29 April, 2011

The No-Rivet Leather Saddle

 We were chatting with our saddle manufacturer a couple of years ago about alternate methods of attaching saddle tops. And I was just thinking aloud about the possibility of a replaceable top and a way to have a top that didn't have rivets sticking up. I'd more-or-less forgotten the conversation when we received the saddle above. It uses machine screws and washers to attach the leather top to the frame, otherwise it's a VO Model 3.

I'm putting this prototype on my bike to see how well it works and lasts. It would be more expensive to make saddles this way, mostly from welding threaded bosses to the frame to accept the screws. And they are a little heavier. On the other hand, the top could be easily replaced and there are no rivets that stick up. If we made a titanium-framed version it might be truly great, and truly expensive. Wadda you think?

28 April, 2011

On Fenders and Perceived Quality and the Blog

Regarding fender installation, we still get a lot of questions about this and will soon have a video that should help. One of the most common errors in assembly that we see is folks putting the cup shaped washer on the eyelet draw bolt upside down, which allows the fender to rattle. This applies to Honjo and to VO fenders. Here is a photo of how everything fits together; notice that the bolt-head with the hole fits inside the cup:

As we get new production runs of fenders we are switching to two eyelet bolts per stay (except on the narrowest models since they won't fit). This is being done for a rather odd reason. Honjo fenders use two eyelets because they occasionally crack at the eyelet with only one. VO fenders have never had this problem, but so many customers equate two eyelets with better quality that we are adding a second. For what it's worth, if a fender cracks it's almost always at the seat stay or at the fork crown and usually because there is some built in tension.

This reminds me of those little diamond-shaped reinforcements plates you see at the seat stay bridge on some bikes. No one here has ever seen a seat stay bridge fail on a well-built frame, except for one that had those little plates (the brazer probably cooked the joint). Maybe they were needed for some super thin tubing or some frame builders added them for looks. Now many cyclist seem to think they are a hallmark of a quality frame. Perceived quality.

On another subject, The comments on the VO blog are surprisingly civil, at least compared to a few other blogs I read. We do very occasionally reject comments for the following reasons:
  • Obvious spam or less obvious spam, like linking to another store or blog without it adding value to the conversation.
  • General rude tone in a comment.
  • Repeating an answer or explanation that has already been posted in another comment. It's simply polite to read the existing comments before posting so future readers won't have to read the same thing over-and-over.
  • Containing information or advice that I know to be totally wrong or dangerous, doesn't happen often.
Overall, though, I'm really pleased with how nice most folks who reads this blog seem to be. I also wanted to mention that I meet, or at least have e-mail correspondence, with some really neat individuals who read the blog. I'm always surprised when I find out that a writer or entrepreneur or artist who's work I admire reads my ramblings.

25 April, 2011

Forks and Shirts

It took four prototypes and an in-person meeting with the president of the frame factory, but we finally have Polyvalent forks just as we wanted them. The new forks have a great bend and even include low-rider bosses. The color is a nice shade of dark green. We'll put in an order for the next production run of 650b Polyvalents right away.

We also have some new Grand Cru t-shirts. They are made from organic cotton. I'm a big advocate of organic cotton. Did you know that non-organic cotton uses approximately 25% of the world's insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides, and defoliants)?

BTW, check out the outtakes from the t-shirt photo shoot.

22 April, 2011

A Few Updates

Here are a few updates on projects. We've received a bunch of e-mails asking about these.

Camping Racks- After much testing, fitting, measuring, and pondering the first prototypes, we sent off revised drawing for the camping racks. We hope to have second generation prototypes in about 6 weeks. I really want to get these right and am not pushing to have them done quickly. So there is no ETA; we'll do another round or two of prototypes if needed.

The new Polyvalent 650b- The final (I hope) upgraded fork is complete and should arrive here next week. If it is right we'll schedule production. The factory says they can complete the frames in about 3 months (add another for shipping) but there are always delays, always.

VO and Grand Cru cassette hubs- The high-low VO hubs are steaming toward us even as I write this, so late May. The high flange Grand Cru Touring hubs should be air-freighted around mid-May. We'll offer some on the site and have some built up into wheels.

The Freewheel-  After about 1500 miles of testing the first one started making a clicking noise. We took it apart to find lot of wear, grit inside, and a bad ball bearing. If this is the best freewheel made in Taiwan, as I was told, then we're very disappointed. It's no better than any of the current offering. To make it right it would need proper seals, better bearings, larger pawls, etc. On the bright side, the cogs still looked great. Next time I'm in Taiwan I'll see how much it would cost to make the needed improvements,  but I'm pretty sure that the tooling costs will be prohibitive.

Below is our new magazine ad. I guess we're finally going to start paying more attention to print advertising, something we've neglected up to now.

20 April, 2011

Slow Sellers

Lots of VO components and accessories sell well beyond our expectations, but I thought I'd write about a few that don't. I really like these and don't understand why they are not more popular. Maybe if I explain why I like them?

Rackaleurs should be a lot more popular. I used one of these in my youth and loved it. As a poor student, I could only afford one bike and that was my race bike. But even then I liked long rides in the country and being able to carry a few luxuries such as a jacket and camera. So I'd slip the Rackaleur over my bars, strap on my TA handlebar bag, and set off on an all-day ride. There is more info on how it works in this post. Based on manufacturing cost, they should be about $45, but we lowered the price to $30 in hopes that enough folks would try them and spread the word.

VO Deep Half Clips are actually pretty popular and sell well enough, but I think they should be one of our top products. They are just so nice on city and utility bikes. Of course you can't pull up, as with toe straps, but being able to spin fast without slipping off the pedals is a big deal to me.

Finally, we put our sprung saddles, the Model 5 and Model 8, on sale. These are great saddles not only on city bikes, but also on touring bikes. They really help smooth out potholed roads. The only downside is the added weight of the springs and frame, a small price to pay for comfort if you're not in a hurry.

What's your favorite non-mainstream bike bit?

15 April, 2011

On Randonneuring

 A guest post by Alec Burney

Spring has finally come to the Mid Atlantic, and Spring for us means that the local cycling clubs are getting into the real swing of things once again. There are clubs out there for all kinds of riders, but randonneuring groups hold a special place in our hearts here at Velo Orange.

Randonneuring is centered around endurance cycling - riding comparatively long distances. The events are timed, and in order to qualify, a rider has to prove that they completed the ride (brevet) within the time allotted. Riders are seriously interested in qualifying, because the rides are preliminaries to a Grand Randonée, and this year Paris-Brest-Paris overshadows all others. Americans seeking to participate in a 1200k ride like PBP will need to complete a 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k brevet within the time limits.

These rides are the original form of “credit-card” touring. Riders pack light to travel as easily and quickly as they can, allowing them to see far away places with relative ease, and requiring that they stop periodically to sample local food and spend the night at an inn.

Like most randonneuring clubs, our local group, the DC Randonneurs, is a cycling club that emphasizes the social aspect of group riding. Even though events are timed, the reason people keep coming back is to see their buddies, sit down and chat over a mid-ride lunch, and laugh about the last time someone took a nap in a ditch.

Even though many folks in the club try to push themselves to faster times and farther distances, the rides that enjoy the heaviest attendance are those with the best scenery. The sport for many is more like bike touring than it is like a stage race. Camaraderie, exploration, and the experience of a day spent riding are the dominant priorities and no one feels the need to ride harder than they want to, or to “beat” anyone else. There’s no “A” group or “B” group, only various social groups. Civility is absolutely required, collaboration is encouraged, and everyone is looking for a pleasant day.

Our next ride will be the 24-hour Flèche; though the rules are very complicated, the spirit of the event is rooted in camaraderie. The Flèche is a very social team ride, with a common goal - to get every member of the team to the finish, together. Teams will start in different locations, design their own routes, and on Saturday morning they’ll head towards Washington DC to meet over breakfast at the finish. Most teams select easy routes and take advantage of the 24 hours as social time to chat, get to know one another, and celebrate the shared challenge. It’s also a good time to sample restaurants, with plenty of time to sit and eat. Each team will see the sunrise and sunset before their ride is over, and the time in between the start and finish will prove to be a memorable one for all.

In case you're interested, here is the link to RUSA (Randonneurs USA) which has more information and links to local groups around the country.

08 April, 2011

Freewheel Testing and Last Mixte

We get a lot of  requests for freewheels. Many of you are unhappy with the current offering. So I asked around in Taiwan about the best freewheels made there. We just received some samples for testing. They come from a company you've probably not heard of and they look OK, not great, but OK. The real test will be in how long they last. We'll try to put a few thousand miles on them in the coming months, then report back.

You can give us a little help by telling us how long various freewheels you've used have lasted. And do you have thoughts about how/why they failed.

Also, we find that we have one 54cm VO Mixte frame left. It was used as a display and has a headset and BB installed, but is unridden. Update: it's sold.

05 April, 2011


VO Wing nuts, actually. A few years ago we had a small stock of new-old-stock wing nuts that sold out very quickly. We still get e-mails asking if we can get more; we can't. So when we heard that a small factory in Taiwan was considering making wing nuts again we encouraged them by immediately placing an order.

They are finally here and look really cool on our new track hub prototypes. They are forged from stainless steel, then CNC finished and polished. And check out the alloy keyed washers.

But the factory neglected to chase the threads so they don't spin on as smoothly as they should. Our staff has been opening the packages and chasing the threads by hand, but we can't do them all, too time consuming, and will send most back. We are only selling the ones that have been chased.

It really bugs me when this sort of thing happens. I suppose it's inevitable since VO introduces  more new products than most companies five times our size. And new products inevitably have problems (just ask Apple).  Still, it's not like we rushed these to market; the prototypes were absolutely 100% perfect. Nuts!

UPDATE: The factory has rethreaded all the wing nuts we sent back and air-freighted them back to us. We have wing nuts again and they work as they should.

01 April, 2011

Polyvalent 700

These past few days we've been tweaking the plans for the 700c version of the Polyvalent that we hope to introduce next year. A second prototype should be in the works soon with some small improvements and one rather major change.

First the easy stuff, this new frame has geometry that's a bit more touring oriented than the 650b version. That means slightly longer chain stays, a slightly shorter top tube, and full rack braze-ons front and rear. It will also probably have vertical drop-outs We are still discussing the final geometry and little details such as behind-the-seat-tube pump pegs and a kickstand plate.

 The bigger change is one I've wanted to experiment with for many years. As you know, our designs are inspired by the French constructeur bikes, which I believe were the pinnacle of classic bicycle design. What you may not know is that there were several great constructeurs who worked not in steel but in Dural  (or aluminum alloy). Perhaps the most famous of these was Pierre Caminade, who created fantastic touring, rando, and city bikes from lugged aluminum tubing. His bikes have a reputation for a silky smooth ride. Joel Metz's Blackbird site has a great section on Caminade's bikes and components.

Since the Polyvalent is supposed to be an economical frame, we won't try to duplicate the alloy lugs. It will be TIG welded frame like the 650b version. But we have found a source for the traditional octagonal Dural tubing which should look fantastic when polished. We may also do matching octagonal seat posts and head sets.