Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bags, Racks and Supports

Any time I buy a new bike for myself or anyone else, one of the first things I pick up to go with it is a little seat bag. A little wedge bag to go under the saddle, that is. Hooks over the seat rails and around the seat post for support, and perfect for carrying keys, a few bucks, a mini tool, a patch kit, maybe a spare tube, and some ID (you can't predict when you're going to get hit, but you can try to avoid being a J. Doe). You know the type, and probably have one -- or maybe a few.

These little saddle bags (even the largest I have, which is also the oldest, at nearly 20 years) have never needed any sort of support from below. But they don't hold a lot, either, and while they're fine for the kind of riding I typically do, they fall short for a day-long or multi-day excursion. Even for quick rides to the racquet club for a dip in the pool, they're too small to add any value.

For longer rides and other situations in which you need to carry stuff around, you need bigger bags. Backpacks are fine, and I've used them often enough. But since their weight is on your back, you have to carry them as well as move them.

Handlebar bags are another option, and I've got a handful of these, of different types and sizes. Some have built-in supports or plastic mounts that quick-release from the bike, and others are free-hanging. I've got both types and they each have advantages and disadvantages. Large saddle bags, trunk bags and panniers are also a good option, if you need still more space. You can even go as far as hanging shopping panniers off the side. I've got a pair of those and have put them to good use when vacationing with a bike.

With handlebar bags, you only really need to support them from underneath if they're big and you're loading them up. But for pretty much anything hanging off the back larger than a seat wedge, you need a rack or some other sort of bag support.

I've had a rack on at least one of my bikes since the mid-'90's, when I rebuilt my Paramount as a commuter bike. I had a cheap black aluminum rack on that bike (which has rack mounts both on the dropouts and brazed onto the seatstays), and hung a pair of Blackburn panniers on it to hold my laptop, clothes and toiletries. That rack also offered plenty of top capacity for a tent, sleeping bags and ground pads when the bags were in place. Good stuff, and I think I paid all of $30 for it from the Performance website back in the day. Eventually I bought a front rack for the Paramount as well, though I don't think I actually ever lashed anything to it. That was a Nashbar cantilever brake-mounted rack -- a cheap version of a Nitto M12. Neither rack is on the bike right now, but I may put them back on at some point. Or more likely, I'll put a Nitto M12 on it, along with a matching Top Rack or Big Rack from Rivendell. If only because they'll look a lot better.

But recently, most of the playing around with racks I've been doing has been on road bikes. With a pair of racks and a couple of bags on a road bike, you can really get out and explore. And if you load enough stuff on those racks, multi-month excursions are in reach.

Today, I took Juli's Fuji out of the barn and installed the Pletscher rack I picked up from Rivendell a few weeks ago. I described in my last post what I suspected would be involved in the install. The Pletscher is a rack every kid should have -- it's cheap, it's strong, it's got a big mousetrap arm on top to hold stuff down, and it looks good enough that it's not embarrassing.

The Fuji has 24" wheels on it, and the Pletscher (which was designed for bikes with 26"-27" wheels) was significantly oversized, as I expected it would be. With the rack positioned properly on the seatstays, the rear struts were probably 2" too long to let the rack sit level. But the length of the rack seemed OK -- at least it didn't look all out of proportion to my eyes -- so I sat down to modify the Pletscher to fit the Fuji.

First, I marked each strut with a piece of electrical tape to note the length it should be for the Fuji's dropouts. Next, I cut each strut at the tape marker with a hacksaw. The struts are aluminum and easy to cut, which is good because I couldn't actually find my hacksaw, and I ended up just holding a hacksaw blade in my bare hand and cutting the struts with it. I managed not to hurt myself, so there's no need to go donate blood on my account. But you should do that anyway -- this post will still be here when you get back.

After the struts had been shortened, I took the rack out into the barn and grabbed the 2-pound sledge hammer I found on the sidewalk in front of my house while mowing one day. With it, I lightly flattened the ends of the struts, using an iron jack as an anvil. I had to be careful to flatten the right sides of the struts, since the flats would be drilled perpendicularly, and a bolt to secure the rack to the dropouts passed through. Then it was back into the house to the bench grinder and a flat file, to round out the flattened ends. Then on to the drill press to make the aforementioned holes.

I managed to get all of that right by eyeball, and took the rack upstairs to the waiting Fuji. The rack mounted right up using the provided hardware, and sits nice and flat on the back of the bike. While I was at it, Juli asked me to install her Brooks B17 S, which I did. Then I played around a bit with the steering, with particular attention to how the cables were wrapping around the steering head as I turned the bars. The culprit in making the steering bind up turned out not to be the shifter cables, but rather the rear brake cable. So I disconnected it from the rear brake, rerouted it on the other side of the handlebar stem in all of two minutes, and now all is well with the bike's steering. The last thing I did was install the taillight I used to have on the Paramount on the Pletscher, so she'd have the opportunity to increase her visibility. The photo was taken after I installed the rack and saddle, but before I fixed the brake cable and installed the light.

Juli hopped on and pedaled backwards while I held the bike up, and she's definitely going to fit the bike just fine in the Spring. The reach to the bars is still a little long, but her leg extension is looking good, and it shouldn't feel large for long. It should serve her for 3 seasons or so before she'll need something bigger.

Juli's Pletscher will be perfect for carrying her gear to soccer practice this spring, at least once it warms up enough to ride over comfortably. The mousetrap top clamp will make quick work of her duffel bag, and her cleats are a perfect complement to her MKS track pedals. Or were -- she's going to need new cleats this season, and I'll have to bring a pedal with me to Sports Authority test with candidate replacements. In combination with the bag loops on her Brooks, it's also ready to support a fair-sized saddle bag, or a little soft cooler. Which it may, soon enough. I'm starting to look into details of a bike camping weekend with the girls, and am looking forward to that.

My Schwinn Sports Tourer currently wears two racks. I have a cute little square rack up front that bolts to the Mafac centerpull brake, and it supports the handlebar bag I have on the bike quite nicely. This is the second front bag I've had on the bike. The first used a simple wire frame that hooked over the handlebars at the stem, and supported the bag from the sides. It was blue, and it matched the handlebar tape nicely, but it wasn't very sturdy or secure. I tried to use that bag with a decaleur, and it worked OK, but still needed the wire support, which sort of defeated the purpose. I also tore the fabric when I tried to drill the bag with my drill press to accept the decaleur bolts. No, I don't know what I was thinking using a drill press on a bag, but in the process, the fabric got snatched around the bit, and twisted into a torn, frayed mess at one corner.

My current bag came with a plastic mount, but I don't have space on the bars for it. So I tied the side loops (for a shoulder strap) to the brake lever bodies with some jute twine, and used a velcro strap to hold the bottom of the bag down on the little Mafac rack. That setup works fine, and it alone makes the bike far more versatile than trying to get by with a seat wedge.

Out back I have a pretty little stainless steel randonneuring rack from Velo-Orange, which I've mentioned before. The rack has crossmembers on the platform that are spaced 6" apart, and unfortunately they interfere with the rigid plastic hooks on my panniers, as I've also mentioned before. I'm still looking for a solution to that. I could carve out part of the hooks with a Dremel, but instead I'm going to buy a second set of panniers. The trick is finding a pair I know will fit before I shell out the money. I can sell my Blackburn panniers on eBay, or more likely keep them for the girls to use on a camping trip.

I've already described the setup that I put on my wife's Bianchi last year, as well as the quandry I faced as to where to mount it. A bit more detail -- when I hung it off the seat loops, I sliced holes in the waxed canvas under the leather strap hangers, fed the straps through from the inside to hide the buckles inside the bag, and ran the straps around a half-inch dowel cut to length to support the top of the bag. Then I had to add a Viva bag support to keep the bag off the rear tire and away from the brakes (it's a small frame).

The Viva looks a little funny, and its seatpost clamp is a little clumsy-looking. But it works as advertised and has a nice chrome finish. It's way larger than the little Velo-Orange Baguette tube needed, but with the little rectangular strap rings welded onto its frame, that just gives my wife some extra space behind the saddlebag to lash on sandals, a towel, a jacket or what-have-you. And if she ever gets the urge, she can spring for a larger saddlebag and the Viva will support it nicely.

I've also mentioned that I'm helping a friend of mine rebuild an old Bertoni racing bike. It's a neat bike, and once the rebuild is done (we're halfway there), I'll post a description of the work we did. As a gift, I picked up a Rivendell Hupe bag support for it. The frame has absolutely no provisions for a rack (no eyelets anywhere), and the Hupe is something I'd wanted to play with, so it seemed an opportune time. We threaded it onto the bike's seatstays the other day, and it fit (barely -- this is also a small frame), but it's otherwise untested. The saddle on the Bertoni is an old Avocet Touring model that really needs to be replaced. But it does have bag loops, and in combination with the Hupe, I'm sure the bike will carry a saddlebag nicely if called for.

So those are my recent rack adventures. There's a certain type of riding for which bags are not necessary, stylish or cool. But outside of competitive or club riding, having some carrying capacity makes taking a bike a reasonable and fun alternative to taking the car. And there's something about loading up a bike and setting off for work or an overnight camping trip that makes it so much more of an adventure than just throwing stuff into the car. Looking back on the ride to Tulley Lake last fall, I wonder why I stayed away from little cycling excursions like that so long. I won't make that mistake this year, and I can't wait to share it with my girls.

All for now,


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ready for Spring

New England has been a cold and snowy place the past few weeks. We got a big storm before Christmas, followed by a couple of ice storms, and we've since been whacked several times with 4-6 inches of snow per storm. This was all punctuated with multiple intervals of single-digit temperatures that have kept everything more or less solid, and even burst one of my two outside spigots (which I forgot to turn off and drain after a mid-fall power-washing escapade). The driveway is a sheet of ice, save for the spot where the minivan is normally parked. It's a good time to have a Gravely with a snowblower attachment, and mine is getting a workout. But not such a good time for riding.

That said, it is a good time to work on bikes. I've had some maintenance tasks mapped out for some time, and in the past few weeks have added a few fun things to the list.

The Paramount is mostly all set. I installed the replacement fork a few weeks ago, so all I really need to do is put some off-road tires on it, and it's ready again for the woods. And even there, I suspect I could manage a fair percentage of the local singletrack with the tires it's currently wearing. I also want to put the stainless King cages on it, as I mentioned in my last post, and move the Specialized cages onto the Schwinn. Finally, if the old Brooks remains unbearable, I'll put the red Selle San Marco from the Fuji on the Paramount, and mount Juli's honey B-17S on her Fuji (an option she has approved). Ava is still pretty small, and shouldn't need a wider saddle on the trailer bike this season, so I won't sweat saddle choices for her right now.

I have a set of stem-mounted shifters I want to put on the trailer bike, so that I can reclaim my Shimano barcons and unload those on eBay (I'd like to reclaim a few hundred dollars from my parts box, from these and other components). The stem shifters are neat -- they're Dia-Compe retrofriction Power shifters that I bought for an eventual city bike. But it's not practical to start another build right now, so Ava can have them instead. That's all I've planned for the trailer bike, unless Ava complains about the saddle.

The Kestrel needs nothing at the moment, and won't get anything. Ditto my wife's Bianchi 650B conversion, ditto her Gary Fisher mountain bike, and ditto the Trek 950 MTB currently in my father's den.

The Schwinn needs new tires. Its Continentals don't have many miles on them, but are old and are starting to shed casing threads. A set of Panaracer Paselas with wire beads will do the job cheaply. And I'm toying with getting a set of the Silver bar-end shifters from Rivendell and moving the Suntour barcons back to the Fuji. That will reclaim a second set of 8-speed Shimano bar-end shifters that I can offload. Strictly in the fiddling department, I need to mess around with the fenders on that bike a bit, because they don't sit quite right. And I need to likewise fiddle with the rack's front strut and also figure out how to mount my panniers to that rack (or possibly replace the rack).

Juli's Fuji needs a headset repack, in addition to the possibility of swapping saddles. I also need to reposition the downtube clamp for the shifters to free up the steering a bit (which is tight because of the way I routed the shifter cables all the way along the bars). My hope is I won't have to replace the shifter cable housings and bar tape in the process, mostly because it's a pain. And I want to put a rack on it, which I'll get back to in a few minutes. Other than that, it's ready to roll.

Ava's puppydog Specialized Hotrock is going to be treated to new bearings and grease in the bottom bracket and hubs. This is mostly so we will have a project to do together, but I'm guessing I'll find the bearings dry anyway. And the training wheels will come off too, in preparation for her indoctrination into true two-wheeled riding. By the way -- if you have young kids, and have done the stooping over thing one day too many, trying to teach them to ride, there is a better way. I won't give the secret away, out of respect to the author, but I can attest to the effectiveness of this e-book. I took one simple thing away from the it, and that one thing made all the difference with Juliana.

Back to bike projects; lastly, I've been helping a friend revive an older Bertoni. Most of the parts she needs have been accumulated, and it's about a day's worth of work to get them all installed. We need to find a Saturday or Sunday in the next few months to do that, so she can get out there this spring, herself.

All good stuff to do on cold winter weekends, as long as you have a warm place to work. And though there's a lot to do, here, each of "my" bikes requires at most a couple of hours of work, and only a few dollars worth of parts, if any. Besides, the work is easy when you have something to look forward to.

And I do: Apart from just looking forward to spring riding, I'm going to take my girls on a combined biking/camping weekend this year! That probably means the three of us will take my wife's Odyssey to a campground, taking the bikes with us, and set out on a couple of lightly packed day trips from there. It will be the first trip of this kind for them. I've done a few like this, and will probably do a few more on my own or with friends this summer, but my goal is to do at least one with the girls, possibly two.

The purchase of a rack for the Fuji is all about getting ready for this first trip. I'd also like to get Juli a saddlebag or trunk bag so that she can take part in schlepping stuff around on a bike. Not too much -- she's still young after all -- but enough to give her a sense of pride in contributing. Maybe she can carry our lunch each day, for example (and I have a cooler bag that I'd just need to figure out how to secure, to that end).

I picked up a classic Pletscher rack for the Fuji, though it may prove to be too large. It's the old cast aluminum rack with the big spring-loaded clip on it that you've probably seen a hundred times. I didn't have one on my Raleigh, but one of my friends had one on his Varsity. I'm assuming the strut rods will be too long for a bike with 24" wheels, but I think I can fix that. I'm more worried that the rack itself will be ridiculously large for the bike's little frame. If it is, I'll have to figure something else out, and keep the Pletscher for a future project. But assuming it fits reasonably well, my plan is to shorten the struts (the rods that prop the back of the rack up, bolted to the eyelets on the dropouts), heat and flatten the ends, and then drill them. If I screw that up, I'll buy a set of Nitto struts and strut bolts, drill out the rivets that hold the the Pletscher struts, and use the Nitto struts instead. Or something. Once I figure it out, I'll post a picture. I may have had enough rack adventures by then to justify a broader rack post, as well.

This little trip will also require a new tent. I've had a basic orange and blue pup tent since I was a kid, and have suffered much ridicule from friends for it as an adult. I was probably 11 when I got it. It's a terrible tent by many standards, honestly -- poorly ventilated, lots of condensation, no rain fly, and a lightweight bottom panel. But it's pretty light, compact enough for cycling and backpacking, goes up and down quickly, and though it's seen only modest use, even so it has served me pretty well for maybe 30 years (and how many things can you say that about?). Unfortunately, it won't hold three people, and it's time to get something bigger and better.

I also need to get another sleeping pad. I have a couple of lightweight, 3/4-length, self-inflating Therm-a-Rests the girls can use (and they'll work better for their light little bodies than my big, heavy one), and I want to pick something more substantial up for myself. I don't much like waking up all stiff and achy from lying on the ground all night, to tell the truth. But most everything else I need for a camping weekend, I have.

One of the great things about having kids is being able to share in first experiences with them. They had their first experience with really looking at snowflakes this winter, for example. They were scrapping with each other in the car, and the antagonism stopped immediately when I pointed out they could actually see the 6-pronged shapes of the snowflakes on the car windows. Hopefully this will be another one of those memorable firsts. Could go either way, I suppose, but I'm sure I'll treasure the memory of the experience either way.

All for now,


Friday, January 16, 2009

Water Bottle Cage Mounts

As much as I love bikes, not everything about them is cool or interesting.

Tubes, for example. They hold air, they come in different sizes, are made from maybe a couple of materials, and they have two valve stem types. Other than that, any tube is pretty much like any other. Tube manufacturers would no doubt disagree, and they're welcome to try to change my mind, but it's pretty well made up on this score.

Water bottle cages are more varied than that, and some of them are elegant and beautifully made, and thus more interesting. But even in their variety, they still all pretty much do the same thing -- hold a bottle. Somewhere between the elegance and diversity of bottle cages, and the raw utility of a tube are water bottle cage mounts.

Most decent bikes have two pair of brazed-on bottle cage mounts (or equivalents, for bikes not made of steel). That's true, at least with modern bikes. But even with decent older bikes, a pair of integral mounts isn't guaranteed. And in the case of Juliana's Fuji, Ava's Trek trailer bike and my Schwinn Sports Tourer, bottle cage mounts are notably absent. My Raleigh didn't have them either, and at the time I recall buying a series of "bottle kits in a bag" -- water bottle, plastic and wire bottle cage and two mild steel band clamps that more or less secured it to the down tube. Not great or aesthetically pleasing solutions, and if you weren't buying stuff like this 25 years ago, just be happy that the norm (much less the state of the art) has progressed substantially since then.

When I first got the trailer bike for Juliana, the lack of bottle braze-ons didn't bother me, but as she and I started riding farther, I realized it was going to become a problem. She was just out of reach of a safe bottle hand-off from the saddle, so we had to stop if she got thirsty. And then at some point we started outranging our water supply (though, in truth, I never reinstalled the largest bottle carrier I have -- a Zefal that allows for carrying 1.5-liter spring water bottles). Even if I had, though, the best solution was for the trailer bike to carry its own rider's water supply.

The frame of the trailer bike is unconventional so my options for mounting a cage were limited. There's no space inside the main triangle to fit a cage, the tubes are fat and ovalized, and a bottle mounted above the top tube would likely have just been in the way. As alternatives to frame mounting, I thought first about a behind-the-seat mount -- maybe even with a pair of bottles back there. Then realized I'd have to be out of my mind to do that. The girls aren't dumb, and they'd probably refuse to let go of the bars and lean behind them to fetch a bottle in the first place, and even if they tried, in the process they'd quite possibly tumble off the bike or destabilize us enough to put us in the ditch. Either would be bad.

So then I thought about those funky out-front aero-bar bottles with the drinking tubes poking out. The girls could lean forward and suck the water out while they rode. Unfortunately, this looked like an expensive path, and would have blocked the locking knob on the trailer bike's folding hinge, as well.

Then while at a local bike shop one day, I found a rack holding a bunch of Minoura handlebar-mounted bottle cage mounts, and I picked one up. And with that, I began a cycle of purchasing, trying and either keeping or retiring bottle cage mounts of all stripes -- learning enough along the way that I thought it worth sharing my experiences.

The aforementioned Minoura is either a BH-60 or another model of the same basic design, and it slipped easily onto the left side of the original BMX-style bars that were on the trailer bike at the time. This mount worked great -- it was stable and strong, and it did its job well for a year or so. Because of the shape of those bars, it angled the bottle inward a bit, but that wasn't a big deal, and Juli was just happy to have her own bottle. Then I got the inkling to reconfigure the Trek with road bars and better components, and I had to come up with another solution -- the Minoura is about three inches wide, and would have eaten a hand position if placed on one side or the other of a road bar. And on the trailer bike, it couldn't be positioned to straddle the stem, or it would have been in the way of the tow bar locking bolt. So I took it off, and it's now installed on Juli's Fuji. It's straddling the stem on that bike, which seems like its intended position in the first place. In any case, it's a great mount if you have space for it.

Anyway, back to the trailer bike. At Velo-Orange, I found this mount. I'd also seen it on the Nordic Group water bottle cage mount site (a good site and a great resource, and kudos to its authors -- but if you're buying bottle cage mounts, be ready for some trial and error, and be ready to draw your own conclusions about some of these gadgets). I picked one up from V-O for the trailer bike's new configuration. As the V-O site warns, it barely fits over the clamp area on a set of sleeved handlebars, but I made it work in that spot because I wanted to keep it close to the stem and out of the way. It works fine, there, and only interferes with the locking bolt a little -- not much to be done about that, though. And though this aluminum mount looks better than the stamped steel Minoura, I prefer the Minoura in cases where there's room for it.

So that covers the girls' bikes. For the Schwinn, I needed a totally different solution. A handlebar mount wasn't going to work, since I planned to put a bunch of other stuff up in the vicinity of the stem -- a bell, a computer and a handlebar bag and decaleur. The idea of clamping something around the frame tubes wasn't exciting (recalling my experiences with the Raleigh) but short of getting some mounts brazed on and the frame repainted ($$$), it seemed the best remaining choice.

I first found these little stainless steel straps from Velo-Orange. They are attractive and simple, and hold bottle cages securely. But finding cages that they fit well was a challenge. Specialized road cages were close, but the clamping flanges were just a smidge too wide for the clamps' indents (it didn't occur to me until later to just file them down). I used them for a while, and just ignored the mis-fit, as it didn't appear to make the cages wobbly at all. But when I picked up a set of King stainless cages last summer, I couldn't use these clamps anymore. The King cages don't have the traditional flanges designed for the old-style clamp-on mounting, a mounting provision that seems to be fading from many cage designs.

The Nordic Group site speaks highly of some Elite mounts. These are essentially screw-tightened nylon straps that hold a nut that substitutes for a brazed-on fitting. Think of their tightening mechanism as a sort of cross between zip-tie cable ties and metal hose clamps. I liked the look of them because they're low-profile, unlike some of the other models out there, and seemed unlikely to scratch the Schwinn's paint (something that had worried me about mounts with metal straps). I bought three -- two for my Schwinn and one for the Fuji's. Unfortunately, they didn't work well for me. The notches on the vinyl straps proved too soft, and they let go if I made them tight enough that the cages didn't wiggle. And if I didn't make them tight enough, the cages wiggled, then the rubber grips worked their way out from between the straps and the frame tubes, and the mounts, cage and bottle all ended up sliding down towards the bottom bracket. So I took them off the Schwinn and tossed them in the trash, though I left the one I'd put on the Fuji's down tube for now.

As you can probably imagine, by now I was pretty much done fooling with water bottle cages and mounts. It was time for something that was going to work -- never mind the aesthetics. I looked again at reviews out on the Web and found that the Minoura BH-95 was rated pretty highly. They're not pretty or low in profile, but the primary criteria were solidity and functionality, not looks. I ordered two, and once I figured out the installation, I found them to be very secure. And they have stayed where they belong for a half season or so -- so far, so good.

The King bottle cages I picked up for the Schwinn have proven too stiff for road use, though. I'd never really thought about it before buying these cages, but on a road bike, I usually reach for a water bottle from the saddle, in motion. Off-road, on the other hand, I mostly drink from a standstill, with one or both feet planted on the ground. Loose cages work well on the road, but I discovered that with stiff cages, you have to wrestle too much to get the bottles out. Strong cages are less prone to damage and keep bottles from getting lost on the trails, so I get the value proposition -- they're just on the wrong bike. The plan is to swap the cages with those on the Paramount this winter, though I haven't gotten to it yet.

And with that, I hope to not have to worry about water bottle cages and mounts for a while -- at least until the Elite mount on the Fuji lets go.

All for now,


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Grant Petersen Supporting Somaly Mam Foundation

I first became acquainted with Grant Petersen while he was at Bridgestone. Don't take that to mean that I've met him -- he's on the wrong coast (or maybe I am) for that to be the case. But while I was working on my MBA at Babson College in the early 1990's, I was one of four guys on a project team that compared Cannondale and Bridgestone. I think doing so was even my idea.

In the course of the project, we looked at product lines, talked with dealers, and two of my team members even interviewed Grant (I wasn't on that call). Our conclusions mostly favored Cannondale, as I recall (they were going gangbusters at the time, and had just released the Super-V and Killer-V mountain bike frames, which looked like little else out there). But what I mostly took away from that project was a sense of Mr. Petersen's passion and commitment to his vision of what a bicycle ought to be. In hindsight, the fact that he granted us the interview was itself pretty cool -- Cannondale sent us some marketing stuff, but nobody would give us any time.

At the time, I'd just bought my Kestrel and started mountain biking. The Cannondale line was full of bikes with exotic frame designs made of gigantic, thin-walled aluminum tubing. By contrast, it was hard for my 25 year-old eyes to find much to get excited about in the Bridgestone line-up. Of course, today a 15 year-old Cannondale is recognizable as a faddish 15 year-old design (and in most cases a harsh-riding one, at that), where contemporary Bridgestones are revered for what they always were -- timeless, high quality bicycles.

Since then, Grant has gone on to found Rivendell Bicycle Works, which makes some absolutely beautiful bikes and accessories, as well as promoting stuff that's occasionally only tangentially related to cycling. Chances are if you're reading this, you know as much about Rivendell as I do. Probably more. The picture at left was cribbed from the Rivendell site, and they own it and its copyright and all that (hope I'm not offending anyone -- say the word and I'll take it down). Let me ask, though; is there any way to look at the lug- and paint-work on this bike (an A. Homer Hilsen) and not just immediately want one?

In any case, Grant's passion and convictions appear no less diminished for the years that have passed since we interviewed him. His website practically gushes with that passion, and I find it contagious, even if I don't always agree with the direction in which he's gushing. It's that passion that led me to bookmark the Rivbike site, brings me back for a look at least once a week, and made me subscribe to the RSS feed.

Grant's latest contagious enthusiasm is for the Somaly Mam Foundation, and it's hard not to agree. And as if simply supporting and promoting the cause weren't enough, Rivendell is also matching contributions with a 1:1 credit for Rivendell merchandise (up to $100) for the month of January. A fabulous idea and one I'm going to take advantage of.

Talking with a friend about this today, one thought came up: Rather than a full dollar-for-dollar match, maybe Rivendell could match something less than 100% and instead throw in a tee shirt with a Rivendell logo on the front and a promo of the Somaly Mam Foundation on the back. Maybe get a supplier to share the load and kick in the shirts and/or the silkscreening. Just a thought, but I'd wear it riding, and often, and that might get even more leverage out of the matching investment.

At any rate, I just wanted to call out this extremely generous offer for the handful of folks who come by here on a regular basis to see what I've got to say. Go check out the Somaly Mam link, then go check out what Grant and Rivendell have to offer. If you can't afford to buy one of everything up there, I bet you'll at least want to. And in the mean time, the content is well worth the read.

All for now,

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Fuji Kids' Road Bike

Juliana's Fuji came to us from an eBay seller. I'd started looking there last Winter for a bike project to do with and for Juliana. I'd seen some Specialized Allez Junior and Trek Junior racing bikes, but was honestly put off a bit by their aluminum frames. I've never owned an aluminum bike, because the aluminum road bikes I've ridden have had an exceptionally harsh quality to them -- far rougher than the Shogun's frame, which is the harshest of the bikes I've owned as an adult. I'm sure there are aluminum frames out there that would prove me wrong, but I've yet to ride one and didn't wish to inflict a harsh bicycle on Juli.

So when I saw the cute little Fuji with its lugged steel frame, I was drawn to it. Had to have it. And won the auction.

The frame is maybe best described as a light touring frame -- it's definitely not a racing bike. It's got two pairs of eyelets on the rear dropouts and one pair on the fork, so it'll handle both fenders and a rack with ease. Assuming someone makes racks and fenders for bikes with 24x1 rims, that is. The fork sweeps forward noticeably, the rear triangle is nice and long, and the angles of the head and seat tube are on the relaxed side, all of which should add up to stable handling. Which you want both for kids and for touring. It's got plenty of clearance for those hypothetical fenders and big tires, and it's heavy enough that in the absence of identifying decals, I'm guessing the tubing is made of relatively thick and mild steel, not chromoly.

Another draw for me was that in the hands of its previous owners, it had already undergone much the same type of process it would undergo with Juli and me. It had a mix of components that included a number of clear upgrades, and it was obvious there was an effort by an enthusiast to make the bike work well for a kid. Even so, the bike had seen some hard use, and there was a lot to do to turn the Fuji into the bike you see at the top of the page.

I started that work by taking it apart and assessing each component as to whether it would be reused, repurposed or replaced.

The drivetrain was a mix of stuff that ultimately fell into all three categories. The Ultegra crankset was nice and had a nice pair of wide 39/52 chainrings, but I felt the 170mm arms were a little long for Juliana. The bottom bracket was a decent sealed Shimano part that Juliana repacked, but I wasn't able to use it with the crankset I ended up with, so it's still in my parts box with the cranks. I went with a Bontrager crankset with 165mm arms and 39/52 chainrings and an ISIS cartridge bottom bracket. It was my first experience with this style of bottom bracket, and it seems just fine. I screwed the MKS track pedals that she'd used on the trailer bike into the new crankset, so her feet should feel right at home.

I wanted matching derailleurs, mostly just because. And folks seem to agree that RX-100 (which the rear derailleur already was) is good stuff. By most accounts, RX-100 is identical to the contemporary 105SC 7-speed components that I have a lot of experience with, but with a different finish. So I upgraded the front derailleur with a matching RX-100 model. I swapped the Suntour bar-end shifters (now on the Schwinn) for Ultegra 8-speed bar-end replacements, and have them set to their friction mode because the indexing is not dead-on with the 7-speed cluster. These shifters are OK, but I don't much like their non-indexed feel. At some point I may figure something else out, and the driver will be whether Juli likes them or not. The cluster is a chromed Shimano 7-speed Hyperglide cassette with little wear that just needed a bath.

The wheelset is a jumble of mixed parts, all passable (thank goodness, because I had no desire to get rims built up). The front hub is Campagnolo and the rear a Shimano-compatible no-name piece. The rims are eyeleted 24" (520mm bead) Araya (I think) hoops in decent shape, and it came with Campagnolo skewers with square nuts that didn't fit the fork cleanly. I kept all but the skewers, but as it turned out, I had challenges making Ultegra skewers work well. More on that later. The old tires and tubes were replaced, as they were pretty dry. All I could find were Panaracer Pasela tires, but these are perfectly good all-around tires, so it's not like that's any heartbreak. The only problem with these little Paselas is that they're relatively narrow, and that's probably OK for such a light rider.

The brakes and levers appeared to be original to the bike -- old Dia-Compe side-pull calipers and matching compact Dia-Compe levers (levers I've since seen on a small Bertoni racing bike I'm helping a friend re-fit). The levers are a little stiff, and had some tip-over scratches, but I kept them and filed down the rough spots, rather than buying new ones. The calipers I upgraded to Tektro ultra long-reach dual-pivot sidepulls. In hindsight, I could have gone with their mid-reach model and saved a few bucks. But these look good and will offer more than enough power. At some point I may swap them onto another bike -- if, say, I undertake another 650B conversion.

Handlebar, stem, seatpost and headset were all perfectly fine for the job, and were left intact. But my decision to leave the 105SC headset unserviced is tugging at me, and this winter I'm going to repack it with Juli's help.

Juliana and I partnered in the reassembly process, with Juliana tackling key jobs in her introduction to bicycle mechanics. The day I took it apart, we did a handful of tasks of note. First, we replaced the balls in the cages of the bottom bracket bearings, greased the thing up liberally with Pedro's synthetic grease, fit the pieces together and stuffed it into a Ziploc sandwich bag where it sits to this day. This was Juli's first exposure to the mysteries of ball bearings, and I have to say that she acquitted herself nicely. She sat patiently with me on the porch of our house, and dropped only a handful of balls onto the floor in the process of pressing them into the cages. She also did a great job squirting grease into the bearing cups, and seemed to genuinely enjoy the process.

Next up, we repacked the hubs, and though I did most of the disassembly and reassembly, Juli was responsible for placing the grease in the races and stuffing the right number of balls down into the grease. She also helped judge just when the cones were properly adjusted -- admittedly this was as much instruction as input, but I think she got the idea. One thing that was great about this part of build was that I not only had Juliana there helping me, but also Ava, who participated in placing balls into the hubs as well.

The frame is small, so there isn't enough room for a water bottle on the seat tube. For that matter, there are no braze-ons there (or anywhere else) to hold a bottle cage. So we did two things -- first, we put a bottle mount on the down tube, and second we put a mount on the handlebars. There's a useful site here that has a bunch of listings for different bottle cage mounts and their sources, and I'm going to write another post with my experiences on the subject, so stay tuned. To actually hold the bottles, I just used basic silver Specialized cages in the road tubing gauge.

I did most of the rest of the rebuild work, and Juliana's role shifted more to the aesthetic, which I'll get back to in a moment. The rebuild was pretty uneventful, with two exceptions -- first, I think I cut the shifter cable housings an inch too short, and may end up redoing those this winter (though that also means redoing the handlebar tape, so I'm not eager to do that). And second, the rear wheel proved difficult to install.

The right rear dropout on the frame does not have a derailleur hanger on it, and the bike must have originally been fitted with a derailleur with a claw-type mount. But the previous owner had fitted a higher end derailleur with an adapter mount to hang it from. A good upgrade, but not one that worked well with Shimano quick-release skewers I'd picked up to work better with the fork tips. You see, the claw-type adapter essentially resulted in a right side dropout that was twice as thick as the left side dropout. And though I don't really understand why, when I closed the QR skewer, the right side would bite OK, but the left side would remain loose. I assumed the skewer would simply self-center as it clamped on the dropouts regardless of the differential in thickness, but it wasn't working out that way. Ultimately I tried picking up a second dropout adapter and mounting it upside down on the left side dropout. After the dropouts were the same thickness, the QR worked fine. Odd.

Back to aesthetics. The Fuji is sort of a metallic burgundy, and selecting just the right accenting colors was up to Juliana. We had some housing in a nice royal blue that looked great but was judged by herself as too similar to the trailer bike to be used here. We looked at yellow, but that didn't go with the color of the frame well enough (this we both agreed on). Black wasn't at all interesting to Juliana, and she ultimately decided on red. We ordered some red cable housing, picked up some red and black handlebar tape, and found a red and black saddle online. Juli helped wrap and tape the handlebars, and did a great job.

The only other reservation I have about the bike right now is that I suspect the saddle will prove to be too narrow and too long to be comfortable for her. If that's the case, I'll put Juli's Brooks B-17S on this bike and leave the red one for another project (perhaps the Paramount if the old Brooks Team Professional doesn't improve with the conditioning I gave it this Fall).

The results are as shown in the photos. It's an even cuter little bike than it was when it arrived. In the photos, it almost looks like a full size touring bike, until you notice that the saddle, handlebars and large chainring are a bit out of proportion. In person, it looks tiny. I've ridden it around the driveway, and comically at that, but Juli has thus far only sat on it. It was still a little big for her at Summer's end, even with the saddle all the way down, as shown. My hope is that it'll fit her this Spring, but it might be still another year before it's right for her -- time will tell.

One other thing I might do is move the Velo-Orange rack from the Schwinn to this bike (which just occurred to me as I write this, honestly). It might be a little big, but I'm going to test fit it. I can't use my panniers on that rack, and in the event Juli can join me on some longer rides downstream, having that rack fitted with a little trunk bag will give us a bit of extra storage.

I asked Juli to help edit this posting, and it reflects her memories of the project as well as my own. And I've asked her to dictate a comment, which you can see below (under my login). We'd love to hear from others who've undertaken such projects with their kids, and learn how those have worked out!

All for now,

J and J