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1978 Aero Track Frame

I came across these photos the other day of an experimental aero track frame I built at the end of 1978 a matter of weeks before I came to the US to work for Paris Sport.

The tubing was Reynolds 531, which I had modified by squishing to an oval shape between two pieces of angle iron held in a vise. The frame was a lugless filet brazed construction.

There was a sheet metal aero foil behind the head tube, and another just behind the bottom bracket in place of a chainstay bridge.

The reason for building this frame was that it went to the Reynolds Tube Company, along with a proposal that they make some special tubing for the US Olympic team bikes, to be built by me after I took my new position with Paris Sport in January 1979.

In the Spring of 1979 I did build the frames with the help of American builder Mike Melton.

The whole project turned out to be a huge fiasco and the US team never did ride the bikes.

Reynolds Tube Company had gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to produce this tubing.

The tubing never did go on the market, but Reynolds did send a few of these special sets to the French Bicycle Company, Gitane.

Gitane built an aero frame for Bernard Hinault, he rode it in the 1979 Tour de France time trial stages.

The bike got quite a bit of attention at the time, so at least Reynolds got some publicity out of it.

I got very little out of it, except for the satisfaction of knowing that if it wasn’t for the frame I built in the above pictures, then this other photo of Bernard Hinault (Below.) would not exist.

According to my record book, the frame I built was number M8292, I have no idea where it is now. The last I saw of it was when I dropped it off at the Reynolds factory just before Christmas 1978.


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Why so short?

Have you ever pulled the fork from a Fuso, or any other frame I built, and wondered why the thread on the steering tube is so short?

There is about 2 cm. (3/4 in.) of thread, when most frames have as much as 5cm. (2 inches.) of thread.

Actually there is just enough thread to adjust the headset with a few thread turns to spare, so any extra thread is not needed.

But why be so precise, and doesn’t this seem a little OCD? Not really, it is done for a good reason.

After a frame left my shop I had no control over the way it was assembled and set up.

I knew that in the many years this frame would be in use, at some point the owner might raise the quill stem as high as possible, then crank on the expander bolt so tight that it split the steering tube.  

The threaded portion also has a key slot for the headset lock-ring, making it is the weakest portion of the tube.

And if the handlebar stem expander nut was inside this threaded portion, it would not take much pressure to split or crack the steering tube.

With the thread as short as possible, even if the Handlebar stem was placed dangerously high, way above the limit mark, the expander nut is still inside the plain unthreaded part of the tube where it is its strongest. (See picture below left.)

Another reason for leaving the threaded end short. A steering tube has to be cut to a precise length.

For Campagnolo and most other headsets this was 39mm. longer than the frame head tube. In other words the “Stack” height of a headset was 39mm.

If I didn’t cut the excess from the threaded top end, then I would have to cut it from the bottom end before it was brazed into the fork crown.

Steering tubes come in various lengths, and the framebuilder chooses one that is as close as possible to the required length. The tube is “Butted,” thicker at the bottom end where it takes most of the stress.

A Columbus steering tube also has 6 spiral reinforcing ribs on the inside. By cutting the surplus length from the top threaded end, I retained more of the bottom reinforced end, making a stronger fork.

Incidentally, Columbus always had these spiral ribs inside their steering tubes. It was a feature, and a way to tell if a frame is Columbus. (See picture below.)

Don’t confuse these steering tube spiral ribs, with those inside SLX and TSX tube set. These were introduced in the late 1980s, and had the spiral ribs inside the frame tubes as well.

SLX had the ribs at the butted ends of the tubes. TSX (T for total.) the ribs went the entire length of the tube. (Except the seat tube of course, that had them at the bottom end only, to accommodate the seat post.)

However, the spiral ribs inside the steering tubes had been there for many years, as far as I know from the Columbus tube’s inception.

While I am on this subject, I have read comments online (Mostly by people with little frame design knowledge.) that these spiral ribs inside Columbus SLX and TSX where nothing more than a marketing gimmick. A rip off even.

I strongly disagree. It was a clever way to remove material from inside the tube, thereby saving weight, but at the same time retaining much of the tube’s strength.

A frame is constantly twisting as it is being ridden, especially when climbing, as the rider pushes down on the pedals on one side and pulls up on the handlebars in the opposite direction. A good frame will have a resistance to this twisting, thereby transmitting the power to the rear wheel, rather than the rider's energy being absorbed by the frame.

In order for a frame to twist, each individual tube must twist. The spiral ribs are one way to make a tube that resists twisting. Straight ribs would make little difference, whereas spiral ribs offer resistance to twisting, both with and opposite the direction of the spiral, because the twisting motion is either pushing or pulling directly along the rib.


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How a Single Ride Changed the Face of British Time Trialing

In England, in 1953, the top British time trialist was a man named Ken Joy. (Left.)

The previous year he had ridden a 100 miles in 4 hours and 6 minutes, which at that time was phenomenal.

In the early 1950s, British riders racing against the clock invariably rode on a single fixed wheel.

48 x 15, or 48 x 16 (86.4 inch or 81 inch.) would be a typical gear ratio used for 100 miles.

Courses would be selected over the flattest possible terrain, and measure to an exact distance. For example 25, 50, or 100 miles.

At the end of 1952 Ken Joy turned professional and was sponsored by Hercules, a large manufacturer of roadster bikes, located in Birmingham, England. As British time trialing did not have a professional category, the only thing open for Ken Joy, was to ride solo and attack the many place to place records and distance records under the auspices of the Road Records Association.

So when Ken Joy was invited to ride in the Grand Prix des Nations in 1953 it created tremendous excitement for the average British Club Rider. This famous French event was after all considered to be the unofficial World Time Trial Championship of Professional Cycling.

Britain was somewhat cut off and isolated from the rest of Europe as far as cycling was concerned. We were in our own little world of time trialing, and the time trials held on the continent of Europe were odd distances, and held on courses that were not always flat, so how did you compare.

There was much speculation in the weeks leading up to the event as to how well Ken Joy would do. After all he had to be in with a chance, 100 miles in 4 hours 6 minutes is not exactly hanging around, by any standard.

I was 17 years old at the time and in my second year of racing, mostly time trialing; I was definitely caught up in all the excitement. The Grand Prix des Nations was to be run over a distance of 142 kilometers, which was just over 88 miles, a distance that would suit Joy.

The event was held on a weekend, and a few of the major British newspapers had the results in Monday’s morning edition. So we had to wait until the following Wednesday when the “Cycling” magazine came out to get the result, and the full impact of what had transpired.

The event was won by a then unknown 19 year old French rider named Jacques Anquetil. Not only did he beat Ken Joy, he started 16 minutes behind the British rider and caught and passed him. A nineteen year old kid, just two years older than me, had trounced the best that Britain had to offer.

There were two British professional riders in the 1953 event; the other was Bob Maitland who's previous riding was mostly in NCU Mass Start Circuit Races. I seem to remember Maitland finished with a better time than Joy, but both were well down the field. Later in 1955, Bob Maitland was part of the first British team to ride the Tour de France.

I remember well the above picture of Anquetil, low, areodynamic, with his hands curled around the slim Mafac brake hoods. His mechanic standing on the running board of the following car with a spare bike on his shoulder. This was a whole different world, a whole different level of bike racing.

This one ride changed the face of British time trialing. Anquetil used a five speed free-wheel, with 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 cogs. With a single 53 tooth chainwheel; it gave him a top gear of 102 inches. This was the highest ratio mechanically possible at that time. Soon after British time trialists would abandon fixed wheel and use five speed straight up 14 to 18, and later 13 to 17 free wheels.

Jacques Anquetil of course went on to become one of the great cyclists of all time. Winning the Grand Prix des Nations 9 times, and going on to become the first man to win the Tour de France five times.

The Grand Prix des Nations which started in 1932, and became one of the professional classics, was held annually until 2005 when it was abandoned after the UCI inaugurated an official World Time Trial Championship.


This article appeared here in July 2009. I thought it was a story worth repeating. 

Footnote: If you haven't already done so, read this 3 part series:The History of British Cycle Racing. It tells of the ban on road racing in Britain that lasted 50 years, and how a handful of cyclists fought to get this ban lifted. Britain's current success in cycling is due in part to those who went before and dragged the sport out of the dark ages.


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Looking forward to the TDF

I have watched some great racing this year, the Spring Classics, the Giro d’Italia, and the lead up races to the Tour de France. The Paris/Niece, the Criterium du Dophine, the Route du Sud, and the Tour de Suisse. I have not written a single word about any of them here on my blog.

The reason, whenever I do it turns into a discussion on doping, and quite honestly if I am in the middle of watching a race, or I have just watched it, it spoils it for me. It is not that I am in denial, or that I am so naïve to believe that doping doesn’t still go on, but I do believe that the sport is in a better place than it has been for a long time.

The fact that no one rider is dominating the sport anymore, I feel is an indication of that. It makes for better and more interesting racing. Here we are approaching the Tour de France, with four favorites. Contador, Froome, Quintana, and Nibali.

The winner will be whoever hits peak form during the race, so don’t rule out Tejay Van Garderen. Sure Froome beat him in the Criterium du Dophine, but only by 10 seconds. And if Tejay peaks at the Tour that could change. Nibali did nothing in the same race, but then again he did the exact same thing last year but appeared to peak at the Tour.

The same goes for French riders Thibault Pinot and Warren Barguil, and young British rider Simon Yates. Any of these could peak at the right time and cause an upset. All are in with at least a chance of a podium place.

Froome has a good chance of winning if he doesn’t fall off his bike. But I would take bets on him falling off over winning. I read a quote somewhere, that Chris Froome’s riding style is like “An octopus falling from a tree.” Not a pleasing rider to watch. Sure he gets the job done, but Contador climbing out of the saddle is more like watching a ballet, and a joy to behold.

Contador has the Giro d’Italia in his legs, which could either help or hinder his chances, depending on whether or not he has taken all the right steps to recover. On the penultimate stage of the Route du Sud that included three category one climbs, Contador looked extremely strong, but Quintana was able to meet his every attack. In the end it was Contador’s superior bike handling skills on the final descent that won him the stage and the overall race.

I would like to see Contador win, if only to see him pull of the Giro/Tour double. He will almost certainly retire at the end of this year if he does. He is a joy to watch, and tough as nails, remember he dislocated a shoulder in a crash in this year’s Giro, and carried on to win. Quintana could win too, Froomey and Nibali I could care less really.

So let’s have all the anti-doping rhetoric now while I have a week to forget about it. Then I can sit back and enjoy the racing. It promises to be a great one.  


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Candy Apple Paint

If you don’t already know, a Candy-Apple paint finish is a two-step process. First a base color is applied, metallic gold for example, then a special translucent paint in a color of choice is sprayed over. The result is a finish of great depth and beauty.

One can see the sparkling metallic gold under the semi-transparent red, blue or green top coat. Just like seeing the apple under its candy coating. Hence the name.

The picture above is an example. The gold FUSO name on the down tube is actually the base coat, it was masked off, then the red candy apple was sprayed on, and the mask was removed after.

When I went to work for Masi in Southern California at the end of 1980, I was amazed at the beautiful paint work coming out of the shop.

Not only by Jim Allen, Masi’s painter, but former Masi painters, Brian Baylis, and Jim Cunningham of Cyclart, who were all sharing the same premises and paint booth.

At that time I had been painting my own frames for a number of years, so I knew how to handle a paint gun, but what I didn’t know were the little “Tricks of the Trade” it took to bring a paint finish up to the next level.

Like for example, spraying 6 or 8 clear coats over decals, then when dry, sanding smooth with very fine 600 grit paper, before applying a final clear coat. The result was a perfectly smooth finish with the decals completely buried under clear coats, with not even the slightest ripple in the top surface above the decal.

I also learned about candy apple finishes. One of the ways it was used, you would not even be aware that it is a candy apple finish. That is when used to produce a brilliant red finish. Red is one of the most difficult colors to paint and look half way decent.

The reason is the best red pigment is made from Cadmium. But it is no longer used in modern paint, because it is highly toxic and very expensive. So synthetic pigments are used, and the finished job ends up looking slightly orange. Not a true red. Red paint is also prone to fade over time when exposed to sunlight.

What I learned was the spray a candy apple red over a bright white base coat. What you see is the light reflecting back on the white undercoat, through the red translucent top coat. The result is a really intense deep red. A true red color. 

This process was not easy, because if the red was sprayed unevenly it would appear a darker or lighter shade in places where the paint was applied in heavier of lighter coats. For example, as you spray paint along the individual tubes of the frame there is a tendency to get a buildup of paint around the lugs.

If not careful, the lugs would appear darker that the main tubes. Or there might be dark blotches where the paint overlapped.

Many do not know that even on my production Fuso and Recherche frames this same candy apple red was used.

(Above and Right) But instead of a white base, I sprayed over a bright orange base coat.

The red appeared only slightly darker, but spraying over orange was a little more forgiving, therefore easier than over a pure white base.

Some of these frames are 30 years old and the red paint has not faded, the red is still as vibrant as the day it left my shop.

In the example above. The frame was painted metallic black, and white decals applied. Next a candy apple red was sprayed over all, and the end result is a deep burgundy main color with red decals.

Finally, this Fuso Lux frame was first painted white all over. Then a candy apple purple was sprayed on the bottom section only. The white acting as the base coat. Where the color fade transition takes place, the tubes were masked off in a checker board fashion. The purple was faded over this masking which was removed when the paint was dry.

Then I came back a final coat of the purple, and sprayed slightly overlapping the white squares. The effect is a checkered pattern that appears to fade in from the purple, and then disappear into the white. It also demonstrates the effect of lighter and heavier coats of the candy apple paint that I mentioned earlier.


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