Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Looking Back and Forward: The Bike Situation

Keep reading bike related New Year's retrospectives and plans, so in an attempt to stay awake, I figured I'd give it a shot. Here were some of my major learning points this past year:

1. Sizing is everything.

Seriously, durachi headsets and thomson seat post are cool and everything but if a bike doesn't fit, it will only be a matter of time before you end up selling it. This year alone, I got rid of a 62cm B-stone touring deal, 63cm Centurion sports tourer, 62cm Schwinn touring deal, and a 24" Schwinn oldie-but-goodie MTB. All had top tubes under 60cm. I have one 65cm racingish thing and a fixer-upper 68cm sports touring deals, both with top tubes over 60cm. And both frames ride way more comfortable than the previous four.

2. Figure out how you plan on carrying your stuff while biking.

I've done messenger bags and backpacks, and have done a-okay with them, but the longer and harder you ride, the less sense they make. Back packs often droop the weight of your belongings to your lower back, pulling you away from the bars. Messenger bags bring the weight towards your center of gravity, but place it square on your back. As a result, you get a nice big sweaty patch when you arrive at your destination. This isn't too bad in winter, but in the middle of summer it can be frustrating. Panniers are cool, but they're too much carrying capacity for virtually all my rides, and its a pain in the butt to try and balance the load between two half full and half utilized bags. Saddle bags are great, handlebar bags with matching geometry is even better.

3. Sometimes you don't need to prepare for the end of the world. (Sorry to pick on you, Dave...)

When I first got really into working on bikes, my ideal ride would have an 11-36 cassette paired with a wide range triple, front and rear super-heavy-duty racks, flat-proof schwalbe marathon tires and brake levers everywhere my hands rested. Not that I would hate to have a bike like that now, but I've definitely grown to appreciate bikes that try to minimize all the unnecessary tidbits. Cranks with 46/48t biggest ring and 32t smallest ring with 11-28 cassette get me up any hill that gravity permits, and I never really used that 52t big ring anyway... Plus on the rides I have the most fun on, I only packed some extra food and additional layers to prep for the weather. This kept my bike light and responsive.

Oh, and can I just say how effin' cool fancy-smanshy tires are? Not the mondo glass-crushing Schwalbe's, but rather the light and supple Grand Bois and Challenge tires. I feel more and more encouraged to push my self making going fast a fun pursuit instead of a drudging chore. Going down descents on nasty roads and not having to worry about denting my rims due to my thin, high pressure tires is a really good feeling. All of this kind of bleeds into my next point...

4. Weight does matter. (Shock.)

So blah blah blah the industry puts way too much investment into racing as a focus for cycling culture and puts forward all of these horrible assumptions such as 'the lighter the better', 'skinnier the faster', 'campy delta brakes are good' etc. (Okay that last one might just be curmudgeonly retro grouches.) Having said that, it is undeniable that bikes become more of a headache to live with as their weight increases. Especially for you tallies out there, ignoring weight out of some bitter grudge against racing hegemony can be counter productive. Not that it should be a priority, but trying to cut back where you can isn't a bad idea even if its only by the grams.

5. Geometry: What's important and what isn't.

When I didn't really know what geometry for bikes was, I was often told how certain bikes had either a more 'touring' geometry or a 'racing' geometry. This was usually followed by highlighting seat tube and head tube angles and how long the wheel base was. More slacked angles lend themselves to more easy-going riding while steep angles lend themselves to an aggressive stance. Same deal with wheel base, longer chain stays equal stability, but at the cost of 'zippiness' and control. However it seems to me that front end geometry is far more important of a consideration when setting up what a bike will be used for than angles or wheel base. The above bike I had the problem of having too steep of a seat tube angle for a traditional up-right bicycle. But the thing that this affected the most was the front end; with the additional weight pushed towards the front of the bike, the higher trail became much more finicky and less 'self-correcting'. The excessive wheel flop paired with the more frontal center of gravity aggravated the twitchy steering. I'm kinda just thinking out loud right now. I really don't understand geometry, but definitely have made strides this year to changing that.

Things I want to try in 2012:

1. Alter an old frame I have to make it more purposeful for what I use it for: brazed on brake pivots, low-trail front end, better rear triangle on big frame, additonal clearance for wide tires.

2. Get legit saddle and/or handlebar bag that is vegan. Fixtures to make bags appropriate.

3. Go on super crazy randoish rides this summer.

4. Rough stuff ride???

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