1981 Stumpjumper Trail Trial: 26ers Not Dead

[Image gallery at the end of the article]

In another article, I covered the 1981 Stumpjumper and how, in the most hipster of fashions, I acquired one of the first 500 units ever made and restored it to a near-original riding condition. I decided not to revel in its irony, as hipsters are wont to do. I wanted to actually ride it: to take it out on the trails and see how it performed. I was willing to sacrifice my knees, wrists, and any unwanted hipster cred, to find out. Even though I have access to myriad modern human-powered trail-riding vehicles, I didn’t want my Stumpy, as important as it is to mountain biking history, to just hang on the wall (really, though, it looks awesome on the wall of the bike shop, but I cannot help thinking that it is lonely up there).

<rant>
I am in no way a suspension hater. I do not, in any way, consider myself a cycling purist. I would never think that the awesome, modern, technology placed on mountain bikes today is not pure cycling. I just happen to be weird enough to be considered somewhat of a bike technology Luddite. If you want to ride a full-squish bike and get rad, then, by all means, don’t let me stop you. Maybe I like making things hard on myself, I don’t know. I can only compare my slight aversion to cycling technology to liquid soap: there’s no reason for it…yet it exists.

I love rigid bikes for their simplicity. There are no lower leg services, no air cans, recharges, dampers, seals, and fewer bearings to wear out. I have endured the discomfort that seems to be purposely built into these bikes just for the sake of being outside on the simpler machines. I believe that this bike represents mountain biking at its purest: kind of like hiking with wheels. Sure, I have to fistfight rocks and inhale trail dirt whilst pushing the bike through creeks and up steep sections of fire roads filled with angry hikers and dogs. It is all worth it.
</rant>

Author gets metal with 1981 Stumpumper

Romero Canyon Trail in the Santa Barbara front country is a great trail to test a mountain bike. It begins with a steep fire road that is transected by a few rocky creek crossings, leading to a loop that includes single track, and some flatter, flowier parts. The trail features sand and loose rocks, patches of flat, slippery sandstone, and harder dirt with water ruts. The conditions were mostly dry with the exception of the creek crossings and occasional shady mud patch.

CLIMBING

The Stumpy, at least with my legs, had a hard time climbing the steep fire road portion. The 26-inch wheels and the slack head tube angle were no help at all. It took a lot of concentration, oscillating my body back and forth over the rear wheel for traction and the handlebars to keep the front wheel on the ground. I never got the hang of popping wheelies in my life, and starting a bicycle circus act on a steep incline was not my idea of a good time.

The gearing, being a traditional triple-chainring setup, was not quite enough to make it over some of the steeper parts of the incline. The ratio of the lowest gear (0.91 in this case) just isn’t low enough when compared to bikes equipped with super-large sprockets. I found myself having to stop periodically to push the bike uphill. This didn’t bother me as I was intent on photographing the bike anyway.

1981 Stumpjumper side view

ON THE FLAT AND FLOWY

After getting to the top of the fire road, I took the left fork towards East Camino Cielo. In the sections that weren’t covered by giant boulders from the 2017 Debris Flow, the bike handled well. It was a little twitchy due to the head tube angle. That was quickly overcome by the fact that it cornered like a boss. I found that I could maneuver the squiggly parts with ease. However, the more technical sections, when attacked at slower speeds also tested my handling skills, with moderate success.

I believe that there is a reason rigid mountain bikes also double as commuters. Those of us who compete in the revered and exclusive Cat 6 racing every morning would agree that this geometry is very comfortable for riding in the saddle for longer distances on flat surfaces. On the flat parts of the trails, I only needed getting out of the saddle once I needed to avoid an obstacle like a rut or a heap of rocks.

DESCENDING

After reaching East Camino Cielo and resting for a while, I headed back down. I was hesitant, at first, to do this. This bike is almost 40 years old, has no suspension, and uses a threaded headset (the original, in this case). I was afraid the bike would rattle apart. Since I was running tubes deflated to 25 psi, I was also afraid that I would flatten the tires and destroy the original wheels right away.

Because the frame geometry was so slack, I didn’t really need to lower the saddle at all. When it seemed like the wheels and headset would hold up, I braved faster speeds. I was able to make it down the single-track portion of Romero, stopping a few times to navigate the rockier sections on foot. In retrospect, with my ass still sore while I write this, not lowering the saddle for the descent was a bad idea.

The original Mafac cantilever tandem brakes are no match for today’s hydraulic disc brakes. Many canti-haters would tell agree. However, in combination with the massive leverage offered by the Tomiselli motorcycle brake levers, they weren’t all that bad. They were enough to make me confident that I could slow my descent safely.

CONCLUSION AND PICTURES

I will probably ride this bike on the trails again, but not anytime soon. There are just too many modern rigid mountain bikes options that are built better, use stronger materials and parts, and have more comfortable geometry. Bikes like the Surly Karate Monkey, Salsa Fargo, Velo Orange Piolet, and the Kona Unit X come to mind. So if I were to shun suspension altogether, as I am wont to do, I would definitely keep the old Stumpy on the wall for the time being. It would be much more satisfying to beat up a bike that isn’t considered an icon. But for the sake of the Stumpy itself, I am compelled to ride it in the dirt every now and then.

Hey! Look at these awesome pictures!

Rough Ride: 1981 Stumpjumper Restoration

[Image gallery at the end of the article.]

A lot of people have this vision of bike shop employees swimming in a sea of free bikes and parts. Bike swag for days: trucker hats, t-shirts, stickers, mugs…the occasional branded spork. While we are certainly in closer proximity than most to get all that nifty bike graft, free bikes are still pretty rare. Even when we do get a bike gratis, it’s usually some clapped out, broken down, bicycle-like thing that is not worth fixing. I’d rather get loads of sporks from some lube company, rather than deal with some old, crummy bike.

This past spring, however, some dude came into the shop and donated his old bike after learning how much it would cost to repair. Not knowing what to do with it, the employees spirited it to me during my lunch hour. I reluctantly took it off their hands, thinking that I was going to have to make the trip to Bici Centro to donate it. Nevertheless, it was a free bike and it looked really cool. I decided to take a closer look at it. It was made from Japanese Tange Chromoly steel, and had, what looked like motorcycle brake levers and friction shifters on the handlebars. It was, to my delight, a very old and beat up Specialized Stumpjumper.

I didn’t really know it was special until I started researching it. I always thought the first Stumpys had lugged frames. Most of the people who claimed to have the first-year bikes usually showed up with a lugged frame. This one did not — it was TIG welded. But it had the ridiculously huge Tomaselli brake levers, a TA Specialties crankset from France, Suntour drivetrain and Wheelsmith Wheels. I figured it must have been a frankenbike that was pieced together over the years. It wasn’t until I started reading more articles about the first Stumpjumpers that I realized I had one of the first 500 ever built. Somebody slap me.

An early promotional ad for the Specialized Stumpjumper

<namedropping>
A free Specialized Stumpjumper from the first batch of 500 ever ordered by Mike Sinyard and Tim Neenan and designed by the latter. Mr. Neenan’s signature is on the chainstay, and the design had come from his own Lighthouse Chapparal from 1979. I was feeling the weight of having this mountain-biking icon, this symbol, this…closest thing I have ever come to possessing a holy relic. The first production mountain bike. I stopped short of slapping myself.
</namedropping>

Realistically, though, it is a bicycle. A special one, to be sure. But it was in rough condition and it needed work.

Though it sported most of the original parts, the previous owner rode the crap out of this bike for the past 38 years. It was a survivor of the dirt, not the enthusiast’s collection. The last thing I wanted out of this was a collector’s item. I decided that I would make it rideable, replacing the broken and worn parts here and there in the spirit of keeping it a living bike. Potential pretension aside, I wouldn’t mind showing to as many people as possible. In deference to Indiana Jones, I say that this beautiful relic does not belong in a museum. It belongs back in the hands of somebody who would enjoy riding it. Namely, yours truly.

Problems: one of the open-bearing bottom bracket cups was rusted into place, the chainrings were worn into shark tooth-like pointiness, the large moto housing for the moto brake cables (a defining feature of the early Stumpys) was cracked and splitting, the rear derailleur was totally shot, and the rear wheel bearing cartridges were also producing a nice grainy noise when spun. Many of the parts on this bike, though original, needed a lot of work, or replacing.

Parts, tools, and rust.

My first task was to get all the working parts shiny again. I spent quite a bit of time getting to know steel wool and metal polish. The Mafac brakes were particularly bad, as was the headset and seat post quick release. Overall it took me a month, becoming very familiar with steel wool and metal polish, to get all the parts derusted.

That was the easy part. The biggest problem was the bottom bracket. Before we got to that, we had to remove the cranks. TA Specialties uses very weird (read French) threading on the outside of the cranks: 23 mm, a bit larger than the more common square-taper crank threads common today. However, getting the correct crank puller was not as hard as pulling the crank itself. The top lip of the threads had been bashed in over the years making it difficult to get purchase on them. Retapping the threads was the only option if I wanted to make them serviceable in the future. While I searched for the correct tap, I used a blow torch and a rubber mallet to remove the cranks.

The most problematic part of the Stumpy restoration required some heavy metal.

The drive side bottom bracket cup, being completely seized, required the use of some serious heavy metal. We tried everything: a pin spanner, a lead pipe attached to the pin spanner for leverage, various solvents and stinky fluids, but to no avail. Alas, we had to cease in fear of breaking the wrench and damaging the bottom bracket shell. We then used a drill and cutting fluid to enlarge the spindle hole wide enough to insert a special removal tool. It was a frustrating and sweaty experience, colored by many expletives and crying in the corner of the service area. Once it was out, we chased the threads and refaced the shell. I ordered a replacement cup, and after I lubed the crap out of it, we had a serviceable bottom bracket once again.

After sourcing the proper tap from China, I was able to get the cranks into shape and installed with replacement TA Specialties chainrings. A new-old-stock Suntour aRX rear derailleur and a new chain got the drivetrain going. It was only a small matter of replacing the original Mafac tandem brake pads with Kool Stop clones and routing the housing and cables. Good times.

Chasing and facing the bottom bracket shell. Making the old like new again.

The bike is finished! It looks great and is super close to the original spec. I certainly hope that anyone who owned one of these or was involved in the original project to create them would agree with me: I must take it up Romero Canyon (and back down) so I can get the full feeling of nostalgia. Besides, my joints haven’t taken enough of a beating lately anyways. I can’t wait.

I did manage to gather some deeper wisdom after all was said and done. Bikes are made to be ridden. If they hang on the wall too long or rust out in the garage, you are doing yourself, and the bike, a disservice. Not only will you become weak and out of shape, having a beautifully restored museum piece in your collection only increases your pretension. Besides, who cares that it is not a hundred percent restored? I really don’t need to hear about how I haven’t sourced the proper headset bearings that were only made for three months in 1980 and can only be found by engaging in a Romancing-the-Stone-type adventure. Hang on, let me go find a cartel boss to take me into the Colombian wilderness in a souped-up Jeep to locate the last cache of bearings, whilst being chased by Danny DeVito and a bunch of pretentious hipsters, only to shell out a whole bike’s worth of money for a measly part I won’t see. Get out of here.

Facts are facts. There are already bikes in museums. I don’t need to go that far with a restoration. I just want to ride every bike ever. It’s a goal I have. I will follow up with another article reviewing how the bike rides on dirt. While you wait for that, check out these cool pictures of the Stumpjumper in question and tell me you wouldn’t ride it.

Innovation as Marketing: Gravel Bikes

The Gravel Bike

There is a story. It is a story about a dark, intimidating, scary chasm. A dark, moldy, unkind gap that split and schismed cyclists in twain. On one side, there were cyclists devoted to wearing super tight clothing and riding weight-weenie crabon bikes across miles of asphalt. On the other, thrill-seekers who, only recently donning ridiculously tight clothing, prefer squishy bikes with bendy frames, riding through nature and kicking up dust and dirt, ofttimes wearing goggles.

This is the way cycling was after mountain bikes hit the market in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In this manner, through an eon-like continuum, vast and long, cycling would…well…continue. Until the gap was spanned. Made crossable by a whole new category of bicycle. The tale of the gravel bike is an epilogue to the storied past of cycling. That past where you decided what kind of cyclist you were and acquired the type of bicycle from the limited choices available.

I realize that my stream of consciousness seems to be going nowhere. But I promise, there is a point. That point is innovation.

Innovation, Dear Reader, is how marketing is made.

<rant>
Or it could be the other way around. Whatever. Marketing as an impetus for creating new products sometimes leads to good results. We have smartphones, incompatible outerwear, and liquid soap even though we were adamant that we would never need to buy them. However, wider tires, on road bikes, it turns out, are both useful and really cool. Because gravel bikes are so awesome, we shall obediently squeeze asses into Lycra®, don some single-lens sunglasses and embrocate ourselves across road and valley on the latest and greatest that bicycle marketing has to offer.
</rant>

Is it, though? Is the gravel bike an innovation that the bicycle companies have created to sell us more bikes? As I sit here in the coffee shop, amongst people meeting their life coaches, wearing Patagonia, and staring at their smartphones, I am having a real Bobos in Paradise moment. Gravel bikes are not smartphones or liquid soap. It so happens, after doing a little research, that they evolved out of necessity. They did not just spring forth like Athena from the forehead of Zeus, leaving Hera to wonder what the hell just happened.

Nope. Negative. A new category of bicycle is something that no one company can just summon from the dark, stinking depths of corporate marketing departments. Quite the opposite. The modern gravel bike came from the same place mountain bikes and BMX bikes came from. They evolved into existence over the course of decades, splitting off one bike and taking geometries and components from others. They came from the wooly wild of dirt, asphalt, very small rocks, and the desire for roadies to ride away from traffic. As with mountain bikes, once people started racing them, the companies took notice.

Jingle Cross
Jingle Cross. A big cyclocross race and really nice social media opportunity.

It was only a few years ago that cyclocross, having already been around for nearly a century, trendily entered the social media feeds of cyclists itching for something different. For the first time (for those who did not race cyclocross), there was a bicycle configuration that had the potential to build the afore-mentioned span across said chasm between road and dirt. Road cyclists could now get dirtier. Mountain bikers could wear more ridiculously tighter clothing and experiment with different colors of bar tape. Even commuters, who previously had been shoehorned into one type of bike or the other, could now drop-bar it to work and back, with wider tires and more compact geometry.

The cyclocross like-count dropped suddenly due to cycling-industry and Instagram-influencer overexposure. But not before it had brought into the mainstream many of the innovations we see on gravel bikes today: wide-tire compatibility, lower bottom brackets, disc brakes, wider handlebars, etcetera. When I say mainstream, I am talking about affordability and accessibility. Drop-bar bikes with wide tires were not usually seen as floor-model bikes. They were niche. They were expensive. Today, the gravel bike and its weird cousin the adventure bike are now produced by the larger manufacturers. They can be seen in many bike shops in sometimes surprisingly affordable builds.

Surly Travelers Gravelers Check
The Surly “Gravelers” Check on the Edison Canyon Catway in Santa Barbara, CA

There were other factors responsible for catalyzing the trend towards gravel bikes. For years companies like Surly had been offering wide-tire frames through the other gravel-adventure gateway drug: touring bikes. “Fatties Fit Fine,” Surly says. This was their way of telling the cycling community that it was okay to take your road bike off the asphalt once in a while. Touring cyclists have been doing it for years. It worked. Once the larger companies realized this, they jumped on it, producing the modern gravel bikes and adventure bikes we see on shop floors today. In my opinion, most of these bikes are pretty damn amazing.

And here we are. We can trace the gravel bike lineage all the way back through road bikes, cyclocross, BMX, klunkers, mountain bikes, touring bikes, and the need to test the limits and have many beers in the process. Influence in design trickles up. Now we are able to buy a single bike that would fit most of our needs. We can ride on the road, commute to work or school, and hit the trails (albeit light ones) and get dirty. All this with one type of bike. The best part, the large bicycle companies keep pouring money into research and development into making them better. Boutique companies and framebuilders, who have been in on this from almost the beginning, continue to produce a variety of traditional and innovative bikes.

Human beings (aside from those who play e-sports) will always want to be outside. It’s in our nature. I may go out on a limb to say that gravel bikes tick so many boxes, that they are here to stay. However, we are at the mercy of social media and marketing forces on this one. I can only hope that these bikes provide enough fuel for the likes to keep the momentum going.

Until then, please enjoy these images of a 2020 Specialized Diverge Carbon Comp X1. A great example of a gravel bike with awesome stuff all over it.

[Disclaimer: I work at a bike shop that sells Specialized. But no bias, I promise.]

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.

In Defense of Rim Brakes

Paul Neo Retro Touring Canti

Paul Neo Retro Touring Canti

It was a long struggle with pneumonia. It was close…real close. I am still not back on the bike but I am getting there. While I recover, I wanted to talk about brakes.

Probably the most invasive technology in the cycling world (aside from crabon everything) is disc brakes. They are becoming more common on bikes these days and it seems you can’t event spend as low as $770.00 on a bike without getting some hydraulic discs in the package. Indeed, where just a couple of years ago, hydraulic disc brakes were the sole property of bikes costing over $1,500.00. Nay, mountain bikes costing over $1500.00. Now they are everywhere. And for good reason: they stop a bike more efficiently, function on warped rims and are great in wet weather. Hydraulics do not suffer a much from that annoying zing-zing sound that mechanical disc brakes are so fond of making. Once the exclusive domain of mountain bikers, they are sneaking onto every other type of bike being offered for sale to consumers. The drawback to these things? There are two that I can think of: weight and maintenance.

Weight is a minor issue on entry-level bikes. Most riders who are out getting exercise and enjoying the fresh air are not looking to shave grams, They are looking for a solid bike for the lowest price. The trouble with putting hydro discs on an entry-level hybrid is evident immediately to the entry-level rider purchasing said bike: the maintenance. If I were to mention reservoirs, brake fluid and bleeding to this type of bicycle consumer, they would imagine a greasy-faced auto mechanic in coveralls holding up a master cylinder in front of their face saying: “Now there’s your problem!” But the truth is, today’s hydro brakes can be maintained with just a little practice or for a modest fee at you LBS. Even a brake-bleeding kit only costs $25.00.

So are rim brakes obsolete? Some may say so, especially the members of the weak-minded spandex army of Freds because they are easily moved by marketing. However, the other drawback that I mentioned before, weight, can have a serious effect on a sub-16-pound road bike. There are some companies, like Giant for instance, that have appropriated side-pull brakes for their road bikes. I think this is an interesting concept. Take the 2015 Giant Propel Advanced SL 0. This is their highest-end road bike and it retails for a whopping $10,800.00! And it has side-pull rim brakes. Granted, they are getting pretty aero with these, mounting them behind the forks, so there’s a good way to subtract some milliseconds to your stage time. The weight is pretty light, too. Just when you thought manufacturers were going disc crazy, here comes Giant with the weakest style of rim brakes on their most expensive consumer road bike. It is truly mind bottling…you know, when things get so crazy it gets your thoughts all trapped like in a bottle? But hey, these brakes are super easy to maintain and they are super light as well. That should be very pleasing to the Freds out there.

To be honest, I am rather fond of a good set of cantilever brakes. Sure they may be a pain to adjust, but they are the best at stopping power aside from some of the higher-end calipers out there. Plus they make my bikes look all steam-punky. That’s always a plus with the ladies. End of line.

Quick Review: 2015 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc

2015 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc

2015 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc

Gallery below!

I am slowly getting to like Specialized. I mean, if you’re going to purchase a crabon bike to shed grams and pretend like you’re on a team, then Specialized, I think, is one of the better big-company bike companies out there.  I am not doing this review here to claim that Specialized is the best. Far from it. I am merely giving you a run-down of what I would choose if I were in the market for a crabon endurance bike. That said:

The 2015 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc

Since I have made the conscious choice not to race anymore, I have resigned myself to near-Fred status. Yes. Expensive bicycles capture my attention. The only differences between me and an actual Fred is that I cannot afford to purchase the above-pictured bike and I possess the intellectual capacity to realize that I don’t really need it. I can, however, borrow one for a whiles to assess its potential for actual Freds who can afford one.

The extremely long and exhaustive name of the Roubaix Comp Disc gives away its most noticeable attribute: the Shimano 785 hydraulic road disc brakes. Finally,  a really heavy person (I don’t discriminate based on gender, but some of you dudes are huge) can ride a really light crabon bike and be able to stop on a dime. And though I am pushing a hefty 160 pounds, I found the brakes to be extremely responsive and quick to get used to. And when I say “get used to” I mean it takes a couple of stops at a slower speed to master not falling down (the bike is really light and the stoppage is immediate). Not only that, but the calipers have fins on them for those people who love good heat dissipation.

Moving on to the drivetrain, I found the Shimano Ultegra 11-speed setup quite nice. No Di2 needed here (especially at this price point). The Ultegra shift levers are quite responsive and almost Fred-proof. The PraxisWorks 50/34 compact-double chainrings were a nice addition and a good way for Specialized to keep the build cost down. Not to mention, it’s kind of cool having a crankset named after an exploded Klingon moon. A full Ultegra drivetrain is not necessary unless you are looking to brag about having a crankset that is overly expensive. And I wouldn’t bother bragging about anything less than Dura Ace or SRAM Red anyway. My only gripe is that I would rather have an external bottom bracket rather than the press-fit BB30 that comes on this frame. I can see lots of loosening and noise in the future especially if a climber buys this bike.

Speaking of climbing: there is a noticeable frame flex when climbing. Out of the saddle, it started to feel a little noodly on the long climbs we have around here.

The geometry is awesome. I am 5′ 10″ and I tested the 54cm. I felt relaxed and not too aero. For a long-distance ride, I think this bike would be perfect. I also had my reservations about the effectiveness of the Zertz inserts on the fork, seat stays and seat post However, they proved to be quite effective. The bike certainly lived up to its cobblestone-inspired name as it did a really great job of dampening vibration. The bike does glide, people.

For the 54cm  model, the 72-degree headtube angle was just slack enough to give me a comfortable ride. The steering was extremely responsive and smooth. At slower speeds (read: in a footdown contest), it was great. However, I don’t think I will be playing bike polo with it anytime soon. The wheels are another story. The Axis wheels are good, but I found them to be a little heavy to match with this frame. If I were suffering from chronic Fredness, I would definitely upgrade to a set of Mavic Kysirium SLS. But if you’re actually looking at the price of this bike, those would set you back at least another six large on a swap with your LBS, bringing this beast to over four grand.

Conclusion

If you have enough cabbage and want an effective crabon endurance ride, I would recommend, nay, advocate for the Specialized Roubaix Comp Disc.  It’s just at the bottom end of Fredness while still being pretty awesome. In fact, I would say that the only thing holding this thing back from complete Fredability is the fact that it doesn’t say “S-Works” on the downtube. And, like all of the SL4 road bikes that Specialized puts out, it makes a great platform for future upgrades.

*End of line*

 

 

 

Light Action: A Lesson in Patience

Shimano Light Action Bar End Shifter

Shimano Light Action Bar End Shifter on Paul Components Thumbie

If you’ve read any of my posts you would probably infer that I hold bicycles pretty high in the hierarchy of super important things that humans have invented. Indeed, the bicycle as we know it evolved from a long history of rich people’s toys and false starts. I find it rather unfortunate that the modern bicycle finally began to be taken seriously about the same time cars and airplanes were invented. Indeed, if horses didn’t poop so much and weren’t so damn skittish, maybe we wouldn’t have bothered with the automobile. Imagine a world where people went places by bicycles and horses. Nope. Too easy. Humans would rather go to great expense to suck oil out of the ground to make a vehicle so energy inefficient that the only plus side is that it makes it easier for teenagers to make out in private.

So what does this have to do with the picture above? It’s to illustrate my point at how awesome bikes are. There’s beauty in simplicity and patience. How such dysfunctional race of beings that infest a planet they don’t care about can make such a simple machine that, despite its drawbacks (it’s not as fast as a car) can get us where we need to go just blows my mind. Seriously: we can ride a bike anywhere given enough time. Not only that, bicycles have a low cost of entry (pretty much anyone can afford one), they are cheaper to fuel (burritos give the best milage per unit), and they can be stunning examples of simplistic beauty. No matter what kind of bike you ride, they are all beautiful not only because some can be aesthetically so. But even the cheapest POS from REI still does the same thing as a Rivendell or S-Works Tarmac Disc…it has two wheels and moves you forward. You need at least one leg and a lot of patience to operate one.

<nonconformist_view>
         Patience, Dear Reader, is something that cars have destroyed — a hundred years ago. They have literally sucked it out of the earth as if they drank our milkshake.
</nonconformist_view>

I’m not saying that we should all hate the automobile. I just think that, deep down inside, they are ugly and dirty.

End of line.

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?

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.

Jimmy

Jimmy and his Specialized Crux Carbon Cyclocross bike.

Rides a Specialized Crux Carbon Cyclocross bike.
Shot on State Street in Santa Barbara, CA.
Just back from a 50-mile ride.

I tend not to like the Spandex Army. Personally, I think riding kit is a little silly. But that’s my $0.02 and I will never tell anyone else not to wear it. Some people (not me) look downright sexy in kit. We’re all cyclists. To quote Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde: “Exercise creates endorphins. Endorphins make people happy.” I think that is for the most part true: unless you are on PEDs then you are just a jerk, straight up. Unless you are in the camp that thinks that professional cyclists don’t have a choice but to turn to doping. Hey, all I have to say is, if doping has been the norm in professional cycling for so many years, the UCI should either legalize PEDs or the cyclists should just admit they use them and stop lying to everyone.

In any case, the people who ride bikes and love it, whether they wear the uniform of the Lycra Mafia or not, are the real athletes. It doesn’t even matter if you are competing or not. It only matters that you have two wheels on the ground at all times.