A year ago, I blogged about how, almost exactly 50 years after I sold it, I got back the Hetchins I used to tour through Europe during the summer of 1967. Or rather, I got back what was left of it, a frame, and not even all of that original. I wrote how I was disheartened by how large the frame turned out to be, that I was far from sure I would be able to ride it. In that post I suggested "My son acquired a 1970s Centurion which he is not using, and to my eye, it looks like many of the components on that bike would be compatible with the Hetchins frame. Could I temporarily build up the Hetchins with parts from the Centurion so that I could see how rideable the resulting bike would be and to what extent I could modify the fit with changes to the stem, for example?" That is exactly what I did, and it is rideable indeed! There is not much spare standover (I can put both feet flat on the ground while standing over the frame, but just barely) so it is probably good that I am done having kids, but except for that one unimportant detail, the fit couldn't be better.
Why did it take me a year to do this? I am indecisive by nature, a trait that has gotten significantly worse with age and with the loss of my wife, and simply trying to decide on a plan kept me actionless for much of that time. Should I try to swap the parts from the Centurion myself, or should I pay someone to do it? What should I do about wheels? I was OK with stealing parts from my son's bike since everything was reversible, but my Hetchins came with 700c wheels and the Centurion had slightly larger 27" wheels, so I assumed I would have to rebuild the Centurion's wheels if I wanted to use them, a less reversible step. I have been thinking about building a set of 700c clincher wheels for my 1960 Bianchi Specialissima as a practical alternative to its sew-up wheels, so maybe I could use the same wheels for both? One barrier to building such wheels is that it is hard to find hubs with the now obsolete 120mm spacing (modern spacing is 130mm). I have my wife's old Gitane, which is basically a throw-away at this point, and thought about stealing the hubs from it. As Eroica California approached this year and I thought what bike I could ride in that, I started down that path. Alas, somewhere during its long and eventful life, the Gitane's rear axle had gotten bent, killing that idea. So that got me looking at the Centurion wheels again. I put the Centurion up on my bike stand and pulled the wheels to look at them. I can neither remember nor imagine why, but I then pulled out the Hetchins frame and put the wheels on it. To my astonishment, I discovered that when Mike, the Hetchins' former owner, had the frame rebuilt, he had it rebuilt for 27" wheels - the Centurion wheels fit perfectly as-is! Doing this also allowed me to test the standover, and I fit over the frame, another encouraging result. I had been forced to make a bunch of rapid decisions in order to go to Eroica, so I took advantage of my brain temporarily being in decision mode, called Veloro Bicycles, and took them the Hetchins frame and the Centurion. At that point, it was two weeks before Eroica, and I briefly wondered if the Hetchins could be put together in time to be my ride for that event, but Gebhard disabused me of that notion. He warned me that he tends to be slow, so having given up on riding the Hetchins for Eroica, I assured him that time didn't matter at all, and thus was a several month long project born.
So how is my resurrected Hetchins? Gebhard's work on the bike was amazing! That said, the Hetchins is what it is and ain't what it ain't, which is true of the Centurion as well. This Hetchins of today is not the 1967 Hetchins I remember (while wearing my rose-colored glasses.) It definitely is not as pretty as it was. The ornate Hetchins decals and the delicate gold pinstriping of the lugs are long gone. Gebhard recommended not putting the head badge back on yet, so that is missing as well. The components from the Centurion are all Japanese copies of Campagnolo parts, and to my eye are of equal or better quality. However, a chain guard on the outside of the front gears and a pie plate (spoke protector) on the inside of the rear gears don't do much for the appearance. So far, I have only ridden it home from the bike shop, a grand total of three to four miles, and I will have more to say about the performance when I have ridden this bike more, but what I have noticed already is that the brakes grab a bit. Can I get new pads for these very unique, very dated brakes? Gebhard warned me that might not be easy. In terms of shifting, modern bikes with their indexed shifting are simply better than the best of the classic drivetrains. That said, the drivetrain from the Centurion is definitely the best of its day, and shifting is not bad. The range of the gears is limited, however. The front gears are OK, 52 and 39 teeth, but the rear cluster is quite narrow, 14 to 24 teeth. The low gear on this bike is hardly lower than my Bianchi Specialissima with its notoriously narrow racer gearing. Even my commuter bike with an internal gear hub has two gears lower than the low gear on the Hetchins. The saddle from the Centurion is mediocre at best.
So that's the bad news, what about the good? To put things into perspective, the point of this whole project was to determine if this bike could be made to fit me. If it could, then it would be worth thinking about putting more money into it to bring it closer to my dream bike. The best thing about the current build of this bike is that the fit is wonderful, so mission accomplished. I can even use the drops (lower part of the handlebars) something that is quite uncomfortable on most of my bikes. Again, I will have a better feel for how good the fit is when I have put a few more miles on the bike (I told Gebhard I wanted to ride it 100 miles before making any decisions) but so far, fit couldn't be better. A lot of what is less than wonderful about the bike is potentially fixable. If I replace the rear 14-24 gears with a 14-32 cluster purchased on EBay, the gear range won't be spectacular, but would match my internal-gear commuter bike and my Bianchi Volpe in the middle front gear, the one I use most of the time. If I replace the rear gears, I can have the ugly pie plate removed at the same time. If I wanted even lower gears, I can replace the front cranks for $200 to have gears as low as any bike I own. I am most definitely replacing the saddle with Brooks B17, even before riding those 100 miles, especially since I can temporarily borrow one from one of my other bikes.
What is the future of this bike? It is way too soon to say, but at present I can imagine a few broad directions I could go. Almost certainly the best use for this bike is a bike to ride at Eroica California. It is a comfortable bike that meets all of Eroica's retro-requirements. The two things to consider fixing for that purpose, assuming I want to ride some of the more challenging rides, is lower gears and perhaps wider tires (for the unpaved sections of road.) Assuming that is the purpose of the Hetchins, here are some possible (non-exclusive) plans for it:
- Leave it pretty much as-is. That is Gebhard's recommendation. He is definitely of the "is what is is and ain't what it ain't" school. Attempting to replace the rear gear cluster would probably fit on this path. (Attempting? Gebhard has warned me that one never knows with old derailleurs; what works on paper may not work on the bike.)
- Maximize appearance. This would involve undoing what Gebhard has done to get back to a bare frame, which I would ship off to a high end restorer for stripping and repainting and adding back the gold pinstriping, adding replacement Hetchins decals, and putting back the headbadge. At that point, one would need to look with a critical eye at all of the components. Is the chain guard on the front cranks unacceptable? What else needs to be changed? There is no way this Hetchins can be restored to original condition, the motorist who ran a stop sign and ran into it, necessitating a frame repair, made sure of that, but I could make it look pretty while giving it an age-appropriate feel.
- Modernize the bike. The first step on this path is to spread the rear triangle on the frame from its current 120mm to a modern 130mm which would allow me to use more available modern components. At that point I would have to decide, do I go for full-modern appearance, or do I want to maintain the appearance of period correct? One example of the hard choices this decision requires is that almost all of the best modern drivetrain components are black as opposed to period correct components which are silver.
So, exciting times ahead! Right now, I am days away from the Art of Survival metric century which I will ride on my Bianchi Volpe, so my Hetchins is sitting sad and alone in the garage. The first opportunity I have after I get back, however, I will take it out on my Alpine ride, 23 miles and 1300 feet of climbing. I know its gears (and my legs) can handle the hills because I recently completed this ride on my Bianchi Specialissima which has about the same gear range. Depending how that ride goes, I will come up with other rides to test this bike. I wonder what I will decide to do with it?