Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Rare Old Beast: a Very Early Brompton

Early Brompton
Brompton folding bikes have remained virtually unchanged since they entered into production in the late 1980s. But before that happened, there was a small pilot run and the machines from this early batch were just a tad different. Only several hundred of these were made. Two of those recently ended up passing through Harris Cyclery on their way to the Brompton museum. And one of those I had the opportunity to photograph and ride. Pictured here is the 358th Brompton ever produced. Red and black 3-speed with upright handlebars, dynamo lighting, rear rack and fenders. 

Early Brompton
The most striking difference between the Brompton we know today and this early model is the "humpback" frame construction. As the Brompton history page explains it, "this feature had come about for the simple reason that standard pipe-bending tools could not produce the gentle radius desired. Change would only come with expensive retooling." By the time the bikes went into full production, the capital investment required for this had been secured and the bend of the main tube became more elegant.

Early Brompton
Other differences are more subtle. For instance, the handlebars are welded(?) to the stem.

Early Brompton
Here is a close-up. I take it this means the early handlebars were steel. 

Early Brompton
Likewise, the rear carrier is welded to the rear triangle.

Early Brompton
Like so.

Early Brompton
The bike comes with a wide, sprung plastic Brooks saddle.

Early Brompton
Fitted onto a set-forward seatpost.

Early Brompton
The dynamo lighting functions via a bottle generator on the rear wheel. The rear fender has a special cut-out to accommodate it.

Early Brompton
The cable routing is interesting.

Early Brompton
If I understand this correctly, it appears that several cables are gathered into the same housing and secured to the frame and stem at various points to facilitate the fold?

Early Brompton
Here it is passing over the bottom bracket. 

Early Brompton
The fold itself is mostly identical. Same process, with similar bolts on the frame and stem as on the current production model.

Early Brompton
Only the pedal fold is different. 

Early Brompton
Levers are involved; it is more complicated and bulky than the current snap-fold.

Early Brompton
Finally, it looks to me as if the frame construction itself is different in places - the way the tubes are joined. The other differences are mainly in the components. The retro lights. The fender stay attachment. There is no front block system, and instead some of the early models were fitted with front racks. Brompton experts will no doubt notice a myriad of other differences that I haven't picked up on. As far as weight, the bicycle felt a bit heavier to pick up than current production models built up with equivalent specs, but not by much. 

Early Brompton
I rode the older bicycle carefully and briefly - not wanting to ruin its pristine condition (it had barely been ridden by the previous owner). The first thing I noticed was that there was much less room in the "cockpit" compared to my own Brompton; it felt a bit cramped. The difference seemed too great to be explained by the older bike's saddle being more forward; it seemed that the frame itself was shorter. Later I asked about this at Harris and was told it was indeed the case. Unfortunately I had no time to measure the two bikes, but it appears that when they got rid of the bend in the main tube, they also lengthened it.

Early Brompton
However, the front-end handling of the older bike felt very similar, if not identical to modern Bromptons. Overall, riding it felt like riding an older and more upright version of the same bike. Reading Brompton's history and hearing about it firsthand from those in the know, it is striking how little the bicycle has been tweaked since its initial development. Aside from straightening out the bend after the pilot production run, they've mostly just worked on getting the weight down a bit and improving the components. The fold and the handling have remained the same.

Early Brompton
For locals who'd like to see the pair of early Bromptons, they will remain on temporary display at Harris Cyclery until September. Many thanks for the opportunity to photograph and ride the #358! You can view more close-ups of it here, and Elton Pope-Lance has photographed both bicycles here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

When Spouses Worry About Cyclists

Ipswich, MA
I get a fair number of questions from readers - and, interestingly, only heterosexual men so far - asking for advice on how to deal with spouses worrying about them cycling. Some describe situations where wives implore them not to go on club rides, or are against them riding for transportation. Other stories are less dramatic, but nonetheless involve an overabundance of spousal distress that in turn makes the cyclist feel guilty. Doesn't my husband worry, they ask? What do I say to ease his mind? 

Of course my situation is different, in that my husband is himself a cyclist. His understanding of what riding a bicycle entails is based on reality and not on the negative portrayals of it in the media. Still he does worry about me at times, especially when I go off with riders whose speed and skills far exceed my own. He deals with his concerns by asking me questions and trying to gauge how prepared I am for the ride and how well I myself understand the risks. And I admit that I worry about him too. While he rides considerably fewer miles than I do, I would describe him as more of a risk-taker. If he is late coming home from work, I worry. 

It could be that this is the essence of spousal worry: Perceptions of risk. Do wives tend to perceive their husbands as risk-takers more so than the other way around? It would explain why I never hear from women complaining that their husbands worry too much. It could also be that, for whatever reason, female cyclists are more likely to have spouses who also ride bikes. 

Either way, unfortunately I am not certain what to suggest here. You could reason with your spouse using statistics, descriptions of how safe your route is and how careful you are - but when fears are irrational this does not always work. Attempts to get your spouse into cycling could do the trick, but could also backfire if they try it and find it frightening. Showing them entertaining materials (films, books, pictures, blogs?) that depict cycling as safe and fun could be a way to go, but how exactly this could be implemented is not clear to me. 

While we all want to be free to do as we like, we also don't want to drive our loved ones sick with concern for our safety. It would be good to hear from readers who've gone through this type of situation and resolved it successfully. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Changing Commutes

Chrome DL-1 Maiden Voyage
When I first started riding for transportation in Boston, my trips were about 2-3 miles each way and took me almost exclusively through relatively flat urban areas, bike trails, and quiet side streets. But as the nature of my work changed over the past few years, I found myself making more long distance trips that took me out of town. The change snuck up on me gradually. But when I look at my typical week today, a 20 mile round trip with some hills thrown in has become normal.

The effect of this on my choice of transportation bikes has been significant. I could not tackle most of my trips today on a heavy upright 3-speed geared for the city and still arrive at my destination energetic and presentable - which is, after all, my priority. I need low gears for the hills; I need speed to cover the distance within a reasonable time. Naturally, these practical considerations have influenced my preferences.

On the other hand, the longer trips have not changed how I dress on the bike. I would describe myself as a low maintenance dresser, so I've never been one to wear carefully pressed pastel satin suits and stiletto heels in the first place. But I do wear mostly skirts and dresses - always have; it's just what I feel comfortable in. So far I've had no issue continuing to do that.

My views on the feasibility of cycling for transportation continue to expand as I ride longer distances. I still do not feel the need for a car. In fact, I enjoy traveling by bike now more than ever - the terrain is more varied, with less urban congestion. As far as challenges, time management is the biggest issue - with more careful planning required to get everything done by bike. Poorly plowed suburban roads in the winter will be a possible obstacle in future, though this past winter that was never a problem.

I am looking forward to writing more on this, addressing topics relevant for those with long commutes who still want to ride in their regular clothes. When I started out I never imagined that I would be doing this kind of cycling, yet here I am.

Has a changed commute altered your perspectives on transport bicycles, bike-appropriate clothing, and the feasibility of cycling for transportation?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ceci N'est Pas une Bicyclette: a Peek at the Brooks Two Wheel Display

Brooks '2-Wheel Display'
Has anyone else noticed that mystery bike Brooks of England uses to display their wares? You know the one - It's army green and you can see glimpses of it in their catalogues and advertisements, though never enough to identify what the bike is? Turns out, Harris Cyclery now has one of these up on display. Last time I was there, they were kind enough to get it down and even let me drag it outside for some photos - extracting a promise that I wouldn't attempt to ride it.

Brooks '2-Wheel Display'
Because you see, it is not a bicycle. It is a two wheel display ("Warning: Do not ride!") What makes it unridable is mainly the lack of brakes, though I suppose there might be other issues. It felt very bike-like to roll. 

Brooks '2-Wheel Display'
Usually this bicycle is laden with panniers and stuff in the basket, so being able to examine it bare was quite a treat. It is an odd bike with no manufacturer markings I could find. Lugged steel frame with unicrown fork. Same colour of powdercoat as the Bella Ciao I used to have. Step-through frame, the top tube at a slightly shallower angle that the downtube. Fenders, rack and chaincase powdercoated to match. And of course Brooks saddle, grips and basket.

Brooks '2-Wheel Display'
The Brooks advertising panel is painted on a thin sheet of metal and affixed between the top and down tubes. Notice that the clips holding the banner in place are part of the frame. The head lugs are unusually filigree-esque for a transport bike, but there is nothing fancy about the frame otherwise. 

Brooks '2-Wheel Display'
The rear rack resembles the rack on the Bobbin Birdie

Brooks '2-Wheel Display'
The chaincase looks identical to those used by Abici

Brooks '2-Wheel Display'
The wire and wood Hoxton basket affixes to the handlebars via a quick-release system. 

Brooks Hoxton Basket
The leather washers on the handle are a nice touch.

Brooks '2-Wheel Display'
The obvious benefit of the Brooks "Two Wheel Display" is that it allows them to demonstrate their products on an actual bike, without associating themselves with any particular bicycle manufacturer. I do wish the bike was ridable though. In general, it would be neat if bikes with advertising panels came back into style: Local shops could use them for errands, advertising their business along the way. I still don't know what exactly the Brooks bike is, when it appeared, how many of them are out there, etc. - but it was fun to examine it up close.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dream States

Rawland rSogn
My first cycling dreams were vague and atmospheric. When I rode along the Danube in the Austrian countryside, I would re-experience these rides in my sleep constantly. It was mostly the scenery and the light I would dream of. That backlit look as the day fades into evening, the shimmering water, the aspens and the wild flowers swaying in the breeze. The rides themselves resembled dream states, with their improbably long sunsets and no clear end or beginning to the winding Danube trail. Fading peals of laughter from party boats, the clanking of dishes in the back yards of houses I would cycle past. The sounds trailed off, almost ghostly. It would slowly grow dark as I pedaled and pedaled and pedaled. When I remember one of these rides now, I cannot be sure whether it is the actual ride or the dream I am remembering.

Riding for transportation in Boston, cycling disappeared from my dreams for some time. The few I remember are short, anxiety-filled re-enactments of close calls - I'd wake up with a sinking feeling in my stomach from a car having cut me off or passed too closely. In waking life I experienced no fear or nervousness when riding in traffic, but it must have been there on some level - what I would not acknowledge in my conscious state surfacing in dreams.

Later it was roadcycling that populated my dreamworld. Like an animal moving its paws in its sleep, I would pedal with my legs and shift gears with my fingers. The novel sensations of ergo levers played a starring role for some time. My fingers just wanted to keep using them even after the ride was over and I was fast asleep. Tap-tap-tap... spin-spin-spin... thumb press, thumb press!... spin-spin-spin! It was mostly just the motions and the speed I remember dreaming about, the anticipation of downhills. There was also a magical effortlessness to it that did not exist in real life. In my dreams, my legs never hurt and I cornered elegantly. Tap-tap-tap, spin-spin-spin! It could go on forever, just like that. 

A late winter ride to Lost Lake led to a bicycling dream of cinematic proportions. In a small group we had ridden through the snow covered landscape of central Massachusetts, a route that culminated in a dramatic course of rolling hills. The combination of the stunning winter scenery and the sensation of the ride itself must have overwhelmed my impressionable mind. That night I dreamt of Pamela Blalock standing atop an icy mountain, her long platinum braid fluttering in the brutal wind. She pointed at something in the distance, and when I looked in that direction suddenly it was I who was there, along with Dina, Emily and Pamela herself. We were riding what I first thought were horses but turned out to be huge bicycles made of a rusty, coppery material. Later I recognised them to be life-sized versions of some of the wire sculptures I'd seen at Pamela's house, but in the dream this was not apparent. Weightlessly we pedaled up a steep, narrow road in a blizzard, and just as we crested the hill we saw that the pavement ahead had turned to ice. No longer in a procession, we were now side by side and our bicycles tied together with rope. With incredible speed, we slid down the endless winding hill like some giant 8-wheeled chariot. I let out an excited scream, but it was so cold that I made no sound.

Other dreams of cycling followed - rehashing the day's events, playing out fantastical narratives, expressing anxieties. Before embarking on an overnight ride to Maine, I dreamt that my dynamo light was not working and that I couldn't shift gears uphill. After the ride, I dreamt of cycling endlessly along the coastal saltwater marshes in the dark. I had a handlebar bag full of tiny fresh bagels. I took out a notepad and wrote a letter to a friend on the side of the road, then dropped it in a mailbox and kept riding. I do not remember what I wrote or to whom. The night was warm and dark, only the outlines of trees discernible in the distance. Morning never came. When I reached the Canadian border, the guard was expecting me and gave me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I kept pedaling. That was the last bicycling dream I remember.

Brake Cable Guides Along the Top Tube

Testing a Selle Anatomica Titanico, New Version
I've been curious about the different styles of rear brake cable routing along top tubes. If you look at vintage roadbikes and some currently produced classic bikes, they tend to have three guides along the top, with the brake cable passing through them enclosed in housing. 

Axiom S, Clover
On the other hand, modern bikes tend to have two stop guides underneath the top tube, with the exposed inner cable stretched between them. 

Susan's Pink Sketchy
There are variations to this, such as routing the two stop guides along the side of the top tube, as well as possibly along the top. There is also internal routing and a variety of methods for bikes without top tubes, but that is a separate story. The three through-guides along the top vs the two stop-guides (usually) along the bottom seem to be the dominant methods as far as I can tell. 

Top Tube Cable Routing
From a purely tactile standpoint, my own preference is the top routing. I don't like feeling the exposed brake cable along the bottom when I pick up the bike by the top tube. And when it's routed along the side I can sometimes feel it with my leg, or my clothing catches on one of the stop guides. Some say they prefer the vintage style because the brake cable is safer from the elements when enclosed in housing. Others explain that the two stop-guides method improves rear braking and saves weight - while others still argue that the differences are not significant enough to be of real advantage. I've also heard horror stories about people's genitals getting torn on the cable guides along the top, which is supposedly why this style is no longer the norm. I have no idea how legitimate any of these reasons are. Is there is an official explanation of the advantages of one style over another? Which do you prefer?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Fixed Gear Mercian, Freed and Re-Tyred

Mercian with Freewheel, Altered Gearing and Grand Bois Cerfs
I've had a Mercian Vincitore since last Fall, riding it as a fixed gear fitted with 28mm Panaracer Pasela tires. Those tires are not known for their raciness, but honestly that suited me just fine, since my fixed gear riding style is best described as "pottering about." Still, eventually I got curious what this machine was capable of if fitted with faster road tires. I also wanted to feel what the bike was like to ride non-fixed. Now the Mercian sports 26mm Grand Bois Cerf tires and has temporarily been turned into a freewheel single speed.

Mercian Vincitore Lugwork
The bike rides better than ever. The tires have a lighter feel to them and the ride quality - which I didn't think needed improving at all - is nonetheless improved. I should note that right now I have an old cheap flip-flop hub wheelset installed and not the nice Phil Wood wheelset we originally built it up with. This does not seem to make any difference. The bike feels as if I am riding on narrow balloon tires, with the speed and maneuverability of a fast roadbike.

Mercian Track Ends
"Freeing" the drivetrain changed the feel of the bike in several ways. It made me more aware of how responsive it is to pedaling efforts. It made me want to alter my positioning - namely to move the saddle back a bit and lower the handlebars. It also made me wish the bike had gears! I didn't miss them at all in fixed gear mode, but now the bike seems to "want" them. It's probably just because I have never ridden a non-fixed single speed roadbike before. It will be interesting to experience it this way for a bit. After that I will change it back to fixed. 

Mercian with Freewheel, Altered Gearing and Grand Bois Cerfs
I will also be making some component changes in the coming year. The gearing has been lowered twice already and it's clear that it needs to be even lower to suit my pedaling style. The Campagnolo crankset makes that impossible, since the smallest available ring is 49t. I will replace the drivetrain with something that will afford a categorically lower gear. Also, now that the bike is no longer fixed, I realise that the (Veloce) brake calipers aren't just "a bit weak" as I thought before, but simply do not work here; I must have been compensating with my feet more than I realised. We will try replacing the brake pads, but I doubt that will make enough of a difference. A better solution seems to get a set of plain ol' Tektro medium reach calipers. The initial build was based on the parts that were available to me at the time more than anything, but I like to spin fast and I like brakes that work well, so the components will have to change.

Crankbrothers Candy 2, Mercian
I've enjoyed riding this bike tremendously over the past year and think it was the right choice for me for a fixed gear bike. I like the versatility and can see myself putting fenders and a rack on it in some distant future. In the nearer future, I am curious how a radically lowered gearing will affect my experience of the bike, in particular when I use it for recovery rides. I think it's the right way to go. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

How a Grocery Store Won Me Back

Brompton View
There is a grocery store nearby that I've always neglected despite its proximity. They did not have a great selection of foods. They often sold stuff that was spoiled or expired. At the the checkout, the cashiers would argue with me when I declined plastic bags. And the bike parking outside was iffy. This store is so close I could easily walk to it, but carrying bags of groceries is just easier on a bike. And since I did food shopping by bike anyway, I figured I might as well shop at the stores I preferred, even if it meant riding further. 

I suspect that other residents of our neighbourhood felt similarly, because about half a year ago the nearby store began to aggressively reinvent itself. They cleaned up, reorganised their merchandise, added an organic foods section. They expanded their selection of produce. The quality control is much improved. They now sell reusable shopping bags and don't argue when customers decline plastic. 

But best of all, they allow me to roll my Brompton inside and use it as a shopping cart. No questions or comments, other than the occasional "Look, it's a bike and shopping cart in one!" Considering that other shops have thrown me out even when I've walked in with the bike fully folded, the permissive attitude of this store came as a pleasant surprise. Walking in with a small-wheel shopper is really no different from pushing a huge shopping cart; they get it. Now I shop there almost exclusively. Not only have they improved their store, but they've made shopping by bike a breeze.

While those of us who ride small wheel shoppers are in the minority, many cyclists report that their shopping preferences are guided by the store's bike-friendlieness. This can refer to a number of things, from adequate bike parking, to the parking lot being safe to navigate, to the location itself being reachable via a bike-friendly route. Do these considerations play a role in where you do your grocery shopping?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Not a Typical DL-1

Chrome Raleigh Lady's Tourist
Over the years I've been fortunate enough to befriend some very serious bicycle collectors. And I understand enough about how they operate to know it is unlikely that I will ever be one of them. I have a strong aversion to online auctions. I am unwilling to spend my weekends traveling across state lines to visit bike swaps and barn sales. Space is an issue. And most importantly, my tastes in bikes are too varied. But if there is one bicycle in which my interest has remained consistent, it is the Raleigh DL-1 Lady's Tourist.

I acquired my first one in 2009 - a run of the mill 1973 model in so-so condition - and "frankenbiked" it into a working city steed which I still ride today. The second Lady's Tourist was practically forced into my hands half a year later. The 1930s model was covered in surface rust and I did not want it. Where would I keep the filthy thing? But the gentleman who offered it insisted I was the rightful owner: "Take it. It is completely intact and that rust can be removed. You won't regret it." He was correct. It is a historically significant treasure that I look forward to carefully restoring some day. 

Chrome Raleigh Lady's Tourist
At that point I knew that I would have a collection of DL-1s in the future; it was just a matter of time and luck. I did not intend to buy up random Raleigh Tourists; I was interested in specific things. An all-original model from the 1940s-50s was one of them. A pre-1930s model was another. And then there was the one that seemed least likely to surface: the chrome Tourist. But two years later, surface it did - in the hands of a collector in Germany, who did not want it for himself and promptly offered it to me. I was not prepared, but a chance like this does not come along often and after a feverish correspondence the bike was mine. The machine arrived completely disassembled and packed into a standard sized box in the most expert manner I've ever seen. It took us some time to put it back together, but finally we managed and here it is: a chrome Raleigh DL-1 Lady's Tourist.

The proportions of the 22" frame are identical to my 1973 bike. The hub is stamped 1980. "Raleigh Nottingham" headbadge. Most of the parts are original. The amount of wear suggests the previous owner rode it for years on a regular basis, but did not store it outdoors.

Chrome Raleigh Lady's Tourist
Aside from their eye-catching finish, what makes chrome DL-1s interesting is that historically they are somewhat of an enigma. On several occasions, Raleigh released limited edition All-Chrome versions of their roadster models. Originally these were made only for dealers as demos or display models. In later decades chromed editions began appearing in catalogues. In theory it is possible to find a chromed Raleigh roadster from any number of decades, made for any number of markets. The best known of these today is the Boss Bike - a balloon tire chromed Superbe Roadster produced for Raleigh's African market in the 1970s. There was also a chromed DL-1 produced for the German market through the late 1970s and early '80s. My bike is an example of the latter.

Chrome Raleigh Lady's Tourist
One very cool thing about the bike is the locking fork. Unfortunately, the key is missing. I will look into whether it's possible to get a duplicate made.

Chrome Raleigh Lady's Tourist
Also missing is the observation insert on the chaincase. The rear of the chaincase is slightly crumpled, but we are working on fixing that. The bike needs new cotters, and the headset could use repacking or replacing. Otherwise there is no damage.

Chrome Raleigh Lady's Tourist
A couple of things are not original, such as these newer tires (which ride great). The headlight and bottle generator are missing, though I do have the original tail light.

Chrome Raleigh Lady's Tourist
I initially thought these pedals were not original, but have since seen similar ones on other chromed Raleighs. The seller sent me these along with a set of the more typical Raleigh platform rubber pedals, but these are nicer and less than half the weight.

Chrome Raleigh Lady's Tourist
It looks like the grips were replaced by the previous owner after the originals wore out. The fit isn't quite right, but they feel and look fine, so I will keep them until I can find a better alternative. Late 1970s - early '80s Sturmey Archer trigger shifter. 

Chrome Raleigh Lady's Tourist
The bolted rear triangle and fork ends are identical in design to my standard 1973 DL-1.

Chrome Raleigh Lady's Tourist
The rod brakes, however, are a little different. I need to take close-ups of the other bike for a comparison. They need new brake pads, but work reasonably well in the meantime. The rear one is stronger than the front.

Chrome Raleigh Lady's Tourist
My understanding is that originally these bikes came with Brooks B33 saddles, but it was missing here. The seller included a spare from his personal collection, which is a brown Brooks "Champion B66 S.T.R." This is a long-nosed men's saddle, most comparable to today's Flyer model. I would love to get a shorter nosed model for this bike, and if anyone would like to trade let me know.

Chrome Raleigh Lady's Tourist
I am still just getting to know this bike and not sure what I will do with it in the immediate future. Putting it in storage was my plan, but I rode it and it feels too nice to put away just yet. 

Chrome Raleigh Lady's Tourist
For now I will get the cotters replaced and see what else needs adjusting. There is a local vintage bike show coming up in August and I might take it there if the timing works out.

Chrome Raleigh Lady's Tourist
While this bicycle is rare by virtue of being unusual (I only know of two other lady's chrome DL-1s in existence - one of them here), the late vintage and used condition don't make it especially valuable in collectors' terms. It is, however, historically significant - serving as an example of Raleigh's chrome finish and late-production DL-1 models. I can hardly believe my luck in getting my hands on one of these. 

More information on chrome Raleighs can be found here. And a good source of information on DL-1s in general is the author of this blog. Also worth visiting is Velo Ulli's collection - his focus is on pre-1920s bikes and it's glorious eye candy. It's always good to know collectors whose interests are different from yours... that way they can pass those unwanted bikes they pick up onto you!