Best Blog 8
In 1992, in Eugene, Oregon, Jan VanderTuin established a
place for all things bicycle, the world's first Center for Appropriate
Transport or "CAT" as it's known. Four years later, six different youth
programs are in full swing there, two bicycling publications are produced
in-house, a bicycle courier company works the city, a do-it-yourself bike
repair workspace offers personalized instruction, a recumbent showroom
offers bikes for sale or rent, and issuing forth from an intimate
bike-building facility are VanderTuin's hand-built workbikes, recumbents,
After officially immersing myself in the bicycle world about six years ago
when I began my documentary Return of the Scorcher in San Francisco, I heard
about the CAT and ended up spending two years working at the Center with
VanderTuin and have been hugely satisfied putting my efforts into a place
were bikes are thought of in a more visionary, world-changing way and were
most of the projects directly involve the local community of cyclists. A
very diverse goup of cyclists, I might add, kids, old folks, families,
students, yuppies, hobos... all with a common love of bikes. What can a
glorified bike shop, some "weird" bikes and a few educational programs
provide for a small city? "Community, a sense of real culture, people making
things." says VanderTuin. Essentially, a whole (bicycle) greater than the
sum of its components. I have to mention also that the kind of bicycle
"advocacy" done at the CAT is a lot more fun and at least as powerful as the
kind were one goes to city council meetings begging for a couple feet of
bike lanes. Which for many of us, frankly is not what we're most inspired to
do with our spare time.
Many of the concepts and projects at the CAT are subtle, based on acheiving
incremental change, and yet are also quite revolutionary, like rethinking
the bicycle industry's relentless mantra of more is more. VanderTuin, who
builds 11 variations on the human-powered theme, in addition to directing
the Center, says"what I've been looking to create through CAT is a place to
produce diverse bikes, and I think one of the best ways for having bikes
come into the world is through local production with a connection to one's
own local community.Unfortunately, the corporate model is what everything's
directed towards; if you're a small builder you feel you have to get bigger,
you have to have lots of people working for you, etc. etc. I think that
finding another model is really the big question. A model that allows
diversity." At the CAT, one key component of a new model is integrating
education into production. Up until now, VanderTuin has built his workbikes,
recumbents and trailers virtually singlehandedly under his business
Human-Powered Machines but envisions an apprenticeship program where youth
would form a small bike building team and help produce his designs. He's
already given a recumbent building class in which four adults and five
teenagers built their own bikes using recycled tubing and a variation of
Gardner Martin's EasyRacer plans. Other hands-on youth programs have also
found success at CAT. The Eugene Rack Works program has kids building and
marketing bike racks to local businesses. Combining bike advocacy with
job-training skills, they learn everything from welding to bookkeeping and
in the process provide the city with more bike parking. Another program,
BikeLab teaches bike repair to teens and includes field trips to other local
Oregon bike manufacturers such as Burley Design Co-op and Green Gear/Bike
Friday. Kids come away having investigated more than just greasy
bottom-brackets and actually have a first-hand perspective on the bicycle
Finding a variety of interesting ways to involve kids has been a major goal
at CAT. Some programs are less nuts and boltsy; for example, the Youth Page
which showcases the work of young bicycle artists and journalists within the
CAT's monthly publication Oregon Cycling. The CAT has also made great
inroads with a pioneering program called Mobile School Presentations. They
look like this: CAT staff zoom out to local schools on a wild assortment of
recumbents, high-wheelers, custom load-carrying bikes, etc., pass on a bit
of bike history, show some slides, a video, and muse on the possibilities of
a bike future. Not surprisingly kids flip for the chance to ogle and even
sample such unusual bike fare. They are also very open to imagining and
discussing a world more geared towards bikes (sorry for the pun). Kids don't
think we're stuck with the world we think we are and let me tell you that
attitude is pretty refreshing to be around. The CAT's diverse collection of
bikes (often refered to as our "ridable museum") is probably the Center's
most powerful tool for reaching out to and inspiring the public. The CAT
even presents a city-wide Human-Powered Parade. Peoples individualistic love
for bikes guides VanderTuin's own production philosophy of "being innovative
in your designs and thinking about what your community needs. Pedalers
Express (bike delivery company) uses my bikes everyday. Then there's seeing
a bike that I built which is used by a restaurant owner to go get his
groceries. And the person who's got a disabilty, who, before I built their
custom vehicle could hardly move and now to see them thrilled to move around
and just to see the life that the vehicle has given them. The city of Eugene
and the University here using recumbent workbikes to do traffic enforcement.
All this is definitely inspires me."
Impacting the public in another innovative way is the CAT's Valet Bicycle
Parking service The Center provides the service at most of the city's
numerous outdoor summer festivals and it has become an instant institution.
Cyclists wheel up, obtain a claim ticket and hand over their bike to be
parked in a fenced-in, supervised area. Off they go for fun. The service
puts a spin on the constant catering to the car-centric and places a
symbolic halo on the heads of many local cyclists. As a result, they feel
proud to arrive by bike, and aside from the honor, many say they wouldn't
bike to an event for fear of theft or vandalism, if it weren't for the
service. This is the kind of thing that bike groups could do in any town
around the country. (So get on it).
At CAT, another twist to the bike business as usual mindset is shifting the
roles of customer and clerk. Though not yet the norm in the U.S., the idea
of bike shops that allow you to do your own repair is growing and the
concept is subtley powerful. One of the ways that many people in the
community get introduced to the CAT and connect more deeply with their bikes
is through the Center's do-it-yourself workshop Eugene Bicycle Works, which
provides on-the-spot tutoring and also houses a wide variety of hpv's for
sale and rent, as well as a transportation resource library. Shop manager
Joe Garrison says: I know for a lot of people, they've had the experience of
trying to work with somebody, but that somebody helping wasn't willing to
let them try it and make mistakes.So they've had the expeience of "as soon
as I go astray they yank the wrenches out of my hands and do it for me!"When
people come in here they're permitted to make mistakes. It's better to talk
them through it than show them through it because a lot of people don't
respond to being shown, their brain shuts off and they feel like they have
to become passive." Attempting to define the eclectic clientel Garrison
observes, "The people who come in here are the people who really ride their
bikes. The kind of people who just want to have an attractive bike in the
garage to hop on to go for a leisure ride every now and then don't really
come here. A lot of people are really interested in bicycles and bicycling
but they're not the kind who want to join a bike club. They just want a
chance to talk to people about bikes, so this is sort of a walk-in cycling
club. Garrison adds, "People come in an give me the impression that "ok, I
don't have a lot of time here, I just want to get my brakes fixed and then I
gotta get going" and then they'll start talking to somebody in the
neighboring repair stand about something to do with bikes. They're really
kind of starved for a chance to talk to people about bikes, to find somebody
who really loves bikes as much as they do. So, in a way this is a very
social place. People who are really interested in bikes get to rub elbows
and commune spiritually, somehow (laughter) When somebody comes in here
they're not surrounded by glossy impulse-buy display racks that put them in
the typical consumer role.That's what I think makes people more comfortable
here. The atmosphere is closer to somebody's living room or garage than it
is to a retail store.
Reflecting on CAT VanderTuin says, "Having many interconnected projects here
creates solidarity. This solidarity has further awakened the community to
the value of alternative transportation, and that in turn has allowed people
to pursue a bicycle life without feeling alone."
It is CAT's desire to serve as a model for other locales and to cooperate
with other groups. As of this writing, centers similar to the CAT have since
sprung up or are being developed in North America in Toronto, Santa Cruz, CA
and in NewYork City.
Ted White, author Producer of the bicycle documentary video Return of the
Scorcher,White has worn many hats at the CAT, and was involved to some
degree in most of the above mentioned projects as a staff member from March
1994 to January 1996.
Cyclo-cross is nearly as old as the bicycle itself, and as fresh and full of
vigor as if it were born yesterday. It's a sport that enjoys rampant
popularity in Europe, and in America, after it's heyday of the late 70's, is
picking up momentum once again in areas rich with the history of road
racing: Boulder, Boston, Chicago, Santa Cruz, Seattle, and even Montana
where Geoff Procter teaches 'cross clinics. It's been called a "fringe
sport" and "outlandishly demanding," but at the same time some of cycling's
greatest heroes, including numerous Tour de France winners, have used it for
winter conditioning. More and more 'cross bikes are being taken from the
race scenario - the ultimate hybrid for commuting, for fun. A skill and a
tremendous machine that can cover all the bases.
THE HISTORY: Turn of the century "dead seasons" would find the young French
army private, and later secretary-general of the French Cycling Union,
Daniel Gousseau cycling through the forests along side his horse-mounted
general, sharing their love of the outdoors. He enjoyed these winter outings
so much that he invited a few of his friends along and soon dozens of
cyclists were rolling along the trails. Impromptu racing occurred among the
sporting cyclists and soon organized events were scheduled.
In 1902 Gousseau was given the opportunity to organize the first French
championship, which was won by F. de Baeder. For years this "rough stuff"
and "mud plugging" remained mainly a French indulgence until its popularity
exploded when Octave Lapize attributed his 1910 Tour de France win to the
off-season sport. The first International Criterium, which was won by the
Frenchman Gaston Degy, was held in 1924 in Paris. Following Gaston to the
podium were many of cycling's greats: Charles Pelissier in 1926, 1927 and
1928, Sylvere Maes, the handlebar namesake, in 1933 and Robert Oubron who
won in 1937, 1938, 1941 and 1942!
In 1950 one of the international events became official, and in Paris the
1947 Tour winner Jean Robic was the first to pull on the rainbow jersey.
Like the International Criteriums, the World Championships saw many of
cycling's brightest stars cross the finish lines. But among them, Belgium's
Eric de Vlaeminck was definitely king of the 'crossers having, at the tender
age of twenty, won in 1966 and then each year from 1968 to 1973.
The open format of the World's was changed in 1967 with the addition of a
special amateur world title and the junior title was adopted in 1976.
WHY: At a time when mountain biking is so popular, the question of why to
take up cyclo-cross is often heard. There are basically three reasons to
cross over. One is for the same reason you might, in this time of clinchers
and STI, use sew-ups and down-tube shifters: history. Cyclo-cross has been
around for about 70 years longer than its fat-tired grandchild. Its courses
weave a rich tapestry of cycling heroes and two-wheeled feats. Its time
tested and time proven.
Probably the main reason for taking up cross is for training. Nothing can
beat the incredible workout afforded the roadie by this off-season sport. It
builds stunning arm and upper-body strength and bike-handling skills that
will eliminate the fear of rainy criteriums and gravel spotted roads,
increases cardio-respiratory endurance and takes up surprisingly little
time, since a one hour workout can be more advantageous than hours on
But the third, and my main reason for crossing, is that its just plain fun!
Nothing beats the quick handling and lively feel of the cross bike on the
quickest descents and trickiest singletrack. In his Feb. '93 Bicycle Guide
article "Mountain Bikes: Who Needs Them?" Chris Kostman called these
modified road bikes "the first and only real all-terrain bike." And he's
right! I believe they're also the perfect commuter, or, as Grant Peterson
would call them, all-rounder bikes. No throw-back balloon tires, elastomer
bumpers, springs and OPEC drippings to separate you from the feel of the
Earth. Just you, your wits and the perfect trail bike. The simplicity of a
cross bike, and the very act of riding, running and walking, enable you, as
Robert Oubron and Rene Chesal write in their book Cycliste 100%, serie cyclo-cross
(Paris, 1967), "to discover hundreds of interesting things which you would
have ridden straight past is you had not been tempted into hitching the bike
over your shoulder, or simply pushing it along, and following a riverbed, or
a footpath that may end in a spring or an unexpected view, or a lane that
suddenly yields up some unexpected historical monument, or a lake you did
not know existed.
...Just try doing this on a bridal path in Savoy or in the Pyrenees and I'll
be surprised if you don't find yourself singing for sheer joy. And when
you're back down again, after clattering through streams and gullies and
stony paths, sometimes on the bike, sometimes on your feet, you will have
enjoyed a wonderful experience."
The main bikes of my wife, Melanie, and I are 'cross bikes. In the country
area where we live there are too many dirt roads to just jump on our road
bikes and ride - and way too much asphalt to lug cumbersome mountain bikes
around on. With the sluggish and unresponsive geometry of the common hybrid,
what's left? If you want a machine that has precision slo-mo handling and
can really pull out the speed when you want it, the cyclo-cross bike is the
'Cross bikes aren't just for racing any more. "To call it only a sport,"
says champion 'crosser Laurence Malone, "is demeaning. As people seek
increasingly creative and self-reliant means of transportation, this hybrid
of foot and bicycle travel will take on new dimension and importance. As
perceptions of the bicycle shift from that of toy to tool (and they will),
two-wheeled expertise cannot remain confined to sport alone. What is
regarded as 'recreation,' 'sport,' or 'leisure' today will be the challenge
of mobility tomorrow."
THE ANATOMY: To the uninitiated, a quick glance at a 'cross bike might just
seem like a road bike with knobby tires. But on closer inspection there are
a myriad of differences. As with all forms of cycling, there are new and old
schools of thought and conservative and extreme points of view on the
anatomy of a cyclo-cross bike. I'll try to cover both angles.
If you're just experimenting with the sport, the most economical route is to
either buy a used 'cross bike, available most commonly in the early summer,
or to transform an old road bike. If you're going to go the transformation
route, try to find a frame that is slightly smaller than your racing rig and
that has slightly slacker geometry. The ultimate would be to find a touring
frame that accepts cantilever brakes. If you live in a dry area, sidepulls
will do the job. But for outstanding mud clearance and sheer stopping power,
cantis are a must. Replace the down-tube shifters with bar-end levers,
they're still around if you look long enough and are usually quite
inexpensive. Put on an extra layer of bar wrap to soak up the shocks and 28c
to 35c inverted tread or knobby tires for traction. Finally, add some MTB
pedals with clips and straps and there you have it - a lightweight machine
that can handle most any off-road job.
If you really fall in love with the sport, and you can afford it, a purpose
made rig is absolutely the best way to go...
The Frame: 'Cross frames have more relaxed angels than road bikes, have more
top tube clearance, longer chainstays for stability and a higher bottom
bracket for obstacle clearance. Increased fork rake for flexibility and a
softer ride is also common. Generally you'll want to get a frame that is
about a half inch to an inch smaller than you road bike. Several companies,
like Alan, Pinarello, Cramerati, Orbit, Vitus, Redline, Botranger, Rock
Lobster, Gitane and Torelli, produce 'cross frames, but for a little more
you can have a custom fit. Some of the more well known builders include
Steelman, Merlin, Marinoni and Ibis, but most road builders will make 'cross
frames. The new All Rounder frameset from Rivendell Bicycle Works looks to
be a good choice also.
Wheels: Strong, uniformly-tensioned 36 spoke wheels are the old stand-by,
but 32's cut weight and seem to work just as well. Many companies have
purpose-made tubulars, but with the hybrid bike boom, several great clincher
choices are now available from the likes of Specialized, Continental, the
700 x 35 Ritchey Alpha Bite, 700 x 38 Tioga Bloodhound, and, my favorite,
the Michelin 700 x 28 Hi-Lite Cross. The high-pressure Hi-Lite mimics it's
more costly tubular cousins in tread pattern and ride. Tread pattern varies
according to race or local conditions. Composite tri-spoke wheels are
becoming more and more popular with top Euro-pros in extremely muddy
Shifters: The quick shifting and easy to use STI/Ergo levers are becoming
more popular on the 'cross circuit, but because of their lack of
serviceability and inability to survive serious crashes, bar-end shifters
are still the classic choice.
Gearing: There are as many gearing choices as there are riders. Six speeds
are still very popular because the wide spacing between the cogs helps keep
down jams due to mud. But using a Crud Claw or similar device with an eight
speed cluster works fine. Some 'crossers stick with the time proven single
chainring with or without ring guards, but double chainrings are now in the
majority. Some common gearing combos are a 39/53 with a 12-26, 42/50 with a
15-28, 42/48 with a 13-26, and straight blocks. If you need a smaller gear,
you should be throwing the bike over your shoulder and running. Also, since
your pedal strokes are about power in this sport, not spinning at high
rpm's, longer cranks are a tremendous help.
Brakes: For the reasons stated earlier, cantilever brakes are a must. Some
'crossers prefer to have the left brake lever activate the rear brake so
they can have more control over their speed during dismounts. May I suggest
a bit of high-technology for your classic 'cross rig - Stoplight cantilevers
by Paul Component Engineering are fantastic.
Pedals: The classic 'cross pedal is the French double-sided Lyotard with
doubled Christophe clips and Binda straps. But the double-sided SPD's and
Look's are also a popular choice. Since you'll be jumping on and off the
bike quite a bit, choose the pedal system that you can personally get in and
out of easiest.
Bars & Stem: Flat bars just can't compete with the variety of hand position
offered by the drop bar. For the added stability of a wider grip and for
more leverage, use a flared drop or randonneur-type bar. Using a stem that
is slightly shorter than your road bike will help distribute your weight
more efficiently during ascents.
Waterbottles: In racing, waterbottles and cages just don't exist. They get
in the way of carrying the bike and the course is usually short enough that
you can get water "in the pits." Using a 'cross bike for any other
situation, you'll want water. If having a bike custom built, be sure that
they will be adding bottle bosses, it's common not to have any on 'cross
An excellent additional investment is in service-free sealed bottom bracket,
hub and headset units. As Chris Kostman says, "trick out you bike
usefully... own technostuff actually worth drooling for."
THE STYLE: 'Cross races are generally held on circuits one to two miles in
length. The perfect course will have paved and unpaved sections, wet areas
and dry, will be about 75% rideable, the rest for running. It will have a
variety of natural obstacles, like muddy banks, streams, and fallen trees,
and man-made obstacles, like bales of straw, wooden barriers, and even
flights of stairs. Depending on you classification and age the race will
last around thirty to 75 minutes. After a season of multi-hour hour road and
mountain races this may seem to be a short run, but for even the most
prepared, this is a lung-blowing experience. Cyclo-cross is a very
demanding, incredibly precise sport.
More like road racing than mountain, 'cross racers are allowed "pit crews"
where they can do bike exchanges, replace wheels or take care of any other
mechanical problems they might have. It's common on muddy courses to
exchange your filthy bike for a clean one after each lap. The mechanics
using buckets and brushes, high-powered hoses, and even rushing streams to
clean off the bikes.
The only real way to learn the cyclo-cross ropes is to get out there and do
it. If you happen to live in a 'cross-friendly area, you can find folks to
help you learn the tricks of the trade. Everyone else? Try finding some
Euro-Pro 'cross videos, look out for the fall 'cross tip articles in
VeloNews and the like, and, if you can track down a copy, read Simon
Burney's definitive work on the sport, Cyclo-Cross. Aside from that, here
are a few tips I dug up from some accomplished 'cross riders and legends...
"Cyclo-cross is about bike handling, getting on and off the bike fast, and
accelerating back to speed." - Don Myrah
DISMOUNTS FOR OBSTACLES : "The first skill to master is dismounting. As you
approach a barrier, feather your brakes from the hoods to make sure you're
not moving too fast as you prepare to dismount. As you move closer, swing
your right leg out of the pedal, around the back of the bike, and bring it
between your left leg and the frame - to end up with your left toe butting
the heel of your right foot. Just prior to your right foot passing on the
inside of your left foot, disengage your left foot and balance it on the
pedal. With these two moves complete, bring your right hand back and firmly
grab the top tube just for of the saddle.
At this point, you're ready to step off with your right foot first and begin
hurdling. The only remaining concern might be if you're carrying too much
speed. This is where it's invaluable to have your left lever operating your
rear brake: If you are going to fast, you can feather with your left hand
which is still on the left brake hood.
The basic lift is done by simply lifting the bike with the left hand on the
top tube or hood and your right hand on the top tube. As you hurdle the
barriers with one or two steps in between each barrier, keep the bike aloft
and out of the way of your churning legs.
The shoulder move requires different right hand- placement as you approach
the barrier. Instead of bringing it back to the top tube, bring it down to
grasp the middle of the downtube. This will feel extremely awkward at first,
but it's the same move you use as you approach a run-up, so it's a good one
to get comfortable with. Now, as you dismount, hoist the bike onto your
shoulder and begin hurdling. The advantage to this move is you can hurdle
almost like a track athlete because the bike is out of the way of your feet.
With triple barriers the norm, this move seems to feel more efficient,
especially if there's any running involved between or after the barriers.
The disadvantage is the bike has to come from your shoulder to the ground as
you prepare to remount.
I found remounting to be the hardest skill to coach. For most newcomers, the
"chock-full-of-nuts" anxiety is strong. But again, as with all of these
skills, practice pays off. First, as you come out of the barriers, pick up
some speed, place the bike squarely and gingerly on the ground, and try to
avoid a bouncing, fatigued motion. With hands on either the hood or tops,
lift off your left foot and hop on the bike. Pointers to keep in mind: shoot
for getting you chest parallel to the top tube and your head out over the
stem; avoid any stutter-stepping with your left foot; and try to straddle
onto the seat. The inside of your right thigh should be the first to come in
contact with the saddle." - Geoff Procter
"Options include hurdling, hopping or bunny hopping. Bunny hopping is simple
when you can do it, an defies explanation when you can't. The technique is
to lift up the front end of the bike, and whilst the front end is in the
air, transfer you weight in that direction, lifting up the rear.
The high speed approach is one of the most difficult but can save the most
time. The time-honoured way to dismount is to approach the obstacle, put
your hand on the brakes, swinging your right leg over the saddle. At the
same time grab the top tube with your right hand, jump off, take a few steps
over the obstacle and jump back on in one smooth movement.
For low obstacles, the bike should be carried at waist height, but for
running up hills or hurdling large objects the bike should be shouldered.
Hook you arm through the frame and shoulder under the top tube. Hold onto
the front wheel or hook of the drops to stop the wheel swinging in your
face. Keeping the weight of the bike back will allow you to stand upright so
breathing is not restricted when running." - David Ramsden
"The good cyclo-crosser assumes any place is accessible. There is the story
of one West Coast fellow who strung rope around his wheels for traction,
then rode up through the slush of a mountain road carrying skis that he then
mounted for the snowy downhill run on the other side, bicycle slung over his
shoulder! Generally speaking, cyclo-cross requires a healthy mixture of
skill and humility - the humility that precedes caution, a caution that
precedes a willingness to walk the bicycle. Good nerves help at the racing
level, but important for any practitioner are fundamental techniques such as
mounting, dismounting, and carrying the bicycle." - Laurence Malone
HILLS : "Hills up, learn whether it is quicker to dismount and run, or to
ride. When climbing, strong arms are essential, and you want to keep you
weight further back than when climbing on road. This stops the rear wheel
losing traction. Hills down, you need nerve. Hold onto the drops for best
control over braking. Keep the bike rolling over obstacles, and patience
plenty. That's it. Stay balanced or crash." - David Ramsden
"When going uphill, the major consideration is maintaining weight over the
rear wheel - where the power is applied. This underlines the importance of
the short stem and the seat slid well back on the post.
Downhills are trickier. One should be keenly aware of the different effects
of the front and rear brakes. On any descent, application of the front brake
shifts most of the rider's weight to the front end of the bicycle. The front
brake is the main stopping brake; it should be used judiciously to avoid any
sudden over-the-handlebar acrobatics. The rear brake provides the finesse.
European cyclo-cross pros lock the rear brake and fishtail down the steep,
muddy slopes. Mud and snow exaggerate the rider's weight distribution;
sometimes it's better to sit well back on the saddle and let the front wheel
"feel" its way. Even with so mundane a nuisance as a pothole or sunken
manhole cover, weight should be taken off the front wheel. Tricky lateral
movements in exaggerated conditions can only be learned through experience."
- Laurence Malone
RUNNING: "After running up a hill the competitor should not immediately leap
into the saddle for the downhill dash while his legs are still trembling,
but take a running jump on to the bike - a few yards can be gained that way,
enough perhaps to gain the verdict in a closely-fought race." - Robert
"Cyclo-cross racing often requires you to run with the bike. When
shouldering the bike, the hand slips under the down tube and back around to
the left side of the bike to grab the butt end of the left handlebar. This
allows superior control of the bike; some weight rests on top of the wrist
at the down tube, some at the contact point of shoulder and top tube. People
sometimes place foam pads to cushion the shoulder, but in time it gets used
to the idea anyway. The advantage of this carrying style is vertical and
horizontal control of the bike with only one hand, leaving the other hand
free to reach for twigs, banisters, or rear jersey pockets." - Laurence
"Running is very alien to most cyclists, so start training really gently.
Your basic fitness level means you can run faster that your muscles can cope
with. Be cautious. If you run hard you will cause muscle damage and won't be
able to train for a week. Cyclists often experience knee problems when they
start training. Don't run in poor shoes. It is better to spend sixty pounds
on proper shoes from a running specialist than spend a month off for knee
injuries. Upper body strength is something you are likely to be lacking, and
is vital for climbing steep hills and running with the bike. Using a gym
with a proper instructor will do wonders. A good instructor will set out a
training regime to build the muscles you need. Don't forget regular
stretching to maintain suppleness." - David Ramsden
CORNERING: "The best thing you can do when learning is to fall off. All
'cross riders do it, and once you realize a tumble in the mud doesn't hurt,
you will be more confident to corner at faster speeds. Take it smoothly and
brake on the approach, not when you are in the corner." - David Ramsden
All 'crossers have their own unique style. But whether you're planning on
racing, commuting the mean streets, or simply playing around, these tips
will help you on your way to a style of riding that will carry you through
the best and worst of times.
It's getting to be Christmas again. Last year, about this time, Mr. Stuart
carried in an old girl's balloon tire bike. A J. C. Higgins, with horn tank,
fenders, lights, rear rack, bell... all the toys. Now rusty & dented, rotted
and twisted, it must have been quite glamorous when new. Usually, when one
of these comes in, the customer wants to know "how much it's worth", then
tries to sell it to me. Not Mr. Stuart, he wants it restored, "just like
new." He listens patiently to my "We can do it, but it will cost be
expensive, much more than replacing it with something similar" speech, then
says, "This bike is important to my wife, Becky. She's had it since she was
12 still rides it once in a while, but recently, she's been depressed about
it, keeps saying she should have taken better care of it. She's tried to
clean it, but she breaks out in tears. I've gotten her other bikes, but this
one means something.
I want to surprise her for Christmas, so to bring it here I told here I gave
it away when I cleaned out the garage. I'm still in the dog house."
I looked back at the bike, the saddle fabric had decomposed, exposing
horsehair and a rusted baseplate. "You know, Mr. Stuart, I've never seen
this saddle before, I doubt an exact replacement could be found, but we
could replace it with a similar new one, for about $40." He shook his head,
"Becky will notice. She knows every inch of the bike, and there must be a
hundred photos of her with it". Accurate restoration then. "To rebuild the
saddle we'll have to find matching cover material, then make a metal stamp
to reproduce the logo on top, and a form to shape the cover, then replace
the horsehair padding, re-plate the hardware, repaint the saddle frame, get
the leather stitching done in the same style and thread then reassemble...
it's hard to estimate... do you think it is worth, um... $100 more than the
new saddle?" He nodded and replied, "2 years ago, I contacted bike
collectors all over the country looking for this model in better shape or
fresh parts . Nobody had one. They said to keep in touch and be patient.
I've sent out letters every three months since." He had done his homework.
So I worked through the estimate, detail by detail, trying to anticipate the
problems that had been brewing for 40 years. Nothing was standard on this
bike. Later, checking with collectors, I learned that this was one of a very
few JC Higgins produced in West Germany. An experiment, and no parts were
imported to back them up. The only collector I found who had one was missing
the same fragile headlight cover. We'd have to make one to cover the 6" long
hole in the front fender.
Anyway, we'd do this one the hard way... if Mr. Stuart could handle the
estimate. Maybe he's can easily afford whatever it takes. But when I gave
him the total, I could see he was pained. The expense was not easy for him,
I should have guessed from the 8 year old Toyota he drove up in. "She'll be
very happy" he said.
Then he told me: "This bike was a Christmas gift for Becky when she was 12
years old. She rode every day, except in the rain or snow, when she kept the
bike in a tool shed behind the house. The following Christmas Eve, the
family was all in bed, when the fire started. They barely made it out, not
even time to take the photo albums. Becky watched the three story Victorian
home Grandpa had built, burn to the ground. They lost everything... except
this bike and a few tools in the shed. This Christmas will be the 40th
anniversary of the day this bike survived that fire. I want it under the
tree again, exactly as it was when Becky was 12 and still in that old
Now here was one of those jobs, that give purpose to CyclArt, one of the
ones that I try to remember when things get really tough. And soon after Mr.
Stuart left, they got tough again: A bout of flu ran through shop and kept
us half-staffed for weeks. A visit from the County Health Department kept us
busy and entertained for days. (Did you know you need an current MSDS for
every chemical product used in your shop? In our case there are more than
200!) A major account dumped a huge rush job on us, then delayed payment. An
electrical problem burned out our circuit panel shutting down our blasting
and spray equipment for days. We had more than the usual number of jobs fail
final inspection to start over... From Thanksgiving day on, all of us were
working maximum hours to catch up with the work and the bills. There were
12, 16, 18 hour days, four hours a night sleep, sanding frames at 3 AM in a
cold shop. Finally, the Higgins had it's own set of problems; the
distinctive saddle fabric took 40 phone calls to find and was only available
as a $100 minimum purchase from New York. The decal graphics were different
from every other Higgins art on file so we had to draw and print them
specially for this bike, a three day project. Then, reassembling the hub, a
delicate, worn disk retainer clip snapped. Without it, the coaster brake
would not function. A desperate search on December 23rd left us making a
replacement by from scratch. A 2 cent part became a 6 hour project in a
The next day, December 24 after an all-nighter, there it was; complete... a
perfect little time machine ready to carry Becky back to her last carefree
Christmas. Seatpost clamped in the workstand, suspended three feet off the
floor it looked like sculpture, a gleaming monument to American arrogance
and innocence. 1954 incarnate.
I spun the pedals, confirming the fender clearance, the heavy steel rim and
tire spinning just enough off balance to cause the bike to pulse on the
stand like it was alive. I let it spin. Finished! Just in time for CyclArt's
traditional Christmas eve office party and 12 noon closing. The all night
session had done it. Finally! Time for myself; to catch some sleep and
prepare for the holiday. Mr. Stuart would be here in an hour, about mid
party. I turned to wash up. One, two, three steps away when I heard the
"clack!" I'd never had a pivot bolt drop out of a workstand clamp before,
but I knew the stand had released the bike before I turned to see it bounce.
Bounce hard, jumping left away from me, crashing heavily into the steel
stand bolted to the concrete floor. Before a second bounce, I caught the
bike. The frame buzzed in my hand, the fenders still quivered from the
impact. The dents and scratches were horrific, worse than anything the bike
had suffered in 40 years. The tank with hand-printed decal, the two tone
pinstriped fenders and the frame all had dents and deep scratches from the
steel corner of the stand brace. Repair would mean disassembly and
repainting most of the bike. I looked at the time sheet on the job and
estimated the required time; labor times, dry times and baking times,
straight through, no breaks... 23 hours. Three solid 8 hour days. If two
people worked, starting now, straight through, earliest completion was 18
hours; that would be 4 AM, Christmas morning. I called Mr. Stuart "I just
had an accident, I don't think the bike can be repaired before Christmas"
Will it be OK to deliver it December 28th? He sounded panicked, "The family
is all in town, they've all chipped in and are expecting the bike on
Christmas morning. Only Becky will be surprised... It's got to be ready!"
"What is the latest I could deliver it to your home?" "Tonight?" "Can't do
it, what about the morning?" " The kids are here, they'll have us up at 6
AM! I planned to hide the bike at a neighbor's and slip out at 5 AM to put
it under the tree." "It will be there at 5 AM" "We could meet at the back
door." "I'll get it there."
A promise. I try so hard not to make them. Promised jobs are like lightning
rods. They are the ones that get hit, that have trouble. But how could I let
the Stuarts down? Explain how severe the damage was, how unlikely the
accident, how much time and expense were involved, how close it had been?
There wasn't time, and worrying Mr. Stuart would not help.
I broke the news to Susan, my wife and partner, over hot cider. "Fix the
Higgins!? You've been up all night! You are killing yourself! We're supposed
to wrap presents! Our friends are coming to dinner! Don't we have a right to
a life too!? She's not 12 anymore... Is it really that important to you?" I
showed her the damage. "I need you to reprint the decals while I paint, then
pinstripe before I start the clears. It's their Christmas... I promised."
"You promised?" She gave that look, turned her back and stormed off, to the
decal room. It's a good thing Susan and I work together. Who else could
understand this passion, make these sacrifices and be so strong? Also good
that we have no children... just a cat, the business and employees.
I turned to the crew, feeling like Scrooge, the boss, ready to tell an
employee that he has to work late on Christmas eve. I asked for volunteers,
everyone had plans, family, holiday prime time, no notice. Finally Roger
suggested that he could help with the final assembly and delivery, coming in
at 1 AM. That was enough, and it would leave me just enough time to wrap
Susan's presents. The cat would have to understand.
There's a place in hell where you can't sleep, you massage cold metal with
sandpaper, you wield a gun full of poison inside a ventilated cage, tethered
to air supplies sealed in a Tyvek environmental suite. Every breath is
amplified in the respirator, a continuous reminder of mortality, separating
your impossibly delicate interior from the unseen cancer-trigger environment
all about you. Stir paint from cans with warning labels demanding saintly
procedures and describing horrific consequences. Coffee puts a more jagged
edge on the awareness of fatigue burning outward from your bones.
Concentration is the life line; drop it for an instant, you'll have a run in
the flowing paint, a scratch from the tool or a dent in the bouncing part.
You notice how sleep deprivation affects your dexterity as your scalpel
makes precision cuts in masking film. The minutes bleed away. Clocks race
ahead. There's time to think while your hands work; about what you wanted to
do today, the things undone yesterday, and all the years you've done this
Roger says the Higgins headlight helped him find the back door. He held the
door open, Christmas smells pouring out, as Mr. Stuart silently beamed and
wheeled the bike inside. Maybe this year he'll send a card.
The Vintage Racing Bicycle Newsletter (VRBN) in conjunction with Bicycle
Classics inc. held a vintage racing bicycle concours October 8, 1995 in
Needham, Massachusetts. The event was well attended, and featured an amazing
array of both vintage lightweight racing and touring machines. Many local
enthusiasts were joined by those who traveled considerable distance in order
to attend this remarkable event. Additionally, some of the nation's leading
framebuilders were spotted enjoying the fine machinery. The machines were
judged and the winners of the various categories received prizes. The winner
of the best-of-show category was awarded a Campagnolo corkscrew. All winners
received J.P Weigle Framesaver, the frame treatment that is gaining
widespread recognition for its ability to protect against internal frame
corrosion. Prizes also included certificates to be used towards frame
refinishing generously donated by Jim Cunningham, CyclArtist. Jim Cunningham
also participated in judging the event.
The best-of-show award went to Bob Gordon, whose mid 60's Carlton
International was a hit with the crowd. The Carlton is a wondrous machine.
It features handcut lugs that are very ornate, similar in concept to those
of a Hetchins. While the bike is extraordinary to begin with, the attention
to detail in the preparation of this bike for display captured the essence
of what concour participation is all about.
There was an abundance of gems at the show. Numerous bikes by the masters
were on display. Those attending were able to see works by Masi, Cinelli,
Frejus, Confente, Rene Herse, Colnago, and many more. There were at least 6
vintage Cinelli bikes on display! A 1960 Urago while unrestored featured a
rare glimpse of the grandeur of early French machines that is largely
forgotten in this country.
The showing of vintage lightweight bicycles is a relatively new phenomenon.
CyclArt, the well known bicycle refinishing company in California, is known
for its shows that draw an array of bicycles. The VRBN show, however, had a
narrower focus. Only vintage lightweight bicycles were considered eligible
for judging and prizes. The bikes were divided into restored or unrestored
classifications. Further categorization was based on country of origin and
on date of manufacture. The most popular categories were both British and
Italian Nuovo/Super Record era (about 1968-1986).
The judging focused on both originality and condition. A restored bike
(generally meaning the frame has been refinished) was scrutinized for
accuracy of both decals and paint. The current condition of the paint and
components, and importantly the accuracy of the components, was considered.
For an unrestored bike, condition of frame was judged and then the condition
of components and their accuracy was examined. All judging followed a
prescribed formula that allowed for quick objective determination of points.
The sticky point of judging revolves around rarity and general appeal. With
the point system used, most everyone felt that the judging was fair.
Nonetheless, some judges, including myself, felt that a better way to
account for rarity was needed. For example, should a pristine but common
bike win out over a very rare one that is in slightly inferior condition?
Furthermore, some bikes seem to score well but for some reason are simply
not as appealing as others. This is subjective, but there should be some
room in the judging to account for the aura that one senses in the presence
of certain machines.
Somehow the issue of judges bikes in the show must be resolved. In this
event, no judge was allowed to consider their own bike. This excluded all
bikes belonging to Bicycle Classics inc. or its employees. CyclArt does the
same at its events as well. Perhaps a "professional" category should be
added so that those in the trade who enjoy the advantage of in-house
restoration capabilities or unusual parts advantages can still enjoy the
It is hoped that similar events will emerge throughout the country. The VRBN
serves as a source of information for these events and those interested in
participating in future events or in starting their own are encouraged to
contact Bicycle Classics for more information. In addition, the newsletter
would like to serve as a medium to orchestrate the move towards uniform
judging criteria for similar events. Only recently have vintage racing
bicycles been considered as serious collector pieces worthy of serious
restoration, preservation, and display. While other bicycles are worthy of
the same treatment, vintage racing bikes have one other attribute -they beg
to be ridden fast!
Here we go again! Traveling down Interstate 5 in route to yet another
mountain bike race. This trip takes us south to Southern California, then
east across the country to Mobile, Alabama. For those of you who have never
driven from the West Coast to the deep South, let me tell you- it makes for
a long, strange trip: eight hundred and eighty miles across Texas before
entering into a completely different world.
My partner, Kathleen, and I have been traveling around the country in our
Volkswagen bus since December of 1994. So far this year we have driven more
than fifty thousand miles on North American roads, explored and camped in
seventeen states, competed in more than twenty mountain bike races and spent
one glorious month enjoying the twelve hundred miles that make up Baja
California. It seems hard to believe that it was more than a year ago that
we packed all of our belongings into a storage unit and headed off in search
of friendly people and unlimited riding.
I am pleased to report that we have found fantastic riding in each and every
state that we have ventured through. I happen to enjoy cycling in the
western half of the country because of the vast off-road possibilities and
the large number of cyclists. The southern states, however, have their parks
and open spaces areas that are well worth exploring. One of my favorite
rides last year was in the Myaka River State Park in Florida. The wildlife
there was truly incredible! Having grown up on the West Coast, it was very
exciting for me to view alligators from my Ibis! I have always enjoyed
mountain bike riding in California during the winter months, but I realize
that a large percent of the cycling population is unable to ride during that
time because of the weather conditions. For those of you who find yourselves
off the bike or staring out the window from on top of your rollers, may I
suggest taking a trip down to Baja.
I must admit that I was a little skeptical about driving my bus into Mexico.
Before crossing the border we had heard many horror stories, but what we
found was twelve hundred miles of paradise. We drove the entire length of
the peninsula, exploring both the Pacific side and the coast line along the
Sea of Cortez. I discovered more miles of rideable dirt in Baja than
anywhere else we traveled in the last year. The people were wonderfully
friendly, and the food and beer was excellent. We spent one month and drove
twenty four hundred miles at a cost of only three hundred and fifty dollars.
This winter when you find yourself in the cold and gray, remember that Baja
is basking in the sun with an incredible amount of high quality off-road
My goal in writing this column is to shed light upon the amateur racing
scene that is currently growing and thriving in America. It is my opinion
that there is enough media coverage of the world of professional off-road
cycling. What I will be writing about is the people, places, events and
happenings from my view at the front while traveling around and racing in
various mountain bike competitions in this great country in which we live.
Until next time, remember to keep it between the ditches with the rubber
side down........ Wilderness Wayne
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