28 February, 2008

Sad Headset News

The legendary Stronglight A9 headset has gone out of production. This was one of the best all around headsets ever produced. From VO's product description:

The roller bearing Stronglight A9 headset is one of those special components that defy time. It's roller bearings last for ages, it is very light, it does not develop indexing, it has classic good looks, and it is reasonably priced. In fact, it makes you wonder why anyone else bothers to make headsets.

1-inch threaded; weight: 82 grams; stack height 37mm.
We've sold hundreds of these. I can't imagine why such a popular component would be discontinued. I was told that a replacement headset would be available in spring.

You may remember the Delta headset that was discontinued last year. It was like the legendary A9 headsets and used the same roller bearing, but the Delta had improved seals for cyclo-cross and mountain bikes. They are one of our all time favorite headsets. Well we found a small stash of them, but only in French thread.

I suppose it's time to look for a new headset to stock.

27 February, 2008

Vegan Cycling and Wooden Frames

Like many cyclists I have an interest in nutrition. In fact, I've even made feeble attempts at being vegetarian. Though I rarely eat meat, I've realized that I simply don't have the constitution for total vegetarianism. There is too much temptation. My French friend's mother sends him foie gras which he serves at one of our regular joint family feasts. My heart may go out to those tortured French geese, but I cannot resist. My favorite Washington DC bistro has cassoulet on the menu and my willpower melts like a rosette of herb butter on an entrecout. A little hotel in Tuscany serves a plate of local cheeses and cured meats at breakfast. The Osteria down the hill has handmade pici with boar sauce....

So I have nothing but admiration -- well, perhaps with just a pinch of jealousy -- for Team Vegan. This is from Cycling News:

Organic Athlete, the first vegan cycling team, is partnering with Calfee Design to ride, co-promote and help develop their bamboo bikes. The team's message of personal health and social change now manifests in the form of a green, renewable bicycle. The elite team, started in 2007, consists of athletes who focus their diets on whole, plant foods and eschew animal products.
It seems that they plan to offset their carbon use through planting trees.

Perhaps some of these trees will eventually be used to make bike frames. One of the most interesting displays at NAHBS was the Renovo wooden frame. Check out their web site. The bikes are fascinating.

Writing this made me hungry; it's time for lunch!

Danger! Danger!

I just got a disturbing e-mail from a customer. The attachment screws for his front rack loosened while he has riding and the rack, and load, tilted forward and hit the ground in front of the front wheel. He and his bike are unhurt.

This is not the first time I've heard of the screws on a rack loosening while riding. It even happened to me once. That's why we include lock washers with VO racks. Use them! Really tighten the screws with a long Allan wrench. And re-tighten them once in a while. A little Locktite would be a good idea as well.

21 February, 2008

Handlebar Basics, Part 2

Now that I've stirred up some dissent with my views on bar width and height, it's time to ramble on about the mechanics of handlebars.

Stem Clamp Size: This is easy; most modern bars have a clamp area of either 25.4mm or 26mm. If you want to use a 25.4mm bar in a 26mm stem you need a shim, like this lovely Nitto product. The other way round won't work, unless you can find one of the rare negative shims on E-bay.

Most older French bars and stems use a 25.0mm clamps. I've used these bars in 25.4mm stems, but it's best to make a little shim from some beer can aluminum. (BTW, obtaining shim stock is the only acceptable reason to drink beer from cans. I seem to need lots of shims.)

Older Cinelli bars and stems are 26.4mm and there are a few other odd sizes. So it's wise to check when buying older European bars.

Stems and Forks: Again this is simple. Most 1-inch forks use 22.2mm stems. Older French forks use 22.0mm stems. Fortunately these are close enough that a 22.2mm stem will sometimes fit in an old French fork. And if it doesn't, 10 minutes of sanding (on the stem not the fork) will allow it to slide right in.

Inexpensive older American and Japanese frames sometimes used a smaller diameter, 21.15mm, stem that is becoming very hard to find. This size is also common on BMX bikes.

There are also some newfangled 1-1/8" forks and stems, but it's too soon to say if they'll catch on. And some tandems use 1-1/4" forks/stems.

Bar Diameter: The outside diameter (OD) of bar tubing varies a bit by manufacturer, but the standard for road bars is 23.8mm and MTB and city bike bars are around 22.2mm. That means that MTB brake levers and shifters will not fit on road bars.

The inside diameter (ID) of road bars is around 20mm and for MBT bars it's about 17mm. This varies with the exact type of tubing used, but inverse brakes and bar end shifters generally will not fit MTB/city bike bars. They commonly require an ID of not less that 19.6mm.

One way around this problem of compatibility is to buy old French city bike bars which were often made with road bar diameter tubing. With these you can use bar ends, inverse shifters, and some of the old-style brake levers with band-type clamps.

A way to make everything fit is to use chrome molly, rather than aluminum, bars. The steel is stronger than alloy, so it can be thinner, resulting in bars with the OD of MTB bars and the ID of road bars.

As with most thing, there are some odd, mostly French, bar diameters out there.

Digital Calipers: Cheap digital calipers are available for about $15-$20. If you work on older bikes they will save you countless headaches. And you don't even have to learn to read a vernier scale. Try Harbor Freight or E-bay. Maybe we should stock them?

What have I left out?

20 February, 2008

Handlebar Basics, Part 1

We've been getting a lot of questions about handlebars lately so I thought I'd share what little I know.

Width: In recent years many riders have been fitting ever wider bars on their bikes. I did this myself and found it a mistake. Certainly on mountain bikes and CX bikes the additional leverage of wide bars makes sense, but not on low trail city and road bikes.

A well designed low trail bike should feel almost as if the steering is linked directly to your brain. The bike will hold a line through a corner with little input. It will also track straight without the need for constant attention. After all, the steering is optimized for a tired long distance rider. The bike should take care of the rider and this sort of bike has been doing exactly that for many decades.

It is the bike that is based on racing geometry that may feel better with extra wide bars. They deaden overly quick steering and improve control on a high trail design. But there is an aerodynamics and ergonomic price to be paid for that width. It's true that beginning riders can feel more comfortable on very wide bars, just look at the "cruiser' bikes at the local shop, but one soon get used to slightly narrower bars.

The same holds true for city bikes. The last thing you want is wide bars to snag on passing cars and cyclists. The city bike must be narrow and if the geometry is correct narrower bars will feel just fine.

Bar Height: There has also been a tendency to raise drop bars well above saddle height. Certainly there are people with bad backs who benefit from this, but there are many more riders who set their bar too high simply because they've read that that's the way to do it. Again, there is a price to be paid in aerodynamics. I'm not suggesting that you set the bars several inches below saddle height as the pro racers do, but most people are soon perfectly comfortable with the bars at saddle height or an inch below. And cruising along at 15-20mph you'll really feel a difference.

City bike bars can vary greatly in height, some folks want city bikes that feel like road bikes and will lower the bars to below saddle height. Others will want to sit straight up with their bars at chest height. Just remember that if you like to sit up, which makes a lot of sense in heavy traffic, get bars that sweep back; otherwise you'll feel like you're riding a chopper.

Drop: I favor shallow drop bars because most non-racers are not comfortable on the drops if they are two low. And if you can't use the drops, you might as well just cut them off and save some weight.

Ramps: Most models of Nitto road bars have fairly flat ramps; that is, when you are riding on the hoods your hands don't angle down. There is no question that this is more comfortable than racing bars with downward sloping ramps. Add wide and long brake hoods, as on modern Tektro and Campy brake levers, and you'll see a big improvement over the bars and levers we used 20 years ago.

Part 2 tomorrow.

15 February, 2008

Exciting New Components???

You've seen ads for "Exciting New Detergents". Were you excited? Well we just received two products that I am honestly excited about because they really are new and actually fill a need.

They are the new VO racks with integrated decaleurs. That means that your rack-decaleur combination is more solid, lighter, and less likely to rattle. Integration is the Holy Grail of constucteur bikes and I feel that these racks a big step in that direction. Both the Rando-integrated and Constructeur-integrated front racks are now available.

Racks with built in decaleurs were sometimes made by the great French constructuers, usually as a very expensive option for their finest custom machines. I don't know of any that were produced in series and sold separately, until now. The new VO racks have a "backstop" that accepts either a U-shaped plug, or a VO decaleur bag mount.

The racks are sold with the U-shaped piece, but without the bag mount since so many of you already own VO bag mounts. But the mounts are available separately.

Another new product is our Grenouille canti brakes that are inspired by the Mafac Criterium brake, or perhaps by the much loved and super expensive German/Lithuanian Froglegs brakes. They are made in a Taiwanese shop owned by a very innovative fellow named Robert. Robert is not just a manufacturer, but an inventor and lover of esoteric bike components. We hope to have more products from his shop soon.

In any case, $35 gets you a whole bike's worth of brakes and all the mounting hardware you'll need, including those very nice straddle wire carriers. The finish is that sandblasted silver that's lately the hot look in Asia. Still, what a deal! BTW, Grenouille canti brakes are also available from VO Imports at wholesale prices to bike shops.

Finally, we have some new MKS pedal dust cap wrenches. No need to mar your dust caps with pliers when servicing MKS, Campy, and many other brands of Pedals. These have been hard to find in the past, get them while you can. And they are much less expensive than the Campy version.

Let us know what you think of the racks.

14 February, 2008

NAHBS and News

I just got back from the North American Handbuilt Bike Show and it really was great show. Really amazing frame building and some very cool rando and city bikes. It was especially nice to see the many mixtes that seem to be becoming very popular. I had hoped to bring back lots of photos, but my camera turned itself on in my luggage, in video mode no less. So I arrived with an almost dead battery and no charger. But there are over 9000 NAHBS photos on flicker and many more various other sites. Add a URL in the comments if you know of any particularly albums.

One of the highlight of the show was walking around with the owner of Toyo and getting his take on American frame building. The bad news is that our production rando frames are now due in September, not May or June as we had hoped.

I also had dinner with our Japanese agents and got updates on all sorts of ongoing projects. And I learned that two city bike prototypes are due soon from Taiwan.

By the way, the 2009 edition of NAHBS will be in Indianapolis and we at VO hope to have a big display.

The long awaited decaleur version of the constructeur and rando front racks have just arrived along with other racks, about a dozen boxes that we haven't had time to open yet. We'll try to get them into the store tomorrow.

We also just received MKS dust caps and MKS dust cap wrenches which some of you have been waiting for. We also got another shipment of the very popular Sun Chainguards. And we have some very nice, but inexpensive new cantilever brakes. Again, I'll try to get them into the store tomorrow.

05 February, 2008

Sheldon Brown

In case some of you have not read the comments to the previous post, Sheldon Brown passed away on Sunday. Sheldon was a fountain of bike-related knowledge, one of the best and best known bike mechanics, and an all around nice guy. He also wrote and maintained an incredible bike related web site.

He will be missed by many in the bike community.

04 February, 2008

The Big Update

I get a lot of e-mails about various projects VO has been working on. I thought it was time for an update on some of them.

  • There was a problem with the first batch of the 650b fenders. The manufacturer bent them to fit 700c wheels; oops. So they are making a second batch right now and we should see them in 3-4 weeks. Since it was a "do-over" I decided to change the profile and make a copy of the old Lefol "Le Paon" or "Zeppelin-style" fenders in a 52mm width. These should be very cool!
  • The VO polished stainless steel fender samples have arrived and look great. We've not yet ordered a production run. I wonder if we'll soon have too many models.
  • The roller cable hangers are, or are almost, in production. We hope to see them in 3-6 weeks. They are light enough that they can be air-freighted.
  • The Maxi Car-style hubs we tried to have made hit too many snags and so we've sidelined the project.
  • The VO bottle cages also hit some snags and we've moved the project to another factory. I'm hoping they will arrive by spring.
  • We have the seat post sample and it looks pretty good, but for one small detail. I want to see a sample from another factory before we order them.
  • We have heard nothing about the fillet brazed stems from Nitto recently, but I trust they will eventually get to them.
  • Toyo has been very very busy and our production frames have been delayed and delayed. I was told we might have them by May, but sometime in summer is probably more realistic. I will meet with them soon.
  • The city bike frames will probably be delayed as well. It's simply beyond our control; the factories that make the best stuff are just swamped.
  • The VO aluminum and rubber expandable bar plugs were a disappointment and require a re-design. That's the way it is sometimes.
  • Our Jos/Spanninga lights and dynamos will arrive in a week or two.

I plan to go to Taiwan, and possibly Japan next month and try to facilitate some of these projects and research a few others.

01 February, 2008

A Few New Items

We have a few new items:

MKS has introduced a leather covered version of their very useful half clips. I'm a big fan of these. They allow you to spin fast without the hassle of straps or special shoes. Half clips are great on kid's bikes and especially on city bikes. With this new version I can arrive at work with my spit shined wing tips unblemished.

MKS also has a nice new model of toe clip strap, the Fit-A-Spirits. Like all MKS products these are very well made, but what's great is the traditional colors, especially the honey.

The TA Tevano cranks I wrote about a few weeks ago have arrived. They are really classy.

And we have Sugino XD600 triple cranks with the new logo. These are Sugino's top of the line triple and they are really well finished. For you traditionalists, we'll have more of the old-logo cranks in about a 6 weeks.