Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Rust-Free Belt

Last week, I wrote about belt-driven singlespeeds, having seen Lynskey's new commuter at Gran Fondo (a.k.a., the Greatest Bike Shop in the World). Nortonville Phil then pointed out that I would have to do some cutting on my Salsa Casseroll to retrofit it with a belt drive, and that got me thinking.

And thinking is hard for RandoBoy, although inserting links is (obviously) too easy.

But since it's been so cold around here lately, I have cut down to less than 200 miles per week, and I have a lot of free time. Which means I either ponder things bicycle in nature, or I clean my various bicycles with chemicals that are destroying our beloved Mother Earth, or I take a bicycle completely apart and then have to figure out how to get the spring back in an Ultegra caliper brake, or I take spin classes and sweat all over the YMCA floor. Pondering is the lesser of these evils.

Besides, the allure of that belt drive is more than I can bear. I've been looking forward to Paris-Brest-Paris 2011, thinking it would be wonderful to ride that on my single-speed, and a belt drive would make it even more worry free. No need to lubricate, no grease on the leg, and a quiet drivetrain as I ghost through the French hinterlands ... c'est magnifique!

And then the voices in my head begin naysaying. "What if it breaks? With a normal chain, you can fix it and be back on your way before you say 'Jacque Robinson.' Wouldn't it be easier to just carry a small bottle of chain lube and some GoJo? Go get a Snickers bar from the snack machine ..."

I hate those voices. Particularly the fat one.

So, being the problem-solving Martian that I am, I have been trying to figure out how to retrofit my Casseroll with a belt drive in such a way that would quiet the voices. I like Phil's suggestion regarding cutting the seat stay and installing an S&S coupler, but I don't think they make an S&S coupler that would work for this. Most S&S couplers are pretty beefy, as you typically install them on the top tube and down tube. Since most research has shown that the couplers are at least as strong as the rest of the tube, if there is one that would fit, that would be great.

But it would also be expensive, and I hate to spend money. So, I am challenging the bicycle belt-drive manufacturers of the world (for I know that they are legion): Find a better way. There's got to be some kind of two-part expoxy stuff that you could use to just slap on a fresh belt -- something so easy that even a very sleep-deprived RandoBoy could do it in the French hinterlands at 3:38 am in the rain.

Hear me, oh bicycle belt-drive manufacturers ... and yes I am talking to all of you. Until you find a way to easily install your wares, that lucrative single-speed and fixed gear randonneuring market will continue to elude you, costing you tens of dollars of profit per anum. Can you really afford that in today's market?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sometimes Global Warming Doesn't Sound So Bad ...

It was pretty chilly here in Tennessee this past weekend. Saturday was cold and rainy and windy, and basically too nasty for anybody to ride, so I did a couple of spin classes. Then, I went over to Gran Fondo (a.k.a., The Greatest Bike Shop in the World) and met Mark Lynskey.

Mark is the man who built the new Randoboy, a phenomenal bicycle if ever there was one. Mark was very pleased to pose for the above picture with Randoboy, even with all of the bags and stuff stuck on him (Randoboy - not Mark ... I don't know Mark well enough to hang bags on him). Saturday was Lynskey Day at Gran Fondo, and Mark was there to talk bikes and show off some of Lynskey's wares.

And what cool wares there was. Lynskey puts the "yum" in Titanium, and the collection that he brought was both lovely and fraught with the portent of speed. I was particularly impressed with the Crosstown, a very cool commuter that had a belt-driven singlespeed drivetrain and a righteous retro rack on the back. After Mark explained the pluses to a belt drive - no stretch, longer lasting than chains, and no oiling (which means no cat-two tattoo on your best khakis if you go toodling around town) - I decided that there was an upgrade in the future for my Salsa Casseroll.

The other frames were so freaking beautiful it hurt. Not just the paint jobs, which were incredible, but the attention to detail. Mark was telling us about this super-waterjet that they use to cut the cloverleaf artwork into the dropouts. And, of course, if you've ever seen Vida's new Lynskey, you know how gorgeous titanium can be.

Mark's philosphy of bicycle-building was really refreshing. Primarily, he's not in it to build the most bikes, but to build the bike that best fits the rider. They only do titanium, so these are never going to be the cheapest bikes around. And, best of all, Mark and the other folks at Lynskey are obviously geeks, very into wall thickness and tortion and tapers at the joints and all that other stuff that frame builders know about. I'm sure it equates to a more stable, comfortable ride, but as a rider I just know that it feels good and doesn't break, and that's the important thing to me.

Mark said that frame building is not rocket-science; it's harder. He said that's because what they often do with titanium a scientist would tell them was not possible, "but we're just country boys from Tennessee, so we didn't know any better."

Spanntown Road

I've been riding Spanntown Road a lot in the past month or so. It runs between Nolensville Road and Almaville Road, going the same direction as Hwy 840, so there is no reason for a car to use it as any kind of shortcut. If you're on the road, you probably live on the road, and not many people live on that road. This is one of the things that makes it a Good Biking Road.

What takes it to the next level is that it is pretty.

This is from the weekend before last, so this past weekend's cold and rain and wind may have trashed these leaves. But, as you can tell, Spanntown Road has its moments.

Finally, Spanntown Road has some really nice ups and downs, which makes it a good training road. This almost takes it to the level of a Great Biking Road. What keeps it just off that podium, however, is the fact that it ends at Nolensville Road, which has a lot of traffic. So, once you get to the top (or, getting to Spanntown Road, if you're going to take it towards Almaville Road, which is frankly more fun because you can really bomb the descents), you're stuck on Nolensville Road for about a mile of crud.

Which puts me a little on the soapbox about cars and bikes trying to get along on busy roads, or the need for at least a decent shoulder on those roads (since it's obviously too much to ask for a bike lane). Sunday, a Hickman County deputy car passed within inches of us, obviously breaking the Tennessee three-foot law. He should have pulled himself over.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Have a Cigar ...

My new baby came in today. Actually, it kind of came in Saturday, but I was off in Lexington, TN, riding the Shiloh permanent (more on that later this week), so Lynn and Vida Greer took it home with them that night and I picked it up today.

In case you're curious, my new baby is the new Randoboy, a custom titanium beauty from Lynskey. It's my anniversary present from the Randowife, who is the Official Best Wife in the World.

Here's me with it. You know that I'm thinking, "Can I keep it?"

I was pretty tired from yesterday's ride, so I only took it for a short 25-mile shakeout, but it felt great. No, it was better than that, it felt great! I rode it down Old Natchez, which has a terrible surface, and it soaked up everything. Going up onto the Trace from Hwy 96, it climbed like a dream. Coming down the Trace towards Hwy 100 it descended as if it was on rails.

And it looks as good as it rides! Lynn, who owns Gran Fondo (the Official Best Bike Shop in the World) in Nashville, deserves all of the credit. First off, he knows how I ride and what I like and what my weaknesses are, so he built this bike to work with all of that. Then, he put a perfect mix of components on it, with pewter Deda stem and Chris King headset and Deda handlebars. It's all pewter colored or forest green, as on the bar tape.

Check out the Lynskey signature. Right below that, check out the green cap on the brake cable. That is the Gran Fondo attention to detail.

It's got a straight AlphaQ CS-10 fork that looks and feels totally bitching, and everything else Shimano Ultegra (because the extra for DuraAce is really just not worth it) to go with the triple crank that will get me up any hill. Maybe even Brasstown Bald.

It's got mounts for three water cages, a frame pump, and a rear rack. This will not only get me through almost any brevet or long tour, but the lightness of the bike will get me through it so much faster than before.

Lynn started the ride with me, then called me later to make sure it felt good. And he kept pointing out little things and telling me that I could take the spacers off the headset and lower the handlebars and race the bike, if I wanted to. It was so cool because you could tell that he loves this stuff. He was telling me to bring it in later in the week to put on the trainer and tweak the fit, and I reminded him that I should also bring a check in so I could pay for the thing.

This is the mark of a great bike shop. They do great bikes, tailoring them to fit the people that will be on them, because they love bicycles. Business is secondary.

I showed it to the Randodaughter (the Official Best Daughter in the World) when I got home. She thought it was pretty, but agreed that the coolest thing was the top tube:

'Nuff said!

P.S.: If you want to see more pictures of the bike (yeah, I was like that when the Randodaughter was born, too), go to Snapfish


Jeff Bauer, Alan Gosart, Peter Lee, Jeff Sammons, and I rode the Shiloh Military Park 200K Permanent Saturday. This is a great route, put together by randonneur John Shelso from Memphis. We really enjoyed the great roads and some exceptional weather for the first weekend of November. I'll let the pictures do the talking ...

Here we are at the start, in Lexington. It was still a little chilly, but I'd been starting rides with tights and two jerseys lately and decided to go a little more minimal. I was cold for the first hour or so, but once it warmed up I had less crap to tote. That was good.

Here's a picture looking back as we crossed the Tennessee River. We were sprinting every county line, and I took off a few miles before this because I thought there would be a county line on the river. Of course, there was no sign, and I figured I was wrong. When I got to the other side ... after stopping to take this picture ... there was the sign. No county line for me.

Here a some Emus in a field. They ran alongside us for a while, then stopped when I did to take their picture.

Here we are shucking clothes at the second control, Clifton. It was a really neat town on the Tennessee River, and I should've gotten better pictures. Go there yourself to see more.

On the way out of Clifton, I got a flat tire. This is probably the big downside of this route: You're on the shoulder of some busy roads.

By the time we got to Shiloh it had finally warmed up a bit. Here's Alan, Jeff S., and Jeff B. in front of one of the many monuments there. If you ever go here, you could get cross-eyed reading even half of these monuments. There are also all of these piles of cannonballs with family names on them. If we hadn't been trying to get back before sunset, it might have been fun to find out what that was all about.

The roads on the way back were great: low traffic and good surfaces. Here's a shot of us clipping along, with some of the excellent fall foliage.

A little after this we stopped for lunch at Sonic. These drive-ins are great in that they have no indoors, so we don't have to go inside and stink the place up. Usually they also have tables outside, but the one in Saltillo did not. We sat on the ground and were quite comfortable.

We were sprinting every county line and city limit, and really took the pace up as we got closer to Lexington. Here we are just a few miles out.

All in all, a very nice route. The last 50 miles were the best. I'm not sure how many more days we will have like this for riding before the cold settles in, but this one was nearly perfect.