Monday, September 13, 2010

Vintage Road Bike Project

Here is a quick review of my recent project bike. In early August, I picked up a Craigslist bike from a small town outside of Indy. It's an early 1980's Puch Alpina. It's about a 58 cm frame and fits great. It's got Suntour V-GT front and rear derailleurs, Suntour bar-end shifters, Weinmann brakes, brake levers and 700c rims, Sakae SR chainwheel, Silstar cranks, Shimano Adamas Fullfit pedals, and Sakae Road Champion bars. I've always wanted an old bike to tinker with and learn a bit about bottom brackets, headsets, derailleurs, etc. so this bike fulfilled that need. After getting some help from the LBS loosening the bottom bracket, I began to disassemble.

The bike looked to have been transported more than actually ridden, but 30 year old grease is still gross. After removing all the components, I cleaned the frame and worked some Turtle Wax into the paint to bring the paint back to life. I cleaned and regreased the bottom bracket and headset, and I put everything back together. I was surprised how much I got done in one evening.

I spent another evening on finishing up. I installed new Cane Creek brake hoods and started the job of installing new blue VO cables. This is where I got into trouble. After severely mangling several cable housings, I called it quits. I had the LBS fix my cable job and finish tightening the bottom bracket, and I picked up a set of cheap (but smoother rolling) closed-bearing wheels to finish things off. For a final touch, I wrapped the bars in Newbaum's "grass green" tape, finished with hemp twine and shellac. Here's the result!

By the way, if you zoom in on the finished product, can you tell that I retouched the seat tube decals with fingernail polish? There were originally about three inches of the stripes rubbed off from a water bottle holder. I managed to find a pack of fingernail polish with both the green and the blue, plus a pink and some acrylic nails that I let the girl at Walgreens keep. I smoothed it over with clear lacquer and haven't had a problem yet.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Why I love cantakerous old men

The benefits of bicycle and pedestrian travel go beyond the commuter’s carbon footprint and physical health. There is a social aspect that the entire society leaves behind once we enter our cars. During my usual commute, I make a turn onto three or so blocks of cobblestone through downtown. There are three stop signs, no lights. There’s rarely traffic crossing, so I typically blow through all three. The past commute, an old guy on a moped stopped me. He reminded-perhaps he harassed me-that I should stop. “You don’t believe in stop signs do you? You know a cop’s gonna get you. You’re stupid.” My girlfriend got a similar “suggestion” to wear a helmet. All right, this isn’t so pleasant, but at least it’s productive. Take this instance. A caller on the most recent episode of Car Talk inquired about installing multiple horns. Why? So he could make it sound like multiple cars were honking at the subjects of his impatience. The Tappet Brothers’ response, “do you push someone over when you’re on the sidewalk and someone is walking slowly?” What I mean to say is that when you commute in the free air, there is no road rage. The people that share the road can clearly communicate to one another, that is something much more human and civilized that simply blaring the horn.

Monday, June 14, 2010

You don't have to be Chinese!

You don't have to be Chinese to understand that it makes sense to wear a bicycle helmet.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Increasing my online presence: @mylifeonwheels

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Inconspicous Consumer No. 3: Why I was sweating in the freezing cold

I've had my new ride for a couple weeks now. I was out in below-freezing temperatures today just so I could get the thrill of my new ride. The Surly Cross Check has changed my life. Well, strong words, but I really have been pleased with the way it performs. I spent several years with a KHS Flite 300 as a recreational ride, and as you know I've spent the last year on a fixed Schwinn as a regular commuter. All three bikes are steel. I can't make a comparison for anyone on aluminum or carbon frames, but I want to say that the Cross Check handles like nothing I've ridden before, in the best way possible.

I've been reading Rivendell and some commuter blogs recently, and I read a lot about everything that is wrong with frame geometry and what features a real commuter bike or Randonneuring set-up should have. I wasn't so sure what the big deal was. Now I know! The KHS is set up as a dedicated road bike. After about 15 miles on it, parts of my body fall asleep that I previously didn't know could fall asleep. I admit it's not top-of-the line. Something pricier or a few changes in components might have been the fix, but I was ready for a change. I don't have the time, expertise, or money to put together a custom tourer and a dedicated commuter. To split the difference I settled on the Cross Check. Surly claims "everything you can do on a bike, you can do on a crosscheck" so I took the bait. Like the KHS, the Surly is a 54 cm frame, but oh what a difference. I haven't fully put the Cross Check through the paces of a long ride, but I can tell that Surly got everything right with this unbelievably versatile stock set-up.

The Surly website made the crosscheck look like an attractively aggressive "beef gravy brown" workhorse. I know it's kind of intended as cross bike, but I wanted something roadworthy but short of the Long Haul Trucker in heft. I wasn't sure how different it could be from a road bike or from the old Schwinn, so I went to the Nebo Ridge shop in Indianapolis to try one out. Almost immediately, I knew I couldn't leave without ordering one. Surly does everything right. After weeks of commuting and a few slightly longer test-rides I haven't change my mind.

The Cross Check provides a firm but smooth ride. I can tell its a little heavier than the KHS, but the loss in agility over a true road bike comes with a gain in the sure footing that's ideal for slower speeds, big potholes, and those places where off-pavement riding is just more convenient. The geometry of the frame, stem, and handlebars also adds to the firm-but-nimble handing. The rider is placed much closer to upright via frame geometry and stem height and angle. This give a more commanding feel while also making for a comfortable ride. The handlebars look funny, buy they are amazing. These salsa handlebars have five distinct hand positions. In comparison to the bars on the stock Kona Jake, the position closest to the bar ends allows for my whole (relatively wide) palm to rest comfortably. In comparison to typical road bars, the top position after the curve but before the brake hoods is a distinct position separate from the hoods. Finally, the remaining components make for smooth, easy handling. The cantilever brakes and Tektro levers make stopping effortless from either the hoods or the drops. The Tiagra gearing is smooth and the bar end shifter are much more intuitive than I imagined. Wide tires and a forgiving saddle complete the package. Fender clearance and braze-ons for a rear rack are icing on the cake.

In short, it's a great bike. I hope to provide photos and some more comments on the ride in the spring after some short, local touring. S24O anyone?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Inconspicuous Consumer no. 2: Dan Deacon, the Vicar of Pop

Dan Deacon's Bromst has remained a mainstay all year. Each listen is as enthralling as the last. After seeing his round robin show with No Age and Deerhunter in Bloomington, IN earlier this year, I've been thinking more and more about Dan's place in music and the way music consumptions is changing.
After reading this article arguing for the relevance of the band Creed in today's world and this New York Times article discussing the "science" behind Pandora Radio, I can fully piece together my thoughts on music. Is it any coincidence that Human Clay was released just as Napster first went online? I won't argue that Creed was the last great rock band, but I will argue that they do represent something. The phrase "rock god" has been throw around as long as I remember. Scott Stapp took that persona to the next level, unapologetically playing rock messiah. The dissolution of his band coincided well with the death of the rock god. File sharing, music blogs, and internet radio have all put music back into our hands.
As the consumer, we can now experience music on our own terms. Music is no longer something that is given to us by a higher power (network tv, radio, Billboard). Whether we experience unknown bands through Stumbleupon, let our peers decide for us, or let the genome of a song decide what other songs we will like, we can now worship at our own pace. We no longer need gods to pound it and wail it. We need a priest to lead us as we enjoy what the world has collectively created.
The Dan Deacon show was a different kind of religious experience from one Stapp and co. might lead. Deacon stands at an altar full of sound equipment and delivers music to the crowd on the floor before him. It isn't a sing-along. The feel is not of worshiping his art but of worshiping whatever creative force has begotten his art. We were a jumping, swaying mass before the group activities even started. Along with the group interpretive dance (the one that injured Randy Randall a few shows later) and the human tunnel, we were led in a laying-on of hands. Deacon prompted everyone to face the center of the room, lay our hands on the person's head in front and think of a time that we let someone down as he began "Snookered". This is music that redeems.
2009 is drawing to a close, and never before could a stocky, bearded man amidst a tangle of cables and synthesizers draw a national following. If you don't believe me check out his Lollapalooza performance video. It's a new era, and I'm proud to call it mine.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Inconspicuous Consumer no. 1.2: What a Steal

I found this today. The same bike I just blogged about went for $375. I have a feeling that all the cheap lugged steel frames will be gone soon.