Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Five years...

When you're a kid waiting for Christmas, that last week or two takes for damn ever.  As you get older, the passing of time seems go faster at an increasing rate.  I hit two milestones this year.  I guess they're milestones.  That's what people tell me.  I hit 50 years of age and Black Mountain Cycles has been open for five years.  Five years ago on August 14, according to the first sale recorded in my accounting software.  I didn't really know the exact date until I wondered about it this morning.  Fifty years and five years.  The shop has been open 1/10th of my life.  Sounds very different in those terms.

It hasn't been easy.  There were many times I had doubts, wondering what the hell I was doing in retail in a town of 350 people, leaving a job and career "in" the industry that allowed me to travel to many countries - all work, of course.  Then things started changing.  I received the first frames with the Black Mountain Cycles label I designed for myself instead of for another company early last year.  This was my goal all along - my own unique, shop branded frames.  Those doubts faded away as I became ultra-busy selling, building, shipping.  Almost too much for a one-man shop, but not enough to add an employee.  That's still my ultimate goal.  Busy enough for one person to make a good living.  Not so busy I need to hire someone.  

I feel very fortunate with the shop.  This blog has opened to doors to having a lot of visitors make it a point to come by the shop when they are in the area.  I don't know if there are many shops that become destinations.  I've had visitors from many countries and states who have heard about the shop or read these pages.  Just a few days ago, some nice folks from Odessa, TX came by on their vacation and a guy stopped by who was told by his brother in Los Angeles to check out the shop.  

In the mean time, I'm looking forward to the next five years of building bikes, fixing up crappy Burning Man bikes, expanding the line of Black Mountain Cycles frames (not too much, just enough), and enticing people to come out and visit Point Reyes Station for some of the great riding we have out here.  


Some shots of what the shop looked like before I moved in.

BMC Interior 2007

BMC Interior 2007

And today.  Sure fills up fast.
BMC Today

BMC Today

(What's playing:  Dion Runaround Sue)

Monday, August 20, 2012


It's the little things that you don't notice that sometimes make the biggest difference.  Or they don't really make any difference at all, but the way it goes together and sets up gives you infinite pleasure.  Once upon a time, steel frames were made with 1 1/8" diameter down tubes.  They also had shift bosses on the down tubes because that's where shifters were mounted.  Then when shifters were moved to the brake levers, frames still had bosses on the down tube so these handy little bolt on cable stops were created that covered the shifter bosses and matched the curve of the 1 1/8" diameter down tube.  

At some point, down tubes increased to 1 1/4" but the down tube boss shape didn't change.  The radius of the stop stayed at 14.3mm.  Big deal, you say.  Well, yeah.  When the shift boss was bolted to a frame with a 1 1/4" down tube, the top and bottom of the boss can dig into the down tube.  Not bad, but bad enough to potentially chew up some paint and just not look "right."  So what to do if no one is going to tool up to make shift boss stops for 1 1/4" down tubes?

Reshape the shift boss stop, that's what.  It's easy.  The way I do it is fix a file in the vise, remove the adjusters and, holding very firmly, draw the stop back against the file knocking off the edges of the stop.  Now, it will fit nice and flush against the down tube.  Remember to dab some grease on the shift boss and bolt threads before installing.  There, now you can rest easy.  

Draw the boss across the file.

The stop on the left before modification.  Stop on the right after being modified.

Fitting nice and flush with the down tube.

(What's playing:  KWMR Release Me)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I thought fat was a 28mm tire...

It's all relative.  A fat road bike tire is a 28.  A fat cross bike tire is a 40.  A fat mountain bike tire used to be a 2.35.  Then these bikes came out that pushed the fat envelope.  Made the envelope bust at the seams.  To someone used to the sleekness of a classic road bike these bikes are double-takers.  By now, they've been out for a few years and are getting more refined and dialed.  I've watched the development from afar with little personal interest, but big interest in seeing how they work.  Being a bike shop and needing to sell things in order to keep the doors open, I brought in a couple Surly Pugley bikes last week.

I posted a photo of the Pugsley yesterday on the Black Mountain Cycles Facebook page and the comments about how much fun they are to ride immediately started popping up.  I believe it.  Don't doubt it in the least.  If I lived somewhere that had more immediate, more demanding dirt terrain, I could see owning one.  But I find myself, for several reasons, at the opposite end of the spectrum.

For one, I like to push myself and my cross bike on trails most people ride mountain bikes.  And two, I like to ride the road to get to the dirt.  In some cases that means over an hour on the road.  The time I get to ride means making the most of every ride.  If I have 4 hours, I want to ride 4 hours.  I don't want to drive (and any drive from Pt. Reyes Station to a riding area is at least 40 minutes) almost 90 minutes total to ride a couple hours (have to factor in the time spent getting ready to ride and the time packing it all back into the car).  I'll do this on occasion, but for everyday/weekly type riding, I want to maximize my time on the bike.  This means road rides or cross bike rides.  I have maybe 10 mountain bikes that are ready to ride, yet I've gotten out on a mountain bike twice this year.  I also can't justify another bike to myself that I know, based on my riding habits, I'll ride infrequently.

Interestingly, I typed up the bulk of this post yesterday and today, Guitar Ted has a bit on his blog about fat bikes and Traction Action the tires provide and how they make technical sections easier, hence more fun.  And who doesn't want to have more fun on a bike ride?  Fat bikes reinforce the n+1 reasoning for adding bikes to the quiver.  However, it's unlikely I'll be adding one to my personal bike quiver any time soon.  I just wouldn't find myself using it enough to justify it - or maybe I would find myself using it all the time and neglecting my other bikes.  Hmmm....

So,  yes, I think these fat bikes would be a hoot to ride.  I think the bikes are pretty damn cool and there was a whole lot of thinking outside the box to design them.  And I have a couple of Surly Pugsley bikes in the shop that are for sale.  One 16" and one 18" at the moment.  And right now on the northern sections of Bolinas Ridge, these things would rule the crappy, rutted out trail sections.  Heck, they might even make the Olema Valley Trail semi-fun.  

Surly Pugsley
Just can't get over how damn big those tires are.  

Surly Pugsley

Surly Pugsley
This illustrates how the rear is offset so that with a 135mm spaced rear hub and a rim that is offset it all comes together to create a chain line that clears that almost 4" tire.

And now these 3.7" fat tires are skinny in comparison to the 4.5" tires that are available.  Fat is relative.

(What's playing:  KWMR Faultline Radio)

Friday, August 10, 2012

I turned a bike away yesterday...

I'm not a big fan of this time of the year.  Burning Man is coming up and bikes that are used only one time per year are brought out of their dungeon, caked with playa dust from the previous year(s) Burning Man(s).  If you have been to more than one Burning Man do you say "I've been to three Burning Men" or "I've been to three Burning Mans?"  Rhetorical question.  

I'll admit that I'm not that into Burning Man even beyond the trashing the bikes get.  When I get away, I don't want to do it with 65,000 other people.  What I get from Burning Man (without going to the website to find out "about us") is that it's about art and free thinking and sustainability and not leaving a trace. yet the bikes are left or brought back to rot.  Not very sustainable.  The rest of the year before and after the event, the shit-bike owners put the bikes away and drive to and from where ever they need to go.  At least that's what I see in this little corner.  I know who goes to Burning Man and I see them driving everywhere, yet they need bikes NOW for Burning Man.

I turned a bike away yesterday.  The owner brought it in and said he was given the bike to take to Burning Man.  However, that "free" bike had flat tires, brake and shift cables that were corroded to the inside of the housings, rusted chain, was way too small ...  That "free" bike that sold new at your local blue-vested, happy-people store for $80 was going to cost upwards of $140 to get it in operating condition.  As Burning Man gets closer people get more desperate to get bikes for cruising the playa and he was really considering dumping that cash into the bike.  I'm happy to do it.  Work for me.  However, I told him that he would probably be able to find a working used bike for $50 at a garage sale or any number of places.  He left with the "free" bike.  I imagine that that "free" bike that was given to him for use at an event of left-leaning, vegan, environmentalist, say no to big oil, art-loving folks is now deposited curbside or abandoned with a sign that says "free." 

Just because it's free doesn't mean it's free.

(What's playing:  Bill Withers Still Bill DVD)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bikes, beer, wine, coffee, pizza...

This Sunday, August 12, there will be a gathering of some of the hep cats of the Nor Cal frame and parts makers at the heppest of eating establishments, Una Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco.  A Ruota Libera Due (that's two in Italian), will happen at 1:00 p.m.  It features many of the great area frame builders and parts makers.  And somehow, I got an invite.  Anthony, the proprietor of Una Pizza, put me in a headlock and forced me to be there as an exhibitor.  Not really, but I was honored to be included.  I was a little unsure because this is a show featuring a who's who of S.O.P.W.A.M.T.O.S (Society of People Who Actually Make Their Own Shit) and here I am having my frames made for me in Taiwan.  So, I have a concept for a bike build that features parts from at least three of the other attendees.  Should be a neat bike.  

I hope to see you there.  It's going to be a fun event that features the best of frames and parts and pizza from the greater bay area.  


(What's playing:  KWMR Swimming Upstream)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The good shit...

Some shit is just that.  However, some shit is good shit.  Take the 1970's Free Spirit bike, for example.  I had one when I was in high school before I could drive.  It was a 10 speed.  I turned flipped the bars up on it.  I could ride wheelies all the way down the street to the high school a couple blocks away.  I rode it to junior high about 3 miles away.  I remember freezing my hands on the steel bars after the tape disappeared on cold winter mornings.  We rode bikes to school.  Once upon a time.  I'm not sure what happened to it.  

Last Friday, a small person pedaled up to the shop on a Free Spirit bike.  He was pretty tough to be pedaling this on a bike tour.  He'd started somewhere up in Oregon and by the time he got to the shop, he was really tired of the gearing.  What he really wanted was a new triple, lightweight aluminum wheels and a 9 speed cassette.  After sussing out the bike, I told him that all that was possible, but couldn't happen as a "while you wait" repair.  The one thing that would help was the installation of a triple crankset.  With the Shimano Positron shifting, there was no way to really modify anything else without getting deep into parts replacements.  

So, I told him how much it would cost to install a Sugino triple crankset and Shimano bottom bracket.  He asked, "will I be able to get up the hills easier?"  "Yes."  And I was in motion.  I told him to go get lunch and when he got back it would be ready.  An hour later, he's back, the triple has been added and it was good to go.  I actually breathed a sigh of relief when the front shifter and derailleur moved that chain easily over three chainrings.  

The good shit.  Back then, low end bikes actually had decent parts.  The hubs on this bike spun smoothly.  Everything worked nicely.  It was a good bike.  Today, shit bikes are shit bikes.  What happened?

Oh yeah, he picked up a new seat because that steel shelled seat was killing wasn't comfortable.

Free Spirt
Post new crank

New Sugino
The crank is worth more than the whole bike, but when a bike has sentimental value...


The indexing of the Positron system.

The original Sugino crank that the triple replaced.

(What's playing:  Ray LaMontagne Burn)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

From Repack to Rwanda...

There is a fantastic exhibit that just opened at the San Francisco International Airport.  The good news is that it is before security in the international terminal which means that anyone can go - no need to be flying.  "From Repack to Rwanda:  The Origins, Evolution, and Global Reach of the Mountain Bike" is on exhibit through February 2013.  The exhibit focuses on Bay Area builders with a heavy emphasis on the early days through the early 1990s.  There are a lot of bikes on display that are owned by friends on mine.  They're really proud of seeing their bikes there.  The Salsa custom that is on display has gone through my shop on its way to its current owner who, after receiving it, took it on an epic ride from Aspen, CO to Crested Butte, CO and back via Pearl Pass to Aspen

It was pretty great seeing lots of friends at the opening reception last Friday.  It was even more fun riding with them the following day.  We met at the Java Hut in Fairfax for a ride up towards Mt. Tam and then up towards Pine Mountain so we could get to the top of Repack to finish the ride back in Fairfax at Gestalt Haus.  Former Ross Indian team rider, John Loomis joined us for the ride after receiving an e-mail from Jacquie Phelan who accompanied us.  We even had a guy from New Zealand who just happened to be coming through SFO the night of the reception and arrived for the ride after 3 bus rides from the city.  

Vintage ride
I rode my Ibis.  In addition to adding a splash of color to the otherwise muted bikes, it's just a damn fun bike to ride.  However, this Salsa was also on the ride and it made my Ibis look plain by comparison. 

Vintage ride
Rest stop waiting for the rest of the group.  Sixteen people showed up.

Four Cunninghams made the ride.

Top o' Repack
At the top of Repack.  Some folks had to get back early and missed the marbly descent down Repack.

Boo Boo
Blood was shed by a couple of riders on Repack.  Everyone rode out.

After the ride, we convened at Gestalt Haus in Fairfax for beer and, in my case, pastrami sandwiches.  Otis Guy had ridden over on his Series I Breezer to join us.

Joe and the Breezer
Joe Breeze also swung by for a beer.  Here's Joe with Otis' Breezer.

The book.

A couple of klunkers formerly piloted by Joe and Otis.


Pretty damn great couple of days.  And to the question if I have anything in the exhibit, yes, a set of my Shimano M747 pedals adorns one of the bikes.

(What's playing:  Waylon Jennings A Long Time Ago)

Friday, August 3, 2012

Weekend hours...

Weekend Schedule
Friday: closed at 3:00 to attend the reception for "From Repack to Rwanda: The Origins, Evolution, and Global Reach of the Mountain Bike"

Saturday: Probably open around 2:00 until abuot 5:00. Need to ride with some buddies coming in to town.

Sunday: Open between 1:00 and 2:00.

Hope everyone can get out and ride!

(What's playing:  Marvin Gaye Can I Get A Witness)