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French Fender Day 2019, October 12

A couple weeks ago Diane and I took a road-trip to Connecticut for Peter Weigle’s French Fender Day event, where I could rub shoulders with other appreciators of fine classic bicycles, and The Outspoken Cyclist would interview a string of guests for her show. Peter and Diane wanted my commentary included in her coverage ( Show #476 ), so Diane and I just finished our chat, which she has recorded and edited for your entertainment.

The whole trip, for me, was full of significance I haven’t felt prepared to discuss coherently, so I struggled with her questions, hearing each one as if I had twenty possible ways to respond, instantly choosing five answers simultaneously in my brain, and so then expressing gibberish, or confused silence. Diane’s own enthusiasm and brilliant editing help tremendously (trust me, I would be far worse without), but I still felt my segment failed to do the event justice.

What is French Fender Day?

To me French Fender Day is a celebration… A gathering of like-minded folks who share similar appreciation of what we at Hubbub like to call “A Proper Bike.” Not all the bikes are French, strictly speaking, although most pay respects to France’s contributions to bicycle design, including the not-so-new 650b tire size. Not all bikes there have fenders either, but most do, and nearly all are designed for an elegant fender installation.

I tend to over-use car analogies, but it usually works, so I’m gonna do it again…

French Fender Day is sorta’ like a bunch of classic car collectors getting together to show off their projects, ranging from century-old rust buckets, to restorations, to current masterpieces, perhaps a trade or transaction here and there; even going out for a countryside cruise together. It’s about exchanging stories, ideas, and history details. There is however one difference from classic car shows, that’s critical in my view, to the spirit of French Fender Day…

Even the most fervent car collector must acknowledge the superiority of modern automobiles. I personally like many body styles from the 50’s thru 70’s, even some in the 80’s, and I grew up enjoying the fact we could literally climb under the hood and sit next to a motor to replace valve seals, but… Let’s face it, the differences in comfort, reliability, longevity, safety, efficiency, and even value between cars then and now are astounding. There is no comparison. Many modern cars can go well over a hundred thousand miles with little more than oil changes, new tires and brakes. Not long ago that was unimaginable, certainly in the Midwest and Northeast. When I was a kid, head-on collisions nearly always resulted in a death, and now occupants often walk away with a sprain and bruises.

Today’s bicycles too are technological marvels. So much carbon fiber, electronic gadgetry and disc brakes, lighter, stiffer, and faster (supposedly). When you enter today’s typical bicycle shop, most of what you’re presented with falls into the category of Jeeps, Corvettes, or even Formula-1. Wondrous toys! Modern mountain bikes roll through obstacles like we could barely imagine 30 years ago. Today’s road racing machines can be made lighter than UCI rules permit, and still perform under the sprints of elite athletes.

Here’s the thing… Remember those six criteria I mentioned? Comfort, reliability, longevity, safety, efficiency, and value? Let’s add a few more, including durability, customization, and elegance! They all add up to real fun, which is what everyone really wants from a bicycle. Attendees at French Fender Day I think tend to lean hard toward the idea that yesterday’s bicycles are in no way inferior to today’s modern marvels. A truly exceptional steel bike – whether it’s a 2016 Bruce Gordon or a 1956 Rene Herse – easily holds its own; and if the questions of style, craftsmanship, and attention to detail are raised, the comparisons might in this crowd be viewed as silly.

Was it as I expected?

On one hand I knew what to expect, from seeing and hearing about prior French Fender Day events. On the other hand I wasn’t quite sure what the balance was between show-and-tell collectors’ items, and showpieces from current makers, so I was careful to go without expectations in that sense. I did imagine it would be loads of fun, meeting new people who share our love of craftsmanship and classic bicycles. That really was the best part… The people were more interesting than the bikes.

Where there any bikes that stood out as unusual and exceptional?

Exceptional, yes of course, many of them. Unusual… They’re all unusual. I can’t think of much remarkable I hadn’t seen before though. For anyone who reads things like Bicycle Quarterly or, like us, has gravitated toward elegant, practical, and classically designed bicycles for decades… It’s all beautiful, but big surprises are rare.

Anyone I met and spoke with who a) I hadn’t met in the past and b) found to be noteworthy?

I thoroughly enjoy spending time with Peter. When we first met at New England Builders’ Ball a few years ago, somehow we struck up a conversation about… Well, almost everything I suppose, because after a few hours of chatting we had to acknowledge we both had been ignoring our exhibitor booths and customers. This time of course I had a blast with him going over his shop equipment and machines… Which reminds me… He asked for photos of my drill-press. I need to go take care of that.

I’ve drawn a library of ideas and inspiration from James Swan for probably 20 years, whether about frame alignment techniques or fork crown making. Although we’ve rubbed shoulders a few times, I think this was the first time we’ve actually met and talked, which turned into hours of chatting and learning (for me). I believe Diane told him to show me his brazing experiment, which lit a long chain of discussion, but was helpful too, as what he’s playing with gave me a boost in confidence with a joint I’ve been figuring out on a couple current projects of my own. The hours spent with Jamie were definitely a highlight.

So many others… Bob, Amir, Wayne Bingham of Mel Pinto Imports, Carlos, Deb Banks, Elton, Sue, and others I can barely remember their first names. Everyone knows I’m not as forward as Diane in a new crowd, so there’s countless folks I did not get to meet, including Johnny Coast and Brian Chapman. I think we left with the impression that anyone there could easily get absorbed into hours of gabbing with everyone else present, and hopefully there’s a next time, for more.

What would I say to anyone listening about the concept of the classic constructeur bicycle?

It’s a fun concept, one I hesitate to define myself but it’s hardly profound as I understand it. The idea is that the bicycle is a cohesive machine, with all the parts designed and made to work and fit together, often under direction of a single maker. Even today’s constructeur might occasionally make a set of brakes, or experiment with a homemade derailleur, but now it seems to include at least fenders and racks made to fit the bike as a complete unit, as opposed to buying parts separately and bolting them on.

When we look at how most bicycles had to be made back in the 40’s and 50’s, without complete shifting groups available like they are now, today’s bikes are incredibly impressive; the way we can buy such exquisitely performing parts, hang them on a frame in a couple hours, and just take off. When we consider this, it seems kinda’ pathetic on those occasions when they under-perform. My point however is the opposite… When we experience a truly exquisite product of a constructeur from the 40’s and 50’s, feel how lightweight it is, how magnificently it handles and performs, see how well it’s held up over so many years and countless miles (something we can expect from few modern marvels)… That’s truly impressive, and something French Fender Aficionados think we should be building on rather than abandoning. For me this is what Peter’s French Fender Day celebrates.

The Hubbub Of Hubbub Bicycles

Since I recently wrote a brief history about Hubbub for our Facebook presence, I figured it’s a good addition to our “about” details here…

Hubbub was founded by Diane in 1997 with the publishing of her book, “The Hubbub Guide to Cycling,” a manual to help cyclists prepare for an extended bike tour. The original store location, a boutique “pro shop” in Cleveland Heights, was intended as a fulfillment center for a mail-order catalogue featuring carefully curated cycling products, with a lean towards touring and exploration.

Diane’s experience goes back to 1974, as a principal in two other shops of Cleveland’s past: LBS Bicycles, and City Bike. Her background and interests are in art, journalism, advocacy, event management, and retail business.

Brian joined in 1998 as the permanent technical half of Hubbub’s 2-person partnership. As the internet’s expansion accelerated, the paper catalogue never made it beyond manuscript form, and we were busy fitting, building, and servicing northeast Ohio’s finest bicycles. At this time we were selling a great deal of Waterford Precision Cycles and Calfee Design, plus a few Ibis and Klein. In spring of 1998 we began working with Burley Cooperative and Co-Motion Cycles for tandems, and started riding a tandem ourselves. Later in 1998 we partnered with Seven Cycles, rounding out our selection perfectly to serve nearly every request.

Brian’s experience goes back to riding and working on bicycles in the mid-80’s, working in a bike shop – called The Bike Works, in Johnstown NY – while attending engineering school in the mid-90’s. He still has notes, sketches, and CAD designs of ideas from his early teens. His background and interests include marine and wilderness activities, elegant design, and mechanical ingenuity. A little archeological digging uncovered these artifacts:

Adjusting our name to “Hubbub Custom Bicycles” in 1999, we found that by deepening our role in the bike’s design process, while still relying on the vast backgrounds of our skilled builders – mostly Waterford, Seven, Calfee, and Co-Motion – the three-way team we formed with a client greatly improved the buying experience and final product.

Diane completed her yoga teacher training in 2002, and began by teaching classes on the floor of the bike shop showroom a couple evenings each week.

Recognizing that the majority of customers were traveling more than 50 miles to visit, often much farther (occasionally flying in)… Wanting to thin out the inner-city service business a bit, provide a better experience (traffic, parking, quiet, better roads, one-on-one attention) for incoming clientele, and expand our offerings… We decided in 2003 to build out a new complex, combining three business models, out in Chesterland, Ohio. Starting from scratch, we built out an entire space that included a gourmet coffee shop (a popular idea now!) called High Peaks Coffee, a beautiful new yoga studio for Diane, called Daily Yoga, and a freshly designed retail and service center for Hubbub Custom Bicycles. Both yoga students and cyclists could come in and enjoy the finest organic coffee while they shopped in our store.

Making the move in 2004, some elements of this worked, even brilliantly, but too many parts of the concept failed.
1.) In hindsight we clearly made some enormous errors in judgement and planning. The coffee shop took some time to complete the build-out, equipment, hiring and training, and to perfect the product. We were also on the wrong side of the road for morning traffic, and arrogantly felt our product would be good enough to overcome an absent drive-thru window. Perhaps this might have worked in a more sophisticated area, but it’s poor business planning regardless.
2.) We were lied to repeatedly about what opportunities would be afforded for quality signage, discovering the truth much too late. Eventually we fought through to erect what were always ineffective signs, with fierce resistance from the “city,” but it was too little too late.
3.) Some might point out that our move away from the city caused the coming years of hardship, but that part of our plan worked perfectly.

2004 proved to be an immensely difficult year, as Hubbub fought to keep two brand new businesses alive, in a new location, long enough for them to grow towards self-sustainability. At one point we laid everyone off and closed down, but after three days mustered the energy to come back out swinging.

In 2006, while the businesses were still slowly climbing out of their holes, Brian developed an illness that proved to be another tremendous setback. In short, his esophagus stopped working, permanently. As he slowly deteriorated from undernourishment, work performance suffered accordingly, including relationships and perhaps results. Somehow, through Diane’s famously endless energy, Hubbub and Daily Yoga continued to improve, and High Peaks coffee held on with a small but solid reputation.

With the financial crisis of 2008, when some caring customers would ask, “How are you faring?” Our response, “We don’t feel it. We’re coming from such a low, we’re still climbing up through the recession.” Hubbub was even named the most successful dealer in the country for a couple of its bike makers, and voted “Best Bike Shop in the Great Lakes Region” in the League of American Bicyclists.

In 2009 we finally shuttered High Peaks Coffee, converting the space to a lounge for Hubbub and Daily Yoga.

In early 2010 Diane began hosting a 1-hour live weekly AM radio show called “Bicycling Today,” out of Youngstown, Ohio. On Labor Day weekend that year she switched to creating her own radio broadcast, called “The Outspoken Cyclist” aired weekly by WJCU, FM-88.7 out of John Carroll University. Always available as a podcast, it continues to grow all these years later. (update: as of mid-2021, the show is no longer broadcast over the air, and so not restricted to 60 minutes; and as of early 2022, publication is less regular than “weekly”)

In 2011 Brian’s illness was diagnosed and he underwent a successful surgical procedure. The resulting health and energy brought in 2012, and Hubbub in one season was able to recover from seven years of hardship. Having finally fulfilled all past obligations, we were overdue for another major change.

Beginning in 2013 Diane moved her Daily Yoga Studio to Highland Heights, where it remains, providing regular classes. (update: as of February 2022 all classes are on-line)

Having liquidated all clothing and most accessory inventory, Brian moved tools, parts, and equipment to an industrial space in Kirtland / Willoughby Hills. The plan was to complete a lengthy backlog of small “always wanted to…” type projects, including some prototyping new products, in-house frame-building jobs, provide past bike customers with service, and continue building custom bikes through Calfee, Seven, and Waterford.

In 2016 Diane and Brian finally were married.

In 2018 Brian announced publicly his willingness to build brazed steel bikes for customers in-house, under the name, “b.w. Jenks”

From home Diane maintains our Hubbub on-line store and projects like our Hubbub Helmet Mirror, as well as arranging bike-fitting services. She also produces, records, engineers, and publishes “The Outspoken Cyclist,” weekly podcast (and 1-hour broadcast), by herself.

From his 2000 sqft commercial workshop Brian has since 2013 provided house-calls, pick-up & delivery service, and all the same full in-shop service Hubbub has always had. He remains a dealer for Waterford, Gunnar, and Rodriguez. Services have expanded to include welding, machining, bead-blasting, and other fabrication – occasionally on non-bike projects like turbocharger pipes for the neighboring auto mechanic, or repairing a giant stainless mixing bowl for a local bakery.

Our “ShimErgo” Story

As described in this weekend’s episode of Diane’s Outspoken Cyclist Radio podcast, in 1999 we were inspired to determine a way to manage a wide-range Shimano drive-train using Campagnolo ErgoPower shift controls. I wrote a web article in 2000 about how to do it without the use of adaptation devices (shortly before the release of Jtek) and then again in 2003 posted a revised edition. Since then SRAM has entered the scene with alternatives for wide-range road gearing, and Shimano has not only attempted to meet that challenge, but they’ve also dramatically improved their shift-control ergonomics, function, and reliability. Although one of my favorite personal bikes still has this original “ShimErgo” setup, and I don’t intend to change it, with the modern gearing options available and working so well I’ve lost my reasons for (and therefore interest in) exploring ways to control Japanese derailleurs using Italian shifters, at least on new builds, for now anyway.

For years after posting the original article I received countless questions about how to combine components of different makes. In nearly every case my answer was, “I don’t know… I haven’t tried it.” When a client presents a problem, I try to solve it, but I’m afraid that doesn’t make me an expert in how to combine every shift-control with every other [claimed] incompatible derailleur mechanism.

A few years ago we made major changes in direction with our retail shop Hubbub Bicycles, and my outdated articles were pulled without second thought. I still have them though, and recently discovered many folks continue to apply the simple re-routing technique sometimes. In conjunction with Diane’s interview of our pal Mike Varley, proprietor of Black Mountain Cycles, in which this is mentioned, we thought it might be a good kick-in-the-pants for me to post a fresh edition of the article, even if just for sentimentality. If you intend to torment yourself reading it, please do keep in mind the time period and then-available parts, for context.

To my surprise, the name Hubbub is still receiving credit out there on the inter-webs for what in hindsight seems an overly simple solution. I can’t be sure whether this is good or bad, or neither, but I do hope anyone still using the technique also still enjoys its benefits, which in my view were more significant at the time. In preparation for this I even found copies of an old e-mail exchange, over a public forum, arguing with someone claiming I was perpetrating a hoax. Seriously… This was important enough to a naysayer, as if I had something to gain, or the world might explode if you tried combining Campy and Shimano. The really funny part was that some prominent tandem shops and touring experts across the US, and in Europe, began delivering fancy new custom bikes this way for a while. But it was a hoax…

I think maybe I was smarter back then. In any case, here’s a modernized version of the original how-to, and at the end of this podcast I bumble through an explanation of how we came to discover it. I’d recommend enjoying the whole show though.


After months of doing the hands-on work of detailing my new work-space, and working on custom bike projects, I’m finally taking the chance to work on a web presence.  It will likely never be more than minimal.  That’s me, and those who know me… well, that’s what it’ll be.  I usually prefer the work itself over talking about it.  Please do explore a bit though, and I’ll continue to build and contribute.  Let me know what you think.