Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Timeless Quality of Fredness

When I first reached out to Paul at Classic Cycle to grub an old-timey bike for my L'Eroica California new/old shootout,  one of the velocipedes he offered me was a 1950 Drysdale Special, made in New York, NY by one Alvin Drysdale:

I would have happily palped this bicycle for the ride, but while the Drysdale was indeed old it still fell short of the "Holy shit that's old!" status that was so crucial to the narrative, which is why I ended up going with the Mead.

Nevertheless, Paul was insistent that I experience the mid-century glory of the Drysdale in its native habitat, and so he was kind enough to ship it out this way.  The bike arrived on Friday in a hard case that I opened eagerly:

Though owing to parental responsibilities I was unable to ride it until yesterday.

Assembly was fairly straightforward, though I did send one neurotic email to Paul when the brake pads barely made contact with the front rim as something seemed to be out of alignment:

In response, Paul disabused me of my modern notions considering tolerances and advised me simply to set the wheel off-center as necessary, adding that "a hammer and lowered expectations just might be the right tools for adjustment."  (This also happens to be great parenting advice by the way.)

The hammer turned out not to be necessary, but I did remove all the spacers from beneath my overly heightened expectations and duly "slam" them as Paul had advised.  A few turns of the adjustable wrench later and the bike was together:

There it was, in my basement, a 1950 Drysdale Special:

Back home in the city of its birth:

And yesterday I finally got a chance to take it for a ride:

In addition to a couple of Classic Cycle t-shirts for the kiddies, Paul had also included both a hairnet and a pair of shoes:

Sadly, the hairnet doesn't even come close to fitting on my head and instead sits atop it like a padded yarmulke or a too-small diner waiter's hat.  The shoes however fit perfectly, though I did forego them for the inaugural ride in favor of sneakers.  While of course I've got plenty of toeclip experience (which is how I know they're stupid) I admit I've never used them with real cycling shoes complete with the notched cleat, so I figured I'd have more fun getting used to the bike if I were able to put my foot down relatively easily.

Rest assured that I'll wear the shoes complete with wool shorts and jersey (but sans tiny hairnet) in due course.

Speaking of what I do and don't have experience with, besides the pedals the two obvious equipment differences between the Drysdale and today's modern Fredding machines are the downtube shifters and the tubular tires.  (Though of course plenty of modern-day Freds still use tubular tires.)  Unlike some people who are raised into a life of Fredness from birth, I didn't start getting seriously interested into road bikes until my early 20s, which is to say around 1995.  By this time integrated shifting had taken over the high end and was making its way down to the midrange and even the entry level bikes, and indeed my first fancy (to me) road bike had STI shifters.  (7 speed if I remember correctly.)  I did however also own a bicycle with downtube shifters during my nascent Fredding years, and it was pretty much exactly the same as this one (though not actually this one):

This was a big milestone for me because with the purchase of this bike I officially became a two-bike roadie, which to my mind meant I was the real deal.  Also, I think I may have been flirting with a return to messengering and bought this with an eye towards using it in that capacity.  I ditched the Biopace for aesthetic reasons and equipped the bike with clipless pedals, but I enjoyed the downtube shifters for their simplicity and straightforward functionality.  (Though of course they were indexed.)  Eventually I sold the bike in a sidewalk moving sale on W. 22nd Street, probably for more than I paid for it, though I kind of regret that because in retrospect it's a pretty cool bike.

As for tubular tires, of course as an overzealous bike racer I used them for awhile, so while I've long since abandoned them I'm more than adequately versed in their care and feeding and don't find them intimidating.

Anyway, once I strapped a spare tire under the saddle (thoughtfully provided by Paul, which is a good thing because I recently threw away all my old tubular tires after years of holding onto them "just in case"), I set out be-sneakered and be-jorted and soon rolled up behind a fellow vintage vehicle enthusiast:

Mine's cooler.

While I love integrated shifting and have become addicted to Di2 despite my best efforts, I find something very enjoyable about operating downtube shifters.  Granted, it's a facile comparison, but they're satisfying in the way that manual car transmissions or motorcycle shifting is satisfying.  And of course the lack of indexing adds another element of rider involvement that's particularly fun and novel in today's precise pushbutton world.  (Dialing the rattling out after a gear change is like tuning in a radio station, which is something else you don't have to do anymore.)

Hey, I'd be lying if I said I wanted to ride that way all the time, but on this ride I was totally into it.

Also, they're pretty cool to look at:

Also cool to look at is the Campagnolo Gran Sport derailleur moving across a five-speed freewheel:

And of course the Stronglight cranks with close-ratio chainrings:

We're totally spoiled nowadays as far as gearing goes, but there's something to be said for making do with what you've got.

As for the feel of the bike, it fits me well and is smooth and comfortable.  Really, the only thing that truly sucks by todays standards is the braking.  Stops require some advance planning, and I realized just how much I take for granted the ability to slow down quickly with just the flick of a few fingers when a driver shoots out of a driveway.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say that better braking is by far the single most important improvement in road bikes over the past century and is probably worth at least as much as wider gearing, integrated shifting, and clipless pedals combined.

I should also address something numerous people have remarked upon, which is the saddle angle:

Note that I have not adjusted the saddle angle since taking the bike out of the box, and I reserve the right to do so at any time.  However, note also that, while every perineum is different, Brooks saddles tend to be more comfortable with the nose angled up.  Also, as you can see, this saddle is quite old, and the cover is so flexible that at this point I imagine the saddle angle hardly matters anyway.  In any case, appearances aside, it felt totally fine while riding it.  Really, my only complaint is that the ancient leather stained my shorts brown, which as you can imagine is rather embarrassing--especially since I didn't realize it until at least eight hours later when my wife pointed it out.

I guess what I'm saying is that everyone should feel free to take their fit recommendations and shove them up their asses.

So there you go.  Things are a bit hectic here for the near future but I am very much for the opportunity to get all wooled up and take a good long ride.  Keep an eye out for me--or at least listen for the chattering.


How To Half Step said...

Wildcat method.

Anonymous said...

Retro Podium.

Olle Nilsson said...

You know, there's something to be said for brown shorts.

pbateman wants some lunch i think said...

the nose on that saddle is pointed in the right direction. any vintage bike with sweet campy gets to look down its snout on others.

i like dt shifting (not the indexed kind though) but i can also get away with it more living in flat florida. with hills or actual city traffic agree that the braking and the general hands on the hoods is quite helpful.

impressions of lateral stiffness and vertical compliance?

also, did you pack a sammich? stop anywhere for a sammich?

there used to be more coverage of foodstuffs here.

jay said...

when you wear the retro cleats, just be sure to get in the habit of loosening your toe straps before you stop. you're not really a retro-grouch until you've had the experience of pitching-over at a traffic light after forgetting to loosen the straps.

BikeSnobNYC said...


I stopped at the gluten free bakery but they're closed on Mondays because of course they are.

--Wildcat Etc.

Anonymous said...

Tan Tenovo, do you really love Di2? I'm a retrogrouchy lone wolf commuter, and have been struggling with that upgrade. For commuting, I love to enjoy the ride and think Di2 might make it more so, but the commuter side tells me just to get my rear into the office reliably on a good old dependable and cheap cable setup...so I'm torn.

really a retro-grouch said...

"you're not really a retro-grouch until you've had the experience of pitching-over at a traffic light after forgetting to loosen the straps."

1. Track stand.
B. Push down on one pedal, with the other foot pull up then hard & sharp backwards. Make sure you are leaning to the side you pulled your foot free.

BikeSnobNYC said...

Anonymous 2:11pm,

I do really love it. Would I run right out and buy one if Renovo demanded their bike back? Don't know about that. But it's definitely very nice.

--Wildcat Etc.

Skidmark said...

Like gluten-free muffins, it’s only an “upgrade” if it somehow someway makes you feel better.

Buffalo Bill said...

My granddad had a bike with a brown saddle like that. My mom has a funny story about how grandma once cleaned his bike up for him and put shoe polish on the saddle because, for her, clean was good but shiny was better.

Some cars suck more than others said...

The Drysdale is infinitely cooler than that vintage Rollin' Coal mobile, but then again anything is cooler than That Thang.

bad boy of the south said...

is the drysdale going on a pre-fondon't ride?

1904 Cadardi said...

If you want to learn how to exit toe clips and straps with cleated shoes you can try this method:

First, ride to a halt next to a convertible full of attractive members of your preferred gender. Remember that you forgot to loosen the straps. Vainly attempt to remove your foot from the secure confines of the pedal. Fall on your side pinning the toe strap buckle underneath your foot where it is now inaccessible. Lie on the ground while the attractive people in the convertible look at you with pity and laugh. You'll now remember to loosen your toe straps.

While I won't admit to experiencing this myself, the vehicle in question was a blue Mustang with two blondes and a brunette and I was 15.

Serial Retrogrouch said...

...Wildcat, do yourself a favor a put some salmon kool stop pads on there. Your braking will instantly improve. Very often with these old timey bikes, the compound in the brake pads solidifies with age and if eels like squeezing a block of wood on metal... worse even if your rims are steel.

Serial Retrogrouch said...

...but that is some sweet vintage steel!! Paul is a fine fellow.

...nearly 30 years of cycling and I have only used DT shifters (and sometimes barends). I've never been compelled to do otherwise.

Anonymous said...

My initial fredding foray was only a few years ahead of yours and I started with a five speed freewheel, friction downtube shifters, and toe clips. Though, now that I think about it, indexed 6sp, 7sp and STI were all in the next few years. Luckily those upgrades were still pretty inexpensive back then, but that changed pretty quickly too.

BamaPhred said...

Since others are sphintering up, I’ll add mine. So is there another position for the drops other than level with the road? I think not. I would also palp DI2, but would never actually buy it.

janinedm said...

Nice chairs you're leaning the bike against, but I would have gone with Adirondack... (I wanted to criticize something too!!!)

mile high state said...

Clipless pedals are by far the bestest cycling innovation, after only the derailleur and the wheel.

BikeSnobNYC said...


They are new brake pads. I think a lot of it is just being spoiled by modern brake levers.

--Tan Tenovo

Anonymous said...

how about throwing some 700's on there so the rims and pads line up. and how are you supposed to reach those brake levers.

Speaking of Retro said...

In the old days, when boys came of age and became interested in vehicles (before of after getting interested in other things) there were endless arguments in study hall, garages, malt shops, pools halls, the drag strip, etc about brakes, tires and stopping moving wheeled vehicles.

I do not hang out at those place any more, but I see the EXACT same arguments are continuing today on the internet. And people are still stubborn in maintaining their position in these arguments, despite physics and experience clearly showing what happens.

Microcord said...

Mr Tenovo, we stickybeaks have taken seriously your earlier suggestion to shove our bike fit advice up our asses.

Upon retrieving said advice from some hours of storage there, we find that it is more ... pungent. I'll refrain from unleashing mine.

If there's just one technological improvement I'd make on bikes from 1950, it would be LED lighting. People can see me; I can see things: unbelievable for a cyclist in 1950 (or indeed 1990).

Steve Barner said...

While most of the components may have been replaced over the years, the rear dropouts, if Campy, were not introduced until 1951, so it's not likely that the frame is a 1950 model. The crankset is a Stronglight 57, introduced in 1957. The GB brakes are not original to the bike, and are the wrong reach, which is why the pads are too low. It's also why the rear cable stop is on the opposite side it should be for that caliper. Since the decals appear original, and the shifter clamp is brazed to the frame, I suspect the bike was built in 1957 or later, and that the cranks and derailleurs are likely original. There is a similar Drysdale on the Classic Rendezvous site, and it has centerpull brakes.

Coline said...

Practically identical to my first ever new bike. I discussed what seemed like everything building up a pile of parts to be assembled. I had only ever had an old iron clunker which eventually got a whole three gears so ten had to be so much better, the one thing I forgot to mention was I wanted to go touring but the guy was a racer and I got that close range half step front with gran sport gears...

The Brooks saddle was just approaching a perfect shape when the bike got nicked.

InstantPam said...

Tan Tenovo— the red-light running supernova. We all say fight it—the law must be wrong, he was on his bike just riding along.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how often tubulars find themselves consorting with be-sneakered company these days. Or is everything commonplace in NYC?

RE: Biopace . . . I’d say good thing you’re an aesthete. I had a touring bike with Biopace and the one consolation it gave me was that when the bike was stolen the Biopace rings went with the thief.

Steel rims. Had them on a ’72 Schwinn Continental. They’d dent if a dog barked at them.

HDEB said...

Keep It Simple Stupid -- KISS : )

Dooth said...

Well, color me green with envy. The older the steel, the better. The oldest bike I owned was an English 3 speed from the forties which I modified with modern rims and tires. Miss that baby.

Anonymous said...

Nice relic, tell us how the ride feels, tho, eh? Pads making full contact with rim improves the braking, btw. ;)

One Sled Fred said...

Next year I'm going to to commit to one bike only. Then maybe I'll get to ride a range of new and vintage exotica too!
Ever tried a Unicycle, Tan? I bought one as I track stand a lot and thought I'd be a natural.
It turns out the two skills are not related. At all.

BikeSnobNYC said...

One Sled Fred,

I have tried a unicycle! Yeah, bike skills do not carry over one bit.

--Wildcat Etc.

JLRB said...

I wonder what the tool who ordered you to the back of the pack would say if you showed up for the next race on the Drysdale..."get back to your decade"

Today might be the last of the coolish days when the wool gear wouldn't be too hateful. But ten again, maybe the wool breathes so wearing it in 90 degree heat is OK?

Wesley Bellairs said...

The cheapest tubies ride better than the best clinchers. At $60/pair with a little sealant you can ride like Indurain.

N/A said...

Modern brake levers (and, often, brake calipers/cantis, too) are usually the very first thing I swap on an old bike. Well, tires/saddles/bar wraps, too. (But those get done regardless of age of bike.) But the brakes get "upgraded" whether they need it or not. Agreed that modern brakes are without question better than their ancient counterparts. Frames and shifters, not so much, IMO.

Those old Treks are all great. Even the lowliest of the line-up was still a good bike.

The trick to unicycles is you have to have to be a clown to ride one.

JohnP said...

Were't you only going to ride one bike this year!?!?

Unknown said...

‘better braking is by far the single most important improvement in road bikes over the past century and is probably worth at least as much as wider gearing, integrated shifting, and clipless pedals combined’. Agreed.

Some guy from upstate said...

Some more unsolicited riding with cleats advice:

I rode cleats and straps until the early 2000's, because I bought the shoes and pedals at the very end of the pre-clipless era in the late 1980's and I am a cheap bastard, and also there were some years of not much riding due to small children.

I always left the straps just loose enough to be able to free the shoe by twisting around the lengthwise axis of the foot (like you are trying to walk on the outside edge of your foot). This level of tightness provides reasonable retention but with a little practice you can get out about as easily as with clipless pedals. I always figured cinched down straps were for velodromes.

I finally switched when I broke a cleat after a bunny hop. Some years later I found some cleats to fit my sweet Detto shoes on Ebay, so my 1986 Takara and I are ready for Eroica (although this is unlikely, see "cheap bastard" above).

dnk said...

What an awesome bike. A great photo of Alvin Drysdale & some newspaper clippings here

Pist Off said...

The Drysdale is cool, and hey, it rides like a decent bike, contradicting decades of marketing. For me personally, clipless pedals are a race-only improvement. Utterly pointless otherwise, and I can ride/jump/wheelie so much better on flat pedals. Brakes have to be the biggest single improvement over the decades, agreed. There are some cantilever gems from the 80s/90s though (my Suntour XC Pro cantis have been in use for almost 30 years and still are great brakes.) Tires are my vote for second biggest improvement , at least for mountain bikes.

Lenton Club said...

"how about throwing some 700's on there so the rims and pads line up."

Pretty sure those GB breaks are for the old Dunlop 26 x 1 1/4 (ISO 597mm) wheel size, that used to be on English club bicycles. Almost an inch smaller than 27"/700C.

Anonymous said...

Funny I kinda love friction shifting. My daily bike is an 80s Shogun road bike top tube friction shifting and you can just mash it up and down real fast even going up hills no problem. Awesome in NYC traffic. One lazy bike shop dude was like friction is best cause you don't need to adjust it cause you do it as you ride lol. My "nice for me" bike is an aluminum and carbon fork and other parts bike from like 2000 but it has three gears up front and you have to be so careful shifting especially uphill or the chain drops no matter how many times I get it adjusted. It's way faster though unless the chain drops. But my Shogun got bent up by a cab and I got it bent back into shape for $20. Love that bike. Have SPDs on all my bikes even my winter beater mountain bike cause I'm a tool... And like having shoes worth more than my bikes! Sorry that was a lot but I love my old shitty steel bike. Gots that milk crate too.

Anonymous said...

I got my road racing start in college on the same black and pink Trek 1200. Great bikes.

A. T. Lane said...

Amongst my stable of bicycles is one that is electric. I find it heavy and not much fun to ride, but it does get you where you want to go without breaking into a sweat.