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Friday
May022008

The Paris Galibier Frame

In 1950 as a 14 year old, I attended Luton Technical School, some 30 miles north of London, England.

Adjacent to that school was a Technical College for older engineering students. Many of these students were racing cyclists and would leave their bikes in the bicycle rack in the school yard.

Lunch time would find me scrutinizing every fine detail of these bikes; it was the beginning of love affair with the bicycle that ultimately shaped my life, and lead to a career as a framebuilder.

One of the most unusual and eye-catching bikes was the Paris “Galibier” model. Paris was the brand name of London framebuilder, Harry “Spanner” Rensch. His last name sounded like Wrench, hence the nickname “Spanner.” During WWII Rensch was an oxy-acetylene welder in London’s shipyards.

Paris Cycles started during the war in 1943. Harry probably chose the name Paris rather than use his own German sounding name, because of obvious wartime anti-German feeling, especially after the London Blitz.

He used a “Bi-laminated” construction for his frames, that is a sleeve brazed over the ends of the tubes, and the actual joint then filet brazed. Referred to as “Bronze Welding” in the Paris literature.


Beside the Galibier model, Harry Rensch also built conventionally designed frames. The most popular of which was the “Tour de France” model. (Click on picture above for a larger image.)

Paris frames often sported very flashy paint jobs, especially for that time. I remember red, white, and blue fade paint for example. There was a large Eiffel Tower decal on the seat tube, and the Paris name was stenciled on the down tube.

Ever since the introduction of the Galibier, and to this day, many a fierce argument has been held over this style guru’s dream machine. Is it just a style gimmick or is there real merit in this design?

I never rode a Galibier, but I will say this, a bicycle frame twists as it is being ridden, about a line from the head tube to the rear dropout. So placing a single large tube along this line, (Or there abouts.) does have merit. The seat tube is also split to form an interesting cantilever design.

One thing cannot be denied is the superb craftsmanship of Harry Rensch. Like many artists before and since, Rensch was not a good businessman. Paris Cycles was always plagued with financial problems, and lasted just 10 years, closing their doors in 1953. Harry Rensch never returned to the bicycle business and died in 1984. The Galibier is his legacy.


In recent years Condor Cycles in London bought the rights to the Paris name and are reproducing the Galibier model. (Picture above.)


Pictures from Classic Lightweights, UK

Monday
Apr282008

Cyclists live longer

The chances of being killed on a bicycle are less than the odds of dying in an automobile.

Statistics actually confirm the statement is true; that is, with the exception of one. When comparing the fatality risk by miles traveled, every one million miles cycled, (1.6 Million Kilometers.) produces 0.039 cyclist fatalities, compared to 0.016 fatalities for motorists.

Both figures are very low but it would seem in this straight up, mile for mile comparison, that cyclists are more than twice as likely to die on a bicycle than in an automobile.

However, this statistic is flawed to the point that it can be ignored, for the simple reason it would take a cyclist riding slightly under 385 miles per week, 50 years to ride one million miles.

Most of us will never come close to that kind of cycling mileage; 500,000 miles in a lifetime would be very good. Compare this to driving, and we all know how relatively easy it is to put 100,000 miles on our car speedometer, two million miles in an automobile in a lifetime is not unreasonable.

When you consider the lower mileage covered in any given year, the chances of a bicycle fatality are greatly reduced. This is confirmed in another statistic that compares hours cycling with hours driving.

For every million hours spent cycling the fatality rate is 0.26, compared to 0.47 deaths per million driving hours. Therefore, driving a motor vehicle has nearly twice the risk of fatality as riding a bike for a given duration.

If you rode your bike non-stop for 114 years, which is one million hours, your chances of being killed on the road would be roughly 1 in 4. In that same period, your chances of dying of natural causes would be at least 99.999%.

Another statistic compares fatalities per million people. According to the US National Safety Council, for every million cyclists in the US, 16.5 die each year, whereas for every million motorists, 19.9 die each year.

How about the chances of dying as a result of injuries from a bicycle accident? One would suppose that crashing on a bicycle has a higher risk of death than crashing in a motor vehicle, but according to the NHTSA, bicycles compare rather well.

The odds of dying from a bicycle crash are 1 in 71. This compares to 1 in 75 for an SUV, truck or van, 1 in 108 for a car, 1 in 26 for a motorcycle, and 1 in 15 for a pedestrian.

In other words, the odds of dying in a bike crash are about the same as the odds of dying in an SUV crash. The false sense of security that comes from driving an SUV tends to produce far more dangerous driving behavior.

Many cyclists fear being hit from behind. This type of accident only accounts for slightly over 10% of all bicycle accidents, and half of these occur at night when the cyclist does not have lights.

In 90% of cases where a cyclist is hit from behind, injuries were minimal. In explaining the high death rate when pedestrians are hit. A pedestrian hit by a car doing 40 mph, the pedestrian is practically stationary, and the 40 mph impact is directly on the body.

Whereas, a cyclist traveling at 15 mph, hit by a car doing 40, the impact is 25 mph if hit from behind, and it is often not a direct hit on the body.

The most common accidents occur in front of you, and by defensive riding, many can be avoided. These are, vehicles coming towards you and turning in front of you. Vehicles pulling out from side roads and driveways in front of you. Drivers passing you then turning right in front of you (The right hook, or left hook in the UK.)

Statistics confirm that you can also reduce your risk of an accident if you don’t do the following: Don’t ride on the sidewalk and suddenly appear in front of motorists at intersections, especially if you are going the wrong way.

The same goes for riding the wrong way on a one-way street. Motorists are looking one way and not expecting traffic from the other direction. Don’t ride at night without lights or reflectors is another obvious one that will greatly reduce your risk of an accident.

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of some of these statistics, and individuals must draw their own conclusions. For example, in a risks per million hours of an activity comparison, scuba diving is 7 times more dangerous than cycling; however, a person is likely to spend far more hours cycling per year than scuba diving. How do you compare the two?

However, I think the figures are generally positive for cyclists. You can get out and ride your bike knowing the odds of survival are in your favor, and if you ride smart, your odds are even greater. Here is another one.

According to a study by the British Medical Association, the average gain in "life years" through improved fitness from cycling exceeds the average loss in “life years” through cycling fatalities by a factor of 20 to 1.

So you see, cyclists really do live longer.


Further Reading

Adult Bicyclists in the United States
Bicycle Almanac
Comparative Risk of Different Activities
Cycle Safely (RTH)
General Background on Bicycle Risks
Ken Kifer's Bike Pages: The Risk of Bicycle Use
Toronto Bicycle/Motor-Vehicle Collision Study (2003)

Friday
Apr252008

What to wear


The picture above is from 1952; the year I started racing and riding seriously. The photo taken at a British Hill Climb; typically an end of season event taking place around October when temperatures were falling slightly.

Notice what the spectators are wearing; regular everyday clothes. (Click on the picture for a larger image.) These cyclists probably rode a considerable distance to the event; the only special equipment is the cycling shoes. Cords or heavier tweeds were popular in the colder months, being warm, comfortable, and hard wearing.

The person in the center is wearing jeans; he is probably a newcomer to the sport and would soon be advised, or figure out for himself that jeans were neither warm or comfortable. The thing is these are regular pants or trousers, worn in conjunction with bicycle clips to keep the bottoms from being caught in the chain.

On the upper body you will notice a mixture of sweaters and light jackets. I always wore a woolen undershirt next to my skin, wool stayed warm even when wet from sweat or outside elements. Often when setting out on a ride in the early morning hours, I would place a sheet of newspaper under my top sweater, to keep the cold wind off my chest. Later as the day warmed up, this was discarded.


In the summer everyone wore regular shorts. (Picture left.) Racing clothes were made out of wool, they were expensive, needed to be hand washed, and took forever to dry. You could not throw them in the drier, or they would become matted and shrink.

No one wore racing gear on a training ride. I do remember that when I did put these clothes on to race, they felt so comfortable and unrestrictive that I automatically rode faster.

The shorts had a real chamois leather insert inside, and I would smear a handful of Vaseline on it before a race. It felt extremely weird for about the first minute, but then kept me comfortable throughout the race, with zero chaffing.

Even the pros did not wear racing gear for training rides. The picture above is of Fausto Coppi (Left.) with his brother Serse. (Right.) and a few other riders about to set out on a training ride.

The trousers they are wearing would be specially made for cycling, but they are styled after regular street clothes with the exception that they fit just below the knee, and are worn in conjunction with knee length socks. On the top they are wearing a variety of woolen sweaters.

My mother was an expert at sewing, and I would take an old pair of trousers, and have her cut them off just below the knee. She would sew some wide elastic on the bottom to fit under my knee. The material cut from the bottom of the leg, she would make a double seat, which added comfort and made them wear longer.

By the 1970s, proper cycling clothes were available, but there were training clothes and racing clothes. Now it has become acceptable to train or simply ride for pleasure in racing gear.

I would not dress up in Lycra for a short trip to the post-office or store, but if I am riding for an hour or more, I love it and would not go back to wearing regular clothes for a long ride. The modern clothes are so comfortable, and the great thing is, I can throw the shorts and jersey in the washing machine, they are almost dry after the spin cycle, and air dry in a few hours.

However, in the 1950s we rode a hundred plus miles in a day in regular clothes so we proved that it can be done. You don’t have to wear special clothes to enjoy cycling, it is a personal choice; wear what you feel comfortable in.

Having said that; if you were invited to a formal dinner where everyone wore a tuxedo and black tie, you would look out of place if you showed up in casual clothes. Maybe you are thick-skinned enough that it wouldn’t bother you, but other guests would feel uncomfortable. The same would have been true if someone had shown up on a 1950s Club Run wearing racing gear.

It would also be the same today if I showed up dressed in street clothes, 1950s style for a ride with a group all wearing Lycra and helmets. Even if I was fit enough to stay with the group, some in the group would feel uncomfortable.

I know there will be others who disagree with me on this one; I can just hear the comments on “elitism.” We live in a social structure, and I feel that although we ultimately wear and do as we please, we do have a certain obligation not to offend or make others in our immediate peer group feel uncomfortable.

I use the term “immediate peer group,” because it seems when we wear Lycra we offend Joe Public, and that is not my problem, I will conform within limitations. Where Joe Public is concerned the “Gay Lycra outfits,” is just an expression of their contempt for the fact that we are on the road.

I remember in the 1950s, all the stuff you would normally carry in the rear pockets of your jersey, we carried in a small canvas bag called a Musette bag. (Tools, food, money, batteries for lights, etc.) I remember the general public, even those who used a bicycle for transport, would always ask, “What do you carry in those stupid little bags?”

Drivers delayed briefly by a group of cyclists wearing regular street clothes, the group I’m sure would be labeled, “Leftist, hippy, tree-huggers;” you can’t win that one.

Imagine the confusion that would be caused by a group or older gentlemen cyclists, dressed as the Italian Pro group above. How would they be labeled; “Old Poofters on Bikes,” maybe?

Whatever you do, don’t let the clothes you feel comfortable wearing, stop you from riding a bike.


Pictures are from Classic Lightweights, UK.
and Fausto Coppi, It.

Wednesday
Apr232008

What’s your sign?



This picture was on a Mothers’ Day card that caught my eye in a Target store. The caption inside reads, “Thanks for always covering my back.”

I started thinking, what would my sign say? Probably something like this:

“Thank you for your patience. Normal passage will be resumed when it is safe to pass. Please proceed with caution, and try to have a nice day.”

What would your sign say? In case you are wondering, this is just a little frivolity; I am not seriously suggesting we carry cardboard signs on our backs.

To make it interesting I’ll give signed copies of my book to the three I like the best. Entries will close on Monday, 28th April 23, 2008.

Keep it clean, unless it’s really funny, in which case a little obscenity will be excused. Post as a comment, and email me separately.

If you are interested, Mothers’ Day is on May 11th in the US; the date may be different in other countries.

Sunday
Apr202008

1953 Giro d’Italia: Coppi and Koblet in an epic battle



Here is some silent black and white newsreel footage from the 1953 Giro d’Italia; featuring Italy's Fausto Coppi and Swiss rider Hugo Koblet.

When Coppi was on top form, he was unbeatable; however, Koblet was one of the few riders of that same era who could seriously challenge the Campionissimo. Filmed here is one of their many epic battles as they take on the Passo Sella in the 19th stage.

See if you can spot Hugo Koblet early on leading the peloton, as he flashes past the camera. His jersey appears white, although it is actually the “Magalia Rosa,” the race leader’s pink jersey. Fausto Coppi (5th in line.) is easier to spot in his distinctive Bianchi jersey. In addition, the camera lingers on Coppi.

There is an early solo break by Italy’s Pasquale Fornara, another great climber who took the King of the Mountains title in the 1953 Giro.

When the serious climbing starts, a three man chasing group forms. It includes Coppi and Koblet and another rider I am not able to recognize. On a brief respite from climbing, you will see the Swiss rider tighten his toe strap, a sure sign that he is about to attack.

In a classic move, as they catch Forana, Hugo Koblet immediately attacks. Again, spot him by his light jersey with no lettering; he is also not wearing a cap, whereas the other riders are. Notice Koblet’s speed, and how quickly he opens a considerable gap.

Tired from his long solo effort, Pasquale Fornara holds on briefly, but finds the pace too hot and is dropped. As they near the summit, Fausto Coppi has now left the remaining rider and is chasing alone.

There is a great shot of a motorcycle race marshal, kicking at the crowd to keep them back. You will also notice that Coppi is now wearing a “leather hairnet” helmet, in readiness for the descent. He reels in Koblet at the top of the climb.

Had he not closed the gap before the summit, he may never have caught the flying Swiss rider; Hugo Koblet was well known for his long solo break-aways. He earned the nick-name "Pédaleur de Charme" for his smooth pedaling style, and his ability to maintain a high rate of speed over a distance.

There is some great footage of the two working together as they dash towards the finish. Coppi easily out sprints Koblet to win the stage.

On later stages, Coppi would take the lead from Koblet to win the 1953 Giro d’Italia by 1 min. 29 sec. Pasquale Fornara was third, and King of the Mountains. Gino Bartali was forth that year.