What We Ride (Part 3): Steve’s Frek

This mini-series shows the bikes of the Bicycle Quarterly Team. These are the bikes we’ve bought with our own money and/or built with our own hands. They aren’t show queens, because we ride them hard. They’ve proven themselves over many thousands of miles on the – often quite rough – mixed-surface roads of the Cascade Mountains.

The Frek may be the most famous bike here. After Steve wrote up his story of converting a 1982 Trek 614 into a 650B randonneur bike for Bicycle Quarterly, many riders followed his lead and converted similar bikes. Fortunately, there are plenty of 1980s Treks to supply this new demand!

The 614 was Trek’s top-end 700C ‘sport’ frame, so the main triangle was made from high-end Reynolds 531 tubing, with a geometry (short, but not ultra-short, chainstays, 73° head angle) that is well-suited to a randonneur bike. As an early 1980s Trek, it’s still a classically constructed hand-made frame that doesn’t have the labor-saving shortcuts found on later Treks. That makes it the perfect base for this kind of conversion – much better than the touring Trek 520 with its lower-grade tubing and ‘relaxed’ angles.

Steve believes in keeping what he can, and replaces and modifies only what he considers necessary. So the Frek retains its original frame and fork. Steve indented the chainstays for more tire clearance. He brazed on pivots for direct-mount centerpull brakes – in this case Mafac Raid’s that he refreshed with Rene Herse parts. He’s built a lightweight rack and added a few other braze-ons. Those are already all the modifications he’s made to the frame and fork – apart from the repaint with custom-made ‘Frek’ decals.

Steve’s philosophy is obvious in this photo: He kept the Trek’s old SR stem, but installed Rene Herse Maes Parallel handlebars (for comfort) and one of our original decaleurs (to keep the bag securely in place). He drilled the stem to mount a bell. This combination of new and old works well, and it’s kept the conversion within his budget.

Some compromises are inevitable when you convert an old bike. Horizontal dropouts can make wheel changes a bit more difficult on bikes with fenders – but fortunately, wide tires mean that flats are a very rare occurrence these days. I don’t recall ever having been on a ride where Steve had to remove the rear wheel. The 1990s mountain bike derailleur works well with…

… the classic Simplex Retrofriction shift levers.

The front derailleur is a Suntour Cyclone, and the huge gears of the original 52×42 cranks have been replaced with a more sensible 46×30 combo.

Steve prefers crank bolts with Allen heads, so he installed those on his Rene Herse cranks. They work just as well as the originals.

Here are the specs for the Frek:

  • Frame: 1982 Trek 614 with a Reynolds 531 main triangle with 0.8/0.5/0.8 top tube and 1.0/0.7/1.0 downtube (standard diameter). Stays and fork blades are Ishiwata.
  • Custom modifications including centerpull brake mounts, dented chainstays to allow wider tires, shift lever bosses, additional H2O bottle bosses, pump mount on seatstay, mount for Rene Herse taillight, generator wire guides/ports, and modified rear brake cable guides
  • Fork: original Trek 614 fork with mods including centerpull brake mounts, generator hub wire guides, and front rack mounts
  • Based on the geometry published in the 1982 Trek brochure, the 614 has a headtube angle of 73 degrees and fork offset of 55 mm. That suggests about 45 mm trail.
  • Cranks: Rene Herse 46×30
  • Derailleurs: Suntour Cyclone FD, Shimano Deore LX RD, Simplex Retrofriction levers
  • Pedals: Shimano M520 SPD
  • Front hub: SON Delux, 32 hole
  • Rear hub: Shimano 105, 32 hole
  • Cassette: Shimano 8 speed, 11-28
  • Rims: Pacenti Brevet
  • Tires: Rene Herse 650B x 42 mm Babyshoe Pass Extralight
  • Tubes: Schwalbe SV14A Extralight
  • Brakes: Mafac RAID on frame mounted posts
  • Brake levers: Shimano BL-R400
  • Headset: original ‘Trek micro-adjust’
  • Stem/decaleur: original SR stem with Rene Herse decaleur
  • Handlebars: Rene Herse Maes Parallel 42 cm
  • Seatpost: Thomson Elite
  • Saddle: Brooks C17
  • Headlight: SON Edelux II
  • Taillight: Rene Herse
  • Pump: Zefal HPX
  • Handlebar bag: Berthoud GB25
  • Weight: 26.5 lb (12.0 kg) including pedals, bottle cages and pump

Here’s what Steve says about his favorite bike: “I own a couple of other bikes, but Frek has been the one I ride the most since I built it up a little over four years ago. It has all of the features and capabilities I need for the kind of rides that I love to do. But what inspires me the most about Frek is its personality and history. I love the fact that I was able to take a beat-up, old bike that otherwise might have ended up in a landfill, and with a bit of creativity, a few tools, and not a whole lot of money, I was able to turn it into an amazingly capable machine. It brings a smile to my face every time I ride it.”

He reminisces on the most memorable ride on his bike: “The Oregon 6 Passes Super Randonnee 600k that I did with Mark, back on the hottest two days of 2018, stands out as the most demanding test for Frek so far. It was incredibly challenging, but Frek disappeared beneath me for the entire ride. It felt like it was just me, Mark, stunning scenery, and an endless succession of hills.”

Steve’s Frek shows that you don’t need an expensive custom bike to enjoy great rides. In fact, Steve feels that the world doesn’t need more bikes as long as there is a healthy supply of old Treks!

Further Reading:

47 Responses to What We Ride (Part 3): Steve’s Frek

  1. Mark Guglielmana April 14, 2020 at 7:44 am #

    I believe it was at the Cle Elum un-meeting a few years ago that I met Steve. I was riding my 1973 Raleigh Competition 650b conversion that Peter Weigle did for me. I was inspired by Steve’s work to pick up a torch and start doing my own 650b conversion, and have done so for not only my own bikes, but for several friends as well.

    I find it very satisfying to take an old steel frame with good bones and “up-cycle” it. A well made steel frame can obviously last decades and still give a good ride!

    I continue to look at my Weigle-ized Competition and find little details that are the true mark of a constructeur. You mentioned horizontal dropouts and difficulty in getting the rear tire out when using fatter tires, such as the 650bx42 BSP tires you sell. Peter’s trick was to relocate the chain stay bridge and add a fender attachment point so that the tire “just” makes it in and out, and relocating the brake bridge (now a fender bridge with cantilever or centerpull brazed on posts) to match the fenderline distance You know how obsessed we are with our fenderlines in the PNW! Peter is a master, and has guided my attention to detail, and you can see that in Steve’s Frek as well.

    A final inspiration is the renaming of Steve’s bike from Trek to Frek. Peter has done some of this clever wordplay as well with custom decals. I recently un-cycled an old Raleigh Grand Sport, it’s now my Grander Sportier…

    • Steve Frey April 14, 2020 at 9:55 am #

      Mark,

      It’s good to hear from you. I’ve admired every bike I’ve seen that has received your Gugificazione treatment. You’ve taken up-cycling to a new level!

      Peter’s trick that you describe for repositioning the chainstay bridge so that the tire “just” makes it in and out was fortunately unnecessary on this old Trek. The chainstay bridge provides enough room as it was originally placed. The other part of the “trick” is to position the wheel at the front of dropout (see the 4th picture above) so that it doesn’t have to move forward very far to clear the bottom of the dropout. With the right amount of fender clearance and the wheel at the front of the dropout, I’m able to get a fully inflated tire in and out quite easily, and still have a decent fender line.

  2. Brian Roth April 14, 2020 at 8:05 am #

    Love seeing old bikes get new life.

  3. David Feldman April 14, 2020 at 8:06 am #

    I worked for a major Trek dealer for twenty years and know this era of their bikes well.
    A caution if you are considering the purchase of one, inspect the top of the seat stay caps very carefully as these frames do have a cracking history at that spot. It’s not just a separation of the cap–it’s a crack across the tube itself. Otherwise, great riding bikes–Trek’s designers get an “A” in geometry from me!

  4. `Ray April 14, 2020 at 8:23 am #

    The Simplex Retrofriction shift levers are not mentioned as a bullet item in the specifications list.
    Sure, they have a captioned photo, but those of us who have used them know they deserve mention on the list.

    • Jan Heine April 14, 2020 at 8:34 am #

      Agreed – they are lovely. Added them to the list.

  5. Matt Delcomyn April 14, 2020 at 8:28 am #

    I love this collection of BQ bike reviews. Super fun to see the creativity, knowledge, and resourcefulness applied to make the perfect ride for people who ride a LOT! Thanks, Jan!

  6. Adam in Indiana April 14, 2020 at 8:34 am #

    I’ve been looking forward to this write-up since it was announced, and need to dig up that BQ issue it originally appeared in to reread it.

    I have an ’83 620 I plan to do this to; same 531 tubing for the main triangle, and Ishiwata stays and forks. Same head angle and fork rake, too. Did Steve do his own modifications? I have welding experience, but very little brazing, so I’ll most likely find a framebuilder to do it. Not as cost effective, but will likely turn out much better!

    • Jan Heine April 14, 2020 at 8:42 am #

      Steve did the work himself. He’ll probably chime in about what is required… If you’ve got welding experience, the brazing required for a conversion shouldn’t be too hard. You could start by making practice joints with (inexpensive) rack tubing. Then build your rack, and finally add the braze-ons to the frame. Working with the relatively thickwall tubing of your old Trek, there isn’t much danger of doing damage when adding braze-ons. Making an actual frame is a different matter: You’ve got to control the head over a much larger area and draw the filler (brass or silver) through a big space.

  7. Michael Wolfe April 14, 2020 at 8:39 am #

    My dad’s got a late-70’s era Trek that he bought new and which has been his workhorse bike ever since. Those Waterford made, silver brazed frames sure punched above their weight, value-wise.

    As the administrator of the Oregon 6 Passes SR 600, I sure enjoyed Steve and Mark’s stories and pictures from their ride. It’s been 7 years since I’ve had a chance to ride the course in full, so it’s a vicarious thrill to hear other folks having such memorable experiences on it.

  8. Brian Sims April 14, 2020 at 8:48 am #

    What BQ issue contains the Frek story? And are the back issues available for purchase?

    • Jan Heine April 14, 2020 at 8:54 am #

      Steve’s story of how he built the Frek was published in Bicycle Quarterly 58. That edition is still available.

    • Brian Sims April 14, 2020 at 8:58 am #

      Never mind, I just didn’t read far enough! Found link in the Further Reading section at the end. 🙂

      • Jan Heine April 14, 2020 at 9:00 am #

        No worries… It was fun to take Frek to the photo studio and do a full Bicycle Quarterly shoot to illustrate the article!

  9. George Grassel April 14, 2020 at 8:59 am #

    For those of us who, for whatever reasons, are disinclined to spend many thousands on a custom bike, I would very much like to see more of these articles in BQ. I would especially like to see both randonneur and all-road bikes that the average person can assemble from existing parts and without the need for brazing and welding.

    I fully agree that keeping older bikes out of the trash dump and up-cycling them is a great thing.

    • Jan Heine April 14, 2020 at 9:01 am #

      We’re working on another feature along those lines… Stay tuned!

      • George Grassel April 14, 2020 at 5:40 pm #

        Not to be ungrateful, but it would be wonderful if this could be an ongoing feature of the magazine. Perhaps once or twice per year?

  10. Peter April 14, 2020 at 9:29 am #

    I am about 3/5 of the way through a conversion of my Miyata 710. The fork was too limited so I found a fuji with more clearance. This way I don’t mess with the original fork and can add braze-ons to the fuji in the future. Can Steve fit 42c tires in without messing with the stays? That is impressive. I can just slide them in but wouldn’t ride with that clearance on any trails or muddy gravel roads. I have a frame builder lined up to indent them when life opens up again. What is suggested for clearance in the stays for goodall road performance?

    • Jan Heine April 14, 2020 at 9:42 am #

      Steve indented the chainstays a bit more to create room for the 42s.

  11. Jacob Musha April 14, 2020 at 9:40 am #

    A small correction: the 614 isn’t Trek’s “top-of-the-line racing frame” but is labeled a “sport/multi-purpose” bike in their catalog. The racing frames have shorter 41.5cm chainstays that may not fit a 584×42 tire, even with denting. They also have less fork offset, making them less suitable for front loading. Some of them use similar combinations of Reynolds 531 tubing.

    The 614 may just be the best model from that year to use for a randonneur conversion.

    http://www.vintage-trek.com/TrekBrochure1982.htm

    • Jan Heine April 14, 2020 at 9:45 am #

      Thank you for the correction – I updated the post. It’s encouraging to see that back then, even ‘sport/multi-purpose’ bikes used top-end tubing where it mattered. What followed were a few ‘dark decades,’ when only racing bikes got top-of-the-line parts.

      Gladly, all-road bikes are changing that – although Trek still doesn’t offer the ‘best’ carbon on their Checkpoint wide-tire bike. Fortunately, it seems to make little difference…

  12. Chris Kostman April 14, 2020 at 10:41 am #

    This is really awesome, but having a hole drilled in my stem would scare the begeezus out of me! (And I don’t care how neatly and precisely it’s done.)

    • Jan Heine April 14, 2020 at 11:13 am #

      I talked to the president of Nitto about this. He said that as long as you know what you’re doing, it’s no problem. Most Rene Herse stems had a hole drilled for a bell, and it used to be common practice to drill stems for brake cables on bikes with canti or centerpull brakes. I’m more scared when I see people drill vent holes in the most stressed parts of fork crowns…

    • marmotte27 April 14, 2020 at 2:18 pm #

      In the new “Cycles de France” book, there are a couple of Charrel bikes with traditional aluminium stems drilled for bells.
      On the Flickr pages of both Peter Weigle and Brian Chapman such drilled aluminium stems are to be seen. There’s the Frek, which is a bike that’s being ridden hard..
      I drilled my own stem for a bell a couple of years back, no issues.
      After a while there’s enough evidence for this being just fine I’d say.

  13. Timothy Nielsen April 14, 2020 at 10:48 am #

    If you cannot find a Trek locally, fear not. My favorite old bike candidate for “up cycling “ is the Holdsworth ”Special”. It features Reynolds 531 all tubes and stays, parallel 73 degree geometry, prugnat lugs. Last one I picked up was $75, with headset. These frames are plentiful, display moderate tire clearance, and of decent quality (not so much for the paint though).

  14. Jon Pierce April 14, 2020 at 11:44 am #

    I was wondering which European built frames might be suitable for this type of conversion, for those of us on the other side of the Atlantic? Newer frames which can take 650b wheels seem to be overbuilt or are out of my budget.

    I love seeing these interesting bikes and appreciate the focus on longevity, thank you!

    • Jan Heine April 14, 2020 at 12:01 pm #

      There was a rich tradition of sport-touring bikes in the UK. And then you have all those French-inspired Jack Taylors, held back only by their skinny 27″ wheels. Many were built with Reynolds 531 tubing, so they’re great candidates.

      If you head across the Channel to France, you don’t need to look for conversions, as actual 650B bikes are plentiful. There, finding one made with light-weight tubing for good performance will be the challenge. Happy hunting!

  15. Owen April 14, 2020 at 12:10 pm #

    I assumes Steve also spread the rear triangle to 130mm? I had one weird experience with re-spacing where a frame’s handling was affected and I’m assuming the frame wasn’t aligned properly. Is there anything one should be aware of when doing this?

    Really enjoying the diversity of bikes in this series!

    • Steve Frey April 14, 2020 at 1:06 pm #

      Yes, I did spread the rear triangle. Sheldon Brown (who else?) wrote a great article on how to cold set a rear triangle and check the alignment without specialized tools. All it takes is a 2×4, some string and a ruler (https://www.sheldonbrown.com/frame-spacing.html). Muscles help too.

      • Frédéric April 15, 2020 at 12:45 pm #

        Ernest Csuka (Cycles Alex Singer) gave me the same advice with a string

  16. William Schmitt April 14, 2020 at 12:56 pm #

    Nice to see the evolution of the bike, since the article, what a great job!

  17. Peter Chesworth April 14, 2020 at 3:05 pm #

    One of my favourite BQ stories accompanied by excellent photography. I liked the thought and care that went into the transformation. Easy to hand over a credit card and get what you want – this shows what can be done if you are clever enough.

  18. mike w. April 14, 2020 at 6:49 pm #

    How does one indent the chainstays on an old steel frame without causing actual damage?

    • Steve Frey April 15, 2020 at 8:25 am #

      Building bikes out of steel involves a great deal of denting, bending, cutting, and grinding of steel tubes. I suppose the difference between creation and “actual damage” is whether or not the denting, bending, etc. is what the builder intended. 🙂

      That said, I used a pair of modified vice grips, something like this: https://www.flickr.com/photos/curtisodom/7454338202.

      It’s best done with a dummy axle in place. Even with the axle holding things together, the alignment and rear triangle spacing will need some adjustment after it’s done.

      • Mike April 15, 2020 at 1:40 pm #

        Was this done after the BQ 58 article?

        • Steve Frey April 15, 2020 at 4:28 pm #

          Yes, the chainstay dimpling was done after the article. Initially I thought I’d be happy with 38mm tires, and to be honest, I was a little afraid of denting the chainstays. But it turned out well and it was well worth it to be able to use 42 mm tires.

  19. Scott F April 14, 2020 at 8:20 pm #

    I have a 1983 trek 520 that was modified to 650b by Alex Meade Bikeworks. He added many braze ons missing from the original build, crimped the stays for 42c tires and built a new fork of Columbus tubing because the original was just a bit too tight for fat tires and a fender. I had it powder coated and added decals form Velocals. Maybe it was made of lower grade Reynolds and Tange tubing but it works just fine for me and takes me places that I used to think needed a MTB. I’m on the lookout for a 24″ 620 or 720 frame to do the same with.

  20. Mark April 15, 2020 at 12:22 am #

    Why did Trek not make the frames all-Reynolds, or all-Ishiwata? If the reason was cost, it can’t have been a big difference. I’ve had all Ishiwata, all Reynolds, all Vitus, and all Columbus, as well as mixed tubing frames, and apart from differences brought about by geometry & tubing thicknesses (!), couldn’t tell the difference.

    • Jan Heine April 15, 2020 at 10:29 am #

      Usually, the reason to substitute ‘less important’ tubes from other makers was cost. In a production setting, every penny counts. (If you make large quantities, like cars, every smallest nut is priced to $ 0.001.) Back then, Reynolds 531 and Columbus SL were considered the best, and Japanese products still had a reputation for being less expensive substitutes. Remember, this was a few years before Shimano’s 7400 Dura-Ace group showed that the Japanese were able to better the world’s best…

      The price advantage of the Japanese vanished when the yen doubled in value, which caused the exodus of bicycle making – except at the very highest end – from Japan. At the same time, Taiwanese factories realized that it was easier and cheaper to make aluminum frames, so production frames didn’t just switch their country of manufacture, but also materials. So perhaps the ‘Yen Shock’ (as the Japanese call it) was the main reason for the demise of steel bikes?

    • Steve Frey April 15, 2020 at 4:46 pm #

      Also, around the time this frame was built, rumor has it that for some models, the main triangle was built in Waterloo and then shipped to Japan where the rear triangle was added and the fork was built. The complete frames were then shipped back to Waterloo for paint, decals and final assembly.

      • Mark April 16, 2020 at 8:46 pm #

        Steve,

        Check with John D Thompson, he worked at Trek during this time period to confirm. I do know that most of their forks came from Japan in this time period (per John.)

  21. Bern April 15, 2020 at 7:08 am #

    Thanks for this. Interesting to see how much people are willing to put into the old frames. I lean toward absolute minimum modification. For those of you looking to build a good all-rounder (ie minimum 700x32mm tire clearance) on the cheap, here’s an example of a similar-era Trek conversion:

    I started with a (probly) 1980 Trek series 600-something frameset (no model number on the frame, and the serial number indicates it is one of the “other location” sourced frames from that year). Reynolds 531 sticker almost rubbed off. Back then the frames were made to fit 27×1-1/4″ tires so I figured there would be room for 700x32mm with fenders, which turned out to be correct. The frame & fork also easily clear 700×35 without fender clearance. Here’s the specs & components:

    • Trek medium blue (original paint) 56cm frame & matching fork.
    • Tange steel headset included with frameset
    What I added from my shed:
    • used Shimano cartridge bb
    • used TA double crakset 48×31 (yeah, I still have a stack of oddball TA rings, and many sets of the hardware)
    • used Shimano SPD/Caged dual-use pedals
    • used q/r wheelset – 6 speed SunTour freewheel 213×28, generic hubs, Mavic G40 rims, Panaracer tires
    • used Nitto Technomic stem (the stem was too long to drop far enough into the steerer so I cut it shorter)
    • used SunTour f&r derailleurs (just last week replaced the worn out Cyclone 2 rear with an even older original Cyclone); SunTour bar end shifters
    • used SunTour Superbe brake set – still the best side pulls I’ve ever had
    • used, forgotten seat post
    • used San Marco Concor Supercorsa saddle – I am always in the market for these
    From the bike shop:
    • chain, cables, fenders, Nitto Noodle bar

    This bike rides beautifully on all sorts of surfaces as long as they are not too rough (ie root-laced singletrack)

    Other really good all-rounders I’ve built up from old frames in the shed plus parts from the bin include:
    • mid-70’s Holdsworth (handles 40mm tires)
    • 1984 Mercian
    • 1977 Nishiki Landau (handles 40mm tires)
    • 1972(?) Peugeot PR-10
    • Pinarello
    • mid-70’s Raleigh
    • 1983 Schwinn Voyageur (handles 40mm tires)
    • mid-70’s Zeus Competition

    All inexpensively sourced and equipped. Long Live Old Bikes.

  22. Frédéric April 15, 2020 at 12:50 pm #

    Is it a custom front rack ?

    • Jan Heine April 15, 2020 at 1:05 pm #

      Yes, Steve built the rack based on a Rene Herse design.

  23. Tom Howard April 15, 2020 at 9:32 pm #

    Really cool bike. The latest BQ is excellent, by the way. I hope the Covid catastrophe doesn’t put too much of a damper on BQ staff’s adventures

    • Jan Heine April 15, 2020 at 10:28 pm #

      Thank you for the nice words and good wishes. We’re adapting to the new situation. Fortunately, there are great adventures possible close to home. Safety is a prime consideration at all times, especially when venturing out of cell phone range. Team rides are off for now, though.😢

      • Mark April 16, 2020 at 8:54 pm #

        +1

        We’re blessed with miles and miles of both paved and unpaved roads that are rarely travelled in the PNW. Oregon’s forestry roads (all gravel) are by law acccesible by the general public. I’m lucky to have a job considered essential, and typically ride to work, about 9 miles one way. With daylight savings I had time to take the “long way home, 35 miles, almost half gravel. Glorious seeing both Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helen several times. For some reason I never did this before.

        I think we can all look around and find “roads less travelled” that we never got around to doing. I’m even finding that our MUPs are much more crowded with walkers, runners, and cyclists, and the roads I used to avoid have few cars on them. Variety is the spice of life, get creative and keep safe!