Sunday Ride

My old friend, Katie, is fond of opining that the downfall of our society occurred when stores began to stay open on Sundays.  From there, she says, it’s been a downhill slide.  She might be right.

My childhood Sundays were a mixed bag:  enforced church attendance (faking an illness having been exhausted as an excuse years earlier), my mother’s dutiful Sunday dinner executed with earnestness if lacking in passion and culinary talent, and then the blessed release of the children out into the wild. My Dad would daze himself on TV football, and my Mom retreated for her quiet time.  There was no business to conduct, and there were no tasks to complete other than the usual chores required to run a household and small farm, and these were kept to a minimum on Sundays. God’s day of rest.

With God and parents at rest, my older brother and younger sister were my playmates on Sunday afternoons.  But, as we approached our teenage years, more and more often we chose our own separate pursuits on Sundays.  And that’s when I began what has become a lifelong tradition: a Sunday bike ride.

I don’t quite remember the bike I rode in the mid-1960’s (this was before getting my green sparkle Spyder with banana seat), but I do remember that it had an internal hub. I suspect that it was something like the 1968 Sears Econo model depicted above, but was probably the smaller child’s version.  It was a diamond frame, with upright bars, and definitely sported a battery powered headlamp.  It was challenging to ride, because it had no low gears, and while I understood the basics of derailleur shifting back then, I was confounded by what could possibly be going on inside the internal hub.  My father would attempt to explain that there were gears inside, and something called a planet.  I would stare endlessly at the tiny chain emerging from inside the hub and imagined that it housed a miniature derailleur on the inside.  I could not figure it out.

But that did not stop me from riding that bike.  The countryside around our home was hilly, but along the base of the hills was the Applegate River Valley of Southern Oregon.  The road running through the valley was in no way designed to accommodate a 10 year old on a bicycle.  There are blind curves, no shoulders, and narrow lanes.  That’s another thing that’s changed since then:  today’s parents would never allow their unaccompanied 10 year old to ride these roads.  It was a different time, where the pace was slower and neighbors watched over each other’s kids, at least to some degree.

To prepare for my ride, I would pack up snacks, water, and tools (like a good Girl Scout) into my bike’s front wire basket.  My adventures took me off road, sometimes walking my bike up the steep dirt logging roads in the area.  I cycled past streams, irrigation canals, and small creeks.  Upon return, my basket almost always carried something I hadn’t started with:  a wounded bird, a small turtle, a beautiful stone.

When I lived in Newport, Oregon in the late 1970’s, my Sunday ride was the trip up Yaquina Bay.  That ride was mostly flat, along the Yaquina River estuary, an important waterway and resource for the Siletz tribe who lived in the area, before they were forced out by white invaders in the mid 1800’s. When I visit Newport, I usually plan a ride up Yaquina Bay Road.  Every time I ride this road I am greeted with Nature’s enduring beauty, and I try to imagine this bay as it was hundreds of years ago.

Today’s Sunday ride took me out to Oak’s Bottom where I was treated to a Bald Eagle flying overhead.  On the way through the wetlands I saw Great Blue Herons, Northern Flickers, and a rarely observed Green Heron, among the other wintering birds.  While I didn’t add anything to my “basket”, I brought home instead the images and memories of today’s ride with its bright, low end-of-the-year sunlight, and bone-chilling wind.  A perfect way to end this year and begin anew.

Vitus Steel Tubing

Long before Vitus began making bonded aluminum frames (Vitus 979), the company had an extensive history of manufacturing quality steel bicycle tubes.  According to Classic Rendezvous, Vitus began as Ateliers de la Rive, on the outskirts of St. Etienne, a city southeast of Paris, near Lyon.  Beginning in 1931, they began making tubes branded as Rubis and Durifort.

Durifort Tubing advert from the Octobre 18 1947 edition of Le Cycle

Durifort advert from the June 1947 edition of Le Cycliste magazine

These 1947 ads, which appeared in Le Cycle and Le Cycliste magazines, show that Durifort tubing was the brand promoted by the Ateliers de la Rive company as the company’s best offerings.  Numerous races were won, with bicycles using the Durifort tubing.  At this time, Rubis tubing was also offered, and was featured on a number of bicycles offered by the manufacturers of the day.

Vitus advert – 1956 Le Cycliste Magazine – Volume 10

 

1980’s Meral with Vitus 788 tubing

By the 1970’s, Vitus was making a variety of tubesets with different wall thicknesses, both butted and straight gauge.

I have owned and worked on several bicycles with Vitus tubing, the oldest of which is a 1947 Peugeot Mixte which featured Vitus Rubis tubing. I still have this bike in my collection.  Although I have seen examples of Vitus’ bonded aluminum frames, I have not ridden one.  I understand that these frames have similar flex characteristics to the alumiminum ALAN frames, which feature aluminum tubes screwed and glued into steel lugs, but Vitus 979 frames do not include steel lugs.

It would be nice to have a resource which identifies the characteristics of each designation of Vitus steel tubing, but this seems to exist only in fragments on various websites.

A writer called vertkyg on the gitaneusa.com forum has developed a fairly complete Vitus timeline, with interesting photos and commentary.  He derived much of his information from a 1974 version of DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles and Bicycling.  As I didn’t have this book in my collection, I ordered a copy and found it to provide a wealth of information, as well as being an interesting commentary on the bicycle industry of the mid 1970’s.

Tube Thickness Guide – courtesy of Delong’s Guide to Bicycles, 1974 edition.

Continuation of the tube thickness guide, courtesy of DeLong’s

The top photo above shows that Vitus tubing in 1974 was offered as the following tubesets:  172, 971, and Durifort.  Durifort was a butted set, but was otherwise identical to the 172 tubeset (although by this chart, I think both tubesets were butted).  971 tubing was presumably the best offering of the time, with its lighter weight .9/.6 wall thicknesses for all of the main tubes.

Steel Tubing Characteristics, courtesy of DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles, 1974 edition.

This additional chart shows the properties of various tubing offerings of the era. Vitus 971 tubing is shown to have ultimate psi strength in excess of Reynolds 531, and as you can see from the above chart is significantly stronger than lower end steel tubing of this era. It is much stronger than the Titanium B 338 tubeset noted on the table, and greatly so, as is Reynolds 531, of course. Vitus 971 and Reynolds 531 tubesets show similar performance characteristics, and could certainly be seen as equals in the marketplace at this time.

My early 1980’s Meral features this steel Vitus 788 tubeset.  Available catalogues from this era do not feature this designation.   From what I can surmise, this was apparently a butted tubeset with a 7/10 top tube, and 8/10 down and seat tubes, thus the 788 designation.  Whether I am right or wrong about that, one thing I know is that Vitus steel tubing is competitive with the Reynolds and Tange tubesets of this era.

UPDATE 10/21/17:  Reader Bruno (see comment below) has shared a different timeline of the Vitus, Durifort, and Rubis tubing brands and their related owners.  It appears that all of these brands were initially owned by separate companies, and that Durifort was folded under the Vitus brand in the early 1970’s.  The link he shares has many historical advertisements – if you don’t speak French you can use a translate tool to study the material presented there, which includes an article written by Daniel Rebour which reviews the history of Vitus.

Richard Ballantine – writer, cyclist, and foreseer of cycling’s future

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I first read one of Richard Ballantine’s cycling books in the late 1970’s.  I am not sure which edition of his “New Bicycle Book” it was, but I was charmed by his quirky take on the history, beauty, challenges, and mechanics of all bicycles, and of touring bicycles specifically.  His book featured some of the lovely cycling drawings of bucolic England by the British artist Frank Patterson – which are totally uncredited in the 1987 edition I currently own – as well as other technical drawings by artists John Batchelor and Peter Williams.  In fact, there are no photos whatsoever in this 1987 edition.

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1987 Edition.

The only photo is this cover photo – featuring a classic 1980’s boy mechanic lovingly encouraged by his girl counterpart.  Fortunately, this volume tends to redeem itself once read. But this was just one edition of Richard’s New Bicycle Book, swimming in a vast sea of Richard’s cycling publications which spanned from the early 1970’s up through the early 21st century.  Richard passed away in 2013 at age 72.

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Photos of Richard working on his bikes seem to always feature him on bended knee(s). This intrigued me, as I don’t think I have ever knelt down to work on my bike, at least not while it was upright on two wheels. Perhaps I should try it!  As to his mechanics’ skills, those were to remain in question. What Richard was known for was his unabashed enthusiasm for cycling as a transformative experience, and that is something I not only share with him, but will remain eternally grateful for his vision of cycling’s future, and his influence which is still felt today.

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Richard was born into a publishing empire, so it must have seemed natural for him to continue the legacy.  The Ballantine family portfolio included Bantam and Ballantine imprints, which were sold to Random House in the 1990’s.  He was the founder and publisher of Bicycle Magazine, and was involved in publishing numerous other books for his family business.

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Ritchey Montare ad courtesy of MOMBAT.

In the early 80’s, Richard imported 20 Ritchey Montare mountain bikes into the U.K., which were the first commercially available mountain bikes in Britain at the time. Essentially, he kick-started the MTB industry in the U.K., and established a cross country race as well as a charity which lobbies for better conditions for cyclists – the London Cycling Campaign – an organization still going strong today.

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In the year 2007, just 6 years before his death, he published City Cycling, in response to the growing worldwide bicycle transportation movement.  He seemed to me always the mad scientist – fascinated with both the odd as well as the truly brilliant.  A person who remained true to himself, regardless of trends and politics.  I wish I had met him. His legacy will live on through the many cyclists and readers who have and will discover his amazing contribution to cycling, and possibly to the well-being of the earth itself.