Okinawa and the Surly Travelers Check

The Surly Travelers Check in Okinawa

[For additional images, please see photo gallery at the end of the article.]

There is a running joke at the bike shop where I work: whenever I talk about my Surly Travelers Check, a detailed story about how I took the bike to Okinawa is sure to follow. I believe that my fellow employees are also designing a drinking game based upon certain words I have a tendency to repeat. These words include, but are not limited to Okinawa, Japan, and Surly. I had an amazing time, so I cannot tell the story of my trip without repeating the destination and the bike I rode. This means a lot of people are going to get really drunk.

Okinawa, which is Japan’s southernmost prefecture, lies in the East China Sea. It is a subtropical island that has a diverse history including the longest and most deadly battle of World War II. The water is clear and blue, the people are amazing, and the food is unique in Asian cuisine. The cycling is also equally amazing. The variable landscape of the coral island offers plenty of climbs, beautiful coastal flats, and seemingly endless routes and destinations.

The trip was over the new year. Spending time with friends and family. Although the trip lasted for more than two weeks, wet weather and high winds hampered my ability to ride every day. Below is a map of two of my most memorable rides during that trip.

Both rides are mapped from Naha Main Place, a popular mall in the center of the capital, Naha. I chose this starting point as it was close to my home base and I wanted to give all of you, dear readers, a central location from which to start your own rides.

Okinawa Peace Memorial Park Ride

At the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park.
The Okinawa Peace Memorial Park is just off highway 331 in the southern part of the island.

Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum and Park and is 14.2 mi/22.8 km from Naha Main Place. I returned by the same route making this ride a total of 28.2 mi/45.7 km. There are other loop routes back to Naha continuing east on the 331 past the park. Since this was my first ride in Okinawa, and the weather was constantly changing, I decided to return via a route with which I was already familiar.

Starting at Main Place, highway 330 is the closest and most obvious route going south towards the airport. The route is fairly easy, with the only confusing part being the intersection of the 330 and highway 221. It is beset on all sides with a staggering array of pedestrian walkways suspended over the street. It would have made more sense if I stayed on the street, but the lanes are narrow and dangerous. I only had Google Maps to guide me, so I had to do my best and follow the signs to the 221.

Somewhere on the 330 in Naha, Okinawa
Some of the intersections like the 330 to the 221 in Okinawa can be downright confusing.

Once on the 221, the route was a lot easier. The T-shaped transition to highway 331 was a breeze and the military base across the road made for easy reference. The Park is just off the 331 so I followed this road to the southern coast. There wasn’t much to see along this stretch besides freeway and commercial neighborhoods. The entire route is mostly flat. However, the 331 narrows down to a small rural route near the park and has some small climbs.

Once at the park, I took advantage of the refreshment stands and bathrooms. I was able to ride most of it, however bicycles are not allowed in the memorial proper. The park and memorial were the brainchild of Masahide Ota, a former governor and survivor of the Battle of Okinawa. The memorial at the park sits on a cliff above the coast. The view looking southeast is breathtaking. However, it is also here where the names of the many Okinawans, Japanese, and Americans are memorialized. It is a stark reminder that the most horrible things can happen in the most beautiful places.

Nakagusku Castle Loop Ride

The view looking north towards the end of the Nakagusku visitor’s route.

Nakagusuku Castle is approximately 15 mi/24 km from Naha Main Place with the entire loop being 25.4 mi/40.8 km. I began my ride going north on highway 330. The highway has a designated pedestrian/bicycle pathway on the shoulder so it was not necessary to ride in the street the whole way. Until I made my way to highway 146, there wasn’t much to see besides a tunnel and some shiisaa.

The transition to the 146 was a bit trying, and I definitely needed to ride in the street at this point. There is a smaller street which shoots off the 330 through a neighborhood that leads to a overpass intersection with the 146. There were small on-ramps to ride and steps to walk down…I chose the steps to avoid cars as the roads in this area are pretty narrow. See the map above for reference. Once on the 146, I headed west towards the castle. There was a steep climb of about 524 ft/160 m over a short 1.75 mi/2.8 km stretch of winding, narrow road. I stuck to the left-side pedestrian shoulder to avoid traffic. Once I arrived at the castle admissions booth, I purchased a ticket and left my bike in the designated area as they are not allowed on the castle grounds.

Nakagusuku is one of many castles built by the Kingdom of Ryukyu in the 13th century. It is made of coral blocks and contains three main wards. The best thing about this site is that one can see both the east and west coast of the island from here. It is an amazing view and well worth the ride. The other benefit of riding at this time of year meant that there were very few tourists so I had the place almost to myself. It was so quiet, I could hear children playing at the school across the valley.

Getting back to Naha Main Place is easy since it is mostly downhill. I wanted to pay a visit to Taira Cycle on my way back. Continuing the loop, I had to get around Futenma Air Base. The 146 takes you west to the 81 and shortly thereafter, back on the 330. From there, I went north until I exited west for a short ride on the 130 to connect to the famous highway 58 heading south. Taira Cycle is on a street off the 58 to the right about 0.75 mi/1.2 km from the intersection (see map above).

Yoshihiro Taira runs his small shop in the Chatan District of Okinawa, across the highway from Futenma Air Base. He carries mostly Surly and Tokyobike. His shop is full of really awesome made-in-the-USA products as well as Japanese brands like SimWorks. Yoshi stopped working for a few minutes to chat and take pictures of my bike. Definitely worth a visit!

Yours Truly at Taira Cycle in Chatan, Okinawa.

Getting back to Naha Main Place was a simple matter of continuing south along the 58 until a connection on highway 222 took me back to the 330. One note to always remember: highway 58 is the busiest road on the island. It is extremely dangerous. It seemed that I was playing a deadly version of leapfrog with the city buses the whole way south.

Overall, the rides in Okinawa were great. I wish I had spent more time exploring the more rural sections of the island to avoid traffic. But since it was my first time riding a bike there, I wanted to stick to the major roads. If I had any advice it would be to make sure you respect the people who live and work on Okinawa. Okinawan motorists are generally non-aggressive and unlikely to use their horns. So be courteous, smile, and enjoy yourself. There is a lot to see on this island, and going by bike is definitely recommended.


1994 Bridgestone MB-1: A Dank Daily Rider

1994 Bridgestone MB-1 drive side view

1994 Bridgestone MB-1 drive side view

More pictures and parts list at the end of the article!

It has been said that “steel is real.” Indeed, one can walk up to a steel bike, touch it, and feel the real steel. Many companies in the 1980s and 1990s made some pretty impressive steel frames. Those that were made in the US or Japan at that time are considered the best by some and works of art by others. There may even be one located in a garage or barn nearby just waiting to be resurrected and ridden.

For a daily rider, a bike should have a comfortable geometry and be made from a metal that is responsive, with just the right amount of stiffness. For me, nothing is better than a well-crafted, lugtastic steel bicycle frame with excellent design provenance and amazing tubing. The 1994 Bridgestone MB-1 certainly fits the bill.

Not all of the Bridgestone models from this time period were made like the MB-1 (or MB-2s and some of the 3s, for that matter). That doesn’t mean that they aren’t good bikes. Many of the lower-end models of the MB-, RB-, and XO- lines are still awesome bikes. Any frame-up build of one of those would result in a great daily rider. However the MB-1 (and for some reason, the MB-Zip) holds a special place in the hearts of riders and collectors.

1994 Bridgestone MB-1 Brooks head badge detail

1994 Bridgestone MB-1 Brooks head badge detail with lugtastic lugs!

The US division of Bridgestone Bicycle Company was run by Grant Petersen. As Sheldon Brown (rest in peace) recounts:

Bridgestone is an enormous multinational company, one of the largest tire companies in the world…and a fairly small bicycle company, with its own factory in Japan. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, its U.S. bicycle division was run by Grant Petersen, a brilliant, talented and idiosyncratic designer.

Petersen, a hard-core cyclist, marched to a “different drummer” than most of the industry. He introduced many innovations to the market, and also strongly resisted other trends and innovations that he didn’t approve of.

As a result, the Japanese-made frames of this time were beautifully constructed (lower-end models were made in Taiwan and did not use lugs and were TIG welded). Made from the highest end of Tange Prestige tubing, these frames are not only desirable, but ride extremely well. Many of the features on the -1s and -2s are evident in the construction of Petersen’s current venture, Rivendell Cycle Works. His Bridgestone legacy also continues in other bikes as well: Handsome Cycles uses the same lugged construction and geometry of the Bridgestone RB-T in their Devil model.

How one acquires such a frame through trade or favor is another story (especially the favor part). This particular build uses some of my favorite components from various bikes that I have ridden and build up a really nice-but-not-too-nice bike for my daily rider-slash-errand-slash-bar bike.

The wheels are my own creation, using an old but smooth Shimano Parallax 100 (LX) hub for the front and a Shimano XT 9-speed hub in the rear. I laced them using DT-Swiss Champion 2.0 spokes on 26-inch Sun Ringle Rhyno Lite rims. Though not entirely period correct, they look great and are super stiff. Wrapping them with classic-look Kenda K-Rad gumwalls, (yes – they exist!) completes the road contact with style.

1994 Bridgestone MB-1 shifter detail

1994 Bridgestone MB-1 shifter detail

The drivetrain is a Shimano XT 3×9 with a Deore triple that came stock on my 2017 Kona Sutra. I realize that a lot of folks are leaving triple chain rings to history these days, but I am using Shimano Dura Ace bar-end shifters mounted on Paul Components Thumbies to give me that slightly-updated classic feel to my shifting. It works great and a friction-front shifter is not only nostalgic for me, it allows for more accurate trim adjustment.

For the connection points, I chose SimWorks Fun 3 bar with Paul Components Canti Levers (connected to their Neo-Retro cantilever brakes), held by the SimWorks Gettin’ Hungry quill stem. I managed to salvage an older Shimano XT headset to use as well. The saddle is a Brooks B-17 that is older than the frame itself, connected to a classic Race Face XY seat post. Pedals are the awesome VP-001 in a fitting, and no longer available Rivendell gray.

Now that I am done patting myself on the back for building one of the dankest rides ever, I just want to say that I am humbled by the history of these older bike frames. It has been a while since we have seen a company put a lot of money and materials into such care and precision on a mass-market scale. Remember though, there are many frame builders out there who are running amazing businesses and creating phenomenal bikes. They have learned from these old frames and their designers and are building on their legacy. I would love it if I could ride them all. Alas, with my curious lack of thousands of dollars for a new frame, riding a classic will do just fine.

Parts List (prices are at the time of this writing):

Shimano XT-M772 rear derailleur – $64.99 (from various dealers)
Shimano XT-M781 front derailluer – approx. $25.00 (if in stock anywhere)
Shimano SL-BS77 9-speed bar-end shifters – $90.00 (from various dealers)
Paul Components Thumbies – $95.00
Paul Components Canti Levers – $146.00
Paul Components Neo-retro cantilever brakes (x2) – $121.00
SimWorks Fun 3 bar – $55.00
SimWorks Gettin’ Hungry Stem – $88.00
Brooks B-17 Standard Saddle – $145.00
Raceface XY seat post – between $12.00-$77.00 (!) on eBay
VP Pedals 001 – $65.00 (from various dealers)
Shimano Parallax 100 front hub – approx. $30.00 on eBay
Shimano XT FH-RM70 rear hub – Approx $20.00 on eBay
Rhyno Lite 32-hole, 26-inch rims (x2) – $45.00 f(rom various dealers)
Kenda K-Rad tires – $34.99 (from various dealers)

Kona Sutra 650b : a Dank Build

2017 Kona Sutra 650b Conversion

2017 Kona Sutra 650b Conversion

This bike is now featured on Kona Cog Dream Builds!

Image gallery below at end of article.

There’s absolutely no reason to convert a perfectly good touring and adventure bike like the Kona Sutra to something other than what it is. No bicycle is perfect. People have different needs and wants. This bike happened to be a great commuter and touring bike. But I wanted something more. It is a great platform for upgrading. There wasn’t anything preventing me from doing it other than the expense. So over the course of a year, I waited: watching and comparing prices, gathering, mooching, convincing my SO of the need, nay, the destiny of my dear Kona. It must be rebuilt! I ended up with the dankest of dream builds.

I have had this particular Sutra since it debuted in early 2017. I was drawn to the metallic flake paint job and easy-going geometry. When commuting to work, I found it to be extremely comfortable. Out on the trail, it handled very well, making it not only an excellent commuter but a hardy adventure bike. With all the new categories of road/gravel/adventure bikes out there, the Sutra is like a do-it-most bike that seems perfect, albeit just a little too heavy. But that is Kona for you. Their frames are built very well. Steel, though. I will deal with the extra weight if I can have the durability!

Always on a quest to build my a better bike, stock off-the-shelf rides usually don’t last too long in my household. Even though this bike performs really, really well, I wanted to do a few things to it that required some major surgery. I agree that the bike is good the way it is, however, there is always room for improvement.

The Sutra standard (not the LTD) comes with a Shimano Deore mountain triple crankset. My relationships with the many front derailleurs in my life have been awful. Always adjusting, rejecting the new technology like SRAM Yaw and that tooth-pulling new Ultegra FD-8000 derailleur that Shimano dropped on us last year. I decided that the best place to start my Sutra upgrade was to convert the drivetrain to a 1x, and kill the FD with fire (seriously, I think i tossed in into a friends BBQ). I already had a Shimano XT M8000 crankset handy, but I wanted more teeth. I purchased a Wolftooth Components DropStop 38T chainring. Believe it or not, this part of the conversion was the easiest part.

Sutra9153

Shimano XT M8000 crankset with Wolftooth 38T DropStop chainring.

The harder part was getting the rear derailleur and cassette sussed out. I really like the way the Shimano XTR Shadow Plus rear derailleur felt. For me, Shimano has always has had the smoother-shifting feel. Believe me, I realize that something like SRAM Force 1 would have been easier. But to build the dankest, one must be a bit of a nonconformist. Problem was, in order to use the XTR with the Ultegra shifters and the 11-42 cassette, I needed some Batman-style gadgets.

Wolftooth Components, being as clever as they are, had two nifty devices that I could use. The Tanpan pull-adjuster for the Ultegra-to-XTR cable path, and the Goatlink 11 which would allow the normally 11-40 XTR compatible with 11-42. Though it sounds like overkill, it actually works really well. The shifting is smooth and accurate. When routing the inner cable through the Tanpan, it must be really tightly pulled through the pulleys and the cable bolt. Otherwise, the barrel adjusters will have too much slack to tighten the action.

2017 Kona Sutra 650b XTR Goatlink Tanpan detail 2

2017 Kona Sutra 650b XTR, Goatlink, and Tanpan detail

I also wanted wider tires and stiffer wheels. So, again, doing something completely unnecessary, I decided to build some 650b wheels. Both are 32 spokes, cross three, laced to WTB Asym i29 rims. I also put a DT Swiss 350 rear hub in the back wheel.

The handling is pretty nice. Even with the WTB Byway 650×47 tires, the effective diameter is still just short of what they were with the 700s. I need to get smaller cranks. Other than that, the bike handles like a dream. The stiffer wheel gives a great response on the road and the dirt. The wider tire certainly allows for better cornering and comfort as well.

Because I am always upgrading, eventually I want to get some Paul Components Klamper brakes and a new headset (suggestions welcome). I already have some Simworks Honjo brass Turtle 58 fenders that I need to tweak to fit as well. But that is for later. I hope you enjoyed checking out my dank bike. Build list, image gallery and comments below.

Build list (other than standard equipment):

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.

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.

 

Erin

Erin and her Bridgestone Mixte

Erin and her Bridgestone Mixte

Sometimes it rains in Santa Barbara. Years ago, it used to rain a lot. Years before that, it didn’t. But the drought pattern ebbs and flows like waves. Currently, we are in the worst and driest spot since the 80s. Santa Barbarians are made of some pretty soft stuff. Indeed, as I sit here in the coffee shop I am overhearing some roadies complain that it is currently 48 degrees F outside. However, when water does actually fall from the sky, most of us would look up and say something like: “well that’s weird…”

In any case, it was a little unusual to see the rain. Even more unusual, there were a lot of people on two wheels out riding in it looking like they were enjoying themselves. As was the case, Erin came into get a flat fixed. She was sporting a Bridgestone Kabuki single-bar mixte with an awesome basket made from a Maine lobster trap.

The bike was in great condition for its age. It is probably of late 70s or early 80s vintage. The frame was of the lugged Japanese cro-mo variety and seemed better built than comparable bikes of its age.

I would like to know more about this bike. If anyone has more information on it, please leave a comment and I will update the post as information comes in.

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.

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.

I’m famous…

So I have been dabbling in video lately. The bank that I work for wanted to put together a series of social media videos about their new mobile app. There was no budget so I just raised my hand and did it. The only catch was, it would have to star yours truly. So check it out. It has very little to do with bicycles, but they’re in there somewhere.