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My Balls have Shrunk

Not physically, but metaphorically.

I used to write interesting stuff here, some of it controversial.

I would often try to act as Devil’s Advocate and get a discussion going.

Not anymore. For better or worse I mellowed out. Looking at this old post from five years ago. This was one of the turning points:

Title: Political Correctness 

Texas A & M has an annual contest for the best definition of a contemporary expression. This year (2011) it was "political correctness." And here's the winner

"Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end."

I hate Political correctness, it is a form of censorship. It makes people afraid to speak their mind, or to even mention certain subject matter.

Yesterday I wrote a piece which I intended to be a discussion around a podcast, “Are urban cyclists elitist snobs.”

In my view cyclists are a minority, and if a small element of our minority behaves badly, we all get smeared with the same shit stick.  

I was stupid enough to draw an analogy with other minority groups, namely people of color and gays. I should have known better, and I should not have even attempted to pick up that turd.

This morning there was a comment that suggested I was racist and anti-gay. My first reaction was to start composing a comment defending myself. Then I thought fuck it, why should I have to defend myself against something that is entirely untrue?

I deleted the piece along with all comments. Maybe I acted a little hasty, but I clicked “Delete” and it is gone. Forever as far as I am concerned.

I may not have done the right thing, but I did the “Safe” thing. A suggestion like that can quickly grow legs and with the help social media I could lose my reputation overnight, and all these years of writing here would be right down the toilet. All because of one little politically incorrect turd.

End of article.


So there you have it. My Balls have Shrunk. Maybe it is old age, but I just want to live a quiet life. Social media is a powerful thing, but it is killing free speech. It is hardly fair when the critics can remain anonymous, and someone like me is writing under their real name.

I may not be as interesting as I once was, but at least I’m still here.


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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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