Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ohio to Erie: The Bike

I was incredibly indecisive about which bike to bring for our Ohio to Erie trip. I didn't have a base of longer rides to be able to say which bike, or which bike setup, would prove the most comfortable over a long day of riding. Or perhaps,  "least uncomfortable" would be a more appropriate term. Combined with a busy rush at work, this found me out in the garage on Wednesday night (before we left on Sunday morning) struggling to get a rack mounted to the Breezer with P clamps. After over an hour of frustration, I couldn't get the rack to sit square and solidly, so I gave up on the Breezer for this tour.

Logically, I should have taken the VO, but I wasn't feeling very warm towards it at the time and wanted to spend some time with my Cross Check instead. I thought my CC setup with the Open Bars would be the one instead. I took a quick shake down run to Kroger:

Of course, in the final days before we left, I had still more changes to make.

I had two main worries for my setup:

1) I wouldn't have enough hand positions

2) I couldn't get my hands high enough

With the Open Bar on the CC, point two wasn't a big concern due to the bar's rise, but the bars don't provide much more than the grip position and a quasi position on the front hooks, with my hands jammed over the shifters and brake clamps. With only a few days to go, I first changed the CC to my flat Salsa 17* sweep bar with bar ends on a flatter stem, and then changed the stem for one that was a bit shorter with more rise. It ended up like this:

This bar and bar end combo is one I've used quite a bit in the past, so I was hoping that previous experience would work well for this trip. In the end, it wasn't a great choice: due to the bar's rearward sweep, putting my hands on the bar ends didn't really change my back angle, so it didn't offer a way to relieve any back issues. As well, the muscles between my shoulder blades were stiffening up, I think because the bars were too wide. Finally, and most significantly, I was getting the return of some numbness and tingling in my left hand's outer edge. I think this was due to too much pressure across the middle section of my hand. This I attribute to the bars being too low (I measured them about 3/4" below my saddle, even with the higher stem), and the shape of the bar ends.

Because my response for any bike issue is to buy something new, I think the new Albastache bar from Rivendell might really be what I need: a good forward position with good brake access and a broad area to rest my hands, as well as a more upright position to stretch and relax my back. When they get back in stock this fall, I'm going to try one.

Handlebars aside, I only had one other major issue on my bike setup: the lower mount for the front panniers was too weak. The panniers have a spring loop that needs to fit over a hook on the rack, which is attached by a hateful P clamp. In this case, the P clamp was too big, which allowed the hook to rotate up. This allowed the pannier to untension and come loose at the top hooks.

I tried to move the panniers to the rear rack, but the heavy Burley Picolo rack I had mounted didn't set the bags back far enough for heel clearance (so in the end, I drug this thick steel rack around Ohio for no reason at all, since I didn't otherwise use it except to mount my taillight).

My next solution was to wrap a nylon strap around the bags and rack. This worked well enough, even across the gravel sections, that I had some confidence in it... until my right bag fell off while turning through an intersection in London, dragging my back across the street and wearing a hole in it:

My next set of panniers will have a hook built into the strap, so there's no need for a separate lower hook.

My gearing selection and drivetrain worked fine:

It's a 28/38 crank driving an 11-34 8 speed cassette, friction shifted. I only used the 28t while climbing out of Batelle Darby Creek metro park, otherwise the 38t worked for everything. Socks, sandals, and big flat pedals worked perfectly on this dry trip.

The V brakes were fine and strong performers. I would have liked fatter tires when going through the cities and gravel sections, but these 34mm wide Hutchinson tires were fine for the longer rail-trail portions. No flats for either of us on this trip.

My Bontrager saddle worked well enough. Instead of thick bike shorts, I wore lightweight boxers for most of this trip. Not as much padding, but I find bike shorts often bunch up and give me saddle sores. In this case, less is more. The VO clamps I used to attach the Carradice to my saddle had no issues.

The new Axiom wireless computer I'd picked up at Performance the day before leaving proved to be junk. It would randomly stop working, and be completely unresponsive to any input. When it was working, there was only about a micrometer of useful range between the magnet on the wheel and the pickup on the fork. I returned it when I got home and got my $30 back.

In the bigger picture, the CC handled OK with the front heavy load, but it was a little nervous and wandered some on the trail. The VO's lower trail front end would have handled this better. I would have appreciated it's greater standover clearance as well, which is nice when managing a heavy bike through many stops. Add in the greater tire clearance... next time then, I'll take the Camargue with the Albastache bars. I'm sure it will be perfect!

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