Friday, December 30, 2016

Updates and Upgrades on my Goshawk touring bike

So, I've made some changes to my custom, handbuilt-by-me Goshawk touring bike over the last year or so, and I thought I'd share them here.

It all started when a mishap happened involving a roof rack.  No, no, don't worry, I didn't drive into a garage with the bike on the roof or anything catastrophic like that.  The bike was in one of those roof racks where you remove the front wheel and clamp the fork to the rack at the dropouts.  A sharp turn, luckily at low speed in a parking lot, and the bike ended up on its side on the roof.  Not sure exactly why the clamp didn't hold, but it ended up bending one of the dropouts pretty badly.  Being a steel frame, I was able to straighten it out, but the powder coat suffered in the process, so I figured I'd get the fork re-coated.

Rack mounts and cable guides brazed and cleaned up
While I was at it, I decided to take the opportunity to make a few additions to the fork.  When I built the frame at United Bicycle Institute, I ran out of time to do all the various brazed on bits and pieces I had hoped to include.  With the clarity of hindsight, I now realize I could have added them during the window of time after I brought it home and before I got it powder coated in the first place, but oh well.  Really, the major item I didn't get to add in the initial build was a set of mounts for a "low rider" style front rack for panniers, and since Tubus makes a clamp on adapter, I figured it wasn't the end of the world.  That being said, it wasn't particularly attractive.  Sturdy yes, pretty no.  So while I had the fork off the bike for repair and re-coating, I added a set of mounts for a rack, and while I was at it, a few guides for running wires up the inner face of the right fork leg for a dynamo lighting system.

Once I got the fork back from the powder coat shop, I started thinking about other changes I wanted to make.  For one thing, I never really fell in love with the handlebars I had chosen.  I had read over the years that a lot of touring and long distance cyclists like the randonneur style drop bar that has a bit of a sweep upwards from the stem to the top of the drops.  I really tried, but just never liked them all that much.  Over the years I've become rather fond of fairly wide (44 - 46cm) drop bars with a nice long flat stretch on either side of the stem, so that's what I installed this time.  The bars I seem to keep coming back to are made by the Japanese company Nitto, their model B115, a classic "Maes" style bend.

Nitto B115 bars, Shimano and Tektro brake levers
The other part of the "cockpit" (a term I don't really like for bicycles, but at the moment I can't think of a better shorthand) I wasn't thrilled with was the brake levers.  Again, based on others' recommendations and preferences, I tried out a set of levers from Tektro.  Some folks really like the bigger, chunkier hoods, and I can certainly understand that, but after years of using more traditional, skinnier levers, I didn't love them.  Honestly, if it weren't for the fact that I was already changing the handlebars, and had a different set of levers in my parts stash, I would have left them alone.  They didn't bother me, I just didn't love them.  The other change I made was purely aesthetic, in changing the "cross" brake levers with a set of all silver ones in place of the silver and black.

Shimano CX50 brakes
One final, unplanned component change came about as I was re-assembling the bike.  For some reason I can't fathom, when I built the frame, I positioned the mounts for the cantilever brakes too close together for most modern brakes.  I must have read the guide book wrong or something, I don't know.  When I first assembled the bike, I tried a few different options, but none of the modern brakes I had available to me at the time worked, so I went with a set of really nice old Shimano XT brakes from the late 80s or early 90s.  They worked fine, but were frankly kind of a pain to get adjusted just right, and when I went to re-install them in this build, it just frustrated me to the point I decided to try something else.  So after some research, I decided to try a set of Shimano CX50 cantilevers that come with three different spacers for the brake pads, to adjust to different mount spacing.  They worked out really well, and were very straightforward to set up.  Shimano gives very thorough instructions for setting them up with the various spacers, and they seem to stop just fine.  I don't have a lot of miles on them yet, but I think they're going to be fine.

V-O bag support
While I had it all apart, I also decided to make some changes in the luggage racks.  Specifically, I wanted to change from black racks to silver, and the best combination of features I wanted seemed to be in Tubus brand racks from Germany, so you'll see their Cosmo on the rear and Nova low-rider on the front.  Sturdy and stable, they work really well with all kinds of panniers, especially the Ortlieb brand that I typically use.  Completing the package is a handlebar bag support from Velo Orange. An interesting feature of this one is the integrated "decauler", which makes it easy to attach and remove the handlebar bag, yet doesn't leave an ugly piece of hardware on the bike when the bag isn't there.  The top part of the rack comes with an inverted "U" shaped piece that fits onto the open ends and makes it look like a normal rack.

Here she is, with bar bag
And without bar bag

As a final touch, I replaced the Mirrycle Duet bell with a more stylish (and louder) Crane lever-strike style bell.  It looks great, and has a terrific sound and amazing sustain.  A minor thing, but fun.

Shiny and loud!

Now all I need is the time and the weather to take her out on a tour, or at least a good overnight trip on the C&O Canal.  I designed the bike to take wide tires under those fenders, and now she's wearing Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tires in a 700x42mm size, so she makes a great towpath camping bike.

Plans for the future?  Well, I mentioned early on that I had added guides for dynamo hub wires up the fork, so obviously at some point I want to install such a system on the bike. I've got dynohubs on a number of bikes, and it sure would be handy on a touring bike.  And one day I might just get some decals made for the frame.  Stay tuned!

And if you want to see more pictures of the bike, from raw tubing through several variations in components, check it out here:  Goshawk - My First Frame

Friday, September 30, 2016

Followup on September 7, 1966

Well, my mother found some photos from the construction and early days at our house in Bowie, MD, so I thought I'd share those and a few comments.

First, there's this shot of my dad, Vincent Fricker, standing basically where the master bedroom would soon be in our house.  As you can see, at this point, it was just the bare outline of the foundation (well, since the house is actually built on a slab, I'm not sure foundation is the right term, but you get the gist). 

In the background you can make out the beginnings of the rest of the development, which was called Idlewild, or as some people would say "the I-section."  Unlike some of his earlier developments, Levitt set up Belair at Bowie such that all the streets in a given section had names that began with the same letter... Idlewild Drive, Ivy Hill Lane, Irongate Lane, etc.  Given the similarity of the homes, at least you knew if you were in the right section by the first letter of the street names!

Edward Fricker, my dad's cousin, or Uncle Eddy as we knew him.  It was through him that my father first got the idea to move to the DC area to work for the Government Printing Office when the situation at the newspaper was looking bleak.

Note the can of Carling Black Label he's holding.  I suppose they were celebrating our soon-to-be-new-home... I wonder if open container laws were in effect back then?  And isn't it fascinating to see a couple of guys hanging around a construction site in jackets and ties?  I'm guessing they'd stopped by after work on day to check on the site, and back then that was standard dress for a linotype operator.  Different times.

 Here you can see the basic footprint of the house.  To the left in the front is the garage (a big deal to us, having not had a garage on Long Island).  Closer to the viewer is the narrow laundry room, and to the right is the rest of the ground floor, which consisted of a kitchen/dining room, living room, bathroom and two bedrooms. 

The view from the front yard of the house, looking down Ivy Hill Lane.  Standing in the same spot today, it's hard to imagine it ever looked like this.

The same view in 1968, with houses and landscaping all in place.  It's starting to look lived in, though it would be quite some time before the trees really filled in.  Over time the generous plantings in the yards began to be overwhelming and most home owners ended up taking out some or all of the original trees.

The ground floor taking shape.  The two car (!) garage is to the right, with the living room picture window just to the left of it, then the front door.  On the far left you can see the window to the master bedroom in front.  Note the pile of construction materials in the yard... the houses were put together like a giant model airplane kit, with all the pieces deposited on the lot for assembly.

And here it is with most of the framing in place.  This is looking from the opposite end from the previous picture, with the master bedroom closest, and the smallest bedroom (which was mine for many years) to the left.  Beyond that you can see the front porch awning, and then beyond that is the garage.  Two bedrooms on the ground floor, two on the second floor, and a bathroom on each floor (a big improvement over the house on Long Island where we had one bathroom for the 7 of us!).

Somehow we didn't seem to get any pictures of the house when we first moved in, or at least we haven't found any yet.  But to get an idea of what the finished product looked like, here's a copy of the ad for the Levitt Cape Cod.  This shows a bit earlier version of the house, but the basic design is the same.

By today's standards, a modest house no doubt.  But to us, and many other families in that place and time, they came to be wonderful homes.

For the curious, more info about Levitt, and specifically Belair at Bowie, can be found here:

And more photos are here

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

September 7, 1966

This day fifty years ago was a big day in my family... the day we moved into our brand new house in Bowie, Maryland.  It was built by Levitt and Sons, famous for post-WWII affordable, mass produced housing, as part of their Belair at Bowie community.  Named for the thoroughbred racing stable which formerly occupied the land fast being filled by houses, Belair was a remarkable place to grow up, at a remarkable time.  Many who shared this experience "gather" in Facebook groups to share memories and talk about why the place was so special to them.  I won't go into all of that here and now, as I want to focus on this day in my family's lives, and some of the things that make it memorable to us.

We'd left Syosset, NY, where my parents first moved in 1953.  A typical Long Island suburb, my memories of that town are few, as we left shortly after I turned five.  Our departure was brought about by a series of disputes between labor and management in the newspaper industry in NYC, a combination of strikes and lockouts.  My father was a printer, more accurately a Linotype operator, and a member of the International Typographical Union, but after long stretches of trying to support a family of five on "strike pay" something had to change.  Through family connections my dad landed a job with the Government Printing Office in Washington, DC, and thus our departure from Syosset was set in motion.

Now, it wasn't as simple as just packing up our stuff and moving it all to the new house in Bowie.  You see, our NY house sold in June of 1966, and the Bowie house wasn't due to be completed until early September. We certainly weren't unique in finding ourselves between dwellings, but as a family of five kids and two adults of modest means, what to do in the interim was a point of some concern to my parents.  I doubt I'll ever know all the discussions that took place, but after considering all the options, including a temporary apartment, or staying with family, my mother proposed the rather creative solution that they ultimately chose.

So late June of 1966 found us all landing at Dogwood Park, a campground on the fringes of Annapolis, the state capital of Maryland.  My parents had bought a Nimrod Riviera pop up camper trailer... the kind that looks like a big tent on wheels.  With the addition of a "add a room" tent that zipped onto the side of the trailer, we had a reasonable facsimile of a home for the next 70 odd days.  Yes, you read that right... we camped for over 70 days.  It's a testament to my mom's patience and sense of humor that she managed the five of us that long summer, with my dad away at work five days a week.

I'll probably return to tell more about that summer at another point.  Tonight I want to focus on our final arrival in Bowie at our new house.  Even that seemingly straightforward process wasn't as simple or conventional as you might think.  For one thing, there's that little matter of school, which began for my older siblings on Tuesday, September 6th, right after Labor Day.  That meant that our mom had to drive the whole gang of us to Bowie that morning to drop the four older kids off at three different schools - high school for my brother, junior high for my two oldest sisters and elementary school for my youngest sister.  Me?  I was kindergarten age, but that didn't start up as soon as the rest of the schools did, so I had a reprieve.  That first day, mom had to make the rounds again later in the day, picking everyone up and driving back to the campground for the night.

The next day, the 7th, the big day began with the same routine of ferrying the older kids to school from the campground, with the plan that they would all ride school buses home that evening.  My sister Nancy somehow couldn't find her school bus, and when my older sister Janet realized Nancy wasn't on the bus, she got off and went looking for her.  The two of them ended up walking home that evening, a pretty good trek in a strange new town that was still very much a work in progress at that point.

That wasn't the only hitch in that day though...  Our new house was just over the top of one of the steeper hills in Bowie, and just as our old Ford Falcon wagon crested the hill towing the trailer, it gave its last gasp and died.  We ended up pushing and pulling the trailer into the yard with the help of some neighbors, and as near as I can recall, that old Ford never ran again. Given that we all remember my mom sometimes saying "Let's all say a Hail Mary" as she would turn the key to start that car, its demise wasn't really a huge surprise.

The other catch to our triumphant arrival at our wonderful new house was that aside from what we had in the camper, all of our belongings were still with the moving company, and wouldn't arrive for another day or two.  We slept that first night or two on air mattresses with sleeping bags yet again... but we had an actual roof and walls!  And air conditioning!  And hot and cold running water, right there in the house, along with a stove, oven, dishwasher, and electric lights you could just turn on with a switch.  I don't think any of us really cared much about our stuff being a day or two away at that point.

We spent the next few weeks getting settled in, and watching as the town around us grew.  The streets weren't yet paved... some stretches had the base layer of concrete down, while others were just dirt.  Houses were being built one after another, down the street.  Each night we'd see new lights go on a bit further down through our development, until finally every house was complete and occupied.  Grass and trees and landscaping went in, roads were paved, walks and patios were put in, and slowly but surely it became a community.  A community largely made up of middle class families with 3 - 5 kids (some had more, some fewer, but I'd guess 3 - 5 was typical), all about the same ages.

It's been fifty years now, and the town has changed a lot.  It's expanded far beyond the original boundaries, and the original residents have for the most part moved on, or passed away.  The mix of people is very different, and honestly a more accurate reflection of American culture today.  The "new" houses of Levitt are now the old houses of the past.  Few of the original businesses remain, and the rural farmland that used to surround the town has largely given over to housing developments and shopping centers.  "You live all the way out in Bowie?" was a common question when we first moved in... now it's merely part of the great sprawl of suburbia around DC.

But when I wander around certain parts of town... a park here, or down a road there, along a creek bank... and I use my imagination and memory, I can almost see the kids I grew up with, went to school with, became friends with.  I can remember our many adventures in the abundant woods and fields throughout town, playing games of imagination and catching frogs, toads, turtles, etc.  I can reflect on the good fortune of growing up safe in a good home with a loving family. And I can remember fondly what was a really great childhood, in a town that still feels like home to me, and where my mom still lives in that very same house where we set up "camp" that first night.  And I'm lucky to be able to visit often, any time I wish.

I hope to find and share photos from our early days in Bowie soon, but for now, I'll leave you with a picture of a Fricker family memento of the whole adventure.  It's a paper plate that was once nailed to a tree in our campsite at Dogwood Park, identifying us to our fellow campers.  It hung in our garage for many, many years, but now resides with my older brother in his home in of all places, Long Island.