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Sunday, 11 October 2009


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If its pencils you be liking, try some of these. Nice cedar aroma, buttery lead, and a beautiful, thick paint. They only sell on eBay. Pencil porn.


I like American Frame. They have a neat widget that lets you put your photo in the frame and outfit it with matts and everything. Obviously at the other end of the spectrum from Bronislaus Janulis' frames but that widget is neat.

You know Mike, I'm sure a man of your skills could handle changing his own handlebars. There are innumerable tutorials on bicycle maintenance online (http://www.parktool.com/repair/ is one excellent source of information).

By the way I'm loving the recent convergence of my interests on this blog - I ride 100 or 150 miles a week. I should really stop neglecting my photography actually...

Man, I love good picture frames. We have a great frame place making custom frames here in the Twin Cities, called Master Framers Gallery, which does a lot of museum work. Back in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, many notable painters designed frames for their paintings, because they knew the frames were critical for the proper presentation of their work. Both the Impressionists and the Pre-Raphaelites got deeply involved in frame work. I love that craftsman look in the frame you pulled out...I wish I painted well enough to deserve one.


Wow - albatross bars!!! I remember my friends dad having a set of these.

Having just purchased a Cannondale F4, or rather my wife doing so in the most ridiculous bout of generousity, I think a set of these should smarten it up nicely.

Unfortunately, being the right age of 25, my substantial street 'cred' will take a necessary pummeling like you said. For those bars, it's gotta be worth it...


I bought the pencil book on Mike's recommendation. I'm sorry to report I found it unfinishably boring. Maybe I'd like it if I actually liked pencils. I just finished an equally boring book on acoustic guitars — but I love acoustic guitars.

I'm pretty sure Gruesome is a twin to my own bicycle. I've been riding it for two years and I'm very happy with it.

Congrats on the new bike!

I have Albatross bars on one of my commuters and they're great for city riding. A slight variation on the Albatross is the North Road, also from Nitto. Yet another alternative, this one more dramatically different, is the Moustache (see photo below). The Moustache is designed for use with road levers, so it wouldn't be appropriate for your new bike, but it's equally comfortable and provides more hand positions, something that's beneficial for longer rides. Enjoy!


Mike: I hope you get a lot of miles out of your new bike, though looking at the seat I am reminded why those of us who ride recumbents call them "wedgies". As for the new handlebars you should easily be able to replace them yourself without returning to your bike store and paying them for loosening a bolt.

I've had some Albatross bars on my commuter bike for a few years now, also purchased from Rivendell. Grant is a great guy, and one of the true personalities in the bike industry. The bars themselves are terrific for having a better view of what's going on around you, and for the kind of commuting I do that's a trade-off worth making against the worse aerodynamics. (Though when the wind picks up on a summer evening in San Francisco, I sometimes wish for drops.)

One thing to note, the diameter of the bar tubing is a little smaller than most other handlebars, and so you'll need all the extra padding you can get if you plan to attach lights, horn, squeezy-yellow-ducky bell, or some other accoutrement to the bars. (Hopefully the stem you already have on the Cannondale will be compatible.)

Also, experiment a bit with where to put the brake levers before committing to the position with handlebar tape. Only experience can tell where to put them on the bars based on your riding style and body position.

Ah Mike your a fine fellow I'm sure but dude remove the kickstand. Nothing says "gumby" more than a kickstand.North Road bars are a lot cheaper than the Nittos from the fancy pants outfit Rivendell.I paid $20. Canadian for a pair last month at my local bike shop.I say forget the bars and get Mr. Peterson to sell you a good seat instead.Your butt will enjoy a good perch.I had some Dynaco stuff back in the early 70's along with some JBL's.A thank you for bringing back some fond memories.


DO NOT, repeat DO NOT attempt to install those new bars on your bike. The only thing that the wrench (bike mechanic) at your local shop will hate more than installing bars purchased outside their shop, is installing new bars, not purchased from their shop after you screwed everything up nine ways from Tuesday. Please don't be that guy! ;-)

I'm sure Grant helped you out but I am skeptical about how your bike is going to handle with those bars. I presume you also got a new stem?

I love that you have a new bike and are riding it!

Electric pencil sharpeners?&@#*!!!! Bah, Humbug, etc, etc.

When I were a wee laddie we were brought up to start with the scalpel and finish off with sandpaper for a proper point.

Petroski also wrote a book on the history of the toothpick. Not as boring as one might think.

A good pencil sharpener is hard to find. I had a good hand cranked sharpener once, which I loved. It was a Boston, and worked great. But I don't have it any more, and now I sharpen my pencils with a pocket knife.

Don't believe a word that you read on TOP. Kickstands are GREAT!! Absolutely FANTASTIC for the kind of trucking down to the grocery store and post office kind of riding that I suspect you are planning on doing.

The only problem is that you only have half a kickstand!! Be sure to purchase the other half before the bike keels over under a gross weight of onions and watermelons. A two legged kickstand is absolutely de rigeur and Grant will be happy to provide you with one, the very best, made in Switzerland. If it keeps bikes upright in the Alps you can bet it will keep you on an even keel in WI.


I had no idea that there was a name for those handlebars, but that's the style of handlebar that was on my first bike, a 1959 Schwinn Panther II - http://www.nostalgic.net/pictures/2285.htm - but because I was enamored of European bike racing (of which I only knew from books found in my local small-town Arkansas library), I figured out how to turn the albatross handlebars upside down so I could get into that racer crouch as much as possible. Great bars!

I smite you Mike. Damn it all to hell. Every time I get my budget in order you go ahead and find a perfectly good way for me to part with $1,000!!! I have wanted a tube amplifier ever since I laid my eyes and ears on a Conrad Johnson amp at the local HiFi store 10 years ago. I simultaneously want to thank you for the wonderful tip on how I can get a wonderful tube amp for cheap (along with the sense of accomplishment by putting it together) and shake my fist at you :)

Thanks a lot Mike (take it how you will),

I grew up, not in Bangalore or Beijing, but in New Delhi in the 1960s, and the bike I got for my 8th birthday had albatross bars. As did all the single-speed tens of millions of bikes in India in those days. Oh yeah, a three-speed in a color other than black was considered a Ferrari amongst bicyles back then over there. I understand the same was true in China, where the overwhelming majority of the bicycles on Planet Earth were sold.

I've never really been comfortable with the back-killing stance that modern handlebars impose on the bicyclist, and my mind the modern steering is more responsive but less inherently stable.

I'm glad the handlebars coming back. A sensible Victorian invention for sensible gentlemen and ladies.

Ach! I see that your pencil comments have sparked others' remarks. What a coincidence. I used to be a writing instrument hound years ago but since I write little by hand I've let that fetish fall by the wayside. Recently, though, I found myself using an old wood pencil and rediscovered the little joy of it. When I was a schoolboy studying drafting and freehand sketching I always had to use precisely graded wooden pencils. But that practice faded with lead holders and so on, until I no longer drew anything.

But using a good wood pencil is a multi-sensory experience that you don't appreciate until you revisit it...35+ years later. (Kevin, above, is clearly a man in tune with this karma!) So I've begun using an excellent (to me) wood pencil sold by Levenger. The pencils' roundly triangular cross section makes them easy to hold. Their natural, unpainted cedar finish has a wonderful light scent especially after sharpening. The lead (probably F) is soft enough to lay black but hard enough not to break easily.

Electric sharperner?! Certainly not! I use some very nice hand sharpeners from a local art supply store. (I, too, have an old Boston manual crank sharpener around here somewhere...but know not where.)


Here is the perfect pencil sharpener. Simple and functional.

Alvin Brass Bullet Pencil Sharpener

So Mike, between you, Scott and now me admitting to reading it, Henry Petroski's The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance is surely set for the best seller list. An excellent book indeed.

For those who would lust after pencils that are both items of delight and also write well, I can recommend the Perfect Pencil range from FaberCastell.

Not cheap--but a wonderful blend of tradition, design and clearly defined purpose.

Aren't Sunday posts fun?


Doug Casement

Mike, there is a slight chance that changing to albatross bars would also require a change in shifters and brake levers in order to make things confy.

The Cannondale is a good pick. It's not a wimp bike and it seems to be a very functional city/commuter bike. I assume the wheels are 29" or 700.

A broom whose handle falls off had a designer who ought to be flogged with...well, a broom.

One from a different manufacturer I assume!

Didn't see it linked anymore on the Blue Jeans site, but do read Kurt's response to Monster Cable's attempt a few years ago to squash his business. [Unsubstantiated, by me] rumor has it Monster isn't, or wasn't, a stranger to such practices.

Here's a reprint: Audioholics link

An entertaining read.

Add me to the list of those who have read the Petroski pencil book. Although, I have to say, I didn't enjoy it as much as you all seem to have. I really liked the material, but the writing style was a bit boring and long-winded; It seemed kind of like reading someone's dissertation.

The same folks that make the pencils I referenced earlier also have a very nice sharpener. It's a simple razor blade affair, bur it has two blades with different pitches. The first sharpens the pencil with a blunt point, and the second only sharpens the lead. Nice!


Thanks very much for the plug!

Nice to see fenders on Gruesome. By the way, is Gruesome male or female?

Real men use Case pocket knives to keep their pencils sharp. :-) ( I actually use the .5mm throw away mechanical pencils; a dozen for a couple of bucks, cause if it's important, I sketch with a fountain pen with an artists nib, which could be a book itself.)


I was so pleased to hear that something good is coming out of South Bend (re. Bron Janulis's frames). I spent 1 year in that wretched place and am never shy of telling anyone about it. And then my wife always interjects and reminds me I met her there during that year, so it couldn't have been that bad.

I guess South Bend now has two redeeming qualities: it produces great frames and great wives.


I mention pens and knives. Here are some sites about those.

Antique pens for collectors and users

Repairs, restorations, hand ground nibs of high quality

Great inks

Case pocket knives, good selection and good prices

I've dealt with all of theses operations, good outfits.


If anybody reading is in the market for a stereo power amp, I will whole-heartedly echo Mike's suggestion of a hot-rodded Stereo 70.

Mine is the one piece of stereo that I will not part with - it complements everything, is very listenable, and has enough power for most sane people's tastes.

The reason it's so good is very simple - and yet so elusive - the amp does nothing wrong. It could do some things better, but it makes no mistakes. That is very rare in audio.

Mine has the Welborne Labs mod, I built it up from a kit about 12 years ago. I can't recommend it highly enough!

Mike, this fellow agrees with your beethoven pick.

Huh, somebody went and made up a special name for ordinary bike handlebars? Okay. That's what are still on my bike, bought in the 80s. Haven't ridden it since moving to the current house though.

The racing handlebars were a total pain, and lead in my observation to a lot more people riding with no hands (so they could sit upright). The rest gripped the crossbar, where they couldn't reach the brakes, which was obviously dangerous (or installed extra levers to give them some braking, probably even more dangerous) .

Bikes were about my only transportation until I was 22, but once I left college and got a car I haven't looked back.

Miserere ,

I guess it depends where you spent that time. If it was on the the great and Holy campus of ND, then that could be a problem. My personal contention is all of the domers are a little weird due to the water they drink; a well run through an ancient Indian burial ground. Makes them all a little wacked out. :-)

I live in town; I'm perfectly sane. :-)

It’s funny that the common thread here is the triumph of mature old-tech over the upstart new and improved tech, and there is no more significant old-tech than photographic film. It’s a medium that is certainly mature while still being continually improved. It’s a medium having an entry point that is easily attainable by a majority of photographers. And it’s a medium that offers routine upgrades that cost pennies on the digital dollar in the form of a brand new roll of film every now and then. As folks come back to film as they most certainly will at some point, those of us who used film all along will say that we were cool when even being cool wasn’t cool!

Here's a plug for the World Designs versions of the original Dynaco A-25 speakers. I built a pair of the tower version, and I think that they sound wonderful. The overseas shipping cost was not too bad, because I only ordered the electronic components and built the cabinets myself. But, we know how Mike feels about furniture making . . .

I drive the speakers with an NAD solid state receiver. I do have a bit of an urge to build a tube amplifier, but I have been keeping it in check so far. If I do give in, I may build one of the revamped versions of the "baby Dynaco", the Stereo 35, since the speakers are very efficient. There are now several companies selling parts and kits for either near clones of the original Dynacos or slightly revised versions. I'm still a bit confused about which versions are which, but they are probably all good.

Bron Janulis wrote: I guess it depends where you spent that time.

Bron, you guessed correctly at where I did my time. I mean, "spent".

Your water theory makes a lot of sense and I'm glad you get to drink from a different well :-)

those of us who used film all along will say that we were cool when even being cool wasn’t cool!

For some reason, I am reminded of a line from Grandpa Simpson: "I used to be with it.... then they changed what 'it' was".

"Huh, somebody went and made up a special name for ordinary bike handlebars? Okay."

Might be ordinary to you and me, but they're far from ordinary these days. Look through any opulent bike catalog from any of the big name bike makers...unless you find a small, ghettoized category for "commuter" or "city" bikes, you might not see any of your "ordinary" handlebars at all. Generally all you will see will be drop-bars and mountain-bike (i.e., flat) bars. That's the contemporary "ordinary."


Mr Wispelwey's CDs I own are very easily among my all-time favorites. I only miss never having had the chance to listen to him live.

Thanks for featuring my old bike pic Mike, the question always asked by other cyclists was "Where did you get those bars?"
I believe thay were just called semi-drops and intended for use on the rear of a tandem.
Those in the UK looking for something similar might try

I've lost count on how many tube amps are compared to conrad johnson's offerings. I guess the Dynaco's were the c-j of their day.

"I guess the Dynaco's were the c-j of their day."

Not really. Dynaco (founded 1955) were primarily known for DIY kits, primarily the 1959 Stereo 70 power amp, were more "down-market," and c-j (founded 1977) were a higher-end specialty company from the start, originally producing, and mainly known for, preamps.


Love all the cool pics. The old bikes have such nice style and pencil sharpeners? don't get me started on the crap that gets churned out.

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