Thursday, July 23, 2009

Happy Birthday To My Better Half

My lovely spouse -- our tandem-stoking turbo boost, and the only person I've ever met with just the right set of neuroses to complement my unique set of neuroses -- turns the ripe old age of [REDACTED] today.

That's her over there in the upper right with the bald mutant. And above is a self-portrait she made for one of her graphic design classes.
(Good grief, I hope I found the final-final-final version. There ain't nobody who revises, re-revises, and re-re-revises like my wife... except maybe me.)

Happy birthday, honey. It's been a great ride so far, and I can't wait to see what we'll find around the next turn.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Now That's A Compact Frame

I was going to use this photo as a jumping-off point for a semi-serious post about proper bike fit... but I think I'll just have another laugh at it instead.

Thanks to Pal Joel for providing the mirth, and apologies for the public humiliation. Some things are just too good to pass up.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Long-Term Tests: Super Stoppers & Simple Shifting

Apologies for the extended radio silence... we've been hard at work "staging" The Cycle World Headquarters in an attempt to sell the joint and relocate. For those who don't know real estate, "staging" your house makes it look like you have better taste than you actually do, which then allows potential buyers to imagine that they will have better taste than they actually do if they buy it. Here at TCWH, that involved (among other things) time-consuming tasks like repainting the front porch and power-washing the back deck. I tried to convince the neighbor kids that both jobs were really fun, forgetting that the parents of said neighbor kids are all my age -- thus, the kids have been raised on irony and sarcasm, making them completely immune to the old Mark Twain free labor trick.

To celebrate the end of chores, I'm back with two 1,000-mile product reviews. I don't normally keep such compulsive mileage stats on each equipment change, but I just happened to replace a cyclometer battery when I made two major tweaks to the bike, so I know those changes happened about 1k miles ago -- a pretty decent frame of reference, I'd say.

First up, Tektro CR720 wide-profile cantilever brakes. An early iBOB reviewer of these stoppers put it best when he said, "Tektro, like Stacy's mom, has got it going on." The CR720 combines everything great about wide-profile cantis of yore (power, modulation, mud clearance, forgiving setup) with the super-simple pad and spring adjustment of a modern V-brake, plus some nice cartridge pad holders
and a very slick straddle cable yoke reminiscent of the old Avid Tri-Dangle -- all for less than $30 per wheel. Geezer mountain biker check: Raise your hand if you remember when your straddle cable hanger had to be some trick anodized doo-dad like a stop sign or a peace symbol in order to be accepted by the cool kids. (My hand is up, at least as far as my geezer mountain biker shoulder injury, circa 1992, will allow.)

Like most Tektro brakes, the CR720 features stock pads that are -- let's face it -- pretty miserable. Not much bite, plenty of squeal, easy to wear, and they chew rims to ribbons. I could tell when I'd worn off the toe-in whenever I got a terrifying front-end shudder under hard braking. Yet, even with sub-optimal pads, these brakes (when properly toed-in) could drag my heavy bike and heavier butt to a controlled stop with remarkable ease (note that I'm pairing them up with the Tektro R100A brake lever -- another low-budget, high-performance gem that proves the "Tektro = Stacy's mom" hypothesis.)

Things improved dramatically when I pulled the original pads for some Kool Stops that were collecting dust in the stockpile. With dual-compound Mountain pads on the back and salmon Supra 2s on the front (a weird combination, I know, but that's what I had), stopping got even better, the squeal all but disappeared (I can still chirp 'em if I really jam the front in a panic), and my rims thanked me for ending the abuse. Note to Tektro: If you want to destroy all braking competition, create an unholy alliance with Kool Stop. After all, Shimano's stock pads are just as crappy as yours (if not crappier), so you could really hurt the Big S with a decent pad compound. I'll probably get some salmon or dual-compound inserts for the original pad holders just to test what kind of superbrake could be produced by a two-headed Tektro/Kool Stop monster.

The real magic of the CR720 comes from that old wide-profile design, though. Previously, this bike has worn the medium-profile Tektro Oryx and Avid Shorty, as well as the low-profile Shimano Deore LX. All three did the job, but their mechanical advantage required a low straddle for power and a very close pad setup to keep from bottoming out the lever -- which wasn't very forgiving of gunk or rim blips. The wide-profile arms don't particularly care where you put your straddle, and they can run with lots of air under the pads without using up all your lever travel. (As usual, the late Sheldon Brown explains the "why" of this better than I ever could.)

Next up in the 1,000-mile test is my new 1x8 drivetrain. Ever since I started riding fixed, I've been playing the mental game of, "How many gears do I really need on any bike?" After all, if I can do a ride a 42x17 fixie, why do I need 23 more ratios (most of them duplicates) on my geared bike? That line of thought turned my 3x8 into a 2x8 for a few years, and this Spring, I took the plunge to 1x8: a 42-tooth ring driving an 11-28 cassette. Initial tests failed miserably due to the very-worn 42 I chose -- the chain got dropped like a bad habit over the slightest pavement ripple. Swapping that for a new BMX-specific (i.e., not designed to be shifted) ring (formerly known as Rocket Ring, now apparently rebranded Origin8 and available in hideous fixie-culture-pandering colors) and shortening the chain by a couple more links has solved the problem completely.

The gear range is just about right for local terrain and my riding style. Chainline is dead-center between two nice cruising gears (42x16 and 42x18), with decent high and low options on either side. Once I wear out my 11-28, I'll probably go to a SRAM 11-32 for a little more stump-pulling capability, since it's an exact match for the 11-28 until you get to the two biggest cogs (26-32 instead of 24-28).

That, my bike-geek friends, is all the news that's fit to render in electrons here at
The Cycle. But if you know anyone who's looking for a charming 1917 bungalow with a freshly-painted porch, a freshly-washed deck, and tasteful decor, have I got a deal for them...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hot-From-The-Oven Blog Rolls

Time for a little routine maintenance here at The Cycle.

First, you'll notice that old friends Scott of Landscape Cycling and Todd of The 6-Miler have fallen off the rolls. Don't worry, fellas, you still get the love around here, and I'm watching you via bookmark, but I'll wait to re-roll you (which is much better than Rick-rolling you) until you're making more frequent interweb noise. I'm sure you're just saving up for something good, unlike yours truly who just vomits out whatever's in his brain the moment it crosses a synapse.

To make up for this tragic loss, I've gone with a themed double-whammy I call Grumpy Old Framebuilders. First up, there's WCAMO: Who Cares About My Opinion, a playful and (I think/hope) good-natured take on Richard Sachs and his ever-present acronym ATMO (According To My Opinion) by Bruce Gordon of the appropriately-named Bruce Gordon Cycles. This blog stuff is fairly new for Bruce, and he uses it both for musing and commercial purposes, but he was surly (the adjective) long before Surly the Marketing-Created Nonsense Brand ever existed, so he's always an entertaining read. (Disclaimer: I ride one of Bruce's bikes, but I paid for it. No bought-off shills at
The Cycle, although -- as always -- I can be purchased if anyone's interested.)

Next up is The Overopinionated Framebuilder by Paul Sadoff of Rock Lobster Cycles (he's calling it "Can't We Just Get Along?" instead, but I really prefer the original and more descriptive title in the URL, so that's what I'm going with). I'll admit that Paul and Rock Lobster were just a tiny regional blip on my radar screen for a long time. I'd heard of the bikes and seen some dazzling show-candy on the internets, but I hadn't really paid attention until recently. I've been reading up on Paul's philosophy and checking out some of his builds in the last few weeks, and he's starting to creep up on my List of Custom Builders Who Might Someday Make My Dream Bike If I Ever Hit The Lottery. Everybody has one of those, right?

What I like about both of these builders is that although they've been around since dirt was new, they've both been willing to make juicy steak out of some of the sacred cows of the old torchbearers. Bruce and Paul can both crank out a gorgeous traditional lugged frame that would make Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycle Works wet his woolens... yet neither has stopped there. Bruce's bread-and-butter is the welded Rock 'n' Road touring bike -- which (According To My Opinion, copyright Richard Sachs) has been the gold standard of loaded touring bikes for decades. Not enough? Well, have you seen his titanium townie bike? His carbon fiber handlebars? Paul, on the other hand, can do a gorgeous stack-o-dimes weld on an aluminum cyclocross race machine that makes me want to cheat on my beloved frame material, steel.

So, take a break from my blather, enjoy some chatter from a couple legendary flamethrowers, and -- for my U.S. readers -- have a great 4th.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Happy Feet, I've Got Those Happy Feet

My new wide shoes (first mentioned in last Sunday's post) arrived a couple days ago (speedy shipping there, Performance... nicely done), but tonight was my first real ride in them: 39 quasi-fast miles on an absolutely gorgeous night.

Quickie first-impression review? Oh, I like 'em a LOT. Imagine if you'd been wearing pants two sizes too small for your entire life because you thought that was just how they were supposed to fit... and then you got a pair in the right size. That's how my paddle feet feel right now... like a skinny-jeaned fixie-pushing hipster experiencing the vastness of baggy pants for the first time. I didn't have to futz with the straps or clip out and walk around to alleviate hot-foot
at all. Amazing.

More to come (including, I'm sure, much prattle about my ambivalence towards the mail order Bike Marts like Performance), but the early verdict is two big toes up!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sacrificial Lambs

What is it with people who ride nice bikes to work yet have no clue how to lock them up?

I'm not going to reveal where I work or offer photographic evidence that might tip off a dishonest reader (not like I have any of those, of course), but my bike rack is on the ground floor of a parking garage that's visible and accessible to anyone who walks by on the sidewalk. Despite that, today's count included a couple fairly new Trek roadies (maybe worth $1k each?) "secured" by those flimsy four-number combination cables that are about as strong as dry-rotted twine. I think the Twine-Lok was only running through one wheel on one (not even the frame!), so it wouldn't have taken a very astute thief to walk off one wheel short of a new bike. I think the other Trek had an unsecured wheel, so maybe he could have done some mix-and-match to get something rideable.

The real winner, though, was a fairly new Giant roadie (probably another $1k ride) that featured the same Twine-Lok coiled around the stem. That's right: The bike was locked to NOTHING. Sure, this is Iowa, and there's a security camera somewhere around the rack (watched at all times by our eagle-eyed security staff, no doubt), but c'mon! Are you that dense, or are you running the world's most obvious insurance scam?

Even assuming you run that little cable through both wheels and the frame, it wouldn't take a particularly dedicated thief to leave you bikeless. I'm the furthest thing from a bike thief, but even I have more than one otherwise-innocent tool in my garage that would get through that cable like a Ginsu knife through a sausage link. And those four-digit combo locks? In my experience, most people leave the sticker with the combination still stuck on the thing (do these people leave their house key hanging in the door when they go on vacation too?), and even if you don't, those locks have a "tell" so easy that it doesn't take much to open one (guess how we used to entertain ourselves in the bike shop over the winter?)

Okay, so I'm being a little harsh. Those little locks do have their place. They're light, easy to pack, and they will serve as a temporary deterrent in a low-crime area (yes, like Iowa) if you're just running into a store. I keep one coiled up (with its combination sticker removed, thank you) in my saddlebag for just such a purpose. But if you're leaving a commuter bike sit outside for eight hours a day, pack the heavy artillery and learn how to use it.

Except for you guys with the Treks and the Giant, of course. After all, you're making my bike look like a pretty hard target by comparison. Hey, natural selection applies everywhere, even in the bike rack.