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Stan Higginson 1931 – 2014

Former British National 25 Mile TT Champion and Competition Record Holder, Stan Higginson, died on August 31st. He would have been 83 on the 20th of September.

On May 1st, 2009 I wrote an article here titled “The Higginson Twins: A Pedaling Phenomenon.” Back in 1952 the year I started racing at the age of 16, the two fastest time-trialists for the 25 mile distance were Stan Higginson and his twin brother Bernard Higginson. The picture above is a recent one of the twins, Stan is on the right.

Picture left: From 1952. Stan on the left, Bernard right.

In the 1950s and before that time, British Time - Trial events were almost exclusively ridden on a single fixed wheel.

It was common back then to ride thought the winter months on a single fixed sprocket with a gear ratio around 20 x 48 or 21 x 48, a gear in the lower 60 inch range.

A popular early season event back then was a 72 inch gear restricted 25 mile TT.

Everyone was restricted to a gear ratio no bigger than 48 x 18, which leveled the playing field and those who had learned to pedal fastest during the winter prevailed.

The 25 mile competition record (Unrestricted.) in 1952 was 57 minutes something. It was still a huge achievement for anyone to beat the hour for a 25, a feat that only a few top riders could manage. Stan and Bernard Higginson made history that year when they both beat the hour in a 72 inch restricted event.

Stan’s time was 59 mins. 20 secs, which meant he was pedaling at over 118 revs per minute for 25 miles. Bernard Higginson clocked 59. 48 for 2nd place and third that morning was the previous year, 1951 25 record holder, Dave Keeler with a time of 59.58.

As a result of posting the above article, Stan contacted me and shared with me some interesting pieces of information. He and Bernard normally raced on a single fixed gear of 84.4 inches. (50 x 16) He said it suited their slight build of 5’ 9 1/2” (176.5cm.) weighing 129 lb. (58.5kg.) and their very low profile positions.

Throughout the winter they trained on 62 inch gear. (46 x 20) This no doubt gave the twins their fast pedaling abilities.

Between 1952 and 1955 they won seven British National 25 Mile Championship Medals. 3 firsts, 2 seconds, and a third. Stan Higginson broke competition record 3 times. Their team. Halesowen C&AC won 3 National Championships, and broke competition record 4 times.

Stan’s fastest 25 was 56min. 21sec. and Bernard’s fastest time was 57min. 05sec.

As a 16 year old, just starting out Stan Higginson was one of my heroes, someone I aspired to be. Even though looking back he was only a few years older than me. As we go through life others inspire us, and hopefully we inspire others.

Stan had apparently had heart problems for the last eleven years. He is survived by his brother Bernard, his wife Helen, and his two children Michael and Carol.

There will celebration of his life is taking place on Monday 15th September at 2pm at St Laurence Church in Alvechurch , Worcs B48 7SB. UK.


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37.8 % of all statistics are made up on the spot by the 26.9% of statisticians who are in the ball park when they should be back at the office gathering facts to back up their statistics.

I can vouch for the validity of those figures because I just made them up. Whether or not you find that funny will depend on your falling into the 49.3% of people who are skeptical over statistics.

The thing that makes something funny is when a statement contains a modicum of truth, and the point here is that some of us are skeptical of certain statistics. Whether we buy into them depends on our opinions to begin with.

Here is one I see all the time:

 “Wearing a bike helmet is estimated to reduce head injury risk by 85 percent.”

I’m not sure where this one started, but it has been around for twenty-five years or more and I’m assuming that originally it had some other statistics and solid data to back up that figure.

It has been repeated over and over, and over again so many times, that it is now stated as fact without reference to the original study. When you analyze the 85% all it does is reinforce a person’s view that bike helmets are a good idea, only if that person held that view to begin with.

Without the original study and the data to back it up, 85% is as meaningless a number as the ones I made up at the start of this piece. Like many statistics, the number is big enough that it sounds good, but not too big. This makes it believable if you don't give it too much thought. I think this is what has given this particular statistic its longevity.

I don’t even know any more if wearing a helmet is supposed to reduce injury by 85% or does it reduce death by 85%? People have accidents with and without helmets, some are injured and some die, but can anyone prove to me that it is even close to 85% survivor and 15% casualty rate.

Debates about helmet use can become as passionate as any religious or political debates. One argument is that helmets make cycling appear more dangerous than it really is. Less than two cyclists are killed each day on US streets and highways. A small number compared to the 85 people who die each day in automobiles. (These are statistics that a simple Google search will confirm.)

Of course far more people drive cars than ride bikes, but even so in a country with a population well over 300 million, less than two cycling deaths a day is not what I would label a dangerous activity. Unfortunately, the general population does not see it this way.

Here is an article by an injury lawyer stating that jurors in civil cases have a bias against cyclists. They view cycling on the public highways as a highly dangerous practice, and when people are perceived to engage in dangerous activities, juries tend to place some of the blame on the participant. This has a direct effect on the amount of compensation they award.

By voluntarily wearing a helmet you at least appear to a jury or an insurance adjuster to be someone who takes responsibility for their safety. They cannot award you less with the argument that you didn’t wear a helmet; therefore you contributed to your own injuries.

Unfortunately the 85% helmet statistic gives legislators fuel to press for mandatory helmet use for cyclists. While many more people die each year from a simple trip or slip and fall than from cycling related accidents.

That’s because almost all of us walk on two feet, but only a select few ride a bicycle. Maybe upon waking each morning we should place a helmet on our head before we even put slippers on our feet; not removing it until we return to bed that evening. Viewed in this light does it not make the whole issue somewhat ludicrous?

Making helmets mandatory only re-enforces the general public’s view that cycling is dangerous. I still maintain that wearing a helmet should be a personal choice; making them mandatory stops some from taking up cycling in the first place.

Most start riding a bike without a helmet, a few will become serious and eventually buy a better bike and all the equipment that goes with it, which will probably include a helmet.

To sum up I wear a helmet because it offers some protection; I don’t believe it is even close to 85%, but wearing one can’t hurt. I may hit a pot hole and fall on my head, in which case my helmet may save me from serious injury. But a crash involving a motor vehicle? The best way to avoid injury there is to ride defensively and circumvent the collision altogether.


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Weight Weenies and the WSJ

I got a mention in the Wall Street Journal in an article about the rising cost of high end bicycles.  We all know that when it comes to bicycles, “Less costs more.” Less weight that is. The lightest bikes today are carbon fiber or titanium both very expensive materials.

The article begins with a story about a 51 year old cyclist from California who dipped into his 401K in order to buy a $20,000 titanium frame bike, custom made in Australia. WTF, like there aren’t enough good custom builders in the US?

Explaining why he had to have this bike, the cyclist said, “I can't afford the nicest car or the nicest house.” But he is willing to splurge on the best cycling equipment. If there is one truism it is that “Rich people stay rich by acting like they are poor, and poor people stay poor by acting like they are rich.”

Most will say that it is up to any individual how he spends his money. I would not argue with that. But this individual clearly could not afford this bike, and the sad thing is this purchase was totally unnecessary.

Many will no doubt see me as the old retro-grouch, against modern equipment. Not at all, I like to see myself as a voice of reason against insane behavior. And dipping into a 401K or going into debt to pay this kind of money for a bicycle is insane, especially when a person is 51 years old.

When I started racing in 1952 my bike weighed 26 lbs. This was lightweight compared to the average roadster bike that weighed about 40lbs. It was a similar bike to the one that the Pros of the day used in the Tour de France. They went over the same mountains that the Tour goes over today, except the roads were often no better than dirt roads.

In spite of the weight of my bike I did my best rides, and fastest times in the 1950s and 1960s. By the time I was 51 I would never go as fast again no matter how light my bike. Which is why I say it is insane for a 51 year old to think he needs a $20,000 bicycle, even if he could afford it.

There have always been weight weenies. I have seen advertisements from the 1800s for Ordinary’s (Penny farthing.) bicycles weighing 19 lbs. But I never saw people obsess over it until I came to the US in 1979. With the advent of carbon fiber and titanium, Weight Weenieism has reached epidemic proportions.

Cycling is a passion, and nice equipment is part of that passion, to a point. When it gets to the point where you are buying stuff you can’t afford, it is no longer a passion, it is an obsession.

“Blingey equipment that weighs less than an anorexic butterfly, is no substitute for miles in your legs.”

My bike has a custom built frame by my ex-apprentice Russ Denny. It has a welded steel frame, it looks modern, and fits me perfectly because it was custom built for me. It has Campagnolo Athena components, because I don’t need Super Record. I have no idea what it weighs, because I have never weighed it. To buy a bike like mine would cost around $4,000.

Plonking down a credit card and buying the lightest possible bike just so you can own something that others will ogle and pick it up and go ooh and aah, is not an achievement. Staying with everyone else, in spite of your bike weighing a little more is.


The WSJ article was written by Rachel Bachman, who wrote a follow-up piece here:

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Bikes or Insurance, is it the same thing?

Someone recently asked me: “You were a frame builder, so you didn’t actually make complete bicycles?”

I explained that I built frames that either had the ‘dave moulton’ name on them, or Fuso, or Recherché. And when these frames were later built up into a bicycle, the assembled item became a ‘dave moulton, Fuso or Recherché bicycle.

I further explained that the bike business is not like the auto or motorcycle industry, where a company manufactures all the parts, and then assembles them into a car or motorcycle. When it comes to high end bicycles the components are either Shimano, Campagnolo, or Sram. And even the lower priced bikes are mostly built up with the lower priced Shimano groups.

Even the big three American companies, Trek, Cannondale and Specialized design and produce a frame with their company name on it, and that’s it. All three companies’ bikes are then built up with Shimano, Campagnolo, or Sram and the end consumer gets to decide which he/she wants.

Notice I said the Big Three “Produce” a frame, they don’t actually make it. That is done in a factory in China or Taiwan, and it is possible that some of these different brands are made in the same factory. Frame design is pretty standard these days, same angles, tube lengths, fork rake, etc. No one is going out on a limb to make anything too radical.

So all three are basically selling the same item, each is no better, no worse than the other. This is why there is so much spent on marketing, the cost of which gets added to the cost of the bicycle, and passed on down to the end consumer. In most cases the consumer gladly pays this price because the marketing has convinced him that it should cost this much for the very best bike.

It occurred to me that this business model is not far removed from that of the large auto insurance companies. The Big Three bike companies assemble a bicycle with a frame that costs about the same as their competitors’ frame, with the same components that also have a fixed cost.

The Insurance companies assemble a package of insurance services that boil down to the same repairs carried out by independent body shops all over the US. The reason we see so much advertising on TV for auto insurance is because these companies are all going after the same consumer.

The one who spends the most on marketing, convinces the consumer that their insurance is the best, when if the truth be known, each is probably no better, no worse than the rest.

Part of bike marketing is supporting a professional bike team, which is a tremendous cost, Specialized does not support a team, but is an equipment supplier only. Cannondale has had to cave in and is to give up their team, and will stay in the sport as equipment supplier for Garmin Sharp.

This just leaves Trek with a fully sponsored factory team. So it will be interesting to see if they will continue to support a complete team. And if so, will their product cost more, and will it be perceived as better?


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Mystery Bikes

In my last post I mentioned Kent and Kyle Radford, the owners of the Recherche brand name. A few days ago I got the following email from Kyle:

Hey Dave, years ago while visiting your shop I remember two distinct mystery bikes. I wonder where these are today? The first was a Mountain bike you had built.

I remember you letting me ride it around the parking lot. After about 30 seconds, I thought holy cow, this thing rips!!

It made every other mountain bike I had ridden seem like a banana slug. It performed like a crit bike with knobbies. At the time you told me not to tell anyone you had built it.I think it safe now,all these years later!

The second "mystery machine" was a time trial bike. If recollection serves me right you could convert it from 700c to 26 " wheels? I remember something about the rear brake bridge where you could un-bolt and flip it to accommodate the different wheel circumference.

I don't remember what you did with the front fork. Anyway, thought it might be fun to share with your readers and satisfy my curiosity! Thanks, Kyle.

The first bike mentioned is no mystery really, it was the Fuso Mountain Bike, (Above.) and the reason I probably wanted to keep it quiet at the time was because I was about to debut it at the 1987 Interbike Show. I built around 50 of these in the years that followed, and there are still a few around.

The second bike you mention was one of a kind. I have no idea where it is today, and I would love to know. As I have no picture I will do my best to describe it. Around the late 1980s the smaller 600c wheels became popular for a short time.

The thinking behind the smaller wheel was less weight and faster acceleration. I built a few track frames for these wheels and had good reports on their performance. The bike you mention was a Time-Trial/Triathlon bike. It was again built for one of the Interbike shows.

It was an interesting design, in that it used a 600c (26in.) wheel in the front, and had the option of using a 700c (27in.) wheel at the back, or a 600c. There was a special bolt on adapter to lower the rear brake bridge when the smaller wheel was fitted. This adapter was made from aluminum plate, and bolted on to the normal brake bridge and on to two brazed on threaded bosses on the rear seatstays.

The front fork arrangement was also interesting. A smaller wheel means less trail, the head angle was steeper at 74 degrees, also meaning less trail. So to compensate, the fork only had a very slight bend, and a 1 inch (25mm.) offset or rake.

The reason behind this scant fork rake was this. When the bike was set up with two same size 600c wheels the frame was level, and the front fork was set up in the normal way.

When the larger 700c wheel was used in the rear, it lifted the back end and made the frame angles steeper, including the head angle, and it was intended when the larger rear wheel was used, for the front fork to be turned backwards, like a “Stayer” bike.

The front fork was drilled in such a way that the front brake could be bolted on from either direction. This combination of angles and fork rake were chosen to acheive ideal handling with either set up.

As I recall it was a 58cm. frame and so was too big for me to ride. My apprentice Russ Denny rode it and reported that it handled like a dream, with either rear wheel set up. My thinking behind this design was that a rider could choose a different rear wheel set up for different courses. The smaller rear wheel might be better on hilly or more technical courses, for example.

The bike had a lot of lookers at the Show, but it was a little too radical to bring in any orders. As I remember it, after the show the bike was sold to a bike store in Del Mar, on the coast just north of San Diego. I never saw or heard of it again, and have no idea where it is today.


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