19 March, 2018

650b Disc Wheels Roll In

By Scott

We've been doing built wheels for a number of years now. They've been very popular, especially for folks with older bikes who can't necessarily walk into a shop and get a high quality rear wheel, spaced 126 mm with a freewheel for their Peugeot PX-10 right away. The newest additions to the VO stable of built wheels is the combination of our new 11 speed Disc Cassette Hub, Disc Front Hub, and 650b Diagonale Rim.
We had these wheels (available as front or rear) built up by our US wheel builder for a couple reasons. The big one was these will be perfect for folks getting our new Polyvalent frames. As well, the rise of disc brake bikes has meant that we are receiving emails from riders asking about 650b disc wheel options for other bikes. Seems like just the other year that folks were looking at the original Polyvalent frame and asking "I don't know if this 650b phase will last". Now we're doing 11 speed disc hubs laced to tried and true Diagonale Rims, able to take tires from 38 to 45 mm wide, wow.

One update we've done with this wheel is we've gone from using DT Swiss straight gauge spokes to DT Swiss Double-Butted (2.0/1.8) Competition Spokes. Compared to straight gauge spokes, double butted spokes are lighter and a bit more compliant over temporary forces (potholes, rail crossings, etc). While the cost is a bit more than the straight gauge variant, we think the value is there. Each wheel is 32 hole, and weigh 1128g and 915g for the rear and front wheel, respectively.

We're doing a bit of a re-vamp of our wheel offerings, so we put some wheels we're going to discontinue on the Specials page, so give them a look-see.

Are there any wheel combinations you'd like to see?

14 March, 2018

Renewing Your Cockpit in an Afternoon

By Scott

I'll admit that I'm perhaps not the best at aesthetics.  My wife's tried in the last couple years to update my wardrobe past jeans and a t-shirt. Bike wise, I try to look at how Clint and Igor have outfitted frames, creating a cohesive and tidy look, and try to emulate that. Problem is that I tend to do my builds out of my STASH collection. Thus it's a hodgepodge of stuff.  One thing that I've tried to work on is bar tape though. Bar tape is the last of the cheap and easy ways to update/spruce up/freshen up a bike. In the past, I was strictly a black tape kinda guy - goes with everything, no stress about matching shades, etc. But in the last few years, I've seen the upside of a variety of colors being used as bar tape. Now, I'll never be good enough, like Clint, to do a harlequin style or tie-dye a set of wraps, but I'm certainly seeing an advantage to changing the tape color often to change the mood of a build or just to acknowledge the change in a season.

Clint's Harlequin chain stay wrap

I read years back that the pro racers would use black tape over the winter (didn't show dirt, etc.) but that as soon as spring arrived, they would have the mechanics swap over to white for the spring races. A few pros were known for putting new white tape on before every big race as a way of showing that they were 100% prepared for that race.

When I built up my Piolet originally, I went with grey tape. I wanted something with a more subtle color compared to orange tape, which would have matched the color of the cables on the bike.  I thought grey would be great. And it was. I liked it, but this winter when I was switching the brake levers out, I needed to change it up. So what to use? Hmm....

I did some consulting with my co workers and it was decided to go with the blue of the Comfy Cotton Tape. Not a total match to the muted blue of my original model Piolet, but a nice contrast, and it still maintains a somewhat muted appearance.

life behind Scott's bars

So for a few bucks and about 15 minutes of work, I've totally updated the look of my bike, especially considering the cockpit is really what my eyes see when I ride the bike. There are certainly other ways to change the look and feel of your bike, but for $12, I'd say this is a pretty cost effective way to go about it. What ways do you spruce up the look/feel of your bike?

06 March, 2018

Save The Date - Annual VO Garage Sale

By Scott

There are two sure-fire signs that spring is arriving here in the Mid-Atlantic: Cherry Blossoms and VO's Annual Garage Sale. According to the National Parks Service, we are expecting peak bloom between March 17th and 20th. This is great news for us, not just because it is one of the prettiest times of the year here, but it is just before our annual Garage Sale. This year, the sale will be March 24th.

(Photo courtesy of Mary G at Chasing Mailboxes)

We'll run it from 9 am to noon, the usual story of various bits and pieces for sale - prototypes, frames, parts, accessories, all for cheap. We'll also offer a 20% discount for all in-stock (pre-sales not included), non-garage sale items to folks coming to the shop.

We'll have our usual supply of coffee and donuts for you to sip and munch on while perusing our vast wares.

Address for your GPS Unit:

1981 Moreland Parkway,
Bldg 3
Annapolis, MD

(Turn into the industrial park and go to the right, almost all the way to the end. We're three doors from the end on your left side. Big VO sign out front.)

If you're on Facebook, let us know if you're going to make it so that we can get lots of snacks, coffee, donuts, holes of said donuts, and teas: https://www.facebook.com/events/1683675921718942/

Hope to see you all there!

01 March, 2018

Building a Bike From the Frame Up - Brake Lever Selection

by Igor

In this installment of the "Building a Bike From the Frame Up" series, we'll introduce and discuss the differences and subtleties between brake levers designed for drop, flat, bullhorn, and alt handlebars. First, let's get some terminology and specifications out of the way:

  • Drop Handlebar - The most common type of handlebar for road riding, touring, and randonneuring, typically allowing a more aerodynamic riding position than upright city-style bars. Lots of hand positions.
  • Bullhorn Handlebar - A very common handlebar style for time trial bikes. They put you in a very aerodynamic position and usually have clip-on aero bars. These got very popular during the fixie boom of the '00s. 
  • Flat/Riser/City/Mountain Handlebar - A common style of handlebar on city and mountain bikes. 
  • Alt-Bar - This style does not really fit into a particular category. They may have non-traditional shapes or dimensions.
  • Brake Lever Clamp Diameter (also known as Grip Area) - The outside diameter where your brake levers clamp.
    • 23.8mm - Drop, bullhorn, and some city handlebars
    • 22.2mm - City and mountain handlebars
Drop Bar Levers

The most traditional style of brake lever for drop handlebars is called Non-Aero. The cable exits the brake lever body out of the top and makes a wide arc around the stem and handlebar before the first cable guide or brake stop. While this style has fallen out of mainstream favor for the "aero" alternative, purists, collectors, and tourers often prefer the non-aero variant for simplicity, ease of maintenance, and aesthetics.

Up through the mid-1980's there were several companies making non-aero offerings, each with their own styling, following, and price point: Mafac, Campagnolo, Shimano, Universal, Modolo, Dia-Compe, Weinmann, just to name a few.

Personally, I think the differences between the non-aero manufacturers (with the exception of Mafac) aren't significant. They pretty much all look and function very similarly. Mafac's shape was different - much more square and chunky body - often preferred for randonneur-style bikes.

Traditionally-speaking, Campanolo and similar brake levers are often paired with deep drops and sloping ramps.


Mafac levers are best paired with traditional randonneur style bars where the ramps are long and parallel with the ground. 

In the mid 80s, levers with the housing routed underneath the handlebar tape, dubbed "aero", were becoming more mainstream. While Dia-Compe was likely the first company to release a consumer aero brake lever, Shimano did have the Dura-Ace AX brake lever with aero routing in the early 80s.

I actually find the evolution of the aero brake lever fascinating. At first, they were basically re-drilled non-aero bodies (same bottom cable entry and all), but over time cable entry changed to the more modern forward entry and body lever shapes were under experimentation. My favorite is Modolo's aptly named Kronos series. Check out the beautifully smooth line from the ramps to the brake hood and continuing to the lever.

If you're one for bar-end or downtube shifters or no shifters, your selection for aero levers is plentiful. The Tektro RL340s are popular for their shape and quick release cable tension button. If you want fancy, the Campy Record levers are sublime. 

With the introduction of integrated shifters, sometimes called "brifters" (the less this word is used the better), aero levers and subsequently handlebars have become more ergonomic for long times in the saddle. Handlebar ramps and brake hoods are typically parallel with the ground and feature gradual transitions. Pictured below is our Course Handlebar with Shimano integrated shifters.

For cross racers and city riders, Interruptor Brake Levers are very popular. These brakes are installed inline with aero levers and allows for braking to occur from the tops of the handlebars. They push housing rather than pull cable, so they function a bit differently than the main lever.

These should not be confused with "suicide levers" that were used on non-aero brake levers. These extensions were notorious for poor brake performance and flexible materials. 

Guidonnet Levers were often seen on French cyclotouring bikes. Mounted on either side of the stem, they allowed for plenty of room for a large handlebar bag in addition to easy lever access from the ramps and tops. The downside is that you can't reach the levers from the drops. We used to sell Dia-Compe's version of these way back when, but everyone who wanted a set got one.
Bullhorn handlebars are still used on triathlon and time trials bikes for their aerodynamics and simple shape. The most typical brake lever setup are inverse levers. They are inserted into the end of the handlebar and expand, similar to how bar-ends are installed.

Riders would often put aero levers on the ends of their bars, too.


City and Mountain Bars

Typical city and mountain bars use a 22.2mm outer diameter grip area, which means pretty much any city or mountain brake lever will work. The Tektro FL750 brake levers are extremely popular for their similarities to vintage CLB city levers.

We offer several of our city handlebars and subsequently brake levers in a 23.8mm grip area so that road-style components such as bar-end shifters and inverse levers can be used.

The important part of city and mountain brake levers is to select a lever that is compatible with your brake's cable pull requirements: Regular or Linear. Regular pull is what you would use for caliper, cantilever, centerpull, and any "road" style brake. Linear is what you would need for Shimano's V-brake or any other linear pull brake, most commonly seen on mountain bikes.

These pull ratios are not interchangeable. If you use regular pull levers on a linear brake, the lever will not be able to pull enough cable before the lever bottoms out. Vice-versa, you will need to pull the lever significantly harder to stop. Both of these scenarios should be avoided.

Our Grand Cru Brake Levers are my favorites. Not only are they compatible with 23.8mm and 22.2mm handlebars with included shims, they're also available in both regular and linear pull.

Guidonnet levers were also very popular on Belleville Bars for the same reasons as above. As an added bonus, they match the curve of the bars.

If you're using a 23.8mm handlebar, you can also use inverse levers like these by Dia-Compe or Tektro. By moving the brake lever to the end of the bar, you're afforded more room on the handlebars for grips and shifters and frankly, I like how they look.


Ok, things are about to get weird. Alt-bars are alternative bars. They don't really fall into drop bars or flat bar categories, and often have non-traditional shapes.

Our Crazy Bars are a perfect example. The grip area that sweeps back is 22.2mm, but the forward extensions use a 23.8mm grip area. This allows riders to mount bar-ends or even road shifters up front. Part of the fun of alt-bars is the wacky setups people make with their controls.

Trekking/Butterfly Bars are the original alt-bar. While they have a 22.2mm grip area, brake levers can be placed almost anywhere to suit the rider's preference. There's no wrong way to set them up!

Previous installments of the "Building a Bike from the Frame Up" series: