Monday, 30 August 2010

Handlebar Hoopla, What Now?

My Royal H Mixte is almost built up, save for the fenders, racks and lights. I don't want to post glamour shots before the bike is completed, but let's just say it has some unusual features! The build has been slow, but more or less trouble-free so far... until we ran into an unexpected glitch with the handlebar setup.

My idea for this bicycle was to install VO Porteur handlebars with Silver bar-end shifters and Guidonnet brake levers.  In theory this seemed like a good plan, but in practice several things have gone awry...

First, the stem length we thought would work (6cm) is apparently too short, because when I lower the bars down to where I want them, the bar-ends overlap too much with my knee if I sharply turn the handlebars while the pedal is in the up position. So we had to exchange the stem, and thankfully the shop that sold it to us was willing to do that. We are now installing a 10cm stem and will see whether that eliminates the overlap.

But the bigger problem is the Guidonnet brake levers themselves. They look fantastically French and provide plenty of braking power, but I find their placement awkward.

As you can see in the pictures, the Guidonnets are shaped like a pair of short rod-brake levers. They are installed in such a way, that their curve is meant to follow the curve of the handlebars. And because the Porteur bars are quite narrow, my hands end up in a position that is too close to the stem when braking - which I find suboptimal in its effect on the bicycle's handling.

{Edited to add: I have now test-ridden the bicycle with these brake levers extensively. When going over 12mph, the handling in this position stabilizes; slower than that it is somewhat shaky. It is basically a very aggressive position close to the stem, similar to the "fixie grip". The levers are good if you want a  bike with swept-back bars to handle aggressively in city traffic. The levers are not so good if you don't.}

As you can see here, the Guidonnet levers don't allow you to brake from the upright position on the handlebars, but make you lean forward and move your hands closer to the stem. I find it counter-intuitive to brake in an aggressive position and shift in a relaxed position; should it not be the other way around?  I will test ride the bike some more once we install the longer stem, but I suspect that I might have to admit that the Guidonnets were a mistake - which leaves the question of what to do instead.

One possibility would be to install inverse brake levers (which I already have lying around) and fit the Silver shifters into a set of Paul's Thumbies handlebar mounts, as Renaissance Bicycles has done on the build shown above.  I have never seen Silver shifters mounted on the handlebars before, only the (considerably less classic-looking) Shimanos. Having spoken to Bryan from Renaissance about it, I learned that he has rigged up a system to make the Silver set-up possible, and I am considering emulating it.  The problem is, that the Co-Habitant is vehemently against this plan: He insists that placing the shifters on the handlebars would "cheapen a high end bike". I understand what he means, but I disagree when it comes to the Renaissance method involving the Silver shifters; I think it looks surprisingly elegant. Honest opinions?

The alternative solution would be to get rid of the Porteur bars and take the Albatross bars from Marianne - installing them in the same upside-down manner, only with bar-end shifters and with the entire bar wrapped. I could do it, though I was really looking forward to having the Porteur bars on this bicycle. Maybe there are other possibilities I am missing? I would like for this bicycle to retain a vintage French look, which I feel is better achieved with the Porteurs than with the upside-down Albatross. Suggestions welcome!

{Edited to add: the Guidonnet levers have now been sold; thanks for your inquiries!}

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Cycling and the Beach

If you live in a beach town, it is easy to hop on a cruiser and pedal to the shore, have a swim, more or less dry off, and pedal home. But what about incorporating the beach into long, strenuous and hilly touring style-rides? This has been our dilemma when taking trips to Maine this summer. In the absence of folding bikes (and frankly, I don't think folding bikes would be appropriate for the terrain here), we strap our roadbikes to the car, and get around entirely by bike once we arrive to our "base" location. In rural Maine, everything is far away from everything else - at least by Boston standards - and it is normal for us to cycle 5-10 hilly miles from one destination to another, multiple times in a day. We often pass our favourite beach in the area, but swimming can seem like such a project when your bicycle bags are already stuffed with photo equipment and other things, and the beach has no changing rooms. 

Plus, when a 10 mile ride with plenty of uphill lies between the beach and the nearest town where you could freshen up, believe me that you don't want any sand to be stuck in your body's crevices, and neither do you want to pedal in a bathing suit. The Co-Habitant has tried wearing his swim trunks on the bike, and regretted it. 

So here is my solution: I bring a bathing suit and a thin Pashmina or wrap instead of a towel. These take up almost no extra space in my saddle bag. Once at the beach, I remove my shoes and socks, wrap myself in the pashmina, and change into my bathing suit underneath it. If you don't have a pashmina or wrap, a long oversized t-shirt can work as a "changing tent" as well. After swimming, I "air dry" while either walking around or sitting on rocks (rather than sitting on sand); then I reverse the "changing tent" process. After this, the bathing suit can be wrung out, placed on a rock to dry off a bit, then placed in a plastic bag and packed away into the saddle bag together with the pashmina. After de-sanding my feet and putting my socks and shoes back on, I am ready to keep cycling. All this is a surprisingly low-hassle process. 

Of course, one thing to make sure of before you stop at a beach like this, is that your water bottles are full. Also, never try to prop up your bike on the sand using a kickstand; carefully lay it down instead (drivetrain side up). Even if it seems as if the bike is stable on the kickstand, the sand's consistency changes with the wind and the tide, and the bike can easily fall. Oh, and if you go swimming, leave your bike as far from the water as possible - the tide can come in faster than you think!

Swimming in the ocean and cycling are two of my favourite activities, and it feels wonderful to combine them. Interestingly, the ocean water seems to be a great complement to high-intensity cycling - relaxing the muscles and giving me extra energy to go on. Anybody else have this experience?  

Friday, 27 August 2010

Seymour Blueskies

As some have already noticed, I recently acquired one more bicycle that I have not yet written about. It is a vintage Trek roadbike - fast and aggressive, with super-responsive handling. Don't ask how I got the bike; sometimes these things just find you. It was in exactly my size, and came along at a time when I had begun to experiment with more aggressive road cycling. I wanted to try a "real" roadbike without spending more money, and here was my chance.

So please allow me to introduce Seymour Blueskies. He is a Trek 610, built in 1982. The lugged steel frame is made with Reynolds 531 tubing, and cro-moly fork and stays. The frame is 52cm, with 700C wheels. It is an interesting blue-gray colour that Trek called "gunmetal"in its catalogues.

The 610 was a higher-end model, and the previous owner built it up with nice components - though over the years they had become somewhat of a medley.

The wheels were handbuilt using Rigida racing rims with a gunmetal finish, a Campagnolo rear hub, a Suntour XC 9000 front hub, and double butted spokes. The drivetrain is Suntour Sprint 9000, with Suntour downtube shifters. The stem is vintage Nitto and the handlebars are ITM. The bicycle also came with a Brooks Finesse Titanium(!) women's saddle.

I have kept all of the components as they were, except for the brakes and brake levers, which we replaced with new Tektros. We also added cork bar tape, installed SKS fenders and a bottle cage, replaced the original clipless pedals with MKS Touring pedals (with Powergrips), and attached my Zimbale bag and a Crane bell from another bike.

I prefer cloth tape on handlebars, but these bars have a weird, squared-off shape to them with a carved-out channel for cable routing. This can all be felt though cloth tape, making the bars uncomfortable to hold without a layer of cork. They are also a bit too narrow for me, and if the Trek ends up being a keeper I would like to replace them with something like Nitto Noodles, or a vintage equivalent.

The reasoning behind the SKS fenders was initially budget-driven, but I am very happy with this choice. They are quieter and less fussy than Honjos; I hardly even notice them. The Co-Habitant hates SKS fenders, because he thinks they are "ugly". I do not find them "ugly";  just more sporty than Honjos - which was exactly the look I was going for here. Incidentally - even with the fenders, saddlebag and waterbottle, the Trek is the lightest bicycle I own.

After a few weeks of ownership, I have also just replaced the original Michelin 25mm tires with 28mm Panaracer Paselas in white. The Michelins that came with it are supposed to be fantastic, but they felt hard as rocks and made for a very harsh ride. The Paselas, on the other hand, feel as if I am riding on a cloud. 28mm tires are probably the widest this bicycle will fit with fenders, and that is fine with me.

Now, for the ride quality... The vintage Trek handles very differently from the Rivendell Sam Hillborne. The best way I can describe this bike's behaviour, is that it wants to go fast and does not like to go slow. At slow speeds the Trek feels unstable and difficult to maneuver, especially when cornering. It took me a few rides to learn how to handle this without panicking, but eventually I got used to it. By the same token, it becomes amazingly stable and precise at fast speeds: Once I exceed 16mph, it seems to magically "relax" and almost floats above the asphalt. Accelerating is easy - almost too easy! One turn of the pedals, two turns - and before I know it, I am flying.  This is great fun now that I am more or less comfortable on a roadbike, but even a couple of months ago I would not have been able to handle this kind of cycling. When riding the Hillborne, I feel that I am exploring - I can go fast, or I can go slow. Riding the Trek, I feel that I preparing for a race - going slow is not really in the cards.

All other factors remaining equivalent (road and traffic conditions, my energy levels, etc.), the Trek is a faster ride than the Rivendell. I cannot tell how much faster exactly, because conditions are never identical on any two rides - but when the Co-Habitant accompanied me, he said the difference in my speed on the two bikes was noticeable. One explanation for this could be that the Trek's handlebars are set lower, but it could also just be that the bike is designed to be a bit racier. On the flip side of the speed advantage, the Trek is not as comfortable as the Rivendell (which is insanely comfortable) and encourages over-exertion - leaving me feeling far more exhausted after a ride. One curious thing about how I feel on the Trek, is that my hands always hurt at the beginning of a ride - but stop hurting as the ride progresses and I pick up speed. This is surprising, because when something hurts at the start of a ride, it typically only gets worse the longer I cycle - so each time I get on the bike I have to suspend disbelief and remind myself that my hands will stop hurting in a few minutes. And thankfully, they always do. I also find it challenging to hold the drop portions of the bars on the Trek (something I have already mastered on the Rivendell) without losing some control of the bike or at least weaving a bit. I am sure this will feel comfortable eventually, but I am not there yet. Just yesterday, I was finally able to use the downtube shifters for the first time - after having tearfully declared that they were "impossible" time after time on previous rides. Everything takes practice.

When I first got the Trek, I was not at all sure that I would be keeping it. We modified it just enough to make me comfortable, and it would be easy to resell this bike at no loss. I wanted to experience a "real" roadbike without the coddling qualities of the Rivendell, and now I have. So what next? Well, I don't know yet, but I don't really want to let it go. It has been bewildering to discover that I kind of, sort of might actually be good at road cycling, and I would like to see this discovery through. Depending on how much time I have in a day for a ride, I take either the Rivendell (for long rides), the Trek (for medium, but fast paced rides), or the fixed gear Moser (for shorter, intense rides) - and together they are helping me understand my potential.

BSNYC Friday Fund Quits!

(Catching up on emails.)

Firstly, in the spirit of all that is "epic," I am pleased to announce that I will fuse next week's Labor Day weekend with the coming workweek, thereby creating an "epic"-length holiday weekend for myself that will begin, well, now. Rest assured that I plan to use this "epic" weekend productively by spending time with family, sending hundreds of Dominos pizzas to the offices of Transportation Alternatives, and washing my fleet of 1,000 bicycles. (Insert your suggestive "polishing my Big Dummy" pun of choice here.) All of this is a complicated way of saying that I will not be here next week, but that I will return on Tuesday, September 7th with regular updates.

In the meantime, even though I will be on end-of-summer vacation, during my absence I will still be providing wisecracks and shallow insights concerning the Vuelta a España for the Universal Sports web presence, and I will notify you by means of my Twitter account when these are posted. Also, as a special service to my readers, I will be writing these posts in English, so Spanish proficiency is not a prerequisite for enjoyment.

Moving on, you may recall that on Tuesday I mentioned a film project called "To Live and Ride in LA," which features people riding through busy intersections on fixed-gear bicycles. Well, a reader informs me that manufacturer of heavy, un-truable, and not particularly aerodynamic wheels Aerospoke is actually the film's official "wheel sponsor:"

(Above photo was likely borrowed from "Tarck Bikes with Douchebags.")

This seems like an extremely poor business decision for Aerospoke, if only because encouraging their customer base to ride brakeless through intersections seems like an excellent way of eliminating it. While Aerospoke may have been taken by surprise back in 2007 when their wheels became popular fashion accessories, my guess is that they've now become accustomed to success, and success breeds complacency. I'm sure they now think the lavish parties and frothy Jacuzzis and endless bottles of Boone's Farm Flavored Apple Wine Product will never end. In fact, judging from the above photo, they've even been able to convince "fixie" riders to use two Aerospokes (Aerospii?) instead of the traditional one, which probably doubled their sales overnight. But I'm here to warn them that they're only a few traffic disasters away from returning to the dark days of the late 1990s when they were selling their wheels though the Nashbar catalog at deep, deep discounts, like a desperate drug addict standing on the corner and trying to sell his own pants.

Meanwhile, speaking of wheel trends, people also continue to emblazon their Deep Vs with messages, and here's one I recently saw in Williamsburg:

According to a popular online translator, the German portion of the message means "Life is Hard." (The English portion is self-explanatory.) However, it's hard to imagine what sort of difficulties the typical "fixie" owner in Williamsburg could possibly face. Cracked iPhone screen? Stolen Brooks? Roommate eating his cereal again? Still, despite my skepticism I nevertheless try to be compassionate, and I hope that in the end he manages to overcome his adversity and find true happiness. (In other words, I hope his parents start sending more money and he's not forced to move to Portland.)

And now, I'm pleased to present you with an end-of-summer quiz. As always, study the item, think, and click on your answer. If you're right you'll know, and if you're wrong you'll see Time Attack Racer, for an ardent cyclist.

Thanks very much for reading, ride safe, and be sure to wring those last few drops of sweat from the rest of the summer. I'll look forward to seeing you again on September 7th.


2) Alejandro Valverde says he has learned to live without:

3) Team RadioShack's leader for the Vuelta will be:

--Levi Leipheimer
--Andreas Klöden
--Jani Brajkovic
--Nobody, because they were not invited

(She's folding, like the Cervelo Test Team)

4) Cervelo Test Team will fold at the end of the year, and instead Cervelo will become the official bicycle sponsor for:

6) "Let's all waste money!" Rolf Prima is making a $700 14-spoke fixed-gear commuting wheelset called the "P-Town."


(All You Haters Floss My Crotch)

7) "Move over, fixed-gears!" The next hot drivetrain is nothing at all.


***Special Future of Trendy Tattooing-Themed Bonus Question***

Knuckle tattoos are like sooo 2010. In 2011 it's going to be all about:

Thursday, 26 August 2010

BSNYC Product Review: Electra Ticino 8D

As many of you are probably aware by now, former President of the United States and avid mountain bike enthusiast George W. Bush has recently gone "29er:"

If only Bush had adopted larger wheels back when he was in office, he totally would have cleared that gnarly second term, and he might even have successfully made it through that highly technical "Iraq" section. (As Gary Fisher will tell you, it's all about the "angle of attack.") Incidentally, the bicycle Bush is about to drape those baggy shorts over is a Niner, and you may remember Chris Sugai of Niner (the guy who isn't George Bush or the other guy in the helmet) as the star of my favorite product-testing video of all time:

Few people know that Sugai was actually a member of Bush's cabinet, and in that capacity was responsible for much of our government's policy during his tenure. Trouble with other countries? Hit them with a hammer! Economy is sluggish? Hit it with a hammer! Hammer-wielding maniac on the loose? Hit him with a hammer! He also engaged Dick Cheney to help test some of those early Niner crabon fork prototypes, though the infamous "shotgun test" was not only unsuccessful but also fatal and Niner quickly removed it from YouTube. (A bit of advice: when Cheney asks, "Hey, can you hold this fork for a second?," don't agree.)

Still, you've got to admire a company willing to literally pound the crap out of its products, and I only wish Gerard Vroomen of Cervelo would do the same instead of producing fashion shows:

Amazingly, despite this display, the full pro team kit has yet to take off as casual wear.

Speaking of getting new bikes and testing things, I recently received a new "test-cycle" in the form of an Electra Ticino 8D:

Since it comes from a "collection" and is represented by a picture of a guy wearing a wool jersey and the sort of hat worn by people who are way too into "craft ales," I knew the Ticino was going to be something special (and by "special" I mean "pretentious"). Incidentally, Electra are well-known for their "Townie" bicycles, which feature that insanely relaxed "flat foot technology" geometry and are ideal for canine "portaging" (or, if you're not from Portland, "schlepping"):

(Woman on Townie schleps dog in Prospect Park, Brooklyn)

Electra also sells those Amsterdam quasi-Dutch bikes, one of which I actually reviewed last year:

(Wasn't I pretty back then?)

The Ticino, however, is something different. Here's how Electra's copy explains it:

Whether you ride every day or go for long journeys on the weekend, the Ticino will handle it in comfort and style. Named for an Italian-influenced area of Switzerland, Ticino's design aesthetic, craftsmanship and frame integrity are inspired by the vintage Randonneur-type bikes once ridden throughout the region. Stylistically, Ticino picks up where bike builders of the '40s and '50s left off with its retro-inspired hubs*, cranksets, chainrings, tourist handlebars, forks, pedals and rims. But this thing is far from a relic. When it coms to performance, the Ticino is decked out with the latest custom Electra components and will hold its own against other sporty rides with fast-rolling 700c wheels, a lightweight frame and a host of drivetrains from single-to 20-speed. All in all, the Ticino is a fine-tuned, smooth-gliding machine that offers a comfort level no longer found in today's twitchy frames. Take your time to study the unique details of each model.

*on Ticino 18D, 20D and LUX models

In other words, it's a mass market version of all those North American Handmade Bicycle Show "Artisan Porteurs" that people who wear wool cycling caps love to ogle, but for people who think "lug" is a synonym for "schlep," Rivendell is where Archie and the gang lived, and who don't know Velo Orange from a Jaffa orange.

Anyway, I got the 8D, which doesn't have the "retro-inspired hubs" and which was fine with me because I couldn't care less what my hubs look like. Here's the way the bike looked when I pulled it out of the box:

And here's how it looked after I assembled it, removed the reflectors, and performed my customary and elaborate pie plate-burning ceremony:

Here's the view other cyclists will have when you're "salmoning" towards them. ("Salmon" love Electras like "Freds" love Treks):

Here's the view other riders will have when you're dropping them--which, let's be honest, isn't going to happen:

And here's the way the Electra Ticino looks when it's waiting to go to the bathroom:

It needs to go so bad its spokes went from 3-cross to 4-cross.

As I mentioned, my Ticino didn't come with the "retro-inspired hubs," but it did come with other "custom Electra components," such as the TA-like (or T-Ain't) cranks:

Rims with a vintage-like Mavic-esque pre-exploding wheel era-inspired sticker:

A quill stem with a little threaded cap to cover the stem bolt:

And faux-leather grips with bar-end brake levers:

Together with the vaguely Brooks-like saddle, skinwall tires, and "hammered" (or hammered look) fenders, the bike will do doubt infuriate Randonnerds, retrogrouches, and the sorts of people who bedeck their bicycles with an airport carousel's worth of canvas luggage, but will simply look really nice to people who don't know what any of that means or who don't really care. By the way, here's the OBBS (or Obligatory Bottom Bracket Shot):

While not "beefy" by James Huangian standards, you may note that the bike uses a single chainring sandwiched by a couple of chainring guards, and that it also includes vibration dampeners on the fenders. Also, the frame is aluminum, which will doubtless have rendered any remaining retrogrouches who have not long since defected to Classic Rendezvous apoplectic.

I, however, am not troubled by the facsimile aspect of the bicycle, and while the aesthetic is a little "precious" for me my first impression was that it's a very nice-looking bike. I also found it very comfortable, thought it handled well, was sensibly geared, and was even light enough for the average "wuss" to carry up and down a few flights of stairs.

But to really test it properly I had to take it "out on the town" in the manner of a typical non-bike dork simply looking to ride a comfortable bicycle from one place to another. Fortunately, fatherhood has already rid me of the extraneous portions of my dignity, and I no longer give much thought to my attire or equipment when mounting a bicycle. So, clad in a pair of homemade "shants," flip-flops, and (my only concession to foppery) a canvas bag from Rivendell, I grabbed the Ticino and set out looking like the miserable aftermath of a collision between "cycle chic" and Mugatu's "Derelicte."

My first thought was that this was a kinder and gentler sort of bicycle than I typically ride, and that it was well-suited for the kinder and gentler urban cycling offered by New York City's new lime green protected bike lanes, onto which I soon steered the Ticino:

Incidentally, you may notice that, way in the distance, there is a woman riding a mountain bike on the sidewalk. Apparently, she was too afraid to ride in the street, yet moments before I took this picture she had ridden right through that intersection against the light and was nearly hit by a car. She had a look of terror on her face the entire time, and it was as if some otherwordly force was compelling her towards death and she was powerless to resist. "Must stop at light...can't stop at light." Here she is about to do it again:

This time she actually manages to cross the intersection diagonally, maximizing her exposure time to oncoming traffic:

Anyway, soon I was in Prospect Park, where I joined my upright-riding brethren:

Note the "epic" quill stem on this Klein:

He has more headset spacers than most people have steer tube.

Shortly afterwards, I passed an excited gentleman who regarded me wide-eyed and shouted, "Is that a Schwinn?" At first I was frightened, thinking it was an enraged Grant Petersen come to tackle me from the Ticino and give it the "hammer test." I soon realized it wasn't, though, and as I passed I answered "No." Crestfallen, he reacted as though I had just called his mother a Schwinn. "Not a Schwinn!?!," he exclaimed. However, I did not have time to explain to him that it was not a Schwinn and was in fact a mass-produced facsimile of the "artisanal" retro-inspired bicycles so popular with the "bike culture" right now, and continued on.

Of course, navigating Prospect Park is one thing; hanging with the "hipsters" of Williamsburg on its eponymous bridge is quite another, and it was with trepidation that I approached its purple girders:

Desperately, I clawed my way up to the trio of "hipsters" ahead of me:

Amazingly, I caught them without breaking my flip-flops:

Arriving in Manhattan, I decided I liked the bike. It was as comfortable as a bike needs to be, but it was in no way sluggish. I did, however, ride cautiously, and when I encountered a Mercedes with a vanity plate reading "Cupper" I kept a safe distance:

I did not relish a run-in with the "cupper," having no idea what it was intended to cup.

By the way, so bike friendly has New York City become that in addition to bike lanes we now have designated folding bike unfurling areas:

However, stoplight match sprints continue unabated:

As does shoaling, and on my way back to Brooklyn I was shoaled repeatedly and violently by a "Beautiful Godzilla" in the 2nd Avenue bike lane:

In any case, as everyday transportation the Ticino performs very well, and I'd be lying if I said I haven't thoroughly enjoyed my time on it--though I'd also be lying if I said I didn't find it a little "precious." (Then again, I am a considerable and dedicated schlub.) It's very comfortable, it has fenders, it's stable yet reasonably quick, and you can carry it up steps. It is not exactly cheap, however, and it retails for about $800--though some dupes actually pay close to that for Flying Pigeons, so I suppose price is relative. Plus, it comes with most of what you'd need apart from a rack. To some extent I suppose it is an affront to the more rarefied corners of cycling, but at the same time it's also a coup for accessibility, and it's nothing if not enticing. And it makes way more sense than a Klein with a flagpole for a quill stem.

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