How to kill a Schwalbe Marathon

There only very few things for which I have zero tolerance. Flat tires is one of them. There is nothing in the world that kills the joy of riding a bicycle faster than a flat tire. Especially when you are going down a big hill and your freshly-installed tire was not properly seated on the rim. And you used a slime tube...

 Tube failure due to improper tire seating

Tube failure due to improper tire seating

I spent my High School days in eastern Washington and was introduced to this little nuisance...

They can get REALLY bad, as Pat from 26InchSlicks found out...

 Pat pulling dozens of thorns out of a fat tire using pliers.

Pat pulling dozens of thorns out of a fat tire using pliers.

Needless to say that when you are riding in eastern Washington State you ride with tire protection or you don't ride. Or at least you don't ride very far. That is Tribulus terrestris, commonly known as tackweed or goathead thistle. They REALLY hurt when you step on them barefoot.

So one day I was ranting about how much I hate flats and a friend at work introduced me to Schwalbe Marathon tires. They claim to be the only "flat-less" tire on the market, with the Marathon Plus model sporting an incredible 5mm of rubber between the tire surface and the tube. They even go to great lengths to prove how tough their tires can be...

So I picked up a set for my old mountain bike and started using them for daily commuting. For years I had ZERO flats.

In 2012 when I switched over from my 1993 Schwinn High Plains to a Specialized TriCross, I bought new Marathon Plus tires (700x35) to go with it and quickly ditched the really bad stock tires. And things went fine. These tires are AWESOME!

Until...

I was riding to work in the rain a few months ago and suddenly heard a quick "whoosh" sound, followed immediately by the unmistakable feeling of a flat rear tire. Luckily I was only going 15 MPH at the time and easily pulled over on the wide shoulder. A mile later I would have been doing 35-40 MPH down a very steep hill. Thankfully, I was unhurt.

It didn't take me long to find the reason for the leak: a MASSIVE hole cut in the tread. !?!?!

 1.5" slice in my rear tire!

1.5" slice in my rear tire!

What could make such a hole? How did I NOT see it?

It didn't take long to find the culprit.

 The Husky Sure-Grip Folding Lock Back Utility Knife

The Husky Sure-Grip Folding Lock Back Utility Knife

There is was on the road... a Husky Sure-Grip Folding Lock Back Utility Knife. You can buy them on Amazon for $11. They are a favorite tool among construction workers, landscapers, and anyone who routinely opens boxes (retail or warehouse workers). It was obvious by the damaged handle that the knife had been run-over several times by cars/trucks and had seen better days. So I picked it up and walked home.

Upon closer inspection I found the hole was impressively deep: even the tube had a 1" hole sliced into it.

I quickly swapped out with a new tire/tube and was back on the road in about 20 minutes.

Moral of the story: even the most armored tired cannot survive EVERYTHING. And I still have no idea how I didn't see that knife on the road before I hit it.

And who drops a box cutting razor knife in the road anyway? (probably fell off the back of a truck) A $14 knife carelessly dropped in the middle of the road cost me a $65 tire.

"Wait a minute, Lee... You just happened to have another Schwalbe Marathon Plus tire ready to swap out?"

Yes, I did. I have this nasty habit of pre-buying replacement parts for things that experience normal wear and tear. My garage contains a small stock of chains, cassettes, tires, and tubes for all my family's bikes. Remember my post about buying on the cheap? Buying ahead of need saves me a lot of money in the long run. 

Finally Getting Back on Track

At 12:30 pm today the countdown officially ended: sunny skies, high temp around 55, and a slow day at work. The stars aligned to allow me to bring out my new training tool...

That's right, I'm finally doing something I've always wanted to get into. And it came about on a whim.

My '07 Scattante has been having some frame issues so I've been shopping around for possible replacement options. This has taken me to Craigslist and eBay countless times in the past several months. As I was browsing frame after frame, I came across a listing for a track frame with a current bid of $30. After considering it for a few minutes, I put in a max bid of $70 and thought nothing of it. A couple days later I received an email from eBay notifying me that I won the auction at exactly $70. I was floored. 

You will notice that it is missing a few things, like wheels, a seat, and even a chain. With further searching on eBay I found a set of wheels that fit my needs: tough, somewhat aero (Deep-V rims), and around $200.

That left me with just a few other parts to purchase, which arrived from Amazon over the coming week: a chain, cogs of various sizes, a cog lockring, and a Park Tool Head-Gear lockring wrench.

I had other parts on-hand from previous replacements or stock-ups: Schwalbe Durano S tires, Specialized tubes, a Forte Pro SLX seat, and Shimano PD-R540 SPD-SL pedals.

And then I had to go to the bike store to buy some rim tape. Duh!

Now that I have a track bike assembled and ready to go... I became a hipster and started wearing weird clothes and drinking PBR, right?

Um... No.

Only 5 miles from my house is the track that hosted the cycling events for the 1990 Goodwill Games, many regional Olympic trials, and several National Championships, the Marymoor Velodrome. It is a fabulous outdoor, 400m concrete oval bicycle track with 25 degree banked turns. Most tracks are shorter, which means banking up to 45 degrees. 

Panorama of the Marymoor Velodrome, Redmond, WAThe key thing here is "outdoor". That 25 degree banking can be downright dangerous in the wet. With that in mind, the only thing I needed was a dry track. This requires a dry/sunny day. In late winter in the Seattle area. Suuuuuure. It only took about a week of waiting.

My new track bike at the Marymoor VelodromeI came down for a long lunch at the track and took in a few turns. There were only a couple people there, including Rob McD, a track racer I know from work. He had some very encouraging words but in the end I was just there to show everyone how slow and out of shape I have become in the last 18 months. 

The circus had indeed come to town. No, really. That big white tent behind me is for Cavalia. Think Cirque du Soleil but with horses. One of these days I'll actually go to one of their shows. Anyway...

I did an even 40 laps of interval training: sprint for 1-2 laps, rest for 2-3 laps, repeat. OK, I did have to stop a few times to adjust various things on my bike like stem position, handlebar height, etc., since this was my first time on this bike.

In the end I didn't kill myself. I didn't even embarrass myself, although I tried a few times. Note to self: FIXED GEAR BIKES do not have a freewheel. Trying to stop the pedals at 25 MPH is a BAD idea.

It was a great day. I can't say enough good things about this track. And I'll be back. My next opportunity appears to be Monday, only 3 days away!

On race night the atmosphere around the track is electric. The competition is fierce and the speeds are high.

Marymoor Velodrome during the 2012 FSA Grand Prix

One of our favorite track events is the "Marymoor Crawl" where they have everyone "race" from turn 4 to the start/finish line for up to 2-3 minutes, at which point they ring the bell and everyone does a 1-lap sprint for a $100 prize. The catch? If you put your foot down or cross the start/finish line before the bell, you are eliminated. It is crazy and looks a little something like this-

Doing it on the cheap - Redeaux!

In looking at my website stats, my "Doing it on the cheap" post is #1. There is no other post that even comes close, even my Cycle Oregon page has less hits by a 10x margin. And now I present an updated and expanded version of...

Triathlons: Hot to be a Triathlete on a budget.


Triathlons are not for the faint of heart and, apparently, not for the thin of wallet. 

"So Triathlon is the new golf?" I was so flabbergasted that I didn't quite know what to say. This could not possibly be true but there was the data in black and white-

"According to a study initiated by USA Triathlon, the average triathlete is a married 38-year-old with an income of $126,000. Forty-four percent have kids living at home; 60% are male. They spend in excess of $4,000 annually on bike gear, athletic footwear, race fees and nutritional supplements. Nearly half have traveled more than 500 miles for a race."

-Natalie Zmuda, Advertising Age

$4000 a year on gear, race fees, and food? PER YEAR? Seriously? If it doesn't turn out to be a fad then there is significant money to be made marketing/selling gear to triathletes in the coming years. 

...Unless that triatlete is me. I may be squarely in the demographic quoted above but I spend NO WHERE NEAR that amount of money on my craft.

Is it possible to be a triathlete and do it on a shoe-string budget? My answer: ABSOLUTELY!

Let's break it down into the main categories mentioned in the article above and see how you can do it without breaking the bank. To be fair to all you lady triathletes out there I called upon an old friend, Valerie, who finished her rookie race in 2011 and did it for just-over $200!

Finding the Best Deals

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: Best advice I can give you - plan what you need NOW and start researching and window shopping. Notice I didn't say buying? That comes later. If you wait until the last minute to find what you need you will either spend WAY too much (i.e. list price) or find yourself loaded down with worthless gear that doesn't fit or meet your needs.

Once you know what you are looking for, you can take your time and wait for the right sale.

The best time of year to buy gear is the last month of the season and the 2 months following (August-October in North America). That's when shops are clearing out the current year's merchandise, prepping for Inter-bike, and getting ready to stock up on the latest products. If you can settle for the previous year's clothing or gear you can save some serious dough.

Deal Websites: My favorite site lately has been Chainlove but you can also find great deals on Amazon and many others. Also look for "deal of the day" on sites like Western Bike WorksREI, and Competitive Cyclist. These sites are great but if you don't know what you are looking for they are useless. Do your footwork first and they are much more valuable. 

Clearance Sales: The REI seasonal clearance sales, the clearance section of just about any shopping website, and even Performance Bike and Bike Nashbar are a great place to find hidden gems. Case in point: My bike commute shoes are a pair of size 49 Canondale Roam shoes. I found them on a fluke on Bike Nashbar for nearly 75% off (less than $30). 

The Clearance Rack: When I go shopping at any store (clothes, electronics, and especially sporting goods) the first place I go is the clearance rack/section. Some of my best finds have been at REI, the Nike Factory store, and, yes, Target (amazing low prices on basic workout clothes such as base layers for running). Go to ALL of your local bike stores (LBS) and check out their clearance rack/table. You will be surprised what you can find marked down by 80% (like every set of gloves or glasses I have ever worn). 

Race/Training Clothing

I put this category first because it crosses boundaries with the different disciplines on race day and, most of the time, while training as well. 

Tri shorts: A good pair of tri shorts will serve you well on the bike and still be comfortable on the run. I prefer the Pearl Izumi Tri Shorts, men's model of course. List price: $55. If you are going to skimp on something, for heaven's sake don't skimp on your shorts. Do it on the...

Tri top: This is where there is the most flexibility. For short races a normal bike jersey will do but for the longer races you need something that won't chafe your armpits or other sensitive upper-body areas. Once again, Pearl Izumi Tri Top (Sleeveless) is a good choice. List price: $55.

Tri Suit: The even cheaper way to go is to combine the jersey and shorts into a tri suit. The Pearl Izumi Tri Suitlists for $99, $10 cheaper than the shorts and top combination. 

I hate to sound like a broken record for Pearl Izumi but they seem to have a lot of clothes that fit me (size XXL). There are other options out there but they are harder to find and often more expensive. 

That about covers race day clothing but race day itself is less than 1% of the total time you will spend all year in your sport. The rest is spent training. While training, especially on single-sport days, you can wear something a little more tailored for the current sport. If I'm going to spend 120 minutes on the bike doing a long ride I would much rather be wearing bike-specific shorts. There is a lot of flexibility there. I will cover each individually below.

Swim exit to T1, Beaver Lake Tri 2010Swim Gear

Race Swim Suit: See Tri shorts/suits above. For race day there really is no substitute. In big races (i.e. Ironman events) there is an enclosed changing area where you can change into a tri-suit if you desire but not so in shorter/local races. I actually saw a couple of women changing in the transition area of T1 during a race. One would hold up a big towel around the other while she changed, then they would switch. Their T1 times must have been somewhere around 10 minutes.

Training Swim Suit: This is where you can get ultra-cheap. Any suit that fits for swimming, and allows for freedom of movement, should do the trick. I use a cheap pair of swim trunks while Val uses a womens model Speedo suit that she has had for years. 

Goggles: Talk about cheap! You can get goggles for as little as $5. I use the Speedo Baja Goggle which I picked up from a local sport retailer for $10. Just as with any equipment it has to fit. 

Swim Cap: Since these are provided with your race this is one of the few no-cost items on the list (well, almost no-cost, since race entries aren't exactly free). I didn't think much about using a swim cap during training swims until I took a lifeguard class. Those bright-colored swim caps make it MUCH easier to find a lost swimmer underwater, especially when visibility is limited.

Beaver Lake Tri 2010 Swim StartWet suit: This is by far the highest priced item in the swim section. For race day wet suits can be rented in most major cities for anywhere from $40-70, depending on type and length of rental. If you live in an area where you must train using a wet suit (like I do) then purchasing one may be a better deal. These can cost anywhere from $100 to as much as you want to spend. Second hand wetsuits are plentiful around the end of the season via Ebay, Craigslist, or even your favorite retailer (think rentals models clearance). I bought my wetsuit for $150 from Chainlove.com, a 2XU SC:1 sleeveless wetsuit. 

 

Bikes and Bike Equipment

The Bike: There are no other pieces of equipment in your list that will meet the cost of the bike. You can use an existing bike (like Val did), buy a used bike for under $100, or spend as much money as you want (the sky is the limit in some cases). Now, before you run out and spend more than the value of your car on a real tri-bike, remember that even Chrissy Wellington won her first Ironman Kona on a Drop Bars with clip-on aero bars. Of course that bike was a Cervelo P2C tricked out with full Dura-ace groupo and an HED wheelset. Even Lance said, "It's not about the bike." The best place to start is a bike that fits your budget and your body.

A word about bike sizing: Any good LBS should be able to size your bike to you. If you are going to spend hundreds of hours training, commuting, and/or racing on a bike in an aero position a fit is more important than you may realize: as with other repetitive strain injuries, the right positioning and posture can prevent countless hours of pain and thousands of dollars. A post-purchase bike fit is covered by most insurance companies to make sure your bike is adjusted to fit your specific body needs. 

Bike Accessories: After you buy a helmet (required at all races in the US) the basic item you need is some type of hydration (i.e. water bottle and mount). The cheapest are only a few dollars. Other essential items are bike shoes, with compatible pedals, and perhaps a bike computer. My friend Val went old-school with a set of clip-pedals for under $20, which is what I would consider the bare minimum for any race. Without clips or a clipless pedal/shoe combination you cannot capture the energy of upward/backward pedal strokes and will waste precious muscle energy on the down-stroke, which is the same primary muscle group you use when you run. 

Bike Computer: There are a TON of toys you add to your bike, including GPS devices with mapping and directions (I use an old Garmin Edge 705 or Forerunner 310XT), but why not just use your smartphone? If you have an iPhone, Andriod, or Windows Phone then you have all that functionality already. Go download a free fitness app and you will have speed and GPS data. You can even add on a heart-rate monitor to your iPhone for under $100.

Repair Kit: Some racers, especially in the elite class, really go light on their repair kits or even skip it completely. If you, like me, are one those "finish at all costs" type of athletes then a good repair kit is essential but it doesn't have to cost much at all. A basic flat kit, an extra tube, and a CO2 pump will weigh only a pound or 2 and can cost less than $20. 

Bike-specific Clothing (Training): Jerseys and shorts can be a very personal item in terms of fit, use, and style but one thing is for sure: a good pair of bike shorts goes a long way. Or at least it can help you go a long way with lower body impact than a cheaper pair of shorts. Best advice I heard early on: buy a really cheap jersey and use the money you saved to buy the best shorts you can afford. Your nether-regions will thank you later (as opposed to screaming).

Beaver Lake Tri 2010Running Gear

Running Shoes: Along with tri shorts, running footwear is another area where you should be careful about getting overly cheap. Properly fit footwear is the first requirement but it must also fit your running style. A quick visit to a podiatrist or running store for a gait analysis (i.e. how do you run?) will help determine the best type of shoe. I have been wearing Asics Gel Kayano shoes for the past several years and LOVE the feel, although I have been experimenting with minimalist footwear with some success. 

Once you know what works best for you there is nothing to stop you from buying online. My favorite source for shoes has been Ebay. Search for your specific make/model/size of shoe and you can find screaming deals for as much as 50-70% off, especially if it is "last year's model". 

Run-specific Clothing (Training): This is where I get super cheap. My running shorts, shirts, and base layers come from either the clearance rack at Target or my local sporting good store. Total cost: $15 per set. 

 

Race Fees

This one can get a little ridiculous if you are not careful. In 2009 I completed 3 races, 2 sprints and an Olympic distance. My total race fees for the year: $222 ($72, 75, and 75 respectively). 

I prefer smaller, more local events than the larger M-Dot events (i.e. World Triathlon Corporation, or WTC, owners of the Ironman brand). While very well run the M-Dot events support upwards of several thousand racers and cost a lot more than the local non-profit events I usually participate in- 

  • Ironman 70.3 (US prices): $250-300 (depends on registration date)
  • Ironman 140.6 (US prices): $600-700

 

Nutrition

Gels, Protein Shakes, jelly beans, etc: This one is like arguing religion or pizza toppings (very contentious in some cases). No matter your preference in this category you can find numerous vendors our there and, if you shop smart, you can find good deals. Watch the clearance sales and bulk buy web sites for the best deals. I usually spend less than $50/year on nutrition. 

A warning about clearance "nutrition": Watch the expiration date. I bought some Honey Stinger Waffles recently (my new favorite food for distance riding) and found they expired in 6 months after purchase (hence the low cost). Don't stock up big if they won't last.

 

Summary

How much did I spend in 2011? (my last big race year prior to 2014)

Race day gear (per year, as spent in 2011)

  • Race clothing: $0 (bought my Tri-shorts in 2010 for $30, no new jerseys in 2010)
  • Swim gear: $15 (new goggles, wetsuit was purchased in 2010 for $150)
  • Bike gear: $150 (new chain, rear cassette, and front/rear tires)
  • Run gear: $65 (new shoes)
  • Nutrition: $50 (new gels)
  • Race fees: $75 (only 1 race in 2011)

My 2011 total: $355 (i.e. nowhere near the $4000 number above).

How much did Valerie spend on her first tri in 2011? (An off-road Tri in eastern WA state)

  • Race clothing: $0 (borrowed Tri-shorts for the race, but have since purchased a Tri-suit at TJ Maxx)
  • Swim gear: $0 (used existing goggles, no wetsuit)
  • Bike gear: $20 (new toe-clip pedals)
  • Run gear: $80 (new shoes)
  • Nutrition: $50 (new gels, should last into 2012)
  • Race fees: $60 (only 1 race in 2011)

2011 Total: $210

Was this a typical race year for me? Well, almost. My race fees would have been about $150 higher (i.e. 2 races) if I was able to better coordinate my schedule. My typical race schedule is for at least 3 races, 1 of them a half-iron distance (i.e. 70.3 but it's not an M-dot event). My race fees should be closer to $300.

The Race Rookie Year

What if you are new to triathlon and looking to complete your rookie race? Let's assume you are starting from absolute zero and do a little math...

  • Race clothing: $100 (Tri-suit)
  • Swim gear: $20 (cheap swim suit and googles)
  • Bike gear: $600 (bike, clipless pedals, shoes, shorts, jersey)
  • Run gear: $100 (running shoes, shorts, shirt, base layer)
  • Nutrition: $50
  • Electronics: $50 (basic heart rate monitor)
  • Race fees: $100 (typical for a local Sprint/Olympic-distance race, not an M-Dot event)
  • Total: $1020

This assumes you have no gear whatsoever, which is not true for most athletes. 

The moral of the story: you can EASILY spend less than $1000/year on triathlon gear and race fees if you are careful. I will grant that my goals are not as lofty as some. If you are shooting for 1 or more Ironman races this year (140.6) then your budget may be a bit larger. Spending that much time in training puts a lot of stress on your body and clothing which wears it out faster and sometimes requires you to buy the more expensive clothes in the first place.

But for "normal guys" like me (hence the website name) it is very easy to be a tight-wad and a cheap-skate. Just don't tell my wife or she may cut my gear budget even further. }B^)

Quick Update and Detour...

A quick update on my status and a slight detour...

Last spring my son Patrick decided he wanted to try mountain biking. So we packed up our bikes and headed off to a local park to try our hand at single-track. At this point I didn't own a mountain bike so I was riding my commuter bike, a Specialized TriCross Disc. It didn't end well for me, in a way. After less than half a mile of riding in the mud and muck, we turned around. My 1.6" tires were not built for this type of riding. And Patrick beat me back to the parking lot by a sizable margin. The grin on his face was incredible.

So I've been shopping for a new bike. My injuries and other priorities earlier in the year put that on hold but last week I pulled the trigger. I plan to use this bike for fun rides with my son, bike camping, and our big ride across the state (someday). 

2014 Specialized RockHopper 29, my newest ride.

So, the detour... Over on my other website, RideAcrossWashington.com, I wrote up a blog post  detailing my shopping experience and my first real trail ride with my son. It was an amazing day.

Patrick at Soaring Eagle Park in Sammamish, WA

Bike Shopping!

Cracked rear dropout on the chainstay, driveside.

Since this can be considered a gear review, please note my standard review disclaimer.

This post was STARTED back in October but, well, life happens. I actually made the purchase last July. Now you can enjoy it after 3 months of editing!

Back in July my trusty all-weather commuter bike bit the dust. It was sad to lose an old friend but there is an upside...

I get to go bike shopping!

My primary training method for triathlon season is bike commuting so replacing my main commuter bike was a top priority before the weather turned sour.

At the outset I must let it be known that I am a geek: technically minded, detail oriented, and obsessive about certain things that most people would consider trivial. As such this entire process may seem remarkably similar to a technical RFP (Request For Proposals)

Why not just troll Craigslist for a cheap beater bike? I tried that for a few weeks and couldn't find a bike that fit my requirements that was in my size. There are lots of bikes on Criagslist but once you get into the larger/sturdier bikes... you would have better luck finding a date for Saturday night that wouldn't land you in jail.

In 2007 I went bike shopping for the first time in nearly 15 years. I was floored by the shear number of choices to be made. I like having lots of alternatives but the number of decision points can be staggering-

  1. Bike type: standard diamond frame, recumbent, or trike?
  2. Riding surface: road, off-road, or hybrid?
  3. Frame material: steel, aluminum, carbon, titanium, wood, bamboo...? (the list goes on)
  4. Big name brand, low-cost leader, or custom built?

I'll just stop right there. That only covers the basics of getting started. From there you have to think about brakes, drive train, handlebars, and a hundred other factors that go into making "the perfect bike."

HINT: This is no such thing as the perfect bike. Trying to find the perfect bike will drive you nuts.

Shopping Methodology

These are the basic steps I used to decide on my latest purchase-

  1. Gather requirements
  2. Look around at what is currently on the market
  3. Make an exhaustive list of possible choices
  4. Narrow down the list through online research, visiting local bike shops, and in online forums
  5. Test-ride the top 3
  6. Final decision and purchase

Step #1: Gather requirements

Buying my first real bike in 2007 was what my wife called my "rookie mistake." Over the next several years I took notes about what I liked/disliked about my bike and looked for other models that would have better suited my needs. I ended up with a pretty good list of priorities to use in my bike evaluation process.

Main purpose: serve as an all-weather commuter (95%) and a touring bike for on and off-road (5%).

Requirements-

  1. NOT carbon fiber: steel or aluminum preferred
  2. Disc brakes
  3. Lower gears via a compact triple or large granny-gear on the rear cassette
  4. Drop bars
  5. Mounts for fenders and rear rack
  6. Purchase from a local bike shop (LBS)
  7. Heavy-duty (rims, frame, forks) 

 "Nice to have" items-

  1. Mounts for a front rack
  2. 150+ mm saddle (I'm a big guy)

My first requirements were fit, durability, and a LBS but eventually I added disc brakes to the list after seeing how many were available in the 2011-12 models. In the colder/wetter months the route I like to use has a very steep hill (NE 42nd way, 16-20% grade) and going down that hill with wet rim brakes is almost a religious experience. 

Step #2: Check out what's on the market

This has been going on since 2007. Yes, I have been looking around and taking notes on bikes since I bought my last one almost 5 years ago.

Step #3: The exhaustive list

My short list turned out not to be so short-

Kona Honky Inc.

Kona Sutra

Redline Conquest Classic

Salsa Casseroll

Salsa Vaya

Specialized Tricross Elite Disc

Surly LHT

Surly Cross Check

Trek Portland

Steps #4 and 5: Narrowing down the list and test riding

After some extensive online research the was whittled down to the Kona Honky (Eastside Ski & Sport), Salsa Vaya (Kirkland Bike), and the Specialized Tricross (Pacific Bicycle). Now the real fun begins: shopping the local stores and test riding!

Kona Honky Inc.

2012KonaHonky.jpg

My first stop was Eastside Ski & Sport to check out the Kona Honky Inc. Don't let the name get to you: this bike is all business. Although it does sound like you are about to blow your nose.

Pros: 

  • Steel frame
  • Disc brakes (Avid BB-7)
  • Drop Bars
  • More "upright" geometry than your run-of-the-mill road bike
  • Mounts for front/rear racks and fenders

Cons:

  • Short cage derailleur, 12-28 cassette (not the best climbing gear)
  • No clearance for tires wider than 28mm.
  • Didn't like the fit on the larger sizes

Summary: It fell short in only a couple of places. Very nice bike with a quality build. Handling was great with fantastic response.

Salva Vaya

2012SalsaVaya.jpg

Next stop: Kirkland Bike to check out the Salsa Vaya. This bike caught my interest last year when I discovered they had a titanium version. If my budget was a little bigger I would have jumped on the Ti version: it is one sweet looking ride. 

Pros: 

  • Steel frame
  • Disc brakes (Avid BB-5)
  • Drop Bars
  • VERY "upright" geometry, more so than the Kona Honky Inc.
  • Mounts for front/rear racks and fenders

 Cons:

  • 48/36 Front chainring (compared to 50/34 on other models)
  • Didn't like the fit 

Summary: It was hard to say no to this bike. The fit just wasn't right. I had my eye on it for almost 18 months and was ready to buy it until I saw...

Specialized TriCross Elite Disc

2012SpecialisedTricross.jpg

I dropped into Gerks Ski and Cycle in Redmond, WA, on a whim one day after work. After only a few minutes I found the Specialied TriCross Elite Disc sitting in the very back of the store without a price tag. Turns out it belonged to the sales guy. They didn't have a floor model because it was a 2012 model and they weren't yet shipping in quantity. Gerks didn't even have literature on it. The bike was gorgeous! The look of the brushed aluminum was amazing. I was SOLD. The sales guy said he would call around to see where I could find one. I gave him my number and went home. He never called back.

The next day I went down to Pacific Bicycle, just over a mile from my house in Sammamish, WA. The sales guy was much younger than the other stores but he knew his stuff (turns out he was the son of the owner). They didn't have the new TriCross Disc model but they did have a TriCross Comp, which has the same geometry, and in the right size (61cm frame size, measured from the height of the seat tube). 

Pros: 

  • Aluminum frame
  • Disc brakes (Avid BB-5)
  • Drop Bars
  • Cyclocross geometry, not as upright as the Honky Inc. or Vaya but still quite comfortable
  • Mounts for front/rear racks and fenders
  • 155mm saddle
  • Secondary brake levers (along the top, flat-part of the drop bar)

 Cons:

  • Aluminum gets a little wobbly when I really load up the rack.  
  • Rear disc is outside the rear triangle, just above the rear dropout, which means I needed a rear rack that attaches via an extra-long skewer.

Summary: The aluminum frame isn't as stiff as steel but it still beats my carbon bike in terms of handling. Everything else about the bike is what I was looking for: durability, disc brakes, and the right gearing (climbing gears but high gears as well).

Step #6: Final decision

I was sold on the TriCross Disc before I even officially rode it. I took the Tricross Comp for a test ride and ordered the disc model on the spot. 

The first thing I did after getting it home was replace the incredibly cheap plastic platform pedals with my Shimano A530s(SPD/platform combo). 

The disc brakes stop very quickly. When I first got on the bike I was just about to ask them to tighten the brakes and then, mid-sentence, I almost flipped over the bars in the parking lot when I braked too hard. 

So far I am very satisfied with my choice. I should cross the 1000 miles barrier by the end of the month (2 weeks away!). No issues so far other than normal maintenance and cleaning. I did have to learn the care and feeding of disc brakes. That little red wheel has to be turned slightly every few weeks to keep the brakes adjusted properly.

Here it is fresh home from the shop with rack and fenders (still has the stock pedals)-

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A couple of honorable mentions:

Salsa Fargo: Imagine a 29er mountain bike with drop bars and you have the Fargo. Not quite what I'm looking for in terms of riding style but this one certainly is bullet-proof. The website even uses the term "bikepacking". They even have a titanium version. 

Salsa Casseroll: This one bike of note that was eliminated early due to lack of disc brakes. It reminds me a LOT of the old ‘70s Schwinn that my Dad handed down to me in the late 80’s. If I wasn’t so set on disc brakes I may have purchased this instead. Very sweet looking ride.

Kona Sutra: One of the best loaded-touring bikes. Not really the ride I want. It's like driving a truck. I was looking for more of a SUV-hybrid.

Specialized Source 11: Very similar to the TriCross but with a Shimano SuperNova generator hub, integrated lights with routed cables, rack/fenders, a front light, and a belt drive with interally-geared hub. I knocked if of the list due to the price ($2700) and the flat bar otherwise this is my perfect commuter.

Trek Soho: Like the Specialized Source but with a belt drive and internally-geared rear hub.

Update: I was just pointed to the Civia Bryant. WOW. Another worthy choice but it missed my radar before I made my purchase. Internally geared rear hub, belt drive, drop bars, disc brakes, steel frame... WOW.