28 February 2015

Losing Two Teeth

We all lose teeth in various ways.  Of course, when we’re kids, we lose all of them so that our “grown-up teeth” can grow in. (A boy in a poetry workshop I conducted wrote, “My teeth are like stars, they come out at night”.)  Then, as time goes on, our teeth fall out or fall apart because of neglect, diet or simply age.  Or we might get into an accident or fight that knocks out an incisor.  Or two.

Wednesday night, I lost two teeth.  No, I didn’t win or lose:  I didn’t fight.  And I didn’t fall on my face.  Rather, those teeth were the casualties of a bungee cord.

Yes, you read that right.  I was pedaling home from work when, in the middle of a turn through a busy intersection, I rode into a pothole.  Just as I reached the other side, in front of a gas station, I suddenly couldn’t pedal.  No matter how hard I pushed, they wouldn’t move. Then, I budged them slightly; they moved as if my whole drivetrain had been stuffed with horsehair.

A bungee cord I’d hooked across the top of the rear basket on my LeTour popped off and entangled fell into the rear wheel. One of the hooks latched onto the non-drive side spokes.  That pulled the body of the chord into the space between the fixed gear sprocket and the hub flange and coiled it.

The hook was so tight in the spokes and the cord so tautly wrapped between the cog and flange that I couldn’t get it out by hand.  Rotating the wheel only seemed to pull it tighter.  I had to borrow a pair of pliers and a knife from an attendant, which I used to bend the hook out of the spokes and cut it away from the cord, which I could then unwind.
At first I didn’t notice the missing teeth.  I felt an odd skipping when I applied any kind of pressure while pedaling.   I figured that something was bent and, as it was late, I crossed my fingers and kept on riding.

I made it home with my chain going ker-chunk, ker-chunk every couple of pedal rotations.  I propped the bike and found nothing bent or warped, not even a chain link. Then, after a couple of more pedal rotations, I saw 
that I’d lost two teeth—and, of course, a chunk from the body of that cog.

So, I flipped the wheel to the freewheel side, gave the chain (a SRAM PC-1) a couple of shots of oil, and everything ran fine.

The cog was generic.  Maybe I’ll spend a few extra dollars and get something better.  Phil Wood cogs are great (I use them on Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear), though I’m not sure I want to spend that much, or whether they’ll fit the Formula hub on the LeTour.  Perhaps I’ll get a Surly.  I don’t want to lose more teeth.

27 February 2015

Bike Nation: Netherlands

In a game of word association, if I were to say, "bicycle commuting", I'd bet a lot of people would say, "Portland".

Or they might say, "The Netherlands" or "Holland".

The following image, which originally appeared on the Lonely Planet website, and I found on Wired UK), is a pretty good statistical portrait of cycling in that country.  Plus, ya gotta love the orange in it.  (I'll admit that I was sorta rooting for the Dutch team in the World Cup football tournament, just because of their uniforms!) 


26 February 2015

Missy's Must-Have Accessory, Circa 1993

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Melissa--but we all called her Missy--and we wanted all of her accessories.

OK, this isn't about fashion, or a fairy tale, though I suppose it could be.  It's a story about cycling and, in particular, a part of it in which I was active for a few years. 

Some of you may have figured out that I'm talking about mountain biking and the girl in question is a girl in the "You go, grrrl!" sense:  none other than Missy "The Missile" Giove.

 She dominated her sport to a degree--perhaps to an even greater degree--than Eddy Mercx did two decades earlier.  If anything, I'd say her domination was more like that of Martina Navratilova in tennis a decade earlier.I actually saw her ride twice and I don't think I've ever seen a fiercer competitor anywhere. I take that back:  She wasn't a competitor because she couldn't be:  No one else could have competed against her.  

Perhaps it's more accurate to say that she was simply the fiercest athlete, and one of the fiercest people, I've ever seen.  I say that with great admiration:  Her firepower came from her intensity and an innate need to better herself rather than from hyped-up rivalries and petty jealousies.  She reminded me, in an odd way, of the first two lines in one of Emily Dickinson's most famous poems:  "Because I could not stop for Death/He very kindly stopped and waited for me."  Missy did not stop for anything because, really, I don't think she could:  The only way to catch up to, or with her, it seemed, was to wait.

To say that she was the first superstar of downhill mountain bike racing, a sport then in its juvescence,  would be to trivialize her dominance.  For a time, she held the world's downhill speed record.  Not just the record for women, mind you:  The Record.

Now tell me:  If you saw someone like her, wouldn't you want her accessories, too?

Perhaps the most iconic--and, at the time, best-selling--of them were her Onza handlebar ends.  For those of us who spent a lot of time riding dropped-bar road bikes before trying mountain biking, one of our biggest complaints was the lack of hand positions on the flat handlebars.  Most of us change hand positions, sometimes frequently, on rides of more than a few minutes.  The Onza bar ends offered at least a forward, somewhat aerodynamic position and a forward-facing flat section that somewhat resembled the "ramps" of road handlebars.  

I still see Onza bar ends fairly often.  Most often, they're on a Specialized or Trek or other mountain bike from the early- or mid-'90's that someone re-purposed as a delivery bike or "beater" and simply didn't bother to take them off.  I'm guessing that the ones that were actually ridden off-road are in landfills simply because most other mountain bike accessories and components that were ridden hard are there, too.  No matter how good such items are, they, like anything else, can only take so much abuse.

Other companies imitated the Onza bar end and some offered them in a rainbow of colors.  (If I recall correctly, the Onzas were available only in black because they were heat-treated--or, at least, that was the rationale the company gave.)  But most riders found that they didn't use the forward bend much, if at all.  Plus, trail and woods riders found that the shape made them easy to entangle in branches, brambles and other obstacles.  Furthermore, mountain bikers (some of them, anyway) were becoming weight-conscious--about their bikes, that is.  Onzas and similarly-configured bar ends weighed more than some of the handlebars to which they were clamped.

So, after a few years, those J-shaped extensions were replaced by more minimalist pieces that kept the "flat" but eliminated the forward bend:

Even so, Onza bar ends and their carbon-copies were a "must have" for about half a decade.  Very few other accessories last for more than a season, even if they're used by a smokin' hot chick named Missy:

25 February 2015

Campagnolo Gran Sport: Act II

Yesterday, I mentioned the Campagnolo Gran Sport and its offspring.  As I said, although the original GS derailleur ceased production in 1963, the name wasn't abandoned:  It was re-appropriated in 1975.  In a way, Campagnolo came "full circle" with the Nuovo Grand Sport rear derailleur:  It shared the geometry and overall design of the Record and its succ essors, but had a cruder finish and hexagonal rather than recessed allen bolts, while the Record, Nuovo Record and Super Records were refinements of the original Gran Sport.    The 1970's Gran Sport was situated below the Record but above Campagnolo's "budget" Valentino and Gran Turismo derailleurs, which cost more than, and didn't shift as well as, Japanese derailleurs of the time.  

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Campagnolo Nuovo Gran Sport derailleur, late 1970s

Also, over the few years that followed the introduction of the original GS, Campy created a line of Gran Sport components: hubs, crankset, bottom bracket, headset, pedals and seatpost, but no brakes.  This gruppo is believed to be the first such comprehensive ensemble of professional-level equipment since Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) made the components-of-choice for Six-Day Racers as well as much of the peloton during the 1930s. (BSA also made some very well-respected bicycles.)  Soon, Campagnolo Gran Sport parts would be nearly as common among elite cyclists as BSA stuff had been.

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A new gruppo was also created around the Nuovo Gran Sport.  It would include something the original Gran Sport group didn't have:  brakes.  (Interestingly, BSA made brakes to go with their other components, but Campagnolo didn't come out with their now-famous sidepulls until 1968, a year after the Nuovo Record derailleur was introduced.) The arms were all but identical to those of the Record.  However, the cable adjuster was a knurled dome and didn't have the rubber "O" ring seen on Record brakes.  More important, the quick release could only be opened or closed completely, in contrast to the infinitely-variable quick release on the Record, which could be opened part way.

One of the most interesting Nuovo Gran Sport components was the crankset, which had a three-arm spider:

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Gran Sport crankset, 1970s

Later, it was replaced by a five-arm spider much like that of the Record:

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The headset shared the same bearings and bearing surfaces with Record and Super Record headsets.  However, the Gran Sport, made entirely from steel, had only two wrench "flats" on the top adjustable race, while Record-level headsets had multiple sides that to fit a standard headset wrench.

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Some people preferred the Gran Sport because it didn't have any names or logos on the adjustable race or lower head race. In that way, it resembled the headsets found on some old British frames like Claud Butler.

The pedals were based on the Record's quill design.  The bearings and bearing surfaces were the same. However, the NGS didn't share the Record's knurling on the outside of the cone locknut that helped to prevent dirt from working its way in.  In addition, the dust caps on the NGS were plastic (steel on the Record and alloy on the Super Record) and the cutouts on the cages were a bit smaller.  Finally, as with the rear (and front) derailleurs, the finish was cruder.  However, nobody seemed to notice any difference in functionality between the Gran Sport and Record series pedals.

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Possibly the most inelegant (at least to my eye) constituent of the Nuovo Gran Sport line was the shift levers.  They functioned just like the Record levers but, like other Gran Sport components, had a less-polished finish. And the adjuster nuts, while easy enough to use, were not attractive, at least to my tastes.

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In contrast, the Gran Sport front derailleur was all but indistinguishable from the Record:

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Finally, here is my favorite component in the Gran Sport lineup:

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These hubs were part of the Nuovo Gran Sport gruppo.  But they weren't called "Gran Sport". Instead they were known as "Nuovo Tipo", the name under which they had been made since 1965, a decade before the introduction of the Nuovo Gran Sport derailleur.  The hubs were simply incorporated into the group.

I had two sets of wheels with these hubs.  In fact, my very first set of custom wheels was built around them, with Super Champion 58 rims and Robergel "Sport" spokes.  I rode them on my first long bike tours and, after a few hundred miles, the hubs spun just as smoothly as the Record hubs I would later acquire.  

TIpos shared the same bearings, cones and axles with Record hubs of the same era.  However, the inner races on the Tipos were stamped, while those on Records were forged.  That meant that Tipos weren't as smooth out of the box as Records and needed "breaking in".  They also probably didn't last as long, but I knew cyclists (myself included) who rode plenty of miles, some of them hard, on Tipos.  

More visible differences, though, were in the logo (Tipos used the older-style "flying wheel" while Records had the "world" insignia), the oil hole clips on the Records and lack of same on the Tipos, and the knurled quick-release locknut on the Tipo vs. the nut with the D-ring on the Record.

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Finally, the large-flanged version of the Record had oval cutouts in the flanges, while the Tipos had portal-style holes reminiscent of classic hubs from the 1930s to the 1950s.

1977 Raleigh Competition

Probably the best-known bike (in the US, anyway) to come equipped with Nuovo Gran Sport components was the Raleigh Competition from 1977 to 1985. (Before 1977 , the Competition came with a Huret Jubilee rear derailleur and other French components.)  The NGS gruppo was, not surprisingly, more likely to be found on Italian bikes.  I recall seeing Olmos and Cioccs outfitted with the full Nuovo Gran Sport ensemble, except for the rear derailleur, which was a Nuovo Record.  Stuyvesant Bicycle  and a few other shops sold them.  I don't know whether the shops changed the derailleurs or whether the bikes were originally spec'd that way.

Whatever the case, Nuovo Gran Sport equipment, while good and reliable, never became terribly popular in the US.  I think one reason was the crude finish of some parts, especially the rear derailleur.  For about  the same price as NGS, one could buy Shimano Dura-Ace or SunTour Superbe equipment, which were beautifully finished and offered some of the features (like the infinitely variable brake quick-release) Campagnolo included in their Record series but omitted from Gran Sport.  And SunTour derailleurs and levers shifted better than their counterparts from Campagnolo.

Campagnolo finally retired the Gran Sport name and lineup in 1985, the same year the Nuovo and Super Record series ended their runs.  The Record lines were superseded by the Record-C, while the Gran Sport's berth below the Record was taken by the Chorus and Athena gruppos.  And Campagnolo stopped making their lower-end Valentino and Gran Turismo derailleurs and developed new "mass market" component lines called Victory and Triomphe.

24 February 2015

Campagnolo Gran Sport And The Records

The other day, I wrote about the Nivex rear derailleur.  In my post, I mentioned the derailleur that foreclosed Nivex's future: the Campagnolo Gran Sport.

The first GS derailleur looked somewhat like every racing derailleur Campagnolo would make for the next four decades.  Debuted at the 1949 Salon de Milan (That name has a nice ring, doesn't it?), a.k.a., the Milan Bicycle Show, the original Gran Sport had, in embryonic form, the dropped parallelogram we would see on all of Campy's racing derailleurs until the late 1980's.  However, that mechanism had no return spring and was operated by a "double" cable--actually, a cable that looped through the body in the same manner as it did in most French derailleurs of the time.  

No one seems to know whether anything more than a prototype of this derailleur was ever made.  However, a year later, the "double" cable was replaced with a single cable that moves the parallelogram outward or inward, depending on the direction of the shift.  If it wasn't  not the first derailleur to employ such a system, it's almost certainly the first such derailleur to be widely used by racers.  

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1951 Gran Sport

 Tullio Campagnolo made various refinements to the derailleur over its manufacturing run, which ended in 1963.  It represented a great improvement in shifting ease over the rod-actuated derailleurs Campagnolo and other companies made before the Gran Sport and the plunger-actuated derailleurs made by Simplex and other companies.  The GS was also mechanically simpler:  no small consideration in races over pockmarked postwar roads and teams with limited budgets.

First generation Record, 1963

The Record, introduced in 1963, looked all but identical to the last version of the Gran Sport.  However, the pulley cage was moved slightly forward and upward in relation to the jockey pulley.  This refinement widened the range of the derailleur and improved the shifting ease somewhat. 

Campagnolo Nuovo Record derailleurs
Campagnolo Nuovo Record

Four years after that, one of the most iconic derailleurs of all time--the Campagnolo Nuovo Record--would first see the light of day.  While it didn't offer much technical refinement over the Record, it looked far more refined, in its polished cold-forged aluminum (in contrast to the chrome-plated brass and steel of the Record and Gran Sport).  Campagnolo would make the Nuovo Record--and it would be the most common derailleur in the peloton--until 1985.  A further refinement of the Nuovo Record--the Super Record--would appear in 1974.  As popular as it was, it did not displace the Nuovo Record, with both derailleurs ending their runs at the same time.

Later version  Super Record


Note:  I would like to acknowledge The Retrogrouch, Bicycle Quarterly, Classic Rendezvous, Disraeli Gears, Velo Base, Classic LIghtweights UK and old Campagnolo literature for the information in this post.

23 February 2015

The Big Dig 2

I try not to complain too much about the weather we've been having here in NYC.  After all, they've had over two meters (7 feet) of snow in Boston this winter.

When I heard about that, I wondered how bicycle commuters were coping.  Some, I'm sure, are taking the "T", as Boston is one of the few American cities with anything resembling a meaningful mass transit network.  But others are determined to keep on riding.  I would, too, as long as the snow didn't turn to ice.

One Beantown commuter was confronted with a fifteen-foot (4.5 meter) mound of snow in the middle of his riding route.  Someone once told me that when you're faced with an obstacle, you can go around or through it. Apparently, that cyclist and some of his fellow riders chose the latter option.

Yes, they tunneled through the mound.  Locals have nicknamed it "Big Dig 2", in reference to a recent highway tunnel project.