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My first new mountain bike in over a decade

Posted: May 19, 2018 in Cycling | Add Comment

So, for the past several years I've owned two mountain bikes. A Trek 9700 carbon hardtail, which I bought new, and a 2001 Jamis Dakar Expert, which I built up from a frameset. Both have been good bikes, and both have gotten a lot of upgrades (new rear shock for the Jamis, new everything for the Trek).

Both bikes have been good bikes, but I've sort of been side-eying the new tech coming out, especially with regards to the new wheel sizes. So I spent a lot of time reading Mountain Bike Action magazine and talking to other riders. Eventually, I sort of pre-sold myself on the 27.5" wheel size, but I really wanted to test ride them both before pulling the trigger.

Fortunately, I have one of the best bike shops in the state withing driving distance. Matt at All American Bicycles offered to let me ride a Fuel EX in each wheel size on a piece of singletrack (rather than just around a parking lot) and it took me very little time to realize that the 29er size was SO the right choice for me. So, I thanked him and pulled the trigger on a Top Fuel 8, then waited patiently for it to be delivered.

I've had this bike for two seasons now (yes, I've been negligent in blogging) and the bike is AMAZING. On my very first ride, without really pushing it or really knowing how to handle the bike, I managed TEN personal bests on a set of trails I've been riding hard for over a decade. The bike digs into a turn and just refuses to let go. There have been countless situations where I *know* the Jamis would have washed out or let go, but this bike just holds a line. And it seems to have an overwhelming urgency to right itself if you start to get crossed up. It climbs well, descends well, and the rear suspension seems to vanish beneath you.

So far my only upgrades have been a pair of larger ODI lock-on grips for my huge hands, and a bump in tire size to the Maxxis Ardent 2.4. I'm still setting PRs pretty much every time I go out, but I'm still nowhere near the limit of what the bike can do. I think it'll take a lot more practice (and maybe some more body armor) before I get anywhere near the limit of this bike.

Trek Top Fuel 8


Yes, I'm still alive.

Posted: May 13, 2018 in Misc | Add Comment

I know what you're thinking. Who the hell spends two of their Saturday mornings writing their own, custom blog code, then stops blogging for two years? Or maybe I'm just thinking that. But yes, I am alive, and I've had a lot of things to write about with no time to write about them.

Since my last post, I've:

  • Bought a new mountain bike (more on that soon. No, I promise),
  • Picked up some new aero hoops for the Emonda,
  • Got a new groupset for the Emonda (hint, it's not Dura-Ace for once),
  • Bought a new car (pics coming soon),
  • Seen a handful of new U2 shows, which I need to create albums for,
  • Traveled to Africa!

Ok, so the Africa trip and the care are the biggest deals here, in that order. A safari was never officially on my bucket list due to the cost, but thanks to some stars aligning, it became more affordable, so I had to go for it. Massive thanks to Thomson Safaris for putting on a first-rate trip and taking perfect care of our group. You can see by the pics that we basically saw every kind of animal that there was. I personally had a list of animals I'd hoped to see, and half that list was checked off by the second day. The most elusive animal on my list was the black rhino, but we did get to see one. No cheetahs in the vehicle though!

The new car is a 2017 Golf GTI. Yes, the Mini is gone. I thought it would never happen, but I wanted something with a few more creature features. This one has Android Auto, XM radio, and heated seats. It has slightly better straight-line acceleration than the Mini, but only just, and it doesn't handle nearly as well, but it has a lot more space, rides comfier, and has a better shifter. I've done a few mods so far, but holy shit, mods for VWs are expensive, and for no apparent reason. So far I've done the cheap things first - a clutch stop, shift linkage, ODB tweaks, and better high beams. And I got the exhaust done for cheap. But other things will have to wait (or not happen at all). I might do springs and/or sway bars, or I might just leave it be.

My new mountain bike is a Trek Top Fuel 8. It was officially a birthday present from Jessica for my 50th, but it took me a year of research and testing to decide which bike (and which wheel size) was best for me. In the end I went with a 29er, and I'm glad I did. In fact that whole year was worth it. On my first time out with the new bike, I hit ten PRs on Strava, and this is at a place I've been riding for over 15 years. And that was without even really pushing it. Since then (and after a tire upgrade), I've been pounding out PRs on almost every ride. Not bad, considering the age (and mileage) on the engine. ;)

The new hoops on the Emonda have been nice. I got a great deal on a pair of Bontrager Aura TLRs (thanks Matt!), which have an aluminum rim with a carbon faring. This allows me to switch between the Auras and the PSImets without having to change brake pads, which is nice. I also re-grouped my Emonda with 11-speed compact Ultegra. Yes, I said compact. No, I'm not getting old (ok, I am getting old), it's that, looking at a gear inch chart, along with the wear patterns on my cassette, I decided that 1) I don't ever really use a 53x12, and 2) I really wanted smaller gaps between gears out on the road. I've been riding the new group for around a year, and I do like it better. Plus, the 11-25 on the back gives me a couple of lower climbing gears than the 39x27. Honestly, my preferred cadence is around 90-95, which is a lot higher than when I was younger, so I probably should've made this change a while ago. Oh, and between the gearing and the new hoops, I was able to knock 15 seconds off of my PR on a local 1.4 mile segment on Strava, so I know it's working. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the time, but I've backed it up several times since, so it's sort of my new normal.

I now have an F1 race to watch. I'll write again soon!


My first experience with Capital Bikeshare

Posted: October 01, 2015 in Misc | Add Comment

Last week I had SQL Server training.  It was a 5-day class, and I had two choices of class locations - one in the middle of DC the week before the Pope's visit, and one near Union Station during the Pope's visit. Since I already commute to the latter location every day, I decided to brave the Pope to get the better location. Unfortunately, I took the training from a place called ONLC Training, and because they are a bunch of colosal anuses, they waited until I paid for the class, then bait & switched the location to put me right in the middle of DC. During the Pope's visit.  Lovely.

Note to self.  Avoid ONLC at all costs.  Anyway, back to the topic.

I had three options for getting from Union Station to the middle of DC.  They are, from worst to best:

  1. The shitty DC Metro. (motto: Almost better than walking),
  2. Walk (approximately 19 blocks),
  3. The Circulator bus,
  4. Capital Bikeshare.

Now, normally the Bikeshare would be more expensive than the Circulator (which is a buck per trip), but in this case I was able to borrow my friend Jonathan's fob, so the bike was free.  Err, monetarily free.  I was in fact not free if you count my lost wits.

I figured, "Hey, I ride a LOT! I'll have NO problem on a bike! I'll just have to deal with a little traffic and I'll be good."  It turns out actually that the traffic was the least of my problems.  Despite all the douchebag drivers in the DC area, I had not a single problem while on the bike.  Most of them were probably flabergasted to see a bike actually stop at a light. (in DC, pretty much all bikes roll red lights and completely blow stop signs, but that's a separate rant).

My problem on the bike was both the bike itself, and the situation.  First off, there's no warm-up when you swing your leg over a bike in the city.  You're on it, full, right from the get go.  After two or three blocks of twirling the pedals at around 110rpms (the thing has no gear range to speak of), my heart rate was somewhere around 199, only to shoot up to 299 when I grabbed both brakes and.... nothing.

I think the brakes are some kind of attempt at being lawsuit proof or something, because you really have to throttle the crap out of them to get the thing to stop.  And the fact that the bike weights about the same as an aforementioned Circulator bus probably doesn't help.  Fortunately, subsequent bikes I tried had slightly better brakes, but it's my luck to get the dodgy one on my first pick.

So you're spinning the pedals frantically, but you're doing it with an enema.  That's because the seat is way too wide at the back, so the downward motion of your legs pushes you off the front. Plus, the nose of the saddle is tilted down too much. This, combined with what feels like a crazy steep seat tube angle, puts you "on the rivet" for the entire ride.  Which in this case means the nose of the saddle is jammed deep into your rectum.  Not comfy.

Eventually you arrive at your destination, sore assed and heart pounding, and yep - you guessed it! No open docks for your bike.  To be fair, this only happened to me a few times out of the week.  There was one day I decided to walk, one day I had to walk because there were no bikes at Union Station, and one day where I found a bike at the next station a few blocks away.  On the other end, I had one day where there were no docks at my class location, and one where there were no open docks at Union Station.  Each of the no dock times I was able to find one at the next closest station, but had I been rushing to catch a train, eh.

So there you have it.  Not a horrible experience, but there's room for improvements.  But no matter how bad it is, it's still a thousand times better than Metro.


Alligator ILink Cables

Posted: September 06, 2015 in Cycling | Add Comment

As soon as I got my Emonda, I wanted to do something about the rat's nest of red cables hanging off the front of it.  The red cables looked pretty good on the satin black 5500 with minimal logos, but they look VERY out of place on the Emonda.  After looking at different options, I decided that I wanted to try the compressionless housings from either Alligator or Jagwire.  In the end I went with the Alligator, though I should have gone for the Jagwire.  I went with the former because they were a little cheaper on Ebay, but the seller had poached all the actual inner cables from all the packages, forcing me to buy them separate later, so it was a wash.

How were they to install? Pretty much a pain.  First you have to figure out how long you want the housing.  Then once you have it the right length, you have to feed the inner liner into it.  Of course it catches every few inches, so it takes forever, and if you push too hard, you kink the cable, and that causes drag.  Do this a few times and you end up having to toss the liner and start over.  Also, the housing without cable is pretty flacid, so you really have to fiddle with it to get it to behave,  Think about trying to cable your bike with cooked pasta.

Once installed, I have to admit it looks pretty slick.

Alligator Ilink cables

Alligator Ilink cables

Emonda with Alligator Ilink cables

How does it ride?  Not bad actually.  The shifting is on point, once you get it adjusted, especially if you avoid crossing the cables inside the downtube like I did the first time (ugh). The braking is noticably firmer because the housing doesn't compress at all.  The only problem is that I did manage a couple of kinks in the inner liner, so I might replace that if it doesn't iron itself out.  I think the return springs on my circa 1992 Dura Ace brake calipers are a bit weak, so that might have something to do with it.  I wish the levers had some more return force.

Another small bump in the road was the inline barrel adjuster.  I stupidly ran the liner through it, which put a ton of drag on it. When I tried to turn the barrel, it would just wind up the housing and turn back.  I eventually took it apart and cut the liner, then flared it out with the tip of a philips scredriver to keep it from migrating inside the housing.

So in summary:

Pros:

  • More positive braking action,
  • As good or better shifting action,
  • They can bend in much tighter arcs than regular cables,
  • When you need new cables, you can just buy the inner cable and reuse the housing,
  • They look pretty cool and alien-like, and come in several cool colors,
  • They're noticably lighter than traditional cables.

Cons:

  • A bit pricier than traditional cables,
  • A royal pain to install,
  • Kinking the liner (easy to do) can negate the smoothness of the system.

Overall, a recommended upgrade.  But I'd go with the Jagwire kit from a reputable (non-Ebay) retailer.  That way you can be sure you won't be ordering cables and waiting for them to arrive while your bike sits in your garage.


Finally some new wheels

Posted: June 13, 2015 in Cycling | Add Comment

After pulling some spoke eyelets out of my 2009 Bontrager Race X Lites, I've been in the market for some replacements.  This hasn't been as straightforward as one might think. 

At first I decided to go with some readily available wheels, like the Dura Ace C24.  The problem is, those are a little pricey unless you get them from the UK, and if you do they can get hung up in customs, which means delays and possible duty fees.  So that was a no go.

I decided to see what I could get in the custom market, so after figuring out exactly which wheels fit the bill, I sent out some emails.  I probably sent at least 8 emails out, and only got three replies, and those replies weren't even very prompt.  Some people didn't seem at all interested in selling me a pair of wheels.

Fortunately, my first choice (Rob at PSIMET) got back to me a short while after my initial email.  After a short discussion, I settled on these very fetching hoops.

PSIMET wheels

PSIMET wheels

Needless to say I'm itching to get out on them, which will probably be tomorrow afternoon.  It'll be nice to get off of the Vista SL noodles that rub the brakes whenever I put any decent power down.  These are right around 1400g too, which is over 300g lighter than the Eastons, and even a bit lighter than the Bonties. Can't beat that!

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