Saturday, March 26, 2011

Consumable Bicycle Parts

Recently I was at a frame builder who also restores vintage frames. Hanging in the little backroom there was a drop dead gorgeous older Bob Jackson - deep, pure chrome yellow with red transfers. When I say "older", I mean 1960s (?), as Jackson was founded back in 1935. The yellow paint was fresh enough that I was strongly admonished not to touch it. (He knows me.) Hands jammed securely in my pockets, I examined it closely. I commented that it was a far better paint job than a new Bob Jackson ever had. I questioned whether he was ever asked to restore a bicycle to look "original"? He quipped, "Do you mean kill the sheen down a little, ... or put the transfers on crooked?" He then went on, explaining that some items on a bicycle were transient, they are consumables - tires, bar wraps, brake hoods, brake pads - over time - spokes, rims, and even derailleurs. Bikes are built to be ridden, things wear out (even knees), and he puts paint and knees into a consumable items category that require occasional replacement. He also sees no reason to downgrade his work because someone else did 50 years ago. He said when he has the opportunity to repaint one of the frames he built himself, it makes him feel good because it means someone loves the bike enough to ride it a lot. 

One of the reasons I was at the shop was to have the front fork of my McLean straightened. McLean Fonvielle has a reputation for having built some of the sweetest riding bikes of any era, so it surprised and bothered me a little that it didn't track perfectly. It was not severe, but it meant that when riding without hands I had to concentrate to keep it from tacking to the right. You could ride it under hand control forever and never even be aware of it. To be perfect a fork has to have the axle parallel to both both planes of the crown, and the dropouts equidistant from the center plane. Mine was perfect except for being equidistant. The cure was bending each stay with a special pry bar, checking with a dial indicator on the alignment bed, bending, rechecking, bending less, rechecking, until they were straight, and then refiling the right dropout which had moved down a whisker when the stays were moved to the right. I asked if he thought the bike had been in an accident sometime in the past thirty years. He said he didn't think so, because if fork stays have been bent they don't resist being straightened as much as these did and the dropout wouldn't have needed filing. As the man said, there are no perfect bikes, it's only how close to perfection they are. While perfection is always an elusive goal, moving away just as we grab for it, it's even closer now. And it only cost me some dark beer.

"My goal is not efficiency, my goal is perfection."

1 comment:

Tom G. said...

I envy a man who can work in a field where his goal is perfection.

My life is quite the opposite. Efficiency over perfection.

Perfection can be a fickle mistress at times, but damn is she ever worth it.