Categories
Essays On Horology

Mido, A Storied History

I’ve been on the search for a watch and made the decision to go for the Mido Ocean Star Tribute timepiece.

Having stumbled upon a video by a talented watch repairman resurrecting a Swiss made Rolex Explorer from salt water damage. I was taken by the intricacies of the automatic components and listened as the skilled master explained that a lady inherited this watch from her father – who had lived an active life, competing in triathlons, and this watch had been his faithful companion – and now she would wear it as it carried with it the stories of her dad.

This is the testament to Switzerland’s excellency of watch making.

A seed was sown and, slowly at first, I began a search for my own durable Swiss timepiece. After comparing numerous pieces from various brands I came upon the 60’s styled Mido Ocean Star Tribute.

I knew almost as soon as I saw it that it was the one for me. It fit every criteria I’d laid out – and more so. The quality was beyond anything I’d seen.

This kindled a curiosity to uncover more about the company behind this elegant watch.

Mido Ocean Star Tribute 75th Anniversary Special Edition

Mido, a story unfolds

What I didn’t know at the time was that Mido made the first watch ever to offer the exact combination of qualities that were on my list almost a century later. In 1934 they released the world’s first antimagnetic, watertight, self-winding, and impact-resistant watch. They had created a durable and handsome do-it-all watch and it became a market success. [souce][source]

“In 1934, after a relatively short gestation, Mido introduced the Multifort [with the above mentioned qualities], and thereby sealed its reputation as a serious watch company.” [source]

Mido MULTIFORT

With more than a century of history, Mido was quietly writing an important story in watch making.

Horology, the study and measure of time, is poetically found within the name of Mido, which means “measure”.

Founded in 1918 by watchmaker Georges Schaeren and Hugo Jubert on 11 November; the very same day of the Armistice [source]. Simultaneously the Allies and the German Empire signed a truce bringing peace to the conflict of World War I.

It his believed that Georges Schaeren’s younger brother Henri Schaeren drafted the name Mido.

Henri Schaeren seemed to have a flare for business and in 1924 after serving for 5 years as head of sales at Omega joined Mido as a partner to focus on the commercial operations [source]. This would have freed Georges Schaeren, “an experienced and ingenious Swiss watchmaker,” [source] to concentrate on watchmaking as the company grew.

Mido Founder, Mr. Georges Schaeren

A little known fact is that Mido played a vital role in the early years of Citizen Watch Co.

The newly formed, now famous, Citizen watch company was struggling financially. Founded in 1930 they began assembling pocket watches but had little market success. “Finally the shift to the production of wristwatches saved the company and enabled its growth.” [source]

The first models marketed by Citizen were all in fact Mido models. Funded by bank credits until 1933, Citizen acquired a Swiss trading company importing Mido watches in 1932 and ultimately purchased Swiss machine tools in 1933. In the book Industrial Development, Technology Transfer, and Global Competition: A History of the Japanese Watch Industry Since 1850 author Pierre-Yves Donze writes, “Hence, Mido watches were the models of the three new watches marketed by Citizen until the end of WWII (1931, 1935, and 1941): all were imitations of Mido watches.” [source]

Mido’s early years (1918-1930)

Originally Mido made pocket watches and attractively decorated timepieces. Mr. Georges Schaeren was initially inspired by the art deco movement. [source] By the late 1920’s his pieces were heavily influenced by automobiles. [source] Even patenting the grill style watch case design that won them favour with car club enthusiasts in a flourishing automobile market. [source]

Scharen’s “radiator” watches were produced for various car brands (Buick, Bugatti, Fiat, Ford, Excelsior, Hispano-Suiza, etc), including Lancia, as club membership identification. [source]

*(“Kathleen Pritchard in her work on “Swiss Timepiece Makers, 1775-1975,” gives the year, 1886, for the start of Mido, and her reference is supported by the existence of an important pocket watch marked around the bezel with the name, Henry Schaeren, and signed on the dial, “Melik Mido 1886-1936.” [source] However, of possible coincidence, it’s worth noting Henri, George Schaeren’s brother, was born in the year 1886. [source])

Mido, on the forefront of Swiss self-winding, automatic movements.

Mido has many technical and horological achievements to its name. While I have not gone through the list in exhaustion, here are a few that caught my eye.

  • 1934High water resistance, using the later named “Aquadura” cork crown seal system. It combines an innovative case system that houses specially treated cork seals around the crown stem (a traditional weak point in the case) and meant that water was kept out. A first of its kind, with the case cork housing made by Taubert, and the cork seal made and installed by Mido. It’s still used in some Mido models to this day. Mido had this undergo arduous testing by the New York Electrical Testing Laboratories.
  • 1934 – Shock resistance, “Mido was one of the first watch companies to feature the Incabloc system, and the earliest Multifort watches used the prototype Incabloc system without the familiar lyre-shaped spring, [later] introduced in 1938.” [source]
  • 1934 – Unbreakable mainspring, “the very first time that any watch manufacturer utilized this type of spring within the marketplace.” [source]
  • 1934 – Anti-magnetism, Tissot was the first to introduce non-magnetic watches in 1930. Mido among the vanguards [source].
  • 1934 – Automatic wind, the first automatic wristwatch was released in 1928 by John Harwood under Harwood watches, who first patented the invention in 1923. Mido was on the leading-edge [source].
  • 1934 – MultiFort, first watch to be completely “waterproof”, as well as being anti-magnetic, shockproof and self-winding [source].
  • 1939 – Radiotime One-click Synchronizer, “it is the first watch rendering possible the simultaneous registrations of the exact time, minute, and second by simply pressing a pusher set in the crown.” However, it is exceptionally rare and is considered the holy grail for this watch collector. [source]
  • 1939 – Datometer, allowed the date to be displayed using an additional central hand. [source]
  • 1941 – Multi-Centerchrono, the first manufacturer to introduce a central-read chronograph whereby all the hands are arranged from the centre of the dial. [source][source]
  • 1954 – Powerwind, simplifying the design of the automatic power system down from 16 to 7 parts and providing a longer power reserve for the watch; it also reduced faults and led to easier servicing. [source]
  • 1959 – Front-loading waterproof backless watch case, like the Aquadura this was the result of a collaboration with Taubert. A watertight watch was patented in Switzerland by Bernard Taubert (their case manufacturer) the following year in 1958 and the patent published in 1960. [source]

These years established Mido as a Swiss watch company of reputable workmanship, an uncanny grasp of the future, with a flare for design.

Mido Multi-Centerchrono

Artisanship + innovation

Hindsight may be 20/20 but from the perspective of the time (“most people still had keep-fit hand-crankers” [source]) one may wonder how Mido, then known for artisanal workmanship, were able to introduce so many new technological advances.

Their approach to innovation was not unlike Edison’s invention of the lightbulb. Edison had a deep understanding of the component parts available at hand, foresaw how they could work together, and therefore understood the building blocks of the lightbulb. If one understood that a filament would glow when electrified, that placing the filament inside an inert gas like nitrogen would increase the time it would glow before burning out, and that one could enclose those within a glass bulb – they would have invented the electric lightbulb.

Mido’s style was similar at both discovering and bringing together emerging technologies where the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. As was shown in the Multifort.

“The extraordinary thing about the Mido Multifort is not that a single firm could manufacture such a “complete” technically advanced and durable wristwatch within a few years – indeed the fact is that Mido did not make this celebrated timepiece itself – but that Mido perspicaciously and cleverly put together no less than three, and then four, new horological and technical advances in watchmaking, invented and manufactured by other companies, and incorporate them into a single model.” [source]

Along with past technical advances, a rich and storied history unfolds.

The founder of the iconic Bugatti, Ettore Bugatti, owned a Mido. Italian born French automobile designer and manufacturer, he had an eye for design. Recently his watch auctioned off in 2021 for $350,000 USD or “no less than 300,000 Swiss francs.” [source]

By the 1930s Mido founder Schaeren was determined to make beautiful watches that could also endure the “rigours of daily use.” [source] Current Mido CEO, Franz Linder, shared in an interview that in 1934, “It was all about being innovative. There was an emphasis upon not only quality, but also robustness and timeless design.” [source]

By the in 1960s their presence stretched from Brazil to Antarctica. In 1959 they were even sponsoring Miss Brazil [source].

The Mido Ocean Star was selected as the official watch in an “Antarctic expedition led by Warwick Deacock and sponsored by Edmund Hillary,” in 1965 [source]. They would require a reliable, durable and waterproof piece that could endure the hardships of the wet and cold journey. “By 1964 [Antartica] had been the object of a number of expeditions, but none reaching the summit of its 9000-foot volcanic peak ‘Big Ben’. In that year Warwick Deacock resolved to rectify this omission, and assembled a party of nine with impressive credentials embracing mountaineering, exploration, science and medicine, plus his own organization and leadership skills as a former Major in the British Army.” [source] Eventually summiting the mountain and returning to tell the tale.

Voyage to summit Antarctic volcano Big Ben

Establishing a reputation for waterproofness and quality.

A notable fact of vintage Mido watches is that many have withstood the test of time. While researching this article I came across the watches as being known for their waterproof qualities. “In not too distant history Mido were known as being the best manufacturer of waterproof watches.” [source] And I came upon anecdotal remarks by watch-repairers that when opened, Mido movements and dials are generally less corroded or pitted than expected for their age. Made even more astonishing given the fact a large number of vintage Mido’s were purchased for use in tropical climates.

The reason for this was because of the combination of the innovative cork sealing advancement (1930) that prevented water from entering the case through the crown stem and the absence of the case back introduced in 1959. “In fact the watch was so waterproof you could pull the crown out while underwater.” [source]

Aquadura cork crown seal system

With the aquadura system, “If you pull out the crown you still had 50 meters of water resistance.” [source]

Mido watches were resilient to not only submersion but humidity. The combination of aesthetic and durability gained Mido a strong reputation for quality and prestige. Mido “now had a firm footing in the market – still with a reputation for stylish watches but now also catering for a growing market for reliable, functional and durable wristwatches.” [source]

Mido and service personnel

In his memoire Friends and Exiles, Des Alwi Abubakar, Indonesian Diplomat, and son of Vice President of Indonesia recalled being gifted, “a Swiss-made, ‘Mido’ brand watch, which was the most expensive and most-wanted watch by Japanese military and civilian personnel. It fetched a price of three hundred to five hundred rupiah, on which one could live for 6 months.”

In a humorous account of a United States Navy Procurement Hearing, the businessmen given the right to provide the Navy with watches, were upset that Navy personnel were buying Mido watches and that the Navy Procurement office had “tried to procure these watches without our benefit.”

When asked the names of the watches they replied.

“These particular watches in question were the Mido watch – which is an automatic service-type watch – Empire, Hallmark, and Roma. They are all Swiss watches, imported, and they found particularly good favour among the personnel.”

[See the Subcommittee Hearings on Army and Navy Systems of Procurement for Post Exchanges and Ship’s Service Stores]

Mido watches were therefore sought-after by military and navy service personnel.

It is also noteworthy that Mido was, “Praised by pilots that used the Multifort during the Second World War.” [source] And that Walter Schaeren, son of the Mido founder and later to be company president, was in the Swiss air force in this period. As a result Mido also made pilot watches when Schaeren was president.

1945 Advertisement stating Airman depended on Mido

A “Be Bold” marketing campaign.

Mido was convinced of the quality of their watches and marketed them with confidence in the 50s and 60s. Boldly recommending their customers take their watches wherever they choose to go. “Be Bold!” was a phrase they used often. Or, “Expect to see a Mido where you wouldn’t expect to see a watch!” Even stating, “Mido is guaranteed 100% waterproof at depths down to 1000 feet. It’s self-winding, shock-resistant, and has unbreakable mainspring.” And reassuring, “They all have one thing in common: they’re rugged. Don’t worry about accidental knocks and bumps. Don’t worry about getting it wet (you can actually swim or go skin diving with a Mido because it’s fully waterproof.”

The Swiss watch manufacturer Mido had the watch undergo the official test of the United States Government in the early 1930s. [source][source] You read that correctly.

“To prove that the MULTIFORT functioned under extreme conditions, Mido had it tested by the New York Electrical Testing Laboratories Inc. Tests were conducted in freshwater and saltwater for over a thousand hours. The watches were then subjected to ten cycles of 15 minutes at 50°C followed by 15 minutes at -40°C. The winding crown was subjected to a test representing 34 years of use. Simulated tests of immersion to 13atm (120 m) and ascending to altitudes of 6,600, 13,300 and 16,600 metres were performed. One of the 6 watches tested ceased operating at 13,300 metres, but apart from that the watches seem to have passed the tests with flying colours.” [source][source]

Arguably the greatest test of durability comes from real-world use.

Mido seemed to understand this and shared letters they had received from happy customers who had used it for expeditions to Alaska, military service in tropical heat and heavy snows, and everyday use by professionals.

A Houston, Texas, man writes about his Mido Superautomatic watch: “I lost my Mido in the dirty salt water of a ship’s channel. Two years later while walking along the beach I found my Mito watch half-buried in the muddy bank, still running in perfect condition. The tidal action kept the watch wound.”

Needless to say Mido was confident in the quality of their timepieces.

In 1944 Mido trademarked the Ocean Star name.

“Its roots are traced back to 1942 when the brand marked its famous starfish trademark at its crest as a symbol of its advances in waterproof technology. Two years later, he registered another trademark, the name OCEANSTAR, and thus officially started the foundations for one of Mido’s most iconic collections.” [source]

Then with the ground-breaking front-loading case they incorporated in 1957 it wasn’t long before the Ocean Star became the “star” of their line. The solid case back further added to the water resistant quality of their watches. The Ocean Star line moved Mido towards an elegant and water-friendly lifestyle. Surf, sail, dive, and boating – all were encouraged with the Ocean Star. Even being used in the Antarctic expedition.

For such a stylish piece, the Ocean Star also embodied a playful side.

Don’t worry about getting it wet you can actually swim or go skin diving with a Mido because it’s fully waterproof.”

“Diner clothes or diving gear… it makes no difference to Mido “Ocean Star.” It takes to water like a marlin, adds its own note of elegance to the most elegant surroundings.”

It was the golden age of water sports and exploration. And Mido were inviting you to participate in style.

Mido carries on this tradition of playful and beautifully crafted watches in their Ocean Star series.

Mido’s history is rich, interesting and surprising. While the research for this article revealed a deep and long relationship with horology, I’ve read that the brand is appreciated by their enthusiasts for their understatedness and settled confidence. Franz Linder, CEO since the early 2000’s, has lead Mido well and helped continue it as a self-assured brand with a storied past and a positive future.

Categories
Essays On Brand

Brand & Watches

What can you learn about building a brand from watch manufacturers and enthusiasts?

I’m on a journey to buy a watch. An automatic mechanical watch to be exact. I’ve been fascinated by the beauty of self-powered mechanical machines for as long as I can remember. I bought my first wind-up clock on a family trip to the UK as an 8 or 9 year old.

I have a short-list of items that I’m looking for. A watch with an automatic mechanical movement, that I can wear day-to-day, that tracks time (for training), that is water-proof, that looks timeless, and that is durable.

At first I saw a Seiko mechanical watch that fit the bill. However, due to the fact that I already have a Seiko, I thought this is as good a time as any to try something new.

And then the watch buying journey of twists and turns began.

Despite being a landlocked country, my first port of call was Switzerland. It is has a well established brand of making high quality watches.

My methodology was simple. Start with finding a watch that fit the criteria and then, because I’m not able to see these watches in person, research the reviews to see if it would be a good buy. This is where I began to face the labyrinth of brand.

I was first introduced to Hamilton watches and then Tudor, Delma, Tissot, Marathon, and Glycine. In that order. All Swiss watch manufacturers. Other than Tissot, all brands that were new to me.

Glycine Combat Sub

I’m not generally particular about a brand. I look at quality and function, begin to love a product after use, and only then I become curious about the company, story and brand itself. However, without first-hand experience, each review I read would turn me down towards a different path. Brand mattered to them.

One reviewer would speak of heritage and say that another brand was preferable. So I would start my search again with their recommended model. Or one name was more known than another which could impact servicing, so again I was introduced to a new brand. Another reviewer would say that another movement in a different watch is better or had been used for longer, which may impact durability.

As I am looking for a waterproof watch that could be used as a timer, I began to narrow my search around dive watches. It turns out, some watch manufacturers had a history of being deeply involved with diving, while others were not, this was important to the reviewer. Even when everything seemed comparable – history, technology, movement – suddenly the watches’ parent company would come into question.

I just wanted a durable, quality, mechanical, waterproof and timeless watch.

In these reviews I learned about exhibition cases, servicing concerns, “hacking”, power reserve, manual winding, tolerances, origin, and that all movements were different. Some, with much to be desired.

Finally, after going around in circles, I thought I would look outside of Swiss watches and came across Yema, a French watch manufacturer. They made dive watches. They have heritage and technology. But when reading reviews the customer service of the company was being called into question – a new one to me.

Yema Superman Dive Watch

It’s enough to pull ones hair out.

While out on a hike in the mountains and reflecting on all this new information, it struck me, there’s so much to learn about building a brand from watches.

In fact it was easy to categorize all the decision points into building blocks of brand.

A brand is the marriage between how a company presents itself and how the consumer perceives them. It is not one or the other. It is the intersection. And brand matters. It adds confidence to a purchase decision or introduces doubts.

We think of goodwill in business as the relationship, hopefully a positive one, between the business and the customer.

For example, a reviewer may make bold claims that a product is great or the service is terrible. But that statement alone does not make the brand. Lets say someone claims Rolex has terrible customer service. Do you think the Rolex brand will be tarnished? Of course not. Because there’s more to brand. But, another company, a lesser known one, may find it will take time to regain trust with their market after a statement like that is made.

So what is it that composes the brand?

When it comes to watches people care about honesty.

This came up again and again in reviews. Collectors didn’t mind if the mechanical movement was proprietary or if it was a 3rd-party movement. They didn’t mind if it was made in Switzerland or simply assembled there. What they did mind was if a company was misleading – claiming a component was made somewhere it wasn’t. If one part of the marketing story was found to be untrue, all was called into question. Integrity was lost.

Watch reviewers are very thorough. They’ll even go to a watch maker to have them dismantle the watch and inspect the parts to offer their opinion.

The opposite was the case as well, no pun intended. If a marketing story was found to be true, the brand would increase in appeal. The richer the story, the greater the value.

Story matters.

Brands that can boast having been in outer space, in battle, in the Navy, on explorations, or having innovated technology – all garner the admiration of the wearer.

Omega watch in space

In part, I believe because that’s the draw to a mechanical watch. The watch represents something. Both stylistically and idealistically. You’re respecting a moment, a demeanour, an accomplishment. But the story must remain intact.

Design matters.

Mechanical movements are becoming works of art, along with the dial, bezel and case. Watch enthusiasts care very much about aesthetics. But not in isolation. A well designed watch is one where the aesthetic matches the utility of the watch.

Here a dive watch looks and functions as a dive watch. The utility is in the design.

How this effects brand is when a watch company produces designs that are true to the function of the piece and their expertise. In other words, true to the heritage and roots of the company. Over time this design becomes iconic to that watch. Think of a Rolex Explorer.

A company that produces designs outside of their tradition, and without purpose, other than to reach a broader market – takes the company away from the brand they were establishing.

Whereas if a watch company works with the Navy, for example, to supply a new dive watch, this expands the brand as there is a strong sense of purpose behind the new design.

Even advertising matters.

Most marketers, especially digital ones, may think of awareness as brand building. Working to reach new audiences and make a logo known and trusted. But they advertise to get a purchase, rather than tell a story. That type of advertising is more in line with sales, and does not build brand equity.

Just like the watches themselves, every advertisement, every artwork, and every article produced becomes the brand’s artifacts over time. An advertisement may showcase a movement or a diver. The visual design of the advertisement must mirror both the character of the watch and the copy be true to the integrity of the story.

From what I can gather, one example where advertising backfired was when Tudor watches sponsored Lady Gaga as their spokesperson. The reason for this is that the person who purchased Tudor watches couldn’t relate to her, despite her success within the music industry and her gritty determination. It was off-brand. And the forums were not quiet about it.

The next thing that stands out is quality & engineering. And also quality control.

The piece must meet or exceed all expectations. One expects a Swiss watch, for example, to set the standard for craftsmanship. If play is found in the bezel or the band, a part misaligned, or a movement appears poorly assembled or unrefined, it is remarkable to the reviewer.

Quality and quality control are not the same thing, I learned. Watch reviewers seemed surprisingly accommodating of poor quality control issues, as long as the watch manufacturer was quick to remedy the situation by replacing the watch with a quality of engineering one would expect. Essentially, to stand behind their own brand.

Which brings us to customer care & service.

When buying a watch one does not expect an issue. It is assumed that in this day and age your watch will arrive beautifully made and performing within specification. There is a wide array of variance to specifications, depending on the watch, the movement, and the meticulousness of the manufacturer, which the buyer is responsible for knowing when choosing their watch. However, if an issue does arise, one does expect a courteous resolution. This was made clear by the comment threads. And it doesn’t take many negative comments to turn-off would be buyers new to a brand.

Because I’m new to automatic watches I hadn’t considered the future need of servicing one. So when looking to buy a watch, customer service wasn’t high on my list of considerations. So I was surprised to see reviewers mention it. But it is clear, that if left unresolved, poor customer service does tarnish an otherwise faultless brand. Ever more so in service-oriented businesses, whose brands are built on service.

In conclusion

Brand is not simply the perception of the marketplace. It is a product of the company – engineering, service, quality control & marketing – working together to create value and establish the company name firmly within the world. It’s simple; the product must live up to the hype. And demand will follow.

This constant forging of perception, with how a company presents its products and the public’s opinion of the end-result, either increases the brand’s value and draw or leaves it in the chasm of commonplace.

Which means a business that intentionally masters the key components of a brand, will eventually with determined effort, establish itself as the brand they aspire to be.

The key components are Integrity, Story, Design, Advertising, Quality, Service, Credibility, Innovation & History.

Great watch brands are amazing at presentation and imagery in story telling. Their websites and marketing reinforce the look, feel and narrative they are communicating. They leverage partnerships, such as sporting events, to establish credibility. When new to a subject or product one trusts the opinions of experts. If they are respected by the professionals and icons we respect, we feel they in turn can be endeared by us. They push the boundaries of engineering. Pioneering new innovations of power reserves, deep sea depths, and time keeping. There is an integrity to the way they build watches and market themselves. Under scrutiny there is a consistent and uncompromising adherence to honesty and quality. They are what they say they are. Their service is of the same quality as their products. Treating their customers with care and respect. Their advertising tells their story. With charm, gusto and beauty. And over time this creates a rich history of tradition, accomplishments and heritage.

Then when a consumer finds a product with design and engineering that appeals to them, they will purchase it with confidence. This is the power of brand, confidence.

Every company will have a brand that is unique to them. Just as every person is different, so is every business. And the individual values, positioning, and journey of each company will contribute accordingly and attract customers who resonate with it.

It is the responsibility of the company to produce great products. To tell their story. To communicate their values. To create partnerships that strengthen their credibility. And to market themselves in a way that aligns with their core message.

To this I say to brands.

“It doesn’t matter where you are, you are nowhere compared to where you can go.”

Bob Proctor

Time will tell your story.

Categories
Essays Honda CB550 Journal On motorcycles

Unearthing the history of a 1974 Honda CB550

Hints of the story behind a Honda CB550 that is what it shouldn’t be.

When I went to look at a cb550 after it caught my attention browsing through the classifieds, I saw a rugged, characterful and misused motor with some semblance of charm. It was icy outside, so after taking the bike indoors to let it thaw, I returned the following day to hear it run. With the tap of a button the engine roared to life. Within an instant a connection formed, almost like meeting an old friend after many years.

The year was 2019 and with 45 years under its belt, having been built in Japan and driven across North America, I knew it would have stories. If only it could speak.

Laden with dirt, grease and wax the bike looked worse for wear. Tom, the prior owner of the bike, mentioned to me that he had rented to it to a movie production and their costume and set team had had their way. I couldn’t wait to get a rag and some soap to it.

As the bike stood, February 13 2019

But that’s when hints of a story began to emerge.

I noticed that the badly painted gas tank (again thanks in part to the apparent movie set team) had bondo cracks. So I called Bill, a talented dent repair specialist, if he would be able to take a look at it. “Sure,” he said, being a fellow bike guy. But mentioned that gas tanks were anything but easy when it came to popping dents.

Well that night I began the arduous work of sanding the bondo from the tank and prepping it for Bill. Yet as I peeled away the layers of old repairs and paint, more and more dents appeared. Clearly this bike had seen adventure.

Bill’s face lit with amazement when I showed him the tank. But faithful to his word he did his best. I was blown away by the difference. The once brutally damaged tank was enhanced to a patina that matched its age. I could almost hear my new old friend smile.

Tom had mentioned the bike was running rich. So I carefully tore open the carburetors. Meticulously organizing as I went. Someone, long ago, had rebuilt these carburetors before me. And had used some sort of seal gasket glue on everything, filling critical pathways and even covering the holes of the drain screws – which had been glued closed. It was obvious that others had since tried loosening them. Fortunately I had this incredible cleaner on hand. It’s probably toxic and deadly but eats through anything, so I love it.

The tear down begins

I found the source of the fuel mixture issue. The number 4 gasket was missing the needle. That would do it. Clearly someone else had discovered this too. The piston in the same carburetor was dented and bent from what appears to have been the work of a nonsamurai master. Fortunately, a file and carb cleaner made short work of the worst of it and the piston was removed. After addressing any issues, fixing all bent components and bolting it back together the carburetor looked and functioned as good as new… almost. The number 4 exhaust was cold after firing up the engine. Fortunately I was able to quickly find a replacement piston on eBay and then the engine ran without fault.

I thought it odd that the inner workings of the engine seemed to be in better condition than the carburetor.

Later, I began the simple task of bleeding and rebuilding the front forks. I ran into my first snag. The fork screws were sealed with the same gasket glue as the carburetor. And then, to my surprise, the lower springs were missing. I quickly checked online to see if any CB550s came stock without lower springs in their forks. Sure enough the CB550f did. 

Earlier I had noticed the original color of the bike was said to be blue. According to insurance files it had always been blue. I searched online to see if any CB550fours were blue by stock. At first my search would turn up fruitless. 

The rear passenger frame mounts had long since been removed and I hadn’t checked the serial number of the bike. Suddenly I began to fear that my bike wasn’t what I thought it was. 

Grabbing my papers I ran to the garage and scanned the front of the bike. There it was, the number stamped into the front. But I couldn’t see the vin plate which concerned me. Turning the handlebars I saw thick black tape covering half of the front of the frame. More concerning still.

I pealed back the tape to reveal a shiny original vin plate matching the vin stamped on the frame and the vin of the papers. Anyone standing nearby would have heard an audible sigh of relief.

Now I began to wonder about the engine. Fortunately, I had noticed on the website of a European Honda parts supplier a document of all the frame and engine numbers. I compared the number of the engine with frame. The years matched. Then I noticed they also documented the carburetor number as well – which surprised me. 

But as I checked the numbers, the carburetor matched a CB550f, like the forks. Another story emerged. Clearly the forks and carburetor were most likely from the same bike and for whatever reason had replaced the original ones on this bike.

That would explain why the motor seemed in better shape than the carbs. And why I couldn’t find any traces of that gasket glue anywhere else on the bike or engine.

But again I wondered about the color. I knew a CB550f came in blue. Perhaps that was the confusion. But no, the fuel tank was a different shape, rather than having the classic styling with the chrome lid, the CB550f was a more modern shape and had a hidden cap. Secondly, while the frame is nearly identical between the bikes, the mounting points are not. And the CB550f side panels didn’t fit the my frame.

Then by happenstance I stumbled upon a 7 year old video on Youtube of an original blue CB550. It appeared to be the same year as my own. Curious, I went back to the garage and examined my parts. The side cover was cracked and beneath layers of primer and repaints, there as clear as day was a metallic blue. I flipped over my fuel tank as well, and sure enough I could see metallic blue overspray. So definitely the original tank. I did also spot green overspray as well. Perhaps there was an option to custom paint the bike when purchasing it? Or possibly they swapped a cb500 tank and side panels when purchasing the bike? Perhaps someone reading this would know if that is something that was done in the 70s.  

The bike also had a blue face on the odometer gauge with miles matching the papers. Every reference of the bike I can find in bike reviews say the gauges were green. Now I know that my odometer could have easily been changed. So I did some more research on forums, classifieds and Youtube and have since found many 1974/75 cb550s with blue gauges. So again, an unlikely surprise, but it looks to be original to the bike. 

Remember how the tank was badly dented? Well, the story continues. Excited to get into things I immediately began giving the old beast a thorough cleaning. There was dirt everywhere with sand and grit found in every crevice of the engine body.

The bike had been given an intentionally “rustic” paint job for the movie. Where black was painted over silver and then sanded back to reveal the silver in spots. Again, apparently to serve the look of the film. But, despite soap being thrown in its direction the bike still looked dirty after each wash. So a quick trip to my local auto paints store and I returned with high quality black paint for rims. Something that would endure the elements until I would be able to powder coat it down the road.

Well, removing the gas tank revealed a very silver frame indeed. All the hardware such as the battery holder and metal clips were also painted in silver. And the quality was too good to fit the work of the movie look. This had been done before.

The more I investigated the frame and paint the more I was impressed with the workmanship. Someone at some point in its history cared for this bike.

But the cleaning revealed something else too. I noticed some dents on the side of the engine fins. But as the wax was removed the dents turned into chips and cracks. This engine had been through war. The majority of the wear was on the same side where the gas tank had most of its dents.

Had someone used this as an enduro bike? It’s possible.

In many ways, rediscovering an old bike is like unearthing an archeological site. One must rely on the remnants of clues to share the stories long forgotten or untold.

Yet it’s these discoveries that hint to the story and soul of the bike. The peculiarities of the engine. The way it sits on the road. And the charm of its character. Much like an old friend. Battered, bruised but no worse for wear.

And also, much like an old friend. Occasionally they share stories that almost seem too interesting to be true. Yet they are.

Many movies are filmed in the area I live. Mostly small production indie films. Some of my friends are filmmakers. So when Tom remarked that this bike was used on set it didn’t grab my attention. That is, until I began discovering more about the peculiar hints of history that this bike seemed to have. An unlikely original paint color. An unlikely pairing of forks and carburetor. An unlikely speedometer. And even an unlikely turn of events – from the pride of someone’s garage to become what appears to be an enduro to then appear on a film set. All of which was unlikely. But evidence suggested otherwise.

And like all nagging thoughts it asked to be investigated.

It turns out it was in a movie, titled Endless. The movie was released in 2020. And stared Nicholas Hamilton (from IT) Alexandra Shipp (Storm on X-Men).

And surprise surprise, the bike is featured on the cover of the film. 

Alexandra Shipp, Nicholas Hamilton, and the Honda CB550 staring in Endless

Now I know that the bike was in a movie. I know that it was painted blue. I also know that it has a CB550f fork and carburetor. And I know that it was owned by a chef at some point. Tom told me. But I don’t know that it was used as a dirt tracker or that it was stored in a garage. I only have the clues. But isn’t that what great stories are. Just enough to guide you along and just enough to let your mind wonder.

My humble CB550 in a scene from Endless
Categories
Essays On motorcycles

Honda CB500/550 and the soul of Honda 1971-1978

Recently I’ve become fascinated by the story of Honda’s CB500 and CB550, having recently acquired one. Read reviews and road tests of either bike and you see a statements like Motorcycle Mechanics “one of the ‘show stealers'”, or Motorcyclist magazine’s “possibly the best all-around street bike on the market.”

CB500 four superbike

1975 Honda CB550 Four

Yet, while the story of the CB750 is well known, Honda’s 500cc series remains largely unassuming, almost exotic, except to motorcycling enthusiasts and those that remember it from the days of their youth.

Wipe away the dust and an intriguing past emerges.

The saga of this bike starts in the 1940s. An era whilst European motorcycles were leading the world when it came to performance. British and Italian bikes like Norton and Moto Guzzi were dominating The Isle of Man TT race, the most prestigious motorcycle race in the world [1]. The two American brands of the time, Indian and Harley Davidson, meanwhile were building the now iconic big engined and slow revving steads.

Then came the seventies. Marked by the quintessential sports cars, classic sport bikes, fast-living rock stars and legendary guitar solos. While rock’n roll was moving motorcycle innovation wasn’t. Fast forward half a century to modern days and it’s hard to imagine a time when companies weren’t innovating products at a relentless speed. We’re surrounded by tech centric companies. In the pre-personal computing age however, this was far from common.

When the young company Honda emerged in 1946 with the long and official name of Honda Technical Research Institute it was clear that engineering would be its DNA. Japan has a deep-rooted history of excellence in craftsmanship. Samurai swords like the fabled Katana blades were folded up to 10 times by smith workers removing impurities and forming thousands of layers of metal bonded together. In Japan there exists a culture that looks for perfection in the harmony of the parts that make up the whole. In other words, a machine must be designed to work in harmony with itself to perform most efficiently. And founder Soichiro Honda was gripped by this and desired to engineer the perfect machine.

And a Honda 500 series motorcycle engine seems to exemplify this.

“First, there was its bloodline. If you were a racing fan of – and particularly a fan of Mike Hailwood and his screaming red-and-silver Honda GP bikes – there was a certain amount of magic in that half-litre displacement. Real GPs were 500s, and the displacement had a lean competition ring to it.”

~ Cycle World

Cycle World

 

Honda released the 500 in the early 1970s, “Injecting a massive dose of technical class and good motorcycling into a rather ordinary collection of mid­sized street bikes.” Exclaimed Cycle Magazine.

Almost as quickly as they left the factory floor in Japan the CB500s and 550s were being modified as cafe racers or gentleman’s expresses. Cycle World recorded that the, “Good looks and good handling made the 500s and 550s the darling of the cafe-racer crowd.” As if their real purpose, their calling, was competition. Fortunately, the engine was more than capable. The CB550 is easily modified to rev at 11000 plus RPM. “Several CB500 machines were entered in the Production TT races on the Isle of Man in the early 1970s.” Bill Smith road the CB500 to victory in 1973 – 8.2 seconds ahead of his rival. [1]

In 1974, Cycle World Senior Editor D. Randy Riggs prepares to launch the Honda CB550 at the now defunct Orange County International Speedway
In 1974, Cycle World Senior Editor D. Randy Riggs prepares to launch the Honda CB550 at the now defunct Orange County International Speedway

When the young company Honda emerged, the Isle of Man was clearly on everybody’s mind. Founded by Soichiro Honda and Takeo Fujisawa in the late 40s. Honda made its first appearance at the Isle of Man in 1959. Then in 1961, just over a decade since their formation, they won the first 5 positions in each of the 125cc and 250cc categories. An unprecedented rate of success and a sign of what was to come.

Soichiro Honda was inspired by racing and passionate about engineering. Honda believed racing was the springboard to technological advancements [2]. He is cited as saying, “If Honda does not race, there is no Honda.” [3] In their formative year, Takeo Fujisawa joined Soichiro Honda, handling the companies business matters. Honda was able to spend his days in the factory and research laboratory.

Honda motorcycle research analysis of the 1970s

With race engineering driving their designs and finding their way into production, their engines became better and more reliable [4]. Honda’s began upsetting the status quo. “They were built like a fine watch. Incredibly durable, fun to ride.” Selling his Norton for a Honda, Peter Egan, Editor-at-Large of Cycle World shared, “When I got the Honda all of a sudden I felt I could look at the map of the United States and go anywhere.”

Brooklyn Dodgers manager Walter “Smokey” Alston road a Honda. As did Steve McQueen – a man known for his riding abilities.

Steve McQueen and Neile Adams with their Honda motorcycle
Steve McQueen and Neile Adams with their Honda motorcycle

“[Soichiro] Honda was the kind of guy where the engine was the heart of everything,” shared Thomas Elliot, then Executive Vice President of Honda U.S.

And Honda was winning races in the Grand Prix on an inline four 500cc engine. That was until the Grand Prix brought in new rules restricting all classes to six gears and most to two cylinders (four cylinders in the case of the 350 cc and 500 cc classes), Honda joined a mass walkout and didn’t enter the Grand Prix again for the next ten years.

Honda racing pre 1967Clearly, however it was Honda and they had plans of one day returning.

The 500cc engine was the king of the GP. And Honda, passionate about innovating a race machine, didn’t have a 500cc inline four engine to develop in their model range.

That was until 1971 when they released the CB500 Four and shortly after the updated CB550 Four in late 73.

Yoshimura an engineer, who lead Honda back to their return to the GP in 1979, was a staunch advocate of the four-cycle approach. “Four-stroke engines,” he said, “have distinctive mechanical processes. The (intake) valve closes tight, combustion occurs, the exhaust valve opens, and the exhaust is released. It’s a sequence of independent processes, each with a different function, working together to facilitate the engine’s entire operation. This is really fascinating, from an engineering standpoint. I believe this mechanism will be the basis of further advancement in engine technology.”

Yoshimura joined Honda in 1972 and was determined, “to create something that would represent the very best in technology. We were determined to create an engine to surprise the whole world.”

The CB500, with a top speed of 115 mph [6], was already a great bike and was well received by reviewers. Cycle Magazine called it, “The thinking man’s motorcycle.” So it was unexpected when in 1973 when Honda released the upgraded 550cc engine. It was the same frame with the same classic sport styling, same tank design, similar weight, same engine case, but with a larger displacement engine.

But the surprise was appreciated.

CB550 unquestionably the king of mid-sized superbikes

In a June ’74 road test, Cycle World praised Honda for making the best middleweight better [7].

But engine size wasn’t the only thing upgraded. Honda’s racing and engineering fingerprints were evident on the CB550. The front forks and hub were designed for bolt on dual discs, stock. Something early adopters of the CB550 made quick use of. And there were other, less evident, improvements as well. Such as an improved clutch and uprated rear suspension [5].

Peter Watson and Graham Sanderson of Bike Magazine wrote, “We believe the CB550 provides one of the finest balances between performance, economy, and handling quality in today’s motorcycling arena. That may sound like a tribute normally reserved for two-grand plus machines, but we thoroughly enjoyed the CB550 and consider it to be one of the better bikes to emerge from Honda’s design team in recent years.”

“They embraced a kind of architectural classicism that paid tribute to both British and Italian design, with just enough Honda thrown in to reassure those who hated walking”
~ Cycle World in reference to the CB500 and CB550

CB550 four
1974 CB550 four

It’s interesting when you consider that the CB500-550 series lasted between 1971 to 1978. Ending the year before Honda returned to the Grand Prix circuit.

The 500 series soul is its engine. Its beauty is its classicism. Its charm is its faithfulness. And its legacy is its timelessness.

Honda’s spirit was in engineering and advancing the engine. The 500cc was the pinnacle of Grand Prix racing. Perhaps, without the rigorous racing of the GP, Honda needed another way to test and develop their 500cc “heart” that would eventually see them return to the Grand Prix and their roots.

The CB 500/550 series represents the very soul of Honda.

“A machine that has earned a reputation for sporty performance, precision handling and virtually faultless reliability.”

 

Categories
Essays On motorcycles

The 1970s Honda CB-550 sport bike and the surprising parallels with the Porsche 911

In the dead of winter I purchased a 45 year old motorcycle. My neighbour helped me pull it out of my snow shovelled trailer. An older gentleman, he seemed surprisingly at ease as he guided it down over the harden ice. He shared how seeing the motorcycle brought him back.

But the bike looked in rough shape. It had been used in a movie shoot and they had wanted the appearance of a worn bike. I fired it up for him so he could hear the engine roar and the look in eyes said it all. “I didn’t expect that,” was all he said.

A 45 year old motorcycle, that looked like it was 45 years old, that ran beautifully at the first start of a button. That’s good engineering. Honda has left its mark.

When I first heard Honda’s CB 550 sports bike engine compared to that of the Porsches 911 sports car I was skeptical. Being a longtime admirer of the 911 this suggestion remained on my mind. And I wondered if a motorcycle and a car had anything in common. When considered from the engines of its day perhaps the analogy could make sense.

 

It was a well received engine. At 423 lbs dry weight it was lighter than the bigger engined sports bikes of the time and with a reduced wheelbase it was reviewed to handle well. Bike magazine reckoned there were several reasons for preferring the 500 series: ‘For starters the 500 is a lighter machine with a shorter wheelbase. It therefore has a better power-to-weight ratio than its bigger brother and, significantly, it handles better through the curves. In fact, the 500 is faster up to 60mph in a straight line and its 80mph only a fraction of a second behind the 750.’

The CB-550, unlike the model it was to replace, the CB-500, wasn’t widely exported until later models. Being first introduced to the US in 1973 and then later to Europe as the F version in 1975. Brazilian test rider Marcos Pasini wrote, that while the CB 550 Four was not officially exported to their market, the CB 550F was well received and that the CB 550 Four would have been as well by fans of the 500.

Honda published that the CB 550 featured “A new clutch. Smoother shifting. Free-valve front forks. Hydraulic front disc brakes … and we’ve increased the final reduction ratio for greater acceleration.” Upping the engine capacity by 10 percent, the CB 550 offered the same blend of performance and civility when it first arrived in the USA in late 1973. Making it the ideal base for a lightweight racer that could do the Ton, stock. The CB 500/550 remained a bit of a secret gem, preferred by cafe racers and used as “gentleman’s express” as featured in the 1975 edition of Cycle magazine.

 

Today people continue to enhance the performance of these bikes. And lately there’s been a revival of interest in the middleweight champion in large part because of the engine, the lower center of gravity, and yes its good looks.

1978 CB-550A quick glance at some of the threads on the cafe builds and you will see exactly what I mean, “I think custom 550’s have the most beautiful proportions.”

“Interesting. Different. Nicely engineered. CB550 motor. Bloody brilliant.”

“That bike is sweet! My CB 500 is nice and safe in my shed and has been for years, I first customized it as a cafe racer in ’85 as a young man, maybe it’s time to give it a birthday, after seeing this awesome bike I certainly feel inspired.”

As a 1970s sports bike, the design epitomized the look and stance of the sport bikes of its day. Further the engine was shorter than the CB 750’s which meant the center of gravity was lowered – which for handling is a good thing. So the 1970s Honda CB 550 sports bike has three elements in its favour. An handsome appearance, a well engineered engine, and balanced cornering. Like the Triumphs of the 60s and the Nortons of the 50s the Honda CB 500 and CB 550 embodied the spirit of the era. Sporty performance and charming looks.

I’ve loved Porsches long before their sudden rise of popularity lead them to be the collectable they are today. To me they are the quintessential classic styling of the 60s and 70s. Beautiful, elegant, and minimalistic.

Much like, in fact, the minimally styled Japanese and European sports bikes of the 60s and 70s.

Porsche 911

Subtle cues such as the shape of their windows, the proportion of the rear spoiler, and the round lights work together to enhance the overall design. Porsche seemed to get the balance of chrome with the 911 just right as well, using it to guide the eye along edges and curves. It’s something you see too with the CB 550. It’s a very well considered design. And both the Porsche and CB550 have a community of builders dedicated to either customizing or restoring them. Singer and Magnus Walker come to mind.

CB 550 side view

 

The Porsche has an incredible racing heritage. Something Honda motorcycling shares. And like Porsche, private teams raced CB 550s and people continue to modify and race them in today’s vintage editions.

Until 1998, the 911 was an air-cooled sports car, modified by private teams for racing and rallying. Then by the mid 1970s it really came into its own. Winning the Targa Florio, 24 Hours of Daytona and then the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979. But what really sets the 911 apart is the classic styling, beautiful silhouette, and the marmite-like polarizing love/hate relationship by car enthusiasts.

The 911 was developed as a larger more powerful replacement of the Porsche 356.

Porsche, like Honda, developed both racing and production models of their vehicles. And the 911, like the CB550, was in their sports model range. And while Porsche become iconic for the sports cars of the 1970s, Honda became iconic for the sports bikes of the same era.

The Porsche 911 and Honda CB 550 were both considered engineering marvels of their time. When compared with a Ferrari, the 911 had a smaller engine, with a 2.0L (1,991 cc) 6 cylinder flat engine, yet Porsche decided to buck the trend with their rear engined flat 6. Yet, despite all logic the rear mounted engine would continue to win races. Similarly, while others were making 2 stroke 500cc sport bikes, Honda chose to engineer a 544cc 4 cylinder. As a result both were anomalies, both were lighter with excellent handing, both generated higher than expected power to weight ratios, and both were well suited for the race track.

Yet, where the CB 550 really stands out is the displacement to power ratio (DTP). The more power an engine can generate for its size and weight the faster it can make you go. Hence, the reason engineers try to make engines with smaller DTP ratios.

The CB 550 develops 50 horse power (HP) at 8,500 RPM. In other words, it utilizes 10.88 cc to put out 1 HP. Giving it a DTP of 10.88.

The Ferrari Dino 246 GT (1968-1974) had a 2419 cc engine putting out 193 HP. A DTP of 12.5.

And the Porsche 911?

Well, that produced a DTP of 13.7 from 1973-1989.

Surprisingly it took Porsche another 40 years before they released the 911 Carrera with a DTP of 9.96.

Honda’s CB 550 engine really was an engineering marvel. Even BMWs highly desirable R90/6 with its 898 cc engine producing 67 HP didn’t come close with its DTP ratio of 13.4.

Personally, I like the 70s sporty aesthetic of the original Honda CB 550s and 500s. There’s a certain symmetry and charm to their stature. I also understand one’s desire to modify it. The CB 550 engine offers a surprising punch and with simple weight reduction and some changes to the gearing and foot positioning can be converted into a very formidable racing machine that harkens to the days gone by.

When I catch a glimpse of a Porsche 911 passing by I find I’m drawn to it. It has an appearance that sets it apart. Comparing a motorcycle of the 70s with a car that continues in production today is a far stretch to say the least. Yet, from a merely observational perspective, the parallels are undeniable. With engineering at the heart of both machines, both replacing outgoing models, both perhaps representing the best of the engineering of their times, and both classics are immediately recognizable and iconic of their era.

Categories
Essays On Intelligence

The truth about burnout

It was a bright sunny day. Sitting at my birch wood table overlooking the back yard, I could the see the light streaming in to the kitchen. I remember the time of day, it was just about 11am, as I sat coding on my laptop.

I felt a sense of urgency to push code.

But a cloud began to form in my mind as I strained to make sense of the screen. It wasn’t that it was complicated. I had experienced small moments like this numerous times before. Usually it followed long stretches of coding, often many days in a row. So assuming I needed to rest my mind for a minute I looked away to give myself a few seconds of rest. Looking back at the code the fog returned. Again I took a break. I remember waiting exactly 5 minutes. That should be plenty of time. But the fog became worse. Within minutes it was like I was looking at greek. I couldn’t make sense of it.

That was 7 years ago. And I’m pleased to say I’ve been symptom free for about 6 weeks.

If you’ve faced this type of scenario I’m happy to say that it’s completely possible to recover from burnout. Commonly referred to as Brain Fog.

There isn’t a lot of information available on burnout. When I first experienced it I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know why I was experiencing it. In fact I felt ashamed that I was unable to perform at my usual pace and kept it secret from my business partners and colleagues. I was embarrassed, valued performance, and afraid.

I’ve since learned that burnout comes from Hyperfocus disorder. Hyperfocus is an intense form of mental concentration [1]. In my case I didn’t have ADHD, or any of the other conditions sometimes associated with hyperfocus, I simply had little problem focusing while programming. I would get into the zone even in loud, disruptive, and emotionally charged environments. I was possibly a workaholic, a habit thankfully broken because of the symptoms of burnout. Not wanting to miss the NFL Super Bowl I would sit writing our application on my computer while cheering for my team of the match. I struggled to put my tasks aside.

The brain needs rest. It’s an organ, no different to the heart or lungs. It needs time to recover from strenuous use. Something I didn’t know or understand.

Symptoms that I experienced from burnout included:

  • Difficulty with memory recall. Any new information that wasn’t being used in the moment was almost immediately forgotten. While doable, this made project management challenging.
  • Nausea when eating. At one point I’d eat a bite, wait until the feeling of nausea would pass, before choosing to eat another bite.
  • Fogginess. This one is hard to explain, the ability to see things, but difficulty in making sense of what you are seeing. My eyes worked fine, but symbols and strings of commands weren’t instantly recognizable.
  • Logical arguments became extremely strenuous. I studied philosophy at UBCO, it was effortless to string arguments together. In debate one would often think of 4 or 5 arguments simultaneously. After burnout it became difficult to think beyond a single argument.
  • Hard to perform complex short-term recall. Similar to the above symptom, programming often requires holding a few thoughts simultaneously. One assembles the functions of the code in their mind prior to writing it. Then while writing code you may need to know how a module or controller works that you are referencing, remember all that occurred in the program prior to the code you are writing, and think of the possible scenarios that could occur to ensure you write bug free code. It became very tiresome to perform even the simplest of tasks.
  • Strategic debate was challenging.
  • Mood changes – this was subtle but I definitely noticed that some days I had to be very intentional with how I communicated with others. After mentally involved tasks I would become more abrupt and critical.
  • Difficulty recalling words and thoughts. I knew I had a word or thought in my memory, but unable to access it in moments of conversations.
  • Difficulty articulating thoughts. This was likely the most frustrating of all the symptoms. While I could hide the other ones behind a computer screen, as the owner of my company I needed to be able to communicate my thoughts around strategy. Unable to string together many arguments at once, it wasn’t an easy task and I left many meetings feeling frustrated.
  • Simple tasks like answering emails, writing posts, or maintaining support became challenging – even draining.

Extended periods of acute awareness and hyperfocus result in long term elevated levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine is released by the hypothalamus in the brain. It is provides you with the motivation, drive and focus involved with attention. Think of it like your “motivation” hormone. Norepinephrine (noardrenaline) is a neurotransmitter found in the brain which has very similar in structure to the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline). It is a chemical involves in wakefulness, memory, alertness and generally readying the brain, and therefore the body, for action when it is being challenged or threatened.

Another chemical released during concentration is acetylcholine (ACh). ACh, acting through muscarinic and nicotinic receptors, it enhances attentional focus by modulating neural activity across sensory, prefrontal, parietal regions of your brain. ACh helps you make sense of what you’re focusing on. “In sensory regions, such as your visual cortex which is activated when you are focusing in the visual domain, ACh acts to increase the signal relative to the noise. More specifically it increases the strength of the relevant neural signal in the visual “receptive field” which represents your point of focus to make sure it is greater than the surrounding neural signals. This helps you to label which areas of your visual field are the most important, and to inhibit nearby distractions which may otherwise disturb your attentional focus.” [2]

Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are made using amino acids. The thyroid which releases thyroxine plays a vital role in the regulation and production of dopamine. “Thyroxine has been shown to play the vital role in the production of stomach acid which ultimately helps to increase the level of dopamine in brain” [3]. Stomach acids are used to release amino acids from protein. These amino acids are then used to create the neurotransmitters.

Also, extended periods of increased levels of norepinephrine can lead to stress. “A significant part of the damage is due to the effects of sustained norepinephrine release, because of norepinephrine’s general function of directing resources away from maintenance, regeneration, and reproduction, and toward systems that are required for active movement. The consequences can include slowing of growth (in children), sleeplessness, loss of libido, gastrointestinal problems, impaired disease resistance, slower rates of injury healing, depression, and increased vulnerability to addiction.” [4][5]  Essentially too much norepinephrine puts you body into a stressed state.

Cordisol, a hormone released during anxiety and stress, in turns makes it difficult to focus and recall things.

Berkley scientists published a study showing the effects of stress on the white matter in brains.[6] In it they found that chronic stress triggers long-term changes in brain structure and function.

Sustained hyperfocus can lead parts of the brain to go dormant. Similar to tearing a muscle at the gym, a strong body can be over stressed and require months to heal. Also elevated levels of hormones associated with “fight or flight” cause the body to neglect import recovery and healing functions [7][8]. The body doesn’t like extended stress. It’s designed to survive and will do what it can to eliminate threats.

In my case a combination of extended hyperfocus, lack of exercise and an irregular sleep pattern created a threat to my body’s survival. The tragedy of errors resulted in increased anxiety, nausea, and parts of the brain being damaged.

I’ve got good news. The brain can and does recover.

One key to recovering from brain fog, burnout, and the symptoms that I described is to know there is no set time. I’ve read stories of people who have light symptoms recovering in months. Others, like myself, took many years. But I’ve remained optimistic, understanding that my mind was creating new pathways as I continued to perform my work.

In 2012 I began exercising consistently. Cycling was the first sport that seemed to mirror from a physical aspect the fatigue I experienced from a mental one. Cresting a mountain on a bicycle turned the physical pain of the climb into instant euphoria and accomplishment, which is usually followed by gratitude and awe. Today, I enjoy racing in cycling competitions. [9]

I’ve since read some fascinating studies on how endurance sports that stress the cardiovascular system actually release chemicals that not only promote recovering in the muscles but also in the brain.

Finally, I highly recommend being intentionally optimistic and grateful. It not only makes the recovery process significantly more enjoyable, but the brain is hardwired to respond to positive stimuli. Possibly there is a connection between gratitude and building a strong, healthy and resilient mind.

If you are going through the experience that I described, know that it will get better.

Categories
Essays On Business On Leadership

Maintaining Vision

500,000 visitors, wow. It’s been a journey. Thank you!

When it comes to building a business or starting a venture, what is vision? What does it mean to maintain vision? Is vision important? How does one grow their business in a changing landscape, with wavering demands, all while maintaining their vision?

These are among the questions I’ve been asking myself the past couple months.

I enjoy learning from others and I believe it’s a privilege to live in an age where so much information is given freely. So when I have a question I find myself digging into the archives of Youtube, listening to podcasts and audio books, and turning the pages of well read classics.

But when it comes to these questions on vision, I’m finding, or not finding, any concentrated material on the subject.

Is vision even important?

If you follow the excellent advice of Steve Blank or the Lean Startup, or other go-to-market tools, one may begin to question the need. For example, a truly customer lead company pitches ideas to the market, gathers feedback and insight, and makes adjustments accordingly. With enough feedback you will have a product with high demand and a model to grow your business. No vision required.

But what happens when competition shows up or you have a major setback?

Do you continue with your current strategy, do you pivot and reapply the lean startup process, or do you throw in the towel?

Visit any major city in the US and you will see a Starbucks on every corner. Coffee shops is a competitive market, but it took over 3 decades for Starbucks to saturate their market in the US. Starbucks opened their first store in 1982. And coffee houses have existed since the arrival of coffee in Europe, the Middle East and North America – with the first shop opening up in Damascus in 1530.

In Bob Dylan’s famous words, “Times they are a changing,” and it seems they are changing at a faster rate than ever before.

Any outsider will likely recognize that startups are the new gold rush. With tens of thousands starting every week and only a few striking it big. You may have a bold new idea, raise capital, launch to market and find yourself in hyper competitive marketplace within just 6 to 12 months. The problem with emerging markets is that while they may be growing, the competition is there too. So I ask you, what’s the difference between a growing startup and the graveyard of belly-ups?

Sure some businesses have promise but run out of money, others die from “board-em”, or get distracted by new ideas and jump ship. Yet, I believe only one thing separates a thriving startup from the rest. It’s called vision.

Steve Jobs once said, “You have to have a lot of passion for what you are doing because it is so hard… if you don’t, any rational person would give up.” But where does passion comes from?

I was sitting across the table from a friend at a local cafe. The cafe has a really neat vibe, with bikes hanging on the wall donated by loyal customers. My friend is sharing his concern about his kids. They will be graduating soon and he wants them to take their school more seriously so they get into the right colleges.

He had more passion about his children’s education than they did. Why? Because he had a clear vision of where they could end up. He saw them graduating from a well respected university, getting a job at a reputable company, and starting off life with a promising career. As a result he was more invested then they were.

Now there is a famous psychologist who would argue that he has made a common mistake, and taken on his children’s problem of their future as his problem. As a result they don’t need to take it seriously, why would they? Their dad has taken it seriously enough. I digress.

He has a vision for his children, and as a result he has a natural passion to see it fulfilled. When a founder loses passion, they likely lost their vision and their sense of purpose. Possibly, they never had a sense of purpose. Instead we often set a target such as money, or accomplishments, or prestige as our purpose. But they don’t last. Instead having a motivation beyond any reward does.

Just yesterday I was watching an interview between Richard Branson and David Rubenstein. Richard quietly mentioned, “I never go into a venture with the idea of making a profit. If you can create the best in its field generally you will find that you can pay the bills.” When you look at all great business leaders, they seem to have the ability to ride things out for the long haul. Why? Because despite all the hurdles, set backs and competition that can come their way, they have a vision that’s greater than the discomfort and hardships they may experience along the way.

A couple weeks ago I noticed to my surprise that this blog has received over 500,000 views. What makes this amazing is that the odds of getting any traffic hasn’t been in its favour. When I started writing here I didn’t write for anyone else. This may sound strange or selfish or unusual, but really all that I wanted was a place where I could record my thoughts and share some of them along the way. Also, I have interests that don’t create a nice content niche. If you read advice on writing for a blog they say to pick a topic and stick to it. But my vision was different. I wanted a place where I could catalogue learnings on any subject. So I did. This site consists of posts about car maintenance, cycling, computer programming, leadership, startups – you name it. Finally, this site was hacked. So until I could fix it, it was literally banned from all search engines for 2 years. But again, I wasn’t writing for anyone else. So while that was annoying, I recreated the blog and kept writing.

500000 views on machiine

 

Vision doesn’t need to be grandiose, or even compelling to others. It doesn’t need to fit a market or break the rules. It just needs to be a picture of what you want to see exist. It’s not your mission and it’s not a destination.

Instead, vision is simple. When I launched Saint clothing in 2005 my idea was to see if it were possible to create a successful business around your interests. That was my vision. It grew over time to help others who also had a sense of purpose and a desire to do something that was outside the norm. But it was a truly simple idea.

If you were to ask Steve Jobs his vision for the world, I doubt he would say, “I want an iPhone in everyone’s pocket.” That’s a mission, not a vision. I doubt it would have anything to do with an iPhone. His vision was likely more simple. To give the creators, the innovators, the outcasts the tools they need to change the world.

When a vision is clear the product can change, marketing can change, competition can change but the course never changes.

Categories
Essays On Bicycles On Bicycles Reviews

The Wilier Triestina Zero.9

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The 2014 U.S. National Road Cycling Championship was a lively race, full of unexpected twists, attacks and breaks. When Eric Marcotte crossed the finish line and won the title, he was riding his trusty stead the Wilier Zero Nine.

The field was strong. He was racing against favourites like Taylor Phinney, Ben King, Phil Gaimon and Alex Howes.

It was an exciting finish. After a gruelling final climb which stretched the already tired front group Zwizanski attacked. Semper grabbed his wheel and Jones and McCabe joined.

2014 US National Road Cycling Championship
What’s left of the field nears the top of the last climb of the 2014 US National Road Cycling Championship

Jones attacked again with just 2km to go. But the chasing group wasn’t far behind.

Finally, in the last corner the attackers were caught by the chasing group.  With Jones, Wren, Stemper, Kyer, Marcotte, Howes, Zwizanski, Rathe, McCabe, Miller, Butler, Reijnen and Busche coming together, it came down to a sprint finish.

2014 US National Road Championships
Eric Marcotte sprints to the win on the left

It was a fitting end to the season for both Marcotte and the Wilier Zero 9. By the end of the year they had seen numerous podium finishes. Something race journalists may not have expected for the Wilier Zero.9 – the Cinderella in the family of Wilier pro bikes.

Wilier Zero.9 Part of the Wilier Triestina Racing Division

In 2015 Outside Magazine ranked the Wilier Zero.9 2nd after the Specialized Tarmac and above the Trek Emonda. Dramis wrote, “It seems like every year Wilier sends a bike to the Test is another year a Wilier makes it into the Top 3. Every Wilier I’ve ever tested has been a standout, from the Cento 1 to the incredible Zero.7, they’ve all been winners. The Zero.9 continues that tradition.”

Unlike its two racing siblings (The Zero.7 and the Cento Uno) the Zero.9 had been largely missed by journalists, due in part to their enthusiasm for the Zero.7, and by some pro-racers as they moved towards specialization.

The reason, you ask? It was partly because of marketing and partly because of its name Zero.9.

The Zero.7 is an excellent climbing bike weighing in under 790 grams and less, hence the name Zero.7. While the Cento Uno is an aero bike weighing just under 1300 grams.

Because the Zero.9’s frame weight was also under 1000grams, it was given the same Zero. naming style. With a size M weighing in at 940 grams.

But the name created confusion in the market place. With many people assuming that Zero.9 simply meant it was a heavier version of the Zero.7. Much like the Trek Emonda SL is a heavier variant of the Trek Emonda SLR.

But Wilier had built a very different bike. They tried to describe it in their marketing by comparing it to both the Cento 1 and the Zero.7.  It was a bike for climbing, like the Zero.7, but it’s stiffness wasn’t limited by the hill climber’s 790 gram limit. And unlike the Cento Uno, it wasn’t an outright aero bike either.

With a race geometry, an oversized bottom bracket, and the same carbon construction as the Cento Uno, Wilier seemed unsure of where to place it in an increasingly specialized field.

Wilier Zero 9 geometry
Wilier Zero 9 geometry

But the Zero.9 has yet another surprise. It’s an incredibly good road bike.

Road.cc wrote, “The Wilier Zero 9 is a performance orientated road bike … for people who want to get around the course as fast as possible.”

In 2015 Outside Magazine ranked it 2nd after the Specialized Tarmac and above the Trek Emonda. Dramis wrote, “It seems like every year Wilier sends a bike to the Test is another year a Wilier makes it into the Top 3. Every Wilier I’ve ever tested has been a standout, from the Cento 1 to the incredible Zero.7, they’ve all been winners. The Zero.9 continues that tradition.”

Bicycling Magazine concluded, “If you want a bike to toe the start line and be a contender at the finish—just add your pedals and bottle cages, and the Zero.9 is ready to go.”

So what made the Zero.9 so good? Wilier, an Italian Bicycle company since 1906, is known for producing top-end road bikes. They take what they learn from each model and improve the next. In recent years they invented the asymmetrical chain stay to improve power transfer from the chain to the rear cassette and the 386 bottom bracket to reduce the flex from the pedal to the bottom bracket.

When they made the Zero.9 they continued in this tradition. The Zero.9 geometry and the Zero.7’s are virtually identical. Also, like both the Zero.7 and the Cento Uno, the Zero.9 uses the high-modulus 60-ton carbon fibre in its construction. Making it a very strong, lightweight, and responsive machine.

2015 Wilier Zero 9

Wilier Zero 7 Geometry
2015 Wilier Zero 7

But they also improved the Zero.9 where they could. With a spec at just around 960grams, they had room to improve stiffness with the addition of carbon layups where it was most needed. And they kept the 386 bottom bracket. The outcome was a balanced bike that rides confidently in descents and sprint finishes.

Wilier Zero.9 386 Wide Bottom Bracket

While the Zero.7 was heralded as one of the world’s best climbing bikes, due to the fact that it is one of the most balanced lightweight frames in the peloton, it did have one flaw – a bit too much flex.

The Zero.9 fixes that problem. Brad Ford of Bicycling magazine remarked, “Through turns and on descents, I could pilot the Zero.9 with confidence.” And the power transfer of the 386 bottom bracket with the Asymmetrical chain stays makes it incredibly light and responsive when attacking.

Wilier Zero.9 Asymmetrical Rear Arm Top View

But one of the best surprises of the Zero.9 is the comfort. For a bicycle designed to be stiff and lightweight, the geometry and carbon do an excellent job of providing a comfortable ride. This was one of the things I noticed during rides.

Eric Marcotte shared with Bike Radar that if he were to have the opportunity to ride the Zero.9 again he would. “Haven ridden and trained on this frameset for a year now, I’d choose it myself. Super responsive, great position and comfort for me on the bike, good positioning over the bottom bracket for cornering, stiffness in the bottom bracket, and sharp front end.”

Eric Marcotte’s Zero.9 special paint after winning the U.S. National Championship Road Race

In the Dutch magazine Bike & Trekking, the Zero.9 was also well received. They wrote that out of the 3 Italian race bikes they reviewed Bianci Intenso, Olympia Ikon and the Wilier Zero.9, it was “the Zero.9 that would have a permanent place in my shed.”

Conclusion

In an age where manufacturers are searching for marginal gains and aggressive frame redesigns the Zero.9 continues in the tradition of the pure race bike. Wilier has taken great bicycles and improved on them year over year. The result? An Italian bicycle that evokes emotions with a design that places emphasis on form, function and history.

While the Zero.7 and Cento Uno find themselves neatly in the categories of Climbing and Aero frames, the Zero.9 defines its own. It is uncompromising in its power transfer, comfortable over diverse terrain, and light enough to crest any climb at the head of the pack. It is a Racer’s bike.

I’ve found this bike to be perfect for the hilly countryside of my area. And as a bike that is on the rarer side, if you do have an opportunity to ride it, I would highly recommend you take it.

Categories
Essays On Design

Hans Hartmann, classic design and Machiine

is Machiine
If you don’t mind being embarrassed, you can learn anything.

What is it about some designs that they become more beautiful as time goes on. The same could be said of some artists, and some musicians and some songs. It’s true too of some humans. I think of Mahatma Ghandi or Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela.

If there is one consistent theme to this blog, it is this: If you don’t mind being embarrassed, you can learn anything.

While playing with the above design on photoshop I stumbled upon the work of late Swiss designer Hans Hartmann.

Little is known about Hans Hartmann. Yet his work evokes the sense that their must be a compelling understory to his work.

Einspuren - Spur Halten (1963)
Einspuren – Spur Halten (1963)

“Einspuren – Spur Halten”, which roughly translates as “Meshing – Keep Track”. That is according to Google. It’s a telling image.

Sometimes I try too hard to create perfect solutions that will stand the test of time. It’s an easy trap for me to fall into, whether programming or renovating my home.

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time you will notice that the posts are on seemingly random topics. The reason for this is that I want this to be an outlet for writing and sharing that will remain relevant as time and my interests change. While I was advised to write on just one topic, it doesn’t work for me. And, in return I’ve been very lucky. Machiine has had over 300,000 visitors and 536 interesting comments.

I think it comes down to this. If I wrote about a specific topic, I would be doing it for some result, such as to generate web traffic. Whereas, by writing about any topic that I’m actually interested in, I keep writing irregardless of the traffic. Any extra outcome is just a neat bonus.

So, I’ve just been writing and the themes that show up have been occurring naturally. Today, I had the thought about the heart of Machiine. It comes down to a natural interest in classic designs, in true and meaningful biographical stories, and sharing/recording what it is I am learning.

Thank you for your visits, comments and emails. They are appreciated. Most of all, I hope that you find the articles on this blog useful and meaningful to you.

Categories
Essays On Bicycles On Leadership On Teams

Triangle of Change: How To Achieve The Improbable

In 2012 British cycling amazed the world by claiming the prestigious Tour de France and 70% of the Olympic cycling podiums. Never before had an English rider won the Tour de France nor had their cyclists performed so well in the Olympics.

July 22, 2012 Team Sky Procycling rider and leader's yellow jersey Wiggins of Britain cycles during the final 20th stage of the 99th Tour de France cycling race between Rambouillet and Paris
July 22, 2012 Team Sky Procycling rider and leader’s yellow jersey Wiggins of Britain cycles during the final 20th stage of the 99th Tour de France cycling race between Rambouillet and Paris

At the heart of British cycling is Dave Brailsford. He and his team around him set an ambitious goal. They proclaimed that they would have a British cyclist win the Tour de France in just 5 years of creating the new Team Sky.