Category Archives: Cycling Blogs

Reality bites…

…and it doesn’t hurt that bad.

This time I’m going to revamp the One Bike idea a bit and make an attempt to bring it back to reality.  My last post was a mental exercise prompted by another post over at Singularity.  In summary, if you could only have one bike, what would it be?  No holds barred.  Spare no expenses.  Win the lottery.  Mine turned out to be an A. Homer Hilsen.  (Or a Sam Hilborne, but I don’t much care for slopey top tubes.)  I think there’s some merit to this exercise, but there’s a little problem, too.  A new A. Homer Hilsen costs $2,300 for the frame and fork.  While that may be realistic for lots of folks, I can’t swing $2,300 for an entire bike.  Half that is more realistic.  Half again, and use the existing bits and pieces I have lying around is completely realistic.  That said, let’s rewrite the rules.

  1. One frame-set only.  We’ll save this one for last.
  2. Multiple wheel-sets are permitted.  This is what makes one bike possible.
  3. Multiples of a given component are permitted.  Not as necessary as #2, but awfully convenient.
  4. Cost is not a factor.  Name your price.  Obviously, no one expects anyone to talk about their money in public.  But be realistic.  Figure out what you’d need in a bike and then try to track down something that works.
  5. As few variations as possible.  Not a problem.
  6. As little hassle as possible.  I really don’t ever try to build in hassle.  It just happens.
  7. Call your shot.
  8. Justify.  7 and 8 kinda go together.  e.g. I need a trailer hitch because I tow the kids around in the trailer.

That’s just one variation.  Price.  This little change requires much more flexibility in the finished product.

  1. The 7-speed stuff is still on board.  This was a surprise.  I’ve had difficulty finding decent quality 7-speed cassette hubs, spaced 126 OLD.  The pickier I get, the scarcer and pricier they are.  That’s the way when you have to troll eBay and Craigslist for old parts.  If the One Bike were based on a new frame, rear dropout spacing is likely to be somewhere between 130 and 135mm, which changes the game entirely.  The RM40 is a low-end, current production 7-speed hub from Shimano.  Alternately, I can simply use modern 8/9/10-speed  road or MTB hubs with a little 4.5mm spacer behind the cassette.  A third option is going back to eBay.  Unlike road hubs, MTB hubs, spaced for modern frames, from the early 90s are plentiful and much less expensive.  Plus, I have my own stash of 7-speed shifters.
  2. Instead of two sets of identical wheels, we’re now at two sets of wheels.  One front wheel has a dynamo and the other doesn’t.  Looking at the wheels currently in my possession, I can do this if I settle on 26″ rims instead of 700c.  I have more than one set of 700c wheels, but they’re all different enough from each other that I’d have difficulty swapping them.  The rims are different widths, which would require brake adjustments.  The hubs are different widths, which will probably require derailer adjustments.  If I were to use my existing 700c wheels, I’d be violating rules 5 and 6.  Parallax hubs are cheap and plentiful and for some unintentional reason I have a box full of them.  I currently have two MTB rear wheels built on Parallax hubs.  I’ve given away more of these hubs than I currently posses.  Odds are, if someone puts a mountain bike that didn’t come from a department store on the curb, it has a Parallax hub.  They’re everywhere. So I have two 26″ rear wheels, and both have rims of similar width.  Within a millimeter of each other.  I have two front wheels, also with similar rims.  One of them has a dynamo hub, which solves the night riding requirements.  This leads me to the conclusion that my One Bike needs to take 26″ wheels instead of 700c.
  3. Tires.  I decided I’d need three sets.  Utility, winter and fun.  For 26″/559ISO rims I currently have some Bontrager Satellites, Nokian W106 studded, Panaracer Fire XC Pros and a few other mismatched tires.  The Bontrager and Nokian tires satisfy the utility and winter requirements.  None of the other tires really contribute to sporty road riding, but they’re there, and they’ll work in a pinch if I need a spare.  That’s 3+ pairs of tires for 26″ rims, adding more influence to the 26″ decision.
  4. I don’t have a Sugino XD crank, but I have several crank sets that I could put to use.  There’s an MT60 triple and a matching bottom bracket in the parts bin.  There are a couple long cage rear and a couple triple front derailers, too.
  5. Some place to attach racks.  I have two bikes that, so far, could be made to serve as the One Bike, but neither has any accommodation for racks, aside from drop out eyelets.  I’d have to use P-clamps to secure racks to the seat stays.  This works in the sense that the rack is attached to the bike and can hold panniers, but the rack will wiggle a lot more than if it was screwed directly to the frame.
  6. Drop handlebars.  Both of those existing bikes are mountain bikes.  Mountain bikes tend to have longer top tubes than road bikes.  I don’t think drop bars are a good solution on most mountain bikes because of that.  Combine this with the rack problem, and it’s pretty obvious that I need a new frame.
  7. Now I have to concede another sticking point.  The brakes.  I specified caliper brakes instead of cantilever.  With all my other nits, like wide tires, this was the sticking point that led me to the conclusion that those two bikes from Rivendell were the only current production models meeting all of my requirements.  If I make an exception for cantilever brakes, this opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Let’s break it down.

  1. 26″/559ISO wheels
  2. Road bike geometry
  3. Rack eyelets
  4. Well under $1000.  Closer to $500 is better.

I can think of a few off the top of my head, the most obvious being the Surly Long Haul Trucker, but there are others.  As it stands I already have nearly every part necessary to build up a new frame set.  I might need a chain and cables and maybe a few odd small parts, but it’s pretty obvious that if I accept reality I could have the One Bike.

One bike to rule them all…

…and in the something something.  I can’t think of anything catchy.

Over at Singularity there’s a little challenge to do some thinking and come up with one bike that would fit every possible need.  A mental exercise in minimalism without sacrificing functionality.  I can do this.  A while back I came to the conclusion that 3 bikes is plenty – just put different handlebars on each one.  Paring it down to one should be easy.  In theory.  Let’s take a look at the rules.  (My thoughts about each rule look like this.)

  1. One frame-set only.  We’ll save this one for last.
  2. Multiple wheel-sets are permitted.  This is what makes one bike possible.
  3. Multiples of a given component are permitted.  Not as necessary as #2, but awfully convenient.
  4. Cost is not a factor.  ORLY?
  5. As few variations as possible.  Not a problem.
  6. As little hassle as possible.  I really don’t ever try to build in hassle.  It just happens.
  7. Call your shot.
  8. Justify.  7 and 8 kinda go together.  e.g. I need a trailer hitch because I tow the kids around in the trailer.

Let’s get started with 8, shall we?

Let’s.

I do some utility riding.  A lot of this is stuff most people would do in their car.  We’re fortunate to live in a suburb with lots of services nearby.

Getting both kids to school is a 2.5 mile round trip.  3 miles if the little one isn’t ready to go and I have to come back after dropping off the big one.  The big one rides her own bike.  The little one can ride her own bike in the mornings, but traffic is too heavy after school.  When the weather is nice enough she rides an Adams Trail-a-bike.  When it’s not she lounges in a Wike trailer.  I need hitches for both of these.  I still haven’t found a really good way to get her bike home if she rides it in the morning.  A utility trailer with a bike rack would work.  Let’s add that to the list.

Let’s.

Stop that.

A grocery run is about 3 miles round trip.  I’ve used the Wike trailer for this, but typically a set of panniers gets the nod.  I only have touring bags.  They work in the sense that they can be stuffed full of groceries, but I usually end up re-bagging everything to make it all fit just right for the ride home.  I’ve had a Wald Giant Delivery Basket on a couple bikes at one time or another.  Simply dropping the grocery bags into it is super easy, but it’s big, heavy, and makes the bike steer for crap.  Grocery panniers might be nice.  Racks, of course, are a given.  Most of the grocery runs are at night.  I like dynamo lighting.  Battery lights are for suckers.  We’ll put a dynamo wheel on the list.

Currently, those are the two big utility requirements.  I’ll do local errands on the bike, too.  If I ever rejoin the ranks of the gainfully employed this bike will probably be put to use as a commuting machine at least some of the time.

Did you notice how I never said “unless it’s raining”?  Fenders are required.

Recreational rides include the local bike club, JRA, S24O and the occasional weekend “long” ride.  I did a mini-tour last year with Doc.  Three days.

Bike club rides are not of the pace-line variety.  Our club classifies the ride pace as A, B, C or D.  A-rides are generally treated as training rides for the racers and wannabe racers.  B-rides have pace-lines, too.  I go on the C and D rides, where the pace-line is less line and more amoeba.  And there’s no pace, either.  Any bike will work for these rides.

JRA means “just riding around”.  Any bike will work for JRA.  In bike shop jargon it also means “just riding along”.  This is a reference to numb skull customers who think the mechanic can’t tell how a fork got bent.  “I was just riding along and it bent back like that when I hit the brakes.”  

S240 means sub-24-hour-overnight.  This, by itself, is reason enough to ride a bike.  There are few activities as fun or as cheap as going bike camping.  “Cheap” is relative.  You gotta buy a bike and some camping gear.  But once those are accounted for it’s pretty close to free.  Food and maybe camping fees.  The bike needs some way to carry camping gear.  Racks, panniers, saddle bag, small front basket, etc.  Same stuff I’d use for grocery getting. These bits are also useful for the 3-day mini tour.  I’d just need to bring more food and a few extra changes of clothing.

I think that covers rule #8 and sorta touches on #7.  Let’s get more specific.

I really like 7-speed cassettes.  There’s nothing wrong with 8 or 9 or 15 cogs, but I like 7.  All the parts are less expensive and more durable.  Derailers and shifters are easier to keep in proper adjustment.  If an indexed shifter stops indexing, friction is perfectly usable.  I can get the range I want, from about 20 gear inches up to about 100, with readily available parts without having to fuss with silly things like half-step gearing or close range triples.  2 of my 6 bicycles are currently set up with a 7-speed cassette.  One of my bikes has a 7-speed freewheel.  One of those 3 even has indexed shifting.  7 is the sweet spot.  Everything since then has been good for racers and those strange people who want the latest and greatest.  The problem with 7 is that the currently available parts are on the low end of the quality spectrum.  This means that I’d have to track down high quality old stuff, or put up with the new cheap bits.  At this point, I believe that for my purposes either of those options is better than going with 9 or 10 or 11 speed cassettes.  So that’s how I’d build both of my rear wheels.  A 135mm hub with a 7-speed body could be nearly dishless.  One should have a K-cassette (13-34) and the other could be geared a little higher.  Maybe 11-28.  Add touring rims and 36 stainless spokes.

There should be two identical front wheels.  Both should have the same rims as the rear wheels, 36 stainless spokes and mid-range dynamo hubs.  I currently have an Alfine dynamo on one bike and a SRAM D7 on another.  Either of those would be fine.

I’ve had good luck with Alex Adventurer rims.  So those are cool.

Having two sets of identical wheels goes a long way toward rules 5 and 6.  Easy wheel swaps, simple redundancy.  Multiple wheel-sets make the one bike thing possible.  Wheel and tire damage is probably the number one reason a bike gets sidelined in favor of another.  “Got a flat, ride a different bike” becomes “put on the other wheel”.

I’d need 3 pairs of tires.  The first pair should be a bullet proof (ok, flat resistant), durable commuter/touring tire.  Schwalbe Marathon Supreme, 700c x 40.  These tires would be the daily use tires.  I don’t have time to fix flats when I’m taking the girls to school.  I don’t want to fix flats at 1am when it’s 20F outside and I’m on my way home with groceries.

The second pair of tires is the fun pair.  Panaracer Pasela.  At least 32mm wides, preferably 37mm.  These would live on the higher geared wheels and be used for club rides and JRA.  I’d move them to the low-geared wheels for S24O and touring.

The third pair would be studded.  Nokian A10 or something like that.  These would replace the Marathons from the first snowfall until the end of February.

Two saddles and two seat posts.  One saddle should be made of thick leather.  I like my Velo-Orange Model 1.  A Brooks Pro or a Berthoud would work, too.  The leather saddle should be attached to a really nice seat post, like a Nitto Crystal Fellow.  This is the fun ride/S24O/touring saddle.

The second saddle should be plastic and attached to a cheaper post, like a Kalloy.  The Trail-a-bike hitch goes with the second one.  This is the utility, all weather, day to day saddle.

7-speed bar-end shifters.  I have a pair of Shimano 600 shifters that index.  They’re ancient and they still work perfectly.  Rivendell Silver Shifters on bar-end pods are my second choice

Sugino XD-2 crank.  26/36/48.  SKF bottom bracket.  MKS RMX Sneaker pedals.

I’m indifferent about derailers.  Long cage for the rear and a road triple for the front.  Something mid-range or better.

A slightly flared drop bar.  I’m not entirely sure which one.  After trying quite a few I’ve found that I really like both the Nitto B115 and the Salsa Cowbell.  I do like some variety in handlebars.  Having a second, different bar with its own levers and cables would make the occasional swap fairly painless.  I’m undecided on the specific second handlebar.

Shimano Dura-Ace brake levers for the drop bars.  Update:  I’ve changed my mind.  Tektro or Cane Creek levers.  They have a quick release button that really helps open up the brakes.

Fenders.  Berthoud stainless or Planet Bike Cascadia.  No SKS, no VO, no Honjo.

Lights for the dynamo.  B&M has a new super bright headlight with a USB charging port.  It should be available soon.  I want one.  This would be great for keeping the GPS and phone charged while on an S24O or tour.  The Toplight Line Plus is the most perfect dynamo taillight ever designed.  Fact.  I’d like a switch to turn it off independent of the headlight, so as to not blind the little one while she’s being towed.

Nitto Big Back Rack and some sort of top rack for the front that can hold a basket or handlebar bag.

That pretty much covers all of the rules except #1 – the frame-set.  It has to take racks and handle a camping load.  It has to pull a trailer.  It need clearance for 40mm tires and fenders.  It must be steel.  I prefer vertical drop-outs.  There’s a big, big list of bikes that will do this.  I can already hear a bunch of you saying “don’t be an idiot, get a Long Haul Trucker!”

I want side-pull caliper brakes.

WTF, Sloth?

That narrowed the list down a bit, didn’t it?

As far as I know, there is only one non-janky long reach brake that will handle 40mm tires and a fender.  It’s made by Tektro.  R559.

The only production frame I’m aware of that will do all of this is the Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen.  So there it is.  My one bike to tow them all.

Coming back down to reality, I can’t afford an A. Homer Hilsen.  With the current price of $2, 000 (that’s just the frame and fork, folks) set to increase in a few days to $2,300, it’s way out of the budget.  I could have a TIG-welded custom made for less if I kept it simple. If any of you are aware of another current production bike, complete or frame-set, that meets the requirements listed above, lemme know, because this little exercise really has me thinking.  The wife-type probably wouldn’t be thrilled with the initial expenditure, but I bet she’d be ecstatic about the reduction in clutter.

Another update:  The current batch of Sam Hillborne bikes also meet my needs.  It turns out the old ones had cantilever brakes.  The new ones have calipers.  Whee!  Civia had a bike in 2011 called the Prospect.  Looking at the pictures it should be able to handle a 38mm tire with fenders.  If I could track down one of those it would be even more affordable than the Sam, leaving more cash for the wheels and other do-dads.

Yet another update:  The Civia Prospect has horizontal dropouts.  I’m not sure how I missed that, but it’s a deal killer.  So we’re back to the two bikes I can’t afford.

Peace out, yo, and go ride your bike.

Spring cleaning

A few things have happened since the last installment.  We bought a house, moved our stuff, cleaned the old place, and tried really hard to not pull all our hair out.

Bicycle miles for March are pretty close to zero.  As such, I kinda didn’t finish the Utilitaire 12.  I suppose I could have, and probably did, get in enough riding to do 12 utilitaires.  But they were mostly out of necessity and time didn’t allow for much variety.  I did, however, get a big ol’ Honorable Mention from the ever-so-lovely MG.  And that was super cool.  Thanks, MG!

I’ve had to do some plumbing.  The new (old) kitchen required a new faucet and dishwasher.  The new (new) bathroom needed a new shower head.  I have yet to figure out why in hell anyone would voluntarily choose to become a plumber.  Furthermore, I don’t understand how anyone with less than 7 joints in each limb can make a living out of it and not have to hand over their entire pay check to a chiropractor.  Eugene Tooms could have been a good plumber.

The rSogn is getting closer to done.  I’ve attached a Nitto M12 rack and an Ostrich handlebar bag.  Speeding down hill with a front load and no hands is wicked cool.

I just received a snazzy new set of stainless fenders from Velo-Orange. Anyone want to see a pictorial installation how-to? I’ll try to get that done within the next few days.

A slow, easy S24O is coming up.  Tentative plans have us heading down to the Lower Allen Township park and forcibly ejecting anyone else camping along the Yellow Breeches.  If you’re near Harrisburg, PA for the second or third weekends in April and would like to come along, lemme know.

I think that should just about wrap things up.  Tune in next time for co-ed naked alligator wrestling in a mud pit.

Utilitaire 12, Week 3, Controle 6

I’m cheating. Well, actually, I’m taking advantage of a technicality. The Utilitaire 12 rules state that only once can I hit two controls in one day. Since I hit the first control of the week yesterday and was unsure of today’s schedule, I waited until after midnight and went to the grocery store for control 6.

The scenic route afforded me 2.5 miles of wind and cold; a stark contrast to yesterday’s high of 50-something. Once again, I forgot to take the photo on my way out, but remembered before I left the parking lot. So I doubled back and snapped one, charged lights and all. Unfortunately, my phone’s camera crapped out again, and there’s no photo. This is getting old. On the plus side, my contract is up with T-Stationary (because there’s no service if I go anwywhere), so I should have a new one soonish.

Ride bike!

Utlilitaire 12, Week 3, Controle 5

We’re down to the last 2 days for week 3 of Utilitaire 12 and I hadn’t done any riding at all. Deciding to have Neato Burrito for dinner was easy. I’m always up for burritos. Riding there is kind of a prerequisite. Otherwise, I can’t justify the calories. We didn’t eat our lunch until after 4pm, so I’m calling this dinner for the purposes of filling out the control card. Also, a friend turned me onto Strava yesterday, so this is my first use of that service. Here’s the ride map.

So far, Strava is pretty cool. The Android app uses the GPS to track the ride and then automagically uploads everything to their site. In the past I’ve used either a dedicated GPS device or the My Tracks app, and then fiddled around with uploading a GPX file to a service like Ride with GPS or Daily Mile. This Strava thing is much easier.

As usual, the Sloth’s brain is running on the slow side, and I forgot to take a photo at Neato Burrito. So I took one at home just before unloading the basket. There are two burritos and two sodas in that bag.

The bag is one of those semi-reusable 99¢ shopping bags from the local supermarket.  I bought a few of these a couple years ago and they’re still holding together.  They each have a stiff plastic insert on the bottom, which helps it stand up when it’s full.  These things fit damn near perfectly in the bottom of my Wald basket.  I generally fold it down, lay the cable and lock on top, and then cover the top of the basket with a bungee net.  This setup is very handy, and ensures I can carry just about anything that fits in the basket.

Ooh!  I have to rant about bags.

Grant Petersen thinks my bag makes me look like a hobo.  My bag costs a buck and lasts at least 2 years.  His is $60.  I can get 120 years of cycling out mine for $60.  Who knows how long his will last?  I don’t care if someone steals mine, so I leave it on the bike all the time.  The $60 bag might grow legs if I left it outside.  Mine may make me look like a hobo, but his makes me look like I’m carrying a purse.

So there.

Ride bike!

Utilitaire 12, Week 2

Now that week 3 is drawing to a close, I figure it’s time to jabber about week 2. If you don’t know what a Utilitaire is, read my previous post or just go to the source at Chasing Mailboxes.

Controle 3 was the local True Value hardware store on February 9th.  It’s in the same strip mall nightmare as Isaac’s (from last week’s entry), and still not close enough to the lone bike rack, so I locked it to a downspout just in front of the hardware store.  This was, without a doubt, the most miserable ride of the year.  I was sick, it was cold, and I didn’t want to go.  There’s nothing like swollen sinuses and a bad attitude to make a bike ride last forever.  2.66 miles.  At night.

I’ve been working on a modified front rack for the rSogn, so I can start using my Ostrich handlebar bag, and needed some 1/4″ p-clamps.  They had some plastic clamps that will work for fitting and mock-up purposes, but I’ll soon have to find some in steel.

As you can probably tell, this ride was after sunset.  The rSogn’s lighting system consists of a Novatec hub dynamo wired to an IQ Fly N Plus headlight and a 4D Lite Plus taillight.  The headlight has its ups and down.  It’s certainly bright, and it has 3 detents for aiming the light.  This is an awesome feature that makes it easy to adjust the beam angle depending on conditions.  I’ll point it down it a bit on multi-user paths so as to not blind pedestrians, but aim it high on unlit rural roads to really light things up.  On the down side, it’s hideous and there are brighter options out there.  I’m please with it overall, and  have no plans to replace it.  The taillight is nothing special.  It’s not bad, and if you don’t have a rear rack it’s a good solution.  The B&M Toplight Line Plus is a far better taillight.  If I had a rear rack permanently mounted, that’s what I’d use.

My 4th controle was the supermarket 2 blocks away on the 12th.  I took the scenic route and made it an even 3 miles round trip.  This one was also at night.  Unfortunately, my phone’s camera dumped core just after I took the photo.  When I got home and tried to upload, there was no picture at all.  So you’ll have to imagine the next two days’ worth of groceries piled high in the front rack.

The rSogn has low trail front geometry.  What this means is that there’s a fairly steep head tube angle of 73°, coupled with a fork offset of 63mm.  This is a good combination for carrying loads above the front wheel.  My grocery run was probably the 2nd heaviest load so far and the handling was just fine.  Having a basket and a net, front or rear, is much easier than dealing with panniers.

Ride bike!

Utilitaire 12, Week 1

For those of you who live under a rock, the lovely MG over at Chasing Mailboxes has challenged the whole, wide world to participate in the Utilitaire 12.  I missed the Coffeeneuring Challenge (because I was living under a rock).  Anyway, the short, short, paraphrased version is “go ride your bike to get stuff done.”  You should really click the 2nd link in the first sentence.

Last week, on the 2nd, I did my two-fer.  First, I rode the rSogn to the library and donated some books for their annual-ish book sale.  This is the Cleve J. Fredrickson Library in Camp Hill, PA, but my phone died before I could get a second photo with the sign.  You’ll have to take my word for it.  3.54 miles round trip.

The rSogn, with its cushy 650b tires and low-trail geometry, handled the 20 pounds of paperbacks with ease.  I’d like a better front rack, but for now it’ll do.

Later, I scooted over to a nearby suburban-hell shopping center to have lunch with the wife.  2.66 miles round trip.

That yellow grate thing attached to the green post is part of Isaac’s branding.  I have never, ever seen a bike locked to it before, but since the only bike rack in this hole of a strip mall is clear down at the other end, I locked up here.  After we ate there was another bike locked to it.  WIN!  If you look close and squint, you can see it behind mine.  “If you park on it, they will come,” or some such.

So that’s my first week and first 2 Utilitaires.  I need to get my butt in gear for this week.

Coffee and Fenders

I met up with Johnny Trashbike this morning at the local Starbucks. We traded bike bits for coffee. He’s got some work ahead of him mounting said bits on his Nishiki. I’m working on a caffeine high from some freshly ground beans. Maybe he’ll post a photo or two when he’s done. I’m not shaking enough yet. Gotta get back to the coffee.

Membership dues

It seems there’s a new bike club in town.  It’s the Tarik Saleh Bike Club!  A few of us out here in the mid-Atlantic are already members.  The rules are easy peasy.

  1. Ride bikes.
  2. Try not to be an ass.

You should join, too.  I hope this guy sees this photo and realizes how much cooler I am than he.

I think I just violated rule #2.