Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sensible tires

These aren't the stock wheels or the stock tires for this 2012 Surly LHT, but the brown tires really work with the dark green, don't ya think?. A lot of people fret incessantly over various frivolous tire characteristics. Color-coordination is perhaps the most fret-worthy. That's what we do here. HC is all about fashion.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The good old days of 2008, and now

In terms of revenue dollars, our best year ever at the shop was 2008. That was the year gas hovered around $4/gallon for most of the summer. At the time, these high gas prices were believed to be a catalyst of the housing crash for obvious reasons: people can buy a bigger house if they're willing to drive a long distance to get into town. Driving a long distance implies buying a lot of gas, so gas price sensitivity is an issue. A trade-off that seemed affordable with $2 gas was completely unworkable with $4 gas. Obviously, the housing and mortgage fiasco was more complicated than that, but in my half-assed opinion the gas prices played a major role in triggering the meltdown. Either that or it was a coincidence that both happened at the same time.

From our point of view as bike shop rats, we saw MANY people coming in not to buy a dream bike, but to resurrect some 30-year-old 10-speed for commuting. There was desperation in their voices. They told us that commuting by bike was a last-resort because it simply was not possible to keep paying for gas. Apparently we weren't alone in this observation. It was impossible to find a supply of 27" tires that summer as bike shops across the country gobbled up the usual modest production runs. Everything in that size was sold out everywhere. Cheap ones and expensive ones were nowhere to be found. The New York Times style section did a review on a dozen or so models of 27" tires (we have a copy of the article at the shop). Yes, 27" is an obsolete size, but it was the most common size during the 1970s bike boom. And those formerly gleaming bike-boomers are the dusty, neglected machines that were being called back into service in 2008. The distributors and tire-manufacturers were caught flat-footed, when demand for tires in this size multiplied overnight from marginal to arguably the most popular replacement size (for a few months).

It was a good year for us to sell bikes, too. For people who still had a house and a decent job, $4 gas provided a slightly less urgent, but still financially compelling motivation to either begin commuting by bike or to splurge on a nicer bike. At the time, Surly had somewhat recently introduced a Long Haul Trucker complete package that was ridiculously cheap. I think it was $895 for the whole bike, and later it was $985 (still cheap!). We sold lots of those. If you bought one of those back then, rode it for 3 years but kept it in decent shape, you could probably get most of your $895 back out of it on the used market today, but, truth be told, you probably wouldn't want to sell such a great bike unless it was to buy the same bike in a different color or with a different wheel size (I know at least 3 people who've done that).

The price of that model in 2012 has risen to $1275, which is still a great deal, and if anything illustrates how under-priced these bikes were in those days. The latest model has some neat improvements, the most obvious and intriguing of which is the beefed-up fork with added rack eyelets up near the crown. My Curt Goodrich custom touring bike has a similar feature, which makes for some ultra-sturdy rack mounting with a wide variety of available racks. There's also a disc-brake version of the LHT scheduled to land in a few weeks, and for the tall people, a new 64 cm frame size. Also, in recent years, Surly has delved further into the ultra-utilitarian bike market with the Ogre and Troll, not to mention the Big Dummy and a couple trailers for those who have more to carry. The perennial favorite Cross-Check is another solid option for those who don't necessarily want a more tank-like ride. I ride a Cross-Check daily, and if circumstances forced me to choose just one bike for everything, this would probably be it (a tough road bike that can take front and rear racks and 45+ mm tires? Perfect!).

Why am I reminiscing about 2008, and rehashing my strident belief that every committed or aspiring cyclist should have a LHT (or one of the others listed above)? Because it is happening again, except worse (or better, depending on your viewpoint). These will be desperate times for the petrol-dependent. Yes, even as cyclists, we all are dependent, one way or another, on petroleum-based energy, but if you have to drive everywhere, you're going to feel the stiff one penetrating more directly into your finances. The sleek and sexy bikes with frames made of space-age ultralight materials and cutting-edge boutique parts might be appealing on a bike geek level, not to mention to impress your friends and/or intimidate your rivals. But if you're into solid, reliable, absolutely no-bullshit transportation, get a Surly with mid-level Shimano or SRAM parts (the stock package is usually a good place to start), and be confident that you made the right choice. Yes, there are fancier bikes out there, but fancier is not better, and in many practical ways, it's worse.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

rough outline of the Rivendell Rally I'm planning

Some have asked for more detail on the Midwest Rivendell Rally I mentioned earlier, so here's as much as I can commit to nearly 4 months in advance. The ride will be a 2-day circuit around Lake Pepin, much like the 3-speed tour. The dates are June 1-3, with the actual riding being on June 2-3. The event will formally kick-off on June 1 in Red Wing, where out-of-towners and others who choose to spend a night in Red Wing can gather for a social event that evening. I plan to ride down to Red Wing from Minneapolis on June 1. Anybody is welcome to join me on that ride. Anybody who drives to Red Wing should find a legal place to park the car for the weekend, but that should be easy enough. And of course, anybody who is spending that night in Red Wing will need to figure out lodging.

First of all, I would like to clarify what level of support I plan to provide for this, and what each participant will have to arrange for himself or herself. I will provide a route and a basic schedule. I will not provide food or lodging, but it will be easy enough for you to arrange those things yourself (see below). Hand-holding and babysitting will be supplied on an extremely limited basis, so if you're looking for a fully supported tour, this probably won't be your cup of tea. I might be able to arrange a support vehicle of some sort. This is tentative, but seems like a decent idea. The support vehicle may be for emergencies only or it may be to carry your luggage, but that will depend on the size of the vehicle (if any) and how many people need to have stuff carried. Plan to carry what you need and have your body and your bike in good operating condition.

I will provide a suggested route, which is somewhat but not insanely challenging, and an alternate "easy" route for those who feel the main route is too rugged.

climbing out of maiden rock

On Saturday, we will ride the Wisconsin side of the lake. The main route will include some steep climbs/descents and a few "rustic" gravel roads (possibly with a couple water crossings!), but since it's not a race, riders of any speed should feel welcome. The easier route along a main highway has one large but gentle grade (and a few smaller hills) and is all paved. The drawback of the easy route is that traffic, particularly loud motorcycles, can become tiresome. The suggested route is fantastic and quiet, and should be doable for any halfway fit cyclist. Again, we're not talking whippet-thin racer-boy/girl fitness, but you may become familiar with the low gears on your bike. Single-speeders may be doing some pushing. We all have different levels of fitness and strength and speed, but who cares? This will not be a day to establish the pecking order, but to enjoy the scenery, our bicycles, and our company. The custom will be to regroup at the tops of hills and at intersections and to help each other and keep the group together as much as possible. Nobody should have to ride alone.

a detour

The Wisconsin side of Lake Pepin offers numerous cafes and other food sources. Generally speaking, there is a little town with a decent restaurant or cafe every 7-10 miles or so. These towns are all along the highway. The main route will visit these towns, thereby merging with the easier route several times during the day. In other words, there are plenty of bail-out options for those who get tired and want an easier alternative.

gravel riding

By the "easy" route, Wabasha is about 40 miles from where we'll begin in Red Wing. By the suggested main route, it will be closer to 50-55 miles. I am planning to arrange for free camping in Wabasha at the city park, where showers are available. If that fails, there are a couple campground options not far from town. Wabasha has some hotel options, too. Americinn is the biggest place, but I have no specific recommendations. Anyway, non-campers will be responsible for making their own hotel arrangements for Saturday, June 2, in Wabasha. Across the river in Nelson, WI, is the Nelson Cheese Factory, which is my favorite restaurant around there, but Wabasha has a couple dining options, too. Wabasha also has a large-ish grocery store for those who'd like to roll their own dinner and/or breakfast.

Sunday, June 3, we will ride the Minnesota side of the lake back to Red Wing. Again, there will be the suggested main route and an alternate easy route, with a couple merge points. The main route heads up the bluff for a long climb out of Wabasha. Later, the descent into Lake City is thrilling and gorgeous. Lake City is a good place for lunch, with a number of restaurants and stores. From Lake City, the main route starts on a smooth, easy gravel road, and later a long paved climb and subsequent descent into Red Wing. The easy route along the highway is flatter and all paved, but traffic can be tiresome. Total mileage is comparable to that of day 1, possibly somewhat shorter.

Back in Red Wing, I assume people will scatter. Maybe some will get together for a drink and a snack, and maybe some will hit the road for home immediately.