The Allegro Project

Steve Maas, Long Beach, California, USA

November, 2002

Cruising around eBay one day, I found a bike that resonated with my need for a new restoration project. The bike was an Allegro, a Swiss creation, advertised as dating from 1954 (but, as I discovered, is probably from 1959.) I have several 1970s- to 80s-era Italian bikes and a nice, restored mid-60s Carlton Catalina (click here for a description), so I don't really need another of those. An older bike, especially an unusual one, sounds more interesting.

The auction closed without the bike selling. However, the seller was local, so I contacted him and we worked out a deal. A couple days later, I brought the bike home.

Evaluation

As usual, I started by photographing the bike extensively with a digital camera. This had two purposes: first, to document the bike, and second, to help me get everything back together right. I needed to make some decisions about it; for example, color, chrome plating, and whether to replace the newer components with period ones. It would be nice to chrome plate the fancy scrolled lugs and perhaps some of the rear triangle. I also wanted to do a little fancier paint job, and I wanted to do a better job with the frame artwork than I did with the Carlton. 

The pictures below show the bike as I received it. Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version, and use the "back" button of your browser to return to this page.

 

The Normandy hubs shown above, with 27" Mavic clincher rims, were on the bike when I bought it. Originally, it had Campagnolo high-flange hubs with Weinmann tubular rims, which, to my delight, came with the bike. (Definitely from Switzerland: the rim label gives the model name in both French and German: Champion du Monde and Weltmeister.) The original wheels are shown below. The owner presumably didn't like dealing with tubular tires, so he replaced the nice Campy/Weinmann wheels with cheapo Normandy/Mavic ones. I quickly decided to rebuild the wheels with the original hubs but old-looking 700C clincher rims. (Sorry, this bike is for riding, so it has to be practical. Tubulars aren't practical. I just don't mess with them.)

The Peugeot crank, Campagnolo Rally rear derailleur, and 34-tooth (!) freewheel were clearly not from the 1950s. These were apparently installed around 1976. Other components are consistent with a late-50s date. The frame has obviously been repainted, perhaps by an auto-body shop. The bottom bracket has an oil hole, not uncommon for frames from the 50s and 60s; it was painted over. My skepticism about the age of the bike was confirmed by Craig Griffith, an Allegro expert, who determined that it is probably a Special, built in 1959. This was determined partly from the serial number, confirmed by a date code on the Campagnolo hubs' outer locknuts.

A big problem is the complete lack of frame artwork. I probably will never know what kind of artwork it had originally. I found a few similar bikes on the web and copied their artwork. I don't like doing this; it has a kind of counterfeit feel to it, but there really is no other choice. Fortunately, there is a wonderful Allegro web site (click here), which has been a big help.

Examining the bike further, I determined--to my mild distress--that it is largely built around French dimensions. This really should not have been a surprise, as the bike was manufactured in the French part of Switzerland. Fortunately, I don't have to shop for any of the critical parts; the ones that use French dimensions are original and still usable. The Peugeot crank has English pedal threading; it is clearly marked 9/16-20. The pedals fit tightly, and are difficult to remove. At first, I suspected that they were French, but I found that they don't fit a French crank, either. (Also, if they were French, they would probably be loose, not tight.) Probably just tight threads in the crank. As an experiment, I chased the threads with a tap, and the pedals screwed on easily. They're English.

As time went on, I began fully to appreciate the strangeness of Swiss bicycle design. The bottom bracket, for example, has French dimensions, but unlike French BBs, the fixed cup uses a left-hand thread. The steerer and frame-tube dimensions are French. Other parts, however, (such as the hub's freewheel threads--thank heavens!) are English.

I disassembled the bike and bagged the individual parts. Where necessary, I made sketches detailing how they were mounted so, when I put the thing back together, I would know which washer goes where.

Frame Resurrection

The frame looked pretty good, superficially, since it seemed to have been painted well. It was, however, the kind of thick, heavy paint job that you get at a cheap car-painting emporium. In fact, it's pretty ugly.

I could hear rust rattling around in the top tube and some of the stays. There were no drain holes in the top tube, so I drilled out the ends from inside the seat tube and head tube and put a small weep hole in the bottom, near the seat lugs. I shook out a fair amount of rust. I did similar drilling and rust removal in the stays and fork arms. Sealing these tubes was naive design; it just guaranteed that any moisture or other contaminants would never drain out. The way to keep the tubes dry is not to try to seal them (which, while theoretically possible, almost never works), but to make sure that water gets out faster than it gets in.

The seat tube is not perfectly cylindrical, a common problem. The seat post had been shimmed with a narrow, inadequate shim, so both the post and tube were distorted. The seat post was beyond repair, but an appropriate post was easy to find. The tube appeared to be close to 27 mm in diameter, so I reamed it out to 27.2, the standard value for most English-sized bikes. This is perhaps a little large for French tubes, but I couldn't get a nice, smooth, round interior with smaller dimensions--it was that badly distorted.

Finally, I stripped the paint chemically and washed the frame and fork with petroleum solvent. This was the only practical way to get rid of the thick, goopy coating. I sanded off the last bits of paint that didn't come off, cleaned it with solvent, and filled in a shallow dent in the downtube with automotive body filler. I then gave it a light coat of spray primer.

For more information on the way I paint frames, see the Carlton project. There is also some information about the use of improved paints in the description of the trash-can Giordana project.

Frame Painting

I needed to make some decisions: color and style. 50s Allegros, like Mondias, often had contrasting colors with lots of fades. For example, the frame might be light blue, with the center of the seat tube, fork ends, and the back half of the rear triangle in white (example). There were also faded lug outlines, probably done with an airbrush. These would be difficult to do, within my limitations. The fades are a little crude by today's standards, probably just done with a fine paint spray.

I decided to paint the bike deep wine red, with gold fades. Nothing like a challenge!

There were two problems: the red paint and the gold paint. I got three 6-ounce cans of automotive lacquer spray from an auto-parts store. It was a dark burgundy, similar to a bike I saw on the Allegro web site. I liked the color, because it didn't have the purplish tone that is common in many deep reds. I used my usual Rustoleum primer; it seemed to work fine with the lacquer. The automotive paint did not spray as nicely as some other spray paints I have used. It splattered a lot, and the shape of the spray, a vertical oval, was fine for car doors, but too wide for the narrow tubes of a bike. It still worked, but I wasted a lot of paint. I went through two cans of the paint and a little of the third can.

With some experimenting, I found that a certain Japanese brand of spray lacquer model paint had a really nice, fine spray, perfect for the fades. It was tricky to apply; I had to sand and repaint a bit. I used the fork as an experimental vehicle for the paint tests. I outlined the fork lugs with gold paint; I decided that putting fades around the lugs, without an airbrush,  just wouldn't be possible.

After the first couple of coats of paint, I experimented with baking it to dry and harden it. I made up a tent with an old dropcloth, put the frame inside, and put a space heater inside the enclosure. I monitored the temperature carefully with a thermocouple sensor. It got up to 120F. I would have liked to make it higher, but I suspect that the header had a temperature cut-off. I left it alone for about four hours. I then polished it with automotive rubbing compound. I gave the frame several more coats of lacquer, polishing it with rubbing compound every few coats, and finally baking it. The compound smoothed the paint surface but didn't make it shiny.

After a couple cycles of painting, baking, and compounding, I did the gold fades. I masked the frame extensively with tape and newspaper, then sprayed the gold, very carefully. Getting the edges even is tricky; part of this is knowing when it's good enough, and quitting before something gets messed up. I did only the center of the seat tube and the back part of the rear triangle. I outlined the lugs in gold, which, frankly, I liked better than the traditional fade outlines.

I added pinstriping in the Allegro tradition. I used special pinstripe masking tape for cars to create 1/16" pinstripes. It was not difficult to use, but it took a little practice. It worked best, I discovered, when I used several thin coats of paint and waited until the paint was completely dry before removing the tape. Each coat of paint had to be brushed quite thin, including the paint that gets on the tape; otherwise, removing the tape left a ragged edge.

Frame Artwork

The frame artwork went easier than I expected. There was less than on the Carlton and, after the Carlton, I have learned how to minimize the work in Adobe Photoshop. Since the bike had no artwork when I received it, I used pictures from the Allegro website and other material sent to me by the helpful guys on the Classics Rendezvous e-mail list. As in other projects, I created the decals by drawing over the pictures in Adobe Photoshop. Below are examples of the artwork; I didn't use all of them. Click on a thumbnail to download a larger image; to use these, you may need to resize them.

(Chainstay logo)

  (Downtube)

 

(Seat tube)

The French "Reynolds 531" label was sent to me by Ted (see below). I thought it was a nice touch, for a Swiss bike.

The badge wasn't in bad condition, but some paint has peeled and it needed general brightening. I sanded off the raised metal areas and used the automotive polishing compound to brighten the paint. It helped a lot. I then replated the raised areas with nickel, and painted the red and blue parts of the badge under a microscope. The white and black areas, I'm pleased to note, were OK, so I didn't touch them.

I used my new Epson 2200 photo printer to print the artwork on decal paper. It was a disappointment: the ink didn't dry quickly, so the guide wheels smeared it. Even when dry, it was very fragile, and cracked when the decal bent. Even without this problem, the ink was just as translucent as in other inkjet printers. With care, however, I succeed in getting one good decal.

Component Restoration

I started by cutting the hubs out of the wheels. I did not use the tubular rims that were laced to the Campy hubs; instead, I built the Campy hubs into new wheels. I cleaned, polished, and lubricated both sets of hubs, which were in good mechanical condition. I kept the Normandy ones, which actually were not half bad, for a later project.

The stem was a quick, satisfying job. The bolt heads were rusted, but I sanded them with emery cloth, first 300 grit, then 400. I then nickel plated the heads with my brush plating kit and polished on a buffing wheel. The result is virtually indistinguishable from chrome. Similarly, I sanded the body of the stem with 400 grit paper and buffed on the wheel. 

I nickel plated many of the small steel parts on other components without polishing. It gave better resistance to rust. (I used the plating kit a lot in my Carlton project.)

The brake calipers were in decent condition. The aluminum parts were OK, but the screws were rusted. The once-shiny hex-head bolts that held the brakes together were badly corroded; all Weinmann brakes seem to do this. I cleaned the aluminum parts with Barkeeper's Friend, normally used for cleaning aluminum and stainless-steel cookware, is an effective nonabrasive cleaner for bike parts as well. It's a little tricky, because the brakes have silk-screened logos, which are already somewhat faded, and could be harmed further by the polishing. I polished the screw heads, first by filing away the pitted surface, then sanding, nickel plating, and polishing with a buffing wheel.

I sand the visible part of the handlebars, to remove deep scratches, and noticed something that looked like a crack! I inspected it under a microscope, and saw that it was just a deep corrosion etch. It sanded out acceptably. Again, progressively finer emery paper, then buffing with a wheel. I didn't buff or polish the parts of the bar that would be covered by the leather wrap, but I did clean them with acetone to remove tape residue.

Even though I didn't plan to use them, I disassembled, de-rusted, cleaned, and lubricated the pedals. Much of what looked like rust was really just hardened dirt. It came off with some scrubbing. Still, they didn't look great, and their English threading wouldn't go with the French crank that I expected to get. The chrome-plated steel Paturaud toe clips were corroded, not worth replating, and the leather straps were trash. Easy to replace, however.

The wheels required a morning. I laced the high-flange hubs into a pair of seemingly perfect Rigida clincher rims. I chose Continental Sport 1000 tires; the dark reddish brown sidewall color went well with the rest of the bike.

The headset would have looked nice chrome plated, and some of the other components, such as the crank-bearing cups, could also have benefited from replating. I decided not to do it, however, for a couple of reasons: first, it would be hard to make sure that the platers didn't plate the bearing races or the threads, and second, the whole job was just getting too stretched out. I decided to keep the original finish, it wasn't completely hopeless.

The Wright's leather seat was in decent condition, except for two problems: (1) it was extremely dry, and (2) the sides were bent upward, probably because it shrank as it dried. Wetting the leather, clamping the sides down, and letting it dry in the sun solved the second problem, and a good, healthy oiling with Neetsfoot oil solved the first.

New Components

I needed a number of new components. The most important were a crank and rear derailleur. The original crank probably was a Stronglight Super Champion, which now is nearly impossible to find, so I settled for a much more available Stronglight 49D. The derailleur was a Campagnolo Gran Sport; even old ones today are easy to find. (At one point, I found a Super Champion crank on eBay, but the bidding quickly left my price range. It sold for $757!)

Surprisingly, I had somewhat more trouble finding an acceptable derailleur. Several were for sale on eBay, but all were either too expensive or in unacceptable condition. Finally I found one that seemed like it would go for a reasonable price, and a wealthy Japanese bidder, well known for bidding absurd amounts for ordinary parts, got it instead.

Finally, I got a derailleur. I was a little disappointed when it arrived; it was not in good shape. The cage was bent and the thing was generally beat up. The pulleys were worn, and one, not original, didn't fit right. I made a bushing on my miniature lathe so it fit properly. The cable adjuster was broken, so I made a new one on my lathe, as well. I could probably make do with it, but I kept looking for a nicer one.

After some searching, I got a much nicer rear derailleur. Interestingly, the upper piece was unplated brass. It looked like it had always been this way; there was no sign that it ever had any plating on it. I think it looks pretty neat. 

One of the stainless-steel, helical cable sheaths was damaged, so I got new ones. I needed some step-down ferrules for the ends, so I made them on the lathe.

I bought a Stronglight 49D crank on eBay. It was in very nice condition but had French pedal threading. I also got a set of old but unused Lyotard pedals with French threading. I didn't mind using these; The ones that came with the bike certainly were not original--or in any sense special--anyway. 

I found a set of simple Rigida box-channel 700C rims on eBay. Appropriate 700C clincher rims are really tough to find. 27" ones are a little easier, but good 27" tires are pretty scarce these days. 

I bought a 70s-era Zeus seatpost on Ebay. It would not be period-correct, I knew, but I really don't like messing with straight posts and clamps. They just don't work well, and more modern posts are much better. This one still had a classic look, albeit 1970s, much like the Campagnolo posts. 

Putting It All Together Again...

This is usually where the surprises often show up. Fortunately, the bike went together relatively easily.

First, I got tired of spending a lot of money for simple bike tools, so with the help of my little Sherline lathe, I made several of my own: a headset press, a chainring bolt tool, and a crank remover for the very odd-sized (23.35x1 mm) Stronglight cranks. They all worked perfectly.

It seemed to me that a late-50's bike just had to have leather-covered handlebars. I got a nice piece of leather from a local leather-supply store, along with a couple leather needles and some special waxed thread (which is woven, relatively thick, and looks more like narrow string) to put it all together. Here is the process I used:

1. Leather stretches a lot, so it's necessary to compensate for the stretch. The leather should be stretched when sewn onto the bars, or it will be loose and could wrinkle I measured the stretch in the leather by holding one edge against a flat surface and pulling with moderate force. I found that my piece stretched about 7-8%.

2. I measured the bar diameter at some point where it was perfectly cylindrical (i.e., away from the bends). The bar becomes slightly oval in cross-section at the bends, but its circumference doesn't change, so you don't have to do anything special about the bends. I determined the circumference and compensated for the stretch. For example, if the stretch were 7%, one should divide the bar circumference by 1.07. This gives you the width of the strip.

3. I cut a rectangular strip of leather, width equal to the bar circumference (corrected for stretch, of course). The length was 5-6 cm longer than necessary; the leather shortens slightly as it is stitched on, and a couple cm is needed to fold into the bar end. I found that a chalk marker, used by seamstresses, was very useful for marking the leather. (Cutting the leather in a curve, to match the bars, might allow it to stay smoother around the bends, but this is an experiment for another time.)

4. I marked the place where I wanted the brake lever clamps to be mounted. I then mounted the clamps.

5. I cut one piece of thread about four times the length of the leather and put needles on both ends. I made the first stitch, and pulled the thread through until its center was at the leather.

6. I then made the first few stitches with the leather on the bar; after a few stitches, I slid off the 1-2 cm that would be folded into the bar end.

7. To make the cross stitch shown in the picture,  I took one needle, went into the leather from the top, straight across the gap, and out the top on the other side. I did the same with the other needle, but from the opposite side, of course, and used the holes that were made by the previous stitch. Then, I crossed the thread over the gap, and made the next stitch about 8 mm from the previous one. Stitches were about 3-4 mm from the edge of the leather. I regularly pulled both ends of the thread to keep the stitches tight.

8. The line of stitching should be on the inside of the bar, as shown. A little thought shows that this is the only sensible way to do it. For example, if I had started on the underside, the stitching will be on top after the first bend.

9. At the point where the brake-lever clamps were to be installed, I cut an X-shaped slit in the leather, just large enough for the clamps to protrude. it is important not to make this cut too big, or the hoods may not cover it completely. It is always possible to make it bigger, but not smaller!

10. The bends were tricky. I kept stretching the leather as I sewed it, and made sure that the stitches went straight across the gap. When there seemed to be more leather on one side than the other, I increase the stitch length on that side to take up the excess. Also, I made longer stitches on the insides of the bends, because the bend tends to shorten them.

11. I cut the leather to the right length well before reaching the end. This had to be a neat cut. To tie off the thread, I made one last stitch, straight across the gap, on top of the leather, from corner to corner, with each needle, and tied the thread underneath the leather.

12. The gear-shift cable sheath was routed easily under the leather. I cut small holes where necessary, greased the sheath with Proofide (the grease-like saddle oil that Books provides with their saddles), and slid it under.

The leather used for a bar covering must be soft and relatively thin. My piece had a grain pattern, which looked nice unstretched, but when stretched onto the bar, it largely disappeared. Therefore, it makes sense to use a smooth, unpatterned piece of leather.

I have never seen another bike with both bar-end shifters and leather-covered bars, but I have one now. The Campagnolo bar-end shifters did fit, albeit tightly, even with leather folded inside. I used Dia Compe hoods on the Weinmann levers; they fit adequately and were readily available.

The bike went together with no more than the usual collection of problems. The seat post was tight, so I sanded it down a bit. The derailleur wouldn't swing freely, so I took off 0.005" from the inside of the lip on the mounting bolt. Predictably, the wheel quick-releases damaged the paint on the drop-outs. Because of the fragility of lacquer paint, this was really bad, totally unacceptable. I sanded off the paint on the drop-outs, then plate them with nickel using my brush-plating kit. This worked out very well, and there was probably no other way to plate the drop-outs after painting. It also gave a cleaner result than would exist if I had plated the drop-outs first and masked them during painting.

I used Kool-Stop Continental pads, since I didn't have period-correct Weinmann ones. These worked well with the polished rims. later, I was given a set of original Weinmann pads, which I installed. Although a little dry, they work fine. 

Some pictures of the finished bike:

Maiden Voyage

The bike's maiden voyage was on June 28, 2003, more than six months after the project began. The project took some time, partly because of the more complex paint job, and partly because of my busy work schedule. I took the bike down the LA River bike path to Long Beach, along the shore, and back along Second Street in Belmont Shore. Because of a fragile knee, I cut the ride short of my usual coffee stop, where my bikes often get a lot of notice. Still, it was a nice ride, maybe 25 miles or so. 

In the first year that I have been riding it, this bike has generated more compliments than any of my others. Many were from people familiar with Allegros, often folks who worked in bike shops in the 60s and 70s. Apparently many Allegros were sold in those days. That makes me wonder where they all are; probably, by now, most have been recycled into automobile bumpers. 

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to several of the people on the Classics Rendezvous e-mail list who made extremely helpful suggestions and provided valuable information. These include the following: