A riding bike for the next few years

June 14, 2012

A Revised Report

“Dad, what makes this bike ride the way it does?” my daughter asked after riding my new Davidson bicycle fifteen miles on the Marine Drive Trail along the Columbia River. “It smooths out the rough patches on the road.”

I explained the reasons: titanium tubing, long wheelbase, 28 mm. tires, Brooks saddle, and light weight. She was surprised that she could feel the difference, and I was gratified that she did because I had spent a considerable sum of money to get it that way.

Both my reading and my experience on long rides had convinced me that comfort is one of the secrets to riding long days at a fast pace. Rough roads cause bikes to vibrate and this vibration diverts some of the cyclist’s forward motion into wasted up-and-down movement. It also forces the cyclist to absorb that wasted in energy in his or her body, thus leading to fatigue.

The conclusion is obvious. On comfortable bikes, cyclists go faster and last longer.

At bike shows, I have talked with several makers of handcrafted bicycles in the Pacific Northwest and found myself gravitating to Bill Davidson who has been handcrafting bicycles in Seattle since 1973. I like his ideas about bicycles, his shop creates bicycles in a timely fashion, and the workmanship is meticulous.

When we started serious conversation, I was beginning with my Waterford bicycle designed for heavy touring, which weighs about 30 pounds. My goal was to design a comfortable riding bike that weighs a lot less. Bill was starting with one of his performance-oriented Ti bikes, which weighs 16 pounds. With each change that I requested—generator front hub, lights, 32 mm. tires, fenders, S & S couplers, Brooks saddle, custom steel fork—Bill estimated how many ounces it would add.

The final result: a bicycle that is roughly halfway between our two starting points. And if I want to go all out for performance, I can substitute lighter wheels, remove the fenders, and ride with a lightweight saddle. The result would be dramatic reduction in weight, although with a modest reduction in the comfort level. What I would lose, however, would be wintertime lighting and protection from the Northwest’s rainy season (January 1 to December 31 every year).

One of my goals was to simplify the gearing by using a compact crank set with double chain rings instead of the heavier, clumsier triple crank that I’ve been riding. Bill found a new Sugino 42/26 double which, when matched with an 11-32 cassette, gives me a gear range from 104 to 21.6. This will keep me climbing the steeper grades for a while longer despite my diminished strength.

Another goal is that this bicycle can be modified to keep me riding as I move through my octogenarian decade. Already the reach is easier than on my other bikes, and by changing the stem further adjustments will be possible.

Since my new Davidson is intended to be my “riding bike,” to use Robert Penn’s phrase, I have added other accessories that increase the bicycle’s usefulness enough that I am willing to tolerate the weight gain: a Gilles Berthoud front basket, long frame pump, and bar-end rear view mirror. When I worry about the weight, I take comfort in a recent blog by Dave Moulton.

Weight weenies, Dave comments, are obsessive about the weight of their bikes. Weight Weenieism is not a disease, he says, “and there is no 12 step cure; it is a more like a religious or political belief. It is relatively harmless, although it can cause financial hardship, leading to marital stress,” both of which I hope to avoid.

The bicycle’s inaugural ride was PAC Tour’s Cactus Classic, a weeklong, 475-mile ride in southern Arizona in late February. The bicycle caught the eye of some of the other cyclists, but what I appreciated even more is that it carried me through the desert well enough that I can imagine more long rides like this during the next few years. It may all be enough fun that I will finally agree with Robert Browning (in Rabbi Ben Ezra):

Grow old along with me!

The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made:

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