Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Life of Walt

Walt is my everyday ride.  For a long while, he was my only ride.  I found him at Velo Cult, sort of on accident.  My dad had given me his old road bike that was, in reality, a very new bike since he probably only rode it about 3 times.  It was a top-of-the-line in it's time carbon Trek from the mid-1990s.  I had been using the Trek for commuting and road riding, but after finding a rusty, beater beach cruiser leaned up against it and locked over it I decided it was time to add another bike to the stable that could handle a little abuse.

I scoured craigslist armed with about $100 and very little knowledge of what constituted a decent used bike.  Eventually, I found one that looked decent.  I took it for a test spin and coughed up $100 for it.  I can't even remember the make or model now.  I took it in to Velo Cult to have it tuned up and they immediately found a whole bunch of bad news (bent fork among other things).  I called the guy back and, not surprisingly, he didn't feel bad about selling me a junked bike.  Burned, but lesson learned.  I came back to VC to look for a used bike that would get me around and found Walt.  He is an 1984 or 85 Raleigh Marathon.  Nothing fancy, but he had a classy air about him: lugged steel frame, friction shifters, mustache bars and friction shifters mounted on the stem.

Walt's near original configuration.
Almost immediately I realized that stem shifters were the devil's work.  In order to climb a hill I would have to bow my right knee outward to avoid shifting into a harder gear.  Back to VC for some old downtube shifters and a used rear rack which set me back about $20 total.  The rear rack and a set of panniers (not the ones shown above, those are a pain to use) is really what opened my eyes to the possibility of just riding everywhere.  Once the load was off my back I felt less like a pack mule and more like a person getting around town.

The next modification I made to Walt was to splurge on a Brooks B-17 and abandon the cloth tape for cork which I find to be much more comfortable.  With those two changes and a pair of shoes on my feet all the points of contact with the bike were dialed in and I started to rack up the mileage, really only using my Vanagon for hauling stuff that can't fit on a bike.  Some creep stole the Trek, so Walt became my do-it-all...road rides, commutes, brevets, shopping trips, camping.  You name it, he could do it.

Walt taking in the scenery.
Eventually, my stable started to grow and I added some specialty bikes that limited Walt's use - although he remains my daily commuter and around town bike.  I decided to make a couple more modifications to his set up to make him into something of a Rivendell on the cheap.  New Tektro big mouth brakes would let me switch to 700c rims and open up the possibility for bigger tires, 35mm Pasela tires would give a more comfortable ride, and a Nitto Tallux stem with Albatross bars would give a more upright feel (I never did fall in love with the mustache bars).  The 35mm tire was actually too big to fit on the back, so I went with a 32 in back and 35 up front.  I'm loving the new set up - looks like a upright townie, but still rides light and fast (relatively) like a road bike.  I can't think of anything else I would like to change, for now.  Well, now that you mention it, I'd like to bring those downtube shifters up to the bar ends or maybe on top like the old stumpjumpers....but that will have to wait.  For now, Walt is perfect.

Walt the Franken-Riv

Thursday, January 10, 2013

When the Big Apples rot....

...I know what tire I'm getting next: the Schwalbe Big Ben.  If these had been available when I bought the Big Apples for my Rock Combo, I probably would have gone for these instead.  They seem to be somewhere between a Big Apple and a knobby tire, but a bit closer to the apples than to the knobbies.  The apples are great tires and can handle some off-road use if you lower the psi, but they are a little sketchy if you hit sandy stuff.  Now I just wish Schwalbes weren't so long lasting so I could hurry up and buy 'em.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mascota MTB

It has been a long time since I last updated the blog. I received a temporary job offer that involved long hours, relocation to Chicago, and little opportunity for adventure on two wheels. The job only went until November 6 (hint, hint) so now I'm back in San Diego and itching for some adventure. 

Recently, the lady and I went down to Mexico for a couple weeks to visit her family in Sinaloa and Jalisco. I was able to borrow a bike in both places, although one was considerably better than the other. We went to a small town of about 8,000 people in the mountains between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta called Mascota. It's technically on the way to Puerto Vallarta, but the roads are pretty winding and dangerous so the buses take the long way around the mountains and skip over Mascota. It's also not much of a tourist destination so you only really end up in Mascota if you are from there or have family there. Did I mention it's insanely beautiful? The cobblestone streets are traversed equally by bikes, horses, quads and cars and it is surrounded by rolling ranches and green mountains on all sides.  The town feels laid back and safe, though I did hear some warnings about straying too far into the hills solo as there are known to be some unsavory types growing things who wouldn't take kindly to random visitors.  The town itself was very welcoming and we were often stopped by folks just curious about how we ended up there.  When we stopped to take a picture of an interesting 1940s era bicycle with Trek Singletrack decals, the older vaquero who owned it chatted us up and insisted he was Ana's uncle.  Turns out it wasn't that much of a stretch of the truth.

The first day we climbed to the top of the small hill at the south of town, capped by a white cross.  The weather was perfect in December, probably about 70 degrees and clear.  In retrospect, this is the day I should have gone for a ride.

View from the top of the hill.


View from the road, can just barely make out the cross on the top of the hill.

On the third day I was able to borrow a 1990s era Giant hardtail from Ana's uncle and head off on my own.  I planned out a 30ish mile route that would climb a rough road up to a crater lake, then traverse over to a really small town called Navidad, finally descending about 3000 ft in 12 miles.  I had to forget about most of the ride as it took a while to get going and by that point the weather had turned a little.  I decided to just try to climb to the crater lake and return.

The road out of town.  Molcajete Volcano ahead.

After about 2-3 miles of gentle climbing over a cement, double-tracked road the rain started to pick up.  I stopped to take a drink of gatorade and mull over my options.  I thought about returning to town and hoping for a clearer day and earlier start the next morning, but in the end, I was enjoying the quiet road to myself too much and just thought that a little rain would add to the tall tale I could tell later on.  Eventually the smooth, cement road gave way to a patchy and rough cobblestone road that turned decidedly upwards.  The road became a relentlessly steep grind with pitches over 25% that just went up and up.  The rain also started coming down a bit more so the visibility wasn't great, but I did manage to catch a few views of the ranches and volcanoes.

A view of the ranches near the start of the cobblestone climb.

Up, up, up.
When the rain started to form small rivers in the road I decided I should probably turn back.  I did have to descend that beast still after all - stopping many times to give my braking hands a break.  The cobbles were a little slippery and I had a few sketch fish-outs, but managed to keep the rubber side down.  When I got back to the house and checked my GPS track I found out I was only about a mile away from the crater lake.  Oh well, maybe next time in better weather.  The rain didn't stop for two days, so it's good I didn't turn around in the beginning with hopes for better weather.

Rainy road back into Mascota.


Leaving town.