Friday, January 6, 2012

Drillium and Other Non-Weighty Matters

Continuing my series of informative parts talks, I now steer you towards the arcane art of lightening your bike parts by reducing their weight.  Essentially replacing mass with air.  The art became known as Drillium---a derivation of drill, as in electric drill, and the added suffix of an element, "ium".  Think Unobtanium, that rarest of denizens of the Periodic Table.  The difference is that Drillium is quite attainable, all one needs is a tool, a design, careful measurement, a steady hand, and a willingness to risk one's health by weakening key bike parts that are originally robust for a good reason.

Back in the day, metallurgy was for the most part fixed in steel frames and aluminum parts.  Titanium was very rare indeed, and carbon fiber, if even invented, was the stuff of military secrets and certainly not available to the world of velomen and women.  A typical good road bike of the time weighed about 25 lbs, and very expensive bikes were down around 21lbs.  An modern entry level bike these days is under that weight.  To get a very light bike back then the weight weenies had to turn to their drills.  Every time a drill bit bites into metal, metal is lost in shavings.  Remove enough shavings and grams, then ounces disappear, then even pounds.  But what is added, in my mind, is art.  A certain delicacy, a jewel-like quality is added that didn't exist before the drilling.  I just love the way it looks.  I'm fascinated by the obsession the craftsman pours into his holy parts.  Books have been written about it.

Book cover " As Light As Air" by John Derven

And check out this photo of Drillium in progress

I wouldn't want this to break off between my legs!

As technology has improved and new materials (alu alloys, titanium, and carbon fiber) utilized for both bikes and parts, things have gotten very light without the need for drilling.  So the art of Drillium becomes a thing of the past.  Or has it?

I sometimes find myself walking the back alleys of Ebay bike shops, and I found something there I just HAD to have.  Drillium headset spacers!  Produced by KCNC of Taiwan, here is a page to some of their other lightweight/blingy/ ultra cool items.
Ok, maybe not drilled out, but machined out, but still, hollow spaces filled with air describes Drillium to me.  So I ordered a set of these as a homage to the lost art.  They will make not a whit of difference in my bike's performance or weight, but rather they represent for me a bygone era, and they are just so cool!  I could have gotten carbon fiber spacers in red, but in my opinion they can't hold a candle to these 6061 alloy masterpieces.  Drillium exists as a commodity to us ordinary consumers.  How could I NOT get these?

Actual  scan of my new spacers.  Can't tell from this angle, but they are various heights: 15/10/5/2 mm sections.  They are wider overall than the OEM spacers, they have to be when you think about it, but this extra width imparts a very cool feature:  once installed, the hollow channels can be seen above and below the stem.  
 Kind of reminds me of this, don't you think?

This view shows the visually exposed channels

It all stacks up in the end

So my new hollowed out spacers are installed and I feel like I am taking a part of the Old World Velo out with me on every ride.  And as with all Drillium parts, I just hope to God they don't break.

Get On Your Bike and Ride!


  1. Hi Jim loved your low gear manifesto. I just purchased my first road bike in almost 20 years a Salsa Casseroll. It is marketed as a rando,century light touring style bike. I found the gearing curious a 48/36/26 crankset with a 12/25 casette. Being an old guy (65) I wanted lower gears. I had the shop swap out the derailleur for a mt bike unit and a 11/34 casette. I am amazed at how many riders mostly men are loathe to admit they need lower gears. If you want a hoot of a read go to a blog called " albertnet" July,9,2011. This guy seems to have his whole manhood tied to a 53/39 crankset with a 12/25 casette.
    George Mendoza
    San Jose Ca.

  2. Thanks George, nice to hear from a fellow low gear head. Yeah, manhood is a curious thing, I should write a blog about that.
    Ride On