In Defense of (Relatively) Cheap Bikes

2017 Specialized Allez E5 Sport

2016 Specialized Allez E5 Sport

I spend quite a bit of my time riding, working on and thinking about bicycles. Most every conversation I have about bicycles involves some sort of cost associated with the subject bicycle. The dollar amounts spoken of may be of certain components, the entire bike, or cost to worth ratios (otherwise known as bang for your buck).

Let’s talk road bikes for a second. I think we can boil down the average prospective customer into three camps: 1) rides really expensive bicycles and thinks it is worth it to ride super nice bikes; 2) is surprised at how expensive bikes have become but really wants to ride; and 3) has a modest budget, would rather not spend their entire savings but is willing to take the advice of more experienced riders and buy an affordable bike that suits them.

For the expensive bike crowd, there is a vast range of snobbery or personal taste which makes them always discount an affordable bike. For the more frugal, affordable means Craigslist (or worse, 1970s) pricing. With $400 hybrids being the bottom of the price spectrum in most shops, they can be quite beyond help. However, I feel that the majority of people fall into the last group. It is these customers that many bike shops need to treat with the utmost care. Acting too snobbish about what they can afford will no doubt leave some of them feeling low or stupid. Shifting to the other extreme, talking purely about budget, could have the same effect. They may go away feeling that the cycling world is too exclusive for them.

This is why, when it comes to most people, that the first thing I ask is what type of riding they wish to do. I then gravitate towards an affordable bike first. If they say they are looking for more, then I show them the higher-end stuff.

Please also keep in mind that I am talking about people with little to no experience riding bikes but would really like to get more into it. There are those in the industry that will tell this person to buy what we believe to be a mid-range bike. This is usually a road bike with a carbon frame and a compact-double drivetrain. Possibly Shimano Tiagra or 105 components. It may have an FSA or PraxisWorks crankset, may or may not have disc brakes (mechanical or hydraulic), and a carbon seat post. Usually, this falls in the range of $1,900 to $2,300 depending on the shop and not including any deals or sales.

If the person has the dough and doesn’t mind so much, so be it. But I often advise to go with a more starter model rather than the mid-range. Why? Well I want this person to enjoy their purchase without having to realize that they may have spent too much for their level of riding. If they stay with the sport, all the better. They can hand the entry-level bike down or sell it and get a more expensive bike later. This, I believe, benefits the bike industry more. Not only will more riders get accustomed to various levels of builds, they will be more excited about their upgrades.

Consider the lower-end of the spectrum. They are not designed to be crappy. Far from it. In fact, many of the components and frame technologies that are in a $900 bike were top of the line a decade ago. If your customer isn’t racing, that should suit them just fine. They get quality products at a lower price. Are there disadvantages to the customer? Sure. They will get a slightly heavier bike, components that are not as smooth as the top of the line stuff. But relative to a pro, the experience will no doubt be the same. They are still learning. They want to get excited.

Ultimately, it is up to the sales staff at the bike shop to build a relationship with this type of customer. That way, the upgrade cycle will seem natural. They more they ride bikes, the more they see their skill level improve. The more excited they will be when it is time to upgrade. We not just selling products, my friends. We are selling a lifestyle and an experience. There is no room for snobbery as all equipment is the best relative to skill levels.

That is why I am happy to sell a bike like the Specialized Allez E5 Sport to someone who is just starting out. The bike has everything a new rider needs. Plenty of range in the gearing. Carbon fork for comfort/weight reduction. Non-aggressive riding position. This type of bike should do well for a new rider for a couple of years or until their skill level improves. When they are ready to upgrade, all the better for them and our shop.

So please, bike shop employees: keep the snobbery to a minimum and use it only with your level of riding friends. Cycling is not an exclusive lifestyle and the more of us there are, the better. Remember that.

Riding in Circles: a Pilgrimage to Nagoya

Facade of Circles, Nagoya, Japan

Facade of Circles, Nagoya, Japan

It’s been almost three months since my visit to Nagoya. I have been letting a lot of memories from the trip sink in deeper so that I may better process them for writing this post. I had a good time there. I need to get it on paper. It’s time…

I was over in Japan on what some may call business. It was a vacation from my regular job but I was traveling for a specific reasons completely unrelated to cycling. Japan is a great place to visit. It’s so different from the States and there’s lots of awesome stuff to see. But I had been there for a while and none of what I was doing was keeping me near a bicycle. I decided that a dedicated side trip to a particular bike shop was in order. After all, I have been following some of these shops for years now on social media, and through the travels and articles of others.

One such shop was Circles in Nagoya. I had finally been able to set aside a full day to travel from Kyoto where I was staying to Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture. I had a rental car and it took us about 2 hours to travel the 130 km (about 80 miles) to make the journey. Travel by car in Japan is a lot slower than here in the US. The speed limits on the highways are a lot lower (80km/h or about 50mph), and there are toll booths everywhere. The drive was beautiful but expensive. But it was a pilgrimage of sorts. After about 30 dollars’ worth of tolls, we made it to Nagoya hungry and excited.

Let me  take a moment to explain something here: For a lot of people, there are always places that they feel drawn to. For some, there are religious destinations, for others, national parks or mountains to climb. In all cases, the importance of the destination is relative to the person’s personal experience. Cycling is a lifestyle, in all the forms and disciplines that it manifests itself. For me, it’s visiting other bike shops. Whether I stumble across one, or make it a point to go, it’s a compulsion.

So we arrived in Nagoya. A few minutes of finding the shop and parking a few blocks away, we arrived at a place that, honestly, I never thought I would get to.
Before we ventured inside, I took a few pictures of the facade. As I pressed the shutter button on my phone for the tenth or twentieth time, I realized that I should eat. I didn’t want to go into Circles on an empty stomach, risking passing out from all the excitement. So we went to Early Birds Breakfast which occupies the opposite corner and adjoins Circles’ repair shop. The small cafe and Circles have a mutually beneficial relationship with both businesses promoting each other. Cyclists love for coffee and breakfast food helps too, of course. Having had nothing but Japanese food (big surprise) for two weeks, it was an easy decision to set upon some western-style breakfast food. After loading up on coffee and sausages, we went into the bike shop.

Display window of Circles, Nagoya, Japan

Display window of Circles, Nagoya, Japan

Upon first impression, Circles is like many bike shops in Japan. Specializing in road, bikepacking, adventure cycling and commuting, it is stuffed with bikes and accessories, with every corner being used to effectively draw your eye towards whatever is there. The shelving and racks are all wood and done in sort of a DIY style that makes you feel like you are in your best friend’s very well-organized garage. The atmosphere is warm and friendly. Even though the space is filled with things I have seen before, I can’t help moving from shelf to shelf, staring and taking everything in. The ceiling was crammed with all sorts of frames from Surly, Fairdale, and All-City. And that was just the bottom floor.

Circles is organized into two floors, each with a separate purpose. The street level has complete bikes, frames and components. The repair shop and most bike sales take place there. Even though it is awesome, it is the regular shop. The [place where if you were stopping in for tubes, tires, a rack, or even a complete bike. The upstairs, on the other hand, is the high-end custom shop. There you can get your premium bike builds and all the primo kit you could ever want. The ceiling in there was crammed full of Chris King Cielo frames (more than I have ever seen in one place). There, the shelves were stocked with messenger bags, bike packing supplies and winter cycling apparel.

It was upstairs that I met one of the store managers, Shige. Being the only foreigners in the shop at the time, he walked right up and greeted us in English. Unlike some other bike shops I have been to in the past, you could tell that the staffers at Circles really love bicycles. They seem to treat everyone, no matter what kind of cycling they are into, exactly the same. As I looked around, I noticed that every staff member was really into the conversations they were having with their customers. I could chalk that up to Japanese retail culture (sometimes a breath of fresh air compared to the States), but I think it was more than that. These folks really enjoyed their jobs.

Since I was a little different (my glorious mustache tends to set me apart in Asia), Shige didn’t hesitate to make me feel like I belonged. I think he genuinely wanted to know why I chose Circles as a destination as if he had no idea that this shop wasn’t at all popular. He seemed very happy that after I told him I came to Nagoya just to see his shop. Just as I was about to ask him if there was more to all of this, he suggested I stop for lunch at the Pine Fields Market in another part of the city. I paid for the only thing I could think to buy there, a Circles 10th Anniversary edition Chris King headset and we said our goodbyes to Shige and his crew.

Front of Culture Club, Nagoya, Japan

Front of Culture Club, Nagoya, Japan

We arrived at Circles’ other operation, a DIY bike shop called Culture Club. It shares a space with the market and, interestingly enough, SimWorks headquarters, which is a smaller office on the upper floor. This shop was something that I wish we had here in Santa Barbara. Imagine a space where you can get new and used bike parts to build your dream bike. It is not a warehouse full of a bunch of dirty old frames and parts. It is a well-organized bike shop where a person can get excited about building something that they could never get off the shelf. Used parts were sorted and labeled in a way that made them look new. If I wanted a 9-speed Ultegra rear derailleur, I would find it it a bin, close to the 9-speed STI shifters. The staff at Culture Club, like Circles, was very friendly and seemed very interested in the projects of their customers.

Pine Fields Market, Nagoya, Japan

Pine Fields Market, Nagoya, Japan

It was about that time where we had to leave to get back to Kyoto. Before we did, we went around the back of the shop to have a bite to eat at the Pine Fields Market. The coffee was good and the baked goods were even better. Like at the main store, these two businesses are mutually beneficial. It’s a sort of co-op atmosphere. The staff, again no surprise, was awesome. But it was winter and there were reports that it may snow. Being from Southern California, I was worried about driving back to Kyoto without snow tires on the rental car. So we left Nagoya 3 p.m. to hit the road.

The drive back was filled with my friends and I talking about nothing but bikes. There was talk of starting my own shop with a similar style to Circles. But it soon became clear that Circles couldn’t exist anywhere else. Other bikes shops can try, but it the people that work there and the customers who buy there define that shop. One cannot exist without the other. But that doesn’t mean I cannot apply some of the things I learned from my short visit should I ever try. If you want a genuinely awesome bike shop experience, I urge you to do the same and look up Circles next time you find yourself within a hundred miles of Nagoya. It’s worth the 30 bucks in highway tolls.

Bike in a Box? Take It to a Mechanic!

The Diamondback from the Internet

The Diamondback from the Internet

Or, why you should never, ever, attempt to assemble a bicycle yourself, if you are not a pro mechanic.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus, who, over 2,500 years ago, said that “change is the only constant.” Everything changes, right? Seasons change. Technology changes. Governments change. Liquid soaps have come a long way, too. Bicycles? They change as well. Which leads me to disagree somewhat with my dead Greek friend: Danger, my dear Sir, never changes. With the advent of disc brakes, suspension, 11- and Eagle-speed cassettes and super bendy aluminum derailleur hangers, the danger of assembling a bicycle without the help of a pro mechanic is ever present.

People are always looking to save money (that never changes either). The internet has become the best place to score a deal on pretty much anything. One thing I always tell people before buying a bicycle on the internet is, well wait, two things:

  1. Why on earth are you forsaking your local bike shop? Do you not care for your local economy?
  2. If you must insist on buying a bike from a faceless company, take it to your local bike shop and pay to have them assemble it for you. For the love. Of. Dog. Do it.

Story time: A gentleman (not Greek) came in today with a Diamondback that he recently purchased direct from Diamondback’s website. He did the right thing by it. He didn’t even try and fail. He brought it to us untouched. There is a very good reason to do this. Safety. Had he tried to assemble the bicycle himself, he would have missed some not-to-uncommon things that often plague a bicycle during its time in a box. For example:

  1. The derailleur hanger was bent. It wasn’t bent that bad, but your average person might wonder why their bike’s chain was always being pitched off the large cog into the spokes of the rear wheel. He may have come to the erroneous conclusion that Diamondbacks are all terrible (they’re not if properly built).
  2. The hydraulic disc brake calipers were both rubbing causing inconsistent braking and lots of noise. The rotors were also out of true and needed to be corrected.
  3. The headset was loose which could cause a failure in steering or steer tube damage.
  4. The front wheels had three spokes that were extremely loose which could cause the wheel to fall apart at speed.

Don’t even get me started on pedal installation. Many people miss the fact that the non-drive side crank has reverse threading and manage to strip the threads. This often results in purchasing a new crank or rethreading the old one. Both remedies require remuneration of some sort.

All these things are not uncommon in a bicycle that’s fresh out of the box. Sometimes it’s worse: the brake lines could be dry, brake pads not installed, chain not properly tensioned. All sorts of things. Which is why, in to my utter amazement, Diamondback, who should also be familiar with these things, included tools and an assembly guide with their bike. They are selling their bikes partially assembled, direct, including tools (and a bunch of disclaimers), fully expecting their customers to attempt to ride a bicycle that will never be checked over by a pro mechanic and therefore be unsafe to ride.

The tools from the Diamondback from the Internet

The tools from the Diamondback from the Internet

Now to Diamondback’s credit, they do try to mitigate this by stating that all bikes not built at a bike shop by a pro mechanic will have their warranties voided. There are many consumers out there who don’t really care, either. They just want a cheap bike.

Which brings me to my final point: in order to get a safe bicycle to ride, buying one on the internet many not necessarily save you any money at all. What with shipping and the price of assembly 9both of which do not apply to a bicycle in a shop), you may end up spending more money. That is, if you don’t want to take your life in your hands. This also goes for buying a used bike. Don’t forget that.

NAHBS 2017: Get Ready

North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) from NAHBS on Vimeo.

Strap in an hold onto your butts, it’s about to get lug-tastic in Utah. The 13th edition of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show is going to be in Salt Lake City for 2017. For the past 12 years, this has been the bicycle equivalent of Fashion Week. A place where framebuilders from the United States and 10 countries from around the world showcase their hard work. As with the past show, we’re sure to see some amazing frame builds and artisnally-crafted lugs and brazing techniques. Carbon? Maybe. Titanium? For sure. Steel? Like you need to ask. One thing is for sure, there will be plus tires. Tickets are on sale now so get ’em while they’re hot.

Video Watch: DEATHGRIP Teaser

DEATHGRIP First Glimpse TEASER from Metis Creative on Vimeo.

This is going to be amazing. Featuring some of the most awesome riders and amazing film making, DEATHGRIP looks like it’s going to be one of the best mountain biking films in recent years. Backed by more sponsors than gears, filmmaker Clay Porter will take us to the most exciting rides around the world. Watch the trailer above and get excited!

A global tour, including a North American premiere at Sea Otter will commence before its global digital release on April 25, 2017.

Quick Review: 2017 SE Racing STR-29 Quadangle

2017 SE Racing Stu Thompson Edition 29" Quadangle

2017 SE Racing STR-29 Quadangle – Wait! Where’s my Landing Gears???

Picture Gallery at the end of the article!

BMX racing back in the 1970s and 80s was something special. It was a new sport. For children and adolescents, it gave them the ability to race bicycles in serious, organized competition. Not only that, they had their own heroes to look up to that weren’t European. Racers such as Perry Kramer and Stu Thomsen, to name only two, were right up there as the bicycle versions of motocross champions. It is no wonder that SE Racing, which has been making BMX racing bikes since the 1970s (they are celebrating their 40th year this year), has seized upon the champions of that time to reintroduce us to the storied bicycles of our past.

That’s why I was so excited when I heard that SE Racing was planning to release the Stu Thomsen Edition Quadangle, the STR-29. Their previous version of the 26-inch Quadangle was so well received by the BMX nostalgia set, that I was waiting to see what they would come up with next. A new colorway? Maybe some shiny pads? I was hoping that there would be something else other than the Public Enemy Big Ripper to make their bikes more exciting.

Before I get to the review, let’s talk about beach cruisers for a second. The SE Racing Retro series are not meant to be raced anymore. They are pure nostalgia pieces that make excellent cruisers. Beach cruisers, at least the modern interpretation, are not even bicycles. They are a decision made by some corporate monkeys who want to keep their companies relevant somehow. So I can see the reason for the SE Racing Retro series existence. They hearken back to the days when one wasn’t racing, they were cruising. They also look way cooler and are of a higher quality (relatively speaking) than their flowery, wicker-basketed counterparts. Bikes like the Quadangle are not here to replace what beach cruisers have become. They are here to give people an opportunity to look good on a bike whilst cruising. SE Racing has done a great job of tapping into nostalgia and creating that necessary out for those who just want to pedal down to the beach and not look like an asshole.

See these girls? No way I'm getting any by riding this bike.

See these girls? Ten-speed dude in the back has a better chance with them.

Enough said about my opinion about beach cruisers. So now lets get to the review.

From across the room. Just like the 26-inch Quadangle…’cept different. How different? Well let me just say that this bike would look normal sized next to The Mountain, or the Statue of Liberty. It’s 29-inch wheels are big, to be sure. But in my opinion, they look a little too big compared to the compact-looking Quadangle geometry. But hey, we’re all compensating for something, amirite? Hey, check out the quote on the bike’s product page and get schooled in some old-school retroness:

Before the Quadangle, there was the STR-1. This dates back to the late 1970’s when Stu Thomsen was SE Racing’s National #1 pro and the sport’s first superstar. His signature frame at the time was the Stu Thomsen Replica-1. This STR-1 frame had a unique design with both of the double down tubes wrapping underneath the bottom bracket shell and continuing around the Looptail rear end all the way back to the seat tube. Less than ten STR-1’s were ever produced, and over the years these frames became almost mythical and the most sought after frames of all time in the vintage BMX world. Fast forward nearly 40 years to today and SE is proud to bring you, the limited edition STR-29. All of the unique features and radness of the original STR-1, but built for the bigger rider with 29″ wheels. This bike comes with an authentic SE Racing x Stu Thomsen trading card personally signed by Stu. Making history, once again.

The bigger rider? Well, I guess that some of us who remember Stu’s glory days are a little on the heavy side now. Just remember that this is a tribute bike, not an exact replica. It does not look anything like the original. So they had to make some adjustments so this bike would look normal when ridden by grown-ass men. In any case, I asked Stu what he thought at Interbike back in September and he seemed cool with it. So there you go. Validation.

Stu and his normal-sized Quadangle back in 1980.

Stu and his normal-sized Quadangle back in 1980.

The build. After all this historical context, I just can’t…I can’t be nice about this. There really is no other way to put it: The build quality is lacking in…well, quality. Particularly, the welding. I want to focus on this as there are so many of us in the bike world that look at welding as the one facet that speaks to a bike’s build quality. For the STR Quadangle, it looks like whoever (or whatever machine) initially tacked the frame together forgot to finish the job. One would think, after reading the above quote, that the bottom bracket shell would have had some semblance of quality control attention paid to it. But it looks like it is ready to just snap off. The other Quadangles that SE has put out didn’t have this problem. The BB shells were welded to the frame in a more acceptable fashion. Having never seen an original STR-1 up close, I can’t say for certain that the welding is period correct or not. I’m only looking at this bike from a modern quality and safety viewpoint.

The usual SE Racing components are there: the fluted seat post, the blocky stem and the saddle that they seem to phone in on every model. The tires, freewheel and pedals are what you’d expect from a bike of this price point. You even get a limited edition sticker pack and BMX trading card signed by Stu himself.

A welcome sight is to see the lack of a Landing Gear sticker on the forks. “BMX Innovations” is period correct and sounds way better. However, I can just see Landing Gear fans buying Landing Gear stickers to put on their BMX Innovation forks that are really just Landing Gear forks anyways. The Redline Flight Tubular 175 mm crankset is pretty awesome. Although I think the 9mm x 6-tooth heat-treated chromoly spindle and crank arms may be a lot stronger than the frame itself. Just keep in mind that after the frame and bottom bracket shell welds fail, you will be left with a very usable $119.00 crankset which you can put on another bike.

The ride. Not bad at all. When I say not bad, I mean for a single speed cruiser, it rides really not bad. The larger wheels make the ride smooth. The compact geometry of the Quadangle frame make it comfy. The stock Tange headset should be replaced by a Chris King No Threadset  or even a Neco to make the steering a little more confident. That’s about it.

Final note. The SE Racing Stu Thomsen Limited Edition 29-inch Quadangle is a cool bike. It’s a great bike for cruising and it’s looks are unique. Even if you are not a fan of the golden age of BMX racing, you would have a better chance of not looking like a tourist when riding along the beach on this thing. Buy it for the looks and ride. Don’t buy it if you are looking for a quality bike build.

Hey look! Pictures!

Quick Review: 2017 Specialized Ruby Expert

2017 Specialized Ruby Expert

2017 Specialized Ruby Expert

Be sure to check out the photo gallery at the end of the article!

It has been said by many that the existence of women’s specific frame geometries is hard to justify. Indeed, the rise of frames that are Rider-First Engineered™ with Women’s Endurance Geometry has been hard to ignore. Every major bicycle maker seems to have their own version of a female-inspired frame geometry. Although, as a not-so-typically shaped man, I struggle with finding my own perfect fit as well. However, a manufacturer creating a single geometry just for women is at odds with what I believe is the best way to fit a person to a bike.

I agree that there are many different body types out there and thus a need to offer more offerings to them. However, some of the implementations are a bit lacking. That said, it doesn’t mean that any woman rider who is looking for the perfect bike should automatically discard the idea of the Specialized Ruby Expert (or any other Ruby, Dolce, or Amira). I just believe that a woman (or a man, for that matter) should not feel like they are limited to a certain frame style just because of their gender.

Now that I have either bored you or set you up, here’s the review:

The Specialized Ruby Expert is the latest in the higher range of Specialized’s carbon endurance bikes. The Ruby is almost an exact mirror, level for level of the Roubaix, the flagship endurance road bike in the Specialized catalog. The main difference between the two models are the frame geometries and the colorways.

From across the room. To be honest, I thought this was an electric bike on first glance. That was due to the frame-mounted Road Kit that was situated near the bottom bracket. It looked like some sort of crankcase motor from far away. But upon inspection, it was just a simple toolkit. The Ruby Expert is the lowest model that comes stock with one of these out of the box. For every other bike, it is a $95.00 add on. The subdued colorway (Ruby Expert is only available in gray at this writing) makes it not-so-flashy. It’s a really neat color to have for a bike. One that doesn’t scream “feminine” or “beast woman” is a relief.

The ride. Very nice. Like I said. I am a not-so-typically shaped man, and the frame (54 cm tested) fit me quite well. The most noticeable thing was of course, the Future Shock™. What is future shock, you ask? Well here’s the engineers at Specialized speaking through their content marketing filters:

For many, “smoothness” is a term that’s replaceable with “comfort,” and likewise, it’s been historically treated as a variable that’s in the way of speed—you either have a fast bike or a comfortable bike. With the Future Shock, however, we set out to find just what happens when smoothness is treated as a component of speed. It was complicated, but our testing clearly proves that “smoother” is indeed “faster.”

There’s a lot more that they have to say about this. Click the link above to read the rest. It’s well crafted. In any case, I found the Future Shock to be much more than just a flip-flopped Head Shok. The difference between the two is that the where the Head Shok allowed the frame to change angles, the Future Shock does not. Also, Specialized uses the correct spelling of “shock” in the name. Seriously, though, the Future Shock only allows just the handlebars to change height. New and better updates to an old idea. And it actually is different! Mind. Blown. Future Shock is available on the Elite and above models. Lower-end models still use the Zertz fork and seat-stay inserts.

I took the opportunity to ride a demo of this machine to and from work one day. No, I was not worried about people shouting “you’re riding a girls’ bike!” Honestly, there’s no way to tell from across the street. I have a few climbs on the way to work and I found that the Future Shock did not cause any problems. At no time did I feel any of my power being transferred to the downward motion of the bars. The decoupled seat post combined with the Zertz insert did not reduce pothole (or cobblestone) shock as much as I thought it would. However, it does reduce it by more than the older models. The ride is still smoother than anything I would have expected from other bikes. The frame is stiff and light. The handling is really responsive. At the Expert level, this bike is more than enough for the non-pro enthusiast or seasoned bike club member.

The build. What can I say about Ultegra? What can I say about a bike that ships stock with a full Ultegra drive train? As a not-yet convert to Di2, this Ultegra set still makes the ride enjoyable and worry free. Shimano continues to make buttery-smooth shifting with their mechanical components. A welcome feature that raises the price of this bike a little, but it is definitely worth the extra cabbage.

Climbing and descending on rough roads, an endurance rider needs all the help she can get. Specialized lovingly decided to stop wheel motion with the Shimano 805 flat-mount hydraulic disc brake set. These are essential to the type of riding this bike is designed for. Combine those with the 50/34 compact double chainrings and this bike has all the potential to be a QOM/KOM monster.

Final note. Will this bike save you extra pain in the butt from potholes, ruts, etc.? No. Crappy roads are are pretty brutal and no bike save for a dual suspension mountain bike can take enough shock away. However, this bike, for cobblestones and crappy roads is super nice. It is a good build with awesome specs. Recommended buy for anyone looking to up their endurance game.

Surly Straggler: A Cyclocross Experiment

Surly Straggler 1x11 Ultegra to XTR via Tanpan.

Surly Straggler 1×11 Ultegra to XTR via Tanpan.

I spoke to Captain Obvious and he told me (confidentially) that cyclocross is kind of a big deal. I was loath to believe him as I usually don’t trust people with ridiculous names. But a quick look at sites like the Radavist convinced me. It’s everywhere!

Cyclocross has been around since the early 20th century. It was a niche category with niche bike builds (usually totally custom) and a little-understood reason for why anyone would want to ride a drop-bar bicycle in the mud. As it turns out, human beings, especially cyclist humans, are filthy creatures. They love getting all dirty and holding it up as a badge of honor. Remember that guy who drove his 4×4 to get groceries with his truck all covered in mud from the last time it rained? The same theory applies to cyclocross. It’s just plain rad, is what it is. There’s nothing like getting all tricked out in some amazing, colorful kit, then getting it all muddy. Entropy is awesome. As humans and cyclists, we’re damn good at it.

So in response to getting older and wanting to be more awesome, I decided to build a cyclocross bike…only build one that would get me more points in the rad department. Though not a pure cyclocross frame, the Surly Straggler seemed to fit the bill for my needs. I love steel and Surly makes some pretty nice frames with disc tabs. I decided to do a frame-up compete build from scratch, including lacing my own wheels. So strap in and get ready, I about to attempt to blow your mind…

After acquiring a mint-colored 54cm Surly Straggler frame from my shop, I set to work building the wheels. Since I wanted to get a nice colorway going, I thought lacing red anodized White Industries XMR 6-bolt disc hubs to WTB Frequency Team CX hoops would look pretty neat-o. DT Swiss 2.0/1.8 Revolution spokes? Don’t mind if I do.

Disc brakes are always fun, but I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat when it comes to hydraulic disc setups. I am still not comfy with the whole bleeding and olive and barb thing. Besides, cables are easy to maintain and can be fixed in the field. So I took a look at the new Paul Components Klampers and decided that the cool factor was too high for me to ignore. After much truing of the wheel and bolting on of the discs, I had a rolling frame.

Next was the drive train: I could have gone the traditional 2-by route and got myself a Ultegra or CX-specific setup. But I wanted to go deeper. I wanted the ability to climb, race, and haul heavy loads (like myself, for instance). I chose an Ultegra-to-XTR-via-Tanpan setup. Didn’t get all that? Well I wanted STI shifters, a single chainring, and the ability to run a 40-tooth cog. The only thing I could see that works well enough is the Wolftooth Components Tanpan cable pull adjuster. Now, with a Wolftooth 39-tooth narrow-wide chanring attached to my Ultegra crankset and connected to an 11-40 cassette lovingly cradled by an XTR 11-speed derailleur, I could get as rad as I want.

Combine all this with Salsa Cowbell 2 Handlebars,  Thompson stem and seat post, Chris King Headset, Brooks Cambium C15 saddle, Raceface Atlas pedals (until I get used to the ride), and S-Works Renegade 29 x 1.8 tires, I am now ready for some serious dirt assault. It’s entropy time!

Partial build list (costs MSRP or sale in US Dollars at the time of posting). Please order from and support your LBS (local bike shop) unless link provided below:

  • Surly Straggler 54 cm frame – approx. $500.
  • WTB XMR 6-bolt disc hubs – Front: $189, rear, $379.
  • WTB 32-hole Frequency i19 Team CX rims – $79.95 x 2.
  • Shimano Ultegra 6800 Crankset – $169.99 from Chain Reaction.
  • Shimano Ultegra 6800 2×11 shifters – $196.49 from Chain Reaction.
  • Shimano XT M8000 11-speed 11-40 tooth cassette – $59.95 from Chain Reaction.
  • Shimano ICE-Tech SM-RT86 6-bolt rotors (160 mm) – $32.00 x 2
  • Paul Components Klamper short pull disc brake calipers – $175.00 x 2
  • Wolftooth Components 39-tooth Chainring for 110 BCD 4-bolt Shimano cranks – $78.95. Get direct.
  • Wolftooth Components Tanpan inline pull adjuster – $39.95. Get direct.
  • Shimano XTR M9000 Shadow Plus Medium Cage rear derailleur – $149.99 from Chain Reaction.
  • Thomson Elite X4 70mm MTB stem (31.6 clamp) – $99.99
  • Thomson Elite 27.2 seat post – $99.95
  • Chris King Red Sotto Voce 1-1/8 Threadless Headset – $149.99
  • Brooks Cambium C15 saddle – $175.00
  • S-Works Renegade 29 x 1.8 tires – $59.95 x 2
  • Salsa Cowbell 2 handlebars – $50.00
  • Salsa Lip Lock seat post clamp (30.0 clamp) – $22.00
  • Raceface Atlas pedals – $150.00

Ride it!

Adventures in Wheelbuilding

IMG_5915

If there was a conversation going on near your cubicle where you overheard one person say, “just bring your bike to Tyson, he knows everything about bikes. He can totally fix it.” The person with said broken bike would be in for a surprise: I don’t know everything there is to know about bikes. I just like them a lot. Besides, being a bike nerd doesn’t require knowing how to repair everything on a bicycle.

The sad fact is, achieving bicycle perfection is a lot like achieving nirvana: even though you know that you’ll never get there, you must keep trying. Therein lies the motivation. There are still many things that escape my knowledge of bicycle repair: hydraulic disk brake bleeding is one, rebuilding suspension is another. Those have always felt a little too car-like for me, and thus I have tended to shy away from them. I will eventually get around to them one day as I did with wheel building.

Over the years, I have managed to accumulate quite a few extra bike parts. Among the detritus in my closet (I live in a studio apartment) were two old hubs. I acquired the old Shimano Parallax 110 (XT) front and DT Swiss Onyx 8/9/10 rear in a trade that I vaguely remember. They sat there, buried under the strata of my “collection” for years. That is, until another trade netted me a pair of NOS Araya CV-7 26-inch rims (single wall, but still nice). I was sure that I did not have a project that needed 26-inch wheels. I had just finished the pre-build of an old Bridgestone which had its own wheels already. So why would I even consider accepting some more rims?

The answer came to me, when, out of curiosity, I dug out the two hubs from under years of brake levers, cassettes, and spare tubes. I was actually wondering how many spoke holes these hubs had as I knew the Arayas were sporting 32 each.

I was in luck. Both the Parallax (new in box) and the Onyx (take-off) were 32-hole refugees from some distant past. I’ll bet you’re expecting me to describe how I would hold the take-off part in my hand, and in closed-eyed wonder, imagine all the miles traveled on the bike it used to be a part of. No. Hell no. Save that noise for art-gallery hipsters who’ve plenty of time between tattoos and artisnal wooden handlebar purchases. I need to learn how to build a damn bicycle wheel.

<goodoldays> When I was young, if there was something I wanted to learn about bicycle repair, I had to bother some grumpy old bicycle mechanic or buy a book. The interwebs and Google machines hadn’t been invented yet. So I have to say, this is a wonderful time to be alive. </goodoldays>.

I ordered some spokes and nipples, borrowed a friends truing stand and fired up a YouTube video on how to lace wheels. So how did I know which spokes and nipples to order, you ask? Well, since my hubs and rims were on the older side, I needed to find a good caliper and measure some stuff. The best site I found that explains this is Edd. They have easy-to-follow diagrams and a video about how to measure everything (spokes, nipples and rims) to get you the right spoke length. They also have a database of hubs and rims already in there in case you have a more modern set of wheel parts. DT Swiss is another great site to find a good spoke calculator as well (registration required).

As you may have seen in the picture above, I did make it all the way to lacing the wheel. It’s actually quite relaxing. I just kicked back on the couch, watched a little Parks and Recreation whilst lacing, consuming a beer in the process. The lacing is quite easy to understand. Given the pattern and where you start on the rim. It all just sort of falls into place. For me, the most difficult part is the tensioning and truing. By the great Beard of Zeus, I could not find a decent video tutorial on how to tackle this part. It’s probably  the Google machine knowing I am a not-young fart and I don’t deserve to get my tutorials easily.

Stormtrooper: Surly Long Haul Trucker

Surly Long Haul Trucker Retro MTB

Surly Long Haul Trucker Retro MTB

(See gallery below for more images!)

I have what some would say would be an unhealthy obsession with steel-framed bikes. The fact that pedaling a heavier bike makes you exercise harder leaves that point moot. Recently, nostalgia got the best of me. I decided that I wanted to convert my Surly Long Haul Trucker to an all-around short-distance commuter and trail bike. The Surly Long Haul Trucker is one of those steel-framed bikes known for its strength and versatility. Indeed, anyone who buys one can take advantage of a good all-around geometry and the ability to customize the bike for almost any need. The Long Haul, or LHT, comes in two wheel sizes 26″ and 700c (in 56cm frames and above). I decided to take a look at the bike and see what I could create.

Being a rather untall fellow with shortish legs, I my Surly is 52cm frame (only available in 26″ wheels). I figured, for versatility’s sake, that this bike in 26″ would allow me the best range of customization. I could make a world tourer, a single speed commuter or a rigid trail bike. Having grown up in the 80s in Southern California, a rigid trail bike was what everyone had if they didn’t have a road bike or a beach cruiser. I can’t stand riding a beach cruiser, and since I have a Surly road-ish bike already, I opted to build myself a retro-inspired mountain bike á la 1982 Specialized.

A fiend of mine was sporting the above-mentioned Specialized with these nifty bullmoose handle bars by Nitto. I knew that Rivendell sold them but only in a threaded headset version. Since the Stormtrooper (as opposed to Stumpjumper…that’s what I am calling the LHT these days) had a threadless headset, I was at a loss. Thanks to the all-powerful Google Machine, I happened upon Fairweather which had a Surly LHT pictured with some threadless Nitto bullmoose bars! Being only around $80.00 US, I ordered the bars immediately. The next step was to re-route the shifting and braking.

Anyone who wants to get a lot of really nice aluminum components milled right here in the good ol’ USA, look no further than Paul Components. These guys make some of the nicest parts out there. Their braking components are second to none. I have their cantis on two other bikes and plan to put them on this bike as well. What I was really after was the thumbies. I took the Dura Ace bar end shifters and adapted them for use on the straight bullmoose bar and violá! Old Skool Stormtrooper in effect!

One of Surly’s most famous decals says “Fatties Fit Fine” and you will find it on the chainstays of most of their bikes. Indeed, the specs for the max tire width on the LHT according to Surly is 2.1″, although I think that a 2.25″ could be wedged in there as long as it has smaller knobs. I opted for the classic gumwalled Duro tires in 26 x 2.1. They hearken back to a time when there were only a few types of MTB tire available, and it was not uncommon to see a dude flying down the street with giant-knobbed tires buzzing like a 4×4. So these fit the bill. It already comes with a Shimano LX triple drivetrain which I left stock because retroness.

So I’m all set. I will keep you updated on the progress. I plan to install some Paul brakes and cable hangers and new pedals (undecided). Rundown of parts and costs after the gallery.

Build list:

  • Bike: 2014 Surly Long Haul Trucker – Smog Silver MSRP $1,350.00
  • Handlebars: Nitto B903 Threadless Bullmoose bars. $78.00 (buy here)
  • Brake Levers: Paul Components Canti Levers. $128.00/pair (buy here)
  • Shifting: Paul Components Thumbies. $74.00/pair (buy here)*
  • Tires: Duro Gumwall MTB, can be found on eBay for about $19.99 per tire.

*Does not include bar-end shiters. Use the stock Dura Ace that come with the LHT.