Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Time To Burn Your Expensive German Dynohubs

The Dish:  Chris Kulczycki - Entrepreneur, writer, founder of Velo Orange LLC, VO Imports, and of Chesapeake Light Craft Inc, and, most importantly, dad - elliptically disses BOBish icons Schmidt Dynohubs and Peter White Cycles in his popular and usually non-controversial company blog whose readers are alternatively beseeched (but not compensated) for their wisdom and berated for their idiocy and racism.

As a warning, what really puts Chris K in a reader-spanking mood are impertinent suggestions that, given the provenance of most VO-ware, couldn't there be at least one picture of a pagoda, rice paddy or noodle joint amidst all the pastoral French chalets, canals, and cafes that are setting the tone on the Velo Orange site.

But to the point - in a recent posting (berating variant) Chris K suggests that no one buy "expensive German hub dynamos" because they will soon be obsolete.  Chris K learned of this sensational news on a recent buying expedition to (French cafe/chalet-challenged but pagoda-rich) Taiwan from some guys who were trying to sell him stuff that included, among other things, non-expensive, non-German dynohubs.

While details remain vague, Chris K describes these new dynohubs as "game-changers".  Reportedly, this is one of the game changing dynohubs.  If the claims about this hub are accurate, this product not only changes the game for expensive German dynohubs, but for nearly all physical science since Isaac Newton and, by extension, the underpinnings of our modern, technological society, as some clever engineers appear to have developed an end run around the 1st and 2nd laws of Thermodynamics and by implication called into question various aspects of Maxwell's Equations, the Lorentz Force, and/or Newton's Third Law of Motion.

Fallout:  BOBish riders are ruefully cutting the sturdily sensible straight gauge spokes that attach their expensive German dynohubs to affordable and retro-redolent Sun CR-18 rims (polished) that look acceptable but not great on vintage bikes and recycling these now useless hubs.

Rivendell is acquiring these newly unwanted, pricey Teutonic castoffs, wrapping them with tweed and twine, and reselling them as quirky, vaguely green alternatives to common and distressingly low-brow bicycle hockey pucks and bludgeoning implements. The catalog description takes care to explain that the Riv combo bludgeon-puck is actually a wise and superior choice so long as the buyer suspends disbelief and congregates with like-minded individuals. Unfortunately, if one should wish to order one today, they are currently out of stock on the Riv site.

The VO faithful are withholding approval until it is confirmed that the new dynohub will be available in hammered aluminum trim.

Internet chatter hints at a "dynohub skeptic" backlash germinating in the fever swamps of the cycling fringe.  A shadowy BOBish type named Lug Nut has emerged as their leader with the rallying cry of, "When expensive German dynohubs are obsolete, only the obsolete will have expensive German dynohubs", which, by happy coincidence, has always suited that sort of rider just fine.

Japanese, English, and other non-German manufacturers of expensive dynohubs are just glad it wasn't them, while German manufacturers of expensive dynohubs have tartly responded to Chris K's remarks by observing, "Yo mama is obsolete, Herr 'Wanna Buy A French Threaded Headset?'".

One would think that French guys would have learned by now about mixing it up with Germans, but Chris K has no worries since he isn't really a French guy, he just plays one on the Internet. 

Everyone Else: For riders who eschew expensive German dynohubs in favor of batteries/rechargeable packs and smugly think they've dodged the bullet, bicycle component vendors trying to sell stuff are also whispering about a new, hyper-lightweight power pack that will hit the market "any day now".  Instead of forever screwing around with batteries and cords, a rider needs to simply once a year add a few ounces of common tap water to a cold fusion power pack.  The vendors of this product hedge their bets as did Chris K with his insightful remark about the perpetual motion dynohubs that "sometimes new technologies don't pan out".

Fuji Otaku is striving to remain detached from the fray, confidently optimistic that his expensive German dynohub, by its mere existence, will still be contributing to his joie de vivre as well as smoothly rolling along, lighting the road with subdued, trouble free elegance, shiny silver appearance, and to the envy of others, for so many years to come that it actually turns out to be notably inexpensive (but still German, no relief there). 

Further Reading: FUD.

Pagoda Love: Fuji Otaku's cherished Gran Tourer SE in repose at the Silver Spring Pagoda.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

We Get Mail - Fuji America And Detailing Talk

In today's inbox:


Just thought I'd drop you a line and say thank you.  Your blog has been very inspiring.  I've had a thing for late 70's and early 80's Japanese production bikes for a while now. I discovered your blog after I picked up a 1980 Fuji America and began surfing for information about it.  I'm trying to make it as stock as possible: I replaced the front and rear derailleurs and freewheel with NOS Suntour Cyclone, Cyclone GT, and a Suntour Perfect Six (13-34).  I stopped short of putting 700c's on (I like the 27's). If you're interested in photos, here's a link to my flickr page.

I do have a few questions for you:  I've noticed that the paint and decals on your frames all look very nice, (at least in photos.)  Do you touch up your frames?  What's your secret? The reason I ask is that my America has quite a few rough spots on the frame, and I'm eventually going to need to do something other than use steel wool on the rust.  I'm in fairly close proximity to Joe Bell, (a fairly famous frame painter) but I hesitate to strip the frame of it's original paint.  Plus, Joe Bell's waiting list is about a year long, and that's a year that I wouldn't be able to enjoy my wonderful bike.

What would you do?

Sincere Thanks,



Thanks for writing and for the compliments on the blog.  Really, I think a lot of people's eyes are opening to what great bikes the Fujis (and other Japanese labels) of 80's and 70's are.

I'll start with the decals.  In my case, I'm much more of a wrench than a painter/touch up guy - I'm a little embarassed to admit it, but more than once my approach to scratches is to smear some grease on it so it doesn't rust.  And, generally, my approach is to try to buy bikes w/as good as paint/decals as possible.  Where this isn't possible, I then try to accept it as patina or the bike's wabi sabi.

As Japanese bike aficionados, it is well worth understanding the concept of wabi sabi - it is one of the fundamental concepts in Japanese culture.

That aside, again, I actually do try to seek out bikes that don't need much on the paint/decals since I've found that that ends up being cheaper/easier than remediation.  Again, others with greater skills in the touch up department may weigh this problem differently and may not be as willing as I am to rebuild wheels, components, etc.  For touch up advice, the C&V forum at is a wealth of knowledge and experience.  Me, I don't go beyond the usual nail polish touchup.

Paying someone to do a bike is an expensive proposition and is doubly expensive because it almost inevitably reduces the value of the bike unless it is a totally rusted wreck.  If you are considering a repaint, you may just want to keep an eye out for a better example.

For instance, I just purchased a minty 1981 Fuji America today, actually several hours ago.  As well as having a paint job of maybe a 1 year old bike, it has all original parts, etc, all for well under the price of a repaint.  These sort of economics may not hold in the future for old Fujis, but they do these days.

So you really have got to want to repaint for some reason.  Recently, I had my Mondia repainted - I had a vision of loveliness for this bike that was nothing like the original (trashed) paint.  I did keep my costs down by doing a lot of the prep work & applying decals myself, but it still is pretty expensive to get a quality spray job.  So it's good that a thing of beauty is a joy forever because there is no way I'll ever get anywhere near my money back.

Obviously, others with more paint skills will find a lot of satisfaction in reviving a ragged bike, some of these people are amazing with their results.  But if you take that route, I'd be prepared for a fairly extensive period of learning & skills acquisition.

Now, back to Fuji Americas, yours and others.  1980 models were specced with 700c wheels.  Fuji Americas have the distinction of being one of the earlier mass-market bicycles in the U.S. with this wheel size.  If you look at the 1980 Fuji catalog, you will find that the America was their only bike that year that had 700c, the rest had 27".

The Team Fuji got 700c clinchers in 1982, and other "racing" models with clinchers thereafter, but that was seemingly to mimic the 700c tubular size that was the racing standard then.  The non-racing bikes didn't start getting 700c until around 1988 or so, which was generally the pattern in bikes sold in the U.S.

In fact, the Americas were criticized in those early days for having this wheel size on a "touring" bike since a bicycle tourist would probably have a hard time finding 700c tires in a small town bike shop, much as 650b wheel size is now being criticized.  If I recall, the inimitable Sheldon Brown offered this as a criticism, but Google isn't much help at the moment in finding a footnote.

Beyond that historical reason to go to 700c, the Americas being widely known for this feature, the Americas are also a bit notorious for having rather tight tire clearances (with their 700c wheels) for a touring bike.  Running 27" just exacerbates this, especially if you have any intentions of running fenders.  If you do stick with 27", this problem is more of a hypothetical since finding decent 27" tires larger than 32 is pretty hard these days.

Ultimately, though, it really isn't a big deal unless you really want to go with fenders.

Anyhow, thanks for writing and keep us updated on your Fuji America.  These are becoming increasingly prized bikes by the public and will always be one of the most desirable models for Fuji enthusiasts.  And stay tuned for pictures of my new (to me) 1981 Fuji America - as soon as we get a sunny day, I'll get some pics up.

As a preview, here is the seller with the bike from earlier this evening:

The bike was way to small for him, he had just been keeping it largely as wall art for the past 11 years.


Fuji Otaku

Friday, March 26, 2010

Purple Rain

Recently, I've been badgering my buddy Kev to get a new bike.  We started going out on rides last year with our respective sons, but this year Kev wants to ramp it up a little, start going out on some longer rides w/me.  My response has been his too-small, cheesy MTB was ok for our daddy/son rides, but really won't cut it if we want to start going out on 40+ milers.

We decided that I would keep an eye out for something suitable - Kev is a big guy, 6'2 or 6'3.

So imagine my delight several days ago when perusing Craiglist I found a 25" S10-S in original trim, posted a mere 20 minutes previously, for an entirely reasonable price by DC standards.  It had the additional benefit of brand new tires, cables, and some spares, like tubes, which tilted it into the pretty good deal category.

I immediately emailed the seller, a gentleman named Henry. Henry and I exchanged a few emails, after which he quite graciously committed to holding it for me and cancelled the Craiglist ad.

This evening, with rain falling on Washington DC, Kev and I trekked down to West Springfield, Virginia and picked it up.  It turns out that Henry, a recumbent rider, had purchased this from his neighbor, who was the original owner.  Henry's intent was to stroke it a little, but after replacing cables and tires, decided he didn't have the mechanical aptitude nor inclination to pursue the project.

He also noted that in over 20 years of living next door, he had never seen the neighbor ride the bike.  The bike itself was in good to excellent condition - all original parts except Fujita saddle, no dents, decals intact, not a speck of dirt on the frame.  It does have a few largish garage-leaning type scratches on the stays & a dusting of the type of light surface rust that develops on chrome in our mid-atlantic humid climate.

My impression was good to excellent condition.  The surface rust that exists on some of the parts is very superficial and will clean up w/out significant pitting.  Other than that, no issues.

Here is Henry (left), Kev (right) and the S10-S. It isn't the greatest shot, but the best I could do in Henry's garage that was jam-packed with, among other things, recumbent tricycles:

Yes, it is a purple S10-S, apparently the same model year as Scott's purple 1978 S10-S:

The purple befits Kev's standing as a working jazz and samba musician, I suppose. Kev and I will be cleaning and stroking this bike over the weekend, so more pictures will be forthcoming.  It does have nice Sansin Gyromaster sealed bearing medium flange hubs with circular cutouts.

In other purple-ish news, I recently acquired a new maroon Brooks imperial from a Dutch vendor.

It turns out that the proprietor likes the maroon color and special orders small runs of saddles in this color from Brooks. This year, he is considering an order of some Team Pro and Swift saddles in this trim.

He also is considering other colors/models his potential customers may want and is polling their opinions on this page, so if you have any interest, let your voice be heard.

So now I have a saddle to go with that new maroon bar tape that Matt has endorsed.

I'm thinking that this saddle and tape could be a sharp look on my white Fuji Finest, maybe with those Electra Ticino hubs laced to a pair of the new style Grand Bois rims:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

More on Electra Ticino High Flange Road Hubs

Pursuant to my recent acquisition of a set of Electra Ticino Hubs, I sent the following questions to Electra:

"I recently purchased a set of Ticino Road Hubs which arrived today (gorgeous, but I'm sure you hear that alot).  A couple of questions:

1)  Do you have the wheelbuilding information for this (spoke radius,  flange offsets, etc).  I suppose I could measure this, but it would be nice to have the official figures.

2)  Do you have any recommended/non-recommended usage information - max loading, offroading, things that would negate a warranty or just cause you to think a user was an idiot.

3)  In reference to the greaseport on the axle housings (beautiful, BTW), did you intend this to be functional, i.e, that people would be  replenishing the grease in a meaningful fashion on sealed bearings.

4)  Any plans for a 36h version?"

And I received the following back:

''Thank you for choosing Electra!  I hope you are pleased with the purchase of your new Ticino hubs.  

As far as hub measurements, I am still trying to obtain the "official" specs., but I wanted to get back with you as soon as possible.  I'll send the specs. when I get them, but for now I would measure the hubs manually.  

The hubs are not designed for off road applications, but the hubs will be warranted for one year under "normal" use.  

The hubs are sealed on the outside, but there is no seal on the inside, hence the grease port.  I understand the grease port can be misleading......I thought the same thing as you at first.  

Last but not least, we are considering a 36 hole version.  I hope this helps, and thanks again!

Oliver Dine
Electra Bicycle Company, LLC "

So there you have it.

UPDATE 3-25-2010 
Several hours after receiving the above from Mr. Dine of Electra Bicycle, I received more info, which rather surprised me and speaks well of Electra Bicycle service.  I assumed it would be days before more information was forthcoming:


Below are the specs.:

Spoke hole diameter=2.5mm
Over locknut dimension=130mm rear / 100mm front
Flange diameter=66mm
Rear hub width from center to flange: WL (left flange to center)=36mm / WR (right flange to center)=17mm
Front hub center to flange=32mm

Oliver Dine
Electra Bicycle Company, LLC"

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Matt's Fuji Super Record With A Story (And Maroon Bar Tape)

Things have been hopping around here recently.  Matt, an avid Fuji enthusiast and occasional contributor to this blog, today sent in the story below.

Readers may or may not be interested in looking at Riv's new bar tape (made in the USA, of all darn places), but it is well worth following the link to read the inspirational and amazing story about the previous owner of Matt's Fuji Super Record.

"I've got a few things that you might be interested in.

Since you disappeared on us for a while, I wasn't sure if you ever saw the final conclusion on the Fuji Opus maroon tape thread over in BF.  Rivendell Bicycle Works carries some and since I just put it on one of my bikes, I thought that I would share the results.  I've already emailed Scott and Julian, but forgot about you.  Since I saw that you were working on your Opus, I thought that I would give you a heads up.

It is thicker than the Tressotar tape that VO sells and IMO, quite a bit better.  With Tressotar, I always used two rolls per side.  With this Newbaum's tape, I only used one roll per side and I think it looks and feels quite a bit nicer.  Having bought 8 rolls, I suppose that I will be happy having 4 rolls on hand after outfitting two bikes. 

I've included some pictures, but they show the tape being more of a pink than it really is.  Overall, I am very happy with it on the Super Record and have more rolls to put on the Opus.  I will note though, the Newbaums tape is just a bit lighter than the original Opus tape.  You may get a better match with shellac.

Now, since I mentioned the Super Record, I didn't think that it would be fair to not share some pictures and a bit of information, in case you wanted to add it to your blog.  Hopefully, all of the photos don't bog down your email.

After helping Scott get a minty 82ish Fuji Professional in his size, he sold me the Professional Super Record.  He bought it several months before that, but found it to be a bit too small for him.

When he told me that he would sell it, I was utterly thrilled.  When the bike arrived, I quickly opened the box and began looking it over to see the scratches and chips that are expected with these old bikes.  What surprised me though, was the Bob Beal decal on the top tube.  I had never heard of him and initially wrote him off as some average guy. 

After the initial excitement wore off, I went ahead and took the bike down to the garage.  When I came up, I did a bit of internet searching and was surprised to find that Bob made quite a name for himself in New England.  I won't got into great detail, but you can read about him here if interested
[Ed. Note - terrific story, a must read!].  I suppose that this lends itself to the "Are You Classic, or Vintage, or Both" post that you created.  New bikes don't come with this kind of history.

After reading the book(link above), I went ahead and did a bit more research...contacting Scott again, as well as a few bike shops in Bob's area.  Luckily, I heard back from a few people...with pictures of Bob riding the bike!

Unfortunately, it turns out that Mr. Beal passed on 8/27/09.  I was disappointed that I couldn't write a letter to him, but I went ahead and tried sending one to his family anyway.  It has been a few months, but I never heard back.

Regardless, I had plenty of work to be done on my bikes to get ready for Spring and when the Super Record's day came, I started cleaning and reassembling it. 

To start, the frame got a quick cleaning followed by touchups using fingernail polish.  The color is is pretty good match, IMHO.  New Bob Beal decals will be applied when they come in.

Last week, I regreased the headset, BB, and hubs.  Yesterday, I assembled the rest of it, but I didn't finish until 7:30.  The bike seemed too nice for electrical tape to finish out the bars, so I used thin strips of leather instead.  What do you think of it? 

Being an almost purely Fuji man, I have a Raleigh 3-speed, this is my first adventure away from Suntour derailleurs.  I have to admit, these Campy bits are pretty nice to look at and they work better than I thought.  I can't tell a difference from my Suntour stuff. 

The only major complaint that I have, came when I wanted to work on the RD.  It made me long for the open Suntour cages that allow easy removal from the chain.  This would certainly be a nuisance on the road.

I gave the bike the first ride about an hour ago.  Although I need to tweak the brakes, it was surprisingly quick and nimble.  I've spent all Spring riding the Special Road Racer, so this was a nice change of pace.



Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New Grand Bois Rims

New neo-classical bike products keep coming at you fast these days. From the Classic Rendezvous mail list yesterday:

"After many years when it looked like classic box-section rims with a polished aluminum finish were going to be a distant memory, we now have more and more exciting rim choices.

Grand Bois just offered their latest, a "double-wall" polished rim that is 23 mm wide, 700C and 650B, 32 and 36 holes.

The new Grand Bois rim is based on a custom extrusion. Why a custom extrusion? Most makers of limited-production rims use existing extrusions, and just have them rolled to different diameters, sometimes adding a nice polish as well. That means that there is only minimal tooling and setup cost. However, all existing classic rim profiles are only 19 mm wide, as they are intended for narrow racing tires. That is narrower than is ideal for the 30-40 mm wide tires many of us prefer. The wider rims are intended for mountain or hybrid bikes and often have facetted shapes that are heavier and look out of place on a classic bike. So Grand Bois commissioned a custom extrusion for a 23 mm wide rim.

The new Grand Bois rims are remarkably light, without compromising strength. The 650B version weighs 488 g, making it the lightest 650B rim available today. (The Velocity Synergy weighs 502 g, so the difference isn't great. You begin to reach a lower limit, and to make the rims lighter, you either compromise strength and durability, or you make them narrower.)

Available in 700C and 650B, 32 and 36 holes. Because of the custom extrusion, these rims aren't cheap, but worth every penny at $89 (650B) and $96 (700C).
For more info, see

In the mean time, we have a few of the first-generation Grand Bois 650B rims left. They use a cross-section with two small boxes, like the old Super Champion M58. A very nice rim, but not ideal for modern, highly asymmetric rear wheels. $ 60 as long as supplies last.

Jan Heine
Bicycle Quarterly
2116 Western Ave.
Seattle WA 98121"

So I trotted over to to look and saw these:

This is pretty good news - as Jan alludes to, some of the recent "classic" rims are essentially tarted up versions of modern mid-grade quality rims. Not that there is anything wrong with that, as those offerings are markedly cheaper. But high quality, wide, flat topped box, low sidewall rims that are all nice and shiny have been essentially unavailable new.

Plus, I have a soft spot for Grand Bois, as the shop (I's Bicycle, surf the site for some eye candy) that designs and/or sources Grand Bois products is in Kyoto, Japan, the region my wife is from and where she is currently in situ with my son.

This is also just in the nick of time, as I was pondering making up a new set of 700c wheels for wider tires and hard duty. All the likely suspects had some deficiency in either the quality or cosmetic department. But these look like just the ticket, perhaps for those new Electra Ticino hubs or my set of groovy cool (very late/rare Spidel Model) Maillard 700 Pro hubs:

Jan Heine and the crew at Vintage Bicycle Press have some good products over there. As they freely admit, they are not cheap, but it is one of the places where you can get stuff that scratches the classic styling itch without having to make compromises in quality or performance. Plus, these guys were around long before the classic bike revival began as well as being hard core riders, so they are definitely true believers.

Were I a betting man, I would wager that a set of these Grand Bois rims will show up in future installments, so stay tuned.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Building Dreams In Brooklyn - Joe Nocella and 718 Cyclery, Inc

Joe Nocella at 718 Cyclery HQ

We have a special treat today for us amateur wrenches who sometimes fantasize that their occasional bike sale, admiration of friends, and burgeoning parts bins will blossom into a real business. Joe Nocella is making this a reality for himself as the founder of rapidly growing 718 Cyclery, Inc in Brooklyn, New York.

and I met via this blog, and, after a few exchanges, I asked if he'd be open for an interview. With that, away we go...

Fuji Otaku: Well Joe, welcome! Maybe you can kick this off with a little bit about your background and how you got into professionally renovating and customizing bicycles.

Joe Nocella: Like most of us, I have been around bikes most of my life. While in college in the late 80's, I took a bike messenger job in Manhattan. This was in the days before mountain bikes and cell phones took over, so there were lots of dudes scurrying around on 10-speeds. Coincidentally, I rode a Fuji (it was blue, but forget the model) my career ended when I got hit at 23rd and Broadway.

Flash forward a number of years. Working as an architect has always been a goal of mine, but over the years of staring at a computer monitor, my hands grew restless. My architectural education was a program that was very hands on, and I felt that a part of me was being underutilized by working in an office.

About 2 years ago I had a bike stolen out of my front yard (it wasn't locked, I live in Brooklyn, the results are predictable). In deciding what I was going to do, former associates who were now in SF (Team Lope) convinced me to build my own. So, I built my first (it was a 1988 Schwinn World Conversion). I got so into the process of hunting for parts and fitting components that I built a second, which I promptly sold.

I was now hooked, but my business underwent 1 final refinement. Initially, I was just building bikes and selling them. I then hit on the idea to involve the client in the build process, and things have just taken off.

We have collaboratively built 53 bikes in 2009, and are off to a great start this year with another 22 to date in 2010. I run the business in my free time one night a week and weekends. Its certainly a busy life, as I have a day job as an architect at SOM, teach at Pratt and coach my kids youth sports teams.

It also feeds into my interests of web design, graphic design and I handle all of that at 718 Cyclery.

Fuji Otaku: Hey, that's great, you rode a Fuji before they were cool; evidently you're a man of taste and refinement...

Something I want to get on the table up front before getting into things like the client build process – you're walking into the lion's den here. Looking at 718c, I see lots, actually mostly, fixies. We seem to attract mostly a C&V (classic and vintage) crowd here and the animus that many C&V'ers have towards the fixie scene is no secret.

What are your thoughts on this debate? Is it even a debate about which the typical fixie rider is even aware? And, from a C&V standpoint, heck, who is the typical fixie rider? Do they fit the profile? My first awareness of this was 10 years ago when it all seemed like an odd Sheldon Brown idiosyncrasy. Then, suddenly, everywhere you look, swarms of them.

For my part, I'm not a C&V purist, I'm quite willing to do my own interpretation on a vintage bike and I don't have a particularly reverential attitude about the holy purity of vintage steel, but still.. Fixies are one of the biggest trends in cycling since mountain bikes & I'm not getting why slogging around in a single gear is any fun. That disturbs me, so could you help me out a little?

Joe Nocella: First, I do want to mention that all of the work we do is non-destructive (except for the first 2 bikes I did...but they were Schwinns and I had an itchy grinder finger!). In that, we don't grind off derailler hangers or cable bosses or anything. I spend hours restoring headsets, stems aligning dropouts, tapping BB shells and chasing fork threads.

I have 2 reasons for this:

1. I am very respectful of these classic frames and feel it is my job to get them back on the road again, not to castrate them

2. I tell my clients that someday, your kid will find this bike in the basement and want to "convert" it BACK to a 10-speed.

I think that fixed gear/singlespeed bikes allow an urban rider to commute to work on a simple bike. There is all kinds of crap written about the "zen" of being connected to a fixed drive train, however I am more down to earth about it. I have many clients who bring in old road bikes and say things like "I am riding to work, and never changing the gears anyway" addition, bouncing all over our city streets and brides can wreck havoc on components. For me, its not about looking/being cool (I am a 40 year old father of 2...the opposite of cool), its about urban practicality and the reuse of great frames.

As far as debates regarding "hipness" within the fixed gear community, I am totally on the sidelines. I do what I do because I love working with bikes. Period. Early on I sought the attention of the fixie forum crowd, but soon found it brought alot of attitude and just got in the way of the happiness my work brought to me. I don't need anyone's approval.

We have begun to do more and more restoration work, which is also very enjoyable. Either way, getting butts on bikes and cars off the city streets is a good thing.

Regarding the animosity that the C&V'ers may have towards others, I really don't think that my typical client gives it much thought. I mean, these are only pieces of metal, plastic and rubber, right...why is there so much nastiness? We should be using our debating skills on issues of the day that are far more important,. Are we really getting that worked up over bicycles?

My clients tend to be mature folks who are looking for the simplicity of a fixed gear/singlespeed, without the ironic baggage and youtube trickery that goes with it. I have observed this so far; if you are truly hip and cool and a connoisseur of spoke cards, you are having your buddies in Williamsburg build you a bike. For everyone else, I seem to be the main option. My shop is set up like an inverted bike shop. Normally, you bring your bike in to the shop, it gets taken to the back, and 3 days later it reappears with an $85 bill on it.

We try to demystify the build process, and involve clients in our hands-on collaborative builds. I think that many people feel intimidated walking into a bike shop and feeling insecure in their command of actual bike knowledge and its jargon. Our business model is the inverse of that, and its quite successful. We collaboratively built 53 bikes last year from April to December, and are already on a pace to top that this year.... people just want to know how things go together.

"You can't hammer a nail over the Internet. Learning a trade is not limiting but, rather, liberating. If you are in possession of a skill that cannot be exported overseas, done with an algorithm, or downloaded, you will always stand a decent chance of finding work. Even rarer, you will probably be a master of your own domain, something the thousands of employed but bored people in the service industries can only dream of" (Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford)

I am a Sheldon Brown disciple, I am finding new information on his site every day...he must be writing from the grave!

Fuji Otaku: Since the fixies are appealing because of simplicity, rugged reliability, and classic styling, maybe these folks really are kindred spirits of C&V'ers and BOBish types. We are all on the same team in that we want stuff that is shiny, silver, simple, not much plastic, sorta retro looking, repairable with normal hand tools, or even just repairable at all.

And actually, I like a lot of the flashy stuff from the fixie scene. Back in the late 80's, I was tooling around Hawaii on my 1985 Trek 770, hot pink with white saddle and bar wrap. You can imagine what I was wearing. And I didn't even stick out, since everybody was doing similar things. That sort of whimsy got in short supply in the intervening years and the fixie scene seems to be bringing it back. I just have to figure out on which bike some tangerine Deep V's would work.

Can you lead us through the client build process?

Joe Nocella: Initially, when I started this, I was just building bikes and selling them. I am no salesman, and it was uncomfortable trying to sell on CraigsList. Soon thereafter, I hit upon the idea of sharing my enjoyment of building with clients...and at that point things took off. No one is this area is doing this, so I have a sort of monopoly on folks looking to build a bike in an environment devoid of arrogance or attitude.

I find that developing a relationship with some over the course of a few weeks is far more rewarding that hitting on a retail transaction.

The process is simple. People go to my website and sign up for a free 1 on 1 consultation here at the shop. The time schedule software (Time Center) that my wife convinced me to use is a godsend. It is so much better than getting calls and trying to schedule. This is automatic, and gives off a professional vibe.

So, people come by and we talk about what they are looking for, what their budget is and how they ride. I mock up different frames we have in the shop for sizing. Once a frame is selected, I then use Google Docs to develop and online/shared estimate. I have accounts with 3 of the 4 major bike component distributor in the country, so I am buying at wholesale and able to keep my costs down. Getting wholesale accounts was difficult, as I had to incorporate, get insurance and a sales tax certificate. But, one I got the first , the others came clamoring to my door so as not to lose out to their competitors.

The Google Docs spreadsheet allows my client and I to work on a fluid document together, and every cost for every part is laid out and explained. I usually include options and links to images to help clients make decisions. Parts are the ordered and we set a 2 hour build date for the next weekend. I generally build my wheels a few days before build date, and I also mock the whole bike up before the client arrives to see if we will have any conflicts...(the biggest issue always seems to be the brake drop at the fork...too much or too little as these bikes were designed for 27" wheels,and we are installing 700mm wheels.).

The client arrives, and we spend 2 hours buildng and explaining each part and tool required. Some people like to just watch, some like to take pictures, and some like to get real dirty. Upon completion, we run it through its paces in terms of fit, I take a nice picture, I get paid and the client rides away. I offer lifetime service on all of my bikes, and the ability to purchase accessories (helmets/locks, etc) at wholesale costs.

Fuji Otaku: I sporadically sell on Craigslist, but I can't imagine it being part of the foundation of a meaningful going concern. In addition to scams, no-shows, etc., everybody expects a steal. For example, here in DC, it is almost impossible to sell an 80's Japanese road bike for more than $250 even if it has been completely rebuilt & upgraded. People assume that it is similar to the mass of garage sale bikes that form the preponderance of sales because CL tends to attract people looking for and selling garage sale stuff.

So one of your major value added propositions, is demystifying the process and engaging the customer in a manner consistent with their standing as an intelligent adult. At face value, it sounds like something that all cycle shops should do, but we all know what the reality all too commonly is.

Where do you get your frames, parts, and so forth? Does a client bike always start with a frame you have in stock? I'm assuming you end up with lots of takeoff parts from donor frames - what happens to those parts? And in the "far more rewarding" department, into what sort of price range are these builds falling.

Joe Nocella: There are 2 types of people who come to 718 type is the person dragging an old bike down the street, looking to breath some new life into it. The other is starting from scratch with no frame. Of the people that start with no frames, there are 2 avenues; vintage frames or a new frame. Again, in dealing with major distributors, I can get new frames for great prices, and some people come to me wanting a "new" bike. Mostly, our work involves working with vintage frames.

Acquiring vintage frames is probably the most "painful" part of the process. I usually have 8-10 in the shop, but I am always on the lookout. I avoid Craigslist here in NYC as people want way too much. So, I hit up ebay. My perfect find is someone in Iowa who is cleaning out grandpa's barn and comes across a bike...not being a city slicker and not knowing what the market is like here usually means they sell at reasonable prices.

As far as components, I primarily use new named-brand stuff (Nitto, Tektro, SRAM, Shimano, Velocity, etc)...there is a quality level I will not dip below, and for those of my clients that are looking for a cheap conversion, I usually refer them to places that cater to that quality level.

There are many many factors involved in pricing, but our builds generally start in the $550/$600 range, and can certainly go up from there. I don't charge any mark-up for frames or for wheels (which I hand build myself). For components, I keep my prices between wholesale and retail. In addition, I generally charge $50/hr for labor (builds are always 2 hours). And, since I am an incorporated legal business, I charge sales tax, which gets reported every quarter.

Regarding the parts that come off frames, I save most of it and work on cleaning/salvaging as I want to grow the restoration side of my business.

Fuji Otaku: Speaking of growing your business, where do you see this going? Are we going to see a 718 Cyclery headbadge or do you want to continue focus on service/builds? Given complete freedom, what kind(s) of bikes would you like to build? Any tips for staying on top of margins? And finally, what are the best and worst parts of this experience?

Joe Nocella: I have been kicking the idea of frame building around for a bit, but for now I'm gonna stick with the vintage steel. Given complete freedom, I like the projects where the client has a classic frame, and lets me have a long leash with ideas about components and modernization.

As far as the business side of it goes, I do make sure that I include a labor fee on all builds; this way I ensure that I am getting paid for the efforts. The margins on the components helps, but I keep that markup pretty low (like 25-35%). In the end, I tell people 3 things about the money they will spend with us.

1. If they took that same $600 into a shop, they would certainly get "less" of a bike, part for part

2. They are learning how to build and maintain a bike, which is worth something in terms of skipped trips to the shop

3. Their bike will be totally unique

I am no salesman, and the fact that this isn't my day job lets me be relaxed and low-key about the process. My work and reviews speak for themselves. The people that seek me out seem to get it, and realize that this isn't going to take 20 minutes. The best part is the people I meet, the worst is all the paperwork (business taxes, sales tax, incorporation, insurance, dealer accounts, etc).

Not sure where this will go to in 5 years; I often fantasize about opening a storefront and doing this full time.

Fuji Otaku: The architect in you is showing - collaborative design/build with full client engagement.

In terms of new production, things are much better than even 2 or 3 years ago for those who prefer classic bikes. Framebuilders are popping up like mushrooms at dawn, places like Velo Orange are turning into real success stories. So what sorts of things do you like in vintage steel & components that you would like to see brought back. Me, I'm a sucker for chromed forks/stays & high flange wheels. I almost fell out of my chair when I saw the new Electra Ticino Road Hubs - I immediately ordered a set, just to be a first kid on the block.

Also, which bike/project are you most proud of - any pics?

Joe Nocella: My favorite is my current ride, a 1968 Bottecchia...and, regarding Velo Orange, I just got a dealer/wholesale account, which is exciting.

Fuji Otaku: Joe, I want to wish you good luck, thank you for coming by, and invite you to keep in touch. Before you go, I'll just throw it open for anything you'd like to add, especially for any would-be wrenches yearning to slip the surly bonds of cubicle-land.

Joe Nocella: I would say that I am fortunate to have a family that has supported me, and fortunate enough to find a passion that finally makes me understand what a full day's work really means. This isn't rocket science; there are no carburetors, computers, engines or electricity involved; what we love is just metal, rubber and some plastic, moving around parts that in some cases reached the pinnacle of design efficiency 100 years ago.

Thanks so much for taking an interest in what I do, Mr. Otaku.

We Get A Shipment - Electra Ticino Hubs

Shortly after finishing up responding to Dan's email, I noticed a rather large box on the porch.

Inside of it was a smaller cardboard box, and inside of that was this box (kudos to Electra on nice packaging for shipment):

So the biggest question about the new Electra Ticino hubs has been answered - yes, you do get the coolio display box. After building its contents into wheels, it looks like it would be a servicable lunchbox, although it might be a little flimsy for that.

Beyond that, the hubs look pretty darn blingy and of at least reasonable quality. When I get around to it, I'll go over them in detail and post a fuller evaluation.

These, no doubt, will fuel my ongoing Classic/Vintage & reissue existential crisis.

We Get Mail - Espree and Decals

This just in:


First off, I love the subject that automatically pops up and I love your blog. On Saturday, I purchased a 1984 Fuji Espree in really decent condition. However, one side of the Fuji sticker on the seat tube is a little scuffed up. I was wondering if you knew a place to buy a new decal so I could try to replace it? I haven’t had much luck online, and figured it was worth asking you. It’s the decal that looks like this.

I must say, I’ve always really, really liked older Fuji road bikes. I’m pretty sure it stems from my time spent at Indiana University and watching all the cyclist train for the Little 500. Thanks and maybe I’ll see you around the District.

Washington, DC"


The Fuji Espree is a nice all rounder, I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

You'll probably enjoy it even more knowing you can get decals at Velocals. They don't seem to have exactly as pictured, but here are some for a 1983 Del Rey:

If you contact the owner of Velocals (I don't want to publish his email for spam reasons, look on the site) with your specific need & pictures, he's known to be pretty responsive in whipping up what works.


Fuji Otaku

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Classic vs. Vintage, Round II

Which brake straddle wire carrier would you opt for first, assuming you owned both:

UPDATE: Improved wording of the question is:

Which brake straddle wire carriers would be more likely on your dream bike (assuming your dream bike has any need for these):

80's Vintage Dia Compe Gran Compe:

New Production Velo Orange:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Just A Sunny Saturday

Woke up to a beautiful springlike day here in our nation's Capital. First order of business was a call from wifey letting me know that they had got to grandma's in Japan ok and my son was sleeping soundly.

Got to work on the 1983 Fuji Opus III. This is a completely original bike, including bar tape, toe clip straps, etc. It has been sitting disassembled since it was shipped to me. So I got to work on it. The gold rims (tubular) are pretty striking on this bike.

I've previously repacked the Sunshine Pro-Am hubs and repacked the Hatta Swan headset. First order as to do the same on the bottom bracket. After cleaning off the sludge, I found that the races, just as on the headset and hubs, were fine, with no scoring or pitting:

Spindle looked nice as well. For the record, it was 112.8 mm. It is not symmetric, there is a bit of offset on the drive side.

Finished up the bottom bracket, installed the crankset, after freeing the frozen pedals with a mallet, wrench, bench vise (please folks, for the love of God, grease your pedal threads...).

Around that time, my buddy Kev showed up. I met Kev some years back when I was first getting into jazz (I've been a hillbilly flatpicker my whole life). He showed up at a jam and, being a pro jazz guitarist, proceeded to mop up the floor with me like you wouldn't believe. After I regained my dignity, I asked him if I could study w/him. Along that path we've gotten to be pretty good friends, having sons of similar ages and compatible temperaments.
We rode over to Takoma Park to meet Kev's wife and watch his son's first soccer game ever. Were my son not at that very moment sound asleep in a comfy futon at grandma's in Moriyama, he'd have been there as well.

Here's Kev:

Our bikes:

A stylish cyclist (that's a flower on the front of her helmet):

Strategy/briefing session:

We called it quits around halftime, leaving Kev's wife on watch and headed out through Takoma Park. Takoma Park has lotsa big old wood houses and is very leafy, fun for just ambling around:

Around this time I got sick of taking pictures, but we rode Sligo Creek Trail to Northwest Branch, meandered around, and hooked up with part of the team having a leisurely post-game meal at La Casita at the intersection of Dale and Piney Branch. This is easy to do because the service is super slow, the food terrific, and the atmosphere relaxed.

Our team lost, incidentally, 0-3, good for their character no doubt.

Got home, found I had won on Ebay a NOS set of Dia Compe NGC500 brakes, levers, small bits (cables, clips), in original box for $43. Sorta hard to beat that - heck, the brake hoods alone, being compatible with old Campy and Superbe levers gotta be worth at least worth 20-25 dollars.

Maybe they will go on the Fuji Finest, which is what I'm going to really turn my attention to when I get the Opus bolted up.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Are You Classic, Or Vintage, Or Both?

Sometimes when I'm mucking around with all these old bikes, I start wondering about myself. Then when I'm writing for this blog, I start wondering about the readers.

What I wonder about is how much of our involvement in this is due to the bikes being vintage and how much it is to their being classic.

That is, if lugged steel bikes were affordably available new with all the classic features - lugwork, friction, shiny, level top tubes, Nervex lugs, friction shifters, metal headbadges, etc, would I (or you) still be haunting Craigslist, Ebay, and our respective workshops keeping vintage bikes in service?

The possibility of the new option seems to be increasing day by day with the growth of new production "classic" bike frames and parts. For my part, there are a couple of things that will probably prevent me from ever being as happy with new production as vintage. The primary obstacle will be that probably nobody is ever going to bring back loose ball hubs, bottom brackets, and headset.

Me, I like that stuff, the ability to cheaply service a bike with a handful of tools, bearings, and grease is a core element of the simplicity of cycling. But I suspect that those who feel as I do are a tiny minority of the market demand now driving the classic bike renaissance.

There is a heritage issue as well. Somehow, reissues from anonymous, white label manufacturers that would just as willingly crank out carbon crankarms seems to lack a bit of authenticity - sometimes it seems there is a whiff of Disneyland/Dreamworks illusion crafting in some of the new products, with some of the vendors trying too hard to strike a pose. Nonetheless, I use bits and pieces of these emerging products, but I'm not sure my heart would quite go pitty-pat on an entire machine constructed of such.

For me, there is a lot more magic in tracking down and rehabilitating a vintage crank than painlessly ordering a new facsimile from the web. But maybe that thought is also just a pose as well, albeit a purist type one.

I'm just wondering if anyone else ever thinks about these things. One answer is shut up and ride, but sometimes I think about this while riding.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Wheel Turns

My wife Yukari and my son Benchan are leaving for Japan tomorrow morning. Benchan will be starting first grade there and Yukari a great new job in Osaka. Me, I'll be following on the by and by, depending upon how things go with a startup in which I'm serving as the CTO.

Today was a beautiful spring-like day, so Benchan and I went for a last ride down the Capital Crescent trail to Bethesda for some Giffords ice cream, which is a special treat for Benchan.

We stopped along the way and snapped a few pics of the Mondia:

I just applied shellac to the handlebar tape. Recently, I've been subscribing to a less is more philosophy with handlebar shellac- enough to seal the fabric, but not so much that it is slick and shiny. This is with 3 coats. The clear Zinser Bullseye shellac still oranged up the yellow portions of the tape a bit, maybe next time I'll get some super extra blonde flakes and mix my own. But I still think it looks good:

Some other blingy details:

A beautiful machine indeed, but today my thoughts are much more on what the future holds for our little family.