Thursday, October 9, 2008

Niles's First Ride; With Lots of Talk about GB Randonneur Bars

I'm just back from my first ride on Niles — and it was great. [NB: I wrote 90% of this post at noon, and then got busy, and am finishing it now.] He fits me perfectly, as a custom bike should — though I've had my position "nailed" for some time now, so it wasn't exactly a revelatory experience; just a very pleasant one. I've been a bit worried about his not-perfectly-centred front wheel, so I was eager to see how he rides hands-free. On this score, he was pretty good. If I didn't think too hard about what I was doing, he felt perfect. If I got nervous, I'd swerve! But I took most of these photos hands-free, so he's o-kay, I figure.

I find ride reports often begin to sound like wine-tasting writing. But I can say that I like the way he handles. The steering is nice and quick, but he's very stable. (Thank you Rene Herse and Jan Heine! I just imitated Rene Herse racing geometry as outlined in Bicycle Quarterly, and added a bit of rake for the wider 28mm tires. Almost too easy!)

Speaking of the tires: the Grand Bois Cerf 28s are incredible. I went over all sorts of train tracks and bad pavement on my ride — and this is a ride I do depressingly often — and these tires feel much cushier than my Pasela 32s. The only ones that come close are the Veloflex 22s on Briggs; those are incredibly nice tires.

Now, the GB bars. There's been a lot of talk on the iBOB list about randonneur bends, and based on that I noticed how odd my GBs are. They have essentially no ramp flats, and not a lot of reach. Well, based on today's ride, I really like them anyway. I'll detail my favourite hand position below.

Finally, riding fixed gear on longish road rides is really pleasant. It's amazing how much you can do with that one gear! 42x15 is absolutely perfect for me; climbing isn't too difficult (it would be with a freewheel; but climbing on a fixed is a whole different thing), and quick descents don't have my legs sprinning too wildly. And on quick flats, especially with a tail wind, that feeling of the bike "riding itself," the pedals turning insistently over of their own volition, borders on the magical. (Speaking of spinning, though I am around 6'2", I like short cranks. These 167.5s suit me well.)

I felt a bit like Beryl Burton in Spinning Wheels: riding all-out, in the drops, on a fixed-gear English-looking bike... Well, I guess those were the only similarities!

Yes, the ride was one I do a lot: westbound from downtown along the Lakeshore path. Having Niles along, of course, shattered the familiarity, and it was extra-nice.

Going fast on the path near Marie Curtis park! (Warning: photo has psychedelic effect.)

For people interested in such things: these are the hand positions I used on my GB bars. I spent about 25% of the time on the hoods, usually when climbing. I really love the shape of Shimano aero levers; they fit my hands perfectly. And, for me anyway, they make these GB bars usable. Without the extra reach aero levers provide, I wouldn't like these bars at all.

Here is where I spent a good 60% of my time. Riding in the drops was very comfortable, nice for cornering, and I could really get my spin going...

I hardly spent any time here, but if I were tired, this would be a usable position.

This is where I spent the rest of my time.

Well, back to more exciting photos. Here is Niles at the turnaround point, near Port Credit. It was an incredibly beautiful day. It rained all day yesterday, so there were some puddles to give Niles's fenders a bit of a "dry run" (uff...), and he performed admirably. But otherwise, perfect: sunny and about 18 degrees (Celsius). A strong headwind on the way out became a very pleasant tailwind on the way back.

Spot the problem! Yes, his bars began to rotate forward as I rode. I hadn't noticed this yet when I took the photo. Ah, Niles is a pretty bike!

His beauty is augmented by the Mariposa water bottle he is proudly sporting. He was painted on the premises of the former Mariposa shop, and both he and I agree that there are very few bikes on par with Mariposas.

This bridge makes a very pleasant rumble when you ride over it.

Niles showing some civic pride in his new home. He says he likes Toronto.

The fairly newly renovated Lakeshore path, near Exhibition. Moments later I would become involved in a dangerous game of Chicken with a... Pigeon. He lost, but only barely, and he nearly brought Niles and I down together in a feathery, bloody, expensive, and tragic disaster-unit.

My favourite — and usual — way to end my rides. Another tragic scenario might have involved the owner of the bike on the left exiting the pizza parlour and mistakenly riding off on Niles... (By this point, I had noticed Niles's drifting bars. I just hadn't tightened the bolt enough... though apparently the clamp area is 25.2 on GB bars, and my stem is 25.4. I figure 0.2mm is within the margin of error...)

It's going to be nice tomorrow morning as well, so I will definitely ride Niles again. The options are a bit limited around here, so I'll do the same ride, only further — up Mississauga Road to the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus, site of many of my most scintillating lectures...


Karl said...

Thank you for all the blogging. It is inspiring to see you take this project to completion with so little space and resources at your disposal. Your bike looks great.

I have been looking at various frames for a new fixed gear commuter bike lately and to get what I want will be about $2000. I already have a $2000 TIG welder in the garage, and if I knew a bit more about fixturing and had some help with geometry I might just make my own frame. I am in Los Angeles and do not know of any frame builders here but it seems like a very worthy project. Even if it does not save much money in the end, you get exactly what you want, and end up liking it more for having participated in its design and creation.

I suppose I should subscribe to bicycle quarterly to get geometry ideas as you describe.

Thanks again.

AH said...

Some ideas to start out might be to join the framebuilders' email list at, or to browse its extensive archives. Another would be to look into Tim Paterek's manual (although it deals with lugged and filled brazed construction). A BQ subscription isn't a bad idea! The best article on geometry is the very straightforward "How to Design a Well Handling Bicycle" in the Spring 2007 issue (5.3), which is available as a back issue. Yet another idea is to build your frame in a class -- this wouldn't make much use of your TIG welder, but it would tell you exactly what you need for your next frame (!), and certainly make things go smoother. UBI in Ashland, OR is the closest to you. Maybe someone knows of an LA builder who could help?

Karl said...

Yes from looking through your framebuilding class posts I think a class would be the quickest way toward a usable frame. I took a TIG welding class on 4130 Tubing that was oriented toward aircraft builders; it's hard to believe a place like UBI would not be able to teach welded frame construction. Not that it matters much to me, frankly, how the bike is built. I'm sure I could learn to braze also.

Thank you for the suggestions.

AH said...

UBI does teach welding, I think! Just not the Paterek manual. I bet a TIG class at UBI would be ideal!

Reg Golb said...

What did you mean by, "climbing isn't too difficult (it would be with a freewheel; but climbing on a fixed is a whole different thing)" I've been SSing since the beginning of August and am considering using the other side of my flip-flop.


AH said...

Climbing fixed feels quite a bit different than with a freewheel -- you can get power into the whole stroke without any letup. A lot of people say they can climb as well in, say, a 15 tooth fixed sprocket as they can in a 17 tooth freewheel. In general, once you get used to it, riding fixed just FEELS too good not to do! The one downside is the insanity of downhills. I'll post on that momentarily!

mcscholt said...

Can you send me an email with info about how much the Velocolour paint job cost and how long it took? I really like the blue and the box lining.


mschol17 at hotmail