First I take an image in profile of a 29er mountain bike, stretch the wheel base, relax the head and seat tube angles, bump the front wheel forward even more, then play with top tubes and head tubes until I like what I see, until an image feeds me the right connotations. I want a "friend for life" kind of bike. Something a guy will want to ride every day, to work, out with his kids, on detours along fire trails, and out of an evening. It should symbolize the pride many of us take in things meant to last, bought in the knowledge that some unborn great grandson will one day love it so much as well. A persistent thought with my first doodles is that fork blades fixed above and below and also proud of the head tube, might provide a stable base for carrying loads on the front.
With a few rough sketches complete, I meet with my frame builder, CB King, to have lunch. We agree the classic roadster lacks joy, and that, of the preacher bike and my reinterpretation of Lars Leikier’s design for Velorbis, the Leikier-like bike really does capture the eye.
If I may backtrack a little, we have been shooting the breeze over drinks about some kind of paying hobby growing out of our bike-lust. CB has persuaded me that with any such enterprise should only be in pursuit of perfection. The mere cost of CB’s time on the tools, given he is otherwise gainfully employed as an architect, calls for our use of el supremo materials, like Reynolds 953 stainless tubing, and investment cast stainless steel lugs. We’ve decided too that CB’s legendary workmanship should all be revealed and that there will not be a trace of paint on our bike! Normal wear and tear will not see the bike needing repainting.
We are gazing here toward the elite end of fame manufacturing, that—at the risk of sounding even more snobby than usual—seems set to remain a first-world phenomenon. Learning that Chinese factories have entered the ti frame market, my lordy, it has been like hearing Catholics might have moved onto my street: time to move kids! Time to look to the most elite materials of all—too niche for China—and also look to boutique components like Rohloff speedhubs, and limited edition Brooks saddles, and so forth. This will be the $12,000 bike for the buyer in that price range not looking to spend it on a road bike. It will be a randonneur for idolaters. It will be for WASPs.
It would be disingenuous not to say too, that my time in the blogosphere has taught me the worth of an oddball design. Daily, some other industrial design student has their whacked out final year project picked up by gear patrol or the cool hunter, then cut and pasted onto all the world’s blogs, with no regard for which, if any, of those great designs is even intended to go beyond prototype stage. Digital reproduction acts as a proxy for having artifacts themselves reproduced. But what most interests me, is that salient designs get lots of free press! Doubtless a Reynolds 953 X-frame randonneur would stand out at next year’s North American Handmade Bike Show, would it not?
But before you discard me as a purveyor of novelty for novelty’s sake, allow me to relay CB’s expert appraisal, that shortening the effective tube lengths of a big long bike such as I am designing, will actually increase the frame’s torsion. Meanwhile, I’m thinking the apparent torsional weak point where that top tube and down tube cross over, might be more than compensated for, if we use a non-butted over-size down tube.
The only question, is whether or not a Leikier inspired bike will be received as a ripoff. To my mind, the much longer wheelbase, larger size wheels and an array of original details, will make the design I’m developing about as much like its progenitor as mountain bikes are like the bikes that first inspired them, BMX bikes. In any case, bike frame types are hardly the subjects of copyright, are they!
So we move on to scale drawings. Pictured left is a version with 70 degree head and seat tube angles — about as laid back as possible without compromising out-of-saddle climbing ability. A high (320mm) bottom bracket height will put the rider up over the bike, leaning ever so slightly onto the bars. The drawing on the right was drawn later, and shows a more elegant front cargo tray and fender stay angles. Otherwise, I fear it is too relaxed (68 degrees) to be of much use outside of Holland.
The weakness of my preferred version, is the 800mm standover height. Anyone with legs shorter than mine, couldn’t ride it. I could slope, or "compact", that top tube, but in so doing would risk being untrue to my prejudice, that adult male’s bikes have horizontal top tubes, as surely as men have short hair. As a matter of style and subjective connotations, the top tube must remain horizontal.
Those long fork blades, the front luggage support and the handlebars could all be made as one piece, maybe from square section stainless. I’m thinking the rear stays might all use square section likewise. Cream coloured 700c Schwalbe Fat Frank tires. Ply wood or stainless fenders: I haven’t decided. And I’m yet to even think about the center stand, chain guard, bell, rear wheel lock, hub generator, front and rear lights, wheel straitening spring, cable routes, light wire routes, and so on. If each of these parts could be so well considered as each part on a $12,000 racing bike, the ultimate randonneur might be worth even more!
But on Friday morning I arise from my bike dreams wondering if the preacher bike version does not deserve some scale drawings too. I’ve also had a cool idea for a name—Quotidian—that to me speaks of a bike I will ride every day for the rest of my life.
By Saturday I’m looking at novel designs and having serious misgivings. Any would be a waste of top shelf stainless tubing.
I spend Saturday night combing photos from the North American Handmade Bike Show for details of a standard I would hope for on a bike made to last a few lifetimes, and that was accordingly priced. The more I look, the more humbled I am.