Thursday, December 31, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
- Tall Tree 2010 Calendars will be available for purchase within about a week. Yes, this is kinda late, but we figured better late than not at all. The calendar is a compilation of the best photos from 2009 of TT riders, and will retail for about $12.
- a large group of the team will race the Tour of Battenkill in New York in April. We'll have a masters team and Neil will race the pro event.
- Tall Tree will field three teams at each of the Chico 24hr races
- the team will attend all the Sunset Series mtb races
- we'll ride Rideau Lakes, possibly (hopefully) on fixed gears(!)
- we'll be working on a not-so-secret-super-secret Steelwool development process from early spring through the season. We'll document this process here once it gets rolling.
- the Ride of the Damned will run in May in 5-person format
- we'll recon an Ottawa-Tremblant-Ottawa backroad route I've deivsed, toward running a future event (probably about 275k each way....possibly 'epic')
- the Quintuple Classic will return, with BBQ at Lac Leamy afterwards and family activities
- the Fixed Frolic will recur, with a tweaked route and less wind
- the Double Cross will likely run the same route again, but we'll follow the format more strictly
- perhaps most exciting, we're in the early stages of planning a kick-off event for the cyclocross series.
- a tweed run is on the backburner as a possibility
Bike of the Year : During my November sojourn to Europe I took a side trip in Girona, Spain where I put in good miles with serious PROs and we hit some nasty roads and these guys were on bikes with 26/28c tires and fenders and old wheels and old bars (with only one exception, see above) and there was no sense that using equipment like this was noteworthy in the least. These guys were on bikes of an aesthetic that would get laughed at on the typical local US training ride. They told me they ride these bikes almost exclusively from Oct-March. Seeing that in real life turned my concept of PRO upside down because it was full-blown, first-hand exposure to the notion that a bike is a tool for a job.
This sort of bike -- the racy-yet-not-racy, piggish-but-not-piggish road bike (not a repurposed CX frame), with room for 28's and fenders, but somehow desirable for the fastest guys in the world -- THAT is the bike of the year. This is not Rivendell Reader spew. It's about the lesser-known needs of a racing cyclist. Nothing beeswax and no godforsaken cloth bar tape!
No kinda-big company champions the bike-as-tool-for-a-job concept quite like Independent Fabrication. The Independent Fabrication Club Racer -- mine will be in the Titanium option so it'll be rust-proofed, it'll ride more sweetly, and it won't be self-defeatingly heavy -- this is the bike of the year because it's designed and marketed as a do-everything steed and possessing that quality is newly important to me. This is a man's bike for a man's life.
Sound familiar? It is mildly amusing that this is a revelation, but I must admit, this format didn't really register for me either until I started doing way more road than mtb riding. Before then, I'd just ride my mtb if it was wet out...or get filthy. In case you don't know what I'm talking about right now, I'm connecting the 'Bike of the Year' to the bikes many of us have been talking about for some time now. Rodd was into the whole big tires and fenders thing years ago; his custom True North is just this kind of bike. So is Jamie's Salsa Casserole. My Steelwool Secteur 18 is the a dedicated 'allroad' bike that fits 28s and fenders, and 32 knobbies sans fenders. "A man's bike for a man's life," also great for women who like to ride in all weather conditions.
These are bikes for riding all day in whatever weather. They don't conform to the 'race bike' category, they are not superlight or super stiff. But there is far more to a bike than its weight or 'stiffness'. As Richard Sachs says, "There's no such thing as a 'race bike;' any bike is a race bike if you put it in a race and race it." Its better to have a bike that suits the majority of the riding you do, and fits. Sachs rode D2R2 in the same bike he races cross on. My Steelwool is much the same, albeit with calipers rather than cantis. More on this later....
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
After sending off the bike-cad file to the builder, I took to waiting. It was a busy time, so I had to put off completing my follow up post on the ride quality goals I’d set for the bike. Here is that installment. Its on the long side; a coffee or tea might make a nice accompaniment. This post is a little more rigorous than my usual products; this subject demands careful treatment. Here we go.
Planing is a term Jan Heine coined to denote "the ability to get in sync with the bike" (Bicycle Quarterly, Summer 2009: 3). The whole is greater than the sum of its parts; everything must come together just right for a bike to sync with its rider. Jan is the man at the root of our fat tire road bike obsession. He started importing the Grand Bois tires into North America a few years back, and Rodd was the first early adopter I know of. He spread the gospel with a fervor that only a maven like him can muster, and Tall Tree consequently started carrying them.
I’d like to turn to Padraig, of Red Kite Prayer and Belgium Knee Warmers, on this matter. In a September post on RKP, Padraig presents a compelling account of what he terms road feel:
For me, road feel is the great separator, the ultimate arbiter. But what is it? It’s that thing you experience when you get on a steel bike and go, “This feels so good.” You’ll feel it in titanium bikes as well. It’s an elusive quality, one that comes in many shades of gray. Aluminum bikes are almost uniformly devoid of it and for many years the vast majority of carbon fiber bikes were as out of touch with it as the pope is to the charms of Led Zepplin (I’m guessing here).....
So what the hell does that mean in bikes? On the very best bikes, stiffness is achieved with enough high modulus carbon fiber that the walls of the tubes can be thinned in the middle, the way double- and triple-butted steel tubes have thin midsections. These thin midsections attenuate a certain amount of road vibration but they still allow a small amount of high-frequency road vibration to reach the rider. Too much of this high-frequency road vibration results in muscle fatigue, a la lawn mower hands. However, a small amount of it will tell you a lot about the road surface you’re riding over and can be critical in trying to get the most out of a bike on a fast descent.
[Road feel] is the quality that is hardest to find in bikes, and one of the reasons is that it depends on very precise layup schedules (you can’t just use tons of material to get strength and stiffness and hope to have any road feel left) and demands a fair amount of high-modulus carbon fiber in order to achieve enough strength and stiffness....
I’ve still got my Torelli Nitro Express built by Antonio Mondonico. Its .7-.4.-.7-wall Nivacrom tubes epitomize excellent road feel, as does my butted titanium Seven Axiom. After riding those bikes, lots of bikes are just … not exceptional.
I’m not interested in commodities. I write about cycling because it transformed my life and a great bike can lead us to peak experiences. The bike isn’t the be-all-end-all, but a great bike can entertain us on an ongoing basis. I’ve ridden loads of bikes and the carbon bikes that are worth remembering have this rare quality of road feel and there’s no way to find out if a bike has it until you have ridden it. No test any German magazine can devise will find it. Achieving it requires a bit of art and a bit of science, but the result is pure art, and something every rider I know who has encountered it agrees upon. You might argue whether Pollock is art or not, but everyone agrees that Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is great art. When you encounter real road feel, you’ll never want to settle for a frame without it.
On my interpretation, Padraig speaks of what some would call the elusive quality of liveliness in the bike. It is the perfect synergy of bike weight, flex, comfort, and power transmission. Its not just the right amount of road buzz he’s talking about. A bike could have just the right amount of ‘feel’ but handle like a tank or feel like a wet noodle out of the saddle. In order for a bike to ‘sing’ for a particular rider, all the elements of the whole must come together just so.
"[t]he philosophy back [in the late 1970 and early 1980s] was that a good steel bike would last 20 years. Nowadays nobody wants to be stuck with the same bike for 20 years. Nobody wants to be stuck with anything for 20 years! (40).
Is he right? If so, why are steel bikes seeing a resurgence right now? Why are so many people putting down serious money for custom steel bikes? I think Fisher is generalizing far too broadly here. I’ll leave this aside for now and get back to the plot.
I do not experience much planing on my Roubaix. The frame resists lateral energy from my crank arms. A smooth pedal stroke will yield good results on the bike, but it never really feels alive. The closest it comes is when I rock it back and forth in a steady groove in the saddle and effectively side-load the bb. It kinda-sorta planes a bit then (the bike damps a lot of road shock, but we’ll discuss that more in another installment). In contrast, my early 90s Pinarello 'cross bike does feel alive when I get into the right pedaling rhythm. I discovered this in the spring on a training ride. I could not discern it while riding off road/racing cross. It was a revelation, as the Pinarello is the first high quality steel frame I have ever spent time on. The bike has character. Before really feeling the bike plane, flexing in sync with my pedal strokes, I did not understand the concept on a somatic level; it was just a theoretical entity. I now understand that the bike was flexing in the seat-tube, not the bottom bracket shell. It is constructed out of the smallest diameter steel tubing available. To look at it one might wonder how it could take my abuse, being a large, strong rider. It takes it, and it gives it back too. Despite all this, the frame is not particularly light, and it feels like it would be better if it returned my energy quicker. Perhaps the seat-tube could use a little more butting…I don’t know.
The giving back is key. When the seat-tube flexes it stores energy rather than resisting it. That energy is returned on the next pedal stroke, carrying momentum into the subsequent stroke. This is the sync Jan speaks of. The big question is: how much flex is optimal, and how do we achieve it? From my perspective, this is the most challenging aspect of the design process, choosing the tubing for the rider. I didn’t have much in the way of options for my new bike. I knew going in that because this is my first custom bike, it will not likely be perfect as we have designed it. I see it as a test bed that will inform future Steelwool bikes. It will surely be followed by another instantiation, built by either Will or Thom.
So, to pull this together, I set out to try to improve on my Roubaix with the new Steelwool. I now have the bike, and have done a few loops of the Gatineau Parkway a loop past Wakefield, our Double Cross, a proper cross race, and a few bike path/trail rides on it. Its got about 500k on it. What have I learned?
1) My new bike, the Secteur 18, is definitely heavier than my Roubaix, and that does matter. How much does it matter? Depends on what I’m doing. On a smooth road like the Parkway, there is just no way you can argue that the heavier frame and fork are doing you any good. They are not. This is not a bike suited to Parkway ripping as it sits.
2) Bigger tires are not necessarily slower. I’ve got 30s on the Secteur 18, and they don’t feel much different from my 28s (both Grand Bois). Where the larger tires will hurt a bit is on smooth climbs, where there suspension does not factor much, but their additional weight does.
3) On the flats the new bike does not seem to have lost much, if anything to the Roubaix. In theory, a steel frame will absorb road shock better than an aluminum or stiff carbon bike, which translates into greater efficiency for the rider. This steel frame is being compared against likely one of the smoothest carbon bikes out there. That’s tough competition. So far, the frame actually feels stiffer than the Roubaix in terms of road shock transmission. This begs the question: why run steel?
First, as I mention above, I knew going into this process that I’d not likely actually pull off my goal. That’d be pretty lucky, too lucky. My frame is built with a 28.6mm top and seat-tube, and a 31.8 downtube. Would I be better off on a 25.4 top-tube, like that on my Pinarello? I don’t know...yet. I don’t have confirmation of the tubing profiles used on the bike, so I don’t know how much thinner the tubes can get. Obviously, reducing thickness would reduce weight, and afford more compliance. How much more is desirable? I don’t know. So, again, why bother?
Foremost, I feel more confident about steel’s ability to retain its structural integrity through time. I’ve had numerous frame failures over the years, all on mountain bikes, and I can attest to how bad that can be. One must be able to trust their bike. Yes, I am aware Specialized, and other reputable companies, test their frames very rigorously. I have been told that the Roubaix takes a massive beating before failing on the test machines. I believe it. But at what point do I retire the bike? I don’t have a clue, and I can’t know. When I retire it, what do I do with it? Recycle it? I’d rather not buy carbon bikes every 3 or 4 years, just to wind up in the recycle bin. I want my bikes to enjoy long lives. Steel offers that. Its repairable without fuss. In addition, once one attains the magical quality of a steel frame that sings, that syncs with one’s effort, there is nowhere one needs to go. Sure, select carbon frames might be able to offer the same ride quality. But will they fit like a custom? Will they age like a steel bike does, with grace? I have my doubts.
As I ride the Secteur 18 more, I will provide more insight into its attributes. I have yet to have opportunity to descend on dirt at high speeds (above 60k/hr), and look forward to seeing/feeling how it handles that. My experience on the Double Cross was the first ride I did on the bike that made me love it. It was nimble yet as stable as I could hope for. I loved it. I love it. As soon as I get the right housing and tape on it I’ll post up some more photos and talk a bit about the name.