First week commuting on my old Trek 820

I’ll post some pics of her up close later – I still need to re-tape the rims, switch out the grips & bar ends, and do a little maintenance on the cassette. All in all though, I think it’s definitely a keeper. I love riding on the thicker tires – so much smoother on these terrible Houston roads and paths.

Ready2Roll MS150 Training, Weeks 1 & 2

As you know, the wife and I are riding again this year in the BP MS150 ride from Houston to Austin in support of the National MS Society and those with Multiple Sclerosis. (Please help our fundraising campaign and donate if you can!)

Last year, my wife did the two day, ~150 mile ride cold turkey, because she was finishing her thesis and is stubborn. She made it, though not without various knee pains. Since I didn’t start working until March, I had lots of free time to train and get in long rides. But this year, we both signed up for the Ready 2 Roll training series, which is the official training series for the MS150. It’s been around for years and man do they have their shit together. Every week there are increasingly longer ride options, and they are fully supported. You have to give up sleeping in on Saturday for 12 weeks, but, it’s worth it especially if you love riding.

Anyway, this week was week 2, and I thought I’d try to take a few pics every week to share as we gear up for the big ride in April.

WEEK 1
IMG_0595Took this after just pulling into the lot at Rhodes Stadium in Katy. We got there pretty early, around 6:50am. Huge thanks to Sun & Ski Sports for providing support at the start and at the rest stop, and also for selling us ear warmer/headbands because jesus it was cold that morning (~36*)
IMG_0597Here we are lined up at the start line waiting to go off in wave starts. There were probably ~800 people that showed up for the first ride. It was an easy out and back for about 24 miles total.
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WEEK 2
So this week was one of our team’s turns to volunteer to help support the ride. I volunteered to help at a rest stop since my car couldn’t carry 10 giant water jugs, or be used as a helpful SAG vehicle. It’s the first time I’ve been on the other side of the tables during a ride, and it was a great experience, helped by working with an awesome, fun group of volunteers – all people I’ve never met before.
IMG_0644Just beginning setup as it starts to get light out around 7:30am. All those jugs are full of water and a few will become Powerade.
IMG_0663Setting up tables on the other side as well, then we spent about 45 minutes taking all kinds of snacks and putting them into little dixie cups for the riders to come grab when they arrived.
IMG_0664Almost all set up. This wasn’t the Bike for Mike ride, but the lady who runs it – we were on her land and that ride starts from right here! I think I’ll be doing it this year because she was super awesome – also there are wine and burgers involved.
IMG_0646Some of the other volunteers. These folks were awesome. He brought that “knife” to help slice the bananas and oranges. But, someone forgot to buy them so the riders had to go without for this week!IMG_0665We were the 2nd rest stop, 22 miles into the ride. From here, people could either head back to the parking lot and go home, or continue on to complete a 38 or 44 mile route. Since it was a big loop, we saw some folks twice as they came back around for the 2nd time. Here, some early quick riders are starting to roll in.
IMG_0662IMG_0660IMG_0652IMG_0661IMG_0659We made these two guys our unofficial mascots of Rest Stop #2. They were locals, wandering about. They didn’t have collars so we hope they weren’t strays. They were pretty friendly and quite interested in our snacks. Either way, they added some cuteness and fun to the stop.

All told we wrapped things up around noon, and headed back to the main parking/staging area. About 99% of the riders had gone through and the few stragglers probably weren’t stopping at our stop since we were so close to the end.

I have to say, being on the other side of the tables this time was a great experience because even though I knew only one single rider that came through  (a fellow from work on our team), everyone I talked to was super happy and very thankful for our help and support. And we were glad to be there supporting those riders. A strong cycling community truly is a fantastic thing.

My favorite part of any of these rides is watching those who aren’t strong cyclists trying their hardest to reach their goal of X amount of miles for the first time. Even when they roll in, late in the game, slow and tired, there’s always a group of volunteers at a rest stop to cheer you on and get you back on the road to finish. It’s a great feeling, and a great thing to watch and be a part of.

I’m looking forward to next week’s ride since I didn’t get to ride this week. I’m not sure where it is, but I hope the weather holds!

Donate to support our ride in the MS150!!

Cycling Goals for 2015

2014 was a pretty good year for the wife and I in terms of cycling. In total, I cycled over 2,000 miles. Here’s the screenshot from the MapMyRide dashboard:
Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 6.36.42 PM630 of those miles were bike commuting to and from work, and that was starting in June(ish).

So here are my goals for 2015:

Total miles: 3,000

Commuting: 1,500

Based on my round trip distance to and from work (~14 miles) I calculate that I need to ride at least 108 days in order to hit my goal. I think that’s totally doable. It’ll be even easier if I take the same longer router to work that I take home. Though that will require getting up earlier and, well, I’m not a morning person. But I’m fairly sure I can eek out the other 1,500 miles doing the MS150 & it’s weekly training series, along with a few other organized rides like the Tour de Houston, and just going out and doing 40-50 miles on the weekends. 3,000 seems reachable between bike commuting and regular riding.

I’m finally getting back on the bike tomorrow to start this all off. It’s been too long of a break over the holidays and the cold snap we’ve been having down here.

If you’ve made goals for 2015 leave them in the comments!

And please donate to both my wife and myself to help support our participation in the MS150, and the National MS Society! Check out THIS POST to donate. Thanks!

Sherman gets a few updates

So there was this incredibly annoying rattling coming from my handlebars. I thought maybe a mounting screw inside the brake hoods/brakes was loose but upon investigating that wasn’t it. Turns out the spreading bolt on my bar-end shifter had loosened up. Unfortunately, it was impossible to reinsert the bar-end shifter without unwrapping the bar tape so the brake cables could be loose. So, I unintentionally ended up re-wrapping my bars as well.

But

It was good because I was ready for a new color and the orange was getting dirty. This also allowed me the opportunity to move my hoods forward a little (something else you can’t do when your bars are wrapped). I usually order my bar tape from Amazon, but since I needed it immediately, I went to the LBS to grab some. I’ve been very pleased with the Profile Design cork wrap – offers great cushion and looks good. There is only one shop around that I’ve found that sells it but they only carry orange, green, and purple. Three fabulous colors but I’m not much of a purple guy even though it’d probably look great with my green bike. Green obviously is too close in color, and I was trying to switch from orange.

So I went with some Fizik Performance tape, it looked good and felt pretty nice in the box. And for $24.99 it freakin better be. So, I got it in yellow, wrapped up my bars, and Sunday went for a quick 34 mile jaunt – and I was not impressed. Even with gloves on, I felt the tape offered little to no cushion where I needed it – especially the top of the bar, around the bend right behind the hoods – you know, right where that all important ulnar/wrist area rests…
So I think I’ll go ahead and order some of the Profile Design tape in yellow now. Kind of disappointed because I really liked the way it looked.
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The other week I also replaced my brake pads with some new Kool-Stop Salmon pads – hence that signature color accent, they are fabulous.

I also swapped out tires. I had been riding the 700×34 Ritcheys with knobbies that came on the bike (as seen in all my previous photos). But I’ve enjoyed riding on the Bontrager AW-2 700×28 folding tires that are on my commuter bike, so I picked up another pair and put them on Sherman. They are lighter, and ride super smooth. The down side is when the road is not super smooth; because they run with higher pressure my ass feels all those bumps a lot more. Might be time to invest in a carbon fiber seat post!
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I’d like to get lighter wheels – but frankly wheels are absurdly cost-prohibitive. So instead I think the next thing will be to upgrade the crankset.

Review: Tacx Behind the Saddle Water Bottle Clamp/Holder

Remember that really sexy Raleigh I rebuilt for commuting? Well it doesn’t have eyelets on the down tube for a water bottle cage. Whether this is because it’s14397104957_df4ebf3cf0_c too old, or because it was a bottle of the barrel bike in the early 80’s I don’t know. But the fact remains the frame has no mounts for bottle cages. This becomes a problem when you’re riding daily in Houston, Texas, and at 7:30am it’s already 78 degrees out. Today I rode home in a 105 degree heat index. So, yeah, water bottles.

I toyed with the idea of using various clamping systems to simply clamp the bottle cage to the down tube – as there seem to be a fair amount of options in this department. There are also some incredibly horrible looking versions that I wouldn’t be caught dead with on my bike – especially an old steel steed like this. See what I mean, here…take your pick. Ugh.

bottle_cage_clampsThere are some decent clamping systems out there though, and if I hadn’t purchased the item I am writing this review for, I would have gone with these clamps pictured to the left from Velo-Orange. The hitch is, you’ve got to have a bottle cage that has tabs on the mounting plate so the clamps have something to, you know, clamp down on. I considered this but decided I didn’t want to scratch my kick ass 1984 paint job. I had no evidence to support the idea it would scratch the paint, but I wasn’t going to risk it.

Another alternative is the obnoxious handlebar mounted cage holder. They look terrible, and frankly would be in the way. Convenient I suppose, yes. You often see triathletes or racers with bottles and straws strapped to their aero bars so they can grab a sip without getting out of their aerodynamic position. Me – I’m just riding to and from work. Anyway, aside from not having a blank spot on my bullhorns where there isn’t any bar tape, I think it looks hideous so we’ll just leave it at that.

So I settled on a behind the saddle option. There aren’t many options out there. The ones you see around mostly are these, from Profile Design. The only problem is the contraption is absurdly expensive. I don’t see why. Either way I wasn’t dropping $40-70 on a thing that holds water in a place that’s already inconvenient to get to.

zadelklem-leftI came across the Tacx mount, and thought I’d give it a try since the price was much more reasonable. Here is the picture you’ll see on Tacx’s website as well as on Amazon (where I got it from). As you can see they’ve got it outfitted with a nice carbon-fiber bottle cage – which is extra of course. In fact the picture is very  misleading because the bottle cage itself is what the eyes are drawn to first – not the actual mount. The good thing it the mount will receive pretty much any type of bottle cage – since they are all pretty much a standard size. But still, it looks pretty simple and low profile; an advantage this had over the Profile Design as well – it’s not big and bulky.

NOTE: Pay special attention to the assembly instructions because there is a tricky piece that you need to put in the center of the pivot elbow and it’s not exactly clear. Also, best to go get some eyelet screws from your LBS because it doesn’t come with enough for mounting multiple bottles.

So here are some pics from my assembly of the Tacx behind the saddle bottle cage mount, and some notes to go with them. It’s a bit quirky and also has a few flaws, but overall it’s working alright. Read on…

IMG_0059

The clamping system seems a little flimsy and cumbersome all at once. The metal plate on the inside is curved/shaped to align with the rails on the underside of your saddle – but it didn’t on mine. It was…close…(using the word liberally), but it didn’t clamp perfectly so I had to rely on tightening it enough so the pressure held it in place. Now on the flip side is the problem with that need – the other plate is just plastic – as you can see in the above picture. I was fairly nervous about tightening the screws enough to clamp it down because plastic breaks easily enough. Thankfully – so far, so good.

You can see the pivot point sticking out behind the saddle. This is what the next piece of the arm attaches too so it pivots up and down.
IMG_0060This is the next piece. And it’s a bitch. Before you attach this piece to the other, you’ve got to attach the cages. It doesn’t say that in the directions though, naturally. If you don’t do it first, you can’t get any tools up on the underside of the saddle to help attach the cage and it’s just infuriating. I also took this picture specifically to show the square washers that fit into the square holes at each of the screw points. These were also infuriating. Because they are so small and just plop into the hole, you have to hold them down with something tiny while screwing the screw from the other side – otherwise it just flops about and you’ll never get it threaded. These are also the only points of attachment for the cages so make sure  you tighten them enough.

Notice there are three holes for mounting. That’s because the mount can hold a single, or two bottles. In the pic I just have the one, but after taking these photos I attached two completely different cages – as you’ll see below eventually. To attach a single, just put the screws in the center. To attach two simultaneously, use the two outer sets of holes.

IMG_0061

I had just the one cage attached for a few days but didn’t like the way it looked – also I needed two cages anyway. So, here’s the result:
IMG_0103 IMG_0101Looked much better.
So now here it is with my commuting water bottles, and fully ready bike heading out in the morning.
IMG_0072 IMG_0073 IMG_0071Overall I’m happy with it however there is one major flaw (aside from those damn square washers). Tightening the pivot point has proved to be somewhat hard. It operates on a gear-like system, where a little nub will seat itself between two bars to set it in place. It’s easily changeable so you can pivot the cages to the angle you desire. However, because the plastic gear-like system is pretty flimsy it just doesn’t stay. I started with my bottles angled upwards as you see in the picture above, and by the time I had gone over a handful of bumps in the road, they were angled down almost all the way they could flop. No matter how many times you lift them back they just flop right back down again. I’m going to try to tighten the screw some more, but I’m wary or it’s ability to hold given the cheapness of the overall mechanism. Of course, having two bottles worth of water weight probably has something to do with it – but still it’s not functioning as it’s designed too.

It takes some getting used to reaching around behind to grab a bottle while riding. Be careful or you’ll go down or swerve into something stationary. Grabbing it out is usually OK – it’s getting it back in that’s a problem. I’m getting better and can do it now while riding.

So there you have it. The Tacx behind the saddle bottle holder. A moderately priced alternative to normal bottle cages, or a decent add-on if you need more water for a longer tour.

Next up is a review of the rack you see in the pics: the Blackburn TRX-1 Ultimate Touring Rack.

Get out there, and ride!

 

Rebuilding a 1984 Raleigh road bike into a commuter; a learning experience.

After getting a taste of working on a bike myself by swapping out the handlebars and stem on my Cross-Check, I knew I wanted to learn more about bike 14356479075_b7c87bfa88_cmaintenance and eventually putting one together as a project. I recalled riding my Aunt’s old Raleigh when I spent summer days at my Grandparent’s house. It hung, unused (except for me periodically), in the garage then and still did now. It had been hanging in the garage for probably over 20 years. So I asked my Aunt if I could have it for a project. She obliged and I asked my dad to check out it’s condition, and if it was worth it, to ship it down to Texas from New York.

Turns out the frame was in excellent condition, though the rest of the parts had certainly seen better days. But the frame is what matters so the bike made it’s way from its old home in Syracuse to its new home in Houston. When the box arrived I was very excited to see what I was in for. I had talked with my parents via phone a few times as they were getting the bike ready, and had remarked how hilariously the tires pretty much disintegrated when they were rolling it out to the truck, and everything else was kind of frozen in place. All in all, it was about what I expected. But I wasn’t keeping anything original on it, just keeping the frame. After all if you keep the old stuff on it, you’re not going to learn how to build a new bike.
IMG_0003
14169843508_95f21833d0_c14169837348_5531d28925_cAs you can see, the rubber and sidewalls of the tires had deteriorated beyond repair, and the rims were rusted out. The foam wrapping on the handlebars was hard and flaking away. None of this was a surprise since the bike had seen roughly 20+ years of central New York swings from summer temps to winter temps inside an uninsulated garage. I was able to rip the foam off the bars in about 40 icky pieces. Getting the brake levers off, along with the front and rear reflectors was just a matter of getting the bolts to budge. Same goes for the old stem and brake calipers. This era Raleigh model was also fitted with stem mounted shifters (the worst kind ever) – so those came off right away too. 14169804309_b89e447c84_c 14169988097_e843397673_c

I didn’t have all the tools necessary to strip the bike down entirely that first night. But I managed to take off everything except the front crankset, the chain, and the bottom bracket. I was especially worried about the bottom bracket since during my research online I came across several mentions of older Raleighs 14355611094_b1079949eb_bhaving a special kind of bracket that was a pain in the ass to use and remove. Thankfully, this bike was only from the early 80’s, so it turned out to not be an issue.

The two wheels, the handlebars, brake levers, all the cables and housing, and various other small bits and pieces went into the dumpster. I needed to head to our favorite bike shop to get some input and help the following weekend. During the rest of the week I scoured online for parts and input on what kind of build to do.

I frequent an online bike forum and I turned to them first for some guidance. Not surprisingly I was met with helpful supporters, and many who thought I was wasting time, money, and wouldn’t learn anything. But I ignored them. After all, you’re supposed to learn from your mistakes, yes?

Originally I was planning on making a simple geared bike – probably just a single chainring in the front, and maybe a 3-speed in the back. Apparently these are really hard to come by these days, and especially if you want to have indexed shifters. My plan quickly unraveled as a discovered indexed shifters require a minimum of 6 or 7 gears in the back to function. In order to get that many cogs in the back I had two options: a) get a new style wheel with a 7 speed cassette, or b) try to locate a 7 speed freewheel. This was already getting harder than I wanted. Making things worse, newer bikes have a wider distance between the rear dropouts (where the rear wheel’s axle fits into the bike frame) to accommodate all the gears bikes have these days. This meant if I was going to use a 7-speed anything, I’d probably have to stretch-widen the frame. Hey that sounds like the fun! Yeah, no. It’s done often I’m told, but I wasn’t going to try it – not yet.

In the end I decided to save myself the hassle. I went with a single speed. No gears to worry about. No fitting shifters, or derailleurs. Just pedaling. And there’s something clean and elegant about a single speed road bike.

Our favorite local bike shop is West End Bikes. The guys there are awesome. I brought them this frame with a chain and a front crank dangling off it and 933571d1-ffb1-4990-b123-46fcd34ab006asked for some help. They filled me in on some of the specs of the bike (from memory) and were kind enough to remove the parts, including the bottom bracket for me at no charge. Everyone often shops online for things because they are cheaper, but this is the kind of place I am happy to play a few extra bucks for the awesome service. (Sidenote: both my wife and I bought our other bikes from West End – my Surly, and her Specialized). Obviously this does you no good if you don’t live in Houston, but if you do, stop by. Also their logo is an adorable dog. The best thing about these guys? Instead of giving me shitty advice or trying to sell me stuff I didn’t need they said they don’t specialize in single speed bikes much – they could order the parts, but didn’t have much to compare to or show me. So, they referred me to another shop closely that does. So with their thanks, off I went to Urban Bicycle Gallery – a shop we didn’t even know existed until that moment.

banner02_01So off I went to check it out. A mechanic named William stopped what he was working on and helped me for over an hour with my decisions. In the end, he had dispensed quite a bit of single speed info and wisdom, patiently showed me a number of parts, and happily answered all my stupid questions. In the end, I walked out having ordered a set of wheels, a crankset, a single speed freewheel, and a new bottom bracket. Since this was a project bike, he understood that I didn’t want them to install anything except the bottom bracket because I lacked the special tool.  He wished me good luck and to stop back if I needed help (I did, eventually, and William was there, remembered who I was, and commented on how badass the bike turned out).

So, now that the meat of the bike was ordered, it was time to grab the rest of the essentials, and wait for everything to start rolling in.
14455979965_6f56117460_cWhile I was waiting for components to arrive, I worked with what I had. Putting the tubes and tires on the wheels wasn’t much of a problem. I was trying out foldable tires for the first time instead of traditional tires with a wire bead. They’re a little more puncture resistant, and easier to get onto a wheel – apparently. I was told I could do it without the use of a tire lever – but I couldn’t. Needed that leverage to pop the very last part of the tire into the bead slot. But they looked nice nonetheless. These were also the narrowest tires I’ve ever ridden on as well. I’m used to fatter tires on a mountain bike or my Cross-Check. Oh, and they were mostly slick. I’ve never ridden slicks before.

Putting the freewheel on was a piece of cake because it tightens itself as you ride. The crankset was pretty easy as well, and I learned a thing or two about chain alignment (before I even had the chain).
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It was starting to look like a bike. Then the rest of the parts starting arriving…
IMG_5972IMG_7017Turned out I needed long-reach brakes because the original wheels I chucked were actually 27″ wheels – which I understand was pretty standard back then. Today’s standard 700c wheels are actually smaller, so for the brakes to be attached to the frame and still be able to reach the rims, they need to have a longer reach. This is a common issue so long-reach brakes are fairly common. Tektro is pretty much the standard for brakes these days, so they didn’t disappoint.
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And the pieces continued to arrive in the mail and find their respective places on the bike…
14500856046_826f409e4f_cAs you can see the bike is nearly done at this point. Just missing brake cables, some bar tape, a chain, and those ever important pedals. I’m glad I forgot I ordered cables and housing from Amazon as well as went to another bike shop to get some because I messed up a few times and needed that extra. I was nervous running brake cables because of course it really is the most important. If your brakes fail you’re pretty much screwed. But thanks to some trial and error and a couple of YouTube videos, I got the cables inside the housing, and everything attached and strung properly. I’ve ever already adjusted them after the initial ‘stretching’ period. And I’m still alive!

Putting on the chain was interesting as well, since any chain you buy is way too long. Thankfully I also picked up a chain tool which made the whole thing a snap. The chain I bought has a master link so getting it on and off, and adding or removing links is simple. Removing the right number of links so the wheel ends up in a good spot in the dropouts was a little challenging. I kept in mind chains stretch as they are used so ultimately the wheel would have to move further back in the dropouts so I had to leave enough room initially.

After I wrapped the bars, it was ready to go. I took it out for a test ride in the apartment parking lot and she flew. I was anxious about whether or not I had chosen the correct size freewheel because to small = too hard, and too large = too easy. Thankfully, 18 teeth seems to be a good sweet spot, especially for a first time single speed-er.

And here it is. It’s name is Henry. (My Cross-Check is named Sherman. $5 to anyone who can figure out who they’re named after.)
14397104957_df4ebf3cf0_c 14396912638_7dbf247460_c 14396923219_988633c8d5_c 14560473996_5a2260a776_cI’ve already been riding it to work for about 3 weeks. A new rack just arrived this past weekend as well, so I’ll be reviewing that soon, too.

I know this was a long post, but I hope you enjoyed reading about my learning experience. Building a bike was a lot easier than I thought, but there are a lot of little things you need to pay attention to otherwise you could end up in dire trouble! Next time, I’ll take on the harder task of building a geared bike. But, not for a while. It’s pretty flat here in Houston, a single speed should work just fine!

Full components list:
Wheels: Origin 8 Fixie/Free set
Crank: Origin 8 Pro-Pulsion 46-tooth
Freewheel: ACS Crossfire single-speed 18-tooth
Brakes: Tektro R559 Long Reach, nutted
Brake levers: Cane Creek 200TT time trial levers
Handlebars: Origin 8 bullhorn “Bully” bar
Stem: Origin 8 Classic Sport quill
Chain: KMC Z410NP 1/8″
Bar tape: Profile Design cork (orange)
Tires: Bontrager AW-2 folding 700c x 28
——–

Additional thanks go to Bike Barn for help and parts.
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