Sunday, May 29, 2005

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Almost Surly

Soma Fabrications provides an interesting product line that closely mirrors Surly's line. So you get a 'cross frame with 132.5 rear spacing, a couple of road frames and a fixed gear. But the only frame with long dropouts is the track frame, with rear-facing track-style dropouts. The 'cross frame has VD, so you can't adjust wheel position or try any single-speed versions on that platform.

The off-road frames also resemble Surly's offerings. There's a 29-inch like the Karate Monkey and a single speed like the 1x1, and a cross-country hardtail that sounds a lot like a classic early 1990s Specialized Stumpjumper. That one sounds intriguing.

They list a selection of track cogs all the way to 23 teeth, so that gives a good range of gear options for the open-road fixed gear rider, but Surly also offers a wide range of cog sizes.

If Surly isn't available near you and Soma is, it looks like a good option. Also, they deserve support for keeping some notion of durability and versatility alive. Too much of the industry has gone over to complex dispos-a-bikes, thinking these will attract more consumers. But, as I've said before, you still have to pedal them, and that automatically limits their appeal.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

April Second

It’s April Second in Northern New England. That isn’t the second day of April, it’s the second April of 2005.

You really have to be devoted to ride in this weather. Just remember that it feels good when you finish and you can’t finish if you don’t start.

It’s fixed-gear weather. I’m thinking about building a fully-enclosed fairing like some early 20th Century record-attempt bike. It will seal out the wetness, more or less. But more likely I’ll just suffer and dream.

The DSL at work dangles a big carrot to get me to drive on rainy days and bring the laptop. I haven’t yet wanted to expose the computer to the perils of the road or myself to the extra weight of it, so I haven’t lugged it on the bike.

A training ride in the rain isn’t as bad as a commute. It’s one loop, one soaking, followed by a shower, dry clothes and whatever else you scheduled for the day. A ride to work on a rainy day, especially a somewhat long, rural ride like mine requires the right clothing, plus a protective pack to keep the cargo dry. And at the end of the day I get to dress again in damp, gritty clothes to trudge home among the unimpressed motorists.

Putting it that way it sounds kind of virtuous. A little masochistic, but virtuous. Maybe I won’t succumb to the lure of the car, high speed internet or not. Damn, it’s a hard choice.

Commuting to the town where I work is really a public service to all the people who for various good reasons can’t use a bike. Parking is a mess. Main Street grinds to a halt around July Fourth and starts moving again after Labor Day. Then it chokes again for foliage season, but then it’s more of a weekend condition.

Most motorists don’t realize what the cyclists are doing for them. They only notice the fleeting inconvenience of passing the guy blocking traffic on his bike. I’m satisfied when they’re just basically polite. Don’t strew rose petals, just give me a couple of feet of breathing room and go on by.

In 12 years since this was drawn and 25 years of Shimano-watching they have not overturned this perception.
Posted by Hello

I finally dug out this oldie.
Posted by Hello

We find out if your 700x23s aren't really at 120.
Posted by Hello

Friday, May 20, 2005

Driver's Ed

In a perfect world, no one gets a driver's license until they've completed a full year using a bicycle as practical transportation.

Anyone who harasses a cyclist must use a bike for transportation for a minimum of 6 months.

National Bike to Work Day

Today is National Bike to Work Day.

Commuting is a stage race, not a one-day event. The benefits are cumulative. One day will probably introduce you to more of the inconveniences of it than its advantages.

Evolution follows the path of least resistance. Something has to make the new way better than the old way. We went from being prehistoric grunts to socially complex, technologically-equipped grunts because it worked for us. Our brains led us to explore new, unnatural ways.

Our brains now lead us, haltingly and perhaps too slowly, to discover how those comfortable, unnatural ways can be made more compatible with the natural systems that make life possible at all.

Gas is over $2 a gallon now, and I heard one analyst say we should not expect to see it cost less than $2 a gallon ever again.

Toss in some pollution, traffic congestion and parking problems and the path of least resistance bends slightly away from the freeway.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Lead by Following

Industry giant Specialized has suddenly noticed how useful cyclocross bikes can be for general exploratory riding. To make up for coming late to the game, they've named it "freeroading" and will now try to market it as if they had invented it.

We dust off our trusty Surlies and laugh a tired laugh.

The Specialized entry is called the Tri Cross. This was the name for their immmensely popular and convenient road-sized knobby tire back in the mid 1980s, so it's nice to see it again. Now, though, the name is attached to a carbon fiber marvel which will do everything the Surly Cross-Check will do, only not quite as well and for many hundreds of dollars more. Yes, it's lighter, a fact for which you pay, but it's less versatile, with VD. And you get the test pilot thrill of riding an exotic material into circumstances that, engineer's assurances aside, are still being explored. By you.

The industry used consumers to do their R&D all through the mountain bike boom. This served to punish early purchasers for their trust in industry giants, because the componentry they bought as state of the art was quickly left behind by the later, sometimes better but always different, versions.

And the wheel keeps turning.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Proud Owner

Owner of brandy-new carbon fiber road racing bicycle: "I hit a pothole when I was riding fast and it made this CRACK noise."

Examining bike: "I can't see anything. It seems to ride fine... I love this bike. It's probably fine."

Yeah, man. I'm sure it's fine. Just stay behind me, okay?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Shower with the one you love. Actually I was just using the plant squirter to rinse off road salt after an early-season ride. Old picture dates from when there was still salt on the roads. I just unearthed and scanned it.
Posted by Hello

Another stupid Shimano idea, the rear-facing front derailleur anchor bolt, just makes adjusting derailleur angle more difficult.
Posted by Hello

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Get in touch with your inner Surly.
Posted by Hello

Shakedown successful. She likes it! She really likes it!
Posted by Hello

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.

One Slight Problem

Behold the modern marvel of bicycle technology: 30 speeds, carbon fiber frame and fork, and a saddle designed not only to prevent genital discomfort but actually to enhance performance and pleasure in case a bike geek might actually get to have some sex.

The industry does its best to promote how bikes are easy to shift, comfortable to ride and come in shapes and sizes to go anywhere a person might want to ride.

Aye, there's the rub, and it's not your patent-medicine saddle failing to live up to its marketing. For all that the bike industry has done, they can't overcome the fundamental drawback to which people object.

You have to pedal it.

It doesn't matter how light you make it. It doesn't matter if the saddle is made of magical fairy fluff and blessed by the deity of your choice. It doesn't matter where you put the shifters, how they operate or whether they have little dials to tell you what gear you're in.

People don't want to pedal it.

The mountain bike boom happened to coincide with the American public's last flicker of interest in exercise. While the industry's hyperactive innovation gland contributed to the sport's demise, so did the majority's cumulative acceptance of their own inevitable decline and death.

Name some unpopular activities.

  • Flossing your teeth. They're your teeth. They're your gums. Dragging the little piece of string through there saves you time, you pain and you money. And yet it's too much trouble.
  • Eating sensibly. Sure, crappy food is tasty and fun food is usually bad for you. But getting your arteries Roto-Rootered or a chunk of your colon chopped out is expensive, painful and time consuming.
  • Exercising. See above. You can actually get away with a surprising amount of fun, bad food if you burn it off.

"Kick your addictions," he said, swigging cold coffee at almost 6 p.m. I don't claim to be perfect or even forgiven. I'm just reporting from the field. If you drive steel for a living, or labor in construction or industry, you probably don't need to swish around on some nancy-pants bicycle to get some exercise, although you could probably use some cardio there, big fella. And stretch. Try a little yoga to work out the kinks after a rough day on the oil rig. But that leaves a lot of other people who use one leg to push two pedals, brake and gas, to get wherever they're going.

Ah well. It quit mattering to me a long time ago what people do to themselves, as long as they don't do anything nasty to other people. Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Stage Race

In a tight field of about 150 riders in the Tour of Letterkenny in 1982, I was threading the field like Bobby Phillips when the rider to my right suddenly edged to the left as I was coming into the gap. The move pushed me to my left, so my handlebars hooked inside the bars of the next rider.

We were in the pack, near the front, doing almost 30 miles per hour.

I eased up on the pedals, put my hands on the brake levers and just imagined feathering them lightly. The rider on my left, of Vietnamese extraction, was foaming with anxious profanity and syllables I could not understand. Fortunately, he didn't try to yank away, just let me drift back and lean on the rider to the right, forcing the gap back open.

Everybody be cool, nobody gets hurt.

Having untangled the puzzle I could now notice another rider on my left flank, yelling at me.

"Why don't you get out of this race! You don't belong here!"

I didn't bother to point out that he was yelling this from behind me. So he had a Mengoni jersey, so what? If I was really so bad, we would be having this discussion in a bloody heap a half mile back.

I worked my way to the left and attacked. Once I was off the front I could feel how fast the pack had actually been moving, because I was trying to cleave the wind alone, and stay away from them. I gave it up and dropped back, merging with the field about a quarter of the way back from the front. I wasn't out to push it that day. My sights were on the district road race in a couple of weeks. I just wanted a race pace ride.

The heckling resumed. What are you guys, bored? I listened to it until the pace picked up for the final sprint, which none of us contested, even the big shot in the Mengoni jersey. Maybe his goal for the day was just to work on his trash talking.

He was right about one thing. I didn't belong there. I didn't care enough who won. It wasn't worth the risk and the aggravation just to ride with a bunch of hotheads at a faster than enjoyable pace.

Commuting by bike, I get to compete daily with fast foes, some of them very aggressive. Yet I feel safer than I ever did in a tight racing field with a bunch of guys who think they know how to handle a bike.

It makes more sense to me to use my energy on something practical rather than pursue the least productive form of cycling, racing. I see greater benefits while remaining just as anonymous as field-filler in a bike race. I win every time I get where I'm going.