13: Sebastopol Days Part 1

In 1988 we grew up a little bit and moved out of the Orchard and into a real honest to goodness commercial building on the outskirts of Sebastopol, CA.

These were our formative years, where we grew a lot, paid a little more attention to the rules (notice we said a little more), started making Titanium bikes, did our first carbon bikes, upped the production considerably, but most important, honed our skills on bottle rockets and industrial potato guns.

See the Helfrich story for a bit of info about the potato guns, and the next post (Sebastopol Part II) for a bunch more on the big move we mentioned in the Helfrich story.

Rockets (the important stuff)

Our new shop had a large field next to it, our shooting range if you will. Without that big empty field, it’s doubtful the ballistic expertise would have developed much. Fortunately, a few pictures of the bottle rockets exist. A google search will lead to lots of links about these water rockets, apparently a lot of physics teachers have decided bottle rockets can be teaching moments, and have gone to great lengths do document the process.

The rocket is simply a 2 liter coke plastic coke bottle, inverted with a weighted nose cone and fins. The launcher is a piece of ¾” tubing with a floor pump hooked to it and some sort of retention apparatus so it doesn’t leave the launch pad until you tell it to. You simply fill the bottle about half full with water, pressurize the vessel and let it go. We could easily get 150 psi in these bottles without failure on the launch pad (please don’t use a glass coke bottle for this). Here’s a picture that shows it all.

From the floor pump providing the pressure to the repurposed deralleur used as a retention device to the brake for launch control to the sophisticated plywood launch pad (which would of course be carbon fiber if we made them today) to the Bud can used as fin material and the firing range in the distance.

What’s amazing about these rockets if you’ve never experience them, is that if build properly they go more than 300 feet down range. The first time you see it, it’s rather hilarious. Being easily amused dorks, we thought it was hilarious the thousandth time we saw it as well. Ten years of lunches and coffee breaks were spent perfecting the technique and we never got tired of it.

Our ballistic career started out a little bit more crudely with Ron Andrews’ watermelon lancher.

Yes, that’s a 2 x 6 and a bit of leverage. You can clearly see our rocket range in the background of this picture.

You can see it had wheels, and a chain driven launch control, operated by that steering wheel.


Perhaps our most shining moment in the annals of bottle rocket lore came when we got a visit from Valentino Campagnolo. Yes, THE Valentino, the one who is still running Campy to this day and the son of Tullio, founder of the company.

By the way, this was way back when, and Campy was king. Shimano and Sun Tour were fighting over the leftover scraps.

The Thief of Vicenza

As we said, Campy was king back then. And when you’re king, there are people who don’t like you. It goes with the territory; you’ll always be a target. One of the funnier things we came across was this mystery frame in for repair at one of our retailers. Campagnolo is headquartered in Vicenza. And apparently they managed to piss off the owner of this frame to the point of him making a defiant typographical protest on his top tube.

Back then, to build a road bike with no Campy on it was no mean feat. You’d be stuck with Simplex and Huret parts.

Suffice to say, you’d likely not see something like this written about Campy today. “Defy the Thief of Osaka" is more likely.

That's a Teledyne Titan frame by the way.

We were actually guilty of this same sort of thing. Shimano, once they took over the component world in mountain bikes, became a target for us when we developed a group with no Shimano parts. We called it a disparaging name with reference to Shimano. There are a few people at Shimano who remember this, and to this day, if we don’t get our way, we do the equivalent of a little kid throwing a temper tantrum and threaten them that we’ll bring back the ‘can’t-tell-you-the-name-of-the-group-until-they-piss-us-off-again” group. Shimano and Ibis are currently enjoying a nice détente.

Back to Campy

OK, back to rockets and our visit from Valentino. Campy was making a tour of the mountain bike manufacturers in the States, and we were on the list. Being Campy they were quite formal. Being Ibis we were not.

Valentino got out of the car (he had the President of Campy USA with him and a couple other folk). We exchanged pleasantries for about 5 seconds, then we asked him if he’d like to see a rocket launch. This is before any tour of our shop or talk about anything having to do with bikes.

We showed him a rather spectacular launch and he practically fell on the ground laughing. He probably would have except the Armani suit was a bit too nice. We launched it a few more times for him to rounds of laughter and high fives (these were the days before the fist bump). We gave him a tour, talked shop for a while and went out to lunch, but the only thing Valentino really wanted to talk about was the rocket launches. When he left he made a point to tell us “I’ve met a lot of people and been to a lot of businesses in my day, but I have never met anybody like you guys or got an introduction like that! I’ll never forget it”. We think he’s probably forgotten it by now, but you never know.

Later that year, Scot was on a tandem trip in Italy and Valentino invited Scot his wife to the factory for a tour (which they readily accepted). They were taking a train into Vicenza, and had the bike with and Valentino picked him up at the station, in his big new Mercedes sedan. They put the tandem in the trunk (with a chunk of it sticking out) then used duct tape all over the paint to seal it shut, an impressive move Scot remembers to this day. While on the factory tour, he reminded Scot of the bottle rocket reception and invited them to dinner at his home (which they readily accepted). He told Scot “My wife would like to cook dinner for you.”

As Scot describes it, Valentino drove them to his house for dinner. “We were very close to downtown Vicenza, driving along what appeared to be a park. After a bit, we made a turn and drove through a large set of gates that were opening automatically. Turns out it wasn’t a park at all, but Valentino’s house. Wow. We had salmon, I think it was about 3’ long, more like a whale. That might have been the first time I ever saw 4 different wine glasses all lined up for dinner. Of course now I eat like that every night. Ok, not really.”


All that Campagnolo talk is a bit high-brow for us. Fortunately we have the ability to easily get back down to the gutter.

At first the new shop was pretty sterile, but with anyplace you spend time, you add your own personal touches that make it all your own. One of the areas that received a lot of attention in the 10 years we spent here was our bathroom. As time went on we adorned the walls with pertinent headlines, slogans and advertisements. Choose your favorite!

We’ve wasted this entire post on bathrooms and rockets. Not a single picture of the inside of the shop. Coming soon: Sebastopol Days Part II where we might actually talk about bikes. Or maybe not.

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