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Monday
Feb252008

Back in the (Brooks) saddle again


When I started cycling in the early 1950s, all bicycle saddles were leather. Cheap bikes had cheap leather saddles, and the best bikes had a Brooks leather saddle.

Top professional riders worldwide rode on a Brooks. The standard road race saddle was the B17 model. The number two saddle in the world was the French Ideale Company; however, a Brooks saddle would always outlast and keep its shape longer than an Ideale.

Then sometime in the late 1960s, early 1970s plastic saddles started to appear. Much lighter and never losing their shape, plastic soon became the standard racing saddle.

I can never understand why Brooks did not produce a plastic saddle, they had the high end market pretty much sewn up, and people would have stuck with the brand name.

Anyway, they decided to continue with what they did best. It is a tribute to the quality of their product that the company has survived to this day, when all others including Ideale went under.

I decided to try a Brooks saddle again, remembering just how comfortable they were. It seems to me that race saddles get increasingly skimpier as the years go by, as bikes get lighter and lighter.

I decided on the Brooks “Professional” model. You can pay as much as $150, and at this price you get a full money back guarantee; you can return it if you find you don’t like it. This is nice, but I found a brand new one on eBay at a “Buy it now” price of $104.

I noticed that good used Professional saddles were going for around $85 or $90, so I figured I may as well save money initially and should I decide this saddle is not for me, I would only be a few dollars out of pocket if I resold it used on eBay.

My saddle arrived on Saturday and the first thing I noticed when I took it out of the box was the weight. If you are a weight-weenie you will not want a Brooks saddle. You could spring for a titanium-framed model if you are willing to shell out an extra $200.

Weight has never been an issue with me. Back in the 1950s most components were steel and a race bike weighed at least 26 lb. cycling was just as much pleasure back then as it is today. Weight saving may contribute to speed, but to the leisure cyclist the only difference it will make is mainly to your bank account.

If you are riding the latest in carbon fiber then a Brooks saddle would look as out of place as a silver hood ornament on a Lamborghini. However, on vintage steel like mine, a Brooks saddle if anything is an enhancement.

The first thing I did with my saddle was to wrap the outside in aluminum foil, set it upside down, and poured oil inside. I then let it sit overnight an allowed the oil to soak in.

Neatsfoot oil is what is commonly used, but I couldn’t find any and so bought some mink oil at a boot store. Mink oil is another natural leather softener and preservative and works just as well.

I did not apply oil to the top of the saddle as this makes such a mess of the clothing. If anything, I would use a clear shoe cream on the top side. The oil soaks in better from the unfinished underside, and adds protection if water from the road should spray up underneath.

In England, I rode and raced in the rain many times, and my Brooks saddle would get soaked. I found if it was kept well oiled and was allowed to dry out naturally, it came to no harm. No more harm than a good pair of leather boots or shoes would come to on getting wet.

On Sunday I fitted my new saddle and went out for a 40 mile ride. The Professional model is 16 cm. wide; the B17 is 17 cm. wide. Comparing this to my Concor saddle that I was previously using at 14 cm.

I was aware that I was sitting on something pretty darn hard, but there was no discomfort. It seemed the padding in my shorts, and the pair of tights I was wearing over these was enough of a cushion to prevent any soreness.

To me the Brooks saddle seems to be the ideal shape. Wide at the back and fairly flat to support the sit bones, then rapidly narrowing down so there is nothing chafing the inside of the legs.

The Concor saddle was also curved on top, putting pressure on the softer perineum tissue. Previously on a ride, every 10 or 15 miles I would have to reach down in my shorts and re-arrange the family jewels. I did not have to do this once on my Sunday ride.

So first impressions are good; It seems I will get through the break in period of 200 miles or so with very little suffering and discomfort. I will keep you posted on my later impressions.

Thursday
Feb212008

The strange things people do


Between 1982 and 1986 I built 216 custom ‘dave moulton’ frames; the frame numbers were registered in a book that I still have. I built a few more between 1986 and 1993 when I retired from framebuilding, but so few that I didn’t even record the numbers.

A custom frame I consider to be one that the order preceded the frame, unlike the Fuso for example that was built in standard sizes and kept in stock. It has the name ‘dave moulton’ on the down tube in lower case letters. The way either bike rides or handles is identical.

The exception to this was one of the custom models I built called a “Criterium” frame. It had slightly steeper angles and was designed to be ridden fast and hard, and handle quickly. Out of 216 custom frames, there were only 36 Criteriums.

I have been tracking eBay sales of my bikes for over two years since November 2005. During this period there have only been two custom ‘dave moulton’ frames come up for sale.

Many of these frames are still owned by the original owners who will not part with them, so the chances of finding one is slim. There is even less chance of finding one in your size.

It is not for me to decide if a frame is a valuable collectable or not, that is something that occurs when there are more people wanting to buy a frame than there are frames available for sale.

However, I don’t feel I am being over presumptuous if I say the custom ‘dave moulton’ has the potential to be a collectable in the future. These frames will last 50 or 60 years and beyond, and will still be around long after I am gone.

One of the 36 custom criterium frames was sold on eBay last evening; it went for $455. I have seen Fuso frames sell for more than that. The reason the price was low the previous owner had repainted the frame and added the name ‘Bushnelli’ (A personal nick-name.) to it.

This was no rattle-can paint job done out of ignorance, this was a paint job done by Joe Bell, who happens to be one of the best painters in the business. This previous owner spent a great deal of money in order to devalue a frame.

It is devalued because if the frame is ever to have any value in the future, it will have to be stripped of this otherwise beautiful paint job and repainted as it originally was. And of course this is going to be an expense for the new owner.

My custom frames were unique in that from 1982 on, my name was engraved in the bottom bracket shell, and my “four m’s” logo engraved in the fork crown. There is no doubt this frame was built by me. The serial number matches the one in my record book. O836, means it was built in October of 1983 and was the 6th custom frame built that month.

There are two schools of thought on the subject of “collectable” frames. One is that a person owning anything is free to do as he wishes with that object. The other is that collectors are merely “caretakers” preserving something for future generations. The latter is the one that I support.

If a frame has the original paint in good condition, leave it that way. Because eventually most frames will be repainted, and original paint will make it more valuable. In the case of my custom frames, they were not only built by me, but also painted by me.

If you have a frame from the 1970s without braze-ons, don’t add braze-ons. And if you have a frame from the 1980s with braze-ons, don’t cut them off to convert to a fixie. If a frame is rusting and the paint is shot, then you have no alternative but to repaint. However, repaint as close to original as possible.

Don’t powder coat. This type of finish, while durable, is (with exceptions.) usually cheap and nasty, and is a pain to strip and repaint in the future. So keep this in mind if you are bidding for a frame that has been powder coated.

Incidentally, I am working with a company to reproduce decals for all model frames I built. The reason this is taking time, is that there are several different models, Custom, Fuso, John Howard, and Recherché. This involves a considerable capital investment from me, and the possibility it will take me a while to recoup this.

I hope to have these available later this year, so bear with me if you are waiting, and watch this blog for an announcement when the time comes.

Monday
Feb182008

The Happiest Place on Earth


Did anyone catch “60 Minutes” on TV last night? They did a piece on Denmark having the “Happiest People in the World.”

This is according to research by Adrian White, analytic social psychologist at the University of Leicester in England.

Happiness is not walking around with a large smile on your face, but rather contentment with the quality of life. It seems the Danes do not smile a lot and are rather a reserved bunch.

They do ride bikes a lot, and that is part of the contentment. Being content with riding a bicycle to work each day, instead of jamming up the streets of their tiny country with automobiles, and spending large amounts of money on gas.

It seems that once an individual has a home, food, and clothing, extra money does not make them any happier. It appears what people want is good health care, and free education.

Out of the 177 countries listed, here is the top ten:

1. Denmark
2. Switzerland
3. Austria
4. Iceland
5. Bahamas
6. Finland
7. Sweden
8. Bhutan
9. Brunei Darussalam
10. Canada

The Netherlands were they also ride bikes a lot, came in 15th; a lot better than the USA at 23, and Australia at 26. The UK came in at 41 and France at 62.

I found it interesting that one of those interviewed on 60 Minutes, said it helped that Denmark was not a world power. I can see that, the government spending money on its own people instead of helping out the rest of the world.

This also made me wonder about the UK and France, both world powers back in history. Are they spending money trying to live up to a former image?

The Danes work a 37 hour week, take six weeks vacation a year, so it seems leisure time is more important to them than extra cash. In spite of having some of the highest taxes anywhere and a not too good a climate the people of Denmark are content with their lot.

It appears that extreme capitalism does not bring people happiness, neither does extreme socialism. Former communist Russia came in at 167. The answer lies somewhere in between.

So what can we do as individuals to make the quality of our lives better? We can hardly change our country, when the majority mind set is one of materialism. Bigger and better homes and cars, etc. And we can’t all move to Denmark, I get the impression they’re pretty crowded already.

We can however, if we choose, opt out of the rat-race. Work less, earn less, and spend less on material stuff. Far be it for me to say what an individual should or should not do, this is just some food for thought.

Thursday
Feb142008

Framebuilding FAQs

I received two emails last week with questions on framebuilding. I don't have the time to go into lengthy instructions on how to build a frame, however, I thought I would post my answers here, that way others might find it useful.

I am hoping other readers will find it interesting to know some of the aspects of putting a frame together.

One question was, "Where do I start, do I need to build a jig?" A jig is simply a fixture to hold the tubes in place during assembly, it speeds production if you are building a number of frames all the same.

The frame is not brazed in a jig, for several reasons. The jig would suck up all the heat and take it away from the area you are trying to braze. The jig would obstruct access to all parts of the joint. Metal expands as it is heated and contracts as it cools, if the tubes are firmly clamped in a jig all manner of distortion will take place, and misalignment and built in stresses will be the end result.

The picture that permanently heads this blog is of me tack brazing a frame in a jig. I am heating and brazing tiny spots, just enough to hold the tubes in place. Then the frame is removed from the jig, checked for alignment and held in a vise, with a wooden block around a tube to prevent damage. As the frame is fully brazed the tubes are free to expand and contract as they will.

Jigs only came into wide use in the 1960s, prior to that most framebuilders assembled and pinned the frame together by drilling a small hole through the lug and tube, and inserting a short piece of wire or small nail. The frame was then usually hearth brazed; that is a hearth of hot coals, or one made of fire bricks with the heat applied with a hand held torch. (Picture left.)

With hearth brazing there is less distortion because the whole joint is heated uniformly. For example, the whole bottom bracket shell, seat and down tubes, and in some cases, the chainstays are all brazed at the same time.

The drawback with hearth brazing is that you heat the tubes several inches away from the joint and thereby anneal or soften the tubes. The method I used was to braze with a hand held torch that had a smaller but more intense flame. Working quickly, I could pin-point the heat on the lug only heating the tube barely a quarter of an inch (6mm.) from the lug. This way the tubes retained more of their inbuilt strength, resulting in a stiffer more responsive frame.

On the downside this method causes more distortion. However, by always following the same procedure and sequence, I got to know which way the frame would distort. I would start off with the frame out of alignment, so it would end up in alignment after it was brazed.

When the lug and tube are initially heated they are two separate pieces of metal so not much distortion takes place because the two can move independent of each other. Once you flow brass into the joint the two become one. As the metal cools it contracts and the metal shortens in length so it will pull in that direction. If I begin brazing at the back or center of the lug; there is little or no tube movement at this point because the whole is a triangle holding itself in place.

Then moving clockwise to the left, as the left side cools it will pull to the left; it is still moving to the left as I work my way around to the right. It will move a considerable amount because the right side is not yet brazed and the tube is free to move. By the time I get to the right side and joint is finished; as it cools it will pull back slightly to the right, but not as much because the left side has already cooled and is solid.

So you can see that the tube needs to be slightly offset to the right to compensate. I cannot tell you by how much because it depends on the speed of the operator and the amount of heat used.

As for brazing the rear triangle. I would finish and clean up the main triangle, then assemble the rear triangle separately, by brazing rear dropouts into chainstays, and next the seatstays to the rear dropouts. Then cut to length and braze the top caps to the seatstays. After clean up, I would then braze the rear triangle to the main triangle.

The same alignment problems exist for the rear triangle. If I tack braze the right side first, it is already contracting as it cools and the wheel center is moving to the left. (Viewed from the rear.) Now when I braze the opposite left side one would suppose that it would then contract as it cools and the wheel center back to center, but this is not the case. Because when I tack braze the right side, the left side is preheated so brazing the second side takes less time, and the left side contracts at a lesser rate.

Again the wheel center has to be set slightly to the right to compensate. When the initial tack has been made and allowed to cool; if the wheel center is off, the tack can be reheated to a dull red. This is not enough to melt the tack, but the brass becomes plastic at this temperature and can be moved in the desired direction to bring it into alignment. Bearing in mind that it will again contract on cooling so it is again necessary to over compensate. Once alignment is correct the seatstay caps can be fully brazed to the seat lug and the rear triangle will stay aligned because each side will expand and contract back to its original position.

I did not pin my frames, I assembled and tacked them in the jig and my brazing method did not allow the tube to move, because part of the brazing was cooling as I moved around the joint. It is only necessary to pin if you have no jig, or if you are going to heat the joint completely in a hearth and the tube might move as a result.

I also used my jig as a design tool; I could set up the jig to see if a design was feasible before I even started cutting tubes to length. Today you can do the same thing on a computer, making a jig unnecessary if you only plan to build one frame. It might be a good idea to do a full size drawing on a sheet of plywood or sheetrock, or at least a chalk outline on the floor so you can lay the frame on it for reference as you progress.

Some of the old time framebuilders used to braze the head tube to the down tube first using the bottom head lug. By measuring the angle with a protractor and ensuring this was correct to the drawing, everything else would fall into place.

Pinning the frame alone will only ensure that the tubes do not slip in or out of the lugs, the whole assembly will flop around like a jointed wooden puppet. You will need to braze each pin in place, in other words tack it. Then you can check for alignment, and the tubes will move on the pin and tack and stay where you place them. This brings me to the second question I was asked.

Why pin in the center of the frame? Could a pin be placed in the side of a bottom bracket for example. I have already explained if you tack on one side the tube will move in that direction as it cools. You would have a hard time realigning the frame as it would always have a tendency to move towards the original tack. Pinned and tacked in the center, you can move the tube either way to align it.

How about a pin on the right side of the bottom bracket to hold the tube as you braze the left side? Not a good idea. As the left side cools it will still pull to the left, and the pin will now be under stress. As soon as you apply heat to finish brazing, the bottom bracket shell will crack.

Should you use brass of silver? I always used brass, as did most European builders. Brass is easier to use, it melts when the metal is orange-red. If you go beyond to yellow you are too hot. Heat is controlled by constantly moving the torch. Even if you use silver, you will still need brass to braze the dropouts into the chainstays, etc, as silver is no use for filling large gaps.

A question I know will be asked. Why do I have a small hammer in my right hand along with the brazing torch? (Top picture.) If there is a small gap in the lug as I braze, I switch the torch to my left hand and keep the heat applied as I tap down the edge if the lug with the hammer. Then switch back and continue brazing.

There is a previous article I wrote on simple frame repairs, replacing tubes in a damaged frame is a good way to practice and learn framebuilding skills. I also mentioned some frame design software here.

Monday
Feb112008

Friends


Hollywood celebrities Courteney Cox (Left.) and Jennifer Aniston (Right.) stars of TV sitcom “Friends,” are it appears, real life friends.

When Jennifer mentioned she would like to take up cycling, Courteney rushed out and bought her a $12,000 Chanel Bike.

Steve, AKA the Maltese Falcon, a regular reader and commenter on this blog, sent me a link to the story.

At first I thought this is one of those nothing, no-news stories, then I thought why not have some fun with this. I imagined the conversation the day after the sale, between the Chanel store that sold the bike, and Chanel’s corporate office.

The conversation would go something like this.....

“Hello, is this Chanel Corporate Purchasing? This is Tyrone Schoulaces, manager of the Chanel Store, on Rodeo Drive. We need to order another Chanel bicycle.”

CORPORATE PURCHASING: What do mean another one, there is no other one, that bicycle is one of a kind. We’re talking about the $12,000 bicycle, right?

TS: Yes we sold it and we need another one. Courteney Cox came in a bought it for her friend Jennifer Aniston.

CP: You did what. You weren’t supposed to sell it, that is why it was $12,000. We figured the type of people who can afford $12,000, do not ride bicycles.

TS: I don’t understand, it was in my store with a price ticket on it, so I naturally thought it was for sale.

CP: No darling, we are in the fashion, perfume, and bag business, not the bicycle business; what are you going to do if they bring it back with a flat tire, or the brakes need adjusting?

TS: So why offer a bike?

CP: It was a publicity ploy. We announced at the end of last year we had a bicycle for $12,000. Then we took a bicycle you could buy at any bike store for what? $600 tops. Stick an already overpriced Chanel bag on the back, say another $300, and there you have it a $12,000 bicycle. Vogue and all the other fashion magazines just lapped it up.

TS: I remember reading that, Vogue said was $6,000.

CP: That’s when we realized someone might actually buy it, so we doubled the price. Of course it never occurred to me that some celebrity would want to show off and buy it as a gift for another celebrity. We should have tripled the price.

TS: So what’s the problem? Just get another bike.

CP. It’s not that easy; that bike came all the way from Holland, or Nederland, or some other ‘behind the times’ place were they haven’t discovered the internal combustion engine, and people ride bikes all the time. Actually, the bike was made in China, shipped to Holland, then here.

TS: So that bike had been three-quarters of the way around the world.

CP: Exactly, and now it will be lucky if it goes three-quarters of the way around Beverley Hills.

TS: I thought all these Hollywood types were going “green.” You know, global warming and all that.

CP: Oh yes, they support it, and talk about it, but let's face it, they are still going to drive their Hummers and Limos. In fact all the hot air coming out of Hollywood about global warming, is actually contributing to global warming.

TS: So what are we going to do about the bicycle? There’s a large void, in my window where it used to be.

CP: Okay darling, here’s what you do; you get it back. It wouldn’t surprise me if Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston chipped in six grand apiece, and cooked this whole thing up as a publicity ruse themselves.

TS: Do you really think they would do that?

CP: Of course, what with Courteney not working much, and Jennifer’s break-up with Brad being ‘old news,’ they are probably trying to drum up some residuals from TV re-runs of “Friends.”

TS: I wondered about that. What kind of a person spends $12,000 on a gift for a friend, then blabs to the media about how much she’s spent. So how do I get it back?

CP: You contact Courteney Cox and offer to buy it back. If it is a publicity stunt, she’ll jump at it. If Jennifer really wants to take up cycling, buy her a decent bike from any LA bike store, and ask if you can borrow the Chanel bike for display until the end of the year. Offer Courteney and Jennifer a year’s supply of bags and perfume.

TS: But why do you only need the bike until the end of the year?

CP: Because by that time bikes will be so last year, and we’ll think of some other bull-shit idea to get millions of dollars worth free publicity.

TS: I’ll take care of it.

CP: Thanks, chow darling.