Time shifting in Louisville: 1950s derailleurs


Derailleurs displayed in The Kentucky Wheelmen booth at the 2015 Handmade Bicycle Show in Louisville.

It’s a deceptively simple thing, the rear derailleur: a mechanism that moves the chain from cog to cog at the rider’s command. But it took decades after the bike boom of the 1890s to arrive at a configuration we’d recognize today.

These derailleurs were built in France in the years around 1950. Five of them mount to the chain stay, forward of the freewheel, and operate without a parallelogram, the deformable rectangular structure that is today universal among mechanical derailleurs.

The one in the lower right features a parallelogram and mounts to the rear dropout, close to current practice, but it sports just one, not two, jockey wheels, which Disraeli Gears contends doomed it to uselessness.

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke contended that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. But once that technology ages, particularly when you’re dealing with the relatively transparent technology of a bicycle, the magic fades and disappears.

Today’s gear shifters work much better than these old French devices, but we expect precision. And precision is not the realm of the indefinable, the ineffable or the mysterious.

I’ve been told the speed and accuracy of Shimano’s Di2 derailleurs make them magical things. And they may be, to the extent that tight tolerances, electricity and hidden motors are magical.

But these old derailleurs (and earlier, three-speed hubs and Campy’s Cambio Corsa) were closer to the wizard’s wand.

Change gears on the go. Adapt your strength to the irregularities of the Earth itself. No stopping to move a chain by hand from one cog to another. No electricity. No motors. Just your desire and intent to change.

All you’re changing is gears, of course, but if you can change gears on a bicycle, what else might you be able to change, accept, improve or discover?

What magic might you find at the end of a derailleur cable?



Posted in Equipment | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Recycling the past: Specialized Expedition

specializedex15Here’s John Ringham the night he joined dozens of people to pedal Bushwhacker’s bicycle inventory from the old Metro Centre store to the new Junction City building. This is his personal bike: an early 1980s Specialized Expedition, complete with wingnut-secured Kirtland handlebar bag.


If Specialized reissued a modern version of this touring machine, it would sell them in no time. Note the three water bottle cages, hill-busting granny gear, chain stay-mounted generator (it’s below that plate that looks like it should bolt to a kickstand) and historic black-plate Vitesse Cycle Shop sticker. The front wheel has 36 spokes; the rear, 40.

specializedex18Time travelers rejoice. The SunTour MounTech derailleur–Disraeli Gears says it was the first derailleur designed for a mountain bike–is still on the job. Sure, it’s the first thing I’d replace, but it is a beautifully sculpted piece.


The bike’s ready for indoor training, too. Here’s the bracket for the Racermate wind trainer. Remove the Expedition’s rear rack, fit the Racermate fan assembly to the bracket (the fan rolls on top of the rear wheel) and attach the bicycle to a stationary base.

specializedex17A couple of parts survive simply because they’ve never been given a decent funeral. I’d put these popcorn gum hoods in that category.


Other components soldier on because they were built to last, like the SunTour bar-end shifters, or forgot to wear out, like the Grab On-style foam grips (but surely those aren’t original to the 1980s, are they, John?)

And, oh yeah, I still want an Expedition. Maybe something around a 54-centimeter frame?

Posted in Equipment, Other bicycles, Report from the road | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Frame building for credit at the University of Iowa

From left: Willy Tan, Man Ho (Billy) Cho, Tom Teasdale, Hailey Kurtz. Photo by Steve McGuire.

From left: Willy Tan, Man Ho (Billy) Cho, Tom Teasdale, Hailey Kurtz. Photo by Steve McGuire.

It’s obvious that before you display your work at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show you have to build a frame. In the United States, builders have learned their craft on their own, on their own using the Paterek manual, and sometimes under the gaze of an honest-to-gosh frame builder. But few learn to build in a college setting.

At the University of Iowa, students pick up college credit as they build frames in a course called Fabrication and Design: Hand Built Bicycle. The class attracts a wide variety of students, majoring in ceramics, computer science, engineering, English, accounting, whatever–somebody with one of those majors is likely to have built at least one frame, maybe more than one.

A student I met at the 2015 Handmade Bicycle Show in Louisville, Kentucky, pointed to his third bicycle, “the second one in titanium.”

Yeah, titanium.

Steve McGuire, a professor in the School of Art and Art History and endurance-event enthusiast, has taught the class since 2010. Up until mid-2014, he was often assisted by friend and mentor Tom Teesdale, who built bicycle frames in West Branch, Iowa. That’s when Tom died of a heart attack during The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI).

Obviously, Tom brought a lot of frame-building expertise to the class.

Tom really enjoyed teaching. And, students really enjoyed learning from Tom. Tom spent many more hours than might typically be the case working individually with students. Many times, students would make a trip to his shop. Tom imparted a sensibility of improvising–improvising fabrication and improvising with tools. This had students seeing that they were always in a position to solve novel problems.

I know Tom taught you how to build. Any other memories you’d care to share?

Tom and I traveled some years ago to Camp Courageous, a program in Monticello, Iowa, for students with disabilities. Tom had made some custom tadpole recumbent tandem trikes that allowed able-bodied and disabled riders to partner, and we brought them to Camp Courageous. We spent the day being tandem partners with various students. Tom was so completely present with each person.

Bees. Tom raised colonies of bees to produce honey. And many folks thought it was some of the best honey they had ever tasted. In the winter, Tom brought the hives into his shop and created a conduit system for the bees to travel. Bringing bees inside in the winter takes quite a bit of technical know-how to successfully pull it off. But he did it. “But he did it” is a way of understanding Tom.

Willy Tan discusses his Alex Singer-inspired creation.

Willy Tan discusses his Alex Singer-inspired creation. This and following pictures by Mitch Hull.

_DSC0353 2

Decades after going out of business, Mafac makes one wonder if they turned out a blue-million brakesets or if the same ones migrate from bike to bike. Rack provides handlebar-bag support.

Decades after going out of business, Mafac makes one wonder if it turned out a blue-million brakesets or if the same ones migrate from bike to bike. Rack provides handlebar-bag support.

I’m impressed by the variety of degrees pursued by your students. You seem to have successfully married art and science in your class. What is it about that marriage that is important to you?

Well, students in engineering have a keen desire to match their screen-based study with tool and fabrication skills. You’ll hear, “I decided to be an engineer because I wanted to build things, but I discovered that we don’t have much building practice.” Art students have, typically, good tool experience, but less experience interpreting geometry.

At its core, a beautiful frame is a well-built frame that implements lessons from the history of bicycle design and fabrication. I hope the course expands the definition of beautiful and allows students experience making something from their hands that they can use for years.

_DSC0057 2What does it take to complete the class successfully?

  • Project commitment. Students learn to TIG weld, and this can take 40 hours to get to a level where they can weld a frame. I tell them no one has not ever been able to weld, but it does take practice. Students also learn to braze. Historically, frame building often begins with brazing the first frame. But TIG welding is a more universal skill in terms of application. You don’t braze a trailer hitch, for instance; you weld it. So, we focus on TIG welding from the start. By the way, Tom taught himself to TIG while doing the first Fisher frames. At the time, people favored smooth, fillet-brazed joints. So what Tom did was TIG weld the miters and then fillet braze over them. He learned to do it well.
  • Patience. Good welds require tight miters, and tight miters mean repeating cuts and filing.
  • Basic knowledge of geometry. Interestingly, students are intrigued by the difference between conceptualization captured in a drawing and the physical placement of tubes in three dimensions where level, square and triangulation reveal success.
  • Attention to precision, not only detail. A cut that’s a half degree off and not corrected will compound as a problem.
  • Most important: A student who doubts their first measurement for a given cut typically arrives at the better success.

At the end of the semester each student has a completed frame, aligned, reamed and faced.

Single-chainring SRAM drivetrain showed up at the University of Iowa's booth and several others.

Single-chainring SRAM drivetrain showed up at the University of Iowa’s booth and several others.

Let’s talk about a bike you built: the single-speed fat bike. Could you tell me a bit about that design?

I built the bike for Arrowhead 135 in Minnesota, which I raced and finished this past January. The idea was to build a single-speed frame that would allow me to take gear, such as my bivy bag and stove, off the fork and place it more or less under me, since a punchy trail is a greater challenge with weight on the fork.

The frame is 135 millimeters longer than would otherwise be the case, which gives the bike greater directional stability on snow-covered trails cut up by multiple tracks. I needed to be able to track well with the single speed, because I couldn’t use gears to make up for the loss of momentum.

Extended chainstays on McGuires single-speed snow bike allow gear storage behind the seat tube, right above the chainstay. And yes, that's a titanium frame.

Extended chainstays on McGuires single-speed snow bike allow gear storage behind the seat tube, right above the chain stay. And yes, that’s a titanium frame.

McGuire's single-speed snow carver has two rear wheels, one of them on the front.

McGuire’s single-speed snow carver has two rear wheels, one of them on the front.

So, why single speed?

I’m 57 years old. It’s easier for me to do well in an event if I pace myself. On a single speed, if I’m going too fast for a sustainable effort, I run out of gear, which tells me to slow down. If I come to a hill too steep to pedal, I would probably end up walking even if I had gears.

Here’s how a typical event goes. At the start, 99 percent of the riders are probably in front of me. After 50 miles, I’ve passed a few of them. By mile 150, I’ve passed 70 percent of them, and it’s because I don’t overexert myself.

I haven’t ridden a geared bike in years. I like the overall efficiency of a single speed. And I’ve eliminated the possibility of breaking a derailleur hanger.

When I’m on a single speed, I’m always in the right gear, because it’s the only gear I have.

 Follow Iowa student-frame builders on Facebook.

The University of Iowa Museum of Art is curating the first, and what promises to be the annual, Iowa City Downtown District Handmade Bicycle Exhibition with the work of five frame builders exhibited in downtown businesses through May 25. Builders featured: James Bleakley, Kent Ericksen, Eric Noren, Steve Potts and Stephen Bilenky.

Posted in Becoming a bicycle, Equipment, Other bicycles, Report from the road | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

A memorable name. A memorable bike. Pedalino

One of the smaller booths at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show contained one of the newest builders.

One of the smaller booths at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show contained one of the newest builders. All photos by Mitch Hull.

If you ride a tandem or an old high-wheeler, you know the default comments you’re going to get on just about every ride.

On the former it’s some variation on, “Hey, I don’t think she’s pedaling back there.” (She is; she always is.) And on the latter it’s, “How’s the weather up there?” (Fine, but I’m not sure about the wind direction. Shall I spit and find out?)

Thoughtless comments, really. People trying to be clever, and all failing the exact same way.

And now I am one of those people.

Because I looked at Julie Ann Pedalino’s business card at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show and basically asked her if that was her real name.

Well guess what. It was. It is. And she was really, really nice about it.

Too nice, really, because you know three hundred other people probably asked her the same question. On the same day.

But let’s leave my thoughtlessness aside.

A clean build from head badge to rear dropouts.

A clean build from head badge to rear dropouts.

Julie Ann, an apprentice frame builder and mechanic at Velo+ in Lenexa, Kansas, was showing a really, really nice bike based on a fillet-brazed True Temper OX Platinum frame, complete with head tube badge and top tube accents she created with a jeweler’s saw.

Fillet brazing is used to assemble steel frames without using lugs. The builder joins the tubes, then continues to feed brazing rod around the intersection, eventually forming a smoothly curved transition from one tube to the other.

As in lugged construction, the builder strives to maintain the same temperature throughout the joint without overheating the tubes. However, it takes longer to complete a fillet-brazed joint, which puts a premium on one’s ability to maintain focus.

The technique comes in handy when lugs matching a frame’s dimensions aren’t available. It can also give the completed work an organic quality, as though it emerged from the steel mill as one continuous shape, not as separate tubes.

Unfortunately, once painted, bicycle frames tend to mask much of the work that go into them. (This is why Brompton offers an optional clear finish, to fully expose that brand’s “stack of dimes” brazing technique.) If Julie Ann’s frame somehow emerged from a major bicycle brand, I’d expect to see a sticker on the seat tube reading “This is Way Harder Than It Looks.”

Nice component choices, too.

Nice component choices, too.

I think she said this was her third frame. And while she eagerly credited her mentors at Velo+ for their guidance, all I could think was: Third frame. Fillet brazed. Pedalino.

Her skill and enthusiasm for the work are obvious–just check her Facebook page. That’s why I’m looking for her name on future builds.


Posted in Equipment, Other bicycles, Report from the road | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

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


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


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.


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.


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.

_DSC0062 2

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.

_DSC0068 2

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 , , , , | 4 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