Sunday, 30 November 2008

Designing and Building Your Own Frameset, Richard P Talbot (1979)

The Manet Guild 0 9602418 1 7 161 pp

A thorough technical guide to building a steel bicycle frame, including the design, cutting, brazing and finishing of the frame. There are many step-by-step photographs and tables of technical information.

At the time this book appeared, little had changed in the fabrication of bicycle frames for a good 50 years. Reynolds tubing was the preferred raw material; different schools of cycling favoured different variations on the tube angles; and, braze-on fittings were added to suit the use to which a frame would be put.

The book gives every impression of being comprehensive and easy-to-follow, with a strong section on design, as well as guidance on how a technically proficient person, with access to the right tools, can create a bicycle frame that is the equal of that offered by a specialist builder. Fashions in frame design have moved on a good deal in the 30 years since this book was written – but the types of frame on whose construction Talbot advises are every bit as good now as they have ever been.

This I can assert for sure, because I am still riding a bike built a quarter of a century ago by following the advice of this volume.

My brother, Adam Dawson, bought the book in the mid-1980s, when in his late teens. Having already befriended Johnny Mapplebeck and Geoff Whitaker the owners of Bradford’s Pennine Cycles, he persuaded them to let him use their frame-building workshop to undertake the work.

Its design is, to say the least, idiosyncratic. My brother was a very enthusiastic cycle tourist. He rode a good 150 miles a week to work and back and did double that most weekends, mainly with other cyclists from Bradford. Although he had commissioned a touring bicycle from Pennine some years earlier, the more immersed he became in cycle culture, the more he developed his own ideas about what would make the ideal touring cycle.

First off, it is build for a fixed wheel, with rear-facing drop outs. Fixies at this time were the preserve of hardened road racers who used them for winter training. In a hilly city like Bradford they made for a punishing ride indeed – but their lightness, simplicity, and possibly their eccentricity appealed to Adam.

It also has a built in rack. This was designed to support a custom-made saddle bag, created by my other brother Ben, who manufactured tents and bags for a living. The design of the saddle bag was such that it could be used either as a saddle bag, or as a rucksack and sat perfectly on the mini-rack.

A committed user of Sturmey Archer Dynohubs, Adam also specced the bike for the lighting system that he had in mind. To the front fork, he brazed a light bracket, and along the length of the frame, he created a series of nicked out loops to carry the wires necessitated by a dynamo - up the front fork and to the rear of the bike.

He added a unique set of pre-threaded water-bottle nuts. Two were in the conventional position to carry a water bottle carrier. A further two were in the inside angle of the top tube and the down tube. These were to attach a strap that made the bike more comfortable to carry over the shoulder – a significant feature of the rough-stuff riding that Adam enjoyed.

Finally he brazed on a raised impression of his initials – realised as a swirling logo. Beneath the enamel it has the role of the frame’s crest. Pennine were kind enough to add their badging to the frame – although it has little in common with the fine racing bikes on which their reputation is based. It also bears its own name – Adamant.

Adam completed thousands of miles on the bike – the length and breadth of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, many times over. And, unusually for a bike built before the invention of ‘mountain bikes’, it also went up some pretty considerable mountains, most notably in the Cairngorms.

Its most noteworthy journey came when Adam and a friend rode from Bradford to London (approximately 200 miles) in a single day. The photograph of him with the bike was taken by the local newspaper a few days after the ride (I have yet to add this to the site). Shortly after they got to London, Adam climbed back on his bike. “Where are you going now”, asked his friend, who had a train ticket for his return journey.. “Home”, replied Adam. And without further ado, he was off – scarcely stopping until he was back in West Yorkshire.

The bike came into my possession after Adam’s unexpected, and substantially unexplained death shortly after his 40th birthday. By that time he was an infrequent cyclist and Adamant fulfilled the role of a trusty, but little-cared-for hack. Happily, however, Pennine Cycles took the frame under their wing, and brushed it up pretty well. It is still set up as a ‘fixed’, and provide a light responsive ride. I go out on it a couple of times a week as an honour to my brother’s memory.

Is this a recommendation for the book? I think so. Of course, I would much sooner have my brother still with us, than have his bike. But with this bike he tried to give shape to his dreams and then fashioned something with his own hands. That I can use to this day is an enormously potent act of remembrance. If a few more of us followed Talbot’s advice and tried to distil our ideas about bicycles into brazed steel tubing, we would surely develop a deeper, more profound relationship with our mounts and their underlying materials. Cycling is its own reward – but that is no reason not to try and make it more rewarding.

Tim Dawson 29 November 2008

Adam Dawson, a couple of days after his return from the Bradford-London-Bradford ride.

Adamant today

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Ultimate Scottish Cycling Book, Paul Lamarra (2003)

Mainstream 1 84018 617 8 207pp £14.99

An area-by-area guide to cycle touring in Scotland, based on a tour made in 2002, including extensive ‘how to’ information.

So many guides to cycle touring in the UK have been written that the job of squeezing some new juice from the format is a challenge. Of course, roads change and attractions come and go. (Only 20 years ago, I cycled the length of the A74 and the A9, something that would be neither fun, legal nor necessary today). Nonetheless, finding something new to say, or a new way to say requires considerable initiative.

And that is just what Lamarra has brought to this book. There may be precedents for the format he has adopted, but I am not aware of them.

Nine chapters each concentrate on different areas of Scotland. It is a pretty good spread – from the Western Isles to Galloway and the Borders. Inevitably, he does not cover everything. But he does go where many guides have avoided – rural Aberdeenshire, for example, which provides some of the best cycling country in the UK.

Each section recounts a carefully planned tour or several days made, I am guessing, in 2002. Lamarra is particularly good on capturing the flavour of places – he has the excitement of Oban to a tee, likewise the transition of wild Perthshire into the tourist attractions of Pitlochry. There are also some great route tips – anyone could miss the private, but easily accessible, roads built for hydro-scheme workers that allow one to get into the head of Glen Lyon, without cycling its length, for example.

His accounts are peppered with his own wry observations. He recounts the experience of the weather on the day that he made the rides and the difficulty or otherwise he had in finding accommodation, as well as entertaining historical asides. Each chapter then ends with a diagrammatic route map, map references, directions, accommodation and food stop suggestions and other important transport information such as ferry timetables. This information is particularly strong and he has clearly gone to some lengths to put himself in the position of a travelling on wholly unfamiliar territory.

As Lamarra suggests in his introduction, this is not a volume for the saddle bag. Rather, it is a primer to be enjoyed over the winter, while planning one’s own tours in Scotland. There is much of this routes that you may wish to copy turn by turn. But the real value of his book is in firing the imagination, and giving you the wherewithal to plan. Despite having read dozens of cycling books about Scotland and ridden quite extensively in many of the areas he covers, by the end of the book, I was back with my maps, dreaming of a fresh Caledonian campaign.

If I have a beef, it would be with the title. Such a grand promise is never going to be deliverable. However, books are published to be sold, and doubtless Mainstream were keen on something that they hoped would jump off the self. “An account of nine cycle tours in North Britain, with accompanying notes for wheelmen hoping to emulate the author’s progress”, might well have been the title had it been published in the 1880s. More accurate it might have been – but it would hardly be the stuff to tempt the armchair cyclists of today.

PS November 2008