Late April/Early May Combo Special: Helmets, tech-efficiency Q&A, model schedule, colors, blandness, baseball, derailer progress

Late April/Early May Combo Special: Helmets, tech-efficiency Q&A, model schedule, colors, blandness, baseball, derailer progress

 I just read this finished Blahg and I don't love the tone of it. It's too rat-a-tat-tat confident and laying-it-down critically about other stuff. It's kind of an extreme version of how I feel, but...the core sentiment is right. Sorry.


We got this note from the country's biggest helmet lab. 

I'm not trying to horn in on their sheen. The whole thing is, I was researching stuff about helmets and helmet tests, and that led me to the Virginia Tech helmet test people (who test assorted helmet types--NFL, hockey, equestrian, ski, bicycle, others). They were shockingly helpful, answered tons of questions with patience and no hint of condescension so I sent them--I think it was $3K, and then sent four helmets from Germany that they weren't having any luck getting. I am pretty sure I know more about bicycle helmet tests than anybody within a thousand miles of me who isn't professionally involved with bicycle helmets; and just for the sheer fun of it, I'll throw your average brain surgeon in that mix. 

And it's not because I'm smart; it's because I listen to people who are and took notes.

The above thank-you note is just evidence that I don't simply hate helmets. I believe everything the VT people told me. That doesn't mean they condone my extreme anti-styrofoam stance. But they do acknowledge its deficits, where they exist, and we may come to that later.

I don't TRUST styro-foam+hardshell helmets as much as most people do. At my worst, at my most paranoid and insane, I think there are some chummy shenanigans btw Big Styro, the CPSC, and helmet makers, but I've never been a conspiracy theorist and I'm not going to start now.

It's just that there's a lot of money at stake, and it's hard to change materials and technology radically and overnight without people wondering wtf is going on, and why now, after 50 years of the same old styrofoam-covered-by-hardshell helmets? Last year's top five NFL helmets were banned this year. That's how much more active the NFL is in fixing their helmets.


 Here's an interesting link a customer sent me about sustainability and bicycles.

 Here's a thing about an old red bicycle. Kind of related to the other. Also from a customer.


The two fork crowns supporting the Sharpie are mountain bike fork crowns from the early 1980s. They're both forged steel, hefty, great, but by 1983 the unicrown had replaced them. There's nothing functionally wrong with a unicrown, but it's a bland, weight-reducing, economical way to make a fork, and now 99 percent of all road forks are bland unicrowns, too. The fork crown used to be a big part of a brand's signature, like the grill or hood ornament of a car.

On top is our RC-05 crown, used for CLEMS and some customs. It's investment cast, prettier, wider, all good. Bottom left is RC04, used for the Atlantis and Platypus. Bottom right is a round-bladed crown for the early Heron frames. Not all of these tie in, just showing crowns. Big on crowns here.


We're going deep and heavy into sox...from New Zealand, Norway, and England via Ireland. In the meantime, save your sock money. Buy the Costco 12-pack if you must, and pick up a sack of their macadamia nuts while you're there, but save a little moolah for some special, less generic sox where the sheep roam wild and free, bleating to and fro, tempting the wolves, as sheep do.


Reardy Railer progress ? I think so.

Version A is still barely moving, but we expect it to move faster in a month. Version B is going relative gangbusters, in that Microshift, who five months ago said they'd consider it, recently contacted us to confirm that they're open to it, and asked us specific questions (gear range, etc) that go along with sincere interest. Wouldn't it be wild if we had two OM (opposite movement) rear derailers? 

Here's the latest on the original plan. Two views, rec'd May 1.

I'm essentially 100 percent sure that NOBODY in the U.S. or any of the Americas is capable of making one that works well and is affordable. American spirit and know-how and all that are now focusing the efforts on rocket ships to help colonize and monetize Mars, artificial intelligence, and other things that are not derailers.


President Biden (I'm a fan, his age doesn't bother me, and Trump's command of the language, idiocy, ego, lack of empathy, general knowledge, and grammar do) --anyway, Biden is tripling the tariffs on Chinese steel, which won't affect us, and may win him votes.  There are lots of one-issue voters. The thing is, nobody in America makes steel bicycle tubing, and all the steel tubing makers have gigantic contracts and no history with or respect for bicycles.

True Temper was a good example. They were a steel tubing makers and made some fine bicycle tubing, but they had a few issues, and ultimately gave up bicycle tubing so they could concentrate on golf club shafts. 

It's possible that I've overlooked somebody. VeloSpec? Maybe, but the raw unbutted tubes are sent to Taiwan for butting, so it's not exactly like they're Yankee Doodle Dandy. There have been recent attempts and rumors, but when you pursue them, it's dead-endsville. The odds are so much against it. How many high-end (or any) steel bikes are made in America? Of those, how many builders want to buy from hopeful rookies at bicycle tubing, with all the diameters and butts and tapers...there's just no way. Even most Reynolds tubing is made in Taiwan, and has been for more than a decade, maybe almost two. And nobody is going to ship tubes from the frame country-of-origin, anyway.

Does Columbus make tubes in Italy? Maybe. Columbus is owned by a bigger company now, I forget who, but it's possible they still make tubes to keep their heritage alive. Columbus screwed us badly in the early 2000s, and I'm not a fan.

Does Deddaciai?  I don't know whether they still exist. But we certainly couldn't get the specifications we want from either of them. Theoretically, yes, but practically: Impossible.  Italian companies, at least Italian bicycle companies (including accessories), aren't all that easy to do business with. There has been one exception (in my experience). I'm off track. 


Sometimes I use this as a personal journal or diary, just venting out thoughts. It's free, no advertising, no comments section to keep me up at night, nothing. But a recurring thought, more like a theme, is that — don't take this the wrong way, don't think I hate so much—but the recurring THING, is that bicycles are getting really generic, and the hot look is a variant of bland or ugly. There's no detail, because it's all been smoothed over, like how a child would fingerpaint a ghost. But without those colors! In the high-end bicycle market, colors are gone (largely), unless it's a splattery paint job or a nod to Mondrian. Headsets and cables are tucked out of sight, as though that helps anything. The decals are picked out of a font book, then oversized, italicized, and approved. They're not kow-towing to styles and artistic details that have endured for— literally—centuries, and now that anybody can work the software, there's no need to hire an artist.


 Bicycles sometimes get used in wars. In bicycle-themed media their impact is generally overstated, but still.




 Three hundred + people found the clothespin in my backyard. From the last Blahg. I DID say there were no prizes, right? Intrinsic rewards! The second-best kind (first being tangible). Thanks to all, my apologies for underestimating you. Or your sight, I should say.


The Sea Otter "Classic" just ended, a bike show in Monterey, CA, where big and small companies show off, if that's what it amounts to:

It's worth a look. This is what we're up against, kind of. Some of these are show bikes, some are production, all are available, and these are the bicycles that are setting the mechanical and style standards for future bicycles. These are war bikes, insane mean clown bikes. It's how it goes, how it's going. Maybe I'm being too harsh on them. I know they're "only bikes," but there's nothing trivial about bicycles, I mean, in the overall person-made consumer objects picture.

Anyway, thank you for your support. Can we keep it up?


This CLEM was an idea in 2012, I think it was. The mid-'80s steel mountain bikes were old enough that most of the parts were worn out or just not entirely and satisfactorily usable or compatible with modern trail or urban riding, and if you got all new stuff you'd be putting $1,000 minus labor into a 30-year old frame, and guess what?—the frame would still likely be too small. Those '80s mountain bikes still made good all-purpose beaters, but the frame wasn't idea, it was hard to get the bars high enough, and they were expensive projects. So, let's start from scratch. The CLEM's frame design fits bigger tires than the oldies, has more BB drop (for better everything, and still plenty of bump clearance), and it fit modern wheel sizes. Unlike modern-style bikes, the CLEM still used/uses a quill stem, rim brakes, classic standard bottom bracket, external headset, and traditional mtn tube diameters. It has longer chainstays for better everything. It has a few lugs, because lugs are good and what we do. It's still CrMo steel. 

We'd have done it even if I thought it would fail, because we felt it was and is important to make bikes this way, without regard to what "the people" want. It's not an insult to people who like the other bikes and might hate the CLEM (or think it's dated, which is a nutty thing to think about a bike than cannot be made obsolete, and which will be ridden in 50 years still...easily.) It's just for people who know a little about bicycles and trends and have similar priorities to ours.

Anyway, after all that history, what I want to say is: The CLEM has been successful beyond my personal wildest hopes and dreams. It's not making us rich, but we continue to sell them, and it is so, sooo gratifying that people (maybe you) have bought one or are thinking about it. Not gratifying for sales reasons, gratifying because it's good to know that this kind of bicycle can survive in the 2020s. Every family needs at least one CLEM, and if you're down to one bike and are on a budget, you can't do better.


Here's our working schedule for deliveries:


MID MAY.  Susie (lugged, and probably the last of them--ONLY because it's they take too much time to make and get)

LATE MAY.  Sam Hillborne. Bronzey green, periwnkle (new for us)

EARLY JUNE.  RoadUno. Silver, purple, mustard. 

LATE JULY.  Joe Appaloosa. Sergio green, purple

LATE AUGUST.  Platypus. 

OCTOBER.  Lugged Roadini. 

SEPTEMBER.  Charlie Gallop. New model, a light-4-us, long-wheelbased road bike intended for swept-back bars (Albatross, etc), but usable with drops if yu 











Here's a super-recent add in a bicycle trade magazine:


======= letter (email) ========= 

Hi Grant,

I would love to hear if you have an opinion on crank arm length in terms of efficiency. There’s a lot of discussion about this topic in the racing community which I know is not pertinent to Rivendell. However there is the more general question of the impact of different crank arm lengths on the same rider. Does this change the efficiency of the pedal stroke? Is there a noticeable change in the feel/comfort? I’m not planning on getting several cranksets to test this out so as an alternative, I thought I’d ask someone who’s opinion I trust and is more closely aligned with my riding.

Sincerely, R.
Hi R,
This is a tricky science question, and I'm not capable of giving a science answer, but I promise the answer will be long and go off "into the weeds," as is my style.  I'm not a fan of crank-length discussion where an authority focuses on minute and mostly theoretical differences that are relevant only in special circumstances, like racing or record attempts, and then expects your gratitude for the newfound paranoia.
In the past, those things have been justified, we're told, because they trickle down to the rest of us, and for the most part, that's horseshit. (example: Longer cranks offer more leverage, so are better for climbing hills; shorter cranks are easier to spin around in fast circles, because they travel a shorter distance whilst you're doing that. 
The longer/more leverage argument ignores gearing. Shift up one tooth and I'll bet you've increased your leverage instantly (chainrings and cogs are levers, too) more than you would by increasing your crank length 0.2-inches (two TENTHS!) by going from 170mm cranks to 175mm cranks. And, holy good gosh, now that 32t rear cogs aren't even considered big anymore--and you can go up to 52t if you look around, and 42t without even trying—well, why advise a slight 2.5mm to 5mm longer arm?
The "shorter cranks are easier to spin fast" argument doesn't make much sense, either. Of course it has to be true, because your pedals travel a shorter distance every revolution. but for a normal bicycle rider, and anybody of any level of fitness riding at any effort level....if you're pedaling at 90 RPMs or more, you better settle down, because that's too spinny and there's no reason. It's harder on your crotch and you get worse exercise.
But the main point is, what difference do fractions of or even whole seconds make on a five mile commute? On any club ride, where you're drafting in a pack, you're riding at pack speed, because that's what geese do.
Historical crank length background for anybody:
170mm is standard. Quick, how many inches is that? Most people will hesitate, then guess and (I think) they'd overshoot.
Bicycles will follow. I can see how it might be progress in cars, although it's going to increase risk compensation some, and will affect lawsuits. But WHEN bikes adopt this, will that be progress? I don't think so, but we'll be told it is. The thing is, moving forward on the timeline isn't the same as moving forward on the product line. It used to be.
On that note, and going back to bicycles and frames, a few times a year, maybe five, we get a direct request for frames or frame styles we no longer make. There's always the vibe that the old ones are better, we must have quit making them that way because it was too labor-intensive and we were looking for was to economize on our end. NEVER true, not even a hint. Our first frames were and still are excellent, and over the years they've gotten our version of better. The first long-chainstays elicited hoots of pain from people who'd never ridden them but were judging them based on how they theorized longer stays would affect the bicycle. Same problem when we increased the top tube upslope from 2.5-degrees to 6 degrees. Both of these changes added something good and took away nothing bad, unless you judge bicycles by their "classic" dimensions. 
Classic dimensions are, for the most part, racing bike dimensions for short European racers. Make comfort any kind of a goal, and the level top tube and short-stack headset (and now, non-raisable stem) start to make less sense. All this is an ongoing issue with our bikes, and they're hard to figure out. They're steel and lugged, and in the minds of many, that makes them charming throwbacks to the good old days of riding in goggles and carrying spare tires criss-crossed over your back, and short wool shorts, and 28 year olds who looked 50 and crossed the finish line looking rabid. People associate our bikes with that era and think our 6-degree upslopes are inconsistent with it. There are lots of collecteurs who have bulging stables of bikes that are no fun to ride except maybe to show off. There's zero wrong with that, but we make bikes for all kinds of riding except racing. We've borrowed/stole/appropriated the best materials and fabrication techniques of the past, because they were better, not because they're older. Our designs are superfuturistic, but it's hard to get that if you can't see past the steel and lugs, or if you haven't ridden one.

Disappearing details, that's how it goes

This is an "aesthetically themed vent," and I'm not completely comfortable with it, and I'd never put it out there in this form where outsiders can read it. It's critical of modern bicycle style. It sounds maybe too pro-Rivendell/self-praising, but I'm trying to make a big-picture point, not trying to boost our sales or get you to dislike most or all of the bikes you now own, if they're typical modern bikes and fit the specs and looks of the kinds of bikes I'm not a fan of. I just think we're at the low-water mark when it comes to graphics, colors, proportions, details. So...let me just say this without you thinking I'm too mean or harsh.


If you were obsessed with bicycles in the 1970s, you could look at a seat lug, fork crown, or bottom bracket shell and identify the country it came from and probably the manufacturer, all without cheating by reading the decals. There were tip-offs everywhere.

Cinelli seat lug and fork crown were Cinelli’s own, unlike any others. Masi and Cinelli bottom bracket shells were both sand-cast in Switzerland by the same company, but the chainstay points were at 12 and 6 on one and at 3 and 8 on the other, I forget which. The best British frames had ornate details and paint, not fantastically executed, but when you add a high-risk tedious or fancy detail, imperfection should forgiveable.

In the mid to late ‘70s, U.S.-made custom frames were, for the most part, international no-names, so they made frames that were visually neater and looked more sweated-over than anything out of Europe.

French bikes had nice decals and head badges, nice fork bends, and looked better than they worked, maybe like Citroens and Renaults. But they frustrated mechanics, with their French dimensioned threading and stem diameters and marginal assembly. By the late ‘80s it was a rare U.S. bicycle shop that still tolerated French bicycles.

Japanese frames had boring paint and decals, “domed and slotted” front dropout joints and so-so fork rakes. (Most were imported and spec’d and had paint picked by U.S. companies, so you can’t point fingers at the Japanese makers. But right out of the box and into the stand, the Japanese bicycles were a bicycle mechanic’s dream, as reliable as Toyotas, Hondas, and Subarus, and hard-earned relief after French bikes.

 Maybe the surface details on all those steel, lugged bicycle frames were so diverse and unique because they all used steel tubes with pretty much the same dimensions and joining techniques, and the sameness forced the makers to create their own details. Department store bikes and kids bikes often had the cheapest versions of pinstriping, or fancy thin stamped chrome-plated caps over the fork crowns so from 20 feet away on a rainy day, Junior’s bike could sharp.Today’s Target and kids bikes are mini-versions of Dad's macho-tech bike. If you watch a modern movie set in a village in France and there’s a downtown bicycle scene, the bike will have shocks, disc brakes, and maybe a battery.


Before 1985, the attempts to beautifying bicycles were common all over the world. When you look at some of the head badges, fender badges, from a foot away, and decals from even closer, it seems like there were individuals or small teams who did nothing else, and maybe they wanted to show up the frame-making team by dolling up the minutia.

 In India and Japan, work bikes had pinstriped fenders, and many of the fenders had brass badges clearly designed by an artist, then stamped in high relief, painted, and sometimes dolled up with a fake plastic jewel.

 Bicycles weren’t the only recipients of this kind of art-love, and aren’t the only objects suffering from its absence. Buildings, bridges, cars, and even tractors from the ‘20s thru the ‘40s are still giants of style, or whatever. On modern cars, headlights and door handles are flush with the bodies, and are designed in the wind tunnel for aerodynamics, fuel saving, and reducing emissions. Those are good things in a way, but the science student’s were rarely good artists, and machines never are.

There are no iconic body styles anymore, no mid-‘60s Mustangs, Thunderbirds, Volvos big-finned Lincolns, Volkswagen Beetles, or anything like the sedans and pickups of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Whether you liked them isn’t the point. They had style and identity.

 The Tesla Cybertruck looks mean and threatening, and it ticks the boxes for contemporary style because it combines tech + macho. With that combo it has to influence future pick-up trucks.

Modern vehicles are designed with target budgets. At high volumes, it’s a necessity. I remember in the ‘80s when I was picking parts for Bstones. Our volume was about 25,000 bikes a year, and there were two styles of bottom brackets to pick from: Nutted, which had a threaded shaft sticking out of the main spindle, and required only a nut to hold the crank to it; and bolted, required the familiar, longer threaded bolt. The nutted had short threads and the nuts were more prone to loosening, so it was easier to wreck your crank. This style came on most low-to-midpriced bikes, beause it cost a dollar less, times 100,000 to 400,000 bicycles. Bstones used the bolt-on kind, because they were better, even if they were indistinguishable from the outside. At our volumes, it cost us about $20,000 more,, which is a lot of money to find in a paper sack, but only a dollar more per bike. Our sales reps may have told dealers about it, but there’s no way a dealer would bring that up to a customer. They didn’t dive that deep or “get that technical.”

 Back to the main point: Maybe car and bicycle makers don’t want to be accused of copying the past. I don’t see the shame. I can look at any detail on our frames and tell you where it came from. Nothing is a blatant copy, but there are always ancient inspirations. The swirls on our fork crowns were inspired by—not copies of— Mercian (English) lugs. The bat-wings, from Prugnat (French) fork crowns, but we added the curve. My first fantastic bicycle was a lugged Tom Ritchey frame, and you should see what he could do with the crude lugs he had to work with in 1976. Richard Sachs’s lifetime focus and refusal to cave in to trends totally inspires me. (He has a potty-mouth slogan that I love: “Never fucking relent.” I grew up around bicycles in the Bay Area, where there were lots of excellent builders, real artists and craftsmen who raise the standards for each other, and in about a seven year period, the state of the art around here reached a world peak. There were east-coast builders doing the same level of work, but we had a concentration of them. When it became clear how hard it was to make a living as a craftsman-bicycle artist, eventually there was some attrition. Survivors made concessions to the market that were financially driven and necessary for continued existence or growth. Frames lost details, efficiency and lowering costs drove everything. Sometimes a simpler way is a better way, and ornate fragility is never acceptable, but whatever the reasons, bikes became blander, and there was no going back.

Maybe tastes have just changed. I know there’s no “objective” good, but bland is bland.

 In almost any human-built object you can think of, the most interesting and stunningly beautiful ones were made between the early bumbling years of “let’s just make this work” and the slickster years of “let’s see what the market and this new handy software tell us to do. We’re businesspeople!”

Computer-aided design, and its most modern “generative design” variant, where you input the material’s characteristics and some predicted stress, then sit back and watch the software come up with something truly bizarre. Generative design is being used more and more for bicycles and components, with predictable results.

GENERATIVE DESIGN .... give this link four whole minutes. 


Another change over the decades is colors. In the steel-bike days, there were oranges, lots of blues, a few silvers, black, yellow, lots of greens, reds, pink, maroons, gold, and brown. Bicycles were more colorful than cars. When carbon fiber took over as the default desirable frame material, the bicycle changed from being a colorful and beautifully detailed object to being a serious technical tool, and looking the part. The carbon fiber’s brown grid showed through the clear coat and had instant wide appeal, and led to a blanding of bicycle colors: You still see white, safety orange, and neon green, but eighty percent are dark gray or black. The darkening spread to bicycle components, too. Before 1985 you’d never see an all black crank or derailer. But silver parts with intentional but non-functional artistic curves stand out too much on a large brown frame largely void of artistic details. The aesthetically untoppable ‘90s Shimano, SunTour, and Campagnolo parts began as pencil sketches and might never have been modified with the help of computer design software, and they contrast too much with carbon frames. Carbon bicycle makers want parts that visually disappear on their frames, not parts that look too good for them.


You can still find some frivolous colors, it wasn’t and isn’t a full sweep, but the darkening spread to bicycle components, too. Before 1985 you’d never see an all black crank or derailer. But silver parts with intentional but non-functional artistic curves stand out too much on a large brown frame largely void of artistic details.

The stunning ‘90s Shimano, SunTour, and Campagnolo parts began as pencil sketches and might never have been modified with the help of computer design software, and they contrast too much—in color (silver) and artistic style, with carbon frames. Carbon bicycle makers wanted parts that visually disappeared on their frames, not parts that artistically trumped the big bland frames. 

 We aren’t competing against carbon. Carbon’s off to the side, we understand it well enough to leave it alone. I don’t envy big bike companies. They’re stuck in a rut, we’re stuck in ours, and that's just how it is.





Two years ago my HS graduating class held its 50th reunion and one of the organizers thought it would be a good idea for everybody to send in a photo to post along with the yearbook photo, and write a "whatchoo bin upto since and what's your view of everything in the world, hobbies, movies, etc?" and some looking back nostalgia stuff, fill a page. Here's mine, it's more than you need or want to know, so we can say good-bye RIGHT HERE.



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