Monday, December 12, 2016

Rickert Spezial

Another Brand New Old bike!
 Earlier this year, a friend(we'll call him John since he didn't tell me not to) I know through the blog "Lovely Bicycle"  offered to pass a frame to me that he wasn't riding anymore. That would have been a pretty cool gesture in any case, but it turned out to be even more special when I learned a little more about the bike that was coming my way.

I knew it was over 50 years old, handmade from Reynolds 531, still in good strong condition but getting a bit scruffy from surface rust and sporting a couple of dents in the top-tube from handlebar strikes. It was also a bit smaller than my ideal size, a 58 instead of the 60cm bikes I'm more comfortable on now. It was built by  some German guy I'd never heard of, Hugo Rickert, so I wouldn't have been expecting that much except John  was offering it to me because he thought I might be able to appreciate how special it was, treat it respectfully, and actually RIDE it. So it obviously wasn't like some used Specialized or other old scrub. John's part of the generation of  industry veterans and serious cyclists who were doing deeds of honor and glory on road and track about the time I was a kid getting pulled into bikes and bikery. He's also a direct connection to even earlier generations of Racers, Builders, and Bad-Asses going WAY back to the days of Professional 6 Day Races from the 20s and 30s when the best Racers were earning more than a first-rate Professional Shortstop, up through the years after the War when the Immortals were creating a legacy to inspire us forever on the roads of Europe, and so on into the 50s and 60s. If someone like that tells you they have a bike they want you to take care of for them, you accept it and expect good things whether it says Cinelli on the downtube or not.
Rickert eh? Pleased to meet you...

Ouch. That's a nasty bar-strike right there.
Silver medal, Rome, 1960.

 Feeling connected to Cycling's earlier times is important to me. So it's cool to get to know someone who raced with the guys, who raced with the guys who Slayed the Dragons, and when one of them hands me a sword picked up from the Battlefield it feels like an important thing. A thing that if treated with respect and ridden hard enough to glimpse what it's capable of, can in a small way, give me a part in a story that matters to me. It doesn't even have to be anything particularly valuable or fantastic on it's own, as long as it provides that connection and a bit of a glimpse into that earlier time. But as it turns out, it's a really special bike from a really special builder who's story and legacy is as worthy and honorable as Colnago or Masi, and possibly easier to relate to on a human level.

Let me see if I can explain...

It's a little difficult to really dig into all the information about Hugo Rickert on the web unless you read German, which I don't. But there's a number of  English sites that refer to him, his bikes and the surprising number of Riders who rode his Machines to win everything from Club Races to Olympic Medals,  and Big-Time Championships(National and World, Amateur and Professional). His ratio of bikes built/Glorious Victories has to be as good as anyone's.

 He lived and worked in Dortmund, an Industrial Center in western Germany that has a history of Mining and Steelmaking stretching back to before the Industrial Revolution. The more I learn about Dortmund the more it seems like Pittsburgh. Older of course but it seems likely to me that the Men and Women there would have some of the same characteristics of being tough, smart and hard to hold back, as those in "Steel City USA. It's fitting as well that great steel bikes would come from a town where people had steel and steelmaking in their blood. Some good steel bikes still come out of Pittsburgh too you know. Plus they used to brew a tremendous amount of beer in Dortmund, so I suspect someone from Pittsburgh might find it a comfortable spot and a Dortmunder(is that the term?) might not die of Home-sickness right away if they had to spend a season in "Piksburgh". 

 Anyway, Hugo was born in 1928 and while in his teens worked as a Mechanic for Brose, a local bicycle manufacturer. Perhaps inevitably, he got involved with a local club, RV Sturmvogel 25, which in spite of sounding like the name of an 80s Tecno Band, was the sort of Racing Club where young riders got thrown into the scene and immersed in the Sport in a serious way. In 1951 at the age of 23 he opened his shop and by about 1956 was building a reputation for producing first-rate bikes. It seems that he was a pretty prolific for a small shop, mostly under his own name but also producing frames for others that didn't carry the Rickert name but were none the less built to the same standards. He particularly specialized in Track bikes but turned out Top-Drawer Road Bikes as well. He was part of the German National Team organization in the 60s and 70s(and perhaps beyond), building team bikes and acting as some sort of Technical Advisor and Mechanic. He was a thinker and innovator as well, you may remember the Campagnolo High-Low rear hubs from that period. It was his idea to use a large flange on the drive side with a small flange on the other in an attempt to equalize spoke tension and prevent spoke failure, and it was him who badgered Campy into making the first run of those hubs and he that stepped up and bought the minimum of 500 sets that Tullio required to make it worth his while. It wasn't the solution to the problem but it produced an Iconic bit of kit that evokes strong memories in anyone who was part of 70s and 80s Racing Culture.  He worked hard and did what it took to be involved at the very top. He kept at it too, building bikes for over 50 years with the help of his wife Doris(she was the one who did the striping including the Rickert signature double lines on the seat-stay ends), finally putting down the files and turning off the Oxy/Acetylene in 2002 after suffering a stroke. As someone who makes things and takes pride and satisfaction from doing it well, I think it had to have been tough to close up and turn out the shop lights the last time. Hugo Rickert died in 2011. His bikes are actively sought after all over Europe and farther afield, by collectors and riders wanting quality traditional bikes. Any Rickert with a "For Sale" sign on it changes hands pretty quickly in Germany from what I gather.

"My" Rickert (which by the way will eventually get handed off to someone else to preserve in some sort of dignified state and RIDE for as long as the old thing can safely make it's way in the world. Applications accepted in a decade or so) spent at least part of it's life in Poland before coming to my friend John via E-bay. It was built around 1963, it's hard to be sure, but since the decals on the top-tube listing Olympic Medals and World Championships don't include any of the victories after 1962, and the construction details are so very typical of an early 60s Race Bike, it seems safe to assume 63'.

  It's a nice Dark Blue with some pretty badly deteriorated chrome and nicks and scuffs EVERYWHERE. It's got the normal braze-ons from the time; Derailleur cable stop on the chain-stay, front and rear derailleur cable guides at the bottom bracket, including a nifty roller for the rear derailleur cable. Brake cable stops on the top-tube with a slightly crude but perfectly designed cable stop on the seat-stays to accommodate center-pull brakes, pump-pegs under the top-tube, fender mounts on the drop-outs and fork-ends and a little hand filed stop for a clamp-on shifter brazed on the top of the down-tube(right where you can see it in all it's ever-so-slightly lop-sided glory, no hiding it on the bottom of the tube for old Hugo). As was normal for the time there are no water bottle braze-ons. In 1963 you would have still seen lots of racers rocking their bottle on the handlebars and I think it's one of the little details that help put bikes from that period in context. I think it's sort of charming in it's way, like baggy wool Baseball uniforms or Bowling-Ball football helmets. A nice Handlebar Mounted Waterbottle Cage is pretty rare these days and can cost more than I can get from raiding my Daughters pocketbooks so I made one using materials and techniques that were common then. It took me a couple hours but it's not beat to death and didn't cost $150 , plus it's fun to make crap like that so it makes me happy to see it there.
Clever little screw dontcha think?

I built it up with good quality period parts, nothing very blingy but about what a serious guy on a budget would have done way back then. I did make or modify some stuff. A little screw on the front brake cable hanger that braces it to the headset to eliminate the flex typical in that area, some loops brazed on the back of the nuts that hold the caliper arms to the mounting yoke on the front brake so I could wire them to the fork and eliminate the flex that can keep centerpull brakes from being as firm as possible. It also goes a long way towards eliminating the squeal people sometimes associate(unfairly) with vintage brakes. I really like centerpulls and have a big bag of tricks to make them Spectastical. Eliminate the flex and use the best pads you can find(I like Kool Stop Salmon) and they are absolutely the equal of any modern dual pivot, since mechanically that's what they really are, along with being more adjustable and dang near FREE.

A bit of low-grade engineering...
 I also needed to do a bit of reconstructive surgery on the damaged ears on the seatlug. That's not unusual for a bike with pressed lugs that's had to work hard for a living. After years of use the tabs get deformed a bit and are no longer parallel, bending the binder bolt which further distorts the ears. I like to straiten things as much as I can without applying any heat,then make some little wedges that provide nice parallel surfaces for the bolt. After getting that accomplished I splurged and bought a beautiful New-Old-Stock Cinelli binder bolt from Boulder Bicycle so the old War Horse would know I cared.I also drilled and polished the heck out of the brake levers so it could hold it's headbadge up in polite company.

One of the great things about bikes from that era is the tire clearance. I want to be able to ride this bike on all the dirt and gravel roads here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and since I grew up with, and dig tubular tires, I appreciate clearances that allow me to use 33mm Tubular CycloCross Race Tires and still have room for fenders. I don't think I'm going to ever use this bike in the wet so don't think I'll put fenders on it, but bikes from that period typically have enough room to do about anything you want. In fact, before bike racers got snooty and decided they needed a hat for every day of the week, lot's of hard-core 'cross riders would have just used their Roadbike for 'cross after a bit of part and tire swapping. There's some nice buff singletrack trails around here that that old Rickert is going to see as well so those big Fatties will be just perfect.

I just got this bike all put together and haven't put any real miles on it yet, just some spinning around in the driveway and some laps around the kitchen. It's been too cold and windy this weekend for light-hearted goofing off but maybe next weekend will be better. The rear tire ought to cure a bit more anyway. But the little bit of rolling around we've done together shows it to be eager, and ready to get on with it.

It's not without it's quirks though. There's one thing in particular that makes me scratch my head and wonder what sort of guy Hugo really was. There's a 1/4" ball bearing rolling around in the top-tube. There's only one opening in that tube, a neat little milled slot in the seatlug assembly that serves as the vent. It's decidedly too small for that bearing to pass through and its in perfect shape so nothings ever been forced through it either.  It seems obvious to me that it's been there from the day Hugo brazed it together. You can take a magnet and drag that bearing over to the slot and get a good look at it anytime you feel like taking the seatpost out and having a peek. It seems like just the sort of accident or co-incidence that would happen in a busy shop where bike parts get jumbled up doesn't it? At first I just thought "Why shouldn't a Bottom Bracket bearing end up in a tube sometime?" but really wasn't quite ready to leave it at that.

One day I was poking around some internet bike sites and searched "Ball Bearing In Top-Tube" and some other variations of that theme, and SHAZAM! Up pops a Bike Forums  post Titled something like "Mysterious Pebble Rattling Around in My Frame" with a bunch of comments, including one from a person who writes about a Rickert he had with something rolling around in the top-tube.His comment ended with him saying "I always thought of it as Hugo Rickert talking to me" or something like that. So now I knew about 2 of his bikes with the rattle and became sort of "interested" in an even more compulsive and irrational way. I also started getting a bit more determined. In time I was introduced(via Bob Freeman and the internet) to a German Collector who brought one of his Rickerts to Eroica-California this fall. I asked him if he had ever heard of any Rickerts with a "something" in the frame and he responded that in his collection of 30(!?) examples there were at least 3 or 4! One of which is a Best Grade Track Iron. The sort of bike Hugo built his reputation on and the last thing you would expect something accidental to happen with. I hope I didn't make him think I was accusing Hugo Rickert of sloppy work or being mean or difficult because that's not what I think at all. I'm just not quite convinced it's an accident that these bikes sometimes have a something(always one thing, never two) rolling around in the top-tube(but never any other tube), the one tube where it would roll around, lazily tumbling along, repeating some message over and over again. I keep wondering if that's possible and if so what that message might be.

When I asked a couple of more or less Elder Statesman type Framebuilders if they had ever heard of anyone doing something like that as a prank, they all responded that they couldn't imagine anyone doing something like that AT ALL. Except one. He just chuckled and said that the evidence would seem to indicate that someone had done just that, then related that he'd heard a couple of things rolling around in one or two nice handmade frames over the years that rolled too smoothly to be a bit of flux or a blob of brass. His next comment was "Wouldn't that be the sort of thing a mischievous builder might do to a customer that complained too much about about the price or kept nagging to have their bike moved up the production schedule?" Then he winked and said he wouldn't have ever been tempted to do such a thing in a tone that was anything but reassuring. Now I can't see my neat old Handbuilt German Racer without thinking about whether Hugo Rickert was sort of a merry guy who along with being a Top-Notch Craftsman might have had the sort of confidence and sense of humor that would let him play a little practical joke if he thought it was warranted.

 I don't know. If it's so, it doesn't make me thing less of Hugo Rickert or the fine bike he built that I get to ride now. On the contrary, it makes me appreciate them both in a deeper more complicated way.

Thank you Hugo, and thank you John. You can both be sure I'm going to take good care of your old bike and try to ride the tires off it.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Spindizzy hits the Big Time.

So even though I've been neglecting this blog all year, I keep being surprised when I occasionally check it and find that one or two people(or maybe bots) seem to click on it almost everyday. It's sort of astounding and always makes me feel guilty about not posting more. And then today I checked it and discovered I actually have A FOLLOWER.

A person actually clicked "Follow". Wowee wow wow as they say! I'm breathing down "Bikesnobs" neck here.

 Suddenly one of my excuses not to be putting some effort into this endeavor is no longer valid. That reason being "It's not like anyone's following the wretched thing", which is like, number 7 on my list of 10 reasons why it's OK when I'm too bone-idle to get off my bee-hind and go like, write something.

 Some of the other reasons;
A) "The smoke from my lap-top (it's coal fired) makes my eyes burn"(still valid)
2) "I have other, more important things I need to be doing". Sure. (not valid)
3) "I can't think of anything to write"(ever-so not valid, I have A MILLION things I can write about. They're mostly sort of daft but I really don't think anyone cares as long as I don't take it too seriously and can make it funny),
11) "It's been a tough year".(sort of valid, it has been a tough year) My run for the Republican Presidential Nomination never really got any traction(somehow my proposal to build a Pump-Track along the U.S.-Mexico border and make Specialized pay for it didn't capture the prolet, er, electorates imagination like I thought it would). I took on WAY too many illustration jobs and spent a big part of the last few months banging up against deadlines and having to assure a couple of authors and editors that "I really am confident I can deliver this entire project on time. Yes, I understand the deadline is next month. NEXT MONTH?! ARE YOU KIDDING?!". I managed to make all those deadlines but it was really a grind all through Summer and Fall.  Add to that a busier than ever year at my real job, some difficult things to work out at home and all the other stuff that presents itself as urgent and clogs up our lives and I could have just blown off the whole thing as too much trouble.

But really, all those reasons are just dumb when I think about how much I enjoyed writing some of those posts and how many other ideas, stories, and projects I have to write about that will be just as fun and satisfying to sort into some kind of shape and share with MY FOLLOWER and all the Bots.

So let's see if I can do better starting now. Here's a few of the things I've already been working on(more or less) that you can look forward to(my loyal FOLLOWER);

 "The Worlds Most Annoying Bicycle", I take this old Schwinn Beach Cruiser I have and bolt on every noise making device I can get my hands on and see if I can generate enough racket to make it rain. I already have a sackful of bells(manual and wheel-driven), a Si-reen, several variations on the playing card in the spokes trick including a cheap plastic mechanically AMPLIFIED variant called "Bike Pipe" that is almost unbearable just by itself, and some other things we used to do when I was a kid with water-balloons and aluminum cans that make more noise than any Mother could stand. I suspect it's going to be just about impossible to pedal on level ground but I have a really steep driveway so we'll see if I can coast it down once with everything engaged (or as the Vintage Airplane Guys call that configuration; "ALL LEVERS TO LOUD!"). I might just push it into the ditch at the bottom since that bike weighed 5 stone BEFORE I started attaching stuff to it (and it's got a bent fork) so I'm not assuming it's going to seem worth the trouble to push it back up to the house.  

An article about building and riding my Retro-Directe bicycle that I wrote hoping to get it published in "Bicycle Quarterly". They turned it down(not without reason, I do sort of mention "Bigfoot" a couple times which might have made it seem a little less Scholarly than their normal fare) but I think six or seven of you out there might find it interesting, especially if I can get some video of it going forwards while being pedaled backwards. Plus part of it was made with bits from a wrecked helicopter. I really am proud of that thing.

Some pictures of and "essays" about some of my personal bikes. I know, I know, every bike blogger eventually gets around to this in the charming but naive belief that our bikes are somehow "special" and that people care deeply about how we arranged the reflective tape on the fender we made from part of a Venetian blind we stole from work. Well tough. My Bikes ARE special and when I'm done you people are going to be clamoring, CLAMORING !, for bikes just like them.

So come back here in 2 weeks and I promise, PINKY PROMISE, to have something new.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Slow leak

Two guys on bikes, lycra, Strava, all that stuff.

'Dude, your back tire is like, going flat or whatever.'
'You sure? I heard it hissing but wasn't sure if it was really losing air.'
'It's really flat... Wanna stop and take a look?'
'Really flat? Like all the way?'
'I don't know, mostly...'

The wiggle and thump of a tire gone from "soft" to "short of breath" brings our riders to the shoulder. Helmets come off, sweaty faces, racoon eyed from years on the road, looking down at a hunnerd dollar tire, slack on a six hunnerd dollar wheel. Threatened with pedestrianism, one rider reaches into the pockets on the back of his jersey, while the other dismounts by throwing a leg up and over the front of his bike in the casual manner of the person who values casual manners in inconvenient circumstances. 'I never get flats' remarks the victim as he leans down and "drops a shot" of CO2 into the tire,'Slow leak I bet, probably been going down slow for 30 miles'. Helmets back on, they mount, clip in and roll off.

'It's hissing.'
'Yeah, but we can probably make it if we hammer. Just a slow leak, I never get a real flat.'
Thump. Thump thump.
'It's flat.'
'It's not hissing...'
'Probably flat.'
'Dammit! Really? Again?'

Helmets off. Two dismounts, one casual, one tentative. The pedestrian squats next to the wheel, pinching the tire between thumb and forefinger. After a pause the remaining rider asks:
'Ever so. I guess another shot of "O2" wouldn't help.'
'Probably just go flat again.'
'Might not if it's a slow leak...'
'Hit it again and lets roll, see if we can get home.'
'Can't, only had one. I never get flats so no point carrying a bunch of cartridges. I just call my wife when I run out.'
'Yeah, Sandy, she picks me up.'
'Wonder why it's leaking, probably got a hole somewhere.'
'Assuredly. I don't see anything. Do you?'
'Not from here. Take off the wheel and check inside the tire maybe.'

The wheel comes off, the tire comes off  and the tube is removed. The pedestrian speaks;
Casual dismounting cyclo-cross bike rider: 'Got a tube?'
'Just the one with the hole, you got one?'
'I do, want it?'
'If you think it will hold, I don't want another flat.'

Casually Graceful Cyclo-Cross Bike Dismounter produces a rolled up tube from his pocket and tosses it to the Pedestrian who looks at it in the manner of a person, who after asking for a cigarette, is handed a butt from the ashtray.
'What is that, like 33 millimeters? I ride like, 21s.'
'Yeah, a 33. Will it fit?'
'I guess it's got to, Sandy's at work so can't pick me up this time. I hate stuffing my bike in the back of her Civic anyway, she always freaks out about grease on the seats.'
'Sandy, that's your Wife?'
'Yeah, she comes gets me.'

The 33mm tube is stuffed into the 21mm tire and the tire is wrestled onto the rim.
'Thanks for the tube, I ought to carry one myself but no point carrying one and then never using it. You got like pump? Or a cartridge? I ought to get me pump, I'm always having to call Sandy.'
'Don't mention it. Long as you're ridin' with me you're golden, I've always got a couple cartridges and the spare tube. Ready for anything. Here.'
Pedestrian takes the inflator gratefully and is about to press it to the valve, when: 'Dude! Thumbtack...'
'Oh crap, thanks. Damn things near as wide as the tire, I wonder how I missed that.'
Thumbtack is removed and tossed onto the road.

'Look man, I really appreciate you hooking me up here and saving me hanging out for an hour waiting for  Sandy.'
'Sandy's your Wife?'
'Yeah, my Wife, she comes gets me. I hate to bug her though, I appreciate the hook-up...'
'No Problemo Amigo, you'd do the same for me.'
'Damn right. I have like the best Bro's to ride with, I don't know how many times they've come through for me like this. I keep thinking I should carry a spare tube and a couple cartridges so I can hook em' up in case somebody needs one, but then if you never use them, you're just haulin' all that around for no reason and you're right back where you started. Better to just travel light I guess.'
'Yeah, nobody wants to be that Dude sittin' by the road with a patchkit and a framepump putting another patch on a tube with a dozen already. If you cant get home on one tube and a cartridge you should prolly' just go to the Gym and do Cross-Fit.'
'Cross-Fit. Ell Oh Ell.'

'We rollin?'

The tack. The last cartridge. Casually hanging out in the heat of an August Saturday afternoon. Waiting for Sandy.

Just 2 Bro's who've got each others back.

Out for a ride. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Snowed in.

Did you get snowed in this weekend? I did. 
This was yesterday afternoon.  Kept up for another 10 hours. 

It only takes about 8 or 10 inches to make our driveway impassable so when the Weather Bureau started forecasting 24" or more for this weekend we started doing all the stuff we do when a big storm is coming. Find the snow shovels, fill the cars with gas, make sure the woodbox is full so there won't be any digging firewood out of a snow covered pile in my "pajamas", and a dozen other things you do when you live in the country. We could live for weeks just off of the leftovers in the fridge so we wouldn't really have to go to the grocery store at all but I always do anyway, not for bread and milk like the people who were cleaning out the store when I got there(Milk Sandwiches?), but for other stuff. The sort of stuff that makes being snowed in more fun. You know, Guacamole, Cherry Limeade, ingredients for 7 different kinds of cookies, some Ribs and Frito's, that sort of thing. My younger Daughter was worried about having enough Ramen. I was unaware till now that she'd developed something of a dependency on those little slabs of desiccated carbs. She's up to like 2 packs a day which would be more alarming if it wasn't the cheapest high in the world. 4 packs for a dollar.

It started Friday morning and was really getting going by the time I left work. When we got up yesterday morning we had 8" or so. My Wife feels compelled to start flinging snow whenever it gets deep enough to slide a shovel under, so we made a path down to the road where we'd parked the cars then went out a couple of times to keep it open as it filled back up or blew shut. The snow was still fluffy and light so it was nice to be out of the house with her working up an appetite for ribs and stuff. It didn't seem like a pointless drag even though by the time I took my Older Daughter to work at 3 for her shift at the Nursing Home it was pretty much like we'd never even tried.  By the time I went out at 7 to bring her home it was all a worn out Subaru could do to get back from town and you couldn't even see my tracks from an hour before. It kept it up all night and at about 2 am I woke up and looked out our bedroom window to see snow pouring down with the light of the full moon filtering through enough to bathe everything in this soft grey blue light. It made me sort of want to sneak out and go look around but I knew if I did the Dogs would wake up and think it was time to party/chase deer/bark at snow so I just went back to bed and watched it fall through the gap between the curtains.

There's a gravel driveway under there somewhere...
 This is what it looked like this morning.

Somewhere between where that Badger is sitting and where I was standing the drift was about 40" deep.  There was a Pileated Woodpecker drumming somewhere close while I was taking this picture but I never saw it...

See the cupola on the roof? When my friend Mike(who's a REAL Carpenter and one of the reasons the house I built is still standing) and I were up there setting trusses we got this bright idea to build a cupola up there. My Wife was a little surprised when she first saw it but it's become one of the best parts of our house. It's about 4 feet square up there and you can stand up and everything. It's the best place in the world to watch a thunderstorm(till lightning strikes a tree in the field behind the house, then it's a little Pee-ey-Scary) or to go up the morning after a blizzard and look out towards West Virginia and pretend you're in Narnia... It also allows me to tell people I live in a 5 story house without being that big a liar.
This is what it looked like this morning from up there.The farthest line of Mountains is the Alleghenies, West By God Virginia is on the other side. The grain elevator went up right after we moved in about 8 years ago. It sort of looms over the neighborhood but in photo's it's so small and faraway that it looks more like the Castle my Girls used to pretend it was when they were little. It looks like it belongs there now and we might even miss it if it disappeared. It's better than the rendering plant that's a couple of miles behind it. I'm surprised you can't see a little plume of stinky steam over there...
This is looking East, see the cars way down by the road? I've shoveled that stupid driveway dozens of times now. My wife at least twice that. It's the biggest hassle about living here and the reason we'll one day say "screw it" and move to town. Or maybe not.

Friday afternoon I realized I was too old to be bending over shoveling snow and made an extension handle for one of the shovels out of an old 3TTT threadless stem and a cut up and re-welded handlebar. OH MY WORD! IT'S SO MUCH BETTER! Maybe 1/4 of the misery. I'll have to make another one for my Sweetie, she didn't want to try it, maybe because she didn't want me to throttle back and stall but once she does I think she'll like it. I wont make any for the Princesses since they're still in their prime character building years and it could prevent them from becoming the Fierce Amazon Warriors they might otherwise be. The digging in the junk stem box and chopping/welding the old handlebar has been the only vaguely bicycle related thing I've done in about 2 weeks. I need to be working on some wheels and assembling a bike for a one of my Wife's Teacher Friends so I should probably get it in gear this week and stop taking off for "snow days".
Do you smell something?

This is the "playhouse" I built for my kids about 6 or 7 years ago.It ended up a bit bigger than I planned but I had a bunch of scrap lumber and some nice used barn siding. The left side is a storage room where we keep the mower and stuff. The area above it is a loft thats part of the "nice" part of the structure, the entrance to the cabin part in on the other end.At 12'x16' it should have had a building permit but whatever. Amurica! Don't tread on me and all that. I took a better picture of it showing the front door and the little front "porch" nestled in the snow covered evergreens but I must have deleted it somehow. 

 You can't tell from this angle but it's all finished inside, insulated and furnished with a couple of futons and a writing desk. We have campfires and cookouts out there when the weather's nice but since a spider was found in it before it was quite finished I'm the only person who's willing to sleep out there. Which I do whenever there's a bunch of High School Girls staying overnight and I need a bit of isolation or it's a fine spring night and I want to hear the Nighthawks calling and the Foxes barking as I drift in and out of sleep. It's one of my favorite places. Anyway, I haven't got a woodstove in there yet so hadn't been out there in maybe a month, when I checked today to make sure everything was OK in there I was a little freaked out to find that about a thousand of those nasty Brown Marmorated Stinkbugs have chosen it as their winter quarters. They're everywhere. They've even spelled out the words "KEEP OUT" on the inside of the window on the door with their creepy little bodies. It stinks like there's a thousand Brown Marmorated Stinkbugs in there as well. Not sure what I'm going to do about it. Maybe the spiders will get em'...

So tomorrow I'll have to go back to work in town while my Teacher Wife and High School Daughters have another snow day. I wish I could hang out with them some more but commerce has to be committed if we're going to be able to continue this extravagant lifestyle. I hope we get another storm before winter is through, just not so big and timed so I get a Friday or Monday off...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The high cost of free bikes..

Oh hello! Where did you come from?
A couple of months ago I was given a nice late 80s "Club Fuji" frameset(62cm) that was supposed to have a cracked downtube. I thought that "someday" I would cut out the damaged tube, braze in a new one and pass it on to someone.  When I realized it only had a cracked downtube decal, and a totally superfluous, non-load-bearing decal at that, I got all giddy and "dancy" since it meant a FREE BIKE! A free bike with nice light Ishiwata tubing in 62cm! A size that's really just a bit too big for me, but something I've always wanted to try. Yippee! Hallelujah!

For me and my friends that hoard old bikes and parts, the opportunity to build, completely from stock on hand, a FREE BIKE that isn't just another boring old bike, is a special thing. It's something we all like to think we can do anytime we want, something that justifies all the dragging home of wrecks, the dozens of boxes of bits and pieces and the time spent risking tetanus cleaning and fiddling with all those bit's and pieces. Really though, it takes a small miracle to be able to come up with enough good parts of the right quality, type, vintage and origin to build something we would think of as a Nice bike. Something interesting and special and not "just another old bike". Maybe something sparkly enough to make Velouria from "Lovely Bicycle" jealous.

 I should probably stop here and define "free" a little better; It doesn't mean you pay nothing for the bike, it just means you don't have to pay any more when you finally get a round to putting it together. You may have spent a trillion dollars on the parts but as long as you weren't buying them for a specific bike than it doesn't count. It's just "stuff you had". You know, free. It also allows you to answer the question "Where the hell did that one come from and what did it cost?" with a simple "Why I builded it mysewf  outen the bits and buttons unner my bench my Luv. Didn't cost a Penny!" without being that most miserable of creatures, a liar.

All this for ZERO DOLLARS!
It's easy to get close, maybe just short the right crank and handlebar and a few other items that end up costing $211 and 3 months of your life to track down. But that's far from free isn't it, and usually ends up as a bike you either end up cutting corners on or having to sell off pretty quick before someone starts investigating the unapproved dispersal of $211. It's even more frustrating to get almost there, to be one Brake-lever (that you know you have in a box somewhere)short of a complete Upper-Mid-Level-Late-60s-Italian-Racebike and know that that one remaining part is going to require 5 E-bay auctions lost, the purchase of 3 scuffed and bent levers that will yield all but one of the parts required to make one decent one, and 2 years of either not riding the bike or riding it with some mongrel place-holder lever until you finally find the misplaced one you gave up looking for only to discover it wasn't a Universal like you thought but only a dime-a-dozen Modolo. It's demoralizing and why I'm always telling myself to find another, slightly less frustrating stupid hobby. I swear, it would be less screwing around to find and assemble the skeleton of an adolescent female Pterodactyl, bit by bit over the course of a lifetime, than a "proper" 1967 Legnano.

But to have in your possession ALL the right parts of the correct age, brands, and condition is so exciting, so special, that it paints a picture of smug satisfaction on the face of the Bicycle Junk-Man like nothing else.  That Fuji frame was the one thing I lacked to build a really nice 80s vintage Japanese, lightweight steel roadbike. One I could try a few things out on, have a good time riding and maybe even leave at my in-laws in Florida so I could have a fun bike to ride while visiting without dragging my best bike down the interstate hanging from the bumper of my car. 
Floating spring, made from a spoke.

 I mean I had everything, right down to some nice(ish) tires and a saddle! All upper-mid/lower-upper level Japanese stuff, except for the French Mafac Competition front brake which I'm not going to try to justify, I just dig those brakes. A lot of the parts are N.O.S. stuff I've been saving for 25 years or more, just waiting for a chance to build something neat for free! 

 I decided I'd do a few extra things while I was at it. Stuff we used to think was cool back then, things like drilling out the brake levers, the chainrings, and the seatpost(which I was too lazy to clean the excess powdercoat from the bottom of since it's hidden in the tube).

Downtube front, bar-end rear.
More holes...

 And maybe drill a bunch of holes in the bottom 8 inches of the handlebars. All that stuff that makes you faster you know.
If I was going to do all that I might as well whip up  a nice stem out of some scraps of chrome-moly       and braze some centerpull brake mounts on the fork to stiffen things up a bit in the stopping              department.   Those two things alone probably saved as much as a quarter of an ounce for only 5 or 6 hours of hard labor.                                                                                                         

 I decided I ought to go ahead and strip the old paint off the Fuji while I was at it and see if I could make it look a bit better than the typical Japanese bike from the era of Teal and Green spatter paintjobs.

So I did all that, then powdercoated the fork, the headtube between the lugs and a panel on the seat-tube.  All Gloss Black (with a bit of silver metallic that didn't quite get cleaned out of the cup on the powdercoat gun but magically made the Black look like you're staring out into the milky way(it's just like the great Bob Ross said, "We don't make mistakes, we just have happy accidents...")). I shot the stem I made with that magic black as well. I painted the rest of the frame with Chevy Cobalt Blue rattle-can touch-up lacquer over a coat of some silver I had that made for a pretty decent facsimile of the old British "Flamboyant" paintjobs of yore. It really "Flammed" good. Then I sprayed it all with some clear aluminum wheel coating and it all got a bit clouded and runny. Still looks pretty good from a few feet but dang, it was better before. Oh well, it's all so fragile you can almost chip it with a fingernail so in a few years it's either going to "look like hell" or like a "Well Patinated Survivor", depending on your perspective. The powdercoated areas are going to look pretty perfect till the end of time though, the stuff I use is meant for the chassis of Kenworth trucks and is just about indestructible if you do it right. Which I did, thank you.

So now I have a nice new old free bike to mess around with. And while it did require way too much time, time that would have been better spent counterfeiting 20s or working on my time machine(although you never have to get in a hurry working on a time machine, for obvious reasons), it's a really fun bike with the best brakes of ANY dropped-bar bike I've ever owned, AND I've discovered that a light bike with 12 well spaced gears and friction shift is still a thing of great dignity and grace and also that a 62cm bike set up for me actually works really well. I don't miss the lost stand-over(I never yank both feet out of the clips simultaneously while egress-ing the machine so don't find it an issue) and I really like the late 50s British-ish look of a tall frame with only a couple inches of seatpost sticking out and the bars about level with the saddle without 100mm of stem towering over the headset.
A bike fit for a small Giant.

 It all works great for what this bike is for.

 Although I can't decide what this bike is for. It doesn't have enough clearance for the big tires I like riding on these days(I've got 28s on it now with absolutely no room for fenders), so it's not going to become a commuter. It's got way too many braze-ons to strip it down into a sleek and sexy fixed gear, and while I thought long and hard about sweating off the bosses and cable stops, it's got internal rear brake cable routing through the top-tube so I'd still have those gaping holes to deal with. Plus the dropouts are really too short for a good fixie... Anyway, it still won't let me run the 33mm CX tires that work so well on our dirt and gravel.

Maybe I will have to move it on to someone else after all.  I suppose I could just use it as a fast bike for nice days on smooth roads, I.E. semi-permanent exile in Florida where it would languish for 358 days a year which seems a little sad. Too many bikes. Sigh.

Oh well,who cares, it was free.

Moon and star cutouts on stem. Hardly worth the trouble.
Custom shifter mount, 2 hours to save 1 gram.

Cable hanger, also made from a spoke...

Mirror mirror, on the wall, how many bikes is this now?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Welcome to my ideal imaginary bike shop...

My Friend Les is moving his shop out of the place he's been renting for about 20 years into a building of his own. It's a big deal for a guy with some creative ideas and the willingness to actually try them out, to not have a landlord to worry about. I think it's going to be pretty cool and it's gotten me thinking again about what my "Ideal" bike shop would be like.
I think anyone who's ever worked in a Bike Shop has thought about what they would do if they had free reign, a bit of a budget and 12 hundred square feet. I've worked in a bunch of shops, 5 as an "official" employee, a few as occasional fill-in and "on retainer" with a couple even now for things like brazing  track-ends on old Trek's or finessing stuck seat-posts out of crusty carbon Tri-Bikes. So I've got a long list of cool things I've seen that more people should do and some dumb stuff I hope you're not thinking of trying. And, while my opinion isn't particularly valuable, I have spent a lot of time thinking about it over the last 35 years. Much of it on the clock (which I suppose makes me some sort of a professional). Anyway, If my experience is anything to go by, the subject comes up in EVERY SHOP IN THE WORLD whenever two or more employees are gathered together in the absence of the Boss so maybe it's worth exploring a bit here. I could share some of my thoughts on the matter if you wanted to hear them...

 You do? Really? Swell, let's get started!

Anyway, here, in no particular order are some things I think are important...

Music. Every shop needs some. Maybe not all the time, but most days. It should be just loud enough to hear in the display area but never difficult to have a conversation over. The device providing the music, whether Gramophone, Digital Media or String Quartet, must be under the total control of a Responsible Person at all times. Under no circumstances should males under the age of 20 be allowed to influence "The Program". Ever. If I ever find myself in charge of "The Program" again I think I would be tempted to find some outside non-bikey, music loving "Hep Cat"  and ask her to come in once a week or so, open our ears and keep us guessing. I may be "that old" but there will be no Motley-Crue, Journey or Bon-Jovi in any shop I'm in charge of ever again. OK?

TeeVee? With sound? In the shop and not just in the window silently playing MTN.Bike videos for kids on the sidewalk? No hell no. If you want a promotional video, go to Home Depot. If you crave entertainment, just go away.

No Mannequins.  You don't see it much these days, but back a couple of decades a bunch of shop owners couldn't seem to resist propping up a retired department store mannequin by the front door. They were invariably tall willowy things, slim hand resting on jutting hip, staring out at the street with blank eyes, high cheekbones and the air of a strung-out middle-aged streetwalker or hopeless kidnap victim.  They were also invariably covered in dust, dressed in some close-out neon lycra and a soiled yellow Campy Cycling cap. Oh yes, and constantly being vandalized by brain-dead teen aged boys who always seemed to have an extra cigarette to stick between her fingers or 2 gumdrops to slip under her jersey for that "Is it cold in here or is it just me?" look.
   I worked with Cindy at one of my first shop jobs. She didn't say much, kept to herself and never missed a day of work, but I don't think she was ever really happy at the shop. That sort of vibe just kills the mood out on the floor and I kept thinking she'd be happier back in "Service". The last straw for her was when the owner showed up with a huge brunette Bouffant wig that smelled like stale beer and ashes and stuck it over Cindy's cute bas-relief Pixie Cut. That afternoon she toppled over onto some BMX bikes and broke her neck. The Boss said he always thought she was "unstable"(ha.ha.ha...) but I just felt it was a preventable suicide if not actual murder. Incidentally, of all the shops I've worked in, this one had the lowest number of female customers. So no mannequins, thank you very much.

Artisnal Coffee/Espresso Bar. Either you're going to have a bike mechanic who doesn't give a S#@* making coffee or a Bean Head Hipster who doesn't give a S#@* working on customers brakes(sorry, "breaks"). Just dumb. There's a Coffee shop 30 yards down the street anyway.  I'm sure it works somewhere but those rare examples just encourage those who shouldn't to try. Dumb.
 One of the local shops does have a really nice water fountain specially configured for filling waterbottles that also keeps a running tab of how many disposable plastic bottles worth of cold micro filtered water it's dispensed. We like to think of it as a tally of Baby Seals saved and sometimes just hold the handle down to add a few more of the cute little beggars to the total. WAY better than an espresso machine. I don't know what it cost but I'm a fan. Put one in your shop and you will be too.

Women. It took me a while to come around(like just long enough to grow up) but I can't think of a shop that won't hire women that's worth the trouble to walk across the street to go to. Even if the prejudice against women in mechanical trades was valid there's a lot more going on in a bike shop than fixing bikes and you absolutely won't do those things as well as you should if you have men doing it all. I have a suspicion that a shop staffed by competent women would do a better job of helping men than a typical all-male shop does of helping women. Just a suspicion. I don't think it would be that hard to find the right women either. Not anymore. Whatever, my ideal shop would always have good people who knew what they were doing waiting for you to come in and if it were all male or all female that day it would only be because the schedule worked out that way. I promise. They might not even all be white.

Some tools for the customers. I don't think every shop needs to try to have a complete work station for customers who want to work on their own bikes, it's problematic and not compatible with the way most shops need to run, but enough tools for someone to adjust a saddle or change brake shoes without having to beg one from the Techs seems to me like the sort of respectful courtesy that I would appreciate. Decent quality tools that you let them use without making them feel like they're asking for loose change. If it doesn't "compromise your vision or personal brand" you might even go so far as to have an old wheel, a patching kit and a nice little stool where a person could sit and practice fixing a flat while listening to the String Quartet play Motley Crue. I'm going to do it the next time I'm in charge of a little piece of somebody's shop. A pump, a Wheel, some tire levers and patchkit and a pokey-thing of some sort to make a leak. That and whatever level of supervision a person seems to want. Even if you already know how to do it you'd be welcome to come in and fix your own flat, fifty cents for the patch and the glue. If that drives you into the red than your shop was doomed anyway so quitcherwhining. Maybe a simple fixture and instruction card so folks could get the hang of quick-release skewers and removing a wheel as well. Down low, near the floor for the benefit of the 8 year-olds.

A box of good free stuff. Good used parts from the Service Department, customer donations of mini-pumps or decent shoes, the tires the local fast guys take off that still have miles in them, that sort of thing. Don't let it overflow, and throw out the obvious crap that gets dropped off, and for goodness sake, find something better than a plastic laundry basket or a cardboard box to put it in. Don't make the bucks-down college student or working class parent on a tight budget feel like a bum, hook them up with something useful and make a friend. Again, if it drives you out of business you were just faking it anyway.  

No Scotch Tape. It's not that I have anything against the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co., it's just that in every shop I've worked in you were never more than 3 feet away from a little scrap of that almost, but not quite, invisible plastic chaff or it's grubby fingerprint of dirt and goo. 11 slivers on the front of the display case, a little tag flapping on the telephone receiver, 13 ghostly outlines of "Back in 5 Minutes" signs on the front door. It doesn't even work fer crap to anchor handlebar tape. Write your "Out to Lunch" message on the door with a dry-erase marker or even make a nice one with a pen on some cardstock and hang it with a string. Draw a monkey on a fatbike on it, use it for 20 years and when you close your shop someone will take it home with them after the farewell party and hang it in their garage. Tape. I'd rather hang that Rivendel poster to the wall with framing nails.  

I should stop now. I'm starting to get a little worked up and I'm too far into the Mortgage, Braces and College Fund part of life to actually go back to the bicycle mines. But as you might have noticed, I'm still emotionally invested in everything about bikes and the little hidden places where we go to immerse ourselves in our weird little culture. Have you also noticed that none of this is about what kind of bikes I'd have for sale in my Top-Secret Hollowed Out Volcano Bike Temple? It's not because I don't have opinions about that as well, it's just that it doesn't really matter for this discussion. I like to think that any of these ideas, if they have any merit at all, work in any shop and serve any customer well, no matter if they're coming in for a race-tune before heading out to Nationals or to buy the next size helmet for their kid.

I'll be on the lookout next time I'm in your shop to see if you thought any of this was worth trying. Especially the thing about the tape, man I hate the tape...



Sunday, November 1, 2015

What I did in Church this morning...

I was paying attention. Really.
I take a sketchbook with me most of the time, Like Da Vinci used to say "You gotta' do something while you're doing nothing".

It's nice to have it with me in case of long lines, moments of inspiration or when I make a particularly good batch of cole-slaw and want to write down what I put in it before I forget. My favorite are the small Black Moleskine brand Sketchbooks and I have a satisfyingly tall stack of them on a shelf by my drawingboard. They take me anywhere from a couple of months to almost a year to fill up and going through the old ones is a lot like leafing through a journal. There's a surprising number of notes and cryptic entries on the back pages with the recipe's and URLs. Even some Poetry that I'm not sure the world needs to be exposed to in the state things are in already...  I was going to get a new one today at the Bookstore but suddenly they only have them in RED.It's a nice red but I left empty-handed because I'm not sure what would happen if I threw one of those on the stack with all the black ones. I have to think about that before I do something that potentially disruptive.

I do some of my best sketching in Church, especially profiles of the folks a few rows over. I can't ever let one of those books fall into the wrongs hands however because some of those profile portraits include giant Billy Preston style Afro's on middle-aged white Mennonite I.T. technicians or wooden Pinocchio noses sprouting from the otherwise angelic faces of the children of my friends. It seems pretty innocent until you have to hide your drawings as soon as the benediction is over so no body can wander over and see what they'd look like with a neck tattoo.

This is what I drew today. Pretty obvious what I was thinking about during the sermon. It turned out pretty well but not that much like the image in my head.


 I aspire to draw as well as Frank Patterson who's illustrations were an integral part of Cycle Magazine back in the first half of the 20th century. If I ever get close to that quality of work I'll never pick up a wrench or a brazing torch again. Just sit around drawing all day(which is precisely what I should do starting tomorrow if I ever want to do work like his I suppose). That and hope someone decides to publish a large format Weekly Cycling Journal so I can make some sort of living illustrating it for them...

If I manage to do something better than this I'll post it and let you have a peek.