Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Taking the long way

Last Saturday, I showed up at 9am for a group ride I have been leading in my neighborhood. Because of poor advertising on my part and conflicts for some of the regulars, nobody showed up. I considered that I could go home for some rest and/or coffee, but I decided to get out and explore a bit.

I rode along this picturesque drainage ditch at Crosby Farm. Afterward, I snaked through the familiar trails that I often ride when I have a few extra minutes on my way to work.

I "dipped" my wheels in the river a few times when getting around deadfalls and other obstacles.

I continued along the river, even over the rocky bank. I lowered my tire pressure, and it was easy. I thought about what a roadie acquaintance said to me a few days earlier as I outrolled him down a hill and then kept pace with him on my ICT: "I bet it doesn't go up hills very fast". He was obviously trying to disparage my "fad bike", but whatever. Truth be told, I'm not that fast up hills on any bike. But any bike that can save me a few seconds up a hill wouldn't have a chance with sand and river rocks, so there is that.

The rocks got bigger, but I was careful to pick my line through the boulders.

I took the water route here, and got wet feet. Those underwater rocks are slippery.

I didn't have time to ride into this intriguing tunnel.

By the time I got to work after 3 hours of riding, I was in such a good mood. Any bike can take me on adventures, but this one seems especially good at it.

Later that evening, I was able to get out for a ride with my 9yo on her Straggler. She's a strong rider. 
I think I need a faster bike to keep up with her.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Long term relationship

If you've known me in the context of bicycling for any length of time, you probably noticed that I don't tend to practice long-term monogamy with my bicycles. I generally alternate between three and five bikes, and I seldom keep any of them in the stable for longer than 6 months. There's always a reason to try something new, to gain some (usually theoretical) advantage for a certain type of riding.

But last October, I bought one of the (then) brand new Surly Ice Cream Truck framesets, and built it to suit my tastes. Around the time I started riding my ICT, I sold off my other bikes, including a Moonlander, Disc Trucker, ECR, and a hot-rodded Torker Graduate (poor man's Straggler). At the time I sold them, I told myself that I'd eventually replace them with something. But in 6 months of riding only the ICT, my desire for another bike is near zero. Here is a photo from today's commute, by the way:

This contraption isn't going to appeal to weight weenies or anybody hung up on the idea that skinny tires roll better, BUT THOSE PEOPLE ARE MISTAKEN. This beast rolls and rolls and then it hits the bumps in the road and it keeps rolling. I've ridden pavement and gravel and dirt and mud and ice and snow and rocks and curbs and railroads and corporate landscaping, and it handles it all even with my mediocre riding skills. I've been doing a neighborhood group ride, and last week we rode 17 miles including the High Bridge (uphill direction) and some hills in West Saint Paul in just over an hour. I don't normally advocate riding that fast, but it's nice to know that it can be done if necessary. Remember that I'm about 50 pounds overweight and I've never been particularly athletic, so you can probably go faster, not that you should care.

The other thing that keeps me from getting another bike is that the fat tires have spoiled me. I get to test ride a lot of different bikes, and one thing that stands out is that normal tires ride really harshly. The 3", 4", and 5" plus-size and fat tires make the road feel as if it's paved with marshmallows. Marshmallows that magically have excellent traction and low rolling resistance, of course.

Granted, I don't do road racing, brevets, and I seldom ride manicured singletrack. If you do those things, maybe a different type of bike will work better for you. I just ride everywhere and try to find adventure along the way. For me, the ICT is totally sensible.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Surly Coupon expires in a week

You have about a week left until the $150 Surly coupon expires at the end of March. We will also give you 10% of the purchase price of the bike back in store credit, which you'll need for accessories and what not. These combined offers result in $300 or more in savings on most Surly complete bike models. In addition, there are several closeouts and recent price reductions on certain models that make some of these bikes into true bargains.

You don't even really need to print the coupon and bring it in, unless you want to. I'll take care of that detail so you don't have to worry about it.

After March 31, this deal ends, and you'll have to pay full price. Don't miss out!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Used bikes

Here is a basically new-condition XS Surly Troll. Previous owner reports that she rode it only 30 miles at the most. Upgrades and modifications include robin egg blue powdercoat, Thomson setback seatpost, Brooks Flyer saddle, Schwalbe Fat Frank tires, SKS fenders, and Civia rack with swanky bamboo top. $1100

54 cm Surly Cross-check. The bike is fairly well used, but condition is good. Recently this was converted to a Shimano Alfine 8sp internal gear hub drivetrain with Jtek bar-end shifter. The Alfine parts are fairly new. Includes basic rack and fenders. $950

49 cm LeMond Poprad. Excellent low-miles condition except for the top tube has some scuffs, probably from riding on the back of a car where the wind made the brake cable rub on the paint. $750

56 cm Civia Hyland frameset. Basically new. This bike was bought for the parts, and the frame became an orphan. This has the Rohloff OEM dropout. $250

Kona Jake the Snake 52 cm. Decent used condition. $650

Saturday, February 21, 2015

I'm fat and that's probably not changing anytime soon

We just got back from Frostbike, which is QBP's winter mixer dealer event. If you don't know, QBP is the parent company of Surly Bikes and some other fine bike brands. QBP also serves as a distributor for lots of other brands of components and accessories.

We always go to the Surly bike booth first. Our insider info proved correct: Surly didn't unveil any new products or variants of old products at Frostbike this year. But they did tell us that they have some overstock on last year's Pugsley (XS, S, and XL only) and "trail" bikes like the Karate Monkey, Krampus, Krampus Ops, and Instigator, and they've reduced prices accordingly, in some cases to unbelievably low levels. Right now you can buy an Instigator frame AND they are throwing in some free 26" Rabbit Hole rims and 26x2.75" Dirt Wizard tires for $599. They also knocked about $750 off the price of a complete Instigator to $1899, which is quite a deal for the fork and components alone. I'm not sure this is the bike for just anybody, but if you're the kind of person who rides hard and breaks stuff, then maybe this is the deal for you. I forgot to ask if these deals can be combined with the $150 Superfan coupon, but I'm guessing we could work that out for you.

You can find "spy photos" and other info about new products at Frostbike on the internet, so I'm not going to add to that noise. Instead I'd like to mention a mixed "vibe" I picked up. On the one hand, there were the accessory and component companies. Some of them were late to the party with fat-bike parts and accessories, and now they're enthusiastically on the bandwagon, making some stuff that definitely appeals to a fat bike guy like me. I saw several new(ish) tires, rims, hubs, and cranks for fat bikes. There's a fat bike compatible child seat from Thule (planning to get one for my youngest kid), and lots of fat bike compatible car racks now. On the other hand, there were some folks from more established fat bike entities who seemed genuinely surprised when I told them that we are seeing good sales on fat bikes this year. Honestly, we have shifted the focus of HC to fat and plus-sized tire bikes (though we are more than comfortable with selling and repairing other bike styles too, of course). In some larger shops, fat bikes may seem like an oddity among dozens of more conventional bicycles, and if the sales staff isn't enthusiastic about fat bikes, not many will buy them. Personally, in my little bubble here at HC, I see a lot of growth potential for fat bike sales. The bikes are simply too much fun, and too practical. I'm not referring to the racer/athlete end of the market, but the casual offroad and winter rider who will be much more confident on a fat bike than on a more conventional bike. At HC, we ride and love our fat bikes, and we'll probably try to talk you into buying one (or at least something "plus-sized"*).

*Speaking of plus-sized wheels and tires, I have something to say about that, too. Look for that in a near-future post.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Don't worry about bike weight

I don't weigh my bikes. Every part or accessory on my bike was put there for a good reason, and usually that reason is much more of a priority than the "weight penalty" of using that part or accessory. My bike gets me to work, allows me to have some offroad fun along the way, and haul a load of groceries on the way home. I've accepted that this level of versatility involves a compromise. To torture a car analogy, I'm opting for the versatility of the SUV, rather than the fun impracticality of the 2-seater sport coupe. Even though I don't really care what my bike weighs, when I'm looking at bikes and components, I often take note of what they weigh for reasons that aren't directly about weight. This is especially true of tires and, to a lesser extent, rims. Lightweight tires tend to be more supple and have a better ride quality, which is a priority for me. A lot of the negative associations people have about heavy bikes are the result of lousy-rolling tires. And the weight of a rim can indicate whether it was designed for big hit dirt jumping or for superlight road racing - I'd rather not mix up the two (usually I'm looking at intermediate weight rims). Weights of handlebars and seatposts and derailleurs and such aren't on my radar.

Not giving a damn about weight is a matter of basic physics. The weight difference between a 'heavy' bike and a 'light' bike is typically only a few percent of my robust body weight. Therefore, a few hundred grams here or there is a laughable and negligible change in the total weight of bike plus rider (at least 250 pounds or 113,500 grams, in my case).

Even if I could spend enough thousands of dollars to make a non-negligible change to the weight of my bike, would it matter? For me, the answer is NO. Most of my riding is simple transportation and social bike rides. I'm usually riding in my easy comfort zone, and not trying to red-line my heart rate. In other words, if I want to go faster, I can just pedal faster. I'm not racing against a competitor or a clock, and I'm limited mostly by my desire (or lack of desire) to ride faster, and my fitness level.

But even if I was more of an intense competitor, I could turn the cranks to the limit of my ability on every ride, and weight still wouldn't matter except on prolonged climbs, twisty corners, or when accelerating/decelerating frequently. Riding a straight line on flat ground at constant speed requires no acceleration, and therefore no force (F=MA) except to overcome aerodynamic drag, rolling resistance of the tires, and mechanical inefficiency of the moving parts on the bike. To overcome those losses, a heavy bike with its extra momentum actually has an advantage over a lighter bike.

Here in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, I spend relatively little time riding my bike up big hills. But some people do ride up big hills, where weight has the biggest effect. This velo-news article has a fun infographic that shows the calculated difference of hill climb times with different bike weights and different hill grade (steepness). In a nutshell, the difference between the light bike (15 lb) and the "heavy" bike (18 lb) is just under 12 seconds for a 150 lb rider doing a one-mile climb on a 7% grade at a constant 200W output. Since I'm more in the fat bike world, where weight differences can be more profound, I could easily double or triple the percentage weight savings, but even a 30-60 second difference on the biggest hill I'm likely to ride all year seems like a paltry reward for the investment I'd have to make to take that much weight off my bike.

There's nothing wrong with having a light bike, if it makes you happy, but if you expect that a lighter seatpost (or whatever) is going to give you some measurable performance advantage, you're wrong. Also, I can empathize with apartment dwellers who have to carry a bike up several flights of stairs everyday. There are plenty of reasons to try to save weight on a bike, but, for most of us, performance shouldn't be one of them.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Wheelbuilding class, February 28

Do you want to learn to build wheels? I am offering a class on February 28, 8am until noon. The class costs $60, and spots are limited. Call me or stop by HC to reserve your spot.

You'll need rims, hubs, and spokes, which I can supply at competitive prices. When you leave the class, you'll most likely have completed one wheel. Some people build two wheels.