Saturday, January 24, 2015

I Give You... The Spork!

Just got back from the Iowa Bike Expo (and pal Steve F's excellent bikepacking talk), but since I'm still unpacking my brain and my photos, I'll do an expose on the latest test platform here at The Cycle instead, one that I've been hinting about for a while.

Apparently, I was so excited about this bike that I couldn't hold still for the full-bike shot, hence the blurriness:

I decided to do a new twist on the "bicycle leaning against a garage door" photo here, leaning it against a door IN my garage instead. What you're seeing is a late-90s/early 2000s Litespeed Appalachian touring/cyclocross/whatever bike, 61cm. I'm guessing the Litespeeders got hammered by the enthusiast nerd crowd back in the day because this thing is neither a true touring bike nor a true cyclocross bike... too low and laid back for 'cross racing, and not nearly eyeletted enough (or long-chainstayed enough) for loaded touring. But for my twisted tendencies, it's perfect: Slack seat angle, low bottom bracket, good tire clearance, awesomeness all around.

Here's what it looks like from the driver's seat:

Salsa Bell Lap bars, Tektro brake levers for the budget V-brakes, one bar-end shifter for the 1x8 drivetrain, and a stack o'spacers thanks to a previous owner who didn't chop the steerer. Yay, previous owners who leave steerers alone!

Since a lot of my readers are fat-tire and fender folk, here's a bit of tire clearance porn. Front end:

I'll admit, my Luddite tendencies have me a little wary of that carbon fee-bray fork, but you can't argue with that much air space underneath. I do have a replacement steel fork (thanks to my wonderful in-laws, who bought me just what I asked for even though they probably didn't know what it was) waiting to be installed, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

And now, for some clearance out back:

This shot reveals one weirdness of the frame: It has dropout eyelets in the back, but no provisions on the bridges (brake or chainstay) for fender attachment, leaving me with the p-clamp bodge you see here and a zip-tie down below. I've long ago given up my snobbery about such things, though.

This drivetrain shot is really just so you can appreciate the clean weld at the cantilever posts. The dropout attachments look blobbier, but it's just a function of how they're attached. The weld itself is freakishly gorgeous.

And finally, a gratuitous headbadge shot. Why don't all bikes have nice headbadges? Is it a weight weenie thing? Stickers are lame by comparison. It's a coat of arms, for Pete's sake!

Most of my bikes get names, but for now, this one is called The Spork, in honor of the only other titanium thing I've purchased in my lifetime (my bionic femur doesn't count, since the insurance company bought that). My thinking is, it's a bike that -- like its utensil namesake -- can do a little bit of everything. Sure, a spoon is better for eating soup, and a fork is better for eating salad, but try eating salad with a spoon or soup with a fork. A spork can do both.

Since I picked up this beauty right at the end of decent riding weather, it hasn't been thoroughly tested, but so far, I'm impressed. Light, lively, just flat-out fun to ride. I knew I had something special when it didn't feel like a complete dog with snow tires -- a little more sluggish, sure, but still a fun ride. Really looking forward to spring, when I plan to put many, many miles on this mule.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

It's Steve Week At The Cycle

First, a reader contribution from our engineer Steve K, and now I've learned that frequent commenter, former neighbor, and all around good dude Steve F is giving a talk on bikepacking at next weekend's Iowa Bike Expo. I think we can now officially say that on these pages, Steves are "a thing."

Granted, I'm still not 100% sure what bikepacking is -- I think it's what we used to call "loaded touring" except that you aren't allowed to use panniers and thus have to buy a whole new set of bags. But Pal Steve F is a no-fooling expert on the subject, finisher of all sorts of epic (yes, really epic, not Rapha fake-epic) gravel events, and bear-snack-in-training for the 2015 edition of the Tour Divide. I missed it when he participated in a Trans Iowa Clinic (probably for the best, as it would have given me ideas), but I'm definitely putting this chat on my calendar.

So if you find yourself in Central Iowa next Saturday (January 24) looking to have some knowledge dropped upon you, head over to room 302 of the Iowa Events Center and say howdy to Steve.

Meanwhile, I'll be working on the lyrics to "Steves I Know", based on this Kids in the Hall classic:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


It's a week of firsts here at The Cycle. In our first first from the previous post, I had to rescind a recommendation. And now, for our second first, I have to issue a correction. It seems that our Chief Unpaid Engineering Consultant, the legendary Sir Steve of the Greater Peoria Metropolitan Area (you may remember him from such posts as Steve K Provides Some Enlightenment) did a bit of peer review on my cost versus value equation and submitted the following corrected graph on behalf of his cat:

So now we have all of our values greater than zero, which is swell, though by swapping the cost and function axes from my original orientation, the quadrant numbering gets all wonky. So I will stand on the shoulders of giants (not really, Steve's about my height, but it's a metaphor, people), find another random notepad, and propose the following:

I'm going back to my original orientation, but I'm throwing out the whole "quadrant" idea and proposing instead a curve that represents the "typical" cost/function of bike stuff. As you pay more, the function goes up... to a point (beyond that, you're just paying more to impress the other dentists on your group ride). So the key (to me) is finding those outlier data points on the left side of the graph, dots above the curve, parts that work way better than those costing the same or more... like those $15 V-brakes I mentioned when I introduced the concept.

It's an insanely simple idea, one which certainly doesn't need multiple graphs, a lot of babbling, and an engineering consultation. But hey, it's cold outside, I may be nursing a non-bike-related hamstring strain, and cabin fever is just starting to rear its ugly head.

(Special thanks to Steve and his cat for providing some actual mathy-graphy know-how to this otherwise word-focused endeavor.)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Times, They Are A Changin'

I don't think I've ever rescinded a recommendation in the almost-eight years this blog has been spewing opinion, but unfortunately, I'm about to break new ground.

Despite my initial positive, nay glowing, nay almost fawning review of Bicycle Times back when they first launched in 2009, I am sad to report that in this never-humble blogger's opinion, they have now jumped the shark. I was concerned when original editor Karen Brooks moved on, but I knew new-editor Gary Boulanger's reputation and witheld judgment. Now that I've digested a few issues under the new leadership, I'm prepared to say that the current iteration of Bicycle Times is not for me. Here's why:

ONE, THEY GOT FAT: I'm not going to claim that fat bikes are not a "thing." Anyone watching the industry knows that tires wider than those on my Prius are big in both the literal and metaphorical sense. But I'm not convinced that fatties are a "thing" for the everyday cyclist that was the original Bicycle Times audience. The new Times, however, dedicates a lot of column space to big rubber, as if somehow we all commute through the woods and hunt squirrels for our dinner. News flash: We don't.

TWO, THEY PLUGGED IN: Electric bikes are not new to the pages of Bicycle Times. However, there appears to be a new focus on e-bikes under the new management. One can argue (successfully) that the e-bike is a game-changer that could turn a lot of non-cyclists into everyday cyclists. In fact, I suspect that argument will be the Helmet War of the new millenium. But this lone, opnionated reader is interested in motorless bikes and thus yawns at the sight of a 30-pound battery pack.

THREE, THEY HEADED TO THE HINTERLANDS: Man, there's been a lot of "I loaded up my bike and pedaled alone across the foreboding wilds of the Outer Nowhere desert" content since the editorial switch. It's like the subtitle of the magazine is now "Your everyday Cycling ADVENTURE!!!" Don't get me wrong. Self-contained touring is amazing. I've done it myself, and wish I could do more of it. In the hands of a good writer, it can make for a ripping yarn. But as my "wish I could do more of it" might indicate, it's far from "everyday" cycling. Those of us living in the real world are confronted with any number of responsibilities that prevent us from simply packing the panniers and heading to Burma for a few months. Sure, when you get your cycling in dribs and drabs, commuting during the week and getting out for a longer spin on the weekend, maybe the occasional touring story is entertaining or inspirational. But making it a focus of something that claims to be an "everyday cycling" magazine says to your reader, "Here's the real cycling you could be doing." Mixed messages, anyone?

FOUR, THEY STARTED DRINKING: As soon as I saw a beer reviewed on the pages of Bicycing Times, I was done. Not that I'm a teeotaler or beer-prude... open my fridge right now, and you'll find a selection of malty adult beverages waiting to be quaffed. But in the same way that I don't ask my bartender to recommend a chain lube, I don't read bicycle magazines to learn about beer.

Add it all up, and you have a magazine that has strayed from its mission statement into the territory of the Surly blog (minus the e-bike content)... fat tires, bearded dudes (did I mention that Bicycle Times now has a fictional columnist called Beardo the Weirdo?), drinking beer under bridges, and showing off the scars you got from doing stupid stuff on your bike after drinking too much beer under a bridge. Maybe that describes your everyday cycling adventure, but it looks nothing like mine. Thus, I'm letting my subscription lapse.