Friday, December 19, 2014

Solid Tires Try Again (and again)

In the late 1880s, shortly after the invention of the bicycle as we know it, with its chain drive and wheels of roughly equal size, John Boyd Dunlop invented the pneumatic tire -- which (Saint) Sheldon Brown once referred to as "probably the most revolutionary and important invention to come out of the bicycle industry." Ever since then, for the past 125 years or so, solid or airless tires for bicycles, motorcycles, cars, and more, have essentially been rendered obsolete. That doesn't stop people from trying to revive them every couple of decades, though.

Right now, we seem to be in another one of those periods where a flurry of startups and "innovators" are convinced they have finally found the ultimate improvement on the pneumatic tire -- and they'd like to convince us, too.

A couple of years ago, the well-known Hutchinson brand came out with its Serenity line of airless tires. These are actually a relatively normal tough-casing "urban" clincher tire with a closed-cell "foam" rubber insert that replaces the typical inner tube. The tire is claimed to offer a ride similar to that of a "normal" tire inflated to about 60psi (more or less, depending on which sources one believes). The company also claims a life expectancy of about 8000 miles, which makes me wonder what kind of tread compound and thickness they're using, but that's neither here nor there. I find it more notable that the tires are significantly heavier than comparable pneumatic versions, and while I haven't seen any specific test results on their rolling resistance, I've read several "first impressions" that speak of them as feeling more sluggish than "normal" tires. Jan Heine, when are you going to do a head-to-head comparison between these new solid tires and your old-fashioned, retro-grouchy pneumatic tires?

The Serenity tires spawned a Kickstarter campaign back in the spring, too, as the @cme Flat Free Wheels. The idea came about because the airless tires are so notoriously difficult to install, that @cme's founder, Steve Boehmke, decided to offer the tires pre-mounted to wheelsets that people could buy, ready-to-ride. I pointed out in an April Retrogrouch post that I thought it was a little disingenuous that the @cme Kickstarter promotion made it sound almost as though they had invented the airless tires, rather than just mounting them to pre-built wheels, which is something any decent bike shop should be able to do for a person.

The Tannus Tires come in "various funky colors."
Another, more recent entry to the solid tire fray comes from Tannus Tires of Korea. Rather than being a foam insert like the Hutchinson Serenity, the Tannus tires are fully molded polymer foam tires that the company claims will "compete with" regular pneumatic tires. Tannus also offers their airless tires in "various funky colors" (that's right off their website, They come in "soft" and "hard" formulations, to imitate pneumatic tire pressures of roughly 90 psi and 110 psi respectively. They have recently been introduced in the U.K., though I'm still waiting (nahhh, not really) to see if they're coming to the U.S.A. Tannus has big plans for them, hoping to eventually get their tires into the Tour de France. Yeah, that's likely to happen.

The obligatory "sharp objects" photo.
In order to keep the molded tires from rolling off the rim, the company has devised a mounting system that utilizes little plastic pins placed every couple of inches around the tire's "bead." Those pins snap into place under the hook edges of the clincher rim. Having exactly the right rim dimensions is important. Tannus has videos on their site showing how "easy" installation and removal are supposed to be. How easy? So easy that they have the following disclaimer: "It is not recommended for consumers to mount them by themselves. Please inquire your local retail store for installation."

Removal looks even easier. . .

Not exactly "normal" tire tools, are they?
Pry the tire back with the pliers, then dig around with the heavy-duty shop snippers to cut the pins.
Thankfully, one shouldn't need to do this on the road. Sheeesh.

There was another flurry of activity in airless tires back in the early 80s. I dug out the old magazine archives and found an article in the June 1983 Bicycling about a bunch of airless tires and tubes that were making the same kinds of claims being made today by these newer entries. The products tested included airless tubes with names like No-Mor Flats, and the Eliminator. No-Mor Flats was like an extra-thick-walled inner tube (not pressurized, however) with a hollow core. The Eliminator was a stiff, hollow core elastomer. Testers found them difficult to install, requiring extra levers and plenty of strength. No-Mor Flats was several times heavier than a normal tire, while the Eliminator was "only" a little more than double the weight. There were also airless tubes and tires from Zeus LCM that sounded pretty similar to the Hutchinson and Tannus tire systems of today, with their closed-cell polyurethane foam construction. Again, testers found them to be heavy and a pain to install.
One of the 80s versions of the airless tube, the Eliminator.

Worse than weight and installation difficulties, these airless tubes and tires had a much harsher ride, and considerably more rolling resistance than pneumatic tires. While I mentioned that I haven't seen any detailed comparisons with the latest market entries, the Bicycling tests in 1983 showed that the "best" of the airless systems at the time, the Zeus airless tire, only rolled about 60% as far as a comparable inflatable tire. The worst of the systems only rolled about 30% as far as the comparable pneumatic tire. Considering that the newer systems don't seem to be significantly different from the early 80s offerings, I have a hard time imagining that any of these new offerings today would be serious improvements.

Again, I turn to Sheldon Brown: "Airless tires have been obsolete for over a century, but crackpot 'inventors' keep trying to bring them back. They are heavy, slow, and give a harsh ride. They are also likely to cause wheel damage due to their poor cushioning ability. A pneumatic tire uses all of the air in the whole tube as a shock absorber, while foam-type 'airless' tires/tubes only use the air in the immediate area of impact. . . My advice is to avoid this long-obsolete system."  Brown wrote that at least fifteen years ago, but I am certain it is no less true today.

Although the makers of some of these new airless tires would like us to think they've created the breakthrough that will make traditional pneumatic tires obsolete, I doubt they will be any more successful than previous attempts. Don't expect to be getting rid of your tire pumps any time soon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Data Overload: Recon Jet Heads-Up Display Goggles

Last week I looked at the COBI "connected" bike system, which is supposed to integrate your whole ride experience through your smart phone, making all your rides so much more rewarding and enjoyable. Of course, we all know how hard it is to enjoy a ride without obsessing over data, or being able to share it immediately on social media. But having to read all that data on the small screen of a smart phone (which I've always found impossible to see in bright daylight, anyhow) is so hopelessly retro, and not in the cool, ironic way. Fear not. Now you can go the full Geordi La Forge and get the Recon Jet heads-up display goggles:

The future is now.

Taking the concept of the Google glasses and applying it to cycling eyewear, the Recon Jet glasses connect wirelessly to all your bike's various sensors, and projects a display image in front of the rider's eyes with all the data anyone could ever desire (in other words, far more data than anyone really needs).
George Hincapie is plugging them. 
Recon Instruments touts the Jet glasses as "the world's most advanced wearable computer." The on-board computer boasts a dual core CPU as well as GPS with built-in gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, altimeter, and thermometer. The goggles also incorporate WiFi, Bluetooth, and Ant+ connectivity for smartphones, heart rate monitors, power meters, and all the other crap people feel compelled to strap onto their bodies and bikes. On top of it all, they of course have a built in HD camera with microphone so that people can capture every moment of their ride to be shared instantly on social media.

Don't let me forget the most important feature of all, which is the heads-up display, which projects a virtual image in front of the rider's eyes. Recon claims that the image appears virtually as a wide screen 30-in. HD display at 7 feet.

All that data just has to make you faster, doesn't it? I mean, if you're not tracking every watt of power, every minuscule change in heart rate and VO2, or everything else the sensors are supposed to measure for you, then you're not making the most of your ride -- and then what's the point? You're just riding your bike, and what good is that? Seriously, I think that's the message here. So naturally, the Recon Jet glasses are hyped as the "secret weapon" that will turn everyone into a winner.
Track more data -- and you're practically guaranteed to be a winner.
One thing I can't help but wonder is how many cyclists scrolling through all their sensor readouts and data -- whether it's displayed on a bar-mounted smartphone, or if it's projected in front of their eyes with these virtual reality goggles -- are increasing their likelihood of being creamed by an SUV (whose driver is probably also scanning a smartphone) because it's taking their attention away from their actual surroundings. I'm sure the makers of Recon Jet will say their heads-up display is safer because the image is projected out in front of the rider, keeping his/her eyes in front. But my well-educated hunch is that it isn't really a question of where the rider's eyes are pointed, but more a question of what his/her brain is focused on.

Studies on cell phone use while driving have shown that there is very little difference between using a handheld cell phone and a hands free version. The problem with distracted driving isn't the type of device a person is using, but rather it is an issue of the brain's ability to focus. A person talking on the phone, regardless of the type of device, suffers from something researchers have dubbed "inattention blindness." What it means is that a person focusing on a call can be looking right at something -- brake lights, pedestrians, or cyclists -- and not see them. I'm not aware of studies that specifically explore this question of heads-up displays, but it seems to me that the existing studies on cell phones and driving have a good deal of relevance to the matter. It doesn't seem like a stretch to assume that focusing the brain's attention on all that data, and reading any kind of digital display, affects a person's reactions to the rapidly developing dangers that crop up while we're on the roads -- whether commuting, training, or just out for an enjoyable ride.

Once again, it's another example of information overload. Do we really need all that data to ride a bike? Does it really make a ride more enjoyable? More rewarding?

In my work as a teacher, the biggest change I've seen in the past 20+ years has nothing to do with the subject matter, or teaching techniques and strategies, or even in the laws that govern education -- but rather in the push for more data. We are now asked relentlessly, "Where's your data?" "How are you measuring student growth?" Keep in mind that we're being asked to measure things that aren't easily defined, much less measured. Ultimately the "best" teachers today are not necessarily the best at imparting knowledge, or reaching students, or inspiring them, but rather, by who is best at producing data. Seriously, I get enough of it at work -- the last thing I want to do is plug in and ruin my bike rides. I haven't even used the most basic bike computer, like one that simply measures speed and distance, in about 10 years. Yeah, sometimes, after exploring a new route, I'll find myself wondering how far I've gone -- though not enough to bother hooking up another computer.

I know I'm repeating myself here, but I'll say it again. Unplug once in a while. Just ride the damn bike.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Walmart Fat Bikes - And the Perils of Being a Part-Time Blogger

So I was in the process of putting together a Retro-grouchy article on Walmart Fat Bikes when, taking a break to see what else is going on in the cycling blogosphere, I checked out today's BikeSnobNYC. Of course, BikeSnob is ripping Walmart Fat Bikes, and probably better than I would. Being routinely "scooped" by Froot-Loops-eating full-time bloggers with helper-monkeys and interns is one of the hazards of being only a part-time blogger who spends the rest of his time teaching high school English students to hate Beowulf and Macbeth a little less, while competing with their cell phones for their limited attention.

Since most Retrogrouch readers probably stop off at BSNYC before coming here, you've probably already seen it. If not, it's HERE.

and the fat bike in question:

Kinda takes away what little thunder my words were likely to have, but I had already begun, so with a half-hearted sigh, allow me to continue.

In one of my communications classes recently, I was talking about slang expressions, catch phrases, etc., and how these things, like any fashion or trend, have a finite life cycle. As popular as any catch phrase might be, I told them, at some point that phrase will fade away, never to be heard again except possibly in some ironic context, or perhaps a parody. Remember these? "Don't have a cow, man!" "Where's the beef?" or "Whazzzuuup?" One thing I mentioned as a pretty good gauge of an expression's life span is to note when it finds its way onto a T-shirt at Walmart or any other cheap department store. Once you start seeing the trendy catchphrase on T-shirts, that's a pretty good sign that the thing has peaked and is on its way down (this coming from a guy who once owned a "Frankie Say RELAX" T-shirt). In no time at all, the T-shirts will be in the bargain bin at Goodwill, and using the expression will mark someone as hopelessly out of touch.

I think a similar measuring stick can be used with the fat bike trend. It seems like every brand out there now offers a fat bike. And the marketing cry of "You Need a Fat Bike!" is practically unavoidable now -- just like we need a gravel bike, and a cyclocross bike, and an urban fixie, a 29er, and a 27.5. Unfortunately, I don't really think I need a fat bike. People tell me "But you can ride on the beach! And over the snow!" Yeah. But I've never looked at a beach and thought to myself, "all I need now is a bike that I can ride over all this sand." And snow? Meh. I'm not saying it wouldn't be fun once in a long while -- but I've managed pretty well so far without one. Even here in Northeast Ohio, I think the real usefulness of the thing is pretty limited.
Spotted at Eurobike '14

Nevertheless, the trend -- the fad -- continues. But now that they're available at Walmart, with a 7-speed model for about $230, I think it's a pretty good sign that the fad has peaked. It's all downhill from here.

As another sign that some people out there have entirely too much money to spend is the fact that they now have fat bikes for kids. A 20" version is available from Walmart for $190. Specialized sells another version for about $1000. Give a Walmart fat bike to a kid and turn him (or her) off of cycling for good. That's just what a little beginner needs is a heavy, slow, slug of a bike to sap all the fun out of a ride. And $1000 for a kid's bike? Is Specialized (or their buyers) aware that most kids outgrow bikes before they even wear the little molding nubs off the tires? Seriously. Finding virtually unridden kids bikes on the used market is a breeze because kids outgrow their bikes so quickly. So a $1000 fat bike for a kid is sure to be money well spent.

Anyhow (despite the fact that my heart's not really in this post anymore), the way I see it, it's just another must-have trend designed to get existing bike owners to buy another bike, but now that the things are at Walmart, it might be a sign that fat bikes have "jumped the shark." Before long, riding one might be the bicycle equivalent of wearing that "Frankie Say RELAX" T-shirt.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Michele Ferrari: No Credibility

Why are we still hearing and reading the name of Dr. Michele Ferrari? And how on Earth does this guy still get to call himself "Doctor"?

"I feel obliged to once again deny the latest MEDIA
BULL$#!T with regards to my presence at the Astana team
training camp in Montecatini."
 Yeah - Whatever.
Ferrari's name is once again coming up in the latest news from bicycle racing, this time in association with a new Italian doping investigation that involves several European racers and teams -- including the Astana team (big surprise) which unfortunately is the team of the 2014 Tour de France Champion Vincenzo Nibali. Thankfully, Nibali is not among those individuals being investigated, but so far he's downplaying the reports of his team's association with Ferrari, and his statements to the press so far are that he's sticking with the team. To be honest, I don't know how much freedom a rider has to search elsewhere when he's under contract with another team -- but if he's smart, he'll put as much distance as possible between himself and anyone who's ever done so much as greet Ferrari with a casual "hello."

That teams and individuals are still meeting with Ferrari as recently as this past year (despite his worldwide lifetime ban from sports) really shouldn't come as a surprise  -- even though the UCI would like us to believe that doping somehow began and ended with Lance Armstrong. There must still be plenty out there who believe the rewards are worth the risks. But associating with Ferrari? The guy has no business dealing with athletes, and should be treated as nothing less than toxic and deadly. He's Ebola.

(and don't misunderstand me -- I do not mean he's like a patient with Ebola. Those poor souls deserve all the care and compassion possible. NO. I mean, he's the actual disease. He's the VIRUS, and should be treated as such).

For his part, Ferrari denies the claims, referring to them as "media bull$#!t" but the fact is that this guy has absolutely no credibility. Widely known for his work with Lance Armstrong, Ferrari continued to deny (actually, he still denies) that he did anything to help Armstrong dope. Even after Armstrong finally admitted doping, he continued to suggest that Armstrong's racing results came from good ol' fashioned training and hard work.

More credibility issues.
As for the Astana team, their history is checkered going all the way back to the team's origins. The team was founded by some Kazakhstan businessmen to be the vehicle for noted Kazakh racer Alexandre Vinokourov. They took over the sponsorship of what had previously been the Liberty Seguros team from Spain, which was implicated in the Operation Puerto doping investigation in 2006. In the 2007 Tour de France, Vinokourov won a couple of stages, but then it was shown that he'd been transfusing someone else's blood. The result was that he and the entire team were ejected from the race. In 2008, team management was taken over by Johan Bruyneel, who has credibility issues himself, considering his associations with Ferrari and Armstrong. Bruyneel claimed to have cleaned things up at Astana, but the team was banned from the '08 Tour de France nevertheless. In 2010, Alberto Contador, riding with Astana, won the TdF, but was later stripped of his title when it was revealed that he'd tested positive for Clenbuterol.

Just after the conclusion of the 2014 TdF, in which Vincenzo Nibali seemed to dominate the competition, I wrote: "It's a shame that, in the 'Post Armstrong' era, people will question (are questioning) if Nibali raced clean. . . We've all seen the fairy tales, and we've seen how too many of them turned out. I want to believe it was a clean victory, but part of me waits for the other shoe to drop." Is the Padua investigation, in which it is alleged that Ferrari was working with as many as 17 members of the Astana team, the other shoe dropping?

In the latest developments, the UCI has decided to grant the Astana team its WorldTour license for 2015, though UCI President Brian Cookson said that pending the results of the Padua investigation, "they are very much under probation and scrutiny, and they won't be given another chance." How many chances have there been already? Way to get tough.

Until men like Michele Ferrari and the people who associate with him are truly treated like the viruses they are, professional bicycle racing is always going to have serious credibility problems.

Sorry to end the week on a bitter note.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Classic Toys: Die-Cast Cycling Figures

As I was searching around for interesting, or unusual gift ideas for bicyclists, I happened upon something that I had assumed had disappeared a long time ago: die-cast miniature cyclists. Kids in an earlier era would collect the figures, stage miniature races, or even use them in bicycle-themed board games. Surprisingly, the little cast zinc figurines are still available, and still made by the same foundry in France where they have been made since the 1950s. It doesn't look like they've changed any since then either -- as the little riders all wear caps and no helmets.

Set up a miniature peloton.
The company that makes the little figures, Fonderie Roger, has been making die-cast lead, and later zinc (which the company calls "zamak") soldiers since the 1930s, later making little cowboys and Indians, and then in the 1950s, the bicycling figures. There used to be several foundries that made such toys around Europe, but Fonderie Roger is one of the last still making them.

Several poses are available.
Some are cast all in metal, while other versions have metal bicycles with plastic riders. The models are then hand painted -- and they look it. With little imperfections and little variations, each one looks slightly different from every other. And they are tiny -- each model measures typically no more than 5 cm. They come painted with Tour de France colors, like the mountain climber's polka-dot jersey, the sprinter's green jersey, and a yellow jersey. Also, there are national colors and world champion stripes.

The cycling figures are not cheap. Prices that I can find are typically listed in pounds or euros, but it seems to me that building a little mini-peloton would easily set a person back somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred and fifty dollars or more!

The versions from Miniature Cyclists in Belgium appear to
be painted with a little more care and detail. They're a bit
pricier, too.
Cycling Souvenirs, which appears to be U.K.-based, sells the little figures for about £12 each. I've read that the figures come packed in a box marked "Little Cyclist. Handmade in France." Cycling Souvenirs sells lots of other cycling-themed gifts as well, including mini Tour de France road markers, team logo coffee cups, and more.

Another company, Miniature Cyclists in Belgium, sells the same Fonderie Roger figures, but they apparently purchase them unpainted from the foundry, then hand paint them in-house, with a bit more care and detail. Prices range from about €12 to €45 ($15 - $56!).

For more info about Fonderie Roger, check out their website which has a complete history of the family-owned company.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"Connected" Cycling - Here We Go Again

Yet another Kickstarter campaign is upon us which promises to improve the cycling experience by getting us connected through technology. The makers of COBI call it the "world's smartest connected biking system" and "the smartest way to upgrade your bike -- making every ride more rewarding and more fun."

And there's a video!

In it, we meet Andreas, the founder of this new startup.

"As an active surfer and mountain biker, I've always been fascinated by ideas that combine technology and design with sports."
Andreas has a problem with his bicycle -- and ultimately, I think his problem is going to have something to do with the fact that it isn't enough like a car.

"Whenever I look down at my handlebars, it seems that there is something wrong."
Hmm. . . could it be that his handlebars look a little like a mobile RadioShack?

"It wasn't an integrated and connected experience. . . It wasn't beautiful."
I have a suggestion. Just take some of that crap off the bars and leave it at home. But then, that wouldn't allow him to enjoy riding his bicycle as much. Apparently the "modern cyclist" can't enjoy a ride without being inundated with data, keeping up with text messages, tracking every little thing they do with social media, etc., etc. Honestly, some people don't seem to know they're alive if their experiences aren't posted on social media. Which brings to mind a philosophical question: If a Fred rides a bike but doesn't see his data on Strava, did he actually go for a ride?

Next, we hear from Carsten, the "Head of Brand Experience."
"So far we haven't seen an interface that matches the needs of the modern cyclist."
By the way, what the hell does a "Head of Brand Experience" do? Is that what we used to call "marketing"? And what exactly are the "needs of the modern cyclist"? What does COBI do that "makes every ride more rewarding and more fun"?

Just like a car that will remotely start for the driver, COBI will "start" your bike for you when you get near it with your cell phone. (Hey -- I'm just reporting it. I'm not making this up)
Yes, you might already have a weather app for your smartphone -- but apparently the COBI system has an "Enhanced Forecast" that chides you into riding. "The forecast is sunny. Hit the streets like a bolt!" Maybe it should also nag you about maintenance. "Hey PigPen, you haven't cleaned your chain for a while!"
So much for eliminating all the extra hardware from the handlebars - there's also a "thumb controller" that lets you scroll through all your on-screen options, so you can keep your eyes where they belong . . . on your cell phone! A particularly handy feature for urban riding.
Don't forget the ever-popular navigation system. . .
. . . built-in headlight, and an automatic brake light with turn signals . . .
. . . and a "custom bell" that issues a pathetic little "ding" from the cell phone.

Of course, there's also an anti-theft system that "only unlocks for you" and a "motion sensitive Theft Alarm" that "scares away thieves with its light and sound alert." Yes, because car alarms that go off in the middle of the night are truly effective at pissing off the neighbors even though they do little to keep determined car thieves at bay. A flashing, beeping bicycle is sure to strike terror into the dark souls of bike thieves. It just sounds laughable.

To be honest, I don't know how any of this is supposed to improve our riding experience and make it more rewarding, but again and again we have people telling us we need to be "connected" when we ride.

Want to know how to get "connected" with your bike and your ride experience? All you need is THIS:
The best way to be "connected" to your bike.

The best way to be "connected" to your ride experience . . . 

(. . . or if you prefer, the "gooier" version.)

That's it. That's really all the "connectivity" you need for a rewarding bike ride. The rest is just a distraction.

My Retrogrouch-y Advice: Unplug once in a while. Just ride the damn bike.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

More Resurrected Classics

After looking at the new frames from the resurrected Holdsworth brand, I thought I'd take a look at some other resurrected classics that are available now from memorable older brands. Like most bike companies today, these brands have made the shift mostly to carbon fiber frames -- most likely popped out of molds in Taiwan or China. But in an effort to recapture some semblance of heritage, they have come out with vintage-inspired lugged steel frames. Like the new Holdsworths, I believe these are brazed in workshops in Italy, rather than being mass produced in Asia. It's possible that some of them could even have been built in the very same workshop, as I don't think these companies are likely doing a lot of brazing themselves nowadays.

Checked out Bike Nashbar lately? Among all the inexpensive and generic-looking Nashbar-branded bikes and frames, right now one can find two very interesting vintage names on new lugged steel frames:
Guerciotti Record -- $999! There's a great old name that I remember well from my younger days -- known for some really beautifully made road racers. They also gained a lot of popularity for their cyclocross bikes (the Guerciotti brothers, Italo and Paolo, were avid cyclocross racers, and Paolo was a national champion, though most of their cyclocross bikes were lugged aluminum frames built by ALAN). Built with Dedacciai ZeroUno steel, the bikes have internal brake cable routing through the top tube, and English-threaded bottom bracket and headset. I'm not crazy about the fork crown with its rounded shoulders -- but at least it isn't a welded unicrown. Available only in silver on the Nashbar site, it may be available from other sources in a variety of colors -- but that price is pretty good for a hand-built lugged steel frame. In doing some digging, I've found confirmation for my hunch that the Guerciotti family is not building these frames, but that they are built in an Italian workshop that specializes in building steel frames for several brands.

Ciocc San Cristobal -- $1599 (shown here in an awesome orange, but only available in black on the Nashbar site). I remember lusting after Ciocc bikes back in high school and college. The bikes I remember were known for tight geometry and X-Acto-like handling designed for American criterium racing. The Ciocc brand was created by Giovanni Pelizzoli in the late 60s, but the brand has changed ownership a few times since its inception. Beginning in the 90s, they started shifting first to aluminum, then later to carbon fiber, just like the rest of the industry. Recently, they have introduced their "vintage" line of lugged steel, though the company website isn't very specific about whether the frames are built in-house, or contracted out (I'm guessing the latter). Nevertheless, the workmanship looks quite nice. The new San Cristobal is made from Columbus Niobium SL tubing, has a 1" threaded fork steerer, and Italian threaded bottom bracket. 

Not available from Nashbar, but another "resurrected" frame of interest, is the Pista Classica from Bianchi.
I doubt that Bianchi still has anyone brazing lugged frames in-house, having shifted most of their focus to carbon fiber, but the Pista Classica has a nice vintage look to it, with the familiar celeste paint with cream head tube and panel. They also offer the "regular" welded pista that is so popular with the urban fixie crowd -- but why would anyone get one of those when they could get this pretty piece of work? Ok, maybe it's the fact that at $850, the Classica frame costs as much as a complete welded pista bicycle, ready to ride. Then again, I know which one I would choose. One thing about the Classica that track-bike purists might notice is that the rear fork ends appear to follow the line of the chain stays rather than being purely level (as in, level with the top tube, or the ground). Most people probably wouldn't notice or care, as that's a convention that seems to fallen by the wayside. It's a trifling matter anyhow, and shouldn't detract from what is a nice looking frame.

I can only speculate as to why there has been this resurgence in popularity for lugged steel, but I can say that it's a development that I feel pretty good about. Maybe in this time of molded plastic, and boring welded frames, some people are finally looking for something that reflects a certain level of craftsmanship, or just a bit of aesthetic personality.