Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Mariposa Article; The Small Class of Perfect Things

Last night I attended the launch of the new issue of Dandyhorse. The cover story is my first attempt at cycling journalism—a fairly long article about Mike Barry.

I hadn't seen the article in its final form until last night. I must say, as someone very careful with his writing, it was very odd to see many of my sentences modified. And to see my favourite paragraph removed! But the magazine looks gorgeous, and I've received lots of enthusiastic emails about the article and the magazine. My stylistic aim was to write the article in a "Mariposa-like style": to make it functional, minimal, and elegant. I think that comes through in the final version.

I'm extremely happy to see the Greg Curnoe painting on the cover. If I were to list my two favourite Canadian artists, they would be Greg and Mike. So it's quite special to have a Curnoe painting of a Barry bike on the cover of the magazine with my first article!

There's a lot of good stuff in this issue, including a nice article by Mike himself about his association with Greg. The magazine is available for sale at bike shops and book stores in Toronto or through the website. For those who haven't seen Mariposa bikes (how awful!), you can see them here.

Here is my favourite paragraph, which didn't make it in:
Mariposa bicycles are among the extremely small class of perfect things. In an unusual congruence of form and function, beauty and efficiency are mutually reinforcing. Nothing is superfluous, everything is precisely where it ought to be, and no detail of finish detracts from the mechanism. Made by hand using traditional methods and materials, sized individually for the rider, unique in design and conception, they outlast and outperform their factory-made and laboratory-researched counterparts. Mariposas are the sorts of bikes that obsess people obsessed with bikes, and without which there would be no bicycle-obsession to begin with.

Updates! It seems like another good part (Marta's favourite!) didn't make the cut! This is from the section called "The City":
Barry’s utopia is one in which cycling is as normal, easy, and automatic as breathing. “I’ve got a photograph at home,” he says—“it’s just a couple of girls in France, standing by the side of the road, leaning on their bikes, chatting. I don’t know—that to me sort of typifies what I love about bikes. How it should be—a part of your everyday life.” He continues, “A couple of years ago in Liège I was sitting and chatting at a café when two women came along on their Dutch bikes. They were in their teens—riding next to one another with their handlebars just about banging, chatting away as if they were sitting on a park bench. And they’re heading through traffic, and one of the girls has a drink, and she passes it to the other one. That’s what was so lovely about it—that the bike was just part of everyday life. They had complete control, and there was traffic all around them—it didn’t bother them at all.” Laughing, he concludes “That’s what I would like to see here some day.”
Also, Olvier tracked down this link that shows a blurry photo of the "anti-American" mural Greg Curnoe did for Expo '67. Mike Barry discusses this in his sidebar to my Dandyhorse article. (Note the typo there: it was for Expo '67, not '76!).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Alan Gets Double Chainguards

After the experience of the "Hell of the North" (documented below), during which my poor front derailleur became so completely clogged with mud as to become unusable, it began—another project.

First I considered getting a set of TA cyclocross cranks. Since Alans of my kind were produced for almost 30 years unchanged, I thought the TA cranks (which have been made unchanged for longer) would be a good fit. But that would require buying a new set of arms, a new bottom bracket, and tracking down some rings. More importantly, TA only ever made them down to 43 teeth—a bit bigger than ideal. And nearly impossible to find in that size.

So I decided to use my Ritchey cranks, which are very nice looking, have world champion strips, and which set up the chainline such that the small ring more or less centres on my freewheel (my wheel is set up as a 130mm 6/7 spd.) Next I needed chainguards. The TAs are too expensive, as are the Salas. BBG guards, however, are beautiful and extremely cheap. For $28 including shipping, I had two black 110/42 rings in the mail.

Clearance was my main concern. With essentially a triple setup on a 109.5mm BB, one would expect the inner guard and bolts to rub on the chainstay. Luckily the Alan has seriously indented chainstays, likely to deal with this exact problem.

As it turned out, these took an incredible amount of work to install. Mostly because the old Stronglight triple chainring bolts needed lots of modification to work with the spacers I got, and because the Ritchey cranks use a system where the fifth bolt screws directly into the arm. I've documented some of this fun below, followed by photos of the actual guards.

I got all this set up yesterday, and immediately took Alan on a ride in High Park. (Not a ride I'll repeat: as I was repeatedly told by angry park-goers, bikes aren't allowed off-road there!) The guards worked perefectly: no rubbing, no hopping chain, and no front shifting to think about. Right now I have a 6-speed 14-24 freewheel installed, and that probably doesn't give me an ideal small gear. I have a 13-26 7-speed I may swap in. Indexed shifting might be nice if I actually ever race. For now, though, this is good! Alan is quickly achieving the status of the Platonic form of the cross bike...

The joys of bicycle projects. Lately I have spent a lot of time shortening bolts! This is all done in my bedroom, among my books, using a very cheap hacksaw and a vise I don't have anywhere to mount...

Filing spacers: tricky and tedious! I had to shave 1.5mm off of this one, and then increase the ID so that the bolts would pass through... I could have saved myself time by visiting a well-stocked bike store, but I prefer doing things myself if I can.

Attaching three rings and spacers directly to the crankarm required a very long bolt, which I didn't have. But the threading matched that on my old Stronglight triple bolts (they came on the Raleigh I converted for my sister below; I turned the Stronglight 93 into a single-ring, and it now lives on my city bike). But just the one bolt wasn't long enough. So I cut the head off of the inner bolt (it still can be tightened via a 5mm allen bolt inserted inside) and made a two-part mega-bolt. This works well: I tightened the inner bolt all the way in by sticking a 5mm allen key through the outer bolt. Then I tightened the outer bolt with a chainring screwdriver. It's nice and tight!

Through the outer to the inner.

On to the fun stuff! Alan looking very nice all set up.

Losing a left shifter gave me a chance to use this lone World Championship-strip bar-end plug I've had laying around. The stripes match those on the frame, the cranks, and the Mavic VTT logo on the hubs and headset. The chances of my actually winning a World Championship on this bike, I fear, are somewhat low.

From the front. I may shorten the chain, but I'll wait until I settle on my gearing.

The Ritchey cranks with BBG guards. I used an old SR 42-tooth 110bcd chainring from Marta's Bridgestone 500 (I traded for a Sugino 36!).

I used two tricks to get perfect chainline and clearance. First, I used a BBG "superlight" inner guard, not for weight but because they're 1/16" thinner. Then I used a 1.5mm BB spacer to pull everything toward the drive side. Getting the BB out of the Alan to install said spacer was a bit of an adventure, however. Fearing loosening, I had very stupidly installed his Italian BB using blue loctite rather than grease. It required literally all my force to get the BB out. Here's a trick to those who find themselves in a similar situation: use a QR skewer inserted through the axle to hold the BB remover tool in place. Then stand on the longest wrench you can find! It took me about an hour to unthread the BB, and there was a strange pile of sandy-looking dried thread locker on the ground when I was done. I used LOTS of grease when I re-installed it, and lots of torque.

Anyway: my reward: excellent chainline!

BBG guards: very highly recommended! They shipped very quickly, and for very little money (even internationally!) They have lots of colours, and almost every imaginable size. $12/ea!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fuji's Transformation, Part II

Last night I led the "Gears Seminar" at Bikechain (the U of Toronto student-run bike repair/education facility; see its appealing dungeon-ness at right.) Since Fuji's gears hadn't been set up yet, this was an ideal opportunity to do so and to show others how simple such a task really is. (Of course, it's especially easy with downtube shifters.) I began with a little history of the derailleur, then handed around some derailleurs from my parts box for inspection (a historically-relevant Simlpex SLJ, a new Campagnolo Chorus, and a Suntour and IRD FD). Then we proceeded to gear setup. It all went very smoothly. (I think the trickest element of derailleur setup is not getting RD indexing to work, but getting FD stops set properly...)

I walked Fuji to the seminar and rode him home. I was quite impressed with his cushy 35mm tires, and the 46-tooth big ring really is ideal for normal riding. When I got home, I couldn't resist finishing Fuji off. All he needs now is bar tape. Photos follow.

Nice fender lines and nice high handlebars without a ridiculous amount of quill showing—Fuji looks better than he ever has!

The "Chang Star" Dia-Compe copies (the Dia Compes being copies of the Mafac tandem brakes...) not only work well but look incredibly cool. I absolutely love the huge straddle cable triangle. Isn't it wonderful how the things that look best so often also work best?

Lots of triangles: I like how the mountainous Fuji logo mirrors the shape of the straddle cable, and how it's framed by the rack tang.

The GB Randonneur bars add to the "triangle" theme! (They'll look a lot better with bar tape, of course!) The brake levers are Shimano Exage. "Cheap" as they may be, there are two wonderful things about them: they have little quick-release buttons like current Campagnolo and Tektro (and like my favourite levers of all, the Santes); and they're not anodized, so can be polished up. Thet work as flawlessly and are as comfortable as all other Shimano brake levers...

The glorious Sugino Mighty Tour cranks. These came to me (from Dale Brown of the CR list—thanks!) with 52/36 rings. I swapped a 34 small from my ring collection and bought the nice 46-tooth Sugino ring at Urbane for $35. The cranks are pretty and have a nice narrow tread. With a 115mm Shimano BB, they both have plenty of clearance from the chainstays and centre the big ring on the cassette.

Perfect chainline! The big ring centred on the cassette (a lovely 13-28 Uniglide).

Some of my favourite derailleurs: Shimano 600s. For some reason, there is no vogue for these, and they come cheaply on eBay (99 cents Canadian for this one!). They work extremely well; you don't have to "wait" for them to shift. (They're thus a perfect match for a non-ramped Uniglide cassette.) The shifting is noticeably better on this setup than on any of my Hyperglide-type setups; immediate, "crisp," and "snappy." But you do need to "unweight the pedals" when shifting...

Another gratuitous look at my beloved Chang Stars. And Fuji's brake hanger, the Paselas, and the 600 FD (which, like my Sante FDs, has a weird "slant parallelogram" geometry which pushes the cage straight in and out. I wonder why they did that...)

Lights! I just bought the Planet Bike lights combo at MEC. The front light is Blaze 1/2 Watt. With some modification (very easy—just some spacers) I mounted it to this VO light bracket. I'm fairly sure this will loosen, as the setup is pretty awful. But I'll wait until it does before trying out my various ideas...

The rear light setup is pretty fool-proof. I used some valve-tightener-things as spacers and mounted it onto the rack eyelet.

Once Marta starts riding this bike, I'll have some final photos!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fuji's Transformation, Part I

The Fuji Touring Series I is quite unlike its more renowned predecessors, the anachronistically named Touring Series III and IV. Those are both Japanese-made, lugged, with elegant paint jobs, and generally classic in appearance. The Touring Series I is TIG-welded, has a mountain-bike-ish look, and—somewhat bizzarely for a bike called a "Fuji"—was made in the USA from True Temper AVR tubing.

It is hard to imagine ever having had only one bike—but Fuji was the bike that relieved me of that condition. I bought him on eBay. He was cleverly listed with "Bridgestone" in the title. I bought him for the cantilever mounts, the clearances, and the downtube shift bosses. Unfortunately I didn't know much about sizing at this time. I was riding a 59cm Marinoni race bike, which is a reasonable size for a race bike. I bought the Fuji—listed as a 58.5—thinking he'd fit me just fine. I now ride 62-64s; Fuji is more like a 56, since he has about a 2cm "seat tube extension."

So he's been a bit small for me, but I've always ridden him a lot. At first I set him up as a tourer, and did my first 200+km single-day ride on him. I even removed his fenders and rode the Hell n' Back on him. More recently I had him briefly set up as an around-town bike, and then as a "temporary randonneur"—a placeholder for my never-to-materialize Velo Orange Randonneur. For this I bought a Nitto M-12 front rack and an 11cm Technomic stem (that's him on the side, on his way to his first brevet with Randonneurs Ontario.)

Since I was expecting my VO by March, I disassembled Fuji over the winter, leaving him as just a frame. Then I started putting together a build for Marta. For quite some time I've been planning an "ease in to cycling" bike for her: something with wide tires, high handlebars, really good brakes, fenders, a sensible gear range, indexed shifting, etc. Fuji is perfect: while he doesn't leave her much standover height, and while his top tube is a bit long for her, he has incredible clearances and makes it possible to get the bars up nice and high.

Over the past couple of weeks I've begun building the bike up in earnest. Below are some shots of the early progress. When I finish him up in the next couple of days, I'll post more photos...

The clearances on the Touring Series I are incredible. That wheel has Grand Bois 30s installed. It almost looks like too much clearance, doesn't it? And the rack looks way too high! Well, stay tuned...

I'd been using a tab to attach the fender at the fork crown. But since I had a spare "daruma," I figured I'd use it! This meant enlarging one of the holes and covering up the other...

I did this with duct tape; with a little spot to go directly under the hole, so it wouldn't attract a bunch of dirt.


...and barely noticeable! (Especially since it's under the fork crown! Well—I take pleasure in details!)

What looked like way too much clearance in fact turns out to be just right. Those are 700x35 Paselas installed, with absolutely perfect clearance between fender and tire. The stainless steel spacer connecting the rack to the fender is from a Dia Compe centrepull — it really does pay to have lots of spare parts laying around!

I built up the wheels from some NOS Shimano Sante hubs I've had in my closet, Sun CR18 rims, and DT double-butted spokes. I re-spaced the rear wheel to 132.5 to reduce dish. I was planning on transplanting a hyperglide freehub body, but then Ryan W. of the iBOB list had a 13-28 Uniglide cassette for me, which is absolutely perfect. No "delayed" shifting on this bike!

The brakes are some decidedly "cheap" imitation Dia Compe wide-profile cantilevers. They're "Chang Star," and I didn't pay a cent for them. The hardware is actually quite excellent, though, allowing for easy toe-in adjustments. The geometry is flawless, of course, and the finish is actually even nicer than the Dia-Compes. With Kool-Stop pads from MEC, they stop incredibly well. Another advantage is that they allow to M12 to sit properly. With the previously-installed Tekro Oryxes, I need lots of spacers at the fork crown to allow the rack to sit level. With the Chang Stars, it sits level without spacers.

I had an old SR 8cm stem installed, but Marta felt a bit too stretched out. So Olivier gave me a 6cm technomic. Here it is just peeking into the steerer, and looking ridiculously tall. (It's now sticking in almost all the way to the bottom of the steerer!)

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Hell of the North

Yesterday was the Toronto Paris-Roubaix Challenge, also known as "The Hell of the North." As I said to Noah's father yesterday, it was a lot tougher than I'd expected. As he said to me, "Well what did you expect of Hell?"

I began preparing for the race in earnest on Friday. Mostly this consisted of eating prodigiously—yes, even two days before the event. I also took Alan out for a ride in his final configuration to check for problems. (The water bottle clamps were loose and my seatpost clamp was cracked—good thing I caught them!) On Sunday I tensioned the spokes in my wheels (they were incredibly loose on the non-drive side of the rear wheel) and ate even more prodigiously. I also took the very important step of going to sleep early, and the even more important step of watching A Sunday in Hell right before doing so.

On Sunday I was up at 5am. I ate two bagels and a grapefruit, drank a litre of chocolate milk and a litre of water, and rode to Mike's house for my ride. (As marshal, he needed to be there early.) On the dark ride to Mike's, it was very clear that it was going to be cold. During the ride to the race, Mike made it clear it was also going to be muddy.

We got to Musselman Lake about an hour and a half early. I spent most of the time swapping my cracked American Classic seatpost for a Nuovo Record 2-bolt. I also swapped my Rolls saddle for a Flite — a certain amount of weight-weenieness is allowed in a race after all! I tried not to drink anything right before the start (I couldn't resist a tea...) and peed out all my excess morning fluids. I ate a few Fig Newtons and stuck about 15 in my back pocket.

At 8.30, we were off. Noah and I stuck together over the lengthy opening road section. The lead group was moving quickly but not overwhelmingly so, so we were able to keep up with them over the first 25km. When we came to Section 1, however—the misleadingly named Boag "Road"—things for me took a bit of a turn. Mike had told me it was "mostly submerged." I imagined riding over pavement covered in a foot or two of water. In fact it was about 4km of swamp. I roared in with the group at about 40km/h and ran straight into snow, ice, and mud. I decided to run along the edge with Alan over my shoulder for the whole 4km. This strategy got me to the end much quicker than the people who struggled to ride and fell into the frozen lakes of muck.

At the end of the section I discovered that one of my cantilevers had mysteriously gotten itself stuck under my rim. That took some fiddling with. Then there was the matter of trying to clip in after 4km of jogging through muck. But eventually I was back at it.

Then, about 4km from the end of the section, something extremely bizarre happened. I was riding along with 4-5 other people. We saw a woman on a horse up ahead. A car drove by us and honked in support. Then the horse got spooked, bolted up the road, and threw its rider off. This all happened about 20 feet in front of us. The rider was unconscious on the pavement. I called 911 and stayed on the phone until two police officers had showed up. I got got going again when I heard the ambulance sirens. (I hope she's okay—I guess I won't really ever know!) Another kilometre up the road I passed the horse.

It took me a while to get my head back into the race. I finally did when I entered the 14km-long "Trench." I still had a lot of energy in my legs and by this time was desperately far behind Noah and the pack, so I really let loose on this section. It was muddy but completely rideable, and unbelieavably fun. There was also a very strong tailwind. This was probably the most fun 14km I've ever ridden.

After that there was another long section on-road. I rode alone, pushing as hard as I could the whole way. I'd lost the use of my front derailleur in the Trench, but the 46x24 was fine for climbing the rolling hills. I passed a lot of despondent riders in the section, who hadn't had quite as good as time as me in the Trench.

The last two sections were insane. I rode the downhills when I could, but my 46x24 definitely couldn't get me uphill. So I jogged for another 8km or so. Then, quite perfectly, about 100m from the finish I came up behind Noah, and we finished together.

The ride certainly taught me my strengths and weaknesses. I'm definitely a better road rider than off-road. I can go hard for long periods, but am not much when it comes to bike-handling in muck. Slight mudiness and a few puddles like in the Trench are fine; but not the first and last sections.

It also taught me Alan's. There is something magical about his steering that kept me from falling down. I would be riding over snow or through muck and bracing myself for a fall when he would re-centre and balance me. I don't quite understand it, but it's nice. The Flite saddle was good too. I found it incredibly comfortable. I'm going to ride it on a 200km brevet and see if I like it as much as a Brooks. The front derailleur is a problem: a switch for a single-chainring setup seems like it would make sense.

And there was a problem with my seatpost binder. Alans have a narrowing in the seat tube to prevent the post from sliding all the way in, and thank God. My saddle slipped about 2cm during the ride, and the post embedded itself in this narrowing. I had to twist and twist to get the post out last night, and then the faulty binder won't come out of the seatlug. I'm going to have to ream it out from the inside I guess!

It was an incredibly good time, anyway. I'm sorry for not having photos of the ride, but I was more concerned with finishing than with documenting it! There were lots of people with cameras and video-cameras along the route, though, so I'm sure we'll see lots of images eventually...

A final note: having watched Paris-Roubaix 2009 in its entirely last evening, I can say with certitude that our "Challenge" is in many ways harder than theirs. Sure, theirs is over twice as long. But Sections 1, 4, and 5 — and even the Trench — make cobbles look like freshly paved asphalt.

ps: This is Section 1. And see me in all my glory here. There are many, many excellent photos there. We'll pardon the copyright signs and the confusion regarding the various departments of the Beyond.

Friday, April 10, 2009

La Machine de Paris-Roubaix

Sunday is the "Toronto Paris-Roubaix Challenge." Ever since I read Mike Barry's post almost a month ago, I have thought of those muddy, sandy, snowy, icy roads with every pedal stroke. I've gotten myself into a semi-regular training routine (I fear the efficacy of my hilly Lakeshore-Old Mill-High Park route is somewhat reduced by the fact that I always finish it with a Bitondo's slice...) and even did some grass riding with Noah and Olivier a few weeks back to get myself ready for the conditions.

These have been young Alan's first real tests. And he has excelled marvelously. He's light and fast. His "low trail" geometry certainly makes him handle very well at low speeds (I'm a bit nervous offroad, so this helps.) His 32mm Challenge Grifo tubulars are incredibly light and supple and grip well (they're the first tubulars I've ever ridden, and I'm eager to try road tubulars some time...). His Suntour shifters are excellent. But, alas, some setup changes are necessary for the Paris-Roubaix Challenge.

First is a wheel change. The knobbies would slow me down on the mostly on-road route. And I don't have any 32mm tubular road tires on hand—so I needed to pick some wheels to put my 32mm Panaracer Paselas on. I am planning on building a new wheelset for my girlfriend, with Sun CR18 rims and Shimano Sante hubs. So I was planning on building them up this weekend and using them. Unfortunately, my spokes didn't arrive yesterday as they were supposed to. As it's Easter weekend, that left me a bit stuck. So I'm just going to use the wheels from my Marinoni: "Racing de Rigida" rims and Sante hubs. I need to retension the spokes and true them, but I figure they'll hold up reasonably well.

Beyond this wheel change, I also needed to clamp on a water bottle cage. Luckily I had some TA clamps in my parts box. I also added a nice matching yellow Silca pump I happened to also have.

Finally, a Mavic 840 I'd bought on eBay arrived the other day. This is my second 840—though I've never used my other one. This one is a bit beat up and was very cheap. It's a perfect aesthetic match to the bike (less so without the black Mavic-hubbed cross wheels, though). As a ride this morning revealed, it works extremely well—just as well as the current-generation Campagnolo Centaur it replaced.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Evita: My Sister's Heavily Transformed Raleigh Grand Sports

I gave my sister a bike for her birthday last year. Enthusiastic as I am about the Rivendell Reader and Grant Petersen, etc., I am not really the sort of rider it and he cater to—I like riding fast, and I like my handlebars low. Not so my sister! She's not a cyclist by any means—but, with three young kids and lots of shopping to do, she wanted a bike she could use to take them out for rides, and buy groceries with. An interesting challenge!

The build began with a Raleigh Grand Sports I found on Craigslist. The frame is a nice Reynolds 531 DB, has lots of clearance for fenders, and a nice long wheelbase. The Simplex drivetrain came off, as did the wheels. The handlebars lived briefly on Niles and now reside on Alan, my cross bike. The Stronglight cranks are on my city bike. The saddle is on my mom's bike, below.

I bought handlebars from Rivendell, respaced the frame and added some wheels and derailleurs I had from previous projects, added racks, shellac, etc. The original brakes and stem came in handy.

The photos below are horribly overexposed. And the bike they show is somewhat clownish. But it's incredibly practical, very fun, and a pefect match to my sister's personality. She loves it!

Before. Trust me: I was tempted to leave things exactly as they were!

After. Trust me: I was tempted to use aluminum fenders! But apparently these are doing the trick.

Peculiar cockpit.

Genuine and imitation Reynolds decals! Red housing.

Happy sister.