Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Reader Considers Joining The Raleigh Club(man)

I was pleasantly surprised this week to get the following reader feedback from a nice fella named Tim -- mostly because I'm surprised to learn I have readers. Anyway, Tim (quoted with permission) writes...

"I’ve been ogling a Clubman leftover at a shop near me for probably 2 years. If they still have it (and I think they do) I want to go get it. Do you have any additional comments on the bike now, 2 years later? I do most of my riding via an 18-mile (one way) commute over relatively flat terrain. I do it on either a singlespeed (80s Shogun), fixed gear (80s Lotus), or a Kona Smoke (26” wheels, maybe 10 years old?). The Smoke has 1.75 tires – I’ve ridden that thing all over the universe and love it but really want something that is a little more traditional. I’ve been a forever-fan of steel – lugged or otherwise."

If you aren't an obsessive follower of the blog (and who is?), I should explain that "2 years later" refers to the fact that I haven't really blathered at length about my Clubman since checking in with both a 519-mile review and a 992-mile review in ought-twelve... which means it's probably time for a longer-term check-in. The bike's been through a couple cyclometers since then, so I don't have a mileage tag. Let's just say "lots."

What I told Tim off-blog is that the Clubman is about as close to perfect as I think I'll get for my admittedly quirky tastes without going to a full custom. Stock, it was maybe 85% of the way there, but the bump-up to true 32mm tires (which, admittedly, required some brake and fender changes detailed in the 992-mile review) took it to 95%. The last 5%? Getting rid of the slight toe/fender overlap, and having just a tiny bit more tire clearance for giggles, both of which would require frame modifications that are too much hassle just to satisfy my perfectionism. That's not bad for an off-the-shelf bike.

The most noticeable feature of the Clubman has been the ride. I don't subscribe to the "steel is automatically magical and plush" trap, but this particular steel frame? A winner. I've struggled with how to describe it for the 3+ years I've owned it, and the best I can come up with is that the feel is analog rather than digital. Whereas some bikes (regardless of frame material) have a distinctly on/off, one/zero feel over bumps, the Clubman follows the shape of the road with more nuance. Think of a sine wave versus a sawtooth wave -- curves versus edges. Admittedly, a lot of that comes from the tires (the too-cheap-to-be-so-good Panaracer Paselas), but this characteristic was also there on the undersized Continentals they replaced, and could even be sensed through the noise of the absolutely awful stock Vittorias.

Further proof, however, that I am utterly out of touch with the bike industry today -- the Clubman is notably absent from the 2014 lineup on the Raleigh site. I can't say that I'm too surprised, as it is kind of a weird, quirky bike, even in stock form before my enhanced quirkification. So if Tim (or anyone else) wants a Clubman, the only hope is for one of those dusty dealer closeouts (for extra quirk, you could try to find the 2013 mixte version), or for prying mine from my cold, dead hands.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Self-Indulgent Proud Uncle Moment

During a visit with the nephews over the recent holiday weekend, Uncle Jason got a special request from Elder Nephew Wilson. He wanted the training wheels off his bike. Mom and Dad agreed that he was ready, so I borrowed a BFW (Big, Fantastic Wrench) from my brother-in-law and went to town.

I fully expected that this activity would lead to an afternoon straight out of a tearjerker TV commercial: Uncle Jason running down the street alongside a wobbly nephew until finally letting go and proudly watching him ride off on his own. While preparing for this scene, however, there was a tug at my t-shirt. Younger Nephew JT wanted his training wheels off too. With my backlog of repair tickets piling up, I quickly finished Wilson's bike and set it aside, turning my attention to JT's.

When I finished JT's bike and looked up again, here's what I saw:

Yes, that's Elder Nephew Wilson, tearing off down the street unaided by a proud, tearful uncle. Apparently, he didn't get the script for our TV commercial.

And wouldn't you know it? While I was distracted, this happened:

If you're scoring at home, that's TWO fearless nephews riding without training wheels. No grownups hanging on, no wobbles, not a worry in the world.

By this point, Wilson was circling back and preparing to stop -- and I feared disaster. But he did a cyclocross/Pony Express running dismount like it was nothing. It wasn't until later that I realized where I'd seen that move before; his grandfather dismounted the same way, though that grandfather was gone years before Wilson was even born.

Meanwhile, JT was off riding through ditches and over the biggest rocks he could find. That kid's going to have a lot of good stories and a lot of scars to go with them someday.

So my TV commercial was a flop, but I was a proud uncle just the same.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Irrational Bike Lust Therapy Session, Part 3,251

I made the horrible mistake of test-riding a Felt Burner last night:

Regular readers already know of my cruiser obsession, matched only by my retro-mountain bike obsession. So when you mash two of those things together into one package and add those comically large 700c knobbies (I refuse to say 29er, so there, marketing flacks), I'm doomed.

Of course, I immediately started justifying one. "The kickback hub and coaster brake would make for a low-maintenance commuter! It's much easier to find good studded snow tires in 700c!"

But let's face it: Justification number one (and at the end of the day, the only one that matters) is that it's just freakin' cool.

Our chief graphic designer/spousal reality checker wasn't helping at all. "If you think you can sell one of your other bikes, you should just get it." Heck, she was almost loading it into the car for me!

I didn't pull the trigger, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about what's in the garage I could cut loose, in my ongoing bicycle catch-and-release program.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Widget Review: The N-Gear Jump Stop

This is one of those reviews I've been meaning to write for a while, but the widget in question does such a good job so unobtrusively, I honestly forgot it was there.

At the end of last season, I started having intermittent chain-drop problems on my Clubman with its 50-34 compact crank. 16 teeth is a tough shift, even with all machining, ramping, pinning and shaping that goes into modern chainrings and front derailleur cages. As a result, I'd sometimes find myself shooting for the 34-tooth chainring and ending up on the zero-tooth bottom bracket, even with my Yoda-like mystical powers of front derailleur adjustment.

I don't even remember why I had a Jump Stop in my parts pile -- which probably says something about my parts hoarding problem. But I dug it out, figured maybe it would help, and slapped it on. I didn't even have the instructions to offer guidance on how to position it and was too lazy to consult the Oracle of Internets. I just took a best guess and started riding.

That was literally -- yes, I literally mean literally -- the last time I threw the chain on that bike. I'm so confident that I'm taunting the Chain Drop Deity. The Jump Stop cost twelve whole bucks shipped to my door, added a pittance of grams to my bike, doesn't even show unless you're looking for it, and makes no noise except the occasional "ping" when an awkward shift hits it, which is just the happy sound of a derailment prevented.

Normally, I'd throw an Amazon link in here and maybe get my beak wet a little (a tiny fraction of twelve bucks at a time), but in this case, if you want one, go straight to the source at the N-Gear website, from whence I borrowed this image of the Jump Stop in action on a shiny blue bike:

I love the N-Gear site almost as much as the Jump Stop itself. Remember the Days of Web Past, with tiled background images, unstyled text, just a handful of pages, and straight-up HTML that looks like something I coded? They live on at N-Gear. (Please note: Unlike my usual default sarcasm mode, I am not making fun. I really do like this stuff. In fact, some of the best bike information on the net comes in the form of some pretty old-school coding by the late, great Sheldon Brown.)

The other great reason to go straight to the N-Gear source is the honesty. The author goes into great depth on the different types of chain guides, and while he's obviously fond of his own design, he readily admits that it might not be the best for all applications. I mean, who puts the question "Is the Jump Stop the best chain guide out there?" on their FAQ page and answers it with, "Depends on what you need"? And, in the days of e-commerce run amok, who sends you their product based on an email or phone call and tells you to send a check if you like it or send it back if you don't?

For that refreshing lack of marketing nonsense and for your nifty widget, I hope you live long and prosper, Jump Stop Guy.