Wednesday, January 27, 2016

559s In The 515

In case that's a bit too cryptic for you, here's a guide to the geek-speak of this blog. 559 refers to the bead seat diameter (a.k.a. BSD) of a 26" wheel (or at least one of the flavors of 26" wheel) expressed in millimeters. If this flummoxes you (and it should), your homework assignment is from the late, great Sheldon Brown, Patron Saint of Confused Bike Mechanics. 

515 is (of course) the area code for the Greatest City in the World, Des Moines (French for "The Moines"), Iowa. So a series on 559s in the 515 is (logically enough) devoted to bikes wearing the traditional mountain bike 26" wheel here in the Capitol City. Given my own odd proclivities, I also give bonus points for 26" MTBs rocking drop bars, but let's face it -- I'm a sucker for just about any classic mountain bike.

The first entry in the series ticks all the boxes:

This fine steed is sometimes found in the parking cage where I work. It's a Gary Fisher Cronus, which my research tells me is from 1995, in the early-Trek-buyout era (thank you, Vintage Trek website). The owner's used a threaded-to-threadless adapter to plug in a drop-bar cockpit, added some clip-on fenders and a rack, and voila -- instant super-commuter/all-surfaces fun machine.

Laugh if you will at the seemingly dated tricolor fade paint job, but that look was a signature Fisher finish back in the day, one that I still kinda like in spite of my usual distaste for all things Fisher. I'm also usually not a fan of tricolor splash handlebar tape, but here, it works. So, good on ya, Cronus owner. I give this bike my Seal of Approval.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Iowa Bike Expo 2016: Meh

Yesterday was the Iowa Bike Expo here in scenic Des Moines, and -- as your source for all the bike news I happen to notice in central Iowa -- I girded my loins against the cold, saddled up the old steed, and headed downtown to check it out. After all, last year's Expo yielded a phone full of photos and not one, not two, nay, not even three, in fact, not even four, I dare say not even five, but yes, a whopping six posts. Yep, a critically-yawned six-part series. So it was with high hopes and a fully-charged phone battery that I breached the threshold of the exhibit hall, figuring a couple hours walking the aisles could keep my reader(s) happy for months.

Um, not so much. In fact, when I left the hall, I realized that nothing had caught my eye to the point that I even bothered taking a picture. If you were looking for the sort of eye candy you saw in last year's first Tom Teesdale Handbuilt Bike Show, you'd be left scratching your head (as I was). Iowa builder Jeff Bock was there, showing the orange bike I photographed at last year's show and a couple more like it. Other than that? Bupkis. I literally left the show thinking that maybe I'd missed another row or a room off to the side where all the custom handbuilt bikes were hiding, but roving local correspondent Steve F. tells me there was no such row or room and that the small builders just didn't show up this year. Disappointing. Maybe the cost of a booth wasn't borne out in orders last year.

That left a lot of booths which were little more than local bike shops loading up inventory from their showrooms and trucking it down to the convention center. Even Ichi Bike (one of my favorites from last year) only brought a few electric bikes, leaving their more interesting and unique creations at the shop. Beaverdale Bikes (another of last year's favorites) brought in a few things that caught my eye (including a 26"-wheeled Long Haul Trucker in one of the older and, to my eye, nicer colorways), but my overall takeaway was, "I froze my genitalia off for this?"

Granted, as an elder curmudgeon, maybe I find the inventory of bike shops less interesting than most folks might. I'm convinced that I have a rare form of narcolepsy that is triggered by disc brakes, fat bikes, or electronic shifting. In fact, even proofing that last sentence is enough to...


Oh, sorry, where was I? That's right, disc brakes, fat bikes, and elect...


Anyway, given that most of shiny new things that bike shops want to sell you feature one of my sleepy-time technologies, I guess I'm not entirely surprised that I was able to buzz by their booths without hearing the siren song of commerce. I guess I can only hope that the organizers are embarrassed enough by a handbuilt bike show where only one builder competed that perhaps they'll offer better incentives to participate next year. Otherwise, it's kind of a sad commentary on what passes for bike culture in central Iowa.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Bikes In My Head: Cannondale Gravel, Circa 1999

The risk of writing a post about how few bikes one needs (a.k.a. my last post) is that it starts the gears grinding on bikes it would be cool to build up and/or own. Given that I still believe what I wrote in my n=1.5 post, I'm keeping these bikes as thought exercises (akin to my Surly LHT-redone-as-vintage-mountain-bike idea from 2013).

Today's weird idea was sparked by Cannondale's newish Slate series... basically, a road bike with 650B (gag, 27.5") wheels, fat tires, and Cannondale's mono-legged Lefty front suspension. Yep, it's one of those super-trendy (gag, again) "gravel" bikes. If you have $3k just burning through your pocket, you can get this one with Shimano 105 (that's the budget model).

The concept, I'm on board with -- make a road bike that's ready to handle anything (though I find it hilarious that the Cannondale marketing team has decided to call this category "New Road" -- um, why does one need fat tires and suspension on a "new" road?) But I'm no fan of disc brakes, and I've always found the Lefty fork weird and off-putting (even though - brag mode on - I worked in one of the first bike shops to ever see a Lefty in the wild, since we were just down the road from Bedford). In this case, it's a Lefty crunched down to only 30mm of travel, which seems like a lot of fork for not a lot of function. So I got to wondering, didn't Cannondale do "suspension road" before? And couldn't that platform be turned into a capable all-surfaces bike?

Answer to question 1: They did. Exhibit A, the 1999 Silk Road 500...

(Image horked from

Of course, that's no all-surfaces bike. The tires are 700x23, and the bars are so freakin' low, it makes my back hurt just looking at them. But the bones are there... light, wide gear range, and a 25mm-travel suspension fork to take the edge off, without the weirdness of the Lefty.

So how do you answer question 2? Through the magic of those 650B (argh, gag, 27.5") wheels. A 650B wheel has a diameter of 584mm, while the 700c wheels on the Silk Road are 622mm. Math is hard for English majors, but even I can figure out that 622-584=38 (the difference in diameter between the two wheel sizes) and 38/2=19 (the difference in radius between the two wheel sizes). A smaller radius is going to need more brake reach, so if you can find a brake that will reach an extra 19mm, you can put the smaller 650B wheels on the Silk Road and create a ton of tire clearance. Being a race bike, the stock brakes are 39-49mm reach (positioned with the pads around mid-slot, likely 54mm or so), so you could plug-and-play the Tektro R556 brake (with its 55-73mm reach) and probably get there just fine.

Are you seeing it now? Race bike, chubby tires, some suspension. It just needs that slammed stem flipped over, and voila. Cannondale invented the gravel bike in the late 90s and didn't even know it.

(Credit where credit is due: I didn't come up with this idea on my own. iBOB list member Ed Braley was an early proponent of using 650B wheels to make otherwise useless road race bikes into something more fun, and you can see examples of this conversion in real life on's 650Blog. But I've never heard it attempted on a Silk Road, in theory or in practice.)

Friday, January 15, 2016

How Many Bikes Does Anyone Need?

The question above was recently posted (with a very thoughtful response) by blog-pal and partial-inspiration-for-the-stuff-you-read-here bikelovejones. I started to respond over at her house, but my answer grew beyond a comment, so I'm taking the inspiration back here where it is sorely needed.

The joke amongst the bikenerderati is that the number of bikes one needs is expressed by the equation n+1, whereby n=the number of bikes currently owned. I totally get that. Poking around the bike shop or the interwebs, I find any number of bikes that, given unlimited funds and a much larger garage, I would want to bring home with me. But when I was a younger man and my BAS (Bicycle Acquisition Syndrome) was at its worst, I was still constrained by the realities of low wages, bills to pay, and limited space. At the most, I think my n reached 3: one road bike, one off-road bike, and one townie/beater. Even today, when I'm lucky enough to have something left in the bank after the bills are paid, those years must have made an impression. I still lust for bikes I don't have, but my "fleet" is pretty tiny by bike geek standards.

Right now, what I consider my "fleet" is at n=1.5: my trusty old Rockhopper and half of a tandem. The Rocky does everything I need a solo bike to do, given my need to get to and from work and my limitations of speed on the road and courage off. The tandem provides quality on-bike time for me and my better half. If I gave up either one, the loss would be felt in a pretty big way. So, in answer to bikelovejones, my "need" threshold is 1.5.

But here's where we get into what a project manager would call a "nice to have": Bikes sometimes fail, even those pieced together from the relatively simple (nay, almost Paleolithic) technology I prefer. When that happens, it would be nice to have a fallback bike rather than feel the pressure to fix the problem like an Indy car pit mechanic. So I'm often tempted to make n=2.5. If nothing else, it would be a luxury to have one bike that could be dedicated to studded tires through the winter months with the "nice" bike wearing regular rubber for the rare day of pleasant weather.

Of course, bikelovejones is right that with additional bikes comes additional hassle. More maintenance. Less space. And when one is saddled (no pun intended) with a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder, additional bikes means additional things to worry about/obsess over. Frankly, I do enough of that with 1.5 bikes (and even have a bit of OCD left over to obsess over my wife's bike). If I had a massive collection, I'd have to figure in the cost of anti-anxiety medication as a bicycle-related expense.