Sunday, May 8, 2011

Greg Curnoe Bike vs. the Real World: The First Five Days

You have all been extremely patient with me and my logorrheic, overly theoretical tendencies in the last five days. Remember that I have just submitted a PhD dissertation in English Literature, and I have all sorts of garbage stored away in the darkest corners of my mind. This needs to be dealt with one way or another. In any case, I will reward you here with lots of photos and some amusing stories. First the stories, which I encourage you to scroll past if you're not in the mood, and then the photos.


My attempt to take nice photos of Greg Curnoe Bike perfectly illustrate the rivalry I described between ordered, harmonious art and chaotic, unpredictable life.

I woke up early on Wednesday morning and headed immediately for Vistek, a big photo supply store on Queen East, quite far away from my house. I went there to buy a 107"-wide white backdrop, which I intended to use to create a studio-esque effect for my pictures. What I had not counted on what just how long 107 inches are. When the salesperson brought out the massive cardboard box I immediately saw what a bind I was in. I had planned on taking it home via streetcar and two subways. I wasn't sure it would fit in the doors; and if it did, I wasn't sure the drivers would let me in. The saleswoman told me, "Don't even think of taking it in the subway. As for streetcars, you know the TTC. Depends on their mood." I hoped I'd find someone in a good mood. A two hour walk home, with an object similar in size and shape to one half of a cross borne over my shoulder, was not at all appealing.

The driver of the Queen streetcar was not in a good mood. He said "No way" when I approached the door and before I said a word. I waited for the next streetcar and met a similar response. I decided I might have better luck a block south on King Street, whose streetcars are less busy. The kind driver said, "Sure, just don't hurt anyone," which I did not, since the streetcar was completely empty. I laid the nine-foot-long box along the floor.

I was lucky with the driver of the Bathurst car also—the car that would take me north to my street. It too was empty at King Street, and I was again told just not to hurt anyone. I laid it along the floor again. Unfortunately, at the next stop, about fifty people got on. Old women were tripping over the box; a teenager stepped on it deiantly; I had to help a woman lift her baby carriage over top of it. After a few more stops, the streetcar was completely packed. By the time I got to Bloor I had made many enemies and just about destroyed the box. But I was home.

It was now 11 o'clock. The forecast had called for partial cloudiness, and after a sunny morning, the clouds had rolled in. The lighting was perfect and I wanted to get my photos while it lasted. I told my roommate, who was slated to be my photographic assistant, to get ready ready ASAP. I could see blue sky in the distance.

In a hurry we walked the half block to the schoolyard whose tennis court I intended to use as a makeshift studio. I tacked the massive piece of paper to the backboard as quickly as I could, rolled it out, and frantically set up my new tripod (purchased that morning.) I wanted to move it as far back as possible, to get the odd collapsed perspective of Curnoe's print. But before I could do that, the wind—which had not introduced itself at all to that point—started blowing. The wind is a familiar enemy to any cyclist, and it reared its ugly head here. I chose my logo—the one from BLAST—partly because it's derived from a nautical symbol meaning "a gale from the north" (for Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists, a BLAST of creative energy from Northern Europe). This seemed like an appropriate image for a northern cyclist who struggles with northern wind, and who proposed to send most of his creativity southwards. Appropriately, the gale that was disturbing my photo shoot was coming from the north.

It was a man vs. nature ordeal, and nature won. There was no use trying to get the valve stems in the Curnoe position, the cranks in the Curnoe position, the Mariposa butterfly at the right angle, the front wheel perfectly in plane—because the wind, via the sail/backdrop, was threatening to lift the bike off the ground and send it to Kansas. (This wind, as it happens, was a leftover from the storms that ravaged the American South in the form of tornadoes earlier in the week). My roommate, whose job it was to hold the bike upright with one easily Photoshoppable finger, was getting frantic, and feared for the bike's life as well as his own. In a despairing and outraged gesture, I tore down the backdrop, crumpled it up in a gigantic ball, and sent it home with my concerned roommate.

I was alone now in the tennis court and decided to improvise. Instead of using the tennis backboard to suspend my backdrop on, I thought I would use it as the backdrop itself. I set everything up, moved my camera far away, got the tripod in the right position, set the angles right so as to collapse the perspective, set the focus, maxed the f-stop, and pressed the button on my (newly purchased) remote. Thus I got the main photo from my previous post, which I'm extremely happy with. I now like that it doesn't have a white background. The "real life" effect of hardcourt (which bikes ride on, anyway) and the grey wood makes more sense given the "translation back into life" basis of the project. I also like it aesthetically, and I like the way the bottom bracket lines up with the bottom of backstop. You could measure the BB drop, a crucial framebuilding measurement, quite easily from this photo.

So I had my most important photo. But, for my "manifesto," I also needed a photo of the handlebars, the top tube, the fenders, the seat cluster, and the decals. I started setting up the tripod for these next photos. But after half an hour or so, and after only two of the five required photos were taken, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was a pleasant-looking young man of fifteen years or so, with an innocent expression and curly brown hair.

"Excuse me, sir," he said, respectfully. "Me and my friends usually play soccer here at lunch."

Alas, it was lunch hour at the high school. I looked to the entrance of the tennis court and saw twenty students waiting politely to get in to the tennis court I'd been using as my makeshift studio. They had no doubt been waiting for half an hour, and I'd been too absorbed to notice.

"Can't you play in the other court?" I asked. I noticed it was empty. I didn't want to go there myself because it didn't have the grey wooden backstop I'd beed using as my background.

He thought for a moment and replied, "It's just that we usually play here."

I could see that this "usually" argument was more powerful than anything I could produce. And he seemed so nice. With some annoyance, I began to pack up my stuff. The curly-haired young man, who had begun to turn back to his friends, turned back again toward me and said, "Oh, but nice bike, by the way."

So I moved over to the other court and took the remaining photos, with which I was not very satisfied. Thankfully while I was taking these (which took probably another half hour) three separate groups of lunching high school girls came up and said some variation of "Nice bike man" before giggling and running away. My bikes are very popular with high school kids. It made me feel better—but I still didn't have the photos I wanted. I decided to go home and wait out the lunch break.

The real world was not through with me yet. When I came back, carrying all my photo gear as well as the bike, an old woman was hitting tennis balls against the backstop (into which my tacks were still sticking, since I hadn't had a chance to remove them.) There was nothing to do but come back later. I came back in 45 minutes, and she was still there. I asked her if she would be much longer. "Why?," she asked. Because I wanted to use the tennis backstop as a photo background. "Oh yes, I'm going to be here for at least another hour. I need to work on my serve." It needed even more work than two hours of practice could provide. I decided to give up. The last of the clouds was about to blow away over Lake Ontario. The photos I had would have to do.


I came home, played with the photos in Aperture, and posted the "manifesto." Feeling liberated, I decided to follow the advice of the last lines of this manifesto and take Greg Curnoe Bike for a ride. The sun, which had previously been my enemy, was now my friend. This would be the first time this year I could ride in shorts and a short-sleeved jersey. Dressed in my most colourful cycling gear, I headed out.

I went down to Lakeshore, up along the Humber, and around the hilly areas near High Park. There were two problems with the bike: the rear brake squealed like a petulant child, and the SKF bottom bracket interfered with the crank spider when I was really pushing uphill. The rest was great. The huge tubulars felt incredible. I came back home via Dundas Street, to introduce my patron, Martin of Hoopdriver Bicycles, to my new bike. He described it in exultant tones, which, coming from him, meant a lot. He took it out into the dusky day light and got extremely enthusiastic about the paint job. He repeatedly commented on how the colours "popped out." It was just the reaction I was hoping for. I rode home.


I needed to change the bottom bracket, and thankfully I had a 116mm TA AXIX BB in my closet. I'm not at all convinced it's a great design, but I decided to give it a try. The chainline is right, the tread is very narrow, and I even like the way the silver "adjustable cup" looks. I also adjusted the toe-in on the rear brake by further filing the washers on the Mafac draw bolts. They now seemed just right. I also decided to try out my clincher wheelset, built on Mavic MA2 rims (with perfect green/yellow labels), Shimano Sante hubs, and Grand Bois Cerf tires (also with perfect green/yellow labels.) Its 28mm tires are quite a bit narrower than the 27mm tubulars, so the fender lines looked different, but everything seemed okay.

I went for a second ride. The BB presented no problems this time. The rear brake continued to squeal (I'm not at all sure why) though it quieted down significantly by the end if the ride. The clinchers weren't quite as soft as the tubulars, but were nice also.


I didn't ride at all on Friday (I was busy, and it was raining), but I planned a long ride ride for Saturday. Since I'm waiting on my "spare" tubulars, I decided to go with the clincher wheelset. After making sure everything was all set on Friday evening, I got up early Saturday to take the Go train to Rouge Hill for the 9am start of the ride. I forgot two important things: my newspaper for the 40 minute train ride, and my camera for shots of the ride. Thus the lack of photos in this section.

Two people showed up for the ride: Noah, the painter of the bike, and Brian, who had been a friend of Greg Curnoe's and ridden with him in the 70s and 80s. The weather was perfect and it was a nice ride (though we didn't go on my preferred dirt roads). My legs weren't their best over the 100km ride, but it was nice to test them, and to show them what I'll need from them in the coming months. The bike performed perfectly, although I apparently forgot to fully tighten the 40-tooth inner chainring to the 52-tooth outer, and near the end of the ride I heard some rattling, and realized I was about to lose some very precious TA bolts. At our stop at the bakery in Goodwood, several people wanted to talk about the bike. On the Go ride home to Exhibition station, a few groups of Ajax teenagers approached me to express their approval.


Inspired by Martin's ecstatic reaction to the bike in the sunlight, I decided to take some more photos this morning. I  prefer these photos to the first ones, though they serve a different purpose—they are not there to illustrate an artistic programme but just show whatever I thought looked nice. The direct sunlight creates more variation in the shade of green especially, which creates a Curnoe-ian effect. Also, the bike now has the showy confidence of a machine that has successfully endured a hard, long ride. I didn't clean the bike, so it has some Goodwood dust on it. I left the clinchers on. I left on the chromed Silca pump and the saddle bag, made by Poka Cycle Accessories.

Thankfully, the tennis courts were empty this morning.

Framebuilding detail: I love the way the French dropout attachment looks. This will be my go-to style in the future.

Framebuilding detail: again, nice French dropout attachment, although I followed the painting and used the Italian style for the seatstay attachment. And notice LIFE biting into the dropout faces. 


Anonymous said...

I've watched your build (via the blog) throughout. That is an absolutely beautiful bicycle! Well done!


AH said...

Thanks, Steve! And it's comforting to know that you weren't, say, secretly watching over my shoulder all this time :)

Anonymous said...

What ratio are you running on your crankset? Looks like classic 52/42 but you said something about hills, and there is a bit of rando hybrid thing going on in your ride (fenders, Mafacs, etc.).

AH said...

It's a 52/40 with a 13-24 on the back. For the sorts of hills on the Zoo ride and around Toronto generally, this is fine -- at least for relatively short, fast rides.

DoubleOhTwo said...

From one Adam to another! Hi Adam, Adam Leddin here, editor of Cycle EXIF. I would love to feature your bike, would you be interested in letting me run it? Please email me: editor at cycleexif dot com

Looking forward to hearing from you!


Unknown said...

Love that fender line! Are those Honjos? If so, what size with the 27 Dugasts? What's your rule of thumb for fender clearance?

AH said...

Hey, thanks! The "27" Dugasts inflate to 30mm wide, and they might be taller than that. (The Grand Bois 28s are exactly 28mm wide on these Mavic MA/MA2 rims—so the Dugasts are more like the Grand Bois 30s). I left 10mm between the tire and the fender for the Dugasts, and I suspect that it's 3-4mm more than that with the Grans Bois.

Nice weather tomorrow, so off for another longish ride on the bike! Still don't have that spare tubular...