Friday, July 31, 2015

Throwback Thursday - On a Friday: Vintage Schwinn Ads

I've always had sort of a soft spot for Schwinns. I know a lot of Retrogrouch fans do, too. My first really nice bike was a Super Le Tour, and while I would go on to own nicer bikes over the years, that one really helped me catch the bug.

One thing unique about Schwinn was that they always had a strong commitment to adult cycling - long before it became popular during the Bike Boom of the early '70s, and during a time when there couldn't have been much financial incentive to do so. Sure, they had their ads for Sting Rays and other kids bikes in magazines like Boys Life - as well as all those television ads with Captain Kangaroo -- but they also ran tons of full-page ads for adult bikes throughout the '60s and '70s featuring adult riders, usually in "normal" clothing - out enjoying a ride for fitness and fun - or with the whole family. Maybe for that reason, when the Bike Boom hit, sales of bikes like Schwinn's Varsity and Continental went through the roof.

I just went through some of my old Bicycling and American Cyclist (that was Bicycling, before the name was changed) magazines from that era and found a bunch of old Schwinn ads - usually taking up the entire back cover of the magazines. Take a look - and enjoy!

Here's an old one - 1963, I believe. Notice that it's still "Arnold Schwinn" - the company would drop the "Arnold" name a couple of years later. Adolph Arnold was a Chicago meatpacker who provided the financial backing for Ignaz Schwinn. I'm not sure when Arnold got out of the business, but Schwinn kept the name for some time after.

From 1968. The slogan "For the Young in Heart" would be used again and again through the late '60s and early '70s.

Also from 1968. "His and Hers" bicycles are a common thing in the ads from this time, and I'm betting a lot of couples bought them exactly that way. I had an aunt and uncle who owned matching "his & hers" Schwinns from about the same time.

Another "His & Hers" ad - from '72.

From '78. I adore the women in these old Schwinn ads. Totally middle America - kind of wholesome - but a little sassy at the same time. Yeah - those are some short shorts - but in their defense, the men are often shown with basically the same shorts.

From '78. Another wholesome middle-America model, outpacing her man. Funny thing - the tagline is "You may never buy another bike." That was probably true, but not for the reason they're implying. Sad fact of American cycling is that people bought these wonderful, durable, reliable bikes with excellent intentions -- then the bikes sat in basements and garages virtually unridden for the next couple of decades. Now, they make great finds at garage sales and estate sales.

1978. His & Hers matching bikes - and outfits! See what I mean about the shorts? 

One of the things that's so great about these ads is that bicycling is shown to be as normal and American as apple pie -- with regular people, men and women, out having fun, wearing "normal" clothes - and just enjoying themselves on a bike. Look through a magazine like Bicycling today, and see how many ads send that message. Instead of coming up with increasingly smaller marketing segments (gravel bikes, all-road bikes, bike-packing bikes, etc. etc.) in order to sell more bikes to the same people who already have bikes, maybe the industry should be looking at ways to make cycling more appealing to all those people who think about riding but don't do it because they're afraid they have to dress like a super hero to do it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bike Safety 101: Disney's I'm No Fool With a Bicycle

In the Bike Safety 101 series, I've looked at a lot of old educational films, many of which were cranked out by low-budget, relatively unknown production companies that specialized in films for schools. But today's bike safety film comes from a giant in family entertainment - Walt Disney.

In I'm No Fool With a Bicycle from 1955 (released in color in 1956) the conscientious pedagogue Jiminy Cricket gives a short history of the bicycle, and explains some of the basics of safe riding. The 8 min. film was part of an "I'm No Fool" safety series that aired on the original Mickey Mouse Club TV show in the 1950s. In fact, the bicycle safety film was the very first in that series, which also included lessons on fire, water, pedestrians, and more.

I'm No Fool With a Bicycle begins like the other films in the I'm No Fool series (in fact, most of the opening animated footage is exactly the same from one film to the next as a cost-cutting method), which is to say, it begins with Jiminy Cricket surrounded by books in a library, singing the very catchy song "I'm No Fool" that should be absolutely familiar to anyone old enough to remember Annette, Tommy, Cubby, and the rest of the original Mouseketeers.

I'm no fool! No-sir-ee!
I'm gonna live to be a hundred and three.
I play safe for you and me,
'Cause I'm no fool!

That song was written by Disney songwriter Jimmie Dodd, and sung by Cliff Edwards, who did the voice of Jiminy Cricket from the 1940 film Pinocchio, and up until the late 1960s. By the way - songwriter Dodd also wrote the Jiminy Cricket song "Encyclopedia E-N-C-Y-C-L-O-P-E-D-I-A" which was so catchy that to this day I (and perhaps an entire generation of baby boomers before me) cannot spell the word "encyclopedia" without singing it.

Jiminy then goes on to talk about doing things the right way and the wrong way, and how only fools do things the wrong way. Not until he opens up a book about bicycles does the animated footage become specific to this particular film, otherwise the opening sequence all got recycled in the other safety films in the series.

Jiminy's history lesson fills up the rest of the first half of the film:

Jiminy shows a drawing of a hobby horse in the book -- the drawings in the book then come to life, in a sense, and we get to see little animated segments of how the various evolutionary iterations of the bicycle worked, and how they didn't work.
Jiminy tells kids that the Hobby Horse "was also called a 'Dandy Horse' because it was popular among a group of foppish young men who were called 'Dandies'." We then see various ways the Dandy loses his effete composure while trying to use the contraption.
Working their way through history, we see other evolutionary steps, like the "Bone Shaker" and the  "High Wheeler" -- and with each one, there is a little animation of what was wrong with it.

"It was very popular if you overlooked the problems of getting on - and getting off." You just know this guy's going to end up doing a face plant.
There he goes . . .
Eventually we get to the modern bicycle:

"Today we have the real, modern, safety bicycle. Comfortable. Brakes. Rubber tires. Safety guards. Just about everything you need. In fact, it is probably the most widely used vehicle the world has ever known. . . 
"Even today in many countries, it is the chief means of transportation for the entire family."
Not in the U.S. though, let's just be clear about that -- and that is the only admission in the entire film that bicycles can actually be more than just toys for kids. From here on out, I'm No Fool With A Bicycle covers the same ground as every other bicycle safety film from the 50s and 60s. Bicycles are for kids. Cars are for adults. So get those ridiculous socialist notions of adults on bicycles out of your head right now.

The next half of the film follows the oft-used "Goofus and Gallant" formula using little chalkboard characters to represent "You" the viewer . . .

And a "common, ordinary fool":

Jiminy then illustrates various rules about riding by praising "You" doing things right, while we get to laugh at the fool doing everything wrong.

"Remember, a bicycle is to You what a motor car is to a grownup." There you have it - and don't forget it.
"You" ride with your hands on the bars, your wheels on the ground, use hand signals, stay to the right, and don't show off.
The fool doesn't take care of his bicycle, rides no-hands, disobeys rules, and shows off -- and we're told he won't live long.

All the while, Jiminy sings more bicycle-specific verses of the "I'm No Fool" song.

As Jiminy criticizes the fool, he says things that would never get past today's sensitivity police, saying things like, "OK, Nitwit" and "Try it again, Stupid." 
After the fool is reduced to a pile of chalk dust, Jiminy pins a big "I'm No Fool" medal on "You."

And that's the end of the film, but there's still more to mention.

Apart from it's significance as a bicycle safety film, I'm No Fool With a Bicycle has other points of interest worth discussing. For one thing, it represented a shift in Walt Disney's operations as they made the transition from full-length animation and short films for the big screen to shorts for the new, burgeoning medium of television. Working on tighter schedules for TV meant finding ways to save time as well as cutting costs (hence the use of so much "recycled" animation footage in things like the I'm No Fool series). The animation style also had to become much less detailed - flatter, and simpler, with bolder outlines -- making Jiminy easier for audiences to make out on their smaller, often grainy TV screens.

Jiminy in 1940 - Pinocchio

Jiminy in 1955 - I'm No Fool. And yes, Jiminy did become more of a caucasion-toned cricket for 1950s television audiences.
Another thing to point out is that Walt Disney found a whole new market and another way to make money. After films like I'm No Fool With a Bicycle aired on television's The Mickey Mouse Club, they were then released through the company's new division that specialized in renting out 16mm films to schools and other civic institutions. That division later became the Disney Educational Media Company.

Lastly, this film, along with several others in the series, was re-made and re-released in 1988, combining some of the old parts with newer live-action footage. And of course, the updated (and twice as long) version made sure to push bicycle helmets. I can't seem to find a copy of the updated version, however.

In the meantime, put on your mouse ears and cast yourself back to the '50s and watch I'm No Fool With a Bicycle (courtesy of Hbvideos on YouTube):

Oh, Annette, where are you when I need you?

Monday, July 27, 2015

2015 Tour de France

Racing in the Post-Armstrong Era

The 2015 Tour de France (or "Big Ol' Race Around France" as Grant Petersen calls it) concluded yesterday, and Chris Froome of the U.K. is the winner. It was his second tour win, and makes him the first U.K. rider to win the race twice.

Chris Froome and his Team Sky teammates cross the line together in Paris.
I'm pleased with Froome's win - if I could be said to have had a favorite or prediction for this year's winner, it would have been Froome. He's an impressive cyclist in many ways - good in the mountains, a decent time-triallist, and calm under pressure. But to be honest, I only "half" paid attention to this year's Tour. It's an unfortunate fact of life about bike racing in the "Post-Armstrong" era that it's hard to take the sport seriously. The thing is, as much as the UCI would like us all to believe otherwise, doping didn't begin or end with Lance Armstrong (yes - I use his name. It's not like he's Voldemort or something). And one has only to look at the list of tour winners from the last 20 years to see the problem:

Who won the race between 1999 and 2005? Nobody!
I don't just mean the 7-year gap where the results are simply crossed out - though that does still raise an interesting question. Who the hell won all those races? In other years when a winner was disqualified later, the title was transferred to the rider who had finished 2nd. See Oscar Pereiro in 2006 (thank you Floyd Landis) and Andy Schleck in 2010 (thank you Alberto Contador). So why didn't they do that in the Armstrong years? Probably because all the top finishers in those years were likely to have been as doped as he was. Officials would have ended up awarding the title to whomever the poor schlub was who finished last - giving somebody the otherwise impossible distinction of being the Tour Champion and the Lantern Rouge simultaneously.

But it's not just the Armstrong Gap. Look at some of the other winners there. Bjarne Riis? Doped to his gills on EPO (confessed after the statute of limitations expired). Jan Ullrich? Credible stories abound about his doping, and he retired from racing after being implicated in Operation Puerto. Marco Pantani? His drug-fueled record on Alpe d'Huez inexplicably still stands. He was disqualified from the '99 Giro d'Italia for doping, and was also implicated in Operation Puerto, as well as several other doping investigations. Despite dying from a drug overdose (surprising?) he is still seen as some kind of hero to many - some of whom insist his death was actually murder. Then there are also the aforementioned disgraces with Landis and Contador.

Sorry, but the fact that nobody has been stripped of a tour title since 2011 hardly makes it easier to be a believer.

So, unfortunately, any time someone starts to shine in the race, that rider is immediately suspected of doping. It hardly seems fair to the racer who is capable of winning the Tour, but as soon as someone pulls on that yellow jersey, people start asking questions. As for me, I get tired of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Doping Allegations

This year, the rumors started flying after Stage 10, when Chris Froome just seemed to dominate all others on the climb of La Pierre-Saint Martin on the first day in the Pyrenees. Performance numbers on Froome were analyzed by a French physiologist who concluded that either Froome is naturally superhuman (unlikely), or he's artificially enhanced. Of course, the media jumped all over that, and fans started screaming "Doper" at Froome as the peloton raced by. One fan even jumped out into the road and threw urine at him.

But even as people took that report as instant condemnation, it's also possible that the physiologist's analysis of the numbers is flawed - that any small variations in the data collection (from power meters, etc.) could lead to a pretty wide margin of error. One article I found on the subject seems to bear that out (see HERE).

Further complications come from the fact that it's basically impossible to prove someone is racing clean, and while teams keep releasing data on their racers, there are always people who will claim that it's not enough, and they must be hiding something. So early in the race there were reports that someone hacked into Team Sky's computer data, probably looking for evidence of foul play. And Team Sky also released numbers to the media voluntarily, which only led to more accusations.

"Mechanical Doping" Too?

As if performance enhancing drugs weren't enough, there is the ongoing specter of a different kind of performance enhancement going around bike racing -- dubbed "mechanical doping," or in other words, hiding an electric motor in the massively bloated carbon fiber frames of today's racing bikes.

Rumors of hidden motors have been going around for a while now. The first time I heard such a rumor was when Fabian Cancellara dominated at Paris-Roubaix in 2013. Such rumors gained intensity when a bike ridden by Ryder Hesjedal seemed to take off by itself after a crash at the 2014 Vuelta. Although one could almost dismiss such claims as a joke, the UCI is taking it seriously and now routinely checks bikes for hidden motors.

An official is inserting a small camera into the bottom bracket of a bike at this year's TdF. Chris Froome's bike was one of those bikes checked. No, so far, nobody has ever found a motor.

Could such a thing be done? While there's still no proof that any professional racer has done such a thing, it is apparently possible. For a long while, power-assist motors for bicycles have been large, obvious hunks that would be impossible to hide. But there are now some powerful motors that are compact enough to fit inside a frame tube, with battery packs that are similarly compact and concealable. One such motor is the Vivax Assist:

The Vivax Assist could easily be concealed in the seat-tube of today's carbon fiber bikes. The bevel gear works at the bottom bracket. The battery could be concealed in the down tube, and the power button or switch could be disguised or hidden on a brake/shift lever. That doesn't mean it's been done, however.
So now anybody who starts to succeed in a bike race has to submit his body to the drug tests, his bike to the motor inspectors, and divulge every bit of available data to the media -- and somewhere in the midst of all this circus, there is supposedly a bike race going on.

Get Serious

All in all, it just makes it hard to enjoy watching a bike race. And if all the doubts about cheating make it so hard to take it seriously, then bicycle racing is in danger of becoming a slightly less entertaining version of pro wrestling -- people know it's all fake, they just watch it for the spectacle. I just don't see myself becoming one of those people who says something like, "Of course it's all fake - I only watch it for the crashes."

Friday, July 24, 2015

Maynard Hershon: The Bicyclists' Writer

People who've been biking for more than a couple of decades are sure to know the name Maynard Hershon, or at least know of his writing. Hershon used to write a regular column that appeared in Winning magazine back in the 1980s. If you were serious about bicycling at that time, you probably read Winning magazine, and his columns were always on the last page of each issue. Later, he was a regular contributor to BOB newsletters (that's the Bridgestone Owners Bunch to those under 30) and The Rivendell Reader. Hershon's articles often have a gentle sense of humor, and usually a strong insight on some greater truth -- at least as far as the bicycling world goes, which is admittedly a little less complicated than the rest of the world and real life as we know it -- though sometimes it still has the same relevance. As a writer, I consider him one of my influences.

I recently re-discovered this old poem that he wrote for the BOB newsletter (which was good reading even if you didn't own a Bridgestone). If there is a "Retrogrouch Creed," this would have to be it.

Good Enough for Fausto
by Maynard Hershon (aka BOB 450)

Would I like the old days back?
Will I ride my inch-pitch hack
Till they bring the Yardbirds back?
Do I love my Pletcher rack?
And do I want the old days back?
By Bianchi green - I do.

Do I like my Dettos black?
Am I tattooed (twice) "Mafac?"
Will I ride my early Sachs
Till the paneled down tube cracks?
So do I want the old days back?
By Kelly's clips - I do.

Am I put off by Kestrel's act?
Do I take the Coni book as fact?
Will I ride 40 holes in back
Till proper wooden rims come back?
Do I want the old days back?
On Gino's health I do.

Do I defend face-to-face
Merckx's "real-bike" Hour pace?
Do my shifters clamp in place?
Do I forget I never raced, just
Ground along at tourist pace
But passed by women, always chased?
But do I want Dura-Ace erased?
Trust me; yes I do.

In my world shorts would all be black,
All young guys would ride the track,
And fix my silks at a buck a crack.
See, I speak Campy but my voice is cracked,
I'm clipped and strapped but I'm off the back,
I learned the lingo but forgot the knack,
I'm retro-suffering in the laughing pack.
Getting dropped is what I do.

Enough already with the sordid facts;
I've admitted I want the old days back:
Like a red Bob Jackson in Santa's pack,
Beige-box pieces, front to back.
Cinelli, Bindas, S.L. blacks,
Each thread lubed with warm bee's wax.
We love our dreams but we live by facts;
I'd settle for a BOB-club fanny pack.

If you understand all the old-school references (and there are a lot of 'em) then you are a true retrogrouch. If you're a youngster raised on STI and carbon fiber, you can find a full explanation and glossary HERE (and then you should ask yourself what you're even doing reading this blog!).

Many of Hershon's articles from Winning magazine centered on a fictional bike shop that bore such a strong resemblance to the favorite local bike shops in so many towns around the country that many people from coast to coast were convinced that he was describing their local shop.

In 1990, about 50 of those stories were collected and published in a book called Tales from the Bike Shop. I still have a copy, and I'm glad I do as the book has long been out of print and almost impossible to find (though it was apparently released in a Kindle ebook version not too long ago). The original edition of the book was illustrated by cartoonist Jef Mallett, who nowadays creates the cartoon Frazz -- which often has a lot of bike-specific content in it. Interestingly, I was able to get my own copy of Tales from the Bike Shop signed by Mallett when I met him some years back. I wouldn't mind being able to get it signed by Maynard, too.

A Momentary Detour:

from Frazz --

Jef Mallett is one of the few cartoonists I know who can actually draw bicycles properly.

Back on Track:

If you enjoyed reading Maynard Hershon's articles, you should know he's still out there writing regularly. He had a blog going for a while though it seems to have been dormant since about 2011. The archives are still active, however (see HERE).

Current columns appear in The Bicycle Paper, which covers the bicycling scene in the Pacific Northwest. Many of the paper's regular articles and Maynard Hershon's columns can be found on their website, If it's been a while since you've read his work, it's worth taking the time to get reacquainted.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bicycles at the Smithsonian

There's a new exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History called The Object Project which looks at the historical importance of various consumer products as markers of societal shifts. The exhibit explores the interplay between the consumers, the inventors, the manufacturers, and even the marketers, and how certain products changed our way of life. Some products have a "ripple effect" that spreads their impact far beyond the inventor's original intentions. Among the highlights in the exhibit is the bicycle, which gave birth to countless innovations and improvements that we now take for granted.

Consider the role that the bicycle played in manufacturing -- like the parts standardization that laid the groundwork for the mass-production assembly lines, electric welding, lightweight steel tubing, ball bearings, chain drives, and of course pneumatic tires. Consider the role that early bicyclists played in the paving of our roads and increasing people's mobility. Or the role that bicycling played in women's liberation - or to the liberation of all people to travel longer distances swiftly and efficiently.

While not everyone will be traveling to Washington to view the exhibit, one can see some highlights on the museum's website (HERE). It's worth taking a look.

A picture of the Schwinn factory in Chicago in the 1890s, from the Smithsonian exhibit. Many of the methods perfected in the manufacture of bicycles were later transferred to manufacturing automobiles.  Many of the automotive industry pioneers got their start making bicycles. It's almost ironic to point out, but without bicycles, there'd be no cars.

From the Smithsonian's collection. At the height of the bicycle craze of the 1890s, bicycles and their riders became the subject of numerous popular songs, like The Scorcher by George Rosey ("Scorcher" was a common name, sometimes an epithet, given to fast-paced bicyclists of the time). Before phonographs became common household items, sheet music like this was the primary avenue for getting popular music in the home. But the picture that accompanies the music also illustrates the transformative power the bicycle had on women -- for their liberation, their health, and even in the move towards more rational clothing styles.

Even race relations, or the "color barrier" in sports were affected by bicycling.  In the 1890s, bicycle racing was one of the most wildly popular sports of the time - and one of its greatest early champions was Marshal "Major" Taylor - World Champion in 1899.

The importance of the bicycle in numerous aspects of life was highlighted in a recent New York Times piece which coincided with the opening of the Smithsonian's Object Project. 

If you're interested in more, click on over to the National Museum site, follow some of the links to companion essays, and check out the New York Times piece. It's all a cool look through bicycling history.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Original Paint - Part Due: 1960s Galmozzi

There's an old urban legend about a guy who buys a cheap painting from a garage sale, then after he gets it home, accidentally bumps or knocks some paint off the canvas. Then he notices that there's another painting underneath the cheap acrylic paint, something done in oils, which is why the newer paint doesn't really adhere to it. Carefully removing more of the acrylic, he discovers that someone has painted over top of a rare and valuable Rembrandt.

OK - like most urban legends, who even knows if that's true - and it probably isn't. But I'm reminded of it when I think about this next story. And this one really is true.

After the recent article about original paint, a friend from the Classic Rendezvous group, Kevin Kruger, shared some pictures of a bike he recently acquired -- a mid 1960s Galmozzi. These are very desirable bikes built by an Italian master - except that this one had been repainted and covered with decals declaring it "Baldi" -- but the original Galmozzi head badge was still there proudly declaring the bike's true identity.

Apparently, Kevin set about trying to remove the overpaint to prepare the bike for a proper repaint, and discovered that the bike's original finish was still largely intact underneath! Using guitar picks, extra-fine steel wool, and acetone, Kevin was able to remove the blue paint and the gray primer to reveal a very cool orange and white paint job, and even some hint of the original decals. It was apparently a time consuming and painstaking process, requiring much patience, but the final results should be wonderful -- talk about restoration.

One thing worth pointing out is that this was a very rare situation. Typically when a bike is repainted (if it's done properly, anyhow) the original finish is completely stripped off before new paint is applied - but in this case, it is obvious someone simply sprayed new primer and paint right overtop of the old finish. It also speaks to the quality of the original paint (and lack thereof in the repaint) that the newer paint could be removed to reveal the original largely intact.

Here's the frame with its blue overpaint and Baldi decals. Scrapings on the down tube reveal some hints of the original orange paint underneath.
One of the "in-progress" shots shows much of the blue paint removed from the top and down tubes. Lots more still to be done. 
This reminds me a little of archaeology. It's like watching a little bit of history being unearthed.

Another "in-progress" shot shows that most of the blue paint is now gone. Only some primer residue around the bottom bracket and hiding in the nooks and crannies remains. There is some paint loss of the original orange -- not from the scraping, but from before the repaint. One can pretty well imagine that this was more or less the condition of the bike before it was repainted.

According to Kevin, the white panel on the down tube was resprayed, and the orange was touched up. He says the uneven edge on the white panel was there originally and will be covered by world champion decal bands, as per the original. 
Proper reproduction decals have been ordered and will be applied soon. I can't wait to see the finished bike.

Will the bike look as perfect as a new paint job? No, of course not - it will have some patina, some history, and there's something very attractive about that in a different way. It will certainly have more value. That much is undeniable.

To be fair - many people would probably have looked at the condition of the original orange paint, as shown above with its many chips and scratches, and might have sent it out for a new paint job. But the last picture shows what can be done with some good color matching and touch ups. With reproduction decals, and built up with period-correct parts, it will be a beautiful piece of rideable history.

I admit, stuff like this isn't for everyone. When it comes to the subject of original paint vs. repaint, there's a whole spectrum of attitudes, and people can get pretty passionate about it. There are some who say you should never repaint an old bike. There are others who wouldn't hesitate to powder coat a 1950s Cinelli -- head badge and all.

I for one am somewhere in the middle. I figure most older bikes out there are not rare or particularly valuable, and a repaint shouldn't be seen as a tragedy. But some bikes are special. A bike like Kevin's Galmozzi, for instance, is a rare thing. Francesco Galmozzi never had the name recognition of contemporaries like Cino Cinelli, Ugo DeRosa, or Faliero Masi - but for people "in the know," or the "cognoscenti," his bicycles are every bit as desirable, and perhaps even more rare. Bikes like that deserve to be preserved.

Kevin has full sets of progress pictures on flickr HERE and HERE. Check them out, and enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Reynolds Tubing Decals - NOT

I had a question recently from a reader that led to some interesting investigation. He had a bike, a 1980s Superia, with a tubing sticker he hadn't seen before and wanted to know more about it. I've run some posts about bicycle frame tubing before - like Reynolds, Columbus, Tange, and Ishiwata, and I'm familiar with others such as Vitus, but I'd never seen this sticker before.

"Guaranteed Built With - R.C. Frame Tubes -
Forks Stays - Bonderized"
With its black, gold, and green colors, and the "Guaranteed Built With . . ." slogan, it is obviously a knockoff of the famous Reynolds stickers from the classic era. I shared the photo and the question with friends in the Classic Rendezvous group - but unfortunately, other than some mild outrage at the attempt to capitalize on the familiar Reynolds logo, nobody seemed to know this tubing.

I started by looking into the Superia brand. One doesn't see these here in the U.S. that often, but they were (maybe still are?) a Belgian brand. In fact, Eddy Merckx rode for the Superia team at the beginning of his career with Rik Van Looy. The company made a range of models, including some decent racing bikes, though it's unlikely that the bikes ridden by Merckx and the rest of the team were actually built by the company. More likely they were built by a specialist shop (I've read that it was Masi), and painted with the sponsor's colors and decals. Such was common practice in those days.

Looking at the Classic Rendezvous site, there wasn't a lot of info about the Superia brand, but I found that the company was founded by Remi Claeys, and that they made welded (think "seamed") steel tubing in addition to bicycles.

Back to the sticker: At first look, I thought the sticker said "R.O." frame tubes, but looking closer, it appears to be "R.C." R.C.? Remi Claeys? No confirmation for it, but I think that's the key. I became convinced that this was in-house tubing, probably seamed, made by Superia for their lower-cost bicycles. Notice that the sticker also doesn't mention "butted" tubing. Almost certainly straight gauge. "Bonderized"? That's apparently a surface treatment that inhibits rust, similar to, and sometimes used in conjunction with galvanizing.

I haven't gotten any solid information to tell me I'm wrong in my assessment - so that's the story on that one, for now.

The question about that tubing sticker got me thinking about other "knockoffs" of the Reynolds brand -- like this one:
The "Raleigh 555" was used on a lot of U.S. Raleighs in the 1980s.

The interesting thing about the Raleigh 555 is that it probably fooled a lot of people into thinking their bikes were built with Reynolds tubing. In fact, there are many people who believe that the tubing actually was Reynolds, only re-branded. I for one don't actually believe that to be the case. Read on.

The thing is, fans of vintage bikes are probably well aware that most higher-end Raleigh bikes in the '60s and '70s were built with Reynolds tubing - usually some version of 531. Keep in mind that at that time Raleigh Bicycles and Reynolds Tubing were divisions of the same company (which also owned Brooks Saddles and Sturmey-Archer for a time). In 1982, TI-Raleigh divested itself of their U.S. operations and sold the U.S. rights to the Raleigh name to Huffy. Raleigh USA was born. Most of the Raleigh USA bikes, though, were built in Japan (many of them by Bridgestone, which also made bikes for Schwinn). These were the bikes that typically bore the "Raleigh 555" tubing labels.

In most cases, the Raleigh 555 stickers said the tubing was chrome moly. I understand that there are some rarer versions that listed the tubing as manganese, which is also what Reynolds 531 is made from. Searching around the internet and the bike forums, I've found more than a few people who insist that the tubing was re-branded Reynolds 501, which was that company's lower-cost chrome moly tube set. Some of those same people claim that the manganese version was actually Reynolds 531. Others insist that the tubing was Japanese in origin, probably made by Tange (which made both chrome moly and manganese tubing, by the way).

I really believe the Japanese origin to be more likely. Think about it. If Raleigh USA was using Reynolds tubing in their bicycles, why would they bother re-branding it? They obviously knew of the cache that the Reynolds label brings to a bike or else they wouldn't have copied the label so faithfully. On the other hand, there are countless examples of Japanese bicycle manufacturers re-branding tube sets made by Tange and Ishiwata. Fuji's Valite tubing, for example, was made by Ishiwata.

The way I figure it, Raleigh USA was having their bikes built in Japan - that much is certain. They probably sourced their tubing from Japan too. It only makes sense. But knowing how closely British Raleighs were linked with Reynolds tubing -- not just as corporate siblings, but also in the minds of many consumers -- they wanted a label that at first glance would reassure buyers, and give them that prestige. Could I be wrong? Sure. But that's the explanation that makes the most sense to me.

Anyhow, there are other "knockoffs" of the famous Reynolds logo - some with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor. Like this one - "Guaranteed Not Built With. . .":

Or this one, "Guaranteed Built With AWESOME . . .":

(photo via Mark Bulgier)
Some just avoid the whole branding nonsense altogether, like this sticker from framebuilder Vincent Dominguez:
(photo via Marten Gerritsen)
And then there's this one, that I'm kind of partial to:

Friday, July 17, 2015

Original Paint

When it comes to old bicycles, the subject of restoration and renovation comes up a lot. People have an old bike they've ridden for a lot of years, or maybe find one at a garage sale or an uncle's basement. The bike has some chips in the paint, a little surface rust here and there, maybe some pitted chrome. It's a decent bike though, and they'll consider getting it repainted. Is it always a good idea though?

I get regular emails from members of the Classic Rendezvous group, and this topic is a regular one. In a recent conversation thread, someone included a link to an article from someone who probably knows as much about bike restoration and renovation as anyone can: Jim Cunningham of CyclArt. Jim was once a painter for Masi back when they were producing frames in California, then worked with the great Mario Confente until his death in 1979. Now his company is one of the top specialists in the U.S. for bicycle finishing and restoration.

Jim has this article, A Simple Jobon the CyclArt site. It's dated from just over a year ago, though it's possible it could pre-date that. In it, he writes about getting a beautiful '60s-vintage Frejus track frame in his shop - filthy dirty, but remarkably well-preserved under the years' worth of grime. A customer sent it to him with the work order to powder coat the entire frame in plain black, including the lovely brass head badge. Nuts!

The article isn't very long, but it's worth a read. Any retrogrouch would enjoy it.

More than that, but it raises an interesting point about the pros and cons of restoring or renovating an old bike. As some collectors will say, "a bike only has its original paint once." With a bike that's rare and/or valuable, one should really think twice before getting new paint. If there is significant damage that must be repaired, it may be one thing - but things like a few chips or scratches, and some minor surface rust can often be dealt with while still preserving the original finish.

I've renovated a few old bikes myself. There are lots of times when it is perfectly appropriate. With mass-market, mass-produced bikes, I wouldn't feel too bad about getting new paint to help give the bike a new lease on life. An old Nishiki, or Centurion might be a nice bike from a riding standpoint, but probably isn't particularly valuable or collectible. If it looks beat up and new paint would make it more enjoyable to ride - why not? Even powder coat it, and try not to lose sleep over it.

But some bikes really are better left alone. And with a more collectible bike, if it does have more serious problems that need to be repaired - like bad rust that goes beyond the surface, or a cracked tube, or something - then one should have the work done by somebody who will do it in such a way as to preserve whatever character the bike may have had, and be refinished with respect to the original. If someone doesn't really know the difference, it certainly wouldn't be a bad idea to get some input before plunging into the project. And unlike the person with the Frejus in Cunningham's article, hopefully take the advice.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Badger. Badass. Bernard Hinault

The first time I saw the name Bernard Hinault in print, it accompanied a photo of a compact Napoleon-like man in a Mondrian-print jersey throwing a punch at some striking workers, his face in a fierce grimace, throwing his whole body into the blow.

My teenaged self thought, "Who the hell IS this guy? What a badass!"

The famous photo was from the 1984 Paris-Nice, where Hinault was leading a breakaway of about 20 riders when they were stopped by a crowd of striking shipyard workers. Hinault barely managed to skid to a stop before leaping from his bike and plowing into the workers with his fist. Whatever his politics might have been, nobody was going to deny Hinault a chance to win a bicycle race.

Incidentally, Sean Kelly, who was also part of that breakaway, eventually won that race, with Hinault having to settle for 3rd. Nevertheless, if people remember anything about the 1984 Paris-Nice, it is the man throwing the punch, not who won. Sometimes it isn't about who wins or loses.

Hinault wanted to win like nobody else. Losing wasn't in his DNA. He was fierce and unrelenting, and he deserved his nickname, "the Badger."

Bernard Hinault was one of the greats who practically defined a generation of bicycle racers, like Coppi, Anquetil, or Merckx. Right on the heels of the "Merckx Era" came the "Hinault Era." Though his dominance wasn't quite as complete as that of Merckx, it's still a good comparison. Many people consider Hinault the best complete bicycle racer of all time - after Eddy Merckx.

Hinault began his professional cycling career in 1974, but really burst into the public consciousness at the '77 Dauphiné Libéré where he beat a number of favorites, including that year's Tour de France winner, Bernard Thevenet. What often gets remembered about that race was the sight of Hinault, in the leader's yellow jersey, attacking on a mountain descent when he overshot a curve and went off the road, disappearing from sight going down a perilously steep drop. Death would not have been improbable. Next thing, there was Hinault, scrambling back up to the road with the help of a team mechanic - then getting back on a new bike, and continuing on for the win.

He was instantly a legend.

You can see video footage of that crash posted on YouTube:

The following year, 1978, he rode his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España, which he won. Also that year, wearing the colors of the French National Champion, he entered and won his first Tour de France. It was at that TdF that Hinault firmly established himself, at the young age of 23, as the leader of the peloton. That year, there was a riders' strike during the Tour to protest conditions and demands on the riders -- particularly the practice of having two stages in a single day. Some people have described the rider protest initially as being somewhat tepid and haphazard, until the young Hinault stepped forward, and with absolute confidence, strode with his bicycle to the starting line and struck a pose of power and defiance while the rest of the peloton fell into place behind him.

Comparisons to Napoleon were not uncommon.

Hinault went on to win the Tour again in 1979. In 1980, he won the first of his three Giro d'Italia victories. His goal that year was to achieve cycling's "Triple Crown" - the Giro, the Tour, and the World Championship in the same season. He was leading the Tour that year but had to abandon with a knee injury. He did come back to win the 1980 World Championship. Though he several times got two out of three, the Triple Crown was one thing he never did achieve.

He won the Tour two more times, in 1981 and '82 bringing his total at that point to 4 wins. He won the Giro in '82 and his second Vuelta in '83. Hinault missed the 1983 TdF, again because of knee problems. In 1984, with his new La Vie Claire team, he finished second in the Tour de France, more than 10 minutes behind his former Renault teammate Laurent Fignon. In 1985, he won his third Giro d'Italia.

At the 1985 Tour de France, which I covered in some detail in my previous post, Hinault was caught up in a terrible crash in the final kilometer of Stage 14, breaking his nose. He eventually crossed the finish line under his own power with his face completely obscured by the blood. It was an incredibly dramatic moment, and the footage of it is still shown routinely in those "looking back" segments about the Tour de France on television.

Though he probably couldn't have done it without the sacrifice of his teammate Greg LeMond, Hinault did go on to win his 5th Tour de France that year, matching the record of Anquetil and Merckx.

1986 will be remembered as a year of loyalty put to the ultimate test. After LeMond's sacrifice in 1985 that helped Hinault to win the Tour, Hinault promised to repay the debt by helping LeMond to win the following year. At the '86 Tour, it appeared to some as though Hinault had forgotten about the promise as he repeatedly went on the attack, always keeping the pressure on LeMond. That battle was the subject of the book Slaying the Badger by Richard Moore, which was turned into a film for ESPN by director John Dower.

The film version of Slaying the Badger, particularly, seems to take the position that Hinault had betrayed LeMond, and interviews with LeMond would indicate that he for one still sees it that way. Hinault for his part insists that he was riding hard to weaken the rest of the competition and had no intention of denying LeMond the victory. Whichever side one takes, the fact is that the battle between them made the 1986 Tour one of the most memorable of all time. Here was something I had said in an older post about the film:

"While I get the impression from the film that I was probably supposed to see Hinault as some kind of villain in this story, personally I have a hard time with that. Hinault was a fierce competitor. On one hand, it's clear that he couldn't have won the '85 Tour without LeMond's sacrifice. Hinault suffered through the latter half of that Tour and it was probably easy at the time for him to make the promise that he would repay LeMond. But the next year, he's feeling good, he sees the opportunity to be the only man to win 6 Tours, and he starts to question the logic of helping someone else to win. Racing for someone else just wasn't in his DNA. Like Abt says, "he couldn't help himself." But also, even as difficult as it was for LeMond to win, with challenges coming from not only the whole peloton but his own team, many people (particularly in Europe) called his '86 victory a "gift" from Hinault. What would they have said if Hinault actually appeared to be helping him? I understand LeMond's sense of betrayal, but in the end, it seems to me that it elevated his victory. If there was any doubt (there was not any for me) that LeMond truly deserved to win the '86 Tour, this film should set things straight."

Hinault finished the '86 Tour in 2nd place, and it should be pointed out that he never finished a Tour below that position. Later that season, Hinault won the Coors Classic in Colorado and retired at the end of the season, still at the top of the sport.

After retiring from professional racing, Hinault went back to his native Brittany to spend time farming. He also works for Amaury Sport Organisation, or ASO, the group that organizes the Tour de France, as well as a number of other racing events. In this capacity, he can often be seen on the winners podium giving out the awards. And in some cases, he still gets to display that same fierce pugnacity he displayed in his racing career. When overenthusiastic or unruly fans look for their 15 seconds of fame by climbing onto the winners podium, Hinault is quick to dispatch them unceremoniously.

Hinault's record, with over 250 professional wins, is an amazing one -- and in numerous aspects is second only to Eddy Merckx. It would be unlikely in the current era to see anyone surpass either Hinault or Merckx given that few riders today even attempt to be as competitive in such a wide range of races and disciplines. Only a handful of racers have won all three Grand Tours, and Hinault is the only person to win them all at least twice. In addition to his Grand Tour victories (10 in all) he had wins in almost all the Spring Classics, including Paris-Roubaix which he despised and once referred to as "a race for d*%#heads." The only Classics he never won were the Tour of Flanders and Milan-San Remo. He was also World Champion, and a 5-time winner of the Grand Prix des Nations.

Then and now, Hinault stands out as one of the all-time greatest.