The XO-1 Returns

August 7, 2013 — 8 Comments

I had every intention to use the summer to design and build some much-needed side tables for the house (the “just-put-your-mug-on-the-floor” thing is getting old), but shortly after finishing the raised garden boxes, my woodshop quickly turned into a bikeshop.

Late last fall, despite some significant reservations, Ray learned how to ride his bike without training wheels–just in time for winter. Then, during winter, he outgrew his tiny person bike. So in May, I purchased a new bike for him with the stipulation that I would not put training wheels on it. And within a few weeks, we were riding up and down the block together. And in no time, riding around town together. It wasn’t long before we wanted the whole family to join in on our adventures, so I set my wife up with a new bike for her birthday, order a bike trailer for Anya, and bought a bike rack for the car.

This sudden ability to bike as a family was impetus to bring a long-lost friend out of storage: my 55cm 1993 Bridgestone XO–1.

xoxoxoxoxo

I’ve written about this bike before. I lucked into finding the frame for sale in 1998 and spent almost half a year afterward sourcing the parts I wanted, buying them as I could afford to. I spec’d the drivetrain and built the wheels specifically for a ride I planned from Portland, Maine to Anchorage, Alaska—a ride I never ended up taking, though I’ve put the bike through many more miles as that trip would have.

The XO–1 is a unique bicycle; only a thousand XO–1s were made, and when they go up for sale, they vanish immediately. The bike is legendary enough to warrant a company to manufacture a tribute to the original and if I park it somewhere “bike literate”, 7 times out of 10 there is another bike geek drooling over it when I return. What makes it special? Some combination of its frame geometry, reliable and repairable construction (steel tubes joined by lugs), and its original components make it quirky: a bike that is simultaneously fast and nimble as well as strong and utilitarian. It was and is a bike made to ride both for pleasure and for purpose. It is at home on a road, on a dirt path, down a hill, or loaded with camping gear. The XO–1 and the Bridgestone USA brand eschewed bike trends at the time (and many which have emerged since) by being so resolutely functional, and this is often attributed to the philosophical leanings of Grant Peterson, who ran Bridgestone USA and who now runs Rivendell Bicycle Works.

Image from sheldonbrown.com

Image courtesy of sheldonbrown.com, one of the Internet’s greatest cycling resources.

Together, Grant, his philosophies on cycling, his companies, and their bikes are, for some, a religion (and to others, a cult). Grant is someone who, in an age of disposable everything, designs and peddles bikes and bikestuffs that can last a lifetime. This is hard to understand if you’re in the market for a carbon fiber bike (which if ridden with any frequency will not last more than a few years), require spandex and special shoes to go for a ride, or need 33 gears and electronic shifting (I just found out about those last two in the last few weeks—WTF?). Bikes like the XO are hard to grok if your primary relationship to your bike is mediated by its spec sheet instead of the simple joy of pedaling somewhere.

Over the years, I think the general populous has gravitated toward Grant’s approach to bikes and to cycling, and this convergence is not unlike the way in which woodworkers and handtools have been rejoined in a renaissance of sorts. Until recently, the term “retrogrouch” was often used to describe Grant, much like the term “neanderthal” is used to describe handtool enthusiasts. But nowadays, bikes of the decidedly non-racing variety and cyclists of the decidedly non-spandex-wearing variety are everywhere, just as many hobbyist woodworkers are returning to handtools and handtool skills as a cornerstone of their craft. As with boutique toolmakers in the woodworking realm, custom framebuilders and cottage bikestuff manufacturers now dot the cycling landscape. Many of those frames are reverting to the kind of bikecraft Grant has always promoted: steel frames hand-brazed by lugs, and many of those bag and accessory makers are working more traditional approaches into their work as well (small gloat: I just scored a few pieces from this fine boutique, a husband and wife team).

In cycling and in woodworking, for at least some individuals (myself included), smart, skilled craftspeople making beautiful and useful stuff that lasts almost forever is a Good Thing in this world. It’s not just the stuff that’s good, it’s the combination of skilled people, the ethos behind that stuffmaking, and the proliferation of not-mass-produced-crap which together make the world an incrementally better place.

So you can imagine the thrill for me in taking my XO out of its box, cleaning and refurbishing its parts, putting it back together, and riding with my family. And now, whenever we can, we bike to wherever we can. Parks. Farmers Markets. On Chicago’s spectacular lakefront. Around forest preserves and through one of the area’s arboretums.

Hitting the Trail

Let me tell you–after having lived on top of a big hill in Maine, halfway up a mountain in Santa Cruz, CA, and on top of another big hill in the SF Bay Area, I could not be more thrilled at how freaking flat Chicagoland is.

So while I’m not currently building any furniture in my woodshop, I am building up an old commuter bike of mine, and it’s just as fun. I recently got the frame back from being powdercoated and have started building up the wheels from a handful of spokes and nipples, a couple of hubs, and a pair of rims. Turns out bench dog holes make a great place to rest a hub’s protruding axle, and that the Adjust-a-Bench is a fantastic bench for bike mechanics.

Wheelbuilding

Like all work in my shop, it’s going slowly on account of my day job and other obligations, but this bike will be awesome. Here’s a teaser:

Bike Rebuild

Next up: a new cockpit for the XO.

8 responses to The XO-1 Returns

  1. I know almost nothing about bikes, but cool.

  2. I love old bikes! Looks great! Makes me want to dust off my piece of crap and go for a ride.

  3. So bikes are the reason to love Illinois landscape… finally a reason. You can almost use the ground to check your plane soles round here, but yeah it sure makes biking easier. What made you move to the drop bars? I enjoyed your story, highlighting both how any hobby can fall into a “gear” rabbit hole (bikes, tools, cameras, chef’s knives) and also how, good ideas (hand tools, general biking, quality stuff) are often hastily discarded only to be picked up later when their true value is recognized.

    • There are other benefits to the local terrain. You can stand on a ladder and see for miles. Things don’t roll away. Older people don’t go on and on about how they had to walk uphill both ways to school. And yeah, a lapping surface which spans several thousand square miles.

      I actually recently moved away from the drops. I like them (a lot) but have a shoulder problem which is aggravated by the kind of lean drops require. The photo of my bike in front of the Chicago skyline is actually what I’m set up with now (next post will detail that switch).

  4. Must take issue with you re cycling shoes. After discovering the difference they could make more than forty years ago now, I always wear them whenever I ride my bike. As a much younger man, it was all about speed and performance, now it is about avoiding the pain that I used to feel in the balls of my feet before discovering SIDI’s wonderful products. Remember that there are three points of contact between you and the bike and it is important that each be as comfortable as possible.

    • Absolutely, Mark. My issue isn’t that stuff like clipless pedals and shoes are inherently bad, just that they aren’t necessary for most people and most riding. I rode with SPDs for years. I don’t anymore because most of my rides are less than 10 miles and I don’t experience the kind of discomfort you do.

      Some people’s physiology will impose requirements. For example, I now need to ride more upright due to a torn labrum in my shoulder and cannot put a lot of weight on it in the way that drop bars require me to.

  5. I am currently replacing most of the components on my 1992 55cm XO1 (purple) and was looking for inspiration from others when I came across your site. Very nice! Our son is a graduate student in Chicago and we brought out bikes when we visited him last summer. We rode along the lake as you did in your photos. Would have been nice for the two XO1’s to meet.

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