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Neil’s Place

29 Jan

Every cyclist eventually thinks that it would be a good idea to learn a bit of “bike repair” or “maintenance”. For some this endeavor fails miserably. For others the pursuit of bicycle mechanics turns into something beautiful. The “Shop”, “Workshop”, “Garage”, etc. Called by many names, these places can become more than just a place that bicycles get repaired. Stories are exchanged, beers are drunk, and memories are made.

The home workshop can be a very different thing depending on the rider and the type of riding that they do. Highroller celebrates the home bicycle mechanic and will be posting a series of articles highlighting some of the more interesting home workshops that we know of.

We start the series with our good friend and customer Neil.

I headed out to Neil’s place one night after work to see what he had going on out there. He said that he would get some beers for us to drink as we looked over everything. I told him that I would pass since I had stopped drinking beer a few months ago. When I arrived I was greeted with a bottle of Blantons. We talked about the history of his family in the area and his own journey through cycling. From custom built BMX bikes to road bikes, to full suspension mtn bikes and steel singlespeeds this workshop houses a wide range of the cycling spectrum.

The goal of these posts is to let the pictures do the talking. Enjoy!

Very tasty

Very tasty

The trophies of beers vanquished line most of the open surfaces of the workshop

The trophies of beers vanquished line most of the open surfaces of the workshop

This pump dates back to the early part of the last century

This pump dates back to the early part of the last century

Perhaps the coolest  tricycle ever

Perhaps the coolest tricycle ever

Neil wants to build more of his own wheels

Neil wants to build more of his own wheels

Neil's first real road bike from Specialized

Neil’s first real road bike from Specialized

This frame was liberated from a farm somewhere in Kansas

This frame was liberated from a farm somewhere in Kansas

Watch your head

Watch your head

Neils place 008

Neils place 002

Every workshop needs a well seasoned bench

Every workshop needs a well seasoned bench



20 Mar

These days it seems like it is hard to really find something of quality that is handmade by a craftsman, I’m not talking about the silly trinkets you can find at any roadside flea market either. I mean truly artesinal workmanship applied to a useful form.

Over the next few months I will visit with several AR based frame builders to see how they practice their craft. The point is not to say that you need to order up a new frame right away. Honestly most of you don’t need to and probably never will. What you do need to know is that these men exist. They love their craft and are providing a window into what it takes to be handmade.

The first in the series is an interview I did last week with Joel McCourt of Symond Bicycles right here in Fayetteville.

I arrived at Joel’s early on a Tuesday. I was greeted by the nanny. I thought that was strange, however,  I would discover later that having the help a couple of times a week makes it possible for him to squeeze in a few more hours of work. I was greeted by Joel and shown to his studio in the garage. Most of the builders I know are working from home and have eked out space in their garage for their workshop.

One corner of the workshop. I think Joel told me the paint booth might go here.

I spoke to Joel for a few hours about how he got into the somewhat selective craft of building bikes. He and I go way back in the cycling industry. Joel is the type of person that always has a few irons in the fire (as evidenced by the moto gear in the shop next to the rows of other bikes). His background is a storied mix of adventure racing, architecture, road riding, cyclocross, motocross, paintball purveyor, graphic designer, family man, and so on, and so forth. So for me to understand more I asked him a few questions.

These are the files that make the finished product smooth. Joel spends hours with these.

When did you decide to do this?
I guess somewhere around 2001. I have always had an appreciation for the handmade and respect anything that demonstrates a pursuit of craft. I was always attracted to quality bikes; somewhere along the way i must have thought “I can do that”.

Did any bikes or builders in particular in your past that really influence you?
Not really. The old Colnagos had really cool paint and that attracted me to them. Only later did I discover that there is more to the bike than the paint. I think all bikes can be beautiful in their own way. As far as builders go I guess in many ways you learn to see through the eyes of those that trained you. Outside of that Sacha White has done a good job of separating his styles. He is a bit more recent though. I really hold respect for the masters of the craft that have been doing it forever. Llewellyn, Peter Weigel, Pegoretti, John Berry.

From my recent research into steel bikes there seems to be a growing divide between the builders who build a bike that is meant to be ridden daily and those who try to embellish every detail to get recognition at the next trade show. Where do you see yourself in this mix?
I dance on that line. I do have the desire to build those beautifully embellished frames that showcase my talents, but most clients will probably want something they could ride everyday. Not to say that you couldn’t ride those fancy ones around everyday. You totally could you just aren’t likely to want to pay 8k for all that finishing detail just to get it messed up by using it

Will you be attending NAHBS. This year?
Yes, but only as a volunteer this year.

Where did the name Symond come from?
It is a combination of my grandfathers names. I really wanted to reference their era somehow. The handmade is very important to me, and I think that their generation really understood what it meant to be resourceful. Why buy something if you can make it yourself ? To work with your hands and actually fabricate something of meaning is something i appreciate. That is where I am coming from on the name.

Getting the flux applied to a frame before brazing.

Is US made very important to you?
Absolutely! We make really nice stuff here. It costs more sure but when it is available I think we should use it. When i build a frame I use as much American made material as possible. Of course if the client is wanting something else I can do that too.

What types of bikes interest you most?
Lugged steel. Outside of that I will build anything. I think all bikes can be beautiful and the better they serve their intended purpose the more beautiful they become.

Tell me about the process of setting up this shop.
It has been a process. I am trying to stay true to my ideal of building what you can and not buying something if you can do it yourself. I did have to buy the alignment table though. That thing weighs at least 2000 pounds. We used a cherry picker to get it here. I am surprised we still have all our fingers after that.

This table is what gets all the bikes that Joel makes perfectly straight.

Joel made these tube clamps himself out of teak wood and they are held together with old specialized tires. They are one of the more beautiful things in his shop.

No smoking please

What are you going to be doing today?
Today I am brazing the water bottle bosses onto a frame.

Measuring the placement of the holes.

Getting the tune ready for the bosses

It fits nicely. Now for the brazing.

Thanks for Reading. Stay tuned for other interviews with AR framebuilders in the future. I would love to say the near future, but we are so busy at the shop that I probably wont have time to do another for quite some time.


Are you Straight?

17 Jan

Bike fit has come a long way since I began cycling when I was 12. It has been something that I have taken a keen interest in from the beginning. Fitting service goes beyond just the mechanical to the biomechanical. My experience with bike fit began with Dave Latourette who first introduced bike fitting to NWA in early 2002. In 2005 I moved to the cycling hotbed of south TX. In San Antonio, I honed my fitting technique, regularly consulting with Independent Fabrications on custom bike designs for Bicycle Heaven. In TX, Tri is huge and I worked with world class triathletes to get every bit of advantage from their fit. Upon moving back to NWA in 2007 I partnered with Highroller Cyclery to bring all this fit expertise to NWA. In early 2009 I participated in a seminar with Paul Swift from, and achieved the rating of green bike fitter. In March 2010 I attended the SBCU BG Fit class and achieved the master fit technician rank.

Bike fit is something that, until recently, was a bit difficult. In the beginning of my cycling career I was always trying to find just the right seat height and moving the position back and forth. Traditional wisdom of the day suggested get the biggest bike you could and ride the seat as high as you could. Also, on the old quill stems it was a real production to change stem lengths, so a person normally learned to accommodate a good amount of pain and discomfort. This lead to several problems that were all related to one another, though I wouldn’t know it until much later.

We are lucky now because the symptoms that most cyclists complain about can normally be alleviated by the massive amounts of adjustments that are designed into today’s bikes. Stem lengths can be changed and angles adjusted. Seat position is normally able to be adjusted through a wide range of positions with different seatpost setbacks and longer rails on the saddle. Companies like Specialized have invested heavily in the process of bike fit too. Thus creating programs like BG fit that educate local bike shops about fit in a way that was previously reserved only for elite level biomechanists and PT’s. Bike fit is a process that can be replicated over and over again for any rider with good results.

However, there are rare cases (of which mine is one) where traditional fitting practice and knowledge fall short. In these cases it becomes necessary for the fitter to think outside the box and draw on other disciplines to solve the fit problems.

The following is an example of how having ones body out of “adjustment” can be be a big factor in bike fit, power production, and pain while riding:

I have always struggled with my fit on the bike and have played with it for years. Nagging knee pain was always a big problem. Another issue that I have had was that I always felt “crooked” on the bike. Tweaks here and there have always been temporary fixes to the underlying problem that I never knew I had. After going to several fit schools and performing innumerable successful fits on others; I was at my wit’s end with my personal fit. After moving back to AR and developing a relationship with Ali Racheotes of SCA through the store I began thinking that perhaps my problem on the bike was not bike fit related. I scheduled an appt. with Ali and she did a comprehensive assessment my issues. Her approach of assessing the entire body, rather than just a small piece, helped me understand bike fit in a way that all my other experience and training had missed.

After I was “adjusted” I noticed and immediate increase in power and could feel that I was more square on the bike. I felt “straight”. All cylinders seemed to be lined up and firing in sequence. After a few weeks of the new “adjustments” to my body and several follow up visits my knee pain was gone completely.

If you have any cycling fit issues that you have been struggling with and previous bike fitting has not come up with a long lasting solution, perhaps you should consider getting a chiropractic opinion as well. I recommend that you use your bike fitter as a sounding board and ask them who they recommend for a consult. Of course, Highroller is the option for fit that I would recommend because we have the most experience with bike fit in NWA. PERIOD. We also have good working relationships with many other sports professionals in the area like Ali. With our blend of fitting styles we will be able to solve your problems.

Thanks for reading.

Fun With Inner Tubes

27 Dec

The inner tube is one of the most crucial bike parts. At it’s debut the inner tube helped to revolutionize the bicycle industry with pneumatic tires. Through the years the once mighty inner tube has faded slowly into the background. Despite it’s vital part of the cycling equation, it’s value is often overlooked. It is viewed by many as a just another part of your kit; something that you must keep a constant supply of on hand should you need one.

Some have made steps toward eliminating the tube by switching  to tubeless; first on the mountain and then the  road. Still,  if a puncture rears it’s ugly head the best and fastest fix is still the inner tube.

I, for one, love the inner tube, and celebrate it’s tradition and utility. So simple an object yet so vital to this sport that we all love. Even outside the confines of a tire there are many ways to use an inner tube. Here are some of my favorites.

Inexpensive, good for the environment, empowering, and impressive to your other cycling friends patching a tube is simpler than you think. For less than $4.00 for a whole patch kit you can repair many tubes. It takes less than two minutes. See the video.

Make some Rubber Bands:

Just cut across the tube in a straight line and you have homemade rubber bands.

Make a chainstay protector:

Not the prettiest but it gets 'r done.

Make Cheesy bike Jewelry:

I didn't say it was cool.

Always have a bungee available:

Inner tubes make good cheap bungee cords

Tow your Friends:
Or make them tow you. This is best done with two experienced riders and can end badly if improperly practiced.

This teqnique varies but I prefer to loop the tube around the head tube of the bike being pulled and then attatch to the front bike.

Make a Giant Slingshot:

Hope you enjoyed,

Send me your suggestions for things you do with your old inner tubes.

The Solitary Machine

14 Dec

Most of our interactions with bicycles involve the man machine combo. In other words, a human sitting atop a bicycle pedaling it forward.

Working in a bike shop however brings you a new appreciation for the bicycle as an entity in and of itself. Each machine has different balance points and nuances that must be respected when a rider is not present.

I loath seeing bikes left on their own in less than ideal situations. A bike continues it’s journey even when the rider is off doing something else. You know the feeling when you leave your bike alone for a moment and return to find it crumpled in a heap on the floor. With a few precautions you can keep this from happening.

I have always practiced the art of bike pampering when at all possible. It seems strange, but I know for a fact that a bike that is thoughtfully handled performs better than a bike treated only as a tool. Here are a few of my recommendations on ways to leave your bike if you have to step away.

The most common way to rest a bicycle is using two points (handlebars and seat) against a wall. But, there is something wrong with this picture!

This bike is in the same spot only flipped 180 degrees so that it wants to roll into the wall. This way it uses gravity to brace itself and is less likely to get away.

If you don't have a wall or other solid object you can use the curb as a Kickstand. Position your bike so that it rolls backward then use the mecanics of the drive train to prop the bike up with the pressure of the pedal againt the curb. DO NOT try this if it is windy.

If you have no other choice you can lay your bike down on it's side. Drive Side should be up and the non drive pedal should be at it's apex.

While this is an effective way to leave your bike it can damage thingls like computers and lights that may be mounted to your handlebars or stem. I would stay away from this.

There are some things that you should avoid to keep your bike free from scratches or dent and clearcoat cracks. We see it all the time and nothing makes a bike look worse than a big scratch on the top tube. Or a rear der. that is all scratched to heck.

It is NEVER OK to rest your top tube against any type of object to prop up your machine.

It is NEVER OK to lay your bike down with the drive side down. This is asking for trouble and downright disrespectful to your machine.

Another thing that I like to point out is that if you need to walk your bike for any reason. There are two acceptable ways to do this. The first is with your hand gripping the stem and guiding it along next to you. Second is a bit more complex. The more experienced cyclist may be seen guiding their steed with just one hand on the seat. The bike is steered by leaning it one direction or the other.

You can steer the bike with the stem. Being close to the midline of the bike gives you more control on where it goes.

You can control your bike by leaning it side to side.

I hope some of these suggestions are helpful.

Thanks for reading.


Winter Projects

3 Dec

Winter months at Highroller are a bit slower than our summer season. We need this down time though to finish up some things left undone and start some long needed improvements to the shop. This time of year is also a better opportunity for blogging. However, the issue with blogging is that there is already enough drivel on the internet to reach from here to the sun and back five times.

Of all the places. I found this image at

This week while I am away from the shop I am trying to think about meaningful and relevant information that our customers can enjoy. Here’s are a few if the things I have come up with.

Simple Elegance: The bicycle is a simple machine and yet the practice of riding a bicycle for sport is rife with rites of passage and unstated nuance that can confound the burgeoning cyclist. The simple elegance series will focus on small things that are a part of every ride that when done correctly significantly improve the experience.

Overcoming Barriers: Obstacles present themselves in many ways to cyclists. They can be simple mechanical issues or the mental insecurities that come with being clad head to toe in spandex. Sometimes these obstacles present the opportunity to expand your cycling horizons or learn new things about your world, The overcoming barriers segments will be a way for me to share my stories about this.

These two topics should be enough to keep me busy for a few weeks. Please let me know if you want to have me address a specific issue you are having or if you want to share an experience that shaped your cycling life.

See you on the ride.

Winter Riding Position

16 Nov

I mentioned in the last post that I would elaborate a bit more on the importance of proper cycling specific winter clothing. I plan to do that in this entry as well as go into some thoughts about bike position and riding style in the winter months.

Don't be this guy

I love this movie (A Christmas Story) but don’t try to ride your bike looking like this.

Over the last few years it has become popular for riders of all levels to get a “bike fit”. I am big proponent of this and recommend it to anyone. But, bike fit is not static. It is a dynamic relationship between rider and bike that requires attention from time to time. The winter months are one of those times. As the weather gets colder, we start to see some positional issues related to environmental factors. As the temperature drops it may become necessary to modify bike fit to accommodate these factors.

The two factors we see that influence bike fit the most in winter are insufficient flexibility and equipment choices that hamper the rider’s ability to reach their normal warm weather setup.

During the winter most people are naturally riding less. The more you ride the more your body adapts to the position for riding. So conversely if you ride less you may loose some of this flexibility you gained during the summer months.

The cold weather itself is another factor. Cyclists often complain of “tight tendons” at the knee or Achilles. This is often attributed to the added exposure knees and ankles have due to the “windchill factor” of riding. While the sensation is the same the cause of the tightness is not in the tendons. Tendons are relatively static and respond to muscles. In colder conditions muscles loose a little of their pliability and involuntarily contract more than normal. Therefore, causing the tight sensation. This problem can also be exacerbated by dehydration. When it is cold out cyclists tend to not drink as much because of less perceived thirst or not noticeably sweating as much. Even though it may be cold our muscles still respond poorly to dehydration.

Not a good idea for cycling

The second factor that should be considered in the winter when bike fit is the issue is equipment choice. I mentioned in a previous post that you cant just break out your ski gloves and winter parka and go for a bike ride expecting to have a pleasant ride. Cycling puts the rider in a very specific position. This position means that clothing and accessories designed to work well for other endeavors normally fail to meet the needs of the winter cyclist. The cut of other outerwear leads to problems.

A guy in Ontario that seems to know what he is doing.

When the rider assumes a position on the bike standard outerwear pulls into abnormal positions because the cut and material is not designed to move in that way. The sleeves creep up on the arms allowing cold air to hit the wrist. The shoulders push up around head and neck impairing movement. Another annoying issue is that the tail of the jacket pulls up as the rider bends forward on the bike allowing cold air to hit the sensitive small of the back. Aside from these comfort issues there are the fit problems.

The extra material bunching up where it should not be and pulling on your body in unnatural ways makes reaching your normal position very hard. Even with proper cycling specific clothing the added layers can still impair your ability to ride comfortably in your usual position.

Typical changes the we make for winter accommodations include: …

We’ll save that one for next time.

Highroller’s Cyclocross Adventure

3 Oct

The summer is making way for the cool mornings and evenings of fall. In the natural order of things a young man’s heart turns to …. CYCLOCROSS!!

Seriously, This year promises to be the best year for cyclocross in Arkansas that we have ever seen. Highroller is on the cross train in a big way. In fact we are hosting the Arkansas Super-Prestige series opener at Walker Park on Sunday Oct 16 2011.

The Arkansas Super-Prestige is a points series that is designed to promote more participation in cyclocross events across our fine state.
You can find more info on it at the fine blog of Steve Ericson

In preparation for the USAC race we have been hosting weekly practice sessions that we call MICROCROSS. We meet at Walker Park on Tuesdays at 6pm and try out new options for the course as well as introduce new riders to cyclocross.

Here are a few pics of the venue Walker Park so you can get a good idea of what the course could look like.

Lots of tight sections in between the trees

A sand pit?? Hmmmmm.

There are sure to be some open sections for the roadies too.

Here is the Flyer:

The Bike Shop in the Morning

27 Jun

The big window in the front of the store as seen from the inside.

In today’s environment there are so many things that make us hurry and speed up. We are constantly in contact through so many different media types. Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc keep us as busy as we let them from the time that we wake up until we turn in for bed. There are places that have a certain calming quality for me and bring me back to center.

The bike shop in the morning is one of those places for me. I am normally the first one to get to the shop in the morning and it falls to me to get the register started, the used bikes rolled out front and the monkey mounted up on his stationary trainer.

Most days, I come down early enough to allow myself a few minutes of respite from the rest of the world. I usually keep the lights in the shop off and let the morning sun pour through the front windows and dance through the wheels and bikes hanging from the ceiling. The days repairs hang silently in the repair bays awaiting the love they need for the day. Years of accumulated dust in the air creates a thousand sparkling galaxies floating in our small retail universe.

Some of the day's projects.

I have worked in quite a few shops over the years and they each have their own unique feel. However, the calming effect they have on me is almost always the same. I guess maybe it comes from feeling like the place is is sync with you or that you have a connection to it.

Thanks for reading.

Racer Racer Racing Racer

9 May

Ahhh, the racing cyclist.

You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.

Racing is a strange endeavor. Taking something enjoyable and turning it into a strange mix of suffering and obsession seems like a bad idea at first. However, the elation and euphoria that can come with a win or good placing can be unlike any other feeling in the world.

Cameron Peterson on his way to victory in the Pro Crit.

We here at Highroller have done (and still do) our fair share of racing. You would not guess it, but even our fearless leader Chris was a force to be reckoned with on the mountain bike circuit and even on the road race scene. Hard to imagine that now because of how much grief he doles out to Jonathan and I about racing.

This time each year our city is descended upon by hundreds of racers in town for the Joe Martin Stage Race. The teams of emaciated humans ( that make us bike shop guys look fat) start to trickle in on Wednesday. By The afternoon, they can be seen riding amuck on the roads around town spreading no good will with the drivers in the area.

It is not all bad, though, the added exposure of the riders on the road helps to remind drivers that cyclists have rights to the road too. The Sunday crit is like NASCAR on bikes, and watching it has become a favorite past times for many Fayetteville residents.

Inevitably there are the last minute repairs etc. Chain Tubular glue cables and housing top the list of items we sell to the riders. They also have to keep their bodies topped off on fuel so we sell a significant amount more nutritional items for the event. On the whole, we enjoy our racers. Of course, there can be some who are unruly and lack basic common courtesy.

Take the following fictional exchange. (The video is worth the time to click on it.)

We look forward to the challenges that these racing cyclists pose to us each year, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to poke fun at a few of them.

Thanks for Reading,