Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sometimes you have to follow your heart.

Cupids with too much time to think...
The heart is not to be trusted.  This must be clearly understood right from the beginning.  It is a self serving trickster that is no good compass for steering the ship of your life.

But sometimes you just need to follow it anyway, especially if it is not a life shattering decision or anything that will get your name known to the local magistrate.  So that is what I did in large part, followed my heart but not without a bit of hard thinking to back me up.

I bought a steel framed road bike.  Well, a frame at least and the parts to go with it.  And I bet in the minds of most bike riders you might talk to, that decision makes no sense at all.

The heart said "ohhhh!".  But the pocketbook said "whoa!"  And then the mind said "go!".  Or something in that order.  It is all still a bit fuzzy.

And now I have this in a box in the dining room.

Ain't she a sweetie, though?
Why not carbon or aluminum or Ti?  Great carbon is amazing.  It is the best material there is to make a sporting/performance bike from.  But great carbon costs a great deal of money and average carbon is still pretty costly and is not so special.  Great aluminum is affordable and is, in my opinion, better all around then average carbon.  Ti is the stuff dreams are made of in some ways, but great Ti is big bucks and average Ti is no better or may be worse than great steel.

So I had narrowed it down to a very well spec'd alu framed complete bike and was ready to pull the trigger when the bottom dropped out on the supply of that model and things went into limbo for a bit.  That gave me time to think and web surf.  That is a dangerous combo.  And I began to look at other options and found myself at the site.  And the Logic 2.0 frame set caught my eye.  Subtle graphics.  Thin tubes.  Graceful lines.  All carbon fork.  And I started day-dreaming about riding it.  I had not romanticized about riding the aluminum frame when I was getting ready to buy that.  So what gives?

I found myself thinking about long rides up the coast in the fog while astride this steel framed assembly of slender tubes and tidy welds.   I was pedaling along, mist condensing on my helmet edge, dripping off as I looked down at the svelte, grey top tube.  It inspired me.

It was not all goose pimples and fluttering heart beats though.  It said Ritchey on the side of it and that meant that Tom had his hands elbow deep into the bike's design and construction, even if he did not hold the torch.  And that guy is pretty smart.  It is a modern take on classic road geometry, at least to my mind.  Not a Gran Fondo/Endurance approach, but a classic all-rounder.  And since I am just learning here, that seemed like a good place to begin.

But it was still a tough decision.  It cost me more than the alu bike would and it weighs about a pound and a half more, neither being convincing arguments for buying it.  It is out of fashion, but so am I.  And I have to admit that I got a certain satisfaction when I thought about riding that steel frame in world full of resin injected, carbon wrapped, moulded machines.  Can you imagine the looks from the cycling cognoscenti as I ride past them on the road?  Makes me grin just thinking about it.

So parts gathering is well in hand and soon the wrenches will be spinning in earnest.  Will reality match my heart's desire?  We shall see.

If not, I can always blame Cupid.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Les vrais hommes montent acier.

I slide back in the saddle as I click up a gear and push harder on the pedals.  The French countryside gently rises to meet me and field stone walls flash by in a blur.  A cigarette dangles out of the corner of my mouth, the ash threatening to break off and land down the front of my wool jersey.  I do not care.  My sweat will put out the embers.

I am a man and real men ride steel.

As I pass a roadside cafe' the smell of croissants and coffee wafts through the air and mixes with the smell of the farm, my sweat, and cigarette smoke.  It is a heady and familiar mix.  I wonder to myself...when did I last wash that wool jersey?  I cannot remember.  It does not matter.  "Elle est ce qu'elle est".

I am a man and real men ride steel.

Women watch me as I ride by.  They desire me.  Their husbands scowl.  They envy me.  My cigarette is done so I toss it aside and reach into my jersey pocket for a baguette.  I ride on.  The world does not stop while I eat so why should I?

I am a man and real men ride steel.

My hair does not blow in the wind and the rain.  Chain lube and hair oil.  Is there a difference?  "Non!"  I squint into the rain as it hits my face.  Hair grease...chain grease...a squint into the rain.

I am a man and real men ride steel.

I ride past a group of other men on steel bikes.  We know things.  Secret things.  Man things.  Steel things.  We squint at each other but do not wave.

We are men and real men ride steel.

A car drives up alongside me and the passenger, a French woman with pouting lips and wild hair, opens the door as we stop to talk and says that I am late.  I am French.  I do not care if I am late.   There are mountains to climb.  French mountains.  She secretly wants my wool jersey.

The woman is persistent.  She says I am late for work, turns away and leaves.  That voice?  I know that voice.  When did my wife start speaking French?  I open my eyes and look around my bedroom and the French woman, the pouting lips, the countryside, the smells all come to a screeching halt as the reality of life comes crashing into focus.  Oh yeah.  It's Monday.  I am not in France.  I do not smoke.  No husbands scowl at my existence.  I am late, the world is still not waiting for me and we are fresh out of baguettes.

But there is a shiny, new steel road bike frame sitting in a box in the corner.  That part is real and the road lies ahead.  Ladies...I am on my way!

"Les vrais hommes montent acier."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fools with tools.

It should have been no big deal.  A flat tire on a road ride.  In town.  Ten minutes tops.  But that assumes we were prepared as well as we thought we were.  Oh no...not even close.

JeffJ and I.  That is me on the left.

JeffJ and I were about 70 miles into an 80 mile loop and we were just beginning to feel the strain of the day.  I had some time constraints, so when we pulled out of the gas station/mini mart after tanking up on water, I was not real happy about feeling that soft and squishy response to pedaling.  No, not a fully loaded chamois, just a rear flat.

So we pulled over into the shade of a gas station across the street and set to fixin' things in the grass of a planter area.  No biggy.  We had three tubes between us along with two sets of quick fills, two pumps, one patch kit, etc, and it is not like this is my first rodeo with an airless tire.   So I whipped off the rear wheel and opened up my tool bag to find no tire levers.  Really?  No idea where they went.  But JeffJ had some so that was fine.  It takes a village you know.  Buddy system and all that.

Tire removed, I set about finding the source of the leak.  A thin piece of wire had pierced the casing in the tread and about ten minutes later I had it out of there with my fingernails.  Note to self:  Add metal tipped tweezers to road bike tool kit.

I grabbed my spare tube, which I keep carefully wrapped in a baggie so it survives rot and rubbing, and went to put it in only to find that the valve stem barely made it through the rim.  When I swapped wheels it had not occurred to me look at the valve stem length of the spare tube.  Rats.  OK, we had grabbed a spare tube out of JeffJ's garage before we left and that was in my jersey pocket.

JeffJ's garage

I install that and grab my pump but JeffJ's pump is a bit more full-figured so he hands me that.  It does everything I ask of it except put air into the tube.  Why?  Dunno.  So I go to grab my pump and JeffJ offers his quick fill.  Ok.  Sheesh!  This is getting to be quite a circus and time is passing by.

A quick blast and we are at pressure.  Into the bike the wheel goes and about the time I close the QR, I realize the tire is flat.  I ask JeffJ, "was that a good tube?"  He does not know.  Take any bets on it?  So he grabs the tube out of his bike's seat pouch.  In that goes and I try my quick fill.  The dispenser will not move, like the plunger is frozen but I only find this out after I pierce the cartridge.  I have never used this device and it must have gotten wet in the bag and so here we are.  I grab the frozen, non-air dispensing device of dismay and, holding it both hands, press the nozzle against the sidewalk and push HARD.

'paaaaWIIIISHHHHhhhhhhh' goes all the cO2 in a frenzy of frosty air pressure escaping into the mid day heat.  The valve, once it got moving, stayed open.  Nice.  I could just cry or laugh and I stand there, staring at the comedic circumstances unfolding before me uncertain which is the most appropriate response.

You never tested your quick fill dispenser AND your tube has a short stem AND your tire levers are missing?

So we still have my pump and out it comes with the tube number three from JeffJ's seat bag.  He had been bragging to me about how good his tires were and how it had been YEARS since he had a flat and so on and so forth and all this is still ringing in my ears as I pump frantically with air escaping out the tube in every crease of the tube's folds.  Rotten to the core.  Really?  Is someone filming this?

My spare tube is rotten?

Time is slipping by.  I am going to be late for sure for my afternoon appointment, but the bigger thought is that we are fast running out of options here.  So I grab the tube that has one hole in it from the wire and try to patch it but the wind is so strong that I cannot feel the air leak.  I take it all in my arms and go behind the gas station into an area that must be the urinal for every homeless person in Ventura County.  No deal...cannot get enough air in there with a tiny pump to feel the leak and I am fresh out of water barrels, koi ponds, or deep puddles to submerge the tube in.

Amazing.  About now the Mexican gardener comes by and looks at us as he stands next to his running lawnmower.  The lawn he wants to mow is the one we have bikes and parts spread allll over.   Really, dude?  Verdad?  Verdad.

We pile it all on the sidewalk and keep at it.

So as a last resort, in goes the good spare tube I had (with the short stem) and JeffJ grabs his last quick fill and crams it on there, hits the button, but the connection is not good and canned air air goes everywhere but in the tube.  Then he bends the valve core as he pulls the tool off the stem.


Plan B.  It was close to this...too close.

I straighten that without having it break and thread my pump on there hoping there are enough threads to get it to seal.  There are, but barely.  It is our last hope before we hit the rescue flares or I ride on JeffJ's handlebars back to the car.  It works and inflates but we are on a wing and a prayer for the last 15 miles back to the car.  One more flat and we are toast.

So some morals to this slapstick comedy of a story.  Check yer stuff.  Do your tools actually work?  Are they in the bag?  Is your spare tube just a long rubber band?  We made it back and after a post ride burrito, discussed what we should do next, what we learned from all this and we came to a decision.


There really was only one career path for JeffJ and I to pursue. One way for us to help others learn from our mistakes.   Come by and see us some time.  We fix flats.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A cyclist, perhaps?

Not parked...just pausing.

It was somewhere around the mid 1990's.  I was on that road bike pictured above, climbing up a local canyon road along with a small group of friends.  Next to me rode 'Little Ray'.  Ray was Italian by birth and a cyclist by choice.  MTB, road, whatever.  The "little" part of the nickname came from the fact that Ray was small of stature.  He used to be a professional horse jockey.  Seemed to me that he raced with some of the greats until a fall and injuries took that option off the table.  At least that is the way I remember it. One time, on a night MTB ride, in a difficult canyon dirt climb that was known for high winds, we came around a corner with Ray a few bike lengths ahead of me.  The wind hit us straight in the face while we already in our low gear and it stopped Ray dead and blew him over before he could unclip.  He laid there, laughing like crazy as I rode by.  Sometimes it pays to be big and heavy.

He had a temper bigger than his silhouette and was a force to be reckoned with on a bike, being a fierce competitor.  This day he rode up alongside me as we stood and climbed out of the saddle, bikes rocking back and forth, hands lightly balanced on the bars, feet stepping on the revolving dance floor.  He said something I have never forgotten but only recently recalled.  He said, "you are doing are becoming a cyclist".

A cyclist.  Webster's has that as:  One who rides a cycle.

I am a mountain biker.  I bleed dirty blood and wear knobby socks.  It is one of the things that defines me and I am OK with that.  But am I a cyclist?  An MTB is a cycle, right? Yes, but what Ray was saying was that I was transitioning from being just a dirt rider to a more complex animal.  The addition of road riding was expanding my horizons and had me on a journey to another level as a bike rider.  Then, for whatever reason, I backpedaled, if you will, and fell away from anything road related.  I went from a here-and-there century ride with regular group rides to a semi-often road ride with a buddy or two then right to nil.  Zip. It was knobs or nada.

Till recently.  I am still not sure what happened.  Seasons, I guess and the timing of all that.  Every summer when the hills get brown and dry and the air temps go up toward triple digits in So Cal, my thoughts turn to road riding where at least you have the potential to make your own breeze.  Then the Tour De France, which I watch but do so with limited knowledge or interest, always peaks my curiosity for road bikes.  I mean, those bikes they ride look so cool!  So I would invest in a new set of road tires to replace the rotted ones, take the road bike off the hook, do some wrenching and hit the road.

And once again I would remember why I did not do this, this road bike thing.  The bike sucked.  The shifting was some odd compromise of a 7 speed Sachs freewheel (yes...7 speed freewheel) on Bullseye hubs and Mavic rims with Shimano bar end shifters.  Horrible combo.  It never shifted right and did not get better with age.  The riding position was just as bad with a gooseneck steel stem welded into quite a negative angle and a bar shaped with more than a good bit of reach and drop.  It put me waaaay over the bars when on the hoods and what used to be OK to me in the 90s was terrifying now.  Add in 53/39 crank gearing and a 12-25 freewheel and it was always a dream-bubble buster every time I got back on the bike.  

So every year I would entertain either a new road bike or updating the parts and correcting the fit on this one.  I was torn.  It was a handmade steel frame from Curtlo Cycles with modern geometry and an SR Prism alu fork.  The parts were mostly Shimano 600 or 105 but it just did not mesh.  Was it worth upgrading?  Then I would get into the pursuit of a new MTB and the road bike would go back on the hook for another year.  Priorities, you know.

That was until last year, when I picked up a set of road bike wheels from JeffJ for 50 bucks.  They were decent but not great wheels, maybe 1800g, and had the minimal spoking pattern that was so popular these days.  But the best part was that they would allow me to go to a proper 8spd cassette from Shimano.  So I figured it was worth 100 dollars to see this along a bit farther.   I paired the wheels and new cassette with an 8spd set of bar end shifters I had around.  Now we had great shifting and a 12-26 gear cluster for a slightly lower gear.  I would have liked brifters, but they are kinda costly.

Fit was another thing.  I did not know what I did not know and I just figured that all road bikes felt like this in the cockpit.  But I would see bikes go by that looked so much different...the hoods were not so far away and low and riding them just had to be better.  But getting there would mean sourcing eBay 8spd brifters and new bars and what about that old quill stem?  I sure would like to get to where I could run the assortment of threadless 1 1/8" stems I had laying around.  So in increments, I pressed on.  I installed an aftermarket adapter (big chunk of metal) into the threaded 1" steerer that let me run 1 1/8" threadless stems for a better selection of options.  That raised my bar position up and I was seeing rays of hope break though the clouds.

So naturally I did the next logical thing...I hung the bike on the hooks again.  Why?  No motivation.  Wrong season.  Timing is key.  There were lots of bikes to be riding and all of them had fat, knobby tires on them.  Till this year.  An event was coming up that would be a difficult day and it would be good to get some miles in to prepare.  But long training miles during the summer in So Cal are hard on an MTB.  Unless you begin at 04:00 AM, forget having any fun there.  Too hot.  And recent fires had closed a lot of the areas that would be tolerable for such efforts.

So it got me thinking.  And thinking (and acting on those thoughts)  led to this pic of the Curtlo resting (not parked) at the halfway point of a 60 mile ride up and around some remote canyon roads.  I have been tweaking the fit a bit more, but that is just for a brief time as I am knee deep into a new road bike build.  It will be a mix of the modern and the traditional and the new bike should settle the fit issues, shed a bit of weight, and get me a bit lower gearing.

WIll I ride it enough to make it worthwhile?  Well this is the interesting thing.  In the process of getting some miles in for this specific event, I have been very surprised by how much I am enjoying the road bike experience.  It is different, for sure, but that is not a bad thing.  Sometimes the rut in the trail gets big enough for us to hide in, more a trench than a rut, and I am enjoying learning about the road side of things.  I am finding myself planning long road rides which has made me chuckle at myself more than a few times.  I have had two weekends in a row that have been right at 100 miles.  Huh!  How 'bout that?

I will always be a mountain biker but if this trend continues I may get back on track to being something else.

A cyclist.

Thanks for the reminder, Ray.