Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Truss Lust!

[image via ANT]

There is never a shortage of gorgeous ANT bicycles to fantasize about, and my latest obsession is the striking Truss Bike. This design is modeled after the original Truss Bridge Bicycle built by Iver Johnson in 1910, which in turn was modeled after the truss arch bridge.

[image via fixedgeargallery]

The original Iver Johnson bicycles were built in Fitchburg, MA. The truss frame was available as a "racer" or a "roadster", as you can see in the catalog here.

[image via oldbike.eu]

Iver Johnson was an interesting man who also made handguns, among other things. The truss bridge bicycle frame design is generally credited to him.

[image via oldbike.eu]

However, there was also La Labor - a French bicycle manufacturer that seems to have built a similar truss frame at around the same time. There have not been any truss patent wars between the two, as far as I know.

[image via Ahearne Cycles]

Another contemporary remake of the truss: a randonneur from Ahearne Cycles. Stunning workmanship, and I love the colour - although I never thought I would say this, but there is too much lugwork going on here for me. To my eye, it seems that the truss frame is best shown off with clean TIG-welding, without lugs. This is possibly the only bicycle design of which I would say that.

[image via John Grinder]

And here is an ultra-modern interpretation by John Grinder. This is a welded 29er mountain bike with sloping top tube and derailleur gearing. Certainly not your everyday mountain bike!

[image via oldbike.eu]

If anybody out there is knowledgeable about truss bridge bicycles and their history, I would love to know what the original purpose of the design was: Was the intention for it to withstand extreme stress during races? Or was it meant for loaded transport cycling, like the double top tube? I am also interested in whether the original was welded or lugged; from the pictures it is difficult to tell.

I am glad that this classic but eccentric bicycle design has been resurrected by several excellent builders. If you have a truss bike, what is it like to own and ride? "Jim the mechanic" at Harris Cyclery has an ANT Truss Bike in a deep red, but I missed the opportunity to properly photograph his, so stunned I was by the bicycle's beauty!

35 comments:

  1. So beautiful, reminds me of some of the bikes I saw on these BBC documentaries on cycling and camping.

    http://beta.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00t5hcl/Britain_Goes_Camping/

    http://beta.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00t4lqf/Britain_by_Bike_North_Devon/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mike Wolfe pulled a cool frame like this out of a junk pile on an episode of American Pickers I was watching last night.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anais - Thanks for the links. And I like your name and website!

    MandG - Oh! And what did he do with it?
    (Sorry, I am entirely unfamiliar with the show; no TV set!)

    ReplyDelete
  4. The show follows two "pickers"/antique dealers on the road as they rummage through piles of junk/treasures. I love it because I love the thrill of the chase of a great find at a bargain. They resell in their shops and often they are on the lookout for specific items for collectors.

    Unfortunately, the show only wraps up with the "picked" price and the valued/sold price. On Mikes website he has a gallery of his old bikes and motorcycles, although I don't know if he actually fixes things up to ride - I've not read much, only looked at the photos.

    He reminds me of a tons of folks I grew up with. My hometown in Iowa died in the 80's with the Reagan farm policies and Walmart opening down the road. Antiquing quickly became the most prevalent industry in town and from the looks of things recently, it still is.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think you are right about the overabundance of lugs. I would have asked them to fillet braze the truss tube for a cleaner look.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I love the truss design, here's one from 1913, getting ready to head out on a cross country race.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/3276257395

    (They didn't make it, all the way... but that's a different story).

    ReplyDelete
  7. MandG said...
    "On Mikes website he has a gallery of his old bikes and motorcycles..."


    Wait, how could I have not seen that? Off to search through Mike's website...

    Quadmod - Thanks for those cool pictures! The cream tires go with this frame especially nicely.

    ReplyDelete
  8. The Truss Bike and the other Antique Bikes are some of my favorites from ANT. Maybe we're at least partially attracted to the truss because it contains an upside-down loop frame within itself? :-)

    I've been thinking a lot about trying to learn how to build frames (as a vocation, not a hobby) once I finish up my architecture degree. Do you know if Mike from ANT ever takes on apprentices? I think I need a career that involves making actual things with my hands...!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Margonaute - http://antbikemike.wordpress.com/br-3/

    ReplyDelete
  10. I think Margo was talking about a work-study exchange sort of thing, rather than a class : )) Those classes look great though.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I just had a chance to look a little deeper into the gallery at Antique Archeology. Not as much cool stuff as I'd hoped. We have a Museum locally, the Forney Transportation Museum, which boasts the largest single collection of antique bikes. I don't recall it being all that large but maybe we'll head down there soon to see it again. I'll be they have some truss frames.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Yep-- I think what I'm looking for at this point is a chance to work *for* a frame builder rather than try to *be* an independent frame builder, so I fall somewhere outside the scope of either of his workshops. Although it would be great to spend a week making a bicycle for my very own self!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Beautiful bike! I see a new obsession perhaps.....

    ReplyDelete
  14. Alot of things built from tubing or pipe in that era were "lugged", sometimes they are referred to as sleeves or sockets in old manuals and catalogues. I think it had a lot to do with the available technology for joining steel, welding was'nt a very mature technology yet and alot of things were brazed or soldered. I wonder if the first bike lugs were just off the shelf items used for general tubing construction techniques.

    I really like the way a truss frame incorporates that lovely arc in an otherwise severely geometric form. Even if it contributed no additional strength or rigidity(but it seems like it might offer a great deal) it conjures up a wonderful impression of the high ideals of an earlier time.

    I would be an easy way to customize an old early 80s mountainbike frame if one wanted to build a sexy vintage style hotrod out of it.

    Spindizzy

    ReplyDelete
  15. I too have been thinking of just such a beast.
    I wonder if we drink the same sort of coffee, Velouria!
    I would love to see what ANTbike Mike does with some more slack geometry like the vintage IJ bikes used. His standard truss-frame bike is probably a wonderful speed demon, though.

    I seem to remember seeing a Wright Brothers bicycle C. 1898 that had a truss frame, but can't find it online at the moment.

    Spindizzy, I intend to ask a couple of local framebuilders about that sort of project.

    Corey K

    ReplyDelete
  16. Margo - I actually think it would be very interesting for someone with an education in architecture to become a bike builder. Maybe we can make a bicycle designer team : )

    Spindizzy - How would you customise an early 80s mountainbike frame into a truss? You mean, attach the arch underneath the toptube?

    Corey - Yup, must be the same coffee again!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I haven't seen much information on truss frames. But from what I have seen, I think the truss was intended as a weight-bearing structure.

    What a lot of people don't realize is that bike frames haven't been all diamonds and mixtes for the past hundred years. There have been a number of designs, including the "cross" (http://www.rijwiel.net/kruisfre.htm) that were made for strength. Metallurgy wasn't as advanced as it is today: When Raleigh touted its "all steel" bicycle in the twenties, it was seen as a great technological advancement.

    One thing I like about trusses is that they are so reminiscent of bridges, which are my favorite artificial structures. Hmm...what would a bike built of suspension cables be like?

    If I ever get a truss bike, I want it to look like the Pont Neuf.

    ReplyDelete
  18. @Justine - Hmm...what would a bike built of suspension cables be like? A cross between Pedersen and Biomega perhaps? I think Moulton has tried such a concept. If you cut a wire anywhere the whole thing collapsed. Very effective against thieves.

    As for the truss: I suppose with the present materials adding a truss merely makes the bike heavier and serves no purpose other than aesthetic pleasure. For a heavy transport bike where an extra top tube might be handy, a straight tube is both stronger and cheaper.

    ReplyDelete
  19. To make an old mountainbike frame into a truss frame would only require adding the curved tube under the toptube like you say. It could be welded or brazed into the existing frame without any other modifications.

    The reason I was thinking along these lines is that there are so many great old high quality frames from the early days of mountainbikes that are so retro in geometry and construction. Most of them aren't very valuable and wouldn't be the best choice for off-roading anymore(actually not the worst either...).

    A couple of months ago I bought a 1984 Shogun MTB at a thrift store for $40. It has a really well made all chrome-moly frame with nice lugs, a beautiful flat-top fork crown and all the braze-on bottle bosses and fender/rack mounts you could ever want. I hacksawed/filed off the derailler hanger and the top-tube cable guides and the rear cantilever mounts and brazed on guides and stops for a rear internal hub brake(clamp on guides and stops would have worked just as well, but, hey... I've got this torch...) I (carefully) brush painted it black with hardware store enamel and ended up with a really neat lgihtwieght Touring/Roadster sort of thing. I used some of the original parts and added a 5sp. Sturmey Archer hub brake, some different bars and stem, A pair of black cane creek bar-end brake levers that I filed down to fit the bars and a B-17 special saddle that was on sale. It is one of my favorite bikes and I built it for less than $100 (less the saddle) by re-using as much of the old parts as I could and using used stuff for most of the rest. If you kept the rear cantilevers and used an old Sturmey 3sp. it would be easier and cheaper still.

    Anyway, the whole time I was building it I was thinking how cool it would be to do another one as a vintage style pathracer with cream tires, front cantilever brakes(not so vintage but really effective and still "in with the vibe" with a barend lever, single speed coasterbrake, chrome steel cottered crank, black B-17 Flyer and not much else... Alot of these old frames even have enough clearance for 28" wheels with the right tires. Now with you having planted the seed of making it a truss frame I am SOOO going to do this... Anybody got an old 24" frame Trek 850 or Specialized stumpjumper from way back when laying around your basement?

    Spindizzy

    ReplyDelete
  20. Frits - according to the ANT website, the extra truss tube weighs 6oz. Is that considered "heavier" in bike terms?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The weight doesn't seem like much. What would be more important would be the stiffness that the truss would add to the frame, I think. I'd be curious to know if that isn't the case.

      If you like trusses and bicycles, you should bicycle over the Bardwell Ferry Bridge in Western Massachusetts (http://www.mhd.state.ma.us/hbridge.asp?id=198), a lenticular truss bridge from the 1880s. It is quite a sight to come out of the woods on the narrow road into the Bridge in sunlight. It is, of course, found at a pole of relative inaccessibility, with pretty steep climbs on either side of it but is well worth the ride, as is a stop at McCuskers in Buckland if you are doing a loop out of Ashfield or Conway.

      Delete
  21. In regards to adding a truss to an old mountain bike frame, I know that Clelands added a seatstay or two to the frame between the seattube-toptube and the headtube-downtube.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/38236150@N06/3516201448/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/38236150@N06/3515602209/

    This trick allowed them to get away with using road tubing for a mountain bike frame when mountain bike specific tubing wasn{t available in the early 1980s.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Velouria - 6oz isn't heavy in my terms but I can imagine fanatics to think otherwise. People are known to shop around for the lightest possible pedals, so adding a useless tube might just rattle them. I don't mind heavy as I live in a flat country; helps the bike to roll on and on. There's a woman in my building who is around 30; she rides a single speed original Kronan, at least 60 pounds of rather massive steel. Loves it. The only problem is to get it rolling, she says, so riding it requires a lot of anticipation. The legs of an athlete, too :-).

    ReplyDelete
  23. The ANT bike is gorgeous. But I have to agree with Frits B. Aesthetically pleasing maybe but (given the load bearing purpose of trusses) what could be the advantage of placing a truss at that location? Perhaps it was just experimentation regarding frame stiffness/flex properties, but it seems that improving those properties and/or the load capacity of the frame could be achieved better with an additional straight tube. And I also agree that with modern frame materials it serves only as an artistic expression. I can't imagine what his bikes might have looked like if Iver Johnson invented the flying buttress.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I referenced this post on my blog:

    http://midlifecycling.blogspot.com/2010/07/as-i-rode-this-evening-i-thinking-about.html

    ReplyDelete
  25. Thanks Justine!

    Frits - Yes, I understand! The lady's Waffenrad I ride in Vienna is quite heavy too, but I love how it just "flies" through the city once I get it rolling.

    Thankfully, I think the kind of customer who would be interested in an ANT truss bike in the first place are not the sort to search for the lightest pedals, etc. But overall it is still a very light bike, as far as steel bikes go - especially the single speed fixed gear version. 23lbs complete is not exactly a clunker!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Hi,

    I have an original Iver Johnson, as well as the ti bike you pictured here. The original frames are, indeed, lugged. But, the outer diameter of the lugs matches up to the outer diameter of the tubes, so the resulting joint is smooth, rather than raised like a modern lug.

    The pro racing model of the Iver (as ridden by Marshall "Major" Taylor) was not trussed. The truss was added to the models sold to the public because it was thought that the "lightweight" racing frame would not hold up to the stresses incurred by riding on the rough, mostly unpaved, roads of the day.

    I love the look of the truss, and designed the ti frame to emulate the Iver. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the truss adds a bit of stability to what could be a rather flexy bike (small diameter ti tubes are not real rigid, laterally).

    ReplyDelete
  27. I just got a truss fram bicycle with a head badge from York, PA does anyone have any knowledge of these? Its got skip tooth chain ring etc.. Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  28. There is a shop in Fitchburg that may have more info:
    http://www.google.com/maps/place?cid=9223733264100462964&q=fitchburg+bicycle+shop&gl=us

    ReplyDelete
  29. I love the Truss Bridge! Here is mine.

    http://bicyclefriends.blogspot.com/2011/01/sht-bike-reborn-part-two.html

    ReplyDelete
  30. Hi I was also fascinated by the truss bikes,I also have one.I bought it a year ago and it doesn't have the head badge but it most look like the Iver Johnson truss bridge design and i wonder why there's a good numbers of truss bridge bike here in Philippines

    ReplyDelete
  31. hi do you happen to know what wheel size will fit a truss frame 26? thanks

    ReplyDelete
  32. is the truss frame a roadster or a city bike? I had a new truss frame bicycle that I recently acquired from japan. *The Mister Cycle* and I really don't know what rimset should I use. I'm thinking 26x1.38 or 26x1.50. any suggestions?

    ReplyDelete
  33. I have a vintage Iver Johnson truss bridge bike and I believe it is a roadster, not sure. I need to find parts for it and am having a hard time. The parts I need are handlebars, a crank, a pedal, and a seat.
    --If you can help me, email me at kt07481@yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete
  34. I have a 1908 Iver Johnson Truss Bridge bicycle.
    It is in very good condition.

    [URL=http://s913.photobucket.com/user/sunworksco/media/eaeb4ea9bc4d24aa77a5754ee6d4dc06.jpg.html][IMG]http://i913.photobucket.com/albums/ac335/sunworksco/eaeb4ea9bc4d24aa77a5754ee6d4dc06.jpg[/IMG][/URL]
    I also have this 1899 Iver Johnson Diamond Frame bicycle.


    [URL=http://s913.photobucket.com/user/sunworksco/media/130d3eb476019b5961e555feb8b2e3f8.jpg.html][IMG]http://i913.photobucket.com/albums/ac335/sunworksco/130d3eb476019b5961e555feb8b2e3f8.jpg[/IMG][/URL]

    ReplyDelete