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Framebuilders at The Cirque

I attended the annual Cirque du Cyclisme in Greensboro, North Carolina last weekend. Among those attending was a veritable who’s who of super plumbers framebuilders. Here are a few who stopped to chat and gave me an opportunity to snap a picture.

Brian Baylis: Brain and I go way back to 1980 when we both worked in the Masi circus frameshop. Brian’s bike won an award at the show for "Best Original USA."

Joe Bell: I met Joe in the early 1980s and had not seen him since; I don’t remember him being this tall. Not a framebuilder but one of the most highly respected frame painters in the business. A bike Joe painted won the "Best Paint" award at the show.

Steve Belenky: I can’t remember when I first met Steve; let’s just say a long time ago. Steve picked up two awards for “Best Fancy Lugs” and “Peoples Choice.”

Richard Sachs: Richard was one of the first American builders I met when I first came to the US in 1979; it was at the New York Bike Show that year. At the time I took one look at Richard’s frames and realized I had to pay attention to aesthetics if I was to sell frames in America. Richard won “Best Race Bike” for his cyclo-cross entry.

Peter Weigle: Fine framebuilder, another one I first met sometime in the 1980s. Peter's bike won the “Best Randonneur” award.

Darrell McCulloch, Llewellyn Bicycles: Australian framebuilder and speaker at the Saturday seminars. I was dead chuffed thrilled when Darrell told me he used to read all the magazine articles about my work in the 1980s. Darrell’s bike won “Best in Show.” He is doing some amazing work with stainless steel lugs that he designs and produces himself.

Sasha White, Vanilla Bicycles: Another seminar speaker. It was interesting to hear him speak of people saying his bikes are “too beautiful to ride.” That troubled me when I used to build custom frames, and was one of the reasons I started producing the Fuso frame. Sasha is obviously a natural talent, with skills far exceeding what would be normal for someone relatively new to the framebuilding.

Darrell McCullock and Sasha White are the new generation of framebuilders who I believe will take the craft to the next level. That is, way beyond anything that has been done before.

In the closing moments of the show I spoke with Mark Nobilette, unfortunately my camera had already gone out to the car. Mark has been building since the 1970s and like many of the others I first met him sometime in the 1980s.

It was great to have the opportunity to meet many old friends and to make a few new ones.


Headset Removal and Replacement

My recent new bike build up called for the removal and replacement of the headset cups and bearings. I did this with a few simple items I picked up at my local hardware store.

To remove the bearing cups from the frame I purchased a piece of copper tube. I found a ¾ inch repair coupling that was ¾ inch diameter inside and slightly under and inch outside. These come in various lengths; 12 inch long worked fine for my needs and the ends were already machined nice and square.

All I had to do was cut four slots down the length of the tube about 4 inches long, using a hacksaw, and bend the four pieces outwards as shown in the picture above. These squeeze in to insert through the headset cup and then spring out again inside the head tube. With a hammer or mallet, the cups can be safely knocked out of the frame.

This worked in exactly the same way as the professional Campagnolo tool that costs a great deal more. To remove the lower ring from the fork, I turned the fork upside down resting the threaded end on a wooden block, and drove the ring off with a hammer and flat punch.

It is necessary to tap first one side of the ring, then the other to get it to come off straight. The bottom ring was hardened steel so the flat punch did not damage it in any way.

To press the cups in the new frame I bought a 5/8 dia. nut, bolt, and several large flat washers. I pressed the top cup in first, which again was hardened steel, with the bolt facing up and the nut on top. Tightening the nut on the bolt squeezed the cup into the frame.

Then I removed the nut and bolt, reversed it and pressed the lower cup in. (See picture, left.) The bottom cup was light alloy so I placed the lower steel fork ring inside, upside down. This brought it flush with the outside edges of the cup so the washers were pressing on the inner hardened steel bearing surfaces, rather than the soft alloy outer edge of the cup.

Don’t press the cups in with the ball bearings in place, or you may damage the balls or the bearing surfaces.

Finally, to drive the lower ring on to the fork; I found a short piece of one inch black iron pipe. This was slightly bigger than an inch inside so it slid easily over the steering column.

Holding the fork in one hand, I drove the bearing ring onto the crown race, using the piece of iron pipe as a hammer. (See picture, right.) Once again, because the lower ring is hardened steel the iron pipe did no damage. The piece of iron pipe does not have to be threaded as shown here. It just happened to come that way, in the length and weight I needed to do the job.

If you have a 1 1/8 dia. threadless steerer you will need a pipe with a larger inside diameter. Just make sure it is loose and slides easily on the steering column.

Finally, use plenty of grease in the inside of the head tube. It will help the cups slide in and prevent corrosion in the future.


Building my blue bike while Barry blew

With tropical storm Barry breezin’ through town this weekend, bringing heavy rain and high winds, it was the ideal time to be indoors building up my new Recherche.

By Sunday afternoon the worst had past and the rain abated long enough to get outside and take a few photographs.

However, gale force winds and the threat of more rain made even a short test ride out of the question. Of course I know how the bike will ride; exactly the same as all my previous bikes.

I had blue tires and blue handlebar tape just waiting for another blue frame, so I am pleased to have found one.


Twenty-two years old and never been kissed

I recently wrote about the Recherche; a private label frame that I built in California from 1985 to around 1987. Only a little over 200 were built, and I wondered at the time of writing, what would be the chance of finding one in my size?

Not only did I find a frame, but came across one built in 1985 that had never been built up into a bike. New Old Stock that has probably been hanging in a bike store somewhere for the last 22 years.

The picture above shows virgin paint on the front and rear tips that has obviously never seen a pair of wheels. The steering column was also uncut so a headset had never been fitted.

The picture illustrates the special and distinct treatment of the fork ends and rear dropouts on the Recherche. The brass filler was allowed to sink into the end of the tube to give a scalloped effect.

I will be building the bike up this weekend in readiness for the Cirque du Cyclisme in Greensboro, North Carolina the following weekend. Watch for more pictures this coming week.


Dope: A Historical Perspective

I started racing in England in 1952 at the age of 16. I rode, trained, and hung out with more senior members of my cycling club, riders in their 20s and 30s and older. Every year we followed the Tour de France; it was an “open secret” that riders in the Tour took dope.

The drug used was Benzedrine, a brand name for a mixture of amphetamines that had been used by the military since the early 1900s. It was used extensively during WWII so in the 1950s everyone was familiar with the drug, and there were probably still ample supplies.

I never used Benzedrine and never saw it used by amateur cyclists, which is not to say it wasn’t. However, it was generally accepted that the pros used it, especially in the Tour and other big stage races.

My feelings at the time were neutral, if everyone around me accepted it why should I think otherwise? We didn’t look on it as cheating, the entire Tour de France field was on dope, it only becomes cheating if a substance is banned and only a few do it.

The subject was openly talked about amongst cyclists, but never written about or criticized in the cycling press. The general media could care less, and it seemed the UCI and other cycling governing bodies turned a blind eye.

All this changed on July 13, 1967 when British cyclist Tom Simpson (Top left.) died on the slopes Mt. Ventoux in Southern France. This was a mountain stage of that year’s Tour, and a brutally hot day. Tom Simpson died of heat exhaustion but would not have done so if amphetamines had not caused him to push his body beyond the limits of human endurance.

The general media Worldwide had a field day, and now performance enhancing drug use by professional cyclists could no longer be ignored. The open secret was out. Incidentally, Tom Simpson was a year younger than I was, so he would have grown up in that same era of tolerance to dope use by the pros.

My guess is that doping by professional cyclists can be traced back to the beginning of pro racing in the early 1900s; amphetamines became available about the same time. Six Day Track Racing became immensely popular back then, a sport crying out for a “stay-awake” drug. I was once told first hand, that dope was used in the 1930s six day races, one could suppose it was used before then.

I also suspect that dope was used in many other professional sports. If the use was an open secret, as in cycling, but never written about or recorded in the press, who can say it was not. Professional sport is entertainment, and the greater the athletic performance the more entertaining it is, which translates into more money the athlete.

I am skeptical when fans of other professional sports state that the “old timers” created records without the use of stimulants. The open secret of doping in cycling was amongst cyclists, not the general public. In other sports it would be the players who would know, not the fans. People who were around at that time have passed on, so we can never be certain?

Most professional sports were traditionally financed by spectators buying a ticket to view an event in a stadium. The Tour de France was unique in that it was free to spectators and its revenue generated entirely by advertising. Even before the days of television, this huge circus would travel around France, so people would see the advertising on vehicles, on free hand outs, plus see pictures of sponsored riders in newspapers.

Advertising revenue can be far more lucrative than income by paid spectators; the Tour de France pioneered this form of sports financing. Many people still do not realize the incomes generated by professional cyclists in Europe. Throughout the 1970s, Eddy Merckx was consistently among the top paid athletes in the World. Close to boxer, Mohammed Ali when he was at the peak of his career.

The UCI was slow to act on the doping issue, and the practice was still widespread throughout the 1970s. The professional riders would not give up dope individually unless there could be a guarantee that everyone would do so across the board. Sponsors would worry that racing would become slower and lack-luster if stimulants were dropped. And, the UCI is a group of officials elected to office. The first rule of politics is “Don’t piss off the people who can vote you out of office.”

Speaking of politics, I find it interesting to note that the cycling press who knew only too well of doping for many years but never touched the subject; after Simpson’s death and now beholding to their readership, were the strongest critics of the UCI and their handling of the problem.

It has been 40 years since Tommy Simpson died, and the sport of cycling is still struggling with the doping issue. However, one has to realize doping amongst the pros was an open secret and accepted for maybe 60 years before Simpson’s death.

The hero’s of my youth were riders like Fausto Coppi, Ferdi Kubler, Louison Bobet, and Jean Robic. They are still my hero’s even though I know they took dope, this was a different era.

Today’s dopers are a different matter, and I am definitely not a fan. However, because I have a few years behind me, and I was around when doping was tolerated, I look at the whole issue from a slightly different perspective.

This piece is based on my own memories. Some of it on second hand knowledge passed on to me, the rest is speculation and my personal opinion. My views are from someone completely detached from the sport and the bicycle business.