We've been profiling all of the local frame builders in these pages for the last year or so. By now I thought we must have covered them all. Then a few weeks ago I was in my local bike store, trying to buy some titanium derailleur pulleys. The guy behind the counter was doing his best but couldn't find any manufacturer. He asked why I thought I needed such exotic items. I explained that the bike was already down to 18 to 18 1/2 pounds depending an which pair of silk sewups I used and how much glue there was on the rims. In spite of this, my twelve year old son had just blown my socks off riding his Varsity. The Varsity had been mine when I was in high school and had not been overhauled for ten years.
"You need to forget about titanium widgets and get the kid a custom bike from Chucka Chuck," with these words began my introduction to the most unusual frame builder I've yet met.
Like most of the local bike builders, Charles C. Charles (aka Chucka Chuck) works out of the garage behind his house. Other shops usually have bikes hanging from the ceiling and the walls. In Chucka Chuck's shop the bikes are all on the floor, supported by sturdy steel kickstands.
Chucka Chuck's motto is "I build 'em solid." and he does! The tubing used is all oversized diameter; at first the chainstays look like the ones on the Cannondale bike. But Chucka Chuck uses tubes made of solid lead; the term 'tube' is a misnomer--these are 'rods' of solid lead. Most of the bikes have solid rubber tires too. Chucka Chuck thinks a parent shouldn't have to waste his time repairing flats for some smart aleck kid.
Chucka Chuck has made a specialty of making bikes for parents who want to be able to keep up with their kids. He says that any kid who can out-ride his/her folks while on a Chucka Chuck bike is ready for the Olympics. Any kid who can lift his bike onto a roof top carrier, for instance, can make the Olympic team. "But don't try to carry one of these on your own car roof; rent a U-Haul or use the AYH van" advises Chucka Chuck.
I wondered whether these bikes would help me keep ahead of my boy on flat rides where the weight would be less of a factor. Chucka Chuck reassured me. He pointed out that unlike other bike builders who put their name on the bike in paint or decals, he did not. "This bike SAYS my name whenever the wheels are spinning." Sure enough, Chucka Chuck was right. The hubs are sealed too. "You wouldn't want some smart aleck kid to replace the rocks in the hubs with ball bearings."
I asked if there had ever been any difficulty getting the kids to ride these bikes; why wouldn't a kid just go back to riding his Varsity? Chucka Chuck always asks the kid what he wants his new 'custom frame' to look like. He advises selling the old Varsity--"to help pay for the super-bike." He gave me the name of a chiropractor who can be bribed to tell the kid he has mononucleosis just as the bike finally arrives. "This combination never fails to keep the suckers struggling at the back of the pack."
What is the ultimate bike Chucka Chuck ever built? "Well, there was the time I used pneumatic tubes rather than solid rubber," he recalled. "That Heiden kid was awfully strong and used to finish a century in half the time the father did. We filled the tires with mercury and epoxied the hub bearings and the bottom bracket. She still gave the old man a run for his money."
Chucka Chuck is one of a kind. We're lucky to have him in our area. And if any of you show this article to my smart aleck kid I'll kill you.
Dr. Fixit may let us in on how he spent his winter vacation in next month's issue.
(Eric Heiden was regarded as the 'Babe Ruth' of speed skating after he won 5 gold medals at the Olympics. He became a professional cyclist for a while but his career was disappointing to his fans. This article refers to his sister Beth.)