Saturday, December 10, 2016

Louis Vuitton Buys Pinarello

I'll bet a lot of Retrogrouch readers remember this:


Or this:

And almost certainly this:

And even though there's nothing even remotely retro-grouchy about it, even the young ones probably remember this:


Well - as Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan once said, the times they are a'changin'. One of the most successful bike brands in Tour de France history (12 wins) has just been sold. The story has been circulating for months as a deal was apparently in the works, but now it's official: the luxury brand conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) has acquired Pinarello. The storied racing bikes will now be part of the luxury boutique products family that includes such names as Moët Chandon champagne, Hennessy cognac, Louis Vuitton handbags, Givenchy and Christian Dior fashions, Bulgari and TAG Heuer timepieces, DeBeers diamonds, and many more.

Giovanni Pinarello (from the Pinarello website)
Founded in 1953 by Giovanni "Nani" Pinarello, who had achieved some fame early in his racing career for finishing in last place in the 1946 Giro d'Italia, earning him the "maglia nera," or black jersey. Knowing he had no chance of winning the race against riders like Magni and Bobet (who would go on to win the general classification and the mountains leader respectively), he actually worked to secure last place because in those days the maglia nera was celebrated at the finish alongside the race leaders.

He opened his bike shop Cicli Pinarello in Treviso, Italy, after being sidelined from the '52 Giro. He gradually began building his brand, offering frames and bicycles, sponsoring small teams in the 1960s, and growing his reputation. As I understand it from reliable sources (though it's not mentioned on the history page of the company's website) the early frames were contracted out to other reputable builders, which may have included such names as Cinelli and Galmozzi. Eventually, framebuilding was brought in-house. The first big racing success of the Pinarello brand came in 1975 with a Giro d'Italia stage win with Fausto Bertoglio on the Stelvio Pass.

Many Americans will fondly remember American cycling "coming of age" in 1984 with Alexi Grewal winning the Olympic Gold Medal in Los Angeles, astride a Pinarello, and with his hands flung high in the air. The brand saw a surge in popularity in the U.S. soon after.

In the 1980s, leadership of the company began to transfer from father Nani to son Fausto, and in 1988 Pinarello got their first Tour de France win with Pedro Delgado. A few years later would come a long string of TdF victories with Miguel Indurain and his five successive wins, followed by Bjarne Riis in '96, and Jan Ullrich in '97. More recently, Team Sky with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome would bring the brand's total to 12 TdF victories.

The bikes have obviously changed a lot over the years, and the romantic notion of old Italian craftsmen wielding torches and building bikes by hand has been replaced by computer-optimized carbon fiber frames popped out of molds (and probably not even in Italy anymore). Even though the romanticized image is long gone, I still can't help but feel something is being lost.

Bicycling as an industry seems more and more to be directed away from working class and middle class people, and towards people with means. More luxury goods for the 1%, expensive toys for the rich, to be bought at expensive boutiques and bragged about alongside their golf clubs, polo mallets, Porsches, and speedboats.

Bicycle racing has strong working-class roots. Many racers of the golden era came from poor families, and saw racing as a way up. Stories abound of riders who scraped money together for an affordable bike - or club racers who used their bike for daily transportation during the week, and then would strip off their fenders, change their wheels, and go racing on the weekends. Okay, so it hasn't been like that for a long long time. But it's also clear it will never be like that again.

This movement of bicycling towards the investment and leisure classes began some time ago (consider so-called Halo Bikes) and certainly won't end here. The acquisition of Pinarello by LVMH will very likely be good, financially, for the bike maker. And I'd absolutely expect to see similar deals in the works being announced with other storied bike names and luxury brand conglomerates.

I won't be surprised when it happens. But I won't be celebrating it, either.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pearl Izumi Softshell Pants

Regular readers know I do a lot of bike commuting, and I try to be a year-round rider even here in Northeast Ohio. That sometimes means putting cycling gear to the test, and pushing the temperature limits of my clothing. As the weather keeps getting colder, and I'm still out there riding, I recently picked up a new pair of riding pants that I think are worth recommending - Pearl Izumi Summit Softshell Pants.

The Summit Softshell Pants are billed as MTB wear, but they are a nice choice for commuting, too. Being pants, as opposed to tights, they have several pockets, including a zipper "cargo" type of pocket on the right thigh, and two zippered pockets on the hips that can be opened to reveal some venting for comfort. Though a serious cyclist gets used to strange looks from people for their cycling apparel choices (and have the self confidence to not give a crap what people think), the pants don't shout "cyclist" when you're off the bike. Nobody will mistake them for normal casual wear, but they do look like the kind of typical athletic sportswear we're getting used to seeing at the coffee shops and elsewhere.

The pants have a close fit, but are meant to be worn as an outer layer, so depending on the temperature, they can be worn on their own (likely over a pair of cycling shorts, as there's no chamois), or over some type of base layer or other tights. They are cut for cycling, so they offer good freedom of movement on the bike, even when combined with another layer. The pants fit closer on the calves and ankles so there shouldn't be any concern about them getting caught in the chain.

The Summit pants are made with a combination of thermal and softshell panels which offer some wind protection and water resistance (but they are not rain pants!), and provide some warmth. On their own, the pants are just right in temps in the upper 30s to low 40s, which is just as Pearl Izumi claims. In the low 30s, I've worn them over a pair of lightweight lycra tights and felt very comfortable. If temperatures dip below that, say, into the 20s, I feel confident that combined with a pair of thermal tights these would still be toasty. One thing worth mentioning is that because they don't fit tight around the ankles, then the ankles or lower legs can be exposed to the cool breezes more than they might with a pair of tights, so I recommend tall socks.

For fit, I have a 32 inch waist, and a slightly longer inseam at 33 inches, and I bought the size medium pants. Fit in the waist for me is perfect. There is no fly, but instead there is wide, flat elastic and shockcord drawstring to fine tune the fit. I am finding them to be pretty comfortable. The length of the pants works for me -- but only just. This is something I've seen with other Pearl Izumi tights in that they'll work for me, but absolutely nothing left to spare. If someone is particularly long-legged, they might find the length lacking. I know there are people who don't want anything bunching at their ankles, but I'll generally prefer to err on the side of having pants (or tights) an inch too long than too short. I'm thinking that PI needs to start offering pants or tights in "regular" and "long."

Like so much cycling-specific clothing today, the price on these is "up there" at about $170. Because of some coupons and specials, I was able to get them for around $135 from my local shop - so I was happy to buy locally.

On the whole, I think the Summit Softshell pants are a nice looking, functional pair of cycling pants that can help comfortably extend the riding season for us commuters.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Old Is Good: Mavic Monthlery Rims

I'm gearing up to begin another wheelbuilding project, and that means locating more classic components. I recently wrote about a nice set of hubs I'll be using: a pair of Campagnolo Record hubs with the HiLo rear hub -- 32  front, 36  rear. Now I have my rims picked out: a set of vintage new-old-stock Mavic Monthlery Legere tubular rims. I should state right from the beginning that these are not intended to be wheels for everyday use, and certainly not for commuting, or anything other than special wheels for a special bike to be ridden on nice roads on the best of days. Nothing to do with necessity, and nothing "practical," other than the desire to build something really unique and something that I would have drooled over in my youth.

I've always had good experiences building with Mavic rims, so that was a prime consideration as I was making a selection. And since I had decided I want to use NOS vintage instead of current production, I had made the job of locating suitable rims a bit more difficult. The fact that I needed to find a 32 and a 36-hole rim didn't help either.

In the '70s and early '80s, Mavic's Monthlery rims were among the company's best tubular rims -- with a polished aluminum finish, and made with double eyelets at each spoke hole for extra durability. They came in a few different variations for different applications, and the prices varied accordingly.

At the lower end of the Monthlery line was the Monthlery Route. These were about 22 mm wide and advertised at 420 grams. According to the Mavic catalog from the mid-80s, the Route was meant for OEMs (original equipment), training, cyclocross, or for "difficult" road conditions. That weight puts them into clincher rim territory, but they were probably bomb-proof when built into a wheel by a competent builder.

From the 1980 Mavic catalog. (scan from Velo-Pages)
The Monthlery Pro was next, at 20 mm wide, and advertised as 395 grams (I believe 400 grams was probably typical in reality). These were a real mainstay rim for aftermarket wheels. Their weight was a little on the higher side for top-line racing wheels, but they were strong, reliable, and a good choice for a wide range of applications. If someone couldn't afford separate wheels for training and racing, the Monthlery Pros were a really good way to go.

The Monthlery Legere ("legere" means "light") was the same width as the Pro, but because of a slightly thinner-walled extrusion, they were advertised as being only 310 grams. Numerous sources claim the reality was somewhere between 330-340 grams. Mavic catalogs described them as "interesting for road racing. Excellent weight/resistance ratio." Obviously translated from French by someone with only a part-time experience with English. No doubt they meant something like "well-suited" for road racing. But they did represent a good balance of strength and low weight.

The Legere was not the lightest thing going, however. There was another rim called the Extra Legere (advertised in a 1974 flyer as the Golden Monthlery) which was listed as weighing only 260 grams! I've seen sources that listed actual weight as somewhere between 270-280 grams. The Mavic Extra Legere, or Extra Light, would have competed directly with a couple of other rims of the day, the Super Champion Medaille d'Or (advertised 260 g), and the Fiamme Ergal Gold Label rims (advertised 280 g). I've never used the Fiamme Ergal rims, but there are numerous stories of them cracking or breaking at the spoke holes. In the latest issue of Bicycle Quarterly, Jan Heine actually describes them as having a tendency to shatter! I don't know if that was hyperbole or not, but the cracking spoke holes was a common story. I have used the Super Champion Medaille d'Or - they were the first set of wheels I ever built, and despite my diminutive weight at the time (I was only 125 lbs at age 18) they needed constant truing. Was that because of my beginner-status as a wheelbuilder? Or because the rims were just too ridiculously light (probably a combination of the two) I don't know, but at my age and current weight, I'm no longer so willing to sacrifice durability in order to shave a few extra grams.

Anyhow, I decided to go with the Legere for the reason that I wanted something light, but not stupid-light. I think they represent a good balance.

Now, looking for NOS vintage rims makes things a bit complicated. Searching eBay as well as online sellers who specialize in vintage bike parts, I found that availability seemed to be exactly in proportion to the weight of the rims. The OEM-level Monthlery Route is definitely the easiest to find. NOS examples seem to abound, with prices ranging from $80 - 130 per pair. The mid-level Pro is slightly less plentiful, but still available, and the going rate seems to be around $100 - 150 per pair for NOS. The Legere is pretty scarce. I had found a single 36-hole rim some time back for about $50, including shipping. It took a while before I could find a matching 32-hole for the front. Just out of curiosity, I've been searching for months for the 260 - 280 g. Extra Legere, and they simply don't come up for sale. I'm not sure I've ever seen one.

This line of rims from Mavic did evolve over time. By the end of the '70s, there were anodized versions available. The silver-anodized versions were labeled "Argent" (which means silver) while gold-anodized were "Or" (umm. . . gold) and the anodizing treatment was said to "improve the finished appearance and facilitate upkeep." In these anodized versions, the Legere model was re-named the Argent 10, and the Extra Legere was the Argent 7 (later Argent 8).

from VeloBase
In the early '80s, dark gray hard-anodizing became all the rage, and the 400 gram Monthlery Pro formed the basis for the GP4, a popular all-round racing and training tubular rim. I can't find confirmation of it, but I'm pretty sure that the "G" stood for "Gris" (gray) in reference to the dark gray hard anodized finish, and "P" was probably "Pro." My second-ever wheelbuilding project used GP4 rims, and while they were probably overkill for my still-flyweight physique (at the time), I literally used to ride those wheels down stairs and bunny-hop uneven railroad tracks on a regular basis. I replaced a few headsets, but never had to re-true the wheels. Not even once. The Legere became the GL330 (Gris Legere 330 grams?) and the Extra Legere would have become the GEL280 (Gris Extra Legere 280 grams?). The '84 Mavic catalog claimed that the hard anodizing increased the surface hardness by a factor of 10, and that it increased the rigidity of the rim. I am not aware that the supposed increase in rigidity was in any way noticeable or if it made the rims last any longer, but in the '80s it definitely became the must-have fashion. What I decided I didn't like, however, was that after only a few rides, the gray finish would start to wear off the sidewalls - and it never wears off evenly. For that reason more than any other, I still have a preference for standard non-anodized aluminum for rims. If it gets scratched or dull over time, you can always bring back the lustre with a little bit of aluminum polish on a soft rag.

By the way, there was an older Mavic rim with a similar name, but was not part of the same lineup. Some readers may recall a model called the Montlery (note the lack of the "h" in the spelling) Championnat du Monde which was a pretty common OEM rim in the early '70s. Several sources state that they were original equipment on early '70s Schwinn Paramounts, for example. These were a single-eyelet rim that had knurled sidewalls (remember those?) that were supposed to improve braking, but generally just made the rims howl like banshees when stopping.

My pair of NOS Monthlery Legere rims ended up setting me back about $115. Without a doubt, that's a lot higher than what these rims sold for when new, but current model Mavic Open Pro tubular rims generally sell for between $70 - 80 each, so that puts it into some perspective. And at about 330 grams (or so) each, the weight is lower than most aluminum rims made today - and even on par with a lot of carbon fiber rims costing much, much more.

When built up, these should be just the right thing for a vintage bike restoration, and another example of Old Is Good.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Retrogrouch Rules: Proper Bike Setup

Want to start an argument with fellow bike worshipers? Try to establish some "rules" for proper bike setup. Of course, bike set up can be a very personal thing, and ultimately, the only "rule" that really matters is if something works for a person and lets them ride their bike comfortably. But some bike setups just seem to look "right" and probably work pretty well for the majority of people - and if something deviates too much from the "ideal," it can look pretty odd, and it's often a sign that the bike doesn't fit properly, or perhaps the bike's owner doesn't know any better. I mean, if someone's bike has a saddle tilted at some extreme angle, it's possible the owner has arrived at the unusual position after many miles of trial-and-error and has found that it's the only position that lets them ride happily for miles upon miles. But more likely, the person is a noob who has no idea why his various body parts are going numb after a ride of only a couple of miles.

The subject of the "right" setup will probably never garner universal agreement, but it can generate some interesting discussion. One well-known polemic on the subject can be found on the Velominati site (see The Rules) and the subject was recently discussed at length on the Classic Rendezvous Google group. It can be fun to hear different people's opinions on the "proper" setup -- and so here are my Retrogrouch Rules on Proper Bike Setup.

Collector Kevin Kruger has a lovely old 1960s Galmozzi that I featured here on the blog last year. Looking at photos of the rest of Kevin's collection on Flickr, I couldn't help but be struck by the fact that most of his bikes (and he has quite a collection) are superb examples of how a classic road bike should be set up. Take this Colnago for instance:

For a classic steel race bike, it would be hard to find fault with this.
Saddle:

There ought to be a law against
this.
Should be level - or at least close to it. Some people may need a small amount of tilt forward, or back, but more than a couple of degrees of tilt either way is often a sign of inexperience, or poor bike fit. For most riders, nose too high leads to numbness in the genitalia. Nose too low leads to sore hands, neck, and shoulders. I see a lot of street "fixies" that have saddles tilted drastically nose down. I don't know if that's got something to do with a riding style that relies on performing mad skids, or unusual brakeless dismounts, but either way, it's apparent that the bikes aren't actually ridden in any practical sense.

For saddle height, the old rule in the classic era was a "fistful of post" (maybe 4 - 5") though on road racing bikes from at least about the '70s and later, because of evolutionary changes in geometry, expect to see a little more than a fistful. Larger frames will often have (and/or need) a little more seat post showing than on smaller frames. But on a classic steel road bike, having a whole lot of seatpost showing (like 7" or more) is a sign that the frame is probably too small for the rider.

Bars:

There are a number of variations on the classic drop bar - some with deeper or shallower drops, some with ramps that are roughly parallel to the drops, and some that have ramps that dive steeply to the brake levers. It seems to me that most of them look best when the drops point down slightly from level, with the bar ends pointing in the vicinity of the rear brake. This has a practical reason, because when riding down in the drops, having a bit of a downward angle makes for a more natural hand/wrist position for most riders.

On a classic road racing bike, like the Colnago shown above, the tops of the bars might be somewhere between 1 - 3 inches below the top of the saddle. On a more touring-oriented bike, the difference in height would likely be less. More than 3 inches in difference is another indication that the frame might be too small for the rider. Yes, some people like to "slam" the stem all the way down to the headset, but on a classic steel bike, I think that looks affected.

Brake Levers and Cables:

Line up the lower tips of the brake levers with the bottom of the handlebar drops. The way I do that is with a straight edge (a piece of aluminum flat bar stock works well) and a rubber band. I affix the straight edge to the handlebar end using the rubber band. It then projects forward at the same angle as the drops, and I can then adjust brake lever position so they just touch the straight edge.

Not "too much" cable! If the cables exit from the top of the brake levers, as opposed to aero routing under the bar tape, then there should not be huge loops of cable springing up over the bars. Enough for a smooth arch, and enough that the cables don't bind when the bars are turned or the brakes are applied. Also, it just looks "right" if the arches of cable on the left and right are balanced. It can help to start with the front cable -- get a smooth arch from the lever to the brake caliper, passing up and over the bar. Then get the rear cable to match the size/height of the arch up front - cross the cables behind the bars - then work on the arch at the rear of the bike too. Again, smooth, not too much cable. It should exit the rear cable guide gently in a continuous arc. Too long, and there will be double curves. Too short, and it will pull or bind when the rear brake is applied.

If it worked for Eddy. . . 

A lot of riders from the baby boom era or earlier like to say "if it worked for Eddy . . ." So here are Eddy's brake cables:

Smooth, even arches. No huge loops of excess cable.

Wheels, Quick Releases, and Tires:

On a classic steel road bike, black sidewalls are practically a crime against nature. It's possibly acceptable on a bloated carpet fiber frame with carpet fiber rims - but looks bad on a classic vintage road machine. When using clincher tires, the tire labels should be lined up with the valve stem. That's not just an aesthetic affectation -- it can help when it comes time to locate and fix a punctured tire. On sew-ups, the label placement is up to the mercy of the manufacturer, but to the best of my knowledge, many of them line up that way (though not all of them). Labels should be visible/readable from the drive side of the bike.

On a bike with horizontal dropouts in back, I've seen different recommendations for wheel placement. Some reputable and well-respected enthusiasts insist that on a racing bike, the wheel should be as far forward in the slot as possible, giving the shortest possible wheelbase. I'm more of the opinion that it should be centered in the dropout, so that the line of the seatstay intersects the center of the wheel axle. To my eye that just looks best.

Quick release location is practically a religious issue, but I have my preferences. Functionally, I think it best when the lever is closed so that it is roughly parallel to the fork blade in front, or the seatstay in the rear. It is easier to close the lever when you can wrap a hand around the lever and the frame member, and easier to open it again if it doesn't cross over the frame member. Visually, it looks good when both of the levers point to the rear of the bike, so I find that acceptable.

Again, refer to Eddy. . .

Eddy's front QR lever points back to the rear wheel. His rear QR points up at his saddle, roughly parallel to the seatstay. However, he wasn't always consistent with that. I've seen photos of Eddy racing where both levers pointed to the rear of the bike, and a couple where the front lever pointed upward, roughly parallel to the fork blade.
What is unacceptable to my eye is a front quick release lever pointing forward. It just seems unnatural. Oh - and quick release levers should be on the left side of the bike unless you're running Campagnolo Cambio Corsa gear changers.

Disclaimers:

Taking a close look at my '73 Mercian, I'm thinking I might need
 to trim a little off those brake cables. Otherwise, looking pretty good.
OK - as I've already mentioned, the only rule that is truly inviolable is the one that says that the setup should work for the rider. Also, these rules mainly apply to classic steel bikes up to the late '80s - or at least designed to emulate the classic look and proportions. Obviously, modern bikes with their bloated frames and sloping top tubes will have nearly a foot of post showing, and their shallow drop "anatomic" handlebars with integrated brake/shift levers won't adhere to the rules, either. Touring bikes and dedicated commuting rigs have a different mission in life, too, so many of the Retrogrouch Rules simply don't apply.

Do all my bikes strictly adhere? Well, looking closely at them, it might be possible to find a discrepancy or two here and there, but it's pretty clear that these aesthetic considerations are something I strive for when I build a bike.

Anybody got anything to add to the list?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Again With The Solid Tires? Really?



Two years ago I wrote that we appear to be in the midst of a flurry of airless tire "innovations," all of them apparently hoping nobody will notice that such things have been tried almost since forever, and never catch on for some very good reasons.

The two latest entries into the solid-tire death match apparently come from the same creators, even though they have totally different designs. One is the NEXO Tire, and the other is the Ever Tire. The NEXO Tire is designed to fit onto existing rims, while the Ever Tire is sold as a complete wheel package. Both systems have been rolled into one Kickstarter campaign.

The creators of course seem pretty excited about their innovations. From the Kickstarter ad: "What happens when you mix the A-Team, Batman and Uni-Kitty's magic horn? We don’t know either but we’re pretty sure they hate flat tires too. . . While trying not to overstate the awesomeness of our discoveries, we think we’re offering two solutions that rival the innovation of toilet paper (well… pretty close)."

Rivaling toilet paper? That is pretty radical awesomeness.

Apparently aware that solid rubber tires have been done to death, the creators of NEXO tires would like to convince us that their tires are different - and not truly even solid. And not actually rubber, either. 

The company insists they aren't "solid" tires - but they look pretty solid to me.  Those plastic pins are what hold the tire to the rim.
You see, the tires are molded in one piece from a "macromolecular material" which sounds to me like some kind of polymer foam. In fact, that's exactly what it is - and the distinction between a silicone polymer foam and foam rubber is what chemistry textbooks are for.

From their ad: "NEXO tire is formed by NEXELL with millions of cells filled with noble gas-N2, not only provides stable pressure, and take the guess work out of tire pressure." Yes, there may be tiny little cells full of nitrogen, but the overall effect is that of a solid but somewhat springy polymer. Notice that they mention tire pressure a couple of times. "Take the guess work out of tire pressure"? Well, yeah - since there's nothing to fill! 

On the whole, the NEXO actually looks A LOT like the Tannus tires that I wrote about two years ago. Those were also made by injecting a polymer foam into a mold - and like the NEXO tires, attached to the rim using little plastic pins. Also like the Tannus tires, the NEXO tires will be available in a variety of colors.

Then there are the Ever Tires. These ones do seem to be made with a different material than the NEXO tires - a solid material that has large holes molded into the structure to give the tires some semblance of "spring." The Ever Tires are apparently installed onto the rim at the factory, and therefore are only available as a complete wheel system, so if you wear out an Ever Tire, I suppose that means you have to replace the whole wheel. But don't worry. The company claims the tires will last at least 5,000 miles, and while some of us probably ride that many miles in a single year, I doubt anyone who would buy the Ever Tires will put that many miles on their bike in a lifetime.

They are available in a variety of sizes for different types of bikes.

No possible way those holes in the Ever Tire can mimic the cushioning of an actual air-filled tire. And even the makers are careful not to imply that they can.
From their ad:

Q: What kind of bike can I put the Ever Tires on?
A: You can put lipstick on a cat but that doesn't make it pretty. While you can put our tires on any bike these tires are not for the elitist. Avid mountain bikers or those looking for added cushion may find that while these tires are great at avoiding flats they are still not as soft as an air filled tire.

That's a ringing endorsement. And you can "put lipstick on a cat but that doesn't make it pretty?" What the hell is that even supposed to mean?

Here's another:

Q: Do Ever Tires handle differently than a regular tire?
A: In our testing we've found that most people can't tell a difference at all. If you're a serious road biker then these are not the tires for you. They run stiffer than your typical air filled tires.

So who are these testers who "can't tell a difference at all" when they're riding on these solid dead treads? Not "elitists," that's for sure.

Would they be good for commuters? Maybe if they don't get caught in the rain. The makers say, "We strongly recommend that when riding in wet conditions especially when cornering that you slow down." In other words, whatever rubber or polymer material these are molded from doesn't have such good grip on wet roads.

The makers also acknowledge that, like all other airless tires, these have more rolling resistance - but they point out multiple times that only an "elitist" would notice.

Here was an odd claim: "Most pneumatic tires have a reputation for being heavy but Nexo tires are revolutionizing opinions." Since when do pneumatic tires have a reputation for being heavy? Did they mean that airless tires have a reputation for being heavy? Because, yes, they do. The makers claim that the weight of their NEXO tires rivals that of heavy duty puncture-resistant tires with heavy duty tubes and liners. Maybe so. Then they go on to make the point that you'll also save the weight of carrying a pump. Gotcha.

Not for "elitists," road cyclists, mountain bikers, commuters who get caught in the rain. Not for anyone capable of noticing a harsh ride or who values "cushioning." All in all, these are probably the perfect tires for that bike that dwells in basement or garage its whole lifetime.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hi-Lo Hubs

I've written before about Campagnolo's excellent Record hubsets from the '60s through the '80s. Made with only the smallest (and primarily cosmetic) changes from 1958 through approximately 1985, the Record hubs were so well made that it's not unusual to find examples that have seen decades of use and still spin like new. They were fully user-serviceable, and replacement parts such as axles or bearing cones were so plentiful that they can still be found today, so it isn't difficult to keep the old hubs going and going.

One very cool variation on the old Record hubs was the HiLo rear hub, which featured a low-flange on the left side, with a high-flange on the drive side. The point was to equalize spoke tension on the left and right sides of a dished rear wheel, thereby making the wheel stronger, though in reality, it actually makes little or no difference. No matter. The HiLo hubs were never very common, but they had such a cool "trick" factor that some people find them extra desirable. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I guess I'm one of those people.

I'm not positive if this is new-old-stock or what, but it sure
gleams like new. Inside and out, it is perfect. Functional jewelry.
I have a set of wheels built with a HiLo hub on my green Mercian, and those get pretty regular use. And just recently I managed to acquire another that I'll eventually get around to building into a super special set of wheels for a very special bike.

A bit of history: The HiLo hub was originally made for the West German cycling team for the '72 Olympics. They were a special request item, and while they attracted a fair amount of attention at the time, I'm not sure they were made available to the general public - or if they were, I don't know how many might have been made. I've read that another limited run of the hubs may have been made later in the '70s. The thing is, they were the kind of product that people would hear about - like "rumor has it" of their existence, but to actually find them may have taken a bit of doing, and they didn't appear in any of the catalogs in that decade. The scarcity and the whispers probably helped to create a mythical aura around them, making them seem even more special. A white whale, if you will.

1982 Olympic catalog scan from VeloBase.com
The HiLo hubs didn't become "official" until 1982 when they appeared in a single catalog, the "Olympic Catalog" which was released in preparation for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. One catalog - then they disappeared again forever.

I've done some searching to get an idea of how many of these hubs might have been made, but that information doesn't seem to be available. I did find one article that suggested that the early runs of the hubs, around the '72 Olympics, and a run in the later '70s, might have been around 500 each. How many more might have been made in '82? A thousand? More? Less? Who knows. Regardless, however uncommon they might have seemed back in their day, they do come up fairly regularly on eBay these days. In fact, I'd venture to say that eBay has made them easier to find today than they were when they were new.

So, back to the claim that the high/low flange design made for stronger wheels. People still debate it, and there are some who are convinced they are effective, but Jobst Brandt devoted a section in his authoritative book The Bicycle Wheel to the HiLo hub design. His basic conclusion is that it really makes no difference in spoke tension or wheel strength. He wrote:

"Hubs with a high flange on the right and a low flange on the left have been made in an attempt to counteract rim offset (dish) in multispeed rear wheels. This arrangement has no effect except with radial spoking. Offset, the principal problem with rear wheels, can be reduced only by moving the freewheel farther away from the centerline, or by narrowing the flange spacing. Bringing the left flange closer to the center improves the balance of spoke tension, but only at the expense of reducing lateral strength on both sides of the wheel."

"In a high-low hub the larger diameter of the right flange can help balance tension by about five percent, but only if the spokes are radial. With tangential spoking, no improvement is achieved by the high flange because its spokes have the same length and leave the hub from the same lateral position as the ones from the small flange. . . High-lows cannot reduce vertical loads, the principal cause of spoke failures. Torque loads have so little effect that high low hubs offer no improvement over conventional hubs."

There's no difference in spoke length?
Looking at the different flange diameters, it seems to defy logic, but Brandt was essentially correct. I ran some numbers through a spoke length calculator and found that the right side spokes would indeed be shorter than the left side spokes -- but with a dished rear wheel, that's nearly always the case. But comparing the length of right side spokes for a low-flange hub vs. right side on a high flange hub, I only came up with 1 mm difference on a 3-cross wheel, which is negligible.

Notice that Brandt points out that there can be an effect on spoke tension if one uses radial spoking - so should a person use radial spoking on the rear wheel with a HiLo hub? Well, probably not - as radial spoked wheels cannot transmit torque as well -- the torque applied to the rear wheel under pedaling load "winds up" the spokes a small amount (so they are not technically "radial" anymore) but this movement, however slight, induces wear in the hub's flange, and increases fatigue to the spokes, thereby increasing the likelihood of breakage. So ultimately, they are just a cool item that makes for interesting conversation and produces bike-lust, drooling, or envy among other bike geeks. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose.

Clockwise from top left: Hi-E circa 1970s, Phil Wood circa 1970s,
Velo Orange (current), and White Industries (current).
The HiLo hub design was picked up by some other makers, like Hi-E and Phil Wood in the '70s. There are some versions still available today, like from White Industries, and Velo Orange, though the difference in flange diameters on these current models is not as pronounced as on the earlier designs. One company (I can't recall which) has offered HiLo hubs that are the reverse of most other designs -- that is, the larger flange is on the left instead of the right. So there must still be an argument out there that the HiLo design has an advantage, or it could just be a cool old gimmick that refuses to die off.

If I can track down the vintage rims I'd like to build with, I'll have some more posted about my next wheel building project. Cheers.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Wool Jersey Collection

I got out for a ride on this chilly but sunny, beautiful fall day. Days like this are perfect for a classic wool jersey, and of course that's what I wore. The ride and the weather got me looking through my collection of wool - most of which is vintage stuff.

I took the green and white Mercian for the ride today.
Not that it's necessarily the most interesting topic for a blog post, I thought I might snap some pictures of my wool jersey collection so people can see what I had to select from for the ride.

Here's what I ended up wearing today. An extra-thick (and surprisingly soft) wool jersey from Castelli.
I enjoy the little scorpion patch on the shoulder of the Castelli jersey, and the extra tag on the zipper pull. Such a great look.
I also have this green long-sleeve jersey from Castelli. It's not quite as thick as the yellow one above, but has awesome style wth the asymmetric stripes.
I love the look of this Giordana long-sleeve wool jersey with the Cinelli logo embroidered into it. 
For even colder weather, I have this Giordana-made wool sweater. It has the same chain-stitch embroidery Cinelli logo as the one above.
Among my short-sleeved wool, I have this Woolistic Cinzano jersey with the embroidered logo. Great looking and incredibly soft wool. Breaking Away, anyone?
Traditional blue and yellow. Unknown brand, unknown vintage, but probably early '80s. A little on the scratchy side - and like most old jerseys like this, the zipper is really short. Great look, though.
Classic-looking red and black. Unknown brand or vintage.
Unknown brand or vintage. Fairly soft, though.
Nice-looking red and blue. Labelled "Torelli" and made with 80% wool, 20% acrylic.

I have a few other old jerseys that I have really enjoyed over the years, but unfortunately got some small holes in them. Must have been moths, dangit. I've packed them away hoping that I might be able to get them repaired sometime. Since that discovery, I've come up with a better way to store my wool jerseys. Now I fold them up neatly and slip them into gallon-sized ziplock bags. With the short-sleeved and lighter-weight ones I can fit 2 per bag. The heavier ones only fit 1 per bag. Slip them in, squeeze most of the air out, then zip them closed, and they don't take up a bunch of space. I'm sure they should be safer that way.

Not much else to say - wherever you are, I hope you're able to enjoy the fall weather on a bike.