Building my own wheels is not something I really thought about before this France Sport build. Wheels have always been readily available for me to buy and use. This build threw up some problems with that idea though. There are no three speed wheels available, finding a three speed freewheel is rare and the size of rim I need is long gone. It’s forced me to patch together parts from other bikes to make up a wheel set that will work but there’s one thing I need first. Introducing my new wheel building / truing stand:
With the idea of building my own wheels set in my head I had a look around on eBay for some of these stands. The search threw up the usual Park stands along with other brands but they were all well over £100 for a substantial bit of kit. I found this gem hiding in among all the other adverts. It cost me £50 and it’s designed and built by the chap selling them. Every part is laser cut steel and it’s fully adjustable to fit a range of axle sizes and lengths. I think it’s a beautiful bit of kit and it’s coming in handy!
I started by trying out my truing “skills” on a few of the wheel sets I already have. It’s pretty simple to understand and get your head round. A little tighter here, a little looser there… I managed to pull a spare 26″ x 1 3/8″ wheel back to perfectly straight without much effort. The practice did however highlight the rear wheel in my “good” 27″ wheelset was beyond repair. I could true it and make it spin without any side to side wobble but looking from the side I found the rim had multiple flat spots. Nothing much I can do about that but fortunately my 3 speed freewheel fits on the hub so I’ve stripped that wheel down to pinch the hub for the France Sport.
That leaves me with a clean front wheel fitted with a new Continental World tour tyre, a shiny new chain and all the parts (minus the spokes) for a rear wheel build.
The 26″ x 1 3/8″ rims I’m going to be using probably aren’t the original size for the bike. Diameter wise they’re spot on but this size tended to be used on the “town” style bikes. After looking for some advice about sizing on a Facebook group it was suggested the bike probably had a slightly narrower 1 1/4″ rim but the possibility of finding an original replacement for that size is extremely low. The slightly wider rims will do for now!
The next step is to collect all the measurements to work out the ideal spoke length and shorten the OLD spacing slightly so I can build the final piece of the puzzle. Wish me luck.
I’m super stoked to bring you the progress with this bike. I really hope it makes my Granddad proud.
After the fiasco with the “cheap” powder coating company and another bike I decided to spend a bit more and go elsewhere. I’d been speaking to Paul from Central Wheel Components via email and after answering every question I had and checking out their previous work I took the bike over to them. This was Tuesday morning last week, and after initially being informed I’d have a 2-3 day wait I was really impressed when Wednesday morning I had voicemail saying the bike was done. At lunch I collected it and comparing it to the other company… well, there is no comparison. The quality is spot on, you can tell it’s been thoroughly cleaned and the vital parts protected. The colour is even and glossy; it’s beautiful. It cost £70 for the frame and forks, which is pricey but you pay for quality. I’d recommend them!
Picking up the frame was the kick in the ass I needed. I ordered all the replacement cables etc that evening and spent Thursday and Friday with a box of parts, polish and wire wool cleaning up everything that needed to go back on. The cleaning revealed a few things. For one, the parts are in a lot better condition than I thought and apart from the stem (which has a lot of chrome missing) they didn’t really need any re plating. The cleaning also brought out more information about the components.
The most obvious (and I don’t know how I missed this) was identifying the cranks and chain ring as BSA parts. The big B, S and A built into the chain ring was a big giveaway but I actually saw that second. Underneath all the old dirt I revealed two faint BSA logos and the tooth count (44). BSA stands for “Birmingham Small Arms Company” and as you can guess, they produced guns. They actually produced a lot of items from bikes and motorcycles to guns and buses.
The bottom bracket also cleaned up nicely to reveal Bayliss Wiley (15). There’s not much on Google about this company. They were a British company based in Birmingham founded in 1919 that built, from what I can see, bearings, hubs and bottom brackets.
Today I set about putting the bike together. I started by refitting the Stronglight headset with fresh grease and new bearings. Both this headset and the bottom bracket had two pin holes in them for a tool to tighten them. When I removed them I’d managed to clamp on some mole grips and unwind but I wasn’t sure if the same would work for assembly. It turns out my Granddad had thought ahead and when he’d given me the bike, he’d also sent me a box of spares. It had chains, random fittings and some old tools. One tool in particular had the exact pin layout I needed. Whether it’s something he’s made himself or a genuine tool I don’t know, but it worked!
The bottom bracket was next. I gave it a good clean out first to get rid of any grit but I still had problems with it. First was my own mistake of putting the axle in the wrong way around. It needed the longer side on the left so the pedal could clear the frame, it’s lucky I checked! After that, I’m not sure what happened but when I tried to refit the non drive side, the cup stopped turning half way in. It wouldn’t wind in any further and it wouldn’t undo. I tried cleaning out the pin holes for more grip but it was stuck. The mole grips came to the rescue again and after another clean I managed to get it all fitted properly. The crank arms and pedals went on straight after.
Handlebars and brake levers next. I aligned the levers so the tips sat level with the flat of the bars and then wrapped the bars with some Ritchey “Faux Leather” tape. Brown to match the Brooks saddle. It was fairly expensive tape but it was really nice to wrap with. It feels comfortable and had some stretch to it so I could get a good layer going. I loosened the levers a little to slot the tape underneath just to give a bit of a cleaner finish.
Brake wise; the calipers had a clean and grease, new cables were fitted and new brake pads were adapted. The calipers themselves went straight on, no messing there. The replacement pads were a slightly different design to the original so needed to be adapted slightly. The pads used are 40mm long and can be slipped out of the backing plate. I didn’t want to just swap them out for 35mm blocks so I ordered some replacement Shimano pads. They were more elliptical than oblong so I had to trim a small section from the end to square it up before fitting. Great fit though! In terms of the cables, I’d gone for the best my usual supplier offers, PTFE coated with the pear nipples. I bought some good quality outer cable and alloy end caps too. Cutting the cables to exactly the same size as the old ones, they went on with ease. I haven’t tensioned the cables yet due to not having wheels but they’re almost there. I also need another cable clamp for the top tube. For now I’ve taped the frame where I want the clamps (and to protect the paint) while I look for a pair. They’re super expensive for such a small part though!
What’s left… Saddle and pannier rack! I greased up the seat tube before fitting the seat post but that was still very tight. Not sure why it’s so tight after the thorough cleaning but the grease should stop it seizing again. The Brooks saddle looks amazing! After the saddle came the pannier rack. It’s just a small alloy one but I thought it might be useful to have. Again, I taped up the frame to stop the brackets damaging the paint and clamped it down for an initial alignment.
Gearing! This bike, as I think I’ve said before, has a three speed shifter. An indexed three speed shifter. I’d cleaned the shifter, derailleur and chain tensioner during the week and they came up really well. I absolutely love the copper chain tensioner. It’s beautiful. I still have the old cable on for the derailleur at the moment but don’t worry, there is a new one to go on. As for the wheel side of things I thought I’d got it right with a three speed freewheel. There were only two units on eBay that I could find so I’ve ordered one to try however after researching Bayliss Wiley I’m wondering if the bike used one of the setups I saw in a image of one of their hubs. It did look like it had three sprockets exactly the same size but I’m wondering if that was a technique used… Check it out here.
I think that was about the end of assembly for now. I had hoped one of the 27″ wheel sets I’d picked up would fit but they’re just too big. Fitting the 27″ wheels and looking at where the brake pads were originally aligned to I think it’s safe to say the bike had 26″ wheels originally. One more thing to look for.
So here it is. An almost fully assembled (circa 1940s) France Sport. I realise I still need to fit the head badge too… the rivets are on their way.
Finally I can post a decent update on this build. Now that the frame is all sprayed and I’m happy with the finish I’ve begun to assemble all the parts. Most of the parts I’m using are going to be originals for now so I can save a bit of money but I have had to splash out of a few parts.
The first job was to reassemble the fork and stem combo. After popping down to Halfords to get some new ball bearings and grease I got everything prepped. The cup for the forks had to be refitted and all the other sections cleaned up but then it was just a case of adding grease and assembling. I like to work by squeezing a layer of grease into the cups to set the bearings in and then covering the tops before. It really is so simple to do. If you’ve got rough bearings in your steering, take some time out to strip the forks, clean and regrease everything.
Next thing to be re-assembled was the bottom bracket. In the name of saving money I decided re-using the old gear was the best idea so first I had to clean everything up. The old cups and axle were caked in old grease, dirt and rust and it was down to my Dremel to clean it all up. I don’t know how I’ve lived without one to be honest. It did such a neat job. The sanding attachment and the wire wheel attachment worked perfectly and soon the cups and axle were shining. The threads in the frame needed to be cleaned too, they were full of paint but a small pen knife and the nylon brush on the Dremel shifted all that. Everything was then de-greased before starting the assembly. The cups were lined with grease, bearings fitted and packed full of grease before screwing into the frame. For such an old bit of gear it still works perfectly.
Next up I’m going to be messing with the original cranks and chain rings. The original cranks will be fine to use but they’re fixed onto the larger chain ring which at 48 teeth, might be too big to use for a fixie. The smaller chain ring is removable but should be perfect to use at 40 teeth. I’m thinking I’ll trim off the outer, larger chain ring and get the cranked powdercoated black before going any further. There’s no need for the outer chain ring to sit there unused. I’ll also be replacing the pedals for some modern black items.
I have a few things on order so hopefully they’ll be another update coming soon.