Wednesday, November 19, 2014

anatomy of a useful cyclocross bike

After 8 years of racing cyclocross, I decided it was time to add a new cyclocross bike to the stable.  My generic aluminum bike has served me well, but I made a deal with myself:  if I could make it into the Cat 1/2 race I could justify a new bike and the old one could be converted to a singlespeed backup mud bike.  I am not able to buy new bikes very often, so I was interested in the idea of this bike being able to be useful beyond cyclocross.  As in, be able to build a high performance bike with fenders, lights, and a front rack and bag for long adventure rides.  
It was a leap of faith having never ridden a bike with low trail geometry before, but I ordered a 700c Boulder brevet.  Mike Kone was really helpful with ordering the bike.  He provided a detailed diagram of the geometry of the bike to be, including seat height, reach, and drop.  Its nice to not have any surprises there when you already know what size bike works for you.  Happy to say, nearing the end of my second season on this bike, that it was a complete success.  I love this bike!  A lot of people have expressed admiration of this bike, but surprise that I would use it for cyclocross.  I'll line out where this bike differs from a typical cyclocross bike, and how that shakes out:
1.  Low trail geometry.  Most cyclocross bikes have about the same geometry as a road racing bike designed for 23mm tires:  72 or 73 degree head tube, and the near-universal 45mm of fork offset.  The Boulder has a 73 degree head tube but 60mm of offset.  How does it ride?  At speed and on pavement it feels a little different but still plenty stable.  I have never once felt that I exceeded the speed limit of the bike. Where it really shines is at lower speeds on tight technical terrain- the realm of cyclocross.  This bike simply handles better on off camber, tricky terrain due to less wheel flop than my old bike with the typical geometry.  I believe cyclocross bikes are better off with more fork offset than 45mm.  Unfortunately, 50mm offset is the most you can find with typical carbon cross forks.
2.  Its steel, and the fork is steel!  Steel gets a bad rap for racing bikes because most steel bikes are built with thick, overly stiff tubing, that doesn't result in a zippy ride.  The Boulder is made with relatively light, thin wall tubing.  It is zippy!  Weight is less important but my 57cm bike weighs 19 pounds, without any goofy carbon parts.  A carbon bike will weigh less, but a water bottle or so less.  I have ridden full carbon bikes, and they have a great ride quality, but I would not say the bike is obviously faster than the Boulder.  Of course you have to factor in tires but more on that later.  And the steel fork.  A properly designed steel fork with a flat crown and curve near the dropouts (as opposed to the current fad of straight legs, to look like carbon forks) has better mud clearance and will actually soak up bumps.  A light steel fork is not much heavier than a carbon fork with an alloy steerer, and has a much better ride quality.  A full carbon fork is admittedly much lighter but I'm not willing to trust them.  They break unexpectedly.  I ride at high speeds on rough terrain, and like to use my stuff for a long time.  And finally, a steel fork can be made with the right geometry to match the frame.  Carbon forks are one-size-fits-all.
3.  Low bottom bracket.  Most cyclocross bikes have a higher bottom bracket.  Its  a trade off here.  I think the bike with a lower bottom bracket handles a bit better, but you strike the pedals on things a little easier.  Overall I prefer the lower bottom bracket.
4.  Cable routing.  Most cyclocross bikes have cables routed along the top tube to stay out of the way for shouldering the bike and keep mud away from the cables a little better.  The Boulder has more traditional cable routing along the down tube.  The rear brake cable on the bottom of the top tube does dig in to your shoulder a little bit when carrying the bike.  Its a  mild annoyance.  The cable routing along the down tube is more direct.  Even though  the cables get dirtier, they still shift better than cables on the top tube.  I replace cables and housing less often on the Boulder than I did with my old bike with top tube cable routing.
5.  Mike practically insisted on the needle bearing Miche headset.  Low trail bikes can be prone to shimmy.  A bike that shimmied would be unacceptable to me, so I went for it.  My Boulder does not shimmy.  The Miche headset gets fouled rather easily in cyclocross conditions.  Its not really a big deal, would be even less of a problem if the bike had fenders mounted as intended.  Still, there is something to be said for a King headset that you install and never, ever have to touch again.
6.  And of course the beauty of the Boulder is that you can easily add alloy fenders, a front rack, and generator lighting and have a first class randoneeur bike.  I have not done any organized rando type stuff to date, but I do love to go on long, unsupported, all-road rides.  I'm itching to build the Boulder up as intended but right now it is too good of a cyclocross bike.  I need two of them!

There you have it.   One more note about performance and value for cyclocross.  As I said, I have ridden full carbon and titanium bikes that were a little lighter than my steel bike, but still not  better performing.  The one place I splurge is on tires.  I have been riding FMB super mud tubulars on Chris King hubs/Velocity alloy tubular rims.  Those tires make all the difference!  The traction and low rolling resistance of cotton tubulars at 22 psi is very, very real.  You don't need carbon Zipps!  You just need the tires that are usually glued to those Zipps.

Monday, February 24, 2014

My transportation dilemma.

As a veterinarian I am becoming a wealthy, wealthy man so I've decided to upgrade my daily transportation from the Bianchi Volpe I bought used 10 years ago for 400 bucks.  I thought about a sweet custom bike or even leasing a Honda, but I settled on a Bentley instead.  Because I want to roll in style.  It is totally affordable as long as my plan to win the lottery in the next 5 years comes to fruition.  My wife divorced me because she thinks I am an idiot with money.  Now I'm in a little bit of trouble because I may have overestimated my vast wealth by a smidgeon.  I'm having a hard time with the alimony on top of the mortgage and everything else.  I haven't even thought about selling the Bentley.  I might ask my parents for a loan to cover the car payments.

Does this scenario sound at all like a city with a 5 billion dollar drill stuck in the ground, asking for voters to approve a tax increase so that bus service isn't cut?

Does it sound at all like a country that can't take care of its citizens because its too busy writing blank checks to to companies that turn around and hand it to their CEO, or the military which in turn hands it to civilian contractors?

See you later.  I'm the not-so-wealthy veterinarian on the Bianchi.  I am happy and damn lucky to have a beautiful family and own a home.  But I'm disappointed with some of the decisions of our elected leaders.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Retrofitting a bike for metal fenders

The sliding bracket on my SKS fenders that always comes loose once again broke.  So rather than replace them I looked into having some eyelets added to the seatstay and chainstay of my old Bianchi Volpe, perpendicular to the tire.   It turns out that Garth at  haulincolin.com can do this quickly and for a very reasonable charge.




I had them add an eyelet to the Surly front rack and place a star nut in the fork steerer for the front fender too.  I went with stainless Berthoud fenders.  Somewhat heavier than alloy fenders but less expensive and this is already a heavy bike (the Surly front rack with its hardware weighs more than some racing frames out there).  The fenders went on easily, look really nice, and keep water off the feet a lot better than the SKS fenders due to not having a bracket on the underside of the fender and a rolled edge.  And being attached directly to eyelets, they should not loosen or break like SKS fenders tend to.

This is an easy and worthwhile project if you have a frame that you like and that has seatstay and chainstay bridges, just not with the right holes.... 


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

below zero cyclocross

This past weekend in Bend Oregon marks one of the most memorable weekends of cyclocross I have done.  It snowed about half a foot on friday, then a deep freeze set in.  This wasn't unpleasant cold- it was 3 degrees, not accounting for wind chill.  It was make-smart-clothing-choices-or-get-frostbite- kind of cold.  It was Bend canceling the annual holiday parade kind of cold.  But this is cyclocross and you don't cancel races because it is cold.  Surprisingly the course was quite rideable and it was fun racing.  My new Boulder worked flawlessly.  There were sections of the course which were frozen off camber ruts that really tested bike handling skills.  The following video demonstrates the problem:  if you hesitate even for a second and hit the brakes- you fall down.  If you commit to the fall line and let the bike roll you stay upright!
video
Riding on snow and ice is easier than it appears.  On the rare occasion there is snow and ice in Seattle, I still commute to work on a bicycle.  In fact I make even more of a point to ride on those days because I know the traffic will be horrible.  Cars generally drive a lot slower when there is snow and ice on the ground so it is not any more dangerous to be out on a bicycle.  Use a wider tire at low pressure, don't lean the bike over or brake when turning.
Watching the elite riders this weekend, you wouldn't even think there was snow or ice on the ground.  Geoff Kabush took the hole shot Saturday and built an impressive lead.  I guess that is natural as he is a Canadian.  Only Tim Johnson was able to overtake him.  In the last half of the race, when all the other competitors looked more or less miserable, Tim Johnson had a big grin on his face.  My beer froze while I was watching this race.
On Sunday I had the pleasure of being lapped by Carl Decker (front row start today) and fake Miguel Indurain (where did Kabush find that Banesto kit?!).  I love OBRA.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Horner and the Vuelta

Was really happy to see Horner finally win a grand tour - especially when he was the oldest guy out there.  There are a lot of people saying that something isn't right about his win though.  The problem is, there is no way for anybody except Horner and his coach to know that right now.  The suspicious points:
1) He's old and he has never managed to win a grand tour before, so why now?  Well, he is old, but some older athletes are able to hang on to their endurance really well, if not speed and power.  And a grand tour is all about endurance.  He was forced to sit out the tour de france due to a knee injury, so it makes sense that he was able to specifically peak for the Vuelta when the other contenders were killing themselves at the tour de france and the Giro.  As far as never winning a grand tour before:  he has  ridden as a domestique for his entire career.  And one thing I haven't heard anyone pointing out is that Horner is usually good for a top-15 in the tour de france, despite riding as a domestique.  And more than once he has finished better on the GC than the team leader. Another thing- the Vuelta, being a bit short on the time trials but heavier on the big steep climbs, suits him well.  He certainly lost time in this Vuelta in the time trials but made it up in the mountains.
2)  His defense of Armstrong is weird.  That sort of does make you wonder if he is still in the mindset of doping is OK if you don't get caught.  I've always wondered if Horner was clean during the apex of the EPO years.  Who knows.  I've often wondered how Horner would have fared as a team captain in a clean peloton all those years.
3) The missed drug test on the last day.  On the surface it looks bad but it does seem like he followed the proper procedures and the tester messed up and went looking at the wrong place.  

I have always been a fan of Horner because he is a northwest native, always seems to have a great attitude- as evidenced by things like trying to give interviews in Spanish and giving his competitors a ride on his bike to the finish (Cascade Classic) -and occasionally races cyclocross to boot.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

gardening pro tips for cyclists

I'm inspired to write this after spending too much time mowing the lawn when I should have been riding.
Dont fight moss.  Its green, right?  A perfectly manicured lawn is for golfers.  Clover looks okay after you mow it, and the bees really like it.  Same can be said for a lot of other weeds.  If dandelions were unknown and a botanist suddenly discovered them in a remote area, people would go apeshit over them.  They are edible.  If your neighbors complain, tell them they are not weeds, they are salad greens.  If you must wage war on dandelions, just ask your kids to make a bouquet out of them.  That will sort of slow them down.
Use native plants when possible.  Flowering currant is one of my favorites.  Birds and beneficial insects like them, they fit in nicely, and you don't have to waste time watering them or nursing them to health because they are native and like to live here.  Sword ferns:  my wife thinks they are ugly.  I disagree, and besides, what else are you going to grow on that north facing slope that is wet and dark 9 months of the year?
Ivy is evil and only rats enjoy it.  Its probably worth it to yank it and plant something nice in its place.
That about covers it.  Now get out and ride, its spring!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Paris Roubaix

I was excited to see Spartacus, Vanmarcke, and former cyclocross superstar Zdenek Stybar in a break with less than 20 km to go.  Then heartbroken to see Stybar clip a spectator, nearly crash, and lose contact with the break.  10 seconds might as well be 10 minutes when faced with regaining contact with Cancellara inside of 20 km to go in Paris-Roubaix.  On the crappy live internet feed I could see Stybar get suddenly knocked clear over to the other side of the path, collide with another spectator, but amazingly stay upright.   Those are cyclocross bike handling skills for sure. Lars Boom was in the mix earlier in the race too.  It would be fun to see some cyclocrossers win a spring classic and follow the path of the legendary Roger De Vlaeminck.