Commuting by Mountain Bike

When I first started riding my bike to work several years ago, I had a department store “mountain bike” and my commuting route often took me along the unpaved trails in the river valley and Mill Creek ravine. As the years have passed I’ve acquired better bikes and have gradually shifted focus to riding more on the roads and paved trails. This is partly because I’ve mostly been riding road bikes and partly because I’ve allowed my early rising discipline to erode, resulting in a sprinting, mad dash to work most days, along the shortest possible route. While this hurried commuting is certainly good from a fitness perspective, it definitely diminishes my ability to take advantage of the variety of routes.

After my great trail ride on Sunday, I was keen to try riding the Ravine Bike to work. In fact, I was eager enough that it actually gave me the motivation drag myself out of bed early yesterday.  I rode a mixture of mostly singletrack and gravel trails all the way to work and back home again at the end of the day. I zipped along paths I haven’t been on in a long time and explored some new ones, discovering some pretty great singletrack. After this ride, and my major trail discovery on Sunday, I’m starting to realize that this stuff is quietly waiting just out of sight all over the place.

 

Near the beginning of my trip home. I've always felt an impulse to climb onto the supports of this bridge with a musical instrument and play a few tunes. Is there troll blood in my family tree?

Near the beginning of my trip home. I’ve always felt an impulse to climb onto the supports of this bridge with a musical instrument and play a few tunes. Could there be troll blood in my family tree?

The river is running high and fast.

The river is running high and fast.

There were a lot of ominous eddies and vortices. They looked much more impressive in person than they do in this picture.

There were a lot of ominous eddies and vortices. They looked much more impressive in person than they do in this picture.

As commuting routes go, this is simply fantastic.

As commuting routes go, this is simply fantastic.

This beaver was making surprisingly good time swimming against the current.

This beaver was making surprisingly good time swimming against the current.

As great as the riding was, I wouldn’t want to do it every day. I think some of the fun would be lost if it became just another routine. I do, however, want to start riding the mountain bike to work on a regular basis. Perhaps once a week? There is another advantage to consider: the lack of racks and cargo capacity on the Ravine Bike gives me a perfect excuse for not running any shopping errands on the way home.

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Yeeeee-haaaaaw!

Ravine Bike

 

Today, I got up in the wee hours of the morning and took the Ravine Bike down on the river valley trails for a fantastic three-hour shakedown ride. This is the first real ride I’ve taken it on since I finished building it up this past winter. How good was it? It was so good that I almost posted my next  “Bike of the Week” entry five days early. It was so good that even spending one-and-a-half hours cleaning out the fridge after the ride couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm. It was so good that I want to go do it again RIGHT NOW. The weather was beautiful, the river valley is bursting with greenery , and the bike gobbled up the trails. Even the lingering effects of a bout with asthma yesterday couldn’t bring me down.

 

Bike of the Week: Motorized 80’s Kuwahara MTB

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This week’s bike belongs to a patron who came into Bikeworks North looking for a suspension fork for his motorized Kuwahara.

Normally, I’m not much of a fan of gasoline powered bicycles, but this one is such a tidy conversion that I had to take a picture. Also, the bicycle is a rather nice early 80’s Kuwahara. This winter I tuned up a very similar for sale at the shop, and if it had been a little bigger I’d have bought it for myself.

In the past, I’ve had  a sort of knee-jerk, negative reaction to motorized bicycles of all sorts.    This attitude was exacerbated by often having to patiently explain to  family members and acquaintances that I really DO like riding my bicycle to work and that getting a motorized one would definitely reduce the amount of exercise I was getting. Gasoline powered bikes, in particular are also loud, exhaust producing, and require trips to the gas station.

I recent years, however, I have come to appreciate the utility of the new generation of electric bikes. While I don’t have any plans to get one for myself any time soon, I can see how they are useful for many people. In particular, they let a person make commuting trips of longer distances than they would normally be capable of. My instructor in a solar energy course used his in this way: riding his e-bike he was able to greatly cut down on the number of days he commuted using his truck. He also measured the energy required to charge the battery and determined that he was only paying 12 cents a day to use the bike. That’s a heck of a savings over the price of gasoline for a truck.

Another natural application is in cargo bikes. Adding an electric motor gives a cyclist the option of hauling heavier loads for longer distances. There are a number of electric cargo bikes on the market. At a local bike shop I was recently looking at a Trek Transport Plus, a slick looking machine. The nearly $3000 price tag puts it somewhat out of my reach at this time but I could imagine myself cobbling together a DIY version, as our local RavingBikeFiend did. However, in the near future I already have plenty of bike projects lined up to keep me busy.

Long Weekend Ride

This past long weekend I finally – after what seems like an eon since the distantly remembered autumn – finally, got out of the city for a moderately long ride. Though I’d planned a ride between 75km and 100km, it ended up being only 50km. Still, a good inaugural ride for the season.

Despite the forecast of gloom and showers the weather of the day lived up to the promises of this sign.

Despite the forecast of gloom and showers, the weather of the day lived up to the promises of this sign.

Last summer I took a number of rides through the countryside north of the city. This year I want to explore the many unpaved township and range roads in the area. With this in mind I brought the Kona Jake on this first trip. It’s a sort of rugged road bike that is great at handling a mixture of paved and gravel roads, rolling nicely on the 700 X 35 Schwalbe Marathon Dureme tires.

There was a stiff headwind as I rode out of city, but I was happy enough to finally be on the open road that it didn’t much bother me. I took my normal route up 82nd street and over the Henday, then over to 50th street and north from there along familiar territory. When I finally reached one of the roads I wanted to explore I discovered that it appeared to have been recently graded: new loose gravel and loony sized rocks covered the entire road surface. I tried riding along it for a ways but it was very rough going, with my wheels occasionally firing little stones off to the side with pop and whine. I persisted for about a kilometer but was not really all that disappointed when my phone rang with a call summoning me home. I’ll go back and try the road another time once it gets packed down a bit.

There's not much shelter from the wind out on these roads.

There’s not much shelter from the wind out on these roads.

As I sped homeward with the wind at my back,  back I encountered a large group of road cyclists on their way north , I assume on a club ride. There were between 20 and 30 of them spread out into three groups, appearing to take the business very seriously as they were pedaling with a rather intense look and for the most part declined to acknowledge my friendly nod and wave. I did get a  companionable “hello” from one fellow and a cheerful, sunny smile from one woman. I suppose I didn’t really fit in with the Lycra Lodge what with my sandals and socks, 3/4 length cotton pants, commuting helmet with lights strapped on,   and baggy jacket snapping in the wind like a flag.

The rest of the ride home was speedy and uneventful. It was a nicely gentle start to the seasons riding and next weekend I hope to manage a longer ride.

2013 Inaugural ride

 

Bike of the Week: ’70s Sekine GT Novelty Mini Bike.

Sekine GT

Sekine GT

This week’s bike is a weird but fascinating old Sekine GT that showed up this past week as a donation at Bikeworks North. Since I first spotted it, the Sekine GT has been clouding my mind with a befuddling fascination. I don’t actually want the bike, but I keep looking it over each time I’m in the shop. It’s so peculiar that it draws the eye.

Sekine was a Japanese company that made bicycles for many decades. They’re fairly well known here in Canada because during the bike boom of the ’70s they opened a factory in Manitoba. At the time the Canadian government  had imposed some very high tariffs on imported bicycles (doubtless at the urging of the dominant domestic bicycle maker CCM) and Sekine was able to avoid this tariff by assembling most of the bike in Canada. The bikes were of good quality and sold well.I have seen many old Sekine 10-speed road bikes here in Edmonton.

This Japanese made Sekine GT is a different and fascinating little beast. I can find no reference to it on the internet, and perhaps they didn’t make very many of them.

Here is a combination you don't see every day: a cottered crank and rear suspension! It's interestig how this suspension system isn't wildly different than modern mountain bike suspension.

Here is a combination you don’t see every day: a cottered crank and rear suspension! It’s interesting how this suspension system isn’t wildly different than modern mountain bike suspension. The big 57 tooth chainring is paired with a little 3-speed freewheel in the rear.

Sekine GT

I love the look of biplane fork crowns on old bikes. This is the first “triplane” I’ve seen. If I owned this bike I might call it “The Orange Baron”.

Sekine GT

Very funky rear rack-like object.

Very funky rear rack-like object.

A huge Sekine branded reflector.

A huge Sekine branded reflector.

 

It has 14" X 3" tires and band brakes for both wheels.

It has 14″ X 3″ tires and band brakes for both wheels.

Sekine GT

This crazy little bicycle will make some collector very happy.

This crazy little bicycle will make some collector very happy.

Musical R20 Ride

Last night I loaded up the Raleigh 20 with instruments and alcohol and headed out to a friend’s birthday party to play a few tunes. The instruments of choice were the Republic resonator mandolin and my beloved Sandner waldzither-to-cittern conversion. The beer of  choice was Muskoka Summer Weiss.

Musical R20

Musical R20

The 3-speed R20 performed its job as beast of burden with aplomb, it’s zippy maneuverability undiminished by the low-slung load.  At the party guitars, whistle, fiddle and recorder were also present. Tunes were played, songs were sung (not by me!) and beverages were sipped. The post-midnight ride home was warm, quiet and peaceful. I coasted through a group of muted late night revelers in the Mill Creek ravine, seeming to amuse them with my helmet light. I do love fair weather night riding, one of the great things about the approaching summer.

Midnight Musical R20

Midnight Musical R20

Bike of the Week: 1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

WARNING: This post contains tedious, bike nerd content. My feelings won’t be at all hurt if you skip the text and just look at the pictures.

Introducing the 1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

Introducing the 1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

This winter I retired my old winter  ride, a 2007 Iron Horse Commuter. This bike served me well as my only bike for a couple of years before it was demoted to only winter service for two more years. By this time I was looking for something a little nicer for my winter ride. Preferably an older, good quality rigid mountain bike. What I ended up using was a slightly scruffy Rocky Mountain Fusion frameset  that had been kicking around, neglected, at Bikeworks North for several months.

About the Fusion Model:

The Fusion was first introduced in 1988. This bike’s frame was made overseas and then assembled in Canada. There was nothing unusual about this for the company, however, as in the previous year  six out of nine of the Rocky Mountain models were imported. By 1990, the year my bike was made, only the Fusion was not made in Canada. The 1989 model was made in Taiwan and I’m guessing that my 1990 bike was as well.  In the following year all the bikes including the Fusion were made in Canada. Ironically, I’m pretty sure that the pendulum has swung back and most if not all of Rocky Mountain’s bikes are made in Taiwan now. During these early years, the Fusion sat close to and sometimes at the bottom of the Rocky Mountain lineup. Even so, at  $760 in 1993 this was not an inexpensive bike.

1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

It has Ishiwata triple butted chromoly tubing. Triple butted was a marketing term from the period and functionally it’s no different from double butted. The tubing mostly has a circular cross-section, except where the seat tube joins the bottom bracket. At this point it is shaped to an oval cross section, purportedly offering better stiffness under pedaling torque.  Looking at the bike you can see the hint of a sloping top tube, something Rocky Mountain was making a big deal about at the time. It’s nothing by today’s standards, of course.

1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

It has sturdy rear rack bosses, eyelets for rack and fender in the rear, and for just a fender in the front. There is also nice attention to detail in the form of threaded holes for accessory mounting in the chainstay bridge, the seatstay bridge, and the fork crown

There are a few details that definitely place the era  the bike was made in. Firstly, the stem is the short lived 1 1/8″ theaded size. This size was briefly used in the early nineties but was quickly swept aside by the now familiar  threadless system. This isn’t  a big deal, but it will make sourcing replacements parts a bit more inconvenient. Secondly, while it has cantilever brakes in the front, it has a seatstay mounted U-brake in the rear. U-brakes were a fad in the late 90s, initially appearing on the chainstays, but later migrating to the seat stays before disappearing from bikes in the early 90s. There will be about that stupid U-brake later in this post.

Building the Bike:

Building this bike was the first time I’d ever started from mostly just a frameset. The only original parts are the frame, fork, headset, and probably the stem. All of the other components I either transferred from the Iron Horse or scrounged from my parts bin or the ones at BWN.

Starting off, the non-driveside crank threads were stripped. As we don’t have a puller at BWN, I cut the crank off with a hacksaw. The bottom bracket parts were worn out and I discarded them. Next, checking the frame with the alignment gauge showed that the rear triangle was bent to one side. Although this was my first time using the frame bending tools, the internet helpfully instructed me and I was able to realign the tubes, dropouts and derailleur hanger.

1990 Rock Mountain Fusion

I mounted XT levers with the shifters removed. These are great short-pull levers with good braking force and modulation. I used Suntour ratcheting friction shifters. Friction shifting is much less fussy than indexed in winter conditions, when your bike is coated in sand,salt and ice. These Suntour thumbies are as good as it gets. Levers and shifters are mounted on a Zoom 170 butted aluminum handlebar.

1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

I used a set of older LX cantis on the front. A little finicky to set up but with good braking power.

Biopace triple crankset. Some people loved the biopace chainrings, some hated them. I'm indifferent. The front derailleur is a nice,earlier Deore. Te rear derailleur is a nothing-special Alivio. Winter is tough on the drivetrain. No  sense in using anything too nice.

Biopace triple crankset. Some people loved the biopace chainrings, some hated them. I’m indifferent. The front derailleur is an earlier Deore. The rear derailleur is a nothing-special Alivio. Winter is tough on the drivetrain. No sense in using anything too nice.

Dratted U-Brake.

Dratted U-Brake.

When I started building the bike I assumed that it was supposed to have rear cantis. Posts on the seatstays equals cantilevers, right? Wrong! It wasn’t until I tried mounting a set of V-brakes that I noticed that the posts didn’t have a hole for the brake springs. I also belatedly noticed that the posts were higher than cantilever posts, above the rim in fact. What the heck was going on? U-brakes, that’s what.

U-Brakes are a sort of caliper brake on steroids.They do have plenty of stopping power, but have a few peculiarities. When bike manufacturers started using U-Brakes they placed them on the chainstays. These tubes are stronger than the seatstays, resulting in less frame flex during braking. Unfortunately it also put the brakes down near the ground where they tended to get clogged with mud and dirt. Builders, didn’t quite give up on them yet, though, and for a few years they located the U-brakes up on the seat stays. However,in this location they didn’t really have any significant advantages over cantilevers.

The geometry of the U-Brake system causes the pads to contact the rim higher and higher   as the pads wear out. Eventually, they will start rubbing on the tires with unfortunate results. This is not an endearing feature. While riding my Fusion this winter I made a special point of monitoring the pad wear to ensure my skookum studded tires were not ruined. Also, these brakes didn’t make it easy to squeeze fat tires and fenders on the bike. If you look closely at the photo you will see that I had to grind slots in the fenders to fit them inside the brake calipers. Add, a rack to the bike and it’s a real pain to make adjustments. Enough about brakes.

The front wheel is a Mavic something-or-other rim with a DT Hugi hub. I’d rolled with this wheel for two winters on the Iron Horse before using it on the Fusion. It’s continues to be great. Winter riding is one application where sealed cartridge bearings are very useful. Next year I may do something similar for the rear wheel (currently Mavic on an 8-speed LX Hub).

I wasn’t able use my DIY studded tires with this bike as the front fork clearance is quite tight. However, I lucked into some great second hand Nokian Haka WXC300 carbide studded tires. These have fantastic traction (I was down riding on the frozen river one day this winter) but are a beast to roll when you’re on bare pavement. The narrow fork clearance meant that I couldn’t fit a fender with these tires, either. I also used a set of Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires for a while, too. These 26 X 1.75″ tires were narrow enough that I could use the front fender with them. They don’t have anywhere near the grip of the Nokians but they roll much better on pavement. I used them throughout the last part of winter when there was a lot of bare pavement but still a fair number of icy patches.

RIDING THE FUSION:

Riding through the winter months on the lighter weight Fusion was much more enjoyable than on the clunky old Iron Horse Commuter. It’s stable, fast, and nimble. I churned through deep powder, ground across pits of brown sugar, climbed hills of sheer ice, and pounded across rutted hardpack. All the while whistling a jaunty tune (or maybe not).

1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

In the autumn, after building the bike and before the first snowfall,  I had the chance to take the Fusion for a test ride on the river valley singletrack. It flowed smoothly through the twisty trails, urging me to ride faster than my terrible off-road skills would normally permit. The difference between this bike and my previous imitation mountain bikes was noticeable. When I was racing down the the long, straight stretch leading to entrance to Kinnaird ravine I felt like I was outpacing the photons carrying  the visual information to my vibrating eyeballs. Good, clean fun.

It’s worth noting that the longish stem without much rise results in a very stretched out riding position.This aggressive stance felt great  on days when I was really digging in and pedaling hard.  However, on those commuting days when I was feeling less energetic,a more upright riding position would have been nice.

1990 Rocky Mountain Fusion

The Fusion also did a fine job of hauling cargo. I’ve loaded up the bike with panniers full of groceries on a regular basis and have hauled a few large awkward packages with no problems. These older rigid mountain bikes really are great all-around bikes. As a bonus, you can still buy them for cheap as they tend to be undervalued. However, there has been a lot more internet buzz about them in recent years so that change soon. If you are the sort that absolutely MUST have drop-bars,check out this forum thread to see some  conversions. For the summer, I’m thinking of going the opposite way and temporarily transmogrifying the Fusion into an upright city bike style. Stay tuned for details.

Whichever configuration it ends up in, this bike is now one of my keepers.

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