Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rolling Along

Better wheels are one of the best bang-for-your-buck upgrades you can make for your bike. The main advantage being that the wheelset, compared to the entry level off the shelf road bike, is that they will be better built. In my case they were hand built by Mercian. As such they are laterally true and likely to remain so for far longer. The hubs, in this instance RG2 Racing Hubs from Miche, contain smoother running bearings in excellent quality hubs all combining with the A417 Mavic Rims and 36 double butted spokes to give small improvements in lateral stiffness and aerodynamics.

100% Made in Italy, the name of Miche is legendary in the production of classic engineering components for cycles and they have been producing beautiful engineered components since 1919  within the factory of San Vendemiano (Treviso - Italy) To build its products, Miche, employs the most innovative technologies, production processes and the finest materials: carbon, light alloys and composite materials.

Mavic is another manufacturer steeped in tradition. The company began in France in 1889 as a nickel plating business but soon moved into the manufacture and the sale of spare parts for bicycles. In the 1934 Tour de France, Antonin Magne tested these new rims in the utmost secrecy–they were banned by the rules, and so were painted in wood colors. Antonin Magne won the yellow jersey and Mavic have been at the forefront of wheel design and innovation ever since.

The actual contact point with the road is through the tyres and I needed to draw a balance between speed, puncture resistance, durability, grip and price. I am not a racer, not even really a tourer, and even less of an expert on the various options on offer. So I put my choice in the hands of Grant and he recommended 25mm Contintental Gatorskins, one of the most popular road tyres in the UK. They grip fine, roll very well, and they are tough through the tread with a TPI of 180.
And so I ended up with a wheelset of distinction, not perhaps the fastest combination, but then the rider is pretty retro too!

Perhaps at some time I may upgrade the tyres to 23mm to reduce friction or even contemplate an American Classic clincher wheel set, but would it detract from the overall look and feel of my dream machine?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pedal to Saddle..setting the Height

When I collected my new Mercian and rode it for the first time, the most noticeable thing was that the saddle was much higher than that to which I am accustomed. And I am not talking mm here.This was the first time that I had ever been measured and specially fitted to gain proper efficiency. It did seem strange, especially as I was also still getting used to the idea of clipless pedals.

The bike is fitted with Shimano SPD  pedals, not that that was a concious choice of mine as I had no idea that there was a choice, but it was the recommendation for a novice.
I have now ridden about 150km on this bike ( it doesn't go out when it is either wet or muddy :-) and am finding that the new position is much more efficient, even more enjoyable. Because of  this I thought I would just check out the saddle heights on my vintage Mercian and my Specialized Hybrid. Neither of these had ever been "set" as I just sat on and pedalled. As such it was not surprising that they were all at different heights, not a few mm but amazingly by up to 12cms lower!  So how do you go about deciding the correct height? And whilst I was at it I also noted that the saddle was not straight on the old bikes, a fact pointed out by Grant at Mercian Cycles.
It seems that there are a number of techniques which can be adopted
a) The Heel Method
b) The 109% Method
c) The Holmes Method

There may well be others. What I have now done is to measure the distance between my pedal axle and the top of the seat on the new Mercian and used that as the correct height; and then adjusted the other bikes to have the same dimension.

The Vincitore Special is proving to be much quicker ( in OAP units ) than I have ridden before and I suspect that setting the correct saddle height is one of the major contributions to this improved efficiency. I am obviously not competitive, but at my age I do need all the technical factors that I can control to be working in my favour. I read that one can lose up to 12% efficiency by having the saddle too low, perhaps now I will be able to ride for longer, I hope so.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lugs on my Mercian Vincitore Special

I have been asked to show some details of the lugwork on the bike and an overview of the final construction. The frame is constructed from  Reynolds 853 tubing because I think it’s the best, Reynolds have an excellent heritage and this combination of high tensile strength enabling thinner tubes and hence light weight seemed the optimum cost effective approach for me.

The actual process of frame building is carried out by a  single craftsman.
The individual tubing and components for the frame are then set aside or ordered-in by a frame-builder and boxed ready for the build date. When the frame is ready for building, the frame-builder begins by filing the lugs; with skill and patience the lugs are cut and filed with hand-tools to create the cut-outs and intricate designs which make Mercian frames distinctive and beautiful. The Vincitore lugs are crafted from plain lugs with spearpoints welded to the plain lugs then drilled, cut out and filed by hand for many hours to create the intricate distinctive look that is unique to a Mercian Vincitore Special.
The Reynolds tubes are then carefully mitred and fitted into the lugs and placed against an alignment board where the builder can create the right angles for the frame. The lugs and tubes are fitted together and the frame is pinned to hold securely in position while the frame is brazed in the open hearth. This part of the build process takes years of experience to perfect and has been passed down from frame-builder to frame-builder. The open hearth method of joining the tubes and lugs with a combination of air and natural gas has been used since the 1940’s and reduces the possibility of overheating the tubing, this method is gentler and kinder to the tubes than the quicker frame-jig and oxy-acetylene method often used today, a much higher and direct heat which can be too harsh in the wrong hands.Once heated to correct temperature the brass or silver solder is carefully flowed into the lug/tube joint to secure the tubing in the correct position. Each frame-builder has their own preferred methods of manufacture, but wMercian believe their construction methods are the reasons why their frames have longevity. It also means that if a frame tube is damaged in riding, it is possible to undo the brazing and replace a single tube or tubes without problem, meaning the  frame can be repaired rather than buying a new one, giving me many years of pleasure.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Battling with a Brooks B17 Saddle

My Mercian frame has been supplemented with other bits of high craftmanship accessories. The saddle is one of Brooks' legendary traditional leather saddles, the B17, and still potentially the most comfortable around. I say potentially because the rock hard 5mm thick hide takes a year of regular riding and oiling before it moulds to a truly custom fit that's not matched by any 'modern' saddle. I have been through this experience before ( so why do it again and suffer? Answer, the other saddle is honey brown and does not match the new olour scheme )

In order to speed up the softening process I am treating my saddle with Neatsfoot Oil.
Neatsfoot oil is a yellow oil rendered and purified from the shin bones and feet of cattle. "Neat" in the oil's name comes from an old name for cattle. The oil is famed as a conditioning, softening and preservative agent forleather.  In the 18th century, it was also used medicinally as a topical application for dry scalyskin conditions. But if my nether regions really suffer I think I will stick to Sudo Cream for that bit!  As you can observe from the image, the bottle of oil has seen plenty of use already.

The seatpost is a Nitto 65, one of the best classic looking seatposts around. Nitto are a brand legendary for their classic designs and flawless quality. Everything from Nitto is hand made in Japan to the highest standards. Nitto do not out source any part of production, they do not cut corners. With a 44mm rail and a single bolt system it is finished in anodized silver.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

65th Birthday Ride

To celebrate my 65th Birthday, a group of 20 cyclists from the CTC Derby went on a Birthday Ride with me, the route can be seen below

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/156123921 ,

 though Garmin Software seems to be playing up and not analyzing the data properly. ( Heart Rate Zones wrong and moving speed not shown ). The highlight was my birthday lunch where we stopped at the Secret Diner in Sudbury for lunch and cake.

I used my 1961 vintage Mercian Audax, as opposed to my new bike, as I feared that the new Brooks B17 saddle would need to be broken in a little before venturing out on such a long journey.

I had a great day, and thanks to all my friends for making it so.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Dream Machine

At my age, and having just recently taken up cycling, I am never going to be a competitive or class cyclist. Before retirement, I worked at Rolls-Royce plc for more than 30 years and, though not an engineer, I grew to admire the precision, excellence and beauty of the engineering involved in the manufacture of aero engines. This admiration for engineering excellence was the inspiration behind the desire to have a bicycle which reflected the same values and beauty. And so was born my wish to have a handmade bike frame, equipped with accessories which reflected this thirst for engineered beauty.  
The area where I live used to be the Kingdom of Mercia but is now more prosaically known as Derby. However the Mercia name lives on in the production of hand built bikes by Mercian Cycles and so I determined to have built what would be for me my dream machine; a hand built Mercian Vincitore Special. It was 6 months in the building and this week I took possession of it. I have a raft of pictures showing all sorts of details but below is an image of the finished article..

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pedalling Power

It is not my intention to publish daily updates on this blog but as and when things are added to my cycling collection and to record significant trips and events.

When I started cycling, 4 years ago now, I was always struggling to keep up with my friends, partly due to lack of fitness but also because of lack of technique. The pedals I originally used were the standard platform pedal because they came with the bike. That old second hand MTB soon broke and I went and bought myself another machine, a Hybrid Specialized Sirrus Comp. This was fitted with pedals which had toe clips.
One's instinct is to push down with each leg while pedaling a bicycle. This is where most of the power in a pedal stroke will originate, however once the pedal reaches the bottom of its travel, a significant amount of power can also be transferred to the pedals while the foot is lifted on the upstroke. This can only be accomplished if the foot is affixed to the pedal in some way. Pedaling efficiency is normally best achieved with a cadence of around 90 strokes per minute. This is very difficult to achieve without having your feet affixed to the pedals. Toe clips are the original method and having them improved my performance and as my fitness gradually improved, and my excess weight decreased, I was able to hold my own when we went for a ride. 
The new bike takes this pedal technology to the next stag; whilst clipless pedals offer this same advantage but at less weight and with somewhat more efficiency. With these type of pedals the foot and shoe are attached firmly to the pedal using a cleat mechanism. My new bike comes with the necessary pedals but no cleats were included ( perhaps I should have asked when I collected the bike ) and so I have purchased a set, one of which can be seen below.

All i need to do now is just master the use of this latest piece of technolgy and to-morrow will be a good time to start.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A 65th Birthday Present


Collected my new dream bike to-day, a 65th birthday present to myself. It is a Mercian Vincitore Special in Ice Cold Blue with Yellow Pearl as the highlights. Driven with a Campagnola Triple Chain Set. The black Brooks B17 saddle was really hard and brought back memories of the first time I rode on my first Brooks. It will wear in with application of cream.
The saddle seemed much higher than the one on the bike I usually ride but after a short distance I soon became accustomed to it. Managed the 11.7km journey home without mishaps and even started using some of the gears, but not yet changed from the middle ring.
Have arranged to take it to a photo shoot on Monday ( 5.March )so a friend can document it in its as new condition.