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