Monday, June 29, 2015

Saddlewax Vintage Saddle Archive

The Retrogrouch has limited internet access for the next few days - so blog updates will be likewise limited. But if you checked in for something new today, I don't want to leave you totally frustrated. So I have here a link to a website I recently found that turned out to be a pretty good resource for vintage bicycle enthusiasts. The Saddlewax Bicycle Saddle Archive has a lot of cool information on saddles from around the world - including pictures of different models, catalog scans, and other info. I found it useful when trying to find some information on older Brooks leather saddles, and also on older Cinelli Unicanitor saddles.

I'm not sure how long the site has been there, but it is still listed as "under construction." The page master is Amir, a bicycle collector whom I have encountered from time to time with the Classic Rendezvous group, and I believe we've bought or sold vintage bike components to/from each other once or twice in the past.

Amir is also interested in expanding the information on the site, so if you have anything to contribute -- from interesting older saddles, photos, catalogs, advertisements or more -- there is contact info on the site. Check it out if you get a chance.

Friday, June 26, 2015

All-Road: Another Must-Have Bike Category?

Now that you've been convinced to get yourself a "Gravel" bike to replace your "Cyclocross" bike (which was totally unsuited for riding on gravel, you know) there's another new bike you have to add to your stable. Are you ready for "All-Road" bikes?

Can you put fenders on that?
I'm not sure I know exactly how an All-Road bike differs from the Gravel bikes of last year, or how those Gravel bikes were so different from Cyclocross bikes before them. But if the new Cannondale Slate is an indication, I suppose the difference is that it should have a suspension fork (?). Yep. Riding on unpaved roads now requires suspension forks. Or at least, I think that's the implication here. And once people become convinced that a road bike needs suspension forks, it's only a matter of time before full-suspension becomes the "next big thing" for the road.

I always considered this something
of an "All-Road" bike. "Too bad it
doesn't have suspension" though.

Call me skeptical. I mean, I'm not even convinced suspension is needed on most mountain bikes for cryin' out loud. That doesn't stop people from looking at my early '80s vintage Stumpjumper and saying "Cool bike! Too bad it doesn't have suspension!" But built up with mustache bars and semi-slick tires, it seems to have the ability to handle just about any kind of road surface, paved or otherwise, and a lot of off-road trails, too.

The Cannondale Slate is generating a lot of buzz with its 650B wheels and its "Lefty" single-sided suspension fork with 30mm of travel. The company released a video of the new bike featuring cyclocross racer Tim Johnson. They declare the bike to be a "whole new type of bike" that's not about racing. The video then goes on to show the bike being ridden . . . well. . . like a race bike. It's also "much more capable" the project director declares. Well - yeah - it can go places a narrowly focused race bike can't go. But there are lots of bikes already available that can do the same thing. If you're reading this blog, you probably already have one. They're not exactly new.

Don't get me wrong - I love the fact that people are getting excited about bikes that can fit fatter tires and handle the rough stuff. But there's more to being "much more capable" than having fatter tires and being able to ride on unpaved roads. Can the bike accommodate fenders? I don't think the Slate can. Unpaved roads get pretty nasty when it rains, though. Can it handle racks? I don't think the Slate can do that, either. But there are lots of bikes that can handle nimbly on the road, and still let a person explore the unpaved wonders -- and even keep the rider reasonably dry, comfortable, and unburdened.

That's a "capable" bike.
When I first got into bikes, touring bikes were all the rage. They were meant mostly for paved adventures, but were capable of much more. A lot of lightly-used vintage examples are still out there, available for next to nothing. Updated with newer wheels and tires (in some cases, they can be converted easily to 650B) and they can become even more versatile. The ability to accommodate large-volume tires isn't new, either -- it's just that people kind of forgot about it as road bikes became more and more focused on racing (despite the fact that few people actually race). Funny thing, I have a 1973 Mercian Superlight that is currently shod with 32 mm tires, and it still has tons of clearance -- and that was a high-end racing bike in its day! Bikes with decent tire clearance have long been out there, but until recently, they weren't the bikes getting all the attention.

All-Road bikes. The latest "must have" market segment, in a market that keeps getting sliced narrower and narrower. Enjoy them while you can -- before the industry moves on to the next big thing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bianchi L'Eroica Bike

I'm guessing that any fan of vintage and classic bicycles is familiar with the L'Eroica ride events. Having begun in Italy, participating riders mount vintage bicycles (pre-1987, according to the rules) and ride over the white roads of Italian wine country. L'Eroica is a celebration of classic bikes, good wine and food, and all things Italian.

Back in April, Bianchi announced that they would be releasing a new vintage-inspired bicycle  model in honor of their global sponsorship of the L'Eroica events. The L'Eroica rides have expanded to include rides in the US, Japan, Spain, and the UK, in addition to the original Italian event.

According to the Bianchi press release, the new L'Eroica model would be made in Italy, have a custom build kit including Campagnolo components and a Brooks leather saddle, and would be certified by the L'Eroica commission for use in any of their events. I know there was a lot of speculation, and even some skepticism about what the new model would be like among vintage bike enthusiasts.

The Tipo Corsa frame set. Not the
basis of the new Bianchi L'Eroica bike.
In the Classicrendezvous group for instance, some wondered if it was just going to be a complete bike built around the company's Tipo Corsa steel frame set. At first glance, that might seem like a decent plan -- though sharp-eyed critics would note that, while the Tipo Corsa frame is lugged steel and has a vintage-inspired paint scheme, it has a rather unfortunate-looking "dog-leg" of a fork rake, and is likely made somewhere in Asia -- not Italy. It gets close to the mark for some. Falls short for others.

Well, at long last, this past weekend at the L'Eroica Brittania, participants in that event got what may have been (at least to my knowledge) the first public glimpses of the new model. Wesley Hatakeyama, of the California L'Eroica event, was there at the UK ride and snapped a few pictures at the Bianchi tent (thanks for sharing, Wes!). Some will be thrilled at what they see. Others may be slightly let down. But let's take a look at the new bike.

At first look, it does appear to be a different frame than the Tipo Corsa. Note the chromed lugs, lower fork legs, and partial rear triangle. It does appear to have a more graceful fork rake too. Wes reiterated that the frame is built in Italy, not Asia.
The bike has Dia Compe centerpull brakes and looks like it offers a ton of tire clearance. Large-volume tires are recommended on the L'Eroica rides, as many of the roads are unpaved. Downtube shift levers (a must, according to the L'Eroica rulebook) look like Dia Compe ratcheting levers. Interesting detail: brake cable clips on the top tube instead of brazed-on guides.

Campagnolo derailleurs and a 10-speed cassette -- surprisingly legal for L'Eroica. I'm not positive about the crank, but it looks like a Dia Compe ENE with a 3-arm spider. The large-flange hubs are probably also made by Dia Compe.

Dia Compe ENE crank. 
It appears that when the folks at Bianchi announced that the bike would be built with Campagnolo components, they only meant the derailleurs. Then again, I wondered how they were going to get modern Campy to fit the L'Eroica rules. Most of the other components seem to be made by Dia Compe -- which to somebody like me is fine. The parts are well made and look good. But if somebody was hoping for a full-Campagnolo bike to accommodate the rules of a vintage bike ride, they were maybe being a bit unrealistic.

So, what are the rules?

Here are some relevant points: "Historical Bikes (also called Bici Eroiche, in Italian) are all road racing bikes built in 1987 or earlier . . . These bicycles most likely have a steel frame . . . must have shift levers on the down tube of the frame; exceptions include pre-1980 non indexed bar-end gear shifters and rod/hand manual operated front derailleurs . . . pedals should be with toe clips and straps . . . the brake cables must pass outside and over the handlebars . . . wheels must have at least 32 spokes laced to a low profile rim (20 mm depth or less, except for the wood rims); the rims must be of either steel, aluminum or wood . . . both tubular tyres and clinchers with inner tubes are allowed . . . we invite participants to fit saddles from the same period of the bicycles, so a model of 1987 or earlier, or a vintage model of modern production such as Brooks leather saddles, Cinelli replicas, San Marco, etc."

And this section deals particularly with the acceptance of newer bikes made with a vintage style:

"Vintage-Looking Bikes with steel frame from new or recent construction with vintage look and characteristics may be used only if they are road racing bikes assembled using vintage components or replicated parts similar to the original as described above. In particular if the bikes are inspired by the design of road racing bicycles of the 1970’s and 1980’s, they must comply with rules a), b), and c) above, regarding shift levers, toe clips and straps, and brake cables."

Notice that it doesn't mention anything about the number of gears on the rear wheel.

I haven't seen anything about a price for the new bike. Even Bianchi's website doesn't have pictures of the bike or any further information about it. (I don't know if anybody out there has as much information as what you're getting right here right now!). The quality of the frame is probably very good, and while some may be disappointed at the component choices, it seems to me that they are of high quality, and should help keep the price reasonable. Now we just have to get the official word from Bianchi.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Old Mercian Catalog - 1969

Going through a box of old magazines and catalogs, I came across this Mercian Cycles catalog from 1969. Regular Retrogrouch readers know I've been a big Mercian fan for a lot of years and have eight of them -- from a 1973 Superlight to a 2012 Vincitore. The only models I don't have are a tandem, and a "Miss Mercian" ladies model. As far as that goes, somebody had a really nice '70s-era ladies model in a mixte configuration with a lot of cool French components on eBay recently, and I thought about getting it for my wife, but I took a little too long to think about it and somebody snatched it up with a "buy it now" option. Oh well.

The front of the catalog lists W. Betton and his family as company directors -- Bill Betton, one of Mercian's frame builders, had purchased the company in 1965 from Ethel Crowther, who was the ex-wife of one of Mercian's founders, Tom Crowther. The catalog also lists the shop location as 191 London Road, Derby. They would move out of that location a couple years later, in 1971. The current shop is on Shardlow Road in Alvaston, which is very near Derby.

I scanned the catalog and thought I'd share the images here.

The first pages include the company guarantee, and a description of the Professional model, which they say was first introduced in 1967 for the Mercian-Bantel pro racing team. The Professional is easily identified by the extra-long spearpoint tangs on the bottom bracket shell.
The next pages have pictures of some of the head lugs used - for the Vincitore, the King of Mercia, and the Superlight models, as well as the wrapover seat stay treatment. There is also a description of the Superlight model, which has lugs which are decorative, yet cut down to the minimum.
The next pages describe the Vincitore with its elaborate hand-cut lugs, the King of Mercia model, the Super Vigorelli track/time trial model, and the Olympique "all-rounder."
The Campionissimo was a pretty standard all-round road machine - and the only complete bicycle listed in the Mercian lineup. Everything else was sold as a frame set, to be built up with the owner's choice of parts.

These two insert pages listed the full range of frame options and renovation/repair costs. I know it was 1969, but the prices still seem unbelievably low.

And here is the price list for the frames.  £25 for a new Vincitore? Oh, to have a time machine.
I hope you enjoyed this little blast from the past. I have a couple other old catalogs as well - I'll probably put them up in upcoming posts.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Cannibal Turns 70

Few people can be said to have dominated their respective sports the way that Eddy Merckx dominated bicycle racing from the late 60s through most of the 70s.

A much younger Eddy Merckx, wearing yellow in the '69
Tour de France.
Born in Belgium on June 17, 1945, Merckx began racing in 1961 and eventually racked up some 80 wins as an amateur before turning pro in 1965. He spent that first year with the Solo/Superia team, then moved over to the Peugeot-BP-Michelin team through 1967. With Peugeot, Merckx competed in his first Giro d'Italia, and won two editions of Milan San-Remo.

From 1968 - 1970, Merckx rode with the Faema team - and during those years he won 4 Grand Tours and 8 Classics. He won his first Tour de France in 1969 with a performance so completely dominating that he got not only the Yellow Jersey for the General Classification, but he also won the Green Jersey for Points Leader, the Mountains Classification (which would later become the Polka Dot Jersey), the Combined Classification, and the Combativity Award. Had the "Best Young Rider" category existed in 1969, he'd have won that too. In addition the Faema team won the Team Classification. In that TdF appearance, Merckx earned the nickname "the Cannibal" for the way he devoured the competition.

An older Eddy - Still has that fierce stare, though.
From 1971 to 1976, he raced with the Molteni team and won 6 more grand tours, including a Triple Crown (Giro d'Italia, Tour de France, and World Championship in the same season) a bunch more classics, and set a new Hour Record. He had won the Tour de France 4 times in a row before being asked by TdF organizers not to compete in 1973. He came back and won it again in '74, tying the record with Jacques Anquetil. His 1972 Hour Record would stand unbeaten for 12 years (or longer if one considers various UCI rule changes that have happened in the intervening years). His performance started to decline after 1976 and he retired after the 1978 season. With some help from Ugo DeRosa, who built some of Merckx's racing bikes, Merckx opened his own bicycle company in 1980.

Merckx won 445 races out of 1585 that he entered in his professional career, plus the 80 he won as an amateur. His major wins include one Vuelta a España, 5 Giro d'Italia, 5 Tour de France, and 3 World Championships as well as numerous other stage races. Among the Classics, he won the Tour of Flanders 2 times, Paris-Roubaix 3 times, Gent-Wevelgem 3 times, Liege-Bastogne-Liege 5 times, and the Milan-San Remo a record 7 times. In fact, the only race among the Classics he didn't win was Paris-Tours.

His records include: Most career victories (525); Most victories in one season (54); Most stage wins in the Tour de France (34); Most days in the yellow jersey (96); Most victories in the Classics (28); and Most victories in Grand Tours (11).

Think about great athletes in almost any professional sport and ask the fans "Who is the greatest?" and it is almost always a topic for discussion and debate. Ask any cyclist or racing fan the question, "Who is the greatest racer of all time" and it would be hard to find anybody who would give a different response than Eddy Merckx.

Happy Birthday, Eddy.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Mazda Builds A Bicycle

Last month I took a look at a lot of car companies making bicycles -- and somehow I missed this one from Mazda. Unlike the other examples I've shown, it doesn't appear that Mazda has partnered up with any bike companies, and the bike they've produced isn't likely to be for sale. Rather, the company's design team has crafted the bicycle, along with other non-automotive products and artworks to highlight their particular design aesthetic. The bicycle, a sofa, a copper wine cooler, a traditional lacquered box, and some other works, were displayed as part of the event "Mazda Design: The Car as Art" in Milan.

According to a Mazda press release, the "Bike by KODO Concept" is a track racer that "seeks to express the inner beauty of the bicycle." Mazda goes on to say that the minimalist design was constructed from the least possible number of parts, with a frame "painstakingly formed by hammering a single sheet of steel." I'm not sure how that would be possible -- but perhaps they only mean the upper portion in red, which does, indeed, look like one-piece construction. The lower part looks for all the world to me like carbon fiber tubing.

Mazda goes on to mention the hand-stitched leather saddle with red thread, intended to mimic the interior of their MX-5 sports car. Other than that, there aren't a lot of details about the bike. It has carbon-fiber wheels, and an extremely low-profile one-piece bar and stem combination. It's a single speed track bike with no brakes. That's about all one can tell from the photos.

According to Mazda, the Bike by KODO Concept is supposed to reflect "the expression of two key sensibilities rooted in Japanese aesthetics: RIN, a sense of self-restrained dignity, and EN, an alluring sensuality that speaks directly to the senses." I suppose it does have a certain minimalist look, but is it beautiful? I'll let readers form their own opinions on that.

Love it or loathe it, don't bother looking for it at any bike shop, or even at the local Mazda dealer. The Bike by KODO Concept is just as the name implies - just a concept project. and is unlikely to be for sale.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Rapha Re-Imaginings

The folks over at Rapha have an imaginative approach to memory. There's often talk about "vintage style" in their marketing for their super-expensive cycling clothes, and on their website and blog, but I sometimes wonder if they have people there who actually remember riding bikes before about 1990 or so. I just don't think things were as they "remember" them.

On the Rapha site right now, they have a story about the recently revived Stelbel brand, and a collaboration they're promoting with them. For those who don't remember, Stelbel was one of the first TIG-welded road bikes -- first available in the '70s. Stelbel was founded in Italy by Stelio Belletti, who worked in his father's shop welding tubes for aircraft and motorcycle applications. He thought TIG-welding would be a good way to build a bicycle. It was a big departure from what was available at the time, though TIG-welding would become the norm for steel, aluminum, and titanium frames by the mid 1990s (which was ironically soon after the time that Stelbel ceased production).

For the collaboration, Rapha is offering a special "retreat" to Tuscany (and specially priced for members of the 1% club) in time for the L'Eroica ride, and participants will have the opportunity to buy a special Rapha-themed Stelbel bike, featuring a "custom Rapha design aesthetic" with vintage components "individually sourced" (which probably means they have someone scouring eBay as a full-time job). The 3-day trip costs $3100 per person, and there is no price listed for the bike. Expect it to be at least as much as the trip, if not more. NOS Campy doesn't run cheap.
A limited-edition Rapha-Stelbel collaboration.

I've NEVER been enthusiastic about welded bikes. Structurally, there's nothing wrong with welding. But the real advantage (and the reason it is so common today) is that it's cheap, not because it's pretty. It's far less labor-intensive than an artfully crafted lugged frame. But for all Rapha's talk about aesthetics, as far as I'm concerned, welding is boring. And yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but check out this lovely prose from the Rapha story:

"Think Bianchi celeste. Think Coppi (& Giulia). Think the maglia rosa. Indeed, the Italians are credited for developing the bicycle from a functional, no-frills utility into an aesthetic plaything, as the post-WWII commercial boom flushed the pockets of everyday men. With handsome pro racers sitting astride the first bicycles painted bright colours, the eyes of the rest of the world glanced oh-so enviously towards glamorous Italy."

Nice, but I didn't know the Italians invented bright colors (and in many cases, the French aesthetic was not only beautiful, but remained more functional!). And where do TIG-welded bikes fit into this glamorous aesthetic? Those "handsome pro racers" were invariably straddling bikes with carefully filed and thinned lugs.

At least the welds are smoothed.
The article contains more debatable prose. "TIG welding allows steel tubing to be joined together in a stronger, lighter and more aesthetically pleasing way than the fixed handles called 'lugs' with which bicycles were put together before Stelio came along." Lugs are "fixed handles"? What the hell?

Stronger? Debatable. Lighter? Perhaps, but not enough to notice. More aesthetically pleasing? Please.

Rapha goes on to say that the Stelbel is "just the sort of classic model that vintage bicycle aficionados ride at the ever-popular L'Eroica sportive in Tuscany." That's not only debatable, but I believe that even a cursory look at the majority of bikes used in the event would make it demonstrably untrue. It would be difficult to find anyone at L'Eroica riding a TIG-welded bike -- even an original Stelbel (there were only about 2000 ever made). Participants must ride bikes from 1987 or earlier -- and that usually means lugs. Newer bikes can be ridden, but they have to be built and equipped in the same style as those meeting the 1987 cutoff. Nothing in the L'Eroica rules specifically bans TIG-welded bikes, but let's face it, most "aficionados" would be on lugged frames.

No - it seems to me that the folks at Rapha, for all their talk about "epic" adventures and "vintage aesthetic," are far better at marketing than memory.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

New Hour Record

I'm sure it's no secret by now that there's a new Hour Record in cycling. Bradley Wiggins rode 54.526 km in an hour on Sunday, breaking the previous record set by Alex Dowsett at 52.937 km. The last time I wrote about the Hour Record, last September, it was Jens Voigt who had set a new record under newly revised UCI rules. Voigt's record lasted barely longer than a month, and it has changed hands a few times from then to now.

Bradley Wiggins on his way to 54.526 km.
I had some history on the Hour Record back in May, 2014, at the time when the UCI had just revised the rules for the event. Previously, in the face of what appeared to be almost an "arms race" of new aerodynamic bicycles, equipment, and unusual riding positions, the UCI had restricted Hour Record attempts to equipment not much different than what was available to Eddy Merckx in his 1972 record. But last year, in the interest of opening the sport of cycling to more innovation, the UCI relaxed the equipment regulations. "This kind of evolution is positive for cycling generally and for the Hour Record in particular," said president Brian Cookson. "This record will regain its attraction for both the athletes and cycling fans." Although I argued that relaxing the rules has once again made the record a contest of machines more than men, it seems Cookson was right when he said it would attract more attention. In the year since the rule change, there have been numerous attempts at breaking it.

Many are saying that it will be hard to beat Wiggins' distance, though I know a lot of people are saying they'd like to see Fabian Cancellara give it a try. Cancellara was one of the first to draw attention to the Hour Record last year when he expressed interest in an attempt. Interestingly, he put his plans on hold when the UCI relaxed the equipment regulations. He was apparently looking forward to a record attempt on a traditional track bike. I know us retrogrouches would love to see that.

Wiggins used a Pinarello Bolide time-trial bike, modified for
the track. It was designed with input from Jaguar.
Even Eddy Merckx has said that the Wiggins record will last for some time, though he still hedged his bets by suggesting that someone like Cancellara could have what it takes. "You must be more than gifted to ride further," said Merckx. "Few of the current peloton can go faster."

There's probably something to that assessment. I watched Wiggins time trial in his 2012 Tour de France victory, and later that year in his gold-medal-winning time trial performance, and his technique is hard to fault. He is incredibly efficient. That same flawless efficiency could be seen in his Hour Record ride. As CyclingWeekly described it, "Throughout the attempt, Wiggins barely shifted his position in the saddle . . . with a perfectly level back. Even in the excruciating final 10 minutes Wiggins only dipped his head slightly, the only sign that he was pushing himself to the limit."

No Lack of Controversy

Oddly enough, the recent regulation relaxation hasn't put an end to disputes about equipment. Steve Collins, who coached Alex Dowsett in his record ride, has claimed that Wiggins' bike violated the rules because the handlebars were custom-made for him. "For attempts like that it should all be production available so you can buy it off the shelf. You can't get 3D-printed handlebars moulded to your own arms to make it easier for your own attempt." It will be interesting to see where that discussion goes, but I don't foresee the UCI nullifying the new record.

A Retrogrouch Record

Though it's a long-shot, I for one would still like to see Fabian Cancellara buck the current trend and take on the record with a traditional bike, as he originally had planned. Round tubed frame. Spoked wheels. Traditional track bike drop bars. But there'd be no way to break the current record with its reliance on special handlebars, disc wheels, and other aerodynamic tricks. And for that reason, other than personal satisfaction and appealing to a certain "purist" sentiment, there really wouldn't be much reason for anyone to make such an attempt. And it would be unlikely that the sponsors would back the effort. If he didn't break the new record, all that would get reported is that he tried and failed. Only us retrogrouches and purists would applaud it. It wouldn't help sell exotic new bikes, though.

But the thing about keeping a tight control on equipment is that it remains a competition of men, not machines. Moreso, it allows an easier comparison between riders and record holders from different eras. As Cancellara had said last year, "The whole appeal of the Hour Record for me is that you are competing against riders from the past. I would have loved to race Eddy (Merckx) in the Classics, or in a time trial, but it's not possible." Eddy Merckx rode 49.431 km in 1972. In a manner of speaking, Merckx's "traditional equipment" or "pure" record stood until Chris Boardman (who previously rode 56.375 on an aero monocoque bike and his "Superman" position) rode 49.441 in 2000. Who was the real Superman?

 The last record set on traditional equipment was 49.7 km. I think that's a good target for a "Retrogrouch Hour Record." Too bad it's unlikely anyone will try to break it.

Monday, June 8, 2015

School's Out For Summer

Friday was the first day of summer break for my kids. I'm a full-time teacher, so it's summer break for me, too.

We spent our first day of break doing something we love to do - riding our bikes on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

We took my early '80s Specialized Stumpjumper with the double Trail-A-Bike tagalong trailer, which makes it easy for us to stay together. That Stumpjumper is a truck, let me tell you. Altogether with the Trail-A-Bike attached, the thing is a family train and gets a lot of second looks and comments.

Our ride began at a spot called the Botzum Trailhead, just on the edge of Akron, and I thought we were just going to ride a few miles north to Szlay's Fruit Market -- a popular stop along the path. Friday was not only the first day of summer break, but it was also opening day at the market. Once we got going, the Retro-kids decided they wanted to ride all the way to Deep Lock, which is just outside the village of Peninsula, right in the heart of the national park, and easily twice as far away.

On the way to Peninsula, we crossed over a boardwalk that bridges a beaver marsh. I've never actually seen a beaver there, but one can see their dens, dams, and other handiwork. On the boardwalk, the kids like to stop and look for fish, birds, and other wildlife. Blue herons are a common sight, as are ducks, geese, painted turtles, carp, and bluegill.

The Retro-kids spot a snapping turtle in the marsh.
And there's the turtle. His shell is probably about 15 inches across.

After that stop, we continued on our way to Deep Lock. On the way, this happens:

Retro-kid: "Dad, I think we need to stop."
Retrogrouch: "What's wrong."
Retro-kid: "Something broke."

We stop, and I see that the plastic Shimano shift lever on the Trail-A-Bike has basically exploded. The main screw that holds the mechanism together fell out the bottom somewhere on the trail. We walked around a bit looking at the ground, but seriously, it could have been anywhere.

I decided that it was only another mile or so from Deep Lock to Peninsula where there is a bike shop. I picked up what shifter pieces we had, and we rode on to the village for a visit to Century Cycles. It didn't seem critical that the kids would need to shift for a few miles. I figured it was a long shot that the shop would have the right screw to put the lever back together, but we lucked out. A little searching in the bins turned up one that fit. Fantastic. Back down the trail.

At 17 feet, Lock 28 North, or Deep Lock, is the deepest (as the name implies) of the locks on the old canal. It is situated about a mile south of Peninsula. The girls like to run around it looking for frogs.

Showing off the cycling gloves they talked me into buying them at the bike shop. 
There's the family train, in front of Lock 28 North - aka Deep Lock.

After visiting the lock, it was time to start heading back south. Next stop, Szlay's fruit market. By this time, though, the kids were starting to tire a bit of the saddles. For the next couple of miles, I kept hearing this from the younger Retro-kid:

"Are we there yet? I can't feel my butt!"

The familiar red rooftops of Szlay's barn and fruit market soon appeared. The market is a great oasis on a bike ride in the CVNP. Weekends, especially, are great, as they have soft-serve ice cream, hot dogs, roasted sweet corn, and other treats in addition to the usual selection of awesome produce. We stopped for a treat and sat on a gliding bench/table.

The Retro-kids enjoy cold treats at Szlay's.

Playing on the old-time farm tractor. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad train can just be seen passing by in the background.

Well rested, we started back to the Botzum trailhead. Suddenly we spotted an unexpected surprise sunning itself in the trail. Another snapping turtle.

One of the girls was afraid to get too close. The other got close enough for a picture.
When we got back to the trailhead, the kids heaved a huge sigh of relief. They had a good time, but the 13 or so miles was a long ride for them. Not so much for me, though it's quite a workout towing them behind me.

First day of summer break - and the start of another nice summer of riding memories with the Retro-kids.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Greg Curnoe - the Bicycle Artist

Many of Curnoe's self portraits show
him in a bicycle cap, or jersey.
After posting an article about the rebirth of Mariposa Bicycles recently, a reader suggested that I should also post something about Greg Curnoe, a Canadian artist and avid bicyclist who featured bicycles (including his own Mariposas) in his work. I've seen some of Curnoe's bicycle-themed work, and agreed it would make a good topic for discussion.

Greg Curnoe was primarily known as a painter, but he was also an organizer in Canada's artistic community, and a highly "regionalistic" artist. His "regionalism," or what I've read some call "nationalism," was reflected in one of Curnoe's famous bicycles and paintings. The bicycle was built by Mariposa in the 1970s. Mike Barry recalled that Curnoe was excited about discovering a custom frame builder in Toronto, and he ordered a bike from Barry's shop. When the mustard yellow bike was complete, Curnoe immediately added a statement to the bike's top-tube using cut-out letter decals. In typical Canadian style, it was in English on one side, French on the other. The statement? "Close the 49th Parallel etc," a statement that seems to capture a number of Canada-centric sentiments. The bike was the subject of more than one well-known painting, such as this watercolor:

Close the 49th Parallel calls to mind a number of sentiments
in U.S./Canadian relations.
Apparently, Curnoe's pro-Canada sentiments were sometimes construed by some as anti-American. In one famous instance, a mural he did for Montreal's Dorval International Airport, Homage to the R34, was removed for what amounted to political reasons. Curnoe claimed he wasn't anti-American - just pro-Canadian, but some Americans were offended. Whoever those people were, they must have hated the Guess Who's American Woman.

The 49th Parallel bike was damaged in an accident. When Curnoe brought it back to Mike Barry for repairs, he ordered another bike - a dedicated time-trial machine. Keep in mind that time-trial bikes in the 1970s were quite a bit different than such bikes today. But that green machine also served as the model for several famous paintings and drawings.

A watercolor of Curnoe's Mariposa TT.
Another image of the Mariposa T.T. was a limited edition print on plexiglass - and was meant to lean on the wall, much the way a bicycle might be parked.

The plexiglass print of the Mariposa TT. A copy of this work is in the National Gallery in Ottawa.
According to the Bicycle Specialties blog, the time-trial machine was also damaged in an accident with a car. When it was brought back to the shop for repairs, it was completely re-imagined as a "low-profile" time-trial bike, more in the fashion that was then becoming popular. And once again, the bike was the subject of several paintings.

"Mariposa Low Profile"
"Untitled" (orange bicycle) from 1990.

One thing people will notice about Curnoe's style is his almost shocking use of color. Bright, bold, and extremely eye-catching. According to the National Gallery of Canada, which houses some of Curnoe's works, this can be attributed to the artist's love of comic books when he was young. "As a child Curnoe enjoyed copying images from popular comic books as well as creating his own comic book characters and stories. His interest in the bright color palette of his comic books, and in recording the minutia of the world around him, would stay with him into adult life." That attention to "minutia" can be seen in some of the bicycle paintings, in that Curnoe would record a complete list of build details, such as tubing, components, builders, etc., about the bicycle in the painting.

Tragically, Greg Curnoe's life was cut short while he was doing what he loved - riding his bicycle. In 1992, Curnoe was riding with the London Centennial Wheelers club when a driver in a pickup truck plowed through the group. Curnoe was killed, and six others were seriously injured. The driver, who was described as "distracted," was later acquitted of all charges. Mike Barry wrote later, "That morning we lost not only one of Canada's most prominent artists but also one of the nicest, most cheerful persons one could meet. Greg it seems was always smiling and never more so than when he was riding his bike or doing his artwork."

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Unstealable Bike

How did I miss the biggest breakthrough in preventing bicycle theft to come along since some Victorian-era miscreant first stole a Penny Farthing in the 1870s? Thanks to the blog Midlife Cycling for calling this one to my attention. Yerka is being billed as the first "unstealable bike." My only question is who'd want to steal it? It looks to me like yet another bike from the crappy "urban fixie" school of design.

Ok, so, what exactly is it that makes the Yerka so hard to steal? Instead of using a lock to secure the bike to an immovable object, the bike itself IS the lock. The folks at Gizmag, always eager to embrace anything new (no matter how goofy and/or pointless), say that designing a bike to act as its own lock is "the best answer of all." Umm. . . maybe if you're more interested in riding a lock with wheels than an actual bicycle. And how hard is it just to carry a good U-lock?

Designed by three engineering students from Chile, the idea is simply that breaking the lock would destroy the bike, "which even the most feeble-minded petty criminal should realize is an utterly pointless exercise." Then again, one should never underestimate the stupidity of some criminals, especially petty bike thieves -- like the ones that will steal a $3000 bike and sell it on the street for $25 to buy a rock of meth. I can imagine some bike-thieving junkie succeeding in breaking the Yerka, only to figure out its dark secret after the fact. Then the owner might discover his bicycle is still where he left it, though reduced to a completely unrideable set of tubes, and perhaps stripped of whatever parts might still be useable.

Anyhow, the way it works is that the down-tube on the frame is multi-jointed (always a good sign when one is after structural integrity) and separable. Then an extra-long (extra-extra long) seat post is inserted through the jointed down-tube sections. Of course, in a high-crime area, one still needs to worry about stolen wheels and/or other components. The company recommends using locking bolts on the wheels, though I suppose if one is serious about keeping it all intact, one still might consider carrying some kind of extra cable lock. Oh well.