Monday, November 30, 2015

I Use Bicycles in All of My Decorating. . .

Some people just can't get enough of their bicycles.

(photos from
From a pair of custom furniture makers in Britain comes a chair that only a cyclist could love. The firm Two Makers, comprised of Andrew McDonald and Simon Taylor, have built a chair that combines traditional bicycle framebuilding techniques and materials into a rocker dubbed the Randonneur Chair.

Built from Reynolds 631 steel tubing, and using a combination of fillet-brazing and actual bicycle lugs, as well as fine saddle leather from Brooks of England, the Randonneur Chair even includes a "tool bag" and a pair of bottle cages. From some angles, the chair almost resembles a pair of bicycle frames, complete with drop bars, conjoined by a big hammock-like expanse of leather.

The result is sort of a modernist-meets-craftsman interpretation of a classic rocking chair, skewed through the perspective of a bicycle constructeur. Some websites are calling it "beautiful, deceptively light, and highly functional."

Notice the leather "tool bag" behind the seat. A good place to keep the T.V. remote?
On the Two Makers site, they quote Antonio Colombo, President of Columbus Tubing and Cinelli Bicycles, saying, "The best bike chair I've seen in forty years."

The finish on this example lets a person get a good look at the construction methods.
And yes, the "handlebars" are wrapped with Brooks leather bar-wrap.

I can't decide if the Randonneur Chair is really cool, or overindulgent ridiculousness. What I do know is that I can't afford one. It's definitely one of those "If you have to ask. . ." propositions. According to the site, the price is available "upon application." Jeezus, you have to apply for ownership? I have a feeling my application would be rejected.

It's interesting that the makers of the chair used a quote from Antonio Colombo -- not just because they used competitor Reynolds tubing in the chair -- but because Colombo might actually know a thing or two about furniture design. Little known fact about his family company, but back in the 1930s, the A.L. Colombo company used to make modernist-styled steel-tubed furniture, like this chair from one of their old advertisements.

Was that made from Columbus SL, SP, or SLX?

Even apart from the Columbus past in furniture design, there have been others to dabble in bicycle-themed furniture. Like Scarabike in Japan, who came up with this Brooks Saddle Sofa a few years ago:

I love a good Brooks B17 as much as a person can, but this thing looks crazy uncomfortable.

And doing a quick search online, I've found numerous examples of people mounting Brooks saddles on top of stools. Here's one from Freshome:

Here somebody grafted a heavily sprung Brooks B135 saddle onto a stool from IKEA.
Again, I think a Brooks leather saddle is about as good as it gets on a bicycle -- but I'm not sure it would make the best perch for a barstool. Maybe I'm wrong.

I just don't know. I love bikes. I have bikes hanging on the walls in my classroom. I'd have them hanging on the walls in my house, too, if my wife would let me. But does this stuff just go too far? Any thoughts?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Get Well Soon, Jan

Some regular readers may have already heard the news, but if not, I just wanted to take a moment to say Get Well Soon to fellow cyclist and blogger, Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly, Compass Bicycles, and the blog Off the Beaten Path.

Jan was injured in a crash with a car while on a trip in Southeast Asia. His injuries were not "life-changing" as he put it, but he did suffer a broken arm, shoulder, some vertebrae, and few ribs. One can find out more information on Jan's blog (HERE).

I'm a regular reader of Bicycle Quarterly, as well as Off the Beaten Path and find them to be a great resource and excellent reading. His Compass Bicycles is a good source for tires, components, and accessories for touring and randonneuring cyclists.

In the magazine and the blog, Jan frequently writes about his travels, and has been to many enviable destinations with his bike. I have to say I always enjoy reading about those travels, as well as his extended bike test rides.

I've heard updates that he's on the mend - but just wanted to wish him the best as he convalesces. Hope you're back on your bike soon, Jan.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Get Connected With Your Helmet

Last month, I wrote a bit about a couple of helmets on the market that boast integrated lights - the Torch, and the Lumos. Of the two, the Lumos went beyond simply having built-in lights, but also incorporated turn signals (operated by a bar-mounted switch) and brake lights (controlled by a built-in accelerometer). As a regular bike commuter who spends a lot of time riding in the dark, I concluded that while I could see some potential benefit in having some built-in helmet lighting, it was also a concern for me that the extra features, like turn signals and brake lights, might prove unreliable over time, and end up being more trouble (and expense) than they were worth.

As if to show that nothing succeeds like excess, though, the Livall Smart and Safe Bike Helmet is now on Kickstarter, boasting enough "connected" features to make anybody into Cyborg or RoboCop.

Except that you won't look anywhere near as cool.

The Livall Smart helmet has built-in lights, and incorporates turn signals, walkie-talkie, Bluetooth phone capability, music, and an SOS Alert system that sends out a signal if it detects that the rider has suffered a fall. It also incorporates cadence sensors, and integrates it all though the company's smartphone app. It comes with a stem-mount phone holder, and a handlebar-mounted controller for the turn signals, and which lets a user scroll through all the functions on the phone. 
For a product that's supposed to be so much about safety, it has a lot of features that seem designed to keep one's mind off their ride. Like making phone calls while riding:
"With the built-in Windbreak Mic and Bluetooth Speakers, the BH60 helmet enables you to answer or make phone calls when needed. You can enjoy your 'me time' without worrying people may not be able to reach you." Actually, that's about the last thing I want.

My favorite part of their crowdfunding approach is the promotional video, complete with an awkwardly dubbed voiceover:

In the video, we see this unlikely couple . . .

Holy Cow, what's with those shorts?!
. . . who act like they've just come from some kind of Masters and Johnson weekend.

They have an "enormous passion" for cycling.
We get to see them using the helmet's turn signals while weaving through traffic. The turn signals don't look particularly effective, though.
Somehow they end up separated - so they can use the "walkie-talkie" function to find each other.
The smart helmet makes cycling safer? More enjoyable? More distracting, if you ask me.

At this point in their date, they're off the bikes and on foot. You can take the helmets off now, kids. Or at least turn off the flashing lights.
The video also takes some time to show a lot of the features that come with the smart helmet. Like "the world's smallest nano cadence sensor."

And their own-design smartphone holder:

And the handlebar control switch, dubbed "The Bling Jet":

The most disturbing scene in the video comes about 1:25 into it - where we see how the SOS Alert feature works:

The voice dubbing becomes painfully obvious when we meet the creators of the Livall smart helmet:

"The helmet is an essential part of your cycling experience."
"Pledge now! Lets ride smart together."
It really seems to me that the more people come to rely on their smartphones, the dumber they get.

As I said before - I could maybe be persuaded to try a well-designed, decently styled helmet that incorporates some built-in lighting -- basic LED technology is inexpensive, simple, and has gotten pretty reliable. But all the so-called "smart" features of this thing seem to be more trouble than they're worth. Too much expense. Too much to go wrong. Too many distractions.

No thanks on the "smart helmet." But enjoy the video!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Where's Waldo? Who Cares?

I know bike theft is a serious problem, but it's a problem that really requires no more than a very simple low-tech solution. And yet for some reason, every smart phone addict, tinkerer, and tech junkie believes they have the perfect fix.

Back in May, I highlighted the Noke U-Lock, which promises to eliminate "the hassle and frustration of lost keys and forgotten combinations." It connects with Bluetooth smartphones and allows a user to unlock their bike with the use of an app. It also boasts a "shrieking" alarm, allows easy sharing of the bike with friends, and even utilizes GPS tracking in case the user forgets where they parked their bike.

I suggested that people who can't remember where they parked their bike probably couldn't find their way home, either.

Well, just to show that there's apparently no shortage of people out there who can't remember keys, combinations, or even where they parked their bikes, there are a couple of new "Smart" locks for Dumb people just now hitting the market.

Where's Waldo?

(photo from Waldo)
The aptly named Waldo isn't so much a lock as it is a "Lo-Jack" type of device designed to "give you peace of mind." With the smartphone app, "you can check your bicycle's status and its position anytime. You'll get notified only when your bike is in danger."

Waldo attaches to the bike using a couple of silicone straps and a steel band. Of course, if someone tries to cut the steel band, or move the bike without de-activating the device, it is supposed to deliver a "loud sound alarm" to "deter any potential thief." You know - because car alarms are so effective in urban settings, and people always take them seriously. And nobody finds randomly shrieking alarms annoying. It also sends the owner a text alert to let them know their bike is being stolen.

Waldo is meant to be seen -- to act as a "deterrent" to
potential thieves. I should think riding a POS brakeless fixie
conversion should be deterrent enough. (photo from Waldo)
What if somebody just bumps, or moves the bike? Supposedly the "sensor has brains - it can differentiate between a theft attempt and a random movement of your bike. Thanks to this, you won't get notified if a fellow cyclists (sic) accidently moves your bike."

Oddly, if the battery gets too low, the device "unlocks" itself so the user can remove it for recharging. Great for the user, but also great for the thieves. So much for security and peace of mind.

As I mentioned, the Waldo is not a lock. If someone's really serious about security, even the makers of Waldo say, "though it is not compulsory, we do recommend using a trustworthy chain or U-lock." "Not compulsory"? Using a lock is never "compulsory." But it kind of begs the question: if one is going to use a good solid lock, then do they really need Waldo?

And because there must be a perceived rash of cyclists too dumb (or inebriated?) to remember where their bikes are, "Waldo automatically stores your bicycle's last location and displays it on a map." Their website proclaims, "Forgot where you parked? No problem, just let Waldo guide you to your bike."

As a final note for those whose memory incompetence comes from inebriation, it might be safe to point out that anybody who is too drunk to remember where their bike is parked is probably also too drunk to ride it. So maybe the makers of Waldo should team up with the makers of the Alcoho-Lock and offer a package deal discount.

There is a basic Bluetooth version, and a GSM version with more GPS capability and real-time tracking. Expected retail price of Waldo is posted as $124 - $170 (based on current exchange rates) depending on which version one opts for.

Grasp Biometric Lock

Another high-tech lock that does away with keys and combinations is the Grasp Biometric Lock; a battery-powered quick-release bike lock that opens with fingerprint recognition.

Supposedly the Grasp will change your life. It is billed as the "first bike lock that actually improves your cycling experience."
I hope this dude's wheel's aren't important to him. But then
securing the wheels means more time, effort, and extra cables,
chains, or locks. "Why does security need to be so unpleasant?"
(photo from grasplock)

Try to say that with a straight face. Go on. Try.

"Every cyclist knows the pain of locking up and unlocking their bike," says the company's Kickstarter ad. "Why does security need to be so unpleasant?"

Why? Because having your bike, or wheels, or components stolen sucks a lot worse than taking the time to secure them properly -- and if your bike is truly important to you, then you know that no cell phone technology shortcuts can take the place of that extra time it takes to do it right. That's the retro-grouchy answer.

For some reason, the tech-happy makers of all these "smart" locking products are convinced that every bike user wants to become their own private bike-share system. Grasp is no exception. "Sharing your bike has never been easier. Give access to family and friends using the Grasp App." One can add up to 20 additional fingerprints to the lock. Is it because I'm such a self-proclaimed grouch that I can't even conceive of having 20 friends I'd want to be sharing my bike with?

OK - some questions. What if the fingerprint recognition isn't working? "Unlikely" says the manufacturer, but apparently if that happens, one can unlock using the Bluetooth connection and the phone app.

What if the batteries go dead while the bike is locked up? Grasp stays locked tight, even if the AAA batteries are removed, claims the company. They also say the batteries should last over a year. If one needs to, they can replace the batteries while the bike is locked, at which point it should return to normal operation. How the lock stores all those fingerprints in its own memory if the batteries go dead is a mystery to me - but I don't really care enough to find out the answer. But is the trouble of dead batteries really better than just having a key?

Planned retail price on the Grasp fingerprint-recognition lock is posted at $159.

Considering that I don't believe this can really save much time or trouble compared to a normal high-quality U-lock, I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a reason to spend an extra $100 over the price of a good Kryptonite and some chains or cables. But then again, I don't have 20 friends clamoring to share my bike.

And I'm fine with that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bike Commuting Highs and Lows

Almost two years ago, I posted about a recurring incident that would happen on my morning ride to work (Share the Road?). There was this woman who would come up behind me in her car and blast her horn at me, startling me completely, then she'd pass me in the wide-open left lane, laying on her horn the whole way past. There was no reason whatsoever for her actions -- there was no traffic. She'd have the whole road to pass without having to wait or slow down at all. It was obvious that her horn was her way of telling me that, as far as she was concerned, I have no right to be there.

For two years I've been trying to catch this lady. I could never get her license plate. I could never notice her coming until it was too late. The traffic lights were never in my favor that I could catch her. But last week, it finally happened. Last week, as I was riding along, she came up behind me as usual, honking her horn -- but this time she did it when she was less than a half-mile from where she works. I could see clearly where she pulled into the parking lot.

Oh My God, I've Got Her! I said out loud to nobody who could hear me.

My heart pumping and my legs racing, I pulled into the same parking lot. My eyes were scanning for her car. I saw her on the other end of the lot, heading for a parking spot, and I cut across the lot so that I pulled up to her just as she was pulling to a stop.

It's hard to sound calm and relaxed when you're half out of breath and your blood is pumping not just from exertion but anger. As she sat in her car with the windows closed, I yelled at her, "Lady - you've got no business honking at me! I have the same right to the road you do. If you want to go by me, then just go around!" I think I might also have told her where she could shove her horn.

She rolled down her window. "Can I speak now?" she asked.

She then went on to say "I should not have to slow down to a crawl to get by you. You don't have the right to slow down traffic."

Complete B.S.

I went on to point out that I was on the far right side of the road, and that she had the full left lane and most of the right lane to use for passing - That there was no traffic - That she didn't have to slow down even a second to get by me - as evidenced by the fact that she used the left lane to pass me even as she was blowing her horn. On the other hand, I did not point out that my bike was probably worth more than her piece-of-crap car, even though that's probably also true.

She stuck to her excuse that she shouldn't have to slow down for a bicyclist. I told her she has to slow down for other traffic all the time -- cars slowing down to turn, school buses stopping to pick-up/drop-off kids, etc. etc. I told her she probably didn't sit behind those school buses blowing her horn.

She said she only honked at me two times. I told her that it was "only" two times this month (absolutely true), but I'd been watching for her for the past two years. I told her I considered her actions to be harassment and intimidation, then I took a picture of her license plate and told her I'd be reporting her to the police - then went back on my way to work feeling totally pumped.

Yes, I called the police later that day. Just as I'd suspected, they told me that there's nothing they can do unless an officer witnesses it. Yeah -- that'll happen. Granted, I knew they weren't going to write her a ticket or anything based on my say-so, but I hoped they might at least send her a letter to notify that a complaint had been registered against her. No dice.

Doesn't matter though. I have a feeling that just being confronted, and knowing that I now know where she works, I think she's re-thinking her actions. I've actually seen her twice since then, and she hasn't made a sound. Yesterday, she was stopped next to me at a light (why didn't that ever happen before?!) and I swear I thought she was going to blow off the light just so she could get away from me. She didn't do that, but did take off in a hurry when the light turned green, though.

On A Different Note:

Also yesterday on that morning commute, I had a very different encounter.

As I stopped for another traffic light, a car pulled next to me, and the window buzzed down. I braced myself for another dose of verbal abuse.

"Excuse me," said a little grand-motherly lady, "are you riding your bike to work?"

I told her I was.

"Well God bless 'ya," she said, "is it very far?"

About 13 miles, I said.

"Well God bless 'ya," she repeated. Then the light changed and she waved as she drove off.

Damn. Why can't they all be like that?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Huffy Goes Plus Size

As I posted last month, some people are calling "Plus-Size" the latest and greatest thing to hit mountain bikes. But in a sign that either confirms that to be true, or possibly heralds that the trend has already peaked and will start trailing off soon, one can now buy plus size mountain bikes at WalMart and other big-box retailers. Yep - Huffy now makes plus size. Huffy 3.0.

The Torch 3.0 is the basic model 29+, selling for $199.99
Huffy seems to have totally embraced plus-size bikes, too, in offering 4 different models in 3 wheel sizes - 26-in., 27.5, and two 29-in. models. I suppose that offering the bikes in 3 different wheel sizes is supposed to make up for the fact that they apparently don't offer different frames sizes. Instead, they seem to be "one size fits most" and the concept of proper bike fit must not be a priority.

The 26+ model, the Tyrant, is $179.99, and the 27.5+ Vantage is $189.99. Two versions of the 29+ sell for $199.99, with a disc-brake-equipped "top-of-the-line" model selling for $249.

Just like department-store fatbikes, it's practically a given that most of the Huffy 3.0 bikes that get sold will be ridden primarily on pavement, where their mid-fat tires will be more or less unnecessary. Still, that doesn't stop them from proclaiming the benefits of  "better traction," "more momentum" and "less exertion."

The 29+ Warhawk is the "top-of the line" at $249.00. Disc brakes and a slightly "hydroformed" frame seem to be the main "upgrades" over the lesser model. All the models appear to have the same, spindly, crappy-looking "suspension" fork.
To announce the new "3.0" line, Huffy put out a new commercial with the very strange tagline "Be the Motor."

In the video we find this guy. . .

. . . on this bike . . .

. . . zipping around this "rugged" terrain . . .

. . . in some kind of post-industrial wasteland:

Most of what the guy rides on could easily be handled with a decent road bike with some tire clearance -- like on this path that under most definitions would be described as "paved":

Good thing he's got those fat 3-in. tires.
But he does encounter a stray rock:

Any rider who wasn't filming a commercial for a "rugged" new mountain bike would just go around it.
Oh -- and there's a gratuitously-placed small pile of loose dirt:

Some unexplained elements include this small man-made "brush fire". . .

. . . And the weird motorcycle engine sound effects throughout the video:

"Vroom - Vroom" -- How old is this guy supposed to be? Six?
Yeah - that "explains" the sound effects -- but the concept still doesn't make a lot of sense.
Does the arrival of department store plus-size bikes mean that the new trend has fully caught on? Or is it about to jump the shark?

You can watch the Huffy 3.0 commercial right here:


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Photo Essay on Richard Sachs

It's probably no secret that American framebuilding master Richard Sachs no longer takes orders for new bicycle frames. The wait list is already long enough that the man has all the work he needs for well into the foreseeable future. And the price for one of his superb frames is enough to make it an enviable commodity -- though still priced less than many of the popped-out-of-a-mold carbon fiber w├╝nderbikes that get so much attention today.

Photo used with permission by Nick Czerula.
Click on the photo for a link to the full collection.
I recently saw a very cool photo essay of Sachs at work in his Connecticut workshop by New Hampshire photographer, Nick Czerula. Czerula spent more than a year with Sachs, as a "fly on the wall," or following him along cyclocross race courses - capturing the man at work and at rest, at play and at competition. The photos were originally released as a book, Richard Sachs - Bicycle Maker, in 2012, though that book is currently out of print and hard to find (someone's currently offering a used copy for sale on Amazon for $2,904 plus shipping. Holy cow).

The book has been released for a limited time in a free online version through Adobe Slate - which makes for an interesting, dynamic viewing experience.

Czerula's collection contains very few words - only a minimum of captions or comments. Instead, he lets his crisp black and white photography tell the story of one of the most iconic of American framebuilders. One can scroll through the photos, and follow the process of building a frame - starting with lug preparation, and tube mitering, and up through brazing it all together. Something that is very striking, and is mentioned as one of the few captions, is that apart from a drill and a belt sander, Sachs uses virtually no power tools in his shop. Hand saws and files carry out the majority of his work. But there are also plenty of "stolen moment" shots of the man very much at ease with himself. Some shots capture the quirks and his humor, while other shots show him as a tough competitor on the cyclocross course.

The Richard Sachs - Bicycle Maker collection will be available free for a "limited time" on the Adobe Slate site, though I don't know how long that "limited time" is, so I recommend checking it out sooner rather than later.

And to see more of Czerula's work (a lot of which is bicycle-related), check out his websitefacebook, instagram, or twitter.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Latest Solution to Creaking Press-Fit Bottom Brackets Is . . .


No kidding. The bike industry is all abuzz with the release of another new bottom bracket standard -- one that may actually solve the issues of sloppy-fitting, creaking press-fit bottom brackets for good. And it comes in the form of a threaded bottom bracket.

Eureka! Why didn't anyone ever think of this before?!

Oh yeah -- I did, though I couldn't possibly have been the only one. I even came up with a catchy trademark-able name for mine: ThreadTech.

The new standard, created jointly by Chris King and Argonaut Cycles, is called T47 (that name represents "threaded - 47mm") although Chris King is calling their product "Thread Fit 30i." It utilizes a bottom bracket shell that is the same basic dimension as a PF30, except that the shell's interface is threaded. Interesting note -- if an existing PF30 shell is made of steel or aluminum, it could theoretically be threaded to accept the new T47 standard. Different cups could easily be machined to fit the T47 shell to accommodate different BB spindle sizes, such as 24mm or 30mm. Thicker or thinner cups could also allow for different spindle lengths, adding to the compatibility with most of today's crank and bottom bracket systems.

According to Ben Farver of Argonaut, the PF30 system is a popular one that offers good crank compatibility, but tolerance variations between different manufacturers lead to the well-publicized problems that the press-fit systems encounter. Probably inspired by some of the threaded retro-fit systems that have been coming out lately as solutions to press-fit creaking, Farver could see the benefits of a threaded system, like the traditional British-threaded BB (or BSA). But from the standpoint of modern bicycle manufacturers, the smaller diameter of that system has its own drawbacks. "The traditional threaded BSA is great from a durability standpoint, but it limits a customer's crank options," said Farver in a promotional video. "As a frame manufacturer, I don't want to have to talk someone into buying one of my bikes while at the same time talking them out of a crank they might want to use."

Basically, the idea of the T47 is that it combines the reliable interface of traditional threaded bottom brackets with the larger diameter proportions that have become so much more popular in the industry today. Farver said, "I called Jay Sycip, who runs the Cielo arm of Chris King, and we discussed the true consumer benefit of creating a threaded spec that leverages the larger bearing used in the PF30. We agreed that it would yield a much higher interface success rate, and more importantly, a better ride. So this project is an attempt to solve a problem the entire bike industry is suffering from, and lead the way to a better, lasting standard."

It's nice to point out that the T47 is an "open standard" - which means that anyone can use it freely. That speaks well to the possibility that it could be adopted widely around the industry, and restore some meaning to that currently meaningless word "standard."

One could almost get optimistic with a turn of events like this. Then again, it's always possible someone else will come out with a competing standard and consumers will have to sort out which one will last and which will turn out to be another Betamax. This is the bicycle industry we're talking about here, after all.

Nevertheless, I'm going to put my hopes in the "optimistic" side for a change, even if it means that I would eventually run out of things to grouch about.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Resurgence of Steel Frame Bikes?

Ever check out Gear Patrol? I usually don't, as it is a website/online magazine that's mostly aimed at an economic demographic that pretty much eats people like me for lunch.

But the other day, it was called to my attention that I should check out the site. And there, amid articles about hyper-expensive exotic cars and motorcycles, expedition watches, and brandy -- all priced for the top 1% -- I saw this article about steel bicycles:

The bicycle pictured at the top of the article was built by Chris Bishop, who is one of a new generation of very talented framebuilders working today. Though the bike shown has some very non-retrogrouchy features (electronic shifting, disc brakes, and a straight fork), it's an awfully nice bike -- and it's lovingly built in steel.

The GP article quotes Bradley Woehl, the owner of American Cyclery in San Francisco, as well as former racer Andy Hampsten, who now heads Hampsten Cycles, which offers most of their models in steel (though generally designed and built for non-retrogrouches). The article talks about how steel was displaced, briefly, by aluminum in the '90s, then carbon fiber started taking over by the end of that decade. OK - nothing most of us don't already know. What's cool is to see an article about latest and greatest trends saying something like this:

"But where these newer materials excel at traits necessary for speed in racing like lightness and stiffness, they have major shortcomings in characteristics important for everyday riders, like comfort, toughness, and cost-effectiveness."

American Cyclery's Woehl adds, "When aluminum came along, it was lighter and stiffer than steel, which, if you're a good hill climber, you need that out of your bike. If you're just riding to work, the coffee shop, or even a bike tour down the coast, not so much."

The article describes a perceived shift in priorities that may be leading to renewed interest in steel as a building material. "Utilitarian bikes for everyday riding and bike touring; high-end custom frames from big-name bike builders; and even classic bike races that mix romanticism with reality. This shift of the gears has been a good one for cycling. Bike commuting has increased by 46 percent in America since 2005, and as that boom continues today, steel's influence on cycling's identity is rising."

Some other excerpts that might resonate with Retrogrouch readers:

"The steel bike rides better, it lasts longer, it ages more gracefully, and it's a more practical thing," Woehl says. . . "They're heavier than aluminum and carbon fiber" but "the extra weight of steel versus aluminum or carbon fiber isn't a deal breaker for most amateur riders who, unlike pro racers, don't need to shed every possible ounce of weight in order to keep up with the peloton. And unlike carbon fiber bikes, steel frames are being custom made around the country without reaching astronomical price tags."

That last part can be true, though it's also just as true that one can easily spend just as much on a custom-built steel frame as they would on a carbon fiber one. Though some of us would argue that they'd be getting much more bike for their money.

There are some elements in the article that I believe are a bit over-simplified. For one, there was this quote: "An aluminum bike has a really harsh ride quality -- it's stiff and unforgiving. Every little pebble you run over in an aluminum bike, you feel that bump."  Such a statement can often be supported by looking at most of the aluminum bikes that have been on the market over the years - built with over-sized tubing to compensate (usually over-compensate) for that material's lack of stiffness as compared to steel. But the harsh ride quality is more a product of design and construction than it is of the material itself. I've ridden some old Vitus aluminum frames with their 1-in. to 1 1/8-in. diameter tubes and found them to be quite comfy. Granted, I still greatly prefer steel as a frame material, but it's important to understand the differences.

The sidebar titled "What to Look For," is similarly simplified. I guess the gear-heads who worship the latest equipment are only expected to be able to afford it, not fully understand it.

"Steel is versatile, strong and relatively affordable -- but its popularity has also spawned shoddy versions not worth their cost. . . Start by checking the grade of the steel . . . Chromoly is a safe bet, as is higher-grade steel like Reynolds 853. . . Classic steel frames and higher-end models often use lugged construction or fillet brazing, both of which are beautiful but expensive. The more modern construction uses stronger TIG weld, which works just fine."

Reynolds 853 is a "safe bet"? That's pretty high-end stuff -- and not likely found on junk frames. And regular readers of this blog know how much I love lugged construction, but there are some relatively inexpensive lugged frames built in automated factories these days. It's true, I don't know of many (or any) inexpensive fillet-brazed frames. What about TIG welding? Is it really stronger? All three construction methods, if done right, will result in frame joints that are stronger than the steel tubing itself, so a statement like that could really use some clarification. TIG welding is a lot more common these days, too -- but it isn't necessarily any less expensive. Most low-cost mass-produced steel frames are TIG welded today, but a lot of super expensive high-end and custom-built frames are welded, too.

With so much hype about the latest carbon fiber w┼▒nderbikes, and pushing the envelope in search of the lightest and fastest bike possible, it's almost a shock to see an article like this one extolling the virtues of a steel bike as though it might be the latest thing. But no doubt, if a person is looking for a bike to be a long-time riding companion, and want a bike that is more versatile - capable of more than just go-fast racer-wannabe riding - then chances are, that person is going to get the most bike for the money in steel. It's just surprising to see others coming around to that.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Classic Components: 2 Bolt Seat Posts

People don't often give a lot of thought to the basic seat post. Until they have one that doesn't stay put, that is. Or maybe the problem is that it's impossible to get the position "just right."

The Nuovo Record seat post is the perfect mount for
a Brooks leather saddle.
When it comes to seatposts, my favorites have long been the 2-bolt designs -- exemplified by the classic Campagnolo Nuovo Record, made from the 1960s through the mid-'80s. Campy also made a Gran Sport seatpost of the same basic design in the 1970s that looked almost identical (actually, they were so similar that I don't think I could reliably tell the difference between them). Particularly rare is the original version of the Record seat post from the 1950s -- which looked pretty similar to the later ones, but was made of steel, not aluminum.

The great thing about the 2-bolt design is that it allows infinitely small adjustments for saddle angle, while holding the saddle firmly in place, requiring less tension per bolt. Once adjusted, they do not move. Another benefit to the 2-bolt design is that one can make tiny adjustments to the saddle angle or the fore-aft position independently. That is, one can easily alter the tilt of the saddle without moving it forward or backward on the rails. Or move the saddle forward on the rails without affecting the angle. That isn't easily done with a single bolt post.

The big complaint people would have with the NR seat post was that it was a pain to set up. Its two bolts for tightening and adjusting were only accessible from above the cradle -- under the top of the saddle, which meant trying to get a wrench into the awkward and tiny spaces between the saddle rails and the side skirts. OK, in retrospect, it could have been thought out a little better. Maybe a lot better.

Campagnolo did make a special offset wrench for the task:

The classic Campy seat post wrench -- angled to get up under the saddle to reach the bolts. As an added bonus, the open-end was just the right size for adjusting the tension bolt on Brooks saddles.

Park Tool used to make their own version of the Campy seat post wrench that was a little easier to use -- especially with plastic saddles. Instead of gripping the bolt heads on their six sides, it gripped the bolts at the corners, which gave the user a lot more "angles" to work with, which was helpful when trying to work in the tiny space under a saddle. It worked great as long as the bolts didn't get rounded. I have one, but they're long out of production and very hard to find today.
Racing leather saddles - like the Brooks Swift (shown)
or the Swallow make adjustment a bit easier. Wide touring
models aren't bad, either.
Another thing about the Campy 2-bolt seat posts is that, in my experience, they are easier to set up with leather saddles -- especially those racing models with more cut-away sides. The side skirts on all-leather saddles tend to be a little more flexible than plastic, so its easier to get up under them with the wrench. I've found that plastic saddles, like the old Cinelli Unicanitor, or an '80s-vintage saddle like a Selle Italia Turbo, are tougher to adjust. The side skirts just don't have as much "give" to allow the wrench some room to work. For those, I think the Park Tool wrench shown above is a big help.

Campagnolo's first single-bolt seat post, the Super Record, also had to be adjusted from the top, so the bolt was nearly as difficult to access -- and it had the distinction of requiring arm-breaking tension to get the saddle to stay put. Even then, it might still end up slipping. At least that was my experience with them. I'd get the saddle position and angle where I'd want it, and torque the hell out of the bolt. Out on the road, by the end of a ride, the saddle would be pointing at the sky. For that reason, I've got a couple of bikes with full Super Record components throughout, with the exception of the Nuovo Record seat post. Yes, it takes longer to set up. But once it's set, you can forget about it.

In the '70s and '80s, there were some direct copies available.
This Sakae Ringyo, or SR, seat post from Japan is a very faithful copy of the Campy design. Not that I've tried, but I wouldn't be surprised if the parts were directly interchangeable. Sugino made one too, that I believe was very popular with the Japanese Keirin racing circuit. Vintage ones, sometimes NOS, can be found regularly on eBay. 
Today, if there is a "spiritual descendent" of the Campy 2-bolt seat post, I'd have to say it is this one, made by Nitto:

Nitto calls this model the Jaguar, but Rivendell fans probably know it as "the Frog" because the clamping parts, when viewed from the side (without a saddle mounted) kind of look like a smiling frog. So that's what they always called it in their catalogs. Whatever name people prefer to call it, the Nitto has similar dimensions and set-back as the old Nuovo Record, and it is sumptuously finished. But the real benefit of the Nitto design is that it adjusts with an allen wrench from below the cradle. What a concept. Superior clamping, nearly infinite adjustability for angle, and easy setup. There's also another model from Nitto called the S-83 which is very similar in design and I believe slightly less expensive.
On one of my bikes, I decided to give this post a try, from Velo-Orange:

The VO Grand Cru seat post has a good amount of set-back, is nicely finished, and adjusts easily from below the cradle. There is a newer version that has slightly more setback, though personally I prefer the look of this original version. At $55, the VO is a nice value. (photo from VO
I don't suppose there's anything wrong with a well-designed, well-made single-bolt seat post. But when a simple component works as well as the ones shown here, it's hard for me not to be drawn to them.

No retro-grouching today. Just a little look at stuff I like.