Saturday, December 26, 2015

SOMA Grand Randonneur: My review

The post sounded promising: “FS: SOMA Grand Randonneur complete, 65cm.“ I had had my eye on the SOMA Grand Randonneur earlier, especially during the 20%-off sales that SOMA runs once or twice a year. At $400 retail for frame and fork, the GR is a great deal. Much to my surprise, Jan Heine also reviewed it rather favorably in Bicycle Quarterly, at least in terms of ride quality and handling. I had just started a new job, providing some disposable income. My Gunnar Roadie 650B conversion had been quite the success. Which on the hand provided a good reason to not buy a similar type of bike, but on the other hand had convinced that the low-trail fat-tire 650B thing worked well for me. And the SOMA would allow for fat tires and fenders, something not possible on the Roadie. I gave it some thought and discussed it with the SO, but ultimately didn't bite. When the seller lowered the price by another hundred dollars, however, I couldn't see myself saying no any longer.

The build as sold was already very nice: Old Dura Ace hubs laced to Velocity Dyad rims, Nitto stem, bar-end shifters, Nitto Noodle handlebars, CR-720 canti brakes, 36/48 Sugino cranks, Nitto Campee Mini front rack, Compass Babyshoe Pass tires, Miche roller-bearing headset. After throwing on a saddle and pedals, the bike was ready to go. On the first test rides the bike felt okay but quite different from my Gunnar, despite having a similar geometry. I didn't think much of it and just kept riding. On a particularly rainy ride I overshifted, breaking a spoke in the process. In addition, I noticed a grey sludge on the headtube, right under the upper headset cup. From the beginning I had had a hard time properly adjusting the headset, and the sludge incident motivated me to investigate further. The previous owner had told me that the frame and fork had been prepared by Mike Kone of Boulder Bicycle, theoretically ruling out bad frame prep as the cause of the headset issues. Eventually I figured it out: The headset parts had been installed in the wrong order, with the cups and bearings slowly being ground away. Well, that certainly explained my difficulty in adjusting the headset and why the bike handled differently than the Gunnar.

Some 105 DT 7-speed shifters I had in a box, set to friction

Origin8 Classique drillium aero levers: Cheap but pretty good looking

The frame is borderline short for me, requiring a long stem even with long-ramp handlebars

Fender stays, bent the Peter Weigle way (he no longer seems to do this these days)

PDW safety fender tabs

Velo Orange decaleur: So far, so good.

With two coats of clear shellack, the color of the Newbaum's tape came out great

Patch from Falls Creek Outfitters

Unfortunately, shortly after replacing the headset (with another Miche), I had a bad crash, which took me off the bike for two months. And by now, non-studded tire riding season is mostly over. First impressions from riding with the fixed headset: Rides much better but still different from the Gunnar. Whereas the Gunnar feels very precise, going exactly where I want it to go, on the Grand Randonneur I've found myself occasionally running over things that I intended to steer around. In terms of performance, I don't have enough riding in yet to make any definitive claims. It certainly doesn't seem slow, but who knows... I'll follow-up on handling and performance in a separate post after I've gathered more data.

Also topic for a separate post is the wonderful custom rando bag that you can see in the pictures.

Build list:
Rims: Pacenti SL-23, 32 holes
Rear hub: Shimano Ultegra 6600
Front hub: Shutter Precision PV-8
Spokes: Sapim 2.0/1.8/2.0mm spokes
Bottom bracket: ?
Cranks: Sugino XD-701(?) 48/34t
Rear derailer: Shimano RSX?
Front derailer: Shimano RSX?
Front rack: Nitto Campee Mini (front tab removed)
Brakes: Tektro CR-720
Front light: Busch & Müller IQ Cyo Premium T senso plus
Rear light: Busch & Müller Secula Plus
Fenders: Velo Orange Zeppelin, with Portland Design Works safety tabs
Pedals: Shimano XT Trail clipless PD-M785
Seatpost: ?
Saddle: Brooks B17 Imperial
Stem: Nitto Technomic(?)
Handlebars: Nitto Randonneur B-132 (44cm)
Brake levers: Origin8 Classique
Handlebar tape: Newbaum's Lime green, clear shellacked
Headset: Miche needle-bearing
Decaleur: Velo Orange

Weight as shown but without the bag: 12.3 kg (27 lbs)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Tried and liked, 2015 edition

The end of 2015 year is near. Time for the annual tried-and-liked tradition, started on the iBOB list. A quick recap from last year: I liked S24Os, fixed-gear riding, riding in and around Stuttgart, having a dedicated winter bike, Pogies/bar mitts and ski goggles for winter riding, and the Defeet Duraglove Wool. I couldn't come up with anything disliked and remained undecided about metal fenders.

So what was liked in 2015?

650B low trail fat tire bikes

Again, I'm late to the game, but I'm loving it. First I converted my beloved Gunnar Roadie, liked it a lot, and then I bought a SOMA Grand Randonneur to go all the way: 42mm Compass tires, full fenders, front rack, low trail, handlebar bag (post about the SOMA is coming soon). It's awesome.

Group riding

In 2013 I listed brevets as a liked. In 2014 it was long solo rides that I particularly enjoyed. And now in 2015 the pendulum has swung once more. Shortly after moving to Madison, I met a lot of awesome bikey people (including a BOB or two) who are great to ride with. They helped me get out of the house during the winter, and we did a bunch of memorable group rides during the summer. Given that I'm not the most social person, this surprised me, but hey, I'll take it! Thanks everyone!

Fixed gear winter riding

After trying fixed for the first time in 2014, I converted my everyday Cross-Check to fixed for the 2014/15 winter. Sick of the damage that winter does to brakes, derailers, and chain, I figured riding fixed would, well, fix that, plus the additional advantage of extra exercise and possibly more control in slippery conditions. I'm not convinced the additional control is a real advantage, but everything else about it was nice. One additional, unanticipated benefit was that I was able to use pogies with drop bars, something not (easily) possible with the bar end shifters I run in the summer.
Wolfgang, the fixed gear winter bike in its element

Philips SafeRide dyno front light

I had a minor collision with another cyclist that killed my IQ Cyo front light (more on that below) on my Cross-Check. This was a great opportunity to dig out the Philips SafeRide that had been sitting in a parts bin for a long time. It had been briefly installed on the SO's touring bike, but I never got to test it myself. Well, even though it has been introduced many years ago and Philips has since stopped producing bike lights, I think it's an excellent light. With its two-LED design, it provides pleasant, even illumination right where you want it. It's possible that top-of-the-line current lights such as the B&M Luxos may give even better light, but the performance of the SafeRide makes you wonder what Philips could have achieved had they kept developing the product further.

Let's get to the disliked category. It only contains one item, but it's a big one:


I've been biking for almost 30 years and never had any serious crash. Until this August. Short summary: Cat runs out of a field while I'm going 50 km/h (30 mph). I go down, dislocating my shoulder and badly fracturing the head of my humerus. And lots of road rash. I'm in good shape again, but I cannot recommend the experience to anyone.
I didn't find this humerus. (Photo: Jenna NevinsCC-BY 2.0)

I tried a couple things that I'm still undecided about

Shimano SPD trail pedals

For the SOMA I bought some Shimano XT M-785 Trail pedals. They provide more contact area than the regular SPD mountain bike pedals, and I thought this might help to improve my foot comfort on long rides. I haven't ridden the pedals long enough to say anything conclusive, but so far I haven't noticed a real difference. More on this next year.

Cyo Premium front light

Also for the SOMA I bought a Busch und Müller IQ Cyo Premium (the full name is B + M Lumotec IQ Cyo Premium T senso plus; their model proliferation is kinda ridiculous...) dyno front light. Over the years I had been very happy with my first-generation IQ Cyo Sport. It's beam is rather narrow and it has a dark spot right in front of the bike, but I didn't particularly mind in most conditions. The new generation of the Cyo promised both a wider as well as more continuous field of light, and so I decided to give it a try. I did a solstice allnighter on the bike, plus a good number of shorter rides in the dark, and I must say I'm not convinced. The wider field of light is nice, especially on winding bike paths. I don't care much, though, for the additional illumination in front of the wheel. My gaze is directed further ahead—by the time something is only two or three meters away, it's too late to react anyway—, and the extra light negatively affects my night vision. A further downside of the new generation of Cyos is that their beam cut-off seems to be sharper. Less stray light means that it harder to see, for example, street signs. Having written all this, I actually wonder if this should put the light into the disliked category. We will see. 

 Bib shorts

The problems that many people report having with regular bike shorts—pinching, sliding, bunching—never rang particularly true for me, even on 300km brevets. Nonetheless, I thought this may be the kind of thing where you notice the problem only after you've experienced a product that is better. So I ordered a pair of Bolsward bib shorts from Road Holland to find out myself. I did like them, but a revelation they were not. Add to that the nipple chafing problems they cause for me, and I'm not sure that I'm going to buy another pair (the current ones were destroyed in my crash).

Happy 2016 everyone!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Ride report: Mount Tam and Alpine Dam loop

I was fortunate to be able to join my significant other on a conference trip to San Francisco for a couple days of vacation. I've been to San Francisco on a couple of occasions, but I never got to do a bike ride. Well, this time was the time, and—spoiler alert: it was terrific! I had gotten route advice from SF locals on the iBOB listserv: A loop around Mt. Tamalpais was recommended by many, offering climbing, beautiful roads, and great views.

As I didn't bring my own bike, I rented an aluminum Cannondale CAAD 10 from Sports Basement in the Presidio. I didn't have a reservation, but at least on a weekday in fall that was no problem at all. The bike fit me reasonably well and was in very good condition.

The route begins with a crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge. I had been warned of the dangers of clueless tourists wobbling around on the ubiquitous rental bikes or on foot, waving around their selfie sticks, but it turned out not to be all that bad.

Bridge view of Downtown San Francisco

The bike route on the northern end of the bridge is signed yet not easy to find: You have to do a 170 degree turn onto a sidewalk and then walk your bike down a flight of stairs to pass underneath the bridge. A steep service road then leads down to sea level, providing beautiful vistas. Bike route 5 closely follows the coast line into Sausalito, a pretty, somewhat touristy town that apparently can get very busy on weekends. Continuing on a mix of on-street lanes and shared lanes, I reached the Mill Valley–Sausalito path. The rough chipseal on the path reminded me of that fact that I was on 25mm Continental Gatorskin tires instead of the supple 35–42mm tires I have gotten so used to... At a brand new path roundabout, apparently intended to slow down cyclists, I turned off the path and continued on residential streets.

When looking at the map to prepare my cue sheet, I had thought of this part of the ride as a potentially annoying section: Lots of turns not to miss and what on the map looked very much like cul-de-sac developments. Oh how I was wrong! On a winding one lane road I would climb through redwoods and wooden houses creatively nestled into the steep slopes, Together with the sun's light filtered through the trees, this made for an almost magical experience (unfortunately one that was impossible to capture with my phone camera).

Panoramic indeed
At the end of the first long climb, I turned onto Panoramic Highway, whose name certainly delivers: Vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Pacific coast, Muir Woods National Monument—and of course Mount Tam make for great riding. The highway is winding and has no shoulders, but traffic wasn't too bad and people driving were well behaved. I had a quick refueling stop at a pull-out where years ago I had made a stop on a road trip with my parents. My legs, accustomed only to climbs that last no longer than maybe 15 minutes, were a little tired, but the gearing of my rental was sufficiently low to keep me going.
View from Pan Toll Road, Panoramic Highway below

Shortly after that, at the Pantoll Ranger Station, the route forks off on Pan Toll Road. Apologies for the overuse of superlatives, but the views were getting ever better. I was now high up enough to get glimpes of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the foggy ocean all at the same time!

The view that has it all

Climbing, climbing, climbing
At the next intersection I had to decide if I wanted to take the dead-end road to the eastern summit of Mt. Tam or just continue on the loop. I had plenty of daylight left and was feeling great—so on to the summit I rode. This involved a good bit of up and down, including a mean ramp just before the parking lot at the end of the road. I was happy to see functional water fountains at the parking lot and took a fifteen minute break at a picnic area with yet more great views. I didn't have a lock and therefore skipped the walk to the actual summit.

At the East Summit parking lot. The couple traveling in this 1970s "Winnie Wagon" later ran into me again and asked me for directions,

My laterally stiff yet vertically compliant stiff bike
Back at the fork, I now turned right, knowing that from here on the ride would be mostly downhill. My legs certainly appreciated that prospect. However, between lingering memories of my recent crash and, more importantly, the skinny, stiff, overinflated tires on a bumpy road, descending wasn't as much fun as it should be.

Stinson Beach
Ridgecrest Road

Once again. the scenery provided ample compensation. First on an open ridge with views in all directions, then on a twisting road through tall trees. At the bottom of the descent, the route traverses Alpine Dam and then follows the shore of Alpine Lake. I was amazed how quiet it was down here, with hardly a car or person to be seen.

Alpine Lake, seen from the dam
All the climbing had taken its toll, and I had to sit down for a bit and eat the last of the three Clif Bars I had brought on the ride. Fortunately, after a steep but short uphill, it was all downhill again. Between tall redwoods and ferns, Bolinas-Fairfax Road wound downhill in twists and turns.

One of the switchbacks on Bolinas-Fairfax Road
As the road left the forest, I was greeted by the view of a big golf course, whose lush green color stood in marked contrast to the brown and yellow tones encountered earlier on the ride. Drought-shmought...
Indoor bike parking at Gestalt Haus
A final downhill led me right into the town center of Fairfax, where I made a much needed stop at Gestalt Haus. Gestalt Haus is very much a biker bar, but one catering to bikers of the non-motorized variety. You can roll your bike right in and hang it on a wall rack (which proved immensely convenient given that I didn't have a lock), and there were plenty of fellow cyclists enjoying beers and brats.
Enjoying a vegan sausage and a Ballast Point Sculpin
I later realized that the Marin Bike Museum and MTB Hall of Fame was only one block away from the Gestalt Haus, but I guess I wouldn't have had time to visit anyway. To get back to Sausalito, I followed well-signposted bike routes, which weren't particularly exciting but mostly pleasant to ride on. By the time I got back to the Golden Gate Bridge, the sun had started to slowly set, and fog started rolling into the bay. Just amazing, or in the words of the local cyclist who pulled up next to me to also take a picture: “This never gets old!&rdquot;

I returned the bike at the shop after almost exactly 100 kilometers (62 miles) and 1800 meters of climbing. 10/10, highly recommended!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Bike commuting 2014 in Madison: More stagnation

It's that time of the year again when the US Census releases the numbers of last year's American Community Survey (ACS), For bike advocates this is always an exciting event, as the ACS, despite its limitations, is one of the few available data sources about biking that allows us to look at long-term trends in cycling in the US.

As soon as I heard the data was out, I plugged the latest numbers into the spreadsheet I created for a post last year. It quickly became clear that the main news conveyed by those numbers is that there isn't really any news: Continuing the trend since approximately 2009, the percentage of people cycling to work in Madison has stagnated at around 5%. Compared to the US average and many other metro regions in the US, this percentage is high. Compared to the mode share in many European cities, though, there is a lot of room for improvement. Stagnation is not enough.

Seattle Bike Blog has some numbers for comparison:
Seattle (3.7 percent) is now in a bike commute race against Minneapolis (4.6) in the Mid-West, DC (3.9) on the East Coast, New Orleans (3.4) in the South, San Francisco (4.4) and Oakland (3.7) on the West Coast, and Tucson (3.5) in the Southwest.
And then of course is Portland, which despite all lamentations actually has increased its bike mode share to above seven percent for the first time.

As for explanations, my previous post and the comments are probably still accurate. Getting to somewhere around five percent, especially in a college town, is relatively easy. Beyond that, real investment in infrastructure and incentives/disincentives needs to happen. In Madison this has not happened. Changes that might entice people to bike to work have changed only incrementally. An improved intersection here, a widened bike lane there. But probably most Madisonians would agree that by and large there haven't been any major efforts that would make cycling a more appealing transportation option. No protected bike lanes, no rebuild of horrible intersections such as the one at Machinery Row, and many main streets in town remain without any bike infrastructure. Similarly, driving and parking continue to be cheap and convenient. At my workplace, for instance, construction has just begun on a massive expansion of a parking ramp, and in the hotly debated downtown redevelopment project of Judge Doyle Square, free or heavily subsidized parking seems to be a mostly unquestioned component of the plan.

Update 9/19: Here's a chart of all modes for 2006-14:
Commute share 2006–2014. Data: American Community Survey

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Riverwest 24: One of a kind

Ten days ago I got a brief Facebook message from Kierstin, one of my wonderful Madison cycling friends: “Alright my friend. You are up. Laura just bailed from our RW24 team to train for the Ironman. You were planning on coming out--do you want to race/ride on our team???” I had heard many amazing things about Riverwest 24, that weird hybrid creature of alleycat, endurance bike race, block party, and nieghborhood improvement project, and therefore my plan had been to just ride down to Milwaukee and hang out with my racing/riding friends. In no way had I expected to actually be able to participate, as the sign-up process for the limited spots is long in advance and involves standing in lines for hours on end. And so I was immediately excited about the possibility of joining Kierstin's team.

Dan and Claudine in their garage
After getting the boss's OK to take off early on Friday—despite a impending grant deadline—I told Kierstin I was in. Because another team member and I were first-timers, we planned on getting to Riverwest early in order to familiarize ourselves with the 4.8 mile (7.7 km) course and the race rules. We arrived well in time for sign-up and the dinner prepared by the Riverwest Co-op. It is difficult to put into words the atmosphere that immediately surrounded us. The whole neighborhood seemed to vibrate with positive energy and most everyone I encountered had a smile on their face. The homebase for our two six-person teams was the garage of Dan and Claudine, long-time residents of Riverwest and Volkswagen/Westfalia van enthusiasts.

One of Dan and Claudine's VWs
I somehow hadn't realized how long the breaks between riding would be on a six-person team. We would usually do two laps plus a bonus checkpoint. Bonus checkpoints could be anything from having your portrait taken at sunrise, confessing your sins at a 2 AM "mass" with a "preacher" in a condemned church building, to playing party games with teenagers at a youth center. Laps would take between 15 and 20 minutes, but the bonus checkpoints were rather unpredictable, sometimes taking an hour between standing in line and actually doing them. I was last in the rotation, meaning that the first time I got to ride was four hours after the 7 PM start. I had a lot of pent up energy at that point and was happy to let it all out on the lap. After that it was back to hanging out, chatting, and drinking beers and espresso. I caught an hour or two of sleep and did my second set of laps around sunrise. The neighborhood never really quieted down during night, with people being out and about, bands playing on street corners—and of course the constant stream of cyclists on the streets.

I had a couple lows during the 24 hours, but nothing that another two laps of hard riding wouldn't fix. The final lap we all did together, before heading home to Madison to catch up on proper food, personal hygiene, and sleep. What a wonderful, unique adventure!

Tim, Dan, Kierstin

Sleepiness just before sunset

On top of the reservoir, waiting in line for a bonus checkpoint...

...where our portraits would be taken... front of the Milwaukee skyline

My increasingly disgusting bike hat and gloves, drying out after a sweaty lap

Team  mates Dan and Kierstin

Steve doing post-lap Stava analysis to optimize our strategy :-)

There was a constant come-and-go of friends and neighbors stopping by

The morning was really hot and humid. Everybody was glad when the wind turned and brought some cooler air from across the lake

Highly sophisticated sports nutrition formula to keep me going

24 hours of free espresso shots from Colectivo Coffee

Jacob's and my bike

Final group lap


Packed up and ready to go home