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.