What Makes a Bike "Magic"? Part II
Updated: Jul 23, 2020
This is the last bike I ever rode at speed. It is exactly the way it was the moment I decided I shouldn't ride a racing bike ever again, or at least ride one like I meant it. It was my last moment riding an inch off the wheel in front of me and experiencing the thrill and privilege of racing a track bicycle. I miss it every day.
It was a late Summer afternoon and more than two years ago. I was doing a workout with a group at the San Diego Velodrome. We had just come out of the second turn at close to 30 MPH. I was second wheel. As lead hunkered down going into the backstretch, the rider accelerated slightly and i saw the elbow flick telling me that it was my turn to do some work. I was very tight on the wheel and the edge was very much like you feel in competition. We were flying. That is not an easy thing to do on that track. It is work.
As the rider went uptrack, I tucked my head and leaned left, concentrating on keeping the speed right where it was, fast.
It is important to maintain speed and cadence when pulling a pack. To increase speed is to attack. I wasn't trying to break away and sprint for a win, and I wasn't trying to drop slower riders and reduce the size of the field. This was just fast training, but that doesn't mean it wasn't serious riding. What I remember feeling was that I could have done either at that moment. I remember pulling two laps. A lot happened in two laps, both with the bike, and within me.
The bike was alive. I was feeling good, and in pretty good shape for an old guy, but the bike beneath me was amazing. Every pedal stroke rang through right to the track. At one point it felt like the bike was taking the force I was moving to the wheels, and springing it into the the track with more forced than I was putting in. I finished the session as I usually did, with about 50 laps. I enjoyed the rest of the ride, went home, and saved it all to memory.
I had reached success as a rider/mechanic. Only I knew I was there, but that was enough for me. The journey with this bike is a fine story, and reflect why this bike truly is "Magic". There is nothing special about the mix of parts. Actually, some of the components are are not the most advanced out there, or even close. The bike itself is a hodge-podge of parts that work exceptionally well together.
The Frame and Fork:
The main frame is shaped aluminum tubing. It has the short chainstays and steep head angle you would expect in a quality track frame:
I had the frame refinished by Spectrum Bicycle Finishing in Colorado Springs in a candy blue that was not correct for the GIOS, but was powder coat and would easily take the bumps and bruises of track racing without scratching. The bike has raced all over the Country and still looks remarkably new 15 years later. The fork is the steel chrome Columbus fork from my first Benotto 1700 Pista purchased in 1981 and crashed at Northbrook, Illinois "back in the day". The fork is a 28 rake, and is nice and tight. This means that the fork crown was not too wide, that the fork blades were not too long to the center of the hub axle, and the tire/wheel would rest really close to the fork crown. The "tighter" a fork is, the less material there is no flex under stress. This fork looks great with the bike, but the way the fork performs with the frame is exceptional.
Bad picture, good fork. Fat tires need not apply. Not a lot of daylight visible.
The aluminum frame and stays are stiff and responsive to power. It does not yield under force, and thus will not flex under the forces encountered on the velodrome. an old Campagnolo Super Record headset guides the steel fork, which tames the harsh ride of the aluminum frame perfectly. I've ridden this bike with a carbon fork. The steel fork is heavier, but superior in handling. It is not that it is quicker with the steel, or lighter with the carbon. The Benotto steel fork just rides best.
The Components: Shimano Dura-Ace Pitch 10
If you look closely at the crank on this bike, you will start to notice something different:
When I would ride this equipment, riders would frequently ask me what gear I was riding. They obviously had noticed the small chainring. This bike is equipped with Shimano Dura-Ace Pitch 10 track components.
I first rode these components in the very early 1980's. They were installed on a bicycle I now call "The One That Got Away". I will write about that bike later, when I am in the mood. I do not like to talk about it. I have owned the components ever since, and acquired more in the years since I first rode them.
The term "Pitch 10" refers to the length of the individual chain link from "center-of-pin" to "center-of-pin". With a Shimano Pitch 10 chain, this length is 10 mm. This is shorter than a standard length of 1/2 inch found on most other chains. This subsequently reduces the pitch of all the related gears (the chainring and the cog) and the radius of the size of the gear. smaller is stiffer. smaller is lighter. smaller should be better, at least for track and single speed racing.
Because the rear gear that threads onto the rear hub (the cog) is reduced in size, the pitch 10 cog will not fit on a standard size track hub. The rear hub has a smaller diameter on the threaded area of the hub that accepts the cog. A standard Pitch 10 cog only works with a Shimano Pitch 10 rear hub. There is a Pitch 10 cog that will fit a standard (not Pitch 10) hub, but it is only available in 16 teeth. Every 16 cog I own looks new because I never ride those gears. Pitch 10 limits your options.
When powermeters came along, I was extremely limited. I needed to report power when I rode, and the available power meters were all hub or crank based. Just like the Pitch 10 hub, the pitch 10 crank is configured to accept Pitch 10 chainrings, which only fit the lovely Pitch 10 crank. Power and Pitch 10 did not appear to be possible. My Coach needed power numbers. He taught me how to adapt the older Saris Power Tap hub into a track hub, and we had been using it to record workouts with conventional size track drivetrains. This was accomplished with a Surley Fixer single speed adapter kit and a Power Tap Gen 2 hub. Here is a close up of our work:
Not only is Coach a World Champion Sprinter, but he is a Master Machinist. He and I got together and we created the only Shimano Pitch 10 Power Meter hub in existence that I am aware of. It still works today. It might stop working at any moment. The hub rolls easy even if it doesn't report power, so it will always perform as a track hub either with a standard drive or Pitch 10, depending on the Surley Fixer used.
This bike was usually raced with a newer Campagnolo Pista setup and Campagnolo Pista wheels:
The bike as she usually was raced. Campagnolo and a carbon fork.
She finished her racing life with the Shimano Pitch 10 components the last couple years of racing, and the bike handled with extraordinary character with the Pitch 10 equipment and Carbon rims. I will discuss this later when I talk about the wheels.
I am approaching 40 years of experience with Pitch 10 stuff. I raced it up until my last season whenever the mood hit me. Here are my heartfelt feelings about Shimano Dura-Ace Pitch 10 Components:
They are glorious to look at, and a pleasure to ride.
They perform very well in all track disciplines, and the stiffness inherent in the smaller diameter gears is noticeably more rigid if you are really putting power to the rear hub. From a standing start, I felt the Pitch 10 had a bit less leverage than the bigger chainring of a conventional track drivetrain of high quality. I am too old to try and figure out why, but an SRM with a beefy chainring and a conventional drive felt better in standing starts than did the Pitch 10 with the same wheel. If I were a faster rider, i might have figured it out.
With enough rings and a good range of gears, you can have fun racing the stuff, but you're on you own for spare wheels.
If you don't set up and tension the drivetrain well, the chain will chatter. It is hard to sneak up on someone when your drivetrain is making all kinds of racket. I found using chain wax helped silent the chatter.
Wheels are everything on a racing bike, especially a track bike. The wheels you see in the pictures ride exceptionally well with this bike, and I suspect they are why the ride of this old Gios is so nice.
I have developed a certain set of requirements for a general purpose race wheel. The wheels on this bike represent these requirements very well. High flange hubs, 3x spokes of high quality that are tied and soldered, and light, stiff rims.
The hubs are a regular Dura-Ace track hub up front, and the converted Saris Power Tap hub with the Surley fixer altered to accept the Pitch 10 rear cog. The power tap hub has a higher flange size than a usual track rear hub, as well as a slight difference in the flange sizes between the drive and non-drive side. Spoke selection was a pain in the neck:
The spokes are Sapim, and they are amazing. With an ever so slightly bladed shape, they are a perfect mix of aerodynamics and strength. I was shocked at the price when I sourced them, but these spokes were worth every penny. The wheels are 32 spoke, 3x, and I tie and solder my track wheels. I just do.
The rims on this particular bike are to match an similar set of wheels that do not have a powermeter hub. These wheels are the same 32 spoke with Sapim wires, 3x tied and soldered with Shimano Pitch 10 hubs, and Ambrosio X-Carbon Rims. The wheels are incredible to ride and I wanted to match the wheels with a powermeter set. Ambrosio X-Carbon rims had been out of production several years before I got my hands on three of them. They were no longer available:
I set my gaze on the East:I found some carbon 50cm 32 hole tubular rims from an auction site. I also sourced graphics for the rims. I had a set of operation Pitch 10 wheels and a spare for racing. The rims probably race 20 to 30 events and performed very well. the powermeter wheels with the auction rims from China may not be as pretty as the Shimano hub with the Ambrosio (Corima) rim, but the ride is superior. These wheels feel like springs if you ride them correctly:
This bike, and track racing, have been a grand privilege. This bike is a nice representation of a lifetime of of trial and error. A track rider should have a special relationship with the bike. I see it very much as I saw the relationship I had with the helicopter when I was actively flying. An assault landing and a dash off of the top of the rail on a velodrome feel equally dangerous. There is a great deal of trust in this equipment. The fact that I trust it still after all those years racing says alot about this particular mix of engineering, and this particular set of requirements and specifications.
One thing about track bikes. This bike is not dissimilar to all purpose track bikes we raced back in the 80's. Not the specialty bikes, but the bikes Mark Whitehead, Danny Van Haute and those guys rode when they were scratch or points racing. Track bikes are pretty consistent over the years. I will write about this later. I hoped you enjoyed the story of this old GIOS Pista sled.