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!