Friday, May 29, 2009

New Wheels

Just got done building and installing some new wheels on my 1981 Fuji Gran Tourer SE, the bike that has been the serious object of my attention in recent months.

The hubs are a really nice set of 36 hole Campy Nuovo Tipo high flangers. Although they hardly needed it, for good measure I replaced the bearings (grade 25, natch, 1/4" in the rear, 3/16" in the front) and repacked. The rims are the ever classic 700c Sun CR-18's, spokes are DT 14/15 stainless.

Here are some closeups of the front hub. You can see the retro straight quick release levers.

You may have also noticed the slightly fatter tires. These are Specialized Armadillo Nimbus 700 x 35. One of my motivations for going with 700c rims rather than the original 27" was to be able to run something slightly larger than a 32. With 27" rims and fenders, this bike was running out of clearance, even were there much of a selection of tires larger than 32mm in 27" (there isn't...).

I don't build many wheels, since I only do it for myself. But I always enjoy it and always have gotten good results having faithfully internalized the Sheldon Brown instructions on the topic some years ago. I don't have a truing stand, just use a bike frame with brake calipers installed. If you are careful with this rudimentary approach, you can easily get results that are well within 1mm true on radial, lateral, and dish.

I also always use the Spocalc spreadsheet on the Harris Cyclery website, it has always given good results.

This is the last wheel I will build inserting the spokes through the hub one at a time as they are laced. I managed to scratch up the front a bit, plus it is a bit of struggle getting the leading spokes into position without bending them too much. I found this to be especially true with a high-flange hub, as the spokes and clearances end up a bit bit shorter.

The Specialized Armadillos have a fearsome reputation for difficult installation, their wire bead being very tight. This is my second set, and I was determined not to have the two pinch flats I suffered when installing my first set. But I didn't want to spend an hour wrestling the tire onto the rim.

Normally, when installing the tube, I'll get the valve in place and give the tube a bit of air to give it some shape. This makes it easy to fit into the tire, just pops right in, but does leave the tube rather close to the bead even if all the air is let out. With this set, I figured I would have to use tire irons to get the second bead into place, so I just put the tube in with no air whatsoever, being very careful about the orientation around the wheel. I then levered the bead on with tire irons, even using these required significant grunt - these are very stout tires, at least the bead tightness is.

Following this, I inspected the bead looking for pinches. I did find one potential one and rectified it, then partially inflated, deflated, broke the bead, looked for problems, then took up to full pressure.

Voila, no pinch flats, I'm quite proud of myself.

This morning, I took a spin on the bike. The wheels are holding true. The 35mm Armadillos are my compromise between cush and convenience. I loved not having flats on my previous set of 32mm, but this required keeping them pumped above 100 psi for full protection. That sort of pressure defeats the purpose of having thick tires and is bone jarring/teeth shaking on the gravel paths I frequent.

These tires have a minimum pressure of 75 psi, which, while still a bit high, definitely smooths things over a lot. I could probably cheat a little and run them down around 60 psi. The word on the street is that this reduces the flat protection, but I'm willing to gamble a little. My previous daily rider, my now-sold Trek 620, had sprung Brooks Conquest saddle, this one does not, so I need to compensate elsewhere for a little comfort.

The front brake threatened to be a big issue. A Dia Compe 610 centerpull, its pads were near the bottom of the slot with the 27" rim and really didn't have enough reach for 700c rims, with the pads ending up at the very tippy-top of the rims. Technically, this could have barely worked, but I'd have to be very vigilant about pad wear creating a situation where the tire sidewall could be rubbed. Plus, for almost any part on a daily rider bike, I avoid setups that require parts to be at the absolute limit of an adjustment for the bike to work - this limits options for field repairs, in general makes for a less reliable, serviceable machine.

I considered, then abandoned, the notion of filing some more clearance into the slots. Then, I started thinking about getting a Dia Compe 750 caliper for the front until I remembered that I had some tektro canti pads with threaded posts and elliptical spacers. This worked excellently, leaving much adjustment options.

Well, I'm delighted with the results and the slightly fatter tire look. I have a few fender line issues to address on the by and by, but these are now in service.

Given the high flange hubs, I suppose it is ok to violate the taboo against non-drive side pictures:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Better Late Than Never

I received the following mail a couple of weeks ago and it slipped my mind until I received a gentle reminder from the original author:

"Fuji Otaku,

I have been reading your blog since I bought my 1981 Fuji America last November. It is finally nice enough outside here in Minneapolis to take some pictures of it to send to you.

I found it on craigslist being sold by a guy who lived 6 blocks from me. I believe I am the 3rd and final owner of this fine piece of Japanese steel. I kind of have a crush on my own bike, and that is the first time I can say that.

Thanks for all the insight and information.



Sorry for the late posting, it slipped my mind. But sometimes I get distracted other non-Fuji things like family activities and making a living.

In my book, the two tone blue Americas are one of the grail Fujis. If I had to own only one, it would be one of these. The recent reader poll on favorite models indicates that I'm not alone in this sentiment.

Why this model is so covetable is a result of a number of factors. The first is that in the early 80's, friction shifting was soon to be supplanted by indexing, so models from that era represent the best of friction shifting bikes, whether Japanese, European, or American.

Second, the Japanese spent the 70's understanding and mastering the U.S. bicycle market. By the early 80's, their best models had all the fine points worked out.

Third, the great yen revaluation of 1985/1986 had not yet happened, so Japanese products were still very cheap in dollar terms. During that era it was easy for Japanese exporters to gild the lily on many of their products.

Fourth, and this is subjective, but later 80's styling, with pastels and vivid color schemes, was still in the future. The Japanese bikes of the early 80's era were produced with classic European style cues.

The two tone Americas, being the high-end Fuji sport-tourer incorporate all these elements. The Cyclone derailleurs and Sugino Mighty Tour cranks have become collector's items. The chrome stays/forks are very flashy classic eye candy, along with the Sunshine "medium flange" hubs. On the bang for the buck element, if you look closely at the lugwork, you will find nicely filed, long-point lugs with cutouts.

And beyond that, the America offers a sporty yet comfortable geometry. It is a bike that I have fun just whipping around on or going on an all day trek. It has enough clearance for fenders should one choose to mount them. And in a nice touch, it was one of the first mass-marketed bikes in the U.S. to sport 700c wheels. So one has a much wider range of modern tire options with this bike compared to other bikes, whether European, Japanese, or American, from that era.

Just a great all-around bike. Like you, I'm pretty certain I'm the last owner of mine before it goes to my estate.

Although you weren't looking for advice, I'll still offer a suggestion. From your pictures, it looks like there is a non-stock rear derailleur. Me, I'd get on ebay or somewhere else and buy a 1st generation Suntour Cyclone rear derailleur (looks like the front one is stock) and return this to its originally equipped state. These are still pretty cheap and available now, shift fine, and it is a lot of fun to have the bike as originally kitted out or period correct.

The saddle isn't stock also, the original being a Fujita Professional, but I'm ambivalent about vintage leather saddles. Vintage leather gets dried, cracked, it can be a long-term and expensive prospect tracking down one that is cosmetically ok and ready for daily use without fear of failure. Sadly, leather saddles are essentially disposable wear items like chains. Actually, they are even worse, more like tires in that they can "wear out" from non-use environmental factors, much like vintage tires can become cracked and dried out even though they have not been ridden.

In any event, a lovely bike and hope you enjoy it.


Fuji Otaku

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A New Addition To Our Ranks

We get mail:

"After my father-in-law and brother-in-law both got road bikes I decided it looked like a lot of fun and wanted to be able to bike with them. So I did some basic research and discovered...

I couldnt afford anything I liked! So luckily on a Sunday afternoon after attending my nephews birthday party, my wife and I spotted some bikes for sale along the side of the road. So we stopped to look to see what they had. And right there, all shiney and sleek looking, was this Fuji Flair. I knew about the Fuji name but didnt know anything about their older bikes. I hopped on it and immediatly fell in love. It doesn't ride as nice as my brother-in-laws carbon fiber Trek 2.1...but it rides as nice or nicer than any other bike I've ridden anywhere near what I paid for this bike. I ended up paying $100.00. I have no idea if the Flair is a desirable model as far as collecting goes, but I bought it to ride and that it does well!

While trying to find information on the bike once I got it home, I found and by extention this blog! I was excited to see that these vintage Fuji bikes have a loyal following. (I didnt want to feel silly for falling in love with a road bike from the 80's and being the only one.) As far as I can tell all the components are orignal except for the seat. I would love to find an original seat to this model so if anyone knows where I could find one, please let me know.

I've looked over most of this blog and hadn't seen anyone with the Flair yet, so I thought I'd share mine with the rest of you. Any insights into this bike would be great. Anyone with previous experiences or have ridden one before. My bike knowledge is fairly limited as I've only ridden a handful of different models. Any suggestions as to what some of you might change on the bike? Some of my family think it was silly buying a 20 year old bike for $100.00 but I don't feel that I've really overpaid at all, and from what I've seen as far as some other vintage fuji bikes I think I was right in the ballpark. Certainly not an amazing garage sale dollar bargain, but still worth every penny.

Fuji Fan and Loving It,


Hi Matthew,

First, welcome aboard the Fuji bandwagon! I really like the blue with white headtube on the Flairs. It is a super sharp color scheme and yours looks like an excellent example, even having the original water bottle cage.

Looking at the catalog entry, I see that this did have an unusual saddle. All I can suggest is keeping an eye on ebay or perhaps posting a "looking for" entry on the the ISO thread in the Classic & Vintage forum on If you are persistent, one will probably eventually show up.

As for the $100 and comparison to carbon bikes - forget about it. Compare it to current production "modern classics", which are high quality lugged steel, do it all sorts of bikes with rugged components, fender clearance, and so forth - sound like your bike? As a point of reference, Grant Petersen at Rivendell is bottling and selling this for north of $2000 per bike.

Me, I'll take the fine old excellent condition Fuji for less than a tenth of the price. Currently Fujis do not have much snob value, but the interest seems to be growing as people realize what a good deal these bikes represent. As another point of reference, that bike would probably go for $200 currently on Washington D.C. Craigslist. So you didn't throw your money away or get taken by any means.

And with a modicum of care, your Flair will be around long after those carbon Treks have degenerated into greenhouse gasses, and still giving fine service. Keeping this thought in mind may even make the ride a little more enjoyable.


Fuji Otaku

p.s. You may want to lose the kickstand - this style of mounting is pretty notorious for at best scratching up the paint and at worst causing damage to the chain stay tubes.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Well, it looks like facing the bottom bracket shell has done the trick, so we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming around here.

Almost all the time, a noise, click, clang that seems to be with the bottom bracket has some other cause - crankarm torque, pedals, seatpost, saddle, etc. But once in a while, the bottom bracket is the true culprit.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More BB

Took my Gran Tourer down to City Bikes today and got the bottom bracket shell faced. I haven't reinstalled the bottom bracket and crank yet, but I am hoping the shiny happy faces I'm now seeing down there indicate that all the troubles are past.

In the meantime, I've been riding my Fuji America. IMO, this is one of the all time greatest Fujis and the recent poll on this blog supports that notion.

Here is shot from today when my son and I went up to the playground:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Between A Click And A Clunk


I have been doing endless detective work tracking down a problem in my Gran Tourer. When I ride it for more than about 5 miles, the bottom bracket would start to click and/or make some audible clunks. This gets worse the more miles ridden. However, after letting the bike rest for several hours, it would be smooth as silk again.

However, ostensible bottom bracket issues are notorious for being due to other causes, from seat creaks to hub issues to pedal issues to headset issues to ... And I've run them all down, greasing, swapping cranks and bottom brackets, lubing the saddle, rebuilding the headset, repacking pedal bearings, installing different pedals, and endlessly fiddling with bottom brackets, from teflon taping the cups, caged/uncaged bearings, tight adjustments, loose adjustments. I've probably left a few things out, but you get the picture.

The worst part of this ordeal is that each test ride begins anew with an increasingly smooth and quiet ride - all this debugging work is really smoothing out the ride. But then after a few miles, the exact same behavior arises. And one must go on a ride of reasonable length, not just a quick run around the block once or twice. This stretches out the turnaround time for new avenues of investigation.

But I think by simple process of elimination, I've run down the cause, or causes, I should say. This evening, I spent more time and care installing and adjusting a loose bearing bottom bracket and crankset than I ever have before. Following this, I didn't have time for yet another five mile loop, so I sat and turned the crank, listening to it with my fingertips on the arm and the frame.

It seems to display a tight/loose pattern per revolution. This indicates that the bottom bracket cups are misaligned, which can have two causes. The first is that the bottom bracket shell needs facing. The second is that the right and left hand side bottom bracket threads are misaligned.

Facing a bottom bracket is a routine chore. The shell appears to have been faced once, but there is no way for me to tell if it was done adequately. Misalignment of threads is a far more serious issue, which could entail having to rethread the bottom bracket for Italian threading.

If I had a spare cartridge bottom bracket around, I could easily diagnose this. Misaligned threads would make installation difficult or impossible. But if it did install easily and then the creaking and clunking disappeared, the facing is then the issue.

But while I can't even begin to count how many Suntour V series derailleurs are cluttering the shelves, getting underfoot, like a population of cats in an eccentric's home, I don't even have one cartridge bottom bracket around. That says something, although I'm not sure what.

I also don't have the conventional tools to diagnose and remediate facing and threading issues, so it is time for one a very infrequent cry for help to a LBS. I really hate to do this, it is like admitting defeat, but even the DIY obsessed have their limits.

Like buying a four hundred dollar facing tool to do a job that the LBS charges thirty bucks.

So I'll be tearing down the crank and bottom bracket yet again and outsourcing this job.

I sure wish I had figured this out before I got done building this bike, but I was only taking it for relatively short spins during this period. I had noticed a little fritziness in the bottom bracket, but I assumed that the usual repack or even replacement would quickly sort that out when I got around to it.

Lesson learned....

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Molly Mail

This just in:

"I was wondering if you could actually help me. I need some advice or anything really. See I saw this ad for a Fuji absolute, the one I sent a picture of, and I absolutely fell in love with it. I've wanted a bike for over 3 years now and don't have a lot of money to put into it, so you can imagine my excitement when i found this one. Anyway, turns out the seller was just a horrible guy and sold it to someone else the day before I was going to see it, which was yesterday. Broke my heart.

Anyway I was wondering if you knew of any place that sells them, consistently and that are in really good shape. I realize this is a very random email and that you may think I'm crazy, but I just thought I'd ask. From one bikeless bike lover to an owner, any help will be appreciated. Thanks for your time, loved the blog.



First, thank you for your kind words about the blog.

About the bad seller, my guess is Craigslist? Craigslist can be a good source of used bikes, but there are all sorts of scam artists and bad actors there since sellers can be completely anonymous if they choose.

Ebay is a little better in keeping sellers on the straight and narrow. I've bought several bikes there and have had good experiences. Plus, there is usually a pretty good stock of bikes at any time, or at least over the course of a month if you check it pretty regularly.

The downside of Ebay is that usually shipping is involved, which in the case of bikes can be fairly expensive and shipping a bike requires careful packaging that is specific to bicycles to avoid damage.

On the expense issue, you have to decide if the shipping cost is worth the convenience of shopping from your computer and having access to the large supply of bikes offered on ebay. I think it is, personally.

As for packaging, check to see if the seller has shipped bicycles before, preferably many times. If it is a reputable seller who specializes in bicycles and bicycle parts, they probably know what they are doing. However, if it is a seller who offers all sorts of things and maybe just is selling a bicycle once, you may want to find another.

Beyond that, I wrote about how to find vintage Fujis in this post. You may want to review that for some hints about finding the Fuji of your dreams. Another reader read it and quickly scored a nice Fuji America, so that advice has been worthwhile.

Well, I'm sorry for your heartbreak, but I'm certain if you keep your chin up and move on, you'll find another Fuji. And no, you're not crazy, at least not any crazier than the rest of us Fuji fans.

Best of luck in your hunting and let us know how it turns out,

Fuji Otaku

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Blood On My Shifters

Here is how not to have a happy cycling day trip.

To start, when prepping for departure, get irritated when Mrs. Otaku asks you to go to the store now for snacks rather than swinging by later with the whole caravan, as I had assumed. Sort of hang onto this irritation and allow it to inform further events.

Like when after you return from the store and continuing preps by topping off the air in the front tire, remove the pump head and the stem blows out of the tube. Stupidly decide to replace the wheelset rather than the tube in the interest of time efficiency. For some strange reason, decide to replace the rear wheel to keep things consistent.

While you are doing this, chastise your son when, for the thousandth time, he tries getting into the trailer while you are working on the bike. Then snipe at Mrs. Otaku a little for filling all the water bottles with gatorade instead of at least one with water even though when she asked previously, you had said you didn't care.

After you finally get going, ride about a half mile and shift to your lowest gear. This sends the chain directly into the spokes because in your irritated haste in changing the wheelset you didn't take 5 seconds to adjust the derailleur limit. This locks the wheel, fortunately you don't go down, but after you skid to a stop, you dismount and not quite silently beseech the gods to just take you now.

Mrs. Otaku is ready to throw in the towel at this point because you are being such a bear. But you mulishly decide that you will not surrender to fate and the show must go on. You clear the jammed chain, getting your hands all greasy and somehow jabbing your right hand. It doesn't hurt, but it is dripping lots of blood which adds to the general aura you've created. You now belatedly take the time to adjust the derailleur limits.

Things continue in this vein all day, with unsuccessful attempts to keep your general vexation at bay. Mrs. Otaku tends to bear the brunt of this. By the time you reach Gravelly Point to watch the planes and enjoy some onigiri, there is considerable doubt whether another cycling outing would ever be contemplated by other members of your party.

At least with you.

You nap a bit at Gravelly Point, which soothes the angry beast a little and on the ride back things are marginally better, although you still manage to unfairly snap at Mrs. Otaku when she bumps into you when you unexpectedly stop. But it is getting better, and in a conciliatory gesture you offer to make a few shopping stops along the way back. This significantly increases the trailer load, but simplifies life for Mrs. Otaku. She appreciates this, but is still wary...

By the time you get home, you are fully repentant. The reason Mrs. Otaku wanted you to go to the store before you left was to pick up some chicken so she could allow it to marinate all day, a prerequisite for her special yakitori.

While she is puttering around the kitchen, you ask your son to sit by you for a talk. You explain that even grownups get fussy sometimes and you are sorry for being so crabby. Apologizing to your kids once in a while is a good thing, but it is also good to keep it short and sweet.

You and your son then go outside to build the fire. Mrs. Otaku brings out the yakitori and you grill this while your son blows bubbles in the fading evening light. Mrs. Otaku allows that she really appreciates me apologizing to our son while gently reminding me that it has been many years since I was a submarine officer and even if it weren't, the family isn't my crew.

We sip some wine, mending a bit. The post-ride yakitori is delicious, as always, and my son's bubble blowing skills have become prodigious. I reflect a bit on the chain of events and my poor deportment. Mrs. Otaku hints that she wasn't serious about never going on rides again. Our family has survived this day.

All's well that ends well.