Thursday, April 15, 2010

A rant about road bikes

What are road bikes anyways?  I can define this in several ways.  A purposeful bike that keeps speed and distance at the forefront of its personality perhaps.  But perhaps also the bike with the most constraints strapped to it.  Tunnel vision.   The truest road bikes can only travel where that web of connected asphalt hold their strongest bonds....or for the daring, only slightly farther into the tierra.  I used to ride road bikes a lot back in the Athens days and if I still lived there I'd probably ride them a lot still.  But in the days since leaving, the nice network of farm roads has become an ever extensive network of rock strewn forest roads and a road bike just wouldn't hack it.  

There are about 3 road rides in Flagstaff according to the city urban trails map.  Snowbowl road: the 2500 ft climb to the ski area, out and back.  I've never done this because trails also lead to the snowbowl parking lot in the summer and riding that road during ski season is just a bad idea.   Mormon Lake:  a 4-5 hour lollipop out to and around Mormon Lake, the largest natural mud hole in Arizona and a nice flat paved road with a huge shoulder/bike lane.  This is the most popular ride here by far.  I've only ridden this on the way out of town to Tucson, a very long and very awesome road ride.  And the Sunset Crater - Wupatki road: 30 or so miles gradual downhill from Sunset Crater to Wupatki National monument starting in craggy volcanic lava fields, traveling past 1200 year-old ruins and ending in the painted desert.  This could be done as a loop with highway 89, a route heavily trafficked with drunk drivers or as an out and back.  The preferred method of travel though is the full-moon downhill shuttle run.  The ride from town to sunset crater isn't all that great anyway so the shuttle run just seems to work out.  This is one of the top two road rides of all time for me.  The other being the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier, also in a full moon.  All the other road rides pretty much feature jumping between descent patches of pavement via interstate highways or dirt roads.  

I began realizing the limitations of road bikes in the days of my beloved Klein.  R.I.P.  I discovered the back ways of Oconee county by assuring myself that roads with powerlines on them, be they paved or otherwise, were through roads.  This logic never failed to get me home, but there were many nights of racing daylight to get to the familiar ground of Milledge avenue.  Oddly enough the Klein never flatted on a dirt road ride, no matter how rough or how many creeks it crossed.  But that beautiful beast obviously had its limitations.  I've never had a true road bike since.  That was 6 years ago I think.  I had a crosscheck for a while, but I quickly realized its limitations too.  The 45c tires rubbed the frame, clogged with mud, and stopped the back wheel from moving when I broke a spoke at the end of a tour.  Plus the geometry was too slack and it fit me poorly.  The bike I built for myself as my new "road" bike attempts to hit on all these shortcomings while hopefully keeping alive the essential elements of a road bike, the ability to go far and fast. 

My commute to work at The Man starts up my driveway and most commonly heads for Elks Lodge trail, a commuter trail that frequently features sad attempts at closure by seasonal residents.  Most folks in town use this as access to the trails of the Coconino National Forest, but for me it is my wake up commute from the sticks across town.  Really, riding this trail every morning to work is my favorite thing about work anymore.  Its a pretty high standard.  I cut right onto a short pavement descent on Quintana and then left on fort valley road or the path that rides beside it to Quinn's restaurant, featuring the best breakfast burrito known to man.  Then its a bit more downhill to town, then across the tracks to cut through the NAU campus.  I tend to hop curbs and cut through parking lots as I see fit.  A few more lefts and rights through the hilly section and up the steep driveway to the Mormon Lake ranger station.  There are infinite variations and other cut throughs, most of them involving trails.  The longest of which would take me 4 hours one way and be entirely singletrack.   My route takes about 40 minutes.  Going home hosts about 500 feet of climbing that can be done all at once or broken up into chunks.  My favorite is doing the elks lodge trail in the dark, nothing but starlight.  There are often large bull elk hanging out in the meadows.  One night I passed two cyclists with headlamps that looked lost.  They said they were just looking around and I rode on past.  They asked how I could see without lights down the trail...I told them it doesn't help when they shine those bright beams in my face, and rode off into the darkness.  Some people will never even begin to understand the ways of a ninja.  

So here's my new rig as it turned out.  Its the only full XTR road bike that I know of.  The wheels are M-950 hubs that came off of Puc's breezer laced to Sun Equilizer 29 rims.  Check out the bolt on conversion.  The cranks I picked up NOS at The Hub a couple of years ago with only the big ring and I ended up running it that way.  The cantis I picked up at the Tucson bike swap last fall for $15 and the levers I bought off a kid when I was in high school and when the shifters failed I sawed that part off.  The headset is a WTB grease guard also off the Breezer and the handlebars are GT brahma bars off the wall of 21 ridgecrest, my old house. They were hanging as art.  And the seat is from the Klein.  I probably have no more than $400 into the build plus the cost of the frame and fork which I may never bother to know.  As it sits here it weighs in at about 20 lbs and it is definitely the fastest bike I've ridden in a long time, and it is definitely a road bike.  It'll take 45c tires with gobs of clearance, gears if I ever want them as well as racks and fenders front and rear.  Keep your eyes peeled for a large hauling front basket.


  1. If I saw someone on a bike like that riding at night with no headlamp in the woods I would definitely bow down to the ninja.

  2. that is how a country bike should look!

  3. I think next year's Spring tour needs to be out your way. I'd be happy with just a couple of those commutes no doubt!

  4. And that's a kickin' bike too, I should say.

  5. ....always happy to host a bike tour. bring it.

  6. Well done, a worthy ninja steed. Would like to see integrated bottle opener somewhere, though.

    That Surly carried me from home to Atlanta on Saturday for the 420 festival. Winter cobwebs finally shaken off...

  7. bottle opener is on the underside of the left dropout in the picture..

    glad to know the cobwebs are dusted and riding to spring beer festivals is in order. I got out on my first trail ride of the year here and it was awesome. Most of the trails will still be covered in snow for another month though.