19 March, 2018

650b Disc Wheels Roll In

By Scott

We've been doing built wheels for a number of years now. They've been very popular, especially for folks with older bikes who can't necessarily walk into a shop and get a high quality rear wheel, spaced 126 mm with a freewheel for their Peugeot PX-10 right away. The newest additions to the VO stable of built wheels is the combination of our new 11 speed Disc Cassette Hub, Disc Front Hub, and 650b Diagonale Rim.
We had these wheels (available as front or rear) built up by our US wheel builder for a couple reasons. The big one was these will be perfect for folks getting our new Polyvalent frames. As well, the rise of disc brake bikes has meant that we are receiving emails from riders asking about 650b disc wheel options for other bikes. Seems like just the other year that folks were looking at the original Polyvalent frame and asking "I don't know if this 650b phase will last". Now we're doing 11 speed disc hubs laced to tried and true Diagonale Rims, able to take tires from 38 to 45 mm wide, wow.

One update we've done with this wheel is we've gone from using DT Swiss straight gauge spokes to DT Swiss Double-Butted (2.0/1.8) Competition Spokes. Compared to straight gauge spokes, double butted spokes are lighter and a bit more compliant over temporary forces (potholes, rail crossings, etc). While the cost is a bit more than the straight gauge variant, we think the value is there. Each wheel is 32 hole, and weigh 1128g and 915g for the rear and front wheel, respectively.

We're doing a bit of a re-vamp of our wheel offerings, so we put some wheels we're going to discontinue on the Specials page, so give them a look-see.

Are there any wheel combinations you'd like to see?

14 March, 2018

Renewing Your Cockpit in an Afternoon

By Scott

I'll admit that I'm perhaps not the best at aesthetics.  My wife's tried in the last couple years to update my wardrobe past jeans and a t-shirt. Bike wise, I try to look at how Clint and Igor have outfitted frames, creating a cohesive and tidy look, and try to emulate that. Problem is that I tend to do my builds out of my STASH collection. Thus it's a hodgepodge of stuff.  One thing that I've tried to work on is bar tape though. Bar tape is the last of the cheap and easy ways to update/spruce up/freshen up a bike. In the past, I was strictly a black tape kinda guy - goes with everything, no stress about matching shades, etc. But in the last few years, I've seen the upside of a variety of colors being used as bar tape. Now, I'll never be good enough, like Clint, to do a harlequin style or tie-dye a set of wraps, but I'm certainly seeing an advantage to changing the tape color often to change the mood of a build or just to acknowledge the change in a season.

Clint's Harlequin chain stay wrap

I read years back that the pro racers would use black tape over the winter (didn't show dirt, etc.) but that as soon as spring arrived, they would have the mechanics swap over to white for the spring races. A few pros were known for putting new white tape on before every big race as a way of showing that they were 100% prepared for that race.

When I built up my Piolet originally, I went with grey tape. I wanted something with a more subtle color compared to orange tape, which would have matched the color of the cables on the bike.  I thought grey would be great. And it was. I liked it, but this winter when I was switching the brake levers out, I needed to change it up. So what to use? Hmm....

I did some consulting with my co workers and it was decided to go with the blue of the Comfy Cotton Tape. Not a total match to the muted blue of my original model Piolet, but a nice contrast, and it still maintains a somewhat muted appearance.

life behind Scott's bars

So for a few bucks and about 15 minutes of work, I've totally updated the look of my bike, especially considering the cockpit is really what my eyes see when I ride the bike. There are certainly other ways to change the look and feel of your bike, but for $12, I'd say this is a pretty cost effective way to go about it. What ways do you spruce up the look/feel of your bike?

06 March, 2018

Save The Date - Annual VO Garage Sale

By Scott

There are two sure-fire signs that spring is arriving here in the Mid-Atlantic: Cherry Blossoms and VO's Annual Garage Sale. According to the National Parks Service, we are expecting peak bloom between March 17th and 20th. This is great news for us, not just because it is one of the prettiest times of the year here, but it is just before our annual Garage Sale. This year, the sale will be March 24th.

(Photo courtesy of Mary G at Chasing Mailboxes)

We'll run it from 9 am to noon, the usual story of various bits and pieces for sale - prototypes, frames, parts, accessories, all for cheap. We'll also offer a 20% discount for all in-stock (pre-sales not included), non-garage sale items to folks coming to the shop.

We'll have our usual supply of coffee and donuts for you to sip and munch on while perusing our vast wares.

Address for your GPS Unit:

1981 Moreland Parkway,
Bldg 3
Annapolis, MD

(Turn into the industrial park and go to the right, almost all the way to the end. We're three doors from the end on your left side. Big VO sign out front.)

If you're on Facebook, let us know if you're going to make it so that we can get lots of snacks, coffee, donuts, holes of said donuts, and teas: https://www.facebook.com/events/1683675921718942/

Hope to see you all there!

01 March, 2018

Building a Bike From the Frame Up - Brake Lever Selection

by Igor

In this installment of the "Building a Bike From the Frame Up" series, we'll introduce and discuss the differences and subtleties between brake levers designed for drop, flat, bullhorn, and alt handlebars. First, let's get some terminology and specifications out of the way:

  • Drop Handlebar - The most common type of handlebar for road riding, touring, and randonneuring, typically allowing a more aerodynamic riding position than upright city-style bars. Lots of hand positions.
  • Bullhorn Handlebar - A very common handlebar style for time trial bikes. They put you in a very aerodynamic position and usually have clip-on aero bars. These got very popular during the fixie boom of the '00s. 
  • Flat/Riser/City/Mountain Handlebar - A common style of handlebar on city and mountain bikes. 
  • Alt-Bar - This style does not really fit into a particular category. They may have non-traditional shapes or dimensions.
  • Brake Lever Clamp Diameter (also known as Grip Area) - The outside diameter where your brake levers clamp.
    • 23.8mm - Drop, bullhorn, and some city handlebars
    • 22.2mm - City and mountain handlebars
Drop Bar Levers

The most traditional style of brake lever for drop handlebars is called Non-Aero. The cable exits the brake lever body out of the top and makes a wide arc around the stem and handlebar before the first cable guide or brake stop. While this style has fallen out of mainstream favor for the "aero" alternative, purists, collectors, and tourers often prefer the non-aero variant for simplicity, ease of maintenance, and aesthetics.

Up through the mid-1980's there were several companies making non-aero offerings, each with their own styling, following, and price point: Mafac, Campagnolo, Shimano, Universal, Modolo, Dia-Compe, Weinmann, just to name a few.

Personally, I think the differences between the non-aero manufacturers (with the exception of Mafac) aren't significant. They pretty much all look and function very similarly. Mafac's shape was different - much more square and chunky body - often preferred for randonneur-style bikes.

Traditionally-speaking, Campanolo and similar brake levers are often paired with deep drops and sloping ramps.


Mafac levers are best paired with traditional randonneur style bars where the ramps are long and parallel with the ground. 

In the mid 80s, levers with the housing routed underneath the handlebar tape, dubbed "aero", were becoming more mainstream. While Dia-Compe was likely the first company to release a consumer aero brake lever, Shimano did have the Dura-Ace AX brake lever with aero routing in the early 80s.

I actually find the evolution of the aero brake lever fascinating. At first, they were basically re-drilled non-aero bodies (same bottom cable entry and all), but over time cable entry changed to the more modern forward entry and body lever shapes were under experimentation. My favorite is Modolo's aptly named Kronos series. Check out the beautifully smooth line from the ramps to the brake hood and continuing to the lever.

If you're one for bar-end or downtube shifters or no shifters, your selection for aero levers is plentiful. The Tektro RL340s are popular for their shape and quick release cable tension button. If you want fancy, the Campy Record levers are sublime. 

With the introduction of integrated shifters, sometimes called "brifters" (the less this word is used the better), aero levers and subsequently handlebars have become more ergonomic for long times in the saddle. Handlebar ramps and brake hoods are typically parallel with the ground and feature gradual transitions. Pictured below is our Course Handlebar with Shimano integrated shifters.

For cross racers and city riders, Interruptor Brake Levers are very popular. These brakes are installed inline with aero levers and allows for braking to occur from the tops of the handlebars. They push housing rather than pull cable, so they function a bit differently than the main lever.

These should not be confused with "suicide levers" that were used on non-aero brake levers. These extensions were notorious for poor brake performance and flexible materials. 

Guidonnet Levers were often seen on French cyclotouring bikes. Mounted on either side of the stem, they allowed for plenty of room for a large handlebar bag in addition to easy lever access from the ramps and tops. The downside is that you can't reach the levers from the drops. We used to sell Dia-Compe's version of these way back when, but everyone who wanted a set got one.
Bullhorn handlebars are still used on triathlon and time trials bikes for their aerodynamics and simple shape. The most typical brake lever setup are inverse levers. They are inserted into the end of the handlebar and expand, similar to how bar-ends are installed.

Riders would often put aero levers on the ends of their bars, too.


City and Mountain Bars

Typical city and mountain bars use a 22.2mm outer diameter grip area, which means pretty much any city or mountain brake lever will work. The Tektro FL750 brake levers are extremely popular for their similarities to vintage CLB city levers.

We offer several of our city handlebars and subsequently brake levers in a 23.8mm grip area so that road-style components such as bar-end shifters and inverse levers can be used.

The important part of city and mountain brake levers is to select a lever that is compatible with your brake's cable pull requirements: Regular or Linear. Regular pull is what you would use for caliper, cantilever, centerpull, and any "road" style brake. Linear is what you would need for Shimano's V-brake or any other linear pull brake, most commonly seen on mountain bikes.

These pull ratios are not interchangeable. If you use regular pull levers on a linear brake, the lever will not be able to pull enough cable before the lever bottoms out. Vice-versa, you will need to pull the lever significantly harder to stop. Both of these scenarios should be avoided.

Our Grand Cru Brake Levers are my favorites. Not only are they compatible with 23.8mm and 22.2mm handlebars with included shims, they're also available in both regular and linear pull.

Guidonnet levers were also very popular on Belleville Bars for the same reasons as above. As an added bonus, they match the curve of the bars.

If you're using a 23.8mm handlebar, you can also use inverse levers like these by Dia-Compe or Tektro. By moving the brake lever to the end of the bar, you're afforded more room on the handlebars for grips and shifters and frankly, I like how they look.


Ok, things are about to get weird. Alt-bars are alternative bars. They don't really fall into drop bars or flat bar categories, and often have non-traditional shapes.

Our Crazy Bars are a perfect example. The grip area that sweeps back is 22.2mm, but the forward extensions use a 23.8mm grip area. This allows riders to mount bar-ends or even road shifters up front. Part of the fun of alt-bars is the wacky setups people make with their controls.

Trekking/Butterfly Bars are the original alt-bar. While they have a 22.2mm grip area, brake levers can be placed almost anywhere to suit the rider's preference. There's no wrong way to set them up!

Previous installments of the "Building a Bike from the Frame Up" series:

20 February, 2018

Just the Details at NAHBS 2018

by Igor

Impeccable lug sculpting, tidy dynamo wiring, infinitely deep finishes, and minute detail work are all of utmost importance when evaluating and admiring the work of a custom bicycle builder. I think appreciation and articulation of detailing and design is an important skill to have when going around to different builders at shows like these. Rather than show a busy, poorly lit photo of a complete bike on the showroom floor, I'd like to focus on the detailwork of several of my favorite bikes at NAHBS 2018.

The brass on this track bike's rear end seems to simply wash over the seat stay bridge and wishbone, gently holding everything together in a fervor for speed only a Bishop can pull off.

The seat cluster on this Randonneur bike is sublime. There is so much going on in a little space: polished stainless wrap around stay caps, bi-laminate sleeve with a super narrow point, and a pair of seat binders. From Brian's Instagram about the double binder, "It’s not necessary but the single M6 would’ve looked lonely on there".


Brass, ebony wood, leather, shellac, and lacquer all come together to accomplish this artisanal cockpit on this bike steeped in old-world design and ornamentation.

The seat cluster on this track bike has an air of 1930's art-deco. Squares and long curves accentuate the clean, custom lug and fillet brazed, lowered binder. Lovely.


While the alternate digital camo graphics on the outside of the fork blade are attention grabbing, the inside of the blade features this Russian builders logo - the font color matching the contrasting blue-grey within the pattern.

While I don't know much about this air-foil's application on bike frames, I do like the swoops and lack of hard lines on this three-play laminated wood and carbon composite bike.

This wild track bike features a fluted and paint-filled seat mast which terminates into the monostay. Radical.

This marriage of carbon and titanium in a traditional lugged form is incredibly clean. I'd love to know the ride characteristics this combination provides.


The inward bending on the fender stay makes the rear end more racy, an important feature for this get-up-n-go fender'd road bike. Additionally, notice the impeccable lining on the Hammered fender's edge. Nice contrast!


The watercolor panels on the seat tube and pump were an elegant choice on this road bike.

Zipties be damned! Sometimes the the best way to secure something is by a simple wire.

https://www.sklarbikes.com/ + Ultra Romance

13 February, 2018

Fenders on Disc Brake Bikes

by Igor

With the trickle down of disc brakes into bikes of any and all sorts, our inbox has been deluged with questions about fender mounting and compatibility.

The requirements of being an easily fender-able disc brake bike is the same as any bike with rim brakes:

1) Clearances - Your frame should have reasonable clearances around the chain stays and seat stays, and your fork should have sufficient vertical and lateral clearance.

Road racing and track frames, more often than not, have very narrow clearances around chain and seat stays and fork crowns. These bikes are designed for aerodynamics and drastically reduced weight. This often means that if a detail isn't designed for structure and performance, chances are you won't see them. Forget about dedicated rack and fender mounts or even triple bottle cage mounts. Grams add up to lost time over a stage.

Vintage frames that use centerpulls or longer reach brakes typically have more clearance, especially if you do a 27 -> 700c wheel conversion. These often make great randonneurs and sportif bikes as they feature a multitude of desirable attributes that are incorporated into many of today's modern offerings including lightweight tubing, low bottom brackets, and bigger tire clearance. Some even make for good 650b conversions for even floaty-er tires and clearance.


Pro tip: Before a long climb, move your water bottle from your cage to your jersey pocket. You'll climb faster due to less weight on the bike. Discuss in comments.

2) Bridges - In order to have an easy time of mounting, both your seat stay and chain stay bridges need to exist - bonus points if they have threaded braze-ons that point towards the wheel.

If your bike does have a bridge but it isn't drilled, use a p-clamp!

We've noticed a lot of contemporary cyclo-cross bikes are bridge-less for mud clearance and comfort over rough terrain. While it is possible to mount a fender using a kludge of hardware, it isn't ideal and it certainly isn't elegant.

3) Dropout Eyelets - Threaded or unthreaded, these are incredibly useful. If your bike has the above requisite features but doesn't have eyelets on the dropouts, p-clamps or our Fender Stay Mounts for Eyeletless Frames are needed to mount the stays to the frame or fork.

Alas, many manufacturers have forgone eyelets on their performance offerings, though some lucky few offer removable ones. I never understood this. If you're going to drill and tap the frame for a stud for a removable eyelet, why not include it in the casting/mold? It would look intentional and simple.

That's it for the requirements! The next step is negotiating the caliper.

For the frame, there is typically minimal finagling. This is especially true if the caliper is located within the rear triangle like our frames feature. For caliper located on top of the seatstay, you'll have to play it by ear since the size, shape, and location of the caliper may necessitate bending the stay.

The front is a bit trickier. The caliper, for the most part, sits in the same place for almost all forks. Simply bending the stay vertically around the caliper should provide enough clearance for the brake to operate normally. Some forks, like our Pass Hunter, simply offer a higher mounting point to get around the issue. It isn't the most traditional looking, but it functions perfectly fine. The Polyvalent has a braze-on underneath the dropout for regular fender mounting.

If this isn't possible, you'll need a fat stack of spacers to clear the caliper. Plastic fenders that use two stays typically require this.

Do you have any additional tips or tricks for mounting fenders on disc brake bikes?

05 February, 2018

A Note on Fender Mud Flaps

By Igor

The combination of full coverage fenders and mud flaps serve two very important purposes: 1) keeping your feet and bottom bracket clean and 2) ensuring your riding friends will ride with you again by preventing road grime from spraying up into their faces.

Ideally, the front mud flap should be very low to cover the most spray area, almost dragging. I like curling the front flap so that curbs don't catch the fender when hopping off.

The rear flap should be sufficiently long as well. VO now offers matching Rear Mud Flaps in the same colors as the front: Black, Espresso, and Honey.

They're 24.5cm long and have a very similar silhouette as the front, just longer. They weigh 105g and include all the hardware needed to mount to your fender. All you need to do is drill two holes.

A side note: We work really hard to minimize waste from the hides we use, and that means we get a few "imperfect" flaps. These cuts are just as good and functional as the "perfect" ones but have more character - I prefer these. They usually have cuts, thinner sections, etc - these are cow hides, remember. If you want a flap has has imperfections and is wabi-sabi, let us know in the comment section of your order.

01 February, 2018

Gerard Rides Again

by Igor

Gerard (Gerry as we've been calling him at HQ) has turned out to be one spry 61 year old.

He has scrapes, bumps, and "that wasn't there yesterday"'s that not only show his age, but describe a life of use and care. Whoever used this bike before me, really enjoyed it.

While working on this bike, I was frequently reminded of the old Japanese pottery repair technique, Kintsugi.

Kintsugi is a philosophy that lets imperfections and breakages literally shine rather than attempt to disguise them. Gold or platinum dust is included in the lacquer used for repair work, creating beautiful, gleaming veins that allow the piece's history to be at the forefront of one's attention. Interestingly, this technique got so popular, collectors started smashing brand new pottery in order to replicate the style.

Gerard was rebuilt with simplicity in mind. The wheels are sturdy and built to last. The rear is a 32 hole Fixed Hub laced to a 650b Diagonale Rim while the front is a Grand Cru High Flange Front Hub laced to the same. The rear is spaced 120mm so the rear wheel's hub fits without any issues, while the front is 96mm (typical of old French bikes). No biggie, the front hub gets crammed in.

Gearing is midrange: 44 tooth 50.4 chaining paired to an 18 tooth rear cog. This setup makes around town jaunts with a load easy while minimizing spinning out on slightly longer rides. Tires are cushy Panaracer Pari-Motos in the 42mm sizeway.

The bottom bracket shell is French threaded (drive side and non-drive side both tighten clockwise) so I used our French Threaded Bottom Bracket with a 118mm spindle.

A proper French bike cannot be left without fenders. 52mm Zeppelins wrap perfectly and provide optimal coverage. A clever, little Spring Thing keeps a nice fenderline with the frame's long, horizontal dropouts.

The Porteur Rack is fitted close to the fender by trimming the lower tangs. The rack is further mounted to the fender in Constructeur fashion.

The Sabot Pedals are my go-to. They're chunky, spinny, grippy, elegant, and look right on this traditional build.

Handlebars are the 23.8mm Left Banks with NOS CLB city levers (what the Tektro FL750 levers are modeled after). Grips are the ever comfy and classic Rustines Constructeur in black. Brake cabling is our Stainless Steel Wound kit along with some Step-Down Housing Caps for the brake levers and frame cable stops.

The Grand Cru Quill Stem needed a tad bit of sanding to fit into the steerer. Clint did a nice write-up about fitting 22.2mm stems into 22.0mm French steerers. A few minutes worth of sanding allowed the quill to fit in and stay secure. A silver Brass Temple Bell adorns the stem in traditional constructeur fashion.

Atop the 25.4mm Dajia 1b Seatpost is an old Brooks perch. I got the saddle when we picked up our Santana Arriva Tandem. I believe it's from the mid-80s. I think it might be too far gone to be remolded, but it sure looks cool!

The brakes were disassembled, cleaned and new Kool Stop 4-dot Pads were fitted. How do they stop? They stop, more or less. Mostly less. They modulate speed, that's where I'll leave it.

The showstopper here is this vintage, gorgeous chainguard. We've had in it in our showroom's display case for years, waiting for just the right build. The original paint and patina is perfect for Gerard. The frame has a single mount on the downtube. For the seat tube, I used our Chainguard Mounting Hardware and a bit of cloth tape to protect the tube.

A Porteur Double Leg Kickstand keeps the bike upright and ready for loading.

Experiencing the history, care, and continued service of something so connected as a bicycle and its rider is a wonderful thing to behold: scuffed crankarms from miles and miles of tours, lived in bar tape, saddle with corner tears from taking a gravel laden corner too fast, scratched top tube from that darn sharp sign post I always forget about, and random paint chips from heck knows where. Having a beautifully new paint job is nice, but I don't think babying is the way to go. Embrace the scratches, scuffs, and imperfections, and enjoy your ride.