Monday, March 6, 2017

My New Commuting Pannier is the Best Pannier

A few months ago, I began to feel like my twin Axiom panniers were just not quite what I needed for my daily commute. One pannier was always nearly empty. And the other, filled with my U-lock, cable, gloves, saddle cover, and other small accessories, often required a fair amount of digging to find what I needed. They were also not terribly convenient for on-the-go removal when my bike was locked up in an exposed public space; I didn't have any interest in removing both panniers and then carrying them around in the store or restaurant or wherever I happened to be.

I needed something with some organizing capacity, rather than a big, open well. I also needed something that could be easily removed from the bike and carried. And of course I needed a pannier that looked good on my vintage Peugeot. That's when I discovered the Blackburn Central Rear Pannier. Basically, it's a messenger bag - complete with shoulder strap, organizing pockets, and a laptop sleeve - that clips onto a bike rack. It has a built-in rain cover, which is outstanding, and the shoulder strap has magnetic clasps so that it stays tight against the body of the pannier when riding. Best of all, it's terribly handsome, made of a sort of gray cotton twill fabric. Plus it holds all the same stuff that my dual Axioms held.

Now that I've put a few miles on the Blackburn Central pannier, I can't say enough about it. Admittedly, it doesn't quite cut it when I have to carry an unexpectedly voluminous load, but I've been shocked at its carrying capacity. In fact, last weekend I hauled a 64oz growler and a 750ml bomber, in addition to all the other stuff I normally carry, which included a mini-pump, a well-stocked tool roll, and my jacket. It unlocks from my rear rack with ease and the magnetic shoulder strap is a particularly ingenious feature, so it transitions to shoulder bag duty seamlessly when I'm on foot. And it's a great looking accessory, regardless of whether I'm wearing a suit for work or jeans and a t-shirt for a trip to the pub. However, I should note that the rack hooks can be pretty uncomfortable when walking around with the bag for extended periods of time. They're not exactly low profile, and they tend to dig into my ribs and catch on my clothing, which is definitely an annoyance. But between the outstanding functionality of this pannier and its above-par aesthetics, I've been beyond pleased. This one's a winner for sure.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Spring Tune-up Came Early

The 1980 Peugeot Course received a much-needed facelift and tune-up over the weekend. The bike was covered in gray/black grime from being ridden in wet conditions. This was particularly bad - as it usually is - on the chain stays. There was also a thick coat of brake pad compound around the fork crown and the seat stays. While these may have been the worst spots, the whole frame was in an overall state of nasty and was badly in need of a thorough cleaning and polishing.

In regards to functionality, my shifting and braking had become mushy from the old neglected cables and housing. The bar tape that I put on the bike specifically for RAGBRAI 2015 was, at this point, pretty much disintegrating. And I recently decided to get rid of my Cardiff leather saddle after it had developed a pronounced ridge down its center line that was causing uncomfortable perineal pressure, so I swapped it out with the frighteningly ugly and rock-hard synthetic saddle that had come with Ginger's Motobecane Super Mirage. That too needed to be remedied.

I picked up an old, beat up Brooks B17 at a good price on eBay and snagged some RikeRibbon bar tape in a gaudy carbon gold color. What can I say? It beckoned to me. While at my LBS, I picked up cables and accessories. I also brought my intern/son along, and we had need to fortify ourselves after procuring our bounty. So that's what we did.

Once I had everything I needed, I got to work disassembling and cleaning the bike. I left the headset and cockpit where they were, as I find that the headset only needs to be overhauled rarely. And once you've got the cockpit set up just the way you want it, it's a huge pain in the ass to ruin everything by unnecessarily taking it all apart.

All the components were degreased as needed and cleaned up with a bit of soap and water. Once the frame was dry, I used a cleaning/polishing wax to give it a bit of luster and some protection from the elements and the general abuse of daily commuting. After I applied the wax, I had to wait for it to dry before buffing it off, and I enjoyed the down time with loud music, a delicious beverage, and thoughts of political resistance.

Reassembling the bike was mostly quick and painless. The components went back on the bike with ease and running cables and housing and getting everything dialed in on this machine is something I can practically do in my sleep. The old Brooks took a bit more work, as I noticed that the leather was very soft and pliable and sagging slightly, which caused the sides to splay. I thoroughly conditioned the old saddle to make sure the leather wasn't brittle, then drilled a couple holes along the bottom of each side and laced them together with a boot lace. The result is nearly perfect: a soft supple saddle that gives slightly under my weight without sagging.

The old Peugeot is definitely showing its age, but then again it hasn't exactly been coddled in the 5 years that I've had it. I ride it nearly every day and it continues to be a dependable, low maintenance machine for daily commuting, bar hopping, and around-town jaunts. Exactly what you'd want in a bicycle.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The End of the Line

Last weekend saw another bout of unseasonably warm temperatures. That made for a pretty good excuse to get out for a quick ride. I jumped on the Panasonic and set out for the Galloway Trail at around noon on Sunday. Temperatures were hovering in the mid-60s with very little wind and it was perfect riding weather. The Galloway Trail is undergoing some repairs where it crosses under the Highway 60, so rode the trail until I hit the end of the line. Then I returned the way I had come. Without the full Galloway circuit, the ride ended up being a bit shorter than expected. But I was able to fit a little over 16 miles into an early February afternoon. By the way, the average high temperature in early February in Springfield is in the 40s. So even a short ride in the wonderfully mild weather was quite a treat.

As I write this, temperatures are in the mid-20s and dropping. Sixty degrees and sunny sounds pretty damn nice.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Versatility of Early Era Mountain Bikes

I'm loving this 1987 Schwinn High Sierra restoration project from Josh Capps over at The Simplicity of Vintage Bicycles. I would call this a very light resto-mod, turning an all-terrain machine into a neighborhood grocery carrier, but clearly maintaining the look and feel of the original bike. I mean, he kept the damn thumb-shifters for God's sake!

But look closely and you'll see some pretty neat updates. The Bullmoose handlebars are probably the most jarring change; they're pretty eye-catching and quite distinct. But don't overlook the Brooks Cambium C17 saddle, which is a relatively new non-leather addition to the Brooks product line. It looks right at home on the High Sierra - so much so that I almost missed it at first glance.

I must admit I've been considering a project much like this. I obviously have a fondness for old GT mountain bikes, but vintage Treks and Bridgestones do it for me as well. With a few modifications here and there, one of these machines would make a fantastic (and essentially bomb-proof) urban assault bike. Now I just need to find the perfect donor bike/frame...

Friday, January 6, 2017

A Snowy Thursday Commute

It's been the better part of 8 months since I revamped my GT Outpost. After its face-lift, I promptly hung it from the ceiling of the shop, all shiny and newly beautified, and haven't touched it since. Pretty sad, but I just haven't had much of an opportunity to ride it. My Peugeot Course is my daily commuter and my Panasonic Touring Deluxe has now become by weekend ride. And so my old mountain bike sat neglected in the garage. That is, until yesterday.

A couple inches of snow fell yesterday morning and, with the streets covered, I decided that a mountain bike would be my best option for a powdery morning commute. I pulled my GT Outpost down out of storage, bolted pedals onto the cranks, and set off for work. A block or so down the road, I shifted onto the big chainring and nearly immediately noticed the chain jumping - especially when I mashed down on the pedals to pick up speed. When I arrived at work, I quickly discovered the problem: the bottom bracket spindle was loose inside the housing and wobbling pretty badly.

When I got home that evening, I pulled the bottom bracket out and replaced it with a used one I had stowed away in the shop. The cranks are spinning nicely now. Turns out the rebuilt Truvativ bottom bracket that I installed on the bike in April was a piece of shit. So I replaced it with a cheap Shimano that I've had for years and simply refuses to die.

Despite the mechanical problems, it wasn't a bad commute. Since the snow was still fresh and not too deep, I got plenty of grip with the 2.0 inch Bontrager knobbies that are on my mountain bike. I meandered over to the Jordan Valley Greenway and took the trail for about half my trip, which gave me a nice respite from riding in traffic in poor road conditions. It didn't take me much longer than usual to make the trip from home to work, even with a short stop on the Greenway to snap some pictures. Not too bad for a frigid snowy Thursday morning.