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Monday
Jan152007

Lowcountry Bloggers


Last evening I had the pleasure of meeting some fellow Lowcountry Bloggers for the first time when we got together at the Madra Rua Irish Pub in North Charleston. I have made so many new friends by way of my blog and it was a rare delight to actually get to meet some of them.

I borrowed the picture of the gathering from Joan as mine didn’t turn out all that good. I may be many things, but photographer is not one of them. That’s me on the extreme left gently easing my lovely wife Kathy forward so I can get my smiling face in the picture.

Two people it was especially nice to meet were Vera and Heather as they have been known to post the occasional comment on my blog. With my blog aimed primarily at bike enthusiasts, it is rewarding when non-cyclists find my writing interesting enough to comment.

The thing that struck me about this group was there were no middle aged people there. There were the very young, the young, and then the older, young in spirit people like myself. So often these days, I find in a group like this I am probably the oldest in chronological years, but talking to Chuck a retired journalist and photographer, he echoed my sentiments exactly when he stated that one secret to staying young is “Don’t hang out with old people.”


The above picture taken by Chuck, shows me talking with fellow Englishman, Geoff who admitted he is not old enough to grow a decent mustache yet. In the foreground on the left are Notoriously Nice Mike, and Vera on the right seated next to me.

Two people there were not strangers; Janet and Jason I know from a local writer’s group. There was one other bike rider in attendance named JJ; he said he owned a Bianchi and was on the look out for one of my frames.

I had interesting conversations with George, Josh, and Eugene and many more I haven’t mentioned here. I can’t help feeling the circumference of my circle of friends just grew a little.

Friday
Jan122007

Willard Wigan

It has long been my belief that there is only one creative source in the Universe and artists are simply vehicles through which art appears. It is a theory that formed the story line of my novel, Prodigal Child. The Native American speaks of “hand magic” when the hand automatically follows what the mind is creating.

This was further brought home to me a few days ago when I discovered the remarkable work of Willard Wigan, born in Birmingham, England in 1957. He creates tiny sculptures measuring a few thousands of an inch. The following quote is from his website:

“His work is ground-breaking - partly because of the astounding beauty of vision which challenges the belief system of the mind and partly because it demonstrates that if one person can create the impossible, we all have the potential to transcend our own limiting beliefs about what we are capable of.”


The Statue of Liberty in the eye of a needle

 

The cast of Peter Pan on a fish hook

 

Child with a balloon on an eyelash

 

Adan and Eve carved from a pencil lead

 

Elvis on a pin head

Tiger in the eye of a needle



More of Willard's micro sculptures can be seen here.

Wednesday
Jan102007

Its not April Fools Day already, is it?


I know this has appeared on several other bike blogs but I must add my random thoughts on the subject. I keep looking over the Thrust-Pac website, and thinking this has to be a joke, right, they can’t be serious. If it were around the 1st. of April, I would say, “Definitely a spoof.”

I lived in California for fourteen years and still have many friends there, so I hate to generalize, but the Golden State really does have more flakes than a box of cereal. I mean you would have to smoke some serious shit to come up with an idea like this.

I quote from the website: “The Thrust-pac pushes you forward on any device of your choice...bicycles, skates, canoe/kayaks, scooters, wheelchairs, skis etc.”

Wait a minute, back up there. Did they really mention wheelchairs? Retirement homes could invest in one of these and leave it by the front door, just in case one of the old folks wants to make a quick trip to the grocery store.

Just leave a set of roller blades with it for the seniors who are not wheelchair bound. And for everyone else if any of the above listed devices are not suicidal enough for you, how about hang gliding.

I couldn’t help but notice there are many pictures on the website, some taken in famous locations, but none of anyone actually in motion on a bike, skateboard, or skis, etc.

One question I have, if the throttle is operated by flexing the index finger, what happens if you suddenly grab the brakes as in a panic stop.

I hope they are geared up for some serious production, because I can really see people beating their doors down to buy this one at $895 for the starter model. That doesn’t include the cost of the bike. Are they kidding, if you want to be motorized, $895 is close to the price of a nice little Vespa scooter.

Of course I agree $895 for one of these will buy you a lot of attention, and that’s probably what those behind this little venture are banking on. That they are not the only flakes in California with too much time and money on their hands.

Sunday
Jan072007

Aero Bikes: History


Here’s a little more on the history behind aerodynamic bicycle frames; a subject that I touched on in my previous blog about the US team bikes.

In the mid 1970s there was a craze for drilling holes in components to save weight. Soon no component part of the bicycle was left untouched, with the possible exception of handlebars and stems for obvious reasons; although a few riders with death wish tendencies even tried that.



Steel frames were not immune, with cutouts in the bottom bracket shell and lugs. Towards the end of the 1970s I saw a few British Time Trial Frames with slots cut in the head tube, and matching slots in the steering column inside.

Soon bikes had so many holes in them, they didn’t have a shadow.

Aside from reducing the reliability of the frame or component, people began to point out that any gain in weight saving was offset by the increased air turbulence and the resulting drag of air passing through slots and holes.



People began to think seriously about aerodynamics. At the same time the East Germans were experimenting with aero bikes and helmets; I was one of the first in England to work with the idea in the late 1970s. I made a press tool to form round tubes into an oval shape. I also added an aerofoil behind the head tube and bottom bracket shell.

After the US team bike fiasco I lost interest but I do remember building one at the end of 1980. I had just started work for Masi in Southern California, and they had a sample set of aero tubes. (Japanese I believe.)

I built one Aero Masi frame for the New York Show in February 1981. It was built into a complete bike, light blue in color, and with all the Masi decals it was a very unique and classy looking machine. I wonder where that one is now; definitely one of a kind.


The aero steel frame never really caught on and was only around for about two or three years. The tubes were difficult and therefore expensive to produce. The frame had to be of a lug-less construction, not conducive to mass production. The biggest drawback was the extra weight because the tubes had to be straight gauge. They couldn’t be double butted like round tubes.

Footnote: The pictures are of an English built track pursuit frame built around 1978. Note the extended seat tube, round at the top to accept the seat post. The fork crown was a modified Ron Kitching crown that took the old style narrow Reynolds fork blades, and was hand filed into the aero shape. Also, see details of the aerofoil behind the BB and head tube.

Thursday
Jan042007

The US Team Aero Bike Fiasco


Myself and Mike Melton (Right) building the aero frames.

Looking through an old scrapbook last evening I came across a story that Velo-News did in February 1980.

They did a pretty good piece of unbiased investigative reporting into some Aerodynamic frames I built for the US Team Time Trial riders for the 1979 World Championships. The whole episode turned into a huge fiasco, and after many people putting a great deal of effort and expense into the project the bikes were never used.

I came to work for Paris Sport in New Jersey in January 1979. At the time, Mike Fraysee co-owner of Paris Sport, was also President of the US Cycling Federation, the governing body of competitive cycling in the US.

The big new thing in bicycles at that time was aerodynamic frames, and it was suggested I build such frames for the US Team Time Trial squad. I had built a few aero frames in England the previous year by modifying round tubing to make it aero shape. No one was manufacturing proper tubes at the time.

I approached the English Reynolds Tube Company at the New York Bicycle Show in February 1979 and they agreed to produce the aero tubes. I had enjoyed a close working relationship with Reynolds, having been in from the start of their development of 753 tubing in the mid 1970s and built some early 753 test frames for them.

In March 1979 I flew back to England to meet with engineers at Reynolds and together we came up with design for an aero tube that was tear-drop shape in cross section. The tooling alone to draw these special tubes was made at a cost around $30,000. Remember this was 1979, thirty grand was a lot of money then.

The tubing took a few months to produce and when it arrived in New Jersey, time was running close to when the bikes would be needed. Because of this Mike Melton a top US framebuilder was brought in to help me build them. Mike and I burned the mid-night oil for a week without pay, I should add, to produce five frames. Four for the team and one spare.

The bikes were tried out by the team but were never used in competition and never even made it to the World Championship. One of the reasons the riders gave for their non use; the bikes handled badly.

You have to remember at the time I was a relatively unknown framebuilder in the US and you could say stuff like that. Obviously, the bikes were tested before they went out and they handled fine. Also at the same time Reynolds sent aero tubing to me, they sent some to French bicycle manufacturer, Gitane. They built a frame for Bernard Hinault who won a time trial stage in the Tour de France on it. He also went on to win the Tour that year.

The whole episode was a politically driven fiasco that I deeply regretted getting into, and it made me look bad with Reynolds; after all theirs was the biggest financial loss. The final kicker came later when the bikes were stripped and the Campagnolo parts were stolen. Riders and/or USCF officials were suspected.

A small consolation came later when a track bike version of the same aero tubing was ridden by an 18 year old Greg Lemond when he took the gold in the Junior World Pursuit Championship in 1979.

I scanned the article and you can read it as a PDF file. It goes into more detail than I have here. (You may want to print it, it is a little long to read on screen.) It is in three parts; there is my side of the story. The riders’ side, with comments by Mike Fraysee, and the story about the theft of parts. After reading the story again, I wondered what ever happened to the frames?

Either they ended up in a dumpster somewhere or if someone reading this has one in their garage, please send it to me. I would put it on eBay and recoup a little of my losses from all those years ago.