no one line

Easy Friday
February 12, 2010, 8:13 pm
Filed under: fun, General, road bikes
I went out for an “easy ride” today, planning on one and a half or two hours of steady riding. It’s still February, and though the weather is a sunny, gorgeous 34deg, there’s still a bunch of winter left until a long spring. It’s too early for intensity.
I left the house and, after a few miles of cruising through town’s traffic, found myself on farm roads in the river valley, heading north. The wind was slamming in to me, so I had to retreat to my drops and, if I wanted to make any progress at all, put my head down and grind my way up the road. So I did.
Friel says that the most common training problem is going too hard on easy days and going too easy on hard days. Oops.
Well, the wind didn’t abate. I counted pedal strokes and imagined myself in a very Euro field-shredding echelon. When I reached the Out of my Out and Back, I decided to turn in to the hills, do a bit of climbing, and then ride the Frost Heave Rodeo back down into town rather than deal with those vicious crosswinds any more.
It’s a nice way to spend a Friday.

Spooky Skeletor
February 8, 2010, 3:43 pm
Filed under: bikes, products, road bikes

The folks over at Spooky Bikes were nice enough to sponsor a really good cyclocross race in Easthampton back in November. They were nice enough to raffle off a frameset. So nice, in fact, that I was the winner. That’s how nice they were.

I’ve mentioned the Spooky Skeletor that I picked up from their awesome workshop over in the Eastworks a few times here on this blog, and since, I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten some hits from people searching the internet for reviews of the Skeletor. There aren’t a whole lot out there (one, two, among some talk on bikeforums calling it the CAAD9 killer), but since Spooky’s star is rising, there are bound to be more people searching for one. So, with a conscious attempt to avoid the absurd slang that’s all-too-pervasive in reviews (laterally stiff, vertically compliant?), here’s my take on things:

If you hold one in your hand, you notice three things about an aluminum frame first off: first, you notice the fancy crap – the paint job, the decals. Then you notice the welds. And third, you notice the shaping of the tubing. Here’s what the Skeletor looks like: simple, rugged. It’s anodized black with simple decals. I like that, despite also owning an ostentatious bike (why yes, those are rainbow sparkles in the clearcoat, thanks for noticing!). The Spooky’s welds are very evenly beaded – more so than my CoMotion, more so than my Felt track bike. The tubing shapes are interesting: there’s a nice, subtle ridge along the top tube near the headtube, the downtube is fat as hell. I expected it to ride stiffly.

I built it up with the stuff I’ve been riding on various bikes for a couple of years: Campagnolo 9 speed drivetrain with Eurus wheels. I bought a cheap carbon fork from ebay. I had an Alpha Q sitting around with a loose dropout, and I was too impatient to leave the Skeletor unbuilt while waiting to hear back from True Temper. The build went smoothly – the bottom bracket threaded in fine, and the Cane Creek headset I bought from Spooky went in with no problems. I bolted on the BB cable guide and put the wheels on it and started dangling parts on it, like you’re supposed to, and the build encountered nary a problem.

Then I got to throw my leg over it and ride it.

Now, first off, I knew I’d like it because it fit me better than my old bike. I’m short. Even small bikes need fairly ordinary-sized headtubes to avoid difficult mitering and welding of the top tube and the downtube, which means that with my fairly low saddle, there’s only so much bar-drop I can set up with. There’s only so much I need, too – I’m comfortable riding long, and with short arms, I don’t need them too far down to get a flat back. That said, while my old bike was comfortable, there was room for improvement, and my fit on the Spooky was an improvement. If Spooky had a 48cm bike, I may have gone for that to get a bit more option in getting my bars 5 or 10mm lower, but they didn’t, and a compact 52cm bike is enough to give me reasonable standover, the reach I need, and a proper bar drop.

I took it out for some sprints and found it stiffer than my track bike. Stiffness has its pros and cons: I found my way on to some rough streets and noted that it bounced over rough pavement. It required some deft handling; using legs as suspension became a bit more important. Some of the stiffness is from the front end, attributed to the cheap fork; I look forward to noting the difference between that and the Alpha Q. That said, for all the talk on the internet about the pain of stiff aluminum frames, I’ve never experienced discomfort from a stiff aluminum frame. I’ve ridden my TK2 all day, and the only pain I got was from riding steel handlebars with no cushion on the tops. I’ve ridden my CoMotion all day with no problems. I don’t expect pain or discomfort from long rides (though anything involving cobbles or “unpavé” may impart its own pain).  The rigid ride of the Skeletor might makes for some wide-eyed moments over rough stuff; I wouldn’t recommend it to somebody who’s looking for an all-around bike – this is a race bike. With that in mind, I wouldn’t expect its stiffness to be much of a mark against it in the long run. Again: I look forward to putting on the superior carbon fork.

I like the bike’s handling a lot. My old bike was fairly longlegged, with a very stable, predictable front end. The Skeletor is quick and nimble – with a little bit less trail than I’m used to, it wants to dance around. But taking it down some descents, it sort of evens out and feels more stable than I’d expect. It wants to dive into corners and lean steeply – it asks me to lay it over much more quickly and readily than my old bike did. Oh yes: this is how a race bike should handle. Remind me to let out 5psi, to accommodate the rigid ride and to make sure I’ve got enough grip leaning as sharply as it wants me to… especially with so much sand still on the roads.

So there you have it. A product review that hopefully doesn’t read like industry lubricant. I think that Spooky is a company with decent stuff between its ears. I like my Spooky Skeletor.

A New Build
December 8, 2009, 7:57 pm
Filed under: bikes, products, road bikes

Here’s the deal, world. I will go to my grave insisting that I am a not the new-bike-each-season type of jerk (I say “jerk” out of jealousy, which is a form of love). Now, I know that the evidence against me is pretty staggering. Let’s see – two seasons of track racing on three different frames. Starting my first full road season on my third road frame in a year and a half. But I swear – I’m a cheapskate. There were extenuating circumstances!

And here’s another extenuating circumstance. I’ll race next year on a Skeletor, from Spooky Bikes. I rode home from their facility in Easthampton, MA with the frame over my shoulder, excited as all hell. I won it at SpookyCX in Easthampton, a few weeks ago. All pre-registrants were entered into a raffle, and what happened went something like this.

Promoter: “[Blah blah blah], Category 4 men, to the line, please!”

(everybody scuffles and shuffles forward. I take a spot on the side, in the first row)

Promoter: “As you all know we’re raffling off a Spooky Bikes frame today.”

Everyone: “Whoo! I hope it’s me!”

Promoter: “With Mathmumble Mumblesomesuch please step forward?”

Me: “Uh, was that my name?”

Promoter: “Sure!”

Me: Why am I getting a call-up? Are there call-ups? Did I somehow score points in this series at some point? Seems unlikely…

Promoter: “You won a bike.”

Me: “What?”

Promoter: “Everybody chase that guy. He just won a frame.”

Me: “What?” I throw my arms into the air, victory-style.

Them: Laughter and raging jealousy.

Me: “Holy shit!”

Even getting called up to several feet in front of the field wasn’t good enough for me to get a decent hole shot, and I settled in ten back as the field rocketed through the fast course. It was the funnest ‘cross course I’ve ever raced – which I can say because I didn’t get a chance to race Tracklocross – and I had a big smile throughout. The course had lots of fast, sweeping hardpack, some good terrain, and I passed  more people than passed me, kept hunting a podium spot, but wound up finishing 4th.

Afterward, I settled down near the Spooky Bus to talk things over with Mickey, the mad genius behind the company, and in short order I was convinced that this rag-tag outfit of ruffians really knew what they were doing. A visit to their shop a week later only had me further convinced, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on my frame.

I’ll build it up classic cheapskate-style – the parts from my CoMotion, of course, and an Alpha Q fork that I got for cheap because it needs a minor repair. Of course, I’ll crow loudly the day it’s finished – probably with pictures from an inaugural ride. It will be a little bit, maybe a few weeks or so, but it will happen pretty soon all things considered.

And I’ll review the bike here on my blog, but you can expect me to be pretty positive about it. I’ve already been given lots of reason to be impressed with Spooky’s business and products. You can take my nonsense with a grain of salt if I’m recommending a frame or a company before even riding their darn frame, but hey – go visit them yourself, spend a half hour talking with Mickey, and see if you’re not in my shoes.

3Rensho Allez
October 19, 2009, 5:24 pm
Filed under: bikes, road bikes

Here’s something you don’t see too often – a 3Rensho-built Specialized Allez on eBay – in my size.

Yoshi Konno was a Japanese framebuilder who was known for masterful construction of road and keirin bikes, as well as a willingness to experiment and innovate. He built under the name 3Rensho, pronounced “San Rensho,” and his career includes a short time building a few Allez models for Specialized. You can tell it’s Konno-built from the extremely fine lugwork – long, pointed narrowing of the lugtips and careful thinning of the lugs almost make the joints look delicate.

That one for sale is a lovely little bike that makes me wish I had some more disposable money.

Some Handlebars Are More Equal Than Others
May 1, 2009, 12:28 pm
Filed under: bikes, road bikes

Friday morning, I woke up early to change handlebars on my road bike before I left for work – again. Last week I had put on a different set of handlebars, looking to get a deeper, lower position than my preferred handlebars, Ritchey Biomax bars, afforded me.

I first realized the importance of handlebars and bike fit a little over a year ago, when, after many rides fidgeting and trying to get comfortable on some deep, square-ish ergo drop bars, I picked up those Ritchey bars because of their shallower drop, slight flare, and what I thought would be a more comfortable angle of the ergo section. I realized that the reach was shorter and that given the incredibly wide variety of handlebars, choosing the right handlebar was as much a matter of proper fit on the bicycle as was installing the right length stem. When I discussed bicycle fit with people – especially people for whom bike fit is somewhat tricky, like short people (like myself) – I would always bring up handlebar choice.

This became additionally important when I saw how many entry-level track racers fit themselves on track bikes. I saw a lot of people riding very close and deep; their arms went almost straight down to very deep drop bars. When I bought my Felt, one of the first things I did was give away the ultra-deep Deda drop bars and get Nitto B125s, shallow-drop track bars that are comparable to criterium bars; I recently put on a 120mm stem. My drop isn’t extreme and I’m reaching out to the bars a bit more than I’m reaching down to them – it’s a stable, long fit that I feel gives me good weight distribution, a good diaphragm-opening reach, and an aero enough posture, without compromising the bike’s handling.

Considering my discovery of the importance of handlebar ft, I was pleased to come across this site, which has animations of the different geometries of different drop bars, illustrating the significant differences in reach and drop that different types of handlebars afford. With longer-reach bars having perhaps as much as 3 centimeters more reach than others (which was the case with the bars I just removed from my bike), it’s important not to neglect this aspect of bike fit – as much as it’s important to not arbitrarily use an 80mm stem rather than a 110mm.

It doesn’t necessarily take an experienced and expensive fitter to get yourself comfortable on the bike, although the cost/benefit of that might work out in your favor if you’re looking to align optimal comfort with optimal performance, with some other difficult variables thrown in. An amateur can play around by looking at other people’s fit, experimenting with saddle position, stem length, and, of course, handlebar dimension.

Derailleur Hanger Mishaps #2
May 1, 2009, 12:21 pm
Filed under: road bikes, wrenching

It has been a time of bike repair. Last week I perfected the fine art of bending a derailleur hanger back into alignment. However, just to be on the safe side, I ordered a new derailleur hanger, and though I didn’t immediately install it, knowing that my current hanger was probably vulnerable or still somewhat bent, having the spare on hand was reassuring.

A few days ago, while riding over to work for Laek House, the need to install the new hanger became apparent: the old one snapped off and left my derailleur hanging below my chainstay.

I chalk it up to my ongoing ironing out of bad luck in time for yet another big road race, the Bear Mountain Classic. Since some mishaps – a flat tire sustained on deep gravel, a bent hanger sustained in a he-crashed-into-me incident, and a tumble on a descent – have prevented me from contesting the end of Fawn Grove and Battenkill the way I would have liked, I hope that only my strength and fitness, and race acuity will be factors in my placing at Bear Mountain.

Always have a spare derailleur hanger handy. You never know.

Goodbye, Ti. Hello, Co-Mo.
March 13, 2009, 1:31 pm
Filed under: road bikes, wrenching

On the left is my now departed titanium Litespeed Solano. It’s on its way to a doctor in Wisconsin who plans to ride brevets. I picked it up for a steal in the fall to replace my Tough Little Bianchi – I wanted something a bit snazzier than generic TIGed steel for all-around riding, but something that was also raceable.

The Solano rode well – it was slightly overbuilt for somebody of my size, so was moderately stiff. It rode very predictably, too, which led for really stable descents. Sometimes too stable – I’m a bit more used to snappier handling, due to my experience with track bikes. The titanium is comfortable – a pretty plush ride. All around it was a nice bike – the fat downtube had a nice ridge on top, and the stays were each elegantly curved around the rear wheel. Such immaculate welds, too – so even and fine.

But there were a few things that were off. One was the fit. The reach was near perfect. The height was a bit high on me, and I always felt like I was riding a bike that was too big, even when I was comfortable on it. The bar drop was fine – short people with short arms don’t need deep handlebars to get their upper bodies pretty flat, especially if they learn how to bend their elbows and ride somewhat long.

But, I wanted a race-specific bike. Something stiffer and lighter, not an all-arounder.

So, when a buddy of mine decided that he needed to liquidate his Co-Motion Ristretto in order to fund the aquisition of a Fuji Track Pro, I jumped on it. I had wanted this bike before, I had ridden it before, and I had seen first hand its purple sheen and its rainbow sparkles.

The day after the decision, I rode to his house, rode home with it over my shoulder, and set about taking the Litespeed apart.

It’s lovely. It’s a looker. It even looks good at speed (oh, I really wish this photo wasn’t blurred!).

Finally, my racing bike is done. A year and a half ago I picked up that temperamental Bianchi. It worked to get me into road riding and racing (I was fixed-gear only for quite a while), but the components were worn. Nine year old Campagnolo bits that refused to shift accurately. Piece by piece, I upgraded: the Litespeed frame, the Campagnolo Eurus wheels and a new rear derailleur at a T-Town swap, and functional shifters for a great price on eBay. The drivetrain was finally working like a drivetrain should, no more light-touching the mouse ear to center the rear derailleur on a cog after shifting (no more wondering if I should attempt the Ergo rebuild on my own).

And now, the Co-Motion frame. It’s stiffer than the Litespeed. Big fat straight seatstays transmit that road feel – braile to the arse – but the fork smooths things out. It responds well to hard efforts. I’m liking it.

A lot.