Friday, December 23, 2011

Caramelos de Naranja Mas Hermosa

It was almost 9 pm when the UPS driver finally pulled up at Jose's house. By 11:30 there was an email on my phone ... "holy cow, what a beautiful frame you have created, up close the workmanship is just stunning as is the paint color, really beautiful and the rack is just a piece of art." Now, that's a bedtime story that I like!

Jose is a tall, lean long time cyclist who, at age 50, is experiencing a resurgent interest in riding long distances in any weather. He owns a lovely high-end Italian racing bike, but that machine simply is not designed for the fenders, front rack/bag and the wider tires favored by randonneurs. And, while he finds this race bike to be reasonably comfortable on century rides, I felt certain that we could make an improvement in that department too.

The result is a 63cm (c-t) low-trail Randonneur, as shown below in its mock-up state before being broken down for shipping. Designed for 700cx32 tires, Honjo 43mm fenders, braze-on Mafac Racer brakes and a dynohub powered front light, we covered Jose's wish list. The frame uses a collection of modern "standard" diameter tubes which were selected to mimic the feel of the classic Reynolds 531C tubeset. The fork blades are NOS Reynolds Imperial Oval tubes, set in a modern Grand Bois crown.

Since this frame features a front-loaded steering geometry, the project included one of my signature racks, built using a one-piece deck and backstop. In this configuration, the rack mounts to the braze-on bosses for the Mafac centerpull brake. Jose elected to do without a decaleur for now, but I always can build a stem-mounted unit if he decides otherwise after testing a stout internal stiffening system in his new bag.

Below is a photo of the Mafac Racer brakes mounted on custom-made bosses. This started out as a dingy used brake, but a few days in the vibratory polisher restored that like-new appearance. I also made a set of hand-wound stainless steel springs, which not only look nicer, but also are softer to provide smoother modulation with modern levers and lined cable housing.

And finally, let's talk about the PAINT. Jose was looking through Keith Anderson's photo gallery of painted frames and picked out a gorgeous burnt orange example. It turns out that he was looking at the result of applying an orange candy over a green-tinted base. Keith did that again, and the result is simply stunning ... even under the shop lights where these photos were taken. Out in the sunlight it is truly the Most Beautiful Orange Candy. But some of you already knew that, no?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Life, Reconfigured

In my introduction post on this blog, I wrote about how a thoughtfully designed bicycle could, by changing a few key components, evolve along with a rider's changing preferences and abilities. Once the designer has established a good fit between frame and rider, that frame may be usable for a variety of riding styles and venues, with little-to-no performance penalty for the built-in versatility. I just completed one such reconfiguration, on a once-favorite bike that just wasn't seeing much use.

Ten years ago, I built a Road/Sport frame designed to use a simple 1x9 drivetrain and a single shift lever. A few weeks after it came back from getting a durable powdercoat finish, that bike and I began a supported transcontinental ride from Seattle to Boston, with an improvised victory lap around Nova Scotia. I loved that bike. It climbed the Rockies, it turned South Dakota into a blur (well, maybe the heat helped that), it went fast when the big boys decided to play, and it was stable under 20# panniers at the end. Two years later, I used that bike to follow the Lewis and Clark route from St. Louis, MO to the Pacific Ocean, and, once again, it was just perfect - simple, reliable, and comfortable. Back home, it became my favorite bike for group social rides, centuries, and a variety of supported and credit-card tours.

Five years ago, I built a replacement frame, using the same geometry and tube set. But this time I carved a set of Pacenti Artisan lugs (not yet available the first time) and sprung for a gorgeous Joe Bell paint job. The first frame had been a plain workhorse, and, even though the components were all the same, there was something about the new frame's beauty that made the ride even sweeter. This was still going to be the lead dog on my sled.

Shortly after finishing the "beautified" 1x9, and without proper warning, my cycling preferences took a sharp turn toward fat tires, low-trail geometry, riding in "normal" clothing, and adapting to an aging body. I rode my 650B bike the most, and tried out (and liked) Albatross bars on it and on my low-trail 700C loaded touring bike. I bought clothing from Rivendell. I swapped my SPD pedals/shoes for naked cage pedals and sticky-soled Adidas flats, and re-discovered how pleasant it is to ride with free feet. I confirmed that the social riders at the back are laughing lots more than (and often about) the racer wannabes out front. Cycling life was good. In September, it dawned on me that I had not taken the 1x9 off the hook at all this year. Oh no! This called for a makeover.

The photo above shows my 1x9 in its reconfigured state. The component changes include
a Nitto moustache handlebar on a shorter 8cm stem, light cage pedals, a lower tread-width classic Dura Ace crank, and a slightly smaller (38T) chainring. The frame was built for standard reach (47-57mm) caliper brakes at full slot, which easily accommodated the new wider (700c x 35) Panaracer Pasela tires. With the same old 9-sp 11x34 cassette, the gearing ranges from 31 to 95 inches.

Equipped as shown, weight is 21lb -12oz. I'll hang a candybar bag on the bar, and there's also a small custom rear rack if necessary.

Medium-trail steering geometry (originally built for 28m tires) seems OK with these new wider tires. The new "head up" body position tends to lighten up the front wheel, and the effect of some extra pneumatic trail seems to counteract that lightness.

I also milled the DT shift lever and its mounting base to change the lever's orientation on the bar-end mount, such that the lever points straight back (instead of 45* up) when the chain is on the largest cog. This gives a much nicer hand position on the shift lever when the bar-end is this high.

After 10 years of riding this drive train without a chain keeper for the single chainring, I finally installed a Paul unit. I need to fabricate a keeper that's not so bulky, and silver.

All together, this new configuration represents an amalgam of my evolving preferences and needs over the past five years. It remains a beautiful bike, and is once again a joy to ride. It has more competition than before, but it certainly is a contender once again for the Favorite Bike title.