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, March 26, 2017

There are wrong answers. There are dumb questions.


Let us consider style.

Whatever the self-evident merits of a duly earned style-over-substance critique, it does not qualify as a universal truth. Style *instead* of substance? Sure, that’s a bad thing, always. But once a minimum substantive level is attained the general rule is, in fact, for substance to increase at least in lockstep with style and often as a leading-factor indicator. It goes the other way, too. Once we’re talking about a base level of substance, of merit, style only goes up in tandem with function until there is a negative correlation with less style and more substance at the high end where the law of diminishing return kicks into a negative ratio.

It is at the margins where the failure piles up. Zero substance equals zero style. Top function often travels the edge of the envelope with backward progress on style points. This is where we find ourselves now with the highest end bicycle componentry and the most advanced materials. At the far reaches of the universe light begins to bend and time warps and woofs. So you have cranks that resemble nothing so much as single-piece forged-iron cranks off a Wal-mart Huffy in 1988, the rings like tin pie plates. It’s getting uglier and slogging it off on high-performance. Campy, too, of course. It’s not immune, only more stark in its failure.

They don’t make a Gore-Tex Burberry coat. (Maybe they do? I see no immediate Google-search evidence they do, but it seems quite reasonable they might. Point being, it’s not going to be as cool as the Burberry in that picture of Calvin Trillin and his wife on a London sidewalk in the 1960s.)

Blogs/UltraTorqueCranks.jpgCampagnolo at its best is art by way of design in service to engineering. This is so through different iterations, different eras. The cycle repeats. At the moment it has been lost and engineering is understood as design, no matter how it looks or feels. Something is squandered.

Consider first an example that isn’t on the bicycle at all, the documentation that comes with the components. It’s paperwork, really. The instructions. Who reads the instructions? Well, the 2017 version of me does. I’m almost certain the 1995 version of me did not.

The design of these documents tells the tale. The 21-year-old user manuals are designed. The modern version is Blogs/CranksetManual.jpgtypeset. The 1995 manual is sweet in its faulting, slightly off translation into English by what one imagines to be an earnest Italian grandmother. This decade’s attempt is just as pidgin, but then it’s been given for any last-minute edits to your uncle, your dad’s youngest brother who was always spoiled by your grandma and graduated law school to become a personal injury attorney.

The result features phrases so familiar in our era, but 100 percent absent in a time not so long ago.

Blogs/RearDerailleur.jpgCan anyone legitimately argue a single lawsuit has ever been forestalled, avoided or settled by the language about to be cited? If so, it would be the first to make such a claim, and certainly the only one who did so would be the only one?


The adjustments of the lower and upper end stroke of the rear derailleur are carried out by specialized personnel.

An inaccurately adjusted rear derailleur may cause malfunction and dangerous situations which could cause accidents, personal injury or death.

I’ve looked. Nowhere, in all the literature from the Campagnolo Athena groupset from 1994, is the word death used. I look upon this absence favorably. Death is a subject antithetical to joy, the chief byproduct of bicycle riding.

It goes far beyond words. The ’94 group is represented in its constituent parts by simple abstra-conic designs. They are, and there is no other word for it, beautiful. The manuals these days are on newsprint without any graphic design, elegantly simple or no.

Because looking excruciatingly stylish is no longer a primary attribute of bicycle parts, or Campagnolo parts. The group I purchased from Colorado Cyclist came with a crankset quite ugly. Four arms to the chain ring spindle, spread wide. There is no arched filigreed finery. I suppose it’s lighter. I suppose it’s stiffer, whatever that means. I suppose it’s stronger.

I know it’s uglier.

Blogs/CranksSideBySide.jpgI sent the ugly cranks back. I ordered up the cranks from the year’s previous iteration (from Britain – the Internet is a wonderful thing), utterly compatible with the other parts of the 11-speed drivetrain while retaining something significant of the arcs and arms and bolt pattern of a more classic form. This substitution came at a significant reduction in cost (Brexit is a wonderful thing) and, I would say, a sizable increase in both performance and cool. Only time will tell on the former. The latter is demonstrably true.

Just look.

Contrary to popular poppycock, there is such a thing as a stupid question. I’ve long and vehemently insisted this is so. There are all kinds of stupid questions. I’ve heard a bunch of them and asked a goodly number myself. There are also bad ideas. In addition, there sometimes is harm in asking. Finally, there is only one right answer to this question.

The outdated version has an axle of titanium, it’s a Campy Super Record, the carbon layup is engagingly marbled – I don’t know how much of this is enhanced or designed in and how much is happenstance. Whichever way, the swirls, finish and depth of the material is superior. (In practice – and, spoiler alert, I’ve now finished putting Hugo Black together and am actively riding it around North Florida and South Georgia while I finish writing about the experience of fitting pieces and adjusting mechanics. It’s incredible how these chain rings and cranks do in action.) I can’t speak to how the newer-fangled Chorus cranks and bottom bracket would have performed. They could not possibly be better.

There is only one answer. Let’s go for a ride.

Sun, March 26, 2017 | link          Comments

Friday, March 10, 2017

Itís whatís on the inside that counts


Haled as a feature, it is instead a necessity of the carbon-fiber bicycle frame that brake and derailleur cables must course through the inside of the frame.

Blogs/downtubeinternal.jpgInfernal internal routing. No cable stops are brazed, bolted or buttoned on to the fragile strength of the epoxied fabric.

It’s a clean look. No unsightly strands of twisted cable running along the down tube, no housing disrupting the lines of the top tube. All cables and all housing run within the tubes of the frame save for the front and back 6 inches.

Only the simple matter of stringing cable and housing from points A to points B to connect the four levers with two brakes (front and rear) and two derailleurs (front and rear). And there’s the flub.

Park Tool makes an internal-frame cable-routing kit with long sheathed wires tipped by magnets or awls or rubber caps along with a strong magnet all designed to guide a twisted-strand cable unseen through the innards and out the back-side ports, small appertures leading to the derailleurs or brake.

It doesn’t work.

Blogs/BottomBracket.jpgHere’s what works: Thread the cable through into the tube, jam it down and gently poke, poke, poke until the end emerges from the hole. Hope it’s the right hole. If not, pull back and poke yet again. Gently.

All needles got threaded. Pinch bolts are tightened down, limiting screws are set, adjusting barrels are turned. In the air, on the workstand, it shifts with accuracy and authority. It remains to be seen how it will perform under load in real life.

Let’s go for a ride to find out.

Frame: 1070 grams

Fork: 410

Seatpost: 304

Saddle: 540

Headset: 85

Stem: 155

Handlebars: 269

Levers: 350

Cables and housing: 354

Running total: 3537 grams, 7.79775 pounds 

Fri, March 10, 2017 | link          Comments

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Grab hold, thereís a bull and itís got horns


It seems they call this the cockpit now, in the popular writing and yapping about cycling.

It’s the space where you sit and steer, the open yet somehow defined air between and connecting the seat and the handlebars and featuring the combo brakeshift levers otherwise known as the most consequential advance in bicycle technology within my lifetime and not significantly updated or improved in the intervening 27 years.

So. Cockpit.

Blogs/FullBars.jpgThat seriously skeptical tone aside, this part of the build-out might well represent the biggest deal to feature in Hugo Black. Here we go with what appears a small thing, though is quite possibly the biggest change in the offing. The Cloud Bike has got Cinelli handlebars in the bullhorn style, an apt description. HB will feature these FSA bars with a tight turn into drops beneath a flat, broad top. I don’t spend a lot of time in the drops while riding, so the bulk of my time is spent palms curving the downward sloping outside of the bull’s horns. Hugo’s reach and curve and roundness and pressure point and weight shifts will be different, and not just a little.

Blogs/SpotlightLevers.jpgIn part because here come the Italians. The first appearance of the Campagnolo Chorus groupset happens here with the levers.

These Chorus carbon fiber jobs are fine in the looks division, but it’s the guts I seek and figure to represent a real advance in how I ride. The shape, too. Here is form as function, absolute function. The levers on Hugo Black branch out straight and stout almost in the way of the old, clunky aluminum U-shaped aerobar on the 1988 Cannondale when I bought it in 1994 and used experimentally for three or four rides before ditching the entire contraption. The Campag levers, though, are much better and won’t require the indignity of the forearm rests while encouraging the same posture on the bike; excuse me, in the cockpit.

Blogs/BarsLeverCable.jpgThe proof will be in the pedaling. Let’s go for a ride.

Frame:  1070 grams

Fork: 410

Seatpost: 304

Saddle: 540

Headset: 85

Stem: 155

Handlebars: 269

Levers: 350


Running total: 3183 grams, 7.017314 pounds

Wed, March 1, 2017 | link          Comments

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