Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Jim's Last-Minute Cycling Gift Guide

Happy Holidays and happy the-time-of-year-no-one-knows-what-to-get-for-their-favorite-cyclist (which might be YOU!).

Here are a few sure-to-please cycling gift suggestions - well, if you count my last tip, it's more like many thousands of bike gift ideas, so keep reading! (And be sure to share this, so that you get the gift you really want!)

Your Home Bicycle Workshop e-Book ($19.95)
Let's start with a suggestion dear to my heart: my very own Your Home Bicycle Workshop e-book. It's the only book of any type all about setting up the perfect place for your loved one to work on all your bicycles. And you can download it right away so it's the ideal last-minute gift. It's in the RoadBikeRider e-bookstore where you'll find many other great cycling reading gifts available right now.

Bicycle Quarterly Classic Bicycles Calendar 2015 ($15)
Every year about this time I start searching local bookshops for a nice, new bicycle theme calendar for my office wall, and to give as a gift. But, I almost never find anything. So, I was happy to discover the magazine Bicycle Quarterly’s Classic Bicycles Calendar, that features 12 studio-quality photos of famous road bikes and a short history about each one, too. They'll also love receiving Bicycle Quarterly magazine next year ($36 for a year's subscription in the USA).

Pedro’s Super Prestige floor pump ($65)
All roadies need a good floor pump because it’s the one essential tool for keeping tires fully inflated so that they always enjoy great rides. But I’ve found that lots of riders use their pump for so long that it barely works anymore. If your loved one has been using the same pump for eons like this, they will be delighted to receive a huge upgrade in the form of Pedro’s Super Prestige. Its best trick is being able to grip Presta and Schrader valves every time with an airtight seal and without having to change the pump’s head in any way. It’s also easy to pump, has a nice and very visible gauge, a long hose and is built to last.

Boa Closure Cycling Shoes ($varies)
This gift idea is for a somewhat-new technology that many road riders love when they try it: shoes with Boa Closures. It’s a system that uses tough, thin wire/filament laces that you tighten and loosen with a ratcheting dial. This allows fine-tuning the fit along the entire length of the shoes simply by turning the dials. And the result is even more comfortable shoes and power transfer. To buy this gift, you’ll want to give them a gift certificate to a bike shop that carries shoes with Boa Closures so that they can get the right fit and features. Here's a page showing the many shoe brands using Boa Closures.

Specialized S-Works Evade road aero helmet ($250)
A new helmet is always a great gift because with use, helmets become less effective. And new helmets continue to improve offering more protection and comfort. Plus, in the case of Specialized’s S-Works Evade, you’re actually also giving them the gift of free speed because it’s a wind-cheating aero helmet proven to reduce drag and save them energy on every ride. There are other companies making road aero helmets, too, such as Giro's new Synthe ($250).

Keep On Kovers for Speedplay pedals ($16 to $20)
Keep On Kovers make a great stocking stuffer for anyone riding Speedplay road pedals (look for lollipop-looking pedals on your giftee’s bike). They’re rubber cleat covers with a great trick: they go on and stay on (unlike all the others that you have to put on and take off every time you stop/start)! These covers don’t interfere with pedal entry/exit one bit and they fully protect their Speedplay cleats and even keep the screws in should they loosen. Even better, they won't lose them or forget to bring them along on rides because they stay on their shoes!

Bike Mechanic Tales from the Road and the Workshop ($24.95)
I just received this new book from VeloPress and I’m reading it every chance I get because it immediately jumps you behind the scenes of professional racing and puts you in the team car and pits with the mechanics. These are the overworked guys in charge of keeping everything running, from the bikes, to the cars and trucks, to organizing the pits, to even helping dress their riders and care for them during races. If they have any interest in the nuts and bolts at the pro level of our sport I’m sure they’ll be as taken with this book as I am. The many photos alone are worth the price of admission.

Camelbak Podium bottle ($10 for 24 ounce)
Every roadie needs new, clean and high quality bottles, so you can’t go wrong gifting them a Camelbak Podium bottle or two. They’re so easy to drink from and leak-free and tasteless, that they’ve become my favorites. They’re also available in different sizes and insulated versions, some with custom graphics, too, so you can get whatever you think best matches their bicycle or kit. This is an inexpensive gift with high value to your rider.

Grease Monkey Wipes ($9 to $20)
A clean bike is a happy bike - and rider! You can make it super easy for them to keep their baby showroom clean by gifting them a supply of Grease Monkey Wipes. These handy towelettes are saturated with a citrus cleaner so they simply wipe to clean their frame and components - even greasy drivetrain parts. They’ll be as amazed as I was how much easier these make bike cleaning. They come in the handy packets shown (easy to take along on rides) or in canisters, too.

Etsy cycling gifts (all price ranges)
Type "bicycle" in the hand-made gift resource/community Etsy and you'll bring up tens of thousands of ideas. That's how I found BryansRebicycling's Silver Infinity Spoke Bracelet shown, a super-cool recycled bike-part gift idea, and hand made, too, for only $14.98 plus shipping! But there are almost endless other choices, so happy searching and shopping!

Velo Orange Porteur Rack ($165)
This beautiful front rack has been out of stock on the Velo Orange site for some time, however, it's such a nice porteur rack - a type kind of hard to find - that you might want to give a gift certificate for it and just let them wait for the shipment to arrive. Porteur racks have a wider platform than standard ones, so they're ideal for city bikes that carry larger loads (French newspaper deliverers used these racks). Velo Orange's is made of polished stainless steel so it adds class along with versatility to your around-town ride. The rail is removable.

Last, but not least, in case you're wondering what I want for Christmas. It's this P&K Lie Special250 Truing Stand. Might as well dream big, right?

Here's hoping you have wonderful holiday,
Jim (aka Santa)

Friday, October 3, 2014

PRODUCT REVIEW: Giro's 2014 Air Attack Shield Helmet

Every time I wear it, riders are still asking about my helmet so I thought it would be helpful to rerun this review that ran earlier this year on RoadBikerider.

There's a Giro video about their development of this new helmet at the end 
Good rides!

An Every-Ride Aero Helmet For Roadies

I received this Giro Air Attack Shield (about $200, 360 grams) last winter (2014) and liked it so much right out of the box, that I was tempted to give it a great review after only a few rides and races.

However, it was mostly chilly back then and I wanted to see how it handled the heat. Last week, I finally got my chance when we hit 100 degrees, a record high for us, and perfect for helmet testing.

It was important to hammer in the heat in the Air Attack because its unique design includes a fuller-coverage body, only 6 narrow vents (you can barely get a finger in to scratch your head) and a full wraparound faceshield (there are three slit vents in the faceshield, too).

I suffered a minor concussion crashing and hitting my head hard while wearing an ultralight helmet not too long ago. So, I like how the Air Attack covers more of the head and its seemingly fuller and tougher In-Mold polycarbonate shell that resembles a BMX-type lid rather than a road-racing model (I say ‘seemingly’ because I haven’t crashed to test this - and hope not to!). It does feel stronger on your head though.

Full, crystal-clear faceshield 
The other obvious difference of the Air Attack is its full, wraparound faceshield. This polycarbonate, tinted lens attaches to the helmet via three powerful magnets, which means you can quickly and easily remove, invert and reattach the faceshield upside-down to expose your full face to the wind.

I haven’t had this happen, but it’s possible to drop the faceshield if you fumble while removing and replacing it. That wouldn’t be good for it, however, the magnets are so strong, that even if you only get it close to the helmet, they’ll grab and hold the faceshield tightly and it won’t drop.

The faceshield is tinted just the correct amount for my vision. It features Carl Zeiss optics for exceptional clarity and I’ve experienced no distortion or eye fatigue. I also find it to be exactly the right shape for full protection whether I’m sitting upright or in a full tuck. There’s a nose protector built in, however, it doesn’t come close to touching.

Most impressive, and among my favorite features of this helmet, is that the faceshield provides excellent protection and coverage and is also far enough from your face that you rarely get sweat on it. This means it doesn’t become blurry forcing you to have to clean it on rides the way glasses do. In fact, so far, I have only had to clean the faceshield about weekly.

It’s also great not having glasses resting on your nose and ears and not having to deal with fogging issues. Or having to put the glasses somewhere safe when they’re not working. I’ve damaged or lost many expensive pairs of glasses that way. 

Handling the heat 
On one of those hot days last week, I pushed hard for three 20-minute repeats up a sun-baked climb to see if I would overheat in the Air Attack. I felt warmer than in my standard Giro and Specialized helmets, but I didn’t have any overheating worries after the hour’s worth of intervals.

I credit Giro’s Roc Loc Air system and airflow design. Even though the helmet isn’t riddled with large vents, and even with the full faceshield, you feel air coming through the helmet and over your head at climbing speeds (a lot more on descents).

It’s because the harness holds the helmet slightly above your head. A dial in the back and sliding mechanism let you both tighten and raise/lower the harness for a custom fit.

Also, there are large exhaust ports in the back of the helmet and channels built into the inside that suck air through to help keep you cool and dry. Complementing the fine fit and venting are Giro’s antimicrobial and moisture-transferring X-Static comfort pads (removable for washing) and soft straps and Slimline buckles that you barely feel against your face.

The Air Attack fits me fabulously and I bet you’ll agree if you try one on.

Aero advantages
I was most interested in trying out the Air Attack’s full faceshield and having what might be a tougher lid. But, on my first rides with friends, someone asked me why I was wearing an aero helmet. Ditto, when I wore it during my first race this year, the Madera Stage Race. 

This caught me a little by surprise, because the Air Attack is hardly an aero helmet when you compare it to my rocket-ship-shaped time trial lids. It’s round and blunt and those are so long and pointy they look ridiculous. But those helmets are among the fastest things you can add to your time trial setup, so they’re essential.

Since everyone thought I was cheating the wind, I started paying attention to downhill coasting speeds and air noise (the quieter the helmet, the less wind resistance, in my experience). And low and behold, I started seeing higher speeds in my Strava PRs and on my computer. And the helmet was quieter at high speed, too.

That’s another excellent reason for wearing the Air Attack. By cheating the wind and making you faster, it’s also saving you energy, which is a great thing. And, if you’ve already upgraded to an aero road bike, this helmet is the icing on the cake.

Giro’s Air Attack Shield has a unique look, is slightly heavier and is warmer in really hot weather. It’s also sure to attract attention on rides. This all means that it’s probably not the right lid for all roadies. Yet, if you want a super-comfortable helmet that helps you ride and lets you ditch your eyewear, plus could provide more protection, you might love it just as much as I do.

The Air Attack Shield comes in sizes Small/Medium/Large (51-55/55-59/9-63cm) and colors Black/Red, Black/Silver, Blue/White (shown), Fluorescent Orange/White Matte Black and White/Silver.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

BIKE RESTORATIONS: Making a René Herse-style decaleur

Before brazing
To share this fun little project for the René Herse randonneuse I'm refurbishing, and to say thanks to my good friend and framesmith Paul Sadoff of Rock Lobster Cycles who brazed it for me, here are a couple of photos of my just-completed homegrown Herse-style decaleur (quick-release handlebar-bag holder).

If you visit this page of the website with the best archive of Herse bicycle photographs, and if you look closely at how the handlebar bag attaches to the stem, you can see an original. There's also an illustration below that shows how cleverly it works.

If you are looking for a modern version, you should visit this page on Compass Bicycles to see their decaleurs, which are Japanese-made and beautiful quality.

My bicycle was missing this crowning touch for the front of the bike. I purchased the Compass Bicycle version and it worked great. But then I saw the photo I linked to above, of the genuine Herse decaleur and I couldn't stop thinking about it and decided I had to have one like it on my bike. A couple of months later I have one.

To explain how it attaches to the bicycle, It mounts beneath the custom Herse stem on its twin bolts. You can just see the holes in the second photo. They're covered by masking tape in the first photo.

I'll somehow mark it so no one thinks it's an original piece, probably by etching some text beneath the plate that mounts to the stem bolts. I may use a vibrating writing-on-metal tool. Or, maybe I'll just write beneath the flat piece with a Sharpie and make it easy!

After brazing
Without any type of official tubing bender, the most difficult part was bending the chromoly tubing. I made a form to bend it over by hand.

It's not easy bending small-diameter quality tubing without crushing it. I had to buy several different wall thicknesses and ruin some tubing before I figured out what worked. I also built several different bending jigs and tried a couple of tubing bender tools before I made something that worked.

I would like to have seen how they did it at the Herse shop. There are some wonderful photos of the shop during the period my bicycle was built and also of Jean Desbois who made my frame in Jan Heine's new and outstanding book on René Herse.

Too bad they weren't making decaleurs while those photos were being taken!

I tried several ways to make the U-shaped finishing front upright piece that you put into it to seal the open ends for riding without the handlebar bag (the other half of the decaleur is bolted to the handlebar bag - see photo links above).

Ready for cleaning

I finally found an easy way to do it and you might be able to figure it out if you look at the finished decaleur photo closely. Hint: there's something slightly different about that piece.

Keep in mind that it won't be in the decaleur most of the time because the bag will remain on the bike mostly. So it's only for sometime and temporary use and I didn't feel it had to be perfect because of that, though I still wanted it to look almost perfect.

Those pieces that appear silver/gray in my photos above are just aluminum holders that aligned and kept the tubing in position for brazing. The two curved pieces had to be kept in position or else they had a tendency to twist.

The other challenge was getting the ends to line up with each other perfectly. Luckily I had purchased the Compass Bicycle decauleur so I had the key piece that attaches to the handlebar bag with bolts and lets you slip the bag into the decaleur in seconds to mount and remove the bag.

Sanded and ready for chrome
Since that part fits tightly into the two open ends, it was the other essential that held the loops aligned for brazing. The aluminum alignment pieces have been removed in the photos below.

Scroll down past the text and you'll see how my decaleur looks ready to be mounted on my René Herse. The chrome plater did quite a nice job and amazingly turned it around in only 4 days!

Hope all your projects are going great, too,

Ready for installation and use!
How it goes on

Thursday, February 6, 2014

BIKE BOOK REVIEW: Park Tool Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair, Edition 3

Readers, since it's winter - typically when bicycles need more maintenance - here's a rerun of a recent Jim's Tech Talk column I wrote for RoadBikeRider all about a helpful new guide to bike repair.

As bicycles get more sophisticated, what with advances in carbon frames and components, electronic drivetrains and hydraulic-disc brakes for the road, not to mention the myriad of new bottom bracket and headset configurations - it’s pays to keep on hand an excellent up-to-date bicycle repair manual.

Enter, Park Tool's 3rd Edition Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair by Calvin Jones ($24.95; available in bicycle shops, bookstores and online/the link above).

While there are lots of things to like about this 241-page softcover book packed with color photos, among my favorite features is that it’s for all bicycles. So, this one book tells you what you need to know to fix all the bikes in your stable from your favorite road bike(s) to your kids’ cruisers or mountain bikes, to your spouse’s everyday get-around machine.

Both older bikes and modern ones are covered, too. And, there’s even a section on internally geared hubs, which are found on many city bikes - a type of road bike growing in popularity as our commutes get more traffic choked and frustrating.

Also, because this book comes from one of the world’s leading, oldest and most innovative bicycle tool manufacturers, the step-by-step procedures and tips and tricks are explained with detail about using tools, too. And, because Park has extensive bike repair help on their website where all their tools are explained, the book refers you to their excellent online sections for even more information.

Trivia: Park Tool’s roots go back to 1956 and a small fix-it shop in St. Paul, Minnesota called Hazel Park Radio and Bicycle. When they became a tool company, they dropped the rest and simply went with Park Tool Company.

I think you’ll also like the clear and simple directions. Some repair manuals are over complicated, which can lead to confusion or simply being afraid to tackle something well within your ability but that appears overly difficult because there’s simply too much information to digest.

Park’s step by steps and procedures - even on high-tech, newer adjustments like setting up Campagnolo EPS and Shimano Di2 electric shifting, or fine-tuning those hydraulic discs I mentioned - are short and sweet and to the point. And when more information is helpful, Jones points you in the right direction.

Tip: Keep in mind that besides this bike repair book and others you might own, there’s an increasing wealth of information on component makers’ and some manufacturers’ websites. There has to be because the companies are producing new designs so quickly that the paper and ink publishing world just can’t keep up. So you’ll want to supplement any repair book’s recommendations with what you find out online.

But there’s plenty in this book to keep your wrenching going smoothly, from charts of recommended torque settings (all-important with carbon bicycles/parts), headset standards, tool lists for setting up your home and on-the-road workshops, a nice glossary so you get your terminology correct talking to your mechanic at the shop and even a fun section all about dealing with breakdowns on the road and trail. I’m sure you’ll be very happy you have a copy in your home shop.

From Park’s website, here are a few more details: 17 chapters; extensive table of contents for easily finding what you need; through-axle systems; tubeless-tire conversion systems; SRAM XX1 11-speed freehub removal/installation; Campagnolo Power Torque cranksets; Specialized S-Works cranksets; BB30 crankset system; PF30 bottom-bracket system; BB86 and BB92 bottom brackets; 11-speed chains/ 11-speed Campagnolo chain installation; 11-speed derailleurs; Shimano Di2 electronic shifting; Campagnolo EPS electronic shifting; Shimano 9000 derailleur adjustments; Shimano and SRAM clutch-type rear derailleurs; SRAM Red derailleur adjustments; Tektro hydraulic brakes; headset standards and SHIS standards, and more.

Tip: For more tool and bike repair tips, check out Calvin’s Corner where Park Tools’ Calvin Jones, the author of the Big Blue Book, offers tales and insights from his work at Park and as a professional USA Cycling mechanic and instructor for USA Cycling’s mechanics' program and Park Tool’s shop-mechanic training program, too.

To successful and enjoyable bicycle repairs,

Sunday, November 10, 2013

PRODUCT REVIEW: Kuat NV hitch 2-bike rack (2-inch hitch model)

The NV on the Roadtrek Agile SS Sprinter RV
A few months back I wrote this review of Kuat's NV hitch bike rack ($549) for my Jim's Tech Talk column. I'm still using and thoroughly enjoying the rack, and regularly get asked about it when we're on the road.

So, to help others looking for a bicycle hitch rack - and especially if you're trying to fit one on a Sprinter-type camper-conversion RV van, I thought I'd post the review here, too, with a few more observations from using it more, and also with their informative video.

If you're looking for a great hitch rack for a car, truck, van or Class-B RV like ours, I think you'll like the NV as much as we do.

A few details
The NV sells for $549 (as of 2013).
The NV rack carries 2 road and/or mountain bikes (accepts all adult-bike tire widths and sizes and kid's bikes down to 20-inch wheel sizes).
By attaching Kuat's $389 2-Bike Add-On, you can carry 4 bikes. But only for their 2-inch hitch/reveiver NV.
Kuat also offer the NV in a model for 1.25 inch hitches/receivers.
Kuat uses aluminum for many parts in the NV, so it weighs a relatively light 49 pounds, making it easier to handle than many hitch/receiver racks.
In order to install the NV on the back of our Sprinter RV, which has a spare tire, we needed an 11-inch hitch extension. We purchased the Heininger 6000 Advantage Adjustable.
One of my favorite features is Kuat's built-in Trail Doc bicycle repair stand.
Kuat Racks
Kuat NV hitch rack

Carrying bicycles in style
A couple of years ago at the Interbike bike show, I was introduced to Springfield, Missouri-based Kuat Racks (say “Koo-At”) and was impressed by their innovative designs and features. I made a note to keep them in mind should I need a rack in the future. So, when we recently purchased Roadtrek’s smallest RV, the Agile SS, which is built on a Mercedes Sprinter chassis with a 2-inch hitch on the back, I checked Kuat’s website and saw that their NV model would fit the bill.

Would the NV fit the RV? 
It wasn’t quite that easy. The Sprinter has two doors on the back and the RV has a spare tire holder blocking the left door. So, there needed to be enough clearance for the rack to fit behind the spare tire. And, I wanted it to move out of the way for access to the right rear door to get into the back of the van. Plus, I needed the rack to be easy to remove so I could open both doors, which requires lowering the spare tire holder that blocks the left door to a horizontal position. To get everything to work, I had to purchase an 11-inch long extender for the Sprinter’s hitch (details above).

Note that rack manufacturers usually warn against, or even prohibit using hitch extenders on RVs. This is because most RVs position the rack well behind the rear wheels where the rack is subjected to massive forces over bumps. But, that’s not an issue on our RV, which is on the shorter Sprinter chassis (19.5 feet long).

Top view
Built mountain-bike tough
Still, since RVing and driving a somewhat oversize vehicle are new to me, I couldn’t help but worry about my bikes on the back. So, I wanted to be sure to get an overbuilt rack. The NV is actually designed around mountain bikes with up to 29 x 3-inch tires, and weighing up to a whopping 60 pounds each.

It will also carry bikes of all sizes in-between down to 20-inch kid's bikes (it comes with an adapter for these). So, I thought it would easily handle my featherweight roadsters and cross-country hardtails.

The reason it can easily carry all these different size and type bicycles is because it’s a tray-mount bike rack, meaning that you don’t have to do anything to your bike to put it on the rack except lift it and place the wheels on the tray. Also, the rack only touches your tires. Nothing holds the frame. And because the NV spaces the bicycles 13 inches apart, they can’t bump into each other or rub, either. These are both nice features for carbon road bikes bikes that can be damaged by rubbing and bumping.

It's also possible to reverse the directions of the trays in case you have interference issues with the handlebars and RV. This was the case with the Roadtrek's spare tire. It was nice to have the option to set the inside tray the other way to get the handlebars away from the spare.

Easy and fast on/off 
To secure bikes to the tray, there’s a telescoping arm that ratchets down to close on the front wheel just ahead of the brake, pressing the wheel down into a pocket for it in the tough plastic wheel holders on the trays. To finish attaching the bikes you simply thread the rear wheel straps into their holders and pull down to ratchet them tight and cinch the rear wheel in place. The whole process takes about 5 seconds for each bike and it’s just as fast getting them off.

In fact, getting the bikes on/off is so easy, it’s kind of hard to believe it works. At first, I kept tugging on the bikes to see if they were really on there and pushing down on the arms and pulling on the straps. But, the connection is super solid and it holds fast. We drove 7,000-plus miles on some of the worst roads in the country, to New Hampshire and back to California with it, and nothing loosened up a bit. And that included a bone-jarring, suspension-abusing stretch of New York's abominable Thruway (never again!), plus a week of searing heat and several days of pounding rain.

No-tools rack tightening and removal
The way the bikes attach to the rack is similar to other tray-mount hitch racks, but the way the NV attaches and stays tightly fastened in the hitch is advanced and quite an advantage. Instead of the typical bolt-on arrangement, on the NV there’s a large nylon knob on the end of the rack’s main support tube (watch the video to see this).

By simply tightening this knob with your hand, a cam inside the rack presses an oversize ball bearing mounted in a pocket on the NV’s insertion end into the vehicle hitch taking up all the slack between the two and securely fastening the rack. No tools are required and though I kept checking this knob across the country, it never loosened and the rack stayed tight.

It was also easy to loosen the knob and remove the rack when needed. The rack remains tight when you loosen the knob, but once you bang the knob with your hand, the cam lets go and the rack comes right out. This is when you appreciate how much aluminum is in the NV because at only 49 pounds, it’s significantly easier to lift, carry and handle than the usual 100% steel hitch racks that are so common.

Folds up and down
I only had to remove the rack because of the spare tire holder. If that wasn’t there, I could have used the NV’s folding feature. It has a giant spring-loaded quick release lever on the bottom. You pull it open and lift or push down and the rack snaps up to its folded position behind the doors or down so that a tailgate can be opened, or in my case, my right rear door.

Being able to fold the rack up on the back of our RV meant we could still parallel park in a standard space. With the rack down and bikes on it, the RV was a little too long for that.

Built-in security
To protect your precious cargo, the NV comes with a locking hitch pin so the rack can’t be stolen from the vehicle (because we used an extension, we needed a locking hitch pin for that, too). And there’s an integrated cable lock that is connected to the wheel trays and stores inside them, too. You just pull it out, thread the ends through the bike frames and wheels and lock the ends together to secure the bikes to the rack. The keys for the cable lock and hitch pin are the same, which is nice.

Unfortunately, my cable lock developed some issue and wouldn’t close the second time I tried to use it. To safeguard my bikes I simply purchased a 6-foot OnGuard cable lock and that worked fine. Kuat quickly sent me a replacement cable lock under warranty, so the rack's built-in lock is now working again.

Kuat’s clever Bottle Lock
I wouldn’t have had to purchase the OnGuard lock if I had been smart and brought along Kuat’s $29 Bottle Lock. They sent me one to try but I didn’t think I’d need it and left it home. It’s a coiled 5-foot cable and lock built into a standard bottle so it fits nicely in a bottle cage. To lock your bike, you just pull the end of the cable and it unravels (the inside of the bottle spins, the outside doesn’t) to full length. You then lock its end into the top of the bottle. The keys are stored in a compartment in the bottom of the bottle.

The Bottle Lock does not hold water, but it’s a convenient, lightweight and cool lock I could have used on the rack and will use riding around town. It comes in Black, White, Pink and Rasta .

Kuat's Trail Doc repair stand
Kuat thought of everything 
The NV’s ease of use, light weight and secure bike and vehicle attachment make it a wonderful rack to use. But it has another trick and one I had to have: it features their Trail Doc repair stand!

When not in use, this sits at the end of the rack’s main support. To use it, you remove the bikes, fold the rack up, loosen the Trail Doc’s quick release and extend it up until it clicks in place.

Voila! You have a very nicely constructed bike repair stand that holds bicycles by the seatpost or top tube and lets you work right there by your vehicle like a pro. For me, it means I no longer have to bring along a separate repair stand and one less thing in a small RV is a great thing.

Rack envy 
Finally, as impressed as I am with the design, features, function and quality of the NV, I am just as impressed by its appearance. When you buy a fancy vehicle it’s hard to get yourself to put anything on it. But the NVs lustrous grey and gold finish makes it a stunner and a few people on our trip actually came up and asked us if the rack had been custom made by Mercedes for our RV. That’s quite a compliment to Kuat’s design, and perhaps why they named it what they did.

Friday, September 13, 2013

HOLY GRAILS: 1974 Masi Gran Criterium, continued

Back To The Future

In part 1 of this great bicycle project, I reran a story I wrote for my Jim's Tech Talk column on RoadBikeRider called Basket Case, that told of my finding a quite beat-up 1974 Masi Gran Criterium, and deciding to go ahead and get it restored. 

It was a tough decision because somewhere along the line it had been run into a parked car or curb buckling the top and down tubes. Plus, all the original paint and decals were gone, an awful spray-can finish had been applied and the parts had been removed and dumped in a milk crate to rust away.

Yet, the more I looked at the frame with the magical Masi M cutout in the bottom bracket, the lovely lugs that taper into the tubes, the clean dropout finish work and the extraordinary twin-plate fork crown, the more I felt I had to bring it back to its former glory. 

I also had heard that that crown was sometimes a sign of a frame built by Masi founder and legendary framebuilder for the pros, Faliero Masi. This is part 2 of that story - which also appeared in my column in RoadBikeRider.

The greats rode Masis

Masis were among the most respected racing bicycles ever built and even today roadies who raced them back then will tell you that nothing compares. But, it’s the pros who won on them that really made their reputation. 

Just a few of the big names include, Eddy Merckx, Tom Simpson, Fausto Coppi, Felice Gimondi, and Jacques Anquetil (note that their Masis were painted to look like the team sponsor bike brand).

My model, the Gran Criterium was also the red rocket, character Dave Stoller rode in the best cycling movie of all time (ATMO), Breaking Away - adding more fame to the Masi name.

Masi worked out of perhaps the most amazing framebuilding workshop ever, which was and is still located in the Vigorelli velodrome in Milan, Italy. Today Faliero’s son Alberto continues the family tradition building frames there, though since the Masi name was sold, his frames now go by the brand Milano 3V. Masi aficionado’s Bob Hovey and Greg Fletcher have some nice virtual tours:  and .

Masi USA
Faliero must have been a visionary, too, because right as the huge bike boom of the seventies was about to hit America, he came here and opened a USA Masi division in Carlsbad, California. And, the fact that Masi was here in 1974 and not in Italy, meant that my frame might also have come out of that shop.

All these things and the desire to be able to own and ride such a famous marque (the frame is a 57cm - the perfect size), made me decide to send it off to an expert who could help me decide whether it was worth saving.

The Masi goes home
That would be Joe Bell of Joe Bell Bicycle Refinishing, because Joe has restored lots of Masis to perfection and his work is concors d’elegance level.

I called Joe first to see if he was interested in the project and he said that not only would he love to repaint the frame, but he would also show it to Brian Baylis, who was helping build Masi frames in those early days in Carlsbad, where mine was probably built.

That’s all I needed to hear and I boxed up the frameset and sent it off to Joe’s Southern California shop.

Only two days later Joe called to say he had already received and opened the box, inspected the frame and shown it to Brian.

I next expected to find out whether it was worth saving and how much it would cost. So, I was surprised when Joe told me that he and Brian had already decided the frame had to be saved and even more surprising, that Brian had already taken it back to his shop and started repairing the crash damage 

See Joe's note and sections of the replaced down tube in the photo!

Great news
Joe went on to explain that in their estimation the frameset was built in early 1974 in Carlsbad and that Brian himself might have helped build it. Equally exciting was that Brian believes the fork was probably raked by Faliero Masi himself, who was training the other builders in his new shop at the time how to build his frames.

With this news, it was a complete no-brainer for me to send Joe a $1,000 deposit to commence the restoration (with frame repair, paint, chrome, decals, a Silca pump painted to match and Joe's super-careful packing and shipping, the total cost was $1,890). 

[A quick aside: yes, I realize that I might have been able to find a rarer or better Masi for the same money. But it wasn't about the money or finding a better one. This Masi found me. I felt the same responsibility to rescue it that Joe and Brian did. There's tremendous satisfaction in resurrecting a survivor like this and that's what I was interested in, rather than trying to buy the ultimate Masi, which would be an entirely different thrill.]

I’ve included a few photos that show Joe and Brain’s fabulous work. I’ll finish the Masi restoration story when I get it fully built and back on the road - hopefully with some riding impressions.

I’ve already located 1973 Campagnolo Nuovo Record components and vintage road bike expert, Bob Freeman up at Elliott Bay Bicycles in Seattle, was kind enough to sell me a pair of the especially rare Martano rims, which were what it had when new. 

Visit Bob’s site and scroll to see some of his impressive restoration work

In the front view photo you can see the twin-plate crown, which requires more skill to build with since it’s comprised of multiple parts. A standard crown is a single piece that the fork steerer tube and blades fit into. This twin-plate crown has a top and bottom plate and the blades and steerer pass through the bottom plate before the steerer passes through the top one and the blades fit inside the top plate. 

There are also two reinforcing tangs on the inside of the blades that also extend through the twin plates (the yellow dots are decorative braze-quality check holes in these tangs). 

Even if you've never built a frame, I think you can appreciate the challenge of getting that many pieces assembled, aligned and brazed together correctly. Especially since, on many of the best steel road bikes back then, which had the much more basic crown design, you would see misaligned crowns (very noticeable when you're riding and looking down). The Masi's is perfect.

One of the reasons I sent the frame to Joe Bell is because I've seen how he lays down an impossibly thin paint finish. It's extremely high quality, durable and lustrous yet what jumps out at anyone who loves handcrafted frames is how he keeps it so uniformly thin.

In fact, sometimes framebuilders choose to paint their frames with see-through clear coats to ensure you can see their brilliant craftsmanship. Joe gets this and gives you the best of both worlds: a stunning finish with all the originality of a new 1974 Masi but the ultimate coat that reveals the framesmith's exquisite detailing, too. 

You don't want to just look at this bike, you're drawn in to inspect it closely and end up running your fingers along the joinery marveling at the artistry.

The frame is made of double-butted chromoly steel, probably Reynolds 531 because Masi had a falling out with Italian tubing make Columbus or so I’ve read. I've never actually ridden a Masi Gran Criterium in my frame size, but I'm going to savor every step of the build and not rush it.

Thanks to my friend and fellow Masi lover Chuck Schmidt of Velo-Retro filling me in, I've rounded up most of the correct parts to build mine close to original. 

I'm in need of the right saddle, though, a Cinelli Unicanitor #3 would be good, I believe. If you have one you'd part with please let me know. Maybe I have something you need for one of your projects.

I'll close with a photo of the signature M cutout in the bottom bracket, neatly highlighted by Joe in yellow. When the Campagnolo BB is installed its translucent plastic sleeve should accentuate the cutout nicely. Masi sometimes used similar cutouts in the chainrings, also edged with yellow, and I've seen Masis where the ends of the top-tube cable clip bolts were highlighted with dots of yellow paint and other yellow details, too, to make the bicycle that much more special.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

SHOPTALK: Making a bike workshop toolboard

My toolboard
For you mechanics out there, here's a popular subject I covered in my Jim's Tech Talk column in RoadBikeRider. It's on toolboards and tool organization, so it's great for dialing in your home shop for more efficient bicycle maintenance and repair.

It came to mind as a good topic because recently I was working in our Boulder office instead of my home office here in Santa Cruz, California. I was there to set up a bicycle workshop. We’ll be handling more bicycles, components and accessories in that office and we need a professional and efficient shop to assemble, tune, maintain and fix everything.

Over the years in our Rocky Mountain headquarters we’ve collected a good basic assortment of bike tools, and those that fit are neatly stored in a variety of different size toolboxes. For a workbench, we’ve been using a giant oval table made for staff meetings. It’s plenty big enough for any bicycle project but not the best approach since it has to stay clear for meetings and office work.

Fortunately, we were able to rent additional office space next door, and my job in Boulder that trip out there, was to turn a corner into a pro bicycle work area. This was one of my responsibilities at the bike shops I managed and also at Bicycling magazine, where I was the west coast technical editor. So, it comes natural. Self-promotion alert: I even wrote an e-Book that’s sold in RBR’s bookstore about how to create your own shop at home: Your Home Bicycle Workshop.

Advantages of toolboards
As I was building our new shop I was thinking how useful even a basic toolboard is, and thought I would explain more how to make one. Step-by-step instructions follow. But first, let me list a few reasons why so many bike shops use toolboards.

Convenient and efficient bike repair: a good toolboard holds frequently used tools right at hand; you never have to search to find the right one

Helps prevent lost tools: as long as you put them back, your tools are always right there, and at a glance you can tell what’s missing and go look for it

Keeps the workbench clean: again, as long as you put the tools back, your bench stays available for whatever you’re working on

Protects tools: bike tools can be costly, and hanging them on a board prevents them from getting beat up by other tools in a box or a sliding drawer

A nice toolboard impresses your cycling buddies: just beware the tool borrower - better to fix it in your cool shop than let them take your tools with them

Concept and location
A toolboard is just a place to hang your tools. Common materials are plywood and pegboard, and anything that makes it easy to hang tools. You only need a size large enough for your FUTs (Frequently Used Tools). The rarely used items should stay in a drawer or toolbox so as not to clutter your board, making it more difficult to select the right tool and/or take up all your space.

Typically, your toolboard will be placed on the wall close to where you work on your bike. Or, if you have a work surface, table or workbench, it can be attached to the wall above it. It’s best for it not to be any taller than you can easily reach, and not too long, to avoid having to walk, or stretch, or stand on something to reach the tools. Remember, these are FUTs, so you’ll be retrieving and replacing them often during your bike work.

Plywood is my preference
For materials, I much prefer plywood to pegboard. With plywood, you hang your tools on 6-penny finishing nails that you drive into the wood wherever it works to hang and space your tools.

With pegboard you buy the appropriate pegs and tool holder gizmos to hang your tools. Plus, you have to follow the pegboard spacing, which means you can’t end up with perfect spacing for oddly shaped tools, which nicely sums up many bike tools.

Note that the step-by-step instructions below assume you’re using plywood and nails, but I do describe at the end how pegboard differs.

Making your toolboard - by the numbers
Anyone can make a toolboard and benefit from having one. You don’t need to be an expert mechanic or even have lots of tools. This approach to toolboard design will work for anyone. If you don’t have lots of tools to hang right now, you can easily follow these directions to update your toolboard as your tool collection grows.

1. Lay it out. Place a large piece of sturdy cardboard on top of your table/bench (even if you only use a makeshift table as a workbench, it will work for this step). Most bike shops will give you a bike box, and cutting one side off will work for this. Or use what have you. It only needs to be large enough to lay out the tools you own currently (read on).

2. Find and lay out your tools. Dig through your garage, basement, car, bicycle bags, etc., and find all the tools you use for your bike. This includes bicycle-specific tools and regularly used household tools, like pliers, screwdrivers and scissors. For now, lay these tools flat on the piece of cardboard you placed on your workbench/table.

3. Try it out. Over a few days/weeks, do some bike repairs/maintenance using the tools on your cardboard-covered bench. As you work on your bike(s), pay attention to which tools you use, and how often you use them. Refine your tool selection by removing any that you never use and moving tools that you use together near each other (like pliers next to cable cutters, adjustable wrench next to cassette lockring remover, crankarm remover next to bottom-bracket tools, etc.). Also, place the tools and groups of tools used together -- that you find you use most often -- toward the center of your workbench. For example, 4, 5 and 6mm allen wrenches or a folding allen wrench set should go toward the center, since allens are used so often on modern bikes.

4. Commit to it. Once you know what tools you like and feel good about how you’ve organized them on the cardboard, take a little time to lay them out so they’re spaced nicely. Then think about if the cardboard was held against a wall, where nails would need to be driven for the tool to hang straight and not fall off. You can hold the nail and try the tool on it and figure it out pretty quickly. Once you know, mark the nail locations on the cardboard to hold each tool. Then, either draw a quick outline around each tool on your cardboard tool template, or take a photo of the entire cardboard toolboard with tools in place, to refer to later.

5. Finish your toolboard. All that’s needed now is to remove the tools from your cardboard template. Next, hold the template against the plywood piece that’s to become your toolboard. It needs to be secure because you’re going to drive nails into it. Now, simply drive the nails through your nail marks in the template, pull the template off your plywood toolboard and follow your digital “map” or look at the tool outlines on the template to hang your tools in the right places. So that you know where every tool hangs, you can outline them with a marker on the plywood toolboard now. Or just refer to your photo. (I prefer to memorize mine to keep the toolboard cleaner looking.)

Tip: A simple and handy tool holder can be made from a section of 2 x 4 lumber. You can see these in my toolboard photo on the right and left. Drilling different diameter holes across the edge lets you easily hang tools that don’t hang well on nails, like pliers, ratchet handles, individual allen wrenches or sets, etc. Notice that I also use the front of the 2 x 4 to hang 3 ratchet handles with a 4mm, 5mm and 6mm allen sockets, respectively, since those tools are so frequently used.

Pegboard notes: If you choose pegboard, you don’t need to drive any nails through your template. Instead, use it as a reference for figuring out where to place the pegs, and which types of pegboard holders to use to place the tools on the pegboard where you want them. I find that pegboard and pegs/holders for it take more experimentation but you can always get it right eventually. You can also use custom holders on pegboard, like my 2 x 4 special holders mentioned above. So think outside the box and don’t feel restricted by what’s available from the pegboard makers.

What to do if you don't have room for a big shop and toolboard
Not everyone has the space for a full bike-repair station. Take, for example, RoadBikeRider owner/publisher John Marsh. I envisioned him enjoying a spacious workshop in the 3-car garage of his Georgia plantation. But, no. It turns out he has neither a plantation, nor a garage!

John emailed: “I’m completely jealous of you and all other riders who have a good spot for a workshop. I have a carport, not a garage, and a too-small shed in my backyard, at least 100 feet from my back door. I do my maintenance in my office, where I keep my bike. Not at all ideal, but it’s the best I can do.”

Alan’s toolbox approach
Another RoadBikeRider author, Alan Canfield wrote me about his space crunch. He said, “As an amateur woodworker, I appreciate good tools and tool organization. I've unfortunately covered the garage wall space with shelves and have to keep my bike tools in a small Craftsman 4-drawer box that’s packed full!

I appreciate the suggestion for using plywood and nails to maximize the spacing on tools. I might try to adapt and make a plywood toolboard that spans the back of my workbench below the overhanging shelf.”

Toolbox tips
Alan’s use of a toolbox for a tight workshop is one way to work efficiently in a small space. It also lets you easily move the tools if your workspace is constantly changing. That’s essentially the setup pro mechanics use at races. So you can use some of their tricks to make working this way even more practical.

The pros often use a special electrician-type suitcase for toolboxes. These actually have miniature toolboards inside called palettes, and usually two or three of them on top of each other. You slip your tools into the holders on the palettes and they stay organized and easy to access. Larger tools go in the main toolbox compartment in the bottom.

On Park’s suitcase toolbox, one of the palettes can be hung on the front for even easier access (photo).

Color coding
To make a drawer-type toolbox more efficient to work out of, I recommend marking the drawers and tools. First, organize your tools the way you would for a toolboard, putting tools that are used together in the same drawer, putting the most frequently used ones in the easiest to access part of the toolbox and making sure every tool is easy to get at and put away (don’t jam the box so full it’s hard to open/close it or the drawers).

Once everything is in the box, mark each drawer with a different color and then each tool that goes in the drawer the same way. I do this with colored electrical tape, putting a strip on the outside of the drawer and then I wrap a band of tape around the tools. That way, after even the most complicated repair, it only takes a minute or two to put every tool back in the right drawer. Plus, you quickly learn which tool is in which drawer, which makes working with them easier.

Tip: I love those monster double-wide, almost ceiling-high toolboxes the TV car guys have, but they take up a lot of space, cost a small fortune and are much larger than you need for bicycle repair tools. I recommend sticking with a toolbox that fits your space and that you can carry when it’s full of tools.

Smaller toolboards
If you commit to a toolbox for some of your tools, you can often design a small toolboard that’s just right to keep your most commonly used tools readily at hand. It can be tiny and still provide a nice workspace that looks professional and makes it more fun to work on your bikes.

At one of my bike shops, I had more mechanics than workbenches, and I had to put one of them in a corner in the attic (she liked it - honest!). For this, I used one of those butcher-block-top rolling kitchen carts for her bench, attached a piece of plywood to the back as the toolboard, and put a small toolbox on the bottom shelf of the cart for larger tools.

There are all kinds of ways to fit toolboards in small spaces like this. I’ve seen some that slide or fold out of the way, for example. This isn’t hard to engineer since the tools and board are almost flat, and the tools will stay in place as the board is moved. So think about your space and be creative to find a fun solution.

Tom Anderson’s workshop
Speaking of creative solutions, here are a couple of photos Tom Anderson of Portland, Oregon, shared of his compact workshop and toolboard.

Tom explained, “I live in a high-rise condo building so there’s no workshop space in our garage. However, each unit has a storage room on the top floor, which is where my workbench is located. The rest of the limited space is jam packed with years of accumulation and resembles Fibber McGee’s closet on steroids. See the second photo.

The workbench is a 4.5-foot-long Sears metal bench with a fiberboard top. I doubled the height of the metal pegboard section. The white foam block contains small flat, Phillips, and Torx screwdrivers that are color-coded by type.

“I mostly work on my own bikes (six and counting) and occasionally bikes of friends and neighbors. I got a mechanic certification from UBI several years ago and worked summers in a friend’s bike shop for four years. I also volunteer at a local non-profit shop, the Community Cycling Center. We just had our annual Holiday Bike Drive where we provide 500 helmets and refurbished bikes to kids from low-income families.”

Thanks for sharing your workshop tips, Tom, and great job fitting such a fully functional shop in such a cramped spot, and volunteering your skills to help out your community.

Masi bicycles' setup
In closing, here's a photo of Alberto Masi's workbench, of Masi bicycles. No toolboard here. Instead there are only the tools and lubricants needed; laid out for easy, fast access. Note the drawer's beneath the bench for stored and organized tools used less often, but still right there, nearby. On another bench is a Campagnolo toolbox with more tools neatly organized and stored. I assume that his shop is organized in stations, with separate benches and tool assortments for each step of the bicycle build process. So, this bench is probably for final adjustments and another is for frame preparation, etc.

This photo is from the vintage road bicycle website Classic Rendezvous.
Alberto Masi's tidy tool layout
Have fun!