After racing the Masters World Championships in Mol,
Belgium (another story), I returned
my rental car to Amsterdam and headed to Prague by train.
An eleven-hour trip but time passed quickly in a nearly empty train
with a compartment to myself. There
is a beauty to traveling in Europe in the winter.
Arriving in Prague’s central train station in the
early evening, I checked my bike bag and heavier suitcase for 50˘ a day,
followed my guidebook’s advice and went to a hotel discounter located in
the train station. They found
a between three and four star hotel for $50 a night, breakfast included. I had a large room with antique furniture.
I couldn’t have asked for more.
I was a little wiped out from the race and traveling and was
content to kick back and watch the Eurosport channel.
But the main purpose of the trip was to visit Morati
and Tufo. Both are located in
Moravia, the eastern part of the Czech Republic near the Slovakian border.
Train service in the Czech Republic is simply excellent.
The cost is almost nothing and the service is great.
I had one of my best meals of my trip on a Czech train.
My first destination was Olomouc one of the larger
cities in Moravia. While in Prague it seemed that everyone spoke English,
I could see I was running out of English speakers the deeper I went into
the Czech Republic. Everyone
was helpful so I had no trouble finding my way around even though I had to
take a small commuter train to my hotel located in a small town northeast
of Olomouc. The stationmaster
drew me a little map of the hotel directions (there were no taxis) and off
Morati had booked me in a small hotel close to their
location. A perfectly nice
hotel and I might have been the only guest.
I certainly was the only guest in the restaurant that night.
The food was excellent and best of all inexpensive.
The Moravians pride themselves on hearty, large portions of food
with lots of cream sauces. I
wasn’t complaining. Food
prices were generally half the price of other European countries.
Mirek from Morati picked my up on his way into work.
I was surprised to arrive at the factory and see the Honeywell logo
prominently displayed. They’ve
recently purchased Morati. Ah those Americans, they’re everywhere.
I suspect Morati Titanium Bicycle Components is only
a small part of Morati. Morati
fabricates metal parts for the aerospace industry.
As a result, the bicycle side of the business has all of their
resources at its disposal: huge vacuum chambers for welding titanium,
computer controlled CNC machines, laser cutters and they were in the
process of building a special room for high pressure water cutting.
While most people haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Morati dropouts, they are a work of art equaling anything from the
days of steel.
Mirek took me through the whole process of building a
bike from beginning to end. They
start with Russian titanium tubing purchased in large quantities to insure
availability. Tubes are
mitered in batches using a laser cutter.
Mitering has to be perfect and only a laser can do the job
properly. A worksheet
accompanies the work with each process being signed off with a barcode.
The tubes are put in a kit with a head tube, bottom bracket and
dropouts for later assembly. When
a bike is completed, Morati can tell who completed each part of the job,
when the job was completed and who checked the work.
Their desire to ensure quality borders on the compulsive.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of Morati
Bicycles is their uniqueness. We’ve
become used to more or less generic aluminum bikes, well made carbon fiber
bikes and well built titanium frames but none of them have the personality
of lug work of the old steel bikes. But
look at the Morati’s unique rear monostay, the box system bottom
bracket, and dropouts. You won’t find this on anything like this on
another bike. And then there
is the Morati titanium fork (road, cyclocross and mountain bike) – no
one else makes one. To look at Morati go to their website at www.Morati.com.
After Morati, I was off to Otrocovice and Tufo Tyres.
Otrocovice is only an hour away by train so I arrived earlier than
expected but was met at the train station by Milan, Tufo’s business
manager. Miloslav Klabal, the
founder of Tufo was in meetings when I arrived so I checked into a very
nice hotel and had a late lunch of delicious Moravian soup.
In forty years of cycling, few people have impressed
me as much as Miloslav Klabal. At age 56, his passion and knowledge of
bicycle tires is unlikely to be matched by anyone.
It was very clear bicycle tires are his life.
He started the company, built the plant and lives with his wife
above the plant. He told me
how he started with Barum designing all sorts of tires but ultimately
making their tubular bicycle tires.
Most of our discussions were over some home made plum
brandy. We had a great time
and I would have liked to spend another day talking about tires with
Miroslav. He reminded me a great deal of Roger Durham who founded Bullseye
Parts. Others may take credit
but Roger welded up the first aluminum bike, produced cranks with a
splined spindle attached to the drive side (like the newest Shimano
cranks), sealed bearing deraillieur pulleys and hubs.
Both Klabal and Durham are happiest when in their
workshops designing new products or improving old parts.
Neither is comfortable with marketing or money.
The thought of getting rich isn’t a driving force.
Some of Klabal’s insights were interesting. He
feels that the aggressive tread design found in mountain bike tires has
taken away from the skills cyclocross riders learned.
He said a rider should ride a bike in dirt like a downhill skier
skis. It is a matter of form
and rhythm but aggressive tread designs don’t allow these skills to be
learned and may, in fact, adversely affect the use of these skills.
I asked him about the tread design of Tufo cyclocross
tires and the direction they should be mounted.
I could tell that this was something he loved to talk about.
He drew me a picture of the tread design of tractor tires and then
applied this to the Tufo tires. With
the arrow pointing in the direction of travel, the tread is designed to
shed mud. In doing so, the
tire gives up some braking ability. Because
most of the braking force of a bike is centered on the front brake, the
front tire is usually mounted with the arrow facing opposite the direction
of travel. So, the answer
depends upon the conditions. We looked at Jonathan Page on the cover of VeloNews and given
the conditions, he had his tires on backwards.
He’s not alone though, I rode my backwards the whole season.
When asked about his favorite tire, he quickly said
the 440 tpi Road or Jet Elites. He
said these tires rode the best of any in the world at 200 psi. I said most of us wouldn’t think of riding at this pressure
even though the tires are rated at 220 psi.
His comment was that Americans, raised on clinchers, under inflate
their tires. Most clincher
rims won’t accept this kind of pressure so riders think in the 115 psi range. He’s
correct. When I started
racing, we only had tubulars and regularly inflated race tires to 170 or
180 psi. All of the old Silca track pumps had gauges up to 220 psi.
Now many pump gauges stop at 160 psi.
Or ask Eddy B about tire pressure.
He’ll pump your tires up the maximum everytime.
Everyone is champing at the bit for Tufo tubeless,
tubular clincher mountain bike tires and they’re coming. I saw a pair on a bike but Miroslav won’t put them out in
the market until he is absolutely sure of their quality. He still checks every tire that comes off the assembly line.
Tufo failure rate is less than one out of 100 excellent quality for
tubulars. I suspect they will
be out sometime this year. Tufo
is also working on a tubeless tubular mountain bike tire.
Since most mountain bike riding is uphill, rotating weight is more
important than road tires. When questioned about flats, he said the tires
would almost be indestructible. I told him he better give me a pair to test. To give an idea
of potential weight savings at the rim, when I swap out my 29’er
Bontrager Race Lites with my cyclocross wheels, I save 650 grams on the
front wheel and 725 grams on the rear wheel – all rotating weight and
most of it on the outside.
I also saw some custom tires I didn’t know were
available. There are special
wheelchair tubulars that fit on wheelchair clincher rims.
To make them work; they have extra rubber on where the tire hits
the rim. These work because wheelchairs don’t roll tires and make sudden
stops, which would rotate an unglued, tubular.
I’d brought along one of my own tubular cyclocross
tires that I though was defective. After
riding it in one race, it developed a huge hump around the valve stem.
He mounted and inflated the tire and to my surprise, it wasn’t
really that far out of round. Smiling, he told me that I probably didn’t glue the tire on
properly. This had allowed
the tire to attempt to rotate but the valve stem stopped the rotation
putting pressure on the tire as the force of rotation was directed
opposite to rotation. He
pointed out that he could see evidence of rotation because the alloy rim
had left black marks on the outside of the rim strip.
The problem with cyclocross tires is that they are
wide and the rims are narrow so riders have to be careful when gluing them
on. Ideally, cyclocross rims
would be wider. He said you must be careful with rims with deep cavities
and that cavity must be either filled with Tufo tubular tape and then glue
or several applications of glue. After
gluing on tires for almost 40 years, I learned something new.
Of course, I would have liked to see the production
area but Miroslav keeps this off limits except to employees. He’s personally designed the whole process and isn’t
anxious to give away his secrets.
Morati and Tufo are similar: they build unique, innovative, high quality products.
They put their energy in product development while keeping prices
low. Marketing or the need to
market their products seems as foreign to them and it is common to
American businesses. They
feel if they produce the best, the buyers will come.
In an ideal world, they would be right.