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Clear prescription lenses for my Rudy Project glasses

You may remember earlier this year when I wrote about my new sunglasses that I ordered from SportRX, a company in San Diego that specialize in prescription sports eyewear.

I was able to choose from a selection of cycling specific glasses.

I settled for a pair of Rudy Project Horus frames, and when these Italian made glasses arrived I noticed that the lenses were mounted in separate individual frames around each lens.

The main eyewear frame is then flexible enough that these eye-pieces clip in place, making it easy to change lenses for different occasions. (Picture left.)

The silver coated “Win-win” sunglass lenses served me well through this last summer and autumn, when here in South Carolina most days come with extremely bright sunshine. However, winter is closing in, and although temperatures are still good for riding, days are often overcast and cloudy.

Also I sometimes ride early morning when it is still dark. I realized it was time to order a spare pair of clear (No tint.) prescription lenses. I got back in touch with SportRX. They still had my prescription on file, so it was a simple matter of shooting them an email, and my new lenses arrived in a little over a week.

I went with the progressive no-line bi-focal lenses, the same as I did for the sunglasses. I find the distance vision and close up/reading bi-focal set up is not a problem when riding, and it saves having to carry separate reading glasses, should I need to fix a flat or actually read something. You never know.

The thing I like about this interchangeable lens set up is that there is no need to carry a separate pair of glasses. The curved style of these type of glasses, means they fit great on your face, but don't fold flat and so are bulky when in a case. The hard-shell case that came with my original sunglass order is quite large, it measures 6.5 x 3.5 x 2.5 inches. (165 x 90 x 65mm.) Takes up a lot of pocket space.

Often on longer weekend rides, I start out when it is dark or cloudy, then the sun comes out later. The glasses are always on my face while riding, all I need to carry is the spare lenses that fit in a little soft bag they came in. It has two separate pockets inside the bag so the lenses are not rubbing together.

This then fits in a small hard plastic case that is actually a traveling soap case, but is the perfect size to fit in my jersey pocket. (Picture right.)

The thing I love about both the tinted and clear lenses is the size and shape, and the way they fit close to the face.

When I look up, down, or sideways, I don’t see the frames. I have clear all-round vision. This includes my normal riding position, head down, looking up.

I have always been a believer in having the right clothing and equipment for my riding comfort, safety and pleasure. I can’t believe I went so long before getting cycling specific eye-wear. It is one of those things you don’t notice the benefit until you try it.

Then after using the sunglasses through the summer, and I had to go back to my regular glasses when the weather turned cloudy, I soon realized it was time to order some clear lenses for the Rudy Project frames. I’m glad I did.


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The Bicycle: Evolution or Intelligent Design. Part III


This is the final part of a three part series. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you read Part I, and Part II first.

The slump in bicycle sales that lasted through the 1960s, ended during the 1970s spurred on by a bicycle boom in the United States. In America people were realizing that exercise was an important part of a healthy lifestyle. In Europe those who had given up on cycling in the late 1950s, were coming back to the sport after the initial love affair with the motor car had subdued.

If you remember from part one of this series, the standard racing frame of the early 1950s had a 71 degree seat angle, and 73 head angle. If you also remember that 2 degree difference, with the seat tube leaning back slightly from the head angle, benefited the framebuilder because when building larger (Taller.) frames, the top tube automatically became longer.

This old framebuilding design philosophy had not been forgotten among the older established framebuilders that had been around for years. However, no one was prepared to go back to 71 degree seat angles, so 73 seat, 75 head angle became the new norm.

The sales pitch made for this steeper head angle trend was that it made the bike feel livelier when sprinting. It also made a bike that was squirrely and sometimes difficult to handle. The other gradual trend that had happened in the period from the 1950s through to the 1970s was that racing cyclists were riding smaller frames. Frame sizes had shrunk as much as 5cm. or 2 inches.

Smaller frames were lighter, and stiffer. Improvements to aluminum alloys meant that longer seat posts and handlebar stems could be used, and of course this was necessary when using a smaller frame.

I initially got into framebuilding trying to build a frame that suited me. I am short in stature, 5’ 6”, I found that even with a 73 degree seat angle, I still found myself sliding forward in the saddle when sprinting or anytime I was making maximum effort. I came to the conclusion that a body will always find a natural position for any physical task. One where it can perform at maximum efficiency.

When you teach a child to ride a bicycle, you teach them to balance, and that is about it. They are seldom taught how to ride out of the saddle, and yet once they have mastered the balance part, you will see them standing on the pedals when the going gets tough, or extra speed is needed. It is the human body finding the best way to do the job efficiently.

The Ordinary or High Wheeler bicycle, had a simple efficient riding position. Not aerodynamically of course, but in terms of getting power to the pedals, the arms worked in direct opposition the legs. Over the years that followed in an effort to get the rider’s back horizontal to be aerodynamically efficient, the handlebars were moved further and further forward without lowering them a significant amount, and without changing where the rider was sitting.

It wasn’t until the trend went to smaller frames, that handlebars could be placed lower in relation the saddle. Today saddle to handlebar height difference is probably greater than ever, and I believe the riding position of today’s racing cyclist is the most efficient it has ever been.

The only time I see a lot of sliding forward in the saddle is on time-trial bikes, where the arms are once again stretched forward in an effort to gain the most aerodynamic advantage. It would seem to me that the saddles on these bikes should go even further forward. Although UCI regulations might prevent that happening.

Incidentally, the leisure cyclist who has neither the ability or desire to ride in an extreme racing position, often set their bike up with the handlebars high and forward, when lower but closer (Shorter stem.) might be just as comfortable and a more efficient position.

Getting back to the steep head angle trend of the 1970s. It was just that, a trend that really served no useful purpose other than to make something different as the racing bicycle was reborn after a long slump. The other reason was old established framebuilders clinging to this notion that, “The seat angle must be shallower than the head angle.” Because that is the way it has always been.

I never followed that trend though the 1970s. In fact I went the exact opposite, staying with the 73 head angle on most road frames, and on small frames especially, I made the seat tube steeper than the head angle. My customers in the UK were exclusively racing cyclists, and rarely questioned the geometry, all they cared about was, “How did it ride?”

Evolution has been happening in the bicycle business since its invention, and is still happening. Look at what happened in the last thirty or so years. The Mountain Bike began with a handful of enthusiasts downhill racing on trails in Northern California. When it went mainstream in the late 1980s, it appealed to mainly young adults who had grown up riding BMX bikes in the 1970s.

When I built road frames in the 1980s, the technology was there that I could have built welded frames. However, racing frames were traditionally lugged steel, hand brazed. A welded road frame was not acceptable to my customers. Sloping top tubes also were not acceptable to me, or my customers.

The Mountain Bike was a different animal altogether, not bound by any framebuilding traditions of the last 100 years. The welded frame was accepted, and lent itself to mass production in aluminum as well as steel. The BMX bike had been a basically a “One size fits all,” frame. The mountain bike became available in Small, Medium, and Large sizes.

The old school framebuilders like myself disappeared and the corporations took over. It was not surprising when the road bike made a comeback it would look similar to the Mountain Bike and be available in S, M, and L sizes.

The level top tube started out as a point of reference for the frame builder, but it also became a point of reference for the customer. If a person always rode a 56cm. frame, he knew what a 56 frame would look like, and you couldn’t sell him a 54 with a longer seat post, and different stem.

By radically changing the look of the road frame, it left the door open for limited sizes to become acceptable. Once again something that suits the manufacturer, not necessarily the customer.

In the 1980s, even with my knowledge of bikes, I could not have sat down and designed a road bike like today's machine. Even if I did, would it have been accepted? It had to evolve, and that is the way it has always been.


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The Bicycle: Evolution or Intelligent Design. Part II

This is Part II of a three part series, If you haven’t already read Part I, you can read it here.

Soon after the chain driven bicycle was invented in 1885, a whole bicycle industry sprang up in Britain. Bicycles were mass produced, making them affordable for the working man. For the next 60 years the bicycle became the working man’s form of transport. And bicycle racing the working man’s sport.

Because Britain was the first to industrialize bicycle manufacture, certain standards were set, and the rest of the world followed. The half an inch pitch bicycle chain is a good example, it is still the standard today worldwide, even in countries that have always used the metric system of measurement.

Bicycle frame tubes were a standard 1 1/8 inch seat and down tubes, 1 inch top tube, 1 1/4 inch head tube. With the exception of the French who used metric size tubes, most of the rest of the world used the Standard English size tubes, even the Italians. And this would remain the standard, especially for lightweight racing frames for almost 100 years.

The horizontal, level top tube became standard. It was the framebuilder’s point of reference. All other angles were measured off the top tube, it was parallel to a line drawn though the wheel centers. (Assuming both wheel are the same size.)

Traditionally, lightweight frames were custom built, one at a time. My mentor, Pop Hodge, would assemble a frame, measure all the angles and tube lengths. Then lay it out on the brick floor of his shop. The top tube would line up with the edge of a row of bricks. There were marks scratched into the bricks where the Bottom Bracket should be, the same with the rear drop-outs, the bottom head lug, etc.

He would then drill a hole with a hand cranked drill, (He used no power tools.) and pin the tubes in the lugs with a penny nail. (A penny nail was a reference to its size.) When the whole frame was assembled, he would place it in a hearth of hot coals, (Again with a hand cranked blower.) Heat the whole joint to a light red heat, when he would feed in the brass, and braze the joint.

The first framebuilders were blacksmiths, and Pop Hodge had been building frames since 1907 built in that traditional way. He had a hand held torch that he used to add braze-ons and other small parts. It burned coal gas, from the town’s supply that was piped in to all homes and businesses for cooking and heating. The flame was boosted by foot operated air bellows.

The level top tube also had the advantage that once a person established what size frame suited them, any make of frame in that same size would fit. Even though seat angles, and top tube lengths may vary, it would only be slight and could be taken care of with a longer or shorter handlebar stem.

The main reason different makes of frames worked as long as the frame size was the same. When the saddle was set at the correct height, and the handlebars would then be automatically the correct height in relation to the top of the saddle. No one spoke of “Handlebar Drop,” it was an unnecessary measurement, as long as the top tube was level.

In the late 1950s and through the 1960s there was a huge social change taking place in the UK and the rest of Europe. Economies were booming, (Because of the WWII recovery.) and the working man was buying a car for the first time. My parents never owned or even learned to drive a car, but the younger generations were abandoning their bicycles and buying a car.

Even the racing cyclists, mostly owned one bike. They rode to work on it, which was a big part of their training. On the weekends, the fenders (Mudguards.) and saddle bag came off, racing wheels were fitted, and a time-trial was ridden.

For many cyclists, Time-Trialing in the UK in the 1950s and before was more a social event than a serious athletic event. Owning a car for the first time changed the whole social structure of the working man, and many gave up cycling completely.

The result was a huge slump in the bicycle business at all levels. Prices of lightweight frames remained stagnant for many years and framebuilders had to look to ways to cut costs. The ones who survived were the ones who moved away from building frames one at a time, and managed to produce large numbers of frames sold at a reasonable price. See top picture.

I mentioned in Part I of this series, that the standard racing frame geometry of that era was 71 degree seat angle, 73 head. To simplify the design the parallel frame was introduced, that is one where the head and seat angles are the same.

People were not ready to make a big jump from 71 to 73 degree seat angle, so a compromise was made and the 72 degree parallel frame was introduced. Advertised as a “Massed Start” or Road Racing Frame, the parallel frame had the advantage that a complete range of sizes could be made using only two, maybe three top tube lengths.

Simple jigs were used to assemble the frames, the same length top tube could be slid up or down between the parallel head and seat tubes, to build several different size frames. Maybe not the ideal set up, but it did cut the cost of building frames, and as I mentioned before the reach could be adjusted with a different length stem.

Tubes could be pre-mitered using the same angles, another time saver. By the mid-1960s the parallel frame concept was accepted by most people, and the 73 degree parallel became the norm. 73 was a better head angle, and riders soon found that the 73 degree seat was better too. Less tendency to slide forward on the saddle.

So once again here was a trend started by framebuilders because it suited them, but actually lead to a better riding bike. This series will have to run into a third part. Next I will touch on the steep head angle trend of the 1970s and how that came about, and then bring the story up to the present day.


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The Bicycle: Evolution or Intelligent design. Part I


The chain driven bicycle was invented almost 130 years ago. (Picture left, The Rover "Safety" Bicycle 1885.)

To the layman, or the untrained eye, this bicycle is basically the same as today’s bike.

But its geometry was directly influenced by its predecessor, the High-Wheeler. And that would influence frame design for the next 60 years. Indirectly it had an influence on what we ride today.

I have been riding bikes, racing bikes, designing and building bikes, and writing articles about bikes for 65 years, which is half of the period chain driven bikes have existed.

Albert “Pop” Hodge, who was my mentor, and first introduced me to the art of framebuilding, was born in 1877, and therefore witnessed firsthand the invention and early development of the bicycle. Pop Hodge was close to 80 years old when I first met him around 1953. (Picture below right.)

From what he told me, and what I have observed, back then and since, in the 130 years the bicycle has gone through a slow evolution.

During each phase, what happened previously affected the design of the next generation of bicycles.

The title of this piece has religious overtones, because like religion, much is spoken and written about the bicycle because “It is so.”

The center of the knee shall be over the pedal. But why? Because it is written. Wise men have deemed it is so.

When I started racing in 1952, we rode bikes with a seat angle of 70 or 71 degrees. We were taught that the shin of the lower leg, should be vertical. The center of the knee was actually behind the pedal. Wise men taught us that in order to pedal fast, and efficiently, one had to sit back.

In practice I soon found this was not so. When making a maximum effort, and pedaling at maximum revs, I found myself sliding forward on the saddle, which was uncomfortable, distracting, and had the effect of the saddle being much too low.

The term “Riding the Rivet,” is still used today to describe a cyclist making a maximum effort. The term was around when I began racing in the early 1950s when saddles were leather and actually had rivets to hold the leather to the saddle frame.

To understand why seat angles were so shallow back then, one has to go all the way back to the predecessor of the chain driven bicycle, to the “Ordinary” or Penny-Farthing bicycle. (Left,)

This was the first “Enthusiasts” bike. One had to be an enthusiast, as well a young, fit and agile athlete just to mount and ride one of these.

Today’s cyclist might think it a problem to make an emergency stop with their feet clipped in. Imagine making an emergency stop on a High-wheeler, and you are sitting over five feet above the ground. One had to dismount in a hurry, or fall over.

When the chain driven bike was invented in 1885 it was not immediately accepted by the enthusiast. These enthusiasts were the hard core “Roadies” of their day. The high-wheeler or Ordinary was still much faster. It wasn’t until pneumatic tires came into being in 1888 that the chain driven bike became faster and was accepted by the enthusiast.

These enthusiasts were the experts of the day, and what they learned riding the Ordinary influenced them and carried over to the chain driven bike. The Ordinary was limited by its simplicity, as to where the rider could sit, for example.

Imagine if your handlebars were directly above your bottom bracket. There would be no other choice but to sit some considerable distance back behind the pedals. When the first “Safety” or chain driven bike came into being, it was designed so the handle bars and the saddle were positioned in relation to the pedals exactly the same as its predecessor the High-wheeler. Making a seat angle of around 69 degrees. (See picture above.)

(Above.) Two different bicycles, but the exact same rider position. Note the rider's shin is vertical, a positioning "Guide" that would last another 60 years into the 1950s.

Below is a typical racing bike of the 1950s. Louison Bobet's 1954 Tour de France bike. Its shallow seat angle can be traced back to the High Wheeler of the 1800s.

A generation of “Experts” who had learned to pedal on the High-wheeler, then taught the next generation who became the following generation’s experts, and so on for the next 60 years and into the 1950s when I came along.

There was another factor that maintained this notion that seat angles shall be shallow, and an important one. This I would learn from framebuilder Pop Hodge. Frame lugs were heavy steel castings, and they were limited in the angles that were available.

It suited lug manufacturers to make their product in a limited number of angles. In later years thinner pressed steel lugs became available and it was then possible to alter an angle slightly. But not so prior to the 1950s.

73 degrees was established as an ideal head angle sometime in the 1920s or 1930s. This is still the norm today, and in the past when I have experimented with steeper or shallower head angles, I found no improvement.

Building frames with a head angle of 73 degrees, and a seat angle 2 or 3 degrees shallower, suited the framebuilder. With the head tube steeper and the seat tube leaning back away from that angle, as the framebuilder built a taller, or larger frame the top tube automatically became longer, which made the framebuilder’s job easier, and suited the taller rider.

This article is based on a talk I recently gave at the Philly Bike Expo, and will have to be written in two parts. In the next piece I will explain what happened after the 1950s. How the 73 degree paralell frame, still a popular design today, came about. The reason may surprise you. 

Two main factors determine frame design, throughout history and even to this day. Experts who simply re-cycle information that was written by previous generations of experts. And framebuilders and manufacturers doing what is easiest and most profitable for them.

Read Part II.


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The Silver State 508.

Regular readers of this blog will have no doubt noticed the ad in the right hand column of this blog, for the Silver State 508, some of you may have even clicked on it to find out more.

This tough ultra-marathon 508 mile bike race with a cut-off time of 48 hours, has been successfully run using four different courses for the last 31 years.

The race started in 1983 when it was first run on a 102 mile loop in the Hemet area, a little town in the Southern California desert, southeast of Los Angeles. Three years later the race moved to Arizona and was run on an out-and-home course from Tucson to Flagstaff and back.

In 1989 in search of safer and quieter roads, the event became the Furnace Creek 508, and was run for the next 24 years on a route from Santa Clarita, California, through Death Valley to Twenty Nine Palms. The race would still been there to this day had not a brand new Death Valley Park Superintendent taken over.

This new DV Parks Chief would soon put a stop to this nonsense of people running and riding bikes through Death Valley, someone might die. After all, it is called “Death” Valley…. Duh.

Actually, people died in the past because they were on foot and ran out of water. Cyclists and runners know to drink water, and have helpers to make sure they have a good supply. Don’t you just love these politicians who take over and decide we need to be protected from ourselves?

In spite of the organizers having the support of the California Highway Patrol, and the Death Valley, and Lone Pine Chambers of Commerce, and Congressman Paul Cook, their pleas to continue on this course fell on blindfolded ears.

And so the race became the Silver State 508, (A nice ring.) The Silver State being Nevada. This year’s race was moved to yet another classic America Frontier Region, and was held on the quiet Northern roads of that State.

Held this year on October 5 – 7, on an out-and-home course starting and finishing in Reno. The event drew 141 riders from 16 American States, plus Canada, Italy, Mexico, Philippines, Slovenia, and Switzerland. Next year, Adventure Corps, the organizers are hoping for an even bigger entry.

The 2015 event will be held 2 weeks earlier, September 19 - 21, it is hoped that some of the chilling desert night temperatures will be a little higher. The race is in the form of a time-trial.

If you have ever thought about trying one of these Ultra-Marathon events, Adventure Corps also puts on a 308 mile event, with a 24 hour qualifying time, held at the end of May. In fact for rookies, finishing the 308 is one if the best credentials to have for acceptance to ride the 508. They also have Century, and Double-Century Rides.

If the 24 hour and 48 hour qualifying times seem generous, bear in mind that both these events take in some serious mountain climbing. Some reaching over 7.000 feet. Check out the website it is interesting reading.


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