21 January 2009


Another reason to check out the Xtracycle Gallery...Thanks, John!


A few more shots of my Surly Karate Monkey Xtracycle in action. The setup was mostly taken from a Clever Cycles suggestion with additional input from Aaron's Bicycle Repair.

20 January 2009

Commute Madness

I biked to my old office this morning. It was very foggy, 30°F. Chris rolled in at 0630 and we hit the road. It was like old times, dodging potholes, talking about what was new. While at a stop light, a minivan driver commended us for being diligent to our biking and thanked us for being very visible with our blinkies and reflective bits.

We cruised to downtown to the 11th Street Bridge, which is still only open to bikes and pedestrians. About the time I realized that the ground looked rather sparkly, my rear wheel decided to try and catch up with the front wheel by passing me on the left. I put a foot down and hollered "Woooaaaahhh!" as I went into a 3-point slide. I slowed to nearly a stop before gravity finally took over. I looked up just in time to see Chris do the same thing, only with more speed and less grace. He was a little scratched up and a few pedestrians had a bit of a chuckle at our expense, but we were ok. We decided to walk a piece, only to be passed by an older fellow with a white beard on a city bike. He muttered something, probably about us being amateurs. Hardly.

The frost was thick on everything organic or metal between Portland Ave and Port of Tacoma Road. So thick, that I thought the concrete sidewalk of the Lincoln Ave bridge had been re-poured, it was so smooth and bright. Chris commented about his bike commute during the flooding we had in the area. Much of the sand and debris from the high water along Pacific Highway is still there, including a few large river rocks. Good times.

After saying hello to some friends heading in to the office, I headed back home before the frost on my sweater thawed too much. Rolling through the back-roads of Fife, a duck flushed from the marsh grass as I rode by. A hawk screeched as it glided over the road ahead. A frog chirped. Water rushed from a culvert into the stream. It was comfortably inspiring outing on a momentous day in America.

18 January 2009

Garage Time

With my wife working nights and me home all day and night with the Little Ones, I start to feel a little cabin fever now and then. Last night I moved all of the crap in the garage to the middle to make a track. Tonight, I tuned up my Cross Check brakes and tested them out...

Here's the damage...

From Garage

I know, you can hear the cantis chirping and you're thinking, "I thought he said he tuned up the brakes?" Well, it's 32°F out there and I had beer to drink. Plus, the squealing just gives everyone a little extra warning that I'm coming in fast.

And now, back to my Snow Cap and your regularly scheduled programming...

17 January 2009

Courage Classic 2008

In August 2008, I rode the Courage Classic Bicycle Tour with the Harmon Bike Club. The ride is a fund-raiser for Mary Bridge Children's Hospital in Tacoma. In order to earn more pledges, I advertised that I would be riding my 50+ pound Xtracycle over the three mountain passes.

I had been riding that bike to work about 50% of the time, and rode it on the May Day Metric to make sure that I could handle a long day in that saddle. The funny part was that the bike is so comfortable and fun to ride, that it was a no-brainer to choose that bike for the 3-day event.

I hauled plenty of extra food and water, as well as my favorite ceramic coffee mug to use at the rest stops. Even with all of the extra weight, I still made decent time to the summits. I noticed quite a few roadies on the descent from Blewitt shaking their hands because they had gone numb while they were tucked in an aero position. On each of the summit descents, I slid off the saddle and onto the snap deck of the Xtracycle to get a more low-profile position, reaching forward to the pedals and handlebar like it was a chopper. This maneuver was like turning on an afterburner. I don't have a cycle computer, but I think I approached 60 mph on the long and steep descent from Stevens Pass. That was the most difficult climb, in my opinion, but what a pay off!

Giving my Cross Check a more upright riding position made tons of sense after I had proved to myself that the comfort/fun factor is far more important to me than any performance benefit of a drop bar. I'm hoping to ride the Courage Classic this year with my wife. She has a comfortable city bike, too...

09 January 2009

Buying Local

The winter rains found more than one way into our home this week. The basement leaked (as usual), but so did the dining room window. I needed caulk.

Usually, I'd load up the minivan and drive the 4 or 5 miles to The Big Orange Home Store, get lost trying to find the one thing I need, and waste much time and resources to make a $5 purchase. Now that I'm home during reasonable business hours, I decided to check out my local lumber yard, which sells an assortment of building and home repair products.

I loaded Tula in the Burley D'Lite trailer, hitched it to the Cross Check, and we set out for Gray Lumber Company. It's only 1.3 miles away, but even on the short trip I noticed that my trailer combo was more nimble with easier starts and stops.

From Cross Check

Tula travels by bike in her carrier car seat, because she is too small to keep herself upright in the trailer seat. I leave the handle up to act as a frontal roll cage and buckle it in with the wide lateral seat belt in the trailer. She's very snug and seems to like facing forward, instead of rearward in the van.

There is a bike rack in front near the door, but my rig found a spot against the front wall. U-lock through the front wheel and frame, helmet through the rear wheel and frame. I wouldn't be long.

From Cross Check

Inside, I was impressed to find nearly every bit and bob that I have ever needed to fix my home. Furnace filters, toilet kits, hardware, pvc pipe, tools, and a wide assortment of caulk and glue. Three different employees asked to help me during the 5 minutes that I was inside. Upon telling one fellow that I was there on my first visit to explore my local lumber yard, he said that the business has been located in the neighborhood for 105 years and that "this is Tacoma." I will bring my business here again.

08 January 2009

Upright Cross Checking: Initial Thoughts

I took the Cross Check out for a few miles this evening, quickly zipping through the neighborhood to my favorite look-out spot. The conditions were not unlike those of many other short jaunts, but the ride was far more fun and enjoyable. Why?

1. Responsiveness. It's easier to start and stop with the upright position, the long-pull mtb levers give more stopping power to my cantis than the Tiagra aero levers, and the down tube shifters eliminated two loops of cable housing that were keeping my front wheel virtually locked straight making the bike feel more nimble.

2. Stability. Riding with no hands is much more stable. Up hill, down hill, slow, or fast, the bike tracks much better. This may be related to the lack of derailleur cable housing in the front, or that the weight of the bars has shifted towards the rear of the stearer tube. Either way, I like it. On a few hills, I easily stood out of the saddle and rocked the bars back and forth, which took me back to my BMX days. I wrapped part of the bend of the bar so that I could lean forward on climbs and stay in the saddle, a trick that works wonders with my Albatross bar on my Xtracycle.

3. Visibility. I am now constantly looking up and rarely looking down. The grip area is slightly below level, but the bar could stand to be tilted down a bit more to increase hand comfort.

Down tube shifting isn't as awkward as I had anticipated, though I did find that I track better when I use my right hand to shift both the left and right levers. (I'm left hand dominant.) It's not built for top speed, but will be a great bike for errands and day rides where the added cargo capacity of the Xtracycle is unwarranted. I've left the clipless pedals on for now so I still look somewhat legit to The Pros. (You know who you are...)

Next test: Trailering.

06 January 2009

Evolution of a Bicycle

I really got into bikes in 2005. After training for the STP on a Marin Rocky Ridge , and ultimately borrowing a svelte steel road bike for the ride itself, I decided that I wanted a good road bike of my own to use as a commuter.

My commute was a bit of a bear, about 14 miles of RR tracks and gritty shoulders. I settled on a 2005 Surly Cross Check Complete Bike.

From Cross Check

The bike served me well. I picked it because it would give me some flexibility with setups and would allow me to tinker. Clearance for wide tires with fenders, semi-horizontal dropouts for single-speed/fixed, lots of braze ons, and a reasonable price tag.

After nearly a year with the stock setup, a switched to a Brooks B17 saddle, On One Midge bars, and added a set of Reelights.

From Cross Check

This was a more comfortable, yet aggressive setup that worked well for time-trialing the route home, as well as some fire road hill climbs in the northern Cascades. After tiring of the super-wide Midge, I switched to a Nitto Randoneur bar and added a Nashbar front rack, so I could have a good place to strap the battery of my Blackburn X3 light. I also added a 26T granny ring and a Salsa Chain Guard instead of the 48t big ring. I tend to spin and like to climb hills, so why not only have those gears?

From Cross Check

I figured that this would be the last time that I would mess with the setup for a while. However, when I left my job in October to be a stay-at-home dad, my time in the saddle went from 2 hours/day to 30 minutes/week. I had just replaced the rear rim (because rims wear out in the Pacific Northwest if you ride year-round) and wanted to use it. The few group rides I've done in the last few months have left me tired and sore, yearning for the upright position of my Xtracycle, despite it's 20 pound weight penalty over the Cross Check.

A Velo Orange Tourist bar and some Avid FR-5 levers were an inexpensive and effective fix. The shifters were moved to the downtube to clean up the cabling mess on top of the front rack, and are still indexed. The bike is lighter, feels faster, provides better visibility of me and for me, and has reinvigorated my desire to ride this bike.

From Cross Check

The only change I can foresee is a switch to Paul Thumbies instead of the downtube shifters, but time will tell. I can't wait for the next group ride...