Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cycling Coelecanths: The Downtube Shifter

I have retro/Luddite tendencies. Duh. But when I bought my much-beloved Raleigh Clubman several years ago, I convinced myself that it would be the bike that dragged me into at least the late-20th century if not the 21st. Threadless headset. Inch and an eighth steerer. 9-speed rear wheel. External bottom bracket with a giant hollow spindle. And -- gasp -- STI shifting. Bane of the Luddite. Grant Petersen's Great White Whale.

And for several seasons, all was good. Those newfangled gadgets worked just fine. But this year, the STI started to annoy my perfectionist tendencies. It worked, sure, but it got finicky. I spent a lot of time cleaning and lubing cables, twisting barrel adjusters mid-ride, and holding shift levers for an extra beat, waiting for that perfect engagement. For anyone else, it was tolerable, maybe not even noticeable. But I figured I could do better, because when have I ever left well enough alone?

Trolling the internets led me to a great deal on a set of new-old stock, fairly recent production 8-speed Shimano downtube shifters, shown above. Shimano hubs and derailleurs are fairly agnostic when it comes to 8 versus 9 speeds, so once I procured some 8-speed cassettes from regular reader/commenter Steve of Peoria, all was well.

After a few hunded miles on this perversely old-school/new-school setup, I'm pretty impressed. The ergonomics of reaching down for the lever are not as convenient as an STI or bar-end, but I haven't found it problematic, even while commuting (when a lot of simultaneous shifting/braking happens). The biggest difference, though, is in the shift quality. When you take those big loops of housing out of the equation, the indexing gets astonishingly precise. Plus, the friction front lever is leaps and bounds beyond any front indexing setup I've tried -- infinitely trimmable, and makes clicky front shifting seem like a kludge.

Now, if you're only accustomed to modern indexing, with its cottonball-soft detents, the right shifter will come as something of a shock. It definitely have that throwback feel, to the days when Shimano wanted everyone around you (and a few people in the next county) to know that YOU HAVE A SHIFTER THAT CLICKS! You aren't going to sneak up on anyone. In fact, you're going to startle people with the sound of your shifts. Having come up in the early days of click-shifters, I like the feel, but it could be an acquired taste for others.

I've prattled on enough, so I'll save the review of the associated brake lever swap for another day. Suffice to say, while I fought my Luddite tendencies for a while, they're clearly sneaking back in.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Loss Of An Unknown Legend: Tom Teesdale

I know it's old news by now, but Iowa framebuilder Tom Teesdale passed away this summer at the age of 63, suffering a fatal heart attack while riding the 2014 RAGBRAI.

Let's get this out of the way up front: I'm not going to make this about me. I don't have a Tom Teesdale story. I never met the man, never rode one of his bikes. I lived in Iowa City for six years, rode through his town of West Branch several times a week, and never stopped in. Never even knew he was there. I'm sure his Hot Tubes feature in the long-defunct Bicycle Guide magazine came out during those years, but I must have read right over his location. It's an Iowa cyclist thing, or maybe just an Iowa thing: We don't think that important people come from here, or if they come from here originally, they leave when they get important.

Instead, this is a media critique, specifically of what passes for cycling media in 2014. Try this experiment (I'll even give you the links): Go to the Bicycling magazine website, type "Teesdale" into their search engine, and see what you get. Hit VeloNews and do the same thing. Since he was best known as a mountain bike builder, try Dirt Rag next, a publication dedicated to off-roading. For the sake of science, I even tried Mountain Bike Action, though I won't make you add that embarrassment to your browsing history.

You know what you'll get? Nothing. "Your search returned no results."

This is a guy whose torch touched some of the most iconic frames of early mountain biking. Check his resume if you don't believe me. And yet, the online properties of the two biggest general-interest biking magazines in the U.S. and two magazines devoted to mountain bikes didn't even mention his passing.

Granted, by all reports, Mr. Teesdale was a quiet guy, and much of his work had someone else's name on it. Even yours truly, a mountain-bike obsessed college kid living just up the road from him through most of the 90s didn't know he was there. But here's the thing: I don't get paid to write about bicycles or the people behind them. It's my side gig, done strictly for fun. I don't even pretend to be a journalist. But the folks behind those magazines do pretend to be journalists. They get paid for this stuff. Hell, some of them probably had people covering RAGBRAI. And they missed it.

Shortly after Mr. Teesdale's death, his website ( went down. The error message said it had "exceeded its bandwidth." And I thought, well, at least that's something. Lots of people must have heard the news and visited his site to learn more about him. Thankfully, the site is now back up, so you can see examples of his amazing work and learn about his framebuilding philosophy. It's just a shame that the cycling press doesn't see that work and the loss of the man behind it as worthy of mention.

UPDATE: I checked in on Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (a.k.a. BRAIN, a kind of "Inside Baseball" publication for bike shops and other industry wonks), and they did in fact post a news story on the passing of Tom Teesdale almost immediately after it happened. So, kudos to the folks at BRAIN, and further jeers to the folks at the other brain-less magazines.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

What's In The Stand: This Is Highly Irregular, Dave

In a desperate attempt to break this blog out of its current state of inertia (the "body at rest staying at rest" kind, not the "body in motion staying in motion" kind), I'm shamelessly stealing (call it an "homage") from Mike Varley of Black Mountain Cycles and his "What's In The Stand" series. Of course, Mike runs his own bike shop in the midst of a mecca of early mountain biking, so the stuff that hangs from his stand is a bit more interesting than what you'll see from a shade tree mechanic in Iowa. Still, the concept is solid and well worth the homage.

Today's WITS comes courtesy of my pal A-Mac (whose husband MikeMac once contributed a pre-WITS WITS post via his 1x7-converted Trek hybrid) in the form of a vintage Huffy tandem. Sure, it's not the sort of thing I usually feature in these pages, but A-mac takes such good photos (light years beyond the quality normally seen here) that I couldn't help myself.

Comin' atchya:

Head tube detail. A sticker rather than a badge, but still cool. Dig also the chromed fork crown and "bullet" details capping the ends of the twin top tubes:


From the rear. Loving those matching red and white saddles. More chrome in fender form, you ask? Sure. And with a fender reflector to boot:

Rear seat tube detail. Because, stripes! Also, the white nubbin to the left is a rudimentary seatpost quick release -- no cam action, just a nut/bolt with a long lever. Similar contraptions are all over my wife's Raleigh 20.

Lest you think my title was only inspired by the fact that this bad boy is a bicycle built for two, the 2001/HAL homage goes deeper. This may also be the first known instance of a chainguard detail photo with both a Kubrick reference and a BikeSnobNYC-style disembodied foot self-portrait:

And finally, the beast in its entirety. I need to tell A-mac that while the tree-lean is pretty epic, glamour shots should be taken from the drive side:

As for why the bike was in my stand, pretty much all the original rubber on it (except for the grips, which had already been replaced somewhere along the way) was kaput. I put on some fresh rim strips, tubes, and snazzy whitewalls, adjusted all the bearings, replaced the front brake pads and cable, polished from stem to stern, and she was good to go.

This bike is actually for sale. I don't stand to profit from it in any way (I was already paid handsomely in malted beverages for my mechanicking), but if you're interested and close enough to the middle of Iowa to be able to pick it up, let me know and I can connect you with the Mac clan.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Breakthrough In Schraeder Valves? Really?

The Murray I recently tuned up came to me with a flat. Luckily, the owner planned ahead and bought a spare tube ahead of time, as the only Schraeder valves I have in my fleet are in the 20" diameterway. But when I opened the box, I had an "oh crap, she bought the wrong tube" moment. The valve looked like this:

As anyone who's worked in a bike shop will tell you, the quick and easy way to figure out which valve someone needs is to ask if it's metal or rubber. Metal equals Presta, rubber equals Schraeder. So when I saw threaded metal with a valve stem nut (a.k.a. "dork-nut"), I immediately thought I had a Presta valve. Checked the box, it said Schraeder. Checked again, still Schraeder. Had a momentary thought that someone at the factory put the wrong tube in the box. Scratched my cro-magnon-esque brow.

Then I looked again at that valve. Diameter's too big for Presta. And the core is down inside, not exposed. Holy schnikeys, that's a metal Schraeder valve! And now that I know they exist, I kinda want them for my 20" diameterway folding bike, since I run those tires fairly low pressure and often find myself shoving the valves into the rims while trying to get my pump head on them. It would be nice (in a "my life is too easy if these are the things I worry about" way) to be able to thread a dork-nut on there.

(The tube is from the law firm of Specialized, Specialized, and Specialized, by the way -- which makes me think that they've patented the metal Schraeder valve so they can sue the makers of Presta valves.)