Saturday 29 November 2014

Puch Princess Reborn: Sacrilege? Or Best Of Both Worlds?

This post comes with a health warning... and an apology. 
Some of you may be offended by what I've done with this vintage bicycle. 
For the offence, I am truly sorry. For what I have done... not so much. 

Because this time I listened to what the bicycle was telling me, what the bicycle wanted. True, I curated this build according to my preferences but at the end of the day, I had a 35 year old frame that wanted to go fast but couldn't due to the limitations of its build and/or its rider. 

The rider, I couldn't change any more than I can for any other bike (those grumpy knees!) but the build, I could. 

This is not a restoration but a rebirth as something else entirely.  

So here we go. 

May I present the fourth incarnation of Lorelei, my 1978 Puch Princess mixte.


First of all, this bike just rolls well. She's the bike that gives me the most joy to ride and she holds some fantastic memories for me. She's speedy, smooth and silent. And I have always sensed she had the potential to be quite fast. However, a 5-speed with a 14-28 cassette and 48t chainring was pretty limiting. Adding a 42t inner chainring improved general versatility but climbing 'real hills' was still completely out of the question. 

I began to wonder if there was a way of keeping the frame but gaining all the advantages of modern components. I didn't want anything too complicated but thought the gearing I'd had on my Surly Pacer was close to perfect for what the Americans call "spirited riding" on varied terrain (i.e. fast day or night rides with minimal luggage -- not touring). That set-up consisted of a 50/34 compact double paired with an MTB cassette with a dinner-plate cog of 36t. 

I looked at modern mixtes with modern gearing but... I really prefer traditional lugs. I also, rightly or wrongly, attribute a lot of what I love about the way this bike rides and handles to this frame. (I have a modern mixte as a daily commuter and believe me, it is not the same!) 

The other option was to try harder to find new-old-stock original components that worked well. But sourcing parts is a time-consuming business and even worn-out used specimens can be hard to find. No bike shops within a reasonable distance stock parts for older bicycles at all anymore, which left online shops as my only viable source. Sadly -- as you might expect -- my experience to date had taught me that you can't tell the condition of something from photos on the Internet. Ebay had been my main source -- especially a Hungarian dealer who now and then comes up with some real gems -- but the prevailing unreliability of one component or another was making me ever more cynical about realistically owning and riding a fully original vintage bicycle that performed as it should. 

I see you shaking your head, saying I didn't try hard enough, but there are limits and there are limits. Limits to funds, time and the goodwill of my resident mechanic.

Another significant factor in how easy it is to find still-working parts of this vintage is the fact that the Princess was a relatively low-end model for Puch and it came out of the factory with correspondingly low-end parts. They just didn't hold up well. Finding surviving items worth having is like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Not to mention, vintage groupsets were never made to include a sub 1:1 gear ratio!

The Build

The only things still original?  The frame and forks, the seatpost and the headset. That's it. 

From our parts collection, we had: 
  • a good used 700c wheelset:  Mavic rims, Deore hubs, 36 spokes front and rear (de-labelled) 
  • Continental Gatorskin 28m tyres already fitted
  • 9-speed 12-36 cassette already fitted to rear wheel
  • my favourite rear derailleur (Shimano Deore M591 9-speed)
  • Handlebar (FSA Omega Compact, 31.8 at the clamp, 38mm wide)
  • 60mm riser stem for 31.8 bars
  • Front brakes (Shimano Tiagra)
Our shopping list looked like this: 

So - do modern components fit a vintage frame? 

Subject to the considerations noted below -- which can nonetheless be managed with a little ingenuity -- the answer is, thankfully, yes. When I first started planning this re-build, I was not sure whether there might be compatibility issues between the frame and a new bottom bracket but this was a non-event. 

One night I woke up suddenly, sat straight up and gasped "rear mech hanger!"  I suddenly knew this was the one potential 'deal-breaker' for the whole "vintage frame/modern build" idea. And it very nearly could have been. 

What obstacles had to be overcome? 
  • 700c tyres require deeper drop brakes than 27 inch tyres. We knew this beforehand but did not know exactly how much deeper! The Tiagra brakes we had on hand worked fine on the front but we could not find any retailers with Tiagra brakes in stock that were deep enough for the rear wheel. In the end, we went with these Dia Compe brakes with a range of 57-75mm.
  • Deciding on an accessories extension bar was tricky, taking into account the lack of space for such a thing on the handlebars themselves plus the presence/position of the cross top levers. My preference would be to have a fork-mounted bracket but the only one I've had before broke after a few months, apparently weakened by road vibration and potholes. I need something robust enough for two strong lights for night rides, for example two Hope lights or two B&M Ixon lights (which each take 4 AA size batteries - heavy!) Having opted to install cross top levers, I had already given up any idea of using a handlebar bag, so in the end it made sense to use a stem-mounted bar that would protrude out underneath the cross-top levers and, if long enough, beyond the handlebars to give as much space and clearance for the lights as possible. The Thorn T-shaped model seems to fit the bill. 

  • Cable routing will be "messier" than on a fully-vintage or fully-modern build, where the frame has been designed with the build requirements in mind. All the braze-ons for brake and gear cables are in slightly different places on a 1970s steel frame than they are on a modern steel frame. Mixtes have an added consideration in that, ideally, the rear brakes should be mounted at the middle set of seatstays. The pivot arms of modern brakes are a different shape from those of old Weinmanns and Adam found clearance to be an issue, also the drill outs through the brake bridge. (I cannot recall what the solution was -- I'll add the details after asking Adam.)

  • Finding a rear mech hanger of the right shape, with the right number of holes in the right places and with the small curved tab at the bottom could be quite a challenge! SJS Cycles carry an extensive selection of hangers but finding the best match was a matter of eyeing up the photos on their website, hampered by the inconsistencies in the way each example is described. We got lucky with the second hanger we bought, but even so Adam had to remove part of it with a saw and ideally the thickness should be filed down a bit more. 

The Result? 

I had made a conscious decision to put functionality first and had resigned myself to losing much of the aesthetic appeal that vintage builds hold for me. 

I didn't think I'd end up with something as dreadful-looking as a Frankenbike (!) but to be honest, I was pleasantly surprised that the total build, when completed, is quite elegant and understated, in my view at least. The accessories bracket is the jarring note but that's a case of "needs must". The cable routing is not as clean as you'd find on a completely modern bike, or on a completely original vintage build, but it's not the messy tangle that I subconsciously feared. 

The Acid Test:  The Ride!

As I said in a previous post pondering what characteristics of a bicycle determine ride quality, I have associated the ride experience with this bike to that of the Surly Pacer that I rode as my "good bike" or my "fast bike" for 18 months. Oddly enough, it was the similar experiences with those bikes that made me wonder (very idly!) whether titanium was really all that... different. Of course, I was blown away with the feel of the Enigma Etape that I test rode before I ordered my own, but nonetheless, I didn't feel it was very different from steel, as in altogether in a different category, perhaps simply the same characteristics but enhanced in some ways.  

I am revisiting those ideas now but so far do not have a "theory". 

Why?  Because, in this build configuration, I find the Puch Princess to be significantly stiffer than the Surly Pacer ever was! I am using very similar wheels and identical tyres, yet would go so far to say that there is a harshness that neither the Pacer nor the Enigma have. Yet I do not find this unpleasant. It's not the dominant impression given by the bicycle, more of a by-product. 

So what is the dominant impression? Zip! Speed! "Get up and go!" The bicycle feels instantly responsive, especially when accelerating away from a stop. She was no slouch before, mind you! But now with the centre of gravity a wee bit lower and a smidgeon further forward, she flies. And I'm climbing steeper hills, standing, in a higher gear than on other bikes. Alternatively, I can sit back and pick a comfortable gear for the long slogs such as Buckwood Road near where we live, which is 8 miles long with a fairly consistent incline of 6%. 

And I am continually surprised at how light she feels, how light she is.  People don't believe me when I say this so I reckon I will have to put each of my bikes on a set of scales some day very soon. 

Meanwhile, my impression -- and not just a faint inkling but a real tangible sense -- is that this bike, in this build, is the fastest bike I have ever had. 

Obviously this bicycle would be completely out of its league in today's racing world. I do not race, however, and having ridden carbon race bikes a few times, think that Lorelei is more than fast enough for the riding I do.  


Here's a recap in photos of Lorelei's "previous lives" with me. 

I bought her in May 2010 from a family in East Sussex, when she looked like this: 

Her first transformation at the hands of Brixton Cycles produced this:

We did the 2010 Dunwich Dynamo (120 miles) like this!

And then last year, I did a two-stage experiment: 

Then two main variations:  1 - extending the gear range by swapping out the single chainset for a double of the same make/model/age, and fitting an appropriate Simplex front mech, and 2 - swapping out the brake levers to modern ones for comfort's sake, taking care to keep the look as classic as possible.

And now.... 

You've come a long way, baby.


  1. I think she's even more beautiful than ever. So glad that you're able to realise her potential!

  2. Ahh, I love this recent rendition and as you you say "rebirth". This is an apt term for what you've accomplished. I dislike the term" frankenbike" because of it's connotations as a haphazard assembly of mismatched parts. Your project was surely not a frankenbike. In fact, it's the opposite. Everything thing you did was planned and executed (wish I had your type of in-house mechanic-wink) with love for the Puch's rebirth. Every project starts with a vision - so glad yours came out so grand.

    And thanks for insight into an accessories bar. That's a new one on me.

    1. Aw thanks Annie. I wanted, if possible, for the result to look like a harmonious whole. I am so glad it does! I love planning bike builds and re-builds, whether it's old or new, and Adam loves building bikes, so it's a win-win around our house. :)

      Yes, fortunately there are few more options for accessories/extension bars now. SJS Cycles are a good source, also (if you can order from Germany) Rose Bikes.

  3. Congratulations on your changes. I love the crank--very useful. What good is a bike if it doesn't work for you? I say change until it works, although I very much understand wanting to respect the integrity of the original vision. I guess there is always a dynamic tension there.

    1. Thanks Dave! Someone (I think Velouria but haven't gone back to look) once said: "If it's not rare or historically important, do whatever it takes to make it a bike you will ride". That's what has happened here. But yes, that dynamic tension doesn't quite go away.

    2. Found it! On her May post about the 1960s BSA roadster, I commented about my reservations about modifying my 1950s Puch Rugby Sport and she replied:

      "My take on vintage bike modification: Unless it is a rare, historically valuable specimen, any change that makes it more ridable for you can only be a good thing."

  4. Great build. I did this with my old '84 Trek 400 a few years ago. Very gratifying to update an old bike and fall in love with it all over again.

    1. Thank you Chris! Yes, it's a wonderful feeling. I loved both the process and the result. Would love to see your Trek - do you have a link to photos online?

  5. Congratulations on a great build. I subscribe to Delightful Cycles - Your bike should be the only one like it in the world. You just did.

    1. Hi, thanks for dropping by and commenting. I hadn't heard of Delightful Cycles before - looks very cool! I've now subscribed to both their Pinterest and Tumblr pages, so thanks for that tip. Were you thinking I should submit photos of my bike to their board(s)? Or has someone already done that, and that's how you "found" me? :)

  6. It is a lovely build that yes, is understated and no frankenbike at all. And William Morris would be proud - something cannot be truly beautiful unless it is used for its proper purpose - you've made the bike you'll ride more than any other and that has got to be a brilliant thing for a vintage bike.
    I've got a vintage 60s tenspeed that I wonder about gearing up to make it a little more friendly on the Pennine hills I ride, but as yet I've not done so - I can manage my commute with its 1500ft of climbing so I use her as much as I can and plump for my 80s vintage with a triple for the days where the climbing is something extra.
    Enjoy the new miles together!

    1. Thank you, Georgie! :) Funny you should mention William Morris - I'm something of a fan of his work and am looking forward to going to the "Anarchy" exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery next week.

      As to ponderings about changes... I tend to think, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. So if you're riding that 1960s 10-speed as it is, then...? Always nice to have another bike on standby though, to do those things the first one can't! ;)

  7. Given this level of detail about the bike, you truly are a bike affectionado. It's ok, I have 4 bikes myself but could never describe all their technical parts in such intimate detail!

    1. Aficionado, maybe. Affectionado, definitely! ;)

      I used to drive and work on classic cars but seem to have transferred much of that curiosity and affection to bicycles. I am fascinated with how things work, especially the interplay between design and function, cause and effect, how parts fit into the whole, etc. With bike builds, I start with the result I want and "work backwards" to get it, if I can. :)

  8. Well done! Though I'm partial to v2.0, I really like the juxtaposition of a vintage frame with modern components as a tribute in a way, but also in your case, as a practical matter. It's fun to see what works and what doesn't when you're building up a bike out of a multitude of parts. I've been itching to do the same for a while, I just need to find the right frame...

    1. Thanks Jake! This is (as you may have realised) the "Mystery Bike" mentioned a few months ago - when your eagle eyes spotted the Quill to Ahead Stem adapter! :)

      If by v2.0, you mean the honey Brooks city bike version... yep, we did a LOT of miles, that version and me! And she just wanted to go faster and faster....

  9. Andrew (Dogtrousers)5 Dec 2014, 13:57:00

    Not a million miles away from what I've done to my Dawes Shadow. Old steel bike, modern drivetrain with low gears taking into account period retro knees, modern brakes.

    I stuck with the downtube shifters and old handlebars tho, because I prefer them the looks of the quill stem and the functionality of the shifters (my hands are still hard wired to change gear on the down tube).

    1. Hi Andrew! Wonderful to hear from someone I ride with in real life!! :) I'm pretty sure I've seen this Dawes, yes? You've summarised the build concept very well: vintage frame + modern bits + vintage knees! The handlebar + stem + shifter question is an interesting one. I prefer the look of quill stems, but my problems with reach have pushed me over and over again towards modern compact handlebars which generally means Ahead stem. The reach problem also impact being able to use downtube shifters - I've used them only once or twice. This bike originally had stem-mounted shifters of that same type and I got on very well with them, until something went wrong (I've forgotten Adam's diagnosis) and it simply would not stay in any gear for more than 2 seconds, always slipping towards the smaller cog (higher gear) - I did a 40 miles ride like that in September - I had to walk up several inclines that should have been mere bumps. That was the "final straw" as it were, making me decent to strip down and rebuild with a modern groupset.

      I saw the photo of the Claud Butler mixte you posted up over on Cycle Chat earlier this week - that has the potential for being truly stunning - good luck with it!

  10. A friend's shop had the coolest old/new hybrid on display. A 1976 Gios Torino in chipped up race-scarred condition, carefully fitted with 9-speed Campy ergo mech, every new part carefully polished to 1970s gleam levels. It looked capable. I imagine the younger horses getting nervous around that old steed.

    Your Puch now looks kind of like that.

  11. Hi Corey, thanks! "Capable" is the bottom line, I think. But I don't think we're making any younger steeds (or their riders) nervous round these parts.

    The Gios Torino is a not a name I knew so off I went to Google.... WOW! Was the one in your friend's shop that gorgeous blue colour?

    1. The one in my friend's shop was white with blue, red, & black logos. I thought I had a pic saved, but cannot find it.
      Here is a similar one- the owner of the bike raffled it off to benefit a bike charity in the SF California Bay Area in 2012, so this might even be the same one.

  12. Hi Rebecca, Enjoyed this interesting & informative post as I like this idea of honoring these old vintage pieces by recycling them for updated lives. I've an old 70s Raleigh Comp that I updated as a fast light touring rig with Ergo brifters, 105 triple drivetrain, & Open Pro wheels. Maybe sacrilegious and also spendy for an old bike but still has the heron badge & of course I have the OEM parts. Been thinking of updating a mid 70s Raleigh Super Course Mark II mixte so your post is most useful and maybe will get me over my hesitation-always looking for that more upscale frame! Really like the practical drivetrain on your rebuild. Thanks for the entertaining post. Jim Duncan

    1. Hi Jim, I'm glad you enjoyed this. I'd love to see some pics of your Raleigh Comp - that does indeed sound like a similar project. I hope it's a joy to ride? Good look with whatever you decide to do with the Super Course Mark II. And thanks again for dropping by. :)

    2. Jim has shared a photo of his stunning Raleigh Comp on Twitter:

  13. I think your revamped mixte looks lovely. I am intrigued by your affection for it ... Your description of its ride quality, and Velouria's description of the mixtes she has owned, have played a part in my decision to order a mixte to replace my flat bar road bike that was stolen from our garden shed four weeks ago. Just one question for you ... My stolen bike had 32 mm tires originally, and my Pashley Poppy has 35 mm tires. The mixte ( a Pashley Aurora) is coming with 28 mm tires. Are these not too narrow for London's roads, parks and river trails? Apparently the mixte can take 32 mm tires and I am not sure whether to replace them straight away or try the narrower tires first. Is riding with 28 mm tires very scary? I only took up cycling a year ago and am still a total newbie.

    1. Hi Stephanie, thanks for commenting. That Pashley Aurora looks gorgeous! It looks like a good-quality, practical build too.

      As for tyre width, if you're used to 32s, then go for that - especially if you're riding on any unpaved trails or canal towpaths. I find 28s are just fine for London's roads - the key lies in a robust well-built wheel. But I have 32s on my Cross Check and those are definitely "cushier" - in fact, I'm thinking of putting 32s on my Enigma touring bike. (By the way, the Puch mixte with 28 tyres was my first adult bike and I didn't find 28s scary at all. I've test ridden road bikes with 25mm tyres and could tell the difference but still not "scary" - though "scary" has more to do with the bike's geometry and handling than with tyre width. I prefer more "cush" over longer distances than what tyres narrower than 25 can offer though.)

      As to how the ride quality of the Aurora compares with lightweight classics like my Puch and the various vintage mixtes featured on Lovely Bicycle! and other sites/blogs, I couldn't say, as I've not ridden the Aurora. My own limited experience with Pashleys has been with their traditional step-through frames and there, weight and geometry conspire to give a very cushy, but stately (as opposed to responsive) ride. Not my style. But Jools (Vélo-City-Girl blog) loves her Pashley Princess for city riding.

      Then again, the Aurora does look like an entirely different "beast" - Pashley claims the geometry and design is relatively sporty. Relative to what, is the question though. It may mean relative to other Pashley models, which to be honest isn't saying much. From what I've read online, the Aurora does sound really appealing as a city bike striking the sensible balance between "robust" and "nippy". And it sounds capable of handling trails, towpaths and the like. But again, 32 tyres would definitely be appropriate there.

      Do let me know how you get on with it! Now... off to see if I can book a test ride...! ;)

  14. I wish I'd read this a couple of weeks ago before shelling out on a French threaded BB for a Princess I picked up on eBay!

    I'm planning on almost the exact same conversion, 700c wheel set, 1x9 mtb gearing, flat or porteur style bars though.

    1. Oh dear! I really don't know if any Puch models had French threaded bottom brackets. The Princess was, I believe, exclusively for the British market. You should find the build quite straightforward. Have you ridden this bike in its current set up? I'd love to know how you get on with a flat/porteur bar set up.

    2. I should have added, if your crankset is French (unlikely but I shouldn't have assumed that it isn't), then you may still want that French-threaded BB, assuming it fits into the frame.

  15. It's actually for my girlfriend and the original 27" wheel set was pretty badly warped so the brief ride down my street probably didn't really count!

    It's been completely stripped down now and has has the old drivetrain from mtb fitted to it - the old British threaded cartridge BB from it fit like a charm!

    Did you have any issues with the chain rubbing on the frame at the rear when in the 11/12 tooth cog on the cassette? I'm not sure if this one rubs a wee bit or if it's because I've not fully torqued down the cassette lockring yet…

    Looking forwards to throwing some new bits on it!

    1. Hi Colin. No, I have not had any chain rub.

      If it were me, I'd first check that the rear wheel is built on the right length axle, then go ahead and finish off your 700 wheelset (including cassette fitment) so that it's ready to fit into the dropouts and tighten up (whether axle bolts or QRs) and then check your chainline: Good luck!

    2. Oops, I meant to add that as a reply to the thread just above, sorry!

      Admittedly the rear hub spacing is 130mm rather than the 127mm that the frame is spaced to, I'm stretching the back end ever so slightly.

      Were the Mavics that you fitted spaced to 127mm rather than 130mm?

    3. Actually, the rear spacing on my Princess unexpectedly just under 130mm! I have no idea how/why, as I bought it with the original 27 inch wheelset. In any case, the axles of the Mavic wheelset drop in with exactly the right fit.

      "Stretching" = forcing the frame. For the sake of 3mm (I'll bet it's actually 126mm so let's call it 4mm), this is probably okay. (Again, I defer to Sheldon Brown/Harris Cyclery: - scroll halfway down).

      Other solutions that don't involve forcing the frame: check if there are spacers on your axle that can be removed, or carefully cut the axle down to 126-127. (We did that on one of my other bikes.) Chainline may not be perfect; it probably wasn't to begin with, so just check that you've not made it worse!

  16. One other thing, was the rear Tiagra brake you tried the 57mm reach version? I'm hoping to stick with Tiagra or 105 front and rear rather than getting a set of long drop Tektros or similar. I've measured the distance from brake bolt hole to the centre of the brake track on the wheel and it looks to be the same on mine although I guess that could be down to the rear wheel position, I'm using a different mech hanger which has the wheel more forwards on the bike…

    1. I've got a Dia Compe 57mm rear brake. We couldn't find anyone with Tiagra 57mm in stock. So it's a mix-and-match: Tiagra on the front, Dia Compe on the rear.

    2. Ah ha, awesome cheers for clearing that up.

  17. First off Chapeau on your build, I am always happy to see bike boom lugged steel bikes getting use and although I rebuild alot of old bikes in their original context ( I do that mostly because its the path of least resistance. My overall philosophy is if it makes the bike more useful/comfortable/enjoyable for you then by all means do it! I have all the parts I need to do something similar to the Motobecane Grand Touring I found last May and now I just need to do it. Enjoy the reborn princess.

    1. Thank you, Ryan! I love following your rebuilds. It's never 'the path of least resistance' if you care about getting the bike back on the road.


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