Middle of May

Middle of May




Many of you by now know that our old friends and original supplier, Waterford Precision Cycles, is closing after about 30 years. Waterford's owner is Richard Schwinn, and in fact was born outathe fact that Schwinn was topsy-turvey back then and didn't want to make Paramounts (it's top pro frame) anymore, so Richard, along with zero to a few other investors, bought the shop and tools and started Waterford.

Whenever there's a closing, especially when it's an iconic or historic company that's closing, and Waterford is both, it's often followed by schadenfreude and Monday-morning quarterbacking. None of those here, none apply, non should. I have nothing but sadness for Waterford's closing. Without them, we wouldn't be here. We couldn't have survived two years without them building our frames. And, if by some miracle we had survived those two years, we'd have died by year three (1997/8) or four, for sure. 

Companies are always people, and Wford to us was Richard, and Marc Muller, the designer/engineer, and somebody who worked first as a custom framebuilder, and later, in the Paramount division of Schwinn.  

In 1995 or so, Marc told me how he came to work there. He'd been a custom framebuilder (Phydeau was his brand), and he'd grown tired of the hassles and headaches and customer-handholding it required, and the inevitable miscommunications and friction. I think he said it turned him off of custom building. He loved bikes and wanted to work on "popularly priced" models where the customers were comparably easy. This is as I remember him telling me. In any case, he went into Schwinn on his first day of work and they swung him by the Paramount-making area, and he saw a woman who'd just finished brazing the frame dip that same still-hot frame into a coldwater bath, to cool it. That's a no-no with CrMo steel frames. It leads to brittleness. So Marc was aghast, ran over to save the frame, and said to the woman who'd probably done that a thousand or more times, "Don't you EVER do that again." 

But that event sealed his fate as a Paramount designer and builder, and he used those skills to Schwinn's benefit, then Wford's, and certainly Rivendell's, too. In the early years of Rivendell, I remember saying Marc was the smartest bicycle-geometry guy I knew. I spoke with him nearly daily, at least 180 times a year for several years, and I learned so much for him. I am not the student who surpassed the teacher. I still believe he knows more than I do, and more than anybody I've ever met. Plus, he was always so kind and helpful and patient. He advised me without making me feel advised. He treated me like the peer I actually wasn't. If I can say I owe Marc Muller a lot without having anybody interpret that to mean that I think I've come a long way, then: I owe Marc Muller a lot.

Richard Schwinn, too. If you're in the bicycle industry and a Schwinn, well, that's like being in the automobile business and being a Ford or Iacocca. But maybe even more, since "Ford" is a common last name. Iacocca isn't, so it's closer to Schwinn in that way, but Schwinn is not only a last name, but a Brand, so...step aside, Lee,  so Richard can take the top spot.

How does that even work, when you go into a bike shop and buy something with a credit card, or go to a restaurant, or ANYWHERE? No name is more associated with a product more than Schwinn is with bicycles. Well, tied with Stradivarius and violins, I suppose, but nobody and no other product is even close.  You'd THINK it would give you a big head or turn you into a jerk, not that it should, but it could and it wouldn't surprise anybody. 

Richard Schwinn is the No. 1 nicest bicycle person I know. And, related to that, he's impossible to get mad at.  Or stay mad at. He's "always nice and right." Sometimes I'd be mad for something, always small, but I get frustrated easily. I want to make it clear that I wasn't mad for something that Richard did, I'd be mad because I misunderstood something, or I'd forgotten that I'd forgotten to tell him, or just because I'm me. So I'd call him up and plan to unload, and within five seconds he'd be my best friend again. He has that way. It's genuinely friendly, undefensive, magical. There used to be an old black-and-white movie on TV, a perennial movie that had a guy with a hat and a coat and a twinkle in his eye, special effects they added, and he had the Richard Schwinn effect on people. Richard reminds me of that guy. That guy wore a houndstooth jacket and a Tyrolean hat, as I recall. He may have been an angel from genuine heaven. One of you knows the guy I'm thinking of.

Richard was/is also well-educated, political (lefty like me, but being that way in Wisconsin isn't as easy). He knows history, too. We had many, and I mean TONS, of long conversations that had nothing to do with bicycles. He was also a music man. He plays the violin, I think it is, in a local group or orchestra.

Early on, I went to Richards house, out by the fields in Wisconsin, and he asked his daughter Anna to take me out with her and gather asparagus for dinner. The farmers among you know what asparagus looks like on the farm, in the farmfields and all. I've seen in growing in CA here. I used to hunt pheasants in Central Valley asparagus. As I remember, it seems like big green round tumbleweed-like things that smelled faintly of asparagus ... unless it was just the power of suggestion. We hunted after the harvest, in any case. But that wasn't how Anna and I got that asparagus. 

We walked along the farm roads and looked under the telephone wires. "It seems" that birds ate the seeds, sat on the wires that paralleled the roads, and shat out the seeds in their poop. But that's not the big story here. The big story, which is big only if you had no idea like me then, is that the asparagus grows out of the ground stalk by stalk, like pencils buried point up. There's no fine or leaves or any other part of the plant. It is, literally, like a psycho got some asparagus and thought it'd be neat to stick the stalks in the ground like rocketships at Cape Canaveral, underneath the telephone wires.

Circumstances and stuff and things that were unavoidable but nobody's fault, led to them not making frames for us anymore, but we wouldn't be here now if Waterford wasn't there for us back then, and for two runs, a total of maybe ten years, or fourteen. I am so grateful, and I wish the bicycle climate in America and the world were different in a way that they could thrive the way they deserved to. They had the right people, for sure. We're all worse off without Waterford, for sure. Thanks for sticking it out in a tough time to do it, Richard and Marc! Thanks for our existence. Wish you the best forever!


It's the wrong time for small and medium-sized businesses that don't have a super specialized niche that big companies aren't interested in exploiting. I don't know how we make it. I know that if TREK etc, out of the blackness of its heart, wanted to make lugged steel bikes in America as a loss leader, they could put us out of business. I doubt they'd be willing to invest in the machinery and lose a lot of money a year to do that, but it is theoretically possible.

Specialized, too. Giant, too. Could DO US IN.  I don't want anybody to DO US IN, I just want to keep going, and get that rear derailer out there in the world and working great.


 Nose Breathing II

As I've mentioned before, I'm nuts for nose-breathing. After reading Breath, by James Nestor.  I want to make it clear that in the unlikely event that I dislike you, then I don't care how you manage your inhales and exhales; but other than that, check out the book, it's wild. I nosebreath 100 percent on all my rides, even, which used to be hard, as I tried to suck enough air in thru a snotty nose, and exhale it and spray some snot in the process.  Sorry about the description, but it's the least offensive bodily function description I can come up with.

My point is that NOW it's 75 percent easier. I use OLBAS, which helps a lot, but I think--based on progress made pre-Olbas--that maybe my body just got used to it and gave up making it hard in the hope that I'd go back to mouth-breating on gaspy rides. 

I am not telling you how to breathe. I'm just saying hey, there seem to be benefits to nose-breathing, and the book makes a better case for it than I'm trying to do here.   I know what you're thinking: "I come here to the Blahg for bicycle stuff! If I want to read about nose-breathing, I'll go down to my local library, if I can find it!" I know, I know...


All predictions of when this-or-that model will arrive, unless the container is on the ocean already, are loose and unreliable. But here's the latest L & R predictions:

June: Appaloosa. PurpleRiv Purple and Lime-Olive. Framesets.

July: Roadini. SergioGreen and orange.   and   Homer. Homer Blue and Mustard.

August: Nada

September: Platypus, completes and frames. Sergio Green and PurpleRiv Purple.

October: Susie/Wolbis/Gus combo Hillibike. Lugged. Green, Dark Gold.

November: CLEM L: Completes and frames. Dark green, Dark Orange

December: ROADUNO!!!! Frames and completes. PurpleRiv Purple, Dark Orange


Sergio Green is a new color for us, we'll show it when we get a whole frame of it, but it was one of three greens Joe Bell came up with when he was working on our Lime-Olive


The RoadUno, our one-speed+ derailerless bike will be good as is, but like our past uno-speed bikes--the Quickbeam (early 2000s) and SimpleOne (mid-2009 or so?), it'll be a playground for modifiers. It seems everybody LIKES THE IDEA of one speed, but once the limitations set in—keep in mind, won'tcha, that the limitation is supposed to be part of the appeal—yes, once the harsh realities of the limitations set in, humans inevitable try to add gears without adding traditional gears and derailers.

I did that (Antonio did the work, I put in the request) on this Platypus frame. I've been riding the everlovin' bejesus out of it for the past week, nosebreathing the whole time, of course, and it works great. Partly because I accept the limitations, I expect them, I DIG them. I wouldn't dig them as much or at all on a typical trail ride or a long group road ride, but solo riding tolerates gears both too high and not high enough, and huge-ish jumps between them. This bike is kind of like an internally geared (Sturmey-Archer type) three-speed, but with the visible, accessible, non-mysterious friendliness of external gears. In other words, if something happens funky, you can see it and fix it with naught but fingers.


Not your grandfather's three-speed.


What a good use for a 50-year old classic derailer with minimal capacity but lots of remaining life. Get it off the shelf, out of the box, and put that sucker onto a bicycle, like this. It doesn't de-rail anymore, but it takes up the chainslack created in shifting between the chainrings.


"Crane" became Dura-Ace the next year, 1974. 


THis has our 44x34x24 triple. The complete RoadUno bikes will probably come with a double and a chainguard. It's hard for US to pick your ideal gearing, but basically, if you live in a hilly area like I do, a triple beats a double. If your land is flat or you'll ride a normal geared bike in the hills, then two chainrings is enough. The complete RoadUnos will come with two rings, but no shifter or front derailer, and no rear derailer, but with "track-style" dropouts with a cable hanger. So multi-gearing it from one to two or three, is a minor DIY project.

 This is lime-olive. The RoadUno will be PurpleRiv Purple and a new ("Sergio") green.


I personally prefer grips 95mm to 100mm long, so I can shove brake levers and shifters (thumb shifters) back to free up hand-L-bar space for a good forward grip. I can PREFER that, but it's a minority opinion here. We generally, and to my consternation, make the grips 110mm to 125mm. They're not nuts, they have their reasons...but unless you specity a grip of a certain length, it'll be (by my odd standards) too long.


 Years ago I never would have allowed such an ugly front derailer on a bike, but in these post-pandemic years we're lucky to get it, and I love it. Nobody makes a good-looking front derailer. Not anymore. 

The trend in bicycle shifting is to one chainring, no front derailer, and an 11-, 12-, or 13-cog cassette, often with a big, 45t to 52t cog.

The formal name for this new kind of rig is “one-by-eleven (or 12, or 13),” shortened to “one-by and spelled “1x.” Manufactures and fans say it’s simpler than traditional drivetrains. That’s debatable, and it’s also a loose use of “simpler.”

 It’s visually simpler, because there’s no front shift lever or front derailer. For seventy-plus years front derailers and shifters have been recognized conveniences, but now they’ve been remarketed as complications.

But it's mechanically secretly complex.

To compensate for removing one or two chainrings, a shifter, and the front derailer, the drive-train designers upped the cog count in back to eleven, twelve, or thirteen. To maintain wheel strength (related to wheel symmetry and spoke angle and tension), they packed them in the same lateral space as nine. That required thinner cogs that don’t last as long, and packing them closer together. The more-cramped cogs required new shifters that don’t move the derailer as much per click, which then required new rear derailers calibrated to the new clicks.

 And, since there’s no front derailer to help keep the chain on the chainring when you’re bouncing out of control over bumps, the 1x rear derailers have an extra strong spring and a clutch that tensions the chain over bumps, but makes the chain laterally stiffer. A laterally stiff chain is harder to push to the next gear, but as long as you buy within the system, the 1x-compatible shifter addresses that.

 All in all, the 1x drivetrains are well-engineered, easy to use, and deliver all they claim to, but they are simple only in the same sense that an iPhone is simple; or the way that Bill Gates house where the light comes on when he claps his hands is “simple.”

They will continue to dominate, not because they’re better, but because their makers have stopped making the previous options. They’re also wiping out shifter and derailer design standards that were common to almost all models from everybody, and that will make maintaining and repairing pre-1x bicycles more difficult. My biggest concern is the future availability of front derailers. When you have two or three chainrings with 10-or-more teeth difference, it’s fun and easy and convenient to drop the chain from the big to a smaller ring, and get a dramatic result.

The overnight dominance of 1x will make it harder for a DIY-er to keep older bikes functional. That’s either another reason the manufacturers like them, or an oversight. The anti-front-derailer giants probably think it's a twofer.

We're co-working on front derailer, but it takes time. Still, it'll happen.







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