23 December, 2009

Thanks and Happy Holidays!

I wanted to thank all of you for a great year. Velo Orange enjoyed tremendous growth in 2009. This is particularly gratifying since it was not a very good year for the bike business in general. We were able to bring many new products to market and start some great projects that will see fruition next year.

Our customers have been instrumental in helping us choose and design new components. You've offered great ideas for new bits and fair criticism that help us improve existing offerings. All this reinforces two principles I've long held: Our customers collectively, and often individually, know more than we do, so we listen to them. And I always try to hire employees who are smarter than I am.

Most of our staff has already left for the holidays (with well deserved bonus checks). Thanks guys! But three of us remain here  ready to ship any orders placed before 3pm Eastern time today. All orders that arrive later will be shipped on January 4. The free shipping deal will end on January 3.

Have a wonderful holiday !!!

Ernest Csuka of Alex Singer Cycles dies.

From the Alex Singer site (translated):
Ernest Csuka died in his 81st year December 22, 2009. The body is currently at the Chapel of Perpetual Help in Levallois. The funeral will be held Monday, December 28, 2009 at St. Justin Church in LEVALLOIS 14 H 30. LEVALLOIS Cemetery after the ceremony
Ernest Csuka, as many of you know, was the last of the great French constructeurs. He took over from the legendary Alex Singer in 1964 and continued to build what many, myself included, felt were the finest bikes ever produced. Ernest started with Singer in 1944 and introduced numerous innovations over the years.

We assume that his son, Olivier, will continue production of Alex Singer bikes.

Here is a  a lovely video about Mr. Csuka (in French).

21 December, 2009

Snow and Polyvalent

We're digging out from a major snowstorm here in Annapolis. Most of our staff made it to work so we'll be shipping orders today. This may not be much snow for you Northerners, but in a town whose snow-removal equipment consists of  a few pick-up truck with little plow blades, it really slows thing down. If we don't get our normal package pickups we'll load everything into Annette's station wagon and make a few runs to the central post office and to Fed-Ex. Then it's off to the park for a little XC skiing.

In other news, Polyvalent frames have been reaching dealers and we're getting overwhelmingly positive feedback from shops that have already built them up.

The very cool shop called "Old Spokes Home" in Burlington, Vermont built up a Polyvalent as a Porteur, but with drop bars. The have a very nice blog post about it here.

A VO customer who saw that very bike made this comment on the VO blog:
Seeing this thing in person kind of made up my mind as to whether or not I want this. While their photos do it even less justice than yours, seeing the thing in front of you is different.

The welds, in particular are very nice, and give it the appearance of a brazed frame. The logo treatment looks better and more subtle than I expected, and in reality, it just looks much nicer than I'd expect a $400 dollar frame to be.

18 December, 2009

Bicycle Repairman!

The VO crew is laughing their collective butts off watching this video. Thought I'd share, though it may not reflect well on our taste in comedy.

Half Clips

We received our new VO half clips a few days ago. Making our own half clips was not an easy decision. The tooling was expensive and they were not as easy to design as you might imagine. There are already two companies making metal half clips, MKS and ALE. So why did we make the effort and  the  investment?

The main reason is that I really like half clips and I think they will become much more popular as  as more cyclists try them and spread the word. Of all the new products I've tried since starting Velo Orange, half clips and wide-range double cranks are probably the two that were the biggest revelations, the two that I'd overlooked in a lifetime of cycling.

Half clips provide most of the advantages of full toe clips and straps, but are very easy to get in and out of. That's a big plus in city traffic. When riding without clips I find that I can't pedal at a high cadence; I "spin-off" the pedal. I also feel that I don't have the power to accelerate as quickly as on a bike with toe clips. But with full clips and straps there were the inevitable, though rare, occasions when I'd miss the clip with my toe and struggle to get into it in the middle of a busy intersection. Half clips solved all these problems.

Another reason that we made our own half clips is to have a more economical model. With the value of the Japanese Yen rising and rising, MKS clips will get ever more expensive. ALE clips are also more expensive, hard to find, and their shape is not quite ideal. At $12 the VO clips hit a sweet price point.

I also wanted a perfectly shaped half clip. The old style low half clips, which are shaped like the front of a racing style toe clip, are too low to accommodate bulky street shoes. Half clips need to be deeper. The MKS deep clips are good, but I wanted to refine the shape further. So I spent a fair bit of effort getting the shape just right to fit the widest range of shoes while making them easy to get in and out of.

Do you use half clips? Like them?

15 December, 2009

Holiday Schedule and Recent Shipment

I wanted to post a little info about our holiday schedule. Velo Orange will be closed from December 24th through January 3rd. So the last day we'll ship orders is December 23rd. Of course the web site will accept orders, but there will be no phone or e-mail support.

The free shipping deal on orders of over $150 will expire on January 3.

We just received a shipment and have Porteur Bars and Grand Cru Seatposts in stock again. The new VO Half Clips and spare keys for our security skewers also arrived. And we are stocking Tektro RL720 brake levers.

14 December, 2009


Back in the day, several manufacturers made handlebar mounted racks/decaleurs for traditional front bags. These "rackaleurs" were not intended to replace a front rack on a touring or rando bike, but rather to allow a simple way to mount your bag on a bike that lacked a front rack, on your racing bike for example. In fact I used one on my racing bike for many years and many thousands of miles. It allowed me to carry my ancient Leica camera and some extra cloths on training rides.

Rackaleurs hold the bag higher than is ideal, but if you carry a light load they work quite well. On bumpy roads, however, I recommend using an old toe clip strap or loop of bungy cord to connect the bag to the head tube (as in the photo) to prevent the bag from bouncing around when going over large bumps.

We bought a NOS case of these a couple of years ago ago and they quickly sold out, so we decided to make reproductions. The new rackaleurs just arrived and are now available in the Velo Orange store and through VO dealers.

Note that Rackaleurs fit on traditional quill stems, those shaped like the Nitto Technomic. They don't work with most threadless stems because threadless stems are usually too wide. They do fit on aero-style quill stems, but may need to be bent down a little in order to sit level.

10 December, 2009

Threaded Headset Basics

We get a lot of questions about threaded headsets, so I thought I'd post a little basic information about them.

Threaded Headset Sizes

There are five fairly common threaded headset sizes: ISO, Italian, French,  JIS, and BMX.

ISO is by far the most common size and is used on virtually every modern bike with a 1" steerer. The steerer inside diameter (ID) is 22.2mm. The pressed race ID is 30.2mm (that's the inside of the head tube). The crown race (on the fork) measures 26.4mm and the threading is 24tpi. Velo Orange stocks three ISO headsets, the Grand Cru sealed bearing headset, the VO loose ball headset, the Tange Levin NJS loose ball headset.

It's worth noting here that ISO, and most other, headsets use a keyed lock washer. A groove or keyway is machined into the steerer and the key in the washer fits into it. This is intended to prevent the top nut from loosening. But many custom bike builders don't machine a keyway. In this case simply throw away the washers and use a drop of Locktite on the top nut,

Italian headsets are virtually the same as ISO. The crown race ID is 26.5mm rather than 26.4mm and the threads are a tiny bit different, but ISO headsets are so close that they work absolutely perfectly on Italian frames.

French sized frames use a 25.0mm steerer with a 22.0mm ID. The crown race is 26.5mm and the pressed race is 30.2 mm.  Thread pitch is 1mm, or 25.4tpi. The final difference is that the steerer has a flat machined onto the back rather than a keyway, so a different washer is used. French headsets are getting very hard to find, but Velo Orange will soon be making one. It will arrive early next year.

JIS headsets are used mostly on older Japanese frames and on Keirin racing frames. They differ from ISO headsets in having a 27.0mm crown race and 30.0mm pressed race. VO makes a JIS headset.

BMX-sized headsets were used on some older lower quality American and Japanese frames and on BMX bikes. The steerer ID is 21.15mm, the crown race is 26.4mm, and the pressed race is 32.6mm. This size is still made, but VO does not stock them.

There are also a few odd headset sizes including French tandem, Austrian, Raleigh, and 1/1-4" tandem. I don't have any experience with these and don't know of a source for replacements other than E-bay.

Stack Height

Stack height is the total height, or thickness, of the headset, not including the parts that fit into the head tube. In other words, it's the vertical distance required to fit the headset. Stack height is important because if it's greater than the available space on the fork the headset will not fit. This is rarely an issue on modern frames, but older frames often had their steerer tube lengths sized for a low-stack-height steel headset, so taller modern headsets might not fit. It pays to measure first. On a fork that has extra length, spacers are added to take up the excess.

If you're fitting a headset but find you lack just a millimeter or two of room, simply remove the lock washer and use a drop of Locktite on the top nut instead.

Loose Ball or Sealed Bearing

I am completely sold on sealed cartridge bearing headsets and they are the only type I will now install on my own bikes. The advantages of sealed bearings is that they last much longer, are smoother, are sealed against moisture, and require no maintenance. With the Grand Cru headset, which I use, the crown race is split so no tools are required to install or remove it. And if the bearings do someday wear out you simply lift out the two bearing cartridges and drop in new ones. (Note that some sealed bearing headsets have pressed in bearings and traditional crown races.)

This is not to say that loose ball headsets are bad. Cyclists have been using them for over a hundred years. If you ride mostly in nice weather and don't mind a bit of maintenance, they are a good way to save some money.

Roller bearing headsets also had a strong following, particularly the now discontinued Stronglight A9 headset. But with modern sealed bearing headsets available for the same price, I can see no reason to use a roller bearing headset. Some claim that roller bearing headsets reduce shimmy, but so do sealed bearing headsets.

Installing and Maintaining Headsets

Installing headsets is not difficult, but it does require some costly tools. So my recommendation is to pay the local bike mechanic to do it for you. It's only 10 or 15 minutes of work so it shouldn't cost much. For those of you who really want to do it yourselves, I'll simply point you to the Park Tools' excellent instructions.

That Park Tools article also explains how to disassemble the headset to grease or replace bearings, something that should be done a couple of times a year with loose ball headsets. It's an easy at-home job requiring only a headset wrench and some grease.

Are threaded headsets better than threadless?

Most bike manufacturers now make frames that use threadless forks and 1-1/8" threadless headsets, a size that was originally developed for mountain bikes. It is true that 1-1/8" threadless headsets are stronger than 1" threaded, but road bikes don't need the extra strength. It is massive overkill. The big disadvantage of threadless headsets is that they don't use quill stems, which allow easy up and down adjustment. With the threadless system you cut the fork steerer to length and then adjust the height by using a different stem or by shuffling spacers. If you cut and set up your fork correctly it's fine, but if you need to later adjust handlebar height upward it gets expensive or even impossible.

So why are threadless systems popular? They are promoted by big bike manufacturers to lower production cost. Only one size fork need be made for each frame and it does not need the additional steps of cutting a keyway and threading. Then the fork steerer is cut to size by the customer or bike shop. This results in a huge cost saving for a big bike manufacturer.

With threaded forks, like those used by Velo Orange, forks are made for each frame size. Beyond the adjustability of a quill stem, an additional benefit of making a specific forks for each frame size is that it allows us to make slight rake adjustments for smaller frame sizes. This results in optimal handling for those small frames.

Hope this answers some questions. Some of my other informational articles can be found on the VO Tech Info section.

07 December, 2009

Threadless Bottom Brackets

The threadless bottom brackets that I mentioned a few months ago have arrived and are available in the VO store. They fit most frames, even those with Swiss threading. And they work on frames with damaged BB shells, even if the existing threading is totally stripped.

Unlike previous attempts at threadless BBs, this new design is "internally expanding". As the adjustable cup is tightened the silver sleeve (see photo) is pushed up the tapered alloy cups, expanding and locking in the BB. This differs from older designs, like the Mavic, that pressed in from the outside and would sometimes slip. Installation requires only a traditional-style BB spanner or a pin wrench. The BB shell does not require chamfering or facing, simply slip the BB into the shell and tighten.

Like the other Grand Cru BBs, these have sealed cartridge bearings so require no servicing and should have a very long life. Taper is JIS and available spindle lengths include 103mm, 107mm, 110mm, 113mm, 116mm, 122mm, 127mm. The color is as shown (sorry). Price is $60.

We have tried these on British, French, and Swiss frames and they work perfectly.  I don't know if they will work in the odd Raleigh BB shells since we don't have frames to test them in. These BB will make it cost effective to put a lot of great old frames back on the road, especially Swiss threaded Motobecanes.

Speaking of BBs, Grand Cru Italian thread BBs, with JIS taper, will arrive in a couple of months.

04 December, 2009

Polyvalent Ride Report, A Guest Blog

Greetings, Velo Orange-ers. Chris has asked me to write a quick ride report about the new VO Polyvalent, so bear with me as this is the first time I've attempted such a thing.

I've been riding one of the final prototypes of the Polyvolant since August. I don't own a car and the Polyvalent is my main ride, so it sees anywhere from 30-50 miles per week of commuting, grocery shopping, and general riding around Annapolis. In terms of functionality, versatility, and reliability, the Polyvalent beats out any bike I've owned. With the Porteur rack and some good bungees you can pretty much carry anything you need with relative ease. I've put upwards of 25 pounds on my Porteur rack and never had any problems. The Polyvolant is capable of carrying these kinds of loads because of its geometry - this bike wants to be a front loader.

Probably my favorite part about this bike are the 650b wheels. I grew up in Colorado riding mountain bikes and switched to road bikes in my teens, but I've always pined for the forgiving ride, less flat-prone, and general confidence you get on wide tires. 650b gives you all of this without sacrificing much in the way of speed or rolling resistance. No, you're not going to ride crits on a 650b bike, nor are you going to roll over logs and boulders at your local single track, but the 38mm Col De Vie tires can handle any amount of potholes, broken glass, gravel, or rain that I've managed to subject them to. And I have never gotten a flat since I started riding the bike.

The Polyvalent is really a Swiss Army knife of bikes. The geometry can accommodate anything you want it to be - city ride and commuter, light touring, even a cheap Rando bike. The steel tubing is comfortable and forgiving, and it handles precisely as it should - meaning you don't even think about the handling. For me, the Polyvolant is a bike that makes it possible to forget that you're riding a bike, allowing you to contemplate more important things when you're out riding.


03 December, 2009

Polyvalent Photos

I took a few snapshots of a built-up Polyvalent. We're trying various builds and ideas.

With this build I could see using the bike both around town and as touring bike. Small panniers could be used front and rear, and there is a lot of room on the Porteur rack. If I was building it up primarily for light touring, I would probably use a Nitto M12 or a VO Constructeur front rack. If it was mostly for city use, an internal gear hub might be better.


02 December, 2009

Polyvalent Frames Arrive

Polyvalent frames arrived today!  And they are now available in the VO store. Judging by the number of e-mails I've gotten about them, I don't expect them to last long.

The frames look great with fine quality and alignment. But there is one glitch; the paint is the original matte black instead of the dark gray we thought we'd specified. I think it looks fine, but it will be changed in subsequent production, so early adopters will have a rare color. How's that for spin? The paint is not exactly flat, but not glossy either. It's like the black paint you'd see on a SLR camera.

I'll post photos of a built up bike later today. Details can be found here and a geometry table is available here.

The cost of these frames is $400, but there is an additional $20 oversize shipping charge. Any parts ordered with the frames get discounted by 10%. (This discount will be added after you check out.) The price will go up on the next production run.

 In other news:
  • Two more parts shipments should arrive within the next 10 days so some of the parts we've been out of will be restocked. This includes seat posts, porteur bars, 
  • I will have updates on the arrival date of the Rando frames soon.
  • The Mixte frames are due to be shipped around the end of January and should arrive about a month later.

    24 November, 2009

    Thanksgiving, Closed Thursday & Friday

    As usual we will be closed Thursday through Sunday for the Thanksgiving holiday. So if you need an order shipped this week, please place it soon.

    Also, thanks for all the great feedback on the frames post and on the branding post. As soon as I get back next week I'll start work on a new frame design. BTW, the Polyvalent frames are due to be delivered on Monday.

    I'm taking most of tomorrow off to shop for Thanksgiving day food, the traditional oysters, wild mushroom soup,  duck confit, tart tatin etc.  Then we'll probably go for a bike ride in Western Maryland on Saturday.

    Anyone eating really special food or doing cool bike related stuff over the holiday?

    Have a great Thanksgiving!

    20 November, 2009

    Frames, frames, frames

    I've been working on frame drawings and specs for future models today. I won't say which projects they are, but I've also been trying to come up with a plan for future VO models. Here are a few frames we're seriously considering. Which of these would you be most interested in? And are there other models I'm missing? Do bear in mind that VO is focused on a fairly narrow style of riding, so, please, no track frames, 29ers, bike-polo frames, etc.

    • A TIG welded version of our old semi-custom Pass Hunter, basically a rando frame with canti-brakes and designed for wider tires, 32-35mm. Or should it be lugged?
    • A camper bike for loaded touring with 650b or 26" wheels. The hardest part of this would be having the right racks made for it.
    • A 700c version of the Polyvalent in large sizes
    • I wonder if a new version of a classic racing bike, perhaps modeled on the Peugeot PX-10 or on the Motobecane Team Champion would be well received. It would be a frame that could be ridden "stripped" most of the time, but would have room for fenders for winter. It would be sized for 25-28mm tires.
    • What about a fixed gear version of the rando frame for winter training? It could be TIG welded to make it less expensive.
    • The new semi-custom rando frame; this one is already in the works.
    So what do you think? Anything interesting here? Which should be first?

    18 November, 2009

    New Rims and Miscellaneous Notes

    The container of rims arrived and we now have 32h and 36h PBP rims. We also have 32h and 36h 650b Diagonale rims. And the new 700c versions of the Diagonale rims just arrived in both 32h and 36h.

    The Diagonal rims are very strong triple box section rims suitable for loaded touring,  commuting on rough pavement, and unpaved roads. They are fully polished.

     We also received a few items we've been out of including:
     Most of these items will be available to order later today or tomorrow. VO seat posts are on the way and should arrive in about 3 weeks.

    Polyvalent frames have cleared customs on the West Coast and are now being trucked to Annapolis. After much consideration I changed my mind about pre-orders. Sorry, but I decided that it was prudent to carefully check the frames before accepting anyone's money. I don't think this will be necessary in the future, but this is the first batch and I really want to be sure everything is OK.

    We are working on the VO web site again. It's 100% functional, but you may notice funny jumping images and changing fonts.

    16 November, 2009

    Free Shipping!

    We're having a little sale for the holiday season.

    All orders over $150 will get free standard shipping.

    All orders that include a VO saddle will get free shipping.

    The fine print:

    This offer does not apply to wheels and frames (because they are over-sized). And it only applies to orders shipped to the continental USA.

    The sale starts right now. We've just finished packing today's orders; those few outstanding orders that didn't make it onto today's truck also get the deal.

    12 November, 2009

    Branding and Saddles and Great Growth

    Eco Velo, a truly lovely blog, has a mini-review of the VO model 3 saddle.  I especially like the photography. Thanks Alan.

    I've been thinking about the VO saddles and a few of our other products lately, specifically about their branding. Let me explain.

    Our saddles have been getting better with every shipment. The attachment problems of the first run have been completely solved, the rail-to-frame junction is being strengthened; the setting of the rivets is getting better; the leather quality is more consistent. And we may get titanium rails soon. In short, I think they are now about the equal of any saddle. And as we continue to improve them I hope they will be the best available. But I worry that the perception is still that they are a step below that big leather saddle brand. I am concerned that they appear to be just a "house brand".

    Now it's true, as most of you know, that VO saddles are made in a factory in Taiwan, one that I've just visited. The factory specializes in high-end leather furniture, mostly modern-style chairs, that are sold in some very fine European stores. But it's owned by a cyclist who decided his knowledge of leather and metal work could be put to good use in making a better, and less expensive, leather saddle. Not having a brand name or distribution channel, he decided to build saddles for other companies. VO and Merry Sales (Cardiff) are the two main US companies he works with. We each spec the saddles the way we think they should be made. On some models we stick with the factory's basic design while on others we make changes. Soon we will have some completely new models exclusive to VO.

    VO decided to use our own name on the saddles while Merry Sales made up a new name and a company story, Cardiff. In retrospect I wonder if we should not also be paying more attention to branding. Maybe our saddles should be called "Invernnes", or "Edinburgh", or "Smythe & Biddington". I could write some stuff about saddles inspired by the single malts of the Scottish highlands; or maybe not. But the point is that many companies do just that, Rivendell with their bags, several classic Italian companies with frames made in Taiwan (you would be amazed), and good old J. Peterman with just about everything. Of course car companies are masters at this; a VW Phaeton and a Bentley are very much the same car. We all love a good story. And it's human nature to see more value in a product with a unique name and story.

    So I plan to follow their example and break out "Grand Cru" as a separate brand and company. Grand Cru means "great growth" a term applied to some fantastic French wines. It's the top tier of classification in some regions. So Grand Cru Components will strive to make great components which are often based on classic designs. My hope is that eventually GC components will be as good as those from companies such as Chris King, Phil Wood, Paul Components, and White Industries. Of course it will take time. Meanwhile we have a brand that cyclists may come to associate with great components, if we do a good job on those components that is. Yeah, that logo still needs work.

    11 November, 2009

    New Wheels and Basket

    We've had some new wheels built with the polished Velo Orange PBP rims. We have them laced to the Novatron dyno hub. They are also available with Shimano 105 hubs, both front and rear.

    We'll soon be getting more 650b Velo Orange Diagonale rims as well as the new 700c version of that rim. These will also be built with the above hubs, as well as with Strumey Archer 3-speed hubs.

    Wald baskets have been popular with commuters and delivery persons for decades. We just started stocking the "woody" version of their popular 139 model. These are not nearly as well made or as sturdy as a porteur rack, but then they are less then half the price.

    06 November, 2009

    Still in Taiwan

    I'm waiting for a flight to Tokyo and thought I'd add a few more notes about new products. (Unlike many US airports, there is free wifi at most airports here.)

    I had a great time visiting our cable and housing supplier, and a great dinner with their staff. We'll be getting new housing colors, orange, dark green, and brown. And we may have gold braid; is that too tacky? We'll also be making the kits a little longer.

    There is a chance we can get VO lugs made based on a design that was often used on Singer and Herse bike. But there are still many details to be worked out, not the least of which is making proper drawings. I saw a neat and wide double plate fork crown that we may use on upcoming frames.

    We made some progress on our chrome fillet brazed stems, which will be offered in quill and thread-less styles. We'll make some changes, adding a hidden recessed bolt and alloy top cap to the current design. I have a couple of other ideas for this stem, so there may be delays as I try to work them into the design, but if they can be made they should be spectacular.

    We are awaiting quotes for two new models of VO drop bars, probably heat in treated alloy.

    Our new Rando racks should arrive in December, along with Moderniste water bottles and Rackaleurs. The canti-mount racks are due in January.

    Back to the cranks I mentioned recently, they will be cold forged 50.4bcd and will have 4 ring sizes to start. We will also have some inexpensive 110bcd cranks. The latter are silver and will have CNC rings with pins and ramps. These are not a VO design, but they look nicer, at least to my eye, than many, and the rings are top quality, and the price is fair.

    That's all for now.

    04 November, 2009

    In Taiwan

    My first meeting today was delayed 20 minutes, so I thought I'd share a bit of what's going on here in Taichung. The overall theme is meeting and eating. The Taiwanese are incredibly hospitable and I'm treated to wonderful and lengthy lunches and dinners, mostly Taiwanese and Chinese food, though last night was French-Japanese fusion. I've probably gained ten pounds. Despite this I did manage to waddle through a few factory tours and even do a little work.

    As I mentioned on Twitter, we'll have another production frame in about 6 months, but I won't reveal details for a while. The mixte frames are just entering production and should be ready in late January. It's about the same schedule for the Rando frames, maybe a little sooner.

    We may also have semi-custom frames again, but made by a very skilled builder in Taiwan. I think this will be a first for a US company. As the bike industry here grows there is a growing interest in world class quality and high end products, even custom frames. I think the quality of the very best frames here is equal to that of many US custom builders; it's remarkable how quickly the emphasis has shifted from quantity to quality. There are many details to be worked out, but the plan is for a semi-custom frame built to your measurements and fully chrome plated for around $1500. Lead time would be 3-4 months. The first one, in my size, is on order.

    I also visited our headset and BB manufacturer and was pleasantly surprised to learn that they will change the way they polish our headsets with the hope of achieving a true mirror finish. We also talked about a super high-end headset that would be smoother and outlast anything on the market today. We are still gathering information and looking for the best bearings in the universe.

    Time to go; I'm off to a crank factory to see about VO cranks.

    30 October, 2009

    Off toTaiwan, via Portland

    I'm flying to Portland today where I'll visit the Portland Hand Built Bike show. It promises to be a smaller version of the National Hand Built Bike show, which, incidentally, will be held in Richmond VA this year. It's really amazing to see all the great custom builders show off their best efforts. I'll try to post a few photos if time permits.

    Then I'll fly to Taipei and visit 8 or 9 factories. Most of them already make parts or frames for us, but I'll also see a couple of new ones that may turn out to be new suppliers.

    Among the things we'll be chatting about are VO chrome stems, a new frame, VO cranks, and VO drop bars. Even now our draftsman is making final revisions on plans for some of these new things, talk about cutting it close.

    I should see the final version of the VO French thread headset, which is ready to go into production. And I hope to see our new canti-version of the rando racks.

    Since I'm going to the frame factories, I've been thinking changing the decal placment on future VO frames to a single decal on top of the down tube, as many constructeurs did. What do you think?

    27 October, 2009

    New Stuff

    We have a couple of new things in the warehouse.

    Spanninga "bottle" Dynamos are back. Here's what I wrote about bottle dynamos previously:

    Recently hub generators have drawn a lot of current in the bike blogs, but there is good reason to favor the old bottle generator. A good sidewall dynamo creates a  bit more drag than a hub generator, but only when in use. Unlike a hub generator, it creates no additional drag when in the "off" position. You can change wheels without losing power. And bottle dynamos cost a lot less. I also like the retro look of a bottle generator. On the down side, they can slip in wet conditions if not carefully set up and can eventually wear down the side of your tire.
    Many of you asked for 27" rims so we have the CR-18 in that size. Though I still think that for bikes that don't have historic significance a switch to 700c wheels should be considered.

    23 October, 2009

    Another Fender Trick

    How do you do mount a fender on a bike without a screw hole in the chain stay bridge? A P-clamp around the chain stay bridge solves the problem. This trick works on seat stay bridges too. But if you don't have a bridge at all things get more complicated.

    It's surprisingly hard to explain, over the phone, how a fork crown daruma works. Perry made this great sketch that says it all. Note that all VO fenders now get Daruma bolts rather than front L-brackets.

    Past fender trick can be found here and here. Fender mounting instructions can be found here. And there is an article about choosing fenders here.

    Finally, there are some clever riffs on daruma bolts and fender mounting at Patricks an open sketchbook blog.

    20 October, 2009

    Polyvalent Stand-Over Heights

    A lot of you asked.

    BTW, the price is actually $400 for the first batch, not $450 as I wrote a few days ago. We should have a firm ETA for them in a few days.

     Frame Size (cm)
    Stand-over Height (mm) w/ 38mm tires.

    Leather colors

    Here are a couple of new photos that more accurately show the color of the leather used in our city bike grips, bar covers, toe clip leathers, leather bar tape, and chain stay protectors. We are often asked to describe the colors and offer opinions about whether they match various saddles or frame colors. Hope this helps. Of course leather is a natural material, so the color varies a bit from hide to hide and the display varies from monitor to monitor.

    Generally the espresso (brown) is a good match for VO and Brooks brown saddles. The macchiatto (tan) is a little lighter than Brooks honey. And black is, well, black.


    And the mudflaps:

    16 October, 2009

    BB Basics

    Lately my in-box has been overflowing with questions about bottom brackets. So I thought I'd write this simple guide that I can later forward to those seeking advice. Of course this is only about square taper cranks and BBs.

    What spindle length?

    I often get questions such as, "What is the proper BB spindle length for a 1954 Urago mixte?" Come on; I'm not Sheldon Brown! In any case, the length of your BB spindle is determined largely by the model of crank you use, not by the type of bike. Every crank's manufacturer recommends a BB type and length. Of course, if the crank is long out of production, a lengthy conversation with Google may be required to find the specification.

    As with anything, it's not quite that simple. There are a couple of other factors that can influence spindle length. If your bike has particularly wide chain stays, such as those on a mountain bike or a loaded tourer, a longer spindle may be require in order to ensure that the crank arms clear the chain stays. Often, the only way to be sure is to install the crank and see if the  BB works. If not, measure the interference or gap and buy a second BB. Unfortunately BBs that have been installed are not returnable, but there is always E-bay. The other factor that might influence spindle length is BB spindle taper.

    Spindle taper

    The vast majority of square taper cranks uses either an ISO or a JIS taper. Basically, the angle of these two types is almost identical. It's just that a different portion of the taper is used, as I've tried to show in my sketch.

    For the most part, today only the Italians use ISO and the rest of the world uses JIS. But there are exceptions, such as the top-of-the-line Sugino track cranks; all other Sugino cranks are JIS. Some older cranks from Stronglight, TA, and other European companies also used ISO tapers. Only Ofmega and Avocet, of the major manufacturers, used a proprietary taper.

    It's usually possible to fit an ISO crank on a JIS BB. The only caveat is that the crank will be 3-4mm wider than if an ISO BB was used, so pick a slightly narrower spindle and tighten the crank bolts securely.

    I don't recommend using a JIS crank on an ISO spindle because the crank may bottom out, thus permanently ruining the taper. If, however, you are careful, it will work with some combinations.

    One of the problems with this whole idea is that manufacturers sometimes take a casual attitude toward toward following one standard or the other.  I have seen TA cranks, for example, that appear to be ISO and an identical crank that's JIS, or perhaps something in between.

    BB threading

    Let us begin with the French standard because this is, after all, Velo Orange. The French decided that BB shells should be 68mm wide, threading should be35mm x 1mm, and both cups should tighten to the right. Simple and effective! Of course VO makes French BBs.

    The Swiss improved the French standard by reversing the thread on the non-drive side. This became the Swiss standard and was adopted not only by Swiss manufacturers but also by a few French companies, notably Motobecane. (Motobecane also used French threading on occasion and later switched to British threading; good luck.)  The BB shell is 68mm wide and also threaded 35mm X 1mm; but the left cup tightens to the right and the right to the left.

    The reason for this improved standard was that the spinning of the crank was thought to loosen the right-hand thread non-drive BB cups. After a few decades, the Swiss noticed that French cyclists, in fact, were not stopping every few miles to tighten their cups. And so the standard was quietly abandoned. The only Swiss threaded BBs made today are the super expensive Phil Wood units. But in a few weeks VO will have a threadless BB that will be a less expensive alternative.

    The French standard was also eventually abandoned and, to the everlasting annoyance of the French and of francophiles everywhere, the British (or ISO) standard became the world standard. If your frame was made in America, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, or Britain, it almost certainly accepts a British threaded BB. This standard is 1.375" X 24 tpi with the left cup tightening to the right and the right to the left; the BB shell is 68mm wide. Most VO BBs are British thread.

    Not leaving well enough alone, some British manufacturers, particularly Raleigh, came up with other standards that are outside of my understanding, as did some old American manufacturers.

    Finally the Italians, who we reluctantly acknowledge do know something about bicycles, if only the racing sort, blithely ignored everyone else and stuck to their own standard. The Italian BB shell is 70mm wide and has 36 mm X 24 tpi threading; both cups tighten to the right. VO does not make Italian threaded BBs, but they are widely available.

    So there you have it, a gross oversimplification of BB standards that should, nonetheless, provide sufficient information to fit 99% of traditional frames with BBs.

    If you need help installing BBs, please read the excellent BB section at the Park Tools site.

    14 October, 2009

    A Few New Items

    We have a few new products.

    We wanted to be sure that we had 650b wheels in stock when our Polyvalent frames arrive. So we asked Velocity to build us some nice 32h all-around wheelsets. They use Velocity Synergy silver 650b 32h rims with satin anodized finish. Velocity sealed bearing hubs with Velocity skewers. Rear hub is 130mm, 8-9-10 speed. Velocity 14 gauge stainless spokes with brass nipples. $266 per set.

    VO Diagonal wheels should arrive in a couple of months.

    The very pretty VO Zeppelin fenders are now available in a polished 700c version, in addition to the 650b size.

    And we now have what may be the ultimate upgrade for the hyper-competitive randonneur, Honjo ultralight tubular fender struts. You can shave an amazing 30g off your bike with these, guaranteeing that you'll climb like an eagle. We actually ordered these in error, so there won't be more once they run out.

    12 October, 2009

    VO Sqeal-Free Brake Pad Review

    Mike is a serious randonneur who puts in tremendous mileage. He tested a set of prototype VO brake pads. Here's his report:

    Thanks so much for allowing me to try out the “squeal proof brake pads” you had at Velo Orange.
    These brake pads are GREAT! They are amazing! And I’m not usually impressed by most bike-part “breakthroughs.”

    Let me explain:

    What causes brake squeal? Search the Internet on this subject for Sheldon Brown’s, or, better yet, Jobst Brandt’s discussion of brake squeal on bicycle brakes. The fact is squeal is often an engineering consequence of the functional relationship of certain brakes/brake parts/frames/forks/wheels and other related components, which can cause brake squeal, *even when the brakes and pads are perfectly adjusted.* This is especially so for cantilever brakes on the front fork of a bicycle. Even when brakes are well-designed, and extremely stiff, like a Pauls, they can still squeal.

    To test the pads I put them on both a Surly Long Haul Trucker and a Soma Double Cross front cantilever fork. I put the pads on low-end Tektro cantilevers (aka Avid or Cane Creek), and a low-end Shimano $15 V-Brake. The pads spent about 600 miles on the road, in all kinds of weather. The package the pads came in said install them flat to the rim with no toe-in, so I did. The rims they pads rode on were worn: a Mavic Open Pro; and a newer but still grooved and worn Velocity Aerohead. The brake levers were Tektro; the cables new, but the housing old.

    The pads NEVER made a peep! Not a single chirp or squeal. I’ve had brakes that squeal during initial, easy braking but become quiet when the braking becomes hard; and vice versa. I’ve had brakes that don’t squeal under light braking or heavy braking – but do squeal under moderate braking! This is particularly annoying as this kind of braking is done often.

    No matter the conditions – rain or dry; or blazing hot, from dragging the brake down long hills (2-plus miles) – the brakes never squealed. Amazing.

    And, last but not least, the braking action is good, as good as Kool-Stop Salmon pads (although this is a much more subjective claim than whether they squeal or not).

    I was SO SKEPTICAL that these brake pads would work. But they do. Can I buy ten pairs of these pads? Where can you get more of these?...

    Kyle has only had his set for a few days, but I was interested to know if he had an immediate reaction.  He writes:
    As much as I enjoyed literally screeching to a halt at every stop
    light, these new pads are definitely worth the upgrade. In addition
    to being completely silent - whether the rims are dry or wet - they
    seem to have better stopping power than the standard Tektro pads. I
    highly recommend the upgrade... you might even start to enjoy stopping
    as much as going.


    Monday, 9:30am. The VO donut and coffee delivery. (Espresso for the rest of us)

    09 October, 2009

    Site and Blog Redesign

    Over the next couple of weeks we will be doing a minor site and blog redesign. We'll try different things every few days. Feel free to weigh in as we keep modifying the look. The idea is to be able to add more information and photos, and to make navigation simpler. Some of the changes will be improvements, others may not work out so well. Over the winter we'll be working on a completely new site with lots of customer-friendly widgets like restock notification, installation photos, recipes, boules scores, etc.

    Also, we have a new dark brown color perforated leather handlebar tape that's a good match for VO and Brooks brown saddles.

    VO 650b Diagonale Rims Arrive

    The selection of available 650b rims has diminished recently. So the arrival of the new VO Diagonale rims comes at a good time. The new rims are named after Les Diagonales de France, which I wrote about in this post. From the name you can guess that these are strong rims suitable for loaded touring as well as commuting and cyclo-touring.

    • Triple box section alloy
    • Stainless steel eyelets
    • Highly polished top and sides
    • 25mm wide
    • About 550g
    • ERD 570mm
    • Available in 36h and 32h (but only 36h in this shipment)
    • In testing with Panaracer Col de la Via and Grand Bois tires we found the fit to be just a little loose, exactly like the fit on Velocity rims, but a little looser than on the old Rigida and Weinman rims.
    We just received a small shipment of 36h  only. The rest of this production run and the 700c version (in both 36h and 32h) will be arriving by ship in 4-5 weeks.

    In the future we will be stocking 650b wheels using these rims, and also some Velocity rims.