Frame Materials are pretty important to the feel of the bike so I thought I’d include this in my rambling thoughts about my bicycle of the future.

There is a good synopsis of materials on wikipedia so I won’t summarise it here but will make a few comments about what the metals mean to me in terms of frame material.

Aluminium is light, strong and relatively corrosion resistant, but fatigues over time. When fracturing etc appears it is not an easy repair job. For me its defining quality is stiffness – If I were to go with aluminum I would consider a suspension seat post. I am trying to think long term with the bicycle frame, and give it’s propensity for fatigue fractures, I think aluminium probably isn’t what I am after.

Steel as far as I know is heavier, less corrosion resistant and relatively hard. It is strong, but has a subtle flexibility to it. High quality frames are usually alloys and widely used in many cycling applications. There is some debate about frame materials as you might expect and some believe that a lugged steel frame offers a great deal in terms of ‘feel’, durability, ease of repair, cost and aesthetics. It has a lot to offer someone looking to design a bicycle that will last many kms. Steel can and does rust and so stripping the frame and repainting may be required over the longer term.

High strength, light, highly corrosion resistant, more flexible than steel, but difficult to weld and repair and high cost. I can’t be sure whether I am afflicted with a lust for titanium beyond the good properties of the metal, but a Ti frame would be very nice indeed. It’s defining feature for me is high corrosion resistance, feather weight and a supple ride…Hmmmm

Carbon Fibre
Super light, Stiff or supple depending on the design, corrosion free, but strong only for the forces it is designed for. Crash or crush the frame and it’s good night! Too risky considering it’s price, and my potential application. This material is for well sponsored athletes, not me.

Very quickly in summary I reckon that Steel and Titanium are the likely candidates here. The decision will be about price and how long I intend to have the bicycle. Something that lasts a long time is good value if you get enough use out of it. My only apprehension about Ti is that it may be hard to repair, but would I repair a damaged frame – or get a new one? In the case of steel a new frame would be affordable, however a new Ti frame may not, so steel is probably my first choice.

I haven’t forgotten bamboo and plastic as materials, but I’m not seriously considering them for a long term, reliable bicycle. Making a bike out of Bamboo would be fun – but it’s not at the top of my list of things to do right now. If I had the time, it might be an interesting way to get acquainted with frame geometry and strength.


I’ve had this bike for a little while now and bought it on ebay when I was thinking about getting a frame to build up to a single speed. I was also expecting a few visitors in the following months that might be staying for a while and I wanted something I could lend out that would get them from A to B in some style.

When I turned up to buy the bike it was too small for me, however I took it for a ride anyway and it worked well, and just felt like a nice ride. I couldn’t resist it’s originality even though I knew it wasn’t from a recognised frame maker. Since buying it I haven’t found out too much more about the frame builder, but imagine it is essentially a ‘kmart bike’ from an era when cheap bikes were heavy and robust.

I’d had the bike a little while and one morning I found my regular ride with a flat tyre and on a whim decided to take the oxford. I rode it as my regular commuting bike for the next couple of months and although it wasn’t nearly as efficient as my regular ride, the small size and simplicity of the bike kept me riding it even though the tyre on my regular bike was long since repaired

The only problem it developed during this period was that the jockey wheel (?) that carries the actuator cable for the sturmey archer 3 speed failed due to old age and so fouled the operation of the geared hub. Since then, I had put the bike aside until now, hoping to find more time for it. As I suspected, months later, I still have no significant time to spend on it but I thought I’d document what I have and strip it back a little. My original intention was a single speed, but I think I can get some of that flavour by simply stripping it back, but keeping the strumey archer 3 speed hub for the sake of practicality.

Front Badge

Not a great photo, but the the best one I have to introduce the bike until I find one that shows the whole thing unrestored.

upside down

This is the underside of the bike just for an idea of general condition – I’m sure I took one of the bike the right way up…

Once I started pulling it apart I found most of the bike to be in pretty good condition, It looked, in the main dirty, with some surface rust.

This looks like the original Sturmey Archer shifter/

Broken Sturmey Archer cable jockey wheel – I’m calling it that but it probably has a ‘real name’ that might be useful to know if I decide to replace it.

There’s always one rusty nut that takes far too long to remove

It’s a good idea to take photos as you dismantle to remind yourself which washers go where.

[Time Passes…]

So after finding an hour to quickly clean some of the dirt off the bike. The frame, the hubs, and rims came up well. the rear rim will need some work, but looks salvageable. Not sure about the handlebars. After the quick clean I am surprised these bicycles aren’t better known. This must be a 35+ year old bike and the frame looks to be in reasonable condition – there is a little bubbling under the paint on the forks, and the chrome looks pretty good – from how well it has stood the test of time I think it must have been made with reasonable materials. The Sturmey Archer 3 speed is also a nice addition to the functionality of the bike.

Clean ‘Velo’ front hub

Front Rim – pitted chrome

Clean Chain Wheel

Rear Rim – looks OK – Made in Japan

Shiny Sturmey Archer…

That’s all I have time for this week.

It’s hard to know where to start with the perfect bicycle The frame is the basis for many of the ride characteristics of a complete bicycle, but as I have a few frames in mind with different wheel sizes I starting this rambling discussion with wheels and tyres.

29 inch or 700c (622mm)
These wheels have the same rim diameter, however with the addition of their usually very different tyre, the effective diameter changes significantly.

Built as 29 inch mountain bike wheels, these large wheels usually have a relatively heavy duty rim and tire, and because they are heavier, they take more effort to start and stop. These wheels also take more effort to turn due to having a larger footprint and higher rotating mass. What this tyre and rim combination does well is roll over obstacles.

Built as 700c road wheels with a light rim and smaller tyre, they maintain their ability to roll over obstacles, and shed much of their weight. The compromise is a better handling wheel, that isn’t built to take the punishment you might dish out to a mountain bike wheel on a fast decent. This is a very popular size  and the availability of tyres, mud guards, spokes etc is all essentially universal.

The issue that is generally cited about this wheel size is toe overlap. It is something that I’ve noticed in the past and given that I am considering a bike that will be touring, city commuting and shopping, I’m definitely interested in making sure that toe overlap isn’t an issue with the bike I decide upon.

650b (584 mm)
This is a size that is regaining some popularity in the touring and randonneuring community. Availability of parts isn’t as good as with 700c and 26 inch, but it is getting better. This wheel is less likely to have toe overlap issues and is lighter, stronger, and a more responsive than the 700c wheel. When this wheel is coupled with a 700c purposed frame, the wheel size will slightly lower the bottom bracket, reduce toe overlap and slightly reduce the ‘trail’ of the front wheel – quickening the handling. The main draw back is availability of tyres and mudguards, but what I have found so far isn’t too expensive, and suits my purposes. If you use this size wheel on a 700c frame – you may want to get a slightly shorter crank.

26 Inch (559mm)
This is a size most commonly applied to mountain bikes. It further reduces the possibility of toe overlap, is very responsive, is strong, and allows plenty of room for mud guards. My guess is that this wheel will eventually loose out to the 29er on mountain bikes as it doesn’t roll or look as good as the 29 inch. However in other respects it is a good package for the maneuverability required in mountain biking. Availability of all related consumables is good.

The flanges on a hub, I believe, don’t radically change the stiffness of a wheel and mostly the flanging relates more to the arrangement, number and lace pattern of the spokes. Aesthetics and fashion also play a role here. The width of the hub however does have a significant effect, and a centred rim, rather than a dished rim is much stronger. So a wheel that has been dished to include sprockets, will be weaker than a fixed, single or internally geared hub.

There are heaps of tyres out there in many different styles so I am going to keep this general. Probably the best tyres I’ve owned would be Continental, Town and Country. A tyre for all seasons but only available in 26 inch. I’ve done alot of touring on these tyres and they were extremely puncture resistant, durable, comfortable and efficient. I’d like to replicate this feel on the new bike if possible.

Jan Heine, Editor of Bicycle Quarterly has written a great deal about his experiences and has also done some testing relating to tyres, wheel size and pressure on his website “Off the Beaten Path” – If you want to find out about wheels and tyres (and randoneuring) the Bicycle Quarterly and Off the Beaten Path is going to toast your bread! In summary, it’s complicated. According to Jan and his testing, increases in tyre pressure don’t necessarily lead to increases in efficiency and decreases in rolling resistance and so a medium sized, supple, softer walled tyre may be more efficient than hyper hard, 23mm racing tyre – This is good news and somewhat vindicates my oft misty eyed remembrance of the performance of my town and country tyres. There are optimum pressures depending on your weight and tyre choice so there’s plenty to consider in selecting a tyre if you want to get fanatical about it. If you’d like to know more – try – Science and Bicycles 1: Tires and Pressure by Jan Heine.

I’d be happy with any of the wheel sizes and so I suppose they aren’t a determining factor. The 650b does seem to be a rather happy medium between the various sizes – but I wouldn’t choose a bike on it’s ability to accept a 650b wheel.

Tyre choice and pressure, on the other hand, is something I’ll look at more closely when I have decided on a frame and wheel – it’s crucial.

I bought this bike new from the states in 1999 while living in Bolivia. I was living there and working for Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking, a cycle-touring company that took tourists down the most dangerous road in the world at the time, statistically speaking, on Trek and Giant mountain bikes.

Beaten but not broken

I’ve had the bike for 13 years so I feel like I know it pretty well. I can still remember the first night I took ownership and attempted to ride it on the cobbled streets of La Paz – the cobbles were very lumpy, the streets were wet and with the beer and the knobbly tires I was was better off walking – so I did just that. I ended up walking home and had to walk through an area that I used to pass on the bus each morning. There were always stray dogs in this part of town in large packs – I ended up walking down the steep street with the sound of sometimes growling dogs around me, in the dark, without street lights – scary. When I got the bicycle home I don’t think it ended up in my bed – but it would have been within arms reach – It was love at first sight.

The first day I actually rode the bike with the adventure touring company, I broke my nose. An inauspicious start with a bike that I would eventually judge to be the best I have ever ridden. In the coming years It carried me across the highest salt flats in the world, on many amazing roads with Gravity Assisted Tours, across the mountains in New Zealand and variously through Australia – It has been totally awesome as a down hill and cross country mountain bike, touring bike pulling trailers and panniers, and daily commuter. There’s something very sweet about the geometry of the bike and as I am now thinking of getting my second new bicycle, the Trek has set the bar high with it’s versatility and performance.

Frame & Fork
Frame Construction TIG-welded
Frame Tubing Material Alpha SL aluminum
Fork Brand & Model Rock Shox Judy 100, 4.0″ travel
Fork Material Aluminum/magnesium, triple-clamp crown
Component Group Mountain Mix
Brakeset Hayes Cable-Actuated Disc front/Avid 1D-10 rear brakes, Avid SD-1.0 L levers
Shift Levers Shimano Deore LX RapidFire SL
Front Derailleur Shimano Deore LX, top-pull/clamp-on 35.0mm
Rear Derailleur Shimano Deore XT
Crankset ICON Flywheel, 22/32/44 teeth
Pedals Bontrager Re-Entry
Bottom Bracket Shimano BB-UN52, 113mm spindle
BB Shell Width 73mm English
Rear Cogs 9-speed, 11 – 32 teeth
Chain Shimano CN-HG72, 1/2 x 3/32″
Seatpost RockShox suspension, 27.2mm diameter
Saddle Bontrager FS+10 Race
Handlebar ICON
Handlebar Extensions Not included
Handlebar Stem ICON
Headset 1 1/8″ threadless Aheadset SA
Hubs Formula disc
Rims Bontrager Maverick, 32-hole
Tires Front: 26 x 2.10″ Bontrager Jones, Rear: 26 x 1.90″ Bontrager Jones
Spoke Brand DT stainless steel, 1.8mm straight gauge
Spoke Nipples Brass nipples

[Thankyou BikePedia for the Specification]

The specs for the bike even now I think are pretty impressive.  Soon after I bought the bike I upgraded to hydraulic disc brakes, a shorter azonic stem and azonic riser bars. I haven’t replaced any of the original running gear, with the exception of the chain numerous times from wear. The chain rings and sprockets should have been replaced long ago – but essentially it is original and with the exception of the big chain ring being knackered – It is still reliable. The seat after carrying my butt over all sorts of terrain and withstanding 13 years without so much as being cleaned has also succumbed to old age in recent days. Many may view all this seeming lack of care, and the pictures of the bike showing a battered remnant of it’s original self, as deranged bicycle abuse. To me it’s more like the patina of being used thoroughly and without reservation. I’ve nursed the functional components though 13 years of all sorts of riding so, when it desperately needed it, it has had some TLC.

Then there’s the rock shox. They’ve been woeful from the word go. They’ve always leaked and while I haven’t replaced them and they still offer some shock absorbtion – as has already been said so often about these forks – they could have been so much better.

So, if you found one of these bikes cheaply and in good condition would I recommend it? Absolutely! I think it’s best purpose, and it’s original one, is as a cross country mountain bike. buy some good new forks, install v-brakes front and rear and you’ve got a cross country bike that is light, fast and reliable. I’d also recommend the shorter stem and riser as they make the riding position a little more upright. Do these things and you’d have a cross country monster that would take you anywhere. Throw on Town and Country Continental tyres, connect a bob trailer and pack light – hasta luego, signor!

I think my trusty Trek mountain bike, after carrying me over hill and down dale, through hell and high-water is now probably going to serve as a family work horse. It is spectacularly too awesome for this role, but this new chapter of it’s life will only add to my long love affair with the bike that just keeps excelling at every ride and situation I throw at it.

So with that now settled in my mind, my thoughts are turning toward a bike for myself. So when would I actually be riding without my family in tow?

Terribly selfish Functions:
1/ Country touring is always something I’d like to think is just around the corner for me, and is definitely something I’d like a new bike to do. It’s not necessarily something I would always do on my own, but it’s a function that would be central to a ‘complete’ bicycle package. The Trek could do it, has done it, and I would love to put more Km’s on the Trek to add to our history,  but I believe I could, given my other required functions listed below, come up with a more suitable geometry. Any bike that you can tour on will almost certainly be able to handle a kids seat and trailer anyway.

2/ Commuting is something I do alone, and reasonably regularly on a bicycle. I could happily undertake this on almost any machine that offers some reliability. So while this may not be a defining feature, reliability is of course a major requirement. Having a couple of bicycles actually means I can ride different machines depending on my current whim – which is a nice and very privileged option.

3/ Morning constitutional rides either for a quick coffee, or with a mate or two as a regular Saturday morning jaunt would be great. I would probably be riding with ‘real’ road bikes, but that’s not necessarily what I am after. Essentially I would need something light enough, and efficient enough to keep up. In my mind there’s no such thing as a fast bike – It’s like having a fast shoe.

4/ Fire trails and off road day trips aren’t out of the question, and so while not a primary consideration I’d like the bike to be capable in that regard. I’ve loaded up  city bikes’, ridden them out of town and flexed the bejesus out of them in the process. My experiences gave me a certain amount of faith in the ability of a good quality steel bike frame to take carry loads over bitumen, gravel and dirt roads.

5/ I am shallow and aesthetics are a consideration. Often a minimal ‘form follows function’ approach leads to aesthetic outcomes in my opinion – so while I’ll be looking for a clean, light bike – I have some bike gear fetishes I may also need to satisfy. As I already own the greatest mountain bike ever made, I don’t need another one and am thinking of something more refined. I certainly like the look of older bicycles – but how functional are they? The Polyvalent frame from Velo Orange looks great and I think would fit the bill – but I’m not convinced at this stage.

6/ For this to be more than an academic exercise, the bike needs to be affordable. I am however thinking long term for this bike. It’s a bike that I would like to have at least as long as my only other new bike purchase (13 years ago). So good quality and the ‘right bicycle’ may actually be expensive. I’m not frightened of 2nd hand – but it’d have to be very well reconditioned – almost like ‘New Old Stock’.

So to summarise.
comfortable fit (geometry), Reliable, efficient, strong, stylish without being too flashy, good value.

Bicycle lanes are best when they truly separate cycl-ist and motor-ist. I was reminded of this on about 3 occasions on my way home from work today. It’s a very short ride – but it’s through the centre of town and it’s not unusual to feel like you’re living on borrowed time. Whenever I have a ride like that I wonder about the road rules, and the enforcement of laws that must govern people parking badly, partially blocking bicycle lanes, and the retrospective manner in which lanes are painted in, after the cars have been fully accommodated.

In their deference, the motor-ist’s attempt at parking is made hard by a narrow parking lane.

Cycle Lanes as an Afterthought
Many of the on-road cycle lanes in Newcastle have been ‘retrofitted’ into the existing road-scape and so have been squeezed between parking spaces and traffic lanes – in the ‘door zone’. This is probably the most dangerous place to be riding, it’s Russian roulette and the stakes are high. In many cases the resulting division of space means that the cycle lane and the parking spaces are now too narrow to meet road standards.

The photo’s used as part of this post are from a short stretch of road near my house that I regularly use on my way to work. It is used by many cyclists wanting a direct route into town. There is a slower meandering off-road path that I now use more regularly for travel, especially with my family, but just for clarity, the issue is definitely not restricted to this area and while there are cycle lanes painted on the road, it is being suggested as a safe place to ride, and essentially ignored by motor-ists to the detriment of cycling safety.

I wonder if this truck driver would let his rig hang this far out into the traffic lane – or if police cars would drive by and let him impede traffic while he gets breakfast.

What is Law?
Newcastle Cycleways, the local peak body for cycling, actually recommends that you don’t ride in cycle lanes and that in fact, you’re only legally obliged to cycle in them when there a specific roads signs instructing you to do so. It would seem that the cycle lanes provide a suggested (albeit dangerous) path that is now accepted (incorrectly) as the legal place to ride. So who would dare to exercise their rights and ride in the traffic lane? Only a few brave souls I would suggest.

Car after Car after Car.

A State of Fear?
So as we have it, Cyclists are intimidated off the roads, into the door zone by painted road lines. If cycle lanes and cycl-ists were respected universally then perhaps the state of play would be acceptably dangerous, but the reality is that lazy and aggressive driving makes any on-road cycling too scary for most sensible people, and especially so in the rain when you can add plain stupid driving into the melee. So where am I going with this? In my opinion, bicycle lanes are best when they truly separate cycl-ist and motor-ist.

Somewhere in central Australia

Deadly Treadlies was a bicycle recycling project minted in 2003 in Alice Springs by Ian Sweeney and Mick Cafe, working for the Tangentyere Council and Central Land Council. In brief, the project provided the materials and skills to recycle 2nd hand bikes for the Alice Springs community. It won awards, it recycled bikes and it kept Ian Sweeney off the street – all good news.

I went out to visit Ian in 2008 for about 10 days and spent a couple of days with him in the Larapinta Valley camp where he was managing the administrative centre for the camp. Ian and I spent two days fixing bicycles, recycling old parts and generally getting kids on 2 wheels in a collaborative workshop setting. It was part of the kids activities roster for the camp and it was great to get out there and be a tiny part of developing the bicycle scene in Alice. At the time I felt pretty ill-equipped to really ‘touch base’ with the community other than to be another well intentioned ‘blow-in’ from the big smoke. But bicycle repair was the only thing I really had to offer, other than an open mind, and for whatever it was worth, they got what I had while I was there.

Larapinta Valley Admin Centre front and back verandahs

To say it was rewarding is a massive understatement and I gained a whole lot more than I gave. As part of my day job I had done some aboriginal cultural heritage awareness training and so that had essentially briefed me on some of the most easily grasped issues, Ian filled in some of the finer detail about the work his does and the community I was visiting. It was a week that I won’t forget and feel now that I was given a real gift – just being out in that part of the country is special. Ian had been out there for about 5 years at the time, and since having a short sabbatical in Melbourne, he’s back out there again working with the community. The desert can capture a man’s heart so they say.

Something that I saw that will stick with me was this little girl who hadn’t ridden a bicycle before, getting on, pushing off, then riding through the sand like it were mown grass. Cycling in sand is hard and cycling for your first time usually takes some time to master – heading off into the sand is the cycling equivalent of jumping off a harbour ferry to learn to swim. It was impressive from a girl who was probably three and a half.

Somewhere else in Central Australia

I’m writing all this down because I think it illustrates the power of the bicycle to build capacity in communities. The joy of riding a bicycle is something that has no boundaries, and is easily shared with a simple smile. Its also a damn useful, sustainable, cheap and appropriate transport mode.

I’ve recently written a review of the movie Bicycle Thieves and although it’s not much of a ‘cycling movie’, it is a story that illustrates how a bicycle can create markets, economies and sustainable work. Perhaps I am making too much of all this, but suspend your disbelief for a moment, and imagine a city with all it’s short, commuter and general transport trips taken by bicycle. It’s a deadly idea.