25 January 2017

If You Can See The Difference....

One of my favorite bloggers is The Retrogrouch.  So, I intend no disrespect to him with this post.

He is, of course, not the only cyclist to refer to himself as a Retrogrouch.  I am mainly in sympathy with him and the others who so identify themselves:  I ride steel frames, hand-laced wheels, downtube shifters (on my geared bikes), pedals with toe clips and Brooks saddles (except on my LeTour).  And all of my cranksets have square tapered axles.

On the other hand, I ride cassette hubs on my geared bikes (though the Trek 412 I'm building will have a screw-on freewheel).  The chief reasons are convenience and availablity:  No high-quality multiple-sprocket freewheels are made today (All of the good ones are single-speed.)  and most of the new-old-stock freewheels one can find on eBay and in other places have gear ratios that are useless to me.  (I am "of a certain age" and don't race, so what can I do with a 12-13-14-15-16-17-18?)  The unusued ones command exorbitant prices, while buying a used one is risky:  Your chain may or may not play nice with it.

And, as you can see from the photos in my sidebars, some of my components are black.   Some see that as a sign of a "sell-out", but there were indeed black components in the '70's and earlier.   Even the high priests of "shiny silver" at Velo Orange (which is actually one of my favorite online retailers) concede as much.

So, having said my piece about Retrogrouches, I want to introduce another species or clan or tribe (depending on your point of view) of cyclists.  I will call them Retrogeeks.  

Now, Retrogeeks and Retrogrouches are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, many can be identified, and would identify themselves, by both monikers.  One notable exception would be the late, great Sheldon Brown:  His encyclopaedic knowledge of all things bicycle made him a Retrogeek but, although he rode mainly steel frames and many older components, he did not think old is always better than new.  So he is not a Retrogrouch, though some have called him that.

One hallmark of a Retrogeek is that he or she knows authentic vintage bikes and parts from ersatz ones, and can tell whether or not an old bike or part was modified. Today, I am going to conduct a sort of Rorsach test that might help you to begin to figure out whether or not you are a Retrogeek.  Take a look at this photo:

Now take a look at this:

They are both images of the old Zefal Competition pump.  With its color scheme, you probably wouldn't be surprised to know that many pro and semi-professional French bikes of the '60's and '70's came with it.  The only other portable bike pump that was considered its equal (or, in some eyes, its better) was the Silca Impero.

What is the difference between the two Competitions in the first two photos?

If you look at the first two photos in this post, you will see that the pump in the second has the traditional press-on valve fitting, like the ones available for Silca pumps. To my knowledge, all Competitions came with it.  The pump in the first photo, in contrast, has a thumb-lock fitting--from a Zefal HP pump, the Competition's successor.

Pity that poor HP.  Had it been functional, I probably would use it on the Trek 412 I'm putting together:  It was the pump of choice at the time the bike was made.  Apart from the finish (polished on the Competition, silver anodized on the HP) and the color scheme, the only difference between the Competition and HP is in the head.

One nice thing about the Silcas is that you can change the head simply by twisting it off.  A Zefal head, on the other hand, attaches to one of the strangest-looking screws ever made

all the way inside the body.  Zefal used to make a tool for the purpose.  The only one I ever saw (or used before today) resided on Frank's toolbench in Highland Park (NJ) Cyclery, where I worked.

From Yellow Jersey

A screwdriver with a long flat blade would unscrew it--as long as the shaft is about 400mm long. (At least, I think that's how long the Zefal tool was.)  My longest screwdriver is only 12 inches (about 300mm).  So I resorted to another implement

or, I should say, collection of implements.  Assembled, it makes me think more of a crane--or of something made with an Erector Set-- than of any other hand tool I have ever seen or used.  

It consists of a 3/8" socket drive with two extensions--  one of 10 inches (250mm), the other 6 inches (150mm), a 3/8"-to-1/4" adapter and the blade assembly from one of my reversible screwdrivers which--wonder of wonders!--fit into the 1/4" socket.

Getting the screw out wasn't difficult.  But reassembling was a bit trickier.  I dropped the screw into the pump shaft and jiggled it until the threads protruded from the bottom.  Then I inserted my contraption and held it against the screw and screwed the head on for a couple of threads.  You can't screw it on all the way since the hole at the bottom of the pump has a hexagonal shape, into which the inner lip of the pump end fits.  

So, after threading the head onto the screw for a couple of threads, I rotated the pump body until the hexagonal lip of the pump head skid slid into the hexagonal hole at the bottom of the pump body (easily yet snugly:  the parts were well-machined). Of course, I lightly greased the hexagonal parts and the screw threads before re-assembling everything--and, between disassembly and reassembly, I cleaned out the shaft and gave the inside a light coating of fresh grease.

The "operation" was a success:  I pumped two tires to full pressure (90 PSI).  Yes, I cleaned out the head before I re-assembled the pump.

I know I could have kept the Competition as it was.  I ride only Presta valves, so the press-on fitting would have worked just fine. (I know:  I used both Silcas and Zefal Competitions for years.)  But it is easier to pump high-pressure tires with the thumb-lock attachment.  Plus, I now have a pump that nobody (or, at least, hardly anybody) else has.  Don't worry:  I saved the original Competition head and screw, just in case I decide to convert it back.

Now, if you've been following this blog for the past few weeks, you can guess which bike is getting this pump.


  1. All these years and i never knew just how the Zefal pump disassembled! I still have my original Competition pump, although the piston valve is worn out. i like your bodged screwdriver, and maybe one day i'll attempt to refurbish my old Comp. i was glad to see that Zefal put the HPX back into production;along with the Competition, the Zefals are hands-down the best frame pumps made IMHO.
    As for my own geekery, i just finished overhauling Tarkus, my all-weather utility mountain-ish bike. The geekery involved much disassembing, cleaning, and retrofitting bits that many others would've put out on the curb years ago. The big part of the Art of Retrogeek is keeping the old stuff on the road.

  2. Mike--I have new-production HPXs on my Mercians. They, the HPs and Competitions are indeed the best frame pumps ever made. I hope that Zefal doesn't decide to stop making HPXs and to offer only mini-pumps made in China.

    I love the last sentence of your comment. It's does as much as anything to define Retrogeekery. And I'd like to see Tarkus.

    1. Mike: You are a kindred spirit. I love this new (to me) concept of Retrogeekery. Sometimes it is a matter of finding just the right Campagnolo component from the 70's. At other times it trespasses into the territory of Rube Goldberg. The machine I have referred to as The Ice Bike has an age spread of nearly 50 years in it's components. It is lovingly named "Rautaruukki", "The Iron Caldron". This is a sort of pun in Finnish that implies mixing radically different levels of technology in the same object. I am an incurable dumpster diver.


  3. Leo--If you ever want to write a guest post--or simply send me phots of yur Rautarukki--please do. I'm sure it's not like anything I've shown or written about on this blog!

  4. I would not have known how to refurbish one of the old Zefal pumps without this -- though I'd never tried, either. I can totally relate to putting forth the effort to do it. I like the Zefal HPX, though it seems to be hard to find in anything other than black these days. I like that red/silver/blue one a lot. I have several of the old Silcas -- most of them with the Campagnolo steel head. I just had one shortened slightly - which would be a cool project to document for the blog, but i have to admit I had to have someone else do it for me. I know basically how people do it, but I don't really have the equipment for it (a lathe, or at minimum a good drill press is really helpful).

  5. Brooks--I admit that it's not often one has the need to refurbish a Zefal pump as I did. Like you, I am dismayed that the HPX is difficult to find in anything but black. From what I understand, the HPXs I have on my Mercians--which have a polished silver finish--were to be a "limited run", and I don't know whether they're still being made.

    I would be very interested to see how the "operation" on the Silca was accomplished. For what it's worth, my Silcas also had Campy steel heads, which sealed much better than the Silca heads.

  6. I forgot to say "Thank you" for the kind words at the start of the article.

    I'd love to document the process of shortening a Silca frame pump - but as I mentioned, it wasn't something I felt I could do myself since there are tools I don't have that would make the job much easier. I found a guy who had shortened a few who was kind enough to do the job for me. I had a super nice New-Old-Stock Silca pump that was just a bit too long to fit on any of my bikes. Trying to describe it without photos wouldn't do much good.

  7. Brooks--You don't have to thank me. I just hope that if, by some chance, someone is reading my blog but hasn't seen yours, my blog will lead him or her to yours.

    It's interesting to know that someone actually shortens Silca pumps. That could be a useful skill, given that they haven't been made in about 20 years and the range of available sizes (let alone colors) is thus limited!