Friday, December 30, 2011

BIKE REPAIR: The Penny Trick

Hope you're all getting ready for a fun New Year's celebration,

Here's a bicycle repair trick that I wrote about last week in my Jim's Tech Talk column. In case you missed it, here it is with wishes it comes in handy sometime in 2012. It has sure saved me some frustration and skinned knuckles over the years.

I didn't mention this in my column because I didn't remember until the other day, but the trivia on this nifty tip is that one of Santa Cruz's cycling visionaries, Ross Shafer taught it to me. He's the bike guru that created the company Salsa that you're probably familiar with. Great guy with an amazing bicycle background you can read up on.

Remove/install that part the easy way
With no further detours, here's Ross' Penny Trick - or how to outsmart ill-fitting parts (rather than them outsmarting you!

This trick is a cool way to deal with annoying fits, like a seatpost binder (the binder is the clamp built into the frame and used for tightening the seatpost) that’s so tight you’re afraid you’re going to scratch your pristine seatpost inserting or adjusting it, or a modern 2-bolt Shimano crankarm that’s stuck on the bottom bracket axle, tempting you to break out the big hammer and teach it some respect.

Don’t do it. Use this elegant trick. It works on single-bolt stems that are so tight you can barely get the handlebars in, too.

The photo shows the basic setup you want to achieve. It’s not possible with every component, but often you can remove the bolt(s), reverse one of them (see tip below) and thread it into the other side of the part. Just thread it in partway.

Then take a penny (or a dime if a penny is too thick - washers will work, too) and place it beneath the bolt to give the bolt something to push against. Make sure the edge of the penny doesn’t protrude to the inside or it will get in the way when you install/remove the component.

Now, by tightening the bolt little by little, it pushes on the penny and that opens the crankarm, stem or seat binder wider making a formerly impossibly tight part into an easy slip-on!

Tip: This is a little difficult to explain and with different components you’ll have to look at them and figure out whether it will work and how to make it work. Please study the photo to understand the principle. If there are 2 bolts, as on the Shimano crankarms, be sure to fully loosen or remove both bolts and don't drop and lose the little plastic keeper that's held by the inside bolt!

UPDATE January, 2012: Since writing this tip about the penny trick for installing tight-fitting bicycle components, Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly (one of my favorite magazines) has posted an excellent article on the penny trick (he uses a quarter or dime) for installing handlebars into stems. Yes, it's a no-brainer to put handlebars into modern road and mountain stems with removable faceplates. But the penny trick is for one-piece stems that are sized exactly right for the handlebar and can't be taken apart.

Friday, December 23, 2011

COLLECTIBLES: My head badges in Bicycling Magazine

Here's a quick scan of the artistic photo of a nice selection of badges from my collection, that San Francisco photographer Kevin Twomey took for the Jan/Feb Bicycling Magazine. It's not easy to get good photos of head badges and he took a winner here that I thought you'd enjoy seeing (I only wish my scan was better. I've asked Kevin if I can have a photo so I can improve the quality of this online version). I am always looking for interesting and historic badges so if you run across any in your travels be sure to let me know.

Happy Holidays!
This photo is much larger so be sure to zoom it

Thursday, December 22, 2011

BIKE REPAIR: Bar Taping Continued

Thanks everyone for the great comments on handlebar taping. I had mentioned that there had to be a better way to finish the job than using boring, old electrical tape, and a reader going by camp6ell told me that bike guy Frank the Welder in Vermont had made some copper collars to put a custom finishing touch on one of his machines.

I contacted my friend Captain Dondo (Don Cuerdon) - another former Bicycling Magazine colleague. He lives in Vermont and hangs out at Frank's shop. And the result is that Frank sent me this photo showing his beautiful handiwork. Frank wrote: Here is a pic of the copper tape ferrules mentioned by Camp6ell. They are made of copper tubes drawn over progressive arbors to the final size. The tape is double cloth.

I would like to know how Frank's ferrules work, whether they slip over the bars and then are slid sideways to cover/finish the tape, or if they have a tightening mechanism of some sort. I love how they look. It makes sense to me that if the handlebar tape companies go to the trouble to make handlebar plugs with their logos on them and sometimes even nicer decorations, that they could also make much nicer tape "finishers" than the simple tape strips they provide (that rarely stick for long anyway).

Frank's are beautiful. I could see some made of polished, hammered aluminum, like the Honjo fenders sold by Jtensha studios. Or even ones made of sterling silver! The trick will be how to tighten them and how to make them removable and reusable - that shouldn't be too difficult. I might experiment and see what I can come up with but it's been years since I did silversmithing in high school and college. If you make some or know of anything like Frank's please link us to it or send a photo.

Here's to custom tape jobs that set your bicycle apart like Frank's!

Frank the Welder's custom tape-finishing copper collars

Friday, December 16, 2011

BIKE REPAIR: Not Gift Wrapping - Bar Wrapping

Happy weekend pedalers,
Lately I've been thinking about wrapping handlebars (much easier than wrapping gifts I think), and it's among the most frequent and fun maintenance tasks on road bikes - so it's a good skill to work on and get good at. I taught myself how to do it and then learned the "proper" method working at a Schwinn shop in 1973. We sold 1,000 Varsity 10-speeds a year and taped every one the same way: top of the bars to the bottom of the bars.

Top-to-bottom or vise versa
To explain, when wrapping drop handlebars you have a choice. You can start at the top of the handlebars or you can start at the bottoms - the ends of the bars. Today, it's almost an absolute that you wrap bottom-to-top. Because this overlaps the tape like roof shingles.

And just like a proper shingle job keeps rain from getting under the shingles, wrapping handlebars bottom to top prevents the natural downward pressure of your hands from rolling and peeling your tape.

This photo is borrowed from the awesome BikeCult site
What's funny is that we didn't see many problems wrapping all those Schwinns the wrong way back in the day (the Varsity tape was a sticky vinyl unlike most tapes today and that helped).

Plus, taping that way results in a super-clean look since there's nothing on the bars except bar tape. The ends of the tape get neatly tucked into the handlebar end caps that press in when you finish the job (also called plugs).

Speaking of handlebar plugs, here are some cool ones in Speedplay's Museum. It's too bad that you don't find stylish ones like these anymore.

Electrical tape is for electricians not bicycles
When you wrap the "right" way, bottom to top, you have to do something to secure the ends of the tape at the top. Tape comes with finishing strips, two adhesive pieces designed to be used for this purpose. But, it doesn't usually work very well. So most mechanics finish a tape job with plain old, rather boring electrical tape, albeit sometimes in a fancy fashion wrapping several different colors to provide a custom look.

A quick aside: In the BikeCult fancy tape photo above, the master taper avoids the issue of peeling, unraveling tape, and also the issue of having to finish the tape at the top by criss-crossing/weaving the tape on. This creates that wonderfully whimsical tape job but it takes some patience and skill to pull off. Note that they used cloth tape (great-feeling stuff if you've never ridden with it). You can also do it with non-padded thin plastic tape. We used to do it with Benotto.

Another trick to avoid finishing at the top is to wrap from the bottom to the brake lever and from the top to the brake lever and then hide the tape ends at the brake lever beneath the hoods. But that one's hard to do too and I've never mastered it.

Make it stand out or hide it
The white finishing tape almost disappears
Like most mechanics I finish my bar taping jobs with electrical tape. To me it's important to finish with a single-width wrapped twice around the bar with the end hidden on the bottom.

Sometimes I will use a narrow strip on top of the first full strip in a contrasting color to add style points. But only if the tape job and bike call out for it. Often it looks best if the electrical tape is the same color as the handlebar tape and blends in when you're done.

Still, finishing with electrical tape bothers me. It's made for wiring, not bicycles, after all. You buy it in a hardware store not a bike shop. Now, you can alternatively glue the end of the tape to itself to finish a tape job, but it's hard to do it and have it look nice. And if the glue lets go, the tape comes loose and unravels when you're riding, which is a pain. That's the same issue when you use the provided finishing strips.

I should also note that some people like having the electrical tape as finishing tape because they feel it gives them something to fix things with if they have a mechanical while out riding. It could be used to patch a tire cut or to tape a broken spoke so it doesn't thrash your bike as you wobble home and so on.

The Rivendell way
But I am still thinking about a better way. Along that vein, watch this nice video to check out how Rivendell's wrenches finish the cloth tape jobs on their sweet rides. (The video won't display if you're reading this in your email, so please click the link to my blog to watch it.)

I might experiment with this technique on my bar tape with a colored nylon or plastic thread/string. Another thought is to make small carbon (?) collars that you would slip over the bars and tighten. Maybe I'll pitch that idea to a bar tape maker someday - a nice logo'd clamp like that would be a touch of class and they could make nicer bar ends to go with it while they're at it!

In closing, if any of you are using Lizard Skins DSP tape in a light color and have figured out how to clean it, I would love to know your secret. I have tried everything from water to acetone, from degreaser to bleach, and I can't clean mine. It's nice tape with a unique sticky grip and decent cushioning but not being able to clean it is a problem when you have a thing for yellow and white tape like I do. To see a pro mechanic wrap Lizard Skins tape really fast, watch this video.

Have fun with your bike this weekend,

Sunday, December 11, 2011

COOL BIKE TOOLS: Campagnolo Bicycle Stand

Good morning,
Today's bicycle eye candy is courtesy of Dale Brown of Cycles de Oro Bike Shop and the vintage road-bike online community Classic Rendezvous. Dale posted some excellent photos of Campy's rare Bicycle Assembly Stand, part #1102.

The only one I've ever seen is in their Catalogue n.17 and I've even heard people say they weren't sure Campy ever sold the stand to the general public. It's really nice to finally see one up close and personal and admire the details of the design and workmanship. There've been plenty of bottom-bracket style workstands, but something about the proportions of this one seem perfect. And I love that it has the identical finish to all of Campy's other fine tools and has their name on it, too.

If you spot one of these rare workstands in your travels and don't want it for yourself, do let me know about it as it's the proper complement to my Campagnolo Complete Tool Case.

Good luck with your bike projects today,

Saturday, December 10, 2011

VIDEO: Inventions: The SkyRide!

I've offered a lot of basic holiday cycling gift ideas, but here's a video of a truly unique one if you've got a large backyard and a kingly budget - the SkyRide!

Kind of like those water tanks that let you swim in place, it lets you ride around a track in the sky (or row). It also has practical applications should the infrastructure ever get built. It seems to me that it may make more sense as a personal than public device - and it looks like fun.

Here's a link to the video:

And, here's kind of a similar invention, the 1892 Mount Holly and Smithfield Bicycle Railroad - proving once again that when it comes to bicycles it's hard to come up with something that hasn't been dreamed up in some form before.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My New Old Bicycle: A Rex Classique 3-speed from 1971

My new old 1971 Rex Classique 3-speed (click to zoom)
I hope you're all getting ready for the holiday festivities and fitting your fun bike projects and rides in. It's been windy and cold here - at least by Santa Cruz standards.

This week I posted a couple of quick photos of my new old bike on Facebook, Google and Twitter and so many people liked them that I thought I'd do it up a little better here.

There's an interesting story behind this bike that I think you'll like, and a few more photos so you can see the details on this cool survivor from when Nixon was in the White House.

Five years ago
I lucked into finding the bicycle, a 1971 Rex Classique 3-speed - new and still in a box, albeit a water-damaged and torn container showing its age. But marked with Flying Scot labels so I knew who had manufactured the bikes (well, not really because there was this Flying Scot but I don't see any bikes like mine).

As far as I've been able to figure out, for at least 30 years, the bike had been living less than a mile from my house stuffed in the back of a garage with about 20 more just like it. I found out about it because in September of 2006, the homeowner asked my friend Elisabeth if she knew anyone who knew anything about bikes who would be willing to empty her garage and help her "do something" with the bike stuff that was in there.
Rider's view

Digging for treasure
I didn't realize what I was getting into when I agreed to help. Hoping to find a garage filled with bicycles, I arrived only to see an open two-car garage packed to the door tracks with household boxes, not a bike frame, wheel or cycling component in sight.

But the homeowner's two sons were there and they told me the bicycle story as we spent the next four hours moving the small boxes, drawn by the promise of two-wheel treasure.

From a NY bike shop to a Santa Cruz garage
They related that their dad and uncle had owned a small bicycle store in New York in the sixties and seventies and had closed it, packed everything up, driven west, settled in Santa Cruz and stashed their entire inventory into the garage when they first moved into the house.

Since then, their dad had passed away and the stash had pretty much been forgotten and buried deeper and deeper as the garage got more packed.

Matching metal fenders, chainguard and pump
When we finally removed the last row of regular boxes and reached the bike-shop portion of the garage, my heart sank. There was a pristine 1970 or so Peugeot AO-8 ladies bicycle, a decent Raleigh Super Course from the same era, many cardboard and small tin boxes full of Sturmey-Archer small parts, a few hubs and some Wrights leather saddles too.

But most of all there was bike junk - forks with missing blades, pretzeled wheels comprised of lousy parts, seats with broken rails, rusty department store accessories, worn-out pedals and other useless odds and ends.

The brothers surmised that their dad had saved everything because he was a child of the great depression and the thinking of that generation that didn't have anything, was to save everything. That sounded right to me. It was about the only explanation that made sense.

Bike boxes!
About then we saw the Rex bicycle boxes hiding in the shadows and standing on end - the wrong way to store bike boxes. I saw that there'd been a leak in the roof and water had been dripping on the boxes for years. Many had holes in them and you could see the bikes inside and some obvious serious rust damage.

Premium seating and plenty of carrying capacity
As we moved the bike boxes outside we discovered that some of the bicycles had been used as parts bikes and had been robbed of key components. Still, a complete inventory showed there were about 20 Rex Classique bicycles I thought would be buildable.

I'm still not sure about the brand Rex, but my best guess is that their bike shop had been unable to land a major brand like Raleigh.

During the bike boom of the early seventies only established shops would have been allowed to carry famous brands like Raleigh. This caused a lot of small shops to seek out bicycles however and wherever they could get them. I worked for a shop that had a copy of a Peugeot made in fact, and sold it under a made-up name.

Spec'd and ordered from England direct?
So, it's possible that these Rex Classiques may have been ordered direct from the Flying Scot factory and built to the NY bike shop's specifications. That would account for the 27-inch wheels (the standard wheel size used on 3-speed bicycles at the time in America was 26-inch).

It would also explain the two-tone paint, matching fenders, chainguard, quality seats and included bag, bell and pump - over-the-top spec for 3-speeds at the time.

Take them away, Jim!
Wing nuts and whitewalls
The brothers were so happy we had cleaned out the garage that they said that if I would help them pick out the two best bicycles for them and help get them running, they would just let me take whatever else I thought I could salvage and do with it whatever I thought was best.

I was happy to do that and within a few hours my backyard was the new home of the Santa Cruz Rex bike showroom.

Wanting to pass along my good fortune ASAP I posted an ad on craigslist offering the still-in-box bikes for sale in as-is condition, cash and carry only - and within a couple of weeks they had been passed along to 3-speed fans across California. The thought of these bikes that had waited all those years to see the light of day finally being ridden made, and still makes me happy.

My Rex
The bicycle shown here is one of the last complete ones. I still have four or five 25 inch-frame models but they are missing certain key parts. They would make a fun project and if you'd like one, just let me know and I'll give you the details and make you a nice deal.

Love that reflector
Mine was a long project because I wasn't in any rush to build the one I had put aside for me. It was almost as nice hanging onto it in the box in its original as-found condition and I didn't feel any need to put it together until I was good and ready. Recently I started thinking about how much fun it would be to build it, ride it and show it around.

After six years on hold, I took my time and enjoyed cleaning, regreasing, fine-tuning and dialing in everything just so. At the second bike shop I worked at, down in the basement where my work station was, my first task was assembling Raleigh 3-speeds. And working on this Rex took me back to those days even though the Rex is two years older than the Raleighs I built.

These British bicycles aren't like modern bikes are to build. You need British Standard wrenches to even properly tighten the nuts; you need to understand how to setup and adjust a Sturmey 3-speed drivetrain (and on a bike this old and forgotten, how to free up a hub frozen from lack of use).

You have to be able to correctly tension stamped-steel sidepull brakes so they center correctly and actually stop well (some people think they can't stop well, but it's all in the adjusting); you need to fuss around getting the sweet painted metal fenders and chainguard installed and rattle-free; and you've got to know how to regrease loose ball-bearing components, which is actually a lot of fun. (I'm happy to explain any/all of these things if you need help with your nice old 3-speed.)

Hitting the road
I set the handlebars low and sporty
The payoff is the wonderful ride of an all-steel English racer as they were called back when I was a boy and riding a funky Phillips fairly long distances across Massachusetts.

The 27-inch wheels and Michelin tires that would have been a deluxe feature back in this bike's time help smooth rough pavement for nice comfort. I decided to invert the handlebars from the usual upright position for a sportier look that also fits the reach of my long arms and large hands.

The previously locked-up Sturmey-Archer hub now shifts smoothly whether you're stopped at a light in traffic or spinning along some backroad, and the Wrights leather saddle is as supportive and comfortable as it looks and will get even better with age.

Along with other ride essentials, I'll keep a baggie in the huge Carradice saddlebag so that I can cover the seat should it rain. It's protected with leather treatment, but you don't want to take any chances with classic saddles like these.

Now we just need some tweed rides in Santa Cruz so I have some 3-speed friends to ride with!

Great rides!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Even More Holiday Cycling Gift Ideas

Happy another-shopping-weekend everyone,
Knowing how hard it is to find that special cycling something for that important pedal person in your life, I'm still hunting for unique and wonderful bike-theme gift ideas and I have a few more for you.

The first item that caught my fancy, the Kinekt Design Gear Ring - something I wish I had so I could distract everyone with it during our next Bike Committee meeting, can only be appreciated in action:

If you're receiving this blog post in email, you'll need to go here to watch the YouTube video to see the Kinekt Design Gear Ring do its thing.

The next idea comes via a comment to my last blog post. It's a custom top cap for a threadless headset from the company These caps are maybe the most noticeable part on the front of your bicycle.

I really like this idea because you see the owner's name on the caps of fine vintage French bicycles and I think it's a touch of class (actually a law in France - or at least at one time it was).

According to Kustom Caps, "Your message, your graphics, your design... anything goes with our Fully Kustom Cap." They laser etch it into the style and color cap you think your buddy will love and their two-wheeler just got a lot cooler.

And speaking of fine French bicycles, here's a related list of gift ideas they might like.

Another company left a comment mentioning their gift selection at The most interesting gift I found on their catalog is something I've actually tried, their Blip Seat, which is comprised of recycled mountain bike tires.

At the Interbike show this year they had these all over the place. They're sort of a bike fanatic's bean-bag chair, compressible and comfy and easy to roll around. They also have some other knick knacks worth checking out.

Lastly, I wanted to mention one more time Andrew Ritchie's greatly updated and thoroughly engaging bike history book Major Taylor, The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World. Sooner or later someone is going to make a proper movie out of Andrew's book and it's going to take the world by storm, both everyday viewers and bike nuts like us.

Until that happens it's a must-read story of arguably America's first superstar athlete. I've read Andrew's first book and this update and the additional photos and information in the second book make it read almost like an entirely new story. I can't recommend it enough and think anyone will be spellbound following Taylor's life. Highly recommended. You might want to get one for yourself. The books are currently on sale, too.
Good rides this weekend!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Few More Cycling Gift Ideas

I've been riding a Bike Friday since 1992 and love it
For you gift-challenged cyclists, here are three more unique gift suggestions to go with my Cycling Gift Guide of the other day,

I just received a holiday announcement from the great folks up in Oregon who make the fabulous Bike Friday travel and folding bicycles with a special sale that saves you a good bit on the price of new custom-built or Select model Bike Friday bicycle - the ultimate gift for any cyclist who travels for business or fun or just wants a folding bicycle to add versatility to their lifestyle.

If you order and pay for one of these bikes by December 15 and delay the production until February, you will receive 10% off your entire order. Delay until March and you will receive 15% off your entire order. That's a significant discount for being a little patient and these amazing bicycles are worth the wait. Your giftee will love it.

And here are two unique gifts from the green company Resource Revival that makes clever and functional items from recycled bike parts: the Bike Chain Bowl and the Desk Pendulum Clock. I'll let the photos speak for themselves, but I have to say that that's the coolest keys/cell phone tray I've ever seen (click the captions to learn more or purchase the products).
The Bike Chain Bowl

The Desk Pendulum Clock

Here's a fun video about the people behind these products:
Resource Revival Interview from Graham Bergh on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Jim's Holiday Cycling Gift Guide!

Shimano's XT wheelset will delight mountain bikers
Hello pedalers - Well, it's time to get shopping for your favorite cyclists again and I'm here to help with my third annual holiday cycling gift guide.

Before I get into a few fun gift ideas, keep in mind that you can visit any bicycle shop and pick up plenty of excellent goodies any cyclist will appreciate receiving.

A few basic examples include cycling socks (everybody likes this inexpensive gift), warm-weather and winter gloves, base layers (these add comfort in all seasons), leg and arm warmers (excellent to carry on rides when the weather may change). Or purchase a gift certificate/card so they can buy whatever they need.

If you know enough about your favorite cyclist, you can also buy bigger-ticket items that'll wow them on Christmas morning, such as a new wheelset (above; one of the quickest ways to improve a bike's performance), a fine new set of tires (not inexpensive but much less than a wheelset), a modern helmet (if they've been using the same one for three or more years, they'll notice a big difference) or new high-end cycling shoes (superior comfort and pedaling efficiency).

Specialized's Globe Live is as gorgeous as it is functional
If price is no object, you could buy them another bicycle - maybe a versatile city bike like Specialized's stylish and smartly appointed Globe Live (women's shown; men's available also) so they don't have to run errands on a bike not made for it.

Or if your loved one is a roadie, blow them away with the current dream upgrade Shimano's Ultegra Di2 electric-shifting components group, which I wrote about here a while back.

Don't worry about buying the wrong gift from a bicycle shop, either. Most stores will happily exchange items (just ask when you buy it to make sure, and save receipts and all packing/tags etc.).

Now, on with my gift ideas. To make shopping easier, I'm trying something different this year and when possible, providing photos and links to the items on Amazon, but many should be available in your local shop, too.

Bellwether Screaming Meemie Cycling Rain Jacket
Plastic jackets like this make a nice gift because they provide excellent weatherproofing and they're much cheaper than high-tech raingear. They offer basic protection - just a polyurethane wrap that keeps out the wet. And you can find them from many makers and for lower prices. But, what I like about Bellwether's Screaming Meemie translucent top is that unlike most others I've ridden in and seen, it has a zipper instead of a Velcro closure.

While Velcro seems easy to use at first blush, when it's rainy and cold, zippers are easier to operate since you can't misalign them. Also Velcro closures have proved fragile for me and I've had them separate from the jacket, whereas zippers are sewn in and usually more durable. Unlike the more expensive rain jackets you might see, these simple see-through ones have a neat trick: they let brightly colored jerseys show through which increases a rider's visibility on the road and lets them show off their club colors too. The Screaming Meemie also sports reflective details for safety, mesh panels for breathability and a tall collar.

Vélo-Rétro's musettes: a unique gift for women and men
Velo Retro Musette Bags and Tees
My friend Chuck of Vélo-Rétro loves classic lightweight road bicycles and celebrates them with his Vintage-Style Musette Bags and T-shirts. Both tell the world that the wearer is passionate about cycling and are sure to get them compliments.

The musette is a handy shoulder bag they'll use all the time. It's made of lightweight cotton, measures 10 x 14.5 inches, has a 40-inch long cotton shoulder strap and a chrome button snap closure.

Chuck lets you choose from his many beautiful advertising logos/scenes from the past (many by great artists), or you can create your own from artwork you provide. And on his tees, you can even send him their favorite shirt and he'll add one of his stunning logos to it.

Casio GW800-1V Men's Watch
I've worn Casio watches for years, both as a professional bicycle mechanic and a racing cyclist, activities where watches are needed but tend to take a beating - and Casio's have always been super helpful and durable.

The watch I'm recommending as a nice gift for cyclists is the model I wear everyday now, Casio's GW800, a solar powered, self-setting workhorse (never needs batteries, resetting or winding) that includes the all-important alarm function for waking them up in time on the day of the big ride, a countdown timer for reminding them when to eat their energy food on century rides, world time in 48 cities, and many other functions (yes, their cell phone does these things but it runs off battery power).

Plus this watch is from Casio's G-Shock series, features tough nylon/stainless-steel construction and is waterproof to 200 meters, so it'll last and last. I love never having to replace batteries or set mine. Incidentally if you want to shop for Casio watches and others like it, one of the best resources is BlueDial.

King Titanium Bottle Cage
Yes, it's just a bottle cage, but it's one of my favorite gift ideas because King Cage's handmade superlight beauty is crafted of hollow titanium tubing meaning it's ultra durable and weighs next to nothing at an amazing 28 grams.

This little piece of art won't mark their bottles and most impressive for such a featherweight cage, it holds fast. It'll keep large bottles and heavy bottle-style batteries from coming loose or shaking out over even the bumpiest singletrack or roughest pavement. Also, titanium will never rust or corrode and it resists bending better than steel or aluminum so this cage will be going strong for many years.

Team 7-Eleven Book
How An Unsung Band Of Americans Took On The World - And Won
Written by cycling journalist and former Bicycling Magazine managing editor Geoff Drake and co-authored by the guy who put together and managed the team, Jim Ochowicz, Team 7-Eleven is an engaging book that tells the fascinating and surprising tale of how Team 7-Eleven was created, and how it was able to go from nothing to winning some of the most famous and challenging road races in the world. And how it lit a fire in American cycling leading directly to the accomplishments of superstars like Lance Armstrong.

Even if your favorite cyclist was doing his thing during the years the Slurpees made their mark (as I was), I'm sure they'll love the behind-the-scenes insights and anecdotes that make up this book. It has a nice collection of photos they'll love, too.

  CycleOps Fluid 2 Indoor Cycling Trainer
 Many people are surprised to learn that today's cyclists are riding more than ever inside  on indoor trainers. So if your cyclist doesn't have one, a fine trainer like CycleOps' Fluid 2 will make her extremely happy.

 Indoor trainers let them ride no matter how bad the weather gets and when it's too dark to ride. Plus they can even travel with them for warming-up conveniently before the start of important rides. On a trainer there are no headwinds or up and downs to deal with, either, which means that it's possible to workout exactly as hard or as easy as they need to to realize their fitness/cycling goals. Plus, since it stays put, they can enjoy movies or music while riding and even keep an eye on the kids if needed.

The Fluid 2 is a great trainer that provides excellent stability, a super-smooth ride, progressive resistance that feels just like riding outdoors and fast folding so they can easily store it or pack it and take it along. They'll wonder how they ever got by without one.

Revolution Cycle Jewelry by Jennifer Green
I really like Jen's Chainring Earrings and think they make an awesome gift, perfect for your cyclist to wear around and show off their love for cycling when they're in their working or casual attire.

The Chainring Earrings are 3/4 inch-diameter sterling-silver 52-tooth rings that look identical to the ones on their bicycle - a minor marvel of miniaturization.

Jen also makes matching necklaces, chain bracelets, keychains and the cool Single Speed Ring for men. And if you're looking for a super unique gift idea, check out her custom head badges - the ultimate way to personalize their most prized possession (and you know how much I love head badges).

Your grease monkey will love Park's DC-1
Park Tool DC-1 Digital Caliper
I can't think of a handier tool for your budding bike mechanic's home shop than Park's DC-1 Digital Caliper. In order to purchase the correct repair or upgrade parts and to ensure they're fitting the correct components together, a tool that provides accurate measurements is a must.

Park's caliper does just that on its large display and instantly converts between decimal and fractional inch, and metric measurements too. It has a stainless-steel sliding rule with a composite body and it comes with it own protective case and even a spare battery.

They'll love their great shop
Your Home Bicycle Workshop Book
Speaking of home workshops, allow me to finish this year's cycling gift guide with a plug for my book Your Home Bicycle Workshop as another great gift idea. From workbenches and repair stands, to laying out a shop and organizing everything, to extensive tool lists and essential small parts to keep on hand, I tell them everything they need to know to build their dream home workshop.

This is an e-book so it's instantly downloadable and features interactivity, so readers can quickly jump around the book using the links in the table of contents and index, follow links in the book to my recommended products and zoom many photos for a closer view.

There are also a few surprises in the book, like some nice art from my vintage bicycle ad collection. I'm sure they'll enjoy it and improve their home shop with it. To gift it, download it to your computer and then copy the 13-megabyte file to a CD or DVD. Or, you can print it out if you want to wrap a more substantial gift, but there's more information and fun in the e-book than a printout so be sure to gift them both.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

BIKE COLLECTIBLES: Arnold Schwinn and Co. Head Badges

Happy holidays riders,

Thanks to fellow head badge collector Antonio Valdes, here's a wonderful selection of what many consider to be the most desirable nameplates to collect : Arnold Schwinn and Co. badges. Because some of these are hard to find and highly prized, I'm delighted to be able to show off a portion of Antonio's badges here.

These are all made of brass. Some are new-old-stock (never used), others are almost-like-new, and a few are missing the paint. My favorites are the ones with pictures on them, especially historic ones, like the La Salle, Lincoln, Mission and Pioneer. I also have a sweet spot for airplanes and like the Ace and Flyer badges a lot. Enjoy this virtual museum display of Antonio's collection. For more head badge viewing visit my collection. And be sure to let me know if you spot any badges for sale in your travels.



Schwinn Ace (notice the skull and crossbones)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Q&A: Are non-round chainrings beneficial?

Readers - Maybe because pedaling takes effort, inventors have been attempting to improve the bicycle drivetrain almost since Pierre Lallement first created it by attaching pedals to the front wheel of a dandy horse around 1862. So I thought this question about non-round chainrings was a good one to share.

If you have an opinion, your feedback is appreciated.
Click to read Road Bike Action's review of Rotor Rings

Q: Would you please consider addressing the possible benefits of Rotor Rings or point me to an article that does?

Appreciate all your helpful articles,

A: Thanks for the interesting question Valerie.
Rotor Rings are challenging for me to comment on. To some they are revolutionary products that improve your power and efficiency. To others they are snake-oil, i.e. nothing but hype.

What's really needed is a truly scientific analysis and even that would be highly challenging since the argument can be made that if you learned to pedal on a standard chainring you need to "learn" how to pedal the Rotor Rings before you can analyze their benefit - or put a number on it.

Having tried various non-round chainrings, oval chainrings, Shimano Biopace rings, and cranksets with cams designed to avoid the loss of power in the dead spots in the pedal stroke, like the Houdaille Powercam, (which I actually rode thousands of hard miles on and wrote a positive review on back around 1986), I have never found any true, long-term benefit from these "advanced" chainrings/cranksets. So I don't believe they do anything except change how you pedal slightly.

Sharp's book is readable on Google books (pg. 428 shown)
Alternatively shaped chainrings have always been controversial like this. Archibald Sharp wrote about them in his analysis of bicycle and tricycles in 1886 (clipping right). 

Now I know full well that some top riders have ridden and done well on the Rotor Rings - like former pro roadie Bobby Julich for example. However, I do not believe Bobby would have done any worse on standard chainrings and I didn't see him suddenly winning more on the Rotor Rings.

I know that for some special events, such as time-trial racing, the Rotor Rings can allow some riders to pedal more comfortably in the aero position because of the extreme position. Shorter crankarms will do the same thing (a lot more on crankarm length in a future blog post). But that is one application where a non-round ring might help some riders.

Ultimately, the only way to know if you'd like them or not would be to try them. But, you would want to carefully compare them to what you have now because at first blush they are going to feel different and different sometimes feels better just because it's different. What you want to determine before spending the money, and it's a lot of money - is if they actually improve your efficiency in some way.

One way to do this would be to have a fitting specialist in a bike shop (or you could do this at home), look at you pedaling on a trainer with regular rings and then the Rotor Rings. Videotaping would provide a direct comparison. You could watch to see if you pedal more smoothly with the Rotor Rings. If so, that's an indication that you might save energy on them and feel more comfortable on rides.

The first thing to think about is if you have any issues with your pedaling right now. If you do (maybe you rock around a lot on your seat when you're pedaling - an indication that something's not right), maybe the Rotor Rings would help you smooth out. However, issues like this can be caused by other things too, like a seat in the wrong position, so you'll want to rule out those things too - before trying the Rotor Rings.

If you end up getting the Rotors, I'd be interested in hearing what you think. Maybe you can find a bike shop that sells a lot of them that has a loaner bike they let people take real rides on. That way you would be able to ride a loop you know on the rings, which is a good way to get an idea how they work for you. If you bring your regular bike, you can do a back-to-back comparison, too. If you check Rotor's dealer locator maybe you can find such a shop.

Good rides!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

VIDEO: A fun train/bicycle day-tour with the CTC in 1955

Bikeman and fellow journalist Carlton Reid posted this on his channel and I thought you'd find it a nice escape: hopping aboard a Cyclists' Special train in London, and hitting the road in Rugby to pedal to Warwickshire with the CTC club in 1955 - not a car in sight and interesting things to see all along the way. The best part is that, even today, in many places you can still take the train (or bus, subway, etc.) to escape with your favorite bicycle and explore new areas in style.

If you're viewing this in email and don't see the video, here's a link:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Q&A: Higher handlebars & seatpost setback

Q: I hope you can help me, Jim,
I'm trying to make a 1998 Specialized Stumpjumper mountain bike fit me better. I have slick tires on it and I want to ride it on the road. The problem is that it has one of those stem and handlebar arrangements that can only be raised by putting more shims beneath the stem. Right now there are as many shims as there's room for so I can't make the stem or bars any higher.

I went to a nearby bike shop and they told me that I would need to buy a new fork for my bike in order to get a longer top fork tube [editor's note: called the "fork steerer"], and that would make it possible to add more shims to raise the stem and bars. But they said since a fork is so expensive, and my bike is already on the old side, that I should instead consider buying a new bicycle.

Now, I don't know what to do. I like the ride of this bike and it's in good shape from what I can tell - even if it's a little old. I'm thinking the new fork is the way to go, but it doesn't make sense to me that there isn't some way to just raise the handlebars. So I thought I'd get a second opinion from you.

Please help,

The Delta Stem Raiser
A: I'm glad you asked, William, because you definitely do NOT need a new fork or a new bike to raise your handlebars. What you have is a threadless fork and you're right that the way you raise and lower the handlebars is to add and remove shims. You're also right that you can only add as many shims as there's room for on the steerer.

Understand that when the company that made the bike originally assembled it, the fork had a long steerer on it. But, the steerer is cut to the right size for the frame size it's being installed on. And the amount of shim space left is what the company manufacturing the bicycle believes will provide the person who fits the bike enough adjustment.

Since it's not enough for you, and the fork has already been cut, you need a workaround. And a good one is made by Delta Cycle and called a stem raiser (photo; also available from other makers). You can see how it works in the photo. It bolts to the top of your fork providing an additional 3.25 inches of height. Your stem/bar combo will fit right on and you can fine-tune your position, tighten and finally be riding in comfort. And all for a lot less cost and hassle than replacing a fork or buying a new bike.

Important note: If you're lucky, you'll be able to install the stem raiser and put your stem/bar as high as you want it. But, check your cables and make sure they're not too short now and causing binding when you turn the handlebars to steer. If you run into that problem, you'll have to lower the stem/bar until they have the slack they need, or replace the cables.

Important note 2: Some mountain bikes have flat handlebars, in other words, ones with no rise. To sit higher, you can replace the bars with a set that offers more rise. Another approach is to replace the stem with a model that's angled upward more instead of forward so much. One of these approaches will almost always do the trick. Sheldon Brown covers the subject extensively.

Q: Hello Jim!
It's getting cold here in Canada, but I'm still riding. Today I have a question about how you measure seatpost setback? And what's your point of view on zero-setback seatposts?


Zero-offset left / plus-offset right
A: Seat setback has to do with your pedaling efficiency, Clod.

Usually if you look at the specs on the seatpost you're interested in, it will list the setback. But you can get a good idea looking at it from the side, too (photo). A zero-setback puts the seatpost clamp (the part that holds the seat in place) directly above the seatpost. On a seatpost with setback, the clamp is behind the seatpost. (Interestingly, in the early days of cycling we used to mount the seat clamp in front of the seatpost.)

Note that you may find some seatposts that have the clamp directly over the post, but also provide setback. But this type of post is easy to spot because it's bent to provide the setback.

To get the right seatpost for you, you first want to make sure your seat height is correct and then use a plumbline to find the correct fore/aft position for your body. Once you know where the seat needs to be, you can then figure out how much setback you need.

And, in most cases, unless you have a frame that has a shallow seat-tube angle or you have very short thighs, you probably won’t want to use a zero-offset seatpost.

But, if you check your riding position on the seat (instructions), you will be able to figure out what’s best and choose the correct seatpost.

Happy bike fitting!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Q&A: Sew-up tire reader tips and visiting Vittoria

Clement's 1977 line-up
Thanks for the emails about my sew-up tire repair and gluing piece. I received some reader tips that I'm sharing here at the end, and I found a good how-to-glue sew-up tires on rims article by While it focuses on gluing cyclocross tires, it's the same steps for road rubber. I like their roll-the-just-glued-on-tire-over-a-broomstick trick.

Just for fun, on the right is an illustration of Clement's tires offered circa 1977. Be sure to zoom it to see the detail. If you know who drew this, I'd love to give them credit here. In case sew-ups are new to you, it's the full, round shape so clearly shown in the illustrations that provides the supple road feel and superb cornering grip.

Visiting Vittoria
Thinking about tubular tires, always reminds me of a visit to the Vittoria factory in Terno d'Isola, Italy in July of 1990. I was in Italy with a group of bicycle and motorcycle journalists to visit their many factories and write about the famous products so popular in the USA at the time.

The companies we visited included Campagnolo, Castelli, Casati, Regina, 3T, Bottecchia, Columbus, Cinelli, Bianchi and Vittoria (I know I'm forgetting a few others we made it to). Keep in mind that this was over 20 years ago and things have changed.

I remember how Campagnolo was spotless, right down to the restaurant in the factory that served us on Campagnolo china. Also, I noticed that many of their machine tools had been made in the USA. Visiting Bottecchia (Carnielli) only days after Greg LeMond had cinched his 3rd Tour victory on one of their bikes gave us a chance to celebrate the victory with them, which was cool.

A trip highlight was Antonio Colombo at Cinelli giving me a spectacular cloisonné Cinelli stem badge. And, at Regina, I watched mesmerized as their Rube Golbergesque freewheel builder - a giant circular table with every body and cog on spools in the middle, and articulated, moving arms that reached for, grabbed and installed the cogs - actually worked.

Making sew-up tires
But I think the biggest surprise was seeing the amount of hand labor that went into making Vittoria tires at the time, because I assumed it was a fully automated process. While we were there we received a promotional book about the company, which has some photos in it that I've scanned and pasted below to give you an idea how they're made. The photos are by Ruggero Giuliani.

They actually make the casing by feeding a single thread from a spool like the ones shown below, onto a long, horizontal, spinning metal cylinder. As the thread is wound onto the cylinder it gets woven and the casing material is formed. A worker walks the length of the cylinder, brushing the fabric with liquid latex (I believe) to bond it. Then the finished material is cut off with a knife and put aside to be formed into a tire shape (you can see the finished casing fabric at the bottom of this photo).

It all starts with a single thread
 In another room the rubber that will comprise the tubes and tread is made from natural rubber that's mixed and formed with a machine that to me looked like the taffy-pulling machines you see at candy stores. I thought the rubber would come ready-formed and they would simply cut and apply it. But they started with the raw material and made it themselves.

Right off the rubber tree

You can just see the woman's hand feeding the casing through the sewing machine as it's sewn around the tube. More hand labor.

Sewing the sew-up
Perhaps so that workers don't have to breathe and handle glues, which can be dangerous, this machine applies the glue that holds the tread.

Applying glue to the casing before the tread goes on

I believe the last photo (below) shows the inverted tread strips ready to be attached. I remember they were heated for vulcanizing the tread to the tire too, and formed on rim-like holders. Watching the process made me realize why the tires were so precious both in price and value. And, today I still race on Vittoria tires and feel they are superior.

Tread strips ready to be attached
Reader tubular repair and gluing tips and tricks
Hope you enjoy the photos. Now here's some helpful sew-up input from reader David Heilbrun. He writes: "I used to repair sew-ups and have some tips people might like."
  • I learned to take J&J adhesive tape and cut a strip and round the corners, then apply it to the hole in the casing. That ended any problems with the tube popping out of the hole and exploding.
  • I found that you have to cut open the tire enough to get the tube out because if you don't and pull hard to try to get it through too-small of a hole, you can rip the tube and you don't want to do that!
  • Your suggestion to mark the original holes and then sew through the same holes is an important rule to make it easy and avoid a twisted tire.
  • I just loop the new stitches in a spiral pattern and overlap the end stitches.
  • I use a seamstress seam cutter to open the casing.
  • Regular rubber cement, like Carter's, works for gluing the cloth protector strip inside the tire.
  • On gluing the tires to the rims, I clean the rim with alcohol to remove any oils from your fingers.
  • If there's old glue on the rim, I soften it with mineral spirits or, if it's heavy, remove it altogether.
  • If the rim has ferrules on the gluing surface, I use a file to smooth and roughen them so they'll hold the glue and the tire will lay flat on the rim (the ferrules can lift the tire).
  • I only use one good coat of glue on the rim and none on the tire and that always works for me.
  • I apply the glue with my index finger making sure to coat all surfaces.
  • You can get glue off tire sidewalls with mineral spirits but watch out for silk sidewalls, which are fragile. 
Thanks, David!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

COOL TOOLS: Campagnolo Complete Tool Case

My prized circa 1969 Campagnolo Complete Tool Case (click to zoom) 
Upgrading my bicycle repair stand with Park's new 100-3D clamp reminded me to blog about the webpage I just put together for my vintage Campagnolo Complete Tool Case. Above is a teaser photo. My Tool Case is an example of perhaps the ultimate toolkit of all time (Campy also offered a "Reduced" case with fewer tools, and later a toolkit just for their freewheels). There are more images, instructions on how the tools worked, and the story behind this Campy toolkit on my webpage.

Many Campagnolo tool cases exist out there in shops and collections. What I like about mine is its connection to the bicycle shop I worked at and the noteworthy mechanics that became legends there while using these Campy tools. As you can see if you zoom the photo, my toolkit is a little beat-up, but what's nice is that it's one of the ones with a full wood interior instead of the plastic interior Campagnolo went to by the early seventies. And all the tools - even though rough-looking - still work beautifully. Read more on my website.

If you can put an accurate date on my toolkit, offer more information on Campy's kits or have links to one of yours, please post a comment or email me so we can check it out. Thanks!