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There are so many great frames around, it really is hard to choose. It’s hard to find out, without already being very knowledgeable about the industry, what are the real reviews and what is simply brand propaganda. It’s easy to be swept up in the carefully constructed stories around the different brands and the amount of choice is mind boggling. It’s a voyage into your own heart of darkness and fanciful whim. I considered many frames from far and wide, but the few I have listed below are the ones I have considered as seriously as a normal person might consider the pros and cons of particular bicycle frame nuances. There is much to like about them all – but making a choice requires some introspection and frank personal discussions with yourself. A decent into madness – anyway here goes.

Velo Orange Rando(nneur) was the first frame that I really looked at. This frame seemed to cover a fair bit of ground in that it could do light touring through to commuting. On the website they don’t mention the type of tubing that they are using – so I have assumed stove pipes (and am probably wrong). This looks like a great frame if you starting Randonneuring on a budget.

From the VO website

Velo Orange Polyvalent below is a very idiosyncratic and beautiful frame. Some of the builds that can be found online look practical and handsome. While I was considering this frame I read a fair bit about low trail geometry. They certainly look like a great urban bicycle capable of bearing weight above the front wheel. In the end the cost of the postage from the US was a big factor – it is all out of scale as far as I’m concerned. With the Polyvalent frame, while I was captured by the functional beauty, historic geometry and 650b reviews by Jan Heine of off the beaten path, I am not convinced I really want to carry that much weight over the front wheel. I may not buy a frame from them this year, even though I really like the polyvalent, it’s pretty certain Velo Orange will get some of my cash as their racks, mudguards, seats and accessories are all made beautifully and are very stylish.

The Singular Osprey again looked like a great frame and suitable for touring and commuting. Interestingly with this frame you have the option of choosing a low-trail fork. I made a few enquiries and Sam, the owner, answered all my silly questions quickly and courteously. Postage to Australia from the UK is much cheaper and for what they are, these frames are great value, but just not exactly what I was after. At this point I felt I was perhaps being too picky and I should just get a frame, or a complete bike and start customising it to suit me.

osprey built

Still not convinced, I began broadening my horizons from the low trail, somewhat french inspired geometries and came across the beautiful Soma Stanyan. I hadn’t moved far, barely into the next metaphysical suburb, as again this lugged steel frame is built with a pretty classic European road / touring geometry. But this frame was just another step in my sentimental journey. Soma are based in the US and therefore to bear the indignity of paying US postage I suppose I had to be really convinced that this frame had everything I wanted.

A Pedal Revolution build (http://pedalrevolutionblog.wordpress.com)

While all of the bicycles above are quite different, I would be fairly satisfied with any of them as they are reasonably close to my general requirements with the exception of one thing or other that could be easily over come with an extra braze on, rack mount or other. I started to think that I was the problem and not the bicycles. As I was going through the description of the Soma Stanyan bicycle, a single word stood out. TANGE. A strange word that suggested quality tubing, lightness and strength.

I looked around again and sure enough, I could find relatively cheap 2nd hand bicycles on ebay with similar geometries and high quality tubing – but would they fit? Then on a whim I checked around for custom bicycle builders and found that in Australia they were so expensive that it was simply unrealistic for any sane person – or at least so I am told. Overseas however they were perhaps $300 – $500 more expensive than an ‘off the peg’ bicycle, but for the extra expense I could get a hand built bicycle, using high quality materials and shoot the breeze with an experienced frame builder to tweak the geometry to my special needs. So was it worth it? I am not sure, and perhaps I never will be. The Singular Osprey really is a great bicycle for the money, and the Polyvalent is so practical and good looking. Perhaps there is something overly and overtly self indulgent about having a hand made custom frame when I could easily make do with the excellent bicycles I found while I was looking around. But I think I have finally decided that this is the way that I will go, and that I won’t regret the extra expense on a bicycle that will be high quality, unique to some degree and as suitable as I can specify within my budget.

The frame builders I am likely to go with are Mercian. They have been around for 50 or so years, have produced frames for time trial champions (I have no delusions of grandeur) and have great reviews from all over the internet. They offer a variety of lug, frame and tubing styles and their process for designing seems pretty good. Check out their frame builder software on their website at your own financial risk – It is cool. They have a skype channel which is great so I can chat with them face to face about the frame from my house – which is about as convenient as it gets. It will take a few months to get the frame – but I am looking forward to the process and of course, the result.

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The Maryville Riviera

The bicycle, on first glance, is obviously heavily themed in a quaint ye olde fashion, good looking for a girls bike and probably a heavyweight. Its large mud guards, colour matched everything and enclosed chain guard give it a very solid appearance. Lifting it proves the hypothesis – however it’s ever so slightly lighter than it looks.

Hub Dynamo

Nice and appropriate alloy pedals

There are plenty of bells and whistles, including the very useful hub dynamo, rear light, leather sprung saddle and white wall tyres on 650b rims that I believe are worth their weight in safety, control and comfort. The rod brakes, newspaper holder and rear wheel lock looked to be exceptions and not something I believed would add to the efficiency or practicality of the ride.

Light and newspaper holder

Rod set-up is pretty

Brake levers are incorporated into the handle bar – very swish.

My first ride was at night and my initial impression was that the bike felt light and nimble, it was well geared, the lighting was OK without turning night into day,  quick enough without being fast, and relatively comfortable for a bicycle that is too small for me. It soaked up road bumps nicely, but had a few rattles that needed ironing out. To be fair the bike had just traveled 800km in the back of a largely unloaded removal truck so had probably had the stuffing shaken out of it, but with the rattle and the light feel through the handle bars it felt strangely like riding a pressed tin toy.

rear wheel lock

Where the brake pads meet the rim.

My second ride in light morning rain to pick up an espresso provided more feedback from the bicycle. Again it felt nicely geared, but if anything the handling felt a little to light for my liking. Braking hard resulted in a lot of heavy chatter from the front brakes and not much stopping power. I’m thinking a brake pad upgrade or fine tuning the rods to remove all the slack from the system may help, however my gut feeling is that at least some of the chatter will remain due to brake arm flex. Standing up on the pedals to get the bicycle up an incline produced plenty of rubbing and flex so I sat down again. I’m probably 3 or 4 inches too big for the bicycle so I was pushing it a little to see how it would handle the extra pressure. Our local park is pretty churned up from being renovated with new kids play equipment so it provided a chance to check out the off road handling. Over mud, gravel and bumpy ground it was very good – a product of the sensible tyres, light steering and low gearing. This bicycle, devoid of rattles, would handle the cobbled streets of Europe quite nicely.

When pushed the bicycle doesn’t respond solidly, but climbing hills and hard riding isn’t the point of the bicycle. It’s a cruising bicycle that is capable and comfortable when the surface gets uneven. A three speed hub would increase the speed of the bicycle, but I wouldn’t suggest riding the bike too hard with any extra weight because of the limitations of the rod braking – so it may not handle commuting with kids on board. Its recommend retail is above $1500Aus and for that you get a hub dynamo, reasonable lighting, brooks saddle and a double powder coated, fully lugged, hand built steel frame that has a nice feel to it – not bad value – but I’d want to effect some changes on the standard set-up. First port of call would be upgrading the braking and shedding some weight, but perhaps that’s just a personal preference.

The bicycle gave me an experience of using 650b wheels and 650x35a tyres. I’m not sure I’m a convert, but as part of this set-up they certainly seemed to handle uneven ground pretty well. Food for thought.

Road, Track and most Triathalon bicycles are designed for a very specific purpose that doesn’t include comfort, picnics, staying relatively dry or carrying anything other than a water bottle filled with very light water. So essentially this rules them out for this project.

Mountain Bicycles with suspension are again great at what they do, but not great at touring as you loose a fair bit of cyclist effort into the suspension. Modern suspension systems limit the loss, but now we are getting complicated about something that I don’t necessarily need and I’d really like to keep things simple – less maintenance and less things to break. Mountain bicycle frames without suspension and cross country frames are worth considering, and so it would come down to geometry. Often these bicycles use 26 inch wheels and so are unlikely to have toe over lap issues. There is a category of MTB called Monster Cross that looks interesting – My explanation of it would be cross country touring. What I end up with could be classed at the light-weight end of this spectrum if I go with a MTB frame.

Touring Bicycles are built for comfort, efficiency and carrying weight – but not necessarily speed. They can be tweaked for cross country episodes – but aren’t a serious mountain vehicle. They have slightly more relaxed geometry and often these bicycles have 700c wheels. Touring bicycles have a nice utilitarian look about them, and they are usually pretty high quality bicycle builds with lots of thought and design invested in them – and this brings up to randonneuring.

Randonneuring is essentially touring as a sport/ passtime. Very long distance events where you have a time limit, but not necessarily a winner. Just people who have finished. Because these events are usually long, over various terrain, and riders are expected to cater for themselves, cyclists usually have water, food, clothing, lighting systems, etc on their bicycles – It’s a touring picnic thing, and you have to be home by the time the light poles come on in the street (as per mum’s request). So what is all this about? With this sort of organised picnic trip comes technology. Randonneuring bicycles are gaining in popularity and there is an interesting history of frame design that goes along with the sport.

When touring, I’ve shied away from carrying loads on the front wheel because the extra weight has a detrimental affect on the handling. It just didn’t feel right. I have always gone with rear panniers and racks, and when things got heavy, I opted for a bob trailer. Well through Randonneuring I’ve come across low trail geometry bicycles. The trail is the amount of distance there is between the point on the ground following a straight line from the head tube angle, to the point on the ground that is at the centre of the contact patch for the wheel. As the trail decreases your handling quickens, and weight transfer across the centre plane of the bike is less pronounced. Low trail geometry is something that was used with ye olde cycle couriers of the 40’s and 50’s transporting loads of newspapers or whatever. Anyway this is now finding it’s way into the randoneuring community, and by this route back into cycling generally. Joshua Putnam describes Bicycle Steering Geometry very nicely on his site. Velo Orange have a very nice frame called the polyvalent¬† that uses low trail geometry here.

The longer the chain stays the more they flex – so the more of your pedal power goes into them. You find track bikes have chain stays only long enough to accommodate the rear wheel. Whereas touring bikes will have longer chain stays to use the flex to absorb road vibration and bumps.

In summary – I am interested in low trail geometry, but am not sure how much load I would actually put on the front of the bike. If I was getting a custom frame I would probably be looking for something at the low end of ‘mid-trail’ or the high end of ‘low trail’ – say 45-55mm.

What about aesthetics? I like the classic straight top tube, and am leaning away from oversized tubing. In a word – classic.

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.

Aluminum
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
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.

Titanium
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.

The Bianchi Pista is a compromised track racer, a feisty, but broken thoroughbred. Tamed for fixie fascination and single speed simplicity it’s now road ready.

Bianchi Pista Specification:

FRAME: Bianchi Cr-Mo (steel) butted
FORK: Bianchi Cr-Mo, 1″
HEADSET: VP-A34C, 1″
CRANKSET: FSA Tempo, 48T
CHAIN: KMC Z50
CASSETTE: Shimano SS-7600 fixed, 16T
BRAKES: Reparto Corse, front & rear
WHEELS: Maddux Track F15
TYRES: Hutchinson Nitro 700 x 23
STEM: Bianchi alloy
HANDLEBAR: Premetec 4002R Steel, Chrome
BAR TAPE / GRIPS: Velo VLT-004
SEATPOST: Bianchi alloy
SADDLE: Charge Bucket
PEDALS: Wellgo

Before getting on the bike you notice it’s good looks. The one I rode (pictured) was the standard chrome pista. The chrome finish isn’t really for me, but having said that, it suits the bike’s Italian origins. While being showy, Bianchi have the racing pedigree to back up all that flash. I think the light green¬†Pista Via Condotti is probably the prettiest of the variations on this theme.

Reclining Bicycle

Lifting the bike you notice that this is a traditional double butted steel frame. It’s not the lightest bike of its type but the supple feel of the bike more than makes up for the weight once you are on the bike. The feel through the handlebars is agile and intuitive, without being quick. The responsiveness is a product of its short wheel base, track geometry and engineered tubing profiles throughout. It’s not a bike you need to man-handle – you can really place it neatly and it responds well to changes in weight distribution. everything you’d expect from the bikes’ DNA. It’s not a fast handling or twitchy bike, it tracks well in a straight line and also responds to steering input – a nice balance.

Bicycle Photo

3/4 view

I found the 48 by 16 chain wheel and sprocket set-up to be pretty good once I’d been upwind and down wind on the bike, hills were a challenge, but this is a single speed and so no surprises there.

One of the compromises for the purists is that the bike has front and back brakes as original equipment. I found these to be good with plenty of feel without being amazing. Given the price tag perhaps you could expect more from them.

I am not a regular drop bar rider but found these to be pretty good on the bike. This is probably as much due to having the bike set-up well as it is a great design of drop bar. My guess is that track drop bars are all mostly similar. The bars suit the traditional style of the bike and I got comfortable with them quickly – probably enough said.

The pedals are a real disappointment and I think they are one of the only negatives of the bike. They are c-grade pedals on an a-grade bike.

Bicycle Photo

Stock Hindquarters

Overall, the package feels right with a nice mix of agility and a solid, supple feel on the road. If you want something that will probably hold its value, and potentially provide many miles of smiles, then this is worth the price tag. To some degree you are paying for the pedigree and cache of the bianchi name, but, the bike feels great to ride, and that’s what it is all about.