15 January, 2018

Stem Measurements

by Clint

Finding the right size stem is important to dial in the fit of your bike. This article is going to focus on defining dimensions of a stem, and not the fit.

Most of the important dimensions can be identified on a threadless stem, so let's start with those! Here's a neat infographic:


Length and angle are dimensions that affect fit, while steerer diameter, clamp diameter, and stack height are going to affect compatibility. Different combinations of length, angle, and position on the fork steerer can yield the same bar position, so do some trigonometry or trial and error to find the best fit for you!

Dimensions are mostly going to be the same for a quill stem. Height above minimum insertion is an important one specific to quill stems. That looks like this:

Our Cigne Stem is really what sparked this article. Due to its unusual look and function, dimensions are a little funky.  Here's a drawing that should clear things up:


Hopefully this answers a few questions about what to look for when deciding which stem will work for your needs.

11 January, 2018

Prepping an Old French Frame to Ride Once Again

by Igor

This is Gerard. He's 61(ish) years old and hails from St. Etienne, France.



From the late 1800s to the early 1960s, St. Etienne in the Southeast of France was a hive for frame, component, and accessory production. Some the biggest marques that we know today were once headquartered there: Mercier, Stronglight, Automoto, Simplex, Vitus, and Lyotard just to name few.


Many bikes and frames out of St. Etienne were mass produced and sold domestically as well as overseas. Once the frames were in the hands of the shops, they would apply their own transfer decals and any other ornamentation. This is why you'll see so many nearly identical looking frames with different marques on the down tube.


Not much is known about the Gerard Cycles shop from Rue la Fayette in Paris. Searching The Web for various permutations of Gerard along with Porteur, Randonneur, and all the rest of the '-eurs brings up a lot of Peugeot "Captain Gerard" folding bikes from WW1 - which are cool in their own right.


This frame and fork was built in a classic touring style. It features an integrated hanger for a wide-range Simplex Rigidex rear derailleur, braze-on for a rear bottle-dynamo lighting, downtube wire guides to the front, and double dropout eyelets for racks and fenders. Given the condition of the paint and wear-points, I'd say someone enjoyed the heck out of the bike. 


The construction is straight forward and very typical of French bikes at the time. 26.1mm top tube, 28.4mm down tube, and 28.4mm seat tube. The selected tubing is straight gauge which makes a sturdy and comfortable ride over long distances, especially over cobbles and unpaved roads. The fork has a lovely, traditional French bend. Pairing a 73.5° head tube angle with a 74mm raked fork, the trail is about 21mm on 38mm 650b wheels.


This is an old French bike, so everything just has to be different - which all becomes clear during the prep process:
  • the fork is ~94.4mm spaced - I suspect it should be 96mm, but who knows what happened over its 60 year life
  • 120mm rear spacing - pretty standard for the time
  • French threaded bottom bracket shell - good thing we have French Threaded Bottom Brackets!
  • 25.6mm seat post - because of course...
  • Narrow cantilever spacing - the frame came with period Mafac brakes, so that is handled
  • Luckily both dropouts accept normal 10mm and 9mm hubs for rear and front, respectively
  • Steerer is ~22.18 - so a normal quill will work with a tad of sanding. French is 22.0mm.

To get the frame and fork ready for Frame Saver, the headset has to come out. The upper cup was stuck in place, so we put it into a vice to give it a bit of persuasion. The reason the headset was so hard to turn became clear very quickly: the bottom cup was missing one bearing and the top was missing three, the grease has calcified, and the races pitted. No matter, I'll pop a new French Threaded Headset in.



So here is how he sits as spokes are coming in and the frame is being Saved. Ultimately, Gerard will get the Porteur treatment and ride once again!


05 January, 2018

What's Your Cut Off For Vintage?

By Scott



As another year begins, we're back in the office and working on projects, both new ones and ones that have followed us into the new year. One of the new projects for 2018 is building up a vintage bike and showing the process through the blog. Igor's been scouring ebay and has found a worthy candidate in a French frameset from the late 50s. But in starting down this road/path/trail, one thing that came to our mind: what is vintage and how is that defined vs an antique?


Webster's defines vintage as "of old, recognized and enduring interest, importance or quality. Of the best and most characteristic."  We've had folks call us about their vintage bike - a 1935 Schwinn. Other calls have been from folks asking about part for a "vintage" bike they own, a 2001 LeMond. So perhaps the date is in the eye of the beholder.


The L'Eroica folks currently use bikes from 1987 and before as the cut off for their events. They feel bikes of that era and earlier have a "vintage look and feel". They do allow aero brake levers, admitting that they started to appear in the mid 80's, but feel that they changed the look of traditional racing bikes.


Events like L'Eroica and French Fender Day provide a focal point for people who ride vintage bikes to meet up with other folks who also view these bikes as something to ride and enjoy.

In terms of vintage vs antique, Igor mentions that the difference was that he would have no problem using something everyday that was vintage, but felt that an antique should only be used sparingly to allow people in the future to experience it tangibly rather than seeing it in print or photos.

I think vintage is something 25 years and older. So in bike terms, that puts us around 1993 or so.  For me, that's a perfect time in my life. I was still working in bike shop then, so I have a tactile connection to that time frame and an appreciation for the style of the time.

Is vintage a perception? Is it related to one's own time frame of life? Where does your distinction between vintage and antique come into play?

03 January, 2018

We're Back From Break, Plus an Update on Lilac Polyvalents

by Igor

And we're back. Happy 2018! What are some bike goals you hope to accomplish this year? I've always been more of a tourist and day-tripper, but I'm looking forward to doing a few brevets this year.

In other news, fresh off the presses: Due to popular demand, Lilac Polyvalents are now available for pre-sale as a limited edition offering.

We wish you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous year for you and your families!

21 December, 2017

Happy Holiday Wishes, 2017 Recap, and 2018 Plans

by Igor

We wanted to wish all of our customers, suppliers, and readers a Merry Holiday season and a Wonderful New Year.


We've had another prosperous, fun, and very busy year here at VO. In 2017, we released several products that have quickly become favorites!

Removable Faceplate Quill Stem - The removable 31.8mm faceplate allows for a seemingly endless combination of cockpit setups in a simple and elegant package.


Klunker Bars - These take a long time to make and both runs sold out really quickly, but fear not! We're getting lots in our January container.


Redesigned Randonneur Front Racks - For today's rough and tumble touring lifestyles, we updated our front racks to be more stout while including more flexible mounting options.


New Website - What an undertaking! Thanks to everyone who provided us feedback when we went live. We're continuously working on dialing in the site.

On a personal note, Adrian and I welcomed our first son, Theodore, into the world in October. He's one super rad little dude and a heck of a looker. I can't wait to start outfitting my Polyvalent as a #dadbike for family adventures once he gets a bit older. I'll welcome any and all suggestions for build ideas!


We've worked on a bunch of projects and are looking forward to seeing them through in 2018! Here's a quick snapshot of what's to come:

Polyvalent and Piolet frames - These have been the works for two years and we're ready to get them in April. They're available for pre-sale now!



Nouveau Randonneur Handlebars - These have quickly become a favorite bar of mine. Ovalized tops, 31.8 clamp, a bit of backsweep, and nice flare.


Made in USA luggage - A cohesive design for randonneuring and touring. Can't wait to work on a few more accessories for the line!


650b x 58mm Wavy Fenders - The perfect fit for 650b tires ranging from 42 to 48mm. Ultimately, they will be polished, but I kind of like the raw look (they'll patina nicely).


Curvy One and Curvy Too Bars - Handlebars that walk the line between classic and modern. 31.8 clamp, generous width, and long grip area for modern components. They'll be available in flat and riser (with more sweep), and in silver and Noir finishes.


11 Speed Compatible Hubs - With 11 speed configurations becoming more and more popular and affordable, we've had customers asking for them. These will be available early in the year in rim brake and disc brake varieties. Don't worry, for those still running 7 and 8 speed cassettes, you'll still be able to use them with spacers, just like our current 10 speed freehubs.

Additionally, I wanted to thank our team here at VO for being continuously amazing. I'm lucky enough to work with a small but hard-working and devoted group that likes to design and ride fun bikes.

Finally, as we do each year, VO will be closed starting December 25th and re-open on January 2nd to give our staff time off to visit family and enjoy the outdoors. If you needed to get anything sent out before then, place your order before 3pm EST on December 22nd.

Happy Holidays and see you in 2018!

18 December, 2017

"650b For Your Hands"

by Igor


Way back, when we first brought in the Constructeur Grips, we sent over a care package to famed constructeur, Peter Weigle. At the next Philly Bike Expo, he told us about how comfortable they were on the drops of his road bike. Jokingly, he said it was like "650b for his hands".

Having ridden his Raleigh 650b conversion at this past French Fender Day I can attest to how cushy it really is. It smooths out a lot of the road noise that you otherwise might feel when you're in the drops - especially if you have little in the way of padding besides a thin layer of cloth tape.


Now, this setup isn't new. I've seen it on French Randonneurs and British Path Racers of the 40s and 50s, but the style has all but disappeared from mainstream favor. Sometimes dirt drop riders use these style grips for the same reasons, with the additional benefit of a chunkier grip for leverage during punchy climbs.


This installation is easier to do on handlebars with long drops such as our Rando or Course Bars. With modern ergo models, the grip may bunch up on the acute curves of the bars.

So off we go!

First, you'll need to unwrap your bars since you won't be able to slide the grip over your existing wrap. Next, use rubbing alcohol and slide the grip all the way up the drop. Where the grip ends is where you'll start your wrap.


I cut a diagonal in the bar tape to make the first wrap since it was close to the hook and I wanted it to be as flat as possible.


This step is optional, but Peter said that knocking down the ridges made for a more comfortable shape. I ultimately decided not to do it since I found it comfortable as is, but will probably take some time over the winter break to reduce the end ridges a bit. You could use sandpaper, but a bench-grinder would be a better tool to use.


Finish up your wrap, and that's it!

13 December, 2017

Bike Build Ideas: Winter Road Bike

by Igor

Now that we've had our first snowfall of the year, I'm seeing an influx of social media posts showing riders dragging their winter bike out of the shed/garage/stack of other bikes.

Thermos', great for keeping coffee hot as well as bikes upright
While winter bikes are frequently under-appreciated, each part and accessory is chosen and built with under-appreciation in mind. That is, if your chain gets rusty from the salt and sand mixture on the road, it isn't a big deal - just get another cheap one and ride the bike. Tire shredded from debris after a big melt? There's another hanging in the shed, aging. So what if the color doesn't match?


The biggest difference between a winter bike and a not-winter bike is the meticulous curation of components and accessories to give you maximum enjoyment without breaking the bank with upkeep.


First, make sure your steel frame (do they make other kinds?) is frame-saver'd. Our frames are prepped out of the factory, but if you have an older frame and fork, or don't know if it has been done, it's worth the afternoon and do it before building it up.

Sometimes you just need a reminder
Most obviously: fenders. Full coverage fenders are a must-have for winter and the rain. They'll keep you, your drivetrain, and, more importantly, your riding buddies clean and happy. If you've ever ridden behind someone without fenders during a rainstorm, you know what I mean. No one likes road grime to the face. I've selected the 700c Facetted Fenders for this build - they're a favorite of mine. I've also added a low-hanging mudflap on the front to protect my feet against stray washouts.


I've selected a few components that are cheap, plentiful, and have been serving me well for years. They come with the added benefit of cheap chains and cassettes, so I don't feel bad dropping a few dozens of dollars on a basic Shimano 10 speed cassette and KMC chain.

To stop in the slop, disc brakes are a must. You'll never worry about frozen pads and rims like on rim brakes and disc pads only get more bite when they've got road junk in them. These cable actuated Spyres are really good. Hydros are better, but I'm not really into messing with hydraulic brakes.

As the sun gets lazier and the days get shorter, lighting is even more important. Winter bikes need to have integrated lighting, at least in the front. I have a cheap and surprisingly not bad light up front matched to a Shutter Precision disc hub. For the rear, I have a bunch of reflective gear and a very bright blinking light with extra batteries in the saddle bag.


Truthfully, I'd be happy to ride this on a warm Spring day or on a blustery December morning like today, so I don't really know if it is a true "winter bike". I think it's simply a great road-ridin' bike to just hop on and explore backroad twistys and climb some hills regardless of the weather.


Do you really need to have a winter specific bike? What makes it special for you?

---------------------------------------

P.S. There are only a few days left in our 20% off Winter Sale!

11 December, 2017

Dirt Drops - a Setup Guide

By Scott

I've long been a fan of dirt drop style handlebars. My buddy Kevin and I were typical mountain bike riders of the early 90's in BC. Our bikes had super narrow flat bars to enable us to ride between trees on the narrow single track trails of the area. A bike shop owner in Whistler, who had all the cool parts from the US that we'd only seen in magazines, convinced us to try drop bars. The bars were a hoot to use. On flowy single track, they felt more precise than traditional flat bars. The dirt drops also gave my bike an unconventional look, that helped it stand out in a sea of bikes in BC.  I don't think we saw anyone else with them in years of riding in BC and the western US. I used them on my Brodie  for off road riding, commuting, and touring for over a dozen years.

An original set of WTB off road drop bars circa 1987(?)

Fast forward to now and you'll see a proliferation of drop bars with flare being used for all sorts of bike builds. So you've seen them on builds on sites like The Radavist or Cycle Exif and you've gone and bought a set of bars. Now, how do you set these up? Well, let's work on that shall we.

A brifter shifting set up

The basic tenant of using dirt drops is that unlike traditional drop bars, you want the brake hoods to be at least the same height as the saddle, preferably higher. The idea is that you can ride with your hands on the hoods for comfort and you can get into the drops for "rough stuff" and still maintain control. You'll see that many dirt drop bars have a fair amount of flare, compared to road drop bars, and this extra leverage gives you more control in those situations where finesse is needed- threading the needle on single track trails or trying to get through a mud pit on a remote gravel road in western PA.

Getting your bars up high is key to taking advantage of dirt drop bars

So you should look at your current cockpit set up. If you are running a threadless set up, you might need to get a new stem. Something like the Cigne stem would help to move your new drop bars up into a higher position. If you are running a threaded headset, using a Cigne adaptor lets you use the Cigne stem or you could use a removeable face plate quill stem to move the bars up higher.


What else to think of when switching to dirt drops? Shifters would be the other thing. You can set up shifting in three different ways. You can use traditional bar end shifters. The Dia Compe ones we sell work great for up to a 9 speed set up. You can do with "brifters" like Igor did on his Piolet build. Or you could be more unique and go with the thumb shifter mounts and put them up by the handlebar clamp area and shift with your thumbs on the flat section of the drop bars.



What's your set up with dirt drop bars? Let us know in the comments.


06 December, 2017

New Tires and Grips Replenished

By Scott

In spite of it being close to the end of the year, new stuff keeps arriving here at VO HQ.  This time it's a new size of the popular Fairweather Cruise tires - now in a 650b x 42 mm size. These tires use the same tread design as the other Cruise tires (the traditional Pasela PT tread) and Fairweather's more supple casing. We brought in the Brown tread and the Cream tread, both with a traditional tan side wall.


Measuring them on a Diagonale Rim, with 40 psi and at 150 feet of elevation, they measure a pretty spot on 42mm. Fairweather has hit a home run with their Cruise line. They provide a comfortable ride, nice grip on the rough stuff, and long life - what more could you want? Weight wise, they weigh 474 gr.


Also arriving yesterday was a restock of our very popular Rustines Constructeur Grips in Gum. These grips have proven to be the most popular color of the variations we offer. It might be the subtlety of them that allows them to work well with almost any color scheme you might have going on.

See they even work with this wild color scheme