Dave Moulton

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Monday
Nov272017

Brass vs. Silver

Joining metal by brazing became the method of choice when the bicycle was invented in the late 1800s. Early bicycle lugs were in fact pipe fittings, but greater strength was needed, so brass was used instead of lead base solder.

Soldering and brazing are pretty much the same process, flux is required to allow the solder or brazing material to flow. The difference is the melting temperature of the different materials.

Soldering takes place at 427 degrees centigrade and below. Brazing between 593 and 895 degrees centigrade. Different sources will give a slightly different range, but as silver and brass will both melt within the range for brazing, that is the correct term. Brass brazing or silver brazing,

Silver is often known as Silver Solder, but strictly speaking it is not soldering because the melting temperature is above 427 degrees. Silver brazing rods come in soft, medium and hard, the soft being at the low end of the temperature range, progressing to a higher melting point for the medium and hard.

Silver is more expensive as it is for the most part silver, alloyed with other materials such as cadmium, or nickel. The price of silver brazing rods, will fluctuate with the price of silver on the Precious Metals Market.

Brass is already an alloy of copper and zinc, other materials will be added to give desired characteristics, like flow properties and workability. Brass melts at the higher end of the brazing range.

Often silver brazing is quoted as being best for lightweight bicycle frames because it melts at lower temperature. However, in the hands of a novice it is just as easy to overheat a joint using either silver or brass. In fact if you overheat a joint using silver, the silver will no longer flow, and the joint will have to be torn apart, thoroughly cleaned and start all over again.

Most framebuilders become proficient in either silver or brass, but my guess is, only a few totally master both. I became proficient with brass, but never built a complete frame using silver. The only time I used silver, was for brazing water bottle bosses, and top tube cable guides. The reason: Using the higher temperature brass would put a slight ripple in the thin un-butted part of the tube that would show after painting.

The traditional front and rear drop-outs, (Campagnolo for example. (picture left.)

The type where the front fork blade, chainstay and seatstay are slotted to take the drop out, have to be brass brazed.

Silver will not fill in the gaps, or fill the hole in the end of the tube. So even a builder who uses silver for the main frame will use brass for this type of drop-out.

Silver requires closer tolerances for example where the tubes fit in the lug. My method of altering the angle of the lug with a small hammer as I brazed, could not have been done with silver. The steel lug had to be at a bright red heat in order to be malleable enough to reshape. This would be too hot for silver.

Brass historically has always been used in Europe, which of course includes the UK where I learned to braze using brass. As a framebuilder becomes proficient at brass brazing, he learns to braze a joint cleanly, and not spill globs of brass over the edges of the lug. If this happens the builder will spend hour’s hand filing the excess brass away. Possibly leaving behind ugly file marks.

Silver on the other hand is softer and the excess can be sand-blasted away, or even scraped away with a small penknife. The fine and intricate, sharp edge lug work carried out by the late Brian Baylis, could not have been achieved using brass. English builder Hetchins did some fine elaborate brass brazed lug work, but on close inspection the corners and edges are not as fine and sharp as one can achieve with silver. (Baylis below left. Hetchins below right.) 

Silver brazing bicycle frames on the scale it is used today is an American development that can be traced all the way back to the Schwinn Paramount. Read the history here. One of the reasons the Schwinn Paramount was built using silver, was the easy clean up.

The intricate Nervex lugs used (Right.) would have been a pain to brass braze cleanly.

Many of the early American builders were influenced by the Schwinn Paramount, and a few even apprenticed there.

Brass or Silver? Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Both require different skill-sets.

I could never have done what Brian Baylis did, and on the other hand, he could not have built the number of frames I built using the methods he did.

Brass is more suited to production, silver is more suited to the artisan builder, custom building frames one at a time.

In my opinion, brass in many ways is more forgiving from a workability standpoint. For an absolute beginner, don’t be misled into thinking silver is easier.

Try brass brazing a few pieces of scrap metal together. You will have a lot of fun for not too much money. And a lot less heartache, than spending a ton of money by plunging straight in, and trying to silver braze a frame with little or no experience.

 

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Monday
Nov202017

Brass Brazing Reynolds 753

When I had my frame business in Worcester, England I was only about 25 miles from the Reynolds tube factory in Birmingham. Over the years I developed a close working relationship with Reynolds.

In time I got to know the engineers and management at the factory, and we exchanged various frame design and material input. I knew about Reynolds 753 long before its introduction in 1975 and always made it clear if I couldn’t brass braze it I wasn’t interested.

Traditional brazing by European framebuilders was done with a large soft oxyacetylene flame that heated the lug and several inches of the tube uniformly which allowed the brass to flow through the joint with a minimum of distortion. This was a hangover from the days when frames were hearth brazed in a forge filled with hot coals.

I had developed my own method of brazing with a smaller much hotter flame, working quickly, and heating the tube no more than a quarter of an inch from the lug. I asked the Reynolds engineers if I could submit a test sample brass brazed in this manner to compare with a silver brazed sample.

The way Reynolds tested these samples was to measure the hardness of the 753 tubing a certain distance from the lug to see how much hardness had been lost or retained. My sample did not officially pass but they were sufficiently impressed to ask if I would build six brass brazed 753 frames to be ridden and tested by the Raleigh Team in the 1976 Tour de France.

The Reynolds Company was a part of the TI (Tube Investments.) Group of companies that included Raleigh and Carlton. When I delivered the finished but unpainted frames to the Raleigh Experimental Facility in Derbyshire where the Raleigh Team bikes were built I felt a slight animosity. Possibly because they felt 753 was their baby and I was an outsider.

However my arrangement was with Reynolds not Raleigh and the frames I built were ridden in the Tour along with the Derbyshire built frames. I never knew who rode what in the Tour but I was told that all the frames performed equally well. The result of this was I was told unofficially that I could brass braze 753 but I was asked not to advertise the fact or tell others.

My working relationship with Reynolds continued when I came to the US in 1979. They invested a considerable amount of money in providing special aerodynamic tubing for the American Team Time Trial bikes. I built these at Vic and Mike Fraysee’s shop in New Jersey with the help of Mike Melton.

When I went to work for Masi in late 1980 it was required that I take the 753 test and I did submit a silver soldered sample which passed. I never built any 753 Masi frames but over the years I did build many custom ‘dave moulton’ and Fuso frames in the material. All brass brazed.

What about my promise to Reynolds not to tell? I have been retired from framebuilding since 1993, and so too are all the management and engineers I worked with at Reynolds. 753 is no longer produced, and it is not a secret that will affect National Security.

The agreement was a verbal one, sealed with a handshake. A kind of “We won’t tell if you don’t.” Over the years I never lied to a customer if they asked me outright. I told them it was brass brazed as was every other frame I built. If they didn’t ask, I didn’t offer that information.

To coin an old phrase, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” There are many 753 frames I built still out there, between 25 and 40 years old, and I have not heard of any that have failed. Any super light frame is not going to last forever, so 40 years or more is a good lifespan.

Reynolds 753 was one of the best frame materials ever produced in my opinion. I always felt that properly done brass brazing annealed the tubing at the joint just enough to take out some of the harsh riding characteristics. And remember I was only annealing the tube a very short distance from the lug and this is the stronger butted portion of the tube.

 

 

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Sunday
Nov122017

Twelve years and still going

Twelve years ago on this day November 12th. 2005 the first post appeared here and “Dave’s Bike Blog” was born.

Blogging was still relatively new in 2005, probably a few million of them. Today it is tens if not hundreds of millions.

However, how many blogs that started back in 2005 are still going today? Not many, I would guess. In fact on August 25th. 2008, I quit writing here.

I was writing two, sometime three articles a week, and that is tough to maintain, and I had self-doubts that it was even worthwhile.

I recall, people were so kind. My post, “The Party’s Over,” drew 88 comments. No criticism, just thanks and well wishes. It was people’s kindness that would bring me back six months later in February 2009. A group of people got together and presented me with a “Tribute Bike.” Built with one of my rare custom frames

I was deeply touched, and could not let the occasion pass, without writing a thank you post here, and that was enough to get me restarted. Quitting was a huge mistake, I lost the large readership I had built and had to start over. It left me with a resolve never to quit again.

I will keep going until A.) No one reads it anymore, or B.)  My health does not allow me to continue. Even then, I would hope someone else would take it over and continue.

I am amazed to think that this blog has lasted longer than my California business. I started in San Marcos in 1982, later moved about 60 mile north to Temecula and was forced to quit in 1993. That is only eleven years. Because of the Internet and this blog, more people know of me as a framebuilder now, than when I was actually building bikes.

In August 2010 I opened a Bike Registry. Wow, that’s been seven years already. I have a few bikes short of 500 listed. Not many really when you consider I built 2,400 of the Fuso Brand alone, plus all the others.

There is a Facebook Group for owners of bikes I built. With 910 members there, they are not all ‘Dave Moulton Bike’ owners. but, that is okay, some are future owners.

Over the years I had tried to get a group like this going, there was a short lived Google Group, and a Forum that went the same way. This Facebook Group was started by Texas DM Bike enthusiast Mitch Pullen. Mitch also started an ‘American Built’ group. Please take a moment to check these groups out and possibly join.

I think back 30 or 40 years when I was building some of these frames. I never could have envisioned the Internet. That people would be corresponding with me thirty or more years down the road, sending pictures of these very same bikes I was working on at that very moment, and asking questions.

The same when I started this blog twelve years ago, I was a young man just 69 years old, today I am… Well you can do the math’s. I never thought about where it would lead. It is all part of this strange and mysterious journey that is life, where it takes us, no one knows?

So I wonder as I type these words and post them here, where will they go, how many will they reach, and how long will they last?

I would love to hear your experiences via your comments, were you here in the early days, or have you found the blog recently? What would you like to see from me in the future?

 

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Tuesday
Nov072017

Look what just showed up

Way back in 2007, I wrote this article about the US Team Time Trial Bike Fiasco. Wow, has that been ten years already. Yet another chapter in my life that I would just soon forget about, but never-the-less popped up again when Dan Kehey emailed me pictures of one of these frames.

Dan had bought the frame from framebuilder Bruce Gordon, who is in the process of selling off his collection of frames. It has to be one of the US Team frames, they were the only ones built in this fashion. There are no frame numbers stamped on the bottom brack, which was normal for Paris Sport frames. Don’t ask me why, I don’t have the answer.

I am not suggesting for one moment that Bruce Gordon stole it, but somewhere along the line of ownership someone did. Of course as people were stripping these bikes of their Campagnolo parts, back at the USCF Headquarters in Colorado Springs, their excuse would be, “Well, everyone else was doing it.” Which is no excuse at all really. Remember how your Mom told you. “If your friend jumped off a cliff, would you follow him?”  

If you don’t remember this story, you will need to read the original post from 2007 for what I have written here to make sense. In the meantime here are the photos Dan sent. If the build seems a little crude, remember they were built under a very tight time schedule.

 

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Monday
Oct302017

Chasing Charlie

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 psychological 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 alongside. I didn’t recognize him.

“Where’s your lights?” I asked.

“I wasn’t planning on being out this late.” He answered. “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 forever 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?”

“Ledbury.”

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 couldn't find him, I was worried he was laying somewhere injured, hidden in the hedgerow. 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.

 

I first wrote Chasing Charlie and posted here Halloween 2006, and again in 2012. Readership changes constantly so there will be many who have not read it previously. If you have read it before I hope you enjoyed it again this time around.

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