Sunday, November 30, 2008

We Are Expecting!

Hold on Debbie and Shirley, before you start doing that screeching happy dance with the fanning fingers: We are expecting, ... just not in ‘that’ way.

Recently we plunked down for a new bike for Mrs. C! (Did I just hear a chorus of Woo Hoos?) To the casual observer it might appear that I am more excited than she is, but I know deep down she’s got a muffled little ‘woo hoo’ struggling to get out.

This has been an interesting process. Shopping for a new bike is always fun, as opposed to ‘shopping’ which is never fun. And shopping for a new bike for someone else? Different, but still fun. You still get to look at all sorts of new bikes; you get to consider different component specs, frame features, geometry opportunities, and their attendant challenges. You get to look at some ridiculously expensive bikes, some surprisingly well put together cheap bikes, and a whole lot of bikes that are overpriced, though a lot less expensive that the ridiculously overpriced ones ... but pretty close to just as good.

Then there are all the goodies. The new component specs, (‘ten speed’ does not mean what it did in 1977), and all the other stuff. Probably the area of most change (both significant as well as layers of ‘pixie dust’ apparently) is wheels. Anyway, I had fun, and I think the Mrs. found it ‘interesting’

We have been at this, off and on for a couple months. I am sure I have done too much steering (it’s not my bike) but then again I hope that on balance my participation has been helpful. You never know when to speak up, when to ask that bike fit guy to say that again; Could you explain how that affects the ride, how is this part related to that part, why can’t we just use a waaaay longer set-back seatpost, a longer stem?

I have not been in bike shops much since I took delivery on the Tournesol.

Actually since about early fall 2006, which is when I narrowed the selection down and really didn’t need to haunt the shops any more. So part of the fun is just getting back in bike shops, seeing bike people, renewing some old friendships and striking up new ones. This situation can be a little awkward: There is no bike aficionado certification system. It would be easy if you could just flash your card or show that you are wearing a black belt, or a brown belt, or something that signifies your level of knowledge or snobbishness. I never want to say “Hey, I know some stuff, so let’s get past the pink paint and the ‘cryo-elastic, thermo-plastic pressured injected inserts’ part, I’d like to talk about bike geometry, frame detail and component specifications.”

Sometimes you get someone who really knows a lot and can guide you to the one or two or so models that are most likely to address your needs. Other times you get someone who really doesn’t know much beyond the colors options by model. Well, no one started out knowing everything. I cetainly don’t know everything so I can learn from just about anyone who works in bike shops, it is more a matter of available time than anything else.

Things pick up (or drop off depending on your perspective) once you get the point across that the bike you are looking for probably does not have much in common with the top models of the big name brands. Mention frame clearance for fenders and larger tires, or braze ons for racks and maybe a third water bottle and quickly you find yourself steering away from the long rows of gleaming bikes in gaudy colors. Often you are left looking at a couple bikes loaded down with what looks like the equipment needed to assault the summit from Camp IV.

We started off looking at the Salsa Casserole. This just seems like a pretty sensible bike which might meet our needs. We are looking for what might be termed a credit card tourer, or a century bike that could haul a pannier with a change of clothes, but with a little life in the frame when not loaded. The Salsa come close and I was confident that if we could get it to fit her it would meet her ride expectations pretty well. One problem: She could not get comfortable on it. The fit guy at the shop said he didn’t think a stock Casserole would work. He recommeded a custom Serotta frame (they are Serotta dealers)

Well, we (Mrs C really) did eventually get to take a Casserole out for a nice test ride, and sure enough, the fit guy was right, about the fit and comfort part any way, and maybe the custom Serotta part too, we’ll never really know. I’m so glad we had the chance to talk with someone knowledgeable and willing to take the time to share that knowledge. The Casserole just didn’t seem to resolve her comfort issues or meet her needs. Dang!

The more we looked, the more most of the bikes looked the same. You walk into a major bike retailer or chain shop and see these rows upon rows upon rows of bikes and think "Surely we can find something in here". But on closer inspection you realize that you have actually just wandered into a 240 acre cornfield, only instead of row upon row of genetically modified corn plants, you are looking at uniformity in bicycles. They’re all the same and unfortunately they are not what we are looking for. I realize that the way to reduce production costs and thus reduce retail prices is to produce a uniform product; unfortunately the result does not bode well for the likes of us.

Most are sort of go-fast designs, not ideally suited to riding longer distances, carrying much along in a bag of some sort, and definitely challenged when it comes to clearance for fenders and even moderately wider tires. Don’t get me wrong, these are not bad bikes, they just are not the bikes we are looking for. It seems the bike we have in mind is not popular.

We are on the hunt for a ‘practical’ bike. Names like, country bike, fast tourer, century bike, or randonneur all drop in close to the ideal but un-knowable perfection. By practical I mean a bike that can go all day and still put a smile on your face the next morning. A bike with room for fenders and wider than 25mm tires. A bike that goes where you steer it and yet allows you to take you hands off the bars for a moment. Perhaps a little taller head tube. Well these things generally are not to be found on those shiny bikes all in rows on the showroom floors. To carry my production ag metaphor to it’s ridiculous, ‘one step too far’ conclusion; this bike is like a weed. It’s hard to kill and you will find it on the fringes of the cornfield so to speak. The ditches and hedgerows of retail space, are ‘over there’: not necessarily behind the door, but that little odd space between the tools and the tires and pumps.

We looked at Kona, Salsa, Surly, Trek, Rivendell, and more. The Co-Motion Nor'Wester Tour was very attractive.

Here is a funny story: at a really big, very ‘hip’ unnamed bike shop in Portland, (down by the river…) Mrs C went for a ride on a Specialized Sequoia. Why this bike? I rode a 1200K through the Northern Sierra Mtns a few years ago and one of the people I finished with was a young Canadian woman on her first 1200, riding her spanking new Specialized Sequoia. Irt caught my eye right away. The more I looked the bike over, and saw her ride, the more I thought this might be a production bike suitable to the task. She finished by the way. Though she and her partner finished ahead of me they were received the coveted Lantrerne Rouge award, they deserved it more than I, but that’s another story.

Anyway, after getting the bike set up for the Missus the sales guy says to me “Would you like a bike to ride with her?” This is a shop with Waterfords, Serotta’s, Sevens, Calfees … you get the picture, asking the addict if he’d like to sample the wares. “Sure” I said, “But don’t put me on anything worth over about $7,000.” He snorted and said “ahhhh … OK.” She liked the bike. We had a nice long ride; long enough to determine that the same fit issues she’s always had were along for the ride. I rode a Specialized Allez. A stripped down, light weight go fast bike, plucked right from the middle of the corn field so to speak. It’s been a very long time since I have been on a bike like this and I must say it is easy to see why these go fast characteristics dominate the offerings: It was fun! One problem; The bike was equipped with Shimano components so it was a full two blocks before I was able to decode my brain’s Campy hard wiring enough that I would not arrive seriously cross chained at the next stop sign.

God Save the Local Bike Shop!
Eventually we ended up close to home, working with my good friend, great mechanic, and ultimate renaissance man C who spent more time, on the fit bike with Mrs. C. He did an excellent job of converting her comments into fit adjustments. Asking her the probing questions, (“How does that make you feet feel? Your shoulders?”) and arriving at a set up that I hope will allow her to get that feeling many of us have come to know and expect. When I get on my bike, it’s like putting on an old pair of boots. Everything just settles into where it is most comfortable without any fidgeting. And generally speaking it is the same when I get on in the morning as it is when I climb back on after 10 hours in the saddle. In this whole process I realized that Mrs. C (and possibly many other cyclists) doesn’t know that feeling. Fit has an awful lot to do with enjoying any bike ride that is much longer than 20 miles or so. Hearing is important too, and I have committed to listening a little more closely.

We settled on a Gunnar Roadie. This bike will have customized geometry and will sport the needed braze ons for fenders and racks. There will be clearance for fenders and wider tires. In order to meet her particular needs it will sport 26” wheels. This concerned me a lot, I am not very familiar with tires offerings for road riding in 26”. Then there is the issue of having a ’nonconformist’ in the shop. I won’t be able to just switch wheels with one of the other horses in the stable. We’ll have to pay attention to tubes, tires, all that. (Oh the woes of a bike geek!) Of course we considered 650 or 650B, but decided against these as they appear to offer even fewer tire choices.

This new addition to the family could arrive before Christmas. I’m excited and I can tell that as the days tick off Mrs.C is getting more anxious too!


  1. For some people, a really good tire choice and a reasonable second choice would be preferable even if it means "fewer tire choices". I hope you know of at least one 26" tire you really like. (If you do, can you tell us what it is?)

  2. Hi Dr C,

    Well that is great that Mrs.C is getting a new bike. Melissa and I have used 26" tyres on our bikes for a number of years, Continental makes the GrandPrix in a 26 x 1" that was always Melissa's top choice. Specialized makes a 26 x 1" tyre as well- it held up well in the ashphalt jungle of Melbourne. Panaracer makes the pasela in a 26 x 1.25 model for those of us looking for a bit wider profile. Keep them in mind and remember to buy in bulk!
    Scott G

  3. Dont Skimp on the bike fit.....more important than the bike in many cases!!

    go find someone with a Retul in your area.


  4. Hi Dr C.

    I like the idea of the certification system. That would help.

    You will have great luck with the Gunnar. I got to pat Gunnar II on the head. Gunnar is cool, and I don't really like dogs.

    So, what color is this bike going to be?

    Joe P

  5. WOW! Now I know what to write about if I want to get the chatter going! So lets cover some of these comments:

    I have long been a strong proponent of
    a good bike fit. I think this is a natural result of gravitating to longer rides: What seems to be slightly uncomfortable after 30 or 40 miles can feel like the Spanish inquisition after 260 miles. So, befor she swung a leg over, Mrs. C did have a very good fit session. A Serotta size cycle with a certified Serotta fitter at a certain bike shop up in Redmond. Excellent customer service, you don't get that over the internet. This was my first clue that we might have trouble finding a stock bike that would be great for the missus.

    Later, we had another long and detailed session with the local guy (also a frame fabricator and also a randonneur as a matter of fact) at our LBS in Olympia which confirmed that some adjustments to stock geometry would (hopefully) result in all day smiles.

    Here I am learning (relearning?) as I go. Years ago I rode a custom Ibis hybrid (built custom for someone else). It had bar end shifters, Suntour triple all around, and clips and straps. (I still have that bike actually). It ran on 26" rubber. At the time I gravitated to Ritchey Tom Slicks, 26X1" and I rode those for thousands of miles. I am not sure they are still available.

    The tires that Scott mentioned are pretty well recommended (anything that Scott and Mellisa endorse I am going to put in the "to be considered" box: I've ridden two 1200K events with Scott and one with Melissa) not just by Scott but by others as well. I have ridden Panaracers, in fact I think we have them on the Tandem right now.

    So, we'll be listening for what people have to say, I'll do a little independent research and Mrs. C will put on miles and miles and, like all of us will eventually find the one that works the best for her. But as I said, we are more than happy to hear your sugestions.

    The Color:
    Perhaps one of the most signigficant elements of a steel bike, if not significant then certainly impactful. I think this bike is going ot be a real looker. She has chosen Pearl White. Gunnar offers silver or black decals so this bike will be white with silver decals and as much silver componentry as possible. Rims, bars, seatpost, stem, HAMMERED HONJO fenders, and a complete Shimano 105 triple drive train. As I said I think it will be a real head turner.

    As for the name, my oldest Son's name is Gunnar dontchanknow, so I have a certain affection for the name, the dog, the bike, the wife, the whole package. See how much fun a new bike can be?

    Dr C

  6. Oh My - sounds like a nice steed for Mrs. C. I think it took me several years to get my custom bike dialed in - but I didn't know how the bike should fit for randoneuring until those muscle tweaks kept showing up. Some of the Salsa Components are really nice for women but not sure if they are available in silver - their set back seatpost gives you just a squinch more room for those long femurs us chicks have and the bell drop bars are nice short reach and short drop but a little wider if your not narrow in the shoulders.