Sunday, December 26, 2010

Biography and Autobiography, Et Cetera

I am now on to the second in my Canadian Nationalist Biographically-Themed Bike Series. I've done the Jocelyn Lovell Bike, dedicated to one of Canada's greatest cyclists; I'm getting close with Greg Curnoe Bike, dedicated to one of its greatest artists. There are other biographically-themed bikes I'd like to make: a Mike Barry Bike, for example (though in a sense all my bikes are Mike Barry Bikes!); and a Steve Bauer Bike (my mother grew up in the same small town as Canada's best-ever road cyclist, and actually babysat for him once.)

I've been noticing lately, however, that quite by accident, the Biographically-Themed Greg Curnoe Bike is also very Autbiographical. For example, the paint scheme—the highlight of the bike—is going to have horizontal panels on each tube, with yellow on top and green underneath. This is primarily to match the Curnoe painting upon which the bike is based, but also incorporates the paint schemes of the two bikes it's going to replace, pictured at right.

The green Marinoni was my first ever road bike. In the summer between first and second year of university, I remember seeing someone riding on a lugged steel road bike, and being extremely drawn to the thin tubes. This was at a time (around 2001) when road bikes were still very uncool (at least in London, Ontario) and somewhat unusual. I myself had been riding an ugly CCM road bike all through high school. It was my aesthetic reaction to that bike that made me decide to get a road bike. I looked on eBay (one of my first eBay purchases) and found my green 1991 Marinoni Special from a seller from Sudbury (where I was born—another autobiographical element!) for $300. I had no idea what I was buying, but the gods were clearly watching this purchase closely. It's a gorgeous bike—the more I work on my own frames, the more I realize this. And it's been my main bike since then—I even did a two-week-long tour on it once!

The yellow Brigantia was my first handmade bike. It was built by an amateur in Toronto (much as I, an amateur, will build its replacement in Toronto) and while it amateurishness shows in some respects, I've gotten a lot of ideas from it.

In addition to the colours, Greg Curnoe Bike will also incorporate many of these bikes' most distinctive features: double-tapered stays and a low bottom bracket from the Marinoni, generous tire clearance and long point lugs from the Brigantia. I'm also pillaging parts from both bikes: the stem, bars, and headset are coming from the Marinoni, along with the cassette. Briggs is donating the Chorus derailleur. (I'm going to keep these frames as "scultpures," I think.)

While I'm obsessively analysing every aspect of the Greg Curnoe bike, let me also note that I got myself a copy of The Competition Bicycle by Jan Heine for Christmas, and noticed a lot of similarities between GC Bike and the Cupertino Bike Shop's Cinelli Supercorsas. They not only share lugs (Cinelli CSes) and fastback seatstay attachments, but both use Mafac brakes. I'm always looking for ways to "justify" my departures from the bike in the Curnoe painting. Mostly I think that just as Curnoe needed to adapt the actual Mariposa to his aesthetic needs, I need to adapt his print to my athletic needs. But the famous Cupertino Cinellis help to explain two of my most obvious departures from the print—the brakes and the lugs—through their connection to the fastback. Supercorsas undoubtedly have the most famous fastbacks of any production bike—and the fastback is the most distinctive feature of the Mariposa in the Curnoe print. (The Competition Bicycle is a really nice book, by the way! Get the last of the first editions while you can!)

I've been up to a few things over the Christmas break. The first is building up a set of clincher wheels for the GC. Practicality suggests that I will ride this bike more often, and over longer distances, if I don't always have to worry about puncturing my expensive Dugast tubulars. I had a pair of very nice NOS 32-hole Shimano Sante hubs in my closet just waiting for an assignment. I also had a spare Mavic MA 32H rim for the front, and some 302mm DB spokes (I still need an MA or MA2 rear rim with the appropriate decal). The resulting wheel is not only very strong and attractive, but also fits in very well to the bike's colour scheme—both in terms of the label and the massive green dust shields on the Sante hubs.

The labels on the tires I'll use—28mm Grand Bois Cerfs—fit in pretty nicely, too. (These came off Niles, who is undergoing a slight transformation into what Mike Barry would call a "treader"—an everyday bike. He'll get Pasela 28s.)

I also cleaned off the 7-speed Uniglide cassette that I was using on my Marinoni. I got this as part of a complete Santé group I bought on eBay a couple of years ago, but until I cleaned it, I had no idea it was so beautifully shiny. I'm not sure I've ever seen such nice Uniglide cogs before...

I decided to use it as a 6-speed rather than use all 7 cogs. As a 7-speed it's a 13-14-15-17-19-21-24. That 14 isn't incredibly useful; and as a 6-speed it's slightly lighter and nicer for friction shifting. (Luckily I have a rather robust collection of 6- and 7-speed Uniglide spacers...) Here it is installed on the fancy tubular rear wheel:

One of the many nice things about Uniglide is that when the cogs get worn down, you can simply flip them over, since they don't have the unidirectional tooth profiles of Hyperglide cassettes. The cogs were actually not particularly worn, but I decided to flip them over anyway. And just like that, I have an essentially brand new, shiny 6-speed 13-24 cassette...

I may finish the Greg Curnoe bike completely this week. There's just some lug filing to do, and adding three braze-ons. But there's no rush. One of the things I'm most excited about doing next is matching the colour of the paint to the actual Curnoe print. I know someone who happens to have an original, and Noah Rosen of Velocolour has agreed to go and visit it with me to match the colours of the print to those in his paint sample book. But the person with the print is out of town for another month. This will, in any case, force me not to rush the final filing...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Greg Curnoe Bike

I brought Greg Curnoe Bike home from the shop for Christmas—a time of year, after all, when you want to be near your loved ones. He is still not finished: he needs brake cable stops on the top tube and a derailleur stop on the driveside chainstay (they've been in the mail for a month) and there's lots of lug filing to be done. But I decided to dress him up for Christmas anyway.

Not all of this is as it will actually be on the finished bike, of course. You can mentally subtract about 10cm from the handlebar height, for example (much trimming of the steerer is needed!) and since I didn't have enough hands to carry home the actual front wheel, that's a totally incorrect Sante/CR18/Pasela 35 front wheel deflated to approximately the proper diameter. The fenders are also not installed. But everything else is pretty much as it will be—and I'm happy to say it all looks very good and fits properly.

I believe I've already made it quite clear how I feel about the seat cluster area. This shot reveals the full complexity around the binder. This began as an old hollow, stamped binder that I then reinforced, filling the usual bevelled spot in the centre with a big brass fillet, and then brazing the mitered stays both to the actual steel and to the brass. The seatpost (a nice Sugino Super Mighty) is not the one I'll use—the flutes are too long. I forgot the Nuovo Record post I'll use at the shop. (Though painted flutes would look really nice! Hmm....)

From the proper Curnoe non-driveside. The seat lug looks even nicer with a seatpost installed! There's still some filing to be done on this lug, but it's getting pretty good.

Some filing needed here too, but again, pretty much right. There's a little imperfection in the lug itself there that will need some Bondo. Though not the easiest to work with, these Cinelli CS stamped lugs are about as nice as lugs get.

From the other side. I just can't get enough of the Richard Sachs Newvex crowns. I love the way the chevrons look on top of flat crowns; in fact, all three of my bikes have them!

Good measurements and clearances all around in the BB area: the BB height is 10.5", which is what I wanted; the chainrings will be in the right place once I've tightened the BB (a 116mm JIS SKF); there's good clearance between the crank arm and stay; and there is 12mm between the tire and the CS bridge for good fender lines. It's also possible to insert a fully inflated wheel into the horizontal drops, with the fender installed. How, you may ask?

Well, I filed the bottom of the dropout so that they are the exact minimum size to provide maximum contact with the skewer faces with the wheel in the desired position.

While I'm on this subject, I will note that Campagnolo 1010 dropouts, with adjuster screws set to maximum length, look like the tonguey mouths of heraldic bears:

(Of course the toothed Cambio Corsa dropouts are even closer.) In any case...

There's lots of clearance for a bolt inside the eyelet, too, so I can use draw bolts for the fender stays on both sides. That's a 6-speed Uniglide cassette on a 7-speed freehub body. (I think I'll switch the 13-21 to a 13-24.)

Clearance at the seatstay bridge is also 12mm, which is just what I wanted. This was not always the case, however! I'm not sure how, exactly, but on my first attempt, I put it 8mm from the tire. I think what happened was that I brazed it in place without a dummy axle in the rear drops, and the spacing must have been < 130mm. It was actually pretty fun to un-braze, remiter, and re-braze the bridge. You have a lot of power with a torch, some files, and an unpainted frame!

You'll also notice in this pictures that I've brazed on spring retainers for the Mafac brakes. This is another story of a mistake. I was laying on my couch one day last week watching an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm when it suddenly struck me that I had put all my Mafac bosses on backwards. I'm not sure what prompted the memory, or how I was so sure, but I suddenly knew what I'd done.

Like the ones used on this Mariposa, my Mafac bosses are designed to be used with a little aluminum plate that serves as a spring retainer:

For these to work properly, the flat needs to be aligned on the inside of the stay/fork blade. Otherwise, the sprint hole ends up in the wrong place and the spring ends up with too little tension. My bosses, of course, were all aligned to the outside, which put the spring retainers in precisely the wrong direction. (Hey, you know what? This Mariposa appears to have its bosses on bakwards too! That spring it as 11 o'clock, and it's supposed to be at 1 o'clock! So maybe I would have been fine after all!)

Once I'd discovered this, my options were either to completely un-braze and flip all the bosses, which I really didn't want to do—or to braze on spring retainers. Obviously I chose the latter option. And actually, I was happy to have the opportunity, since I'd found a little problem with the way I brazed my spring retainers on to the Jocelyn Lovell Bike.

This is hard to explain in words, but I'll try. The bosses I bought from Amir consist of three "steps": the tip is the surface on which the brake arms turn; then there is a larger-diameter area where the springs sit, with the aluminum spring retainer plate sandwiched in there; and then finally the largest-diameter area, which you miter to the stay. On the Jocelyn Lovell bike, I had brazed the spring retainers on to the largest-diameter area, and made them align with the edge of this area with the spring area. However, the bosses are designed to accomodate the depth of the 2mm aluminum plate. So in effect my spring retainers were 2mm too far "back," and as a result the spring had too much room to sit in, and sort of flopped around. I don't have a picture of this on the JL bike, but you can see that Peter Weigle did the same thing here:

Obviously, if Peter Weigle is doing it, it's probably okay. But notice how the spring is nicely sandwiched on the Mariposa with the 2mm aluminum spring retainer, but not at all here. I wanted that sandwiching! (It might actually affect the may the brake works. I think the spring is supposed to push against the brake arm as a way of securing it against the brake bolt. But I don't know.)

So what I did was cut four little rings, 2mm in depth and 12mm in ID to match the diameter of that part of the Mafac boss. Luckily the ID of a piece of 14mm seatstay is 12mm, and we had some scraps laying around. Cutting these things with a hacksaw to a consistent width of 2mm was beyond my ability, but it didn't need to be exact. I brazed a tube on to these rings. They came out looking a bit like rings, didn't they?

I slid these on to the bosses, being very careful to get the spring-retaining tube to line up at exactly the right spot for proper spring tension (I used the crescent from my Mafac Competitions as a guide for this), and then brazed the ring to the boss and fillet-brazed the tube to the back of the boss.

It was not an easy brazing operation, since the bosses are pretty massive and the tubes absolutely tiny. Also, building fillets with 56% silver is not merely difficult but stupid. I should have used 45%. Anyway, after a nightmarish amount of work, I had my brazed-on spring retainers, which provided the desired sandwiching effect.

And, really, is there anything cooler than a Mafac brake with brazed-on bosses? I really don't think so. (I find something especially beautiful in the way the brake arms align with the top of the crown here.)

I leave you with a Christmassy image from the shop. There is my fork in the vise; if you look closely, you can see the forward fender stay installed. It was a particularly cold day, and the upper window was completely frosted over.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 10, 2010


Olivier and I were talking today about how utterly Canadian we are. I'm on to number two in my Canadian Nationalist Biographically-Themed Bike Series (Jocelyn Lovell, check; Greg Curnoe, close). He's building a replica of Canada's most famous bike, the CCM Flyer (which Curnoe also painted, though I can't find a copy online).

And we're doing it in sub-zero temperatures! It's been below freezing all week in Toronto, and our unheated shop has been spared none of the mayhem. We're working in winter coats, toques, and mittens. Those beautiful and seasonal ice crystals are on the inside of our window.

There's been some mayhem in the shop as well. I got quite the scare this week when I went to add some silver to a little gap on the (sort of important!) drive side upper headlug. When I added my spot, I got a little on the shoreline... so I decided to clean it up by melting it down to the lug point. Much to my surprise, however, when I got everything up to temperature, a good portion of the lug just melted and flowed away. You see, as Gertrude Stein once said, "There [was] no there there." In my over-zealous quest for thin lugs, I had filed away the steel, and was down to the silver filler. (This must have been one of the spots where the lug wasn't sitting very flush to the tube—a hazard of my preferred stamped lugs.)

There is an element of Canadian-ness to this screwup also: it was because it was so dark in the shop that I couldn't see the very obvious fact that I had filed through my lug.

So all I could do was add a big blob [haha, I caught a typo that said "blog"] of silver and try to "reconstruct" the lug. This I did, and it actually doesn't look too bad, except for the pinholes:

It's also a bit uneven (overly thin... again.) As stupid as this may sound, I think I'll actually go in and add some more silver rather than try to get Noah to fix it with Bondo. This is a learning experience, so why not just keep at it until it's right? Right?!

Besides that little flaw (and the fact that I needed to un-braze the brake bridge, since it was about 2mm too low for perfect fender lines—another learning experience!), the bike looks really nice. Right now I'm fiddling with the fenders (I decided to use smooth fluted Honjo 42mms). I'll just try to make that lug look as good as possible, wait patiently for my stainless steel brake cable stops to arrive, and keep messing with the fenders. (The new Bicycle Quarterly has yet another article on setting up aluminum fenders, and it's useful. Details in the next post.)

Here's how the bike looks, positioned very deliberately in the Canadian snow—and pictured from the (thank God) properly Curnoe-ian non-drive, non-missing-lug-spot side:

Despite the absolutely innumerable errors on this bike, I really love it.

Speaking of my other Canadian Nationalist Biographically-Themed Bike, I finally put the finishing touches on the Jocelyn Lovell bike build. Namely, I added some of the new Kool-Stop salmon Mafac 4-bump pads. They look nice! But, alas, I will not be testing them on the road until the snow goes away...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Greg Curnoe Bike Progress

While I have been too busy lately to do my work and work on bikes and maintain this blog regularly, I have had sufficient time to do items one and two. And so now, a belated report on some exciting progress on the Greg Curnoe bike.

I am actually now almost done. The rear triangle, as I am increasingly learning, is by far the hardest part of the bike. There are a million things to get right, and no fixture, however awesome, seems quite able to hold it all together. Then there are the specific challenges of the Curnoe rear triangle: mostly that weird and beautiful fastback attachment. This presented added challenges of fixturing, mitering, and brazing—and did in fact result in the rear wheel sitting very slightly off-centre between the seatstays. A half milimetre or so of dropout filing fixed that, however.

Now I'm in the midst of adding the braze-ons. It's always really hard to get bridges perfectly straight when you're doing everything by hand and checking straightness by eye—but they came out alright. The rear cable hanger was a bit tricky but come out pretty well. I'm now officially good at Mafac braze-ons, but I did end up putting one on backwards this time! I must say, though, it was pretty fun and easy to take it off and flip it over. Screwing up is always the best way of learning.

Now, the specifics...

Here is the bike with a faux-build. I'm afraid it's getting dark up here in Toronto, and I couldn't get any decent indoor lighting to take this photo. (This is also a big problem in the shop -- it's hard to see anything past about 3pm!)

Here is my pride and joy. Good Lord I love this seat lug and stay attachment! There's a lot going on: the old stamped Cinelli CS lugs have a reinforced binder, and the 11/14/11 double-tapered Deda seatstays are silver fillet brazed straight on to it. It doesn't look exactly like the one in the Curnoe painting, but it's pretty damned close—and even nicer, if I may say so myself. The cutout on the side of the seatlug (present in the Curnoe painting) is pretty cool too. You can't argue with a seatlug that looks like an angry bird mid-scream.

I'm also pretty fond of this whole aspect of the bike. With normal wrap-around stays, it can be tricky to place the Mafac bosses, since the brake requires 60-64mm pivot spacing, but with 130mm spacing and wrap-around attachment, you really have to miter the bosses to the extreme inside of the stays. With the fastback attachment, I was able to miter by bosses exactly to the centre of the stay. (And the stays are 14mm at the brake boss—nice and wide.) Since no brake is attached to the SS bridge, I was able to use a nice thin tube (9.5mm), which I think looks very nice. There's plenty of room for the 37mm fenders I'm going to use.

This picture tells a slightly more disappointing story. I went to the rather insane trouble of moving the derailleur hanger on this bike (normally it sits right at the "front" on the dropout slot)—all so that I could reduce chain gap and thus get good shifting performance from a Huret Jubilee derailleur. Well, let me tell you, the chain gap is very reduced: so much so that I won't be able to get the derailleur to shift on to the 21-tooth cog I had wanted to use. I could maybe get away with a 13-18... but since I actually want to ride this bike, it's a no go. I could just move the wheel back in the slot, but that would mess up my fender lines, and sort of defeat the whole purpose of getting really low chain gap. So I'm going to use this Chorus 10-speed derailleur. They shift better, anyway, aren't very heavy, and will allow me to use my preferred 13-24 rear setup. (Of course they don't look as cool as Jubilees.) Anyway, not quite a tragedy. (And I have a rear dropout that won't look like anyone else's!)

Here's the stop for the rear brake cable housing. It's offset a bit to the non-drive side and also pointed up, both of which should help the cable path to the brake. This little fellow also serves as a second SS bridge, which is nice since fastbacks are reputed to be weaker than wrap-around attachments. I'd think they're stronger than anything else in tension—there's nowhere to go!—and I'm sure my double-bridge setup will keep things from shifting around side-to-side. So should be very strong! I might even use this setup on my randonneur bike; I don't see any disadvantages... (Yes, there's still lots of clearance for 45mm fenders).

Brazing on the downtube bosses was an immense pain. I would get them centred (held in place with a c-clamp), but then during tacking one of them would slip—or I'd get them just about brazed and then the whole boss would shift slightly. Anyway, I finally got them just about right—and the shifters definitely look centred mounted.

So what's next? Well, I still need to add water bottle bosses (one set on the DT) and brake cable stops (I'm going to use single stops, placed at 12 o'clock on the TT) and a derailleur stop. Then I need to file the lugs some more... and then paint! I have (I think) decided to hand-paint the bike. Obviously this fits into the whole Curnoe theme. But I'm afraid it will look awful. I am obsessively trying to work out how to do it by hand and make it look really good...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Jocelyn Lovell Bike: Build 1.1

Since I wasn't happy with my shellac colour, I took it off, wrapped some new white tape, and then applied somewhere between 20-25 coats of clear shellac. Now it looks right! Everything still needs to be polished, and I still need new Mafac brake blocks, but otherwise this is pretty close. It looks great now—and seems to ride very well too!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Definitive Answers about TA Track Crank BB Length; and Jocelyn Lovell Bike: Third Look

First things first: let no one every again wonder what bottom bracket spindle length to use with a TA Pro 5 Vis "Cyclotouriste" Track/Piste/Pista cranks (abundance of words to help Googling.) The answer is: 107mm JIS. Using a Shimano UN72 bottom bracket, this gave me exactly 42mm chainline. Now, mine are newer-production arms with laser etchings, and from what I understand, the newer ones occasionally need longer spindles than the older production. But any shorter than 107 and the spider would bottom out against even the remarkably low-profile UN72. So I can confidently say: pretty much anyone with TA cranks, with the exception of some hypothetical people with laser-etched arms different from mine: use a 107mm JIS spindle. (So much for TA's recommendation of 111.5mm—maybe they were talking about ISO taper BBs to fit in their JIS-taper crank arms. They're a funny company.) And do use really low-profile BBs like the Shimanos. The SKF 107 would NOT work: the "fixed cup" side sticks out too far, and the spider would bottom out.

Well, that's settled. Here's a look at the first iteration of Jocelyn Lovell Bike's build. I'm happy with most of it except (a) the tape colour, which is too brown—I'm already about 15 coats of clear shellac in to fixing this problem, and (b) the Wippermann Connex chain has a lousy master link, which I had to remove since it severely messed up my drive train. Who needs master links anyway, though, on big fat healthy chains? More photos of the bike when I'm completely happy with it.