Friday, November 16, 2012


Marcel, I am proud to say, is done. This is a bike that has been years and years and years in the making. It started out as a custom frame order from Velo Orange, back when they offered custom frames. I bought all the parts I needed; and all these parts stayed in my closet after they cancelled their custom frame line. This was the frame I originally wanted to build in Doug Fattic's class, though he quickly convinced me that it was way too complicated for a first frame. Then, since I wasn't having any luck finding a space to build, I decided to order a version of this frame from someone else. This was the bike to be named "Clive" (you can find out more by searching that keyword), but it didn't work out, and it was back to the drawing board.

Naturally, when I finally got a space to build, this was the bike I started to make. I made the fork (the fork that's now on this bike), but then messed up the BB drop on the frame, so had to turn that frame into Jocelyn Lovell Bike. I had already started the Curnoe bike at that point, so the randonneur moved to #3 on the self-made queue. But then I got busy, and I lost my shop space, and #3 never happened.

Enter Olivier. After we lost our space, he set up a little framebuilding area in his house. So I asked him if he could finish what so many other had started. This he did (in something like two weeks, no less.) Using my fork, and some "investment stamped" lugs I'd made, and some other frame bits such as my CS/dropouts, he put this together, and build a rack, stem, and décaleur for me. I then filed the lugs and did various picky things I like to do. Then Noah Rosen (Velocolour) did the paint and chroming. The result is Marcel, an uncommonly fine bicycle.

The build.

This was by far the longest, most complicated build I've ever done. Since time is at a premium these days, I decided not to bother documenting it, and just get it done.

One of the main complicating factors was my lack of shop space. I just clamped my vise to my desk and went for it.

The below picture captures the experience. It's a total mess, there are bike tools, files, drills, and soldering stuff all over the place. It took me about a full week of work to get all this done, then a full day to clean up.

The results.

Of course, it was worth it. I guess I still prefer the Curnoe Bike, just for being so colourful and weird, but this is probably a "better bike." It's a fairly extreme version of a constructer bike—extremely integrated—and it all works phenomenally well, so far.

Here he is: Marcel.

The logo.

Since I didn't make all of this bike myself, it of course didn't make sense to use my A.HAMMOND decals. But given my obsession with decals, obviously I wasn't going to leave it blank. After much thought, I came up with the name BIS, and this logo:

The name is mainly from the musical term, "bis," meaning repeat. Repetition is the basic activity not only in cycling (turning the pedals over, again and again and again), but also in frame building, where you seem to always do something at least twice before you get it right. A lot of French product names have the word "bis" where an English product would be "mark II"—the second try, the improved version. That sense of the ongoing, never-ending quest for perfection (hey, didn't Richard Sachs say something about that somewehere?) is part of the name too.

More important, though, is the root word of bis: two. It's a bike made by two people, the result of collaboration at every stage. I hate to get too mushy/conceptual here, but that's why the two sides of the downtube logo share a letter "I." Two "I"s merge into one. Collaboration! (Noah, if you're reading this, yes, my tongue is in my cheek—slightly.)

If ever a logo called for a second version, though, a "mark II," this is probably it. People seem to think it says either "B.S." (woops) or "B.L.S." or something. Pretty much no one gets "BIS." In a way, though, even that misreading sort of fits in to the concept.

The head tube/seat tube logo is that stretched out letter "I" surrounded by two dots, the musical notation for a repeated passage—for "bis." You'll notice that you see the same shape when you look at the downtube logo (above) from the top.

I really like the way the DT/ST logos look, and wouldn't change them. I also love that photo above and this one below. The above for its symmetry, and the shifters popping up like ears, the below for getting so much action into a small frame.

By the way, the name "Marcel" is from Marcel Proust, one of my favourite writers. I was briefly considering calling my collaboration with Olivier "Cycles Proust," because one of his surnames is Proulx, which is related to Proust, and since I like Proust so much. Also because the title of Proust's great work, À la recherche du temps perdu, "In Search of Lost Time," is a pretty appropriate slogan for a bike company. But, alas, it was all too cheesy, even for me, and so BIS was it, with Marcel left for the name of the bike.

Stem, décaleur, general integrated-ness.

As a bike, probably the most distinctive thing about Marcel is his (yes, typically French) integration and constructer-ness. A lot of that is visible in Olivier's custom-made stem, which holds a décaleur, a special hanger, a boss for a bell, and a step cap switch for the lighting system.

There it is from the other side. Note also that beautiful headset spacer, made from aluminum tubing of the same dimension as the steel used to make the stem clamp.


The handlebar area is really pretty exciting on Marcel. The levers are nice Mavic-branded Modolos.

The bars themselves are Philippe randonneur bars. I've never seen any other black ones like these; they're pretty phenomenal. I really like the colour of the cloth bar tape too. That's white tape with about 15 coats of clear shellac, then two coats of amber, then some more coats of clear. I was trying to get it to match the sidewalls of the tires and the chamfer colour on the Brooks Pro saddle. (I can't help mentioning the nice radius on the stem clamp—one of the little touches I'm responsible on an otherwise made-by-Olivier stem. Note that the clamp itself is 25.0, for the French bars.)


The rack is entirely Olivier's doing and must be one of the nicest ever made.

It's an absolutely minimalist design, and does the job very well.

Probably the nicest touch is that gracefully bent tube that serves both as a left strut and a light mount. Best of all, Olivier left the tube open to make it easy to pass lighting wires through. A really brilliant touch, and very helpful in the build process, which was complicated enough as it was.

Back end of bike.

Let us now, totally arbitrarily, have a look at the back end of the bike. That's a Brooks Pro saddle, a Sugino Mighty seatpost (horrible looking when I got it, but some filing/sanding/polishing got it back in order), a really quite nicely filed Cinelli CS seatlug, a beautiful rear brake cable hanger, and, well other things I can tell you more about below.

As I did on the Greg Curnoe Bike, I made a fender reinforcer for this one. I actually meant to have have the two bolts on the other side of the stay, but I don't imagine there's any functional difference. It looks fine, too.

Man oh man oh man oh man do I like this Mavic derailleur. It works as well as the 7400 Dura Ace, but it's built with that Mavic over-the-topness, and it looks amazing. I took advantage of the fact that one can totally take these apart and rebuild them (no rivets!) to disassemble it and remove the anodizing. Thus all the shine. This is a NOS derailleur, being used for the first time now. The cassette is a 13-24 Shimano Uniglide 6-speed that I found (along with a bunch of others; I have a massive stash now) a couple of years ago, unused, at a bike co-op. The hub is a XT 6-speed Uniglide mountain bike hub, spaced at 130mm. A really excellent hub. Also, note the cut-out Ritchey dropouts. Filing that shape out was the very first thing I did in my the shop behind Hoopdriver.

Olivier added this chain slapguard, made from a spoke. I got the idea from something I saw by Alex Singer.

The rear light/pump peg/etc.

I got these lovely engraved Mafac "2000" calipers from Mike Barry, probably in about 2006. I stripped the anodizing, leaving them in this beautiful state. Mounted to braze-ons, of course.

There's that nicely filed seat lug again. And more excitingly, the rear light. The shell was taken from an old French taillight Olivier found for me on French eBay, and Olivier and I made the actual light and figured out a way to attach it to the frame. (It's all done through chainring bolts, convenient since they're hollow, and you can pass wires through them.) This is one of the nicest shots, showing lots and lots of little things going on, and working well.

From the other side, you can see the pump peg. Also, the light nicely lit up by the sun...

The stem cap switch.

The biggest source of stress for me was figuring how to make this stem cap switch work. It's a pretty simple idea (it makes a lot of sense to be able to turn your light on and off from there, especially since that's a spot that's not used for anything else), but really quite complicated to implement. I got the idea from Jan Heine, but unlike him I wanted to use a threadless steerer, just to make things slightly less complex. The downside to my arrangement is that I can't adjust the headset without taking the switch out, so it needs to be set up perfectly the first time. (Naturally, I've already had to take it apart a few times.) Olivier made the beautiful cap itself. I did all the wiring, which required a lot of forethought, but wasn't really all that tough. One of my favourite things about this bike is that the lighting circuit is grounded through the frame—the steel is actually part of the circuit—the frame is alive with electricity!

Without going into all sorts of detail, this is the switch and the little machined plastic piece that keeps it in place. (It all needs to be knocked a few centimeters into the steerer, so that the switch stem sticks out only slightly.)

The switch has six positions, which I've set up for off-on-off-on-off-on. Here is one of the three "on" positions.

And here is proof that it all works.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Marcel in the Flesh

Well it did end up being a rather long time, didn't it!

I'm afraid I am again in a rush, and won't have time to provide my long-overdue explanation of the name "BIS" and its logo. I will merely say that, unfortunately, everyone thinks the logo says "B.S." because I insisted on wrapping the "I" over the top the downtube.

I will also say that I think Marcel looks absolutely incredible, and that Olivier's work here (most of the frame, the rack, décaleur, and stem) is truly wonderful—beautiful and also very functional. Noah's paint, as usual, is exceptional.

More photos as the build progresses!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Meet Marcel

Oh dear, sweet blog, what a long time it has been.

The catastrophe that has struck me is best described as the onset of adult life. I finished my Ph.D., ceased being a grad student, and have begun teaching. On the balance I can say that the adult world is what I expected it to be—which is why I was so studiously avoiding it.

I did however find some things to get obsessed with and preoccupied by in the adult world. And since, in the true spirit of obsessiveness, I get truly obsessed with my obsessions, I have had almost no time for bicycles in the last year—either riding them or building them. But the teaching year is now over, and so it's time to make a slight return.

Let me begin by catching you up. In December, my shop partner Olivier and I learned that, alas, our shop space was being reclaimed. This was no surprise, as I wasn't using it at all, and the space was needed for other things. So since December I have been shopless. Not so Olivier, who had a perfect little space in his recently-purchased house, and moved the stuff in there. He has been building away ever since.

He said he needed a project, and I was more than happy to give him one. Since 2007 (yes, that is five years ago) I have been trying to get a randonneur built. I have had all the parts—TA cranks, Schmidt hubs, Mavic derailleurs, and so on and so on—in my closet for each of those five years. I placed orders with two separate custom builders, each of which look quite a long time to not work out. Then I tried making the randonneur myself (he was called "Adam Jr." in this state), but I messed up the BB drop, and so Adam Jr. became Jocelyn Lovell Bike. Then I got caught up in Greg Curnoe bike; and then I got caught up in the aforementioned adult life. Thus the project passed on to Olivier, who has done an absolutely superb job of it. (I should add that what took two professionals and myself five years to not complete took Olivier about one week to finish.)

This bike is a "collaboration," which is another reason to like it. I built the fork, "investment-stamped" the lugs, shaped them and then filed them. Olivier did most of the work: everything else, including the frame, a front rack, a stem, and a décaleur.

I have named the bike Marcel, to reflect this spirit of collaboration. Marcel Proust, you see, is one of my favourite writers. He is also French, like any good randonneur. The name of his great work, In Search of Lost Time, sounds like it could be the title of a time trialist's autobiography, which adds to the fun. It so happens that Olivier, whose first language is French, has among his surnames "Proulx," which is a nice North American relative of Proust's surname.

So: Marcel. Let's have a look at him.

One of many "constructeur" glory-shots: the little area where the taillight light braze-on mount meets the seat tube pump peg. God Bless you, Olivier! (Amusing side note: it was no fewer than three years ago that Olivier and I built the taillight that will screw in to that hole [at the time, it was to screw in to a bike named Clive.] I named the light Kermit.)

Olivier's lovely curved SS bridge, between Mafac bosses almost centred on the stays.

Olivier's equally lovely stem. Some things that I did in this shot: I put a fun shape into the handlebar clamp and I prepped and filed those beautiful Cinelli CS lugs. I hardly modified their basic bird-beak shape. The more I look at and think about lugged bikes, the more I think that is the proper lug shape.

Olivier's extremely elegant front rack, with extra-simple and extra-beautiful internal routing. It mounts to the Mafac bosses on the fork, which I made long ago, and whose inarguable loveliness is largely the result of fork blades bent by John Medclay.

I just love Olivier's way of attaching stays: strong, light, and leaves the stays at a perfect spacing for Mafac bosses. A great hanger, too. I didn't go crazy with lug-filing; just made things reasonably even. (I've photographed this bike from the non-drive side, incidentally, for Greg Curnoe-related reasons; and no, I won't use that Sugino post, whose flutes are unfortunately too long.)

Oh, say! What's that? New logos? A new name? "Bis"? Lots of lines and dots? What is all that about?

All questions answered in the next post, which will, I promise, arrive in fewer than nine months.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Paul Butler's "The Greg Curnoe Bike Project" at the AGO

Paul Butler's Greg Curnoe Bike Project is under way at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and runs until November 13th.

For my own totally different Greg Curnoe Bike project, completed last spring, read my artistic statement and look at photos.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gaudi Bike, Step 1; and Bikes and Guitars

Yesterday I took the very first step for the next bike, which I am calling for now by the dramatic title "Gaudi Bike." This first step was putting brass in the transitions of some a stamped Cinelli CS lugset to begin my "investment stamped" process—a sort of time-waster that allows me to do nice silver-brazing on old, long-pointed lugs. The seatlug (which has a reinforced binder, also) looks a bit a double-beaked baby bird asking for a meal. I have kept my framebuilding hobby "starved" for the past while; it is hungry!

Below is a photo taken in the same room as the above, my living room:

For a long time I've been meaning to put up a post about bikes and (mostly Fender) electric guitars—relatively simple, often colourful devices whose designs came to maturity in the post-war years and have mostly changed, if at all, for the worse. I'll actually write that post some day—but for now, this accidental juxtaposition of my Sonic Blue Fender Classic Player 60s Strat (the 2006 model with the AY-signed pickups, a phenomenally nice Mexican-made guitar) and Jocelyn Lovell Bike sort of makes my point for me. (Yes, I did design the Lovell paint scheme around this guitar -- including the slightly green white on the headtube, to match the "mint" pickguard! But the blues are a bit different.)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

This has been the busiest summer of my life. In addition to finishing and defending my thesis, I've had to deal with the downside of thesis-completion—finding a job—and then preparing to do that job. (I'm teaching a course at the University of Toronto. It's the first time the course has ever been offered before, so I had to develop the entire syllabus from the ground up.)

All of this was made even more challenging by the fact that I had a long-planned vacation set up for August—I had to squeeze a year's worth of work into three months. But the vacation was wonderful. And while I did almost no framebuilding this summer, I did get a lot of ideas while I was away. Here is a cycling-themed summary of my summer vacation.

After spending a few quiet weeks in Poland, I went to London—where my visit happened to coincide with the London-Surrey Cycling Classic, whose start I was able to see. I was hoping to mingle with the riders before the start, but security was tight. No Tom Boonen autograph, I'm afraid—but if you squint, you can see him in the Belgian colours at the front of the pack. Cycling-wise, London reminded me a lot of Toronto: lots of fixed gears, some reasonably nice; generally cycling-unfriendly streets...

I made my first visit to the Netherlands, which I found generally less amazing than most bicycle-loving Torontonians do. I think the Dutch bikes in Toronto are nicer than the Dutch bikes I saw in Rotterdam, which mostly looked like mountain bikes. But I was suitably impressed with the separated bike lanes, and it was exciting to walk across the Erasmus Bridge, where the 2010 Tour de France started.

I couldn't help but be impressed by Flanders. Commuting cyclists get excited about the Netherlands; racing fans get excited about Belgium. I was hoping to bump into Tom Boonen in his home region, but failed again. I bought a copy of Het Laatste Niews, the Antwerp-based newspaper with the excellent sports section, despite my complete lack of Flemish.

By far the most educational stop was Barcelona. I was impressed not by the bicycles, but rather—like every other tourist in Barcelona—by the Gaudi buildings. And Gaudi gave me some very good bike ideas. This is because he is the most incredible constructeur ever. I was particularly floored by the Palau Güell—which is less colourful and crazy than most Gaudi buildings, but was designed from the ground up, and is really conceived as a whole, with every tiny detail (and there are, at least, millions of little details) fitting into the larger project. My favourite parts were the secret hallways above the guest rooms to permit spying; the handmade furniture, wrought-iron, and hardware fittings; and the incredible central dome around which every room on every floor is built. I was so impressed with the Palau Güell that I forgot to take any pictures. Above is a picture of the chimneys of the nearby Casa Batlló, which has charms of its own. I very much like the idea of decorating something luridly functional like a chimney: it would be fun to do something similar with fenders or mudflaps...

I am going to set aside at least one day a week for framebuilding this fall. I have a number of projects in mind—the first of which may well be called Gaudi Bike!