Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Time Travel Tuesday; 2007 Converting a 1970s Azuki 10 speed to single speed

I have been wanting to post about this for some time but could not find any pictures...until now.  Back in late 2007 I had this idea to find an old 10 speed to convert to a single speed commuter.  I was working in downtown Seattle and from my house in West Seattle it was only about 6 miles.  I was in decent shape at the time and figured I could handle the one uphill I would need to tackle to get home.   So I found this free old Azuki "Prince" 10 speed on Craigslist and my odyssey with old steel began.

My first foray into vintage steel
 Now at this time I still thought the coolest bike I could ever have would be a carbon Specialized Tarmac road bike.  I only had basic bike maintenance tools and only a vague idea that I could turn a 10 speed into a single speed, heck I barely knew a freewheel from a cassette!  I notice in this picture that the Azuki must have been free because it had no saddle as the saddle pictured is an used Selle Italia gel saddle from my Cannondale R800.

According to the late great seer of old bicycles -Sheldon Brown- the Azuki was the "House brand of Louisville Cycle & Hobby, Louisville, Kentucky" According to wikipedia the Azuki line came from Japanese manufacturer Kawamura which was approached by West Coast Cycle Supply Company (WCC) to create two lines of bicycles and they asked the Kawamura workers to come up with names for the lines which resulted in them choosing Nishiki for WCC's primary, nationwide line of bikes (after Saga Nishiki and the gold Nishiki thread often woven into wedding kimonos) — and Azuki for the secondary bicycle line (after the sweetened, red Azuki bean), using the chrysanthemum as the Azuki logo.

Anyway I just wanted a cheap bike I could turn into a single speed and the Azuki is what I stumbled across. It was, as I now know, a pretty run of the mill low end bike boom 10 speed. It sported:a big ol pie plate rear wheel
Stem mounted shifters with "safety" brake levers
and Shimano Tourney level components throughout like these center pull brakes
You will also note that this bike had no brazed on or decent clamp on cable guides just some stamped steel bands that looked like hose clamps-

The only other bike I have worked on with such rinky dink cable arrangements was the Sears Free Spirit- not a ringing endorsement. I only planned to run a single brake cable so I wasn't too concerned. You'll notice, in the completed bike shots, that when I ran the rear brake cable I used zip ties - classy, didn't occur to me that running a front brake would have been much cleaner.  I may have been concerned that grabbing a handful of front brake could result in an endo.

Looking back its somewhat of a miracle I actually got this bike built into something useable. I got it stripped down and, before I found my love for patina, sanded down the frame and rattle canned a new paint job. First a coat of primer in my makeshift garage paint "booth"
I kept the blue color and added white "safety bands" to the fork and seat stays-I though they might make me easier to see in the dim light.
Even then I knew I wasn't cool enough to go fixed so went to Recycled Cycles and had them dish the rear wheel and add a single speed freewheel. I replaced the original handlebars with a nice set of Nitto B-115 handlebars with an inverse lever for the rear brake. The Nittos probably doubled the worth of the bike. I also swapped out the quill stem for an adapter to use a "modern" 1 1/8" stem as back then I didn't know any better.

This was also my first use of the Shimano PD M324 pedal which gives a classic pedal look with a platform on one side while offering the option of clipless SPD useage on the other side. I still use this pedal type today on my Handsome Devil, they are very handy; 80% of the time I just jump on the bike in regular clothes and normal shoes and go platform, but the other 20% I slip on bike specific gear including Keen commuter sandals and clip in to do serious cyclist stuff (yeah right).

I ended up commuting on this bike for about 8 months and got pretty strong from having to go single speed up a 6% grade on my way home but eventually I decided, or maybe that was my knees talking, that gears weren't such a bad idea. Still it was fun and I even gave some thought to swapping the "fat" 27x1 1/4 tires for some "skinny" 27x1 tires and riding this bike on the annual Seattle to Portland (STP) 200 mile ride (over 2 days). I eventually sobered up but I did give it serious consideration -LOL. I realize that in addition to being my first 10 speed rebuild this was also the first old steel bike I sold on craigslist.

I also see from these shots that I wasn't very patient when it came time to document my final build as you will see that I only did half the bar wrap and only got the rear fender on before I had to take some snaps.

Kind of fun to look back on this and realize how little I knew about working on old 10 speeds back then but you have to start somewhere right? As always


  1. Little Miss Dangerous has been single speed for months now. I just came in from about thirty-five miles and I only wished for gears once: coming down the downhill side of an interstate overpass. I HATE spinning so I was wishing for a higher gear...but then fifteen seconds later I was back on level ground and forgot all about it. Florida is FLAT, man.

    Re-dished the wheel! I should do that. Or not...I just cut a piece of PVC sized to take the space where the cassette goes, so that when I want to go back to gears no dishing is needed.

    But I'll tell ya, I think I'll leave her as she is, due in part to something you mentioned: she is, after all, composed of Hi-ten steel tubes, venerable gas pipe construction, not really much more bicycle than your Azuki project. And I really enjoy her in her rough-and-tumble street-fighter form...

    This frees me up to seek out something a little more appropriate for a "fast" bike. My neighbor Jungle Jim still has his old Raleigh Pro (full Campy) that he never rides anymore...he's the same size as me and that bike has been sitting in his girlfriend's garage, in pieces, for a long time. So who knows...


    1. Hey Velo Brother, its late and I seem to be not sleeping and for some reason your "gas pipe" comment re the Le Tour has been rattling around in my head. Gas pipe, as you know, is what most folks refer to as "Hi Ten" or high tensile and apparently it has an SAE number of 4340, your Le Tour was built with Low Tensile or SAE 1020 Carbon Steel. Now there may not be much difference but by 1981 your bike would have been welded in Japan by craftsman, sure your frame is no Columbus or Reynolds 531 super cool material and by all means you should try for that Raleigh professional but I think LMD is a well made machine and way above a true gas pipe slug like the Sears Free Spirit or a Schwinn Varsity - the boat anchor of 10 speeds.. Anyhow just two cents from a rambling sleepy old bike nut.


  2. The resurrection of a Raleigh Professional with full Campy....that would be a blog post I look forward to reading! Wheel Dishing is beyond me but they did it so I would have a half decent chainline, Randy over at gets around this by leaving on the old cassette and then running the chain to the middle sprocket, akin to what you are doing with PVC. He refers to it as the "Poor Boy" single speed and writes about it here I have too many hills to deal with to go SS again but I have thought of doing a wide range Sturmey Archer 5 speed IGH one of these days.

  3. There is no way for this kid to ever go SS....It is flat on the walk from the front door of the Lumberyard to my office. That's it. Zip on the flat riding around here. I just don't have the strength to man-up with a SS. It is either real slow, or, real fast with gears!!

    "Serious cyclist stuff" HA! made me laugh I am so not part of that serious cyclist stuff. But I understand the fun people have who are! In a month here or so I am heading down to Santa Fe for the Santa Fe Century ride. There are many guys who are really serious, all "kitted" up and zipping along in pacelines and whatnot. I'll have to have fun with my own pace in a pair of EP High school basketball shorts. The beer at the finish line taste just as good, serious or not!!

    1. Jim as always thanks for stopping by the virtual work-stand. I really liked the simplicity of the single speed, although as someone said once "on a single speed you always in the wrong gear". Unless I move someplace flatter or get in significantly better shape, however, my SS days are over. I have been through Sante Fe twice and it seems like a gorgeous place to ride a century, I am sure you have read all about staying hydrated and fueling etc but most importantly ride your own pace and have fun -and enjoy the beer at the end! I look forward to your report.