Obsessive Compulsive Bike Nerd


OK, I’m a nerd. I obsessively ponder and analyze the personal fit of my bicycles. Having settled upon my Boulder as the analysis “control” because it meets my personal fit criteria better than any other bike ever has, I’ve set up a controlled visual comparison of the geometry. Using a static, controlled camera position and a controlled location for each subject, I’ve photographed several of the bikes I ride on a regular basis. In a digital imaging application I’ve traced the primary lines of geometry, points of contact, and spacing from my Boulder. That drawing has been layered on top of each bike for comparison, and then each bike repositioned to align with the bottom bracket of the Boulder. At a glance, there isn’t a lot of difference in points of contact. Reach is not exact, but similar. Saddle position, the same story. Spacing is significantly different, as is trail. Once again, it’s startling how very small differences can make for a completely different cockpit and ride experience over distance, road conditions, and time in the saddle.


In this analysis, we’re looking at a 1966 Paramount. This is a particularly comfortable riding bike for me, although it feels a bit more aggressive than my Boulder. The comparison indicates a great deal of similarity between the set up of the two bikes, which explains to me, in large part, why I enjoy riding this one as much as I do. The comparison also suggests that if I were to raise the stem about the width of the stem, and to use rando bars to achieve the difference in rise I might better replicate the riding experience of the Boulder. The Brooks Pro is well known for an inability to achieve greater set back than many other saddles, my Cambium C17 saddles included. Still, I like the way they fit and am willing to make the compromise.


Here we are comparing to a 1989 Paramount. The wheelbase is shorter and the overall frame more compact, and obviously racier. Both this and my Boulder are Waterford built frames and both have a difficult-to-define ride quality that I enjoy. I find myself having to settle into a different ride position on this bike, which is unsettling at first – it takes me a while to get used to the different balance and stretch if I’ve been primarily riding the Boulder.


In considering this 70’s (?) era Bernard Carre frame and arrangement, I run into a curiosity. One might think the steeper steerer would result in a completely different ride experience than on the Boulder. And while that’s not inconsistent with my own riding experience, the curious thing is that it’s not so different as to be noticeable when I switch riding between the two bikes. In other words, I can easily jump off one and onto the other without my body rebelling. The leverage of the MAFAC levers requires a grip of steel and I will likely swap them out for something that provides greater ease of pull from the hoods – perhaps a pair of 105’s?


The International is a comfy, all-day-long kind of rider, so it’s a little unsettling to notice how much difference there is in the trail between it and my Boulder.


The Lyon continues to be a bit of an enigma for me. Despite an almost identical configuration to my Boulder in terms of spacing and contact points, I’ve yet to feel like I’ve “nailed” the set up. First off, there is a nagging “ting ting ting” that sounds like it’s coming from the brand spanking new bottom bracket. This is far from my first rodeo, and I know that weird sounds are almost never actually coming from that location. I’m exhausting all the possibilities first: saddle, seat pin, pedals, crank, crank bolts, headset, and so on. But sometimes, a duck really is a duck, and after a weekend of riding on smooth paths so I could test all the options, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have a bad bottom bracket. Spinning up to speed is a chore, so maybe it’s binding under load. My wheel set might also need to have the hubs serviced. Long story short: This bike should feel a lot racier than it does. In my mind it’s an issue with something in the set up that I haven’t yet identified. It’s frustrating, to be honest, and that frustration means I cannot yet make a fair comparison to my Boulder.

 

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Speaking of obsessing, I’ve been agonizing over the Lauterwasser bars I put on my 1946 Hobbs of Barbican last year. Agonizing over what? They look cool as hell, and they are certainly the right look for this time period. There’s a great example on the Classic Lightweights site with Lauterwasser bars.
But jeez, I just can’t get comfortable riding with them. They always feel awkward for any distance greater than a couple of miles. So I changed them out for drop bars, a little longer stem – and while I was at it, I swapped out the Weinmann center pulls for dual pivot side pulls.


Gonna have to use your imagination here. The fields of soybeans yesterday were dusty yellows and browns, with a brilliant blue sky framing far off hills of caramel, olive, and bits of sunset orange. The 1946 Hobbs is blue with red accents, and is a blast to ride fixed wheel over miles of pretty flat river bottom highway surrounded by miles of those hues.
And that is the bottom line. Despite my obsessive compulsive tendencies, at the end of the day the ride is really all that matters to me.

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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.

 

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.