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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

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:


  • 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.


  • 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!

On the road again

Posted: May 26, 2015 in Cycling | Add Comment

This past Saturday was my first time riding since May 4th, when I suffered what I think was a mechanical failure related to the front derailleur (or its cabling) that resulted in my dropping the chain during a big ring sprint, slamming my hip down onto the stem, going over the bars, and skidding along the pavement at 20+ mph.

My injury list:

  • Road rash on my left calf, left knee, left thigh, left side under the arm, left forearm and elbow, and left shoulder,
  • A huge bruise on my left hip,
  • A cracked helmet.

Fortutaly, there was no damage to the bike other than some saddle scuffing.  I have since replaced the front derailleur.

Saturday's ride was only 10 miles, but boy did it feel good to be back on the bike.  So good in fact that I did another 10 miles ride when Jess got home, then a 27 mile ride on Sunday, and 21+ on Monday.  But after what pretty much amounts to a month off, I did lose a good bit of fitness, and I still can't put full power down until this hip swelling has subsided.

In other news, I finally have a new set of wheels coming from Rob at Psimet.  I'm really looking forward to getting on a decent set of wheels again, especiially after being on my noodly Eastons for the better part of this year. The new wheels aren't quite as aero as I would have liked, but they promise to be very light and responsive.  Plus, they're black on black on black, which will be a nice change from the unappealing white spoke/silver rim look of the Bontys. Plus I'll finally be rid of that ghastly paired spoke set up.  Huzzah!

Another pair of Bontrager wheels go belly-up

Posted: April 15, 2015 in Cycling | Add Comment

I've been having a lot of problems keeping my rear wheel (a 2009 Bontrager Race X Lite) true, and this week I found out why.  Turns out I'd pulled an eyelet out, so every time I'd tighten up that spoke, it would just pull the eyelet out a little more.  Thus, I'm in the market for a new wheelset.

Right now, I'm demoing a pair of Rolf Prima Vigors.  So far they're a really nice, light pair of wheels, they accelerate and climb well, and they don't seem to suffer much in cross-winds.  But at just over $1k, I think they're a bit steep for what you get.  But they sure do look good on the bike!

Also, I'm not crazy about the paired spoke setup.

On my short list are Dura-Ace C24s, Soul 2.0 or 3,.0s, or the Flit Cone-a.  As long as I'm sub-1500g, and have around a 30mm depth, I'll be good.  I'd also prefer black rims and spokes, but the red spoke nipples are optional.  I have to give the Rolfs back this weekend, so hopefully I'll make a decision by then.

Getting the Emonda ready for the new season

Posted: March 21, 2015 in Cycling | Add Comment

It's that time of year again.  When the snow (eventually) stops falling and the weather warms up, and the wheels come out.  I've been itching to get the Emonda on the road since the first snowflake fell pretty much, and what better way to do it with some new stuff?

After having my ass on Selle Italia for the better part of three decades, I've decided to try a switch.  After test-sitting several different saddles (which involves the totally unscientific method of setting it on a bench then sitting on it while trying to imitate the riding position), I ended up with a Fizik Ardea VS, shown here on the Scattante.

Fizik Ardea VS

It's actually a pretty comfy saddle, and I got no numbness even after numerous stints of between 30 minutes and an hour on the super-boring indoor trainer.  Last weekend I moved the saddle to the Emonda when the weather threw a teaser at is before temps plunged below freezing again.

Also new is a switch to black bar tape.  Again with a change, I ditched my long-time favorite Deda tape for some Lizard Skins 3.2mm thick DSP tape.  That should give my ginourmous hands plenty of cushion and avoid me switching to a pricey carbon bar.  Like the saddle, I went with black tape after deciding the white didn't look right on this bike.

Lizard Skins DSP tape, 3.2mm

Lizard Skins DSP tape, 3.2mm

You may also notice an out-front style Garmin mount.  YES I have finally swapped my old, ride-forgetting, satellite-dropping 305 for a fancy new 510.  I've done one ride on it, and I really like it so far.  Plus it pairs up with my phone and uploads directly to Garmin Connect and Strava, saving me from having to plug it into the PC.

Anyway, the finished product is almost there.  The next things are a switch from 23mm wide to 25mm wide front tires (by now pretty much everyone who rides has seen the article where 25s offer less rolling resitance and a smoother ride) which are in the mail as I write this.  I also will probably get rid of the red cable housings, which look unbalanced with the internal routing of the Emonda.  It's more like a red rat's nest in front of the bike.

Emonds SL

So I'm shooting for another good year, and hopefully the time spent slogging on the trainer will give me a head start.

It's that time again

Posted: November 04, 2014 in Cycling | Add Comment

It's that time of year when it get dark before you're even home from work, and it's three degrees when you wake up.  NOT ideal cycling weather, which is why it sucks that I got my new bike when I did.

I've been relegated to the indoor trainer for the past week or so, but I have my fingers crossed for something in the 60s this weekend (the forecast calls for 50 even) so I can maybe get out on the mountain bike.  For me, mountain biking is less temperature dependent because you don't go as fast, so no sweat freezing to your body on a 40mph downhill.

Speaking of mountain bikes, I've had to scavange my 9700 to get my Jamis riding properly.  The rear hub on the Jamis is shot, and I've never liked the Race Face Evolve XC crank.  For some reason, the chain line sucks, and it likes to eat bottom brackets.  Now I have the 9-sp SLX group on the Jamin, along with the Topo wheels.  Those wheels aren't fantastic but at least they have decent hubs and they track straight.

They've put some decent new trails in that are around 10 min from my house.  This county sucks at everything else, but at least they do a good job when it comes to riding.

First ride on my Emonda SL

Posted: October 12, 2014 in Cycling | Add Comment

Before I start, I'd like to give a nod to my LBS, All American Bikes, for getting my previous position pretty much duplicated on the new bike (and for handling all the warranty stuff with Trek). I had to do almost zero fiddling with my position. Leveling out the saddle was the only change I had to make.

First off, I want to talk about the fit of the bike. This bike fits slightly longer than my 5500 did. With my saddle in the exact same position relative to the pedals, I was a bit stretched out with my same 115mm stem. While I've ordered a new 100mm stem, I almost wish I'd waited because I'd probably adust to this in time, and it actually feels a little more roomy when out of the saddle. That said, this is an ugly stem, and it looks like a spigot that should be stuck to the side of an old house, not on a bike.

Switching to this frame from my 5500 (and the obligatory crankset swap) lost me around 2 lbs. But it feels like I lost a lot more, because this bike likes to accelerate. I have a feeling the BB90 bottom bracket standard has a lot to do with that, and it's probably a lot stiffer of a setup than my old octalink. In fact the bike wants to go so badly that I almost spent my legs just getting out of the neighborhood.

Once up to speed, it's really not all that different than my 5500, other than the position being a bit different. But the one place I did notice an improvement was over rough, broken-up pavement. I think the bump compliance is the single biggest improvement in this frame over my old one, and I didn't think my old one was all that bad to begin with. While this was a very short jaunt (15.7 miles) without much climbing (721'), I think that on longer rides, this compliance will really make a huge difference on my aging body parts. It really is fantastic over rough stuff.

Climbing is nice on this bike, as I expected it would be. Sure, the weight helps, but honestly for a rider of my level, I probably don't notice small changes (unless you strapped a motor to the thing) so I think it's just the entire package that helps the climbing. The bike is smooth and quiet when in or out of the saddle, though I do need to get things adjusted with in the granny gear. The upper jocket pulley on the RD seem to ride against the 27t cog in back, so I probably have to crank down on the b-limit screw.

All in all I think Trek has the geometry of this bike really dialed in, for my body at least. It just seems to do everything really well. It's fun in the turns, on the flats, everywhere. But keep in mind I'm coming off of a 2005 bike, and I don't ride a lot of new bikes on a regular basis, so my experience is a bit limited. What I do know is that on today's ride, at a temp of 58 degrees (quite cold for me) I was able to keep an 18.2mph average speed, which is quite good for me, especially considering that my speed usually starts to drop when the temp gets below 70. It's only 0.2 mph slower than my PR for this route, and I had PRs on two segments today. I think for me that's pretty good.

I'll say I'm very happy with how this turned out, and I think once I get my stem length/bar height dialed in, I'll probably be as comfy on a bike as I've ever been. It's a gorgeous bike to look at, though I'll probably lose the white tape and saddle soon. I know there are a lot of people who don't like Trek. Maybe they see them a boring or generic or too common, but this is really a hard bike not to like. And Trek's warranty is pretty much impossible not to like.

Trek Emonda SL

Another Trek carbon frame replaced

Posted: October 05, 2014 in Cycling | Add Comment

Back in 2005, the Trek OCLV frameset that I bought back in 93 (or was it 92?) finally had the biscuit.  The bottom bracket shell came unbonded, leading to horrifying noises while pedalling.  Trek replaced the frame, no questions asked, and that's the frame I've been riding ever since.

Well at least until now.  After examing the bike to determine the cause of an unexplained clicking near the rear water bottle mount, I found this:

frame crack

Needless to say, I was quite surprised.  The seat tube isn't really a high stress area.  I guess it must be high stess enough!

True to their warranty, Trek is sending me out a new frame (an Emonda no less!), no questions asked.  And fortunately it's black, with red and white accents, so all my stuff will match.  Gotta have matching stuff! Hah!

I'll post pics once it comes in, and once my new crank and bb arrive (the old ones won't fit the new frame, so they're going on the Scattante).

I'm really looking forward to putting some miles on this new bike.  Too bad it's so close to the end of the season!

Performance Grip-Tech Bar Tape

Posted: June 28, 2014 in Cycling | Add Comment

Last year I installed some Forte Grip-Tech bar tape on my road bike, which I blogged about at the time.  I said I'd do a review, and well, here it is.

It's been just over one full season, or around 1000 miles since I last wrapped my bars.  It was a light season due to weather and travel, but it's about all I get these days.  Plus, last year consisted mostly of mountain biking, so the road miles suffered.

The Grip-Tech was so so.  It did what it was supposed to do, but it didn't last long, as you can see here:


Forte Grip-Tech bar tape - used

This is what my Deda tape would have looked like after 5000 miles, not 1000.  Next time I'll definitely stick with the Deda.

That said:


  • Looks nice when new
  • Shock absorbent
  • Grippy
  • Good price point


  • Doesn't last long
  • Gets dirty quickly and stays dirty
  • Difficult to clean once it's dirty


I finally got around to replacing this tape, and ran into a whole other issue.  The glue holding the tape on is way too strong, so when you peel the old tape off, it shreds, leaving you with numerous bits and pieces to pick off.  It took me AGES to get the bars clean and prepped for the new tape.  At the risk of sounding like an ad (or a shill), save yourself some headache and just get some Deda.

Ride log added

Posted: May 24, 2014 in Cycling | Add Comment

It's been a good year for cycling so far, despite the seemingly endless weeks of rain, rain, and more rain.  So good in fact that I've started logging my mileage again.  I use an old Garmin Edge 305 GPS-enabled cycling computer, but unfortunately the Garmin software for it looks like an old Windows 3.1 interface.

I also have an account on Strava, but that means I have to tote my phone around with me on rides - which I tend to do anyway, but in this case if I stop to eat, tweak the bike, chat with other riders, fix a flat, or pull a tree branch out of my spleen, I have to fish the phone out of my jersey to pause the timer.  Also, Strava has wildly different opinions on things like calories burned and feet climbed (the Strava uses GPS data for the former, whereas the 305 has a more accurate altimeter).

But after fiddling around today, I figured out that I can upload rides from my Garmin directly into Strava.  This is a good thing, because it means that I'll get more accurate data (especially if I but a speed sensor for the mountain bike) and I can keep my phone tucked away safe.

In addition to all of the above, I've also decided (for no good reason) to track my mileage on this website as well.  Up top there's a new tab called "Rides" which leads to my ride log. I figure if Strava ever goes away or turns into a pay service, I'll still have my rides somewhere I can get to them.  After all, you can never have too many backups!

A "WTF" moment

Posted: May 20, 2014 in Cycling | Add Comment

I ordered some helmet pads and some handlebar take from They're in the UK but they have free shipping to the US. Helmet pads weight less than the packaging they're sent in, and cork bar tape isn't much heavier.

The box arrived last night and seemed a bit heavy. When I opened it, I found the following:

  • Helmet pads (the wrong ones)
  • Handlebar tape (the one I ordered)
  • One 250ml bottle of Lipton Iced tea.

I mean wtf? Why would you deliberately increase the shipping weight of something YOU'RE paying to ship?? It's not like iced tea is some cycling related thing they're trying to promote.

I don't get it.

First ride using the Strava cycling app

Posted: June 02, 2013 in Cycling | Add Comment

Last week I downloaded and installed the Strava cycling app for my Android phone.  It's a GPS-based cycle computer that tracks your ride.  It gives you things like total distance, ride time, and average speed, as well as mapping your ride.  It also lets you share your ride on Facebook, so you can brag to (or be embarrassed by) your friends.  The Strave website also gives you a cool dashboard that shows you various stats, including a more detailed map, an elevation profile, total feet climbed, and some other useful tidbits. 

Battery drain wasn't too bad, as it used about 20% of the battery on my Droid Razr M on a 3-1/2 hr ride, which included some ringing in my backpack as my mom was phoning me.  I think it's safe to say that battery life wouldn't be an issue for any sane riding distance.

While it doesn't quite give all the details that my Garmin Edge gives, it's one less thing to carry, and you don't have to do anything special to get the data to the website.  Plus, having your rides saved online means you don't have to worry about having a file on your computer to worry about backing up.

One other really cool thing about the Strava app is that you can not only compare your ride time for a given ride to your other time, you can compare them to other people's times on that same ride or segment of a ride.  They have a leader board where you can see how you place, which is pretty cool.

There's a free and a paid version of Strava, although I'm not sure what the premium account adds that I'd really be interested in.  All in all, for a free app, I think it's pretty decent, and if you're carrying your phone with you anyway, you might as well make it do some of the work!

My first full weekend of riding this season

Posted: April 15, 2013 in Cycling | Add Comment

This weekend was my first full weekend of riding this year, and boy oh boy am I out of shape.  I managed to put in around 3-1/2 hours on Saturday, but pulled the plug on Sunday after only an hour and a half.  My legs were just gone.

The good news is that the trails were in great shape, and some new ones were added since last year, including this cool downhill halfpipe section.

While fun, it could be better, because whoever designed it brought you all the way up out of the halfpipe at the end of each turn, save the last couple near the bottom.  As such, it's tought to keep up any momentum.

I also got to test out my new brake pads - Brake Authority's Aggressive A sintered pads.  I have to say that so far I'm liking them a lot.  They bedded in quickly, have good stopping power (even when wet) and don't make much noise.  What's not to like?

I'm still on the fence about my grips though.  With my hands being as big as they are, I'll probably swap them for some larger diameter ones, because right now it's like hanging onto a coat hanger.

Time for new bar tape

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Cycling | Add Comment

Anyone who knows me (and who is into cycling) will know that I am a huge proponent of Deda bar tape.  I run white tape, so having a durable tape that is resistant to dirt and wear is a huge plus.  Deda tape is both of those, and cleans up well.  In fact, my last wrapping of Deda held up through three full seasons of riding.  I would have bought it again, but I got some free Specialized cork tape with a saddle I bought.  Or was it a pair of shoes?  I can't remember.  This tape held up well too, and after two full seasons it looked like this:

Specialized bar tape.

Normally I would switch this out for Deda, but I get a lot of people asking me about Forte products, by Performance Bike shop.  Generally, my answer would be "Fotre is rubbish", but my last couple of Forte items (a set of MTB handlebars, a stem, some tubes, and some eyeware) have actually been pretty nice, so I figured I'd try out their Grip-Tec bar tape.

It's actually really nice looking, had an excellent feel to it, is both grippy and spongy, and seems to wipe down well (if my test smudges are anything to go by), in addition to having some nice stretch to it.  I wrapped it after today's ride, so I have yet to put any miles on it.  Once I have a few rides, I'll write up a review, so keep an eye out for that.  It's not any cheaper than the Deda ($13 + shipping for the Deda, vs $12 + tax (on sale) for the Perf) but the Forte is available locally for me, so no wait.

Here's the final product:

Forte Grip-tec tape

Keep an eye out for that review!

The 2012 MoCo Epic

Posted: February 01, 2013 in Cycling | Add Comment

As I mentioned in my previous post, 2012 was the first year I rode (or even knew about) a mountain bike ride called the MoCo Epic.  The ride basically circumnavigates the entire county and encompasses 11 different parks (if you do the full ride), and it's 85% singletrack, so just a few bits of paved sections to connect the dirt.  There were 25-mile, 35-mile, 50-mile, and 65-mile options.  Me being me, I of course opted for the long one, which after all was said and done ended up being closer to 68 miles, and included over 5000' of climbing.  My GPS recorded a max grade of over 40%, so there were some steep sections.

There were nine rest stops, all sponsored by different bike shops, which had various forms of food (and in one case, entertainment in the form of a hula dancer).  I spend an average of around 10 minutes at each stop, so if you subtract that 90 minutes from my total ride time, you get right around 8-1/2 hours of solid riding.  Needless to say, my thighs were pretty well baked by the time I finished.

I used my Jamis for the ride, which I recently upgraded to a Rock Shox Monarch RT3 rear air shock, an upgrade that's really woken the bike up and made it a whole different animal.  I tried out some new tires too, finally losing the Panaracer Smoke/Dart combo for some Maxxis Ardents.  They're huge tires, and barely clear the swingarm.

Here's a pic of how the bike currently looks:

Jamis Dakar Expert

It's got a few new bits that I added in 2012, including some Jagwire cables that I think are now my standard "go-to" cable.  Words can't describe how much they improved the shifting.  I don't have much left to do to the bike now, other than maybe some new brake pads, as the ones on it were toast by the end of the Epic.  I'm thinking about Jagwire pads (yeah, they make pads too), so if you have any experince with them, leave a comment below.

Probably the biggest change (other than the shock) is my switch to flat bars.  I have always been a huge advocate of my trusty old Scott AT3-LF bars, but I really wanted to try something wider and see what this wide bar trend was all about.  After a few rides, I've gotten used to them, and they are better than the Scotts.  But there IS a limit, for me at least, as to how wide a bar can get, so I did trim the ends a bit.  Just have to watch my knuckles on the trees now, as I don't have the wrapped ends to protect me.  In the end, these same bars went on my Trek 9700, so they couldn't have been too bad, eh?

Back in the saddle again

Posted: September 25, 2010 in Cycling | Add Comment

Two weeks ago, while on a ride, I started hearing a funny noise coming from what seemed like my right pedal. I ignored it, of course, and it was to be to my peril. Around 4 miles into the ride (fortunately it wasn't longer) I felt a sudden jerk on my right foot. My pedal had seized up, nearly ripping the cleat off my shoe. I sighed, turned around, and one-legged it back home. Funny how I struggle to hold 20mph on the road leading back to town, but when pissed off, I can hold 20 using one leg without a problem.

When I got home, I swapped my pedals out for a spare set off my red bike, and went back out. Later, I pulled the right pedal apart to find that the inboard bearing (the only one you can't replace) was shot, and in being shot had totally hosed the pedal axle. After a quick google, I found a pair on sale at University Bicycle Center. I was unable to buy them online, of course, because of a stupid rule of Speedplay's that has to do with not selling online for below retail. Whatever. But I was able to phone them up and place an order quite easily, and they were really nice over the phone.

Three days later, the nice UPS guy arrived with my new pedals. They're snazzy!

Speedplay pedals in box

Speedplay pedals in box

Bike with Speedplays installed

Now we're all set for the weekend. And hopefully, for the next twelve years, if these pedals last as long as the ones they replaced.

Playing with my new Garmin Edge

Posted: July 27, 2009 in Cycling | Add Comment

Several weeks ago, I picked up a Garmin Edge 305 bicycle computer. It's one of the coolest toys, and I've been logging all my ride data with it. It tracks things like heart rate, speed, cadence, elevation, grade, and the averages of most of those things.

I plotted yesterday's ride, and it's interesting to see how things look.

There's a bit of a climb just before the halfway point, but other than that it's just rollers.

Curiously, max grade (around 15%) was toward the end of the ride.

I could also plot things like speed and cadence, but they tend to be tough to read (especially cadence) so they're only really useful as averages.

The 305 has a feature called "Virtual Partner" where you can race against yourself on a given course. Haven't figured out how to use that yet.

Btw, if you're a Costco member, they occasionally have the Edge 305 on sale for $179.99 with the heart rate monitor included. The cadence sensor is usually under $30 on Amazon.

Definitely a cool toy.

Holy crap, what a great Tour

Posted: July 21, 2008 in Cycling | Add Comment

Jess and I just caught up with the Tour de France on our DVR. After around 1200 miles of racing, the first three places are separated by 8 seconds, and the top 6 are separated by less than a minute. The top ten are separated by less than 5 minutes.

It's anyone's race, and the worst hills are in the next two days. Holy shit, what a great tour.

Three days and 131 miles

Posted: June 17, 2008 in Cycling | Add Comment

With Jess up in Toronto visiting her mom, I had the weekend to myself, so I decided to catch up on my cycling. This year hasn't turned out the way I'd expected it would, mileage-wise, so I need to get some riding in before the whole season is a bust.

On Friday, I waited until my official telework hours were over (5pm) and set out on a fast-paced ride. I did a 30-mile loop that I put together earlier in the year, but I left out a 1.5 mile segment to avoid afternoon traffic. I pushed pretty hard, and ended up with a 16.7 mph average.

On Saturday I knew I had rain showers to work around, so I left early, and rode our usual 45 mile loop. This is where I ran across the bike crash that I mentioned in my previous entry. It was a good ride, though a bit slower than Friday's ride, but it felt good to ride two days in a row.

On Sunday, I decided to ride a little later, giving the roads some time to dry out from the previous evening's rain showers. At around 11am, I set out on our 70 mile loop, planning to do some hill climbing. This route includes a few short hills of 14-16% grade, and while they aren't long, they're still thigh-burners.

Unfortunately, at around mile 20, my front tire blew out. I pulled over to fix it, but noticed that the tire had a lot of sidewall damage (these tires are around 3 seasons old, and 3 seasons is pushing it for the roads we have around here). I stuck a couple of folded up dollar bills between the tube and the sidewall of the tire to reinforce it, and limped home.

Once I got home, I mounted up a pair of new tires (I always keep some spares on hand) and headed back out. I was eager to finish the ride, but my legs were not too keen about the long break to work on the bike, and refused to perform up to spec. It took around 10-15 miles of insistence by me to convince them that they had no choice, and they fortunately came to life right before I got to the steep climbs.

Due to the modification of the ride, I only got 59 miles in, but on the last series of hills (a steep, 4-part climb that's right at the end of the ride) my legs started to let me know that they were about done.

My hopes for a short ride yesterday evening vanished in a huge evening thunderstorm, so I took it as an "off" day. Probably just as well. I needed this weekend though. It felt really good to get back on the road.

Total miles this season so far: only 447 angry

If you're going to wear a helmet incorrectly, then why bother wearing it at all?

Posted: June 14, 2008 in Cycling | Add Comment

I went on a quick ride this morning, hoping to finish by noon and beat the rain. At around the halfway point, I stopped at a place called Sugarloaf Mountain, where there's a really cold water fountain that I use to refill my water bottles. As I made my way toward the fountain, I looked to my right and noticed a guy laying in the road, on his side, next to his bike.

I coasted over, and a few other people approached. He rolled onto his back, and that's when you could see the blood. He had gone down, apparently after getting his front wheel caught in a gap in the broken-up pavement, landing face-first. There was a pretty bad bruise around 1" above his right eye, and it was bleeding profusely, and swelling quickly.

In less than a minute, other cyclists converged on him, some offering to help, some with first-aid kits opened up, and a few others directing traffic. The first thing I noticed about him was that he was a casual rider, and he was not wearing his helmet properly. The straps were completely slack, and it was sitting back on his head, exposing his face and forehead. Thus the gash.

We got him moved off the road where we tried to assess his condition. When he told us that he couldn't remember anything that happened that morning, where he was, or where his ride had started (he was on a group ride), I told someone to call 911. He kept repeating over and over, "I'm feeling a bit disoriented. It seems that I hit my head. Did I fall off my bike? Where am I? Where did the ride start?" He asked each of those questions, on a rotating basis, every 60 seconds or so. He had no short-term memory whatsoever.

I asked him his name, and he knew it. I asked him if he had any family we could call, and he seemed confused by the question. I asked him if he had a cell phone (some modern phones have an "ICE" entry (In Case of Emergency). He would pull the phone out, look at it, then fold it back up and put it away without giving it to me.

Finally, after arguing with the 911 operator for close to ten minutes (yes, arguing - apparently someone falling off his bike and sustaining a brain injury does not warrant an ambulance), she finally got them to send paramedics. Since there were enough people from his ride around, I left. I told them to make sure that under no circumstances was he to get back on that bike and try to ride. All he needs is to fall again and re-smack his head.

I hope he's OK, but I really wish bike shops would make sure that people's helmets were fitted properly before sending them out the door. I've seen too many shops just sell the helmet, boxed, without fitting it, relying on the customer's decision as per size and fit. This guy's helmet looked like a stiff breeze could have blown it off, and that's not cool.

Front walkway = done

Posted: May 23, 2008 in Cycling | Add Comment

Well I have to say, two pictures were worth two thousand words. My contractor really rose to the occasion, and gave me exactly what I wanted. Here are some before/after pics of our front walkway and stoop.



I think it looks great, and so does Jessica. I could not be happier. Now the front yard is ready for some serious landscaping. Woohoo!

Cyclists on roads

Posted: October 08, 2007 in Cycling | Add Comment

As most of you know by now, I'm an avid cyclist. My wife's a cyclist too. We both log quite a few miles per year (in the thousands) and we take care not to booger up traffic too much. We ride single-file, keep to the right as much as possible, and try to avoid roads with lots of traffic or with high speed differentials.

Apparently, for some people, that's not enough. While we usually don't have many problems with motorists, we do occasionally run across a few who have absolutely no business being behind the wheel of a vehicle. These schmucks should be relegated to public transportation, for life. They honk, they swerve, they cuss, and generally exhibit behavior that would get them a hefty fine if a police officer was around to see it.

So, I'd like to pose a few points.

First off, cyclists have by law in most (if not all states) the exact same rights to the road as you do in your car. Period. If you don't like sharing the road with cyclists, take the bus.

The 25mph sign on the side of the road means that's the maximum speed, not the minimum. When I'm doing 25 on my bike (which I can easily do) your desire to do 40 will just have to wait until you have a safe place to pass. Just as if I were a car doing 25. If the sign says 35 or 40, I can still do 25 legally - and so can you.

When you're coming up to a blind curve or hill, and the cyclist takes the middle of the lane, he's doing it for a reason. For one, the lane is legally his (or hers). For another, the cyclist doesn't trust you (for good reason). When a cyclist hugs the shoulder, many motorists will pass immediately, whether it's safe to do so or not - blind curve or hill notwithstanding. If the motorist passes in such a situation, and another car is approaching, what do you think will happen? If you guessed "swerve to the right and knock the bike into the gravel/ditch/fence/cliff then you win a cookie. By taking the lane, the cyclist is forcing you to wait until it's safe to pass. This protects the cyclist, as well as the motorist.

For every bike that's on the road, that's one less car, and cars create a much more annoying traffic situation than any bike will. You can ultimately pass a gaggle of slow-moving cyclists. You can't always pass a parade of cars led by a lone crawler. It takes probably less than 10 seconds to pass a bike, assuming you have to slow down to do so. This is about the same amount of time (or less) than it takes you to get past a driver waiting to turn left against oncoming traffic. You don't throw a rage about waiting behind the car, so why the rage about having to pass a bike? It makes no sense.

If people ride instead of drive, it reduces the demand for gas. If tons of people rode, your gas would eventually get cheaper. What's so bad about that? Bikes also don't tear up the roads like cars and trucks do, so less tax money spent on repairs.

So think about some of these things the next time you're about to fly into a rage about having to slow down for 5 seconds to pass a cyclist. Because honestly, if you have THAT much trouble passing something that only takes up 14" on the road, the problem is not the cyclist.

Mix 107.3 - The best of subtle right-wing programming

Posted: March 08, 2007 in Cycling | Add Comment

We have a radio station here in DC called Mix 107.3. At one time it was called "Q-107" but that changed some time ago. Especially notable about Mix 107.3 is its morning radio personalities. The show itself is fine - they play halfway decent music, and talk about as much as you'd expect for a radio show. The cast comes off likable, usually. But ever lingering is the cast's right-wing bias.

Now, I understand that lots of radio stations (and TV stations, etc) have a political bias, but it's one thing to be, say, the Rush Limbaugh show, where people who listen know what they're signing up for, and quite another to be a non-political morning show, and still inject slanted politics into the mix. Anytime any business (and this includes radio shows) uses their power or presence to alter public opinion, especially when they sling mud in doing so (like Mix107 does), then they have crossed the line into being a political entity, and in doing so they leave me no choice but to not do business with them, including watching/listening to their shows, and avoiding any product advertised on those shows.

Mix107 has dropped a few whoppers in the past. The morning show anchor - a guy named Jack Diamond - sneaks in the occasional right-wing friendly jab whenever an opportune moment presents itself. One of the ladies on the show, I can't remember her name... Lisa Something... the one with the "gravel road" voice, suggested that Alicia Keys "move somewhere else" after Alicia expressed disdain for the Iraq war. Lisa is, of course, one of those people that never quite "got it" back in high school history class, when they were explaining what makes America special. If it were up to people like her, we'd have never fought the American Revolution, because anyone unhappy with the rule of England would just be told to "love it or leave it."

I'm so old, I remember when conservatives were the ones suspicious of government. Not anymore.

This morning, one of the other less notable personalities, a squeaky-voiced DJ named Jimmy Alexander, chose Barak Obama as his target. Apparently Jimmy has inside info (a google search turned up nothing on this one, so I expect to find it on snopes soon) about a slew of unpaid parking tickets that Obama accumulated while at college. I mean heck, forget about George Bush's DWI (which squeaky Jim has absolutely no problem with), this is a REAL crime!

So once again, for probably the 10th time since 2000, I've removed 107 from my presets. There are plenty of other good stations in the DC market, including a great new addition called The Globe. And before you say the Globe is a left-wing station (they talk about environmental issues on their website) keep in mind that the environment is not a political issue, it's a scientific one. Republicans have tried to make it a political issue, because that's the easiest way to get their people to rail against it. And even that's not working too well anymore.

Good riddance, Mix. Maybe Rush or G. Gordon will come work for you. You'll be fine without me listening. I hear there's big money in right-wing mud slinging.

You might be a cyclist if...

Posted: September 22, 2006 in Cycling | Add Comment

Some of these are SO me.

(I got this from a friend of mine, but I don't know who originally wrote it.)

1. You tell a family of 5 in a crowded mall to "hold their line."

2. Your spouse says "If you buy another bike I'm going to leave you" and you think "I guess I'm going to miss him/her."

3. You have more water bottles than you have drinking glasses.

4. You have more cycling jerseys than work shirts.

5. Your cycling jersey IS your work shirt.

6. Your legs are smoother than your wife's.

7. The nicest pair of shoes you own have cleats in the soles.

8. You have defined the 8 stages of road kill decomposition through daily observation.

9. You are walking along a street and you signal left.

10.You go to your local store on a bike.

11.You sulk when in cars, on hot days.

12.You sulk when in cars, on cold, windy, snowy days.

13.You get withdrawal symptoms if off the bike for more than a day.

14.When anybody mentions distance you immediately think of how long it would take to cycle it.

15.You point at pot holes, but you are driving in your car alone.

16.While driving your car you yell at your passenger "Car back" as a vehicle approaches from behind.

17.Your bike is worth more than your car and the 2 tires on your bike cost you more than the 4 tires on your car.

18.You put more miles on your bike than your car.

19.Your hands have a strange tan that looks remarkably similar to the pattern on your cycling gloves.

20.Weather forecasts can be broken down into 2 categories: good biking weather, bad biking weather.

21.You put your bicycle in your car, and the value of the total package increases by a factor of 4 (or better).

22.As you are driving down the road in your car, you find yourself 'sprinting' for city limit signs and taking note of them so that on the next group ride, you will be one up on everyone else.

23.You spend 2X the money on cycling wear that you do work clothes.

24. You can tell your partner with a straight face that it's too hot to mow the lawn , then bike off for a century.

25.You dream of winning the lottery and the first thing you think of is how many/which bikes can I buy?

26.You buy a car based on whether or not a bike will fit in the trunk/back, with the rear seat folded down.

27.You open your car window and yell out "On your left" when passing cars on the freeway.

28.You have not one, not two, but three permanent chain ring scars on your right calf.

29.Your bike sleeps with you in the living or bedroom.

30.You wear a heart rate monitor during sex.

31.You check out all other guys/girls legs to see if they are better than yours.

32.Your spouse can't take it anymore and takes up cycling.

33.You wonder why a $500 bike has 24 gear ratios, while a $20,000 car or truck only has 4.

34.You crash...and insist on getting to the bike shop to have your bike checked out BEFORE going to the hospital.

35.You can't seem to get to work before 8:30am, but you don't have a problem meeting your buddies at 5:30am for a ride.

My poor, neglected blog.

Posted: August 24, 2006 in Cycling | Add Comment

I feel like I haven't written anything here in ages - probably because I haven't.

Lots of things have been going on. Jessica has been having fun at her new job, which includes lots of travelling. I've been doing a lot of riding, especially while she's been away. Unfortunately for her, she's not gotten to ride her new bike much, due to all the travelling and her long commute (she travels around 1hr 45min each way).

Last weekend was the Lancaster Covered Bridges ride, a ride we've been doing since last year. It's a fun ride, and we get to see riding buddies from all over the country, whom we know via the Internet. Organized rides are fun, but I probably won't be doing many more charity rides. This years MS-150 was a complete shemozzle, featuring torrential rain, last-minute donations, and expensive hotel reservations. I'd rather give all the money to MS, rather than $200 to MS and $400 to local hotels, etc.

This morning was Jessica's green card interview. This was our second try at the interview, and since the last one went so disasterous (we got hung up in a massive traffic jam that saw us take 2 hours to cover 4 miles) we decided to play it safe and book a hotel room in Baltimore, which is where our interviews was to be held. We picked the Radisson, mainly because of its close proximity to the federal building (it was across the street). It was a $150/night hotel, which wasn't cheap, but wasn't too horribly expensive.

We got to the hotel at around 9:30 last night, which is apparently late by hotel standards. "You're in luck" the desk clerk said. "We're all out of standard rooms, so you get an upgrade". No biggie, I thought. We'll get a nicer room, whatever.

The clerk then gives us our keys. "Room 2300. There's only one elevator that'll take you that high. Second to last". It sounded odd, but we made our way to the elevators. Sure enough, only one went that high. So we hit the button, and hopped on.

The Baltimore Radisson is an old, old hotel, built around 1925, and this elevator looked the part. Fairly small, with a lot of wood, and it didn't move very fast. When we finally got to the 23rd floor, the door opened, and there was our door. Just our door. It was the only room on the floor. You take 2 steps forward, and you're there.

So I stuck the key in and we walked in. The room wasn't just huge. It was HUEUEUEUGE! It was basically the whole top floor of the hotel, which is octagonal, and from the outiside has this green copper roof with dormers on each of the sides. There was a huge living/dining area, a powder room, a full kitchen, and a long hallway leading back to the master bedroom. The master bath had his & hers sinks, a tub/shower, and a seperate whirlpool. It was amazing. We could have had a party with 30 people in there, or more.

We both slept really well too, because it was a king-size bed, with one of those sleep number mattresses. We decided to go the whole nine yards and order breakfast in our room, which was also very nice. Needless to say, we made it to the interview on time and well rested. Our only regret is that we did not get to enjoy the room for longer, as we'll probably never see it again in our lives - it's usually $800 per night. jawdrop.gif

So the interview went well, and the agent interviewing us was actually fairly laid back. We had all of our papers in perfect order, so that helped a lot. Good thing we went the finacee visa route rather than just getting married and taking our chances.

It's that time of year again

Posted: June 01, 2006 in Cycling | Add Comment

I've once again registered for the MS-150 bike ride, to help the fight against MS. Even though I live in Maryland, I prefer to do the PA ride, which covers 150 miles of beautiful PA countryside. The ride is well supported, with many rest stops, and corner workers at all the busy intersections. Hopefully they listened to the riders last year and will have the proper food at the rest stops. "Low-carb" snacks don't go well with distance cycling, no matter how much protien they have.

My fundraising goal this year will be $500, which is a modest sum, but every little bit helps. If anyone would like to help by sponsoring me, drop me a PM or an email.

The ride is at the end of July, which means Jess will have her new bike by then. Boy oh boy is she going nuts waiting for that. It's a much better quality bike than she has now though, so it will make the longer rides much more enjoyable.

Jessica's new bike has been ordered!

Posted: April 18, 2006 in Cycling | Add Comment

After much test-riding, Jessica settled on the Serotta Fierte, a very nice bike at an excellent price. We placed the order on Saturday, and it'll be orange and silver, with probably blue logos. She can't wait for it to arrive, and I can't wait for the bike shop to call me and tell me when it's going to arrive, so I can prepare her old bike for selling.

Jessica chose the Serotta because it fit her the best, and also because it increased her average speed on our short, 13-mile "evening" loop by around 1mph. That's a pretty decent improvement for an equipment change. The fit and the gearing were the main things responsible for the improvement, but the big change will be on our longer rides, where the combination of high-quality steel and carbon fiber on the new bike will really smooth out the rough road.

We'd like to have the bike by next weekend, but realistically I know we'll probably have to wait at least two weeks. Oh well... it'll be worth the wait.

New wheels, par deux

Posted: April 11, 2006 in Cycling | Add Comment

After a few rides on the Race X-Lite Aeros, I swapped the LBS for a standard set of the non-Aero Race X-Lites. These are very light wheels, weighing in at 1490g for the pair. A before and after weighing of my bike indicated a weight loss of a little over a pound when compared to the old Mavic Cosmos. Since the Race X-Lite tires are the same weight as the Conti GP 3000s on the Mavics, the majority of the weight difference must be in the wheels/skewers. So the bike now stands at 17.6 lbs. Not bad for an everyday ride with 9-sp Dura-Ace. I can probably lose a bit more weight in the handlebars, but that's about as low as I care about going.

Anyway, on to my review.

The Race X-Lite Aeros were fast wheels, especially in a straight line. They were also pretty fast downhill, which was to be expected. What was not as expected was that the non-Aero versions I'm using now seem every bit as fast on the flats and downhill as the Aeros. With the low spoke count and bladed spokes, they're probably still pretty aerodynamic.

Uphill was a bit different. The non-Aeros are FAST. I climbed pretty much everything in one gear higher than usual, and this is still pretty early in the season and I'm nowhere near 100%. Cornering on these wheels is impressive too, and the Aero version cornered only slightly better. Hardly noticable, in fact, and any deficit was made up by the greater compliance of the non-Aeros over the rough stuff. They're quite comfy wheels.

About the only place the Aeros showed any significant improvement was during out-of-the-saddle climbing, where the increased lateral stiffness paid off. But again, the difference wasn't shocking, and the non-Aeros still performed remarkably well - much better than the Mavics, which is to be expected considering the respective price points of the wheels in question. It's like comparing apples to oranges.

So I've pretty much decided the Race X-Lites are for me. They work better overall for the type of riding I do on the roads I normally ride. If I rode flats more, or lived in a less hilly area, the Aeros would be the way to go, but since I don't, the regular Race X-Lites fit the bill perfectly. I was also impressed by the Race X-Lite tires. Being a Conti man, I don't often find tires that I like as well as my old GP3000 stand-bys. But these were good, very good in fact. I suppose it may have something to do with the fact that they're "made in Germany" where the Contis are made. It's likely that Continental makes the tires for Bonty.

Jess and I spent the day riding uber-expensive bikes

Posted: April 10, 2006 in Cycling | Add Comment

Jess's b-day is coming up, and she's getting a new bike. The local bike shop had a "demo day" put on by Serotta Competition Bicycles, so they had all these cool bikes, most of which exceed $5000 in price. Actually, they had one set up to ride that's $7000 for just the frame. No fork, no wheels, no nothing else. Mind you, custom geometry is included in the price (this is where they measure every aspect of your body and cut the frame tubes based on your measurements), but still!

Jess rode a Coeur d' Acier, which is made of high-end steel with carbon fiber seat stays (the tubes that run from under the seat to the back wheel). She liked it a lot, and then she rode a full carbon fiber Trek to compare it.

My first ride was on a Legend Ti, but it fit pretty poorly. My second ride was on a La Corsa - a much cheaper bike, but since it fit properly, it felt MUCH better. Don't think I'll be buying one soon though, as it's still over $2200 just for the bare frame. Still it would be cool to have a 100% custom-fit bike though. If I'd liked the bike better, I could always sell my Trek and use that money toward the new bike, but it didn't knock my socks off enough to go that route.

So now Jess will have to decide which bike she likes best. No hurry though. I just mounted up a new pair of tires on her current bike, so that should keep her happy for a few more weeks.

Testing out some new wheels on my bike

Posted: April 05, 2006 in Cycling | Add Comment

They're Bontrager Race X Lite Aeros. I had meant to try the normal, non-aero versions, but the bike shop set me up with some demo wheels, and this is what was in the box! I think they look pretty cool, and they ride amazingly well.

Very light and very responsive. The only possible drawback would be the bladed spokes, which may react badly to cross-drafts. The non-aero versions have regular spokes (and are quite a bit lighter), so that's probably what I'll go with, but damn, I really like the looks of these.

It's going to be a tough choice!

T-minus 15 days (and counting) til Jessica's b-day

Posted: April 04, 2006 in Cycling | Add Comment

Jessica's birthday is coming up, and though it will be no surprise to her, she's getting a new bike. I bought her a decent bike for her birthday-before-last, and while that was an excellent starter bike, I think it's time for something better.

When Jess first started riding, we really had no way of knowing if it was going to be something she would like, and something she would want to keep doing. Her first season was very limited, as she still lived in Toronto, and her new bike was here in the states. She did do some riding in Toronto though, on an old, heavy steel hybrid bike that was on loan from my mom.

Her true first season was last year, when she moved to the US to live with me. That year, she rode over 1800 miles (close to 3000 km) including as couple of metric centuries (62 mi / 100km) and the MS-150 up in PA (150 miles over 2 days, with the first day being 78 miles). To me this was proof that she was going to stick with it, and she genuinely seemes to enjoy riding. While her current bike is perfectly fine, it's not the most comfortable ride, due to the aluminum construction.

We're not 100% decided on what Jessica's new bike is going to be, but it will likely have some carbon fiber in the construction. This helps to dampen vibration and provides a much more comfy ride. This weekend at the bike shop is a "demo day" for a high-end bike maker called Serotta, so we'll both be there to test-ride some bikes.

Hopefully she won't get sold on the $3600 one! surprise

I'm spending a weekend at my LBS

Posted: March 29, 2006 in Cycling | Add Comment

I'll be helping out at my local bike shop this weekend for a huge sale they're having. I'll be setting up test-ride bikes and helping out with small tasks. It should be a blast.

Jessica's new bike is in the works. One of the considerations is a Lemond Versailles (which was our first choice), but lately I've been considering other options. A strong contender is the Serotta Fierte, which is a Ti bike with carbon stays. I've also been thinking she'd like Campy ergo levers better than Shimano (Campy seems better for people with small hands).

So she could end up with a Fierte spec'd with Campy Veloce 10 compact, 13-26, and whatever wheels come on it. The only problem with the Campy is that the rear wheel is different, so maybe I'll go with a j-tec shift-mate and keep all the wheels Shimano. I'll have to research that.

I'll also have to have her test-ride a Fierte to see if she likes the way the frame rides. She already test-rode a Trek Madone carbon, and she liked that a lot. Fun choices to make though.

I need to stop stuffing my face like this

Posted: March 26, 2006 in Cycling | Add Comment

Yesterday was my good friend Nick's birthday, and he was 32. Nick was my best man at my wedding, and I've known him a few years short of forever. Nick is also Greek, and in true Greek tradition, the gig was a blast and there was more food than anyone could be expected to eat, but that didn't stop us from trying.

Jess and I ate light meals for the early portion of the day, and that was a good call. We ended up stuffing ourselves at the party, and the cake (chocolate on chocolate) was amazing too. I saw a bunch of Nick's friends and relatives whom I hadn't seen in years, and toward the end of the night we played this silly (but fun) golfing game on his 32,768" humungous-screen TV. I mean this thing (counting the base) was as tall as I am standing, and around 6' wide.

I kicked ass at the game - beginner's luck, and ended up at -2 (it turns out that lower scores are better in golf) and the other people were +6, +14, and +34 *cough*. Those of us who were not playing (Jess, and Allie (Nick's wife)) were less than enthused about the game. Jessica compared it to "watching paint dry". laugh Well I didn't think it was THAT bad.

All in all I'd say we slammed over 3000 calories for the day, so today we have a bike ride lined up to try to burn some of it off. It's a good excuse to ride at least.

Bike shops come and go...

Posted: March 22, 2006 in Cycling | Add Comment

...but mail order chains are here to stay

I remember when I first got into riding. I mean seriously into it - not talking about my high school Huffy here. There were a lot of good bike shops in this area, including the one I did most of my business at. Most of these shops carried the high-end stuff of the time, including Merlin, Kestrel, and even Paramount, along with staples like Cannondale and Trek. In addition to the many local bike shops was a mail-order chain retail store. It was small and hidden away in the corner of a strip mall, but the serious riders knew where to find it.

Almost 20 years have passed since I picked up my Cannondale Criterium frameset from my favorite bike shop, and it's been around 10 years since that shop ceased to exist. With it went many of the better shops in the area, but not only has the chain store remained, it's moved into a larger location, and it's also spawned siblings. They now have more than a few locations in the area, and while the prices remain quite attractive, the service leaves a bit to be desired. Not the customer service, mind you. I'm talking about the service department.

One of my standards for judging a bike shop is how their bikes are set up for test rides. I've compiled a short list of things that I've found to be signatures of poor service departments, and it goes something like this:

  1. Stem adjustment in relation to front wheel. There's nothing worse than steering 3 degrees to the left in order to go straight. Doesn't anybody eyeball these things?
  2. Brake caliper centering. C'mon guys, it just takes a turn of a screw on most road bikes these days.
  3. Handlebar rotation. Trying to use the drops when the handlebar ends point at the crank is challenging to impossible. Likewise, the hoods are pretty much useless when you can read the logos on the end plugs from your normal riding position.
  4. Seat rotation. If you're going to eyeball my seat height, please eyeball it a little better so the nose of the saddle isn't drilling into my adductor muscle.
  5. Shifting. It's understood that a bike that shifts properly on the stand might shift "funny" during a ride, but at least get it shifting well on the stand in the first place. If I come back in 30 seconds with the chain jammed between the chainstay and chainring, I'm probably not going to buy the bike.

It should be a given, but I've had shops fail on one or more of these too many times to remember. Unfortunately, I've had incredibly bad luck with more than a few of the items almost everytime I've test-ridden bikes from the various chain store locations. Maybe it's just bad luck, but when I test-ride bikes from my current local shop, they're spot on. Every single one of them. Every time.

It's a shame that the "bottom line" of price has gotten to be more important than the service and support available at a quality shop. What's even worse is that any of these mail-order chain stores could be just as good as the LBSs at service. They have the same pool of talent available to them. Who knows? Maybe the better techs don't want to work at a chain store, but I can't see why they'd mind. Cheap prices on components, plus discount.

I try to patronize my local bike shop whenever I can, and whenever I can is starting to be most of the time. The prices on complete bikes are competitive with the chains, and while the prices for small items are more, I often get cut a break on something else, so it comes out in the wash. Not to mention the gas savings (3 min to the LBS, 30 min each way to the chain).

Given past experiences, supporting the LBS makes more and more sense, and I want to make sure they stay around a while. Besides, the chain store will always be there.

The Alpinestars lives again!

Posted: March 22, 2006 in Cycling | Add Comment

Quite a number of years ago, when I was first exploring mountain biking, I had my first ride up in Ohiopyle PA on a borrowed Cannondale. The bike was a bit too small for me, and rode a bit rough with its "Pepperoni" fork, but I made due anyway, and decided I liked the sport.

My first mountainbike was a Trek 7000 - a big, green, aluminum monstrosity that was a size too big for me. It also had a noodle of a fork. I could not ride worth jack on that bike, and I swore off mountain biking many a time in the months to come. I finally sold the Trek to my friend Pat after buying a bike from another friend, Mike Smith.

Mike had ordered a bike online from a company called Alpinestars. It was a freakish looking thing, with elevated chainstays and an S-bend in the seat tube to clear the rear tire. But it rode like a dream, and Mike was fast as hell on it, winning a few races and doing well in many others. Eventually Mike got bitten by the full suspension bug, and picked up a Mantis Pro Floater. Thankfully, I was able to convince him to sell the Alpinestars to me, and my riding improved around 300% overnight.

I rode the bike for several years, before a mishap sidelined it sometime in 99. Due to the S-bent seat tube, the front derailleur had to be fitted via a braze-on. It was just a curved hunk of aluminum with an elongated bolt hole in it - and apparently the weak link in the frame, as it broke during a ride, leaving me with no front shifting.

Since I was only 2 weeks away from a week-long mountain biking trip to Canaan Valley, W.Va, I needed a bike fast. I ended up with a Trek 9700 carbon mountain bike, which is basically an OCLV carbon frame with garbage components on it. But it was light, it fit, and the price was right, so that was my ride until last summer when I built up my Jamis Dakar full suspension bike. As far as the Alpinestars went, I had the front braze-on re-welded, then hung the frame on a hook to collect dust.

But the more I stared at the old Alpinestars frame, the more I itched to build it back up. So over this past winter, I set out to do just that. There are pics of the process in my photo album, and a list of components can be found elsewhere on this site. I had to forgo a front derailleur, because the repaired braze-on isn't up to the task of holding the derailleur firmly. It's no problem though, as I think I'll be just fine with the middle ring up front and 8 out back. It'll save a tiny bit of weight too, once I pull the front shifter.

As soon as I get a second pair of SPDs for it, I plan to take it out for a ride. Should be fun, not to mention a blast from the past. It should ride better actually, since the old Manitou Three bumper shock has been replaced with a more modern Manitou Black Super Air fork.

I think this season will be a fun one for riding. yes

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