Sunday, March 20, 2011

2011 Ruota Libera

Today I checked out A Ruota Libera, a handbuilt bicycle show in San Francisco.

Unlike the North American Handbuilt Bicycle Show, which was in Austin this year, which is held in a large convention center, the San Francisco show was a modest affair held in a medium-sized pizzeria. Indeed most of the room was taken up by the line for free pizza. Despite this, I managed to see some bikes.

First up: a shout of "hi, Bruce!" had me look up to see a guy with a "Bruce Gordon" badge. Bruce Gordon, a legend of frame building, was standing next to his carbon fiber randonneur bike. Ti lugs, carbon tubes, carbon fenders, and a custom Ti front rack were topped off with SRAM Red components. The bike had been featured in the Autumn 2010 Bicycle Quarterly. The Ti lugs were masterful work: solid Ti had been machined down to thin lugs, with the Ti chips recycled. I'm not a big lug fan, but these were really impressive.

Bruce Gordon carbon fiber randonneur

Bruce Gordon Ti lugs

Then across the pizza line from Bruce Gordon was Steve Potts, one of the early players in the mountain bike game in Marin County. He was standing by a Ti mountain bike with S&S couplers, cable-actuated disk brakes, and flared drop handlebars. Cool. Jacquie Phelan won three consecutive national championships in the mid-'80's on a bike with drop bars, and John Tomac raced them successfully at the national level of mountain biking when he joined the 7-11 road team around 1990. Mountain bikes with drop bars get style points, I decided.

Steve Potts

A real highlight, however, was this blue Steelman:


Wow -- with Campy SuperRecord parts and tubular rims, this bike is still lighter than 90% of the carbon bikes you see at a typical group ride. Really, the weight difference between carbon and a fillet-brazed lightweight steel isn't that much: maybe 600 grams (assuming a typical painted carbon frame of around 1000 grams), less than 1% of total weight (including the rider). Unless weight is an absolute premium, even if the benefits of custom geometry and durability don't offset the small weight difference, the coolness factor does. And the blue color really had to be seen to be appreciated: it was vibrant without being gaudy.

And speaking of Jacquie Phelan.... there she was!

Jacquie Phelan

I was in awe. I asked her what advice she had for those thinking about doing a mountain bike race for the first time. "Ride single-speed", she said, as it's closest in spirit to the early days of mountain biking, and "keep a party attitude in a combat zone". Racing should be fun, she stressed, and she had been lucky that a side-effect of having fun was she tended to win. Her blog is here.

I was standing outside, almost ready to leave, when out rolled this:

Brett Horton's townie

It was Brett Horton's legendary town bike, built for his wife ("don't spend more than $500"). You can read about it on Cyclingnews. While not the bike I would choose from the show, the thing was an absolute masterpiece of craftsmanship, thanks in no small part to Phil Wood who contributed the hubs, crank, chainring, and laser-etched the chainguard... and probably more.

Brett Horton's townie

Then, finally, I had a quick chat with Steve Rex. He had a lugged bike at the show:

Steve Rex

Rex used to sponsor Alto Velo, my former club. He lives and rides in Sacramento, and was badly injured on the Sacramento River Ride in November 2008. He said he's still rehabbing his broken hip, although he's making frames full-time. I've met plenty of people with a Rex and every single one I asked about it said they loved it.

Wow -- what an amazing time for such a compact venue. And I never did get any of the pizza...

1 comment:

NadiaMac said...

the pizza was yummy!