Saturday, June 12, 2010

Learning curves

I never used the term "learning curve" very much until I started working at my current day job. I work at a kickass environmental non-profit and am surrounded by decidedly non-artistic folks, not economists per se, but much more economically-minded people than your average musician. They talk about curves and discount rates and all sorts of things that are a bit over my head. That said, my learning curve on all economic matters has sped up dramatically...ok, maybe only somewhat...just through osmosis.

My learning curve on bikes, on the other hand, has soared. Can a learning curve soar? See, still not so well-versed on the concept. Can it bend straight up? I feel like mine has, in any case. Even just through conversations with various mechanics and other bike-minded people, my knowledge base has grown considerably. Take this, for example:

"Disassemble front end, disassemble rear end, shorten head tube, shorten seat tube, shorten top tube, shorten down tube, shorten seat stays, 2 new head lugs at appropriate angle."

Huh? Seat stays? Lugs? This is what the guy in Madison said he was going to do to my bike. Six months ago, I'd have thought this was a foreign language. Yes, I've been biking for almost 25 years now and I never knew what a seat stay was. FYI, there's nothing very exciting about seat stays, they're just the part of the frame that come down from the seat tube to the dropouts where the rear wheel is attached--part of the "rear triangle", another bike term. (Cyclists have a lot of lingo.) Lugs, however, are pretty cool.
Up until the last twenty years or so, bicycle frames were constructed differently than they are today, i.e. they weren't welded. They were built using lugs, which are basically metal socket at each joint of the bike frame. The tubing is cut and mitred precisely for a snug fit, and then inserted into the lug and brazed together using a molten metal like silver or brass that basically acts as permanent glue. Since brazing doesn't require as much heat as welding, this allowed framebuilders to use thinner, lighter tubes. Since then, there have been developments in metallurgy allowing tubing to be heated to higher temperatures without adverse reaction, thus eliminating the need for lugs and decreasing the overall construction costs.

I like lugged bikes. I think they have more personality. The framebuilder can put a more individualized touch on a lugged bike. Some get really fancy and hand-cut snazzy lugs like this one made by Rivendell or this super intricate one by Hetchins. Others are purely functional, which is just fine, too. I hope it doesn't become a lost art.

Here's a shot of the Nolan's lugged head tube after the rebuild:

So, while I am nowhere near an expert now, I have begun to pick up the general lingo and have definitely been bitten by the bug. I have two hooks in my bedroom ceiling now--shh, don't tell my landlord--one of which eagerly awaits Maria's arrival. However, as it turned out, she wasn't going to come without a fight...

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