New Family Member

Those of you following me on Twitter during my recent Southern odyssey may have noticed that in addition to riding the Boris Bikes, my tweets indicated I had been riding bikes in other locations which the hire bikes are unavailable in, such as Waltham Forest and Oxfordshire. Whilst I was in London, I decided to take advantage of the fact that the Western Extension Zone of the London Congestion Charge has recently been scrapped, and pick up one of the many second-hand Bromptons for sale in the area. There are so many Bromptons for sale around this area as more people choose to drive to work rather than cycle, proving at the same time why the congestion charge was necessary in that area in the first place. My plan was to sell it up North if I didn’t like it, where the second-hand Brompton market is less saturated so it could fetch a higher price.

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Note the extended seat-post; a standard or telescopic seat-post will allow the folded package to be even more compact than this.

Unfortunately for my wallet, I do like it. A lot. I got the M3L model; M-type bars for an upright riding position, 3-speed gears (Sturmey Archer SRF-3 on mine, SRAM hubs are also used), no rear rack (seems a bit useless on such a small-wheeled bike), complete with mudguards and a (slightly worse-for-wear) Brooks B67 saddle. The standard seat-post is useable by someone my height (1.78 m), but not quite long enough. Luckily the extended seat-post was readily available from Evans for £16.

My first proper ride on the bike was from Waltham Forest to Paddington Railway Station. The cycle infrastructure was crap, but the bike was ideal for the conditions, quick to accelerate from the lights so I could get past the next deadly pinch-point and responsive to steer through the complex and ever changing door-zone I was repeatedly squeezed into. The bike was perfectly comfortable for the duration of the ride, and folded up small enough to be counted as luggage on my train to Oxford

Upon reaching Oxford, I unfolded the bike and began the trek to Wheatley (my grandparents’ new home). The A40 was the most direct route, but had large sections set at the national speed limit, which thanks to the dual carriageway means 70 mph (obviously many will drive at much higher speeds due to the lack of active speed cameras in Oxfordshire). Obviously an alternative route was needed, and the smaller road through the village of Horspath seemed a logical choice. Using Google maps to navigate, I had neglected to account for the possibility of the route not being flat. Thankfully, the gearing on the Brompton was low enough for me to climb up the hills, although I was deliberately slower going down the hills because I haven’t got a good feel for the brakes yet. I expected the bike would be great for short journeys and multimodal transport, now I have experience of riding the bike a considerable distance, I feel it is also a very capable longer-distance machine. I can completely understand why people have used them as touring bikes.

The Brompton is a testament to what British design and manufacturing can still achieve. The design is modular, with all the odd proprietary as well as standard replacement parts easily available online. The modular design is sympathetic to older Bromptons; yearly improvements to parts of the bike can all be retrofitted to older models. This is part of the reason why their value depreciates so little over time. Super-light titanium editions are available, with titanium rear triangles, forks and titanium or aluminium seat-posts. The modular design means that you could conceivably replace parts of your existing Brompton with titanium equivalents over time.

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Re-assuringly sturdy folding left pedal brings the folded size down a bit.

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The rear triangle clips onto the seat-post clamp, with a rubber cylinder providing a little bit of suspension.

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The little nub on the stem (Left) clips into the socket on the fork crown (Right) when the bike is folded.

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The luggage block on the head-tube accepts a variety of proprietary Brompton luggage which whilst expensive, is generally very well regarded.

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Brompton’s shifter operates the Sturmey hub, presumably to prevent the standard shifter fouling the fold, and to produce a consistent look within the range which includes a 6-speed option (2-speed derailleur coupled to 3-speed hub) and the different varieties of 3 speed hubs used by Brompton (SRAM & Sturmey Archer).

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I do not believe the Brooks B67 has ever been a standard option on a Brompton (I was given the original saddle too). This one looked as if it has been ridden on whilst wet a few times, and had become very saggy and uncomfortable. Luckily a bit of a tweak with the tension spanner and some Proofide and the saddle is almost as good as new.

The benefits of a bike which folds into a small & rigid package are obvious; ease of storage at home, ease of carrying the folded up bike, taking your bike onto even the most overcrowded train, taking it into a restaurant, theatre or nightclub or even onto the Metrolink (if suitably covered up, which obviously makes complete sense as a policy).

I expect that I will have saved enough money due to owning the Brompton for it to pay for itself within about 5 months. Think about it.

It’s always dark

If you work office hours you may have noticed that it is dark during almost all of your free time. If you want to cycle during your free time this means you need some lights. This year I am fortunate enough to own more bikes than this time last year (when I only owned a single bike, a hybridised mountain bike at that). This has the added advantage of giving me more experience with different kinds of lights, experience I am happy to share.

Battery Lights:

Battery lighting I have used falls roughly into two categories; lighting for you to see with, and lighting to ensure you are seen by others.

Lighting to be seen by is sufficient to discharge your legal obligation, in well lit urban areas it will also be enough for you to get by. A popular example of lighting to be seen by are Knogs, also known as “Hipster Cysts.”

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The Knog lights are basically only as effective as the £2 blinkies you can get from Tesco, but do not require you to attach a mount to your bike.

Unlike lighting to be seen, lighting to see with used to mean halogen lamps. Halogen lamps are bright and produce a lovely warm light but because batteries run out, ideally it is best to use a more efficient method to produce light with batteries. At present this takes the form of LEDs. Halogen lamps powered by batteries are still available and may even seem like a good deal, but any money you save will be paid for with batteries and often shoddier build quality. Currently I am using Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative’s Revolution Vision set:

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The front lamp is a 1 watt LED with a re-assuring aluminium exterior. The beam is  relatively wide for an LED, although the light it produces is a cold blueish-white which is harder to see by than the yellow of a halogen bulb. The lamp also has a flash mode for when you are more concerned with being seen than with illuminating the path ahead. Replacement mounts are available for the front lamp making it easy to share one between several bikes (as I do with my Yuba Mundo and Raleigh Twenty). The rear light comes with 4 flash patterns in addition to the steady state flash. Sadly replacement mounts are not available for the rear lamp, although the EBC catalogue currently residing in my bathroom suggests the rear light has recently undergone a redesign which may filter through to the shop stock soon.

I also have a permanent rack-fitted light/reflector on the Yuba Mundo which is useful if I am caught out after dark:

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Dynamo Lights:

Dynamo lighting is generally powerful enough to fall into the “to see by” category (apart from the rear lights for which being seen is the only purpose). Back in July I purchased my first ever dynamo lamp thanks to some advice from LC. I had owned a dynamo hub for a while before that, but I was initially more interested in the drum brake and the possibility of using the dynamo to charge my phone. The lamp I ended up with is a Busch and Muller Lumotec Retro (with standlight and switch):

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Shown here on the bike before I installed the new tyres, also conveniently doubles as a reflector to make the bike street-legal. 

Because the dynamo provides an effectively inexhaustible source of power, halogen lamps become feasible once more. Whilst they are less durable than LEDs, they do produce a warmer, yellowish light which I find easier to see by, and the brightness is generally greater than that of my LED battery lamp and the beam is cast wider which enhances my visibility to others. The lamp includes an LED standlight, which on its own is about half as powerful as my battery-powered LED lamp. This is designed to ensure you remain visible even when stationary or at very low speeds.

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This dynamo lamp is couples with a battery-powered permanent rear light which I originally considered replacing with a dynamo equivalent. In the end I decided to keep the existing light due to its low power consumption compared to a front light. So far I’ve had a few hundred hours out of the pair of AA batteries which came with the bike.

At present I do not have any experience with bottle dynamos, although Ian at Lazy Bicycle Blog has one on his new bicycle and seems positive about it. I am currently considering adding a bottle dynamo and lamp to the Yuba Mundo. I have become accustomed to the superior light level produced by the lamp on the DL-1 when riding in total darkness and after spending £4 on batteries a few days ago, the initial outlay doesn’t seem too bad anymore. It will also free up the battery lights for exclusive use on the Twenty. Whilst I am happy with my hub dynamo I favour the bottle dynamo approach on the Yuba Mundo because of the disk brakes. The only disk-brake compatible dynamo hubs are Shimano’s, and they use Centerlock mounts for the rotors. This would mean replacing my rotor with a Centerlock version (at an extortionate price for a piece of metal) or buying an adapter which may cause further problems.

Depending on the type of riding you do I would advise using dynamo lighting over battery lighting, at least for the front of the bike. A dynamo front lamp will be bright enough to illuminate the way when riding in total darkness. Whilst the initial outlay may seem high, the level of illumination provided is significantly higher than a £25 pair of LED lights, the battery won’t run out at an inopportune moment and you won’t have to continuously spend money on batteries. If most of your riding is on well lit streets and you are happy to have lights merely to be seen, cheap LED blinkies should suffice.

September to September; 5,350 km

That’s about 3,325 miles for those of you in the USA, Burma or Liberia.  It is also on a par with LC from Naturally Cycling Manchester.  Last year I did 3,200 km and I am pleased that I have improved upon that this year.  I measure September to September because I got my first odometer in September 2008.  I like having an odometer, it is nice to know how far you have travelled, as it allows you to work out how much further there is to go.  Knowing your speed is a good motivator, it encourages you to keep up a pace and to work out how fast to go to arrive at your destination on time.  It is also a motivator, pushing you to try and go faster than last time when you’re riding down that epic hill (I got the Tourist up to 53.5 km.h-1 which is pitiful compared to a racer, but a racer it is not).  I use a Cat Eye Micro Wireless, not because I hate wires but because it has a settable odometer, meaning you don’t lose your data after a dead battery. 

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It also has the option for being used with two sets of wheels, or in my case two bikes, the Yuba and the Tourist (and previously the Kona and my Revolution Cuillin).  This was a big deal for me, as I like being able to combine my distances covered on each of my bikes (sadly not the Twenty though).

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I’d recommend an odometer to anyone, even if you only use it as a clock on your handlebar.

Brooks Saddle Update

It has been a few weeks now since I got the Tourist and by extension the Brooks B66 saddle.  I’ve probably done at least 500 km with the saddle by now and I thought I’d share my experiences with it so far.

As I have said before, a harder saddle will be more comfortable in the long run.  When I first got the B66 it had no give whatsoever.  It was comfortable for shorter rides but became uncomfortable after a while due to the cyclical compression of the small amount of flesh between my sit bones and the saddle, which occurred when pedalling.  I realised a few days ago that this had completely gone away, partly due to the saddle having slightly given in the spots where my sit bones are and probably partly down to me getting used to the new saddle.

I got to this stage by riding the bike a little each day, in my normal clothing.  I also did two rides over 60 km but used padded bike boxer shorts to take the edge off.  These rides were at least partially over cobbles and gravel which may have helped to tame the saddle.  I think that I would be ok doing 60 km on the B66 now in my normal clothing.

There were times when I considered giving up on the B66, but I am glad I didn’t.  Now I have put the time in to it, it is my favourite saddle.  Now all I have to worry about is the temptation of getting a Brooks B67 for the Yuba.

Death of a Seat-Post Binder

On Wednesday I was out on the Yuba Mundo “foraging” for supplies at a distant ASDA (Trafford Park again).  The seat post on the Yuba has always had a tendency to slide down slowly with use, so that it needs adjusting every few rides.  This was more of a problem with the stock 30 mm post & 0.9 mm shim stock configuration than it is with the new Yuba 31.8 mm micro-adjust post.  It does still happen though, possibly due to a slightly excessive application of lithium grease to prevent the post sticking in the frame when the bike was being assembled at Practical Cycles.  I have been worried that I will round off the Allen head whilst I am out in the middle of nowhere, but instead I managed to strip the threads out of the binder, roughly 10 km from home.  Luckily the Mundo is the bike which just keeps on giving, I was able to sit on the rack and ride the bike home chopper-style (but quite slowly).

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Looking at the bolt, I at first thought that was where the stripping occurred.  On closer examination I realised that the bolt was fine:

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I pulled those twisty metal bits out of the bold threads and realised they were from the binder itself.  I have ordered a new 34.9 mm quick-release binder so this shouldn’t be a problem in future.  Sadly this leaves me Mundo-less for a few days.  The moral of the story, Yuba Mundo owners, maybe its worth getting a spare 34.9 mm seatpost binder before  the stock one breaks on you when you are far from home.

B&M Lumotec Retro Senseo Plus Test Ride

Last night I took the new dynamo light out for a spin.  It was around 8pm, so not dark but getting there, and ideal time to test out the sensing ability of the lamp.  I first put the light onto the “1” (always on) position and found that it was not coming on consistently.  I then decided to put it into the “S” (automatic) position and found that the light was still not always on, but seemed to be on more often.  At first I was concerned that I would have to go very fast to get the light to work well, seeing the beam come on and then go away was a bit worrying when I was teetering around the 20 km.h-1 mark.  I later managed to get a look at my reflection in the parked cars and realised that the light was always on, but when it was light enough it just illuminated the small “be-seen” LED portion of the lamp and when I went it was coming on full beam it was because of the dip in light level. 

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The stand-light provides enough light to be seen by other road users when stationary.

I am assuming that on my (maybe all of them) lamp the “1” and “S” positions are reversed, but that even when set to always on the lamp uses the sensor to determine what level of light is needed.  I quite like this idea because it will increase the length of time between halogen bulb replacements.  Like most aspects of dynamo lighting, it would have been nice if this feature had been explained somewhere in either the instruction leaflet or on the B&M website.

Dynamo Lighting

Dynamo lights were once common in the UK and USA, but have since fallen out of favour as battery technology progressed and people started using bicycles for sport rather than transportation purposes.  In other countries where cycling continued to be a mainstream method of transportation, dynamos remained popular due to their reliability and the lack of need to purchase and rely on batteries.  In Manchester it is dark almost all of the time (or at least almost all of an average adult’s free time) from October to February making lighting essential if you want to stay mobile in those months.  In Germany in particular it is illegal to use bicycles without a dynamo powered lighting system (except lightweight racers).  This means most German bikes come with lights, which is a legal requirement in some other countries and would make sense in most.

I personally prefer hub dynamos to bottle dynamos because they are generally of  higher quality, are more discreet looking and it just seems to make sense to integrate the dynamo out-of-the-way into the hub.  Its a shame they don’t make rear hub dynamos anymore as having two dynamos would open up some interesting possibilities.

The German law requiring dynamo lights has created a market for high-end dynamo systems, many of which are available here.  Sadly information is patchy, making it off-putting to take the plunge.  With some advice from LC, I decided to invest in a Busch and Müller Lumotec Retro Senseo Plus dynamo headlamp, to be driven by my Sturmey-Archer X-FDD hub discussed previously.  The unwieldy name is in part due to the range of options available, bottle dynamo, hub dynamo, light-sensing auto-on/off, stand-light etc.  Mine has the stand-light, an off-switch (hub dynamo version) and the light-sensing auto-on/off features.

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The rear of the lamp has a switch, with three positions, basically off, automatic and on.

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The underside of the lamp has pins to drive a rear (0.6 W) lamp.  Modern LED lamps are available which are compatible with this arrangement.  This was not well explained in the product information I encountered, so is essentially a bonus.

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These are the pinouts on the dynamo hub.  The Shimano ones are essentially the same, save for a variation in shape.  I don’t yet know about the SON or SRAM versions.  Feel free to comment if you know anything about these hubs.

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This is the plastic plug which came with the hub, Shimano hubs come with a similar plug, older Sturmey Dynohubs use screws to make the connection much like older loudspeakers.

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The ends of the cable attached to the lamp.  The cable is essentially cheap speaker cable.  The ends are partially stripped like with new speaker cable.  All that needs doing is to remove the wire coating, twist the wires into a single fibre and feed them through the plug and fold them over into the grooves.

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Polarity is not important, as the dynamo outputs AC (making it not technically a dynamo) so just bung whichever wire in whichever side you fancy.  The reason I have posted this in such detain is that none of this information is given in either the B&M or Sturmey manuals, and so it might be useful to someone.

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The light comes on at about 8 km.h-1, but this will be lower for smaller wheeled bikes.  There might be a lower limit for wheel size in order to prevent generating too much power for average dynamo lamps.  Maybe one day I’ll put one on a Twenty and find out.  The stand-light is powered by a capacitor, so won’t be available straight away when the lamp is new.  I’m going to go for a spin tonight to test it out properly.

Saddles

There is  much that is counter-intuitive about cycling.  Cyclists have a much lower maximum speed than other road users, but in a place like Manchester can easily match or beat the journey times of those travelling in a car (or bus).  Riding on the pavement or in the gutter away from the other traffic makes you more likely to become a victim of motorist negligence than riding with the traffic (although proper infrastructure would be even better).  Riding with a helmet makes you more likely to become a victim of motorist negligence, and increases the risk of neck-injury if that happens, without providing any useful safety increase overall.  Finally a soft saddle will make your arse sore a lot more than a firm one.

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This enormous squishy saddle came with my Yuba Mundo.  It is made by Selle Royal and conforms to what most people would consider a “comfortable” saddle.  It is currently living on the Twenty as I only use it for short rides and the cushy saddle is useful for the Twenty’s other use; loaning to friends, specifically those who cycle very little.

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This is a Specialized Indie XC saddle, part of the Body Geometry range.  I use this type of saddle on my Yuba Mundo and formerly on the Kona Africa Bike and Revolution Cuillin Sport.  It is much less soft and squishy, with just a bit of padding and a cut out in the middle.  This type of saddle is mainly ideal for bikes with a “lean-forward” riding posture such as mountain bikes, although if angled oddly can be quite nice for an upright bicycle too.

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This is a Brooks B66 leather saddle, as used on my Raleigh DL-1.  It has no padding, only the slight give of the leather, which is slowly moulding to the shape of my derriere with use.  Even when it was rock hard it was quite comfortable.

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Finally this is a Real MAN ® Saddle, made from solid Canadian granite.  One day I hope to be man enough to ride one of these.

The science bit:

The soft saddle is comfortable for short rides because the sit bones are supported by the compressed gel in the saddle.  Newer riders often prefer these saddles because it takes time to develop the muscles needed to support a part of your weight with your feet and hands whilst riding.  It is uncomfortable on long rides because the gel is compressed by your sit bones (which are ok to bear a load).  The displaced gel which isn’t underneath your sit bones starts to put pressure on various junk-regions and other soft tissues, restricting blood flow and resulting in pain after riding. This tends to apply to those seat covers available in bike shops too, the best option is just to toughen up by riding.  These soft saddles also often have a very wide nose which leads to chaffing of the inner thigh on a longer ride (it will destroy trousers in the longer term too).

It is possible to retain some padding without sending your fun-zone into hibernation with a saddle such as the Specialised Body Geometry ones.  These have a cut out in the centre which stops the displaced gel or padding from putting pressure where it isn’t wanted.  In my experience this type of saddle works best on a bike with a forward-leaning posture, such as a racing or mountain bike, due to the increased use of the arms to support your weight meaning that you put less of it on the saddle.  There are also stretched leather saddles with similar dimensions for use with this riding posture.

The Brooks has the least padding of the saddles (except the Real MAN saddle) but it has a huge following of people who find them the most comfortable saddle around.  I am becoming one of them as my B66 breaks in more.  The lack of padding means that your sit bones make contact but nothing puts pressure on the rest of you.  The leather means that it becomes personalised over time, which is the same reason why I have always preferred shoes and boots to trainers.  The B66 is wide at the back to support an upright and feet-forwards riding posture, but leather saddles are available for all shapes of bike.  The width of the saddle tapers off quickly at the nose, to avoid the problems with the nose of the Selle Royal saddle (oddly Selle Royal also own Brooks).  As a rule of thumb, get a wider saddle if you ride an upright and go narrower if you ride in a more forward-leaning position.  These saddles are great if you want your saddle to get better and more personal with age and use

New cockpit test-ride

I went to visit the grandparents yesterday in Bamford, about 32 km (20 miles) there by road and about 28 km (~17 miles) back by canal.  This is the first longer distance ride I have done on the DL-1 and also the first proper ride since I swapped the handlebar and rods out.  Compared to doing the same basic ride a week ago on the Kona Africa Bike, it was a breeze.  Hills were easier to climb, due to the feet-forward frame geometry.  The general ride quality was better and I arrived feeling almost as fresh as a daisy.  The ride back was also good, although the narrower tyres meant that the roughest sections of canal felt a little rougher.  A quick pint of J. W. Lees Cask Bitter at The Ship near Hopwood Hall’s Middleton campus helped to dampen those vibrations a little for the rest of the ride (as a note to others, it seems that alcohol has a less pronounced effect when enjoyed in the midst of fairly rigorous physical activity – possibly due to faster metabolism compared to the typical experience of alcohol where physical activity is generally at a minimum).

I am quite happy with the results of the handlebar swap, and I can see why Raleigh called the DL-1 the “Tourist” in later years; it really does feel like you can carry on going forever.

Sacrilege

Those of you with a sensitive disposition who are easily offended may want to avoid reading the rest of this post.

I have removed the rod-brake handlebar and rods from my Raleigh Tourist, and replaced them with a longer quill stem, a Raleigh north road handlebar, Sturmey brake cables and Shimano brake levers.

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The new blasphemous handlebars.

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Cable-actuated front brake.

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Cable-actuated rear brake.

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Alternate cockpit view.

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Retired rods (with slippers for scale)

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Retired handlebar, with grips and roller-levers.

I took the newly corrupted bike out for a test ride,  The difference was amazing, what I have lost in style I have gained and more in riding pleasure.  The brakes work, and I mean really work; with the rods only the front brake had any real power due to the multiple direction changes the rods for the rear brake had to go through.  the bars are also higher now, and feel more natural, making this amazing bike feel even better.  I was going to go on the block but I extended my test ride to the Ducie Arms near the Science Park because it was so nice.  Even the saddle felt better.

The rods and handlebar will be going up onto eBay shortly.  they would be ideal for a restoration project, the handlebar compatible with the standard rod-actuated stirrups, and the rods giving the opportunity for drum brakes, which differ in being able to actually stop the bike.