The single-purpose gadget that could

I’m not generally a fan of single-purpose gadgets, but when they’re eminently effective and will get a lot of use, I’m down. Garlic press? Oh yeah. Chain scrubber? HELL yeah.

One of my Nashbar purchases was the Park Cyclone Chain Scrubber. Chains are just a bitch to keep clean, in my experience. I’ve done okay with Maia so far because I only ride her in dry conditions, but the commuter bike gets ridden in the wet and I don’t necessarily take care of its every little ding and bit of gunk. The chain was horribly encrusted with gunk that I despaired of getting out, despite regular attempts to clean it.

The scrubber works pretty darn well. I tested it on Maia first to get the hang of it, and got a lot of dirt off there. The chain still benefited from a good wipedown with a cloth after, to get gunk out of little corners and give a general once-over, but it was much easier to deal with.

Then I took it outside to Minerva, along with a ton of degreaser. I had to run it many times over on the chain, vigorously, then wipe off the chain and cogs, then run it many times over again with a clean apparatus and degreaser. Finally the chain appeared from under the gunk and actually began to look truly clean! I’m hoping that regular sessions with the scrubber will keep me from having to deal with so much accumulated gunk again.

Nashbar crappity crap

I got my second order from Bike Nashbar today and most of it looks fine, but I must say I’m extremely disappointed with the capri-length bike pants I ordered and will definitely be returning them. They’re Nashbar brand and were cheaper than I’m used to (my experience is that good tights run $70-90 unless on sale so I guess capri-length should be a bit cheaper), so I was tempted into ordering them. Never again. As soon as I touched them, I could tell they were thin and scratchy. They have seams right up the inner thighs that scratch when you put them on, and the padded seat is made of poor-quality foam and badly stitched.

Crafted from a blended nylon/Spandex/polyester fabric with a soft, textured interior to create a lightweight, yet warm knicker that wicks moisture away from the body to keep you dry and comfortable. The padded chamois prevents chafing and hot spots for increased comfort.

Yeah. Not so much. Soft and textured equals scratchy, and I don’t think that the foam in the seat meets anything but the vaguest of specifications of “padded chamois”.

I haven’t had the greatest of experiences with Nashbar so far, but most of the stuff they’ve sent has been of acceptable quality, if poorly advertised (not explaining that the rack I ordered was not vertical storage even when I asked and inconsistent offering of weight details on locks) but this just irritates me, both literally and figuratively. I’d rather give my business to local bike shops if Nashbar doesn’t have their act together; at least I don’t have to deal with shipping and return shipping.

Update: I wrote a snarky email to Nashbar Customer Service (including the phrases “this description is poetic but totally inaccurate” and “such poor quality as to border on being defective”) and they’ve offered to pay for the return shipping by allowing me to label the item defective, as I requested. I appreciate their willingness to own their error.

2wg bag

After getting some info from the 2WG guys I decided to go with ordering that bag. I hope it’ll work well; I did see some mixed reviews on the good old Internet, mainly that it was not durable enough, especially zippers. We’ll see. I’m pretty good to my equipment. They’ll take it back after 30 days for any reason and up to a year for defects, so I figured I couldn’t lose (much).

The questions I asked were:

Is it easy and quick to get on and off the bike?
Will my lunch jar fit in (measurements given)?

The answers were yes, and yes, according to them. The attachment process is top hooks for the rack plus two bottom rings and securing straps (velcro). I was charmed to hear that apparently the guy who answered my email won a wager that a 5-year-old could do it herself after a demo. I’m smarter than a 5-year-old — I hope!

The lunch jar would fit in a shoe pocket (what I thought, but I wanted confirmation). They also suggested they could custom-make one that would fit the lunch jar on top (in the area where you can stuff a few extra things), but I don’t think it’s necessary nor is it ideal to have the jar on its side. Still, I thought it was very thoughtful of them to suggest it. I’m looking forward to trying the bag out on the rack I ordered from Nashbar (a Blackburn EX-1) and finally being a proper cargo-carrying commuter.

Test ride: sequential comparison

Today I decided that I wanted to ride Meg (the Terry Madeleine) and Maia (my LeMond Alpe d’Huez) right in sequence to do a closer comparison, because after a few more (utilitarian) rides on Meg, I wondered if maybe I was too stretched out actually. The utilitarian rides were interesting because they were rides I would actually do in real life. I could really feel how much faster I would go on a regular basis if I used Meg as my commute bike, and I also noticed that I will really need to invest in a mirror that I’m comfortable wearing, because it’s very hard to see behind you in a road-bike position with a backpack on. (Of course, I’ll likely install a rack and use panniers many times instead of a backpack, but still.)

It turned out to be a really interesting comparison. I just rode around my neighborhood, experimenting with some rough road nearby and some starting, stopping, and turning, using different gears and hand positions.

The verdict is that neither Meg nor Maia is exactly perfect in size. Maia is just a tiny, tiny tad small. I’ve always felt a little bit, not cramped exactly, but like I was slightly large for Maia. It’s not something you notice objectively, and after riding her for a while I feel completely comfortable, but it’s there.

Meg is a little big, but not too big. Mainly, I need to bend a little more at the waist when riding Meg, instead of trying to cover the difference with my arms. When I bend properly, the handlebars fall in line with my nose and the brakes, which is the same positioning as I use on Maia, and my arms feel better. For a while I was concerned that there was something wrong with the front wheel, but it turned out just to be a little looseness of the reflectors, which went away when I adjusted them. There is a kind of sound when pedaling, though, that bothers me a little. I think it’s probably just the way she sounds, since all bikes sound a little different, but obviously I’m going to get it thoroughly checked out once I decide whether to keep her for sure.

I also reaffirmed that the gearing on Maia is better for around-town stuff. On Meg I’m always pushing up to the upper middle gears, but I imagine this wouldn’t be true after 30 or 40 miles with a loaded rack, so I think the gearing is correctly chosen for the application.

They perform noticeably differently on rough pavement. Meg softens more of the bigger jolts with the thicker tires and sturdier wheels, but transmits more of the small vibrations through the frame to my hands. Maia is the opposite, with little insulation from the road bumps but with the carbon in the frame cutting out most of the small vibrations and making the ‘feel’ flatter. I remember this same issue from when I was test-riding all-carbon bikes like the Ruby and Synapse, both of which felt flat to me.

One other interesting difference is that the drops on Maia are deeper. I really noticed that those on the Salsa handlebars are shallower (since they’re called short & shallow this makes sense). When I put my eye level with the top tube at the point where it joins the fork, the top of the drops on Maia is level with the top of the top tube, whereas on Meg half the bar is above that point. I prefer that positioning, given I’m more heeled over on Meg in general, so I need to be aware that if I do replace the bars, the drops won’t be as well-positioned unless I find a bar that is as straight as the Bontrager but as shallow as the Salsa. I also just noticed that part of the problem may not be the fact that Salsa bars angle out, but that they angle DOWN, whereas the Bontrager bars are nearly flat until they make the sudden turn down just at the hoods. Either way, those bars are just not as comfortable for me.

The more I ride Meg the more I’m thinking I’ll keep her, despite the small issues she does have. No bike is perfect, and Maia is probably the closest I will ever find to a perfect bike for me — so in a way the comparison is unfair. But I know I’m not looking for the same thing out of them, so hopefully my evaluation is accurate for the uses I’ll be putting them to.

I certainly would be delighted to replace my current commuter with Meg and take pounds off and ride a bike that’s better suited in almost every way to my daily and potential long-term recreational touring needs, and that’s probably the most important measure, not whether I love Meg as much as Maia. I’ll always delight in going out lightly laden to fly up and down Sand Hill or Portola Valley loop, but I also love the utilitarian pace of life at 12mph and the idea of cranking out the long miles with everything I need to live for a few days on the back of my bike!

Lance Armstrong brings attention to all kinds of cycling

I’ve been known to complain about the lack of bike advocacy and neglect of bike commuting by racers, particularly Lance Armstrong, since he’s got such a high profile. But Armstrong is stepping up, opening a bike shop that’ll sell a lot of different kinds of bikes and equipment as well as serve as a bikestation. He’s advocating for more cycling and better cycling conditions in Austin, especially downtown. Very cool!