Thursday, January 22, 2015

Converting my Gunnar Roadie to low-trail 650B, part 1

My 2002 Gunnar Roadie is the best bike I've ever ridden. It's fast (it's painted orange; so what did you expect...), looks good, is reliable. Since I first built it up in 2010, I've made some changes, but they were mostly minor -- Grand Bois handlebars replaced the modern bars, as did a 1" steel stem the 1 1/8" aluminum stem, and I upgraded to a generator hub. But now it's time for something more drastic: Converting to 584mm/650B wheels and a fork that will make the bike low trail.
Gunnar with 25-622 wheels/tires

Why change an already great bike?

There are two main reasons for this project. The first one is that there is one shortcoming of the frame. It was built to accommodate tires up to 25mm wide, without fenders.  I can actually make 28mm tires work, but the clearances at the chain stay then get a little sketchy. Relatively narrow tires have served me pretty well so far. A good tire in combination with the compliant carbon fork make for a comfortable ride, and I've even ridden pretty rough gravel roads on Gunnar. The lack of fenders, on the other hand, is limiting, turning Gunnar basically into a fair-weather bike. I have little patience for getting road spray all over myself, and when the forecast predicts rain, I therefore switch to my fully-fendered Cross-Check. The reason for going to low-trail at the same as changing wheel size is curiosity. Bicycle Quarterly, my favorite bike magazine, has long praised the advantages in handling that low-trail geometry and front loading can bring. Now I don't nearly perceive high trail and rear loads as pernicious as some people make it to be. I regularly ride my Cross-Check with two Ortlieb Back-Rollers full of heavy groceries and yet I'm still alive. But then of course I lack a point of comparison.

Converting Gunnar is thus the answer to these two points, unlike converting my Cross-Check with ample clearance for wide tires and fenders. I'm on a tight budget and so I spent several months accumulating the parts required for the conversion: A 1" threadless Rawland Stag fork, Shimano Ultegra 6600 rear hub, Shutter Precision PV-8 generator hub for the front, Pacenti SL-23 rims, Sapim double-butted spokes.


Currently I'm running Dura-Ace caliper brakes with a reach of 44mm. Switching to 584mm rims necessitates another 19mm of reach for a total of 63mm. At the local community bike shop I found a pair of Mafac Racer centerpull brakes that at least should work for the rear. The Stag fork is intended to be used with cantilever brakes; so I might do centerpull in the rear and canti in the front.
Nice pair of Mafac Racer centerpull brakes


There are two, interconnected challenges with the conversion, tire clearance and ground clearance. As I said, currently the largest 622mm tires that fit are 28mm wide. A 584mm wheel moves the tire further towards the hub and therefore increases clearance at the chain stays—but not by much. The way to figure this out in advance is to measure the distance between the chain stays at 320mm distance from the rear axle. I got about 40mm, but the measurement is a little finicky. So in the best case, I could fit a 38-584 tire without fenders—which of course somewhat defeats one of the main reasons for this conversion—or a 32mm tire with fenders. With the latter option then comes the question whether my pedal-to-ground clearance is still going to be sufficient. When using a typical wide 584mm/650B tire like the Hetre with its 42mm diameter, the outer diameter of a wheel is actually about the same as that of a 622/700C wheel with 28mm tires. Using a narrower tire will lower the bottom bracket and consequently lead to potential pedal strike in corners. The Roadie probably has a bottom bracket of 70mm (though I have to confirm this by measurement), which is on the high end for a 650B conversion, especially when running 175mm cranks.


Low-trail bikes can have problems with shimmy more frequently than high-trail bikes. One possible remedy is the use of a rollerbearing headset to slightly increase friction. For now I will stick with the headset I already have and see how it goes. 

What's next?

I'm still waiting for some wheel parts to arrive before I can build them up. I also haven't decided what to do about tires yet. I'm hesitant to spend a lot of money on tires that then potentially are to wide to fit the bike. I could also potentially go for narrow-ish tires in the rear and 42mm tires in the front—but that doesn't make that much sense given the load distribution of a bike. I will report back once I'm getting closer to completion of this project.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy 2015!

This was the view on the last morning of 2014. I biked along Lake Monona to the bakery to get some baguettes for tonight's cheese fondue. It was bitterly cold and windy, creating banks of steam blowing swiftly over the water. Not a bad way to say goodbye to 2014 and welcome the new year. Happy New Year to all my readers!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Overhauling the Blog Roll

Blog rolls or link lists on blogs often don't age well, and this blog is no exception. So here are my current regular reads:

  • MadisonBikeThings: A Tumblr for all things bike in Madison, my home town. Full disclosure: MadisonBikeThings is a 100% subsidiary of the Ride or Pie?! Global Publishing Co.
  • iBOB Google Group: The Bicycle Owners Bunch is a great resource for all things practical cycling
  • BikeSnob NYC: The Bike Snob never ceases to amuse me, even after however many years I've been reading his blog
  • The Wisconsin Bike Fed's blog has a great mix of posts on all things Wisconsin cycling, and their main author, Dave Schlabowske, is an excellent photographer and writer.
  • A View from the Cycle Path: David Hembrow is an excellent source for teaching the anglophone world how create a great cycling environment. The complementary blog to this is 
  • Bicycle Dutch: More video content than  Hembrow and a less negative undertone.
  • Revolution Cycles: Great local bike shop in Madison
  • Off the Beaten Path: Jan Heine, editor of Bicycle Quarterly, the only bike magazine worth reading, has a great blog, featuring epic (yes, that's the appropriate term here) ride reports and interesting tech stuff
  • Bike Tinker: Philip is a fellow iBOB, and his blog is a great resource for all kinds of bike-related projects, often appropriate for DIY imitation
  • Urban Adonia: An anthropologist-activist-academic writing about advocacy, equity, and race in bike culture and infrastructure
  • Cycling Spokane: Kinda like my own blog, but from the West
  • Andy's Cycling Blog: RL friend and randonneur
  • Soma Fab blog: SOMA makes lots of cool bike stuff, as does
  • Velo Orange
  • BikePortland: I don't live in Portland, but one doesn't have to to appreciate the best local bike journalism there is.
Recommendations for blogs to read are always welcome!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Awesome deal on Pacenti SL23 650B rims!

Perfect timing: Kirk Pacenti is having a sale on his great SL23 rims. I had been on the lookout for rims to build up a 650B wheelset for quite some time, and so I jumped on this one without hesitation! I'm linking to the silver version with 32 holes that I bought myself, but they're also available in black and with 28 holes.
Edit 4:15pm: Looks like the shipping has been increased. But still a great deal!

Usual disclaimer: If you buy them through this link, I'll get a small referral from Amazon. And now go buy these great rims!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Tried and liked, 2014 edition

The Internet-BOB (short for Bridgestone Owners Bunch) listserv has the annual end-of-year tradition of people posting what bike-related things they liked—and didn't like. This is always a fun read and a good opportunity to reflect back on one's own purchases and innovations. Finding previous editions on Google Groups can be a bit of a pain, and so I'm cross-posting my list here on the blog.

These were my items from last year (in abbreviated form):

Liked 2013

  • GB Randonneur bars
  • Converting my all-purpose bike to disc brakes in the front, V-brakes in the rear
  • long distance solo rides
  • converting from STI's to DT shifters on the go-fast bike

Disliked 2013

  • Flat pedals on the Cross-Check
  • MEC rain jacket

Undecided 2013:

  • metal fenders
  • shellacked cotton bar tape
Lovely shellacked orange cotton tape
I'd say those things pretty much still hold true, except that cotton bar tape has moved from “undecided” to “liked,” with the qualification that I wouldn't want to have it on an everyday bike that I don't ride with gloves. GB Randonneur bars plus cotton tape plus padded cyling gloves, however, is a great combination!

So what about 2014? It was a weird cycling year for me. Because of immigration issues I lived without access to my regular stable of bikes for much of the year. But nonetheless there are a couple of things for the list.

Liked 2014

  • S24O: Ridiculous as it may be, I so far had failed to successfully go on a sub-24 hour overnight ride, despite several attempts. This September it finally happened, and it was terrific!
  • Riding fixed: In another case of coming late to the trend, it was only this year that I rode a fixed gear bike. While I was stranded in Montreal before my visa interview, I borrowed a friend's fixie and actually took it on a 100 kilometer group ride on the first attempt. While there were no Zen revelations of being one with the road, I did like enough to just yesterday having bought a fixed wheelset for winter riding. Not totally convinced that that's a great use case, but I'll give it a try.
    Miyata Fixie
  • Riding in the Stuttgart region: Again because of the visa saga, I spent several weeks at my parents' near Stuttgart in southwest Germany this summer. The riding there is just great. You can choose between hills or river valleys; between quiet back roads, gravel forest trails, real single track, or paved bike paths. And a great bakery, a beer garden, or a restaurant is never further than half an hour away. 
  • A dedicated winter bike: After riding the SO's city bike with 2.25" Schwalbe Ice Spiker tires through the fresh snow, I knew that I had to get my own winter bike! I bought a cheap early-2000s MTB on Craigslist, equipped it with Ice Spikers, north road bars, and moose mitts (more on that below). This was money very well spent, as it significantly helped to make a very cold winter much less depressing. Unfortunately, because of my move to Madison I sold the bike and so far have been unable to find an appropriate replacement.
    Winter bike in its element
  • Pogies/Bar Mitts: Again, the SO tried these first and liked them a lot. She has the version from Handlebar Booties, and I got the Moose Mitts. Only downside: There are pogies for drop bars but not for ones with bar-end shifters, i.e. what I have on my everyday bike. I guess converting it to fixed would solve this.
  • Ski goggles for winter riding: This is one of the things were for years I thought that I didn't need them. But then once I tried them for the first time I immediately cursed myself for not having done this earlier. The pair was a rather scratched up pair of goggles that I bought for 3 dollars from the thrift store. They work great during day, but because they're tinted, I'll have to get another pair for riding in the dark.
  • Defeet DuraGlove Wool: Another great product from Defeet! Think, warm, comfortable, durable. Mine lack the ET feature of the current generation that allows using touch screens.

Disliked 2014

Nothing to report here.

Undecided 2014

  • I'm still on the fence about metal fenders. I had the metal front fender tear at the front stay. This was probably the result of me not installing the fender without any tension after having shipped it by plane. And of course one should keep in mind that these fenders were pieced together from stuff I collected at the bike co-op. I'm still somewhat concerned about the risk of sticks jamming the fenders and will buy the PDW Safety Tabs as soon as possible. I still love the extended coverage, stiffness, and looks of the fenders.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Southern Splendor on a not horribly cold day

Winter has come early and with force this year in Madison. Consequently, when the forecast predicted a day of temperatures slightly above freezing, I took up the rare opportunity for a longer ride. The route mostly followed the Southern Splendor ride by the Bombay Bicycle Club and proved to be an excellent choice. Lots of quiet back roads and a pretty, mostly snow-covered scenery.

For riding on the sections of bike trail I was glad to have my studded tires, as there will plenty of icy patches—on the Badger State Trail I rode past a guy who just had had a (harmless) fall. The roads mostly clear of ice and snow and merely wet and salty. I was wearing multiple layers of wool on my upper body, which turned out just right for the given temperature. I'm looking forward to doing this route again next spring or summer. Strava link.
Ice fishing in November? Where did I move to!?

The sun was low but still provided some warmth

“Ice ordinance” A little too early to ride out onto the lake

Lake Kegonsa

Crossing the Yahara in Stoughton

Badfish Creek

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Counting bikes in Montreal

After a longer hiatus that had me staying in Germany and the US, I'm back in Montreal for a few weeks. Especially compared to Madison (Wisc.), the bikes, the riders, and their gear are noticeably different on the roads and bike paths in Montreal.

I was working in a Starbucks yesterday, located right on the most popular north-south bike route across the island on Rue de Brébeuf. From the corner of my eyes, I could see a continuous stream of bikes passing by, and when it was time for a break, I decided to do some counting. Starting at 4:01 pm, I counted bike traffic for 45 minutes. I tried also recording the (assumed) gender, whether people were riding a Bixi, and whether they were wearing a helmet or not. Despite it being the end of October, the weather was pretty nice—about 13 degrees and partly sunny. Bike traffic was definitely not at its rush hour peak yet, but I got a good sample size during the 45 minutes (and probably would have had a hard time keeping track of even more people biking past).

I probably missed a few people, as I could only see three corners of the intersection; and it's also possible that I counted a few people twice. Overall, though, the quality of the data should be good. So how many people bike up and down Brébeuf and Mont-Royal in 45 minutes on an October afternoon? Two hundred ninety-eight, or about 400 per hour.

The gender split is fairly equal -- something definitely not true in many other places in North America. There were 44% women and 56% men (I didn't count kids separately). The split between helmeted and bareheaded people was almost exactly the same: 46% with, 54% without a helmet. Women were slightly more likely to wear helmets than men (52% versus 42%). Bixi riders made up 11% of the total bike traffic—and to my surprise there were 18% of them wearing a helmet!

It's sad that in two days most of the bike infrastructure will be shut down for the winter and converted into snow/private motor vehicle storage. As can be seen in the data of the bike counter on Laurier (choose the monthly view), this leads to a severe cut to the number of people cycling.