28 February 2014

When I Jumped A "Shark" Named Violette

I have "jumped the shark" many times.  Hundreds, in fact, if not thousands.

Of course, I didn't leap over Jaws or even accomplish the feat in the colloquial sense.  In fact, I didn't even "jump" my "shark":  I mounted it like a proper lady.

All right, I take that back. I mounted it in a way anyone who rides 20,000 km a year--as I was in those days--might.  But the ride could certainly be a "jump" sometimes.

My "shark", as you probably have figured, was a bike.  And it wasn't just any old bike:  It was the best (for me, anyway) racing machine I ever owned or rode.

Back in the '90's, Land Shark bicycles were extremely popular.  A few of my ride-mates rode them.   You could always tell one from pretty far off:  The lugless brazed joints were impeccable and the paint jobs ranged from the sublime to the unique to the bizarre to the hilarious.

As you can see, mine was fairly tame compared to most.  It looked like a purple lava lamp with green lava.  I saw another 'Shark in a similar pattern, but with different colors.  I asked for "something like it" in purple and green.

Most of the components came from the the Mondonico I rode for three years before ordering the 'Shark.  But the two bikes were very different.  For one thing, the 'Shark was a custom build--my first.  The Mondonico was supposed to be a criterium bike, but it almost shared the geometry of my Italian Bianchi Pista (not the Taiwan-made ones all the hipsters were buying a few years ago).  Since I was doing a lot of long-distance riding as well as racing, I decided on a more classical road geometery, with seat tube and head angles shallower (73.5 degrees each) than the ones on the Mondonico (74 head, 74.5 seat).  Also, I asked for something with a sligtly longer seat tube but a shorter top tube.  On my Italian bikes, it seemed that I was always choosing between one or the other:  If I got the longer seat tube, I also got the longer top tube, which meant that I rode a stem with a shorter extension and therefore sacrificed handling.  On the other hand, getting a bike with a shorter top tube meant a smaller seat tube, which made it harder to stretch my legs out. (A longer seat post just never felt the same to me.)

Also, my 'Shark was built from Reynolds 853 tubing, which was fairly new at the time. This made for a livelier ride than the frames with Columbus tubings, which, on some bikes, could feel stiff to the point of feeling dead (my complaint with the early Cannondale racing bike I had).  I could do a "century", or ride even more miles in a day without feeling battered:  whatever fatigue I felt was a result of sun, wind, or any other conditions I encountered while riding.

Although I rode the bike for a decade, I made few changes.  Of course, I replaced tires and such as needed.  But I made only minor deviations from the original Dura Ace/Ultegra combintion.  

The first came after  two years with the 'Shark, when  I started riding Mavic Helium and Cosmic wheels.  Heliums were probably the lightest road wheels available (in clincher, anyway) at the time, while the Cosmics had deep V-shaped rims and were stiffer but heavier than the Heliums.  About three years later, I sold those two sets of wheels and bought Mavic Ksyriums, which seemed to embody the best of both wheelsets.

I made the second change around the same time I got the Ksyriums:  I ordered a carbon-fiber fork--the first and only I ever owned--from Land Shark.   It certainly lightened the bike and absorbed some of the shock the straight-bladed steel fork transmitted.  The carbon fork came with a threadless steerer column, which meant changing my stem.  Fortunately, I was riding  a Chris King headset (which I ride on all of my Mercians), so I had to replace only the top part.

What I remember best about the 'Shark's ride is its climbing ability:  No other bike I've owned--and hardly any I've ridden-- was as nimble going up a hill.  It may have had to do with the oversized down- and top-tube.  If that's the case, then the bike's resilience is all the more remarkable: Oversized tubes are stiff, but often deliver a very harsh ride.

So why am I not riding it now?, you ask.  Well, a  little more than ten years after I took my first ride on the 'Shark--which I named Violette--it was stolen.  I thought about getting another, even thought the price of them had gone up considerably.  But I realized that my riding habits were changing, in part because of my age (I was nearing 50.) and the fact that my body was full of estrogen instead of testosterone.  Plus, by that time, I had ridden Hal Ruzal's Mercians and fell under their spell.  

I am sure that John Slawta, Land Shark's builder (and finisher) is doing work that's just as meticulous as what he did on my old bike.  But, from what I understand, he stopped building steel bikes several years ago and is working only in carbon fiber.  So, in spite of my fond memories of my Land Shark, if I buy another nice bike,  it will be a Mercian (as long as they are building in the traditional ways) or from other classic (or classically-inspired) builder of chrome-molybdenum or maganese-molybdenum steel frames.

P.S.  During the time I rode the 'Shark, I had several human companions.  However, these two remained constant:

Charlie I:  19 March 1991--16 October 2005; Adopted 25 May 1991

Charlie I preceded the "Charlie" whose passing I lamented in a post two years ago.  In fact, I adopted Charlie II just three months after Charlie I died.

Candice:  7 February 1992--17 January 2007; Adopted 5 January 1995.

Candice entered my life when she was three years old, four years after I adopted the two month- old Charlie I.


  1. Did you actually choose the stem which looks like it could kill you and that logo!?

    Straight forks never look right to me...

    Strange to steal such a unique frame.

  2. The bike came with the logo. Did you mean the one on the stem? That, too, was part of the package.

    Well...I guess the thief knew about bikes. I'm sure it doesn't have the paint job you see in the photos.