For the most part, I try to think through things rationally. I try not to make too many spur-of-the-moment decisions--at least, not big ones. There are certain things, however, that really suck me in.
One of them, is whenever I see a really good deal on something I want. By good deal, of course, I don't mean 25% off. No, I'm talking 60-80% off. It's really hard, at that point, for me to resist--even if it's still way out of my price range.
The other thing I'm tempted by is really long or hard bike rides/races. First among these was LOTOJA. I've done that and, although I want to do it again, I'm content to put that off until my children are older and I can dedicate real time to training.
Last Friday, however, I got sucked in to another one of these. I got an email from the local club about a chance to ride one stage of the Tour of Utah. The 4th Stage, to be exact. In fact, it's on the same day as Stage 4 (only, we get a 4 hour head-start). Click here to see the stage map/profile. Though I feel more like a sucker for signing up (I don't know how I'll ever finish), it's called the 300 Warriors. If you haven't looked at the course yet, you should. See, though it's only around 100 miles long, it has 14,778 feet of climbing in that stage.
Needless to say, I'm scared.
Scared of not finishing. Scared of dying. Scared of being lapped by pros (though, maybe they'll pull us off the course rather than let us get lapped). Scared mostly of looking the fool.
I've probably put in more miles in the last week than I've done in the previous month. There's nothing like a big race to get you riding and training. For that, I'm thankful.
And yet, it was totally spontaneous. I signed up within 30 minutes of finding out about it. Too bad, too. If I had waited, I would have seen it fill up sometime in the next 12 hours and I'd just be planning on watching from the sidelines.
2 months, 17 days until the ride/race ...
Friday, May 30, 2008
For the most part, I try to think through things rationally. I try not to make too many spur-of-the-moment decisions--at least, not big ones. There are certain things, however, that really suck me in.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Last Saturday, I stopped by Vendetta Cycles--builders of handcrafted, lugged steel bikes. You may remember them from my NAHBS, Part 2 post. It was great to talk to Garrett and Conor--the duo behind the marque--to get their thoughts on frame building and also to hear how their engineering background affects their frames--Conor has a degree in Metallurgical Engineering and Garrett's is in Mechanical Engineering. (All images courtesy of Vendetta)
Vendetta's customers come from all aspects of cycling, from riders who are looking for all day comfort, to smaller female racers who can't find the right fit from an off the shelf frame and everything in between. One thing that they all have in common is knowing what they want from their frame and a willingness to wait in order to get it just right (Vendetta's wait list is now approximately 6-9 months).
They build one bike at a time. When it's your frame they are working on, you know it'll have their undivided attention.
Every frame is as unique as the riders, with the geometry, tubing type and butting adjusted to fit the desired ride. One example they talked about was fitting a smaller female racer who couldn't get the right feel out of an off the shelf frame. The culprit was toe overlap--a common issue on smaller frames. For liability reasons, larger manufacturers try and minimize how much the front wheel can hit the rider's foot when turned leading to more relaxed head tube angles. This racer was a very experienced rider, so toe overlap was something that she was willing to live with in order to get the angles just right. Vendetta is able to really communicate with their customers and get to the heart of what their customers are looking for--and build the frame to suit.
Communication is key. Vendetta works hard to keep their customers in the loop and make sure that they are getting the frame that they want. Not only does Vendetta try and find out what you want in a bike, but also what other interests do you have. Do you like cars or watches? That might be relevant when it comes time to pick a finish or lug pattern.
Sometimes, their customers will bring in the bike they are using and point out the things that they don't like about it--maybe it's too harsh or maybe they would like a taller head tube, or whatever makes the frame not perfect--and Garrett and Conor will start with their current frame, and adjust from there to get to where the customer wants to go.
Once geometry and tubing are agreed upon, Vendetta makes a layout for each frame--the customer keeps the layout once the frame is done--and starts assembling the tubing and lugs. When they are satisfied that the everything is aligned right, they use pins--either bronze or stainless steel, depending on the finish and tube type--to hold everything in place until the final brazing is done, rather using a jig. If you look at the image below, you'll see the holes in the lugs where the pins will go.
This actually does a few things that benefit the frame. First, it locates the tubes and lugs and keeps them from moving while the frame is relocated from the custom built assembly table to the brazing stand. Second, by keeping the frame out of jig during brazing, this method helps to minimize residual stresses that can build up as the frame is heated and cooled while clamped rigidly. Third, they can apply the heat to the joint better, without the jig getting the way.
Of course, after the brazing process, the frames are checked thoroughly for alignment adjusted if needed.
Usually, custom frames are finished far better than production frames, and Vendetta's are no different. The paint and lugs are works of art. As an option Vendetta offers jewel-like hand polished stainless steel lugs. The lugs start off rough--they are investment cast--and, starting with a fairly rough file, they smooth and shape the lugs with finer and finer files and sandpaper until they are left with the lugs like those below.
Not only do they polish standard lugs, but will carve the lugs to be aesthetically pleasing, too.
Really, the sky is the limit. Pretty much, whatever you can think of, they can built it. Want an integrated rack? You got it. Custom lugged stem? No problem.
If you are looking for a frame that is unique, if you aren't satisfied with name brand stuff, or if you are looking for a ridable work of art, check out Vendetta. They build one bike at a time, and make sure that it shows.
Garrett and Conor, thanks for taking the time to meet with me. It was fun.
MTBR did a nice interview of Garrett at NAHBS. Check it out on YouTube here.
Friday, May 23, 2008
As I practice unpacking and packing the Ritchey Break-Away I have on test, I am often stumped by small things throughout the process. For instance, how much torque should I use when tightening the foam padding around the tubes before travel? Sure, they included a torque wrench specific to the stem bolts, but that's not the only thing I'm tightening in this process.
Luckily for me, they included a video wherein a woman, in a hotel room, demonstrates the finer points of packing and unpacking the Break-Away. There's also a brief part where she demonstrates riding in the drops, but I won't dwell on that part in this post.
This video, while enjoyable to watch on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and an arm around your significant other, left me with a few questions.
- Where are the extras? I've never had a DVD that didn't come with extras. I mean, at least a blooper reel or something. Like the scene you had to cut where she put the seat on backwards and didn't notice it until getting on the road?
- Where was Tom? Not only was Tom not in it, but there wasn't a single person with a mustache in it, either. Even the woman demonstrating the process.
- How are they keeping the chain so clean that, though they warn you about greasy pedal threads, they just flop the chain right down on the floor? (I suppose it is a hotel and all, but still, she had no grease on her hands! None! I want to re-film this thing--this time with a little more accuracy!)
- When are they going to come out with an HD version? Blu-Ray?
Remember, you, too can have this video simply by purchasing a new Ritchey Break-Away frame or bicycle. Of course, you could also follow this link and watch them for yourself.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Well, OK, right now it's overcast. But, lately the sun has been out. And just in time, too, we've wrapped up our sunglasses review. Sure, we've previewed them here before, but now you can read our official thoughts on them.
I continue to be impressed with Rudy Project glasses. Sure, they are costly--though none of the glasses reviewed were cheap by any stretch of the imagination--but they work well. I've got a pair of Rudy's that are 5 years old and are still problem free.
The Adidas were a nice surprise. I had no real expectations going in to the review and was impressed by their clarity and durability. I was less impressed by the price. They are a bit more costly that I expected, particularly the Evil Eye Pro's.
Still, all of the glasses reviewed did what they claimed to do--that is, be comfortable and keep harmful rays out of your eyes. So, check out the review and then go get yourself some new eyewear.
Monday, May 19, 2008
The compact double crankset is empowering. It seems to make the rider feel far superior to someone who would wimp out and use a triple. Somehow, the rider using a compact double looks down on these people with disdain. At the same time, they feel like they can be grouped with the pros. I'm not sure what the rationale is--perhaps it stems from the few accounts of pros using them on strictly uphill time trials--but I think these riders somehow feel that it's their little secret that they're using a 34/50 combination instead of the more traditional 39/53.
I'm one of those riders.
For me, the compact double is empowering. The first time I tackled some really hairy climbs on a road bike was with a compact double. After that, I sneered at anyone making those climbs on a triple.
Until I rode next to a guy riding a 39/53... and he dropped me. (I never checked, but I still hope that at least he was riding a 12-25 cassette.)
As you've no doubt read, I just got a Ritchey Break-Away to review and this morning, I took it out for the first road ride. I should take the time to note at this point that it came with a traditional 39/53 set-up. So, on a strange feeling-great-in-a-warm-late-spring-morning-whim, I decided to tackle Squaw Peak. Now, Squaw Peak isn't a monster climb by any means, but it always seems to hurt.
Right away, I started to wonder at the folly of this decision. However, being the pretend tough-guy that I am, I pressed on.
Now, whether or not I'm in better shape this spring than normal, I really have no way of knowing. All I know is that it was no harder than the last time I rode it on my compact double (and a lighter bike).
So now I have to wonder if the only thing the compact double gives me is slowness... I think I'll have to tackle a harder hill.
Friday, May 16, 2008
As if getting the Look 986 earlier in the week wasn't enough, yesterday another bike arrived for testing. This one came in a suitcase.
Here, let me zoom in on that logo there.
This is the case for a Titanium Ritchey Break-Away road bike.
Luckily for me, it had a bike in it, as well.
Of course the first thing to do when you receive a new Break-Away is to extract it from the case--itself a puzzle--and then piece it together. Being like a kid, I didn't take any pictures of the way it was in the case, so hopefully I'll be able to get it back together. I managed most of it on my own, but in the end I had to concede and go to the included DVD for help with a few items.
When I finally got it assembled, I was left with a beautiful Ti/Carbon (seat-stays and chain-stays) road bike. Parts are, of course, for the most part Ritchey components with the rest Shimano DuraAce.
I'll report back later about the ride as well as how hard (and how long it took me) it was to pack it up again.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
I received at my house an extremely nice mountain bike the other day. I mean, so nice! It isn't the bike for everyone--it fills a pretty specific niche--but it sure is beautiful.
Behold, the Look 986.
Yeah, super nice bike. Okay, right away you'll notice the most striking feature: the integrated seat-mast. Although carbon frames are becoming more common for high-end mountain bikes, not many make this bold statement. What's the statement? "Adjustability? I don't need no stinkin' adjustability"
Other highlights? SRAM X.0 Components. Avid Juicy Ultimate brakes. A super-light FSA OS-99 stem and some even-lighter foam grips. Wheels are Mavic CrossMax SL-Rs. Tires are continental supersonics.
Basically, the niche the 986 fills is the freakishly-light-racing-machine niche. Or, maybe the ideal buyer is the roadie who loves his Look road bike and wants to drop $4-5K on a similar ride for the dirt.
Soon I'll be doing some hacking at the integrated mast--arguably the most nerve-wracking adjustment a person could make to a bike--to get the bike to fit my somewhat average size. After that, I'll hit the trail and let you know how it rides.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
I like racing. Particularly I like road racing. Not to participate, mind you, but to follow. Sure, I'm saddened by the doping, et al, but I really don't let that get in the way. But, and I'm being brutally honest here, I could train like a mad man--sacrificing family and career, such as it is--and never bust into the domestic pro ranks. I might, if I worked really hard, race at Cat 2 or 1, heck, maybe even semi-pro, but I'm just not Pro material. So, the question is, how do I participate if I'm not racing?
Why, using a motor, of course. I am currently training to be one of these guys:
Tonight I am heading up to Portland to attend a USA Cycling Motoref clinic. This last weekend I was able--thanks to USA Cycling getting me the material, post haste--to get my Official C license, a prerequisite to attending the Motoref clinic. That's right, I'm offic... er... I'm an official. One of many. I won't let my power go to my head, honest.
Go ahead, try and cross that double yellow.
The idea for this was hatched about a month ago. I was out on the motorcycle and T. was racing in a local road race. The courses aren't closed, so I thought I'd see if I could spot him*. What I discovered was that this was a great way to see the race, to see the tactics and see how it's unfolding. As an official, you have to pay attention to where the racers are--both on the course and in relation to each other--but that is what you pretty much do as an avid spectator, too. That got my wheels turning and when the clinic was announced--and close too!--I contacted USA Cycling to see what I needed to do in order to attend. They sent me the material, I took a test and passed. Oddly, though, I missed some easy ones and got most of the harder questions. Hmmm.
Whether the officiating from the back of motorbike is fun or not, this whole process is interesting. Who knows how it'll play out, but I'm hanging on for the ride.
*I did spot him... on the sidelines. Rough day for T., that one.
Friday, May 09, 2008
I used to refer to my bike as my "Trusty Steed". Of course, there were a couple of problems with this.
1) I always did the work. Now, I'm not a horse rider, but I get the impression that between a horse and his rider, the horse is doing most of the work.
2) It wasn't actually trusty. In fact, most of my memories growing up in Oregon and riding in the nearby hills/mountains are also full of the memory of me coaxing the chain from gear to gear. I can't remember it ever actually working the way it was supposed to.
But, with all that--being my only bike at the time--it was the most trusty of my "steeds".
As many of you with multiple bikes will understand, now that I have a few bikes, there are some that are in disrepair more often than others. My road bike almost always needs a little air in one of the tires, but that's the only maintenance I really am forced to do on it. Very trusty. (Of course, for the most part, all road bikes fit into this category if you stay out of bad weather and stick to paved roads.) My full-suspension mountain bike, on the other hand, is in constant disrepair.
This is probably one of the largest factors in my move to riding on the road more and more. I mean, my time is limited and precious to me. If I ride on the road bike, I get more time to actually ride. On my full-squish mountain bike, I'll spend some time both getting angry and getting my hands greasy (somehow I always get my hands greasy--whether I change a tire, or mount a water-bottle cage--always).
Currently, I think I need a little more air in my rear shock. Also, my front brake needs bleeding.
With the fairly recent acquisition of my dad's old Cannondale F4000, I now have a trusty steed for mountain biking again. First off, it has no rear shock. Then there's the fact that it uses rim brakes (nothing to bleed--ever). Also, the front fork is an enclosed HeadShock system--about as maintenance free as any front suspension. It rides well and always shifts when I push or pull on the appropriate levers.
Now, whenever I'm in the mood for a ride--and I don't have time to work on my bikes--I can grab the Trusty Steed and head out. It's always good to have one in your stable.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
As you may recall, Jon and I have been working on the XT/X.9 comparative review for quite some time now. It hasn't been easy. For one thing, both groups work very, very well out of the box. So, we've been dragging it out, beating up the parts, waiting for something to fail. Nothing has.
For most of this time, Jon has had the X.9 and I have been thrashing the XT. Last month, that all changed, as I pulled the XT and shipped it to him, and he shipped me the X.9. I've now ridden the X.9 a little bit, and while the ends are the same--shifting, braking, getting power to the wheels--the means are different. Here are just a couple of examples.
Both of our review groups use a trigger-type shifter. Shimano does offer their integrated brake/shift levers, but we aren't using that one. SRAM, likewise, offers their Gripshift shifter, but, again, we aren't using that one either. The XT shifter uses a thumb paddle to shift to a lower gear and a trigger that can be operated by either your finger--pull--or thumb--push--to move to a higher gear. SRAM's shifter has two paddles as well, but both are thumb operated.
Both Shimano and SRAM use hydraulic brakes--Juicy 7's from SRAM and XT from Shimano. The Juicy's use brake fluid, while the XT's use mineral oil. There are some performance advantages to using brake fluid--like higher boiling point--but when it comes to maintenance, mineral oil is nicer to work with.
Both the TruVativ Stylo--SRAM--crank and Shimano's XT crank use oversize external bearings. The Shimano bottom bracket (BB) has three spacers, two for the drive side and one for the non-drive side. This allows it to accommodate two sizes of BB shells--68 and 73mm--as well as allowing extra space for an E-type front derailleur. The TruVativ has only two spacers, so it works with a 68mm BB and E-type derailleur or a 73mm BB, but is not compatible with a 73mm BB and an E-type derailleur.
Additionally, both have the BB spindle affixed to the drive-side crank arm, but their method of attaching the non-drive are distinctly different. The Stylo uses a modified ISIS attachment, while Shimano sticks with it's pinch bolt arrangement. Both work, but the Stylo looks a little cleaner.
I'm sure that stepping around patents has led to some of the differences seen here, but some of it has to be due to different schools of thought about how things should be done--how the rider interacts with the equipment and so forth. What this gives us, as consumers, is quite a bit of choice, both within the same company--Gripshift or triggers?--and from company to company. The fact that both systems are holding up to abuse shows that, at this level at least, it's hard to pick the wrong group.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Let me be totally frank, I do not live in a large city. There are about 50,000 people who live here--a little more when school in session, a little less in Summer, it seems--so take what I say here with a grain of salt. Manhattan it is not.
That being said, I love riding traffic. I love dodging cars. I enjoy--odd as it sounds--being very close to the iron beasts that could take me out with their inattentive drivers. Heck, the likely don't know that I'm there until I am past. Maybe not even then. Clearly it's not the safest thing to do, so why do I like it?
I think it's because I don't live in a large city. If this is what it was like every time I got on the bike, I would likely be using this space to decry the having to deal with traffic all the time. As it is, this is only about a mile, or so, of my 12 mile commute. The rest of it is either primary roads with very large shoulders or secondary roads with little traffic. Yeah, I've got it good.
And, if I choose, I can avoid dodging cars downtown altogether. So really, the fact that I get to decide whether or not I race from stoplight to stoplight increases the fun. It makes for great sprinting exercise, besides.
Then, once it's done, I get to settle in and cruise the countryside. Or hills.
It's good to be on a bike.
Friday, May 02, 2008
There are many reasons why I ride. The first is because I like it. A lot. Really. The second is because, frankly, I like to eat and so this gives me an excuse to burn of those extra calories. Sometimes, though, neither of those reasons are what gets me out pedaling. Sometimes, I just need to clear my head--you know the causes, stress at work and the like getting to you. This is usually when I have so much going on that I can't focus on any one thing well. It's like I have cobwebs in my head.
At times like these, I just head out--usually off road so I don't have to deal with drivers--and just sort of wander*. I also tend to attack all of the hills I can find. There is nothing like suffering on a difficult climb to bring things sharply into focus. Focusing on the climb, that is. All other cares drop away like so much sweat, to be dealt with later.
I also tend to not push myself too hard on the flats, rather I just ride along, soaking in nature. I let my mind wander. Usually, I think about this blog, or a review I am working on for GearReview.com, but occasionally, I think of nothing. I just ride along in a sort of state of bliss, not worrying about anything.
On the downhills I lose myself in the flow. The swooping singletrack, the little rises that turn into jumps at speed. The traction of my tires as I lean over in the corners, intent on nothing but the ride.
When I return to my chaotic world my head is clear and I can be productive once again. I suppose that this is why some people go to therapy, for me, this is all the therapy I need.
*I am using that sweet Edge 705 GPS so while I may be wandering, I am not even remotely lost. I know where I am with pinpoint accuracy.