Tuesday, May 10, 2011

On the "Feel" of Different Bikes

So this week has been a good one so far, at least in terms of cycling.  The weather has finally decided that it can't resist the sun's rejuvenating rays any longer.  Even at 7 AM it's roundabout 50F degrees, which rapidly warms as the sun rises over the trees.  This is perfect for the early weekend morning rides that I've missed for so many months.

I rode 18 miles on Saturday, meeting a friend at Saddle Brook Park in Ridgewood, then traversing East and West Saddle River Roads for most of their lengths.  On Sunday I repeated part of that route on my own, but added some distance by crossing into New York up to the NY State Thruway.  Then I returned via Saddle River and Chestnut Ridge Roads.  That was 23 miles in all.  Both of these were on my Roubaix, which is such a comfortable bike for these vigorous (yet somehow still leisurely) weekend morning rides.  More than once I thought about the simple reward I was getting - just to see the early sunlight dappled through the newly-leaved trees, and hear the silence of the still-quiet country roads.  Later, of course, that quiet would inevitably be shattered by the insistent buzz of lawnmowers and the laboring of trucks' diesel engines.

The Roubaix feels fast, yet upright.  I don't stretch out on it much, and even the drops are shallow, as it has a so-called "ergo" handlebar.  The bar's gripping areas under one's hands are also non-cylindrical and somewhat beefy, which is very comfortable.  I enjoy the compact double, as it simplifies gearing, and I have yet to tackle a hill that I couldn't climb by spinning in the lowest gear (34/28).  Now that I've printed this, I'm sure such a hill is looming on my next ride!

The Roubaix is all carbon, which is light and easy to toss around.  It absorbs bumps better than aluminum, but has a "crispy crunchy" feel to it that I don't always like.  This is in contrast to my Clockwork singlespeed, which is cro-moly steel.  The Clockwork seems to urge the rider to scramble over rough pavement rather than dodging it.  It absorbs in a softer way, more predictable and with an old-school feel (compared to my days of youthful riding on a heavy Ross 10-speed).

Today I did a short but energetic ride with the singlespeed in my town, climbing one significant hill and numerous other small ones.  I had replaced the 17 tooth freewheel with an 18 tooth one, and I wanted to give it a go.  I was finding the 17 to be good for speed on the flats, but just a bit difficult for anything but short climbs.  The bike also had a sluggish feel with this arrangement.  I went from 71.1 to 67.2 gear inches by making the cog change.  Now the speed at which I can comfortably spin tops out at around 21 MPH, but the bike feels sportier and faster.  It also (most importantly) feels less inhibited by the hilly terrain in my area, and I'm going to be more confident riding it in a variety of situations where hills might pop up unexpectedly.  And that's a good thing.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Windsor Clockwork: Handlebars

The next major component to be added to my Windsor Clockwork was a Nitto Noodle 44cm handlebar.  This is a beautiful component, very lightweight and smoothly rounded.

After positioning the brake levers, I wrapped the bar with Cinelli tan cork tape, and plugged the ends with sanded wine corks.  I used orange vinyl electrical tape for finishing the bar tops.  I covered the levers with Cane Creek tan gum rubber hoods.  These were, unfortunately, a bit too big.  They were squishy and flimsy to hold as a result.  Later on, I solved the problem by padding the metal lever bodies on all sides with strips of rubber, cut to shape and attached with double-stick tape.  The hoods then fit snugly on the levers.

Here's one of the MKS Sylvan touring pedals that I installed.  I have Power Grips coming, and also clips and straps.  I'll decide on one of these options after trying them both.

Here's the bike as I left it on Saturday night after these parts were put on.  It had rained all day, so I needed to wait for a riding opportunity.

On Sunday we finally had a beautiful, 60 degree morning - perfect for an inaugural ride with the new setup.  You can see the Planet Bike Protege 9.0 cycle computer that I installed.  Also, a very handsome Knog Maxi saddlebag holds my tools and spare tubes.

I really like riding this bike so far.  The 46/17 gearing combination that I chose seems just right.  I can comfortably keep a 15-17 MPH pace, and can spin nicely up to about 22 MPH.  I have been able to climb some decent hills by standing in the saddle and counting 20 strokes at a time.  I'm up to about 80 strokes for the longest hills I've tackled so far.  I will have some pretty strong legs within a month or so if that keeps up!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Windsor Clockwork: Saddle and Tires

It's a fun coincidence that my Brooks Saddle is currently "Out for delivery" from Saddle Brook, New Jersey.

I ordered a model B17 in custom Mandarin orange.  I already have a large container of Lexol leather conditioner, formally used on the seats of my 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera, with which to soften and treat it.  The leather is hard and thick at first, but it sure does look nice.  It's an auburn color - a bit of orange, red, and brown together - but it matches well to my eye.

Next came some Vittoria Zaffiro Pro II all white tires.  Now the black handlebar wrap is clashing big time, but it's not going to be on for very long.  Tan cork will be replacing it once my Nitto handlebars arrive.

I did take her out for an 11 mile ride in some hellacious wind this afternoon.  Warm weather is having a hard time making itself known in New Jersey this Spring.  It's either rain, cold, or wind.  Temps in the 50s are fantastic when it's sunny and calm.  But so far we haven't been so lucky.  Anyway, I think I chose my gear wisely.  The climbs are tough, but I can see where my legs will get stronger as the season progresses.  The flats are about perfect though, and my cadence on downhills seems to get to a reasonably fast pace before I have to bail and coast.

Windsor Clockwork: Unboxing

"Out for delivery" is one of my favorite phrases.  Today UPS delivered my Windsor Clockwork single speed track bike from BikesDirect.com.

The bike comes stock with a 46t chainring and a 16 tooth freewheel cog.  After doing some research on gearing, I learned that the stock setup (with 700 x 25 tires) would yield 75.8 gear inches.  This seemed a bit high for the rolling terrain of my area.  I don't mind coasting on fast downhills, but I really need a reasonable gear for climbs.  So I decided to remove the stock cog and install a 17t in its place during initial assembly.  With 700 x 23 tires replacing the stock 25's, the Rabbit calculator tells me that I'll have 71.1 gear inches with this setup.  46/17 is equivalent to 50/18.5, or a little harder to pedal than the 4th largest cog with the large chain ring (a 50/19 combination) on my Specialized Roubaix road bike.

I have numerous other replacement parts arriving in the coming days, but the cog is the only thing that made it in time for initial assembly.  Rather than endure the pain of waiting until everything is here, I'm going to put the bike together in its stock configuration and ride it.  That way I can have a basis for judging how well my planned modifications improve the bike.  I'll install other parts as they arrive.

Here's how the parts look when the box is unpacked:

The rear brake was attached and connected, but the front brake was not.  The cable was attached at the lever end, routed under the (already wrapped) handlebar, and coiled up.  It simply had to be terminated at the caliper end.  I found that the Tektro brake calipers are a bit clumsy compared to Shimano 105.  The quick release lever apparatus is not as smooth and definitive, and there is a bit more play overall in the parts.  But I managed to adjust them reasonably well.

I had to visit my LBS for help removing the 16 tooth cog.  It requires a special removal tool, and my attempts to formulate an inelegant solution were not successful.  Otherwise, the bike went together fairly easily.  The wheels are not 100% true, but they are very close.  I may have that looked at if it starts to bug me.

BikesDirect says that most assembly of their bikes should take 20 minutes, and that might be true for a person who does this every day, but I think it's well worth spending a leisurely hour or two to ensure a clean and reliable job.  Their claim that a bike arrives "90% assembled" is a rather optimistic estimate!  I'd say it's more like 75%.

The bike is a beautiful bright orange!  No question about that!

I installed the stem upward to afford myself a more upright riding position, which helps my lower back (I have herniated lumbar discs).

I took her for an 8 mile ride during the waning sunshine of the day, after which various parts seemed to seat themselves a bit better, so I tightened things up.  Compared with my carbon bike, the steel frame absorbs the road very smoothly, and has a comfortable feel.  The stock saddle is quite comfortable too; that was a surprise.  I don't like the curvature of the handlebar drops, but that's being replaced with a Nitto Noodle anyway.  The weight appears to be in the 22 lb range according to my bathroom scale.  I can't wait for tomorrow, more parts arriving (Brooks saddle?), and another ride.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Windsor Clockwork Orange Build

Before leaving Captiva, Florida, to return home to New Jersey, I had already ordered a Windsor Clockwork in groovy orange (my overwhelmingly favorite color) online from BikesDirect.com. The low price of $299, inclusive of shipping, was a no-brainer. I had to try this single speed thing. It seemed ideal for relatively flat terrain, such as on Sanibel/Captiva where I had just ridden about 100 miles. So it would be fun to take on our annual summer vacations to Delaware and New Jersey beaches. It also seemed suitable for my native terrain in Northern New Jersey, which abounds with hills, as a way of maximizing the short 30-50 minute weekday workouts that I squeeze in between business meetings and lunch.

Windsor Clockwork
Also, I figured that I would customize the bike, replacing cheap components with better ones, and adding aesthetic improvements to match my taste, all while learning more about bike construction and maintenance. A fun Spring project commenced.

Within a couple of days, I had ordered up the below grocery list of initial add-ons or replacements, totaling $389.14, for a final cost of $688.14. Still such a great deal on a nearly custom bike. My next blog entries will document the build as parts arrive, and of course, my initial riding impressions.

ACS 17 tooth freewheel cog
Cane Creek tan brake hoods
Chrome Presta valve caps
Cinelli tan cork handlebar tape
Knog Maxi saddle bag
Leather toe clip straps
MKS toe clips with leather accents
MKS Sylvan touring pedals
Nitto Noodle 44cm handlebar
Orange electrical tape for finishing handlebar wrap
Vittoria Zaffiro Pro II all white tires