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!