Friday, May 30, 2008

The Cannoli Project - Assessment

Folding bikes (not unlike cannolis) can be quite compact when folded properly, but even then should be enjoyed only in moderation. Also, with any restoration project, what may seem inviting on the exterior may, in fact, be hiding a slightly nauseating interior (see also: supermodels). Well, as the first step in the restoration of a 1970's era Bianchi folding bike, I decided to strip the beast of all its components and assess the rusty damage. As the photo suggests, there were many parts that have seen better days. Upon close inspection, it was apparent that the bike needed a handful of new components:
  • Bottom bracket (that tricky 70mm Italian size)
  • Crank arms
  • Seat post (didn't come with one)
  • Saddle (didn't come with one... besides, using someone's old saddle is like kissing an adult film star)
  • Wheels (20x1.75 size or similar)
  • Tires
  • Chain
  • Headset
  • Stem
  • Handlebars (not that the current ones wouldn't work, but for each inch of mini-ape-hanger rise on those bars, I equally lose an inch of my manhood)

The rust, although abundant, is surprisingly superficial. After chatting to a Nipple Works associate about the chemistry of rust removal, a phosphor-based acid like naval jelly (not navel jelly) is the way to go. Apparently, chlorine-based acids like muriatic acid will remove the rust, but it will quickly return.

I'll probably look into some BMX parts for this project. These bikes can often have 20" wheels and long seatposts - perfect for The Cannoli Project.

Needless to say, I have my work cut out for me. Awesome.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hardasses (firm saddles)

File this under the category of everything old is new again. While Sheldon Brown and most touring afficionados have long advocated the hard saddle, its popularity seems to come and go, with various forms of padded saddles always being more popular. It stands to reason that a spongy saddle will be more comfortable, but your perineum begs to differ. Anyway, I see the firm saddle as having three evolutions:

  • The Leather Years
          • In which gentleman, racers, and everybody rode a Brooks
          • Which is now coming back in the form of a Brooks resurgence and with companies such as Selle Anatomica
  • The Plastic Years
  • The Space Shuttle Material Years
          • In which crazy Europeans are making saddles out of magnesium and carbon
          • Which, at a cost of up to $450 a piece, can't last long
So, to review, the history of the bicycle saddle:

Monday, May 19, 2008

Velo Origami (folding bicycles)

The folding bike. From the clunker gramps keeps in his RV to the industrial designer's canvas to the world travel touring bikes, there have got to be a ton of interesting and innovative designs for collapsing a bicycle. Why not? What you sacrifice in performance you make up for with the fact that you're riding a bike at all! I've witnessed people being left on the Caltrain platform with their bikes because the conductor wouldn't let one more person on the bike car. Imagine if they had a folding bike! A little origami, probably some grease on the hands and they would be onto the regular car, pushing that contorted heap of metal tubing down the aisle like a monkey humping a tig welded football. But, hey, they would have been on the damn train, in spite of poor public transit planning.

Why do I bring this up? Our very own Fargonaut, Dylan, has nabbed hisself a vintage Bianchi folding bike. So far, it has been a Nipple Works collaborative effort with a little haggling and some shipping and handling involved. It needs some TLC, and some new parts, and a trip through the new home made spray paint booth, but after that, this thing will be cherry! Stay tuned to this space for the details.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My Holiday - Bike to Work Day

Mothers have Mothers Day with the corresponding Hallmark cards. Secretaries have Administrative Professional's day, with fruit baskets. Leprauchans have Saint Patrick's day with green beer and closet alchoholics. All I do is work and ride bikes, so I have Bike to Work Day, and it is celebrated with schwag. This year, the good people of REI and the Silicon Valley Bicycle coalition put out a fine spread at the Redwood City Caltrain Station. A friendly REI employee took my email address and gave me lip balm and tire levers and an even more friendly bicycle coalition lady gave me a stuffed musette. I felt like a superstar. People were excited about cyclists. And, not just pro cyclists, or Mountain-Dew commercial downhillers, but all cyclists. From the old lady on the hybrid bike with her jacket tied around her waist to the kid on the BMX bike with the Sponge-Bob backpack, we were all cool today. And just for being us and doing what we were doing, someone handed us a pouch filled with the two things bicyclists need most - high calorie food and free gear. Happy holiday to all, and to all a good night.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The beam bike - people seem to love these things

I snapped this photo at the 2008 Cat's Hill Criterium in Los Gatos, CA. This fellow and I were watching the men's 1-2 racers top out on the hill. Myself having ridden there on my steel frame road bike and himself having ridden there on the beam bike. I interviewed him. He told me that the mega downtube was welded aluminum and that the beam was titanium. He said that the guy who makes the bikes welds up custom beams given the weight of the rider, to give the right amount of flex. The owner said that he never notices the flex, but that people riding behind him see him bouncing down the road. Says it's great for his back. The frame is probably stiff as hell laterally, since it's a giant aluminum box beam, and vertically compliant, since your sitting on a diving board, only, it's probably illegal to race on. Why? Because Merkx didn't use one, that's why. Besides not having a good place to put water bottles (same problem with most dual suspension MTB's), or mount a rack (which very few factory bikes are set up for these days anyway), there's no reason why people shouldn't be racing and riding on beam or "Y" bikes. There's a whole set of nerds out there who are devoted to the Trek Y-Foil.
Photo pilfered from
Well, the industry is probably too wrapped up in the "Race it on Sunday, sell it on Monday" mentality where they are afraid to manufacture (and the stores are afraid to carry) models that don't look like what the pros ride. Hence full suspension Magna mountain bikes. Truth is, except for one or two models at the top end (Specialized Roubaix SL and Tarmac SL, or Orbea Orca for example), 99% of the bikes a big company makes will never see action in a sanctioned race. I'm not crazy for liking the idea of road frames with passive suspension. Or, if I am, I have good company:
Ok, so you say the last two opinions come from eccentric bike nuts. What about this:
Regardless of where you fall on the issue, you can't deny that the Titanflex in the picture above has serious style. Check out those gold wrapped handlebars, those Shimano components and Campy front wheel. Those fiber rear spokes. This man is a collector, and godspeed to him and his flexy, aero bike.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Skeleton brakes - form follows function

The last couple of posts have been more or less rants. Here's a rave.

TRP recently came out with a heavily machined skeleton brake that, while it lacks the beautiful form of say, a forged aluminum brake or the Campy Delta brake, is probably the best road bicycle brake ever. Why? The design is light, stiff and powerful. It has the modulation of the dual pivot design unlike M5, it's got a quick release so you can use it with Shimano levers, it's lighter than Campy Record, and it will be manufactured, which can't be said for the Ti2 brake. There's something to be said for a company that produces a product that fires on all cylinders and looks like a piece of mechanical jewelry.

Of course, all these products are really race hardware. I can't condone spending $629 on a set of brakes for a recreational bike that don't work as well as a pair of $39 Tektro calipers. And, if you look at the list below, you'll see that you can get really fine quality stuff for less money. I don't know about you, but I'd say, now that TRP is in the game, the small market of ultra-high-end skeleton road bike brakes is pretty much saturated.

Record Brake image from, all others linked to their source.

BB30 - continued thought

Sometime last night, or maybe in my sleep, I imagined what it would look like if the component guys tried to go back to the old BB's and how confusing that would be. Not that they couldn't make the frankencrank you see here, but wouldn't it look crazy and confuse people? So, now we're stuck with the atomic flyswatter (changing all our frames) - a big solution to a small problem.

pictures lifted from Shimano and Middleburn

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

BB30 - It's not the length, it's the girth

So, Cannondale is pushing a new bottom bracket standard, BB30. Various reasons are given by various sources for the new standard. Narrower stance by FSA and VeloNews (due to the shorter length), enhanced stiffness from Cannondale (due to the larger girth). The only explanation that I buy, however, is the one about durability. Here's my theory - by switching from the tried and true square taper bottom bracket designs to the hollow spindle models (Giga Pipe, etc), manufacturers sacrificed bearing size for spindle stiffness since torsional stiffness increases with diameter and the bearings still had to fit inside the bottom bracket shell. Smaller bearings = more pressure on each ball = shorter life. So then, they went to outboard bearings (Hollowtech, etc), which really screwed things up, because now, you can barely run a triple. Campy, for example, doesn't make an Ultra Torque triple, but still makes a square taper triple. So, the manufacturers painted themselves into a corner with this stuff and couldn't go back to the way things were because it would confuse the hell out of people. "So, you're telling me this expensive road bike doesn't have hollow anything on it? That's so 2004!" Enter, the BB30. All the durability of the old bottom brackets with an increase in stiffness that will go unnoticed to the recreational rider. Tail wagging the dog!

Any tech geeks want to back me up on this? Or maybe just argue about it? Or perhaps just pour one out for the square taper bottom bracket...

images lifted from FSA web site

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mini Rollers - Half as Heavy, Twice as Sketchy!

You know those moments when you see something that is kind of rare, in that "it must be European" kind of way? Smart cars, men wearing capri pants, women with mullets and little square glasses?

I present, the mini roller from Kreitler. I spotted this set under the pedals of a fast looking lady racer at the Cat's Hill criterium. A small crowd (me and a woman with a mullet, who I don't suspect was European) gathered and were asking her questions about them. She said that she had a cheaper, full size set for home, but that she bought the minis off the web for throwing in the trunk of her car. Can't blame her, rollers are a pain to travel with. Why not a fluid trainer? Or perhaps jogging on stilts to warm up?

Officially known as Hot Dog rollers, you'd have to be looking for them to find them. I haven't seen them in any catalog and didn't notice them on previous visits to the Kreitler web site. Is she a hot dog? Notice in the picture she's set up next to a sign post, which she held the entire time I watched her. Any way, a unique peice of kit that is good for breaking out when everyone's watching, as long as you've practiced in your mattress filled basement for a while first.


Welcome to nippleworks. This will be a space to discuss all gizmos bike related. The new, the classic, and stuff that falls under the category - everything old is new again.