Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Alumite Nothing: My Bars Arrive, and Other Good News

The puzzle pieces begin their final alignment with the arrival of my Grand Bois Parallel "MARS" bars.

With terrifying haste, they travelled from Kyoto to my door in two days. (I ordered the chainring and cog from New York state almost a week ago, and no sign of them!) Grand Bois is a classy operation: they have their own cardboard boxes, for one thing. And these bars are good-looking, and have a very promising shape: lots of reach, a totally flat ramp, not a lot of drop, and a bit of a flare. Very important to me and the stylish Japanese, they are non-anodized (or, in the words of the Babelfish translation, "Alumite nothing"). I'm going to leave lots of shiny aluminum unwrapped in the centre to show this off. At 40cm, they are wide but not too wide — this is the narrowest available size. Witness their beauty:

The other good news is that: (a) I ordered five sets of NOS Reynolds 531 tubing today from Bicycle Classics. This is an "investment in myself"; I have now committed myself to building five frames. Soon I will begin laying out on here what their design will be. They'll be good. (b) I interviewed Mike Barry tonight for a couple of articles I'll be working on, and it was great. Lots to go over. More on these articles soon.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Dangerous Trend; or, from GB to G.B.

Oh dear. I ordered another part for Niles today. (Another possible dangerous trend: is this just a shopping diary blog? I really need to finish up my work and do some riding...)

This time it was handlebars. This is one of those most awful of situations: something that aesthetically is absolutely perfect but functionally is not great. The GB bars are incredibly good looking and follow the curves of my logo, etc., but they just don't allow for all that many hand positions. Their almost complete lack of a ramp, for instance, is a problem.

So I've ordered some of the Grand Bois "Parallel MARS" bars (photo lifted from their site). They look almost exactly like the bars from my "example" bike, the Rene Herse winter training bike. The long, flat ramps should make that my "go to" spot, and push the hoods out a bit further for a more stretched-out position. The one concern is that they won't work particularly well with my aero levers. Well, they're staying regardless, so that's that. (Shipping was about $30 Canadian, which isn't great, but they're large and coming EMS. So it's not bad, either.)

I do have one pair of handlebars in my house that are even cooler than these Grand Bois ones, and I may as well mention them now. They are destined for my Velo Orange Randonneur, expected before next riding reason. They are (apparently) extremely rare black Philippe Professionel randonneur bars. The ramps are more curved than on the Grand Bois bars I just ordered and the reach not as long, but they're otherwise fairly similar. Black bars would look pretty bad with anything other than a black bike, but luckily mine will be black. It will also have lots of shiny stuff on it, so don't worry. (Yes, they will be getting orange cloth tape. Lots of it!)

I got these bars from Chris of Velo Orange, who I thank very much for them. I also thank him for linking to a photo of Niles on his recent post about a possible VO fixed gear bike. Niles is very proud of himself.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Small Changes

Yes, I'm restless by nature, and so things don't stay the same for very long. But we're getting to the point where things are so perfect that any change would be absurd.

First change: I received some Shimano PD-A520 pedals today. I hadn't intended to put them on Niles, but they were just so nice and shiny that I had to consider it. The fact that they have slightly more cornering clearance than the TA track pedals, and the upturned clips don't scratch on the ground pre-clip-in, also helped. I've never ridden a fixed gear with clipless pedals — perhaps the "mystical union" of bike and rider will be even more pronounced. I've been extremely busy with work lately, but I'll try to get out for a ride this weekend and see how I like them.

Naturally, I removed the Shimano logo from the side. I have nothing against them as a company, of course — take these fine pedals, for example. But with the exception of certain inherently beautiful logos, it's my policy to remove them if possible. The Shimano logo is quite plain, so off it went. It was very easy to remove: just some Simichrome vigorously rubbed. I've learned my lesson about calling such things too soon, but I'm pretty sure these pedals aren't anodized. In any case, they're shiny and beautiful. (And a very smart design, too — they place your foot low relative to the axle, and prevent "hot spots.")

Second change: gearing. The only fixed ratios I've ever ridden are 42x15 and 42x16. I like both, but for long rides 42x15 is beter. Motivated mostly by my aesthetic distaste for my chainring, though, I began to think I'd like something between the two gears. I also thought I might as well use larger rings for less friction and less chain tension (my rear hub has been wandering a bit), and also to make things look more "proportional" on my 62cm frame. So, to bring this tale to its conclusion, I got a new chainring and a new rear cog: 48x18. The rear cog is another Phil Wood (though a 1/8") and the front ring is a Spécialités TA. I think it will be a nice match to the rest of the bike. It's pictured on the right. (I lifted the photo from World Class Cycles, where I ordered all my stuff from. Their service is incredible and they have great prices.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Campagnolo Keychains

As some of you may recall, I recently turned some Nuovo Record shift levers into downtube cable stops for Briggs, one of my bikes. This left me with two decapitated shift levers, which I immediately thought of turning into keychains. And so I have. I drilled holes and filed off the ends, and there we have it: in my opinion, the coolest keychain imaginable. (Accuse me of heresy if you will, but I was also recycling!)

In other news, I have a cool idea for a front rack for Niles. I face the usual problems of finding space and equipment to fabricate this rack. But my ride last Monday showed me how nice he is to ride on longish rides, so it might be worth it. (This would require a new front fender, unfortunately. It's a long-term project.)

Also, my search for lights is progressing well. An acquaintance is travelling to France soon and will look for a headlight there for me. And a local CR member has the taillight below for sale. Do you think it will look right? I think it might.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Reversal of Roles

Last night I gave a slideshow at the "No Click Club" — a meeting of vintage bicycle enthusiasts that takes place monthly at the Mariposa shop. I brought Niles in for a show and tell and illustrated his creation through photos (all shown here first, of course!)

This put me in an odd position: telling Mike Barry about how to make bicycle frames! He was a very gracious listener, however, and naturally fielded any questions I couldn't handle myself. It was certainly one of the nicer experiences I've had when Mike congratulated me on what he regarded as a nice bike.

There are no bikes I like more than Mariposas. Having a look at the beautiful frames and incredible racks ("carriers" to Mike!) on the Mariposas in the shop reinforced this yet again. The next thing I'd like to learn to do is to make racks and stems. (The photo above is lifted directly from the Mariposa website, which is worth many looks, though Mariposas are no longer being made.)

(Mike doesn't know of any suitably pretty lights for Niles, unfortunately. So that search goes on.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Oakville to Acton: Niles's First Big Test

Yesterday, buoyed by excellent weather reports, by sightings of fall leaves, and by my burning desire to ride my new bike, I set off at 8.30am to the Exhibition GO station to catch the train to Oakville. From there I headed north on my favourite ride, a circa 110km loop up and through the Escarpment to Acton, and then home down quiet country roads.

It was a wonderful ride. My greatest concerns going in were, in order: uphills and downhills. I figured my 42x15 fixed gear wouldn't get me up the steepest climbs, and worried the steepest downhills would tear my knees off. As it happened, I did have to walk Niles up one steep hill and parts of the two big climbs. But my knees remained intact, and all that spinning didn't even bother me much. My legs, prone to ITB problems are sore achilles tendons, felt perfect after the ride. Otherwise, his gear was perfect, allowing me to spin comfortably along flats and to get out the saddle and speed over rolling terrain. To give some indication of whether Niles was well matched to the terrain, I finished the ride half an hour faster than I ever have before, despite the on-foot climbs.

The things I was most looking forward to were the falling leaves and, well, riding Niles. As for the leaves, I'll (ahem!) leave that to the photos to describe, and note that walking up those two hills gave me a nice opportunity to slow down and take them in. As for Niles, he is definitely my favourite bike: he holds his line perfectly, allows me to react quickly and change my course, is smooth and comfortable, looks very nice, and keeps the mud and dirt off of me.

And now some photos:

Niles patiently awaits our train at Exhibition.

Just out of Oakville, we turn down Lower Baseline and notice this sign. I hope the construction relates to the awful bridge.

While crossing said awful bridge, the view was not so bad!

And here is the new bridge they've built. This will make next year's riding much nicer.

Climbing away from the bridge; one of the manageable climbs, and a beautiful one.

The Escarpment in the distance...

My first big climb. I made it about to the shadows before I had to get off and walk.

The Escarpment from which I had just descended.

... And the next Escarpment climb. I made it this far (almost to the top) before having to get off. Looking back.

Nassagaweya Esquesing Townline — the Grand Bois 28s made this gravel feel pretty smooth, but I couldn't help wonder what the 42s would have felt like...

At my destination.

The Tim Horton's had a lineup all the way to the parking lot. So we settled for chocolate milk and chips from a convenience store and ate here, in front of the Sen Sen Chinese restaurant.

A self portrait at speed, as I arrived back in Oakville, with 40 minutes to kill before my train arrived.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tomorrow's Ride

Plans for a group ride to Creemore have fallen through, but I'm going to take Niles on my favourite ride tomorrow: from the Oakville GO station to Acton and back (route courtesy Randonneurs Ontario). I'm a bit apprehensive about all the climbing and descending that this route involves (twice up and twice down the Escarpment), but: (a) it's such a nice route, especially with the leaves turning colour; and, (b) there is just no way I would ride any of my other bikes in this honeymoon phase. And [(c)] Niles needs a really complete test-ride, and [(d)] I am curious to see if it's possible to climb really steep, long ascents in my 42x15. If not, I'll walk him up; and if descending is too frighteningly fast, I'll ride the brakes.

I have been eating heartily in preparation for this trip. Turkey will be fuelling my endeavour.

Friday, October 10, 2008

When Weight is Directly Proportional to Speed

Yes, there is one component whose weight counterintuitively speeds you up: a chip on one's shoulder.

I experienced this directly today, during my glorious ride with Niles. As I began my northwards ride up Mississauga Road, I spotted someone up ahead on a Look Carbon frame, with what looked like a 10 speed Dura Ace group. It's petty, but those of us who ride steel bikes have no doubt felt it: "If I can merely keep up with this fellow, I'll be showing him something, and exonerating my (generally purely aesthetic) commitment to my objectively antiquated bike." This is of course a hypocritical as well as a petty thought: part of our mantra is that weight isn't so important, that speed isn't so important, and that people on carbon aren't looking around, and aren't having fun. Well, we want to pass them. I certainly do.

And I certainly did today — and succeeded! Not only was I riding steel, but a fixed-gear — and when I spotted my foe I was headed uphill, in a situation where my cadence was decidedly sub-optimal. And yes, with the grace and silence of a jungle cat, I pedalled smoothly up behind him, and settled in stealthily in his draft, biding my time. The time came when we went down an underpass and up the hill on the other side. As he shifted into a lower gear, I got out of the saddle and zoomed past him. He disarmed me by smiling at me and saying "Hello."

Undaunted, undeterred in my sense of antagonism, I gave it all I had in the drops over the ensuing flat. So convinced was I of my superiority that I forgot about him, got sluggish, and allowed him to catch back up. I heard a few rocks scattering off of over-inflated, too-skinny tires behind me. Of course I didn't deign to look back at him. I just sped up.

Then came a vertiginous downhill, and I was in the awkward position of trying to maintain my lead while descending a steep hill on a fixed gear for possibly the first time. My legs spun wildly. My knees cried out. My bum rocked wildly back and forth. Eventually I relaxed and let my legs just spin. All that weight went off of my pedals and onto my Brooks saddle, which wasn't broken in. Curses!

At the red light we then came to, my foe had the nerve to comment on what a nice day it was, and to ask about my bike. I decided to extoll its virtues; he decided to agree; we mutually agreed to like one another. When we got going and did a bit more climbing, I amicably decided to stick behind him, but couldn't help but feel superior still. As he rocked wildly from side to side out of the saddle in his small gear (foolishly riding in his big/big; what a horrid chainline!; and when mine was — oh, say — perfect!), I sat firmly in my (firm) saddle, pedalled smoothly and rocked not a bit, and knew that at the at moment of my choosing I could stand up and leave him humiliatingly behind. After another chat at a red light, he turned around. A bit later, so did I.

Well, yes, it was a very nice ride. The weather was incredible; Niles was his usual self. At 75km, this was my longest ride on a fixed. The quick descents were a new experience for me, but I do think I'm getting close to a "go limp" approach that works for me. One disturbing thing was this: I had a pedal strike. Taking a sharp turn at low speed, I corrected mid-turn, and hit my right pedal. It would be scary to do that at speed.

Otherwise all is well. I love Niles immensely, am now officially 100% comfortable on him hands-free. I also find him more beautiful with every pleasant ride. Oh (certain) bikes: so pretty, so functional.

I'm headed home for the weekend for (Canadian) Thanksgiving, which means no riding (a shame! it will be beautiful!), but I'll let my muscles heal in time for a big ride on Monday. I'd like to ride around 120-160km, and hopefully try out some real hills.

Inducing camera shake as I descend a really not very steep hill.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Niles's First Ride; With Lots of Talk about GB Randonneur Bars

I'm just back from my first ride on Niles — and it was great. [NB: I wrote 90% of this post at noon, and then got busy, and am finishing it now.] He fits me perfectly, as a custom bike should — though I've had my position "nailed" for some time now, so it wasn't exactly a revelatory experience; just a very pleasant one. I've been a bit worried about his not-perfectly-centred front wheel, so I was eager to see how he rides hands-free. On this score, he was pretty good. If I didn't think too hard about what I was doing, he felt perfect. If I got nervous, I'd swerve! But I took most of these photos hands-free, so he's o-kay, I figure.

I find ride reports often begin to sound like wine-tasting writing. But I can say that I like the way he handles. The steering is nice and quick, but he's very stable. (Thank you Rene Herse and Jan Heine! I just imitated Rene Herse racing geometry as outlined in Bicycle Quarterly, and added a bit of rake for the wider 28mm tires. Almost too easy!)

Speaking of the tires: the Grand Bois Cerf 28s are incredible. I went over all sorts of train tracks and bad pavement on my ride — and this is a ride I do depressingly often — and these tires feel much cushier than my Pasela 32s. The only ones that come close are the Veloflex 22s on Briggs; those are incredibly nice tires.

Now, the GB bars. There's been a lot of talk on the iBOB list about randonneur bends, and based on that I noticed how odd my GBs are. They have essentially no ramp flats, and not a lot of reach. Well, based on today's ride, I really like them anyway. I'll detail my favourite hand position below.

Finally, riding fixed gear on longish road rides is really pleasant. It's amazing how much you can do with that one gear! 42x15 is absolutely perfect for me; climbing isn't too difficult (it would be with a freewheel; but climbing on a fixed is a whole different thing), and quick descents don't have my legs sprinning too wildly. And on quick flats, especially with a tail wind, that feeling of the bike "riding itself," the pedals turning insistently over of their own volition, borders on the magical. (Speaking of spinning, though I am around 6'2", I like short cranks. These 167.5s suit me well.)

I felt a bit like Beryl Burton in Spinning Wheels: riding all-out, in the drops, on a fixed-gear English-looking bike... Well, I guess those were the only similarities!

Yes, the ride was one I do a lot: westbound from downtown along the Lakeshore path. Having Niles along, of course, shattered the familiarity, and it was extra-nice.

Going fast on the path near Marie Curtis park! (Warning: photo has psychedelic effect.)

For people interested in such things: these are the hand positions I used on my GB bars. I spent about 25% of the time on the hoods, usually when climbing. I really love the shape of Shimano aero levers; they fit my hands perfectly. And, for me anyway, they make these GB bars usable. Without the extra reach aero levers provide, I wouldn't like these bars at all.

Here is where I spent a good 60% of my time. Riding in the drops was very comfortable, nice for cornering, and I could really get my spin going...

I hardly spent any time here, but if I were tired, this would be a usable position.

This is where I spent the rest of my time.

Well, back to more exciting photos. Here is Niles at the turnaround point, near Port Credit. It was an incredibly beautiful day. It rained all day yesterday, so there were some puddles to give Niles's fenders a bit of a "dry run" (uff...), and he performed admirably. But otherwise, perfect: sunny and about 18 degrees (Celsius). A strong headwind on the way out became a very pleasant tailwind on the way back.

Spot the problem! Yes, his bars began to rotate forward as I rode. I hadn't noticed this yet when I took the photo. Ah, Niles is a pretty bike!

His beauty is augmented by the Mariposa water bottle he is proudly sporting. He was painted on the premises of the former Mariposa shop, and both he and I agree that there are very few bikes on par with Mariposas.

This bridge makes a very pleasant rumble when you ride over it.

Niles showing some civic pride in his new home. He says he likes Toronto.

The fairly newly renovated Lakeshore path, near Exhibition. Moments later I would become involved in a dangerous game of Chicken with a... Pigeon. He lost, but only barely, and he nearly brought Niles and I down together in a feathery, bloody, expensive, and tragic disaster-unit.

My favourite — and usual — way to end my rides. Another tragic scenario might have involved the owner of the bike on the left exiting the pizza parlour and mistakenly riding off on Niles... (By this point, I had noticed Niles's drifting bars. I just hadn't tightened the bolt enough... though apparently the clamp area is 25.2 on GB bars, and my stem is 25.4. I figure 0.2mm is within the margin of error...)

It's going to be nice tomorrow morning as well, so I will definitely ride Niles again. The options are a bit limited around here, so I'll do the same ride, only further — up Mississauga Road to the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus, site of many of my most scintillating lectures...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What's Next for Niles and I

Though it's a gross day in Toronto and I have a lack-of-excercise-because-when-I-tried-to-ride-Niles-today-it-started-raining headache, I promised a post, so post I will.

Here, briefly, is what the future has in store for my son Niles and I.

First, Niles:
  1. Lights. I would really like to find some small, aluminum/stainless steel-enclosed LED battery lights suitable for fender mounting. I won't be riding him over night, but it would be prudent to have some lights just in case. My suspicion is that such lights don't exist: there are fender-mounted lights, like this and this, but they're not quite up to my picky standards. The former isn't bad, but should be smaller and not plastic. The latter is ugly. Ideally I would have a front light that looks just like the one on my "model" bike (link is to Vintage Bicycle Press), but battery-powered and LED-based. And, well, a rear light like this would be mighty nice. Any ideas? Will I need to make my own?
  2. A bell. I have the bell, actually — a silver aluminum one. What I now need to do is drill a small hole on the side of my stem and tap it. I wanted to do this in Doug's class when I had access to a milling machine. But I didn't have time. I might try it with my hand drill... and find a way to tap it.
  3. Lots of rides. I'll definitely take him on a circa 75 kilometer ride tomorrow morning. And it looks like he might be coming on a 150km ride into the hilly country surrounding Creemore, Ontario on Monday. This will be a real challenge with his 42x15 fixed gear drivetrain, but I think it will be fun. I may also install some clipless pedals on him — they might be even better for clearance, better for climbs, and get rid of the incessant scraping of his upturned cages on the pedal strokes before I get my foot into the pedal. But I don't know about this. I like the TA pedals.
For me:
  1. Lots of rides. All this bike-building has really disrupted my riding schedule. I'd like to get back to that.
  2. Completing my thesis. I have two years left, and lots of energy. It will be fun.
  3. Finding space to build some more bikes. No, as an apartment-dweller, it's not easy to build frames. I have no "shop space" or any kind; not even a basement or garage. I did all my filing in my bedroom, with a vise clamped to the side of my desk. What I'd like to happen is this: my campus bike-repair co-op lets me use their shop after-hours. They don't have a milling machine, of course, but I don't need one. I can hand-miter the tubes, and take the "basic approach" on everything else. I would still need to buy a torch, rent tanks, get them to let me braze in their space, and also get some sort of alignment system going. Even better than this, of course, would be if a local builder took me under his or her wing. There are one or two of these around.
I would really like to build more bikes. Making Niles, showing the process on this blog, and getting feedback, has been a very enjoyable experience. As a grad student, it's a lot more "public" than what I normally do, and the results a lot more concrete. So I'll find a way to do it. And maybe take some orders in a year or two!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Family Portraits

Last night, in a very kind post on the iBOB list, Doug Fattic likened his frames to his children, and my frame "Niles" to his grandchild. I've been thinking of Niles along these lines myself, of course. And so now I present a series of family portraits, from his gestation to his maturity.

Concentrating hard as I braze his first main triangle joint: bottom bracket to seat tube. Relatively small amount of stubble indicates it's early in the two weeks.

Doing something or other to poor Niles's upper headlug. Increasing stubble and maniacal appearance indicate it's nearing the end of the class.

"Grandpa" helping out when something went wrong...

Posing for a shot outside the shop with "Uncle" Dan. Scruffy appearance and dazed look (I refer to both Niles and myself; poor Niles didn't even get a sandblasting) indicate final day.

Niles, earlier today, sheepishly preparing for the photo shoot. (He needed his bartape shellacqued.)

The proud father and his bike, dressed to match.

... so very proud that he needed two shots. Proud also of his shirt, made by the bike's "mother" (also the photographer.)

These straps too, of course, were made by "Mom."

Riding at strikingly high speeds, barely visible on film.

Tonight or tomorrow I'll post about what's to come for Niles (some lights on his fenders, a bell mounted on his stem) and for me (I'd really like to find some shop space to keep building in, but am poor, tool-less, and garage-less.) I will also post about a long ride I plan on taking with Niles very soon, once I get all the little fender-squeaks worked out. He's almost there.

And yes, I'm very proud!