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Dave Moulton

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More on Practical Gearing

My last piece was about switching out my 50 tooth chainring on my Campagnolo Athena crankset, for a 46 tooth Cyclo-Cross ring, to give me a more practical gear range. The article brought many interesting and useful comments.

One of the things I learned was that there are other makes of Campagnolo compatible cassettes. Miche for example is one of them. It occurred to me that rather than go to the expense of replacing the whole cassette, why not just swap out a couple of sprockets.

With this in mind I ordered a Miche 13 tooth first position sprocket, that’s is one with a serrated outside edge that the lock-ring butts up against, and has a shoulder on the inside so it doesn’t require a spacer. I also ordered a 20 tooth middle position sprocket, which is plain and requires a spacer on either side. The cost was $12.99 and $11.99 respectively.

I unscrewed the lock ring, (You do need a tool and a chain-whip to do this.) I removed the 12 and 13 teeth sprockets. The final position (Inside.) cogs on my Campagnolo 11 speed cassette are conjoined triplets, with 21, 23, and 25 teeth. Next to that was another conjoined 17, 18, and 19 teeth. I placed the new 20 tooth sprocket between these two triplets.

I then replaced the 13 tooth sprocket with the new final position one. I was able to use all the original spacers as the new set up used the same number. Now my cassette is a 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, and 25.

My top gear is now a practical 95.5 inches, which is as high as I’ll ever need to go. I have effectively removed a 12 tooth top sprocket that I would never use, and added a more useful 20 tooth one. The first nine cogs now go from 13 to 21 in one tooth steps.

There is a slight visual difference in that the new Miche sprockets are bright chrome, whereas the original Campagnolo are dull chrome. (Picture top.) The proof of the pudding would be in the riding, I took the bike out for a longish ride, and the gears shifted up and down flawlessly.

I think I have shown, (Along with all those who commented on my last article.) that there is a desire amongst non-racing leisure riders, for a more practical gear range. We have shown that this can be achieved, and in a way that will not cost a huge amount of money.

Someone asked a question about my new Russ Denny built Fuso. I have had this bike for just under two years now. It is one of the best, and most comfortable riding bikes I have ever owned. (Picture above.) It is purpose designed and built for the style of riding I do now.

It has a low 10 inch (25.5cm.) bottom bracket height. This means I can put my toe to the ground when stopping in traffic. Grounding a pedal on corners is not an issue, I am not doing any fast cornering leaning over at extreme angles, and anyway, modern clipless pedals give more ground clearance than the old style quill pedals used to.

The average road bike has a 10 5/8 inch (27cm.) BB height. Mine is 5/8 lower which means my saddle is also 5/8 inch lower in relation to the ground. However, my handlebars remain approximately the same height as any other bike of a similar size. It means my bars are a little over an inch below my saddle without having to jack the handlebar stem up at some strange angle.

Actually if I were able to design this bike over again, I would probably go even lower to 9 ½ inch BB. (24.1mm.) The lower BB means longer chainstays, which gives extra tire clearance to run wider 25mm. tires. I could quite easily go to 28mm. if I choose.

I am enjoying my bike riding more than ever. There is no pressure if I can’t get out because the weather is bad, or I have some other commitment.

When I raced there was always a need to ride and train hard, in the 1980s when I built bikes there was never any time to ride. When I did occasionally ride I was so out of shape I didn’t enjoy it. Now-a-days I just ride, nothing to prove, to myself or anyone else.


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46 Big Ring

The gearing on modern bikes is probably one of the greatest improvements seen in the last twenty years. The only issue I have is that for the non-racing leisure rider, like me, the gear ratios available are well outside the range I am likely to use.

Even with a “Compact” crankset with 50 – 34 chainrings, the 11 speed rear cassette comes with a 11 or 12 tooth top sprocket. And the 12 x 50 gives me a top gear of 112 inches, which I can guarantee I am never going to use.

Even more frustrating, the gears I use most, the ones between 65 inches and the upper 70s, fall all the way over on the large inside sprockets of the cassette, when using the 50 tooth chainring, and the other extreme when using the inside 34 chainring and outside small sprockets on the rear.

Riding most of the time with my chain out of line just causes unnecessary wear on chains and sprockets.

It would be nice if 11 speed cassettes were available with a top sprocket of 13 or 14 teeth, but they are not. At least I haven’t been able to find one.

I did however, recently discover that Campagnolo make a Cyclo-Cross crankset, with 46 – 36 chainrings. I wasn’t sure if they would fit my Athena crankset.

Campagnolo has this strange set up where the compact chainrings have a 110mm. Bolt Circle Diameter (BCD) but the one bolt that is threaded into the inside of the crank arm is on a slightly bigger diameter circle, for some reason. Other makes of chainrings with 110 BCD will not fit.

A search on eBay for “Campagnolo 46 tooth CX chainring,” brought up an abundance of them. I ordered a silver one for my wife’s bike. It fitted with no problem. It was an easy swap, I didn’t even need to remove the crank or the pedal.

I went ahead and ordered a black one for my bike. Now I can ride using my new 46 big ring, and the sprockets I use most are the 16, 17, 18, and 19, right in the middle of my cassette. I still have a top gear of 103 inches, which I am also unlikely to use, but who knows, one day I might be on a steep downhill with the wind behind me.


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What’s going on?

If anyone is wondering why my articles here have been a little sparse of late, it just seems that I have so much going on. Just last week I had a whole backlog of new entries of frames to be listed on my bike registry, along with photos that people had sent to be added to the Gallery Page.

A simple task that should not have taken too long, but I accidentally deleted some of the Java script code on the web page, and as a result the pictures did not display exactly as they should. I made myself two days’ worth of extra work that I could have done without.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. This all voluntary work that I take on gladly and enjoy. However, the very nature of what I started here is bound to grow and entail more work. This blog is going into its ninth year, and I have built up a healthy following. I started the Dave Moulton Registry in 2010, and it continues to grow by each week, as more and more people discover its existence.

Believe it or not, I have a separate life outside of bicycles and what goes on here. I have a wonderful group of songwriter friends, and we meet once a week for a songwriters’ open mic. This also requires that I spend time practicing, and working on new material. I also belong to a creative writing group that meets once a month.

Then I need time to ride my bike, and when the weather is nice I’ll be out for a three hour ride. Riding my bike is my number one priority. Everything else depends on it. If my physical health fails I will not have the strength and energy to do all the other stuff.

I had another birthday last month, it was my 78th, I am getting awfully close to my eighties and with it comes the realization of my own mortality. I am perfectly comfortable with that, and my goal is to always stay active, and keep my mind sharp. Pete Seeger died at the end of January aged 94, a week before his death he was chopping fire wood. That’s how I want to be, active right to the end.

I am constantly teaching myself new stuff on the computer, it keeps my mind sharp. I build websites for people, I am helping a friend prepare the layout of a book in readiness for publishing.

I will keep posting new stuff here as often as I can, I hope those of you who are regular readers will continue to check back. The purpose of this post is not to complain about how busy I am, I have no problem with being busy. It is simply to let you all know what is going on.


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Before there were Gays

I spent my teen years in London, England and the surrounding areas, it was the 1950s. The word “Gay” was often used in song lyrics, poetry and other writings. It meant, “To be happy,” and had nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation or preference.

Even the term “Making love” had no sexual overtones, Frank Sinatra sang that dancing, was “Making Love to Music.” For that was all it was. Making love was nothing more than the initial stages of a relationship, flirting, holding someone’s hand, kissing.

I think the first time I heard the term “Making Love” used to mean sex was around 1958. A young prostitute plying her trade on a London street, asked if I would like to take her home, and “Make Love” to her. I remember being surprised, even slightly shocked.

The term “Making Love” was never quite the same after that and when Frank Sinatra sang about it I felt slightly uncomfortable. I have no idea why, I was by no means a prude. Looking back I was a working class kid, “Of the Streets” so to speak. Not a criminal, but living on the fringes of a culture that included criminals.

We called homosexual men, “Queers,” or “Queens.” Not in a nasty or degrading way, it was just a name or term. Like I said, “Gay” was not in general use back then. My friends and I never felt threatened by queers, and we were friendly towards each other. They were as funny as hell, and to hang out with a bunch of them was a riot.

They had their own language or slang and would refer to a particularly masculine male as a “Great Butch Homey.” They would even call to each other “Queers or Queens,” and when talking of one of their own group in a third party manner, it would always be as “She or Her.” They often described each other as “Camp,” and talked of “Trolling” down the road. (Walking in an effeminate way.)

If I, or one of my straight friends made a joke about their sexuality, it was usually met with a loud group. “Oooooooo, ain’t he bold.” Always accompanied by a typical limp wrist gesture, and riotous laughter by everyone, queer and straight.

“Never beat up a queer,” was a mantra we lived by. “That is like beating up a woman.” Although many queers I knew, under the effeminate exterior, were “Hard Cases,” and one would do well not to pick a fight with them.

I never knew any lesbians when I was young. Although looking back I must have known many without realizing. I loved girls and probably spent as much time hanging out with them as I did with my male friends. I often think about the girls I knew who hung out in pairs, and come to think of it, neither had boyfriends, ever. They may or may not have been lesbians, it didn’t matter to me.

I always preferred the company of females, most of my male friends were heavy drinkers, and I was not. My strategy with girls was to never come on strong, just be friendly and non-threatening.  As a result, I had a large circle of “Girl” friends, and there were always a few who were “Interested” in me.

By having no word like “Gay” back then, we didn’t refer to ourselves as “Straight.” An interesting word choice because I remember that gays were sometimes referred to as being "Bent." Bent was also used instead of crooked. As in "Bent Copper," a corrupt policeman.

I had certain friends who sometimes spoke of having sex with a queer. I was never shocked or repulsed by this, or saw them as different. It was just a young guy bragging about having sex. I didn’t look on that person as “Queer,” he was not effeminate, he didn’t look queer.

Today those same friends would be considered “Gay,” and if they were labeled a such when I was a teen I may not have considered them my friend. Not having the maturity I do now, I might have been afraid of being labeled as “Gay” myself. I would missed out on those friendships I had back then. Friendships that shaped my life,

Those truly were more innocent times and I’m glad I came of age then, and not now.


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Prices then and now

Above is a retail price list for my bikes in 1990. The most expensive is the Fuso Lux which was custom built to order, with chrome plating, and retailed at $3,150 equipped with Campagnolo C Record components. This was probably the most you would pay for any top of the line racing bicycle.

I say this because my competition back then were the Italian imports like Colnago and Pinerello. You would pay a something over $3,000 for one of these lugged steel Italian bikes equipped with the same Campagnolo C Record group.

My production was only a fraction of these much larger companies, they probably each produced far more frames in a month than I did in a year. But I was able to compete because I had a much lower overhead, and I did not need a distributor to sell my frames in the US. It was the shipping and middle man cost that the Italian companies had to deal with that allowed me to compete.

I attended the big bicycle trade shows each year, and gradually built up a network of bicycle dealers all over the US. I could then sell and ship direct to them. My competition, the Italian bike builders, could not do this. The shipping costs alone on individual bikes or frames would have been prohibitive.

They had to ship frames over by the container load to a distributor, who would then market and sell to the individual American bike dealers just as I did. The Italian import frames were mostly built on a system made by a company called “Marchetti and Lange.” This was a conveyer track system, where the frames were completely assembled, front and rear triangle, and “Pinned” together, then placed on the conveyer.

Gas jets pre-heated first the bottom bracket area, the conveyer then moved on, with the bottom bracket and tubes glowing red hot from the pre-heating, and an operator quickly hand brazed the bottom bracket. While this was happening, gas jets were pre-heating the head lugs. Then the conveyor moved on to a second operator who would then braze the already pre-heated head lugs, and so on until a completed frame came off the other end.

By comparison I brazed together batches of 5 frames at a time, using a hand held oxy-acetylene torch with no pre-heating. This meant less heat went into the tubes, so the Columbus tubing retained more of its inherent strength. I don’t mean that the Italian frames were over-heated, but just a larger area of the tube beyond the lugs was heated, due to the use of pre-heaters.

The Italian frames came off the Marchetti and Lange track, were cleaned up and went to be chromed and painted. They mostly left the factory, with the bottom bracket threads not cleaned out, the BB and head tube were un-faced, and the frames were unchecked for alignment.

This work was done after the frames arrived in the US, either by the distributor, but most often by the bicycle shop. Any top of the line bike shop in the 1980s or 1990s had a full Campagnolo tool kit in a wooden case.

By comparison, I would braze 5 bottom brackets, check for alignment. Braze 5 head tubes, check the alignment, and so on. Every frame had the BB thread tapped and faced, and the head tube was reamed and faced ready to accept the head bearings. The seat tube was reamed, so the seat post would slide right in. All this was done before painting, along with a final check for alignment. When a dealer got the frame it was ready for assembly.

What I find interesting is the price comparison from 1990 to now. The most you would pay for a top of the line race bike was a little over $3,000. You might go to $4,000 for something special like Columbus Max tubing. (Picture above.) However, this would be an excaption. Today a top of the line carbon fiber Colnago or Pinerello will set you back $14,000 and up.

The average income in 1990 was $29,000, today it is around $44,300, a 52% increase. A Ford Mustang convertible cost $14,250 in 1990, today it would be not quite twice as much at $27,500. So the cost of a CF bicycle today would buy you a Ford Mustang in 1990.

Back when I built frames, as a small individual builder, I could compete with the larger import companies and still make a fair profit. Today, top of the line bikes are made by large corporations, and prices are not based on what it costs to produce, but rather by what the market will stand. With a consumer, it seems, who would rather pay more, if only for the bragging rights.


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