Wednesday, February 22, 2017


I had a day off from work this week and took it as a good opportunity to lace together a new set of wheels. The intent of these wheels is that they be an extra special set of lightweight, high performance tubulars - like the kind of wheels I would have oohed and ahhed over when I was younger. I've mentioned some of my components in earlier posts: Campagnolo Record Hi-Lo hubs, and Mavic Monthlery Legere rims. As far as I can tell, the hubs were new-old-stock. I opened them up to pack fresh grease into them and found no signs of use on the races and cones, and the flanges don't seem to have any of typical signs of having been built before (I was told by the seller they were NOS, but it wouldn't have been the first time an eBay seller misrepresented an auction item). My rims, likewise, were unused. I selected 36 holes for the rear wheel, and 32 for the front. That made finding a matching pair of rims a little more difficult, but I eventually got what I needed.

For my spokes, I've always built with DT, but this time I decided to try Sapim 14/15g butted spokes. I've heard good things about the Sapims, and they were a little less expensive than the corresponding DTs.

As always, before I start building wheels, I refresh my memory by reviewing Jobst Brandt's excellent book, The Bicycle WheelSheldon Brown's article on wheelbuilding is a good reference for anyone who doesn't have a copy of Brandt's book.

When I start building, I like to gather all my tools and supplies. Truing stand, spoke wrenches, flat-bladed screwdriver - and for later, a dishing tool. Since my last wheel build, I also added a spoke tension gauge to my tool collection. I keep my spokes separated or bundled and labelled while I'm building so I don't mix them up. There are three lengths: the longest spokes are for the front wheel, the second longest go on the left side of the rear wheel, while the shortest spokes go on the drive side of the rear wheel.

Jobst Brandt makes it pretty clear that there is no strength advantage to wheels built using the Hi-Lo rear hub, despite the folklore that surrounds them. He doesn't refer to any disadvantage except for one - that it makes inserting some of the spokes into the small flange more difficult. In a typical wheel build, spokes are either in-bound or out-bound in each flange. That is, they are either inserted from the outside of the flange, or they are inserted from the inside of the flange in an alternating pattern. When inserting the in-bound spokes through the small flange in a Hi-Lo hub, the builder has to bend or flex the spokes quite a bit so that they'll clear the large flange on the opposite side. Once that little hurdle is clear, the rest of the job is no more difficult than any other build. For the out-bound spokes on the small flange, it's pretty easy to feed them through the big oval-shaped cutaways in the large flange to get them through the small flange in a straight shot. If the large flange doesn't have those big cutaways (as on the old Phil Wood or Hi-E versions of the Hi-Lo hubs), then I have to admit it would be annoyingly difficult. It's worth mentioning that lacing spokes into the large flange is a breeze -- probably easier than with "normal" symmetrical hubs.

From Saint Sheldon Brown: "It is customary to orient the rim so that the label is readable from the bicycle's right side. If the hub has a label running along the barrel, it should be located so that it can be read through the valve hole. These things will not affect the performance of the wheel, but good wheelbuilders pay attention to them as a matter of pride and aesthetics." Nailed it.

I've heard of people doing crazy things like mixing patterns on the left and right sides, but that gets a bit advanced for me. I know a lot of people love to use 4-cross on large flange hubs, but that gets the spoke heads and elbows overly crowded on a small flange. A traditional, straightforward 3-cross (on both sides) was fine for me.

One thing I noticed about the butted Sapim spokes is that the butted sections are really short -- less than an inch at the elbow end, and shorter still at the nipple end. 

I still have some final tensioning and truing to do on the wheels, so I'm waiting for another day when I have the time and ability to focus my attention on the task. Then comes the (sometimes) messy task of gluing on tires. . . another time.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

New Workshop Find

What do libraries and bicycles have in common?

Nothing, actually, unless you count this awesome new storage addition I found for my bicycle work area. 

My wife works in the Kent State University library, where, over the years, everything has been converted over to digital records. So one day recently, she found a couple of workers in the Special Collections department hauling this old card catalog cabinet out to the trash dumpster. Being that both my wife and I have always been avid readers and library users, we have long had a nostalgic fondness for the old-fashioned card catalog files. She asked if she could keep it, and they of course had no objections.

The cabinet was too large to fit in her car, so we had to drive out to her office on the weekend with our station wagon to bring it home.

Funny thing - as the two of us were hauling this thing out of the library, a thought occurred to me: how would anybody "official" know that we were actually authorized to take this thing - or that we weren't just stealing it? So, just as that thought pops into my head, some very nosy woman notices us and starts following us. Before we can get out, she asks where we think we're going. Apparently she believed my wife, or at least decided it wasn't worth the trouble to verify her story, because she let us leave with it.

After getting it home, I needed to make some space for it, and build some kind of bench to hold it. That was an afternoon's project. The new bench includes a shelf underneath which will be perfect for holding some extra boxes, or large tools like my bench grinder seen below.

One drawer will hold four freewheels - or twice that if I stack 'em.
I have a pretty good collection of spare parts - like freewheels, bottom brackets, headsets, etc. that I'll be able to file away in the cabinet's many drawers. Before I can really put it to use, however, I'll have to modify the drawers a bit. The drawers don't have a completely solid bottom - there is a large "slot" or "gap" about 1½ inches wide running the length of each drawer. They could be fine for larger items, or boxed items, but small items would fall right through. If I carefully trim some thin pressboard, masonite, or the like, to fit across the full bottom of the drawers, they'll work well for all kinds of bicycle parts.

I'll make the modifications to the drawers, and then I can start filling this thing up with spares. What a cool find!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Bike Safety 101: Police Safety Council Bicycle Death Manual

Ahh, the 1950s. A simpler, more innocent time of sock hops and drive-ins, pig-tailed girls in their poodle skirts and saddle shoes, boys in letterman jackets, pompadours and penny loafers, and Greasers with hearts of gold. Bill Haley and the Comets were rockin' 'round the clock. We liked Ike.

Oh, wait -- that was Happy Days.

The communist-fearing McCarthyist reality is probably a bit more complicated. The '50s hid a lot of ugliness under that scrubbed and sparking, lily-white suburban surface.

This particular copy was distributed by the Stark County
Sheriff's Dept. in Ohio - but the manuals were available all
over America, "personalized" for various localities.
Automobiles had been taking over the American roads for several decades, but in post-WWII America, the conquest became complete. The Axis powers surrendered to the U.S. in 1945 -- and soon after, the American people surrendered to the automobile. During the war, travel by bicycle made a brief resurgence, but by the 1950s, it was a fact of life that bicycles were for kids. Adults drove cars.

The dominance of the automobile can be seen clearly in the safety films and educational materials of the day. In the Bike Safety 101 series, I've looked at a lot of safety education films from that era, but today I thought I'd share a classic bit of anti-bicycling propaganda disguised as helpful safety advice: a 1953 Bicycle Death Safety Manual, brought to you by the fine folks of the Police Safety Council.

I've been searching to find out more about the Police Safety Council, but figuring out who exactly they were is difficult. All I know for sure is that they were located in Milwaukee and published a variety of safety manuals and pamphlets for American school children in the 1950s, and probably at least through the 1960s - and distributed them through local police and sheriff's departments across the country. There was a similar group called the Police Safety League, as well as a National Safety Council. With their similar missions, it's possible that these various groups merged into one over time, but I have nothing with which to substantiate that hunch. The safety manuals from these groups are all basically the same in that they all propagate virtually identical messages:

- Bicycles are for children.
- Riding a bicycle will get you killed.
- If a kid dies on a bicycle, it's always the kid's own fault
- Drivers are not responsible, nor should they be held responsible, for the deaths they inflict.
- Anyone who has any sense of self-preservation will get a driver's license and a car as soon as possible (and never look back).

"Plenty of speed -- no thought of danger."
Just think about some of the ironies in the message. First, there's the obvious contradiction that bicycles are considered toys for kids, yet they are depicted as horrible death traps. Yes - we love our kids so much that we give them toys that we believe will kill them.

Then there's the contradiction that a bicycle is a "means of transportation," and riders are responsible for following the rules of the road - yet the message one gets from these manuals is almost like a bicycling version of the Dred Scott decision -- a cyclist has no rights that an auto driver is compelled to respect. If the cyclist's rights conflict with the auto driver's convenience, then the cyclist is out of bounds.

"Sad but true - another healthy boy meets his death."
Don't forget the obvious distortion that Americans were (still are, to some extent) being fed by the Automotive Industrial Complex - that cars are safe and bicycles are dangerous - despite the fact that an average of 35,000 people died in car collisions each year in the U.S. through the decade of the 1950s - and that number grew to roughly 50,000 deaths per year in the 1960s. By way of comparison, the average of 35,000 vehicular deaths per year in the 1950s seems almost identical to the number of vehicular deaths in recent years, but there's more to the figures. There were 35,000 people killed in automobiles in the U.S. in 2015. However, as a percentage of population, the carnage in the 1950s and '60s was well above what it is today. In the 1950s, the average per year was about 21 deaths per 100,000 people - compared with 11 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015. Compared with the average of vehicle miles traveled (VMT), the difference is even more stark. Throughout the 1950s, there was an average of 6 deaths per 100 mil. VMT. In 2015, that figure was about 1.12 deaths per 100 mil. VMT.

Kids get killed or permanently disabled on almost every single page of the Bicycle Death Safety Manual making it pretty clear that being a bicyclist (or even a pedestrian, when you get right down to it) is potentially deadly -- but what gets virtually ignored is the fact that all these people are killed by cars. Of course, nowhere is it even hinted that anything should be done about the cars or their drivers. It also never seemed to occur to anyone that providing better infrastructure to accommodate cyclists might help to make them safer (only a socialist would suggest such a thing). What does it say about a car-centric society when they are so willing to overlook all kinds of carnage as long as we don't put any extra restrictions on cars? It's so much easier (and profitable) to just keep blaming the victims.

"John is making the mistake of riding in the center of the road. A bad piece of pavement suddenly appears. . . The suddenness and closeness make it impossible for the motorist to stop in time. Another death that might have been avoided." 
Forget about "taking the lane," even if it means avoiding the doors of the parked cars. And is it just me who thinks that maybe the city bears some responsibility in keeping the roads in better condition? Or that the driver bears some responsibility for following so close to a cyclist who should have been very visible?

"Mary will never walk again."

"Another unnecessary death due to carelessness on George's part." Yes - George should signal before making a left turn - but he also shouldn't be expected to make his left turn from the far right side of the lane. But even more than that, what the hell is that car doing driving along just inches behind George's back wheel? Seems to me that poor George was going to die whether he made that left turn or not. Of course, it's not the driver's fault at all.

"Beware of car doors opening and striking you." But whatever you do, don't stop hugging the right side curb. "Bill is shoved into the middle of the street and run over."

"The child is thrown to the pavement -- Skull fracture and death."
According to the manual, bicyclists were not only a danger to themselves, but a serious danger to others as well -- a belief that persists today. 

"Screeching brakes -- But too late -- Result -- a limp, lifeless body."

"So engrossed in the plane she failed to watch the approaching automobile. Result -- She ran headon into the automobile, suffering severe injuries."

"Unfortunately Jack is hit and killed instantly."

Maybe because they had a few extra pages to fill, or perhaps because there wasn't enough death and dismemberment to go around with a bicycle-only manual, the PSL brings out a few other safety standbys to remind kids that they don't have to be on a bike to suffer a gruesome and untimely end.

Kids are run over while playing in leaf piles, electrocuted while flying kites, trapped in iceboxes, fall through floors, and blow themselves up with "chemicals." Life is good.

And then there's "stranger danger." Don't take candy from strangers. If a creepy stranger approaches, hopefully he'll be wearing a very distinctive outfit, like mr. straw hat, dark jacket, and striped pants. And always remember that the policeman wants to be your friend. Oddly, mr. policeman is probably the creepiest-looking person on the page.
Considering how many manuals like this one were distributed to schoolchildren around America in the '50s and '60s, it really is no wonder that bicycles were pushed off the streets, and that people are so willing to "blame the victims" when cars kill so many pedestrians and cyclists in addition to the tens of thousands of other motorists.

If only we could say things have gotten better. But propaganda like this is still out there, and the only real difference is that the quality of the graphics has gotten a little better. Remember this beauty?

The City of Phoenix Dept. of Transportation created these glorious "Bicycle Safety" death manuals last year.

Yeah - we're still screwed up.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Motor Doping - On 60 Minutes

"The sport of cycling is notorious for its culture of cheating—made most famous by the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong and his use of performance-enhancing drugs." 

That is the opening of a recent investigation story that aired on CBS's 60 Minutes last week. Wow. As if professional baseball and NFL football are drug free, right? But still, it does seem that pro cycling has ZERO credibility, especially in the eyes of the general public. I've talked about that in this blog plenty of times before, so the revelations aren't new to me, but to have it put that way by "outsiders" is like hearing someone insult a member of your family. I can complain about my own siblings all I want, but if someone else insults them, I'm going to be looking to start a fight.

Anyhow, the segment, which can be seen on CBS's 60 Minutes website (If the embed works, it will appear at the end of this article) covers some familiar ground about motorized doping. The last time I wrote about "mechanical doping" was last spring, after a joint investigation was released by the Italian sporting newspaper Gazzeta dello Sport and the French television network Stade 2. Anyone who looked at those reports won't find much new in the 60 Minutes segment.

The main source for the 60 Minutes investigation is a now-familiar face: Hungarian engineer Istvan/Stefano Varjas, who has created and sells hidden motors, and claims that they are being used in the professional ranks (but it's not his fault, he adds).

Varjas again shows and demonstrates the small motors that can be installed in a bike's down-tube or seat-tube. And in an extra addendum video, "60 Minutes Overtime," he again claims that his newer technology, electromagnetic wheels, are the latest thing and virtually undetectable. However, just as in the Stade 2 and other stories, he only shows the carbon fiber wheel with little cut-outs for the magnets -- but does not actually demonstrate one in use. In the "Overtime" segment, even the 60 Minutes reporter Bill Whitaker describes Varjas as "complicated" and "cagey." It's difficult when you want some real answers, but all you get is innuendo.
I will say that in this scene, where the motorized bike is being ridden on the road, there is an audible "whirring" motor sound coming from the bike. Would that be audible in the midst of a racing peloton? I don't know. Side note, if you watch the extra "60 Minutes Overtime" segment, you can watch Bill Whitaker crash the bike. Sheesh.
A couple of claims made in the 60 Minutes story that were not in some of the earlier reports are very troubling -- but again, not very well substantiated by actual fact, which is frustrating. Again, it is Varjas who makes the claim that he first developed his hidden motors in 1998. He says that an unnamed party saw an early version of his motor and paid him $2 million U.S. dollars for exclusive rights to use the technology (60 Minutes verified from bank records that he did indeed have that amount in his bank at the time). He couldn't talk about his motors or sell them to anyone else for 10 years. So of course, whose name gets brought up as a possible recipient of the technology? You guessed it, Lance Armstrong, who won his first Tour de France in 1999.

In the absence of actual proof that Armstrong or the U.S. Postal team used hidden motors, The 60 Minutes crew buys a 1999 Trek US Postal Team model off of Craigslist, then has Varjas install one of his early-design motors into it (apparently at a cost of $12,000!).

Well, THAT settles it!
The stunt is somewhat sensationalistic proof that it could be done - but unfortunately (again), not proof that it actually was done. They do talk to former US Postal member Tyler Hamilton and have him try the bike, but for his part, Hamilton (who has been very forthcoming and, I believe, honest about his own history of doping, and the doping of teammates like Armstrong) says he never knew of any motors being used.

60 Minutes also talks with Greg LeMond - and LeMond is almost certain that pros are using the motors to cheat. LeMond has worked with authorities to find hidden motors, but insists that the UCI isn't doing nearly enough to catch them.
"I don't trust it until they figure out how to take the motor out," says LeMond. I won't trust any victories on the Tour de France." 

Another troubling insinuation brought to light involves Team Sky. Varjas insists that his special "enhanced" wheels are absolutely being used in the pro peloton (whether the electromagnetic rims - or wheels with a motor hidden in the hub - it wasn't exactly clear to me). Kathy LeMond says that Varjas told them "Weigh the wheels. You'll find it in the wheels. The wheels are in the peloton." The "enhanced" wheels weigh about 800 grams more than normal wheels. 60 Minutes then reports that at the 2015 Tour de France, the time trial bikes of Team Sky consistently weighed 800 grams more than those of other teams.

A spokesman for Team Sky said that the extra weight was due to aerodynamic equipment (though all the teams would be using similar aerodynamic equipment on their time trial bikes, wouldn't they?) and that the team's bikes were checked and cleared by the UCI. However, 60 Minutes says that French investigators were not allowed to remove the wheels and weigh them separately. So again we have questions, but not real answers.

Some observations: First - it is clear that this story was put together by and for people who know very little about bikes or bicycle racing. Everything has sort of a "dumbed down" feel to it (The fact that Whitaker can't stay upright on the bike doesn't help the "outsider" impression). Second, there are lots of allegations made, and a fair amount of innuendo - but no conclusive proof. The segment does make it virtually undeniable that motorized doping is possible, but still doesn't prove that it is happening in the pro ranks. Third - apart from the contributions by Greg LeMond, the segment doesn't reveal much that is new that hasn't been pretty well covered by other sources.

Overall, the 60 Minutes segment is probably worth watching, but a bit frustrating in its lack of hard proof. People who insist that mechanical doping isn't happening will continue to deny it. Those who believe it is likely (as I do) will still be stymied by the inability to prove it.