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A Department Store Bike with Character

Hardy Menagh   5/1/08

Compact Right Side

When this 1978 ROSS Compact showed up on the Craigslist, I was looking for a 10, or greater, speed bike for my wife. This old lower quality bike would not have been my first choice but she had been admiring a retro curved tube cruiser in a bike shop recently and when I showed the ad to her, she thought we should at least look at it. The price was quite low and I have a soft spot in my head for ROSS bikes anyway. Upon examining it, I noticed that the front wheel was locked up and the rear rim looked like it had been slightly crushed in a vice. This was not too important. I had a few salvaged 26" EA3 wheels on hand. It did have a working Shimano Front Freewheeling System and didn't show much wear otherwise. We brought it home, even though I had already found a Mixte frame Peugeot that I thought would be a better choice for my wife.

85 Compact

The ROSS Compact

The ROSS Compact is kind of an oddity. It came in one frame size, 17 1/2", with an extra long seat post which could be adjusted to fit a wide range of body sizes. It could grow with a young person and even accommodate a medium sized adult.

It had curved frame tubes at a time when all other drop bar 10-speeds had straight tubes. By the early 1980s, the Compact had exchanged its curved tubes for straight ones with a sloping top tube. Two ladies versions were also offered with drop or upright handlebars.

The Compact frame is lugged only where the seat and chain stays meet the dropout and this simply consists of flattened tubes where the dropout is inserted. I have to assume these joints are brazed since I don't see the spot welds, usually found on this type of inexpensive production joint.

The Compact's drop handlebars were originally covered with four pieces of blue foam tubing to match the blue paint job. Two of these tubes still remained on this bike when I purchased it but since they didn't fully cover the bars, I opted to temporarily replace them with some vinyl bar tape.

Like ROSS' other low-end 10-speeds, the Compact sports a Front Freewheeling System. The ones used on ROSS bikes were the least expensive, all-steel version made by Shimano for Ashtabula (one-piece) cranks. The cranks were designed for these chainwheels and do not have the stud that goes through a usual fixed Ashtabula chainwheel.

FFS Crankset
The FFS chainwheel has been described as "a solution in search of a problem". It allowed the rider to shift gears any time the rear wheel was moving, with or without pedaling. Unfortunately, if you shift the rear derailer without pedaling, it's sometimes difficult to know exactly where you have shifted to. Indexed shifting might have been an improvement to this system but there is no real advantage to not pedaling while shifting.

Beyond this, the Compact is similarly constructed and fitted, to other department store 10-speeds that typically retailed for US$60 to US$80 throughout the 1970s. By 1982, the straight tube version of the Compact had an MSR of US$240 but was probably selling for less than US$200.


The Overhaul

I had and still have no clear idea of what I'll do with this bike but I decided to repair it anyway.

The cleaning and repacking of the bearings was straightforward. The FFS Chainwheel is supported by two sets of ball bearings and there are a lot of them. I greased these bearings but decided to oil the ratcheting mechanism between them, so it would move easily. I did this based on intuition, not knowledge of how it should be done. The adjustment of the FFS bearings is done with circular shims, so you just reuse the old ones, even if wear has made the freewheel seem a little looser than you would consider optimum.

The wheels required a little more attention. The front axle was bent and had been used that way. This had destroyed the cups and cones. I replaced the front wheel with a good used one I had on hand. As mentioned, the rear rim was damaged, apparently from clamping it in a vice. Although I had a good 26" rear wheel, I took the good rim from the damaged front wheel and transplanted it to the rear wheel. This made it unnecessary to remove the rear fixed sprocket cluster (not freewheel) and probably saved me some work in the long run. Both wheels worked perfectly when I was done and after some quick cable adjustments, the Compact was ready to ride.

Tempered Steel

Although my 32" inseam made the Compact much too small for me, the test ride was very enjoyable. The FFS worked flawlessly. In any gear, at any time, I could press my heel against the chainguard to stop the chainwheel from turning and cause the clutch in the rear cluster to slip. This bit of engineering was designed to prevent bodily harm if the rider got a pants-leg or something else caught in the constantly moving chain. Other than that, the Compact shifts like a normal 10-speed, scoots up the hills and flys down the other side.

When it's standing still this bike seems to be calling you to ride it. If you answer the call, you discover that it's just pure fun to ride.

Original Specifications

Frame:   Partially lugged steel, tubing type not indicated
Crankset:   Ashtabula FFS, 40 - 52
Pedals:   Steel "rat trap"
Hubs & Wheels:   Steel, 36 spoke, 26"
Tires:   26 x 1-3/8 EA3, Schrader valve
Rear Cluster:   14 - 28 Fixed with clutch
Derailers:   Shimano Eagle II
Shifters:   Shimano stem
Brakes:   Dia-Compe side pull
Brake Levers:   Dia-Compe w/aux levers
Stem:   JUN alloy
Handlebars:    Steel drop
Grips:   Tubular foam
Seat Post:   Steel, 7" working length
Seat:   Mattress (steel & foam w/vinyl cover)
Weight:   35 lbs.

Rear View

Update 5/15/08

After test riding the Compact, My wife decided she liked it, quite a lot. She asked if it could have upright handlebars and a more comfortable seat. The answer is pictured.


Since this bike was not in museum condition, I had no problem with making the simple alterations she requested. In fact, I had everything I needed on hand, even the blue foam grips. It looks a little like that curved tube cruiser she saw in the bike shop, without the balloon tires.

For more information see the following resources on this site:
1986 ROSS Eurotour.
History of ROSS Bicycles

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Copyright © 2008 Hardy Menagh