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Monday
Sep102007

Techno-geeks: Please leave my bike alone

Have you noticed how simplest things in life have become high tech when they don’t really need to? For example the paper towel dispensers in the restrooms at work, and in bars and restaurants.

What was wrong with just pulling on the paper, or operating a simple lever at the side? Every one of these new devices is different, so you stand there like an idiot with your hands dripping wet, trying to figure out where the “electronic eye” is.

Is it on the front, is it underneath; shouldn’t there be a little red light somewhere? You wave your hands all around this abominable black plastic box, which even looks like a piece of high tech equipment. Like a microwave oven or a CD player more than a simple towel dispenser.

Invariably someone will come to your rescue making you feel like a total retard. (That used to be a politically incorrect term, but no one ever uses it to refer to a mentally challenged person anymore, it is only used when referring the type of person who can’t operate a stupid paper towel dispenser.)

Why make the simple things in life high tech, when there is no good reason other than we can? Or because we have the technology. The makers of these “Black Box” towel dispensers will argue that by eliminating the handle, they eliminate a source of germs that could re-contaminate our clean hands.

Now wait a minute; every person using the towel dispenser has clean hands; they have just washed them. That’s why they need a paper towel. And, anyway after sterilizing our hands thoroughly, we grab the filthy door handle as we leave.

Why do we need electric can openers? One of the times we really need a can opener is during an emergency when the power is out.

Now the techno-geeks, always searching for more simple devices to make complicated are turning their attention to the bicycle, and toying with the idea of electronic gear shifting.

To be honest, I never got over index shifting in the late 1980s. At the time, the European cycling community scoffed at the idea, and so did Campagnolo. This was tantamount to a violinist needing marks on the neck of the fiddle to show where to place your fingers.

Of course, the engineers at Shimano knew better. They knew that in America there were people who actually did not know how to operate a friction shift lever. Maybe they had great foresight and could see this same nation of people, in the future, would not be able to operate a paper towel dispenser.

I always felt that index shifting was developed to cater to the “instant gratification” element. Nothing that requires a degree of skill, gives instant gratification. Muffing gear changes on a hill is no fun, but then neither is learning to play a musical instrument. However, the rewards are far greater once you master the skill. The satisfaction of doing something other people cannot, for a start.

In the case of indexed shifting, Shimano proved to be right, and Campagnolo spent years playing catch up. I will agree that indexed shifting has developed into something that is useful to all cyclists, including the pros. No one wants to go back to friction shifting, except old farts purists like me.

However, now there is talk about automatic shifting on a bicycle linked to a bicycle computer that will measure your heart rate and will automatically shift down when it senses you are trying too hard. Rather like the automatic transmission on a car.

Isn’t this taking the fun out of cycling? In the same way automatic transmissions took the fun out of driving. Cars used to be stick shift, with a clutch, and it took a certain amount of skill to drive one. Have you ever noticed that car adds on TV show people driving at speed, having fun, and shifting a stick shift? When in reality there are few such transmissions.

This is one of the main problems with car driving today; it has become so easy that people drive their car like they are sitting on their living room sofa. Eating, drinking, and talking on the phone. No one takes pride in being a good driver anymore. Would people be drinking coffee, and talking on the phone if they were driving a stick shift?

Will electronic shifting on a bike catch on? What about the weight-weenie? Batteries are heavy. How about this idea; an electronic eye on your handle bar stem. When your head is down and you are trying, it stays in a big gear, but when you sit up, it shifts down. I just hope it works better than the paper towel dispenser does.

Friday
Sep072007

Womankind: You can save Mankind


Everyone knows the benefits of commuting to work or school on a bicycle. It saves money, the exercise is good for you, zero carbon emissions, cuts down on congestion, etc, etc. However, getting people to do it on a large scale in the US is a completely different story.

I recently came across a delightful blog called “Copenhagen girls on bikes.” It's about the bicycle culture in Copenhagen, Denmark, where 35% of the population, 550,000 people ride their bike to work or school each day. Bicycles are an integral part of their culture.

Mikael and Aaron, the two guys behind the blog, state, “Perhaps we can inspire people in other countries to commute by bicycle or lobby for better bike conditions in their cities by providing a portrait of a city that lives and breathes bikes.”

A recent article in the New York Observer talked about a trend in that city of attractive women riding bicycles everywhere wearing skirts, dresses, and high heels.

One of the obstacles in getting people to ride bikes is that it is perceived as dangerous. The only reason it becomes dangerous is that drivers of cars and other vehicles are not aware of bicycles, and they just don’t see the bike rider. However, the more cyclists on the road the more visible they become.

If you are a lady on a bike, with your dress and hair flowing in the wind, you are probably the most visible person out there. What gentleman would object to slowing briefly before passing you with caution? What lady driver would not envy you?

Riding a bicycle you will burn 32 calories per mile. So a modest five mile trip, to work or shopping, and back home again will deplete you of 320 calories. That is a whopping 1,600 calories a five day week. Imagine how hard it would be to cut that amount from your diet; it is almost like not eating for a whole day. Plus you are toning your muscles and doing your heart and lungs a great service.

How do you ride a bike in high heels? I have not tried it, but actually I imagine it works fine, because you pedal with the sole of your shoe, not the heel. And when you come to a stop your toe is already extended downwards towards the road. Kind of like a built in kick stand. (See left.)

Ladies, if you do decide to ride, please follow the rules of the road. Don’t ride against the traffic flow. I don’t care what you were taught as a child, this is a highly dangerous practice.

Riding with the traffic, if it is not safe for a car to pass, they can at least slow and wait until it is safe. Riding towards traffic a driver suddenly comes upon you, often without warning. They can do nothing except put you, or themselves and others in danger.

Drivers merging onto a street are looking in the direction the traffic is coming from, and not expecting to find someone coming the wrong way.

Do not ride on the sidewalk; it is against the law, you are a danger to pedestrians. You also put yourself in grave danger at every road intersection you cross.

I would also advise against talking on a cell phone while riding. Your contemporaries in Copenhagen have the luxury of being in a city where people are aware of bikes, this is America and you need to be cautious and aware of other road users at all times.

In Copenhagen there are over 500,000 bicycles on the streets on any given day. That means almost that number less cars; imagine what an impact a fraction of that would have on the congestion in any American city. In addition, with this many bikes on the streets, how can drivers not be aware, and drive cautiously? This many bicycles make the streets a safer place for everyone.

If more bikes means greater safety, it also means more fun. A thirty something girl bike commuter from London, UK wrote in her “London Cycling Diary.”

“The highlight of my day, was cycling the length of Kensington High Street with a group of fellow cyclists. We were all strangers, but all of equal ability and we journeyed together for about a mile-and-a-half, taking up an entire lane and watching out for each other. We were traveling at the same speed as the motorized traffic and it felt good.”

The bicycle was one of the ways that women expressed their independence during the women’s suffrage movement in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Maybe it is time for the women of America to lead the way again. I gaurantee, men will follow.

Tuesday
Sep042007

John Howard frame: Dave M or Dave T?

A John Howard frame, built by Dave Tesch (Above.) recently came up for auction on eBay. The seller made no mention of who built it and as a result, I received several emails asking if it was one of mine.

I built the John Howard frame 1983 to 1984; I built just over 200. David Tesch took over in 1984. I’m not sure how long he produced the frame, or how many came out of his shop, but I think less than I built.


When Tesch took over he used the same lugs and seat stay caps. (Engraved with the “H” logo.)

The difference between the two builders is not immediately apparent at first glance, especially if a seller on eBay does not post many detail shots of the frame.

This particular frame has a silver to purple fade paint job, with no chrome plating, This is the first clue, as all the frames I built were a single color with chrome drop-out faces and chrome right chainstay. A completely chromed front fork was offered as an option on my frames. 


Dave Tesch put his signature decal on the left chainstay. (Some of his early JH frames did not have this.)

My frames had the “From the frameshop of dave moulton” decal. Tesch used teardrop shaped chainstay bridge reinforces; I used round ones.



The frames I made were built to my design geometry, the same as the Fuso, and the Recherche that would follow. Dave Tesch had his own philosophy on frame design, and built frames with steeper angles.

Tesch stamped his initials DT before the frame size, and stamped the number across the bottom bracket shell; I stamped mine parallel with the BB faces. (See picture below.)

All the John Howard’s I produced had a yellow down tube decal. Dave Tesch used black, white, or yellow lettering.

I stopped building the John Howard frames because it was no longer a viable proposition to build less than five frames at one setting. Dave Tesch took over building the frames essentially as one off custom frames. He had a smaller shop with less overhead, was at the time anxious to get his business off the ground, and was hungry for work.

However, I think after a short while he found the arrangement was not financially viable. Framebuilding is such a labor-intensive business, and profits are tight. If someone produces a reasonable quantity of frames, and sells directly to bicycle dealers, as I did; then you have a viable business. With John Howard as the middle man, there was less profit to go round for everyone.

When I started producing the John Howard frames, and when Dave Tesch took over, the quality of the frames was equal to the Masi frames. 

However, the product did not have the Masi name, and sold for less. The John Howard frame, in my opinion, was always under priced; one of the reasons it was short lived.

After Dave Tesch stopped producing the frames, John Howard approached the KHS Company, and the bike was produced in Taiwan. KHS is a reputable company and have high quality control standards. The KHS John Howard is a good product.

However, it cannot compare with the hand built frames that Dave Tesch and I built. So if the JH frame does not have the engraved seatstay caps and the other features mentioned above, it is a KHS Taiwan produced frame and its price should reflect this.

My thanks to Bill Battle for the pictures of the Dave Tesch frame; More photos can be seen here and here.

Thanks also to Bryan Graham for the pictures of the Dave Moulton John Howard.

Friday
Aug312007

A tale of two early Fuso bikes



The Fuso frame was introduced in 1984; they were numbered in sequence as they were built starting with 001.

The number one Fuso is owned by a former bike store owner in San Luis Obispo, CA. A year ago I heard about number 10, and just this week I received two emails from the owners of numbers 20 and 32.

Number 20

Paul Matrisian wrote a brief but interesting history. The "2 Wheel Transit Authority" decal on the left chainstay tells me the bike was originally sold in Huntington Beach, California. This was a huge bike store, (Housed in a former bowling alley.) that is no longer in business. They sold a lot of Fuso bikes throughout the 1980s.

Somehow the bike made it’s way to Salt Lake City, UT where Paul picked up the story when a friend of his bought the bike for $100 in 1993. Later the Fuso’s owner moved to Nashville, TN where he used it to commute to school.

He later bought a mountain bike and the two bikes were kept locked to a front porch railing at night. One evening in 2002 the mountain bike was stolen but the Fuso was ignored. Soon after this Paul wanted to try his hand at triathlons but didn’t own a bike. His friend having no further use for the Fuso gave Paul the bike.

Paul hooked up with some local bike enthusiasts who were able to help him in choosing and fitting some new components. Some new Shimano Ultega stuff, along with a new stem, pedals, and some new rims. In his email Paul said:

“I have had the opportunity to trade rides with people. All remark what a good ride this bike has. I must admit I like the feel of a steel bike over some of these newer bikes. I am very fortunate to own this bike. The condition of this bike after this many years, attests to the quality of the craftsmanship in its construction. I have included a picture of 'us' entering the transition area in my last triathlon.” (Picture by www.brightroom.com)

Looking at these pictures, I notice the decals are slightly faded, probably due to the bike being left out in the elements. However, the red paint looks a bright as the day it left my shop.

Red paint is usually one of the worst colors for fading; did you ever see and old red car that has not faded to orange? I always used a candy-apple red over a bright orange (almost florescent) base coat on the Fuso frames. What you see is this bright base coat shining through the candy-apple top coat. Time has proved it doesn’t fade; auto makers take note.

I also think it is great that this bike has allowed Paul to participate in a sport at reasonable cost. Thank you Paul for sharing your story.

Number 32. (Pictured above.)

Compared to number 20, this one has led a sheltered existence. Stephen Jaffe emailed me to say he is the original owner. He bought and rode the bike throughout the 1980s, then later quit riding. However, he kept and stored the bike. He is pleased that he did, because he recently started riding again. He has replaced the pedals and saddle, but everything else is original. He said, “The bike is just as enjoyable as it was twenty years ago.”


I think it interesting that two people would contact me in the same week with two totally different stories about two very early production Fuso frames. They were both built within two weeks of each other. I went on to build close to 3,000 of them by the time I retired in 1993.

Footnote: The other number stamped on the bottom bracket shell (57 and 56 respectively.) is the frame size in centemeters measured from the center of the BB to the top of the seat lug. All my frames were measured this way. Subtract 2 cm. for the center to center measurement.

Tuesday
Aug282007

Bill Walton's Bike

Here is a rare and unique frame that was tucked away somewhere in the far reaches of my memory bank, the hard drive of my mind, if you will. It recently came to the forefront when I discovered these old photos.

No, there is nothing wrong with your eyes, and those wheels are standard 27”. (700c) It is just a very large frame. I can’t remember exactly what size it is, but it was built for seven foot basket ball player Bill Walton.

It was the end of 1980 and I had just arrived at Ted Kirkbride’s frameshop in San Marcos, CA to build the Masi frames. Ted had just got this order for a custom built bike for the San Diego Clippers star player.

The frame was a joint effort, I did the main brazing, then handed it over to Ted Kirkbride to finish. The frame was painted by Masi’s painter Jim Allen. Bill Walton did not want any maker’s name on the frame, but instead had a custom “Grateful Dead” decoration painted directly on the head tube.

Bill Walton was, and still is an ardent “Dead Head.” San Diego artist Dan Thoner did the hand painting on the frame.

So what kind of frame is Bill Walton’s? It is a Ted Kirkbride as he took the order, designed the frame, did much of the work and sold the frame. However, as Ted never put a frame out with his own name on it, (As far as I know.) The nameless frame arrangement suited both buyer and seller on this occasion.

I don’t lay claim to the frame, but only write about it here because it is a part of my history, and probably the biggest frame I ever worked on.

Ted Kirkbride owned the frameshop were the Masi frames were produced in the early 1980s. He later bought the company. Most of the frames he built were custom and special order Masi frames.

I wonder if Bill Walton still has this bike, and if so does he still ride it? I would imagine the demand for used bikes to fit a seven-foot bike rider would be pretty small.


Footnote: Dan Thoner who did the fine art work on this frame is the same artist who later did the design work for my Fuso logo; working from rough sketches of my idea.