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Thursday
Oct312013

Why do bikes cost so much?

I was sent the link to the above video. It drags on for 37 minutes, and it could have said the same thing in a third of that time. However, it does raise some interesting points. The main one being, why do the top end bikes cost so much?

It is pointed out that a Trek carbon fiber bike can cost $13,500 and a Kawasaki motorcycle $4,000. Maybe there are more motorcycles sold worldwide than carbon fiber bikes, but when you take into account the number of parts in a motorcycle compared to a bicycle, and what the labor costs must be to just to assemble a motorcycle, how and why should the bicycle cost almost three times as much?

The video also compares the $13,500 Trek to a $650 Motobecane. We all know the Trek has a better frame, better wheels, better group of components, but is it 20 times better? Is it really worth almost $13,000 more?

I’m not sure how much flexibility a bike dealer will give a customer, but the video points out that when a cyclist reaches the level that he wants a high end bike, he wants certain gear ratios, crank length, handlebars, saddle, etc. etc.

Back in the 1980s when I had my business, I built frames only. I sold them to bike dealers and they built them into bikes. The customer got to choose every part that went on the bike.

There were Motobecanes back the then, along with Nishikis, Centurians, and other production bikes. When a customer test rode one of these bikes and compared it to a Fuso that I had built, there was no comparison in the way it performed and handled. One was a production bike, the other had a hand built frame.

But pricewise the Fuso was not 20 times more than the production bike. In fact if the dealer put lower price components on the Fuso, like Sugino, and Sun Tour, the Fuso would come out at about the same price as the Nishiki or Centurian. However, the Fuso would outperform the production bike even with cheap components.

There is a culture within the cycling community now that almost wants to pay these high prices. I guess that is okay, it is up to any individual how they spend money. And there are plenty of lower priced bikes for those who can’t or don’t want to pay these prices.

You can go to the National Hand Built Bike Show and there are hundreds of craftsmen framebuilders who will build you something really nice for probably less than the $13,500 Trek.

A lot of the money companies like Trek make go into marketing and sponsoring professional teams that ride in the Tour de France and other events, which in turn creates the demand for more $13,500 bicycles. I am just grateful I am no longer part of this crazy business.

 

Footnote: For some reason the video starts 15 minutes in. If you have that problem drag the red bar back to the start.

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Friday
Oct252013

A different way to lube a chain

I was getting ready for the weekend when my wife and I are planning on getting some riding in. I was giving our bikes a thorough clean and checkup.

Both bikes have chains fitted with removable links. (Power Links. Pictured left.) I find the best way to remove these links is to place two thin screwdrivers, one on either side of the Power Link.

Hold the screwdrivers with one hand and then squeeze them together using a pair of pliers. (See Picture below. Right.) This will force the two halves of the link towards each other and they fall apart.

I clean the chain by placing it in a screw top jar about one third full of Lacquer Thinner, a pretty good solvent for removing grease.

Place the top on the jar and give it a good shake. Pull the chain out and wipe it dry with a rag, or a shop towel. Lacquer thinner evaporates quickly leaving the chain clean and dry.

I then found I was out of chain lube with time running short, no time to run to the store.

I have used regular motor oil before but it just leaves the chain a sticky mess that attracts dirt. Then I remembered, just this week I was mixing oil with gasoline to put in my leaf blower with a two-stroke engine.

Those not familiar with the workings of a two-stroke engine, the gas and oil mixture enters the engine via the lower part of the crank case. Oil has to be mixed with the gas to a ratio of 1 part oil to 16 parts gas, and is there to lubricate the piston and the crank bearings.

It occurred to me if an oil/gas mixture will lubricate a high speed engine, it would certainly lubricate a bicycle chain. I mixed about 1 part motor oil to 8 parts gas. Placed the mixture in the same screw top jar, dropped the chain in and let it soak for about 5 minutes, long enough for the mixture to penetrate inside to reach the pins and rollers.

I fished the chain out and wiped it down again with a shop towel. The mixture felt oily on my hands, so I figured the chain was well lubed. The gasoline would soon evaporate and leave the chain relatively dry, but with a film of oil between the plates, pins and rollers where it was needed.

Replacing the chain on the bike, I run the chain over the cassette, and around the rear derailleur pulleys. I place the front derailleur in the inner ring position. I don’t put the chain on the chainwheel but rather thread it over the bottom bracket shell, and through the front derailleur yoke.

I do this to allow extra slack in the chain, if I place the chain on the chainwheel I then have to fight the tension of the rear derailleur spring. I put a little lube on the two halves of the Power Link. Put each half of the link in either end of the chain, and link the two together, making sure the pins go in the big hole.

Next I hold the two pieces of the power link together between my left thumb and forefinger. I hold them as tight as I can to ensure the pins don’t slip out of the holes. I place the cranks horizontal with the chainwheel side crank forward. Still holding the link tight in my left hand, I reach behind the chainwheel with my right hand and lift the chain onto the inner chainring.

Don’t let go of the link yet, but push down hard on the right pedal. Hear the plates of the Power Link snap into place. (No tools needed this time.) Now I can let go and inspect the link to make sure the pins didn’t slip out, and the side plates of the link are snug in place like all the links in the rest of the chain.

I'm hoping the chain won’t attract a lot of dirt, and it shouldn’t because the oil is thinned down with the gasoline, and the outside of the chain looks clean. I may just use this method again because drippin oil from a bottle on every link is tedious and messy.

“Isn’t it dangerous to use gasoline like this?” Well yes, I wouldn’t recommend doing it in the living room, but outside, or in the garage with the door open. It is no more dangerous than mixing gas and oil and putting it in my leaf blower or lawn mower. I wouldn’t do that in the living room either.

 

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Monday
Oct212013

Get back on your bike

Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and when it does sometimes these good people become even stronger and better people as a result.

In 1991, on a country road a few miles outside Wichita, Kansas, two late twenties, thirty-something bike riders were on an early morning training ride.

A 1978 Olds Cutlass with a driver asleep at the wheel, crossed into the bike rider’s lane and hit them head on.

Multiple bones were broken, limbs were almost severed, and it is a miracle the two did not bleed to death.

Somehow both cyclists remained conscious during this ordeal, and lay in the road talking to each other. Trey Hall and Ken Calwell did survive, and after many months of reconstructive surgery, and physiotherapy, both made a full recovery and got back on their bikes.

An event like this would have killed most people, but one of the reasons Trey and Ken did not die was because they were young super fit bike riders, and the work ethic learned from training on a bike, made them both work harder on their recovery.

Forward more than twenty years after this terrible crash, and Trey Hall has written a book. It is a quite thin little book of 135 pages. An inspirational work that every cyclist should read. Non cyclists should read it too, but I doubt that anyone who has not seriously turned a pedal would understand or get quite as much from the book. For example this passage:

I am the definition of an amateur cyclist; old and slow with a stable of really nice bikes. I ride because I enjoy how it makes me feel. I love the knowledge that I can do hard things. When I am on the bike, unlike when I am in other situations, I can inflict my own pain and afterwards celebrate it.

No one but a real cycling enthusiast could understand the true meaning of those words. It has to be experienced to know that feeling.

When the publishers of this book contacted me, and asked if I would like a review copy, I wondered if I wanted to read another book by a bike rider I didn’t know. But the ordeal of the crash, and the message of “Get back on the bike,” was reason alone for me to check it out.

It turns out the crash itself occupies only a handful of pages, and a few more devoted to the recovery. Most of the book is about life lessons learned while riding a bike.

Trey Hall turned the event into something positive, and moved on from there. The positive is this: Without the crash there would be no reason for Trey to write a book, and certainly no reason for anyone to read it.

Without the terrible suffering and recovery, the positive message in this book would be lost, or rather not exist in the first place. The book is well written, full of bike riding stories and anecdotes, some that will make you smile, always entertaining.

My one small criticism of the book is in the Foreword written by the other survivor of the crash, Ken Calwell. It is only four pages long, but Ken includes quotes from the Bible, and writes about God and Jesus. Just as when I meet any stranger who starts talking religion I immediately feel very uncomfortable.

This is not a criticism of Ken Calwell, or his beliefs, it is more a criticism of the editors. Had I picked up this book in a book store, these few references would have been enough to make me stop reading, put the book down, and dismiss it as a Christian publication.

However, I had agreed to review this book so I read on, and I am so pleased that I did. The rest of the book does not follow this same tone. If like me such references make you squirm, just skip the four page foreword and read the rest of the book.

Both Trey Hall and Ken Calwell went on with their careers to become successful executives in the business world. Anyone following a similar career path would most definitely benefit from reading this book. Plus as previously mentioned, a must read for any cyclist.

 

Pedal Forward: The 10 life and business lessons I have learned from my bike. By Trey Hall. Published by Cairn Publishing Denver LLC.

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Monday
Oct142013

Resurrected

This is what happens to a frame when someone drives into a garage and forgets they have bikes on the roof rack. Don’t let it happen to you. When I saw the above pictured Fuso frame offered on eBay earlier this year, my advice would have been, “This is not worth restoring.”

My thoughts were, by the time someone has two tubes replaced, plus the cost of a repaint, they could find another Fuso on eBay in good condition for less money. However, there was one option I had not even thought about.

Michael Maher, a friend and local Charleston bike enthusiast, who also owns a custom ‘dave moulton’ bought the frame for $22.38. He then sent it to framebuilder Steve Bilenky, who replaced the top and down tubes and fitted a pair of S&S Couplers.

This converted the frame into one that can be used for a “Travel Bike.” One that can be broken in two and packed into a regular size suitcase, thereby avoiding large surcharges the airlines levy for oversize bike boxes.

The frame was powder-coated plain white, and I created a special set of red decals. (Picture above.) Michael brought the frame to me, and I applied the decals and clear coated over them.

Michael has just returned from a trip to Italy with the Fuso, where he took part in a vintage bike rally called L’Erocia. Michael wrote about the trip here, with some videos included.

Fuso frames in good condition go for around $300 to $400. By starting out with a damaged frame, Michael offset the cost of replacing the tubes and probably came out somewhere near where he would had he started out with an undamaged frame. Plus this one was the right size (59cm.) and there was no guarantee he would have found another in time for his planned trip.

Anyway it is nice to see a Fuso that was destined for the scrap heap, restored and put back into good use.

 

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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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