Monday, January 20, 2014

Bike Review: Husky About Town

A sneak peak at the latest offering from boutique bicycle maker, Husky, reveals an urban commuter bike built to last and designed to impress.

The Husky brand is not that well known these days. In fact, most people confuse the name with low-end (or “mass-market”) brand Huffy. But these two brands actually sit at very different ends of the bicycle spectrum.

The Husky 10-Speed has all the regular things that you’d expect to find on a commuter bike. There’s wheels, brakes, pedals, a few gears and even a contemporary version of an imitation antique, leather, riveted, fully sprung Brooks saddle.
But the Husky also has something much more, that can’t necessarily be quantified by the sum of all its various vintage parts – the Husky has class.

The bike is built around a sturdy, lugged steel frame. While there are no visible markings indicating the type of steel selected, when you pick up this bike, its sturdiness becomes immediately apparent. There’s certainly no double-butted Reynolds 531 lightweight steel tubing used here. And for good reason too. The Husky was built to withstand the abuses and hardships of working-class life and not for impressing people at the Australian Custom Bicycle Show.

The Husky is the real deal. Nothing but good old-fashioned sensibilities, down-to-Earth practicality and more oxidation than you’d find in a Green Tea test lab.
Even the incredible anti-oxidant properties of super-foods such as blueberries and green tea are no match for the oxidation on the Husky.

While mountain bikers have only recently entered in to a wheel-size debate that has “changed the direction of mountain bikes forever”, in the world of vintage road bikes, these issues have been raging for decades, if not centuries. The Husky sticks to the 27 x 1 ¼” standard that is popular with older road bikes and which is similar but not quite the same as modern 700C road bike wheels.

This can be quite confusing because, while the two wheel sizes look similar to the naked eye, tyres cannot be used interchangeably due to the several millimetres of difference between the rim diameters. Nobody really knows why these very similar yet incompatible wheel sizes evolved, and most people don’t even know which is the bigger or smaller of the two.

Whatever the case, when you get on board the Husky, it’s clear that the classic 27 x 1 ¼” wheel size is a big plus compared with modern 700C road bikes. The slightly larger (or maybe smaller) rim diameter means the wheel has a noticeably better angle of attack when rolling over obstacles (or perhaps faster acceleration when winding up the speed out of corners).
Compared with 700C, the 27 x 1 ¼” wheel provides a better angle of attack – or otherwise lower rotational inertia – either way, it’s a win for the Husky.

As its name implies, the Husky 10-Speed comes equipped with a 10-speed drivetrain, providing all the necessary gearing options to handle almost any urban terrain. Whether it’s cruising along the bike path to a barbeque at the Edinburgh Gardens or rolling down Sydney Road to Dejour Jeans in Brunswick, the Husky has it covered.
The SunTour 10-speed groupset with friction shifters is not something that you see too often these days, but it’s certainly a quality selection of components. In the 1960s and 70s, before the famous Campagnolo vs Shimano vs SRAM road bike component wars, Japanese manufacturer SunTour was producing some of the finest bicycle gearing ever made. In fact, SunTour is most famous for inventing the slant-parallelogram rear derailleur – a refined version of Campagnolo’s parallelogram rear derailleur – that provided much-improved shifting performance. “A contemporary Consumer Reports test reported that SunTour was far and away the easiest to shift and the most certain of arriving at the right sprocket."

Sadly, SunTour is no longer manufacturing gearing systems, although they do still make suspension forks, cranksets and some other bicycle components.

The front derailleur specified on the Husky is the SunTour Spirt top-normal front derailleur – and no, that’s not a typo, they actually manufactured a component (first released in 1966) called “Spirt”. It is actually quite unique in that the derailleur’s natural position (free of cable tension) is in the large chainring position. This is opposite to most conventional front derailleurs that take the small chainring position as their default.

While there is almost certainly a joke in that name somewhere, at the time of going to print, it was as yet undiscovered. Despite the potential for an entire groupset based around the "Spirt" theme, it was unfortunately not continued throughout the SunTour range  – One imagines that “Grab” brakes, “Tug” shift levers, “Stroke” cranksets and “Gentle Caress” freewheel hubs could all have been popular components.
Although hard to make out due to the oxidation, this front derailleur is unashamedly named the SunTour Spirt.

The rear derailleur is an early 1980s vintage SunTour U and it’s hard not to think that this “U” might have better utilised in the spelling of the “Spirt” front derailleur – but these decisions were made years ago and are unlikely to ever be changed.

Tread is provided by the venerable Cheng Shin Tire company in the form of a pair of durable gum walled 27 x 1 ¼” tyres that are mounted on a set of only very slightly corroded steel rims. The front rim features a dimpled machined braking surface, while the rear is left with a (very slippery looking) flat, polished finish.
The cockpit of the Husky is simple, practical and uncluttered. Shimano’s Exage Mountain SLR brake levers are mounted on a flat handlebar. The SunTour friction shifters are attached to the neck of the quill stem so they don’t take up any valuable handlebar real estate. This leaves plenty of room for the custom light mount – which is mostly held on with sports tape.
Aesthetically, this bike obviously a winner. The bold red frame turns heads, the rusty steel parts add character and the graphics are both carefully considered and expertly applied.
While the downtube boasts the traditional rainbow stripes of the UCI World Champion, it’s unlikely that the Husky has ever been ridden to any world titles, although it is possible that the Husky was literally ridden to the 2013 World Barista Championship in Melbourne.
Apparently this is the correct way to make coffee.

The carefully selected ensemble of parts, robust frame and classic aesthetics say nothing of this bike’s fantastic ride quality. Once you get on board, it quickly becomes apparent that the Husky is equally at home on road or sealed path, or dangling from an imitation Hill’s Hoist above a bed of home grown kale.
The Hill’s Hoist, an icon of Australiana, became popular in the 1950s and 1960s despite the fact that the original adjustable rotary clothes line was actually invented by Adelaide’s Gilbert Toyne in 1926. It is unclear where David’s Hoists fit in to this timeline. Perhaps David was a disgruntled Hill’s design engineer who, dissatisfied with the company’s ethos, decided to go out on his own with the aim of establishing a foothold in the competitive adjustable rotary clothes line market.

Anyway, if you like the look of this scene and think that you’d like to re-create it in your own inner-city backyard then perhaps the Husky 10-Speed is the bike for you. And if you need some tips for growing your own kale, then have a look at this great gardening video.

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