Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review - Initial Impressions - Chrome Industries Front Rack Duffle

The folks at Chrome sent me this front rack bag to review. I've got one commute in the bag, as it were, and I have some initial impressions to share.

They call it the Front Rack Duffle; I'd call it a porteur bag. Or a front-rack bag. But, their name is better, because the duffle-ness of it is what makes it pretty righteous to me. More on that in a bit...

The first impression is that it's super light for how much bag you get. It's welded super waterproof fabric. I'm looking forward to seeing how that holds up. I'm guessing the welded thing does well, since that's what Ortlieb does and their bags last for multiple lifetimes.

I can totally vouch for the waterproofness of the fabric. Aside from the snowy rainy icy gunk that was falling out of the sky today, I also tested the bag by pouring a cup of hot coffee over it. I had inadvertently opened the lid on my coffee cup, which I had tipped over... as I walked through the cafeteria at school, thereby leaving a meandering trail of coffee dribblings about 30 feet long through the cafe. I wish I would've been bold enough to take a picture it, because the spill was impressive in its coverage and scope, but I was already feeling like a heel. And taking a selfie with the mess seems like it might have made my profuse apologies a bit less genuine.

Anyway: the bag didn't let any coffee in! I wish I could say the same for my jeans.

So the bag appears waterproof, and it's silly light. That's where we're at.

The other first impression is that I love how friggin huge it is. Like all bags I prefer, it's just a giant hole - no  pockets or organizing weird features. It's all about the dump and roll. And this bag, unlike the deeper and taller Ortlieb packs and panniers (which I love, and to which all bike-related waterproof bags ought to be compared), the duffle-shape of the Chrome makes access to all the crap in the bag much easier than the dark deep hole that is Ortlieb.

As I sat in my office today, I was very happy to have a giant target for books, lunch leftovers, and folders that I pitched into the bag. And when I got home to retrieve it all, it was a good thing to have it all contained, yet laid out in front of me. I am not the most organized person, and I'm finding the shape of this bag really enables my disorganization in a satisfying way.  It also made me realize that I spend a lot of time digging around blindly at the bottom of the ortliebs. Indeed, I think the shape of this bag is what will make it stick.

Stuff I'm not sure about on my initial impression includes 1) the lack of shoulder straps or other useful off-bike portability features and 2) the way the bag connects to the rack is generally not awesome, though I may need to get used to it.

According to the copy on the web page for the Chrome Duffle, the bag was designed "to function primarily as an off-body bag that mounts on flat Porteur-style racks." So the fact that it doesn't have useful off-bike features like a shoulder strap is supported by the design goals... but I think those are questionable goals if this is also to be used for commuting, which is also noted as a supported scenario. A couple days a week I have a multimodal commute: bike -->bike locker --> bus. So this bag is coming off the bike and living on my body for the rest of the day. It would be lovely to have a shoulder strap option, and I may fashion one up.

As for the rack connection deal -- I think I need to use it more before I carry on about that too much. But carry on a mite, I will: it seems fussy, slippy, and not fast enough. Fussy: you must mind all the dangly straps so they don't go into your front wheel (and so they are contained when off the bike). And by slippy, I mean, given the location of where the buckles live relative to the edge of my rack, the webbing slips out of the buckles, which is troublesome for obvious reasons. The fast part: the on/off scenario is still new to me and is too slow. I will give it a few weeks to see if a routine solution emerges with the default hardware. Otherwise, I'll be implementing the Rory Bag Hack, the finest front-rack on/off commute hardware solution of all time ever.

This will be a great camping bag. Mainly cause it's huge and light. I'll check back in and report in a month or two on durability and and hardware updates I make.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Landscaping on the FLT ALT trail

The only thing about the FLT commute home from Cheney that makes it not suck is the alternate trail at about the Mile 6 post. And really: that trail is not the rad: it's got a lot of sections of deep sand, and a bunch of tiny super steep climbs (with deep sand) that could be challenging if a guy was into that. There are exactly two fun descent sections that make the alternate FLT trail worth doing. And really, even if those weren't there -- just having an alternative to the flat paved soul-sucker that is the FLT would be welcome. So, even though I'm bitching up a storm here, I am thankful for the alt version of the FLT.

But understanding my conflicted relationship with the alt version of the FLT helps frame up even MORE bitching I"m about to go into. Happy Friday by the way.

Normally, trees felled across the trail would register as a minor annoyance. And by "felled" I am being explicit. These trees didn't blow over in the woods with no one hearing them.

Railroad people did it.

Big ass slash piles lined a section of the trail. Really: in terms of navigating, no big whoop.

But the way these guys operate is just so ridiculously focused only on efficiency that it illustrates how a bureaucracy can be optimized to just throw ethics out the window. It's easy to see how just decimating trees and the surrounding landscape by shoving them over with heavy machinery and indiscriminately pushing them aside pencils out when compared to the alternatives that would require a bit more care  for humans, animals, the environment.... you know: the rest of us that aren't concerned with the railroad bottom line.

These are the same guys that refuse to put a cover on the coal trains. Apparently, that doesn't pencil out either. Even though, a guy would think that there would be a way to balance out the books on the effect of thousands of people watching the coal trains go by -- piled with dirty ass coal flopping out and dusting up  --- like: wouldn't it make sense, if not for the right reasons, but for public perception to hide the coal under a covering? The privileged arrogance that informs this kind of thinking just amazes me.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Glen built an XO-1

A couple months ago, I noticed this frame sitting in Glen's shop. I mentioned it on the Elephant blog here. It's beautifully done -- fillet brazed with a standard diameter top tube, True Temper front triangle. Glen built it because a customer of his gave him a Ritchey Logic fork from the 90's and he wanted a bike for those famous forks.

Most of Glen's bikes are TIG'd. Sometimes he'll fillet braze a bottom bracket. The whole front triangle on this one is fillet-brazed. And it's pretty exceptional. It's a skill/art that takes time even when you know what you are doing.

Anyway I didn't think about the bike again until I went to his shop the other night and saw the bike back from the powder coater. The color is really mellow blue in a cool matte finish. I think the low-key, matte color makes the contours around the welds look even more remarkable.

So, this morning, I go to his shop and he's got it all built up and rad looking with drop bars. I'm already a sucker for 26" wheels, but the drop bars make it awesomer yet. He says he's not sure what to do with it. He says something like, "it's basically a road a bike with 26" wheels," and how that's not very interesting to people.

So there's that. If I were still a highroller, I would've bought it on the spot. This is my perfect bike. This whole "road bike with 26" wheels" thing is what got me obsessed about cycling as an adult -- about 10 years ago...

I pin him down on the geometry, which he has in BikeCad.

Sure enough, Glen has pretty much built a 1993 Bridgestone XO-1, but awesomer in exactly the right spots, with a shorter rear-triangle and a lower bottom bracket.

Dig it:

93 X0-1
ST/HT angle
ST length
TT length
Stand over

And he's put super components on it: White hubs, Sun rims. Specialized cranks --pretty sure these were the cold forged ones made by Sugino back in the day. LX canti brakes -- the super sweet mid-profile ones.

He'll probably ride it around the block or on a ride or two, but if you are interested or if you know anyone that loves this style of bike: it's for sale. Contact me if you are interested. (SOLD).

Friday, February 14, 2014

Kogs is ready to roll

See yesterday's post for context. Volsen's Kogswell frame came on a good day. Glen was free last night. And I had time to go over to Elephant HQ. And I happen to have a six-pack of beer in the fridge and ready to roll. Glen transferred the components on my MB2 and to the new frame in record time. I fussed and did tire stuff and some light and rack fussery. But really, my main value is in helping fill Glen's mind with my endless chatter. He needs that.

Here it is. I ended up putting a normal post on it and tweaking the bar height a bit. It's super comfy, though I might bring the bars down a hair more to optimize for trail chicanery.

I think I'll keep this a while. Of course, I always think that during the honeymoon phase, but this is a hard bike to argue with: good angles, nice rackage, integrated lights/fenders, good fit. And really, the wheel size (559) just seals the deal for me. This really puts the nail in the coffin for the RB-1

There's a lot going on there. Click for big. 

Speaking of angles. On paper, I'm pretty sure this frame was supposed to have head and seat angles of 73/73. Glen measured last night at 72/74, which wasn't surprising to me at all. There's gobs of virtual ink online about how far off the mark these bikes were from the published specs.  But whatev's. I dig it.

 Glen has been tooling up the Elephant shop something fierce over the last few months. That convoluted picture shows a bit of his new Anvil jig. But I like the stand he made for it. Solid.

And this. That little box bolted to the side of the welder is a pulser. Glen is super psyched about it. As far as I can gather: it basically allows Glen to optimize the amperage for the type of weld and steel properties he's working with -- basically, the pulser makes welding quicker, cleaner, and more precise.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Fixing to commute again

There was a one-year period where I really embraced the whole fixed gear thing. That was about 8 years ago. In fact, one my first posts on this blog was about the HD trails and riding it on my Quickbeam. Like a lot of folks, I discovered the idea of fixed gear through Sheldon Brown. But the guy that really inspired me was Kent Peterson. He would post epic ride reports on the mile43 website that he did on his fixed gear bike. And I'm using that beat-to-hell term, epic, for real: we're talking about rides from Seattle to Minnesota. In like, 6 days, loaded with gear. What the hey?

After a while, I enjoyed gears and the fixed gear went away slowly. I gave my favorite fixed frame to my brother. But I ended up building up a fixed gear every spring as a way to force myself back into shape. And I've always built one up for ice riding in the winter.

So this year I put the Shogun together as my ice bike and there really wasn't any ice. I rode it to the store a couple times, but otherwise, it's just been in the way in the garage. Last night, I decided that I'd  go back to the spring-conditioning-on-the-fixed-gear-bike approach, and so I put some 32 mm Pasalas on the Shogun.

Bars are sort of jacked up. I' need to bring them in and level them off. 
I expected the commute home to suck for a number of reasons: patchy ice, my miserable out-of-shape-self. Well, that's only two reasons. But the commute ruled. All that snow you see in those pictures is barely snow. There's very little ice under it and it presents almost no resistance. Overall, my fitness level does suck, but the fixed gear really smooths out the effort, which is higher, but reasonable and consistent until you get to the hills.

The last couple miles of my commute is all climb. Not monster climb, maybe 400 feet, but it's steady with some little kickers. The fixed gear forces the hammer down. That's what I need.

I may put some CX tires on it for a bit of trail riding. That FLT section of parallel trail is kind of perfect for this bike.

When I got home, I found a package on the front porch. It's Volsen's old Kogswell. He rode the shit out of it, bringing it on his South American tour. He went through Pat's Rackufacturing Institute and built a bitchin' rack for it. I was all set to find a home for it until he reminded me that he had adapting it for 26" (559) wheels, which makes it way more interesting. It'll probably become the new trusty turd. At least for a year or so.

Here's a picture of this frame when I owned it and it had 650b's:

I think it might look like that again. But with 559s. And a single gear. Verily.

Seeing that picture reminds me of a wreck I had on that bike on the HD trails: the old front-tire wash out. Freaky stuff; I just flew like superman off the trial and down the side of the bluff. To this day, every time I go by that spot where it happened I tense up a bit.

Monday, February 10, 2014

100 calorie hill

Riding home in thick snow, then shoveling for an hour earns a "free" beer. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The week in review

I ride down to the bus stop every morning. I leave at either 6:10 or at 6:20 depending on the bus I want to catch. It's all downhill. I think the warmest morning last week was about 10 F. The coldest was -3 F. So, I'm basically just sitting in 10 degree weather generating windchill as I coast down the hill. This set up here works pretty good and is work friendly too. It's a Lebowski sweater with a shell over the top. I'm smiling behind that gator.

Maddie made all of her valentines for her class. These are the kinds of things that this whole quit-the-fancy-job-austerity-move has made better.

Every day I get to campus by 7 AM at the latest. I sit at the same table and drink coffee and read email. I came in one morning and the shell of my TSBC pin was sitting on the table waiting for me. Sure enough, the pin (without the cover) was still attached to my backpack. You can see it in the first photo... the morning before. Good karma there. All is right again.

With the super cold comes super hard icy streets, which brings out the kicksled fun. 

Glen, Pat, and I took a spin around Rimrock this morning. Beautiful day. Glen is taking a work call here. Pat is arranging a mini photo shoot.

Houston Road.

Local color at Jenny's Diner.
Good spot, that.

Sunday, February 2, 2014