25 February 2020

A Shift In The Middle Of The Tour

"Brooks" of Retrogrouch frame is so kind.  Last month, we wrote posts on the same topic, days apart, without prior consultation.  He said, "You know what they say about great minds."  Now, I would never, ever give myself such credit.  Really!

Anyway, I wrote about a pair of Simplex bar end shifters, still in their original packaging, I saw at Tony's  Bicycles in Astoria.  I also espied a pair of Shimano bar-ends from the same era (1970s) in Tony's showcase.

Little more than a week later, Brooks wrote his excellent post about bar-end shifters in general.  As he points out, they offer most of the advantages of integrated brake/shift levers ("brifters") without their vulnerability to damage--and expense.  Brooks then discussed some of the different bar-end shifters made during the 1970s--when they seem to have been the most popular--and today.  

He does mention something very interesting but almost entirely forgotten:  Campagnolo has offered bar-end shifters at least since the early 1950s-- around the time they introduced the Gran Sport, their first parallelogram rear derailleur.  The funny thing is that when that derailleur first saw the light of day, Campagnolo wasn't offering a down-tube shifter--which are commonly associated with classic Campy-equipped racing bikes-- to go with it.  Why?

Well, it has to do with front derailleurs of the time.   You see, front changers at the time weren't operated by Bowden-type cable controls.  Instead, a direct lever moved the cage that shifted the chain from one chainring to another.  These are sometimes jokingly referred to as "suicide shifters" because, in order to make the shift, riders had to spread their legs.  

That arrangement also meant that riders did all of their shifting with their right hands.  (Nearly all rear derailleurs are operated by levers on the right side of the bike.) During the 1949 Tour de France, dozens of riders switched their "suicide" levers to the then-new bar end (pass-vitesses) shifters developed by Jacques Souhart--but only for the front derailleur.  They continued to use downtube shifters--mounted on the right side of the handlebars-- for their rear derailleurs. 

From "Stronglight" in Flickr

That allowed the racers to continue to do all of their shifting with their right hands and would not have to switch their routine in the middle of a race.  More important, perhaps, this new arrangement allowed riders to make front shifts without interrupting their pedal strokes: a very important feature when beginning a sprint or a downhill.

"Suicide" front derailleur. From Dave Moulton's blog.

It just happened that Monsieur Souhart was Campagnolo's Paris distributor and thus had Signore Tullio's ear.  Apparently, Souhart as well as a number of racers convinced him of the bar-end shifter's superiority.  That may be the reason why the first Campagnolo Gran Sport gruppo included bar-end, but not downtube, shifters.

Interestingly, a few years later, Souhart created a front derailleur that more closely resembles modern mechanisms, in that the cage moved upward as it moved outward. (Older mechanisms, like the "suicide" derailleurs, moved straight across.)  He also made a "detented" (indexed) system of his bar-end lever to actuate the front derailleur.  Campagnolo would not adopt that new feature of his bar-end shifter, but it did incorporate his front-derailleur innovation into their lineup.

Bar-end shifters' popularity among road racers was short-lived, mainly because downtube shifters, with their shorter cables, were lighter and offered snappier, more precise shifting, especially with the kinds of derailleurs available in the 1950s.  But the fact that bar-ends allow cyclists to shift without removing their hands from the handlebars made them popular with cyclo-cross racers, who ride on rough terrain.  They also became the preferred shifters of some touring cyclists, especially after SunTour introduced its ratcheted "BarCon" and Shimano its spring-loaded levers during the 1970s.  In fact, some bikes designed for fully-loaded touring, such as Trek's original 720 (not to be confused with the later 720) came with BarCons as standard equipment, whether or not they were adorned  with SunTour derailleurs.

24 February 2020

February Freedom

On the whole, it's been a mild winter, so far, in this part of the world.  Last Saturday was, thus far, the coldest day of the season:  The day dawned clear, at -10C (14F).  I rode nonetheless.  After that, the temperature rose a few degrees each day until it reached 15C (60F) yesterday afternoon.

That meant, of course, a ride to Point Lookout

the day after a ride to Connecticut.  The funny thing is that on both rides, I saw little traffic, whether from cyclists or motorized vehicles.  I think I encountered more strangers shouting "Nice day for a ride" than actual cyclists along yesterday's ride!

Between those two rides, and some other riding I did during the week, I managed to do 600 kilometers (385 miles) from last Monday until yesterday.  I don't think I've ridden that much in one week in February in years.  Heck, that's even a good week during peak riding season.

Maybe the groundhog's prediction was correct after all.  Or, perhaps, we'll get a March (or April?!) blizzard. Anyway, I hope to keep up my riding:  It and my writing (off this blog) are helping me to keep whatever sanity I may have.

22 February 2020

He's Back, And He's Not Going Stealth

We don't know the names of the folks who painted the cave walls at Lascaux or told the stories that became the epic poem GilgameshFor that matter, we don't know who invented the wheel.  

But we do have some idea of who made most wheeled vehicles--including bicycles--over the last 200 years or so. Even if the bike is made by a large company like Raleigh, checking serial numbers and dates can tell us, if not the person who brazed or painted the frame, then at least who was working in the factory at the time.  Thus, the search can be narrowed down to a few possible brazers, welders, painters or others responsible for making the bike.

The more expensive the bike (or car or whatever), the easier it is to know who worked on it.  Some custom bikes are branded with the builder's name (e.g., Bruce Gordon, Bob Jackson, Rene Herse), while other small builders like Mercian and Seven have a few people working for them, each of whom focuses on a specific task such as mitering the tubes or painting.  So, if you have such a bike, it's fairly easy to find out who was responsible for it.

A few small and custom builders' bikes, however, have gone "stealth".   Perhaps the most famous example was the machine Eddy Merckx rode for the hour record in Mexico City in 1972.  All right, it wasn't really "stealth":  Everyone knew it wasn't a Windsor.  The Mexican bike-builder's decals were slapped on the sunset-orange frame just before the Belgian Tour de France winner set off on his ride; the frame had actually been built (and some components modified) to Eddy's specifications by the revered Italian builder Ernesto Colnago.   Windsor used Merckx's successful record attempt to sell its bikes which, understandably, infuriated Signore Colnago, who never forgave Eddy.

At least Windsor made some pretty good bikes. (They bear no relation to the Chinese-made machines sold under the same name in the US.)  On the other hand, another "stealth" bike bore a brand that would never be associated with a bike shop, let alone Eddy Merckx, the Tour de France or an hour record.

Strip away the Murray decals, and this bike would look like a high-end racing bike from the 1980s:  Italian, perhaps.  Or American, probably from a custom frame builder like Ben Serotta.

There's a good reason for that: The "Murray" in the photo was indeed built by Serotta in his Saratoga Springs, NY workshop.  

So how did the bike end up bearing the name of a manufacturer of cheap bikes sold in big-box stores and pedaled off curbs by kids?  Well, Murray--which was as known for making lawnmowers as it was for kids' bikes--signed on to sponsor the US Olympic team that competed in the 1984 Los Angeles games.  To their credit, they sponsored the 7-11 Team, the first American cycling squad since the early 20th Century to challenge--and sometimes beat--the best of Europe and the rest of the world.  Some of its riders could boast, among other things, victories (or high placements) in the classics as well as individual stages of the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and other multi-stage races.

The bike in the photo took Davis Phinney to a fifth-place finish in the 1984 Olympic road race. 

Now Ben Serotta, who started building frames in 1972, is re-entering his old profession.  His business grew; 40 years later, he partnered it with a company that, the following year, joined another company that would later go bankrupt.

Although I'm sure his new bikes won't look like the one he built for Davis Phinney, I am sure they will be nice.  He says he will build in steel as well as titanium and aluminum.  Any one of those materials--especially steel--will highlight his fine craftsmanship.  And they will bear his name.

17 February 2020

When Today Was Bicycle Day

Today is Presidents’ Day in the US.  Previously, it was celebrated as Washington’s Birthday, which was declared a Federal holiday in 1885.

That was on the eve of America’s first Bicycle Boom.  So, as this holiday is today an occasion for sales on bedding, at that time new bike models were rolled out (pun intended).

Four years ago, I wrote a post about it.