Monday, November 28, 2016

Retrogrouch Rules: Proper Bike Setup

Want to start an argument with fellow bike worshipers? Try to establish some "rules" for proper bike setup. Of course, bike set up can be a very personal thing, and ultimately, the only "rule" that really matters is if something works for a person and lets them ride their bike comfortably. But some bike setups just seem to look "right" and probably work pretty well for the majority of people - and if something deviates too much from the "ideal," it can look pretty odd, and it's often a sign that the bike doesn't fit properly, or perhaps the bike's owner doesn't know any better. I mean, if someone's bike has a saddle tilted at some extreme angle, it's possible the owner has arrived at the unusual position after many miles of trial-and-error and has found that it's the only position that lets them ride happily for miles upon miles. But more likely, the person is a noob who has no idea why his various body parts are going numb after a ride of only a couple of miles.

The subject of the "right" setup will probably never garner universal agreement, but it can generate some interesting discussion. One well-known polemic on the subject can be found on the Velominati site (see The Rules) and the subject was recently discussed at length on the Classic Rendezvous Google group. It can be fun to hear different people's opinions on the "proper" setup -- and so here are my Retrogrouch Rules on Proper Bike Setup.

Collector Kevin Kruger has a lovely old 1960s Galmozzi that I featured here on the blog last year. Looking at photos of the rest of Kevin's collection on Flickr, I couldn't help but be struck by the fact that most of his bikes (and he has quite a collection) are superb examples of how a classic road bike should be set up. Take this Colnago for instance:

For a classic steel race bike, it would be hard to find fault with this.

There ought to be a law against
Should be level - or at least close to it. Some people may need a small amount of tilt forward, or back, but more than a couple of degrees of tilt either way is often a sign of inexperience, or poor bike fit. For most riders, nose too high leads to numbness in the genitalia. Nose too low leads to sore hands, neck, and shoulders. I see a lot of street "fixies" that have saddles tilted drastically nose down. I don't know if that's got something to do with a riding style that relies on performing mad skids, or unusual brakeless dismounts, but either way, it's apparent that the bikes aren't actually ridden in any practical sense.

For saddle height, the old rule in the classic era was a "fistful of post" (maybe 4 - 5") though on road racing bikes from at least about the '70s and later, because of evolutionary changes in geometry, expect to see a little more than a fistful. Larger frames will often have (and/or need) a little more seat post showing than on smaller frames. But on a classic steel road bike, having a whole lot of seatpost showing (like 7" or more) is a sign that the frame is probably too small for the rider.


There are a number of variations on the classic drop bar - some with deeper or shallower drops, some with ramps that are roughly parallel to the drops, and some that have ramps that dive steeply to the brake levers. It seems to me that most of them look best when the drops point down slightly from level, with the bar ends pointing in the vicinity of the rear brake. This has a practical reason, because when riding down in the drops, having a bit of a downward angle makes for a more natural hand/wrist position for most riders.

On a classic road racing bike, like the Colnago shown above, the tops of the bars might be somewhere between 1 - 3 inches below the top of the saddle. On a more touring-oriented bike, the difference in height would likely be less. More than 3 inches in difference is another indication that the frame might be too small for the rider. Yes, some people like to "slam" the stem all the way down to the headset, but on a classic steel bike, I think that looks affected.

Brake Levers and Cables:

Line up the lower tips of the brake levers with the bottom of the handlebar drops. The way I do that is with a straight edge (a piece of aluminum flat bar stock works well) and a rubber band. I affix the straight edge to the handlebar end using the rubber band. It then projects forward at the same angle as the drops, and I can then adjust brake lever position so they just touch the straight edge.

Not "too much" cable! If the cables exit from the top of the brake levers, as opposed to aero routing under the bar tape, then there should not be huge loops of cable springing up over the bars. Enough for a smooth arch, and enough that the cables don't bind when the bars are turned or the brakes are applied. Also, it just looks "right" if the arches of cable on the left and right are balanced. It can help to start with the front cable -- get a smooth arch from the lever to the brake caliper, passing up and over the bar. Then get the rear cable to match the size/height of the arch up front - cross the cables behind the bars - then work on the arch at the rear of the bike too. Again, smooth, not too much cable. It should exit the rear cable guide gently in a continuous arc. Too long, and there will be double curves. Too short, and it will pull or bind when the rear brake is applied.

If it worked for Eddy. . . 

A lot of riders from the baby boom era or earlier like to say "if it worked for Eddy . . ." So here are Eddy's brake cables:

Smooth, even arches. No huge loops of excess cable.

Wheels, Quick Releases, and Tires:

On a classic steel road bike, black sidewalls are practically a crime against nature. It's possibly acceptable on a bloated carpet fiber frame with carpet fiber rims - but looks bad on a classic vintage road machine. When using clincher tires, the tire labels should be lined up with the valve stem. That's not just an aesthetic affectation -- it can help when it comes time to locate and fix a punctured tire. On sew-ups, the label placement is up to the mercy of the manufacturer, but to the best of my knowledge, many of them line up that way (though not all of them). Labels should be visible/readable from the drive side of the bike.

On a bike with horizontal dropouts in back, I've seen different recommendations for wheel placement. Some reputable and well-respected enthusiasts insist that on a racing bike, the wheel should be as far forward in the slot as possible, giving the shortest possible wheelbase. I'm more of the opinion that it should be centered in the dropout, so that the line of the seatstay intersects the center of the wheel axle. To my eye that just looks best.

Quick release location is practically a religious issue, but I have my preferences. Functionally, I think it best when the lever is closed so that it is roughly parallel to the fork blade in front, or the seatstay in the rear. It is easier to close the lever when you can wrap a hand around the lever and the frame member, and easier to open it again if it doesn't cross over the frame member. Visually, it looks good when both of the levers point to the rear of the bike, so I find that acceptable.

Again, refer to Eddy. . .

Eddy's front QR lever points back to the rear wheel. His rear QR points up at his saddle, roughly parallel to the seatstay. However, he wasn't always consistent with that. I've seen photos of Eddy racing where both levers pointed to the rear of the bike, and a couple where the front lever pointed upward, roughly parallel to the fork blade.
What is unacceptable to my eye is a front quick release lever pointing forward. It just seems unnatural. Oh - and quick release levers should be on the left side of the bike unless you're running Campagnolo Cambio Corsa gear changers.


Taking a close look at my '73 Mercian, I'm thinking I might need
 to trim a little off those brake cables. Otherwise, looking pretty good.
OK - as I've already mentioned, the only rule that is truly inviolable is the one that says that the setup should work for the rider. Also, these rules mainly apply to classic steel bikes up to the late '80s - or at least designed to emulate the classic look and proportions. Obviously, modern bikes with their bloated frames and sloping top tubes will have nearly a foot of post showing, and their shallow drop "anatomic" handlebars with integrated brake/shift levers won't adhere to the rules, either. Touring bikes and dedicated commuting rigs have a different mission in life, too, so many of the Retrogrouch Rules simply don't apply.

Do all my bikes strictly adhere? Well, looking closely at them, it might be possible to find a discrepancy or two here and there, but it's pretty clear that these aesthetic considerations are something I strive for when I build a bike.

Anybody got anything to add to the list?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Again With The Solid Tires? Really?

Two years ago I wrote that we appear to be in the midst of a flurry of airless tire "innovations," all of them apparently hoping nobody will notice that such things have been tried almost since forever, and never catch on for some very good reasons.

The two latest entries into the solid-tire death match apparently come from the same creators, even though they have totally different designs. One is the NEXO Tire, and the other is the Ever Tire. The NEXO Tire is designed to fit onto existing rims, while the Ever Tire is sold as a complete wheel package. Both systems have been rolled into one Kickstarter campaign.

The creators of course seem pretty excited about their innovations. From the Kickstarter ad: "What happens when you mix the A-Team, Batman and Uni-Kitty's magic horn? We don’t know either but we’re pretty sure they hate flat tires too. . . While trying not to overstate the awesomeness of our discoveries, we think we’re offering two solutions that rival the innovation of toilet paper (well… pretty close)."

Rivaling toilet paper? That is pretty radical awesomeness.

Apparently aware that solid rubber tires have been done to death, the creators of NEXO tires would like to convince us that their tires are different - and not truly even solid. And not actually rubber, either. 

The company insists they aren't "solid" tires - but they look pretty solid to me.  Those plastic pins are what hold the tire to the rim.
You see, the tires are molded in one piece from a "macromolecular material" which sounds to me like some kind of polymer foam. In fact, that's exactly what it is - and the distinction between a silicone polymer foam and foam rubber is what chemistry textbooks are for.

From their ad: "NEXO tire is formed by NEXELL with millions of cells filled with noble gas-N2, not only provides stable pressure, and take the guess work out of tire pressure." Yes, there may be tiny little cells full of nitrogen, but the overall effect is that of a solid but somewhat springy polymer. Notice that they mention tire pressure a couple of times. "Take the guess work out of tire pressure"? Well, yeah - since there's nothing to fill! 

On the whole, the NEXO actually looks A LOT like the Tannus tires that I wrote about two years ago. Those were also made by injecting a polymer foam into a mold - and like the NEXO tires, attached to the rim using little plastic pins. Also like the Tannus tires, the NEXO tires will be available in a variety of colors.

Then there are the Ever Tires. These ones do seem to be made with a different material than the NEXO tires - a solid material that has large holes molded into the structure to give the tires some semblance of "spring." The Ever Tires are apparently installed onto the rim at the factory, and therefore are only available as a complete wheel system, so if you wear out an Ever Tire, I suppose that means you have to replace the whole wheel. But don't worry. The company claims the tires will last at least 5,000 miles, and while some of us probably ride that many miles in a single year, I doubt anyone who would buy the Ever Tires will put that many miles on their bike in a lifetime.

They are available in a variety of sizes for different types of bikes.

No possible way those holes in the Ever Tire can mimic the cushioning of an actual air-filled tire. And even the makers are careful not to imply that they can.
From their ad:

Q: What kind of bike can I put the Ever Tires on?
A: You can put lipstick on a cat but that doesn't make it pretty. While you can put our tires on any bike these tires are not for the elitist. Avid mountain bikers or those looking for added cushion may find that while these tires are great at avoiding flats they are still not as soft as an air filled tire.

That's a ringing endorsement. And you can "put lipstick on a cat but that doesn't make it pretty?" What the hell is that even supposed to mean?

Here's another:

Q: Do Ever Tires handle differently than a regular tire?
A: In our testing we've found that most people can't tell a difference at all. If you're a serious road biker then these are not the tires for you. They run stiffer than your typical air filled tires.

So who are these testers who "can't tell a difference at all" when they're riding on these solid dead treads? Not "elitists," that's for sure.

Would they be good for commuters? Maybe if they don't get caught in the rain. The makers say, "We strongly recommend that when riding in wet conditions especially when cornering that you slow down." In other words, whatever rubber or polymer material these are molded from doesn't have such good grip on wet roads.

The makers also acknowledge that, like all other airless tires, these have more rolling resistance - but they point out multiple times that only an "elitist" would notice.

Here was an odd claim: "Most pneumatic tires have a reputation for being heavy but Nexo tires are revolutionizing opinions." Since when do pneumatic tires have a reputation for being heavy? Did they mean that airless tires have a reputation for being heavy? Because, yes, they do. The makers claim that the weight of their NEXO tires rivals that of heavy duty puncture-resistant tires with heavy duty tubes and liners. Maybe so. Then they go on to make the point that you'll also save the weight of carrying a pump. Gotcha.

Not for "elitists," road cyclists, mountain bikers, commuters who get caught in the rain. Not for anyone capable of noticing a harsh ride or who values "cushioning." All in all, these are probably the perfect tires for that bike that dwells in basement or garage its whole lifetime.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hi-Lo Hubs

I've written before about Campagnolo's excellent Record hubsets from the '60s through the '80s. Made with only the smallest (and primarily cosmetic) changes from 1958 through approximately 1985, the Record hubs were so well made that it's not unusual to find examples that have seen decades of use and still spin like new. They were fully user-serviceable, and replacement parts such as axles or bearing cones were so plentiful that they can still be found today, so it isn't difficult to keep the old hubs going and going.

One very cool variation on the old Record hubs was the HiLo rear hub, which featured a low-flange on the left side, with a high-flange on the drive side. The point was to equalize spoke tension on the left and right sides of a dished rear wheel, thereby making the wheel stronger, though in reality, it actually makes little or no difference. No matter. The HiLo hubs were never very common, but they had such a cool "trick" factor that some people find them extra desirable. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I guess I'm one of those people.

I'm not positive if this is new-old-stock or what, but it sure
gleams like new. Inside and out, it is perfect. Functional jewelry.
I have a set of wheels built with a HiLo hub on my green Mercian, and those get pretty regular use. And just recently I managed to acquire another that I'll eventually get around to building into a super special set of wheels for a very special bike.

A bit of history: The HiLo hub was originally made for the West German cycling team for the '72 Olympics. They were a special request item, and while they attracted a fair amount of attention at the time, I'm not sure they were made available to the general public - or if they were, I don't know how many might have been made. I've read that another limited run of the hubs may have been made later in the '70s. The thing is, they were the kind of product that people would hear about - like "rumor has it" of their existence, but to actually find them may have taken a bit of doing, and they didn't appear in any of the catalogs in that decade. The scarcity and the whispers probably helped to create a mythical aura around them, making them seem even more special. A white whale, if you will.

1982 Olympic catalog scan from
The HiLo hubs didn't become "official" until 1982 when they appeared in a single catalog, the "Olympic Catalog" which was released in preparation for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. One catalog - then they disappeared again forever.

I've done some searching to get an idea of how many of these hubs might have been made, but that information doesn't seem to be available. I did find one article that suggested that the early runs of the hubs, around the '72 Olympics, and a run in the later '70s, might have been around 500 each. How many more might have been made in '82? A thousand? More? Less? Who knows. Regardless, however uncommon they might have seemed back in their day, they do come up fairly regularly on eBay these days. In fact, I'd venture to say that eBay has made them easier to find today than they were when they were new.

So, back to the claim that the high/low flange design made for stronger wheels. People still debate it, and there are some who are convinced they are effective, but Jobst Brandt devoted a section in his authoritative book The Bicycle Wheel to the HiLo hub design. His basic conclusion is that it really makes no difference in spoke tension or wheel strength. He wrote:

"Hubs with a high flange on the right and a low flange on the left have been made in an attempt to counteract rim offset (dish) in multispeed rear wheels. This arrangement has no effect except with radial spoking. Offset, the principal problem with rear wheels, can be reduced only by moving the freewheel farther away from the centerline, or by narrowing the flange spacing. Bringing the left flange closer to the center improves the balance of spoke tension, but only at the expense of reducing lateral strength on both sides of the wheel."

"In a high-low hub the larger diameter of the right flange can help balance tension by about five percent, but only if the spokes are radial. With tangential spoking, no improvement is achieved by the high flange because its spokes have the same length and leave the hub from the same lateral position as the ones from the small flange. . . High-lows cannot reduce vertical loads, the principal cause of spoke failures. Torque loads have so little effect that high low hubs offer no improvement over conventional hubs."

There's no difference in spoke length?
Looking at the different flange diameters, it seems to defy logic, but Brandt was essentially correct. I ran some numbers through a spoke length calculator and found that the right side spokes would indeed be shorter than the left side spokes -- but with a dished rear wheel, that's nearly always the case. But comparing the length of right side spokes for a low-flange hub vs. right side on a high flange hub, I only came up with 1 mm difference on a 3-cross wheel, which is negligible.

Notice that Brandt points out that there can be an effect on spoke tension if one uses radial spoking - so should a person use radial spoking on the rear wheel with a HiLo hub? Well, probably not - as radial spoked wheels cannot transmit torque as well -- the torque applied to the rear wheel under pedaling load "winds up" the spokes a small amount (so they are not technically "radial" anymore) but this movement, however slight, induces wear in the hub's flange, and increases fatigue to the spokes, thereby increasing the likelihood of breakage. So ultimately, they are just a cool item that makes for interesting conversation and produces bike-lust, drooling, or envy among other bike geeks. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose.

Clockwise from top left: Hi-E circa 1970s, Phil Wood circa 1970s,
Velo Orange (current), and White Industries (current).
The HiLo hub design was picked up by some other makers, like Hi-E and Phil Wood in the '70s. There are some versions still available today, like from White Industries, and Velo Orange, though the difference in flange diameters on these current models is not as pronounced as on the earlier designs. One company (I can't recall which) has offered HiLo hubs that are the reverse of most other designs -- that is, the larger flange is on the left instead of the right. So there must still be an argument out there that the HiLo design has an advantage, or it could just be a cool old gimmick that refuses to die off.

If I can track down the vintage rims I'd like to build with, I'll have some more posted about my next wheel building project. Cheers.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Wool Jersey Collection

I got out for a ride on this chilly but sunny, beautiful fall day. Days like this are perfect for a classic wool jersey, and of course that's what I wore. The ride and the weather got me looking through my collection of wool - most of which is vintage stuff.

I took the green and white Mercian for the ride today.
Not that it's necessarily the most interesting topic for a blog post, I thought I might snap some pictures of my wool jersey collection so people can see what I had to select from for the ride.

Here's what I ended up wearing today. An extra-thick (and surprisingly soft) wool jersey from Castelli.
I enjoy the little scorpion patch on the shoulder of the Castelli jersey, and the extra tag on the zipper pull. Such a great look.
I also have this green long-sleeve jersey from Castelli. It's not quite as thick as the yellow one above, but has awesome style wth the asymmetric stripes.
I love the look of this Giordana long-sleeve wool jersey with the Cinelli logo embroidered into it. 
For even colder weather, I have this Giordana-made wool sweater. It has the same chain-stitch embroidery Cinelli logo as the one above.
Among my short-sleeved wool, I have this Woolistic Cinzano jersey with the embroidered logo. Great looking and incredibly soft wool. Breaking Away, anyone?
Traditional blue and yellow. Unknown brand, unknown vintage, but probably early '80s. A little on the scratchy side - and like most old jerseys like this, the zipper is really short. Great look, though.
Classic-looking red and black. Unknown brand or vintage.
Unknown brand or vintage. Fairly soft, though.
Nice-looking red and blue. Labelled "Torelli" and made with 80% wool, 20% acrylic.

I have a few other old jerseys that I have really enjoyed over the years, but unfortunately got some small holes in them. Must have been moths, dangit. I've packed them away hoping that I might be able to get them repaired sometime. Since that discovery, I've come up with a better way to store my wool jerseys. Now I fold them up neatly and slip them into gallon-sized ziplock bags. With the short-sleeved and lighter-weight ones I can fit 2 per bag. The heavier ones only fit 1 per bag. Slip them in, squeeze most of the air out, then zip them closed, and they don't take up a bunch of space. I'm sure they should be safer that way.

Not much else to say - wherever you are, I hope you're able to enjoy the fall weather on a bike.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Interesting Idea - But Should It Be Necessary?

I just saw another bike-related Kickstarter that looks like it's on the verge of going down as a failure: The iLumaware Shield radar-enhancing taillight. With only hours to go, it had only raised 24% of its fundraising goal.

What is it? The iLumaware Shield is a taillight that also serves as an amplifier for the radar signals that are sent out from newer cars equipped with accident avoidance systems. The idea is that even if the driver isn't paying close attention, then at least the car itself will recognize the cyclist and take whatever precautions the accident avoidance system is supposed to take. As it is, a bicycle is practically invisible to accident avoidance radar, but the iLumaware page says that the device increases the signal bouncing back to the radar system, making the bicycle seem "larger" than it is, and increasing the likelihood that it will be detected. The taillight isn't overly large, or too terrifically cumbersome-looking - though it does suffer a bit from the "dork factor."

Is it a bad idea? I don't think so. As a routine bicycle commuter who spends many mornings riding in the dark before sunrise, I am very conscious of the need to be visible. And the problem of distracted driving keeps getting worse. When a cell phone addled driver is trying to read or send a text, all the reflective clothing and taillights in the world don't make a difference in a cyclist being seen, so one could argue that any device that counters the problem might be worth trying.

It does have certain flaws, however. First and foremost, it only helps amplify a cyclist's signal when being approached from behind. Certainly, being hit-from-behind is a major fear of many road-going cyclists, and while I can't definitively prove it, I believe that the threat of that type of collision is growing (again, I blame the spread of so-called smart phones in the hands of dumb humans). There are some statistics on the iLumaware Kickstarter ad that claim there were 35,000 collisions between cars and cyclists in the U.S. in 2015, and that the majority were hit from behind. I don't know where they got those figures, but they don't seem to be supported by the most recent study I've seen on the subject: the Every Bicyclists Counts study from 2014, by the League of American Bicyclists. Still - a legitimate concern, but not the only one. There are lot's of other types of car-bike collisions that are very common but would not be helped by the device - such as right-hooks, left-hooks, broadsides, and more. Also, it only works if a driver happens to be in a car that has the accident-avoidance radar system -- a growing number, perhaps, but still a fairly small percentage.

What makes it so effective at reducing injuries is that if anyone
were required to wear it, they'd probably never ride a bike again.
But then, that's probably the point.
The part that really annoys me, though, is that products like this, or Volvo LifePaint, or this ridiculous Australian "smart helmet" (for "responsible cyclists" - that basically is like wearing a small car on your head) is that they all seem to push the notion that drivers bear no responsibility to look where they're going and exercise good judgement around other road users. It seems like there is a never-ending stream of people trying to find more and newer ways to enable lousy driving, like families and friends covering for an alcoholic uncle. Driver-centric politicians love such things too, because if they can shift all the responsibility and blame onto cyclists, then they don't believe they need to do anything to regulate driver behavior, improve driver (and cyclist) education, or provide better road designs to improve cyclists' safety. They can ignore pleas to install traffic-calming infrastructure, or pass 3-foot passing laws, or pass enforceable bans on texting while driving. That way, if a cyclist gets killed, they can trot out the old standbys that pass the blame onto the cyclist and away from the driver. We've all heard/read "victim wasn't wearing a helmet." Get ready for "victim wasn't coated in reflective paint" or "wasn't carrying a radar-reflective dish to make sure the car could see him."

Pardon the momentary diversion - but these both came to mind and seemed relevant:

I don't want to come down too hard on the radar-enhancer. Like I said, it's an interesting idea. I just wish like hell it weren't necessary.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Classic Tubes: Reynolds 753

Any fan of vintage racing and touring bikes is more than familiar with the familiar green, black and gold decal signifying Reynolds 531 tubing. Regardless of whether someone preferred Campagnolo, Simplex, Huret, Zeus, or whatever components for their bike, up until the 1980s Reynolds 531 was probably one of the most common elements of any high-quality lightweight bicycle. But in the 1970s, in a quest to reduce weight amid early experiments with titanium and carbon fiber bicycles, the Reynolds company introduced a new tubing that they hoped would give them the competitive edge and become the ultimate steel tubeset: 753.

Reynolds 753 was essentially a heat-treated version of the company's familiar 531 manganese alloy steel. The heat treating boosted the tensile strength of the steel by about 50% and made it possible to draw the tubing much thinner than regular 531. Some versions of the tubing were drawn down as thin as 0.3mm in the center sections of butted tubes! It was claimed that the result could drop more than a pound from the weight of a bicycle frame without sacrificing strength.

Originally developed and tested in secret in the early '70s, Reynolds 753 was introduced to the public at the Paris Cycle Show in the Fall of 1975, but the company could already boast of a world championship (in the 5000m pursuit) and a new world record (50 mile time trial) with the tubing. The Raleigh racing team had raced in 1974 on 753 frames that were labeled as 531.

Reynolds introduced both 753 and their 531SL
to the public at the same trade shows in '75.
Note that this early ad already proclaims a
World Championship won with 753, before it
was released to the public. (image from Velo Pages)
Although it was no longer a secret by 1976, it would take a couple of years before the general public would be able to get their hands on bikes built with the hot new tubing. Not surprisingly, the first company to offer it was Raleigh, which was at that time a wholly-owned subsidiary of TI Reynolds. But also, the tubing was not available or intended for mass production. Because of the need to preserve the strength gained in heat treating, low-temperature silver brazing was the only acceptable way to join 753 tubing, and this required very close tolerances for mitering and lug fit when building. Also, the tubing could not be cold set after brazing, so alignment had to be spot-on from the beginning. Because of the special care needed to ensure a proper build, any framebuilder who wanted to use it had to be certified by Reynolds. The certification process involved getting a sample tubeset, then brazing a frame which had to be sent to Reynolds for destructive testing. The inspectors would look for close mitering tolerances, good brazing penetration, and any signs of overheating in the joint and tubing. Only when certified could a builder be supplied with 753 tubing.

According to The Custom Bicycle by Kolin and de la Rosa (1979), by 1978 the only 753-certified builders in the U.K. were Raleigh, Bob Jackson, and Harry Quinn. Although not listed as such in the Kolin book, I know for a fact that Mercian was certified by '79. Jim Merz of Oregon and Proteus Design in Maryland were among the first certified builders in the USA, though many others would follow suit. In the US, I've heard that many builders took it as proof of their accomplishment and skill to be 753-certified, even if they never built more than a handful of frames with the material.
Mercian was offering the 753 Special starting in
1979. This is from the catalog that was released
around '79 - '80. I recently acquired one of these,
so expect more info about it in the not-too-distant

One interesting thing about 753 was that when it was first introduced, it was only available in metric dimension tubing. Metric dimensions were primarily used on French bikes at the time, while British, Italian, and most American custom-built bikes followed Imperial or fractional inch dimensions. For example, Imperial tubing dimensions were as follows: top tube, 1-in. (25.4mm); down-tube and seat-tube, 1 1/8-in. (28.6mm). French dimensions were: top tube, 26mm; down-tube and seat-tube, 28mm. I have not been able to find any explanation as to why the metric dimensions were used originally for 753. As I understand it, later versions of the tubing were made to Imperial dimensions, and would have been labeled 753R.

Not all 753 was drawn to ultra-thin walled gauges. Even from the beginning there were a couple of different gauges available. The thinnest was more common in smaller frames, while larger frames would normally have slightly thicker gauge tubes. The "cutoff" was likely somewhere around 58 or 59cm frame size - though that is not necessarily a universal fact. I've read arguments that individual builds might have taken the rider into account, so there could be exceptions where a larger frame might still have the thinner tubeset, or the other way around. If someone has an earlier-model 753 frame, one way to figure out which gauge tubing was used is to look at the seatpost size. A high-quality lightweight bike frame built with 531, or even Columbus SL tubing would normally take a 27.2mm seatpost, and in many cases (but not all), a smaller seatpost would indicate thicker-walled and heavier tubing. But most frames built with the metric-dimensioned 753 would require a 27mm seatpost. Larger frames would likely take a 26.8mm post.

So, how did they come up with the name for the new tubing? It's fairly well known that Reynolds 531 was named for the makeup of the alloy -- 5 parts manganese, 3 parts carbon, and 1 part molybdenum. It also had a tensile strength right around 53 tons/in². According to Tony Hadland's book Raleigh: Past and Presence of an Iconic Bicycle Brand, Reynolds 753 had a tensile strength of about 75 tons/in² and was drawn to .3mm in the center section of the tubes. Also, it was introduced in 1975, and the tubing was the result of their 3rd material tested.

Over the years, there would be variations on 753 released. In addition to the standard road set (later designated as 753R) there was a track tubeset which used the thinnest possible gauges (753T), a heavier-duty version for mountain and touring use (753ATB), and later still a slightly oversized diameter version (753OS).

Through the 1980s, bikes with 753 were something of a holy grail to some, and could be seen on some of the best professional racers' bikes. Bernard Hinault rode 753-tubed bikes for many of his professional wins, as did Greg LeMond as a member of the La Vie Claire team. Laurent Fignon's bikes in the '89 tour used it, too. Lots of pro teams did. But among the mere mortals, it always remained fairly uncommon. Price was always a concern. The fact that it could be pretty finicky to work with, and the certification process also kept it more exclusive. Still, there were a number of custom builders here in the U.S. who used it, and even some larger operations like Trek and Waterford built quite a few 753 frames. Even Rivendell, when it first was getting started in the 1990s, had their early bikes built by Waterford out of 753 (though I'm pretty sure it wasn't the super thin-walled versions).

Then, in 1995, twenty years after the introduction of 753, Reynolds introduced 853 -- an air-hardening alloy that had even more strength than 753 but did not require special handling or certification. More importantly, 853 could be welded, which by the '90s had become a much more common way to build bicycles. Two years later, the company introduced 725 heat-treated chrome-moly, which had a lot of the same physical properties of 753, but likewise required no certification and could be welded. Though I've read that a builder can still purchase 753, I doubt many bother since there are alternatives that are easier to work with. No, 753 was probably the top frame tubing a person could buy for its time, but that time is past. Still, for a classic bicycle fan, finding a vintage example is kind of a thrill. I'll come back to that again in future posts.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Tripping the Light Fantastic

Many cyclists have probably encountered this scenario: You come to a stoplight and wait for the signal to turn green. You wait. And wait. And wait. And . . . nothing. The light refuses to change. If this happens, chances are, you have encountered a demand-actuated vehicle detector - and the sensors, which are primarily designed to detect cars, are not sensitive enough to detect your bicycle. There are a few myths about these detectors out there, and lots of different ideas regarding what cyclist should do when they are unable to trip the lights.

First off - what exactly are these things, and how do they work?

Look for those cuts in the pavement.
Obviously, these demand-actuated devices are supposed to detect a vehicle that approaches the intersection, and send a signal to the traffic light to change. No vehicle, no change. Though some people assume that the detectors are tripped by vehicle weight, and others think it has to do with magnetism, neither is exactly right. The most common type of vehicle detectors today work by using an inductive loop which is basically a large metal detector set into the pavement. The inductive loop creates a faint electromagnetic field, and a vehicle entering the loop creates a small disturbance in that field and should trip the signal. Obviously, cars are much larger, and have a lot more metal on them so they are nearly always detected, but the detectors should react to any kind of metal, including aluminum, even though aluminum is not magnetic. These sensors are supposed to be able to detect bicycles, but depending on the sensitivity, both bicycles and motorcycles can occasionally have difficulty tripping the lights.

Searching the internet, you can find people who swear by attaching magnets to their pedals or their bottom brackets to help them be detected. Based on what I've read from engineers who design and work with the systems, I'd have to conclude that this is a persistent myth, or possibly a cyclist would have to be carrying a lot of magnets (as in, several pounds worth) on their bike to actually make a difference. In any case, we retrogrouches are at an advantage in that there should be enough metal in a steel-framed bike with aluminum-rimmed wheels to trip many vehicle detectors. That can't be said of carbon fiber bikes with carbon wheels and other components. There's a very informative article about the technical aspects of inductive loop detectors by Steven Goodridge to be found on the HumanTransport site.

There are several different layouts for inductive loops: Dipole, which is the simplest - a single rectangular loop; Quadrupole, which doubles the loop on itself in a figure-8 (it appears as a double rectangle in the pavement) which increases sensitivity; and the Diagonal Quadrupole, which has several loops of a smaller size and is the most sensitive. From what I understand, a smaller loop will generally be more sensitive to bicycles than a larger loop.

Assuming that the vehicle detector is sensitive enough, how do you ensure that a bike will trip it?

There are a few different layouts for inductive loop sensors.
These graphics show the "sweet spots" in the various layouts.
Apparently the diagonal quadrupole design is the most sensitive
for bicycles. (Graphic from
A major factor in tripping the light is knowing where the inductive loop is located, and stopping in the optimal position to activate it. Often, you can see where the pavement has been cut to install the loop -- it may look like a large rectangle cut into the pavement right at the front part of the intersection, just behind the white line that marks where vehicles are supposed to stop. On a bicycle, it isn't enough to stop inside the rectangle, or near it. You really need to be stopped right on the loop, preferably with your bike in-line with the cuts in the pavement.

It is possible that the loop can be paved over, and the cuts would not be visible. In some communities, the road dept. may actually mark with paint the optimal stopping locations for cyclists to trip the lights, but I have no doubt that is pretty rare. If your community uses vehicle detectors that are invisible because they've been paved over, I'd suggest getting fellow cyclists to complain and petition to have such markings put into place, as ultimately it becomes a safety issue. In the meantime, I've read that it may help to get off the bike and lay it down on its side approximately where you might expect the loop to be located, thereby increasing the chance that you might cross over it and trip the signal.

In my experience, simply understanding how these things work, and knowing about the "sweet spots" makes a big difference in being detected. If you are indeed able to trip the lights, you should really know within a minute or two. If after a reasonable time you can determine that you are unable to get a green light, it's time to go to plan B. Unfortunately, plan B can be a bit of a legal gray area.

Although only a handful of states actually have bicycle-specific laws regarding what to do when the vehicle detectors fail to work, most states (if not all) have language in their traffic laws regarding malfunctioning traffic signals. What are car drivers expected to do when they get to an intersection and the traffic lights aren't functioning? Typically, the expectation is that they treat the malfunctioning light like a stop sign. Come to a complete stop, yield to traffic with the right of way, and then proceed when it is reasonably safe to do so. There is a strong legal argument to be made that a vehicle detector that is unable to sense a bicycle should be treated as malfunctioning, and that the affected cyclist is justified in proceeding with caution after reasonably determining that the sensor is indeed not working, and determining that it is safe to proceed.

I say that this is a bit of a gray area because not everyone agrees. For example, in my researching this issue, I found that in Florida, officials with the state's Highway Safety bureau specifically advise against cyclists treating such a traffic light as a stop sign. Instead, they recommend that cyclists make a right turn, then later make a u-turn to get back to where they intend to go - or find an alternate route (FloridaCyclingLaw). I have no idea how many other states make such a recommendation, but if I lived in Florida, I'd be teaming up with fellow cyclists and lawyers to challenge that interpretation. My point is that I truly believe that such an interpretation of the law would not stand up to a legal challenge. First of all, the laws in all 50 states define bicycles as vehicles and hold them accountable to the same laws as any other vehicle drivers. That being the case, then it is the responsibility of the state to apply its own laws equally to cyclists. If the state or local road authorities install traffic control devices that fail to recognize all vehicles, or knowingly place an undue burden on a segment of vehicle users, then the state is violating its own laws.

In specific regard to the advice that cyclists should make a right turn, then later make a u-turn, this in and of itself may be against the law in some situations. Even in states that allow right turn on red, there are always some intersections where it is prohibited. Likewise, there are many places where a u-turn is not legal. Also, many states (including Florida, I believe) have laws specifically prohibiting vehicles from performing the right-turn/u-turn maneuver because it is sometimes used by drivers to avoid waiting for the traffic lights! Whether or not the maneuver is legal, it certainly opens a cyclist up to even more risks than simply treating the malfunctioning signal as a stop sign and proceeding through the intersection accordingly with due caution. There is no way to legally argue that the intent of the law is to put an unfair burden on certain vehicle users, and to put vulnerable road users in even greater risk. As to the advice to "find an alternative route," again it places an unfair and undue burden on cyclists, and may be completely impractical in some cases.

Okay then, what does a person do when they encounter this situation? I am of the mindset that says any traffic device that doesn't recognize a bicycle should be considered malfunctioning, and treated as stop sign. Do the same thing you would do in a car if you came to a traffic light that was not working. Stop, yield, proceed with caution when it's safe to go. That is the advice given in John Forester's Effective Cycling, as well as by John Allen and other bicycle safety experts and advocates. As I've already pointed out, there is a pretty sound legal argument for this, whether or not a state has bicycle-specific language on the subject. If you're still uncertain (or live in Florida) keep your eyes open for police. I mean, really, what are the odds that one will suddenly pop up just as you're going through the intersection?

So then, let's say you are the incredibly unlucky person who gets stuck at a light that won't change, you've done what you can do to make sure the vehicle detector is not "reading" your bike (good luck to you carbon bike users!), and there are no cars in sight that can trip the light for you, so you decide to proceed cautiously through the red light, and BAM! A cop shows up out of nowhere to write you a ticket. If that happens, you calmly and respectfully explain the situation to the officer. It's worth noting that many police officers are also motorcyclists (at least in my experience), and it's possible they may have encountered the same situation themselves. Unless the officer is a completely irrational bike-hating A-hole, it's hard to imagine they'd still write a ticket. And if they did, I'd absolutely take that ticket to court and fight it.

If there is an intersection that you know of that consistently does not detect bicycles, it's really important to note the location and notify the proper authority. It might take some effort to determine exactly whom to call, whether it is the city road/transportation department, or the county, or whatever the jurisdiction. Until you reach the right office, I wouldn't even mention that I have a bicycle-specific issue -- if they think you are a driver reporting a malfunctioning traffic signal, they might give you less run-around. Once you reach the right person, be calm, rational, and non-argumentative. One really shouldn't have to argue too hard, as it really is a safety issue if a light doesn't function properly for cyclists - it essentially forces cyclists to engage in potentially risky behavior, and the road/traffic authorities have the legal obligation to ensure the safety of all road users. Still, it's possible that the wheels may get greased a little faster if you can encourage others to report the malfunctioning signal as well. Get your local bicycling clubs involved in reporting such intersections likewise.

The thing is, if one of these inductive loop detectors is adjusted properly, it should be able to detect a bicycle. And if it can't, it is apparently possible for the road dept. to make adjustments to the sensitivity. If they cannot adjust the sensitivity to detect a bicycle without getting interference from traffic in adjoining lanes, then they may need to install the loop in a different layout, because as described earlier, there are some designs that work better than others. As previously mentioned, if the loop is completely hidden, then the "sweet spots" can be marked with paint, which costs next to nothing but makes a big difference.

I suppose it would be easy for some to argue that this is why cyclists shouldn't bother following the law, or use it as justification for blowing off lights. It should be clear that I would not make that argument. As I've explained, knowing how to trip the devices makes a big difference, and in my own experience, the devices are getting better at detecting bicycles. Also, unless your state has some specific laws regarding bicycles and traffic lights (such as the "Idaho Stop") I definitely don't recommend simply running the lights as a first response. Don't do it until you've determined that you can't get the lights to work - then proceed cautiously.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Polite Dinner Conversation

I attended a dinner party this past weekend. Seating was prearranged, so I was seated at a table with some acquaintances - some I knew better than others - which usually means some fairly stiff but generally polite dinner conversation. So, to get right to the point, one of the people at my table asked me, "Do you still ride your bike to work all the time?"

"As often as I can," I replied. Then came a mildly annoying follow-up:

"So, are you a GOOD bike rider, or a BAD bike rider? Like, are you one of those guys who runs through red lights, and stop signs, and takes up a whole lane, and blocks traffic?"

For real? This is where you want to go for dinner conversation? You wouldn't rather extol the virtues of candidate Trump? Or give us the testimony of your "personal relationship with Jesus"? Maybe you'd rather tell us about your views on abortion?

Then, to take things from annoying to flat out hostile, a couple of other people at the table immediately piped in loudly, "OH MY GOD, bike riders are the WORST! They're so ARROGANT and BELLIGERENT, and THEY THINK THEY OWN THE ROAD!" (seriously - three of them bellowed the last part of that in unison).

You can imagine where things went from there. . .

"Bike riders shouldn't be on the roads."
"They slow down traffic."
"They get in my way."
"A bunch of bikers boxed me in once." (I'm guessing he got caught up in a critical mass ride)
"They NEVER obey the law."
"They don't pay their fair share."
"They should have to have a license if they're going to use the road."

I could see the expression on my wife's face clearly saying "Oh god - here we go." She knows me well, and knows not to get me started on certain subjects. My dinner ended up getting cold while I sat there ripping into all the anti-bike B.S. piece by piece.

Honestly, where to begin? Cyclists think they own the road? From a driver-centric point of view, I suppose any cyclist who actually expects drivers to respect his/her right to the road is an "arrogant" cyclist. But I don't think there's a cyclist anywhere in the U.S. who thinks for a minute that they own the road. How could we? We are reminded every time we ride that many drivers consider us, at best, a nuisance. At worst - well, let's just say that some drivers fantasize about turning us into road-kill. Read the comments to any bike-related story online, and you'll know that's true. Whether it's through drivers' negligence, or inattention, impatience, or pure aggression, they pull out in front of us, right-hook us, left-hook us, or just plain fail to yield when we have the right-of-way. Passing cars buzz by us close enough to remove the little hairs from the backs of our hands. We routinely get honked at and screamed at. We have things thrown at us from passing cars. There is no way that any cyclists in this country think they own the road -- but it's clear that a lot of drivers do.

Cyclists don't pay their fair share? Whether it's gasoline taxes, or license fees, insurance, or what have you, drivers love to claim that cyclists don't pay for the roads and therefore don't have the right to use them. It's a persistent myth that has been exploded again and again, but anti-cyclist drivers never seem to get the message. We ALL pay for the roads, whether we drive a car or not. Gasoline taxes haven't been increased in as long as I can remember, but the cost of building and maintaining roads keeps climbing. The share of road maintenance and construction costs covered by gasoline taxes and license fees keeps falling, while the share borne by income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and the like has steadily increased. There have been some very thorough studies on the subject that demonstrate that auto usage is heavily subsidized by everyone else in our society. And that doesn't even take into account that fact that most adult cyclists are also drivers, and therefore are still paying the same taxes and fees that any other drivers do.

What about the one about how cyclists should have a drivers license to use the roads? I'm hearing this one more and more, and I have no doubt that car-centric politicians are on the verge of trying to make it happen somewhere. Here's where the problem lies. Most drivers think that their right to use the road is tied to their drivers license, but that's not exactly accurate. A drivers license is a permit to operate a motor vehicle on our roads -- a subtle distinction, but an important one. Bicycles, and even horses and buggies (common in Amish country) are classified as vehicles, and carry an equal right to the road -- but they are not motor vehicles, and for that reason they do not require a drivers license. We require a permit to operate a motor vehicle for reasons that should be obvious -- a typical car weighs around 3,000 pounds or more, while some trucks and SUVs can weigh nearly double that. Most cars are capable of speeds in excess of 100 mph, and can inflict serious carnage and tremendous amounts of property damage. Car accidents kill roughly 3,000 people every month in the U.S. alone. Here's another way to look at it: driving a car is a privilege, while riding a bike is a right. A drivers license can be revoked, but that doesn't take away a person's freedom to walk or to ride a bicycle. In many locales, if a person loses their license, it's possible that their only available means of transport may be a bicycle.

Cyclists never obey the law? It's an unfortunate fact that there's some truth to that. I stop for lights and signs. I signal my intentions. I follow the law the same way I expect drivers to respect my rights. But sadly there are plenty of riders who don't do the same. Some are simply inexperienced, while others are sadly uneducated cyclists. But there are enough out there who know the laws apply to cyclists as well as cars - they just don't care. Those riders make me mad too - and conversations like the one I had the other night are an excellent example as to why. Every time I find myself in an argument with a driver who's just put me at risk, their retort almost always works its way around to some variation of "you bikers don't follow the law, so you don't have any right to complain." Drivers love to throw that crap in our faces rather than admit they've done something asinine and/or dangerous. Part of the reason I am so conscientious about the law is because I never want some A-hole driver to use my actions on the bike as some kind of half-assed justification for putting some other rider at risk.

But even that point about law-breaking needs some perspective. I sometimes see cyclists run red lights, but it's not as though they go blowing through like they have a death wish. On the other hand I see - and I know we ALL see - drivers go blowing through traffic lights. Every. Single. Day. A traffic light turns yellow, and a string of drivers hit the gas to get through the intersection. (Strictly speaking, any driver more than a car length or two away from the intersection when the light turns yellow is really supposed to stop - but when was the last time you saw that enforced?) After the light turns red, and sometimes even after the cross traffic gets the green light, there will still be another jackass (or two, or three) who plows though the intersection with his pedal to the floor. Who is the bigger risk to the public?

For a bit more perspective on this point, I would argue that the average person sees more drivers breaking the law on any given day than they see bicyclists on the road -- law abiding, or otherwise -- in a week. Period. On my typical commute to and from work each day, whether I'm in my car or on my bike, I'll usually see several cars run traffic lights in the way I previously described, while some roll through stop signs, while I see a few more speeding excessively, and I'll witness at least a half dozen more texting while driving (illegal in my state). On the other hand, on an average weekday, I seldom encounter more than one or two other cyclists apart from myself, and that's when the weather is good. Drivers are conditioned to notice and remember the cyclist who breaks the law, while they have the uncanny ability to ignore other drivers who behave far more dangerously.

Lastly, I'm fairly convinced that a lot of what drivers label as law breaking by cyclists is really just cyclists following the law in a fairly assertive manner - such as taking the lane when it's unsafe for cars to pass. When many drivers don't even acknowledge that cyclists have the right to use the road at all (or grudgingly admit they have the right, but shouldn't actually exercise that right), then a proven concept like "vehicular cycling" is probably seen as a threat.

Oh - I could keep going on and on, but to wrap this up, let me just say that after a while my righteous anger drove all the bike-haters out to the patio to smoke their cigarettes (and no, I'm not being ironic), leaving my wife and I alone at the table. Just another pleasant night out.

I guess it just goes to show that you can dress an arrogant cyclist up, but you can't take him anywhere.