French Fender Day 2019, October 12

A couple weeks ago Diane and I took a road-trip to Connecticut for Peter Weigle’s French Fender Day event, where I could rub shoulders with other appreciators of fine classic bicycles, and The Outspoken Cyclist would interview a string of guests for her show. Peter and Diane wanted my commentary included in her coverage ( Show #476 ), so Diane and I just finished our chat, which she has recorded and edited for your entertainment.

The whole trip, for me, was full of significance I haven’t felt prepared to discuss coherently, so I struggled with her questions, hearing each one as if I had twenty possible ways to respond, instantly choosing five answers simultaneously in my brain, and so then expressing gibberish, or confused silence. Diane’s own enthusiasm and brilliant editing help tremendously (trust me, I would be far worse without), but I still felt my segment failed to do the event justice.

What is French Fender Day?

To me French Fender Day is a celebration… A gathering of like-minded folks who share similar appreciation of what we at Hubbub like to call “A Proper Bike.” Not all the bikes are French, strictly speaking, although most pay respects to France’s contributions to bicycle design, including the not-so-new 650b tire size. Not all bikes there have fenders either, but most do, and nearly all are designed for an elegant fender installation.

I tend to over-use car analogies, but it usually works, so I’m gonna do it again…

French Fender Day is sorta’ like a bunch of classic car collectors getting together to show off their projects, ranging from century-old rust buckets, to restorations, to current masterpieces, perhaps a trade or transaction here and there; even going out for a countryside cruise together. It’s about exchanging stories, ideas, and history details. There is however one difference from classic car shows, that’s critical in my view, to the spirit of French Fender Day…

Even the most fervent car collector must acknowledge the superiority of modern automobiles. I personally like many body styles from the 50’s thru 70’s, even some in the 80’s, and I grew up enjoying the fact we could literally climb under the hood and sit next to a motor to replace valve seals, but… Let’s face it, the differences in comfort, reliability, longevity, safety, efficiency, and even value between cars then and now are astounding. There is no comparison. Many modern cars can go well over a hundred thousand miles with little more than oil changes, new tires and brakes. Not long ago that was unimaginable, certainly in the Midwest and Northeast. When I was a kid, head-on collisions nearly always resulted in a death, and now occupants often walk away with a sprain and bruises.

Today’s bicycles too are technological marvels. So much carbon fiber, electronic gadgetry and disc brakes, lighter, stiffer, and faster (supposedly). When you enter today’s typical bicycle shop, most of what you’re presented with falls into the category of Jeeps, Corvettes, or even Formula-1. Wondrous toys! Modern mountain bikes roll through obstacles like we could barely imagine 30 years ago. Today’s road racing machines can be made lighter than UCI rules permit, and still perform under the sprints of elite athletes.

Here’s the thing… Remember those six criteria I mentioned? Comfort, reliability, longevity, safety, efficiency, and value? Let’s add a few more, including durability, customization, and elegance! They all add up to real fun, which is what everyone really wants from a bicycle. Attendees at French Fender Day I think tend to lean hard toward the idea that yesterday’s bicycles are in no way inferior to today’s modern marvels. A truly exceptional steel bike – whether it’s a 2016 Bruce Gordon or a 1956 Rene Herse – easily holds its own; and if the questions of style, craftsmanship, and attention to detail are raised, the comparisons might in this crowd be viewed as silly.

Was it as I expected?

On one hand I knew what to expect, from seeing and hearing about prior French Fender Day events. On the other hand I wasn’t quite sure what the balance was between show-and-tell collectors’ items, and showpieces from current makers, so I was careful to go without expectations in that sense. I did imagine it would be loads of fun, meeting new people who share our love of craftsmanship and classic bicycles. That really was the best part… The people were more interesting than the bikes.

Where there any bikes that stood out as unusual and exceptional?

Exceptional, yes of course, many of them. Unusual… They’re all unusual. I can’t think of much remarkable I hadn’t seen before though. For anyone who reads things like Bicycle Quarterly or, like us, has gravitated toward elegant, practical, and classically designed bicycles for decades… It’s all beautiful, but big surprises are rare.

Anyone I met and spoke with who a) I hadn’t met in the past and b) found to be noteworthy?

I thoroughly enjoy spending time with Peter. When we first met at New England Builders’ Ball a few years ago, somehow we struck up a conversation about… Well, almost everything I suppose, because after a few hours of chatting we had to acknowledge we both had been ignoring our exhibitor booths and customers. This time of course I had a blast with him going over his shop equipment and machines… Which reminds me… He asked for photos of my drill-press. I need to go take care of that.

I’ve drawn a library of ideas and inspiration from James Swan for probably 20 years, whether about frame alignment techniques or fork crown making. Although we’ve rubbed shoulders a few times, I think this was the first time we’ve actually met and talked, which turned into hours of chatting and learning (for me). I believe Diane told him to show me his brazing experiment, which lit a long chain of discussion, but was helpful too, as what he’s playing with gave me a boost in confidence with a joint I’ve been figuring out on a couple current projects of my own. The hours spent with Jamie were definitely a highlight.

So many others… Bob, Amir, Wayne Bingham of Mel Pinto Imports, Carlos, Deb Banks, Elton, Sue, and others I can barely remember their first names. Everyone knows I’m not as forward as Diane in a new crowd, so there’s countless folks I did not get to meet, including Jon Kendziera and Brian Chapman. I think we left with the impression that anyone there could easily get absorbed into hours of gabbing with everyone else present, and hopefully there’s a next time, for more.

What would I say to anyone listening about the concept of the classic constructeur bicycle?

It’s a fun concept, one I hesitate to define myself but it’s hardly profound as I understand it. The idea is that the bicycle is a cohesive machine, with all the parts designed and made to work and fit together, often under direction of a single maker. Even today’s constructeur might occasionally make a set of brakes, or experiment with a homemade derailleur, but now it seems to include at least fenders and racks made to fit the bike as a complete unit, as opposed to buying parts separately and bolting them on.

When we look at how most bicycles had to be made back in the 40’s and 50’s, without complete shifting groups available like they are now, today’s bikes are incredibly impressive; the way we can buy such exquisitely performing parts, hang them on a frame in a couple hours, and just take off. When we consider this, it seems kinda’ pathetic on those occasions when they under-perform. My point however is the opposite… When we experience a truly exquisite product of a constructeur from the 40’s and 50’s, feel how lightweight it is, how magnificently it handles and performs, see how well it’s held up over so many years and countless miles (something we can expect from few modern marvels)… That’s truly impressive, and something French Fender Aficionados think we should be building on rather than abandoning. For me this is what Peter’s French Fender Day celebrates.

The Hubbub Of Hubbub Bicycles

Since I recently wrote a brief history about Hubbub for our Facebook presence, I figured it’s a good addition to our “about” details here…

Hubbub was founded by Diane in 1997 with the publishing of her book, “The Hubbub Guide to Cycling,” a manual to help cyclists prepare for an extended bike tour. The original store location, a boutique “pro shop” in Cleveland Heights, was intended as a fulfillment center for a mail-order catalogue featuring carefully curated cycling products, with a lean towards touring and exploration.

Diane’s experience goes back to 1974, as a principal in two other shops of Cleveland’s past: LBS Bicycles, and City Bike. Her background and interests are in art, journalism, advocacy, event management, and retail business.

Brian joined in 1998 as the permanent technical half of Hubbub’s 2-person partnership. As the internet’s expansion accelerated, the paper catalogue never made it beyond manuscript form, and we were busy fitting, building, and servicing northeast Ohio’s finest bicycles. At this time we were selling a great deal of Waterford Precision Cycles and Calfee Design, plus a few Ibis and Klein. In spring of 1998 we began working with Burley and Co-Motion Cycles for tandems, and started riding a tandem ourselves. Later in the year we partnered with Seven Cycles, rounding out our selection perfectly to serve nearly every request.

Brian’s experience goes back to riding and working on bicycles in the mid-80’s, working in a bike shop – called The Bike Works, in Johnstown NY – while attending engineering school in the mid-90’s. He still has notes, sketches, and CAD drawings of custom designs from his early teens. His background and interests include marine and wilderness activities, design, and mechanical ingenuity. A little archeological digging uncovered these artifacts:

Adjusting the shop’s name to “Hubbub Custom Bicycles” in 1999, we found that by deepening our role in the bike’s design process, while still relying on the vast backgrounds of our skilled builders – mostly Waterford, Seven, Calfee, and Co-Motion – the three-way team we formed with a client greatly improved the buying experience and the final product.

Diane completed her yoga teacher training in 2002, and began by teaching classes on the floor of the bike shop showroom a couple evenings each week.

Recognizing that the majority of customers were traveling more than 50 miles to visit, often much farther (occasionally flying in)… Wanting to thin out the inner-city service business a bit, provide a better experience (traffic, parking, quiet, better roads, one-on-one attention) for incoming clientele, and expand our offerings… We decided in 2003 to build out a new complex, combining three business models, out in Chesterland, Ohio. Starting from scratch, we built out an entire space that included a gourmet coffee shop (a popular idea now!) called High Peaks Coffee, a beautiful new yoga studio for Diane, called Daily Yoga, and a freshly designed retail and service center for Hubbub Custom Bicycles. Both yoga students and cyclists could come in and enjoy the finest organic coffee while they shopped in our store.

Making the move in 2004, some elements of this worked, even brilliantly, but too many parts of the concept failed.
1.) In hindsight we clearly made some enormous errors in judgement and planning. The coffee shop took some time to complete the build-out, equipment, hiring and training, and to perfect the product. We were also on the wrong side of the road for morning traffic, and arrogantly felt our product would be good enough to overcome an absent drive-thru window. Perhaps this might have worked in a more sophisticated area, but it’s poor business planning regardless.
2.) We were lied to repeatedly about what opportunities would be afforded for quality signage, discovering the truth much too late. Eventually we fought through to erect what were always ineffective signs, with fierce resistance from the “city,” but it was too little too late.
3.) Some might point out that our move away from the city caused the coming years of hardship, but that part of our plan worked perfectly.

2004 proved to be an immensely difficult year, as Hubbub fought to keep two brand new businesses alive, in a new location, long enough for them to grow towards self-sustainability. At one point we laid everyone off and closed down, but after three days mustered the energy to come back out swinging.

In 2006, while the businesses were still slowly climbing out of their holes, Brian developed an illness that proved to be another tremendous setback. In short, his esophagus stopped working, permanently. As he slowly deteriorated from undernourishment, work performance suffered accordingly, including relationships and perhaps results. Somehow, through Diane’s famously endless energy, Hubbub and Daily Yoga continued to improve, and High Peaks coffee held on with a small but solid reputation.

With the financial crisis of 2008, when some caring customers would ask, “How are you faring?” Our response… “We don’t feel it. We’re coming from such a low, we’re still climbing up through the recession.” Hubbub was even named the most successful dealer in the country for a couple of its bike makers, and voted “Best Bike Shop in the Great Lakes Region” by the League of American Bicyclists.

In 2009 we finally shuttered High Peaks Coffee, converting the space to a lounge for Hubbub and Daily Yoga.

In early 2010 Diane began hosting a 1-hour live weekly AM radio show, called “Bicycling Today,” out of Youngstown, Ohio. On Labor Day weekend she created her own radio show, called “The Outspoken Cyclist” broadcast weekly by WJCU, FM-88.7 out of John Carroll University. Always available as a podcast, it continues to grow all these years later.

In 2011 Brian’s illness was diagnosed and he underwent a successful surgical procedure. The resulting health and energy brought in 2012, and Hubbub in one season was able to recover from seven years of hardship. Having finally fulfilled all past obligations, we were overdue for another major change.

Beginning in 2013 Diane moved her Daily Yoga Studio to Highland Heights, where it remains, providing regular classes.

Having liquidated all clothing and most accessory inventory, Brian moved tools, parts, and equipment to an industrial space in Kirtland / Willoughby Hills. The plan was to complete a lengthy backlog of small “always wanted to…” type projects, including some prototyping new products, in-house frame-building jobs, provide past bike customers with service, and continue building custom bikes through Calfee, Seven, and Waterford.

In 2016 Diane and Brian finally were married.

In 2018 Brian announced publicly his willingness to build brazed steel bikes for customers in-house, under the name, “b.w. Jenks”

From home Diane maintains the Hubbub on-line store and projects like the Hubbub Helmet Mirror, as well as arranging bike-fitting services. She also produces, records, engineers, and publishes “The Outspoken Cyclist,” weekly, by herself.

Brian, in his workshop, has since 2013 provided house-calls, pick-up & delivery service, and all the same full in-shop service Hubbub has always had. He remains a dealer for Waterford & Gunnar, Seven Cycles, Calfee Design, Rodriguez, and Pegoretti. Services have expanded to include welding, machining, bead-blasting, and other fabrication – occasionally on non-bike projects such as turbocharger pipes for the neighboring auto mechanic, or repairing a giant stainless mixing bowl for a local bakery.

Our “ShimErgo” Story

As described in this weekend’s episode of Diane’s Outspoken Cyclist Radio podcast, in 1999 we were inspired to determine a way to manage a wide-range Shimano drive-train using Campagnolo ErgoPower shift controls. I wrote a web article in 2000 about how to do it without the use of adaptation devices (shortly before the release of Jtek) and then again in 2003 posted a revised edition. Since then SRAM has entered the scene with alternatives for wide-range road gearing, and Shimano has not only attempted to meet that challenge, but they’ve also dramatically improved their shift-control ergonomics, function, and reliability. Although one of my favorite personal bikes still has this original “ShimErgo” setup, and I don’t intend to change it, with the modern gearing options available and working so well I’ve lost my reasons for (and therefore interest in) exploring ways to control Japanese derailleurs using Italian shifters, at least on new builds, for now anyway.

For years after posting the original article I received countless questions about how to combine components of different makes. In nearly every case my answer was, “I don’t know… I haven’t tried it.” When a client presents a problem, I try to solve it, but I’m afraid that doesn’t make me an expert in how to combine every shift-control with every other [claimed] incompatible derailleur mechanism.

A few years ago we made major changes in direction with our retail shop Hubbub Bicycles, and my outdated articles were pulled without second thought. I still have them though, and recently discovered many folks continue to apply the simple re-routing technique sometimes. In conjunction with Diane’s interview of our pal Mike Varley, proprietor of Black Mountain Cycles, in which this is mentioned, we thought it might be a good kick-in-the-pants for me to post a fresh edition of the article, even if just for sentimentality. If you intend to torment yourself reading it, please do keep in mind the time period and then-available parts, for context.

To my surprise, the name Hubbub is still receiving credit out there on the inter-webs for what in hindsight seems an overly simple solution. I can’t be sure whether this is good or bad, or neither, but I do hope anyone still using the technique also still enjoys its benefits, which in my view were more significant at the time. In preparation for this I even found copies of an old e-mail exchange, over a public forum, arguing with someone claiming I was perpetrating a hoax. Seriously… This was important enough to a naysayer, as if I had something to gain, or the world might explode if you tried combining Campy and Shimano. The really funny part was that some prominent tandem shops and touring experts across the US, and in Europe, began delivering fancy new custom bikes this way for a while. But it was a hoax…

I think maybe I was smarter back then. In any case, here’s a modernized version of the original how-to, and at the end of this podcast I bumble through an explanation of how we came to discover it. I’d recommend enjoying the whole show though.

Shimano 11s Mechanical Front Changer on a Calfee

Whew!  Yeah… it’s been a while.  I write this from a train, because it’s one of the few chances I’ve had to settle down enough to focus on it.  I figure however it’s about time to relay an experience I had building up a Calfee Luna last season, an issue actually, and the solution to which I arrived.  Some time ago I’d heard of difficulties getting Shimano’s 11-speed Ultegra front derailleur to work optimally, and didn’t quite understand what the problem was.  It’s just another derailleur, right?  Now that I’ve seen it myself, and not heard of a solution, I find it hard to believe others aren’t occasionally encountering this, so here’s a description of what worked for me.

It’s no secret among those who know me that I have minimal enthusiasm for these component manufacturers each time they release another group with more gears.  I was fine with 5 and 6-speed, and really liked 7-speed.  When they released 8-speed that would have been okay, but 7 was enough, and the 8-speed system never seemed to perform well.  I’d rather have 7 that work great.  9-speed was fabulous, in my opinion.  It shifted well, was serviceable, highly compatible with off-road components – allowing us to develop creative gearing solutions for tandems and touring bikes.  It was also the first time we saw truly wide ranges available for folks who needed them with minimal compromise to shifting performance.  Then they jumped to 10-speed… yawn.  The groups got noticeably lighter and stiffer, but the tenth gear didn’t matter much and performance became finicky and less reliable again, and the superior features did not require an additional cog.

Eleven speed appears to be a whole different story.  Historically I wouldn’t have cared about that 11th gear, if you can’t tell by now, but properly installed this stuff works brilliantly.  The range for a double is wider than the old triples, and the ease, crispness, and response of shifting feel is phenomenal.  Even any lack of cross-compatibility (road vs. mountain) is beginning to not matter any longer.  The price for this however, aside from monetary cost, is the precision required to get it set up working perfectly.  This brings us to the point of today’s post.

Calfee's asymmetric bottom bracket shell

Calfee’s asymmetric bottom bracket shell

After so many years of building bikes using frames from Calfee Design, I had somehow forgotten Calfee build their frames using asymmetric bottom bracket shells.  I’ve never seen a mis-aligned Calfee frame, but you can clearly see in the photo that neither the seat-tube nor the down-tube intersect the shell at its center.  This is intentional, and perfectly okay as long as the bottom bracket, the wheels, the steering axis, and the saddle’s center are all within the same plane.  That is to say the frame must be in alignment, and it is, even though the shell is offset to starboard.

If you understand kinematics you will recognize that the attachment lever and parallelogram on a derailleur have different relative movements throughout their stroke.  Although the parallelogram ensures the cage’s stability and vertical orientation, it does move through an arc.  Since it’s activated by a cable pulling on a lever, and this cable pulls in an effectively linear fashion (as opposed to unwrapping about a barrel), a given amount of cable pulled at the lever will result in different resulting movement at the cage according to location within its range of travel.  Manufacturers account for this by matching the radius of the control’s cable wrapping mechanism to the dimensions of the contact points and parallelogram in the derailleur.  SRAM in particular, I believe, takes pride in their 1:1 pull-to-response ratio.  That’s cool… but one of the sweetest things about Shimano’s latest 11-speed mechanical system is the fast, smooth, and effortless action of the front mechanism.  This is acheived using a much longer lever than in the past, even requiring variable cable anchoring.  As brilliantly as it works, properly adjusted, it is unfortunately rather unforgiving to even minor variations in spacing from the seat-tube.

I found on several initial builds that the setup required a bit extra care in getting the adjustment perfect, and there’s the new trim “feature” which disallows the derailleur from slamming all the way to it’s lowest point upon the down-shift, but the results were in general excellent.  Trying to finish the build on this Calfee however, no matter what I tried for yaw alignment, cable tension, and limit screw settings, it was simply impossible to get full swing out of the derailleur and it would rub the chain on the big ring.  By the time the cage had reached the big ring position, any further cable pull would result in the derailleur moving up more than out, because its mounting point (the seat-tube) was too far away.  What do do?

standard vs. wide spacing

SRAM’s standard vs. wide spacing clamp

One idea I had was an eccentric clamp spacer, permitting fine adjustment.  I still may work on further developing that for similar applications, but I then remembered SRAM makes a Wide Spacing version of their clamp adapter.  Their clamps are very light and well made, so far seem reliable, and integrate perfectly with SRAM’s own chain-watcher device – a rather clever design.  They are however made to support exactly the profile of SRAM’s own derailleur body, preventing flex and yaw movement.  Shimano’s derailleurs don’t rest well against the little tab protruding out from the clamp, so I filed it down to fit the contour, and installed.

Problem solved!  It works perfectly and has often become my clamp of choice for many builds other than just Calfee frames, and for non-SRAM mechanisms.  Plus we still get the added benefit of using SRAM’s fancy chain-watcher if needed.FD6800 topA couple final notes:

  • I must admit I do not remember what the initial clamp adapter was that I tried.  It was in all likelihood a Shimano, which I have otherwise found to work well.
  • I have installed every edition of Shimano’s Di2 front changers to Calfee frames, more times than I remember.  We never experienced this issue, so it appears to only apply in the case of 6800 mechanical.  That said, I am curious to explore whether front shifting performance might be further improved this way.
  • The FD-6800 uses a yaw-preventing set screw just like the Di2 mechanisms.  If the clamp is filed to fit well, this set screw becomes unnecessary.

Bike Shop Relevance Nowadays

We participate in a confidential e-list discussion forum of bike dealers, in which we all abide by understandably strict rules about repeating or relaying the opinions or specific writings of other retailers.  It only makes sense though that careful generalizations are permitted, at least to provide context for a topic discussed elsewhere.

Someone wondered whether Phil Wood was selling directly to consumers, implying a question of whether this was acceptable in terms of business practices favoring the Independent Bicycle Dealer (IBD).PW Fixed-Fixed

My response was that yes, Phil Wood & Co. has always been willing to work directly with their end-user and bypass the retailer.  They have however maintained a strict policy of charging at least what their retailers will likely charge, so there’s no real price competition.  Another factor I did not mention, but others indicated, was one significant advantage for retailers in having Phil Wood do this.  They have a long history of producing high quality intricate parts, and servicing so many years’ of those items would require us tying up capital in stock of hundreds of these pieces, and maintaining inventory of them, just to claim we can replace a pawl and spring in a 1979 hub once every 6 years.  I’m happy to do it too, but I’ll gladly permit Phil Wood to take that job, thank you.  They earned it.

Within my reply was contained a comment, “We’re not entitled to free profits.  We earn them by providing a service, to both the supplier and the customer, and it’s our job to convince the customer we’re worth it.”  This of course was not referring only to flat tires, bent wheels, and spring tune-ups, but really encompassing everything cyclists might expect from their bike shops; on the showroom floor too, including earning a fair share to help procure, install, ride, and possibly service a conscientiously selected Phil Wood product.PW Tandem

Another thread brought up our annual international trade shows, and whether we as retailers will remain as relevant as we have in the past, to our suppliers, to our customers, and even to the show itself.  Do our suppliers [and customers] need us, or are we just another “cog in the distribution chain,” eventually found obsolete?

A few of my own thoughts on the subject:

Some vendors may see us as valued customers, of a sort.  Some view us as partners, critical cogs in the distribution-chain machine, but dispensable when a more efficient machine is developed.  A few likely see us (IBDs) as barely necessary leeches, middle-men, sucking profits from what could have been their bigger bottom lines (regardless of whether this is actually true, and in many cases may not be, as this lengthy White Paper attempts to relate.)

Similarly some customers feel we are critical entities in their lives, sources of valued services, advice, and the best products and end support; hard to imagine living without.  They’ll occasionally pay a slightly higher price than they know can be found elsewhere because they also believe it supports our continued existence, from which they draw tremendous value they don’t always fund directly.  Unfortunately this often paints the IBD portion of our industry as charity.  Others think of us as fun places to visit, but only worthy of their hard-earned money when the value is clear and obvious in the moment.  Finally, a growing number seem to view the IBD as almost completely unnecessary service centers for tube changes and wheel truing, not a sustainable business model and, similar to the final example of suppliers above, just another place to spend more money than should be necessary.

Neither the manufacturers, distributors, nor consumers owe us anything not earned, not even an opinion on how to perpetually justify our existence into their futures, let alone our value or place in the industry’s chain of distribution.  By itself it doesn’t matter that we have 40 years of business behind us.  The experience itself matters, but then only if we can apply it for someone else’s benefit.  It doesn’t matter that we pay for all our business licenses and government mandated fees, collect sales tax (without compensation), are available for service and support 70+hours per week, answer hard questions for free, promote or support community and charity events, anonymously bolster or refer business to competitors, and strive after-hours to push the boundaries of our training and expertise abreast of what is provided to our customers through magazines, group ride wisdom, and social media, while still fairly paying employees, supporting our families, and paying the mortgage.  It doesn’t matter that we provide a conveniently dry, lit, and heated space to experience the products and perform the services.  None of that matters and, for the most part, little of it should… it’s the harsh truth, but it’s the real world.  What matters is the value we can relay to a customer when she’s standing before us with a checkbook.  She needs to leave our shops knowing she got a great deal, not because she paid a cheap price, or even because she subsidized our existence for when she really needs us, the next time.  She needs to know she got a great deal because we provided her with a level of service equal to or greater than what she paid, not just in the moment, but relative to her overall cycling experience.  Yes, it really is that basic.

Sometimes we may provide a high level of service and under-charge, and she still feels ripped off.  Other times we do something simple and charge too little, and she may feel exceedingly privileged.  An enormously overlooked part of our jobs is to accurately convey the true value of what we produce.  And yes, we need to produce something, not just present it.

And we need to latch the shop door each night knowing we were fairly compensated for those services, whether repairing a flat tire, addressing a warranty issue, or developing and executing an ingenious solution to a complex problem.

Likewise manufacturers and suppliers are not obligated to attach assumed values to the services we provide.  They’ll see it when it shows up (or doesn’t) in their own bottom lines.

As IBDs, we’re only cogs in the machine if we’ve chosen and elected to stubbornly hold that position.  Cogs are easily replaced, and machines become more elegantly designed (cog-less) by nature of our free market.  It’s up to us to either convince the customer and our suppliers that our cog-in-the-machine model remains ideal (through example), make ourselves an indispensably superior cog, or participate heavily in the on-going re-design of that fancy new replacement, potentially cog-less distribution model so that it still somehow includes us.

Maybe it’s high time we sought the opinions of our customers.  What do you think?

Motorcycle Handling and Chassis Design: the art and science

Foale, Tony
Spain. 2002.
ISBN 978-8493328610

When I first heard of this book, probably around the time it was published, I just… had to have it.  At the time it was challenging just to figure out how to get one.  Entirely self published and distributed from Spain, this treatise is arguably the most definitive writing on the hows and whys of handling in single-track vehicles.  As should be obvious from the title, it’s not about bicycles, but you don’t need a deep imagination to recognize how much can be learned about bicycle geometry from studying motorcycle dynamics.

Bicycles of course do appear in the text a couple times, and are used to experiment and clarify some of the physics principles governing steering and lean-angle.  We must however bear in mind an important point about the differences between motorcycles and bicycles with regard to analyzing their handling characteristics.  On both machines the rider is a critical element to be considered as part of the machine.  The motorcyclist however is a relatively small percentage of the machine’s (bike and rider) overall weight, often less than 35%, while of course a bicyclist comprises the vast majority of the machine’s weight, rarely less than 80% for adults.  Add to that the sheer differences in power, and these have profound effects on the vehicles’ centers-of-gravity, and how the rider manages the CoG.  Tony FoaleAnother distinction (of many) is wheel and tire size, weight, casing design, pressures, and forces.  Although mostly the same effects exist in the tires and wheels of both machines, the magnitudes of those forces are so vastly different that we must be very careful with any assumptions we make about their similarities.  In numerous instances a line of understanding, in terms of handling design, cannot be directly applied between the two vehicle types.  Nevertheless this book provides tremendous insight, at the very least, into the sorts of things a serious bicycle designer should be considering and trying to understand.

Motorcycle Handling and Chassis Design is one of my favorite books on my shelf, but I’d only recommend it to others who are also interested in the rather dry details of handling geometry in bikes.  The clarity in the writing, the comprehensive analyses, hundreds of photos, diagrams, and graphs, and the well thought out explanations are astounding.  Sure it reads a bit like a text book, but anyone would be hard-pressed to explore and report on such a technical topic more effectively.  The author‘s brilliant efforts to go light on mathematics, but instead illustrate with practical theory and experience, must not go unrecognized.

I understand a new edition was released in 2006.  I have not seen a Spanish version, but my paperback copy is entirely English, and written so well it’s difficult to imagine it having been translated.  The latest edition claims to be even better than mine.  Hmmm… What’s a book junkie to do?

tandem fitting

Most folks familiar with us also know Diane and I have been an avid tandem team since 1998.  For many years, having first-hand expertise, we also fitted and built quite a number of tandem bikes for customers, including several very customized bikes.  Some of the more common early questions in selecting a tandem are about fitting, and whether the numbers on our singles are transferrable.  The super-short answer is a likely yes, but… it’s heavily qualified, and you probably know by now that short answers don’t come easily to me.  Having just fielded such a question, here are some thoughts about the basics:

This isn’t true for everyone but, for many of us, fitting a tandem is a bit different from how we like to ride our singles.

Generally the stoker wants to be a little more upright, because she (or he) can be, since she’s tucked out of the wind anyway, and usually wants a better view of passing scenery.  Additionally, as long as you’re confident the rear seat-tube will be a good length for her saddle height, knowing exact details of her final fit parameters is rarely critical ahead of time.  The rear of the bike is so highly adjustable that you should need little more than confidence that her parameters can be met once you have the actual bike in front of you.  Note too that (for most stokers) she never stands flat-footed over the bike, so top-tube clearance is usually a non-issue.

For the captain, on the other hand, it’s a good idea to know most of the details about how his fit will be accomplished.  Although his single bike’s dimensions can be transferred, and that’s a great start, beware here too his fit requirements might be slightly different, to accommodate the longer bike and rear-load, as well as possible differences in ride approaches, such as aggressive sport riding on singles versus more relaxed touring on the tandem.  Everyone’s preferences and cycling goals of course are different, but these are the things we consider.

Finally, if you haven’t yet much tandeming experience, beware you will both likely spend far less time out of the saddles than you do on your singles, at least initially.  When only on our single bikes we tend to thoughtlessly make adjustments, stand, and accommodate comfort needs automatically.  Very little happens on a tandem without intention, forethought, and verbal communication, especially at the beginning, so we tend to just sit and pedal until issues become unbearable.  Remember too that the captain must be able to very confidently stand over and stabilize the bike, sometimes on un-even terrain, with the stoker mounted.  This doesn’t affect how the bike should fit him while pedaling, but it might be a factor in determining its basic size.

We always used to do at least a full fitting for the captain, and sometimes for the stoker.  We would certainly confirm basic dimensions for the stoker, but occasionally customers already knew what they wanted, which is great too.  We would however insist on finalizing fit details once the bike is built and ready to ride.