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The UCI Disc Brake Ban, and the American Market

The UCI (The World Governing Body for the sport of cycle racing.) recently lifted their ban on disc brakes for road racing and allowed them to be used in the Paris-Roubaix race.

Then when Movistar rider Francisco Ventoso suffered a severe cut on his leg, that may or may not have been caused by coming into contact with a disc brake, banned them again just as quickly.

By the way, this is just an observation, but:

Don’t manufacturers see that the fears the pros have might be a little less if the current crop of disc brakes didn’t look like a device for slicing meat. (See top picture.)

I’m sure someone will explain to me why the outside edge can’t be smooth and rounded, instead of resembling the teeth of a circular saw.

After the UCI ban, I read stories about the major bike manufacturers being in a panic, as in recent years they have all invested heavily in the development of disc brakes for road bikes.

Looking back at my own experience coming from Europe to America some 37 years ago, the industry has not a thing to worry about. As far as cycling is concered, the American leisure market drives itself, unaffected by what the European Pros are using.

Not only does the US leisure market drive itself it eventually influences what equipment the rest of the world uses, including the pros. Take helmet use as one prime example of this.

When I first came to the US in 1979, I came from a cycling culture where everyone who was seriously into the sport belonged to a local Cycling Club. Almost all club members raced at some level, either in road races or time-trials at the very least.

No one used a helmet except for the leather hairnet kind (Right.) mandatory for amateur road races, but not time-trials.

Nowhere in the UK or the rest of Europe did cyclists wear helmets for leisure riding or training. In fact the idea was ridiculed.

Everyone had their bike set up like a pro, the club system saw to that. It helped coach and influence newcomers to the sport.

I arrived in the US to find no one had a clue what was going on in Europe, and neither did anyone care. Very few owners of racing bikes actually raced, and across the board everyone rode a frame that was 3 or 4 centimeters bigger than their European counterparts.

Handlebars were up level with the saddle, and brake levers were high up on the bars with the levers sticking out like a pair of six-guns.

And the helmets… Ugly white things that looked like an upturned pudding basin. And everyone had at least one story how their helmet had “Saved their Life.”

So the use of helmets is a prime example of how the American leisure market influenced the rest of the world. The UCI did not make helmets compulsory for the pros until as recent as 2003.

The Mountain Bike is another. Developed entirely in America, caught the imagination of all leisure cyclists and the general public, to the extent it killed the road bike market for a while. It created a huge market worldwide and got the corporations involved.

Index shifting too, brought about by the mountain bike and the large numbers of inexperienced riders it brought in. People who did not know how to shift gears with a friction shift. This then lead to gear levers up on the brake levers, and eventually 10 and 11 speed cassettes.

I am not suggesting these developments have been adverse, many have improved the sport. That is not my point. The technology was not developed in the pro peloton. In almost every sport, equipment is developed at the professional level, but not in cycling.

In fact the UCI bans the use of prototype equipment, thus stifling any useful technological advancement there. Disc brakes first appeared on mountain bikes, and have gradually made their way over to road bikes.

If the pros had more say in the development of disc brakes, their safety concerns would have already been addressed. But the UCI does everything ass backwards.

Meanwhile I don’t see why the big bike corporations are panicking (If indeed they are.) The American leisure rider doesn't give a damn what the UCI sanctions or what the European pros use. He never did, and never will. He is more influenced by what his buddies use on the next Sunday morning coffee ride.     


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Why the proliferation of clip on bars?


How about someone educate me for a change? Why the popularity of clip-on aero bars? Is this just an East Coast thing or a nationwide trend? Because when I am out riding nearly every cyclist I see has these bars fitted and is in the laying down prayer position.

Is the sport of triathlons really that popular? I’ve never seen any publicized in my local paper, and I’ve never met an actual triathlete in recent years.

So my questions are: Are these triathletes or are they just using the aero bars because they think it looks cool?

It kinda reminds me of the person at the super market who is too tired to hold themselves up, so they lean with their elbows on the shopping cart.

If these are not real triathletes then who are their role models? Who are they trying to emulate.

When I started cycling as a teen in the 1950s, I rode with my spare tubular tire around my shoulder like the European Pros did. It was the look that all aspiring young cyclists were going for at the time.

With all the Spring Classic races and the Grand Tours being readily available for viewing online, one would think any newcomer to the sport would want to look like the current crop of pros. And pros don’t use clip on bars.

So my question is: Is this just an American thing, or just certain areas, like where I currently live? Or will this simply become the natural human posture for all activities, and mankind will end up with a permanent stoop and two enormous opposable thumbs.  

So educate me please. Am I that much out of touch?

It seems the older I get rather than gain knowledge, there are more and more things I know nothing about. 



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I always took the minimalist approach to frame design and building. Less is more, and why do more than is necessary, especially if it doesn’t improve the end product. My bottom bracket gear cable guides were an example of this. 

On my custom frames I filed two grooves with the corner of a square file, brazed a piece of wire across the groove, and then drilled a hole through. (See picture above.)

When I started production on the John Howard frames in 1983 and the Fuso a year later, I simplified the procedure. I filed two grooves with a small round file, took a short piece of automotive steel brake fluid line and brazed it in the groove, finishing it off by chamfering the edges with a hand held belt sander. Very simple and it did the job. (See below.)

There were always critics who questioned, “Isn’t it a bad idea to have the bare cable touching the paint.” To which I answered:

Unless the frame is chrome plated, cables have always and will always touch paint somewhere.

If I brazed a channel that covered the whole area where the cable went around the bottom bracket shell, it would then be painted and the cable would still run on the paint. It would take longer to produce, look ugly, and not really improve anything.

Throughout the 1970s gear cables were run through cable guides that were brazed to the top of the bottom bracket. These were of course painted along with the rest of the frame, and the cable ran on the paint, which is why I knew it would be okay. The cable runs in one position and the constant movement of the cable prevents it rusting. (See below, a 1972 Italian Masi.)

The cable guides on top of the bottom bracket collected dirt and made it harder to keep the bike clean in that area. By the 1980s framebuilders realized a neater and much simpler idea was to run the cables under the BB. It has been pretty much standard practice ever since.

So fast forward to today, or to be precise the end of last week.

Someone on Facebook questioned the cables running on the paint.

Why didn’t I do it this way? With a picture (Right.) of someone else’s frame. 

As usually happens on the Internet others chime in with comments like, “Oh yea, that always concerned me too.”

Next I find myself writing lengthy explanations, getting really annoyed that I am having to justify something I did 30 years ago. Then I realized people send me pictures of the underside of the Bottom Bracket with the frame number stamped on it. I always save these pictures so I pulled up several from my archives.

Fuso frames numbering from 020 (Above.) to 693, old frames built from 1984 to 1986. All with original paint, some with the bare frame with the cables removed, showing surprising little wear at all. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and it is true in this case. I have about 8,000 or 9,000 worth here.

So if this is something that has concerned you in the past, look at these pictures and realize you are worrying about a problem that doesn’t exist. The latter frames shown had BBs made by the Japanese Takahashi Company. These had the cable guides cast in the shell and I didn’t have to do a thing. The others were finished in the manner described earlier.

I am always willing to answer questions about my framebuilding practices, but please use a little respect and tact when doing so. When someone asks “Why did you not do it this way?” it is a direct insult, and implies I didn’t know what I was doing.  

Footnote: The plastic cable guide (Left.) was not in general use in 1983 and 1984 when I began production of the John Howard and Fuso frames.

In 1985 I used it on the Recherche frames, it saved a lot of time and ended the controversy of cables running on paint.  




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Supply and Demand

What determines the price of anything, especially collectables and used stuff? Simply supply and demand. It is not what individuals perceive an item is worth, it is the ratio of people wanting to buy an item, and the numbers of that item available for sale.

Take a recent eBay auction when a pair of French Prior Large Flange Hubs (Picture above.) went for a whapping $1,325. Interestingly, the bidding started at $1.00. The reason it went that high was because there were ten individuals all with more money than sense wanting the same pair of hubs.

The bit about “More money than sense” is just my opinion, possibly it was a good investment. The quality of these hubs can’t be any better or worse than say, a pair of Campagnolo large flange hubs. But if I put a pair of Campagnolo hubs on eBay and asked $1,325 for them there would of course be no takers. It has nothing to do with quality, Campagnolo hubs are just not rare.

This scenario is no different than the people who put up bikes that I built on eBay and Craig’s List, asking as much as $2,000 or $3,000. Sorry, I built a lot of bikes, they are not that rare. It has nothing to do with quality, or my reputation as a builder. There are just more frames and bikes out there than there are people wanting to buy them.

Put one up and start the bidding at $1.00, the price will probably reach $500 or $600. That is the reality. Buy one of my bikes if you want a nice bike to ride, not as an investment. Although if you do pick one up for that amount, you could ride it for a number of years and get your $500 or $600 back, or even show a small profit.

Occasionally I hear of someone who finds a Fuso at a garage sale, swap meet, or thrift store. Sometimes as low as $10  or $20. If that happens to you, snap it up and make yourself a few bucks, but don't expect to retire on the proceeds.


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Smaller Wheels

I was recently sent a picture of a Fuso track bike I built around 1990. It is different in that it has smaller 650C wheels. At the time this smaller tire size was becoming popular with triathletes with much talk of them being “Faster.”

People in the know, such as myself and Terry Shaw, owner of Shaw’s Lightweight Cycles in Santa Clara, just south of San Francisco, knew there could be little or no advantage. However, Terry Shaw thought that if there was an advantage, it might be in the initial jump during a sprint race on the track.

Smaller wheels have the effect of lowering the gear ratio, so this would have to be compensated with more teeth on the chainring, or less teeth on the rear sprocket. And so if you have two bikes with the same gear ratio, where is the advantage? Except that smaller wheels and tires have to be marginally lighter.

It interested us both enough that I agreed to build Terry Shaw a track bike that he would ride himself. The only way to test the theory was to actually race on it.

Building a bike with smaller wheels changes the whole design of the frame. The front fork is shorter, so the head tube is longer as you can see in the photo above of a 60 cm frame. It looks larger because one is used to judging frame size by the length of the head tube.

With the wheels being a smaller radius, the angle of the down tube and chainstays has to be altered to in effect raise the bottom bracket. Smaller wheels also means less trail, so to compensate the fork rake or offset was shortened to increase the trail. This was a scant 20 mm or roughly ¾ inch, and is also evident in the above photo.

For readers who don’t fully understand the concept of “Trail” and how it affects steering, here is a drawing.

Draw and imaginary line through the steering axis and it reaches the ground at a point in front of where the wheel actually contacts the ground. The wheel therefore pivots about that point of contact.

This provides a castor action and the wheel trails along behind the steering axis, Hence “Trail.”

Looking at the drawing you should be able to see why smaller diameter wheels makes for less trail.

A steeper head or steering angle also makes for less trail. More rake or offset means less trail, less rake, more trail. Which is why this frame had a far sorter fork offset.

The drawing is for a road bike, the trail makes for a bike that will hold a straight line, and also gives some self-steering characteristics when cornering. A track bike typically has less trail, because it is designed to be ridden on a banked velodrome, where the banking has the effect of riding in a straight line.

The rider needs a quick handling bike, one that the rider can physically steer and change direction easily. It calls for a bike with a steeper head angle and less trail than a road bike.  

So now I have explained what went into the design of the frame, how did it perform? Terry Shaw raced it for a whole season, but then went back to his conventional track bike with 700C or 27 inch wheels. He reported the bike was faster in the initial jump, but was harder and required more effort to keep it rolling once top speed was attained. So no real advantage.

The one pictured above may or may not be Terry’s actual bike, because I built one other for a customer of Shaw’s Cycles. Soon after this I did design and built a TimeTrial/Triathlon bike for a trade show. I can’t show you a picture because it was later sold to a bike store in Del Mar near San Diego, and I never saw it again. I have no idea where it is now and would love to know.

It was an interesting design concept. It had a 650C front wheel with a fork with even less rake than the track bike above, it also had a steeper head angle. With the rear wheel there was the option to use either a 700C or 650C wheel. There was an aluminum adapter plate that bolted on to special braze-ons on the seatstays to accommodate the different brake heights.

When the larger rear wheel was used it of course raised the rear end making the frame angles steeper, including the head angle. This changed the trail and the handling characteristics. To compensate the front fork brake mount was made so the fork could be turned and the fork blade was curved backwards like a motor-pace or stayer bike.

This increased the trail to compensate for the loss of trail due to the steeper head angle. The head angle and the fork blade offset was designed for optimum handling in either set up. In test runs it handled beautifully, but I only ever built the one.

My thinking was to use the larger wheel for flat and straight courses, and the smaller rear wheel for technical courses with a lot of twists and turns, where faster acceleration out of corners might help.


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