There was a discussion recently on Classic Rendezvous Bike list; the tread titled “Toe overlap even on good bikes,” implied that toe overlap was a design flaw and one should not expect to see this on quality bikes. Toe overlap is a result of other critical design factors and cannot always be avoided especially on smaller frames.
When a framebuilder designs and builds a racing frame, his main criteria are to: (1.) Place the rider in a position where he can pedal with maximum efficiency, and (2.) Design the frame so the finished bike will handle at speed in the best way possible. If the result of the design is toe overlap then the builder can do little because to achieve toe clearance other aspects of the frame’s design would have to be altered.
For example the picture above shows my own bike. It has a small 52 cm. (C to T) frame and has about an inch of toe overlap. If I were to make the front end of the bike one inch longer to avoid toe overlap, I would have to do one of the four following things or a combination of all four.
(1.) I could make the seat angle steeper, or (2.) the top tube longer. (3.) I could make the head angle shallower, or (4.) the fork rake (offset) longer. The first two would effect my riding position; the last two would affect the handling of the bike.
Toe overlap is not a problem because riding and cornering at normal speed the front wheel never turns far enough for the toe to hit the front wheel. The only time it becomes an issue is when turning sharply at a very slow speed; doing a U-turn on a very narrow road for example.
Caution and common sense are all that is required when executing a tight U-turn. If you are turning left then your right pedal will be down for maximum ground clearance as you coast into the turn. By the time you need to start pedaling again you are already half way through the turn, and the right crank has to complete ¾ of a turn before the toe is opposite the front wheel.
By that time, you should be all the way around and the front wheel is straight ahead again. If you are not the coast again, or ratchet the crank back again on the freewheel.
Doing the same maneuver with a fixed gear is a little trickier; but it is a matter of timing. Go very slow and start to turn as the toe passes the front wheel; that way the crank has a whole revolution to go before it makes contact again. If the front wheel is still turned the next time round; straighten the front wheel so the toe clears, then turn sharply after it has passed.
Fixed gear and fenders (Mudguards.) is going to make this move a little difficult, but not impossible. With clipless pedals, you could unclip the outside foot and move your toe back to give more clearance. I sometimes get out of the saddle and simply point my toe downwards to give more clearance.
What you need to avoid is a situation where you get your toe on the wrong side of the wheel in a turn; if you do, try not to panic. Ratchet the crank back if you have a freewheel, or if you are riding fixed gear, keep going and let the toe pass the front wheel so you can straighten up again.
Lastly, I would like to point out that a racing motorcycle with narrow swept down handlebars; turning is restricted because the handlebars touch the fuel tank. Here is a machine that will go 200 mph plus, and restricted turning seems not to be a problem. Therefore, I maintain the opinion that toe overlap on a bicycle is neither a design fault nor a problem.
Out for a ride the other day; enjoying the beautiful weather and the peace and tranquility of the countryside, when car full of young guys drove slowly by.
Through the open passenger side window someone yells “Hey” right in my ear. I just about jumped out of my anti-bacterial padded shorts.
I wondered; what was the purpose of that? And had I been riding a Harley Davidson and sporting a lot of tattoos would he have yelled in my ear?
I neared the top of the hill on an evening training ride on a road so familiar to me I knew exactly what lay ahead; I had ridden my bike on this country road in the rural West Midlands area of England many times before.
There would be a short steep descent, a slight right hand bend at the bottom over a narrow stone bridge, then another tough climb even longer than this one. I lifted myself out of the saddle and stomped hard on the pedals, legs aching, breathing heavy, but knowing there would be a brief rest as I coasted down the other side.
At the top I sat up to allow my lungs to gulp in more oxygen; I saw him for the first time. He was just cresting the next hill ahead; silhouetted against a pale vanilla sky as the sun set. He was too far off to make out who he was but as I knew all the other racing cyclists in the area, I was sure I would know him.
All thought about coasting down the short descent was gone as I slammed into my highest gear and increased my speed; the chase was on. This is something that all racing cyclists will do instinctively; never miss an opportunity to chase down another rider.
Of course not knowing who was ahead meant I didn’t know his speed or level of fitness. I might never catch him, but I was going to try. This was in the early 1970s and I was in pretty good shape myself and the phychological boost of having someone to chase increased my adrenalin flow.
At the bottom of the hill I coasted through the slight bend and without shifting down I got out of the saddle again and let my speed and momentum carry me halfway up the next climb. Before my cadence dropped I shifted down, and up on the pedals again to the top.
I thought I caught a brief glimpse of him again and I was gaining on him, but the sun was completely set by now and it was getting quite dark. I reached down and turned on my battery lamps.
I must have chased hard for about four or five miles when I came on him suddenly; in fact I almost ran into him. He had no lights on his bike and he suddenly loomed up in the darkness. I pulled along side; I didn’t recognize him.
“Where’s your lights?” I asked.
“I wasn’t planning on being out this late, but I got a puncture earlier. I did a stupid thing; I was out of tubular cement and I had stuck my tires on with fish glue. I took me for ever to get the tire off.”
“Fish glue?” I thought, “Who sticks tires on with fish glue?”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“They call me Charlie.”
“I’ll ride with you.” I offered. “It’s a little dangerous to be out here without lights; where do you live?”
I pulled ahead of him and increased the pace a little; Charlie pulled in behind me. Ledbury was a small town about five miles further on. After a short while Charlie came through to take the pace at the front.
I slipped in behind him. It was then I got my first look at his bike; my battery lamp lit up his rear wheel and gear train. He was using an old four speed, eighth inch, freewheel block with an Osgear derailleur; a single jockey wheel on an arm under his chainwheel.
I was thinking, “I haven’t seen one of those since I was a kid in the 1950s.” I moved to the front again and remarked as I went by, “Interesting bike you have.
Charlie didn’t respond, and we rode on at a pretty good pace. I noticed every time I was on Charlie’s rear wheel I could not get comfortable. I could not figure out which direction the wind was coming from. I would ride slightly to his left, then right, but neither was any easier.
We were within a mile of Ledbury; I was at the front when a car suddenly appeared coming towards us. The road was narrow and the car came so close that I had to pull hard to the side and I found myself on the soft grass. There was the sound of a tremendous crash behind me; my wheels bogged down and I came to a quick stop. My feet were strapped to the pedals, there was no time to release them, and I fell over sideways.
I was uninjured but my first thought was for Charlie; both he and his bike were gone. So too was the car. “It must have kept going without stopping.” I thought. I took my battery lamp from my bike and searched back along the side of the road. I turned around and walked slowly down the other side.
I rode into Ledbury and stopped at a public phone box and called the police. “There’s been an accident.” I told them, and I explained what had happened. A police car arrived and I parked my bike in an alley-way and rode back with them to the scene of the incident.
The two policemen searched both sides of the road as I had done. “Are you sure this is the place?” One of them asked me.
“Yes, I remember this big tree on the bend in the road.” I told them.
“Maybe he wasn’t hit but kept on riding as you fell by the roadside.”
“It’s possible.” I answered. “But you would think he would have stopped to see if I was alright.”
Eventually we gave up the search and the officers drove me back to my bike, and I made my way home.
The next day I didn’t go to work but instead drove my car over to Ledbury and started asking around if anyone had heard of an accident the previous night. Someone suggested I enquire at the local newspaper office.
I did this and met the editor of the little local paper. He listened intently as I told him of my ride with Charlie the night before and of the accident. He told me, “It sounds to me like you encountered Charlie Finch, you’re not the first.”
“Who is he?” I asked.
“Let me show you something from our archives.” He walked over to a filing cabinet and pulled out a strip of microfilm. He placed it in a projector and scrolled through the images; he stopped on a front-page story. “Here it is, about this time of year, 1948.”
I read the headline, “Local cyclist killed in accident.” The story told of a Charlie Finch who was riding at night without lights and was struck by an oncoming car. The car went out of control striking a tree; the driver also died instantly.
There was a picture of a 1940s style car smashed against a large oak tree; the same tree I had pointed out to the police officers the night before. There was also a picture of Charlie’s bike.
The front wheel was completely smashed, the front fork was bent, and the frame was buckled at the top and down tubes. The bike had an Osgear derailleur with a single jockey wheel under the chainwheel.
Footnote: As you may have guessed this is a work of fiction; it didn’t really happen. I thought as Halloween approaches you might appreciate a bike riding ghost story.
I’m sure Chuck Schmidt will not mind if I share pictures of his pristine custom ‘dave moulton’ bike.
Built in 1983, Chuck is the original owner, and this is the original paint and chrome. A true hand built specimen, the concave seat stay caps for example, simply cut at an angle with a hacksaw, then filed with a large round file and an off cut of tubing fitted and brazed in place. Not measured but simply filed until they looked identical.
The rear brake bridge has a barrel shaped center boss that were custom made in a machine shop in England and I brought a supply of these with me when I moved to the US in 1979. The center boss was brazed to a piece of ½ inch diameter chrome-molly tubing, drilled to accept the brake bolt, then hand filed until it fit perfectly at the correct height and central between the seat stays.
Finally, the brake bridge re-enforcers were cut from a piece of steel tube. Shaped with a hand held belt sander; again not measured but shaped until they matched as a pair. Working in this fashion gave me great satisfaction, and means that this frame is unique.
When I ran my framebuilding business in California during the 1980s; occasionally a member of the general public would stumble into my frameshop. They would invariably ask two questions and at the same time try to answer themselves.
The conversation would go something like this. “Oh, you make bicycles. Who do you make them for? Schwinn?” The second double edge question was, “What are they made of? Aluminum?”
In the eyes of Joe Public at that time, there was only one bicycle company in the whole world, so anyone building bicycles had to be subcontracting for Schwinn. And racing bicycles had to be lightweight so therefore they must be made of aluminum.
I would have to go though the motions of explaining that the frames were made of lightweight steel. My customers at the time were knowledgeable people who knew that a high tensile steel was the best material for a quality frame for a road bicycle.
The serious road bicycle never caught on with Joe Public. Those dropped handlebars were uncomfortable, and the tight shorts and little white socks? Now that wasn’t what you call manly. Then came the Mountain Bike revolution. The Mountain Bike was the SUV of the bicycle world. Big, chunky, and very manly.
The truth is to enjoy a road bicycle to its fullest extent requires a certain amount of dedication. It is like the difference between jogging, giving the appearance running but taking tiny steps and moving at the speed of a brisk walk, and serious running, taking long and high strides, moving at a fast pace. If you hop on a road bike only once a month it will always feel uncomfortable.
Unfortunately it is the masses, Joe Public, that keep manufacturers and retailers in business. Manufacturers of MTBs found that aluminum was cheap and easy to weld together. Forget the ride quality; the people buying these bikes were only going to ride them once in a while anyway. Aluminum was an easy sale; in the eyes of Joe Public buying a bike for the first time, aluminum was lightweight so it must be good.
Then there is titanium. The cold war came to an end in the late 1980s and with it came an end to making armaments and a subsequent world glut it titanium. Russia dumped tons of the stuff on the market; I remember people calling me nearly every day trying to sell me cheap titanium tubing. Today titanium is something like $30,000 a ton, making for some very expensive bicycles.
How about Carbon Fiber? Wow, that’s the stuff they build Stealth Fighter Airplanes out of; you can’t get any more high tech than that. And it’s super lightweight. But again the manufactures of the carbon fiber materials look after their biggest customers first; in other words the aircraft industry. Bicycle manufactures are small fry in their eyes and so get charged a premium for the material; making the finished product very expensive.
“Steel is real,” is a catchy slogan being banded about by people in the know. Why? It is all about ride quality; a steel frame is like a very strong steel spring. It absorbs a certain amount of road shock and when the rider makes a sudden effort it has just the right amount of give, but at the same time quickly transfers the rider’s energy directly to the back wheel. It is called responsiveness.
Many people who ride road bikes do not race but simply ride for exercise and the pure pleasure of riding. Let’s face it you can burn just as many calories on any old bike, but if you make the experience pleasurable it is no longer a chore that exercise can become. If you ride a bike for pleasure, then why not ride a bike that is a pleasure to ride?
Even so steel is a hard sell. To those looking at the latest carbon fiber; steel seems like ‘old tech’ and therefore inferior. There is a whole generation of road riders who have previously ridden mountain bikes made of aluminum and carbon fiber, and have never experienced the feeling of a quality steel frame.
Steel has other advantages like longevity and reliability. Case in point; the frames I built in the 1970s and 1980s are still being ridden and enjoyed. A steel fame will not fail suddenly and dramatically; it will not disintegrate in a cloud of dust as some CF frames have been known to do.
You can crash on a steel frame and you can straighten it out or repair it and safely ride it again. Crash on a CF frame and you have no idea what damage you have done to fibers inside the frame that you cannot see.
Will steel make a come back? I believe so, but slowly. And it may not be steel’s ride qualities that bring it back, but rather law suits and warranty problems brought on by failures of other materials. If and when that happens manufactures will not state that as a reason, but will sell the ride quality of steel.
I am just an old fart who used to make bicycle frames so why should I care? No reason really; except for the satisfaction of being able to say, “I told you so.”