Friday, June 11, 2010

Growth Spurts and Swap-Outs

As I'm putting together a pile of parts for making the Motobecane a more user-friendly choice for daily use, I've been sorting through my parts boxes, earmarking parts for different bikes and projects. I have a lot of parts left over that really need to be offloaded, but I've got a bunch of projects in mind, too.

For example, Juliana's Fuji is starting to look like a great fit for her as she rides, which means it will be too small before long. The seatpost isn't down on the clamp, now, and if anything the shortened Velo-Orange Belleville bars are crowding her knees a bit. So I'm planning to swap out the pulled-back bars, short stem and all of the hand controls with a more traditional road setup for next season. That will give her more room in the cockpit, and should allow for her getting one more year out of the bike, and teach her how to use more typical road bike shifters. I have most of the parts I need for that (save for shifters), so it's just a matter of making the time to execute the changes later this summer or over the winter, depending on her growth rate. Her mountain bike, in the mean time, which is at her mother's place, is already too small, and we're going to try her out on her mother's old (but small -- my ex is petite) Gary Fisher MTB as a bike for her to use over there.

At the same time, Ava has gotten too tall for her two little 16" BMX-style bikes. She can ride around like a champ, now, but her legs don't extend enough at the maximum saddle height to give her any power. A shame, really, that she went from being timid on the bike to perfectly capable in such a late and short window. But the bikes are in good shape, and I should be able to recover some cash from them. Maybe this weekend, I need to fit her to her sister's too-small mountain bike, and then find something for her to use here at the house, apart from the trailer bike.

Anyway, in going through parts and thinking about the Fuji's next build state, I meandered onto the question of what the best state of build for the Schwinn might be. It's built as a touring bike today, with narrow Belleri drop bars with a randonneuring bend (swept back tops, and a slight flare to the drops). But in truth it's not laid out as a real touring bike. The tubes are stout, sure, but the chain stays are short enough that I get heel strike with panniers, and the bike shimmies if I load up my handlebar bag at all (not that I should be carrying big loads up there). Also, the quill of the handlebar stem I have is short, and can't be raised high enough to make riding on the drops comfortable for any sort of distance. Ironically, that short stem means that my touring bike has the lowest bars, relative to the saddle, of the three road bikes I'm riding -- the opposite of what's most comfortable.

There are plenty of solutions to these issues. I can lighten up the bar bag, or move the front load lower to fix the shimmy. And I can troll for a taller stem with the old American steerer spec (21.1mm) that will thread a drop bar through the clamp. I have an aluminum gooseneck stem that I bought for the initial build that I had planned to use, but it won't take a drop bar because the clamp is too fat to allow the curves to slip past. And switching the stem also means un-twining and unwrapping, then redoing, the Brooks leather handlebar tape on that bike. And I'd rather not do that again (recalling the blistered knuckles on both pinkies from the last time).

Looking through my parts boxes, I have most everything I need (save grips and maybe a nicer set of brake levers) to turn the Schwinn into an upright English-style tourist bike. I've got the bars, the stem, and a set of shifters to clamp onto the stem. The stem shifters are clumsy-looking Suntour Power Shifters, which are ratcheting shifters like the Suntour bar-end and thumb shifters. Retrofriction shifters give you a nice little zing of feedback as you shift, with fine little ratcheting clicks intended to equalize shifting effort in both directions. Anyway, they won't win me any contests for chicness, but I'm guessing they'll feel and work just fine, and their placement on the stem will hopefully prove to be a decent ergonomic match for an upright bike. It's an interesting thought. And with that change in configuration, I'd gain enough space up front to mount a real rack to support a basket. I can' t fit a basket up front today with the drop bars, or support one with the now-trashed Mafac racklet. But having a Wald wire basket sitting on a sturdy rack would facilitate much larger grocery excursions than the bike can currently handle (however much that matters).

The plan would be to simply undo the cables and take the whole bar, cable and control setup off the bike as a unit, making it a relatively painless swap back to the original configuration if I don't like it, or decide to give it all up and embark on a global excursion. Same thing with the Fuji, by the way -- two bar and control setups, with maybe an hour's worth of work to change the bike back over.

If I think about my time on that bike on my recent two-day tour in Italy, I really rode on top of the bars the whole time. I was on the brake hoods for shallow descents, of course, but only down on the drops for fast downhills that called for more braking power and a more certain grip on the bars under braking. And in truth, bending way over with that short stem and threading my fingers past bar-end shifter cables to get to the brake levers gave me more than I'd like to have to think about when riding -- all of the controls on a bike should require no thought at all to operate.

In any case, it's something for me to noodle on, and I may very well give that configuration a shot, just for grins. I'm not a distance tourer, and I don't think the bike's value for a typical training loop in the wet (it has fenders) would be too heavily compromised. It may prove just that much more versatile.

All for now,


No comments: