Sounds like my name; and one of my favorite fonts; DIN 1451, nice colors, and adorable models—they are doing just about everything right. And the bikes look really cool too. Disc brakes, comfortable upright riding position and some low gears. Maybe it would be a drag to haul this up to Elysian Fields for a whiffleball game with a load of ice and beverages. But, it would be the coolest thing to be there with that giant box… I do like the idea of having a bucket. Just a big ole bin to throw things in. I could do my laundry with a bike like that. I could go to the recycling center with all of the Bikerowave’s scrap frames, wheels and forks and drop them off.
I fell in love with the look of these Swiss ammunition boxes. To think that a country would have a string of saddle shops stitch together some incredible twill fabric, thick leather, aluminum rivets and build them into some pretty smart looking boxes to carry their maschine gewehr ammo around–instead of stamping out some cheap metal boxes–is beyond me. It seems like a strange venture and why? Were they quieter when carried? Lighter weight when loaded? Contractual in some uniquely-Swiss military requirement?
Whatever the reason, I’m just glad they were made at all. Back in the 1960’s and into the early 70’s and not used all that much. I bought a whole bunch of them and I’ve been selling them here.
I’ve experimented and seemingly perfected how to mount a pair of them to my bike’s rear rack. They work really nice, don’t hold that much (around 3 liters a bag capacity), but just enough for a few errands, they are quiet and they stay put. They look very nice with a black bike. Or some color that has some: grey, olive, slate or mustard color to it. I know they would look special with a burgundy or deep red colored bike. Right?
My friend Bennett Cerf and I have been talking about doing this for years, at least two, and in the last weekend of September, I had the opportunity to attend a bicycle cooperative conference called Bike!Bike! in San Francisco. Several people from the Bikerowave, the co-op I volunteer at were going and I could stay with them in the heart of San Fran and attend some of the workshops. Bennett’s brother lives in the Mission District, so we both had reasons to go–to bring our bikes, panniers, GPS and then after the weekend in the city–ride home down Hwy 1. We decided to take 8 days and leaving on Monday, Sept. 29 and arriving in Venice Monday, Oct. 6.We began planning a route and then a friend of Bennett’s who I knew as well, Josh Stern, expressed his interest in joining us. So, the three of us began to plan what days we’d stay in hostels and when we’d camp. Josh brought the added perk of a friend’s motel in Santa Barbara which meant a downtown place to stay for free in a very expensive town. Josh would meet us on Monday morning in Golden Gate Park.Bennett and I began our journey by riding from Venice to downtown LA to Union Station to catch the Coast Starlight and ride by rail to Jack London Station in Oakland.
It’s a little convoluted, but for $20 you get a big box to put your bike in– we had to pull the pedals and handlebars–and they go with us in the luggage car. It seems a bit wasteful but you do get your bike in one piece on the other end.
The train was great. We payed extra for a private room which meant you were treated like you were in 1st class. The rooms had bunk beds, which meant naps (one of my favorite things–just ask Bennett and Josh), water, all the coffee/tea/juice you wanted, a real shower and towels, 2 meals, and for $5, a wine tasting of regional wines. Except for the rocking and the occasional whistle blowing, it was a surprisingly quiet ride.
We met a lot of people, many retired, who appreciated the relaxed travel experience of the train. I have to say, it was pretty nice. We stopped a lot, and not always at stations. We found out that many of the stops were to either let another train pass or strangely, to get permission from the owner of the rail line–Union Pacific–to pass whatever length of track was ahead of us. I was struck by how out-of-touch this system seems to be with our national need for a fast dedicated public rail system in this country. There’s been talk for years here in California to set up a high speed rail between SF and LA–that would be amazing. There’s even an initiative on the ballot this year, finally.
We arrived in Oakland about 11 hours later and watched the Amtrak employees unload luggage and our bikes on to an ancient cart that looked like it had survived the 1905 San Francisco earthquake. The bikes had easily made the journey so far.
Bennett set the homing device (his GPS) for his brother’s little house in the city and we rode to a BART station and headed to town. After dropping Bennett with his brother David, I was given a map and shown where to go to make it to the motel I’d be staying at.Gern Trowbridge, of the Bikerowave, documented my arrival at the Motel 6.
The Bike!Bike! conference which 5 days prior to the start day seemed dazed and confused in it’s organization. Upon arrival, I found it to be pretty nicely organized with a slew of workshops and presentations. Some workshops were about building panniers from cardboard, making snow tires, grant writing, or running a for-profit co-op bike shop. I was really happy and excited to hear about and visit Box Dog Bikes, which was a worker owned bike shop catering to “people who ride everyday.”It was inspiring to say the least, and they had named the place for my sister’s beloved dog, Box (well, not exactly, but still what a coincidence!). As many of you know, I want to (and am starting) start a bike company and store, and this place reflected my aesthetic and commuter/urban/utilitarian perspective. They even had a line of USA made custom frames including this Porteur style bike that looked remarkably similar to my Eric Zimmerman bike:
Alex put together a pretty significant movie of his trip to the city which you can watch here: http://vimeo.com/1855280
I went to a frame building workshop at San Francisco’s bike co-op, the Bike Kitchen. It was led by Santa Cruz builder, Josh Muir who builds some of my favorite bikes under the name “Frances Bikes” check him out on the web. We’d be riding with him and many of these folks back to Santa Cruz on Monday.
We went to a party put on by Cyclecide, a demonic/clown themed human powered art/construction collective that had a wild scrap yard where we were entertained and where we powered several OSHA-violating carnival rides:
We went out that Saturday night to a bar that served Absinthe. We got a bit drunk, but I wouldn’t say I felt any of the hallucinatory feelings this wormwood based alcohol is noted for.Sunday culminated in a big veggie lunch at a civic center and a t-shirt print making fest.We then followed a huge continual crowd of folks to the Folsom Street fair.Surprise! It had rather dark theme.To follow. Chapter 2. The journey continues.
Sunday afternoon, after the official end of Bike!Bike! the Bikerowave team went for a ride out to Fisherman’s Wharf and met up with Gern who was now behind the wheel of the Ford Econoline that would be driving them all back to LA. I loaded all the stuff I planned to take with me (later regretting taking so many t-shirts and underwear) on my bike and gave everyone a big hug and we said good-bye. The fog rolled in and it got real cold and the sunny weekend was over.
I took off to the Mission District (I now kinda-sorta knew how to get around). I was going to stay the last night at David (Bennett’s brother) and Laura’s small house. We took up a lot of space with our stuff, but David and Laura were cool with us there. We went out for burritos and then went downtown to see “Man On Wire.” It’s a documentary about the french wire-walker who covertly set up a wire between the twin towers of the world trade center shortly after they were built. A pretty remarkable story. I recommend it.
Monday came around and we had an 8 am rendezvous with a group of bicyclists from Santa Cruz who’d been in town for Bike!Bike! It was a typical grey day, the sun of the weekend was nowhere to be seen. Bennett and I got a late start but it didn’t seem to matter too much as we zigzagged over to the panhandle of Golden Gate Park.
We were some of the first to arrive and this is where Josh Stern entered the picture. He’d been staying in San Jose with his sister (?) and was there when we arrived with his bright and shiny Novara Randonee. We were well appointed overall.
The folks from Santa Cruz were a rough looking bunch. Most of them were riding recycled bikes. There was something incredibly attractive to me about them, though. I kind of felt like I was a guest granted permission to travel with a nomadic tribe.
We got a health food store to open up for us just before turning south on Hwy 1. They could only take credit cards for some reason. That didn’t stop us from loading up on munchies.
We climbed up and through a neighborhood of little ticky-tacky houses in either Daly City or Pacifica and then flew down through it. It was my first real test of the low gear capabilities of my Surly. I had a Shimano Ultegra triple crankset and the smallest chainring had 28 teeth, which is standard for a road triple crank, not a touring crankset. The touring crankset would have lower gearing capabilities, basically less teeth like 24. I was really working hard to climb these hills. This wasn’t good. There were going to be a lot of hills on the trip and I didn’t want my knees to explode.
We would make frequent stops and wait for stragglers. I got to chat a bit with Josh Muir, the Frances Bikes frame builder. He was riding his cargo bike, he aptly calls the “Smallhaul.” He graciously remained in back sweeping up. Each time we’d see him at a stop, he would have a few more items in the bucket. A brilliantly engineered rig. I regret not taking up Josh’s offer to let me ride it.
The truly huge test of our courage, stamina and strength took place at what’s known as “Devil’s Slide.” It’s a steep incline that reaches a coastal summit and years ago a section of road slid down into the Pacific. Josh Stern had warned us of this narrow ascent. There was no shoulder and that made for a tight grip on the bars, and plenty of protective prayers. Once at the top, we had the reward of a great view and another rest.
We stopped in Half Moon Bay for Mexican food and I didn’t think I’d be able to down my enormous burrito, but surprise, I got it all down along with a Mexican imported bottle of Coke. They still use real sugar south of the border. Not that nasty corn syrup used here in the states.
I didn’t document it, but there was a lot of road kill all along the way. Okay, maybe not that much. It could be that we just saw it up close, passing by at an average of 12 mph. Like the dead deer a few yards before the deer crossing sign. Maybe if that deer had crossed the highway just beyond the sign instead, where the forewarned drivers would be prepared for this crossing. He (he looked like a buck) might still be alive today. I never hit anything myself, but came close to flattening a portion of a garter snake outside of San Luis Obispo. I also watched helplessly as butterflies and dragonflies got nailed by passing vehicles. A tiny dog almost lead to a deadly accident when he ran so FAST in front of the group of us as we were descending very fast through a neighborhood. He ran parallel with us barking for about a quarter mile. I thought he was going to disintegrate just from the speed he was generating. The cheetah terrier dog.
I was able to reach a top speed of 42.5 mph on the descent south of Devil’s Slide. That was a sweet reward after humping up that hill. We discovered the Achilles Heel with the Ortlieb panniers the three of us were using. There is an adjustable plastic tab at the bottom of the bag that hooks over the lower portion of the racks. It is easy to use and is tightened by a knurled knob. A knob that could, and did, come loose. Josh heard something fall off as we were flying down a hill. When we got just passed the bottom of the hill and stopped to try and find what had come off. Right away, Josh found one of his rear panniers was hanging from the upper clips only. Not good. So, only having a basic idea of where it had hit the pavement, he took off back up the hill. A few minutes later he was back with not just his, but a second Ortlieb tab! We got his on, and assumed one of the other riders probably lost the second one in exactly the same spot. Freaky weird. We would always be tightening these tabs every morning before riding after that.
We all got pretty spread out on the highway and occasionally we’d pass a few riders and then get passed by others. The three of us made a stop at a beautiful old lighthouse that was now a nationally registered landmark. The buildings around it were now a hostel. I logged it away as a possible destination in the future.
Bennett had some celery and peanut butter packs and finished them off. Josh turned me on to my first Odwalla Pomegranate Limeade. It was incredible mixed with water. Josh would turn both Bennett and me on to the world of Gu later in the trip. My mouth salivates now just thinking of Gu…
As our headlights came on, I was watching my odometer a bit more, anticipating that 82 mile arrival point. Josh Stern, Bennett and I were invited over to Josh Muir’s compound for a veggie soup and salad dinner. Our final few miles were in the dark and we were escorted by the locals by taking a sweet bike path into town. We made a stop to watch some surfers in the bay as well as take in the lights of the pier and city.
Josh’s place was great. There were several houses on the property and all seemed to be made from salvaged material and in the back, next to the bonfire was his shop. I’m always drawn to workspaces that incorporate a home as well. The workshop was neatly packed with all his frame building tools and supplies. Everything had the feel of a snug and cozy tree house. I think there are a bunch of pictures of his place at his website listed in my links.
And there was my favorite bike from this year’s North American Handmade Bike Show. His yellow and green cyclocross bike with the split seat post and gently curving seat stays. I want one. Will someone buy me one? It was just hanging there.
We ate and it was good. We sat by the fire and drank beer. I refreshed the coals with pieces of an old chair. I learned about Freegans. The three of us had to get up a hill to the hostel we were staying at, before they locked us out at 10 pm. Although, if we had wanted, we were welcome to stay somewhere, with someone from the group. We declined as we had reservations and all and we wanted to clean up and get some rest. There was that moment of sensing a missed moment of spontenaity. I don’t like to miss them, but do at times. This was one of those moments for me.
The hostel was really pretty nice and we had a private room above the office. We did some laundry and joked around, and eventually fell asleep.
83 miles total.
In 2007, I went to the North American Handmade Bike Show in San Jose, CA and one machine stood out to me. Don’t get me wrong, there was a room filled with almost overwhelmingly stunning bicycles. But, this one wasn’t part of the show. It was a visitor’s vintage Miyata that had been plated in nickel. I was really attracted to its warm shine and the reality that nickel would need to be polished from time to time–how charming! I logged it away in my noggin thinking that would be a swell way to upgrade a beater. Hmmm.
You can check out Gina Morey’s story and see more pictures of her bike here: http://www.living-room.org/50buckbike.html
A year later and I’d let it slip from my mind until a project arose. I’d found an old Bianchi Giro (I have no real idea that’s what model it is.) for $155, shipped on eBay. It was full of very pretty but used Campagnolo parts and was made from Columbus SLX tubing. An abused, but sweet ride. I rode it around for a while as a “movie bike.” Named because I wouldn’t run out in front of a bus in grief after coming out from a late night picture-show to see nothing but a busted lock where my Waterford once stood. Everyone needs just such a bike, if not more (the: “what you have, plus one” approach to bike ownership) . Expendable, but, decent-like. My friend Bennett says, “All your bikes are nice. You seem incapable of owning a junky bike.” Okay. There’s truth to that. Let’s just say this Bianchi was going to be my beater for as long as I could stand it.
Cut to about 9 months later.
It was always on the back burner to do something with it as it was an incredibly comfortable riding bike and it seemed to be against my prime directive to neglect this one. I explored the possibility of getting it painted. I always wanted a “Celeste” green Bianchi and there’s this guy in Australia who remakes classic bike decal sets which are perfect (ebay store: cyclomondo). I’d maybe send it to Cycle Art or Joe Bell or a motorcycle paint shop and for a fistfull of dollars, have a perfect bike. A bike that would look a lot like just about every Bianchi out there (sigh). What else could I do? Chrome (too cold for me)? Blueing (not much protection)? Copper (way hard to maintain and preserve but still in my mind…)? Nickel!!! I loved Gina’s bike and when I went to a Tour de France breakfast party at a friend’s house and found Gina’s Vivian parked along side the other guests’ bikes–the back burner project moved forward.
I stripped the paint off myself. A grubby caustic job. But, I did get all the paint off and found myself really loving the time spent with ScotchBrite and extra fine grit cloth-backed sandpaper. The frame was clean under what was left of the dreary matte black paint and stick-on decals. I grew up around furniture refinishing, as my mom was way into this for a bit so it’s in my blood to crave steel wool and rubber gloves.
I had some forks chromed by Astro Chome & Polishing Corporation in Van Nuys, CA before. They had done as good a job as I had hoped and they continually came up when I asked around. So, I went to their shop and handed over the frame and fork. I was told that despite my efforts at polishing the frame, it would need to be polished a lot more. Every little scratch would lead to a brushed finish as the plating is pretty thin. How much? $200 total. That would have included the paint removal as well. I wouldn’t have needed to do the stripping at all. I requested they cover up the bottom bracket and fork crown race seat to prevent plating of the threads. Maybe I expressed concern for the many threaded eyelets as well, I don’t recall. Cool. They’ve done bike frames before, no problem. I was in a daze of excitement and anticipation. Isi, (pronounced “Ec”) was a bit of a ham, but was reassuring and I was told it would be about a week. I could hardly wait.
When I unwrapped the frame in the shop 8 days later, it looked AMAZING. Perfect. A quick look for any flaws, nothing. I thought the bottom bracket looked a bit like some nickel had found it’s way into the threads (I’ll just go to the Bikerowave and use their thread chaser and clean out the threads!) and they had taped off the crown race seat–sweet! Here’s my MC, my signature, thanks, and I’ll take a stack of cards for the Bikerowave!
Back home, I began reassembling the bike. I’d come across some new-old-stock Campy shifters and couldn’t get them on. WTF? The plating had thickened up the down-tube shifter bosses and the threads for the lever bolt were plated too…there were other issues too…..grrrrrrr…
Using a tap I was able to clear out the treads of the bosses and filing the bosses themselves eventually provided a shaft I could fit the levers on. I tapped out the water bottle bosses as well and the derailleur hanger had to go through the same process. Some plating chipped. Some clear nail polish got applied to seal the flaked wound in the finish.
The fork took the crown race easily, thanks to the tape, and from what I could tell only a minor amount of nickel wound up inside the head tube. I pressed the Campy headset in and although snug appeared to fit fine. Later, like in Gina’s story, I discovered a short 1/8″ long crack in the plating right in front, above the lower headset cup. F**k. The nickel finish had cracked because the head tube was either stretched (yeah, right) or cracked from the pressure of fitting the lower headset cup. Some super glue and a coat of clear nail polish as well here…
The bottom bracket could not be chased with the English thread-sized tool–this BB is Italian! I did a search on a Friday afternoon of a bike shop in West LA that wasn’t requiring a couple days and at least $35 to spend 8 minutes cleaning up the threading. Helen’s in Santa Monica came to the rescue! A very reasonable shop time fee later (thanks, Matt!) and some more super glue and nail polish, and the bike was together.
It’s a gorgeous bike, but I should have re-read Gina’s story before undertaking this project. But, alas, I can be so impatient sometimes. It’s important to be a demanding customer here, in a compassionate sort of way with the platers. I highly recommend all surfaces that shouldn’t have additional thickness in the form of plating by taped off or plugged. Paint in threaded eyelets is one thing, but hard metal plating is significantly more substantial. Stripped bolt and the nuts themselves could result if the threads aren’t correctly sized for their respective bolt diameter. The plater uses a special thick green tape when they cover everything up. You can at least mark all the spots you don’t want to be plated. Those spots includes: the bottom bracket threads, inside the head tube (where the headset cups press in), crown race seat, threaded steer tube, seat tube, downtube shifter bosses and ALL the eyelets (fenders, rack, water bottle and rear derailleur hanger). Now if any of these listed items do end up getting plated there are a variety of taps, dies, thread chasers and reamers that will clear them at the cost of some chipped plating.
I called Isi at Astro today and asked him about the frame and how things might have worked out differently. He told me that plugging all the bits I didn’t want plated would have helped. But, he said his crew should have known about this already, “they should have known better.” He stands by his work and told me to bring the frame in. They’d acid dip it (Not hurting the metal at all apparently–but, you can forget a green-earth-friendly process here.) and redo the plating taking the extra care to preserve all the threading. NO CHARGE. Wow, I was surprised. I guess I can do that. But, that means I’ll need another set of decals, unless I can preserve these… like this one:
So here it is, December 9th, 2008. The bike frame is back at Astro and has been for over a month. Apparently, they have had a number of problems with the plating. I have been there at least twice during this the last 5 weeks. Once, I had the frame in my hand, it looked great, except for that wave-like ripple right on the top tube…. Isi took it back. The next time, I was told come get it and upon arrival, was told it wasn’t “right.” Ok. Apparently, it takes a lot of finesse to do this kind of plating. And, if there is a problem, they don’t need to redip the whole frame, they can feather the nickel. I guess it would help if I had some more info. Ooh, if I could get in the shop and take some pictures… Too bad I’m working today, good I’m working though. But, by working, I’ll be near Astro and can probably pick up the frame today. If it’s ready.
December 15, 2008.
I got the frame back last Wednesday. I am sad. I am really disappointed and discouraged. It does not look good and actually it looks worse then when I first wrote about the initial plating. Basically, it looks like with the acid bath, and the repeated polishing(s) some of the detail in the frame has been rounded away and lost. You can see it in the lugs. They look as though the edges have been sanded away. Also, some of the spots on the frame where buffing wheels and polishers can’t reach show what look like etched flaws in the metal. I’ll post some pictures when I can build up the courage to go look at the frame again. I’m really disappointed.
So, I learned valuable lessons here. If you want to get your bike nickel plated:
Go with a plater that knows about bicycles, has had experience plating bikes and respects your needs and requirements.
Make sure you tape off all your spots on the frame and fork you don’t want plated. Buy some long bolts you can screw into the threads of anything on the frame that has threads–this is what got me into trouble.
Don’t get it replated. Whatever you do, don’t get it replated. If I’m wrong, let me know!