Bearings

ball bearing with packagingAfter I had been into cycling for a while, I treated myself to a fancy titanium frame. It cost two grand back in about 1991. I bought it from Tom Kellog’s Spectrum Cycles, one of the first builders to work extensively with titanium.

I remember Tom, whose phone voice sounds like the gravelly incantations of Tom Carvel in the old Carvel commercials, almost insisting that I get the frame in the57cm size. But getting the smallest frame possible is the racer’s mantra, and this was particularly the case at that time, so I was as equally insistent on a 55cm. Tom was right, the frame was a little small for me right from day one. These days I believe a little bigger is better, and I ride  a 57-59cm frame.

A quirk particular to the first titanium Spectrums was the bottom bracket. Titanium is more difficult to work with than steel or aluminum, and most frame builders at the time did not have the machinery necessary to fabricate anything too complex with titanium. Tubesets in this material were also limited. So rather than having a standard bottom bracket shell, tapped to accept a standard bottom bracket, the first titanium frames had a smaller bb, made from the standard tubeset. The frame came with a bottom bracket axle and a set of sealed bearings.  Also included were two specially machined chunks of aluminum used to press the bearings into the untapped shell to the correct depth, some Locktite, and a multi-page instruction booklet bound in plastic spirals.

Those bearings were somewhere in the back of my mind when I picked up this ball bearing at the estate sale I was running last week. What was in my mind regarding the rest, I cannot pinpoint as easily for you. The full take:

  • 1 set Leviton easy grip plugs in white, original price 95 cents
  • 1 set GE quick wire attachment plugs, from Caldor, original price $1.49
  • 1 red DYMO 1717 label maker, without tape
  • 7 3″ oversized safety pins, good for kilts
  • 1 Evansrule key caddy (made in U.S.A.)
  • 1 2″ barely useable blue plastic shoe horn compliments Cosentini Inc, Ithaca, NY
  • 3 hose clamps (installed a new radiator on my van this summer, now I’m a mechanic)
  • 1 roll unopened electric tape
  • Some weird gear thing, which I will feature another day, and
  • 1 bearing in a box from the Ahlberg Bearing Co., Chicago, Illinois

Writing all this down is embarrassing, but hopefully it’s the first step in recovering from whatever it is that posesses a man to take posession of any of this in the first place. I mean seriously and for crying out loud. Dammit.

Of course now that I have it all, it’s not so easy to dispose of. I suppose I could donate the kilt pins to the fire department’s bagpipe brigade, and I’ll throw out the shoe horn the next time I find myself dressing in a suit and I actually attempt to use it. The replacement cord plugs I have long-term plans for.  (One word: lamps.)

There is not now, nor I suspect will there ever be, a reason for me to own this ball bearing. But how can you throw away such a well-made thing? And one with such thoughtful packaging? The corners are reinforced with metal tabs, and one side flap contains the warning Do not open this box until ready to use. Now, this is not some impersonal, lawyer-mandated safety warning from a cold and uncaring corporation.  It’s more like a stern reminder from a concerned uncle. They don’t want you losing it, or messing it up.

There are traces of the Ahlberg Bearing Co.’s existence floating on the web—an old unissued stock certificate here, a postcard there. And it appears the company may not have actually made bearings, but reconditioned them. Can you imagine? Reconditioning a small moving part? That’s green. A cursory google search turns up hints of a former executive who went out on his own just after WWII, convinced that the real money was in making, not reconditioning, ball bearings. And now I am the current owner of this Master Bearing, The Highest Development of Correct Ball Bearing Engineering. It is a heavy burden, friend.

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