Friday, July 28, 2017

My First Modern Bike!

And naturally, it's a Raleigh.

Here is my brand new 2017 Raleigh Stuntman, which has already been modified and ridden somewhat extensively in the three weeks I've owned it. I came across this bike on Raleigh USA's website in February. I was immediately captivated and read everything I could about it. At that time, the price put it out of reach and (what I now realize are) the moderate hills and terrain of southeast Michigan did not justify such a hardcore machine. I had been getting around just fine for three years on Raleigh's old 3-speeds.

Last summer, I toyed with the idea of getting a cyclocross bike. And by toying, I mean I seriously considered it and actually tried to buy a Cannondale CAADX Tiagra during a summer sale until I found out that REI wouldn't deliver to a location close to me. I'm kind of glad that it didn't go though, because I now have the Lotus which does exactly what I would have asked from a cross bike in its current configuration.

I moved to Pittsburgh on July 1st and immediately started exploring the nearby parks and gravel trails on my Lotus which had recently been converted to 650b. It handled great and I loved the expanded gear range but it was still a lot of weight to be throwing around. The 650b tires were much more off-road capable than anything on my old 3-speeds, but one day I hit a partially-buried rock at 25 mph and pinch-flatted both of my tires - my first flats in almost three years. I knew by then that I needed something a little more dirt-friendly if I was going to be shredding so hard. Within a week of moving to Pittsburgh and starting my new job, I ordered the bike - which arrived the next day - and assembled it. It was my first real off-road bike, my first brand new full-size bike, my first modern bike in the sense that it has brifters and disc brakes; hydraulic, at that. It wasn't too bad. The derailleur hanger was slightly bent, which I heard was a frequent problem, but I bent it back and it seemed to work fine.

Here is my absolute favorite detail about the Stuntman. Raleigh bicycles are no longer produced in the old factory in Nottingham, England and instead has divisions that cater to the different markets in major countries. The Stuntman is naturally marketed toward Americans who have some of the most diverse landscapes to explore. The old heron was turned into an eagle carrying pitchers of beer across the American flag saying "skids, wheelies, jumps." Even if you aren't as patriotic as some of the folks here, it's hard not to appreciate the sheer brashness and sense of adventure that this logo implies.

Of course, the heron is not absent either and I like how the company has retained the basic design of its logo over the past 130 years.

Raleigh has recently been pushing its "heritage" line which includes classic names and models that have been revived with a modern twist. Such bikes include the Super Course, Superbe, Tourist, Grand Prix, Clubman, and more. There's also a 1974 Carlton Team TI replica. Along with that, many of the non-heritage models use Reynolds tubing just like Raleigh's performance bikes did 40, 50, or 60 years ago. My new Stuntman is made of Reynolds 631 steel.

The Stuntman comes with a SRAM Rival 1x groupset that includes an 11-42t cassette, 40-tooth chainring (which I swapped with a 36), and Hydro R disc brakes.

Making the transition from riding some of the most-antiquated Raleighs to the most modern was interesting. The huge improvement in braking power with hydraulic discs was of course much appreciated in this hilly, humid, rainy land. The gear range of the gigantic 11-speed cassette was also extremely useful. I was able to climb every single hill I came across, no matter how long or how steep, when I went out every night to explore my surroundings. My record was 1900 feet climbed over a two-hour ride. Another time, I got lost one night and ended up climbing a mile-long hill with an 8% average grade as my only way out. I'm new to the idea that I don't need to worry about anything wherever I go, but that's why I bought this bike. I love it. I think the hardest part of the transition is learning that I actually have to clean the components when they get muddy because they're expensive and complex. Not at all like an old 3-speed.

The bike has a funny combination of internal and external cable routing. Both brake cables are internally routed - the holes in the frame were large enough that I felt the need to fill the top one with Sugru to reduce water intrusion. However, the cable for the dropper post is routed below the downtube, and the rear derailleur cable runs bare down its right side. I feel like the exposed derailleur cable might be for serviceability purposes.

I initially intended to keep this bike fenderless because fenders sometimes get in the way of all-terrain bikes, but the first time I rode the bike to work, I got caught in a rain storm so I caved and bought some Planet Bike ATB 29er fenders. So far they've been great; my only complaint is really not of the fenders but the front wheel is so close that the fenders make toe overlap even more severe.


And, to help with carrying my goodies while commuting or exploring, I installed a Topeak Explorer 29er rack. I did not need the disc brake version because of the location at which the rear brake caliper was mounted. This saved a little bit of money. I stuck the Iron City Bikes sticker on the rack after they helped me tune up the brakes and spent the next 20 minutes nerding out with me.

This frame has a 54 cm top tube as opposed to the 56 cm that my other bikes are, so it feels a bit more nimble and compact. I think it fits me better. I have the seat post raised to is minimum-insertion line because of my longer-than-usual legs. Surprisingly, even with my limited experience, I can feel the difference of the 631 steel frame. It makes my Lotus (Tange no. 4 chromoly) feel dead in comparison, and is lighter and slightly more lively than the 2030 hi-tensile of my old 3-speeds. This bike rewards me more the harder I push.

I'd always been drawn to drop bar mountain bikes even before I had a reason to build a mountain bike. The Stuntman technically qualifies as a fat tire road bike, geometry-wise, but it still handles amazingly off road. The drop bars feel perfect in all three hand positions. The factory dropper post is also a cool feature and I've used it a few times when I suddenly found myself flying down a hill on gravel.

The 700x50c Clement MSO tires also help, of course. When bought alone, they're worth three times more than my usual tire but they sure pay off. I typically run them around 35 psi where they still don't have much rolling resistance, but can provide more than enough traction on loose surfaces.

I love the paint job on the bike. It was supposedly inspired by "The Fall Guy" and even though I was initially unfamiliar with the TV show, I just thought it was real neat. In the photo above these, you can see how the paint scheme continues inside the fork blades. For some reason, the beige panels are sharply chopped off near the top of the fork. I like how the front fender covers the awkward transition.

The test-ride pedals that came with this bike are still in their wrapping. I threw on the (now old) Nashbar Double Track pedals. I previously had them on the Lotus, and then the 1957 Lenton Grand Prix but they never were completely happy. I always had difficulty clipping in and out, which was later confirmed by my riding buddy who was already used to cleats. I couldn't figure out where the problem was coming from even after releasing the spring tension bolts all the way and switching from H20 to regular SPD cleats. But for some reason, all of the problems disappeared when I put the pedals on this bike, even when using the same shoes. Un-clipping was such a breeze that even when I had to skid to a stop in rainy traffic, I was able to take my foot off the pedal and put it to the ground before I even started falling over.

As mentioned previously, I replaced the factory 40-tooth ring with a 36. The 40 was not SRAM-branded but I was still kind of bummed to remove it. It was specifically designed for a beefy 1x setup - it was actually 1/8" wide but had cutouts around half of the teeth for the skinnier 3/32" chain. However, I felt that since I had never maxed out the drivetrain going down a hill, I could bear to have a bit more climbing ability. I still haven't really maxed it out, probably because the distance between stoplights is never too long.

And on the topic of stop lights, I think an 11-speed rear cluster is a bit much for commuting. As I had suspected, my usual riding style of sprinting between  traffic lights and up hills a short ways is better geared toward having fewer, wider-spaced gear ratios like what 3-speeds have. Even on my recreational rides, I find the gear range to be more crucial than the ratio count. I'm usually going up or down steep hills, never cruising on flats for long distances. Until I am able to take this bike on longer adventures that involve more road riding, I think an 8- or 9-speed cassette with a range this wide would actually be more appropriate for a commuting/road hybrid. Either way, I don't think this is something I will change because I already have all these gears ... why not use them? I'll just replace them if they wear out.

I have been enjoying the heck out of this bike so far. With the new location, steeper hills, and more mixed-terrain opportunities, I am believing it when people say Pittsburgh is harder yet more fun to ride in. I am also finding that I have more of a desire to go on a ride for "no reason" other than to just ride. It may be my curiosity of the new city, but it might also be the novelty of a new bike that is so different from the rest of mine. I'd like to think that instead of either of those things, it's because I genuinely enjoy the bike and the geography. I think I will be keeping the Stuntman for a very long time.