Monday, April 11, 2005

Blogitis - and my building goals

Seems like I have blogitis now that this site is set up. Probably it will calm down after this is up for few days. Anyhow, it seemed like a good idea to share my first building goals.

I like a nice handling bike. To me, that means no-hands is easy even at lower speeds, and that the bike seems to just fall into the corners as if it were on rails, but it's still easy to steer in the corners when the unforeseen is spotted. Years ago I had a PX-10E (vintage '71-'72). It handled pretty well, but I found that the beautiful (haven't yet seen on prettier) Stronglight crank seemed to have soft chainrings. I was 6' and 155 lbs at the time an I bent a couple of 52s. Plus the frame was a little small.

So I saved my money, sold the Peugeot and bought and built up a Bob Jackson Messina. This was quite a feat as I was a starving student at the time. The bike was pretty: mustard yellow frame with black headtube and black seattube panel. It had the old "Bob Jackson" block letters. Big ones on the downtube, small ones on the front of the toptube. A mix of japanese components (including slick racheted Sun Tour bar end shifters) finished it off. Once I upgraded from a Nylfor headset to a Tange, it too handled pretty well. After some years, my home was burglarized and I lost the BJ. The sad thing was that I spotted it in use (it was hard to miss) several times, and I saw it hanging on the wall in a bike repair shop that had a reputation as a fence. But, the Chicago police had bigger things to worry about so I turned to my insurance.

A Specialized Sirrus was next - a Red 12 speed with rear indexed shifting on the downtube, a heavy frame of generic butted CrMoly, it handled very well. It was cut as a crit bike and handled faster than I liked - it was a bit nervous after about 75 - 80 miles, but it definitely felt like it was on rails in the corners and yet it could be steered. The problem was a stiff ride. Now the BJ was less plush than the PX-10, and this was less plush than the BJ, so combined with my rising age - it could be a literal pain in the butt. After a while, I read the magazines and found that Carbon was hot (or is that cool)! It was stiff and solved every comfort complaint ever uttered by mankind! Trek had a model combining 3 carbon tubes with aluminum for the best of all worlds (heard that one lately?) - and Campy's first working version of Ergo. I've been riding it ever since, but I've never liked the ride or the handling. Its never felt good no-handed. Corners are fine, but I feel more cautious on it than prior bikes. Probably should have just moved its kit over to the Specialized.

Anyhow, ever since my dream has been of a comfortable bike with impeccable handling. Over the years, my sense of what works and what's marketing has matured. The value of wider tires is clear - my new bike will be on 28s but will fit 32s or maybe 35s. People never believe me that wider tires aren't slower. I pull up next to them at the top of a hill, match speeds and then coast using the same basic bike position - no one ever goes faster or farther than me, and many fall behind until they pedal. On 10 year old Veloce (hardly high line stuff) kit! My hubs get overhauled every 12-14 months regardless of need. My tires typically run at or below 100psi. On 25s (the biggest the bike can hold, I use 95 in back and 85-90 in front. Even at 200 pounds snakebites aren't a problem, and I'm the coasting king. So, big comfortable tires are in.

Various sources are further shaping my ideal. Jan at Vintage Bike Quarterly recently looked at handling and introduced the concept of pneumatic trail. My tires will be 700c (650B is too much hassle for me and 26" look to small), but my take is diameter is not a big factor except for how to fit things together. My buddy with a Bike Friday has no trouble keeping up while coasting despite the little wheels. I like the 700c Herse's and Singer's in Jan's article and think I'll copy one of those geometries. This should give me the ride I'm looking for and even throws in a cool old-fashioned fork bend (lots of curve located low on the fork blade).

At 50, I prefer my bars a little higher so a traditional quill stem is called for. Its probably time to return to a Brooks saddle but this time one with (shhh, don't say it) springs. I'm looking at going with a geared hub. Its a real disappointment that the Nexus 8 speed isn't available in North America this year. And it's huge disappointment that the Rolhoff costs a grand USD! Looks like it'll be a Nexus 7 speed. I think a single cog drive train looks cool - maybe even a chainguard, but living without gears isn't in the cards. The dropout plan is traditional horizontals with a derailluer tab. This makes for versatility, plus I could put on a chain tensioner that would allow for two chain rings on the front and a broader range of gears. If I go this route, it would probably be sans front derailleur - shifting shouldn't be that often that stopping would be a problem (at least that's the current thinking).

A pair of NOS Mafac centerpull brakes is on order, don't know of any better stoppers and they're light. I haven't settled on a handlebar yet or brake levers - we'll just see as things come together. I've played with a number of color schemes, but that isn't settled yet either. And I have two different decal sets designed, but I don't know which I'll use (it'll depend on the paint scheme).

My first project is a distinctly old-fashioned bike. It seems appropriate, if the bike is retro enough for steel and lugs, then let's do it big. Now you know as much as me, so you can watch my progress from an informed position.

More in the future.

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