Archive for category Projects
I decided I needed a sporty bike with wider tires than will fit on the Early, so I built a new one. I equipped it with a few new parts, but mostly items scrounged from the Early and the brown bike.
It is pretty much full Heine Kool-Aid. Toptube is .7/.4/.7, downtube is .8/.5/.8 (True Temper Oxplatinum), and it uses the Kaisei fork blades and Grand Bois fork crown (and braze-on centerpull brakes) sold by Compass. I couldn’t find a True Temper chainstay with a curve I liked, so I went for Columbus Life cyclocross units. The frame design is conventional sport/touring 73° parallel with 17 inch chainstays. But the wide fork crown and curved chainstays, along with appropriate blade length and bridge locations, means that it will fit 42 mm 650b tires and fenders. It has a low bottom bracket and low trail.
The best analogy for its ride is a like a candy that is soft on the outside with a firm caramel center. The initial ride impression is cushiness, but it feels fast, handles very well, inspires confidence on descents, and there is no feeling of excessive flex, even under as much power as I can muster.
I will continue tweaking the components. The Turbo saddle in the picture is already gone, since it causes significant pain after 40 miles or so, and I borrowed the Early’s B17, which is much more comfortable on an extended ride. It now has a front rack and a new Berthoud bag.
I noted in a previous post that my old touring bike had some shortcomings. The following post goes into excruciating detail about the history of that bike, a history which might be interesting to a few bike-history obsessives, but likely not anyone else.
The Brown Bike was built in 1978 under the tutelage of Gary Hale, who was a fellow employee at Stu’s Bike Shop in Eugene. This bike was intended to be a gravel-road camping bike.
There is, of course, nothing new about riding a bike on surfaces other than asphalt. There were no good roads in the early days of cycling and a lot of roads remained unpaved into the middle of the last century. Stages of the TDF were run on gravel into the 1960’s and maybe later. But by the late 70’s, unpaved roads were retreating into remote rural areas and bike tires were getting skinnier and skinnier. It was common knowledge that wide tires were slow and heavy. An all-road bike in 1978 seemed downright radical.
Figure 1. Anquetil and Bahamontes, TDF 1963.
I think the seeds of the idea of an all-road bike were planted on a backpacking trip when I was about 8 years old. My memories are fuzzy, but I remember bicycle tracks on the back country trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area. One of the grownups teased me that we might meet up with the the ice cream dealer making the tracks at any time. As I got older and continued to enjoy hiking and backpacking, the idea of riding into the wild and remote places grew in appeal.
The seeds were watered by Cyclists’ Touring Club accounts of British rough-stuff riding (CTC Link) and the few references that I could find to French touring bikes with 650b demi-ballon tires. I also saw an “expedition” bike around Eugene that was made in Missoula (I don’t remember the builder) that was in the same spirit. The 650b tire size was not available in the US then, American balloon tires seemed too wide, and the British three-speed 26 x 1 3/8 seemed like the best available compromise.
Alloy rims for this size, triple cranks, and cantilevers were all pretty exotic in Oregon in 1978, and it took some looking to find the pieces I needed, but I was happy with the results. The bike rode well on pavement and on gravel, and the gears were low enough for long steep climbs.
I used this bike to explore the back roads, USFS and BLM roads in the vicinity of Eugene, Oregon. And I rode it on the longest bike tour of my life so far, from Nevada City, California to Eugene, up the crest of the Sierra and the Cascades. This trip was all on pavement except for a short segment of railroad shoulder (would have been shorter if I had not missed my turn the first time) to avoid getting on the freeway at Weed.
And there was one particularly epic camping trip on jeep trails on the edge of the Waldo Lake and Three Sisters Wilderness areas.
A few months after the Brown Bike hit the road, Charles Kelly’s article about the nascent phenomenon of mountain biking hit Bicycling Magazine (Clunkers) . This article marked a turning point in bike culture and merchandising and made my attempt at an expedition bike seem a lot less radical. (And of course the more-recent development of fat bikes and the gravel-grinder fad makes this bike almost conventional.)
Later that year (1978), a young footloose man came through town. He tried my bike and loved it, and offered to buy it. I declined the sale, so he knocked out a copy in a few weeks in Gary’s shop. He then disappeared into the sunset only to appear again a year or so later on the cover of Bicycling. That’s him just right of center (under the second “i”) on the orange bike with relatively skinny tires. The scene is Pearl Pass and all the culture heroes of mountain biking are in the picture. I wish I could remember his name. He was obviously an interesting and dynamic person, and I would like to know where he ended up. (The Bicycling cover shot is from Charles Kelley’s site )
After a few years, and after a couple of seasons of road racing, I got the cyclocross bug. The only knobby ‘cross tires available in the early 80’s were sew-ups, which of course are the same rim diameter as 700c. I moved the cantilever studs (including heating the tubing to remove them and heating it again to add new studs) to accommodate the larger rim diameter, and it became a reasonably capable cyclocross bike.
During one cyclocross training session, I hit a big root (or something) buried under the leaves on a trail. The obstacle was big enough to stop the bike and launch me over the handlebars. The result was bent top tube, down tube and fork blades, but not so severely bent that I could not straighten it out again.
Some years later, long after my cyclocross days were over, the bike was again a utility and touring bike. The 700c wheel size limited the width of tire that could be mounted, and I mostly rode 28 mm tires; anything bigger was a problem with fenders. In addition, the extremely high bottom bracket with the larger tires was less than optimum under most conditions. By this time (2005 or so), 650b tires had become somewhat available, promoted mostly by Grant Peterson. In order to restore the bike to its original function, I again moved the cantilever studs and converted to the bike to 650b. This was quite successful, improving the ride and opening the tire options.
I originally designed the bike thinking about some fairly technical riding, and the BB is high to allow pedaling through rough sections. Frame angles are 71° parallel head and seat tube. I figured this would make the bike stable and cushy on rough surfaces. The chain stays are as long as I could get them with untrimmed Reynolds 531 stays and long Campi horizontal dropouts, and they come out to about 445 mm (17.5”). Of course the main reason for long stays is to get good weight distribution (and heel clearance) for a rear load, but the length of the stays also allows a reasonably wide tire between the plain round-oval-round stays. The original 1 3/8” (about 35 mm) tires fit fine. I can fit a 38mm wide 650b tire, but there is not a lot of room left for mud. The width of the fork crown also limits this bike to a tire not much wider than 35mm.
The high bottom bracket is good for rocky trails, but it makes the bike feel less stable and grounded than would a lower BB. The head angle is okay, but the seat tube is too slack for a good riding position over the BB without sliding the seat all the way forward.
The fork offset produces a conventional amount of trail (60 mm or so), and I would prefer a little less trail. The offset is also small enough that, combined with the short top tube, I kick the front fender at low speed, which is not a critical flaw but it is mildly annoying, and one would think it could be avoided on a 60 cm frame.
The best I can reconstruct from my memory and the Proteus catalog (Proteus catalog link ) , it appears the frame was constructed with a .8/.5/.8 top tube, a 1/.7/1 down tube and probably .8/.6 chain stays, and it has a .9/.6 seat tube.
After 36 years of use and abuse, two cantilever conversions, one major realignment, and a moderate amount of rust (it never got anything better than a rattle-can paint job), the bike still rides great and serves on an occasional tour, but I felt like the bike might not reliable for the long trips I dream of, and it was relegated to occasional use and replaced with the new bike.
My touring frame is a bit long in the tooth, having been built in 1978. It was the first frame I built. It has never gotten a proper paint job and is suffering some from rust, although not as much as one might expect. Damage and changes over the years make it less reliable for a long trip. It also has a few design quirks that I would like to correct.
So I built this new frame. It has a standard touring design of 72° head angle and 73° seat tube angle. It has a fairly low bottom bracket for stability. Tubing is on the stout side for durability and rigidity with a load on rough surfaces. There is plentiful clearance for 42 mm tires.
The Rohloff 14-speed hub with Paragon sliding rear dropouts is one feature that is a little out of the ordinary, but the biggest deviation from standard design is the long chain stays.
Most production touring bikes have chain stays no longer than 18” (460 mm) or so (for comparison, a competition bike’s chain stays tend to be about 16” (406 mm) or a little shorter).
The longer stays on a touring bike allow the panniers to be mounted far enough behind the rider to provide clearance between the rider’s heels and a loaded pannier while pedaling without forcing the weight of the load too far behind the rear axle. It is possible to mount a rack and panniers on a bike with short stays in a manner that allows the rider to pedal without kicking the luggage on every stroke, but a load cantilevered out in space behind the bike tends to pick up the front wheel. This messes with the weight distribution, which results in vague, unstable, and/or wobbly steering. At best, this change in handling is something the rider has to get used to; at worst, it is downright dangerous. I would theorize that the tendency for Americans to try to tour on bikes with short chain stays had a lot to do with the shift in fashion from rear loads to front loads.
The 21” (535 mm) chain stays on this frame place the center of a loaded pannier about an inch in front of the rear axle. There is almost no change in handling when a 50 lb. load is placed in the bags. The stout Tubus rack also contributes to this loaded stability.
I went for a classic British three-speed aesthetic. Most made it to the US in black, though several other colors were available. A steel VO stem and a steel Campagnolo Sport crank (manufactured briefly in the early 1970’s) fit in with the “all steel bike” theme, as do the SPD pedals styled to look like rubber pedals. The road handlebars spoil the look somewhat.
The bike hit the road in August, 2014, and it has been in regular use as a commuter/utility bike since. I have ridden it regularly on weekend excursions and two camping trips. I am very happy with the design and, for the most part, the components.
More details than anybody cares about will follow.
Cades Cove on a bike camping trip last fall; a back road on an early spring day; and a new frame for Hayduke.
My utility bike is a 1974 Schwinn Sports Tourer. It has a straight gauge chromo frame with fillet-brazed joints. The frame design could have come out of the Rivendell catalog: low bottom bracket, moderately long chain stays, and 73 degree head and seat tubes.
I bought it off Ebay in 2003 or so. I converted it to a 7-speed internal hub and added fenders and lights and other utilitarian stuff. It has averaged more than 1500 miles per year since then, commuting to work and running errands.
The bike has a few faults. One is that a 35mm tire is a tight fit laterally in the fork – the sides of the tires tend to rub on the fender and/or fork blades if everything is not set just so.
The second fault is that it rides harshly over bumps, even with 35 mm tires. I would ascribe this to the relatively stout straight-gauge tubing used in the frame. My sportier bike, with steeper angles, shorter chain stays, and narrower tires but built with standard-gauge butted tubing, is much more forgiving. It is unclear from the information out there whether the Schwinn fork is chromo, but the rear triangle is reportedly plain carbon steel.
And the third problem is that the bike cannot be ridden no-hands at any speed because of a serious shimmy. This shimmy damps out even with light hand contact on the bars, but it is a significant annoyance.
My theory (at least I have not found anybody who states it exactly this way) is that shimmy in bikes, at least in many cases, is a harmonic phenomenon something like a torsion pendulum, with the trail of the fork, which tends to make the bike go in a straight line, acting as the spring. In a torsion pendulum, the frequency of oscillation is determined by the stiffness of the torsion spring and the moment of inertia of the system.
Bikes are a little more complex than the simple torsion pendulum example, because there are two mass/moment of inertia systems influencing the oscillation. The first is the obvious one: front wheel, tire, any luggage on the front — everything that pivots around the steering axis. The second mass and moment of inertia system is not so obvious. Because the head tube moves side to side as the as the fork is turned, all of the mass of the bike that does not pivot around the steering axis pivots instead around the contact point of the rear tire. This means that the frame, rider, rear luggage, back wheel, and any other paraphernalia influence any oscillation, with mass closer to the front of the bike or extending behind the back wheel (and thus farther from the pivot point) having greater moment than weight directly over the back wheel.
In this conceptual model, shimmy occurs when the front (pivoting around the steering axis) moment of inertia/trail system has a similar natural frequency of oscillation as the back (pivoting around the rear tire contact point) moment of inertia/trail system. Since these two systems are so different, it may also be that oscillation will occur when harmonics are similar.
I don’t know a definitive way to test this theory, but if it is a good model, changing weight distribution should affect a shimmy, as should changing fork trail without changing weight distribution. I have had experiences when changing weight distribution seemed to cause or eliminate shimmy, though other times the shimmy seemed to be insensitive to changes. The Schwinn does not have racks or baskets on the front, so I can’t change loads there, but the shimmy does not respond much to a wide range of loads on the back. I have tried added damping by adjusting the headset too tight with no change. The shimmy persists with tires from 28mm to 35mm and different front hubs.
I decided what I needed was a new fork. The fork crown would be wide enough that there would be no problem with the 35mm tires. The blades would be mid-weight chromo to see if the over-bumps-ride ride would improve over the unknown material of the original fork. And I would try a low-trail design, as championed by Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly (here, for example).
Here are the results.
Problem 1: Solved. There is now plenty of clearance.
Problem 2: With the new fork, the bike rides only marginally better over bumps (based on subjective observation), even with the greater offset. Maybe a fork built with lighter fork blades would have enough more give to make a difference, but I think that would be inappropriate for a bike that gets this much abuse. Then again, maybe I will try it someday just to see how much difference it does make. Anyway, the bike got a new sprung Brooks saddle to handle some of the jarring, but that does not help my hands.
Problem 3: The finished fork results in about 25mm of trail, which is at the low end of accepted practice. Somewhat to my surprise, the handling did not change all that much. It feels quick and maneuverable at low speeds and it feels a little twitchy at downhill speeds, but it still in the range of what I would call normal.
The bike now has much less tendency to shimmy – reducing the trail seems to have worked in that regard. If the above theory is correct, increasing the trail should have also worked.
And for a bonus, I discovered that brazed-on centerpulls do indeed have a nice solid feel. But this mounting did not make enough difference in braking to make up for the trouble of making the mounting studs.
The default bicycle in the US market is the racer-wannabe sports bike. This follows from the paradigm that any weight added to a bike beyond what is absolutely necessary in competition is outside the norm. As a result, a lot of the bikes that people own are built for that single purpose and are unsuitable for anything but sport riding, preferably with a motorized support vehicle, and the general public is convinced of the impracticality of using bikes for utility purposes.
I think this is backwards. The minority paradigm, and the one that I would like to see become dominant, is that a bike is a tool for transportation that can also be used for sport, recreation, and adventure. The default should be a bike with safety and comfort features similar to other serious transportation, e.g. lights, fenders, and some means for carrying stuff. Any decrease in functionality from removing these features should be outside the norm, just as it is to remove these from a car. This would not eliminate fast or sporty bikes, and in fact, the performance difference between a stripped-down bike and a fully equipped bike can be small. It is much easier to ride fast on a complete bike than it is to haul groceries on a single-purpose sport bike, and the conditions suitable for recreation and adventure expand dramatically with adequate equipment. Even the tiny fraction of cyclists who actually race are safer and more comfortable with these features while training, and can get in more miles if they integrate routine transportation on a practical bike into their training.
Fenders are an integral part of the transportation bike primarily because they make it practical to ride in less-than-perfect weather. Riding in rain does not necessarily become pleasant, but the rider need only worry about, and dress for, what comes from the sky. There is a wider range of rainfall rate and temperature in which the wool jersey is all that is needed to keep you comfortable. Both the rider and the moving parts of the bike are shielded from water and grit from the road. Fenders keep the bike and drive chain cleaner even under dry conditions. This comes at a modest cost. Aerodynamics suffer little, if any, according to wind tunnel tests (Bicycle Quarterly, Volume 6 number1). Weight reduction, if the fenders were removed, is around a pound, or about 0.5% of a 200 lb bike and rider combination.
In a marketplace ruled by the transportation-bike paradigm, most bikes would come from the factory with fenders installed. In the real world, we are stuck with aftermarket afterthought fenders; the only exceptions are city bikes and custom rando bikes. I worked my bike shop days (1977-1987) in towns that took transportation cycling pretty seriously and I installed a lot of those retrofit fenders. In those days, the basic fender was the British-made plastic Bluemels, with German ESGE fenders as the premium choice. Bluemels were mostly white or black but were sporadically available in other colors. ESGE fenders consisted of a layer of aluminum foil sandwiched between layers of clear plastic, so they were silver colored (thus the name Chromoplastic). Nearly all bikes in those days were designed with enough clearance for fenders, and the hardware was designed so that installation was pretty easy for most situations.
Plastic fenders have a finite life. Bluemels did not seem to be as tough as ESGEs, and the Bluemels also tended to oxidize and get more brittle with age. The metallic-colored Bluemels were brittle and fragile out of the box, but an appropriate color did look sharp. My last set of ESGE/SKS fenders was purchased in about 1987 and lasted 10 or 12 years, and on the order of 10,000 to 20,000 miles. Their life was extended a couple of years with judicious hole-drilling at the ends of cracks and the deployment of zip ties.
Plastic fenders are still the most common aftermarket option. According to their web site, the German company SKS bought out Bluemels in 1983 and ESGE about 1988. Bluemels are gone, but SKS still makes Chromoplastics very similar to the old ESGEs, and they are readily available at bike shops and on the web.
Planet Bike fenders are also easy to find. I have no personal experience with them, but at least some people have found them to be very durable, and I have heard good things on the boards. There are a few other brands of plastic fenders available, but I have not seen them in shops. I would like to check out the Somas.
Metal fenders, either stainless steel or aluminum, are much more readily available now than they were in the past. They should last longer than plastic fenders (though everybody does not agree with that assessment ). Metal fenders can be noisier than plastic fenders, picking up road vibrations and clanking with object thrown off by the tires, and metal fenders are more prone to rattling. They can look really good, in a traditional art deco French-bike way. The bike shops I frequent do not stock them, but they are happy to order them, or they can be ordered several places on the web.
The big players in the small field of metal fenders are Honjo (aluminum) and Berthoud (stainless steel). Both brands are intended for installation on a bike with threaded attachment points at the brake bridge, chainstay bridge, and fork crown, as well as eyelets on the dropouts. Even with these frame features, drilling holes in the fenders and careful fitting is required; if any of these features are not included on your frame, you may have to fabricate or purchase additional hardware. This can be challenging. Recently, Velo Orange has stepped in with both aluminum and stainless fenders in a variety of sizes and styles, along with helpful mounting hardware.
I have 2 bikes with Berthoud stainless fenders. On the commuter bike (a ’74 Schwinn Sports Tourer), I bolted the front of the rear fender to the tab on the chainstay bridge/kickstand bracket. Initially, the bike ran a roller brake on the 7-speed internal-gear hub, so the brake bridge was not being used for a brake and I drilled a vertical hole through the bridge to mount the fender. Dissatisfaction with the roller brake prompted me to mount a caliper brake, at which point I bolted a bracket to the fender scrounged from the old front Chromoplastic. The front fender used a “silent block bolt”, which consists of a bolt with a long head with a hole that the front brake mounting bolt goes through; the threaded part of the bolt extends downward through the fender and is secured by a nut on the bottom of the fender. There is a rubber washer to prevent rattles. This worked fine with a 32 mm tire, but the bolt and nut extended far enough that it rubbed on a 35 mm tire. I removed the sbb and installed a VO sliding brake bridge bracket (normally used on the back), and that worked fine. These fenders have held up well for 7 years and almost 12K miles of daily commuter and utility abuse. I have some occasional tire-rub issues, but that is because I am running the biggest tire that will sort of fit. Not surprisingly, the fenders do look a little battered.
The touring bike has threaded mounts on both back bridges. This bike has cantilever brakes, and the front rack mounts through the fork crown. Installation of the fenders on this bike was pretty easy, and the silent block bolt attaches to the front rack and leaves plenty of clearance. I also mounted the front of the fender to the rack so that it could not flap around. I have ridden 5K miles or so since installing these fenders, with no rattles or rubs.
The Early has VO anodized aluminum fenders. These fenders come with some of the holes pre-drilled, a bracket mounted on the front fender, and a sliding bracket to connect the rear fender to the brake. The frame had a threaded mount on the chainstay bridge. For the pre-paint mock-up installation, I used the sliding bracket, but I could not get it tight enough to stop rattling. The front fender uses the pre-installed bracket, though I had to cut it down a little to get it to fit. Before the re-paint, I brazed a water bottle mount to the bottom of the brake bridge, which eliminated the sliding bracket (and it works fine on the front fender of the commuting bike). These VO fenders have an anodized finish, which has a somewhat rough/porous surface that is impossible to keep clean and difficult to clean once it gets dirty. However, it is a great surface for painting.
These fenders make a lot of noise when the tire throws off debris. I have also had a lot of problems with rattles, even with liberal use of leather washers. I tried everything I could think of to quiet one particularly loud rattle, and finally discovered that there was a crack halfway across the fender. I do not know if this is common with this particular model – maybe the anodizing makes them brittle – or if aluminum fenders in general are this fragile. I probably contributed to problem with an extra hole drilled for the brake bridge (I did not line it up right the first time). In addition, the brake spring made contact with the fender, putting some additional stress on that area and probably causing or contributing to the rattle. Perhaps coincidentally, the anodized fenders are no longer listed on the VO web site.
I did not want to try to return them or toss them since they were painted to match the frame, so I patched the crack with strips of sheet metal, pop rivets, and a little epoxy for good measure. I also replaced the rear brake with a Weinnmann center pull which has significantly more clearance for the fender (and by the way, it stops as well as the Galli sidepull). This fixed the big rattle, at least for now, but there are still small rattles that I have failed to cure. This bike does not currently have a rear rack, and I am thinking about adding one that I can connect to the fender for some more reinforcement.
Part of the cause of the crack may be the single mounting point between the stays and fenders for the VOs, which allows the fender to pivot around this point and flop around; the Honjos use two eyebolts. This issue is discussed in this post in the Fuji Otaku blog. I think a better solution is the two-bolt flat connection on the Berthoud, which has the rigidity of the two-bolt Honjo-style mount and does not stick out as far.
In summary, plastic fenders still have some things going for them, including availability and easier installation. In my experience, stainless steel is probably more durable, but plastic can last long enough that the difference may be moot. I am not yet convinced that aluminum is a good choice.
By the way, whichever fenders you end up with, buy them wide enough — at least 10 mm wider than the widest tire you will ever put on your bike.
I pulled the trigger on the valve purchase. The winner is the Carbometrics Top Hat, a fine piece of Italian equipment, made of titanium and carbon (not carbon fiber, but pyolitic carbon , which I gather is the same material as carbon fiber but in a sheet form). The product brochure really makes you want one, even if your existing valve works just fine (Supra-annular positioning for the Biggest Valve Possible! 40% greater flow!!!).
BTW, this is not something for which I would recommend DYI installation. Splitting your own sternum and slicing open your own heart is awkward at best. You might make a try if you have a friend who dresses his own deer and has a good bone saw, a wife who is good with a needle and thread, and an uncle who makes some whoop-ass moonshine. You might even be able to rig up a heart and lung machine using an air compressor and that old peristaltic pump in your junk box. However, this is a much more complex process than most of us are ready to tackle.
My installation process began on Tuesday, 2/16 with a little recon in the form of heart cathaterization. The cardiologist inserted a probe in the artery in my groin and ran it up to my heart. This was done under a local anasthetic, so I could observe some of the activitiy. I could not move my head much, and I really did not want to see them feeding objects into my artery, so I did not get a complete picture of what was happening. It appeared that the crew took x-ray photos of the probe in place and also used the probe to inject dye visible to x-rays and take more phtos of that. I could see some of this on the computer screen, but I could not interpret the shadowy images.
The cardiologist’s conclusion was that my arteries were clear and in good shape, so there would be no need for any additional procedures when they had me open. However, the cardiologist did not sound totally convinced that the valve was bad enough to replace.
This process left me feeling fine, but I was told not to move my right leg or lift my head until 8:00 that night, about 6 hours after the heart cath procedure, because those motions could cause bleeding from the insertion site. This made it a bit awkward when it came time to eat dinner.
When I could move again, I was carted (in a wheel chair) down to x-ray for some more shots of my chest. Over the course of the day, I must have absorbed my limit of x-radiation for the next several years.
After that, the groomers came in and I was treated to a neck-to-ankle hair clipping, except for my back and the part of my pubic hair left from the heart cath prep. I am moderately hairy, so this took a lot of effort on the part of the groomers. The clipping was followed by a shower, and what was possibly the blandest snack (saltless soup and saltless saltine crackers) of my life. Then it was time to go sleep so that I could get up fresh and rested for my 6 AM surgery prep.