30 September 2014

Nice Old Cranks

Some of my favorite vintage components are Stronglight cranksets.

You might thing I'm being sentimental about the days when I was young, carefree and riding my PX-10.  Well, there are some things I miss about those days, though I have no wish to repeat them.  But more to the point, I have good memories of the Stronglight 93 crankset that came with that bike because it really was very nice.

I loved the shape and mirror polish of it.  Even more important, though, was its practicality:  Chainrings from 37 to 58 teeth were available for it. In a way, it was a precursor to today's "compact" road double cranksets.  So, they were commonly ridden, not only by racers, but by tourists with relatively light loads or who simply didn't want to deal with the finicky shifting and other issues that came with triple cranksets.

What was probably an even nicer--and, to my eye, even prettier--crankset was the "99" model.


It wasn't readily found here in the US, and not many bikes came equipped with it.  But it offered an even wider range of chainrings than the 93:  from 28 to 54 teeth.  In the late '70's and early '80's, six was the maximum number of freewheel cogs; seven would be introduced in the middle of the '80's.  That meant the steps between cogs were wider than on today's 8, 9, 10, 11 or 13-cog cassettes.  Consequently, most in-the-know touring cyclists rode with a "half-step plus granny" chainring setup.  That meant, in brief, a relatively small gap between the two larger chainrings and using the smallest available chainring for the "granny" gear.

A common "half-step plus granny" setup included chainrings of 28, 45 and 50 teeth.  The Stronglight "99" was ideally suited for it.  It had a larger bolt circle (86BCD) than the company's "49" model. the Specialites TA Cyclotouriste or the Nervar touring cranksets, all of which used a 50.4 BCD.  Smaller bolt circles mean, at least in theory, more chainring flex.  The 49, Cyclotouriste and Nervar crankset compensated with an extra ring of bolts to hold the two outer chainrings together.  On the other hand, the "99" had only one set of five bolts holding the chainrings onto the crank.

No one seemed to notice any undue flexing on the "99"--or a near-copy of it made by Sakae Ringyo (SR) in Japan.  The SR model was, functionally, the same and a good deal less expensive.  But the Stronglight cranks seemed to be of higher quality and were more beautiful.

So what happened to the "93" and "99"?  Well, the former crankset became the "105" and "106"--the same cranset with an anodised finish and "drillium" chainrings.  There was also a "drillium" version of the "99".  But the real reason why we don't see more modern versions of those cranks is that they had proprietary bolt circles:  122 mm for the "93" and, as I mentioned, 86 mm for the "99".  In contrast, Campagnolo racing cranks, and their clones, had a 144 mm diameter, while Dura-Ace had the now-ubiquitous 130 mm.  Meanwhile, Sugino's touring cranksets came with the now-familiar 110 mm for the outer two chainrings and 74 mm for the "granny" gear.

That means replacement chainrings for the "93" and "99" can be found only on eBay and at swap meets.  The good news is those chainrings tended to be long-wearing, more so than TA's rings. 


  1. When I read your headline, I thought you had written a post specifically about me, an eccentric old crank.
    I recently overhauled a friend's vintage Peugeot, I believe it's a UO10 from the late 70s, earlier this year. The Stronglight crankset was not the 93 model. A 1980 Peugeot catalog listed it as "104." It cleaned up pretty well, but I didn't have the correct crank extractor to service the bottom bracket. Fortunately, I have a friend who's also an old crank and he happened to have the Stronglight extractor. It pays to know the right people.

  2. MT--Well, you always seemed nice to me. You don't strike me as old. (Then again, not many people do, these days.) And if you are a crank, well, I guess I just have to take your word for it. There's no dishonor in being one, in my book. (I'm a NYer, after all!)

    Stronglight cranks made before the mid-80s require their own unique extractor. Of course, Var, the French bicycle tool maker, offered one. It's been out of production for years, but JA Stein makes one, as well as an extractor for old Specialites TA cranks, which also required their own remover.

    You're right, though, nothing beats knowing the right people!