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.

Adventures in Wheelbuilding

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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.

 

Quick Review: 2015 Kona Hei Hei Deluxe

TJ and the 2015 Kona Hei Hei Deluxe

TJ and the 2015 Kona Hei Hei Deluxe

Ah Kona. Kona Kona Kona. Always surprising me with something I didn’t expect. I mean, after last year’s lineup, I thought that the maker of the overbuilt-yet-surprisingly-finessable Process line of compact all-mountain shredders would never be able to top themselves. After all, we have been waiting for a crabon Process to emerge in 2015 only to find that we will have to keep waiting. But never fear: Kona has, for some reason, been able to produce an XC Race in crabon for those who feel they need to go really fast on not-so-paved surfaces.

Coming away a little nonplussed after the whole Hei Hei Hei thing last year, Kona has finally unscrewed their naming convention and has returned this year with a race bike that is, for lack of a better word, spongeworthy. The 2015 Hei Hei Deluxe seems to be the end result of a lot of trial and error that has finally produced a winning design.

With Kona being able to produce some of the most killer aluminum bikes for those non-weight weenies who just like to go out and shred, their crabon lineup is surpisingly competitive. The Hei Hei Dee’s frame is extremely strong and stiff. Made from Kona’s awesome Race Light crabon, the bike, as large as it is, is extremely responsive. The whole entire bike weighs in at a svelt 28 pounds and change: awesome for a dual-suspension 29er. The look of the frame, for those who care, is sleek, without that extra futuristic bullshit that makes most crabon bikes look like Logans Run rejects which are destined to be put out of their stylistic misery after they get too old.

Suspension? Naginata please. Anyone who wants to complain about a 100mm travel 29er with Beamer suspension maybe shouldn’t be buying this bike (#firstworldproblems). Combined with the 120mm Fox Float 32 CTD Evolution front fork, this combination is sure to produce a sufficiently sphincter-puckering response whilst screaming across all Creation, birds, snakes and bears diving out of your way. The combination is perfect. So shut up.

So what else will the snobs complain about that I can just refute right now because this bike is so awesome? Ah yes, the Shimano SLX group with XT rear derailleur component build. Well, look people: this is not the Hei Hei Supreme. If you are a Fred (or Frieda) that fancies him/herself a pro rider, then fine, by all means complain. But this is the mid-range bike, folks. And besides, SLX these days is extremely reliable and smooth. This build is not only affordable, it is right up there with the XTR and SRAM X0 stuff that is out this year.

The wheels are perfect for this build level. Not for the pro but for the average racer, Stan’s ZTRs are a great set of hoops. I would probably go with a tire upgrade, though as I have never been a Maxxis Ikon fan. But hey, snobbery aside, the wheel package for this level is just fine. Grind the tires down and upgrade when ready.

To sum up. The response of this bike is amazing. It is light, fast and has all the features that anyone getting into XC Racing would want. As I always like to say, it is a very affordable race platform that will easily last several seasons. After you beat the shit out of the SLX group and the Fox Float forks, upgrading is always a good idea. I am not sure, what with the styling and frame materials, that getting another bike after a couple of seasons would be necessary. Just add your own parts later and make it your own. Just don’t go upgrade-crazy right out of the gate. Kona has definitely produced a great build that is sure to see some trophies this year.

End of line.

Steel is Real: Stinner Frameworks Open House

Stinner Frame Works Open House

Stinner Frame Works Open House

Free beer? Costco pizza? Yes please.

I knew it was coming but I’d somehow thought that I was busy Saturday night. It wasn’t until towards closing the shop at the end of the day that I’d realized a lot of the other Velo Pro bros were heading to Stinner Frameworks open house out by the airport. I felt like kind of a douce driving my car out to a bike event so close to home. But it was night time and F didn’t feel comfortable with the idea. I made it clear that we couldn’t miss it, so after we closed up the shop, I rode home and F and I got in the car and headed out to far Goleta.

I first ran into Aaron Stinner a few years back at the 2nd Annual San Diego Custom Bicycle Show in 2011. It was in a huge conference hall in downtown San Diego and there weren’t quite enough booths to fill the space. So it looked disappointing almost from the outset. There were, however, some pretty awesome booths. Serotta, Soulcraft, and Velo Cult (when they were still  in San Diego) were all repping their skills. After taking loads of images and trying to keep my then girlfriend from getting bored, I decided that I needed a beer or two. On the way out, I noticed Stinner’s booth and (much to the chagrin of my GF) went to go check out his stuff. He had a couple of frames on display and his booth was unimpressive by trade show standards. However, his steel frames were sitting there, easily competing with everyone else’s. The workmanship was phenomenal. I noticed that there were no lugs (pretty much every custom frame in there had lugs). While nice, lugs are super time consuming and have a significant effect on the cost of the frame. In my opinion, I can take them or leave them. Seeing his frames, I decided that I could leave them.

I seriously doubt that he remembers, but I chatted with him for about five minutes. He’s a great guy. I plan someday to get a custom frame made for myself. Now that he is in my neck of the woods, having something local would be epic. Looking at what he offers in the way of custom frames, the whole range is there: mountain, road, cyclocross and custom projects are all offered. You can even design your own paint scheme and graphics. The shops workflow and layout looks solid. The current projects on display were out of this world. If you’re in the market for Santa Barbara steel, look him up. It’s a true small shop with a friendly staff. Check out the gallery below for more pics.

Death of Tallboy

Whenever you have to saw in half the frame of a $3000 bike, you die a little. Indeed, I never thought I would see the day when anyone would commit such a crime. However, in light of the situation at hand, it was a necessary evil.

Whenever a carbon frame develops any sort of defect or crack, it must be destroyed if being sent in for warranty replacement. Often, the bike company, in this case Santa Cruz, will request that the bottom bracket shell be sawn out of the frame for return. This is to ensure that the manufacturer gets proof of the serial number being exchanged for warranty. It is also to ensure that the damaged or defective frame doesn’t get rebuilt into another bicycle. If that were the case, a catastrophic failure can occur, injuring or even killing the rider. So we had to sacrifice the carbon for the greater good of the mountain biking community.

What is done with the rest? Do you have any suggestions? Let us know!

 

 

Adam and His Specialized Specialized

Adam and his modified 90s Specialized Rockhopper

Rides a modified 90s Specialized Rockhopper.

So I ride an older mountain bike around from the 80s. I really like its long wheelbase and straight and low top tube. However, I always thought it needed a little something extra. Enter Adam’s 90s Specialized Rockhopper. On my morning commute, I always spy this grand machine outside the French Press. I often wonder, what would a set of drop bars ands bar-end shifters look like on my old Gecko?

Chance had it that Adam stopped by the bike shop to air up his tires one day. So I pounced. Turns out that his bars and stem are neat-o Nitto and his seat is the Brooks Cambium C17. I asked him how he liked the saddle and he said it was the perfect high-quality saddle to suit his vegan lifestyle. No leather in that thing. Makes sense, right? Well, I probably wont go the saddle route, but I can see modifying the Gecko up some. I have plenty of ideas now. Check out the closeup!

90s Specialized Rockhopper with drops

Dare I say Tomac inspired?

Shop Talk Vol. 1

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Shop bench at Bike Bling in Escondido, CA.

I need to start this post with an apology: I know that it has been a little while, but this is the furthest thing from my day job. You may be thinking “How can an international man of mystery do everything he does and still be able to blog about cycling?” Before I answer that, let me thank you for having such an awesome perception of what I do for a living. If you knew the truth (indeed, you can check my About page for the truth) you would be horribly disappointed. The real excuse is that I have been busy with my alternate identity, hard at work, coming home late, etc. Not to mention we had record heat for the few days following my last post. My being a Southern Californian used to mild weather did absolutely nothing to stop me from withering like a raisin under the oppressive jackbooting of the hot Santa Ana winds. Enough whining about the weather. Let’s get into more about my trip to San Diego (which, it seems is all on fire right now due the aforementioned heat wave).

If you’re anything like me, bicycles are an important part of your life. Maybe you don’t work in a bike shop on the weekends like me. Maybe you just prefer to think about or be around a bicycle to feel comfortable. I certainly do. If there is bicycle talk going on within earshot I tend to become more alert and attentive. Like many of you, I do like to visit other bike shops whilst traveling. I had the chance to visit Bike Bling in Escondido, CA. It is a pretty cool shop with awesomely nice, non-snobby employees. They took the time to chat with me even though they clearly knew I wasn’t buying (I bought some pedals anyway). Working in a much smaller shop like I do, I took notice of their repair and maintenance area. it was clean, well organized and pretty big in comparison to others I have seen.

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Labor “menu” at Bike Bling in Escondido, CA.

Being a larger shop, their sense of humor wasn’t totally gone like other shops. The rescued Coca-Cola menu board listing some of their services was evidence of that. It was pretty cool to see the mechanics have so much room to move. It also was nice being in a shop where they weren’t really pushing one brand. It seems like a lot of shops are getting redone, and in some cases relocated, in order to feature one major brand. This trend seems like it is going to continue and clearly sucks, in my opinion. Sure, a lot of brands have full lines of bicycles to suit most riders’ needs. But having more brands and not really pushing one or the other is the best way to get the customer the best bicycle for them. In any case, I was also struck by Bike Bling’s vast offerings of bicycle accessories. Being from a smaller city, I had not really seen so many options for helmets, kit, triathlon gear (including wetsuits), computers, components, clothing. It was well organized and easy to locate. A salesperson was always available to help if I needed it. In fact, I was greeted by at least three of them during my first five minutes of my initial inspection of the sales floor. It’s a nice place. Even though they have a big presence of the Google Machine, their shop had a good local vibe with plenty of knowledge of the surrounding bikeable area. I highly suggest you stop by when you are down San Diego way. That is all.

Brooks Saddle

Brooks B17 Saddle

Brooks B17 Saddle

The perfect saddle is indeed hard to find. Most people will think that if their saddle is uncomfortable, they should get a wider one. Or one with springs. Or one with gel. Or one with an animal print cover. What it really boils down to is a misinterpretation of how bicycle-saddle comfort actually works. It’s not the width of your ass that determines comfort. It’s the width of certain bones at the bottom of your pelvis. Your ass bones. More specifically, the ischium. Those are the ring-like bones that receive the pressure when you are seated. It’s the spacing of these bones and how that width correlates to the saddle that determines comfort. You may have seen those types of saddles that have a hole, groove or split down the middle? Those are designed to focus more pressure on the ischium and less pressure on your taint.

So when people ask me why I choose to ride on a narrow leather saddle instead of a cushy, gel-filled, synthetic-material one. I say, because it eventually forms itself into the shape of my ass-bones. A leather saddle, like the Brooks B17 pictured above, will form itself to you, giving you the most support where it is needed and relaxing the pressure where it not needed. It is not just a hipster accessory. Brooks has been around for a long time and their stuff is great. Getting a wider saddle often creates more problems, some of them circulatory. The word thrombosis comes to mind. The wider the saddle, the more likely the back of your thighs will receive regular pressure. There are arteries and all sorts of things in that part of your leg that really could do without that kind of pressure. Imagine sitting on the edge of a chair for an hour, letting it dig into the backs of your legs. That’s what a saddle that is too wide can do to you.

So dear reader, it doesn’t matter how wide your giant ass is. It’s where your ischium is likely to receive the most support that will make you comfortable. Invest the money in a good quality saddle that fits you best. Don’t skimp.

Francisco and Jeanette

Francisco and Jeanette and their vintage Specialized mountain bikes.

Ride a 1982 Specialized Stumpjumper and an early 90s Specialized Rockhopper.
Shot on State Street in Santa Barbara, CA.

I have never been a big fan of Specialized. Not until recently. I remember when I was in junior high in the early 80s and a couple of kids rode these bikes to school. They were like nothing I had ever seen. Back then, like most 12-year-olds, most of my functioning brain was focused on trying to remember to zip up my pants after going to the bathroom, so paying attention to bikes wasn’t on the top of my list. But these bikes were new. They were extremely interesting and I thought they were super ugly. Fat tires were reserved for cruisers and I hated those even more: they were too heavy and awkward to ride. So Specialized, became a bad idea burned into my brain.

Keep in mind that I lived in Santa Barbara. The mountain biking scene (at least to my knowledge) hadn’t really caught on in this part of California yet. To me, the only reason to go into the mountains was to hike, camp, shoot guns or some combination of the three. Riding a bicycle on a dirt trail was something that I thought was particularly crazy. But hey…that was then. I was 12. I was half a person with puberty coming out of my pores.

The bike that Francisco was riding, a 1982 Specialized Stumpjumper was like looking into a shame portal to the past. It’s a beautiful bike. With the exception of cable housing an brake pads and tires, it’s totally original. I should have gotten a picture of this thing next to a modern dual-suspension bike for comparison. In any case, I am glad he brought it in.