More capable and comfortable

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It was less than a year ago that Lael had her first experience mountain biking.  She’d ridden hundreds of miles on dirt roads and doubletrack trails on her Surly Long Haul Trucker with 1.75-2.0″ tires, but atop the Monarch Crest Trail near Salida, CO last October she had her first singletrack moment.  Over the winter, we explored the many miles of snowy singletrack in Anchorage with our Pugsleys as a fun diversion from commuting on icy rutted roads and sidewalks.  The challenges of riding on snow are limited traction and wheel-swallowing snowbanks alongside the trail.  It is quite like riding narrow forest or desert singletrack trails, yet quite different.

Back in Salida after a year of cycling and travel, we are headed up to the famed Monarch Crest Trail for another round of riding.  This time, we are equipped with mountain bicycles.  Since purchasing Lael’s used Raleigh XXIX several weeks ago as a nearly stock singlespeed steel 29er, many improvements have been made.

At  the time of purchase the seller was offering a suspension fork on another bike, as well as a multi-speed 29″ wheel and an older XT derailleur.  I offered a bit more money for these parts.  When I picked up the bike, the headset, cranks, and rear hub were all loose, and without pedals the bike was unrideable.  I was fairly certain that with proper adjustment the bike would be fine, but for the money I had spent I was a little nervous.  As it turned out, the 2-piece cranks needed tightening, and the rear wheel, a nearly new Shimano Deore model, is better than new with a load of grease and a good adjustment.  The current Shimano Deore rear hubs have a propensity for loosening, which can lead to premature wear.  The solution to the maladjusted headset, which later proved to be pitted and gritty, was a new Grand Cru sealed cartridge bearing unit from Velo Orange.  Three key components were needed to convert the singlespeed bike to a geared touring machine.  A derailleur hanger was available online for $16, as none of the shops within 100 miles had the part in stock.  I bought two.  A pair of smooth action Suntour XC friction shifters were donated to the project by Big Dummy Daddy, and the rear XT derailleur is from the original sale.  With a new SRAM PC-951 chain, the bike was rolling with a wide-range 1×9 drivetrain.  WIth the addition of Lael’s favorite On-One Mary handlebar, Ergon grips and gold VP platform pedals, the bike was ready to hit the trail.  To this point, the bike cost about $600.

There were several other considerations on our minds upon setting out, but we decided it would be better to gain some experience on the bike before spending any more money.  That way, we could make wise purchases rather than speculating about what we might need.   Over the first few days of riding, several things were apparent: the rear 2.1″ Maxxis CrossMark tire was neither large or aggressive enough to gain reliable traction on steep climbs nor could it descend with comfort and speed; the range of gears was a little high as  the chain spent much of the time in the lowest gear, or walking; and the stem may be a bit long.  We casually asked at shops in Breckenridge if they would have any inexpensive or used parts to improve the bike.  Transitioning to ski season, very few shops were equipped with anything useful.  Finally, Podium Sports in Frisco, CO provided a 29 x 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tire, and when we inquired about chainrings and cranks the following day, a string of other useful parts surfaced.  Kris, the kind and highly experienced shop manger immediately got to work helping us with our project, volunteering his time.

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A lightly use Race Face RideXC crank with a single chainring replaced the original Truvativ FireX, and to it we added a 22T steel Shimano chainring.  I had been packing the other shifter from the Suntour pair and Kris dug up an older XT front derailleur, as well as a clamp-on housing stop (the frame was designed for SS).  We got to work connecting cables.  The design of many modern top-pull front derailleurs is quite bulky, and the 2.4″ tire comes within about 5mm of the FD pivot.  At this time we determined that the rear triangle of the frame was bent towards the drive side, as the wheel was off center in the frame and the front derailleur cage rested dangerous close to the tire when relaxed.  With some frame building experience, Kris was prepared with calipers and a Park FAG-2 alignment tool.  The two of us went to work bending the frame back into shape.

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Push the driveside chainstay in, pull the non-drive chainstay out, check the spacing.  140mm.  Push the non-drive in again.  Check the spacing.  136mm, close enough.  Dish the wheel back to center, correcting our earlier corrections.  Fly through the gears, check limits, crank bolts and tire pressures.  Sixty bucks and a couple of hours later Lael has a fully-geared steel 29er with 2.3-2.4 tires, her favorite handlebars, a suspension fork and three water bottle cages.  I couldn’t have imagined that it all would have come together exactly like this, but for about $700, it’s a fully capable trail touring rig.

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As for the stem, Lael thinks that the problem is as much about her posture and the tension she holds in her neck as bike fit.  We’re sticking with the old stem for now.

Kris has a nice collection of bikes including an NJS Keirin track racing bike and a steel 29er frame with a Gates belt drive, his first frame built several years ago while training at UBI.  I spotted this nice Panasonic ATB, likely from 1984.  This is nice example with a Hite-Rite seat post system, SR-100 slingshot-style stem and a Takagi Tourney XT crank.  While all three of our bikes (Pugs, Panasonic, and XXIX) are vastly different, there is a kinship of rugged construction and large tires among them.  It is bikes like this Panasonic that drew my interests away from vintage road touring frames, which offered only limited tire clearances and demanded high prices.  My 1985 Schwinn High Sierra is still my favorite bike to date.  If only I could get something like this Panasonic of the High Sierra for a 29″ tire…

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Thanks for all the help Kris. Lael says, “thanks for the extra gears”.

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6 thoughts on “More capable and comfortable

  1. Gypsy thanks for all the great bike shots today, i usually tune in for the wonderful nature shots you get but I love the bike reworking process. Your shots of the Panasonic remind me I need to find a cool lugged old MT bike for my “quiver”. Just curious since Lael’s bike is a 1×9 I assume the Front Derailleur is a vestigial “chain keeper”? I have almost finished converting my 2009 Handsome Devil to a 1×9 and will be installing a Paul’s’ Chain keeper to replace the FD. Happy trails hope you get a nice long Indian summer for your rides.

    • The final photo of the Race Face crank show the 22-32 chainrings. The range of the 1×9 was fine, except that the 32T chainring wasn’t low enough for our current needs. The Truvativ FireX crank was only drilled for one 104BCD ring (or two, or a bash guard), so 32 was the absolute minimum without a new crank. It is a little frustrating to see that the crank had been cast with the nubs that would receive the little ring, but the holes had not been drilled and tapped. Since we were looking for a new (used) crank and I was carrying a shifter from the pair that was given to us, it was only a matter of finding a FD, a clamp-on housing stop and a 22 or 24T chainring. If Kris hadn’t been able to unearth all of these parts, we’d have continued on as before. Thus, the FD is actually functioning, and we are not using the cheap plastic Origin8 chain keeper that I had ordered.

      Headed to Vegas next week for Interbike. Should be plenty of summer happening over there.

  2. Hey Ryan! if you go to the top of the page and look at those pictures there, the one with the coffee cup and campfire is my postcard Nick sent me! Some kind of Middle Earth Writer’s Conference rewarded him the cup as payment for a series of lectures he gave on Adventure Writing.

    Or maybe he stole it. But I got the post card and it is enshrined here at my table.

    I’m with you, buddy. The stunning scenery that he records is well worth the visit, but there is just something magical about close-ups of gears and bike parts and the look of the mechanic at work. That and the brother/sisterhood of cycling that brings such disparate types together…I can’t tell in that one picture if that is grease or raspberry jam but there was a banana and a hammer in it. Always a tasty combination.

    And who else leaves the peanut butter in the bottle cage while measuring the dropouts? I know I do. But that ain’t why I’m here. As both of you are maybe aware, I have recently spent no little amount of time, money and raspberry jam redoing the Old Schwinn from a faithful yet drab workhorse, turning her into a murdered out and sleek, fast and dangerous-looking thoroughbred.

    When it came time to replace the front derailleur, I paused, then put it in the spare parts box. Hey! I live in Florida. I only used the small ring because it was there, and Little Miss Dangerous looks pretty sanitary without that extra piece of kludge.

    Then, while dashing home from a beer run, sizzling along like Kevin Bacon on a hot skillet, I Merckxed a corner and was surprised to find myself air-pedaling on the recovery. Dropped the chain!

    Why? And why use a chain keeper? If I need that, I’ll just put the FD back on and go back to using the granny on the odd drawbridge I encounter.

    All of which may become moot (cool word) because the very persuasive works of Nicholas Carman have me thinking fat and off road. I got nudged pretty good by a bus going 65 last month and ended up off road anyway. I would far prefer to take my chances with the gators, mooses and bears than the buicks, buses and bigfoots. The bigfoot trucks, I mean.

    Yours in a Kinship of Rugged Construction.

    tj the hijacker

    • TJ, I’m headed off on an overnight bike ride up above the trees and I’m out of practice typing on an iPod, so this will be brief.

      The mug is stolen, from Lael’s parent’s house. I would be happy to attend a writing conference, but I don’t know any other writers besides you, and I’m not sure your connections will lead to any invitations.

      Rugged fat-tire bikes like the Panasonic would serve you well, until the Mugsley arrives. They are all over the place for a hundred bucks, or less if you like Hi-Ten steel like Chris Harne. I’ve noticed you check the Old Ten Speed Gallery, so you probably love Hi-Ten steel.

      Lael’s bike is running smoothly on red currant jelly and mashed banana, while lael is surviving off peanut butter and water (and all the grapes she eats in the store before checking out).

      nicholas

    • The Ardent has quickly become Lael’s best friend. She now descends like fearless kid.

      Looking to replace the worn 2.3″ WTB Stout up front. Perhaps a CST Caballero will do, considering the price.

      Rode the Monarch Crest Trail yesterday, riding and pushing up Fooses Creek, and descending Silver Creek to Rainbow, finishing at the road in the dark. Rainbow is awesome! I’m on the hunt for a new ISIS left crank today. The old arm is bent from an unremarkable crash along Silver Creek. Thankfully, it still cleared the chainstays allowing us to finish the ride, although it felt a little wonky.

      See you soon!

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