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Monday
Oct072013

Twenty years on

It was twenty years ago this month that I left the bike business. I can’t remember the exact date in October 1993, but I do remember it was October. I had not planned to retire, and I could have gone on for many more years, but I was forced out of business (Strange as it may seem now.) by the mountain bike.

I had a good run through the 1980s, at the height of my production I had as many as six employees, and together we produced 25 frames a month. The employees prepared and fed me materials so I could concentrate on brazing the frames together. My employees also did most of the finish work and I employed a full time painter.

As long as I could sell 20 or 25 frames a month I had a very lucrative little business. But by the late 1980s, early 1990s the mountain bike was becoming more and more popular and as a result sales of road frames were dropping rapidly.

At first there were separate road bike enthusiasts, and mountain bike enthusiasts, and there were separate mountain bike builders catering for the MTB crowd. Over the years these mountain bike builders had each built up a following, which made it tough for someone like me to suddenly switch and break into that market. I did produce a mountain bike, (Picture above.) but honestly I hated it, and my heart was not in it.

I had spent a great deal of time and money attending the Interbike Show every year, and as a result I had built up a nationwide network of bicycle dealers. When these dealers switched from selling road bikes to mountain bikes I felt betrayed, like someone whose spouse had left for a new love. In hindsight I realize that bike store owners had to do whatever they needed to do to stay in business. It was nothing personal.

I was not the only one effected by the road bike slump. There was a company in Florida named “Ten Speed Drive Imports” that had imported Italian bikes, frames and equipment since the 1970s. A good friend of mine was a sales rep for Ten Speed Drive in Colorado. He told me by 1993 he would walk into bike stores that had previously been regular customers for many years, they told him, “Don’t even open your order book, we are not selling road bikes anymore.” Ten Speed Drive went belly up, about the same time I left the business.

Had the Internet been in place as it is today, I may have survived as a one man business, selling direct to the few hard core road bike enthusiasts that remained. But that wasn’t the case. By early 1993 things were so bad, I was down to two employees, Russ Denny, who had been my apprentice since 1985, and another young guy who was my painter.

When I did my taxes in April 1993 my accountant told me, “I have some good news, and some bad news. The good news is, you didn’t make enough in 1992 to pay taxes, the bad news is, last year your employees made more than you did.”

It was obvious that I could not continue in this way, I was ready to liquidate all the equipment and walk away. Russ begged me not to do that, and I felt somewhat obligated because he came to me aged 18, straight out of high school and now at 26 years, framebuilding was the only thing he knew. I allowed the two to stay on, unpaid, and they survived by doing freelance work.

By October 1993 I could no longer pay the rent and support myself. I was thoroughly burned out and hated the bike business and anything to do with bikes for that matter. I turned the whole operation over to Russ Denny. As a single young man, he was able to survive by giving up his apartment, and sleeping on a mattress in the frame shop. Which I’m sure was against all regulations.

I was not prepared to live at that level of poverty. I went on to take a job as a production manager with a company that manufactured bowling equipment, and I actually made some good money for a change.

Looking back, I have no regrets. I have a body of work out there that has survived longer than my California business.  As long as people are interested, I will continue to write here and maintain my bike registry. Above all I can enjoy riding a bike, something I could not do while I was engaged in the bicycle business.

Today I am a writer and songwriter. I make a small amount from freelance writing, and when people hear my music, some say, “Why don’t you go to Nashville and try to sell your songs?” To that I would answer. “No thank you.” The bicycle business drove me to hate the bicycle, for many years I did not own or ride one. I love my music and the people it brings me in touch with, I will not allow the music business to drive me to hate it.

 

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Wednesday
Sep252013

Finding a virtual frame size

No more than 20 years ago racing frames were lugged steel, built by craftsmen. Many aspects of design like the diameter of the tubes for example had not changed for 100 years. Frames were built in one centimeter increments so there were as many as 18 different size frames to cover the complete range of different size people.

Top tubes on road bicycle frames were horizontal and exactly level. This gave a point of reference, and once a rider had determined his correct size frame, for the rest of his life he could then buy any brand of frame in his particular size, and it would fit.

No one ever talked about handlebar drop, (The distance from the top of the saddle to the top of the handlebars.) because if a person had the correct size frame and the saddle was set for their particular setting, then the height of the handlebars above the frame was automatically correct. It was limited by the amount of adjustment in the old quill stems. About 1 1/2 inches. (37mm.)

In the mid 1990s this changed mainly due to the influence of mountain bike design and road bike frames are now labeled “Compact,” which means they come in fewer sizes, and the greater differences between small, medium, and large are taken up by longer seat posts, and a variety of handlebar stems that come in different lengths and angles.

Choosing a frame size is the easy part because there are fewer sizes, but where do the handlebars and saddle go in relation to everything else? One answer is to find your virtual frame size and create an imaginary horizontal line that becomes a reference point, and the handlebars are then set a certain distance from that reference point.

Different manufacturers’ sizes will vary slightly, and once a person has decided on a particular brand, they should go by that companies recommended size. Generally speaking an XS frame will fit a person 5’0” to 5’4” tall. Small frame 5’3’’ to 5’7” tall. Medium frame 5’6” to 5’11” tall. Large frame 5’10” to 6’3” tall. And a XL frame 6’2” to 6’5” tall.

There is some overlap in sizes, notice that a person 5’10” tall could use either a medium or large frame. This person should choose the smaller medium size for racing, or the large for more leisurely riding. The larger frame will have a longer head tube, making the handlebars higher in relation to the saddle height.

For some time now people have been asking where they can find my frame sizing chart that used to be on my old website. I have posted a printable version as a PDF, you can find it here. Instructions are on the sheet, your virtual frame size will be in the “Center to Top” column, as it represents the top side the top tube on an of the old school level top tube frame.

For example, if the virtual frame size is 61cm. measure that distance from the center of the bottom bracket, and mark the seat post at that point with a piece of masking tape. The top of the handle bars should be between 9 and 12.5cm above the horizontal virtual line. An easy way to check this, on a level floor, measure vertically down to the floor from the piece of tape. Add the 9 to 12.5 cm then measure up from the floor to the top of the bars. 

The chart was originally intended for a racing set up, and one thing to keep in mind is that modern handlebars are flat on top and the brake lever hoods are higher. There is an article here on saddle height, that some have found useful.

The frame size chart also has top tube length and stem length. If you take these from the same line as your virtual frame size, and add the two together, you will have the recommended distance from the center of the seat post to the center of the handlebars. Measured horizontally across. (You can ignore the 1/2 centimeters.)

No frame sizing method or chart is written in stone, it is intended as a guide to give a person a place to start from. There will probably need to be some fine tuning to arrive at the perfect position. However, for someone starting out, if you know your virtual size before you buy a bike, you will be more informed and have an idea if the bike you are considering is at least close to the right size.

 

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Monday
Sep162013

Chris Horner: No Problem

What an exciting finish to the Vuelta a Espana and what a great win for Chris Horner. Even before the Vuelta started, Horner was talking about his good legs and how he was aiming to win the race. Of course no one really believed it, except perhaps Chris Horner.

Then when the race got underway and Horner won a couple of mountain top stages, we all began to believe that at least a podium place was possible, but even on the penultimate stage, Chris with only a 3 second lead, and the way Nibali kept attacking, I think I was like most people who could see the end result going either way.

Now looking back it is easier to see the many factors that swayed to result Horner’s way. He was fresher. His knee surgery was earlier in the year, and he had enough time to recover, then train to reach peak form just at the right moment. He must have felt this, which is why he was so confident in his predictions at the start of the Vuelta.

Everyone else was tired. Most certainly Valverde and Rodriguez, they had ridden the Tour de France that had finished only a little over a month before the Vuelta. Even Nibali, (Above left.) who missed the TDF, never found the form he had earlier in the year at the Giro d’Italia. He was climbing at around 20 watts less than he did in the Giro. It is hard for a rider to peak for two Grand Tours in one year.

The Vuelta a Espana is the hardest of the three Grand Tours, with few flat stages, mostly mountain climbs day after day. Chris Horner is a pure climber, it is his strength, but the only strength he has, so this race suited him.

As expected Chris lost time in the Time Trial, (1 minute and 29 seconds.) but there were enough mountain stages after the Time Trial that Chris could keep nibbling away at Nibali’s lead. (Sorry ‘bout that, I couldn’t resist.)

Let’s face it, had there been less mountain stages, and possibly a Time Trial near the end, the result could have been a lot different. The result at the end was only close because of the time trial, and on the other hand Nibali was only in contention because of his minute and a half gained in the TT.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean to take anything away from Chris Horner, this was a superb win. But everything aligned perfectly, his preparation, the way the event was planned, and even the weather. The one really cold, wet day, was one of the few days that Nibali out climbed Horner. Nibali is known to excel in cold, wet conditions. Another mountain day with bad weather could have changed the end result.

What a joy to watch Chris Horner climb. His unique style. It is always a pleasure to watch someone do something well, but do it differently from everyone else.

Most riders sit down to climb, occasionally getting out of the saddle when the going gets real tough.

Chris Horner stands up for almost the entire climb, sitting down occasionally when the incline levels out.

But at the same time he makes it look so easy, clearly in a higher gear than everyone else, you never see him struggle. And that smile on his face all the time. Okay, so it is probably a grimace, but it is a grimace that looks like a smile.

What about those questions about Horner’s age. How can he perform at this level at 41 years of age? It is true that most professional cyclists reach their peak in their late twenties, and start to slow after their mid-thirties. However, cycling is an endurance sport, and the Vuelta with so many mountain stages is an “Extreme” endurance event.

An athlete may lose speed and power by the time they hit 40, but what an older person gains is the ability to endure, and suffer pain. And that is what this year’s Vuelta was all about. Earlier this month a 64 year old woman swam 110 miles from Cuba to Florida, I doubt a twenty something could do that, or would even attempt it.

What it came down to in the end was Chris Horner’s determination, and his ability to suffer. Then there is that other thing that comes with age…. Experience. Chris Horner is a superb tactician, and will probably make a fine Director Sportive sometime in the future.

 

Footnote: The title for this piece was inspired by “The problem with Chris Horner.” On Inner Ring last week.

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Tuesday
Sep102013

Vuelta a Espana 2013

The last of the Grand Tours this year, the Vuelta a Espana, (Tour of Spain.) is turning out to be one of the best races of this year. The Vuelta finishes at the end of this week, Sunday, September 15th, and with three more big mountain stages to come, the end result is by no means a foregone conclusion.

The main players are: (1.) Italian, Vincenzo Nibali, winner of this year’s Giro d’Italia, he opted out for the Tour de France, and so went into the Vuelta as favourite.

(2.) At 28 seconds. American, Chris Horner (Radio Shack-Leopard-Trek.) Had knee surgery earlier this year, and has only had three weeks of racing before this event, including 2nd. Place in the Tour of Utah. 41 years old and soon to be 42 apparently. He has already won two stages, both uphill solo efforts. As a result he goes into the record books as the oldest stage winner in a Grand Tour.

(3.) At 1min. 14sec. Alejandro Valverde, who was 8th in this year’s Tour de France, and 2nd. In last year’s Vuelta.

(4.) At 2min.29sec. Joaquin Rodriguez, who was 3rd in this year’s Tour de France, and 3rd. in the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

Valverde and Rodriguez, both from Spain, both rode this year’s Tour de France. The TDF finishes at the end of July, the Vuelta starts the first week in September. Basically just the month of August to recover, which has to be hard on a body.

If you haven’t been following the race so far here are some video highlights. Stage 3. Chris Horner’s first win, he took off and I think the rest of the favorites thought they could catch him in the last 500 meters. They almost did, but Horner timed his effort perfectly with a scant 3 seconds lead at the end.

Stage 10. This time Nibali took Horner seriously, and chased hard with 1.5 km. to go. The interesting thing is Horner had 48 seconds lead when Nibali started the chase, and was still 48 seconds down at the finish. As fast as Nibali appears to be going, the clock shows Horner matched his speed.

Stage 11 was a Time Trial, which is not Chris Horner’s strong point. Nibali took 1.29 out of him. Luckily Horner was ahead of Nibali in the GC so had a small cushion, and ended up 46 seconds down.

Stage 14: On an appalling day of heavy rain and cold temperatures, when at least 14 riders had to quit due to hypothermia. The stage was won by young Italian rider, Daniele Ratto, who had survived out of a long breakaway. Horner rode strongly and Nibali was the only one who could stay with him. In fact he sat on his wheel all the way up the mountain, and then took a few seconds out of Horner at the end. However, both riders took time out of all the other favorites.

Stage 16: Argos Shimano rider, Warren Barguil, who is a 21 year old Frenchman. He won stage 13 with a fine solo effort, and was wanting to do it again. He took off from a break that was originally about 20 riders strong, with about 14 km. to go, and a big climb at the end.

However, Colombian rider, Rigoberto Uran, who went into the Vuelta as one of the favorites, but is currently in 20th place, was hot to win a stage. Uran bridged the gap to Barguil and caught him in the final kilometer. He tried to blow by him, but when the young French rider managed to get on his wheel, Uran slowed to recover for a sprint out.

The problem was other riders were also closing the gap and Uran had no choice but to sprint for a long one. Barguil was able to stay on his wheel and overtake Uran on the line, to win by about a tire’s width.

Meanwhile, further down the slope, the favorites were battling it out. Nibali appeared to weaken, and Rodriguez attacked, followed by Horner, then Valverde. They all finished within 6 seconds of each other, but all took time from Nibali. Horner is in 2nd place, only 28 seconds down.

Go to SteephillTV.com to get results each day and view videos so far. Also you can watch the race live on Eurosport. A word of warning, don’t click on any of the ads that ask you to download stuff, it is all pretty much spam. Click on the “Full Screen Mode” icon, bottom right of the video. When the picture goes full screen, the ads disappear.

Also get all the racing news at Dougreport.com

 

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Friday
Aug302013

Coppi: By Herbie Sykes

Italian cyclist Fausto Coppi was one of the most successful and popular cyclists of all time. 

Born in September 1919, his career spanned both sides of WWII.

His pre-war successes came early, he won his first Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy.) in 1940 at age 20; to this day the youngest ever to do so.  

After the war he won the Giro four more times in 1947, 1949, 1952, and 1953. He won the Tour de France twice in 1949 and 1952. He won many of the Classics and was World Champion in 1953.

There have been numerous books published on the life of Fausto Coppi. So many in fact that in this latest one, published by Bloomsbury, Herbie Sykes, opens the book by asking, “Why would anyone add another Fausto Coppi book to the slush pile?”

This book is different in that it is a compilation of short stories told by people who actually knew Coppi. Other ex professional cyclists who rode with him, raced with him and against him, ate with him, lived with him, and so on.

Coppi died at the young age of 40 years, in January 1960, when he contracted malaria during a hunting trip to Africa. Had he lived he would be in his 90s now, and so too are the people who actually knew him.

Like WWII vets, they are becoming fewer with every passing year, so this is an important thing that Herbie Sykes has done in committing these people’s words to print, preserving them for us and future generations.

There is a short piece (Page 296.) by Raphael Geminiani who shared a room with Coppi on that same African hunting trip, and also contracted malaria. Geminiani was diagnosed correctly in France, and was treated with a simple quinine shot. Coppi was miss-diagnosed by his Italian doctors, and died.

Along with these stories are photos, many that have never been published before. There are pictures of Coppi racing, and others of him before and after races. There are also many of him just going about his everyday life, and looking at them one is struck by the fact that this man was not just a racing cyclist, but a super star of his day.

Followed by the Paparazzi in the way that music and movie stars are today.

Coppi’s affair with Giulia Occhini, for example, dubbed by the press as “The Woman in White,” when they were both married to other people.

This would have been a story on the lines of Brad and Angelina today.

However, back in the mid 1950s in a deeply Catholic country like Italy, it was a huge scandal that lost Fausto a lot of fans. At the height of this scandal, the Pope refused to bless the Giro d'Italia because Coppi was riding.

It all goes to show the high esteem (And expectations.) in which cyclists like Fausto Coppi were held in Italy and on the Continent of Europe in the immediate post war era.

One cannot imagine photos like this in such a book, featuring the likes of Alberto Contador, Phillip Gilbert, or Fabian Cancellara being published some 60 years from today.

I would class this as a Coffee Table Book, in that it is one you can read though but then return to it time and time again. Enjoy the photos over and over, and share with others. It would make a nice gift for any cyclist, especially vintage enthusiasts.

 

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