Dave Moulton

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Capillary Action

David R. Ball Photo

Capillary Action is one of those laws of physics that most people know exists but don’t think about too much. It is the reason a paper towel or a sponge will soak up water. It is the reason a wick in an oil lamp draws the oil upwards, defying gravity, to the flame where it burns.

However, it is not just soft fibrous materials that have these properties, a clay flower pot or a clay brick will soak up moisture because it is porous. It occurs in any situation where there are tiny gaps or fissures between otherwise solid materials, any liquid will be naturally drawn through that gap.

When a framebuilder is brazing a lugged joint on a bicycle frame, it is capillary action that draws the liquid molten brass through the gap between the tube and the lug. If the tubes are mitered correctly, in other words the end of one tube is cut to precisely fit the curvature of the tube it butts up against, it too leaves another tiny gap between the two separate pieces of metal.

The molten brass will also be drawn between this gap to actually braze one tube to the other inside the lug. The final result is a strong joint, but one that spreads the stresses over an area.

When joining metal, in this case steel tubing, there is a need for the tubing and the finished joint to be of somewhat equal strength. If the joint is much stronger than the tube, the tube may fail adjacent to the joint. Conversely, if the joint is weaker than the tubes, the joint will fail.

The above picture is me brazing the main triangle of a frame together. In particular, I am brazing the head lugs. I am using an oxy-acetylene torch as my heat source. I used a fairy small but very hot flame, which allowed me to pin-point the heat where it was needed.

Metal when heated becomes red hot. A dark cherry red first. This is the temperature silver solder melts. I used brass for all brazing of the main joints so this melted at an orange red color. Temperature was controlled by constantly moving the torch on and off the part I was working on, and the color of the hot metal was my temperature guide.

In my right hand is the brazing torch, and a small hammer. I am not actually using the hammer, although at first glance it might appear that I am. It is just there in readiness should I need it. In my left hand is the brass filler rod. I am heating the top head lug and the top tube, and when it reaches the desired temperature, I feed in the brass.

As I feed in the brass, I watch for it to flow through the lug to appear on the head tube. You will notice the head tube extends beyond the head lugs by an inch or so. When the lug is full of brass, (I know it is because I saw the brass flow from one side to the other.) I flow out all the lug edges and any surplus brass is flowed out on the head tube where it extends beyond the lug.

This will later be cut off as scrap. Working in this fashion there is very little excess brass to clean up after. There is a similar situation at the seat lug where the seat tube is left sticking through the seat lug, to be cut off later. Again, excess brass is flowed out onto the scrap portion.

Brazing different thicknesses of steel together can create a problem. For example, the front and rear drop outs. These are of course much thicker than the tube it is slotted into, and if you come in with the flame at the point you need to braze, the tube will almost immediately glow red hot, whereas the drop out itself is still relatively cold.

The trick is to heat the dropout away from the tube, wait for it to turn red, then move towards the tube, which will quickly glow red to match the pre-heated drop out. When the first drop of brass melts and forms a bridge across the two separate parts, it magically becomes one piece of metal and all glows evenly at the desired orange-red color.

One cannot see how much brass is flowing inside the tube where the tang of the dropout reaches beyond the slot, unlike the lugged joint where the framebuilder can see the brass flow from one edge of a lug to the other. However, the builder gets a feel for how much filler rod is going into the joint to know whether it is full or not.

Finally, what is that little hammer for? Well, lugs usually come in standard angles of 73 degrees. But not every frame I built was those exact same angles. So when I assembled the frame and pulled the lugs to the desired angle it left a little gap on one side.

As soon as the lug was heated it relieved any stress, but there was still a little gap to contend with. A quick switch of hands, moving the brazing torch to my left hand, keeping the joint heated and a quick tap-tap with the little hammer in my right hand closed the gap in the lug. Then switching back to as I was, I continued brazing. No loss of heat or time while I searched for my little hammer.

A little refined blacksmithing if you like.


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Bayliss-Wiley Unit Hub: Ahead of its time

I got my first serious lightweight bike in 1950. It was a modest Dawes made of Reynolds 531 tubing. It had a cottered steel crank with a single chainring, and a Simplex derailleur with 3 x 1/8 inch sprockets.

The rear hub was a Bayliss-Wiley “Unit” hub as it was known. (Pictured above.) Freewheels had always been a separate item that screwed to the hub, this one had the freewheel built into the hub as a single unit, hence its name.

Today we call this a cassette hub and is the standard equipment on most high end and even moderate lightweight bikes.

The Bayliss-Wiley Unit hub was introduced in 1938, and was produced until 1957. Not particularly lightweight it was never considered to be racing equipment, but was used by club cyclists, tourists, and young kids like me who were just starting out.

Looking back it was really ahead of its time and it would be 30 years later that the Japanese company Suntour introduced another, and failed. It wasn’t until the top two manufacturers, Shimano and Campagnolo introduced their cassette hubs that people took them seriously.

The freewheel was always considered an item that would wear out long before the hub, therefore at the time the logic was to have it be a separate component that could be unscrewed from the hub and replaced. But if one thinks about it, it is the sprockets that wear out, not the free wheel. So a cassette also makes sense.

It wasn’t until freewheels went beyond six sprockets to 7, 8, 9, and 10, that an all in one unit or cassette hub was considered practical.

The Bayliss-Wiley Company was located in Tyseley, Birmingham, England and was founded by Cecil Bayliss and Arthur Wiley in 1919.

The company had what we would call today a niche market. They produced inexpensive but high quality bicycle components. Bayliss-Wiley kept the British working man on the road, back in the day when the bicycle was often the only form of transport for the working class.

They primarily made hubs, single speed freewheels, and bottom brackets, the parts that wore out and needed regular replacement. The company thrived through the 1920s, 30s and 40s, but not surprisingly declined in the late 1950s, when the British working man abandoned the bicycle and started buying cars for the first time. 

Taken over by Reynold Chains Ltd., the Bayliss-Wiley name finally disappeared in 1969. One of the most recognizable brand names when I started cycling in the 1950s, but not too many of today's generation will have heard of Bayliss-Wiley, even in the UK.

You can read more on Ebykr.com


This article was originally posted in April 2011

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Retro-Mod: Pickin’ n’ Choosin’

Going Retro-Mod has its advantages. Vintage lugged steel frames (Sometimes in mint condition.)  can be picked up at bargain prices, and the ride quality is often far superior to that of a modern CF or aluminum frame. So there is the money saving incentive, along with value for your buck.

A few ounces heavier maybe, but often that doesn’t concern the cyclist riding for exercise and pleasure only. Why not ride a bike that is a pleasure to ride? Going retro-mod you have the best of both worlds. The ride quality and handling characteristics of the vintage frame, with the wider gear range, and fingertip shifting, together with better stopping power the modern brakes offer.

Outside of vintage frame and modern component group, one can pick and choose, which saddle, bars and stem, and pedals. New or old school. Longtime friend and regular commenter on this blog, Steve Farner, emailed me this week to say he had switched back from clipless pedals to toe clips and straps, and also tubular tires.

Steve raced back in the 1980s when toe clips and straps were the only option. When Steve went retro-mod back in 2014, he didn’t actually start with a vintage frame, but rather had Russ Denny build him a brand new retro style Fuso frame, with a level top tube, standard 1 inch and 1 1/8 inch tubes. The only exception was the frame had a plain steerer and a threadless headset. (See above.)

On his switch back to toe-clips, Steve said, “I have found getting into and out of toe clips almost silent. I get into the pedal quicker than clipless, and as a bonus, if you miss positioning, you just push on the other side of the pedal, without your foot slipping off as it does with carbon shoe bottoms and carbon or plastic pedals. Just keep pedaling and flip the pedal later.

I am riding Giro Empire shoes, which use laces and fit like a glove. The slotted cleats I use are Yoshida Champ Cleats. Keirin (NJS) approved, modern cleats used by Japanese Track racers. They fit on Look Three-Bolt modern shoes, using only two of the bolt holes. I also kept my old Vittoria shoes from my racing days, the 80's, and have cleats for them, and sometimes use those shoes, which still work fine, just not as stiff.

But the Giro Empires get into and out of clips just as well as the old shoes, and being modern are stiffer soles and good to know you can buy them today. 

The pedals I bought are MKS Supreme Track pedals. (Above.) Again they are Keirin, or NJS, approved and are quite striking in appearance. I have kept Christophe Steel Toe Clips all these years, which don't break as easily as the aluminum variety. I also have kept my Alfredo Binda Laminated White (Bianchi) Toe Straps, which I think I paid $25 for in 1980, but sell for over $100 used on Ebay today!

I like them because they don't stretch, don't need the twist in the pedals to stay in place, and do not flop while in use. I use the Cinelli toe strap buttons, chrome in this case to match the pedals and clips, which I like better than others because you can pull the straps all the way through to set wherever you like on the strap.”

The other switch Steve made was back to tubular tyres. He said:

“The wheels I am now riding are DT Swiss 190 Ceramic Bearing hubs, DT Swiss S.S. round spokes, and Mavic Reflex Rims, 32-Hole. These are a nice, light, low-drag set that match the steel frame and set-up much better than the Mavic Ksyrium SL Limited I had on.

The ride is quite impressive! Kind of like the difference between driving a sports car and a Prius. No comparison. No wonder tubulars are still preferred by pros. You just have to know how to care for them, and fix flats. 

All together I like how the bike looks. I think if Russ presented this appearance to customers, they would be enthused to own, and most importantly, ride one! Because it is the ride that stays with the owner long after the B.S. sales pitch of modern bikes and equipment.”

Unusually, Steve’s bike is all new. Rather than go Retro-Mod he has actually gone Modern-Retro. 



Here is another related article on aligning slotted cleats.

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Don't be the invisible cyclist

So often a car will turn or pull out in front of cyclist causing serious injury, then claim, “I didn’t see him.”  The cyclist might ask, “Am I invisible? I am wearing a bright lime green jacket.”

It is not a case of the cyclist being invisible, but one of the position of the cyclist and other vehicles on the road giving the illusion that he is not there.

Take the common scenario in the top picture. A cyclist is following the red SUV that has just overtaken him. The driver of the SUV wants to make a right turn, and is indicating so with his turn signal.

The red SUV is slowing to less than the cyclist’s speed, so the cyclist moves over to the left to go around the red vehicle. He figures he can do this safely as he can hear no other cars immediately behind him.

This lack of traffic behind him is actually the cyclist’s downfall, because at this moment the blue car is emerging from this same side road, about to make a left turn to go in the opposite direction to the cyclist.

The driver of the blue car waits until he is sure the red SUV is turning, and then makes his move. He does not see the cyclist because he is hidden behind the red vehicle. For the same reason the cyclist can’t see the blue car either.

The driver of the blue car gets the illusion that there is nothing behind the red SUV, all he sees is a gap in traffic and an opportunity to pull out.

The red SUV turns, the blue car pulls out, and the cyclists runs smack into the side of the blue vehicle.

How to avoid this situation.

1.) Be aware of cars waiting in side roads and driveways ready to turn onto the road you are on.

2.) In this scenario, don’t be in a hurry to get around the turning vehicle. Had the cyclist slowed and stayed the right, he would have seen the blue car, even if the driver had not seen him. Also when the car pulled out the cyclist would have more of a chance to go behind the vehicle to avoid a collision.

3.) Listen for cars immediately behind you, if there is traffic behind this is your safety buffer and people will not pull out if they see other cars approaching. 

Statistics show that this next scenario, more than any other, is the most common cause of serious injury or death to both cyclists and motor-cyclists.

The cyclist is riding to the right of the lane and is going straight. The red SUV has just passed him and is also going straight.

The blue car is stopped with his turn signal on waiting to turn left into the side road. As in the first scenario, the driver of the blue car can’t see the cyclist because he is behind the red SUV, and also the cyclist cannot see the blue car for the same reason.

It is possible the driver of the blue car has been sitting waiting to turn for some time, and the cyclists has been partially hidden from his view by a steady stream of traffic. Now all the driver sees is a gap in traffic behind the red SUV.

The red SUV passes and the driver of the blue car steps on the gas to turn quickly. It is a small gap in traffic and his only thought is that he must get across before the next car arrives. He is no longer looking down the road otherwise he might still see the cyclist, he is now looking at the side road in the direction he is headed.

The cyclist is either hit broadside by the front of the car, maybe run over, or he runs smack into its side of the vehicle. Even if the driver sees the cyclist at the last moment, car driver and cyclist both have only a split second to act.

The car driver either panics, brakes hard and ends up as a stationary object in the cyclist's direct path, or he underestimates the cyclist's speed and tries the beat him through the intersection. Often a collision is unavoidable the moment the vehicle making the left turn has started the move.

How to avoid this situation.

1.) Think ahead. As I have just mentioned, the blue car has probably been waiting to turn for some time before the cyclist arrives. The cyclist could have made a mental note some 200 yards before he arrived at the point of a potential collision.

2.) If it is safe to do so, take the lane. Signal and move over to the left so you are visible to the driver of the car waiting to turn. Had the cyclist done this, chances are the red SUV would not have passed him, but would have still been behind him. The blue car would have had to wait for both the cyclist and the SUV to pass before turning.

Also, if the cyclist moves to the left, nearer the center of the lane, should the blue car turn, the cyclist has more opportunity to simply steer a course behind the vehicle.

3.) Again, listen for cars behind you, they are your safety buffer. If there are none and there is any doubt that the turning driver has seen you, be ready to make a panic stop. 

If the car driver has not seen the cyclist, an accident can still be avoided if the cyclist is aware ahead of time, what could happen. Otherwise, given the cyclist's speed, the reaction time, and the distance it takes to stop on a bicycle..... Well, you get the picture.

In these scenarios I have used an SUV as an example of a vehicle blocking the view of a turning driver. More often than not the vehicle you are following is a large commercial box van, truck, or bus, making the situation even worse.

The onus is of course on the driver of the vehicle entering or turning from a highway, but as it is the cyclist has the most to lose in such a situation, it behooves him or her to ride defensively at all times.

Don’t be a victim.  Always think ahead and look for potential hazards. Remember it is not that you are actually invisible, it is more an illusion that the cyclist is not there, brought on by years of conditioning and not being aware of bicycles.

Multiple times, every day for years a driver waits for a gap in traffic to make a left turn. When he sees it he goes for it, always without mishap. Then one day there is a cyclist in that gap.

Don’t let it be you, don't be the Invisible Cyclist





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Muc Off: Bike clean and lube products

I love riding my bike, but hate cleaning it.

It wasn’t always like that, I remember in my teens and twenties, Saturdays would be spent tearing my bike apart, cleaning every little individual part, then re-assembling, using fresh oil and grease.

This was a weekly ritual done in preparation for Sunday’s race, because everyone knows a clean bike goes faster. 

I still know that to be true. A clean bike is more efficient, and there is less wear and tear, especially on the drive train. Sand and oil mix to form a grinding paste that wears down moving parts. I should clean my bike more often, but it is a chore I hate. After all I’m retired, who has the time?

So imagine my delight when a company called Muc Off contacted me asking if I would like to try out their line of specialist bike cleaning products. I’d heard about Muc Off, team Sky uses their products to clean and lubricate their bikes.

An English company, founded in 1994. I love the name, but wondered, will all Americans get it? I can just see some pronouncing the “U” as “You,” as in Mucus. It is Muck Off, without the “k.”

The dictionary definition of Muck is “Wet animal manure.” But the Brits use the word where Americans would say “Crud.” In fact my initial thoughts were, the name should be Crud Off for the American market. But no, Muc Off is telling the nasty crud in no uncertain terms, to leave my bike.

By the time the product arrived there was plenty of nasty crud or muck on my bike to give it a real test. In the past I’ve always cleaned my bike with a little car wash detergent in a bucket of warm water.

What I immediately liked about these Muc Off products is, they are biodegradable, it is safe to lay the bike on my lawn to rinse off. I followed my usual procedure and removed both wheels to wash them separately.

Supplied was a Fast Action Bike Cleaner, and a separate Drivetrain Cleaner. Both cleaners come in a handy trigger pump bottle. My drivetrain was particularly disgusting, covered in a thick, black, oily sludge that was caked on solid in some places.

I laid the bike down on my driveway, (Minus the wheels.) and sprayed the chain, chainwheels, and front and rear derailleurs with the drivetrain cleaner. The chain came clean right away, but after waiting a few minutes and rinsing off with water at a low pressure from my garden hose, it became obvious this caked on crud would need a second go round.

The rear wheel cassette too was pretty much filled in between the sprockets with black, dried-on sludge. This too got a second spray with the drivetrain cleaner, and I used a brush to get between the cogs.

Above is a before and after picture, I was impressed. I decided to remove the rear derailleur pulleys and clean them separately, as the crud was really caked on and was not really accessible with the brush.

Here’s a tip, either break the chain and disassemble the rear derailleur, or if you are limited on time as I was, remove, clean and replace one pulley at a time. The bike either needs to be in a workstand, or simply turn the bike upside down.

By removing one pulley at a time, the second pulley holds the derailleur back plate, and chain in place. Each pulley consists of, a plastic pulley, a bronze bush and two little side washers.

After cleaning these separate parts, fresh grease will provide lasting lubrication, and hold the center bush and help keep the side washers in place. As it is, you will need a steady hand to keep these little side washers in place as you replace the pulley on the correct side of the chain, and insert the tiny socket screw.

After cleaning my drivetrain, I cleaned the rest of the bike and wheels, (Still separate.) with the Muc Off fast action bike cleaner. Pink in color, and in a trigger pump bottle, I liked the fact that it covered my bike in foam, so I could see if I missed a spot. Once over and a rinse was enough for the most part with a little touch up, just on the tough spots.

I used Muc Off dry lube on my chain after cleaning. It came in a handy squeeze bottle. The lubricant was a milky consistency which was good as I could see where I had been as I applied it link by link. I turned the crank a few times to work the lube in, then wiped off the surplus.

MO-94 is a multi-use, aerosol spray with a plastic tube to direct it where it is needed. It lubricates, expels water, and prevents dirt adhesion. This would be good to use between cleaning, especially if riding in wet conditions.

Finally the kit came with Bike Protect, an aerosol spray on treatment that assists in repelling dirt and water. I will have to save this for a future project, as it called for the masking of all braking surfaces, and time does not permit me to do that at the moment.

I could remove the wheels and brake shoes and apply the protectant to the rest of the bike. Also worth remembering, if this prevents dirt and crud from sticking, it will also prevent paint from sticking. So if your bike is in need of paint touch up or has engraving that needs to be detailed, do that first.

However, I do have a white Catlike Whisper helmet that shows dirt. It has a matt white finish, which would not have been my first choice but was all that was available at the time.

I cleaned the helmet with the pink bike cleaner, then sprayed it with the protectant. I will have to wait to report results.

One small suggestion, the printed instructions on the product is tiny, and difficult to read even with a magnifying glass. A separate printed copy would be nice.

To sum up, I was impressed. Muc Off did its job of cleaning under extreme conditions, my bike was pretty filthy. Bike cleaning will still be a chore for me, but hopefully now I have proper stuff to use it will be less of a chore, and who knows, I may clean it a little more often. I know I should.

For more info in the U S go to: https://us.muc-off.com/

Worldwide distributer list:  https://muc-off.com/pages/distributors

Or just Google Muc Off


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