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Transforming a vintage bike into gravel grinder

DiviDivi Posts: 3
edited October 2017 in Road general
I'd like this thread to be a conversation about everyones projects, gravel bike geometry, and vintage parts. Not just about my project. :)

Here's a little story how I went with this... So I wanted to buy a vintage bike that I could turn into gravel grinder. Main reason was just to get a cheap gravel bike alongside my mountain bikes, paved road cycling is not for me.. And second reason is I just wanted some project in my garage. :roll:
After checking forums, facebook groups and other sources to buy used bikes here in Finland, I ended up with this.


Brand is Helkama, old Finnish bike company founded in 1905. They are very well known here, not for high-end but basic, robust, proper regular bikes for everyday users. Model is Kulkuri, its just a regular mens road/touring/commuting/whatever bike from the nineties I'm guessing. Steel frame, 61cm size, loads of tire clearance. It has Shimano 3-speed Positron hub gears, rear wheel frame lock, hub brake, one piece cranks, and all the usual accessories. I figured out 3 speeds is kinda enough for me because I only intend to ride this bike alone, going nice and steady on my own speed on country gravel roads. Also that rear hub with gears, brake and all is super robust. All bearings are easy to maintain and they can take all the weather, even Finnish winter. Also as the frame is steel and it has been designed for "regular" riding, it should be really comfortable.

I did some maintenance on it, put tires on that actually hold air and went for a test spin. Saddle was awful, and grips were super hard plastic, but otherwise there was no problems. I reckon the bike has been sitting in garage for 20 years, haven't seen much use. Good baseline to start tweaking.


Wheels: I kept the original hubs with gears and brake, bought DT Swiss 545d 700c 36H trekking rims and 2mm DT Swiss stainless steel spokes with DT Swiss brass nipples, ultimate corrosion resistance and super tough wheel for rough roads and fat rider. :mrgreen:
Tires: Specialized Trigger Pro 2Bliss 700x38c, set up tubeless with Stans sealant and valve stems.
Handlebar: SOMA Highway 1, 44cm C-C Road bar with a round compact bend and shallow drop. 26mm center diameter. Would maybe prefer wider set but this one I found used for 20€ so it was a no brainer. Original bar was 25,4mm in center so slight modification was needed.
Shifter: Found beautiful NOS Shimano Positron frame shifter from ebay (some small bikeshop in Germany) with perfect length cable.
Saddle: Bought just some cheap modern sport saddle for now, still looking for one that really fits my bottom.
Pedals: Bought cheap new flat pedals as the original ones were bent, and I couldn't find any SPD pedals with 1/2" thread for those fauber cranks. Have to look into that later.

Thoughts for future: Besides saddle and pedals, it doesn't really need much at all. I've been thinking of painting it but on the other hand I like that vintage paintjob. One idea was to keep the frame as is, but powdercoat all those chrome plated parts to black.

I really like how the bike rides, and that got me thinking what are the differences in geometry on modern gravel road bike.
I measured my bike and compared it with 2017 Specialized Sequoia Elite also in 61cm size. Turns out there really is not much difference.


BB drop on Sequoia is a bit bigger so I assume it's a bit more steady to ride, but other than that I dont see much difference. My bike even has a bit slacker head angle and longer wheel base. I mean ofc modern bike has tube wall thicknesses etc figured out so its stiff in the correct way but still comfortable, for racing it makes all the difference. Its also a bunch lighter and you get more gears and you can fit new parts and all that. But for me.. I think this was the correct route.

Any thoughts or comments?

Jussi from Finland :)


  • andy9964andy9964 Posts: 930
    Keep the paint and the chrome for the "vintage look", maybe get rid of that black thing on the fork if possible.
    Other than that, nice job
  • paulbnixpaulbnix Posts: 524
    I wouldn't like to trust just a rear pedal operated hub brake down any sort of hill - gravel or otherwise.
  • robert88robert88 Posts: 2,696
    On gravel hills I know you get off and walk anyway. Only effective brake would be a parachute or reverse thrust jet engine.
  • MoonbikerMoonbiker Posts: 1,706
    I think its wonderful.

    Why remove the front brake though tyre clearance?

    What software did you use for the geometry chart comparison picture looks useful?
  • DiviDivi Posts: 3
    - That original front brake had no stopping power.. at all. I tried also with new pads.
    - Also the new rims don't have surface for rim brake.
    - Aaaannd this is where I ride. :lol:

    I would like a front disc brake tho.. maybe later. :) is what I used for geometry.
  • paulbnixpaulbnix Posts: 524
    Impressively flat - ignore my comment.
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