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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.

Thursday
Feb282008

A little bit of history sold on eBay


A custom 'dave moulton' touring bicycle that featured in a "Bicycling" magazine road test in January 1983, sold on eBay last evening.

There were only 20 of this particular model built; I put in a call to the seller last week to ask for the serial number. Confirming the number 4823 in my serial number record book showed it was indeed the same bike.

This story goes back a year earlier to January 1982. I was building frames for Masi in their San Marcos, California frame shop.

I became a victim of my own productivity, and was building frames faster than Masi could sell them. The inventory of frames became so large I was temporarily laid off. I had essentially worked myself out of a job, and was sent to the unemployment office to sign on for benefits.

I got as far as standing in line at the office, wondering what I was doing there. My pride or maybe my ego told me this was not right, and I left without ever signing on. I went back to the Masi shop and asked if I could use their equipment to build my own frames.

An agreement was reached on rent, etc. and I started calling bicycle dealers all over the US, telling them who I was, and offered to build custom frames. I started to receive a few orders; I could deliver a custom built frame in two or three weeks at that time, which was unheard of.

I was also unheard of for the most part. I had gone from being one of the best know builders in England in the 1970s, to an unknown entity in the United States in 1982. The Masi name on my resume helped, but I still desperately needed publicity; I contacted "Bicycling" and they agreed to do a road test.

They chose the Touring model because it was different than the usual bikes they tested and wrote about. I built the frame in April of 1982, I contacted various component manufacturers for donations of components to complete the bike. The bike was assembled with a strange miss-match of Avocet, Sun Tour, Modolo, etc.

Fellow Brit Steve Aldrige, who had worked with me at Paris Sport, now worked for "Buds" Bike Store in Claremont, CA. Steve was also the US National Team Mechanic; he built the wheels, and assembled the bike. Bicycling did their road test in the summer of 1982 but it would be the following January before the article appeared in the magazine.

After the road test, Steve Aldridge got the bike as repayment for his work and it was subsequently sold. I never saw or heard of it again until it showed up on eBay last week. The bike was up for sale by The Drop Off Store a consignment store in Rancho Cucamonga, a few miles from Claremont where the bike was originally sold.

The drive train has been upgraded with Campagnolo components, but it still appeared to have the same Modolo brakes. The paint appears to be original and in fair condition, and the original color matched pump was still in place. The bike is in need of a thorough cleaning and probably the tires and handlebar tape need replacing. I appears the bike has been stored for many of its years.

In 1983 the retail price on this frame was $925, the complete bike went for $1600. Yesterday on eBay there were 14 people bidding and the virtual hammer fell at $1,330.30. The item number was 350029129880. You can read the Bicycling road test article here in PDF format.

This is the highest price I have seen on eBay for one of my bikes. I think it is fair given the rarity and history of this bike. Incidentally, I didn’t reveal the history before the sale because I didn’t want to influence the price.

There was another seller on eBay asking $4,000 for a Fuso, which is way out of line. There are still plenty of Fusos out there, (I built 3,000.) so if you miss one, another will be along. I don’t want to see anyone screwed, buyer or seller.

This particular bike and the subsequent road test in Bicycling played an important part in getting my business out of the Masi shop and into my own facility in San Marcos. It not only gave me the publicity I needed, but was one of the things I used to convince my bank to lend me the money to finance the operation.

Another interesting footnote: If you look at the Masi Registry, you will notice there were only a few special order Masi frames (Like track frames.) built in 1982. That’s because they were still selling the backlog of frames I built in 1981. It would be well into 1983 before production began again. About the time I moved into my own facility, and David Tesch took over as Masi’s builder.

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.