NAHBS: Outliers

Some of my favorite bikes from this year’s NAHBS were items that clearly were not for sale. Don Walker has done a good job of courting companies that don’t seem the typical fit for the show, of which, most exhibitors have fewer than six people on staff. In encouraging both Serotta and Ritchey to attend Walker was able to embrace nostalgia in the show in the form of bikes that were built even before some of the builders present were born.

Ben Serotta got his start at Witcomb Cycles in England along with Richard Sachs and Peter Weigle. When Serotta first hung out his shingle he worked on his own, but he quickly followed a more traditional European model and began adding apprentices to work under him. Today, Serotta is lauded for straddling the worlds of production building with custom-fit frames.

The frame shown here is #164 and dates from the 1970s. Built before the terms “politically correct” and “female objectification” had entered the common lexicon of stuff not to do, the frame is a most unusual collaboration. Two sculptures, one adorning the head tube, the other wrapping around the bottom bracket were crafted by Serotta’s sister, Marcie. She also cut the lugs into their asymmetric feminine forms. Ben handled all the actual fabrication.

I’ve seen a great many bikes with lugs cut into unusual forms, but the combination of asymmetric designs paired with an unusual (and memorable) theme make this my single most favorite bike of the show. It shows a degree of creativity that would be fresh today, but was unheard-of for the 1970s.

I hope people can see beyond the two sculptures and into the greater celebration of the female form. I find a surprising harmony in it; I don’t really find the two sculptures titillating.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect to this bike was simply its appearance at the show. That it hasn’t been lost to the sands of time by being sold off to some collector is a great argument for why publicly funded art galleries should exist. I’d love to revisit this frame each year at NAHBS.

When I was a shop rat in the 1980s, I worked for the one and only Serotta dealer in Memphis, Tennessee. It was kinda like being the singer in the best band in Iuka, Mississippi, I suppose. Regardless, the Serotta Colorado was a bike I coveted the way a guy in a midlife crisis covets a Corvette. I couldn’t live without it, but had to. The swaged down tube that fit in a lug at top and was fillet-brazed over the lug points at the BB shell, the S-bend chainstays and the stellar paint had me dreaming about racing this bike over every road I could find. To me, the Colorado was the perfect marriage of superior design, impeccable performance and gorgeous appearance. It was Pamela Anderson in steel.

I’ve never owned one, though I’ve ridden a few and spent nearly a year riding its protege, an Atlanta, one of my all-time favorite steel bikes. Everything about the Colorado was class, right down to the sloping fork crown, pantographed with the word “Colorado” and the Serotta “S.”

I recall showing dozens of friends how the down tube grew in diameter so much that it fit over the socket for the down tube at the BB shell. It was my undeniable, irrefutable sales pitch for the superiority of the Colorado. You want stiff? This is stiffer than anything you’ve ridden.

Later, Dave Kirk, now of Kirk Frameworks, invented a rear suspension system. The DKS suspension was the only rear suspension for a road bike to go into serious production. Where the seatstays met the chainstays they were bolted together with the aid of a bearing. The curvature of the seatstays was designed to allow for a bit of vertical compliance. Kirk told me that for most riders, vertical travel was only about 1mm, but that single thumbnail was enough for most riders to sense and to recognize improved tracking on rough roads. To provide damping, two silicon bumpers ran along the seatstays. The bumpers were available in three densities and while folks at Serotta thought most riders would opt for the stiffest of the three bumpers, most riders who tried the system (including Davis Phinney and Ron Kiefel) preferred the light grey bumpers shown here, the softest bumpers, which allowed the greatest travel.

Though it’s no longer in production, the DKS suspension was a remarkable step forward. I’ll be interested to see what comes next.

This bike had to be the other real rock star of the show. Tom Ritchey built this frame in the 1970s for his father. Yes, his father. Sitting behind three other frames Ritchey built just for the show (a Swiss Cross and two mountain bikes), this one was rather easy to overlook. Despite its position at the back of the booth, it was, in my estimation the most interesting bike in Ritchey’s booth because it showcased Ritchey’s abilities in creative thought, mechanical wizardry and artistry.

You’ve already seen this shot and the incredibly filed and shaped lug. Be sure to notice the cap-less fork blades. The weep holes are situated at the very bottom of the fork blades to make sure water will drain should the rider (Dad) get caught in the rain.

Thanks to Ritchey’s way-before-its-time seat mast design the brake cable is perfectly centered as it enters the top tube just ahead of the seat lug and then exits what would otherwise be the bottom of the seat lug. It makes for a very stealthy look.

This has to be the single smallest cable guide I’ve ever seen.

The integration of the seat post into the seat is very cool looking and was no doubt really light for its day, but perhaps what is most surprising is that Ritchey had to have the fit absolutely dialed for while the saddle could be raised and lowered, fore and aft adjustment was not possible, nor was tilt. You got one shot to get it right.

These are the elusive Cinelli clipless pedals. They required sliding the cleat into the pedal and then locking the cleat into place by sliding the lever at the front of the pedal. All the sets I’ve ever seen were in display cases of one form or another. Even if they had been ridden, the fact that they were so hard to use without near constant crashing meant that after what were often fairly expensive (for those days) efforts to secure the pedals, no one wanted to get rid of them. They remained cool even in the face of near suicidally poor operation.

 

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8 comments

  1. jmg

    I had no idea you worked in Memphis for a while. Any chance you remember selling (or otherwise servicing) a green and yellow serotta during your time there? I bought one from Hal at the Peddler in ’07 and haven’t been able to really nail down it’s make, much less it’s history — it has no serial number and most of the decals were rubbed right off. I’m having it repainted now and would love to make sure I’m putting the right decals on.

  2. Souleur

    i just love the NAHBS pics and covet going next year.

    great insight into the history and lines. thanks.
    but…pamela anderson in steel? hmm? perhaps Sophia, or Elle…or…?

    all kidding aside, this is why I love steel though. Carbon captures alot in character we desire in our ride; but steel, now you can match it to your femme fatale, and carbon just is not likely to match the virtuocity of steel IMHO.

  3. randomactsofcycling

    I’d love to go to the NAHBS. Character is something that many say is lacking in professional cycling and it certainly has something to do with the way bikes are made in the era of mass production. The sculptured Serotta is certainly avante-garde. Give me a J.P. Weigle and I would be a happy man.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      JMG: Is your Serotta a Nova Special? I recall working on a green and yellow edition of that model sometime around ’89 or ’90. Seems to me the decals were either yellow with a black border or yellow with a green border. It’s easy to tell if you’ve got a Nova because the down tube fits in the BB shell, rather than over it, and the chainstays are straight.

      Did the Peddler morning ride last week. That was terrific fun, though I had to keep asking where the next turn was.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      JMG: It’s very possible the bike is a Club Special. I was referring to the difference between the Nova Special and a Colorado. I believe all the Novas I saw had two-color paint jobs and the cables were routed under the BB, rather than over it. I’m a bit rusty on some of the lesser-known Serottas of that era. For me, the sun rose over the Colorado. There haven’t been many bikes in my life that elicited the amount of lust in me that the Colorado did. Put another way, a circa 1986 Colorado is to me what a ’71 Boss 302 is for most other men.

  4. jmg

    Padraig: Those Colorados do look great. The 1986 Serotta catalogue is floating around on the web somewhere and it is definitely full of some lust-worthy bikes.

    Anyway, thanks for the info, Memphis just jumped out at me. I have a couple of mates from there staying with me right now as they attend the Bike summit and just found the (perceived) convergence odd.

  5. Conrad

    I bought a used colorado II a few years back. It is a cool and unique bike with the oversize lugged bottom bracket area, and it rides really nicely, but I don’t really think of it as a lust-worthy bike. You can find them somewhat easily for reasonable prices on ebay. I still race mine and don’t worry too much if I crash it. It is interesting that steel bikes are often elevated to lust status- when you could probably have someone like Don Walker build you a custom rig for less than the price of a carbon fiber setup that is built in China. And the steel frame is way more economical over the long term.

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