The order of effects :: Part III.

Continued from Part II...

I said earlier: "So just give up."

"Giving up" holds a negative connotation to most of the First World. Years of television and Hollywood movies have engendered us to bash our heads against the wall to overcome obstacles and strive for that little bit more, recalling the theatrical drive to rectify a one-in-million situations like defeating terrorists or getting that hopeless humble person decked out in neon, rockin' out, radical on a skateboard, and full of pizza rolls STAT.

It all translates nicely into day-to-day desire to want beyond the present, resulting in rows of hangdog far-away faces queued in the reflection of brake lights and chain store sign glow, headed home to snipe anonymously at strangers or shake your head at all that's wrong. There's a desire to rise above the mundane and ordinary, but it's all ordinary. All of it. Mortality comes to the forefront of our mind, at least at lower moments, as we get older and physical endeavours require more preparation and work. We are all going to die, there's no getting around it. The thought should bring a half-smile and lightness as you concentrate on and accept mundane tasks like washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, stretching your body, pedaling your bike to work, or waiting for _________.

So just give up.

"Giving up" doesn't mean resignation or deflated apathy. It's not a life of TV and the computer and processed food, the spirit behind hooded eyes buried under adipose and toxic silt. "Giving up" doesn't preclude you from doing things that might be perceived as amazing: riding a long brevet, doing a 100 mile mountain bike race, giving cyclocross a serious try, or exploring your region as a bikepacker. "Giving up" does mean that you've stopped banging your head against the wall looking for infinitesimal benefits outside of doing what you know you should do and forcing things. Benefits will happen as the mapping of your body and machine intertwine and consolidate as a unit. It means you've accepted a relaxed, long range view the same way you would accept washing the dishes or sweeping the floor.

Riding mile after mile will breed this ambient state. It engenders a conservatism that I've had turmoil about under the surface and ultimately accepted as part of what I produce as a bicycle framebuilder. I'm happy to look back at things I've built ten years ago and see that there are a lot of similarities to what I build now, with subtle organic improvements that have come with experience and hard lessons learned. Looking back at the last decade and seeing the jagged peaks and valleys brought on by eccentric bottom brackets, sliding dropouts, shaped tubing, all manner of proprietary parts/standard/systems, etc. and then looking at my own graph, slowly rising with little warbles here and there, I feel better for digging my claws in and resisting a lot of things that others have adopted as a "gimme." I gave up at a certain point and accept advances solely based on an order of effects basis and with mileage left behind.

Being a single gear specialist before there was really such a thing put me at the sharp end of the "movement" - and I still have an inherent contrarian streak that lived through a timeline of mass acceptance and eventual normalcy. Andy Corson of Surly wrote a wonderful piece that mirrors a lot of my feelings about it, ones that began to sprout as early as 2000 for me. It's also a piece that produced a lot of kneejerk mock moral outrage from the zealous badge-wearing keyboardists. They hadn't given up yet but I hope they have or will soon.

I'm not going to lie. This path was maybe trod upon out of fear or laziness and then a manifesto drafted in circuitous hindsight, but I'm glad it went this way. I use round tubes for every frame tube 99% of the time, rare exceptions made in the early days of the "modern" 29" wheel frame (circa 2002-2003) with ovalised and tapered chainstays. 

I have seen manipulated and swaged tubes split over time from micro-cracks formed during processing. The tubes are welded into a structure and then placed in torsion, the cracks evolving into splits. It's safer for me to use a simple round tube. Nothing is better in torsion and it's far easier to clamp and hold a round tube during building. Ease in tooling and application helps me do a better job in fabrication and that benefit is passed on to the rider. The order of effects comes into play when the "benefit" of shaped tubing is considered in tandem with the addition of long-term risk in terms of longevity and repairability.

Time brings lessons, like ones that I've learned with properly bracing the seat tube/top tube junction. Issues don't often don't happen right away, but they still suck when they come up two, three, five, or ten years down the road. Same with avoiding stress risers when welding titanium, especially at the head tube/down tube junction. Habits borne from getting haphazard advice early on and overdoing it with filler rod on junctions come back to show you what's up when you're hacksawing a tube out of a bike later on. All the clever tooling and trickery in the world means squat if you don't devote the micro attention to fundamentals at the expense of the Flickr-driven macro window dressing.

People have often wondered why I don't offer rear disc brake mounts on frames. I never have and I never will. Again, conservatism steers me away from the concessions that must be made in design and tubing choices to allow for a component that's responsible for less than 1/3 of the total braking power. I have to choose tubing that is counterintuitive to what I feel works well for comfort and traction in the rear of the bike. This is also why I feel round, non-manipulated tubing is allows you to build in some passive compliance in the rear triangle without the lateral flex or breakage possibilities that comes from overly-dimpled chainstays. A rigid mount welded to the frame with a levered, asymmetrical force applied to it requires a number of concessions for long-term longevity, namely heavier tubing selection and bracing. I don't feel it's worth it.

The proliferation of off-road singlespeeding in tandem with the rise of disc brakes on lighter weight XC MTB frames introduced a lot of new problems to solve in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I had a number of phone conversations with others in the frame world back in the day about how to tension the chain of a one speed along while maintaining a proper disc/caliper relationship. This was all before widespread use of eccentric bottom brackets or sliding dropouts. I thought about it for a few weeks and came to the conclusion: "F**k this." I had something that worked well and I decided to stay the course. Singlespeed to me was about rejecting the 1990s arms-race in the mountain bike world and distilling things to a minimalist point. The important variables to me were: 1) Keep it simple and reliable. 2) Get fitter yourself through riding. And: 3) Be quiet, both bike and mouth.

Eccentric bottom brackets came about to facilitate disc brake usage with derailleur-less setups and all were atwitter about that. Sometimes they worked great, if you were accepting of some differentiation between your saddle and bottom bracket relationship based on your gear choice, chain tension, etc. A lot of times they didn't work 100% though. Creaking. Slipping. Binding of both the insert or the bottom bracket itself. Stripping of bolts and set screws. Constant dicking around to get things squared away. Sometimes it was a result of distortion or some other frame issue. Sometimes it was voodoo. Avoidable voodoo in my opinion and it just causes stress during those fleeting moments when you actually get to ride your bike away from your responsibilities. There were/are all kinds of debates about different EBB types and systems. There's also numerous debates about home rememdies to make the frame less audibly Sisyphian to ride. There's far more knowledge about prepping EBB shells properly and yet still there are still issues that can crop up either straight away or over time. Ti frames have even proven to be more of an issue than steel ones with certain binding mechanisms (e.g. set screw shells). This has all come about from striving for that little bit more...easier wheel changes since regular track ends are such a "PITA" or because suddenly mountain bike trails are unrideable without disc brakes on both ends of the bike. My order of effects tells me to steer clear and I have, as a benefit to my own sanity.

Sliding dropouts then came about as a more reliable alternative to EBBs. They weren't without issues either, even on frames where it was perceived that everything was done right. Some designs had issues with the keyed sliding pieces getting deformed or bent. Also there was the issue of the wheel being cantilevered far away from the imaginary junction of the seatstays and chainstays, sometimes leading to cracking or breakage due to driving forces or from the forces of the disc brake on the non-drive side. There were/are hardware issues, allowing for creaking and even slippage...both on the drive side or in the opposite direction on the non-drive side from the applied braking forces.

A lot of these issues are being rectified, borne from lessons learned on bikes that are a number of years old. There are other alternative systems (e.g. swinging dropouts) that are attempting to further progress things. For me though, a good set of flanged track ends (or flanged vertical dropouts) made from softer CP titanium coupled with compliant round stays, a properly set up rim brake, and good hub mounting hardware (Phil Wood for one speed usage or a Shimano XT skewer for multispeed usage) equates to quiet, trouble-free usage over many, many miles. This approach makes sense to me as my offerings are geared more towards those traveling a long way spiritedly from the door rather those traveling a short distance quickly and aided by a motor vehicle.

Is all of this (or any of this) acceptable in everyone's mind? Of course not. There are certainly downsides that can be pointed out about my biases. But, one can't be everything to everyone though. It's best to examine things based on the order of effects, and come to your own subjective conclusions and stick to them. I have.

This post is way longer than I had planned it to be, and I need to get back to work. I still need to talk about components and my own subjective order of effects for them, so stay tuned for a Part IV.

My photo
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Powered by Blogger.