Tuesday, May 10, 2005

High Maintenance Woman

Laurie's tricky to fit. Sitting next to each other, we're the same height. Then she stands up and unfolds a yard and a half of leg.

Building her a Cross-Check took some custom fitting.

Her favorite bike is her old Schwinn. She rode it in the CAM tour (Cycle Across Maryland) and on other adventures and exploits. Even though it has poor geometry for carrying a load, the cockpit is dialed in for her.

The old Cannondale I picked up for her didn't turn either of us on. But the Cross-Check is really long on top. That works for me, because I need the reach. How could I make it work for her when she said the Cannondale felt long? Cannondales tend to run short.

It's a Surly. We'll make it work.

Turns out the top tube on the 54 centimeter Cross-Check is barely longer than the top tube on her 58 cm Schwinn. That's a good start.

She wanted a red one, so that meant it had to be a 54, because there were no red ones left in 56 or 58. And that cockpit length is the critical dimension.

The top of the seat collar extends above the top tube by about 3 cm, putting it barely a centimeter lower than the top of the seat tube on her Schwinn.

Because she has a short torso, riding a frame with a lot of standover height doesn't put her out over the front end too much, as it did when tall people tried to ride short mountain bikes for maximum clearance before the frame designers caught on and started lengthening the frames to move the steering axis forward.

This can lead to problems if you find yourself too far behind the steering axis, especially in technical terrain. You have to crawl forward, hop the front end over, then slide back to fetch the rear wheel. But that doesn't apply here.

Her long femurs could have made a problem by shoving her back over the rear wheel, but she was used to riding her tight-assed Schwinn with her seat way back. Surly uses the same chain stay length from 50 cm all the way to 62, just changing the seat tube angle. The stays are longer than on her Schwinn, so the rear axle is a touch further back already, with more than half the dropout to go.

The trouble with Surlies is that one is never enough. If she really wanted to load up and go live on the road we'd have to get her a Long Haul Trucker. But that's just too much of a swingset for a daily ride. That and it has VD. I just don't care for vertical dropouts.

Starting with the production complete bike, I knew I had to replace the fork, so now she has a black fork. The other trim on the bike is black and white, so it only looks a little weird. But before we cut the steerer we had to fit her very carefully. Because of the industry's change to threadless headsets, solving another nonexistent problem, you can't adjust height by putting the stem higher or lower in the steerer tube. You have to cut the steerer itself at the right height to accommodate the stem you have chosen.

Going triple in the front led to another bit of fiddling. The bike comes with a derailleur for two chain rings. Ralph had gone triple with his and reported he had to change the derailleur, even though the bike doesn't use STI. Your life is a lot easier without STI, but some things you can't help. The triple crank needs that deeper front derailleur cage. But could I get my old DX to shift a 9-speed chain?

Turns out I could. It didn't seem to work at first, but between a positive mental attitude and a little sheet-metal work with water pump pliers it shifts fine.

It looks just the tiniest teensiest touch like a circus act if you really scrutinize it. She's a tall, tall woman. But she said it felt really good, and she confidently rode it straight into the dirt when I asked her to try it. She's tall enough to make any 700c wheel look like a 650. As long as the bike handles right, it is right.

Shimano has this mental block about gearing. Even a long-cage road rear derailleur won't handle anything larger than a 27. Of course I bet you can shove a 30 in there if you take advantage of the long dropout and pull the wheel back. I shifted a 28 with a Campy Nuovo Record doing that, and those have to chew pretty hard just to manage a 26. So to give her a good usable range with what I had on hand I replaced the stock 36-48 front rings with 34 and 46, and put a 24 on the unoccupied threads of the triple-ready crank.

A 70 mm stem combined with 38 cm Salsa Estrada bars gave her a comfortable reach to the brake hoods and realistically shallow drops. We might even be able to drop the front end a hair when she gets used to it, but nothing rash. Remember, with stupid threadless forks, going down is a one-way trip unless you want the stub of the steerer tube up your nose because you dropped the stem below a spacer or two.

Some 700x28 tires complete the commuting package for her. She can't use it to commute too often, even though her cello case has wheels. Fifty pounds of music books adds too much bulk for rapid transit.

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