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, October 29, 2017

Restoration rarity

Has a 1993 Bianchi Nyala ever been restored? I think not. It’s nearly a quarter century old. When does an object become vintage? At what age an antique? Is affected insincerity required, because this project is irony-free. There is no statement, only utility. There is no cool factor, only the convenience of materials on hand.

It’s not a fixie. It’s not an artwork. It’s not precious. It is useful. It is bulletproof. It is comfortable.

There is nothing wrong with that.


All the stuff I bought was from Velo Orange. I think they’re selling value components, done right. I wonder, as I do about so many places, about the business model and how it works. I hope it’s making money for good people.

I got a new bottom bracket with sealed bearings for under $40. I estimate the spinning resistance of the axle is reduced by a third. It spins smoove indeed.


New canti brakes that, as you would expect, came with new unhardened brake pads. The components themselves featured fine adjustments to center and dial-in the posts precisely and, thus, improving performance markedly. These changes of course meant replacement of the OEM parts, a good thing in that the originals were plastic-clad crap.

I do not understand the bicycle business now or then. I suspect Bianchi merely assembled the Nyala after speccing out the parts not on the basis of how it worked, but rather how it fit into a budget to deliver margins and sales volume called for in a project prospectus. I was kind of doing the same thing, without having to worry about profit, only containing costs as effectively as possible and a theoretical minimum standard to meet.

I think I made the right decisions.

The headset – the shiny chrome buffed to a mirrored surface and etched with top-drawer graphics – is the essence of smooth. It looks good and does good. And all for $28. A bargain makes the high-performance action seem even more exceptional.


The shifter mounts – going for a cool $65 – are spendy relative to the other parts going on this bike. Compared to other options for shifting (apart from the no-cost alternative of keeping the untenably ugly, rusting, plastic-swaddled, stubby shifters tenured in the position). The mounts in combination with old Suntour shifters from the origin story of the Cloud Bike do have a certain cache of coolness, of street cred as both a hack as well as the standard vintage hipness.

Refurbished parts are now as clean as the day of manufacture. In addition, they are almost certainly more effectively lubricated. The chain and drivetrain are tuned to A#. Pitting on the cones and races of the hubs are less than ideal, but excessive grease and special combo tightening down to a just-wobbling looseness clamped down to true spinning with a tight quick-release squeeze.


As it came together, I was taken by how this bicycle, these components, this machine was achieving its highest possible function. It may be heavy, but the spinning resistance is as low as it goes at each point. It may feature discredited “advances,” but the elliptical chainrings certainly do no harm and are a great conversation starter. It may not hew to fashion, but it strikes its own distinctive profile and stakes a claim to bespoke virtue.

It’s a high bred hybrid.

Sun, October 29, 2017 | link          Comments

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Transforming from hybrid to high-bred

I was 29 years old when I bought this 1993 Bianchi Nyala in a Memphis bike shop off Germantown Road in unincorporated Shelby County. I thought this bicycle was remarkable with a gearing range beyond any I’d ever known and exotic with an elliptical chainring that orbited around the axle in an ovoid hitch-a-loop while rolling along on the none-more-grunge knobby tires. The tires were a skosh beyond 2 inches wide and encapsulated fat tubes holding air at 60 psi.


The machine seemed a wonder to me as I rode it around the west side of West Plains, circumnavigating the golf course and over to the Meek’s Lumber, across the truck route of the federal highway and up the hill on the other side past the old Brill place. Then perhaps back and across and out beyond to a paved county road lined by roadside mailboxes and circling back to the subdivision and the neighborhood and the house.


There were 21 gears. The mechanical advantage ranged from the comfortable gain offered by a modest 48-tooth chainring to an equally mild 13-tooth small-end sprocket. The granny gear and big sprocket offered a negative ratio to spin up steep grades.

Another day and my ride was more direct – out and back straight away on my street and unwaveringly proceeding westward, the concrete of the neighborhood giving way to chip seal beyond the city limits and graded dirt and gravel of the still-further reaches of the road until it gave out and curved into County CC.

First I cranked up, then I blasted down a snow-and-ice covered access road to Kyle’s Landing on the Buffalo National Scenic River in January on this Bianchi. This was the day after I was crowned Citizen of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce. You could look it up.


I discovered two friends who asked me to join them on their early morning rides. I did, and couldn’t keep pace, even with the addition of higher-pressure slicks. (In response, I bought a used road bike. Suddenly, I was able to hold my friends’ wheels. This was destined to become the Cloud Bike.)

For the most part, I stopped riding the Bianchi then. Infrequently I would drag it out to a trail and give the off-road thing yet another try only to once again be by turns bored, overmatched, scared, and frustrated only to hang the bike for another long dormancy. Alternatively, and largely alternately, I’d make a concerted effort to city bike or even commute. Sweat and pants legs and rain showers and darkness and the special awfulness of carrying and using a U-lock would inevitably intervene to persuade me of my folly. I’d give it up.


Here is where we find each other in Ye Olde Bike Shoppe. Lyssa needed a bicycle. The Bianchi needed to gain performance and lose weight with a few required parts replacements. The headset races, for instance, were pitted and no amount of adjustment would make the turning of handlebars smooth. I believe my other choices, the discretionary decisions, realized the greatest cost-benefit ratio – a new bottom bracket with sealed bearings were a low-cost winner, to name one.

I spent just about the same dollars on replacements and upgrades as I did on the original bicycle. Other changes were small but delivered outsize aesthetic improvements. I think the brake cable yokes, for example, are big wins.

The color scheme and design continuity among components is poor. It weighs a wee bit.

It rides like a champ, spins like a mother, and is a looker as a novelty.

We’ll walk through the particulars next time.

Sat, October 21, 2017 | link          Comments

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Cooking up what's next

Our ride to Pensacola last summer was a smashing success. Things went precisely to plan. Contrary to my usual practice, I did not plan too much, did not reach beyond our grasp, did not overdo. We were lucky in weather, mechanics and traffic.


So why push it?

Because I can. 

There's a long stretch of focused, concentrated effort ahead at work, but at the end is the promise of spring break in mid-March. It got me plotting for something to focus on.

Avery and I pedaled the Old Spanish Trail at the end of June, a fake name used as marketing to sell a contrived route -- though its false claims to an explorers' provenance does not diminish its actual historic standing as a harbinger of interstate auto traffic.

Now I turn my eyes to another expedition, this one with more legitimate claims to an historical legacy that reaches back beyond the internal combustion engine. Traveling the Natchez Trace Parkway's run through Mississippi has plenty to recommend it, not least the fact it represents, as conceived, a ridiculous overreach and almost certainly impossible to repeat the good fortune of this year's trek.

Why not?

Sun, October 15, 2017 | link          Comments

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