Wednesday, April 30, 2014 Article

Most of what I see on is drivel -- "10 great fall rides!", or "How to ride a century!"

I like Active's "10 core exercises"-type of articles.  Most of them I know but usually one or more I do not.  My own workout program includes ~20-25 exercises I have been doing for years that I rotate.  A change is most welcome.

This article is recommended.  The articles gives ideas for mid-back, shoulder, hip, and ankle limbering.  All four of these hit very close to home regarding my own symptoms from cycling -- hips, back, shoulders, and ankles take the real beating but get ignored in the weight room.

For an obvious comparison:  training is like writing.  Laying down the big idea is lots of fun and I do it with relish -- and launching for a big ride is an adventure that sets my teeth on edge.  Tying up loose ends is drudgery and I can only force myself to do it rarely -- and stretching at night when I just want to fall into bed is an unwelcome obligation.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


DC has a well-known bike-share system in place.  By all accounts it is wildly successful.  I know it is well used and has incredible coverage throughout the DC metro area.  I've never ridden a DC bike share bike, but I expect that I will this summer.  It is so much more elegant than diving underground to ride in a smelly, poorly-maintained rail system.

Apparently bike-shares are found world-wide. Wikipedia has a substantial page, citing numerous international examples, including Boston, China, Paris, Netherlands . . . .

There are companies that do nothing but set up bike share programs.  Republic Bikes has a contract with, among others, Google, maintaining a fleet for use at the Mountain View campus.  Gotta give them credit -- that is truly a bike only Google could love.  (Query:  does joining Google mean you discard all self respect, or is it only when you are actually on the clock?  Query 2:  does Google ever hire Goths?)

Picture pulled from Republic Bikes web page.

A program has opened in Indianapolis.  It is called "Pacers Bikeshare" and bears the Indiana Pacers' brand and logo.  The website shows no actual relationship to the basketball team, so one assumes the bikeshare program has merely licensed the intellectual property -- for what reason I have no idea.  Does basketball make you want to ride a bike?  Does riding make you want to watch basketball?

Bikeshare stand on Mass Ave. and Walnut Street, Indianapolis

I wonder if it will take.  The winter here is a tad harsh for a year-round bike share, so I assume this will be in place from March to October or so.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Avoiding Baggage Fees?

I'm looking at more travel-to-ride options for a couple of events for which the Breakaway is not the ideal bike.  For example, Fireweed 400 is under consideration for this July.  Of course, bike shipping costs -- $350 RT on US Airways -- are nearly prohibitive.

What to do?  I asked my regular carrier US Airways (The New American) about "sponsorship."  You waive the bag fee and I tell everybody how great you are.

The predictable response:

Thank you for your inquiry.  As you can imagine, US Airways receives thousands of requests each year to waive baggage fees for passengers traveling with additional supplies and items for organizations they personally and individually choose to support. Regrettably, due to limited resources, both in cargo space and budget, we are unable to provide a donation of complimentary cargo space or waive baggage fees. Rather, US Airways has determined the best way to make an impact is through donations for budget relieving or revenue generating purposes directly to nonprofit organizations in our hub and focus cities. 

US Airways is proud to assist more than 500 nonprofit organizations annually with significant philanthropic contributions.  While we understand that hundreds of thousands of our passengers have causes they wish for the airline to join in their efforts to support, regrettably, we just do not have the budget to do so. You can find more information regarding our corporate giving guidelines and for more information regarding our baggage policies, please visit

Thank you for the opportunity to review your request.  Although we are not able to fulfill your needs through our corporate giving program, we certainly wish you the best and appreciate your personal effort to make a difference.


US Airways Community Relations

Am I the only one amused that corporate entities also feel the need to say "we've already made our donations for the year, so sorry."

Lance Armstrong Teaches Us How To Fix A Flat

This is a little surreal. HT to cyclingtips.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Sundry

What better way to waste a Sunday morning than to show off a few bike purchases from the last month...

A Few More Cups Of Coffee Before I Go....

Now that I've got seven titanium water bottle cages, I just need a titanium tandem frame to put them on. Actually three are destined for the rando Habanero, and four for the tandem Habanero. I already put a couple on my road Habanero. Also got four (Ti)re levers. Did you know that King Cage manufactures all their stuff in Durango? Neither did I.

The Only Thing Sillier Than Driving To The Trailhead

Is doing it looking like this. But it is nice that the seasucker is so easily adaptable to different cars.

This R8s A Mention...

A few nights ago my MTB light broke. Well, not really broke, but got damaged. What a great excuse to replace it with the 2200 lumen Hope Tech Vision R8! The build quality on this light is superb.

Hope R8. The '8' is for 8 LEDs.

Let's Torque About This...

I've been wrenching on my bikes for about a decade now, but only recently started getting some carbon fiber bits here and there. Not that a torque wrench wouldn't have come in handy earlier...
Should have double-checked the torque.
But better late than never. This little number was on sale at Amazon. Interestingly, I double-checked a few bolts and my "wild-ass guess" torquing usually isn't that far off.
This version from Performance is pretty clearly identical, but costs $10 more. So obviously it's some cheap Alibaba junk. But it's better than nothing.

Update: In fact, it appears to be precisely this piece of cheap Alibaba junk!

"You would need a pretty husky wench to perform all those chores, I should think"

"Or perhaps you mean wrench?" Performance Bike had a sale and I was in the area. Well, they always have a sale, so really all that is relevant is that I was in the area. Years ago I bought a set of their wrenches, but they're always in my garage when I need them in my toolbox, or in my toolbox when I need them in my garage. So I finally picked up this handsome set of shop-ish wrenches. They're still Spin Doctor (I'm not that extravagant), but they do mount permanently on the wall at least.

Old wrenches, meet new wrenches.
Thanks to my newfound obsession with finding all my Spin Doctor items on Alibaba, I strongly suspect that Performance has simply stuck their name on this fine set

Please Take Your Seats

Long ago I swore I'd never ride another bike without either my beloved Brooks, or a WTB. Well, my Trek Fuel has some Bontrager piece of junk on it. Fortunately, at said Performance sale (see above), all saddles were 30% off their already low, low prices. So I picked up a $90 WTB Rocket V Pro for $40 or so. My only regret is that I didn't buy three.
Love Channel FTW
And hey, allegedly Jay Petervary uses one.

Are You Getting Tired Yet?

I had to chuckle when Max mentioned buying $150 worth of Schwalbe tires to pad his Merlin Cycles order. I bought a Hope R8 to pad my Schwalbe tire order. Woulda been cheaper to just buy one more tire...

Four Nobby Nics and Two Racing Ralphs.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ritchey Breakaway Steel Cross Review

This bike - the 58cm, XL, is for sale as of September 2018.  Listed on the blog here, on eBay here, and also locally in Craigslist.  As you can see in the listing, I rebuilt this completely with some really nice componentry and wheels.

UPDATE:  Per Sam's comment, I need to revise the grading.  I realized that the fact that I can enjoy breaking it down and building it up does not mean everybody can.

2013 Steel Cross Breakaway
In preparation for our trip to Grand Cayman I bought P__ and myself two Ritchey Breakaways in the Steel Cross configuration.  P__ rides a 54 cm. and 60 cm. is about my average size.  P__'s 54 cm. frameset in white with black accents and gold lettering, including painted forks, is the 2013 design; my 60 cm. frameset in white with red lettering and unpainted forks is the 2012 design.  Having now traveled with them thrice, built them and broken them down twice, and ridden more than 100 miles in total, both in the D.C. area and on the island of Grand Cayman, it is time for a review.


The grading system for this review:  if my Gunnar could be packed and shipped with no excessive effort, no unsightly joints in the tubing, and no cost -- even the possibility of cost -- for transport, it would earn an A+.  Perfect bike, perfect ease, zero expense.  On each dimension reviewed that the Breakaway falls short of that 100% standard, I marked off from the A+ starting point.

Summary:  bikes and builds rate a B/B+.  That's a pretty great grade considering the essential compromises.  The summary grade is comprised of Design and Build -- B+; Finished Product -- B; Transport -- A-/A; Break-down, Packing, and Rebuilding -- B-; and Riding -- A-.  If Tom Ritchey wants to get this perfect, he can (1) improve the paint job; (2) find some way to warrant the travel expense (short of a full refund of any checked-bag charges, which would be a disaster); and (3) perfect the quality control.  That resolves everything but the purely subjective "fit and feel" category, which primarily finds its way into the ride ranking, below.

Is this a no-compromises travel bike?  Economic theory answers that for us:  no, it is not.  If it were, it would cost road-bike prices plus the expected travel savings.  Instead, it costs road bike prices.  That is probably because (1) it weighs more, (2) it has a sub-optimal paint job, (3) it does not carry a frame pump, (4) the travel functionality, while the best I have experienced, is not perfect.

Finally: At the end I assess the real value.  Conclusion:  indeterminate.  But doesn't the oxymoron "real value" tell you that anyway?

2012 Cross Breakaway Frameset
The Design and Build:  B+

I bought the bikes from Bicycle Doctor USA in Bloomington, Indiana, whose prices are the lowest I've been able to find.  (Excel Cycle in Boulder used to sell the bare steel frameset (2010 or 2011 model) for $999, but I missed that deal.)  BDUSA charged me $1049 for the 2012 frameset and $1199 for the 2013 model.

The budget purchase option would have been to buy the frameset and order my own 105 groupset from Merlin for $415 shipped.  A modern 2 x 10 S-105 groupset is every bit the setup that was my Ultegra 6600 when I first went 10 speed in 2007.  Any robust parts bin should finish out the stem, bars, saddle, post and wheels at next to no incremental expense.  With a cross frameset one also needs a pair of these.  That would have put me at $1500 built.

On the other hand, I do like professional build jobs, so I loaded up some spare parts in the trunk and paid a visit to Steve and Eric Dodds at BDUSA.  They agreed to use my stems, bars, wheels, cassettes, tires, tubes, and one crankset, buying back from me the extra parts (2 x cassettes and 1 x crankset) from the 105 groups they ordered.

BDUSA builds these with clamp-on front derailleur attachments -- distinct from clamp-on front derailleurs.  That is deliberate.  As Steve points out, when traveling, it is easier to find a bolt on front derailleur than it is to find a clamp-on.  Because the frame does not come with a braze-on, the clamp-on attachment still permits an emergency replacement with an easier-to-find bolt-on unit.

I took advantage of the BDUSA frame treatment service.  You can do that on your own, but in my experience I never do, and on a steel frame it actually matters.  I do observe one pleasing reality:  one could always re-treat easily with the bike broken down, a process that might not even require removing the fork, which you need to do on a normal steel road bike.

Ultegra 6600 tall-splined hub
Building with spare parts is not always perfect, of course.  Two glitches:  my Ultegra 6600 wheelset  from 2007 has the taller splines (scroll to the middle of the linked page) and the cassette I provided for those wheels apparently does not; and the bottom bracket I provided went FUBAR when, in 2011, my crank-arm fixing bolt fell off somewhere in western Washington. For 150 miles from Astoria, Oregon, to Tillamook and over the coastal range to the Portland area, the left crank-arm repeatedly worked loose and the crank wobbled in the bottom bracket.  Why I kept it I have no idea, but when I gave it to Steve it was useless.

I solved the first with a pair of these for a ridiculously low $108, which gave me an excuse to buy some new Schwalbe tubes and tires to hit the $250 minimum for free shipping.  Steve ordered the bottom bracket and set it off against a discount he offered when I agreed to take for P__'s bike an Oval crankset instead of the S-105 we had ordered.

The build is underway in Steve and Eric Dodds' shop
But for the glitches my spares caused, Eric was able to get the bikes built in a week.  I picked them up two weeks later and Eric gave me a 10 minute tutorial on break-down and packing.  In addition to the bikes I picked up two spare clamps for the downtube junctions, without which there might be a little shimmy, and a Ritchey-brand 4 mm/4 nm torque Allen key.

The coup de grace is the 28c (on P__'s) and 32c (on mine) Grand Bois tires, ordered straight from Compass Cycles.

The finished bikes are beautiful.  They are designed with elegant mid-diameter steel tubing; they sport classic paint jobs; they showcase upright geometry; and they may be the last bikes made with externally-routed cables.
Both bikes, in front of the Cervelo, Trek, with the Nishiki
in background

Complaint 1:  I am a tad grouchy that my silver crankset does not match the new black 105 group.  As you see just below (Header:  Finished Product), it is hard to notice, at least looking from the non-drive side.

Complaint 2:  The drop-outs on the rear triangle present a difficulty with Shimano's enclosed-cam skewers.  Exposed cam skewers should fit better, but I no longer use them unless absolutely necessary.  Nobody should ever design a bike frame that makes it hard to use the runaway choice for the single best quick-release skewer ever designed.

Tight fit.  Harrumph.

The third complaint:  frame pumps do not work well on these bikes.  The dual bolts on the seatpost clamp, which serve to hold the frame together, get in the way.  I found that the under-the-top-tube mount worked with double velcro straps, but even then the pump could be jarred loose.  A possible solution:  an under-the-down-tube mount for a Topeak Road Morph, which serves well for a travel pump because it is easy to pack and acts as a floor pump in a pinch.  I need to rig that up.

If I did this again I would buy the frame and build it myself.  Why?  Frankly, you go through most of the build process in packing and unpacking anyway.  Tuning gets messed up just enough to require adjustment; brakes require adjustment; and everything but the crankset, brakes, and front derailleur gets removed.

The Finished Product:  B

60 cm. Steel Cross Breakaway.  Toptube pump won't be staying.  At least not there.

54 cm. Steel Cross Breakaway
Three differences between the framesets, apart from the paint jobs.  First, the 2013 has a larger diameter down-tube than does the 2012; that is an inconvenience only because the attachment clamps are not interchangeable between the bikes.  Second, the 2012 has rack-mount attachments on the rear fork and the 2013 does not.  Third, the 2012 routes the rear brake cable in the traditional left-bottom of the top tube while the 2013 routes that cable in the more-normal-for-cross-builds left-top of the top tube.

I'd like to change out P__'s seatpost to match the black-on-white color scheme; I will definitely be changing my saddle to either the WTB Rocket V (my favorite) or the Selle Anatomica (rave reviews); and I would like to, but likely will not, change my crankset to one that matches the gruppo.  I'm also pleased to note that even the 32c Grand Bois leave massive clearance, whether for fenders or for larger tires.  Traveling with fenders would be a pain, of course, and the lack of a cross-member between the chain-stays would make attachment sub-optimal.

Here's where things go south:  first, P__'s bike has stripped threads in one of the seatpost clamps.  The bike is ridable for casual use but, thus compromised, it is not a real road-worthy product.  That may be the one of 1000 that needs warranty replacement, and I assume Ritchey will do what it must when I bring the bike back in -- but even so, from where I sit, 50% of the Ritchey Breakaways I have owned started out being fundamentally defective.  Second, I'm somewhat nonplussed by easy paint chipping.  When you know that a bike will be broken down, packed, and rebuilt -- time and time again -- the paint job is something you should definitely get right.  Third, between the lack of chain-stay cross-members for fender attachment and under-the-down-tube braze-ons for additional gear storage, this bike lacks real attention to touring use.  Why would anybody build a vaguely heavy 60 cm. cross frame -- which is not really designed for use as a cross bike at all -- without the bells and whistles for cargo-loading?  (I should note that there are rack mount screws for a rear rack.)  These complaints drop the finished product down to a B, although the seamless warranty replacement that I expect will go a long way toward rectifying the most substantial of them.

Note one thing:  for $2400 BDUSA will sell you this bike in titanium.  No paint chipping problems there!  With my "build it yourself" mantra above, that would have meant a $2800 titanium bicycle instead of the $1950 I paid for steel.

Transport:  A

66" dimensions.
My first lesson:  two Breakaways in their cases do not fit in the trunk of a BMW 128i.  Doh.  (Two suitcases? Really?)  Fortunately the back seat served for the second bike.  Likewise in P__'s A3:  one lays flat but the second extends too far for the hatch to close.  A strong guess holds that both would stand upright in the trunk area of the hatchback.

The cases are easy to move.  Fully packed, including tools, shoes, and helmets, the cases weigh about 35 lbs. apiece. I can carry them by the handles or pull them with the two wheels on the ground.

The cases are made from a heavy duty cordura-like fabric with elegant flat clip-lock plastic buckles.  Because the buckles are flat I imagine they are less likely to get crushed.  Each case looks like one of those classic beach-tourist oversized suitcases.  Three trips and not a single TSA flier in the bag -- it appears to attract much less attention at the checked-luggage-inspection station than do my skis and my full-sized plastic bike case.

The first travel test was US Airways at 7:14 am from Indianapolis to National.

I was nervous.  Empty, the cases measure 66" in total; with the bulging from the soft sides closer to 70" when packed.  The ubiquitous airline standard for luggage size is 62"; US Airways ("the New American") charges an additional $175 for a bag in excess.  And I had two.  One hope was that my frequent first-class upgrade would save my skin but I was flying on a free ticket.  No first class chops (who knew we free-skates were not eligible to be upgraded!) and a free ticket to boot, so the ticket agent had no incentive to treat me like I was something special.  I did my best to be charming -- and I flew with two bicycles checked for free.  The last time I got away with something like that was, quite literally, more than two decades ago when flying to college.

A note:  BDUSA suggests it is possible to trim the cases to bring them to the regulation 62".  Possibly with P__'s 54 cm.-frame bike.  Not a chance with mine at 60 cm.  I am stuck crossing my fingers.

Test Number 2: Washington to Grand Cayman.

The second test has similar factors cutting against it, although I did pay for these tickets.  We are not flying in the first class cabin and it is a leisure destination, which, as any good airline agent knows, means we will pay whatever you stick us with at the counter, because our trip -- including rental car, lodging, scheduled tours, what-have-you -- depends on our making the scheduled flight.

As before, nary a blink from the gate agent.  We traveled to Grand Cayman for four days of riding without paying a dime to bring out bikes.  If the return trip worked as well, each bike just saved us $350 (luggage fees) or $200 + inconvenience (bike rental expenses).

Test Number 3:  Grand Cayman to National.

And our third test flight was the return from Grand Cayman.  Rinse and repeat.

I mark transport down from an A+ because there remains the acid stomach from approaching the counter with what I know to be an oversized piece of luggage and facing a $175 checked-luggage fee if the gate agent does not like me.  Even my so-far success with ticket agents is not a full experiment: I am a frequent traveler, ticket agents see that on their screens when scanning my ID ("good morning, Mr. Huffman, I see you are Gold preferred"), and they may be less inclined than otherwise to question the luggage I check.

Query to you price theory mavens:  is having a break-down bike, if discovered, more or less likely to get you charged for shipping?  A good price discriminator, which airlines most certainly are, is on the lookout for "infra-marginal" -- price insensitive -- consumers, who occupy the high left on the demand curve, from whom to extract extra profits.  Is spending $2000 on a bike just for traveling proof positive of price sensitivity, meaning I will flee if I get charged a bag fee, or is it proof of the opposite -- my willingness to pay anything to have my own wheels under me when riding in a remote locale?  If the latter I am a perfect candidate for a fee.  Imagine that -- an economic paradox.

Break-Down and Packing:  B-
Toolkit:  Topeak Road Morph, 15 mm pedal wrench, and 5 nm
Ritchey torque wrench with 3, 4, and 5 mm Allen keys

UPDATED per the comments below.

Eric gave me a 10-minute tutorial on breaking down and packing the Breakaway and offered his advice by telephone any time I needed.  My assessment after watching him was that (1) breaking down and building is trivial for anybody with a minimum of bike mechanic chops and (2) packing is an art form that is almost certainly in a constant state of evolution.

The toolkit required to break-down and to build is minimal.  The picture shows what I used for P__'s bike, after having practiced once on mine.  It fits easily in the case.

But the process is far from trivial, which would be required for a top grade.  Breaking down the Ritchey Breakaway for packing is like breaking down any bike for travel with the additional step of separating the frame into two pieces.  The quickest I can imagine doing it is 15 minutes and I found it took a solid 30 minutes total per bike -- the second time.  The first time was much less elegant.  I am certain the third time will be smoother, and on it goes.

Building: it helped to clamp the
frame halves together
with one hand while tight-
ening with the other.

But I spend hours each week tinkering with bikes on some fashion or another.  I rebuild entirely at least one bike per year.  I do smaller replacement jobs for fun on Saturday afternoons -- new bars, new brakes, new cassette, new crankset.  I'm no certified bike mechanic, but I am not in the slightest bit afraid of taking a wrench to something to "improve" it.  The Ritchey Breakaway works just fine for me.  P__, for example, would find it a daunting project to get this thing apart or together -- enough so that my bet is that without me, she will not travel with it at all.  On the other hand, she would fold and carry something like this.  If the Citizen gets the A+ for ease, Ritchey sacrifices much ease for road-worthiness.

My biggest gripe with the packing is that the bike is just crammed into the case.  I had to deflate the tires to fit the wheels and we had two flats -- one per bike -- when we first built them up in Grand Cayman.  Whether those were related to jamming tubes, unprotected by a cushion of air, into the case to be man-handled by ramp workers is unknowable.  So too with the brakes:  cantilever brakes just take up more room than do caliper brakes, and both bikes needed brake adjustments on rebuilding.  The jostling of the cases may well weaken springs or cause other untimely wear.

The packing could be substantially improved if the case included hard-cell foam with cut-outs showing where things go -- sort of the way computers are packed when shipped from the factory.  Here is the concept.

Building goes more quickly than does break-down because you can just rip the padding off and toss it in a pile.  In a phrase, you join the frame, mount the rear derailleur, attach the bars, inflate the tubes, mount the wheels, join the cables, and make adjustments (brakes, gears, saddle, bars).  15 minutes if you have a cup of coffee next to you while working.  Maybe 30 if your beverage of choice is a beer.  45 minutes if . . . (!).

Riding:  A-

(Recall that my comparison is the bike I have dialed in over seven years of riding and rebuilding.  When set against the Gunnar's A+, A- is a very nice grade.)

My first ride on the Breakaway was also my first outdoor ride since knee surgery.  I kept it easy and (mostly) flat, heading through Rock Creek Park to Beach Drive, across Military and on to the Maryland Border and Jones Mill Road, where I rejoined Beach and followed it to the end -- then back.  25 miles total with a moving average around 17.5.

The cross Breakaway gives a comfortable ride.  Some of the characteristics seem cross specific rather than specific to the Breakaway itself.  For example, the seating position is very upright.  I felt tall riding this bike.  The reach felt fairly short.  The steering was almost twitchy and the comfortable turning radius was incredibly tight.  Whether it was the high seating position, the twitchier steering, or the 32c tires, taking corners at speed felt very comfortable.  32c tires inflated to 80 psi (rear) and 75 psi (front) were plush and almost bouncy.

The short reach made riding out of the saddle odd --my elbows seemed to get in the way of my knees.

It took me a while to get comfortable with the braking and I never concluded the cheapo Avid cantilever brakes felt as crisp as a good Ultegra caliper.  (Sheldon Brown suggests that may be because of a mis-match between the 105 levers and the brake system.)

After this first ride I decided (1) I need to move the saddle back somewhat; (2) I need a better saddle!; and (3) I need to tilt the bars forward -- closer to flat.

We rode next on Friday morning in the East End district of Grand Cayman.  P__ and I pedaled just shy of 20 miles on largely flat roads, dealing with headwinds and opposite-side driving.  Per my plan, I had tilted the bars forward, giving a better reach when riding on the hoods, and I had moved the saddle back.  I have not checked the measurement but I would bet I am close to the Gunnar's measurements.  Maybe a slightly longer stem will perfect the fit.

Doing my best to separate the experience from the fact of a morning tour of a Caribbean island with no impediment but a pleasant trade wind, the bike performed as well as any but my own favorite.  No wobble in the joints where the frame comes together (bottom bracket and seat-tube); the pleasant feel of a medium-diameter-tubed steel frameset with carbon forks; excellent shock absorption on the fat-ish tires.

I found the bike to be very stable and to track very well.  I can ride easily with no hands, coasting as well as pedaling, and can cruise comfortably without concentrating.  I've never experienced this thing called "shimmy," and did not experience it here either.  Mine is built with a noodle handlebar, making for several comfortable grip positions.

As related above, P__ was riding with an imperfect joint at the seat tube.  That worked so long as she stayed in the saddle -- which she usually does.  Under hard pedaling it would presumably create problematic flexion, even at the extreme compromising the seatpost.  But she loved the fit and feel of the bike.

And three more days in Grand Cayman.  40 miles on day 2; 19 on day 3 at a faster pace; and 23 on day 4.  None of those are long days in the saddle.

The 40 miler gave us two tests with results worth relating:

First, we stopped three times en route -- once for breakfast at Over the Edge Cafe in Old Man Bay; once to wade and see starfish and stingrays at Starfish Point, the end of the road on the northern edge of Grand Cayman; and once for beers on the way back.  I wore my unpadded Castelli touring shorts.  The bikes worked great for the on-off tourist-style riding that is sheer torture on a stiff rig with rock-hard tires.  (Riding long is not hard.  Getting on the bike again after a break is.)

Tourist riding.  Or biking and
I'm, er, protecting against swelling
in the recovering knee.

The FUBAR seatpost clamp
did not slow P__ down at
This is an imperfect barometer, but I believe I would be comfortable over 400 kilometers with several controles and breaks for meals.

Second, we rode on dirt and sand to reach the edge of the island.  It was not far, but it was comfortable going.  One can only do that well on fat and soft tires.

And on day 3, riding as a two-car train, we passed a fit-looking couple on racing rigs tooling along.  Of course they took the free ride, and the four of us crossed the island into a headwind at a 19 mph cruising pace.  Five miles of pulling a train is a small "N", but I concluded that even my out-of-shape legs could move the Breakaway plenty well for club rides.  I do imagine it would have been a different story on a route with serious climbing.

I need to get the fit dialed in.  If the dimensions match the Gunnar, apart from some extra poundage, this should be a comparable bike.

Summary and Recommendation:

In sum, I am impressed with the bike.  The ride is only inches short of my favorite bikes.  I am getting better at the packing and so far the travel has been seamless.  I'd be a lot happier if I could have taken these bikes home and did not need to resolve stupid problems like defective seat-clamp threads, and the build job is perfectly adequate but not absolutely perfect.  I grade the Ritchey Breakaway at a B/B+, and there are some clear areas where Ritchey could move that to an B+/A-   Not a "no compromises travel bike," but neither is it "borrow Mom's neighbor's Trek" or "pay $175 every time you take your baby on the plane."

Real value:  This is a challenge to assess.  I paid $2000 (approx.) per bike, using maybe $500 worth of my own parts (actual value:  $0, because I never sell old stuff) on each build.  You could work out a titanium version for $2800 if you built at home and also emptied your parts bin.  But renting a bike costs only $50/day; traveling with your own bike may cost $350/round trip or, as Damon's experience to and from Alaska last summer showed, nothing; and if you mostly ride with friends and family you can afford to leave one of your several bikes (and we know you have several bikes) in another garage.  This is not a worth-while purchase if it takes 10 years to recoup the expense.  Who knows what will be airline baggage policies next year, let alone in a decade?

I travel with my bike a lot -- 3-4x per year -- and I have no plans to cut that down.  I have rented bikes for casual (Christmas in Texas, Thanksgiving in Phoenix and Las Vegas) as well as for serious (600K in Alaska) use and have been uniformly pleased with the experience.  But not everywhere is rental so trivial and rental bikes are always a second-best experience.  P__ and I spent 10 days in Newfoundland last summer and would be hard-pressed to find a good rental shop there.  I don't know what Grand Cayman might have offered, but my guess is not much.  It takes 10 four-day trips without rentals for the bike to pay for itself and fewer trips where I get to ride but otherwise would not have -- I easily value my riding experience in Grand Cayman at well more than the mere cost of an (unavailable) rental.

I will add one more:  I did not have any cantilever brake bikes before buying the Breakaway.  This bike filled a need want that would have been filled one day anyway.

My final recommendation is that you consider it seriously but think before you buy.  Helpful, huh?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review: Seasucker Talon Bike Rack

Max wrote not long ago about the travails of mounting a bike rack on a coupe.

Unlike Max' dreamy little number which, thanks to advanced German engineering, includes an Integrated Rack Management System, as punishment for shopping for my cars on the bargain rack I have no such capability on my Japanese blue-light special. Further, while the BRZ forums abound with stories of people throwing their 55cm road bikes and correspondingly midget-sized mountain bikes in the boot (that's the trunk, for you Americans), my full-size road bikes have absolutely no chance of fitting back there without removing everything off the frame that can be readily removed. And that goes triple for the mountain bikes.

I live at the end of a half-mile of dirt which empties onto an unpleasant state highway, so most of my rides leave from work or a few locations between home and work. Lacking a good bike rack solution for the 28 MPG BRZ, biking has resulted in me opting for the 13 MPG pickup truck instead.

Yes We Can! (fit three bikes in the back seat of a pickup truck)
So I suppose you could argue that it was an intense desire to simultaneously save the environment and reduce America's dependence on foreign oil that prompted me to give the Seasucker Talon a try.
The plain brown box belies the genius held within
The seasucker is, as the name sort of implies, a suction-cup based bike rack.
OK, I understand "sucker", but why "sea"?
The company has a nice youtube tutorial for installing the rack, in which they throw things around quite a bit for no good reason. (There is also a video some guy driving a race car around a track with a seasucker on the roof. Best comment ever: "I hope you uploaded this to Strava."). But suffice to say, installation is about a 5 minute affair. In my case, since my car's roof has some curves and bends, the toughest part of the install was finding a way to fit those three suction cups on flat portions of the roof.
White showing: No suction
Each suction cup has a little integrated pump. When it shows white, that means insufficient suction. It takes maybe 10-15 pumps to get suction.
There's also a suction cup for the rear wheel, of course. In my case I had to make sure that the pedals would clear the back window. They did, barely.
Horizontal top-tube for that classic bike look.

Even with the bike on the roof, my car is still shorter than my truck.
Having the bike on the trunk lid is growing on me.
I've got a tall garage, so driving a car with a bike on the rack into the garage has never been a problem. But for many people that's a nightmare scenario. One potential benefit of the seasucker is that the overall height of the bike is a couple feet lower than if it were on the roof. So I bet many people could drive their cars into the garage with a bike on top.

So far I really like the sea-sucker. Though not everything is completely rosy.

  • Based on Amazon reviews, the company seems to have some major customer service "issues".. As in, they don't respond to customer concerns. That bothers me.
  • Unlike typical bike racks which are "install and forget", you do need to keep an eye on the Seasucker, making sure that the cups are suctioning
  • There is some periodic maintenance of the pumps required.
  • The seasucker is really designed to be removed from the car when not in transit. It could be stolen in, literally, about 3 seconds. Even with a bike attached.
  • Besides, without a bike on it, it looks a bit goofy.
  • Pricey. Over $200 for a rack that holds a single bike. Though not unreasonable if you're comparing to a 'rack system' that you'll use only for bikes anyway.
But as I use this a bit more, if it continues to perform as it has so far, then those concerns are ultimately not significant.