Friday, March 30, 2012

The New Lunch = Ride!

I've often cycled up the hill to work and back, but after a year and a half here it only now occurred to me to leave a bike on site so I can go ride on a moment's notice.  Well, actually more like at lunchtime, which I did today. I took 30 minutes and had myself a restorative ride through a beautiful forest.  I didn't even put on bike gear, I just hopped on as-is, with a helmet of course, and set off on the Bayview-Sequoia trail, a popular route with hikers, runners, dog walkers and other cyclists.  I only encountered a half dozen people or so.  Very nice.

The bike I'm riding here at work is my Rockhopper, last seen in Urban Assault fitment.  I found I used it more for off roading once I got up the hill than I did for night riding or rain riding, but the slick tires were lacking in that role.  So I Command-Z'd  it back into lean, full mountain bike rig, the role it was born for.  I am using a slight compromise in the tires, Specialized Crossroads, which, while fat and knobby enough for dirt, also feature a center rib for street use in case I want to roll a Pinehurst Loop some afternoon.  They work fine for trail duty. (update:  I've since put my set of full knobby tires (Kenda/WTB) on as the Crossroads were a bit lacking on the trail, grip is much more sure now and thus the ride is more fun)

My office with its new addition.  Adds a note of adventure to the day

Last Friday I had some extended time between shifts, so in the afternoon I rolled a complete Eastridge-Westridge Loop from the CSSC parking lot.  That took me 1hr 20mins, and believe me, its a workout.  I had to walk up the super steep grades on the Westside.  Last time, a couple years back, I actually fell off my bike backwards trying to ride up.  I learned my lesson, and besides, cross-training is all good.

Stock photo from the archives...another place too steep to ride up (click to read the story)

Today I felt the joy of breathing deep the cool ions within the damp forest, the soft earth beneath my tires, the invigoration of a short exercise session in the middle of the day.  This is the start of a beautiful ritual my friends.

Get Out and Ride!


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lemond II Arrives At Flashblog

The new ride...The King is Dead!  Long Live The King!

Long story short:  I went and bought another Lemond road bike.  I pushed the Ebay "Buy It Now" button, which is a lot like pulling the trigger, metaphorically.  It felt REALLY GOOD to do that, and not fuck around,  and know I had this very rare find in the bag.  I say vary rare in that this is a brand new bike, stated by the owner to have been ridden only once.  A six-year-old, brand new--- off the showroom floor new.  No wear on the tires.  No dirt on the chain, no wear on the chainteeth, no scratches save a few scuffs on the Ultegra derailleur.  I had to have it.

photo: Lemond's Facebook page

Greg Lemond, my hero back in the '80's.  I met him in SF back then and he signed my cycling cap, which I still have.  A great pioneering American bike racer.  I think this in part is why I admire his now defunct line of cycles, bikes imbued with the fabled "Lemond geometry".  Greg's line of bikes followed his thinking on how a road bike should behave, so they featured elements such as relaxed seat tube angles and longer top tubes. My Reno, which is size 55cm, actually measures out to 56cm on the top tube, which stretched me out a little too far, so I reduced the stem length until I was happy with an 8 cm stem.  The Versailles is 53 cm even, so it is a size smaller but runs a 10cm stem, which fits just about right, it may take a little fine tuning to get it perfect.

For years I have had one bike always in the back of my mind---a top shelf Lemond Tete de Course from 2006 as a pinnacle of intriguing engineering, fascinating combination of frame materials in Titanium and carbon.  But also as a pinnacle of beauty as represented by a traditional looking lugged road bike frame, but done in this seductive mix of a exotic light metal and aerospace composites.

2006 Tete de Course

These bikes or frames sometimes showed up on Ebay, usually the wrong size or the wrong price (way too much) but I lusted after one just the same.  My dream bike.

At the NAHBS (see last 2 blogs)  I saw a lot of similar frame building using steel and carbon, titanium and carbon, and steel and bamboo.  The reps told me how each of their frame matrixes produced the fastest, smoothest, most efficient rides because the individual tubes were tuned to the rider and his style.  These are custom builders after all.  Check out the blue English racer in my first installment---steel and carbon.  This just reinforced my feeling that a blending of two materials might be better than one.  Lemond at the time stated in its website that the spine concept which consists of a metal headtube/downtube/chainstays and a carbon "cockpit" of seat tube, headtube, and seatstays produced the best of both worlds:  laterally stiff at the bottom bracket and headtube to resist twist bending, and vertically compliant thus smooth at the same time.  These days these issues are addressed by the carbon layup in all carbon frames:  super large bottom bracket joints for stiffness, ever larger headtubes for stiffness, pencil thins stays for ride.  Most modern all carbon frames are looking like they were designed from the same computer calculations because everyone making carbon bikes has to come to, more or less, the same conclusion.  If you want a more traditional looking bike then using different materials solves that problem of the Specialized Roubaix/Giant Defy  appearance in modern rides.

At NAHBS, a titanium and carbon Exogrid frame 

So I was surfing Ebay under "Lemond road bike", as usual, and this new listing pops up for a Versailles Carbon /Steel frame "spline concept" bike.  It is very similar to the Tete de Course, but not finished at such a high level as the Tete.  I knew from NAHBS that OX Platinum steel is quite nice high end stuff, with reputed liveliness and spring to the ride, and the OCLV carbon, a Trek proprietary carbon layup, surpasses aerospace standards.  The bike also had Shimano 105/Ultegra mix, which I immediately signed off on as I think 105 gear is workmanlike and sturdy, Ultegra is a bonus.

The tubing vault at NAHBS:  the best available steel samples.  OX Platinum is 2nd from the top.

So I bought the bike.  It arrived 2 days later, very professionally wrapped.  It took me 45 minutes to get all the bubble wrap off it, but it was worth it as the pristine condition of the bike was revealed.  Unbelievable!  Like it had been simply transported in time to my house for my riding pleasure.

Detail bottom bracket:  Bontrager Race Lite triple crankset, very nicely finished in dark smoke colorway. OX Platinum decal and lug where the seattube joins.   Arundel stainless steel bottle cages.

Look carefully and you can see the seatstay/downtub lug and where the tubes are bonded to it.  (just before the "V" in Versailles)  Traditional round tubing, slightly oversize compared to steel, gives a retro, classic look to the frame.  One aspect I would change is that the steel tubes are painted silver, and this color fades down the first third of the carbon fork.  I would ultimately prefer no paint on this area,  the natural raw steel clear coated, revealing the welds or brass brazings, the fork left natural carbon.  But it is what it is, and the silver fade on the fork does echo the visual  joining of the two very different materials in the frame, so I'm going with that and am happy with it.

The front derailleur adjustment sticker is still on the derailleur!  I'm going to leave it there until it falls off.  Note the 170mm cranks, which allow me much enjoyment fast spinning the cranks.  175's on the Reno.  BIG difference, I have 170's on my Miyata and have always enjoyed those more than the Reno, which turns pedals slower, but with more leverage.  Now I enjoy fast spin and low gears.

I bet by now you are asking me "Hey Flash, how does it ride anyway?  Does it live up to the hype or is it another tangent offshoot idea that branched off and went nowhere?

It has a refined smoothness.  It feels like it has reserves on tap, just push on the pedals and GO!
It's stiff, but lively, like there is a spring inside the frame.  Or maybe an electric motor.  At the same time, vibration into my butt is muted and softened compared to my aluminium Lemond.  Smooth but not plush.  On my ride today it almost felt like the bike was an animal, breathing in and out from beneath me...some kind of rythme had built up and I was reminded of a big cat running.  This bike is a Panther.  My other Lemond is more like a common mountain lion.  Both are quite similar, but one just outclasses the other, is that much more lithe and evolved.  It's lighter, faster, quicker handling, faster turning, smoother, and fits better.

This bike looks elegant, dressed up, very classy.  Much like the Tete, it reflects a respect for classic design and good taste, while embracing new technology, either 2006 production or 2012 custom.  However, the Bontrager spec'd parts like the stem and bars are functional but ordinary so there is room for improvement.  The wheels are Bontrager's Rolf clones, and roll very nicely but I do have my new Giant PSL-1s I could put on this bike and that would be even nicer indeed.

From the web about the spline concepts:

"The so-called “spine” bikes were introduced in 2003. The bikes featured either a steel or titanium “spine” which consisted of a head tube/top tube lug, head tube, down tube, bottom bracket shell with seat tube lug, chainstays, dropouts and seatstay lugs. Carbon fiber was used for the top tube, seat tube and seatstays. To get the geometry right, Trek had to produce new molds for the seat tube and seatstays.
The spine bikes represented the first big infusion of engineering into the LeMond line since the agreement  (with Trek) was forged in 1995 . Not surprisingly, they were, overall, the best LeMond bikes that had been produced up to that point. The parts spec was good and the pricing was competitive. The carbon/titanium Tete de Course was light (a little more than 16 pounds), amazingly stiff, easy to fit to a mere human, and had a very distinctive look.

Here's something about the steel:

from Henry James' website:

TRUE TEMPER'S OX PLATINUM Series is based on state of the art steel metallurgy. The metallurgists at True Temper began with an aerospace grade of air hardening steel and modified it to enhance its properties for light weight bicycle frames. The ultimate tensile strength exceeds 195,000 psi.

Air hardenable steels are desirable for high performance welded steel frames. At the edges of the molten weld pool, as the metal freezes, an unavoidable microscopic notch is formed. This is a stress concentrator that magnifies the actual stresses of riding by a factor of 4 to 6 times. The weld is relatively small and cools so quickly that metallurgical changes occur creating localized hard and brittle areas, if the alloy is not specifically designed to avoid this.

Air hardening steels are metallurgically designed so that as the steel cools and solidifies from the molten state in air, the steel hardens to an even higher strength. The metallurgists must control the alloying elements so that the hardened steel is also tough and able to absorb impacts, rather than brittle and subject to fracturing.

True Temper not only solved these problems, but went further: Most heat treated steels tend to anneal, or soften, when heated between about 1000°F and 1500°F. TIG Welding, which heats the joint up to the melting point, must heat the part of the tube adjacent to the weld up into this annealing range, thus locally weakening the tube. This drop in strength has no effect on every day riding, but it does reduce the potential long term fatigue life and, in a crash, can lead to buckling of the frame.

OX PLATINUM is very resistant to this annealing. Thus an OX PLATINUM frame will survive crashes better, and also have a much better fatigue life.

When used on silver brazed lugged frames, OX PLATINUM neither air hardens nor anneals. Your frame is at 195,000 psi strength throughout, with no weaknesses! The PLATINUM Series alloys are ideal for both lugged and lugless frame construction!

PLATINUM main triangle tubes come in a range of wall thicknesses and butt lengths so builders can fine tune the frame's stiffness and strength to the rider's needs.

 I chose well.  I now have two awesome Lemonds.  Life is good.  Get out and ride!


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

NAHBS part 2

I'll start part 2 of my handbuilt bike show review with a pic for my riding buddy Ken Jones, who is a proud Moots Vamoots owner.  Here is the upgrade version of that bike, the Vamoots RSL

Tasty bits include additional Ti hardware like the stem and seatpost, and Mavic carbon rims with matching tire system.  Compared to Ken's bike, this one has fatter tubes and a sloping top tube.  This bike looks very Mil-Spec, like a potent weapon.  One of my show favorites.

Now for something COMPLETELY different

Neo-Retro-Post Modern-Futurist-Jules Vernian Japanese track bike.  Whoa!

Cyfac's handsome road steed.  This bike looked so totally Right.

The stunned look on the gentleman's face says it all about the Vanilla touring road bike.  True bike porn in every detail.  The color is actually an olive shade, not turquoise as my camera makes it appear.  I stood and stared at this machine as if I had never seen a bicycle before. 

Eye candy from Vendetta

Stainless Steel DeLorean, anyone?  Dig those crazy German carbon wheels!  I want those.  Bad.
Champagne optional, but appreciated by those in the know.

Another nuclear green racer by Festka.  It looks fast just sitting there.  Not for the inflexible rider.

This bike would be excellent for exploring new Flashcuts, don't you think?

Lots more to come, stay tuned.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Flashblog Heaven... NAHBS 2012!

There comes a time in every bike blogger's life when he must clear the calendar for one stupendous, awesome bike show, and this year it was in Flashblog's backyard, if my backyard extended for 90 miles, and the bike show was the North American Handbuilt Bicycle Show in Sacramento, California.  I can only hope the Afterlife can present such a mouth watering array of fine custom bicycles, if not, then this was heaven on Earth.  There is so much to say about this event, I could probably blog about it for the remainder of the year.  I'm not even sure where to start.  Wait, I think I have a beginning, here it is:

Project Light, from English Cycles
As always, click pics for larger views

Rob English is a custom builder out of Eugene, Oregon.  He and his significant other manned their booth with a few of his bikes on display.  I started talking with her, then transitioned to him.  Rob is, I believe, an Englishman based on his accent, mid-30's, and a bike racer.  I was struck by the intent of this bike.  Note the pencil thin seat stays, the carbon seat post and headtube, the STEEL frame.  The saddle is so high, or the bars so low I could not frame it all in the pic.  Rob said it is his new racing bike, which he is yet to try out, and it weighs in at 10.5 lbs.  Ten and a half pounds.  Do you realize how unbelievably light that is?  And that is ready to race, with pedals and bottle cages.  It features rare EE compound brakes, which are no longer made, but are also the lightest brakes available.  The front chainrings are selected with a left side downtube shifter ala 1990. Love it!   This bike is just gorgeous when seen with eyes, my old camera barely does it justice.  Rob is very personable, friendly, and...I just want him to build a climbing bike for me.  He said he would.  Oh man...

Here's another one of Rob's bikes, "Project Right",  this one is seriously ill.  Check out the right single bladed fork and solo right seat/chainstay and Tune brand hubs with disk brakes.  The left side of the bike is non-existent! Belt drivetrain.  Carbon wheels.  This one blew Flash's mind, its just so...I can not get passed that left side missing....Dude, that is so Out Of The Park!!

Next up is something awesome and mindnumbingly Boss:  Ericksen's Titanium Tandem

This tandem won Best Tandem Award, and believe me, there were many, many to-die-for tandems on display at this show.  I talked at length with the Ericksen rep, and he pointed out some very cool and one very janky (In Flashblog's opinion) feature.  First of all, the titanium work is top notch, the bike breaks apart and folds for travel as well.  Gates belt drive connects Captain to Stoker.  Stoker has access to emergency disk brake in the rear (a good thing)  Stoker also has access to gear selector override (the bad thing---can you imagine husband and wife bickering over which gear to be in and trying to override the other's choice?  NO WAY!!)  "WAY!" says Erickson, it's standard on this bike.

Here's Cyfac's carbon tandem, a thing of beauty, a work of art and engineering,  but rather 2nd tier I guess compared to some of the other outrageous tandem builds out there.  Carbon...meh.   Like this one:

This is Paketa's Magnesium framed Gates driven tandem that won Best Alternate Materials award.  I swear to God Almighty the thing only weighs 20 lbs, I lifted it up.  It features very nicely internally routed cables.  No emergency brake on this baby, the builder's wife, who rides it,  remarked "why slow down at 65mph?" Daaammmnnn!

How's about this retro inspired beauty?  Something to fall in love with from Victoria Cycles.  Check out the flask to keep the Stoker happy.  Steel frame, Brooks leather, rear disk, wheels with many spokes.  Oh my.

Hey, those other tandems too ordinary looking for you?  How about this weirdly organic looking Calfee mountain bike tandem.  The tubes are almost 4" in diameter in some places, and pencil thin in others, it appears like a black tree with vestigial branches.  Is this Darwinism in bike design?    Some bikes are looking downright skeletal, very cool actually.

Here's the "treat your kid like royalty" version of the Calfee tandem.  I mean, just bizarre in many aspects, it kind of looks like a Dr. Seuss cartoon bike, but the least of which is that someone would pay a king's ransom for this state of the art rig rather than hook a tow along on their mountain bike for junior.  I'm just jealous I can't fit on the front and have someone else steer for me.  

How about this bike from Crumpton, which pushes the lightweight bike category to its limits:

Nine point five pounds, ladies and gentlemen, someone slap me because I must be dreaming this.  Paper thin carbon tubes, it features a host of Euro-spec parts ruled unsafe by America's lawyers:  Scapula forks, AX lightness stem, post and bars, Tune hubs, carbon chainwheels, ridiculously drilled out rear derailleur.  This is not the bike you want to be riding at 53mph down Southpark drive.  Super hot and dangerous...I want it now!!!

I'm getting Flashbacks now, not sure what is real and what isn't, so I'm going to end part 1 here.  Much more to come, check in often for many more NAHBS features.

One guy writes Flashblog and the other works for Alameda Bicycle, both are stoned on bikes