1963 Urago (Part II)
The older they are, the trickier they get.
French bicycles. Quirky frames, oddly sized components, backward threading. Generally speaking, French bicycles and French parts are a cantankerous lot. But, this Urago was a quite bit older than the French frames from the 80’s I have rehabilitated in the past. The age made component sourcing a bit more challenging and the “Frenchy’ness” of the experience even more pronounced.
There was so much to like when I acquired the Urago. All original. Original owner. All French. Although, the frame had been repainted sometime in the 80’s. And the drivetrain was a little odd (more below). And the headbadge was missing (now recreated). But, the owner had stories of rides and clearly had taken good care of the machine. After the purchase and breakdown, the true breadth of the project started taking shape.
- Pivo “death stem”
Pivo made stems ranging from the 60’s through the mid-70’s. Some were made of cast aluminum some were forged aluminum. Some were very well while others were dangerous junk. The most common failure point happened as a crack at the top of the expander split in the quill. The crack would continue around the quill until the stem broke off. And that was what one would call catastrophic failure.
This had to be remedied. A handful of mid to higher-end French stems exists but an alloy Philippe seemed to be the best choice. The coveted Mil Remo dropped into my lap although it took polishing and painting handwork to bring out the true beauty.
- Tape technique
Taping the bars for Mafac brake levers are different than more modern levers. Nothing difficult but before I went at it, I had to decide if I wanted to do the “racer style” or clean look. The racer style, to me, seems more about brevity whereas the wrap simply goes around the base of the hoods. Quick and effective. The clean look is exactly that but it takes a little more finesse. After perfectly positioning your levers, securing the metal posts and hangers, then removing the levers so you can wrap the tape tightly around takes a bit longer and more attention to detail. But, it’s oh so clean looking. Most just want to get back on the saddle so I can understand how the racer method came about.
As for the tape, I still wanted good texture and less shine from the Newbaums so it only received 2 coats of shellac whereas the twine and corks got 5 coats of shellac to seal them up tight.
Details matter. Anchorage Brewing has a nice snowflake-like design of hops adorning their corks along with lovely barrel fermented beers in their bottles so using their corks was a no brainer. Sure, it’s far from a French Bordeaux but I believe the Urago craftsmen would still approve.
- Seatpost search
25.4mm seatposts aren’t typically the norm and finding a 1960’s French, 25.4mm that wasn’t a boring ‘ole aluminum post was tricky. I wanted to stay as French as possible but choices were limited. Time passed but luck eventually prevailed. I acquired a Campagnolo San Marco GS which fit perfectly and polished up with a smooth, consistent and beautiful luster that only higher quality alloy can. The drivetrain and shifters were Campagnolo as the bicycle was purchased. Since this was the defacto standard during that time, it didn’t bother me to bypass the French competitors of the day and extend the Campagnolo equipment to the seatpost too.
- Visual interest
The dark blue paint was done well but it needed just a little pop and the ornate, swooping, Nervex lugwork begged to be highlighted. I added gold lug lining for some regal flair.
- Crank Bolt Bolstering
The sought after Stronglight cranks mated wonderfully with the Spécialités TA chainrings, as expected. But, with a small bit of alteration, the bolts can be upgraded. Why? Because, although TA chainrings are fantastic, the TA hardware is really of exceptionally poor quality. Nearly pot metal. Plus, they break frequently. Usually while one is 20+ miles from home. Nice, solid, robust bolts are available from Velo Orange made with chromed metal and love. Plus, the whole package just looks better. A highly recommended upgrade.
- Drivetrain mayhem
What is shown in my images are a pair of modest and fairly standard 50 and 40 tooth TA chainrings. Originally, the Urago was mated with a monstrous 58 tooth TA chainring. The largest I had ever seen in person. When I asked the original owner about this oddity, he replied, “I went through a phase where going fast was more important than distance. I once hit 60+mph going down San Marcos Pass Road outside of Santa Barbara. I know the speed because I pulled up along side a car and look at their speedo. The driver was in visible shocked as I passed him. All this on sew-up tires. I also received two speeding tickets in Santa Barbara, going 35mph in a 25 zone.For the San Marcos run I had a 64 tooth chainring (64-13) so I needed the swingarm to pickup the slack. (I eventually removed and sold the 64)”.The “swingarm” comment segues perfectly into the rear derailleur. With such a massive chainring, a long cage derailleur was needed. Being the owner was from California, he had access to the Cupertino Cyclery. This is where he purchased a now legendary and fable-like Spence Wolfe long cage derailleur (pictured below). This type of derailleur was quite specialized and distinctive blending a Campagnolo Nuovo Record upper body with a Simplex Tourist 303 lower along with a long and hefty, chromed “arm” that tied them together. Although a unique and noteworthy piece of history, I swapped it out for a beautifully cast and period appropriate Campagnolo Record rear derailleur.
A flawless Campagnolo Record derailleur adorns the rear drivetrain
- Frame woes
Only after substantial time with the Urago did I notice that the rear drivetrain dropout had been cut at some point. It is quite a shame that the removal happened as the way the dropouts were machined gave one perfect hand placement to slide the rear wheel into position using both forged ends as finger placement.
With the snags out of the way, this left only a handful of updates left. The original no-name alloy rims were replaced by a set of new handbuilt wheels. The original French Prior hubs were cleaned, polished and rebuilt then mated to modern rims by Soma that look, and perform, likely better than the no-name brand rims originally on the Urago.
The Simplex skewers are painfully gorgeous with their imperfections and proper 60 year old patina. They have a wonderfully smooth open and close action on them with a large, textured nut on the non-ratcheting end that is a joy to hold while tightening the whole bundle up.
Both the Lyotard pedals, which were overhauled and spin like new, and Ideale saddle are original to the build. Both very French… and proud of it.
This bicycle is currently for sale.
Color: Dark blue metallic
Frame Size: 62cm (C-T) seat post & 59cm (C-C) top tube
Frame/Drop-outs: Reynolds 531/Simplex
Fork: Reynolds 531
Bars: Belleri Saint Etienne
Bar Wrap: Newbaums red cloth and twine; Cork bar plugs
Stem: Philippe Mil Remo
Saddle: Ideale 52 Professional
Seat Post: Campagnolo San Marco GS
Crankset: Stronglight 49D; TA chainrings 50/42; 170mm
Front Derailleur: Campagnolo Nuovo Record
Rear Derailleur: Campagnolo Record
Shifting Levers: Campagnolo
Brake Levers: Mafac Competition; Rustines half hoods; Gum
Brake Calipers: Mafac Racer; Kool-Stop pads
Cable and Housing: Vespa textured with stainless core; Gray
Freewheel: 5-Speed Regina GS Course (13/17/21/25/29)
Hubs: Prior; Parallax 110
Wheels: Soma Eldon; 700c; 36 hole; Simplex skewers
Tires: Grand Bois Cerf blue label; Skinwall; 700c x 26
Pedals/Cages: Lyotard 460 Course; Christophe Special cages and straps
Special Features: Dropout finger pulls; Eyelets front/rear
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