Friday, August 10, 2018

More Warnings About Carbon Fiber Bikes

I recently came across an article in Outside online that rings more alarm bells about carbon fiber bikes and components - though it's all well-trodden ground on this blog. There's not much in the article that hasn't been raised plenty of times already in The Retrogrouch - it's just that I don't often see these concerns raised by more mainstream publications.


One of the more interesting things the article talks about is how, if someone has a carbon fiber bike and it fails, it can be difficult to get anyone to take responsibility. For example, a person may own a CF bike made by a huge well-known Taiwanese manufacturer (they're almost all made in either Taiwan or China) - but the bikes are actually distributed by another huge company (probably an independent subsidiary with the same name) based in the U.S. Now, let's say that customer's bike fails and they get injured. They sue the manufacturer in Taiwan - who claims that they can't be sued because they don't actually do business in the U.S. - if you want to sue someone, sue the U.S.-based distributing company. The customer tries that, but the U.S. company claims they can't be sued because they aren't the ones who actually made the bike. The difficulties can keep a consumer tied up in courts for a long time. Isn't that nice? According to the article, recent court decisions may make it a little easier for such lawsuits to move forward - but things are still in a state of flux.

Other more well-trodden points look at how manufacturing defects that can lead to failure may be hidden and very difficult to detect. Or how damage can come from an accident of some kind - but be unseen until it eventually fails - maybe long after the accident is long forgotten. Both are points I've raised plenty here over the years. If the manufacturer can point to an installation or maintenance issue or an accident (no matter how minor/insignificant it may have been) as the cause of failure, then there is no warranty coverage when the bike or component breaks.

Something I found odd in the article, though, was that it opened with a story that I'd hardly consider an exemplary case. Here's the opening:

Janet Kowal had a personal connection to the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). Even though she’s now living outside Chicago, working for the Village of Burr Ridge town hall, Kowal has Iowa in her blood. The 2013 route would take her through her hometown of Des Moines and skirt the University of Iowa, where she graduated in 1987. Kowal bought a new-to-her 2007 Giant OCR C1 road bike for the event and, to be cautious, took it to her local bike shop for a full-service tune-up.

Not long into the ride, however, Kowal’s bike shattered beneath her. For no apparent reason—she’d neither hit an obstacle nor encountered a pothole—the front fork snapped in half as if it had exploded from within. Kowal was sent crashing into the pavement, helmet first. She fractured her spine and clavicle, suffered a concussion, and tore ligaments in her left thumb.


Okay - anybody else think it's weird that they focused on a 2013 incident involving a used bike that was already 5 or 6 years old when the woman purchased it? If the main point is that it really isn't a good idea to buy used carbon fiber bikes (or components), then point taken. But it seems to me that the intended point is broader than that. I mean, pursuing compensation when a used bike fails is complicated regardless of what material the bike is made from. Manufacturer's warranties almost never cover anyone beyond the original owner - and (as already mentioned) they are almost never held responsible if they can make the case that an accident or some user-error caused the failure.

One never knows what kind of accidents, abuse, or neglect a bike may have suffered under a previous owner, and with carbon fiber, the damage may be almost impossible to detect. At least with a steel bike, such problems can often be seen if someone knows what to look for. Steel wears its damage on its sleeve. The fork may be bent. There may be a ripple or a small crack developing somewhere. Paint could be bubbled or cracked.

A head-on collision will often leave tell-tale signs on a steel bike that even a new coat of paint may not hide. That little ripple behind the head tube is one. A bent fork is another. It's pretty subtle, but that fork on the right is almost certainly damaged.
I have no doubt that carbon fiber bikes today are better than those made ten year ago - and further improvements will be made. But it's all still developing technology. It begs the question how long will such bikes last? I have no qualms about riding a 40 or 50 year old steel bike. But where will today's carbon bikes be in 50 years?

Anyhow - it's worth clicking on over to Outside to read the article, but if you've been reading this blog for a while, there probably won't be much there to surprise you.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

A Visit To Maine

If the blog has seemed quiet for a little while, it's because I've spent the past week on a family vacation in Maine with little/no internet and fairly limited cell-phone coverage. That can be relaxing, but also a little frustrating at times. We've come to rely on our digitized world so much that it can be really hard sometimes to let go. It's funny that it wasn't really that long ago that the internet was little more than an interesting curiosity, and a phone was nothing more than a means to talk to someone - just talk - while tethered to a cord on the wall. My kids have never known the world to be different than it is today, but for me (and most people reading this blog), it's probably a bit staggering to think how much technology has come to run our lives.

A quiet spot beside Sebago Lake at sunrise.
My family and I have been staying in a cabin by a nice lake in the southern part of Maine. Actually, there are a lot of lakes in the vicinity - large and small - enough that apparently the area is known as the Lake Region. I brought my Rivendell along on the trip so I could do some riding.

Though I keep my bikes computer-free, technology or the lack thereof did enter into the riding experience a little - at least at first. Being totally unfamiliar with the area, getting out for a ride without knowing where I was or where I was going seemed a bit daunting. I tried using my phone's map functions to figure out some routes, but poor signal coverage made that sporadic and a little frustrating. I did locate a bike shop in the area so I paid them a visit and asked if they had any maps of the lakes and the roads surrounding them. That seems to me like one of those things a good bike shop should keep around, right? Well, no, they didn't have any maps. "Why don't you just use Strava like everyone else?" Ummm - because my phone barely works out here. I did eventually get to a café where I could get some internet access, find some maps, and copy them down onto paper for some riding routes/maps that would get me around even without technology.

One route I found was a loop around Sebago Lake, which was the lake on which our cabin was located. The loop around the lake was a little over 40 miles. I also worked out a shorter loop around one of the smaller lakes nearby, and there was a decent out-and-back ride to a neighboring town and a quiet road through the nearby state park. All told, I put in a lot of miles during the week and found some good photo-opportunities.
Boulders are a major part of Maine's landscape.
I found this old Grange hall tucked away on one of the rural routes.
On the roads along the lake, one finds lots of little markets that cater to the campers and boaters visiting the area. Groceries, beverages, dry firewood bundles, and bait. This one had fish trophies hanging everywhere so I had to get a picture.
I'd been looking for this my whole life.
I spotted this old Ford in a field not far from the state park. Notice that it has tracks in place of wheels on the back. I couldn't say for certain, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was once used for winter mail delivery in this area known for its harsh winters.
On one of my rides I found a little roadside stand selling just-picked blueberries. I stopped and bought a pint for a nice treat. Only $3 a pint, and worth it. Plenty for a snack on my ride, and lots left for breakfast the next morning.

The drive out to Maine took us through Vermont and New Hampshire. I have to say that I'd love to come back out with my bike for an extended riding tour through those states. The roads through the Green Mountains in Vermont were absolutely gorgeous. Throughout our New England drive, we chose to stay off the interstates and instead drove the two lane highways that took us through all manner of little towns - some quaint, some forgotten, some just barely hanging on. Though it takes a little extra traveling time, it makes for a much more interesting drive.


A classic little rail car diner on Hwy 9 near Brattleboro, Vermont.
Brattleboro is one of those picturesque little towns tucked in among the hills. Lots of cool shops, cafés, brew pubs, and not one but two bike shops. While there, I had to get a picture of this:

As I stood there getting a photo, I was getting weird looks from some people standing nearby. Actual conversation:
"I want to get a picture because that's my name up there."
"What - Brooks? or Hotel?"
"Both - my parents had a weird sense of humor."
In the little town of Bennington, Vermont, we entered the town's oldest cemetery - and found Robert Frost's grave. The English teacher in me had to document that.
"I had a lover's quarrel with the world."
I love these old New England headstones. This one dates to 1787 - but it isn't even the oldest one in the cemetery.
While in Bennington getting coffee at a homey little café I met a fellow with a fully loaded Surly Long Haul Trucker who was on his way north to Montreal. Kind of sorry I didn't get a picture of him and his bike - but mostly I was a little envious. Definitely something I'll have to do some day.

That's all for this vacation - I'll be back at work all too soon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Will We Ever Be Ready For "Pump Action" Cycling?

It is with a heavy heart that I report that the cycling world is likely to be denied the greatest technology breakthrough that we have seen since the invention of the safety bicycle. Funding for RRAD Pump Action Cycling on Kickstarter was a failure. They only raised about $9000 out of a goal of $100,000 for their device that would convert your "inefficient" rotating crank-driven bike into . . . THIS:
With Pump Action, your legs are always in the "power zone."
The RRAD Cycle was developed by "accomplished inventor" Roy Rosser - who notes with pride in the Kickstarter ad that when he was in graduate school in London in the 1980s, "he bicycled to university through the London traffic - and survived!" 

That's certainly an accomplishment. And on the inventing front, his notable accomplishment is that he helped develop the virtual first down line that has become an indispensable part of broadcast football.

And of course, those accomplishments made him the perfect person to tackle the terrible inefficiencies of rotating cranks.

From the Kickstarter ad: "You come to a hill. Time to change gears. Time to take a deep breath. Time to feel a burning sensation and the sweat drip down your neck. So much for a nice ride to work! Your inefficient bike is tiring you out, even though it was so easy to bike on flat ground."

That's right - Using some kind of "magnetically sprung clutch," the RRAD technology replaces the rotating motion of a traditional crank with an up-and-down motion that makes riding up hills no different at all from riding on flat ground. Or so they claim.

What could be better?! Why do we dogmatically insist on hanging on to our antiquated crank technology? When will the world be ready for "pump action" cycling?

Ummm. . . maybe never?

Of course, such ideas are nothing new. In the case of the RRAD bike, what makes it different is that it is designed to be retro-fit to standard bicycles, but the "pedaling" motion and supposed benefits are pretty much the same as on this thing:

1980s Alenax treadle-drive bicycle.
Which itself was yet another version of an idea that gets resurrected every few years by tinkerers with no sense of history. Treadle driven bikes actually pre-date the "safety bicycle":

1880s American Star bicycle - sold as a safer alternative to the penny farthing - which I suppose it was, but it never really caught on.
In fact, some of the very first pedal-powered bicycles - even preceding penny farthings - used treadle drive systems - going back to Scottish blacksmith Kirkpatrick Macmillan, who may or may not have been the first to build a pedal-powered machine.
Really, when you come to think of it - we have rotating cranks today because they worked better - more efficiently - than the alternatives.

Tinkerers keep referring back to the "dead spots" in a crank's rotation - at the very top and bottom of the pedaling stroke - as the reason treadles are better. The problem is, in actual use there are still dead spots with a treadle drive, and the movement to the leg muscles is less natural, while the conversion of leg motion to forward motion is less efficient than with a rotating crank.

I've quoted him before on this point, but I can't do better than to refer to the patron saint of retrogrouches, Jobst Brandt.

Specifically writing about the Alenax (shown above), but applicable to any treadle-drive machine, Brandt wrote that such machines are "a great example of an outsider inventing a solution to a perceived problem, creating something that is useless for the intended user."

"The main problem is that the invention is based on constant-velocity lever pedals, instead of circular cranks on which the rotating foot presents no inertial problems and on which the leg moves in sinusoidal motion. The Alenax requires the foot to reach full speed from a stop before it catches up to the load it is trying to propel, after which it must stop suddenly from full speed at the bottom of the stroke. . . Summing it up, I think the inventor (and investors) did not realize that converting reciprocating motion into circular motion is best done by a rotary crank rather than a reciprocating lever, and above all, they weren't bicyclists."

Oh well. Farewell, RRAD Cycle. The loss is surely our own.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

How Light Could You Go?

Back when I first caught the bike bug, I remember hearing something that even back then was a well-worn saying, but it was true then, and I think it's still true today. "Light, Strong, Cheap - Pick Two."

I've said it before, but it bears re-stating. There is light - and there is "stupid light." And it's not just in the current era that we see people pushing the limits. Weight weenies have been around a long time - modifying components to take off weight, or buying parts that sacrifice all strength and durability in exchange for shedding a few grams.

I was reminded of some vintage examples of "stupid light" components by a recent discussion on the Classic Rendezvous group. One of these was this item:

Plastic seat post - made by Shiba-Western in the mid/late '70s. Its design is based on the 2-bolt Campagnolo Nuovo Record seat post - but rendered in plastic, not aluminum. It's not even any kind of reinforced plastic - like fiberglass or whatever - so there was nothing to give it any strength or durability. It was apparently made in only one diameter, then plastic shims were slipped over the shaft to make it fit a wider range of frame sizes. These have been discussed in some of the online bike forums over the years, in addition to the CR group - and it should come as no surprise these had a reputation for breaking in very short order. One commenter on VeloBase said, "I had one. It failed on a ride after two years of use. I am told that is about two years longer than most of them lasted." 
One obvious point of weakness with the plastic seat post would be where it was clamped into the seat tube at the frame's seat lug (which would obviously be steel or aluminum). I can picture the seat tube's binder squeezing and pinching the plastic - and the owner continuing to tighten in order to keep it from slipping. The rider would get on it, start riding, and it would just snap off where it was pinched.

Another "stupid light" component - from the late '60s through early '70s - was the all-nylon headset:

Made by Nylfor in France, they were all nylon/plastic, including the bearing races. Some people claimed these didn't use bearings - but an ad I found on ClassicLightweights says it used 5/32" ball bearings. It's possible they were shipped without bearings, though - leaving the owner to supply their own. Most people who used these claimed they worked "OK" for a little while, but they had a lot of friction, and didn't last very long. I can easily picture steel bearings pressing into the plastic races to the point where the plastic would deform. Some people recommended using nylon ball bearings as well, which may or may not have helped. Another likely issue would be the destruction of the top nut from slipping wrenches. At least the headset wasn't a structural piece - that is, its failure probably wouldn't be catastrophic and cause a crash.
For those who wanted "light" but not "stupid light," a more sensible alternative to the Nylfor headset would have been the Stronglight B10 "Bernard Hinault" model, available in the 1980s.

When I first saw these, I mistakenly thought they were just black anodized aluminum, but this model actually used nylon for the top and bottom cups, while the bearing races were steel, and the top nuts were aluminum. Internally, it was basically the same as the company's A9 needle bearing headset. I wouldn't be surprised if the life on these was a bit less than the all-aluminum version (which can last a long, long time) - but probably more than acceptable.
In the quest to shed grams, it wasn't uncommon for people to take matters into their own hands and modify existing components - sometimes to the extremes. I've written plenty here about "Drillium," which I think can sometimes be very tasteful, at least when done in moderation. But when it comes to components where failure could lead to a crash - like stems, or brakes, or cranks - I tend to be pretty conservative. The way I see it, sometimes "less" is "more."
I don't think I'd be confident riding on any of these components. Just a little too much air, and not enough metal for my comfort zone. Some of them look cool (well, maybe not those brakes), but yikes!
I can see building up a vintage weight weenie special, using all the tricks and stupid-light components that were available in the era - but then I'd probably be afraid to ride it for anything more than a gingerly roll around the block - which is hardly worthy of any bicycle worth having.

It's hard to be a bicyclist and not place a certain value on lightness in bikes and components - but I'm well past going after light weight at the expense of other factors. To sacrifice reasonable strength to shed a few grams makes no sense whatsoever if someone doesn't race - and even for racing, you can't win if you can't finish. And that was as true "back in the day" as it is today.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Tour de France Coverage, Retrogrouch Style: 1978

Once again, the Tour de France is happening, and I'm not really giving any more than casual interest in it. The last-minute clearing of Chris Froome from doping charges, while maybe good news (?), doesn't exactly inspire faith in a sport that has become barely more credible than pro wrestling. So in true Retrogrouch tradition, let's go back 40 years and revel a while in a great champion from the past: 1978 - Bernard Hinault.

The End of the Era of Merckx - The Beginning of the Era of Hinault

The greatest racer of his generation (or likely, any generation) Eddy Merckx raced his last Tour de France in 1977, in which he finished in 6th place. Though he had plans to race the Tour in 1978, disappointing results in the early season led Merckx to retire from racing in May. The Era of Merckx was over.

With the retirement of other great riders from the Merckx era, like Raymond Poulidor and Luis Ocaña (both at the end of 1977) the 1978 edition of the TdF seemed wide open. Enter Bernard Hinault, a young professional in his fourth year of racing, entering the Tour for the first time. Other early favorites for the '78 Tour included two Dutch riders, Joop Zoetemelk, riding for Miko-Mercier, and Hennie Kuiper, riding for the powerful TI Raleigh team. Peugeot had Bernard Thévenet to defend his '77 Tour win, though he was not in peak form.

1977 Dauphiné Libéré: A star is born.
Though only 23, Hinault was quickly making a name for himself as a rising star. In 1977, he burst onto the national consciousness in the Dauphiné Libéré where, attacking on a tricky descent, he overshot a curve and plunged off the edge of a precipice. The next thing anyone knew, Hinault was seen scrambling back up to the road, mounting a new bike, and taking off for victory.

In 1978, Hinault won his first attempt at a grand tour, the Vuelta a España, as well as the National Championship of France. He lined up for the start of the '78 TdF wearing the National Champion's Tricolore.

Kuiper, Hinault, and Zoetmelk.
The 1978 Prologue took place in Leiden, Holland, but the weather for the stage was so terrible that most teams and the Tour directors agreed to having the stage not count toward the General Classification - which was a blow to the Raleigh team. Their powerful Classics-loving squad shrugged off the weather and did well on their home turf, and Jan Raas had won the stage. That meant Raas started Stage 1 in the leader's position, but without the Yellow Jersey. It was a small matter, since the Raleigh squad rode with something to prove to put their man officially in Yellow by the end of the first stage.

The team time trial of Stage 4 was another big win for the Raleigh team, and their Klaus-Peter Thaler pulled on the Yellow Jersey. Stage 4 was not a good one for defending champion Thévenet - he crashed, and his Peugeot team lost 13 minutes to the winning Raleigh team.

Stage 6 was one for the sprinters, and it was won by a young Irish rider who, like Hinault, was competing in his first Tour - Sean Kelly. Needless to say, he would go on to win more stages and four Green Jerseys in his career.

The next stage where the GC contenders could really shine was the individual time trial from Saint-Émilion to Sainte-Foy-la-Grande. It was just over 59 km and Hinault charged on to win it decisively and moved himself up to 4th place overall. Defender Thévenet continued to suffer. It's a shame to have to say it, but drugs were a factor in Thévenet's decline - he had basically destroyed his liver taking cortisone and it ruined his career. He'd never again match the performance he had in '77.

Stage 12, on July 12th, was scheduled to be a 2-part, split stage: a 158 km stage from Tarbes to Valence d'Agen, followed by a 96 km stage from Valence d'Agen to Toulouse. These 2-part stages had become a point of contention between the riders and the Tour organizers. Add to that the fact that this was after a couple of long, difficult stages and a long transfer from the end point of Stage 11 to the start of Stage 12 in Tarbes. The riders protested - and were surprisingly led by the young newcomer in the French Tricolore, Bernard Hinault. For stage 12a, the racers rode together at a leisurely pace, then in the final kilometer, dismounted and walked to the finish. Fans were upset, town officials in Valence d'Agen were outraged, and the stage results were nullified. The pictures of a defiant young Hinault are priceless.

Looking a little like Napoleon, Hinault stands front and center in the riders' protest. King of the Mountains Michael Pollentier is on Hinault's immediate right, with Hennie Kuiper next to him. Points leader Freddie Maertens is on the far right side of the frame.
Hinault gets some encouragement along the road -
and a hindrance.
Stage 14 was another decisive one - an individual time trial up Puy de Dôme. The stage winner would be hard to predict. Hinault was proving himself a great time-triallist - but Zoetemelk was the better climber. As it turned out, Zoetemelk rode brilliantly, took a fast bike change for a lighter climbing bike for the main part of the climb, and won the stage. He moved up to 2nd overall in the GC. King of the Mountains, Michael Pollentier, took 2nd in the stage. Like Zoetemelk, Hinault also tried to change bikes for the final climb, but overzealous fans crowding the road caused him to crash, damaging his bike. He finished 1'40" after the stage winner.

Stage 16 featured the famous climb up Alpe d'Huez. The main contenders on the final climb were Hinault, Pollentier, Zoetemelk, and Kuiper. Pollentier attacked early and started building a lead, with Hinault and Kuiper chasing to close the gap. Zoetemelk couldn't quite hold their pace and lost a little time. Pollentier won the stage, followed by Kuiper, then Hinault, and then Zoetemelk. In the GC, Pollentier had moved up to 1st overall, with Zoetemelk in 2nd, Hinault in 3rd, and Kuiper 4th.

Belgian climber Michael Pollentier in polka dots - before being ejected.
Then came an unpleasant surprise. After the stage, Pollentier was supposed to report for a urine test. He was quite late getting there. During the test, he apparently had some difficulty producing the required specimen and was acting a little odd. He was then checked over by the suspicious officials who discovered his secret - a little home-made apparatus that was supposed to provide an untainted sample (as I understand it, it consisted of a urine-filled condom and some rubber tubing - literally hidden up his sleeve). It would almost be funny if it weren't so pathetic. He was ejected and given a 2-month suspension. It goes to show (again) that doping is nothing new - but it has definitely gotten more sophisticated.
The changing of the guard. Hinault, now in Yellow, meets Merckx.

With Pollentier out, Zoetemelk became the new race leader with Hinault close behind. Kuiper was briefly in third overall, but a crash in Stage 17 put him out with a broken clavicle.

Hinault and Zoetemelk matched one another closely until Stage 20 - the last individual time trial. It was 72 km, from Metz to Nancy, and Hinault was only trailing Zoetemelk by 14 seconds at the start of it. Hinault put his stamp of authority on the race, doing what he did best. He ended up beating Zoetemelk by an astounding 4 minutes, 10 sec., and pulled on the Yellow Jersey for the first time. With just two stages left, he held a commanding lead of 3' 56". Hinault won the Tour with an overall time of 107h 18' 00".

At the end of the Tour, Zoetemelk was 2nd overall - something he accomplished five times in his career (his only TdF win would come in 1980 - the year Hinault would have to abandon the race with tendonitis). Freddie Maertens with the Flandria team won the Points Leader's Green Jersey, while Mariano Martínez of Jobo-Spidel was the King of the Mountains.

Like previous generation-defining racers, Merckx and Anquetil, Hinault had won the Tour de France in his first attempt - and won it convincingly. It goes without saying that he would also join Merckx and Anquetil in the exclusive club of 5-time TdF champions, and as one of the few racers to win all three Grand Tours.

The Era of Hinault - the Badger - had begun. And it happened 40 years ago.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Getting Shafted

Chains are such a drag. I mean, what else can you call a transmission system that's only 98% efficient? And yes, they're, simple, straightforward, "proven" technology, and relatively inexpensive - but they also get greasy. So, Yuck.

And that's why innovators keep trying to come up with new and better alternatives.

The latest is a shaft drive transmission from Ceramicspeed - the same people who have been pushing the envelope with pricey lubricants, bearings and derailleur pulleys to eliminate drivetrain friction - in a quest to get drivetrain efficiency up to 99%. Their new shaft system uses carbon fiber, tiny ceramic bearings, and raspy-looking cogs with rows of outward-pointing teeth.

Though the pictures show a multispeed (I count 13) cog set, it's apparently only a mock-up as they haven't actually figured out exactly how to get the system to shift across all those teeth.
Instead of bevel gears, as most shaft drive systems employ, the Ceramicspeed design uses a pinion with tiny rollers to engage the outward-pointing teeth on the cogs. It's supposed to virtually eliminate friction.
. . . And it apparently works - as long as you don't want to shift gears. . . yet.
According to the system's developers, their shaft drive system has "49% less friction than a stock Shimano Dura Ace drivetrain averaged across all gears." That sounds impressive. On the other hand, as already mentioned, the traditional chain-drive transmission is already very efficient. Depending on certain variables, including the specific gear combination being used, as well as lubrication, the efficiency can be anywhere from 93 to 98 percent. For example - the highest friction/lowest efficiency gear combination would be one where you have an extreme "cross-chain" effect, such as the small chainring/small cog combination. So when you're talking about an improvement like 49% less friction, you're really talking about a fraction of what is already a very small fraction. In other words, while the difference might be measurable with a power meter, I'd be skeptical about whether many riders could actually feel the difference. I mean, can you feel the difference in drivetrain friction between your small chainring/small cog as compared to a more sensible gear combo? I doubt it.

Some caveats. First - the system is still very early in its development and there are a lot of issues that remain to be solved. One major issue (mentioned already) is that so far it cannot shift gears. There are some ideas involving a small electric motor to move the roller-bearing pinion forward or backward along the face of those cogs - but how to get it to move across those teeth in a synchronized way at speed and under load is something of a puzzle. Imagine shifting gears in a manual transmission car without use of the clutch, and without (or with worn out) gear synchrosCaarrunch!

Second - there is no compatibility, and likely no way to make it compatible with any existing bikes or frames. That shouldn't be a surprise, since it's a totally new thing, but bikes would definitely need to be built specifically for it. And I cannot even imagine what it would do to wheel changes.

Another thing to consider is the complexity and cost. I simply cannot foresee any way that a system like this could even approach the cost of chains and "normal" cogs. That raspy-looking cog set bears an unlikely combination of looking simultaneously fragile and dangerous, in addition to probably being a real bear to make.

A couple things to remember - shaft drive is nothing new. Columbia Bicycles (Pope Bicycle Mfg.) had a shaft drive bike as early as the 1890s. I don't believe they were the only ones, either. This was before the roller chain we've known for about a century took its current form and established itself as the preferred transmission. In a manner of speaking, one could argue that the chain was the improvement over the shaft. The shaft was overly complex, less efficient, and too expensive to manufacture as compared to chains. But that hasn't stopped numerous companies and "innovators" from trying to re-invent them.

Turn of the century (the 20th century, that is) Columbia shaft drive bike. It would appear that the bike had rear suspension, too.
Modern shaft drive from Dynamic in the UK.
On a related note, there are a number of shaft drive motorcycles out there - mostly touring models. The added cost and complexity, as well as the extra weight, are much more easily absorbed in a motorcycle than on a bicycle. But except for companies like BMW (better known as a car company, by the way) which uses shaft drive on most (maybe all) of its models, the majority of motorcycles still run with chains. I would argue it's for good reason.

So, is there a shaft-drive bicycle in your future? Meh. Probably not.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Another Nice eBay Find

Once again, eBay comes through. Right on the heels of finding a 17-year-old virtually unused Brooks saddle, and a new-old-stock derailleur of the same age, I managed to find a pair of these: classic Sidi touring shoes - which could also be somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 years old. They haven't been made in years, which is a real shame.


I bought a pair of these about that long ago, back when Rivendell was selling them. They quickly became my favorites. The ribbed sole gives a nice grip on traditional pedals without feeling as "locked in" as an actual cleat, and makes them fairly "walk-able." I wore them for years.


Problem? My feet grew. I'm told that can happen. It got to where I could only wear them with the thinnest socks, and later, even that was too much. Eventually I had to let them go.


Recently, even though I wasn't actually searching for them, I happened to find a pair - in my (new, larger) size, barely used, and still with the original box. The buy-it-now price was good, too. I didn't wait for someone else to beat me to them. When they arrived, I was pleased to see they were in really excellent condition - maybe even a little better than described. The soles showed very little wear, and the uppers looked almost new.

Certainly there can be problems with eBay. Sellers complain about fees and policies that favor buyers. Buyers complain about getting sniped in the closing seconds of an auction, or about shady practices like shill bidding, etc. And there are always risks involving scammers. But on the whole, nothing has been a better asset to fans and collectors of vintage bikes than eBay.

Anybody out there remember what it was like trying to restore a vintage bike, or just keep one going, in the pre-eBay days? Say you were looking for some obscure old component, or a unique spare part that hadn't been made in decades. You'd have to watch and wait for a swap meet to happen, maybe travel a good distance to get to it, and hope somebody there might have what you were looking for (and prepare to be disappointed). Maybe you'd go to countless flea markets and garage sales, hoping to get really lucky (which was unlikely). Nowadays, eBay is like a huge worldwide swap meet that runs 24/7, and if you have a little patience, it seems to me that there isn't anything that won't show up there eventually. Any time I've really needed/wanted something, I can't recall ever having to search for more than a few weeks before some example would turn up.

Anyhow, even though I wasn't actively looking for the Sidi touring shoes, they popped up one day on my feed and I coudn't resist them. Anybody else out there have any good eBay finds (or horror stories?) Leave a comment.

Monday, July 2, 2018

New Old Brooks and a (Slight) Makeover

I just replaced the Brooks saddle on my Rivendell. It had 17 years of use on it and was getting almost a little too soft and saggy for my taste. Now, I've seen people ride them until they looked like swaybacked nags - mine wasn't at that point yet and with proper care it could probably last a good bit longer, but it seemed to me that 17 years is a pretty good run for any saddle.

I applied a bit of Brooks Proofide and took it for a ride.
You know, eBay is a really wonderful thing sometimes. Rather than buy a brand-new Brooks B17, I decided to search the 'bay for one that was barely used so I could save a few bucks. That's the thing about Brooks saddles: lots of people buy them, use them one time, and decide they're never going to get comfortable on it (shocking to me, since I find them comfortable right out of the box), so they sell the Brooks and buy some thick, massive, gel-padded monstrosity. It didn't take long to find exactly what I was looking for - a "barely used" B17 with a "buy-it-now" price of $72. I snapped it up.



When the saddle arrived, it was hard to tell it wasn't brand new. But the funny thing was when I flipped it over to look at the underside. Brooks saddles have a date code stamped into them, and as it turns out, this "new" old saddle had the same date code as my old one - both were made in 2001, also the same year my Rivendell was built. That's right - they were, in a sense, "brothers." In fact, the "new" old Brooks is actually a little nicer than the old one. The old one was a B17 "Standard" while the replacement one is a "Champion Special" - which has the larger hand-hammered rivets, a skivved lower skirt edge, and copper-plated rails. Some say the leather is a little thicker, too. It's hard to imagine finding a more perfect replacement.

Oh - so what did I do with the old one? I put it on eBay where it (shockingly) sold for nearly what I'd paid for the replacement - making the replacement practically free. Better and better.

The Makeover

I have a lot of bikes. I lose count (yes - I really do), but I'm sure it's more than a dozen, and they're all really nice bikes. But if through some strange set of tragic circumstances I had to get rid of all of them but one -- to somehow make do with just one bike for the rest of my life -- I think the one I would have to keep would be my Rivendell. The bike is comfortable and handles well. It's no racer, but I'm fast enough on it to keep up with anyone I care to. It can take racks and some bags for a light tour. It accommodates tires at least up to 35mm with fenders. Overall, it's just a really versatile bike.


Built by Curt Goodrich back in 2001, it's the bike I've probably owned the longest. Back when I got it, I built it up with a great mix of parts that I'd selected for reliability, durability, and service-ability. Shimano Ultegra derailleurs and hubs. TA crank and pedals. Phil Wood bottom bracket. Stronglight needle-bearing headset. Nitto bars, stem, and seat post. Over the years, I've put a lot of trouble-free miles on it.

Recently I've been doing some cleaning and maintenance on the Riv to get it ready for a vacation I'll be taking with it, and I've made a few small changes - replacing parts on it for the first time since I first built it up (apart from things like tires and brake pads, that is).

First thing was the saddle, as already described. The next thing cropped up as I was taking parts off to give everything a good cleaning and lube. I went to remove the front derailleur (Shimano Ultegra 6500) and couldn't get it off. After 17 years, there was some noticeable oxidation on it - but apparently there was some corrosion hidden inside the hinge on the clamp, so the clamp was frozen and wouldn't budge. I shot a bunch of penetrating oil into it and let it soak for a while. Tried that again. Eventually in trying to pry it open, I got the thing off, but found I'd gotten it open only because the clamp bent - the hinge remained frozen. Oh, crap. Back to eBay. Whod'a thought you could find a NOS 17-year-old Ultegra front derailleur? A brand-new (old) component, exactly like the one being replaced - for less $$ than the current edition, too. Perfect. I replaced derailleur cables while I was at it.

After a good cleaning, degreasing, inspecting, and tuning, the last change was fenders. I had ridden this bike for the first few years I had it without any fenders at all, but for the past nine years or so, I've had it equipped with Velo Orange hammered-look fenders. Other than the fact that they were starting to rattle quite a bit (which I'm sure I could have solved) there was nothing wrong with them. But recently I was reading Jan Heine's book on René Herse's bicycles, and in those pages, bike after beautiful bike was equipped with fenders bearing a ridged or "faceted" finish - looking almost like the surface of a zeppelin. It was a great look and I took a bit of inspiration from it. Velo Orange sells fenders with that pattern on them, so I picked up a set and installed them. I'll set the hammered ones aside and re-use them when I build up a new bike for one of my daughters.

OK, maybe "makeover" isn't the right word here since the bike's barely changed. It's kind of funny to think that on a 17-year-old bike, even the new replacement parts are as old as the rest of the bike.

Incidentally, on my Sunday morning ride with the newly-freshened Riv, I stopped off at the little produce market in the valley - it's a popular stop for all the cyclists riding through the national park. When I came back to the Rivendell after buying some sweet corn and other fresh treats, I found a small crowd standing around admiring my bike. Many weren't even familiar with the name or brand, or even classic steel-framed bikes. They just knew they liked it. "Wow - that is a beautiful bike," I heard several people say.

Got to say, I was feeling a little lighter on the ride home.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Man, Derailleurs Just Keep Getting Uglier

Yes, they do.  Mountain-bike derailleurs have been going that way for a while. But the latest generation of road components are doing everything to catch up. They've expanded, or swollen. Sprouted extra pivots. Transformed into complicated misshapen mechanical blobs.

Take a look at some of the newest road derailleurs:

The latest Dura Ace 9100. One website exclaims "Indulge in your love for impossibly crisp rear shifts." Oh, please. 
Newest generation Campagnolo Record 12-speed.

The SRAM Force. Looks like something out of Japanese Animé.
I suppose that part of the transformation is due to adding more cogs to the rear wheel (remember - we're up to 12 now), and the need to add more wrap capacity for the gear range that results. I assume the extra pivot that some have sprouted has something to do with keeping the upper pulley close to the cogs over such a wide range of gears. Maybe it does something to fight chain slap. Who knows?

Comparatively, derailleurs from the classic era look compact - maybe svelte. Somehow, maybe because of materials like carbon fiber and titanium, the bloated units of today don't seem to weigh much, if anything, more than the best of the past - but they sure look heavier.

Take a look at some of my favorite classics:

From my own collection - late '70s Campy Nuovo Record. No doubt that the modern version probably shifts better - but it can't hold a candle to the style of the vintage classic.
Early generation SunTour Cyclone - looked cool, and shifted about as well as anything made today.
Huret Jubilee - functional jewelry, and only weighed about 140 g. There was a long-cage version, too. (photo from ClassicRendezvous)
Shimano 600 "Arabesque" (with long cage) - worked nicely, and had some cool decorative details that existed for no reason other than to make it look special. (photo from VeloBase)

I suppose that some of the new derailleurs shift remarkably well over a tremendous range. These new designs give us racing derailleurs rivaling the range of the best touring derailleurs of the past. And yeah, maybe that's the thing that really matters. But damn, they're ugly.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fathers Day 2018

As far as I'm concerned, there is no better way to spend Fathers Day than going for a bike ride with the RetroKids. It was a hot one today - with temps up near 90º - but that didn't stop us from getting out on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath for a ride and a picnic.

It wasn't that many years ago that I was towing them behind me on a tandem trail-a-bike, and a Burley trailer before that. Now they're on the edge of having outgrown these 24" wheeled bikes. Full-size adult bikes will be coming soon.
Having our lunch near a visitor center in the national park. This might be the only picture of me that has appeared in this blog. 



Retrogrouchy bike shot. Vintage Stumpjumper, circa 1983 - repainted several years ago in shocking green.
A well-loved Carradice Barley saddlebag, covered in Towpath badges. They used to offer a new badge for each year. I don't think they do that anymore.
A stop on the wooden boardwalk over a beaver marsh. The RetroKids always like to stop and look for turtles and blue herons.
The marsh was formed by beaver activity, but somehow we've never seen the beavers.

Ice cream sundaes with big piles of fresh fruit at Szalay's market in the heart of the national park.  An indispensable stop on any bike ride in the valley.

That's all for today - I hope all the fathers out there enjoyed their day as much as I did.