Monday, April 18, 2011

wish granted!

Thank you for your support and finger-crossing!

Last week, I became the owner of this marvelous 1951 Sports Superbe.  The seller was Rick, ace mechanic at my LBS and accomplished racer.  On a visit to the shop last month, another mechanic mentioned that Rick was looking for me, wanting to sell a bike.  Rick was out of luck, I informed the messenger, as I have not one more inch of room to store another bike.  A few minutes later, Rick walked in.  I pre-empted the sale, telling him I couldn't possibly buy another bike. The only bike I could be interested in, one I was sure he'd never sell, was the green Raleigh Superbe.

That, Rick said, was just the one he was hoping to sell.  And here, he inserted a bit of remarkable news.  He would sell it for the extraordinarily affordable price he himself had paid for it a few months earlier.  The deal was done.

I like to think of myself as fair and ethical, but I'm not completely sure that if I stumbled onto an amazing deal on a bike I would pass that good fortune along, intact, to the next owner.  I mean, I think it'd be OK to profit a little bit from finding a lottery ticket in the street, no?  Thankfully, Rick is made of better stuff in this department. I did, when it was all done, ensure that Rick saw at least some profit from his remarkable stewardship of the bike.

Now, a word about the bike -- with more to come at another time.

In 1951, Raleigh sold a number of different bikes under the Superbe name.  It seems to have been a designator of "trim level" rather than a distinct model.  You can see what those extras included in 1951 here.

This new bicycle rides as you'd expect a bike owned by a mechanic to ride.  The four-speed Sturmey Archer hub shifts easily, with the middle two of the gears being sufficient to me.  The lowest, marked "B" for reasons I don't yet understand, is extremely low.  This could come in handy, I suppose, but "1" seems adequate for the few hills in our region.  At the high end is "H" and I think I can guess what that stands for.  The gear equating to "2" on a three-speed is marked "N," which, I learned, stands for "normal."  That strikes me as a very English way to view things and I like it.

It's also complete.  You'll notice a difference in the rendering of the bike as sold in 1951 and in my photo of it soon after coming home (below).

That cylinder on the seat tube is a battery pack.  It holds D batteries and powers the lights when the bike isn't in motion.  Rick wisely decided some of the wiring issues were outside his expertise, but included all the gear with the bike.  Now, I need to find someone less phobic than I about these kinds of tasks and put the bike back into original condition.  Next on the list is more authentic tires, but that's another story.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

At last, cream Delta Cruisers

I've wanted cream tires for ages.  I've seen them on a number of favorite blogs and tried to order them several times.  Each time I tried, the supplier turned out to have none in stock and my order was canceled.  Apparently, they were much easier to come by in the 700c size.  I was looking for 26 x 1 3/8 to fit one of my vintage Raleighs, and those were scarcer than hen's teeth.

In fact, I'd given up on the idea of owning any for the time being.  I set my sights on Panasonic Col de la Vie tires instead -- and even started thinking they might be a better look.  While browsing for a deal on the Panasonics, I came across the Schwalbe Delta Cruisers from a supplier who claimed to have them in stock!

This is what they look like after a ride around the block.
I ordered them in a flash, half-scared that this supplier would run out before mine were shipped.

They came today, and I put them on Geordie, the 1971 coffee Superbe.  I like the look very much (although I suspect the gumwall Panasonics would have been a hit as well.)

I'm already a fan, if only for the fact that they were easy to install.  Some 26" tires are nearly impossible for me to mount.  My hands and thumbs ache for days after fighting them onto the rims.  I realize there is some degree of operator incompetency here, but still... these new tires went on the way I'd always assumed tires should.  A modicum of stretching/pushing to get the beads in place but no swearing, sweating and struggling.

After one ride around the block, they had picked up some gray road tint, but I've read that they reach a kind of static point in terms of discoloration.  In other words, they get a bit dirty and them stop getting dirtier... allegedly.  We'll see.  In any event, I can't imagine the sidewalls -- the only part anyone really sees -- getting all that dirty or being all that hard to clean.

Now, I've got at least one more Raleigh in need of new tires.  Do I snap up another pair of Schwalbes while I can, or do I go with the Panasonics?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Oh Amazon, how did you know?

If only my life were as interesting as Amazon and Tivo seem to think it is when they make "suggestions" for me.

A few weeks ago, I bought a pair of handcuffs from Amazon to use as a kind of café lock for my bikes.  The whole transaction was smooth, fast and successful.  I've already moved on to new projects and ideas.

Amazon, though, isn't ready for the fun to end.  They found my purchase intriguing, and have helpfully tried to find other products I might enjoy.  Take a look at what showed up in my "other items you might like" box this morning.

 Seriously.  Right there next to Sunlite inner tubes and Crane bells and whatnot sat this, uh, item.

Naturally, I clicked on it to have a closer look.  (If you're an Amazon user, you're ahead of me at this point and know where this is headed.) Yep, I had now  changed the equation on another feature, the "items you've looked at recently" box.  By the time I got back to Schwalbe tires, my suggestions included a number of intriguing, horrifying, mysterious and wince-inducing products I will not show here.  I will say only that I had no idea there existed such a variety of dilators, riding crops and speculums (specula?) on our planet. 

So, I've pretty much convinced Amazon that I'm that dude from the basement of the pawn shop in Pulp Fiction.  Nice day's work.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Velo Orange saddles

I've been on the fence for a while about the Velo Orange saddles.  I've read conflicting reports about their quality and how they stack up against Brooks saddles.  Eventually I saw one, the VO version of the B67, in person, and found it surprisingly stiff.  The smallish difference in price, I decided, was not worth the risk of ending up with an inferior product.

Two things happened that led me to revisit this decision. First, I noticed that my Brooks B67 had splayed pretty significantly after only a few hundred miles of use.  The saddle had flattened noticeably and my attempts to re-introduce tension via the adjustment bolt were, at best, only moderately successful.  I started to think that maybe the stiffer leather of the VO saddle wouldn't be such a bad thing after all.

Second, several models of the VO saddles went on sale.  Now priced at $65, these saddles (at least the model 8 and model 5) now featured a price gap that made them worth another look.  In fact, the sale brought them down to the same prices offered by the actual manufacturer, Taiwan-based Gyes.

Come to think of it, there was a third factor to my decision.  In roaming the Internet, I stumbled across someone's photos of a restored Superbe nearly identical to my 1971 coffee-colored favorite.  The restoration featured a Flyer saddle, one of the Brooks being mimicked closely by a Velo Orange model.

So, I went for it.  I bought a black and brown Model 8 (or 5?) which is supposed to replicate the Flyer.  I put the brown one on Blaise, my Mercier mixte, and the black one on Takumashi, my Nishiki Citisport.

Aesthetically, they're a hit.  The brown saddle is a much better look for the blue Mercier than was the honey B67 that was on there before.  It's a very pleasant brown and I have hopes it will age to look similar to the Ideale saddle that would have been on this bike originally.  The black saddle is more accurately described as a very dark brown.  I think it's a more interesting color than the uniformly black of the Brooks saddles I own. 

But when it comes to saddles, looks aren't everything.  The jury is still out on whether these saddles will become sufficiently comfortable.  After about 30 miles on each, the Nishiki is proving more adaptable to the change.  In both cases, there's no mistaking the fact that you are sitting on something very solid and pretty hard.  There is no noticeable "give" in either case. 

In the case of the Mercier, though, it's more pronounced.  I can feel both sit bones after about 5 miles, resting somewhat uncomfortably on a hard surface. 

This sensation, I believe, is due to the stiffer leather.  So, I'm giving it 100 miles or so before I rejoice or despair.  I figure the stiffer leather will take longer to break in, so I'm reserving judgment.  My fear, of course, is that the saddle is too narrow for the mostly-upright position I have on the Mercier.  If this proves to be true, I may adjust the stem and bars to achieve a more aggressive position and see how much this helps.  After all, it's not like I have a shortage of upright bikes.

Interestingly, the VOs feature a fabric-like lining on the underside of the saddle.  This would appear to guard against moisture and dirt, but I'm wondering if it will provide an unwanted barrier to the effects of Proofide.  I slapped a fair bit under there anyway, and we'll see if it helps hurry the break-in period along.

I'd be interested in any perspective or counsel my experienced readers have to offer.  If a saddle isn't a good match, do you know right away or is patience a virtue in these situations?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Badass latte lock

I love café or latté locks on bikes. They always make me think of Belgium, where I was in constant amazement at the number of expensive Dutch bicycles left overnight on the front street secured only by one of these simple devices. 

Of course, this said more about the incidence of theft in Flanders than it did about the power of the wheel lock. Nevertheless, the simplicity of the wheel lock -- and the desire to live in a world where it would be sufficient to prevent anyone from borrowing your bicycle -- make it a favorite accessory for me.

Not long ago, Lovely Bicycle wrote about the wheel lock and I was reminded of how much the lock resembles a single handcuff.  I resolved to get a pair of handcuffs and add them to my security arsenal.  Sadly, my access to police equipment is gone, lo these last 15 years, so it wasn't a question of begging a pair from Property.  Likewise, the pawn shops that used to sell them downtown no longer carry them. This last item is less surprising than the fact that they ever carried them in the first place.  The pawn shop employees I asked seemed to think I was nuts for thinking they'd have such a thing.  I was, though, relieved and vindicated when one old-timer emerged from the back room to verify that my memory was correct... handcuffs had, inexplicably, been a prominent feature of his window displays in the early 1990s.

So, it was off to Amazon and then some fun waiting for the FedEx man.

First of all, the cuffs are much easier to carry than my u-lock.  Lighter, too.  They slip into even the smallest saddle bag.  After a bit of practice, unlocking them became very easy.  I did have to learn to lock them with the keyhole facing up, so I wouldn't have to stand on my head to get at it.

I'm not suggesting the cuffs offer the same level of security as a u-lock.  I imagine they wouldn't hold up well against decent bolt cutters.  I wouldn't use them, then, to lock the bike and leave it unseen in a theft-prone area for a long time.  But, for the quick coffee stop or an extra layer of security in a valet lot, they seem more than adequate.

I use them only occasionally as a wheel lock.  More often, I lock one cuff on the frame of the bike and the other around a stationary object. 

I wonder if their association with law enforcement doesn't offer some slight intangible benefit as well. I wonder if they might create a bit of extra hesitation on the part of the thief who would prefer not to tangle with something that could be the property of a cop?  On the other hand, maybe that'd make the theft all the more fun.  Dunno.

In terms of drawbacks, there is one big one I've found.  It turns out that parking meter posts and most bike rack tubes are far wider than I realized.  Finding a secure, but sufficiently thin, structure to which the "other" cuff can be fastened isn't always easy. 

But this still leaves their intended use,  as a wheel lock, a viable option.  I'm going to call this $13 investment a success.

three feet high and rising

Spring has finally decided to arrive, although it sometimes seems her heart isn't in it this year.  Chilly breezes and the threat of rain linger into our second week since the constant rain came to an end.  And, Winter is holding tight to some of the territory he claimed in March.

See those trees in the background?  Beneath them is where, during an ordinary year, you sit to do a bit of fishing in the American River just before it joins with the Sacramento.  This year, they are forty yards from the new shore.  The water levels outside the river's banks are ebbing, finally, but there are still a few remarkable sights to see.

Like this one.  This is the bike trail I normally take if my destination is midtown or downtown.  On this particular day, it was covered in water far too deep for biking through. For some perspective, follow the yellow line to the background... just to the left of one of the concrete pillars is a rectangle protruding from the water.  That is the map of the bike trail.  It's posted at eye level, which means the water is about three feet deep at that crossroads.  I have fenders and all, but three feet strikes me as a bit much.

Here's another example.  Ordinarily, the tourists seen here would walk down the gangplank to the Delta King and their lunch.  These days, it's an uphill hike to get to the grilled salmon.

Fortunately, I have found an alternate route that is now dry enough to let me bike across the river and then follow a little-used stretch of trail along the south bank.  As with much of river as it nears downtown, the wildlife on this bank runs more to the urban variety. Pit bulls seem to be the pet de rigueur these days among the outdoorsy types who frequent the south bank. 

Each day brings the water a bit lower on the trail along the north bank, and I hope to return to my usual route before much longer.

Finally, in the interest of fairness, I should point out that a delayed Spring may be a more appreciated Spring.  Scenes like these are everywhere, all at once, and will be on their way far too soon.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Keep your fingers crossed for me...

Remember this?  I first posted about it here.

I'm not going to say too much, because I am a very superstitious person.  But, it couldn't hurt to keep your fingers crossed on my behalf. 

More later, hopefully!!

Friday, April 1, 2011

My new thing

As you may have noticed, the number and frequency of posts has been dropping around here.

I think it's safe to say that I've grown tired of my fleet of city and commuter bikes and have been eagerly searching for a way to recapture the excitement and optimism that characterized this blog in the early days.

Well, I found it.  There's a whole new world of bicycling open to me now that I have discovered a way to combine my love of bikes with my lifelong love of the art of clowning.

Here's me on my latest CL find. I'm not 100 percent sure how this will do on the levee road that leads to the bike trail, but I'll figure it out.