Sunday, June 11, 2017


Dun dun dun

For a couple months now, Nikolai and I had been planning to ride our bikes from my apartment in Ann Arbor to Caseville, Michigan, where he often sails his Hobie 16 catamaran. Nikolai has one bike, which is a newer Nashbar carbon frame with a Shimano 105 groupset and home-built wheels. I was thinking of taking my Lenton, initially, but being the one to always over-prepare equipment, I wanted the most comfortable, capable ride with the ability to carry stuff without having to wear a backpack or worry about anything at all. My eyes turned to the Lotus, which at the time had not been converted to 650b yet and was also still rocking the 3-speed Sturmey-Archer gear hub.

Roughly two weeks before the trip, I took one last ride on the Lotus in its previous configuration, through the city and over the trails with a friend and putting it through its paces like I did over the first 200 miles of ownership last year. I cleaned the mud off the tires by spinning and dipping them into the river.

Upon completion, I found out that the rims did not come perfectly round, so they couldn't be completely trued right away. After doing my best (remember that I have built maybe 11 wheels with a 100% success rate at this point), I decided to thrash the bike heavily and tweak the wheels every night so I could get them as round as I could before the ride to Caseville.

Retracing the path on the last ride, I flew over gravel, mud, and tree roots and discovered that the juicy Panaracer 650b tires handled the unpaved surfaces even better than the previous 700x35c tires did. The Lotus was practically begging for dirt roads now.

Having prepared a list of supplies months earlier, Nikolai and I still waited until the last night to finish buying stuff. We were intrigued by the models of tents (we didn't plan to use tents) at Meijer. We also gathered spokes from my stash in lengths that we would need and zip tied them to my rack stay. Nikolai had prepared the route for us a month in advance and we went over it in Google Earth to make sure nothing would catch us by surprise. It was going to be 140 miles each way, which we figured we could make in one day if we kept a very-comfortable 12-14 mph average pace.

We planned to hang hammocks from trees at the campground and use sleeping bags instead of tents to keep the size of our load in check. The resulting gear weighed 52 pounds for me, 32 of which was my bike, and 35 for Nikolai with a 17-pound bike. My load looked a lot bigger but in reality was not much heavier at all. I opted to have zero weight on my body since I knew how unpleasant it was to commute with a backpack. I wanted to talk Nikolai out of his backpack as well, but he seemed like he knew what he was doing and was fairly sure the backpack would be okay, so I just let it go. We bought electrolyte supplement drink mixes the previous night and were surprised to find out that the one that Nikolai picked looked exactly like antifreeze for older cars. We hit the Northside Grill for breakfast and then began on Pontiac Trail which was nearby.

Before long (or so it seemed), we had our first incident. Maybe 13 miles from Ann Arbor, still on Pontiac Trail, Nikolai rolled his tire off when he rode off then on then off then back onto the pavement while looking back for cars. He stayed upright but got a flat. Luckily, that was the only flat of the day. A little while later, we found ourselves in a neighborhood in New Hudson and Nik put his head in someone's sprinkler. Up until that point, everything seemed to be going fairly well, although slightly behind schedule.

Continuing through South Lyon, we enjoyed several miles of a calm trail. It was paved almost the whole way and we turned on some music. The speaker was in my bag and the bluetooth signal was coming from Nik's phone, so it acted as an invisible leash in case I got too far ahead. There were some dirt roads which Nikolai had to take cautiously with his 23 mm tires. As for me, I told him a couple times that I'd meet in a minute, then I would gun it or a little while and then wait for him to catch up. The Lotus handled gravel like a champ even with 20 lbs of gear on the back.

At Walled Lake, we rolled up to an ice cream place and Nikolai suggested we take five. We ended up buying ice cream and taking twenty-five. He mentioned that he was running a little hot and was rather surprised about it. Oh well, on we went.

We got into the Pontiac Lake Recreational Area and started to see lots of dirt, much to my delight. Then, we were led through a heavily-overgrown stretch of path that was just barely walkable. I decided to hop on and drop it onto the 30t ring, since my load was too wide for me to walk beside, while Nik walked behind. Mind you, the route was pre-planned, but this section didn't show up like this on the satellite map. It might have been winter when those images were taken. This stretch was thankfully short but confirmed to me that the Lotus could indeed handle most things encountered on a bike ride.

From then on, the ride got a bit less interesting, a bit hotter, and we encountered more traffic. We had lunch in Clarkston at about 3:30 pm, hung around for an uncomfortably long time, and continued north through Goodrich and Davison on M-15. There was lots of roadkill and lots of traffic. I guess we had expected these roads to be a bit quieter, but it didn't really bother me. It was what it was. However, I did have to throttle it way back to make sure Nikolai could keep up. His saddle was new and he hadn't gotten used to it. Also, the backpack was causing discomfort that he did not expect. We already knew that I had more "training" then he did over the past few years in terms of power, but I was surprised how quickly he was slowing down due to the equipment. What made it worse was that this was rush hour, and traffic made me want to go even faster just to get out of the way of intersections. In hindsight, the pace we were keeping was not all that bad, but the frequent pauses were setting us back quite a lot. Every time we stopped, we stopped for a long time.

This image reminds me, but I forgot to mention that I had decided not to clip in for this ride. I am so used to putting down power without cleats that I have yet to gain much benefit from them. Also, since my Nashbar Double Track pedals have high ridges that dig into the shoes, dismounting is a bit challenging. On top of that, since the brake calipers on my Lotus are so long, braking power is not great. I figured that due to the limited advantage and possible severe disadvantages of being clipped on to my pedals, I would be better off wearing my regular Sambas and sticking with the folding pedals that I use to make the Lotus easier to get through doors. Nikolai discovered that hot spots were a problem with his new cleated shoes, but much to my surprise, my shoes were not only adequate for putting down power, but also keeping my feet comfortably cool. Above, I am shown getting stuck to a piece of gum during a stop in Davison.

We rolled into Otisville for dinner, which was just over halfway. At this point, Nikolai's equipment was causing so much discomfort that we had to dial SOS and call his parents over to rescue us. I had the juice to keep going through the night, plus, the thought of less traffic was appealing, but going alone would not have been a good idea for a multitude of reasons.

While we waited for his parents, Nikolai and I plootered about the small town, took photos, and traded bikes for a bit. He commented that had we not carried all of the overnight gear, we could have made it. But then we would have needed it!

Nikolai and I crashed for the night at my apartment and then went our separate ways after lunch. I still wanted to get my riding in so I decided to ride the length of the B2B trail, unfazed, at about 3 pm.

I high-tailed it to Loonfeather Park at the southeast corner of Ypsilanti. I then rode back to my apartment, since I live at the midpoint of the trail, got more water, and headed toward Dexter. I took detours on gravel whenever I could.

Given that yesterday's pace left a little to be desired, I rode at my commuting speed. The fat tires, dynohub, additional weight, and extra aerodynamic drag slowed me down a little bit relative to the usual Dexter ride on the Lenton but the bike was so cushy and forgiving that I could not complain. The gear ratios were still perfect. After dinner in Dexter, I rode north through Hudson Mills Metropark, to the end of the B2B trail, and then bombed my way home since my phone was dying. I had effectively ridden the length of the B2B trail twice, which was 65 miles in total, at close to full throttle.

Even though we weren't able to make it to Caseville to camp, I'm still glad we tried. I not only learned a little about where I am, but also that the Lotus is the best all-rounder bike I have and that most likely will not change for a long time. Sure, it is a little bit heavy, but the peace of mind it gave cannot be beat. I didn't have to worry when I dove into unpaved shoulders, gravel roads, or debris-covered lanes, and the bike could handle the extra load well enough that I didn't worry about carrying it on my back. Wherever the map led us, it went. The dynohub drag was slightly noticeable, but I did not have to worry about visibility or battery life. The Lotus is the kind of bike that if I was ever unsure about which tool was right for whichever job, I could confidently grab it knowing that it would do just fine. Whereas Nikolai's bike is a Corvette - fast, light, refined, and built to do one thing extremely well with a very limited clientele, mine is a Cadillac CTS wagon. In my opinion, it is the perfect combination of speed, comfort, ruggedness, and capacity. Versatility, if you will.

As for Nik, I've been trying for a while to encourage him to build an old steel touring bike out of a smaller Raleigh Super Course frame I found, but I understand that it's hard want to choose a "heavier" bike after getting used to a light one. However, as my feelings toward the Lotus show, speed is only one of many factors that goes into the ride quality on a long-distance bike. The versatility and peace of mind that came with a little extra weight and a little extra drag did more to improve my overall comfort than outright mechanical efficiency.