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.

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