Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Coming soon...

Sometimes, one can get a little too comfortable with the status quo. In doing so, certain necessary things are neglected. One item that I've been neglect in arranging is my website. But that's about to change. I registered the domain name long ago and only a few days ago signed up to have my website hosted.

So, is now officially under construction and I've got a bunch of copy to prepare. Luckily, there are a lot of really nice sites out there to draw inspiration from. The one style of site, I really don't care much for are the fancy flash sites. The Black Mountain Cycles site will be simple, easy to navigate, and informative.

Now if I can just get my above door sign painted...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

First ride...

I love building myself a new bike. I love it even more when the bike I'm building will soon be a bike that I can sell with my own name on it. This was the case recently when I built my new "cross" bike. It's not exactly a cyclocross bike because it has two sets of water bottle bosses, clearance for 45c tires, and it's not light like a 'cross bike. I kind of like to think of it as my do-all bike. It's perfect for the area where I do a bit of road riding to get to the trails. The 45c knobbies are a bit buzzy on the road, but boy are they comfortable. However, they absolutely shine on smoothish rolling dirt!

Like I mentioned, this is a frame/bike that I'll be selling as a Black Mountain Cycles brand. I'm working with a factory in Taiwan to develop the frame (along with some other frames). First rides are always fun and this was no exception. However, there was one minor glitch.

My plan was to ride Highway 1 about 10 miles south, jump on the Randall Trail up to Bolinas Ridge, and then ride Bolinas back to Sir Francis Drake and then back home on the road. All was going along splendidly until I paused at the bottom of Randall to raise my slowly sinking seat. Should have followed my first instinct and use some carbon paste.

So I loosen the clamp, raise the seat, tighten clamp. Maybe I should give the clamp that little extra twist to make sure the post doesn't sink while I'm on the dirt. POW! That's the unmistakable feeling of aluminum threads being completely stripped out of the clamp. Well, that didn't work out so well.

Looking up the trail at what's in store.

I'm now left about 10 miles by road or 12 miles by dirt to get back home. Figuring it's much easier (hah!) to climb/descend out of the saddle on the dirt, I continue on with the seat flipping around like a weather vane.

This seems to be a good spot to rest the back.

After about an hour of this, I'm over the heroic effort of carrying on sans seat on my ride and I really want to sit and pedal. Where Bolinas Ridge Trail empties out of the trees into cattle grazing pastures, I see a piece of hay after stopping to get through a gate. As I see the hay, my mind thinks , "Hmmm, hay, tubular, fibrous, pretty tough stuff. What would happen if I took a piece and as I slide my seat post into the frame also fit the piece of hay in as well, kind of like a wedge."

Well, after pounding on the seat to get it down to my seat height marked by a piece of electrical tape, I can finally rest my weight on the seat and pedal. The seat still spins, but doesn't sink. A fine, fair trade-off, me thinks. And it gets me home without any more stress on my back from standing.

Shim firmly wedged in place.

Looking towards home.

Back in the shop, I go to remove the post and put on a proper seat clamp and it takes me 15 minutes to get the hay out. I designed the frame with an oversized 31.8 seat tube (I like the feel at the bb with the oversized seat tube and with the oversized top and down tubes, it fits right in) and a custom aluminum shim so I can run a standard sized 27.2 seat post. The hay has made the shim one with the seat post and when I try to pull out the seat post, the shim comes out too. Bummer. Fifteen minutes of hammering, pulling, and yanking (trust me, I'm a bike mechanic) and everything is separated and back together in the frame with a layer of FSA carbon paste. No more slipping.

But most important, I dig this bike. I do believe I've nailed it! And I really dig the British Racing Green color. I've never had a green bike. Can't believe I've waiting this long.

Monster cross with a little photoshoped decal work.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

More'n one way to fix a flat....

A guy came in yesterday in a slight panic worried that he would have to take a taxi 40+ miles back to San Francisco. Seems he had a flat tire and didn't have the special key that allowed him to remove his quick release. Guess they aren't so "quick" of a release without the key. The receptacle that was on the part of the skewer still in the frame was an odd shape and one that wouldn't come off without destroying the part. I guess I could have destroyed it to get the wheel off, sold him a new tube and quick release, charged him a whole bunch for labor, but I had another idea.

Luckily, we both knew exactly where the hole in the tube was because a piece of glass had likely caused a small chunk of tire to come out. He had also, in desperation, applied a patch on the outside of the tire over the hole. If we didn't have that indication, hunting for the hole would have taken much longer.

So, I peeled off the tire in that section, pulled the tube out, patched the tube, booted the tire and sent him on his, grateful, way back to the city. He got to finish his ride without a huge taxi fare and he learned a valuable lesson - well, hopefully, several lessons.

1. Never leave the house without your "special" quick release key.
2. How to fix a flat if you ignore lesson #1.
3. Wait 5 minutes before applying the patch after laying down the vulcanizing fluid.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wall o' frames...

Finally found a place to get some display fixtures for frames - Rudy Rack in Wisconsin. Studs are supposed to be at 16" on center. Every other stud should be at 32 inches. I spaced the fixtures at 32", or so I thought. I still needed to hunt and peck with a nail in the 32" range. Some were spot on at 32" and some were an inch or so off the mark. Hey, close enough to mount some bike frames.

One thing that is obvious - I need to do a little electrical work to get that flourescent fixture working.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Computer collection...

I'm getting quite the computer collection. A local resident brings by a cycle computer whenever she finds one one the road. How do these things pop off rider's bikes? I've got three now. Not enough for a statistical test of what the most popular computer is, but enough to know which ones don't stay on the bike.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Visitors to the shop are nice. Paying visitors (customers) are even nicer ;-) . But it's always a pleasant surprise to have visitors of the caliber I've had recently.

Bruce Gordon has stopped by a couple of times. His shop is over the hill in Petaluma. He's stopped by on a couple of beautiful Sunday mornings, driving his sweet, little red MG with the top down to Pt. Reyes for breakfast. He's been a great guy to talk bikes and just stuff in general. I always enjoyed seeing his bikes at the North American Handbuilt Bike Show. It also helps that the bikes he displays are big bikes like the ones I like and ride. Now it's nice to be able to put a personality with the bike.

Tom Ritchey and Jock Boyer stopped by over the weekend at the end of a ride. Tom snapped a derailleur cable and we tried to fix it, but the cable end had snapped off in his shifter and lodged itself in the bowels of the shifter which would have required some surgery to remove. He didn't have time to get it out so we set the limit screw of the rear derailleur to a middle gear giving him a 2-speed to get back to Steve's house.

Jock Boyer, in case you've not followed racing for the past, oh, 30 years or so, was the first American to race in the Tour de France, raced Paris Roubaix many times, won Coors Classic, won Race Across America a few times..., and now is working to develop the Rwanda National Cycling Team.

Neil Ruddock from used a holiday to the Bay Area to visit the hallowed ground that is Mt. Tam and Repack Rd. recently. He also stopped by the shop for a chat and took photos of some of the vintage bikes in the shop.

Steve Potts stops by regularly to take advantage of one of the couches I have in the shop. So be careful if you are thinking about plopping down on a couch and it looks like a sleeping Carthartt jacket, it just might be Steve.

And last Saturday, a friend from New York, Noah, came out to visit his Potts bikes that he's letting me display in the shop. In tow, was Jacquie Phelan, Alice B. Toeclips. Or rather, Jacquie was towing Noah and his wife around West Marin. I usually like to go on solo bike rides. Jacquie is one person I wouldn't mind riding with. Noah is also compiling information on Jacquie's husband's (Charlie Cunningham) bikes and posting it on a website he's managing.

Monday, October 15, 2007

All you need to ride a bike is a bike...

It's raining today (or at least it was an hour ago). I didn't expect many folks to come into the shop today. Especially folks who were out riding. And I really didn't expect the young lady who came into the shop with a hunk of glass in her front tire. She was riding with her dad from Sebastopol to San Francisco - only about 70+ miles.

She was riding an old Benotto with a heavy dose of rust on all the chromed sections of the frame (including the whole fork). She was had a rain jacket on, cotton pedal pushers, Teva type sandals sans socks (the temperature is maybe high 50's), and a helmet.

I installed a new tube and booted her tire while she and her dad got some soup. When they were done, they picked up the bike, and were on their way to the city - another 40 miles to go.

It is definitely not the best weather to be riding but she had a smile the whole time like she was just having a great adventure with her dad. Riding in the rain is fun, but I guess, I don't smile too much while I'm getting drenched.

Oh yeah, not only was she wearing sandals, but she was riding with old Look pedals. That must have been a little slippery. Who says you need to have the costume to have a great time riding.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Marin's newest Niner dealer...

Niner has so many cool frames, it's probably a bit difficult to decide which one someone would want. Probably best to just go by the color. Their main hardtail frames are made with either Reynolds 853 or Easton Scandium. That doesn't make the decision any easier. 853 is, well, it's steel - and light. Easton Scandium is also a great riding frame material. I rode an Easton Scandium road frame for a while and have to say it was one of the best riding frames I've ridden. Light like aluminum and smooth like steel.

This Tang colored one is for a customer, but I may have to get one for myself. I may have to go the Scandium route...

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Prudhoe Bay to Tierra del Fuego...

Basically, Prudhoe Bay is at the top of North America and Tierra del Fuego is at the bottom of South America. If you consider North and South America a contiguous land mass, I think that is the longest distance across a land mass in the world. So why would you want to ride your bike across it?

I didn't get the chance to ask that of Eric, who was doing exactly that - riding his beautiful orange Co-Motion from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, Chile. Eric stopped by the shop several days ago to inquire about Continental Contact touring tires. Well, as luck would have it, I had two left. He was going to go outside and flip his bike upside down to install the new tires, but I told him to use the shop stand.

While he changed his tires, we chatted a bit and learned that he was undertaking this incredible adventure - solo. That's a long way to ride. An even longer way to ride by yourself. Check out his progress at his site anticompass. And better, check out the reason why he's doing it.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Multiple personalities...

I've had to work hard to manage my multiple personalities. No, not my psychological condition, but a managerie of personalities brought on by operating a business solo. It's hard. There's no one to counter balance myself. But it's also a challenge. I find myself as the owner, mechanic, buyer, accountant, marketer, and janitor. The janitor part is probably the easiest task, but one that I too often forget to do.

I'm already a good mechanic. I can manage the marketing tasks, but figuring out where to place my marketing efforts is not easy with the budget the owner set for me and the fact that I am brand new to the area. The owner wants me to buy up as much inventory as possible (can't sell without anything to sell) because he's a bike parts geek. However, the buyer in me has to stop him and say "do you really need that?" So, we argue and in the end, he acquiesces to my buying skill.

Thanks to Quick Books, the accountant role is eased quite a bit. It was challenging setting up the individual accounts, but now all I have to do is enter information on a timely basis and keep it up to date. A slight delay just makes it harder to catch up, so the owner keeps pushing me to keep the books up-to-date. He's a pretty fair boss.

The janitor is telling me to get off the computer and clean the toilet. Guess I can't ignore it any further. Now where did he leave those rubber gloves?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Why a new tire/wheel size? Well, for starters, the 650B size is anything but new. Second, if it were not for the Russian Army, all mountain bikes might, to this day, be equipped with 650B wheels and 26” and 29” might never have existed. Back in the infancy of mountain bikes, Tom Ritchey, Joe Breeze, and some other early pioneers were experimenting with 650B wheels because they could get lightweight aluminum rims in that size. The klunkers were built with heavy, steel 26” rims.

Fast forward to 2007 and 650B is coming back. It’s always been around in the form of randonneur bikes (comfortable, fast, sport touring bikes) with 38c tires. Over the past year, there have been a few out-of-the-box souls who have experimented with 650B mountain bikes – Rivendell and Kirk Pacenti. Kirk even went so far as to make his own tires. He now has Panaracer making a 650B x 2.3 tire.

Why 650B? It makes a lot of sense on a lot of fronts. But why 650B instead of 29 inch or 26 inch wheels? Here’s my take.

Twenty-nine inch wheels are a hoot to ride. And at 6’3” tall, the big wheels make my bike look very proportional. But, there are some problems that need to be overcome because of the big wheels. When designing a bicycle frame, I start with a general concept of what I want my seat angle, head angle, effective top tube length, and bottom bracket height to be. Then starting with the bottom bracket, I lay in my seat tube. The seat tube/bottom bracket relationship is crucial to the rider’s position on the bike because the position of your butt and feet is what gets the pedals rotating. You can’t fool with that relationship beyond a small variance.

With the bottom bracket and seat tube in place, I figure out what my bottom bracket drop (bottom bracket height) will be. Then creating a horizontal line above the bottom bracket that represents my drop, I draw a circle with the center being the center of the bottom bracket and the radius representing the chainstay length that I want. Where that circle intersects the horizontal line of the bb drop, that is where the rear axle of the wheel will be located. Then from this spot, I draw in the diameter of the rear wheel.

Oops, those 29” wheels don’t fit. I’ve either got to increase the seat angle or lengthen the chainstays. Altering the seat angle is not an option, in my opinion. So, here comes the first concession to designing around 29” wheels – lengthening the chainstays. Lengthening the stays isn’t actually a bad thing. It’s what helps a bike climb steeps. Getting the rear wheel back further helps to keep the front end of the bike down when climbing. But because the big tire also takes up space that is also occupied by the front derailleur, the stays have to get pushed back even further.

So, I lengthen the chainstay so the rear wheel clears the seat tube and the front derailleur. Then with the top tube, head tube, down tube, front wheel in place along with the fork and fork offset, I fine tune the head angle to get a decent amount of trail which aids in the stability of the bikes steering. All is good until I get to the smaller sizes and realized that toe overlap is a possibility.

On the smaller sizes, you have to push the front end out to where the wheel and toe doesn’t overlap. You do this by also increasing the seat angle and reducing the head angle to also try to preserve the riders’ position. What you end up with is a “small” sized frame that has virtually the same front center as the “medium” sized frame.

Okay, that didn’t seem too hard. But this is a hardtail. When you throw in suspension, the design takes on a whole new variable. Now, you’ve got that big ole rear wheel moving in an arc around a pivot. Seat tube angles just got ridiculously steep. Some are over 74 degrees. Talk about being over the front of the bike!

So, here’s where 650B wheels come in. This mid-sized wheel “almost” fits into existing 26” wheel frames. Minor tweaking is all that is needed to fine tune a suspension frame for 650B wheels instead of a complete overhaul that is required of 29” wheels. A full-suspension bike can be designed with bigger (than 26”) wheels without having to make many concessions to accommodate the wheels.

But why 650B wheels and not 26 or 29? I don’t think that’s the question. There’s no reason why all can’t co-exist. After all, road bikes are available in 700C and 650C wheel sizes. BMX bikes are available in 12”, 16”, 18”, 20” and 24” tire sizes. All of those tire sizes (700C, 650C, 26", 24", 20", ... and even 650B) are also available in a huge variety of widths. And further, cranks and stems are available in a wide range of lengths that allow riders to tailor their fit on the bike. So why not wheel sizes?

Personally, I enjoy riding all of my 26” and 29” wheeled bikes. I like the light weight of the 26” wheels. I like the smoothness of 29” wheels and their ability to roll over obstacles easier. I like the “snap” that 26” wheels have when you need that extra punch to get up, through, or over something. I like harnessing the momentum of 29” wheels.

I think the 650B size will take each of the benefits of 26” wheels and 29” wheels and make them its own. As I develop the brand of my bike shop, I will be developing frames that I will offer under the Black Mountain Cycles brand. The first frame will be a 650B frame. The design is done and I can’t wait for the first sample. It just makes sense to me.


When I started at Haro in October of 1993, I was given a list of bike shops in the central states (my territory) to call and was given the task of enlisting those dealers to become Haro dealers. As I am now in the process of calling potential vendors to line up possible suppliers, I am reminded of those early days at Haro. As I am call these vendors, I see a definite pattern developing the the phone numbers.

Thirteen years ago, I had an epiphany of sorts one day. I kept thinking, "wow, there sure are a lot of bike shops that have 2453 as the last four digits of their phone number. Wonder what's up with that. Strange coincidence?" Then as I'm dialing, yet again, another 2453 number, I see the letters that are associated with those numbers form the word BIKE.

It recently took me a few times dialing those magic four letters before I remembered that 2453=BIKE.