Archive for the ‘Bicycling’ Category

The great bicycle upgrade of 2012

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

I ride an old bike – a 1983(?) Concord RS1400. Over the years I’ve replaced many parts on it to the point where I believe the only original parts on it were the rear wheel and the frame.

On May 16th, I felt my sedentary lifestyle needed a change, pulled the bike off the hooks, gave it a quick cleaning and started riding again. As I noticed issues like the wheels not really spinning as well as they could, I pulled them apart, cleaned them, lubricated them and put them back together.

However, technology has advanced considerably and my bike’s age shows through. My average ride has me hovering around 17mph for a little more than an hour. So, I started looking around on ebay and craigslist for a shortlist of bicycles. As I’m relatively tall, finding a bike that fits has been a difficult process, so, I started looking at upgrading my current bike.

I spent a lot of time analyzing my rides and came to a few conclusions. One, I would probably do well adding a 14 and a 16 to my current cogset and fixing my bad habits early would pay off.

I found a set of wheels and tires on craigslist for $100 that could accept a Shimano/SRAM cassette and started the search for the perfect cassette. Since I live in Florida, hills are non-existant, so, I can get a tight grouping and have the perfect range. I ended up finding an SRAM PG-970 9 speed with an 11-12-13-14-15-16-17-19-21. After putting that on the bike, it was an amazing difference. I could easily move back and forth with minor adjustments and keep my cadence in the right range. All told, not including tools, it cost me $166 to replace my old 13-30t and move to 700c x 25 tires and wheels and a new 11-21t. The difference in ride has been phenomenal.

On to the other bad habits, I’m not using as much of the pedal stroke to deliver power. I’ve been working on that. My line is good, but, my cadence is a bit off. Once I get over 80rpm, my brain wants to take me back to 75rpm which is where I used to ride when racing. It feels unnatural to be spinning at 85rpm in the 14 or 15 rather than 75rpm in the 11, but, I’m working on that.

And, with all of the adjustments, I now have replaced a bunch of the tools I once had with a bunch of Park Tools. Pin wrench, lockring wrench, cone wrenches, crank puller, etc.

By the time I’m done, I’ll have almost as many tools as a bicycle shop.

Specialized and my famous water bottle

Friday, June 8th, 2012

I’ve loved riding bikes as long as I can remember. I would ride for hours. In the early 70s I had a bike that I converted to an offroad bike, but I preferred the road. Eventually I moved on to a Sears steel-framed 10 speed bicycle. I rode that bike everywhere. I rode to school, to the bank on weekends to deposit lawn mowing money, often times trips that were probably twenty or thirty miles. It was a heavy bike, but, I took care of it and met a guy named Don who worked for Prince Georges County and had a bike sales and repair business that he ran out of his house.

Where I grew up, there weren’t many bike shops – in fact, Calvert County, Maryland had 38000 residents at the time and three stoplights – one of which blinked. University of Maryland College Park had more students attending than we had in our county. Being too young for a drivers license, his house became a parts shop and tune-up shop for my bike. I would voraciously read every Bicycling magazine the day it came in the mail – eyeing frames, cranks, sprockets, etc. I followed the careers of Eddy Merckx, Hinault, LeMond, this Texan rider named Lance Armstrong, the USPS and 7-11 teams and many more. Later I would see the USPS riders around Baltimore and Annapolis and ride with them for two evenings which was a highlight.

Don had purchased and refurbished a used bike but couldn’t find anyone that could ride it. I was relatively tall and the bike was a perfect fit. I paid $150 for it, $30 for a bike computer and he threw in a Specialized water bottle. With a few words of wisdom, trading in my steel bike and cash, I rode the ten or so miles home. After a bit of research recently, I realize now that he probably lost money on that sale. Don, Thank you.

I purchased my Concord road-racing bike with Centerpull drop-forged brakes, aluminum wheels, a light frame, 14 speeds with the shifters on the downtube. A quick education on the bike and I was off. I was 15 so I didn’t really listen, I wanted to ride my new bike.

And oh was that bike different. I suspect it seriously outgeared my old ten speed and it was light, nimble and very responsive. I couldn’t ride with no hands for weeks and even the slightest shifting of my weight meant I had to react very quickly to grab the handlebars. I rode everywhere. With a rolling start, I would beat the school bus to school on its 4.7 mile journey and its few stops to pick up students – and it was a slight uphill grade with some rolling hills for the first 1.5 miles. Wearing a backback became a problem during hill climbs, so, I bought an aluminum bike rack and would strap my backpack on after splitting the books and putting them in the panniers. My ride home consisted of one of two loops – either 21 or 38 miles – in the later years after running Cross Country practice.

But, that wasn’t enough. On weekends I would ride hundreds of miles and Don would ask why I was wearing out tires so quickly or chains or whatever part was being replaced. After a year or so I replaced my computer with a Cateye, replaced with another Cateye which I just replaced with a Sigma 1609 since my old Cateye sensor wire appeared to have a short. I do remember the old Cateye registering 50k miles. I rode in a lot of Criterions, Centuries and Double Centuries. I ran four Triathlons, finishing 8th overall as my best finish. Once, I rode 30+ miles, competed in a Century, finished in the top ten, and then rode home.

Then life happened. I got really busy and rode the bike on weekends. After a while, it sat in the basement because I would just go riding next week. Weeks turned into months and after a few years I was back on the bike. Mostly weekend tours around the Potomac River, out to West Virginia and Western Maryland a few times. Zoomed past Mount Weather on a few trips.

Work started to pick up, I moved 1000 miles to Florida and removed a lot of the time that I would have ridden. I figured the ‘endless summer’ would let me ride more. Once in a while I’d hop on the bike and do a ten or twenty mile ride, but, it was infrequent. Then things took a turn for the worse and my workload increased significantly and I didn’t ride the bike at all for five or six years. Every year or so I would look at it and think about pulling it down to ride again, but, never had the time.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago and I decided to get some exercise as working behind a desk for so many years hasn’t been particularly good for my physique. I spent a day cleaning my bike, adjusting and lubricating parts and pieces. I took it for a few quick half mile rides around the neighborhood and recognized the clunk, clunk, clunk of improperly adjusted cones and the tang, tang, tang, whump of a loose spoke as I spun the wheels and let my fingernail hit the spokes. The derailleur seemed straight even though it had been through a few moves and with some adjustment, got it to go into everything but the lowest gear. Later tinkering showed that the bolt that held the bike rack on was preventing the chain from always making it to the smallest sprocket. Turning that screw around fixed that, though, the nut was pretty chewed up from having been mangled many times getting into low gear. That explains the intermittent problems I had getting into low that thankfully never plagued me while racing – since the bike rack wasn’t on the bike. :)

I replaced the handlebar tape with new microfoam tape and short of a minor goof from not having wrapped handlebars in 20+ years, they look pretty good. Replaced the brake hoods which were falling apart and had gummed up the brake exterior and gave it a good tuneup. One wheel was a little out of round but a few turns of the spoke wrench and it is now fairly true.

A few days later I learned that the Motivation Man Triathlon was riding on the road not too far from my house. I did some quick calculations of 1/2 Ironman and Olympic swim times, relative distance and calculated when I would need to be at the Olympic distance turnaround. The 1/2 Ironman riders proceeded past that point to a turnaround in the Everglades and a return trip. I ended up working until 3am and had an alarm scheduled for 6:45am.

And that’s when it happened.

While removing the top from the bottle to wash it, I noticed a small crack. I gingerly took the top off, washed and rinsed it really well, refilled it and tossed it in the fridge for the night. The next morning I grabbed it, two bottles of water and two ‘snack packs’ of Chips Ahoy cookies to toss in the Vetta box along with a rain jacket. The crack had grown slightly overnight, but, I figured it would be fine for the trip. I ended up taking 356 pictures using SnapReplay which were uploaded to the Motivation Man Triathlon, Royal Palm Beach, Florida event. My phone’s battery died about the time the last rider turned at the Olympic turnaround. A quick ride home to get three more batteries for my phone and the crack was growing.

After taking the rest of the pictures from the 1/2 Ironman distance return trip, I rode home, unpacked and put my water bottle in the fridge. When I went to clean it that evening, I tried to pull the cap off without using the thumbhold, but, it was fruitless.

Note: upon looking at the bottle more closely, it must have been a replacement as it bears a manufacture stamp of 7/92. Unless Specialized uses the Mayan calendar, the bottle is 20 years old, not 29 as originally calculated.

I thought back about the water bottle and tried to do some quick math and the numbers just didn’t seem right. Every time I tried to figure out when I had purchased it, I realized it was the one I got when I purchased the bike. In looking at the bottle when figuring out whether it was recyclable, I found a manufacture date stamp of 7/92, so, the bottle was not the one originally purchased with the bike, but, probably a direct replacement for the original bottle. It seemed impossible that it lasted that long and went through so much. It’s got scratches and scars on it from tumbles in the road, worn paint from the holder, but, I thought, I’m really happy that it lasted this long and Specialized made a great product, maybe they’ll get a kick out of it. I sent this tweet. @IamSpecialized retweeted and posted it on Facebook.

Within a few minutes of the retweet, KM @ Specialized asked if I was going to replace it with the same color and I said yes. Minutes later was a request for my mailing address so they could send me a free bottle — roughly six minutes before someone posted on Facebook that they should send me a free one.

So my water bottle received its fifteen minutes of fame.

Today, I received a package from Specialized including a Purist Hydroflo bottle. I spent a few minutes washing it, filled it with water and of course, tried it out. As many people mentioned, make sure it is BPA Free. And indeed, it appears all of Specialized’s water bottles are BPA free – and this one mentions it on the cardboard tag that came with it.

I didn’t write the original tweet expecting anything, I was just happy that the product had outlived its normal lifespan and thought they might find it interesting. As it turns out, they did as did a number of other people.

While my bike was perfect for the type of riding I did 22+ years ago, elbow to elbow crits, centuries, etc., today’s technology just puts that bike to shame. 7-cog clusters on the rear were rare back then and are just as rare today. The current gearing is 39/52 and a 13-15-17-19-21-25-30 rear. Somewhere in the boxes that have been sitting for twelve years is my 11-28 rear. I remember seeing it when moving and thinking, I need to remember that box.

I’m not going to race crits or triathlons anymore. I always wanted to race RAAM, but, that may have to be an unfulfilled dream. While researching my bike, I learned a lot about its history and learned that I probably underpaid for it when I purchased it. As near as I can tell it is a Concord RS1400(?) made by Kuwahara in Osaka Japan and retailed at $350 with the equipment it had. With as many parts as I’ve replaced over the years, there isn’t much left that is original.

Looking at today’s bikes, it really looks like starting anew is probably a much better choice. Specialized is at the top of a very short list.

My goal for 2012 after 22 years of casual riding is a solo century. And no, not one of those newfangled metric centuries, a real century. That means parts, water, food, snacks all need to be with me. I’m somewhat lucky in the area where I live since we do have long flat stretches of roads with bike lanes, few cars and a decent 65 mile loop to the west.

Since getting back on my bike, I’ve seen more of the city than I’ve seen in the twelve years I’ve lived here. It feels good to be back on the bike.

Can’t wait to try out the new bottle this evening.

Thank you again Specialized!

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