Friday, November 14, 2014

The bikes of the Camino de Santiago

My wife and I recently walked the Camino de Santiago, an (almost) 500 mile trek from St. Jean Pied de Port in southwestern France across the Pyrenees foothills and across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela near the northwest coast. While the majority of "peregrinos" (pilgrims), walk this old pilgrimage trail, there are lots of cyclists making the trek now, too. To qualify for the compostela certificate in Santiago, you must either have walked the last 100 kilometers, or have ridden the last 200K. I intended to take a lot of pictures of bikes I encountered on the Way, but frankly, the majority were almost identical! I only saw a couple of touring bikes, they looked like Surly LHT's from the distance I saw them. I couldn't get a decent picture of those. Generally, the typical "Camino Bike" was an MTB, either hardtail or full suspension. I also saw a few hybrids. 

Pretty typical rig.


Much of the Camino is dirt and a lot is rocky and rough. Bicycles are directed to other routes along some stretches which are just too rough for a loaded bike to pass, especially with pedestrians sharing the path. Frankly, I felt that there were a lot of stretches where I encountered bikes that I felt it would be better not to have them there at all! There was often a paved road along side which the riders could have easily taken. Most riders were courteous and many used bells, which should be mandatory for the Camino. But you had a few knuckleheads who swept up behind you with no warning and zoomed by. I was relieved there was no accidents, but there were a few near misses.

Good reason to use an MTB(or the closest paved road).

700C Hybrid style.
Most if not all bikes I saw were equipped with panniers and a fair amount of gear. The great thing about the Camino is that you will have access to really cheap accommodations, so the sleeping gear can be reduced to a sleeping bag! Food is pretty cheap too, so I wouldn't bother with cooking gear, either, (you can use cooking gear at the albergues, too, if you want to cook.) I think you might be able to go the minimalist route and use a Carradice Camper and handlebar bag.

Walking the Camino can be a life altering experience, but to be honest, cycling it would be, to me, just another, albeit interesting, bike tour.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

This year's century ride.

The track of my ride from "Run The Map" phone app.
After a hectic early summer I have finally gotten to my century ride! Inspired by the success of the reverse path of my Yankee Jims rides, I decided to reverse direction of my usual route to Grass Valley, going through Auburn and Meadow Vista, then following Dog Bar Road up to Grass Valley.

On Dog Bar Road.
This turned out to be a good choice. The climb up to Grass Valley took place during the cool morning hours, and Dog Bar Road seems to take on a completely different character going from south to north! I was in Grass Valley early enough that I didn't feel any need to stop for food. I did eat half of a PBJ sandwich I was carrying and drank a little.

Next was the descent on highway 20. Going the other direction, this is a challenging, long effort to get into Grass Valley. But going this way, it's a sweet descent with an occasional bump. I left Hwy 20 at the Smartsville turnoff. At this point I made a significant deviation from my old century route, instead of turning on Waldo road and riding gravel to Camp Far West, I stayed on Smartsville Road and proceeded to the valley.
On Smartsville Road, heading down into the valley.
This is a wonderful road. It's very open and you can see a long way. (This is a very good spot to ride a!!). Thankfully, there was no strong winds, I could see that being a problem some days.

This road eventually took into the eastern fringe of Linda, then I took some wonderful country roads to Highway 65 just above Wheatland. There I made my only supply purchase of the day at a gas station food mart, some cold water and a Frappacinno.

From Wheatland it was a familiar route to Sheridan, then Dowd road to Nicolaus road and into Lincoln, then 193 to Sierra college and then up and over the hill back to Loomis.
Basic ride stats.
All in all I was very happy with this ride. I definitely prefer this route over my old way. I also noticed that the old way was probably not really 100 miles! But with the long gravel stretch at Camp Far West probably made up for that shorter distance. I felt pretty good after this ride. Even my bottom was in good shape, thanks to the Sugoi Evolution bib shorts I recently bought, and a slight change in saddle position, (I raised the nose of the B-17 just a tad.)
Here's a shot of the Mercian post-ride.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fiddling with my bikes' set up and post retirement thoughts.

My LHT on Yankee Jims Road with 26 inch wheels and the Ostrich handlebar bag.
 Since I've retired at the end of July, I've been surprised how little time I seem to have. Well, a lot of it is going to preparation for our trip to Spain and walking the Camino de Santiago this Fall. Lots of walking and planning for extended travel abroad.

Still, I have been getting a satisfactory amount of riding in, plus I've been doing some work on the bikes as well. I've been interested in running handlebar bags "Rando" style. To that end I installed small front racks on both my Surly LHT and my Mercian. For a bag, I purchased an Ostrich F-106, a really big bag from Bike Touring News. I've never purchased from these guys before, but I was very pleased with the fast service. The bag is pretty nice, but I did modify it slightly to work for me. First, I used a Velo Orange Decaleur, and relocated the leather strap holder to the back, planning to strap the bag to the "tombstone" of the front rack. This wasn't really satisfactory, so I used a technique I found on the internet, Peter Weigle's "anti-decaleur" method which uses two "R" clips on the rack which are bolted to the bottom of the bag. (See the bad picture of this installation on the Mercian at the end of this post.) However, rather than being an anti decaleur, i use this method to supplement the decaleur!

This method of attaching the handlebar bag seems very stable. I rode the LHT down Yankee Jims washboard and it held beautifully. Handling with the handlebar bag also feels pretty good, maybe a tad slower reacting, but certainly not unstable at all.

Also on this ride, I used the 26 inch wheels with Continental City Tour tires. I bought these 1.75 tires because I felt my Schwalbe Big Bens were just to big at 2.2 inches. Turns out that these tires aren't all that much skinnier! Anyway, they also ride pretty well, and I don't seem to have the problem with tire clearance with these.

As I said, I also added a rando front rack and handlebar bag to the Mercian:
Current set up for long range cruising. Notice how nicely the Boxy bag matches the V.O. Crescent bag. That's purely coincidental!
Installing the Nitto M12 required a 1/4 inch hole on the fork crown which took me a year to do. In the end it wasn't a big deal, and the Nitto rack is really a thing of beauty. For the bag I used an old Rivendell Boxy Bag. Back in the day, Rivendell actually got Carradice to produce this cotton duck bag. They also had Nitto produce a clamp-on handle bar rack resulting in a pretty lousy system to run a handlebar bag! It worked, but took up handlebar space and held the bag too high, and the clamp could loosen and slip. Since I had this bag, it seemed like a good idea to try to make it work with a rando style front rack.
Original configuration was strapped to the M-12.
 Initially, I planned to strap it down to the rack at two points. while this worked, it was kind of a pain to set up and didn't hold the bag super-tight. So I decided to use the "anti-decaleur" system once again, and, along with the V.O. decaleur, a rock-steady system was born!
Velo Orange Decaleur pinned to the Boxy Bag. You can just see the leather patch behind the tombstone which I initially installed for a strap.
Bad picture of the "R" clip holding the bag on the rack.
This is such an easy installation, all you need is a couple of 3/8 inch clips, you can get a pair of steel ones at Home Depot for less than $1.50), a few washers and nuts and bolts. I recommend a "button"head-type bolt, (M5 or M6) and a nylock nut to fasten it securely. The one downside to this installation is that you don't really have a quick-release system for your bag.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A 650B/26 incher Long Haul Trucker

The LHT with 650B wheels.
 I recently decided to do a little bicycle consolidation; I found there were some bikes I didn't ride a lot. After giving it some thought I decided to sell my Surly Pacer and the 700C Long Haul Trucker, (LHT). I stripped off most of the equipment and wheels and sold them basically as frames. In their place I purchased a 26 inch LHT. My thinking was based on reading conversions of the 26 inch trucker to 650B. I was also interested in trying out some really fat 26 inch tires as well, so it seemed like a good fit.

It was surprisingly hard to find a 26 LHT in my size. I initially thought of replacing my 60CM-700C frame, but decided I would be better off going a little smaller. I went with a 58 and I'm glad I did; I probably could have gotten away with a 56, but I prefer larger frames. The way the geometry of the 26 inch version is set, you find there's really a lot of head tube on these bikes compared to their larger wheeled cousins. A 60CM, 26 inch Trucker really looks rather gangly.

Anyway, I finally ordered a "Smoggy Silver" 58 from Universal Cycles, getting a pretty good deal, really good when you consider I only had to pay $2.99 for shipping! I wasn't thrilled with ordering the silver-grey finish, but there really wasn't anything else around in a 58! I have since come to like it, the color kind of grows on you.

I quickly assembled the bike, really no surprises. Surly's are usually pretty clean frames that go together nicely. Really no prep needed at all. I finally got to the point where I installed the brakes and adjusted them for the 650B's. With the Tektro CR720's pushed to the upper limit of their adjustment, I found the rear wheels just made good contact. But the front brakes fell too short, I had to either raise the brakes or lower the wheels by a couple of millimeters! I ended up doing both! By carefully filing away a little material from the top of the Tektro's adjustment slots, I gained a little more upper reach. I then placed the wheel just a tad lower in the dropout. This I accomplished by sticking a slice of rubber hose into the top of the dropout, giving me a consistent spot for the front wheel to be positioned. The picture below illustrated the position of the brake shows in the modified slot.

Brake position for 650B's.
 For comparison, below is a shot of the brakes set up for a 26 inch (559) wheel. This picture also shows the massive size of the Schwalbe Big Ben. This tire is fun to ride on, but it's wide cross section poses a few problems: You can't install an inflated tire on the front! The fork prevents the brakes from opening up far enough. I also had some trouble with the brakes' pads rubbing on the sidewalls, you must be very careful with your brake setup.
Brake position for 26 inch.
As I said, These tires are fun, I took them to the Auburn Overlook trail system and had good traction on everything but the steepest sections of gravelled trail. On pavement they were pretty nice too.

All set up for gravel grinding!
I find the ride on the 650B Panaracer Col de la Vie tires to be very pleasant. I usually run between 60-70 psi in them and find the ride comfortable and not at all sluggish. For some reason, I like climbing with these wheels. I feel like I have good power, and the LHT frame seems very responsive!! That's probably because of the frame's stiffness, but the fatter tires and geometry of the frame seem to allow that stiffness to be an asset, with no discomfort. I don't know, maybe it "planes"!

Initial build with the 650's.

Latest incarnation, with silver stem and trim and the Ducas front rack installed.
So all in all, this has been a fun experiment. The one negative is that it isn't just a quick wheel change to switch from 650's to the 26er's. You have to carefully adjust the brakes too. I haven't used the 26er's much lately, but I hope to later this year. I took the 650 bike to San Diego and rode the Mt. Laguna loop. It was a very nice ride, here's my favorite view point on that route:
What it's all about...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Yankee Jims, the other way around!

Yankee Jims Bridge over the North Fork of the American River
 Got a day free to ride so I decided to do my Yankee Jims Loop which involves some decent gravel road riding. This year I did the loop opposite of my usual route, riding from Colfax to Foresthill via Yankee Jims rather than vise versa. It suprises me how the same ride changes simply by reversing direction, in this case, I'd say for the better! This also gave me a chance to try out my newest ride, a 650B Long Haul Trucker!
Heading down to the river from Colfax.
Being Spring, the colors are still fresh and vibrant. The hillsides are bright orange with the poppies, and there's a bit of purple popping out here and there as well. The poppy-covered hills in the picture above really caught my eye.

A nice suprise to see water!
Despite our low precipitation totals over the water year, the rains of February and early April have provided enough water to allow the creeks to flow quite nicely for this early season. The falls shown above were the first I encountered, a little ways up from the river, heading south towards Foresthill. I'm afraid they won't last for long though, so it's nice to see them!
Another Waterfall!
A little further up I encountered a second, smaller falls. Kind of hard to make out but it goes on for a way back into the woods.

As for the ride, I found I prefer this way as opposed to going to Colfax from Foresthill. The long gravel switchbacks you encounter going down to the river from the south are easier to climb than the are to descend. The descent from Colfax to the river is more even and there aren't a lot of switchbacks. The climb up the river is tedious but I easily made it with a the small gear of 30(front)/28(rear). 

Even for a warm Saturday, there wasn't a lot of traffic and just a few folks parked at the river.  Below are a few screen shots from my phone app, "Run the Map". I've discussed this app before and it continues to be a very useful little program. Of course, it doesn't cover up things like my pathetic average speed, but this is a tough ride, doing it within 6 hours seems honorable enough for me!
Here are the stats from my "Run the Map" app...

...and here's a look at the route.

Just a few words about the bike I used on this ride: I got a new bike(yes another new bike)! I sold my Surly Pacer and 700C LHT and bought a 26 inch LHT. For this ride, I tried fitting the 650B wheels from my Pacer conversion. It takes a little finagling to make it work, but once done, they work quite nicely! I was very happy with the bikes performance and the wheels and the (seemingly now out of favor)Col de la Vies were simply perfect for this ride! Of course, I'll do a proper blog entry on this bike soon.
The 650B LHT is actually a 26 inch Trucker slightly modified. (More in a later blog entry).

Monday, March 10, 2014

"Run the Map" Windows phone app for cycling.

 An example of the route tracking.

I don't like bicycle computers. In the old days you had to string wire all over your bike, they required set up and batteries and heaven help you if you wanted to change your wheels, or even your tires! Then you had to reprogram the thing to get what was at best, an approximation of the distance you were covering. They were also a distraction while riding. I once tried a wireless computer, it was very unreliable. Really, all I ever wanted was some sort of record of the distance covered. Speed was secondary to me. The Huret "Multido" was in my mind almost the perfect cyclometer...

Now however, we are in the wireless golden age! Wireless phones that is. My wife and I recently made the leap into the 2010's by going in with our sons on a wireless plan. My wife got my son's old LG and I found a new Nokia 521 Windows phone for a hundred bucks.

Well, the 521 is certainly not state of the art but it still offers a lot of handy features for an economy price! Since I'm a noob when it comes to smartphones, starting with a Windows phone posed no problem for me. I found it fairly intuitive. The phone is capable of voice commands, has a decent enough camera, (though no flash), and GPS. This last feature was actually what sold the phone to me. I was toying with the idea of getting an inexpensive Garmin GPS for riding, but now you can have all that with the Nokia, plus you'll get a camera, Wi-Fi portal, texting, hey you can even CALL somebody with it!

The only problem with Windows phones is that there are fewer apps available compared to the i-phone and android hordes. So, I had to search a bit to find an appropriate app. I tried "Map My Ride" but it clearly wasn't ready for use on my phone. "Run the Map", a weirdly similarly named app from MicroSoft, works rather nicely. It better, I suppose, considering who made it and my phone's operating system!

Starting point. Push start, then pause to stop. 
Run the Map is not solely a cycling app, of course, but can be used for running, walking/hiking as well. You select which mode you want by pushing the button on the start screen above which is displaying the cyclist. You push once to display a runner, again and it will show a cyclist, next a car(?), then a hiker. I'm not really sure what changes in each mode.

After selecting your mode you push the Start button to begin moving. You may hit pause anytime, then resume to continue. When your ride is finished, hit pause. To store the ride and it's stats, hit the + sign at the bottom of the screen. This starts a new ride! But before it begins, it will ask you if you want to save the previous one. (If you want to delete it, you check the box to delete, otherwise it's saved).

This app performs pretty well. It is important to put your phone into "sleep"(?) mode, in order that the buttons are not disturbed while it is running. On my Nokia, I tap the on/off button once lightly and the screen goes dark. The app continues to record in this mode. Tap the button again and you'll be back to your display. When I first tried this app I left the phone on. The phone then responds to every touch the screen gets when getting jostled around in your jersey pocket. This usually results in the app getting paused or worse! Pausing to do something else with your phone, like snapping a picture is no problem, just don't forget to "resume"!

 Here(above) is a screen shot showing the paused mode, ready to resume. If you want to save it, or delete it at this point, you'd hit the + sign on the bottom right of the screen and you will see...

...this screen. Check the box if you don't want the ride saved, then hit OK. Default option will save the ride.

Here are examples of the data you get from this app:

A nice graphic showing your route...

Your basic data, including distance, average and max. speed.

Interesting elevation profiles, but be aware that GPS elevation data is pretty near worthless.

There is a web site that you can upload your rides to if you want, and there if you buy the paid version you get some more bells and whistles, but I'm not really interested in all that. All in all, I am pretty satisfied with this app. The distance and speed is accurate enough for my use, and this is one cyclometer that can be moved from bike to bike with no effort whatsoever! Oh, and one of the best things about this app is its price; Yup, free....

Summing up the Mercian Project.

January, 2014; with a Brooks B-17 on a Campy Nouvo Record post and a Carradice Pendle attached, black tape on the bars.

It's been about a year since my King of Mercia arrived, all the assembly and testing and riding since has evolved the bike into my own. Now that I'm more or less done developing it, I thought I'd publish this final chapter to bring together what I've learned.

On it's first trip around Folsom Lake.


Mercian is a relatively small company, and they have made great efforts to make ordering a frame as easy as possible. Their online frame maker is a terrific tool, but it does not do everything. There are some missing features. I really wanted a bracket for a bottle type generator, but this wasn't shown. Also, an optional wider fork crown wasn't mentioned. This feature is fairly important with cantilever brakes, but I only found out by chance, reading about it on another fellow's description of his build. It was a little funny, during my communications with Mercian about this, I got the impression that it wasn't really needed, but when the frame arrived, I found it was spec'd on the worksheet! At any rate, there was no extra charge for the wider crown, and it appears that it really is needed allow the clearance the Tektro 720's need.

Many of these details have to be handled via email, and the folks at Mercian, (Grant in particular) were responsive to my questions. I decided not to go with the dynamo bracket, (they needed the dimensions of the generator which I hadn't even bought at the time), they also double checked that I hadn't requested eyelets on the top seatstay for a rear rack. I didn't (I probably should have, the arching bridge between the seatstays offers no horizontal hole for mounting a rear rack)!

That wide fork crown did present one challenge; It has no (brake bolt) hole in it. Of course, since it is intended for a cantilever brake then it isn't needed, however, it also makes mounting a rando style rack rather tricky. It also makes mounting a headlight impossible at the fork crown. I decided not to install a front rack at this time, and have not installed a light yet, but I may have to drill the crown some day to make things easier.

 January, 2013. Just out of the box.

One last twist came several months after I had taken delivery of the frame. I received a bill from a contractor for FedEx asking for a 10% tariff fee! I did some Internet searching and found that a frame imported to the U.S, worth over $600, does indeed require a tariff payment, but of 4%, not 10. I submitted a protest and eventually began an email exchange with a representative from the company, a nice fellow, who happened to be a cyclist! This was over six months ago now, and I have never heard anything else about this matter! I don't know if it was dropped or fell between the cracks or what, but just be aware that you will most likely receive some sort of charge for bringing a Mercian into the States. Remember to check current U.S. Tariff tables before paying!

(July, 2014 update: The tariff dispute was finally settled in my favor on July 22, 2014. Strangely, I got a bill from a collector before I got the FedEx letter about the settlement. The collector wanted an addition $7.38 in fees. I called FedEx and complained and they said I could pay them directly with no fees, which is what I did.)

Below are a few shots from some of my initial rides.

 On Yankee Jims Road to Colfax.

 Camp Far West Road.
On Old Foresthill Road, overlooking the N Fork of the American River

Component choice and assembly has been mostly uneventful. I initially installed a Velo Orange Gran Cru 50.4 BCD double crank, but had several problems making it work. The distance between the large chainwheel and the crank arm is just too tight for clearance of a modern front derailleur, so I went with the more conventional compact double, which has ample clearance. The 110mm BCD of this crank limits the smallest chainwheel you can fit to 34. That is certainly adequate except for loaded touring. 

The Tiagra rear derailleur is utterly competent, and works well with the Sora 8 speed downtube shifters. I have also gone back to the Brooks B17, I find it to be the most comfortable for me. The Nitto Noodle handlebars are pretty comfortable, but I'm still a little put off by their looks. They may be replaced some day. Tanaka fenders were a bargain, and they are holding up well. 

As I mentioned in my initial post about the Mercian, this is my retirement gift, and now, my retirement looms. The purchase of this frame alone has been something of an adventure, now I'm looking forward to more adventures on the saddle!

July 2014: I finally drilled the fork crown and installed a Nitto M-12 front rack. This proved to be relatively easy to do. The Nitto rack is beautiful, much nicer than the Ducas I got a while back, and fits the Mercian nicely. Shown below with my modified Rivendell/Carradice Boxy handlebar bag, I also have a huge Ostrich F-106 Rando Bag to try out. Incidentally, despite the relatively high trail of 60.8, the bike's handling with this bag, (albeit with only about 5 lbs of load inside), seems good.
I can't stop messing with this bike! Here's it's latest configuration!

Here are links to previous blog posts describing my Mercian adventure!
Ordering the Mercian
The Mercian arrives
The Mercian's initial build
The Mercian is (almost)finished!

Bonne route!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

New light; Busch & Muller Lumotec IQ2 Eyc N plus

The Lumotec Eyc on my Ascent commuter.

I had recently been forced to use a battery powered Sigma headlight in place of my Sanyo dynamo powered headlight. I couldn't mount the headlight at the brake bridge due to the tight clearances and the Shimano Ultegra brake's short bolt. The Sigma, while producing an adequate beam, has developed this unfortunate tendency to fail intermittently.  I really wanted to use my Dynamo again, so I searched for a solution. I decided to get the handlebar bracket from Busch & Muller. At $17, it wasn't cheap for a hunk of plastic, but I figured it was the easiest way to get the headlight mounted. And geez, since I'm already spending almost $25 (including shipping), why not check out the latest B&M technology, the Lumotec Eyc, (rhymes with bike). The spec's I read about this new light indicated it put out 50 lux of light vs. the 25 lux my Lyt did. (I have no idea what a lux is but it sounded good). 

Anyway, I ordered the bracket and the Eyc from Longleaf Bicycles. Tony does a great job, the package arrived in just a couple of day from the East Coast! He is very responsive, I highly recommend his shop if you need any lights.

The bracket installed.
Installation on the handlebars was pretty straightforward. One difference from the Lyt was that the wires for the dynamo were "hardwired" into the light; they were long enough for my install, but there wasn't a lot of spare length at all. On the Lyt, there are terminals for the inbound wires and you can use any length of wire desired. Two other leads hang out of the light for the taillight connection.

While this installation did work, I wasn't satisfied with it. I don't really care for handlebar mounted lights, I don't like the light sitting so high and I don't care for the cluttered appearance of the handlebars, so I started devising an alternative. I had a pair of Performance "Forte"short reach brakes in the parts box; these were made by Tecktro so they actually shared some components with the extra long reach cheapo Tecktros I had used on the Motobecane Jury. I swapped the long "nutted" brake bolt from the cheapo's for the short bolts on the Forte's and now had a short reach brake with the long nutted brake bolt. This gave me enough room to use the original light mount for the brake! (Had I thought of this before, I could have saved the money for the bracket, but then I probably wouldn't have bought the Eyc, either!)

Poor picture of the longer brake bolt and headlight bracket.
 So now I had a very nice headlight mounted at the fork crown of my commuter!
The switch is now a push button on the back of the light. This view also shows the taillight leads.
Impressions of the B&M Eyc:

My initial impression when opening the box was that this was a tiny, tiny light! It was also very light.
Even when mounted to the handlebars, the illumination from the Eyc was excellent. The area lit up is a tad bigger than the Lyt, and it seems to be a more uniform light. Also, the design of the lense is such that the size of the light viewed from the side and front seems large for the very tiny light that it is. The standlight feature remains. All in all, performance is not compromised at all by it's extraordinarily small size.

The only problem I have with this light is the on/off switch. As pictured above, the switch is now a push button, covered with a weather-proof membrane. I have found this switch to be pretty inconvenient. It is difficult to press it correctly! This was even harder when the light was on the handlebar, as the bars blocked easy access to the button. It's easier to get to now, but it still takes a few attempts to hit the button just right! I wish the Eyc had the same simple toggle as the Lyt does.

Overall I am pleased with the Eyc. It will eventually be mounted to one of my road bikes for long tours, thanks to it's extremely light weight. At $73, it seems a very good value..

Commuter ready to go!