Button Heads

Jeff at First Flight Bicycles in North Carolina  uncovered and scanned for me one of my earliest writings.  Three pages that somehow failed to be filed in my vast store of bike phelosofy.

Click like mad on the picture (or the above link, thanx GH) to read  Bike Tech–a  newsletter put out by Rodale Press between 1982 and 1985.  It had a nerdular slant, lots of graphs and a heap o’ science. No women writing for it (red button alert)!

August 1983 was practically the dark ages of off road frame technology, with one exception.
Ahem.  ( Thumb jerk in direction of the curly headed guy in the kitchen).

Aluminum’s bad reputation rested on careful analysis of the fatigue characteristics of beer cans.  Verily, Gary Klein had applied for a patent on using big diameter aluminum to make stiff frames and tackled the aluminum myth in an earlier issue of Bike Tech, right about when he threatened to sue (guy in the kitchen reading the paper) for ah…daring to use aluminum tubing of a certain dimension to build bicycles.

I adore science. Almost as much as I adore littratcher.  My local library allows me to  study (for no grade)  the theories and the general patterns of the natural world.  Biology was my first major at college, but within two years it became clear that my work habits weren’t congruent with the basics of empirical analysis: reproducibility  and rigor.

My way:   experimenting  until 3 a.m. on increasingly tired fruit flies without success (i.e. achieving a decent plottable line)  because I’d missed one or two steps…like counting accurately. Or: noting the variables such as temperature, time of day, crumply wings, etc.

Failures in technique which inspired creativity in another area: fiction.

Ah, but metal is so predictable compared to fruit flies, which mutate.

Whew. I’m digressing.

I needed the entire magazine(not just my story), so I called my trusty comrade-in-renown, CK.

In five minutes  he called back .

“Not only do I have the issue in question, but one full set of Bike Tech!” he cackled.

“CK, your data are so… retrievable!” I cooed. “Check out the framewrecking story, it’s the first one I wrote for Rodale…”

“I see you didn’t mention your affiliation to Charlie” he jabbed.

(At the bottom of the article is written,”Jacquie Phelan is a writer and a bicycle racer  who works in Charlie Cunningham’s shop”)

“Well, you didn’t mention your  ownership of MountainBikes in Fat Tire Flyer, didja?” I parried.

“Everyone knew who I was” he  replied dismissively.
“Yah?  (smugly) Even the folks in England?  So anyway, CK, the story  demonstrated that aluminum could take real abuse when compared to analogous steel frames”.

“Nah. It says the stress happened using a scissor jack, which pushes–not pulls (CC had mollified the jack to pull–ed.) and a real impact is more of  a spike.”

He had me there. Being clueless about spikes, yield points and metallurgy, I waffled.

“C.K. , Charlie is the engineer. If impact speed mattered, he would have said so”.

CK loves a good argument and he always wins,  ’cause …well, one word: volume.

CC (guy in kitchen) waved me over, and I handed him the phone.

I thought  about how,  even now, the  tubing, the analysis, even my covert relationship to  the  framebuilder is considered arguable.

CC to CK:   “Crash tests for automobiles are vastly more complex”…(long pause)…”.but they ….”(pause)…”Right but….  no, it’s a lot more complicated than that.  Car crash tests have to happen at speed to measure the inertial effects on the robots  inside as well as the strength of the design…”

I am tempted to butt in and complain that those same auto companies never design tests to show the average motorist’s inept multi-tasking   of booze, drugs, cell-phones, and now–finally!– computer consoles built into the dash board.

Wait a year for cyclist and ped death stats to ‘spike’.

Oh, wait, drivers aren’t under the control of car companies, are they? But we are all under the control of car company lobbyists, right?

I’m REALLY digressing now…

CC to CK: “Speed of the load doesn’t matter. As the load increases, the metal flexes, and when the load reaches a certain point, the metal permanently bends. Before that point, the metal just springs back to its original shape. The speed the load is applied  is irrelevant to the metal…”
I listened to him trying to explain that in a real bike crash, there are inertial effects that add to the load, such as the mass of the front wheel and fork being accelerated (relative to the motion of the frame) into the frame and maybe even the mass of the rider being accelerated into the frame in the other direction. These would contribute to the net load on the frame, but if all these are equal (and for our frame comparison they would need to be) the outcome would be the same. That stuff could probably be reproduced pretty accurately in a lab setting but it really adds unnecessary complexity and doesn’t change the outcome. The science of metallurgy would have known by now if the rate of loading affected the yield point but it doesn’t show up in the literature.

CC gave back the phone headset with a shrug.

“We were having some FUN there!” Seekay exulted.

“Dude, you around for awhile? I wanna copy the whole issue. Yah?  I’ll be  right over.”

Between storms,  CK is in his Kelly Moving man cave, where the piano-moving magic happens. He’s got a bookshelf that reminds me of Andrew Ritchie’s….’compendious’….I pull up “His Finest Hour“, a lovely kid’s book featuring Doug and Ralph, two boys who bike, the former an ordinary kid with a bike, and the latter, well, you have to dig it up. In a mere thousand words or less, a brilliant morality tale..

I showed  Bike Tech to (guy in kitchen) CC, and he paged through, marveling about what great stuff came out of that experiment.

“None of us knew what the outcome would be beforehand, and framebuilders had an opportunity to  learn from this.”

He knew that the ‘industry’ was paying close attention.  The reasons for the gussets, the importance of tubing diameter, all kinds of stuff.  WTB was not mentioned in the story because Charlie, Steve and Mark really hadn’t created it yet.
One thing I miss, though, about those Dark Ages: bicycles hadn’t yet became  a disposable commodity (well, OK there were those junkbikes at Kmart).
Bikes were  machines imbued with soul that, with care, would last you a lifetime.

More than a lifetime.
Unless you had a run-in with a scissor jack.

~ by jacquiephelan on January 21, 2010.

4 Responses to “Button Heads”

  1. For folks who want to see the rest of the article, Jeff has all 3 pages posted up here on his MOMBAT site (under “1982”): http://mombat.org/WTB.htm It’s a great nerdy read!

  2. […] Phelan unearths one of her earliest bike writings, an essay in the not forgotten and still lamented Bike Tech. Interesting that she cites the Gary […]

  3. Here is a little thought experiment re: speed of impact on metal.

    We have all seen road signs with bullet holes in them. Now, take a bullet, and push it S.L.O.W.L.Y through the sign.

    I do not believe the hole would look the same. Nor would the bullet.

  4. Oh, come on, Jacquie. In your college career, I have to suspect there was plenty of reproducing going on — possibly even with some rigor.

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