Thursday, May 29, 2014

Elephant mountain bike: initial impressions

I've been talking to Glen at Elephant Bikes about a mountain bike for at least a year. Probably more like two. I really liked the Kona and I had no pressing need for a new bike, so the Elephant mountain bike was always sort of pushed back on the priority list.

But as it often happens: a bike gets in your head and you want to make it real. Over the last couple years Glen has built a handful of mountain bikes. Most of them have been 29ers. He built himself a 26" and he built one 27.5'er. Mine is a 27.5. But I prefer calling it a 650b.

Glen likes a long front-center, a slack-ish head angle, and tight rear triangle. That's what my bike got. And so far, it's rad. Glen and I ride enough together where he's been able to watch me ride and understand what I like/want.  He didn't like how much drop I had between my saddle height and my bars on my last bike. He thought I should be more stretched out, but not with as much weight forward/down. I didn't specify any angles or other design elements of this bike. The only input I provided on this bike was the color.

I've only taken one ride on this bike, so I can't claim to understand it completely. Also: I have a really hard time verbalizing how bikes "feel" when you ride them, especially when comparing handling characteristics. It's like watching people taste wine or coffee or beer and picking out "notes" of exotic, random flavors (nutmeg, rosemary, straw...).

In any case, I took a super familiar route for my first ride: down the HD trails to the river trail out to megachurch, up to SFCC drop into the river trail again, then looped back at Meenach. I've done this section a million times and I know it inch by inch, so I know how it feels to ride all the various interesting sections.

 My descending on twisty stuff was a bit slower as I'm getting used to the front end handling. I want to provide way more steering input than this bike requires, so I'm getting used to that. When sitting, my weight is more evenly distributed on this bike -- more over the center of the bike, whereas on my Kona, I really had push my weight back on descents -- so on this bike, I don't need to do that as much. That kept me a bit conservative on the switchbacks.

But the straighter/flow sections of the descents were ridiculously wonderful -- the input thing and the weight distribution thing that kept me a bit tentative on twisty stuff, allows me to just friggin layback and lean through the long turns. As a result I went way faster through the rollouts than I have on any other bikes.

I also really noticed a difference with climbing: both seated and standing. Again: it has to do with where my weight is. I don't quite understand it yet, but the rear wheel seems to grab better and my feet feel like they are more behind the pedals a bit -- it feels right. With the higher cockpit and more weight back -- transitioning into a climbing stand seems way more intuitive right off the bat. This is hard to explain. But I'm digging the bike.

The bike has Columbus tubing for a DT and TT. Not sure what he used on the ST. It's all basic Shimano stuff -- mostly off my last bike. The big difference is that I upgraded from 8 speed to 9 speed. Component wise though: nothing fancy, but good enough and reliable. Fork is a new 100mm Fox 32. Tires are Maxxis Crossmark -- the non-fancy versions. Once they wear out, I'll find something a bit more supple.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

1st S24O o' 14

Maddie and I went to Riverside State Park last night for a quick overnighter. Maddie has done this overnighter before on a bike. This was Maddie's first bona fide S24O completely under her own power. She totally rocked it. No big whoop.

And: being a cyclist using the "Bike Only" sites was a breeze.

Maddie: age 3. Preparing for her first S24O.

The first time Maddie did this trip she was three years old (8 years ago -- almost to the day) and she was a passenger on the Xtracycle. That was the dreaded trip where we got turned away at the gates of RSP because they were "full." It was an epically miserable night: we were camped off in the woods a couple miles north down the trail; Maddie had diarrhea, there was no bathroom near by. And then it got freakishly cold that night; we woke up to frost on the inside of the tent. The ride home the next morning at about 6 AM was a friggin death march. As a result -- I wrote a letter to the RSP ranger folk and they created some bike/hike-in sites.

Maddie: Age 4 -- on her first S24O at Riverside State Park
The next year, we went to RSP on the tandem. The bike sites were still not fully baked into the whole program. The guy at the gate didn't know what we were talking about, but we weren't turned away since there were open spots in the car section.

About 2 years ago, Pat, Eric, Eberly, and I went to RSP for an overnighter. We paid at the auto-teller thing at the gate. The next morning, a ranger sort of gave us a bit of the run around -- having not heard of the bike/hike site thing. Pat had a damn rational story to tell and some receipts, so she sort of bought it and left us alone.
People were rafting. It looked amazingly fun.
Maddie wasn't so sure about that.
So -- when Hank went to RSP a couple weeks ago and sailed through the whole process, I was hopeful. And indeed, it appears that the Bike Only/Hike-In site thing is real and bona fide and baked into the program. Yesterday, when Maddie and I pulled up on our bikes and asked for the bike only site, the kid in the window as all over it... like having Bike Only sites was as natural as the river flowing through the Bowl and Pitcher. Word.

We got there pretty early in S24O terms. It was about 3PM when we finished setting up the tent and eating a cup of noodles. Normally, S24O's are a bit longer of a ride and a bit later to camp -- sort of optimized for eating, beer drinking, and then going to bed. But with Maddie, we'll need to figure out a different protocol.

We hiked around a bit. Maddie found a tennis ball and we played catch for a while. Maddie climbed stuff. I had my Kindle, so I read that for a bit while Maddie amused herself by smashing up plant leaves into a fragrant mixture. We decided that we should bring playing cards next time. And maybe we should each have a book.

Bottom of Doomsday.
She grinded up... standing up... the whole way up.
RSP is a perfect distance - about 10 miles with a few hills. Maddie is ready for a longer haul, but I'm not sure where we should go. I guess we'll try CDA on the Centennial Trail, though that ride is a soul-sucking bore. But Maddie may not think so. There's also the Trail of the CDA's. We could do that. Or better: the San Juan's.

As for bike stuff: I need to put a double on Maddie's bike. If we're going to do longer hauls with a load, she needs a bail out spin gear. She stands on every hill right now and it's frying out her thigh muscles. This works ok for short stuff, but it doesn't scale for bigger days.

More hill climbing.

Beth. Dig that bike.
On our way back into town we ran into Beth on the trail. Crazy. She joined us for breakfast at David's place. He has a ridiculously good Bibimbap on the breakfast menu right now. There is a small handful of restaurants in Spokane that I love with all my heart -- for various reasons -- David's is totally on that tiny list. He is so intentional about everything he does there, and has been for years before opening this place -- the guy knows great food, thinks and reads a ton about a variety of food, beverage, design, building, gardening, technology, cycling, etc. subjects, and figures out how to integrate and filter it all out into a super unique and highly valuable dining experience.

Shirt says: Eat Local  -- Central Food. Image is an osprey picking off a marmot.
That's Stine's work.
We're lucky David is here doing his thing. The more "mature" Spokane dining crown seems to cultivate a fairly conventional and narrow set of acceptable menu/pricing/dining experiences. In my opinion, you can see this Spokane-normalized experience replicated across a disappointingly large number of local restaurants. David's restaurant defies many of those expectations in a refreshing way in both dining practices and with his menu. He's quietly doing things his own damn way and he's rad for that.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

650b-izing yet another bike

It's been a while since I've had a hand in a 650b conversion. Yesterday, we finished converting Beth's old Schwinn Voyager to 650b. It was a group effort: Glen did the brazing. Mike did the managing. Stine did the build out. I wrapped the super important twine on the grips. It takes a village.

As we were pulling this mini-project together, I thought about how common place this conversion has become -- maybe not in the conventional big box bike world, but for sure in the smaller nerdery bike world. I think the first conversion for me was in 2006. The Trek.  Liza's RB-1. Then Liza's Fuji. Then my RB-1. There are probably others.

Buddy Rory, part of the Wetmorian Seattle Crew, wrote about the 650b conversion in a Rivendell Reader (#33) many years ago. He's the guy that I credit with figuring this out. It's a great solution for all those great steel road frames from the 80's and 90's that only take skinny tires. If you can braze on some canti posts, it's even more awesomer as a solid, practical, long-term bike solution.

The main thing that I've learned about this conversion is not to over think it. Specifically, don't get all hung up on trail numbers or bottom bracket height -- compared to the skinny-tire racey thing, the converted bike will be better for 99% of the riding normal people want to do on a bike (ride on crappy streets, hit a trail here and there, load it up with racks and crap from the store, ride a friend on the top tube, etc).

The 650b conversion for me is about the hack. I know for many in the bike nerdery world, it's about cultivating the fetish, but I see this conversion as an eminently practical solution. And once you take what was a pretty cool racey frame, cut stuff off it, and braze other stuff to it: you've freed the frame and your fetishy weirdness into a liberated space of experimentation and hackery.

Part of our internet thing is to sit in isolation and look at bikes and components and parts and other people's experiences and project ourselves into those situations. Bikes, and the experiences that they might afford, become part of a consumerist ideal: if I can just get the right stuff then I'll have that rad life. God knows I've been there. This mindset is often manifested in the fetish bike mindset. And its antidote is the hack. Any hack. Preferably with friends. And a few drinks.

Beth left here with Albatross bars on her bike. Over time, as she rides the bike and finds her space with it, she may decide on different bars. She may decide she wants a huge front rack -- this may require some bending and brazing on her fork. She may want different tires or a rear rack, or bigger gears. No matter: her bike is now in her service, to be worked and molded into the right thing for her. She can do this work and she has friends that can help her hack it.

As she does this, the bike will transform over time. And it won't be fussy and finished. It will be adolescent and uncultured. Where the fetish eye might see unpainted and slightly rusted exposed steel, I will see the process and potential and wonder what's next.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sat and Sun

Basket. Liza.

They don't make em like this anymore. 

Centennial Trail extension

I'm going to have a new mountain bike very very soon.
Get a good last look at this beauty.

Thursday, May 8, 2014


Maddie stands on most climbs.

The first maneuver of a graceful dismount...  


While I roll

The 747 lost its winter wear today. I ran the Maxxis Re-fuse tires this fall-winter-early spring on this bike. No flats. But man they're a jarring experience, even at 80 psi. 

Fenders off. And some fairly worn Challenge Parigi-Roubaix's went on. They say 27mm, but they're closer to 29mm. Great tires -- when I see some coin, I'll upgrade to Compass.