mid-century maunderings for men who know better
Towards the end of the twentieth century, smoothmodernist was discussing with a retailer the building and marketing of a simple machine suited to Melbourne’s flat terrain. Unadorned single speed flat bar. Like this restored 1970 Peugot :
Negotiations stalled over the lightweight steel frames. The retailer just wanted to order a container from Taiwan of heavy overbuilt Chinese steel. smoothmodernist wanted to source old racing frames, outgrown and gathering dust in sheds and garages across the metropolis. Reynolds 531 was a tubing many Australian bike builders (Pascoe, Hillman, Abeni, Walker) used and with the carbon fashion overtaking everything from tyre levers to tape, there would be a lot of great frames gathering dust. In fact Reynolds invented butted tubes (thicker at the joint than in the middle, without which frames would snap when under stress) in the nineteenth century. The 531, using a manganese-steel alloy, was invented in 1935. It is interesting that as late as the 1990s carbon fibre frames were cracking (and requiring rivets at each corner for reinforcement on the track) at exactly the points those old steel frames had their double-butted joints.
smoothmodernist rode 531 frames as a youth and can attest to their lightness, strength and integrity. Nowadays carbon fibre bikes are cheap and the standard for every serious competitor. While smoothmodernist may have missed a business opportunity, there are plenty of simple bikes (alas, often ridden by simple people) on the roads and you can get one made up for a few hundred dollars. These days you pay a fortune for an old racing frame on eBay or get Fyxomatosis to build something exotic and expensive. The simple bike has taken off and is ubiquitous. Quality notwithstanding, it is good to see people riding.
“I want to do business in iron and steel and make a fair and honest profit”
Angelo Luigi Colombo, aged 27, 1919.
smoothmodernist rides a frame built from Columbus tubing, the Italian rival of Reynolds. Columbus has been making steel tubing for Bianchi for almost 100 years. The Bianchi pista via brera is a beautiful example of a simple bike with excellent components. smoothmodernist especially likes this vanilla model with the cork grips. Note the rake of the seat tube and front fork, a perfect compromise between unseemly haste and gentlemanly poise. smoothmodernist does not ride a Bianchi, but would definitely consider a relationship with the firm if an additional bike was required for the daily chores and visits to the local inn.
It is easy to make fun of cyclists. Portly executives in lycra or simple girls getting their prairie dresses caught in the spokes are popular targets. smoothmodernist has always observed this bandwagon that lazy critics ride with lofty disdain. Every sport requires particular clothing and equipment. Cycling is no different. It should go without saying that loose heavy clothing hinders the limbs. Gloves, shoes, knicks, jersey and helmet are all designed to make cycling efficient and safe. The term ‘lycra’ (a DuPont invention, along with kevlar, teflon, dacron, orlon and nylon, that is only one of many fabrics used to manufacture cycling clothes) is a pejorative deployed by the ignorant and slow-witted to accuse cyclists of being slaves to fashion.
This is a bizarre irony, given that the heavy lugibrious machines, impractical flowing garments, dangerous fixed wheels and useless tiny handlebars used by these helmet-less treadlie-reading cretins are the ultimate fashion statement and represent a pyrrhic victory of form over function.