Dans Son Jus
I’ve never owned a Criterium before, but I have restored a couple of Pro Ams and Longfellows in recent times. The bike in this blog, which needs top to bottom work, was lower in the ranks than the Pro Am, which had Reynolds 531 tubing. Yet, it is still a Worksop-built bike, made in the last years of the Carlton factory, which closed in 1982. I actually got this bike for free from a lady who had just sold her house, because it needs a serious amount of work to get on the road again.
I do like the colour of the Criterium, though I’ve seen them in brown and blue, but I think it looks best in this tea green paint. There is no chrome and it is rather a understated frameset, with clean lines and minimal decoration. I like its Crespera lugs which are perfect for this frame, and the decals may be quite plain but they in accordance with the simple sophistication of this bike.
The Criterium in the 1960’s had Reynolds tubing and a Brooks B15 saddle, so one could say it was a better bike a decade before my one here was built. Here is an example of one in a catalogue from 1962. In the early 1970’s the Criterium had been downgraded to a more basic bike, sold with a cottered crankset and hi-ten tubing, yet still featuring a Brooks saddle. Strangely, for some reason, the Criterium disappeared from the Carlton catalogues in the mid 1970’s but reappeared again in this green colour in 1979.
Condition of the Frame
On first sight this bike looks quite beaten and worn; it’s not been looked after for a long time. The worst of it is the condition of the top tube, which has lost some of its top coat and is sadly exposing areas of white undercoat. It’s a shame, for no matter how much you restore the bike, this is something you can’t repair unless the whole frame is powder coated. Another issue with the frame is the strange black paint around the rear dropouts, running a few inches along the stays. Why is that there? I haven’t worked it out yet.
..And Other Bad Stuff
I’m quite sure the rear wheel is not original, as it has a 7 speed freewheel from a later period and a high flange Sansin hub, which was not on any of the specs of the original model. The wheel has a hideous 27¼ tyre, which belongs in the garbage. The bottom bracket is as lumpy as porridge, and the headset barely moves. Moreover, when I try to move the Suntour shifters, which have a ratcheting friction mechanism, they remain stiff and unmovable from being locked in position for many years.
Why it’s Worth Restoring
Carlton bikes have a good reputation simply because they were well made, built by a skilled workforce in Worksop. Admittedly, I’d rather not have the Raleigh branded parts on the bike, which include the crankset and Weinmann-made brakes. The Raleigh decals for me are signs of the end of Carlton, a foreboding of what was to befall them in 1982. But even though this is not a 531 frame and has a rather modest set of original parts ( including a cheap saddle, not a Brooks ), it still has the frame geometry of a Pro Am and is built on a nicely made frame that still looks and feels great.
The bottom bracket turned so roughly that I had some apprehension there was something gruesome inside it. However, when I got my tools ready for loosening the adjustable cup to check if it was overtightened, I stepped back aghast. What on earth was that cup, and how the hell are you supposed to remove it? Instead of standard holes for a pronged tool which most vintage cups have, these ones had a strange raised rectangle in their centres with pretty narrow flats. Of course, a specialised tool was necessary, and I’ve never seen it less alone ever owned one.
Just Get the Hammer
It may seem crude, but it worked. I put a flat screwdriver against one of the flats and hit the butt of it with a hammer. Within a handful of blows, it was rotating. It felt very satisfying, and I knew I was lucky to get it moving. Most old cups are very tight and probably would have been more stubborn. Inside was the nut-on spindle, surprisingly wide for a double crankset ( 128mm ), nude bearings running wild with no grease at all, and thick layers of solidified dirt. Did this person ride through fields of mud, I wondered. Thankfully no animals or insects came out with the decades of dirt.
Headset and Bottom Bracket Woes
I’ve never seen so much dirt on bearing surfaces than on this Criterium. Both the bottom bracket cups, as well as the headset races, were thick with it. I wonder how did so much of this grime get into the headset, as it is an enclosed space and high up from the ground. Yet the biggest problem I faced was replacing the stupidly designed adjustable cup of the bottom bracket, as the flats were so narrow, I just couldn’t get the power to turn it back on the old threads. I ended up having to use some spring-loaded pliers, and it took a good 10 minutes to install it fully.
Getting it Back on the Road
The Suntour VX rear derailleur was so clogged up that it wasn’t moving, and I was amazed at the amount of dirt inside the jockey wheels. Surprisingly, the chain wasn’t in bad shape, but the whole gear system was lumpy and complained if the crank was rotated. If I can still use the gear and brake cables, I usually don’t replace them, unless they are causing problems; you’d be amazed how tolerant friction shifing mechanisms are, and these old cables were will in useable condition. So why not keep them?
A Practical Restoration
It wasn’t my intention to restore this old Carlton into some exceptional condition, because ultimately, it would never get back to its original shape without a respray. Not only that, two of the original components had been replaced: the rear wheel, which is a high flange Sansin hub ( Miche skewer ) with a 7 speed freewheel, was obviously out of place, and the original Suntour VX front derailleur had been replaced by a Simplex one. I even ended up replacing the front wheel for one with a Mavic rim and white hub, which came off an old Bertin bike. I just wanted it back into good riding condition.
On the Road
A bike on the stand is may seem perfectly fine, but once on the road the real stresses come into force. I’m pleased to say the bike now travels along quiet as a mouse, which is a relief more than anything. It’s a delight to think of how such a trashed bike has returned to such a good mechanical order. However, there is a problem: the 7 speed freewheel is too much for the derailleur and chain to cope with, and the 52/22 and 52/21 ratios stretch the chain too much, pulling the Suntour VX rear derailleur into a horizontal position and causing all kinds of grinding and slipping madness.
The strange thing about this gearing problem is that the ratio 52/22 shouldn’t be a problem for the Suntour derailleur. It’s a corn cob freewheel, and though the chain has to travel more distance on this 7 speed than the original 5 speed freewheel, it’s not too much to ask for this derailleur. My guess is that the chain is too short and a few more links are required. On top of this, I’m tempted to try and use some touch-up paint on the top tube, though paint matching is notoriously difficult. But overall, the bike looks nice and rides pretty well, and in view of its condition when I acquired it, I’m quite satisfied.
- 1979 Carlton Criterium
- Serial Number: WC900
- 59CM Frame, 56cm Top Tube, C-C
- 120mm Rear Spacing
- Unbranded Handlebars
- Raleigh Stem
- Raleigh Branded Crank ( Sakae ) 52/42
- Weinmann 610 Centrepull Brakes
- Weinmann Drilled Brake Levers
- Suntour VX Ratchet Shifters
- Simplex Front Derailleur ( Replacement )
- Suntour VX Rear Derailleur
- Unbranded Bottom Bracket, 118mm Spindle
- Milremo Seatpost Pin
- Milremo Pedals ( Rusted, so Replaced )
- Mixed Wheelset, ( Rusted, so Replaced )