How It Works
Usually what happens is that something piques my interest and I begin to acquire information about the subject. A lot of the time, what interests me is technology, and when that is the case, I learn everything I can about whatever the thing is that interests me. Curiosity is the starting point. My interests are not limited to things, but this post is about things.
I scour discussion boards, old catalogs in portable document format, reviews, purveyors of new old stock, and consult with those known to me who are more expert than I. Sometimes, I decide I’ve got to have whatever it is I’ve been studying about. Usually, then, what I decide is that the cost of the latest version of whatever it is cannot be justified, so I buy (when I can find it) an upper mid-range or top of the line item that is several years old.
For instance, I bought a 1981 Miyata 610 that was in nearly new old stock condition, and have put the bike to constant use. I obsessively researched the manufacturer and the model for a month or two before making the purchase.
Except for the Power Mac 7600 I bought in the Nineties, I’ve never purchased a new computer. All of our computers were refurbs and supposedly obsolete when we bought them, but they serve us pretty well. My smartphone is the version of the Iphone that my provider was giving away at contract renewal time. My Pentax Optio water proof camera was several years old, but new in box, when I got it.
Sometimes, I’ll buy something on the used market that may be suitable, but isn’t what I really want. The reason for that is that I never do want to spend a lot of money. I have qualms of conscience about spending money, and because, as a married man and a father, what I really want more than things is to husband the family’s resources. I recall buying a Power Mac 8500 for a video project in college – several years old at the time, but I got the project done and got to monkey around with video. I got the 8500 because I thought the used 9500 was too expensive. Sometimes what I buy on the used market that turns out to have problems that require correction or upgrade which may have a learning curve and require spending more money.
I learn how to cobble stuff together out of necessity. Sometimes I find I am able to tackle learning projects that seemed impossible to me when I was younger, before I had learned how to learn in the need of the moment. Necessity promotes learning.
Who Needs a ‘Modern’ Bicycle?
I figure, back in 1981 or 1985, cyclists were doing cool things with their then-new bikes, so why shouldn’t I be able to do cool stuff with those same bikes that are now old. Having old bikes, I learned how to operate downtube friction-shifters, ride fairly heavy bikes, ride where I want to ride, ride hills that intimidated me, outrun (for the most part) trailer-dwelling pit-bull dogs, ride in traffic, and so forth. No worries, right? So, why would I want an index-shifted, lightweight road-bike? I don’t know for sure.
I have been intrigued by purpose-built cyclocross bikes because there’ve been times I’ve ridden my road bikes down gravel roads and through mud and on dirt tracks, experiencing their limitations. Pavement ends, and I want to keep going. Limitations including clearance at brakes, forks, and stays for mud; road tire (even the venerable Continental Gatorskin) inability to maintain much traction on degraded small town alleyways, mud, sand, gravel; road bike lateral drift on dry, loose dirt and gravel. Frame geometry has not been a problem with my old lugged-steel bikes, nor has ride comfort. Modern cyclocross bikes appear to have similar slack frame and fork geometry to my ancient Razesa (a sport-tourer/racer) and the older Miyata (primarily a tourer). Additionally, I don’t want to abuse the Miyata – my favorite bike – during the winter months. Something newer might hold up a little better in Southern Middle Tennessee cold-and-wet-season conditions. I ride all year long.
Without regard to harsher climatic and road surface conditions, having joined a cycling club and occasionally participating in group rides, I listen with envy to guys talking about their 65 to 75 mile rides. I wish for a sufficient number of cogs at the rear wheel to address the varying terrain in this part of the state, as well as the ability to more effortlessly shift between them while riding. I’ve gotten tired of unexpected goofy cable maladjustment causing the chain to bang down to smallest cog in back when trying shift into a lower gear to climb a hill. I hate walking up hills and, although I could be a stronger cyclist, some of the problems are due to an erratic funkiness inherent in the old equipment. Heck, next year, I’d like to ride the BRAT – that’d be greater challenge than necessary on a 33 year-old tourer with the original 15-speed Suntour groupset. Actually, I could probably do the BRAT on the Miyata, but I’d rather ride it on an Orbea Starship. Heck, I grew up watching reruns of Star Trek on a 13” black and white television in my room when I should have been doing homework. Starships are where I come from.
So, regarding a modern bike – a choice of two types of bike: a premium road bike, or a cyclocross bike.
Bike versus Upright Freezer: Freezer Wins
We got the upright freezer my wife has been wanting for months, and that was the right thing to do. Got the freezer at about 60% of the item’s on sale price because it had some cosmetic imperfections; that’s fine with us because the appliance resides in our garage.
About the bikes, then. The one I wanted was a 2003 Orbea Starship (Columbus aluminum) tube frame with carbon seat and chain stays, full Campagnolo Record Ultra 10-Speed gruppo, Bontrager wheelset, Bontrager carbon fork and seatpost, and Bontrager seat, bars, stem. Truly a beautiful bike, right down to its tan bar-wrap, which reminded me of the steering wheel wraps we had on our cars back in the 70’s. Pretty much the-best-money-can-buy build in its class.
My wife told me to go ahead and make an offer on it, and I, the expressionless man whose dial rarely registers anything that could be interpreted as enthusiasm, was visibly excited and happy about the prospect. Then, I woke up in the early a.m., the day I was to drive out and test-ride the bike, and I had this sense that the amount I was prepared to spend was out of all proportion in terms of what is important to my family. With real regret, I emailed the bike’s owner and explained that I would not be able to look at the bike.
I’m certain I made the right decision about the Orbea, and if I come into a providential windfall while the bike’s still for sale, the first thing I’ll do is buy it. Christmas is on its way. Who knows what will happen.
A Less Expensive Compromise
I did travel to Murfreesboro to test ride a 2003 Bianchi Reparto Corse Alu-Lite SL in my size, celeste green with Campagnolo Centaur 10 speed gruppo. According to the seller, he bought it from the original owner, a Chattanooga physician who’d put a lot of miles on it; seller said he’d only ridden it about 2000 miles. If the bike had been in better condition, it would have been worth what he was asking. I actually offered him more than I’d originally wanted to because I did like the bike, and now that I’ve been super close to buying a top-end European bike with top-end groupset, I would have settled for a less expensive, lower-end European bike. The seller, however, said, “For that, I’d just as soon keep the bike.” So, I let him keep it.
What I wound up getting was a 2007 Jamis Super Nova cyclocross racing bike. I’d seen the ad on Craigslist for about the past month, so had plenty of time to research it. The photos above are those the seller used in his ad. The 2007 Jamis catalog can be found here.
The biggest complaints I’d read on various Internet bulletin boards were: Avid Shorty brakes provided inadequate stopping power; strange seatpost brake cable routing; heavy wheelset. The 2007 Jamis catalogue lists the Supernova as the company’s top-end cyclocross bike that year (but, there were only two cross-specific models). The Craigslist seller had addressed the brake problem by installing a set of Kore brakes using Kool Stop mountain bike pads, added Dura Ace rear derailleur and shift/brake levers, Ultegra front derailleur, Ritchey carbon fork, RaceFace alloy stem and 44 cm bars, SRAM rear cassette with a large cog for hills, cheap SRAM chain, Mavic Ksyrium wheelset with cheap Continental Ultra Sport tires.
I probably paid $50 to $100 too much for the bike, considering the seller had built up the frame (purchased on Ebay in 2009, he said, from an Oregon bike shop that probably stripped a complete bike that didn’t sell) using components he’d already had or bought, like the frame, on Ebay. On the way home, I agonized over not having bargained better.
Because I felt chagrined, when I got to the house, I added some air to the tires and rode the bike around the neighborhood deliberately hitting every rough patch I could find, and then rode it around my yard a few times, hitting roots and holes on purpose. What I discovered as a result of this caveman-level emotionally motivated activity was that the frame is supremely comfortable; that even with low-end, treadless road tires, the bike handles all manner of lousy (but dry for this experiment) surface conditions in a manner that left me feeling confidently in control of the bike. I began to like the bike in spite of my stupid bikesnobbery.
This bike’s a little like those second and third hand computers and videography equipment I bought back in college for projects, only I have no project to justify the bike’s expense. I’ve already bought a 90 mm stem to replace the 110 mm unit that came with the bike. Tried that out today, along with some cage-pedals. Stem and pedals are fine, but I’ve got to reorient the bars for a little better long-ride comfort and control.
I do like the orange and white color scheme. I like the fact that the bars are wider, but hate the drops – they aren’t long enough at the ends. Or, rather, they don’t sweep back far enough to comfortably grip for longer periods of time. Maybe Salsa Woodchipper or Short and Shallow bars? I hate the black bar tape and switch to white when I get a set of bars I like better. Okay with me that the white will become dirty-gray before long. Adds character and still matches the bike’s color scheme better than black.
It did turn out those Mavic hubs are either in need of service or replacement – they don’t spin as freely as they ought. Getting the bike up to speed requires real effort. I ordered a set of Continental Tour Ride 2 tires for winter riding here at Stepford. They arrived today. I’m not sure about them, but will try them out after I get the hubs sorted.
Here’re some pictures I’ve taken of the bike while out on rides since last Thursday’s purchase: