Archive for the 'Number 4' Category


Heavy Metal

The embarrassing thing is that I’ve gotten so behind on the updates that, well, I sort of don’t know where to really restart the tale.

I could just pretend that this little hiatus didn’t happen and pick up where we left off: fork done, and me around 80% finished with the frame.  And that wouldn’t be a bad strategy.  I’ve got a lot of pictures that I could show and tales that I could tell.

But, really, that all seems a bit anti-climatic when one has actually finished the damn thing (except for the paint – that comes later), hung parts on it, and gone for a ride.

So here it is, in all its glory.


Oh, I do have a story about the latter bit – my going ahead and riding it.  I finished the frame over Mother’s Day weekend, and my plan was to build it up over the following week and show up with it at next Sunday’s ride.  However, I was short a few parts.  Actually I was short just one part: a seat post binder bolt.  Specifically, a Campagnolo binder bolt.

I know, for want of a nail, etc.

The story of how this all-Campagnolo bike ended up with a (*gasp*) hacked-up Sugino seat post bolt rather than the Campagnolo bolt that it should have as its birthright is  both tedious and irritating.   At least to me it is tedious and irritating.  Granted, having the proper binder bolt to secure the seat post in the frame is a small detail, but the mind-roastingly-beautiful Richard Sachs seat tube lug that I consciously selected for my project and lovingly brazed into the bike that is before you is specifically designed for an old school Campagnolo seat post bolt.  And because it is specifically designed for a Campagnolo seat post bolt, onlly a Campagnolo seat post bolt will do.

You see, Campagnolo bolts are a bit different than your run-of-the-mill Sugino bolts.

Sugino binder bolts are as common as pig tracks on Old MacDonald’s Farm.  Cheap, sold everywhere.

And mechanically different from what I needed.

The problem with a Sugino bolt in a Campagnolo universe is that Sugino seat post bolts are held in place by a little key that is cast into the female end of the deal that fits into the seat collar.  That key, in turn, matches up with a notch in the seat tube collar that is designed to fit that key.  The key fits in the notch and holds the bolt in place as you tighten it.

Campagnolo bolts, on the other hand, aren’t keyed.  They are held in place by some serrations that are machined into the female end of the bolt.  Campagnolo engineers also designed the bolt to fail if you over-tighten it, preventing more serious damage and mayhem.

It’s an elegant engineering solution, and the ONLY appropriate fitting for a Campagnolo-equipped bike.

Except that I couldn’t source a new Campagnolo binder bolt to save my life.

I went to all of my usual sources for parts, and came up with nothing.  I then tried  all of my unusual sources for parts, and came up blank as well.  EBay, the Market Place Of Last Resort for traders of vintage Campagnolo wasn’t a real option either.  I wasn’t going to pay extortionate prices on eBay for a used part, especially a used part that is designed to fail if you over-tighten it.

Oh, at one point I actually placed an order for a binder bolt from a rather large and reputable internet bike shop.  Indeed, I was even told that, yes, the part was in stock and that it had shipped.  Oops!  Turns out that wasn’t quite true.  Then I was told by another large and equally reputable internet bike shop that, no, they didn’t have one in stock but that it could be ordered from their supplier.  Confident that we were finally getting close to resolving the Campagnolo Binder Bolt Imbroglio, I was understandably annoyed when, after two weeks of waiting for the bolt to arrive, I received a rather sad email from the store saying that the bolt was no longer available but thanks for shopping with us!.  

See?  I told you it was irritating.  The next bit is the tedious part.

On top of being unable to source the Binder Bolt Of The Gods, my schedule got hectic and, when the smoke cleared, I basically was left with just Saturday to get the bike built and on the road if I wanted to show it off on the upcoming weekend group ride.  So my new plan was to build it Saturday morning, give it a short shake down, and then show up with it on Sunday.

So Saturday morning rolls around, and the first order of business was to throw a cup of coffee down the hatch, grab a file, snatch up the Sugino binder bolt that I just happened to have sitting on my workbench, and spend 15 highly-productive minutes hacking off the offending locating key.  Voila!  Shorn of its key, the bolt now fit a Campagnolo seat lug.  Sort of.

Quick and dirty, but done.

The rest of the morning went smoothly.  That is except for the fact that the second part of my plan – a short test ride to ferret out problems and check my work.  That didn’t happen.  Just I as was finishing the last few jobs, adjusting the gears and brakes, the heavens opened up.  It rained the rest of the day and into the evening.

Well, who needs a shakedown ride anyway.

So without so much as having thrown a leg over the bike, I rolled it out into the sunlight early Sunday morning to go and ride with the guys.  On tap was 35 or 40 admittedly easy miles.  Oh sure, I was confident that I had done a good job and that, no, the frame and fork weren’t going to fold up beneath me like a cheap lawn chair.  But, you know, even test pilots wear parachutes when they take up a new plane for the first time.

So I was a little nervous.

I made it to the meet-up point without anything falling off or exploding, which was a good sign.  Waiting in the parking lot for the rest of the guys to show up, I attempted to appear nonchalant as I surreptitiously checked the bike over for indications that it was about to kill me.  Adding to my nervousness was the fact that the roads were still a bit slick from Saturday’s deluge and, yes, it was threatening to rain again.  Not exactly the friendliest environment for test riding a steel bike with no paint.  No matter; I took it easy, hung out at the back of the group and just enjoyed the ride.  Okay, I will admit that once or twice that I bent over and pretended to cinch up a shoe strap when we were stopped at an intersection just so I could make another check to see if things were still holding together.

The report: Zero issues.

Number 4 is a damn fine bike.  With 35 miles under my tires we are just getting acquainted, but I can already tell that this one is one effin’ spectacular ride.

1.  Artistic Shot With Azeleas

2.  Obligatory Bike Against A Wall Shot

3.  Details, Details….

This shows off one of the little bits on the bike that makes me smile.  Look at the end caps on the seat stays.  They are antique Cinelli pieces that I bought from a framebuilder who is liquidating his stock of parts.  Cinelli 409 to be precise.  Beautiful.  The Ass Harpoon seat stays were cool, but this turned out very nicely, if I say so myself.  And I just did.

Campagnolo Athena 11.  In silver.  It was really the only choice for this bike.  I went with the compact crank and, after exactly one ride, I am a convert.

Here’s the other side, showing the hidden brake cable.

4.  Celebratory Twizzlers

When I got the box of tubes and lugs from Richard Sachs, it was packed with Twizzlers candy.  I’ve been slowly munching on them as I built up the frame and fork.  I decided that I would save a couple so I could have a celebratory liquorice fix when I finished the bike.  The first ride went so well that I picked two out of the box and chowed down as I ran a rag over the bike after the ride.  (I’ve saved a couple for when I paint it).

5.  Buster and Sybil Say That It Is Time To Ride


(Buster Keaton and Sybil Seely)


Production Value

Try as I might, I’ll be damned if I can come up with an angle for making this installment of Building Bike Frames In My Garage either funny or entertaining.  There’s nothing to distract or amuse the reader: I didn’t maim myself, I wasn’t all goofy on prescription medicine, nothing blew up or caught on fire, and everything that I worked on went together pretty easily.  Without the normal comedic elements of physical injury or embarrassing disclosure, the only things left to the reader are detailed descriptions of how I stick steel tubes together in the shape of a bicycle.  Not a good plan for entertaining my adoring public.  I guess that I’ll have to try and jazz this up with what show business types call production value.  Maybe drop in a picture of a pretty girl.  That always works.  Because without production value all that we have here is just a series of fuzzy pictures of some guy brazing crap in his garage and then posting it on the internet with his iPad.

1.  Still Life With BMX Bike And Lawnmower.  What this first rather obscure picture is attempting to show is that I’ve already been somewhat busy and gotten a head start on brazing stuff.  As in brazing the head and seat tubes to the top tube.  What it also shows is that I need to clean out my garage.

2. Defying Gravity Amid Chaos.  After cutting and mitering the down tube, I did several trial runs at fitting it all together and checking the alignment.  What happened next was that I got out my handy digital level/angle finder and made sure that the bottom bracket was square with (1) the horizontal axis that runs along the top tube, and (2) the vertical axis that runs along the seat tube.  After a little fiddling, it was perfect.

3.  Bottoms Up!  Here’s a shot of the miters inside the bottom bracket on one of my trial runs.  The white tape is a reference point – it marks the spot where the sharp part of the lug lines up to give a 55cm center-top measurement.  Those are not bird droppings on the piece of cardbord that is down on the floor.  That’s spent flux from an earlier session with the torch.  You’d think that I could afford a bigger piece of cardboard, wouldn’t you?  But when you have good aim, you don’t need a bigger piece of cardboard…

4.  Getting A Head.  Moving to the other end of the bike, here’s the lower head tube lug, showing off the cool integrated fittings for the cable adjusters.  You can also see that the top lug has a bit of an extension on it.

Heheheh…dude….he said that his head tube had an…heheheheh….extension.  Maybe its just happy to see him.  

And since I am going to use a threadelss headset on this bike, the fact that the lug has an extension means that I will be able to get away with fewer spacers underneath my stem.

Heheheheh….he said that he puts spacers under his…uh…heheheheh…..stem.

Did it suddenly get a little Freudian in here?  Is one of the side effects of sniffing too much brazing flux an uncontrollable need to channel your inner Bevis and Butthead?  Do I need to clear my head get some fresh air? Can I safely add that the head tube measures out at 140mm? 

One hundred and forty millimeters and damn proud of it.

5.  Let Us Join Together.   Once freed of the jejune compulsion to make thinly-veiled penis jokes, I was able to light the torch and get down to business.  In short, it all went together rather easily.

It was a rare nice day, so I hauled things outside to take a picture or two.



6.  And Finally, Production Value.

The pretty girl is just fascinated by all of this….


Playing Hide and Seek With The Brake Cable…

Next up: plumbing an internal brake cable in the top tube.

This….was a whole lot trickier than I thought it would be, at least in terms of my skill with a torch.

One of the things that I wanted to try with Number 4 is to get a little fancy and do an internal or “hidden” brake cable. The concept is pretty simple – instead of those cable stops that you normally see on your top tube, you install a brass tube on the inside of the top tube that will carry the brake cable back to rear brake. There are two ways of pulling this off; you can either use a large diameter brass tube and carry the whole brake cable and housing through the frame, or you can use a small gauge tube and just run the inner cable through the frame. I chose the latter. It is a bit more complicated, but I figured that it would be slightly lighter and there would be less of a chance that the cable housing would rattle around in the internal routing. Noises like that drive me nuts.

The next choice to make was to figure out where I wanted to pierce the top tube for the cable entrance and exit: top, sides, or bottom. A good buddy of mine, Slippery Pete, suggested that going in from the top invited water and sweat to make its way into the frame, resulting in corrosion. Pete is a smart guy, so I opted to pierce the top tube at about a 5 o’clock position. I figure that this is far enough around to discourage water from seeping in and also it puts the cables in a position that will help keep them away from the paint on the seat tube and head tube.

I know: vanity.

Drilling the holes was easy. In order for the cable ends to sit at the necessary angle, you need to elongate the holes. I did this by taking a hand drill with the appropriate sized bit and VERY GENTLY tipping the drill to the angle that the cable will enter the tube, using it like a mill to elongate the hole. You have to be gentle because the metal is very, very thin in this part of the tube (it is butted) and is easily bent or torn. I finished it up with a rat-tail file.

I next fabricated the internal bits – two cable ferrules and some brass tubing. The trick here is to anneal the brass tubing so that it bends easily without crimping. This is easy – just heat the tubing until it turns a silvery-gray color. I silver brazed the ferrules on the end of the tube, and gently bent the fixture into shape. I cheated a bit and used a tubing bender – it is basically a spring that slips over the tubing and helps the tube keep its shape as you do your thing. After some gentle tweaking and pulling, I was in business.

Finally, there are some little stamped steel dress-up doo-dads that go over the ferrules to finish it off. Here’s what everything looks like before you install it.



The really tricky part turned out to be the final assembly. As mentioned earlier, the Pego-Richie stuff is light weight butted tubing, and the part of the tube that I was playing with is surprisingly thin. That meant that it heated VERY quickly when I aimed a torch at it. I had to work fast and keep my wits about me to avoid overheating things. In the end it turned out nice and cleaned up well:




The final test was to see if it actually worked. I ran an old brake cable through the internal routing – it ran nice and smooth, with no binding.

So nice, in fact, that it was enough to make the pretty girl smile….



Okay, You Can Thank Me Now

Okay, you can thank me now.

What you are thanking me for is the fact that, rather than inflict upon my Loyal Readership the lengthy essay that I had originally written over the holidays, you are now reading a much-shorter and more photo-heavy replacement on the current state of my latest project. What almost happened here was a long cough-syrup-fueled screed about bicycle fork geometry.

Yup, a thousand or so words on bicycle forks.

I deleted it.

A short explanation: I’ve been down with the flu over Christmas and New Years, and so I haven’t worked much on Number 4.

That’s probably for the best.

In retrospect, it is completely understandable that I wasn’t able to make much progress over the holidays because, having re-read what I had originally put down, I was obviously not in a fit state to be out in the workshop. Frankly, one would have to be on some fairly powerful drugs in order to think that heeding the writer’s call and preserving for posterity my most personal thoughts about bicycle forks was somehow a good idea.

And while my memories regarding this particular winter interlude are somewhat indistinct, I do recall that pathetic, hazy, fatal moment out in the workshop when, deeply despondent, covered in phlegm, and my body wracked by coughing fits, I came to the firm conclusion that “Yes, I may be incoherent to the point where I cannot be safely trusted to attack a bowl of soup using plastic silverware and remain injury-free, let alone be turned loose on steel tubing with powerful cutting tools and a brazing torch. But, My God, if I can no longer work on my bicycle masterpiece then the world must know of the many important insights that I have concerning the gentle interplay between fork offset, head tube angle, and cornering behavior. Quick! To the computer! I must capture these golden thoughts before I tragically succumb to the dreaded grippe and my musings are lost forever!

What made it worse was that, of all the possible subjects that I could have picked to obsess about while pleasantly whacked out of my gourd on prescription strength cold medicine, one could have hoped that bicycle forks were fairly far down the list. Because when it comes to drug-fueled manifestos, holding forth on the nuances of bicycle geometry is hardly gonzo. The good Doctor of Journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, would have been bewildered. And disappointed. And bored. I could have spent my time just as productively (and far more entertainingly) holding forth on gall bladder disease in cattle.

But, no, instead it was bicycle forks.

Anyway, the good news is that the fork for Number 4 is done. And it is a beauty.


The fork is built from components from Richard Sachs. Richissimo Crown, Columbus fork legs, and those really nice Richard Sachs fork ends.



All of it is absolutely top drawer stuff. In terms of specs, I built the fork with a 39mm offset, which should work pretty well with the 74 degree head tube that I am planning on. The brake reach with a 700c wheel is 45mm, so it will work with normal short-reach road calipers. I’m thinking Campy Athena if this turns out as I hope it will.


If anyone asks “Why a 39mm offset” the short answer is “Because I tried it on one of my other bikes that had a 74 degree head tube and I really liked it.” It also, interestingly, gives a figure for “trail” that appears to be within the range that Builders With Far More Experience Than I seem to think is just peachy. That is, if there are in fact hard and fast rules about things like “trail” that you should worry about.

That’s not to say that I didn’t try to figure it all out. But after a bit of diving into The Learned Treatise (i.e. the Paterek Manual) and other reading, the best answer that I can come up with is “No, I can’t actually explain why this offset works for me,” if by “explain it” you mean “I understand the basic math and science enough to construct a plausible line of bullshit about why a 39m offset yields the results that it does.” If that’s the standard, I don’t have a clue.

That’s fine for now. Given that I don’t have a lot of frames or forks under my belt, I’ll just go with what I know works for me, and I’ll tweak it as I get more experience. Plus, I’m not sure that I’ve downed enough cough syrup lately to actually feel the need to share my opinion if I had one…


And in the Shout Out To The Readership Department: Thank you George5 at for the kind words. Hope that I can keep you as a reader. And good luck to DeltaForce on his/her project. Some pictures would be very cool…

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