Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Winter Projects

Like most people, I engage in fewer outdoor pursuits during the winter, so I find it's a good time to inspect, repair, and upgrade my gear. This year, I decided to focus on my Trek Earl city bike, particularly since we were finally getting some rain in California. After a few wet rides, I started thinking about fender coverage.

I like the quality and durability of solid metal fenders, so I got a set from Velo Orange. The chrome finish was very nice, but it was way too much bling for what is supposed to be a low-key city bike, so I painted them black to match the frame. Now the fenders blend in nicely. Most importantly, they do a great job keeping me and the bike clean.

Once the fenders were installed, I was struck by how much the bike began to resemble the classic European city bikes from the 60s, so I decided to embrace that look as I pursued further upgrades. The most glaring omission was a chainguard, so I reinstalled the Earl's original guard. Then I considered the seat. The Charge Spoon saddle I was using was fine, but not quite right for this build. Its racy design is better suited for a more aggressive forward position, not the upright position I get with this bike and these handlebars. Plus, the Charge saddle was just a bit too nice looking for a city bike. I wanted a basic black, cushy, affordable saddle, and the retro-styled Fyxation Curve saddle fit the bill perfectly. At this point, the only area where the bike seemed to underperform was the braking. Again, I didn't want to spend money on a flashy brakeset, so I decided to put the leverage in my levers by replacing the original two-finger set with a four-finger set. This had the added benefit of enhancing the retro style I was going for, and the affordable Origin8 Retro Classic Levers were a perfect match. Lastly, I had been experimenting with several different gear ratios, and found that 42/18 seemed perfect for my riding style and terrain. I can't tell you how much I enjoy riding this bike in its new form. I took it to the East Bay Bike Party for its inaugural ride, and I just had the best time. It's clear why this design was so popular in European cities. It just works.

arkel seat bag

With my city bike finally completed, I turned my attention to my better half and her city bike. This was a bike I had searched long and hard for. There are plenty of bikes on the used market in my area, but people around here are notorious for asking ridiculous prices for used gear. I finally found a perfect candidate, a 1970s Centurion Mixte in darn good condition, and the owner listed it for $60. I snatched it up as soon as possible. Julie loved the look and fit of the bike, but I noticed she didn't really enjoy riding it much. No surprise really. Even after I gave it a tuneup, it was still a heavy, clunky 1970s bike. So I decided to modernize it a bit.

The biggest upgrade was the wheelset. The old steel 27-inch wheels were heavy, and the rims did not provide a very good braking surface. Thankfully, The Bikeman sells a nice aluminum wheelset that is spec'd to fit old 70s bikes like this one, so it turned out to be a pretty easy installation. The best part is the wheels were only $99 shipped. Great deal! Another easy weight reducer was swapping the original steel seatpost with an aluminum post. I topped it with the retro-styled Linus Comfort Saddle. Then I turned to the drivetrain. Luckily, I had an 80s-era Shimano tricolor crankset in my parts bin, and they were a nice match for the Centurion. I also had a modern, sealed bottom bracket on hand, and lucky me, it was just the right size to maintain a good chainline, so I installed it. Then I thought about the gearing. While it was originally a ten-speed bike, I could see that Julie never used the big chainring. So I converted it to a five-speed, and replaced the outer ring with a custom BBG Bashguard for just $20 shipped. After installing a new inner ring and chain, I decided to get rid of the old stem shift levers. I replaced them with a Sunrace thumb-shifter that I found on ebay for $7 and works just fine. To finish off, I re-cabled the brakes and installed new Kool Stop pads.

The Centurion rides like a new bike, and Julie loves it. The frame will always be heavy, but a significant amount of weight was still eliminated, and the performance upgrades are like night and day, even though it was done somewhat on the cheap. I think this bike is going to be ridden a lot more from here on out

arkel seat bag

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Review: Arkel Seat Bag

arkel seat bag

It’s really sort of depressing how much time, energy, and money I spend on theft prevention. The latest example has to do with my bike tools. Like many cyclists, I carry a portable toolkit so I can fix minor breakdowns on the road. The problem comes when I park my bike out of sight for longer than a few minutes. Even if the bike itself is secured by a U-lock, there are usually parts and attachments that can still be removed quickly and easily by passersby with sticky fingers. Bike tools certainly qualify here, and since the individual parts can add up to a significant about of money, I’m never comfortable leaving them unattended for long. Unfortunately, this involves the tedium of removing my seat bag and my frame-mounted pump before leaving my bike unattended, and reattaching everything once I return. Not an ideal situation.

While searching for a solution, I came across the Arkel Seat Bag which offers a unique design: The “bag” part is an actual waterproof bag that holds a generous amount of gear, but it does not attach to the bike. Instead, it slides into a four panel “shell” that attaches to the seat via velcro straps. One buckle opens and closes the shell, then you can insert or remove the bag without much fuss. Great!

arkel seat bag

Next, I considered the pump. Since it is kept in a separate location on the bike, it necessitates another step for removal, so I thought about what inflation device I could fit into the seat bag. The natural choice here is a CO2 inflator, but since they use small, single-use CO2 canisters, the ability to inflate tires is limited. Once you run out of CO2, you're pretty much stuck. I wanted to have a backup for this, so I started an online search for a hand pump that would fit into my Arkel Seat Bag. Lo and behold, I found the Airace Torch Mountain Mini Pump. At just 5 inches in length, it easily fits into the Arkel bag. Now, I wouldn’t want to make a habit of fully inflating tires with this pump. Its small size necessitates a lot of pumping to boost those PSIs. But it is perfect as a backup for the CO2 inflator, or for just topping off your tire if it seems a bit low. For day rides, this combo seems like a good solution. For more extended rides or tours, I carry a more substantial hand pump for flat fixing duties.

airace torch pump

So, problem solved. I've got all of my tools in one easily removable bag. Here's what I'm carrying in it, and I still have room to stuff a few more small items.

seat bag contents

I had one more idea for my new seat bag. On short local rides, I usually carry a Kryptonite Evolution Mini-5 U-lock. I've been looking for a good way to attach the lock to the bike, since the mounting bracket it comes with is sort of weak. I discovered that my U-lock fits nicely into the Arkel shell.

arkel seat bag

Of course, this is really an either/or scenario. I can't fit both the lock and the stuffed dry bag into the shell, but it's nice to have this option.

All in all, I’m happy. The Arkel bag seems very well constructed, and it will probably last as long as I do. It secures solidly to the seat, so there isn’t any flopping around or jangling of tools. It also has a small strap on the back for clipping on a taillight. One minor quibble is that I can sometimes feel the bag on the back of my thighs during the pedal downstrokes, but this can be corrected with some adjustments at the mounting points and/or repacking the bag. Aside from that, I can’t think of anything wrong with this bag. Arkel has a reputation for producing top-notch bike bags, and this seat bag certainly lives up to it.

arkel seat bag

Update 2/7/17:

Just a word on my tire inflation strategy. The CO2/Mini Pump combo does work, but it's not ideal for high volume tires like the Schwalbe Big Bens on my Cross Check. I ended up attaching a more traditional pump to the frame, and I stuck the mini pump in the seat bag on my city bike. I think it makes more sense for this application since the Vittoria Randonneurs on my city bike are much lower volume. I'm also using Schrader valves on that bike, so I can just use a gas station pump in a pinch. Besides, after a couple years of city riding, I still haven't flatted on the Vittorias. Those are some tough tires!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Taking a Break

Posts to the Roam blog have been infrequent lately as I have been busy working on a long form writing project. There will be more posts in the upcoming months.

PS: Yes, I realize the photo link below is broken. The photo was hosted on Photobucket, which was a free service until they locked user's photos and demanded a $400 ransom to release them. I'm leaving their image here as a warning not to use Photobucket, and to be very careful about using cloud services in general.

bike and redwood

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Perfect Day Ride

point reyes road

Sometimes, it all just comes together. There are some things within your control when planning a day ride, like where to go, who to go with (even if it's just yourself), and making sure your bike is well maintained. Packing a good lunch doesn't hurt either. Your choice of roads and terrain are somewhat within your control, and scenic roads with rolling hills and light traffic are hard to beat. We had all of this going for us on our latest day ride, a trek out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, but the one thing we can never control is the weather. Fortunately, the sun gods were smiling upon us that day. But don't take my word for it. Here's the weather report that was posted at the lighthouse:

point reyes lighthouse weather report

This was not an exaggeration. We really lucked out. And yes, we did see whales spouts during our lunch break. You can also see a note about elephant seals in the area. Viewing marine mammals is a bonus in itself, and it also means that part of the road is closed to most motor vehicle traffic this time of year, with the exception of shuttle buses and private vehicles with disabled occupants. Otherwise, the area around the lighthouse would be mayhem. Elephant seals and migrating whales attract a lot of people.

I can't think of anything that would have made this ride better. This one was pretty unforgettable. I suppose the best way to find the perfect day ride is to ride as often as possible. Sooner or later, it will happen.

point reyes sunset