Sunday, February 3, 2013

Praise Be Ye Nitto

My Japanese made chrome Schwinn Voyageur was equipped from the factory with a seat post that was too short for me.  It's something that I've found to be a problem on any bike that's not too big.  However, it proved difficult to find a suitable 26.8 mm seat post that was long enough.  The only options I found were cheap, heavy, Kalloy seat posts, and the classic offerings from Nitto.

The Nitto "Crystal Fellow" S65 is the standard single bolt seat post, while the Dynamic 626 has an ovalized structure to save weight.

My first interaction with Nitto came by accident.  For my first road bike, a 1989 Cannondale 3.0, I chose a complete, period correct, Dura-Ace conversion.  When all was said and done, the fluted seat post was too short.  I hated that I could never find a Dura-Ace seat post longer than 200 mm, but necessity sent me searching.  

It was probably Peter White who pointed out that the Dura-Ace stem I had equipped my bike with was made by Nitto.  It was an astounding creation, extremely clever and beautiful. 

A single hex-screw cap positioned at the apex of the stem provides access to both the expander bolt at the bottom of the stem, and to the screw which tightens a plate at the back of the handlebars. This opened a door in my completionist mind, the "Crystal Fellow" was tall enough, and had the pedigree to run with the rest of the Dura-Ace Grupo.

Flash forward to the Chrome Schwinn. Searching for a longer seat post to dress up my Voyageur proved to be fruitless, all except for the afore mentioned Kalloy pillars and those from Nitto.  It was an easy decision.

After ordering my Nitto Crystal Fellow from OCBC, I proudly displayed it to my wife and proclaimed, "This was made by an old Japanese woman!"
"Really?", she replied.

"Well, maybe, kinda, I dunno"

Anyway, check out the pictures from Tokyo Fixed Gear's tour of the Nitto factory, and check out the video that led me to believe such a thing.
And, Viva Nitto!

Tokyo Fixed visits Nitto from Tokyo Fixed on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Rapha Base Layer Discount Code!

I received an email from Rapha on Thursday evening with a discount code for Rapha Base Layer products.  Seeing as how I just posted a review of the Rapha Base Layer V-Neck, I figured I'd put this up for everyone.  It's 30% off, which can make the difference for a lot of people, myself included.

When you check out, just enter this promo code, "RBL30".  The offer is only good until December 14th, so get on it!


Merino Base Layers

Merino Base Layers

The original Rapha layer, available in long sleeve, short sleeve and sleeveless versions.
V-Neck Base Layer

V-Neck Base Layer

Low-cut neck and lighter yarn, ideal for warmer conditions and city riding.
Women's Long Sleeve Base Layer

Women's Base Layer

Long sleeve 100% merino layer shaped for women.Colours: Black, Fig.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Jive Turkey's Small Business Saturday Christmas Gift List Kickoff Party!

So, my wife and I were invited to dinner at a friend's apartment.  I was thumbing through an interesting coffee table book called, "The Golden Age Of Handbuilt Bicycles", a nice book full of vintage bicycle pictures and descriptions.  He suggested I borrow it, and I happily left with it under my arm.  The next day I was looking at it a little closer when this curious little paper fell out.
It was a flyer from the 3/50 Project, an organization put together to promote small brick and mortar shops. It was not a big surprise to find something like this in his book, as he himself is a small business owner.  It goes like this:

3. Think about which three independently owned stores you’d miss if they were gone. Stop in, say hello, and pick a little something up. That’s how they stay around.
50. If just half the employed U.S. population spent $50 each month in independently owned stores, their purchases would generate $42,629,700,000 in revenue.
68. For every $100 spent in independently owned stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. In a national chain, only $43 stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home.
Make of this what you will.  I say, there are at least three businesses that I would be heart broken to see go away.   So I say, if you're fortunate enough to be surrounded by quality mom and pop shops, stop in and give em some love.  If they don't have what you're looking for, they may be able to get it for you.  And while you may be able to find most of everything you want at Walmart or Bestbuy,  a good relationship with your local mom and pop is priceless.  With that, may I suggest for the cyclist in your life, "The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles".  Do you even know where your local bookseller is?  Do you have a local bookseller?  This could be a hard one, but if you do have a bookstore around, don't wait till the last minute, go in and ask for the book, they can get it for you within a couple of days.  You might find something you weren't even looking for.   

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How I Decided To Be A Shepherd And Other Random Thoughts On Politics

Rapha Base Layer V-Neck Review

When I was younger, upon the urging of my mother and my teachers, I began to search my soul for a worthy profession to commit my adult years.  Something meaningful, consequential, important, fancy. That’s how I found myself musing on the successes of minor celebrities in politics.  Yes, If I was to become president it was not going to happen through any of the traditional channels, being born rich, going to law school, military service.  Indeed, I would have to become famous, like Sonny Bono

I took the obvious next step and halfway sort-of dedicated myself to rock n’ roll music.   But In order to legitimize my candidacy, I’d need more than just celebrity, I’d need some good deeds under my belt. Since, at the time, I was a self described misanthrope, it was serendipitous that I had just read Kerouac's  “The Dharma Bums” and was ready to immerse myself in a life of heavy drinking and solitude.  I’d become a forest ranger and take a post in a fire lookout high up on some lonely mountain top. This would give me the credentials to take on that hole in the ozone layer, and provide me with the rugged, self sacrificing image necessary to fool those lazy, gullible, swing voters into electing me president. And just like that, my three part career plan was born.

  1. Celebrity.  
  2. Forest Ranger.  
  3. Politician.  

Fool Proof.

Rock n’ Roll was not an instant success, so I decided to focus on being a writer while I waited for my big break. Only, learning Spanish, a somewhat unexpected requirement, was way less fun than art classes. So, with only Spanish between me and an English composition degree, I became a photographer.  10 years later, still a photographer, I found myself in the living room of highly successful motor cross racer and entrepreneur Ben Spies. We were there to do a portrait for a little profile in D Magazine about his new burger joint, Stackhouse. Ben had taken up cycling as a way to stay fit in the off season.  He didn’t halfway take it up, he started a team, Elbowz Racing, got sponsors, and jerseys, and some insane equipment .  My assistant and I marveled at a room in Ben’s home filled with fancy Specialized S-works bicycles. I noticed a cycling magazine on his coffee table, printed on high quality paper, with nice photos and a classy cover.  I don’t remember exactly what that publication was, but I searched for it, unsuccessfully, and stumbled on Rouleur

Rouleur is not your run of the mill bicycle magazine filled with useless reviews of every new product, how to get fast in 10 days without really trying, or controversial news about compression tights. It’s a heavy, gorgeous, book-like publication put out by Rapha, a cycling apparel company based in the UK.  The stories are in depth profiles on Individual riders, tours of old world factories, reports on races in third world countries, super geeky stuff that's mostly beyond me.  But the photography really got me. One photographer, Ben Ingham, really made an impression on me.  Looking at his website and reading interviews of him, I learned that Ingham had also shot for Rapha’s advertising campaigns. So of course I had to look.  

And that’s how it starts, doesn’t it?  Just a little innocent curiosity can get you started down a path you never really wanted to go down.  Ultimately, I know that I’m just a sucker for marketing, but then you just gotta know, is it really worth that much money?  And hadn’t I already wasted a bunch of money on mediocre crap? I started small, with the V-neck base layer.

The Review:  

Rapha’s base layers are made out of 100% merino wool, and while I initially felt like they were way too expensive, I’ve found that merino wool products are all very expensive (as if that makes it ok).  Why?  Well, I’m not going to pretend to understand the economics of it, but, it's an amazing material that wicks moisture like nothing else, which helps regulate body temperature and keeps you dry. Ive found that, due to its anti microbial qualities, I can wear one on a ride, get all sweaty and stinky, hang it up, and come back later to find it doesn't  smell terrible! It’s also extremely comfortable, and if you’re thinking itchy old sweaters from the army navy store, you're way off.  Used as intended, under a cycling jersey, they feel great. I always forget that I have it on.  In theory, they are supposed to enhance the natural cooling effect of sweat evaporating on your skin, although I think there must be a point when it’s just too hot and it’s not going to make any difference. 

I originally bought a three pack to commute to work in, and indeed I do use them for that purpose. They are extremely snug, though not restrictive, so I generally don’t like to wear them just as T-shirts.  However I make an exception on the bike, they just feel too good to ride in, and look great with a pair of jeans or trousers.  They also make great undershirts.  You can keep a button up at the office or in your bag and throw it on over the base layer after you arrive at your destination, and have had a chance to cool off.  It is important to note, however, the cream colored one is very see-thru.  All the seams have flatlock stitching, and are positioned behind your shoulders so bags or bibshorts won’t rub them against your skin.  The back is also longer than an ordinary shirt for when you're on the bike.  My only problem with this garment (besides cost) is it’s durability.  I’m not saying it’s not well made, it’s made incredibly well.  The fabric is just extremely thin, and thus, delicate.  While I love cycling specific clothes that look good on or off the bike, things that facilitate movement and comfort while being active throughout the day, I hate to have something so precious that you are afraid to do anything in it.  Despite my fears, after about 6 months of heavy use, they are holding up just fine.  

I’ve since bought some wool boxer shorts (both Rapha and SmartWool) to wear when I’m riding, and not wearing cycling shorts, as well as some SmartWool socks. And while cotton still rules my underwear and sock drawers, this is where I really start to feel burdened by the cost of merino wool.  Because now, I want all my boxers to be wool, for the rest of my life!  I want all my undershirts to be merino wool! I want to wrap my firstborn in a merino swaddling cloth!  

That’s when I decided to update my three step career plan.  Forest ranger is out.  Merino shepherd, in.  I’ll cultivate an American merino wool that will knock your cotton socks off!  Then all my socks and undies can be merino wool!  The celebrity part could still happen, you never know.  As far as step three, I’m thinking maybe sheep’s milk cheese maker.

Friday, November 9, 2012

In Praise Of The American Spirit!


Corvettes, Audis, Knife Fights, and Why The American Revolutionary War Was No Contest

While I'd like to think that the political fighting is over, we all know better.  I started to say something along the lines of "..... blah blah blah... political fighting over the last 2 years...yada yada yada", and thought better to say 4 years, then realized, no it's been 12, remembered Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton, that's 20 years, thought about Reagan and Carter, rembered the whole civil rights thing, oh and the Civil War, and didn't we pick some fight with the Brits before that?  

Well, I was fumbling around with the blog trying to put together a "Blog List" and came across something that puts the whole "cyclist stabbing" incident into perspective.  While here in Dallas Texas, an altercation with an automobile driver could result in a knife fight, the Brits bravely debate street-side and end with mutual insincere thank you's.  Yes it's an "ALL OUT FIGHT!" between a cyclist and an Audi driver on the other side of the pond.   It's no wonder we won the American Revolutionary War.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cotton & Shellac Handlebar Treatment

"I'm against it!" was the response I received from one bicycle shop as I went scrounging up my supplies for my latest project.  Truth be told, that was my first thought too when my friend, Ean Parsons, suggested that wrapping my bars the old fashioned way, with cotton bar tape and shellac would be an affordable, classier option than my re-purposed inner tubes.

Ean Parsons

Ean is one of those guys who lives and breathes bicycles, approaching the whole genre with the sort of reverence usually attributed to a record collector (he's that too).  Where I am someone who is approaching cycling from having been on hiatus from the sport since fourth grade, Ean never stopped.  I respect and appreciate his aesthetic. His suggestion, while initially ignored, eventually peaked my curiosity.  So I asked him if he'd lend a hand for this tutorial.

What You'll Need:

counter clock-wise from top left, Newbaum's cotton handlebar tape-Oak Cliff Bicycle Company $6 a roll , colored assortment twine-Joann's Fabric $4.99 or hemp twine $1.99, throw-away "chip" brush, $1.19, Zinsser Bulls Eye amber shellac-Home Depot $13.78, corks-Ace Hardware $0.30 each, plastic drop cloth-Home Depot $1.19

1. Cotton Tape.  Oak Cliff Bicycle Company stocks Newbaum's, a relatively young company that also makes rim tape, and although other shops may carry it, most don't. I purchased two rolls of gray, and two rolls of orange Newbaum's cotton tape from Oak Cliff Bicycle Company.  Unsure of my color selections, I popped in to a couple other local bike shops and found smug rejection. It's available in 16 colors, and runs 5-7 bucks a roll, but remember to get two rolls if you're going to be wrapping drop-bars.  

2. Hemp Twine. This provides a classy finished look to the project.  Forget electrical tape!  You can get crazy with the twine and wrap it around all sorts of stuff, but for this demo we are sticking to the top center.  I found an assorted bag of colored twine for pretty cheap at Joann's, who also stocks the natural jute kind.  Any hardware store will carry twine, but probably will sell you a larger roll than you need for this project,  however if you think you might be using it for other stuff then it makes sense.

3.  Chip Brush.  I'd like to say that it's worth it to use a nicer brush for this project, but I would argue that cleanup is going to be worse on the environment than throwing that brush in the trash.  While I have no empirical evidence to support this claim, I will just say that most of the elements used to make this brush are natural, and biodegradable, including the Shellac, and you don't need a nice brush for this application.

4. Shellac.  There are many options here, but the easiest one is going to be the Zinser shellac you buy from any hardware store.  While you aren't going to use it all before it goes bad, it's readily available, comparable in price to other options like shellac flakes,  and it's easy.  Flakes are something I want to experiment with in the future,  but for now, easy does it.

5.  Corks.  Of course you can source these from any number of places, but the hardware store offers unused, tapered, natural corks, in a variety of sizes.  They are extremely cheap, and fit better than wine bottle corks, and will take shellac very well. 

6.  Drop Cloth. You can always wheel your bike outside and not worry about spilling, but unless your extremely careful, you're going to get little flecks of shellac on you're bike.  While I don't know how hard it is to remove them, Ean tells a sad tale about getting shellac all over his bike, and not noticing until he was done. It costs less than 2 bucks, so do it the first time at least until you know what you're dealing with.  This can get messy. 

Start With Clean Hands and Clean Bars

Cotton Bar tape is going to suck up all the muck from your fingers, and although your about to cover up your bars, just remember, you'll be handling them the whole time your doing this, so even if you start with clean hands, you may end up getting nasty scum all over your new cotton tape if your bars aren't clean.  Wipe them down with alcohol or some other solvent, or pre-wrap the bars with electrical tape.

start with clean handlebars

Begin With 1/2" Overlap.  Ean learned to start from the top, going away from the bicycle, and while I learned to start from the bottom, going toward the bike, it seems to make no difference, other than giving you a way to remember which direction to wrap (same either way).

Continue to wrap, overlapping about  1/4" to 1/2".  Watch for bubbles, keep it nice and tight, and don't expose too much adhesive before you need it, or else you'll find yourself sticking it to all sorts of things other than the handlebars.

You'll notice once you get to the brake lever bracket, doing a simple figure 8 is going to leave some bar exposed, so before you get that far you should cut a couple 4" pieces of tape and wrap them around the brake lever brackets.  Tuck the ends up under the brake lever hoods. Most modern bar tape is much wider than Newbaum's, and only requires one piece to cover the bracket. We found we needed two strips of the much narrower cotton tape to completely cover the bracket.
you can see how much of the bars and bracket are left exposed if you don't cover them with a small strip

Ean applies a strip over the bracket, we ended up using two for each side

Continue wrapping, making sure you've got no bubbles, you'll want to pull it pretty tight.

Use sharp scissors, these kitchen shears were a pain.  As I noted in the "Tube Wrap" 'how to', there are many slight variations on this subject.  Here, Ean shows how he cuts his tape at an angle, starting from the outside, and finishing towards the center of the bike, different than what I suggested in the "tube-tape how-to". I thought about this for a long time, and realized, it would be better to do it Ean's way if you were using a different tape that was thicker in the middle, like leather or any of the synthetic tapes, due to the chamfered edge,  so better to learn it this way.

Ean cuts a transition starting from the outside toward the center of the bike

Finish by wrapping up to the edge of the center handlebar shim

Go ahead and put your corks in, tuck the overhang into the bars and hammer em in, "good n' tight".

tap the corks in gently with a hammer


For wrapping the twine, you're going to want to cut a length a little bit longer than one "wingspan" (arms stretched out).  I would suggest doing "two wingspan's", maybe 6-8 feet.  You're not going to need it all, but when you don't have enough it's a real bummer.

Starting from one end of your twine, take a section 6"-10" long and "reserve it".  Run your "reserve" along the top of your bars, starting with the end of the twine near the brake lever going towards the center of the bike.

Start wrapping the twine carefully around that little "reserve" piece, starting from the end of the tape going towards the brake lever.
carefully line up your twine snug, take your time

attention to detail here will payoff

Once you've wrapped about half way of your total desired thickness, you're going to want to take the end of that "reserve" and make a loop.  For the rest of the process, you will be wrapping around both sides of the loop.

Once your twine has reached it's desired width, take the end of the twine and thread it through the loop.

Pull the end of your "reserve" piece tight around the end of your twine.

Cut the remainder of the twine, leaving only a little nub, no more than a half centimeter.

Now pull the other end of the loop, until the cut end from the last step is pulled through.  On the other  side of my bars, my twine did not make it all the way through, however, it posed no problems.
pull the "reserve" end through, it should pull the other end under the twine.


Once you've pulled the end through all the way, clip off the rest of the twine

both ends of the twine exposed

You can hide the ends underneath the wrapped twine using your finger nail,

push the cut ends of your twine under the wrapped twine

It's easier than it looks!  Rivendell Bicycle Works has an excellent video tutorial that should bolster your confidence.  You also get to listen to Mulatu Astatke while you take it in.


Tape off anything you don't want shellacked.  That includes brake hoods, and handlebars.  You may want to drape your drop cloth over your bike right about now too.  I will say, this can pose a problem if you're working outside.  That cheap, thin drop cloth will catch even the slightest wind and blow right into your wet shellac.  Anchor it down if you foresee this being a problem, otherwise, you may find yourself tossing the drop cloth before you're even close to being done.
Ean was worried that folding my vintage brake hoods back would ruin them, so we taped them back.  
tape off your bars, shellac will stick to them and look ugly
Shellac is messy, and that cheap chip brush doesn't hold much shellac right at first. Go slow, your brush will start to hold more shellac as you work.  Most people like to apply a thin coat and let it dry.  This allows for a nice even application.  If you get too heavy with your coats, you may end up with drips or an uneven appearance.  Also you may find you're happy with less shellac then you anticipated.
take your time, this stuff can get messy
Shellac the corks too, and double check for spots you missed.
Ean finishes up a first coat of shellac
After four coats, I was happy.  Three probably would have been good enough. Four coats made the bars feel a little slippery to bare hands, however, with a pair of leather gloves it feels perfect.
This is one classy look, and, while I may have agreed with that -anti cotton tape- shop owner before, I'm very excited about it now.  First of all, it's extremely durable.  If the shellac starts to wear, you can simply apply another coat.  Second, with the proper pair of gloves, you really don't need all that padding that synthetic materials offer, especially if you're on a comfortable steel frame. And finally, as long as you don't put too much shellac, it's very tactile.  You get lots of traction on this setup.  It reminds me of all the marketing gimmicks that saddle makers have employed over the years, pushing more and more padding, while tensioned leather saddles still remain the hallmark of comfort.  This wrap offers no padding whatsoever.  The bars are skinny and sleek.  It feels rough, and hard, and to my surprise, I really like it that way.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Free Handlebar Tape! A Low Cost or No Cost Solution

For Joe

A friend recently gave me a 1979 chrome Schwinn Voyageur (I think) that was in need of a little love.  It had been rotting away in the garage for some time.  I hadn't actually seen the bike before agreeing to take it, nor did I have any Idea what it would be.  Needless to say I was giddy as a school girl when I saw it.

This project is going to take some time and careful consideration (and some cash!), but I can't wait to ride it!  I know I want to put a Brooks saddle and matching bar tape, but I don't exactly have the cash, nor do I know what color/style I want.  Still, that crusty, crumbly, old foam couldn't wait.

A friend of mine, let's just call him Joe Harris, found himself in the same situation, and I had told him about using old bike tubes in place of bar wrap.  Since he tends to be a little squeamish in the DIY department, I thought I'd make this post for him.

What You'll Need

1. Scissors
2. Electrical Tape
3. Old Tube
4. Corks (if you don't have this, don't let that stop you, you can do this part later)

Let's Get Started

First, remove that old crusty foam!  Just pull it off, it ought to tear pretty easy, the bottom half may even slide off.

Second, cut your tube near the valve stem, both sides.  This may seem obvious, but just in case...

This step is optional.  I like to cut my tube along one of the seams.  I do this because the edges of the tube where the rubber folds over tend to be raised, which is the opposite thing you want with grip tape. another reason, it makes sure one of the tube seams is not under your hand.  You could always use the inside part of the tube as your grip surface for a smoother feel, but it might be more likely to curl up on the edges, and it's pretty slippery due to the talcum powder that's inside. Even after cleaning if off, the inside still feels a little slippery.  I also like to see the print that's on the tube.

Next you'll want to very carefully wipe the talcum powder all over your pants. :)

wipe it on your pants!

There are so many good tutorials about how to wrap your bars.  You'll find slight variations, because people have different preferences.  I was taught to wrap starting on the bottom going in (towards the center of the bike) and over the top.  Remember to leave at least a half inch of overhang at the bottom so you can stuff it inside the bars when your done.  Keep it nice and tight, and watch for wrinkles.  One of the great things about doing this is if you mess it up, you can start over, it will also give you confidence to wrap your bars with something nicer in the future.

I should have mentioned that you need to fold  your brake lever hoods up so the wrap will go under them.  You can also cut a little piece to go over the clamp that holds them on, tuck it up under the hoods and wrap over it.  Then fold the hood back down when your finished.

I like to cut the end of tube tape at an angle, starting from the inside (center of bike) to the outside.  Your cut should be pretty long, maybe 8 inches or so.  This allows for a nice gradual fade to the end of your tape.
cut the end at an angle to provide a nice transition

your transition can be anywhere from 6-10 inches long

Get your electrical tape and cut a piece about 8 inches long.  Wrap it around the end so that it looks and feels nice.  Someone recommended to me that you let the end of the tape rest before pushing it down.  That's because it tends to contract a little, and this prevents it from pulling up later.
Let the tape rest a few minutes before you fold the last little bit down

Finish the job by folding the overhang of the tube into the bar and stuff it with a cork.  One blogger suggests using olive oil stoppers.  You can also get little corks from home depot that fit a little easier than wine bottle corks.  Get creative, look in your junk drawers,  I'm sure you can find something!