Saturday, January 22, 2011

Reminiscing (Columbus MS multishape)


I distinctly remember one of my senior colleagues denigrating a disagreement amongst my junior colleagues as “a bunch of virgins discussing the finer points of sex”. Like the juvenile recalling his one half-baked sexual encounter I remember laughing a little nervously trying to give the impression that I knew a whole lot better whilst hoping not to betray my vast inexperience.
But we all have to start from somewhere. And they say that it is with patience and practice by which the neophyte becomes the master.
My appreciation of the lugged steel racing bicycle started in 1991. Not my first bike as I had dated several before her. But she was “the one”. That certain je ne sais quoi that drew me to her more so than any other bicycle before. Maybe it’s the bike. Maybe it’s the timing or the circumstance. In any case let’s just call her “the first wife”.

The first wife - or rather, how I would like to remember her
(she originally came equipped with a full Shimano 600 Ultegra groupset)

Hi-tech towards the end of the last century

Her frame is made from Columbus MS (multishape) tubing built tight with a 955mm wheelbase. The handling was best described as frisky but made more manageable with a long 125mm stem. A big drop from saddle to hooks allowed me to stretch out over the frame and drop my profile into the wind. Not the flashiest nor the lightest bike but solid, dependable and (at the time, and to me at least) fast. And I was deeply attached to her.

A pursuit-style drop from seat tube to a short head tube would have marked this out as a performance machine in the 80s and early 90s. Interesting to see how the shape of modern bikes have morphed to be almost exactly opposite to this. The seat tube has a shallow angle allowing the saddle to be positioned a fair way behind the BB despite the small frame size. And yes, I was a bit more flexible back in them days. (also check out the tapered seat tube which accepts a 25mm seatpost otherwise only seen in bonded aluminium bikes in the 80s-early 90s)

Hand-painted BB using Testors modelling paint!

Now that’s a tight rear triangle

Note the triangular non-drive side chain stay

And the rounded drive-side chain stay

Yeah, that’s real tight

The tear drop down tube

After about 15,000km I updated her almost to the point where she is today (as pictured). A (uninspired) metallic paint job at a panel beating yard, a second bidon mount on the seat tube (drilled a little skewiff), and a full 1993 Campagnolo Chorus groupset with an early Chris King Gripnut headset (an expensive option to replace the low stack-height Ultegra unit).

Second generation Ergopower (same model for Record and Chorus in 1993)

I rather like the way the cables curve

Last generation for the Chorus monoplanars

IMO the second most beautiful caliper after the deltas

Eight speed with slant parallelogram RD

Crankset from the defunct Croce d’Aune group

Period-correct ICS-modified Look pedals added in 2008
(actually these ones:

But our focus often changes over time. I started to get more serious about racing, and almost instantly the first wife was retired as a newer model appeared on the horizon. And so the sequence of (predominantly but not always) monogamous bicycle relationships began. A Trek 5200 in 1994 (back onto Shimano Ultegra as well as a dabble at mountain-biking), then a Cannondale Saeco Team replica with Shimano Dura-Ace 7700 in 1997, a Giant with DA 7800 in 2003...

And then, for a variety of reasons (some real, and some imagined), I was unable to continue racing. Over this time my adult role for which I get paid transitioned from student to supposed expert and teacher. I had a business to run, staff to pay, professional relationships to maintain, rent and mortgage commitments... So the focus changed again, and at night (after adult commitments had been fulfilled), an ebay troll was born, nurtured and set free.

More importantly (to go back to that line about virgins discussing the finer points of sex), I learnt a great deal more about the lugged, steel, racing bicycles that I so desired when I first started racing as a youngster. A hoard of old magazines that have been thumbed through many a time were referenced to the explosion of information now available on the internet. Not to mention the growing number of artisan bicycles being produced and professionally photographed for all to admire. I always realised that my first wife had a somewhat rough edge to her (the inexpert is not necessarily blind) but the absence of finish work is breathtaking.
For those that are still reading: the following images may be disturbing to some viewers...

Note the flattened profile of the top tube. Poor finish on that seat stay to lug transition.

Rough work on that seat stay spoon and lug

Now that is a sloppy shoreline. Uneven, under-filled, blobby. Not to mention that no attempts have been made to refine the lug (no shaping, no thinning, not even bothering to file off the castings)

It would be unfair to incorrectly recall this period of education. Somewhere between a newcomer's bewilderment and an old-timer's cynicism. I absolutely adored my first wife. I started racing because of her and my aesthetics and feel on the bicycle are moulded by my experiences with her. I would like to say that I was knowledgeable enough to know she had flaws and accepted her as she was. But I didn’t. That awareness came later. But that does not lessen my experience of her and I consider myself lucky to be able to continue a journey where a little novelty can still excite and a little knowledge can give comfort.
Then again, you know you are getting old when you spend more time looking backwards into the past than looking forwards to the future.
Back to AJ (finding old photos of her started this whole navel-gazing exercise). Yes, she had her flaws. And I had (and still have) many failings. But we had a few special moments in the brief time we were together and for that I am thankful. I will never be the same person that I am right now. Just as I am not the same person I was before. Experience changes us and the way we view the world. We live. We learn. And (thankfully, for most of us) we move on.
Yes, this is a self-indulgent trip to the vault of my memory. And a sentimental favourite of one person is a mere trifle.
Just realise: A sentimental favourite of many is an icon.
It’s a numbers thing...

A different time and place

Thursday, January 13, 2011

1988 Campagnolo Croce d’Aune

Road test in Bicycling magazine, April 1988.

1988 CdA brochure from the excellent resource website: The Bicycle Info Project

Campagnolo Croce d'Aune lasted as a complete ensemble from 1988 until 1991. The defining rear derailleur with its external rod and complex mechanics was replaced by a slant parallelogram in 1991. By 1992 it was all over and CdA was absorbed into the Chorus group (abandoning its forgettable deltas for Chorus monoplanar calipers).

Sunday, January 9, 2011

1988 Campagnolo Chorus rear derailleur

As the saying goes: when you are at the top, there is only one way you can go...

I vaguely remember a time when Campagnolo was the unquestioned leader in bicycle componentry. If you were cycling in the sixties and seventies you were either a cyclist that rode Campagnolo or a wannabe that wished you were. Then came the Japanese-led innovations of the 1980s with refinements in componentry design, product integration, manufacturing methods, and mass marketing. Bicycling became more accessible to the general public and the market base exploded. People who had never heard of Campagnolo started to ride bicycles. And, God-forbid, the infidels even started to make inroads into the skeptical, technophobic, Eurocentric professional peloton.

Campagnolo responded. In 1985 they brought out the C Record group which capitalised on the company’s strengths: achingly-beautiful, over-engineered, shop-supported, high-end stuff. And despite being technologically-challenged it hit Campagnolo’s target audience by being both very expensive and highly desirable. At the same time Campagnolo also tried to compete directly with their Japanese counterparts with the introduction of two lower tier groupsets: Victory & Triomphe. Unfortunately all this did was highlight just how much better the Japanese had become.

1st generation Campagnolo C Record

Campagnolo Victory & Triomphe

By managing to be both aesthetically-compromised and technologically-challenged Victory & Triomphe were met with a poor reception and a swift demise (As always: Be beautiful and stupid and you will still make it in this world. Be ugly and stupid and expect ridicule and rejection).

Towards the end of 1987 Campagnolo introduced the Chorus group followed shortly by the Croce d’Aune then Athena groupsets. By the end of 1988 these three ensembles had lined up neatly beneath C Record (in descending order: C Record>Croce d’Aune>Chorus>Athena). And they didn’t just look good (following the flowing, aerodynamic lines of C Record), they also made some (grudging) attempts at modernity. In particular, Campy’s take on this new-fangled, slant-parallelogram-rear-derailleur-thing.

Ultimately, the concept was for the top jockey wheel (guide wheel) to remain as close to the rear sprockets as possible to allow for faster and more accurate shifts (faultless index shifting requires this plus a lot more and won't be discussed here). Each rear derailleur accomplished this in a different way. Athena did this with a toothed insert engaging a series of detents behind the hanger bolt. This allowed for 5 different positions of the rear derailleur depending on the size of the the freewheel. Chorus had a slant parallelogram with an adjustable body (see figure below). And Croce d’Aune managed to make this a complex maneuver with cable pull angling the derailleur body (and jockey cage) backwards as well as driving it inwards. The peculiar external rod guides the movement by angling the travel of the parallelogram along the profile of the freewheel.

Campagnolo Athena RD (fr VeloBase)

Campagnolo Chorus RD (fr VeloBase)

The adjustable Chorus slant parallelogram

Campagnolo Chorus group

Consummation of lust at a lower price-point (ad in Bicycling magazine, April 1988)

Campagnolo Croce d’Aune RD (fr VeloBase)

Of the three concepts, I like the Campagnolo Chorus rear derailleur best. It was the first, it had the best solution (essentially attempting to improve on the Japanese idea), and it had that wonderful art deco industrial style about it. It was also the first time the Italian establishment openly copied technology developed by their upstart Japanese rivals. And boy did Campagnolo struggle with this humiliation - they persisted with an antiquated design on their top-level C Record rear derailleur (a design essentially unchanged since the 1950s) and suggested two alternative solutions with Athena and Croce d’Aune. By 1991 the entire Campagnolo range (including their short-lived offroad ensembles) had adopted the slant parallelogram rear derailleur.

For me the 1988* Chorus rear derailleur marked an important turning point for Campagnolo. It was the point that the Italian giant showed the cycling world that it recognised it had fallen behind the industrious if somewhat bland Japanese. Campagnolo ate humble pie, absorbed (ie copied) new technology into their designs and caught up.

And if none of this means anything to you, then I give you this:

...I’m not quite sure I know what I am doing but I know you want me...

* although introduced in 1987 the Chorus group only became readily available to the general public in 1988, hence the title of this post

Monday, January 3, 2011

The emperor’s new clothes - update

Oh my. The emperor appears to have quite a wardrobe.

Sold USD $3051.16 on 1 Jan 2011.

Sold USD $3,000 on 2 Jan 2011.

(the troll is gullible and assumes all sales as final)

For a small production run* a surprising number of these frames and associated accoutrements have hit the ebay market over the past 6 weeks. No doubt riding the shirt tails of the sale of one of their kind for over $12,000 USD.

However, at these prices you could strip these frames and get a repaint. But that would be pretty lame. Rather, if you are brave enough, you could consider taking to the streets in full kit. If you survive - ie providing a real street kid doesn’t kill you in a dark alley and you manage to avoid getting smashed whilst street riding sans brakes - then you may bask in your self-satisfied smugness. As there is nothing more cool than expensive kit that’s well-used and well-loved. It is a statement (whether the rest of the world recognises it or not) that you have passion, and money, and the time to savour the fruits of both. By my reckoning, that is one measure of a fortunate life.

It is quite telling that the troll has never seen a used example.

*it appears that 38 each of the Stash & Futura frames were made - not 33 as the troll was lead to believe on an admittedly superficial internet search