Monday, June 30, 2014

Huret Allvit

Most of the old Schwinn "10-speeds" used versions of the Huret
Allvit (rebranded with the Schwinn name) -- even as late as the
1980s, when it was woefully outmatched by the competition.
If you ever rode an old Chicago-built Schwinn 5- or 10-speed bike, like the Varsity, or Continental, or maybe even a 5-speed StingRay with the big "stick-shift" on the top tube, chances are you remember the Huret Allvit derailleur. The Allvit was the derailleur of choice on most Chicago-built Schwinns (apart from the Paramount line), as well as a huge number of other entry-level 60s and 70s "10-speeds." In fact, the Huret Allvit was probably one of the biggest-selling derailleurs ever made.

Most people who remember the Allvit probably don't have fond memories of it, and it's true that it had its flaws (flaws that became more apparent the longer it was made), but when it was first released in 1958, it represented some real improvements in derailleur design. It wasn't a great derailleur -- but it was an important one for its impact on the bicycle market.

The original 1958 version of the Allvit didn't
have the big cover over the mechanicals that
the derailleur would later be known for. 
In the 1950s, most derailleurs, especially on less expensive bicycles, were of the plunger-type. Campagnolo introduced its parallelogram Gran Sport at the beginning of the decade, but it was not for the budget-conscious. The Allvit was a parallelogram derailleur for the masses. But besides that, in some ways, it was possibly a better engineered derailleur than the Campagnolo. Take a close look at the Allvit's parallelogram and notice that it pivots out from the far end of its arm, rather than from the top as the Campy design did. The writer of the blog Disraeli Gears called it "wacky" but I disagree. Like the brilliantly engineered Nivex, the movement of the Allvit would carry the jockey pulley away from the wheel axle as it moved inward -- thereby following the profile of the cogs better, and keeping a closer chain gap across the range.

It should be noted that in those early years, the Allvit was  not necessarily considered a cut-rate derailleur. In the late 50s and early 60s, it was used by racers and cyclotourists alike, and was installed on some very nice bicycles, including those from such respected names as René Herse.

Whether branded as Huret or Schwinn, this was
probably the Allvit most people remember. The
big steel outer plate provided some "bash"
protection for the flimsy mechanicals underneath.
The flaws of the Allvit were that its flat, stamped steel construction seemed pretty flimsy, it was not all that nicely finished, and it was relatively heavy (and got heavier with each new version). The pivots could loosen, or get gunked up, or the whole thing could just get twisted and bent out of shape. Another flaw was that it was made far too long without regard to what the competition was making.

The first version of the Allvit, shown above, was made without the familiar shroud -- its operation was out in the open for all to see. By 1961, the version most of us remember seeing and/or using was released, with all the mechanicals covered by a steel guard. Though it added more weight and made it a little harder to adjust, the cover plate did provide some "bash" protection for the flimsy parallelogram. That was one of the features that endeared it to Schwinn, and according to Frank Berto's book, The Dancing Chain, for a number of years Schwinn wouldn't spec a rear derailleur without such a feature.

Speaking of Schwinn, they are one of the reasons that the Allvit became such a huge seller. When the company wanted to move into the "adult" (or at least teen-aged) bicycle market, offering "lightweight" (a relative term, but consider the heavyweight tanks the company was known for) multi-speed bikes, their first successful mass-market offering was the Varsity. That bike was an "8-speed" with a Simplex plunger-type derailleur in its first year, but by 1961, it was a "10-speed" equipped with the Huret Allvit. Soon the company offered a full line of 5- and 10-speed "derailleur" bikes using Schwinn-badged Allvits. For many Americans in the 60s and early 70s, a Schwinn Varsity, or perhaps one of its slightly nicer siblings, such as the Continental, was probably their first "10-speed." According to Berto, for the first half of the 60s, more Schwinn Varsitys were sold in the U.S. than all other derailleur bikes combined. Add to those Schwinn numbers all the other bikes equipped with the Allvit -- from department store clunkers to more "serious" (again, relatively speaking) bikes such as those from Raleigh and some of their subsidiaries, and lots of French manufacturers, and you can see how Huret managed to sell 5 million Allvits by 1965. During that decade and through the bike boom of the early 70s, they were cranking out more than 100,000 each month.
Seen here in its Schwinn-branded guise, the Allvit
"Safety" was supposed to let an inexperienced
rider backpedal in the wrong gear without jamming up. 

Later versions of the Allvit were beefed up a bit more, which made them heavier, but no less flimsy. A long-cage touring version, dubbed the Super Allvit, was available, but couldn't compete with the SunTour V-GT in price or performance. In the mid-70s, a version known as the "Safety" (or GT-500 in its Schwinn-branded guise) had a massive shroud around the top pulley. Schwinn catalogs called it a "jam-free backpedal cage" and declared that it allowed an inexperience rider to backpedal despite being in the wrong gear. Ummm. . . OK.

In any case, Huret kept making the Allvit as long as Schwinn would keep placing it on bicycles like the Varsity, which means both stayed on the market into the early 80s, long after they were far surpassed by competition from Japan.

Schwinn Approved, made by Shimano,
the GT100 was supposed to mimic the
"best" features of the Allvit.
On the subject of Japanese competition, when Schwinn first started importing bikes from Japan and needed Japanese-built components, Shimano stepped up by producing a derailleur with a very Allvit-style shroud. It looked like the Allvit, but it shifted like a Shimano Lark, which is to say, better.

Sugino's VIC probably shifted OK, but
one has to wonder why anyone thought
this was a good idea in the mid 1990s.
Interestingly, in the 1990s, well into the era of indexed shifting, Sugino offered a completely updated version of the Allvit, called the VIC. Very rare and not commercially successful, it borrowed the Allvit's outer plate and "upside down" parallelogram action but with a less "flat," more "sculpted" design. I've never seen one in person, but according to Disraeli Gears, it was a real porker at over 450 grams.

Some people probably hated them, and I doubt anybody actually loved them, but the Huret Allvit was still an important derailleur, historically speaking. Though it was not a great derailleur, for many Americans, the Allvit was the introduction to derailleur-equipped bicycles.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Price of Performance

The cost of high-performance bicycle gear is outta control. I've written about that before (What For the Money? and That Bike Cost HOW Much?) so I'm in danger of repeating myself here. Popped-out-of-a-mold carbon fiber wünder frames that cost $10,000. Electronic shifting group sets that retail for over $4,000 - 5,000. Carbon fiber wheel sets that cost over $3000. The worst, most vomit-inducing part is when the industry cheerleaders try to justify these outrageous costs by inflating marginal (if not completely unnoticeable) improvements with claims of radical performance gains.

For example, reading through some of the other bike-related websites, like VeloNews, BikeRumor, and BikeRadar, I've seen stories hyping the new Zipp 404 Firestrike wheels, which retail for $3,600. The way they're all going on about these wheels, you'd think that all previous wheels were square, and someone just invented the whole "round" wheel concept. Then again, they go through the same hyperventilating over pretty much every new carbon fiber wheel set that comes along, virtually every other week.

The VeloNews review starts by saying, "Zipp says that from the moment the brand introduced the Zipp Firecrest line, the engineers have been hard at work to develop a still better wheel set." Sounds like planned obsolescence to me.

The articles go on to talk about all kinds of technical alphabet soup -- "mathematically derived CFD rim shape," "ABLC dimple pattern," "SiC brake track," "ceramic ABEC 3/grade 10 bearings" -- which buyers can concentrate on trying to decipher, thereby distracting them from the realization that they paid way too much money to end up going the same speed. If that buyer is a perennial mid-pack finisher in Cat. 4 races, they will still be a mid-pack finisher. If that person is just a guy who likes to ride fast with the club, he might be able to rattle off the alphabet soup and impress the kinds of people who are impressed with that kind of nonsense, but he'll still be the same rider.

Something else that should be noted is that Zipp and their cheerleaders go to great lengths to say how the braking performance of these new carbon clinchers is so great that it's similar to aluminum alloy rims. Carbon rims have notoriously terrible braking (sometimes downright dangerous), but the only time the manufacturers and their cheerleaders will admit that is when they come out with a new upgrade. Then, it's the old rims that were lousy -- but the new ones are comparable to aluminum. Does anyone else sense the tremendous irony here?

VeloNews says, "The new Showstopper brake track is the big change from Firecrest, which already sports one of the best carbon brake tracks on the market. Still the Firecrest struggled under wet braking, and the Firestrike seeks to improve that, allowing riders to race the 404 Firestrike clinchers in any conditions." So in other words, the old wheels were among the best, as long as you didn't get caught in the rain. Another way to phrase that is they were crappy wheels that cost a premium price. And the new ones are supposed to be a big improvement, until next year's upgrade reminds us that what we really want is a good set of classic aluminum alloy rims.

The funny thing about the Firestrike 404 wheels is that they are, for all intents and purposes, virtually no different from the "old" Firecrest 404 -- the most obvious difference is "strike" vs. "crest" in the name. Otherwise the distinctions are so subtle that it would be virtually impossible to tell the difference. . .

They had to color the "new" rim red in this little graphic, otherwise you'd never know it was "new."

. . . But then, the "old" Firecrest 404 wheels will still be available for riders looking for a "bargain" at $2,725. It's just another symptom of this "upgrade fever" price-equals-performance sickness that all a company has to do to make a $2,725 wheel set look like a bargain is to make some barely-perceptible tweaks and slap a $3,600 price tag on them. For contrast, I should note that I've never paid $3600 for a complete bike -- much less a pair of wheels. And I have some really nice bikes.

Looking at these prices, and reading the claims, it amazes me that there aren't more Retrogrouches.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Other Retrogrouches

I guess Retrogrouches aren't limited to bicyclists.

Someone told me I sound like the guy in these "Play in the Now" commercials for Nike golf, where they trace the golfing Retrogrouch back through the decades (and centuries) continually scoffing at the latest innovations:

It starts in the present day with the guy scoffing at the latest driver, then we see the same guy going back in time. . .

"The last real innovation was titanium."

"Titanium's too light . . . if steel's good enough for the railroads it's good enough for me."

"Steel! They're called Woods, not Steels! I'll use my persimmons until the day I die."

"Persimmon is the club of a degenerate! A gentleman hits beechwood."

"If me mallet is good enough for the King of the Scots, it's good enough for me!"

I'm not taking it personally -- I actually got a good laugh out of it. It's a funny campaign, and there's apparently a whole series of them, all about different golf equipment.

It got me thinking about what a bicycle Retrogrouch version might look like:

"Electronic shifting? Regular Ergo is all anyone needs."
"Downtube levers were good enough for Eddy Merckx -- they're good enough for me!"
"Downtube shift levers and parallelograms? Do I look like some kind of pussy?"
"You can have my Margherita shifter when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands!"
"Shifting gears is for weak-kneed kids. I'm a man Goddamn it!"
"Those drop-bar speed-demon bikes are purely for low-bred ruffians."
"Safety bicycle?! Who ever said bicycles were supposed to be safe?!"
There could be a whole series: Carbon fiber, vs. titanium, vs. aluminum, vs. steel. Hardshell helmet, vs. hairnet, vs. cycling cap.

I suppose Retrogrouches can be found in any sport (cycling, golf, tennis . . .), or any aspect of life for that matter. Sure, it might be a source of laughs sometimes, and that's fine by me. It's best not to take yourself too seriously.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why? Again, I Ask Why?

With a machine so functional, so efficient, and so simple as the bicycle, it's really hard to improve upon it. Therefore, it seems like every crackpot inventor since the 19th century has sought to do just that.
Don't laugh. You know you'll be wanting one.

Now, the latest attempt to "improve" the bicycle comes in the form of the "Flying Rider": the first "Suspended Rider Bicycle." Even the name just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? I would have called it the "Hang Rider" -- like "hang glider" -- get it?

Is saddle discomfort making bicycling unbearable for you? Well, the Flying Rider dispenses with the saddle altogether, and replaces it with a nice, comfortable harness around your mid-section and thighs, hanging you beneath a framework over the pedals.

That's not an awkward camera angle at all. This
looks like something you'd see at a fetish shop.
The Flying Rider was created by an architect and engineer, D.M. Schwartz, and was inspired by the Tour de France -- where using the Flying Rider would never be allowed.

From the website: "As he watched an uphill section of the 2011 Tour de France, Schwartz noticed that the bobbing motion of the riders looked like wasted energy." (He must have been watching Thomas Voeckler) "If only the rider had something to push his back against, restraining vertical motion and allowing more leverage on the pedals, then the bicycle would be more efficient."

Schwartz goes on to say, "It's the same effect you get when pushing a heavy sofa by sitting on the floor with your back against the wall." Ummm . . . really? That's not what I was thinking.

The "hanging" effect is currently accomplished with a mountaineering harness, which Schwartz acknowledges is "less than optimal for a bicycle, but it gets the job done comfortably." I'm inclined to believe that comfort is relative -- I mean, I know that when I'm riding, I often wish that I had a huge belt wrapped snugly around my midsection. Schwartz expects eventually to have a specially-designed cycling jersey with a harness already built-in. Rest assured, it will look really cool.

Not only that, but I love the idea of having to get all strapped into a harness in order to go for a ride. In fact, judging from the photos, it almost looks like you'd need help just getting hooked in. With the Flying Rider, the days of simply throwing a leg over the bike and riding off will just be a quaint memory of the dark ages.

Another benefit of the Flying Rider is that, in addition to the basic "pedaling mode," it also has a "flying mode" where the rider can stretch out as if on a hang glider. On the company's website, you can see videos of this thing in action. As entertaining as that might be on a long descent, I can't imagine the handling of such a thing would be exactly confidence-inspiring. At least it has a built-in roll cage.

The bicycle is a hard machine to improve upon. But thankfully, we'll always have dreamers.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Drillium Style

There was a time when, in the quest to shave every last gram from a bike, riders took a drill bit to any component they could -- turning solid shiny metal into shavings and air. The practice took on the name "drillium" as a bit of word play, as in aluminum, titanium, unobtanium, and drillium. Many people think of the 1970s as the "drillium decade," but the practice actually started long before, and continued long after -- even through today.
A heavily drilled pair of handlebars
from one of Alf Engers' bikes.
(from Classic Lighweights UK)

According to Classic Lightweights UK, one can find examples of drilled components dating back before WWI, but many UK cyclists associate the practice with Alf Engers, a well-known time-triallist from the 1950s through the '80s. Engers inspired a number of British cyclists to adopt the practice as well, as reducing a bicycle's weight was believed to be the best advantage for time trials -- at least in the days before the introduction of aerodynamic tricks.

Eddy Merckx in yellow. Note the drillium front brake.

For many other cyclists around the world, particularly in the US, the inspiration cited for drillium would probably be Eddy Merckx, who was known to drill out many of the components on his bikes. One notable example of Merckx's obsession with lightening components would be his famous Hour Record bike. The Campagnolo cranks on that bike were reportedly re-profiled subtly, while the arms of the spider were milled out, and the chainring lightened with additional milling. The reinforcing ring or webbing was also removed from the Nuovo Record chainring. Some of the alterations to the chainring probably provided the inspiration for what would later be released as the Super Record chainrings and a common modification known as the "Mexico" crank. The handlebars on the bike were also drilled out pretty seriously, as well as the seat post (much of that drilling was hidden inside the seat tube).

The crank from Eddy Merckx's Hour Record bike. Note
the milling around the chainring (including the E-d-d-y)
and the spider arms that have been milled out completely.
Something else that probably sparked a lot of interest in drillium was the publication of some popular magazine articles in the early 70s. One was The Drilling Craze, in the Dec. 1973 issue of Bike World, written by Bill Robertson. Bike World did a follow-up in May of '74 with Drilling Do's, Don't's and How-To's, by Gladys Hopkins. Robertson was a young racer at the time (according to a May 1990 article from Bicycle Guide, he was only 16 when he wrote the Bike World article) who got inspired to start drilling his components because of Eddy Merckx. "I would study photographs of him in all the magazines. He started showing up with drilled out levers and customized chainrings in about 1969, when I was first getting into cycling," Robertson reflected in the BG article.

Bill Robertson's drilled Nuovo Record rear
derailleur, as pictured in his '73 Bike World
article. Notice that the back plate of the parallelogram
is reduced to just two narrow strips.
In The Drilling Craze, Robertson described over 100 hours of work drilling, milling, filing, sanding, and polishing the components on his Masi, the result being a truly one-of-a-kind customized bike. His work reduced the weight of his bike by about half-a-pound, according to the article -- probably not enough to truly make a performance difference. "Drilling out your bike won't automatically make you faster," Robertson wrote. "Any weight saved is a plus-factor. It means less foot-pounds of work are needed to move from point A to point B. But it may slow you down if something malfunctions; and if done improperly it will be a safety hazard."

If one searches the web for "drillium," a couple of other names are likely to come up quite frequently: Peter Johnson and Frank Spivey. Johnson was a racing buddy of Bill Robertson's who took his affinity for modifying components and translated it into building frames. Today he is a highly-respected machinist and frame builder. Frank Spivey  was a machinist who turned his attention to modifying bicycle components back in the 60s. Spivey made a huge assortment of jigs and fixtures to aid the process of drilling out components, some of which can be seen on the Velo-Retro site.

1975 Peter Johnson bike with Frank Spivey components -- reportedly the 12th frame Johnson had built. See more details at Velo-Retro.
Just one of the many fixtures Spivey made for drilling and modifying bicycle components. This one is for drilling brake levers. See more at Velo-Retro.
Some of Frank Spivey's exquisite work, as photographed for a May 1990 Bicycle Guide article.
More of Spivey's work from the BG article. On the left is a custom-made hub beside a pair of beautifully modified Mafac brake levers.
This beautifully drilled Stronglight crank was shown big as life on the title page of the 1974 Bike World article.
More Examples: Some years back (2007, I believe), at the Classic Rendezvous Cirque du Cyclisme, drillium was the theme of the show. Here were a couple examples I spotted.

A heavily drilled Campagnolo brake lever -- the logo is just barely visible. This nice red Schwinn Paramount is owned by Classic Rendezvous member, John Barron.
And here are the brakes those levers attach to. Notice the milled caliper arms.
Some people would completely remove the center section of the Campagnolo shift levers, leaving just a thin "loop" of aluminum. I've sometimes seen levers modified this much either bend or break off. Got to be careful!
Also spotted at the Cirque du Cyclisme, this Masi's crank had been milled out through the spider, Mexico-style, and through the arms. The chainrings have also been heavily modified. Though it isn't so clear, if you look closely, you can see that the frame itself has also been opened up with slots running all the way through the chain stays. (I'm sorry -- I don't recall who owned this bike -- if it's yours, let me know, and I'll give you credits.)
From the same Masi as above. Here you can see the slots opened up in the forks. All I can say is "Wow."
You Might Want to Avert Your Eyes: When drillium is done well, by a skilled hand, and with a sense of symmetry, or with regard to the contours and proportions of the specific piece, it can really add a unique or individual style to a bike. But I've also seen lots of amateur "home-hack-jobs" that look pretty terrible, and probably would break with any use at all.
Bike "anti-porn" spotted on the London Fixed Gear and Single-speed Forum. The less said about this the better.
Variations: In the later 70s and through the 80s, a variation on drillium, known as pantographing, became really popular, especially on Italian bikes. Pantographing involved engraving or cutting words, logos, or other images into a component, then usually filling in the engraving with paint. In some examples, it could be over-the-top flashy. Stems, cranks, levers, brakes -- they were all put under the bit.
A Colnago-pantographed Cinelli stem -- spotted on Classic Lightweights UK. Items like this became a big element on Italian bikes in the later 70s and 80s.

Spotted on eBay, this Huret Jubilee derailleur is one of the
later versions that included a drilled-out pulley cage. This
particular example was further modified with drilled-out
sealed bearing pulleys. Ironically, the non-drilled version
is actually lighter.
Factory Drillium: In the 70s, a number of component makers took the hint and started producing their own "factory drillium" parts. But as if to underscore the idea that drillium was more about style than actual performance gains, many of the factory drillium parts saved no weight as compared to their non-drilled counterparts. Almost ironically, some of them weighed even more. Case in point, the drilled version of the Huret Jubilee (already the lightest derailleur available) was beefed up a bit as compared to the regular version prior to drilling the cage. Various sources claim it weighed at least 5 - 10 grams more than the non-drilled version.

Another case would be the Campagnolo Super Record brake levers. Like the Huret Jubilee, Campagnolo must have added some beef prior to drilling the levers out, thereby ensuring that they wouldn't break due to the drilling. Again, most sources show the weight to be more than the otherwise similar, non-drilled Nuovo Record levers. But they looked cool.

The classic Super Record brake levers, from the mid 70's through mid 80s, actually weighed more than the non-drilled Nuovo Record levers.
A Sugino Super Mighty factory drillium crank, as shown recently on my 1980 Mercian. The spider is completely opened up, and the rings are drilled all the way around. I don't know how the weight compared to the non-drilled version, though I do notice that the chainrings have a slightly "deeper" profile than at least some of the regular chainrings. Sakae Ringyo, or SR, made a similar version.
Sakae Ringyo made these bars with drilled-out sections in the center sleeve. They also made a couple versions of their stems with milled sections.

A beautifully detailed Nuovo Record derailleur
done by Drillium Revival.
Drillium Today: Drillium has seen a little bit of a resurgence in recent years -- not so much as a way to cut weight and/or improve performance, but as a way to add a unique style to a bike. Some would argue that that's always been more the point, anyhow. Jon Williams, at Drillium Revival, has been turning out some remarkable work, inspired by the likes of Frank Spivey, Peter Johnson, and Art Stump. See more of Jon's work at his site, or on his Flickr pages.

And back in the vein of "factory drillium" Velo-Orange is offering a drillium version of one of their cranks, which in turn has a style reminiscent of the old Campagnolo Nuovo Record cranks of the past -- but with a more user-friendly 110 bolt circle and compact chainrings. VO recently announced that they are also offering the drilled rings for sale separately, which would be nice for people with vintage Sugino and SR cranks -- as long as they have the 110 BCD versions.

New factory-drillium cranks from Velo Orange.
So, whether it was about pushing the limits on weight, trying to shed every last unnecessary gram, or if it was more about achieving an individual style, drillium components have become an integral part of the classic bike scene. When tastefully done, drillium can really add a cool touch to a vintage racing bike -- a touch that looks delicate, yet screams high performance at the same time. Drillium harkens back to a simpler era -- before aero, and before carbon fiber.

Hope you enjoyed the look back!

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Hole

You see things from a bike that you don't notice in a car. In this case, what probably looks like a pretty minor little pothole to most motorists is actually a pretty serious sinkhole in the making.

It doesn't look like much, but this thing is just waiting for the
right car or truck to come along and break it open. Then look out.
On the surface the hole is not even a foot across. As I was steering around it, I happened to look into the hole and found that there is no bottom. OK, that's an exaggeration, but without having a measuring tape with me, I figure it has to be at least 3 feet deep. What's worse is that the hole extends back at least a couple of feet in each direction under the asphalt -- as far as I could see -- it could be more. If this thing were to break open, it would swallow a small car.

As I was standing there with my bike, snapping a picture of the hole, an Akron police officer drove by. Thinking I should probably alert somebody in the public safety sector, I waved to get his attention. He waved back and kept going. Sigh.

While there are various types of naturally-occuring sinkholes, ones like this typically start with a leaky pipe. Little by little, the soil surrounding a leaking sewer pipe will get washed down the pipe, opening up a void. Heavy rains will enlarge the void, washing more soil down the pipe, and the process continues and escalates. Depending on how long it continues, such a void can become pretty massive -- sometimes big enough to swallow cars, houses, or city blocks.

The hole reminded me of a notable Akron disaster that happened almost exactly 50 years ago, in July 1964. On July 21st, a freakish storm moved through the area, dumping more than three inches of rain in about an hour. The volume of water overwhelmed the city's aging storm sewers. On a road then known as Tallmadge Ave., which passes over a branch of the Cuyahoga River and connects Akron's west and north sides, little did anyone know but over the years a long-leaking sewer had opened up a 40-foot void below the pavement.

The violent storm was the final straw for the impending chasm. When a large truck drove over the spot, the pavement collapsed. An Akron woman, named Velma Shidler, was in her car just behind the truck when the pavement opened up. Her young daughter and her daughter's friend were in the car with her. Though she tried to swerve around the hole, the crater opened wider and her car plunged into it, landing upside down with storm waters filling in around them.

The massive chasm killed 3 people in one of the
most notable disasters in Akron History.
(Akron Beacon Journal photo)
A 19-year-old college student named Hugh O'Neil, home for the summer from Georgetown University, was one of the first to try to help the struggling occupants of the car. He was soon joined by an Akron policeman, Ronald Rotruck, and eventually firemen and other civilians, some of whom also fell into the crater as more earth and pavement collapsed around them. Some were injured, but most of them were able to be pulled to safety.

Though Mrs. Shidler and her daughter's friend were rescued, O'Neil and Rotruck were attempting to get Shidler's young daughter free from the car when another large cave-in happened. O'Neil was washed away in the storm waters, while Rotruck and the little girl were buried in the debris and died. O'Neil's body was later found by divers in the Cuyahoga River.

A year later, Tallmadge Ave. was re-named Memorial Parkway in honor of the three people who were killed.

And to think it all started with a leaky pipe.

The spot where this disaster happened is only a mile or two from my home. I cross it sometimes on my way to the trailhead for the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath, which is just a short distance away from the spot where the ground opened up and swallowed those people 50 years ago. Interestingly, it is also just a couple of miles from spot where I discovered this new crater developing. Although the new crater has a ways to go before it gets to be as dangerous or deadly as the chasm from the past, I called the city services department to alert them to it before it gets any worse.

For those people out there who think cyclists have no business on the roads -- you're welcome.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fenders, Mudguards, I Love 'Em

A few days ago I went out for an early morning ride under gray skies. At about the mid-point of my ride I got caught in a shower that turned into a heavy downpour that continued the rest of the morning. The road became a river, and I was completely drenched to the bones. Fenders probably would not have helped much in that particular case, considering the heavy volume of water pouring down on me, but it got me thinking about fenders (or mudguards, to my British friends) anyhow.

When I was a young weight weenie and truly mediocre racer, I thought fenders were for old dorks. My weight weenie friends and I would smirk anytime we saw a befendered road bike. Now I'm an old dork, and I love fenders. I have several bikes equipped with them -- some expensive, some cheap, some aluminum, some plastic. I don't just like them for their utility, I think they can improve the look of some bikes. Good fenders make a good bike look great.

I rode this Rivendell Long-Low for a number of years without fenders. It looks good as-is, but. . .
. . . it doesn't really look complete without fenders. Those are the hammered-finish fenders from Velo-Orange. I've installed them on a few bikes (not just my own bikes, but I've installed them for other people, too) and I think they're pretty easy to install and a good value.
I've been caught in light showers where having fenders made a huge comfort difference. Consider that it's not just about the rain falling from above, but without fenders, one gets just as wet (maybe more so) from water coming up from below. The wet stripe up one's backside doesn't just look ridiculous -- it feels miserable. But another thing to consider is the fact that roads stay wet long after the rain ends, and that is when having fenders makes the biggest difference.

Plastic fenders have a lot going for them, and for some applications, there's no reason to spend more money or go more "deluxe." Prices seem to range from $40 to $60. I have an early 80s Stumpjumper, one of the early models with the nicely lugged frame. I've had it powder coated and updated some of the components, installed mustache bars, and I use it on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath when riding with my kids. It make a good trailer-towing rig. I installed SKS plastic fenders on it, and they look good. They are essential on this bike, since I don't want want dirt and the occasional mud from the path flying up into the faces of my kids!

1983 or '84 Stumpjumper, with SKS plastic fenders. A great trailer-towing rig.
Aluminum fenders from Velo-Orange don't cost much more than good plastic ones, but they really step up the "class" factor. Most of the necessary holes are already drilled in them to ease installation, and they typically come with more hardware than necessary to keep you covered for different installation needs. Prices range from $55 - $65 depending on the size and style.
I refurbished this old Trek 420L for my wife. Fenders took the bike to a new level. These are Velo-Orange hammered finish fenders again. I think the fender lines came out really good on this bike, following the curve of the tires evenly from front to back. I should point out that I converted this bike from 27-in. wheels to 700c -- thereby picking up a few millimeters more tire clearance, and gaining lots more tire options.
The most "deluxe" fenders come from Honjo of Japan. They are beautifully finished, and all the hardware is first-rate, but they're expensive. At Boulder Bicycle, which is a supplier I recommend, they range from $120 - $175, depending on size and style. Boulder Bicycle also has most of the hardware available separately for those who need replacement bits. They are more of a challenge to install, as they typically require more measuring and drilling than the Velo-Orange versions. 
Fixed-gear bikes like this one make for a serious installation challenge, but I feel like I got the fender lines looking good. These are the Honjo "LePaon" model with a 7-sided profile -- a classic "vintage-looking" style.
Like I said -- fenders aren't just functional, they make a lot of bikes look great. I figure everyone should have at least one bike with fenders, and if you can only have one bike, it should be a bike that can accommodate them.