Thursday, June 25, 2015

Allez, Steve F!

Time to check in on one of our favorite Steves here at The Cycle, Steve F, a.k.a. "Local Steve", a.k.a. "Former Neighbor Steve", a.k.a. "Proprietor of Zen Biking", a.k.a. "This Guy":

(The homely, bald one on the right.)

If you've been following Zen Biking during the inexcusable hiatus of this particular blog, you know that this is the year he's going big(ger) and riding the Tour Divide: a nutty, damn-near-2500-mile off-road race from Canada to Mexico along the Great Divide.

I am totally sucked in to this event, checking in on Steve's Spot tracker several times per day. By the time you read this, he'll probably be in Colorado with over 1600 miles behind him, covering over 120 miles per day. The dude has done more off-road miles during this event than I've done miles for the entire year. Mind: Blown.

It just takes a brief peek around the social mediums to see that a big chunk of the Iowa biking community has adopted Steve as our hometown hero. Local shop Beaverdale Bicycles and even teamed up to offer a Steve Fuller Posse t-shirt (proceeds benefiting trails in Central Iowa) -- yeah, I ordered one. And no sprinkling of link juice would be complete without a shout to Steve's shop sponsor, Rasmussen's. (For the record, nobody gave me squat for all this wanton linking -- I'm just a Steve supporter, and a supporter of those who support him, and a supporter of supporters of biking in Iowa in general.)

So if you're burned out on professional racing (and you'd better believe I am), I encourage you to click in to the Tour Divide coverage. As far as I'm concerned, these are the real racers.

UPDATE: So, yeah, he did it. 24 days, 17 hours, 2 minutes (because even after 24 days, I guess the minutes still count), 2,745 miles, and a lot of pie. Words fail me. Steve, my man, you are harder than woodpecker lips, and I'm proud to call myself a member of your posse:

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Long-Term Test: Shimano M088LE Shoes vs. Hobbit Feet

Lo, it was way back in ought-thirteen that I first introduced you, my wide-footed reader, to the Shimano M088LE shoe. And alas, I did promise to report back, so report I shall.

I'm sorry to say that while all my initial praises of the shoe (not ugly, nice and wide) did pan out over our two-year test period, I was not thrilled with their durability. Sure, the soles don't look all that bad for a shoe that's seen a couple years of commutes, hike-a-bikes, farmer's market runs, and whatnot:

But the uppers didn't fare so well under the incessant pressure of my knobby toes:

(For the record: That's my FINGER demonstrating the "aftermarket ventilation" -- even my toes aren't that freakishly prehensile.)

The mesh (probably nylon?) on these shoes seems to be vulnerable to wear and ultraviolet exposure. What started as a small abrasion (the sort of thing you'd expect to get on a shoe designed for mountain biking) degraded fast, until I had a the custom pinky-toe window shown above.

Further proof comes from the instep of the same shoe, in the seam between two fake-leather sections held together by the same mesh material. No initial abrasion here (the "leather" bits keep it pretty protected), but the mesh got brittle and failed anyway:

Had this instep hole been the only blowout, it wouldn't have been a deal-breaker (you can hardly notice it unless you're wearing white socks or sticking your finger through the hole), but the pinky-toe blowout was already well developed at this point.

It looks like the successor to the M088 (the M089, also available in wide) wraps the fake leather up over the Pinky Toe Danger Zone a bit more, so maybe it's less prone to abrasion-induced blowouts... but I still fear for the structural integrity of that mesh material once it's been through a few soaking/sunbaking cycles.

So, great shoe for fit, but not tough enough, in the eminently valuable opinion of one random internet babbler. I'm currently trying out a wide shoe from Bontrager, so check back in 2017 to see how that one's holding up.

(Obligatory disclaimer: I buy all my own shoes with my own money and put them through a rigorous battery of unscientific testing known as "wearing them". No illicit bribes were exchanged for this opinion, though if you follow that link to the M089 and buy it on Amazon, they tell me I might make a couple nickels someday. I won't hold my breath.)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

New (20-Year-Old) Toy!

Oh, Craigslist, why must you tempt me so?

Meet the latest arrival in the garage, tastefully photographed against said garage per the Society of Terrible Amateur Bicycle Photographers Official Rulebook. That's a 1995 Specialized Rockhopper, steel, 20.5" frame, with no squishy bits save the tires. When I saw it listed on the local List of Craig for a song, I decided it simply had to be mine.

It wins nostalgia points because this is the same exact model (and color, even, though a different frame size) that I sold to my Dad back in 1995 during the shop gig where I actually got semi-good at mechanicking. He was recovering from a near-death cardiac "incident", and that Rockhopper was going to be his comeback bike. Eventually, he decided that he still liked his Cannondale road bike more, "incident" or not, so the Rocky was briefly loaned to my then-girlfriend who became my then-financee who is currently serving time as my now-and-future wife. Once I ponied up to buy her a bike of her own, the Rocky went to my sister, where it remains to this day.

Even putting aside nostalgia, though, I think these bikes were (and are) the bee's knees, cat's pajamas, and dog's bollocks. In the mid-to-late 90s, the steel hardtail was still trying (gamely) to compete with cheap aluminum as a viable race weapon, and the result was some pretty light and lively frames, even at midrange price points -- a far cry from today's tank-like steel off-road frames that emphasize bike-polo durability over ride quality. Trek had their 900 series, Gary Fisher had the Hoo Koo E Koo, GT had the Karakoram, and Specialized had this Rockhopper. Geometries had coalesced around a pretty quick-handling standard (with minor variations) thanks to the iconic Bridgestone MB series, though Bridgestone USA was defunct by the time this Rocky hit the sales floor. That bike layout became so standardized that it was just known as "NORBA geometry" for its ubiquity on the professional race circuit. It felt great on dirt and -- though this falls in the category of Unintended Side Effects -- it didn't feel like a chopper on pavement (pretty easy to do when the longest suspension fork on the market had maybe 70mm of travel). Most of these bikes had a full complement of braze-ons if you wanted to add fenders and racks to make them solid utility bikes. In short, they were simple, fun, versatile bikes.

When I take off my rose-colored riding glasses, however, I know darn well that this example is pretty rough. The paint is battered, which isn't unusual for the matte finishes on these frames. The low-end Shimano and Grip Shift parts left a lot to be desired when brand new, and they have not aged well in the last 20 years. But with a bit of adjustment, the bike still runs, and I've now commuted on it enough to confirm that it's worth a few well-chosen upgrades from the parts stash. Even with pretty abused wheels, horrible tires, and a Slime tube in back, it has that lively feel I remember. I'm going to swap the Alivio crank (which Shimano eventually recalled due to breakages) for a Sugino XD, dump the worn-out Grip Shifts and rear derailleur for nicer ones I got from reader Steve K (thanks, Steve!), and hopefully find a good deal on some 26" non-disc-brake wheels (which modern bikery thinks is an obsolete format). With those changes and fresh consumables (rubber, brake pads, cables), I'll have a mechanically good-as-new MTB for chump change.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

"Pro" Tip: Tektro RL520 Brake Levers

The "pro" is in quotes because I don't know what kind of professional I purport to be. Professional unpaid writer? Professional home hack mechanic? But if you use Tektro's road brake lever for v-brakes, I'm a proponent of this trick, which I'm giving you pro bono.

For whatever reason, the angle that the cable housing exits these levers is incredibly awkward on pretty much every bar I've ever installed them. Case in point:

See how the cable comes out pretty much perpendicular to the lever body, then has to make a sharp turn upward to follow the curve of the bar? It's subtle, but it's there -- and it's just enough of a kink to make the action of the cable rough. It works, but it just feels cheap and unpleasant.

The fix for this is really simple: Take a file to the lever body and remove a bit of the upper corner where the cable housing exits, allowing the cable to come off the lever at a more natural angle:

That little corner of the lever body serves no structural purpose that I can determine, and knocking it off lets the cable follow the bar in a smoother arc, resulting in a much better lever feel. Here's the modified lever all cabled up:

Very, very subtle to the eye (heck, I'm not even 100% sure I got my before and after pictures in the right spots), but a night-and-day difference in the hand, especially when I'm dealing with the long cable runs and resulting potential for increased friction on our tandem. Not bad for just a few swipes with a file. 

(Disclaimer: I am not a professional engineer, this is not a manufacturer's recommended hack, my suspicion is that any warranties these levers might have are null and void after the application of a file, and you are taking responsibility for any chance -- however remote -- of lever failure that may result from this modification. Not valid in all states, selection varies by store, yadda yadda yadda trailing off into fine print...)