Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Red Sled Is Rolling

When last we left your intrepid narrator, he was waffling on the horns of a dilemma (and apparently mixing metaphors). A new-old Cannondale had found its way to The Cycle's Home for Wayward Vintage Mountain Bikes, and I was trying to decide if it would inherit the go-sorta-faster parts kit of my Rockhopper (relegating the Rocky to second-bike status) or if it would become the second bike in its own right. To put it in vaguely Shakespearean terms, the question was, "To beater, or not to beater."

Given my inherent laziness, the thought of coordinating a full cross-bike parts swap in the meat of the season lacked appeal, so I decided to leave well enough alone on the Rockhopper and finish off the Cannondale in an Ultimate City Bike build. Thus, I give you...


I know the non-drive-side photo is gauche even by my amateur (and amateurish) bike photography standards, but I wanted to capture the 18-year-old Jandd pannier stuffed with groceries, and if I'm running a single pannier, I like to put it on the traffic side to be a visual nuisance.

Before I delve into the yawn-inducing details, I should note that this build owes a debt of inspiration to my blog-pal bikelovejones. It dawned on me that I've admired her beautiful, utilitarian (Grant Petersen would probably coin some annoying portmanteau like "beautilitarian") city bikes for years, but never tried one for myself. Now that I have one in my garage, I totally get it.

This was a remarkably low-key resto-mod for me, incorporating a lot of reduce/reuse/recycle and barter. I kept the stock 3x7/thumbshifter drivetrain intact, trading the beat-up pedals for an old pair of BMX platforms from the stash. The Planet Bike Cascadia fenders came from the Rockhopper, which now gets clip-ons from the stash thanks to its status as go-sorta-faster bike. The rear rack was traded from Steve F. (a.k.a. Local Steve) in exchange for my old messenger bag. The only real whim was trading out the stock cantilever brakes for a set of cheap V-brakes from the stash. Sure, I have an uncanny knack for setting up old, low-profile, smooth-post cantilevers (some would call it a gift, albeit the sort of gift you wish came with a gift receipt), but with a perfectly good set of Vs lying around, I figured I had better things to do with my time.

The biggest expense of the build came in the form of 26x2.0 Panaracer Tour tires (full disclosure, that Amazon link makes me a couple shekels if you use it to spend money) in place of the knobby Tioga Psychos, at something like $20 a pop. These were also a bikelovejones recommendation, and (so far) they seem like a lot of tire for the price. My better half rides the 700x32 version on her wayward Cannondale, so we kinda match. Aww, how cute.

But the most eye-opening part of the build for me was the cockpit. The stock riding position with flat bars was way too long and low for this creaking geezer and his oft-bulging lower back disc. It was great when I was half my current age, shredding dirt, but now? Not so much. Luckily, I had an inexpensive set of upright bars lying around (I think they were from the initial setup experiments on Better Half's Cannondale), so I plugged them in.


There's the drive-side photo you purists have been waiting for, with terrible lighting and a garage door to make sure you know it was taken by me (this was pre-tire-swap if you're also tracking continuity errors). I've always resisted swept-back, upright bars on my own bikes -- despite raves of how amazingly comfortable they can be, they just never worked for me. But here? Bliss. I don't know what magic position I discovered this time, but I'm not moving it a micron. With the swept bars set up on that long, low stem, the bike can feel like a casual cruiser or an aggressive hammering machine depending on my mood. There's even a vaguely aero position if I hook my thumbs over the forward bends and rest my palms on the shifters/brake levers. I never understood how other blog-pal Pondero could do his long, rambling country tours on bars like this, but now I get it.

Oh, one other thing (thanks, Columbo)... I don't know who first invented lock-on grips for flat bars, but I owe that person a big hug. I know these things have been around forever and I'm just a late adopter, but I'm kicking myself for the years I spent dealing with hairspray and air compressors. Though I will miss the quizzical looks at the drugstore when my bald self checks out with just a can of industrial-strength hairspray...

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Bottom-Feeder Strikes Again!


He followed me home, so I'm keeping him!


Yes, another midrange mountain bike from the days before my hairline became a peninsula, then a snow-dusted island. Yawn if you must, but old mountain bikes are a crazy value on the secondhand market these days. I've now scored two quality examples of these super-versatile bikes at less-than-department-store-crap prices.

I'm a softie for old Cannondales. My late-dad was obsessed with the brand, and that obsession imprinted on me early. When I later worked in a shop just down the road from their Bedford factory and got the opportunity to take a tour, it was like a pilgrimage to Nerd Mecca. How I came out of that tour without ordering a bike (or several bikes) is beyond me.

These days, that soft spot has manifested itself in a couple Cannondale tandems (probably the best tandem frame ever made by a non-tandem-specialist), a 90s-era hybrid piloted by the tandem's stoker when she's tired of looking at the back of my homely head, and now Big Red shown above.

I'm undecided as to what role Red will fill in the fleet (alongside my similar-vintage Rockhopper) as of yet. For now, I'm just going to tune it up and ride it as-is. I suspect that whichever frame offers a nicer fit/feel will get the nicer parts kit and drop-bar conversion currently on the Rocky, while the leftover parts will turn the less-preferred frame into a beater/townie/cruiser/backup/winter bike.

Friday, March 25, 2016

519s In The 515: Weirdest Compliment Ever?

Continuing my critically-unknown series on the bikes of Des Moines sporting 26" wheels (the One True Size), an anecdote:

Went out for an evening ride last week, hoping to convince Spring that yes, it's time to arrive. I wend my way through downtown Des Moines, headed east, and find myself stopped at a light. I think I can sense another rider behind me, but I'm giving car-based traffic the stink-eye, so I don't want to look back (and I haven't rocked a mirror in years -- there are even limits to MY nerdliness).

Rider behind me announces himself with the following compliment: "Nice bar-ends!"

Huh? For a minute, I think he's jerking my chain (metaphorically speaking), since my default mode is sarcasm. But I say "thanks" as the light changes and ride on.

Within the next block, he puts the drop on my laughably slow and corpulent self, and I see the reason for the compliment: He's on a 90s-era Trek mountain bike, rocking (of course) 26" wheels, converted to drop bars, shifted with some gloriously old-school Suntour retrofriction bar-ends. Even had a vintage suspension fork and what appeared to be original 747 SPDs. This was clearly one of my people!

I didn't get a chance to chat or grab a photo, but clearly, 559 is a THING in the 515. You saw it here first.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Snow Commute Follies

Just a bit of photographic evidence that I'm not normal, like you need a picture to know that.

If I knew anything about photography, I could do something artsy with this "tracks in the snow" shot:


You can see near the top where things got deep and sketchy. Guessing I swore there.

That little jaunt led to one of my favorite effects of winter riding: Rim fairings!


Gear nerds: Those are 26x1.95 Nokian Mount and Grounds. Not much to say about them other than they work. Haven't been on my tuchus yet this winter, knock wood.

Here's something I'd never seen before:


This happened during a morning commute when fresh powder was falling. As near as I can tell, snow hit the front of my seatpost as I was riding, melted, and then refroze. Of course, it probably re-melted, ran down my seat tube, and is rusting out my bottom bracket shell as we speak. Circle of life.

More fun with precipitation: Here's proof that my latest bag purchase (yet to be reviewed, but give it a few more months of abuse) is waterproof as advertised...


That's melted snow beading up on the outside of an Arkel Signature D backpack. Neat effect that -- again -- could be documented better by someone with more photographic talent than an orangutan.

Spring's coming, I hope. In the meantime, keep the rubber side between you and the slippery stuff, dear reader.