Ring dem bells

December 29, 1999, Berkeley

Last night I went out to eat with my childhood friend, Joe Smoot. Joe can be credited with infecting me with much of my mania for fine bicycle equipment. As kids, riding our hand-me-down bicycles, we salivated over ten speeds, which where economically out of our reach. We set up our bikes as best we could to resemble the magic deraileur machines. Ultimately Joe proved more resourceful than me, for as a teenager he worked a series of odd jobs to finance the purchase of an Italian frame: a Legnano. Then piece by piece he acquired the parts to hang on it. I was frustrated by how long the process took. I would have had the bike rideable within a couple weeks, but he took well over a year, scrupulously buying only the finest Campagnolo equipment. Campagnolo components were our holy grail and it seemed almost sacrilegious that he should have a Campy equipped bike. I wasn't to own any Campagnolo equipment until I was an adult.

Joe's bicycle was always impeccably clean. He took it apart monthly and repacked all the bearings. By assisting him I became infected with a reverence for finely engineered things.

Anyway, as we ate I told him the story of going to Alameda with my father and brother to order the Mikkelsen frame. Joe was all ears. He then asked what color it will be painted. Everyone has wanted to know this and I cagily kept it to myself until I finally had to specify the color at Bernie's shop. The secret is now out: pink.

Joe hooted in appreciation; thinks it's a great choice. I then told Joe the dilemma of finding subtle shades of pink in order to show Bernie what I had in mind. Eventually I wound up going from pharmacy to pharmacy to check out nail polish colors. I bought one I liked and left the bottle with Bernie saying: "match that."

Pink nail polish
Pink nail polish, close up

I went back to the pharmacy the other day and bought another bottle to have as a color standard. I brought it out to show Joe and he opened it right up and sketched a bicycle with it on the paper over the table cloth, in order to visualize how the bicycle would look.

Joe sketching with nail polish

As we continued to talk I told Joe of a phone call I'd made to Bernie this week. I needed to know particulars about the frame in order to plan what parts to put on it. I also wanted to know what tubes were used for people will no doubt ask.

Bernie expounded that the three main tubes are Columbus Nivachrome and said, "hey, listen to this," and dropped a tube which rang out over the phone line in a lovely melodious tone. He told me it was the inch and a quarter diameter down tube for my frame. He then dropped the inch and an eighth top tube and it rang in a similar nice tone, but a bit higher in register. Then he rang a lesser quality tube for comparison. The tone was undesirable and leaden. He went on to drop a super high tensile tube, saying "you don't want this--too brittle." And indeed, the sound it made was too sharp.

So that's my new bicycle; top-of-the-line Italian steel tubing, used to ring in the new millennium.