Thursday, December 01, 2011


This is the story of a project that may never happen.

The grand movements of nature and society have traditionally followed their own course regardless of the plans of individuals. This seems especially true when individuals lay those plans to adapt to those grand movements.

In the previous couple of years that I have been trying to use the Cotton Valley Trail to extend my bike commuting season into the dark months, the decision to quit has been mine to make, well before winter weather really shuts things down. This year we've had two significant snowstorms that forced me off the path before December even arrived. Each one melted after a while.

Between October's storm and November's I took a look at my old mountain bike. The Cross Check is an excellent bike. If I owned only one bike it would be that one. But I don't. I build to meet my needs. I quit riding the mountain bike completely after I built the Cross Check, because I no longer wanted to spend time looking for technical trails. But what if technical trails came to me?

 The basic bike starts with a 1996 Gary Fisher Aquila frame. Originally I switched over most of the parts from my 1991 Stumpjumper. Over time I added linear-pull brakes and a 58-94 crank so I could run smaller rings up front. Who knew 58-94 was going to be such a temporary thing? I mean, bike companies make perfectly good stuff disappear all the time, but some things really seem to have a very short run. I put on wider bars with a bit of rise because my technical mountain biking advisor told me they would improve the handling. They seem to, but I hardly rode the bike after the mods.
The shifters remain where they belong: on top of the bars.

When mud was a selling point and filth was fun we would charge out on the rotting ice of thawing snowmobile trails and laugh about our sprawls in frigid water and silt. As much fun as that sounds, it's not good if your ride ends at your place of employment. They don't care how I look when I arrive. We all used to ride in the gook together. However, I have to be ready to work with customers.

In the 1990s I tried studded mountain bike tires when they first became popular. They were novel, but I was more likely to skate or ski if ice or snow were good. If the winter was acting like an endless November I wouldn't need the studs to ride the trails. I sold my test pair to a local ice boater who used his bike to ride around on frozen lakes when he had left the boat offshore. Ice isn't the issue here, but cargo capacity, mud and water are. So is darkness.

Fenders and a rack are easy. Lights not so much. I'm really addicted to the power and limitless running time of the dynamo lights. Knobby tires make a hub dynamo a better choice. Since the entire evening commute takes place in the dark now, lights are not a luxury. For the short duration of the regular evening ride a battery light might be fine, but once I've made a technical-trail explorer it might as well have full night capability. Cha-ching! Honk! Honk! Honk! The unnecessary investment horn sounds. I've talked myself out of it...for now.


Steve A said...

Mountain biking is something I have never done. Please encourage us to expand our envelopes, but be gentle.

cafiend said...

Mountain biking has turned into an expensive, technology-heavy sport. It used to be very accessible. The bikes were simple. I don't even try to keep up with the modern rider on a modern bike. i was never fearless and ferocious on the downhills.

Steve A said...

One advantage of not being a kid any more is you can't keep up anyway, so having obsolete equipment simply adds one extra reason.

Jon said...

"Mountain biking has turned into an expensive, technology-heavy sport"...

That's why I no longer mountain bike as a "sport". I don't race, I ride for fun. When you make that change, the cost of equipment goes way down.

I ride with a rigid fork, and thumb shifters. I do have disc brakes on a couple of bikes, but simply because the frame and fork were set up for them.

I think you should build the winter commuter up. Night rides are fun, off-road, all year long and that bike would certainly be a good investment on the dollar to fun ratio, IMHO.

cafiend said...

Rigid Fork! Thumb shifters! I keep waiting for Shimano to reinvent them with a snazzy buzzword name, the way they reinvented round chainrings in the early 1990s. Sadly they seem more interested in shoving more and more cogs into a cassette and trying to find how many functions they can add to what was once a brake lever.

I've always forged my own path in any activity I took up, often because I stumbled in just before an explosion of technological lunacy. I end up doing a lot of things alone because I don't follow the crowd.

My Cross Check is great for a lot of the available public rights of way around here. The night-worthy mountain bike might open up some possibilities on predominantly unpaved routes. I haven't written it off. It's just not a top priority right now. I was planning to acquire more lighting components anyway so I could build things as they occur to me. For instance, I'd like to add good lights to my rainy-day fixed gear. Real lights are the final element in making a transportation bike of any kind.