Adjusting the Fit

Yes, I’m fiddling around with things again. Although I really love the look of the gold anodized bars, stem, and levers that have graced my 1971 Raleigh International, I’ve run into a problem recently: The stem no longer wants to snug down. Now I don’t know about anyone else, but having the bars come loose as I’m barreling down a steep hill is not a thrill I want to experience. In fact, having them come loose as I pedaled from a dead stop through an intersection at about 2 MPH was freaky enough. (For those interested in a first hand account, let me just say that I felt like I’d hit an oily or soapy patch on the road…no control whatsoever.)

I gritted my teeth and pulled over. This was the third time in a couple of days and I had finally come to the realization that if I wanted to ensure a future where I could grit my teeth at other things, I’d better reconsider my cockpit. I already knew that my optimal setup, like my Boulder, involved randonneur handlebars and more rise. I prefer the feel of rando bars while I ride. And as it happens, I had an unused set of bars and a long rise stem hanging about.

The first bike tool I reached for was my camera. I needed to make some precise comparisons between the control (my Boulder Brevet) and the bike I wanted to adjust. After a lot of adjustment and experimentation, the Boulder fits me better than any other bike, so it operates as my baseline.

In this photograph, notice that I’ve placed guidelines to indicate the top of the bars and saddle position, as well as the location of the bottom bracket. These the the relevant points of contact for me. The bottom bracket, regardless of location on the frame, isn’t a variable. The pedals meet my feet, and that simply doesn’t change so I make two photographs of the bikes in exactly the same position, then superimpose the images with the bottom brackets oriented to the same location. Because everything else is a variable, I can compare the bike I want to adjust to the variables on the bike I want to adjust.

Notice how in this superimposed image the two bottom brackets are aligned, but that the other points of contact – i.e., the saddle and bars – are clearly located in different places relative to the bottom bracket. Because I already know that the Boulder is an optimal fit, I can begin my analysis with this information.

A couple of notable observations can be made here. First, the saddle is lower on the International. Raising it is easy, of course. But doing so would play havoc with the reach and drop to the bars. But that’s ok because the second thing of note is that the bars need to be raised in order to better match the fit of the Boulder. Seems simple, but there’s not enough rise on the gold stem…and heck, it’s not staying secure anyway.

Assuming I had adequate rise with the original stem (which I don’t), simply raising the height doesn’t come anywhere close to matching the rise or grip points of contact on the Boulder. This is where the randonneur handlebars come into the picture: because the curves rise and the bars themselves have a more forward position, my points of contact are higher, with a more stretched out and longer reach. I happen to like longer reach, and raising the original bars would effectively shorten the reach.

All of which takes me back to the photo at the top of this post. Replacing the lovely, but unworkable gold bars and stem with a tall Nitto and rando bars combination left me with a ride that rivals my Boulder. The superimposed photos are precise enough to have helped me adjust the new setup with almost no additional adjustments after the initial installation. Yesterday, I pedaled up and down the street feeling like I was riding a completely different bike. Please remember that I already liked the ride of this International, so discovering that the comfort and bike position was now almost the duplicate of my Boulder, and then realizing that this adjustment left me with a significantly more efficient pedal stroke… well, let’s just say that I’m more than pleased.

An afternoon shakedown ride today confirmed my initial assessment, by the way. A quick fifteen mile route of hills, mixed terrain, and flats; stopping and starting, curves, etc. takes away some of the chagrin I feel at having to put the gold stuff up on the wall.

Think I’ll celebrate this win over an excellent glass of wine. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day.

 

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How new wheels made me stronger and cleaner

It’s Sunday morning, foggy and humid. Droplets of water formed on the hairs of my arms about five minutes into my ride, and I feel like a weak second grader.

On second thought, a relatively healthy second grader would probably drop me going up the first hill. How strange, I think to myself. I felt so strong riding at BikeMo yesterday.


 

For the past two years I’ve been promising myself a new set of wheels for my Boulder Brevet. Those I’ve been riding since first building it up were some I had on hand – heavier, mismatched and lower end wheels. But the front had a Sanyo dyno-hub and the rear…well it fit. And so I rode that ugly, bullet proof wheel set for three years and about 20,000 miles with nary a problem.

Still, I promised myself and my Boulder better. Probably two years ago I got serious and began pondering what I might do if I possibly one day, maybe, upgraded. I even called Mark Pace at Pace Bicycle Haven and he gave me a lot of really good options to consider. This is great! I told him on the phone. I’m ready to pull the trigger! And so I did… consider the options …for another two years.

Never one to deliberate too long, I immediately acted two years later and met with Mark to discuss even further what options I had. A flurry of email exchanges began and he patiently provided me with new insights – the kind of insights that get you excited enough to get busy with other things and then promptly ignore those insights for another month. (At which time I asked him how long will these take to build? Cuz I’d like to use them on a metric century ride in a week or two. True story.)

Last week Mark called and told me to come out and get my wheels. So there I was, four hours after his normal closing time, my bike on his stand, and we’re pulling tires off the old bullet proof rims.

“Hey,” he says. “You know your rear derailleur hanger is bent? It’s also got a lot of gunk on it.”

I said “Yeah, I know, but it actually shifts just fine. I’ve been meaning to fix it for a couple of years now.”

He got out a gizmo that I think he probably fabricated himself for this very purpose and straightened it up so that the pulleys actually lined up under the cogs. I confess that Mark’s attention to this purely decorative detail did make things look and shift a lot better.

“Do you ever clean your chain?” he asked me next. I was outraged at this slight, because of course I do, once a year whether it needs it or not. He suggested that I could probably use the flat blade of a screwdriver to scrape what appeared to be a thick black sludge off the pulleys he’d just lined up. I conceded that it was a good thought.

Getting the rear tire mounted and checking the alignment, the next thing I see is a puzzled look on his face as he turns the pedals and looks down. “Hmm. The big chain ring looks like it might be out of true.” He reaches for the custom rear derailleur alignment tool, slots it up and exclaims “Well hey!” He exclaims thusly because it turns out the ring is not out of true…it’s way loose. In fact all of the chain ring bolts are loose. With the sort of patience one normally reserves for a very young child, Mark mentions that I might want to check those every now and then… y’know – to avoid the ring coming off mid-stroke and becoming embedded in my calf.

I’m a little taken aback at the chain ring. A few weeks earlier I kept hearing a clicking noise when I pedaled and couldn’t identify the source. I checked everything – including the chair ring – and eventually re-greased my seat pin. The sound went away and I was content. Apparently I should have dug deeper.

The wheels – Shimano hubs with Velocity A23 and A23OC rims – are noticeably lighter than those that came off the Boulder. Eventually we got them on, aligned, and numerous other overlooked elements of bike maintenance were taken care of, many of which were the result of poor maintenance and simply not keeping things clean. I can attest to this because it looks some industrial strength cleaner to remove the sludge that had been on my bike from my hands and arms.


 

The next day my bike was cleaned until it sparkled. All of the remaining loose bolts were snugged up and some overdue lube was liberally applied in a few important places.


 

Although I took the bike and new wheels out for a short test spin around town on Friday afternoon, the real shakedown was on Saturday morning at BikeMO. There aren’t a lot of “pay to ride” events that I participate in but the route on BikeMo starts at a picturesque winery located on the river bluffs in Rocheport, then proceeds to meander through charming small towns and farm communities in Missouri River farmland country. Rather than a bunch of racer wannabes, the riders are always an eclectic bunch comprised of racers, tourers, bike advocates, regular-average-everyday-actual-people, kids, etc. I promised myself not to attempt any sort of “event pacing,” but instead to just ride at whatever pace felt good.

Pancake flat stretches of river bottom acreage are punctuated by steep climbs out of farmland into the up and down rolling hills and inclines of bluffs that overlook the Missouri River.

The first SAG stop is at the historic railroad depot in Boonville, on the KATY Trail. The KATY parallels part of the ride route and for those who want to avoid some of the early climbs an alternate trail route option is available.

Despite the promise I made to myself I found I was riding very fast. Maybe it was the lighter wheels. Perhaps it was the crisper shifting of the derailleur. Maybe it was purely the hocus pocus of self delusion, but my pedaling was strong. I never felt tired. I stayed in the big ring and the small cogs, hanging with the faster riders most of the way. Could the new wheels really have made so big a difference?

I really had my doubts. Clearly, clean living had paid off and this new found strength was the result. Clearly I deserved a reward for my efforts.

In spite of the winery location I opted for a honey wheat local brew, the first taste of which I can assure you tasted like a tiny slice of heaven. The remaining health foods were excellent pairings, so I had another honey wheat. Or two.


 

So, this morning I went out for a ride. Heading out to the garage I felt good. Memories of yesterday’s herculean ride effort were still quite fresh in my mind.

But one pedal stroke down the road I knew something was wrong. My legs were rubbery. My brain cried out “Downshift!” I had a sudden fantasy that involved my head buried into my pillow. Instead of taking off like a rocket, the Boulder rumbled in a generally forward direction. Today was a new and different day.

But my bike sure looks clean.