Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tired Wheel Deal IV: Motobecane Grand Record from the 70s

For all of you out there following the Tired Wheel entries astutely, you will notice that I have skipped over entry number III and proceeded directly to IV. Do not be afraid. Number III is in the hopper and awaiting the upload of some final images, after which prepare to be blown away by a bike that enjoys cult status thanks to the mystique of its enigmatic designer, a man who currently plies his trade in the Bay Area and still makes road bikes with lugs.

In the meantime, here is a counterweight to that ugly Mirage I posted previously, a lovely old Motobecane Grand Record built with Reynolds 531 tubes in the days when brazed-on housing and cable guides were out of fashion and the French still hadn't figured out how to paint metal (note the closeup image of the top tube below for evidence).

Since it is so French, and I haven't the parts or patience to deal with that, I did not build this bike up, but sold it to a friendly older chap who I can only imagine had some extra time on his hands in between building his own wooden kayak and climbing Mt Rainier.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Frigid Forks and the Winter Commute

The weather in Seattle has defied convention in this early part of December, with the usual drear and drizzle making way for beautiful, clear skies. It is also cold enough to shatter delicate rims, with temperatures hovering around the low to mid 20s in the early mornings and staying right around freezing during the day. if you drop any precip on this it'll surely be snow, although none is forecast and it looks to stay the same early winter desert condition for the next little while.

Those of us who depend solely on the bicycle for our commuting needs thus find ourselves fielding lots of questions, all of which are some sort of variation on "so how are you getting to work these days, since it is clearly unsafe to ride?"

While there are certainly conditions under which I am reluctant to ride to work, such as the day last winter when I had to stop and push a man in an electric wheelchair up a hill after he'd become stuck on a patch of ice, what we're experiencing is not at all dangerous in terms of riding conditions. It's just cold. And cold can certainly drive some people to change their behavior, but I am way too stubborn for that. Unless there is actual snow and ice on the road, and sometimes even when there is, I am riding, foolhardy or not.

I found this helpful guide for people who for whatever reason (geographic and climactic, personal or emotional) must ride in the snow, but anything beyond slush is a deal breaker even for me. I got kids to feed and can't affort a Horrible Accident.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanks4Giving me that broken bike

As you may or may not know, tomorrow is an exciting day in this country, a day when we all gather around the table and get wasted while some poor sucker spends the whole day in the kitchen cooking a meal built around a whole turkey, which everyone knows by now is SO 2008. So in the spirit of the season, I'm inclined to invoke the wrath of Wholesome Defenders of America by saying I would prefer to eat many things to roast turkey. it is neither delicious, nor exciting, not for that matter all that fun to cook. you just sit her in the oven and baster her crisping skin every hour or so, all the while uttering that famous Thanksgiving prayer, "please don't let the turkey be ruined."

Being a cyclist, my family has taken a decidedly rebellious and socialist approach to the meal preparations and assigned jobs to individuals -- everyone except Uncle Jeff who will be tasked with Not Burning Down the House and Not Urinating in his Own Pants After too much Booze Again.

While I am certain to come in for some criticism from the WDA for being "anti Thanksgiving," I am also setting myself up to be ridiculed for being "not anti Thanksgiving enough" by the more militant faction of the cyclists that see the fact that they ride a bike as an act of civil rebellion against the State. I would simply remind them that I do not hold my cycling to such lofty ideals, and instead have established my cycling image more in the "creating a self-righteous nuisance by riding safely to and from work" camp. but more thoughtful commentary on the "imagery" of cycling can be found at BikeSnobNYC, who is much wittier and more adept at piercing such things and as such i leave it to him.

I would like to extend a Thanksgiving greeting to the thrift shop on Mercer Island that found it in the goodness of their hearts to sell my naive father two rather nice, subtly broken bicycles without informing him that they had any problems. The Trek 1100 and Raleigh USA Competition were both pretty cool (and still are, the parts that aren't broken), but are so much more valuable and collectable with the custom dents the thrift shop thoughtfully installed.

The trek is blue with yellow lettering (i still don't have a camera and the pic above is the closest thing I could find) and honestly only the rear wheel is shot; I tried to bend back the massive rim dents as described in this Bicycling magazine article and succeeded only in cracking the rim in half. But the nicer Maillard hubs (NOT Helicomatic, fortunately)

leave me inclined to rebuild it using an old Wolber Alpine rim I have sitting around. Plus it has a full Suntour Edge group, including an amazing "collabo" between Suntour and Dia Compe. Stay tuned for more on this bike via a Tired Wheel Deal post once it is completed.

The Raleigh was the real find, or so it seemed: Reynolds 531 frame tubes with an elegant Tange fork/seat stays/chain stays and original Shimano 600 group. But alas, it had met some large, blunt, brown painted object in a rather rough manner.

But I still have much to be thankful for this year. And perhaps the thing I am most thankful for is that i only have to be thankful once a year.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hybrids, Reputations and Leaps of Logic

If there is one thing that cyclists are sensitive about, it's the idea that we are probably responsible if and when (and if you ride a lot, it is certainly the latter and not the former). The impression amongst many on the other side of the glass and steel wall seems to be that since we often run red lights or otherwise disobey traffic laws (true) that we are inherently reckless (false) and are probably responsible or at least not entirely innocent in the event of a crash. This general impression is maddening enough for those of us who ride within inches of cars every day, but is even more infuriating when the finger wagging comes from the occassional self-righteous cyclist who doesn't, for whatever reason, run red lights, ride on the wrong side of the street, etc.

Here is a perfect example that is two years old and comes from a site that attempts to subvert  the uncleverness of its name by intentionally misspelling it:

These helmeted wonders answer to no one. With their flashy pieces of aluminum and rubber, they wobble and coast through city traffic like God's gift to the ozone layer. When you're saving as much energy as they are, you're obviously totally free to run red lights, turn in front of oncoming traffic, and knock people's side mirrors around. They know they can ride right along side your car without a care in the world, because if you hit them, you're the careless, SUV driving, ball-scratching gasoline whore. 

While I am not claiming to be anything but a self-righteous "helmeted wonder", the common perception that cyclists see themselves as swashbuckling outlaws is laughable, and certainly doesn't stand up to simple scrutiny. It is terribly obvious to me that the best way to survive city cycling is to minimize the odds against you -- there is always going to be an element of uncertainty, a variable quantity of madness in the air that, when it reaches critical mass, is going to strike you down no matter how carefully you ride. So when I break a traffic law, it is generally to minimize the chances of an unfriendly encounter with a car (or to get home faster, or to thumb a finger at cars stuck in traffic, or to escape). I don't want to oversimplify this, since of course there is the point to be made that most people who commute by bicycle do so because we are control freaks and don't want to be held captive by the whims of traffic. So we cycle in order to bypass traffic jams, and so that we can leave whenever we want instead of waiting for a bus that will almost certainly be late and full of steamy stinky wool-wrapped-human burritos. But the fact is it is usually safer to ride illegally than legally. By breaking laws, I minimize my risk of death. So it is a calculus I make based on the need to keep my body alive, not my image.

So I am naturally predisposed to call bullshit on things like this Treehugger article, which makes a subtle argument along the lines of the commutofascists that will stop at nothing to defend their sacred cow, hybrid cars.

The implication seems to be that the "data" is "no good" that shows hybrids hit more people and bikes more frequently than regular autos by virtue of being so quiet. While I don't really have a say in the matter, and am frankly too lazy to read the full study, the casual way in which Treehugger brushes the claims aside, single-minded in its glowing praise of the bepedestaled Prius is similar to the way Sean Hannity doesn't let poor turnout ruin his coverage of crazy-as-Quixote Michelle Bachmann's tea party protest.

I don't care who you are, if you refuse to entertain information that lands outside your predefined boundaries, you're a close-minded prig-- a label that applies to most cyclists, unfortunately, as well as the Treehuggers and Sean Hannitys of the world.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tired Wheel Deal II: Miyata 310

I am a big fan of Japanese lugged steel bikes. As a general rule, even the cheaply made ones are strong and reliable. Miyata crafted some of the most beautiful bikes ever made every by anyone, often using crazy firearm technology. This is not one of those high end models, in fact it is an entry level road bike, but a nice all-around rider despite the heavy hi-tensile tubing. I picked this frame up during one of the strangest bike purchasing experiences of my life, when I went to a guy's house in Puyallup to buy a glued and screwed Vitus frame and came home with 8 wheels, endless quantities of random components and handlebars, and this frame.

One unique feature this frame has is the dimensions: If you look closely you'll notice that the gloriously tall seat tube (62cm) is paired to a rather short (54cm) top tube. If you were a dandy, a bike like this coupled with some sweet Nitto bars, bar end shifters and $800 in other accoutrements from Rivendell could make you the envy of all the rando nerds in your "posse."

Since this bike came from that strange era when brazed on cable and housing guides were out of fashion, I decided to build this up as a single speed. Here's a quick breakdown on the build (very cheap, all parts from the bins in the shop):
  • Wheels: Suzue Jr. flip-flop hub laced to Mavic MA3 / can't remember the front wheel. nothing special though.
  • RX100 cranks
  • steel riser bars
  • dia compe brake and lever
  • this doesn't take very long when it's a fixed gear, does it

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tired Wheel Deal I: Motobecane Mirage Mixte

There were about 4,000,000,000 of these bikes made back in the glory days of French bicycles. Motobecane was the biggest mass-producer of French bikes during the days this was made, but it has since gone bankrupt, so any new bikes you see carrying the Motobecane name are certainly made in Taiwan (not that there is anything innately wrong with that, despite some snobs' protestations to the contrary, but it is certainly quite a different operation than the French production plants).

Fortunately this bike did not suffer from the usual complications that come with being French, however. During the bike boom days of the late 70s and early 80s, all you had to do was slap "made in France" on the side and it upped the value $200. The Mirage was the bottom of the line, cranked out in huge numbers. The heavy straight-gauge 1020 Motobecane steel tubing, original steel wheels and stamped dropouts (among other things) reveal it to be a remarkably unremarkable bike. But it is still lugged steel, and made with the highly functional yet highly misunderstood Mixte design, so bikes of this caliber always have the potential to be spruced up into perfectly decent city bikes for commuting, grocery getting, etc.

When I got this bike it was all stock, and rusty. Suntour drive train (VX if I recall correctly), stem-mount shifters, did I mention steel wheels? I tossed the wheels and replaced them with mismatched alloy-rimmed guys (the rear was a nicer Suzue with an ACS freewheel spun onto it).

Also swapped out the cranks for a set of RX100 (with a single ring of course).


Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Tired Wheel

Probably one of the most popular activities pursued by bike people is "flipping" bikes. This is the process of buying something (in this case a bicycle) at one price, then selling it at a higher price. Occasionally you will do something like "fix" the bike in between the buying and the selling, but this is not always true.

While "flipping" can of course be done with anything, it is more prevalent with bicycles than with other goods for a variety of reasons, but the most important are that there are:

  1. a lot of bicycles sitting in basements that are spontaneously slated for sale by owners ignorant of their bicycle's value
  2. a lot of lazy hipsters and bike shop employees sitting around waiting to pounce when aforementioned bikes appear on craigslist at prices well below their real value.
There is some danger in this. Many of the people flipping bikes are seasoned or out-of-work mechanics with the ability to take a rusty and mistreated bike and restore it to past glory (or at least give it a modicum of functionality), the reality is that most flippers are newjack morons with an adjustable crescent wrench and non-metric allen tools. while these folks may be established experts at switching out the cog on their color-coordinated fixed gears, their ability to create a safe and functional 10 speed is unproven, leaving the purchasers of their flippery as the guinea pigs in their doomed laboratory of bicycle experimenting. the results, of course, can be terrible.

So it goes without saying that I flip bikes. And while my reasons for doing so are varied, the principal motivators can be summed up to this: Getting Over. Even though I have a lot of bikes and don't need another one, rather than let someone else score a good deal on some cheap wheels, I'd rather swoop it up and sell the bike at an inflated price, not because I like to restore bikes, but because I like money.

Well, perhaps that is not entirely true, since there is the whole issue of being a cycle pervert and wanting to rub my hands all over as many bikes as possible before I am ultimately struck down during a ride to work.

Whatever the reason, I've been doing it for years. And while I don't really call what I do flipping, since it implies that I don't put any love into it, that's what an outsider would call it and so that's fine with me. It is true that I do the vast majority of both the buying and the selling on craigslist, and that I always sell higher than I buy (although the bike I sell is always vastly improved over the one I bought).

Recently I started taking pictures of my projects, which I'll begin sharing here. If you're lucky. Which, as any cycling commuter knows, is what it takes to stay alive, even on the relatively non-mean streets of a city like Seattle.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Knox Knox: Who's there?

If you're looking for Knox's current blog, it's right here at

Soon to come: Bike Nerd Returns! New author and what is certain to be boring, useless talk on bike life and mechanics.