Sunday, 22 November 2015

London Town Bike #4 -- or, Finally Just Right?

The saga of finding a suitable bike for use on the central London part of my daily commute continues... 

Back in August 2014, I had identified five options

1. Find an old frame and build it up with parts already to hand; 
2. Use an existing 'old' bike (of which I had one but wasn't quite prepared to 'sentence' to year-round all-weather theft-risk use); 
3. Buy another (complete) 'old' bike that I didn't have qualms about; 
4. Wait and buy a new bike via Cyclescheme; or
5. Buy a really cheap, new bike "for now". 

At that point, I had tried nos. 1 and 3. After setting out my options as above, I went with no. 5: the Viking Bromley

That experiment taught me a lesson: cheap bikes just don't work as well. (Well, d'oh!)

My latest venture is in fact a combination of option nos. 1, 2 and 3: 

This is Phase I of the Puch Princess Body Swap

Yes, this is Lorelei, my beloved Puch Princess -- or, at least, it's her frame!  (Plus headset and mudguards.)

All the drivetrain components (chainset, bottom bracket, front and rear derailleurs, wheels, freewheel, brakes, bell) came from the Puch Princess I bought a few months ago, which was in superb original condition. 

The handlebars came off the Bromley, with the Shimano brake levers (fitted just a few months ago, originally fitted to Lorelei back in 2010 in a previous incarnation) still attached; likewise the Blackburn rack. 

The original 27 inch wheels from the second Princess are now shod with Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres. 

The black Puch-branded handlebar grips were sourced from ebay. 

The saddle came off an old commuter bike of Adam's.

I have been riding her in London for the past month and can't believe how pleased I am, with the bike and her practicality. She looks trim, tidy and cared-for but doesn't attract attention. 

The only downside perhaps are the steel rims of the wheels. Of course she will never stop on a dime in the wet and cannot compete with disc brakes, but my experience has been that rim brakes on steel rims work sufficiently well, provided they are well maintained and adjusted and if you adapt your braking technique to keep the rims clear. Modulation is the key. I have ridden several days in driving rain with no issues -- including a couple of emergency stops! This brake + wheel combination is much better than what were on the Bromley!

When I purchased the second Puch Princess last spring, I intended to stagger the "body swap" so as to complete the 'modern road bike' build first. But the summer flew by and as autumn approached, my priorities shifted to getting a suitable London Town Bike up and running. The Road Bike Build is now well underway and I hope to share full details of both builds shortly. 

For now, the puzzle is:   which bike gets the name Lorelei?? 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Custom versus Bespoke

Do you have a bespoke suit?  A custom car? 

Was it made to order? Or tailored to fit you and your style after it was made? 

The words "custom" and "bespoke" are regularly applied to bicycles and often in ways that make the two words seem interchangeable. But are they? 

From the dictionary definitions, it seems many do view the two words as "synonyms", that is, two words that mean the same. 

In the bicycle industry, this certainly seems to be true: both words are regularly used more or less interchangeably. The British have perhaps (until recently) favoured the use of "bespoke" while Americans have leant towards use of "custom", but that seems to be changing rapidly, with "custom" becoming the dominant word on this side of the Atlantic as well. 

I wish to make a case for differentiating the meaning of the two words
for the sake of precision and clarity! 

The problem in my view is that both words are often used to describe two situations that are entirely different

  • A bicycle frame made from scratch to the precise requirements and demands of an individual.

like a "bespoke suit" =
you are measured up before scissors go near the fabric

  • The building up of a frame (any frame, whether stock or made to order as above) to meet the demands or satisfy the requests of an individual. The individual has had no input into the design and manufacturer of the frame itself, though usually they are given a choice of size, from a range of sizes on offer. 

like a "custom car" = 
you buy another person's basic design or vision,
with the option to personalise the hell out of it!

Possibly the purest form of having a bespoke bicycle built for you is through a dedicated bike fit specialist. The likes of Cyclefit and Bespoke Bicycles (see, the clue is in the name) are not in the business of building bicycles themselves but in doing all the individual measurements and assessments that are then passed to one of their bicycle manufacturing partners as a blueprint for the bicycle to be made. These business models at their core offer a bespoke service, then act as sales agent for the manufacturer of the bespoke product. 

Trek's Project One is a classic example of "custom bicycles". 

With Mercian Cycles, you can have both, by the same team: get a full professional bike fit and then Mercian's craftsmen will hand-build your made-to-measure frame using traditional methods. You choose the build kit and nearly everything about the bicycle's appearance. 

A bespoke item will fit or suit just one person or perhaps a minority of the population who happen to possess the same characteristics as the person who originally commissioned it.

By contrast, a custom item usually starts life designed and specc'd to suit the majority of the target market, but is then customised or personalised to suit the requirements or taste of one individual. 

So, while a "bespoke" item may mean another person can't wear/use it, a "custom(ised)" product will probably fit or be usable by a number of other people -- provided they have similar taste!

Of course, the result in both cases is something quite special, out of the mainstream market. 

To one degree or another, every single one of my bicycles has been customised. But only one -- using the prevailing language in the cycling industry -- can be called "custom".  

That seems all wrong to me. 

The Enigma is bespoke... made to measure

Every other of my bikes was, to start with, a "stock build" that was manufactured in a pre-determined size and geometry, with certain presumptions (often varying by price point) about the eventual build, for example with regard to the quality of the frame material or the provision and locations of braze ons (drop out shapes, cable guides, etc).

I've rebuilt and re-purposed my Puch Princess so many times, occasionally I have to stop, sit down and think to remind myself what the original factory build would have looked like. (Fortunately, I have in my possession a second Puch Princess in 100% factory original condition as a handy reference!)  I'd say Lorelei has been customised... over and over and over again

But it would open a can of worms to describe this 37 year old steel touring bike as a "custom bike". 

The same applies to the Cross Check: it has been modified to the extremes of its limitations.

I bring the word "modified" into the discussion quite deliberately. In the automotive world, "mod" has a meaning and association much closer to that of "custom" than to "bespoke". (At one time I might have said this had more to do with the fact that Americans are more "into" modifying cars than the English are, but that was before I spent a decade involved with the UK owners club for Citroen 2CVs!) 

For example, most would agree this "Batmobile" is a heavily modified 1955 Lincoln Futura. The result is referred to as a "custom car". 

My take on all this is that the bespoke starts with the frame, everything after that is customisation

Would you draw a distinction between the meanings of these words? If so, where would you draw it?

Sunday, 15 November 2015

And Then There Were Two

Last year's rebuild of my 1978 Puch Princess has been a complete success. 

With one small niggle.... the paintwork.

Lots of scratches, the "Princess" decal long gone from the top tube, and -- worst of all --
damage to the seat tube where a previous owner apparently draped a lock from the saddle rails.

Ideally, I would love to have the whole bike resprayed, but I felt mired in indecision over whether to go for as-close-to-original as possible (including reproduction decals) or opt for something entirely different. I hesitated to jettison the Puch branding and identity altogether. However, the decals are the distinctive part of the 'livery' and I've never been 'in love' with the distinct 1970s vibe they give off. Don't get me wrong, they've rather grown on me over time. But if I were planning the colour scheme of this bike from scratch, this isn't what I would have come up with! The light metallic green colour might well have made my shortlist of colour options but in the end would have likely lost out to something else -- possibly navy, maybe even red. That would be a crying shame but I know in my heart I could not promise I wouldn't. 

Hence my inaction over doing something about the tired, worn paintwork. 

Over last winter, while the bicycle mostly hibernated (only coming out on dry days for a bit of coffeeneuring and errandonneuring), I shoved this 'first world' problem to the back of my mind. 

There it lie dormant, just waiting for a catalyst to wake it up.

Spotting this on ebay proved to be that catalyst.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Normal Service Will Resume Shortly....

Apologies for the delay in posting my reports on our Lowlands Tour of northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands. There was this "little" matter of a mass shooting in my home town of Roseburg, Oregon, and somehow in the past 5 days I have spent a lot of time not finishing off those blog posts but rather scouring the Internet for updates, sifting the falsehoods from what may be the truth about events as they unfolded, while trying not to get dragged into debates about gun-control (sorry but that is so insensitive just now!) while still trying to answer this one honest question from bewildered friends: 

"Why can't Obama just make his legislature do what he wants?"  


So why the impasse? This may not be The Right Answer but it's the one that I give:  

Unlike the government structure in the UK, the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the US federal government are truly separate. A system of checks and balances means the President and the Congress can stop each other from doing certain things, but neither can force the other to do anything. 

With respect to gun ownership and regulation, yes, culture and society have a huge role to play in the lack of legislative change, but perhaps not for the reasons that the media (with its gleefully endless debate about the Second Amendment to the Constitution) and ordinary people themselves when interviewed (with their glib "right to bear arms" argument) might lead you to believe. The fact is, the U.S. federal government is constrained by the anti-federalist movement. This crystallised during the Civil War and has gathered strength ever since but probably has its roots with the Louisiana Purchase when the U.S. doubled its land holdings overnight, prompting westward emigration on a massive scale, followed only much later by the formation of new states, each with its own soft-touch imposition of 'law and order' over a "Wild West" where men had by necessity protected their families themselves with their own guns. Meanwhile, people don't relinquish responsibility for the safety and security of their family and property easily, especially in rural areas where self-sufficiency is both essential and prized. 

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Bike Sizing in the Real World -- or, Making the Bike Fit YOU

Following up on previous posts about bike fit, most recently about Stack-to-Reach Ratio, I've been considering how this applies in the 'real world', specifically what lessons I might learn in relation to my own bicycles. 

Let's take my Enigma Etape and my Surly Cross Check. Both are bespoke builds, that is, all the components have been chosen by me, based on my needs and preferences. It's no surprise to see both bikes sporting identical saddles, pedals and racks! However, the 'heart' of each bike is very different: the Etape is completely custom, i.e. made to measure based on my body (size / proportion / strengths / weaknesses / flexibility / range of motion) and my desire to do long rides in comfort, whereas the Cross Check is a stock frame in a stock size, a bike with a reputation for versatility but with proportions that are somewhat 'long' in reach. 

Over the years, I've tended to think of these bikes in terms of their differences. Most of what I decided I wanted from the custom Enigma build was informed and shaped by my experiences with the Cross Check. My thought process was fairly linear: I don't like X about the Cross Check, so I want Y on the Enigma. 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Long Term Review: VIKING BROMLEY Singlespeed Mixte

It's now been a year since I purchased this bicycle to take over central London commuting duties. Aside from a couple of problems in the beginning -- the strangest being the left crankarm unscrewing itself while I pedalled, several days running, without any apparent cause and no problems in the past 10 months -- the bike has done rather well. 

Taking stock now, the main problem has been (and continues to be) the brakes. Everything about them is cheap and flimsy. It doesn't help that the braking surface happens to be painted rims. 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

If The Shoe Fits...

I am a creature of routine. I am also extremely hard to please. So when I find something that works exactly as I want it to, is comfortable, aesthetically pleasing -- hopefully all three! -- it's sometimes hard for me to give it up and move on.

As the years go by, I exercise more foresight: the moment I realise something works for me, I buy up as many as I can (a) afford, and (b) reasonably justify storage space for! If something goes on sale at a dramatically reduced price, I worry that means it's about to go out of production or out of stock so I order a supply to last several years! This is why I have safely stashed away: four pairs of my favourite trousers, two new pairs of my favourite walking shoes and a Smartwool cycling jersey identical to the one I wear most often. 

But sometimes I get caught out, having enjoyed the use of a particular brand or model only to find I can no longer get an exact replacement. 

So, having worn out my beloved Shimano R320 cycling shoes (a model that Shimano has discontinued in favour of the new and improved and staggeringly ugly R321) and Speedplay Light Action cleats (a flawed but wonderfully knee-friendly design)... what was I to do?

Sunday, 16 August 2015

New Lease On Life: Tom's Marlboro

A story from the Luton & Dunstable Cycling Forum's Bicycle Recycle program...

Here is one of the bikes from a van-load of about 20 that came to us from a Sustrans project in Luton when it wound down. This was the only road bike in the lot:  a Marlboro Medallion which had a mid-1980s lugged steel frame, steel-rimmed 27 inch wheels, 5-speed with downtube shifter, unbranded brakes. Completely unremarkable in every way. 

Tom is my boss. He lives about 10 miles away from us and is often on the same train as me each morning into London.  He has a young active family. They live just off a shared use path built on a disused railway line. The family has one car. Tom has for a number of years commuted between his house and the train station using an "old beater" chosen deliberately for its calculated lack of appeal to bike thieves. Or so Tom thought. Until two weeks ago when, just before he and his family went away for their summer holiday, he left it unsecured at the train station and came back that evening to find it gone. 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Strange Yet Familiar: Lesli's 1985 Trek 420

When confronted (yes, "confronted" -- there's no other way to describe the 'smack into a brick wall feeling' of getting that call from siblings halfway round the world saying it's time to come home if you want to have that one last visit with your elderly and increasingly frail parents) with an unexpected one week stay in Oregon this summer, I realised two things almost immediately. One was quite obvious really -- this was going to be emotionally a very difficult time. The second decision followed hard on the first but for many would not have seemed so obvious:  I would need a bike to ride. 

Saturday, 1 August 2015


Most of the bicycles donated into the Luton & Dunstable Cycle Forum's recycling program are pretty predictable:  old 10 speeds, mountain bikes and 'bike shaped objects', almost all from the lowest tier in terms of price - and quality. 

There is the occasional exception, such as the Kerry children's bicycle that came in last March.

Today, we got something equally unusual:  a Bickerton folding bicycle. 

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