Two Wheels - Six Strings

Random news and thoughts about various two-wheeled projects and music, especially my band, Skull Full Of Blues.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Poor Customer Service is Annoying

Tree Fort Bikes, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, has moved to the bottom of my list of bicycle parts vendors.  I won't declare, "I'll never buy from them, again," because the day may come that I need something that is only available from them.  I won't cut off my nose to spite my face.

But, they will be the last place I check for availability.

As you may remember, I recently bought a Salsa Mukluk frame from them.  I also ordered a 100mm shell-width bottom bracket and a crank from them, a few days later.  On Saturday, when I started to assemble the bike, I found that the crank hit the frame, when installed on the bottom bracket spindle.

I called Tree Fort Bikes, and spoke to the only guy there, apparently, on Sunday.  He and I looked at the Fat Bike BB/Cranks page on their website, and he told me that he had no idea why the crank and bottom bracket weren't compatible with my frame.  He advised me to call back and talk to one of the "Fat Bike experts", on Monday.

"Cool," I said.  "I hope if I need another bottom bracket that I will be able to return this one..."

"Oh, yeah!  We'll take care of you.  I can't imagine why there isn't more information here, so we'll definitely take it back if you need the other one. This Fat Bike stuff is so new, it's like the Wild West out there.  Nobody has any experience with these things, and not many people know what's going on."

"Well, I certainly don't," I said.  "I am learning this stuff as I go, on this build."

I thanked him for his help, and rang off.  I entered Tree Fort Bikes into my contacts list on the phone, so that I could call the Fat Bike expert, later.

On Monday, I did just that.  Once again, I got on their website page, as did the Expert on the other end of the line.  Once again, I was told that he, the Expert, had no idea why I was having a problem.

"Let me do some research and I'll call you right back," he said.

That was Monday.  Today, I called him, since I never heard back from him.

"Did you figure anything out?"  I asked him, after being on hold for 5 ot 6 minutes.

"Yeah, and I have no excuse for not calling you back," he said.

"No problem," I said.  "What's the deal?"

"Well," he replied, in a dismissive tone, "it says right in the description that the crank only works with the Howitzer Bottom Bracket."

I was, once again, looking at the website as I talked to him.  Even after he told me that, it took me two readings of the description to find where it said that.  Still, I had suspected as much.  The Howitzer is an external-bearing bottom bracket, so the spindle is longer.

"I'll just order one of those, then," I told him.  "What do I need to do about returning the other bottom bracket?"

"Oh, you can't return that," he said.  "You installed it in your bike.  If we did take it back, you would have to pay a restocking fee."

I thanked him for his "help", and rang off.  It isn't going to ruin me, financially, to have a $45.00 bottom bracket I can't use, and I didn't feel like pulling the old "irate customer" act.  But, I wasn't particularly happy.

So, I ordered the correct bottom bracket, moved Tree Fort Bikes to the bottom of my preferred vendors list, and started writing this post in my head.  I am not saying that you shouldn't buy from them, or that they ow me anything.  I just think that, if two different employees can't look at the website and spot what my problem is within five minutes, that it is poor customer service to refuse to exchange the incorrect part I inadvertently ordered...particularly after the first guy assured me that they would, in his words, "take care" of me.

If you do buy from them, make damn sure you order the correct parts if you can't afford to eat the cost of a mistake.


Sunday, January 29, 2012


The coffee shop I go to (Kaladi Brothers) is about 2.2 miles from my house, on my bicycle route.  I head down Warren, cut through the D.U. campus, hit Warren where it resumes and then go up the alley to where Kaladi sits on Evans Avenue.  It typically takes me 10 to 13 minutes in either direction, on a bicycle, depending on whether or not I have to wait for cross traffic at either Colorado Boulevard or University Boulevard (or both).

Today, I rode to Kaladi on a bike I had built up for Kris, the painter.  I built the bike up in trade for the Fuji Touring bike and some unspecified painting to be done in the future.  If I get a motorcycle re-sprayed, or want wet-coat on a bicycle, Kris will do it for me.

Kris walked from his house, and rode his bike home.  I planned on hitching a ride with Randy, since we had made plans to meet for coffee, this morning.  Due to some mix-ups and missed communications, we never got together for coffee.  I had left my phone at home, accidentally, and thought Randy would just show up.  He was trying to get ahold of me, and never came down since he couldn't confirm with me.

Life in the Information Age.

So, I ended up walking back to my house.  I followed the same route home that I had biked, earlier, and was interested in the difference between walking and biking the route.  You see a lot more of surroundings when you slow from driving speed to bicycling speed.  And, you gain just as much when you slow from bicycling to walking speed.

I now know, for instance, that the entire length of Warren has sidewalk along the north side of the street, except in front of one mansion-style house. (I walked on their grass, because I think that they are no better than anyone else, and should be complying with the zoning ordinance which requires the sidewalk to be there.)  Also, the first three houses on Warren, west of Colorado, have dates stamped into their walks and driveways indicating that they were built in 1961, the year I was born.

Useless information, for sure, but interesting to me in that context.

The walk took me about 35 minutes.  I was strolling, doing the walking equivalent of the riding I usually do.  As I have left my 30s farther and farther in the rearview mirror, I have found that my average speed on the bike has dropped.  Some of that, admittedly, is the result of aging and a loss of strength due to the passage of time.  But, a great deal of it has to do with the fact that I have developed a certain...I hesitate to say "mature"...attitude toward speed versus enjoyment.  I tend to ride, and walk, at a pleasurable pace, now, rather than a "training" pace.

But, even as slow as my bike riding is, it seems fast relative to my walking speed.

If I had the ability to just pull up stakes and take off on an long-term adventure, I would like to walk from one coast to the other.  Then, I would get on a bicycle and ride back to my starting point.  Imagine how fast the bike trip would seem, after having walked across America.

Perhaps I would then ride a motorcycle to the opposite coast and fly back.  Each consecutive trip would be quicker, and the rewards would dwindle with the increase of speed.  But, having the opportunity to directly compare those four modes of transport (foot, pedal, motor, airplane) would be pretty interesting.

Unfortunately, I will have to leave that to a younger, less-encumbered adventurer (or a trust fund baby) to do.  I'll just read the book and watch the Travel Channel show about it, I suppose.

Or, maybe I'll get invited along.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Not That I'm Obsessive, or Anything...

...but, this is what I do when I am waiting on stuff I've ordered.  The first column is "Shipped", the second column is "Received".  Everything is on its way.

It's like waiting for Christmas, as a kid.



This is what a Carradice Nelson Long-flap (Medium) looks like when the temperature on the way home is 40 degrees warmer than it was on the way to work...

It was 21degrees (F) when I left for work, and 61 when I got home.  The wind was up  little, on the way home, but I still had an awesome ride (particularly for January 25)!


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Awesome Job!

I got home, this afternoon, to this box waiting on my front step:

That's a Size Medium glove, for scale.

I opened it up, and this is what I saw:

No packing wadded up paper...just the tiny little box with a WTB headset inside it.

I'm thinking that the mail room could have saved a little postage by putting this in a smaller box, or a padded envelope.   (Or they could have put something to keep the headset from rattling around inside the shipping carton.)

Oh, well...I guess they felt that they had to justify the $6.00 shipping, somehow!


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Rolling Along

I finally got on the rollers that came back to me, recently.  I had loaned them to a fellow, a couple of years ago, and he brought them back about 5 days after I had bought a new set.  Luckily, I hadn't opened the box on the new set...

I set the wheelbase to match up with the Handsome, and got on for a reaquainting ride.  It has been about 5 years since I rode on rollers.  Once I was dong the everyday commute, I didn't feel the need to train in the living room.  It took me about 15 minutes to get comfortable on them, again.

Man, my spin has deteriorated, through the years!  I was riding at anywhere from 95 to 110 rpm cadence, and I really had to concentrate to not bounce up and down on the rollers (a sure way to launch the bike off of them, by the way).  I got myself nice and sweaty, and worked the old cardio-vascular system pretty well, though.

Sweaty, but feeling good!


Friday, January 20, 2012

It's A Sickness, I Tell Ya...

I think everyone has figured out, by now, that I really like my fat bike.  But, I just can't get comfortable with the thought of using the long Fat Sand Bike frame on tight singletrack, with the switchback turns that the trails around here commonly feature.  And, while I really like commuting on the big tires, I want to do some epic-ish off-road rides on the fat bike.


Brad sent me a link to Tree Fort Bikes, who had last year's Salsa Mukluk framesets on clearance.  After hemming and hawing for a while, I bit the bullet and ordered the frameset.  It arrived, today.

I think it's pretty, even though it isn't orange.

I had planned on swapping parts from the FSB to the Salsa but, apparently, the Salsa frame is not compatible with internally-geared hubs.  So, I have to get, at least, a new wheel, cogset, derailleur and shifter.

Things are never as simple as they seem, at first.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

New Bars On The Fat Bike

I was talking to Carol, the other day, and I said, "I love the fat bike.  But, the more I ride it, the more I dislike the handlebar."

"Well, change it out," she said.

That made sense to me.  So, today I went over to Cycle Analyst and bought a no-rise Surly Open Bar, and installed it on the bike.

The Open Bar is 666mm wide, and has a pretty good backsweep to it.  This puts my hands in a much more comfortable position.  The original bar was killing my wrists.

Here is a comparison of the two bars.  As you can see, my reach remains pretty much unchanged.  But, the backs of my hands are rotated out, preventing the torsion on my wrists and elbows that I felt with the mtb bar. 

It seems odd to me that I find the mtb riser bar so uncomfortable, now.  I put many thousands of happy miles on similar bars, back in the day.  I suppose I have just been riding on mustache-style bars for so long, now, that I have acclimated to them at the expense of the traditional mtb set-up.

 All the cool bikes have kickstands...

I rode the fat bike to work and back (17.3 miles, round trip) on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week.  By the time I was halfway home on Friday,  my right wrist felt like there was a needle sticking into it.  I suspect that these bars will fix that.

Now, to figure out what to do about fenders...


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fat and Snowy Commute

I worked eleven hours, yesterday.  When I left work last night, on the motorbike, it was still 60 degrees F at 5:30 PM.  Overnight, a cold front moved through.  It was 30 degrees and snowing when I left the house, this morning.  I worked almost 12 hours, today, and left the lab at 6:30.

The temperature was 15 degrees.

One thing I noticed, this morning, was that the fat bike needs some fenders, if I'm going to commute with it.

The bag catches a lot of spray from that huge tire, and I don't like that.  At this point, there are no fenders available for these bikes, commercially.  Surly Bikes is making noises about coming out with some, but I may just have to come up with something on my own, in the meantime.  (Notice how the tail light points down toward the rear tire, due to how the bag hangs.)

I stopped on the way home to take this picture.  My phone told me that I couldn't use the flash "due to cold weather".  Good thing I stopped under a light...

Before leaving the lab, I used my big brain to come up with some cutting-edge technology to solve my droopy-light problem.

I had a good ride home.  There was quite a bit of the churned-up snow, which I now refer to as "dry slush", that I usually hate so much.  But, the fat bike rolled right over it.  That makes me even more glad, now, that I pulled the trigger on this bike.  Now, if only one of my friends would come up with one so we could ride together...


Monday, January 09, 2012

This Is How You Do a Title Sequence

I went to see "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo", on Saturday, with Sir Randall of Caley.  The movie was good, with a few significant deviations from the book (mostly in order to keep the length of the movie manageable, I think).

Anyway, the movie was good, the title sequence was awesome.

I guess you have to go to YouTube to watch it on Full Screen.


Winter! Bah!

I have had a cold for about 6 days, now.  I am a lot better, but not quite "well", at this point.  Because of that, I really don't feel like riding a bicycle.  So, it was somewhat annoying when it snowed, Saturday night.  I wasn't sure if the roads would be clear enough to ride the motorbike to work, today.

Luckily, the roads were okay.  There was a bit of ice on the street leaving my neighborhood, and some patches on the frontage road along I-70, as well as one nice big patch of inch-thick ice below the overpass, on Holly.

The worst conditions, though, were in our parking lot, at work.

This is the view across the lot, looking at my bike from the perspective of my normal parking spot.  Apparently, our snow-removal company didn't bother to come out, so the shady side of the lot still had two inches of snow on it, this morning.  By the time I snapped this shot, the cars driving through had compressed the snow into ice.  It was pretty treacherous to walk on, so I really didn't want to ride the Scrambler on it.

There was still a bit of ice in the shady spots on the road, as I came home.  But, it was pretty rideable.  I got home with no problems, in any case.

I'll be glad when Spring comes...


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Eyes Wide Open

Christopher left a comment on Saturday's post which read, in part, "I am glad that you are still enjoying the bike, I have not heard many good reviews of that bike, vs. the Surly or Salsa, but if anyone can make it work it's you."

So far, I am enjoying the bike a lot.  I suspect that, if I had bought the bike with the intention of competing in snow-bike races that it probably wouldn't compare to well with the Surlys and Salsas.  I will probably take it up to the snow and find some snowmobile tracks to follow, and see how it works in the snow.  I figure that the extended rear end will limit the traction on steep climbs (though some Surly Nate tires might take care of that), and it does weigh a few pounds more than the more expensive bikes.

But, for commuting on snowy days, and just knocking around for the fun of it, I don't know if paying more than twice as much for a bike would get me twice as much enjoyment.  I'm having a ball just riding around town on the thing!

Speaking of commuting, I took the fat bike to work, today.  Obviously, the roads are pretty clear, and I didn't need the big tires.  But, I wanted to take it in and show it to some of the guys in the lab.

As you can see, I transferred the Nelson Longflap saddle bag over from the Handsome, and mounted some lights on the bars.  I was concerned about how long it might take to get to work, but it ended up taking 39 minutes, door to door.  That is within a couple of minutes of my normal time on the Handsome (counting stops at lights, etc.)

EDIT:  My morning route is 8.3 miles, and slightly downhill, overall.  I forgot to time my ride on the 9 mile route home from work.

The weather was nice for commuting.  The temperature was 41 degrees F when I left the house, at 5:20 AM.  This was my front-door thermometer reading when I got home, at 4:15 PM.  No wind, partly cloudy skies.  Not too shabby for early January in Denver.

It seems to me that you could fab up a big rack for the back, and mount some Xtracycle Wideloaders and you would have a heckuva nice heavy-duty camping/adventure bike.

All that being said, if I do see a bargain on a Mukluk frameset, I will probably jump on it, just to get the shorter wheelbase.  I have the parts to build it up, courtesy of the Fat Sand Bike, after all...

I am considering changing out the handlebars.  I am no longer a big fan of mountain bike bars.  I'm thinking something akin to mustache bars (there's a surprise).  The bar has to be compatible with mountain bike components, though, so that I can mount the twist shifter for the Nexus hub.


Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Scrambler Gets Some Love

I bought some Progressive Shocks for the Scrambler, a while back.  Today, I finally got around to installing them.

I don't have a motorcycle lift (yet), so I used my swingarm stand to lift the bike, then I placed those asphalt paver blocks under the frame.  I put a piece of plywood between the top block and the frame, then pulled the swingarm stand out.  That took the weight off of the rear wheel so that I could remove the stock shocks and replace them with the Progressives.

This is one of the stock shocks.  The damping on these leaves a bit to be desired, and that is why I replaced them.  I went with the stock length, on the replacements, so the stance of the bike is unchanged.

The black body of the Progressive shocks looks cool next to the black swingarm.   And, the nitrogen gas-charged body should provide better damping on bumpy dirt-road conditions.

It's a subtle difference, visually, but I like the look of the new shocks.  Riding around the neighborhood, I don't feel any difference in the ride.  But, with a load of camping equipment on the bike, out on the road, I expect the bike to behave a little more nicely.

While I had the motorbike and the fat bike both in the drive, I just had to do a comparison of the tire sizes between the two bikes.  The rear motorbike tire wins, size-wise, but the front fat bike tire appears wider than the front tire on the Triumph!

I am still quite amused by the new fat bike.