Sunday, June 05, 2016

State of the Shop: A Clear and Dusty Day In June

As I wrap up my thirty-fifth lap around the sun I thought I might give you all an update of the goings on here at the Moustache Shop.  There has been and is still a fair bit of prototyping going on at the moment, and there is a lot going on that I am excited about and hope to be working out in the coming year.

Handlebars:  This is something I continue to pursure rigorously, as I believe a custom handlebar is of great complement to the fit, function, and comfort of a custom bicycle.  It places the riders hands in a position of comfort for the long haul and allows for so much in the design that just can't be achieved with off the shelf parts.  They are a highly personal item as any one's individual preference of hand and wrist position can vary wildly from the next person's.  The compound bending operation is moving along swimmingly, and riser bars are taking over my work space.  With a greater understanding of the process every bar the end goal is in sight.  The end goal being custom riser bars precision bent to order at widths, rises, and sweeps, to be user determined.  For the foreseeable future these will be a 22.2mm offering with shims to 25.4 mm or 31.8 mm.  I aim to create a new bending unit to improve on the quality of the current offering.  Presently the bars are straight as measured on the surface plate, the bends are even and symmetrical.  Not bad for a small hand operated tubing bender.  I am looking to expand my materials offering with these into a complete item that needs no further finish.  The biggest drawback to a chromoly handlebar from my point of view is the need for finish to prevent rusting.  This makes adding handlebar components a bit more difficult, but complements a finished bicycle nicely.  It is my hope to be offering these bars in titanium by the year's end, but feel the offering should represent a finished, branded product. 

Bicycles:  Well here's some bad news.  My main tubing supplier, True Temper, has decided to close its bicycle tubing division.  This is unfortunate because the big tubes I've been using to make these Flagstaff Special Arizona hardtails are not offered anywhere else, and the metallurgy used in making these tubes was absolutely top notch.  Other options are being explored as to how to fill the void within the frame building community.  I'm hopeful that the void can be filled with a domestic manufacturer, but more hopeful that the advancements in steel made by True Temper are not lost to the sands of time.  I have a small stash to be rationed appropriately.  The biggest effects of this loss will no doubt be felt by their distributor, Henry James Bicycles, and the BMX segment. 

With all the industry "progress" and change in axle, wheel, tire, and bottom bracket formats, choosing appropriate frame components has become increasingly challenging.  As a small operation it is difficult to filter and stay on top of advancements, especially considering the clout of hype surrounding any new release.  I aim to be in this for the long haul, even if my output volume is low, so that means carefully screening options as they come available.  I am rarely an early adopter of anything, and tend to favor the products that have been proven in the long haul.  Some of these new comings make sense, and most are in fact aimed at a solution of some sort, problem is that with technology of any sort there is less consensus of how-to-solve and the (in)compatibilities within the solution.  This can mean pricey investments in new tooling for a one-man operation, for a "we'll see" component offering.  Sony Beta comes to mind here.  For me it becomes a matter of "stay the course" and build directly to the rider's needs, not the manufacturer offerings.  Hopefully, under the careful eye, this is evident in all my work to date, and into the future.  Your bike should outlast the current fad of offerings and be useful and relevant into the future.  Bikes last a long time, fads do not.

I've been working through a build with 650Bx3.0" tires and in understanding the perks of "plus" (seriously folks, can we abandon this term?) find it useful to view the new wheels and tires in a familiar context.  I dusted off the ol' Rust Bucket and got some test laps in on the new wheelset.  The project goal when finished is a flex-tuned rigid bike capable of any trail in Flagstaff.  Its a tall order, but the complete bike functioning with the user in mind (in this case me) trending numbers just won't do.  It'll be an interesting product.

Roadies:  Myself and the lady are becoming roadies.  Kristin signed us up for the Logan to Jackson 200-mile bike race; its sort of her family legacy.  LOTOJA.  For me this is digging up a part of my soul that's been buried since moving west.  I used to really like riding road bikes (I was even a shave-leg), but looking at this web page makes me think that I'll be finding myself in the company of cycl-ISTS that I prefer to mock in the "Yean, I'm an asshole from Flagstaff" manner (I'm sure there are plenty of nice folks at this event, I'm just calling it as I see it--my rough and gruff in the face of intimidation, and, really, I find this ride intimidating).  I still like riding road bikes, it just happens that we have not many roads to ride a road bike on.  Well, we do, actually, they just happen to be dirt and strewn with jarring sharp rocky cobble.

With all that fuss about plus, and now that we're roadies, one product I'm quite excited about is WTB's road plus.  I'm less excited about the name, but basically its a high volume tubeless road tire meant to tackle and hold up dirt.  The TCS bead has proven worthy in the worst of Arizona conditions, and is a go-to item for mountain bike wheelsets, so I'm excited to see their mixed surface offerings.  In that mention, Kristin and I will be training on dirt, since that's what we have.  Her bike is a road racer and very limiting in surface, so she'll be getting a new ground up dirt machine just as soon as I can whip that together.  I'm excited to try some new ideas on that one.  Expect that in the next month. 

Re-visiting a past adventure:  Tomorrow morning I depart of the Arizona Trail heading north with the south rim of Grand Canyon as the destination.  I first completed this ride ten years ago nearly to the day as it was on my 25th birthday.  It was my first overnight bike adventure (actually it a two overnight adventure, the second night being somewhat unplanned.  Cosmic Ray's Fat Tire Tales and Trails guide said the 75 or 80 miles would take 12 hours, so I rightly figured I was good to do it in 6.  I had purchased a rear rack for my single speed Surly Crosscheck and strapped my gear on with a rope.  First tour.  I got a prompt start at high noon on A Clear and Dusty Day in June with the 7000 ft. sun barreling down on my back.  Wow, Arizona, land of rude awakenings.  I had run out of water before the sun had set, and despite bringing a filter, had not encountered any water on the route...that's funny.

Luckily a group of Boy Scouts had camped at Cedar Ranch, the of three stops along the route that used to be the Stage Coach route bringing the first tourists from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon.  The troop leaders topped my water, marveled at my horrific setup, told the boys they were chumps for being so whiny when there was this guy with duffel bag on a road bike riding farther than they were, and sent me my way.  I, however, was more than a little embarassed, considering myself an accomplished outdoors-man and cycler who had survived the Montana wilderness for the last two years....and to be saved by, of all walks of man or woman.....the boy scouts.  Not good.  But Grateful nonetheless.

I pressed on into the evening hours through the ranch bottoms and came across Tubs Ranch, some rotten board construction I quickly realized was infested with pack rats.  I decided to sleep outside.  I was pushing my bike as I inspected the grounds, and apparently some tumble-weed plants thought I was trying to steal their hard-earned water and gifted me with goat-head thorn seeds all about my tires.  Being one who had at that time not embraced sealant I awoke to find both tires flat.  No big deal, I'm prepared for this.  I changed my tubes and de-thorned the treads and started pumping.  At about 5 psi it got to where the tires weren't getting any more air.  I tried to ride this and headed off in the wrong direction (Cosmic Ray said [read] "bring a compass take the route most north!"--I thought "who ever needed a compass?").  I quickly turned back for Tubs after my tires were soon, again, completely flat.  That's funny. 

Luckily a group of Boy Scouts would be along in an hour or two.  Maybe I could get some help from them.  They stopped in the shade of the one Juniper tree and took their lunch.  They pumped my tires and one of their leaders gave me a new mini-pump.  I asked if I could mail it back to him and he said, "just keep it."  How embarrassing.  They topped me up on water again, as I had drank off the entirety of my night's ration, and again they sent me on my way.  

I arrived at the canyon promptly in the late afternoon with the sun beating down from above, famished, but exhilarated from the sight.  I turned west on the Grand Canyon tourist road route 64 and stopped at every tour bus pull out before making my way to Grand Canyon Village where I spent the rest of my time in the park stuffing my face in front of the grocery store.  Tourism at its finest.  After the break I pointed my bike south down Highway 180, a dismally scary road to ride, though beautiful, camped the night, and completed the return trip with a proper AZ morning start.


The trip next week will be more on pace with that trip of the Boy Scouts, but I'm reminded of my effort ten years ago and feel my steed should be reminiscent of the Surly.  So I'm taking the super commuter.  Fun-hater style.  I haven't decided to go single speed yet, but who knows.  We're taking four days to ride to the canyon, and the trip is for the Arizona Trail's Seeds of Stewardship program, for which I have worked the past few years.  We have 8 high-school students doing the trip, some have completed last year, others will be for the first time.  I sure hope they can pick up for what will no doubt be my baggage on the group.  Report to follow.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Press Release:

Our Local Internet TV Station came out to do a piece about the bike I was building for their host, Dapper Dre.  The video debuted this week for Bike to Work Week.  Click the link at the top to view full size and check out the other propaganda at

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Professor's 36er

Well, despite its size, this bike slipped out the door last month without me getting any pictures of it.  So when I got the invite over to the Professor's house last weekend to take some pictures of his historical artifacts including his new bike I jumped on over.   Here you have it better late than never: the largest Moustache to date....36" wheels, 27" of top tube, 30+" cruiser bars and nearly a 900mm saddle height.

A bike this size is best viewed through a comparative lens, so for full effect click on the images for the slide show.

 Tall man stands next to a large bicycle...

Man of above average height stands next to large bicycle.

Tall man rides large bicycle....

Man of above average height attempts to ride large bicycle.

29" wheeled bike made for tall man buried behind Professor's new Moustache 36er.

Tall man shows gratitude toward maker of Moustache; maker feels like palmed basketball.

Ride impressions?:  Well I think now just about everybody on the NAU campus has seen or been run down by this guy and his new... thing... with a crooked smile on his face as he drives the crowd.  A lucky few in the friends circle have been fortunate enough to ride it.  Smiles all around of course, but from my few moments before it left the barn:  this thing is a train in more ways than one...(good thing the Professor likes trains); it steers like its on rails and momentum is key.  All laws of physics apply: object in motion....F=ma....for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  The gyroscopic effect of those wheels is noticeable, at least to a guy of above average height and below average mass (figures based on US National averages for height and weight).  The whole platform is one of much intrigue, and now with one down I welcome the next one.  For those over 6'6" or so this is a real and viable option for a custom bike.  The whole package came together quite nicely for the Professor at 6'9".  I would be curious to spend a bit of time on one my size as well (hey we can all dream can't we?).

Mike, your spirited involvement in this project made it truly a pleasure.  Please enjoy this bicycle for a long time to come.  Thank you for the project!

History Lesson:  Sound Mechanics of the 1900s

The Professor was kind enough to invite me in to see (and hear) some relics of his archive over a hundred years old.  As a moonlighting musician that's been working on an album with a full band, and as a bike builder and aspiring machiner, it was interesting to hear how this was done in the first era of recording, as well as watch the result.

 The Edison Home Phonograph of design by inventor Thomas A Edison (yes, that Edison).  Patents on the picture below date between 1896 and 1906; this machine is of the later creation.  I'll do my best effort to set the stage and repeat what was described to me, but my brain has never been one for retaining dates, let alone factoids.  Electricity has been harnessed and Edison has already invented the network through which it is being distributed (1870s).  Most of this distribution though is to commercial interests in major cities and it seems most homes did not have electricity until the 1920s if not later.  Radio has been "discovered" but yet to be "invented" (Guglielmo Marconi is given popular credit for this in 1902 after more than 80 years of discovery and advancement in the filed, and the first radio broadcasts of human voice did not occur until 1916).  So the phonograph is a machine for mechanically reproducing sound, and without a doubt an item of luxury at this time.

Without electricity this machine uses a spring loaded wind up with weighted controllers to produce a spin of a certain RPM. .  I would have to think that the devices regulating the final RPM of the player spindle would represent advanced machining of the day.  The drive mechanisms sit in the box below the feed and amplifier.  The record is tracked with the slide at the rear of the machine.  The two arms extending off the slide serve as the tracking feed for the record and the play back.  This machine tracks off a metal fine pitch screw (above in the immediate foreground) rather than directly off the record.  Playback is direct amplification of the needle through a horn of varying size.  Below the small cone is sitting behind the player itself, and a large cone is attached to the player in the picture.

Records for this machine were cylindrical and each play will degrade the sound quality.  A record contains a single track.  Below the Professor shows off his extensive collection.  These days a track could rival i-tunes in best price or make the record companies jealous at their margins alike.  Tracks for your 1900s era Edison player could range between $0.30 and $300.00. 

The recording process of the time would have been quite interesting.  An artist would have to go into the Orange, N.J. studio to record the track in a single take.  The process was mechanical and the sound of the room would be carved into a wax mold by whatever device.  No separation of instruments, no over-dubs.  Now you have essentially a lost-wax casting process in play.  The wax mold is turned to a steel transfer for production of the final product.

Content of the songs tend represent interests of the time, so there is a lot of western themes with cowboys and Indians.  There is also, interestingly, or maybe not, a lot of subtle and not-so subtle over-tones of white privilege.  The track below is by Billy Murry with the music by the Edison House Quartet.  You can listen through the UCSB cylinder archive, and there is much more detailed information here as well.  I was unable to play the track directly but the download worked.  Ida-Ho!

With direct amplification, sound quality becomes more noticeable with speaker size.  This large cone is not something you want to be drug out of your costume closet.  When in use it would be hung from a single point at a balance as the small end of the taper needs to be able to move freely with the player needle.

The Professor's personal digitization efforts.  This part I like particularly well.  Blending the old and the new through a simple functional device.  Direct amplification of digital sound.  Thanks for the tour of the archive, el Professor!

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Dapper Dasher

I've been mixing two or more projects this winter...well...tow major projects and I can never keep track of how many minor projects, but you've likely read about some of them if you follow along here, and plenty of these minor projects are just small steps in advancing the greater offerings of the Moustache Shop.  I posted about the plate crown fork several months back as it was an accomplishment in retro-technology and the first step in building up the Dapper Dasher.  A little background is due here:

Dapper Dre is the one character I know that has the whims of our city wrapped around his finger.  The city makes a move towards progress and development, Dre has been waiting at the corner for this very moment to throw mud in her face with a smug grin and then roll in it right along side her.  He exists symbiotically with a city trying to grow despite its many constraints.  His lifestyle has grown from simple but ridiculous events that light a fire underneath the public to bring out their best both in dress and in character to inspiring our public through his antics on both on stage and on the internet.  His enterprises have grown from famed purveyor of costume attire to celebrity entertainer, but nothing has been left behind.  The wave of Dapper Dre is growing in intensity.  I never took Dre as the custom bike type, but Dre has not owned a car in the ten years I've known him.  This bike is not my typical commission, its the bike to carry a vintage lifestyle into the great unknown space of the future.  Traveller of retro-space.  Class was to be considered on all fronts.

After the plate crown fork, the frame was a sigh of relief: simple diamond frame for modern accoutrements like 650B wheels with disc brakes.  Everything you wanted in 1985 but maybe didn't know about.  Room for 45mm tires with fenders or 2.2" tires without.  Northern Arizona is a rocky place, even if you're just on a commute.  The position is one for comfort over the long haul, and with back pain riders like to be upright, so the cruiser bar project came about mid-build and has proved a worthy endeavor.  The handling is stable and predictable thanks to the slack angles, upright position, a long rake fork, and a high-ish bottom bracket keeps pedals off the rocks when travel turns to raw earth.  

Space Junk.

Bikes work out best when there is a cohesive plan from the inception and this one had it right down to the color scheme.  Burgundy with copper accents, silver and black components mix meeting at the crankset.  The burgundy color was achieved by putting down a sparkly layer of cosmic blue with a candy red top coat.  You can see the blue coming out with the tap.  Certain lights bring out the combination as a vibrant purple.  Remember your color mixtures kids.

The build for this bike had to match the rider's taste for vintage.  I chose to represent this with the best parts available from all times past and present.  The wheels are 36 hole Velocity Atlas touring rims in polished aluminum laced to my favorite: Hadley Hubs with Phil Wood custom cut spokes.  The hubs use Hadley's ti-bolt option in the rear for future adaptability in a potential trailer project with a traditional 9mm QR in the front and a bolt on skewer.  These hubs are brilliant, with excellent machining throughout, quick 72-point engagement from the titanium freehub body, adjustable bearing preload and simplicity in rebuiling.  The choice between shimano and sram xd drivers is also available. For this project we went with the Shimano option for back compatiblity with the NOS 8 speed m900 12-32 tooth cassette.  Oh yes!  This piece was matched to gray XTR derailleurs and mated to Suntour XC Pro top mount shifters.  The best in vintage mountain bike drivetrains.

Further rounding out the build are Honjo aluminum fenders, Rivendell Fatty Rumpkin tires, Avid BB7 brakes with Speed Dial Ultimate levers.  If you're questioning the brakes, think about this:  before these came along you had the option of Hayes 22mm post mount hydraulics that were finicky at best...these brakes eased the transition from rim brakes to hydraulic discs in a simple and elegant manner that was easy for any average joe to grasp.  Paul components just now released a disc brake that is functionally a clone of this design that dates back, what, 16 years?  I'd say that's pretty timeless.

The rest of it was accomplished with a White Industries double crankset with a 26/40 tooth ring combo attached to a Phil Wood square taper bottom bracket.  Should be service free for at least the next five years, probably more like ten or fifteen.  Headset is a Cane Creek 110, and Thomson supplies the seatpost and BMX stem.  The seat is a Brooks kevlar and rubber model.

The racks were created to match the overall theme with wood inlays reminiscent of a flatbed pickup from the '60s.  The rear will accommodate standard panniers from any number of makers while the front is more aimed at a large cargo like a trunk.

Upon receiving this bicycle, Dapper Dre turned up in production mode, cameras rolling.  The bike was unveiled from beneath a tarp and christened with the bubbly.  Champagne was sprayed about, coating that lovely red finish before being licked off by the man himself.  A hilarious spectacle.  Pee-wee quotes were quoted, and circles were ridden.  "Its not for sale Francis"

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Stock Parts....

....Blockhead.  I needed some fork ends that would take a way oversize piece of straight gauge as a fork blade and a 10mm axle.  The yarder is running a rear hub for a front hub.  Nothing really seemed to fit the bill so I machined these little pieces out of some 4130 plate.  Quite simple really.  8 corners, 90 degree angles.  They line up the blade with ample room for the disc rotor and there's enough space left over in the miter to manipulate the spread of the crown a bit.  Brass is sweat both inside and outside the fork blade and the rest is capped.  I'll get a good picture of the finished product before its all gone, but have neglected to so far.

One Paragon item I never thought I'd use is their tapered steerer (MS2009).  It is a beautifully machined piece of 4130 with relief internally to match the transfer of stress loads of a fork flexing from bump and brake into the steerer and headset and on into the main triangle.  In my mind it has seemed excessive in most rigid bike applications versus a straight steerer.  I find a straight 1.125" steerer, or for increased braking demands a externally tapered steerer for a 1.125" headset (MS2026 or my own made) more appropriate for brazing a unicrown or segment crown fork for most bicycles (meaning up to a 29" tire and 3" width or less).  Increased leverage from added length of the fork blades on the 36er coupled with a 200mm disc rotor creates a need for extra strength in the fork crown and the tapered steerer is up for the task.  The crown tubing pieces wrap the fork blades and in this case approach the size of the steerer base.  Tube diameter and wall thickness are a crescendo of sorts, growing thicker towards the top.  All told the 9 inches of steerer tube stack will most likely remain its full length when the build is complete.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Project 787

....No this isn't the introduction of carbon into the materials list as the commercial jet manufacturer did with their similarly titled project.  It is however in reference to the size of the project, namely the BSD.  While the aforementioned jet manufacturer likely felt similar about their project in size and scale, they are a large corporation with substantial public holding and an infrastructure that occupies the better part of a major world city; I am a guy with an impoverished affinity for tools, access to a 300 square foot shop, and the desire to make awesome bikes for people.  So to talk about the scale of this project being let's say... similar to that of the jet company... is likely the greatest understatement of the day.

Now, I'm not really one for novelty bikes or fad, I hope my work to date speaks to that, I generally try to talk folks out of ideas that I would think to be less than good.  There have been plenty of over the top requests that I have flat out declined before even considering the time involved or final price.  More often though people's ideas are really just based in that of a good riding bicycle, but muddled with the latest hype.  With a little direction and specificity their dream is easy enough to achieve.

My ongoing email conversation with the Professor is as of typing this: 70 emails long.  70 emails with little more than a wheelset to show for it.  The conversation started clear back in September with the subject line "Big Bike,"  to which the Professor briefly introduced himself (as a sizeable figure that, well, let's just say Lebron James would look up to), his well worn bike collection (that included a couple other customs), and his desire (Big Bike).  He concluded by asking if I would be interested in meeting up for further conversation.  I obliged.  I had never really considered making a 36er before, nor what would go into doing so, but this proposal was 100% necessity.  The rest is me nit-picking the details of every imaginable element that could possibly be conjured into, onto, or beside a two-wheeled structure.  For the Professor, this is an object of necessity, he dwarfs his current 29er.

A good bike build starts with the hubs in hand, and with a BSD of 787 mm, and a rider weight of 285 lbs, nothing can be overlooked.  I turned to Phil Wood for the hubset... err... most of the parts of what would ultimately become the hubset.  The snow bike front hub 135 mm OLD and tandem rear hub 145 mm OLD were the last ones sitting on the shelf in 36 hole drilling.  These will work.  The reason for these hubs is the wider flange spacing allowing a similar spoke angle (flange to rim) to that of a 29er, even though the radius is nearly 3.5 inches larger:  stability.   With the hubs in hand I began to realize that the quick release configuration these were sent with just wouldn't do, so I went about turning new stainless axle ends for an in-house bolt on conversion since PW didn't have the parts.  The cool thing about these hubs is the axle is the same regardless of configuration and is internally threaded M8 x 1.25mm.  Spacers threaded onto the axle O.D. handle the interface with the frame and the location between the dropouts.  I took this opportunity to align the snow bike front hub to rear disc spacing.  This better centers the flanges and gives better disc rotor to fork blade clearance.  Onto wheel building.

Being that this is a bike built on unicycle parts there are some things to keep in mind... namely limited parts selection.  There are these rims, maybe another choice, that lace to a choice of two or three hubs (crank attached via ISIS interface), with your choice of three lengths of 14 gauge spokes in 5 mm increments*.  Hardly a wheel builder's dream world.  With my hubs already in hand I had failed to consider the option most closely resembling the dimensions of the unicycle hubs.  Hub choice for my criteria above was already quite limited.  What came next was a wheel builder's dilemma, how to resolve making up the differences in spoke length not covered by the sizes available.  I'll let those of you still reading stew your options here.

*if anyone reading has a source for blank spokes in the 380mm range I'm all ears*

Alongside all this is the now emerging problem that none of this bike will fit my existing tooling.  From wheels and beyond, this bike is the tool-maker's project.  The goal for the rest of it is to keep things as simple as possible, but a compiled tool's built photo for this project is definitely in order.  First off, the truing stand got a 5 inch lift kit....

...As did the dishing tool get an extension.

The project is now moving into the metalwork phase with a tensioned wheelset.  The front is based on a rear MTB hub spacing and 10mm axle for strength and future compatibility; the tandem spaced rear is laced offset 4.5 mm to the drive side equalizing spoke tension between hub flanges and favorably bumping the chainline; the frame will be built to accommodate.  Gear inch calculations are amplified through the large diameter wheel so a 11-36t ten speed cassette will be used along with a 28t BMX sprocket.  Everything parts wise will be chosen from the "tried and true."  To be continued...