31 March 2016

Aerodynamics Or Weight?

Ever since I wrote yesterday's post, I have been thinking about weight and aerodynamics. 

For decades, cyclists have debated which is more important.  Actually, when I first became a dedicated cyclist four decades ago, there didn't seem to be much talk about aerodynamics.  Then, the emphasis was on weight.  That makes sense when you realize that many new cyclists--myself included--noticed how much lighter those newfangled (or so we thought) ten-speeds were than the three-speed "English racers" or balloon-tired Schwinns and Columbias we and our parents had ridden up to that time.  We went faster on those new "lightweight" ten-speeds; racers raced on them (or bikes that looked like them).  Ergo (that wasn't yet the name of a brifter), light weight must equal speed and all-around performance.

The tuck

At that time, about all that most cyclists knew about aerodynamics regarded their own position on the bike.  We all knew that the "tuck"--in which a cyclist rides as far forward as possible with his or her arms and legs as close to the bike as he or she can pull them in--was the most aerodynamic way to ride.  Oh, and we thought that shaving our legs would cut down on our wind resistance.

Little did we know that around that time, engineers and scientists like Chester Kyle were experimenting with ways to make the bicycle more efficient.  An experiment to find out whether tubular (sew-up) tires were indeed actually better than clincher (wired-on) tires led to a research that culminated with the development of streamlined bicycles, fairings and recumbent bicycles.  It also was instrumental in helping to create much of what we see (and some of us ride) today, such as disc wheels.

At first, only he and fellow members of the then-newly-formed International Human Powered Vehicle Association (IHPVA) seemed interested in his work.  Part of the reason for that is that bicycle racers, especially at the top levels, were reluctant to change equipment that had been working for them.  Even if riders were more willing to experiment, there was the spectre of the Union Cycliste Internatonale (UCI) (yeah, those guys again!), which had a history of declaring records null and void if its members believed they had been set on bicycles that deviated much from prevailing standards.

But, slowly, racers started to take notice and a cottage industry developed in aerodynamic bikes and parts.  The first attempt to bring aerodynamics to a wider audience came in 1981 when Shimano introduced its Dura Ace AX components.   Shimano's motivation for creating and marketing such a group of parts had, not doubt, had at least something to do with its desire to challenge Campagnolo's then-near-monopoly as a supplier for the world's top racing bikes.  It also had to do with its desire to distinguish itself from other component manufacturers--including SunTour--in the eyes of consumers. 

Shimano Dura Ace AX Components, 1981

But Shimano didn't get the payoff it had hoped for.  Most consumers, accustomed to the aesthetics of Campagnolo and the new SunTour Superbe components, didn't like the way AX stuff looked.  Also, it was heavier than what either of those companies made, as well as Shimano's conventional Dura-Ace components, and more expensive.  Most cyclists wondered just how much of an advantage they would gain by using aerodynamic components.

At that time, I knew a few cyclists--racers and the well-heeled--who used the AX stuff, usually on bikes like the Miyata Professional.  They all swore by the parts, and the bikes.  Mind you, they were the sorts of cyclists who believed that nothing could be better than an Italian (or, maybe an English or other European) bike with Campagnolo equipment.  Convinced as they were, though, they never seemed able to convince others to switch.

Laura Trott riding with disc wheels.  Oh, she won the gold medal.

Around that time, the first disc wheels and "deep V" shaped rims started showing up.  They, like the AX components and Miyata Pro, had their devotees, but could not convince others to make the switch.  The reservations expressed were the same:  looks, weight and cost.

(I must confess that I was one of those who didn't switch.  As my budget was very limited--I skipped meals and such to afford my Campy stuff--I simply couldn't afford to buy new parts.  Also, because my budget was limited, I was reluctant to try anything new or experimental.)

While the needle didn't move much for most cyclists, gradually time trialists and track riders started to adopt the new aero equipment.  Those probably were the disciplines in which the aerodynamic equipment made the most sense:  In the peloton, or in any other large group ride, you could probably be more aerodynamic just by riding within the group--or simply "drafting" one rider. 

Interestingly, the group of cyclists who did the most to make aerodynamic equipment desirable for others were triathloners.  Perhaps this has to do with the fact that the cycling portion of the triathlon more closely resembles a time trial than a road race, in part because there is no drafting. Also, riding in a more forward position takes weight off riders' legs, which leaves them fresher when the triathloner has to jump off the bike and start running.

It was for the triathlon that the first widely-used aerodynamic handlebar, the Scott DH, was developed. They made the "leap" into pure bicycle racing--as I noted in yesterday's post--when Greg LeMond rode them to victory in the final time trial of the 1989 Tour de France, which enabled him to win the whole event.

Greg LeMond riding to victory.

One thing I remember is that my Cinelli Spinacis added about quarter of a kilo (a bit more than half a pound) to the weight of my Colnago.  And the Spinaci was one of the lightest aero bar extensions available; others added as much as a full kilo to the bike.  Other aerodynamic components required more material, and were thus considerably heavier, than their counterparts. As an example, Mavic's 631 "starfish" crankset, which LeMond rode, weighed 723 grams. On the other hand, the company's 630 crank, patterned after the Campagnolo Record series, weighed only 525. For wheels, the weight difference was even greater:  1500 grams for a typical rear road disc of the time vs. 1110 or less for a wheel with 36 spokes, which was still the norm at the time LeMond rode.

Mavic 631 "starfish" crankset

Which brings me to the question everyone asks:  How much did LeMond's Bottechia aerodynamic weigh?  Well, according to the reports I've read, "more than 25 pounds (about 12 kilos) or even "more than 30 pounds" (about 14 kilos, which I find difficult to believe).  The lower figure is be about two to four pounds heavier than a typical road bike of the time; even if we go by that, we see that you don't ride an aero bike or components for the weight savings.

The bike LeMond rode in the last stage of the 1989 Tour de France.

So...the question remains:  Which is more important, weight or aerodynamics.  If I were a time trialist, I would certainly worry more about the latter. And for climbing or any kind of riding that requires quick acceleration (or deceleration), light weight is more beneficial.  For everyone else:  I don't know what to say.  And as for me: I don't worry about either.


30 March 2016

Assuming A Postition: Scott DH And Cinelli Spinaci

Today, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) is one of those organizations almost nobody loves.  There are plenty of good reasons for that:  The organization is often accused of looking the other way when riders are doping--and taking bribes to do so, and threatening lawsuits against those who accuse it of wrongdoing.  It was, essentially, duped (or so it claims) into violating a country's sovereignty.  And the UCI makes and enforces all sorts of rules that defy logic or reason.

However, there was a time--believe it or not--when the UCI actually made rules that made sense.  One of those occasions came in 1997, when it banned aerobar (a.k.a. "tribar") extensions from competition.

Scott DH bar, circa 1988.  Don't you just love that neon yellow? ;-?

You have no doubt seen, and possibly ridden, them.  Originally, they were designed and ridden by triathletes.  They caught on with other racers and wannabes after Greg LeMond rode the final time trial stage of the 1989 Tour de France on a bike equipped with Scott DH bars.  He began that day (23 July)'s stage 50 seconds behind race leader Laurent Fignon.  Rarely does any cyclist--barring a crash or mishap to another--make up so much time on a single stage, let alone the final one, which is usually an individual time trial and is, as often as not, ceremonial rather than consequential.

Greg LeMond on his time trial bike--with Scott DH clip-on aero bars--in the 1989 Tour de France.

When it was over, LeMond--whose 1986 Tour victory was the first by an American--left Fignon in second place, 8 seconds behind in the overall classifications.  That was, and remains, the smallest margin of victory by any overall Tour winner. 

Until then, the jury was out on aerobars.  But a lot of cyclists looked at that result--an 8 second lead over a three-week-long race!--and thought that if the aerobars weren't the reason, then maybe, just maybe...

Sales of Scott DHs took off.   The "forward" position mimicked the "tuck" of a downhill skier, which is where the "DH" came from.  (Before they started making aerobars, Scott was a ski-equipment company.)  At that time, a lot of road bikers were taking up mountain biking, some in the form that would later come to be known as "downhill".  That, I believe, accounted for at least some of the popularity of Scott DHs with wannabes.  And, at that time, some cyclists who'd started off as mountain riders were "discovering" road cycling.  And those triathloners who hadn't adopted aerobars up to that time couldn't wait to get them.

The popularity of those bars, naturally, spawned imitators and tweaks.  Some, like Profile, were made by companies that had never before made bike components.  And most of the handlebar manufacturers of that time got in on the action.

Cinelli Spinaci, circa 1990.

One of the best-known of that new breed of bars was the Cinelli Spinaci.  Its forward reach wasn't quite as far as that of the DH.  So, while it wasn't quite as aerodynamic as the DH, it allowed the rider to assume a position more aerodynamic than the normal road-riding position for longer periods of time.   Also, the Spinaci could be set up in a greater variety of positions.  That latter quality also was one of its downfalls.

The ideal position, or at least the one recommended by Cinelli, set the clamps at 45 degrees and the bars parallel to the ground.  But some riders tilted their Spinacis to the "wheel licker" position in the mistaken belief that being in a below-horizontal position made you more aerodynamic.  Others rode them with the bars tilted so that the end were almost in a direct line with the rider's face.  That position was about as aerodynamic as a boulder.

How do I know so much about the Spinaci? All right, I'll make a confession that might cause some of you purists to lose respect for me:  I used it.  I like to think I was young enough to consider it now as a youthful folly.  Although I knew that the bars would wreak havoc with the aesthetics of my Colnago, I rationalized installing the Spinaci because, well, it was Italian--because it was Cinelli, the same brand as the handlebars to which I was clamping it.

I didn't ride them for very long, though.  As I have  mentioned, there was no benefit in tilting them upward or downward.  And even though riding them in the horizontal position was relatively comfortable (especially with the arm rests), I didn't spend much time riding that way.  So, after acquiring them in the spring, I had little trouble selling them in the summer, as they were at the peak of their popularity.

The biggest drawback, though of Spinacis, DHs or any other aerobar lies in using them while riding them in a peloton or any other kind of group or pack.  When you're riding on the extensions, your hands are nowhere near your brake levers.  On traditional road bars, if you're riding in the drops, you can move your hands to the levers relatively quickly, usually enough to avoid a crash or lessen its impact.  The real danger, though, is not just in one rider using it.  As the UCI folk realized, in one of their rare moments of anything resembling clarity or magmamnity, if a hundred riders are using them and one of them goes down, or there is any other emergency, the result could be, essentially, a race that ends by attrition.

Now, having said all of that, I am not trying to dismiss aerobars.  I never cared for the aesthetic, but I can understand why some riders, especially time trialists, would like them.  The UCI, in one of its increasingly-rare instances of clear thinking, realized that there are some situations in which those bars shouldn't be used, and banned them for that reason.

29 March 2016

Through A Sea Of Molasses

If you commute by bicycle, you know that sometimes your ride home can feel very different from your ride to work.

Sometimes you're happy to get out and get on your bike at the end of your work day, especially if you have a couple of hours of daylight.  Then, your ride home might seem easier and go more quickly than the ride to your job.  You might even take a longer route, or a side trip, as you head home.

Then there are other days when the ride back seems longer and more tired because, well, you're tired.  You mght have had a stressful, or simply long, workday.  I know that when I have early morning classes, conferences with students and a meeting or two--or any unforeseen situation--the ride back might take me a few minutes longer, especially if I'm pedaling in the dark, in the dead of winter.

But yesterday, I felt as if I'd been pedaling through a sea of molasses for my ride home.  That sensation began with my first pedal stroke.  Even mounting my bike seemed more arduous than it did in the morning.

Mind you, I didn't have a tough day at work.   Things went well, actually:  Students were prepared and engaged.  So was I.  Exchanges with colleagues and office staff were pleasant.  Heck, I even stayed a bit longer to get a few things done--and write yesterday's post on a computer at my job.

By the time I got home, though, I felt as if I'd pedaled up every major climb in the Rockies, Alps, Appalachians and Pyrenees, and maybe one or two other mountain ranges.  Those eleven kilometers or so felt like a Tour de France stage--one that combined the mountains with a sprint.

Well, today I realize that I wasn't as out of shape as I feared I was.  My sinuses were spewing more than Mount Vesuvius and Mount Etna, and what it was spewing probably would have qualified my respiratory system as a Superfund site.  And, instead of eating pasta or noodles, my body has the lateral rigidity (sorry for the bikespeak!) of those foods--when they're overcooked.

So today I didn't go to work--or ride for any other reason.  It's odd that I managed not to be sick all winter, and the first week of Spring brought me to this.  Oh, well. It's temporary--I hope.  At least I'm not hurt. 

28 March 2016

Forty Years Later--Bikecentennial, Punk Rock and Miji Reoch

Mention the year 1976 to most Americans, and they will think of their country's Bicentennial.

Mention that same year to most American cyclists--at least those of a certain age--and Bikecentennial will come to their minds.

Something else that became an important part of our lives is also about to turn 40 this year.

I'm not talking about punk rock.  (Whether you date it to the Ramones' release of their self-titled album in February or the debut of "New Rose" by The Damned that October, punk rock began in 1976.)  And I'm not talking about the founding of Apple or the debut of Big Red Gum or the Honda Accord--or, for that matter, the Laverne and Shirley series.

What I am referring to is the first race in Somerville.

But wait a minute, you say.  First of all, it's the Tour of Somerville, though it is in fact a race.  Second, it first ran in 1940.  Didn't it?

Well, yes--for half of the population.  For its first thirty-two editions (it was not held from 1943 until 1946 because of World War II), only men competed in what has been called "The Kentucky Derby of Cycling".  But in 1976, the Mildred Kugler Women's Open--named for the daughter of Somerville's first winner, a top competitor in her own right--ran for the first time.  Held on Memorial Day, the same day as the men's race, its list of competitors and winners reads like a who's who of women's cycling.  As an example, Sue Novara, one of the best of the generation of female racers  that put the sport "on the map" during the late 1970s and early 1980s, won the race four times.

The very first winner of the Women's Open is someone who, unless you are around my age or are immersed in cycling history, you probably haven't heard about.  But in her day, she--a few years older than Novara and Sue Young--was one of the riders who picked up the torch from those who kept bicycle racing in the US alive during its Dark Ages and became, not only a world-class racer, but later a coach to the generation of riders who included Young and Novara, as well as later riders like Rebecca Twigg and Connie Carpenter.

Mary Jane "Miji" Reoch first won the US National Road Race championship in 1971, at the age of 26. She would go on to win ten more national championships on the road and track before retiring from racing at the end of the decade.  She also led a contagion of American women cyclists on a tour of Europe, where they competed in, and won, still more events.

She also helped to shatter some prevalent myths about pregnancy and cycling.  While she was racing, most obstetricians--nearly all of whom were male--recommended that women stop cycling as soon as they knew they were pregnant.  Their advice was based on the notion, since discredited, that a woman would harm her fetus or baby if she continued to ride.

Well, Miji continued to ride all through her pregnancy.  In fact, she pedaled to the hospital where she delivered her baby!

Miji--almost nobody called her by her full name--managed to earn the respect and garner the affection of a generation of those who raced with and against her, as well as those she coached and fans of racing.   While coaching in Texas, she went for a training ride with one of her students on the morning of 11 September 1993.  She was riding behind that trainee to better study that student's position and technique on the bike when an out-of control motorist struck her from behind

That motorist--Mario Nambo Lara--was driving well over the 20mph speed limit on the wrong side of the road when he lost control.  Reports said that she flew more than 90 feet through the air before landing in White Rock Lake.  That night, she was pronounced dead at Doctors' Hospital in Dallas.  

The pickup truck Lara drove was later found, abandoned.  By then, Lara had fled to his native Mexico, where he was captured nearly three years later. It is believed that he was intoxicated on the day he crashed into, and killed, Miji.

The following year she was inducted into the US Cycling Hall of Fame.  Women's racing, as we know it, might not exist had it not been for her work.  And it's not hard to imagine how much more it could have advanced had Miji not met such an untimely and tragic death.  She'd be 70 years old now, but if she could cycle to her delivery room, it's not difficult imagine she'd be cycling and coaching now.

27 March 2016

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!

Is that your idea of a nice family ride?

Perhaps it's more like this:

or this:

Or you may like a more spirited, competitive ride:

Whatever you do, enjoy the day!

26 March 2016

It's A Mountain Bike....And A Weight Trainer.

Yesterday, dear reader, I subjected you to another one of my "I remember when" posts.  If I do say so myself, I suspect some of you may have liked it, as the thing I was remembering is the sort of bike that's, sadly, not made anymore.

Today's post will also begin with "I remember when".  What am I recalling from the good ol' days?  Listening to a song with the lyric "all of the colors of black" with rainbows of polyester all around me?  Hearing Bruce Springsteen before the rest of the world would hear of him?  (Yes, I did!)  Seeing Michael Jackson when he was still black?  

No, I'll tell you about something that, if you're not of a certain age, you will find truly incredible.  No, I'm not talking about a time when the Rolling Stones and Joni Mitchell were actually worth listening to.  (Believe me:  There was such a time!)   I'm also not talking about the Knicks winning the NBA Championship. (Yo lo vi, I swear!)  Instead, I'm about to tell you something you may find even more unbelievable.  But I swear it's true.

Here goes:  Saturday Night Live was once actually worth watching. In fact, it was the funniest, and simply the best, program on TV for a time.  Really, it was.  In those days, it offered skits like this:

It's a dessert topping.  No, it's a floor wax.  Dan Ackyroyd, Gilda Radner and Chevy Chase were parodying all of those products hawked on late-night TV that try to serve disparate functions.  Can you imagine what the original SNL cast would have done with smart phones when they first came out?

Now, I'm not against products that can perform more than one function or task.   But just about every product has at least one thing it should never, ever be made to do.  As an example, I don't see how any device could be a juicer and a deep fryer at the same time.  At least, I don't think I'd want to eat or drink anything that came from such a device.

I have seen bicycles used to generate power for hair dryers and laptops, or spin grinding stones used to sharpen knives and cut keys.  I have even seen them used as amphibious vehicles.  I don't mind such uses; in fact, I applaud them.

But I don't think I like this:

If the bars and stem can flex enough to double as a gym machine for upper-body workouts, I'm not sure I'd want to ride them. And, really, you have to wonder just how good of a workout someone would get---whether in the upper body or legs--from the Revolution.

25 March 2016

Seeing Red In The Gray Before The Neon: 1983 Miyata 310

You know the '80's were, like, totally, about big hair and leg warmers.  Yeah, totally.  And neon.  Neon, totally.  The '80's were just awesome!

All right.  I didn't talk like that in the '80's.  Even though I was, like, young enough.  

That is the '80's everybody seems to remember.  Or, at least, that's the stereotype of the decade.  You had to love it, though.  In what other decade could The Cosby Show and Miami Vice have made their debuts during the same week?

Those '80's really began, I think, around 1984.  Before then, during the early part of the decade, the '70's were hanging on:  Men were wearing ridiculous moustaches and even more ridiculous sport coats and ties, and young women could be seen in butterscotch-colored leather jackets and boots.  But leisure suits were gone--thankfully!--along with men getting perms.  

And--something else for which I'm thankful--some very, very tasteful and functional bikes were being made.  In 1983, while I was working at Highland Park Cyclery (before I embarked on life as a New York City messenger), it seemed that every bike manufacturer--at least the ones whose bikes I assembled and we sold--offered at least one model in charcoal gray with red highlights--whether the decals or transfers, head tube, seat tube panels or bands, or some combination thereof.  The red really was a highlight:  It accented the understated nature of the gray finish rather than called attention to itself, as the red-white-and-black blocks and and bands on every other new bike sold today seem to do.

That year, I assembled bikes from Panasonic, Motobecane, Trek, Miyata, Peugeot and Ross--the latter's "Signature" series as well as their cheaper bikes.  I saw red and gray in every one of those brands' gray bikes.  But I didn't get tired of it:  Those bikes all seemed tastefully finished, especially this one:

The 1983 Miyata 310 was--is-- a very nice bike.  I think they, along with Panasonic, made some of the best mass-market bikes I've ever seen.  Their lugwork was on par with all but the small builders.  Their component choices always seemed to be made with function and value in mind:  lower- and mid-priced alloy parts from Shimano, SunTour, Dia Compe, Sugino, KKT, MKS and the like.  And, of course, SR Laprade seatposts.

It seemed that every bike and component maker had a product or line called "signature".  I know, it was a marketing gimmick, but it was pretty inoffensive, I think, compared to some that I've seen since.

Shmano made derailleurs with the "arrow" you see.  This version, as far as I know, was made only for the Miyata 310 and a couple of other manufacturers' models:  The derailleur was usually finished in silver and the arrow was gold-toned.  Shimano didn't call them "arrow"; they just had some boring numerical designation.  Nobody--not even the Shimano sales rep who came to our shop--seemed to know what, if anything, the arrow meant.

Sarcasm aside, seeing the bike reminded me--in good ways--of what bikes used to be:  nice lugged frames and components that had real functionality.  Today you have to go to small builders like Mercian or Royal H to get new bikes like them.

I wish that Miyata weren't locked up behind a fence:  I would've liked to have taken better photos.  I hope that I still managed to give you a taste of what people could buy off a showroom floor in the moment before reason and taste vacated much of the bike industry.

Note: There's one thing I don't like about the 310:  the shift levers.  But they're forgivable on a bike that has so much else going for it!

24 March 2016

What Cycling Can Teach Your Children

I have no children and don't plan on having any.  Still, I sometimes look at one thing or another and wonder what children or young adults might learn from it.  Perhaps that is a consequence of my being an educator.

(By the way, it's also one of the reasons why I find the Trump presidential campaign so abhorrent.  How can you teach your kids about honesty, respect and just plain good behavior, when someone like The Donald is one of the wealthiest people in the world and might become the most powerful?)

Anyway, I would like to think that if I had kids, they would learn a lot of good things from seeing me ride to work, and for pleasure.  I am sure that there are kids who are learning all sorts of great lessons from parents who ride bikes.    One might be simply that you're never "too old" to ride a bike.  Another is that you can have fun while doing (or getting to) the things you have and need to do.

From Kidical Mass Rockville

The author of the Bike to Work Blog once wrote about the "5 Things Your Bike Commute Teaches Your Children".  I might have come up with numbers 1,2, 3 and 5, or things like them.  But I'm not sure that I would have come up with number 4 unless I'd had kids.

Anyway, here they are:

  1. Think outside the box. Riding bike to work is powerful because so few others are doing it. When you bike to work, you are teaching your children that there is more than one way to do something–even something as mundane as the daily commute. In a world in which the jobs your kids will have haven’t been created yet, the ability to “Think Different” is a powerful key to success.
  2.  Be Frugal. We try to teach our children to understand value, thrift, and priorities but the average American family spends more on transportation than on food. For most of us, that means a car that sits in an expensive garage all night and in an expensive parking spot all day. By not spending a lot of money on a car, I am powerfully teaching my children what I value.
  3. Be Active. We tell our children to eat right and be active (“go out and play!”), but we gain five to eight pounds each year. Many of us exercise before the kids get up or after they go to bed and they don’t see it. When you ride a bike your kids see you leave and come home under your own power; they know you value exercise and a healthy, active body.
  4. Be Proactive and Self-Reliant. We want our children to anticipate problems and opportunities and we strive to empower them. When my daughter once asked why I was a little late getting home, I told her that that I had a flat tire. She seemed surprised and asked how I got home; I responded that I had “fixed it.” Watching her face as she processed the lesson that such a thing was fixable was priceless.
  5. Tread Lightly. Regardless of your views on climate change, the excesses of the 20th century have to be recognized as unsustainable. I don’t consider myself to be a tree-hugger, but I want my children to recognize that we must consume less and think more. By choosing a bicycle over a car, I am demonstrating an awareness of my impact on the planet that I know my children are absorbing.

23 March 2016

Paris. Then Istanbul...And Brussels. Where Does It End?

Sometimes even I can't talk about bicycles or bicycling.  Some things are bigger, sometimes.

So it was back in November, after the attacks in Paris. They had a personal meaning for me, as I had cycled or walked the streets, and sat at a sidewalk table in the café, that bore the onslaught.  Thankfully, none of my friends were hurt, though I still felt badly for those who were, or who lost loved ones.

Last week, suicide bombers struck on Iskital Caddesi (Iskital Avenue) in Beyoglu, a quaint shopping and tourist area of Istanbul.  I spent nearly two weeks in Istanbul and a month in Turkey ten years ago.  While I don't have quite the same connection to it that I do to Paris or France, I still feel as if a part of me had been attacked.  Even in such a heavily-visited area, the warmth and hospitality of local people--I'm not talking only about store and café owners and workers, though I include them--is unmistakable. 

An attack in such a place is also an attack on those people, and the beautiful people I met in other parts of Turkey.  I do not know the victims, but it is hard not to think that at least some of them, had I ever met them, would remind me of some of those friendly faces and incandescent eyes I saw along the Aegean coast and in the countryside.

Now sudden, random death has struck Belgium--specifically, Brussels.  I have not spent a lot of time in the nation or its capital, but I have deep and pleasant memories of both.  Most important, as in Istanbul and Paris, innocent people who were simply going about their lives and lost them, seemingly out of nowhere.

My heart goes out to all of them. 

22 March 2016

The Flash Hub Is Gone--Or Perhaps It Never Came!

What is this?

No, it's not a vintage Campagnolo Record front hub retrofitted for disc brakes. (Oh, perish the thought!)  Instead, it's something I mentioned in an earlier post:

It's none other than the Cinelli Bivalent.  It may be the only hub in history that was designed to be used either on the front (as shown in the first photo) or the rear. 

The toothed wheel served no purpose on the front. On the rear, however, the gear cluster or cassette fit onto it.  This was supposed to make wheel removal and installation easier.  From what accounts I've heard and read, it seems to have fulfilled that purpose.

Being a Cinelli item, the quality was most likely excellent.  (Some have claimed that Campagnolo made the hubs for Cinelli.) When the system was introduced during the early 1960's, the hub had a three-piece shell, like most hubs of that time.  A few years later, Cinelli started to offer hubs with single-piece alloy shells.

Although it seems that those who tried the Bivalent liked it, the system never caught on.  The reason usually given is that racers didn't want to use it because if they had to replace a rear wheel, a support van or truck probably wouldn't have another on hand, and the threaded hubs (like Campagnolo's) almost everybody--including all racers--used at the time wouldn't work with it. 

(That, by the way, is also one of the reasons why Campagnolo Record (as well as Nuovo and Super Record) dominated the peloton for so long:  Everyone wanted equipment that was compatible with everyone else's.)

As I mentioned in my earlier post, during the ensuing two decades between the introduction of Bivalent and Shimano's Freehub system (the prototype of every cassette hub made today), there were other attempts to make something more convenient, versatile or stronger than the traditional threaded hub and screw-on freewheel--especially since manufacturers were adding more gears to bikes.  

One of those attempts was SunTour's UnitHub of 1969.  Like today's cassette hubs, it combined the gear carrier and hub into one unit.  From what few accounts I could find, it worked well and was sturdy. However, the public wasn't ready for it--just as it wasn't able to receive another SunTour debutante from that year, the Five-Speed Click indexed derailleur system.

A decade later, Maillard introduced their "Helicomatic" hub, featuring a bayonet-style mounting onto which a gear cluster mounted.  The idea was great (better, I believe, than the Freehub system or any of its descendants), but it was poorly-executed and thus prone to breakdowns.  Shimano brought out its Freehub around the same time and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

But there was, apparently, an attempt to resurrect the idea of the Bivalent.  A company I had never heard of until I encountered it on Michael Sweatman's Disraeligears site made it--or, at least, made plans for it.  No one seems to know for sure whether any of those hubs were actually made.

The company, EGS, was based in France.  It made one of the most elegant or extravagant, depending on your point of view, and certainly most futuristic derailleurs ever created:  the UpCage.   In essence, it was a classic SunTour derailleur with its pulley cage mounted horizontally and a tensioning arm between the body and the pulley cage.  They weren't in production for very long, even though they were much loved by French downhill racers.

EGS UpCage.  From Disraeligears

Apparently, ESG had big plans:  its website--still up even though the company went belly-up in 2000--shows plans for a "Syncro-Shift" twist-grip control that operated both the front and rear derailleurs.  (Whenever I see any form of the word "Syncro" in a bicycle or component's name, I turn and ride as far and fast as I can from it!)  Also on EGS's drawing board were a brake system and something they called the "Flash Hub."

From the EGS website

ESG's website says the Flash Hub was to consist of a two-part hub, a fixed cassette mount and a moveable wheel mount.  The cassete mount unit was made to stay fixed to the frame's rear fork end.  I can't help but to notice their use of the term "fork end", which just may be a matter of translatation. Still, it leads me to wonder whether it would have worked with vertical dropouts.  No matter:  This system, according to ESG, would make it "child's play" to change the rear wheel.

There is no mention that the hub could be used on the front, so I imagine it wouldn't be possible.  To be fair, when Cinelli came out with the Bivalent hub, many frames made for derailleurs still had 110 mm spacing in the rear, as most freewheels still had no more than four gears.  Most road bikes then, as now, had 100mm spacing in the front fork.  So it probably was easier to make a hub that fit both front and rear than it would be to make such a hub now, when rear spacing is typically 130 or 135mm, and could grow if twelve or more gears and disc brakes become standard equipment.

Still, I have to wonder whether those guys at ESG--who, it seems, were downhill racers or had the attendant mentality-- knew about the Bivalent hub. 

N.B.:  Cinelli Bivalent photos were taken by Al Varick and appear on Classic Rendezvous.

21 March 2016

A Sugar Or Snow Coating?

Easter will be celebrated next Sunday.

I still remember the candy we used to get as kids:  chocolate bunnies, a rainbow of jellybeans, marshmallow "peeps" and those wonderful diorama eggs made of sugar.  Each of those eggs had a peephole that allowed you to look at scenes of little boys and girls hunting for Easter eggs, fields and flowers and, of course, Easter chicks and bunnies.

Those eggs were my favorite Easter confection.  I wouldn't eat mine right away, or sometimes even for weeks:  Those Easter (or Spring, anyway) scenes were just so pretty that I didn't want to risk ruining them from breaking the egg! 

I think what I loved best, though, was that I felt like I was looking at an Easter scene with a covering of snow, or one inside an Igloo.  It was like getting the best of both seasons.

The dioramas themselves were inedible:  They were usually made of paper.  Those eggs are harder to find today, and the ones that are available have dioramas that aren't nearly as elaborate.  As I understand, the reason is that a government regulation says, in essence, that if a candy is edible on the outside, it has to be edible inside.  So the dioramas are now made of candy, which is more difficult to turn into pretty scenes than paper or plastic are.

Still, I am tempted to get one:  I still think it would be fun to look at a Springtime scene with a coating of snow.

It would be different from the one I saw while pedaling over the RFK Bridge this morning:

That, on the first full day of Spring!

20 March 2016

It's So '70's That It's From The '90's

If you came of age as a cyclist, as I did, during the 1970s, the first derailleur you rode might have been a Huret Allvit, Luxe or Svelto, a Campagnolo Valentino or any of the plastic Simplex mechanisms.  If you rode those mechanisms enough, they broke or, in the case of the Hurets, developed stiffness or looseness in the pivots that made shifts sloppy and inaccurate--or impossible altogether.  And if you rode an Allvit, you broke a cable or two.

Then you took your bike to the shop.  The owner or a mechanic (who might have been the same person) recommended a new derailleur recently arrived from Japan.  It looked strange:  The body of your old derailleur dangled downward, but the body of this new derailleur ran parallel to your chainstay.  Its name had a "T" that flared out like a racing stripe, in contrast to the old-world cursive lettering on your old derailleur.  

But it was cheap, so you gave it a try.  On your first ride, you realize that you don't have to win a tug-of-war with your derailleur to get it to shift from one cog to the next one up, let alone across all of your gears.  You also realize that you could shift entirely by feel:  your chain didn't have to grind, clatter and clank as you coaxed it from one gear to the next.

Of course, later on you would need to replace that chain and, along with it, your freewheel.  Your owner/mechanic recommended a freewheel from the same company that made your new derailleur.  When you ride it out of the shop, you are again amazed:  You see that your new derailleur, which shifted light-years better than your old one, was shifting even better.

SunTour V GT derailleur (4900) main image

Chances are that your new derailleur and freewheel were made by SunTour, the first Japanese company to pose a real challenge to the old European component makers.  It was no wonder that by the end of the decade, more than half of new bikes--including many from old-line European manufacturers like Raleigh and Motobecane as well as upstart American companies like Trek--were equipped with SunTour derailleurs and freewheels.  

Today, just about any derailleur made today that has even a pretense of quality owes at least part of its design to that of those SunTour derailleurs.  As Michael Sweatman points out in his wonderful Disraeligears, today's Shimano XT-M772 has the same basic geometry as the 1972 SunTour V-GT. 

Another component that would be introduced during that decade would have a similar influence.  Someone working for an old French rim manufacturer got the bright idea of taking a tubular rim--the kind used for "sew-up" tires--and adding "hooks" to the sidewalls to hold the "beads" of a clincher tire.  The tubular rim profile is inherently stronger, per weight, than the box-channel or drop-section clincher rims made at the time; the resulting new rim was about 25 percent lighter than any other clincher rim available at the time.  So were the tires designed for it.  This development offered performance approaching that of tubular tires with the convenience of clinchers.  Also, the rim's width--20mm--matched that of most tubulars made at the time.  This made it possible for a cyclist to use clincher and tubular wheels on the same bike without having to readjust brakes or other parts.

Main Photo
The original high-performance clincher rim:  Mavic Module E, 1975

The rim in question was the Mavic Module E, introduced in 1975.  At the same time, Michelin brought out its "Elan" tire, made to work with the rim.  The rim was strong; the tire, not so much. The following year, Wolber came out with another, much stronger (though no heavier) tire for the Module E; other companies--including Panasonic (under the names Panaracer and National) followed.  

Every high-performance clincher rim--including the ones on fancy boutique wheelsets--made today uses Mavic's design innovation.  (Yes, even those neon-colored V-shaped rims have the double cross-section and bead hooks found on the Module E, and every rim Mavic has made since.)  And all of today's high-quality clincher tires use the same bead design Michelin introduced with its "Elan" tire.

Other innovative components saw the light of day during the decade, but I'll mention just one more.  If you were riding in the '70's or '80's, there's a good chance you rode it; there's an equally good chance that you're riding something based on its design.

It's a component most of us don't think about very much once it's installed.  And, if it's adjusted properly, there's no reason why we should.  In its time, it was nearly as ubiquitous as SunTour derailleurs.  However, as we will see, as good as it was, it wasn't quite the innovation most of us assumed it to be.

Once we've settled (!) on a saddle that's right for us, and have it set to the height and angle that feels right, we rarely, if ever, pay any mind again to our seat posts.  But if we have to replace our saddles--or if we're setting up a new bike--choosing the right seat post make it not only possible, but easy, to place and tilt our seats to the optimal position.

The old Campagnolo seat posts were renowned for their durability and "infinite" adjustability. But, with the two adjustment bolts ensconced between the saddle rails and body, setup and adjustment were not easy, even with the wrench Campagnolo made for the purpose.  Other seatposts, such as those from Simplex, were easier to use but, frankly, never won any beauty contests (though I think its headbadge was pretty cool).

Around the same time Mavic and Michelin re-invented the wheel (the bicycle wheel, anyway), there appeared a seatpost that--like SunTour derailleurs--cost much less than their competition but worked a lot better.  A saddle setup or adjustment that took half an hour or more--if one had the specially-designed tool for the purpose--could be accomplished in a fraction of that time, with a common 6mm allen key and, best of all, one hand.

French Laprade seatpost

The Sakae Ringyo (SR) Laprade seatpost was even "fluted" like the Campagnolo Super Record!  Yes, it was heavier, though not by much, and the finish--at least on the early versions--was rougher.  But, in time, SR cleaned it up and offered another, lighter, version with the kind of finish found on Nitto's offerings (or old Cinelli bars and stems) and one of the most interesting model names ever given to a bike component:  Four Sir.  (Is that a translation of something from Japanese?  Or did it come up during some dada poetry session where the sake flowed freely?)  

I don't recall seeing very many Four Sirs:  Once SR made its basic Laprade post a little prettier and lighter than the original, there really wasn't much reason to buy any other.  Even top-of-the line bikes came with it as standard equipment. 

What almost nobody, at least here in the US, realized was that SR didn't call their seatpost "Laprade" just because they thought a French name would make it sound better.  Japanese patent laws being what they were at the time, companies like SR could make near-clones of other companies' designs with impunity.  The original Laprade seatpost was made in France.  Not many made it here to the US, so most of us had never seen it before the SR version came to these shores.  

SR Laprade, circa 1978

As I understand, the original Laprade was a high-end item found mainly on French bikes made from Reynolds 531 or Columbus tubing, and on the Vitus aluminum frames from that country.  It was cold-forged and highly-polished, which made it expensive.  SR melt-forged their Laprade post, which made it heavier, and didn't finish it (except in the Four Sir version) quite as nicely.  But it did the job and didn't detract from the looks of even the best bikes, so it was a runaway favorite both in the original- and replacement-equipment markets.

SR Laprade "Four Sir" 

The majority of good seatposts made today are based on the Laprade design.  In fact, the manufacturers go as far as to call them "Laprade-style" or even "Laprade" seatposts.  The name today refers to just about any seatpost with an integrated single-bolt clamp that adjusts from the underside, in much the same way that "Scotch tape" refers to any clear cellophane adhesive strip, whether or not it's made made by 3M.

Ironically, the French Laprade post wasn't an original.  

Now tell me that design from E.C. Stearns--at the time, the world's largest bicycle manufacturer--doesn't look uncannily like the Laprade.  I wonder whether the folks who developed the Laprade seatpost in France were aware of Stearns' patent--which, I imagine, had long since expired.

Well, if you've been reading this blog, you know that there really isn't anything new under the sun, at least in the world of cycling.  No, not even carbon fiber or titanium frames!