Two Wheels - Six Strings

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Perfection Is An Elusive Moving Target, and I have Just Fired Yet Another Shot At It

 Recently, Chris at the Pondero blog built up a new bike, which he referred to as related to his vision of the perfect bike, which he had formed in the 1970s, and Adventure Bike. Read his post, and check out his bike here.

Over the years, I have had more than one distinct vision of what would make the perfect bicycle. When I was 10, I wanted a bike with 26" wheels and a basket. I t was my understanding that big wheels would be more efficient than the 20" wheels on my Sears Spyder Bike Stingray clone. The basket would allow me to carry some food and water for all-day excursions. I got that bike, and it was perfect ... for awhile. Then, I started feeling the need for variable speeds, and better brakes, and the ability to ride through the woods and on gravel roads. The 10-speed road bikes of the day would not suit for that. Basically, I wanted a mountain bike.

But, in 1971, there was no such thing, on a commercial scale. Oh, sure, there were a few outside-the-box thinkers around the world who had married Schwinn 3-speeds and cantilever brakes into "woodsie" bikes, and such. And, the buffalo soldiers made their famous cross country trek in 1896, but there was nothing remotely like a purpose-built mountain bike available in the early 1970s.

John Finley Scott's "Woodsie Bike" from 1953

Eventually, bicycles took a backseat to motorcycles, in my world, and I only returned to pedaling through riding a 10-speed Triumph bicycle in college. Then, one day in 1985, my wife and i were at a book store when I spied the cover of  The Mountain Bike Book, by Rob Van der Plas:

The bike on the front cover of that book spoke volumes to me. It looked like human-powered dirt bike, to my moto-centric way of thinking. The mountain bike looked like the perfect bike, to me, at that point.

Not long after, I had my first mtb under me. It was an inexpensive Motiv, from Sam's club, and i loved it. From it, I moved to a Cannondale SM800 Beast Of The East, thence to a Specialized M2 Stumpjumper, with a Manitou 2 fork on it. Perfection was morphing from a standard, rigid fork and frame mtb, to suspension fork, then full-suspension, equipped machines.

In the late 1990s, my image of perfection took an odd turn toward the cyclocross bike. Drop bars and 35c tires on wide 700c wheels suited me just fine. This setup was a lot more efficient on the road, and still allowed me ride off-road and on gravel. The "perfect" combination of attributes for a bike.

Then came the 29er revolution, and the advent of drop-bar "monster-cross" bikes; essentially 29" mtb's with lower bottom brackets and off-road-oriented drops or variations on the mustache bar. They were not quite as easy to ride on the road (if you ran knobbies), but the ease of off-roading was greatly improved over that of the cyclocross bike.

In 2010, I was approached by my friend Darryl Funk, a custom bike builder, about what I thought would be the the "only bike", the one bike someone could own and not need another. In other words, the Perfect Bike. My list of attributes:

Titanium, due to its longevity more than any weight consideration. 
Disc brake equipped for easier wheel-size swapping
Clearance for fat 650b tires, 29" mtb tires (and the ability to run cross or road tires, of course)
Late-1980s mtb geometry with a road bike bottom bracket height
Loads of rack and fender eyelets, just in case

In exchange for drawing up a design, Darryl agreed to sell me the prototype frame at a fraction of the retail cost. So, I drew it up, and he built it:

 The Funk Bicycles "Daily Grind" prototype frame

I made a slight miscalculation on the bottom bracket drop, which resulted in the bottom bracket sitting about an inch lower than I had intended, so I run 165mm cranks on this bike in order to avoid pedal strike. I honestly think it adds to the "perfection" of the ride, but plans were made to raise the bb height up for production. However, no more examples were ever built, and I ended up with the only one of these in existence.

This bike maintained its "perfect" status for a number of years, I rode paved Century rides, gravel Centuries, raced 24-hour solo mtb events, took it to Fruita and Moab for desert fun, commuted and ran errands on it.

Now, it is slightly less than "perfect" due the advent of Plus-sized tires: 27.5 x 3" to be precise. It doesn't have the clearance for these oversized tires, and that limits it, somewhat, at this juncture, when it comes to being the do-everything bike I want it to be. (I dismiss the lack of 4" tire clearance, as I think of that style of bike as being a bit too specialized to be included in the " all-rounder" category).

 This brings us back, at long last, to Pondero's Adventure Bike. He is running 27.5 x 2.8" tires on a sorta-drop-bar set-up. Some of you may recall that I have been experimenting with that size, trying to use an existing frame to create my own Adventure Bike. But, I have consistently been stymied by the lack of adequate clearance for a 2.8 to 3" (my preference) tire between the chainstays.

Chris solved this problem by commissioning a custom frame, sized to those wheels and tires. Unfortunately, I can not afford to go that route, hence the reason I have been trying to modify 29er frames to work for me.

So, I went in a slightly different (180 degrees "slightly different") route and ordered an alloy Plus-sized bike from the infamous Bikes Direct web store. Many people look down upon the BD bikes but, for me, they make a good inexpensive starting platform from which to build what I want. My first 29er frame, which I still have, was a BD frame, and it has served me well for close to 10 years, now.

Here is the bike, as pictured on the website:

Alloy frame, chromoly fork, hideously cheap and crappy bottom bracket and crank ... but it has the bones of what I want: 27.5 x 3.25" tires and room for 26 x 4", if I decide I decide I also need a full-on fatbike, once again. It's basically the BD fatbike, with the now-obsolete 170x135 hub spacing and 100mm bottom bracket, which has been fitted with the 27.5Plus wheels and tires.

Once I received the bike, the modifications began:

The first things to go were the crappy Suntour bottom bracket and crank, along with a really flexible front derailleur. In their place, an LX derailleur ($6.35 on closeout!), and a SRAM X-5 external bearing bottom bracket/crankset. Plus, some cool VP pedals. (I have used this model pedal on a couple of bikes, and I really like them.)
A new 40-degree rise/80mm stem holds one of my Surly Open Bars, with Ergon grips. I left the stock shifters in place, to see if they work out. I've not used below the bar click-shifters on any of my bikes, in the past, but these SRAM shifters seem kind of nice. The brake levers will go as soon as I happen upon some nicer levers at an affordable price.

My old Syncros seat post went in, topped by my Brooks C-17. The bag I already had.

So, there it is, almost complete. I have a tubeless conversion kit I am going to try out on these wheels, and a SRAM X-9 rear derailleur to replace the X-5 which is currently on there. I also want a nicer cogset, but again am waiting to find a decent deal on what I want.

Total outlay, thus far, is less than $800. If I actually ride this bike enough to justify it, I may eventually buy a nicer CrMo frame and swap the parts over, but not this year. That would, at the very least, double my financial investment in the bike.

So, it it "perfect"? Not by a long shot. But, it is serviceable. And, after all, as the ancient Persian rug makers used to say, "Perfection is the realm of Allah."



At 8:46 PM , Blogger Pondero said...

Very cool. It is interesting to read about your desire for the 3" tire. One of my local buddies thinks the sweet spot is about 2.35". When he said that, I was a little nervous that I might have overdone things for my terrain options. So far, it feels pretty good (meaning as fast or faster than my 650Bx42 tire bike) to me on everything except the smoothest roads.

As usual, I enjoy watching how your mind works. I hope you enjoy it immensely, and write about it often.


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