Monday, August 19, 2013

My Fun Disaster at the 2013 Hansen Dam Triathlon

Though I have moved out of the San Fernando Valley to Santa Clarita, I still consider the Hansen Dam Triathlon to be my hometown race. It's the race that got me started training and it's a fun course so I try to do it every year. I had to miss last year because of my accident but I signed up to do it this year. However, with my decision several months ago to shift from triathlon to track cycling, this hasn't been a good year for triathlon training. My cycling is better than ever, my runs are limited to once a week, and swimming is pretty much non-existent. Still, I signed up for the race so, if I wanted the race shirt, I needed to do the race.

The big problem is the swim. I just don't feel like swimming much so I haven't done it. So I decided I needed to do at least ONE swim before the race. So, like a good procrastinator, I got in the local pool on the Friday before the race (my first swim in since March 2012). It was pretty horrible. My engine is good but my arms? Not so much. I could swim fifties all workout. Hundreds weren't even so bad. However, when I tried swimming a 200, things got bad. I'm not even sure I made it the whole 200; I might have stopped after 150. When I was done I felt like I was going to be sick. How was I going to do 500 yards on Sunday? Ugh. Horror show. One hope, though: it was my hope that this small workout (just 700 - 800 yards) would serve as a wake-up call to my body and that, somehow, it would respond the morning of the race.

My running had dropped off lately. Between changing apartments and preparing for trial for my never-ending divorce (I know, I know: nobody goes to trial--believe me, it's not my choice), running has taken a back seat for the past couple of months. Still, I knew finishing a 5K would be no problem so the plan was to just cruise through it. A nice jog.

With just my commutes to work (26 miles from work, 40 miles to work), my cycling is better than ever. I'm faster, spending more time in the big ring, and stronger. This triathlon was going to be all about the bike. I wanted to average at least 20 mph during the bike. I didn't care about frying my legs for the run, I wanted that bike split.

Race morning came and I made the trip to the site. The weather was going to be great: not chilly and not hot. I was so worried about finishing the swim that I didn't even bother warming up. I wanted to save whatever strength my arms had for the race. The gun went off and I waded...slowly...into the water. When I couldn't walk anymore, it was time to swim. Nice and slow. The plan was to breaststroke near each of the three buoys of the 500 yard course to give me some rest time. I got to that first buoy and felt pretty good. Hey, I can finish this! So I did. It wasn't fast but I did finish.

No world-class transitions this year. I walked to my bike, switched gear quickly, and was off. Crap! I get about 100 yards and find out I have a flat. I hadn't even had a chance to get in my shoes yet! Grr. Oh, well. I changed the flat quickly (too quickly, it turns out) and was off again. I started my computer at this point because, while the official clock was ticking off during the flat fix, I only cared about my pedaling time. I was breathing heavily at first but was soon able to get past that and the race was on! I wanted to be in the small chainring to start but once we turned the corner onto Foothill, I would switch into the big chainring when we started that slight decline and stay there for the rest of the ride. I was passing people a lot, especially on hills!, which makes no sense. In fact, I passed about ten riders when we went up that little roller past the All Nations Church. I just got out of the saddle and stomped on my pedals. Nobody from that group caught me on the ride. I got to the top of Hansen Dam and was still going strong. Not quite as fast as I wanted but my average speed was inching up towards 20 mph. When you go past the middle of Hansen Dam, there is a very slight decline (at least it seems so to me) but I didn't get the speed bump up I was hoping for. I figured I just had tired legs so I pedaled harder. Then I found out why my speed wasn't what I wanted: I flatted again. What likely happened is that, in my haste to fix the first flat, I neglected to find out what caused it and remove the little pokey. Sigh. If I wanted to finish the race, I needed to walk it in. The big bummer was that the rest of the course was downhill so I was going to hit my goal. I declare a moral victory.

I walked it in, at least a half mile, jogging a bit when I turned the corner to the transition area to milk some applause out of the spectators. I racked my bike, got my running gear on, and headed out for a nice jog on the trail. When I finished, I simply walked around for a bit and then headed to In-N-Out for my traditional post-race meal of a Double-Double, Animal Fries (I only eat them after a race), and a shake. It turns out that I finished last in my age group but only by 12 seconds. Not bad when you consider I lost probably over 15 minutes due to my flats. Even with all my drama, I did have fun. I wouldn't mind continuing to do this race in the future. I would also want to figure out how to better keep my swimming up in the future. Swimming once a week or so could probably do it, as long as I keep my engine up on the bike and run. We'll see.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Why I Became A Team Kit Dork

You've seen them. Those guys wearing Radio Shack, BMC, Columbia-HTC, etc. team kit but don't look like skinny pros. Amateurs wearing pro team kit. What's up with that? Are they wannabe pros? Do they think they're fooling anybody? On the other hand, is it really any different than people walking around in a Raiders jersey? I have stayed away from wearing team kit because I wasn't sure about the whole thing.

I now have a confession to make: I have become (a bit) of a team kit dork. What's up with that?

I do have a defense, so hear me out. First, I am doing long commutes to/from work so I want to wear something visible. With (sub)urban cycling long distances, I want all the visibility I can get. I do these commutes with a flashing headlight and taillight to help car drivers see me better. The last thing I want to wear on these rides is some oh-so-stylish Rapha kit than blends into the background. Give me some bright colors! Where to find them, though? Looking around, it seems like striking jersey colors aren't all the rage right now. When I was laid up after my crash, I was watching a road race on the computer. I became curious: which team kit stood out the most in the peloton. I had two answers: Lampre and Rabobank. ProBikeKit had Lampre kit in my size, but not Rabobank, so I ordered me a jersey and bibshorts. It would be several months before I could try it out but when I finally did, it felt fine. I'm assuming that cars can see me well.

Problem, though: that Lampre kit, like most cycling kit, wasn't cheap. In fact, it was a bit of a splurge with my insurance money. A purchase like that wasn't going to be happening on a regular basis. What to do? I needed more than one high-visibility outfit for my commutes. While watching another bike race, my girlfriend commented that she liked the Liquigas (now Cannondale, which she likes, too) kit. Curious, I went searching for the Cannondale kit and that's when I discovered them: sellers in China offering team kit at ridiculous prices. Tempting but what is the quality of this stuff? I decided to place an order for one kit and see what I bought. After a few weeks, my Liquigas kit arrived and it looked pretty good. I have been on a couple of rides with it and it feels great. So far so good. So good, in fact, that I have ordered three more (2012 Rabobank, 2011 Milram (which isn't exactly high-visibility but I've always loved the cow spots), and 2011 Acqua & Sapone) from the same seller. I'll see how they hold up in the long-term but I am hopeful.

How can I order three more if money is supposedly a concern? Honestly, for what I paid for that Lampre kit last year, I can get four of the other kits from China. And it seems to be good stuff, too! As I understand it, most of the official team kit comes from China, anyway, so why not cut out the middle man? I have to admit, though, that price is the biggest factor. Good quality stuff for that cheap? And it's exactly what I am looking for: high-visibility cycling gear. It was really hard to say "No" to all that.

I haven't become a total team kit dork, though. I won't be wearing it on group rides with the LBS or when I start track cycling. I am reserving it for my commutes and solo rides around the area. That keeps me from being a total dork, right?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

At The Crossroads

This started off as one of my standard event reports for the recent California Classic Weekend but things have been swirling around in my head...

The century ride was fun. Aid stations every fifteen miles really helped. I had plenty of nutrition on my own but my feet and butt needed a break. While my fit is much improved, I need a new saddle to get me through rides of much more than two hours. I'm eyeing the Selle SMP Pro but we'll see. I also need to fix my numb feet. I thought loosening my shoes would be the answer but, clearly, that is not the case. I do have an idea regarding insoles, though, so we'll see if that helps. As far as riding went, I was pleased. I had to save something for the run the next day but I did okay. I was especially pleased with my performance up "the hill": three miles averaging 9%. I didn't fly up but I didn't stop or walk and was able to get out of the saddle when I wanted to. Very nice. My goal for next time is to have the fastest time on Strava for that very fun downhill on the ride. It's possible.

The half-marathon the next day was kinda tough. I wasn't in as good running shape as I was two years ago so that wasn't a surprise. What was really tough was my heel getting sore around ten miles in. It wasn't so painful that I had to stop but I could tell that I am not going to be able to do a marathon unless I get this problem fixed. That will likely mean surgery. I'm really not in a position to even consider that right now.

What has my brain swirling was triggered by what happened at the end of the ride. While it wasn't what you'd call a bunch sprint, a bunch of us were trying to cross the finish line first. What happened was that I did...fairly easily. At 50 years of age, I don't think that's supposed to happen. It got me thinking about track cycling again. Do I really want to keep heading down this triathlon path when I don't like the swim training and I have a physical problem that is keeping me from running a full marathon? When there is this other sport, track cycling, which I am much better suited for physically, and where, for the first time in my life, someone commented that I may have a talent for it?

The last time I tried track cycling I had to stop for a couple of reasons. First was a bad IT Band problem that I developed after only two sessions, likely due to bad (rental) bike fit. The second was that I needed to work on basic track-specific skills like pacelines (much tighter than on the road), track stands, etc. before tackling group workouts and races. Then two months later was my accident.

I took another look at the Home Depot Center Velodrome and they seem to have a much more structured way of progressing from beginner, as opposed to the "jump in the deep end" approach at Encino. I'm thinking that using the money I would have spent on my planned iron-distance triathlon, or even the half, would be better spent at the track. I will likely find out in fairly short order whether I have a knack for it or not.

So now I find myself at a crossroads:

  • Off in the distance is the goal of doing an Ironman. It was never a "bucket list" thing or life-long dream. It was just something I thought would be an adventure. It's now looking like it's not going to happen in the foreseeable future.
  • Over there in August is the Hansen Dam Triathlon, which I have already signed up for. No getting out of starting swimming workouts soon, I'm afraid. It's just a sprint so it should be fun. I'm thinking that one of that or the IronBruin or the Merced Gateway will be my only triathlon I do in a season.
  • The velodrome is what I am really looking forward to now. The speed! The newness! The tighter jeans as my thighs get bigger! Yes, even at 50 I can still put on quite a bit of muscle. I know because I was doing it before my accident.
  • Finally, road cycling. Even if I went crazy with the track cycling, I would still need to bike on the road and, more importantly, I really want to keep riding on the road. It was the part of triathlon training that I always liked the most. Riding to work, longer rides on the weekend, centuries and whatnot. I really like it.
Hey, as long as I'm active, getting fit, and having fun, I'll be happy. It just looks like the focus won't be on triathlon like it has been for the past few years.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Building My Bike: #11 The Verdict and Lessons

I have been riding my bike for several weeks so I know enough about it that I can comment on it and the whole building experience. First, building my bike was totally worth it. Besides the obvious cost-savings, I know so much more about bikes now. I am not afraid to tackle almost any bike repair job and, as an added bonus, I now have more tools than I did before.

As far as the bike goes, I really like it. I am a whole gear faster/stronger than my previous bike. Before, if I would ride some section of road in the fifth cog, now I ride it in the (next-smallest) sixth. I'm guessing that it's because my fit is better. With a nine-month layoff before this, it's not because I'm stronger. My hands no longer get so numb on long rides. The bikes corners very well. In what is probably a combination of titanium and the 25mm tires, the ride is less harsh than my previous bike. Sections of rides that I am very familiar with and know to be bumpy are much less so now.

It does have a few minuses, though. First, my feet are located much closer to the front wheel, which comes into play at very slow speeds if I have to make a severe steer (like turning around on a bike path or the wobbles that happen when you slowly approach a red light, waiting for it to turn green). The tire can bump into my feet if I turn far enough. This is a bit unsettling but since I don't have to steer like that too often, I am managing. The frame has some flex up top. I don't feel any flex if I get out of the saddle to climb but I do notice it on bumpy roads and working hard in the saddle up a climb. Finally, my center of gravity has moved backwards such that I have to make a few adjustments. First, on descents I no longer have to slide my butt back in the saddle; rather, I just lean forward (which really isn't a minus). Second, if I am doing a steep climb I can actually pull on the hoods so hard that the front wheel will come off the ground. If that happens I lean forward or get out of the saddle, which also puts me more forward.

These minuses demonstrate to me the value of a custom frame builder. If I had the $$, I could have taken my fit data to a builder and, while the dimensions of the bike would mostly be the same, a builder (I hope) would have noticed that my feet were too close to the front wheel and made an adjustment there. And would have noticed that the head tube should be tapered and the top tube should be bigger to cut down on flex (for example--I don't know if those are true) . Alas, I don't have a lot of $$ right now so I can deal with these little minuses. Make no mistake, I am very happy with my bike.

Here are some lessons I learned during this odyssey:

  • Find the best bike fitter in your area (which is, likely, not some guy in your LBS) and spend the money to get a real fit, preferably before you buy your next bike. It is so worth it.
  • Get the right tools for the job. If you are going to build your bike and don't have the tools to do it, prepare to spend money on new tools. Get good ones from a reputable company and don't try to jury-rig something...unless you are a natural handyman (I am not).
  • That said, know which LBS you can turn to for advice, parts, and repairs. Even though I did this "myself", I went to Bicycle John's Santa Clarita several times for endcaps, a cable cutter, installation of headset, installation of the bottom bracket, a shifter cable, and even some washers. They were great.
  • Cameras are wonderful. Use them when taking things apart (like cassettes) so you can use the pictures for reference when putting those things back together.
  • If you don't already have one, for goodness sake get a repair stand.
  • If you can afford pro-level gear, get it. It may be twice as expensive as something lesser but if that amount is within your budget, get it.
  • Bike assembly and repair really isn't that hard. Once you have the tools, the main thing you need is experience and you only get that by doing so dive right in.

A great experience. Time to go for a ride!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

4221 Snacks

Long bike rides, such as the bike leg of an Ironman, require taking in calories to complete. I like e-Gels by Crank Sports; they have electrolytes, too. I often have a Snickers bar early in a long ride (before it melts). I get some calories from my Michaelade. That's still not enough, though. For training rides, I have been known to pack a burrito or a small beef sandwich (or two) but I have been looking for something else. Something snacky I can take on training rides and races. I hate Power Bars. Hate them. I don't really care for many other bars (or waffles), though Bonk Breakers aren't bad. Problem with stuff like that, though, is they're kinda pricey. Could I come up with my own snack?

I came across a recipe by Leah Vande Velde, pro rider Christian Vande Velde's wife, for her homemade energy bars, so I made them. Not quite right for me so I tweaked and experimented and came up with a recipe that is what I'm looking for and tastes yummy, too. I call them 4221 Snacks. "4221" because that makes it easy to keep the recipe in my head. "Snacks" because I don't make bars out of them. I make balls out of them:

4221 Snacks

  • 4 Cups Cereal (Rice Krispies, Cocoa Krispies, etc.)
  • 2 Cups of Nuts & Chews (Try 1C Almonds and 1C Golden Raisins)
  • 2 Cups of Sugary Stuff (I use 1C Brown Sugar and 1C Corn Syrup)
  • 1 Cup of Thick Stuff (I use 1/2C Peanut Butter and 1/2C Tahini)
  1. Put cereal and Nuts & Chews in a mixing bowl and mix together.
    Generic Cocoa Krispies, chopped roasted almonds, raisins,
    and chopped dried figs before getting stirred together.
  2. Heat Sugary Stuff in a saucepan on low. Stir until it melts.
  3. Add Thick Stuff to saucepan. Stir until melted and mixed.
  4. Apply non-stick spray to a baking sheet.
  5. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl. Mix until the dry ingredients are well coated. Don't be lazy here. If the wet mixture cools off it will be hard to work with.
  6. Use a disher to scoop the mixture and place scoops on the baking sheet.
    Scoops on the baking sheet ready to be frozen.
  7. Put baking sheet in freezer.
  8. After a few hours (or, even better, overnight) remove the snack balls from the baking sheet and place them in a zipper storage bag. Store in the freezer.

That's it. When I am ready to use the snacks on a ride I take them out of the freezer, wrap them individually in plastic wrap, and put them in my jersey pocket or Bento Box. They hold up well in the heat, aren't too sticky (hold them with the plastic wrap while eating), the Thick Stuff gives them a savory feel that is a welcome change from gels and other sweet snacks, and they don't upset my stomach.

Warning: this snack is only meant to be eaten while cycling or other multi-hour endurance activity. It is fairly calorie-dense so if you eat it while you're sitting around the office, you may feel the need to run around the block several times and/or play a game of basketball to burn off the energy you just ate.

Here are some notes on the ingredients:

  • I have only used the aforementioned Rice Krispies and Cocoa Krispies (their generic equivalents, truth be told). I suspect Cheerios may work, though I do wonder about how its fiber might affect me. Maybe Corn Flakes. Cocoa Puffs sound really interesting.
  • I wouldn't mess around too much with the Sugary Stuff. I find this combination holds things together well.
  • Nuts & Chews is where you can really experiment. Dried fruit, chocolate chips, different kinds of nuts. Just make sure things are no bigger than raisin-sized because it helps them stay attached. For example, if you want to use almonds, chop them up a little.
  • If you use peanut butter in your Thick Stuff, don't use the natural kind that separates (like my favorite, Laura Scudder's). Use something like Jif so it will hold together in the heat.

I first started working on this in 2012 and found that, in combination with Michaelade, I was recovering much better from long, hard rides. I'm not saying that these things are some kind of nutritional silver bullet. More like I was finally ingesting enough calories on my rides.

I use a #12 disher for my snacks, which results in 20 scoops (be conservative and level those scoops because you don't want these snacks to be huge--I've tried that and it's too much). Here is the nutritional breakdown per scoop for the above recipe using Rice Krispies, almonds, and golden raisins. YMMV because of different ingredients, scoop sizes, etc.:

  • 35.1g Carbhohydrates
  • 4.2g Protein
  • 9.2g Fat
  • 226 Calories

Like I said, "calorie-dense". Enjoy and I hope this inspires you to make your own snacks. If you are interested in making your own cycling snacks, you might want to check out Allen Lim's new book, Feed Zone Portables. I haven't read it yet but it does sound promising.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Building My Bike: #10 Bar Tape

Everything was put together. The fitting had been completed. I put the insert in the steerer tube and the stem was firmly attached to it. There was just one thing left to make the bike complete and I couldn't put it off anymore: it was time to wrap the handlebar with tape.

The reason for my hesitation stemmed from my attempts to wrap bar tape on my ten-speed back in high school (known as "the seventies" to you youngsters). It always ended in disaster. However, the bar tape you get to work with now is so much better than that plastic stuff from way back when. For the tape, I stuck with with what I know and has been working for me: Cinelli Cork. It feels good, it looks good, and it comes in a variety of colors and patterns. Another nice thing about this tape is that there is a small strip of adhesive on the back to hold it down while you're wrapping.

To build up my confidence, I watched this video a few times:

Time to get started:

Wrap those cables first.
1. Wrap the cables to the bar with electrical tape.

Those "spare" bar tape strips
go behind the shifters.
2. Use the extra tape section to wrap behind the brake handle.

3. Beginning at the bar end, wrap, wrap, wrap. Wrap, wrap, wrap. Woops, running out of tape. I guess my original plan of overlapping by half the tape width was way too conservative. Unwrap, unwrap, unwrap. This time I'm going to wrap so that the adhesive strip on the back lands just outside the tape underneath.

I wrapped with the adhesive
just outside the tape below.

Re-rap, wrap, wrap, double over the brake handle, wrap, wrap, wrap. Done!

4. Instead of using electrical tape, Cinelli provides tape strips (with their logo, natch) to tape the end. Some people used to recommend using an X-Acto knife to cut the end of the tape so it is perpendicular with the bar but using scissors is much easier and you don't cut into your bar.

An improvised mallet.
5. Time to put the bar-end plugs in. Hmm, that isn't going in easily. In fact, it was pretty hard. I ended up using a hammer but, because I didn't have a soft mallet, I had to improvise by putting some extra bar tape on the hammer head and whacked those plugs in.

Not a bad job.
There! Not a bad job. Not a great job but not a bad job. Fear of wrapping the handlebars begone!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Building My Bike: #9 Stem, Saddle, and Fit

In the home stretch now. The stem and saddle are very easy to put on but they are the heart of a proper fit (after the frame's geometry, of course) so I wanted to try and get them close to the measurements from my fit.

First would be the stem. I did rough measuring and found that I would need to stack the steerer as high as I could to attach the stem, and even then I wasn't sure that would be high enough. If that was the case, there exist stems with steep angles that can raise the handlebar even higher but I was hoping we wouldn't have to go that far.

How high did I stack things, and how did I do it? Well, a couple of years ago a quick special came up on the old Bonktown site for some carbon spacers--cheap! I ordered them and put them on my old bike, saving the old ones that came with it (in bike repair, it pays to save as many of these spare parts as possible). I also didn't use all the spacers so I had some more spares there. I ended up using almost all the carbon spacers and the old bike's spacers to get the stack high enough, which turned out to be about 2 1/4". Yes, 2.25 inches. Someday I'll get some nice Chris King matching spacers but, for now, this alternating pattern will do.

Putting the saddle on was a piece of cake, of course. I did need to use anti-seize on the seatpost because it being metal meeting titanium. I set it to the neighborhood of the right height, based on the fit measurements. Then I tried adjusting saddle angle and forward-backwards position. After a few very short test rides around the driveway I decided that saddle fine-tuning would be better done by a professional.

Note that the steerer tube was still un-cut at this point. I didn't think it would need to be cut at all but I wanted to be absolutely sure and that would not happen until I finished my fit. For my 3T Funda Pro fork, this presented a problem. It has an insert that you epoxy inside the top of the steerer tube after you have cut it. The insert is where the top cap screws into the fork. Without that insert, the fork is loose. If you ride a bike much with a loose fork/headset, apparently you can really mess the headset up. Another reason to stop doing test rides and get the verdict on cutting the steerer tube.

So the bike was pretty much assembled, except for bar tape, which I couldn't put on until I found out about the steerer tube. Here is what it looked like at that point:

Time to go back to FinalFit. A lot had happened since my last trip there back in June 2012! They had moved and changed their name to ERO Sports but it is still run by Jim Manton. Once he saw the name on the bike he remembered my whole story and was eager to see how the bike turned out, since he might be able to recommend Carver to people looking for a custom frame. Jim took out his measuring tape to see how the bike compared to the fit numbers we arrived at in June and I was very happy (and relieved) when he said it was perfect (even my high stacking of the stem!). He even commented that the frame looked very well-put together. All we should need to do was tweak the saddle position (up/down/forward/backwards/angle) and that turned out to be the case. I'd ride (the bike on a trainer). He'd tweak. I'd ride. He'd tweak. We were very close but not quite there and then he made a very slight adjustment and everybody (I brought my girlfriend) could tell that that was the missing piece. I rode faster and looked more comfortable. I'm not even sure what he adjusted but the fit was now excellent!

I brought the bike home, marked the seatpost position with tape in case it slipped later (it did), took pictures of the saddle set-up, removed the fork and epoxy'd the insert to the steerer tube, put the fork back on the bike, and got ready for the last big challenge: bar tape.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Building My Bike: #8 Cables

Stretching new cable.
What makes me the most nervous about any kind of project is doing something permanent. For example: cutting. For this project, that includes cutting a chain, cutting bar tape, and cutting cable. I try to cut long when I can because my fear is cutting short and ruining something, which means I have to spend more $$. Nervous.

Stock ferrule didn't fit.
Don't go without ferrules.
I started with the brake cables because I thought they would be the easiest and they were. Route them through the brake handles, run them through the housing and then through cable guides, hook them up to the brakes. Done. Something helpful to do, though, is stretching the cable. Once the cable is hooked up, grab a section and pull on it a few times. Then go back and tighten it up again. Cables stretch, especially when they're new, so pre-stretching as much as you can does help.

A step-down ferrule.
Another helpful tip is don't use the wire-cutters you may already have. You are not going to be just cutting cable but also the housing, which is plastic on the outside and metal underneath. Traditional wire-cutters can cut the cable but squish the housing. Get yourself a cable and housing cutter. Mine is made by Jagwire and it also does endcap crimping.

Perfect fit.
I had a bit of an adventure with the cable housing ferrules, those metal things you put at the end of a section of housing. The ferrules that came with the cable housing did not fit the cable guides on my frame. They kinda went in but didn't fit well. So, I thought I would try to get away with not using ferrules. Bad idea. Stupid idea. So I put the ferrules back on but wasn't happy. I did some internet searching and found some step-down ferrules. I went to a LBS to see if they had some, they did, I put them on, and they were perfect.

That bit of daylight is
where the cable goes.
The shifter cables were a bit more of an adventure. I started off by having a hard time figuring out where to start running it through the shifter (I should mention that these are Shimano Ultegra shifters). I should have taken a picture of where I pulled the old cable out. I figured out the right opening and ran the cable through it. However, it wasn't smooth going. I kept pulling on the cable, though. I knew I was in trouble when the cable stop kept going. It actually got a bit stuck in the shifter. After taking a few things off the shifter (those things are pretty complicated and don't disassemble so well--which is why they're so expensive), and some luck, I was able to pull the cable back out. This time I turned the bike in the stand so I could take a good look at the bottom of the shifter. See that hole in the bottom left? In there is some daylight. That is where the cable needed to run through. Once I figured that out, the cable went in smoothly.

What a cable stretcher can do
if you're not careful
The cable to the rear derailleur was easy: run it, hook it up, stretch it a bit. Piece of cake. The front derailleur, though...

Let me admit that the front derailleur has always been my nemesis, even when installed by a bike shop. It would stretch and I'd have to pull it but I would screw up and shifting up front would suck for a while. Same thing happened here. I installed the cable but I couldn't get it tight enough, shifting would be okay for a while but it wouldn't take long for the cable to stretch (I could never seem to stretch it enough), so I'd pull the cable some more, I couldn't get it tight enough, shifting would be okay for a get the picture. Clearly I was missing something and that something was a "cable stretcher" or a "fourth-hand tool". It's a clever little tool (mine is from Park Tools) that grabs the cable, lets you pull it tight, then lock that pull in place while you tighten the bolt. If you're not careful, though, you can mess up your cable while using it so let me give a few tips:

  1. Do not cut your cable until after you have used the stretching tool to install it. Even then, you'll probably want to cut it long the first time because it is going to stretch and you are likely going to have to pull it again. You do this because the cable won't fray as much if it is whole. If you try using it on a bare cable end, see the picture above.
  2. If you do cut it again, make sure you leave enough length to use the cable stretcher well-within the end cap. You don't want to knock the endcap off while you are using the cable stretcher. See the photo above.
  3. For the front derailleur, set the inside adjustment screw about midway. Once you install the cable, you are going to be screwing it in so make sure you have some room to do that.
  4. Set the chain in the largest cog in your cassette and the small chainring. This is as far in as your front derailleur will be going.
  5. Using the cable stretcher, pull the cable so your front derailleur is as close to the chain as possible. Though we will be using the screw to fine-tune the adjustment, you don't want to make a big adjustment with it.
  6. Lock the cable stretcher and screw the cable down.
  7. Stretch the cable with your fingers as much as you can. More than once.
  8. Repeat steps 5 and 6.
  9. Lastly, don't squeeze the tool with a death grip. It is not needed because with this tool you don't need that much effort to stretch the cable. If you squeeze too hard you can fray your cable even if you haven't cut it yet.

Since I used the cable stretcher my front shifter cable doesn't have slack and it shifts just fine. There is still some slack in the rear brake cable but I am not sure what I can do about that yet. The brake works just fine but when I go over bumps the cable slaps against the frame, which isn't harmful but it is annoying.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Building My Bike: #7 Brakes, Derailleurs, and Chain

Front too close.
Rear too close.
What could be so hard about brakes? Take them off the old bike, put them on the new frame, put new brake pads on. Done, right? The problem was that both brakes didn't fit on the new frame. Huh? I've never heard of brakes not fitting but they didn't fit. The rear brake pads were right up against the seat stays and the front brake pads were right up against the fork. Mild panic because I didn't want to buy new brakes. Did some reading. Didn't find anything. Okay, if this isn't a problem that's documented then it isn't a problem, right? If you look at where the brake contacts where it's going, there's this thick washer. Perhaps I just needed another thick washer.
Front with washers.
Rear with washers.
Well, I couldn't find any at the hardware store or the LBS ("I must throw out ten of those a week." Sigh.) so I improvised. I decided to use regular washers and stack them until the pads cleared their obstruction. It took three washers for each brake but it worked. Now, I'm not convinced that regular washers are the best thing to use. They are smooth and the thick washer that was with the brakes is serrated, likely to keep it from turning when force is applied to the brakes. I looked and I looked and I finally found that JensonUSA stocks serrated washers so when I next place an order from them, I will include some of these.

Derailleurs proved to be a bit easier. Hanging the front derailleur was pretty straightforward: put it a few millimeters above the big chainring. The rear derailleur was a bit more interesting. Putting it on was no problem but I noticed this adjusting screw that I hadn't seen before (because you don't really see it until you're looking at the derailleur from the inside). It is the B-adjustment screw and it is used to, in a nutshell, keep the cage from rubbing up against the cassette (learn all about rear derailleur adjustments from Sheldon Brown). That would have to wait until I put the chain on.

As for the chain, I could have gone with the usual Shimano Ultegra chain but I decided to give the KMC X10.93 chain a try. It was almost half the cost of the Shimano and it got great reviews. Sold. The instructions in the FLO Cycling guide I have been using say to wrap your chain around the big chainring and the biggest cog, add two links (one if you have a master link, which the KMC has) and that is the length of your chain. I was a bit skeptical but I checked other sources and they had the same advice. Worked great. I was surprised when all that fit in the rear derailleur but it did.

Now that the chain was installed, I could go back and work on that B-adjustment screw. The FLO Cycling video that accompanies the guide for this shows the top-most pulley always quite a distance from the cassette. Hmm. My top-most pulley only gets that way when it is pulled down a bit by the chain. Hmm. Well, I'm not convinced I have totally set this correctly but it is working for now. I'll probably have to revisit this.

That was the easy part of setting up the derailleurs. The real adjustments happen after I attach the cables.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Building My Bike: #6 Wheels and Tires

The crash wrecked my wheels. There weren't taco-d but they were so messed up that I needed to get new ones. I liked the Vuelta wheels that came on my old bike. A little aero, bladed spokes, and demonstrably bomb-proof. I wanted to see what else was out there, though.

The first set that caught my eye was the Mavic Cosmic Elite. Very similar to the Vueltas feature-wise. They were right on the upper edge of what I wanted to spend but they were tough to find on sale and in stock. I did find a good source for them, though: eBay. Seems that they are the standard wheels on some bikes but people want to upgarde to better wheels so they put their Cosmic Elites on sale. I got close in a few auctions but then I started wondering whether I really wanted to spend $400 on wheels. I decided to find another set.

Next up was the Reynolds Shadow. Spokes aren't bladed but the price was right. However, they were really hard to find in-stock in online stores (some stores say they've been discontinued). I also had a question about how bomb-proof they were, since there wasn't much in the way of reviews to check out. See, light, fast, and expensive wheels are made for whippet riders. Us bigger folks need heavier wheels that won't crumple when we bunny-hop over potholes.

In the end, I decided to go with what I knew: Vueltas. The Vuelta Corsa Pro, to be specific. I already knew that Vueltas could handle my load. They are 30mm deep and have bladed spokes. Clinchers, of course. And the price at JensonUSA was right. Sold.

Tires wasn't much of a decision but I did decide to go with something slightly new. My go-to tires are Vittoria Rubino Pros. I have tried tires by Continental, Specialized, Vredstein, and Michelin but I keep coming back to Vittoria. They wear well, hold up against punctures better than the others, feel good (really, some tires just don't feel good from the first few pedal strokes) and I can run them at high pressure (120psi rear, 110 front). However, instead of the typical 23mm tires, I wanted to try 25mm tires. More grip on the road and a supposedly smoother ride. We'll see.

I should mention rim tape. Because I use such high pressure in my tires, I can't use regular rim tape. Did you know that? Neither did I until I did some rides with the higher pressure and I got a flat going downhill on the inside of the tube. I did some reading and found that because of the high pressure, regular rim tape can fail, allowing the tube to expand in the spoke holes and flat. I now buy Vittoria High Pressure Rim Tape (up to 145psi) and put that on my rims.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Building My Bike: #5 Bottom Bracket, Crankset and Cassette

I had hoped to move the drivetrain from my old bicycle to the new frame and I did, for the most part. Taking the crankset off was straightforward. I had never taken a cassette off a wheel, so that was new but wasn't too hard. A helpful tip: cassettes come off one cog-at-a-time (for the most part) and there are spacers between some of them so take pictures of the pieces that come off in the order that you took them off. It will really help you putting things back together.

When it came time to remove the bottom bracket, I found I had two problems. First, I had the wrong tool because I thought I had a BB with external cups. Yeah, that's a stupid thing to not notice but, in my defense, my old bike originally came with one but that changed when I switched to a compact crankset, so I'm not completely hallucinatory. The second problem was that when I turned the bottom bracket, it felt a bit rough so I figured it needed replacing. I decided to let get a new bottom bracket and at the LBS and let them install it. I'm not convinced that was the most cost-effective decision but I didn't want to buy yet another tool and was anxious to get this done. Oh well, they put it on and it is smooth as silk.

Putting the crankset on the new bike was, of course, a piece of cake.

Before I put the cassette on the new wheel, I wanted to clean it. All I did was mix up some water with degreaser and soak the cogs in there while I did other work on the bike. After an hour or two I took them out, wiped them off with a shop towel, and put them on the rear hub. While they don't exactly look new, it is a huge improvement over how they looked before.

Oh, and while I was down there, I added the bottom bracket cable guide. That's something you don't usually think about, do you? Not only does your LBS probably not stock them, they are kind of a neglected part out there on the internet. Your best bet is to find them on eBay. The problem is that there are different sizes of cable guides because of the different sizes of bottom brackets and you don't always get a description of the BB size for your cable guide. The guide from my old bike didn't fit so, originally, I bought a Campagnolo cable guide on eBay because I thought it would be funny ("Find the Campy part I used."). It turns out that it was made for a bigger BB so I couldn't use it, either (though I did try and ended up stripping the cheap screw in the process--I had to break the cable guide and used pliers to remove the screw). Stopped at the LBS, they had a couple different types laying around so I got both. The ugly one fit best. Oh well, nobody will see it but me.

Update 3/2/13: Competitive Cyclist just posted a gallery of their new Merlin Extralight titanium bike. Look at the bottom bracket cable guide! Looks like I'm in good company.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Building My Bike: #4 Headset and Fork

The headset. It doesn't do so much. It connects the fork's steerer tube to the head tube, allowing you to steer the bike. And that's it. So how do you decide what headset to get? I don't have much experience with them but the overwhelming consensus on the internet is that Chris King makes the best headsets. They work well and they last. Sounds good. Headsets don't cost all that much, relatively speaking, and, while a Chris King Nothreadset costs over $100, which is twice what a lower-end headset costs, it's still not the most expensive one out there. A pro-level component for not much over $100? Sold.

I thought getting a fork was going to be much simpler than what it turned out to be. That's because I didn't know as much about forks as I do now. Specifically: fork geometry. See, I thought I could just buy any old carbon fork and it would be good. So I went to Bike Island, which stocks components found on bikes, and looked at forks. Something I noticed was this thing called "rake". It differed between different forks. Hmmm. So I did some reading on the internet about forks, which lead to another term: "trail". Good thing I did. Because of my frame's head tube angle, the rake found on most forks would not give me the right amount of trail. That article said a trail of 57mm is ideal but that is what my last bike had and I could not ride hands-free for very long so I wanted a bit more trail. I used this handy trail calculator and found that I needed a fork with a rake of between 48 and 50mm to get the trail I wanted (time will tell if it makes much difference). Finding a fork with a trail like that was not much of a problem. For instance, both 3T and ENVE make forks like that. Finding a fork with a trail like that that wasn't over $400 proved to be more of a test. I finally found an online store that had a 3T Funda Pro fork with a 49mm rake (which made my trail 60mm) at a good price. Sold.

Fork (with crown race), headset, and frame. All I needed to do was put them together. It turns out that assembling all that requires specialized tools that is just not worth me purchasing. I dropped everything off at the LBS and the job was done the next day. If you get a headset installed on your frame, check out its orientation. If the headset's logo is aligned (e.g. the logo faces forward), your shop is paying attention to details (mine did). That's a good thing.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Building My Bike: #3 The Frame

I talked a little bit about ordering my frame in a previous post but things didn't turn out quite as planned so I'm going to write about the process of getting a custom frame and a little about the frame itself.

Based on my fit, we decided to go with a completely custom frame. I went to a dealer for Carver Bikes to order a custom titanium frame. Went went through the list of options and, since I am working with a limited budget, only chose a couple of them. I put down my deposit and they sent the order in. The frame was to be delivered around October or November. Great!

Some time had gone by and it turns out the order wasn't progressing. Why? Well, when you order a custom frame, the frame builder needs some all of them. How did the bike shop not know this? I went back and forth with the shop a few times but they would tell me one thing, somebody else would tell me another, and then I wouldn't hear from the shop. I took matters into my own hands and called Carver directly, speaking with Davis Carver himself. He was very helpful and told me exactly what I needed: basically, the geometry of a bike that would likely fit and we could use that as a starting point. I asked Jim from FinalFit what bike that would be and he told me that the Trek Domane, with a slightly different seat angle, would be that bike. I sent the geometry of the Domane to Davis, told him about the seat angle, and we were off.

He came back with a very detailed blueprint for a proposed frame. Now I saw why he needed the geometry. Length of tubes and stays, various angles. I have pretty much only ridden my old bike so I don't have experience with how these different measurements affect my ride so it was great that Jim could suggest the Domane. Given that it's made for Fabian Cancellara to ride in Paris-Roubaix, I am optimistic that it will be a comfy frame.

The blueprint showed that the seat angle was making the wheelbase too short so I changed the seat angle from my ideal of 71 degrees to 72 (Jim said we could still work with that) and lengthened the top tube by 1cm. Carver sent me a revised blueprint and I studied that for a while. I was having problems getting a response from Jim but, in all fairness to him, he was getting ready to move his business (again) and launch a new one so I understood. While I was debating whether to change the blueprint, Davis sent me an email...with pictures. The frame from the last blueprint was actually made by the guys in Taiwan! I asked Davis how much it was, since it wasn't quite right (wrong finish, maybe one more tweak to go (maybe)). He knocked a few hundred off. Sold! What to do about the bike shop, though?

During all this time, the bike shop had been not helpful. Not preventing anything but not helping me out. At all. I would get one story from Jim and Davis, and another from the bike shop. Interesting thing: Davis told me that, though the shop is listed as a dealer, they have never ordered a frame from him. However, the shop owner said that the last frame they ordered from Carver was several months ago. Hmm. Davis always treated me really well and the bike shop didn't so I am going to have to go with Davis on this. So, now that we had a frame and a discount price, how do we make that transaction happen? By cutting the bike shop out of the deal. They didn't earn whatever they were going to make, IMO, so I had no problem with that. I called the shop and, after a few back and forths, including a heads up to Davis that they were going to call him, the order was cancelled. Once I got my deposit back, I paid Carver Bikes and my frame was on its way. It arrived and has been sitting in my bike stand ever since, waiting to be assembled.

So what should you do if you're thinking about getting a custom frame and don't have much money? I mean, you could go first class with a more traditional frame builder but I don't have nearly that kind of money so that was right out. Based on my experience, here is what I would suggest:

  • Get a bike fit with a fitter who can recommend base frames for you based on that fit.
  • Discuss with your fitter what changes, if any, you should make to your base frame's geometry.
  • Learn about fork rake and trail.
  • Use a trail calculator to determine what fork rake you will need on your frame to get the trail you want. You may have to adjust your head tube angle as a result.

In my case, I learned about fork rake and trail after I had the frame. I will write about that a bit more when we get to the fork and headset. One thing I would have liked to have changed on the frame is the finish. I wanted a bead blast finish and the Carver logo in brushed finish. The frame is brushed finish and a sticker logo. I'll live. Another thing that might have been nice is a tapered head tube but that is just a hunch since I don't have any experience with them.

I have placed my order for the last part (the fork) so I will be posting about the assembly process soon.