Saturday, May 30, 2009

This is appropriate cycling clothing..

My local LBS has this great display at the front of their shop. It is a manequin, dressed in jeans, a shirt and flannel, with a sign on it which says "This is appropriate cycling clothing". That might seem like an obvious statement to some, but it was that realization that transformed cycling from a recreational sport for me to a mode of transportation.

I have been mountain biking for 15 years, and occasionally rode into work over that time, but it was really three years ago when I built up my fixie that I made the transition to using my bike as my primary mode of transportation. The biggest part to making that happen was realizing that I didn't need a shower at the other end of my ride, I didn't even need a bathroom. I just needed to roll up my pants and get on with it.

I ride to work virtually every day, and although not a particularly long route (~3 miles) it does have 400 feet of climbing in it, and I'm doing it on a 48/16 fixie. And I do it every day in my street clothes and the same shoes I wear all day long. I don't need to wash an extra set of clothes every week because my cycling clothes ARE my street clothes. I don't need to carry any toiletries in my backpack because I don't NEED them, I arrive at work, sit down and get to it.

Once you make that transition, that riding doesn't require extra gear, or extra conveniences, then suddenly your bike becomes your car. You can bike to your friend's house across the city for a party just as you would drive over. You can bike to dates, you can bike to shows, you can bike to the grocery store, all of these without any extra planning or fuss.

Now I admit we might not all work in positions where you can get away with jeans and a t-shirt, but a great many of us do, and a great many more could run their errands this way.

So keep that lycra in the closet now and then and just hop on your bike. You'll be amazed just how doable it is, and how much more frequently you'll find yourself riding instead of driving.

Thursday, May 28, 2009 Tallies Crashes, Hazards, and Thefts

For those of us who live in caves, and haven't picked up on this yet:

Luckily for me, there is no reporting of lycra fashion crimes. Yet.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Chris Fleckner

Riding in today, I rode part way with this guy who was on this really interesting-looking cross bike. For starters, it had a beautiful mottled pink paint job. Even more interesting, it had the rear brake cable routed through the top tube/seat tube joint, coming out the back of the joint, between the seat stays. I asked him about it -- he said he built it himself. He's a hobbyist frame builder, but he's worked in a bunch of frame shops and bike shops, and I think I heard him say he worked as a painter for awhile.

Anyway, he's a transplant from the East, and I think he races 'cross. So some of you guys may know him already.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I do not mean to brag. I love this sport cycling.

My horse came in first.

After three days of not really riding due to a sore throat(and really crappy weather, attitude), I won a crit sprint and came in 5th overall.

When Frames Fail

Or, in this case, the fork.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wenatchee Boy in the Giro

Tyler Farrar, by virtue of Garmin's TTT 2nd place finish and strong finishes in the last couple of days' sprints, now stands 2nd in GC. Today, he took 2nd in the sprint, only bested by Alessandro Petacchi. Wow. Wenatchee Boy is in the league of Petacchi and Cavendish now.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Parkinson's Benefit Ride May 24

In trying to learn a bit more about local framebuilder Glenn Erickson, I came across CascadeCyclists's write-up of the upcoming May 24 Parkinson's Awareness ride. Looks really interesting.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Iron Man

In his declining years, my father was a sad and disappointed man. He had always been small, and after my mother had passed away, it seemed he was shrinking into himself. He was increasingly unaware of his surroundings. Sometimes, at work, I would get confused calls from him; he didn't know where I was or why I was there. He would disappear for hours at a time, and reappear without any memory of where he had been.

My father lived in Albany, and I lived in Philadelphia. With two young children, and with both my spouse and myself in demanding careers, constantly visiting my dad to keep an eye on him was not an option, so I was trying to convince him to move in with us. As often as I could afford and he was willing, I flew him down to Philly to stay with us.

On one of these visits, I'd flown up to Albany, and was to accompany him down to Philadelphia. As my father was going through security screening, the alarm sounded. The guards asked him to remove his keys, belt, and watch. He did so, but when he walked through the detector, the alarm sounded again. They asked him if he had any other metal items. He removed a screwdriver from one pocket of his heavy overcoat. Again, he walked through, and again, the alarm sounded. He removed an adjustable wrench from another pocket. He beeped again. Next, a metal file. Beep. Next, an assortment of nuts and bolts. Beep. By the time he made it through security, a modest workbench-full of tools and small parts was arrayed on the table. (9-11 was eleven years in the future).

My father died not long afterward. When my brother and I went to his house to sort through his affairs, we came upon his desk. When I tried to pull out one of the drawers, it hardly budged. Slowly, I eased it out, and I found a drawerful of odd bits of metal he had apparently picked up from the street: nuts, bolts, nails, washers, tubes, tools. The drawer must have weighed 30 pounds. And it was not the only one.

I had known my father by the work he did in this country. He was a short-order cook, having worked his way up from busboy. I don't know how he ended up in this kind of work. I suspect it was through my uncle -- my mother's sister's husband -- who had sponsored my mother and father to come to this country from Greece. My father's first job was as a busboy in the DeWitt Clinton Hotel on State Street.

But I was also aware that my father had had a very different vocation in Greece. There, he had been a mechanic. He showed me pictures of himself and his friends working on trucks and jeeps. They apparently had their own small business. When he went to the front lines to fight against Mussolini's army in Albania, he was wounded and captured. After recuperating, he was pressed into labor as a railway mechanic for the Axis. I have seen photos of him standing next to a locomotive with his head completely bandaged, having been blinded when a locomotive had released steam into his face.

I wonder now, what it felt like for a man to leave a country where he was a respected skilled worker, to come to a country where the only work he seemed to be able to get was unskilled labor in a service industry.

Funny thing is, I find myself turning to the same kind of trade and skills my father had in his home country. By vocation, I am a software developer and applied scientist. But increasingly, I get pleasure and relaxation from working with tools, working with metal. First, bicycle mechanics and wheel-building, and now it seems, bicycle frame design and fabrication. I am not good at it; I have no innate talent. Lord knows, I had to struggle to keep up with others in my frame-building class at UBI, just as I had to struggle to keep up with professional mechanics when I took my bike technician's certification course two years ago. But I love the work, I love mastering the skills, and I love the pride in product.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Frame Class, The Skinny

Poser poses some great questions, so, with the distance of a week, I'll take a shot at answering.

Do you feel confident that you could actually make serviceable frames with this class? I'll know for sure after I've ridden my frame and see how it holds up. Assuming it holds up, I'd say yes, one could make serviceable frames with this class. The second frame will take longer and be more frustrating, because the instructors gave me a lot of guidance, and saved me from making mistakes about every 5 minutes; without them, I'll be making mistakes and backtracking. However, at least with lug brazing, I came to recognize a good joint by the end of the class. With some tools and fixtures, and attention to process and technique, I expect the second frame will be possible.

Do you think a serious frame builder should have some time working/apprenticing with an experienced frame builder for a period of time before he/she is ready to produce frames for the general public? My understanding is that opportunities to apprentice with a framebuilder, or work in a production frame shop, are getting harder and harder to come by. However, there are builders who've taken the course and gone on to make a go of it without apprenticing.

What would you say the necessary tools would be for someone who wants to do this?

  • drafting tools. Having an accurate scale design is critical.
  • welding equipment (e.g., gas welder for brazing)
  • fork blade mandrel, for bending fork blades
  • frame jig
  • fork and chainstay fixtures, dummy axles
  • machine mill for mitering and slotting tubes
  • alignment measuring tools
  • frame prep tools (e.g., bottom bracket chaser/facer, head tube reamer/facer, crown race cutter)
  • solid work bench, and vise (more so than is needed for most bike repair)
  • assorted blocks for holding tubes in vise
  • Vernier calipers, tape measure
  • files and other hand tools

Is it cost prohibitive to set up a hobby shop for frame building? The tool setup I described above, which is what we used at UBI, would cost $20-30K (just a frame jig can cost $3,500; a decent mill, $10,000). However, if it's a hobby, there are places one can cut corners, and save money at the expense of time:

  • Tubes can be mitered and slotted by hand. It's tedious, but possible -- I did some of my tubes and slots by hand, some by machine.
  • Although I haven't tried it, and can't attest to it, I'm told it's possible to build without a frame jig, using a very precisely flat table.
  • Frame prep can be done by your LBS.
  • You can use a pre-built fork, and just focus on building the frame

Or would plunking down the necessary change for the tools to have a decent shop only be justified by a business? Oddly enough, the answer to this question may lie in tax law. In some circumstances, the layout for tools can be deducted if the shop is set up as a business, even if it's not making money. So the net cost can be lower than the price of the tools. Worth looking into.

Very curious to see where you go with this... I'm taking the slow boat. Even though I'm eager to build my second, third, tenth &c frame, I'm going to go with a minimal tool investment, and work on technique. When my technique is developed enough so I can estimate how much time I'd save with more tools, then I'll decide whether to go for the more expensive tools.

I believe time is one of the key determinants of whether one can make it as a pro framebuilder. If you take the going price for a custom steel frame, subtract the price of materials, consumables (gas, flux, silver, brass), electricity, depreciation on tools, rent, and factor in costs of doing business like licensing, advertising, liability insurance, it doesn't leave a hell of a lot of margin on a single frame. How many hours of labor, at a living wage (including benefits) can one afford to put into a single frame? I understand that solo pro framebuilders turn out on the order of 200-250 frames a year.

One thing I have to admit is that my heat-joining technique is poor. I haven't been publicizing that the TIG seminar I took after the framebuilding course showed up some serious problems for me. Ron, the instructor, spent a great deal of one-on-one time with me, but by the end of the two days, I was still blowing holes in my practice tubes. (This is not the outcome I wanted, but may have been the best outcome possible, given my limitations. The course had a different value than the one I anticipated, but it was valuable nevertheless.)

It may be my eyesight, it may be poor eye-to-hand coordination. Lugged brazing, done at a temperature below the melt point of steel, is nominally more forgiving, but when I ride my bike, I may find that I so over-heated the tubes in my joins that they're compromised.

But I'm optimistic. I love the craft, and I have a long time to practice, learn and improve.