15
Mar
12

Bike Test: Nudity Cycles “Full Frontal” Road Bike

Appearing naked in public can be a tricky business.

For most, the prospect of appearing in the buff in front of complete strangers is the stuff of nightmares. Apart from relatively small subsets of the world’s population – nudists, art models, Germans – it is a very special, a very confident,  and often a very massively deluded individual who actively seeks the opportunity to go out and put themselves on display, warts and all, before a curious and potentially critical public.

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Nudity Cycle’s “Full Frontal”

The same holds true for bicycles and bike manufacturers. A flashy coat of paint, new graphics, glitzy components, or even just a revered name is often used to cover up the fact that what is on offer is a fairly average bicycle.

More fundamentally, we as riders have come to depend on all sorts of fancy and sophisticated technology to cover up for our own flaws as cyclists. Riding a bike well used to involve skills beyond basic fitness and good balance – skills that riders had to master before they could consider themselves accomplished cyclists. Using non-indexed shifter to change gears took a bit of skill to perform smoothly. And with six gears out back instead of ten or eleven meant that there was no perfect gear combo to help you find the perfect cadence for a particular stretch of road. Stopping with single pivot brakes took strong hands and an ability to judge distances accurately.

That not to say that modern bikes aren’t wonderful, or that the only “real” cyclists (as defined by the arbiters of cycling hipness) are those that ride retro lugged steel bikes. Modern advances like indexed shifting, gossamer light carbon frame sets, and fancy wheels aren’t simply cycling’s version of the Wonderbra, artifice that flatters to deceive, a mechanical fig leaf aimed at protecting our fragile vanity. No, even the biggest toe clip using Luddite or wool-wearing Merckxophile among us would agree that the “good old days” weren’t necessarily all that good, as even a short ride on a cheap mass-produced 10 speed from the 1970’s will attest.

Still, there is something to be said for a simple, well-made bike that – dare we say it – that challenges a rider by stripping the riding experience down to its bare essentials, eschewing all of the modern carbon fiber gimcracks and technological crutches that help cover up our flaws as cyclists.  A bike that gives a rider the chance to see if they can hack it appearing in public naked, without any little technological helpers, just skill and savoir faire separating you from either embarassment or glory.  

All of which leads us to the latest offering from a relative newcomer to the hand-built bicycle ranks, Nudity Cycles. Based just outside of Washington, DC, Nudity Cycles is gearing up to offer a broad range of hand built frame sets over the next 12 months. In addition to the “Full Frontal” model on test here, proposed future offerings will include the “Gratuitous” Nudity fixed gear/single speed, the “Tasteful” Nudity touring bike, the “Lady Godiva” women’s-specific model, and the “Streaker” team issue frame set.

If you hadn’t made the connection from the pictures, the name Nudity Cycles officially refers to the fact that the frames come in a bare metal finish and retro components. No paint, no decals. Any flaws in the metalwork are shamelessly on display. Nude, if you will.

The name is also a reference to the ethos behind Nudity Cycles: a return to a time when both the builder’s skill and the rider’s skill were on display when you hopped on your bike.

The frame is an old fashioned lugged steel frame that is silver brazed using low heat. Oversized butted tubing is used along with attractive (but not flashy) cast lugs. The Full Frontal is built with what Nudity Cycles calls its Wardrobe Malfunction Geometry – i.e. it all sort of happened by accident. Our bike’s 55cm frame sports a traditional (72 degree head tube, 73.5 degree seat tube) set of angles and shortish (400 mm) chain stays. Where it gets a little bit different is with the head tube; it’s longer than most bikes with these angles. This jacks up the overall height, flattens out the angle on the chain stays, all of which results in a relatively high bottom bracket.20120314-214416.jpg

Whatever it was, inspiration or error, the bike certainly rides well. As befits its wool jersey vibe, our bike came built up with a tasty collection of vintage Suntour components. The contact points are taken care of with a Brooks Team Pro saddle (attached to a period-appropriate Campagnolo two-bolt seat post) and Nitto bar and stem. No tape. (It’s nude, remember?). Stopping is handled by a pair absurdly long reach Shimano single pivot calipers of indeterminate age, connected to a set of non-aero Diacompe brake levers. It takes a good hard squeeze to get things slowed down once the start rolling along, so consider it an invitation to build up some hand strength.

With this parts pick and lugged steel construction, Nudity Cycles has achieved state-of-the-art circa 1970 with the Full Frontal, which is not a bad thing. Our bike was a little zaftig at 22 lbs, but the extra weight causes no embarrassment when it comes time for the bike to strut its stuff in public. The oversized tubing stiffens the frame up nicely, and the bike enthusiastically picks up its skirts and accelerates with aplomb when it is time to go. The stiff frame also allows a rider to “let it all hang out” on fast descents, with no shimmying or head shake. The Full Frontal carves turns nicely, and the high bottom bracket means that you can pedal through even fairly tight turns without skipping a crank arm on the pavement.

The experience of owning a bike like the Full Frontal Nudity is like watching an old school burlesque dancer – she may take off her clothes for a living, but she is always a lady, just a slightly naughty one. Beguiling, more than a bit racy, the Full Frontal Nudity coyly reveals its unique charms over time, bit by delicious bit, rather than simply throwing itself at a rider.  And with an attitude like that, the Full Frontal makes appearing in public au natural – at least in the cycling sense – seem perfectly natural.

I short, there is an undeniable charm to a bike that is, in essence, completely undressed when it comes to all of the technology and equipment that makes a modern bike more user friendly and, if we are honest, faster than its forbears. Riding the Full Frontal requires equal parts mechanical sympathy and panache to not merely carry it off but to carry it off well.

But when you do manage to carry it off well, it is also a hell of a lot of fun.

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Okay, if you haven’t figured it out yet, this “review” is a total goof.

“Nudity Cycles” happened this winter when I got bored and decided to try my hand at building a bike frame from scratch. The reasoning behind that particular decision went something like this: If you don’t count the fork – and there are excellent reasons why a novice frame builder would not want to count the fork – a bike frame is just eight tubes that you cut to the appropriate length and then join together.  Greasy-handed tinkerers and bike shop mechanics have been brazing them together for 130 years with fairly simple tools.

I mean, how hard could it be?

So I ordered up a tube set and lugs from Ceeway over in England, fired up the torch, and had at it.

Turns out, the parts that I thought would be hard really weren’t, and the parts that I thought would be a cinch were maddeningly hard. The seat cluster, for example, was a total cluster-eff for a while. Conversely, the rear drop outs, which I genuinely dreaded having to figure out, were a snap to braze up.

20120314-214453.jpgIn the end, everything turned out just fine. I lined it all up using a protractor, a level, and some bits of string. I built a simple jig out of angle iron to hold the rear triangle in place while I brazed the chain stays. It lines up straighter and tracks truer than some bikes from “real” bike companies that I could name.

The name Nudity Cycles refers to the fact that the bike isn’t painted. Everyone who stopped by the garage to see how the project was coming along eventually asked what color I was going to paint it. When the frame was finished, everyone then asked whether I could keep it bare metal because it really looked cool that way. Sort of industrial. I figured that would ride it around a bit before I decided to paint it in order to see if anything was going to break or fall off. Right now, the bike has a coat of WD-40 on it to keep it from rusting. I wipe it down after every ride. Still looks great and, after a month on the road, it still isn’t painted.

Thanks to bike guru Pete Czapiewski, the Velocity Bike Cooperative (Alexandria, Virginia), Ceeway Bike Building Supplies (Kent, England), and the wrenches at Spokes bike shop (Quaker Lane and Belle View in Alexandria, Virginia).

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