Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cross-Check Tweeking

This bike is taking a lot more dialing-in than any other I have owned. The Pugsley was the first bike I specced and built-up from scratch and it was a perfect fit from the start - I haven't changed anything apart from hand-grips in almost four years.

The Cross-Check has some stuff I'm just not used to, like drop-bars and bar-end shifters and I didn't get things right on the first attempt.

The first problem was the beautiful Thomson stem I purchased by mail-order didn't get the bars high enough for my liking and I felt a bit stretched-out as well.  The initial riding-position was no more severe than a typical contemporary road-bike but I wanted something a little more relaxed and suitable for riding off-road. It pained me to do so but I swapped it out for the ugly no-name stem on the Nasty-Evil-Bike and it felt better straight away.

Now that my position on the bike was okay and I was doing longer rides I was finding riding on the hoods was irritating the back part of my palm that rested on the bar. I would tend to move my hands from the hoods to the curve behind and then onto the flats and back again to get some relief. Not very satisfactory. I've cured that problem by rotating the bars up (and the hoods down) so the transition is dead-flat and also dead-level. I put an extra strip of cork tape behind the hood before wrapping the bars first in spongy cork and then a second layer of the original Fi'zi:k Mictotex. It looks a little portly now but is wonderfully soft and comfortable. I thought the angle the drop part of the bar ended up on would be a problem but it has proved fantastic going off-road on bumpy singletrack or grass, especially down-hill at speed.

Another thing that annoyed me from the start is that the cable-hanger for the front brake did not have provision for a barrel-adjuster. I ordered an inline cable-adjuster that is usually used for shifter cables on road-bikes and spliced that in while I had everything in pieces. These things are really easy to install and use and I'm very pleased with it. You could even adjust your brake or gear cables as you ride along.

I also bent the straddle-cables so they sat straight (this really irritated me) and increased the spring-tension on the Paul brakes so they looked better and felt a little snappier. You can see the difference in the photo above compared to an earlier shot below.

I am now a lot more comfortable on the bike and looking forward to some longer rides. I've not done more than two hours at a time which is not much of a test of long-term comfort.

Inflation? The price has almost doubled in two years and our NZ exchange rate is very strong at the moment!!!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Summer Wheeln'

In-between the spring storms we're finally getting some warm sunny days. I haven't been mountainbiking or beach-riding in weeks but have enjoyed commuting to work as usual and pootling around town with The Midget Assassin in tow. 

I took one of these girls home from the park 
(hope I got the right one)

The school unicycle club got invited to three Santa parades this year. The boys and I weren't able to go to any of them last year so we made the most of it this time and attended two. The first was a low-key community affair up in Orewa. Thing-Two and I did that one and it was a good introduction to parade riding. Only a few thousand people so we were more excited than nervous and the route was nice and flat for the dad who doesn't practice. The second was the Farmer's Santa Parade in downtown Auckland. This was a much bigger deal with 250,000 spectators and some really professional looking floats. We wear blue club t-shirts and big red cowboy hats so we don't look as spectacular as some of the fancy costumes but the crowd doesn't seem to mind. Children just love to see other children riding unicycles and clap and cheer like mad, it's a real buzz. Some of the smaller riders were pretty tired by the end but everyone had a ball and the lanky forty-three year old can't wait to go back next year either!

Waiting for the rest of the group before the start

Our local council held a Family Bike Fest in Sunnynook Park only a few miles from home. I dragged my boys kicking and screaming away from the Xbox and we rode over the hill to see what was happening. Well, what a well-run event, it turned out to be a lot of fun. Lots of activities based around bike-handling and safety and had many and varied contraptions there for people to try out. My boys always get a kick out of being the only ones able to ride them, although a few children had a go on the custom made penny-farthing. 

Our family almost cleaned-up in the slow-races. Thing-Two won his age-group, Thing-One just put a foot down before the finish to claim second place and I won the dad's race. It was very hard to actually keep moving and not just do a track-stand. Every time the commentator would remind us we were not moving I momentarily released the front brake so my wheel would move an inch or two. So we rode away after a couple of entertaining hours with $40 in bike-shop vouchers, candy, stickers, a flouro-vest each (yay) and a nice cycling shirt. 

Thing-Two gettn' jiggy on the penny

This contraption was just weird

Thing-One on the giraffe

On Sunday I got a couple of hours to myself to get out on the Cross-Check. I'm loving the speed of the thing but still need to tweak my cockpit a little, especially for riding off-road. I'm going to rotate the bars a little more and move the brakes to get a flatter area behind the hoods for my palms to rest and an extra layer of bar-wrap is also on the agenda. The other problem I'm having is the axle sliding forward on the drive-side so my wheel ends-up crooked and the brakes start rubbing. This has happened twice - both times after tearing down the side of Mount Victoria on the singletrack. It's quite bumpy on 35mm road tyres and my watch was hurting my wrist as it jumped around with the impacts. I have the quick-release done up pretty damn tight so I'm not sure how to remedy this problem. It may come right as the powdercoat wears off the drop-out face and the quick-release gets some steel to bite into. I must remember to wipe any grease off the dropouts before I go out again. The Lycra-Cowboys were all off drinking Babycham somewhere so I had the road to myself. It was a great ride.

Facing west on top of Mount Victoria in Devonport. Time to head home before the sun gets much lower.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

All Roadies are Assholes. It's official.

It looks like a road-bike, doesn't it?

I thought when I got a road(ish) bike some of the Lycra-Cowboy set might warm to me a little and the odd wave or greeting would be returned. No-way! Still the same bunch of arrogant assholes that depressed me in a previous post. Is it because I just wear shorts and a t-shirt when riding? I don't know, but moving to a 700c bike with drops has made no difference whatsoever. 

I must just be a big-softy because I actually feel a bond with all cyclists, be it a spotty kid on a BMX, a professional road-racer or grandma on the rusty Raleigh 20. We share something don't we? Especially in a country like New Zealand where cyclists are treated with such contempt by the general public and law-makers. It would be different in Holland or Denmark I'm sure. There you're just an average citizen going about your day and you just happen to use a bicycle for transportation like most of your community. 

Yesterday I hooked-up the Cross-Check to the trailer for the first time and the Midget-Assassin and I headed off to the Takapuna library for literary refreshment and teddy-bear torturing in the children's area. I was getting along at a good clip on the flats and even passed a couple of roadies (how embarrassing), but Lycra-Cowboys were blasting past us left, right and centre in total silence, and I swear they were trying to get as close as possible without hitting me. I thought that move was the domain of the tin-top driver!

So I'll have another go avoiding eye-contact, keeping my waving-hand firmly on the bars and resisting communicating with fellow bikers, but it won't come easily.

Saddling-up for the weekly library run

I felt a little uneasy leaving my new pride-and-joy locked-up in public (the bike, not the child)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


The Queensland sky and some guy

Thanks to my lovely wife who spotted a cheap airfare I hopped over the Tasman this weekend to visit my father on the Gold Coast. The temperature was about double Auckland at 32ºC but with a sea breeze I managed a quick ride on dad's old mountainbike without passing-out.

It just goes to show you don't need a flash bike to have an enjoyable ride, well not on the flat anyway. Once I had scraped the dust off the seat and coaxed some air into the tyres I set off for a quick jaunt around Palm Beach. It's billiard-table flat terrain with a myriad of bridges that cross over the man-made canals. Every road I ventured down had a well defined bike path painted between the parking spaces at the curb and the traffic lane. This was much safer than a typical Auckland bike lane that is squeezed up against the curb where the storm-water grates, nails, broken glass and parked cars hang out. 

I felt a bit of a maverick not wearing a helmet but relaxed somewhat after seeing several others flouting the law. A police car even pulled up beside me at the lights and didn't say anything, it must be a common sight. 

If I lived there I would buy a beach-cruiser immediately, it would be a no-brainer. 

I'm writing this 24 hours later after riding home from work in 12ºC and drizzle. Can't wait to get back over the ditch!

Bike paths everywhere

40lbs of thumb-shift'n steel goodness

Friday, October 30, 2009

29 inches, 36 Spokes... That's how I roll!


I'm riding 26 inch/36 spokes

or the 16 inch/28 spoke - 14 inch/20 spoke combo

and not forgetting the 6 inch/spokeless monstrosity.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The 350 Big Bike Ride

"You don't look at the camera and I'll eat a sandwich, 
that'll make a good photo."
Waiting around for the start in Betty Winsdor Square.

On Saturday I packed the Midget Assassin, Pugsley and bike-trailer into the car and we headed over to downtown Auckland for The 350 Big Bike Ride. Kind of ironic that I had to drive to a climate change rally but it highlights the woeful situation bike commuters face living on the North Shore. I'm denied access to the only harbour crossing, there is no provision for bikes on the bus network and the ferry is a long way away, sails infrequently in the weekend and is expensive. I also doubt I could maneuver our road-train down the gang-plank successfully. 

Any initiative to start cleaning up the planet has got to be good, right? But for me it was more an opportunity to ride around the city in safety and show my support for urban cycling. Cycling has been getting more than enough bad publicity lately in NZ and there is lots of bad will among the general public towards cyclists in New Zealand at present. 

The ride started in Queen Elizabeth II Square at the bottom of town and the group of two or three hundred (best guess) sailed off up Queen Street on a beautiful spring day. What a different experience it is to ride in a group. I certainly felt the safety in numbers phenomenon as we cruised along soaking up the vibe of the city. 

The riders were a real cross-section of society but maybe biased a little towards the save the whales and university student end of things. There were lots of families with children of all ages and the most fixed-gear riders I have seen in one place. It was also pleasing to see the Lycra-Cowboys that attended smiling and having a good time as I had always assumed the constrictive shorts prevented those facial expressions. 

We left the procession near the end of the route and headed back to Ponsonby for a well-earned beer with friends as the ride carried on to the 350 festival at Mt Eden. The Midget-Assassin had been very well behaved to this point and I didn't want to push my luck. It was a great afternoon to be on a bike!

Heading up Queen Street, Auckland's main road.

Unity Finesmith of Auckland Cycle Chic frocking it in style.

The Midget-Assassin cruising back down Queen Street.

Mundo, Mundo, Mundo!!!
I so want a cargo-bike.

"What you look'n at mista?"

Every conceivable accessory including the family pooch.

Older guy, singlespeed (fixie?), elegant steel frame with fenders. Got my vote for cool-bike-of-the-day but was harassed with a few no-helmet comments from pedestrians.

Classic cars in the viaduct. They looked great but it amuses me how very average cars become "classics" if they make it to retirement. 

"Shush, Lycra-Cowboys on the waterfront."

I just love seeing kids on bikes.

Sorry about the shirt.

Ponsonby Road.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

First Mixed-Terrain Ride

Riding the singletrack down Mt Victoria

I finally got out for a decent ride on the Cross-Check. Only 30kms or so but it included some gravel paths, grass, cobbles and singletrack. I changed over to some cheap Vittoria 35c touring tyres I bought when I first had the wheels built-up. I can't imagine what a 23 or 25mm racing tyre feels like at 130psi as these seemed pretty harsh to me at 65psi. On the Pugsley and to some extent my commuter with its 2 inch Schwalbes you just can't feel the pebbles and cracks that pass under your wheels but by the end of this ride I was getting used to the sensation. 

It sure is different riding a faster bike on the road. Because I had those higher gears available I was blasting along with the roadies on the flats and also pedaling on the downhills so my legs never got a break. I'm sitting here the day after with sore quads and I never feel anything anywhere after a two or three hour mountainbike ride. 

On fine, smooth gravel it was comfortable but I could feel the vibration through the bars when the rocks got up to matchbox size. Maybe I should double-wrap my bars or wear gloves?

The fun part started when I got to Devonport. I climbed up Mount Victoria using the sealed access road. This is a struggle on the Pugsley even when I am fit. It was way easier on the Cross-Check but I still ended up in my lowest 34/34T ratio. You can see most of Auckland from up there and I took in the views before starting down again on the singletrack that winds around the outside. I was careering down the initial part on damp grass (at Pugsley speed) when I hit the brakes to slow for the first switchback. 

Road Tyres + Wet Grass = Chocolate Starfish Moment 

The Paul cantilevers stopped the wheels beautifully but the smooth tyres weren't slowing the bike at all. I just pulled-up in time to avoid shooting over the precipice and took the next section considerably slower. I have to remember that when using road tyres this is an "exploring" bike not a "race" one. 

I don't commute to work in rush-hour and on this ride really noticed the vehicle fumes on a busy Saturday morning. It was pretty disgusting in places and I'll head in the other direction in search of quieter roads next time I get a chance.

The drop handlebars don't feel natural yet but the gear-changing is coming easier. More miles required I feel.

You would think there was no traffic in Auckland in this shot.
You would be wrong.

Heading up Devonport's Main Street from the wharf towards Mt Victoria

A few kilometres from home I spied a perfectly good pair of plastic oars sitting in someone's inorganic collection at the side of the road. I had no rack, bungies of trailer so I plonked them on the bars sitting across the hoods and carried on. I got full ten metres before the left paddle hit the wing-mirror of a fancy-pants BMW and I had my second choco-starfish moment of the day. 

I sure got some funny looks from people as I rode home and overtaking cars gave me an extra-wide berth. I'm tempted to always ride with a fluorescent yellow paddle sticking out a metre into the traffic - much safer!

Almost home

My new bike is oarsome

On a final note, roadies sure don't like it when you can ride at their pace in a t-shirt and baggy, shit-brown cargo shorts. I'm sure going to enjoy irritating Lycra-Cowboys on this bike. Just need to get a bit fitter so I can pull away from them for the ultimate humiliation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I want to ride my bicycle!

I'm itching to get a proper ride in on the new bike but just haven't had the opportunity since building it up. Just a few commutes to work and errands around the neighbourhood so far.

I got the indexing working on the second attempt and taped the bars when I was happy with the positioning of everything. I hadn't wrapped drops since my 10-Speed days as a teenager but made a reasonable job of it. I'll give myself an 8 out of 10 with some room for improvement. 

The fat 45c Panaracer FireCross tyres are a tight fit but are awesome off-road. I will get some skinnier cross tyres at a later date or possibly some Schwalbe Marathons that will work better on pavement "and" dirt. The FireCrosses are deadly slow on the road, even inflated to the maximum 85psi. They have an aggressive, widely-spaced motocross-style tread and hum like a 4WD tyre on the tarmac. I wanted the fattest tyre possible for a couple of mountainbike races next year so I'm happy with the purchase, just wondering if there is a fat alternative that performs better on the road. I have put on some cheaper Vittoria 35c rando tyres since these photos were taken and it's rolling a lot faster now.

The Paul brakes are very powerful compared to the old Shimano canti's on my Avanti commuter. In the dry they feel as strong as the discs on the Pug but maybe with a little less modulation. 

The bar-end shifters are taking a little while to get used to. Shifting is easily accomplished but I still have to think about each shift if you know what I mean, not intuitive yet. I hope that comes with time. 

More pics when I can ditch the kids and if it ever stops raining. That could be easier said than done.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fact: Mountainbiking is more fun than working.

I had a day off work on Thursday as it's school holiday time and after shipping The Midget Assassin off to daycare the boys and I headed out to Woodhill for a ride in the forest. Spring in Auckland has been very wet and I was determined to make the best of an overcast but dry day. 

We normally ride with other families in our street but it was nice for a change just having the three of us. It would be better still if the girls could join us but at three The Midget Assassin is still on training wheels. As it happened we met up with some friends at one of the trail-heads and rode with them for a while.

Someone needs a bigger bike

Thing-One led the way on the structures

I managed not to hurt myself...

but the youngest rider preferred dancing.

When I mail-ordered the last parts for the Cross-Check I got some flat BMX pedals for the Pugsley. Most of my riding is around the neighbourhood or along the beach and I don't need to be clipped-in. It's nice just jumping on wearing whatever footwear you happen to have on at the time. The Crank Brothers Mallets I had on there are a platform style with the "eggbeater" mechanism in the middle, but they were never comfortable with casual shoes as the eggbeater sat proud and you could feel it through the sole of your shoe. The new ones are Magnesium Wellgo MG-1s and they are very light and comfortable. Not so good on the fast and bumpy stuff but it was nice not being clipped-in when riding the structures.

There's always a groan when I say we're going cycling. I live in hope that with dad being such a fanatic the habit would catch-on but the boy's bikes sit in the garage for weeks at a time until I bribe them into a ride. Once we actually get going however they never fail to have a good time so they might pick-up the habit when they get a bit older. 

When I was their age my bike and skateboard were tickets to freedom and I couldn't wait to hit the streets. I would ride just for the sake of it with no particular destination in mind - I still do!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

"My name is Pugsley and I am an alcoholic."

Pugsley was getting a little jealous with all the fussing over the new Surly in the family so I included a Niner YAWYD top-cap with the final mail-order of parts for the Cross-Check. 

The casual observer will now be more convinced than ever that I have a drinking problem. 

Y.A.W.Y.D. (You Are What You Drink). Until I can find a half-Danish, half-English beer brewed in NZ with a purple cap this will have to do.

Ahearne Spaceman Flask Holster. Got this for the NZ Singlespeed Champs last year.

Surly "Tuggnut" chain-tug and bottle opener was part of the original build. Heavy but works well. 


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Surly Cross-Check all but done

The longest bike build in history is almost complete. With the exchange rate being so good against the U.S. at the moment I purchased the last components I needed with money I don't have. 

This is the first time I've assembled a bike from scratch. I've just worked at it methodically at night and don't think I've stuffed anything up. The wheels were built for me and I had my LBS install the headset but I've done everything else myself. I don't particularly enjoy the wrenching part but there is a certain satisfaction to be had from it and I am saving money in the process. 

Only a few hiccups along the way: 

- The only front brake cable-hanger I could source in "silver" has no barrel adjuster so adjusting for cable-stretch will be a bit more fiddly. 

- I cut down the "long" brake cable inner when installing the front brake then was doubly stupid when I rushed out to the LBS to purchase another one when I had a spare in the bike cupboard that came with my secondhand bar-end shifters!

- I can't get the rear derailleur indexing properly. This is not the first time I have failed indexing school despite trawling the internet for how-to's. The gears work perfectly in "friction" mode so I will have another go later or visit the bike shop as a last resort.

My "work-stand". I'm sure when I get a proper bike workstand it will be one of those "why didn't I do this 15 years ago" moments like when I bought a track-pump for the first time. They are very expensive in NZ and impractical to mail-order so I am making-do for now.

Setting-up the drop-bars and controls. This was new territory for a mountainbiker and I won't tape the bars until I'm sure everything is in the right spot and comfortable.

The "shakedown" ride around the block and through a nearby park. Feels light and FAST.

The Cross-Check rides beautifully but I am a bit stretched-out and the bars are lower than I would have liked. I will see how I go but a post with no set-back will be in the next parts order. 

I kind of expected the bars to be a bit low as my legs are ridiculously long. Even on a big frame like this there is a lot of seat-post showing. Short of a custom frame there is not a lot I can do about this. If it had a threaded fork I could use a long quill stem but I like the strength and convenience of the threadless kind. I could extend the steerer with one of those clunky after-market bolt-ons (which I don't think I can buy locally) or I could buy a weird looking high-rise stem like they use on trials bikes. 

The riding position is fine on tarmac and not as much of a drop as on a modern road-bike. It's only when riding technical stuff off-road that it becomes a problem. The budget is used up for now anyway. Down the line I could always have a custom stem made with my exact measurements in mind. Fillet brazed steel with a built-in cable hanger sounds just right. 

So now I have a new road-bike, touring-bike, commuting-bike, city-bike, trailer-puller, cyclocross racer and geared-mountainbike and it's all the same bike ;^)

If it stops raining I'll get out there and ride it.