Interbike: The Velo Orange Campeur

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I was in love with vintage 80′s touring frames.  I owned a 1982 Miyata 1000, a 1984 Centurion Elite GT, a 1984 Trek 720, and a 1995 Trek 520.  A handful of capable sport-touring models also passed through my hands within a few years including two matching 1987 Trek 400 Elance bicycles, a Viscount that fit like a glove, a Motobecane Super Mirage and $10 Miyata 210.  I learned a lot from my years of tinkering, buying and selling bikes.  The 59cm Viscount fit better than any other bike I’d ridden, and the replacement steel Tange fork rode like a dream.  The top tube on the 720 was too long for Lael to ride comfortably with drop bars, although in retrospect she has never ridden comfortably on drops.  The ride of the 720 was exquisite.  The Centurion was capable but heavy, despite a refined exterior.  The pair of Trek 400 frames rode very nicely, and came at a fair price.  One became a singlespeed and the other, a touring bike.  The Miyata 1000 was a beautiful bike with a utilitarian simplicity, but the drive-side dropout cracked on an outing to Seattle a week before my first bike trip.  Luckily, I had the Trek 520 in waiting and swapped parts to my liking.  The Trek served me well over my first ten thousand miles on the road.  With a typical touring load, the Trek had a terrible shimmy at speed.   The solution was to carry less gear.  The Trek allowed a 38mm tire and a fender, and saw me through my first unpaved exploits on the C&O Canal and through the Lost Coast of California.  Although I advocate the use of old ATB’s as touring bikes and currently ride a clownish purple Pugsley, I love classic touring bikes.  If only I could blend my passion for classic steel bikes and big tires, I’d be a happy camper.

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Velo Orange released their new Campeur frame this past week at Interbike.  The features read like any touring bike– three bottle mounts, 46cm chain stays, cantilever brakes, rack and fender mounts everywhere– but the exterior is a cut above.  The Campeur accents its svelte stature and fine lines with metallic-flake grey paint, white decals, and a metal head badge.  A custom camping-themed design by cartoonist Dan Price adorns the top tube.  Chris Kulczycki, the owner of VO, reckons that after a year and a half of design, development and prototyping, they’ve gotten it just right.  For example, the curve of the fork blades required several efforts before the frame manufacturer was able to produce a consistent low-radius curve, as opposed to the common dog-leg style bends on many forks.  As well, the bike was tested with front loads and rear loads, as well as full loads and no loads to verify that the handling felt neutral in most cases.  While other VO frames are noted for their French classic low-trail geometry, the Campeur features a more moderate front end design, although it’s described as favoring the “low-trail” end of moderate.  Low-trail frames are ideal for front loads, although the Campeur is designed for multiple load configurations.

For most roads, the frame fits a 38mm tire and a fender.  Above, a 35mm Clement X’Plor USH tire fits comfortably under an aluminum VO fender.  Without a fender, a 42mm tire such as a Michelin Transworld Sprint will fit the frame, shown below.  The two larger frame sizes (59, 61cm) allow a 45mm tire such as a Panaracer FireCross, although it’s a tight fit.  A Bruce Gordon Rock’n’Road tire (700x43mm) would work nicely to extend the range of this bike in mountainous country.

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Some exquisite new stainless steel camping racks will soon arrive to complement the Campeur.  Personally, I’d fit a small Pass Hunter rack to the rear as a saddlebag support and simply strap a drybag to the handlebars.  While most touring bikes boast their ability to carry huge loads, the Campeur appears to share more with the refined tourers of the 80′s, such as the Trek 720 and the Specialized Expedition.  In fact, the Campeur’s paint is similar to that of the classic Expedition, and the fork bend is much like the 720 that rode so comfortably.  A steel fork with tapered blades and a classic bend can enhance the ride quality of a bike, dampening high-frequency vibrations from the road.   Like many vintage American and French touring bikes, Chris claims that the Campeur rides about as well unloaded as it does with camping gear.  That’s an advantage over some of the monster-truck touring bikes available today.  With a big tire and a small saddlebag this would be a fun dirt road bike!

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Velo Orange was also showing their 650b Polyvalent frame, designed as an urban or ex-urban transport bike.  Build it is a Porteur or a tourer, a boardwalk cruiser or a townie.

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To dress a Polyvalent or a Campeur, several new parts and accessories were shown. The Sabot platform pedals with sealed cartridge bearings and replaceable pins:

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Drillium chainrings:

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A prototype saddle with a removable leather top:

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The Plume Alaire chainguard:

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A range of handlebars:

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Hubs:

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Headsets and bottom brackets:

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And hand cut leather.

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Chris’ custom Pass Hunter frame featured a vintage ALPS handlebar bag.  Very nice.

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Perfect: The Colorado Trail

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It’s almost impossible to lose the trail, some of which is rough and unrideable, and some of which is better than perfect and seemingly, in the middle of nowhere.  Perfection in the middle of nowhere, unlike an unheard falling tree, still exists in waiting.  There are many resources about riding and hiking the Colroado Trail, so a photo essay seems the most appropriate addition to the current bank of information.  The trail is great, and it’s doable, if extremely challenging.  You really only need a bike and the Colorado Trail Databook.  A mountain bike is a necessity, but if you don’t mind hiking and just want to see some of the trail, the first few segments near Denver are accessible on an older rigid 26″ wheeled bike with 2.0″ tires.  It’s always more important to get out and do it, than to sit at home trying to figure out how.  If you get out and try, you’ll immediately know more than all the online resources could ever share, no matter how vibrant the pictures or captivating the text, it’s all fiction.  This blog is a fiction, allowing me to remember things the way I want and to write my own history in which I am a helmeted superhero and my world, perfect.  But it’s not perfect as I eventually require some income and winter is imminent and I do all this writing and riding for fun and for free– real life continues in our living fiction, and in fact I’m quite busy.  But the Colorado Trail approaches perfection and cuts through the stress of real life, and we’re drunk with it.  For a moment, we are helmeted superheroes clad in sunglasses and wool, grunting up and hollering down the Rockies.  For a moment, perfection.

Follow the photos below, imagine and plan your own trip on the local rail-trail, or to the beach; down the Divide or across the Colorado Trail.  If you’ve never traveled by bike, it may change your life.  If you have the experience, the time outdoors on two wheels will reinvigorate your belief in the bicycle.  You will return home different, if you don’t find a home on the road.

Waterton Canyon to the South Platte River.  Petits cornichons, small pickles; grown, handpicked, pickled and packed by Lael in Corsica.  Electrolytes without equal.  Day 1:

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South Platte River to Buffalo Creek.  Burn area, and the smoothest singletrack of the entire trail.  I’m enjoying my used Surly Torsion bars with new Velo Orange thumb-shifter mounts, which fit the Shimano bar-end shifters taken off my drop bars.  VO cork-foam blend grips are cool and comfortable on hot days, and cushion my hands on rough descents, although they are more dense than standard Grab-On foam.  Unlike Ergon grips, they don’t callous and discolor my hands when riding without gloves.  An ergonomic cork-foam grip would be an ideal combination, and would be great on both drop bars and upright bars.  For the price of a sandwich, the VO grips fit my budget better than buying another pair of Ergons, as I hacked the last pair to fit my drop bars.  Ergons are the obvious choice for anyone spending lots of time on the bike, but I’m always seeking new, low-cost solutions.  The new grips don’t make my hands stink like rubber either, the curse of golfers and mountain bike riders alike.

Seductive singletrack abounds.

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Buffalo Creek to Jefferson Creek.  Thru-bikers from Durango, and some of the most exotic, scenic riding we’ve done.

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Jefferson Creek to Breckenridge.  Georgia Pass, and the intersection with the CDT, which is co-located with the CT for a distance.  The final descent to Highway 9 near Breckenridge is amazing.  Descend with glee– superheroes.

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Happy summer kids.  We love it.

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Switchbacks at dusk, descending into town.  Perfect.

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How not to install a headset

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A silky Velo Orange Grand Cru sealed cartridge bearing headset replaces a gritty old Ritchey with worn races.  I know how to install a headset with a Park HHP-2, but I also know how to install the cups when staring at a pile of parts on a back porch, wondering how a bike will ever come of it all.  After removing the old cups with a big flathead screwdriver and a hammer, I applied a light steel wool to the inside of the headtube to smooth imperfections and ease the installation.  Some grease aids the process, but I stacked 2 x 4s until the headtube was evenly supported and applied a blunt force from above, transmitted through a block of wood with medium hardness.  Be sure to apply an even blow to reduce the risk of damaging the cup.  Hit it again if it needs some more help.  Maybe one more solid blow will assure the cup sits entirely in the frame.  Wham.  If the cup doesn’t seat by hand or doesn’t give into the frame with the first blow, consider the aid of the proper tools and expertise.

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Three blows to each side was enough to fully seat the cups and copious amounts of grease are applied before the cartridge bearings are installed to limit the intrusion of water and grit.  Happily, the crown race is a split ring design that allows tool free installation, and avoids the hammer.  Below, the Raleigh XXIX now has a Rock Shox Reba fork and a gold On-One Mary handlebar.  To come: a derailleur hanger and used XT derailleur, a lightly used 32 tooth Surly steel chainring, a NOS Suntour XC Expert shifter; new cables, housing and 9-speed chain, as well as Ergon grips from the Hooligan.  Lael’s gold VP platform pedals have ridden to the Knik Glacier on the Pugsley and across Corsica on the Hooligan, but will find their greatest adventure yet in Colorado.  Her grandfather was a gold jeweler and while I can’t afford real gold, she’s easily pleased by gold anodized aluminum.  The bike is shaping up.

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The bike was sourced from Craigslist. the stem and Surly chainring are from Boulder Community Cycles, and the Suntour shifter(s) are from Big Dummy Daddy, who has a PhD in sharing bikes.  Or is it bike-sharing?  He can tell you more about bike sharing programs and Denver’s pioneering project than almost anyone.  His dissertation entitled “Public bicycle sharing as a population-scale health intervention for active transportation in Denver, Colorado“, is exhaustive.  Read some of it.

In svelte attire; a ride revived

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I am always happy to see a bike given a new life. New bikes are a great option for some, but so many sit in garages, unused for years after purchase. Any bike, no matter the cost, is “worth it” if ridden, and enjoyed. However, repurposed old bikes sometimes manage to get the job done for less money, and with more style.

Returning to Tacoma uncovers a new breed of urban bike; of large-volume smooth tires, upright riding positions, racks and fenders. With money to burn, this may be a low-trail custom 650b urban/rando build. With more time than money, it is more likely to be an old steel mountain bike, rebuilt to suit. I found myself in an impromptu bike posse of new friends and acquaintances; in total, we were a Novara Aspen with drop bars, a Scott Boulder with steel three-speed bars and multi-colored cable housing, a Schwinn High Sierra, and an early-nineties Specialized Stumpjumper with a Velo Orange Milano handlebar featuring a comfortable 35 deg sweep. Fenders all around, rain boots and a bucket pannier– these kids are alright.

The old standard, and the gold standard, of practical urban commuters is built around the classic 700c touring frame. I was met with this refined Univega tourer/commuter, curated by my friend Josh, a luthier of fine guitars, and a craftsman of both fine and funky bicycles (including a home-made longtail, and an ATB-to-drop bar tourer conversion). Josh is a bike-commuting instrument repairman by day, and a gypsy-jazz guitarist by night. With updated accesories from Velo Orange, including: a Pass Hunter rack and decaleur, Campagne handlebar bag, fluted aluminum fenders and leather mudflap, and a VO stem and quill adaptor, this bike looks and rides like some of the finer handbuilt bicycles available. Two thousand dollar frames are outside of the price range of many committed enthusiasts, especially with a band of daughters to feed, such as Josh has. Sharing features of both the 1982 and 1983 Univega Gran Turismo, he suggests that this frame is a mid-year model– a 1982 1/2. Generous, although not gaping clearances and cantilever brakes allow suitably large tires and full-length fenders; while multiplicitous braze-ons allow various luggage permutations. A handlebar bag remains on the bike for a speedy, seven mile commute to work. Featuring a hub dynamo and lighting, year-yound commuting is possible in the insistantly overcast, and rainy conditons common to Tacoman winters. An old bike is reborn in svelte attire.

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Volunteering at 2nd Cycle on Saturday, two visitors to town– travelling kids– stopped in looking for bikes to take them to the southwest. Hanging from the wall, fully tuned and ready to ride was a Novara ATB (c. 1986-7), complete with fenders, a full complement of rack mounts, wide-range gearing, and durable 1.75″ tires. The rider had previously owned a “road bike”, likely an average ten-speed. With some trepidation, she allowed herself to be “sold” on upright riding and fat tires, at just over a hundred bucks. The fat-tired bike militia is growing.

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And then, some old bikes like the Gran Turismo and my High Sierra, simply ride better.

Note: I’m buying a used Pugsley this week. It is a first generation purple frame with rim brake mounts, no longer offered. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find 1982-3 Univega catalogs featuring the Gran Tursimo. I did find the 1983 line of Univega ATB’s, hilariously demonstrating their features and their off-the-charts fun factor.