doesn’t even have time to read his e-mail—and hasn’t, in fact, even read any of our glorious Miyata restoration e-mails, hasn’t even stumbled across the link you included to the treasure trove of old Miyata catalogs online where he could drool over the very catalog that once hawked his very bike.

But lo and behold, I do have a Dyna-Drive crank from which to cannibalize chainrings.  Sweet!  And that’s not even the weirdest thing I found in The Box.  I also found a cadence transmitter for a Polar bike computer.  How is this in here?!  I’ve never owned a Polar device in my life, and I’ve never been a big fan of measuring cadence.  I do have a cadence mech now—I couldn’t outrun such nerdy technology forever—and it’s kind of depressing sometimes when I’m slogging up Lomas Cantadas in my lowest gear, which is shamefully low due to the unholy combination of a compact crank and a 27-tooth rear cog, and my cadence is in the 40s.  At that point can I even call myself an athlete?

I’ve got a slew of corn cobs in The Box, even a Regina which is weird because I’ve never owned a chain that’s even compatible with Regina.  Just all kinds of stuff and it takes a mighty, mighty long time to go through it all looking for specific stuff, especially since I keep getting sucked in, inspecting this or that part closely, not just because it’s cool-looking (which of course it all is), but because time after time the picture gets all wavy, like how old TV shows used to indicate that a dream sequence or flashback was beginning, and suddenly this isn’t just a 53-tooth Mavic chainring, this is the chainring off Pete’s old Rossin, the chainring we all called “the working man’s chainring” because it was so manly, so Sean-Kelly-like, because at that time having a 53 was unusual and was the equivalent of an amp that goes up to 11.  If you were willing to fork out big bucks for that extra tooth, it meant you really cared about going fast.  (As juniors, we had gear restrictions, and the 53x15 was actually still legal, whereas a 52x14 was not.)  This led me to ponder whether or not it’s pathetic that as teenagers my brothers and friends and I talked enough about any specific chainring to have to name it.  Well, maybe we were, but at least we were disciplined, sportive teenagers who weren’t glued to screens all the time.

Then I found myself looking at a Suntour Sprint rear mech, which was on the Sanwa I bought in 1986 from this Brazilian twerp whose goal in life was apparently to go as long as possible without actually working, no matter how much freeloading this required, and no matter how many belongings he had to sell.  He tried to sell that Sanwa to me for months, and my bartering tactic—“I don’t need another bike, and I don’t even like that bike, get it away, I don’t want it”—was so ruthlessly effective that I finally got the bike for like $140 and gave it to my brother Max, who, years later, was sprinting all-out on it, on the Broadway bike path, when the frame snapped in half and he stacked so hard he got a case of whiplash that bothers him to this day.

So, yeah, I’ve got original Dura-Ace Dyna-Drive chainrings for you, but oddly the inner chainring is a 39, which definitely was not stock on that crankset.  Nobody was using 39s until about 1987 or 1988.  That crank is a 1982.  Oddly, even though it’s newer than the crank, that 39 is really, really worn.  Kind of a wave-shape as well.  Very likely to skip.  Look:

See that chainring next to it?  It’s practically new.  It’s got at least 10,000 miles left in it.  Also, being a 42, it’s more appropriate for your restoration.  But though it’s Dura-Ace, it’s not Dyna-Drive, so in that sense it’s not very authentic.

So what else did I find?  The Dura-Ace AX pedals are in better shape than I remember.  Pretty smooth, actually.  You’ll have to furnish your own toe straps but those  aren’t hard to come by.  But the thing is, you need to get past your fear of these pedals and actually install and use them.  Get yourself some old-school cycling shoes, in plain black leather, some old Vittorias or Dettos or something.  Why?  Because clipless pedals on your old Team Miyata is just not right—it’s almost a crime, really, particularly when the Dyna-Drive pedals are arguably the most distinctive thing about that entire era of Dura-Ace componentry.  

Besides, you have to honor these pedals, given the good long while I spent staring at the right one, recalling the cool old machine shop I took it to after stripping the threads during one of my many overhauls (back in my college days).  These were the little threads on the inside of the pedal, where the spindle would be if these crazy pedals had a spindle.  The machinist installed a HeliCoil for me, which worked like a champ, but he also got a gleam in his eye and offered to modify the pedals to use cartridge bearings, and even a special setup for races that would involve mineral oil instead of grease, for maximum efficiency.  I almost went through with it (but was too broke).  Anyway, I raced for years on those pedals and never had a problem.  That yours exploded was probably just God punishing you for doing a triathlon on a pure road racing machine like your Team.

Alas, though I did find a Dura-Ace bottom bracket, in the original box no less, it ended up being the spindle, one matching cup, and another random cup from a totally different era of BB.  The one Dyna-Drive cup is 36x24, which (needless to say) is the Italian thread and size, totally useless to you, though a BB with only one cup is pretty damn useless anyway.  The spindle is pretty badly pitted, as you can see from this photo (note also the close-up of the worn-out chainring teeth):

But the spindle being pitted doesn’t really matter,  because it cannot be used with non-Dyna-Drive cups anyway.  Recalling that incompatibility has been less than enjoyable.  My 1986 Team Miyata broke (well, the fork broke) during the 1990 Collegiate National Championship road race, and after a brief stint on an Orbit (painted orange with a spray can) I bought the steel Guerciotti, Bomb Pop, that was my favorite steel frame ever.  As Bomb Pop was Italian, I had to figure out a new Dyna-Drive-compatible BB and went through half a dozen different combinations of spindles and cups, getting most of my parts from Peter Rich over at Velo-Sport, who was cool enough to let me return one part after another when it didn’t work out, which was every time.  I was working down the street at Square Wheel and one day I looked through the (non-online, paper-bound) Euro-Asia wholesale catalog and discovered you could still order a new-old-stock Dyna-Drive BB, which I did.  I have no idea what happened to my old English-thread Dyna-Drive BB.  Could still be in the Orbit.  I will never know, because I managed to actually lose that Orbit (or did I sell it to Max?) along with the 1986 Team Miyata which really only needed a new fork, but which is definitely lost forever (possibly in my ex-stepfather’s attic).

But wait, you’re asking, what’s that other BB spindle in the photo?  That’s a ’99 Dura-Ace Octalink spindle, probably left over from the Italian-thread BB I bought for Bomb Pop, which I later installed on Full Slab, and eventually had to cut up with a Dremel tool.  But what’s important here is that the Octalink spindle is no wider than that old Dyna-Drive spindle.  This suggests that, modern Q-factors being what they are, you could probably find a low-profile BB for your Team Miyata that would work a lot better than that goofy sealed sumbitch you got in there now. 

Which is good, because I had a long, fun chat with Bryan and have determined that he never did have a Dyna-Drive BB for his Team Miyata, so he got away with a Campy, though his chain line wasn’t perfect.  You could make him an offer for that Campy BB, but you’d either rip him off or pay dearly because those were sweet.  They had these so-called “labyrinth seals”—not a rubber seal, but just a carving into the aluminum rim of the hole in the cup where the spindle went through.  It always seemed to me that such a design would do nothing to keep water out, but it really did work.  After the Steamboat Springs road race in 1983, which was a miserably rainy affair, I actually took my bike (an ’83 Pro Miyata) into the shower with me, and didn’t even need to overhaul the BB afterward.  Smooth as glass, those Campys.  Damn it, maybe I’ll make Bryan an offer myself.  I’ll conjure up a bike to go with it!

By the way, see that grubby red Cinelli handlebar plug in the photo?  That’s the last part I have left from the Mercian I wrote about recently, my second-favorite steel bike ever.  Those were cool plugs because they were squishy, so at high altitudes (e.g., Mount Evans at over 14,000 feet), they popped out slightly.  I dreamed of going down to sea level and reinstalling them to increase this effect.  It’s kind of sad that the bar plug is all I have left of that Mercian.  I mean, a pair at least would have been nice.

Okay, so the last thing:  you’re probably wondering what those Superbe Pro brake levers are doing in the photo.  They have nothing to do with your Team Miyata!  True, but as we’ve discussed, neither do the more modern Superbe Pro brakes you’ve got on your bike now.  And these levers are the right era, and are beautifully made, and let’s face it, aero levers have no place on your ’84 Team.  They just don’t.  Look at that catalog photo:  the brake cables come straight out of the top of the lever, like they should for that vintage.  Sure, aero levers existed back then, but the Team Miyata was a no-nonsense racing bike and aero levers hadn’t earned their place on it yet.  (Miyata was a pretty cool company:  starting in 1982, they finally acknowledged that no Japanese company could produce a good rim, and switched to Mavic GP4s.  On the other hand, that aero water bottle in the photo is pure nonsense and is painful to look at, especially against the backdrop of such a sweet bike.  It’s like if Natalie Portman had tattoos on her face, or those plug-style earrings.)

Of course, the problem with these Superbe Pro levers is that the hoods are gone.  Isn’t it strange how even rubber is higher-tech than it used to be?  Back in the ‘80s we had to replace our brake hoods somewhat often.  Everybody stocked replacement hoods.  You could even put Modolo hoods on your Campy levers and many did.  Or there were the A‘me  ones that came in every different color.  I even remember Armor-All’ing the Dia-Compe hoods on my Miyata 310, to extend their lifespan.  

And now?  Nobody ever needs new hoods.  Ever.  My 1999-issue Dura-Ace STI levers not only have the original hoods, but they’re in mint condition.  (Just the hoods, though ... the levers are beat to hell, the decorative caps busted off, big Phillips-screw exposed, and I even had to file them down after a crash because the scraped-up plastic—plastic!—was so barbed it could have cut my lily-white fingers, though those barbs would never present a risk to a professional bike mechanic, who it is said bleeds on the inside.)  Anyway, you can still find replacement hoods, as these take the same ones as old Campy levers.  (Click here, for example.)

So, this stuff is yours for the asking:  the Dyna-Drive era chainrings; the 42-tooth chainring; the awesome old Dyna-Drive pedals; the non-aero brake levers.  I’ve even got a couple rolls of brand-new Benotto tape in white (with albeit yellowed plugs) you can use if you like.  But I’m keeping the spindles and the Cinelli bar plug.


I got a great reply to this letter from Kevin, which proves that it is humanly possible to make it through a long, dense spew of text like this.  There is much of his reply that I’d like to include here, but of course I have to draw the line somewhere.  I particularly enjoy and appreciate the perspective he finds for all this lore:
The curse of a passion like this is the almost impenetrable gulf it puts between you and outsiders who have no idea what you are talking about and hardly see anything of value in a decades-old box of copulating bike parts.... That Cinelli bar-end plug doesn't speak for itself, it needs an interpreter. Wherever its mate ended up, we can be pretty confident that it is not the crowning centerpiece of a memorial shrine to the long-gone days of Mercian-riding bliss. It’s probably floating in one of those swirls of trash in the Southern oceans. It’s the human component that makes objects into what they are, if that isn’t too obvious to state.

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