I Did Not Build Myself a Bike - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

August 25, 2014

I Did Not Build Myself a Bike

But I wanted to.

As Kristen's bike took shape, my 2008 Novara Randonee sat next to it below the adjacent kitchen window. With each passing week, hers began to look all the more elegant and refined and capable of going anywhere, which made mine seem unexciting and exceedingly brown in comparison. Several times I thought about tearing down my bike, powder coating the frame, and rebuilding it with the same level of care and attention to detail. I also considered constructing the kind of custom touring bicycle I've wanted for years, with hand-built wheels, an internally geared Rohloff hub, and high-end components throughout. But the first option would have meant at least a thousand dollars. The second could have gone as high as four. And in the end, I'd spend an extreme amount of time and money putting together a bicycle that would alter the experience of this trip in only a small way. Higher quality parts can help prevent breakdowns, and fancy hubs take less to maintain and are super-awesome, but hills are hills, headwind is headwind, and shit roads are shit roads no matter what you ride. Beyond a basic level of reliability, it's good wheels, a comfortable seat, and a properly sized frame that matter most. I have everything I need already.

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Well, most everything.

The Randonee came with a Shimano Deore 48/36/26 crankset, which is what I've used to slog and curse my way over every mountain, hill, and small rise in the last 17,000-plus miles. It wasn't until some time last year that a helpful soul reminded me that I could swap out the 26-tooth small ring for an even smaller 22-tooth ring, which would help make the steep climbs easier and less likely to cause mental breakdowns, brain aneurysms, and general roadside hysterics. For Kristen's sake as much as my own, I've made that change.

I've also made a tire switch. Gone are the Vittoria Randonneurs that I've used since I bought the bike back in the summer of 2008. They provided great puncture protection, but at the cost of increased drag and the sort of tight fit that led to blisters, even more roadside hysterics, and a questioning of the direction of my life every time I had to remount them after a flat tire. In their place I'm using 700x32 Bontrager T2 Road tires that — in what seems like a big step away from what most people now choose — aren't expensive, don't have legions of loyal fans from all corners of the world, and don't claim that they'll take you 85,000 miles without a single flat. They're just tires. I bought them at a local bike shop for like 30 bucks, mounted them with no anguish at all, and have enjoyed about 500 miles of easier, more responsive, flat-free riding all around Portland and in the suburbs and countryside to the west and the south. My luck may not hold out when I hit the road fully loaded, but with the simple mounting and a 30 percent weight savings I'll take my chances.

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All of the other changes were cosmetic. The silver components on Kristen's bike look so much more attractive than the matte black, workmanlike bits on mine, and with each passing day I grew more and more jealous. It didn't take long before I caved and picked up a polished silver one-piece stem and silver spacers to replace the adjustable stem and black spacers I'd always used. After that I added a Velo Orange Grand Cru seatpost and a Salsa Lip-Lock seatpost collar, both also in polished silver. I threw on some silver bottle cages, because why the hell not? I don't need any of this stuff, but it's the kind of upgrading that starts to make sense when you have time and money and envy but can't leave on your world tour for another four weeks.

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The rest of the setup goes something like this: 36-hole Mavic A319 rims with a Shimano Tiagra front hub and a Shimano Deore rear hub; Shimano Deore Octalink bottom bracket; Shimano M324 SPD pedals with clip-ins on one side and platforms on the other; Shimano Tiagra front derailleur and Shimano LX rear derailleur; Shimano Tiagra brake levers/shifters; SRAM PG970 9-speed 11-34 cassette; SRAM PC951 chain; Shimano R550 cantilever brakes front and back; Cane Creek headset; Ritchey BioMax handlebar; Brooks B-17 saddle; factory-installed no-name rack on the back; Tubus Tara Lowrider rack up front; Planet Bike Cascadia fenders; Cateye Enduro 8 cycling computer; Nite Rider Lumina 500 headlight; and a Planet Bike Superflash tail light. I kind of know what this stuff means now.

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My bicycle and Kristen's bicycle represent two unique takes on what a touring bike can be. I'm setting out with what's more of a road bike, with a taller frame, narrower tires, integrated brakes and shifters, and drop handlebars. Kristen's is very much a mountain bike: 26-inch tires, a sloping top tube, trekking handlebars set at a more upright riding position. I looking forward to finding out how each of them performs as we travel farther abroad, pedal through all kinds of terrain and weather, and deal with all those hills, all of that headwind, and all of those shit roads.

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