Friday, November 21, 2014

Exclusive Sneak Peek: New Curtis Odom Hubs

That artisan creator of some of the most beautiful hubs available today, Curtis Odom, has been at the drawing board working on a brand-new hubset that bridges classic and modern elements in a light, strong, beautiful, and serviceable package: at least temporarily known as the E13 Hubs. Though still in the design and computer rendering phase and not yet in production, the hubs look like they would look at home on just about any bike, old or new. Curtis was kind enough to share a sneak peek at what he's working on.

"The point of this hub is to bridge the gap to the rest of the cycling world, or at least more of it, but still retain some nice styling," Curtis told me. He added that the hubs would be a little lighter than some of his more retro-inspired hubs -- a "reasonable weight, but not ultra-weight weenie," he said.

From a technical standpoint, the bearings will really set these hubs apart from a lot of what's available currently. Curtis has designed these hubs around an "E-series" bearing, also known as "Magneto" bearings because of their use in Lucas racing magnetos on vintage racing motorcycles and cars. "It just so happens to be the same type of bearing used by Maxi-Car on their famous hubs," Odom said. Maxi-Car hubs, highly prized by cyclotourists for their smoothness and durability, used E9 and E10 bearings for their front and rear hubs, respectively. Those same E9 and E10 bearings have also been available as on option on Curtis Odom's current hub models. For clarification, the number represents the size in millimeters of the inside diameter of the bearing.

"A proper bearing for bicycle hubs"
But for these hubs, Odom has upped the size to 13 mm (E13) to increase durability. They will also have oversize aluminum axles to help save weight. Curtis describes the magneto bearings as an open angular contact bearing -- "a proper bearing for bicycle hubs!" he added. But another element is that the bearings are completely user-serviceable. Yes, that means occasional cleaning and re-greasing -- but it also bodes well for long life. From my retrogrouch-y perspective, I'll always choose serviceability over so-called "maintenance free."

It was a cool idea then, and still is.
Another well-thought out detail in the hubs is the thread-in dust caps. It's another element inspired by the classic Maxi-Cars -- but improved with a somewhat familiar "twist." The dust caps will have a reverse spiral machined into them that is designed to clear contaminates and water from the hub. Familiar? Yes, it's a trick borrowed from old Campagnolo bottom bracket cups. Curtis says he is also exploring some other types of non-contact seals to improve the life and performance of the new hubs.

Curtis is currently working on a couple versions of the hub, with some other variations possible. A light version for more "sporting" applications would be equipped with aluminum axles, semi low flanges, and an aluminum cassette body. A "rando" version would have steel axles, semi high flanges, and a titanium or steel cassette body. Solid "track nut" type axles might be a possible option for seriously heavy duty use. Curtis is considering other options, such as a disc-brake version if the demand is there. It is also likely that a track hub set would be built around the E13 bearings, which he says are ideal for the track. Would there be a version for thread-on freewheels? No plans for that at this time, as Odom gets so few orders for freewheel-type hubs as it is. Someone looking for hubs for a truly vintage bike might be more interested in some of the more traditional-styled Curtis Odom designs, anyhow.

For the time being, the hubs are un-named. Referring to them as the E13 is something of a "working title." Given that some of the inspiration seems to come from the classic Maxi-Car hubs, I think a name that somehow recalls that bit of design DNA might be appropriate. Any ideas on that?

There isn't info about the new hubs posted to the Curtis Odom website as of this writing, and some elements of the design may still change a bit before they become reality. Curtis says, "I am not to the point of making chips from bars of aluminum yet, but close." For someone looking for some great hubs that bridge the past and the present in a long-wearing, durable, and serviceable package, it may be worth keeping an eye out for these.

Thanks for the preview, Curtis!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cool Bike Gear from House Industries

Looking for fun holiday gifts for the cyclist in your life -- or even yourself?

House Industries, primarily known as a creator of fonts or typefaces, also offers a lot of funky items that share the company's groovy and offbeat design aesthetic, from art prints, to housewares, to bicycling accessories.
Several cap designs and colors are available.

Last year, House Ind. teamed up with framebuilding legend Richard Sachs to sponsor his cyclocross team and to produce jerseys and other cool bike-related items. They also updated the graphics on Sachs' bicycles. Since then, the line of bicycling items has grown to include caps, shirts, musettes, water bottles, and more. Even bicycle frames, complete bikes, and some components are available with the House Industries designs. Some component collaborations include Brooks leather saddles, Paul Components brakes, and T.A. Specialties cranks.

The frames, built by Waterford Precision Cycles in Wisconsin, are a light-touring or maybe randonneur-style frame, with tidy-looking lugged construction and True Temper Platinum OX tubing. The design is mostly retrogrouch-y, except that the top tube has just a bit of slope to it -- Rivendell-style. Built for Paul's brazed-on centerpull brakes, the bike has clearance for 38 mm tires with fenders. Price is $2500 for the frame and fork. Complete bikes are also available.

There are several funky designs and colors of musette bags. I like bags like this because they can be rolled or folded up and kept in a jersey pocket or a small saddlepack -- handy for use if I make an unplanned stop somewhere and find myself needing to carry an unexpected purchase.
Some pretty cool water bottles are available, too.
Check out the full collection of bicycle goodies at House Industries, or pass it along to someone who might be looking for gift ideas. I'm hoping my wife checks it out.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Carradice Harris Tweed Bags

As a fan of traditional English-style saddlebags, I thought I'd pass along this bit of news from Carradice about their collaboration with Harris Tweed on a limited edition collection of bags.

There are nine Harris Tweed colors/patterns available on three different Carradice bags: the 9 litre Barley, the 3 litre Zip Roll, and the 1 litre Bingley bag. The little Bingley bag is a more recent addition to the Carradice lineup, meant to be mounted under a saddle, on the handlebars, or even carried on a strap. I use the 9 litre Barley and like it a lot -- if you don't need to carry a ton of stuff, or if you also have some panniers or a handlebar bag with which to distribute your load, it's a nice size.

The top flaps or "lids" of the bags, as well as the side pockets on the Barley bag, are covered in the tweed, but they are under-lined with the same cotton duck fabric of the regular bags so they maintain the same waterproofing characteristics the bags are known for.

Though some of the colors and patterns might be a little much for some tastes, they would definitely make a statement. Personally, I've long been partial to the simple utilitarian look of the classic bags, especially in olive green, and especially after it's faded and worn in a little with use -- or "beausage" for you Grant Petersen devotees. But on the right bike. . .

This "Flat Cap" pattern suits my taste pretty well.

See the full collection, and maybe even place an order on the Carradice website (see HERE). They are a limited edition, so when they're gone, they're gone.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Classic Equipment: Huret Duopar

There was a time when if a touring cyclist wanted really wide-range gearing, there weren't a lot of derailleur choices, and there were a lot of compromises with the choices that were available. Simply adding a long pulley cage to a derailleur wasn't enough -- it might increase the chain wrap, but that didn't necessarily mean the derailleur would make the big jumps between gears.

Huret, of France, offered several touring derailleurs in the 1970s -- including a long-cage version of the Allvit, the Luxe Super Touring, and the superlight Jubilee Touring. The Luxe ST and the long-cage Jubilee really didn't work well on wide range freewheels (which kind of begs the question "what's the point"), and the 145-gram Jubilee was just too light for for the demands of touring. The Super Allvit had decent capacity, but it also had that cable-breaking tension the Allvit's were known for. More than that, for less than the price of the Allvit, a person could buy a SunTour VGT which had serious chain-wrapping capacity, worked better, and could handle at least a 34-tooth sprocket on the rear wheel. I've heard people say that with a little finagling in the setup, one could even stretch the capabilities a bit more, though it could result in less-crisp shifting out to the smaller cogs. Simplex offered some long-cage versions of their derailleurs, such as the SLJ 5000 GT, which was listed as being able to handle a 14 - 34 freewheel with an 18t difference in chainrings, though it wouldn't shift that wide of a range as quickly or reliably as the much cheaper SunTour. Shimano's dropped (but not slanted) parallelogram touring derailleurs, like the Titlist GS, were rated with some pretty impressive capacity, and shifted somewhere in-between the better French derailleurs and the cheap-but-effective SunTour.

The DuoPar's stamped construction had that
Erector /Meccano set aesthetic that Huret became
known for. Little plastic cosmetic covers were easily
 broken and lost (usually in that order). The extra
parallelogram moved the pulley cage up and down,
keeping a closer chain gap across wide-range freewheels.
In the interest of creating the best wide-range touring derailleur available, Huret came out with a completely new derailleur design in 1975 that used two independent parallelograms to move the pulley cage. The main parallelogram would move the cage laterally in and out, while a second unit would move the cage up and down to more closely track the steep profile of a wide-range freewheel. It was dubbed the Duopar -- as in "dual parallelogram."

Like many other Huret derailleurs, the Duopar sported stamped construction -- albeit stamped out of very expensive titanium. The main body bore a strong resemblance to their Challenger and Success models. Also, it had little plastic cosmetic covers that didn't really serve any functional purpose and could be easily broken off and lost. The exotic materials meant that the Duopar was priced out of reach for most people, so around 1981, a pressed steel version, called the Duopar Eco was released. The Duopar derailleurs were reported to be the best shifting touring units available -- capable of reliably shifting over 13 - 36 freewheels, and up to 27 tooth difference in chain wheels.

Three of Huret's touring derailleurs, with the official capacities listed.
Notice that the Super Allvit has nearly the same  listed capacity as the Duopar,
but it's a pretty safe bet it would struggle with shifting over such a wide-range
freewheel. The Jubilee with its long cage still wouldn't handle that wide of
a range, and was too delicate for any heavy-duty touring use.

For some people, the Duopar was the ultimate touring derailleur. In a 1978 Bike World article, Sheldon Brown described the "new" Duopar as a real improvement in wide-range applications. Probably nobody had more glowing reviews of the Duopar than Frank Berto, who was a technical editor for Bicycling magazine in the 1980s. Berto had built a derailleur testing rig on which he evaluated hundreds of derailleurs during his tenure at the magazine. In his careful objective analysis, the Duopar outperformed every other touring derailleur -- even unseating the previously top-ranked SunTour VGT. In his history of derailleur-equipped bicycles, The Dancing Chain, he writes, "I used Duopars on most of my bicycles. It was my reference for evaluating other touring derailleurs. SunTour's derailleurs came close, but they would not shift onto the small sprockets as positively as the Duopar."
The very un-SunTour-like Trimec.
Spotted on eBay.

The glowing reviews of the Duopar meant that SunTour and Shimano both set about trying to outperform it. SunTour's first attempt was a so-faithful-it-was-scary copy called the Trimec, around 1981 or 82. I saw one on eBay once, and it bore almost no resemblance to SunTour's signature design. SunTour's next attempt to Out-Duopar-the-Duopar was the MounTech of 1982 (which soon expanded to a whole series of "Tech" derailleurs) which combined their patented slant-parallelogram design with an extra parallelogram to move the pulley cage up and down. Being too complicated for its own good, too fragile, and non-rebuildable, the original MounTech would be seen as a serious blow to SunTour's reputation. Even after correcting a fatal flaw in the MounTech's design (a poorly-engineered jockey pulley that would self-destruct), the complex design of the MounTech made it too prone to being bent or twisted out of alignment.

Shimano also came up with a Duopar-inspired variation in 1984 -- the Deore XT Superplate. It had Shimano's familiar drop parallelogram design along with a second parallelogram for Duopar-like vertical pulley cage movement. While it didn't end up hurting Shimano's reputation, it failed to catch on. When SunTour's patent on the slanted parallelogram expired, Shimano came out with a new version of the Deore that did for mountain bikes what the DuraAce 7400 SIS did for road bikes. The complicated Superplate was dropped quietly.

Not everyone raved about the Duopar. While Frank Berto swore by it, others swore at it. In his fascinating derailleur-collection website Disraeli Gears, Michael Sweatman writes, "I hated the Huret Duopar in much the same way that I hated the earlier Huret Allvit. . . It was a fragile design made up of easily bent flimsy plates. But most of all it worked fantastically when new - but in British conditions at least, it then wore out almost immediately." Surprisingly, a lot of early mountain bikes used the Duopar,  mainly for its outrageous range. But it was a derailleur that, under the hard conditions of mountain biking, could end up hopelessly twisted and bent out of shape.

In the interest of disclosure, I've never used the Duopar. Too expensive and too complicated for my taste, especially when a SunTour would work well and had more than enough range for any riding I ever did. I had riding friends who used the Duopar, though. One saved up and dropped some serious money on one for his mountain bike (at a time when mountain bikes were still a pretty rare sight here in Ohio) despite my raised eyebrows. It suffered a tragic demise and was eventually replaced by a sturdy and reliable Deore XT (non-Superplate).

I've read that no derailleur, past or present, had the range and capacity of the Huret Duopar. Regardless, some loved it while others hated it. Used ones can be found at fairly decent prices nowadays in the vintage market, though I'd be hesitant to buy one used, considering the potential durability issues. Occasionally NOS examples come up on eBay with prices ranging from $150 - $250. Worth it? I guess it depends on whom you ask.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Future of Cycling?

I have seen the future of cycling. And I don't know if I should laugh or cry.

I just saw this video today from Oakley's Future Sport Project where Cadel Evans and an Australian design team (4Design) present the handlebar of the future. It's like some kind of carbon fiber x-wing fighter with a built-in monitor that rivals the screen size on my laptop.

Evans says at the start "I like design and sport together because in the end of the day it's always your performance, it's judged on one thing, and that's the results you get. I like that regard because that always keeps design practical and keeps it real." Frankly, I'm not seeing the "real" or "practical" in this bizarre handlebar.

That huge monitor sticking out front has an OLED screen that displays all the usual computer data like speed, cadence, heart rate, etc., in addition to terrain mapping, GPS, altitude, and even G-forces (?!). Power meter data wasn't mentioned, but maybe that was an oversight. You can't ride a bike today without power meter data! Can't be done!

Those goofy x-braces extending down to the bar ends are there to add extra stiffness while still keeping the bar as light as possible. The extra "wings" sticking up from the middle had me puzzled for a bit, but I've come to figure out that those are forearm supports to help the rider get into a "time trial tuck position and ride off the front for 200ks solo" (but without the benefit of having some control levers out there -- shifting and stopping must be done with mind control). 

Did I mention the G-force gauge? Yes? Well how about built in lights and video cameras?! Sweet.

The handlebar has all kinds of built-in wiring for electronic shifting -- though I don't see any brake levers on there, and don't know how somebody would mount some. I guess in the "future" we won't need to stop.

Clearly, the bars are just some kind of "concept" and we shouldn't expect to see them in our local bike shops any time soon -- so maybe I shouldn't be so hard on them. Then again, what does Cadel say?

"It feels like working in science fiction, but science fiction does eventually become reality, so why not?"
Welcome to the future.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Rocket Bike Speed Record

The bike blogosphere has been abuzz over this new bicycle speed record. Apparently some guy in France has taken a "bicycle" up over 200 mph. BikeSnobNYC is calling him the world's fastest fred. Here's his machine:

And here's the video, from YouTube:

On Nov. 7th, François Gissy took a rocket-propelled bicycle up to 333 km/h, or 207 mph, in 250 meters. I watched the video -- and it looks freakin' insane. But what I want to know is, for what does this count? I suppose it's some kind of daredevil record, but it doesn't have much of anything to do with bicycling. The contraption can maybe be called a bicycle only by some generous stretch of the definition -- yes it has two wheels, and it does have some pedals and a chain that could potentially propel the machine forward. But in the record, there is no pedaling being done at all. In fact, watching the video, it really looks like the guy's legs are just dangling behind him like on some kind of Wile E Coyote cartoon contraption from "Acme."

I used my prodigious photoshop skills for this. 
All he needs is a roadrunner to chase down.

An interesting achievement -- heck, just staying on the thing makes it an accomplishment. Just don't call it a bicycle.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Jack Taylor: Loss of a Treasure

The bicycling world should note the recent passing of a great man, a treasure, and a legend, Jack Taylor, who died on Nov. 2nd. Jack was one of the three "bicycle brothers" behind Jack Taylor Cycles of Stockton-on-Tees, England.

Jack Taylor was a true life-long bicycle enthusiast. After discovering the joy of cycling as a youngster, he rode his bike everywhere, eventually getting involved in the British club-racing scene in his teens. Though he deeply admired some of the high-end bicycles he saw at the time (the bicycles of Claud Butler were a favorite), the story goes that Jack could not afford to buy the lightweight bikes he dreamed of, so he set about learning to build his own. 

The Taylor brothers: Ken, Jack, and Norman.
Jack began building bicycles in 1936 out of a shed behind his mother's home in Stockton-on-Tees. In the early days, he had two friends, Lance Bell and Jack Hood, to help him. Later, as the little shed became a popular visiting spot for the area's elite cyclists, he was joined by his two brothers, Ken and Norman. Jack Taylor Cycles became the family business officially in 1945. Norman handled most of the frame-building duties, Jack did the exquisite finish work, including the beautiful box-lined pinstriping that their bikes were known for, and Ken built wheels and did final assembly on complete bicycles. Ken also boxed the bikes for shipping (many of which came to the U.S.), and wrote on each box "Have a Nice Ride."

In those years during and right after the war, apparently there were shortages that made it difficult at times to get the needed supplies for building frames, such as lugs. Out of necessity, the Taylors started building lugless frames with the fillet brazing method, or as it was sometimes known, "bronze-welding." These smooth-finished frames had a lovely "carved of one piece" look to them, but the lugless building method also lent itself to a variety of different or even non-traditional frame designs, including tandems, trikes, and more.

A beautiful touring bike belonging to Troy Warnick, courtesy
of the Classic Rendezvous. Note the elegant front and rear
racks and  internal wiring for the generator lights.
Though many of the earlier bicycles built were racing models, Jack Taylor Cycles became well known and highly regarded for their tandems and touring bikes. According to The Custom Bicycle by Kolin and de la Rosa, the company's tandem production was not far behind their production for single bicycles. Their touring bikes were probably the closest thing made in Britain to the wonderful bikes made by the great French constructeurs of the golden age, with their lovely integrated racks that were built in-house. According to Jan Heine, of Bicycle Quarterly, the Taylor brothers were "blown away" by the bicycles they saw during a visit to the Paris Bicycle Show and took tremendous inspiration back home with them. Whether lugged (often with Nervex Professional lugs) or fillet-brazed, Taylor touring bikes are real things of beauty.

I always liked the Jack Taylor
head tube logo. It has a Mondrian-
inspired look to it. It was
designed by one of their first
American customers.

The Taylor brothers, who raced with a club called the Stockton Wheelers, also helped to change the racing scene in the U.K. It's pretty well known that time trialing was the main form of road racing in the U.K. for many years, as massed-start racing was banned. British racing up through the 1950s was often done in a quasi-legal way -- sometimes described as "cloak and dagger" racing. Racers rode in black, without race numbers, and tried to avoid attracting attention of the law -- not that racing was actually illegal per se. The ban had more to do with the National Cyclists' Union, which governed British racing, than with any actual law. In 1942, a British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC), led by Percy Stallard, had formed, and the Taylor brothers were among the first to join. After participating in a massed-start race, the brothers and other members of the BLRC were suspended from the NCU. Nevertheless, those efforts eventually led to sanctioned European-style massed-start racing in the U.K. and the Taylor brothers reportedly rode together as a team in the first Tour of Britain.

Here you can see the flawless fillet-brazing, the gorgeous
flamboyant paint, exquisite box-lining, and the unique
Reynolds decals -- all in one great shot.
The Taylors had a strong relationship with the Reynolds tubing company and as a result, they were able to get a number of special tube sets produced for their bicycles. Plain gauge or butted, oversized or curved -- there were several variations made specifically for Jack Taylor Cycles. Special unique Reynolds decals were also used on many Jack Taylor bicycles.

The company was famous for its racing bikes with the curved seat tubes -- originally designed for hill climbs and time trials, according to the catalogs.

A curved seat tube model belonging to Dave Martinez.
(Photos used with permission from Classic Rendezvous)
There is a charming short film about the Taylor brothers produced by the BBC in the mid 80s called The Bike Brothers. In it are some wonderful scenes from their shop, featuring Norman brazing up a tandem frame, Ken building a wheel, and Jack pin striping another tandem frame while two of his customers look on in wonder. And in each scene, the brothers talk gently about their philosophy and how things have changed. As Jack describes the process of pin striping (using a little wheeled tool) I can't help but find myself wishing I could have visited the shop myself at some point before they closed it up. You can watch The Bike Brothers here:

In this scene from the film, Jack pinstripes a frame while some visitors watch:
"It's a bit of a job that's died out, hand-lining. Racing lads don't go in for it, you know." "You make it look so easy," says the customer. "Oh, it's dead easy," Jack replies. "I couldn't do it for a lot of years. We had a man, Mr. Dixon, he was 71. He did it all with a brush. When he died, I was in a panic. I had to force myself to do it. He couldn't use the wheel, and I couldn't use his brush. It puts a bit of life into the frame, doesn't it? When we started making these every bike had a different style of lining on it. All the different firms had their own peculiar style. Then it died out. So I can only presume that the people who did it have either died or retired. And probably I'm the only one left doing it."
Jack Taylor decided to retire in 1990, when he would have been about 72 or so, and that meant the closing of the business, though brother Norman did continue to build some frames until about 2001. And just as Jack described as the way an art like hand-lining dies out, I've read that those later frames, with paint jobs outsourced to other shops, don't have the beautiful pinstriping that the bikes had been so well known for. Norman died in 2008 at age 85.

At the end of the film, The Bike Brothers, one can hear the voice of Jack saying, "I don't like progress. I think as you get older, you find that it isn't progress, it's only change. And it isn't change always for the better." I couldn't agree more.

Farewell, Jack. Have a Nice Ride.