Sunday, March 04, 2018

New Winter Bike

About a decade ago, I picked up a set of Nokian A10 700C studded tires and began cycling through the winter snow on a more regular basis.  A couple of years previous, I had picked up a pair of used 26" Nokians, which I mounted on my Fat Chance and which started me on riding through snow and ice. The bike wasn't the most efficient for my long commute, so the 700C studded tires sped things up a bit, and eventually I built up a bike around an aluminum Nashbar touring frame as a dedicated winter bike. The frame had a nice, Kelly Green paint job with a light metal flake and no decals at all.  I don't typically name bikes, but since this one had no branding at all, so I dubbed it Zhongguo Zixingche, which is Google Translate's version of "Chinese Bicycle." I still ride the Fat Chance on days when it gets below 10 degrees F, as I have a set of snowmobile bar mits that fit it.

The ZZ had a great, stable ride and I fitted it with a triple crank, Suntour cantilever brakes, a Nashbar carbon fiber CX fork that was twice the price of the frame, and a dynamo hub.  Initially, this was a Chinese-made SRAM, but I upgraded it to the nicest hub on the market, a German-made Schmidt SON 20, which cut the drag significantly. The headlight was an equally nice (and also German) Supernova E3 and I eventually added a matching Supernova taillight, which must be the smallest bicycle taillight made, and exceptionally bright.  The ZZ had one flaw, and that was that under certain conditions the brakes were borderline useless. This wasn't really a problem, as I have lots of experience with rim brakes and know how to think ahead to avoid surprises, but I often found myself dropping down the long hill off the mountain in icy conditions, silently beseeching the brakes with thought like "Any time you want to wake up and begin slowing this bike down a bit will be fine."

The CX fork was setup for either rim or disc brake use, and I toyed first with the idea of switching to road V-brakes, and then with mounting a disc just on the front.  About the time I decided to do this, I found a new, 2013 Marin Lombard frame on eBay for $200 with the right geometry, and bought it.  The Lombard is setup specifically for disc brakes, so the gears were set in motion to rebuild the ZZ.

Since I was planning on using many of the parts from the ZZ on the Marin, and knowing that it would take a fair amount of time to complete the parts switchover, I decided to try the front disk only on the ZZ while collecting the rest of the parts I needed for the Marin.  I was impressed with the performance of the disc brake and found no problems at all mixing it with the cantilever rear.  Since I needed to switch out the hubs, and desiring to stick with the dynamo, I opted for a Shutter Precision unit, as they have received excellent reviews as a less-expensive alternative to the Schmidt, with supposedly superior performance. This reputation was not at all reinforced in my experience.  Although the hub got better with a little use, I have no explanation for the YouTube videos that show the SP hubs spinning much longer than the Schmidt in side-by-side tests. I found the SP to have significantly more drag than the Schmidt with the lights on or off. The difference was dramatic.

Here's a run-down of the build.
Rear hub: Shimano Deore XT (new). The Marin uses 135mm spacing, while the ZZ was 130mm.
Cassette: SRAM 11-32. I bit the wimp bullet, finding that at times the 28 just wasn't low enough for comfort. I have a couple of 17% pulls on the big climb up the mountain and when it's too slippery to get out of the saddle, it can be a bit of a yank, even with a 30t sprocket on the front. I also went from 8 to 9-speed, swapping out the fingertip shifter levers. Time will tell if the wider spacing of the 8-speed is better when the rear end is caked in snow and ice. There have been times when I only had a couple of gear options left toward the end of my 18-mile commute.
Rear derailleur: Shimano XTR "low-normal". I like the bar-end shifters for winter use, when things can get iced up and gloves are bulky.  Also, I do a lot of my winter commuting in the dark, and it's nice to have the lever angle as an indication of what gear I'm in.  What I don't like is hitting the right lever with my knee and shifting into a higher gear when muscling the bike up a hill, out of the saddle.  I may hate the low-normal arrangement, but I'm willing to give it a try to get the lever out of the way.  I had thought of switching to downtube shifters on the ZZ, but the Marin has no shifter bosses, so that's no longer an option.
Front Derailleur: Ultegra triple, from ZZ
Brakes: TRP Spyre mechanical road. These are great, with excellent modulation and good centering. I had a bit of difficulty setting up the rear caliper as the mounts on the frame were not machined and a bit of filing proved necessary to keep the caliper from twisting when tightened. The Lombard is not a high-end frame, though it is otherwise well-made. I went with Jagwire Pro compressionless cable housing. I can't say that I can tell any difference between it and wound housing, which I had initially used for the disc front. I ran the cable for the taillight alongside the rear brake cable for a cleaner look.
Rims: DT R460DB These were a bit of a disappointment, based on the reviews I had read. They were twice the price of some others I was considering and there was nothing about them that screamed "quality" as I built them up. This model is a pinned, non-eyeletted rim that has noticeable irregularities at the seam. I used rim washers on the rear. Since the rims are said to be "tubeless-ready", I decided to try it, even though the Nokians are not considered to be tubeless tires.  Thus far, with a couple of months on the front wheel, they are working fine with Orange Seal sealant. I chose Orange Seal as it has a low temperature rating and has been rated well on independent tests against other brands.  I have had flats at 10 degrees and it hasn't been fun fixing them in the wet and cold, with tires that are stiff even when warm.  The flats I've had were caused by the studs causing excessive casing movement against the tube, so the idea of going tubeless, and the self-sealing qualities that result seem especially appealing for this use. Spokes are butted 14/15 ga black DTs with matching nipples, laced cross-3.
Front hub: Shutter Precision PD-8.  I've already written about this disappointing piece.  Still, I'm too frugal to use a Schmidt on a bike that is intended to be sacrificed to MetalMunch, the god of road salt.
Headset: FSA integrated (Campy style), new
Seatpost: American Classic
Saddle: A very broken-in and decades-old Brooks Pro
Stem: Ritchey. I may end up swapping this out for a slightly longer one.
Handlebars: Specialized (probably from the 1990s)
Brake levers: Tektro. Nicest standard levers for the price, hands-down, and that price is cheap.
Fenders: SKA Longboards. These are only a year old, and I like the extra coverage they provide, which has done a great job keeping snow and slush off the crankset and drivetrain, but I was surprised to find the rear cracked almost completely through at the bridge (which was also cracked). I patched the section using a piece I cut out of an old license plate and attached with JB Weld and some rivets I made from aluminum nails and which look much like the factory rivets used elsewhere on the fenders. I have some nice, aluminum fenders on another bike, but find it difficult to keep them from rattling on the dirt road.
Crankset: Campagnolo Mirage Triple. This one is on its second set of chainrings. Square taper bottom bracket has lots of miles on it and still is smooth. While I agree with those who say that the Shimano HollowTech II / GPX is the current ultimate design, and that those pushing competing alternatives should be drawn and quartered while stretched across the giant anthill of marketing ripoffs, there's nothing wrong with the venerable square-taper design.  The Campagnolo square taper cranks are attractive in their lightness and simplicity. While I could easily scrap the big ring for winter use and a MTB double might be a better choice, I may find myself extending the riding season for this bike. It's quite slow when slogging through the slush on 800+ gram studded tires while wearing layers of clothing and heavy boots, but the big ring would come it useful when skimming along in warmer weather in stretchy clothes.
Computer: Quite old Sigma Sport unit.  It does what I need it to.

All the parts listed from the seatpost to the computer were from the ZZ.

I'll write a ride review after getting a decent number of miles on the bike, but I'm pretty happy with the way it came out.  The Marin frame has some interesting details, such as a grippy, reflective material that is mixed in with the paint in places.  CX frames are made to be carried over obstacles and this feature makes it easier to shoulder the bike as I wind my way around the tight landing on my basement stairs.

This bike will never be this clean again, so enjoy the pics!
Spacers are a work in progress

Nokian / Suomi A10 tires are fine for ice or light snow cover. Not so good in deep snow.
The grippy material in paint shows up well in the camera flash
Square taper BB is tried and true. Those who claim they can tell the difference in stiffness between square taper and modern pipe designs likely also believe they can feel thin steel frame tubing give under strong thumb pressure and the difference between 3-cross and radially spoked wheels.
Custom bracket to connect the svelte taillight to the Blackburn rack. American manufacturers have long ignored light and reflector attachments.
I usually ride this bike with both battery and dynamo lighting, front and rear. In this area, drivers don't see many cyclists in the winter. Since 1972, I've never found another saddle to be as comfortable as a Brooks Pro.
The shifters are new, but the housings are from the 8-speed ones that I used before.  Why scratch up the new ones?
Low-tech fender repair. I cut up a license plate from our old Subaru.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Reflections on 2017

January is almost half-over, and it's a nasty, snowy, 12 degrees outside, so it's a fine day to spend part of a Saturday morning to reflect on last year's cycling and set a few goals for this year.  I just squeaked out 7,000 miles again, as I have for the past three years.  It probably would have been more, but Jeanne started a new job only two miles from my work, and this has led me to skip riding home most days, especially when it's cold.  The effect has been to cut my commuting miles by half.  that's not a bad thing, as a 38-mile commute is a bit extreme, especially considering the terrain and roads I need to ride.

It's been exceptionally cold this winter, and I've ridden in below zero temps, but typically I try to stick to 10 degrees or above.  That also has cut back commuting to only 2-3 days, many weeks. This leads me to think that I should pay attention to make sure my riding doesn't slip back too much, because cycling is one of those things that is better, the more that you do.  I have found that I can go out and spend several hours splitting wood and, though I'll find myself a bit sore for a couple of days, it's an activity that I can complete successfully, even though it may have been months since the last time I did it.  Cycling seems different, in that going a week without riding leaves me with a noticeable drop in condition, making the activity more difficult and less enjoying.

I've experienced a gradual evolution in my thinking about cycling.  Since I've been road riding for almost 50 years, at this point, my attitude towards cycling doesn't dramatically shift any more, but does change over time.  I have found myself becoming more detached from the "cycling scene," and more of an observer than a participant.  With 7k mile years, I actually ride a whole lot more than most avid cyclists, but I find myself far less interested in the social aspects of cycling. An evidence of this is that I quietly unsubscribed from the local bike club's listserv, several months ago. I found that this improved my outlook and I didn't miss the engagement at all.  I attribute this partly to the fact that communication on this particular listserv were less dialog than discussion.  Some years ago, I read a piece that proposed that there is a difference between dialog, in which participants communicate in such a way as to build community knowledge, and discussion, which, deriving from the same Latin root as percussion, can often become more similar to debate, or a firing of opinions back and forth, with the goal of replacing another's ideas with your own.

"What do you call it when two guys meet for a bike ride?  A race."  I cannot claim any moral high ground on this.  I have felt the urge to pick up my pace when I see a rider ahead of me, and Jeanne often points out that, when we're on a tandem and we're around other cyclists, I tend to push the pace.  I've found myself consciously working against this, backing off when I see a cyclist ahead if we're going a similar pace and I'm not feeling particularly social.  There's this sense that cyclists have that we're engaging in a shared experience and therefore have a lot in common, but there's no similar sense when we're hurtling down the interstate in a car.  I think that our approach in all interactions should be an underlying commitment to our common humanity, whether we be driving an F250 or a Toyota Prius, riding a carbon fiber racing bike or a chrome moly tourer, voting Republican or Progressive.  I want to get to the point where the only belief that I refuse to change is that everyone's perspective is worth understanding, even if I'm confident I am going to disagree with it.  I don't need to express anger when I disagree, no matter how strongly, and I don't need to ridicule or shout someone's ideas down in protest in order to be firm and resolute with opposing logic, when appropriate.  To bring this back to the topic at hand, cycling for me is not a big race, a sport focused on equipment and training, but a many-faceted activity that is equally valid no matter how it's approached.

Just because we're all in this existence together doesn't mean I find everyone else interesting and worth my time.  I have a somewhat immature student who seems to have made it his mission to convince me that I should be immersed in role-playing games, because this is his fixation at this point in his life.  I tried computer games many years ago, and both read and toyed with role-playing games just enough to recognize that there was no positive cost-benefit ratio for me.  Like watching television, it's not something for which I've seen any compelling argument to do again. I tried bicycle racing as a teenager and found it very similar to my experience running track in high school.  I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more with better coaching ("better," as in "any"), but I recall thinking during one race that I enjoyed the 25-mile ride to the start far more than the race itself.  I placed no value on my position relative to the arbitrary collection of other cyclists in my age group who had showed up that day.  I was just pushing my guts out because that was what I was supposed to do in a race.  It didn't seem to make that much sense, and I certainly wasn't enjoying the experience.  I think that was my last real race. I don't expect to go back and try again, and I don't see racing, or even performance riding, as the logical goal of all avid cyclists.

I have observed that most ex-racers who I've ridden with are faster riders and better climbers than I am, no matter how far back their racing career ended.  One tends to like doing that for which they have a natural affinity, but I suspect that this performance difference is the result of a combination of physiology and training.  I recognize that you get faster by riding with people who are faster than you, and that's part of the value in joining training rides.  Improved condition does indeed translate into more enjoyable cycling, but I am seeking a balance.  Sometimes I enjoy showing up for a Tuesday evening ride on a 30 year-old bike, when I'm in good shape and can easily stay with the main group.  I'm not saying that I'm going to avoid all group rides, but I think it's likely that I will dial them back even farther from the meager number I did last year.

So, here's a shot at some goals for 2018:

  • Strategically train for the 100/200, so that I enjoy the ride, without spending all my free time on the bike.  I have some non-cycling projects on which I need to make some serious progress.
  • More tandem rides.
  • Explore more dirt roads that I haven't yet ridden.
  • Keep my annual mileage to at least 7k. (Just being consistent should help me nail this one, which is why I think setting an arbitrary number as a goal is a valid exercise.)
  • Drop at least five pounds (makes a huge difference in climbing)
  • Drop my pulse rate a few beats.
  • Pay a little more attention to what I eat.
  • Ride the Prouty on the tandem again (it's been a couple years, now).
  • Complete at least one "epic" tandem ride, something along the lines of the Kelly Stand ride we did a few years ago.  Perhaps finally do a gap on a long bike.
  • Complete a LAMB or six-gaps ride.  It's been a couple years since I went over Lincoln Gap.
  • Get in at least one big ride, out of state.
  • Sell off at least a couple bikes.
  • I may join a couple of the rides sponsored by the randonneur folks, but if I do, the control card is going to get stuck between the spokes right at the start and stay there.
What I'm not very interested in for this year:
  • New bikes or equipment (though I am in the process of rebuilding my winter touring bike to become a slightly more sporting bike with disk brakes, so I might actually have some stopping power when things are all iced up).
  • The local bike scene.  I support cycling, I'm just not interested in being a "clubber."
  • Any large group ride, if it requires an entry fee over $15.  Charity rides excluded.  I'm not interested in paying someone for the privilege of riding my bike.
  • Tandem rallies.  It's not that we had a bad time at the one we attended last summer, it just wasn't interesting enough to justify the time and expense.
Ultimately, I just want to be a competent cyclist, enjoying the ride, doing my own thing, staying healthy.  I hope I haven't come across too much as a cynical, crotchety, curmudgeon.