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.