Bicycle boy and the terror of the total teardown: The Schwinn Sports Tourer

Submitted for your consideration: an all-steel Schwinn-approved front derailleur, disassembled, which bicycle shops used to do, just like they used to build inexpensive steel replacement wheels in the winter, just like they used to maintain cog boards so people could customize the gear progression of their freewheels, and just like they used to overhaul freewheels, though it wasn’t done all that much, even when I was doing it in the late 1970s.

If you run a bicycle shop today, and you’re interested in staying in business, you don’t spend your time doing any of those things. They aren’t economical. You would spend more money on labor with the old components than you would on labor with entirely new components.

So instead you make modular repairs, which means you remove and replace things at a component level, not at the parts level. You replace the entire cassette stack, not the individual cog; the entire balky combination brake/gear lever, not the plastic bushing; the entire tweaked derailleur, not the spring.

Because fewer repairs are performed at the parts level, manufacturers have no incentive to make components with easily replaced parts. You can no longer replace a small linkage because the part is no longer attached in such a way to allow for replacement. You can’t replace a spring because the manufacturer doesn’t make the part available by itself.

So if there were any question that I’m not currently employed in the bike trade, the picture above should put an end to that. I have had the luxury of time to leave this derailleur, in pieces, on my bench for a week and a half. You know, while I figure out how to put it back together so I can reinstall it on Les Siegrist’s 1972 Schwinn Sports Tourer. And, also, try to remember why I took it apart in the first place.

When you create a puzzle like this for yourself, you begin to see the wisdom of repairs at the component level. But it’s also fun to look at the individual stamped steel pieces, the nuts and bolts: the atoms that make up the molecule. Individually, the parts are relatively simple.

You see a disassembled steel derailleur and you can imagine the premier Italian tinkerer of the late 1950s trying to figure out a more reasonable way to switch between chainrings on the move. He used what he had lying around: nuts, bolts, springs and steel, and ended up with something that didn’t look all that different from this later parallelogram design from the early 1970s.

Thanks, Tullio.

As you handle the various parts of the mechanism, you sense the arc of history, the line of continuity across time and ocean and language, even if the language of this particular derailleur is French.

When you examine the parts long enough, though, they only raise questions, both on the macro and micro levels. Why did it take so long to hit upon the obviously useful parallelogram design? Why isn’t Campagnolo still leading innovation in the bicycle industry today? Why did you take this ridiculous thing apart? And how in the world do you put it all back together again?

Fortunately, the answer to the last and most important question is found in Glenn’s Complete Bicycle Manual, probably the first bicycle book I ever bought. The book includes step-by-step instructions and an exploded drawing of the very derailleur that lies scattered before me. By saving me from myself, not for the first time, the book is regaining its early status as the ultimate repository of knowledge, confidence and applied logic. Observe the man in the lab coat. He sweateth not, nor doth he swear. Also, he has a lab coat. How cool is that?

However, because Glenn’s is a book, it doesn’t account for the imminent wholesale movement of the component business from Europe to Japan or the effect of low-cost production on the repair business. It is always 1973 within its covers.

Schwinn is the most powerful brand in the United States. Nixon reigns. I weep. Or at least I blink. It’s a bit dusty in the basement.

Glenn’s is less a repair manual than a time capsule that was buried within my overloaded bookshelves. It makes it seem that the exercise of stripping a front derailleur into its baser elements, leaving no linkage upon a linkage, no nut upon a bolt, and then restoring the unit to full functionality is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

It is not, but because I precipitated the crisis by taking the derailleur apart, it is now up to me to restore order and predictability to this anarchy of bits and pieces.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

About 16incheswestofpeoria

Former bicycle mechanic, current peruser of books, feeder of birds.
This entry was posted in Equipment, Schwinn Sports Tourer and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Bicycle boy and the terror of the total teardown: The Schwinn Sports Tourer

  1. Lar Davis says:

    I find it useful to lay the parts out like an exploded diagram, esp. when they need to go back together on some common axis(es). And, my! they are so shiney! Cool stuff.

  2. Craig Burgess says:

    This is a lesson I learned just a couple of seasons ago, when I lost the retaining bolt for one of the jockey wheels on my Shimano 600 rear derailleur (and hence, the jockey wheel itself) while out on a ride. After finally making it home and then to the shop, I found no one had, or could get, a replacement wheel of the appropriate diameter, tooth count or depth/width/thickness, nor could they get a bolt of the same length, diameter and thread to hold the unavailable jockey wheel in place. All I could do was get a new RD.

    • And I think we all know how rare Shimano derailleurs are. This is why shops need junk boxes: not for worthless crap–that’s what the sales floor is for–but to better meet the needs of a returning customer.

      Are there no junk boxes, sir?

  3. Mark Fulton says:

    I miss cog boards; such a nice way to fine-tune a half-step system to just where you wanted it.
    The trick with junk boxes is keeping them organized. The last shop I worked at (left in ’87) carried this out to the nth degree – a mainstay of their business was reconditioning used bikes. I still remember being in the middle of an overhaul of an obsolete coaster brake hub and asking jokingly “Hey Mike, got any Mattatuck coaster brake transfer springs? (haha)”. “Sure, we got all kinds of ’em” he says, going into the back room and emerging with a box with Mattatuck parts. Sheer genius.

    • I’m with you on the half-step gearing.

      Now I’m wondering whether there’s an online equivalent to your old shop’s junk boxes. I’m not sure that eBay counts; I’m thinking more like a dedicated site.

      Of course the thing that really makes junk boxes work is the person who knows what’s in them.

      Where’d you work?

      • Mark Fulton says:

        Last time I worked at a bike shop it was at Budget Bicycle Center in Madison Wisconsin. Thinking back, it was actually the summer of ’85 that I last worked there. I think Roger still does used bike recons, so he probably still has the back rooms full of highly organized “junk”, and a few guys who know their way around. Otherwise the shop has been growing like kudzu and now occupies 4 or 5 different buildings – Madison is a goooood place to run a bike shop.

      • I remember not crashing in a few criteriums in Madison in the late 1970s. Great place.

  4. Mark Fulton says:

    I never raced, but from what I recall of the Capitol Criterium, not crashing on that downhill turn by State Street was something of an accomplishment.

  5. Jim Hess says:

    So this is where us geezers hang out. Hi folks!

    I know how it is with repairs. I ran a consumer electronics/band equipment service shop in the 80s. I remember the first time I read a note from Sony that they weren’t going to pay for warranty service on a $50 portable cassette player because it only cost them $9 off the boat. The last time I was in such a shop, the fellow told me the only things keeping him going any more were camcorders and projection TVs. I’m guessing that digital camcorders have killed 3/4 of that business since.

    So my current project is resurrecting on old Le Tour. The steering was jerky until I replaced the headbearings. I polished the chrome, repacked the bottom bracket, new seat and tubes and tires, etc. It’s beginning to ride pretty sweet. The last gremlin is getting the front derailleur aligned. Low gear is fine, but I can’t stop the chain from rattling on the highest gear (largest front, smallest rear.)

    The online guides say the outer plate of the cage should parallel the chain ring – but the Le Tour cage has a little jog out at the back, making the back of the cage wider than the front. I’m guessing that the cage should be aligned so that the inner plate is parallel to the cog wheel, placing the chain over the roller bearing at the rear of the cage. What do the experts say?

    Also, at the front of the inner plate, there’s a forward projection which looks to me as if it is not in line with the rest of the plate, but bent inward slightly. Is this proper, or something I need to adjust?

    Any guidance is appreciated!

    • If you have a picture, email it to me at bikewriter at gmail dot com. I’m guessing the width at the back is more to accommodate the small chainring so the rest of the cage can be focused on shifting between the two largest chainrings. If so, the advice on aligning the outer cage with the large chainring still holds.

      You may also want to check the height of the cage; the closer you can run it to the chainring, the more accurate the shift. But if the cage is high, say, more than 1/4 inch, the derailleur needs to move farther sideways (less precise a shifting move) to successfully reposition the chain.

      The inward projection at the front sounds normal; however, it may contact the chain in the highest gear if the high limit screw isn’t backed out enough. Your choices are to adjust the screw or to rotate the cage on the frame. Rotation will affect the throw of the derailleur inward as well, so you’ll want to double check the position of the low limit screw. (You may also want to bend the projection outward with a Crescent wrench, but I’d try this last.)

      With front dérailleurs, parallel alignment is an ideal. It is a crude mechanism, though, so some deviation from ideal can be expected.

      Thanks for writing. Repairs are what separate us from the robots.

  6. Tim says:

    I have always loved Glenn’s Manual! Even more fun and more of a time capsule, if you can get your hands on it, is the hard cover, two volume official service manual from Schwinn! Very cool.

    When I was a kid in the early 70s teaching myself to fix bikes, I relied on a combination of Glenn’s, Richards Bicycle Book, and Anybody’s Bike Book… all classics! Oh, and Sloan’s was good too, but the other three were my real “go to” guides.

  7. Max says:

    Hi I have a schwinn with that front derailler I took mine apart to clean it but can’t seem to get it back together can some one send me a video of them doing it? Email

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