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.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Inconspicuous Consumer no. 1: Anatomy of a Commuter Bike

I love stuff, so this portion of the blog will be devoted to all the stuff in my life. I hope also to give some advice for anyone considering similar purchases so you can make the smartest decision. First: my bike. Click the picture for the full anatomy.

The bike was a craigslist find, about $45 as a fully complete bike. The 1987 World Sport is a Reynolds 4130 steel frame with Dia Compe brakes, Sugino cranks, and Shimano gearing. I've done the fixed gear conversion thing. I stayed with the 27" size (generic Sunrims from the LBS) so I wouldn't have to change the front wheel too. I had the bottom bracket and front hub rebuilt since this thing sat in a guy's garage essentially since 1987. I also installed a new seat post for a better fit. So, my suggestion to anyone in the market for a good commuter: get an old steel frame, get comfortable grips (I have gel pads plus handlebar tape), install a rack, and choose your favorite drivetrain. Sell off the discarded parts, too. Vintage road bike parts are pretty hot right now.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Snapshots no. 1: Valley Center

Since I was young, I always imagined that I would live in a small house in an old neighborhood where I could walk (or bike) to the essentials-grocery, drug store, bank, restaurants, church, zoo etc. Now I live in just such a place. Yes, there's a zoo down the street. No, I didn't imagine I could walk to the zoo. Feast your eyes on the Valley Center neighborhood in the late, September evening.

The Beauty of the Internet no. 1: Any Takers?

Seen on craigslist:

Big Blu Marble. I was pretty sure that someone with a spelling problem was giving away a piece of counter top or maybe a bit of rock purported to from the "Middle Sol system". Well, this is what I got.

If you can't read this, click the images or go here.