Sunday, July 30, 2017

Camper Special

Bike packing is all the rage these days....I guess that's what its called now.  There are companies out there specifically taking on and marketing to people pursuing this activity.  I've always just know this means of travel as "touring".  Going for a tour means freedom from plans and embracing the unknown.  Anything can happen.  Your only resources are yourself and your buddies and what you have on hand in any given moment.  To me "bikepacking" sounds like an activity based on a plan, but a Tour implies the pursuit of freedom from.  I guess somewhere they meet in the middle and I suppose that middle is your vehicle.  Your trusty (we hope) steed.  I'm calling my new one "The Camper Special".  You know, like a '72 Chevy: Reliable, servicable, maybe not the most efficient thing ever created, but it always got the job done without so much as a hiccup, it probably even left you surprised once or twice about what you just got through.  The Camper Special was a parts and trim package offered by big three American auto manufacturers on their heavier 3/4 and 1 ton pickups from the early 1960s to the late 1980s.  Heavy Haulers.  Typically trucks bearing the camper special emblem had two-tone paint, upgraded brakes, axles, and wiring for towing or a drop-in tailgate camper shell.  Following in the footsteps dredged by internal combustion Americana, the Camper Special (bike) replaces a fuel hungry V-8 with an appetite for adventure and heavy human-powered hauling.

Conceptually this personal project has been in the works for over two years, but if you've been following along here over any length of time I'm sure there is evidence of many of the concepts in play coming into fruition well earlier than that.  Selection of parts and frame interface components was directed at keeping a functional timelessness to the package, as well as the ability for everything on the bike to just plain last under performance.  It has been my hope in the design to create a fully rigid bike that is equally at home maintaining comfort and strength on loaded multi-day, multi-week tours as it is on the gnarliest gravity-fed single-track northern Arizona has to offer.  Control and efficiency are the primary concerns here rather than speed.  Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

The result starts by utilizing 650B x 3.0" tires (you could call them "plus" tires) on a horizontal dropout short-stay frame for adjustability between lines of duty.  The "Coco-Moto" dropouts (these are just lovely by the way) were pried from the very hands of Mr. Steve Garro himself as was one of his new custom drawn Columbus 38mm down tubes.  Bolt-on hubs meant retaining a 135mm outer lock-nut dimension, so the rear wheel was laced with symmetrically between the hub flanges kicking the cassette body out 7mm to the drive side for proper chainline when matched to a boost crankset on a standard 73mm BSA threaded bottom bracket shell.  The rear end of the frame is then built asymmetrically to accept this wheel.  Tire clearance on the short (420mm minimum) chain stay is accomplished by a plate yoke milled in house and a curved seat tube rolled across town.

Parts spec is pretty standard for one of my personal builds....a mix of what I have around, what I know works, and what I want to try out.  Race face cinch cranks get the nod for their flexiblity between 1x and 2x setups with proper chainline.  Touring I would expect to run a 2x front ring with a fixed seatpost, daily riding with a 30T 1x and a dropper post.  Drive train is 10 speed with X.0 gripshift, XT 36T cassette, and GX rear rock catcher.  A Hope bottom bracket, 4 piston brakes, and floating rotors are spec'd to try out.  Hadley hubs are laced to Syntace W40 rims with Trail Boss TCS tires.  A Cane creek ZS 110 headset, Thomson BMX stem, and house-made riser bar finish out the build.

 The dedicated rigid fork utilizes my own custom thick-walled, externally-tapered steerer tube and raked blades at 50mm offset.  Headset is straight 1-1/8" on a 44mm headtube allowing for a better join area to the 38mm downtube than would an external cup head tube.  I have not embraced the 1-1/2" tapered steerer for steel rigid forks as this is an excessively heavy piece of metal that cuts down on the surface area of the blade miter at the crown.  I find the steerer tube with a diameter matched to that of the crown area of the fork blade to be the most appropriate for brazing as the miter of the blade then wraps the steerer tube rather than being attached only to the side of it.  The whole area is then flooded with molten bronze creating a very strong joint.  Again, this is a rigid specific bike so swapping to other forks is not a consideration.  Rigid specific is the only way I build my forks as there are just too many compromises in anything else:  There are rigid bikes and there are suspension bikes....your choice, but the one bike that attempts to do both depending on the mood makes too many compromises to the ride of either bike's personality it is trying to emulate.  Basically:  Suspension correct is incorrect.  This fork will, however, accept a 29"x3.0" tire and wheel if I ever wanted to try it, though after initial rides I think this combination would unfavorably influence the steer-ability and climbing of this bike.

When it comes to gear hauling on a bicycle, I'm a racks guy.  Yes, there is the weight penalty.  Yes, they're expensive.  Yes, the soft packing setups these days are marvelous and if that's your thing, Great!  To me though you just can't beat the stability and overflow capacity offered by a good set of racks.  I accept the weight penalty.  I've never known how to pack light anyway.  I never know what I'm going to pick up at the next stop or where I might need to tie it on.  The racks for this bike are derived from personal touring setups on trips to Mexico, the Cascades, and the Colorado Trail, and offer refinements to the systems used on these trips.  I have always been a fan of the front (non-low-rider) panniers for how they balance the load and weight the front tire climbing.  Most of your time on a bike and especially on tour is spent climbing so the longer you can spend pedaling your bike without getting off to walk the more efficient your use of calories will be.  Every starting effort whether walking or pedaling with the kind of load I've been known to carry costs precious calories.  If your bike is still tracking, you just need to keep the pedals turning.  Easy enough, right.  The pit-falls of front panniers can be their general poochiness and flop.  Clips that aren't tight enough and attachment points that promote steering lag quickly degrade the benefits of where that weight is placed.  This is all highly noticeable when the terrain turns rough.  Everything secured to the front end of the bicycle should be as tight and as close to the steering axis as possible. 

This rack takes those points and makes some accommodations.  Clip on panniers are ditched in favor of standard 10 liter dry bags that are cradled by the rack then strapped to the side.  The rack's attachment points at the dropouts and above the head tube promote flex of the stays and damping through the load being carried while cutting down on braking flex in the fork.  The upper struts extending from the front platform serve to secure overflow loads to the steering axis without interfering with the cables.  This can also be used as a means to attach your backpack in less demanding terrain, a much needed relief at times.  The ability to transfer gear from body to bike depending on terrain is something to consider when heavy biking.  Hiking a steep grade or mountain pass is the time to carry weight on your back rather than pushing it on your bike, cruising a dirt or pavement stretch is just the opposite.  Your body will thank you.


The rear rack is a bit more of an experimental design in being a light weight top loader.  I carry my bedroll here and pretty much nothing else.  It could have been kept a bit more minimalistic, as my sleeping bag/pad weighs only around 5 pounds, but it seemed like a bit extra area for tie-ons would be useful leading to the lower structure below the platform.  My thought in keeping the attachment points forward of the axle is allowing the flex at the attachment points and through the stays to provide some damping control to the rear of the bike through the load on the rack.  The load carries its own inertia and in doing so works to resist the movement of the bike through the jarring of the rear wheel.  All hardware is 6mm stainless and frame attachments are backed with nylock nuts.  No attachment points directly on the frame or fork are threaded save for standard frame H20 boss placements, rear derailleur hanger, and bottom bracket shell.


I got the chance to take this bike on a shakedown ride for a week on the Kaibab North Section of the Arizona Trail, and since have managed a few rides on the trails around the shop.  This bike is a blast to ride.   I've found its confidence inspiring and feel as though I can hit the same downhill lines as with my 140mm hardtail at almost the same speed.  Steering is still quick and playful as I'd have it and the vertical inputs maintain a lively response.  Climbing is an improvement over that bike as expected.  I haven't felt a rim hit on the front rim in a while.  The tire pressure is a delicate balance on the TCS Lights and I'm thinking that I may favor some tires with a heavier casing down the road.  I had been thinking that the rear tire would see some rapid sidewall wear with a frequent occurrence around here being threading a rear tire between sharp rocks.  So far this hasn't seemed the case, but I have a 2.5" Breakout on stand-by.

An interesting point of discussion here for me is the stability of this bike.  It's not particularly low as I prefer pedal/chainring clearance and a higher center of gravity, though maybe a bit lower than others I've owned recently.  Apples to oranges; BB drop is 39mm.  This bike hits a marked point of straight line stability at around 6 MPH.  It'll steer out of it when you want it to keeping it fun.  I would have to guess that a fair bit of this is the volume and mass of the tires, but this bike stays glued to a straight line like nothing I've ever ridden.  I'm talking take your hands off the handlebars on the washboards to take pictures kind of stability.  Anyway,  its been a new excitement to get this bike rolling and dialed in, and I'm looking forward to some extended adventures on it in the coming months.  Thanks for following along....

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Touring 29er FOR SALE

Time to sell off one from the personal fleet:

Asking $2500 complete as pictured, but price is negotiable with build.  Custom frame fork and bars by me.  Frame was built in 2013, but never saw all that much use and probably has about 2000 miles on it.  Its been parted out and re-built once or twice and that said is a versatile platform for a good number of builds, and I am happy to keep, trade out, or re-build the build to make this bike fit your needs.  Price will vary of course.  Frame bag from D-Bo goes with the frame.  Fits riders 5'7"-5'11" or so.

Frame Features:
  • True Temper Supertherm main triangle with custom bent 4130 rear triangle and lugged seat tube.
  • Horizontal bottle opener dropouts with custom adjustable chainstay disc mount optimized for rear rack use and single-speedability.
  • Custom 4130 segment crown fork with rack mounts
  • Touring geometry and tubing selection for heavy loads and all day comfort
  • 3 sets of H2O Bosses
  • Lots of tire clearance: up to 29x2.4" or 27.5x2.8" rear/29x3.0" front with room for mud

Frame Geometry:
  • 585mm/23" ETT
  • Good Climber 71/73.5 deg HT/ST
  • 420mm/16.5" seat tube center to center
  • 435mm/17.125" minimum chainstay
  • 54mm BB drop
  • 130mm x 44mm head tube for straight or tapered steerer
  • 27.2mm seat post
  • 475mm axle to crown fork for suspension correct rigid (pictured) or 100mm Rockshox

Build as pictured:
  • Wheelset:  handbuilt XT M756 hubs laced to WTB Frequency i25 rims with front quick release and rear bolt-on conversion.  Tubeless ready.  Less than 200 miles on these. 
  • Drivetrain:  XT/XTR 3x9 with XT cassette, XT Shifters and direct mount front derailleur, XTR m952 rear derailleur, Hollowtech crankset and Shimano external BB.
  • Brakes: Avid BB7 with Avid levers, 180mm front 160mm rear rotors.
  • Thomson stem (whatever size you need to fit) and seatpost, Specialized Phenom Saddle.
  • Chris King mixed tapered headset in Brown (no longer available) I have a matching BB available as an upgrade.
  • Custom handlebar in house ~12 degree sweep

$2500 complete, negotiable

(this frame new would be almost that much)

please email if interested:


I'll be out of town June 5-11 and will answer emails when I get back

Thursday, April 20, 2017

AZ Road Dirt

As noted in the last post, paved roads are sparse in the northern half Grand Canyon State.  At least are the sort of paved roads one would want to ride a bicycle upon.  Dirt roads, however, are endless....everywhere.  We have a distinct dichotomy to these dirt roads, with those ranging from (at times) smoother than the highway surface to those that are rougher than the nastiest mountain bike trails. 

For the adventurous, a ride aimed at putting in even a slight distance on the roads of our national forests quickly turns to mountain biking.  Bearing this knowledge from my own adventures here in mind, I set out to build a capable and confident dirt road bike for Kristin.  Not a mountain bike, nor up to the extremes pictured above by any stretch, this bike is designed to keep it fast and comfortable on the improved to unmaintained roads rather than the two tracks and logging/mining roads, and still hold its own during those instances of adventure where she finds herself unexpectedly mountain biking.

The major design premise of this bike is the handlebars.  The "shallow drop" bars are a three piece design first conjured from a project titled "The Widest Drop Bars Ever Made."  The reach of the forward bend of the typical drop bar is significantly reduced and the hoods position is mimicked with extension/lever clamp area.  This shorter reach allows for the front wheel to be located further forward through a longer top tube than a traditional road or cross bike would allow, which has the effect of lengthening wheelbase, smoothing the ride, and calming the steering.  All these effects to handling become particularly important on the rocky descents of Arizona dirt, and save energy over the course of a long day in the saddle.  Width at 600mm also aids comfort and stability, though would vary with rider preference.  This bar also forgoes the familiar integrated shifter brake lever controls in favor of mountain bike/22.2mm clamp shifters and brake levers.

The frame design places the rider fitting in the cockpit with the primary riding position in the drops where braking is the strongest with a 90mm stem.  The taller head tube length is achieved from this position and this particular fit required a sloped top tube.  The tops of the bars toward the stem clamp will offer a slight upward position for reprieve, as handlebar drop from the saddle is very slight on this particular bike.  Angles are traditional NORBA: 71/73 head/seat and BB drop is 66mm.  Tire clearance is for 40mm with room for that nasty AZ mud. 

The build kit on KP's Dirt Love is some-what non-typical, even by my standards.  The Industry Nine cross hubs are mated to WTB KOM i21 rims and Nano 40 TCS tires, tubeless of course.  From here we diverge a bit.  I just had to try the new Yokozuna cable actuated hydraulic brakes.  They're meant to make for an easy conversion for use with short pull (STI) levers and seemed like a good fit if ever a traditional drop bar were installed.  So far performance exceeds all expectations, especially considering they cost about the same, maybe a hair less than the Avid mechanical discs I was initially going to spec.  They did require a bit of material be removed to achieve proper adjustment with the 160mm rotor atop the Paragon front IS disc tab (not the first brake I've had this issue with).  Long term verdict is still out, but pending a seal failure, these units feel and work great.

 The drive train is the newest 11 speed offering from Box Components.  I was curious about the shifter thinking that a traditional rapid fire or Sram trigger shifter might interfere with the main cross bar of the handlebar....all work fine, but the Box offering has a good feel and works well with this handlebar.  The derailleur leaves a little bit to be desired in terms of adjustment, it seems that the inner limit just isn't quite inboard enough, even with the limit screw backed all the way out.  It seems to shift fine through the range.  Its not the nicest stuff out there, but is priced accordingly.  The 11-46 cassette fits the traditional HG freehub and is value priced.  Its looks fit the price...cheapest cassette I've bought in years...but it utilizes an aluminum spider (a must) and actually shifts quite well mated with a Sram 11 speed chain.

Crank is a Sram Apex 1x unit with a 42t narrow/wide chainring.  Its mated to the new bottom bracket from Hope Technologies.  I am hoping that this BB will far outlast the stock offerings from Sram and Shimano.

The rest of the build is my typical Cane Creek/Thomson mix.

This year's cycling event will take us to the Sawtooth National Forest for Rebecca's Private Idaho 100 miles of gravel.  We'll see if the roads of the Sawtooth are as harsh as those of the Coconino can be.  Should be exciting!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Year in the Drops

Where I left this monologue hanging over six months ago was becoming known to my riding buddies as “fun-hater summer.”  I sure can’t deny that.  Training rides for LOTOJA (cringe) took a much different shape than any I’ve know in the time since my racing days in Athens, GA.  First of all they were, yes, training rides.  Secondly they involved drop bars, skinny bald tires, and (gasp) spandex.  Fun-hater indeed.  I reluctantly pulled my old team kits out of their stash to find their stretchiness having been defeated by the dry Arizona climate.  No less, they’d have to do.  Wearing something less than once a year doesn’t exactly warrant a new purchase.

Summer training was in full swing by the time I headed north to Grand Canyon on the Arizona Trail Association’s annual youth trip.  To take advantage of what I considered to be short days on the bike I decided to make it as difficult on myself as possible and ride the road bike on trail.  When I say road bike, what I mean, of course is...cross bike, gravel bike, super commuter....whatever you’ll call them these days.  In my neck of the woods most of the “roads” you’d actually want to ride a bicycle on are far from being paved.  Most of the paved roads are two lane highways with no shoulder featuring baffled tourist drivers trying to figure out why their text messaging won’t work going no less than 80 miles per hour.  Seems more like a death trap, but in fun-hater summer we’d be riding plenty of these roads in due time.  None-the-less I haven’t owned a road bike in the purist sense of the word since even before I buried that spandex in a drawer.  After the Grand Canyon run I donned a pair of slicks and nearly all the riding for the next three months was on those undesirable roads described above. 

Despite my gripes we actually have three descent road rides here, all of which Kristin and I would become familiar with.  First of all is the Sunset Crater-Wupatki loop road.  Most commonly this ride is done by locals as a full moon downhill shuttle ride on beach cruisers.  The area road bike guide suggests riding the length of this road south to north and looping back via Highway 89 uphill.  I prefer to do this ride as an out and back....minimal traffic, maximal scenery.  Its actually a divine piece of pavement.

Secondly we have the Lake Mary Road lollipop around Mormon Lake, sometimes the largest natural lake in Arizona.  Its retention of water is entirely dependent on rain and snow fall and the body of water can vary between absolutely nothing and several square miles of surface area.  Nonetheless its always a great place to spot wildlife and the road out and back from Flagstaff is senic and has a descent shoulder.  Climbing all our local hills on the way, we managed to stretch this lollipop to 90 miles doorstep to doorstep, with a stop for cocktails at a pool party near the end making it all worth it.

Kristin and I (remember this whole double century thing was HER idea, HER family legacy) became most familiar with after work Snowbowl laps.  This sub-two hour round trip from the house climbs 2000 feet in about 14 miles, most of the vertical being in the last seven miles.  Zip down.  Repeat.  The fitness gains from this climb are compounded with the elevational advantage, the hight point is 9000 feet above sea level.

Even through this we were behind on our training....and we knew it.  I was discouraged, and hoping not to be discouraging for it.  I felt it, not that there was much I could do about it.  The training guide for LOTOJA says to ride “centuries,” yes,, in the plural throughout the summer, and to work up to 150 miles by early August.  We had yet to ride A SINGLE century, and our frequency for getting out was weekends plus maybe a short day mid week.  She was working long, long days for the Forest Service in one of their busiest local summers in memory, I was trying to keep up on shop projects after full 40 hour weeks of carpentry.  Eventually we drew up a training calendar which we barely stuck to.  In that, we had committed to riding to our friends’ wedding in Prescott.  South of Prescott actually, bonus miles.  Their frequent travels said that door to door via the interstate the trip was exactly 100 miles.

We would not be taking the interstate.  Actually the hope was to take dirt roads and make it a two day ride, but time and necessity forced the pavement card once again.  We needed the road miles and we needed the long single day much more.  It wouldn’t be an ideal ride in most circumstances, but leaving on a Friday at first light, we opted for the 89A route through incredible Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona.  Oak Creek Canyon is probably the most idyllic roads for cycling in Northern Arizona....right up until the cars come packed with tourists obliviously slowing stopping and photographing everything with no regard for the fact that they’re obstructing a federal highway with a guardrail on one or both sides nearly the entire length of it, often with vegetation growing past the rail and into the center of the lane.  Now going downhill on a bicycle in the morning, before the tourists show up, a cycler with minimal effort can maintain a speed near to that of the cars traveling the same direction.  Uphill is just a bad idea, though I do see those that dare attempt this ride every year.  We escaped the narrow roads of the canyon just as the horde of tourist vehicles began to pour into the canyon from both Flagstaff and Sedona.

We stopped for lunch in Cottonwood, the highway between hardly worth a comment save for the miles ticked off, and started our climb to Jerome, road narrow, shared with more cars than we would have liked.  Reaching Jerome and pedaling through its narrow streets was the closest I’ve ever felt to riding through the Alps in le Tour; the town is built clinging to the side of Mingus mountain and the street passing through is so narrow here that it seems to be an afterthought to the buildings brushing by us with no room to spare.  We pedaled quickly through the town for fear dodging cars and once through it resumed the grueling mountain climb surmounting a total length of twelve miles with nearly 3,300 feet of vertical.  Average grade: 5%.  The downhill reward ended all too quickly and with that we came into the unforgiving land of diesel giants driven by depraved, forgotten, out of work white men with heavy with heavy, swollen red feet of elephants uncontrollably surging downward with every passing bicycler.  We’d reached Prescott Valley....the only place in the state with an anglo population so homogeneous, and with golf resorts so prolific, and with international border issues bearing absolutely no effect, that it was deemed pure enough to host the campaign rants of the Donald himself.  Before long we’d be stopping in at one of these resorts ourselves, to stink out the place in search of soda and candy, before going on to endure some more elephant footed carbon rich exhaust in this desert grassland.  This torture came in the name of training, but I’m pretty convinced that our survival was dumb luck.  We reached the wedding party and were greeted with cheers and cold drinks.  Unfortunately, we were too tired to remember much of the weekend....maybe it was the diesel.


We’d registered for the Mens/Womens open in the cyclo-sportif category meaning we weren’t in it for the race, but for the personal accomplishment.  This, conveniently, gave us the very last start time of the day.  We’d been notified that the finish line would not be counting riders who crossed after 8:30 PM.  Our start time was 7:35 AM, giving us just shy of 13 hours to cover 207 miles, requiring a mandatory average speed of 16 miles per hour with no pee breaks.  Now we’re pretty sure that this average would have been the maximum average speed of any of our many months of weekender training rides, and today we’d only have to do this all day, or rather the whole day given to us by the formalities.  The route thoroughly covers Napoleon Dynamite country before ascending into the Caribou National Forest of eastern Idaho and dropping you into a windstorm in Wyoming.  LOgan TO JAckson....LOTOJA....get it?

From the gate we found ourselves in the slipstream of the finest category in the race.  The co-ed effort was driven by The Lactic Acid Cycling Club of Boise, Idaho; a group of the classiest die-hard roadies whose smooth cadence would pull us into the first rest stop 30 miles out in no time.  With only a slight lapse of our support crew holding up the line for the plastic bathrooms, we were off again, though this time in scattered company.  We’d missed the group we started with, and found ourselves trying to organize amongst stragglers.  Friendly folk, but none could match the climbing legs of the Flagstaff Goats when the road pointed up.  We found our climbing rhythm alone on that first hill, just as we had all summer long and just as we would with all the others.  Coming off the first pass in an energy saving tuck we faced a shock.  Three, then four, then five unshapely, older cyclists passed us on the down.  As we regained a rolling flat we figured it best not to waste our energy, so we tucked in behind them.  This day being Kristin’s first experience with pack riding and the draft, she got to witness now, what not-so-smooth riders looked like: yo-yos bouncing uncomfortably on their saddles, constantly alternating between standing and sitting to find that momentary stretch relief.  I was disgusted, but our position at the moment didn’t seem to warrant the converse to the situation: us pulling them.  We followed along, tucked in in a headwind until a railroad bridge pointed sharply upward and we Goats seized the opportunity to leave our heard of sheep.

After that we rode alone.  We’d seen the groups of corporate office relay teams come and go, and the better riders from our own start were well ahead, leaving only the people destined not to finish between us and the finish.  When you start dead last in a field of 1700 riders, you’re only going to pass people en route to the finish, not the other way around, and on a perfect day for LOTOJA standards, this means you have to pass something like 800 people.  That’s right, only 60% of the people who signed up for this ridiculous event even finish....and that’s on a good year!  The solo ride through the remote hills of eastern Idaho were some of my favorite miles of the summer.  On this day being alone was unexpected, but in this area its the attraction.  We were approaching the halfway point and the road pointed upward again.  This time an unending string of bicycle silhouettes sat atop it until it curved out of sight.  And one by one those silhouettes took human form in their suffering under the relentless September sun before disappearing into our short Goat memory.  One by one they took form and one by one they dropped off without an answer.  Kristin had picked up a tail.  A younger fella in a college jersey.  He just couldn’t let another girl drop him so he clung to her without a sound, grasping for his dignity as he panted in follow.  He said nothing, but stayed around through the next flat allowing she and I to take turns at the lead while he sat on.  I guess I can’t complain too much, its the same thing we’d done earlier, though only to much larger groups.  We’d reached the last major climb, and the steepest one.  I was feeling spry and decided to give it my best go just cause.  Kristin did us a proud one and passed one of the girls from the Boise team for herself and with a cheer of encouragement from being back amongst our start group.  We screamed off the top finding ourselves quickly cooled off by the wind that blew us right back to our familiar training grounds of Highway 89 and its nonsensical motorists.  Different state, same highway, same rumble strips, same drivers.

We were suffering through a cross wind.  The shoulder has a serious rumble strip just inside of the white line leaving little room for error in this tiny window of space.  We were mostly alone, and the ones and twos around us couldn’t seem to organize and work together.  For a few miles we tried to rotate through the wind but never could find much of a sweet spot.  Then on our left came the train.  It was hard to pick out the otherwise distinct sound due to the traffic and wind noises, but the roll of the peloton was upon us.  And not just any peloton, it was our group from the start.  Ol’ Lactic Acid.  We enthusiastically jumped on.  This group was smooth.  Each of them good cyclists as individuals, but they rode together....a lot.  The miles flew by almost as fast as the riders who were grinding out this unforgiving stretch on their own.  This was what hooked me on the notion of road riding all those years ago, and to find it on this day for even the moment was a rejuvenating thrill.  The cool thing was the group knew we had latched on; they didn’t mind.  They were cordial and friendly; wait, roadies can be cordial and friendly?  The didn’t ask us to pull, hell, they were barely even rotating amongst themselves, and not that we could have.  I glanced over at the the computer of the rider next to me: 23 mph.  Oh, so that’s how you finish this ride.  I’d forgotten what it felt like to go that fast.  It feels effortless if you get the pack thing.

We stayed with the Lactics through the next rest stop and they invited us along for the following, despite some hardships even hanging on.  When the took a break we opted to continue, and at this point we knew we’d be on our own to the finish with 50 miles to go.  We felt confident that our starting groups generosity had granted us a shot to finish but we knew we couldn’t just hang on and feel like we earned it....and really we knew we couldn’t just hang on, they were out-pedaling us and we were feeling the distance.  With 50 just miles to go the pee breaks seemed to come so frequently, and every stop made it that much harder to start again.  The journey from bike seat to plastic bathroom got more and more painful.  Walking had become an aching labor.  Re-mounting the bike seemed like starting an engine in the cold with a next to dead battery.  I’d settle in, but the inconvenience of this frequency caused me to slow my liquid intake.  We got about 20 beautiful miles from Alpine Junction to Hoback Junction along the Snake River, where Kristin’s Dad, a 25 year veteran of LOTOJA, says you can “feel the pull of the Tetons.”  Personally, I felt the pull of the Snake, as we were riding upstream, and I would have rather been swimming.

From Hoback, things just got miserable.  I was nearing the end of my will.  Kristin took over motivational operations, but I was increasingly in a bad way.  I didn’t want to drink, because getting off the bike was getting too painful.  We were down to foods that just sounded bad.  There was no brain override.  Caloric deficit had taken over.  Still pedaling though.  No one mentions the little rollers leading up to and through the town of Jackson.  They seem like mountains for the first time all day.  I’m sunk.  We keep pedaling as the sun sets over Jackson.  The bike paths around the west side of town are a welcome break from the highway.  Wanting none more than for this day to be over at least I can be distracted for a minute by these quiet, narrow paths, with deer grazing in adjacent fields rather than focusing on my hunger and that little space to the right of that thin white line separating me from paralysis or death.  It ends all too soon and we’re back on the highway pedaling frantically into the dusk, feeling that we should be there by now.  Somehow we both put all the demons aside and pedal like we mean it.  The miles just keep going by, but how?  We should be there by now.  Its only getting darker.  Sometime between the dusk and the end of the show we finish the ride, hands clasped in honor of the team effort that was Fun-Hater Summer.  And it was a team effort, we worked together at times, but both had our moments of pulling for the other.  All 207 miles in just shy of 12 hours rolling time giving us just over an hour for pee breaks and cold food.  A few riders came in behind us, but not many.  All those people we passed either passed us back or did not finish.  I collapsed by a fence.  Kristin coridally greeted her family who had supported us all day driving about from stop to stop and pushing us onward.  I couldn’t speak, nor could I walk.  I had to crutch on my bike just to stand.  What a mess.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

State of the Shop: A Clear and Dusty Day In June

As I wrap up my thirty-fifth lap around the sun I thought I might give you all an update of the goings on here at the Moustache Shop.  There has been and is still a fair bit of prototyping going on at the moment, and there is a lot going on that I am excited about and hope to be working out in the coming year.

Handlebars:  This is something I continue to pursure rigorously, as I believe a custom handlebar is of great complement to the fit, function, and comfort of a custom bicycle.  It places the riders hands in a position of comfort for the long haul and allows for so much in the design that just can't be achieved with off the shelf parts.  They are a highly personal item as any one's individual preference of hand and wrist position can vary wildly from the next person's.  The compound bending operation is moving along swimmingly, and riser bars are taking over my work space.  With a greater understanding of the process every bar the end goal is in sight.  The end goal being custom riser bars precision bent to order at widths, rises, and sweeps, to be user determined.  For the foreseeable future these will be a 22.2mm offering with shims to 25.4 mm or 31.8 mm.  I aim to create a new bending unit to improve on the quality of the current offering.  Presently the bars are straight as measured on the surface plate, the bends are even and symmetrical.  Not bad for a small hand operated tubing bender.  I am looking to expand my materials offering with these into a complete item that needs no further finish.  The biggest drawback to a chromoly handlebar from my point of view is the need for finish to prevent rusting.  This makes adding handlebar components a bit more difficult, but complements a finished bicycle nicely.  It is my hope to be offering these bars in titanium by the year's end, but feel the offering should represent a finished, branded product. 

Bicycles:  Well here's some bad news.  My main tubing supplier, True Temper, has decided to close its bicycle tubing division.  This is unfortunate because the big tubes I've been using to make these Flagstaff Special Arizona hardtails are not offered anywhere else, and the metallurgy used in making these tubes was absolutely top notch.  Other options are being explored as to how to fill the void within the frame building community.  I'm hopeful that the void can be filled with a domestic manufacturer, but more hopeful that the advancements in steel made by True Temper are not lost to the sands of time.  I have a small stash to be rationed appropriately.  The biggest effects of this loss will no doubt be felt by their distributor, Henry James Bicycles, and the BMX segment. 

With all the industry "progress" and change in axle, wheel, tire, and bottom bracket formats, choosing appropriate frame components has become increasingly challenging.  As a small operation it is difficult to filter and stay on top of advancements, especially considering the clout of hype surrounding any new release.  I aim to be in this for the long haul, even if my output volume is low, so that means carefully screening options as they come available.  I am rarely an early adopter of anything, and tend to favor the products that have been proven in the long haul.  Some of these new comings make sense, and most are in fact aimed at a solution of some sort, problem is that with technology of any sort there is less consensus of how-to-solve and the (in)compatibilities within the solution.  This can mean pricey investments in new tooling for a one-man operation, for a "we'll see" component offering.  Sony Beta comes to mind here.  For me it becomes a matter of "stay the course" and build directly to the rider's needs, not the manufacturer offerings.  Hopefully, under the careful eye, this is evident in all my work to date, and into the future.  Your bike should outlast the current fad of offerings and be useful and relevant into the future.  Bikes last a long time, fads do not.

I've been working through a build with 650Bx3.0" tires and in understanding the perks of "plus" (seriously folks, can we abandon this term?) find it useful to view the new wheels and tires in a familiar context.  I dusted off the ol' Rust Bucket and got some test laps in on the new wheelset.  The project goal when finished is a flex-tuned rigid bike capable of any trail in Flagstaff.  Its a tall order, but the complete bike functioning with the user in mind (in this case me) trending numbers just won't do.  It'll be an interesting product.

Roadies:  Myself and the lady are becoming roadies.  Kristin signed us up for the Logan to Jackson 200-mile bike race; its sort of her family legacy.  LOTOJA.  For me this is digging up a part of my soul that's been buried since moving west.  I used to really like riding road bikes (I was even a shave-leg), but looking at this web page makes me think that I'll be finding myself in the company of cycl-ISTS that I prefer to mock in the "Yean, I'm an asshole from Flagstaff" manner (I'm sure there are plenty of nice folks at this event, I'm just calling it as I see it--my rough and gruff in the face of intimidation, and, really, I find this ride intimidating).  I still like riding road bikes, it just happens that we have not many roads to ride a road bike on.  Well, we do, actually, they just happen to be dirt and strewn with jarring sharp rocky cobble.

With all that fuss about plus, and now that we're roadies, one product I'm quite excited about is WTB's road plus.  I'm less excited about the name, but basically its a high volume tubeless road tire meant to tackle and hold up dirt.  The TCS bead has proven worthy in the worst of Arizona conditions, and is a go-to item for mountain bike wheelsets, so I'm excited to see their mixed surface offerings.  In that mention, Kristin and I will be training on dirt, since that's what we have.  Her bike is a road racer and very limiting in surface, so she'll be getting a new ground up dirt machine just as soon as I can whip that together.  I'm excited to try some new ideas on that one.  Expect that in the next month. 

Re-visiting a past adventure:  Tomorrow morning I depart of the Arizona Trail heading north with the south rim of Grand Canyon as the destination.  I first completed this ride ten years ago nearly to the day as it was on my 25th birthday.  It was my first overnight bike adventure (actually it a two overnight adventure, the second night being somewhat unplanned.  Cosmic Ray's Fat Tire Tales and Trails guide said the 75 or 80 miles would take 12 hours, so I rightly figured I was good to do it in 6.  I had purchased a rear rack for my single speed Surly Crosscheck and strapped my gear on with a rope.  First tour.  I got a prompt start at high noon on A Clear and Dusty Day in June with the 7000 ft. sun barreling down on my back.  Wow, Arizona, land of rude awakenings.  I had run out of water before the sun had set, and despite bringing a filter, had not encountered any water on the route...that's funny.

Luckily a group of Boy Scouts had camped at Cedar Ranch, the of three stops along the route that used to be the Stage Coach route bringing the first tourists from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon.  The troop leaders topped my water, marveled at my horrific setup, told the boys they were chumps for being so whiny when there was this guy with duffel bag on a road bike riding farther than they were, and sent me my way.  I, however, was more than a little embarassed, considering myself an accomplished outdoors-man and cycler who had survived the Montana wilderness for the last two years....and to be saved by, of all walks of man or woman.....the boy scouts.  Not good.  But Grateful nonetheless.

I pressed on into the evening hours through the ranch bottoms and came across Tubs Ranch, some rotten board construction I quickly realized was infested with pack rats.  I decided to sleep outside.  I was pushing my bike as I inspected the grounds, and apparently some tumble-weed plants thought I was trying to steal their hard-earned water and gifted me with goat-head thorn seeds all about my tires.  Being one who had at that time not embraced sealant I awoke to find both tires flat.  No big deal, I'm prepared for this.  I changed my tubes and de-thorned the treads and started pumping.  At about 5 psi it got to where the tires weren't getting any more air.  I tried to ride this and headed off in the wrong direction (Cosmic Ray said [read] "bring a compass take the route most north!"--I thought "who ever needed a compass?").  I quickly turned back for Tubs after my tires were soon, again, completely flat.  That's funny. 

Luckily a group of Boy Scouts would be along in an hour or two.  Maybe I could get some help from them.  They stopped in the shade of the one Juniper tree and took their lunch.  They pumped my tires and one of their leaders gave me a new mini-pump.  I asked if I could mail it back to him and he said, "just keep it."  How embarrassing.  They topped me up on water again, as I had drank off the entirety of my night's ration, and again they sent me on my way.  

I arrived at the canyon promptly in the late afternoon with the sun beating down from above, famished, but exhilarated from the sight.  I turned west on the Grand Canyon tourist road route 64 and stopped at every tour bus pull out before making my way to Grand Canyon Village where I spent the rest of my time in the park stuffing my face in front of the grocery store.  Tourism at its finest.  After the break I pointed my bike south down Highway 180, a dismally scary road to ride, though beautiful, camped the night, and completed the return trip with a proper AZ morning start.


The trip next week will be more on pace with that trip of the Boy Scouts, but I'm reminded of my effort ten years ago and feel my steed should be reminiscent of the Surly.  So I'm taking the super commuter.  Fun-hater style.  I haven't decided to go single speed yet, but who knows.  We're taking four days to ride to the canyon, and the trip is for the Arizona Trail's Seeds of Stewardship program, for which I have worked the past few years.  We have 8 high-school students doing the trip, some have completed last year, others will be for the first time.  I sure hope they can pick up for what will no doubt be my baggage on the group.  Report to follow.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Press Release:

Our Local Internet TV Station came out to do a piece about the bike I was building for their host, Dapper Dre.  The video debuted this week for Bike to Work Week.  Click the link at the top to view full size and check out the other propaganda at

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Professor's 36er

Well, despite its size, this bike slipped out the door last month without me getting any pictures of it.  So when I got the invite over to the Professor's house last weekend to take some pictures of his historical artifacts including his new bike I jumped on over.   Here you have it better late than never: the largest Moustache to date....36" wheels, 27" of top tube, 30+" cruiser bars and nearly a 900mm saddle height.

A bike this size is best viewed through a comparative lens, so for full effect click on the images for the slide show.

 Tall man stands next to a large bicycle...

Man of above average height stands next to large bicycle.

Tall man rides large bicycle....

Man of above average height attempts to ride large bicycle.

29" wheeled bike made for tall man buried behind Professor's new Moustache 36er.

Tall man shows gratitude toward maker of Moustache; maker feels like palmed basketball.

Ride impressions?:  Well I think now just about everybody on the NAU campus has seen or been run down by this guy and his new... thing... with a crooked smile on his face as he drives the crowd.  A lucky few in the friends circle have been fortunate enough to ride it.  Smiles all around of course, but from my few moments before it left the barn:  this thing is a train in more ways than one...(good thing the Professor likes trains); it steers like its on rails and momentum is key.  All laws of physics apply: object in motion....F=ma....for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  The gyroscopic effect of those wheels is noticeable, at least to a guy of above average height and below average mass (figures based on US National averages for height and weight).  The whole platform is one of much intrigue, and now with one down I welcome the next one.  For those over 6'6" or so this is a real and viable option for a custom bike.  The whole package came together quite nicely for the Professor at 6'9".  I would be curious to spend a bit of time on one my size as well (hey we can all dream can't we?).

Mike, your spirited involvement in this project made it truly a pleasure.  Please enjoy this bicycle for a long time to come.  Thank you for the project!

History Lesson:  Sound Mechanics of the 1900s

The Professor was kind enough to invite me in to see (and hear) some relics of his archive over a hundred years old.  As a moonlighting musician that's been working on an album with a full band, and as a bike builder and aspiring machiner, it was interesting to hear how this was done in the first era of recording, as well as watch the result.

 The Edison Home Phonograph of design by inventor Thomas A Edison (yes, that Edison).  Patents on the picture below date between 1896 and 1906; this machine is of the later creation.  I'll do my best effort to set the stage and repeat what was described to me, but my brain has never been one for retaining dates, let alone factoids.  Electricity has been harnessed and Edison has already invented the network through which it is being distributed (1870s).  Most of this distribution though is to commercial interests in major cities and it seems most homes did not have electricity until the 1920s if not later.  Radio has been "discovered" but yet to be "invented" (Guglielmo Marconi is given popular credit for this in 1902 after more than 80 years of discovery and advancement in the filed, and the first radio broadcasts of human voice did not occur until 1916).  So the phonograph is a machine for mechanically reproducing sound, and without a doubt an item of luxury at this time.

Without electricity this machine uses a spring loaded wind up with weighted controllers to produce a spin of a certain RPM. .  I would have to think that the devices regulating the final RPM of the player spindle would represent advanced machining of the day.  The drive mechanisms sit in the box below the feed and amplifier.  The record is tracked with the slide at the rear of the machine.  The two arms extending off the slide serve as the tracking feed for the record and the play back.  This machine tracks off a metal fine pitch screw (above in the immediate foreground) rather than directly off the record.  Playback is direct amplification of the needle through a horn of varying size.  Below the small cone is sitting behind the player itself, and a large cone is attached to the player in the picture.

Records for this machine were cylindrical and each play will degrade the sound quality.  A record contains a single track.  Below the Professor shows off his extensive collection.  These days a track could rival i-tunes in best price or make the record companies jealous at their margins alike.  Tracks for your 1900s era Edison player could range between $0.30 and $300.00. 

The recording process of the time would have been quite interesting.  An artist would have to go into the Orange, N.J. studio to record the track in a single take.  The process was mechanical and the sound of the room would be carved into a wax mold by whatever device.  No separation of instruments, no over-dubs.  Now you have essentially a lost-wax casting process in play.  The wax mold is turned to a steel transfer for production of the final product.

Content of the songs tend represent interests of the time, so there is a lot of western themes with cowboys and Indians.  There is also, interestingly, or maybe not, a lot of subtle and not-so subtle over-tones of white privilege.  The track below is by Billy Murry with the music by the Edison House Quartet.  You can listen through the UCSB cylinder archive, and there is much more detailed information here as well.  I was unable to play the track directly but the download worked.  Ida-Ho!

With direct amplification, sound quality becomes more noticeable with speaker size.  This large cone is not something you want to be drug out of your costume closet.  When in use it would be hung from a single point at a balance as the small end of the taper needs to be able to move freely with the player needle.

The Professor's personal digitization efforts.  This part I like particularly well.  Blending the old and the new through a simple functional device.  Direct amplification of digital sound.  Thanks for the tour of the archive, el Professor!