The bees have arrived!

2012 June 19
by Chris Vernon

On Friday evening our bees arrived. Well, what actually happened was someone from our local beekeeping association caught a swarm and our name had reached the top of the swarm list. They arrived in a 4-frame national nuc, buzzing loudly to an ear pressed up against the mesh ventilation. It was getting late so we left them in the shed overnight before transferring them into the new hive on Saturday morning.

Our hive is a deep national, with 14″x12″ frames. Transferring the normal national brood frames over isn’t ideal as there’s a gap at the bottom where the bees are likely to draw natural comb. No matter. The bees went into the hive with a dusting of icing sugar to help control varroa.


New bees into their new home - hope they like it!

The weather wasn’t great over the weekend but we fed them with a 1:1 sugar solution. Initially from an upturned 1lb jar with small holes punched in the lid from which they took approximately half the jar on the first day, and half on the 2nd day. After that (once it had arrived!) we switched to a rapid feeder with two advantages; it holds 4 pints of solution so we don’t need to top it up every day or two and more bees can feed simultaneously. The weather seems to be improving a little and there is loads of blackberry in flower very close to the hive. All should be well.

The bees seem to have settled in well, as I write (Tuesday) they are starting their fourth day in the hive, there seems to be lots of foraging activity and they are all over the nearby blackberry this morning. We haven’t lifted the crownboard and disturbed the frames since installing them, and haven’t therefore spotted the queen. Will check at the weekend to see how they are getting on.

Completed Bicycle

2012 June 4
by Chris Vernon

After spending a week with Dave Yates in April 2012 building the frame, and getting it painted at Argos Racing Cycles, I’ve now built it up with the Ultegra groupset from my old carbon race bike. The first, original, Chris Vernon bicycle:

Completed bicycle

Completed bicycle


The tyres may be German, the Reynolds tubed frame is definitely British though.

More and higher resolution photos are on Flickr: My Bicycle 2012


Frame building with Dario Pegoretti

2012 May 15
by Chris Vernon

Dario Pegoretti is one of the great Italian frame builders. He built some of the last steel frames to compete the Tour. May this year I was lucky enough to head out to Verona, catch a bit of the Giro and attend a frame building workshop with Dario himself.

What follows is a short photo blog of this amazing and inspiring workshop where around a dozen of us built four frames with Dario’s help and guidance. But before my mediocre photos (I only had my little IXUS and the light was poor!), a couple of videos. The first is from the organiser (OniricaLab) and the second from Andrew Denham of The Bicycle Academy. Together they really capture the atmosphere:

COME FEMO I LAORI A CALDONAZZO… Dario Pegoretti per OniricaLab from Fuoriscala.

Tornemo Indrio from The Bicycle Academy.

Introducing the tools

Introducing the tools.

Start with the bottom bracket and seat tube.

Start with the bottom bracket and seat tube.

Head tube and down tube, perfectly mitred.

Head tube and down tube, perfectly mitred.

Brazing without a jig.

Brazing without a jig.

Red hot chain stays.

Red hot chain stays.

Chain stays for three frames.

Chain stays for the frames.

Allinging the drop out.

Aligning drop out.

Refining the frame's geometry.

Refining the frame's geometry.

And double checking the geometry.

And double checking the geometry.


Seat stay.

Computers can be useful.

Computers can be useful.

Everyone's keen to understand.

Everyone's keen to understand.

Nearing completion - on display for the evening's party.

Nearing completion - on display for the evening's party.

Yours truly on the big screen!

Yours truly on the big screen!

There are a few more photos on my Flickr Album here:
And the organisers album’s:
here and here.

Building a Bicycle Frame with Dave Yates – Day 5

2012 April 17
by Chris Vernon

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5

The frame may have looked finished yesterday, but there was still a lot to do! Today’s tasks:

  • Frame shot blasted
  • Excess brass filed off
  • Any brass gaps touched up
  • Excess tube ground away from inside bottom bracket
  • Bottom bracket cleared with taps
  • Bottom bracket faced
  • Head tube reamed, top and bottom
  • Seat tube cleared (27.2mm)
  • Fork tracking checked
  • Rear tracking and frame alignment checked
  • Plug air holes (steel rod / silver)
Reaming the head tube

The head tube needs to be reamed so the headset cups sit perfectly. For added precision we used the lathe's axis with the cutting tool spinning.

Clearing the bottom bracket

The cast bottom bracket already has a thread, but running the taps through cleared the thread and removed any remaining traces of the tubes sticking through.

Facing bottom bracket

When using external bearings, like the Shimano Hollowtech, the two outer faces of the bottom bracket must be perfectly parallel. This tool does that.

Filling air holes

When a tube is brazed at both ends it becomes sealed. This is a problem when applying a lot of heat as the air inside expands and can only escape past the molten brass you're trying to make a joint with. All sealed tubes have to have air holes drilled but we don't want to keep these holes so they are filled with a steel pin an drop of silver solder.


These rather substantial bits of steel sit square in the dropouts and provide the leverage required to encourage the steel into perfect alignment.

So there we have it. In five days I’ve managed to build myself a fine bicycle frame. Dave is an absolutely fantastic teacher. Over the five days he only touched a tool to the frame a handful of times, and only applied the torch once, when demonstrating the more delicate technique required when brazing with silver. When teaching it can be easy for the teacher to teach by demonstration, and end up completing half the work themselves. That’s not Dave, he explains clearly and watches closely providing continual guidance.

It’s with the painter now – come back soon to see the finished bike.

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5

Building a Bicycle Frame with Dave Yates – Day 4

2012 April 16
by Chris Vernon

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5

The main frame was finished yesterday. Today there are lots of details to add:

  • Brake bridge cut, filed and brazed
  • Bridge for mudguard cut, filed and brazed
  • Bottle bosses drilled and silver brazed
  • Rack mounts brazed
  • Gear cable stops silver brazed
  • Cable guide silver brazed
  • Seat tube cut and filed to lug
  • Head tube cut to lug
  • Forks shot blasted
Bottle boss

With the frame out of the jig now, the detail can be added. Two jigs are used to ensure the holes for the two bottles are drilled in the right place.

Gear cable stops

The walls of the 853 down tube are very thin, as little as 0.4mm away from the butted ends. For this reason the brass with its melting point of around 820°C is a bit risky. Far more expensive silver solder has a safer melting point of around 600°C so is used for the braze ons.

Cable guides

Again, silver solder used for the cable guides on the under side of the top tube.

Cable guide

Here's the cable guide for the rear derailleur on the bottom of the chain stay.

Front dropout

Shot blasting does a great job of cleaning up the joint of flux and any surface oxidation.

Compare the before image!

Finished frame

By the end of day four, the frame is almost finished!

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5

Building a Bicycle Frame with Dave Yates – Day 3

2012 April 16
by Chris Vernon

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5

The job list for day three looked something like this:

  • Cut chain stays to length
  • Cut and mitre bottom of down tube
  • Assemble main triangle into jig
  • Braze down tube to head tube
  • Braze seat tube to top tube
  • Braze down tube to bottom bracket
  • Braze chain stays into bottom bracket
  • Cut seat stays to length and angle
  • Braze plate onto seat stays and file
Down tube, meet head tube

Down tube mitred to fit head tube.

Seat stays

Seat stays are cut to fit the cast dropout in the same way the chain stays were.

Top tube, fluxed

Before brazing the metal surface is covered with flux to prevent oxidation which would prevent a good joint forming.

In the jig

Down and head tubes, in the jig, lug in place, plenty of flux - ready for the torch!

In the jig

Same story for the top tube and seat tube.

Seat stay

This is the top of the seat stay. It's cut like this so a solid plate can be brazed over the end.


And here I am brazing that plate onto the seat stay.

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5

Building a Bicycle Frame with Dave Yates – Day 2

2012 April 14
by Chris Vernon

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5

Lots of jobs on day two, some big, some small, most escaped the camera:

  • Finalise dimensions
  • Round off spikes from lugs
  • Mitre top tube – braze onto head tube
  • Bend fork blades
  • File dropouts smooth
  • Cut fork blades to length
  • Lathe crown race
  • Drill air holes in fork blade
  • Drill (and recess) hole for brake in fork crown
  • Braze fork blades into crown
  • Mitre top of down tube
  • Cut out small bridge from bottom bracket (between chainstay lugs)
Top tube

Here is the top tube mitred to fit the head tube.

Top tube and head tube

The fit is pretty good!

Fork crown race

The fork crown race has to be cut to exactly the right diameter for the headset. We used a lathe for extra precision.

Top tube brazed to head tube

Here's the top tube brazed to the head tube.

Brazing the forks

Here the fork blades are being brazed into the crown.

By the end of day two I have a few sub-assemblies. The top tube and head tube, the seat tube and bottom bracket, the forks are pretty much done and dropouts are on the chain stays. On day three it should come together to form a bicycle shaped object.

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5

Building a Bicycle Frame with Dave Yates – Day 1

2012 April 13
by Chris Vernon

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5

I spent the first week of April 2012 with Dave Yates in Lincolnshire building myself a bicycle frame. This photo blog charts its progress.

Reynolds butted tubing

Here are the Reynolds butted tubes at the start of the process. The head tube, top tube, and seat tube are 631, the down tube 853, seat and chainstays 725 and the forks Reynolds R.

Brazing bottom bracket

Within a couple of hours of arriving I was brazing the bottom bracket lug and seat tube. At this stage we hadn't really thought about the eventual geometry - but it was safe to say it would need these two components! It was really good to get stuck in without having to just talk for hours at the start of the week.

Brazed bottom bracket

The finished article. Dave's happy so I'm happy. A lot of brass went in, it's gone all the way through and none's on the floor. The joint's good. A bit of shot blasting and filing will clean it up nicely.


I'm using cast vertical dropouts which have to slot into the chainstays. They are cut and filed to look like this.

Rear dropout

Before brazing all the surfaces must be cleaned with emery paper and flux applied to prevent oxidation of the surfaces.

Rear dropout

Lots of brass makes a solid joint. Still needs lots of filing to make the cast blend smoothly into the stay.

Seat stays

The fork blades are prepared, ready for the dropout in the same way.

Front dropout

Front dropout securely attached to fork blade.

By the end of the first day I felt like I’d achieved a lot. Dave’s place is next door to RAF Coningsby, home of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. There were Spitfires circling above the workshop, which, along with the oxy-acetylene torch and the sunshine made for a very special day.

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5

Urban Britain

2012 February 27
by Chris Vernon

Over 90% of the UK population now live in urban areas. This makes Britain one of the most urbanised countries in the world. In Europe only the principality of Monaco, the republic of San Marino, Belgium and Iceland have higher urban proportions. In 1970 this figure was 77%.

Do the British really like living in urban areas, or are we compromising something?
In Ireland, the figure is only 62%.

Urban Population

Urban population as a percent of total population

Data from here: and Google Docs

Climate Danger from Natural Gas

2012 February 8
by Chris Vernon

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece (Natural gas, the green choice?) for The Oil Drum looking at the climate change implications of using gas rather than coal. Burning gas to produce electricity produces only around 40% the CO2 emissions of burning coal. However, since methane (CH4) is itself a potent greenhouse gas, its release to the atmosphere without being burnt can quickly compensate for this CO2 advantage against coal. I included this chart to illustrate the point:

On the left, CO2 emissions per kWh for coal and natural gas. On the right, the global warming potential of leaked CH4 expressed as CO2

The key take-away was that if the natural gas leak rate is 3%, the global warming potential of a kilowatt-hour of electricity from gas is equivalent to coal. The details behind the chart are in the original article.

This week the journal Nature has an article (Air sampling reveals high emissions from gas field) presenting measurements from a gas field and suggesting that “Methane leaks during production may offset climate benefits of natural gas.”

Led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado, Boulder, the study estimates that natural-gas producers in an area known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin are losing about 4% of their gas to the atmosphere — not including additional losses in the pipeline and distribution system.

This figure of 4%, their range is 2.3–7.7% loss, with a best guess of 4%, is well inside the danger zone suggesting gas has similar, if not higher, climate impact as coal.

Most of the gas from this site is produced by “fracking”:

Most of the wells in the basin are drilled into ‘tight sand’ formations that require the same fracking technology being used in shale formations. This process involves injecting a slurry of water, chemicals and sand into wells at high pressure to fracture the rock and create veins that can carry trapped gas to the well. Afterwards, companies need to pump out the fracking fluids, releasing bubbles of dissolved gas as well as burps of early gas production. Companies typically vent these early gases into the atmosphere for up to a month or more until the well hits its full stride, at which point it is hooked up to a pipeline.

Gas is often described as the ‘cleaner’ choice, as a transitional energy source between coal and low-carbon renewables. Gas does burn without emitting the oxides of sulphur (SOx) and nitrogen (NOx), traces of mercury, selenium and arsenic, as well as the particulates associated with coal and doesn’t leave the non-combustible slag. Despite this it is increasingly unclear that gas has a significantly lower climate impact and the fracking process itself is not as clean as conventional gas extraction.