It's summertime,


...or searching for the perfect travel bike

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, huh?

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 bike.

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" HD rims.

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 wheels.

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 said.

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 time.

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....

Read the full length unpublished version of
Maynard's experience in England
On Holiday, At the Back

Article originally featured in VeloNews June 17, 1996
Reprinted by permission from VeloNews / Maynard Hershon

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