Monday, February 22, 2010

Equipment - Bike Timeline, Part 1 - Early Years

A while back, someone on the BikeForums asked folks for their bike timelines. Although I posted some general info there, I figured I'd do a slightly more detailed version here. It's so detailed that it's going to be spread out over a number of posts.

First off, the early years...

1973, maybe? A blue 3 speed looking single speed. Probably 20" wheels. It seemed enormous to me, but I learned to ride it. This was in Holland, so it had whatever European version of 20" wheel exists there.

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of this bike.

1976? A single boom banana seat bike, orange. Definitely a 20" type of bike, sting-ray like. I don't have any pictures but I know one or two exist. Still in Holland. My mom gave the bike away when we moved back.

Claim to fame - a "friend" (really just a kid in the neighborhood) wanted to try my bike. Rode it about 10 seconds, went along a trail next to a canal, and promptly fell in.

Canals, in case you don't know, are totally gross.

1979, used Schwinn Cotton Picker: After a year hiatus without a bike (when we moved back to the US), I finally got another banana seat bike, my Schwinn Cotton Picker. It has a 52 front ring, 14-28 freewheel (14-17-20-24-28), mated to a slick rear tire (slick like squared off hot rod slicks, not like "no tread 700c tire"). Up front it had a 16" front wheel on a drum brake hub. The spokes are about three inches long. It weighed over 50 pounds and rode like a squishy tank.

The "tank", as it is now, kinda sorta.

I actually kept a training diary with the Schwinn. My entries were a bit brief, like "Rode to Millstone and back". Millstone was the next road up from us, maybe half a mile away.

My main modification consisted of "lowering" the front end by removing the spring. This was totally rad but I liked watching the suspension move more than the chopper look, so I reinstalled said spring.

1980: Schwinn Traveller III, 19", red. My first 10 speed. I upgraded it with foam handlebar grips, toe clips, a rear rack, waterbottle, and a lock.

I learned how to double-shift on this bike, where you shift the front and rear derailleurs at the same time. I mapped out the gearing using a chart that had the chainrings as column headings and the freewheel cogs as rows. It looked something like this:

With a 52/40 x 14-17-20-24-28 (seem familiar?), I had to shift both derailleurs to follow the most logical (and marked) shift pattern.

Shift pattern of a 1980 Schwinn Traveller III. Numbers represent gear inches.

1981: Dawes Lightning, 21", dark green fade to lighter green. This was my first "enthusiast" bike. I swapped out pretty much everything on it except the headset, seatpost, and brakes.

I obsessed over gearing, drawing chart after chart, trying to optimize jumps between gears while keeping 8 usable gears (on a 10 speed you couldn't really use the small-small and the big-big, leaving you with 8 usable combinations).

The biggest thing I did was to install a 48/34 crankset (on a now ubiquitous "compact crank" 110mm bolt circle diameter). I also bought two custom freewheels, a 14-15-16-18-21 and a 14-15-17-20-23. I would change to the 14-23 for "hilly" rides, leaving the 14-21 for the "fast" rides.

Note the importance of keeping the smaller cogs close together. You'll see this in a regular cassette nowadays, but when you only had 5 cogs, it was critical. If you skipped a consecutive stp down in the small cogs you ended up with a huge gear jump.

This kind of decision affected not just mere mortals like me. Sean Kelly, after faltering in the sprint in the 1989 Worlds, said that he had to choose between two top cogs. When he reconned the course, the wind blew unfavorably, limiting him to a 13.

He decided to go with the 13.

On the day of the race, the wind changed direction. In the soaking wet finale, he couldn't come around a 12 tooth equipped Greg Lemond. Disgusted, he sat up, losing the silver medal to one of the new generation of Eastern Bloc pros, Dmitri Konyshev.

Luckily I never had such a significant outcome from my own gear selections.

I also put on 20mm wide Rigida wheels (700c), narrow 700x20 tires, went to presta valve tubes (with adapters in the rim), mounted a gold Sedisport chain (quiet and light), and swapped out pedals to get some Campy lookalikes. I installed some generic saddle because it looked cool and I got rid of the "safetey" levers, the extra brake levers that you could use from the tops.

I always wanted, but never got, gum hood covers for the levers. I'd wanted gum hoods forever but I always needed something more than the gum-hood-compatible levers.

I rode this bike in a Saint Jude's bikeathon, covering 72 miles in 4 hours. I even had a friend ride as a domestique, letting me draft him so I could rest a bit.

I also took this bike on a two week tour through Amish country. I discovered I really liked sprinting up all the hills, trying to pass the ride leader/s. Since one ride leader was competitive in a friendly sense, he worked pretty hard to stay in front of me (he had to, we weren't allowed to pass the ride leaders). I never beat him up a single hill, and he had a 50 pound Schwinn Continental and he carried the stove and fuel.

I should have realized right there that I should focus on things other than hills.

But I didn't, not for a while longer.

1982: Basso, 51 cm. My first race bike. It came with a mix of parts mounted on a Columbus Zeta frame. Zeta must be Italian for "heavy". Campy Nuovo Record shifters and derailleurs; Excel Rino cranks and seat post (remember Lon Haldeman?); Modolo Sprint brakes (below the Pro and Speedy models); and custom laced for me Mavic 32H GP4s on Campy Tipo hubs.

Picture of me on the bike, with in almost original state, albeit in a "reversed negative" state.

The field in my first race in 1984 at the Uniroyal Training Series (I guess the Uniroyal office was in this big huge office building.)
I was at the back. Bill W is the Laurel rider with the ultra flat back, dead center.

I only ever did the Uniroyal Training Series a couple times - this was my first and best effort. My friend Kevin F and I went together (his dad drove I think). I was too casual about getting ready and found myself scrambling to kit up before the race.

Hm. Sounds familiar.

Cornering at the UTS.

You'll notice my Brancale Giro helmet, modded by yours truly. Extra vent holes, stock ones enlarged, and some custom paint. I'll have to do a post on the helmet at some point. In those days you could do such things. Nowadays you're limited to decorating your helmet, not changing it.

4th? 5th? I forget. I waited until "my spot" and went. The guys that went earlier, on the uphill, were gone. Bill W destroyed everyone in the sprint.

Note: I swear that's my future teammate and mentor Mike H in the background. He had a black Colner ("Colner", not "Colnago", although the font was identical). I think it's his bike leaning up in the background.

I only had the GP4s, tubulars on the Basso for the first year, which I can't believe now - I flatted both tires a day apart at the end of the season. I never rode with a spare tubular, and when I finally got two tires and replaced the flatted ones, both tires popped off in my hands - they barely had any glue on them. It's a miracle I didn't roll a tire that year. After that incident I decided to always glue my own tires.

Gearing: 53/42 x 15-21 six speed (Junior gearing, limited to a 7.47 meter rollout, or a 53x15). Straight block plus a jump - 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21. Not bad.

1985: Cannondale red "SR" frame, 50 cm. I decided to get the new Cannondale frameset. I had friends who worked there (but no, I didn't buy stuff through them), and the shop was probably one of the first Cannondale dealers around.

The frames were crazy stiff. You could get a bare frame, lay it down on its side, and stand on the dropout. If you were, say, less than 200-220 pounds, the frame would flex a bit. If you weighed 100 pounds, you could totally unweight and bounce up and down on the dropout.

Crazy stiff.

Later I met one of the engineers behind the original frame. They had wanted to match a Columbus SL frameset, so, knowing the properties of SL's steel and the 6061 series aluminum, they simply used math to figure out the proper diameters and wall thicknesses.

However, they simply matched strength. Their approach resulted in a frame that was extremely stiff, extremely responsive, especially in an era where testing a frame's stiffness meant jumping hard in a big gear. If the frame flexed enough laterally to let out enough cable to allow the rear derailleur to shift spontaneously, you had a not-so-stiff frame. If the frame allowed a bit of cable out, just enough to let the rear derailleur protest a bit, you had a normal frame. Ultimate frame stiffness came when your frame flexed so little that your rear derailleur stayed planted.

Although virtually all frames nowadays fall in the last group, in the mid-80s only, oh, maybe a quarter of them did. Maybe a half.

Cannondale totally wrecked the curve. Now not only would the frame not flex enough to let the rear derailleur move, you could even stand on a bare frame (with no wheel in the dropouts).

So what did that mean for a racer? Well, for one thing, you could typically use at least one cog smaller for climbing. For someone coming off a flexy frame, two cogs.

Seeing as I still thought of myself as a climber (my sprint at the UTS notwithstanding), this was exactly what I wanted.

I planned meticulously, gathering parts before getting the frame. These included Super Record derailleurs, Gipiemme crank and pedals, Modolo Pro brakes, my all time favorite box tubular rims Ambrosio Cronos, Cinelli bar/stem, a Super Record post, and a tan Cinelli saddle. Once built up the bike was stiff and responsive, and the stiffer cranks and lighter wheels really made a difference.

Leading out my teammate at an early New Britain. Note the "backwards" direction compared to nowadays. I have red sleeves. He didn't win. But I loved working together as a team.

I had a set of G40 clinchers on Suzue high flange hubs, ones I had as spares for the Basso, but I preferred to train on my tubulars.

After a day of romping around on dirt roads. Low flange = tubulars.

I had red anodized Modolo Pro brakes, the nicest quality brakes I owned until 2008 when I got a set of Record Skeleton brakes as part of a Cannondale SystemSix bike.

Note also the Huret Multito, the O-ring based odometer on the hub. Painfully inaccurate but consistent.

Post dirt-road romp. Trainin' for the Classics. Note muddy shoelaced shoes under cranks. You can see the ping pong table where I played out many a WW2 skirmish with my 1/72 scale armies.

I managed to get up to 103 lbs for my personal weight before I went to school. Went to a 12T in the back when I turned 18 - my celebration for turning "Senior". Went bigger and bigger on bars, jacked the seat up, bars down, copying Greg Lemond.

In my dorm room. Bunks mean I was either a freshman or sophomore, I think the latter.

I started my long time use of Cinelli bars and stems on this bike. 66-42 bars (deep drop bars, 42 c-c). I think I had 66 style bars from 40-44 cm wide, 65s from 40-42, and a lone 64 (shallow drop) 42 cm, which I didn't like. At one point I had 66-44s, the deep drop bars in a 44 cm center to center width. I eventually settled on a 65-42 bar (crit bend).

Artsy dorm shot. 1987 or so.

You can see the Gipiemme half axle pedals in this shot. I wrote about some of the Gipiemme stuff earlier, and a race where I went up against a future pro.

And, yes, I lost. He, on the other hand, became a pro.

For a while I ran the brake cables along the bars, and I also taped just half my bars. I thought I'd be a pro in 3-4 years and thought that aero brake cables and losing about 15 grams of Benotto tape was supposed to help. Ha.

Last lap break at New Britain. We had 10 seconds. Helmet indicates first year of ANSI helmet requirements, so 1986. My friend Jim is the tall guy to the left. Teammate (a "Veteran", as Masters were known back then, and therefore too old to know who he was) is fourth man. And, yes, we got totally swamped on the other side of the course.

Next up: The end of the Red Cannondale.

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