Thursday, January 04, 2007

The US Team Aero Bike Fiasco

Myself and Mike Melton (Right) building the aero frames.

Looking through an old scrapbook last evening I came across a story that Velo-News did in February 1980.

They did a pretty good piece of unbiased investigative reporting into some Aerodynamic frames I built for the US Team Time Trial riders for the 1979 World Championships. The whole episode turned into a huge fiasco, and after many people putting a great deal of effort and expense into the project the bikes were never used.

I came to work for Paris Sport in New Jersey in January 1979. At the time, Mike Fraysee co-owner of Paris Sport, was also President of the US Cycling Federation, the governing body of competitive cycling in the US.

The big new thing in bicycles at that time was aerodynamic frames, and it was suggested I build such frames for the US Team Time Trial squad. I had built a few aero frames in England the previous year by modifying round tubing to make it aero shape. No one was manufacturing proper tubes at the time.

I approached the English Reynolds Tube Company at the New York Bicycle Show in February 1979 and they agreed to produce the aero tubes. I had enjoyed a close working relationship with Reynolds, having been in from the start of their development of 753 tubing in the mid 1970s and built some early 753 test frames for them.

In March 1979 I flew back to England to meet with engineers at Reynolds and together we came up with design for an aero tube that was tear-drop shape in cross section. The tooling alone to draw these special tubes was made at a cost around $30,000. Remember this was 1979, thirty grand was a lot of money then.

The tubing took a few months to produce and when it arrived in New Jersey, time was running close to when the bikes would be needed. Because of this Mike Melton a top US framebuilder was brought in to help me build them. Mike and I burned the mid-night oil for a week without pay, I should add, to produce five frames. Four for the team and one spare.

The bikes were tried out by the team but were never used in competition and never even made it to the World Championship. One of the reasons the riders gave for their non use; the bikes handled badly.

You have to remember at the time I was a relatively unknown framebuilder in the US and you could say stuff like that. Obviously, the bikes were tested before they went out and they handled fine. Also at the same time Reynolds sent aero tubing to me, they sent some to French bicycle manufacturer, Gitane. They built a frame for Bernard Hinault who won a time trial stage in the Tour de France on it. He also went on to win the Tour that year.

The whole episode was a politically driven fiasco that I deeply regretted getting into, and it made me look bad with Reynolds; after all theirs was the biggest financial loss. The final kicker came later when the bikes were stripped and the Campagnolo parts were stolen. Riders and/or USCF officials were suspected.

A small consolation came later when a track bike version of the same aero tubing was ridden by an 18 year old Greg Lemond when he took the gold in the Junior World Pursuit Championship in 1979.

I scanned the article and you can read it as a PDF file. It goes into more detail than I have here. (You may want to print it, it is a little long to read on screen.) It is in three parts; there is my side of the story. The riders’ side, with comments by Mike Fraysee, and the story about the theft of parts. After reading the story again, I wondered what ever happened to the frames?

Either they ended up in a dumpster somewhere or if someone reading this has one in their garage, please send it to me. Given my present circumstances after my recent accident I would put it on eBay and recoup a little of my losses from all those years ago.


Coelecanth said...

What a pain. This is the sort of thing that makes people stop volunteering.

Did Schwinn do any independent testing or was Fraysse just saying that to cover his ass?

Yokota Fritz said...

I remember hearing something about this back in the day. Thanks for the personal story.

Anonymous said...

GT lost a whole lot of momney when they built the "superbikes" for the 1996 Atlanta games. My company at the time (Troxel) lost quite a bit of money producing the "golfball" aero helmets for the US team.

Anonymous said...

I don't have your frames, but the story resonates, and they may still turn up.

I have, hanging in my garage, a crazy SWB road tandem built around a track tandem frame that was intended for the US team at the '56 Melbourne Olympics. The frame is English, built, I believe, by a bloke named Joe Parsons(?) and it handles like a single. In the event, Schwinn built some Paramounts for the team and the Parsons was never used. It was discovered, hanging unused in a bikeshop, by some early 70s bike nuts and converted into a century killer. A dedicated stoker is required!

Sadly, the original track components were stolen (funny how history repeats itself). I now have it, all the way down here in New Zealand. I keep looking at it and wondering where I'll get some circa '56 Williams track tandem cranks.

Too many good framebuilders owners(& mechanics) have their love for the sport abused by those who should do better.