Sunday, November 20, 2016

Tale of Three Bikes: Rebuilding the Gunnar (Part 2)

The Gunnar frame is in Waterford, Wisconsin, home of the Waterford/Gunnar factory, for a repaint and a few modifications.  The bike will largely be returned to its original look when new, including the decal configuration that Gunnar used at that time and the two-step paint job that produces a cool sparkly red finish.  Kind of a "candy-apple red".  The last post has a picture from the Richardson Highway -- I think it's a lovely looking bike.


When I get it back, it will be time to rebuild -- probably just in time for the Christmas holiday.  I've been planning this for a while and looking forward to an opportunity to do it right.

The Group

I ride Shimano groups on all of my bikes with the brand new exception of the fat bike (Sram X7).  Frankly, Shimano does everything right:  the groups are reasonably affordable, the top end seems to me to compete with the top end anywhere, and the idea of trickle-down technology is real.  A new Ultegra 6800 part is as light and as well engineered as a Dura Ace 7800 from a few years back.

I have been wanting to build with a Dura Ace group for years.  With full DA9000 groups at $1300 or so on Merlin Cycles it was tempting.

But then Sam shared with me this blog post from Art's Cyclery, breaking down the places to splurge and the places to be cheap.  In terms of blog posts that actually add value, it is hard to beat that one.

In short, Art's argues that the rear derailleur is more or less indifferent as between groups; the brakes do not make a meaningful difference; and the crank, while a great place to save weight, is not worth the up-charge for Dura Ace.  In contrast, the brifters and front derailleur matter greatly.  With a little shopping around, I found DA9000 brifters and front derailleur and Ultegra 6800 crank, brakes, and rear derailleur for a total of about $650.  I had a new Ultegra 6800 cassette already.  Somewhere I came by a Dura Ace chain.  (Art's would have gone with the 105 brakes and rear derailleur, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.  The price differential at the sale prices I found wasn't great, anyway.)

Here are the parts waiting to be attached.

6800 Crank.  52-36 gearing.

Ultegra brakes.  Sam swears by the 6800 vis a vis the 6700, which is the model I have on more than one bike currently.

Long-cage Ultegra RD.

DA9000 FD.

The coup de grace:  DA9000 11-speed drifters.
I'm particularly excited about the 52-36 gearing on the front derailleur.  I've been riding 50-34 for a while and have 53-39 on the race bike; it has always seemed to me that 52-36 bridges those extremes nicely.  I do have that on the triathlon bike on which I rarely shift between chainrings anyway.

The long cage rear derailleur was a judgment call and I'm not sure I called it right.  I have long cage on the Salsa, the Specialized, and the Ritchey.  The Gunnar might have worked well with a short cage given its use model.  There aren't many hills one can't get up with 36-28 gearing if the day is lasting less than 15 hours.  Long cage and the 32 (or more)-tooth cogs that they permit are really for touring applications.  I think.

I'm psyched about the U6800 brakes.  Sam swears by them.  I am hard pressed to see how one can improve on the U6700, but I am eager to find out.

Wheels and Tires

With Damon's help I found a great deal on Zipp 404 Firecrest carbon clincher wheels over the summer, marrying a front wheel for $600 from BikeTiresDirect with a rear for $800 (after Active Junky discount) from  It's a sweet wheelset with the cool black graphics.

Front wheel.  Photo from
I couldn't resist and put them on the bike even before the build.  As Sam has proved, deep dish wheels on a steel or titanium bike are awesome.

Aero roll-down tests with Flo wheels on the Ti-Cycles frameset.  Sam has the data, which (spoiler alert!) shows that a disc wheel is faster than 32-spokes with Open Pro rims.

And, here on the Gunnar.

Gunnar, pre-rebuild.

Those green-walled tires are 27mm Vittoria Open Pave CG clinchers, the tire of choice for rough surfaces -- or at least the Velominati report.  (This site too.)  The good news is that the 27mm Vittoria mounted on that Zipp wheel clear the frame and the Easton carbon fork. At $37/tire from Competitive Cyclist, I loaded up on two pairs.

Finishing Kit

I first tried the Thomson seatpost when I first bought the Gunnar, which came with a straight Thomson Elite post.  My first reaction:  I loved the two-bolt adjustment, which beat all the one-bolt crap I had been using since time immemorial.


Thomson Elite post.  Tightening one and loosening the other allows for micro-adjustments that are not possible with a one-bolt stem.

Nitto post.  The bolt is found on the underside of the head.  Tightening it or loosening it changes the pitch of the saddle.

Other fixing methods, notably the Specialized one-bolt approach on the Cobble Gobbler, eclipse Thomson's as the most elegant and usable clamp.  But I fell in love with Thomson's design and stuck with it.  Since that first straight stem, I have gone to a set-back version, seen on the pre-rebuild picture above.

At some point I added an X4 stem and later changed that to the Thomson X2, a road-specific stem that looks sleeker and weighs less.  That is it on the picture above, hidden by the helmet strap(!).  And below, although I more recently have built (and will again build) with the stem turned the other way for a flatter look.
Thomson X2 stem.

Finally, just this year -- before breaking the leg -- I added the Thomson carbon drop bars.  I used the Cyclecross  bars to gain a little flair in the ends, which I thought might make for more comfort in the drops.

Doggone bars won't sit sill to be photographed.  44cm Thomson Cyclocross bars.
I have a theory that apart from unique innovations, like the Cobble Gobbler post or maybe the Redshift shock absorbing stem, these parts all perform about the same.  Mostly they are there to look good.  And Thomson does that as well as anybody, with understated graphics and solid coloring, either black or silver.  My one gripe about Thomson is the choice of 3mm hex heads in the stem.  Who carries a 3mm wrench?


What's left that is interesting?  The saddle, tape, cables, cages, and any cute touches like color-coordinated bolts or cable crimps.  Here are two on which the jury is out:

The cages.  Those are King Cage stainless steel "Iris" cages and a regular stainless steel cage from the same manufacturer.

King Cage "Iris" in stainless steel.

King Cage stainless steel.
With the three sets of mounts I would use the Iris inside the triangle and the other on the underside of the down-tube.  But I am frankly not sure.  The ordinary alloy cages in the pictures above look sharp; the Iris may be a little too decorative for a bike being built with Zipp wheels.  Votes welcome!

The cables.  I found braided steel cables with a clear coating from Velo Orange.

V-O Braided Steel cables
I am trying to achieve a look I had thought I found on the Firefly site some time ago (but can't find today).  These braided external cables may be a failed experiment, with the fall-back's being the elegant gray that comes with new Dura-Ace brifters.

More to come  

Next, I suppose, I should report on the saddle, tape, and plans for the frame.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Tale of Three Bikes: Rebuilding the Gunnar (Part 1)

This is the Gunnar

Loaded, after a 600K a few years back.
After the most recent full rebuild.  That's a new Ultegra 6700 group, Ksyrium Elite (or is it Equipe?) wheels, Ritchey carbon forks.  From this picture only the headset (Cane Creek 110), saddle (WTB Rocket V) and stem (Thomson X2) are staying with the bike.

The Bike

It is a "Roadie," Gunnar's road racing frame, in 60 cm -- really a 58cm effective top tube measurement.  P__ bought this bike for me for our third wedding anniversary.  The bike is quickly approaching it's first decade and showing its age a little.  I decided it was time to freshen it up and return it to its original look.  Well, mostly to its original look.

Here it is being ridden when a much younger bike.

Heading north old school with silver U-6600 componentry, steel forks, and 32-spoke wheels

It its original configuration the Gunnar was a sparkly deep red ("Sunset Red over Fine Gold"), built with elegant straight-bladed steel forks, Ultegra 6600 2x10-speed group, Thomson post, Bontrager stem, and Ritchey bars.  (I wasn't paying enough attention at the time to gripe when the shop set me up with parts bin specials on the finishing kit.  Phooey on Revolution Cycles Arlington for that.)  I was riding a Selle San Marco Concor Light saddle in those days.  And those are Profile Design Stryke aerobars, a fourth-rate product that nonetheless were the standard in clip-ons for many years.

Use Model

Despite its place in the Gunnar Cycles line-up, the Roadie has never been a race bike.  I have, literally, raced it -- three times in triathlons with clip-on bars, once in a 24-hour race and once more in a 12-hour race -- but that was because it was my bike and not because it was the ideal bike for any of those purposes.  In fact, the Gunnar is heavy -- I've never had a build lighter than 20 lbs.; it is a flexy steel frame, inconsistent with the currently favored stiff carbon for hard efforts; and it is a slightly twitchy geometry, not ideal for long days in the saddle.

But it is also a lovely, classic-looking bike, and it is my bike.  I am rebuilding it for a century/200-300K bike -- long, even day-long, rides that do not require loading beyond the third water bottle and seat bag.

The Rebuild

Too early to report much, but I can report what will go on the bike when redone:
For the first time, this is a spare-no-expenses rebuild.  (To be clear, this is a "what cool parts can I buy on the cheap" rebuild -- those Zipps came to me, new, for $1400 and change -- but I was willing to shop around and spend a few dollars extra for top of the line parts.)

More to come!

Pedaling off the election week blues

This election pretty much convinces me American-style democracy is for the birds and the usual reaction, "we'll get 'em in two years!", is a false resort.  In short, I am despondent, and only breathing the fresh air on some back roads can help.  So D__, M__ and I left from Adamstown elementary school in Maryland for 61 miles up, down, and around, on several roads I have not ridden and many more that I have but not recently enough.

D__ and M__ pass through some quiet intersection in some quiet Maryland burg.
It halfway worked.  The temperature dipped below 30 degrees, enough to make the digits tingle, and the hills went up and down before going back up again -- Mar-lu Ridge (the hard way!) and Reno Monument Road over South Mountain were the two notable climbs, but there were many others -- the pavement was good and the drives were polite.

We had a marvelous ice cream at South Mountain Creamery (doesn't make much sense to me either, but the creamery was there and so were we) and a coffee in Sharpsburg.

Nice job taking this into the sun!

This too!

That's better.  M__ enjoys the cold.
On the other hand, leaving the city puts one in Trump country.  In this part of the world, that means Trump signs next to Confederate flags and people in one coffee shop noting that "we are back on the right track" and "all them who were not working and on the dole won't be able to do that anymore."

So, I halfway escaped reality for a five hour stretch.

Good day for lots of wool.

Lots of lovely roads like this one.
I rode the newly rebuilt Ritchey with a handlebar bag.  It was comfortable -- no concern for back or front end discomfort with those tires!  Riding was a touch slow -- even with a light-ish load I felt the strain on the climbs and the front end was wobbly with the handlebar bag perched up high.  The front brake was squishy -- a tuning problem, as the back brake felt great -- and it didn't help that with a dry chain I was squeaking and the back gear tuning lapsed some as I rode.

All in all, a nice ride and a worthwhile escape.  Kudos to M__ for having the idea and thanks to D__ for inviting me.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tale of Three Bikes: Riding the Ritchey again

I bought the Ritchey Steel Cross Breakaway in 60cm in 2014 as part of a two-bike investment preparatory to a anniversary trip to Grand Cayman Island.  P_ and I rode the bikes in loops around the east, less populated, end of the island, maybe 100 miles total over a four day trip.  It was a blast.  Review of the bike, including its use on Grand Cayman, here.

Ritchey on Grand Cayman
There were a couple of other uses as well -- Colorado and Oregon/Washington in 2014 and 2015 -- but the bikes largely stayed in their cases waiting for a grand cycling vacation that never arrived.  (Not that we didn't vacate with bikes.  Just that we didn't bring the Ritcheys!)

I decided to give the Ritchey another try.  For this third post in the Tale of Three Bikes series, more on the rebuild and new use model below.

The Ritchey Breakaway, Rebuilt

I discuss the original build on the Breakaway here.  To summarize, it was a nice bike from the start, but I had some gripes.  One big one was the pull on the Shimano 105 levers was not optimized for the cheap Tektro cantilever brakes.  

Cheap brakes, but that's not the problem.  Not compatible with the brifters, it turned out!
Another was that the wheels I used, a lovely set of custom built (by White Mountain Wheels) hoops with White Industries hubs and Sapim CX-Ray spokes, were too narrow to run a really wide tire comfortably.  35mm Schwalbes on 15mm internal-width rims felt a little unstable on hard corners.  I didn't love the oddly curved handlebars, the "randonneur" bars pulled from the Specialized (see former post).  The post and stem were parts bin specials, scratched up and not matching.  And I was not thrilled with the look of a silver Ultegra 6600 crankset with a black 105 groupset.  Small matter, I know, but it bugged me.  Somewhere along the way I switched the brakes to V brakes, which solved the compatibility problem.

And when I was in Oregon and Washington for a few rides in 2015 I completely rebuilt it.

With Sam in Oregon, June 2015.  That's the Ritchey on the right.
This project required me to steal a recently orphaned Ultegra groupset from Sam after he went to 6870 (Di2).  I felt bad and payed him a few hunny after the fact.  But the bike now had a smart-looking full Ultegra 6700 group in the pretty dark gray coloration.  The cassette is a 12-30 10-speed and the crank is a 50-34, plenty wide gearing for all but the most extreme rides.

The bike still had the awkward bars and the problem with the wheels.  Back home, then:  the new carbon bars for the Gunnar freed up a nice set of 3T Ergonova pro in the white and black coloration that looks good with this white steel frame.  I had replaced the Gunnar stem, a Thomson X4, with the lighter-weight X2, and the X4 moved onto the Ritchey.  And I located a Thomson Masterpiece seatpost pulled from one bike or another, which matched well.  

Thomson X4 stem.

Stem and post complement the white frame nicely.
Finally, recently, with the Gunnar taken apart for a factory repaint, I built the bike back up and put on final touches.  I found TRP brakes that are optimized for Shimano levers and available in pretty red anodized finish.  I ordered a cheap set of eggbeater pedals with the same finish.  Red skewers and cable crimps, new water bottle cages (plastic, better to survive packing), and a under-the-down-tube pump mount.

Red skewer and cable crimp visible, along with the nearly perfect condition Ultegra RD.

Skewer and brake make a pretty combination.

Pretty Ultegra crank, red anodized eggbeater pedal, under the downtime pump mount.

Also a Paul Components barrel mount for a low headlamp.
The coup de grace was the wheels.  I had a set of Hed Belgium rims built onto a White Industries front hub and a Powertap rear many years ago (by Neuvation, of all places).  They have been gathering dust and the rims give me 19mm internal width -- ample for a larger set of tires.  The new build has those wheels with 38mm Compass Barlow Pass shoes.  It makes for a beautiful combination.
Belgium rim, Compass Barlow Pass tire.  Plenty of room remaining!

Again, the rim/tire combination is lovely.  I think.

The larger tire makes a very large diameter wheel overall.
I kept the old wheels, mounting them with a set of 32mm Schwalbe knobby tires.  Whether for cyclocross or just for muddy roads remains to be seen.

And I finished the build with white bar tape, which surprised me a little just how well it went with the red anodized components, white and red frame, and black post, saddle, stem and bars.

Nice finished effect.
IMO even the old-school Planet Bike blinkie, which mounts nicely to the threads designed for rack or fender mounting, contributes to the look in a positive fashion. 

I'm pretty psyched about this innovation:  I built the remote switch for my Exposure headlamp into the bars, with the cord wrapped under the bar tape.  This makes switching on or off (or adjusting the brightness) with the thumb while riding a breeze.

Pretty pleased with this innovation.

Some more pictures of the final build:

TRP brake.  The compatibility problem is completely resolved.

There is the Exposure light mount.  The remote switch cord is visible -- see below for the switch itself.

Matching pedal.  Plastic cages avoid bending (or breaking, if carbon) when packing.

There's the Powertap hub.  Open question whether I actually observe power readings or just have it there because I like the wheels.

I have since moved that pump mount to the underside of the down tube.

Plenty of 3M Scotchlite tape on the frame and fork.  Fortunately it does not undermine the color scheme.

So long as it is not too dusty it's a cool looking color combination!

I like that TRP brake.  Not psyched at my tuning job, which has it a little off center.

New WTB saddle also matches the color scheme.
I rode the bike 35 miles just after finishing the build.  The brakes work like a dream.  It is a comfortable fit.  With 50 lbs of pressure in the 38mm tires, the ride is downright plush.  The ride included maybe 15 miles along the C&O Canal towpath, a gravel road running north from DC -- and a famous cycling venue that takes on all the way to Pittsburg.  There was no difficulty, even general comfort, riding on pavement, dirt, and back on pavement again.

Ritchey Breakaway:  Use Model

What to do with this bike?  First, it still works as a travel bike.  I have never paid a baggage fee in maybe 10 flights.  Packing is annoying but not hard.  (Other bloggers, like the commenter on my bike review post from a few years ago, who brag about the *ease* of packing are riding smaller bikes.  With my 60 cm frame, this is not easy, but it is possible to pack the entire bike in a nearly airplane-legal 66" case.)

Second, this is my fattest tire bike that is not literally a fat bike.  As such it should make for comfortable use in touring applications (including light-touring and randonneuring).  To confirm the success of that use model, I built it up with a beam rack, trunk bag, and handlebar bag.

It all fits and doesn't look ridiculous, which is a start.  I have not ridden the bike thusly loaded, however.

One final problem remains.  Consider the headlamp in the last picture, above -- just visible over the handlebar bag.  And see it again below.

Exposure headlamp sits too low to work over the top of the handlebar bag.
I may need a lower profile handlebar bag or a different headlamp attachment point.  I regret this -- I think the build and loading here is pretty elegant.  With more experimentation I am sure it will work out.


A new build for the Ritchey Steel Cross Breakaway -- and, I think, a successful one this time!