Sunday, October 2, 2011

Paul Butler's "The Greg Curnoe Bike Project" at the AGO

Paul Butler's Greg Curnoe Bike Project is under way at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and runs until November 13th.

For my own totally different Greg Curnoe Bike project, completed last spring, read my artistic statement and look at photos.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gaudi Bike, Step 1; and Bikes and Guitars

Yesterday I took the very first step for the next bike, which I am calling for now by the dramatic title "Gaudi Bike." This first step was putting brass in the transitions of some a stamped Cinelli CS lugset to begin my "investment stamped" process—a sort of time-waster that allows me to do nice silver-brazing on old, long-pointed lugs. The seatlug (which has a reinforced binder, also) looks a bit a double-beaked baby bird asking for a meal. I have kept my framebuilding hobby "starved" for the past while; it is hungry!

Below is a photo taken in the same room as the above, my living room:

For a long time I've been meaning to put up a post about bikes and (mostly Fender) electric guitars—relatively simple, often colourful devices whose designs came to maturity in the post-war years and have mostly changed, if at all, for the worse. I'll actually write that post some day—but for now, this accidental juxtaposition of my Sonic Blue Fender Classic Player 60s Strat (the 2006 model with the AY-signed pickups, a phenomenally nice Mexican-made guitar) and Jocelyn Lovell Bike sort of makes my point for me. (Yes, I did design the Lovell paint scheme around this guitar -- including the slightly green white on the headtube, to match the "mint" pickguard! But the blues are a bit different.)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

This has been the busiest summer of my life. In addition to finishing and defending my thesis, I've had to deal with the downside of thesis-completion—finding a job—and then preparing to do that job. (I'm teaching a course at the University of Toronto. It's the first time the course has ever been offered before, so I had to develop the entire syllabus from the ground up.)

All of this was made even more challenging by the fact that I had a long-planned vacation set up for August—I had to squeeze a year's worth of work into three months. But the vacation was wonderful. And while I did almost no framebuilding this summer, I did get a lot of ideas while I was away. Here is a cycling-themed summary of my summer vacation.

After spending a few quiet weeks in Poland, I went to London—where my visit happened to coincide with the London-Surrey Cycling Classic, whose start I was able to see. I was hoping to mingle with the riders before the start, but security was tight. No Tom Boonen autograph, I'm afraid—but if you squint, you can see him in the Belgian colours at the front of the pack. Cycling-wise, London reminded me a lot of Toronto: lots of fixed gears, some reasonably nice; generally cycling-unfriendly streets...

I made my first visit to the Netherlands, which I found generally less amazing than most bicycle-loving Torontonians do. I think the Dutch bikes in Toronto are nicer than the Dutch bikes I saw in Rotterdam, which mostly looked like mountain bikes. But I was suitably impressed with the separated bike lanes, and it was exciting to walk across the Erasmus Bridge, where the 2010 Tour de France started.

I couldn't help but be impressed by Flanders. Commuting cyclists get excited about the Netherlands; racing fans get excited about Belgium. I was hoping to bump into Tom Boonen in his home region, but failed again. I bought a copy of Het Laatste Niews, the Antwerp-based newspaper with the excellent sports section, despite my complete lack of Flemish.

By far the most educational stop was Barcelona. I was impressed not by the bicycles, but rather—like every other tourist in Barcelona—by the Gaudi buildings. And Gaudi gave me some very good bike ideas. This is because he is the most incredible constructeur ever. I was particularly floored by the Palau Güell—which is less colourful and crazy than most Gaudi buildings, but was designed from the ground up, and is really conceived as a whole, with every tiny detail (and there are, at least, millions of little details) fitting into the larger project. My favourite parts were the secret hallways above the guest rooms to permit spying; the handmade furniture, wrought-iron, and hardware fittings; and the incredible central dome around which every room on every floor is built. I was so impressed with the Palau Güell that I forgot to take any pictures. Above is a picture of the chimneys of the nearby Casa Batlló, which has charms of its own. I very much like the idea of decorating something luridly functional like a chimney: it would be fun to do something similar with fenders or mudflaps...

I am going to set aside at least one day a week for framebuilding this fall. I have a number of projects in mind—the first of which may well be called Gaudi Bike!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The World's Nicest Carbon Frame Could Be Yours!

Nice in two senses. First sense: Noah Rosen of Velocolour, painter of all my frames, did an elaborate and stunning paint job, inspired by his childhood love of pinball. (If there was a soundtrack to this bicycle, it would obviously draw heavily on Tommy.) Second sense: this frame is being auctioned to support the charity Right to Play, which helps disadvantaged children in their efforts to play and have fun (a worthy cause!)

It's good-looking and it does good work. It's a very nice frame.

This project was put together by Michael Barry Jr., one of Canada's finest cyclists and the son of Mike Barry of Mariposa fame, Noah, and Pinarello. Michael and Noah jointly came up with the pinball idea; and Noah painted the frame, which Pinarello donated. If you're in the market for a fabulous and unique bicycle frame, and you're looking to support a good cause, go to the eBay auction. It ends in four days.

Also: Michael Barry Jr. is writing articles for The Toronto Star during the Tour de France, which are well worth checking out. His recent blog post on rider safety is a brave and intelligent reflection on a worsening problem.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Back In The Shop, Etc.

Where have I been and what have I been doing for the last month and a half? I have been to Victoria and to Edmonton for conferences; I have turned thirty and celebrated Canada Day; and I have defended my thesis. (DR.A.HAMMOND cycles now, my friends.) I have not been riding my bike very much, I'm afraid, and I haven't been in to the shop at all.

Until today, that is. It's been months since I've done any brazing—but apparently making bicycles is like riding them. It all went perfectly well. My friend Cory has a Surly that he wants to convert into a fendered city bike. I thought adding a bunch of braze-ons would be a good way to reacquaint myself with the torch. Here are some photos. (Cory is my kind of guy: he drilled all the holes for me, and outlined all the positions with a Sharpie, and wrote exactly what braze-on he wanted where.)

The above photo is the only one that warrants commentary. That's one of those brake-retainer-things for the Nexus front drum brake Cory's going to use. Normally it clamps on; but I've chopped it up, given it a shape (more shaping to follow) and turned it onto a braze-on, which I will braze on when I'm in the shop again, next week. (One comment about the other photos: I used brass for everything except the internal brake cable housing entries/exits. And no flux has yet been removed, and nothing cleaned up.)

I'll be out on another Zoo ride on the Curnoe bike tomorrow. My love of routine and habit means there is a limit to how many ride reports I can make. But I will soon post photos of Curnoe bike, two months into his life. And I do hope to ride to London soon, to visit Curnoe's former studio.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Greg Curnoe Bike Does the Zoo Ride

The weather has been awful in Toronto for the past week. The day after my last ride, it started raining; it has hardly stopped since. But today was beautiful, at last, and I made the most of it. As you can see from the above pictured, I lived dangerously. The road was broken, but I risked it.

Greg Curnoe Bike waiting for the Go train at exhibition station. The CN Tower looks on. If you look closely, you will see my new Spécialités TA-made Cinelli water bottle.
If you were looking extremely closely, you would have noticed that I had my tubular wheelset in place. Here is my spare Czech-made Tufo tire, which I bought while on vacation in the Czech Republic in 2007. (I tried to visit the factory, for some reason, but the day I planned by trip, a wild storm blew in. I took this as a sign and walked around Olomouc.)
God bless the Go train. This one took me to Rouge Hill station, in about 40 minutes—enough time to read every section of the Saturday Star that interested me. Then off I went.
The eponymous Zoo, which is on the very margins of the Greater Toronto Area. Ride a few more minutes and you see...
... beautiful sights like these. (Did I mention it has been raining a lot?) 
But the fun doesn't really start until you hit the gravel—which happened about two seconds after I took this photo. (This ride was about 85km, and I would guess about 35 of them were on gravel.)
Ah, the gravel. Empty of cars, and smooth-yet-rutty, so you're kept on your toes. I made Greg Curnoe Bike to ride over roads like this one. His big fat tubulars are designed to soak up the gravel-bumps, and his big orange fenders are designed to deposit stray pellets safely back on the road.
Greg Curnoe Bike doing what he was designed to do.
A picturesque gravel crossroads. (No souls transacted.)
Riding flat on gravel is fun, but climbing steep gravel hills is more fun.
What my ride companions (none of whom could make it today, alas) call The Roman Aqueduct.
Shortly after the Aqueduct, there is a really windy, hilly section. I needed a break at the top of the steepest of the climbs. (Note spare tubular hanging somewhat perilously, and the aforementioned Cinelli water bottle [my lugs, remember, are Cinelli CSes].)
A particularly glorious, rolling, quiet, wooded stretch. The Italians can have their strade bianche. We'll keep our strade marrone.
And so to Goodwood, the traditional resting place. Normally there is a hotly contested sprint for this sign, but today, being alone, I rode by slowly and took this photo.
The wonderful bakery in Goodwood, which provides all necessary motivation when you're struggling on the gravel roads.
More gravel on the ride back to the Go station.
Waiting for the train near surprisingly scenic Rouge Hill Station.
Today was an excellent test for Greg Curnoe Bike. Lots of rough road, lots of shaking, lots of climbs. He felt very comfortable, no bolts loosened, I rode quickly—and the rear brake finally stopped squealing. He is very good at his job. (And, yes, more teenagers said nice things about him on the Go ride home.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Greg Curnoe Bike Rides to Acton

First things first: Adam of Cycle EXIF gave Greg Curnoe Bike an incredible writeup today. Thank you!

Buoyed by this report, naturally he wanted to go for a ride. The weather reports are suggesting rain for this weekend. Since I am working on a research contract this month that stipulates I work 40 hours per week, but does not specify exactly when those 40 hours should be, I decided to give myself the day off and make up the hours on the weekend. I took the Go train from Exhibition to Oakville (happening to meet up with some friendly cycling acquaintances of mine, who were themselves off on a tour to Niagara) and from there rode to Acton. It's one of my favourite rides, and one I've written about before. Here follows a photo summary of my journey.

Everything a cyclist needs: shoes; gloves; a zip-loc bag filled with Fig Newtons; a bidon; and an Arizona iced tea (stuck in jersey pocket) and newspaper (stuck in front of jersey, à la chilly mountain descent) for the train ride.
There was an incredibly strong east wind (an unusual one) today, and it pushed me quickly west along Britannia Road toward southern Ontario's diminutive "mountain range," the Niagara Escarpment, slightly visible in the distance.
Rattlesnake point climb, which is deadly (pun) to ride up, but which looks quite tame when photographed. It's Valkenburgy, I swear.
On top of the Escarpment, having recovered enough strength to fetch my sweaty Olympus point-and-shoot from my jersey pocket.
The Escarpment looks a bit more impressive from the other side. Residents of mountainous regions will be amused that we employ bumps like these as pretexts for ski hills. In the foreground, idyllic Highway 401.
Having climbed the Escarpment a second time, Greg Curnoe Bike leans himself a pole and waits as I relieve myself.
A picturesque swamp that sits atop the Escarpment.
On the day that the Giro peloton dealt with the strade bianche, I rode this one strada bianca and wished for more...
I enjoyed a Cherry Coke on a bench opposite one of Acton's principal attractions, The Needle Gnome (apartment for rent!)
And so I began the somewhat less interesting return journey, fighting the wind, and spending lots of time looking down at all the pleasant triangles visible from the "cockpit."
Upon my return to Oakville, I was dismayed to see that my favourite Tim Horton's was under construction—but most relieved to see this "Mobile Store" parked nearby. 
I parked Greg Curnoe Bike against a Tim Horton's garbage bin, with his front wheel held in place by a construction beacon. In this art vs. life battle, life is presenting a formidable challenge.
Thus ended the ride. I had no mechanical issues this time—Greg Curnoe Bike rode like the oft-mentioned "dream." I'm not in great shape, so I didn't whizz up the climbs, but I certainly did no worse than usual. I think the most important mechanical determinants of a good or bad ride are: the gears you use (the 40-24 small gear was fine, so that worked); your saddle (I like the Flite); your pedals and shoes (thank you Ultegra pedals and older Sidi road shoes); your brakes (the brazed-on Mafacs work exceptionally... though still a bit of squeal from the rear brake); the position of the handlebars relative to the saddle (6cm below, check, and I like that the hoods sit lower with non-aero levers—one more position.) Few of these things depend on the actual frame, though some do. As a "whole," Greg Curnoe Bike is ideally adapted to sort of fast, rolling, approximately 100km rides that I prefer.

I thought often of Wouter Weylandt today. I really liked him as a cyclist. It's awful when things like this happen. My thoughts to his family, friends, and teammates.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Greg Curnoe Bike vs. the Real World: The First Five Days

You have all been extremely patient with me and my logorrheic, overly theoretical tendencies in the last five days. Remember that I have just submitted a PhD dissertation in English Literature, and I have all sorts of garbage stored away in the darkest corners of my mind. This needs to be dealt with one way or another. In any case, I will reward you here with lots of photos and some amusing stories. First the stories, which I encourage you to scroll past if you're not in the mood, and then the photos.


My attempt to take nice photos of Greg Curnoe Bike perfectly illustrate the rivalry I described between ordered, harmonious art and chaotic, unpredictable life.

I woke up early on Wednesday morning and headed immediately for Vistek, a big photo supply store on Queen East, quite far away from my house. I went there to buy a 107"-wide white backdrop, which I intended to use to create a studio-esque effect for my pictures. What I had not counted on what just how long 107 inches are. When the salesperson brought out the massive cardboard box I immediately saw what a bind I was in. I had planned on taking it home via streetcar and two subways. I wasn't sure it would fit in the doors; and if it did, I wasn't sure the drivers would let me in. The saleswoman told me, "Don't even think of taking it in the subway. As for streetcars, you know the TTC. Depends on their mood." I hoped I'd find someone in a good mood. A two hour walk home, with an object similar in size and shape to one half of a cross borne over my shoulder, was not at all appealing.

The driver of the Queen streetcar was not in a good mood. He said "No way" when I approached the door and before I said a word. I waited for the next streetcar and met a similar response. I decided I might have better luck a block south on King Street, whose streetcars are less busy. The kind driver said, "Sure, just don't hurt anyone," which I did not, since the streetcar was completely empty. I laid the nine-foot-long box along the floor.

I was lucky with the driver of the Bathurst car also—the car that would take me north to my street. It too was empty at King Street, and I was again told just not to hurt anyone. I laid it along the floor again. Unfortunately, at the next stop, about fifty people got on. Old women were tripping over the box; a teenager stepped on it deiantly; I had to help a woman lift her baby carriage over top of it. After a few more stops, the streetcar was completely packed. By the time I got to Bloor I had made many enemies and just about destroyed the box. But I was home.

It was now 11 o'clock. The forecast had called for partial cloudiness, and after a sunny morning, the clouds had rolled in. The lighting was perfect and I wanted to get my photos while it lasted. I told my roommate, who was slated to be my photographic assistant, to get ready ready ASAP. I could see blue sky in the distance.

In a hurry we walked the half block to the schoolyard whose tennis court I intended to use as a makeshift studio. I tacked the massive piece of paper to the backboard as quickly as I could, rolled it out, and frantically set up my new tripod (purchased that morning.) I wanted to move it as far back as possible, to get the odd collapsed perspective of Curnoe's print. But before I could do that, the wind—which had not introduced itself at all to that point—started blowing. The wind is a familiar enemy to any cyclist, and it reared its ugly head here. I chose my logo—the one from BLAST—partly because it's derived from a nautical symbol meaning "a gale from the north" (for Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists, a BLAST of creative energy from Northern Europe). This seemed like an appropriate image for a northern cyclist who struggles with northern wind, and who proposed to send most of his creativity southwards. Appropriately, the gale that was disturbing my photo shoot was coming from the north.

It was a man vs. nature ordeal, and nature won. There was no use trying to get the valve stems in the Curnoe position, the cranks in the Curnoe position, the Mariposa butterfly at the right angle, the front wheel perfectly in plane—because the wind, via the sail/backdrop, was threatening to lift the bike off the ground and send it to Kansas. (This wind, as it happens, was a leftover from the storms that ravaged the American South in the form of tornadoes earlier in the week). My roommate, whose job it was to hold the bike upright with one easily Photoshoppable finger, was getting frantic, and feared for the bike's life as well as his own. In a despairing and outraged gesture, I tore down the backdrop, crumpled it up in a gigantic ball, and sent it home with my concerned roommate.

I was alone now in the tennis court and decided to improvise. Instead of using the tennis backboard to suspend my backdrop on, I thought I would use it as the backdrop itself. I set everything up, moved my camera far away, got the tripod in the right position, set the angles right so as to collapse the perspective, set the focus, maxed the f-stop, and pressed the button on my (newly purchased) remote. Thus I got the main photo from my previous post, which I'm extremely happy with. I now like that it doesn't have a white background. The "real life" effect of hardcourt (which bikes ride on, anyway) and the grey wood makes more sense given the "translation back into life" basis of the project. I also like it aesthetically, and I like the way the bottom bracket lines up with the bottom of backstop. You could measure the BB drop, a crucial framebuilding measurement, quite easily from this photo.

So I had my most important photo. But, for my "manifesto," I also needed a photo of the handlebars, the top tube, the fenders, the seat cluster, and the decals. I started setting up the tripod for these next photos. But after half an hour or so, and after only two of the five required photos were taken, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was a pleasant-looking young man of fifteen years or so, with an innocent expression and curly brown hair.

"Excuse me, sir," he said, respectfully. "Me and my friends usually play soccer here at lunch."

Alas, it was lunch hour at the high school. I looked to the entrance of the tennis court and saw twenty students waiting politely to get in to the tennis court I'd been using as my makeshift studio. They had no doubt been waiting for half an hour, and I'd been too absorbed to notice.

"Can't you play in the other court?" I asked. I noticed it was empty. I didn't want to go there myself because it didn't have the grey wooden backstop I'd beed using as my background.

He thought for a moment and replied, "It's just that we usually play here."

I could see that this "usually" argument was more powerful than anything I could produce. And he seemed so nice. With some annoyance, I began to pack up my stuff. The curly-haired young man, who had begun to turn back to his friends, turned back again toward me and said, "Oh, but nice bike, by the way."

So I moved over to the other court and took the remaining photos, with which I was not very satisfied. Thankfully while I was taking these (which took probably another half hour) three separate groups of lunching high school girls came up and said some variation of "Nice bike man" before giggling and running away. My bikes are very popular with high school kids. It made me feel better—but I still didn't have the photos I wanted. I decided to go home and wait out the lunch break.

The real world was not through with me yet. When I came back, carrying all my photo gear as well as the bike, an old woman was hitting tennis balls against the backstop (into which my tacks were still sticking, since I hadn't had a chance to remove them.) There was nothing to do but come back later. I came back in 45 minutes, and she was still there. I asked her if she would be much longer. "Why?," she asked. Because I wanted to use the tennis backstop as a photo background. "Oh yes, I'm going to be here for at least another hour. I need to work on my serve." It needed even more work than two hours of practice could provide. I decided to give up. The last of the clouds was about to blow away over Lake Ontario. The photos I had would have to do.


I came home, played with the photos in Aperture, and posted the "manifesto." Feeling liberated, I decided to follow the advice of the last lines of this manifesto and take Greg Curnoe Bike for a ride. The sun, which had previously been my enemy, was now my friend. This would be the first time this year I could ride in shorts and a short-sleeved jersey. Dressed in my most colourful cycling gear, I headed out.

I went down to Lakeshore, up along the Humber, and around the hilly areas near High Park. There were two problems with the bike: the rear brake squealed like a petulant child, and the SKF bottom bracket interfered with the crank spider when I was really pushing uphill. The rest was great. The huge tubulars felt incredible. I came back home via Dundas Street, to introduce my patron, Martin of Hoopdriver Bicycles, to my new bike. He described it in exultant tones, which, coming from him, meant a lot. He took it out into the dusky day light and got extremely enthusiastic about the paint job. He repeatedly commented on how the colours "popped out." It was just the reaction I was hoping for. I rode home.


I needed to change the bottom bracket, and thankfully I had a 116mm TA AXIX BB in my closet. I'm not at all convinced it's a great design, but I decided to give it a try. The chainline is right, the tread is very narrow, and I even like the way the silver "adjustable cup" looks. I also adjusted the toe-in on the rear brake by further filing the washers on the Mafac draw bolts. They now seemed just right. I also decided to try out my clincher wheelset, built on Mavic MA2 rims (with perfect green/yellow labels), Shimano Sante hubs, and Grand Bois Cerf tires (also with perfect green/yellow labels.) Its 28mm tires are quite a bit narrower than the 27mm tubulars, so the fender lines looked different, but everything seemed okay.

I went for a second ride. The BB presented no problems this time. The rear brake continued to squeal (I'm not at all sure why) though it quieted down significantly by the end if the ride. The clinchers weren't quite as soft as the tubulars, but were nice also.


I didn't ride at all on Friday (I was busy, and it was raining), but I planned a long ride ride for Saturday. Since I'm waiting on my "spare" tubulars, I decided to go with the clincher wheelset. After making sure everything was all set on Friday evening, I got up early Saturday to take the Go train to Rouge Hill for the 9am start of the ride. I forgot two important things: my newspaper for the 40 minute train ride, and my camera for shots of the ride. Thus the lack of photos in this section.

Two people showed up for the ride: Noah, the painter of the bike, and Brian, who had been a friend of Greg Curnoe's and ridden with him in the 70s and 80s. The weather was perfect and it was a nice ride (though we didn't go on my preferred dirt roads). My legs weren't their best over the 100km ride, but it was nice to test them, and to show them what I'll need from them in the coming months. The bike performed perfectly, although I apparently forgot to fully tighten the 40-tooth inner chainring to the 52-tooth outer, and near the end of the ride I heard some rattling, and realized I was about to lose some very precious TA bolts. At our stop at the bakery in Goodwood, several people wanted to talk about the bike. On the Go ride home to Exhibition station, a few groups of Ajax teenagers approached me to express their approval.


Inspired by Martin's ecstatic reaction to the bike in the sunlight, I decided to take some more photos this morning. I  prefer these photos to the first ones, though they serve a different purpose—they are not there to illustrate an artistic programme but just show whatever I thought looked nice. The direct sunlight creates more variation in the shade of green especially, which creates a Curnoe-ian effect. Also, the bike now has the showy confidence of a machine that has successfully endured a hard, long ride. I didn't clean the bike, so it has some Goodwood dust on it. I left the clinchers on. I left on the chromed Silca pump and the saddle bag, made by Poka Cycle Accessories.

Thankfully, the tennis courts were empty this morning.

Framebuilding detail: I love the way the French dropout attachment looks. This will be my go-to style in the future.

Framebuilding detail: again, nice French dropout attachment, although I followed the painting and used the Italian style for the seatstay attachment. And notice LIFE biting into the dropout faces.