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Commuting Ups and Downs, Banner Day at Banner Forest, Plus a Few Gear Reviews

27 Jul

Stinky Seat! Banner Forest!

Commuting lameness this year? Oh yeah, I’ve got all kinds of excuses. There’s yoga class night. Kickboxing class night. The I-just-want-to-stay-home-and-make-cheese-melt-sammiches night. Don’t forget the whole Burke Gilman closure. On top of that, I work in a new building, just near the Pike Place Market, and while getting there in the morning is fine as most of the road directions are water-ward, getting out, in the late afternoon, with flocks of tourists, the Duck amphibious cruiser, hundreds of nearly inert buses and most streets that are the wrong way, adds up to poopie.

Insulting the injury, my building recently shut down the men’s shower room — mind you, two showers for 42 floors of people is crazy small to begin with — and provided an alternate single shower facility in the sub basement. Nothing’s more awkward than standing around waiting for your boss, your boss’s boss, or your future and potential boss, to finish his shower. Yes that pronoun is deliberate, check the context. I will say, at least they’re working on creating a new shower that’s got 6 stalls… so just need to be patient for a few months.

Howsomever, last week when I commuted (have been averaging only once per week, yikes) I did so solo and as such, thought I would ride the whole way. The thing is, with the Burke closure, the SurlyLady and I have been driving about midway, parking a couple of miles from the Burke. So rather than drive, last Thursday I took off from the house, pushing up the street toward the alternate-to-the-alternate BG route: rather than tracing down to Lake Forest Park, I would aim for the Shoreline spine and then angle on down to meet the Burke not too far from Matthews Beach. Lots of urban commuting car roads, and lots of hills. Horrible seeming hills. However, here’s the gift-horse moment: I kind of like this new route. It’s like a long series of rollers, some more steep than others. Whereas our usual route resembles a clawfoot bathtub, steep at the start and finish and fairly level in the middle, this new route has some awesome hills and zigzags. I got to racing with some racer chaps (how irate they seem when a guy in a cotton shirt and a big pannier cruises past!) and had a fun time huffing along. Then I left the ‘official’ BG rerouting and found myself alone, again on the Shoreline spine, threading through those neighborhoods and wending over toward Mountlake Terrace. I like that route. It’s not a ton longer than the standard way, and is way better for interval-like training.

Last Saturday I went riding with my Poppa, my brother, his wife and my nephew aka his son. It was quite a procession through the woods. I love that place. Very mellow single track, with a variegated landscape. My brother broke a chain link at one point and, ta da, I had a tool! We fixed it but then the fix started messing up. I fixed it a couple of times, but then eventually it broke beyond all repair. At this point I suggested, rather than taking out yet another link, that he just take off the chain and coast/Fred Flinstone back to the car (we were already on our way back). And I have to admit, I was jealous watching him cruise along. He was going faster than us. What does that say about the typical mountain bike rider, or at least me and the rest of the crew, when a guy without a chain can skooch along faster than you? When we arrived at the parking lot he started to talk about how that was one of the most fun things he’d ever done on a bike, how he’d really had to use his upper body etc. Sort of like being on a BMX bike on a pump track, I imagine. Yes, this is giving me some ideas: custom chainless softtail 650b mountain bike, here I come!

Here are some reviews I have been meaning to catch up on:

Carradice Junior bag — Speaking of Goldilocks engineering, this bag is just right. Just as much capacity in the main compartment as my other Pendle, but without the side pockets, which must add at least a hundred grams of weight. 100 grams! Can you imagine the injustice of that? The Junior gets a thumbs up for sure. Everything you need for a cyclotourist out on the country town, and nothing you don’t need.

Tektro Oryx brakes and stock black pads — That ride we took up in Skagit county, when it rained most of the day? Well the oddest thing happened. The SurlyLady’s pretty new bike got all kinds of weird black dye stains on the Pasela tourguard gumwalls and Salsa polished rims, all from the stock black pads. At one point I saw the black streaks, like the kitchen table at Easter when your nephew is decorating eggs, and couldn’t figure out what the heck was causing it. We stopped and I traced the streaks/stains to the brake pads. Lame, and definitely disconcerting. So the other day I took off the brakeset, put on the IRD Cafam’s from her Cross Check along with the Kool Stop pads (no need to replace them, which surprised me, just sandpapered them a bit). I took her Casseroll up the street and back and those brakes are sweet! I’ve gotten sooo much better at dialing in cantilever brakes. My first attempts at such on the Long Haul Trucker were… well they never amounted to much more than attempts.

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Too Many Bike Projects, Not Enough Bike Project Managers

14 May

What weather we’re having! (Yes another obsessive weather post… someday in the postapocalypsenowdryasadesert future we’ll look back on this and laugh and laugh and laugh and choke a little and eat more dirt.) Although right now it’s monsoon like outside and the dogs look at us like ‘seriously, you want us to go out in that stuff?’, earlier today it was sunny and bunny perfect: while riding down to the Sammamish River Trail, not a block from my house, I saw two bunnies humping; as I passed the female of the species got startled — I often have that effect on females — and took off; the old boy sort of fell and twisted on to his back, with about as emotional a face as I’ve ever seen on a rabbit. I was on my way to meet my Poppa, he of the shiny new Schwinn bike, at Marymoor, and then we were going to do a training ride back up the Sammamish River Trail.

He’s been training for the Flying Wheels event, trying to get some seat time in for the 25 mile route. It’s so awesome to be a part of this. It’s like reverse of the usual father-son dynamic. I took him to a bike store, watched patiently as he kicked tires, loudly complained at the exorbitant prices, came very close to buying a bike four times out of his price range and then settled for a hybrid, and a hybrid economically as well as in features. Then, the training rides. He’d done a few miles here and there by himself, but last weekend we toodled along and did around 11 miles round trip. And at times he was flying! I mean seriously, I could barely keep up.

Today he was a little more sedate, his right hand was hurting. He’s a walking hospital track record, with knee and shoulder surgeries, heart procedures and heart problems, but he keeps going. He’s always been one of the strongest people I’ve known, able to do anything. It’s so sobering to see him, in this retirement phase, slowing way down. Looking a little startled at the world he used to be on top of. But, today he was in fine form again. We pedaled 7 miles north on the trail from Marymoor and then went our ways. I watched him pedal by himself back south toward Marymoor and my heart gave a tug… look at him go!

The cool thing is he’s totally going to make the 25 mile Flying Wheels. No sweat at all. I think the thing that worries him the most is riding in traffic, but with something like the Flying Wheels the ‘bike traffic’ is probably going to be much worse than the car traffic, even while it somewhat insulates us from it.

I was in a hurry to get home as the SurlyLady had stopped at Whole Foods to get us salads and I was HONGRY, so I cruised as much as possible. One thing about the Jack Brown Green tires is there’s a definite trade-off between speed and comfort. It’s not a revelation, or rocket science. But at one point I tried to tag on to a group of roadies who were averaging 23mph along the winery road (I cut through there to save time and avoid the Sammamish Madness) and I could barely keep up with them. I could almost feel the cushiony, rubbery suspended style of the tires holding me back, it was like I was hitting some kind of demi-balloon ceiling. Which reminds me of a time in Singapore when I was in the British Navy, but I’ll save that story for another post.

But, the trade-off of comfort… is so comfy. The only bad news is I think the tires are just too big for the fenders. And, those fenders are just about all I can find to fit on the Poprad. Speaking of the Poprad, check out the new wheels!

Fred-tastic!

I’ll admit. It looks weird. If you were to take things on a scale or spectrum, with traditional looks and form/function loveliness on the left or green part of the scale, where parts and designs come together in harmony, and then you put all the worst Fred tendencies on the right in the red section, things like antler-sprouting stems, intertwining black-and-yellow tape on aero bars that match the black-and-yellow Garmin summer sausage team kit, a cuckoo clock stem mount, a brass bell *and* a a-hoo-ga horn, and then place all of those bikes that range between the two extremes in the middle or yellow section, I would rate the Poprad now somewhere between yellow and red. Which, I believe, would make it a nice Eddy Merckx orange! Ha.

The Fred Whole is Greater than the Fredness of the Parts...

Black racing style rims, Stan’s No Tubes Alpha 340, that are intended for tubular road and cyclocross applications, married to 33.333 wide gumwall Rivendell tires, under black plastic Planet Bike fenders, with a black Carradice canvas back hand sewn by Christine in England, with a Brooks Imperial saddle, Shimano 105 group, Salsa seat post and then to top it off, filthy white bar tape… Yup, I’ve reached deeply into the bucket of Fredness. However! These new wheels are light. I mean, insanely light. I took them to the bike shop the other day to get some rim tape and of course they were picking them up — one guy said they were as light as wheelsets costing $1500 more than I paid for ’em. And that’s almost the best part of these wheels, I got them used on eBay and I used the pain-and-suffering check from the insurance company for the rear-ender on my poor wee Toyota truck back in March. So it all worked out.

How do they ride? Well, pretty darn well. When I first tried them out on the commute Friday, at first I was a little skeptical. Hmph. I don’t feel any huge difference. But I think that was because the first 4 miles are mostly downhill. It was that first uphill that my eyes popped open big time. I could tell a difference. Not huge, not world changing, but very noticeable. Later, on that long hill by the UW campus with the basketball gym off to the left, I told the ‘Lady “I want to see what these guys can do” and took off. And then accelerated. And then accelerated again. And again. It was amazing! I can do that on the Marathons, but the instantaneous feeling of accelerating going uphill was quite new. After a couple of rides, I’m definitely sold. They also feel plenty solid and stout enough, no noodly feeling. The freewheel is a little annoying. I think the ZTR hubs (Stan’s No Tubes brand) are rebadged American Classics, and they make that loud cicada pawl sound that I tend to hate, usually in the employ of an impatient roadie behind me. I’m used to the whisper quiet Shimano hubs I’ve mostly favored in the past. However, one nice thing about hubs that sound like Banshees out of Burbank is they definitely catch the attention of pedestrians when you coast a little. Could come in handy.

Bling for the stem cap!

As for the other bike projects. I’m taking the Tiagra 9-spd triple brifters off of the Vaya to give to the SurlyLady for her Cross Check. I’m going to run Dura-Ace bar ends and Cane Creek brake levers on the Vaya, and experiment with the Noodle bars to see if I can find a better cockpit fit. I got a new Sugino triple crankset for the Cross Check, which should give the ‘Lady a few more easier gears to use (up to now she’s been using Ultegra double brifters with a compact double and 9spd mountain cassette – and has a devil of a time shifting through to certain gears, and no matter how many tunings I’ve given or the shop, it never works right). Then, of course there’s the new bike, the Salsa La Cruz or, as I like to think of him, Tom Cruz. Fred Vaya and Tom Cruz are going to make a nice matched set! Three road bikes with disc brakes and essentially the same functionality. I’m crazy, I know.

Tom La Cruz!

Next up for Tom: bottom bracket, drivetrain from the Trucker (Sugino triple, chain, cassette)… and I want to clean and rebuild the rear and front derailleurs (XT and Tiagra, respectively). Then everything will get cabled up – and I might use BMX linear cabling for the brakes, we’ll see – bar tape and then I can take him out for some fun in the mud.

Part of my intended use for Tom La Cruz is to be purpose built for long dirt-gravel-pavement road rides, to have knobbies on there full time (or semi knobby like the Ritcheys I’m starting off with, that came stock on the Cross Check). In fact, I am thinking of starting a new group here in the Seattle area for just such a thing. I was thinking of calling it “Backroads Bicycle Club NW”. Is anyone out there interested in joining? I have been collecting mixed-surface route ideas and will compile them shortly. If you have any suggestions, or want to chat about his idea, shoot me an email.

Snohomish Bicycles

26 Apr

A kindly reader has pointed out that the URL for the bike shop I mentioned in yesterday’s post is here:

http://www.snohomishbicycles.com/

It was because the URL was such a mysteriously complex, database-driven amalgam that I wasn’t able to figure it out… cough…

And the reader mentioned a century, sponsored by the shop, coming up in late May. I think we may just join in, as going to LaConner from Snohomish sounds like it would be gorgeous! I’m thinking Skagit Valley might be a huge ‘untapped’ demographic for the Surly Twins. Here’re the details:

Snohomish Century ~ 100 mi
Saturday May 29th, 8:00am
Snohomish to La Conner, WA
Snohomish Bicycles proudly presents our first Century ride! From the Bike shop in Snohomish all the way to La Conner and back (details coming soon). If you have been itching to complete your first Century this is the perfect time to join other Snohomish riders and then brag about it to all of your friends at work.
For more information call the shop at: 360-862-8300