Friday, September 5, 2008

Ride More


Monday, September 1, 2008

O The Horror

I acquired a cool old German trombone a few weeks ago, actually a VERY old (100 years?) trombone that had evidently been sitting in someone's attic or barn for a few decades. I'd been looking for a good example of an instrument like this, at a reasonable price, and finally found one. Big bell, wide bore, no modern features like tuning slide or spit valve or leadpipe, just a long sliding tube with solid nickel ferrules and some snakey decoration. They are reputed to have a unique sound, appropriate for Wagner, Brahms, Mahler, and other romantic-era orchestral works. If not to actually perform on, an instrument like this at least gives a valuable insight into a certain repertoire.

It arrived in a giant box full of packing peanuts, completely assembled in the state it was recovered. I couldn't help myself, as soon as I had it removed from the packing I wiped off the mouthpiece and blew a note. Kinda stuffy. Try a different note. Still awfully stuffy. I pushed out the slide (awful), blew through it, checked both inner tubes, looked fine. Then I looked into the bell. Something was stuck in it, looked like a rag or some leaves. I ran a brake cable backwards through the bell section and this popped out:

ARRGGH! PTOOEY! BLECH! PFFT! PFFT! Wiping my mouth on my shirt, spitting, horking, ack where's my toothbrush?! YUCK! PTOOEY!

There are actually two mice in that blob. Count the legs and tails. Evidently the horn was stored bell-up, and some hungry little guy went snooping around where he shouldn't be, fell in, and couldn't get out. So his friend comes over to see what happened, and he falls in too. And here they are, decades later, dead, rotten, and mummified, exhumed from their brassy tomb. What a way to go.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Shimmy Shake Rattle and Roll

There has been a lot of talk lately about front wheel shimmy. Again. Online discussions, Calfee's owners' forum and his own theories regarding fork alignment, a recent accident among my clientele, shop discussions, personal experiences and hearsay. A woman died recently after losing control at high speed-witnesses said that her front wheel was shaking violently. Everybody's weighing in, regarding forks, headsets, wheels, tires, air pressure, frames, hand position, wind, etc. It's the same discussion we had last year, and the year before that. One summer it seems we've settled on HEADSETS as the culprit. Next year, TIRES. This year, it seems we're going toward FRAMES or FORKS.

But it's serious business, as any one who has experienced it will attest. What causes it? What enables it?

I submit that front wheel shimmy can be best explained (and perhaps solved) by acoustics. At a particular speed, your front wheel is rotating at a certain RPM. That number is a Frequency, which corresponds to a particular pitch, or musical note. When that frequency matches the resonant frequency of a component (fork, frame, handlebars), that component will resonate sympathetically.  If the component is not damped (by your arms, for example), the resonance will propagate.

A fork on a bicycle is like a tuning fork. It has a fundamental frequency and a series of overtones that are related mathematically to the length of its legs. If you have a fork separated from its frame, hold it by the steerer and give the fork ends a strum with your hand, then hold the end up to your ear. Hear that low pitch? Feel it in your hand? That's the fundamental. Now, (carefully) whack the fork on the edge of your workbench. Hear the higher pitches, the klang? Those are the overtones, which might be out of tune with each other (which is why it's a klang and not a beautiful note-it's a bicycle fork, not a musical instrument). The fundamental pitch is easiest to initiate, and WHEN, not IF, the frequency of your front wheel revolutions matches the frequency of that fundamental, your bike is going to start shaking.  The pitch will resonate, and will grow (propagate) if not damped somehow.  It might be slight or unnoticeable, it might be dramatic, but it will happen. If you have a stiff fork, the frequency will be higher and your shimmy will occur at a higher speed. If you have a flexible fork, or a longer fork (ie: cyclocross), the fundamental frequency will be lower and your shimmy will occur at a lower speed. If you go slower or faster, the shimmy will disappear, or the wheel RPM will induce an overtone frequency and will be felt as vibration, or perhaps a rattle of some sort.

Your wheels are not perfectly balanced. Lift up the front of your bike by the handlebars, and you will notice that the front wheel will turn and settle to a particular spot. The heaviest point of the rim/tire/tube combination settles to the bottom, and will be located at the rim joint (most commonly), or possibly the valve, or where the heaviest part of your tube is, or where your tire liner overlaps itself, or where your sealant has pooled. Remove the wheel from the bike, hold it in front of you by the skewer, and give it a spin with your fingers. Even if you have an ultra-light, high-zoot wheel, it will want to move up and down in space.  It might wobble or cavitate if the heavy spot is on the side (say, a tire boot or computer magnet), or if the wheel is out of dish.  That's the heavy spot you're feeling, and it's also the frequency of rotation. In mechanics, it is known as RPM, but in music it is known as pitch. It's actually making a sound, something like 1 or 2 Hertz, but that's way lower than the threshold of human hearing. Which is why we call it 110 RPM rather than C-sharp.

Automotive mechanics has parallels. If your front wheels are out of balance, at higher speeds your steering wheel will shake. If you have a fouled or broken sparkplug or wire, one cylinder will misfire and the motor will jiggle on its mounts. Bad CV-joint? Big noise, big trouble. It will shake itself to pieces and put you into the ditch. The next time you're under your car, look at the driveshaft-you will probably see little squares of steel welded on here and there, which balance it. When I replaced the u-joints on my old Z, the manual stated that you must mark the position of the knuckles in relation to the shaft, and replace them in exactly the same way. They were balanced.

When you turn your cel phone to "silent," or "buzz," you engage a little out-of-balance motor rather than your ring tone. When you get a call, the motor spins and it shakes so badly that you can feel it in your pocket, and you know that a call is coming in.

There are other resonant frequencies on a bicycle. The distance from the fork end to the handlebar ends, for example. Or the entire distance from the front axle through the frame to the rear axle.  On my old noodle Tommaso, I don't think I get a fork shimmy but I do get a wobble from the frame.  It happens around 15-17mph, so its frequency would have a longer acoustic length, perhaps the distance from my seatpost to the front end somewhere, or it might be the length of the entire fork.  When I sit up I can feel it immediately, and it will damp out if I put my hands on the ends of the handlebars, but it will not damp as quickly if I grab the handlebars near the stem.  Could it be the length of the fork plus handlebars?  The front wheel seems quiet, at higher speeds as well, but the frame is whipping back and forth.  It's quite dramatic and a little wild, actually. I showed a riding buddy once, and he thought I was going down. (I didn't-it looks worse than it actually is). If I go a bit faster, or slower, it doesn't happen.  If I input an interfering frequency by pedaling, it becomes intermittent.  It will wobble, then still, then wobble, then still (this might be a parallel to the beats you can hear when a perfect interval is not tuned well).  If I damp it between my legs, it stops. I recently took pains to balance the front wheel on that bike: we'll see if it helps.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Stealth Bike...NOT!

Vote for one:

Theftproof bike
What are you looking at?
Please-don't-remind-me-of-1989 bike
Gawd-I-can't-believe-I-had-one-of-those bike
I can't feel my legs
I love that bike
Ugliest bike
Awesome bike!
What's in the pink pack?

ps: note the perfectly matched pedals.

Monday, June 30, 2008

His New Fetish

Driving my son to school one morning I saw in my rearview mirror a car approaching fast. A rice-burner, with ground effects, carbon-fiber hood with nostrils, stupid stuff dangling from the rear-view mirror, etc. Like I said, approaching fast. Wanted to get up behind me before the light turned green, I suppose.
When he arrived, I saw the driver was talking on his cel phone. I looked again, and saw he wasn't talking, but rather, smooching, on his cel phone. Looking yet again, out of the corner of my eye, it seemed that he was actually smooching THE cel phone. Not talking, smooching. Rubbing it on his cheek. Fondling his cel phone. Touching it. Kissing it, licking it. Yes, licking it. Making some kind of love TO his CEL PHONE. Nobody on the other end, I swear, I was watching him in my rearview mirror, and there was no talking going on.
I was shocked.
What the hell kind of...?
A member of L. Ron Hoover's First Church of Appliantology? (See Frank Zappa, "Joe's Garage")
My mouth gaped. I unconsciously turned my face full-on toward my mirror and stared, and he evidently noticed the gesture. Down went the phone, up went the act like nothing happened. Cool, suave, studly dude. Race car driver.
Disconnected freak.
The light turned green, I took my time getting through the intersection, just to see what he'd do. Which was: turn left fast and get his embarrassed butt out of there.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Neat Stuff

"I was just riding along and..."
This is a, Carbon Fiber handlebar that broke for no apparent reason. No known trauma, no twenty thousand miles, no rough-and-tumble cyclocrossing, and luckily nobody got hurt. Don't think that we are against carbon fiber-plenty of steel and aluminum and titanium parts have broken too, as you can see throughout this blog-just be reminded that you have to watch out for yourself. Inspect your tires often. Don't tolerate worn or ill-adjusted brakes. Investigate creaks and clicks. Be sensitive to sudden changes in your bike's handling qualities or "feel." Get a yearly, professional tuneup.

1986 ZINN
I had a dream about using brass, or bronze, for lugs, and a week later this guy shows up. I've never seen such a thing-this seatstay cap is polished brass. Cool.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mostly True Tales from the Trenches

Nice customer story number one:

Bubba Dirtbag came in with his bruised drunken woman and said, "I need a tire."
I ask what size.
"26 by one and three-quarters."
What sort of bicycle is it on?
"An old Schwinn."
Do you happen to have any other numbers off the old tire? There is more than one size called that. Does it say one-point-seven-five or one-3-slash-4?
"It's a 26 by one and three-quarters."
The woman is looking vacantly down and off to one side. A little fidgety, too. Is she used to this?
Well, I'll need to see the old tire, or the bicycle, or the wheel so that I can sell you the right size.
"I said, it's a 26 by one and three-quarters."
Yes, and there are at least four different sizes that are called that, and they are not interchangeable. The rims are different, the tires are different, they are NOT INTERCHANGEABLE. (thinking: I'm not going to sell you a tire and then: a. you use two screwdrivers to crank it on, ruining the tire and your rim, or b. it goes on too loose but you're too ignorant to realize it and it blows up in your face. In either case it'll clearly be my fault for not recognizing that you're the world's most gifted bicycle mechanic)
"It's a 26 by ONE and THREE QUARTERS."
Yes, you said that, and you also said that it's from an old Schwinn, which further increases the chances that it's an odd size. Is it a 559? S7? S6? English? One-speed or multi-speed? (thinking: do you even know the difference between three-quarters and point-seven-five, or might it actually say three-eighths, but the sidewall is too crusty to read) I'll have to see the old tire, or the wheel, or the bike to get you the correct size. I'm not going to waste both of our time by selling you the wrong tire.
"It's a 26 by one and three-quarters. Don't you think that I know what I'm talking about? Do you think I'm some kind of moron? (getting a little hot now, starting to talk a little louder) I've been a mechanic for ALL MY LIFE, I can fix cars and motorcycles and lawn mowers and I've been working on bikes since I was a kid, and etc. etc. etc...."
I'm afraid I can't help you, you'll have to go somewhere else. There's another bike shop up on Littleton Boulevard, you can drive there in about ten minutes. Good luck.
I turn and walk away, and as he's leaving he can't slam the door because of the hydraulic closer. The woman keeps her respectful distance.

Nice customer story number two:

I show up an hour early many days in May and June so that I can be prepared to open on time. Today a half-hour before my clearly-posted opening time an SUV (of course) pulls up, and a woman gets out. She walks up to the door, pulls on it a couple times, looks at my hours, looks in the window, probably sees me working in the back room, goes back to her car, gets her cel phone, makes a call, and then stands by her driver's side door, talking, looking at her watch, leaning on one leg and tapping her other foot. Looking in my front window. Perturbed.
At quarter-to, I unlock the door, prop it open, and start to roll out bicycles which I display in the parking lot. I say, "I'll be with you in a few minutes." She's still standing there, tapping her foot, looking at her watch. By ten-to I've got my bikes out, lined up and cabled-up, and I go back inside, locking the front door behind me. I am not open yet.
Tapping foot.
Looking at watch.
Holding cel phone.
Not open yet.
I don't make her wait all ten minutes-I let her stew until about five-to, then I go put up the "open" sign and go out.
"I need to work early so that I can open on time," I say.
"Well, fine, then," or something like that.
"What can I help you with today?" I ask.
"What can you do about this?" she asks, opening her back door.
There's a beat-up department store bike lying there, two flat tires, dust and cobwebs, etc. "I can tune it up for you, put some thorn-resistant tubes in the tires, clean it up and then you can ride it," I say.
"Can I come back later today for it?" she asks.
I try not to laugh. "Tune-ups are turning around in two weeks right now, this is the busiest time of the year. I'll do a good job for you, but it will take about two weeks."
"Well, what can you do for me now?"
(me, now)
"I can pump up the tires."
"That's it?"
"Ma'am, this bicycle is a wreck, it needs a complete tuneup and no doubt two tubes, maybe a chain and some cables, and I'm not even going to begin it unless I can finish it. I'll fill the tires, so you can know in a day or two whether they need to be replaced, or you may leave it here and pick it up when it's done in two weeks, or make an appointment with a deposit."
"But my son needs it to ride to work."
"I'll fill up the tires if you like."
"Well, can't you do anything more for me now?"
"If you don't want me to inflate the tires, I'll have to be moving on."
"Well, can't you just check the brakes, and the shifters? Or do a Safety Check? When you pump up the tires?"
"No. I'm hestitant to even pump up the tires, and I'm definitely not willing to accept any liability for this bicycle by doing some half-way Safety Check. There is no such thing as a Safety Check. There's no bike that can be made safe with a check. This bike is UNSAFE. It needs a TUNEUP, which will make it safe to ride. I don't want to waste another moment on this, but I'll pump up the tires if you like. What do you want to do?"
"OK," she says, "you can pump up the tires for me now."
(me now)
I take the bike in, fill the tires, load the bike, and it will probably be in the dumpster by the weekend.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Observations of Frenchness

Riding home some time ago I saw a stunning Citroen SM in a car dealer/restorer lot. Had to stop, and just stare for a while, you don't see these all the time. One of those low-slung, long, wide but small, beautiful, spacepod things, gobs of power and speed in a car that was built to driven by princes and artists and diplomats. A car, along with Jaguar E-series, Mercedes 240, '66 Mustang, that I've always wanted, actually fantasized that I could someday own and drive. Not drive a lot, of course, I'd keep my Volvo for actual use, but how can I explain, you either understand or you can't, what it would be like to just pull up a chair in my garage and sit there and stare. That's mine. I got one. It's awesome. It's French, it's different.

Intentionally. The French are different intentionally, I think. Before they make something, they look around, and they ask: What should work the best in this situation? What makes sense? Can we make it simple and effective? How do the English do it? The Italians? Those insolent Americans? Are there international standards? What does ISO have to say about it? JIS? What is accepted practice? What is normal? And when research is concluded, they sit down to figure out how to do something...else.

Something ELSE. While the rest of the world is using 100mm dropouts, they use...99mm. Where everyone else uses a 5mm cap screw, they use a...8mm...hex head. When everyone else uses paint, they Where everyone else uses chrome, they use...aluminum. Bushing? No, ball bearing. External sleeve? No, internal. Aluminum derailleur? No, plastic derailleur. Plastic shift levers. Even plastic brake levers. Isn't that cool? Plastic break levers. They won't break, they'll work fine. And even though Campy, Shimano, Suntour, Sugino, British, Italian, Swiss, BMX, Octalink, ISIS, it seems EVERYONE ELSE uses a 22mm crank extractor thread, they use...23mm. Except Stronglight, who used 23.35, because of course TA was already using 23.

23.35mm. How many Stronglight cranks have been ruined for lack of a 23.35mm extractor?

So many old French bikes have fallen victim to mechanics. Everybody screws up their first French bike, whether it's a Peugeot UO8 or a Singer. It doesn't matter, you have to be hyper-vigilant, as at some point you won't know whether that fastener is a right-hand or left-hand thread, or whether the nut on the other side is floating or welded on, or is there a bushing in there or bearings which will spill out all over the floor? Move slowly, don't adjust yourself into a corner and then have to re-engineer something.

Ever try to mount an old Ideale saddle? Sometimes your clamp tightens, sometimes it won't because the RAILS ARE A SMALLER DIAMETER than everyone else's! You have to use a French seatpost to do it reliably, but of course French seatposts are a special size, which means that you have to use a French frame, and then only French derailleurs, BB, headset, and hub O.L.D. fit into a French frame properly, so you might as well just capitulate and get a French bicycle if you want to use an Ideale saddle.

My (wonderful, sublime, French) randonneur bike has a 26.4mm seatpost, which the seat tube had to be shrunk to accept. And they didn't even do it well, I think perhaps in spite. Just to say, "see, here we thumbed this up just to annoy you, (vous poor uninlitenende anglais tripe), but we still think it will work fine." WHY DO THAT? Is it so important to use 26.4 that you have to alter a carefully-drawn tube to do it? Why not just use the 27.0mm that the tube is designed to take? Is it more convenient to swage a steel tube than it is to turn a different diameter into aluminum? If you have to use that seatpost, then why not use your own frenchy tubes duh that are already made to fit the post already duh, is that too obvious duh? Craziness!

Before WWII, when French gunnery experts were trying to decide on a bore size for the primary guns on battleship Richelieu, they certainly knew that other great maritime powers were using 14-inch, 15-, 16-, 17, and even 18-inch guns (bigger is better, normally, on a battleship). And of course having this information, they had a great and doubtless heated discussion over whether to employ....13.4-inch or 13.8-inch.

Have you ever had a pair of French shoes? I haven't. Italian, sure, I have four or five pairs, great shoes-they fit better the longer you have them. Chinese shoes, of course, a couple of pairs, cheap and effective, disposable, fit well new and wear out fast. English shoes, yes. American boots too, even got some Dutch clogs. But no French shoes. Why is that? Do they have special feet there? Not like Everybody Else's?

Vive la difference.

But that gorgeous car, I don't care if it's different. Maybe that's part of its charm. Think of automatic shift levers in cars...where do you imagine them? Of all the cars you've driven, how does the shifter work? Up and down, right? Whether it's on the column or on the hump, it's UP and DOWN. Or maybe TO and FROM. This one works...from right. Or perhaps right to left, does it matter? Perhaps buttons on the ceiling were not possible? And I don't doubt that it's not the normal P-R-N-D-2-1, either. Probably R-N-1-2-D-P. It only makes sense if you're already used to it.

Open the hood, and what do you expect? Wires, hoses? Sure, lots of 'em. Maybe a nice polished cover? Black plastic cowls and a huge radiator? Ha. Green Hydropneumatic Spheres. That's right, green balls, at least four of them the size of large grapefruit. They operate as parts of the suspension, to raise and lower the car, among other things. What an interesting, great, completely arcane idea...raise and lower the car hydropneumatically. Self-levels with a load. Tiptoe through puddles, hunker down at higher speeds. Float more on cobbles. Bounce up and down at intersections. We can use it for steering too, and the headlights. Use it to adjust the windshield wipers. Maybe it can be hooked up to the radio. It won't leak. Air never leaks, neither does'll work fine. And how many headlights would you like while we're at it? One on each side? Maybe two on each side? How about six? Six headlights, three on each side, two pivoting with the steering wheel, which automatically re-centers when the car is not in motion.

Also, an oval steering wheel and gauges, aluminum bonnet, stainless trim. Front wheel drive. Carbon-fiber wheels were an option, as was a set of fitted luggage. Maserati engine, Lotus transmission. The brakes are operated with a button on the floor, not a pedal as with lesser cars.


Evidently the cars imported to the U.S. had four headlights, we just had to put our foot down. Picture used without permission and may be removed for any reason at any time.

Like beef? Pork? Chicken? Rattlesnake? Mule?
Try snails.

Potatoes? Onions? Turnips? Mushrooms?

Debussy, Ravel.
de Balzac.

Well, I'm no expert. Don't even speak French. Never been there. But I sure liked that car.

Friday, April 25, 2008

More of the same

This happened while parking the bike. Really.

This is not the same bike, this is a Rivendell. Very nice USA-produced frameset with hand-carved lugs. Extremely clean workmanship-filing, brazing, prep and paint are all wonderful. Hit this picture with your pointer and get right up close-try to find a flaw. I don't know any other maker that uses points so slim, or three waves on the top-this lug is unique to Rivendell, and won't ever be mistaken for another brand. A little opulent maybe, even baroque, but hell I'd ride it. Get it good and dirty!

I have been informed that this lug was actually supplied by Richard Sachs. It appears also to be used by Ted Wojcik, and perhaps others.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Things that might happen

1. Despite clear majority support for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton clinches the Democratic nomination by receiving barely enough superdelegate votes. Disgusted voters reject the ticket as just another backroom deal, and Obama and Ralph Nader form a third party.
2. A national security crisis in September, causing much death and destruction, is used to justify another invasion and a deepening of the current conflict. Conspiracy theories are rampant but are not reported in the mainstream media.
3. Election of John McCain on a "Patriot" platform, with Dick Cheney as Vice President, who install a "War Cabinet" and reinstitute the draft by executive order. Bush effectively steps aside in November, and is hailed as a "lover of peace" and "defender of freedom." Inauguration day is marked by rioting and violence, and scores of police and demonstrators are injured or killed nationwide.
4. The pope asks Catholics worldwide to stand down for peace, and he is assassinated. A logistical miscalculation causes Israel to blame the assassination on "Islamic Terrorists" before it has actually occurred.
5. Widespread civil rights abuses in the U.S. and abroad, flagrant disregard or suspension of rights guaranteed by the first, second, fourth, and sixth amendments, and international outcry against military actions. The Supreme Court remains silent.
6. A moratorium on immigration and foreign nationals sent home, leading to a domestic labor crisis and hyper-expensive groceries. Double-digit inflation.
7. Imported oil reaches $300 per barrel.
8. Mexico becomes the 51st state, providing cheap oil, cheap mineral resources, cheap labor, cheap manufacturing, and more young people to draft into service. Fortune-500 companies invest heavily and are richly rewarded. GMC and Chrysler move production to Mexico, Ford bankrupts, and Duesenberg reappears. Canadian newspapers decry "Fortress America" mentality, and are vilified by conservative U.S. media. Calls from the far right to annex Yukon Territory.
9. All domestic oil reserves are called into production, including new drilling in National Parks and Forests, and eminent domain provides new rights-of-way for miners and loggers.
10. E.U. and Russia enter trade agreement with China, effectively ending U.S. world economic hegemony.
11. China sells its treasury bills, further depressing the U.S. dollar.
12. Large-scale collapse of credit and banking system, exacerbated by a poorly-managed F.D.I.C. and its politically-appointed leadership. Price of Gold reaches all-time high.
13. The U.S. enters a second "great depression."
14. Automobiles become prohibitively expensive to maintain, and people can no longer afford to live in the suburbs.
15. People ride bicycles more and more.
16. Bike mechanics are in high demand and bike shop owners get rich.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

More busted stuff

Pushin' your luck.

Sorry, warranty not transferable.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Seat Lugs

198? Mercian
That's a cute seat cluster. British. Nice brazing, carefully shaped and smoothed, a little florid but not ridiculous. Mercian frames are said to be "hearth brazed," which I believe means that a joint is heated over a bed of coals (rather than by a torch) prior to having the silver flowed in. The purple candy striping goes all the way down to the bottom bracket-talk about a challenging pinstripe job. Even now, faded and cracked and scratched, this is beautiful paint, and I'll strangle the vain fool who has a frame like this repainted (oh, I mean, "restored"...). Do you think you could find someone to do new striping like that?

197? Flying Dutchman
In its favor, I will tell you that this bike has seen about the worst treatment you can give an old road bike. Freezing rain, ice, snow, miles, dirt and rocks, mud, built and rebuilt, running into and jumping over things, dropping in on trails, bent, broken, repaired, repainted, etc...and it has SURVIVED. That's the good news. The bad news is, don't look too close. See the nasty repaint? See the file marks? See the rough edges? See the clamp ears which have deformed and now need to be shimmed with a Pepsi can? I'm being too critical-the stay end is shaped nicely, and there aren't any gratuitous globs or runs in the braze. A little rough perhaps, but durable enough, and the bike is said to handle well. The little window cut into the top of the lug lightens it a bit, looks interesting, and allows the builder to see when the silver has made good penetration. Probably Italian, built by an anonymous maker and rebranded by a (now defunct) Denver shop.

2008 Waterford RS-22
This is a Brand-New Hand-Made American frameset. (how many things are that these days?) Nice work-clean edges, minimal shape, fastback stays for lighter weight. This is probably a cast lug, quite strong and with a beefy, integral clamp which will never bend or break. The head lugs and fork crown are polished stainless steel, but you'll have to imagine those for the time being. Taken as a whole, the frameset has excellent workmanship, well-chosen materials and a high-quality finish, and presents a complete and elegant package. Arguably producing as good as any production frames ever made, certainly better than the vast majority, Waterford almost reaches the very top tier of custom framebuilders (though not quite, which is really not disappointing at one-half the price and one-tenth the wait!). I hope that whomever buys this frame will ride the hell out of it, and then pass it on to someone else who will ride the hell out of it. Looking around at some of my other fine, old bikes makes me wish to see it as it will be thirty years from now.

198? Centurion
Japanese. This is a pretty nice job for a production frame-slim, stylish, smooth finish, looks strong, but having a tasteless decal on those nice semi-wrap stay ends kinda cheapens it. And in its time it WAS cheaper than equivalent European frames-look close-compare it to other clusters pictured here-is this not as good as the best of them, almost? It's especially remarkable for a production frame-imagine some Japanese craftsman/woman brazing dozens of these a day-its amazing they could produce such uniform work. Imagine yourself in the same position, week after week month after month. Would you not, like I, grow bored and jaded and sloppy?
I'm a hypocrite for saying so, and I may be a snob too, but this a frame that could use a repaint-get those meaningless brands and ugly stickers off at least, so it's more of a "nice frame" than it is a "Centurion." I mean, who wants to ride a Centurion? It's none of anybody's business that your nice frame was made in (gulp) Asia. Hang some Campy stuff on it, nobody will ever know. But ride it, in any case. A good road bike is always a good road bike, and it should be ridden.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Compare and Contrast

Late-80s DeRosa, Italian. Beautiful bike. Short-point lugs in a traditional manner, with chromed head lugs and fork crown. Campagnolo-equipped, of course.  A sturdy bike; look at that clamp-it's solid steel and probably won't ever break or deform.

Late-80s Masi 3V, Italian.  Though this and the DeRosa both have the traditional features of a little point on the top front and side-mounted seatstays, this cluster is a bit more modern than the DeRosa-its main triangle is internally lugged, enabling thinwall tubes which are in this case quite oversized, and the clamp bolt has been shrunken and recessed.  Perhaps all of these refinements owing to pressure from, or lessons learned in, the American market? Faliero Masi was in California for some years trying to set up a shop, so it's entirely conceivable that he might adopt an iconoclastic attitude compared to the more traditional and conservative Italian national builders. Someone's motto "innovate or die" comes to mind, which since at least 1776 has been sort of an American Way of Thinking. It is said of some European manufacturers, on the other hand, that they do things a certain way because their fathers did it, and their fathers' fathers before that, etc., perpetuating in a way the system of guilds and apprenticeships found in some cases for many centuries past ("If it was good enough for _____, it's good enough for me").
This frameset is reputed by its owner to be very rigid.  The bike is Campy-equipped (of course), with the awesome and maddening Delta brakes.

Late-80s Centurion, Japanese. Attractive bike. A well-built, functional, inexpensive copy. Nice shapes, well-done lining and pinstriping, excellent paint. Dia-Compe, SR, Suntour-equipped.  The size of the lugs and the white lining look British to me, the scooped outside-mounted stay is Italianate, the lack of a top point lazy French, and that fragile little excuse for a clamp is all Japanese and bent, the fatal flaw.

More bad luck

Wasn't this The Lightest Crankset at one time?

"Light, Strong, Cheap...pick two." -Keith Bontrager

Neat front wheel

This turns out to be a good way to build a front wheel. For many of the wheels used to resuscitate old bikes that I ride, I'll make it a point of pride to use old stuff from my many and varied junk boxes. This is a good example-an old NR hub, spokes from some old French castoff, and a rim from something else. The spokes turned out to be too long, so this occurred to me as a solution. It took some figuring with the lengths and crosses, and about four times longer than normal to build, round, true, dish, stress, and tension, but it's a happy result. Nice and stiff, snappy, and cool too. Pretty damn durable, as well-this one is on its second bike, and sixth or seventh season of commuter fixxie hell. For myself and for a few customers, I've built a dozen or so wheels like this, putting one or two winds on the third cross, or one wind on the second cross, or one each on the second and third crosses (all plenty time-consuming and a good November project), and they're all still in service as far as I know. One of my rear wheel experiments, however, turned into a Pringle on the test ride: that one, if I remember correctly, I twisted at the second cross-I think that it caused torsional force from the hub to increase spoke tension ninety degrees opposed to a decreased spoke tension, which defeated the evenness of my truing stand work. Another rear wheel with a single twist at the fourth cross is more stable, but it clicks and creaks and snaps as the crossed spokes rub against each other. Net result: front wheels only!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I rode the wrong bike today. Snowy wet cold, and no fenders. Yelck. It wasn't this way when I left home. Not only that, I rode my new bike that I wanted to take better care of.

That's a slush-sicle on the brake bridge. The seat tube and my butt were also covered with the stuff. The bamboo bike-I've been a little worried about how weather will affect it, I guess if I'm going to ride it I might as well resign myself to finding out. The maker (Calfee) has assured me that there's really nothing to worry about, but still...
The green bike hanging in the background is what I'll ride home, a '72 Bottecchia converted into a fixxie, with fenders and 28c commuter tires, another resurrected old bike that I got for $20. Good winter bike, if there's not much ice, but handles a little funky-boatloads of fork rake on a 75-degree headtube. Can you say "understeer?"

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Virtual People

There was a woman talking on her cel phone in Costco yesterday. I first saw her as I was walking in the front door, talking on her cel phone, and, having arrived at approximately the same time, as we did our shopping we were never more than an aisle apart, so I saw her often, talking on her cel phone. I picked up some grated cheese, and there she was, talking on her cel phone. I moved into the freezer aisle for some blueberries, and there she was, talking on her cel phone. Got a toaster oven sample, and there she was, talking on her cel phone. Dairy aisle, talking on her cel phone. Cereal, talking on her cel phone. A half-hour later, talking on her cel phone. Checking out, I saw her lining up a few rows away, talking on her cel phone. Did she pause to say "thank you" to the checker?
I have no doubt that the conversation started before she got into her vehicle, occupied at least half of her mind while driving, and will continue probably until her battery goes dead. Maybe she carries a spare battery.

What a sad life some of us lead. Get up in the morning. Make a call. One hand is all you need to pop your freezer breakfast into the heater. Turn on the TV. Make a call. Slip-on shoes so one hand can hold the phone up. Might as well use an ear bud so you can keep talking while you take a dump, fix your hair, put on your makeup, file your corns, shape your nails. God forbid someone should see you unprepared! Make a call. Go the the garage, climb into your mobile living room. Don't even take a coat. Snowing today? Wear you high-heeled BOOTS. Let the garage door open itself. Talk. Drive. Automatic transmission just requires one foot, leaving your mind free for the call, how convenient! Go shopping. Make a call. Go to work. Make a call. Your boss prohibits talking on cel phones? Text message. Or go to a chat room. But keep an extra window open so you can look like you're working at a moment's notice. Get off work. Make a call. Back to your Dummer in the parking garage. Blah blah blah. Have you been outside yet today? Faced the weather? Got any dirt on your hands? What about your shoes, walked on anything other than carpet and tile? Seen a bird? Smelled the pollen? Heard the wind in the trees? Is your reality entirely virtual, do you experience the world through the TV screen, the windshield, the monitor, your microwave, the climate control in your car, your pop radio, your contacts, hiding behind your makeup, your hair, your fashions, talking to people electronically, everything carefully filtered and cleansed and purified and fake?

Get on a bike, for gods sake. Grrrr!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


"Heaven is where the police are British, the chefs Italian, the mechanics German, the lovers French, and it is all organized by the Swiss. Hell is where the police are German, the chefs British, the mechanics French, the lovers Swiss, and it is all organized by the Italians." -anonymous

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Reflection on the Future

The old man saw out the window a plastic representation of an owl. And he remembered the past, what it used to be, where it has gone.
"We had bicycles," he said.
The nurse nodded politely.
"And we rode them along Cherry Creek."
She puzzled for a moment, and asked, "You rode bicycles along Cherry Creek?"
"Yes, and there were owls. They would sit in the trees, you could find them at night."
She paused in her ministrations, lost of the vision, unbelieving. Then replaced the pan before preparing to leave.
"The owls, they would sit up high in the trees and discuss with each other in their hooting voices, as we passed below," he said, "and there were foxes, and beavers, eagles, trees, rocks and cliffs, and the water would rise so high that it would overflow the banks and flood the trails, leaving huge piles of flotsam and mud. But one summer we had such a drought that you could step over the creek in many places, or cycle right through it without getting your feet wet."
Struggling with the picture, "Cherry River?" the nurse wondered, aloud.
"Creek, Cherry Creek," the old man corrected, "it used to run right through Denver, toward the southeast and eventually out onto the plains...we rode bicycles through the woods there, for miles."
"Were you afraid, did you carry guns?"
"Afraid of what?"
"The wild animals-wild animals used to eat people and pets, that's why we had to take away the places where they lived-in order to protect society."
"You don't have any idea what I'm talking about, do you?"
"Is it near Cherry Flat Park?" asked the nurse, still unbelieving.
"Same thing. Cherry Creek, Flat Park, same thing," he answered.
"But, there is no river there, no trees, just the Flat Park," she described.
"You can't see it, but the river is still there. What is left of it runs underground, through a usually dry concrete pipe. And underneath Cherry Square is a giant reservoir that holds the water not used by the city, which isn't much, actually, and the creek as it was once known is gone. Unused, unneeded. Perhaps too many people were trying to camp there during the depression, and it got to be crime- and filth-ridden. But the creek is still there, in the form of that pipe, which is actually underneath Flat Park, and hasn't been wet for decades. By now it's certainly collapsed and filled in many places. Those huge concrete slabs and rails you see there today cover up what is left of the creek, it being an important transportation corridor and open space. How Orwellian-there's a term from way back, 'open space,' which has come to mean something entirely opposite from its previous use. There used to be streets running on both sides of the creek, then buildings further out, but now those streets are gone and buildings have been erected right up to where the beaches and palisades of the creek were, and Flat Park is now how you get from downtown to Cherry Square. They've covered Cherry Creek, improved it to the point that it has vanished. Improved the hell out of it, I'd say."
"I don't believe it. You can't ride a bike there, it's against the law. And there aren't any trees or rivers or owls, that's for sure. I've never seen any animals there except for those little housedogs people bring, and pigeons of course. You're just imagining all that, you senile old coot." And then, having loaded her cart, she left.
"Exactly," said the old man.

Five Hundred Rides

I looked down at the snow running beneath my tires, and realized that none had ever ridden here before. The beauty of fresh-fallen snow is lost on the little animals that first break the trails, isn't it? Do the rabbits whose tracks cross back-and-forth, diving from willow to willow, or burrowing into brushpiles, have fun? Do they laugh? Do the mice which pop up randomly and then disappear back into the same hole lick the snow from their whiskers? Can they taste my tires? Do the coyotes run this very same trail, masters of the terrain, king of the food chain, need to hide from anything? Opportunists ready to ruin somebody's day, will they find a tasty housecat? But no person has broken this trail. Freshie. Quiet, serene. Clean. Still. Alone, surrounded by the city. With a layer of ice underneath just when you least expect it. Going around a corner, climbing the Castle Wall a slight mis-step will send you and your bike into the moat. Will the beavers come to look, to slap the water with their tails, to tell the story back at the lodge? I look ahead, in the darkness the white stripe of the singletrack, my lights unnecessary, intrusive, even unwise as they keep my focus too close. Nix 'em. Plenty of ambient light, reflections from the overcast. The white line ahead broken suddenly by a blankness, a blackness indicating a trail which has caved into the river. Do I brake? Swerve? Jump? Panic? Decide fast! Instant broken something, better look sharp!
I have broken my leg here, wearing these gloves. Falling off one of these battlements. I have broken my other leg on Loveland, wearing these gloves. I have flatted in these gloves. Dented my frame. Busted my hanger. Bent handlebars. Lost my keys. Can gloves be unlucky? How is it that I still live, that my bike still goes, that I still have ten fingers if it is so? How many rides have these gloves seen? Cold, snowy, rainy snowy, snowy icy, cold sunny, icy sunny, dark dry cold, below zero insane, lost in a blizzard, happy rides? How many miles? How many lifetimes?
My bike, it knows the way. Has been here before, withstood the trials, healed the injuries, comes here in its dreams, waits patiently for the Tuesday communion. Weather notwithstanding, the worse the better. So many rides, so many times, so many friends. Perfectly adapted to its intended use, evolution being what it is. So many parts cast off, selected against, killed in violent events of punctuated equilibrium: forks, tires, chains, derailleurs, rims, chainrings, cogs, tape, tubes, dozens of patches. HUNDREDS of patches. Ten years now, once a week all year, not quite every year. 8x52=416 Four hundred sixteen rides?
Four hundred sixteen rides, plus more. Sundays along Bear Creek, 3x25=75. The epic to Estes Park. Commutes. Green Mountain. Apex. Chimney Gulch. Five hundred rides on this old bike? Six hundred? A thousand? Can it be? Does a bike grow a soul?

Friday, January 25, 2008

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

— John McCrae

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Another old bike

Yep, I'm starting this with another seat cluster.
From a (purported) mid-1950s Maino. (say “My-ee-no”) The bolt is in front and on top! On a brand-new bike, you might hear, “oh, that’s a new idea!” Guess again. This is from fifty years ago. The bike is Italian, but the lug shape reminds me of some French bikes; that upside-down mouth cutout looks like a Singer or Herse.

This 57cm frame has 71.5/72 degree head and seat tube angles and 46cm chainstays; that’s not exactly a speed-demon geometry by modern standards, but it’s not a farm truck, either. It appears to have a fairly normal fork rake for the time-kinda long but not ridiculous. For bad roads (think post-war Europe) it is a nice compromise and probably a pretty neutral-handling bike.
As outfitted, with 32mm tires and fenders, it makes a nice fast but practical bike for cobbles or gravel or rain or whatever. But you could use it for racing or sport riding, too...nix the fenders, swap the wheels for some lightweight tubulars, and in ten minutes you’re ready to go. It turns into a completely different bike. The present Pneumatici Clement tires (presumeably original) are 700c, so a tubular wheelset will basically fit right in and you might not even have to adjust the brake blocks. Clamp the rear wheel far forward in the dropouts to gain another half-degree or so on the frame angles and nip off a few centimeters from effective chainstay length, too, causing the handling to be a tad quicker to complement the faster wheels.

Before carbon fiber cranksets there were aluminum. And before aluminum there were steel. And the best cranksets were made out of steel because, well, there wasn’t anything else. Wood broke. So did bone. And iron was brittle. My picture doesn’t do this piece justice-all those cheesy ugly cheap cottered cranks you’ve seen on ‘70s bike boom imports are nothing compared to this jewel. Made by Marinoni, or perhaps Gnutti-there are some companies you don’t hear from any more. Stamped “Maino,” like most of the components used on the bike.
Notice the lack of cables around the bottom bracket. The rear derailleur housing dives into the down tube next to the shift lever, swings right through the bb shell and into the right chainstay before emerging again a little forward of the dropout. Four gears are controlled by a drum-spring Benelux derailleur. Do you really need more than four? In some quarters (England, for example) even that was seen as excessive.

The bottle (canteen?) is aluminum and has a cork stopper. High levels of Aluminum have been observed in the brains of Alzheimer patients. You can draw your own conclusions...
What you don’t see is that under this bottle there is a little button which (when depressed) releases the cage from its clamps, so if you’re not going far you just leave the bottle and cage at home.

This bike just blows me away. As far as I can tell, it is all original (except for that French saddle?), right down to the whitewall Pneumatici Clement tyres.

The great racer Constante Girardengo turned pro in 1913 with the Maino-Dunlop team, and Learco Guerra won the 1933 Milan-San Remo and the 1934 Giro d’Italia both with Maino. Guerra also was 1931 World Road Racing Champion and Champion of Italy from 1930-34, presumably also while riding with Maino. They called him "the locomotive." Someone please correct me if I have erroneous information, or add what you can find...I have pieced this all together from various sources. An acquaintance gave me an “wayback machines” article by Jim Langley, found in Bicycling! featuring a Maino, and at
you can see a picture of one of Guerra’s actual bicycles. Also, a Maino motorcycle was made in Italy from 1902-1956. Other than these references, the company has vanished. Even doesn’t have a listing for the brand. Didn’t they import much to the U.S.? Are they blacklisted Commies? Fascists? What’s the deal?
Here is another link, to a pre-WWII poster with Girardengo and his Maino bicycle; notice the cluster shape and fixing bolt location:
It’s a good bet that the company pulled some weight in the Italian cycling industry in their time-aside from the evidence of a successful pre-war team, many of the parts are branded “Maino,” including pedals, crankset, pump, hubs, rims, and brake levers. It seems unlikely that these were all made BY Maino, but rather FOR them by others. The hubs, for example, have Gnutti skewers, for whatever that is worth.

Even the fender hardware is custom-made with an “M” stamped in. Check out the front fender extension-there’s something vainglorious about that little piece-something about its shape that works subconsciously, maybe, to a guy? I have never seen such before-keeps the water contained a little perhaps, but I thinks its main purpose is to attract the eye. Sort of a mixture of practical and blustery, maybe a little bragadoccio. Like a codpiece. Or one of those rubber scrotums that cowboys (among others) like to hang under their pickups. It also reminds me a little of the nape of a helmet il Duce was photographed in, or maybe Lorenzo de Medici or Caeser Augustus? Italian. And why doesn’t the fender extend forward past the front brake?? It hasn’t been cut-the leading edge is rolled and painted. Hmmm, strange....
Since this bike was discovered a few years ago, the only work that has been done is some careful, conservative, cleaning. And only on the drive side, at that. I did put air into the tubes, which are fortunately sound. I don't see that the old guy will ever be ridden again, so it's stupid to destroy the tires just to replace them with incorrect modern ones so somebody could ride it around the block once or twice. And I certainly would never repaint it...that original yellow paint and decals can't be replaced. That is the paint the bike had all those years ago, it's the paint it had on the boat coming from Italy, it's the paint and the grease and maybe even some of the dirt from its very first ride all those years ago, and maybe even Don Maino himself touched that bike. Even if I could find a perfect match for the paint and decals, they would still be just reproductions. Once lost, the original condition will never be regained. Never. What a shame that would be. When I see old bikes all primped and polished and posed, I often think of the Antiques Roadshow, like when the assessor says, "If this Boston tea table retained its original finish, it could be worth, at auction, $450,000, but now since it has been refinished...."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


"In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away." -Antoine de Saint Exupery

Saturday, January 12, 2008

More seat clusters

Here is a seat cluster from a bamboo bicycle made by Calfee:

Yes, bamboo. The canes have been selected, cut, and mitered, and are held together in this case by hemp soaked in some sort of resin. Other bamboo frames by Calfee have been "lugged" together with carbon fibers in resin.
This bike rides really nicely-stiff like aluminum, probably due to the oversize tubes, er, sticks, but more muted like a nice steel frame. There is not much springiness, though, like you would find in steel or titanium-bumps and blips and waves in the pavement don't twang or resonate or bounce like in some frames made of those metals. Hits are not as sharp, nor do they have that hard, stomping-on-a-rock bone-jarring feel of a big-diameter aluminum frame. I don't know how to explain this, it's like talking about have to use words that are relative to other things. Like "blue," a color, is understood to mean "sad" or "melancholy" in music. This bike feels a little transparent-it's tough to pin a character onto it, though. "Alive," maybe? Perhaps because the frame is made from an organic substance-it feels like it is actually working on its own, maybe pushing back against hits. Power transfer is great-it doesn't hesitate in a jump, doesn't seem to flex unfavorably, doesn't creak or groan. Perfect alignment; I can let go and sit up and it goes right straight ahead, no bobbles or wobbles or leaning or arm waving, it goes right where I look. And it hums, literally...makes a sound like a soft whirring hum as it rolls along. Hrmzhhhhhhhh. At first I thought it was the tires, but these GP3's are on other bikes that I ride, and they are really remarkably quiet in those other instances.
Evolution has done well with bamboo-the density is greatest toward the outside, rather than in the heartwood as with a tree. The canes used in the toptube and dowtube of this frame are from plants dozens of feet high. Think of a tree dozens of feet high-you couldn't get your arms around the trunk. These centers are actually hollow. In the orient they build skyscrapers using bamboo staging. It is said to be stronger than steel in some ways; supposedly any weakness is absorbed by the whole (flexible) structure rather than being concentrated in a stress riser resulting in a break. As the plant grows, it sends more mass to weak areas-thicker cell walls, more cells, cellular structures oriented in a particular way. And if there is damage or an injury of some sort, it heals stronger than it was before. Someone opined that this frame really is "carbon fiber," and I suppose that's right-what we normally call a "carbon fiber" frame is actually made of resin held together with fibers oriented to give a particular kind of rigidity, or layered to give a particular level of strength or durability. "Carbon fiber" frames have evolved for what, 20 years?, by being subjected to rides and crashes and technical advances, among other things, whereas bamboo has evolved in response to its natural environment for millions of years.
Stay tuned, more in later posts...

Calfee is known primarily for handmade carbon-fiber frames, and here's his signature seat lug:

This is a demo bike in my shop. And just about the most seductive thing going. Raw finish, no clear coat or paint or nothing-when you touch it you're touching the carbon fibers. Paints and clearcoats and translucents of all sorts are also available, so if you don't happen to like the stealth look you can have something else. Like the bamboo bike, this one is perfectly aligned. Handling is beyond excellent. Balanced, neutral, predictable, straight. Gets better the faster you go. Maybe just a tad on the rigid side, but that's just me looking for something to say. Quiet and damp like you expect from carbon fiber. There's another one of those words-damp-borrowing from acoustics.
Calfee is said to reject a number of forks that he receives-apparently every one goes into his jig and is either accepted for use with a new frameset or rejected and sent, uh, somewhere else. I don't know how many he actually rejects, and what brands and models they are, or how he gets away with that at all, but the end product is fabulous. Top-tier.