Magically Delicious!

 I was hanging out with Roland Della Santa at his shop a couple years back, entertaining myself when he wasn’t telling me racing or girlfriend stories by digging through his stack of tubing. While pilfering through sets of old Reynolds 531 and Columbus SL, I ran across a full set of Columbus Star still in the box. Back in my bike shop day, I’d worked on a Colnago Master that had the crimped four-sided tubing. I remembered thinking the frame was the cat’s meow. Star was everything the Master tubing was; the only difference was that instead of four crimped channels, Star had five.  “Hey, Rollie! Wanna make me a frame out of this?” He turned and looked at the tube I was holding in the air. It was obvious he was less than thrilled by my request, since the stuff is kind of a pain to work with, being unforgiving as heck for centering. “Hmmm. I don’t know,” was his response, followed by a quick change of subject back to one of his old flames.

Now, it should be noted that Rollie’s  frames have always been the essence of aesthetic simplicity; they ride like the wind, but aren’t overly carved or overtly detailed. A frame made from pentagram tubing is flashy by Roland’s standards.To this day I’m still left wondering why he even had a set of the stuff. Pestering can be a very powerful tool, though and I employed it whenever I thought it might have a positive outcome. Eventually my framebuilder friend cracked under the pressure and he agreed to make me a frame out of the stuff.

Now that I had him wher I wanted him,  I decided to see what else I could get away with. One day while visiting the shop I  innocently asked if he’d consider making my Star frame a “Gambler’s Special”, Roland’s pet name for any bike where he carves card suits into the lugs. Not seeing the slippery slope he was on, he walked over and wrote “Gambler’s” on my work order. Ah, ha!

Next:  6 months ago Roland had started offering the option of drilled chainstays. I knew a traditional frame with narrower stays wouldn’t fit his jig though. Of course I still asked, but my stays just couldn’t be done, at least not with his current jig. The holes would be too large for the stays. Plus, his jig couldn’t hold my stays correctly, which meant that they would chatter and flex when drilled. Not wanting egg-shaped holes, I’d given up, though the idea was still in my head. While discussing the chainstay problem with machinist, friend and fellow framebuilder Ed Gresham in early 2011 the solution presented itself. Ed had made the original Ossobuco jig and understood what it would take to drill my stays. In the end, Ed ended up making a custom clamp for the stays and the holes were drilled using his mill, without the benefit of a jig.

At Rollie’s this week, I saw Star tubing in the frame jig. Close by were the custom-drilled chainstays. It’s looks like it’ll only be a matter of time before the “Lucky Charm” bike, as it is affectionally known, will be done (Hearts, Diamonds, Stars, and Circles all present). I guess I should start thinking about what color I’m going to try to talk Rollie into painting it…

22 seconds with Neal

Doping in cycling has always bothered me, in the sense that there are lots of really talented riders out there who never got a chance to prove themselves because they were, well, clean.

I’ve pretty much stopped watching racing, something I used to really enjoy. Back in the LeMond era, we at the bike shop used to listen to daily live reports of the Tour de France transmitted through the shop speaker phone. It was a pay-per-minute deal and as you might guess, pretty hard to hear what with all the ambient noise of the shop in the summer. Nevertheless, we poor bicycle monks would pool our money and listen, taking in the flavor of racing a half world away.

The thing was, we knew who to root for. Nowadays, I’m at a loss. So many times I’ve picked a new favorite rider, only to discover that I was pinning my hopes, which were often childlike in their innocence, on a doper. Eventually I gave up, as it became too demoralizing. Even I learn from my mistakes.

…And that’s how I ended up on Talk of the Nation yesterday. The young Callahans and I were in the car running errands, and as usual, we had NPR on. The topic was doping in sports, brought on by the Barry Bonds trial. I have my opinion about Bonds, but I was content to listen (I have a fear of talking on the radio, or more precisely, of sounding stupid on a national radio show).

That is, until cycling came into the equation. I listened to callers, some of who railed on doping, while others defended riders like Lance Armstrong. Something popped. Arriving back at the house, I was in the bedroom and on the phone before I could talk myself out of it.

I can’t remember exactly what I said to Neal Conan, being utterly flustered at finding myself actually on air. I do know that generally, it felt good and I’m glad I got to say it out loud, for others to hear. Making my nominal case over the airwaves has served as a small brand of tonic, as well. I doubt I’ll be hanging my hopes on any rider in the upcoming cycling season, but who knows, maybe some day it will change: Cycling could change. Maybe someday, I’ll find myself actually sitting down to watch a race with the boys. …And as some young rider breaks off the front of the pack on a monumental climb, I’ll be able to look at both of them and say “You watch him, boys. He’s the real thing.”