Sunday, July 25, 2010

Stretching the Fuji

Juli is getting taller. I swear she's stretching out noticeably every day, and I just raised her saddle again this weekend, a centimeter or so. And she's getting stronger, too. She's actively using her big ring, now, where she's never touched it before. Though her little Fuji is not quite too small yet, the bars that have been on there have been crowding her. She's claimed not to mind, but she also notices the extra space when she switches bikes to the Gary Fisher at her mother's place. Time to do something about it!

After an hour or so worth of work this weekend, the bike is now in its third incarnation of handlebars and controls. As you can see, it looks a little dorky -- there's a lot going on up front, and it's going on pretty high up (the quill on that stem will only go down so far in that little steerer tube). But the thing is -- it fits. Juli has space to manouver and room to grow, and she actually seems to have enjoyed her first meaningfully long solo ride using a drop bar.

So... what'd I do? This was mostly a matter of swapping components between the girls' bikes, as well as dipping into my parts box.

About a week ago, I stripped the bar and controls from the trailer bike. I set aside the adjustable stem, the bar end shifter, and the Tektro compact brake levers for the Fuji, and tossed the bar into the metal recycling pile at the dump (long story, but I'd intentionally cut one of the ends lengthwise at one point, and I didn't trust them in any other application than the trailer bike). In the place of all these parts, I bolted on the Nitto stem that had been on the Motobecane, the narrow (but proportionally deep) drop bar the Fuji had come with, the DiaCompe compact brake levers that came on Allyson's Bertoni, and a stem-mounted Suntour Power ratcheting shifter that I'd picked up I think for a city bike build that hasn't happened yet. I put only one shifter on, initially, but Ava liked zinging it up and down so much that I bolted the second on just for her to play with. I also ditched the bell, relocated the bottle cage mount behind the bar (rather than in front) to make it more accessible from the saddle, and swapped the bar tape and some of the cable housing so it is now uniformly red at the bars and blue at the housings, rather than a mix of red and blue at each (both at Ava's insistence). And she herself helped me wrap the bars and run the cables!

With the trailer bike done, I now had a pile of parts for the Fuji, but not everything I needed. Had I not cut them, the bars that had been on the trailer bike would have been perfect, but alas... So I bought a set of lightly used Nitto drop bars.

With Juli's help yesterday, I undid all of the cables at the components they controlled (both derailleurs and both brake calipers), yanked off the little crimp-on cable ends, loosened the stem quill, and voila! One complete bar/control setup popped off the bike, ready for reinstallation when Ava is ready for the Fuji! It'll take me about 15 minutes to put it back on and adjust the cables when the time comes. It wasn't the cheap way to go, and Ava has already said she wants them wrapped differently (not twined and shellacked), but it'll still be a time-saver.

From there, the new setup was pretty easy to manage, though Juli had disappeared by then, having lost interest. The adjustable stem went on first -- initially in a fairly upright position, trying to keep the reach in check. Then came the bar, with the main brake levers installed, followed by the shifters, and finally Ava and I cabled everything up (she's hell at cables). Everything worked, but if you think the bike looks dorky now, you should have seen it with the bar raised higher!

Juli took the bike for a ride at that point, and had a couple of complaints. First she said the bar hurt her hands, which I get -- they were bare, and so were her hands. And she didn't like the reach down to the brakes, or the height of the bars. The first and last were easy fixes. The second I anticipated, but in large part is going to be a matter of her getting used to a drop bar. But I could help that with a set of interruptor/cyclocross auxilliary brake levers. A quick trip to my LBS, a quicker adjustment to the stem and bar, plus a half hour or so of splicing the levers into the brake cables, got the bike ready for her inaugural ride.

Looking at it, the control area is undeniably cluttered. Between the four brake levers, four cables, the two bar-end shifters, that bulky adjustable stem and the Minoura water bottle cage holder and cage, things look a little out of hand. And she wants to add a bell somewhere in there! But what really matters is whether the bike works, and it definitely does. The clamp for the interruptor levers is too small for these bars, so they're mounted excessively outboard, but that would have been necessary with that water bottle there, too. That aside, watching her ride, everything seems to fit pretty well, and should continue to work for the rest of the season -- likely into next.

And for the record, yes, I've rerouted the right shifter cable inside the front brake cable -- sloppy assembly, there! And I'm going to take an inch or so out of the front brake cable at some point to make it sit more symmetrically with the rear cable.

We put 10 miles on the bikes today, riding to and from the state park, where Juli solo'd in a kayak for the first time. Ava likes her red tape and cables, and as I said, seems to relish zinging the shifter up and down, regardless of what that's doing to her pedal stroke. And again, Juli seemed to enjoy her first trip on a drop bar. She tends to use the tops of the bar, and swears by the cross levers. But she used the drops on descents for better aero, and seems to understand how to use different positions for different situations, and to keep her arms and hands fresh. As we rode, I showed her how to slow herself from the brake hoods, that there is another hand position on the outside of the first bend on the bar tops, and stuff like that. It's fun to share these tidbits with her, and I'll look forward to the same with Ava.

So... a pair of successful refits. Aesthetics of the Fuji aside, I'm glad the new setups work for them. I didn't have any doubts with Ava and the trailer bike, but was a little worried about Juli's confidence with a drop bar. But she seems to be on her way, there, which is good. And we'll keep that rolling as we look ahead to her next ride. More on that another time.

All for now,


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