Two Wheels - Six Strings

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

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Quest For The Perfect Winter Commuter Bicycle

The pink bike, above, was my first attempt at a dedicated winter/icy road commuter. It had SnowCat 50mm rims, studded tires (not shown in this picture), and an ENO eccentric hub so that I could run fixed gear on the vertical-drop Gary Fisher frame. The Eno continually rotated in the dropouts, though, and I often dropped the chain. This led me to eventually sell the wheels, and move on.

This bike was a variation on the theme, with a horizontal-drop 1980s mtb frame. It worked fine, but I found myself desiring disc brakes, and more wheel clearance.

I picked up a Raleigh XXIX frame (a 29" fixed gear specific frame). I ran 26" wheels on it, to maximize tire clearance under the fenders. It rode nice, but I had issues with the set-screws (4mm Allen bolts) on the eccentric bottom bracket. They would seize up, due t the wintertime chemicals on the streets.  So, I bought a Soma 415.

This Soma was a 26" wheel dedicated  singlespeed mtb frame. I eventually ended up running 700c wheels on it, and it worked okay. But, I wanted better.

That started my fatbike experimentation, initially with a Fat Sand Terrain Destroyer. (What a name!) I should have kept this one, as it was a really nice commuter. The long wheelbase made it less than optimal for off-road use, though, so I moved on to the...

Salsa Mukluk. I ended up studding the tires (Origin8) on this one. It was a good effort, but the frame, itself, was not a good/comfortable fit. I ended up selling it to pay for a Les Paul guitar.

So, I returned to the old reliable 1988 Specialized RockHopper with fixed gear and studded tires. It's a nice-riding bike, but the relatively skinny tires can be less than ideal for steering in deep snow, or when there is rutted ice under the snow. (In a related note,  non-studded fat tires do no good on ice, so the combination of ice and heavy snow is a killer.) A recent commute where I was struggling with both of these problems inspired me to build up a bike, the likes of which I had never ridden: a "Fat Front".

My plan was to build up a bike with a fork that has clearance for 26x3" tire on a skinny rim. I figured I could stud one of the 3" tires I had lying about, and steal parts from the RockHopper. As I tried to pull everything together, it became apparent that I really didn't have what I needed to do the build right. Then, I saw a bike on eBay...

I bid a ridiculously low amount on it, then realized that it was a Local Pick-up Only auction ... in Virginia. I contacted the seller and told him the mistake I had made, and he told me that, if I won the auction, he would ship it to me (as long as I paid for it, of course).

Long story short, I won the auction.

The bike is a Surly 1x1 (2nd Generation), in Cash Black, with a Pugsley 100mm fork (takes a standard front hub, but clears 4" tires), a Rolling Darryl-rimmed wheel and a single disc brake on the rear. (of course, it was no problem for me to install a second disc on the front, once the bike arrived.)

Here is the bike, as it arrived, except for the disc rotor I had already installed on the front wheel before thinking about taking a "Before" picture.

The hub on the front was a Chub Hub, from The Hive ($179, on Amazon, right now, on its own). The bearings in it disintegrated on my first commute, and I had no luck with the manufacturer when I asked what bearings were spec'd, so that I could replace them. I was not impressed with either the company, or the the hub, so I just laced the rim to Shimano hub I had in another wheel.

The Shimano hub in the wheel, along with the most expensive bicycle tire I have ever bought.

I swapped the fixed 26x2.2' tired fixed gear wheel from the RockHopper to the 1x1, installed the Surly Open Bars from my Mongoose fat bike, installed fenders, etc. 

The fenders are 29er sized, with a rear fender on both the rear and the front, for more coverage. I will, eventually, widen the front fender to cover more of the tire. Surprisingly, it works pretty well, even in the narrow form, since it covers the part of the tire which runs on the road most, as I ride through slush or meltwater. 

I commuted on it for 3 days, last week, and I everything worked well. There was not a lot of snow and ice, but we are supposed to get a pretty good amount of snow over the next two days, so I figure i will get to actually test out the fat front theory in the real world, soon.
The bike rides really nice, and it's a lot less work to push only one fat, studded tire, that it was to roll two on the Mukluk. Plus, the 1x1 has a standard-width bottom bracket, so I don't feel the strain in my hip flexors that I did on the fat bike. The gearing is purposefully low, for pushing through snow, so i don't get in a hurry. A cadence of 105 rpm yields 14.5 mph.

When summertime rolls around, the bike will get my other fixed gear mtb wheel, with 2.7" tires. I received the stock 1x1 fork with the bike, but I don't imagine that I will bother to swap the forks. Heck, I might even put a non-studded fat tire on the front, and ride it like that, for some trails.

I love riding this thing, and I have had fun on my commutes.

So far, I am thinking I might have finally gotten to the bike I have been seeking. Time will tell.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Diamond Back Avail - A Bike Ahead of Its Time

I recently had a fellow from Brazil, Fabricio by name, leave a comment quizzing me about the DB Avail. He had seen a comment I left on someone's blog about mine, and that was about all the info he could find on the net concerning the bike. Since he is looking at buying an Avail, he wanted more info.

So, here is what I know:

In 1992 (I think, might have been 1991), Diamond Back (it was still two words, then, they went to the one-word version in 1994, as I recall) introduced two bikes to the market which they referred to as "Supercross" bikes, to differentiate them from the standard "Cross" (hybrid) models in their lineup. The top-line version was the Overdrive, and the less expensive model was the Avail. As far as I know, the frames and forks were identical double butted chromo;y steel, and only the paint color and components differentiated them. The Overdrive that we had in the shop was equipped with Shimano XT, and the Avail was equipped with Shimano LX components.

The only catalog I can find on the internet is from Great Britain. In that market, the bikes were called the Overdrive Comp and the Overdrive. The Comp is listed as having Suntour XC Pro components, while the less-expensive model has Shimano DX.

I don't know which spec the bikes available in Brazil would have come with, if either.

Anyway, these bikes were equipped from the factory with 700c x 45 Panaracer Smoke tires. They were designed to be used as mountain bikes, not for bike path riding as most "cross" bikes were marketed. In this way, they are the direct ancestors of the modern 29er mountain bike. The only difference is that a true 29er has clearance for 2.2" tires, rather than the 1.75" tires with which the DBs were equipped.

In our shop, we sold our Overdrive to a fellow who used it as a backcountry mountain bike, He rode it all over the Front Range, and took it Moab numerous times. I lost track of him, long ago, but I know that he was still was riding that bike the last time I saw him, which was 5 years after he bought it.

Our Avail never sold, and we eventually stripped the LX parts off of it to build up a stndard 26" wheel mtb.  Scott (the store owner) gave me the wheels, frame, fork and headset to build my first cyclocross bike. Cyclogross bikes were pretty rare, at the time, in the American market, and this was a good affordable way to build one up.

I rode that bike as a commuter/mountain bike/century bike/all-rounder for years. I backed over it with my Dodge truck and folded the frame, then straightened it and rode it another couple of years. I got hit by a car on it, and had to replace the fork. (DiamondBack still had some forks in the warranty department, so I got one with the factory paint, and everything. They actually gave it to me, free, after hearing my story.)

Eventually, I passed the Avail along to one of the mechanics at the bike shop, and he took it to the mountains when he decided to become a ski resort employee/ski bum. A couple of years later, I ran into him and he told me that the drive-side dropout had broken and that, rather than repair it, he had hung the frame on the wall as a decoration. Then, someone stole it. By that time, the frame was close to 10 years old, and probably had 30,000 miles on it.

I hope that the thief repaired it and rode it another 10 years.

In short, Fabricio, if you have a chance to buy one of those old Avails, do it. The frame and fork are well made, and the geometry is great for everyday use.

I wish I had mine back...


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Guitars of 2015: A Good Year

The year was a lot more positive, on the guitar front, than on the bicycle front. Skull Full Of Blues played a few more shows than normal (most with Adam Moore on bass guitar), some good songs got written (I am particularly fond of Old Man In a Rock and Roll Band), and my quiver is full to overflowing.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the highlights of the year, axe-wise:


While I actually bought this guitar before New Year's Day, last year, I had to ship it home from Pennsylvania, and it didn't get to my house until 2015. Even though the Faded Cherry is the low-end of Flying V finishes, I really like the looks of it, and the feel of the neck.

Of course, I couldn't leave it as I found it. I installed a P-94 single-coil pickup at the neck and later added a Bigsby B-5 tremolo tailpiece. It quickly took over as my most-played guitar, putting the BFG into second place.

I initially added the Bigsby just because I thought it looked cool. I figured that I would use it very little. As time went by, I fell in love with it, and now I have four guitars with trems on them (soon to be five).

This Flying V is the guitar I have described as having apparently fallen out of an airplane, then gotten repaired and repainted by a drunk. It was in sad shape, when I got it, and I sent it off to be refinished by a friend. He couldn't get to it, for over a year, so I got it back from him and refinished it myself.

It was a bit of a challenge, what with the random replacement wood patches, excessive spray paint and the infamous Gibson lacquer finish.

Perfect? No. Lots better than I expected, once I had it stripped? Definitely.


This one has been on my Want List since George Thorogood released his cover of Move It On Over, in 1978. In April, I ignored all common sense and bought this 1959 ES-125 TC from Hart Music, in Grand Junction. I couldn't afford it, and I don't use it enough to justify owning it, but I truly love having it around.


I liked the Bigsby on the Flying V so much that I added one to Cooper (my Les Paul Special). I also took the original humbuckers out and replaced them with Gibson P-94s. At that point, I had the closest thing to Neil Young's Old Black that I will likely ever have. 

 Then, I got a B-6 to put on the old Japanese guitar I used on the first SFOB cd, but it really didn't work very well. The string tension was inadequate, and I couldn't figure out a good way to make it work.

 So, I got a B-7 body, swapped all of the moving parts from the B-6 onto it, and installed it onto the BFG.

 Throughout the year, I found myself never playing the Dillion Moderne copy, due to the fact that I didn't have a Bigsby on it. Truthfully, the cost of all those Bigsby tail pieces was beginning to pile up, so I ordered a Bigsby knock-off to go on the Moderne knock-off. Interestingly, this version actually allows for a lot more tonal change than the actual Bigsby. A true Bigsby will drop the tone by a half-step. This thing drops about three whole steps. I really have to watch my technique when I play it!


 I put the old cheap Affinity Telecaster back together with an aftermarket neck. So, I once again have a guitar that I love the feel of, but detest the sound it produces. Eventually, this thing is getting a P-90 and, probably, a Bigsby.

 For the motorcycle trip I took to Columbus, Ohio (and Tennessee, and St. Louis, etc.), I slammed together a travel cigar box guitar. I cheated and used an old Memphis body and neck as the base of the build, and added a cheap P-90 in case I ever decided to plug it in. It works pretty well, and gave me a guitar to strap onto the motorbike without having to worry about damage.

I had some struggles with amps, this year, and ended up with a couple I don't really need. I might end up having to sell a few, just to clear up some room here in my studio house.

There were other guitars and basses and such which came into play, this year, but these were the highlights, to me.

As I said, earlier, it was a much better music year than bicycling year, for sure.


Thursday, January 07, 2016

Bicycling in 2015 - A Little Bit Of Good, A Good Bit Of Bad

I have to admit that I wasn't particularly sad to see 2015 in the rear view mirror. I realize that calendar years are merely a human construct, but I do tend to compartmentalize my life within those constructs. I suspect that I am in the majority, in that way.

The year started off with a bang, as I crashed on a patch of ice, during my New Year's Day Ride, and broke a rib on my right side. Immediately, most of my bicycle-related goals bit the dust, and I was unable to ride, at all, for about a month.

By February, I was back on the bike, commuting and riding to the bike shop, but I had little enthusiasm for just riding with nowhere to go. This was to be the pattern, for the rest of the year. I began the work on my old 29er frame, which eventually yielded my 27.5x2.8"-tired B+ bike.

I built up and modified a lot of bikes, this year. I probably spent more time in the driveway working on bikes than I did riding. A few of the bikes I built up, modified and/or sold, throughout the year:

The 29er frame with 26x3" wheels and tires

Aluminum cruiser with 3-speed
Mongoose Beast originally built for Danny Mac, then rebuilt for his buddy RJ

Bridgestone MB-3 city bike for LeighAnn

Carol's old Crossroads commuter, rebuilt for Ry's girlfriend

This one went to Cory, at Kaladi Bros.

The 29er with the 27.5x2.8" set-up

Peugeot repurposed as a bar-crawler

The Hargadon, set up to be sold

I think I only took a couple of rides over 40 miles in length, all year. And, for the first time since 1989, I never went mountain biking, at all.

That, on its own, made it a bad bicycling year. The crash I had, on the Monday before Thanksgiving, kinda book-ended a crappy bike year, for me.

The damage to my face was painful, but mostly superficial. I do have a couple of scars over my cheekbone, but I can live with that.

But, the torn tendon in my left thumb is still painful, even now. It is better than it was, but it still bothers me to write or draw. The orthopedic surgeon said it would eventually heal, although it will always be a little bent. The "a little bent" part doesn't really bother me, as long as the pain goes away.

I have a project going, right now, which should yield the ultimate winter commuter. It has ended up costing me more than I planned to spend. So, once that bike is built, I am done with my own bikes. I am planning on selling off a couple, and I will not buy any more, except to resell, this year. I plan on riding the bikes I have!

Here's to 2016 ... hopefully a much better bicycling year than 2015!