Monday, January 27, 2020

Old Is Good - And Sometimes New Again: Bar-end Shifters

I've been thinking about shifters lately.

As I've been working on a current project, I was trying to decide what shifters to use, and I had several choices - one of them being bar-end shifters.

Ever since Shimano introduced their STI system (Shimano Total Integration) with the brake and shift levers combined into a single complex (and expensive) unit, practically any road bike sold today has some version of "integrated" brake/shift levers, or as some of us call them, "brifters." I've been told that only "squares" call them "brifters" and that all the cool roadies laugh at the term and at the people who use it. But what can I say? Like most retrogrouches, I'm so "square" that I still say things like "square" (as opposed to "groovy"). Anyhow, Saint Sheldon called them brifters, and who am I to argue with that?

Lots of people call the integrated brake/shifter systems one of the greatest developments in modern cycling. The thing is, I've got a couple of bikes with brifters: one with Shimano's STI, and another with Campagnolo's Ergo. They're nice, but the main thing either system has going for it is convenience. With shifting controls right there at the fingertips, it seems to me that one shifts gears a lot more frequently. Is that because the levers/buttons/paddles/or-what-have-you are so close at hand - or is it because they are usually paired up with a drivetrain that has anywhere from 8 to 12 cogs in the back (multiplied by however many chainrings one has)? Shifting is easy, so you shift more often. But is it necessary? Better? I'll stick with convenient.

Then again, bar-end controls have probably 80% of the convenience with fewer drawbacks than brifters (yes, I came up with that figure after careful scientific analysis, and in no way is that a subjective, made-up, "gut-feeling" statistic).

What drawbacks? How about cost, complexity, and vulnerability? The location of integrated brake/shift levers makes them more vulnerable to crash damage. Case in point: I hit some black ice on my commuting bike last winter, hit the pavement, and knocked one of the brifters half-way round the handlebar. Luckily they just got scuffed up but didn't break - but if they had, there would have been no repair option other than full replacement (and could I have bought just one brifter, or would I have had to buy the whole set?). If they do get damaged, or if they wear out, the only remedy in most cases is to replace the entire unit, which is not exactly cheap. Then there's the complexity of the systems which means there is a lot going on in that small package, and a lot more that can go wrong. I don't know about others, but I find it really annoying to have to replace an entire component or a whole system all because one small part broke or wore out. Campagnolo levers have an advantage over Shimano in that one can replace internal parts when they get worn - but doing so might be beyond the capability of most home mechanics and even some shop mechanics. Just like our computers, phones, televisions, appliances, and other electronic goods, integrated controls on a bike become yet another situation where "repair" really just means "replace."

Keeping brake levers and shift levers separate means that individual components can be much simpler with less to break or wear out. If they need maintenance or repair, they can be easier to work on. And if something does need to be replaced, one can often replace the individual part or component and not a whole system. If one crashes and damages a traditional brake lever, the shifting components are unaffected, and replacing a brake lever alone is a lot cheaper than an integrated component. Or conversely, if the shifter needs to be replaced, the brake levers are unaffected, and so on.

Also, both down-tube shifters and bar-end shifters are less vulnerable to damage. And the bar-ends levers are still easy to reach and can be operated without removing one's hands from the bars, though it might mean moving the hands away from the brake levers for a moment. If you really must brake and shift simultaneously, as I'm sure everyone does regularly, you've just lost some convenience.

Bar-end shifters have been around a long time - at least since the 1940s, if not earlier. The overall style of bar-end shifters hasn't really changed much since they were first introduced, and many of them look outwardly similar, though the internal mechanisms have changed some. Here are a few notable ones, old and new.

When Campagnolo introduced its first parallelogram derailleur, the Gran Sport, they also offered a bar-end lever, going back at least as to 1953. The examples above, with the familiar blue covers, probably date to the '70s but were made for a couple of decades (as I understand it, the smaller parts are not interchangeable with the earlier Gran Sport ones). I once had a pair of these, and my main complaint was that they had to be set very tightly to prevent slipping or "auto-shifting" but when they were tight enough not to slip, they were awfully stiff to move.

Simplex bar-end control: earlier basic friction version. I have no personal experience with these, but mechanically speaking, these aren't all that different from the Campagnolo version shown above, and I'd expect them to work similarly. 

Simplex Retrofriction Shifters: These came out in the 1970s and have the same spring-clutch mechanism that made their Retrofriction downtube levers such a revelation. I've never used the bar-ends which are harder to find than the downtube mounted version (which I have and do use) - but that spring in the middle of the lever lets them work smoothly with a light touch, and without slipping.
SunTour Power Ratchet Bar-Cons: These were introduced in the early '70s and became among the most popular bar-end controls of all time. The concept is similar to that of the Simplex Retrofriction ones shown above, but the execution is a little different. These have a fine ratcheting mechanism that allows a light touch and action without slipping. The ratchet means you can feel the tiny little 'clicks' when moving them, so they're not quite as smooth as the Simplex - but it's still a very effective solution.

One of the great things about the SunTours is that they were made for many years with only the slightest changes, and they are almost completely re-buildable. Most (maybe all) of the small parts are interchangeable from one year to the next, so they're virtually immune to obsolescence. And believe it or not, you can still find the parts.
Here's an interesting one - Shimano "Fingertip Control" bar-ends. No group name on them, but I sometimes see them listed for sale as Dura Ace. Circa late '70s, I believe. These have a large coil spring inside which counterbalances the spring in the derailleur. No clicks or ratchets. No clutch. Just one spring working against another.

This is what the Shimano shifter looks like inside - it's very simple, really. Here's how they work: The spring in the rear derailleur is typically "high normal" - in other words, its natural position is to be in the high gear (smallest cog). The spring in the lever is "low normal" - in that it wants to move the derailleur to the lowest gear (largest cog - and by the way, this is all completely reversed for the front derailleur). To set them up, you have to move the lever against the spring to the opposite end of its travel and hold it in place while you pull all the slack out of the cable at the derailleur and then tighten the pinch bolt. It helps to have one of those cable pulling tools, aka a "4th hand tool." When you have them all set up properly, the two springs basically fight it out, tug-of-war style, and the derailleur stays in place where you put it. The movement takes a fairly light touch as there is very little friction. The same mechanism was also used in early Shimano Deore "thumb shifters" for mountain bikes.

Some more modern/current options:
Modern Shimano Indexing levers - available for 8, 9, 10, and even 11 speeds. My Rivendell has the 9-speed version - nearly 20 years old and still going strong. I don't know about the 10 and 11-sp. versions, but my old 9-sp. ones can be switched from indexing to friction, but the indexing is bulletproof so there'd be no reason to switch them. The bodies, or "pods" have been copied by other makers because they are compatible with many standard downtube shift levers - which means customizing options.


Current production Dia Compe levers. Notice that the pods are identical to the Shimano pods shown above. The levers have an extra-fine version of the SunTour Power Ratchet mech. Grant Petersen/Rivendell was instrumental in getting that ratchet mechanism resurrected, originally for a near-exact re-issue of the late '80s SunTour Sprint shifters (dubbed "Silver"), which they would then pair with the Shimano pods for some smooth-action bar-ends. Dia Compe later made this more "traditional" styled lever with the same internal mechanism. The levers themselves can be mounted on the pods, or on the downtube.

The latest version of the Rivendell Silver shifters (Silver 2) is without a doubt styled with bar-end and thumb-shifter applications in mind. Currently available from the Rivendell website.

I have bar-ends on a number of my bikes. I like them for their convenience and for all those "-ity's." You know the ones I mean: simplicity, reliability, durability, and repairability. It's nice to know such things are still valued enough to be an option in a throwaway world.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Gathering Parts - Drivetrain

As I'm gathering my parts for the early '80s Specialized Sequoia build and describing my selections, my next installment is on drivetrain components.

Crank: My first/ideal choice for a crank would be to find an early '80s Specialized "Flag" crank (like the one on my Expedition). Problem is that those seem to be pretty scarce these days - or rather, ones in my preferred length that aren't scuffed to hell and back are scarce. I'll keep my eyes peeled, but for now, I'm going to be mounting a mid-'80s Sakae FX. In terms of style, they're really not so different.

The lightly used Sakae crank is in excellent condition, worthy of a restored frame. The screen-printed logo on the drive-side arm was scratched, so I just removed what was left of it. I'm debating whether or not to do the same to the left arm. Otherwise the finish is in great shape. It's a 110/74 triple, but I left off the granny ring, making it more like a "compact" double. Current chainrings are 50/36.
Pedals: I have this pair of SunTour Superbe pedals that I found on eBay. They were used but in very good shape, and the bidding stayed low (probably because they were mis-identified in the listing). I also found a great deal on a pair of NOS replacement cages, and even though the original ones were only a little scuffed and more than presentable, I decided to swap them. The pedals now look almost new, and I have the other cages for spares.

Brand new cages, and polished bodies make these look almost like new. The sealed bearings are so smooth. I'm not sure who actually made these for SunTour, but if I had to guess, I'd say MKS.
Derailleurs: I had three different generations of Cyclone derailleurs to choose from, but ultimately decided upon the M-II version. It just seemed like it would be the best match for the early '80s Sequoia.

The long-cage rear derailleur should handle the gearing I've chosen really well. I had a matching Cyclone M-II front derailleur, which helped make the choice even easier. One thing I don't know is how well that front derailleur will work with the big 14-tooth gear jump on my crank. A lot of modern front derailleurs will handle that just fine, but I'll just have to see how that goes with a changer that was probably designed for a 42/52 crank.
Freewheel: Shimano 600

Is there something sacrilegious about putting a Shimano freewheel on an otherwise SunTour build? Vintage SunTour Winner (and New Winner) freewheels are probably my favorites, but I looked through my stash of old freewheels hoping to find something in a 13-28, and this NOS Shimano was the only one that fit the bill. But truthfully, the old Shimano 600 and Dura-Ace freewheels are awfully hard to fault - exceptionally smooth, quiet, and durable. And some people feel that the tooth profile makes for better shifting than even the old SunTour ones. So there's that.
Shift Levers: Hmmmm. . .

Still thinking about this one. I've got vintage SunTour power ratchet downtube levers which would be the good match for age, but the "look" is a little old-fashioned or clunky compared to the smoothed out "aero" components of the '80s. I've got SunTour power ratchet BarCons, which match the age, and fit with the fact that I really like BarCons. And I also have a pair of the SunTour Sprint ratcheting levers, which were the final and best version with a super fine ratchet mechanism and that smooth '80s style - unfortunately, they are for brazed-on shifter posts, and my Sequoia needs clamp-on levers. I could go searching for a compatible clamp for them (is it worth the trouble?), or I could have asked the painter to add shifter braze-ons (too late for that, though). I'll come back to this one.

That's all I've got for the moment. Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Gathering Parts - Wheels and Tires

With my Specialized Sequoia frame off at the painters, I'm taking time to go through my parts for the build. My next few posts will be dedicated to that subject, and it seems to me that wheels are a good place to start.

I found a set of complete vintage wheels that seemed like they'd be the perfect match for my project - '80s vintage SunTour Cyclone hubs with Araya 700c rims and stainless spokes (32 front and rear). They were used, but appeared to be in good condition: the hub bearings felt perfect and smooth, the rims appeared to be in excellent condition, and the wheels ran true. The hubs looked a bit dull/tarnished - but with a bit of elbow grease, I was able to make them look suitable for a freshly restored frame.

I suspect these wheels were original equipment on a pretty nice complete bike from the period. Telltale signs: plastic "pie plate" spoke protector under the freewheel, and CPSC-mandated plastic reflectors attached to the spokes. Obviously those items are now in the trash.

The Cyclone sealed bearing hubs were very similar to hubs sold with the Specialized brand in the '80s - and both brands were made by Sansin. As usual, the screen-printed labels were a bit scratched up. The rear one doesn't look too bad, but the one on the front hub was unreadable, so I removed what was left of it when I did my polishing.
The SunTour quick release levers looked about perfect when I got the wheels.
The Araya rims appear to have an anodized finish, with double eyelets at the spokes (a nice touch) and look great. They would have been a popular rim on many higher-end Japanese-built bikes in the '80s.

My first instinct for tires was the Panaracer Pasela - a great all-around road tire at a great price. But then I found a good price on a pair of Panaracer Gravel King tires, which made them only a few dollars more per tire. The Gravel Kings have a slightly more supple casing, and a fine file tread. Haven't tried them yet, but my first observation is that they were a little harder to get mounted. I had to get out the Kool Stop tire jack to get the last couple inches of bead over the rim. That sort of thing sometimes makes me a little nervous, as I worry about what happens if I get a flat out on the road. I have a small VAR tools tire jack that's packable, so I'll have to remember to keep that handy just in case. Otherwise, they mounted up straight and even all the way around - like all the Panaracer-made tires I've used.
Stay tuned for more. . .

Monday, January 13, 2020

Old is Good: Specialized Sequoia

Back in the early '80s when I was first catching the bike bug, Specialized was likewise just starting to expand from tires and other bike components to frames and complete bikes. Their Allez and Sequoia models were the first offerings, soon followed by the Stumpjumper mountain bike, and the Expedition grand tourer. With well-designed frames and top-notch Japanese construction, their early bikes were lustworthy - and to a lot of retrogrouches, they still are.

I have had one of the early Stumpjumpers for a while now. It has become my kid-and-grocery hauler. For a lot of years, that was the bike to which I'd attach the Burley or the Trail-a-Bike kid trailers (sometimes both simultaneously). Nowadays I hook up an old Burley that I converted into a flatbed cargo trailer and haul groceries. Those early Stumpies have some cool build details, like lugged frame, fastback seat stay cluster, and a cool twin-plate "bi-plane" fork crown. I had mine powder coated in "Kawasaki green" and "updated" it with mustache bars and slightly more modern components ('90s instead of '80s).

A few years ago, I restored an '83 Expedition. That one is a real beauty, and one of the best long-haul touring bikes of its time (or any time?). I kept consistent with what was original, and made some reasonable updates and upgrades to the components, using '80s vintage Specialized components wherever possible - like crank, pedals, seat post, etc.. I also took advantage of the fact that the frame was wired from the factory for a bottom bracket generator, and installed the generator and a headlight for some on-demand lighting.

An ad from 1982
Always interested in "completing a set" of the early Specialized bikes, I've long had my eye open for the early generation Allez and Sequoia models. It wasn't long ago I got outbid on a 1st-gen Allez, designed by Tim Neenan (currently of Lighthouse Cycles) and possibly built by Yoshi Konno (of 3Rensho fame). I would have had to see it up close (or have had some better pictures) to say for sure if it was a Konno-built Allez, but I was interested in it regardless. Ultimately it didn't matter, as I hadn't bid enough to win it anyhow.

Recently I found the other bike I'd been looking for. A decent '82 Sequoia frame came up in my size for a price I could live with. The paint was pretty scratched up, there was some minor surface rust, and the decals were faded and/or peeling. But the chrome was still good, and there were no dents or dings, so I thought it would be a good candidate for restoration.


Like the original Allez, the Sequoia was also designed by Neenan, and the very first shipment of them (consisting of a few hundred frames as I understand it) were also built in Japan by Konno. Those ones can be identified easily because they have a fastback seat stay cluster. One can see a picture of Mike Sinyard's Konno-built Sequoia in a BikeRumor article about Specialized's headquarters and museum. Frames like mine, with a tidy, fluted seat stay treatment, were either built by Toyo, or the Miki frame shop (or possibly even Miyata) but I can't say for sure which one. I've looked into it, and even the people who were involved with frame production at Specialized in the '80s (Tim Neenan, Bryant Bainbridge, and Jim Merz - all of whom still participate in the various online bike groups/forums) seem to have some conflicting info about which frames were made where or when. I mean, we're talking about nearly 40 years ago, now. I imagine they could all be equally correct and incorrect in their memories to some extent, and different shipments could have come from different sources in different years.


The Sequoia was meant to be the ultimate "sports tourer" - a fast, racy bike that could accept a rack and do some light touring - a great "all-'rounder" road bike. It was designed for "normal reach" brakes (which by today's standards would be like "medium-long") and could fit larger tires than an all-out racing bike of the day. I haven't put tires into it yet, but I expect (or am hopeful) 32mm tires would fit - though maybe not with fenders. A 1982 Bicycling magazine test gave the bike excellent marks for ride quality, giving much credit to the specially selected Tange tubing - with a heavier-gauge down tube, but lighter top and seat tubes. That review also had the Sequoia fully equipped for touring with racks and panniers both front and rear.

I did narrow mine down to '82 by looking at a few details (besides the fact that that was how it was sold to me). One is the look of the decals, which are the second style, but still have the "Designed by Tim Neenan" sticker on the chain stay. The bikes later underwent a minor redesign by Jim Merz - I think maybe in '83(?). Mine also lacks shift lever bosses, which I believe were probably added in '83. From what I can gather by looking closely at other examples I've seen, I think when Merz updated the design, the frames got slightly shorter point lugs and a fork crown engraved with a slash-style Specialized "S" icon. The lugs on mine are very long-pointed, and the fork crown is bare. Also, the Merz redesign added some bottle cage bosses to the seat tube, whereas mine has bosses on the down tube, and another pair under the down tube (as seen in the '82 ad above), but none on the seat tube. That under-the-down-tube bottle location is an odd one. Loaded touring bikes would sometimes have it (my Expedition does, for example) and many riders would use it to hold a camp stove fuel bottle. It's an odd thing on a bike like the Sequoia though, and I'm likely to never put those bosses to any use. Fun side note: I once saw where someone had a mini-sized bottle cage on that set of "underneath" bosses that held a bottle of Phil's Tenacious Oil. Why anyone would need to carry a whole bottle of Phil's oil with them on rides, I couldn't say - but it was cool and quirky enough to make me want one.


So now that I've got the frame, I'm evaluating what parts I have, and what parts I'll need to complete the bike. As pointed out in my last post, I have several nice old SunTour Cyclone derailleurs to choose from, as well as a pair of normal reach Superbe brakes, and Cyclone hubs - so I'm thinking I'll do a mostly SunTour build-up, which is how a lot of these left bike shops in the early '80s.

I'll have more on that in upcoming posts. Stay tuned. . .

Friday, January 10, 2020

Old is Good: A Quartet of Cyclones

It's no secret to anyone who's read this blog for a while that I've always been a fan of SunTour. When I was young, impressionable, and had only the most modest of budgets for bicycles and parts, I lusted after Campagnolo - but I rode SunTour. Their derailleurs and other components were among the most affordable, and functionally (for the derailleurs, at least) among the best available at the time. Up until Shimano took SunTour's slant parallelogram design (immediately after the patent expired) and turned the world on to "index shifting," SunTour had been the best thing going. The brand's demise was one of those developments that probably started a lot of cyclists down the road to becoming future retrogrouches.

I've written before about one of my favorite SunTour derailleurs - the Vx, which was an attractive and durable workhorse for a bargain price. Today I want to take a look at another favorite, the slightly more upscale Cyclone.

One of my first nice bikes, a Schwinn Super Le Tour, was equipped with a Cyclone, and it made a good impression on me. One of my favorite vintage bikes currently uses one, and I have several more examples waiting for the right projects to come along.

When the Cyclone first came out, around 1975, it was a revelation: beautifully finished, shockingly light (about 175g), and functionally flawless. One of the unique things about its design was the "hidden" cable routing which went straight through the parallelogram. It looked cool, and made for a very direct path for the pulling forces that would actuate the unit - which I would expect would somewhat reduce the torque that the parallelogram pivots are normally subject to. The downside was that it made cable replacement a little more complicated. I've found in my experience that there is no re-using old cables, because any little kinks in a used cable make it almost impossible to feed through to the body to the fastening bolt. As long as you have a nice, new, unmolested cable, it is actually easier than it looks.

The first-generation Cyclone had a cool embossed logo on its face, some "shadow lines" and other neat visual details. There was also a black and silver version (think Campagnolo Super Record) if you're into that sort of thing. Technically speaking, I think this example would be a version 1.2 (in today's parlance). It can be distinguished by its slightly longer upper pivot arm, which drops the parallelogram a few more millimeters as compared to the first iteration. I'm not sure exactly when that little change happened, but I'm guessing many people never noticed.

The Cyclone also came in a long-cage touring version, the Cyclone GT. This would have been one of the lightest touring derailleurs available. Yes, the Huret Jubilee was also available in a long-cage touring version, and was lighter than the Cyclone, but the Cyclone would have shifted better over a wider range, while costing significantly less.

Here's a Cyclone GT from my collection, and it's in gorgeous condition. One thing I've noticed about the GT is that the pulley cage is almost identical in design to the cage on the Vx-GT, which was the gold-standard touring derailleur of the time. The split or open design allowed for easier chain removal. One might also notice that, unlike the short-cage version, the upper pulley is concentric with the cage pivot point. Most other wide-range derailleurs did not do it that way - but the benefit is that the distance between the upper pulley and the cogs (the "chain gap" that is) doesn't change when shifting gears at the crank. So the shifting across the rear cogs was consistent whether the rider was on the big ring, the small ring, or the granny ring.

Around 1981, the Cyclone got a complete redesign, which reflected the trend towards aerodynamics. The Cyclone M-II was attractive, and beautifully finished, but also a little bit "generic." Gone were the embossed logo and other visual interest points.  Everything was smoothed over and sculpted. Logos (while minimal) were screen printed on. No doubt this was a response to the introduction of Shimano's Dura Ace AX aerodynamic group, but unlike Shimano, SunTour didn't spend buckets of cash marketing the supposed aerodynamic benefits (which were questionable anyhow). Shimano's aero groups never really caught on, and were quietly dropped after a couple of years - but the smoothed out, almost featureless aero look stuck around for the rest of the decade. One thing about the M-II generation is that it was even lighter than the original. Many sources put the weight somewhere around 165 grams!

Here's a beautifully well-preserved long-cage example. It's really hard to find used examples from this period with the logo fully intact like this. Normally they get scratched and worn off to the point of being pointless. I've installed a few of these on bikes over the years, either for myself or for others, and I often end up just polishing off the remains of the logo. No need for that on this one, however. Notice that the M-II retained the unusual cable routing, but the pinch bolt was moved into the front face plate. I also want to point out that I've never seen another Cyclone with this particular pulley cage. Most of them have the same basic GT cage as the 1st gen. version shown above, with the concentric pulley and cage pivot point. On this example, the axis of the upper pulley is slightly off from the pivot point, and the cage has a more modern look, but I was shocked to discover that it is steel! So much for being the low-weight leader. I'm curious if this was maybe a short-lived experiment intended for mountain bikes? It doesn't appear in any catalogs. I've seen some ARX models that used a cage like this, but no Cyclones. What an oddball!
In 1984, the Cyclone was redesigned again (making the 2nd generation a very short-lived one). I don't know what the designers and SunTour intended, but it would appear that the focus for the 3rd generation design was different from the previous ones. It's almost as if perhaps SunTour decided that racers weren't going to use Cyclone anymore, so their Superbe became the weight leader. Cyclone bulked up a lot, both visibly and measurably (growing to nearly 210 grams). Acquiescing to demands of the mass market, the unique cable routing was ditched for a simpler, more "normal," mechanic-friendly attachment.
This example from my collection is in overall nice condition - but in typical fashion, the logo is mostly worn off. Most of the 3rd gen. Cyclones I've seen were all silver. I've occasionally seen some black and silver versions. On this one the upper and lower pivot arms seem to have a slight "slate gray" anodizing, while the front face and the pulley cage are polished silver.
One odd thing about the 3rd generation Cyclone is that they got rid of the long GT pulley cage. There was a "racing" version, and a "mid-range" version with cages that appeared to be the same length (??). And for touring, they had a bizarre "weight-penalty-be-damned" 3-pulley cage (the pulleys were in something like an "L" arrangement) that I guess was supposed to wrap a lot of chain without extending as low as a normal long cage derailleur. SunTour offered a bunch of derailleurs with that design. One doesn't see them in the wild very often, and I'm guessing that serious touring riders were probably starting to look more closely at mountain bike derailleurs like the Deore.

The next (and final) generation of the Cyclone would be the indexing-compatible "accushift" version, which was a very nice derailleur - and a little more svelte than the 3rd generation, but I don't have an example in my collection. Accushift never worked as well as Shimano's SIS, and it was only a matter of time before SunTour would end up buried. Such a shame, really. 

Of the three Cyclones I have shown here that aren't currently attached to any bike, one of them will be installed on a bike soon - but I have to decide which one to use. I'll have to keep you posted.

That's all for now. . .

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Remembering Frank Berto

I'm a bit late in posting this, but last month the bicycling community lost a true friend and fount of knowledge with the passing of Frank Berto, author of several books and longtime contributor for magazines like Bicycling and Bicycle Quarterly. He was 90 years old.

Frank Berto and his derailleur testing rig - scanned
from a 1980 article in Bicycling Magazine. 
Berto wrote more than 100 technical articles that were not only authoritative, but accessible and engaging to read. One of his best contributions to the bicycling world was his objective study of bicycle gears and changers. Cutting through all the marketing hype and mythology surrounding derailleurs, Berto built a testing rig using the lower half of an old bicycle, an electric motor, and some gauges, that allowed him to precisely and uniformly measure how well and quickly a derailleur would complete a shift. His testing proved that cost had little relationship to shifting quality, and that less expensive units (like those from Japanese maker SunTour) would handily outperform much more expensive ones. One of the long-lasting outcomes of that work was that eventually all component makers would adopt the "slant parallelogram" design originally patented by SunTour. The superiority of that design (supported by Berto's independent testing) is due to the fact that it allows the derailleur to better follow the profile of the cogs, keeping the "chain gap" between the upper pulley and the cogs more consistent. His study on optimal tire pressure is also well-regarded and has helped to improve the quality and performance of todays bicycle tires.

As mentioned, Berto was the author of several books on cycling, the most notable being his extensive history of lightweight derailleur-equipped bicycles, The Dancing Chain. I have found that book to be an enjoyable read, and an indispensable resource. I have read it cover-to-cover -- and I find myself revisiting parts of it again and again, particularly when doing research for articles on this very blog. Another book that I haven't yet read (but plan to soon), is his history of mountain bikes, The Birth of Dirt.

Frank Berto's technical prowess came from his Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering (California Institute of Technology, 1958) and his work as an instrumentation consultant for the oil industry. But he loved bicycles, and spent much of his spare time applying his knowledge to studying and improving them - and sharing that work with the rest of us through his articles and books.

I'll wrap this up with a Thank You to Frank for all he shared with us, and heartfelt condolences to his family.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Bike Ride

We have been "blessed" with unseasonably warm weather during this week, which means I was able to get out for my traditional Christmas bike ride this morning. What little snow we got last week has almost completely vanished but for a few patches in those shady spots that never seem to get the sun. Though we had temperatures in the 30s and some pretty soupy fog when I first headed out, the temperatures rose up to the 40s, the fog gradually faded, and by the time I was making my way up the long climb that always ends my rides, there was some hazy sunshine peeking through. It may hit 50 by the afternoon.

I've been getting out for Christmas bike rides since I was about 19 years old, so that's nearly 35 years I've been doing it. The weather doesn't always permit a bike ride - but I manage to ride a lot more often than not. It's become a tradition I look forward to.
At Stan Hywet Hall in Akron, the former home of F.A. Seiberling -
co-founder of Goodyear Tire and Rubber. I stopped for a photo
on my way home.
Roads were quiet this morning. All the way from my home in Akron to the little town of Peninsula in the heart of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and all the way back, I didn't see a single other cyclist on the road. There weren't all that many cars either, apart from some chippy sitting at an intersection putting on makeup after the light turned green. With weather as nice as we're currently having, I was more than a little surprised to be the only one on a bike.

With more than 20 miles under my belt for the day, and my famous pot roast in the oven, I'm taking a little break before the holiday madness starts anew. Then it's time for the Christmas Sequel: The In-Laws.

However you're spending your holidays, I hope they are relaxing and peaceful. And if you get a chance, I hope you'll be able to enjoy a bike ride.