30 October, 2009

Off toTaiwan, via Portland

I'm flying to Portland today where I'll visit the Portland Hand Built Bike show. It promises to be a smaller version of the National Hand Built Bike show, which, incidentally, will be held in Richmond VA this year. It's really amazing to see all the great custom builders show off their best efforts. I'll try to post a few photos if time permits.

Then I'll fly to Taipei and visit 8 or 9 factories. Most of them already make parts or frames for us, but I'll also see a couple of new ones that may turn out to be new suppliers.

Among the things we'll be chatting about are VO chrome stems, a new frame, VO cranks, and VO drop bars. Even now our draftsman is making final revisions on plans for some of these new things, talk about cutting it close.

I should see the final version of the VO French thread headset, which is ready to go into production. And I hope to see our new canti-version of the rando racks.

Since I'm going to the frame factories, I've been thinking changing the decal placment on future VO frames to a single decal on top of the down tube, as many constructeurs did. What do you think?

27 October, 2009

New Stuff

We have a couple of new things in the warehouse.

Spanninga "bottle" Dynamos are back. Here's what I wrote about bottle dynamos previously:

Recently hub generators have drawn a lot of current in the bike blogs, but there is good reason to favor the old bottle generator. A good sidewall dynamo creates a  bit more drag than a hub generator, but only when in use. Unlike a hub generator, it creates no additional drag when in the "off" position. You can change wheels without losing power. And bottle dynamos cost a lot less. I also like the retro look of a bottle generator. On the down side, they can slip in wet conditions if not carefully set up and can eventually wear down the side of your tire.
Many of you asked for 27" rims so we have the CR-18 in that size. Though I still think that for bikes that don't have historic significance a switch to 700c wheels should be considered.

23 October, 2009

Another Fender Trick

How do you do mount a fender on a bike without a screw hole in the chain stay bridge? A P-clamp around the chain stay bridge solves the problem. This trick works on seat stay bridges too. But if you don't have a bridge at all things get more complicated.

It's surprisingly hard to explain, over the phone, how a fork crown daruma works. Perry made this great sketch that says it all. Note that all VO fenders now get Daruma bolts rather than front L-brackets.

Past fender trick can be found here and here. Fender mounting instructions can be found here. And there is an article about choosing fenders here.

Finally, there are some clever riffs on daruma bolts and fender mounting at Patricks an open sketchbook blog.

20 October, 2009

Polyvalent Stand-Over Heights

A lot of you asked.

BTW, the price is actually $400 for the first batch, not $450 as I wrote a few days ago. We should have a firm ETA for them in a few days.

 Frame Size (cm)
Stand-over Height (mm) w/ 38mm tires.

Leather colors

Here are a couple of new photos that more accurately show the color of the leather used in our city bike grips, bar covers, toe clip leathers, leather bar tape, and chain stay protectors. We are often asked to describe the colors and offer opinions about whether they match various saddles or frame colors. Hope this helps. Of course leather is a natural material, so the color varies a bit from hide to hide and the display varies from monitor to monitor.

Generally the espresso (brown) is a good match for VO and Brooks brown saddles. The macchiatto (tan) is a little lighter than Brooks honey. And black is, well, black.


And the mudflaps:

16 October, 2009

BB Basics

Lately my in-box has been overflowing with questions about bottom brackets. So I thought I'd write this simple guide that I can later forward to those seeking advice. Of course this is only about square taper cranks and BBs.

What spindle length?

I often get questions such as, "What is the proper BB spindle length for a 1954 Urago mixte?" Come on; I'm not Sheldon Brown! In any case, the length of your BB spindle is determined largely by the model of crank you use, not by the type of bike. Every crank's manufacturer recommends a BB type and length. Of course, if the crank is long out of production, a lengthy conversation with Google may be required to find the specification.

As with anything, it's not quite that simple. There are a couple of other factors that can influence spindle length. If your bike has particularly wide chain stays, such as those on a mountain bike or a loaded tourer, a longer spindle may be require in order to ensure that the crank arms clear the chain stays. Often, the only way to be sure is to install the crank and see if the  BB works. If not, measure the interference or gap and buy a second BB. Unfortunately BBs that have been installed are not returnable, but there is always E-bay. The other factor that might influence spindle length is BB spindle taper.

Spindle taper

The vast majority of square taper cranks uses either an ISO or a JIS taper. Basically, the angle of these two types is almost identical. It's just that a different portion of the taper is used, as I've tried to show in my sketch.

For the most part, today only the Italians use ISO and the rest of the world uses JIS. But there are exceptions, such as the top-of-the-line Sugino track cranks; all other Sugino cranks are JIS. Some older cranks from Stronglight, TA, and other European companies also used ISO tapers. Only Ofmega and Avocet, of the major manufacturers, used a proprietary taper.

It's usually possible to fit an ISO crank on a JIS BB. The only caveat is that the crank will be 3-4mm wider than if an ISO BB was used, so pick a slightly narrower spindle and tighten the crank bolts securely.

I don't recommend using a JIS crank on an ISO spindle because the crank may bottom out, thus permanently ruining the taper. If, however, you are careful, it will work with some combinations.

One of the problems with this whole idea is that manufacturers sometimes take a casual attitude toward toward following one standard or the other.  I have seen TA cranks, for example, that appear to be ISO and an identical crank that's JIS, or perhaps something in between.

BB threading

Let us begin with the French standard because this is, after all, Velo Orange. The French decided that BB shells should be 68mm wide, threading should be35mm x 1mm, and both cups should tighten to the right. Simple and effective! Of course VO makes French BBs.

The Swiss improved the French standard by reversing the thread on the non-drive side. This became the Swiss standard and was adopted not only by Swiss manufacturers but also by a few French companies, notably Motobecane. (Motobecane also used French threading on occasion and later switched to British threading; good luck.)  The BB shell is 68mm wide and also threaded 35mm X 1mm; but the left cup tightens to the right and the right to the left.

The reason for this improved standard was that the spinning of the crank was thought to loosen the right-hand thread non-drive BB cups. After a few decades, the Swiss noticed that French cyclists, in fact, were not stopping every few miles to tighten their cups. And so the standard was quietly abandoned. The only Swiss threaded BBs made today are the super expensive Phil Wood units. But in a few weeks VO will have a threadless BB that will be a less expensive alternative.

The French standard was also eventually abandoned and, to the everlasting annoyance of the French and of francophiles everywhere, the British (or ISO) standard became the world standard. If your frame was made in America, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, or Britain, it almost certainly accepts a British threaded BB. This standard is 1.375" X 24 tpi with the left cup tightening to the right and the right to the left; the BB shell is 68mm wide. Most VO BBs are British thread.

Not leaving well enough alone, some British manufacturers, particularly Raleigh, came up with other standards that are outside of my understanding, as did some old American manufacturers.

Finally the Italians, who we reluctantly acknowledge do know something about bicycles, if only the racing sort, blithely ignored everyone else and stuck to their own standard. The Italian BB shell is 70mm wide and has 36 mm X 24 tpi threading; both cups tighten to the right. VO does not make Italian threaded BBs, but they are widely available.

So there you have it, a gross oversimplification of BB standards that should, nonetheless, provide sufficient information to fit 99% of traditional frames with BBs.

If you need help installing BBs, please read the excellent BB section at the Park Tools site.

14 October, 2009

A Few New Items

We have a few new products.

We wanted to be sure that we had 650b wheels in stock when our Polyvalent frames arrive. So we asked Velocity to build us some nice 32h all-around wheelsets. They use Velocity Synergy silver 650b 32h rims with satin anodized finish. Velocity sealed bearing hubs with Velocity skewers. Rear hub is 130mm, 8-9-10 speed. Velocity 14 gauge stainless spokes with brass nipples. $266 per set.

VO Diagonal wheels should arrive in a couple of months.

The very pretty VO Zeppelin fenders are now available in a polished 700c version, in addition to the 650b size.

And we now have what may be the ultimate upgrade for the hyper-competitive randonneur, Honjo ultralight tubular fender struts. You can shave an amazing 30g off your bike with these, guaranteeing that you'll climb like an eagle. We actually ordered these in error, so there won't be more once they run out.

12 October, 2009

VO Sqeal-Free Brake Pad Review

Mike is a serious randonneur who puts in tremendous mileage. He tested a set of prototype VO brake pads. Here's his report:

Thanks so much for allowing me to try out the “squeal proof brake pads” you had at Velo Orange.
These brake pads are GREAT! They are amazing! And I’m not usually impressed by most bike-part “breakthroughs.”

Let me explain:

What causes brake squeal? Search the Internet on this subject for Sheldon Brown’s, or, better yet, Jobst Brandt’s discussion of brake squeal on bicycle brakes. The fact is squeal is often an engineering consequence of the functional relationship of certain brakes/brake parts/frames/forks/wheels and other related components, which can cause brake squeal, *even when the brakes and pads are perfectly adjusted.* This is especially so for cantilever brakes on the front fork of a bicycle. Even when brakes are well-designed, and extremely stiff, like a Pauls, they can still squeal.

To test the pads I put them on both a Surly Long Haul Trucker and a Soma Double Cross front cantilever fork. I put the pads on low-end Tektro cantilevers (aka Avid or Cane Creek), and a low-end Shimano $15 V-Brake. The pads spent about 600 miles on the road, in all kinds of weather. The package the pads came in said install them flat to the rim with no toe-in, so I did. The rims they pads rode on were worn: a Mavic Open Pro; and a newer but still grooved and worn Velocity Aerohead. The brake levers were Tektro; the cables new, but the housing old.

The pads NEVER made a peep! Not a single chirp or squeal. I’ve had brakes that squeal during initial, easy braking but become quiet when the braking becomes hard; and vice versa. I’ve had brakes that don’t squeal under light braking or heavy braking – but do squeal under moderate braking! This is particularly annoying as this kind of braking is done often.

No matter the conditions – rain or dry; or blazing hot, from dragging the brake down long hills (2-plus miles) – the brakes never squealed. Amazing.

And, last but not least, the braking action is good, as good as Kool-Stop Salmon pads (although this is a much more subjective claim than whether they squeal or not).

I was SO SKEPTICAL that these brake pads would work. But they do. Can I buy ten pairs of these pads? Where can you get more of these?...

Kyle has only had his set for a few days, but I was interested to know if he had an immediate reaction.  He writes:
As much as I enjoyed literally screeching to a halt at every stop
light, these new pads are definitely worth the upgrade. In addition
to being completely silent - whether the rims are dry or wet - they
seem to have better stopping power than the standard Tektro pads. I
highly recommend the upgrade... you might even start to enjoy stopping
as much as going.


Monday, 9:30am. The VO donut and coffee delivery. (Espresso for the rest of us)

09 October, 2009

Site and Blog Redesign

Over the next couple of weeks we will be doing a minor site and blog redesign. We'll try different things every few days. Feel free to weigh in as we keep modifying the look. The idea is to be able to add more information and photos, and to make navigation simpler. Some of the changes will be improvements, others may not work out so well. Over the winter we'll be working on a completely new site with lots of customer-friendly widgets like restock notification, installation photos, recipes, boules scores, etc.

Also, we have a new dark brown color perforated leather handlebar tape that's a good match for VO and Brooks brown saddles.

VO 650b Diagonale Rims Arrive

The selection of available 650b rims has diminished recently. So the arrival of the new VO Diagonale rims comes at a good time. The new rims are named after Les Diagonales de France, which I wrote about in this post. From the name you can guess that these are strong rims suitable for loaded touring as well as commuting and cyclo-touring.

  • Triple box section alloy
  • Stainless steel eyelets
  • Highly polished top and sides
  • 25mm wide
  • About 550g
  • ERD 570mm
  • Available in 36h and 32h (but only 36h in this shipment)
  • In testing with Panaracer Col de la Via and Grand Bois tires we found the fit to be just a little loose, exactly like the fit on Velocity rims, but a little looser than on the old Rigida and Weinman rims.
We just received a small shipment of 36h  only. The rest of this production run and the 700c version (in both 36h and 32h) will be arriving by ship in 4-5 weeks.

In the future we will be stocking 650b wheels using these rims, and also some Velocity rims.

08 October, 2009

New VO Polished Alloy Chainguard & Stem

We have a new polished aluminum chainguard. It mounts to the bottom bracket and to either the seat stay or chain stay. The finish is polished non-anodized. Overall length is 40cm from center of BB to tip. Max chain ring size is officially 48t, but a 50t just barely fits. $25.

We also have a new 6-degree stem for 25.4mm bars. The shape is just tiny bit different than the VO 26.0mm stem.

Velo Orange Brake Cable Kits and Squeal-Free Shoes

We used to sell several colors of cable housing which were very popular. The braided silver housing was particularly well received. White, black blue, and red are also available. We now have the housing again, but in full derailleur and brake kits. These include a bike's worth of cables, housing, ferrules and tips. There will be more info in the product description, which I'll write later today. For now no other colors are possible due to the huge minimum orders.

Even more exciting are the new VO brake shoes and pads. They are guaranteed not to squeal. I don't know how they do it, but we have not been able to get them to squeal. If they do squeal on your bike, you get your money back. Our testers report that they stop as well as certain fish colored pads.

They should be in the web store later today. Shops can order them from VO Imports.

07 October, 2009


We've had a hard time keeping all the Sugino cranks in stock, but a shipment arrived today and they are all available again. The only new item is the Alpina crank in 172.5mm length, which many of you asked for.

The photo on the right is of a Maitake (or "hen of the woods") mushroom that Perry spotted on the way to VO. There were plenty more so we've been enjoying wild mushroom omelets ever since.

06 October, 2009

Polyvalent Geometry and Details

The Polyvalent frames are done and waiting for a ship; here are more details. (The above photo is of Kyle's early prototype and daily rider).

(cm, c-t-t)
Seat Tube
(incl. extension mm)
Top Tube
(c-t-c, mm)
Head Tube Angle
Seat Tube Angle
Chain Stays
Fork Offset
BB Drop

  • The idea behind this frame is that it is a city bike that's capable of being used for cyclo-touring or even light trail riding. Polyvalent is French for "general-purpose".
  • The frame is a low trail (39mm), French inspired design, much like our Gentleman semi-custom frame. It is designed for front loads.
  • The color is dark gray. Carbon?
  • The wheels are 650b. That's really the best choice for riding on bumpy city streets.
  • Maximum tire size with fenders is around 44mm.
  • The rear dropouts are short horizontal dropouts. The reason we used short horizontal dropouts is to allow internal hubs and single speed wheels to be used without the need for a chain tensioner. Longer dropouts would make wheel removal difficult on a fendered bike
  • There is a kickstand plate.
  • A spring between the kickstand plate and the front of the rear fender allows the fender to flex forward for wheel removal, while maintaining proper fender line.
  • Instead of shifter bosses on the down tube, there are cable housing stops under it. I don't think many folks will want to use down tube shifters on this frame and the stops look much cleaner, especially if the frame is set up with internal gearing or as a single speed.
  • The tubing is all double butted CR-MO in traditional, not modern oversize, diameters. This makes for a supple and comfortable ride (not to mention the whole planing issue).
  • The rear brake cable housing is uninterrupted. You can sit on the top tube at the cafe without fear of bare cable marring the paint, or your work pants. The cable is not run under the top tube so as not to dig into your shoulder when carrying the bike up the steps to your apartment.
  • $450 plus shipping for frame and fork. We'll work out a way to do pre-orders soon.
Here are a few photos taken at the factory:

05 October, 2009

Free Shipping, a Guest Post

There are many milestones that we reach rather quickly in a small, young business. Many of them go unremarked, like "our N-thousandth order" or "our first shipment to Russia," or "a record number of packages on the Fedex truck." Today's feat, however, can't go unacknowledged, as the weird convergence of customer loyalty and warehouse accuracy will likely never be repeated.

One of our customers has placed his 50th order. Amazingly, we have never messed up a single order of his (that I can remember, and he'd better not disabuse me of this idea), nor has he ever returned anything or complained. His comments, if there are any, are simply: "Thanks!"

Well, thank you! You've just earned free shipping for life.

Who's next?

Velo Orange LLC

02 October, 2009

Vintage VO, Boules and Pastis on Friday

We will be playing P├ętanque about once a month on Friday afternoons, everyone is welcome.


Tom has been tweeting for VO for a few months ( http://twitter.com/Velo_Orange ). I just set up my own account and will also tweet about VO related, and other, stuff ( http://twitter.com/ChrisKulczycki .)

I'm still a little unsure about this whole Twitter thing, but Tom says it's very useful and has convinced me to give it a try. My thinking is that it will provide an outlet for announcements and thoughts not worthy of a full blog post.

Anyone have experience with or thoughts about Twitter?

UPDATE: I've added a twitter feed over on the right, so you can read everything here. No need for a Twitter account. And the blog is now fed to the store home page.

01 October, 2009

Interbike Report

I remember going to Interbike a few years ago and having time to look at almost every booth, at least for a few seconds. This year I didn't see most of the show. Most of my time was taken up with meetings. We met with many of our current manufacturers and suppliers and a couple of potential new sources.

One troubling development was seeing a large company rip-off several VO designs, as well as Nitto designs. I'll write more about this soon. And I'll need to be more circumspect about the products we're developing and say less about them on this blog. Nonetheless, here are a few of the things we're looking at:

  • A new CNC centerpull long reach brake with an optional mini-rack, like the old Mafac rack. These should provide a lower priced alternative to Paul Racers. I still think the Paul Racers, along with the Grand Cru Caliper brakes are the best brakes available today, but these new ones may provide some serious competition.
  • We will be stocking some new Honjo fenders, but I won't provide details until they are almost here for competitive reasons.
  • We are again talking about a 50.4bcd crank, but with a new manufacturer. I'll meet with them in Taiwan in a few weeks to see if we can finally make this happen.
  • There may soon be a very pretty, shiny and inexpensive VO 110bcd crankset.
  • We are investing in tooling for neat traditional forks. These will first appear on the mixte, but will be used on other VO frames next year.
  • There were some new and interesting and traditional-looking high performance 700 x 25c and 700 x 28c tires that we may stock, possibly with orange and with white tread.
  • We learned that the Polyvalent frames are now at the paint shop and may arrive here in as little as 4 weeks.
It was very nice to see VO components on many display bikes. The bikes in the Sturmey Archer display were especially well done.