Monday, December 10, 2018

Off To The Races

Sometime back in the mid-aughts I got hooked on the cyclocrossing.  I was never even remotely good at it, but in a way that's what made it so much fun--even if you're nowhere near placing you're always at least competing for something, such as (in my case) not coming in last.  Also, the races are short, which means that when you're done you can hang out an watch the people who are actually good.

Unfortunately, in order to do this I'd have to drive a lot, and by the time I had kids driving two hours each way just to ride around for 45 minutes trying not to get lapped no longer presented an attractive value proposition.  Therefore, I put the cyclocrossing on pause, only unpausing it again this fall in order to let my son give it a try.

In any case, it's entirely possible I'd never have stopped cyclocrossing at all if you were able to do it right here in New York City--which, now, you actually can, thanks to the selfless efforts of a local promoter and cyclocross evangelist.  Not only is there now a real cyclocross race right here in New York City--Rainey Park Cyclocross in Queens--but it's like six blocks from my mother's home, which is highly convenient for me since I'm often there with the kids anyway.  So this year I signed up for the singlespeed race, and yesterday was the fateful day.

Oddly, the singlespeed race was the first event on the program, starting at 9:15am.  I'd have expected it to be later since singlespeeders are lazy and disorganized and don't like to wake up early, though I didn't mind myself because even though I'm also lazy and disorganized I'm a parent and at least resigned to waking up early in order to have my own fun.  While Rainey Park is only six blocks from my mother's, it's like 15 miles from my own Bronx abode, but I'll be damned if I was going to drive to a cylcocross race in New York City.  My original plan was simply to wake up early and ride there, but on the morning of the race it was like 20 degrees, so instead I woke up early and rode to a nearby Metro North station:

It's an easy 20-ish minute train ride from Marble Hill to Grand Central in Manhattan:

And from there it's maybe four or five miles to ride over the Queensboro Bridge and to Rainey Park:

Plus, once you're on the Queens side, not only are there lovely views, but it's also a straight shot there on some of the city's most sumptuous bike infrastructure:

Which at this early hour was only minimally blocked:

Anyway, I arrived at Rainey Park like an hour and a half early and the organizers were still setting up, so I admired the view from the barriers:

As well as my recently-curated singlespeed:

As I rolled around I overheard some dog owners out for an early morning walk grumbling about all the course tape in the park.  They were convinced that whoever put it up didn't have a permit and so they were going to call 311, which is the city's complaint line.  I'm pretty sure the guy pictured here picking up a pile of feces also used the phrase "fucking losers:"

Unable to let this go, I pointed out that I was fairly certain that the organizers had a permit, and also observed that this didn't exactly look like the work of someone who was trying to fly under the radar with an unsanctioned event:

Nevertheless, the poop-scooper remained skeptical.  Also, one of the other dog people's canine left this on the course, and I had to ask him to come pick it up--which, to his credit, he did with the utmost courtesy:

In any case, after awhile the organizers finished putting up the registration tent and more and more riders showed up, and I set about shedding layers and pre-riding the course.  It became clear to me almost immediately that I was badly overgeared, and this was confirmed during the race itself.  The organizers had done a fantastic job making the most of a small park, but the upshot of this was that there were lots of twists and turns as well as a small and tricky off-camber section of which the course designer had made maximum use.  This was bad news for me and my 16-tooth cog.  Still, I had lots of fun, and while in retrospect I should have geared lower I doubt it had any effect on where I wound up in the end.  (Pretty far down, as it happens, but not last, which is more than good enough for me.)  I'm also pleased to report that my chain stayed on, but I did have to stop once and cinch down my rear skewer after my wheel went a bit askew on one of those steep pitches.

After the race I hung out and watched the racing until my family arrived at my mother's, which was not a moment too soon because it was still freezing cold and I was on the brink of hypothermia.  I'm very grateful to the promoter for putting this on, and I'll be back next year with a smaller gear and a puffier spectating coat.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Retain This

When we last checked in on Project Singlespeed:

(The singlespeed in question)

I'd expressed misgivings about chain retention.  Specifically, for reasons I won't bother to reiterate I'd curated the drivetrain with a rear cog extracted from a used cassette, and after I dropped a chain on my first full-length test ride I worried that maybe this wasn't going to cut it.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of laziness, I increased tension on the chain and hoped that would do it.  Then, the next day, I took the bicycle on a more cyclocrossy-type ride:

And in 20-ish miles I dropped my chain twice:

Forced to acknowledge the admonishments of the naysayers, but still unwilling to spend a single red cent on this damn thing, I rolled up my sleeves and dug around in my vast spare component holdings--and wouldn't you know it, there was a brand-new unopened 9-speed chain which was just wide enough to accomodate the proper singlespeed cog I had originally intented to use.  So I installed everything and headed out on more or less the same ride, and I'm pleased to announce the bike has passed the chain retention test:

I've also got to say that even though I threw this together as quickly as possible I really like how it came out.  The brown-and-tan motif is befitting of my current moniker (that's Tan Tenovo to you), and besides the unsightly (that's pretentious for ugly as fuck) spacer stack I daresay it's a pretty classy ride.  Also, it happens to ride very nicely, and I attribute that to three (3) things:

1) It's a singlespeed and singlespeeds always feel nicer because they're light and quiet (until you find yourself over- or under-geared of course);

2) I haven't been riding a Cambium lately and I forgot how freaking comfy they are;

3) The tires, which just fell into my lap, happen to be really nice (or "supple" as you're supposed to say):

(Damn your precious aesthetics, I buy long-valve tubes because nothing's more annoying than realizing your valve's too short.)

Islabikes sent me these tires along with the Luath 24 they're now never getting back, and I really like them:

They're a good old-fashioned cyclocross tire and not those overpriced hybrid tires they sell as "gravel" tires nowadays.  Of course, being spoiled by the Jones and its sumptuous plus-sized tires I forgot how annoying it is when you hit a root or a pointy rock or something (which is easy to do at this time of year when the ground is covered with leaves), but otherwise they feel great, even on pavement.

So there you go, the bike should be ready for my upcoming singlespeed cyclocrossing event, and I may even keep riding it after said event for that matter.

Ride safe this weekend,

I love you,

--Tan Tenovo

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Wait, What? Another Outside Column Already???

Yep, that's right, like oatmeal from a tap my columns arrive in clumps.  Here's the latest one:

I'm not totally crazy about the headline they used since one point I make in there is that I'm perfectly fine with bike racers adhering to pointless rules, but that's fine with me if they want to be provocative and if they really want to they can call it "Your Helmet Is Leaching Chemicals Into Your Brain And Slowly Killing You" for all I care.

And for the record, if I'm getting decked out in head-to-toe go-fast clothes I'll often top the ensemble with a helmet--because, as I say in the column, it's all about accessorizing.  Also, you've got to wear one when you're racing so you might as well get used to it.  You don't want to show up at the start line and start pawing at your head like a cat stuck in a pair of underpants.

Oh please.  Don't act like you've never put a pair of underpants on your cat's head.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

New Outside Column! And Other Stuff!

Good morning!

How's everybody doing today?

Well, that's fantastic/sorry to hear that/I don't really need that much information about your bowels/it was a rhetorical question anyway so stop talking to your computer.

Firstly, I've got a new Outside column:

However, the wrong illustration appears to be accompanying it, and it should be this one:

I suppose I could have waited for it to get fixed but I'm the same impatient person who nearly destroyed his frame trying to remove a brake arm rather than wait a few extra minutes for some penetrating oil to kick in so there you go.

Secondly, speaking of the nearly-destroyed frame, I took it and the components that are bolted to it for a nice long test ride yesterday:

It's always wise to test ride a cyclocross bike by riding it deep into the heart of the city instead of finding a dirt trail somewhere.  Also, I've got some concerns about chain retention, as I did drop it on one occasion.  See, this is how I curated the drivetrain:

1) Rummaged around in chainring and cog drawer and extracted one (1) singlespeed cassette cog;

2) Rummaged around in used chain drawer and extracted the least disgusting chain in there;

3) Upon installing chain I discovered it was too narrow to wrap around the cog;

4) Rather than attempt to piece together a new, wider chain I simply removed an appropriately-sized cog from a used 10-speed cassette and used that instead.

Of course singlespeed aficionadoes afficanados dorks know this is risky, since cogs designed to allow chains to move easily from one cog to another still retain that property in the absence of any adjacent cogs, hence any agitation of the chain is liable to mimic the action of a derailleur, thus throwing the chain off the cog and your gentitals onto your top tube.

However, I refuse to buy any new parts, and I'm disinclined to go rummaging in my archives again, so at this point odds are I'll take my chances.  Hey, my chainline is good, so perhaps with sufficient chain tension I'll be good.  (Though I'll throw the bike around some more between now and the day of the event and see what happens.)

And who really needs genitals anyway?

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Indignity of Bicycle Maintenance: Singlespeed Edition

Recently, in the spirit of contrived irreverence, I registered to participate an upcoming singlespeed cyclocrossing event.  This is not as incongruous as it sounds--I am, after all, a veteran of the 2010 SSCXWC in Portland, OR.  Plus, a photo of me attempting to sterilize myself with a one-speed bicycle even appeared in Bicycling magazine instructional:

(You can't unsee this now.)

Though that's only because I wrote it.

In any case, the above bicycle is the aesthetically challenged yet eminently versatile Ironic Orange Julius bike, which at one time or another has been an intrepid fixie commuter:

A singular-speed cyclocross bike:

And, currently, a comfortable upright commuter:

Now ordinarily I'd just remove all the extra stuff and swap handlebars in order to make this heap of shit "race"-ready.  However, these days the Ironic Orange Julius Bike lives with my mother in Queens, so that when I'm there I have something to ride (which is an increasingly unnecessary extravagance now that the Citi Bike service area has reached her neighborhood, but whatever):

And because I didn't feel like going all the way to Queens to get it, I decided that the best course of action was to take my travel bike and make that a singlespeed:

Not only does it have horizontal dropouts, but I wouldn't have to swap the cables or fit new brake cables or anything like that, so I figured stripping it down and doing a quick conversion would be a quick and straightforward operation.  In fact, I resolved to complete the project without spending a single American cent.  And so yesterday morning that's what I set out to do:

Now I knew it had been awhile since I'd ridden the bike, but I didn't realize just how long it had been.  Indeed, after riding it last winter I must have just put it away without wiping it down, because pretty much everything was salty and corroded:

Seriously, it was bad.  The chain was rusted solid, and I had to break it in four places and remove it in sections just to get it off the bike.

After awhile I realized my original plan of converting the bike and then going for a ride wasn't going to happen, as this project was going to consume like half the day.  Still, I pressed on, and I was nearly done when I squeezed the brakes and discovered that one of the cantilever arms was totally seized.  I sprayed it with some penetrating oil while I worked on something else, but to no avail; and eventually, because I'm nothing if not impatient, I attempted to break it free via the judicious application of a rubber mallet--with predictable results:

That's right, I broke the canti stud right off the bike.  (And no, it's not one of those replaceable ones that threads into the frame.)  Still, I'd come this far, and there was no way after all that work I was going to give up.  Plus, there were still some threads in there.  So I rummaged around in all my spare brake parts and spare canti studs and all the other crap I've accumulated over the years and eventually found a bolt that probably came with a set of fenders or something which I used to secure to the brake to the frame:

Does it work?  Yes.  Do I trust it?  Not a bit.  However, it only really has to last for less than an hour, and for all the fussing over discs and everything else the fact is you hardly use your brakes in cyclocross at all.  Also, the bolt threads all the way through the boss, so that's got to count for something:

And for all the forcing and bending and hammering and breaking the finished product looks pretty good:

Alas, I didn't meet my goal of spending $0, because I did spring for a new roll of electrical tape in order to repair the bar tape:

Not only did it have gouges in it from traveling, but it was also wrapped to accommodate bar-end shifters and cables--but I'll be damned if I'm going to spend the time and money on new bar tape.

(As for the mighty spacer stack, I'll remind you once again I knowingly accepted a frame that's too small because it's all that Surly had and I really wanted a bike with couplers.  Funky appearance aside it feels just fine, plus I suspect the smaller size makes it easier to pack.)

Of course I might in future invest in one of these Problem Solvers canti stud repair kits:

But they seem to be out of stock everywhere, and also I don't see how it's much stronger than what I've currently got going on in there.

In any case, certainly there's a lesson here about patience, but what I really came away from with this project was this:

I have way too much crap.

Sure, on one hand I was able to curate a singlespeed cyclocross bike without visiting a bike shop because I've got everything from wheels to tires to spare cogs to freehub spacers to chains to chainrings and chainring bolts in every conceivable configuration, but on the other hand digging through everything I have to find that stuff was time-consuming and, frankly disturbing.  Over and over again I'd find new, unopened items I not only didn't realize I had, but have since bought again because I didn't know I had them.  I've easily got enough parts laying around to build four bikes--and that includes the frames.  I even found a fork I'd been looking for, and you know you've got too much crap when you can't find a bicycle fork.

So I may have to spend this holiday season going through it all and getting rid of it.  I mean yes, it's good to know you can always build up a spare bike, but as the father of seventeen (17) human children and an increasingly irrelevant yet still active bike blogger I simply don't have that kind of time.  Maybe instead of a Fondon't I'll have to throw a great big sidewalk sale.

And there you have it.  I'll let you know how the bike does.  And in the meantime, if you see me out there, probably best not to ride behind me.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

On The Road Again

Farewell to cyclist, commentator--and, above all, ch√Ęteau expert--Paul Sherwen:

The death of the respected cycling broadcaster and former professional rider Paul Sherwen has been confirmed at the age of 62.

I'm not that old, but I'm no millennial either (who, I guess, are also old now; I think we're onto Generation Z at this point), and so I remember what it was to have to forage for non-mainstream video entertainment instead of simply punching up even the most obscure content on the personal computer or hand-held cellular phone.  BMX and skateboarding videos were expensive, so like a castaway trying to suck nutrients out of shoe leather I'd suffer through some dumb movie like "BMX Bandits" or "Gleaming the Cube" for a few seconds of seeing what tricks looked like when executed by pros. Bleary-eyed, I'd stay up late into the night, waiting for episodes of Monty Python or the Young Ones so I could capture and preserve them on VHS tape.  (Sure, theoretically you could set the timer, but anybody older than 40 knows that there is no more difficult technological feat than programming a VCR.)  Then there was the Headbanger's Ball--I'd watch innumerable awful hair metal bands with the volume off in the hopes that I might snag that one Bad Brains or Agnostic Front video they'd air towards the end, the tape cued and my finger hovering over the pause button on the remote.  I mean sure, I could listen to the Bad Brains or Agnostic Front whenever I wanted, but there was just something so thrillingly subversive about it traveling through coaxial cable and appearing on millions of televisions that I just had to be a part of it.

When I was older and started to get interested in professional cycling I found that attempting to follow it was a very similar experience to being a teenager into Britcoms and hardcore.  Maybe I'd get to some bike racing here or there in the form of Olympic coverage or Tour de France highlights, but to really see what it looked like for more than 10 minutes I'd have to wait for the World Cycling Productions tape that came free with my Cycle Sport magazine subscription--until OLN started broadcasting entire races as the Armstrong era reached its peak and you could actually watch this stuff on cable (in between bass fishing and dog shows or whatever the hell they used to show on OLN, I don't even remember.)

Of course Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen were the voices of the sport for people like me, and so he'll always represent the thrilling sense of "This is it!" that used to come with watching a pro bike race, and when he'd commentate on the Olympics or something it was sort of like when a band I actually liked would pop up on Headbanger's Ball--"Hey, that's our guy on regular TV!"

Anyway, lots and lots of people go way further back with Paul Sherwen and the sport of cycling than I do, but that's what he represented to me, I'm grateful for what he did, and I'm sorry he's gone.

Moving onto more mundane matters, for the first time in many weeks I went for a ride on a road bicycle with skinny tires this past Sunday--and that skinny-tired bike was the Renovo:

Please note this picture was not taken during that ride, as you can probably tell by the verdure.  It was cold, the trees were mostly bare, and twigs and leaves littered the roads since it's been raining here incessantly.  However, I failed to photograph the bicycle during this most recent outing, and so my photo editor inserted the above image as a placeholder.

As for the creaking which has plagued the Renovo of late, I'm simultaneously pleased and baffled to report that it was more or less completely absent for the duration of the ride.  Could it be that wooden frames are somehow self-healing?  Is the bike actually alive, perhaps germinating from some soil secreted in that beefy (well, okay, woody) bottom bracket?  Or could it be that the barometric pressure and temperature somehow conspired to silence the frame?  Or, maybe it was just that I was too distracted by the sound of the rear wheel rubbing on the grit that had accumulated in the tight clearance of that seat tube cutout.  (This is something that happens when you ride the Renovo after lots of rain.)

Whatever the reason, I savored the ride, and it did feel quite good to be on a smooth, fancy-pants bike with fast tires and electronical shifting.  Mostly I've been riding my Milwaukee, and while I'm no longer using mismatched tires the front derailleur needs to be replaced, and the tires I am using, while kind of fun on dirt, are basically just overpriced hybrid tires:

My current thinking is that road/gravel/whatever tires like this are kind of silly, at least for my purposes.  A pair of Paselas work just as well with the added benefit of actually feeling good on the road.  (These feel like Citi Bike tires on pavement.)  And if I'm exceeding the capability of a pair of Paselas I'd rather be on the Jones anyway.

So why don't I just change them?  Because I'm lazy and/or busy, depending on how charitable you want to be, and it's easier to just grab my exotic wooden bicycle when an all-pavement ride is in the offing.

Of course it being autumn and all what I'd really prefer to be doing is riding offroad as much as possible.  However, that freak snowstorm we had a couple weeks back made all the leaves fall off the tress at the same time, and since then it's been raining a lot, which means the trails are either muddy or covered in like three feet of leaves or both.  The upshot of this is that I've gotten very little trail riding in lately.  I did, however, manage to get a quick ride in on Thanksgiving morning.  See, I had to go to Whole Foods to pick up the turkey, and the Whole Foods happens to be right next to the mountain bike trails.  Furthermore, temperatures were somewhere around 20 American Freedom Degrees that morning, so I knew the ground would be firm.  Therefore, I had two (2) choices:

1) Throw the bike onto the car, drive up to Whole Foods, squeeze in a quick ride, and then grab the turkey;
2) Ride to Whole Foods, hit the trails, and attempt to carry an entire cooked turkey home in my backpack.

After much deliberation, I chose the former, and put the Saris Super Clamp EX into service:

I rode for maybe an hour, picked up the turkey and various other comestibles, and spent the rest of the day eating, drinking, and patting myself on the back.

And isn't that what Thanksgiving's all about?

Besides that, I also knocked around on the Jones last Monday, which was perhaps a bit ill-advised since I was suffering from a skateboard injury, which is a story for another time:

Don't worry, nothing's broken except my dignity.

In any case I'm looking forward to some dry weather because I continue to absolutely love the Jones Plus SWB Complete and at this time of year the smart move is to ride offroad as much as possible until the next big snowfall comes and it's no longer an option.  I'm pleased to report all the stock components on the bike are holding up beautifully, including the tires.  In fact, here's a holiday gift guide, and it consists entirely of one (1) item:

Gift it to yourself, you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Retrogrouchy Like A Fox

I'm sort of obsessed right now with this tweet from Matt Phillips, who if I recall correctly is the testing director for Bicycling magazine:
On one hand it comes off as a humblebrag: trails are too easy for me these days thanks to those darn millennials and their PC agenda.  On the other, it seems to be suggesting that because today's expensive, high-end bikes make riding difficult trails easy, we should make the trails more technical to maintain a baseline of perceived difficulty, thus requiring cyclists to remain on the bleeding edge of tech in order to enjoy themselves.  This is like saying we should starve public transit while letting our infrastructure go to shit and instead set policy that encourages people to drive around in oversized all-terrain vehicles.

Oh wait, that's what we're doing.

Granted, the "problem" Matt Phillips is describing is not really a problem around these parts.  Here, it's rooty and rocky, and unless you rip all the trees and boulders out and bulldoze everything flat that's not going to change.  If anything I encounter more and more built features designed to indulge people who ride around on bikes with lots of suspension and ride over the same obstacle fifty times in a row while blasting shitty music from their Bluetooth speakers and making videos of themselves with their iPhones.

Nevertheless, I'll certainly take his word that it's happening where he is, in which case my question is...why is this such a bad thing?  What, ultimately, is the point of riding these overwrought cutting-edge mountain bikes if they're just making things, as he says, "easier, safer, more fun"?  Are the bikes and trails just supposed to keep getting proportionately burlier until we're riding all-terrain recumbents that look like Mars rovers?  It seems to me that these darn avocado-munching millennials are realizing the "ever-increasing firepower" approach to bikes is kind of silly, hence the gravel bike phenomenon--which is what I was getting at awhile back in this Outside column:

At the same time, the bicycle industry seems to react in a roundabout way when it comes to riding off-road. Common wisdom holds that the gravel bike was a response to the limitations of the road bike, but wasn’t it just as much of a response to the limitations of all those over-suspended mountain bikes ill-suited to the long haul? Basically with gravel bikes and “road plus” and all the rest of it, we’ve just reinvented the rigid mountain bike and added drop bars—which is pretty much exactly what John Tomac was riding almost 30 years ago.

In light of this, doesn't it make sense to enjoy these rolling, smooth trails on simpler bicycles?  Isn't the appearance of having "zero features or personality" a function of riding a bike that's designed to isolate the rider from any trail features or personality that might be present?  Isn't it kind of silly we're now at the point where even your saddle has to telescope, and if you don't get to use that feature on a ride then it's because the trail is somehow featureless and devoid of personality?

Well, the answers are obviously yes, yes, and yes.

In any case, there's really only one conclusion to all of this, which is that I spend WAY too much time thinking about this stuff.  But who can blame me?  Reality is just too depressing.