Sunday, December 29, 2013

New Bike Rack

I sold the trusty WRX.  One too many times in a spitting match with a(nother) highway jerk convinced me I didn't need 265 horsepower and a hood scoop that may as well have been a neon bumper sticker reading "my car is faster than yours."  And I was feeling the 4 1/2-year itch.  I replaced the WRX with this cute little number, which I found at an end-of-model-year bargain price.  To my view it befits my official status as "middle-aged."  Quick review: after three or four days, it is a dream to drive.
BMW 128i

The trouble is that a coupe with a sun-roof is less than ideal for a roof-rack.  To BMW's credit, the car incorporates standard rack-mount screws in the gutters, much like the WRX had, so my current Yakima rack would work seamlessly on the new car.  To my view it looks pretty cool, but a little too much like a Jetta.

There's the further problem that a rack interferes with sunroof-open driving.  Perhaps the coolest thing about this car is that it has a huge amount of glass, such that with the sunroof open (or even the shade open) it feels almost like a convertible.  I also abhor the mileage hit you take with a roof rack.  Even with fairly careful highway driving the WRX averaged less than 25 mpg with the roof rack in place.  I'd like to think I can increase that by a fair amount with this non-turbo replacement.

Two other obvious options:  (1) the hitch rack. Yakima, Thule, Saris, and a maker I hadn't heard of -- Kuat (umlaut omitted) -- all offer high design-factor hitch racks, with the Kuat appearing to be the king.  There are myriad off-brand options as well -- Hollywood, Sportrack, Swagman, and Bell, to name four.  In hitch racks I would only be interested in a tray-mount version, which appear to secure the bike more solidly; do not involve hanging the bike from the frame (which causes cable rub on my externally-cabled bikes); and look much cooler.

Hitch racks fold up and out of the way for convenience when bikes are not loaded.
And (2), the trunk rack.  Many of the usual suspects market trunk racks -- Allen, Hollywood, Yakima, and Sportrack pop up in an Amazon search, with the Saris Bones being far and away the most attractive of the lot.  I have a three-bike Saris Bones that I bought several years back.  It would serve my purposes well and cost nothing (because I have it already and the aftermarket value is sufficiently low to eliminate opportunity costs).

The least elegant but perhaps most convenient option.
Trunk racks have the huge advantage of easy mounting, removal, and storage, being light enough in weight and small enough in size to stay permanently in the car's trunk.  They are sufficiently cheap that one needn't worry about rack thievery.  They suffer the disadvantages of lack of security -- no good way to lock the bikes; minor inconvenience in mounting and removing (or annoyance in leaving it permanently affixed); and a danger of marring the car's finish if dirt gets in the rubber feet, nylon straps whip around while driving, or the bikes swing and contact the bumper.

I suppose the answer is to experiment before dumping at least half-a-thousand dollars, including a new trailer hitch(!), on the hitch-mount option.  Input from the crowd?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tandem Dreams

Max really showed me up at Thanksgiving, picking up a sweet Neuvation FC600 for his spouse. It's tough to follow that without looking like I'm just copying him, so I'm trying the next best thing: a tandem.

Honestly I've always been curious about tandems, but have never ridden one. The problem is that it's really tough to find a tandem that fits properly. Since you have to have a single frame that fits two people. There are a lot of really crappy tandems available on Craigslist, but honestly I'm past the point in life where I'm interested in crappy stuff. On the other hand, I'm not particularly interested in spending $20K on a Specialized Carbon Fiber tandem either.

Fortunately while perusing my favorite bike maker's website, I noticed that he is building tandem frames.

I got my first Habanero back in 2004, after spending a year or so riding Max' Cannondale. My Habanero was built by the inimitable Sheldon Brown, marketed as the 'Century Special'.

My second Habanero was targeted as my rando bike. My original Habanero had a ~5" drop from the seat to the bars (now modified to be a much more reasonable ~2"), and by day 3 of a 1200K I found myself riding entirely on the pads of the aerobars. So #2 was a 62cm frame, based on Habanero's cross geometry.

I really like Mark Hickey's philosophy. He acknowledges that he over-engineers his frames and builds, which for those of us in the 100kg+ club is a welcome relief. So I pinged him about the tandem frame, and he responded nearly immediately with a lot of great detailed information.

I still need to make, well, pretty much all the build decisions. The sizing will be interesting, as I'd prefer the geometry of my 64cm Habanero, but the stoker will be coming from a 52cm or 54cm bike (not sure which. Need to measure).

There are a few other important decisions to make as well.

Mark recommends the Wound Up Composites CF fork.
Wound Up Tandem Fork

They do have a disk version. Mark suggests not to go that route, and I'm inclined to follow his advice. I'm not yet convinced of the integrity of a CF disk fork. It s tempting though.
Wound Up Tandem Disk Fork

Tire Size

One of the advantages of a disk fork is additional tire clearance. My other Habaneros fit 26s well, 28s with a bit of luck, and almost certainly nothing larger. Mark says that he can probably design the bike to take a bigger tire. But too big, and brake clearance becomes an issue. A disk brake would take care of that problem.


As I mentioned above, the rider size differential is moderately challenging.

I've no doubt that Mark can make it work though. I haven't picked his brain too much on this yet, and probably won't until after the holiday vacation.


My plan is to go with a pretty standard build. Ultegra components, and whatever is the equivalent of Open Pro wheels. I think the Velocity rims are popular for this purpose. Hopefully nice fat tires. It's not clear yet what the price will be. My hope is to keep it under $5K. Seems possible.


I really don't know what goes into a tandem build at this point. I imagine there will be a lot of questions that arise along hte way.


While poking around his tandem build info, I couldn't help but notice he's now selling 29er frames. Of course I just sold a nice single-speed 29er, but the prospect of a hard-tail geared 29er in a fetching Ti finish is enticing. Might have to wait until after I get my Motobecane Boris set up though.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Considering Going Tubeless

It's the off-season and I'm engaged in a minor reboot of my top shelf bike, the uber-comfortable and (I think) beautiful steel-framed Gunnar Roadie.  Generally that means seeking out ~one dollar per gram weight reductions, like the obvious choice of a $50 full carbon fork from Neuvation (saving 150g over the current fork) and the slightly harder choice of a $75 Thomson X2 stem (saving only 50g over my X4, but I'm pretty sure I can sell the X4 for at least $25 on eBay or find at least $25 worth of use for it on another bike).  It also means replacing the trusty Cane Creek S2 headset, which still works fine but is now seven years and maybe 12000 miles old and has earned its retirement.

One planned change, which is almost purely aesthetic, is to swap the Grand Bois 28c tires for Schwalbe Ultremo ZX.  But if I'm going that way, how about going a step further and converting to tubeless?  For the Gunnar use model -- lots of miles on road surfaces of varying quality in non-race conditions -- tubeless seems to be a natural fit.  Damon is one of the many who swear by it.

As of June 2013, Schwalbe offers those tires in a tubeless option.  A few other Schwalbe factory links:  (1), (2).  I'm having a hard time finding the 28cs in stock, but I've seen them advertised, and at least this website has them purports to be selling the Schwalbe One Tubeless in 28c, though the pull-down menu lists them as "not yet available."

What's kept me from going tubeless so far?  I'm not willing to buy new wheels just for the purpose, and I'm not willing to do so now either.  But the various work-arounds do not seem obvious -- there are rim strips, glues, valves, sealants; it quickly gets overwhelming.  So here's the question:  what parts/supplies are required for me to make this switch?  Can I just buy the "Stan's Notubes" kit (marketed for Cyclocross) and follow the directions?

There are a few generally helpful videos out there; here is an example.  Any further wisdom in the comments would be most appreciated!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

More Big Organized Rides . . .

Quadzilla map.  Starts and ends in cheery Ithaca.
As a reminder: this is intended to be a list of ideas, not a ride calendar for next year!

Quadzilla:  this event is difficult to find information about.  Whomever does the organizing does a poor job of maintaining a website.  It does appear to have moved a couple of weeks earlier from past years' mid-August date; in 2013 Quadzilla was run as four consecutive 200Ks circumnavigating all of the Finger Lakes.  As Damon can attest, up and down over the ridges between those lakes isn't Appalachian quality climbing, but it's pretty serious late in the day, and Quadzilla historically boasts in the range of 10,000 feet of climbing per century.  Certainly the elevation profile is nothing to sneeze at.  I've had my eye vaguely on this event for some years now.  That's partly because I love riding in central New York; that's partly because this is one of those spoken-of-in-hushed voices rides; and that's partly because it's about the right balance of branded versus run-out-of-some-guy's-conversion-van for my sensibilities.
Quadzilla elevation.  At least it's flat on net.

If the weather was right, this would win the
most-scenic brevet award.
Denali Dirt-Road Randonnee:  if the 600K isn't the right time, distance, or otherwise to entice one to Alaska, the 300K out and back on the Park Road might well be.  This was run in mid-July in 2010.  Here's an old ride report.  Hard to find much information about it more recently than that.  I'd reach out to Kevin, but I'm afraid he's sick of responding to my e-mails.  A better policy may be just to show up and to finish.

I don't know that Hoodoo covers that road,
but it would be cool if it did.
Hoodoo 500:  we've certainly talked enough about this bad boy to start to consider it more seriously.  There's a two-man team option which may just be possible with no additional support.  (Presumably the non-riding support car driver can catch an hour's nap from time to time.)  There's also the invitation only "Voyageur" option, which is Randonneur style.  I'm intrigued at the degree of caution associated with allowing entry into that category.  A rack is required?  This would be an intriguing capstone to a summer's riding.

Yes, there is some pretty country in eastern Ohio.  Not
exactly Denali, or Zion, or even the Finger Lakes,
but pretty nonetheless.
RAAM Challenge:  yes, back to this series.  There are four 200/400s run between mid-August and early November, which is conveniently about the time that Randonneur events are sparse and I'm frequently burned out on serious racing.  One of those is the conveniently located (for me) Columbus, Ohio, which got a good turn-out last year and had one guy just barely missing the coveted 24-hour 400.  Another of those is mid-September in Sacramento.  All of the RAAM Challenge routes I have seen have done a good job pegging the climbing at near 20,000 feet, not diabolical but not in the least trivial over that distance.  Columbus is no exception.  The course (map at same link) hits some beautiful country through eastern Ohio, about where the Great Plains give way to the Appalachian foothills.

RC Sacramento is run just two weeks prior.  Smaller turnout there, but Seana Hogan, not long after her RAAM DNF, knocked that out the park with just-over-25-hour 400 mile, just 40 minutes off the overall (male) winner.  The route?  Another well-constructed ~20,000 feet-of-climbing and assuredly beautiful scenery as you ride north, out to the coast, and back toward Sacramento through California wine country.  Sam has done some riding around Sacramento and I once spent a week, including pedaling at least 112 miles, in the area around Healdsburg, Windsor and Santa Rosa.  My guess is that's an inspired route after the summer heat has passed. 

I can see that ruminations on fall riding will have to wait for a third post.  What's left?  Texas Time Trials?  The ROMA fall SR series?  Even the Taste of Carolina 1200K?

P__'s New FC600

John Neugent had (still has) his FC600 on a great sale and we were heading to San Luis Obispo to ride anyway, so I ordered one for P__.  It prevented our renting a bike at a ~$150 cost and saved ~$300 in round trip carriage, turning the $2000 sale-price bike into a net $1850.  Putting that into perspective, this is about a 16 lb. build, which I can find elsewhere for something closer to five large.  OK, four at off-season pricing.

Pump tucks away nicely and the small seatbag is well hidden.
We've also achieved bars level with the saddle, which is
about right for P__.
Trek's may have its Project One, but for no additional cost Neuvation allows for a fair amount of design and configuration customization.  We had this bike built with brand new Ultegra 11-speed, including a monster dinner plate on the back that puts P__'s lowest gear at a hill-gobbling 34-32; a high-angle stem that brings the bars nearly level with the saddle; and Neuvation's comfortable S1 saddle that P__ rode and loved on the demo bike while in SLO.  We requested blue decals on the frame and wheels; blue nipples on the front and non-drive-side (Neuvation won't build with alloy nipples on the drive side, which I applaud); and blue bar tape to match.  (In my judgment the bar tape may be slightly over the top, but it is easily replaced).

Were it mine I'd want clearance for bigger tires,
but P__ can ride 25s at 85 PSI
I added the tail-light, without which I personally refuse to ride anymore; the speed and cadence sensor; and the mini-pump.  The only thing still missing is a computer that can receive ANT+ signals, whether that is a GPS unit or otherwise.

I love the gray Ultegra groupset.

P__ loves the bike.  (She hasn't actually ridden the new one yet, but she did get ~50 miles on a similar setup over a few days in San Luis Obispo.)  Which brings me to answer to the question, "why do you buy an occasional cyclist a brand new carbon bike?"  There are two obvious reasons.  I've probably just paved the way for my next four-digit bike gear purchase, whatever it may be.

The second is better:  I wasn't a British car guy until I bought a 1957 MGA in the summer of 1998.  I'll probably never again own a British car, but I will always be a British car guy.  P__ may not have been a cyclist but getting her this bike is making her one.  I'm looking forward to some great rides together this spring.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Big Organized Rides 2014

It's time to plot out the next year, although it won't necessarily be easy -- not all the calendars are filled in yet.  Opinions?  Interest?  Others to add?  Needless to say, the long list of unorganized rides is not included here.  For example, I'm tempted by another crack at Bremerton to Klamath if the miles stack up the way they should and Sam is available.

24 Hours of Sebring:  February 15-16, 2014.  May be tough to be in shape for that kind of mileage that early in the year, but looking at the numbers some people are putting up does make on salivate.

DC Randonneurs events:  the calendar is not yet available, I'm sorry to see.  Generally you can predict a few 200s between February and March; two 300s in April/May; a 400 in May, and a 600 in June.

RAAM Challenge Races:  this is a series of 200- and 400-mile events held in several locations at several dates throughout the year.  Most tempting from the perspective of convenience, timing, beauty, and apparent disinterest is Hillsboro, Oregon, May 10-11, 2014.

Trans-Iowa Race:  April 26-27, 2014.  Dirt road ultra.  I'm sorely tempted.

Mountains of Misery:  Sunday, May 25.  I do think I'll return for my fourth go at this great ride.  Damon lowered the bar (analogizing to limbo, not to high-jump) by going sub-8 last year.  Question:  can that be done on a metal bicycle?  Time will tell.

National 24-hour Challenge:  June 14-15, 2014.  We've discussed this event at huffmanbicycleclub before.  In 50 words or fewer, it's a casual, easy to access, low-cost, easy to self-support, and fun way to see how far you can ride as the small hand makes two round trips.  Last year was nothing glorious, but it was definitely something new.

Diabolical Double:  June 21, 2014.  A tremendous ride that I haven't done the past few years.  Tempting.

Alaska Randonneurs 600K:  date as yet not known, but this is usually targeted for the Saturday closest to the Solstice.  I would bet June 21, 2014.  This is a romantic favorite and a woman from Oregon (Asta Chastain -- not, apparently, related to Brandi) showed last year that 24 hours is a real possibility on this route.  On the other hand, it's a long way to travel and I'm 2 for 4 in Alaska Randonneurs events, cutting deeply into expected payout figures.  It also conflicts with DD, above, and is badly placed if somebody wants to ride the 24-hour Challenge.

Saratoga 12/24:  July 12-13, 2014.  This conflicts with the Double Triple Bypass (next), but does have three things going for it: it's another opportunity to try riding round the clock; it's driving distance from DC; and because there is a new course as of last year and nobody lit it up, the 24-hour course record is definitely within reach.  (One guy did light up the 12-hour, sorry to see.)

Double Triple Bypass:  July 12-13, 2014.  But for the altitude and the scenery, the Triple Bypass -- with 10,000 feet of climbing over 125 miles -- is kind of a yawn.  But riding out one day and back the next might make for a heck of a weekend!  Registration is January 2.  Also going for the Double Triple?  The organizers reserve slots for the two-day event and it historically does not fill up as instantly as the normal Triple Bypass.

Race Across Oregon:  July 18-21, 2014.  Is this the hardest of the various mini-RAAMs?  Intriguingly, the organizers run a series of serious long distance events over the course of the year.  RAO is, of course, King among them.

Second half of the year forthcoming.  Any additions, subtractions, or advice?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Explain, please? And, Christmas is coming!

Sam's post on riding in the snow, and the snow currently falling outside my window, has me surfing the Surly website and salivating.

But am I the only one that things Surly's Omniterra line is not unlike Subaru's "small SUV" line of cars?  Three that all do the same thing?

I've copied these three beautiful looking beasts here, assuming that Surly would applaud rather than oppose my doing so.  If I get a Cease and Desist letter I'll post that in the comments.

Is the difference tire size?  I can see that somewhat, with Pugsley and Moonlander bigger than Pug-ops.  Or maybe it's just build quality.

Puglsey.  This has been around for a while.

Pug-ops.  I hadn't noticed this one until Sam alerted me to the Moonlander.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Winter Wonderland

After a week of fantastic riding in California, we returned home to temperatures well below freezing. With ice on the road and a bite in the air, hopping on the road bike for a wind-chilled ride didn't seem that appealing.

So I met my friend D___ up at Stub Stewart State Park, a still developing cross-country and free-ride area. It's a small trail network, but close-by and suitably novice for neophytes like ourselves.

The half-inch of snow at lower elevations was a couple inches higher up, and the temperature had dropped to 7 degrees at the parking area. I hid some body armor under my Performance jacket, wore insulated tights, and neoprene socks with the sandals I wrote about earlier.
Better than mud!

We weren't sure what to expect from the trails, but riding through a couple inches of lightweight snow felt a bit like getting first tracks at a ski hill, but without the lift to get back to the top. We did a short cross-country loop and a half dozen 'runs' on the easy freeride trail. Any air was limited to 3-4 inches tops, but neither of us had any trouble.

What a revelation. While a bit nippy on the extremities at first, the layers kept my core warm and fingers and toes rapidly adjusted. After 15 minutes I was warm throughout, and we had a wonderful couple hours riding in the snow. No records were set, but a lot of fun was had.

Who says that biking has to stop when the snow falls?

Of course I needn't mention that riding in the snow gets me thinking about a nice Surly Moonlander.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Cleaning Solution

As Sam knows, I'm building the vintage Nishiki (born-on date 1975 or so) into a single-speed cross bike.  More on that forthcoming!

Having removed the outer ring I needed to clean the old cheapskate FSA chainset from the original Cervelo tri bike.  I'm fresh out of my favorite Finish Line Citrus degreaser so I turned to what I had lying around: Five-Hour Energy.

A disturbing yet amusing lesson:  Five-Hour Energy on a toothbrush does about as good a job as one needs degreasing a 6-year-old chainset.

(Caveat:  I did not compare Five-Hour Energy with anything else.  It could well be that water on a toothbrush would have done the same thing.)