Tuesday, May 12, 2009

North American Handmade Bicycle Show coming to Richmond

The NAHBS is coming to the east coast, Virginia for that matter.
Velonews just announced the North American Handmade Bicycle Show is coming to Richmond, VA on February 26-28.

I am beside myself. Since almost the beginning of my bicycling career I've been enamored with custom frames. It is just the ultimate culmination of two of my passions: cycling and making things. I just love the fact that you can make something. Actually anything whether it is a table, boxes, a fishing rod, a knife, but a bike, sheesh it's my nirvana. Steel tubes, welding and paint. From a raw materials perspective, not much, but designed right it's just a thing of beauty.

My very first local hero of cycling in Davis, CA was a local expert mountain bike racer, Kurt. Kurt, the ex..pert was the saying. Super super nice guy who helped me get into racing and would always offer tips on training and riding. Enough so that I forgive him for trying to shift my truck into reverse when going 55mph on the highway. He wasn't that good at driving stick and was going for the 5th gear overdrive and went to reverse instead. I also forgave him for taking us on a incredible epic without telling us how much food to bring. All I remember was this other guy, Mike, getting all pissed off at Kurt's goofy smile and happy go lucky comments after 4 or 5 hours. Every time Kurt opened his mouth to say something, Mike would immediately talk over him and say..."Shortest way home, Kurt... Shortest way home".

Anyway, Kurt had a Rock Lobster hardtail. They were all hardtails back then. Deep burgandy with yellow decals with black letters. Man I loved that bike.

Years later when I finally had a little money, I decided to get a new frame. Turns out that I do not fit the typical mold. I've got long legs and short torso, in fact my inseam is similar to some people 3-4 inches taller than me. So I decided to go the custom route and got a BREW. In fact got my wife one too.

Over the years I got a second BREW, went through a lugged road bike phase then a single speed cross phase, but I didn't design the geometry right on that, otherwise I would have kept it. Somewhere in there, I scored a custom Ti road frame on ebay. That might have been a keeper except the top tube was just too long and a short stem would not cut it, as it threw the handling off for my extremely fine tuned senses. I also didn't care for the feel of the Ti. It was light for sure and it definitely muted some of the road buzz, but no joke, to me it didn't have this little bit of liveliness that a good steel frames has.

And then moved to a TIG welded road frame. Which is my current love. That bike has hit the spot for the time being. Sometimes I want to not like a frame after a period of time so that I can justify going for a new one. This one is pretty darn perfect. But the wonderful thing is that the frame is the heart and everything else can be swapped on it to create a virtually new bike. A repaint, new wheels, a new shock, and you gotta new bike.

I think my favorite is the TIG welded frame, hardtail mtb and road. There is something really clean looking and utilitarian about it. But there is also a beauty to the lines of a good frame. Sometimes I'll be in the garage or basement where the bike is on a trainer and I'll just look at it. For several minutes at a time.

Years ago there were only a handful of builders and hardly any dedicated mountain bike builders. Recently, with the advent of the internet and resurgence of things like the single speed, 29ers, 650Bs, free ride-hardtails, hipster bikes, dedicated commuting bikes, beach/snow bikes, cyclocross...custom frames are in a golden age.

You'd think that with so many production companies out there who now offer many options in sizing that you wouldn't need to go custom unless you just wanted to. But take my road bike for example. It's got a 49cm Seat tube length (c-c) but only a 51.5 effective top tube length. Most road bikes that have that short a top tube, have much shorter seat tubes. I also got an upsloping top tube and a 14cm head tube length so that I wouldn't have to use one of those high rise stems in order to get the bars high enough for my inflexible back and hamstrings.

My wife is very petite, and even with the proliferation of women's specific road bikes, there are still few options for frames. There is still a market for customs from a hard to fit perspective, but it's really about 1) having something that few others have; 2) supporting a small company/one person; 3) being able to bug someone on email every other day about the tiniest detail of the location of a cable stop and the gold fleck on the clear coat. Frame builders consider many potential customers and many of their actual customers to be time toilets, cause bike geeks can suck a lot of time from someone, and a $500 deposit is license for a desk jockey to email every day about their frame.

I'd love to go to framebuilding school. There are a few other classes around the country and lots of online resources and some out of print books. It's one of those I'm going to go sometime things, just got to find the time and allocate the funds. My 'bucket list' is pretty much Go to frame building school.

Right now I want a single speed mountain bike. This is probably a passing fad and after a few weeks on Brush mountain I'd be over it. But I've tried the chain tensioner route and want a real singlespeed. I also want a commuter built on my road bike geometry.

I daydream about building and selling frames but highly doubt I'd like to do that for a living, rather I'd like to build a few a year... No hipster bikes though.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

check that chain

There is a wonderful, inexpensive little tool by Park that you can use to check chain stretch. It gives you a go/no go check for whether or not to change your chain.

The basic premise is that your chain, cassette and rings all wear together. The chain stretches over time and the cassette and rings wear down too though not at as much.

At some point the chain stretches enough that if you keep riding it then when you do change you will have to change both the chain and cassette at the same time. But if you change the chain first you can eek out much longer life from the cassette and rings.

You will learn this first hand the first time you change your chain after a long long time and don't change the cassette, you will go to stand to hoss on the pedals and you'll get a kaaa-chunk, kaaaa-chunk as the new chain slips on the cassette. Also there is a much higher chance of getting some serious chain suck when using a new chain and an old chainring.

With this chain checker you can identify when it is time to change the chain out. I like that you don't have to think too much about it, just try to stick it on the chain and at the .75 setting and if it fits you're still ok, but if it fits with the 1.0 setting than you gotta change.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

blast from the past

A co-worker of my wife is graduating this year and she wanted to give a small gift. He's into the whole new biker scene in the town and asked if I had an of this bike jewelry I used to make years ago.

Back in the day I'd take old chain and form it into keychains and necklaces and earings. This was before you could buy them from online catalogs.
P1010350 Down in the basement in a dusty old box, I found the last two pieces I'd made.

One time I even set up a booth at our local street fair in town. The booth was sold for Friday afternoon through Sunday. I didn't feel like setting up and Friday afternoon and went to see a band instead and set up Saturday morning. So I am setting up this rickity wooden display easel that I'd jury rigged the day before and a folding chair and old card table, next to the seasoned street fair regulars with credit card machines, nice canopy tents, and lots of merchandise who were all geared up the day before. The street fair enforcers from the town downtown council came by and chewed me out for not setting up on Friday and that they would have sold my spot to someone else ,etc, etc. And I sat all day in the baking sun. Sold enough for several nights of Cellar pita pizzas and beer money for a little while and never did that again.

I think I gave one to an olympic track cyclist who worked with a friend of my brother's out in California and I sent one to Missy Giove. One day I saw a cover shot of her on MBA or similar magazine and sure enough there is my necklace
*That's it but the star shape came apart*

(like the one below) around her neck. The funny thing is though she had sent me a thank you letter that started with :
Dear Homegirl, or Dear girlfriend or something like that...

She must have thought I was a woman as my name alone isn't really distinctive to gender for someone unfamiliar with it.

This morning my kids saw the keychain and I made one for my son on the spot with a dime in the middle of it. My wife still has hers from 15 years ago.

Fun stuff. I like to make things now and then. For most months out of the year I have shop tools that lay dormant, but a few times out of they year I have to make something "right now". A box or a knife or something tangible. Something about taking whole process from drawing a design on paper to forming some raw materials into something that transforms from just wood or steel into something beautiful, tangible, and real. My son and I are making some small boxes right now. 6 mos later it might be done given the rate I'm going...