I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s definitely Friday.

Dear Dear Readers,

How are you? I’m swell. I’ve spent the past week feasting on the fruits of my patience cultivations and living the lavish, hedonistic lifestyle that comes following such toils. That’s not true. I didn’t do much this week, and I certainly didn’t train as much as I should have… But I think I’ve got enough stuff to muster up a decent post.

Here we go.

There are a couple of things that I wanted to talk about today but good news first: It started snowing! Yup, winter is a fickle mistress here in the Windy City and I guess a week of relatively clear, uncharacteristically survivable weather is best when topped off with 6-8 inches of snow (or rain, whatever). Oh well, hopefully a few more seasons like this and we Chicagoans will shuck the dangerous and unreliable horseless carriage and revert to our ancestors’ mode of animal-transit. (The horseful carriage?).

“Beautiful carriage, Thaddeus! And so horseful!”

I’m telling you, Dear Readers, invest in horse stock. And I don’t mean looking up popular horse breeding companies and researching investment methods and strategies all so that you can make responsible, measured decisions and come out ahead. I mean go all American, look up Horses (under “H…” as in “horse”) and go balls to the wall. Child’s college funds? Throw ’em in. 401K? More like Four-oh-one-“H,” as in horses. Disaster money? It’d be a disaster not to invest in horses. Why all this sage talk about horses, you ask? Well, so you can say that you heard it here first, Dear Readers. Additionally, I’m am basically just streaming consciousness at this point so, you know, bear with me. (Or should I say, “horse” with me?)

I went out to my parents’ house this week. I had debts to pay off, jobs to do and I had to see this guy about this thing. Anyway, between all my other misadventures I was lucky enough to spend some time with some very close friends of mine [don’t be jealous, Dear Readers (But seriously, be jealous, Dear Readers)] and I they sent me off with a kingly gift:

Gorgeous

Yes, the coveted Brooks saddle, and in perfect condition no less. Now, while a Brooks saddle isn’t the most precious thing on the Earth (certainly more than 25lbs. of ’em across the whole planet), it is a highly prized addition to any rider’s collection. Here’s the thing though; we no longer live in a world where items are skillfully made and meant to be cherished. Ours is a world where phones that cost hundreds of dollars are designed to fall to pieces in time for the next model (yeah, Apple, we’re calling you on your bullshit). I mean, we live in a world where this is considered a vehicle worth owning:

1. Terrible.
2. Horrendous
3. Nope.
4. “Curvy” is the new “visually abrasive”
5. Asymmetry? Nice try, Nissan

It seems as if the days of quality-controlled products are behind us, unfortunately. We have broken from artistic beauty for the sake of gimmicky utilitarianism (ask your parents how often they “needed” Google Maps while driving as kids or Angry Birds while pooping). And further, all the novelties which our new products bring to us only make the items more susceptible to failure. Consider coding in modern vehicles. Failure sensors for frivolous shit like navigation systems can trip and shutdown the vehicle (when was the last time you saw a horse with a killswitch? I’m telling you, they’re coming back).

Thank goodness Brooks doesn’t stand for this bullshit. They have been making saddles for nearly 150 years and they haven’t seen a need to change their formula yet. I’m sure someone at one point said “Hey yeah, these leather saddles sure are great, but don’t you think they would be better if we could also play Words with Friends on ’em?” After a swift, horse-like kick in the gooch that man was fired and Brooks dusted its shoulders off, got the girl and then went on as if nothing happened. And you know what? Their saddles are works of art. Thick, strong leather embossed with their logo, complete with steel runners and even a tensioning bolt. Their quality is in their simplicity and craftsmanship.

Needless to say I, having grown up with access to a veritable bounty of poorly constructed junk, was at a loss with this acquisition. How do I…what’s the word… care for this? Enter my dad and all the unexpected shit he owns and knows.

Now my parents have a lot of… unconventional… trash strewn throughout the house. This is something my siblings and I grew accustomed to throughout our lives. It did not, however, prepare me for when my dad pulled leather wax and saddle soap out of the drawer adjacent to our silverware. Of course we–Chicago suburbanites–have something like saddle soap and of course we keep it within reach of our pickle forks. Only at our house, I guess. It is no stranger than our industrial-grade rivet gun, our collection of unsettling porcelain dolls or our coal-powered clothes iron. And no, mom, I don’t care if it’s “rustic,” that thing is terrible and I will never use it.

I guess I can at least say that my family is ready for anything. Certainly they are ready to treat their saddles when horses come back.

That’s all for the week, Dear Readers,
-Nick

So last week’s poll came in with over 50% of the votes going to “more information about me.” In due time, Dear Readers. I still don’t feel I know you well enough and I don’t want to get hurt. Second place was the “other” category and the suggestions were… the suggestions were what they were. I will do my best to incorporate all of them in the future. Anyway, onto this week’s poll:

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A Woman’s Work is Never Done

Well hello, dear readers!

So another week and another blog post–the time seems to go by so fast.

Yeah, that’s what you call a dream bike

I guess the first thing that should be discussed is the Surly and how it has been working out. I won’t go as far as to say that it is everything I dreamed it would be, because my dreams are awesome, but it definitely fulfills what it was made to do. I forgot what a solid cromo frameset feels like. It really is the way to go when you’re looking for speed and comfort–good flex but sufficient rigidity to get up and go when the rider beckons. I have to say I love my new bike.

Unfortunately, I haven’t taken it out around town too much. Last week Chicago decided to start living up to its Horrendous Winter (also read “Every Season”) rep and began toeing the line of being uninhabitable. In the Midwest, February is often referred to by its pet name: “When Will Sweet Death Come-ruary.” To beat the cold, I rigged up the LHT for some indoor training. Which brings me into what I have been doing for the last week:

Patience cultivation.

Patience cultivation is a wonderful in-home activity which can be practiced by almost any person. It describes a variety of mind-numbing tasks which, when done for any significant duration, deaden one’s social abilities, muddle the perception of reality and generally just make you feel terrible. Stay-at-home mothers, often considered the pioneers of patience cultivation, learned long ago that the activity is best supplemented by a crisp barrel of chardonnay or, for the classy lady, an oil tanker of Barefoot’s merlot. Once sufficiently sauced, one can take on the endeavor of their choosing (child rearing, “working,” and crocheting being particularly prevalent choices) and go at it for hours.

“I think my brain is dying. Thank god I am completely shit-housed.” -Nana

Simply breathtaking.

This past week I myself have been cultivating the hell out of patience. My chosen activity diverges from the traditional offspring-related tasks, focusing primarily on indoor spinning. Unfortunately, while spinning generally involves less disgusting bodily expulsion than child-rearing, this only remains true as long as I don’t invite alcohol into the mix. Alcohol doesn’t really like hanging out in my tummy when I’m on the trainer. (Some other athletics manage to work with it, though). Although alcohol is out, I still have the scenic vistas of a Pilsen-area residence, the rapidly fluctuating temperatures of a bedroom poorly converted from a poorly built patio and the invigoratingly poor air quality (credit to the I-90 overpass next door and the TWO local, 100 year-old, coal-fired power plants) to whittle down my self-worth and sanity nicely. I have to say that riding for a couple hours every day staring at a wall and breathing in the sweet smell of industry has been getting to me.

But hey, nothing builds character like some good ol’ attrition, right? Mark Twain once said “A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.” Well, I’ll tell you what, he was fucking wrong. I’m sure all the drunk mothers out there would agree that character is the result of mental anguish and stationary bikes.  Adjectives? I have been using adjectives since I was a kid. Kids don’t have souls. You earn your soul  the day you sign up for the draft and not a minute sooner. How can a soul-less vessel have character, Twain? Oh, what…? No witty retort? Oh, that’s right. You’re dead. Checkmate, bitch.

I have wrists to my elbows and can’t feed the tire over the rim.

In order to spin, I had to slip on my Continental Ultra training skin onto the rear wheel. Otherwise I would burn through my road tire and essentially waste it. For those of you who have never seated an unraveled tire I gotta say, you are lucky. Decent to high-end clinchers are always a tight fit but when the rubber has lost its shape they become impossible to deal with. So in addition to ruining your thumbs trying to work those last six inches of bead into the rim, you’re also driven partially insane by the tire flopping out of  its seat on the other side of the wheel the entire time. Like I said, patience cultivation. Lucky for me I was able to take solace in the fact that my tire is signed by a very famous person. And the fact that the orange tire on black makes my bike look like Halloween.

We’re in for a SPOOKY ride. Eh? Eh?

There, done! Whaddya think!?

Jealousy is not very becoming of you, dear reader. I earned that signature.

Also, I suggest just disregarding the googly-eyed, moustachioed fan in the background. Some mysteries are better left unsolved, right?

Alright, but in all seriousness, the spinning I have been doing every day is definitely good for me. Don’t get me wrong, it is extra-terrible and boring but it does raise (what I am going to call) the patience threshold. Touring is a demanding endeavor and it will be day in and day out for me. Some of those days will be spent in Montana, Nebraska, or whatevs and my brain goop will ache for the stimuli of Pilsen’s splendor. Any sort of mental toughness I can develop now will likely prove invaluable for the long days in the saddle. Slowly but Surly (HA!) I think I am getting closer to my goal.

EXP Farming

Ok dear readers, that’s it for this week. I’ll leave you all with the results of last week’s poll and a new one for this week.

Take it easy and keep gettin’ at dat patience.
-Nick

So last week’s poll resulted in a tie for first place. With a total of less-votes-than-I-would-care-to-admit you, the reader, think that most people have asked me if I have accounted for the Bear Problem (yes, it should be capitalized) or if I had purchased a motorcycle. Well, you guys were right. Most people hear that I am riding through the Rockies and they immediately jump to the Nick Mauled by Bears scenario. I am proud of you all, dear readers. It is clear you are all conscious of the most dire threat to our nation and I am happy that it affects the thinking of your daily lives. Bears are vicious, blood-thirsty and, worst of all, conniving. Fiscally-motivated bears have even been known to rob banks. First American is the only bank I know of with a Bear-Robbery Contingency Plan (B-RCP). If that doesn’t sell you on First Am, then you shouldn’t own money.

Anyway, here’s this week’s poll. Check it out, bring out the family. I don’t care if you aren’t over 18. You can also vote twice under dead people’s names. Try “Mark Twain,” I’m sure he won’t be coming out.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Feeling Surly

My bank called me yesterday. They wanted to confirm that I was still in control of my account since some of the recent acquisitions did not “reflect my normal purchase patterns.” Though their concern was warranted, I still only barely I caught myself before shouting “Well duh, you big dummy! Haven’t you seen my blog!?” Check it out, and don’t forget to bring your extended family and all their friends. Well, fortunately I had enough time on the phone to remember how social interaction… you know… “works” and also how nice the tellers are at First American. (This ad was paid for by First American Bank)

So yeah, I bought the Surly Long Haul Trucker.

Surly
\ˈsər-lē\
adj.
1). Irritably sullen or churlish in mood or manner
Synonyms:
dour, crotchety, irascible, short-tempered

Any of you who know me will be saying “how fitting,” right about now. And for good reason. The Surly and I share some deep, primordial connection in our inability to endure nonsense, which is honestly one of the aspects which drew me to this bike. Every part on it means business and I’m not talking about that happy, fun, welcoming business you get at your local First American Bank… I’m talking, like… I dunno. If this bike took a spill on the road and I said to it “Hey bike, you’re bleeding,” the Surly would look me straight in the eyes, call upon its best Jesse Ventura impression and growl “I ain’t got time to bleed.” And unlike me, where I am soft and lovably puppy-like beneath my harsh exterior, the LHT is unyielding 4130 chromoly all the way through. It is actually the bike Schwarzenegger used to escape the jungle in the first Predator movie.

 I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to build the bike so, last Monday, I went over to Main Street Bicycles in Carpentersville, cracked the box open and got down to it. But before I talk about that I have to give some credit to the shop. The boys at MSB have already helped me more than they can imagine and I appreciate it. It is a great shop with a warm, welcoming atmosphere, excellent bikes, and a knowledgeable staff. If you are looking to pick up a new ride or just outfit that Huffy with a Dura-Ace Di2 drivetrain and some Zipps, well, that’s the place to go. (Both of these are options you could easily afford if you set up your very own checking account with First American Bank!)

Some Assembly Required

Alright, onto the bike. I didn’t take too many pictures since you can learn how to assemble a bike anywhere on the internet. That isn’t to say that people don’t still manage to fuck up… but I’ll keep this pretty brief regardless. A special thanks to Pete at the shop for all the help and encouraging mockery.

Some… More Assembly Required

Surly is the first bike I have unpacked with the fork detached from the frame. That means I had to assemble the headset, measure the steertube overhang, disassemble the headset, chop the overhang off and reassemble the headset again. Since I didn’t photograph any of that process, you can just assume I did it. (I did it!) Otherwise the bike was a pretty typical build. The hubs needed some slight adjustments, the shifting needed a once-over (again, thanks Pete) and the brakes needed to be seated properly. The only other part of the bike that gave me a problem was taping the damn bars. Surly doesn’t loop their shifting cables through the frame like the rest of the civilized world (read “upper class world that can afford to flaunt their Gunnars and the like in front of us peons”), so they come out from underneath the handlebar and, if you do it right, the bar tape. It’s a delicate job and if you botch it, well, all bets are off. People have gotten really hurt because they weren’t careful running their touring cables.

If only Bishop did as good a job…

All frustrations aside, the finished product was well worth it:

Fatties Fit Fine

So why did I go for the LHT? Well, the bike has a history of being a tough son of a bitch that doesn’t take shit from nobody and nothing. Simply put, it lives up to its name and my expectations. It looks good, rides nicely and could probably take a bomb blast (if it hadn’t already defused the bomb, of course. Bikes can do that.). Of course, there is more to it than appearances and impressions. The Surly was definitely the most bike for the price. On top of that, it is what the boys at MSB suggested and that is honestly enough for me any day. Sure, some of the other rides I mentioned in my previous post had better components (disc brakes, for example) or nicer amenities (racks or fenders), but as far as I am concerned each of those bikes needed a part or component upgrade somewhere. Not the Long Haul. The weakest components on this bike are the stem and handlebars (which don’t really matter since a few grams of additional weight isn’t critical in touring) and the brakes. Although the Tektro brakes aren’t ideal, they are still good–definitely enough to stop a loaded bike. Surly did an excellent job of saving money in non-critical components (stem and bars) to present the rider with a bike that is ready to tour right out of the box.

So I am going to start adding polls to the end of my posts. I hope that it will get more people to participate in the blog and, subsequently, in my whole experience. Don’t forget you can comment below!

Thanks for reading,
-Nick

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Bike Comparisons

Buying a bike is an exhaustive process. Hours upon hours of research, comparisons, sizing and all manner of other decisions can be abruptly dashed when you learn that the bike you settled on is no longer made in the color you want. And don’t spout some nonsense about the color “not making a difference.” Because it does. If you say otherwise you’re a goddamn liar.

"Oh, but it was a good deal!"

…But it was a good deal!

No. Shut up.

Before I launch into my reviews, I think a few points about touring  and bikes should be discussed

1). 700c vs. 26″ Wheels
 In the world of touring there are 700c and the slightly smaller 26” wheels and both have their own avid followers. Geometry dictates that the smaller wheel is going to be stronger, but more susceptible to damage from potholes and other hazards. 26” are also the more prevalent wheel in the less developed world. So if you are riding into remote areas, that style would be more fitting. The larger 700c’s are the standard in the US and also pair well with narrower tires. The larger diameter allows for smoother, more efficient riding and the narrower tire reduces surface drag. The difference between the two is small, to be sure, but I am accustomed to 700c’s as they are what I use on my other bikes.

2). Cromoly steel and TIG welding in bicycle frames
If you do any of your own research about touring you are going to see these words a lot. Cromoly steel stands for chromium molybdenum—a steel alloy that is an excellent balance of rigidly and flex. Cromoly comes in varying degrees of quality but some of the better levels are 4130 or Reynolds 520/525. These higher grades have more chromium than others which makes the steel harder. For that reason, high-end cromoly frames are welded using tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding. Without going into too much detail, TIG is a method of welding which uses a tungsten electrode to produce an arc between the welding torch and a metal’s surface. Melting a pool of metal on the surface of the material being welded, the welder then adds filler metal to the weld zone (which is purified by the inert gas) and combines the materials being welded.

3). Barend Shifters
These are the industry standard in touring. Those unfamiliar with barend shifters may not notice their benefits immediately. Located at the end of the curve in the handlebars, the shifters are like little paddles. They are helpful to touring because the rider can toggle between indexed and friction shifting. So, if you spill on your right side and bend your derailleur, you can switch to friction and just force the sucker into the desired position.

Alright anyway, these are the bikes that made it to my final round:

Surly Long Haul Trucker ~$1200
The Long Haul lives up to its name. It’s a long-range, heavy-duty touring bike that has been proven time and again. Now, heavy-duty was not simply a turn of phrase. The LHT frame is a chromium molybdenum alloy colloquially referred to as 4130 Chromoly. It is often compared to Reynolds 520/525 (which might just be branded 4130—I’m not too versed in frame alloys) and is certainly up there in terms of steel quality… and weight. Tipping the scales at almost 28lbs unloaded the LHT is no featherweight, but that is the price you pay for durability and flex. There is a reason there are no carbon touring bikes.
The LHT makes up ground in other areas. Surly cleverly extended the headtube allowing more versatility in positioning the bars and stem while putting the rider in a more upright, comfortable position. In regards to loaded touring the bike has the braze-ons for racks, three water bottles, a chainstay spoke holder and clearance for 26” or 700c tires and fenders.
One of the biggest weak points I find on the Long Haul Trucker is the Sora front derailleur. Especially when coupled with the Deore LX rear, it seems out of place and unreliable. Additionally, this bike comes barebones. No perks or little extras sweeten the deal—Surly leaves it up to you to make those purchases on your own.

Noteworthy Specs
-Shimano LX Rear Derailleur
-Shimano LX T660 Front and Rear Hubs
– Alex Adventurer Rims

Kona Sutra ~$1500
The first thing to mention about this bike is that it is straight up purty. Touring doesn’t lend itself to good looks so it is always nice to come across a head-turner. That being said, Kona has some features one might not expect. The first and most prominent is its severely sloped toptube (STT). Kona was the first company to pioneer this type of geometry in road bikes back in the late 80s. They claim that this adds compliancy, strength and shock absorption to the frame. I have to say that, after riding my brother’s Kona Blast, I agree. Still, the fact that no other major manufacturers have followed suit and mimicked this geometry leaves me hesitant. The Sutra also opted for Avid BB7 disc brakes. While looking for my bike, brakes were one of my primary concerns. After much consideration I came to two conclusions: Firstly, disc brakes are better than cantilevers. Obviously. Secondly, that doesn’t mean that I need disc brakes. I will be riding through some mountains fully loaded and probably am gonna get rained on more than I would like but I won’t be doing any downhill trailblazing and I hopefully won’t be too heavy. Cantis should be more than powerful enough to stop me.
Certainly, some of the most alluring aspects of the Sutra are its stock front/rear racks and fenders. These are options that I know I will have to go for one way or another so factory-direct sounds pretty nice. Unfortunately, the racks are aluminum and aren’t actually fit for long hauling. I feel a warped rack isn’t worth the risk and therefore I would rather go for steel. As far as I’m concerned I would be paying for something I wouldn’t use.

Noteworthy Specs
-30/39/50 Chainring set: Kona gave its bike a higher top range than most manufacturers—a great option for those days when the wind is at your back
-Continental Contact Tires
-Beefy brakes and a respectable Tiagra/Sora drivetrain

Raleigh Sojourn ~$1200
Now here is a company with a pedigree. Raleigh is one of the oldest bicycle companies in the market today and that fact, coupled with my relatively extensive experience working on Raleighs, is almost enough to sell me on this bike right here and now. Add to that a laundry list of fantastic specs including a Brooks saddle and bar tape, Avid BB5 disc brakes, Vittoria Radonneur Reflective tires, front and rear fenders, rear rack and a tire pump makes the decision seem pretty simple.
That being said, Raleigh made some cost-saving decisions which should keep any buyer wary. Critically, the wheelset. 36-hole hubs are the industry standard for touring and the Sojourn only has 32. Further, these are no-name hubs which aren’t even mentioned under the Raleigh specifications webpage. I will be the first to attest to the durability and quality of a Brooks saddle… but it ends up being pretty worthless when you crack a hub shell 100 miles from anywhere.
I am in no way discrediting the Sojourn—I love Raleighs. These are classy, hardy bikes that have been around for a while. In fact, if I had planned to stay closer to home with my riding this would undoubtedly be my number one choice. Wheelsets can be easily swapped and the rest of the bike seems bombproof. It is simply the same situation as the Kona Sutra. If you are on a budget you probably don’t want to buy things that you will just end up replacing. The Sojourn is a great bike on paper, I just wouldn’t take it for those long rides.

Noteworthy Specs
-The thing almost weighs 35lb. If it weighed any more it would probably achieve critical mass, implode and create a blackhole
-Avid BB5 Disc brakes: Nice depending on the type of riding you’re looking to do
-Oh so many nice extras like the Brooks saddle
-Reynolds 520 Cromo Frame with 4130 Cromo fork

Trek 520 ~$1400
And now to address the elephant in the room. Of course, Trek—one of the most recognized names in cycling—has a touring bike. And it is one hell of a contender. The 2012 Trek 520 is a shark in cycling history. They nailed it back in the early 80s and they haven’t needed changed much since then.
One of the best things about the popularity of Trek is that everyone has one. This Trek was by far and beyond the easiest bike to research as cycling websites are inundated with owners talking about their 520s.  Said reviews almost always seem to mention its responsiveness and durability, particularly while under weight. Those are points you always want to hear for touring, especially when it is the majority of the community.
Still, to stay competitive, Trek cut some corners. The rack and seat leave quite a bit to be desired. The Bontrager Back Rack Deluxe and the Evoke 1 saddle are both entry level (or lower) and are parts that Trek probably expected to get swapped. Additionally, Trek opted for Avid RL520 linear-pull brakes. While reliable in good conditions, that system seems inappropriate for loaded riding on wet or muddy days. The Avids are not bad brakes by any means, but they pale in comparison to the discs and cantilevers used by competitors.

Noteworthy Specs
-The Trek name. You can’t argue with history… Trek makes a good bike
-Manufactured in the US
-Wide wheel base and elongated rear triangle allow for maneuverability even while under load

So those are the bikes I had in my final round. My next post will explain which I got and why.

-Nick

Posted in Gear Love | 3 Comments

Opening Statements

A few months ago I decided I wanted to ride across the country on a bicycle. This seemed pretty outrageous at the time but, after some research, I began to see that it really wasn’t so uncommon. People do it all the time.
For a lot of money.
In big groups.
Now, money is something I don’t have and riding in groups is something I don’t want to do. I want to do this on the cheap and at my own pace. This blog is going to document my attempt in doing just that.

It’s probably worth mentioning a little about myself. I’m 22, living in Chicago and am working at a bar, a museum and (hopefully) a bicycle shop. I graduated from Illinois State University last year with a degree that… well, with a degree that provides me with so many employment opportunities that I have time to do this trip.

                                            Looking good.

I have been an athlete since I was 13, starting off as a runner with forays into multisport, ultimate frisbee and soccer. My passion has always been endurance, however, and cycling offers a very particular experience within the field. Running and swimming are unadulterated sports—they pit your abilities against the elements and other competitors. Cycling adds a variable, a machine that becomes an extension of your body. You are an athlete and a mechanic and your performance is dependent upon your abilities as both. I guess it is the multifaceted challenge that allures me to cycling and, subsequently, to this endeavor.

Now, as it turns out, riding a bicycle across the country takes a lot of planning and training and that shit ain’t easy. The writing I do here is partly to bounce ideas around and to map this whole process out but it is mostly for accountability. So, you know, support is appreciated. Heckling and cynicism are, well… shut up, guys.

In the coming weeks I will be posting quite a bit about my planning. Things like possible routes, gear, my workouts and an expansion on my reasoning for doing this. That isn’t to say that I am an expert on anything I am talking about. Quite the opposite… I am just making this up as I go. In other words, don’t take what I say at face value and don’t use this blog as a guide for a similar journey. That’d be stupid.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with the namesake of this blog:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3Hx_wwyVBY

-Nick

Posted in Adventure Love | 2 Comments