Recumbent Hippies or Superhero’s?

21 03 2009

You know, you see them lurking in the shadows,  flying by you in a skin tight silver surfer suit (no I am not making this up).   Nobody knows who he is like any proper super-hero.   Then there is the grey wolf, A Tucson favorite.   No not a recumbent rider but is part of the same fellowship.   He howls.   Yep and sews his own cloths, has huge gears because he never goes up hill and always has a gallon of milk on his tool belt.   Wait….super-hero’s always have tool belts or at least belts.   It’s all starting to make sense.

Then there was this guy, I heard his name was Dave.   People called him leatherman.   He rode a cruiser all day,  never-ever sat down.  Built like a brick shit house and the best part?   Only wore a speedo…..ever….Mmmmm super-hero’s wear speedos on the out side of their outfits.

Then there is this guy….His name is Lesley.  I  see him a bunch though.   He has one gear….BIG and a sweet set of cutoff jeans.  Super nice, always has a wave, a bit like Wolverine on the X-men.

tucson orignial.

I found this guy on the Internet this week.   Not from Tucson sadly, but he seems to fit the hypothesis.   Most super-heros have to have a vehicle.  Wonder-woman has her invisible jet, Batman has all sorts of things.  This gent has a recumbobike

He has the boots too.  Every proper super hero needs boots.   But more importantly even more than military surplus outfit is the glasses.   A little like cyclops from the X-men but backwards.

So, there you have it.   Can’t be any other way.   These guys are modern super-hero’s or as close as we really get to it.  I am convinced.


Thurday paint work

19 03 2009

I am repainting a really nice schwinn road frame.   Pretty darn nice, even when I had the paint off and uses a neat tube set that would be hard to duplicate today.

the paint job scheme is chrome with a candy violette over the top.   This is not real chrome it is actually a paint and this is the first full use on a bicycle I have done.  I am learning a whole lot on this one.  I have done candies of course, masking, no problem but the chrome paint is another animal.  Neat, and my tests show it is pretty darn durable but make a mistake with it after application and essentially its ruined.   Painting is a lot of fixing.  Fact of life but this stuff you can’t fix so better not screw it up in the first place.

Cargo bikes, the next hypocritcal mass?

14 03 2009

Cargo bikes.

I am all into cargo bikes. Honestly, I can’t think of a better use of a bicycle. But…..I can’t get into the hypocritical nature of what these really represent for most people. Here is what I mean.

First you have to get a “cargo bike”. What is a cargo bike? I mean I call a cargo bike any bike that you can put a ton of shit on and go from point A to point B. As in millions of flying pigeon bicycles in China or any of the other single speed English type bicycles throughout all of Asia that are routinely loaded to the hilt everyday and turned from bicycle to impromptu fruit stand or chicken stand or TV truck.

My flying Pigeon:


Various shots:


Bike shop on a Bike (really a trike) that I ate next to in Beijing….Those were some good noodles BTW.  But I digress.


No, No, here in America we have to have a “special” vehicle for this so we can go to the stupid Safeway or Wally and pick up three bags of groceries. Was anyone every broke enough here to remember hanging five or six bags on the handlebars of your beater MTB and getting back home at like 10pm?

Today you need a 3k wonder cargo long bike with wood baskets and fenders from some super rare irreplaceable rain forest tree. Worse yet, is getting a Chinese equivalent, stripping the whole thing down and replacing the crappy parts with “good” parts. Then throw all the crappy new parts in the landfill (cause you can’t recycle chrome plated steel or make some “bike art” with it uggh) and ride that thing with a huge smug smile to the coffee shop to pick up a pound of Starbucks French Roast. Repeat at least three times a year. The other 297 trips a year. Complete with your dino sucking Escalade.

So lately I have heard many people talk about wanting one of these cargo bikes. Generally the concept is…..Well if it was cheap enough, I could park it next to my other dozen bicycles and my three cars….but only if it is cheap enough, then I might go to Home Depot and cause I can, buy concrete, and ride home with it.   Funny thing is most of these people don’t know the difference between a nail and a screw.

That is not the idea, people. Even if it costs 5k for a cargo bike, the concept is that you do a large chunk of your trips with it. If that is the case, then it would pay for itself in short order with savings in auto payments, insurance and fuel. Cargo is not some sort of freaking bike accessory. And if you want to be cheap, nobody needs a cargo bike. It is nice for sure but you can load up the simplest of English three speeds and carry most anything reasonable.

If you have to pick up 400lbs of concrete or a new 60’’ television, you know a car is a pretty darn nice thing to have.

Cargo bikes should not be a fashion statement nor a advertisement for green values, but sadly to some, they seem to be.  I like when we don’t give names to things.  I think using your car less is really smart, Going car-less is generally stupid and if you are going to use your bike for cargo hauling either buy something nice, locally made with sustainable materials or use what you got.


Rohloff hubs-different but Awesome

10 03 2009

I have become quite a specialist in outfitting bicycles with Rohloff hubs.

If you don’t know the Rohloff hub is basically an upgraded version of your Grannies three speed.  Well, not if your granny is in this gang:


It is an internally geared hub with 14 evenly spaced gears inside of it. No deraillieurs needed.


My customers and myself love them. They have many, many advantages and few disadvantages. I will go into some of them here. There are many “opinions” on the Internet and most of them are not based in any form of reality. I have over 10 years of experience spec’ing these devices and using them personally.

Derailleurs and hub gears go way back. Initial designs for both happened in the late 1800’s. Around the 30’s there was kind of a little competition between the British and French. The Brits mainly used internally geared hubs that either had 2-5 gears. The french liked the Derailleur. The French won of course and now almost all bicycles have some form of the Derailleur system. Let’s not discount the gear hub. It made sense for the British. An internal system was free from the ravages of the weather and was much lower in maintenance than the derailleur systems at the time. As long as the transmissions only had two or three gear combos, frictional losses were low and this worked in England where the terrain tends to be a lot flatter than France.

Fast forward 80 years or so and a small company out of Germany comes up with the Rohloff speedhub (Bernie Rohloff, designer/producer)
Generally the gear hub died because it had more frictional losses, less gears, weighed more and cost much more to produce than the simpler derailleur system. Otherwise it has a leg up in durability, longevity and ease of use. Those 80 years helped a lot. Material improvements, manufacturing improvements and designing tools allowed the speedhub to come to fruition. This would not have been possible 30 years earlier.

At this point the Speedhub is proven technology. In production for more than 12 years now and with over 100,000 thousand units produced. Surprisingly the design has had few updates. Shows how good it was to begin with. Mostly small things like seal improvements and shift/brake adapters.

So what is it like to live with a Rohloff for real. Great! after the first month or so. A Rohloff is like a long term romance. Sometimes it is a little slow to kindle but builds with time.

First thing you will notice is that the hub is a concentrated mass, that is for sure. Realize you are substituting a lot of items in this hub. Hub, cassette, two shifters, two derailleurs and two front chainrings. The hub does weigh between one and two pounds more than the lightest road/mountain components. It does weight just about the same as mid level components like XT from Shimano.

Next, it really helps to have a frame that was designed specifically for the Rohloff hub. It works best with drop-outs that incorporate the torque plate (although there are clean adapters now that bolt to standard disk IS mounts) The hub does not work well on many suspension designs due to chain kickback and unsprung weight. With the right design it does work well. Also the cable management works best with braze/weld ons designed for it. It always looks clunky when retrofitted to standard frames. This has limited the use of the Rohloff as often if means buying an entirely new bicycle.

The hub require a heap of break-in……Say it out loud. A HEAP of break-in. No, 100 miles won’t cut it. Maybe 1000k miles. Most of the dissatisfaction with the hub comes from the initial break in procedure and some cannot get past this. Here is what is happening. The gears are straight-cut and because the hub is complicated already the gears on not pre-polished at the factory. You are doing it! All the items need to bed into each other and the only way to do this is to work all the parts together thoroughly. This only really happens when you are putting a lot of force into the hub, either through sprinting, climbing and shifting a lot. Don’t worry, it gets better. Long term hubs, feel like butter and they smooth out substantially.

The 7-8 shift. This takes some getting used too. The hub has a safety mechanism which prevents overload. The Rohloff is essentially two 7-speed transmissions in the same case. If one applies too much torque during this shift the hub goes into 14th gear for it’s own protection. As soon as you release torque it pops from 7-8. It does take some getting used too. Eventually you learn how to shift at the top of your pedal stroke and momentarily remove enough torque to easily pop the shift.

Many are concerned with the efficiency of the hub. The web can give you plenty of facts about that but let me say that after the initial break in that in real world riding it feels the same as anything else. I for one cannot differentiate a percent of friction from one system to the next. If your riding include dirty nasty conditions, the hub quickly becomes the thing to have as derailleur systems quickly clog with goo and become nearly useless.

The biggest thing for me and my customers? Reliability, durability and lack of maintenance. Honestly. I have dealt with over 35 of these hubs in my career and only twice has any issue occurred. Once it was a real problem and was repaired free of charge by Rohloff USA two years out of warranty and the other was a cog that wore out before it should have, but there are worse things than a 20 dollar cog wearing out. Otherwise, not a single issue in 10 years with basically Nil for maintenance.

So the pluses? Shifting is amazing and quick. You can shift at a dead stop to any gear you want. Drivetrain is super simple and last nearly forever. The rear wheel is super strong. Even huge Clydesdale’s have no issue with the 32 hole perfectly symmetrical wheel.

Lastly is the cost and yes, this brings up a lot of angry discussion. Let me relate a little story. Shimano was offered the design of the hub early on. They came back and said they couldn’t make it. At least not at a price that would fit within there lineup. Shimano couldn’t make it……Think on that for a while. The hub is a real engineering marvel. The gears themselves are made by the same outfit that makes the gears for Mercedes transmissions. It is built in Germany in a nice, clean factory where the workers get a nice vaction every year and get health insurance. Add the continual decline of the American dollars purchasing power and you have yourself the makings of an expensive apparatus. It is a long term investment. Think about something that can easily outlast 5 or more standard drive-trains. Ever heard of an auto manual tranny failing? Rare…Usually they last for eons with only a new clutch. The long term ownership costs of a Rohloff are very much less expensive than any derailleur system. I would also add that many people spend beaucoup dollars on light weight race parts. Far more in fact that the Rohloff. XTR from shimano for the parts that represent the Rohloff cost more than the Rohloff speedhub.

The Rohloff speedhub is not for everyone, but if you are willing to learn a new system and take the time to break it in and you like well made, long lasting equipment the Rohloff Speedhub may be for you.

LUGS. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

9 03 2009


No, not that Good, bad and the Ugly..  What we are talking about here is Lugs.  The kind we use to construct bicycle frames.   Like this:


Basically a pressed or cast fitting that is joined together using a brazing material (soldering is below 800 degrees-brazing is above.  same concept) which is typically either a form of bronze or high silver bearing material.

Lugs used to be all formed by a method called pressing.  Leviathans of steel and leather belts used to be able to stamp these out by the millions back in the day.   The results, straight from the box were really rough.   Compare the above picture to the example below:


See how they are a lot courser?  The interiors often do not fit as well, there are lots of surface flaws, the edges are jagged  and certain items like seat binders need to be re-enforced to work well.   This is why many feel that the pressed lug is the epitome of the framebuilders art.   When you see a beautifully executed pressed lug you know that a lot of time and care went into it by default.  I submit into the record exhibit A…by Brian Baylis


Later came the investment cast lug.  Just as a wedding ring is made by making a wax replica first from a mold, the cast bicycle lug is made the same way.  This results in a near perfect lug straight from the foundry.  Certainly this was a step in the right direction.  It reduced costs and brought up quality almost overnight.   With all things though there was the downside.   That is that it really does not take the same amount of craftsmanship to get excellent looking and performing results.   Today,  many builders take the lug, straight from the box and with 5-10 minutes of prep work turn it into a reasonable looking joint.    I sometimes call this “fake art”  like the example below:


99% of all buyers would not know that the lug came this way.  See how crisp the lug edges and details are?

So, what in today’s work constitutes a well crafted lug?  All of us framebuilders are capable of brazing reasonably well.   But I look for a little more.

1st.   Clean crisp edges that show no overflow of brazing material or that the builder took the care to clean up any issues.   Perfection would be a perfect 90 degree angle from lug edge to tube/lug edge.  Impossible, but that is what we are shooting for.

2nd.  That the shorelines of the lug flow well.  As delivered from the factory the curves and such do not always flow really well.  Simple filing and modification of the lug edge can do a lot here for visual flow.

3rd.  That the lug is partially thinned.   This is where the lug thickness is reduced to some degree.   Usually the lug is about 1.5mm thick from the factory but thick can make for a heavy looking lug, especially if any artwork has been added the tips become very heavy.   There are a lot of thoughts about how much to thin them.  In the old days, some would thin them until the tip became part of the tube again.   This may be going overboard but some thinning indicates care.   It does not take long to at least thin the tips of the lug.  Thinning an entire lug can be very laborious, but I at least look at this little touch.

4th.  The truly handmade lug.  This lug does not start as a pre-cast piece or a pressed piece but is made entirely by hand by many methods.   This is the pinnacle of our art.   There are many different ways to accomplish this, all of them massively time consuming.  The Glenn Erickson, Richard Moon, Art Stump and Dave Bohm/Bohemian lugs below are all examples of this art.   Rare as hens teeth, always has been, always will be because literally the amount of people on the planet who can do it can be counted on both your hands and it takes a very special customer or desire to do it.

Some examples below of really great work:

Lastly,  The art of it.   Everybody has a different take on this.  I see the beauty in a simple single curve lug done well or a very ornate lug, also done by hand and unlike any other.

It is important as a creator of things to experiment and open yourself up to the possibilities.   Even the most strict of disciplines like Japanese sword making allow for creative outlet through the ornamentation of the scabbard and hilt.   Any framebuilder who professes to it being only a “machine” is fooling themselves.   Why put a snazzy paint job on only a tool?  or add headbadges etc, if the rest doesn’t matter?  Creation is a human need, Expansion of ones self is a human need.  That is how I see it.

gotta paint

1 03 2009

Well, sorry to be so remiss with my blog.   Painting is going great.  Nearly three years now and I am still learning so much and there is only one way to learn and that is paint stuff and try things that you would not yet attempt on customers bikes.

That means whatever I have laying around.   This time it was my pretty beat motorcycle helmet.  Remember Hong Kong Phooey?  Number one super guy?

Well, I loved that show as a kid, even though it was short lived and gave a shot of puttting on my helmet performing Buddha’s palm.  All done in candy colors, rootbear, blues, gold, purple green.  I am so sick of skulls and flying eagles and stuff from the motorcycle crowd.   I thought it would be a little different and fun.