Paul Flemming

Writing on Two Wheels

Writing on Two Wheels
Missouri Showme
And furthermore...
Reach out

Spin along for posts on cycling and cycles
A from-the-wheels-up view of rides, builds and fixes.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Cut once

Measure twice, check it again, do it once more, add your sums to check your work, truth check against reality and then, and only then, cut once.

Blogs/fork.jpgAlong with Hugo Black’s frame, its fork and steerer are both carbon fiber as well. It will need to be cut to fit. I got a saw guide to clamp into the table vise and a carbon blade for the hacksaw. I read all the literature.

When I built the Cloud Bike 21 years ago, I did so without the benefit of the Internet. Now I’ve got with technical manuals and user’s manuals. Park Tools is online, offering very specific instructional videos, step-by-step guides and situational advice. Manufacturers of other components, including Cane Creek for its headsets and Thomson for its stem (and set-back seatpost – there’s that spoiler again) had their own manuals with specs and tolerances.

Blogs/headtube.jpgThere were a couple ways to figure out where I should cut the steerer. I calculated – measured and added is more accurate – the combined height of the headset elements. By my ciphering, I needed to cut to 225 mm.

I hammered the crown race onto the fork and layered on the sealed bearings, poked the steerer through the head tube, sealed bearings, spacers, stem, top cover, top cap. The mark from my precise calculated measurements was still visible. I’d over-missed the mark by 6 mm. I’d failed to properly account for the required further 3 mm at the top as instructed. Instead of adding, I’d subtracted. Or else, instead of subtracting, I’d added. One or the other. It’s unclear.

Blogs/forksteminstalled.jpgThere is no way to put hair back on your head.

So, of course, I cut to the shorter mark.

It worked out. I like to try to add it all up in my head while I pedal. Let’s go for a ride.



Carbon road frame: 1070 grams

Carbon fork: 419

Seatpost: 304

Saddle: 540

Headset: 85

Stem: 155

Running total: 2564 grams, 5.652652 pounds 


Sun, February 26, 2017 | link          Comments

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Black in the saddle again


The cadence is going to pick up here.

Less seat-tube gazing. More threadlock and cable routing.

(For instance, there will only be this short redirection rather than a circuitous detour about how life is defined by bicycles of ever-greater range from the time I was 3 years old through to 51. I still relate to my bicycle the same way 15-year-old me did when I first rode myself out of town, away from home. My bicycle means freedom. It is adventure. A bike means conquering the unknown and defining myself by ability to take risks, overcome adversity, power through challenges and figure out solutions. That’s life.)

When first I conceived to put together a new bicycle I thought I’d do so with an aluminum frame again. Despite the technological advancement of and monied fascination with carbon fiber, despite the nostalgic obsession with and romantic delusions caused by steel frames, aluminum had proved itself worthy. The idea of making a different kind of bicycle so I could pursue a different kind of riding – trail riding, for instance, or cyclocross maybe, or a more upright and suitably outfitted touring bike – was never seriously under consideration. I like most of all riding on paved roads, the smoother the better. I can go farther, faster. What else could I want?

I was looking at about $500 on the low end to get the kind of used frame I sought. I did find some powder coat resources in town, but that meant hundreds more. A conservative estimate for an aluminum frame was $750. Very conservative.

Blogs/FrameSeatClamp.jpgOn the Nashbar website I found a carbon-fiber frame, no-name and black, for a third less. My cursory research revealed there’s a vaxxer-like discussion in corners of the web about carbon fiber. It was not convincing.

I ordered the frame.

A fat Nashbar seatpost fit the cavernous 31.6 mm seat tube.

I smeared a daub of carbon anti-seize lube on the seat tube – it’s lubricant, but with tiny grabby bits to stop slippage within the slick carbon tubing, slippage all the more likely because of the limited torque on the seat clamp. The anti-seize part comes from the lube acting as a barrier between the alloy of the seat tube and the carbon fiber, stopping any exchange of electrons that happens between dissimilar metallic surfaces creating a rudimentary battery and inducing an electrical charge that bonds the material. Without the lube, a seat tube can seize up, stuck for good inside the frame.

Blogs/NashbarSeatpost.jpgThe seatpost was long and straight. Spoiler alert: A better option would soon present itself and the Nashbar seatpost would be thrown off the roster.

Until then, though, the seatpost was perfect. The fragile frame – weak against certain kinds of forces, very strong against others – was not an option to hold the bicycle-in-the-making onto the workstand. I couldn’t risk using the clamp to hug the top tube of the frame. Anything going crossways could crush the carbon tubing. So I turned the workstand clamp 90 degrees, snugged it around the aluminum seatpost and flipped it closed with a few tightening twists to finish the job.

I’m intrigued by the weight of this bicycle, but not obsessed. To wit: There is no question about weight when it comes to the saddle. The Brooks Team Professional is the only bike seat I’ll ever ride unless someone wants to pay me to do otherwise.

Form and function in equal measure.

Blogs/BrooksTeamPro2.jpgThe Brooks makes me think immediately, directly and exclusively of a 1972 Peugeot 10-speed. When I was a kid that was the bike, that was the ride. Coolest bicycle on the planet. Beautiful still. Utter nostalgia. That’s what made me call a New Orleans bike shop in 1998 and have them sell me a Brooks saddle. I rode it, my sit bones broke in the treated leather and the most comfortable saddle ever was born. Every other bike seat I’ve ever ridden caused pain. Not the Brooks. After scores of miles sitting on it in a day, and hopping on the next, it’s a pleasure to ride.

For Hugo Black I found this one. Black leather. Copper-plated rails. Hand-hammered rivets.

I can’t wait to break this one in. Let’s go for a ride.

Carbon road frame: 1070 grams

Carbon fork: 419

Seatpost: 304

Saddle: 540

Running total: 2324 grams, 5.123543 pounds

Thu, February 16, 2017 | link          Comments

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Cloud Bike, a retrospective



Days like Saturday make me question this project.

Eleven miles out from Havana, Florida, I leaned over the turn onto Swamp Creek Road in Calvary, Georgia, counter steered with power through and out of the corner. My Cloud Bike was solid, silent and stylin’ as I pulled forward with the wind now at my back. Here was a new route on unknown roads and featuring new towns and landscapes. This is cycling to me. Heading out along the county roads that are essentially elaborate bike paths cars are allowed to use, pulling a turn-by-turn cue sheet from a jersey pocket or out from a shorts leg. Along the way I’d pass pine stands and pecan groves and tobacco fields and played-out dirt farms. There were dissolute fencerows and acrid pasture burns and thrumming wellheads pumping to fill a new pond. On this sunlit gift of a day in February, right here on Swamp Creek there was the embodiment of hope: Black baldy beef cattle munched among mature pecan trees interspersed with pecan saplings fenced-away from browsing lips and teeth. It takes a lot of imagination, a lot of faith, to plant a tree you will likely never see bear fruit.

Blogs/GadsdenCourthouseCloud.jpgA bicycle’s greatest virtue on this day is not light weight nor cool paint job nor Italian components but rather dependability. Not a stolid certainty, it’s true, but bulletproof excellence. This the Cloud Bike has in full and thus I can roll through the countryside with confidence.

This new bicycle has big tires to fill.

Beneath the cumulus and sky of the Cloud Bike is a white 1988 Cannondale, the brand name rendered in elongated blue block, aggressively lower-case letters.

(This post is looking backward, providing the backstory of the Cloud Bike and how it affects my approach to Hugo Black. Once this is out of the way we’ll be going forward with the build. Thank you for your patience.)

I drove into Springfield from West Plains in 1994, a one-way trip of 116 miles, to purchase a road bike. I don’t have a record of it, but memory tells me I paid $340, but my recall could be faulty. Such a sum strikes me as princely, and it certainly would have done back then in the first Clinton Administration, even as I now dole out a similar sum for a crankset and bottom bracket alone. The seller lived in a duplex up by the public golf course along Interstate 44. I’m pretty sure it was not stolen. I rode that Cannondale as it came in my first century on the initial day of that fall’s version of the MS 150, Springfield to Lebanon, chop-shop capital of Missouri.

The bicycle must have been listed for sale in a classified advertisement in the Springfield News-Leader or the Penny Power free weekly shopper. These publications, these names and phrases, these business models seem impossibly quaint now. It sounds to my own ears like a description of the Gutenberg press or a how-to drawing for opening a ‘70s Coors push-tab can; strictly of its time and a stark anachronism now.

It shows how much has changed. I won’t go through the Old Man’s Laundry List of how it Yousta Bee. Here’s the deal, though. However much has changed in the broader world, the bicycle has not.

Two wheels, one in train behind the other. Cranks. Mechanical advantage provided by gears connected with a chain. There you have it. After halting starts with the velocipede and penny-farthing we have had the basic modern bicycle in place for more than 120 years. The differences between my Cloud Bike and Hugo Black are the same kind of changes experienced for more than a century – reflecting advances in materials and technical refinements, not disruptive changes to the underlying idea of “bicycle.”

I’m reading a terrific book about Gino Bartali. The bicycles he rode to Tour de France victories in 1938 and 1948 both would be quite familiar to riders six decades and more hence. Pneumatic tires, a drivetrain with multiple sprockets changed by means of a derailleur, caliper rim brakes. Versions of these were rudimentary, heavy and unreliable by modern standards, but working on the very same principles still in play.

It’s very little indeed that has changed in the years between my Cloud Bike with its aluminum Athena components and the carbon fiber Chorus and Record parts that will outfit Hugo Black. There are 36 percent more gears in the rear sprocket. I look forward to weighing the whole, riding bike – water bottles, tool bag, pedals, the whole shebang as it’s actually ridden on the scale – to compare.

None of that stuff mattered when I built the Cloud Bike. None of it makes a difference to me with Hugo Black.

Blogs/peacecloudbike.jpgThe Cloud Bike is about beauty. It’s about design serving function. It’s about form and utility finding their highest purposes together.

I stripped the Cannondale of its parts and delivered the bare frameset to a friend who owned an autobody shop. Another friend, his wife, was a graphic designer and artist. Randy at Austin’s Body Shop put a beautiful sky blue coat on the bicycle. I tried to pay Randy. He said I could not afford his services. Jeanne airbrushed the clouds expertly and beautifully. It was exactly what I wanted, precisely as I had envisioned it. (And therein begins a tale. An entirely different tale ensues, but to this point in the narrative and for these purposes this is all true, complete and sufficient.)

The Italian parts arrived. I had a work bench in the garage and some bicycle-specific tools, but nothing extensive. I was aware I didn’t know precisely what I was doing, but I was confident (the confidence of the mediocre white male we’ve all come to see is so dangerous) in my ability to figure it out. I also had a generous view of my margin for error.

I did not, for instance, feel the need to face the bottom bracket or headtube. It’s an operation that requires specific, expensive, single-purpose tools. Material – aluminum in the case of the Cannondale frame – is removed to insure the surface of the two sides of the frame are precisely parallel. I judged that unnecessary. This proved a good bet, but it was anything but assured.

Blogs/ApalacheCloud.jpgI did not build the wheels. I’ve built wheels, but not these. Plenty came together, it seems to me now, by happenstance, by accident. The steerer on the fork was the right length and right threading for the Campy headset. I know I studied meticulously all the compatibility variations, or thought I did. It’s very hard for me to believe I got it right in a pre-internet age. The sheer number of possible combinations are too great for me to have gotten everything to work either by design or by chance. It’s got to be one or the other. Maybe both? 

I installed the bottom bracket and cranks – more variables I managed somehow to get right – setting the bearing cups, packing the bearings in waterproof grease, threading the steel axle through and dialing in adjustable cups to perfection. You’ve got to lever it down to just the free-wheeling side of no lateral play. But not a quarter turn more. The bearings can’t bind. It’s a matter of touch.

Then the cranks get screwed down onto the threaded axle. I’d put my weight over those wrenches, muscling it with all I had on the misbegotten theory that tight is good, tighter is better. This approach would be disastrous with Hugo Black, its carbon frame and its carbon components. Tolerances are slim and a too-tight bolt, beyond spec, can easily crack the frame – a costly mistake.

Back then with the aluminum Cloud Bike, though, derailleurs, cables, handlebars and shifters all got bolted, strung, installed and inserted and everywhere there was a bolt or a nut it was tightened as much as I could muster. Remarkably, it all worked. The gearing I’d fretted over – each of the eight sprockets could be specified, starting at 11 or 13 and moving through to 25. Wrong choices were not available as a combination, so there was some self-protection offered by the Campy folks. The short-cage rear derailleur would be able to accommodate every possible combo, by design. There were 53 teeth on the big chain ring with 25 on the top end of the sprockets. The rear cassette didn’t have a 27-tooth option. It wouldn’t have worked.

Now, 21 years later, the longevity and quality, dependability and sweetness of the Campy is beyond doubt. And I hedge.

It’s strategic. I want to manage expectations – my own. I don’t want to burden Hugo Black with insurmountable standards amplified by nostalgia. And then, I think I’m projecting hope, not wanting this bicycle I’m putting together to surpass the Cloud Bike because it’s newer, because it’s more expensive.

There’s only one way to find out. Let’s go for a ride.

Sat, February 11, 2017 | link          Comments

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