Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Cold

Cycling is an offering to the sun. Going for a bike ride is a way to say “thanks” to your maker for the summer months. With the sun beating down and the wind rifling over your body, it’s easy to be grateful for a good life and abundant health.

Indoctrination into serious road riding and racing happens by degrees, much like peeling layers from an onion. But there comes a point when cycling ceases to be an expression of the best of times. We experience the same transition in romantic relationships. At first, we date. Our most hallowed hours of the weekend are saved for the object of our affection, but soon, we can’t get enough of our heart’s desire and we begin to spend as much time as possible with them. For romantic partners, that means trips to the grocery store together and cleaning house. For cyclists, it means riding in the cold.

You probably remember the first photograph you saw of the peloton racing in the snow. For me, it was a shot from Het Volk and the guys were covered in the best in thermal cycling wear. Mutts, balaclavas, thick gloves and thermal booties were the rule.

The shot altered my world view. Seeing the world’s great pros race their bikes in falling snow seemed more than just implausible. It seemed impossible but inspired a kind of hope that was crazy. That’s why science fiction can generate such a compelling hold on the mind. How else could you explain the fascination of men interacting with dinosaurs?

Simply put, riding in the cold is antithetical to the reasons why we took up cycling. It isn’t the breezy pleasure of a summer day. It isn’t carefree. It isn’t a triumph of the will. Or isn’t it?

To be sure, cycling in the cold, if done well, is a submission. It is a submission to the temperature, to the wind, to all the crueler elements. It is a submission to the larger demands of the season, an admission that we cannot hope to be at peak form year-round. Even so, it does take a force of will to leave home when temps reach freezing. A frozen water bottle is only cool as part of a story told months later. The humility required to keep the heart rate in check requires banishing the ego for months at a time.

But with that submission comes a reward. Base miles are pennies in a piggy bank: They aren’t sexy, but they do add up. Each new sunny day of the spring is payback for every effort you didn’t make. And like a flower in the sun, you open with the warmth to show a new you, the one worth watching.

But for now, the miles tick by unremarkably. The ego sits in a box on the shelf and each of us waits, waits for the change of the seasons that returns us to our real home, the true self.

Photo Credit: Presse Sports

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tim Krabbé's The Rider

Great books on cycling generally fall under the category of racing history. Whether the race was last year or the last century, recounting the exploits of the greats is usually a requisite ingredient to give a writer something interesting enough to write about with some style. The point behind this assertion is that great cycling books are of a kind; they do not come from the categories of fix-it manuals (as well done as some are), guidebooks or training manuals.

Novels almost never figure in the category of cycling books, good or bad. The Rider, by Tim Krabbé is therefore special for two reasons. The first reason is that it is a novel on cycling. That alone makes it noteworthy, if not automatically worth reading. The second reason The Rider is interesting is the simplest reason why any book is worth reading: It is extraordinarily well written.

Each time I read this book (don’t ask how many times I’ve been through it) I marvel because it captures perfectly the mindset of the racing cyclist. It also captures the otherness of the introspective cyclist, which is, in my estimation, a harder, more ephemeral mindset to communicate, yet he does it crisply from the book’s opening:

"Meyrueis, Lozere, June 26, 1977. Hot and overcast. I take my gear out of the car and put my bike together. Tourists and locals are watching from sidewalk cafes. Non-racers. The emptiness of those lives shocks me."

His Spartan writing style recalls the simple journalism of Hemingway and yet his alienation from such an ordinary pursuit—sitting at a café—is Kafka-esque. It’s an alienation that any dedicated roadie has felt at some point.

The Rider was published in 1978 but wasn't translated into English until 2002 by Sam Garrett. That we had to wait so long to enjoy Krabbé's work of art is tragic.

If you forget for a moment that the story is a novel and just read it as a memoir of a single day—yes, it recounts a single race—and read it as an exploration of the racer’s psyche, it stands up as one of the finest meditations on what it means to race a bicycle ever written—if not the absolute finest. Written as only a true insider could do, the details are as familiar as they are humorous, such as the racer nicknamed le douze in honor of the fact that he rides with a 12-tooth cog just because Eddy Merckx had one.

Krabbé’s insight into the racer’s mentality as evidenced by his ability to gather quotes by the greats and use their words to demonstrate the truth of the belief. He writes: “Bicycle racing is a sport of patience.” True enough. But then he backs it up with my favorite quote on what it is to wait for the right moment to attack: “’Racing is licking your opponent’s plate clean before starting on your own.’ Hennie Kuiper said that. Lebusque will stay out front for kilometers. Where would we be without Lebusque? Lebusque doesn’t know what racing is.”

What Krabbé knows is what only a dedicated racer knows. “If anyone really attacked now, I wouldn’t be able to follow. Can they tell that by looking at me? I’m too exhausted to hide my exhaustion.”

There is a reason why the crew at Rapha have lionized Krabbé’s exploits in the Cevennes. The Tour of Mont Aigoual is the very stuff of myths—a place few cyclists know, Category 1 and 2 climbs, teeth-gritting descents, epic weather, suicidal competitors and of course the eternal calculus of competition.

For the person who has never raced, The Rider will likely scare them the way the dark scares children. For the roadie who never lost the taste for the attack and the drag to the finish, The Rider may be the truest statement you ever read about your life.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Review: Cervelo SLC-SL

Frankly, I’m not sure which is more interesting: Cervelo’s web site or their bikes. I’ve always admired bike companies that will take the time to explain the thinking behind their products. It’s rare that a company will discuss the development of a product in any real depth. Rarer yet is the company that will help a consumer evaluate which bike might be most appropriate for said consumer. If all the company offers are mountain bikes, road bikes and the odd time trial bike, no real assistance is needed because if someone can’t decided between off-road or on or crits vs. triathlon, well, they need more help than a bike company can offer.

That’s what makes the Cervelo site so much fun. Frankly, there’s so much information, so many articles and presentations, I have yet to see it all. Perhaps the most interesting of the bunch is the presentation “Col de la Tipping Point.” It’s an examination of whether a rider is better off using an aero bike vs. a super-light climbing bike … even on a mountain stage of the Tour de France. They examine Frank Schleck’s choice of the SLC-SL on the day he won the stage up l’Alpe d’Huez. The math involved seems solid enough, though some of the assumptions may be up for some debate.

Their determination: The SLC-SL gave Schleck the advantage he needed to win, more than he would have gained with an R3 SL.

Verifying this sort of advantage, unfortunately, is nearly impossible. There’s no way to control for all the variables you’ll encounter in rides in order to test one bike against the other. And that’s the frustration with this bike. Riding a bike that is unusually light, or at least lighter than your daily rider, is immediately apparent. And while I’ve seen plenty of nerds do the math to show that losing 1.5 lbs. off a 15 lb. bike is a less than 1 percent change in weight once you factor in the weight of a 150 lb. rider. This is bunk. The difference between a 15 lb. bike and a 16.5 lb. bike is immediately apparent. That 10 percent increase in weight is significant enough to be noticeable to any rider.

But what about aerodynamics? I could ride the SLC-SL back to back with a bike of equal weight but inferior aerodynamics for weeks and am not sure I’d be able to define the difference. In my rides on the SLC-SL a funny thing did happen, though. Every time I was at the front of a ride, I started to wonder if the bike was giving me an edge. Ah yes, the power of the placebo effect. And every time I had that thought, I felt ridiculous.

A small note on the internal cable routing: It rattled worse than my nerves in an earthquake. After two hours I was homicidal over the noise. As the bike wasn’t mine and I didn’t have it for a month, I didn’t have time to find out how to shut it up.

And while this review is about the Cervelo and not about the Shimano Ultegra-SL, I need to take a moment to say how impressed I was. If I had not known the components were not Dura-Ace, I might never have figured it out from their performance. The weight was impressive, shifting performance was excellent and brake response was adequate, though it seemed not quite as easy to modulate as the Dura-Ace stoppers.

Inevitably, the question of why someone would ride an aerodynamic road bike instead of a time trial bike comes up. After all, time trial bikes use designs that maximize the bicycle’s aerodynamics. And while better aerodynamics is faster, the fact is, aerodynamics aren’t everything. The best time trial bikes aren’t as stiff as the average road bike is at the head tube. This is to give riders improved comfort over long time trials (such as the Ironman), something they can afford given their events don’t end in sprints.

My lasting impressions of the SLC-SL were these: The SLC-SL handled with great agility, but enough stability to keep me out of trouble. The bike had great torsional stiffness, nearly that of the Specialized Tarmac or the Felt F1. However, the aero seatpost was as stiff as any of the integrated seatmast designs I have ridden so far. It was extraordinarily stiff vertically. The term vertical compliance came up only in the negative. It’s a great bike, just not for a century. I’m aware that CSC riders are capable of covering 150 miles on this bike, but we have the power of choice. Were I racing crits and trying to ride off the front, this would be a first-round draft.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Teams of Portland

Like the timer in the game Perfection, Portland, OR is set to go off in a few weeks, and the bike scene is about to come face-to-face with just how massive it really is.

Don Walker kicks off his fourth iteration of the Handmade Bicycle Show and it is sure to out-do the three previous shows. Each year, attendance has increased and the exhibitors have worked harder and harder to showcase their very best work.

In typical Portland style, there are pre-events, post-events and events in-between, and most will include great coffee and cheap beer, but all will include a steady dosage of bike culture.

The one event that stands out is the Teams of Portland exhibit, a showcase that spotlights local racing teams, culture squads (thanks CD) and good time clubs that feature the bikes, kits, and hangouts that make our sport (and Portland's scene) so amazing.

Teams of Portland is presented at Wieden + Kennedy; Nike's ad agency and the force behind Road to Paris.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Crystal Ball

So will Team Slipstream go to the Tour de France? They’ve been invited to the Giro d’Italia, Taylor Phinney just won Gold in the pursuit at a World Cup race, and Julian Dean has repeated as the National Champion in the road race.

With all due respect though, so what? Not that they aren’t good enough to go—that’s not it. No, the fact is, while those things are nice, they aren’t exactly bona fides. No, if you want to go to the Tour de France, you need wins in the spring, preferably in ASO-owned events. It’s a simple and fair formula: If you want to kiss the girl, buy her flowers.

It doesn’t hurt that Magnus Backstedt has won Paris-Roubaix, or that David Millar and David Zabriskie both won time trials at the Tour and wore the maillot jaune. Each of those is great but, well, what have they done lately? And by that, the question is, what, exactly, did they accomplish last season? It’s quite a demand.

Don’t worry: the question is irrelevant. Unless the team utterly tanks this spring and gets dropped en masse from each and ever race they enter, Slipstream will be at the Tour come July. Here’s why:

Even if by a miracle of psychosis most folks believed that the athletes caught up in the recent drug scandals were all completely innocent of all the accusations, a belief comparable to thinking that evolution was just a cute idea, the fact is any reasonable person must conclude that the mere specter of doping has clouded our opinion of sport. Name a sport—other than curling—that hasn’t had some whiff of the illicit. If you have come up with one, you are a better person than I.

Put simply, the Tour de France has been injured by athletes accused of doping to win the largest annual sporting event in the world. Let’s try not to be surprised.

Supposing you were the director of the Tour. What would you do?

The way I do the math tells me that I would seek out any and every team that has garnered publicity for running a clean program. If media attention can be considered a reliable yard stick, CSC, High Road and Slipstream are running the most noisily clean programs in the sport. It is notable that WADA’s Anne Gripper, in speaking with the members of Slipstream at the team’s intro in Boulder recently, actually wished the team good luck. Given the extraordinarily adversarial relationship of WADA to most athletes—and vice versa—Gripper’s attitude toward Slipstream is refreshing, and largely attributable to the program’s transparency; Vaughters is the world’s first NASCAR crew chief inviting officials to look under the hood of his car … every other week.

Slipstream needs an invitation to the Tour de France because Vaughters made a wildcard invitation one of the team’s biggest goals of the season. He could just as easily have said he wanted to win the Eneco Tour. His choice. However, the Tour de France can’t survive another five years like the last two. Even three more years of embarrassing revelations about the yellow jersey—whether true or not—will see even the event’s most die-hard sponsors flee. The Tour de France needs Team Slipsteam to help restore its prestige, even as Vaughters’ young unit looks to confirm its legitimacy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Green Line

Michelin is best known for its tires. After that, its reputation as the arbiter of the greatest achievements in gastronomy is only mildly in dispute. For the veteran traveler, the guides to hotels and tourist destinations—le guide rouge et le guide vert—are two inarguable sources of helpful information. What most people can’t reconcile is how a company known for making tires for cars (and motorcycles and bicycles, of course) could also be the consummate reviewer of restaurants. The connection is as tenuous as, say, an action film star becoming Governor of California.

But there is a connection and when you see it, suddenly Michelin’s magnanimity takes on such mythic proportions as to seem like a new take on philanthropy. The connection between Michelin’s pneumatic products, its restaurant guides, hotel guides and tourist guides are maps. You see, Michelin is in the travel business. Rather than offering package tours, cruises or cheap airfare, they supply those items a traveler of roads might need: Directions, food, lodging and a good time. What could be more obvious?

Its three-tiered ranking system awards stars based on criteria that have been called incontrovertible, objective, idiotic, old-fashioned, ingenious and arcane. Even if not everyone agrees to the judgments, the system is easy to understand and offers travelers a reasonable starting point for trip itineraries.

But perhaps Michelin’s greatest achievement aren’t the tires or the primers on Gothic architecture or the surveys of French wines, but that most necessary of travel aids, the map. Due to a map's essentially objective nature there isn’t much to make it likable or revolting in measures small or large. Yet Michelin has found a way to distinguish itself by offering maps that are easy to read. And because it is the Michelin staff’s very nature to evaluate and review whatever it encounters, its cartographers have determined that not all roads are created equal. Some roads, to paraphrase, are more equal than others.

The green line is Michelin’s way of saying, ‘You’ll remember this drive for the rest of your life.’ Now, depending on just where you are, that might mean beautiful or breathtakingly precarious, but that’s your call. The larger point is that every road that offers an exemplary view gets a green stripe hugging the road itself.

Those green lines are a cyclist’s best friend after the bike itself. An interesting road is like news: To keep one’s attention, there must be changes, undulations, unexpected twists and turns. No one ever called the driving in Nebraska beautiful. And yet everyone talks of a drive through the Alps as being beautiful, but also a little scary.

For the cyclist who uses maps as a way to fantasize about the vacation not yet taken, Michelin maps are the HDTV of the cartographic experience. Arguably one of the finest spiral-bound documents ever assembled is Michelin’s atlas of France. Compiled in 1:200,000 detail, the atlas leaves no asphalt ignored in its corralling of each and every road in France. And as great as that atlas is, Michelin offers other treasures you may not know about unless you visit France. Little known are the 300-series maps in 1:150,000 scale. The green line threads its way up and down mountain passes like ribbon through a young girl’s braid. Each switchback and chevron spell a cyclist’s playground, an epic day just waiting to happen, a family album to the Tour de France, monuments to the greatest battles on French soil.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Paris Roubaix: A Journey Through Hell

Both victories began the same way. With a monster bridge up to a small group of leaders: Tete de La Course.

The suffering is unlike any I have felt before. The pain in my legs is overshadowed by the pain in my lower back. My teeth split small granules of the farmer's field as I close my mouth in search of relief from the dryness. My fingers are stiff like twigs and my eyes are searing from the swirling dust. I have the strength and the constitution to close the deal, to ride into the velodrome alone, with enough time on my rivals to adjust my jersey and to savor the moment. I ride the last 100 meters and my eyes well up, the tears begin to flow, I release the pain and suffering that has built up over the course of the day in a flood of emotions. I've received the ultimate gift from the Queen: the opportunity to call her my own for one year. My reward? A place in cycling history realized in the form of a plaque hung in the famous concrete showers.

As an adult, I don't dream the same way I used to. The dreams of flying replaced by dreams of losing my teeth and punching underwater. The stresses of adult life have squashed the youth right out of my slumber. However, over the month of December, I have on two occasions drifted off to sleep and awoke in the morning a winner of Paris Roubaix.

I attribute the victories to my time spent reading Paris Roubaix: A Journey Through Hell, the new book published by VeloPress. Paris Roubaix (PR) is a comprehensive collection of past and present race images and detailed accounts of its history, having more depth than most PR accounts.

The essence of the book can be felt as you lay it on your lap and begin to page through it. The cover image shows a lone rider, Johann Museeuw, in his prime and entrenched in the mud. You can just hear the cacophony of sounds screaming from the rabid fans. A yellow Lion of Flanders flag stands out as one of the only splashes of color on the cover (the mud muting all others). To a bookstore passerby, the cover image alone would pique the curiosity of the un-indoctrinated: The cover shot is an ode to the material contained inside, a photo capturing all the things that draws one to this race.

Inside, the history of the race is laid out in simple form making it easy to devour large portions of the book in single sittings. As a fanatic, I've spent far too much time studying the images of the world's greatest one day race, where many of the images have become icons: Tchmil's muddy 1994 victory, the view down "The Trench," and the crown of the cobbled farmers' paths that reveal cavernous gaps between the stones (those wide enough to swallow up an unsuspecting tourist!). The images in Paris Roubaix captures a humanistic perspective that draws in the reader and annotates the surrounding text.

Something about this book has grabbed me in a way no other cycling book ever has. Mind you, Philippe Brunel's 1996 An Intimate Portrait of the Tour De France spoke to me, but this book punched me so hard it knocked a tooth loose. The book is a refreshing look at the world's greatest one day race, a race that over the past years has been distilled to fit neatly in a series of thumbnails on a Web page. Images lacking depth and truth. A Journey Through Hell brings the race back to life, capturing the faces of the people who make the race what it is. From the PROs themselves to the police to the spectators, this book packs your lunch and drags you and your family out for a day at the races.

Immerse yourself in this great race and at the very least, sip an espresso at your local bookstore while thumbing through the pages.

Then, try walking out without purchasing a copy of your own.

Paris Roubaix: A Journey Through Hell
VeloPress 2007

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Low-Slung Fun

When presented the opportunity to build a bike start to finish, I elected to put my theory that cyclocross bikes are built with too little BB drop to the test. I had theorized for some time that a bike that handled more like a traditional stage racing bike would be easier to lean through the tight turns of a cyclocross course.

So the $64,000 question is: How does it handle? My experience in riding the bike I built under Stanton's guidance has been that the greater-than-usual BB drop does help the bike corner better than other cyclocross bikes I have ridden. Cornering clearance has not been a problem. On broad, sweeping crit-style corners where I have seen other riders pedal through the whole of the corner, I have been able to pedal through as well. On the super-tight corners that I have only ever seen in cyclocross courses, corners where the course sometimes literally doubles back on itself is where my rig really excels. I have been able to corner much more aggressively than many other riders. Likewise, I’ve noticed in watching other categories race over the same course that the corners I coasted through were corners other racers coasted through as well.

While I expected the bike to corner well, there were two other, subtle, handling assets I didn’t anticipate. I noticed that in riding through frozen ruts, or any ruts for that matter, that I tended to be thrown off my line less than other riders around me. And on the opposite end of the spectrum (though I believe the handling issue to be related), on sandy stretches I was much more comfortable allowing the bike to slide and drift than I have been on any other ‘cross bike. Indeed, one of my favorite memories of riding this bike was in my district championship and and feeling the bike drift slightly while hammering under full power over sandy hardpack.

But don’t take my word for it. When Tim Rutledge, the former product manager for Redline first got the green light to introduce a Redline cyclocross frame and fork, he elected to design a bike that would handle like a traditional road bike when equipped with a 23mm clincher. He modeled the geometry after two bikes he saw reviewed in Bicycle Guide: an Eddy Merckx and Mario Cipollini’s custom Cannondale. Both were built around 7.5cm of BB drop. Rutledge has moved on to other pastures and Redline’s geometry has evolved to reflect that the company now offers complete road bikes, but Rutledge won a master’s national championship (as did several others) aboard the bike he designed.

The tragedy here is that no one truly understands the interplay of all aspects of bicycle geometry. By that I mean, there isn't an engineer out there who can explain in objective terms how each dimension relates to the others. We know in broad strokes how they relate, but as the previous comments have shown, there is some disagreement about what one truly experiences as bottom bracket height changes. Our use of terminology confuses the issue: Is a bike with a low bottom bracket (7.5cm of drop or more) more stable or more maneuverable? It comes down to how you think about bicycle handling. And while the specific differences in physics between how two-wheel and four-wheel vehicles handle are substantial, I do believe the differences in handling between a Mini Cooper and an SUV do help to illustrate the difference in sensation, because what is at stake is a matter of perception--if the rider or driver perceives confident handling, greater speed seems possible and not unreasonable.

While it is true that I could have shortened the bike’s trail or wheelbase, both those approaches have liabilities related to tire clearance and toe overlap that must be worked around. I think most builders would say that less trail will make a bike more responsive, but that isn’t the same thing as cornering easily and what I was looking for was a bike that I could lean without fighting, a bike that increased my sense of confidence when in a corner. I found a design that I like, no more no less. Ultimately, the question is why the industry continues to follow a convention based on a piece of equipment no longer used, a convention which can be validly questioned.

Vacation Frame Building Camp

Talking to frame builders is a dangerous business. If you do it enough, you begin to think you know the craft. You start to develop your own ideas about frame geometry, the lines of a seat lug and how your name for a bike would be way better than what is out there.

Disabusing us of these ideas isn’t the business of the frame builder. Rather, we are left to our own devices and either we learn just how skilled the torch bearers are, or we decide to take up the craft ourselves. A few years ago, I was invited to take a middle road.

For those who follow the ranks of juniors, Toby Stanton is known for producing more national championship winning riders than any two coaches combined. Jonathan Page, Robby Dapice, Jesse Anthony, Larssyn Staley, Saul Raisin and Will Frischkorn all called him coach. He also builds and paints frames under the label Hot Tubes and in the late 1990s he began teaching frame building classes to the curious.

The class takes the uninitiated from un-mitered tube to painted frame. Choices along the way include lugs or TIG welding, not to mention the opportunity to design your own logo. Some in the industry have expressed some skepticism about Stanton’s ability to impart all that a frame builder needs to learn in a single 9-5 week. He is clear with everyone the workshop is not a trade school for future professionals, though that's not to say builders haven't apprenticed under him. Upon my arrival he stated repeatedly, “This is about your comfort level; you can do as much or as little as you want.” You could say it is frame builder fantasy camp—a guided tour, if you will.

For me, it was the perfect opportunity to test my theory that a ‘cross bike with a lower BB would corner more easily. What we settled on was a cyclocross frame with a 59-centimeter seat tube (measured center to center), a 58cm top tube, 42cm chainstays, 43 mm of fork rake, parallel 73-degree seat and head tube angles and the kicker: 7.5cm of bottom bracket drop—a full centimeter lower than most ‘cross frames. With a set of road clinchers this bike would have the bottom bracket height of a traditional Italian stage racing bike, about 26.5cm. Toby walked me through the steps for producing the drawing, which detailed the angle of each junction and each tube’s length down to the millimeter. We then mitered each tube and began fitting them together in the frame jig.

While the experience wasn’t meant to make you think like a framebuilder, Stanton’s coaching gifts came into play as we moved through each step. He would ask questions about each step to see if I understood why we were doing things in a certain way. Each question served to illustrate the methodical thinking a good frame builder must use to produce a strong and straight frame.

Most tubes received two cuts per end: one for the angle and one to conform to the round profile of the tube. I deburred each end on a belt sander, filed each edge square and Dremeled the inside of each lug smooth. Only then did we begin brazing.

The first thing I learned about the torch was that even though silver has a low melting point, we were working with temperatures in excess of 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. I had the skittish demeanor of a schoolboy trying to light a roman candle from 50 paces. Stanton passed his hand 10 inches in front of the flame without wincing. In doing so he demonstrated the most crucial facet of the framebuilder’s craft: heat is dispensed only where it needs to be. With a flame as small as he uses (he, like many builders, uses the smallest tip available: #0) what he waves around has all the focus of a camera lens opened up to F2—virtually no depth of field. What he gave me to wave over the joint had nothing in common with a flamethrower.

On the four joints of the main triangle he broke me in gradually, demonstrating first and then handing over the torch and silver rod. In a few spots where I seemed to have trouble coordinating torch and rod he let me hold one while he deftly wielded the other. Trying to heat the seat tube/bottom bracket joint while holding the silver rod in the right spot and see the joint without having some part of your anatomy brush up against hot steel is a little like driving a stick for the first time.
I burned up some flux, left some globs of silver and, in short, did what seemed really questionable work. Stanton’s voice was even and patient: “Okay, now you’re burning up the flux, so back off on the heat.” Once the brazing was complete, the filing began.

We had done nothing to alter the basic line of the lugs themselves, but I wanted to make sure that I thinned the points as well as removed all the casting seams. For an experienced builder the process is simple, but for the uninitiated, a minute can go by while you try to choose the right file to work on a curve. It seemed as if Stanton could remove in three file strokes what it took me ten or more to accomplish. Builders will talk about how silver is soft; don’t believe them. Silver is still metal and this precious element doesn’t file away like the wood in a Cub Scout’s Pinewood Derby car. Day two ended as day three would begin: with me filing.

By the time we brazed the fork my skill had improved dramatically, but I still waivered between so little heat that I bent the silver rod rather than feeding it in and heating the joint to the point that the silver was practically sucked into the joint like a chocolate bar into the maw of a five-year-old.

We checked both the frame and fork for alignment and I attempted to hide my amazement: They were as straight as a Nevada highway. Stanton handled the sandblasting and painting duties, though I understand he now guides students through these steps as well.

In 40 hours (maybe a bit more) we went from uncut tubes and a simple theory to a finished frame. After baking the paint overnight, I assembled it into a bike and raced it a day later at ‘cross nationals.

Given the long nature of this post, my riding experience will come in a subsequent post, an unexpected Part III, if you will.