18 June, 2009

Bits and Pieces

I thought I'd share a few interesting bits of news.

French Headsets

We asked about getting the steel French thread headsets made and the factory wants a minimum order of 10,000 pieces. That won't do at all. It seems that steel headset production is very different from alloy and the minimums are much higher. So we will either have them made in alloy or have a CNC shop just make French threaded nuts, washers, and adjustable cups for a headset that's already in production, those being the only parts that differ on French headsets.

Threadless Bottom Brackets

There have been a few attempts at making square taper bottom brackets that don't use the threading on the frame. The advantage of this is that one BB will fit any frame, even Swiss, and they work on frames with damaged BB shells. But the only design that really worked well was the old Mavic version that required chamfering the BB shell and then used a pressure fit. Edco made a version that used a sort of cam mechanism, but was not as solid as the Mavic. More recently a Taiwanese company tried making a copy of the Mavic that didn't require modification of the shell; it was marginal at best and unsold stock can still be found in some catalogs.

I recently saw a prototype BB in Taiwan that used a different mechanism. It looks to be far superior to any threadless BB made in the past. VO is angling to be the first US importer. While more expensive than a standard BB, these have the potential to save a lot of great old frames.


There are some neat new bits on our next shipment, which should arrive next week. Among them are:

  • The long awaited Dia compe Guidonnet levers
  • Cable housing clips in various sizes for modern and traditional frames
  • Special gum colored grips to match Dia Compe inverse levers with grooves for the brake cable.
  • New and less expensive double leg kickstands to compete with the great Pletcher stands
  • VO Tourist handlebars which are so popular that we have run out several times
The factories seem to be catching up after the "spring rush" and we have another shipment from Taiwan and one from Japan arriving in mid-July with more cool new components.


We have VO Porteur chain cases in stock again. These are still made in a two-man shop right down the street from VO world headquarters here in Annapolis. I admit that they are a pain to install and fine tune, but once in place they work great and they are an almost exact replica of the cases used by Parisian porteurs.

VO Drop Bars

One project that we've been neglecting is VO drop bars. We've asked several factories for drawings of discontinued drop bars in hopes of reviving a cool old design. It's always simpler and cheaper to use existing tooling, but nothing inspiring has surfaced. So we are starting from scratch on two designs. One will be a medium drop/reach touring bar with longish flats. The other will be a VO version of the classic Rando bar. Any suggestions?


Jim C said...


The VO 1" alloy headset would be perfect in French thread. Put a nice high polish on it and it would look stylistically close to old Lightrace and Stronglight chromed headsets. The existing tooling would keep costs down and ensure availability at a reasonable price.

Mike and Nancy said...

I love the threadless bottom bracket idea. I have an old Raleigh Grand Prix and have a Phil Wood bottom bracket is an expensive replacement option unless I get it tapped to english threading. The Phil is more than the bike!

Since it is threadless, what is the limitations on the bottom bracket width? My Raleigh is 71mm with the 26 tpi Raleigh threading. Is the width variable or only 68mm?

Chris Kulczycki said...

With this new BB design I think you could use a 68mm BB in a 71mm shell since only the axle sticks out.

I hope they go into production soon.

A Bike Commuter said...

Lots of hard work, thanks. Some miscellaneous thoughts:

I like the VO headset, so unless there is an unforeseen reason not to retool the threads this seems like a good way to go.

On bottom brackets, I have to admit I love Phil Woods products. In an era of belt-tightening, however, a less expensive option with VO quality would get my vote.

The Nitto noodle bars have been a revelation to me. As a (somewhat) aging rando these bars and a 17o stem breathed new life into both me an older frame.

That's it for now. Thanks.

John said...

Love the bottom bracket idea. I already have a solution for the Swiss BB on my Motobecane, but for the next build (whatever it might be), this could be handy.

My concern wrt the French headsets is one you mentioned before, Chris -- stack height of aluminum vs. steel. The OEM unit on my mid-range Motobecane was very shallow, which is probably true for most of the French-threaded bikes out there. Though perhaps not of the French-threaded bikes out there most worthy of saving.

dustin said...

Re drop bars, I think it would be hard to improve on the Nitto Noodles, but what about a version of the Nitto Randonneur bar that isn't so narrow at the hoods? I find the current Nitto Randonneur bars almost unridable now that I've gotten used to wide Noodles.

Anonymous said...

Does "medium drop/reach touring bar with longish flats" mean something close to a Noodle Bar with a 25.4 clamp area? If so, I heartily endorse such an idea.

Chris Kulczycki said...

I like Noodle bars, but I love the top part of the Modolo bars we sell. If we could get that long flat ramp on a bar with enough room in the drops it would be perfect.

jimmythefly said...

Dustin- I'm thinking along the same lines. I'd love some sort of mash-up of Nitto Dirt-drops, WTB dirt-drops, and Nitto randonneurs. Nice wide dirt-drop flare, but with a ramp that allows me to ride on the hoods.

patates frites said...

I agree with dustin. If you make a randonneur bar, could you please make it available in fairly wide size? I too rode the Nitto randonneur for years, but they are very narrow at the top and hoods.

Anonymous said...

What are the double legged kickstands going to look like.
Are they similar in design to the Pletscher's? What colors? Approx. price info yet?

Missoula Flood said...

I like the idea of the classic Rando bar. It would be cool if it had a polished finish like some of the Phillipe bars that I have seen. I would be a plus if it is available in 46 cm.

K Matthias said...

Since the tooling is so high on the French steel headsets, then I vote for fittings for a classic design like the Tange Levin alloy headset that looks a lot like the old Nuovo Record equipment. But the reality is whatever you are able to make work, I'll buy. :)

Anonymous said...

Bars? YES, an updated version of the old Cinelli 64 that doesn't have the real deep drop Best bar ever made. One can ride for hours on the comfy drops.

Anonymous said...

So you mean something like a french threaded Tange Levin is out of the question? Or a brand new steel headset?
Do you have any french contacts? Anyone else who might be interested in ordering a french headset? The french equivalent of Merry or QBP? Perhaps VO shouldn't attempt it alone?

Anonymous said...

the bar sounds great--could you make it 31.8 and carbon please?

Anonymous said...

About the rando bar.

I love the Nitto and the Belleri, but feel that a real improvement over both would be just a touch more flare of the drops, yet not so much flare as to be similar to the dirt drop or the midge.

I guess, basically, I am seconding what Jimmy the Fly said. I love the flare of dirt drops, but find the hoods much better on rando bars. Something in between would be nirvana.

- Paul

Anonymous said...

I'll have to cast my vote for a wider version of the Gran Bois rando bar.

Anonymous said...

A version of the Nitto Randonneur that is 42 and 44 at the hoods would be perfect. You have at least one other comment to this effect. The noodle bar is nice but doesn't have enough flare.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see bars like the ones Grand Bois/Vintage bicycle Press are selling, but in ADULT sizes. :-)
I don't care what Jan says, wide bars and low trail work wonderfully for me.
I can't ride comfortably on anything narrower than 45 at the levers.

frankenbiker said...

WOuld the threadless bottom bracket work on a raliegh twenty folder with a 76mm bb shell?

Anonymous said...

ok, thinking aloud here . . . you're putting tremendous thought into every component on the bike . . . I still hope for new quill stems, and I'm sure you're working on that. So sue me, I just think a beautiful, practical stem is a must for a beautiful bike. After that, I think it's all about contact points. As for saddles . . . The competition is probably a good thing, but anyone who has ever bought a Brooks will probably keep buying them, I think. And you've obviously put great continuing effort into every sort of bar. Brake levers: not too much has happened there beyond one or two models from Tektro; and pedals. I think pedal design needs a good revision: we have MKS and the newer bmx/fixie flats, but the pickings are very slim for beautiful, practical, classical designs. It's the contact points that not only determine our comfort and fit, but also wear out soonest . . .

michael white

Uncle Ankle said...

My ideal drop bar would have curved back tops like the Nitto Noodle/Ritchey Biomax and compact drops like FSA Omega/3T Ergosum, with just a little bit more flare than either.

I think compact drops are brilliant, they provide a wider variety of hand position for a wider variety of hand sizes. The tight radius allows you to fine-tune lever angle without moving the lever too far in either direction.

One problem is compact drops are usually 31.8 and/or carbon.

If you need a historical precedent, have a look at 1:41

Anonymous said...

I agree that compact drops are great. I've been riding the Syntace CD (in 26, btw); and often notice how totally comfy they are. You end up using almost all of the bar. The old 3ttt Morphe is somewhat similar, though I don't care for double grooves.

but I suspect a bar has to be round for most traditionalist riders.


Lesli Larson said...

Would love to see a drop bar with wide/longish flat section and (since I'm short-armed and only ride in the flats a bit) a more abrupt or truncated drop (more midge bar/less noodle).


fmackay said...

How about some "South of France" bends, as on this bike (scroll down for front view ).

Charge bikes put a bar a bit like this on their Racer model but don't sell them separately. So they are made somewhere...

Anonymous said...

The Nitto RM013 is my Perfect bar. They were last sold as Rivendell dirt drops. My research has led me to belive that Ibis and the Bridgestone MB1 had simiar bars, if not the same. I contacted Rivendell, but they were not interested in dealing with the minimum order from Nitto. The bars are between a noodle and the WTB dirt drops. Slightly more flare than a noodle, not as much as the DD. Drop and reach similar to the noodle. Width is like a 48 noodle at the tips, but 44 or so at the bends. The other key thing is that the flats bend slightly forward, not back as on the noodles. The flare and the forward bend are the real home runs for me. Used ebay value around $25, but they hardly ever come up. If you go with something like these I would be very tempted to stockpile, A BUNCH. These may also be of interest to the crowd buying up the Rawland type bicycles.


Anonymous said...

Here is a link to the best example of the rm013 I could find, the view in the old bridgestone catalogs is not very good,
Also My set can be sen in Rawland's tribe 4 photo set

K Matthias said...

Chris, I discovered that the Tange Levin was once available in French thread. Perhaps you could work something out with them like you did with Sugino for special order products? That might save you on tooling costs if they still have the tooling available. Cheers, Karl

Anonymous said...

WRT conjuring up the tooling from Tange to re-create the Levin French headset : production tooling is usually designed around a specific run of parts. Tooling is often referred to as "perishable" because it needs maintenence and care (even in storage) and is often made to fit a certain machine tool that the company might have gotten rid of years, or even decades ago. What good does this stuff do for a company other than collect dust and take up room ? Which is a long answer to the short question of "why don't you just call up so-and-so and have them make a new run of obsolete widgets from 30 years ago". It is rarely ever that simple, especially when the small quantities / small profits intersect with the big headaches that would usually accompany such a "project".

M said...

I second the vote for the "South of France" bars.

Anonymous said...

I also love the nitto dirt drop--rode one on my Ibis for years. I was recently given a nos one by a friend, which I am jealously guarding, as well as the one I got off the iBOB list a couple of years back that I will be using for a restoration of the ibis. I like other bars, but I had lots of fun while hanging on to this one.

Anonymous said...

I'll second the RM013. I had a pair and it was the best drop bar I have ever used, except the extension on the drops (lower flats?) was a bit short. I think it was intentional as they were made to be used with bar ends. I traded my pair for something-or-other when I thought I was done with drops, but would like them back. Mel, SF

Brad Riendeau said...

One of the things missing from
modern bars is that the curve on the top- from the stem to the brake hoods in the horizontal plane is too tight. For some reason the designs have migrated to about 1.5" radius. This makes riding with hands on the bend painful. A wide radius on this dimension gives a longer ramp without extraordinary reach, although 100mm to 120 mm reach would be nice. A wide radius on top accomplishes the same thing as flaring the drops in terms of clearance for the hands. There is a machine that is sold from Shuz Tung in Taiwan that can do custom bar bending so finding someone who owns it should help. http://www.tube-pipe-bender.com/handlebar-production-series.htm The company that makes it also makes a CNC bender for making furniture & the like. SOMA has done a lot of custom bar development so getting inside info from them would help on who they use. Ruedatropical has a neat website on bar bends. A good bet would be the Philippe Professionel in wider sizes. 44, 46 and 48 would sell well I think.

keithwwalker said...

Cable housing clips for modern frames?
Thank you!!!

Anonymous said...

One other thing on the RM013: When positioned so the upper flats are horizontal the lower flats were not; they tilted downward (the bars were designed so the upper flats were positioned with a bit of downward slope). So a Noodle-ification of this aspect (making the flats more parallel), along with a bit more length on the lower flats, would make this bar nearly perfect, IMO. M, SF

Hal Render said...

The Nitto RM013 would be a great bar to recreate. I have been looking for one for a while, and they seem rarer than hen's teeth. I ride old Nitto Randonneur bars, and they're good, but sometimes I wish for a bit more flare and a bit flatter ramp.

The Philippe Professionel gets plenty of praise from Jan Heine, and I believe one of the new Grand Bois bars is a copy of it. I haven't seen one up close, so it's hard for me to judge.

Some of the alt bars suggested by folks remind me of Lauterwasser bars (see: http://www.theracingbicycle.com/James.html). They look cool, but I have my doubts about how comfortable they would be to ride for long periods of time.

bogiesan said...

Chris, completely off-topic but related: Rhodia is a French company that makes writing pads and blank notebooks. They come with black or orange covers.


corporate blog:

david boise ID, recumbents rule

Brad Riendeau said...

What about talking to Nitto about making a version of the B-115 with longer reach - like 120. They already have the tooling. The design of B-115 would lend itself to a longer ramp.

Robert said...

I started the RM013 movement here as an anonymous, if you have an interest, and do not have access to on of these bars, I can take a set of detailed photos for you, I would send the bar to you on loan, but is about about to go into a build and I only have the one.

I think these were also offered by nitto in narrower widths, RM014, I have seen these on ebay, but lost and was not able to lay hands on them. If these were offered in the original RM013, and in a size smaller, say 42 or 44 at the front of the bends and 46 or 48 at the ends, As well as the larger RM013, I can think of at least 3 bikes I would put them on tomorrow. and 2 more I hope to build. I would then put at least 2 or 3 away in fear that these would go out of production again. I like them that much.

Thank you for your work bringing us prouducts others are unwilling to invest in.


K Matthias said...

Hey anonymous, with regard to Tange Levin tooling, yes I realize all of that. Note that I said "if it's still available." From what I've seen, some of the Japanese companies (notable Dia Compe) have kept this stuff around for years. I don't see what the harm is in checking if the tooling exists, particularly when weighed against the cost of completely new tooling.

Perry said...

i like the bottom bracket idea a lot. in regards to the mavic bottom bracket design: i bought a bike that had one installed and it didnt have the bottom bracket shell chamfered and it fit in exceptionally well with the bb's lockring/vinyl spacer hardware. while this is probably not ideal, it worked well and that bottom bracket is still amazingly smooth.

Anonymous said...

Could Chris explain what it is that makes steel headset production so difficult? He was also unclear about what he tried to have made. A new steel headset or an existing model with french thread? Did he go to tange?

It's also unclear if the Levin in still available. If it is, what would make a french threaded version cost and volume prohibitive? What has to change? You'd reprogram the automated lathe and maybe change the cutting tool to get a different thread? It would take more energy to cut steel and you'd have to send everything to get plated, but what else if different?

It sounds to me like annonymous is pretty tired of reading us idiots ask stupid questions and came armed with some nice talking points he picked up from a manufacturing technology class but we don't know that any of these talking points apply here. It may be the case that no good steel headsets are made and that a french threaded model would require a whole new set of tooling. We have no idea.

We don't know anything aside from what chris tells us. It would be great if he'd give us more information, if he'd give us some insight into this dark and mysterious world rather than just telling us it can't be done. That's the sort of thing that would make this blog really interesting.

erik said...

another vote for WIDE rando bars

Tom said...

Anon 6:05:
Chris is not saying it can't be done, nor is he being dark and mysterious. It all takes time, and is an educational process for all involved- Velo Orange, our customers, even the factory making this stuff for us.

I wish I still had the factory photos from more than a few years ago of the machines and processes I am about to shed some light on....
A steel headset is not made by hand on a lathe or mill, or CNC'ed from billet by a single operator standing behind a plastic window with a keyboard next to them. Cost efficiencies are attained by using old school hydraulic presses. They are HUGE- effin HUGE. The last one I saw that belched out coaster brake cogs and headset parts among other things was 22 feet tall, 18 feet square, and had an hourly capacity of 100 units. That's one machine. The factory in Taiwan had 3 working that day, with another 2 down for maintenance or re-tooling.

These presses or forges or whatever you want to call them stamp/stomp the original raw material slugs 3-4 times into an almost perfect part- there is almost no further finishing that needs to happen. The threads are cut and the races are ground at the final step. They are deburred in a barrel polisher and sent off to the plater or other finishers where it comes back, checked for final QC, put in a box, and sent to Velo Orange (or another customer like Giant or Shimano or Campagnolo) for us to drool over.

The cost effectiveness of retooling one machine for an obscure forging die they probably have to create anyway is completely lost for 100 pieces. If we were to go ahead and tell them to do it and bill us for all costs involved, I think you would be shocked at the real price we would have to sell it at.

Tange probably destroyed their French thread tooling 10 years after they last got an OE order for such items. Anyone care to guess when that was?? Waiting 10 years to ditch the fixtures, tools, dies, etc is noble optimism to say the least. Their needs as a manufacturer are slightly different from that of us, or even our customers- In japan especially, space is at a premium and that space should be used for something else. A factory is not the place for hoarders and historians.....

Maybe a steel locknut and adjusting cone that is 100% CNC'ed would be cheaper, and we are working on that avenue, but it may not be.

CNC machining aluminum is a lot easier, faster and cheaper than bearing quality steel, and we are looking into that as well.

But it does take some time and we are continually surprised by the answers to our questions.

marc said...

really really really really want a set of those guidonnet levers, when will they be up on the site?

Jim G said...

from http://tinyurl.com/28l4md

Nitto RM-13/14:

Width brake bracket: C-C460mm
Bar-end width: C-C520mm
Drop: 140 mm
Reach: 95 mm
Weight: 359g (actual)

Width brake bracket: C-C400mm
Bar-end width: C-C520mm
Drop: 150 mm
Reach: 110 mm
Weight: 332g (actual)

If you produced something like an RM-14 handlebar, I'd buy one.

Here are photos of a bike that has a set of RM-14s:

mos atelier said...

I really like those Guidonnet levers.
When are they available? the bike in my blog needs a set...

Anonymous said...

looks like rivendale is now selling the dirt drop bar again?!

Adam Hale said...

Rm-013 are still made, and available to your LBS that has access to Soma products.