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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.

Friday
Aug242007

Kubler and Koblet

Ferdi Kubler (Left.) and Hugo Koblet, two more cycling heroes from my youth.

It just doesn’t seem right to mention one without the other. Maybe because they were both from Zurich, Switzerland, maybe because they both have last names that have six letters and begin with the letter “K.” For whatever reason, to write about them separately somehow seems like breaking up a set.

In 1950 Hugo Koblet became the first non-Italian to win the Giro d’Italia; that same year Ferdinand Kubler was the first Swiss to win the Tour de France. The following year, 1951 Koblet would win the Tour de France, and Kubler the World Championship Road Race.

They were both true all round riders; at home on the track riding a pursuit race or a six-day event. They could ride alone against the clock in a time trial, and both were excellent climbers. Kubler could also out-sprint the best of his day.

Physically you could not find two people that were more unalike. Koblet (Pictured left.) had the good looks of a movie star, and would often sit up in the last kilometer of a race, and comb his hair. He would sometimes do this on a hard climb, as a psychological ploy to demoralize the other riders. He earned the nickname of "Pédaleur de Charme" for his beautiful smooth pedaling style. 

Kubler on the other hand had rugged, hollow cheeked features, and a huge nose. And, if Hugo Koblet looked pretty on a bike, Ferdi Kubler often looked like some demonic hunch-back when pictured in full flight.

Kubler (Below.) had more wins throughout his career, but Koblet often won in great style; for example on his way to his 1951 Tour win. It was Stage 11, the stage before the Pyrenees and the Alps. On such a stage, everyone would typically take things easy, saving themselves for the days that followed.

Koblet probably knew this was the way everyone would think, so he did the opposite. Some thirty or more kilometers from the start, in sweltering heat, he attacked on a small climb, followed only by French rider Louis Deprez.



The other contenders that year all chose to ignore this seemingly irrational move. After a few kilometers Deprez must have felt the same way and he dropped back to the peleton, leaving the Swiss rider on his own.

However, when Koblet’s lead increased to four minutes with seventy kilometers to go, the peloton woke up and began to chase back in earnest. Now, all the big guns were at the front; Bartali, Bobet, Coppi, Geminiani, Magni, Ockers, Robic, adding their weight to the chase but still could not make an impression on Koblet’s lead.



After riding one hundred and forty kilometers alone, (87 miles.) Hugo Koblet (Above.) reached the finish in the town of Agen. His face showed no stress at holding off the entire peloton. Koblet crossed the finishing line, then calmly dismounted and started a stopwatch to see what advantage he has gained over the rest of the field.

Two minutes and thirty-five seconds later the rest of the peloton crossed the line exhausted and astonished by Koblet’s great escape. With the best riders of that era, working together, and chasing hard, they had only managed to pull back less than a minute and a half on the flying Swiss rider.

Koblet gained the utmost respect of the World’s leading riders and French Press that day. Writing for the Parisien Libere, Jacques Grello coined the phrase "Pédaleur de Charme." A name that will stick with Koblet for all time.


Kubler and Koblet (Left.) always spoke highly of each other, and showed a mutual respect. They sometimes rode on the same team, most times they were rivals. However, they never declared it.

Hugo Koblet died tragically in a car crash in 1964, aged 39.

Ferdinand Kubler, a fitness fanatic throughout his life, is still living, and at aged 88 years is the oldest living Tour de France winner.

Thursday
Aug232007

This looks fishy


“A man needs a woman like a bicycle needs a fish.”


This picture by Scott London was spotted over on Velorution.

Bike from Wal-Mart.....$200
Custom made fish.......$15,000

Finding a lake with a slope, so you can go water skiing...Priceless

Tuesday
Aug212007

John Boyd Dunlop


When John Boyd Dunlop invented his pneumatic bicycle tire in 1888 it was a tubular tire.

It had a rubber inner tube stitched inside a canvas outer casing, and glued to the rim, in the same fashion as a modern tubular tire.

Contrary to common belief, John Dunlop was not the inventor of the pneumatic tire. This was Robert William Thomson of Edinburgh, Scotland. At the age of twenty-four he was granted Patent No. 10996 on 10th June, 1846.

Thomson was compelled to carry out his experiments on heavy horse drawn vehicles lacking, as he did in the 1840’s the all important aid of the bicycle. Circumstances forced him to resort to leather for his treads and to build up the tire by hand. His tires were not wholly or readily detachable.

Robert Thompson’s tire never caught on due to the fact that the market was, at that time, so limited. It was expensive to produce, and with the only form of wheeled transport being horse drawn vehicles, it was not commercially viable.

Dunlop’s improvement on the idea, on the other hand, came at a perfect time. With the invention of the safety bicycle, and followed in the next decade by motorized vehicles with pneumatic tires.

Even so, Dunlop’s idea was not immediately accepted. People scoffed at his invention and called him “Pudding Wheels.” It appears however; the proof of the pudding in this case, was in the riding. When people started winning bicycle races on the new tires, his critics were permanently silenced.

John Boyd Dunlop like Thompson was also Scottish by birth. Born in Dreghorn, Ayrshire, in 1840; he studied in Edinburgh and migrated to Ireland in his early twenties. He was a qualified veterinary surgeon.

John Dunlop’s idea was financed by Harvey du Cros, a paper merchant, and prominent Irish business man. A small company was formed in Dublin, Ireland to manufacture the tires. This was the start of The Dunlop Rubber Company that still exists today.

In the years that followed there were more developments:

1890 C. K . Welch invented the wired attachment and well-base rim. (The clincher tire.)
1891 C. H . Woods, a cotton spinner, invented a perfect little valve. This took the place of Dunlop’s patent valve, which did not permit of deflation.
1893 F. Westwood invented cycle rims with tubular edges.
1893 C. K. Welch produced his cord casing system for pneumatic tires and the well-base motor rim.

John Boyd Dunlop died in 1921. Although he did not invent the first pneumatic tire, he was the first to produce a practical product. He introduced the word “Pneumatic” (As applied to tires.) into the English language. He never made a lot of money from his idea during his lifetime, but revolutionized not only the bicycle, but also every other form of transport on Earth.

The next time you pump your tires up; think of the bewhiskered old gentleman pictured at the beginning of this piece.

My source was: The Evolution of the Bicycle, by Tom Norton.
Picture from: VirtualScotland.co.uk
,

Friday
Aug172007

Position is all about comfort and efficiency

The above picture illustrates a riding position that is suited to someone like me. A body that is no longer as young and supple as it used to be, still wanting a position that is comfortable but aimed towards performance.

Back about 45 degrees allows me to look ahead without straining my neck. Handlebars low in relation to my saddle means that my weight is distributed between my arms and my seat. Arms not stretched, but relaxed and slightly bent.

Try not to view the saddle on a road bike as a seat, but rather as somewhere to park your butt while riding. This is why road saddles are often narrow, hard, and with very little padding. If you want to sit on a bicycle saddle, then you need to be sitting upright, and your saddle needs to be wide, soft, and possibly with some springs under it.

In this position you will never get past riding at a leisurely pace. If this is your goal then this is fine, but if you want some serious exercise, to ride a distance at a reasonable pace, or you have aspirations to race then you need to be leaning forward for three reasons.

1.) Aerodynamics
2.) Weight distribution
3.) Power transfer from your arms to your legs

Aerodynamics:
If you are racing this is important. With hands on the drops, arms bent, in a low tuck position, the back should be horizontal making the smallest possible frontal profile. To achieve this a rider needs to be top physical condition, usually young in years and very supple.

If you are less than top physical condition, you are never going to achieve or maintain a position like this. If you are not racing, aerodynamics is less important, but a rider still needs to be leaning forward for reasons of comfort and efficiency.

Weight distribution:
Weight should be distributed between the arms and your butt resting on the saddle. If you have too much weight on the saddle your butt is going to be sore. Too much weight on the hands and you will get numbness in the fingers. It is a matter of experimenting to find what works for you.

I hate to see a rider pushing on their arms to sit upright. With the arms stretched straight, muscles in the shoulders and at the back of the neck are constantly under tension. Road shocks are going straight up the arms to pound on these muscles.

Learn to relax and lean on your arms. Arms slightly bent, they will act as shock absorbers. Constantly moving the hands from gripping the brake hoods, to resting on the bars just above the hoods, will relieve pressure on the palms of the hands. Padded gloves help also.

Power transfer from the arms to the legs:
This is probably the most important factor because it affects not only efficiency, but also comfort in avoiding back pain. Imagine rowing a boat (one with a fixed seat.); your legs and feet hold your body in place and your arms and back provide the power to the oars.

Riding a bicycle is the exact opposite; your arms and back muscles hold your body in place, while your legs and feet provide the power. The power transfer is basically the same; arms and legs need to be in opposition to each other.

Imagine rowing a boat, sitting as you would on a dining room chair, with your lower leg vertical and your arms pulling horizontally. The strain would be on your lower back and you would soon experience severe backache.

When carrying a heavy weight, you hold it close to your body. If you carried it at arms length, the strain once again, would be on your lower back.

Often, not having the desire or ability to adopt a low racing position, the remedy often chosen is to raise the handlebars to bring them close to level with the saddle. Often a rider will opt for a larger frame to achieve this end.

Once again, if your goals are riding at a leisurely pace, this is okay. However, the problem with a larger frame is, it also has a longer top tube. Arms become stretched out horizontally, while legs are thrusting downwards, the result can sometimes be lower back pain.

Raising the handlebars seems obvious, but there is another way to achieve a less severe position. Leave the handlebars low, and shorten the reach; this was the option I chose.

When I started riding again last year after a long lay off, I soon realized due to limitations of my aging body, I could no longer ride in the same position I had used previously. I actually went to a one-centimeter smaller frame, which had a top tube that was a half-centimeter shorter. I then swapped my 11cm. stem for a 9cm.

Because of the smaller frame, my handlebars are actually one centimeter lower, but my reach is 2.5 cm. (1 inch.) shorter. The result is not only a more relaxed position, but one that is efficient and has good weight distribution.

One clue that my position is right; when climbing while seated I am rock solid in the saddle. One sure sign that you are too stretched out, is when you make a maximum effort, you slide forward on the saddle as your body tries to take up its natural position closer to your hands.

Another advantage of staying low but going shorter, if your fitness level and suppleness improves, you can simply lengthen your stem to achieve a lower aerodynamic position. Leaning more forward has the effect of lengthening your body, so you can use a longer stem and still have your arms opposing your legs.

Footnote: Unless you have specific problems with your position, I suggest you stick with what you have become used to. Always go by the old, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” adage.