The story of Bessie my Bike

Reynolds 853 stelel (fillet brazed) frame

Bessie: My 3rd and final bicycle !

The 1st bike I had owned was a 3 speed ‘Surmey-Archer’ hub geared Raleigh at 10 years of age.  In those days cycling was the way to get around until old enough to drive. In my late teens I passed my driving test and pedal power was for over 30 years replaced by petrol power.

Some 10 years ago I moved from the Midlands to Harlech in North Wales and brought a bicycle from an on-line retailer. I named the bicycle Bessie and was able to cycle around my surrounding countryside at a speed greater than walking pace.  Bessie I was a small frame sized bicycle with carbon forks and a triple chain set. She was great for short trips.

After getting to know the local area my cycle rides became longer. I brought a rear rack and was able to fit pannier bags that were used for weekly shopping trips. I found that the small sized bicycle frame caused the heels of my shoes to hit against the rear pannier bags. For that reason I decided than a larger framed bicycle would be helpful.

harlech joeBessie ‘11’ was the solution. This 30 speed ‘Medium’ frame cycle with disc brakes and drop handlebars was brought from a High Street dealer. This bicycle gave me the necessary foot clearance to avoid the heels of my shoes touching the pannier bags. Bessie ‘11’ proved to be strong, very reliable and able to carry me over several 100 milers, including my 1st cycling adventure abroad.

With retirement from work in mind, thoughts of having a made to measure ‘final’ bicycle became inspired from reading a book by Robert Penn titled: ‘It’s all about the Bike’.  So I spent many months looking at made to measure frames that were constructed from either carbon, titanium, steel or a mixture of materials. A frame made of steel seemed the best choice for touring and I visited a nearby frame-maker to be measured up.

A concern I had about spending three times the cost of a mass produced complete bike on a made-to-measure frame was the fear of finding that the finished product would be uncomfortable.

A normal cycle shop will allow you to try before you buy, a made to measure frame would require a leap of faith that the finished product would be better than a shop purchased bike

Despite my initial reservation I foolishly spent £300 for a ‘custom made bike-fit’. The process took roughly 30 minutes; Height, reach, chest width and inside leg measurements were taken and then I was sat on a ‘jig’ that resembled a bicycle frame. The geometry was then adjusted according to a computer generated formula that was solely based on my body measurements. I was physically uncomfortable on the jig. It gave me no confidence that a made-to-measure frame would be better than Bessie ‘11’, so I cancelled my order and despite being annoyed at wasting £300 on a bike-fit I had avoided spending £3000 on a poorly designed frame.

Some months later I was reading an on-line book by Elan Homer ‘Cycling North through France’. Elan wrote about the fatigue he was experiencing after daily long distance journeys on a bike that was the same model as Bessie ‘11’ and his story made me have 2nd thoughts; I simply needed to make an effort to find a more proficient bicycle frame maker.

The ‘UK Handmade Bicycle Show’ website publishes a list of bicycle frame makers that have exhibited at their events. I visited the websites of each frame builder and then drew up a shortlist of those with positive reviews given within the previous 3 years.  This included the website who receive high praise in cycling magazine articles. They also hold a nationally recognised frame-builders award. Because of those credentials I sent an email enquiring whether they would make a frame suitable for light touring. This lead to Jose Quiros inviting me to Swansea where he and his business partner Jonathon Paulus, design and build the ‘Paulus Quiros’ brand of bicycle frames.

_MG_4557 EDIT

Jose Quiros and Jonathon Paulus

Arriving at their premises I wheeled Bessie ‘11’ into their workshop and stood it next to a selection of Paulus-Quiros handmade bicycles. Each frame was strikingly elegant. I was particularly impressed with the smooth finish of fillet brazing; The picture was one of pure craftsmanship.

Jose explained that he would like to see me cycling as this would help him understand how to create a design suited to my riding style. He cycled his bike with me and observed as I relaxed and pedalled around a marina. Over lunch I explained that I wanted a bicycle frame that would allow the front wheel to turn without toe contact and pedalled to avoid heel contact with my pannier bags. My specification was for a bicycle frame that would support my comfort on touring holidays and as I live by the coast, the frame needed rust protection. Duly noted by Jose he commented that my cycling posture could be improved by the design features of the frame he could build and further improved by the input of his partner, Jonathon.

At the time of writing Jonathon is currently one of only 2 people in the United Kingdom who has an advanced practitioner certificate awarded by the Serotta International Cycling Institute  (SICI set the global standards for bicycle fitting services). Jonathon is also a consultant physician whose medical training has given him an extensive knowledge and understanding of human anatomy, physiology and biomechanics.

During my subsequent visits to ‘Paulus Quiros’ Jonathon spent quite a lot of time assessing my biomechanical state. I found this really helpful as I didn’t realise my hamstrings were so tight (a by-product of 30 years spent driving a car and driving a desk). I subsequently visited a physiotherapist and followed a course of exercise in an attempt to improve my hip mobility and leg flexibility for cycling.

Jonathon also undertook a video motional analysis of my cycling action. For this I placed Bessie 11 into a turbo trainer and patches were applied to various parts of my body that would be visible when filmed whilst I cycled on the turbo trainer. When shown on his computer the patches enabled Jonathon to undertake a visual analysis of my cycling movements.

The positioning of patches included my quads, knees and ankles; later improvements to the position of the cleats on my cycling shoes then made pedalling more effective. Jonathon also advised me to buy some special insoles for my cycling shoes. The aim was to prevent over-pronation (Pronation occurs as weight is transferred from the heel to the forefoot and the foot rolls inwards; over pronation is often recognised as a flattening of the foot).

In addition to the videoed motional analysis, measurements that  Jose had made of my height, arm and hand reach, leg length and chest width plus other factors were entered onto his computer. Jose remarked that many frame builders simply input body measurements onto a computer programme and the software then provides them with the formula for designing the geometry of the bicycle.

Paulus Quiros’ did much more than measure my body size; Jose had watched my actual cycling technique and Jonathon undertook a videoed motional analysis. I had possibly received the most comprehensive fitting that anyone could ask for.

This was confirmed when the moment came for Jose to adjust a bicycle frame ‘Jig’ to match the geometry of the bicycle he would build for me. I immediately sensed a comfortable seating position, an ‘ease of reach’ to the handlebars and a solid pedalling action. This leads me to the conclusion that formula based fittings that solely depend on body measurements denies both the frame builder and customer of an opportunity for a more informed design.

And for what it is worth I hold the view that the frame of a bicycle is the most important section of a bike. I wanted a frame to fit me, as opposed to the aftersales saddle and handlebar adjustments of mass produced frames that often make the best of a less than perfect match between the cyclist and the frame being sat on.

Jose recommended Reynolds 853 steel tubing as its properties allow thin walls for a light weight frame, high strength and damage resistance. And having seen the smooth finish of fillet brazing, I changed my mind about ‘lugs’. Once the tubing had been ordered and delivered, Jose contacted me to agree a date that I could revisit the workshop and see the frame being built. A computer drawing for the frames geometry was printed off so that the tubes could be placed along the drawn lines.

1.2HANDS EDIT 2.jpg

With care and precision Jose ensured that each tube was the correct length, correctly angled, welded, filed and polished. The connection between each tube is strong, seamless and exquisite – the work of a true craftsman. Once all the tubes had been welded together the insides were flushed with a rust protective solution.

With confidence that my frame fits me rather than me having to fit the frame, we agreed on the drivetrain, wheels and other components. It’s a little like putting the horse before the cart and with Jose building the most comfortable and well fitted frame that I could possibly have for touring, this was not going to be the time for economising on other components.

Firstly I wanted gears that would enable me to cycle carrying the weight of full pannier bags up hills that are often 3 or 4 miles long, without going so slowly that walking would be an easier option. Bicycle gears change the effort required to pedal and the subsequent distance that the bike moves forward with each pedal stroke. The effort of pedalling can be calculated by dividing the number of teeth that the chain runs over on the front ring by the number of teeth the chain runs over on the rear cassette. This crude calculation confirmed my suspicion that many of the 30 gears on Bessie 11 either frequently overlapped, or lacked any significant step change between each cog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI decided that a Rohloff Speedhub was going to be ideal for my touring bike. The gears on a Speedhub are spaced to prevent anoverlap and would effectively reduce the 30 gears used in ‘Bessie 11’ to just 14 on ‘Bessie 111’.  I was very nervous about specifying what ratios I needed on the Rohloff Speedhub in case I asked for the wrong gearing. So to avoid making a mistake Jose helped me to calculate how far Bessie travelled per revolution of crank (PRC) so that a comparison could be made with the gear ratios offered by Rohloff.

  • Taking account of wheel size, cadence and crank length, Jose calculated that Bessie will travel 1.9 meters PRC when the chain was engaged to the smallest 30 tooth front cog and the largest 34 tooth rear chain ring.
  • Rohloff gears start with index 1 and continue to index 14. When index 1 is selected the 42 tooth front sprocket delivers 1.35meters of travel PRC.
  • Using the largest 50 toothed cogs on Bessie with the smallest rear chain ring with 15 teeth, a distance of 7.1 meters is achieved for each PRC
  • Using index 14 of the Rohloff the PRC is 7.09meters

This comparison with my present gearing means that going uphill using Index 1 on the Rohloff system will require less effort and index 14 provides no more effort PRC along flatter terrain.

Needless to say there is absolutely no way on earth that I could have done that calculation, let alone have  confidence to interpret the result. With gratitude to Jose and a huge sigh of relief my order was placed for a Rohloff Speedhub with a 42 front and 20 tooth rear sprocket.

With internal geared hubs there is no chain derailleur and a constant tension between the front and rear sprocket means that the traditional bicycle chain can be replaced by a belt.

All cyclists know that when a bicycle chain comes off putting it back is a messy and fiddly job that covers you with oil. Having an oil free belt eliminates this problem and will please my wife who gets annoyed when I return home with oil everywhere. A further advantage is that belts will not rust and they are also resistant to damage from road grime.

For the carbon belt to work with a Rohloff Speedhub Jose had to make special adjustments to hold the belt within the bicycles frame. Then the frame had to be sent to the  ‘Gates Carbon Drive’ factory, who perform a stiffness test and allow a special conversion for the hub to be used with the belt.

To turn the belt I needed cranks and pedals. Jose ordered a pair of bespoke length cranks and I opted for a new set of  tried and tested Shimano Clipless Spd  pedals that help my pedalling action to be more productive.

The choice of wheels (rims, spokes, hub and the tyres) was important.  A poor wheel set 10.01 _P1280951EDIT RSZ.jpgand ill-chosen tyres reduces the efficiency of pedal power and increases the risk of spokes braking, punctures and a generally uncomfortable journey. Jose recommended the Mavic open sport with a 25mm rim that is strong and durable enough for bicycle touring; the width helps to dampen the impact of poor road surfaces. When fitted with continental touring plus tyres inflated to the correct pressure for my body weight and use of the bike, the impact of poor road surfaces is absorbed and the tyre is more puncture resistant than narrower or fully inflated tyres. Jose calculated that the correct pressure for me is 75psi for the rear and 65psi for the front tyre.

The rear wheel supports my body weight, the weight of the Speedhub and the weight of loaded pannier bags without the spokes breaking. The front wheel is fitted with  a dynamo, ‘Schmidt’s Original Nabendynamo’ (SON).

Conventional dynamos generate power for lighting when cycling in the dark. I rarely cycle in the dark –  it is better to cycle in daylight and see where you are. My reason for  lighting is to alert others to my presence on the road or cycle path.  The advantage of the lights running from a dynamo reduces the need to replace or recharge batteries and the dynamo also provides a power source to recharge accessories such as a mobile telephone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf all the other components and accessories the most important and pure extravagance is my Stanley thermos flask:

This is brilliant piece of kit. It is small enough to be held securely in the frame bottle holder and good enough to keep hot drinks hot for 15 hours. Over 3 hot drinks can be poured into the fitted cup so no more expense coffee stops for me. This item of luxury pays for itself.

Obama TransitionAnd to reduce the risk of my bike being stolen, I have organised several discreet security measures.

On Monday on September 29th 2014 I collected Bessie 111. Jose explained how to look after her.

That weekend Bessie and I went out for an hour or so to get to know each other. The mountain bike gear ratio enable me to climb the steepest hills with little effort in complete silence. I must own the bicycle equivalent of a  ‘Rolls Royce’.

P1380985 EDIT.jpg

Shorter length cranks enabled me to pedal cyclically. Interestingly my average cycling speed on Bessie 11 was between 10-12 mph. On Bessie 111 my average speed for seemingly less effort is 12- 14mph.

Bessie 111 felt more balanced and lighter in weight than Bessie 11. The geometry of the frame and forks provide toe clearance from the front wheel when cornering. And the frame length provides me with sufficient clearance to prevent heel contact with my rear pannier bags when pedalling.

The precision of steering is considerable – due in no small measure to the butterfly (‘Trekker’) handlebars with centrally positioned ergo hand grips; butterfly handlebars enable different hand contact positions and are orientated to the frame for a more upright cycling position. Pleasingly the brake levers (that operate a set of really effective disc brakes) fit my hand size and are within a range of comfortable reach from the ergo hand grips.

Over the coming weeks I quite literally need to get more miles under my belt. These rides will cover longer distances and the gears will be tested along long steep hills.  As for the colour of my bike – I love it and the effort that Jose made to ensure the Welsh Dragon was given its red outline sums up his patience and attention to detail:

And finally, the name ‘Bessie’ means goddess of plenty –  in every sense of the word !

My thanks go out to Jose Quiros inviting me to Swansea where he made the frame and built the complete Bessie 111. Also thanks to his business partner Jonathon Paulus. Their bespoked design and bike building service is probably the best in the UK.

The book of Bessies BirthMy thanks also go to Mr Richard Greatrex whose photography captures the construction of Bessie 111 that has been illustrated in the document ‘Working Wales’.

‘Working Wales’ is a photogaphic exhibition that forms part of a roadshow visiting Colleges of Further Education in Wales . The purpose enables students to consider their career paths.

On  November  28th 2015 I had the honour of attending Richards ‘Working Wales’  pilot workshop at the Hay winter festival, with Bessie 111 taking centre stage; Richard, Jose and Jonathon presented the bike project at a seminar chaired by Robert Penn, whose book influenced my final hand made bicycle, Bessie 111.

I was delighted by the following dedication:

Rob Penns message


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.