I came home one Friday night after my daughter’s swim lessons to discover a box waiting for me in the entryway:
Given how crappy the past six or so months have been—coping with my father’s suicide and the daily dealing with of estate details—my family members got together and decided to surprise with a new bicycle.
Why? Because my attachment to my long-time bicycle is legend. Anyone who has owned a bicycle and ridden it for more than a decade can attest that it becomes part of your personality. You unconsciously understand the little squeaks and creaks from the frame. You instantly slide into a comfortable position and can ride for hours without much consternation.
There comes a moment, however, when it comes time to retire the old friend and I did not have the heart to do it myself. I probably should have hung up the Bontrager a few years earlier, but I kept it moving down the trail with a lot of TLC and some new parts. At the end of last summer I could tell that it was going to need a complete rebuild of the drivetrain because some of the parts were still original. Yes, it has a pair of nearly twenty year old derailleurs.
My wife could see me toggling between screens of components and pages with complete bicycles at night after the kids were put to bed, but I would never pull the trigger on either. A complete rebuild of the drivetrain was going to be expensive and a new bike seemed like treason. I think she got sick of me spending so much time on indecision and collaborated with her mother to execute a plan.
Inside was this red beauty:
It is a steel cyclocross bike from Nashbar.
As loyal readers will know I noticed a problem immediately after unboxing; one of the Shimano 105 STI levers was broken. For those of you familiar with STI levers will know, if something goes wrong it is usually a complete replacement. Even if it is just a nickel’s worth of plastic. Dumb. Nashbar was most excellent and sent me a replacement lever lickety split.
It’s a steel bike. I am not a retro-grouch or cro-mo curmudgeon, but I prefer to ride steel bikes. I have an aluminum Gary Fisher Big Sur set up for singletrack. It’s not a bike that I could ever really get used to riding over the long haul. I cannot speak to exotic materials like carbon fiber or titanium because my budget has never allowed me or I have never allowed myself to spend that kind of money on two wheeled transportation.
It’s also a fairly yeoman’s setup in terms of components. The critical bits are Shimano’s 105 value gruppo. Bicyclists are a bling obsessed lot and Shimano 105 is not a bling gruppo. No one gets excited about Shimano 105. You can, however, put mile after mile of trouble free cycling on these components and not be out an arm, leg, and lots of donated plasma when something finally goes tits up. Except for the god damned STI levers which retail for like $200. What a joke.
The wheelset is no-name hubs laced to Alex DC19 rims shod in Kenda Kwik 32C rubber. Having not put many miles on the bike yet I cannot speak to the durability or ride quality of the wheels. I do not have my hopes set very high as most OEM wheels are uninspiring at best. This is one of those upgrades where I wait until the end of the season to snag a nice wheelset on the cheap as stocks are cleared in anticipation of next year’s fancy gear. An upgrade is an upgrade whether it’s this year’s model or next.
It did not come with pedals. I am a mountain biker at heart, so mountain-style SPD pedals are the name of the game for me. I am also cheap. I use Shimano SPD M520 pedals exclusively. You can get a pair for anywhere between $25 and $50. It is almost impossible to beat the performance at that price. In all my years of riding I have had zero problems with these pedals.
The critical feature of this bike, for me, is that the headset and bottom bracket are the more standard type as opposed to internal headsets or BB30 like bottom bracket solutions. It might seem silly, but I agree with Chris King’s perception of the flaws with internal headsets. I plan on upgrading my headset to a Chris King NoThreadSet over the winter. There is no finer component on the market.
Before my first ride I also changed out the no-name OEM saddle for a Selle Anatomica Titanico X, of which I will write about at a later date, and re-wrapped the bars with a less corky/foamy bar tape. The bar tape that comes on bikes is absolutely awful.
Here is to a season of great rides.