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Opting out of the system

For the first half of the last century the Tobacco Industry pretty much had a clear run of things, and what a fantastic business model it was. Tobacco is relatively cheap to produce, it grows in the ground.

It requires very little processing to turn it into a product that is highly addictive, ensuring once a person is hooked they will buy the product for the rest of their somewhat shortened life.

There was a time when doctors would even recommend their patients smoke. They would tell their patients, it calms the nerves. Menthol cigarettes help congestion, etc., etc.

Through the Great Depression of the 1930s the Tobacco Industry did just fine, people had to have their cigarettes, they were addicted. I’m sure in many cases cigarettes came before food.

Everything began to change in the mid-1950s when the medical profession linked smoking with lung cancer and other ailments. Since that time the Tobacco Industry has declined very slowly. It is still the same fantastic business model it always was, just not on the same scale.

So what replaced the Tobacco Companies as industry giants? The Pharmaceutical Industry, the Drug Companies. The Drug Company’s business model has so many similarities to that of the Tobacco Industry.

Drug Companies tell us they spend billions on research, but once a new drug is approved it costs pennies to produce and the sky is the limit for what they can charge for it. One tiny pill can sell for more than the cost of a whole carton of cigarettes.  

Pharmaceutical Companies do not cure diseases, there is no profit in curing things. They produce drugs that control symptoms. Like the tobacco companies before them, this ensures the consumer has to buy the product for the rest of their life.

Just as some will go without food to pay for cigarettes, some elderly people have to choose between food and medication. The drug industry is pretty much recession proof, in the same way the tobacco industry was through the great depression of the 1930s.

It was the medical profession that brought down the tobacco industry. The drug companies will not make that mistake, they have the medical profession onboard as part of their plan.

I feel doctors and hospitals should be allowed to make a fair return for the service they provide. But it seems morally wrong to me that people’s health should be run as a multi-billion dollar industry. We have the medical profession, the drug companies, and now the insurance companies all taking their slice of the pie.

For fifty or more years people were told smoking cigarettes was a good thing, now we know different. Will it be another fifty years before someone tells us our whole health care system is wrong. I can’t wait that long, so I am doing my best to opt out now.

I grew up in the 1940s and 1950s when everyone smoked tobacco, I chose not to. Today I choose not to pay these ridiculous prices for a medication that will not cure me, and can possibly harm me.

My health plan is simple… To avoid getting sick if I possibly can. I am doing this by exercising (Riding my bike regularly.) and eating a healthy diet.

The other part of my plan is to avoid taking any medication as long as possible, preferably never. When a medication is advertised on TV, the long list of side effects they read off as a disclaimer leaves me wondering if the cure is not more deadly than the ailment.

This is not advice, I do not have the qualifications to give advice. It is simply an opinion, feel free to weigh in with yours.


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Please, just go around me


More and more states are bringing in “Safe Passing” laws to protect cyclists. As they do, more and more motorists complain that they cannot safely pass cyclists on winding country roads without crossing the double yellow line and putting themselves and others in danger.

I contend that drivers are making more out of this issue than there really is. First of all, yes you have to cross the double yellow that is obvious. However, realize that it is a painted line, not a concrete barrier, you can easily drive over it and back again.

Second, get the issue in perspective; it is not like passing an eighteen-wheel semi. A bicycle is less than six feet long, and barely eighteen inches wide. A cyclist needs about a third of the lane width, maybe half, depending on the overall width of the road.

It is nice when drivers go completely over to the other lane to pass, but it is not always possible, and often it is not necessary. Just straddling the yellow line in most cases gives a cyclist enough room; a lot depends on speed.

If I am doing 20mph and a car passes me at 30 mph, it doesn’t bother me too much if I am passed at slightly less than 3 feet. However, pass me at 60 mph and I would prefer a lot more room. A common sense rule would be, 3 foot at 30 mph, and one more foot per 10 mph over that.

The main problem is that many motorists view overtaking a cyclist in the same light as overtaking another car. Any sane person would not usually overtake another car if there is opposing traffic, say 200 yards away. 

However, the fact that a cyclist is moving at a relatively low speed is actually to your advantage when overtaking. You can safely pass a cyclist with approaching vehicles within 200 yards, even if you have to exhilarate from 20 mph.

Just do the maths. One mile per hour equals 1.467 feet per second traveled. A cyclist doing 20 mph would travel 29 feet in 1 second. (20 x 1.467 = 29.34 ft.) A car passing the cyclist at 30 mph would travel 44 feet in 1 second. (30 x 1.467 = 44.01 ft.)

Double this to 2 seconds for the sake of safety, that’s “One Mississippi, two Mississippi” and you are safely past the cyclist and on your merry way, back on your own side of the road.

Now let’s say there is a car approaching at 60 mph; your combined speeds are 60 + 30 = 90 mph. This equals 132 feet per second. (90 x 1.467 = 132.03 ft.) So 2 seconds translates to 264.06 feet, or 88.02 yards.

So if you overtake a cyclist with an approaching car 100 yards away you may be cutting it close, but 200 yards and you have doubled you margin of safety.

Plus, don’t forget you already doubled the time to pass the cyclist to 2 seconds. Also remember, you are not fully in the opposing lane, and not for the full 2 seconds.

The problem is, you get one timid driver who will not pass a cyclist if there is opposing traffic anywhere within the same zip code.

Traffic gets backed up, and everyone is pissed off. And who gets blamed? Why the cyclist of course, when it is not he that is holding everyone up, but the pussy of a driver afraid to overtake.

So please motorists, the next time you see me out on the road, just go around me and stop making such a big fuss.


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Designing Bikes for Women

I have this theory regarding functional art, that if an object or piece of equipment is designed to perform its function correctly, it will appear pleasing to the eye from an aesthetic point of view. A piece of furniture like a chair, a bridge, a boat, or indeed a bicycle, all fall into this category of functional art.

Not only does the bicycle need to look right standing alone, but rider and bicycle need to look right together. The bicycle becomes an extension of the rider, a platform if you will for the athlete to launch a physical effort.

As a result of my last article, a story of the above track bike, the bike’s former owner, Maggie Thompson, formally Margaret Gordon Smith, commented on the piece, and sent me the above picture, of her actually racing on the track in the British National Women’s Pursuit Championships.

Rarely do I get to see a perfect side on photo of a rider and bike, where the rider is at maximum speed and one can see how well rider and bike fit together. For those who don’t know what Pursuit Racing is about? Two riders start on opposite sides of a banked track or Velodrome, and they chase each other. Hence the name Pursuit.

It is a race of truth, like a time trial, there is no pacing. The winner is the rider ahead at the end of a set distance. The women’s pursuit is 3,000 meters, which is 3 kilometers, or 1.863 miles. Not a huge distance, but one starts out about half a lap out of the saddle to reach maximum speed, then sit down and try to maintain that speed to the end. It is a race that will leave you gasping for breath for an agonizing 4 minutes.

Maggie describing this bike said, “I found I could breath.” That was because the rule of frame design back in the mid-1970s and before, was a 73 degree seat angle for everyone no matter how tall or how short. Maggie is slightly over 5’ 3” tall, which is not unusual. Many women are in the 5 foot to 5 foot 4 inch range.

This frame had a 77 degree seat angle which was unheard of at the time. But while 73 degrees is fine for a tall person with long legs, for the shorter rider it means the thighs are pressing tight into the upper torso thus restricting breathing. Of course it is essential the back be horizontal for maximum aerodynamic efficiency, and the steeper seat angle cuts down the angle of torso bent at the pelvis. It also allows for a shorter top tube meaning the rider is not stretched out, and the arms are working in opposition the legs.

Right: Maggie on her road bike I also bult for her. This frame had a 76 degree seat angle.

When it comes to designing and building bikes for women, it is not that women are drastically different proportionally than men, it is that they are generally a lot smaller.

It is a myth that all women have longer legs and shorter bodies.

Women come in all shapes and sizes the same as men, long legs short torso, short legs long torso.

The main difference being, shorter overall height and much smaller feet than men.

The length of the foot comes into play because when pedaling the toe is pointing down at the bottom of the pedal stroke, so the foot becomes an extension of the leg. A man and a woman of the same height and leg length could both use an identical frame, but the female rider would have her saddle set lower because of her smaller feet.

The problem frame designers and builders have always faced when it comes to building bikes for women, is in making bikes small enough. There is a limitation caused by the wheel size. In the last 60 or more years I have been involved with racing bikes, (And before.) they have had 27 inch wheels, the wheel diameter to the outside of the tire is 27 inch diameter, or slightly less depending on the tire cross section.

700C wheels are the same, 27 inch diameter or slightly less. I always thought the “C” was for Clincher, but I have noticed tubular tires are now also called 700C. A front fork has fork blades that are the same length no matter how large or small a frame is, because the front wheel is the same 27 inch diameter for all sizes.

Throughout the range of frame sizes, the fork crown stays in the same place. So does the bottom headset bearing, and in the days of lugged steel frames the bottom head lug was always in a constant position.

Everything above this point varies with the frame size. The length of the fork steering tube, the frame head tube, the top tube is higher, etc., etc. In the days when top tubes were always level, the framebuilder could only lower the top tube until the top head lug met the bottom head lug.

Metal could be removed from the top and bottom lugs but for all practical purposes the smallest frame one could build with a level top tube was 48 cm. (19 in. C to T) with a standard bottom bracket height. After that one could raise the bottom bracket to make the seat tube shorter, but the last thing a rider with short legs needs is to be higher from the ground.

Incidentally in the top picture, Maggie’s track frame is 19” but the head lugs are not touching. That is because track bikes have a higher bottom bracket to clear the angle of the track banking. Also the steeper than normal seat tube pushed the seat lug higher, and therefore the top tube.

Today’s frame design with the sloping top tube does make it possible to make much shorter seat tubes. However, the front end stays exactly where it has always been, because the front wheel is still the same diameter. The good news is, shorter riders do not need a huge difference in saddle to handlebar height. See how little difference there is in the top picture of Maggie on her bike.

My advice to a female cyclist who wishes to engage in serious competition. If you are 5’ 6” in height, or taller you can ride a men’s frame, bearing in mind what I said earlier about your saddle being lower because of your smaller feet. If you are shorter than 5‘ 6” and especially if you are in the 5 foot to 5’ 4” height range, get the smallest frame with the shortest top tube you can.

There are frames out there that are advertised as being Female Specific. These have a longer head tube resulting in a higher front end. There is less drop down from the saddle to the top of the handlebars, making for a more relaxed position. These are great if you just want to ride for exercise or engage in ultra-long distance rides. There are similar frames for men with names like “Endurance.”

Whether male or female, choose a bike or frame that suits your purpose. If you want to race seriously get a race bike and set it up in an efficient aerodynamic position. If your goal is exercise and more leisurely riding, don’t buy a race frame, buy one of the bikes offered for that purpose.


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Rescue Bike

Maintaining this blog is not always easy, but I will say there are times when it is highly rewarding. On the last piece I wrote, Andy commented “You might find this interesting.” There was a link to Retro Bike Forum, in the UK.

Over there a poster calling himself Marty P, wrote about a 1975 ‘dave moulton’ track bike, he found at his local dump. The bike missing its tubular tires is otherwise complete, and in reasonable condition for its age. I posted my own comments on the forum and asked for the frame serial number.

Marty then emailed me with the following story:

I run a smallish bicycle 'recycling' business on the side, in Hampshire, England and frequently come across rare, unusual and interesting vintage machines in the process...

So yesterday, at my local tip (Dump.) and found two 'racers' put aside for me. The first a nice complete 60's Claud Butler which is nice enough I guess, but behind it was poking out a rear track end which obviously caught my eye and my eye followed up the dusty gold tubing to reveal the words 'dave moulton' in a sober black lower-case type-face... Amazing what people will throw away.

£40 (British Pounds, about $62 US Dollars) for the pair changed hands and, back at work I could see what I had. A smallish un-drilled track frame and forks in gold with black lug lining, Cinelli stem, Cinelli Giro Bars, Campy 2-bolt Record Post, Selle Italia Condor Suede saddle, Campy Pista Crankset, Spanish Pista Pedals (inc a leather strap from an old LBS 'Jim Guard' cycles) and a pair of 27" Track Wheels with large flange Campy Record track hubs and 'Daisy' Tub Rims... 

Another contributor to the Retro Bike Forum mentioned an article I wrote in 1976 and published in the British “Cycling” weekly. By coincidence I had just posted a link to a PDF copy of this very same article on this blog. There was even a picture in the article of a similar looking track bike.

I started to get a little excited, “Could this be the same bike?” When Marty sent the serial number, and I looked it up in my record book, it was indeed the same bike.

It was built for a top British female rider, Margaret (Maggie) Gordon Smith. At that time a member of the Evesham Wheelers, a club in Worcestershire.

Margaret Gordon Smith’s specialty on the track was the Pursuit, over 3000m. She won the British National Championship in 1977 and again in 1978 beating big names such as Beryl Burton and her daughter Denise, Brenda Atkinson and Catherine Swinnerton.

Outside the UK, she rode in 1971, 1977 and 1978 track and road World Championships and gained third place overall in the 3-day Tour Feminine based at Le Havre, France in 1978.

Maggie was one of several local top amateur riders I supported. It was a two-way-street, these top riders being seen on my bikes was very good for business. It brought in a lot of orders, especially if a picture appeared in Cycling magazine. It is the reason the ‘dave moulton’ name is on both the down tube and seat tube of this bike. It was done for maximum exposure.

It was also the original reason I chose the bold all lower case lettering for my decals. Easy to read, and showed up well in photos. I got the idea from British road signs that were in a similar font style. Even my four “m” logo was easily recognizable and showed up in a head on shot photo.

There were strict rules in the 1970s regarding amateur status, and I could not publish the names top amateur riders using my frames, or even show a picture of them linked to an article like the one afore mentioned. They would have lost their amateur status even though I only gave them a frame, and never paid them any money. It is the reason Maggie’s head is cut off in the article. (Picture above.)

It saddens me that that the average Joe cannot see beyond two wheels and pedals. They casually toss a rare item like this on the scrap heap, to be buried in a land fill, or melted down for scrap. Thank goodness there are others like Marty who look out for these bikes and rescue them.

This bike has a past, and now a documented history. With a top female athalete as its engine, this bike won important races. Track bikes I built are rare, they were built to be raced on the track. I didn’t build that many.

Also track bikes are not like road bikes. Lugged steel is still used on velodromes. This being a very small frame would fit some up and coming youngster. Someone aspiring follow in the tread marks of a former champion like Margaret Gordon Smith.


Footnote: Here is a picture that showed up after I posted this piece. Margaret winning the 1977 British Pursuit Title on this very same bike.


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Large Printable Posters

A magazine ad from 1986 was brought to my attention last week. I remembered I had a large format file of that print. (Above.) The picture was composed and taken by photographer Mike Graves. He used an old sheet of plywood that was on the floor of his father’s garage for many years, to catch oil drips from an antique car.

On this somewhat dirty rustic backdrop, he laid out a brand new pristine Fuso frame, surrounded by various tools. Some were tools he borrowed from me, others were from his father’s antique tool collection. The result, a very interesting black and white art photo.

The magazie ad can be seen left. When Mike Graves sent me the original file a few years back, he described the picture as being, “Sharp as a tack.”

It is, the detail is pretty amazing. I set this picture up in PDF format as a printable 24 in. x 18 in. poster, and downloaded the file to my Bike Registry website.

You can open the link here:

It is a large file and may take a while to open. Hit refresh if it is taking too long. Or maybe try a different browser. There is no need to copy the file, if you know of someone who has a large format digital printer, you can simply email them the above link, and they can print you a copy direct from the web page. I had two test copies printed on semi-gloss paper and the results were good. Try not to handle the prints too much before they are dry.

Another 24 x 18 poster I have (Above.) is a copy of one I had printed for the 1990 Interbike Show. It is a color picture of a Fuso frame built in Columbus Max tubing. It has all the specs printed at the bottom. The PDF for this poster is here:

Make sure the printer is set on “Print full size.” Feel free to print copies for your own use without further permission from me. Both these posters will fit in a standard 24 x 18 inch poster frame. These are quite inexpensive to buy from places like Target and Wal-Mart.

These links are now permanently on the Bike Registry website. There are other PDF files of articles I wrote for “Cycling” and “Velo-News” back in the 1970s. Also other interesting stuff, like spec sheets for the Fuso and Recherche, and prices from the late 1980s


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