Thursday, August 30, 2012

What I've been up to for the past two weeks... Bike Build

I decided earlier this summer that I was in need of a bicycle upgrade. My Motobecane Mirage circa 1975 road bike, which was purchased from a used bike shop in town, had been a smart investment and still works great for getting around town, but after a broken pedal, bent chain ring, and several flats during weekend trips, I realized the time had come for a ride the better suited my needs. I also decided that since I enjoy doing long, unsupported overnight trips it was time for me to better understand bicycle components and maintenance. What better way to do that than to build this new bike myself? So I set out to do some research.

After looking at over a dozen frames I finally settled on a Soma Double Cross. Why, you ask?

  • I often carry load on by bike for long rides, but I wouldn't consider what I do most to be loaded touring (carrying 80+ pounds cross country for months at a time). Generally the weight is less than 40 pounds, and I wanted something that was build with a more aggressive, speedy geometry than something like the Soma Saga or the Surly Long Haul Trucker. The Double Cross fit the geometry I wanted, being build for an aggressive posture but with a bit more length in the chainstays so that bags don't interfere with feet.
  • The double cross is a cyclo-cross frame, meaning that it is build for racing, but unlike road racing, must be able to handle off-road riding. As such, these bikes must be just as sturdy as they are fast.
  • As I do carry some weight basically all the time, I am not concerned with the frame or components being ultralight. The Double Cross is a steel frame with a bit more weight to it than an average road frame, which will help to control weight on the back as I ride.
Double Cross frame and fork in stand
The process of building up from parts was a long one. Some of the parts took weeks to come in, other orders came in with the wrong parts. I began the research process in mid June, and did my first ride during the last weekend in August.

In addition to assembling the bike, I also built the wheels myself. Hand built wheels are far superior to wheels build by machine, as machined wheels are trued by spoke tension measurements and do not accommodate for variances in rim or spoke construction. Learning to build wheels was a slow process at first (I think I put 6 hours into my first one!), but I learned a great deal about how and why the bicycle wheel works the way it does which will prove very useful while out on the road.

Soon-to-be bicycle wheels

After many late nights over several weeks, I took my new ride out on its first real test last Friday, riding 85 miles to Bourbonnais, Illinois where my family was helping my sister move in to college. The ride was insanely hot and very uncomfortable, as the Soma (new bike) is set up very differently from my Mirage (old bike), but the bike itself held up very well. I had to stop a few times to adjust the breaks, as the new cabling was still stretching and settling, but beyond that all components performed very well. I am riding out again tomorrow on a 130 mile journey from Chicago to South Haven, MI for some labor day weekend camping. Hopefully all goes well!

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