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« Right before Mothers’ Day my Mother Board died | Main | British Justice: As it pertains to cyclists »

Old "Cycling" article from 1976

A friend came across an old copy of the British “Cycling” weekly magazine from 1976 offered for sale on eBay. It contained an article I had written about frame design. He bought it and sent me a PDF copy.

It seemed strange to read the words I had written almost 37 years ago, and I could not help but wonder what some of the older established framebuilders of that time thought of me. Many had been in business a lot longer than me.

But to me the proof of the bike was in the riding. So often when riding a new bike a rider needs a week or two to get used to it, but so many times I had riders take delivery of a bike on Saturday, and do a personal best ride or even win a race the following day on the new bike. I felt confident that I was doing something right.

I had been questioning conventional frame design since the 1950s, and had been experimenting with my own frames since the early 1960s. I was a rider of somewhat short stature, 5’ 6” (168cm.) and I always felt that because all racing bicycles have the same size wheels, my bikes were a cut down version of a larger frame. Cut down rather than scaled down.

It also did not go unnoticed that the top riders in the world were between 5’ 8” and just under 6 feet. In other words the ones who would fit on the mid-size frame around 56cm to 58cm. When I think about it, it is not much different than today. There are always exceptions of course, and the average range today is probably something like 5’ 10” to 6’ 1”.

It has always been the case throughout history that the people who build bikes do not race them, and top riders who race do not build them. One exception I can think of is Eddy Merckx, who went on to open a successful frame building business after he retired. But even Eddy Merckx fits neatly into that mid size range riding a medium size frame, so can he appreciate the needs of someone much shorter, or indeed taller.

Framebuilders in the past have always done what suited them, lugs somewhat dictated the angles, rather than the angles being altered to suit the rider. And carbon fiber frames built today from what I have noticed seem to follow the tried and tested geometry of the old lugged steel frames that preceded them.

I can fully appreciate that it is a costly proposition to make a mold for a frame just to experiment; one would need to make a welded steel or some other metal prototype fist. And where can such a prototype be tested under race conditions when the UCI now bans the pros from riding prototypes,

One area that could be looked at is fork rake (Offset) which seems to have increased in recent years to around 45mm. A shorter rake, as much as a centimeter, bringing it down to 35mm would increase the amount of trail and would make the bike more stable, and hold a tighter line when cornering.

I notice what seems to be an awful lot of crashes in races, and wonder why this is. Are bikes today more skittish, or it could be we are now seeing more videos of the complete race, and we just didn’t see some of these crashes before?


See the PDF file here The first 2 1/2 pages are written by me, the rest are from other contributors.


Reader Comments (7)

One of the biggest experimenters in the experimentation field is Graeme Obree - perhaps an exception to the 'racer, not builder' rule you talk about.

Of course his 'Old Faithful' model was eventually prevented from being used by the UCI in competition, but up until that point he'd taken the hour record and various championships across the globe.

Obree's frame was actually very rudimentary in terms of it's build - it was more down to the design where the gains in technology were made.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

Great article. I remember reading this article. Actually, it was the picture of the short track rider and the mention of a 76 degree seat angle that stuck in my mind after all these years.

The adverts are a whos who of British frame builders of the time, many are sadly out of business, but some are still going.

The end of the feature mentioned a builder called Alec Bird who built me a track frame in 1979.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterYoav

There is also Tom Ritchey who was a racer and frame builder at the same time, road and mountain.

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterM.D.T.

Hi Dave,
I agree that today's bikes would handle better with more trail as well.
In addition to that, I'd be willing to bet that another reason there seems to be so many more crashes these days is that many of today's pro racers are somewhat lacking in bike handling skill compared to the racers of the past.
Well, maybe not bike handling skills exactly, but more so pack riding skills.
These days it seems the teams spend so much time off on their own doing their secret training camps, that they simply don't race as often as in the past.
Maybe that's why they are always running in to each other, and can't seem to avoid plowing into anybody that falls within 50 ft. of them?

May 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Strong

Well of course there is whole other camp on optimal (higher) trail values led by Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly. Jan is a non-racer but rides a lot. His fascinating studies have shown that larger tire run at lower pressures can roll as fast or faster than small tires pumped to high pressures. http://janheine.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/science-and-bicycles-1-tires-and-pressure/
But back to 23-25c 'racing' tires. I road a Fuso with 63mm of trail (73 degrees, 40 rake) for years. I thought I was just a terrible descender occasionally wondering to the outside of curves. Perhaps, I thought, it was some character flaw of mine. But when I returned to 58mm of trail (73 degrees 45mm rake) I suddenly was much more comfortable on mountain descents and naturally descended faster.

Since then I have had a touring bike built designed for 700X35mm tires with 42mm of trail (72 degrees 67mm of trail). I ride the tires at 70-80psi. This bike descends wonderfully and I descend on it faster, even with a load, than the racing bikes I rode for decades.

Softer, larger tires also increase road contact that adds confidence in descents. I speak of descending here because riding the flats does not seem to be noticeably different between bikes with largely varying trail values. I do notice that high trail bikes do seem to wonder a bit when climbing at slow speeds, low trail bikes do not.

One feature I appreciate on the Fuso is the ability to ride 28mm tires, the smallest tire I will ride these days.

June 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Ramey

Hello, I was just unable to download the PDF of your article. Could you email to me? As a long-time recreational rider, love reading your blog and learning from your expertise and long experience in the bike world! Best regards.

May 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJim Dean

The link has been fixed. Also you can view this article and others on my Bike Registry website.

May 11, 2015 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton
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