Thursday, July 23, 2015


It is time.  Two things listed for sale currently:

The Neuvation.  

I love this bike, but it is by now utterly redundant, except under the most heroic of market segmentation efforts.

Powertap Wheels.

I use these only on the trainer and only a few months out of the year.  With the deal on Stages crank-arms, I hope to have power readings on both race bikes (although the Sram crank-arm I am eyeing depends on selling these wheels). 

Never really loved these wheels.  My big mistake was building them semi-Cadillac style with Hed rims and Sapim spokes.  Should have bought a single cheap powertap wheel built with Neugent's low-end rim and spokes, simply for trainer use.  Maybe somebody else will have a better outside use for these.

Other gear that may need to go.

Specialized Sequoia bike, built with 105/Ultegra and Dura-Ace hubs.  It's a nice bike. I just never ride it.  The idea that I'd keep it around for Sam to ride -- well, I have several bikes around for Sam to ride.

P's Ritchey Breakaway.  I'm keeping mine, but she is just not in love with hers.  These bikes are not available new for budget prices, so I hope the used market for a very lightly used model is strong.

Giro aero helmet.  Heavier than modern road helmets and maybe a tad too large.  I just bought the new Bontrager aero road helmet, so this is not only all those but somewhat redundant.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Gravel Grinder Shopping: Report

I just bought the Salsa Colossal after a lengthy internet search for a fat-tire disc brake road bike of the sort commonly called "gravel grinders."  Before I forget what I learned, here is the report:


There is a plethora of mid-spec. options priced in the low $3000s, with sales dipping below $3K.  If you are willing to go for a less-appreciated brand like GT or Diamondback, which those of us old enough to remember the BMX craze still associate with kids sporting rat-tail haircuts and wearing Vans, you can find a very nicely built bike for right around $3.  Hipper brand names like Salsa, Specialized, Litespeed and Lynskey either require you to dumb down the build or to up your price point.

With steel or aluminum construction there are great options in the low $1000s.

And you can build a top spec. carbon or titanium framed bike for almost exactly $3000.  At the end I will tell you how.

Paying for the Brand.  Or for Titanium.


Litespeed T5G
Here is what I would have purchased if I could stomach the incremental $1400:  the Litespeed T5G with full Ultegra and hydraulic discs, on sale at San Diego Cycle Quest for $4399.  First, I like that shop.  (They sold me the Colossal and they ship for free.)  Second, I love the build.  Few are building with full Ultegra and discs.  Third, the brand has some real romantic cache.


Salsa offers its Colossal in titanium.  The 2015 version boasts through axles and, they say, clearance for marginally wider tires.  It isn't cheap, though, at $4499.  Here it is at Cycle Quest.

Salsa has two other bikes that might fit the bill.  First is the Warbird.  The 2016 version looks just awesome in black carbon. The build is a little weak -- top end is a Sram Rival group.  It does have hydraulic brakes.

And there is the intriguing Fargo.  It is a true off-road adventure bike.  One might race this in the Divide race.  Probably not for primarily paved-road randonneuring.  Price point for a titanium frame with a nice build reaches $4000 on sale.


Lynskey is the everyman's titanium specialty bike.  By which I mean it is more available than Moots but way more expensive than a bike like the Habaneros that Sam rides.  Lynskey's Cooper CX is one of those 'cross bikes made for road use.  It ain't cheap at $5500 with an Ultegra build.  In fact, with that Litespeed for $4400, you'd be crazy to shop Lynskey.

Slightly better priced is the Lynskey Sportive Disc at $4400.  This compares closely with the Litespeed, but it lacks hydraulic brakes.  That's a ~$400 upgrade, so I still go with the Litespeed (so long as it is available at the sale price).

Sportive Disc.


Moots makes the Routt, a reformed cyclocross offering that now is marketed for road-offroad riding.  As with everything Moots, it is absolutely beautiful.
Moots Routt
It is also unspeakably expensive.  For the kind of build I have been discussing here, we are talking four digits, probably starting with an 8.  Maybe 7 if you find a clearance item, but Moots bikes don't tend to be overstocked anywhere.  In short, forget it.


I searched hard for off-brand titanium options and found little.  Habanero would build a custom geometry for $1595 if you took the time to measure your favorite bike at the brick-and-mortar and send the specs in.  Habanero will build to whatever spec you desire.  As one store told me, custom builds always cost more than manufacturer spec. builds, so there is no way $1595 plus custom build comes in under $3000.


Every bike maker has a gravel grinder these days, and I won't bore you with the complete list, but here is one other that tempted me.  Canadian maker Argon18 put out a version with Ultegra Di2 and Shimano's top-spec hydraulic discs -- the Krypton XRoad -- that R&A Cycles had on a July 4 sale for $3999.  The sale has expired but $10 says they would offer that price if asked.  It's a good looking bike and has the virtue of a small market share.  The build sucked just a tad -- who spends $4K on a bike and tolerates an Aksium wheelset?  Di2 worries me for adventuring use.  I can rebuild an Ultegra group road-side, but if an electronic group just stopped shifting, I have no idea what I'd do.  I'd be left riding a singlespeed. 

Krypton X Road from Argon18.  No, the Zipps are not included.
Of course I checked out Trek's Domane.  For the build we are discussing you need to shop the 6-series; Domane 6.2 disc compares with the bikes listed above.  In all but price.  Trek has spent an additional couple of thousand in marketing and sponsorships, and the company bills that to you.  Retail price $5200 and change.

And what got me started on this search was Specialized with its Diverge.
Diverge Comp Carbon for $3500.

The comparable offerings in the Diverge line are the Comp Carbon and the Expert Carbon, priced at $3500 and $4000 respectively.  Both have hydraulic disc brakes and clear enormous tires.  The Comp. build is S-105 based with a factory branded crankset and the Expert build is Ultegra based with a FSA carbon crankset.  Both come with the extraordinary Cobble Gobbler seatpost.  Both have through axles for the wheels.  Worth considering, but the price is maybe $750 greater than what I am seeing elsewhere.

Specialized's Roubaix is a few hundred cheaper at the same build qualities.  Tire clearance is much less.  But it is an option.

Lower Dollar Offerings

I very nearly bought this bike from GT, which checks every box and does so at least a few hundred below any competitors.  Looking for a well built carbon frame that no reviewer has said a single negative thing about?  Consider the GT Grade Carbon Ultegra.  If you access through Active Junky (offering 11% back) you can bring this home for less than $3000 net.

Wish it didn't have that GT triple triangle design.  But otherwise pretty awesome.
I did not pull the trigger in the end, preferring to go with titanium for the first time in my life.  Not sure I made the right call.  This is a beautifully built bike with the advantage of lower weight that only carbon offers.

I also spent a fair chunk of time deciding whether I could talk myself into something less expensive, made from steel or aluminum or spec'd with Shimano 105 or Sram Rival.  I concluded I could not.  But there are some nice bikes with those descriptions.

This aluminum version of the Specialized Diverge is what really got me salivating on these bikes.  This is a nice build.  But it is aluminum and S-105, two things I swore off, and certainly would not buy at the $2700 price point.
Technically, the "Sport" is pictured. For $2700 you get the "Comp Smartweld."  Same aluminum frame.
The Salsa I am buying is available in steel with lower dollar components for $1299 from Cycle Quest.  Good looking bike.  And for my purposes almost certainly fine.  But I was looking for titanium.
I do like that orange paint.

Surly has a long list of options.  If you don't mind a 23-lb. bike, Surly is your first call.  That brand has a version of everything that is interesting.

The Salsa Warbird, $3500 for the new carbon version, can be found much closer to $1500 in an aluminum frame.  Looks nice, even very nice.  With this out there, the Specialized Comp Smartweld is a foolish choice.

Novara has an aluminum-framed Strada with mechanical discs for $1200.

JensonUSA has lower-spec. offerings from Orbea and Diamondback worth considering.

The London Road from PlanetX is a good-looking low-dollar choice.  You can get the frameset for $300 or a Rival build for not much over $1000.  This bike is incredibly well conceived -- fender mounts, rack mounts, aluminum frame and carbon fork, frameset drilled for caliper brakes or disc brakes.  But for one problem, this is my first choice from the lower-dollar market.  The problem?  Planet-X has not figured out the shipping issue yet; it costs $200 to get a bike to the US from their England distribution centers.


Building it Yourself

Having found Merlin, it has become possible to build my own bike for less than the manufacturer's build, even when that is on sale.  The Ultegra 6800 group with Shimano 785 (top spec) hydraulic discs is available for a modest $804 and Merlin ships from the UK to the US for free.
Hydraulic disc groupset for $800.  Cool.
If you can find a frame and wheels to go with . . .

Merlin sells the Kinesis Tripster ATR, with its ATR technology (Adventure.  Tour.  Race.), a titanium frameset with carbon fork and disc brake mounts, for $1750 or so.

And matching Kinesis wheels, a nice sub-1600 gram disc brake wheelset, for $311.

The hypothetical build is a pretty bike.

Add in a finishing kit including tires, seatpost, saddle, and bars, and this comes to right around $3000 for an Ultegra hydraulic brake titanium bike.  Of course, I would have to build it myself, with all the chances for screw-ups that entails.

Another option is to find the frameset somewhere else.  Habanero for a custom build?  $2000 for the Salsa Warbird carbon frameset?  Look for a deal on a Litespeed or Lynskey frameset? (They are out there if you look.)  Yes, it is possible, but I doubt you can build a dream bike for under $2500, and $3000+ is more realistic when you consider inevitable missteps.

Salsa Colossal Titanium 2014


Time for a new bike for no reason but that I want one.  Enter:  Salsa Colossal (2014 ed.).

Painted titanium frame.  Thompson finishing kit.  Ultegra group with disc brakes (mechanical).  Enve forks.  Three sets of water bottle mounts.  Pretty sure those are Stan's Notubes Wheels with DT Swiss hubs and spokes.  My price:  $2999.99 shipped to my door.  Or my office, where it should be waiting when I get back in a few weeks.

Titanium Frame

I've been wanting to ride Titanium since Sam attempted to corner the market beginning in 2004 or so.  Sam's garage boasts four titanium rides with five saddles among them.  Sam has flirted with carbon, played with steel, but always comes back to the infinite-lived silver-colored metal.  My turn, I say.  (With this bike I will have all four major construction techniques covered.  Is a bamboo Calfee next?)

Salsa reportedly has its bikes made in the legendary Lynskey titanium fab.  Or perhaps in Taiwan, per another report.  Not sure I care.  The Colossal is made of the industry standard 3/2.5 Titanium.  (Another, higher alumina-content 6/4 alloy is in use some places, but has not gained serious momentum.)

My one disappointment: it is a painted frame.  Not that it is not pretty.  Just that it adds weight and robs me of the naked titanium look.


Salsa Geometry
The Colossal is a road bike.  It may clear larger tires (see below), but it is clearly built for road use.  The 58cm that I ordered is a close match to the 60cm Gunnar Roadie that I currently own.

Same top-tube and chainstay length.  5mm additional wheelbase length for the Colossal, probably explained by the 1/2 degree relaxation in the headtube angle.  Biggest difference is in the stack of the frame, with the Gunnar at 607mm and the Salsa at 595.  That will require an additional 12mm of spacers to get the right fit.  Because the Gunnar rides comfortably with a slammed stem, I'm not too concerned.  (The seatpost will also need to stick out of the tube by an additional 15mm.  That's fine.  I think exposed seatposts look pretty sweet.)

Gunnar Geometry

Tire Clearance

I now have four bicycles that run 28 mm tires and one -- the Ritchey Breakaway -- that can run much, much larger.  I was looking to run at least 32 mm on a speedy road frameset.  The Colossal can just barely do it.

I asked Sharon at Cycle Quest in San Diego for her assessment of clearance for 32 mm tires.  It is not an obvious call, but a svelte 32 should fit.  Here are photos with the decidedly non-svelte Vittoria Randonneurs mounted.

The rear photo is a little hard to interpret.  My overall assessment is that it is tight but ridable.  And if the tread-heavy Vittorias will serve, my Grand Bois Cypres 32 m, currently on the Ritchey, should fit just fine. (The Ritchey gets the 35mm Schwalbe Kojaks.  With a wider rimmed wheel those should work well on that bike.)
Grand Bois Green Label.  The lower rent high performance tire.
I do hope to upgrade to the Compass Stampede Pass 32 mm, probably ELs in that beautiful black casing.  I've been riding the EL Chinook Pass 28mm by Compass for the past year on the Focus and can attest that they are the nicest riding tire in my experience -- better than Schwalbe, better than Vittoria, and better than Grand Bois.
Compass Stampede Pass.
One guy on the Portland to Glacier 1000 was riding the Stampede Pass ELs on his Specialized Diverge.  If these fit easily on the Colossal, it will meet my needs completely.

Current plan, then, is to keep the Vittorias (which Sharon shipped with the bike) mounted for normal use, and to find a second wheelset to mount with shoes by Grand Bois or Compass for more ambitious rides.  (These by Kinesis, at 1550 gms for $311, are tempting.  But realistically I would bet you see me on these Shimano disc wheels with carbon construction similar to the 35mm Dura Ace wheels.)

Enve Fork

First Ritchey, then Easton, and now Zipp carbon products have become commodities.  The name in top-end carbon construction in US cycling?  Enve.  Formerly Edge.  (Why the name change, I have no idea.)  I have wanted Enve forks since they were still called Edge.

This is one place the 2014 Colossal (mine) beats the 2015 model.  For 2015 Salsa is mounting its own branded carbon fork.  Surely it is an equivalently excellent product.  But I don't think it is made by Enve.

Ultegra Group

The Colossal Titanium comes built with Ultegra 2x11 (offering great range: 50-34 and 11-30) and mechanical disc brakes.  After experience with an embarrassingly large number of new bikes and a handful of retrofits with new groupsets -- one as recently as last week, when I stole borrowed Sam's recently removed group to rebuild the Ritchey, Ultegra is my group of choice.  It is light, durable, good-looking, smooth shifting, and yet reasonably affordable.  I keep telling myself that one day I will upgrade to Dura-Ace for a particularly cherished frameset, but I doubt I ever will.

A note:  this is a true Ultegra build.  None of that Shimano 105 cassette and chain that nearly every discount bike seller foists on its customers.

Brakes were something of a bitter pill.  I had my heart set on the lighter-weight and firmer-clamping hydraulic discs, but conventional wisdom says for road use hydraulic brakes are overkill.  You find them on some of the cross/road hybrids they call "gravel grinders," including the 2016 Salsa Warbird, but not frequently on road bikes.  Even the upgraded 2015 Colossal retains the mechanical discs.

And hydraulic disc brakes are expensive.  It's a potential upgrade for one day, but I hope not soon.

Finishing Kit

Thomson setback seatpost.  That will come off and go on the Gunnar to match the Thomson X2 stem.  I love Thomson seatposts, but the Colossal gets the Specialized Cobble Gobbler currently on the Ritchey Breakaway.  (This will start a trickle-down of seatposts.  The Salsa gets the Cobble Gobbler; the Gunnar gets the Thomson setback; the Ritchey gets the seatpost from the Gunnar.)

Thomson X4 stem.  The X4 is beautiful if a tad overengineered for road use.  A few years back I replaced an X4 stem on the Gunnar with an X2 to save weight.  (Today that old X4 is on the fatbike.)  I will leave the X4 on the Colossal.  But for the seatpost and a set of wheels, I plan to leave this bike stock.

WTB saddle.  I don't know which one.  If it is the same shape as the utterly perfect Rocket V, all will be well.  If not, I have Rocket V saddles aplenty lying around the house.  There may be a saddle trickle down process required.

Perfect Bike?

I thought I might buy the "perfect" bike this time around.  Carbon or titanium; big tire clearance; road geometry; disc brakes for convenience and reliable stopping power; light weight for aggressive riding; and beautiful.

Once again, this does not appear to be quite it.  The geometry may be a little too aggressive for the longer distances I hope to ride this bike.  The clearance will hopefully work for the tires I want to run, but I won't have the option of going really fat for long-distance dirt rides of the ilk of the Oregon Outback Trail.  While I don't race to speak of, I had harbored dreams of the storied Trans-Iowa Race.  This year's presentation was so muddy that everybody failed.  32mm tires with tight clearance would not have served.  (Of course, neither did the mountain or cross bikes that populate that race.)

I do think the Colossal will be an exceptional bike for carrying medium loads over randonneuring distances.  I think it will be a comfortable ride for bad pavement and occasional dirt.  I even think a route like the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Trail from DC to Pittsburgh, largely on dirt path, is in this bike's hit zone.

Enough for the preview.  Review coming after a few weeks and, I hope, hundreds of miles.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Riding in Oregon

I traveled to Oregon this summer for the Portland to Glacier 1000K brevet, put on by the Oregon Randonneurs.  I joined Sam at his home just out of Portland and Mom flew in to support.

Portland to Somewhere on Highway 14, Washington

We two and 9 others left the McMenamins in Troutdale at 5 am last Friday morning.

How'd that ride go, you ask?  Let me just quote RBA Susan on that one:

"It is over. We had a 100% cooker but no official finishers.

I really appreciate the effort that you all put in.  It takes a lot just to even start such an event. There are usually things to learn about yourself physically (maybe)  and mentally (certainly) with this kind of event. One thing I think riders forget, or don't realize, is that it is impossible to maintain your "normal" speed in such conditions. So much of the what the body is doing is diverting blood to the skin to keep you cool. So you have less for digestion and for your legs. You can only hope for tailwinds and downhills.

The forecast was unrelenting and I'm sure you all weighed that into your final decision.

I appreciate that riders made decisions for themselves, and I hope you are happy with your decision. You should be. No volunteer and no organizer wants to make those choices for you."

(Excerpted from the end of ride e-mail.)  We had a lovely jaunt from Troutdale on Highway 30, then a bike trail, comprising the Columbia River Scenic Byway.  While the lovely ride continues to The Dalles, we crossed the river at Cascade Locks into Stevenson, Washington, and Highway 14.

The 33 miles from Troutdale to Cascade Locks and across the Columbia River on the Bridge of the Gods was marvelous and made the trip worth it even if we stopped there.  Which is good, because we didn't go much further.

Bridge of the Gods

From Stevenson we continued 35 more miles to Lyle, Washington, on Highway 14.  The highway follows the Columbia River past a few major dams with desert hills to the north (our left) and the river to the south.  Things were heating up but for this stretch not unreasonable.

By Lyle at Mile 68 it was downright hot.  Here is us preparing to leave, with the next control -- and next opportunity to stop -- 60 miles down the road in Roosevelt.

By Roosevelt at mile 128, things were looking bleak.  Air temperatures were 105 or above and the heat radiating off the blacktop was unbearable.  There was literally no shade to be found.  Our Camelbacks mercifully kept our water cool, but when we reached Roosevelt my three-liter water pouch, refilled with a road-side assist by ride organizer Greg a mere 30-miles back, was empty.  And I was as depleted as my Camelback.

So much so that as this next photo shows, Sam continued on from Roosevelt riding solo.

Sam joined me in calling it a ride twenty miles later.   Others fell in the same stretch of road, with three riders making meaningful qualifying progress beyond Roosevelt.  A tandem team abandoned the ride but continued on in "touring mode" at their own pace, likely finishing the route well off of official schedule.  Two riders, exceedingly well supported but outside the usual randonneuring rules, finished the 400K first day and started the next before calling it quits.

The 2015 Portland to Glacier was not to be.

Jaunt on the Coast

We spent Saturday recovering and drove with Mom to Tillamook, Oregon, early Sunday morning.  Mom attended Mass and we headed out to the coast for roads that comprise the middle miles in the Oregon Randonneurs yearly "3-Capes" 300K brevet.  Far from our Friday experience, we were actually chilly, with moist air, occasional sprinkles, winds, and 59-degree temperatures.  

The ride starts north, following the road along the shore of Tillamook Bay toward Cape Meares.  From there you head south along the ocean past the three capes -- Meares, Lookout, and Kiwanda, finally descending into Pacific City.

 Reaching Cape Meares required us to traverse a closed section of road where settling had occurred.  When biking, closed roads mean no cars, and are usually a joy rather than a curse.  This was no different.  Everybody should ride the 10 miles of Bayshore Drive from Cape Meares to the lighthouse before it reopens.  

Here is Sam at the first closure.  No indication that they plan to fix and reopen the road any time soon.  One hopes it becomes a permanent bike trail!

The road winds along some classic Oregon coastal scenery.  This vista, or one like it, appears perhaps 100 times between Pacific City and Astoria.

The road reopened not far south of here.  We stopped for a picture at the Cape Meares lighthouse.

And then we rolled on with the camera securely in a pocket, past the two more southerly capes and into Pacific City.  The road is coastal but hilly.  On one descent we crossed through a stretch of sand dunes, making for a lovely stark image.  

In the cool damp weather, tourist crowds were minimal.  I understand the dunes are a popular spot for off-road vehicles on the wrong day.  Today was the right day.

Mom joined us in Pacific City.  We lunched at BJ's Burgers and Tacos, ranked by TripAdvisor as the second best restaurant in Pacific City.  After a double burger with guacamole and an excellent $3.50 microbrew, I do not dispute that ranking.  Sam and I had considered riding over the mountains back toward Portland, but with two beef patties and a beer in the belly, we were all too pleased to load the bikes on the car.

Carlton to Banks

From Pacific City we drove the Pacific Highway north to Beaver and turned right on the Nestucca River Road.  A cyclist descending made me feel guilty for not riding.  The road itself made me feel sad for not riding.  

Must . . . come . . . back . . . for the Nestucca River Road.  It ascends the Coast Range for perhaps 30 miles of mostly beautiful pavement, tree tunnels, and shallow grades, with just enough dirt near the top to prevent the road's becoming a real thoroughfare.  

The eastern side of the range is not nearly as lovely, but we still regretted missing the descent.  Were we mountain bikers, we would have let Mom drive down the hill while we coasted, but we could not stomach the shame.  Fortunately, by the time we reached Carlton our lethargy had worn off.
In Carlton we parked at a Post Office where Sam has slept in the past and remounted the bikes.  North on 47 through Yamhill and toward Gaston and Forest Grove, but at some point I asked "is that the hill I rode in the Hagg Lake Triathlon?" -- which Sam interpreted as meaning "I'd like to climb a really hard hill."   

And we did.  Whatever we climbed approached 20% and stayed that way for a solid mile, reminiscent of the grade above the Wintergreen Ski Resort climbing to the Blue Ridge Parkway in southern Virginia.  But unlike in Virginia, from the top we descended, down, down, a hill on which Sam achieved the Strava bronze medal. All I remember was feeling as if I could not hold a tuck any longer when I saw a sign reading "8% grade next 1.3 miles."  That stretch may have taken me 2 minutes.  At the bottom Sam was rested and relaxed; for all I could tell he had already ordered and finished a celebratory beer.

We rolled into the garage late Sunday afternoon, all smiles and sweat after two distinct rides on what should have been the brutal third day of our 1000K.  

There is more riding to report from this week, but that is for another post.