Friday, September 30, 2011

Parts Bin Win - My New Fixed Gear

Sometimes life's simple pleasures are laying on the side of the road. And when I see a junked steel frame, fork, handlebar, bearings and wheels left for dead that may fit me, it's ALL MINE.

On my way out to the trails earlier this week, I spotted this up the street. You see, living in a hoity-toity neighborhood has its perks, and when the rich'ies throw their "junk" out, sometimes there are unique treasures, like this 19?? Fil's Tour Du Monde. This would be the 3rd "junker" that's been tossed out for hoarders' consumption. I looked at it as a resurrection project.

Now, I've scoured the land of Google and nothing has come up in regards to this bike. I even posted a thread on Bike Forums with really no help. So, my mystery bike will just remain a mystery. Somebody replied on my thread that it may be a special brand made for a department store back in the day - which sounds about right - but aside from that, there isn't really anything to be said about this strange badge. Oh well.

I was really happy to discover the wheels weren't taco'ed because it's very common to find junkers with completely unusable wheels. Not these! With the intent on building this into a fixed gear, I pulled the 5 speed cassette and derailleur, re-spaced the rear hub and re-dished the wheel. I didn't have axle nuts for the front wheel, so I took the quick release axle from a junk wheel and used it for this bike.

After digging through my nuts-and-bolts bucket, I finally found some axle nuts that would work for the rear hub.

I pulled the bearings, re-greased them and got everything nice and locked down. Since the frame didn't have brakes, I had an old Odyssey 1999 side pull BMX brake that bolted right on. The crankset was from my Mercier Nano and I had to spend $80 on tires, tubes, a square taper bottom bracket and a 14T cog. With the 42T chainring up front, the gearing is at a real nice 74.6 gear inches.

I kept the old cotter pin crankset bottom bracket lock ring for the suicide hub conversion. With plenty of red Locktite, the bottom bracket lock ring and a front brake, my suicide hub conversion should be fine for my purposes. Don't think this is much of a contender for the velodrome.

My last fixed gear was my Motobecane Messenger which I had to sell. It was a very nice bike with some great components. I never thought I'd be riding fixed again, but with a find like this - How can't you not ride fixed?! Deep down inside, I am a hipster who sincerely misses fixed gear riding.

Everything else is from the parts bin, including the fenders, grips, pedals, bell, water bottle cage, seat, seat post, brake lever and chain. All those times I contemplated on throwing something away or selling it at a bicycle swap meet, I'm glad I kept it.

How else could you build such a sweet fixie with minimal pocket change?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More on the Mercier Nano Mini-Velo: In defense of the 20" wheeled road bike!

So far, I've found three old blog sites regarding the Mercier Nano Mini-Velo, so I'm going to give you a little more than just the scarce reviews on this little bike. If you're just tuning in, my first ride impressions can be found HERE.

I've ridden it a handful of times (remember I own 8 bikes, and I rotate riding them) and I didn't want to give the Nano the full spin until I came to a good upgrade stopping point. My FSA compact crankset finally came in and it's now complete at a husky 26.3 lbs.

Here is the list of upgrades I have done:

1. Primo Comet 1.5 tires (I already had one from my flatland BMX bike)
2. Drilled rims to fit Schrader tubes (because 20" presta tubes are hard to find, plus I can add Stans sealant in Schrader tubes)
3. 11-32 cassette
4. Shimano 2X8 brake shifters
5. Origin 8 Velo Seat
6. Cork look bar tape (it's actually gel tape)
7. FSA Compact Crankset
8. Eggbeater pedals (parts bin)

Today's ride was my normal roadie loop, and, after having to stop a half dozen times to get the shifting straightened out, I really dug the new gearing. It "wakes up" the speed and climbing efficiency of the little bike, and add the 100psi tires... it easily can hang with 700c wheeled bikes at a layman's pace.

Of course, the looks on the faces of the hardcore roadies are priceless when almost all of them took double-takes and the riders I passed must've really thought "WTF?" when they saw me go by.

In the last four rides, I've layed down 85.2 miles and 3800ft. of elevation gain (climbing). The fastest I've gone on this bike was from today's ride of 48.3MPH - so if you're wondering if this bike is still a contender for serious road rides... it is. The small wheels make very little difference with the minute decrease in rolling momentum on flat ground (when compared to a 700c road bike).

People will criticize the small wheels for not being able to absorb bumps on the road. This is easily fixed with a high volume, wide tire. I believe, if you're going down to 20 X 1.25 (and skinnier) with high pressures, you are bound to feel the road a little more, and yes, you may lose some of the road bump shock advantage a 700c wheel may have. The Primo Comets 1.50 seem to ride in the sweet spot of low rolling resistance and shock absorption.

Having 53/39 X 11-32 gearing gives this bike a much wider range of usable gears that the stock 52/42 X 12-25 has. In the low end of things, the 53T X 11T gearing scoots you along very well on the flats and descends (spin out is about 40MPH), and on the upper end of things, the 39T combined with the chain dancing between the four biggest cogs in back will have you spinning at a faster rate up hills without crushing your knees. Swapping out the gearing transformed this bike from a recreational city commuter to a long haul, touring friendly hill climber.

I'm not a fan of letting my hands leave the handlebar to shift, so new shifters were at the top of my list when thinking of upgrades. The head tube shifters are fine for daily strolls and commuting, but I was looking to "unlock" the full potential of this bike. At first I considered bar end shifters, but after finding Shimano ST2200's on eBay for $95 (shipped), the extra $20 was worth it.

Lesson learned when installing new shifters: don't rely only on bench testing them before going out for a fast paced ride. Like I said previously, I had to stop nearly a half dozen times to adjust both derailleurs before the chain would sit in a cog and the front derailleur would push the chain to the small ring. After that, it was nice having those quick, positive shifts. The front derailleur has a fine tune micro-shift option that allows a rider to ride the whole cassette while in the small ring.

The stock seat, was very, very uncomfortable. As I said previously, it seems right for an upright, flat bar bike, but when leaned a little more forward, this wide, jelly seat was just the pits. I purchased a thinner "velo" seat from Origin 8 and it did the trick beautifully; I did not get saddle sore at all. Seats are an individual matter, so the stock seat may work for you - it clearly did not for me. However, the stock Nano seat found it's way to my fixed gear bum bike, which is in the works (stay tuned for that build).

Finally, I want to make the suggestion to all those interested in this bike: drill out the rims to fit Schrader tubes! I have a close and personal relationship with 20" tubes (BMX state of mind, forever!) and it is very, very difficult to find 20" Presta valve tubes. Conversely, 20" Schrader valve tubes are widely available - even drug and hardware stores carry them. Most importantly, flat protection is a snap by simply removing the valve core and squirting in tire sealant of your choice. I prefer Stan's sealant over Slime since it's a little lighter and comes in 2oz bottles that squirt right into the tube. I picked up three goat heads (two in front, one in back) on my ride today and none of them flattened my tires.

My biggest criticism is the weight of this bike. 26.3 lbs after upgrades seems a bit portly to me, and I feel the culprit are the wheels, heavy parts and frame material. It would be nice to bring this down to a reasonable steel bike weight of 22-24 lbs. but then you are looking at replacing every part of this bike... which makes a $300 into an expensive endeavor. I'm keeping it AS IS and will just deal. All that aside, you really don't feel the weight when riding it, and the steel frame is very comfortable. Maybe I'm just being nit picky.

Interested in a Mini-Velo? Get one! They are fun, they hang right along with the bigger bikes and they are a blast to ride. You forget you are on tiny wheels and people freak out when you pass them. Be ready to upgrade if you want to fully unlock the potential of this bike... but if you don't, it does wonderfully in stock form.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sept 10th Santa Teresa County Park Ride

I guess, in my excitement of getting my new Mercier Nano, I totally forgot my ride report of this weekend's festivities. Local boys, Leopold Porkstacker (Brett), Big Larry (Larry), and I decided to host yet another ride. We had nearly a dozen riders show up and had a great time. Due to my time constraints (Almaden Day, an annual local festival, was happening), I took the cyclocross bike in the event I needed to jet out of there. Some of the highlights (and one crash) are as follows:

1. Brett is the King of the Flats. Not as in "flat ground" but as in "flat tires". On his way to the trails, he rode alongside the creek and picked up, what had to be, 50 goat heads in his tires. I helped him pull everything out, and he made it to the trailhead before realizing it was time to replace the tube.

Brett is a very funny guy and extremely entertaining. He had about a dozen foreign accents he recited while swapping his tube and had us all giggling while we waited. Never a dull moment with that guy - not to forget that he's pretty damn fast on a mountain bike.

2. I initially went with the chill-pace group and one of the riders, Russ, had a spill. His handlebar went right into his rib cage, and after a pause of catching his breath continued on like a champ.

3. When I heard the faster group was attacking the Joice Trail climb (it's ridiculously steep and loose) I thought it would've been a great opportunity to get some pics. It was then I decided to roll with the faster guys and start heading back home.

My B.icycle app showed we did about 1200 ft. of climbing over 17 miles. Not bad for a group ride that spanned the entire park. No rattlesnakes this time!

Here are some pics from the ride:

The next day (Sunday), I decided to ride the cyclocross bike out to Almaden Quicksilver, loop the climb, and come back home. I actually had to work on Sunday, so I left a little early in the day. Riding in the cooler weather made quite a difference: it has been a consistent 80-90 degree weather here in Almaden Valley for awhile and I've been desperately waiting for things to cool down.

I guess the cool weather helped my riding because, not only did I do Almaden Quicksilver, but I also rode out to Santa Teresa County Park and added in the short loop. Ride time was 1:54 with 1930 of elevation gain, covering 22 miles (I swear it feels like more).

With over 3000ft. of climbing and 40 miles of dirt - this boy can't complain!

Here are some pics from the top:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole - First ride with the Mercier Nano Mini-Velo

Recently, I sold one of my .22lr rifles and some bike parts and had enough to buy a budget "play" bike - something that I can use for cruising at speed or recovery rides. At first I was really looking into purchasing a fixie again (and I use the term "fixie" not "fixed gear" for a reason), but when browsing the website, I stumbled upon the Mercier Nano Mini-Velo.

Some time ago, I remember BikesDirect posting a thread about offering "Mini-Velo's", and at the time, my closed mind concluded that the small wheel was just too inefficient to make any sense of having one. They also looked funny to me. As you know (if you actually read this blog), I am no stranger to the 20" wheel. I grew up BMX'ing and rode flatland up until a year ago before my knees started to hurt from it. Sad, because I love BMX with all my heart. But, having ridden the 20" wheel for so long, I knew that it provides a very slow, inefficient way of getting around.

As much as I decided the mini-velo was a lame idea, the Mercier Nano simply could not be ignored. As much as I shopped BikesDirect's site for a new fixie, I kept returning back to the Nano page. I was being reeled in.

I decided to do a little research before going any further. Bike Forums has a great ongoing thread about these bikes and what I read intrigued me even more. I found that the 20" wheels, when geared properly, can actually scoot along pretty well - almost as well as a 700c wheel. Furthermore, I learned that the mini-velo, although small enough to fit in the back of a car, is still plenty of bike to tackle big road rides.

With $299.99 burning in my PayPal account, I took the plunge.

After doing the BikesDirect Shuffle (adjusting of everything) I took it out front and rode up and down my street. It was then I realized everything claimed on the Bike Forums thread was true. It moved around pretty nicely, and immediately you forget you are on small, 20" wheels. I brought it back in, made further adjustments to the front and rear derailleurs, and placed it in my dining room "staging area" for today's lunch ride.

I set out for today's ride with my normal roadie loop in mind: approximately 20 miles with +/- 1000ft. of climbing. After I got used to the initial weirdness, I found myself rolling along quite nicely. However, it felt slow - but the end result numbers from my B.icycle app tells a different story.

The cockpit feels very natural, and the 40cm road drops are just fine, even for me, (I normally ride a 46cm drop bar). The bike feels a little flexy on mashes due to the quill stem and 25.4 handlebars, but also very stable. Riding no-handed is no problem and the small wheels do not twitch at all.

There are some improvements that need to be made, however, and I have already turned this $300 into a $500 bike (which kinda defeats the "budget bike" thing, although $500 is not bad). First, the rims are drilled for presta valves only, so I drilled them out to fit Schrader valve tubes which are widely available at a variety of stores. Conversely, 20" presta tubes are hard to come by unless you are near a bike shop. 20" Schrader tubes can be found at big box stores, hardware stores, and even drug stores.

Second, the gearing looks big, but it is actually appropriate for the small 20" wheel. The crankset is a 52/42, and cassette is a 12-25. In the 52T chainring and the 12T cog, you still spin quite a bit on the flats and descends. I ordered a new cassette (11-32) and a new chain to compensate for the bigger cog. Today, I made the climb just fine on the stock 25T cog, but there may come a time when I'll need to climb a wall and that 32T may come in handy. I did not like the gear spacing between the cogs at all. Two of my bikes are 8 speed and they don't feel as rangy as this cassette.

Third, the seat is a bit uncomfortable when in the "road riding" position; I feel it would be better suited for a more upright seated bike (like my beach cruiser). So, I ordered a new, narrower road seat (brown Origin 8) with brown bar tape to match.

Forth, the tires are slow. they are cushy (65psi max, even though I have 80psi in them). Good for mild riding, but they have a lot of rolling resistance. I have not ordered replacement tires yet, but I have a feeling these will be next on the list after pay day.

And lastly, the down tube shifters are annoying. I'm happy that the rear is indexed, but the front shifter is friction and it's not fun to remove your hands from the handlebar to shift. I wouldn't mind this if my bike was truly for leisure rides, but if you want to move along quickly, having shifters on the handlebar is more appropriate. I found Shimano ST-2200 brake shifters on eBay for $95. I would've went with bar ends shifters, but the ST-2200's were only $20 more.

In the end, this is how my ride stats ended up. The ride time did not show up, but I did my roadie loop on the Nano in 1:23:14.

Not bad for a weird, little bike! Here's how the same route looks on on my Surly Pacer. I don't know how I gained 300 additional feet on climbing with the Nano - it must be the small wheels. As you can see, the numbers are almost identical.

This bike surprised the living hell out of me - it's almost like the little kid that gets picked on, yet knows Martial Arts and kicks every one's ass. People will laugh at it, look at it strangely and even ask if it's something that you made in your garage. My brother, in fact, asked me if I was going to put "freestyle BMX pegs" on it (as a joke, of course... or was it?) Don't let this strange, niche, "popular in Asia" bike fool you. It is plenty capable of a regular road ride, and when geared correctly, will surprise the kitted club guys when you're hanging in there with them

If you're looking at buying one of these, understand that the parts are for a... well... $299.99 bike and you may want to upgrade. For a small bike it is heavy, but the steel frame can insure many, many years of enjoyment. Even if you don't upgrade (I rode mine in stock form today), it is plenty fine to move you around town.

Like all my bikes, I will follow up with a three month review in the future. Here are some pics from today:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ooh! I forgot my San Jose Bike Party Ride Report! the title says...

This is the cruiser. I changed up some things on the Utility Bike and made it just for cruising. I am, however, going to convert it to a single speed for simplicity.

What can I say about SJ Bike Party that I haven't said before? I guess we (and I say "we" as in my wife and I) may be getting too old for it or just bored. Probably more bored than anything. I guess if you have the right people to go with or if you're young enough to appreciate being out that late with other young people, it would be great.

I remember being in that "no-man's land" age right after high school and before legal drinking age when my buddies and I, filled with testosterone, would run around town looking for stuff to do. Bike Party is GREAT for people like that. I guess riding for 4-5 hours at 10MPH is not my cup of tea. My wife tells it like this "The idea of going to Bike Party is grander than actually going to Bike Party". Like I said, I think it's great for others and thousands of folks enjoy it - but I think I'm going to hold off for awhile.

I really do appreciate all the hard work that goes into SJ Bike Party and some of the creations some people bring are pretty cool. Some dude brought out this one-wheeled bike that reminded me of the one-wheeled thing on South Park.

Here are some other pics that I snapped during the 27 mile ride.

Road Riding is Hard...

Geesh, I sure did get an ass-whoopin' yesterday...

One of my clients rescheduled, leaving my entire afternoon empty. I'm not one of those who jumps for joy in celebration when that happens because not seeing a client translates to not making money. As much as I love riding, I always get nervous when my afternoons and evenings don't have a work related activity.

However, with the "extra" time, I decided that it was time to tackle Hicks Rd. to Mt. Umunhum on the Surly Pacer. I haven't done any hardcore climbs with my new compact crankset yet, so I guess if I was going to do it - might as well go big. Also, I've lightened it up a bit with some new tires and a carbon fork, so the steel beast is coming in at a healthy 22 lbs., even.

For all those unfamiliar, Hicks Rd. to Mt. Umunhum is "4.1 miles. 2,199 ft elevation gain. 10.2% average grade. 17% max grade." has a great write up about this climb that I won't bother to reiterate - but let's just say that it's a killer.

Yesterday I realized something: I've been riding my mountain trails and fast road rides with interval style mashes, fast transitions, etc. But in doing so, my road riding has suffered in a big way. I truly thought I was going to be stronger than I was on this climb, but I got incredibly smoked... the only thing that forced me to continue to go up was my mindset - otherwise there were many opportunities to just turn around.

I eventually did make it up to the top of Hicks Rd. and I know that my average speed going up those steep areas HAD to be in a 4-5MPH range, which sucks. I was sweating like a turkey on Thanksgiving, and water was starting to run low. BUT! my mindset was to get all the way up to the first gate of Mt. Umunhum, and thus I did.

I guess the Cliff Bar helped because I felt stronger on the second half of the climb. I was getting frustrated that the top wasn't coming as fast as I wished, but it finally happened.

This climb was a big wake-up call - I realized that my riding habits have really formed me into a one-trick pony and I need to do more of this style of riding. Aside from my poor road riding fitness, my Surly Pacer rocked. This bike has been molded/changed/repurposed at least a half dozen times since I've owned it, and no matter what parts I've put on it, it has always been a great bike.

Here's how I ended up:

If any Bay Area, Ca. road riders have not yet done this climb, DO IT. I've seen some riders blaze up this mountain, and others simply turn around. It's a great mind-over-matter game and a test of will.