San Francisco Tweed

We have just been introduced, sometime in the last two minutes, to San Francisco Tweed. What is that? From the site: “We at SF Tweed constitute a rare breed of cyclist — ladies and gents who refuse to endure anymore spandex! For us there is nothing better than a spin through our fair streets in the finest most dapper attire. …”

Well, everyone from Grant Petersen to us to the entire nation of Burma is down with refusing to endure Spandex any longer. We’ve taken to sporting an L.L. Bean black-watch-plaid flannel shirt as our riding habit with heavily discounted Royal Robbins canvas cargo shorts for our lower-down clothing. Aung San Suu Kyi has often said that if she were ever permitted to ride, she wouldn’t be caught dead in anything made of black, stretchy material assembled by sweatshop labor in her native land. Grant & Co. say of their own miracle ride-shirt cloth, “No longer only the fabric of the wealthy for ice cream socials on the estate, seersucker has proven to be the best fabric for hot weather cycling, too.” (“No longer only the utensils of the spoiled and effete, silver spoons have proven to be the finest dispensers of our favorite cycling food, blackstrap molasses, too.” We think the tweed and seersucker crowd might spend a little time making their prose as dapper as their cycling costumes, but we have always been stuffy that way.)

Did we have a point here. Oh, yes: S.F. Tweed sounds worth checking out, for all our linguo-quibbles. We may go out and observe from afar at the group’s next event.


Idiosyncratic Bike for Sale

As posted on Craigslist (though not for long — the bike sold in about an hour):

For sale: Idiosyncratic Bridgestone RB-1, $600

Bridgestone RB-1

Year: 1991

Size: 59 cm


–Built up as a 40×15/40×17 fixed gear with a retrofitted horizontal rear dropout.

–Wheels: rear is a Mavic MA-40 built around a Sansui Pro-Training 36-hole hub; front is an Araya RC-540 built around a 32-hole Shimano 105 hub.

–Crankset: Shimano 600 53/40.

–Brakeset: Diacompe aero levers. Front brake: Shimano 105 sidepull. Rear: Diacompe 986 cantilever. Brakes are set up “cross-handed”: right lever controls front (explanation below).

–Control Tech aluminum stem (approx 100mm), Icon drop bars approx 44cm).

–Lovely pre-distressed Brooks B-17 saddle, once handled (and perhaps even sat upon) by Grant Petersen himself.

–One-of-a-kind, non-factory paint job.


I have not made many impulse bike-related purchases. In 1991, I bought a British-racing-green-and-ivory Bridgestone RB-1 at The Missing Link in Berkeley. I had just started to do some long-distance cycling and somehow thought that that bike was just the ticket for me. It had a late Suntour 7-speed rear drivetrain, and with younger legs I did manage to do some hill climbing with a bailout gear of 42×23. I stopped riding for years, got back into it in the early 2000s. In 2003, I ripped everything off the bike, had it repainted in close to the same scheme by Ed Litton in Point Richmond, and rebuilt with a triple-crankset randonneuring machine (again by The Missing Link). I rode that bike in Paris-Brest-Paris 2003, and kept doing brevets on it until I finished a 300-kilometer ride in Santa Cruz with a huge crack through the bottom-bracket shell.

So, I stuck with that horse until it couldn’t run anymore. In the meantime, I had found two other 59-centimeter RB-1 frames: a built-up beater that the owner had unconscionably refitted with a lousy aluminum fork, and a unique Joe Bell-painted frameset that a former Missing Link mechanic was trying to unload. When that first frame broke, I just took everything off of it and put it on the Joe Bell frame and commenced riding that. That was my mount for my unfinished 2007 PBP and for a 1,000-kilometer brevet in Colorado in 2006 that earned me a Randonneur 5000 award.

I mentioned my lack of impulse bike purchases. That’s less a product of virtue than necessity. Once upon a time, I went out and test-rode a bunch of bikes I knew I couldn’t afford, including a cushy early Merlin titanium frame. I also coveted high-end Masis and have looked on in semi-envy at friends’ custom Rivendells and Calfees. I’ve never felt justified in plunking down $4,000 or $5,000 for a bike, though–and I understand that’s no longer top-of-the-line money.

In the case of the bike I’m selling now, though, I had an impulse and acted on it. How did it happen?

Somewhat euphoric and more than usually brain-addled after PBP ’03, I chanced to read an email from Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycle Works in Walnut Creek, California. He was selling a few custom items to raise money. Among them was a 59-centimeter RB-1 — my size — set up as a fixed gear. The bike had a history, too: the fixie was a project undertaken by a one-time California bicycle writer. The email identified the writer, but I won’t because I have a feeling he’s sensitive about how his name is used and I haven’t gotten his permission.

Part of the writer’s project was to doctor the original Bridgestone logo with the logo of bike and parts maker Salsa. The red frame carries the legend “Salsbridge” on the down tube. It’s also adorned with numerous flashes of white, green, and yellow paint. I’ll be honest: the Salsa reference loses me, as the bike as presented to me has zero Salsa components. (The secret might be contained in a long-ago story about this bike by another Northern California bicycle writer, a legendary randonneur who left the Bay Area to take up residence in northern Nevada. This second writer contacted me after I bought the bike and promised to send a laminated copy of the story; I long ago stopped waiting for that to happen; I only hope that he just couldn’t find the thing, or that he was always too busy to send it, instead of him deciding that I’m some sort of undeserving jerk. Why undeserving? Well, to be honest, next to the two writers, and many riders, too, I’m just a dabbler at this whole bike thing.)

Another aspect of the project is easier for me to understand. The brakes are what I’ll call cross-handed. The right lever operates the front brake, the left the rear — and that’s the opposite of the usual arrangement. However, it’s the standard set-up for motorcycles, and, sure enough, the writer/creator is a moto enthusiast.

The stories that come with the bike are almost good enough to keep it around. But not quite. Why? Let’s go back to Grant Petersen and 2003.

After reading his sale email, I called Rivendell, out in the Contra Costa suburbs–the region my younger son dismisses as “the 925.” I talked to Grant himself, I think, and he told me he still had the bike. Hold on to it, I told him, I’ll be out after work. And I was. I rode BART out to Contra Costa and walked the two blocks over to the glorified garage that served– still serves–as Grant’s shop. The bike was there. Nondescript, to my eyes, and not nearly as special as the RB-1 on which I’d just done PBP. But the new bike was a fixed gear; just the thing, I thought, to branch out in the sport that I suddenly felt rather accomplished in. I paid and left to get back on BART. It was probably a sign that I could barely get on the thing and control it as I rolled down a short sharp slope to the street. I wound up walking most of the way to the station with my newly claimed prize.

And in the years since, I have never quite gotten the fixed-gear thing. For a long time, that has made me feel like I’m less as a cyclist than others are (to be honest, I find plenty of reasons to think that). To engage in bike riding in all its subtlety, shouldn’t I master the art of having my feet locked to pedals that will keep turning as long as the back wheel is moving? I have seen some amazing feats of long-distance cycling on fixed gears: multi-day tours with lots of climbing. I’ve watched fixie riders go away from me on the climbs, and I have overtaken them, their legs in an unsettling 160 rpm blur, on big downhills. Bottom line: While those climbs and descents might be a challenge and some sort of joy to others, I’m too much a creature of the freewheel to partake. I just never got the hang of the fixie. And beyond that, yeah, I can use the money now, too.

Thus, the for-sale ad, and this writeup.

If you’ve got any questions about the bike’s history or provenance, I’ll answer them all. I’ll even disclose the names of the above-mentioned writers. Including the one in Nevada, just in case you can convince him to send his old story about how this bike came to be.

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Modest Proposal: Cycling Edition

I belong to a bike club here in Berkeley. That is, I pay my dues, subscribe to the email list, and once in a very long while go on a club ride (my riding habit is usually solitary, an effect of taking a long time to get going on weekend mornings).

The club’s email list is mostly informative and entertaining, but sometimes given to extended pissing matches over who knows how much about some arcane (or perfectly ordinary) facet of cycling. The latest example: Member One posted at random about his love of a certain brand of tires for riding in the rain. It’s not the first time he’s touted the brand; I don’t know whether he’s getting a kickback or what. Member Two quickly chimed in, as he did once before, to observe that the tires in question go on the rim very easily — too easily, in fact, because he had one blow off his rim during a ride once. Member Two would never use that brand of tire.

The exchange inspired me. Quoting myself, here’s my contribution to the discussion:

I’ve been experimenting this year with doing away with tires altogether and just riding on some bare old rims that have been lying around the house for years. Straight-away traction, let alone cornering, is a bit tricky until you have a few miles on the unadorned rims. That’s all it takes for the local pavements to roughen the metal surface and give you a secure grip on terra firma. Talk about getting a good feel for the road! But for the lack of a tire, it’s practically like riding sew-ups.

Old steel rims are particularly fun to ride after dark; as a paramedic I met after one ride said, the chro-mo wheels create "quite a light show" as you career down the macadam. And if that’s not enough to persuade you of the virtues of rubber-less riding — shut your ears to the nay-sayers who complain about the slight increase in noise — just think about the weight savings: Since you don’t need to worry about flats (or tires blowing off) anymore, you don’t need spare tubes, patch kit, tire levers, or pump, either (but just as you would on a pneumatically cushioned jaunt, remember to  bring your medical and dental insurance cards with you when you ride rubber-less).

With all these advantages, word on "the street" is that Trek has hooked up with Bridgestone, the Japanese tire and bicycle maker, to develop a more durable "naked" rim for both both road and off-road riding. I’ve also heard that Rivendell is considering offering a new model — tentatively named the "Orc" — equipped with tireless rims and featuring no brakes.

I’ll admit I won’t be satisfied unless at least one club member takes this seriously.