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In search of the perfect fork blade

When a fork blade comes from the tube manufacturer’s factory, it is straight; the framebuilder bends it to a curve that suits his requirements.

An un-raked road fork blade is oval at the top; the oval section runs parallel for about a third of its length. Then the cross section becomes round and starts to taper gradually to its smallest section at the bottom end.

The fork blade is bent on a curved form that is sometimes made from hard wood. I used one I made myself from two heavy-duty steel fork blades, bent in the desired curve, and brazed together side by side. This made a natural grove between the two blades where the blade would sit as I was bending.

I would slip a short piece of tube over the thin end of the form and the blade I was bending to hold it in place. Then start bending, first by pushing down by hand. The thin end of the blade bends easily, and I would finish off by squeezing it in a vise.

Bicycle tubing is hardened, and it will spring back after bending. Because of this, the form needs to be a greater curve than the finished fork blade will be.

A fork blade is several inches longer than it needs to be. The framebuilder chooses where he will put the bend, and where he will cut to length. For example, if I were making a criterium frame and wanted a very stiff fork, I would cut from the bottom, thin end.

If I were building a touring frame, and wanted a flexible fork for a more comfortable ride, I would cut from the top end and leave the blade thin at the bottom end. The framebuilder creates the perfect fork blade, by selecting the best place to bend the blade, and by choosing how much to cut from either end.

It is rather like a furniture maker choosing where to cut from a piece of wood to achieve the best end product. Once I arrived at the perfect fork blade, it was then an easy matter to repeat the process again and again.

On a John Howard

On a Fuso

And on a Recherche

One exception to this process was the Reynolds 753 fork blades. 753 was heat treated to a degree that the material could not be bent after. These were bent at the factory, then heat treated, and the framebuilder then cut to the required length. You will notice on the 753 Fuso Lux frame (Pictured below.) that the fork bend is a different shape than the ones bent by me. More pictures of this bike can be seen here.

Chainstays and seatstays are also tapered and the same selective cutting to length is employed. In this case, where the cut is made depends a great deal on the size of frame and its end use.

The perfect fork blade is stiff enough to allow precise handling, but with some flex to absorb road shocks. It also looks pleasing to the eye. I have a theory that when something is designed correctly from a functional standpoint, it has a natural aesthetic beauty. This is true of a boat, a bridge, a building, and even a bicycle frame.

The modern trend of building straight forks of course saves the framebuilder a great deal of time and effort. If this look has become acceptable, why should today’s builder go through all the time consuming process I have described here?

The straight blade is angled forward so the same fork rake or offset is achieved and handling would be the same. I can’t comment on the shock absorption qualities because I have never built a frame with a straight fork.

In my view, a great deal is lost aesthetically, so where does that leave my theory about function being linked to aesthetics? On the other hand, is it simply that beauty is in the eye of the beholder?


The Fuso Lux

When I first produced the Fuso in 1984, I had hoped to keep things simple. My goal was to produce a frame that was built better than the average import frame, was better finished, and rode and handled better. At the same time was competitively priced.

In order to achieve this I built one model, and offered it in four different two-color paint schemes. The frame was available in 18 different sizes in one-centimeter increments, so the customer got virtually a custom fit.

However, I soon found that you can’t please all the people, and soon I had requests for different colors, chrome plating, etc, etc. I explained that this was not “Burger King;” it was not quite as simple as, “Hold the cheese, and add a pickle.” I still offered my custom ‘dave moulton’ frame, but the price was much higher, and the wait was longer.

In 1986 I gave in to the whiners compromised and brought out the Fuso “Lux” model. The standard Fuso was always in stock (Unpainted.) in every size, so I could fill an order immediately. The Lux was built to order, in other words an order existed before the frame was built.

It was built in the same standard geometry as the other Fuso frames. However, it had a different rear brake bridge, tubular, with diamond shaped reinforces. (See top pictures.)

Later Lux frames would have the same flat machined brake bridge as the standard Fuso, but engraved with the words, “Fuso LUX.” At this same time, the Lux had engraved seatstay caps. (See left.) The earlier Lux, (Pictured at the top.) had the same seatstay caps as the standard Fuso.

The Lux had Chrome plated dropout faces, and a chrome right chainstay; it also had an integral aero fork crown, which gave a one-piece look. (Below right.)

The big difference was in the paint finish; the Lux had the decals “buried” under eight clear coats, then sanded smooth.

All this LUXury came at a price. In 1990 a standard Fuso FR1 with C-record components retailed at $1,600, a LUX with the same components was $3,150.

A week ago received photos and an email from Hiram Sloan, he said,

“I recently purchased a Fuso Lux; it is the 1987 anniversary model. I was thrilled to find it among the used bicycles at Richardson Bike Mart in Richardson, Texas. As you can see in the pictures attached, it is in pristine shape and has been ridden very little.”

Hiram's bike is the red and yellow model pictured at the top. I never kept records of exactly how many of the Lux model were built; out of just under 3,000 Fuso frames, I’m guessing about a hundred or so.


Evel Knievel

An American Icon died on Friday. On the last day of November he took his final jump into the next realm. What makes this man an icon? He was the first to do what he did, on the scale that he did. All who follow are merely imitators.

Evel Knievel passed on at 69 years, a relatively young age by today’s standard, but maybe not so young when one considers the punishment he put his body through over the years.

I don’t know what effect this man had on the sport of motorcycling, or motorcycle design; but I believe the design of bicycles, and the way they look today can be traced back to Evel Knievel.

The moment this larger than life character began appearing on television in the 1970s performing these seemingly impossible jumps, every boy child in America went out the very next morning and built some form of crude wooden ramp and attempted to jump on his bicycle, to emulate Evel Knievel.

The heavy cruiser bikes that had been popular through the 1950s and 1960s were too heavy for jumping, and the bicycle of choice for all young boys eventually became the smaller and lighter BMX bike.

Early BMX bikes were built with a brazed lug construction the same as all other bicycles. Soon manufacturers realized that these frames could be welded far cheaper than brazed lugs, because, after all, children are not interested in the niceties of lugged construction.

Fast forward to the 1980s and another entity is developing, the Mountain Bike. Initially a sport of “downhill racing,” hence the name mountain bike. Mountain bikes were also built, using lugged construction, with level top tubes, and using the same standard size tubes as a road bike. Head angles on early MTBs were a shallow 69 degrees; like I said, designed for riding downhill.

Move forward again to the late 1980s and a genuine mountain bike-racing scene had developed, just as there had been a BMX racing scene. However, not all kids became BMX racers, and not all adults who bought a mountain bikes used them off-road.

The generation from the 1970s who as kids had emulated Evel Knievel, were now young adults and saw the mountain bike as a reincarnation of the BMX bike. These people were not interested in racing or riding down mountains, they wanted to jump over stuff, and perform stunts, just like when they were kids.

I remember a proliferation of MTB magazines in the 1980s. Each had a picture on the front cover of a rider on a mountain bike in mid-air doing some seemingly spectacular jump. A low camera angle made it appear the rider was several feet from the ground, when in reality he was probably at a much lower altitude.

The magazines showed pictures of people “Bunny Hopping” on and off picnic tables, and performing all manner of spectacular stunts. With all the abuse these bikes were recieving, it became necessary for manufactures to “beef up” the frames by using larger tubing, as well as adding suspension.

Larger tubing meant that frames had to be welded, because there were no lugs available for the oversize tubes. Welded frames were not accepted on road bikes at that time, but MTB customers were used to welded BMX frames. There is something about the look of a welded joint; it has an “Industrial” look, utilitarian, strong and very masculine.

The first idea the mountain bike borrowed from the BMX bike was the “Uni-crown” fork. In reality, this is a “No-crown” fork, with the round fork blades curved at the top and welded directly to the steering column. Cheaper and easier to produce than a brazed crown fork.

By the mid 1990s manufactures had borrowed another concept from the BMX bike; namely the sloping top tube. With the resulting longer seat post, manufactures were able to get away with building less frame sizes.

Once this look and concept was accepted, it was not long before road bikes were being made in this same style with welded joints. Throughout history, bicycle manufacturers and framebuilders have used cost-cutting ideas, and then sold it to the customer as an advantage.

A classic example of this was the notion in the 1970s that braze-ons weakened a frame. Leaving the braze-ons off a frame saved a tremendous amount of time, and was a cost cutting ploy that was sold to the customer as a benefit. When braze-ons reappeared in the 1980s there were no wholesale frame failures. Where was the argument that braze-ons caused a weakness?

People can argue that a sloping top tube frame is stiffer, but the pros in Europe are using both level top tube frames and sloping; there is no huge difference. So if anyone has cause to wonder why a road frame has a sloping top tube? The main reason is that it benefits the manufacturer who has to produce less sizes.

The practice became acceptable because of the mountain bike. Mountain bike design was influenced by the BMX design; not so much by public demand, but by manufacturers realizing welded frames, built in fewer sizes is cost effective.

The BMX bike had a sloping top tube for no other reason than style. Just as the old cruiser bikes of the 1950s and 1960s sometimes had fake gas tanks. The sloping top tube of the BMX bike represented the upward slope of a motorcycle gas tank. Because after all as its name suggests, the BMX (Bicycle Motor Cross.) is a bicycle pretending to be a motorcycle.

The popularity of the BMX bike is closely linked to the popularity of Evel Knievel, which is why I say that he indirectly influenced the design of all bicycles today.

Just this one man’s opinion, and one that no one is obliged to agree with. It is an opinion that I have held for many years, at least since the late 1980s. I felt that I couldn’t let the passing of Evel Knievel go by without sharing my views.


Down in the Bicycle Forest, something stirred

It can’t be the last day of November; did someone break into my house and steal some days from my calendar?

It used to be there were not enough hours in the day, now this has escalated to not enough days month, or worse not enough months in the year.

Meanwhile there are others in this world who seem to have too much time on their hands; like the people over at The Bicycle Forest. Otherwise, how would they come up with such brilliant concepts like the Treadmill Bike? (Left.)

Now they have this really cool (Or is kewel.) Bike Cad program so you can design your own bike.

And it’s free. Personally, I do not need free stuff to steal more of my time; what I need is more free time, period.

Therefore, I pass it on and let you play with it, as you obviously have more time than I do, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog when you should be working. (If you are not at work, there must be something useful you could be doing.)

Moreover, my design program in my head still works, and mine works at any time so I can multi-task while riding my bike, driving, listening to my wife, etc.

One of the things you can do with Bike Cad is explore “toe overlap.” Judging by the number of times the subject gets Googled, and people arrive here, some are convinced that it is: (a) a design flaw, (b) something bike manufacturers do to save money, or (c) something bike manufacturers do just so people can fall down, then sue their ass.

Some also think this is something new; however, it has been around since the 1970s. Ever since, we stopped building bikes with those horrendous 2 ½ or 3 inches of fork rake. The cure is to go back to those long curved forks, and bikes that handle like a fucking wheelbarrow.

Now, thanks to Bike Cad, no one has to take my word for it. They can find out for themselves that toe overlap is unavoidable on smaller size frames. If you happen to find a cure for this non-problem, don’t send it to me, send it to Richard Sachs as I’m sure he would appreciate it.

Seriously, Bike Cad does seem to be something useful that will bring hours of fun. As for me, I have too much fun already, and not enough hours.


Mass Advertising

I get in my car, put the seat belt on, and just as I turn the key to start the engine I look up and see an advertising flyer under my wiper blade.

This really pisses me off. I open the car door and try to reach the offending piece of paper. Usually I have to undo my seat belt to retrieve it; this time it is so far out of reach I have to get completely out of the car.

I don't even look at the flier, but crumple it into a paper ball and have to resist a strong urge to throw it into the parking lot, because I am not about to cause litter. What I really want to do is stuff it down the throat of whoever put it there.

I throw it on the floor inside my car; now I will have to pick it up when I get home and carry it indoors to my trashcan. How many trees die each year, only to end up under windshield wipers?

This has to be one of the worst forms of advertising; even worse than junk email. At least you don't have to unfasten your seat belt to delete a piece of junk email, and no trees die. Why is it a bad idea? Because the perpetrators are trying to sell me something and instead piss me off.

You will never sell me anything if you piss me off.

All this started me to thinking about the Critical Mass movement and what they are doing. Their cause is indeed noble and one I would support; to bring awareness to bicycles and the cyclist's right to be on the road. It is the method of delivering the message that I question.

Like the windshield flier, it is a poor way to get a message across. The flier under my windshield wiper might also be for a noble cause, a charity event for example, but I will never know because it made me mad and I never even looked at the message.

A demonstration, a civil protest is a form of advertising; selling an ideology rather than a product. Promoting a cause and trying to get people to come around to a different way of thinking. Blocking traffic in the middle of rush hour will get attention in the same way as the flier under a wiper blade; it does so because it makes people mad.

They will take the “Cyclists Rights” message, crumple it and dump it right out of their mind without giving it a moment’s consideration. I know it is not the intention of Critical Mass to disrupt traffic, but a group of several hundred cyclists, or even less, converging on one place then riding in a disorganized manner, will do just that whether it is the intention or not.

Does it make anyone who is not already a cyclist want to ride a bike? I very much doubt it. In fact, it probably has the reverse affect and alienates the average car driver, and causes them to be even more anti-cyclist than he already is.

The problem I have with Critical Mass is that it has no central organization to get the message out; I wonder if Joe Public even knows what cyclists are trying to achieve. It is small wonder that in some places police start arresting people, with no organization contacting them to inform that there is a peaceful demonstration that will take place on such a date and time, all they see is an unorganized riot.

I am not suggesting anyone should abandon the cause; I am suggesting bicycle activists look at alternative methods of delivering the message. For example, donating and raising money to pay for print or TV ads to promote cycling, starting on a local level might be one way. Good advertising that works costs money. Get the bike industry or environmentally conscious companies to donate money.

A lot more effort of course, but it could bring more awareness without alienating the very people we want to win over. Of course, if the goal is just to piss people off, you may as well go out and put fliers under their wiper blades.