Tuesday, October 30, 2012


So, sometime last night we rolled over 10,000 total views here at Cycling Through History. It's an arbitrary landmark in the grand scheme of things, but it's an impressively big one (at least to my eyes).

It pleases me to no end to know that people have stuck with me and continued to read this blog as I basically indulged myself by exploring a really inconsistent list of topics and then moved it halfway across the country. There's more of the same in months to come, so thank you again for reading. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Friday, October 26, 2012

What's in the Stand: Tapping Stronglight Cranks

Stronglight is a venerable French bicycle parts manufacturer that has been making high quality stuff since the 1940s.  I have seen more of their cranks than anything else, though I did get to see an absolutely immaculate Stronglight bottom bracket at one point. Fifty years of service and every bearing surface was still smooth as could be. They still make parts, and most of their stuff these days is of the carbon variety, but I tend to enjoy their older stuff more. They can still make an attractive alloy crank though, and the Stronglight website has all the info you could ever want and need about their current product range.

Stronglight cranks offer interesting challenges to bicycle mechanics. First off, they are French. Proudly French. And a lot of older Stronglight cranks bear that distinct mark of French manufacture, non-standard thread pitch and sizing. Second, original Stronglight cranks can have some weird bolt-circle diamters which can limit your choice in replacement chainrings.

As far as the thread pitch goes, French cranks used a different thread pitch for their pedal spindle than everyone else. French pedals are tapped at 14mm x 1.25mm (0.55" x 20.32tpi). Standard English pedals are tapped at 9/16" x 20tpi. The downside to this is that you can not fit standard, modern pedals into an unmodified French crank. The positive spin here is that it is relatively easy to retap those threads and make a modern pedal fit. All you need is the right taps (you friendly local bike shop should have them), and the experience and knowledge to use the tools effectively.

The bike in question, and the inspiration for this entry, had French threaded cranks and the owner wanted to use modern pedals on these older cranks. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to expect, and he brought it into the shop so that we could complete the work.
I'm obnoxiously opinionated and vocal about taps, and I will most likely get on your ass if I see you using one incorrectly. It's a personal thing, I can't explain it, but there it is. For some deep, unknown reason it really irritates me when I find dirty taps or dies. Not to wax overly philosophical, but I feel that it has a lot to do with respecting the tools that you use. If you genuinely love the tools that you use, if you care enough about how a particular tool fits in your hand and you went out of your way to buy good quality equipment, then take the time to take care of it. But enough of that.

Tapping cranks is fairly straightforward, but you do need to make sure that you are using pedal taps. They usually come as a pair since the two crank arms have opposite threadings. Park Tool makes a really good set for about $50. The job is the same as any other tapping job; go slowly, use plenty of cutting fluid, and make sure that you're clearing out the chips by backing out 1/2 turn for every 1 turn you go in. That and making sure you clean up afterwards. I like to spray taps with Speed Clean aerosol degreaser, and I have heard of people putting them in an ultrasonic cleaner. Either way, you don't want the tool to be put away covered with cutting fluid and metal chips.

Stronglight cranks, once they had moved to a cotterless design, also used a different thread pitch and size for their crank extractors. Most other companies stuck with the Campagnolo specified 22mm crank extractor, but Stronglight decided to use a 23.35mm crank extractor. If you want to get those Stronglight cranks off, you need the right tool. Harris Cyclery, former domain of Sheldon Brown, is one of the few places that still has these available. In 1982 Stronglight switched over to a 22mm design and things became easier.

The only thing that remains to be said about taps is that you need to be darn sure that you're using the right tap for the job. They come in all sizes and all thread pitches and it's pretty easy to mix up 5mm x .8mm and 5mm x 1.0mm. If it's close you can fix it by using another tap, but you could have also taken the time to find the right tool that first time around.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Richthofen Castle, Denver, CO

Richtofen Castle is a large estate that was finished in 1887 by the Baron Walter von Richtofen. The building is located in the Montclair/Monaco Hill district of Denver, CO.

This building tends to get described as "the Red Baron's castle". There is some slight confusion on this point. The Red Baron, Manfred von Richtofen, was a German pilot during World War I and is credited as being the greatest flying ace of that period. He had nearly 80 confirmed air combat victories before he was shot down and killed in 1918. Baron Walter von Richtofen, the man who was responsible for the construction of the Richtofen Castle in Denver, was Manfred's uncle.

Walter von Richtofen had moved to Colorado in the late 19th century in order to pursue and develop his business interests. His initial action once he had settled in Denver was to purchase 320 acres of land east of downtown Denver. His vision was to develop this new neighborhood into a center for health and wellness. Naming the area Montclair, the "beautiful suburban town of Denver", he built a home for himself and his wife and modeled it after the ancestral von Richtofen home in Germany. The building is absolutely one of a kind and there are no other homes in Denver like this. It really is a castle, with large stone walls surrounding the property, and immense wrought iron gates. According to Sotheby's International, the castle is approximately 14,000 square feet, with 35 rooms, including a replica WWI-era German pub (the "Red Baron Bar"), library, billiard room, and eight bedrooms.

In order to continue developing the health and wellness aspects of the neighborhood, von Richtofen built the Molkerei in 1898, a tuberculosis sanitarium that had some interesting beliefs about the healing benefits of fresh milk and the smell of cattle (No, really. The cattle stayed in the basement and the patients stayed upstairs, breathing in the healing barnyard odors). Within a decade the Molkerei was turned into an insane asylum before being made into the Montclair community center.

The building itself is actually really hard to see. The entire estate is surrounded by large stone walls, there is a lot of barbed wire, No Trespassing and Beware of Dog signs, big gates, and so on. The other factor is that the Baron's wife, Louise, didn't like the flat Colorado plains that surrounded the home. In order to make the area more comfortable for her, the Baron planted dozens of large trees and shrubs on the land surrounding the house. Now, one hundred years later, those same trees make for a very effective privacy screen.

Richtofen Castle is also notable in Denver history as being the site of one of the city's most sensational murders, that of Charles Patterson by his wife, Gertrude. Charles was shot in the back by his wife who claimed self defense after he had beaten her. The testimony offered in court was that Charles had knocked Gertrude to the floor when she, in self defense, pulled a handgun from her purse. Realizing that he was now very effectively outgunned Charles turned to flee the scene, but was unable to get out of the room before Gertrude had fired four times, missing twice, but killing Charles with two bullets in the back. The jury, all men from Denver, came back with a unanimous not guilty verdict following Gertrude's description of the events and she was acquitted of all charges.

Getting There By Bike...

The Montclair District is really fun to ride around. It's a very nice part of Denver and there are a lot historic homes in the area. I rode up Oneida Street, which had a great bike lane. The house is near Monaco and 12th, but you should stay off of Monaco if you're not in a car. Montclair is east of downtown Denver and you can get there very easily by taking 12th Street straight east. The house is located on the corner of 12th and Pontiac.

Friday, October 19, 2012

What's in the Stand: Dead, Dead Tires

Yes, you should have replaced this tire ages ago.
For the love of God people, please change out your dead, old tires.

Let's start from a more general perspective. Bicycles are pretty amazing things. Wheels (two of them, preferably round) are a large part of what make bikes pretty amazing. Narrowing in even further, we can say that tubes and tires, when they are well maintained and inflated properly, are a big part of why wheels are important. So by extraction, tires and tubes play a large, if not particularly glamorous, part in what makes your bicycle a fun and exciting thing to ride.

Tires do have an unglamorous job. They get dirty, they roll through mud and muck, and they rather thanklessly get asked to deal with whatever the world deems fit to throw in your bicycle's path. But even though they are all these things they tend to get ignored by a lot of riders. That is until there is a problem, and once you have a problem with your tires you are in a bad way. Once a tire goes wrong on you, you and your bike are effectively roadsided until you resolve the issue. You can ride around with a broken spoke, or one functional derailleur, or a single, poorly maintained 40-year old Mafac centerpull brake (don't do this last one, it's a bad idea), but you simply can't ride around with dead or flat tires. However, many people persist in doing so and, as someone who has had the opportunity to spend hundreds of hours of my life discussing tires with people, I am shocked, amazed, and dismayed by how little time and attention people pay to what is arguably one of the more important parts of their bicycle.

So here it is in a nutshell...

Spend decent money on tires now to cut down on hassle later. Plan on doing so approximately once a year if you ride your bike 3-5 time a week.

People seem to relate well to bikey things when you put it in car terms, so I would suggest that you replace your tires based on mileage.
  • 1,000-1,500 miles for nice, supple road tires
  • 1,500-2,000 miles for more durable commuter tires
  • 2,000+ for certain specific tires (Schwalbe Marathon Plus, Bontrager Hard Case, or Specialized Armadillo)
I can already hear the complaints; "Whatever Mr. Know-it-all Bike Guy, I got 5,000 miles on a single pair of $20 road tires." Well, congratulations to you. You're the exception, the far end of the bell curve. You have managed to extend the usable life of a product far past anything that its designers and manufacturers ever intended. Most of us will not do that, and most of us will greatly benefit from purchasing new tires well before they are totally worthless shreds of rubber.

If you do decide to purchase new tires semi-regularly, what will you gain? Quite a lot actually.
  • You'll gain relative freedom from flats. There is no such thing as a "flat proof" tire. There are varying levels of flat resistance though, and a high-quality tire will be more resistant to getting flats that a cheap one.
  • You'll gain traction and stability as you roll down the road. Tires, especially rear tires, become square as they wear out, meaning that they start to affect your steering and cornering. 
  • You'll get the fun of picking out new stuff for your bike and pampering it with a little TLC. It probably deserves it. 
So replace those tires! You won't regret it, I can almost guarantee it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Trinity United Methodist Church

Trinity United Methodist Church was built in 1888 and was Denver's first organized religious institution. It is located at 1820 Broadway in Denver. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Trinity United Methodist's history spans the history of Colorado. Denver City Methodist Episcopal Mission, the organization that would become Trinity United Methodist, was established on August 2nd, 1859, less than one year after the Russell Party had established the Auraria settlement on the shores of Cherry Creek. The organization began as a frontier church, led by 23-year old Jacob Adriance, a probationary minister who had been sent to Denver by Bishop Levi Scott of Kansas.

The congregation was largely static until February 28th, 1861, when Colorado became a federally recognized territory. Shortly after that Auraria and Denver City were incorporated into a single community and the area began to show signs of rapid growth. Aware of the potential for the growth of the church, Bishop Edward Ames arrived from Indianapolis and established the Rocky Mountain Conference of the Methodist Church. Seeing the need for a proper and respectable church building he promised $1,000 of his own money if the congregation could build and pay for a new church by January 1, 1865. Then governor of Colorado, and former church member, John Evans made a matching donation, offering his own money to the church if they could complete the work on time. With the goal of building a "substantial brick church eligibly located in the city," the congregation purchased a lot on the corner of 14th and Lawrence Street. The church was finished in 1864 at a total cost of $23,000.

Denver continued to grow and develop and the Lawrence Street Church faced difficult changes over the next two decades. Many of the churches founding members had opted to move to the newly built suburbs around Denver and the congregation had shrunk. In debt and with the potential to close the church doors hanging over them, the congregation decided to move. Getting loans and relying heavily on donations from congregation members they purchased four lots on the corner of 18th and Broadway. In July of 1886 Reverend Henry Augustus Buchtel arrived in Denver to take charge of the congregation. Uniting the congregation with a shared goal of giving their church a new home he began making plans to construct a new church building. Due to the new minister's energy and drive, by November 16th, 1886, over half of the funding for the new church had been donated and Robert S. Roeschlaub, Colorado's first licensed architect, had been hired to design and build the new church.

The church was completed in less than two years, with a capacity crowd attending services on December 23rd, 1888. The church is a landmark in what is considered Modern Gothic architecture. The exterior incorporates many elements of traditional Gothic architecture, while the interior is a modern amphitheater. The building is constructed from local sandstone and Castle Rock rhyolite and reflects Roeschlaub's intentions to stay true to the tenets of the Arts and Crafts Movement, using locally sourced materials that reflect the surroundings of the building. The literal high point of the building is the spire, standing 183 feet, and 7-1/2 inches. It was one of the tallest stone structures in the United States at its time of completion.

Trinity Methodist Church also houses one of the largest 19th century pipe organs that is still in use. Designed, built, and installed by New York's Roosevelt Organ Works, the finished product cost roughly $30,000 in 1887. The organ, No. 308 on Roosevelt's records, was powered by a dynamo in the church's basement, a curiosity since electricity had not yet come to the rest of the city. The dynamo was powered by a waterwheel, turned by a natural spring that had been discovered in the church's basement. The organ uses 4,202 pipes, ranging in size from less than one inch to thirty-two feet, and made of a number of materials including pine, mahogany, a number of different hardwoods, zinc, tin, and lead.

The building also houses an impressive collection of stained glass, nearly all originally designed by Healy and Millett of Chicago, and the J & R Lamb Company of New York. Since the church's construction the congregation has relied heavily on the Watkins Stained Glass company of Englewood, CO. Four generations of Watkins family members have maintained and repaired Trinity's stained glass windows.

This is an incredibly beautiful building that has been utterly swallowed by downtown Denver. There are skyscrapers on every side, multi-story parking garages, busy streets,  and pay-to-park lots on every side. The building is still there though, and looks just as good as it always has.

Getting There By Bike...
I approached the building on 18th, after turning off of Sherman. The area around the church is filled with one-way streets and can be very heavily trafficked during the day. There are a number of ways to get here by bike, and Google Maps knows them all. My only caveat would be that this might not be the best place to ride a bike unless you are comfortable and familiar with riding in traffic.
Trinity United Methodist Church is also directly across the street from the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, another historic site that's worth a visit.

Friday, October 12, 2012

What's in the Stand: Terry Classic

It's got a tiny front wheel!

A Terry Classic in the wild.
  Terry Bicycles are a relatively uncommon brand and you don't see a ton of them come through the door. Terry Bicycles was started by Georgena Terry and they claim to be, and most likely are, the first women's specific brand of cycling equipment and bicycles. The bikes are generally well regarded, at least by the people that own them, and the company has also had a lot of success with their line of saddles. There's a certain generation of rider/bicycle that you see with Terry saddles and they generally love them. I think that Terry has some claim to be the first saddle manufacturer to sell some unbelievable number of a particular model, but I'm feeling too lazy to find the actual numbers. They also make very nice women's specific cycling clothing and do a booming business by catering to female athletes.

  Here's my opinion in a nutshell...They're good quality bicycles, but the two different wheel sizes? Come on.

  Lest you think I am among the uninitiated mouth-breathing masses, I will claim that I have a great understanding of exactly why Georgena Terry et al did this to their bikes. Smaller frames, which tend to get bundled under the label of "women's frames" but the same could be said of any small frame, are difficult to design well around your standard 700c road wheel. Think about it...as the frame shrinks, the wheels stay the same size. At the ludicrous end of the spectrum you end up with a tiny frame and monstrously proportioned wheels in relation to the frame. If we were to be more realistic we would be more interested in how the increasing size of the wheels in direct relation to the frame affects frame geometry. The big concerns that you hear about relate to seat and head tube angle. In order to get the bicycle to fit right, and retain a short-ish wheelbase, the seat tube of a small bicycle equipped with 700c wheels needs to become steeper, which affects fit along the top tube. As the frame shrinks toe overlap with the front wheel becomes a concern, which leads to manufacturers using slacker head tube angles. This in turn affects steering and handling. And all because you, ignorant designer of women's/small person's bicycles that you are, felt somehow beholden to the 700c wheel size. Enter Georgena Terry and her unique brand of bicycles which use two different wheel sizes on a single bike; a 700c wheel in the back and a smaller wheel (typically 650c or 24-inch) on the front. Terry also manufactured a line of bicycles that used two smaller wheels. I've seen both a touring bike and a mountain bike designed by Terry that used 24-inch wheels and they were both really nice bikes, just built for a very small person.
  This solves a lot of the problems associated with building smaller frames but it introduces obnoxious maintenance and bike-ownership issues, like having to carry two different tube sizes. Not a huge issue, but kind of a pain. Another longer term and more expensive issue arises when you either ruin your front wheel or get it stolen. There aren't a ton of options out there for high-quality 24-inch road wheel, or even 650c road wheels. This set of circumstances means that you are almost certainly buying a custom, hand-built wheel from someone like me. I'm happy to do this for you, we have the tools and the technology, but it's going to cost a bit.

  I will stake my claim and alienate thousands of people when I say that a smaller frame is better designed when it uses a pair of smaller wheels. Everything in proportion, right? There is absolutely nothing wrong with a small road bike using 650c wheels, and it most likely means that there is a greater chance that the frame will be designed well and have the correct angles and sizing that will make it handle like a road bike should. This even has a more recent application to the field of bicycle design when you start considering the steadily growing field of 29er mountain bikes. 29-inch wheels are gigantic and, I'm sorry to say this, they have no place on a 15" frame. This is essentially the same issue (giant wheels on a tiny frame), but using an even bigger wheel and trying to fit it onto a similarly tiny frame.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Castlewood Canyon Dam

Castlewood Canyon Dam is located in Castlewood Canyon State park, east of Castlerock, CO and near Franktown, CO.

The remains of the Castlewood Canyon Dam
Castlewood Canyon Dam was built in the 1889 and blocked the flow of Cherry Creek, creating a reservoir on the southern side of the dam. The dam was built in order to control irrigation and water flow for the farms that are found nearby. The southern branches of Cherry Creek were the site of lots of important Colorado pioneer history, and the communities of Franktown and Castlerock were some of the earliest towns built in what would become Douglas County. The dam itself was a strictly local concern until 1933 when it burst, sending a fifteen-foot high wall of water into downtown Denver, nearly 35 miles away. This remains the second worst occurrence of flooding in Denver history, with the worst flood taking place in 1864, less than a decade after the city's construction.In that case Cherry Creek flooded downtown Denver and caused roughly $6,000,000 in damage to what was then a fairly ramshackle pioneer's town. The Castlewood Dam flood killed two people but didn't do much damage to the downtown area.
Looking south along Cherry Creek
It's interesting to note that the Castlewood Canyon Dam breaking is still an important point of local history for people who live in this part of Douglas County. A few years ago there was a large effort to record local history and remembrances of those who were living in the area when the dam burst. Their stories are recorded in a document called "Where Were You When the Dam Burst".

To sweeten the deal, if you make the trek out to Castlewood Canyon there is a bunch more local history that's worth learning about. Franktown, the nearest community to Castlewood Canyon, was the original seat of Douglas County government, serving in that role from 1861 until 1863. Pike's Peak Grange No. 163 is located in Franktown and is listed on the national Register of Historic Places. The Cherry Creek Bridge, spanning Cherry Creek, is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is found immediately outside of Franktown within Castlewood Canyon State Park. The Russellville Gold Strike took place nearby, and during the Civil War Union and Confederate soldiers fought near the outskirts of Franktown.

If you're not into history then the scenery alone should get you down into this neck of the woods. Castlewood Canyon is a shallow canyon that has been cut into a bed of white limestone by Cherry Creek. The state park is also located at the northern tip of an area called the Black Forest, a part of the Palmer Divide. The Palmer Divide is a ridge that separates the watersheds of the Arkansas and Missouri/Platte Rivers. The Palmer Divide extends perpendicular to the Front Range and serves to create a series of micro-climates, lending to the creation of the Black Forest, a heavily wooded area of pine trees that is surrounded by relatively arid plans and grasslands. Even though this area is east of Denver, and almost everything east of Denver is flat and boring, this is a really great part of the state to visit. And it's close by, which means that you can probably get down here for some hiking of bicycling faster than you could get anywhere decent in the mountains.
Downtown Denver, after the Castlewood Canyon Flood

Getting There By Bike...

You could get all the way to Castlewood Canyon State Park by bike if you really wanted to, though it would take you most of a day to do it. The best way is to take the Cherry Creek Trail all the way south through Parker and into Franktown. It does in fact extend all the way down there, and then it's just a short hop over into the state park. Once you get to the park there are absolutely no paved roads, so some kind of wider tire is definitely required. But the area around here is gorgeous and you'll most likely be thee only cyclist on the road. And if you love exploring gravel and dirt roads on your bike (my new addiction), then this is the place to be.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Highland Lake Pioneer Cemetery

Highland Lake Pioneer Cemetery is on County Road 36, in unincorporated Weld County, northeast of the town of Mead, CO.

I found this great little pioneer cemetery completely by accident while I was out on a ride. The area around the cemetery is filled with fantastic gravel and dirt roads and I was out on my 'cross bike when I turned a corner and found this site completely by accident. I couldn't have been happier since one of my favorite things to find out here in Colorado is pioneer and settler cemeteries.

The community of Highland Lake was created by Lorin Cassandre Mead and his wife, Elizabeth, in 1871. After arriving in Colorado from the east coast Lorin and Elizabeth toured several of Colorado's newly formed towns, including Longmont (at the time known as the Chicago-Colorado Colony), and Greeley, looking for land that they could purchase and homestead. Disappointed by the high price of land near the quickly developing towns of the Front Range, the Meads decided to stake their claim near a natural spring they had seen while touring the area. This "prairie pothole", called Highland Lake by Lorin Mead after the body of water in Sir Walter Scott's poem "The Lady of the Lake", became the center of an 80-acre plot that was claimed and homesteaded by the Mead family.

The community developed quickly and the number of families in the Highland Lake area increased rapidly. By 1877 the Highland Lake area had its own school district, Weld County School District Number 33, along with a church and a post office by 1883. Though you wouldn't know it these days Highland Lake was a well known vacation spot for Denverites looking to get away from the hustle of the big city. Today there are a number of farms and homes in the area, but nothing that would attract a vacationer. However, around the turn of the century Highland Lake and the Gately family's hotel and boarding house were filled with weekend visitors.

It couldn't last for the Highland Lake community though. City officials and farmers had been campaigning for a new railway to come through their town for a number of years. Rail surveyors had been through Highland Lake in 1887 but even after fourteen years there were no definite plans to develop a rail line. In a bid to encourage the development of a rail spur local farmers made a plan to turn Highland Lake into a sugar beet town, dedicating most of the farming land to Colorado's most recent cash crop. It all came to nothing in 1906 when a rail line was finally built two miles east of the center of Highland Lake. Not to be undone, city officials quickly filed for the platting of a new town, to be called Mead, that would be located directly on the new rail line. In 1908 the new town received its incorporation papers and by 1916 most of the city and public buildings of Highland Lake had been picked up and moved to new sites in Mead proper. Highland Lake became a ghost town almost overnight and was reduced to a name, marking the site of a formerly thriving community in Weld County.

Getting There By Bike...
It's easy enough to get to Highland Lake Pioneer Cemetery by bike, though it means that you might have a slightly longer ride ahead of you. The town site and cemetery are located on County Road 36, north of Longmont, CO. If you are riding out of Longmont you can take E. County Line Road north until you reach County Road 36. Turn right and head east for almost two miles. The cemetery will be on the right hand side.