Saturday, October 31, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Nothing comforts like documentation.
But some things (including bicycles) tell their own story.
A cache name like Colnago carries a weight of respect and adulation with years of tradition, great riders and races won. The fact that some Colnago’s were dogs (true that most provide a wonderful ride even if build quality was lacking) are mere whispers in dark corners. The same applies to other marques that made plenty of production frames. The venerable Bianchi springs to mind.
Masi is another great marque although perhaps not as prominent today. Faliero Masi & Ernesto Colnago were near contemporaries with both learning their craft at Gloria then going their separate ways. Faliero went on to make a number of frames for Eddy Merckx (amongst other great cyclists) before going to Carlsbad, California in 1973. But I digress and there is a great wealth of reference material on the great frame maker known as “the Tailor”.
1974 Carlsbad Masi Gran Criterium with not-quite-period-correct-but-a-nice-match-anyway bars & saddle (repaint by Brian Baylis, put together by Harry S)
Nice lug detailing
Moving on. The Tre Volumetrica (3V) was arguably the tubing/ innovation that brought Alberto Masi out of the shadow of his renowned father. Oversized tubing with internal lugs brought a fresh approach to the standard fare of the lugged bicycle frame. Reflecting and probably propelling the modern trend of the stiff frame these bicycles were revered by racers and cycling aficionado’s. And boy were they expensive for a steel frame. But fashions change and the raised lip of the lug join now looks more akin to a plumbers handiwork than that of a master craftsman (despite the fact that it is harder to braze a frame with internal lugs). Then again, the lugged bicycle frame is kinda like plumbing...*
courtesy Chris 's Public Gallery on Picasa
courtesy Classic Rendezvous
So here’s a Masi track pursuit frame that I bought on ebay from a seller in the Ukraine. The paint and decals appear original and indicate a late 80’s to early 90’s American build.
Pics courtesy of ebay seller. Level top tube with 26” front and 27” rear wheels
There are a number of interesting features with this frame. First, there is no serial number on the frame or fork, just a size indication (54.5) stamped into the bottom bracket. Second, there are True Temper decals on the frame and fork which are not seen on regular production 3Vs. Third, the lug lips have been filed away with the tubes merging smoothly into the lugs very much like some bilaminated frames (nice touch I might add). Fourth, the deeply grooved seat tube makes for a very tight rear triangle. Fifth, this frame has been used (and I mean really used...) although it still presents very nicely.
Fitted with Campagnolo steel track headset
So here’s my story (plausible but not necessarily true). This bike has been custom made for a track pursuit racer presumably in the USA. The build quality is impressive suggesting a rider of some standing. The bicycle has been raced then eventually sold or passed down when the original owner retired from the track or upgraded. Somewhere down the line it has been raced against a rider from Eastern Europe or from the former USSR and then passed on into the Eastern bloc. The now outdated frame has been touched up a number of times by its (relatively naive) new owner to regain some of its former glory. It then ended up in the possession of a collector/ ebay seller in the Ukraine. It now resides in Australia.
So there you go, a bicycle that wears it’s own provenance. No documentation. May be just nonsense.
But I’m comfortable with that.
Of course I could just ask Masi aficionado, Bob Hovey for his opinion...
*Saying that the lugged bicycle frame is mere plumbing is probably like saying that the Mona Lisa is mere oil paint on panel**
**Maybe the analogy is taken a little too far - a bicycle isn’t “true art” as true art deceives the viewer into thinking/ feeling that it is much more than the sum of its parts. A great bicycle simply shows off the sum of its parts. The ride adds the intangible emotion.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
What’s with “coolness”? Or rather, what makes something “cool” as opposed to “uncool”. “Daggy” isn’t the opposite of “cool” as recent popular media has made being a “dag” or a “nerd” in some way “cool”.
Being cool seems to vary from place to place, changes over a period of time, and dependent on the prevailing culture. But there must be some defining features of the “cool”. Poise and confidence (or at least surety in oneself) is important. Someone or something with a special quality that others would like to emulate but different enough not to be one of the crowd. If too many follow then it becomes difficult to differentiate the cool innovator from the desperate wannabe.
I’m no social commentator nor a great observer of these things. But this is what I regard as my “coolest” bicycle (if there is such a thing). This is a 3Rensho with track geometry and provisions for caliper brakes. The standard track fork has a tight clearance requiring super-short reach calipers like the Diacompe BRS-200. But a period-correct, NOS Shimano 600 brakeset seemed to be more appropriate and sorta fits. In any case it’s a fixie so stop pedalling and the bike, um, sorta stops.
It's an original 1980’s fixed gear roadie with compromises that you can expect from modification of a track bike for road use*.
The standout feature is the crisp lug-work. Apparently brazed by Masahiko Makino under the watchful eye of Yoshi Konno when the latter was still building bikes under the 3Rensho name. The paint is original as is the surface rust. And therein lies the crux of this post. A wonderful frame, modified for a specific, and at the time slightly unusual purpose (fixed-gear road riding in the 80’s), that proudly bears the scars of service to its (original) owner. That to me is just plain "cool".
A WheatBix box wrapped around the spare tub adds an Australian touch to a quintessential Japanese bike. Velo carbon saddle, rusty 1970’s Simplex road skewers with a Surly chain-tug (requisite bottle opener included), and pedals from my old race bike finishes off the look.
Poise, class and confidence. Different enough to stand out on its own, yet within the realm of the common man. ‘Nuff said.
* 1. in addition, track forks don’t take braking loads very well - the round legs are not built to handle front-to-back loads and flex as the brakes are applied and 2. track geometry is kinda frisky on the road (at slower speeds)
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
I’m getting older and definitely feeling the effects of age. 10 months ago I posted my love for my On One Inbred single speed. It’s a great bike and we had great times together. We still do when time and weather allow, but it just hurts a little more than I recall.
So the next project was to be a road single speed and I will build one with David Bohm in November (hooray!). But the thought of riding up steepish hills around my area does bring some reflection to the initial enthusiasm. So what to do? Idle thoughts congeal slowly but sometimes a nidus is laid and thoughts accrete.
That nidus for me was a Jubilee rear derailleur from way back in my childhood in the 70s. Truly beautiful in any era and remarkably light at 141g it had dismayingly poor performance even for it’s heyday (which admittedly was already clouded by Campagnolo’s Nuovo Record RD). But time passes and great technology becomes obsolete. However, true beauty is timeless and the Jubilee is now back in focus.
Building a bicycle around a beautiful but flawed derailleur might seem a little crazy but the intent lies in the need for just a few gears to go up them hills. If we are going to compromise then let’s do it in style! Matching the derailleur to a modern, useable set-up required another stepping stone. That came with another icon, the Cook Bros RSR crankset introduced in 1991. Beautifully simple like Alessi kitchenware yet industrial and banal in its role on a bicycle. They too had problems with flex, breakages and warranty issues. But, again, true beauty defies time and age...
Then came the brake calipers and levers and it suffices to say that they combined for both technical & aesthetic reasons. Then, so not too get too boorish, came everything else.
So here it is:
Frame: Planet X Titanium Pro
Forks: Planet X Carbon
Headset: FSA Orbit X
Stem: Thomson Elite X2
Handlebar: Deda Newton
Seatpost: Thomson Elite 10 deg setback (living dangerously with max line)
Saddle: Selle Italia SLR
BB: Token steel spindle
Crank: Cook Bros Racing RSR
Pedals: Shimano XTR
Chainring: Vuelta 44t
Chain: SRAM PC90R Powerlock
Derailleur: Huret Jubilee
Derailleur lever: Mavic Simplex retrofriction
Wheelset: Zipp 202
Cluster: Shimano Ultegra 13-14-15-17-19-21-23
Skewers: Hope steel rod
Brake levers: Marfac
Brake calipers: Zero Gravity Negative Zero
At a build cost of approximately AUD $4,500 for new & used parts it is certainly not a cheap way of producing a bike with only 7 functioning gears. Aesthetically it has an industrial & purposeful look with the mix of old and modern components coming together quite nicely. The frame has a smooth and responsive ride (which should be expected from a Lynskey-produced frame) and is the perfect all-rounder. Very similar to another Brant Richards project - the On One Inbred I posted in January...
Mostly it does what I need from a bike. I can ride for pleasure on a great-handling frame with super-light tubular wheels, with some iconic but outdated componentry (never underestimate the coolness factor - even if I’m the only one appreciating it), and brakes that actually work. And I don’t have to to fuss too much with the maintenance as I do for a classic steel rig. She ain’t a bad looker either...