Monday, January 28, 2008

Parlez vous rollercam...

I don't know exactly why that oh so influential magazine of the mountain bike so dissed rollercams in the late 80's, but it seems that once MBA proclaimed they didn't like the rollercam, manufacturers were afraid to spec it for fear that their bike would get a poor review. That was a prevailing fear among manufacturers that probably hampered development during the early 90's. Mountain bikes were designed to please the editors in Valencia.

It was called a mud collector. The same thing could be said of chainstays and the chainstay bridge. After all, the rollercam simple sat in the shadow of the chainstay. If your bike was going to get clogged with mud, it would, in all likelihood do so irregardless of the type of brake on your bike. In fact, forks were also notoriously lacking in the clearance area.

It was difficult to install and set up. Nope, can't buy that one either. Once you knew the proper set-up technique, they were a breeze to dial in. However, you also had to want to learn how to set them up and get them working perfectly. Charlie Cunningham published a fantastic primer for rollercam set-up. All you had to do was follow this and your brake was adjusted.

So why was the oft maligned rollercam doomed? After all it was way more powerful and had better modulation than any other brake available at the time. It's ironic that the rollercam is now desirable among the vintage mountain bike congnoscenti - especially the WTB Speedmaster. Personally, I blame its demise on Yeti. Indirectly at least. MBA was so into Yeti that if your bike didn't have dual cantilever brakes, top tube cable routing, heavy "aircraft grade" tubing that was prone to didn't seem to stand a chance under the Wrecking Crew.

Okay, maybe I'm being a little harsh, but dang, back in those days, there was a definite bias in their testing. Just seemed to lack objectivity.

Well, dang! What started off as a post about what I worked on yesterday and how cool the rollercam is ended up as more of a rant. Here's what I initially was going to write - darn fingers always doing what they want to...

Worked on this brake yesterday. Adjusted the brake pads a bit. Used some emory cloth to "sand" the pad to contact the rim squarely (with a wee bit of toe-in). Got the cable housing trimmed to the perfect length. Made sure the ends of the casing were nicely filed and there were no burrs. Fit an in-line cable adjuster right at the same relative location. Adjusted the spring tension so it was sufficient only to return the brake arms (and had a snappy feel at the levers). Wow, this brake feels really good.

(What's playing: KGSR Volume 12. KGSR a radio station in Austin, TX puts out an album each year - usually of live, in-studio performance of some great artists and they are all excellent.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What's in the stand today...

This sweet old Otis Guy was in for a triple conversion a while back. It's here now to get a wee bit taller stem. The problem getting taller stems for these old bikes is that there ain't a lot of options, especially when the parameters are: 1" quill and it's got to be the same style as the original.

Well, Nitto does make this really nice tall 1" quill stem. The folks over at Rivendell are quite fond of them. However, it's really tall and this is a short frame (read, head tube is shorter than the Nitto stem's quill). The owner only wanted to get a stem that was about an inch taller, but it also had to be able to be dropped back down when his son visited and rode his old bike. Even with the Nitto buried, it was still too tall for both of them.

Where there's a will, there's a way. I chopped 30mm out of the Nitto stem, got the angle filed just right, cut down the stem bolt, and it went together perfectly. Had a bit of a scare, though. The stem bolt only has a certain amount of threads and I almost thought I had cut too much out of the stem so that the stem bolt's threads would bottom into the wedge, not letting me fully secure the stem. Luckily, I did measure everything twice and it all fit nicely.

This one's too short. This one's too tall.

Ahh, but this one's just right with its 30mm of unnecessary quill.

Tools required.

Lookin' mighty fine perched on a great old frame.

(What's playing: Talking Heads Life During Wartime. Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons, packed up and ready to go...this ain't no party, this ain't no disco...)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Project #2 - part 1...

Project #2 involves building myself a new fixed gear bike. I've decided to retire the ole Bridgestone RB-1 from fixed gear duty and built it back up into it's previous and original build with a mix of Mavic, Campagnolo, Shimano...stuff that works well in it's own right.

So, project #2 will be a fixed gear bike based on a sample of a frame that I'm developing as a Black Mountain Cycles fixed gear frame. There are some changes from this sample that I'm going to make after consulting with my friend Sky at Velo Culture down in San Diego. This frame is definitely, more of a road oriented fixed gear frame. The final one will fit in nicely on the track or on the mean streets.

First step, wheels. Phil Wood and Velocity Deep V. I waited for a long time for white Deep V's and finally got them to build up with DT Competition 14/15 spokes. There are some combinations of rims/hubs/spokes that just seem to build up perfectly and these wheels built up so nicely that when I was done, I had that "that's all" feeling.

I dig how this first shot came out. Got the "Phil" lined up perfectly with the valve hole. More as the project progresses...

(What's playing: Streaming Seattle's KEXP Music That Matters radio show.)

This is a test...

This is just a test. If it had been an actual emergency, what the heck would you be doing here? Seriously, working on getting things compiled for my website and wanted to see if this google map image embedded here. Thanks for your paitence and back to your regularly scheduled programming.

View Larger Map

Hey, it works! What fun.

(What's playing: Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Greatest Hits - boy this is a fun album.)

Friday, January 18, 2008


I don't think too much about Spam. Don't eat it, don't like it in my inbox, might like it fried and on a piece of toast. Within the past two days, Spam has been thrust into my life in the form of a post that no longer exists on mtbr and in Dave Moulton's blog and his dislike of e-mail spam.

The word spam really only conjures up one image whenever I hear it.

(What's playing: Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, bacon, and spam.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Winter projects...

Okay, January started off slow. But hey, I'm 100% ahead of where I was last January ;-). I figure January is time for personal projects. I've got a few bikes that are in need of work and a couple of frames that are in need of building up. So, here's Project #1.

I built this frame at Pacific Coast Cycles sometime between 1989 and 1990. I can't remember the exact year. I wanted a Bontrager cyclocross frame, but couldn't afford one so I think to myself, why not build a frame myself. At the time there was no 'cross scene in San Diego. We had one race, the Sorrento Cyclocross that was laid out on a super fun course among the eucalyptus trees around the UCSD campus. I wanted a 'cross bike, not to race, but to ride. I liked taking my road bike and riding it off-road. On some of our shop group rides, I would ride my road bike to the ride and then ride it off road with the group. Super fun, but made more fun with a 'cross bike.

I laid out the frame out full-size on a big piece of butcher paper, ordered lugs and a tubeset (Tange #2) from Nova Cycle Supply, and began practicing my brazing technique on scrap pieces of tubing.

I was fortunate working at Pacific Coast Cycles because Chuck, the owner, had been employed by Masi when Faliero opened shop in Carlsbad and had skill brazing. In addition, the shop had previously employed a very skilled frame builder named Leo Castellon. Between the two of them, I had sufficient guidance to braze my own frame.

The tubing and lugs arrived and I went to work mitering the tubes which was done by hand with a file. I also got an excellent lesson in filing and preparing the lugs so that once I got to brazing, the shape of the lug would facilitate that introduction of molten brass. Basically, you want the edge of the lug to be perpendicular to the tube throughout the lug opening's circumference.

With help, guidance, and a little hands-one from Leo, I got my frame and fork brazed up. I even created a pretty cool seat stay bridge with a boss for a fender. A little black powder coat, yellow paint details in the lugs and sweet black and yellow checker panels from the hobby shop (we were way into black and yellow checkers at the shop), and it was ready to go.

Fast forward about 19 years, and it's time for a second life for this beauty. It's current duty had been as a loud display indicating that a bike shop was located here. It will still serve this duty, but with the addition of some new parts, will also be my new commuter.

What's new? Well, off came the old Ibis drop bars and on went a set of Nitto Swept Back bars. In place of the Ritchey Logic cranks went a set of new shorter 170mm Sugino XD arms with a 40t ring. I crafted the chainring guard out of a 46t ring, removing the teeth and then filing it round. A set of really cool Wellgo caged pedals went on (I picked up these pedals probably 5 years ago in Taiwan and kept them for a special project - guess, this project qualified). A set of Tektro canti brake levers replaced the old Shimano 600 aero levers. Off came the Shimano 600 front derailleur, Suntour XC Comp rear derailleur, and Suntour Accushift indexed barcons. Finally, the fixed gear wheel (White Industries Eno hub, Campy Lambda Strada rim) from my RB-1 (hmmm, could this mean another project around the RB-1?) replaced the old Specialized hub/Campy rim combo.

So, how's it ride? Just like a bike. And best of all, it's the only one like it in the world.


Tooth extraction


(What's playing: John Coltrane Blue Train)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fender fun...

This neat old Land Shark was in recently for fenders. Originally, it was just going to get the strap-on fenders front and rear because there was no clearance under the brake calipers for any type of fender. The owner is a hard-core commuter. The strap-on fenders are pretty inadequate if you are riding in any type of rain. They don't wrap far enough down the front tire to stop any spray from heading back to your feet and the rear one only goes up to the brake caliper again, letting all the spray soak your feet.

I remembered seeing some photos of a wooden fender installation that used a rack strap to bridge across the brake caliper and connect two halves of the fender to produce a full-coverage fender. Hey, I can do that.

Because you can't bridge across the front brake and there were no eyelets on the dropout, I used the rear Planet Bike strap-on fender in front and anchored it to the Sheldon Nut that replaced the stock brake caliper nut. The rear fender was a Planet Bike full coverage fender that I cut a section out where the brake caliper would be and then formed a rear rack mounting strap into a bridge to which I attached the fender.

There were no rear dropout eyelets so I used a flat head bolt that fit perfectly into the dropout cut-out and allowed me to use a nut to secure the fender struts. The flat head bolt was flush with the dropout on the drive side so there would be no issue with chain contact.

Got it all mocked up, bounced the bike around to make sure the fenders didn't rattle against the tires, and then loctited all the bolts as I made the final tightening. Solid.

Tune-up with new cables, chain, bar tape and this rig is ready for a winter of commuting.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

I love phone calls like this...

I just got a call from Patrick Cruz (he sounded a little like Apu, though). He asked me if I accepted credit cards. I said I did. He then went on to say that my business has been approved for $250,000! I immediately thanked him, said I can't wait to get the money and then hung up thinking if he had my phone number, he had to have my address too so he can send me the money over. I got my fingers crossed. Sheesh, yeah, right.

Monday, January 7, 2008

That was easy...

Some things might seem difficult at first, but in the end are really pretty easy to do. Take my sign for instance. How does a retail establishment get a sign up in the first place? Easy, pick up the phone and call another business who's specialty is sign making. Give them the design or parameters for them to design it. They make it. When it's ready, they even will install it for you. Easy.

Well, the first place I called, the price just seemed like a lot. Now I know that a sign is an investment and you get what you pay for. A sign is your identity. It should be the first thing a customer sees or that item that draws them into your store. So, why should I hesitate when I balked at that first quote. It wasn't unreasonable. I'm not sure. Maybe I was just feeling stingy. But I think it had something to do with my wanting to do it myself. After all, I single-handedly opened and am running my shop. Okay, I had some help from great friends in getting things ready for the day I opened the door.

So, I'll do it myself. I can paint. I can draw. I can spell. A piece of plywood, can of primer, can of Cannonball Black paint, can of white paint, can of Varathane sealer, and help from Ken who made the sweet redwood frame and helped me install the sign, and several months waiting for I-don't-know-what and the sign is finally up. Sheesh, that was so easy, it was almost anti-climatic.

Huge thanks to Ken and Amanda who kept after me and helped get it finished. The sign is dedicated to you guys!

Now to get my website up...

(What's playing: Podcast of KEXP's Music That Matters show. KEXP is a pretty darn cool radio station in Seattle and thanks to the wonders of the internet, is available to everyone.)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A little titanium visual treat...

Recently, it seemed like it was ti times. I had an early Merlin road bike and an early 90s Merlin mountain bike in for some work and a Steve Potts frame in for a complete build up.

The Merlin road bike initially came in during a ride for a disturbing "clunk" in the front end which ended up being an old White Industries hub in need of an adjustment and an equally old American Classic QR that just wasn't secure enough. After the owner inquired about easier to pedal gears, the bike also got a new White Industries VBC 48/32 crankset, new Phil Wood bottom bracket bearings and Phil axle. This bike was one of the old Merlins with a bottom bracket that utilizes pressed in bearings. I sure like working on neat old bikes like this. And with the new cranks on, it turned out really sweet. I also found a new Kinesis carbon fork with a 1" threaded steerer tube for it to replace the ancient SR Liteage aluminum fork.

Next up is a very clean Merlin mountain bike with first gen Shimano M900 XTR parts, White Industries hubs, Judy SL fork (1" and with canti stop no less), and highly desirable red Ritchey -Max tires in great condition. The owner hadn't ridden it much because it wasn't comfortable with the low, stretched out stem. In fact, because of that, he was actually considering selling it. I told him if it was my bike, I'd find a way to make it fit better so that I enjoyed riding it again. We ended up, by utilizing a Salsa adjustable stem, finding a Thomson 15 degree rise stem that did the job. It's not easy trying to find a silver stem for a 1" threadless fork in a 15 deg x 120 size. Luckily, Thomson still makes silver stems in that size, and with a 1" to 1 1/8" shim over the steerer, it turned out darn near perfect.

Finally, here's the custom Steve Potts titanium 29er that I built up. Super fun project with a great mix of parts: Marzocchi 29er fork, King hubs and headset, Crank Bros. crank and BB, Thomson stem and post, SRAM XO twisters with X9 derailleur, and Avid BB7 disc brakes. The report is that it is a great riding bike.

(What's playing: Ghostland Observatory on KEXP Live Performances Podcast. I stumbled across these two guys flipping through the channels and landing on the PBS program Austin City Limits. They looked like a super fun live show. Check it the video of their live performance of at this link.)