Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rolling out of 2013 and into 2014

I close out 2013 having ridden a bike every day of the calendar year. Today also marks the 372nd consecutive day that I've ridden a bike. I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, but I hope to include more off road rides and more bike camping in the coming year.

It's not too late to get out for one final ride of 2013, or if it is, then make the first ride of 2014 one to remember.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

367 consecutive days on a bike, and counting...

My bike barn in the gloaming of a late Fall sunset.
This oft neglected blog has once again fallen by the wayside in the face of all of the things that tend to demand attention toward the end of the year. However, I would be remiss not to report that I've crossed over the symbolic milestone of having ridden a bike every consecutive day for more than a year, of this past Tuesday. Counting today, the number stands at 367. It all began with the TSBC Challenge last year.

I have long had bikes as a pivotal element of my life, but had never kept track of a streak of consecutive days ridden. I don't track miles ridden, as that isn't really feasible for me, but none of my rides in the past year could be considered particularly noteworthy. Most were fairly antithetical to being epic, with rides on the majority of days capturing some combination of transportation, research purposes as part of my job, social activities, dog exercise, or family fun. Regardless of purpose, I feel better after every ride than I did before.

During the past year, my bike experiences have included:
  • riding nearly every bike I own (causing me to evaluate those that weren't ridden)
  • riding some bikes that I do not own, most of which were borrowed from bike sharing programs
  • selling or donating several bikes and buying a few, for a net total of fewer bikes at my house than this time last year (seemingly counterintuitive, this is progress toward a goal)
  • seeing my younger daughter take her first ride on a balance bike
  • watching my older daughter blossom into a mountain biker
  • encouraging others around me to enjoy riding bikes, too
My ride on the 365th consecutive day was poorly documented photographically, and included just Scout and myself. However, on the 366th consecutive day, counting myself there were nine human and one canine companions dispersed over eight bikes with five different tire sizes. I like riding alone, but it is also fun to be part of an impromptu bike parade, mostly outfitted with bikes from my household. 

My niece on her new-to-her big kid 24" mountain bike that I was commissioned to refurbish. She's a natural dirt biker.

A handful of cousins stacked up at the starting line for our ride. Note many are still in pajamas, well into mid-afternoon.

My brother Chris rode the Dummy with his five year-old daughter, freeing me up to get some pics. 
On our ride, the popular request was to hit the local dirt tracks. Many circuits by many kids ensured plentiful fun. We are fortunate to have some great dirt trails a short ride from our house. Such is a benefit of life in the suburbs.

20-inch wheels.

26-inch wheels.

24-inch wheels.

16-inch wheels. My six year-old nephew was undaunted with being matched up to a pink girl's bike with basket and fenders. Nobody in our group took more challenging lines down the trail or relished going fast more than he did. 

29-inch wheels; speckled medium-sized paws.

I'll likely continue to count the days that I'm on a bike until, inevitably, I miss one. However, I have several internal and external motivators in place to make it unlikely that I'll miss a day for some time to come. An unanticipated bonus has been that I've remained remarkably healthy this past year, only getting a single cold in October. I don't know if I can attribute the drive to ride every day to keeping healthy, but it probably didn't hurt. 

I plan to enjoy the sun as much as possible, especially during these winter months. Here's to a fun and bike filled 2014 to everyone out there. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

346 days and counting

It's somewhere around zero degrees Fahrenheit, and I'm cruising on my Monocog with Scout.
For the past 346 consecutive days, I've ridden a bike. Many bikes, actually, but at least one ride per day. I'm sure that many people have surpassed this figure without even counting or thinking about it. I've never counted before, but I'm quite certain that this is a record for me.

I've found that no matter what, it's always great to get out to ride, even on a day like today when I haven't seen the thermometer above 9 degrees F. The Redline easily passed its snow test, though on squirmy, mealy super-cold compacted powder, it is no match for the sure footed traction of my Pugsley.

The streak continues...

Monday, December 2, 2013

Denver B-cycle now open all year

Denver B-cycle number 365; an appropriate integer to signify year-round operation.

That's right. Denver B-cycle will now be open 365 days a year. This is the fourth year of operation for Denver's bike sharing system, but the first in which it will not close during the winter months. As of today, Denver B-cycle begins winter operating hours of 6:30 am to 9:30 pm. I'm looking forward to riding the bikes all winter long.

A couple of photos from my B-cycle ride earlier today:

Bike rack in front of Randy's Recycled Cycles on Champa Street.

Mural detail from the side of Randy's.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Whatever they call it, around here it's Bike Friday

As is our tradition, we refrained from spending any money today, and instead took the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful late November day. We are very fortunate to get quite a few terrific days with 60 degree F weather sprinkled throughout the winter. When fine weather coincides with a day off, there is no better way to soak up some precious sunlight.

We had a nice Thanksgiving meal yesterday and the girls really enjoyed the food. Perhaps the pinnacle of their enjoyment was getting to lick the beaters from the whipped cream.

Unbridled joy.
A sampling of two types of pumpkin pie, and a slice of pumpkin cheesecake.
Today marks the second anniversary of Scout coming home to live with us. She has been a good dog and continues to learn how to live in the world of people. Here's to many more rides.

Scout is my shadow, much more often than not.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wherein I venture into the world of big wheels

Black and yellow 2008 Redline Monocog 29er.
For more than a year I've conceptually evaluated the idea of myself on 29-inch wheels. I've had intermittent rides on several big-wheeled bikes, interplayed with a continuous internal discussion weighing the tradeoffs of wheel size, proportions, etc., and underlaid with convoluted self-justification for bike acquisition. All the while, I've been selling off underutilized bikes and equipment with a goal of more easily managed rolling stock. When a used 2008 Redline Monocog 29er frameset showed up on Craigslist priced entirely too reasonably, my last excuse was vanquished.

New-to-me 2008 Redline Monocog 29er, size XL (21").
As long as it has wheels and she gets to run along with it, Scout approves.
I really like the Monocog's Atari-esque '80s style graphics. 
The plunge was made easier by the fact that since I'd been clearing out the stable a bit, I'd built up a decent bundle of bike spendable loot from the proceeds. At the same time, many of the parts to build out the frame had either been in my stash for years, or had recently shown up, meaning that it wasn't much of a stretch to finish out the build. However, instead of just using only whatever parts I had on hand, I decided to splurge a little. The Monocog would be more than a personal testbed for 29" wheels, but also for a few key pieces of equipment that I've been wanting to try for some time. After cleaning and waxing the frame, I got down to the fun of putting it all together.

Nothing groundbreaking here, just dependable Avid BB7 disc brakes; 160mm rear, 180mm front. The Redline chain tensioners make for rock solid wheel placement. A 20-tooth Surly cog is obscured from view. 
Even though the frame came with a square taper bottom bracket, I opted for the 175mm TruVativ Firex crankset Gypsy Nick left with me during his last visit. I installed a new Surly 32-tooth ring and a bash ring.
VP Components VP-001 pedals are much flashier than their name implies. Gold, of course, to complement the Monocog's Pac-Man graphics.
Nicely wide Salsa Rustler Bar 2, Ergon GP1 BioKork grips, and Avid levers finish off the controls.
As I was making plans for what I wanted to do with the Monocog, a non-negotiable element was to be a wide handlebar. I'd initially wanted to find a 780mm wide Salsa Whammy bar that I so enjoyed on the Surly Krampus, but they seem not to exist outside of the stock Krampus parts kit. Instead, I discovered the 750mm wide Salsa Rustler 2, as newly spec'd on the stunningly cool Salsa Horsethief. The Rustler features the same 11 degree backsweep as the Whammy, but with a preferable (to me) 15mm rise and 6 degree upsweep compared to the flatter Whammy.

The Salsa Rustler bar does not disappoint. The frameset came with a no-frills Redline 100mm stem with a 31.8mm clamp area that, when mated with the Rustler, makes for a super stable and confidence inspiring tiller. I can't believe I rode with much narrower bars for so many years, as was the style beginning in the late '80s and continuing for a couple of decades. I remember having bikes back in the old days with bars in the 540mm neighborhood, some of which I cut down even further for some long forgotten reason.

I finished off equipping the frameset with a few odds and ends from my parts bin, including a Thomson Elite non-offset 26.8mm seatpost, a Specialized saddle, the single-speed WTB rear wheel from Julie's Raleigh XXIX, an off-the-shelf WTB/Deore front wheel, and a pair of barely used WTB Exiwolf 2.3" steel-bead tires. Decent, pragmatic, journeyman-type parts to mix in with the sparkly, splurgy new bits.

However, I wanted to enter the 29er world fully, and felt the transition demanded something more. In this new world, tubes would be a thing of the past. I explored the options and decided to go with what some term 'ghetto' tubeless, but what I will call, for a more enlightened audience, 'handyman' tubeless. I pieced together the process from a number of online resources, of which vast numbers can be found with a quick search. It seems to me that the 'handyman' method has many more than one correct answer, much like any handyman endeavor.

At this point I'm certainly no expert, but I'll outline what worked for me in the following photos.

Start with the bare rim. I inserted the wheel in a truing stand for convenient access, then cleaned the rim with rubbing alcohol and let it dry.
One inch (25.4mm) wide Gorilla tape is inexpensive and comes in a roll long enough for about four 29er rims.
The Gorilla tape fit just inside the bottom of the channel of my WTB Speed Disc rims (labeled 26mm) just right, without going up the sides where the tire bead will be seated in a subsequent step. I overlapped it about 6 inches at the valve hole.
I cut an x-slit in the tape over the valve hole. I then cut the Presta valve assembly out of a damaged tube, and inserted the valve through the slit in the tape. Next, I  tightened the valve stem retainer nut down to force the rubber around the internal valve opening into the rim channel, making a seal. 
The next step is to install the tire (sans tube) on the rim, and thread on a Presta to Schrader adapter, if, like me, your air compressor is Schrader only.  
These items come in handy.
At this point, a test inflation helps to determine if your tire/rim combo will work tubeless, or if it will need some adjustment. I used the compressor to air up the tire, quickly at first, then somewhat more cautiously until I heard a couple of popping sounds signifying the air pressure seating the tire beads on the rim. Most resources agree not to inflate to more than 40 psi, lest risking the bead blowing off the rim. Sometimes a little soapy water on the tire bead can help it seat. With the tire/rim combo holding air, the test is a success. On to adding some sealant to make sure that the air stays put, regardless of what the tire may encounter. The next step is to pop part of the bead on one side of the tire to the outside of the rim, in order to make a gap to inject some sealant.
I used a little more than 2 ounces of Stan's sealant per tire, assisted by a syringe. Once the sealant is in, pop the bead back into the rim and air it up again. Remember, 40 psi max.
Once the sealant is in and the tire full of air, spin the wheel around, twisting and turning it to ensure sealant is spread all over the inside. The sealant quickly found and patched a hole in the tire, as evidenced by the gooey spot on the tread in the photo above. Hooray! 
I've now been riding the Monocog for a couple of weeks, and have really been having a lot of fun. With a single gear, I know that the bike's performance anywhere vertical would suffer, mostly due to the limitations of its human engine. However, it's fast on the rolling suburban dirt trails around where I live, and the simplicity of the whole setup makes me feel a bit like a kid on a BMX. The handyman tubeless setup has been working flawlessly, and I've since found some home brew sealant recipes that I may try sometime down the line.

I will say that even at this early stage, I have to deem this experimental testbed a success. Unsurprisingly, I've confirmed that the big 29" wheels feel more proportional to my body size than standard 26" wheels ever have. The bike also has an instant familiarity to me similar to that of my Pugsley, with its similar rolling diameter on 26" x 3.8" fatties. Added to that, it is astonishing how a wide handlebar creates a nearly perfect symbiosis between rider and bike. If you've never tried wide bars and are an XL-sized dirt bike nerd like me, going wide may change your off-road life forever. Any dirt bike with a bar much narrower now gives the impression that I'm on a tiny circus bike.

So far, I'm really impressed with the Monocog. Though its straight-gauge 4130 chromo steel tubing makes it ipso facto not a light weight, the bike feels well balanced and spritely, which is what matters to me. I don't know what it weighs and don't particularly care.

Time will tell what the future holds for this bike. Perhaps some gears at some point, possibly via internal hub. Maybe a 100mm -ish suspension fork. Hopefully some camping. In the mean time, I can say with confidence that the Monocog is vying for top ranking with the Pugsley as the best dog bike in the household, and will likely rack up more than its share of outings over the coming months.

Test fit: a Revelate frame pack built for a 20-inch Pugsley on the XL Monocog.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Imagination will take her places

A little creative interpretation of a bike rack, courtesy of Julie who is quick with an iPhone.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Surly ECR encounter at Buffalo Creek

A Surly ECR perfectly at home in Buffalo Creek along the Colorado Trail.
Update: I got home to discover that this little post was featured on the Official Surly Intergalactic Regional HQ Facebook page. I am more than a bit shocked and even more honored. As one of the 12 remaining humans who is not a denizen of Facebook, I can't comment there, but I welcome your visit by proxy. And yes, whiskey does enhance language. Thanks, Surly purveyors and enthusiasts!

Last year, the good folks at Surly, Salvagetti, and Basic Kneads teamed up to bring to life a little something that they termed the "Unicorn Petting Zoo" near my little corner of Colorado. I was fortunate enough to attend and spend a little quality time with a Surly Krampus. At the time, I was blown away with the Krampus' inherent groundbreaking features. The bike as a whole felt fast and nimble on the trail as it veritably flew on its cushion of 29+ tires. Everything about it seemed to deftly redefine what an all terrain bike could be in a nearly ideal form.

In total, the Krampus is a bike that I believe to be a central catalyst in changing the perceptions of what it means to ride off road. As evidence, a distinctly Krampus-flavored milieu permeated many of the best designs of this year's North American Handmade Bicycle Show. The 29+ concept is, in many ways, the most logical evolution of the genus duo luto via rota; it offers terrific traction, a smooth ride enabled by a large rolling diameter, and a nice cushion to take the edge off without the maintenance needs of mechanical suspension. About the only shortcoming of the Krampus that I noted last year to keep it from being an ideal adventure bike was its relative paucity of braze-ons.

Once again, last weekend the three generous entities of last year's event got together to show off a couple of new Surly models, in addition to drinking bear (edit: or beer, as the case may be), eating pizza, camping, and having a good time. Again, I was fortunate enough to attend, though for a shorter time. Just as nature abhors a vaccum, I am happy to report that lack of braze-ons is no longer a concern with the introduction of the Surly ECR, the seriously capable cousin of the Krampus.

The ECR is perhaps a little darker in color than my first generation Big Dummy, but it is a good color that blends in well with the forest. Personally, green is my favorite bike color, and Surly has a track record of delivering terrific verdant hues. 

The ECR stock parts spec is no-nonsense and highly dependable. Surly's new O.D. crank is very nice. 
Please note, that this is more of a conceptual reckoning of a bike, more than a practical review, as I didn't have adequate time to make thorough acquaintance. I borrowed a size medium ECR to test; a couple of sizes too small for me but the only one available at the time. A bit later, I tried out a size XL, which fit me very well. For reference, I'm about 6'2", have a 89.5cm PBH, and ride a Surly Big Dummy and Surly Pugsley, both in size XL. I'd already taken the photos shown here, so please note that all ECR photos on this page are of a size medium.

The ECR is very utilitarian in build quality and appearance. This is a bike that exudes an aura of solid dependability in much the same way as an International Scout, a Coleman stove, or a good Thermos; each imbued with timeless aesthetic and functional value. It is no nonsense in design, and is equipped with tried-and-true components known to be simple to repair and maintain. Dependability and value are qualities with great appeal when the going gets rough, more so than low weight at the expense of strength, or any other transitory flash factor. Though this rationale may not hold true for some people, if you have an interest in the ECR, you're probably not going to be disappointed.

As seems to have been the case with the initial design of the Krampus, the ECR also benefits from cross-pollination with other Surly bikes. Its Krampus-derived foundation is obvious, but the ECR is also equipped with the copious range of braze-ons and multifunctional dropouts found on the Troll and Ogre. With a lower fork and more similar angles, the ECR's ride is perhaps closer to a Pugsley than the Krampus; feeling somewhat less aggressive and speedy, though it does not feel at all slow.
The ECR features a Jones Loop H-bar, perfectly suited for holding devices or baggage, in addition to enabling a great riding position. The MicroShift thumb shifters  have become my favorite, as similarly equipped on my Pugsley. 

Cockpit view. A Garmin GPS mount is installed to place the unit directly in front of the stem. 
The stock Surly ECR build incorporates a Jones Loop H-bar. This bar plays an integral role in establishing the character of the bike, in much the same way that the super wide 780mm Salsa Whammy bar does on the stock Krampus. I loved the Whammy bar on the Krampus, and credited the bar as being the perfect feedback device for the intent of the bike. In much the same way, there could not be a better rider interface for the ECR than the Jones Loop H-bar. In addition, the loop section provides practical dashboard space for mounting lights, a GPS unit, bells, bags or any number of items that might be favored by stalwart adventurers.

Over the years, I've become a huge fan of highly backswept bars for a few key reasons. Highly swept bars are much more comfortable for long rides, with the more natural position contributing to reduced wrist, shoulder and neck strain. Swept bars also afford a more upright seating position, and as such a better view. A good view is essential to an adventure bike, as a primary purpose for riding to exotic or difficult to reach places is for the experience. It's not a coincidence that my most ridden bikes are equipped with either Nitto Albatross or Surly Open Bars, and Salsa backswept low rise bars are close behind. In the short time I spent with the H-bar equipped ECR, I was very impressed. Perhaps my Pugsley could benefit from an H-bar.
Big and fat 29x3 tires make a lot of contact with the ground.

The specially designed chainstay yoke that makes it possible to handle 29x3 with chainring clearance on a 73mm BB shell. The ECR has a one-piece yoke that is somewhat less artisanal than the early model Krampus I rode last year, but serves the purpose at least as well. 
In the end, the ECR is currently at the pinnacle of off-road touring bike technology. It is imminently capable, superbly outfitted, and a lot of fun to ride. I can't imagine a better platform for the dedicated off-road adventurers I've had the good fortune to encounter, such as this guy, this gal, or this other guy. But, for me, perhaps the most astounding feature of the bike is in how it creates ripples in the lineage of the emerging 29+ platform, and provides cues as to the future course of two-wheeled exploration.

I bought my first Surly (a bean green Cross-Check frameset) in January of 2002, when Surly was a quirky little offshoot specializing in odd bike-y things. Then, as now, Surly is part of QBP, a large juggernaut in the bike world, but mostly unknown to the public. I now own three Surly bikes, and am happy to know that even though as an organization Surly has grown quite a bit, it retains core values embracing quirkiness, and utilizes this character to continue to drive development of innovative and fun bike products within a broader context.

Not long ago, fatbikes were a mere oddity in the two-wheeled kingdom; objects of perplexed stares at their cartoonishly huge tires. Surly didn't invent fatbikes, but with the advent of the Pugsley and supporting rims and tires, the company made fatbike technology accessible to a much larger degree than ever before, contributing to an emerging normalization of huge volume tires. This year, two of the industry's largest players, Trek and Specialized, have fatbike models, which would have been unthinkable just a couple of years back. From the vantage point of the present, I can foresee the impact of 29+ resonating in much the same way.

The fact that Surly's revelry in what would be considered odd within the greater sphere of the bicycle industry has served as a bellwether to eventual change, is at the heart of what, to me, makes bicycles much more than just machines. The ECR is a precursor of the larger off-road bicycling landscape. It is a significant step along the way to the next big thing. Surly has been a bit evasive as to its intended meaning of the acronym ECR, but for me it means "Evolutionary Change Rocks!"