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Weight Weenies and the WSJ

I got a mention in the Wall Street Journal in an article about the rising cost of high end bicycles.  We all know that when it comes to bicycles, “Less costs more.” Less weight that is. The lightest bikes today are carbon fiber or titanium both very expensive materials.

The article begins with a story about a 51 year old cyclist from California who dipped into his 401K in order to buy a $20,000 titanium frame bike, custom made in Australia. WTF, like there aren’t enough good custom builders in the US?

Explaining why he had to have this bike, the cyclist said, “I can't afford the nicest car or the nicest house.” But he is willing to splurge on the best cycling equipment. If there is one truism it is that “Rich people stay rich by acting like they are poor, and poor people stay poor by acting like they are rich.”

Most will say that it is up to any individual how he spends his money. I would not argue with that. But this individual clearly could not afford this bike, and the sad thing is this purchase was totally unnecessary.

Many will no doubt see me as the old retro-grouch, against modern equipment. Not at all, I like to see myself as a voice of reason against insane behavior. And dipping into a 401K or going into debt to pay this kind of money for a bicycle is insane, especially when a person is 51 years old.

When I started racing in 1952 my bike weighed 26 lbs. This was lightweight compared to the average roadster bike that weighed about 40lbs. It was a similar bike to the one that the Pros of the day used in the Tour de France. They went over the same mountains that the Tour goes over today, except the roads were often no better than dirt roads.

In spite of the weight of my bike I did my best rides, and fastest times in the 1950s and 1960s. By the time I was 51 I would never go as fast again no matter how light my bike. Which is why I say it is insane for a 51 year old to think he needs a $20,000 bicycle, even if he could afford it.

There have always been weight weenies. I have seen advertisements from the 1800s for Ordinary’s (Penny farthing.) bicycles weighing 19 lbs. But I never saw people obsess over it until I came to the US in 1979. With the advent of carbon fiber and titanium, Weight Weenieism has reached epidemic proportions.

Cycling is a passion, and nice equipment is part of that passion, to a point. When it gets to the point where you are buying stuff you can’t afford, it is no longer a passion, it is an obsession.

“Blingey equipment that weighs less than an anorexic butterfly, is no substitute for miles in your legs.”

My bike has a custom built frame by my ex-apprentice Russ Denny. It has a welded steel frame, it looks modern, and fits me perfectly because it was custom built for me. It has Campagnolo Athena components, because I don’t need Super Record. I have no idea what it weighs, because I have never weighed it. To buy a bike like mine would cost around $4,000.

Plonking down a credit card and buying the lightest possible bike just so you can own something that others will ogle and pick it up and go ooh and aah, is not an achievement. Staying with everyone else, in spite of your bike weighing a little more is.


The WSJ article was written by Rachel Bachman, who wrote a follow-up piece here:

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Bikes or Insurance, is it the same thing?

Someone recently asked me: “You were a frame builder, so you didn’t actually make complete bicycles?”

I explained that I built frames that either had the ‘dave moulton’ name on them, or Fuso, or Recherché. And when these frames were later built up into a bicycle, the assembled item became a ‘dave moulton, Fuso or Recherché bicycle.

I further explained that the bike business is not like the auto or motorcycle industry, where a company manufactures all the parts, and then assembles them into a car or motorcycle. When it comes to high end bicycles the components are either Shimano, Campagnolo, or Sram. And even the lower priced bikes are mostly built up with the lower priced Shimano groups.

Even the big three American companies, Trek, Cannondale and Specialized design and produce a frame with their company name on it, and that’s it. All three companies’ bikes are then built up with Shimano, Campagnolo, or Sram and the end consumer gets to decide which he/she wants.

Notice I said the Big Three “Produce” a frame, they don’t actually make it. That is done in a factory in China or Taiwan, and it is possible that some of these different brands are made in the same factory. Frame design is pretty standard these days, same angles, tube lengths, fork rake, etc. No one is going out on a limb to make anything too radical.

So all three are basically selling the same item, each is no better, no worse than the other. This is why there is so much spent on marketing, the cost of which gets added to the cost of the bicycle, and passed on down to the end consumer. In most cases the consumer gladly pays this price because the marketing has convinced him that it should cost this much for the very best bike.

It occurred to me that this business model is not far removed from that of the large auto insurance companies. The Big Three bike companies assemble a bicycle with a frame that costs about the same as their competitors’ frame, with the same components that also have a fixed cost.

The Insurance companies assemble a package of insurance services that boil down to the same repairs carried out by independent body shops all over the US. The reason we see so much advertising on TV for auto insurance is because these companies are all going after the same consumer.

The one who spends the most on marketing, convinces the consumer that their insurance is the best, when if the truth be known, each is probably no better, no worse than the rest.

Part of bike marketing is supporting a professional bike team, which is a tremendous cost, Specialized does not support a team, but is an equipment supplier only. Cannondale has had to cave in and is to give up their team, and will stay in the sport as equipment supplier for Garmin Sharp.

This just leaves Trek with a fully sponsored factory team. So it will be interesting to see if they will continue to support a complete team. And if so, will their product cost more, and will it be perceived as better?


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Mystery Bikes

In my last post I mentioned Kent and Kyle Radford, the owners of the Recherche brand name. A few days ago I got the following email from Kyle:

Hey Dave, years ago while visiting your shop I remember two distinct mystery bikes. I wonder where these are today? The first was a Mountain bike you had built.

I remember you letting me ride it around the parking lot. After about 30 seconds, I thought holy cow, this thing rips!!

It made every other mountain bike I had ridden seem like a banana slug. It performed like a crit bike with knobbies. At the time you told me not to tell anyone you had built it.I think it safe now,all these years later!

The second "mystery machine" was a time trial bike. If recollection serves me right you could convert it from 700c to 26 " wheels? I remember something about the rear brake bridge where you could un-bolt and flip it to accommodate the different wheel circumference.

I don't remember what you did with the front fork. Anyway, thought it might be fun to share with your readers and satisfy my curiosity! Thanks, Kyle.

The first bike mentioned is no mystery really, it was the Fuso Mountain Bike, (Above.) and the reason I probably wanted to keep it quiet at the time was because I was about to debut it at the 1987 Interbike Show. I built around 50 of these in the years that followed, and there are still a few around.

The second bike you mention was one of a kind. I have no idea where it is today, and I would love to know. As I have no picture I will do my best to describe it. Around the late 1980s the smaller 600c wheels became popular for a short time.

The thinking behind the smaller wheel was less weight and faster acceleration. I built a few track frames for these wheels and had good reports on their performance. The bike you mention was a Time-Trial/Triathlon bike. It was again built for one of the Interbike shows.

It was an interesting design, in that it used a 600c (26in.) wheel in the front, and had the option of using a 700c (27in.) wheel at the back, or a 600c. There was a special bolt on adapter to lower the rear brake bridge when the smaller wheel was fitted. This adapter was made from aluminum plate, and bolted on to the normal brake bridge and on to two brazed on threaded bosses on the rear seatstays.

The front fork arrangement was also interesting. A smaller wheel means less trail, the head angle was steeper at 74 degrees, also meaning less trail. So to compensate, the fork only had a very slight bend, and a 1 inch (25mm.) offset or rake.

The reason behind this scant fork rake was this. When the bike was set up with two same size 600c wheels the frame was level, and the front fork was set up in the normal way.

When the larger 700c wheel was used in the rear, it lifted the back end and made the frame angles steeper, including the head angle, and it was intended when the larger rear wheel was used, for the front fork to be turned backwards, like a “Stayer” bike.

The front fork was drilled in such a way that the front brake could be bolted on from either direction. This combination of angles and fork rake were chosen to acheive ideal handling with either set up.

As I recall it was a 58cm. frame and so was too big for me to ride. My apprentice Russ Denny rode it and reported that it handled like a dream, with either rear wheel set up. My thinking behind this design was that a rider could choose a different rear wheel set up for different courses. The smaller rear wheel might be better on hilly or more technical courses, for example.

The bike had a lot of lookers at the Show, but it was a little too radical to bring in any orders. As I remember it, after the show the bike was sold to a bike store in Del Mar, on the coast just north of San Diego. I never saw or heard of it again, and have no idea where it is today.


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Two Recent Finds

Two very different and interesting pieces of my past work recently surfaced and were brought to my attention.

The first is a tandem built in England in 1975 recently showed up in Scotland when it was offered on eBay.

It was bought by Ewen Docherty, who sent me pictures, it has two sets of twin lateral tubes front and rear.

Probably one of the simplest and most sturdy of the various tandem frame configurations I built over the years.

Ewen is in the process of stripping down and re-building the bike. He sent these pictures after he had cleaned up the original paint on the frame. Not bad for 39 years old.

I nicknamed tandems “Tantrums.” I would invariably have one while building a tandem frame. The problem was a tandem frame was more than twice the amount of work of two single frames, however, it sold for less than the price of two singles, so I was screwed before I even started.

Just physically handling the frame while working on it was a pain. Every time you move it in the vise, you have to hold the frame in one hand as you tighten the vise with the other. This is no problem with a single frame, but with the size and the weight of a tandem frame it is a whole different story.

Often I could not turn away work, and people would pester me to build one for them, so I agreed. When I first came to the US I built a few tandems at Paris Sport.

But, when I started my own business again in Southern California, I vowed I would never build another tandem frame. I always said there was not enough money that anyone could offer the get me to build one more. No one ever tested me by offering a lot of money, so no more were ever built.

Having said all that, finishing a tandem frame did give more than twice the satisfaction of two singles, and that still goes for today when I see one.

The second bike to show up just this week is a Recherché, owned by Stephen Bryne from Ventura, California. When Stephen first emailed me he threw me a curve. When he described the decals and gave me the frame number 001A, it didn’t jibe with the Recherché frames I built and I feared he had a bootleg version.

However, when he sent photos I could see it was the genuine article, the scalloped treatment of the tube ends at the front and rear drop-outs was one clue. (See right.)

This was also a rare find and was a part of the history of the Recherché brand. Here is the story that I have told before but bears repeating.

In 1985 two young brothers Kent and Kyle Radford owned a bike store in Rancho Benardo, CA, just north of San Diego.

They wanted their own brand of bike they could sell in their store, and also market around Southern Calafornia. They had a name, Recherché, and a decal design, I agreed to build the frames.

Kent and Kyle were both avid bike riders, so it was natural that the first Recherché frames I built would be for them. Kent got a 53cm. frame number 001, and the last I heard he still owns it today.

The frame I built for the younger brother Kyle was a 56cm. and I stamped it 001A. That way both got a number one frame.

This is that very same frame. It has been repainted, hence the different decals.


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Chicken or the Egg?

Which came first, did Alberto Contador’s bike break and cause him to crash, or did Contador fall breaking his leg and the frame at the same time?

The above picture of a bike, taken soon after the crash with Contador’s race number 31 on it, shows the top tube separated at the point it joins the seat tube. The down tube is broken mid-way.

Unfortunately, there were no cameras there to film the actual crash as it happened. Speculation as to what actually happened was immediate online and on TV. There followed denials from Contador’s team that the frame break caused the crash. At first saying the broken frame was not even Alberto’s bike but someone else’s, and it had fell off a bike rack earlier.

According to this article in Velo-News, the story was then changed, and yes it was Contador’s bike, but after the crash the bike was laid in the road in front of the team car, and during all the excitement of attending to the fallen rider, the bike was forgotten and they accidentally drove over it.

If this was the case, then the above photo doesn’t make sense. It does not appear to me as a bike run over by a car. The frame tubes appear to be broken not crushed. And why is the front wheel not crushed also, along with the water bottle cages?

In this account of the crash by Tinkoff team manager, Barne Riis, he stated:

“Alberto crashed on a fast and straight part of the descent. He was reaching for his pocket and the bike was swept away under him probably because of a bump or hole in the road.”

I was not there, I only have the information from articles written by people who were there. But piecing together this information, along with the above photograph, then making an educated guess, based on the many crashed frames I have seen over the years. This is the scenario I would put forward.

Descending at a speed of at least 50 km. per hour, Alberto hit a pot hole. The impact would be like a hammer blow up the seatstays, stopping at the seat post with the weight of the rider sitting on the saddle. The seatstays being partially attached to the sides of the top tube, would push the top tube away from the seat tube. Once the top tube had separated, the down tube would break.

Unless a rider hits something solid, usually when he falls, the bike slides out from under him and a rider will come away with road rash. Small bones in the hand are sometimes broken. But to break a leg, one usually hits something solid, like a car, or they are thrown down violently on the road. As for example, when a frame falls apart beneath you.


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