Saturday, December 27, 2008

frosty rides in Madison


Just home from a x-mas visit to Madison. I FINALLY received these Nokian tires I'd been waiting for and managed to mount them on my Velocity deep V wheels the night before we left for Madison. They looked great out of the box. Very rideable and not at all over the top tread or stud-wise.

We set off with the bike and a station wagon full of gifts and whatnot to Madison on Wednesday. Thursday morning we were all meant to go across town to my brother-in-law's house for a big brunch and I decided I'd give it a try on the bike. The trip is about 9 miles and the temperature outside was supposedly going to get up to 20 degrees but as I left around 10 am, it was actually 0, wind chill of something like -10. So needless to say, the snow and ice was bone dry. As soon as I hit the road, I could tell what a MASSIVELY different feeling it was riding on these things. They just made the back streets (which were plowed but had been unplowed for some days, so there was a good layer of ice and packed snow, it was just more or less flat) feel like more or less normal riding conditions. I could also blast through the little pile ups where one plow went by later and made a sort of "curb" of snow and ice where streets crossed. It was really a fun feeling, very liberating to feel as if you could just ride normally in these conditions.

When I reached the top of the city's bike trail I was really happy to find that, on Christmas day, the trail was very nicely and completely plowed. Mind you, these are off street trails, so there is a whole little separate job to go and plow these miles and miles and miles of trails. NICE JOB MADISON! If it wasn't so freezing, I'd consider moving there!

The only downside of this ride was that my gloves are not at all fit for such temps. I did, however, discover and new ad hoc hand warming method whereby I stop and take off my gloves and stick them under my armpits (outside all my layers) and take my hands (with glove liners still on) and stick them down my pants where it is plenty warm. I did this twice on the way over to brunch, about every three miles. I received the Craft Siberian gloves I ordered to remedy this problem a few days before but was chagrined to discover that they were a bit too small, so hopefully this won't be something I'll have to get very good at, as they are enroute for an exchange now.

The other downside later in the day is that it never got past 10 degrees and by the time I rode home, there wasn't even the direct sun to help me out and the ride back is composed of a lot of very slight uphill inclines that you don't really notice on the way down them, but after bruch in the 10 degree weather with freezing hands, you start to notice!

But, hey, at least I was biking! Nokian A-10 tires: A+++++ (as the say in the land of ebay!)

Here are a couple of pics, one is me in the window of Monona terrace stopping for hand warming. Lake Monona is in the background. The next is the mighty Steamroller with the new invincible tires on.

The next day, I rode about another 15 miles or so (my computer was on the fritz). The temp was up into the 20s/30s on this day, so everything was melting! Slush everywhere. Tires still worked quite well, but there was a bit more slip/sliding around in the thick melting slush. Went by a couple of area bike shops just to have somewhere to stop and warm up. I was the only person on a bike at both of them though, so much for the hardy Wisconson biker! I did see about three other bikes over the course of the day altogether. They actually had the gloves I'm waiting for at Machinery Row Bicycles at a good price, but only in sizes XS through M. Doh! I found out that my footwear scenario (Cheapo Specialized cycling shoes with 2 pairs of socks and some Pearl Izumi neoprene shoe covers) cannot stay all that dry when you are riding through slush all day. I ended up stopping at a local Laotian restaurant for lunch and slipping out of my shoes and tucking my freezing toes one foot at a time under my legs under the table to thaw. A pot of hot tea and a plate of squash curry later, I was ready to finish it off. Same uphill slog, kind of harder with the half-melt, but I made it and got some pretty fearsome exercise. At least for this time of year.

Here is a picture of the exemplary bike trail conditions I found most of the day:

Kudos again to the city of Madison for taking cycling seriously and putting their money where it counts!

I now feel ready to face whatever Chicago has to dish out. Bring it!!!!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

More Surly love b/w A brief reprieve from the cold


Went out today and rode about 9 miles, doing some x-mas shopping. I am in love with my Surly Steamroller now. What a dream. It was already set up with almost everything I needed. The fenders are great! I rode around in melting snow and slush and it was actually lightly raining on me during the 4-ish mile ride home and without rainpants, I'm still clean and dry enough to just come in my house and not need to change clothes. The gearing is really nice. It's not ridiculously high for riding in windy conditions, etc, yet I can still get going up to about 25mph with a slight tailwind without spinning out. Solid!

I cannot wait to tackle the next spell of crap weather with these new studded tires (see below), but I decided today I am going to keep this wheelset (I was thinking on selling it off to help ameliorate the costs of this bike) and put the ice tires on the set of Velocity wheels I was riding this spring before I converted my Paramount to geared. I hear the Nokians are kind of a pain to change out and I think I shall be riding this bike a lot for a long time, so having ice and non-ice wheels seems like a good move in the long run.

The temp got up to a balmy 35-ish today. Thanks weather gods! All the ice is melting off, so we can start from scratch next week I reckon. Here is a great picture from the "winter gear" discussion over at the chicago fixed gear forum:

My sentiments exactly! What kindred spirits sculpted this monumental piece of sculpture?!

In other news of warmer weather adventures, I had my mind somewhat blown by this guy's quest from a couple years back. This is hardcore!

The wife and I are mulling over playing a little winter hooky and heading down to Austin on some frequent flier miles in a few weeks. She has off from school for an unexpected 4+ weeks, so wethinks we are going to take in some 60 to 70 degree Texas relaxation. I can bike in shorts most likely! Huzzah, huzzah!!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

First ride on the Surly


Well, I wiped out about a 1/2 mile from my house going down a snowy (and as it turned out, ICY) street. Jammed my thumb pretty good. Not so terrific to jam my left thumb when I dislocated my right pinky only 4 days ago. Come on Nokian tires, I need you!

Otherwise, though, it was real nice to be rolling on 2 wheels again. I've goofed up the rear brake cable path with that wreck somehow, but I was planning on changing out these bars and levers anyway, so I'll just have to get right to it.

(Later that same evening)

I did it. Here are some current pics. I have fenders, huzzah!!

sexy bike pics / winter continued


Well, winter is really ON here now. My street out front is covered in a good 1/2" of ice and packed snow and it's pretty much between 10 and 30 degrees. This, of course, isn't OFFICIALLY winter yet, it's technically "late Fall" which means that we've got a very long way to go.

I had a sexy photo shoot of my "stable" a few days ago on a lark after my wife had been shooting some pictures. Below are pics of the finished Orbea Euskaltel team bike, my trusty Paramount, the Look 171 I have had sitting around for a few months which I pilfered the Dura Ace on the Paramount from (it is now resurrected with a nice mixed Shimano 600/105 setup), and finally, the finished Trek 400 from a few posts ago that I fixed up for my friend Jeremy.

Here we go:

Nice right?! My basement is getting a little cozy though. I did get the Trek out of there and I'm getting ready to hand over this Centurion, which was my (for lack of a better term) "beater" bike. This, however, presented a little problem since, with the crappy weather, it leaves me without a less-than-quite-nice bike to ride in these slippery, falling down, salted road months. It also wasn't super ideal due to the lack of clearance for anything larger than a 700 x 25 tire (700 x 28 MIGHT have fit, but not by much). So I started hunting around for some kind of cross bike, commuter bike etc. with more ample tire clearance.

After about 3 days of posting, searching and e-mailing, I ended up finding a pretty decent deal on a Surly Steamroller. It's got the so-called "fatties fit fine" chainstay/seatstay as well as plenty of clearance at the front fork as well. As a winter riding experiment, I have also ordered a pair of these:

They are carbide-studded snow/ice tires. It may be overkill, but my neighborhood as well as the long street I work on are often not plowed at all. In addition, I commute down the hike/bike path in Humboldt Park, which is also un- or underpaved regularly. These tires are supposedly they best choice for mostly plowed roads with some icy patches and offer the least rolling resistance, so I'm gonna give them a go on the Surly. I'll keep everyone posted.

Here is the bike in it's original incarnation on craigslist:

Speaking of which, I'm out the door now to give this thing a test ride to work (no ice tires yet, but at least it's not super awful out right now.

Bike on!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

winter blues (and trying to beat them)


I am a southerner by birth and though my 9 years in Chicago have been VERY rewarding, I get a little bit more down with the onset of every winter here.

This winter is going to be my first of biking all the way through (at least the great majority of the time). In the past, I'd bike until it got down into the lower half of the 30s, but I've gone ahead and put together a significant winter "kit" for myself this year. Last year my business partner and friend Bob, who is a longtime winter biker, got my some nice gloves and a balaclava to try and get me going on some cold weather riding, but this year, I also procured a wool jersey, a nice light rain jacket/outer shell, some rainpants and some wool socks. After a week of riding in the first major cold snap we had last week (low 20s to mid 30s), I added a heavier full-face balaclava as well as a pair of neoprene shoe covers. The shoe covers are nice!! Toasty! I still have to figure something out for my hands, the gloves I have are nice and are good down to about 35 degrees or so, but when I went out in the lower 30s and 20s, they just can't quite cut the mustard. I'm hoping I can get some thin glove liners to go inside. More on that later.

Also, in an effort to beat back the blues and stay occupied, I have moved my little bike shop setup into my basement studio space. It has required the repurposing of a piano that hasn't seen a lot of use lately, I guess I could always stop and play a brief sonata! See picture:

I'm currently just finishing rebuilding a Trek 400 for a friend. It came with some nice old Campy stuff on it, which was quite a surprise as I bought it from a guy on craigslist who came by my work with it one evening after dark. I just sort of verified that the frame did not seem dented and that all the parts seemed more or less present. It was pretty dirty with some rust on numerous scrapes, but I stripped it down to the frame, cleaned it up, touched up the paint, rebuilt the wheels, BB and headset and have it all setup now. Here are some pics of that project:

I've been riding the Paramount quite a bit since I returned from tour. It is really fun. I have given up on riding a bike with a rack. I had one on this Centurion Accordo I've also been riding (mostly in wet weather), but it just felt like a Cadillac with that thing on it. It's weird, I know it's not that much weight (though I have this JandD rack, which is probably the heaviest rack around), but I guess 2-ish lbs. is an additional 10-ish percent, so that is pretty significant. I've just resigned myself to wearing a backpack almost all the time. Sometimes I know I'm going to straight to work and back home, then I can just ride sans anything else, but mostly it's backpack. Somehow, that doesn't feel as clunky. I guess it's like the apocryphal (though photographically speaking, apparently untrue) legend of 1960s French Tour rider Jacques Antequil always moving his bidon from it's holder to his jersey pocket when he started climbing, reasoning that the weight of the bike was more important than the weight of the rider. Untrue or otherwise, it feels true to me. I still feel quite zippy and free with a backpack of decent weight, but even with JUST the rack on, the bike feels like some kind of station wagon to me.

I'm actually going to unload this Centurion I've been riding part time. I have a friend in need and I am getting to the point where I am having a hard time riding "lesser" bikes (please note the quotation marks, it's a fine bike, I'm just going through changes!). I'm turning into a lightweight bike snob!! Crap! I am addicted to leaning on ergo levers, I am addicted to good brakes. I am turning into a bush league weight weenie.

Anyway, between the Trek and the Centurion I'm going to be selling, I am turning around and pouring that money into my latest and greatest project. I have been cruising Road Bike Review classifieds over the last few months and I came across a tantalizing used frame that I finally had to go for. It's this:

An Orbea aluminum frame made of some SHOCKINGLY light Columbus "Zonal" tubing. I have to do some research into this stuff, but it's insane! I have the Felt 85, which is also aluminum, but it feels/sounds more or less like steel in terms of being thick aluminum tubing. When you tap this Orbea, it literally sounds almost like a pop can. It's so thin I feel like I could bend it with my hands. I presume I could not actually do that, but we'll see! It seems as if it's going to weigh about 16-17 lbs, when finished. It is finished in the striking orange/yellow finish of the Spanish Basque region's Euskatel cycling team. This also happens to be the color (along with gray) of my studio/business (i.e. the decor/logo are all decked out in orange and gray), so I'm getting some gray tires and it's going to be the first TEAM CMS bike! Next up, the Grand Tour circuit!

It came with a handful of parts already (Campy Centaur brakes and seatpost, FSA carbon fork and Cane Creek headset, Selle Italia saddle), but I'm finishing it out from another RBR classified from a guy selling basically everything that wasn't already there. This includes Ultegra 10 speed/triple STI shifter/brake levers, rear and front derailleurs, cassette and chain. I also have a set of Ultegra 6600 crazy 14-spoke wheels to finish it off. I will be able to get the whole bike together for about probably $950 total, so it's not super cheap, but for what it is, it's cheap! I'm hoping to take it to some places I can do some serious climbing with the Triple crank. More on this bike soon.

Also, one silver lining of the economic downturn I've been noticing is that it's definitely becoming more of a buyer's market for late model high-ish end road bikes and parts. If you've got a little cash to spare and want to make some upgrades, now's the time!

Saturday, November 8, 2008



So, whilst traveling on tour with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, I ended up in Omaha with a day off before election day and a show there on election day. I wasn't crazy about missing election day in Chicago, what with it likely to be "an historic event" and all (That phrase has really been flying around this last couple of weeks, I can't help but put it in quotation marks. English teachers must be excited as I reckon there aren't a lot of good everyday examples of the "h" exception to usage of "and."). However, I decided to make the best of it and see if I could find a bike and get some exercise. We were staying just north of the downtown "Old Market" area, right near this big Qwest Arena thing. Lots of new construction, warehouse conversions, etc. up here. I looked up area bike shops and found Olympic Cycles and gave them a call about renting a bike. At first the guy seemed like it wasn't going to happen, I was asking about a road bike and he said they only had 2 bikes to rent, a mountain bike and a sort of cruiser bike and one of them was already out. I was getting ready to blow it off when I heard him listening to someone off phone and then he said "Actually we have one old road bike to rent." I told him I was tall and he said that it was about 25 inches. I told him I'd be right over!

So, I got a ride over there from my fellow crew member Mark who along with his wife Julie, who grew up in Omaha, were out looking at places to live and preparing to move there. The shop was a nice funky old storefront affair. It said "since 1973" on the door, and I thought "this is the place for me!" Turned out the bike was a great old Raleigh Competition GS touring bike, Reynolds 531 tubing, full Campy 10-speed setup. It was one of the owner, Larry's personal bikes he'd brought in for another random tall guy rental request he'd had the week before. I rode it around the block and then got setup with a bike map and I was on my way.

I basically descended from the shop all the way back down to the riverfront where we were staying. The Raleigh was really fast! It was so fun and incredible to be riding in a strange town on a strange bike. I went back to the hotel and just got changed and looked at the map. Julie had mentioned how Omaha had their own new "bridge to nowhere" (so to speak), a hike and bike bridge over the river to Council Bluffs, Iowa. On the map I could see a lot of riverfront bike paths, so I headed over there.

Well, the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge is definitely a bridge to somewhere to me (and I imagine to many others who might want to stay fit, or actually even get to work by bike or on foot over the river without having to brave one of the numerous auto bridges full of freeway speed traffic. It's funny how controversial it is to spend money on a bridge that can't have cars driving over it. No price is too high
, it seems, to support automobile mobility, while Amtrak funding, public transit funding and any sort of really comprehensive system of paths for bikes, peds, etc. is considered some sort of socialist handout. GROAN!!!!

Anyway, there were several miles of great paved bike paths around the river here. I rode about 12 miles that late afternoon until dusk fell. Took a couple of crappy phone pics below on the aforementioned bridge. It has a great view of the city and in spite of just opening (I believe) several days before, it already had a good amount of both foot and bike traffic on it.

The next day, election day, I went out again and rode for about 20 more miles or so before bringing the bike back to Olympic and getting to work. Our night at the Slowdown turned out to be a great night anyway, the venue was really nice and they had the election situation pretty well sorted out with a large projector TV setup and plenty of good internet access, etc. I watched the scene in Grant Park back home, looking for my wife and friends on the TV. Anyway, a big shout out to Olympic Cycles for hooking me up!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Loose ends


Figured I'd clear out some long neglected cycling odds and ends while I'm sitting here.

First up, here's a pretty awesome bike cozy I saw outside Feed restaurant in Chicago a couple of weeks back. Check out that tricky knitting action at the headtube!! Nice work!

Next up, I had the funny experience the last Friday in September past of being caught in traffic as a Critical Mass ride rode right past me in the opposite direction. Ironically, I was going to pick up my wife who'd gotten a flat on her bike!

It looked REAL fun. I was jealous. The riders were generally all in a really festive mood and shouting out greetings to the drivers that weren't really any kind of snarky stuff, just "happy Friday" and that sort of thing. That didn't stop some drivers from eventually going nearly postal over the perhaps 10-minute delay, trying to jump the sidewalk and get to the nearest turnoff street. There are some psycho people out there in cars man. Where are they going, to their mother's heart surgery?! Somehow I doubt it, but the shouting and cursing and honking persist nonetheless. C'est la vie (la guerre?).

Here are some pics of that:

There were probably 300+ riders in my poor math, it took a good 10 minutes of fairly constant flow for them all to get past. Nice one people!

Paramount update


I have finally managed to get the Paramount together! Here is the rest of the saga, as it were:

Whilst in the middle of putting the pieces together for this Paramount conversion underway in my last post, I stumbled across a guy on craigslist (who happened to live right in my neighborhood) was selling a mid-90s Look 171 road bike. There was this picture of it:

but the part of the post that caught my attention was about it having a full Dura-Ace group on it and it was going for $250!!! I snapped it up! The seller was at first saying in the ad (per picture above) "I'll try and find the wheels" or something to that effect. He did indeed find the quite nice Mavic/Shimano Dura-Ace wheels as well, so this ended up being a complete bike in need of a little light TLC. The Look frame is a carbon frame with aluminum lugs. The whole bike weighed something like 16.5 lbs. Unfortunately, it was a 56cm frame, so it wasn't going to be a complete bike for me, but I put all the Dura-Ace stuff on the Paramount! It's a 7700 group, for those keeping score, really nice stuff worth significantly more than the entire bike's cost. Hooray for craigslist (again)! I am now going to build this frame back up with my mix of Shimano 600 and 105 parts. It will still be a really nice ride. I'm going to either try and have the missus check out riding it as a more serious road bike ride, or if she's not terribly into it, I can just resell it this spring.

There was an irritating learning curve during this parts raid though. I installed and used the STI levers, but without a front derailleur as I was waiting on a braze-on derailleur clamp to come in to mount the DA derailleur. I took the bike up to Madison and rode it as an 8 speed for the weekend a few weeks back. It was really nice and fun. The DA brakes are really like a whole new experience in stopping. I even manually shifted the front ring once! It's not that bad for those trying to simplify their setups. Anyway, when this clamp came in, I put the derailleur on and was futzing around with setting it up when I just f-ed up the front ring shifter. DOH!!! I didn't realize that the derailleur had a sticky spot from sitting around for so long and was trying to shift it when it was already shifted and, long story short, I bent this little sort of cable stop part of the casting in the lever and it was ruined! I ended up having to poke around for a couple of weeks on ebay before finding a reasonable price on a similar vintage. Apparently they were a little later and I must have not been the first person to do this as the one I bought had a totally different, reinforced construction at the same spot I bent. I finally just got this thing on, lubed up the derailleur and got it all sorted out. It's really nice!!! I had been riding this Centurion I picked up a couple of months back (I haven't even written about that one!), and I would think "this is a pretty nice ride" but I got back on the Paramount and it was like being on a cloud comparatively!

I did this last tweaking on a little 2 day furlough from the tour I am on right now (live sound engineer), and I spent my full day off just riding all over the city running errands, etc. Went about 23 miles maybe altogether, nice fall riding day. However, at the VERY end of the day while turning onto my own street, I caught a pedal on the pavement and just threw myself for a big wipeout! CRAP!!! Quelle embarrasing! I was alright more or less. I poked some ugly little holes in my shorts where my keys ended up between my thigh and the ground in my pocket, bruised my leg there, kind of shocked my wrist and got a few little scuffs. The bike was more or less fine, it took a little hole in the seat, a nice newish $10 Fuji I got off a guy on CL as well. I'll have to doublecheck it when I get back.

Anway, that's the saga! I can't wait to get back home for hopefully a handful more of nice days before things go full winter. It's incredible right now, high 60s, early 70s. I'm in Omaha, NE today on the tour and next I'll tell the story of my nice day off in Omaha that I'm in the midst of.

It's nice to post right now. Something to do besides obsess about the election!! I need it!