Thursday, March 31, 2011

Good-Bye 'Blueskies' ...Hello Blueprints

A couple of days ago, Seymour Blueskies packed up his things and went home with a very nice couple. I bid him farewell as I fondly recalled our times together.

From the start, my intent had been not to keep the vintage Trek, but to learn what I could from it, then move on to explore other bicycles. It was around this time that I recognised having two categories of bikes: a few that I "truly owned" and others that I considered transient and experimental. But experimental for what?

It took me some time to acknowledge that I was "seriously" interested in bicycle design, and acquiring the Trek last summer coincided with that realisation. I began to learn about bicycle history and frame geometry in a more systematic manner, to formulate ideas about the relationship between form and function, and to apply my previous training (in psychology and neuroscience, as well as art and design) to the realm of bicycles and cycling. I realised that the reason I keep acquiring more bikes, is not because I necessarily want to own them personally, but because I want to try out new ideas and to learn new things - then share the results with others. I enjoy the process of conceptualising a bicycle, then bringing about its existence and the result being successful. Now if only there was some way to do that over and over again, without ending up in financial ruin or with a hoarding disorder... Oh, I know: I could design bikes for other people.

After saying good-bye to Seymour Blueskies, I stopped by to see Bryan at Royal H. Cycles - with whom I am now collaborating on a bicycle. How on Earth did that happen? Well, funny story... You see, in this post about a month ago, I expressed a desire to try a bicycle with traditional randonneuring geometry (à la Jan Heine), and received some suggestions as to how this could be accomplished. There wasn't an easy way; these bicycles are rare. But one idea was that I could design the bike myself - and an intrepid reader was prepared to commission just such a bicycle from Royal H should I feel up to the task. And so here we are. The plan is that I come up with the specs, we discuss, Bryan builds, and we'll see what happens.

As this project begins and the Bella Ciao project nears completion, I am filled with nervous energy and self-doubt all around. I know my weak points: I am not an engineer and I am not a framebuilder. But I am perceptive and increasingly knowledgeable in other ways that are essential to bicycle design, and I do feel that I can collaborate with others to create something special. It's possible that I am over-reaching, that it's all too soon. But life is short and you never know unless you try. So I'm trying.

39 comments:

  1. hip hip hurray! - long may she reign!
    -
    we love you and want to see you with iron tools in hand!

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  2. "But life is short and you never know unless you try."

    I am amazed at how many people, talented people, are afraid to try for fear of failing. Fear should not dictate our choices in life. We are human and will sometimes fail but to succeed we have to banish our fear and give it a go. I have no doubt that you are going to design a fantastic Randonneur. I can't wait to see it! Congratulations on your new adventure! What Fun it will be. Can't wait to hear and see more!

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  3. As a designer myself (albeit for two-dimensional media rather than three-dimensional tubing), I identify with your nervous excitement about the fruition of your labors, the self-doubts - and especially - "The Project." For a designer, The Project is everything, all consuming in many ways. I envy you this moment in time (while sending out my condolences to everyone around you, if you're anywhere near as compulsive about such things as I am!) I'll be watching with anticipation.

    azorch

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  4. What an exciting project and great learning experience! It sounds perfect for you. I too will look forward to following the progress of your frame and finished bike. Steve in MD

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  5. What a terrific project.
    I'm curious. Will the bike be Velouria sized, or is it intended to fit the person who commissioned it?
    Or perhaps it's being designed for somebody else, possibly a co-habitant?
    It will be so much fun watching this process unfold. I predict that my productivity at work will plummet as I obsessively, compulsively visit Lovely Bicycle! dozens of times per day.
    Keep those updates coming!

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  6. WOW! Good luck! That's wonderful. I look forward to watching the process.

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  7. I think you have already established yourself as a leader in the field and this is the next logical step. I was a graphic artist with limited schooling for 20 years and thought I wouldn't be able to write papers and get a degree, even though I had to work harder than others, I did it and now I am preparing myself to obtain a doctorate.

    I know you can do it and can't wait to see the results. :-)

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  8. Awesome. I think the nervous energy and self-doubt are part of the creative process, and though you aren't a frame builder or an engineer, i think you're ability to grasp concepts and synthesize ideas from them is an essential ingredient to conceiving a truly wonderful bike design. I'm sure it will be fantastic.

    When I started on the Shogun 650B conversion, I was filled with self-doubt. At many points along the way, I thought the whole project would fall apart and fail miserably.

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  9. The self-doubts never go away. I wake up at night sometimes and think: "What if the results of our xyz testing for Bicycle Quarterly are all wrong?" Usually, we do more testing, which tends to confirm the initial results (or not, which advances our understanding, as we showed in our "Journey of Discovery" on our blog).

    It's important to know your limitations, but working with an experienced builder, the collaboration should be fruitful. I look forward to reading about the results.

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  10. Jan, as a scientist, this statement:

    "What if the results of our xyz testing for Bicycle Quarterly are all wrong?"

    disturbs me a little. How can results be wrong. Results are data. It is the preconceived ideas of what the results should be that can be wrong. Or, the interpretation of the results can be wrong. Or the design of the experiment can be flawed. But results are results.

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  11. When this turns out right, can we expect you to enroll in a brazing class?

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  12. I'm sure it will be fantastic! Looking forward to seeing the progress.

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  13. jens - As a courtesy to the client, I will abstain from actually using any tools on the frame myself : )) Though of course I'm tempted to "help with the brazing."

    M. Pewters - Having watched Bryan closely as he brazes, it's clear to me that my hands shake too much to do this successfully. Hand tremor = not a good idea to go into framebuilding. Sure, I'd like to build a frame for fun some time, but that would be the extent of it.

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  14. MT Cyclist - The client, the framebuilder, and myself are roughly the same height. So both Bryan and I will be able to test-ride the frame once it's done.

    Regarding self-doubt: Even when I write reviews or test ride reports, I feel nervous that others might buy/not buy the bike based on my feedback and it will end up not being the right decision for them. I try to insert as many "YMMV" caveats as possible.

    But the thing is that even if one devised a scientifically bullet-proof test and demonstrated something like "85% of our test cyclists found Bike A more comfortable than Bike B," the person who makes the decision to buy the bike could still fall into the other 15%.

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  15. It's great that you're doing this! Completely inspiring.

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  16. I've been here a long time now and I think I've finally learned a thing or two: go with your idea. You're on track.

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  17. I love it. I feel a bit envious of you to be truthful. I am not in that place in life right now- But if I could focus on my own desires and dreams I would love to do what you are doing. Someday. I also feel the same thing about wanting to Try lots and lots of bikes. I just want to play and try them all. Sadly this means I want to buy them all- or I get frozen and buy none! I'm still mulling over that public. Now after talking with the VERY lovely staff on the phone I am gunshy. She says it rides differently than the mixte but she couldn't explain it to help me figure if it's a good thing or bad thing for me. I don't know enough about "slackness" and the geometry to parcel out from what it looks like to what it will ride like-ish... so I don't know. Part of me want to go for it anad try it as a cheaper go for a loop type and just go for it. But then I worry about having a stack of bikes that don't work. I also want to change the handlebars on it and am not sure that would be worth it... big ramble to say I feel you give such a great description of ride that I wish you had your hands on everything!

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  18. Vee - Well, if it helps, I don't really feel that I am "focused on my desires and dreams" per se, I just obviously don't talk about the other aspects of my life on this blog. We all look for ways to make the best out of our situations, and in doing so we sometimes stumble upon the unexpected.

    Trying lots of bikes really is tricky. Until just now, I have been buying the bikes myself, then re-selling them later. With vintage bikes this can be done fairly easily with no losses. With new bikes however, it's completely unsustainable and a loss is to be expected. I sold my Pashley after a year at a considerable loss, but when I bought that bike it was meant to be a "forever bike" and not an experiment. (God, I can't imagine buying new bikes just to experiment!) I guess the best option out there is extended test rides. Have you considered trying bikes in a "naturalistic setting" - i.e. taking them through a "day in the life" kind of scenario? I would imagine most bike shops would be entirely open to this, especially considering your blog.

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  19. (btw- I didn't mean to trivalize you by implying you have lots of free time and I have none... Not at all. I just feel like I am just in a weird kafkaesque space and I am about to morph into the next phase- very soon. if that makes sense at all? But I get that there is a lot going on etc... ykwim?

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  20. No worries, and I can relate to the "kafkaesqueness." I have been feeling in limbo career-wise and personally for about 5 years now, so much so that the limbo state (and the stress that goes with it) has become almost normalised. The bike thing has turned out to be an unexpected way to anchor myself in the midst of chaos, which has been profoundly helpful.

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  21. I think you'll be fine. I mess around with all sorts of "complicated" things that really are simple enough if we keep things in perspective.

    I've built and been involved with helping a few others scratch-build homebuilt sportscars based on the ancient(1957) Lotus 7 designed by Colin Chapman, most of these projects stalled at some point because the builder found him or herself confronted by a problem they didn't understand completely, the desire to achieve perfection takes over and things grind to a halt as self doubt and confusion suck all the energy and confidence out of the shop. Ugh... The fortunate ones realize that perfection is an illusion and pretty good is better than 90% of what any body is selling anyway. They then forge ahead and end up with something that does at least some things better than just about any car at any price. If it happens to be the things that matter to you, than hooray! If not, we try something a little different. No one that ever got to that point ever felt it was a waste of time.

    Everything is a compromise and if that compromise happens to be a bicycle designed by someone who took it seriously and had their brain turned to the "on" position than, hell, it ought to be a pretty interesting exercise. And the next one should be even better.

    Spindizzy

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  22. I've built and been involved with helping a few others scratch-build homebuilt sportscars based on the ancient(1957) Lotus 7 designed by Colin Chapman

    Hey, like Patrick McGoohan's in The Prisoner. Cool! I've never touched one, but I did help with a total restoration of a 1st year (1954) Austin Healey 100/4.

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  23. Bikes and vintage British sports cars. My kind of blog! Long live Lovely Bicycle! Steve in MD

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  24. The Royal H project sounds very exciting, can't wait to see the results!


    Count me in on the Kafkaesque thing, by the way. If there's one thing I've learned from my life not turning out quite the way I envisioned (and the humbling daily struggles that go along with this), it is the ability to learn to accept that "different" does not necessarily mean "failure." I'm definitely not a glass-half-full type, so it has been an interesting adventure to say the least, and cycling has been a sort of outgrowth of this and a wonderful way of embracing new learning opportunities and freedoms that I didn't consider when I was constantly obsessing over career and education. Also it can be a very affordable and relaxing pastime, which is what attracted me to it in the first place. ;)

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  25. Spindizzy/ somervillain - You people are making me want a car again : )

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  26. It's great to see someone else who likes right lever-front brake. One of the first things I do when I get another bike (which isn't often)is switch up the levers. I've been riding motorcycles since I could ride a bike and it just feels normal to have right lever-front brake.

    Great blog too, I really enjoy it!

    Murphy

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  27. Murphy - Ah yes, always right-front for me. Not so good for the new owner though, who'll now have to redo the handlebars once again!

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  28. Google Lotus 7, it's not a car, it's a 4 wheeled motorbike.

    Spindizzy

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  29. Oh : )

    Well, I still want a race car.

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  30. "Google Lotus 7, it's not a car, it's a 4 wheeled motorbike."

    Once again, this is a wonderful sort of place to hang out. Somehow I knew there would be a Lotus/Caterham 7 enthusiast hereabouts.

    Velouria, I picture you and MDI as being devotees of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint, or maybe a boat-tailed Spyder.

    Neihter one is worth much of a damn in a New England winter, sadly...

    Congrats on the project. Are you trying for a low trail stable geometry for this one?

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  31. Yup: low trail geometry, 650B x 42mm tires, cantilever brakes.

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  32. How low is low? That's what I wants to know...

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  33. 29mm

    Oh and re the earlier dropouts question - The ones in the picture were supposed to be Columbus. However, they are not stamped, so it's puzzling. Not sure whether we'll use those particular ones yet.

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  34. I was nervous too. I have been working with a framebuilder and the frame is almost complete.

    you can see some pictures here-
    http://bikeville.blogspot.com/search/label/my%20custom%20bike

    it is a bit overwhelming and I have found one thing that helped a ton, is to look at a lot of bikes and their details. I have numerous books, and if I saw a detail I liked, I photographed it and then would show it to the builder. and we went from there. I knew what I wanted to the big picture to look like, but in looking at bikes, I found there was certain dropout treatments I liked, and didnt like. topeyes. cable stops. all the small details that I would have to live with. as far a geometry and those details, that was more on the deceprency of the builder, he just knew what I intended to use the bike for- distance riding, brevetes and eventually this summer Paris-Brest-Paris.

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  35. bikeville - That frame is looking beautiful. Love the fleur de lis lugs.

    I was involved in the design of my own bike (this one), but the builder came up with the geometry on his own, with me only providing subjective criteria such as "I want it to feel comfortable".

    This randonneur project will be a completely different story, as I am providing the geometry... plus it's not for me, but for someone else! Will they like it and think it was money well spent? I guess we'll see : )

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  36. I have enjoyed reading Lovely Bike, but fear you are jumping the shark with the directions the blog is now taking. You had thousands of miles of experience, many comparative test rides, and had owned and modified several step through bike models before getting involved in the Bella Ciao Superba design project. That project brings together your own first hand experience with different styles and components for loop frame bikes. In contrast, by your own admission, you have never even ridden a low trail randonneuring bike. You wrote a post about your complete lack of experience with that design, and now are going to provide the geometry and design for such a bike to a custom builder? Wouldn't it be better to have ridden some bikes of this design before building a custom model? While low trail randonneuring bikes may not be common (sort of like loop frame bikes in the US when you began your search a couple years ago), many bikes with low trail geometries have been produced in the past, and both new and used options are available. I would much rather hear your reactions to the models that have already been produced through many previous rounds of design and refinement, then watch you set off a very expensive experiment building from scratch a style of bike that you have never even ridden.

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  37. Anon 4:13 - Thanks for being honest. Couple of points though:

    . I am not making up the geometry from scratch. I have been collecting specs for vintage randonneuring bicycles over the past year, and for this frame I am using the geometry of an existing vintage bike in the client's size, with minor modifications.

    . Framebuilders experiment with new geometry *all* the time, without ever having tried such a bike themselves. This is not at all unusual.

    . I stand firm in my claim that it is not easy to find a bike of this *exact* nature to try. I am not talking just low trail, but low trail, non-oversized tubing and wide 650B tires, in my size. Don't think I haven't tried to find one.

    . If you think about it, this project is safer and less jump-sharky than the Bella Ciao project, because the former involves 12 bikes for 12 potential customers, any one of whom can end up being unhappy because they don't like my build. It can all blow up in my face. On the other hand, the Royal H project is just for one client, who is completely on board with its experimental nature. He wants to try this type of bike, he wants Royal H to build it, and he wants me to design it. Not much can go wrong here: If he doesn't like the result, that would be an acceptable outcome for him and there will be no hard feelings.

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  38. Wow, as someone who has been an avid rider for 58 years, and bought his first derailleur bike 47 years ago, I am amazed at your meteoric rise in bicycle building/designing. But I recall that public knowledge has advanced hugely. In the 1960s and early '70s we often bought bikes without understanding much about the dimensions that determined their performance characteristics. I still think there is a lot of mystery to bike design. I have a mid-'80s French cyclocross bike, an Andre Bertin. It absolutely baffles me how that bike can handle so well while speeding across rough ground. Needless to say, it has none of the complicated and heavy suspension that is common on mountain bikes today. It's all in the magic of frame design.
    Good luck on your project. I love your sense of design. One hope that is perhaps in vain; let's try to make better bikes affordable. If cycling for transportation is to spread in North America, and survive elsewhere in the face of growing (over)use of the automobile, good bikes must be affordable to many.

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