Sunday, August 26, 2012

It Is About The Bike

I promise, zero Lance content today, other than the allusion in the title. I'm sick of the story already.

But I do want to talk about what I find so relentlessly boring about professional bike racing, namely that these guys are such pampered little babies. Not that it isn't tough to ride such ridiculous distances at such ridiculous speeds -- I certainly couldn't do it without some very good drugs (heck, I need two cups of coffee with an Advil chaser just to do my commute in the morning).

What bugs me, though, is that these guys aren't expected to be cyclists. They're just very expensive (and often heavily medicated) meat that pedals. Got a flat? Just grunt into the two-way radio taped to your head and a car will be with you shortly to provide a whole new wheel. You don't even have to put it on -- a mechanic monkey will hop out of the car and slap it on there while you stand around with your skinny arms crossed. Need some water? Grunt into the radio again, and one of your helper meat-pedalers will drop out of the pack, fall back to that car (again), pick up a bottle, and pedal it back up to you. Total mechanical failure? That car's covered in brand new, insanely expensive, decal-encrusted bikes just like yours -- or you can just steal one from your helper meat-pedaler until the car shows up. In perhaps the most bizarre example (pointed out by BikeSnobNYC in his recent Vuelta coverage), if you can't keep your bike upright, don't sweat it -- the code of honor amongst meat-pedalers means that your competitors will (usually) wait up for you.

Today's professional racing shares about as much with my cycling experience as NASCAR shares with a drive to the grocery store for milk. If I get a flat out there, I either change it myself or walk home. If I need water, I'd better be carrying it, or I'd better be able to find some. And failure of bike or body means I have to call for a follow car that isn't following me -- it could very well be on the other side of town or unavailable. In short, I have to do everything possible to make sure that I can take care of myself out there.

Luckily, there is racing that matches my cycling experience. You just won't find it on Versus (or whatever that weird network out in the cable hinterlands that shows pro cycling is called these days). I get my racing fix from Kent P's reports from the Great Divide. Or I follow the mustachioed singlespeed cyclocross exploits of Team Tarik Racing. Or I track local pal/regular reader Steve F as he preps for (and rocks) the Dirty Kanza. Or I take inspiration from the short-track adventures of bikelovejones. Normal folks (who I happen to count as friends), holding down jobs, being there for their families, putting in the miles, fixing their own stuff, and in general, being cyclists who compete.

I'll take that over watching meat-pedalers on TV any day.

Friday, August 24, 2012

High Trestle Trail: A Photo Essay Featuring My Head

Last weekend, dear spouse/Chief of Graphically Designed Stuff and I finally got ourselves up to the High Trestle Trail that Iowans have been so darn excited about. I know, I know, a cool trail right in my (approximate) backyard, and it took me this long? Whatever.

The day started like this:

Yes, the bike is bigger than the car. Thanks for noticing. On the upside, if the car breaks down, we can just carry it home on the bike.

So, off we went to the bucolic hamlet of Slater, Iowa. The trail starts in Ankeny, but its entire length would have been a 50-mile round trip... and since the namesake High Trestle Bridge is at the far end near Woodward, we wanted to make sure we had enough leg to reach the end and back.

Most of the trail featured "scenery" like this:

That's the chubby captain of the vessel against a backdrop of -- you guessed it -- corn. This monotony was occasionally broken up by a soybean field. Woo hoo!

Not far from Woodward, though, things got a little more interesting, other than the continued presence of my Spunik-like melon:

Head! Move! That looks like a bridge up there!

That's better, thanks.

And not just any bridge -- a really funky, twisty one. The effect is like riding through a rotating tunnel. There are blue lights on the arches that come on after dark, which -- I'm told -- make the sensation even more funky (here's an article with a photo -- scroll all the way down). Maybe regular reader and local dude Steve F. can comment, since I think he's been up there on a night ride or two.

Random stranger offers to capture the whole team and their vehicle on the mid-bridge scenic overlook:

Thank you, random stranger, for not dropping and/or stealing an iPhone. It's tough to get any perspective from this photo, but that signage says we're a good 13 stories above the valley floor, and it's a half mile from one end of the bridge to the other. Wowsers.

Nutshell ride report: Conditions were perfect... comfortably cool, overcast, no wind. The trail surface is so smooth, you'll find yourself doing the Field of Dreams "is this heaven? no, it's Iowa!" bit, and the "topography" (quotes intentional) is typical railbed: you'd be hard-pressed to know if you were climbing or descending. We absolutely hauled from Slater to Woodward and back (26 miles) and could have tacked on more if it weren't for a sudden-onset case of SBS (Sore Butt Syndrome) afflicting captain and stoker alike. I suspect that once we've toughened up those regions a bit more, an Ankeny-Woodward-Ankeny trip (defeating my stoker's Half-Century Curse) is in our future.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ugly Hack Of Yesteryear Revisited... And Rescued

I admit it, I have a problem.

I like taking parts that shouldn't go together (like mountain bike shifters and road handlebars) and grafting them together in some sort of evil experiment. As much as I'm ashamed to even remind my reader(s) of this horrific hack, here's some evidence of my twisted proclivities. Thankfully, the malformed creature shown in that post only lived a short while.

My most recent experiment started harmlessly enough -- as they all do. Still hoping to put together things that don't belong together, I trolled the interwebs for a Hubbub adapter: perhaps one of the neatest, simplest little gizmos ever designed for freaks like me. Basically, the Hubbub pairs the expander portion of a bar-end shifter with a section of MTB-diameter handlebar, giving the hacker a section of MTB bar at the end of his/her drops where a twist-shifter can mount. And, good bud of the iBOB list Jeff L. (hooray, Jeff L!) hooked me up with BOTH a Hubbub AND an old set of contraband, UCI-banned Cinelli Spinaci bar extensions as another potential hack-solution. (I shall not reveal more of Jeff's identity lest the Federales show up to arrest him for trafficking in illegal parts.)

So, with the best of intentions, I set out to install drop bars and the Hubbub on my Swift Folder (which uses a twist-shifter). But of course, the cable in my shifter's too short now that the housing needs to loop out to the end of a drop bar -- and while SRAM has fixed many of the ills of cheap, early GripShift (i.e., the things actually shift now), they have NOT made cable replacement any easier. Long, painful, curse-laden story short, I wrecked the spring and a couple detents in the shifter. Ugh.

Thankfully, I also had a SRAM push-button shifter at the ready (their answer to Rapidfire Plus -- I'm stuck with SRAM unless I also want to replace the 1:1 cable-pull rear derailleur too.) Put that on the Hubbub, and while it looked fine and seemed like it would work, I just wasn't entirely satisfied.

And then, the memory of that nasty hack surfaced. Looked at the SRAM shifter and realized that (unlike the not terribly coercible aluminum clamp of a Shimano), this little number was held on by a very flexible stainless steel band wrapped in cosmetic plastic. A little coercion, a longer fixing bolt, and... IT LIVES!

That's right, you saw it here first: the World's Only Drop-Bar Bike With SRAM's Answer to RapidFire Plus (WODBBWSARFP). Boo-yah.

As you can see, I cracked some of the decorative plastic around the clamp. After that awful cable replacement debacle, the human torque wrench was a bit out of calibration. Given another shot, I could have done this without damaging anything -- and had I thought to keep the plastic chunk instead of chucking it, I probably could have glued it back on. The result seems to work quite nicely, though I must admit to feeling a touch of guilt that I won't be using the Hubbub from generous, awesome, and (one can only assume) handsome Jeff L. I can only promise that (along with the contraband Spinaci) it will live in a treasured place in my hacking arsenal and will undoubtedly save a future hack. Did somebody say "Rohloff rear wheel for the tandem"?

Oh, in case you're wondering what's up with this particular project, here's a tantalizing spy shot from the Skunk Works laboratory here at The Cycle:

Thanks to generous, awesome, and... well, I know what he looks like, so let's leave it at that... reader/commenter/bud Scott L. for the front bag custom monogrammed with an "N" for (obviously, right?) Nunemaker.

More details on this little bucket of fun as they become available.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Just Another Metric Monday

I played hooky from work on Monday (okay, so it was scheduled time off, as I'm not fond of getting fired) and took advantage of a gorgeous day to put in some miles. 63 miles (a.k.a. 100 kilometers, a.k.a. a metric century) in just under four hours -- not bad for a middle-aged fat dude. Even paused to snap the trailside shot above (I'm standing on a paved rail-trail in case you think I was doing some kind of insane Rapha-esque epic road-bike off-road tour). Not sure where the giant red rock came from, but I'm guessing the farmer who found it in his field once upon a time wasn't too pleased. Glaciers have quite the sense of humor. And, being a country boy (yes, my parents were teachers, but we lived on a farm -- it counts!), I can't resist a shot of rusty old farm equipment.

At some point in the excursion, I toyed with the idea of stretching it to one of them 'murican centuries, 100 miles. But, with my average speed dropping, that was going to be at least another three hours in the saddle, and -- letting the discretion in my valor show -- I realized I just didn't have it in the tank. Now, two days later, I'm glad I didn't. I still have aches in places I forgot I had muscles. It makes me wonder if "big distance" (he said, realizing that 100k is a nice warmup for some of his readers named Steve) just isn't worth it for me any more. I'd rather bang out 30 miles and have enough spring in my step to captain the tandem the next day than double that and be utterly worthless for 72 hours.

Or, maybe I'm just out of shape. Food for thought, I suppose.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Defense Exhibit A

This is the cleanest that the workshop here at The Cycle has ever looked, and probably will ever look:
No, I'm not a huge LeMond fan (though I was Back in the Day).
Someone just gave me the banner and I thought it looked cool.

No real point to this, just wanted to capture it before entropy got the better of me again.

Thanks to our intrepid Senior Graphic Designer and Chief Neatnik for the much-needed assistance with this long-overdue project.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Raleigh Clubman Long-Term Test: The 992-Mile Review

This was supposed to be a 1,000-mile review, but our Senior Graphic Designer here at The Cycle just about ripped my legs off tandeming yesterday, so I could barely limp the eight miles home tonight that got me to 992, much less add another eight. I'm sure I had some miles on the bike before I installed the computer, so you can call it 1,000 if it quiets your particular obsessive-compulsive demons. Me, I promised that this would be the year I stopped obsessing about mileage, so I'm trying to be good.

In the grand tradition of bike reviews, I'm going to say some nice things about the Clubman before I nit-pick. I am astounded at how well this bike fits me, how well-balanced I feel over it, and (as a result) how nicely it handles. Other than one stem swap (120mm to 100) and a change of cranks (175mm to 170, and I wouldn't have done that if I hadn't bent the 175s in a crash), it is a bone-stock 59cm. All my contact points are exactly where I want them, and my (sometimes substantial) weight seems perfectly positioned over the wheels. It also has perhaps the lowest bottom bracket (75mm of drop) of anything I've ridden. Can't tell if that impacts handling at all, but it does give a "planted" sensation of sitting down in the bike rather than perching on it. The result is bucketloads of confidence -- I know where I am on the bike and I know how it's going to respond, so I feel comfortable flinging it into situations where it might not otherwise belong.

Now, with that said, on to the nit-picks -- or, "how to make a good bike even better." Raleigh USA, are you listening? Because three quick, cheap, and easy changes would take this thing from a pretty conventional skinny-tired British "winter bike" (as seen in Cycling Plus... off-season race bikes that can just get fenders over 700x23s) to an absolute do-it-all wolf in British Racing Green clothing:
  • Step 1: Fatten up the fenders! Those stock painted-to-match steel fenders are absolutely gorgeous... but make them wider! I know you can get them -- after all, you make the Port Townsend with 700x35s and steel fenders.
  • Step 2: How 'bout bigger brakes too? Don't get me wrong... I'm impressed that you chose the mid-reach (47-57mm) Tektro calipers with the nicer quick-release that opens further to clear a wider tire. But if you're going with a wider fender, why not match it to Tektro's long-reach (55-73mm) R556 brake? If you want to get nuts, nudge the brake bridge up a little higher and use slightly longer fork blades to use even more of that big brake, too.
  • Step 3: Put some meat on those rims. This was the goal all along. You made some space in Steps 1-2, now fill it with a fatter tire. A true 32mm should fit, no problem.

Now in most cases, I'm just flapping my jaws out here in cyber-neverland without my money ever getting close to my mouth. This time, though, I have crafted a proof-of-concept for either your viewing pleasure or nausea. Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and see the freak of nature:


That, dear reader, is the front end of my Clubman, modified as suggested above (save for the longer fork blades -- a framebuilder I am not). Tektro R556 brake over battered 45mm Planet Bike fenders (which are due for a Hail To The Cheap honor someday) over a gaping clearance over a 700x28 Continental tire (which is probably an undersized 28). The only downfall here is aesthetic... the brake is at its minimum reach, so the empty slots are hanging down like basset hound ears. 

Okay, so you can't see the gaping clearance or the 700x28 in the rear shot, but trust me, they're under there... and the clearance would be even more gaping if I hadn't used the thick plastic Planet Bike fender bracket under the brake.

So why take a perfectly good "slightly more versatile than a road bike" road bike and do this to it? First, because I'm not capable of leaving well enough alone. But more importantly, for my money, this bizarre creation is the perfect bike. Once I get some legit 32s on there, everything will have scaled up together... tire, fender, brake. It just looks normal, like any other road bike. Heck, the brake is even a dual-pivot sidepull like just about every other conventional road bike out there. Go to the club ride and nobody will think you brought a knife to the gunfight (and I can't say these mods have slowed me down at all, though that's like saying a glacier hasn't lost a step). But when the urge to turn off pavement strikes, you're ready. Chipseal? Who cares? Gravel? Pshaw. Cyclocross? Just add cowbell.

Not bad for "just a road bike," eh?