Dave Moulton

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Monday
Aug112008

My Brooks Saddle: Butchered but not Blocked

My Brooks leather saddle now has over 1,600 miles on it and is extremely comfortable. When it was new, it was hard, like sitting on a wooden bench.

Even so, it was comfortable and there was no soreness after riding. I was just aware that I was sitting on something pretty hard. It probably took about 200 or 300 miles before the hardness wore off. Now when I ride, I am not even thinking about my butt on the saddle.

Having decided to keep it, I cut the back and the nose off, which is what we used to do back when leather saddles were the only saddle to ride, during the 1950s and before. We usually rode a B17 Standard, and had to hacksaw off the bag loops.

There are no bag loops on the Professional model, which I have, so it was an easy matter to take a sharp knife and slice the rear overhanging leather flush with the metal cantle. The cantle is the curved metal piece that is the back part of the frame where the leather top is riveted.

Blocking was the other practice when leather saddles were the norm; cutting the back off was a prerequisite to this, and was probably how it got started. A wooden block was cut on a band saw, with a concave curve. The shape of the metal cantle was then altered by turning the saddle over, and hammering it into the concave block.

The most popular hammer for the job was a Thor Hammer,  which has a copper face on one side and a rawhide face on the other. Great care was needed in doing this as it was easy to get the cantle and the frame bent unevenly, resulting in a lop-sided saddle that was difficult to correct.

I don’t recommend this practice. One of the reasons a Brooks saddle is so comfortable is because the back part is wide and fairly flat. This means it supports the two sit bones that are part of the pelvic bone, (Left.) leaving the softer tissue that is the perineum clear of the saddle.

Once the saddle is broken in, the leather conforms to the shape of the pelvis, giving even more support and comfort.

The problem with many modern road saddles is that they are narrow and curved in shape and the sit bones come outside the saddle. The result is the pressure is on the soft perineum tissue. A super fit racing cyclist is riding hard most of the time, and much of his weight is on the pedals and handlebars.

However, for someone like me who rides at a more leisurely pace these days a wider, flatter saddle suits me fine. The other benefit of a Brooks saddle is that leather breathes, so it stays cooler in the summer heat; whereas, a plastic or gel-filled saddle holds the heat.

Cutting the back off my saddle is really a style thing, so unless you are a vintage poser, like me, it is not necessary. However, my spare tubular tire does fit better now. I carry one tire and CO2 pump and a spare cartridge, wrapped tightly in a piece of plastic, and secured under the saddle by a toe-strap.

You will notice in the top picture that nowhere is the tire touching the saddle or seat post. This is good because it is easy for a tire to chafe and rub through against a metal part.

One complaint I have with the Brooks is that it is longer than it needs to be, and as I ride a small frame, I find the nose of the saddle touches the back of my legs when I am climbing out of the saddle. By cutting the nose part off, I shortened it slightly.

The other suggestion I would offer Brooks, is that they re-design the frame to give it more rearward adjustment. Back in the day, frames had much shallower seat angles, but frames that are more modern are steeper.

The tools I used are shown above. A sharp knife, I recommend one with a stiff blade, as it is easier to keep the cut straight; I also have a diamond knife sharpener to keep the edge sharp. I used a woodworking file or rasp to even out the leather where needed. Also shown in the picture is the strip of leather that I cut off, with the Brooks nametag still in place.

I did this with the saddle mounted to the bike, as this is as good a way as any to hold the saddle firm. Please be aware as I was, that if the knife were to slip, it would, A.) Cut my other hand or some other part of my body; or B.) It would put a large gouge in the paint on the frame. I managed to avoid both by being aware, and careful.

My feelings are now the saddle is broken in, I will never go back to a plastic saddle. This is just me, a Brooks is not right for everyone, so if you decide to try one make sure you are going to keep it before you butcher it as I did.

If you want to see what the saddle looked like before I modified it, go to my previous post when the saddle was brand new.

More information on "Blocking and Butchering," on the Classic Lightweights UK site.

Thursday
Aug072008

The Quest to be the Fastest Cyclist in the World

The picture above is from 1937. It shows Frenchman Albert Marquet setting a motor paced speed record of 85.3 mph. (139.9 kph.) Drafting behind a Cord car that has been rigged with box like structure behind the rear bumper.

A crude fairing made of fabric appears to be tucked into the rear doors; also note the extended exhaust pipe. The event took place in Los Angeles, California; I guess traffic was a lot lighter in 1937.

The quest to be the fastest cyclist in the world began in 1899 when Charles M. Murphy rode his bike behind a train on the Long Island Railroad, at Farmingdale. He covered a measured mile in 57.8 seconds (60 mph.) and from that day became famous Nationwide, known as “Mile a Minute Murphy.”

To achieve this feat, approximately three miles of wooden boards were laid between the railroad tracks to give Murphy a smooth surface to ride on. He was hauled aboard the pace coach by helpers, just before the track ran out, his feet still strapped to the pedals of his bike.

The next picture (Above.) shows Alf Letourner behind his pace car. On May 18th, 1941. Once more in California, near Bakersfield. Letourner set a new bicycle speed record of 108.92 mph. Note the size of his chainring, so large it almost touches the ground.

Forward to July 20th, 1985 when John Howard set a new motor paced bicycle record of 152.2 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats, in Utah. This is the same John Howard who was on the US Olympic team, won the Ironman Triathlon in 1980, and marketed a line of bicycle frames I built under his name in 1983.

Unlike the previous riders mentioned here who, with the exception of the massive required gearing, rode pretty standard track bikes.  John however, rode a purpose built machine, built by Texas framebuilder, Skip Hujsak.

As I remember, John had this bike made for a previous attempt on this record, before 1983 when I first met him. He brought this bike to my shop sometime that year. It had a very long wheelbase for stability, the most noticeable feature was the two stage gearing.

The chainwheel mounted on the left side drove a sprocket on a counter-shaft behind the saddle and above the rear wheel. A chainring on the opposite side drove the rear wheel sprocket. The wheels were, I think, were some high performance BMX wheels, probably the strongest available at the time.

John also wore some serious safety gear, a full length, one piece, leather suit and a motorcycle helmet with a face shield. Unlike the previous record breakers shown here. Apart from a helmet, no other safety gear was used; they wore regular cycling clothes. They would have picked up some very nasty road-rash had they fallen at those speeds.

There were many more sucessful record breakers over the years, I have only touched briefly on four of them.

The first two historical photos are from the wonderful collection by Aldo Ross, you can view larger versions of the pictures here and here.

There is also a short video of John Howard's record breaking ride on YouTube.

Addendum Aug 11th, 2008

A commenter pointed out the current record holder Fred Rompelburg, who in 1995 reached a speed of 166.944 mph. (268 kph.) on the Bonneville Salt Flats. I was out of the bike business by 1995 and completely out of touch, which is why I didn't know this. The bike was built by the late Dave Tesch.


 

Sunday
Aug032008

Cleaning up the Critical Mess

Before I wrote last Thursday’s post about Critical Mass, I knew it would not be popular, and thought about it long and hard.

I could write posts saying all cyclists are saints, all cops are bastards, and all motorists are morons. A large majority of readers would cheer, saying halleluiah and amen Brother Dave. The blogosphere is full of such posts.

However, would it make anyone think, or try to see the other side’s point of view? If I start tailoring my posts to try to please everyone, in the end I will please no one. Least of all please myself.

Not everyone was critical, and some realize my aim is to get past this “Them and us” attitude; try to see the other man’s viewpoint. We all have to coexist using the same roads, taking the stance that we have a right to be here, and you can go fuck yourself, serves no useful purpose.

Many have said Critical Mass is not a protest but a celebration of cycling. Why then do you celebrate during rush hour on a Friday evening, why not on a weekend?

Is cycling less fun on the weekend? I believe the real fun comes from the sense of power, brought about by causing the maximum disruption to the lives of other people. Sticking it to the motorist.

Probably the single most point I was criticized on in last Thursday’s post, was the fact that I chose not to come down hard on the New York cop who pushed the cyclist from his bike.

Those of us, who have reached a certain age, remember how things were, which in a way trivializes what is happening today.

As a young man in the 1950s, I was waiting on a London street for a girl friend; we were going to the movies. A police officer came along and told me to move. When I protested and told him I was waiting for my date, he punched me in the face.

Fast forward to last Thursday when I viewed the video of the NY cop pushing the guy from his bike, I simply saw it as a cop doing what cops do. My thoughts were “Big deal, I got punched in the face just for standing on the street.” I never said it was right, or said I supported with what he did.

If I was that bike rider I probably would have slowed down and waited until the cop had crossed the street, rather than try to ride past him. Like dealing with a mad dog, the sensible thing to do is stay clear and don’t make eye contact.

Times change, but the memories stay. Some readers may, and others may not remember the civil rights movement and the Vietnam Protests of the 1960s and 1970s. There is plenty of footage on U-Tube, like this one from Chicago, in 1968.

After viewing this, don’t you think people who were actually there in 1968, would look at the NY bike incident, and like me say, “At least the cop didn’t beat the guy with his Billy Club.”

Some may ask what does this have to do with Critical Mass? It has everything to do with it. Because of people like these protesters back in the 1960s, who faced severe police brutality, they paved the way for people to even hold an event like Critical Mass. I am telling you for sure, Critical Mass would never have been tolerated in 1968.

Freedom is not a God given right; there is nothing “given” about it. It was fought for, worked for, and earned; not only in foreign wars, but on streets of US cities like Chicago. Freedom is a delicate balance, and there are trade offs.

There was a time when people could leave their doors unlocked, and there was no need to lock your car or your bike when you parked it. We no longer have that freedom, that is, if we value our property. Crime increases because individual freedoms are for everybody, good and bad, and the police are not supposed to discriminate.

Criminals abuse these freedoms to further their own ends. While I am not going so far as to say Critical Mass participants are criminals, I would question whether they are abusing their freedom, and doing so at the expense of another’s freedom.

Like an individual’s freedom to get home from work on a Friday evening instead of sitting in traffic while a bunch of cyclists, exercise their right to have fun.

Freedom is often taken for granted, along with sliced bread and air-conditioning. Those of us who have lived without these luxuries, see events and freedom from a different viewpoint.


Thursday
Jul312008

Critical Mass: Stop now before someone dies

There were two serious Critical Mass incidents last Friday evening; one in New York, and one in Seattle. In New York City a cop was video-recorded knocking a cyclist from his bike, later the video appeared on U-Tube.

The incident in Seattle, I think is far more serious, but it has been overshadowed by the one in New York. I wasn't in Seattle so I don't know the details or who started it, but the facts appear to be that a car had its windows smashed, tires were slashed and the driver was attacked.

If someone runs over a cyclist by either by accident or deliberately, he can be prevented from leaving the scene until the police arrive. However, it is not okay to vandalize his car and hit him over the head with a U-lock; this is mob violence of the worst kind.

Critical Mass in the US needs to cease, it no longer serves any useful purpose. If there are more incidents like the one in Seattle, eventually someone is going to die. If a member of the public is beaten to death by a mob of angry cyclists, there will be a backlash against all cyclists, the like of which I find hard to even imagine.

There are enough people out there with a strong dislike even a hatred for cyclists, one that is bubbling just beneath the surface; the death of what would be perceived as an innocent citizen, and no cyclist would be safe anywhere in the US. It would be open season for bike riders on our roads.

The problem with Critical Mass is that it has no organization; it is a spontaneous form of protest. The danger is, with no one responsible for the behavior of individuals, violence can become just as spontaneous.

If no one is responsible, then everyone is responsible. It is time to protest against Critical Mass, to urge people not to participate. The idea has run its course and is no longer valid. It is no longer cool to be a part of a lawless mob that disrupts the normal way of life, pisses people off, and worst of all perpetrates violence.

I could maybe have a little more sympathy for the New York cyclist if he was not taking part in a Critical Mass ride, not my favorite organization. (Or rather disorganization.) I could also have a little more sympathy if it were not for the Seattle incident.

What I saw on the U-Tube video before the cyclist was taken down was a large group of cyclists taking up the entire street unnecessarily; they could have made the same point using half the street. What I saw after was no different from what I can see any evening on the TV program “Cops.”  People suspected of wrongdoing are knocked down and handcuffed all the time.

I keep reading wonderful things about New York City and the efforts they are making to accommodate cyclists. I am left to wonder what are these people protesting against, when NYC is really trying to improve the cyclist's lot.

Do you think maybe that same thought was going through the cop’s mind, just before he took out the cyclist?

 

Monday
Jul282008

You only know if you’ve been there, and done that

An Article in the LA Times last Friday by Joel Stein, titled "Taking all the fun out of Cycling.” Subtitled “Why would you watch the Tour de France without the doped-up athletes?

It is satire, even though labeled "Opinion." Good satire, is so subtle that you don’t recognize it as such until you read the whole piece. The result was that many cycling fans got bent out of shape, and probably after reading half of the article, sent off angry comments.

I saw the article for what it was, however, I did pick up on this single sentence in the first paragraph where Stein said:

I've been following cycling since 1994 and have learned to appreciate the subtleties of team strategy, drafting, counterattacks and a 20-cyclist crash down a mountainside.

I doubt that. Joel Stein like many journalists probably doesn’t have an inkling what it takes to even compete in the Tour de France, let alone win. To know that you have to at least be a cyclist, and one that can ride a road bike at a certain level.

That would be, one who has reached at minimum a level fitness and expertise to ride in a pace line, following a wheel within a few inches. A person can read, or listen to experts commenting on the Tour de France, who will tell you how drafting behind someone you are using 15% less energy than the leading rider.

Sounds easy, but only those who have been in such a pace line with riders who are fitter, and far stronger than they are, really know just how difficult and physically painful this can be. To appreciate what an extreme endurance sport bicycle racing is, it has to be experienced at some level.

In the late 1960s I held a Category 1 Racing License in the UK. There were three categories at that time, and to become a Category 1, a rider had to win or place in a certain number of races, and maintain that level. Early in 1968, I went to France with two other riders from my club to compete in a weekend two-stage race.

This was my first and only trip to race on the Continent of Europe. It was both a revelation, and a humbling experience. One that quickly made me realize how far superior the racing cyclists were on the Continent at that time.

Saturday’s stage was a 100 km. event (62 miles.) held on a circuit barely five miles around. In England road race fields were limited to forty riders. (Sixty in some larger events.) In this event in France there were 120 riders riding on narrow country lanes barely 12 feet wide. This experience alone was overwhelming.

The pace was extremely fast right from the start; I kept expecting things to settle down after a short while, but the pace never relented. I found myself near the back of the peloton, and had enough experience to know this was not a good place to be.

With so many riders on roads this narrow there were very few gaps for a rider to squeeze through to move forward. It was a matter of, seeing an opening, sprint through, and then wait for the next opening. All this while riding at a pace that was only slightly less than my maximum speed.

It took me two complete laps of the circuit, about ten miles riding at maximum effort, just to get from the back to the front of the field. Once there I found one of my team members who told me the field had split, and about 30 or 40 riders were somewhere out in front and already out of sight on this twisting narrow circuit.

By this time I was so exhausted it was all I could do to maintain my position and finish the race. The next day’s stage was a 185 km. (115 miles.) road race over hilly terrain; I was determined to do better than the day before.

There was a break early on in the race, and I decided not to chase. The problem was I did not know the course or the other riders; I had no way of knowing if the break was significant or not. However, after about two thirds of the distance covered, when a chasing group of eight riders formed, I followed.

I think I rode harder that day than I had ever ridden in my entire cycling career, but I was out classed in every way. I finally blew up completely, was dropped, swallowed up by the peloton, now moving at a pace similar to the previous day’s event.

Like a dose of salts, I went through the bunch and out the back. Struggling along on my own just trying to finish, came the final humiliation. I was caught by a rider with a flat rear tubular tire, going bumpedy-bumpedy-bump along the road.

I worked with him for a while, but when we came to a significant climb, he rode away from me. Yes, with a flat tire. I realized that weekend, the only way to compete at this level, was to move to France and race and train with these riders on a regular basis. This was not an option for me as I was married with two small children.

I never went back to ride there again, there was no point. I was in my early thirties probably at the highest level of fitness I would attain. These were French amateur riders, holding down day jobs, and training in their spare time. I found it difficult comprehend the level of the European Professional Riders.

When I read something by a Los Angeles journalist who has probably never ridden a road bike say, “I understand the nuances of bicycle racing,” I have to say, “I’m sorry but you only think you know what cycle racing at the Tour de France level is all about.”

I have been trying to think of another sport that calls for maximum effort over and over during the course of a day's riding. Then the riders rise the following morning to do it again, and again for about four weeks. This is the Tour de France; there is no other endurance event like it.