25 March, 2011

Report From the Beautiful Island

Formosa is Portuguese for beautiful island, and it's the old name for Taiwan. While the flat coastal plain studded with the factories that make our parts may not be particularly beautiful, the mountains just to the east and north certainly are, as are the beaches, and especially the people. In my travels to dozens of countries, I've rarely met locals as friendly and hospitable as the Taiwanese. And it never ceases to amaze me that it's far easier to get along speaking English in Taipei than in Paris.

We visited several factories that make our parts and met with many more suppliers at the Taipei Cycle Show. The longest meeting was with our rack manufacturer where we went over the myriad details required to make our new touring racks. I don't think these will be ready before fall. There is really a lot involved in getting them just right. We're also working on a new saddle bag support.

At our handlebar factory we approved the prototype stainless steel VO 25.4mm-26.0mm shims. These will be priced lower price than the only existing type and we'll have a wider version for use with threadless stems. We also discussed our new short reach drop bar and arranged to have all the logos on our city bars changed from laser etching to the engraved or stamped version.

Dia Compe has some new Campy-look shifters that we'll be stocking in down tube and bar end versions. There are a few other surprises from the folks at DC, including a new version of their touring frame that looks very nice.

We're still exploring the possibility of making very high quality roller-bearing bottom brackets, but what's stopped us is the high cost. Maybe, just maybe, there has been some progress in bringing the cost down. If we could manage to sell them for between $75 and $85, would you be interested? They would be aimed at long distance touring cyclists and others that ride extreme mileage in difficult conditions and need a bomb-proof BB. The photo is of VO BBs at the factory.

Our brake manufacturer showed us some prototype cantilevers reputed to be more powerful than existing models. We'll be testing them soon and may develop a Grand Cru version.

The new Grand Cru stem has been in development for a long time. It's amazing how many issues can crop up on such a simple project. It's almost ready for production, really!

Many of you had asked us to look for a high-end frame pump. I'm afraid that I found nothing that I thought was particularly better than models already on the market. We talked about opening tooling for a Grand Cru pump, but I doubt that sales could cover the costs. The simple fact is that mini-pumps and mini-floor pumps are now so good that most cyclists, myself included, don't bother with a frame pump. The only advantage of a frame pump is inflation speed, and I'm not in that much of a hurry.

We also scoured the show for retro-style lights. There is only one possibility so far and it would be expensive, but we'll explore it further. With so much going on I'm unwilling and unable to devote the time it would take to develop our own lights from scratch. We can't make everything and keep what little sanity remains.

One project that's been behind is the next production run of the Polyvalent frames. We're making a few small refinements including improving the bend of the fork blade; that's caused the holdup. With luck we'll have the final version of the new fork in two weeks and production can proceed. We're also working on a 700c version of the Polyvalent that will be more of a touring bike.

There's a lot more, but those are the highlights. I'll leave you to ponder, and comment on, the following photos.


Christopher said...

Thank you for the update, it is always interesting to look behind the scenes of the bicycle business.
The Dia Compe info is very interesting, can't wait to see more info on that.

Justin said...

I appreciate the update. Patiently waiting for those Grand Cru stems.

Anonymous said...

do you have any idea of the timeline of the 700c Polyvalent? I love the geo and build specs of the current 60cm PV but don't really care to enter the world of 650b since I ride big frames.

thanks, Dan

Anonymous said...

Very much looking forward to seeing the new Polyvalent fork bend!

The Poly is a great offering, AFAIK the only economically priced frame on the market that takes 650b wheels in even the larger sizes. And it's designed for front loading to boot. With the minor aesthetic issue of the fork bend corrected, I think one would be hard pressed to find a more well thought out, versatile, affordable frame set.

Looking forward to placing my order when the new shipment arrives!

BTW, Chris, is the plan to keep the same matte black finish on the new batch?

Stephen Lee Ogden said...

Is that a Slide Away taiwan frame? ... http://shop.ebay.com/i.html?_nkw=slide+away+frame&_sacat=0&_odkw=steel+road+bike+Frame&_osacat=0&_trksid=p3286.c0.m270.l1313

I've always wondered how well built they were. If they offered them in solid colors I might have bought one by now.

Chris Kulczycki said...

Since the 700c Polyvalent is a new project, it's hard to say when they will arrive, maybe next winter.

The new 650b Polyvalent will be dark green, have shifter bosses, and have a 31.8mm down tube. This last is because so many customers are using them for touring and as porteurs. I thought the majority would be built up as city bikes and commuters.

Don Stevenson said...

Would you consider fenders and chainguards in the same dark green? Maybe a limited run as part of a build kit?

Anonymous said...

Is there a reason for the curved crank arm other than making the rider look awfully strong?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the report and great photos, Chris. I'll echo Christopher's first comment and say that this look into the business is fascinating. Looking forward to more news and new products in the months to come. Steve in Kensington.

Jason C said...

Any idea on how soon you can have those short reach drop bars available to us? Anxious

dwainedibbly said...

Sounds like a great trip. Glad to hear that things continue to look good for VO. Too bad there weren't more leads for vintage-looking LED lights, though.

Any word on the single ring 50.4 crank sets?

Anonymous said...

I DO think there would be a market for the roller-bearing BB. I agree that $85 would pretty much top out the price range, but it sounds very nice. (French threaded versions, too, please!)

I am also thinking that you need a nutted version of the Grand Cru long reach caliper brakes. I am certainly not alone in my love of old frames coupled with a love of excellent stopping power. I was surprised to learn that these only come with the recessed mount.

The GC Stem is eagerly awaited, too. What will be the range you'll offer? Up to 130mm? Or top out at 120?

As always, I join those in saying Thank You for doing such utterly cool stuff. It is greatly appreciated.

currently in Bangkok

Akos Szilvasi said...

The last photo, the basket with integrated handle bard is a shameless copy of a 2010 award winning Copenhagen Parts design [http://copenhagenparts.com]. On one of my bicycles I have that rack (and some VO parts, like a seat the seat post). I hope you have the good tase of rejecting this intellectual theft - unless authorized but after the visual inspection I doubt that.

buckybiker said...

Thanks for the update! I can't wait to order a polyvalent as soon as they are available. Great choice on the dark green too. I couldn't be more excited!

dwainedibbly said...

I've been thinking some more about the changes to the 650B Polyvalent. Honestly, I think I'm glad I got one when I did. Mine is built as a city bike/commuter, with an Alfine-11 rear hub, so I don't need the shifter bosses. The matte black is easy to protect from bike rack damage with a strip of electrical tape on the top tube.

It is nice to read that the fork is getting a new shape, but for me that's a very minor fix. Will the front end geometry stay the same?

Anonymous said...

I find it pretty nearly impossible to believe that bottom bracket bearings fail because of high pressure loading, the only thing roller bearings could help with. Instead, they almost certainly fail because of lubrication failure (out of grease), abrasive wear (grit), or corrosion (water). If I were on a qust for more reliable BB bearings, I'd consult an experienced bearing engineer to find the best ways to keep or replace grease and keep out grit and water. Nobody advertizes cartridge bearings with tag lines about the quality or quantity of grease inside, but those are probably the big issues, along with long lasting seals.


keithwwalker said...

Did you talk to Marwi about pulling out this old classic taillight design (Basta 421):


You could sell one with an LED and metalize the body for a nice retro look for very little money.

I run my bike with one and the only downside is the lack of standlight.

Tom said...

Anon Mark-

I'm glad you suggested that bearing contamination is a bigger problem than high pressure loading as a failure mode for bottom brackets (and any bearing really).
Our current bottom brackets have 4 wiper seals at the bearings and 2 full contact grit shields at the cups.

We think that's more than enough. To compare, Shimano UN 5X, UN7X BB's have 2 dust shields protecting their bearings. sometimes that's not enough.

Is a roller bearing BB necessary? Is a Ti spindle bottom bracket necessary, or a ti railed Brooks Swallow? We leave those questions for our customers to ponder. All we can do is give them the opportunity to assess that need based on the information provided.

Tom said...

And Anon Mark- I did a lot of research on bearings for our upcoming Touring hubs (http://velo-orange.blogspot.com/2011/01/miscellany.html). Bearings with higher load ratings make more sense in certain applications. The sealed cartridge bearings we designed our hub around have almost twice the load capacity as any other bearing commonly speced on road or mountain hubs. This is critical for rear hubs. Otherwise you end up replacing bearings more often. Bearing quality, origin (Swiss/Japan/China) or material (stainless or Ceramic) are less important than matching load capacities for the intended purpose.

Bottom Brackets see tremendous load cycles. It makes sense to utilize bearings that have higher load capacities. The crank bearings are unique. They are supporting your entire body weight while rotating through a wide range of energy transfers, which is carried to the the rear hub via the chain. The rear hub supports about 60-70% of your body weight while the front hub supports 30-40%.

Anonymous said...

Bottom brackets are probably the least loaded of any of the "big" bearings on a bike. Wheel hub bearings are smaller and get much higher shock loading, but nobody suggests roller bearings for them, and they don't fail all that often. Headset bottom bearings get lots of shock loads, but mostly hold up fairly well. More of a case for beefier bearings there than at the BB. Not even Phil Wood calls out roller bearings for BB.

In your last paragraph, you essentially give in to the idea that customers should choose products based on marketing hype (read lies) rather than actual knowledge. I thought you were better than that.

BTW, If your current BB's use bearings with more extensive sealing, maybe you should mention that in the product description.


Anonymous said...

Tom has a point, but I love my titanium saddle. My point being that sometimes there's something beyond necessary, and going a bit further makes things that go from "okay" to "nice."

Anonymous said...

Maybe what I'm trying to say is this: bicycles have both a utilitarian and an aesthetic aspect. Some portions are nearly pure aesthetics, some blend both, some are purely utilitarian. Bearings fall in the latter category. We shouldn't buy, or try to sell, bearings based on vague impressions. I am glad Chris did some homework on the bearings for his new touring hub. That puts him ahead of most. I'm urging, that, with respect to bearings, Chris (and the rest of us) should stay sharply focused on the utilitarian angle, both in designing, and in selling his products. Let's not make "Roller Bearing BB" just another bit of advertising hype that really doesn't mean anything. I still don't see BB bearings getting high loads, because they aren't subject to shock loading. You may have your whole weight on them (and there's leverage too), but your legs are terrific shock absorbers. I see the BB bearings getting a pretty smooth ride compared to hubs and headsets. Think about going downhill (weight shifted forward), braking (weight shifted forward) and hitting a bump (high upward acceleration). The tire and wheel are your first line of defense, but the hub bearing is the first bearing in line. The fork provides a bit more shock absorption, then the headset bearing gets hit. Then the frame gets to absorb a little shock, finally, the BB bearing gets hit, and it has pedal shaft flex and most of all, leg flex to mitigate the shock on it.

Also, lube is likely still the big story. A roller bearing BB with it's grease leaked out, or water or grit leaked in isn't going to last any longer than a ball bearing in the same circumstance.


Anonymous said...

How about reviving/licensing the old Suntour Grease Guard tech for BB's? I hear that since it is so easy to re-grease the bearings, maintenance actually gets done and they last close to forever.

Anonymous said...

loving the silly dpardo cranks... reminded me of my fixed gear bike from 2005 with pmp's

LECOM UAAO said...

I'd definitely be interested in a roller bearing BB. And the price seems very reasonable at $75-$85. Considering that the best other roller bearing alternative is the SKF version, which cost $125, I think a VO model would be very welcome! My $.02

Anonymous said...

Just spent some time Googling on the Grease Guard system. Looks like everybody that ever used it loved it! Originated with WTB who licensed it to Suntour. Patent apparently was in 86 or so, so probably off patent now, meaning you can copy without paying WTB. Suntour apparently had hubs, pedals, BB's and maybe headsets equipped with Grease Guard. On their pedals, only the inner bearing had the regreasing feature. The outer was a standard sealed cartridge, but protected with a dust cap and seal.

Might be worth looking into if you want a unique and practical product. Only thing against it would be if modern sealed bearings are so good you can get the same life without regreasing.


Anonymous said...

The Grease Guard BB had longitudinally-drilled crank bolts that served as the injection ports into the cups. Rather ingenious, I always thought.


Anonymous said...

Noticed that the 50.4bcd Crankset is out of stock. Any update on chainring availability? Still hoping to mate your rings with my 180mm TA arms.

Anonymous said...

Grease guard was great for its time but it's really just a tweak of the standard ball bearing bracket; it's not the revolutionary improvement cartridge bb's were. . . .
just sayin'


entangled said...

I'll be interested in better quality of bottom brackets. Lighter will be a plus too.

Anonymous said...

I think the roller bearing crank would be great and would be willing to consider it on a project.

Anonymous said...

When do you believe the Grand Cru Stem will be on the site.
Sooner the better

dliu said...

Argh, I've recently found a lot of the internet literature on cartridge bottom brackets very frustrating, and some of it misleading. As far as I know, there are two roller bearing bottom brackets you can still purchase in the US: Shimano Octalink Dura Ace units, and the SKF (one of the top bearing mfgs. in Germany) units that Harris import these days. (http://sheldonbrown.com/harris/bottombrackets.html). Shimano started to use roller bearings in addition to very small bearings in order to accommodate the larger, stiffer Octalink spindle, but the bearings turned out to be less durable than before.

Most cylindrical roller bearings can take a higher perpendicular (radial) load than a round ball bearing can, but the load in a bottom bracket is definitely not perpendicular. Unless VO are looking at self-aligning thrust bearings, a roller bearing BB is a waste of money and materials. Anon. Mark is right: bottom brackets fail when the lubrication and sealing fail. I haven't used the Grand Cru BB yet, but if the seals are as good as you indicate, then it should last at least 5 years of heavy riding. My own Shimano UN-54 has lasted 4 years heavy commuting and touring, as well as a couple of winters riding in road salt, and it shows few signs of wear or bearing failure. Admittedly, I don't make it a habit to run through deep puddles or bike in mud, so my personal experience kinda ends there.