Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Some Online Shopping Tibits

Specialized Accessories

Specialized has a line of accessories that well underprice the competition and appear to be developed based partly on Specialized's product testing laboratory.  Prices are right, design factor is high, and they involve the kind of engineering flair that is fun to dream about but hard for somebody lacking a fab shop to achieve.

Example 1:  The Reserve Rack.  Behind-seat-mount WB cage with pump strap and a second strap for CO2 or sealant.  It looks good and Specialized underprices competitors like XLAB by $40-$50.  Ultimately Specialized raises the question:  what good is a carbon bottle cage when you can get the same weight and durability for 1/3 the price using plastic?

Example 2:  Cleverly hidden mini-tools.  I have the "Rib Cage with Tool" and "Top Cap Chain Tool" built into the Focus.  The latter includes a place for a quick link.  No more digging through a bin to find the mini-tool or quick link before a ride.  It is all built into the bike; all I need is a tube or three.

Example 3:  Well-priced and designed mini-pumps.   At $30, Specialized underprices the comparable offerings by Lezyne by $15 (although at Amazon you can get the Lezyne for $30).  To be clear, it is not certain the Specialized is as good as the Lezyne, which offers the hose option facilitating higher pressure inflation.  But the price and convenience are high.  I went with the pump/CO2 inflator option, in black for $40.

Example 4:  Big-a** tires.  Specialized is offering a smooth 45mm road tire in 700c -- the "Fatboy" -- for $35.  Puts my 35mm Schwalbe Kojaks to shame and makes me want to get a bike just to accommodate it!

Specialized Bikes

Maybe if I hung out in bike shops more I would have known about these -- but I don't and I didn't.  Color me impressed by the Specialized Diverge, available in several builds but by far most attractive in the Comp Smartweld configuration.  Ultegra build, hydraulic discs, 32mm tires, Specialized's much-loved shock absorbing CGR seatpost, "compatible with the Specialized plug & play fender set."  For $2700.  Hail the return of aluminum!

And the AWOL X-Poler, a beautiful steel ride with huge tire clearance, triple WB bosses, with disc brakes (mechanical), and built with front panniers, for $2000.  They have them cheaper, but at this price point I'd buy the fully kitted rig.  Maybe an excuse to grab those Fatboys mentioned above.

Merlin Cycles

Merlin has stopped shipping larger items to the US! Seeking to take advantage of the Eurozone's problems, producing a historically strong dollar, I checked out Merlin last weekend.  The Shimano R501 wheelset -- a basic, well built, durable, good-looking, and medium weight (1750g) wheelset, is going for $83.  This is a builder spec. wheel, but it is every bit as good of a training wheel as a $300 Ksyrium Equipe.  For $83.  Astounding.

R501, pic. from Merlin Cycles.

I put it in the shopping cart, of course.  And I received this note:

Makes me want to cry.  Because even if I didn't need another low-dollar wheelset, I did need these:

Not to be.  Not the bikes, either, including the $1200 Merlin cross-bike-built-as-commuter-including-fenders.

But don't be dismayed.  The strong dollar does mean 11-spd. Ultegra groupsets for ~$625, 10-spd. cassettes from $25 for 105 to $120 for Dura-Ace, and cranksets below $100 for 105 and not much more for Ultegra.  And Merlin is shipping those.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

In Defense Of The Rain Bike

By which I mean my rain bike. I mean, not that the concept of the rain bike needed defending from anyone but me. My rain bike has, until this year, seen precious little use. Because historically, when it was raining, I stayed inside (where it was dry). My rain gear too has seen little use outside of the occasional wet spring brevet (aka: every Birkie 200K, ever).

But this year has been a little different, with a fair number of miles coming in January, and a few less coming in February. In the Pacific Northwest riding in January and February means you're going to get wet.

I originally put my Surly Cross-Check together as a rain bike with fancy fenders, 1x10 gearing, cheapo Neuvation wheels, and bulletproof Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. Early rides were disappointing. The chain derailed, the fenders weren't straight and they rattled, and the tires felt like I was riding through molasses.

Last fall I made a concerted effort to make things right. I bought a new fender stay that wasn't bent wrong. I installed a cool spring-thing and several additional leather washers. I replaced my chain-ring with a narrow-wide ring that was designed not to derail (what a concept). The bike still isn't perfect, but since those changes I've got probably 300 rattle-free miles so far this year.

The last couple weeks have seen a deluge of rain come to the Northwest, an area already known for its deluges. Now while rain is nowhere near as problematic as the snow that the Northeast has seen, it is also not conducive to long fast rides on the summer bike. So this weekend's rides took on a slightly more adventurous bent.

Saturday I planned an easy 20 miles out to the end of pavement of Dairy Creek and back. But the ride out was easy enough that I decided to continue on the gravel. I've been wanting to find the back route that connects Dairy Creek and Pumpkin Ridge. Though both claim to be dead-ends, there is a labyrinth of forest and logging roads between them, and if one looks carefully on Google Maps there appears to be a secret route through. On my summer bike this would be a no-go thanks to my skinny go-fast Grand Bois 26mm tires. But on the Schwalbes (35mm, if I had to guess), I wasn't at all concerned by the gravel.

So I started headed out Fern Flat Rd. to Greener, and then took a right on Burgdorfer.

The mighty Dairy Creek flows past Burgdorfer
Burgdorfer was no joke, with a rough gravel surface that bounced between 20% and 25%. I'll admit that I walked part of it, which I suppose disqualifies it from the February Challenge. Back on these roads houses are few and far between, with a real mix of poorly maintained houses with lots of cars in the yard, obviously home to recluses and massive well-maintained mansions, also obviously home to recluses. Though Burgdorfer is, I think, a public road, riding past homes still feels like you're riding through someone's private property.

Burgdorfer should have connected up to Pumpkin Ridge but, like homes, street signs are also hard to come by back here so you never know what road you're actually on. I soldiered on past a couple turns that looked distinctly uninviting with "No Trespassing" signs (pockmarked with birdshot) and "Private Property" signs. After a while I came to a fork.

Right Or Left? Your Guess Is As Good As Mine.
To the right the road turned into a seldom-used narrow jeep trail. The road to the left looked a little better, so I picked that way. A few more miles, and I hit a gate

These gates are the bane of forest roads in Oregon. Many a great back-road is impassable by vehicle thanks to a 1-mile gated section. On bike I could have continued, but this clearly is not the "right" way to get to Pumpkin Ridge. So I turned around and started regaining lost elevation.
Caution: climb may be steeper than it appears in pictures.
I tried one of the unmarked turns, and ended up literally in somone's front yard. I was running out of time so turned around and headed back Burgdorfer. Which was about as painful going down as it was coming up, thanks to the shrieking of my brakes.
Dairy Creek, Swollen
It would be easy to call the exploration a bust, but of course the enjoyment is in the journey more than the destination. And thanks to my hardy rain bike, the journey was lovely. After referencing google maps I found the turn I should have made. I'll have another go at this soon.

Sunday's ride was an all pavement endeavor, along oft-ridden roads West of Hillsboro. However those roads are not oft-flooded.

At the worst, we were fording a good 6 inches of water, moving quickly across the road. It is a strange sensation; if you make the mistake of looking at your wheel you'll quickly head toward the ditch (which you don't want to wind up in!). Keeping your head up and looking down the road made the stretch manageable. There were several other flooded areas, but this one was the deepest.

On the fast bike I wouldn't have attempted this. Because, you know, expensive hubs and bottom brackets. But the rain bike handled it all with aplomb. I may pay the price in rusted components; we'll see. But a rusted hub on a $300 Neuvation wheelset is a lot easier to swallow than the same on a $700 wheelset.

The fenders kept me relatively dry, and my Showers Pass "waterproof" socks and Shimano sandals kept my toes warm. My riding companion in storm-shoes fared less well.

This weekend reminded me of the value of the rain bike. Not just as a bike to ride in the rain, but as a bike to enable more adventurous rides. Without my rain bike I would have sat this weekend (and most of the previous couple weeks) out.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

February Seven-Day Challenge

Max got us off to a good start with January's seven-day challenge. Riding 7 consecutive days, while seemingly trivial, proved to require a bit of ingenuity to fit into a busy schedule.

For February, rather than seven consecutive riding days we're going to set an elevation goal. Again nothing overly ambitious, but not trivial either.

The goal is 10,000 feet over a single 7-day period. Fortunately for me, I'm surrounded by 1,500 foot climbs. Max lives on a pancake so will either have to put in serious miles or do hill repeats on an overpass.

Regardless, for me at least, this won't be an easy accomplishment at this point in the year. It'll be roughly twice my average for January.

Any other takers?

January: Month In Review

As regular readers of this blog may recall, at the start of the year I publicly stated some goals for 2015 in the hopes that having them, you know, on the internet would help me reach them.

Part two of this plan is to provide regular updates. For now I won't bother with any of the time-oriented goals. In part because the shortest of them is for 100 miles, and I haven't ridden a 100-miler yet.

So really this leaves me with just two.

HBC January Seven-Day Challenge

I had no idea Max was concocting this one until I saw the post but immediately liked the idea. Which is different than achieving it. But fortunately I had the opportunity to achieve it twice, with 15 consecutive days..

So I'm pleased to give this one a resounding checkmark.

5000 Miles For 2015

I viewed this one as a stretch, but I'm no longer so sure. In past years my first ride of the year has come in March at the OR Randonneurs Populaire, and mileage has ramped from there. But thanks to the aforementioned seven-day challenge, I've actually gotten a not-trivial number of miles in so far. When I compare this to previous years (though the previous years' data is very incomplete), 2015 is off to a much better start.

I need to be averaging about 400 miles per month, and January wound up at 453. The next couple months will be lower thanks to some travel, but I'm still happy.

Gear Summary

I recently signed up for veloviewer, a tool that slices and dices Strava data to provide additional interesting stats. One is the gear summary. Here's mine for 2015 thus far.

It will be fun to track this data throughout the year, to compare bike speeds and other stats.