Most days commuting by bike is a dream. I get to listen to some good music, get my blood pumping before classes drag me back to earth, enjoy the scenery, and not worry about traffic. I know how long it takes me to get to school and back, and I can usually take my time. But I'd be remiss to suggest that cycling is always a pleasure, especially when life throws your commute a curveball. Actually, in my experience life usually throws a couple curveballs at you at once, to remind you how good your daily life really is most of the time.
A friend, Darren, and I checked out some of the on-campus scenery after class before deciding to hit the Rivertrail for some light riding and photos. I got a tad nervous when I noticed how high the Red Cedar river was while riding through campus. Sure enough, once we hit the on-ramp for the trail, it became clear we weren't going to be able to pass through without snorkels. As a public service I've devised the following advisory system for Rivertrail flooding:
This means you can safely bike using just about anything. The Rivertrail is dry and passable.
This means you should probably ride with some fenders on your bike, as there are puddles and sections where you're going to get wet no matter what.
When you see the galoshes advisory, it means you can brave the rivertrail if you must, but ya better have your best Gorton's Fisherman gear on.
And this is where we are right now, in pure snorkel-assist territory.
So Darren headed back home, and I trudged on, taking my usual Aurelius road alternate route. Having angered the Gods in some way, it wasn't much before home that I reached this awful sight. A detour meant I had to go at least 3 miles out of my way, and there was no getting around it. I reluctantly headed back the way I came, zig-zagged through potholed neighborhood streets, coming out near another rivertrail entrance. Just for shits and giggles I checked it out to see what stage the river was at.
A couple friends and my wife have mountain bikes, and I've never actually gone mountain biking strangely enough. I don't know if I just lacked interest or what, but I figured I might as well have a mountain bike on hand if I want to try it out.
Problem is, I already sorta have a mountain bike on hand. It's an old funky one, too. The frame is a BMX Products Inc, which if you know your bike history is the company that morphed into Mongoose in the mid 1980s. I've been calling it the "Proto-Rawland," after these guys' bikes. It has these old Dia-Compe cantilever brakes that are really cool looking, a Biplane lugged crown fork, a strange set of bullmoose-style handlebars, and some nice Shimano friction thumb shifters. It;s in pretty nice shape, but unfortunately someone thought it was a good idea to lose all the decals some time ago, so I'm not sure what the model was called.
The real problem is the size. It's about the right size for me as a commuter or road machine, but I worry it's too tall to use as a serious offroad bike. When I straddle it, the top tube is definitely firmly planted in my crotchal area, which could probably be bad news if I lost it. It also lacks a wheelset, has a narrower-than-modern rear offset, and the rear derailer hanger is bent. I'm sure I could get the rear triangle spread and derailer hanger straightened easily enough if I decide to build it up, though.
Today I picked up a Fuji Sunfire mountain bike at the local University surplus. Ostensibly I bought this bike to cannibalize the wheelset for the old proto-Rawland frame, but now I wonder if I should just ditch the old bike and stick with the Fuji. The Fuji is certainly nothing special, just a cheap cro-mo rigid frame with some low-end indexed shimano shifters. Not awful, but not great in any way. Plus, it would fit me as a MTB frame probably should.
I'm torn. On the plus side, the proto-Rawland could do double duty, replacing my Bridgestone XO as a commuter and go offroad as well, and it's a really interesting and unique bike. On the negative, it's not a great offroad size, and it needs a bit more work. On the Fuji plus side, it's ready to go. On the negative, it has lower end components, it's 3 lbs heavier, it's boring, and I'd still want my XO for commuting.
If you haven't figured it out, I've pretty much already decided that the proto-Rawland is what I'll stick with. Just wondering if anyone has any experience with big frames offroad. But try to convince me to change to the Fuji if you can. It would certainly be less of a headache.
So I was looking for a mixte frame as previously noted, and of course a beautiful french road bike plops into my lap at that very moment. It was the right price - free - so I picked it up, knowing it was a good quality frame.
Mine is just like the one pictured here, but it's currently missing the correct rear wheel, seat post, and saddle. No big deal since I have 27" wheels all over my garage, and a seat post is pretty inexpensive too. If I just want to make some money I could just flip this bike quickly, though I don't know if I want to. I've always wanted a French bike, silly as that sounds, and this bike fits me just right and has the extra clearance the Fuji lacks for fenders and such. The paint is in good original shape, and the Suntour Cyclone derailers and shifters work fine too.
It would probably make a fine city bike, with swept back handelbars, a sprung saddle, and fixed/free wheelset, but it would also make a great roadie, obviously. Do I get rid of the Fuji? Options, options, and I still haven't gotten Holly's Mixte yet.
Holly's Trek has worked out great so far, but since it lacks fender eyelets, it's not really possible to make it an all-weather bike. Now certainly there are ways around this - you can put P-clamps on the fork and rear stays and attach fenders that way, and it works just fine. And of course there are some absolutely beautiful fenders out there for 650B applications, should I decide to ever put fenders on this bike. But that would preclude getting another bike.
Besides, Holly has been clamoring for a "skirt bike," something she can ride around the Rivertrail on without worrying about a top tube messing up her dress. We happen to currently have an old Schwinn that fits that description, but it's very old, very slow, very heavy, and most importantly it's her mom's bike and she'd like it back some time. So I've been looking for a Mixte style bike lately. For those who don't know, the Mixte is a road-bike style that is french in origin. It's considered a ladies bike here, and it replaces the traditional top tube with one or two smaller diameter tubes that run from the head tube all the way past the seat tube to the rear dropouts. Soma makes the new Buena Vista, which is a good example.
The plan for this bike is to build it into a fixed/free singlespeed machine with a sprung saddle, fenders, and some swept-back city bars for comfort. Maybe a wicker basket or two for loads. Problem is, there seems to be a dearth of these frames locally, and I can't seem to find one for the price I want. I actually already picked one up, but it turned out to have an obsolete french bottom bracket, lots of rust, and Holly doesn't like the purple color, so it's back to the drawing board. I think I'll hit up all the local shops today and see what I can come up with.
June 6th 2009 was our 6-year anniversary, and the 100 Grand Tour in Grand Rapids happened to fall on the same date this year. Since both Holly and I had been cycling so much lately to commute, and both of had our road bikes ready for such a ride, we signed up - seemed like a good way to spend the day, plus my sister lives out that way so it would be a good excuse to see her. I placed an order for some cycling shorts, got all the spare tubes and water bottles we would need for the ride, and we settled on the 65 mile distance, which was the second-longest available route (105 miles was the longest), but long enough to say we accomplished something without spending all day riding.
When the day came, our shorts had not yet arrived of course, so I made do with some Lands' End shorts and a wool t-shirt, and Holly wore her running shorts and a wool-blend jersey. We mounted the Fuji and 650B Trek up to the Honda's bike rack, and drove to the start point. The day turned out to be brisk in the morning, about 45 degrees or so, and many were wearing jackets of one type or another, but I figured, correctly it turned out, that just shorts and a shirt would be plenty warm enough once we started rolling. The first leg was about 22 miles, which we stretched to 25 thanks to a missed turn. This ride is definitely not a race, though of course it's always fun to count how many slower people you pass. We counted 15 in the first leg, which made us feel good about ourselves. Tip: if you want to pass people, start near the back. The slower riders will drift towards you, and the faster riders are mostly ahead of you already. I had a pretty easy time of it, and the weight advantage of the Fuji over the Trek was pretty obvious on the hills, which I could climb quickly while Holly had to gear down to make it. On the flats and downhills, though, the Trek kept up quite well, which makes me think that, given a nicer set of wheels, it would be at least the Fuji's equal on long jaunts like this.
The second leg wasn't as successful, with lots of faster riders speeding past us. It showed that we were new to this, on our lugged steel "classics," as one rider (who we later passed) called them. Most riders had full-on gear, with the latest and most fashionable spandex jerseys and padded shorts, and carbon or aluminum wonderbikes with indexed shifting, 18 speeds, and backpack hydration systems. Not saying that such things aren't nice to have, but when we spent a grand total of maybe $500 between our two bikes and their outfits alone cost more, well, I couldn't help but smile a little when we passed by a few, or watched as they had to tension their spokes at each pit stop.
Of course, we got passed by a few of them at a good clip too, enough so that we finished the second leg -3, for +12 on the day so far. The middle section was all rural country roads, with long stretches of pavement framed by cows on one side, and corn on the other. We encountered our only asshole of the day here, where a truck driver decided it would be fun to drive 50 miles an hour on the opposite shoulder, spraying dust everywhere. Wish I had a brick to throw at him.
The third, and last, leg saw a return into town over some very hilly terrain, and broken pavement once we neared the more populous streets. As we entered the final 10 miles, catastrophe of the worst kind befell me. I fell off the bike in an epic fashion, while braking to a stop but failing to get my foot out of the pedals in time. In front of other riders, of course. A scraped knee, hand, and bruised ankle were the result, a little easier to tolerate than the damage to my ego. Even so, my true nightmare of a roadside flat fix never came to be, and we rolled in at 2:00 or so, adding another 18 riders passed on this segment, a nice round 30 passes net on the day, one of which was on the only bike that looked older than ours, a nice Schwinn Paramount. In the end, we weren't all that sore aside from my scrapes, and the wool shirt I had chosen proved to be amazingly odor-free even after the long ride and my decision not to wear deodorant! Holly and I had a lot of fun, and we're certainly planning more long rides in the future.