My neighbors were talking about the water they get in their basement and the constant work it takes to maintain an older home. Both of our houses were built before 1935.
I asked if they’d prefer to live in new construction, all wall-to-wall carpets, flat, smooth sheet rock, simple 1/4″ trim around all the windows and doors. They screwed up their faces in disgust. They would much rather, they averred, pump a little water out of their basement two or three times a year than live in a modern, cheaply made, soulless McMansion.
We all nodded our heads and basked in the glow of our sanctimony, banishing thoughts of sump pumps rattling to life in the middle of a rain soaked night. Better to own a home with some character and style, and do the work to maintain it. Our homes are an expression of our values. The medium is, as we’ve been told, the message.
The metaphor extends.
Would you rather own this car, a 1964 Ford Thunderbird, or a 2004 Toyota Camry?
The Camry gets better gas mileage. It breaks down less. It is, perhaps, more dependable. But no one is ever going to pull up next to you at a red light, look over and yell, “DUDE! SWEET RIDE!!!!!”
In twenty years, classic car shows will still be filled out by the cars built between 1930 and 1970. Architectural Digest will still name check architects who built California bungalows in the ’30s and ’40s. They will still picture the thatched-roof cottages of British yesteryear.
The ultimate complement you can pay a craftsperson is to refer to their output, be it a house, a car or a bicycle, as a modern classic.
For a few years I flogged an ’80s Moser 51.151 around town as my everyday bike. The steel frame had been absorbing road shock for 25 years. There were scratches on top of scratches in the once cool paint job. It was/is a bike at the end of a very productive life. And, despite it’s advanced age and poor condition, guys would regularly ride up next to me at red lights and say, “Dude! Sweet frame!”
Modern building trends in house, car and bike industries are toward cheaper construction, machine-made products, and overall standardization. Such methods do not produce classics. Classics are produced by the hands of men and women who have put time and thought into their crafts. Classics strike a sublime balance between style and substance.
It takes a lot of marketing dollars to pass off a mass-produced product as somehow valuable in classic terms.
Classics sometimes leak and sometimes break down and eventually rust through, but that is true of all things. Entropy is anything if not consistent. With a classic, the quality persists, despite the predations of time. You know one when you see one, set back from the street on an ample lot, idling at a red light, or pulling alongside you on a group ride.
These are objects in whose lines you can see the contours of human thought, if not the sweat their creators shed. They are messages from the past, and encouraging signs that we have yet lost that thing that makes us special.
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Any time a shop breaks the routine of business as usual, I get curious. It’s easy to put your head down and spend your days concerned with inventory turn, how many bikes were built and how fast those repairs get picked up. So when someone takes the time to bring in a representative from one of the brands they carry, I like to check those events out.
Bike Effect, the studio in Santa Monica, brought in Eric Sakalowsky, one of the owners of the French bike manufacturer Cyfac. I’ve been hearing about Cyfac and reading about them for years, but have never written about them, mostly because until I’ve had a chance to talk with someone at the company, I don’t feel like I have a proper feel for what they do. There’s nothing like getting the story from the horse’s mouth.
Bike Effect has invested in Cyfac in a big way, making them one of their marquee lines, along with Serotta. I spent some time with Eric, learning about how his involvement came about (he had been their North American distributor and dumped his other lines to buy into the company), just how intimate an operation it is (they have 15 production staff) and how they manage to produce custom carbon fiber frames (more on that later).
To woo prospective clients Bike Effect owners Steve and Allison served up fruit, cheese, cracks and wine. It made for a relaxed atmosphere and it wasn’t long before I heard people talking specifics about sizing and colors.
Eric (left) and Steve discuss what makes Cyfac, well, Cyfac. Eric and I are working on an interview that will run as part of the Artisans series at peloton. Though the company offers a number of different models (I lost count as I studied their web site), the ones I’m most interested in are the top-of-the-line carbon models, the Absolu in particular. Though the tubes are produced in Taiwan, every other aspect of fabrication occurs at Cyfac’s Loire Valley headquarters. The only reason the tubes are produced overseas is because they haven’t been able to source a French producer capable of meeting their needs and they aren’t yet in a position to do it in-house, though from my conversation with Eric, it sounds like they may be headed that direction.
Each customer who purchases an Absolu gets a book documenting the creation of their frame, from the mitering of the tubes, to the masking for the paint job—Cyfac uses no decals. Honestly, I was stunned to learn that they often have more hours invested in a paint job than many manufacturers put into the building of a frame. And while you’d think such devotion would make such a bike unaffordable, they are competitive with other top shelf brands.
Cyfac’s custom work offers incredible flexibility to the client. Not only can they vary the sizing, they can vary the geometry, so that if you want something that fits like your beloved Seven, but descends like your old Moser, you can have that in custom carbon. And say you want it as stiff as your old Merckx built from Columbus Max tubes, you can have that as well as they can vary just how stiff the tubes are. It’s a level of customization some companies said we would never see.
I look forward to learning more and reporting more. I’ll try to present some reviews as well.
My riding is pretty routine. If I’m honest, I am more commuter (Cat II) than anything else. Two small children, a marriage, a day job, etc., eat away at ride time until there’s little left but the 45 minutes back and forth to the office.
They are 45 good minutes.
Most days I ride an ancient, steel Moser, a beast of a bike by modern standards. It has a shortish top tube that yields a strangely upright riding position. This is a bike made to commemorate the Italian’s capture of the hour record (51.151 km) in 1984, though it rides a lot more like a classics bike. When I’m riding it, I envision Francesco in his brutish posture, hands on the hoods, torso bobbing, mud spattered, his boxer’s face contorted into a grimace. I am only half the man on the bike (perhaps just a third), but the bike fills me with that crazy hero-worshipping desire to go fast.
When it rains, I’m Jens Voigt. Like everyone’s favorite breakaway artist, I love the rain. I run hot, so the minute the wet stuff starts to fall, I get a burst of energy that causes me to take turns much faster than prudence dictates. I imagine I’m out on a breakaway. I peek back over my shoulder, as if there is some marauding peloton ready to swallow me up. Mostly there are just cars and buses, occasionally a college kid on a crappy mountain bike.
I am no kind of sprinter, but a yellow light is an invitation beyond my capacity to resist. There is, after all, a stage win at stake. I channel Sean Kelly, not a pure sprinter, but a combative one, an opportunist, the sort of guy who wouldn’t shirk the responsibility of making a traffic light if it was at all possible.
When I was a kid, one of my heroes was Evel Knievel, swashbuckling super hero on a Harley. Quite why he took to jumping his bike over cars and buses I don’t know, but I do know that my eight-year-old self always imagined himself a BMX riding equivalent. I have a long history of Walter Mitty-style day dreaming.
It’s embarrassing to admit that, at 38, I am pretending to be a retired Italian cyclist for nearly an hour-and-a-half every day, except, of course, for the times I’m pretending to be a German hammer or a red-white-and-blue clad daredevil.
The truth is I have no real interest in commuting by bicycle. Commuting is mundane. It lacks sex appeal.
I would much rather turn the hill (steep bump really) that leads to my house into the Poggio, the Tourmalet or the Gavia Pass. I greatly prefer to imagine the straight, wide road that carries me down to the river is actually the run-in to the Velodrome in Roubaix. I ride the wheels of unwitting fellow commuters as though we’re running a team time trial. I take my pulls very seriously, even though, mostly, they just drift off the back, uninterested in whatever game I’m playing.
What I do, riding back and forth, back and forth, every day, all year, in all weather, year after year, is hard. In many ways, I think the commuter is more noble than the pro racer. We do what we do with no hoopla. There is no finish line to cross. Ours is a stage race with an infinite number of stages.
In order to keep going, I take my inspiration wherever I can get it. I glance down at the decals on my old, steel beast, and I ride a little harder. Francesco wouldn’t let me ride his bike any other way.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International