Brilliance!

It’s not too often that I talk about companies or products here.  I have talked about some cycling, running and triathlon related products over the years, especially once I’m confident that it’s something that I like.

This is one of those times.

Actually, a moment to rave about some phenomenal customer support from one of the companies.

The company is Light & Motion, creators of personal lighting systems for pretty much any activity you want to engage in, on ground, in the air or in the water.

The story:

I bought a set of Stella 300 Dual headlights back in autumn of 2009.  I needed them for my bicycle commute to/from work in Germany.  If you’ve lived in Germany, the winters are cold and dark.  Very dark.  Especially if you spend a large amount of time riding through the forest, hoping to dodge any deer or boar that want to cross the trail.

Brilliant riding!

They treated me extremely well through 3.5 brutal German winters, including two in a row that the German weather service declared “the worst in 40 years”, followed by “the worst in 41 years”.

Days like this:

Winter Riding in Germany

Except when I was commuting, it was pitch black except for what the Stella would illuminate.  Which on a snowy ride like this, pretty much everything was illuminated for a good 30-40 yards ahead.

Like I said, brilliant riding.

Here in Oregon, I don’t need them for daily commutes, instead breaking them out on occasion, like every Monday to get home from the bike polo game.  A couple of months ago I realized they were not working as they had, or should.  So I contacted Light & Motion.

A bit of talking back and forth and they suggested that I send it in for a look.  Which I did.

They arrived back at my front door today, an almost completely brand new set.

Looking at the work order, it mentions that they replaced the cable (that runs between the battery and the lights) as well as changed out the lights.  In other words, they rebuilt a new set, which is great since they no longer make this model.

So the lights are almost five years old and completely rebuilt.

They covered it under warranty work!

The quote that they gave me prior to the work was extremely reasonable, coming in at around 1/10 the cost of buying a new light kit.  I was pleased with that, knowing that their standard warranty length is two years.  But three years after that point, they still covered it.

Amazing service that was completely unexpected.  Unexpected, but greatly appreciated.

Broadcasting their excellence to the world is the least I can do.

So if you’re in the market for headlamps or headlights or dive lights, buy from Light & Motion.

I know any lights I buy in the future will be from them.

 

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Sigh

It has been a bit over 24 hours since we got the news that Ezra Caldwell, artisan of Fast Boy Cycles, succumbed to his battle with cancer.  An on- and off- and on-again battle that’s lasted six years.

It was a rough notification here at the house, as Goddess and I have been following Ezra’s story for more than a few years now.

RIP Ezra Caldwell aka Fastboy

Click on the image to open a video about Ezra.  It is well worth the 12 minutes of your time.

Some of you will recognize the photo on the left.  It’s the same one that I had framed in my office as a simple reminder to keep myself grounded and centered.  It hangs in my garage now, within sight of all of the bike tools that I need to work on bicycles, beneath the full-sized frame drawings of the frames that I built this past year.

My last interaction with Ezra was this past December, after I had finished building my titanium mountain bike.  As Ezra was an inspiration for me to learn to build a bicycle, in my mind I always called that bike “Fast Boy”.  A snippet of our conversation says it all:

“And yes.. It really is an amazing feeling to throw your leg over something that YOU built and ride it and have it WORK.. It feels like magic. And the cool thing is – That feeling doesn’t go away. I STILL get that.

All my best, e.”

Our hearts and thoughts are with Hillary, Putney (their dog) and family as they get through this, a period of what has to be mixed emotions.

For me, now it’s even more of a reason to find/build a frame worth of the Fast Boy Brooks Saddle that I have in a box here at the house.  It was Ezra’s wish that the saddle not be a show piece, but a saddle on a working bike.

This is the saddle.  Mine is brown.

Fast Boy Brooks Saddle

Building a working bike? It’s the least I can do.

I hope I can live up to it.

(click on the pic of the saddle and you can watch a compressed video of Ezra prepping a frame for brazing).

Good Fun

Last night was a first for me, playing bicycle polo.

It was quite a bit of fun.

Although I’ll need to get a new bicycle for it if I continue to play.

Oh darn.

It’s fast-paced and frenetic.

Bike Polo

This group plays in a parking garage, so the court is narrow and short, just enough space for six cyclists rushing for the ball, braking, turning and occasionally crashing.  The whole time, laughs echo around the court.

That’s the right attitude.

I’ll be back.

Purgatory

Purgatory

I should not be able to take that picture now.  Hence the title of the post.

This was taken this afternoon at about 5,400′ (1646m).  The temperature was about 55°F (12°C).  I was in shorts and a thin technical shirt.  Dripping sweat after the 6 mile (10km) climb up from ~3,100′ (945m).  In the background you’d be able to see our local ski mountain, that is, if the sun were overhead or back east a bit.  Then you’d see the ski runs, easy to see with the snow cover.

But it’s not enough.  And it will be gone again in a few days.

It’s mid-January.  We should be skiing and snowboarding.  A lot.

But we’re not.

We’ve had a couple of good snowfalls, a good base to get things going.  But then weeks of dry, warm weather and all of the snow melts off.

We had a good snowfall this past weekend.  On Saturday I was riding through snow flurries at 1,000′ lower elevation than this spot here.  Some snow did accumulate at that elevation, but most melted off already.  Same at this elevation.

It is quite frustrating.

And that frustration also extends to the photography.  It’s neither autumn, winter or spring.  Other than the good snow that we had here in the valley in early December, it’s all lifeless and dull, without any color.

Perhaps it’s time to go straight black and white.

Mud in the Teeth

It’s New Year’s Day.  I’m grinning ear to ear as I drive up to the ski lodge.

Although it should be only have a grin, since I won’t be skiing.

We had what looked like a great start to the ski season with a good dumping in early December.  But that’s been it.  Temperatures on the mountain have been in the 40’s and 50’s since.  There’s patches of ice in some of the shadows, but certainly nothing that anyone with skis would even look at.

But that means the trails are open for biking.  And we’re making lemonade.

Mud in the Teeth

You might recall that I built this bicycle myself, although the last time you saw it, it was much cleaner than this.

I’ve been using and abusing it, trying to get a feel for this bike compared to my old mountain bike.  The change from 26″ to 29″ wheels is huge, especially how quickly the 29er accelerates out of turns and downhill.  Not to mention how it rolls over and through the rock gardens.  It’s an interesting exercise to short circuit the reasoning and accelerate through a section of large rocks; the faster, the easier it is to stay upright.

But all of this riding, through the rocks and off sweet jumps, means that my handbuilt wheels are taking a beating.  I expected that.  As a matter of fact, I did not use any thread-locking compound on the spokes, knowing the wheels would move out of true easier, but the lack of compound would make it easier to true them.  Today was the day that the real wheel let me know that I’d been pushing it pretty well as the tire started rubbing the frame.  A few adjustments and I was back on the trail.  A few more rock gardens and sweet jumps and it was rubbing again.  No matter.  I knew I’d get home.

But my trailside adjustments got me to thinking about how many race reports I’ve read over the years where folks who had spent the better part of a year, thousands of dollars on equipment, thousands of dollars on travel, not to mention the blood, sweat and tears, only to be sidelined during a race because of a simple mechanical.  Simple as in not being able to change a flat, simple as in not being able to recognize and adjust a dragging brake.  It always pains me to read those reports, knowing the expense of money, time and energy to get to a long race.

What’s really odd is it isn’t always the age groupers.  I’ve read more than a few race reports from pro triathletes sitting on the side of the road, waiting for neutral support, because they can’t change out a flat tubular tire.  Even when they are carrying the spare.

I just don’t get it.

Most bicycle shops will hold classes on how to do basic bicycle maintenance.  Nothing fancy, just the skills required to get you back on the ride, instead of hitching a ride home.

BTW, here’s a clean video of one of the local trails, Catwalk.  Not much in the way of rock gardens, except for a small patch at the beginning.  But it’s fast, swoopy, narrow and steep.  In other words, good fun!

And by the time I get home, I have plenty of mud in my teeth too.

Handbuilt Titanium 29er Mountain Bike

For those of you following my blog these past few months, you know that I’ve been going to the United Bicycle Institute (UBI) to learn not only how to work on bicycles as a mechanic, but also to learn how to build frames.

I’ve gone one class left, but I’m far enough along now that I can honestly say that I’ve completely built my own bike.  In this case, a mountain bike frame made of titanium tubing, joined by TIG welding (a new skill for me), custom built to my own specifications.

It is what’s known as a 29er mountain bike, built around 29-inch wheels.  Traditionally, mountain bikes had 26-inch wheels (click this link to see the size difference) but a few years ago some smart folks decided to make the wheels as large as a standard road bicycle (29″/700C).  There are advantages (as well as some disadvantages) to the larger size, but since I already have a 14 year old 26″ mountain bike, it was time to try out the “new” technology.

Not only is the titanium frame completely built by me, but so are the wheels.  Custom made for this purpose.  That’s another skill I learned at UBI.  These wheels gave me fits that we didn’t encounter in school, but with the skills I learned, I figured out how to overcome the issues and turn out two pretty darn perfect wheels.  The last set I built was for my road bicycle, which doesn’t have to deal with the impacts and forces that these will have to endure.  For the first few weeks, I’ll cringe just a bit as I bash these through the rocks, over the roots and off jumps.

The color scheme was really dictated by my front shock.  It was the end of season sales, so I jumped on a great deal before class even started.  As you’ll see in a moment, it’s aluminum, white, black and red.

The black and red work really, really well with the bare titanium frame.

Don’t you think?

And before someone gives me a hard time about mismatched front and rear tires (you know who you are), after discussing with a local bike shop owner, I bought the Continental Mountain King 2.4’s, knowing that they run small, much closer to a 2.2.  When we built the bike we measured and figured that 2.2’s would fit fine in the rear triangle.  Well, a few mis-strokes of the file and some other decisions along the way, plus the fact that the titanium pulls like crazy when it’s heated and that almost-2.2 tire needed at least another 2mm of clearance on the knobs for it to work.

Since it’s a small independently owned shop, he wasn’t as keen as I to swap out the entire set just so I could have matching tires; I understand that.  So for now I’m running a 2.4 with very aggressive knobs up front (where I personally want them) and a less aggressive 2.1 in back.

The three pics immediately above were taken right before the yesterday’s maiden run up the fire road and back down the singletrack.  I picked my path purposefully to not be too technical, since there was a lot I needed to get used to.  For one, the bike is an upgrade from my 26” mountain bike that I bought in 1999, so these wheels were going to accelerate and roll across obstacles differently.  Plus, the handlebars are a good 200mm (almost 8”) wider, so I needed to get used to those before I hit the narrow paths between the trees.  Also, the SRAM X7 drivetrain shifting is quite a bit different than my 15 year old Shimano XT drivetrain.

So best to go (somewhat) gentle while I work things out.

Not two minutes into the downhill portion of the run, the bike showed me who’s boss.  It will take a few days for the skin from my hip to ankle to return.

But I can’t wait to ride it again.


Build details:

– Handbuilt titanium frame – .035 tubing; 74° Seat Tube; 70° Head Tube; Effective Top Tube  Length – 630mm; Bottom Bracket Drop 58mm; Chainstay Length 450mm

– Handbuilt wheels – Shimano XT M629 Centerlock hubs; Sapim Race 2.0/1.8/2.0 Double Butted Black Spokes; DT Swiss M520 29″ Disc Rims

– Fork – Manitou Tower Pro – 120mm of travel

– Headset – Chris King Red Sotto Voce

– Stem – Spank Spike 50mm, 0° rise

– Handlebar – Spank Spike EVO 777mm

– Disc Brakes – Shimano SLX; Centerlock hub mount; 160mm rotors

– Drivetrain – SRAM X7, 3×10 (yes, that’s 30 separate speeds, although it really means that there are ~24 usable gears).  There are five gear combinations that are between 1:1 (22×22) and 1:0.61 (22×36).  Those sure made riding up the steeper parts of the fire road more comfortable.

– Seatpost – FSA SL-K Carbon Fiber, 0° offset

– Saddle – Diety Pinner Downhill

Huge thanks to Mike DeSalvo (who, other than Goddess, is the only one to see this bike in person so far) and Rich Arvizo (UBI) for getting me through the frame build.  I’m already looking forward to the steel TIG class in March.

First Snow

Well, not first snow for the local mountains, but the first chance I had to get up there after they had received new snow.

The first shot of snow was at the end of September, which gradually melted off.  Then another, which did the same.  This one will too, but it will take longer.  If it doesn’t, I’ll be quite happy, as long as there are more layers on top of it.  I’ll be quite happy because this was taken about 1/2 mile from the local ski lodge.  So the more snow on the slopes, the better!

First Snow

Believe it or not, it’s a color photograph.

This is just to the south of the beginning of almost 20 miles of single track bicycle trails that lead back to our house.  It took me another 45 minutes to drop 2,000′ in elevation before I dropped below the snow line.  From there, the trails were tacky, perfect for flying down the trail.

There are some fire roads in the area, so if that’s your thing, you can hop on those.  But I’m really enjoying the single track, even the very technical parts.  While I’ve spent the last 25 years riding a lot, it’s all been on the roads.  I’ve never been comfortable on the dirt, even though I’ve had this mountain bike for 14 years now.  But with some great trails right out our front door, I’ve decided that it’s time to push myself.

Even though I’ve been heading up there for just the past couple of weeks, my comfort level on the loose stuff, the rocky stuff and the steep stuff has progressed quickly.  Perhaps a bit too quickly, since I don’t have a lot of the safety equipment (just my helmet).  I’ve already had run-ins with trees (including a full face of snow-weighted branch today) and have had to dismount the bicycle over the handlebars.  Luckily I haven’t gone off the side of the trail (yet).

I’m having a heck of a lot of fun, it’s beating me up quite nicely and it’s getting my body and brain ready for ski season, which is right around the corner.

I can’t wait!

Joining Colors

Last Friday we finished our brazed bicycles.  If you’re confused, please read Stay & Finish.

But there was no break.  First thing Saturday morning we started our Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) welding seminar, helping us get familiar with that style of welding.

Quickly – brazing is similar to soldering, just at a higher temperature.  Both use a dissimilar material (copper, silver, brass) to join the worked material, which in our case was steel bicycle tubing.  Welding uses the same material as the worked material, so in our case we were using steel wire to join steel tubes.  The electrical spark is hot enough to melt the two steel tubes, plus the filler wire, for a fraction of a second, after which it “freezes” to a solid piece.

Learning the technique is a bit like learning to rub your belly while scratching your head.  And doing jumping jacks.

The dominant hand keeps the tungsten electrode hovering just about 1mm above the surface.  The non-dominant hand holds the steel wire, ready to feed it into the molten pool.  The dominant foot controls a pedal, which modulates the amount of electricity flowing out of the electrode.  All of this behind a dark glass visor that makes everything difficult to see, impossible if you don’t have a spark.

As thin as the bicycle tubing is, a mistake in any one of those areas could lead to a hole blown through the tube wall.  It happens faster than you would believe.  It is impressive.

I made some pretty big holes in tubes this weekend.

While the technique will take some time to master, the process is simple.

Cut and miter the tubes to make the appropriate connections:

Mitered and Clean

Then weld them together:

Blued Joining

Not too shabby for just a couple of hours of practice.  But a lot of room for improvement.

These were practice pieces, so we were using cheap tubing instead of actual bicycle tubing.  Quite a few impurities, which caused the pitting in the welded seam on the right.  That and a lot of technique on my part, since that area gets very tight to get everything into and stay functional.  That tight area was were I blew through every single one of the holes that I made this weekend.

After a day and a half of practice, we were give actual bicycle tubing to simulate the joining of the seat tube to the bottom bracket.  No tricky angles, but since the bottom bracket shell is quite a bit thicker than the seat tube, it meant a shift in technique to make sure we didn’t blow a hole in the seat tube.  I didn’t, but my weld was nowhere near as nice looking as the one above.

But looks didn’t matter (much) for this exercise.  We were concerned about the strength of the weld.  And there’s only one way to check it – break it.

Broken

It took a 4 foot long steel bar inserted into the seat tube and a lot of body weight (good thing I have that) to take it to failure.  It failed exactly as we were hoping for, by the seat tube tearing on the outside edge of the heat-affected zone next to the weld.  If it failed in the weld, that meant that I wasn’t doing it correctly.

It was an interesting two days, full of frustration, exasperation and successes.  I’m looking forward to next month, when we’ll use the technique to build our custom titanium bicycles.

Stay and Finish

Second to last day of class.  The pace was been turned up to 11.

It’s quite tiring, but very rewarding.

Here is how I started my Thursday, shaping steel tubes for my seat stays, the connection between the rear axle area to the upper part of the frame just below the seat.  Hence the name seat stay.

Since I’m building with lugs, I wanted to make these stays similar to the ones that I had on my very first road racing bike that I bought back in the ’80’s.

Seat stay Triptych

That’s the making of the left (non-drive side) seat stay.  The right side is a mirror image.

At left is the tubing to make up the seat stay.  I filed and shaped it Wednesday afternoon.  The piece next to it is a piece of a larger tube that will fit the curve that I wanted.  In the middle, the curved piece is brazed to the tube.  At right is the finished stay, being dry-fit to the seat tube lug.  A few minutes later it was brazed to the seat tube lug, making the connection permanent.

Making these was zen-like.  Almost blissful.

By the end of Thursday, the frame was 95% finished.  Today is dedicated to the finishing touches, at least as far building goes.  Custom fitting the front brake stays, putting in bosses to mount the water bottles and bag racks, trimming the head and seat tubes and starting the long process of putting the finishing touches on the brazes before I send it to a painter.  I’m looking at another 15-20 hours of detail work to file and sand the silver away so that the seams look seamless once the paint is applied.

I look forward to it.

Finish

Last Check

This bike has been fighting me every step of the way.  One step forward, two steps back.  But we’ll get there.

Honestly, I’d rather have it fight me instead of it being smooth sailing.  That way I can get a feel for what really needs to be done at each step.

Here it is, basking in the morning light on my desk, ready to be put in the jig and brazed together.  Or so we thought.

Seven hours later it finally happened.

Although everything fit smoothly at this stage and lined up with all of the dimensions and angles of my full scale drawing, once the jig was set up with the exact same dimensions and the lugs and tubes were in place, very little lined up the way it should have.

Fighting.

Last Check

This was taken right after I had to cold set the bottom bracket, the round fixture at bottom center where the spindle between cranks and pedals pass.  Cold setting sounds glamorous (does it?), but it meant nothing more than me placing one tube against my chest and pulling the other tube tightly towards my chest.  That helped close the angle between the tubes, as well as open up the connections a bit more so that the silver used in the brazing process would be able to completely surround the tubes.

Right now the main triangle is in the jig.  It is now irreversibly joined at the five joints.  I completed the brazing at the end of the day, with just enough time to close of the tanks for the oxy-acetelyne torch, complete a safety check and have the instructors lock the door behind me.

They sure are a patient crew.  One, a custom bike builder for 40 years, the other a structural engineer with close to a decade of experience.  Plenty of brains spending hours stumped at how stubborn this bike has been.

To the left are the chain stays, which will be connected tomorrow, as will the seat stays, which will complete the rear triangle.  At that point it will be a bike frame.  After that, it’s a couple of days of finish work to make it a rideable bicycle.

That is, once I’m done with all of the other frame prep work and cleaning to get it ready for paint.

I’ve been thinking of a custom label to put under the clear coat once it has been painted.  Different options.

After today, it may just be “Stubborn”.