What Bikes Do You Own?

November 6, 2008

in Bike Design, Bikes, History, Racing Bicycles

It’s a very common question for people in the bike industry.  My answer, on the other hand, is not so common; “I only own one.”  It’s not what people expect, and those that ask me are almost always visibly disappointed.  All the other bikes I ride are just loaners—test bikes, prototypes, demo bikes, and the like.

I’ve learned to not become attached to bikes—and most material goods.  I’m just not a particularly materially oriented person.  I don’t own much; I have a lot of books and CDs and that’s about it.  Oh yeah, and too much electronic junk.

So, why do I bother owning even one bike?  It’s a pretty cool bike and it reminds me of a very formative time in my life.

Rob, get to the point already and just answer the question.  What bike is it?

The Ti-Foon

Merlin Ti-Foon side shot

Ti-foon is short for the Titanium Buffoon.  ‘Cause the bike is titanium and it was built by a buffoon.  And the bike which I modeled the shapes after was called the Typhoon.

This bike’s claim to fame is that it’s the first ever titanium cruiser.  I built it more than 20-years ago in 1988.  I designed it to be my race bike; and I raced it for about four or five years – not exclusively.  It was a blast.  Somewhere I have some photographic evidence.

Merlin Ti-Foon top tube

Here’s the short version of why I built it.  At the Merlin shop we had an old Schwinn Typhoon kid’s single-speed coaster brake 24” wheeled shop bike.  I loved that bike.  It was too small for me but is was fast and fun and I rode it all the time. One day I ended up riding it in our local mountain bike area.  I immediately decided that I was going to modify it so I could race it.  I worked out a plan on how to mount all the braze-ons, brakes, gears, cables, and a heavy-duty fork.  As I dug into the project I realized that the old cruiser frame would not last more than a couple races.  And the amount of work it was going to take to modify it was going to be wasted.

Then I remembered that I worked at Merlin and we built bikes out of titanium.  So I figured it would be a piece of cake to make a titanium version.

Oh, So Wrong.

More after the jump.

Merlin Ti-Foon internal cable routingAt the time, the idea of bending the required tube shapes was ridiculous—at least that’s what people told me.  And, even if I could figure out a way to bend the tubes, the cable routing wouldn’t work, and it would ride terribly because of the severe bends.  Well, I showed them.  Or, maybe they were right.  It took about three weeks to build.  The bending took way too long because I didn’t have the proper tooling; I had rig up some pretend bending jigs.  The internal cable routing took forever to figure out how to not have the cables rattle inside the tubes.  The seat stay bends were the toughest part; getting two six foot lengths of tubing bent—in two planes at once—at exactly the same radius was lots of ‘fun’.

Merlin Ti-Foon Rob Vandermark decalWell, it all worked out and I had some of my best races on that bike.  It rode surprisingly well because it had great vertical compliance from the bends of the tubes.  And it was still reasonably torsionally stiff because of the oversized tubing and the fact that the seat stays created a truss system for the front triangle.

I have a few stories about that bike—about which no one will care—that I’ll tell someday.  Regardless, it is my favorite bike and that’s why it’s the one bike I own. What bikes do you own?

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