a tale of two cities (sort of)

river city jersey

belgium holds no national census, but about 59% of the population are considered to speak flemish, a dialect of dutch. this knocks the french speaking portion of the country into second place with 40%, while there's around 1% that speak german. those with flemish tend to live in the northern part of the country known as flanders. if you're a cycling fan, or at least a fan of the classics, you may already have warmed to the conversation. idi amin may, for whatever reason, have described himself as the last king of scotland, but the description lion of flanders seems to depend on the belgian cyclist in favour at any given time: the real lion of flanders originally referred to robert the third of flanders, who lived from the middle of the 13th century till the early part of the 14th, but for those of us of a certain generation, it will likely always refer to johan museeuw, no matter his subsequent indiscretions about the smarties he ate while competing.

presently, the nom de plume or appellation seems to belong to tom things go better with coke boonen. watch any race occupying a part of the home country and you cannot escape those 'larger than anyone elses' yellow flags with a black lion; they appear at races well outside belgium, and they appear at cyclocross races (and if sven nys wins next week's worlds, the lion could transfer its allegiance), frequently blocking the camera view of a very exciting finish.

so what on earth has the lion got to do with portland, oregon?

we all have our obsessions with people, objects and places. there's nothing ostensibly wrong with this, provided it can be rationalised, and at best treated in a light-hearted fashion, even if, deep down, the obsession is as real as real can be. so far as i know, there is no geographical or historical link between flanders and portland, yet the members of hup united (admittedly not confined to portland), including slate olson and mr joe staples, have a team kit that is unashamedly belgian. and now the uncontested link between two extremely different parts of the world have been enhanced by riverstad fietsen, one of the finest bicycle shops in portland.

river city jersey

the flemish text above is, if you have not yet guessed, a translation of river city bicycles, situated on martin luther king boulevard on the east side of the wilamette river. during last year's visit, there was the option of a wool rcb cycle jersey on sale just inside the front door of the shop, and i well and truly kicked myself for not having acquired one at point of sale. however, store owner, mark ontiveros told me that, akin to myself, he preferred long sleeve jerseys (the portland winter seems almost as long as that of islay), and had ordered a revised version for delivery around october.

in the manner of all fine order/despatch scenarios, the jersey was a few months late, and my personal copy (can i refer to a jersey in that manner?) did not arrive until the beginning of this year. manufactured from merino wool by earth, wind and rider, the black jerseys feature a quarter zip, three rear pockets and embroidered decor that hints rather forcefully at its presumed heritage. the legend riverstad fietsen is emblazoned across the back, since 1995 appears on the left sleeve, and a triangulated r,c,b on the right. the piece de resistance, however, is a lion of flanders on the left breast with river city bicycles white on red diagonally across the roar. were that not enough to proclaim the flemish connection, collar, hem and cuffs are red, yellow, red. even wearing it as a leisure garment leaves an audience in no doubt as to your superior choice of sporting adherence.

in the recent cold spell, which may not have dumped the amount of white powdery stuff on islay, that much of the rest of the country suffered from, the jersey has proved marvellously cosy and warm, with more style than vdb's win at liege-bastogne-liege. and don't forget, those three rear pockets will prove invaluable on the bike when the mercury heads north.

river city bicycles do not offer online sales, an unfortunate state of affairs for those of us not living in portland. however, you can contact the shop via their website, enabling you to make arrangements for purchase and subsequent despatch to your country of residence.

go on, you know you want to.

the river city bicycles, long-sleeve merino jersey retails at $150 (£93), plus postage.



posted saturday 23 january 2010

top of page.


true grit - a competition

crud roadracers

i finished in the office this afternoon just after 4pm. it's been a nice day in the middle of nowhere i call home; sunny all day, a modest frittering of clouds, but the temperature's been ok, and there's no sign of rain, snow, frost or gales on the horizon for the foreseeable weekend. so that'll be why i was passed by a large yellow truck with flashing light, studiously gritting the roads. because we're a part of argyll and bute, it seems that if there's the possibility of frost, ice or snow in lochgilphead, headquarters of the council, then they call the roads department out for gritting across the region. thus, tomorrow morning, as i wend my merry way around the principality, just to make sure all is well with the world, there will be an excess film of grit concealing the pot-holed tarmac beneath.

the cielo, which has been in operation for a mere two weeks, has a real head tube badge (true joy), crafted from brass and screwed to the frame. brass, you may be interested to know, has a decidedly ant-social habit of going green when corrosion sets in, something i became aware of while giving the bike a quick scrub before tea. having only been out in substantial drizzle in those two weeks, i'm inclined to place the blame squarely on the aforementioned crud covering the roads. granted, the previous grit spreadings have been undeniably necessary, brought on by hideously cold weather, and slidey stuff.

my point here is that, if a few splatterings of guff have started to corrode the surface of my cielo brass plaque after a mere couple of weeks, just think of the trolls and gremlins attacking the cycle's nether regions. credit where credit is due; bicycle designers have been aware of this for many a long year, as have those nice people at (in this case) spectrum powder works, and the cielo's nether regions are well girded against infection. but in spite of that, there is nothing wrong with the owner undertaking a bit of protectionism him/herself. in this case i'm talking about mudguards (or fenders, as out american cousins are wont to call them). i'm sure that head badge would thank me for my concern.

crud roadracers

but at the risk of reiteration, do you really want to put mudguards on the very latest, all-singing and dancing shiny carbon? of course you do: that's exactly why pete tomkins invented crud roadracers. maybe, however, you still need a bit of convincing; after all, years of ingrained heritage and history are difficult to deny in one swell foop. fausto didn't use them; eddy and miguel didn't use them, and lance calls them fenders. but none had the benefit of crud roadracers: just the job for paris roubaix.

mr tomkins is a particularly fine chap, so fine in fact, that he has provided thewashingmachinepost with a couple of pairs of roadracers to give away to the winners of my devilishly clever and difficult competition. what you need to do to win, is pop over to this space on the crud website, watch the video, and tell me where pete said he'd bought his pair of roadracers. couldn't be simpler. the two correct answers drawn at random, one week from now, will win a pair of crud roadracers to protect their pride and joy from ill-advised gritting (and other stuff). please remember to give a postal address, and send your entries to

crud products


posted friday 22 january 2010

top of page.


the wrong kind of snow - anthony woodward & rob penn. hodder & stoughton 391pp illus. £14.99

the wrong kind of snow

on this day in 1362, st maury's wind became a genuine contender for the title of 'the greatest storm there has ever been'. it blew with such great strength from evensong to mydnyte' that 'threw down high houses, tall buildings, towers, trees, and other strong and durable things'. the damage in the british isles, however, is trifling alongside the catastrophe in europe, where floods drown one hundred thousand - half the populations of southern denmark and north-west germany. the event becomes known as 'grote mandrenke' - the great drowning.

walk down the street in the morning to the office or the newsagent, and there's a good chance someone will pass in the opposite direction with a 'better weather today' or looks like rain later' or even a 'colder/warmer (delete as applicable) this morning'. it's a tough call: are they genuinely interested in discussing the weather, on the off-chance that you stop long enough to chat? or is this simply, and more commonly, a case of uttering a phatic statement? the latter is described as an informal discourse that doesn't cover any substantial topic of conversation; in other words, hiding what at least one of you perceives as an awkward silence.

but the first accolade is only marginally less likely. it has been said that the british experience weather, while the rest of the world have only climate. this is perhaps a truism, but never having lived anywhere other than scotland, i really couldn't tell you if that's true. on the one day in portland when it rained, chris distefano informed acquaintances that he didn't feel he had to apologise to me for the weather, because i was from scotland. let's face it, like it or not, if we're not actually obsessed with the weather, it certainly has an impressive effect on our cycling. you need only have scanned several folks' twitter accounts in the early part of this month to validate that.

'in 1597, the third armada - a fleet of sixty fighting ships, 8000 soldiers, horses, artillery and fortifications that is smaller than, but just as purposeful as the great armada of 1588 - is lying-to, bow to wind, as little as 30 miles off the lizard in cornwall, when a roaring and violent north-easterly gale strikes up and rages relentlessly for three days. one by one, the spanish galleons surrender to the storm until the fleet is completely broken up. finally martin de padilla, the adelantedo of castile and commander of the fleet, puts his flagship, st paul, before the wind, and runs for home. 24 october.

personally, i generally ignore weather forecasts, not entirely because i figure they'll be wrong - though this can often be the case in islay's micro climate - but mostly because we're going to get what we're going to get. if you're a cyclist in britain, and not well equipped with winter clothing, then you're dafter than i thought.

the wrong kind of snow, if anything, proves that there is little new under the sun, always assuming you get much of it anyway. there are no chapters, and no recognisable narrative; the book features one day to a page, describing weather related articles from british history. thus the opening quotes are from the page dated 21 january; you can deal with this book in one of two ways: either simply read the entry relating to each date, much as you would do with a diary, or you can dive in and out as the mood takes you, and enlighten your workmates to death with tales of climatic derring-do.

personally, i haven't quite made up my mind which method i'm going to follow, which, i suppose, means that i'm working the second option; everytime i start on a weather related anecdote, gleaned and remembered from 'the wrong kind of snow', colleagues find an excuse to be somewhere else. i'm willing to bet that they're really impressed, but just too recalcitrant to admit it. and yet, for someone who writes as a gale driven rain batters off the windows in washingmachinepost cottage, patently disinterested in the weather as a subject of conversation, this book is fascinating. and i can't figure out why; but i'm sure i'll have the answer by december 31st.

i have nowhere near enough knowledge in this area to point out any discrepancies in the main body of the text, but practical testing has shown that the website for the book, listed in the appendices as answers only to the .com appelation. in this, i may be more obsessed with trivialities than the weather.

author rob penn is currently in the finishing throes of a book that will be of even more interest to those of us assembled here. entitled 'it's all about the bike - the pursuit of happiness on two wheels' (penguin publishing), rob spent a large portion of last year travelling the world to collect what he perceives as the finest componentry to hang upon his custom built frame. now before you interrupt, yes, i know we can, and perhaps do, carry out the same procedure in the quietude of our own bike sheds, armed only with a credit card and a laptop. what kind of an expense account allows a cyclist to internationally cherry pick the bike of his dreams? let me just say that, if that were all there was to the book, it would barely have merited a mention. the pages are filled with oh so much more. rest assured, i will let you know when it is released, and you can then prove me right.

the wrong kind of snow


posted thursday 21 january 2010

top of page.


before and after science



as you rifle down through the following words, please try and remember that particular instance. it likely smacks of a lack of imagination on my part to repeat the definition provided by a dictionary (in this case, the dictionary widget that arrives with an apple mac), but that's just what i'm going to do. sport: 'an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual, or team competes against another, or others, for entertainment'. i have no quarrel with such a definition, though i sometimes wonder if the word entertainment has become lost in the mix.

cycling encapsulates the physical exertion and skill part without having to work too hard on the literal definition; sure, most of us can ride a bike, but how many would be happy to weave their way through a tour de france sprint, all the while remaining upright? and perhaps to win? it takes a lot of effort and training to get body and soul to that level of accomplishment, and the same goes for those who go round in circles in manchester. trying to eke out the last word in aerodynamics and power output can be a lost cause as far as a stage race is concerned, with the possible exception of the time trial. out on the open road, there are too many variations at work: wind, road surfaces, rain, crashes, punctures; pretty much anything could upset a mathematically perceived perfection.

the track is, as dave brailsford has oft repeated, an entirely different game altogether. here everything is planned to the last centimetre, a situation where those watts are all important, because exterior factors tend to remain consistent for all competitors. but in both cases, cost has to be a consideration. why is this? well if we accept that in track events: the pursuit, sprint, flying kilometre, keirin and the like, in competitions such as the uci world track championship, and the olympic games (i am aware that some of the preceding events have been unceremoniously dropped from the olympics, but we're in a state of hypothesis here), the general idea is, i naively assume, to present a medal to the rider who has proven him/herself to be the fastest and most skillful of the assembled multitudes. competition should be a level playing-field so to speak. ask graeme obree.


ironically, in consideration of recent developments, the reason given by the uci for banning graeme's old faithful was its unavailability to others. how could minor, third world countries possibly compete with the affluence of the western world, if the sports regulators simply let the latter spend more on research and development than the gross domestic product of an entire country. the irony, of course, was that graeme has spent about £50 on his bicycle, ransacking the innards of the obree washingmachine in the process.

those chaps at the uci must have had a change of philosophy since the early nineties; british cycling currently spend more on getting chainrings just right, than it would cost for an entire showroom of old faithfuls. the availability rule has also seemingly bitten the dust: when david millar was still one of the good guys, cofidis reputedly asked to buy one of british cycling's time trial bikes for millar's exclusive use during the following season. not for sale.

so at this point we have an entire national team riding technology that would give nasa a fright, apparently all for our collective entertainment. national pride wouldn't have anything to do with it i suppose? emptying large quantities of cash received from legalised gambling into the secret squirrel room at the manchester velodrome, obviously created the desired effect. but like many a sport, one team at the top simply gives the rest something to aim for; unless of course, you happen to be one of those impoverished lesser nations for which food sits rather higher up the priority ladder than the perfect chainring. and if you work really hard enough on those skills and physical exertion, and click your heels together three times, you might just be able to make inroads on the gold medal winning victors.

of course, that's what it's all about: the gap between british cycling, and those snapping at their toe-straps begins to close, providing bc with the impetus to goad their athletes to greater heights. examined as a process, that's just exactly what happens and is, indeed, happening. except the word sport is beginning to look rather thin as a definition of what's going on.


let's move up the financial ladder for a moment, and look to the biggest circus in the world, where grown men (allegedly) hurtle round squiggly bits of anodyne tarmac at ever more alarming rates, often unable to remain on such surfaces when wet, unless led by flashing lights and the opportunity to change into more suitable footwear. the word sport is employed, but the justification is, yet again research and development. victory here seems even more dependant on lots (and lots) of money, and the ultimate development of technology. you can be a great driver, but find yourself stuck in the wrong car, on the wrong row of the grid, and spraying champagne will not be a regular experience.

but all that research and development can be spread a bit further; in fact, it can be spread in the direction of british track cycling. mclaren formula one have entered into an arrangement with team gb to supply a variation of the wireless telemetry used to monitor every minute snippet of information that a racing car can send in the direction of the car's pit. a motor race circuit generally extends to a distance somewhat in excess of that experienced by your average sprint champion, so receiving wireless telemetry from a wee box stuck on the rider's back, while sitting in the centre of the track, ought to be simplicity itself.

the mental image of peter keen in the heyday of chris boardman's track success, glowering over a heated laptop at trackside remains to this day. then, the information had to be downloaded after the event. the introduction of the mclaren technology changes all that: every muscle twitch, every sniff and every hair out of place will now be experienced simultaneously by rider and pit crew. and yet again we will be fulfilled champions of all we survey: the measure of success indeed.

but, to return to the word i asked you to remember from my opening speech: is it sport? twmp

posted wednesday 20 january 2010

top of page.


sacha white interview (vanilla cycles, portland)

sacha white

there was minor confusion when michael robertson (velodramatic) and i visited sacha white in vanilla cycle's demure workshop at 717 se 35th avenue, portland, oregon. i had already been in touch by e-mail to make sure it was ok for us to visit, but sacha had misunderstood and wasn't expecting us on the morning we arrived. you would never have known.

sacha white, along with richard sachs, is generally regarded as amongst the pre-eminent framebuilders in north america; in fact, the world. imagine turning up at lance armstrong's house, unannounced, just as big tex starts a few hours turbo training. the difference here was that sacha accepted the situation, apologised for needing to continue with his work, and freely conversed with both michael and i while the brazing rod was lit, and some very intricate joints were completed.

on leaving, i asked sacha if he'd be up for a washingmachinepost interview, to which he readily and cheerfully agreed; i subsequently sent the questions after landing back on scottish soil. that was in may 2009.

there is, depending on who you talk to, between a seven and nine year waiting list for a vanilla frame: the book is closed. but with that volume of work ahead of him, it is not so much a surprise that it's taken till now to receive the interview in full, but more that mr white had the time to answer my questions at all. i am genuinely honoured that he remembered thewashingmachinepost at all.

so while it is pretty unlikely that the majority of us will ever sit behind the bars and stem of a vanilla bicycle, with feet on both pedals (at least not in the next nine years), we can all share a few moments with sacha white and where he is in the world.

read the interview


posted tuesday 19 january 2010

top of page.


the legacy of john boultbee brooks

brooks team pro

in december 2007, i removed the then state of the art, leather covered, plastic saddle from the top of the colnago carbon seatpost, and replaced it with a brooks swallow. this latter edifice is apparently based on a classic brooks design first produced in 1937, and was my first brooks saddle since employing a b17 on a muddy fox mountain bike from almost two decades ago. on this particular masterpiece of leather, i rather overdid it with the nose bolt spanner, and managed to split the leather just behind the front rivet (very much to my total embarrassment at the time). standard saddle fair had been sat on until the swallow came along.

aside from being the complete antithesis of weight-weeniness, the reputation of brooks saddles rather precedes them, and many a posterior has quivered in its chamois at the thought of being exposed (metaphorically speaking) to that brick-hard leather. such was to be the thrust of my saddle review when the swallow was twin bolted to the c40. disappointment was rife: not entirely the fault of the saddle, at least not initially. the saddle is still atop that post, is still ridden regularly, but has its own story to tell.

this is not really the narrative of a black brooks swallow with titanium rails: there is a more contemporary story to tell, but when have you ever known me to come straight to the point?

the disappointment was two fold: firstly, i was eager to acquire instant martyrdom. if the breaking-in period was truly as agonising as i remembered, and as attested to by third parties of my acquaint, then i had a whole drawerful of adjectives just waiting for full employment. secondly, and this may have had some bearing on the first, colnago insist on supplying carbon seatposts with a twin bolt clamping mechanism. granted, the oval concepts post on the cielo also uses a twin-bolt principle, but oval's bolts are on each side of the clamp, while colnago's are fore and aft. the swallow, continuing on from those 1937 blueprints, features flaps of leather, each side, turned under and joined by a metal 'depose label' bearing the original patent. unfortunately, that metal plate sat directly above the forward bolt on the post, and the low tension on the saddle's mid-section meant that there was a lot of rattling going on 'neath my nethers.

brooks team pro

always willing to compromise, i slid the saddle forward a smidgeon to displace the area of contact, but yet again, the relatively unsupported mid-section thwarted that idea: now the bolt threatened to break through the leather and give me a surprise i could do without. so the saddle remains, but the 'hammock' of support is now shielded using a bit of old inner tube. that said, the saddle has been one of the most comfortable right from day one. no martyrdom for me, and no lengthy diatribes of pain and suffering that would mark me out as a hard scotsman; i even wore track mitts on saturday, and it's still only january.

naming no names, and making allowances for the unfangled seatpost, someone not a million miles away from mr brooks, accepted my point that the swallow's design did rather tend to flatten and sag in the middle due to the relative lack of support between back and front. the tension bolt is currently at its maximum, but it shames to see that bit of inner tube every time the colnago exits the bike shed.

however, thes are modern times, and it is no longer 2007. we are, i am apprised, into the second decade of the 21st century and a new steed has joined the stable for at least the foreseeable future. new steeds deserve new saddles, and the cosmetic hassles provided by brooks number one, have not put me off adding number two: a team pro copper. this time, however, the name of the game is sportive, wholeheartedly embraced by the cielo, and the brooks website declares the following: 'the team professional is a timeless brooks saddle for sportive riders'. my hand is up.

brooks team pro

this one is so very, very cool: honey coloured leather, with the brooks name embossed on each side, just above one of those skilled leather chamfers that seem so easy to accomplish in the brooks dvd. the frame, including the rails, are copper plated steel, and all the rivets are hand-hammered copper; it almost seems a shame to sit on it. if there are any weight-weenies reading, i'd look away now: it's just over half a kilo. of course, as a stalwart, hardcase, martyr, scotsman, and honed athlete, i laugh in the face of extra grams. at the moment, i am also trying hard, through gritted teeth, to laugh at the backside of pain. i have religiously applied proofide both top and bottom (of the saddle: no wisecracks) and left the supplied nosebolt spanner hanging on the toolboard hook, for now unused. but there's no getting away from the fact that certain flavours of new brooks saddles ride like a coal bunker.

while chris distefano and i probably agree that kilometres are a lot easier than miles, it's more than likely that a few more of either are required to find out who's going to win: the saddle or my bum. there can be little denying, however, that the style over substance argument can easily outweigh any detractions from fitting a brooks in the first place. in similar manner to flann o'brien's theory, expounded in the third policeman that after many, many miles, nay years, of riding, the molecules of the bike mingle with those of the rider, making them not only inseparable, but of equal standing, there is going to be a point in the not too distant future, when bum and saddle will perform their own vulcan mind-meld. i look forward to that time.

for those with an interest in owning their very own brooks, but fearful of those first tentative steps, i will be continuing the travail along within the cielo chapters linked above.

you don't mind if i stand, do you?


posted monday 18 january 2010

top of page.


it's a steal

35mm film

cycling has a thing about photography or, perhaps to be more specific, i have a thing about cycling photography. if you're one of those folks who likes living at home, for whom travel is not the be all and end all, much of the joy and happiness surrounding the world of cycling makes it this far through the lenses of many of the great photographers. it's not quite the same as being there, but at least photographs stay around for longer than a few seconds. i have had the good fortune either to meet or interview some of the world's finest photographers for the post. that i have very little ability with a camera is likely more than readily apparent from the illustrations accompanying most of the post's articles over the past few years, and this engenders a high degree of respect for those who pay the bills in such gainful employ.

making a living as a working photographer is, as i know from several good friends, a somewhat precarious existence, relying on a reasonably constant queue of customers willing to pay at least the going rate for their photographs. it must be, therefore, a big disappointment when the british government proposes to allow free and unhindered reproduction of photographs without payment or credit on non-commercial websites. it may be choice, it may be circumstances that dictate whether a website exists as a commercial entity or not, but the same criteria are unlikely to apply to the photographer(s) whose photos may be contributing to the well-being of this genre of website.

this is somewhat at odds with our government's stance on file sharing of other forms of intellectual property (films and music) and raises the prospect of undermining a host of individual businesses, all the while protecting large corporate interests. if you're reading this and a resident of the united kingdom, you can sign an e-petition against these intentions, by following the link below.


posted monday 18 january 2010

top of page.


i've got it covered - spectrum powder works

cielo top tube

while i am on the verge of declaring 2010 the year of the handbuilt steel bicycle frame, (because i can: you know i'm right) following on from 2008 being the year of the handbuilt wheel, there is an aspect of this contemporary flurry of lugged or tigged steel to which scant regard is seemingly paid. visit any framebuilder who will let you interfere and ask inane questions, and the paraphernalia of the industry is all too apparent in the surrounding space. gas tanks (scary), workstands, a fascinating array of bicycle tools, and rack upon rack of steel tubing. if you arrive at the right time, you may be witness to a skilled demonstration of the brazing art of the man (or woman) behind the mask. explore the vast area inside the chris king plant, in the cordoned section that is cielo, and you'll see egg cartons bearing seatstay end caps, machined fork crowns and engraved dropouts. what all this has in common, of course, is the dull sheen of steel; builders mainly inhabit a grey world, illuminated only by the flame at the end of a gas torch.

the consumer, that's you and me, has a desire for colour in their life, preferably shiny colour: standing out in a peloton has its own importance at whatever level. the bigger players have their own paint shops in-house, but then economy of scale makes allowance for this. the little guys - and cielo is still small enough to fit this description - farm their steel work out for a bit of colouring. there are a number of facilities offering such a service across the united states; there's even coat in portland, a subsidiary, to all intents and purposes, of sacha white's vanilla cycles. but the bare frames emanating from the cielo builders head south to colorado to spectrum powder works. if you're like me, you'd probably also ask the question, why?

cielo dropout

"basically spectrum powderworks is a custom high end finishing shop located in colorado springs, colorado. their primary service is powder coating, but liquid painting and ceramic coatings can also be provided if required. powder coating is a finishing process applied electrostatically; the dry coating is sprayed on by a gun that also applies an electrical charge as the powder exits the tip, helping transfer efficiency. the frame is suspended and electrically grounded, ensuring an even coating. a fancy way of saying it's a lot like baby powder that gets a charge to help it go on, reducing waste.

"the two major determining factors relating to the durability of powdercoating are surface preparation and curing times/temperatures. spectrum go to great lengths to ensure that both of those bases are totally covered. if powder is applied to an improperly prepared substrate or under-cured, its durability can be inferior to that of a cheap enamel."

at this point, the more intense or demanding customer may well start to question the viability of powder-coating a frame. the cielo currently residing in thewashingmachinepost bike shed is a deep, but subtly sparkled black; but it's a single colour which is likely a fairly easy ask. but suppose the finished design calls for differently coloured panels; on the downtube or seat tube for instance. a modicum of masking would render this a none too difficult process for a regular paintshop; how does powder coating cope?

lettering mask

"the industrial benefits of powdercoating are legion and well understood, but spectrum have been able to incorporate a uniquely artistic element into the equation. most other powder shops offer simple one or two coat applications. spectrum founder, mark brandt, spent considerable time developing a proprietary dry pigment process by which graphics can be applied to powdercoated frames. using custom cut masks (made in-house by a graphics department), they are able to carefully control the way pigment is applied, resulting in amazing detail, along with fades and custom colors. you name it and you've probably got it. after dry pigment is applied, a clear powdercoat is applied and cured, locking the pigment layer into the matrix of the base coat and the clear coat."

at this point, the required result and available result seem to be coinciding very nicely, and just why chris king are willing to send bare cielo frames over a thousand miles south to satisfy both themselves and the customer. and they're not the only ones: natalie ramsland at sweetpea bicycles sends all of her frames the same distance for the same service. "i love spectrum. i've been working with them for three years now and value my relationship with them immensely. they make my bikes look awesome and are wonderful to work with." a telling testimonial if ever there was one.

we know what the powder coating can do, but how does it transform from bare metal to shiny?

prepped and shot blasted frame

"basically, every frame is prepared, by hand, in a blasting cabinet. spectrum use blasting in preference to chemicals for several reasons. firstly, there are no nasty materials to handle or dispose of; secondly, the blasting provides a tooth or slight texture to the frame, providing a lot of tiny nooks and crannies to which the powder can adhere. every frame is prepared and coated the same day, usually within an hour, virtually eliminating oxidation, and promoting durability. it makes little sense to blast a frame then let it sit around and allow microscopic corrosion to start, particularly when dealing with steel.

"after the preparation process, the frame gets a base coat: the first layer of powder. some frames receive one coat and it's all over. the powder is cured in an oven for 20-30 minutes at about 200 celsius, 395 fahrenheit. if there are any logos or artwork to be added, that time is cut in half." the more assiduous reader will have already sussed that carbon frames are excluded from this process: that level of heat would probably return you a tin of molasses. carbon frames must thus be the sole preserve of liquid paint. "however one of the most common offerings of spectrum is to powder coat a frame, then match a carbon fork to the powdercoat job. occasionally a frame has to be liquid painted if a customer is particularly specific about colour. powder has a lot of positive attributes, but there are some colour limitations; 95% of the time, powders can be mixed to match most colors, but mixing powder is not like mixing paint. if you mix black and white paint, you get grey. mixing black and white powder gives something resembling salt and pepper (mottled and splotchy)."

painted frame

like many a business, everything would run smoothly and according to plan were it not for customer requirements. many are happy to give spectrum a general nudge in the direction of their wishes, and leave the alchemy to spectrum, but there's always one (or more) who have a very specific idea of exactly what they want, while others are unhelpfully vague. it pays tribute to the company that a considerable majority of their customers receive a bicycle of which they can be proud, often exceeding any expectations they may have had at the outset.

"after artwork or graphics are in place, a clearcoat is applied. at this point any pearl or flake is introduced," (doubtless accounting for the oh so subtle sparkle adorning the twmp cielo). "adding to the clearcoat is the same as adding to that over a liquid finish, giving a little something extra; a slight shimmer for pearl, or sparkle with flakes. the clearcoat can be full gloss, semi-gloss, or matte. in this manner, any color can be made matte. as this transparent coat cures, it infuses the base coat, making any pigment layer (graphics) part of the clearcoat. the frame then receives another cycle in the oven and on removal, as soon as it cools down, it's good to go, with no additional curing or special handling."

cielo down tube

having visited both cielo and sweetpea when in portland, i confess to having been rather confused as to why anyone would wish to ship anything over a thousand miles there and back just for a coat of paint, but having experienced cielo blue in the city and now a black that has all the allure of a clear night sky, i'm beginning to comprehend. applying some muc-off bike cleaner after washing off the grime this afternoon, followed by a modest amount of buffing with a soft cloth, does the soul good as the cielo was wheeled silently into the bike shed. do not, however, gain the impression that spectrum undertake only commercial contracts such as those for chris king and sweetpea: they are just as happy to undertake your merest powder coating whim on that one frame that is the apple of your eye, and some of those sent have been from this side of the atlantic.

you can take my word; i can see my face in the result.

i am eternally grateful to j t evans, co-owner of spectrum powder works for the bulk of this article, and to jeremy dunn for the photo of the un-powdered cielo frames

spectrum powder works | cielo bicycles | sweetpea bicycles


posted sunday 17 january 2010

top of page.