30 November 2014

The Black And White Club

I have a question for those of you who have kids:  Did you ever have to explain to them that, no, you didn't see things in black-and-white when you were young?

Believe it or not, I actually had to reassure one of my students that we were not colorblind back in the day.  Of course, that student could have taken that statement as an explanation of why we needed to have the Civil Rights Movement.  And I've been accused, at different times in my life, of seeing things in the presence or absence of all colors.  They'll say that about you if you have convictions and stand up for yourself.

I got to thinking about the world before technicolor because I came across a copy of a 40-year-old issue of Bicycling! magazine. Everything printed in it was in black and white. The November 1974 issue was one of the first I read, and I was introduced to all sorts of things not mentioned in Eugene Sloane's Complete Book of Bicycling.  (The mid-'70's was probably the last time an American could publish anything with such a title without seeming arrogant or ignorant or both.) 

In addition to Reynolds and Columbus (which Sloane referred to as "Columbia" in the first edition of his book) tubing, I learned about Tange, Falk, Vitus, Ishiwata and Durifort.  That last name was the trademark of a high-quality French carbon steel tubing (Those terms weren't considered mutually exclusive in those days) that came in straight-gauge and double-butted. 

 "Club racers"--a kind of bike all but banned from the US market when a bunch of lawyers with too much time on their hands decided they were "dangerous"-- were often made from it. The Stella SX-73--of which reviewer Larry Burke wrote glowingly forty years ago--is an example of such a bike, if with slightly longer (and therefore more amenable to light touring) geometry.

Such bikes typically had racing geometry and came with basic or mid-level components, save for tubular ("sew-up") tires and rims.  The idea was to offer a fast, responsive bike at a reasonable price, or one that could be used, without too much modification, for light touring.

(These are different from British "club bicycles" of the 1930's to 1960s, which were typically constructed from Reynolds 531 tubing and had higher-quality components.  However, they usually had Sturmey-Archer internally-geared hubs--usually one of the higher- end or close-range models--or a "flip-flop" hub on the rear, as derailleurs were not widely used in the British Isles until the 1960's.  Tosca, my fixed-gear Mercian, is modeled somewhat on such bikes.)

A few people crashed those French club racers and the frame tubes collapsed. When the CPSC lawyers got wind of stories about them, they decided the public simply had to be protected from them--never mind that most riders walked away intact from such crashes in spite of not wearing helmets, as was the practice in those days of "leather hairnets".

Anyway, I've noticed that a few high-end builders and producers are offering their own versions of "club racers".  Could British club bikes be next?  Then Tosca will get even more attention than she gets now, and nobody will remember her in black and white!

I'll close this post with a funny story:  I actually used the photo I've posted in a paper I wrote about circadian rhythms.  The trees look somewhat autumnal, but the guy on the bike is wearing shorts and a T-shirt.  Even though the weather was warm, the trees were still losing their leaves, as they are wont to do at that time of year.  

If I recall correctly, I got an A on that paper. 

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