Monthly Archives: May 2012

Paced Blogging

Isn´t it nice if you find someone who lets you ride in his (her) slipstream? Great if it´s a group of riders, and if it´s a big agricultural tractor (with no sharp ended machinery sticking out) it´s even better.

The same idea applies to this:

It´s a German language website/blog on steel framed bicycles which is complete, full stop. Its owner Iwo Randoja has assembled a link list with hundreds of makers and shops from countries all over the world. The editorial part consists of lots of tests which let you in on the latest trends in steel framed bikes.

If you look at the page where you can buy ad space, it says that there are many thousands of visits every day; I´m lucky and feel flattered if twenty people a day visit this blog, so this is where the slipstream idea comes from. Now that I´ve had my blog added to the link list, Iwo´s blog might actually prove to be a huge tractor.

Anyway, on the big blog you can spend many hours of gloating over all sorts of nice bikes and their components, and a visit is highly recommended even for people who have less than perfect German – many photographs and said link list are worth it.

High Noon

Had a surprise visit today by a friend who showed me his new bike. OK, he has already ridden it in two serious events, a 360km Flèche and a 200km Brevet, so it´s not quite new, but still. This bike is real eye candy if it glistens in the sun.

It´s a Marschall built in Dortmund, but as the owner of the bike is the very same wizard of the lathe who made so many parts for my Ellis-Briggs randonneur, it is easily seen why this bike is so super nice, and very special.

Sorry to say that I haven´t quite come to terms with my new camera yet; many detail snaps I took went out of focus, so I´ll have to repeat them if/when the occasion arises. I didn´t want to bother you with those, so there is no photo of the typical Marschall star headbadge, for instance.

Sort of unusual angle, but the polished stainless b/b shell is a sight to behold. In fact, the complete frame is stainless. The only minor point of criticism on the whole bike is the far too hefty plate which serves as a bridge for the mudguard eye only.

This entry for the concealed cable in the top tube somehow looks nice thrown slightly out of focus, so here it is.

Watch the frame number plate brazed to the seat tube.

Werner chose a very intelligent mix of parts for the bike: New Success hubs, Campag rear mech and click downtube shifters, his favourite crankset, the Stronglight 100, a simple but effective SKF plastic cartridge bottom bearing, RX100 brake calipers and a stitched B17.

The light luggage rack is home made. Very nicely executed, too.

Lighting cables are all routed internally with entry and exit points drilled though the steel where it´s thickest.

The lamp holder is homemade, too.

A nice touch; hard to photograph, though: The star under the bottle cage.

And to prove that this bike is really being used, here´s the number from the Flèche.

If God had intended man to walk…

… she wouldn´t have let him invent the bicycle.

Can´t remember where I heard this one, but seriously, on a bike you can take in many more experiences than on foot, but still it´s not so fast that you miss overly much, like, say, in a car. The best examples for this are RTF rides – not too fast and intense.

Here´s some inpressions from the Gütersloh, Levern and Dülmen RTF rides. All three have very well chosen routes, and good food at the control points. Let´s start with the Gütersloh ride; 2nd post today, so I won´t write much comment, just where it´s necessary.

Here´s before the start, half past seven in the morning, my bike still leaning to our trusty 21 year old, Belgian built Volvo 740 with 344,000km on the clock. It runs on LPG so we can afford the 25,000km per year we usually cover.

Some of the steel we encountered.

A typical control post in a school yard. I mention it because this…

… was what was to my right when taking the photo of the control. Just to get the focus right: Steel frames are in the minority in German RTF rides. On a good day you have, say 10 per cent steel.

This was the food we got at the stops; quite nice. Cake, wafers, bananas and warm ice tea. Molten tea. Oh forget it, it was sweet and did the job.

Kwadie are a small Bielefeld maker who made their own frames until 15 years ago. This one certainly is grand, never mind who brazed it up. Nowadays Kwadie are restricting themselves to services not including brazing frames – for reasons of pricing, as they said in an e-mail. I wonder if they have found out yet that there is a market for high quality steel framed bikes at a high price point.

And this was what awaited us on the way. It is Wewelsburg Castle, built from 1603 until 1609. In the thirties it was used by the Fascist government as some sort of academy; today it´s a Youth Hostel (far more peaceful) and a museum. It is situated near Paderborn in East Westphalia – or is is West Eastphalia? Molten tea.

Now the Levern run. Stemwede-Levern is that small a place (about 30 km from where we are) that I bet it´s not even in Wikipedia. Wewelsburg Castle is. Here in Levern this thing about riders being considered guests applies.

Here´s before the start, half past eight in the morning, our bikes still leaning to our trusty, 36 year old, Belgian built (I think) Citroen AK400 with about 200,000km on the clock. Levern is so small that we thought the Volvo might not fit in, so we took the 2CV van.

Here´s the famous Levern fruit´n´nut cake. It´s artisan made and tastes wonderful. About 4o0 riders showed up, and still there was no shortage of bread. Some years ago the weather was absolutely beastly, and less than 50 riders came, so there was no shortage of fruit´n´nut cake for weeks, even here at home. This is what it looks like uncut, at the second control of the 120km ride:

However, this is what we did at the second control <gnash>. My son had picked up a staple – that was a first for me. The roads were not too good, but stapling them together – well.

And this is where the third control was:

The van they transported the first control stuff in. Certainly not to be taken into France before the transfers are re-done.

Half an hour into the ride. I think it´s even moated.

A quick turn left…

… reveals that there´s some climbing ahead. This is super nice about our nick of the woods: The Teutoburger Wald and Wiehengebirge ranges of hills grope into the Northern German plain, and you can choose hilly or flat rides, according to your predilection and the wind.

A ´bent at the start. Note the novel prop stand.

Now Dülmen, ridden today. Whitsun is always Dülmen time, although next year if I can find the time I´d just love to try the Dutch Eilfstedenrit. We´ll see.

The Dülmen run is called the Wildpferdecup, the Wild Horses Cup. No idea where the cup is, didn´t see any, and no rider behaved like a wild horse, either. The secret is that in Merfelder Bruch, about 7 km from Dülmen, there is the last herd of wild horses in Germany. They are not really all wild, and it seems they are rather small too, but once a year the young stallions are caught and, to the mirth of the tourists who come from far afield to witness it, are auctioned in order to regulate the horse population of Merfeld, or soon there would be more horses than people. The horses are left alone most of the other time, only in very cold winters they receive some additional fodder, no doubt because they hold an ancient title that gives them the right to it. The place is that rural that I wouldn´t be surprised a bit if each new A mare in the herd inherited it from her predecessor.

This is in Dülmen proper and gives a good impression generally. The next two buildings also are in Dülmen.

This is a view from the Baumberge range of hills into the Münsterland. Not much of a climb, and the snap under it shows why the Baumberge, Tree Hills, have their name.

A standful of bikes and one of them must be mine.

And a really nice jersey, to my mind, designed by a cycle club from the Ruhr, Bochum, to be precise.

But back to the raison d´etre of the post, a few snaps of some steel framed bicycles.

This Pinarello frame (a club machine lent to youngsters) is a prime example of the often seen, but still strange combination of flashy, expensive chrome work and cheap tubing, Cromor in this case.

An emerging pastime of mine, photographing trash cans.


A second post about books – or should I say printed matter?

The three little booklets I´m reviewing here do crop up from time to time on the collecting circuit, and they´re not overly expensive, either, so you might be lucky to get a set. What makes them special is a great number of bicycle related ads and of course interesting reading on the first three Tours of Britain, the precursors of the Milk Race.

What you can see right away is that the makers must have been quite optimistic – the first is usually followed by the second issue, but when they printed this booklet the second issue of the ToB was about a year away.

Not only did the jounalists of the Daily Express, who sponsored the ToB, display some optimism in assuming that another tour would be staged the following year, but they also deemed it necessary to introduce the reading public to the basics of a modern racing bicycle. Britain was a backwater as far as massed start races and the bikes that are needed for this sport were concerned. Massed start races were considered to be rather French, and eyed suspiciously as such. A good book on this issue is Ride and Be Damned by Charles Messenger.

In 1951 time trials reigned supreme, and massed start races were something of a novelty. Also the fight between internal hub gearing and derailleurs had not been decided at all; Sturmey-Archer were churning out hubs by the million, also with special ratios for “the racing man”, as they put it. Further down there is a post on this issue. What I sometimes think is that it was lucky the British took over the French word for derailleur – imagine they had adopted the Italian word and we would be stuck with a derailiator, suggesting a calamity somewhere between a train crash and an alligator running amuck. There were many riders back in the day who damned the derailleur as being just that.

Anyway, in 1952 there was a second issue of the ToB.

The novelty of the massed start and a group of riders racing together is nicely illustrated on the cover. Spectators are watching the race. It is debatable what spectators prefer, the constant trickle of racers passing by in a time trial, or the hour long wait for the field followed by a couple of wooshes and the trip home.

I for one was sorely disappointed when, on a trip to France with my parents in 1976, we hit upon the Tour de France and decided to wait for the race (only half voluntarily as all roads in our direction had been blocked anyway). We endured the advertising cars for an hour complete with my little sister being hit in the face by a sample bag of Banania cocoa drink powder thrown from a passing car (the name stuck, as you can see). It was hot and uncomfortable to wait, too, and then we had the woosh experience: For us, the race was over in a second.

And this is what makes the second ToB so special for me. Being the Ellis-Briggs fan that I am, Ken Russell made my day, even 9 years before I was born. Inside the book, there are really thrilling articles on how Russell managed to win.

And there even was a third issue. Having grown up in the Rhineland, I can´t help thinking that the cyclists on the front cover aren´t participating in a race but in a Carnival procession. Their peaked caps look just like what people are wearing in Düsseldorf or Cologne on Carnival.

The Ken Russell/Ellis-Briggs win wasn´t repeated in 1952, but a fourth place for Brian Robinson, another E-B rider, wasn´t bad either.

Here´s the complete result table with the Ellis-Briggs riders shown, and their formidable opponents too.

A Gift(ed) Horse

Sometimes good things come to you when they´re least expected. It happens that people ring me and offer me bikes, often for free, and more often than not they aren´t worth even that. About 15 months ago there was a phone call with a difference by our club president. He had been given two bikes by a former club member who wanted no money but only a good home for them.

I went and collected two nice cycles, one with a very small, painted over frame (which I have since passed on), but usable parts, and one with a great frame and less exciting parts. At the same time my son´s frame had to have some surgery at Ellis-Briggs´, so we were very happy to get this Carlton, about the right size, with mudguard eyelets and all. Most of the parts that had to be replaced came from the second bike, so very soon my son was sitting pretty again.

One thing I didn´t do anything about was the wrong stack height headbearing. Those Stronglight roller bearing ones are a good bit higher than the original cheap steel ones. I put my Campag tools to work and in about three months of intense use the headset shook loose only once or twice.

The Raleigh had shed most of its original parts combo anyway, but as all of the replacements had been upgrades in about the first 10 to 15 years of its life, I just went on upgrading with the bits I found on the second bike, or in my boxes.

I just love those seventies bikes with good quality Japanese parts. They look purposeful, and are, too, and if one knows a little about Suntour, their innovations and managerial shortcomings (read Frank Berto´s chapter on this in the Dancing Chain), and how Shimano imitated a French firm (TA bolt circle), you even get stories with those parts that equal the best Italian or French ones. This was what was at the beginning of the Japanese taking over of the bicycle component market, and using the parts you can easily see even today why they were so successful.

Because even after nearly forty years, they work. My son wasn´t reluctant to go back to his Veloce equipped Ellis-Briggs after it had come back, but he likes the Raleigh too. It´s what Grant Petersen has been saying all along, slant parallelogram, retrofriction gear levers, centrepull brakes, mudguards, and a good low bottom gear – it´s basically all you need.

Here you have the said Shimano crankset with TA bcd, and an adapter to reduce the infamous AX pedal hole size to the standard one.

The best down tube gear levers ever made, and with a Raleigh band to boot.

It´s a shame somebody ground or peeled the Suntour logo off the rear mech. What is it, a VX? Can´t remember, have to look it up.

I know these belong to a lower price point Raleigh, but as they were in my box, fitted, work well, and the brake calipers which came with the bike had to go, I couldn´t resist.

The wheels were in the other bike, but who can object? Smoothest hubs around, save perhaps Pelissiers.

This saddle bag holder and the bag itself had come from Freek Faro years and years ago, but here they found a bike worthy of them. The thing about the Carlton that nearly drives me mad is that when I grip the bike to haul it out of the cellar, I invariably grab it under the saddle, and off comes the saddlebag. It´s hard to get used to things, it seems.

The steel support, looking a bit like a luggage rack, came from a different source. I bought a complete bike because of it, albeit for a single figure sum. Perfect size for this bike.

Now the frame. It says Carlton and Raleigh on it, and there´s about a dozen webpages explaining why, what, when, where, and by whom, so I won´t bother. It suffices to say that it´s great – full 531, mudguard eyelets and mudguard clearance, of course, not too badly used, a touch of chrome, even.

OK, cheapish lugs, but they´re doing their bit. Craftsmanship looks solid, if uninspired. It´s what you got when you bought a good bike on a budget, and my guess is that it was worth every penny.

Still is, as far as I´m concerned.

Long Mountain

On May 5, there was a cycle ride quite near to where we live, only five minutes away on the bike. Great. Not so great: Rain and 7 deg C. Not many riders came, about a fifth of last year, and those who did start rode the bare minimum. This was a great shame as of course preparations were the same for the club who signposted the route, established control posts, and did all the million other things necessary to get an RTF under way. Also the route is one of the nicest in the annual RTF circus.

One rider who came was a member of a neighboring club who owns a very unusual bicycle. We rode a miserable 75 km together and then went to my home to warm up, so I took the chance to take a few photos.

The bike is a Langenberg built near Kassel, Germany, about 7 or 8 years ago. The owner can´t remember what the tubing is, but the build quality seems to be very good. Guesswork, of course, how much is hidden by the powder coating which I´m not too fond of generally. Here are some snaps.

Funny little thing

First, a promise: I´m going to stick to bikes, events and books in the future, but I just couldn´t resist posting this one. Also I promise to try and improve my photograhic skills, which shouldn´t be too difficult given my current level.

In Germany, whenever someone dies without any heirs coming forward, the inheritance is claimed by the state and auctioned off. The pocket watch featured in this post comes from such an auction. I haven´t much of a clue how old it is, or what it is, or even if it´s valuable or not, but I find the picture of the early 1890s cyclist fascinating. There´s a choice of one on the front lid in gold inlay and with a large dent, or the rear lid…

… in silver and quite worn. Still you can discern the sloping top tube and the handlebars typical for an 1890s bicycle.

The watch is in a hunter case, meaning it has a lid front and rear, and pushing the crown will release the front one to show…

… the dial. There are no silver hallmarks anywhere, so I suppose the case is silvered brass.

Prying the rear lid open with a knife will first reveal an inner dust cover…

… which was obviously engraved by hand, all these decades ago. The word Cylindre means the escapement, 8 rubis is the number of ruby bearings in which the shafts holding the cogs are turning. The internet says this makes the movement a medium quality late 19th s´century one – tallies with the cycle on the lids.

Prying this one open will give a view of…

the movement. There is a resemblance – admittedly distant, but discernable – to a gear hub. Well, I think there is.

And you know what´s best? The thing ticks away merrily, radiating some sort of oldfashioned atmosphere.

Back to our regularly scheduled programme.

Randonneuring, German style

I´ve had a number of communications over the last months about the different approaches to randonneuring in different countries so I´ll write up a few events which I ride to show people abroad how things are done here in Germany. I hope to edit this post whenever I think of taking a camera to a ride to give a more complete picture. Randonneuring is my big favourite; not that I´d excell at it, but I guess a weekend of two metric centuries isn´t too bad either, and I can manage that towards the end of the season. My son is the real force behind all this, I basically tag along. We go on about 40-50 rides each season.

In Germany randonneuring events are called RTF, short for Radtouristikfahrt, literally cycle tourist ride. In the late seventies when this sport started over here, the direct translation from the French had already been occupied – Radwandern is a different matter altogether, so the somewhat awkward RTF was chosen. There are two basic event types – organized rides and permanents. Most clubs will ride their permanents as audax rides once a year, the rest of the time you can start whenever you feel like it.

A special venue

I´ll start with the organized Bielefeld ride of May 1st which is a traditional ride in our area. May 1st is a public holiday in Germany, so the date of the ride doesn´t have to change. Also the venue is something special for people interested in more exotic forms of cycle sport: It´s the old Heepen open air concrete stayer race track built in the early fifties, I think by Schürmann.

The track has partially fallen into disrepair in recent years as motor pacing is no longer any more than a niche sport.

Moreover the track is not very well suited for non-paced riding. I have tried, and I can say it takes some getting used to. You can see here how steep the banking is. However, there is some racing still going on (Photo below courtesy Zugvogel cycling club, from their 2012 agenda).

Riding an RTF

So the car is parked, bikes are assembled, and we proceed to the registration queue. Registration usually is swift, if not quite free as there is a fee of between 4 and 8 Euros. For this riders can use a signposted route and receive light refreshments on the way about every 30 km, a breakdown service, showers and a number of other amenities.

At the registration you are handed a card on which you find a rough description of the route, the breakdown service telephone number and spaces for control post stamps. Control posts are always where refreshments are handed out, so there is little incentive not to stop.

If you have a Wertungskarte, roughly translated as competition card, the number of stamp imprints collected during a ride (1 for the first 45 km, the second for the next 30, three stamps at 110 km, four at 150 and five at 200) will be converted to credits which you can collect during the season, usually from mid-March to mid-October, making sure you´ll ride in any weather from snow to blazing sun. Here is a typical route layout, the Zugvogel spring ride:

Even if you don´t become a champion rider (those will be given cups by the Bundesland or district cycling federation), a nicely filled Wertungskarte is a souvenir of a great season. Here are the reverse sides of my son´s and my own 2008 Wertungskarten.

However, anyone can start, and while most riders are avid cyclists, there always are families covering the shorter distances on town bikes. Neither is there a restriction on the type of cycle; you get everything from a cheap kid´s mountain bike to the latest recumbent technological marvel.

The whole system only survives because clubs take turn in staging rides; members then usually help and more often than not also donate victuals. Registration fees are higher for riders not in possession of a Wertungskarte because these can only be held by club members. It´s a very good system as long as there are enough helpers, so it´s only fair if non-club members pay a higher registration fee. Here´s a view from behind the scenes.

Especially in rural areas where a certain traditional hospitality shines through, riders are considered as guests, and so the light refreshments at control posts can become rather elaborate affairs. Nutcake, homemade raisin bread, strawberry cake, yoghurt, buns, boiled eggs, rich drinks and even organic food have all been known to be distributed. Usually though riders will have to make do with cold tea, bananas and some sort of sweet sandwich, but considering the registration fee being as low as it is, it still is unbeatable value.

Bärbel Vinke of Velo Spezi and her husband have a stall at many rides in our region. They provide riders with goods ranging from inner tubes to garments. They are stalwarts, have a friendly word for everyone and a starting area really is unimaginable without them.

In Bielefeld there were in excess of 700 riders. Not all are in this picture as there is a time window during which riders can start; usually there are two to three hours during which you can register and set off. Many rides have a mass start early in the starting period and I always make a point of not missing those – great fun to zoom through a city like Bielefeld with Police stopping motor traffic, and hundreds of cyclists in front and behind conquering the road, if only for minutes.

After some time, though, mostly at the first ascent, the big group will split up, and smaller groups will form spontaneously according to riders´ abilities. Everybody builds up steam and the first 25 0r 30 km to the control post are quickly covered. There your route sheet is stamped to prove you were there.

The refreshments are enjoyed by most; however there are always those who prefer not to break their pace that early in the ride but to press on.

Most stop, however, …

… munch a banana or three and have a cup of cold sweet tea.

Some even find the time to take a snap or two of a nice bike. Older steel still abounds in RTFs; while not many make a point of riding ferrous metal, many older riders will nurse their beloved steeds on and on.

This control was in the forecourt of a fire station; luckily there wasn´t a fire or some bikes would have had to be moved in a hurry. Usually venues for a start or a control post are schools, although we´ve seen anything from an abandoned bus stop to a moated castle.

And off we go again; the weather improves, and there is some pretty scenery in the Teutoburger Wald.

Bielefeld is behind the hills, so some nice climbing calls for a special tea at the next stop.

And after some hours the ride is over. The club will sell homemade donated cakes, coffee and cold drinks; especially if the weather is nice people will stay for a chat after the shower. Some will have covered the distance from their homes to the venue on their bikes; those will start the ride back home. They receive Wertungskarten-credits for the distance covered and save car fuel cost. Many prefer driving to the event and riding the signposted route, however, because riding an organised event, possibly together with friends you have made on previous rides, always feels a little bit like a holiday.

This is a view taken from inside the cycle track forecourt onto the parking space where the RTF riders are looked after.

Suddenly the event is over, and you´ll have to wait for the next weekend.


Some years ago an friend asked me if I didn´t want to come along to see some bikes in a cellar in a neighbouring town. They were under a pub, the owner of which had been a cycle racer in the fifties and sixties. There was a number of interesting items, but many had wasted away through bad storage: The cellar had whitewashed walls the chemical ingredients of which had literally dissolved the metals that had been leaned against the walls. One Campag pista crank had all but disappeared from the spider downwards. I´m sorry that I didn´t take a camera; it really was a sight not easily forgotten.

Anyway, we extracted a Cinelli with the wide bottom bracket shell which dates it to about 1962/3.

Some years later the friend offered it to me. It had been built up with the cheapest stuff imaginable, but I still had a number of parts in my boxes and was able to source the rest.

The Mafacs had come from a wholesaler´s liquidation about 16 years ago, and the wonderful Campag Brooks saddle (sorry, no photo yet) I had been offered out of the blue for a very moderate sum of money. The rear mech came from America through the CR list.

The beautiful adjustable Ambrosio stem, the handlebars and the bar ends were still on the bike; they were the only parts that could stay on, even if the chrome had had to pay its toll to the damp conditions in the pub cellar. The extension had also become stuck in the fork and had to be extracted with the help of large quantities of Coke, WD40 and friends to twist and pull long bars. I vividly remember the phewing noise we all made when the beast budged at long last.

The seat pin had to be machined down twice (I used a badly pitted two bolt Campag one that had been yanked out of a rotted frame by brute force) because the seat lug had been squashed round a much too small steel pin and had to be re-shaped sequentially with the help of the pin. All back to 26.2, happy to say, and nothing´s worse for wear.

The only thing I really don´t know is: Is the bike a Super Corsa or a lesser model? The fork with its slanting crown and the chrome looks the part, but what about the frame as such? I have not been able to find out definitively what it is. Maybe someone can help?