Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Want it Wednesday: Santa Cruz Stigmata

This week’s Want it Wednesday is the Stigmata, a cyclocross frame Santa Cruz quietly introduced in 2009 then quietly discontinued at the end of 2010, making it about as rare to spot on the road as a yeti (the ape-like cryptid that inhabits the Himalayas, not the ARC-X cyclocross bike). The Stigmata doesn’t look special on paper, an aluminum frame with normal cyclocross geometry, but it is so gosh darn cool that it got me to sell my Kona Major One so I could buy one. Well, that and I decided I wanted gears. I used the single speed Kona on a trainer during the winter and it wasn’t ideal for following any type of structured workout. Plus Sue is now faster than me and I figured I needed 19 more gears to keep up, or a tandem.

I've wanted a Yeti for a while (the ARC-X cyclocross bike, not the ape-like cryptid that inhabits the Himalayas). I bid on a few on ebay over the years but they always went for more than I am willing to spend on a bicycle. An ARC-X showed up on the MMBA classifieds recently, the very same month I didn’t bother to look. Part of my attraction to an ARC-X was because Yeti is a mountain bike company that decided to offer a cross frame, and I am a mountain biker who decided he wanted a cross bike. A pure road bike isn’t right for me because even on road rides I tend to gravitate towards dirt roads. And I have a fantasy of racing cyclocross; road racing is out of the question. 

Like Yeti, Santa Cruz is a mountain bike company that decided to sell a cross frame but a Stigmata lays more towards the road bike end of the spectrum than an ARC-X. Since I will be primarily using a cyclocross bike on the road, this appealed to me. A 54 cm Stigmata frame only weighs 2.85 lbs which is close to what a road frame weighs; 9 ounces lighter than a 54 cm Yeti. I am less of an irrational weight weenie now than I use to be but 9 ounces is nothing to sneeze at. Hum, apparently I am still an irrational weight weenie. Maybe I just have an irrational obsession with bicycles. I’m getting off point. The Stigmata has a lower, more road bike-like bottom bracket than an ARC-X. I imagine the Santa Cruz’s Easton EA6X butted and tapered aluminum would give a more forgiving ride on the road than the Yeti’s Pure Tube Set, but this is only a hunch.

Another emotional reason why I chose the Stigmata is because it was made in America and, while some Yeti’s are still made in the States, the ARC-X is made in Taiwan. Look, I have nothing but admiration for the manufacturing capability around the Pacific Rim and I know frames made in Asia are every bit as good as the ones made here. I love my carbon fiber Tomac and it doesn’t bother me it was made in China. I understand how antiquated the “buy American” mentality is but still, I was sad to see Cannondale, Slingshot, and, well, basically every major American bicycle company ship their manufacturing overseas. I liked Nuke Proof and appreciated their decision to keep building frames in Ada Michigan right until that decision put them out of business, RIP. The fact that I even considered where my frame was made wasn’t rational. Buying a bicycle is emotional.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Florida 2012 Part II

I just got back from my second trip to Florida in 5 weeks; this time with my daughters. I like working only 3 weeks a month. It improves my attitude. My sunny disposition lasts until about the third work email.

I took my Kona single speed to Florida again. I am serious about my conviction not to ride when my daughters might miss me so riding last week was limited to short, early morning rides. This will be my last picture of the Kona, a silly pic I sent to a friend back in Michigan. I have another conviction: the only money I allow myself to spend on bicycles and bicycle parts must be first made by selling other bicycles or bicycle parts. I started this back when I raced BMX as a kid. I am always looking to sell my bike for more than I paid for it and, strangely, an opportunity to sell my Kona came up in Florida where cyclocross racing is becoming popular but used cross bikes are somewhat rare. I drove back to Michigan without my beloved Kona.

Selling bikes and parts before allowing myself to buy bikes and parts serves two purposes. First, the net cost of riding is reduced to only race fees and maintenance parts (maintenance parts do not count as an expense that has to be offset by selling something, in my convoluted way of thinking, unless I try to sneak in an upgrade under the umbrella of necessary maintenance in which case I force myself to sell something to make up for the additional cost of the upgrade over what was on the bicycle, unless the upgrade saves 1 gram of weight for every dollar spent, which was grandfathered in a long time ago. It's complicated).

The second purpose for this zero sum gain philosophy is to keep my inventory of bike stuff to a reasonable level. I know myself well enough to know I could easily turn into the crazy cat woman of bicycle parts. My apartment could become so packed with bike parts that I would have to make tunnels to move about and this would not bother me at all. I don't think I am materialistic but it hurts to sell my bicycles. Somehow they seem more than just stuff. My dad has the same feelings about vintage car parts. He will enthusiastically explain how Ford Designers used this little chrome trim piece on the 1965 Mercury Comet as a last minute fix to hide a body weld in the car’s rear quarter. I love his passion. I hate his piles of car parts.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Want it Wednesday: Surly Tuggnut

Today’s Want it Wednesday is my Surly tuggnut. I like Surly. I am impressed by a lot of bicycle part manufactures, like Chris King. Chris King cogs are so beautifully machined that I swear it almost brings a tear to my eye, but Surly cogs are wonderfully practical. The base on Surly cogs are wide so they don't damage the hub’s cassette body. Not randomly wide but the width is such that multiple cogs can be stacked on a cassette body, without spacers, and the spacing is perfect for using a derailleur.

If Chris King made a tuggnut, it would have this super complicated articulated camber adjustment screw that somehow allows a wheel to move forward and back and the tuggnut would remain stationary. A Surly tuggnut, on the other hand, has a bottle opener built in. Two bottle openers actually so it will work on either the drive side or non-drive side of the wheel. I don’t drink much, not enough to invest in my own bottle opener anyway. And even people that drink enough to justify buying a bottle opener often forget them when they go on group rides. Bells is a huge supporter of Michigan mountain biking so often someone brings Bells Beer but Bells doesn’t use twist off caps. Lines form at the back of my bike post ride all because the person who designed the Surly tuggnut actually rides and paused a minute to use common sense. Pausing a minute to use common sense…that right there is a philosophy I can embrace.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Different Hemispheres

I like the people from Marketing, those free spirited right brained folks who are unhindered by practical concerns from plans they sketch out on bar napkins. My job is to fret over those practical concerns. Their phone calls all start the same way: "Neil, I know this is an odd request but..."

In that brief pause after "but" my mind goes back to school, back when I was a landscaper. God I loved that job. I'm not bragging or anything but I was a very good landscaper. The gentle witness marks left on lawns from my Bunton walk-behind mower were so straight and even that builders could use them like chalk lines to stake foundations for homes they were building. I liked working on the lawn equipment and the smell of cut grass and gasoline. I liked working outside. I liked the total lack of responsibility. In college I had to take an aptitude test to see what job would be best for me. I took this test during my last semester so results were pointless. It said I should be an Arborist. I was curious enough to look up what an Arborist was. It’s like a tree doctor. I remember thinking “oh hell, that makes sense.” Perhaps I should have taken that test in high school.

Back to reality. "Neil, I know this is an odd request but [insert some super complicated half baked scheme, like changing the engine in a car to one that the car wasn’t designed for yet]."

Last weekend I stopped by work and got one of those calls. "Neil, I know this is an odd request but [I take a deep breath] can you get a hold of a bicycle, put it in the back of a (prototype) Encore, and take pictures?" Marketing was working on a commercial and they want to make sure a bicycle actually fits. Finally a request that I can get my little mind around. I keep a bicycle in my truck in case an opportunity to ride opens up.

So I bring my bike into the garage, spend about 2 seconds figuring out the best way to get it to fit, and send them pictures. I wrapped this project up in less than 5 minutes. All week I have been getting emails thanking me. A silly number of emails really. My bicycle might even make it into a commercial. The techs think I just made this request up so I could make sure my bike fits; I do like the new Buick Encore and made it clear to everyone I am getting one once they are in production. It was a good day; Arborists don’t get paid to put a bike in the back of a car.