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Monday
Mar172008

1970s Time-Trial Bike

Fag paper clearances. (British slang for cigarette paper.) Meaning the rear wheel was so close to the seat tube that you could barely get a cigarette paper between the tire and the frame tube. See the picture above.

This was an extreme fashion fad in the UK during the mid 1970s especially on time trial bikes. It served no useful purpose except to make the chainstays shorter thereby saving a little weight, and making the rear triangle a little stiffer. The frames were usually built using vertical rear dropouts to achieve the close clearance.

When fads like this become fashion a framebuilder can do little but follow the latest trend, or loose business; I was no different. However, I did not follow the extremes of some framebuilders who built these frames with clearances so close you had to deflate the rear tire to get the wheel in and out. This bordered on the ridiculous.

Some built frames with extremely steep head angles so the front wheel barely cleared the down tube. This was a part of the trend I refused to follow, as it made for some very “squirrelly” bikes. The last thing a rider needs is a squirrelly time trial bike; a TT bike needs to hold a straight line.

I remember one frame (not one of mine.) brought to me for repair. The down tube and top tube were bent. My first question was, “What did you hit?” The owner replied, “Nothing, I slowed to take a corner, and the frame collapsed under me.”

When I inspected the frame the first thing I noticed was a black rubber tire mark under the down tube right where the tube folded. It became clear to me what had happened. The front wheel was so close to the down tube that when the rider applied the front brake there was enough flex that the front wheel touched the down tube.

Maybe his headset was a little loose, whatever the cause, once the front wheel touched it would have stopped the bike very quickly and the forward momentum folded the frame. I replaced the top and down tubes, making sure to make the head angle a little shallower, making for a little more front wheel clearance.

The bike pictured at the top was one I built for John Patston, an international class rider who represented Great Britain on their national team. In the above picture, John Patston is leading, followed by Paul Carbutt, and Pete Hall. (All on ‘dave moulton’ frames.)

The forth rider Grant Thomas is obscured behind Patston. This was the British Team riding in the 1975 World Championship 100 km. Team Time Trial event.

John Patston was primarily a road rider, very strong and aggressive, often riding away from the opposition to win solo. If others stayed with him, he would usually win the finishing sprint. He was also an excellent time trialist.

I received a great deal of publicity from this particular bike. It featured in the British “Cycling” magazine. (Affectionately known by cyclists throughout the UK, as “The Comic.”)

I can’t remember whether the bike was built in Columbus or Reynolds tubing, but the complete bike built up with Campagnolo titanium components, weighed in a 19 lbs. Pretty light for 1977 when this was built.

The bike was also featured in “The Penguin Book of the Bicycle” published in 1978. (Left.) The same photo shown at the top was used for the title page as the book was opened. (See below.)

My name was airbrushed from the picture, as were the spokes from the wheels to make room for the title text. However the same picture appeared again later in the book, this time with my name intact.

The frame was painted black and had gold pin striping on the edges of the lugs. It also had John’s initials “JP” painted in gold on the seatstay caps. Cycling magazine drew an interesting parallel to this, one that I had not realized when I chose that particular color scheme.

The British tobacco giant “John Player,” also with initials JP, sponsored a Grand Prix racing team at that time. The cars built by Lotus were painted black with gold lettering.


My thanks to Lance Woodman for reminding me of this bike.

Wednesday
Mar122008

Awareness Test

London Transport is a huge government agency that runs all public transport in the City of London. The Underground (Subway) system and those familiar red double-decker buses are London Transport.

They also view bicycles as a genuine form of transport, and have put out this wonderful video. View the whole thing, including the intro; it is quite short.

Turn your sound on and DO THE TEST

My thanks to the Maltese Falcon for bringing this to my attention.

Monday
Mar102008

Fixing fixed wheel terminology

Buffalo Bill writing on Moving Target about an article in the British Guardian/Observer newspaper on the Fixie craze.

Bill was ticked at the journalist writing the piece because she referred to the bikes as “fixed gear” when the correct term for the UK should be “fixed wheel.”

I agree, this is a British journalist writing in a British newspaper for a British audience; she should have used British terminology. Anyway, fixed wheel should be the correct term anywhere; it is a “fixed” wheel as opposed to a “free” wheel.

These bikes are described as having “no gears,” then are called “fixed gear.” As I see it, fixed wheel is the more logical term.

I have been guilty in the past of using the “fixed gear” term. In my defense, I can only plead that living in America for the last 29 years, using American terminology comes as second nature to me. Often if I don’t use American English no one knows WTF I am talking about.

If Bill is offended by the term “fixed gear,” let me say it drives me nuts that the fixie crowd refer to toe clips as “cages.” The reason we have all this strange terminology is that people don’t know the correct term, so they make something up.

These are cages.


These are toe clips.

That’s why we have clipless pedals. Pedals without toe clips; like sugarless gum is gum without the sugar. Don’t ask me why you “clip in” to clipless pedals because you’ll get me even more confused.

I’m already confused because some refer to the part of the pedal where the toe clip bolts on to as the “cage.” However, whenever I have seen “cages” come up on the various forums, they are defiantly talking about the shiny bits that go around your toes.

I see subjects like: "My cages hit my front wheel." Answer: Don’t carry yer budgie on the handlebars. (US translation: A budgie is a parakeet.)

The writer of the Guardian article seemed to think the fixie craze was started by West Indian immigrants in New York City in the 1980s. That is a new one to me; I hadn’t heard that one before. If this trend did start in NYC in the 1980s, why did it take over 25 years to go mainstream?

To set the record straight, the fixed wheel craze started the moment the first bicycle was built. The first bicycles had a fixed wheel, often with no brakes or minimum braking; the freewheel and efficient braking were invented later.

Fixed wheel bikes have always been ridden and enjoyed by bike enthusiasts. Ideal for commuting and riding in heavy traffic, or riding in close quarters with other riders. The rider has more control over the bike and can speed up or slow down at will.

Now the trend or current craze is “Riding a fixed wheel bike for no reason other than it is trendy to do so.” Just because everyone else is doing it.

Going brakeless is also a trend, and not necessarily a good one. Having a front brake will not impair your cycling pleasure, or performance one iota; you don’t have to use it. However, in an emergency, you may just be glad it is there.

I think the whole brakeless thing started because bike messengers were riding track bikes that were built with no provision for brakes. Bike messengers probably felt they were experienced enough not to need a brake. They could be right; they are professionals riding a bike all day, every day for a living.

Trendy or not, riding a bike with no alternative means of stopping is not right for everyone. It doesn’t mean that anyone can jump on a brakeless fixed wheel bike with little or no experience, and ride safely in today’s traffic.

You can always spot the inexperienced rider on the track; (Although often these are experienced road riders.) in an emergency, the first they do is stop pedaling and reach for the brakes that aren’t there.

While they are getting over the surprise that the pedals keep on turning, they plow into the rider who has fallen in front of them. Whereas the experienced track rider will instinctively steer around the obstruction.

Anyway, to sum it all up as I see it; it doesn’t matter that people are getting into this trend for all the wrong reasons. For a few, cycling will get into their blood and they will continue in some form or other long after this trend has passed.

Just as many who took up mountain biking in that craze during the late 1980s, early 1990s, and later switched to road bikes. Many are the hardcore, bike enthusiasts of today.

If nothing else, they will experience first hand what it is like to ride a bicycle in traffic. Maybe as adults they will become better car drivers because of it; at least drivers who are tolerant towards other people riding bicycles.

Thursday
Mar062008

The London Commuter


There has been a trend in the last few months in that my blog gets consistently more and more hits from Great Britain.

For every thousand hits from the US I get roughly a third of that number from the UK on any given day.

Considering the US has five times the population (Over 300 million compared to 60 million.) I find this both satisfying and surprising.

I am left to wonder are there more cyclists per-capita in Britain? My Stat Counter lists the number of hits from different cities around the world; London is consistently number one.

Therein I think lies a clue; I keep reading how more and more Londoners have switched to the bicycle as their mode of transport to and from work each day. With gas prices around $7 a gallon, plus a fee to drive into the city.

At what point does a person start riding a bicycle out of necessity, then become a bicycle enthusiast to the extent of seeking information on the Internet?

I think of my father who never owned a car, or even learned how to drive; a bicycle was his sole means of transport. It got him to work each day, and to the pub in the evening or weekends. However, he was never a bicycle enthusiast.

Growing up in the 1940s and 1950s I never saw him read anything about bicycles, or talk about them. He never looked at, or showed any interest in my lightweight bike, or asked to ride it.

His bikes were always old and rusty, probably from the 1920s or 1930s. He would lubricate and maintain his bike; buy new tires and brake blocks, and occasionally a new chain.

He never had a new bike, or took it to a bike shop for repair. If something was seriously wrong he would ask around the neighborhood or people he worked with, and someone would give him a bike, or he would buy another, equally as old and rusty for very little money.

He never locked his bike, and I don’t remember him having one stolen; why steal a bike when it had little value and you could get one for free?

He was born in 1910, so all his life it was the norm for a working man to ride a bicycle. Like a man blind from birth, who does not know darkness because he has never experienced light; my father never experienced joy from riding a bicycle or became an enthusiast, because he had experienced nothing else.

Now we have several generations who have never ridden a bicycle past their childhood; never rode to school or to work, and owned a car from the moment they were old enough to drive.

Some forced to ride a bike through economic reasons, or because they can no longer take the congestion or the expense and the frustration of finding a place to park. Public transport also becomes an expense and hassle.

Some start cycling out of necessity and in doing so experience the joy and the freedom of riding a bike. Like the blind man who can see for the first time. Not everyone will experience this; some go back to their cars and public transport.

I started cycling out of necessity and rode my bike to school and later to work. I may have followed in my father’s tire tracks, but I discovered the beauty of the racing bicycle; I wanted to own one and ride one. That is how I became an enthusiast, the bicycle and riding it became a passion.

Only a minority get into the sport this way; I remember out of all my friends at school, only one shared my enthusiasm and got a lightweight bike the same time as I did, but even he did not continue and soon lost interest.

I think this is how most cyclists in the US get into the sport; first, it is the attraction of the equipment, the bike itself, then riding it becomes a passion. Some drop out; some never get past the ownership stage, and actually riding the bike is secondary.

I can’t see any widespread trend of people being forced out of necessity to ride a bike to work in the US anytime soon; except maybe in some of the larger cities. The UK is far more populated than the US, and London especially.

One fifth of America’s population but the whole of Great Britain is an area about the size of California, and with roads never designed to handle the volume of today’s traffic.

Here’s to the British cyclist and in particular the London commuter; may your numbers increase so that motorized traffic may decrease, and may the bicycle continue to give you joy. Lastly, I hope more and more of you find your way here to my blog.


Pictures from BikeForAll.net

Monday
Mar032008

Taping Handlebars

Re-taping handlebars is one of those jobs that most cyclists have done many times. However, there has to be those out there doing it for the first time, and handlebar tape for some strange reason, is usually sold in a packet with no instructions what so ever.

It is as if a cyclist is supposed to be born with some divine instinct on how to apply new tape to handlebars. So for the uninitiated here is a pictorial step by step of how I do it.

On opening the package there is sometimes a short piece of tape with an adhesive strip on the back.

The very first thing you do is roll back the rubber hood on the brake lever and stick this short piece if tape on the back of the handlebars, over the clip holding your brake lever in place. (Above.)

If there is no such piece in the package, you will need to cut a piece about 3 inches long (8 cm.) and attach it with some double-stick Scotch Tape. You could use regular Scotch Tape or even masking tape on the outside as a temporary measure to hold it in place.

Without this short piece of tape in place to start with, you will have an ugly gap in the tape as you go around the brake lever.

Start taping from the bottom end of the handlebars. If the tape is the non-sticky type, I use double stick tape to hold the tape in place while I pull it tightly around the bars. Again, you could use regular Scotch or masking tape, as this would be hidden after the first turn of the tape.

Some people put the end of the tape inside the bars and push the end plug in to hold it in place. I find this doesn’t work so well with the thick padded tape I am using.

It doesn’t matter which direction you wind the tape, however, in the interest of looking uniform you should go clockwise one side and counter-clockwise the other.

Stretch the tape tightly as you go. You will notice I have about two-thirds of the tape showing and one third overlapping. Be careful that you don’t leave gaps as you go around the bend.

On the last turn under the brake lever, the tape should fit snugly in the corner. If it doesn’t, unwind a few turns and rewind so you achieve this. With thin tape you can go around an extra turn, but if you do this with the thick padded tape, you will have an unsightly bulge.

Bring the tape up and over the brake lever.

Again, making sure it fits snugly in the top corner.

Bring the tape down, then up again and continue taping above the brake lever.

When you reach the center ferrule, check back to make sure there are no gaps anywhere before you cut the tape to length. Cut the tape so the end is on the underside of the bars. Once again, I have used a piece of double-stick tape as a temporary measure to hold it in place.

Roll the rubber brake lever hood back in place and the finished job should look something like this.

Finally I finished of with some black electricians tape. Some consider this slightly “tacky,” but it does stretch well and can be made to look neat. Also, it comes in many colors so it doesn’t have to be black.

For me this is a temporary measure anyway, as I plan to cord whip later. I wrote about cord whipping in a previous article here.

Also in previous articles are the answers to the unrelated questions that will most likely come up.

Why is my front brake lever on the right? And why do I have wooden beads on my front brake cable?

Feel free to comment with your own little tips on taping handlebars.