The loneliness of the long-distance water bottle. Co-Motion in Louisville

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2015 Co-Motion Supremo. Open frame–no lateral tube. All photos on this page (except for the next one) by Mitch Hull.

side-view-tandem

My 2005 custom Co-Motion, based on the Speedster. Longer-than-normal stoker compartment bisected by the once-common lateral tube. The bike came with STI shifters; I moved to bar-end shifters when I installed V-brake levers. After this picture was taken, I installed 165 mm Da Vinci cranks with traditional square-taper bottom bracket spindles. Next on the to-do list: replacing the bar-ends and V-brake levers with Gevenalle integrated shifters.

I emailed Co-Motion’s Dwan Shepard before the North American Handmade Bicycle Show to ask him what he wanted to accomplish with his display. He wrote, “We’re showing what we actually do every day here: Really nicely made bikes with well-established provenance, purpose, form and craftsmanship.”

Mission accomplished. The Co-Motion team set up a display of single and tandem bicycles that was open to foot traffic on all sides, which allowed show visitors to converge on the scene from all angles.

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Co-Motion Robusta

The show was also proof that my 2005 tandem, if not totally out of date, is increasingly datable. That’s because my bike, custom sized but based on the Speedster, has a lateral tube–the tube that runs from the head tube to the rear bottom bracket. Lateral tubes on 2015 tandems? Nowhere to be seen.

(By the way, the new Speedster, more touring oriented than mine, comes with 700 x 35 tires–and fender clearance. My tandem came with 700 x 28 tires, and after those tires wore out, I replaced them with 700 x 32, so, no more fender clearance for me.)

Deleting the lateral tube was a slow evolution for the company. It started when the super-adjustable Periscope tandem launched in 2001, 2002. That bike never had a lateral tube, probably because the stoker’s seat tube was so short.

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Co-Motion Java. 29 x 1.9 tires (48-622).

“It sort of opened our eyes to different way of looking at how we could build a tandem frame,” Dwan said. “The next one we introduced was the Macchiato–basically taking that no-lateral idea and thinking how much material can we take away–how light can we make a tandem. So we made it out of aluminum and designed it for pure performance. Then, as we introduced new models, we worked in more no-lateral bikes.”

Happy customer with Co-Motion's Dwan Shepard.

Happy customer with Co-Motion’s Dwan Shepard.

Of course, Co-Motion did more than simply remove a tube. Larger-diameter tubes keep the bikes from turning into flexible flyers. The visual result, at least to my eye, is super clean.

And that’s even though the decals got bigger along with the frame tubes. If nothing else, it makes it easier to know exactly what brand of bicycle is passing you at the Midwest Tandem Rally. Another benefit? If you’re thinking about a tandem with S&S frame couplers, your build takes four couplers, not six, which keeps the weight down and speeds packing and unpacking.

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Belt drive cross over connects the front and rear cranks; big graphics connect with everyone else on the road. The stoker’s second bottle bolts on here, behind the captain’s seat tube.

If there’s any downside to the no-lateral design, it’s the inaccessibility of the stoker’s second water bottle, which ends up behind the captain’s seat tube. Dwan said he felt that retaining the original position of the bottle was a poor reason to have an extra tube in the bike.

If it were me, I’d bolt the cage to the stoker’s handlebars. That is, if the stoker would let me, which she absolutely would not.

At least one customer had Co-Motion move the second bottle under the top tube. If you’re considering the same solution, keep in mind that you’ll need a really strong water bottle cage–or get used to stopping every once in a while to pull your bottle out of the ditch.

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Co-Motion sells single bikes alongside its tandems. Love the clean lines and graphics of this Nor’Wester.

 

Posted in Co-Motion tandem, Equipment, Report from the road | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What can you learn from Shimano? Ask Bushwhacker’s Robert Woo

Shimano TEC classroom work focuses on the newest technology. But when you get back home, you still have to build the next bicycle in line.

When Shimano let Robert Woo loose on its 11-speed Di2 electronic system, the Bushwhacker mechanic from Peoria, Illinois, connected the front and rear derailleurs of the bike on his stand to eight shifters. And the derailleurs worked as though Shimano had purposely designed the drivetrain for a bicycle-bound Vishvarupa.

Woo recently spent two days in the company’s Irvine, California, facility, studying Shimano’s latest technology as part of the Shimano TEC (Technical Education and Certification) program. While many mechanics are familiar with the web-based component of the program, you have to complete a number of web modules to be considered for classroom training, according to Woo.

You don’t just go to Irvine and study the latest products from Shimano with the pros; before you go, you spend hours each week in online training, too.

“There were 15 people in the class and only about 15 or 20 classes are held each year, so not a lot of people get to do it,” he said.

“It was a lot of fun, but there was a lot of information coming out, too. They wanted to premier the new 11-speed electronic drivetrain, and they wanted us to be familiar with how to set up the mapping. You can do a lot with Di2 that you can’t do with a mechanical system.

“B junctions accommodate your battery, your rear derailleur, your front derailleur and the shifter mounts. You can add several B junctions, so I elected to stack them on and see how many shifters I could put on a bike. It was amazing. Shifters on handlebars, aero bars. I took one of the climber shifters and made a downtube shifter with it.”

Shimano shared some relatively simple ideas, too, like using the right screwdriver for the job. If you use a Phillips on Shimano components, you may notice it has a tendency to cam out of position.

Tired of screwdrivers camming out? Japanese screws take JIS screwdrivers.

Tired of screwdrivers camming out? Japanese screws take JIS screwdrivers.

The reason? The Phillips is the wrong screwdriver. What you want is a Japanese Industry Standard (JIS) screwdriver. According to Woo, radio-control and electronic enthusiasts have known about JIS for a long time, but frustrated bike mechanics, unaware of the Japanese standard, tend to upgrade to more expensive Phillips drivers, thinking that will solve the problem.

It won’t.

Chain maintenance? Shimano recommends caution. Clean the outside of the chain, yes, but don’t wash out the grease on the inside. Doing so may accelerate chain wear, even after reapplying lube. By the way, Shimano makes no recommendations on chain lube brands. So, go ahead and use your favorite.

“It was very humbling to meet the other people in the class. A gentleman from Texas made his own Di2 switches from CatEye computer buttons. He was building his own fat bikes with two rims laced together for width. I think some people are doing this sort of stuff simply because they can. They have the technical ability to think about it and the time.

No Di2 in the build schedule today.

No Di2 in the build schedule today.

“Over the years, you face a lot of new products. Like the new mechanical side-swing XTR front derailleur. The cable doesn’t wrap around the bottom bracket. It runs along the downtube and then straight to the anchor bolt. It’s designed to handle the chain angle that comes with a 42-tooth rear cog, and the cage is replaceable. Pretty neat.

“I’ve got my notebook here with hours of little stuff that I picked up in California. But the training was also an affirmation that we do a lot of things right.”

Posted in Equipment | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Loose Screws Bicycle Parts. The past has a future again

Typical parts storage at Loose Screws, now located in Irvine, California.

Typical parts storage at Loose Screws, now located in Irvine, California.

Back when Schwinn was a Chicago-based company, Schwinn dealers had drawers and drawers of small parts. Limit screws for derailleurs. Springs for sidepull brakes. Nuts, washers, axles and cones for hubs. If you owned a Schwinn, your dealer offered all the parts support you needed.

If you didn’t own a Schwinn, finding small parts was more of a challenge.

One of your options was to order what you needed through the mail, and the best-known parts retailer in the United States was probably Loose Screws, which eventually translated its home-grown paper-based granola appeal to the Internet.

I thought the firm was headed for the compost pile back in 2012, but that was before Steven Arlint stepped in and bought the company.

 Everything in your life led up to the moment you bought this business. How did that happen?

I started off in engineering, and I will always be doing engineering work in one form or another. Aircraft, medical, computers–just about anything, really.

Loose Screws is a part-time arrangement for myself and two other guys who help out with sales. We’re all excited about bicycles, new and old, though there is a specific attraction to simple, classic designs.

My first real bicycle was a Diamondback Viper BMX bike I had as a kid. In high school and college I had a 1985 Trek 420, before I really even knew what that was. Great bike, but I outgrew it. It was always a little too small.

Later in life, I tried to go more the way that industry marketers would have wanted me to go: lighter weight, lots of gears and carbon fiber. I bought into the racing hype a little too much.

I kept going that way, until I had an accident that wider tires could have saved me from, and I broke my arm. That alone was enough to turn me toward simpler solutions in bicycling, and I’ve kept it up ever since.

My main bike these days is a 1989 Trek 520. I know that any mountain bike has even wider tires, so the causal link isn’t necessarily there 100 percent.

What exactly did you buy? How much brand equity was left after the going-out-of-business sales?

At its core, a bunch of NOS inventory was bought. Think of it as centered around the 1989 Shimano parts catalog and working out from there.

The Shimano parts make up a good amount of what we have. In addition to that, we have a moderate selection of Campagnolo, SR, Suntour, Dia Compe, and Huret small parts.

Finally, we have some odds and ends from just about every manufacturer–parts from 1978 to 1998, with a couple of newer pieces here and there. A lot of the parts have never made their way to the website.

Brand equity has stayed level. This shows in the web traffic. It’s a bit of a niche market. Everyone else just got larger since the 2000s.

That’s not really a problem, and we’ll roll out some new products over time, like the Panaracer 27 x 1 3/8 touring tires we introduced shortly after re-opening.

What was the move from Ashland, Oregon, to Irvine, California, like? One full van? Did you move it all yourself?

One full-enough 26-foot U-Haul. I would have preferred Penske so I could gas up with diesel at truck stops, but Penske was too far away to pick up.

It was one crazy day on the road and very tiring. I got all of the truck driving I care to for the next year or so. But I did have ample help on both ends with the loading and unloading.

There’s this thing called the Internet that didn’t exist when I was getting paper catalogs from Oregon. I really like the blog entries—how else are you building the business and reaching out to prospects?

The good news is that the Internet is a really huge place. The market is where it’s at for a reason, and Loose Screws is bucking the general direction for bicycles. But we won’t compromise what we do.

If we win more than 0.1 percent of riders to our more classic ways, we’re doing fantastic. I think it’s in line with what other similar classic-themed bicycle businesses are doing.

Advertising is slowly ramping up, but we’re casting a wide net. There will be some Google advertising rolling out as well as, perhaps, some specific website ads. There is also a focus on reaching out to local bike shops and riding groups.

Where we're going, we don't need roads. Steve Arlint pilots his Trek 520.

Where we’re going, we don’t need roads. Steve Arlint pilots his Trek 520.

Are there enough old-tech riders out there to support your business?

There are, and new ones are trickling in at a good-enough rate. Right now, we’re serving a mix of frame builders, classic collectors and enthusiasts, and riders who want to simplify life a bit. We also provide great customer support for restoration projects.

For new customers, it’s easier if we can attract riders before the established industry does. Once someone is riding 11-speed rear clusters with robot shifting, we’re a difficult sell.

I have been asked about bicycling by a couple of friends looking to get into riding, and at that early point, it is so easy to say, “Yeah, five to eight gears in the rear will do good. Size the frame a little big but tolerable. Tires as wide as possible. Racks, panniers and wool are a good thing, and down-tube shifting is really the only way.”

I’ll add that bar-cons are also good, as are stem mounts and thumbies.

I’m a bit surprised by the number of loose cogs on the site. Given the variety of cogs and spacers, seems like you’d get a lot of returns. Is this a satisfying or frustrating part of the business?

Not a single return since reopening, mostly thanks to Sutherland manuals, Shimano catalogs and in-shop trial and error.

The other part of success here is that we do the re-cogging as a service. No labor cost; customers just pay for the cogs and spacers. They send in their freewheels, and we recog and add spacers as needed to meet their requirements. Sometimes, only a single cog is required, and that saves money.

Loose Screws came with a ton of loose cogs. Much of the inventory was never listed online, and much of it remains to be listed.

Gearing is my favorite part of fitting together parts here. It’s what the blog centers on more than other areas. We support both freewheels and cassettes.

Cassettes have their advantages; that is known. There are also good cases for freewheels as long as axle loading and spacing is kept reasonable. The brand mix and match options for a given freewheel hub are nice.

But changing equipment too drastically is a pain. That’s why we want to keep old stuff running as long as possible.

Personally, I rode 5,000 miles this past year on the same HG91 chain and 13-24 6-speed Shimano 600 Uniglide cassette. That’s a long time for a cassette that still behaves well. Time will tell how much more I get out of it before I flip the cogs over. I lubricate the chain with Finish Line, Turtle Wax and/or olive oil.

Old parts won’t last forever. Where will parts come from in the future?

We have to run out of stuff first! Chains are the first item we’re looking at. When we have a chain supplier figured out, we’ll stick with that one for many years–same thing with loose ball bearings.

For other parts, we may have them made or move to simpler solutions. For example, if we manage to stock out of down-tube shifters, we would really look at getting the best bang-for-the-buck type, something equivalent in spirit to 600 EX, and have just that one model.

The good news is that screws and cones still have good modern exchange. Screws are commodity hardware, so we can make that work easily enough. There will always be something that just happens to fit, and that’s where we’ll come in.

The Loose Screws selection used to seem a little catch-as-catch-can. For instance, lower cradle plates for Ritchey and C Record seat posts, but no upper plates. How do you determine what and how much to stock?

In the past, it may have been that way. I can see that as catch-as-catch can. That won’t be so much the case going forward.

There are too many companies undercutting each other on things like seat posts and stems and having massive stockpiles and carrying costs. Other parts as well. Over time, we’ll trim what doesn’t make sense for us.

Also, we have the Campy upper cradle plate, it just hasn’t been listed yet. I just pieced together a 25.0 mm Record seat post for a Vitus frame.

I remember reading that there is something like 700,000 bicycle parts in existence. We may have 3,000 line items with about a quarter of them on the website. We do the best we can.

Some of the items you have seem like they could stay on the shelves for years. For instance, what are the chances you’d ever sell a Shimano Dyna Drive right crank arm, let alone the three you have in stock?

That is a very good point, and yes, I too had a good laugh over the Dyna Drive crank arms. You’re talking about the three we have in 170 mm. Don’t forget we also have one in 165mm. Something for everybody, right?

There are a couple of ideas in the works for parts like this. The main point is to complete a set or come close. I missed a NOS Dura Ace Dyna Drive left arm on Ebay. That could have helped. Crank arms do get messed up or fused to spindles, so that is another avenue.

Dyna Drive aside, the rest of our crank arms can be answered by 170mm being 170mm for Shimano. I’ve used close cranks for thrashing mountain-bike builds. It’s pretty forgiving across Sport LX, Mountain LX, the flavors of Exage, and regular Deore.

Give it time. I found an unlisted box of right Shimano 105 down-tube shifters to match the left ones we have listed.

The Loose Screws story began in California and now continues there. Irvine, California pictured.

The Loose Screws story began in California and now continues there. Irvine, California pictured.

You sound pretty confident about the future of older bikes.

I think that older bikes will be supported for a very long time, just in a limited scope. There will always be something modern that can be fitted and be reasonable.

That’s where the semi-retro companies come in. There are companies reproducing old-style high wheel bicycles. There will always be something for all tastes, but the main theme of cycling, high-end carbon road, is not going to change anytime soon.

Unless, that is, a future Tour De France is held on English three-speeds. Then, three-speed shops will pop up all over the country. There will be a high-end three-speed magazine, Hercules hubs will be revived and compete head on with Sturmey Archer for winning placement on the Alpe de Huez. That would really be something!

Tell me a bit more about those semi-retro companies.

Compass hubs are very nice. Jan Heine is doing the right things for cycling and a fantastic job of keeping heritage alive. His blog also teaches me what good writing is supposed to be like.

I feel the same about Velo Orange, good products.

I did not know about Gevenalle until recently. That brake-mounted shifter solves many of my own concerns about STI, and the price is good, though I’d still take down-tube shifters as my choice, and cyclocross with them, tour, or river cross–whatever happens to be up for the day. The Gevenalle custom derailleurs are very smart products.

I hope these companies and Loose Screws can capture more of the market over time.

If not, I have a hard time imaging what comes in the current direction after 11-speed rear clusters and robot shifting, which I’ve heard can tie to phone apps now.

I guess a 1×12 and 1×13 on 135 mm spacing, robot shifting that ties to the power meter and GPS data, and off-loading on-bike computing resources to the cloud for faster calculations of shift points. We need to start allocating server space now :).

[Ed.: And then there’s SRAM Boost with 110 mm fronts and 148 rears…]

Two last questions. First, how do you define success for the new Loose Screws?

We keep growing slowly over time. In a couple of decades, the next generation takes over, and it propagates itself some more. Also, getting in a leading bicycle magazine without buying ad space would be cool.

…and what’s bicycling like around Loose Screws’ new digs?

Bicycling in Orange County is fantastic: roughly 150 miles of bike lanes and 50 miles of dedicated path. Then there’s the declared Open Space. There are dirt paths that connect all over, down to Dana Point and beyond.

It’s chill, and relaxing. Some days are geared towards fitness, but much is about riding with friends and going for a beer afterwards.

Posted in Business, Equipment, History, Other bicycles | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Grow your own bicycle frame

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Photo by Melanie Martin

Photo by Melanie Martin

Photo by Melanie Martin

Submitted for your consideration: two bicycles in Vietnam. The bike on the top, the one with the cashew-meets-elf-hat saddle, has a steel frame decorated with bamboo. The bike on the bottom has an honest-to-gosh, structural bamboo frame.

The bike on the top is for display, something to catch your attention as you shop. The bike on the bottom is road ready. And it’s nowhere close to being unique, judging by similar bicycles here, here and here.

Why build a bicycle out of bamboo? Maybe because it’s natural. Or you live near a bamboo field. Or you lost a bar bet.

I take that back. Maybe you’re trying to win a bar bet.

Or maybe, just maybe, you build with bamboo for the oldest reason that’s not really a reason at all: because you can. Or for the second oldest reason: because you think you can.

Amazing the difference one word can make.

Posted in Other bicycles | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Take-five bicycles. The wish list

Cruisers are great near Mission Beach, but it was a lot easier climbing the hill behind Metro Cyclery on a six-speed Brompton. This is Bill Tracy's personal commuter, complete with front generator hub and lights.

Quick. Imagine a bicycle.

Is your bicycle the same as the one I dreamed up?

Maybe. Maybe not.

If your idea of a bicycle includes a carbon-fiber frame, electronic derailleurs and the latest in ridiculous bottom-bracket standards, rest assured that wasn’t the one I had in mind. Neither was I thinking about this upright, back-to-back tandem.

Nonetheless, it’s your imaginary bike. Enjoy.

But why stop at just one? Liberally applied, the term bicycle covers a number of human-propelled ideas, and all of your favorites will fit on a piece of paper. It’s not like you’re spending money.

So, what’s on your wish list? Here’s my take-five memo in no particular order:

Brompton. Made in London for around 30 years, this folding bicycle with 16-inch wheels offers one of the best combinations of rideability and compact storage. The interesting thing about the company isn’t that it continues to grow from its high-labor, high-rent base; it’s that its competitors never really intruded on its design brief. I’ll take the original M-style handlebar for an upright riding position, but I’d be happy with a 2-speed, 3-speed or 6-speed drivetrain. (Something a bit larger and less expensive? Okay. How about a Tern with 20-inch wheels?)

Volae Expedition recumbent. Comfortable, reduced wind resistance and an elegantly simple frame that accommodates a variety of tire widths. Good visibility in town. Brand originated by the Hostel Shoppe folks in Wisconsin. Steel backbone frame by Waterford.

Wide, 650B wheels fitted to an older Motobecane. Flotation is so very French.

Wide, 650B wheels fitted to an older Motobecane. Flotation is so very French.

650B-wheeled bicycle. The beauty of a high-end wish list is that the sky’s the limit. You don’t spend money to create it. It’s just a list. However, the more reasonable the price of the bicycle I’m not buying (yet), the more attainable it seems to be. That’s why I’m not specifying a chrome finish. The only problem with this bike–featuring generator lights, fenders, rack and less all-up weight than my Fisher–is that I’m particular about the seat-tube angle. I know I’m 5-foot-7, but something in 72, 73 degrees, somebody. Otherwise, I’ll have to think custom. And that’s even more money I’m not spending any time soon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGreenspeed GT-3 recumbent tricycle. Comfort, stability, conservative steel frame, and I don’t currently own anything from an Australian company (frame built in Taiwan). There’s nothing like coming up to a stop sign without putting a foot down. This is civilization for those in a reclining frame of mind. It’s not the fastest recumbent in the world, but I’m not the fastest rider, either. (I would also consider a Florida-made Catrike or UK-based ICE. Talk me into it.)

Victory ordinary. I used to own an 1880s-style bicycle. It was made for me by a gentleman in Indiana named Kennedy, who also sold tiring based on the original formula. (During one visit, he showed me you really can balance a quarter on the antique hood of an idling  Rolls-Royce. Good times.)

10003898_864648686892836_5871425484533033503_nI love the simplicity of this design. No chains, no freewheel, no chainring, no air-filled tires. The front brake is a curved piece of metal that slaps down on the smooth red tread. It’s the right brake for the job. A more powerful one would cause you to pivot around the front hub and land on your face.

You don’t know riding a bicycle in the rain until you pedal a 50-inch front wheel across Peoria’s Franklin Street Bridge. However, since that bridge is no more, I suppose you could recreate the feel by pedaling across a stretch of mirror-smooth ice on a breezy day. Just be sure to take your lane and prepare for a left-hand turn before you return to dry pavement.

I sold the Kennedy years ago to buy a tandem. The Florida-built Victory looks to be of high quality, true to both 19th-century design and 21st-century metallurgy. (Alternative in a pinch: a homemade tall bike.)

Final note: I didn’t get carried away here. No mention of an electric bike, a fat bike, a cargo bike, an electric fat cargo bike or a unicycle. Those are entries for the Next Five list (though the unicycle is seductively affordable).

Hey, you have to draw the line somewhere.

Posted in Brompton, Other bicycles, Tern Bicycles | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Picture Mitch: Four photography tips for people who ride bicycles

Photo by Mitch Hull

Photo by Mitch Hull

Can’t wait for tips? They’re at the end of the story. But hang in there with me…

The first thing I did when I caught up to Mitch Hull back in 2012 was to take pictures of his Boxer Camponneur.

Turns out Mitch has some pretty nice cameras. He spent half a decade shooting pictures of buildings, lab equipment, food and people for one employer, did a few weddings–“the stress is not something I really need any more”–and processed photos on a 24-inch HP Designjet 130.

Photo by Mitch Hull

Photo by Mitch Hull

Tell me about that printer.

A U.S. photographer based in Paris said the Designjet 130 has the deepest blacks of any printing process. I used it to print a couple of 8-foot by 2-foot panoramas around the house. But I’m really not pursuing that business anymore. The food process improvement work at Kellogg, bike riding, home maintenance and family life take up my time.

Photo by Mitch Hull

Photo by Mitch Hull

What kind of camera do you carry?

I used to carry film and an Olympus OM-1 SLR with a wide-zoom tele lens in a handlebar bag on any ride that I thought might have interesting possibilities. I remember one time riding in a huge double paceline on DALMAC and sprinting ahead to stop and shoot the peloton from the front. Don’t have that kind of speed anymore!

Photo by Mitch Hull

Photo by Mitch Hull

These days, I carry a Canon SX260 with a 24-300 zoom equivalent lens–way better than my iPhone 5, and I love both the decent wide angle and the ability to zoom to a distant subject. Fits perfectly in a rear-facing outside pocket of the Berthoud bag.

I’ve also carried a Nikon D90 with 16-85 zoom on a few occasions.

I really don’t like the phone cameras I’ve used. The apps are cumbersome and slow to release the shutter, you have to use two hands, they’re not very wide-angle, digital zoom is lousy, etc. But I also know that the best camera is the one you have with you.

Photo by Mitch Hull

Photo by Mitch Hull

Any photography tips?

Sure. Get a bike into your shots to show it’s a bike ride. Don’t center the subject. A great photo has good light, subject and composition–you need all three! And don’t wait for the primo shot to present itself–you’ll miss the images you’ll later want.

20120415_0726You’ll find the latest pictures of Mitch Hull’s fully chromed Boxer Camponneur here, here and here.

Posted in Equipment, Other bicycles | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Chroming the Boxer: Jack Trumbull makes it shine

The area behind the bottom bracket requires extra attention to ensure the layers of nickel and chrome adhere.

The area behind the bottom bracket takes extra attention to ensure the layers of nickel and chrome adhere. Photo by Mitch Hull.

Mitch Hull sent his Boxer Camponneur to Franklin Frames of Newark, Ohio. The owner and sole employee is Jack Trumbull, who has been building, repairing and refinishing bicycle frames since 1976. I called him to get a few insights into the chroming process.

What makes chrome different than paint?

Triple-plated chrome is electrically applied. The current is negative on the frame and positive on the anode. You dip the frame in copper, then nickel, then chrome.

I specify double-plated chrome, which is a layer of nickel, then chrome. I prefer double plating, reason being the more layers you add, you lose definition, those crisp edges around the lugs. The nickel is the primer. The frame stays in there 40, 50 minutes. The chrome is the hard part. It goes in for 15, 20 minutes.

The Compass tail light is a new addition to the Boxer. Photo by Mitch Hull.

The Compass tail light is a new addition to the Boxer. Photo by Mitch Hull.

So you don’t use copper?

When you do a restore of a 1960s, 1970s frame and it’s really rusty, you can’t just polish it out. Then I go to copper, just in the pits, to bring them even to the surface of the tube.

How do you prep a painted frame for chrome?

When I send a frame to the plater, it looks exactly like when I get it back. It takes hours and hours of polishing. It has to be perfectly clean. No residual paint, no anything. The plating will only adhere where the electrical current flows.

There may be no better protected position for a tail light
than between the seat tube and the seat stays.
Jan Heine talks about the Compass tail light.

The bare frame has to look just like chrome because if there’s a bump, it will show up in the chrome. I use air tools and cartridge sanding rolls. I use different grits to get the scratches out and finish with jewelers rouge to get the high finish.

If the frame has any stainless steel parts, you have to seal them. The Boxer has a stainless steel chain hanger, and the internal cable routing is also stainless.

What can go wrong with chroming?

BoxerChainHanger1

Photo by Mitch Hull.

I’ve seen plenty of botched jobs. Somebody takes a frame to a bumper shop, they add a 16th of an inch of copper—too much plating—it’s just a mess. I weighed one frame at seven pounds. [Ed.: Good quality steel frames weigh between 3 and 5 lbs.]

If you just want to chrome the head lugs, you dip the front half of the frame. But sometimes you can see the edge of the chrome through the paint. My plater uses an oscillator to move the piece up and down in the bath to avoid that transition.

I guess it’s harder to chrome in tight spots, too.

The hardest part to plate is behind the bottom bracket and between the seat stays. The current makes a halo effect around the bridge. To get around that, you use an auxiliary anode. You fit rubber bushings into the bottom bracket and a little finger with the auxiliary anode that goes into the tight spot.

What if somebody comes to you with a chrome frame? How do you remove the old chrome?

The plater runs the current in reverse to remove the chrome and nickel. If it’s triple-plated, he sends it to a secondary plater to remove the copper.

You have to dip the frame in a cyanide bath to remove the copper. There aren’t a lot of platers who can do the work. Every year, there are fewer and fewer of them. Prices are going up and a lot of platers are going under because of regulations.

 

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Photo by Mitch Hull.

How much weight does your chroming process add to a frame?

Oh, I don’t know, couple of ounces maybe. Reynolds 531 tubing used to have a tiny embossing on one end of the tube. After chroming, you could still read it.

How do people find about you?

I don’t do the trade show circuit. Been there, done that. I’ve got the website, and I get a fair amount of return business—and from Classic Rendezvous. I build more bikes for other brands than my own. And I do more painting than frame building. Last year I did 300 repaints.

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