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How a Single Ride Changed the Face of British Time Trialing

In England, in 1953, the top British time trialist was a man named Ken Joy. (Left.)

The previous year he had ridden a 100 miles in 4 hours and 6 minutes, which at that time was phenomenal.

In the early 1950s, British riders racing against the clock invariably rode on a single fixed wheel.

48 x 15, or 48 x 16 (86.4 inch or 81 inch.) would be a typical gear ratio used for 100 miles.

Courses would be selected over the flattest possible terrain, and measure to an exact distance. For example 25, 50, or 100 miles.

At the end of 1952 Ken Joy turned professional and was sponsored by Hercules, a large manufacturer of roadster bikes, located in Birmingham, England. As British time trialing did not have a professional category, the only thing open for Ken Joy, was to ride solo and attack the many place to place records and distance records under the auspices of the Road Records Association.

So when Ken Joy was invited to ride in the Grand Prix des Nations in 1953 it created tremendous excitement for the average British Club Rider. This famous French event was after all considered to be the unofficial World Time Trial Championship of Professional Cycling.

Britain was somewhat cut off and isolated from the rest of Europe as far as cycling was concerned. We were in our own little world of time trialing, and the time trials held on the continent of Europe were odd distances, and held on courses that were not always flat, so how did you compare.

There was much speculation in the weeks leading up to the event as to how well Ken Joy would do. After all he had to be in with a chance, 100 miles in 4 hours 6 minutes is not exactly hanging around, by any standard.

I was 17 years old at the time and in my second year of racing, mostly time trialing; I was definitely caught up in all the excitement. The Grand Prix des Nations was to be run over a distance of 142 kilometers, which was just over 88 miles, a distance that would suit Joy.

The event was held on a weekend, and a few of the major British newspapers had the results in Monday’s morning edition. So we had to wait until the following Wednesday when the “Cycling” magazine came out to get the result, and the full impact of what had transpired.

The event was won by a then unknown 19 year old French rider named Jacques Anquetil. Not only did he beat Ken Joy, he started 16 minutes behind the British rider and caught and passed him. A nineteen year old kid, just two years older than me, had trounced the best that Britain had to offer.

There were two British professional riders in the 1953 event; the other was Bob Maitland who's previous riding was mostly in NCU Mass Start Circuit Races. I seem to remember Maitland finished with a better time than Joy, but both were well down the field. Later in 1955, Bob Maitland was part of the first British team to ride the Tour de France.

I remember well the above picture of Anquetil, low, areodynamic, with his hands curled around the slim Mafac brake hoods. His mechanic standing on the running board of the following car with a spare bike on his shoulder. This was a whole different world, a whole different level of bike racing.

This one ride changed the face of British time trialing. Anquetil used a five speed free-wheel, with 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 cogs. With a single 53 tooth chainwheel; it gave him a top gear of 102 inches. This was the highest ratio mechanically possible at that time. Soon after British time trialists would abandon fixed wheel and use five speed straight up 14 to 18, and later 13 to 17 free wheels.

Jacques Anquetil of course went on to become one of the great cyclists of all time. Winning the Grand Prix des Nations 9 times, and going on to become the first man to win the Tour de France five times.

The Grand Prix des Nations which started in 1932, and became one of the professional classics, was held annually until 2005 when it was abandoned after the UCI inaugurated an official World Time Trial Championship.


This article appeared here in July 2009. I thought it was a story worth repeating. 

Footnote: If you haven't already done so, read this 3 part series:The History of British Cycle Racing. It tells of the ban on road racing in Britain that lasted 50 years, and how a handful of cyclists fought to get this ban lifted. Britain's current success in cycling is due in part to those who went before and dragged the sport out of the dark ages.


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Looking forward to the TDF

I have watched some great racing this year, the Spring Classics, the Giro d’Italia, and the lead up races to the Tour de France. The Paris/Niece, the Criterium du Dophine, the Route du Sud, and the Tour de Suisse. I have not written a single word about any of them here on my blog.

The reason, whenever I do it turns into a discussion on doping, and quite honestly if I am in the middle of watching a race, or I have just watched it, it spoils it for me. It is not that I am in denial, or that I am so naïve to believe that doping doesn’t still go on, but I do believe that the sport is in a better place than it has been for a long time.

The fact that no one rider is dominating the sport anymore, I feel is an indication of that. It makes for better and more interesting racing. Here we are approaching the Tour de France, with four favorites. Contador, Froome, Quintana, and Nibali.

The winner will be whoever hits peak form during the race, so don’t rule out Tejay Van Garderen. Sure Froome beat him in the Criterium du Dophine, but only by 10 seconds. And if Tejay peaks at the Tour that could change. Nibali did nothing in the same race, but then again he did the exact same thing last year but appeared to peak at the Tour.

The same goes for French riders Thibault Pinot and Warren Barguil, and young British rider Simon Yates. Any of these could peak at the right time and cause an upset. All are in with at least a chance of a podium place.

Froome has a good chance of winning if he doesn’t fall off his bike. But I would take bets on him falling off over winning. I read a quote somewhere, that Chris Froome’s riding style is like “An octopus falling from a tree.” Not a pleasing rider to watch. Sure he gets the job done, but Contador climbing out of the saddle is more like watching a ballet, and a joy to behold.

Contador has the Giro d’Italia in his legs, which could either help or hinder his chances, depending on whether or not he has taken all the right steps to recover. On the penultimate stage of the Route du Sud that included three category one climbs, Contador looked extremely strong, but Quintana was able to meet his every attack. In the end it was Contador’s superior bike handling skills on the final descent that won him the stage and the overall race.

I would like to see Contador win, if only to see him pull of the Giro/Tour double. He will almost certainly retire at the end of this year if he does. He is a joy to watch, and tough as nails, remember he dislocated a shoulder in a crash in this year’s Giro, and carried on to win. Quintana could win too, Froomey and Nibali I could care less really.

So let’s have all the anti-doping rhetoric now while I have a week to forget about it. Then I can sit back and enjoy the racing. It promises to be a great one.  


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Candy Apple Paint

If you don’t already know, a Candy-Apple paint finish is a two-step process. First a base color is applied, metallic gold for example, then a special translucent paint in a color of choice is sprayed over. The result is a finish of great depth and beauty.

One can see the sparkling metallic gold under the semi-transparent red, blue or green top coat. Just like seeing the apple under its candy coating. Hence the name.

The picture above is an example. The gold FUSO name on the down tube is actually the base coat, it was masked off, then the red candy apple was sprayed on, and the mask was removed after.

When I went to work for Masi in Southern California at the end of 1980, I was amazed at the beautiful paint work coming out of the shop.

Not only by Jim Allen, Masi’s painter, but former Masi painters, Brian Baylis, and Jim Cunningham of Cyclart, who were all sharing the same premises and paint booth.

At that time I had been painting my own frames for a number of years, so I knew how to handle a paint gun, but what I didn’t know were the little “Tricks of the Trade” it took to bring a paint finish up to the next level.

Like for example, spraying 6 or 8 clear coats over decals, then when dry, sanding smooth with very fine 600 grit paper, before applying a final clear coat. The result was a perfectly smooth finish with the decals completely buried under clear coats, with not even the slightest ripple in the top surface above the decal.

I also learned about candy apple finishes. One of the ways it was used, you would not even be aware that it is a candy apple finish. That is when used to produce a brilliant red finish. Red is one of the most difficult colors to paint and look half way decent.

The reason is the best red pigment is made from Cadmium. But it is no longer used in modern paint, because it is highly toxic and very expensive. So synthetic pigments are used, and the finished job ends up looking slightly orange. Not a true red. Red paint is also prone to fade over time when exposed to sunlight.

What I learned was the spray a candy apple red over a bright white base coat. What you see is the light reflecting back on the white undercoat, through the red translucent top coat. The result is a really intense deep red. A true red color. 

This process was not easy, because if the red was sprayed unevenly it would appear a darker or lighter shade in places where the paint was applied in heavier of lighter coats. For example, as you spray paint along the individual tubes of the frame there is a tendency to get a buildup of paint around the lugs.

If not careful, the lugs would appear darker that the main tubes. Or there might be dark blotches where the paint overlapped.

Many do not know that even on my production Fuso and Recherche frames this same candy apple red was used.

(Above and Right) But instead of a white base, I sprayed over a bright orange base coat.

The red appeared only slightly darker, but spraying over orange was a little more forgiving, therefore easier than over a pure white base.

Some of these frames are 30 years old and the red paint has not faded, the red is still as vibrant as the day it left my shop.

In the example above. The frame was painted metallic black, and white decals applied. Next a candy apple red was sprayed over all, and the end result is a deep burgundy main color with red decals.

Finally, this Fuso Lux frame was first painted white all over. Then a candy apple purple was sprayed on the bottom section only. The white acting as the base coat. Where the color fade transition takes place, the tubes were masked off in a checker board fashion. The purple was faded over this masking which was removed when the paint was dry.

Then I came back a final coat of the purple, and sprayed slightly overlapping the white squares. The effect is a checkered pattern that appears to fade in from the purple, and then disappear into the white. It also demonstrates the effect of lighter and heavier coats of the candy apple paint that I mentioned earlier.


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The Naked Truth

It is rare to see one of my frames stripped of its paint. This custom 'dave moulton' Criterium frame was recently bought on eBay in this already stripped condition. Only 36 of the Criterium model were built.

This frame was designed with lateral stiffness in mind, for fast sprinting out of corners, etc. For this reason it has oversize seatstays, and this modified track fork crown. (Picture above.) The Columbus oval fork blades were re-formed round at the top to fit this crown, which is engraved with my four "m" logo.

(Above.) All California built custom frames from 1982 on, had my name engraved in the bottom bracket shell. 

(Above.) Nice sharp points on the lug work. Those diamond shaped bridge re-enforcers were hand cut and shaped from the off-cuts from chainstays. 

(Above.) Rear drop-out detail. 

(Above.) The rear brake bridge. Again the re-enforcers were hand cut from a scrap piece of tubing. They were never measured exactly, but cut and shaped until the pair matched. The bridge itself is a straight piece of 1/2 inch diameter chrome molly tube. The little barrel shaped center was cutom made for me by a machine shop in Worcester, England, and I brought a box of them with me when I came to the US in 1979. 

(Above.) The seat lug and seatstay top eyes. Again roughly measured, and filed with a large round file to accept an off cut from a piece of head tube, which was then brazed in place and shaped untill the pair matched when held up side by side.

These little hand made touches were what made each custom frame different and special. Each frame was slightly different from another, because these little extras were purly decerative. As long as one side matched the opposite side, they didn't need to be precise.

The frame is now owned by Jack Gabus who plans to have it re finished. I appreciate him sharing these photos of the frame in its current state.


Footnote: Just this week, Mitch Pullen set up a group Facebook page for owners of frames I built. Lots of pictures already posted over there. Click here to take a look.


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Padded Under Shorts

Traditionally cycling shorts are worn without underwear. Anyone who knows anything about cycling knows that.

The reason, most garments including underwear have seams where the panels that make up the garment are stitched together.

These seams will rub and chafe the tender underparts and the insides of your thighs, as you sit on a narrow saddle, with your legs pumping up and down as you pedal your bicycle.

I have been involved in cycling and cycle racing since the early 1950s. Long enough to remember wearing woolen jerseys and shorts for racing. Woolen shorts, always black, not only by tradition, but by UCI regulation at one time.

The shorts had a one piece seamless patch on soft chamois leather sewn inside the crotch of the shorts. There was no padding. Both the jerseys and shorts were a lot of work to launder. They had to be hand washed, and left to air dry, or the wool would shrink and become matted and useless in a very short time.

After washing, the chamois leather in the shorts became stiff and hard. It required that you rub the leather between both hands to make it supple again. Then on race day the chamois patch was smeared generously with Vaseline.

With all this special care and expense, we never trained in our racing clothes. There were no cycling specific clothes in the 1950s, unless you could afford something tailor made. Our cycling shorts for training rides in the summer were often an old pair of cut-off trousers.

It wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that cycling specific clothing became available for non-racing use. Manmade fibers like Acrylic, often replaced wool, making them easier to launder and care for. For racing too, Acrylic or a Wool/Acrylic mixture, replaced the pure wool shorts and jerseys.

However the chamois leather patch inside the shorts continued into the 1980s. Then as manmade fabrics for cycling clothing took over completely, the chamois seat insert was also replaced with a manmade material. The extra padding inside the shorts is quite a recent addition.

And so the tradition of not wearing underwear under your cycling shorts continues. But what if the underwear has the exact same padded insert that your cycling shorts have?

A company called Gearbest contacted me recently to see if any of the wide range of products they offered would interest me. I noticed some padded cycling specific boxer shorts that I thought might be worth a closer look. They sent me four pairs of these shorts. Two different brands, a L and an XL size of each.

The sizing is a little skimpy, and I found the XL size fitted me best. I do have a little middle age, old age spread. My waist is 37 inch. They do make an XXL size, but if you are really big around, these may not work.

The two brands I tried were Arsuxeo, priced at $9.16, and Kingbike, priced at $9.73. They were both made in a similar black Polyester/Spandex type material, a lot thinner than regular cycling shorts, but this is a good thing because they are considered an under-garment, and any thicker they would retain too much heat.

The Silicone padding was similar to that I am used to seeing in most cycling shorts on the market.

Of the two brands, the Kingbike has a nicer wide elastic waistband. The Arsuxeo had slightly thicker padding.

Wearing these under my regular padded shorts, I was aware of the extra padding, but didn’t find it uncomfortable. In fact as I got into my ride I didn’t even think about it.

Another reason to wear undershorts is modesty. I have mentioned before, that modern cycling shorts, even the expensive ones are often see through when stretched tightly across a well-rounded butt. Just stretch the fabric and hold it up to the light, you might be surprised at how translucent your shorts are, and when riding behind you, we can see your butt crack. The extra thin layer of black material these undershorts offer takes care of this issue.

There are many people who ride a bike for transport, either commuting to work, or out for a social evening. They wear their regular street clothes. Some wear a pair of cycling shorts underneath for comfort. But in summer this can get really hot. These boxer shorts would be a perfect replacement. They have no fly opening, so are considered unisex.

The Arsuxeo Shorts are shown at the top left. The Kingbike Shorts lower right. In both images the shorts are inside out to show the padding. Priced at under $10 a pair one could afford to buy several, ensuring you always have a clean pair in your underwear drawer.  


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