la corsa delle biciclette

though the phrase big is beautiful has been around for more than just a few years, i’m pretty sure it wasn’t coined upon someone viewing the latest in bicycle downtubes. or any of the other complementary pieces of tubing that build the ubiquitous double triangle. much like many of you, i have owned a number of bicycles, all the way from hi-tensile steel efforts up to space age carbon fibre with hundreds of pieces of high modulus thrown in for good measure. (you need to have high modulus; everything else is just noodles).

i am quite plainly not a metallurgist, nor a frame builder, nor any kind of an engineer, so i have little to go on other than my own experiences of riding bikes on which the size remains the same, but on which obesity seems to have taken hold. though skinny tubes have an aesthetic all of their own, one in which i happen to find much to admire, i am also perfectly conscious that the dissing of oversize based on little other than a finely honed prejudice leads only to accusations of one flavour…

ludditeness.

sitting in the bikeshed at present is an aszure team issue carbon framed bicycle. it has lashing of high modulus and it would take someone of remarkably insensitive tendencies to be unaware of the stiffness conferred by the frame round which this particular bicycle is congregated. this, in itself, should not be seen as a bad thing, for if i were prone to utilising capital letters, the aszure would be filed under fun with a capital ‘f’. so it’s not all bad then.

steel, however, is a whole different ball game altogether. high grade versions of the material, several leagues above the hi tensile as referred to above have, over the years, acquired almost endless variables of butting profiles; the practice of making the tubing thicker at each ends in varying thicknesses, as opposed to the middle of the tubes which are less prone to building and mechanical stresses. since carbon can be manipulated in oh so many ways, centred around wall thickness, carbon layup and fibre direction, it can be easily seen to be a far more elastic and malleable material, taking care of that seeming insatiable desire for stiffness while still allowing a modicum of comfort and joy.

research into the latter will likely never end. witness the recent collaboration between specialized andmclaren formula one which resulted in the venge. on a side note, it is a mite disappointing to see such high fallutin’ technology be reduced to such an appalling name.

however, there are still many across the world closeted in workshops with files, hacksaws, vices and brazing torches, still besotted with the properties that steel can impart to a state of the art bicycle frame. the phrase steel is real may well be one of the more vaccuous epithets in existence, but for many on both sides of that double triangle, it is still the focus of their attentions, one of whom is the well documented (on the post at least), richard sachs.

while i have heard it said that richard has been building the same bicycle frame for more than thirty years, such a description does not do his efforts justice. for though, were you to be fortunate enough to be at the head of his lengthy waiting list, the frame you would shortly be taking delivery of would be no less stunning than the first to bear the rs head badge. but laid end to end, there would be a discernible and progreessive difference. in much the same way that cezanne painted a seemingly infinite series of images of mont st victoire, richard has worked on the same image of a road bike, proving, if nothing else, that imperfection is perfection.

but even the seemingly traditional exterior portrayed by the man with the red frames and a penchant for adding atmo to the end of each communication, does not stand still for as long as may be thought. as the man himself said “for the record, the pegorichie tubing i use is considered oversize and all my frames have been made with these dimensions going back to 1996 or so.”

that sort of puts perception into a cocked hat and throws it out the window. for i have not been a connoisseur of sachs frames for that long, but have always considered his bicycles to be particularly spindly in comparison to the drainpipes offered by pretty much every monocoque in the peloton. again, i wish no disparagement towards the latter, but use the adjectivery (i think i just made up a new word) to discern between the dimensions under consideration. however, perhaps by way of reaction to same, or simply continuing in his guise as vanguard of steel’s reputation as a contemporary framebuilding material, richard is now uber over-sized.

that is, perhaps, an inept way of phrasing it; richard is still the same size that he ever was, but provided the following explanation. “it was nearly ten years ago that my richie-Issimo lug sets came on to the market. this was my humble attempt at becoming my own supplier as well as a source for other effbuilders and to resuscitate what was then a shrinking pool of raw material. since that time, i’ve done another 18 or so mold tools for cast lugs, fork crowns, b.b. shells, and braze-ons. this past autumn i decided to grow the original parts and make them available for UOS (uber-oversize) frame dimensions atmo. i call the updated version Sax Max because, well – just because.”

though i’ve never been one for numbers and their relationship to the real world, for those with a better grasp of what’s what “the short of it these are for 36mm head tubes, 35mm down tubes, and 31.8mm top and seat tubes. the complementary (that’s complement with an E…) 1 1/8″ fork crown is past the napkin stage and over in the solidworks cubicle ˆ ce moment-ci.”

it’s all technical, it’s all irrelevant to those of us not privy to the brazing skills of mr sachs and his peers, but it is of interest because this new set of whizzy bits will arrive with a new frame decal. and like those with that little white bird, this is of great import. and because it’s richard, as he himself has said, it’s sax max, a neat play on words and a graphically astute tube affixation. (though we’d all likely sell our grandmothers to ride the end result.)

isn’t that really what life’s all about?

The preceding article was originally posted on thewashingmachinepost on tuesday 10 may 2011