Friday, December 28, 2012

Cycling in a Group


Cycling with other folks is often a rewarding experience. Learning the skills of riding in a pack can result in thrillingly fast rides, racing tactics, breakaways and... a long ride home by yourself.

The most common type of riding group is the racing club. These folks are dedicated to racing. To improving their performance. It is a take-no-prisoners testing of each other and pushing each other to higher levels of performance. They will often respect a new comer who keeps coming back after getting dropped from weeks of rides, eventually taking you under their wing and even waiting for you at the top of the hill.

But for many new comers, riding with a racing group can be a big mistake. Group riding is much more varied than just racing these days. There is nothing wrong with riding at a relaxed pace, looking at the scenery and stopping to see the deer cross the road in front of you. If you know what kind of riding you like, then seek out a group that matches your choice. If you decide to try and ride with a racing group, don't take it personally if you get dropped and certainly don't let it turn you sour toward cycling. If you really do like racing, then hang in there and as you get stronger and are able to hang on longer you will gain acceptance and the group will probably start to pull you in. But it may take awhile.

On the other hand, if racing is not your bag, don't give up on group riding. There are many options these days for vintage rides, long-distance randonneuring, relaxed riding groups who hold "no-drop" rides. If you are a new woman rider, think about seeking out a woman's group for your first rides where there is less testosterone driving a competitive pressure, even on the so called no-drop rides.
Lake Pepin three-speed ride brew-up.
Riding with a group of people who love the same things as you is fun. Riding together and sharing the experience of the ride, and then having a meal or a pie- stop together can be a great social event. So, choose wisely, and don't get turned off by your first attempt at riding with others.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Erik Noren of Peacock Groove bikes


Erik Noren lives outside the box. When most of us are willing to take abuse in the workplace and bite our lip to maintain our comfortable lifestyle, Erik is not. He's willing to live a harder life to not put up with restrictions. He lives the life he chooses and makes the bikes he chooses. He is an artist at heart and often makes statements about social justice and his views on politics in his work. Like many artists, he is irritated that some folks don't bother to look at his work and try to understand what he is trying to say, but instead snap judge it.
He spent years at Walter Croll cranking out frames and worked for a major bicycle distributor for 10 years. He also does production work for other companies to this day, and smiles when people criticize work with his name on it but love work he does. with someone else's name on it, that they don't know comes from him.










                       He shares space in Minneapolis with a number of other frame builders and you can easily see the benefits to all when someone yells over "Hey Erik, can I use the sandblaster?"


Erik's designs are artistic with cutouts and paint jobs that reflect his out-of -the-box lifestyle. If you are interested in something special, Erik  will definitely listen to your request when other more traditional frame builders might show you the door.


peacockgroove@gmail.com / 651-269-5295 / Facebook

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chris Kvale

We drove past the Ivy Building for the Arts, a classy old foundry building in stone turned art school or something, but we missed Chris Kvale's shop. I pulled over and gave him a call. Around the back he says. The back looks like a industrial shop area and I find the green door marked Chris Kvale. It is in the Ivy Building for the Arts which turns out to be industrial space converted to artists studios and galleries. His space is in the core of the old foundry and it has that comfortable feel of hand laid stone.When we stepped in the shop it is very different than many shops. This guy has some class, I think. The place looks like a styish living room. A stereo system and bottles of wine on the shelf. Bike art and drawings on the walls.
His color sample rack on the wall adds the colors of the rainbow. He comes out of his paint room, where he is working on painting a frame, in a white tyvek protective jacket. Looks like a lab coat. He gives us the nickel tour and points out his road bike he has in for a clean up.

 He comes to frame building from bike racing back in the 1970's. He says he used to race a wide range of bikes that all had the same basic parts package so he learned how the frames were different.  During the second bike boom, he notes the first was in the 1890's, he was working for one of the Twin Cities first pro bike shops in Minneapolis and they started importing British Lugs, Hayden crowns and other frame building parts. He had a friend who built frames and asked the guy to teach him the ropes. So he started his own frame but soon after his friend moved away. " I had to finish it myself" he says. That was the beginning of a lifetime of framebuilding. 

I asked about fitting and he says he doesn't use a fit kit. He goes for a bike ride with his customer. Makes a suggestion and then they tweek a bit. He thinks you need to be out on a bike before you can understand how the customer uses a bike  and what they need. He rode 7000 miles this year.
I ask about how a new framebuilder gets to know when they are getting good penetration on a lug. Out comes a box of cut-away lugs and he points out where the top tube butts up against the head tube often there is no penetration.
You can't see it he says until you cut it a part. He has lugs from a Gios, Colnago, Masi and dozens more and you can see that not all are well done brazing jobs. A sample with perfect penetration on the lug and the mitre joint turns out to be his work. He says he cuts a window so he can see the mitre joint and then fills it back in after he brazes the joint satisfactorily. He reminds me of Mark DiNucchi and Bruce Gordon because they all three have a passion for engineering quality first and foremost. Many newcomers do beautiful work but not all have the years of experience to back it up.

It is not common for a framebuilder to also be a great painter. Most framebuilders send their frames out to someone who specializes in painting. But Chris does framebuilding, painting and he can electroplate dropouts himself. In the spray booth are his own frames and new and old repaints for others. His paint jobs compliment good lug work and don't bury the lugs in paint. He says it is easier to do with metallics because they are semi-transparent and you can see the edge of the lug through the coating. But solid colors are harder and if he knows a customer wants a solid color he can purposely not file down the lugs as much to maintain the lug lines when he is making the frame.



His frames and his paint jobs are top notch. He only does about 6 frames per year these days so he can get in those 7000 miles a year on his own bike. But that means you have a chance to get a frame from someone whose work is as good as it gets but doesn't require a 4 year wait.





If you are thinking about getting a new frame made you owe it to yourself to give Chris Kvale a call and see what he can do for you.

             

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Johnny Coast

 
Johnny Coast grew up with the smell of steel. His father worked in the auto industry doing bodywork and had his own custom shop at one time.His grandfather was a machinist and quality control inspector that worked on nuclear bomb triggers. He still uses the tools he inherited from his Grandfather. So it was only natural that Johnny would learn to weld at age 13. After working with his father for a number of years,
when Johnny was looking for a career path of his own, his friend Seth Rosko mentioned the United Bicycle Institute frame building course. He enrolled in the UBI course and also in courses from Koichi Yamaguchi who
was the master builder at 3Rensho for many years. Later, he also took machine shop courses locally to learn to use a milling machine and lathe. Eight years ago he got his own space, that he shared with frame
builder Seth Rosko, to setup shop in Brooklyn, New York. Seth has since moved into his own space.  
Johnny started out making a lot of fixed gear frames because "that is what people wanted". Given his New York City location that is not surprising. He says that when Jan Heine started writing articles about
randonneuring he got interested in building randonneuring bikes. A beautiful rando bike was shown at the 2012 Cirque du Ciclismo and he tied for best City bike. He is thinking about making twins for the 2013 event. He now has customers from far and wide but he says shipping can get to be difficult to more exotic places. He had a customer in Brazil that had a tough time figuring out how he would get the framed shipped at a reasonable cost. 

Johnny has built a number of custom fixtures over the years to speed up some of the time consuming frame-building procedures, like adding braze-ons.  
Recently, he has been exploring Bi-Lam lugs or what he says Hank James calls "half-lugs," an old treatment that combines a lug and filet brazing in the same joint.    
He first used it in mixtie frames ordered by Chris Kulczycki for Velo-Orange, since there where no lugs made for the angles required in the mixte. 
   It takes him about 60 hours to build a frame these days and he makes
about 35 frames a year. Richard Sachs lugs, fork blades provided by
Compass Cycles, and True temper tubing are some of the materials he
likes to use. He stays flexible about what he builds and looks for new
ideas and experiments a bit, like trying to do some fine hand done lug
lining on a recent frame. 
 Johnny also makes classic "Singer look" stems for his randonneuring bikes. He has just received a gleaming batch of stems back from his plater which were really stunning.
   
In addition to his french style custom stems Johnny has designed his own front brake cable hanger. He found the commonly available units to just not match the aesthetic that he wanted so he created his own elegant solution.
 
        Another unique feature of Johnny Coast's in the constructeur tradition.


He is working with Chris Kvale for his paintwork now and is pleased with the precision with which Chris works. Chris has got a fine eye for color and will ask for paint samples to match a request exactly.
 
 For more information see Johnny's website at www.johnnycoast.com

Friday, December 7, 2012

Alex Singer


When I was 13, I hung out at the Cupertino Bike shop and got a glimpse of another world in the bikes and magazines from Europe. Eugene Sloane's "Complete Book of Bicycling" was a cherished bible.

My first trips to Europe 30 years ago were like pilgrimages. Visits to the icons of cycling by a kid who grew up in a cycling desert. Campagnolo didn't know what to do with me, so they loaded me up with posters and sent me on my way. I visited Cinelli when they still had the old building with iron gates and a little brass plaque 'Cino Cinelli & Co.'. The man at the  retail shop parts counter allowed me to buy parts at dealer cost. Faliero Masi gave me a cycling cap at the holy site at the old Vigorelli Velodrome. I bought a beautiful  frame from Emiliano Freschi, a friendly and helpful person.

My 2007 trip was different. Battaglin was a modern corporation making nothing but plastic. All the Italian shops looked just like U. S. shops with all carbon and aluminum. It was a big let down as I realized it was all gone. I should not have been surprised because we tend to picture places and people as we last saw them.

So, I found myself using my last hours in Europe negotiating the metro in Paris looking for a little shop on Rue Victor Hugo. It has been there for half a century.
   


Here we are, my last chance to touch the past. In the store front windows are
T. A. chainrings, crochet-backed cycling gloves, and Brooks saddles. 



We enter. It is small and feels like a real bike shop. No fancy displays. A workshop with tools in the back. Not pretty and immaculate but functional and used. 
There behind the counter is a piece of living history. He is chatting with a man with a tan beret who appears to be a long-time customer. I look at the first bike to the right of the counter. I recognize this bike from Jan Heine's book 'The Golden Age of Bicycles.' It is Ernest Csuka's personal bike, an all chrome 1953 Alex Singer with a wire cage front derailleur that lever shifts at the seat tube. It has a 5-spd block with a Huret Jubilee rear mech. It was made by Csuka the year I was born and he still rides it.  
There are boxes of shoes on the shelves that use cleats for toe clips and cage pedals. Cloth tape and canvas touring bags are stocked. About eight beautiful new Alex Singers ready for their owners. I flash back to 1973, the first time I saw an Alex Singer at Talbots in San Mateo, right next to a black and gold Rene Herse and, the most beautiful bike I have ever seen, a fully-pantographed red and white De Rosa. 
There is a little sign in the window that translates to 'bicycles made to measure' and trophies on the wall.  

There is such rich cycling history here but they also make modern racing bikes with carbon forks.

I feel bad because this is a business not a museum and I am not a customer but a  tourist. I buy a jersey and Mr. Czuka throws in a water bottle. I ask my wife, who speaks French, to ask the cost of a frame. I already know that it will be out of my price range. He responds that he only makes complete bikes. Of course; after all, he is the last constructeur. 


Mr. Czuka has since passed on and the cycling world has lost a cherished craftsman. The business continues with a new generation. I am only heartened by the many new keepers of the flame that may someday be able to carry his torch.

A Visit with a Framebuilder

Where ever we travel we like to visit classic bike shops and framebuilders. I would like to share with you a few of our visits. Unfortunately, I did not photograph all but I'll post some of the shops in no order or preference.

There are classic retail shops and frame builders and, of course, the constructeurs who build not only the frame but most or many of the parts themselves.

Framebuilders are amazing people. They have gained the skill to take raw materials and coerce them into a marvelous machine. The process of building a frame has many steps and is an obsolete art in this day of mass production and robot factories. Thank God there are people who still have the passion to acquire the skills, the expensive tools and the space to produce bikes for us, even tho' many just scrape by for their efforts. Given the amount of work it is to build a frame, they should cost tens of thousands yet we complain at the cost as it is. We are so used to robot=built consumables that we have lost track of the true value of skilled labor. So remember, when you look for a custom frame that nobody is getting rich building these works of art.

Framebuilders come from many different backgrounds and get into the craft for different reasons. Some are experienced racers who take their experience and try to improve the performance of their steeds. Some come from a background of working in steel and move into bicycles. Lastly, there are those who are skilled at working with steel but who have the heart of an artist.

I think we are very lucky to have these people and that there are new people wanting to join the ranks.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Why do you have so many bikes?

I was trying to think about how I would explain how I feel about cycling to a non-cyclist. It is very hard because cycling to me is much much more than a sport or outdoor activity or transportation. Non-cyclists wonder why I have so many bikes. Well...

It starts with a love of the machine. As a child when you get your first bike it breaks through the boundaries of your life. It takes you on a voyage of discovery and you learn more about the world around you. It gives you independence but you have to depend on yourself to get home. It becomes an extension of your body. Like some science fiction bionic suit. You can go further and faster with it than you could without it. It is symbiosis.

The bicycle is one of the most efficient devices ever created by man. You get more forward motion per banana consumed than most any other fueled device man has ever designed. If you are lucky enough to get a fine handmade bicycle you have a machine made of tradition. Craftsman hand down the knowledge, from master to apprentice, of how to take a pile of steel tubes, wires, lugs and aluminum bits and meticulously form them into something that truly transcends all of those parts. These craftsman love bikes as much as you do. They have learned to build a sound and safe machine for you but they also add a touch of beauty, decorations all their own to acknowledge that it is more than cold hard steel. This is something that will last you the rest of your life, if you care, and it should be a work of art. It is worth learning how to care for the bike yourself. It is precisely made and a joy to work on. Each part with it's specific purpose tuned to run properly and smoothly. After repacking the wheel bearings you spin the wheel. It spins and spins and spins. It will spin forever. If you give a little care it will take you anywhere you wish.

Like an early morning ride. The sun is not up and it is cold. You meet under the clock tower at 5am and as others arrive you greet them. You know them as John on the silver Cinelli and George on the red Paramount. They are like you, they care enough to ride early before work. Down the road single file you are an inch from the wheel in front of you. If you lose focus for just a moment and touch the other wheel you will end up on the ground in a broken pile. The group acts as a fine tuned machine. The leader breaking the wind for the others, then pulling out and moving to the back while the next in the lead breaks the wind. The group is moving fast and it is thrilling. We pass a rattlesnake curled up on the side of the road trying to warm up in the cold morning. The coyotes are on the way back from a night hunt. There is a hill up ahead and the group speeds up to meet gravity - straining, hurting to keep the pace, lungs burning. Cresting the hill you relax while the sun peaks over the horizon. There is a good view of the countryside. Watch it! Annie breaks away from the group taunting everyone to catch her. We jump and try and close the gap. A fast downhill. 50 miles per hour. The wind is whistling through my helmet straps. Lean into the curve. Have to trust the bike. This is why you keep it in top shape. The group stops on the next hill to wait for Jack, he missed the break and fell behind. The ride ends at our favorite cafe. Coffee with tall tales and laughter. Friends with a common bond.

A different ride today. Gravel roads and paths through orchards and vineyards. A quiet pace to take time to appreciate our surroundings. Fenders to protect from any weather, lights to continue after dark and lunch and a jacket in a bag added to the bike. Two by two in pleasant conversation. The quiet whirring of the gears. Swans in the river. A man checks the vines. A women going to the market. She waves. You smile and wave back. A nice grassy spot near the lake and you stop and have lunch in the sunshine. A blue sky and puffy white clouds above and bikes leaned against the trees. Time for a nap.

I need to do some shopping today. The grocery store, hardware, post office. I'll take the bike and leave the car. It's a three speed with a big basket in the front and panniers in the back that will hold a bag of groceries just dropped in. Taking the quiet side roads I avoid most of the traffic. I like being out of the car where I can smell the leaves and feel the cool crisp fall air. The colors are beautiful this year. I think most people think I am a space alien because I am not driving a car. Maybe I had a DUI and can't drive. Nobody would ride a bike if they had a choice right? It doesn't matter, I don't care. I do my shopping and drop the groceries in the panniers and I am off. It's easy.

No roads at all on this ride. A narrow trail through the woods. So different than road riding. Big tires to grip and a slow pace but with very fast quick movements. Up this rise, watch the rock, around the tree, duck under the limb. A deer is startled and bounds across the trail and out of sight. A completely different set of skills than riding on the road. Climbing the hill it seems like a lot more work than road riding. A more intimate connection though, no cars, no noise. A rhythm of slaloming through the trees with a curve left, a curve right, up and over the top, a fast downhill with quick turns, keep the pedals level going between the two rocks so they don't hit. So steep this hill. Keep balanced over the bike so the front end doesn't rise into the air and lose steering. Slide off the back of the seat for the downhill to keep your weight back. Feels like I am about to go over the bars it is so down. It's like a roller coaster ride in a theme park except you CAN fall off the track. You have to be a little bold or you can fail. You need a bit of momentum to be able to jump over that gap, too timid and you'll fall in or go over the bars. Incredible view from the top of the hill. Hearts pumping. Another great day on the bike.

Time trial. A race against the clock. Just me and the bike. On the road single minded. Smooth focused maximun effort. Tucked to cheat the wind. A machine like rhythm to minimize wasting energy. Fast as I can go. Timed to run out of steam right at the end. Should be exhausted if I did it right. Maybe I can improve my personal best this time.

This bike only has one gear. So simple. A couple of wheels and pedals. But joined together because you can't coast. If the wheels are moving so are the pedals. If you forget and try to relax it will throw you right off the bike. No complexity. No shifting and no braking either. You aren't supposed to be braking after all you are racing fast on the banked track at the velodrome. A rumbling of the boards as you fly along. Gotta ride fast enough to get up the banked walls. Dive down through the corners. Watch for the other riders. When will they start the last effort? Where's the guy in the red? Up behind me. Go! A blinding sprint with the fast twitch fibers firing as fast as they can. Power. Will. Spinning at 200 rpm. The finish line and across first. Wins the sprint! Crowd cheers.

My best friend and I go on our favorite ride today. Through the rural farms. A stop at the lake and listen for loons. A climb up through the forest onto the ridge. We have been riding together for a lifetime. Sharing our love of bikes and riding. She likes to stop and talk to the horses at the top of the hill. She doesn't feed them but they come and see her anyway. There are turtles sunning on the log out in the lake today. The blue heron is hunting. We race up the next hill and zoom down the curves into the valley. A couple of hours into the ride we stop at the little restaurant in the village. They make great cherry pie. Now a long straight section just to chat. A couple of raccoons run across the road in front of us. I love this part where the trees arch over the road making a tunnel of green. It's been an all day ride. One of those special days to remember.

This is a lovely machine. Pearl Blue with yellow trim. She went to Italy to get it from the man who made it. He has made thousands of bikes and his father made bikes before he inherited the shop. The shop is small with lots of memorabilia on the walls. Photos of famous racers using his bikes. Articles and magazine pages many decades old document his history. The bike has parts also made in Italy by a company that has been making parts for 75 years, most with his name or logo engraved onto the parts. The bike is finely made with lugs that are thinned carefully, The tubes are joined precisely and the torch work was done with skill. She is getting a machine with a tradition from a skilled craftsman with decades of experience. It was not made by a welding robot machine in a massive factory with hundreds of workers just punching a time clock. It was not sized for the statistical average person. There is a difference in riding a bike made by an individual with skill, passion and tradition.

There are so many different aspects to cycling. So many feelings. So much satisfaction. Pain and joy. The struggle to get in shape. The appreciation of a fine machine made by a skilled craftsman that takes you beyond your previous limits. Really hard to explain.

It's the ride of my life.