by Maynard Hershon
Bill Cass Ilustration
I'm going to Europe in July with a brand new Reynolds 853-tubed bike. The trip is sponsored by the nice folks at Reynolds USA, who'd like all you VeloNews readers to know about Air-Hardened 853; the trip'll help.
In England in early July, I'm scheduled to ride several times
with the historic Coventry Road Club. Then it's off to France
with the same bike to travel the last 10 days of the Tour de France
with Breaking Away Bicycle Tours.
When this European trip opportunity arose, I'd been thinking for
some time about a travel bike. I didn't want just "another"
road bike. I have two I love, a Chris Chance and a Softride beam
bike; I don't need another.
But what I would like to have is a truly convenient travel bike,
one that would be easy to pack and hard to damage once packed.
And once unpacked, it would be perfect for nearly any kind of
road cycling anywhere. Putting together a bike like that would've
been nearly impossible a few years ago. But now...
For instance, consider Campy's "racing triple" groups.
Three ErgoPower-shifted chainrings mean you can use the same bike
for fast (well, kinda) club rides and time trials in England and
for climbing les grands cols in France, without changing
a thing: 13-to-23 8-speed cluster, 32-42-52 chainrings. Neat,
I always thought that when I got a travel bike it'd be a Bike
Friday, a Pocket Rocket or one of the new Air Fridays that packs
so small you can carry it on. But, alas, the Bike Friday people
are not Reynolds 853 air-hardened tubing customers. Meaning I
was obliged to get a full-size, less-convenient-to-pack bike.
I first thought I'd get a Reynolds bike in Reynolds country, the
English Midlands. I'd heard of a young woman framebuilder there,
a road racer, 'crosser and award-winning businessperson, Isla
Rowntree of Islabikes.
I thought: Wouldn't it be cool to get a bike from this woman,
the only one you know of anywhere who files and brazes, and whose
name's on the frame. And it looked like I would get an
Islabike, until Isla decided that doing business here in the U.S.
meant incurring brutal insurance costs. Not worth it, she said.
Reynolds UK asked Raleigh UK about a bike for me; Raleigh couldn't
get excited. Raleigh USA sources very few bikes in England. Plus,
the guy I could get excited about meeting, Gerald O'Donovan, the
Raleigh "special projects" guru (his initials are G.O.D.),
had retired a few months earlier.
Another option, a perfectly fine British framebuilder, primarily
sells here through mail-order. I couldn't get excited about that
aspect. So Reynolds USA and I decided I should take an American
bike to England with me.
About that time I went to Seattle for the big February expo and,
as always, drifted by Glenn Erickson's booth to look at his rolling
art. Everything he makes, even the simple "affordable"
stuff, is gorgeous.
He builds, I learned, a full line of bikes you can take apart,
easily separable by joints in the top and down tubes called S
and S couplings. Glenn, who leads tours annually in Europe (Bike
Treks International), raved about those joints and how easy they
make travel with your bike.
No one doubts Erickson's credibility. If he says those couplings are cool, they are. If he says you can't tell they're there while you're riding, you can't. I began thinking about an
S and S-coupled bicycle.
Ah, but Erickson, it turns out, for one reason or another, is
not a Reynolds customer. I needed to find a framebuilder I liked
who (check) was a Reynolds tubing user, (check) built in 853,
and (check) was an S and S client.
I called Steve Smilanick at S and S Machine in Roseville, California.
He told me he began making the stainless steel couplings for his
own use a few years ago, tired of the hassle of travel with a
At first, he said, skeptical bike builders were a tough sell.
Some of the biggest supporters, now, hung up on him then.
These days, he sells couplers to about 30 framebuilders nationwide.
He's just producing the first titanium ones at the urging of the
folks at Merlin, who encouraged him and believed in his product
from the first.
By the time I'd talked to Smilanick, most of the elements were
in place: He gladly offered S and S couplings. Keith and Tim at
Reynolds would supply tubing. And Richard Storino at Campy agreed
to send an Athena racing triple group and a pair of Delta "V"
I'd get a stem from Ross Shafer at Salsa; bars, tires and tubes
from Grant Petersen at Rivendell. Me buddy Anton would build the
Who would build the bike?
My friends at Serotta, for instance, are not S and S clients.
They build with Reynolds, but not exclusively, and haven't spec'ed
853. Serotta has tubing made to its spec called Serotta Concept
Tubing. Its top and down tubes are tapered, thus imperfectly suited
to the couplings.
Chris Chance's bikes are made from constant-diameter tubes, but
Fat City is loyal to another supplier. Richard Sachs is a Reynolds
builder and an S and S Client, but he's only one guy and he has
all he can do already.
You can see that the process of choosing a builder could be a
long one, and satisfying mostly to the phone company.
Reynolds suggested a loyal Reynolds builder nearby in the Midwest:
They thought the world of him, gushed about his bikes and engineering
and sincerity and craftsmanship. He uses S and S couplings, they
I called Smilanick, who also raved about the guy. I began to imagine
a cult somewhere that worships this guy's photo, locks of his
hair, sacred lathe-turnings from his shop floor.
I'd never met him, but Diane Lingelbach, of City Bike in Cleveland,
a noted independent bike dealer, told me once that only two companies
in the industry had never lied to her about when things would
be ready, about anything.
One of those companies, Bridgestone, is gone. The other is Waterford.
Reynolds suggested I call and see how Waterford felt about building
me an S and S coupled bike for the trip. I called Marc Muller,
Waterford's designer-builder, and asked him for a minute of his
We talked maybe 10 minutes. I use the front brake on the right
bar, I said. Where do you put the cable guides? Waterford's patented
head-and seat-lugs have cast-in rear brake cable stops on the
left side; they'll work fine, he said.
I asked him if there were any construction "tricks"
that would make it easier to disassemble and assemble the coupled
frame for travel. He said they used slotted, mountain-bike-style
cable housing stops. We've been building coupled bikes for a couple
of years, he added. No sweat.
We talked about this 'n' that: my worries, his reassurance. I
got the feeling that whatever problem I would bring up, he'd thought
about it and dealt with it long ago. I surrendered. Nice feeling.
At his request, I faxed him my frame specs and a cover note. I
reminded him about the Campy triple-chainring parts group, that
it included a clamp-on front derailleur, cartridge bottom bracket,
stuff like that.
I mentioned that I use slanted-up stems without embarrassment
and that I could get one from Salsa unpainted, if he'd prefer.
At this point, in the third week of May, that's where things stand.
I'm going to the PowerBar Women's Challenge the second half of
June, coming home for a couple of days of decompression, and then
flying to England with my bike.
Reading this, you may think I'm casual about some of it: flying
to England, to France, riding with the Coventry Road Club, riding
the Tour routes with Breaking Away. No way.
I'm as excited about all of it as you'd be: the wonderful new bike, the Yank-in-Great Britain, my first time at the Tour, all of it. Stay tuned to the fantasy cycling-travel channel here in VeloNews. We'll try to include you in the fun....
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