Monday, May 16, 2016

The 200-Mile Shakedown Ride

Exactly three weeks ago, I got my 1981 Lotus Excelle mixte to the point where I could ride it and sort out any bugs that came up.

And ride it, I did. I took it to school, to work, and on errands. I went squirting around town, flying over pot holes and tearing up gravel roads with my friends. I rode it so hard that almost to my surprise, nothing really went wrong with it ... and after completing all of the somewhat major changes I had planned, I realized that I had put nearly 200 miles on it. To date, this is my most capable, most practical bike. It also looks amazing. I'd be hard-pressed to build something else so good in so many aspects within this budget.

So, let's talk about the changes first. In the first post, I mentioned chain tension and chain line problems with the 3x2 drivetrain. Shortly after, I also realized that I was riding this bike so hard that between the two paths I laid out in that article, I chose to stay with the AW 3-speed hub and just change the gearing so I wouldn't be SOL in the event that the FG 4-speed conversion was to break. Although those hubs are tough and failure would be unlikely, peace of mind is surely worth something. I have so many spare parts for the AW that the worst case scenario would be for me to have to walk the bike home and replace parts.

I swapped out the rear cog instead of buying a new chainring, so my current 44/19 gear ratio is close enough to the 42/18 that I envisioned. I was too lazy to grind down another gear to 3/32" so I just installed a new 1/8" chain. The gear ratio just about stretches the chain tensioner to the max which looks better but makes more noise. Oh well. I put the 44t ring on the inside of the crankset for one to help the chain line, and also to mount a bash guard (for 46t diameter) on the outside. The new chain guard also helps keep my pants away from the drive train. Some surgery was needed to make it clear the stays so I hacked off a corner and painted it sloppily with primer.

I also wrapped my own handlebars for the first time after getting the lever positions dialed in. I covered the ends in electrical tape for a little extra protection in case of a fall. I should have done the non-shifter side first just to get the hang of it before having to deal with the shifter, but it doesn't matter.

I heated a spoke so that I could "tack weld" the ends of the electrical tape near the center of the bar. The left side of the bar turned out perfectly but three days later, on early Saturday morning, I was awoken by high winds and I ran out to the balcony to check on the bikes. Right in front of my eyes, my brand new bike fell over and the newly wrapped bar landed right on the rat trap pedal of one of the junk bikes. I suppose it was poor placement on my part. The pedal tore through the tape and even gouged the bar pretty badly so after I slept off the disappointment, I had to patch it up with gaffer tape. Anyway, the SRAM Supercork tape is so comfortable, even with bare hands, that it trumps the bare bar with my padded work gloves. So good.

The correct light also arrived: the Herrmans H-diver with stand light. I installed it, this time reinforcing the wire joints with caps. I also realized that the wires that I cut and soldered in the junction were meant to go down to the dynohub, and the wires with male fittings stuck into the back of the light were just there for packaging's sake and actually meant to be connected to the tail lights. I made everything harder for myself. There weren't any instructions! Oh well. Anyway, I rolled the bike down the hall and was suddenly worried that the light was defective because it didn't stay on like the tail light did, but then I remembered that white LEDs use more power and might just need more time to recharge. Thankfully, that was correct. The stand light is dimmer and doesn't stay on as long as the tail light, but it's bright enough that I don't need additional battery lights for when I stop. In the left photo, you can see that it's still on, just a little bit. Actually, I bet that wrongly connecting the light made it so the stand light was less effective. I'm thinking there's something in the headlight that allows less than 50% of the power to go to the less-needy tail light so it can keep more for itself. Lastly, I covered the top of the light with tape again to reduce glare in my own eyes while riding.

The pannier here is part of the pair that I first tried on my Ross Gran Tour. It's a good bag with lots of strength and volume. However, I initially though they were kind of water resistant because things I carried in it didn't get wet. While that may have been partially true for the main compartment in light rain, the smaller one sure as heck isn't in a downpour. Oh well, just something to remember. Also, I replaced the cheap saddle bag with a Banjo Brothers barrel bag. It's really nicely made and holds its shape alright, but the only complaint I have is that its single buckle doesn't sufficiently close the bag. The bag kind of sits open on either side, no matter how tightly or loosely the buckle is set. I think putting a reinforcing bar across the top could help it retain its shape even better and prevent the sides from opening.

Things I might still have to change are the pedals and water bottle cage (or, more often, cup holder) placement. The clipless pedals were nice for putting down power, but having to change shoes or focus on clipping in took away from the convenience of a hop-on-and-go city bike. Keeping the flat sides up proved to be less of a problem than I had envisioned, but I just don't see the point of allowing such a good pedal to rust up or go through wear and tear that it doesn't have to. I might just put some nice BMX pedals on and save these for something else (did somebody say mountain bike?). As for the cup holder, I don't have issues with clearance when I swing my foot over the top but with it sitting over the front wheel, I have had a couple incidents of a drink and cap exploding upward when I hit a bump. I think the middle of the bike would be less subject to upward forces. I don't really see another place to put it aside from the seat tube but that's already taken up by the lock. Or I could just leave a bottle there and pour whatever drink into it because I don't drink hot things anyway. That's what I'll probably do.

Overall, the hiccups along the way and small adjustments that need to be made are nothing compared to how well this bike functions for its purpose. It goes fast, it stops quickly, even when it's raining. It's not very heavy. The gear ratios are good for powering up and down hills in town and keeping up with traffic. It is drop-dead gorgeous. The lights work beautifully and I don't need to rely on batteries. It can handle heavy loads very easily and I can swing my leg over the top tube when there's something on the back. The frame is rigid and responsive, but at the same time has just enough give to smooth out the ride. The fat tires even out the horrible roads (and smooth trails) even further. When I need to panic stop, which is now possible, I can jump down to 1st gear right away. The 48 cm Nitto Dirt Drop bars are the perfect width and drop for my application and offer just as much control as I need to throw my weight around and point the bike where I want to go.

When it comes down to it, a bike is just a bike. I could probably find a decent bike with alloy wheels, a good gear range, and rack and fender eyelets for a fraction of this price. Why, then, did I put so much effort into selecting specific parts? I don't really know, but as one gets more deeply involved with a hobby, or even a way of life, the nuances usually start to become more and more apparent. Maybe it's because once you learn that there is just one more dimension to something, you notice it and seek to adjust it to your liking. There is then a certain thrill of taking on the challenge to construct something that is perfect for you. That is probably what happened to me and in the end, even if I don't think about it, this bike still works more nicely than anything for doing things around town. It just does. That's the beauty of it - there's nothing bothersome to think about!

Whatever the case may be, the "analytical period" is over and aside from aforementioned small equipment changes, this town bike is as good as I can get it and as good as I need it to be. For once in my life, I can say that a vehicle project might actually be finished. Once it's done, I can leave it how it is and just ride it. I won't even have to think about it. Actually, that has already begun to happen. Each time I need to be somewhere, I'll just grab a bike and go. Usually this one. And I'll ride the piss out of it, enjoying every second of the commute.