An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Maiden Voyages

In the bike world, there's just something very sublime about the first ride on a new bike.

Buying a complete bike from a shop, likely it's been test-ridden by some one else a time or two, and maybe even yourself before your first full suit-up and trip down the road. But it's still something special, kind of like new-car-smell.

Even buying a new frame and having the shop build it up, hopefully the mechanic took it for a short shake-down cruise of a mile or two to make sure everything was hitting on all cylinders. But it's the first real feel of how the bike handles, how it jumps when you stomp on the pedals, maybe eats up the bumps, that first taste of double digits on the new bike.

Buying that bare frame and building it up yourself provides another feeling of adventure. Not just all that comes with a  new bike from a shop, but a little sense of trepidation -- did you do everything right? Is the shifting crisp, the braking secure and responsive? No ticks or squeaks?

And at the pinnacle, taking a frame you built yourself, hanging all the parts, and then taking it out on that first ride adds another layer to it all, the icing plus the cherry on top.

All the thought into the design, all the hours of fabrication -- cutting, cleaning, brazing (in my case, maybe welding for some one else), finishing, painting -- get put to the test, the proof in the pudding, when it's taken for that first ride. Does it really fit? Does it handle how you intended? Does it jump when you stand on the pedals? Does it rail the corners with confidence? Is it stiff enough? Does it transmit every road vibration into you?

Then there's those nagging little doubts that are best kept locked up during the ride... Is it going to hold up? Are all the brazed joints really strong enough? Especially the fork?

And so it was Monday that I took one of my first builds out onto the public roadways for its maiden voyage. The bike is built as a cyclocross/gravel bike, with wide-ish tires and very relaxed geometry. The segmented fork looks very beefy and stout, and is a first for me both in fabrication and riding. 

I babied the bike for the first few miles, testing it out. The feel, how it responded to inputs of pedaling and steering, the inherent stability. A bit of giddiness at taking out this new bike, one I had built from tubes to finished product, and seeing it to its final purpose.

As the miles clicked off, I put it into different paces -- a bit of a launch from a stand-still, pushing it a little on a hill, standing up pedaling at a slow cadence, spinning it up to a higher speed, taking a corner, trying a no-hands cruise or two. Some brake noise on standing pedaling was actually the spokes hitting a caliper bolt. tightening the front quick-release solved that issue, and I continued on.

The verdict? It rides well. Stable, stiff, easy to roll. It jumps off the line, stays planted in corners, and seems comfortable enough for much longer mileage (this was just a 23 mile quick ride before a family outing). Pans? Not much: (1) The handlebars are a little higher than I'd like, though the hip angle is good. I hadn't trimmed the head tube fully when I finished the build, so I've got some area to bring that down, which will keep the hip angle and rotate the whole position forward a little. (2) The wide ratio gearing isn't really suited to road riding, but once in the gravel and steep mountain roads, it'll be a blessing. (3) Right at the end of the ride, a no-handed cruise induced some front-end shimmy.

I didn't have any instrumentation on this ride, so while I was in motion I didn't have any feedback on my speed. Post-ride, though, Strava says my average speed was a somewhere between my current gravel bike and my road bike. With some more miles on this one, the confidence in the machine will go up and I'll be flying.

And it may just be the one that takes me over the river and through the woods to who-knows-where.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Enjoy the Silence

Some days it's nice to just get out and enjoy the silence and solitude.

Today was one of those days, getting out on my mountain bike on a beautiful but cold day on some new terrain.

This past summer I took a long lunchtime ride that had be skirting the roads just east of Joint Base Lewis McChord, looking at a lot of empty land with occasional dirt roads leading in, and thinking it would be great for a gravel ride. I looked at maps and satellite imagery, and started planning a large loop. I asked people who I ran into that might know about how accessible that land was (and how likely it would be that I'd be shot at or end up in a military prison). 

All indications were that it would be okay, but that given military exercises were often done on this land, I'd have to pay attention to any signs warning of unexploded ordnance.

So when the weather forecast said that today would be clear, no chance or rain, and I just happened to have this week off for holiday, it provided the perfect opportunity.

I loaded up the car in 26 degree temps, and headed out.

At 9:00 I hit the trail, or gravel road actually, the first several miles siding along the paved road and then turning into the woods. As the miles ticked by, I found myself breaking out into clearings, meadows hundreds of acres vast.

With the cold, my water bottles quickly got slushy. Having to stop often to check navigation (and having to restart Cuesheet each time) added a significant amount of time to the ride. And even though there was little in the way of elevation change, I was wishing I'd gone slightly lower with my gearing on the single speed. But none of that dampened the enjoyment of the ride. Sun, nice gravel, seeing only 3 other people the entire ride (and they were training their hunting dogs). 

There were only two points where I needed to portage around large pools of icy water. And only one point where I had to re-route when the road I'd mapped crossed a stream. Had this been summer with temperatures in the 80's instead of freezing, I might have ridden through it. I back-tracked to a bridge, and re-joined my route, not missing much mileage.

Sometimes you run into unexpected things out in these areas. The sad part is that I could always tell when I was getting close to the paved roads - dumped trash.

My choice of going with a monster-cross bike might have been overkill, but I had no idea what I was going to run into on this route. Next time I'll ride the 'cross bike.

And there WILL be a next time. I don't think I touched 10% of the gravel roads that lace this area.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

CL100CXTTWC -- a bike race parody for charity

As the end of the year approaches, and things surrounding Christmas ramp up, it's easy to get busy and set some things aside. You may have noticed a dearth of posts to this journal over the last month or two. Well, that's exactly what happened.

But this past weekend I participated in an event that will now be on my annual calendar for as long as it's run.

CL100CXTTWC -- the Craigs List $100 Cyclocross Time Trial World Championships.

Put together by Russell Clark, a local rider who I became acquainted with through Strava KOMs, it was an outgrowth of his desire to put on a fun event, and to make a difference.

The idea is this: Get a bike on Craigs List, and make it rideable, all for less than $100, race it time-trial style on a cyclocross course (in this case it was about 5.6 miles), then donate the bike to Bike Works of Seattle. Yes, you could ride your own bike instead of donating, but that would require a cash donation entry fee and also disqualify you from the actual "championships". The emphasis was, by far, more on HAVING a good time than POSTING a good time.

I gave Russell a little help with some logistics, course marking, and start/finish line adornments, but all the real footwork, planning, and contacting were all his.

I perused Craigs List several times, at one point contacting a seller of a MTB single speed conversion (who then informed me that he was only available for a couple hours A WEEK to come take a look). Well, when my wife decided that she wouldn't be able to ride the event (due to work schedules and kiddie care issues), her steed became my ride for the day. A 38lb Huffy Storm, with platform pedals, steel rims, stamped steel "slowers" (it would be a disservice to call them brakes)...

Race day dawned clear and cool, though for December it was a perfect day, as we gathered at Ft. Steilacoom Park in Lakewood, WA.

It was entertaining seeing the variety of bikes ridden on the day. Everything from basket-festooned cruisers to banana-seat stingrays, old road bikes, bmx b
ikes, and of course mountain bikes. Mostly ill-fitting.

I was fourth from last to go off, as I'd registered fairly early. Which meant there were a lot of people to pass, and only a few that could pass me.


I did pass one rider, on a road cruiser with basket. Two of the riders behind me (including
Russell, who started last) did pass me. It didn't matter one whit. I was having a blast fighting the heavy bike up the hills, remounting after a particularly steep section and completely missing the saddle, and riding off the course when the "slowers" failed to slow the bike enough for me to negotiate a narrow chicane.

I have no idea where I finished, time wise. Because it doesn't even matter.

The event brought in 38 bikes (plus some parts, and no, they didn't fall off the bikes) and $350 cash donations. Russel stated many times that he was proud and humbled that so many people responded so enthusiastically to his zany idea, and that so much good came out of it.

And it's already set for next year -- December 15, first rider off at 9:30 AM. I'll be there. Let the Craigs List cruising begin!

Friday, November 21, 2014


The month of November begins in earnest the winter struggle of busy-ness, getting things accomplished, holidays, demands on time, and trying to stay sane and in some kind of physical shape (other than round).

October this year was pretty decent weather-wise. There were really only a few days that I consider not rideable. November, though, has been challenging, with very cold temperatures, and now the usual wet. Add in that my wife has been in training for a new part-time job, and my available time for riding these past two work weeks has been my lunchtime. I try to get in the hour (or a little more if meeting schedules permit) of saddle time, but some days it just doesn't happen.

In all that, though, I've gotten two more bike frames near the end of their process -- on in paint, and one nearly so. I'm making a second fork for my gravel/'cross bike, so that will be this weekend's project. Colors? I'm debating with the primer grey/clearcoat on the frame with a red fork and graphics, or going with yellow on the frame instead. I know the yellow/red combination is striking, but the grey/red is more staid and utilitarian. It might depend more on what yellow I can find that will accept epoxy clear topcoat.

A funny thing happened on the way...

The gravel bike I am finishing up is actually the second main frame. It was too long to fit in the jig, and I was having a terrible time getting it set up, so I decided to set it up on the flat table with V-blocks. The seat tube/bottom bracket junction was done in the jig so that it was at 90 degrees, but then I took that assembly to the table with the rest of the tubes in the blocks. Well, somewhere in the process the seat tube got knocked or something, and the whole main frame ended up at a slight angle. The head tube and seat tube were PERFECTLY parallel, but putting the frame on the "whipping post" showed that the head tube was out-of-plane with the bottom bracket by a good 1/2". Ugh. And it was fully brazed, not just tacked.

I tried to "show it who's boss" as Richard Sachs likes to say. That ended badly -- the corner of my flat surface broke off, and I nearly broke my knuckles.

I sighed.

I cried a little.

And I set it aside to start over. I figured I could finish it up at some point as a display-only model.

That was a few months ago. Fast forward to a couple weeks ago, with a new flat surface reinforced by planks. For grins I put that main triangle back on the whipping post to see what I could do. 

Some grunting, a lot of flipping it over on the post, lots of checks... And it came into alignment!

Now, if this were for a paying customer, I wouldn't be passing along something I had to do that much cold-setting with, and it'll still end up mostly as a display model. But I've got this extra main triangle that I'm figuring out just how to finish.

Fixed gear? Another 'cross/gravel rig? Maybe play around with the idea of a 29+?

Monday, November 3, 2014

I've been down, but I'm not out.

I don't get sick very often.

Maybe it's that I lead a reclusive lifestyle. I don't really care for crowds.

And shunning showers and personal care products  makes this easy -- crowds avoid me.

Okay, not really. I shower and use decent-enough hygiene that I'm only rarely not socially acceptable. But I still don't care for pressing flesh with 10,000 of my best-friends-I-just-met.

But we returned from Illinois last month with a nice little gift for all of us -- a cold that is just hanging on. Sinuses draining green goo, and a dry throat and cough that is just irritating. It's been two weeks now. Longest cold I can remember.

Which has kept me off the bike for almost 2 weeks now. My last ride was on October 23rd, a little one-hour off-road excursion on my lunch break. Not even something strenuous. But I think that drove the cold well into the depths of my body, and there's is taken up residence like Fort Knox, apparently.

Where did we pick it up? Well, I thought about that... My niece had been sick the night before we left, but by the time we saw them, she was doing fine and I would think not contagious. 

We were in a crowd at the wedding on Saturday. There's a possibility there.

But there was that lady that sat next to me on the flight to Chicago... Fours hours of her blowing her nose, sneezing, and laying her head down on the fold-out tray. Uh, yeah, that's probably it.

Thanks. I got to pay for that privilege.

I expect I'll be back to riding by the end of the week, and maybe by the end of the month it'll be like it never happened. 

Wonderful thing, these healing bodies.

Now I just have to figure out where to get my flu shot.