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What does it all mean?

15 Sep

Anyone that knows me knows that I mainly ride road bikes and cyclocross. However, I am no slouch on the mountain bike either. Some of you may be familiar with the “Epic” rides in Bville. A few years ago I had a free Sunday and decided to ride up to the event to participate. While on the trail I had an interesting encounter with a guy that has really stayed with me. We were about halfway and I had just pulled into the halfway stop that was well stocked with cookies. I had just passed a bunch of dudes a few miles back that seemed to be struggling.

As they came into the rest stop one of them rolled over to me. He was riding a really nice bike from a brand that will not be named. The bike was cool; very expensive, but not right for the Ozarks at all. He asked me how I could ride those trails on a hard tail. We talked for a while and the more I talked to him the more it was evident that he really had no idea how to ride a mountain bike and that his machine was no where near the bike he needed. I asked him where he got his bike and he relayed that he had read a review of it in a magazine and then had a local shop order it for him. As I finished the ride I lamented the series of events that led him to buy the wrong bike.

Bikes have come a long way from the days of the penny farthing. Pick up a product catalog from about any main bike brand today and I bet you will be surprised by how many different bike models they offer. Not to mention the various accessories and paraphernalia that come along.

Cycling as an activity/sport is constantly evolving too. This evolution calls for new innovations and developments in products that can meet the demands of the participants. The constant evolution of the sport has brought about a plethora of different types of bikes that address a specific niche in the cycling market. Originally you had the velocipede and then the safety bike. More recently in the last quarter of the 20th century road,mountain, and 20inch were the basic categories.

Through the following years we saw the family tree sprout many more branches. Now we have road, endurance road, aero road, TT, Triathlon, Touring, Cyclocross, randoneering, commuting bikes, cargo bikes, work bikes, petticabs, and a myriad of other ridiculous combinations of these to round out the pavement side of things. On the mountain bike branch we have XC race, trail, freeride, all mountain, downhill, four cross, dirt jump, trials, and some others I am sure have been invented in the last couple of days. Now multiply all these times 2.35 to accommodate all the tire and wheel sizes we have now. I lump all 20 inch bikes into the same category because I just don’t know much about them. Sorry 20 inchers.

Wow…where was I going with this anyway???

Oh yeah, so many times we see the scenario play out that a novice cyclist comes into the shop. Maybe they have been riding for a year or so and they want to get a new bike. Thanks to the marketing depts. of the big companies they normally have the wrong idea about what they want and or need because of something they read in a magazine.

Sometimes it is a good idea to step back from what is printed in the mags and think for a minute. Do these guys know me or where I’m from?

Who am I.
What type of rider am I.
Where will I be riding.

No-one can know everything there is to know about all the brands out there but what you can know is how does the terrain where you live affect your bike purchase. As a local bike shop we ride the trails in and around Northwest Arkansas. In many instances we have been instrumental in the construction and maintenance of the trails. Unlike a junior editor in a office on the west coast we can intelligently talk about the specifics of the terrain we have locally and guide the buying decision in a good way.

Thanks for reading,
Branton

Handmade

20 Mar

These days it seems like it is hard to really find something of quality that is handmade by a craftsman, I’m not talking about the silly trinkets you can find at any roadside flea market either. I mean truly artesinal workmanship applied to a useful form.

Over the next few months I will visit with several AR based frame builders to see how they practice their craft. The point is not to say that you need to order up a new frame right away. Honestly most of you don’t need to and probably never will. What you do need to know is that these men exist. They love their craft and are providing a window into what it takes to be handmade.

The first in the series is an interview I did last week with Joel McCourt of Symond Bicycles right here in Fayetteville.

I arrived at Joel’s early on a Tuesday. I was greeted by the nanny. I thought that was strange, however,  I would discover later that having the help a couple of times a week makes it possible for him to squeeze in a few more hours of work. I was greeted by Joel and shown to his studio in the garage. Most of the builders I know are working from home and have eked out space in their garage for their workshop.

One corner of the workshop. I think Joel told me the paint booth might go here.

I spoke to Joel for a few hours about how he got into the somewhat selective craft of building bikes. He and I go way back in the cycling industry. Joel is the type of person that always has a few irons in the fire (as evidenced by the moto gear in the shop next to the rows of other bikes). His background is a storied mix of adventure racing, architecture, road riding, cyclocross, motocross, paintball purveyor, graphic designer, family man, and so on, and so forth. So for me to understand more I asked him a few questions.

These are the files that make the finished product smooth. Joel spends hours with these.

When did you decide to do this?
I guess somewhere around 2001. I have always had an appreciation for the handmade and respect anything that demonstrates a pursuit of craft. I was always attracted to quality bikes; somewhere along the way i must have thought “I can do that”.

Did any bikes or builders in particular in your past that really influence you?
Not really. The old Colnagos had really cool paint and that attracted me to them. Only later did I discover that there is more to the bike than the paint. I think all bikes can be beautiful in their own way. As far as builders go I guess in many ways you learn to see through the eyes of those that trained you. Outside of that Sacha White has done a good job of separating his styles. He is a bit more recent though. I really hold respect for the masters of the craft that have been doing it forever. Llewellyn, Peter Weigel, Pegoretti, John Berry.

From my recent research into steel bikes there seems to be a growing divide between the builders who build a bike that is meant to be ridden daily and those who try to embellish every detail to get recognition at the next trade show. Where do you see yourself in this mix?
I dance on that line. I do have the desire to build those beautifully embellished frames that showcase my talents, but most clients will probably want something they could ride everyday. Not to say that you couldn’t ride those fancy ones around everyday. You totally could you just aren’t likely to want to pay 8k for all that finishing detail just to get it messed up by using it

Will you be attending NAHBS. This year?
Yes, but only as a volunteer this year.

Where did the name Symond come from?
It is a combination of my grandfathers names. I really wanted to reference their era somehow. The handmade is very important to me, and I think that their generation really understood what it meant to be resourceful. Why buy something if you can make it yourself ? To work with your hands and actually fabricate something of meaning is something i appreciate. That is where I am coming from on the name.

Getting the flux applied to a frame before brazing.

Is US made very important to you?
Absolutely! We make really nice stuff here. It costs more sure but when it is available I think we should use it. When i build a frame I use as much American made material as possible. Of course if the client is wanting something else I can do that too.

What types of bikes interest you most?
Lugged steel. Outside of that I will build anything. I think all bikes can be beautiful and the better they serve their intended purpose the more beautiful they become.

Tell me about the process of setting up this shop.
It has been a process. I am trying to stay true to my ideal of building what you can and not buying something if you can do it yourself. I did have to buy the alignment table though. That thing weighs at least 2000 pounds. We used a cherry picker to get it here. I am surprised we still have all our fingers after that.

This table is what gets all the bikes that Joel makes perfectly straight.

Joel made these tube clamps himself out of teak wood and they are held together with old specialized tires. They are one of the more beautiful things in his shop.

No smoking please

What are you going to be doing today?
Today I am brazing the water bottle bosses onto a frame.

Measuring the placement of the holes.

Getting the tune ready for the bosses

It fits nicely. Now for the brazing.

Thanks for Reading. Stay tuned for other interviews with AR framebuilders in the future. I would love to say the near future, but we are so busy at the shop that I probably wont have time to do another for quite some time.

Branton

Winter Riding Position

16 Nov

I mentioned in the last post that I would elaborate a bit more on the importance of proper cycling specific winter clothing. I plan to do that in this entry as well as go into some thoughts about bike position and riding style in the winter months.

Don't be this guy

I love this movie (A Christmas Story) but don’t try to ride your bike looking like this.

Over the last few years it has become popular for riders of all levels to get a “bike fit”. I am big proponent of this and recommend it to anyone. But, bike fit is not static. It is a dynamic relationship between rider and bike that requires attention from time to time. The winter months are one of those times. As the weather gets colder, we start to see some positional issues related to environmental factors. As the temperature drops it may become necessary to modify bike fit to accommodate these factors.

The two factors we see that influence bike fit the most in winter are insufficient flexibility and equipment choices that hamper the rider’s ability to reach their normal warm weather setup.

During the winter most people are naturally riding less. The more you ride the more your body adapts to the position for riding. So conversely if you ride less you may loose some of this flexibility you gained during the summer months.

The cold weather itself is another factor. Cyclists often complain of “tight tendons” at the knee or Achilles. This is often attributed to the added exposure knees and ankles have due to the “windchill factor” of riding. While the sensation is the same the cause of the tightness is not in the tendons. Tendons are relatively static and respond to muscles. In colder conditions muscles loose a little of their pliability and involuntarily contract more than normal. Therefore, causing the tight sensation. This problem can also be exacerbated by dehydration. When it is cold out cyclists tend to not drink as much because of less perceived thirst or not noticeably sweating as much. Even though it may be cold our muscles still respond poorly to dehydration.

Not a good idea for cycling

The second factor that should be considered in the winter when bike fit is the issue is equipment choice. I mentioned in a previous post that you cant just break out your ski gloves and winter parka and go for a bike ride expecting to have a pleasant ride. Cycling puts the rider in a very specific position. This position means that clothing and accessories designed to work well for other endeavors normally fail to meet the needs of the winter cyclist. The cut of other outerwear leads to problems.

A guy in Ontario that seems to know what he is doing.

When the rider assumes a position on the bike standard outerwear pulls into abnormal positions because the cut and material is not designed to move in that way. The sleeves creep up on the arms allowing cold air to hit the wrist. The shoulders push up around head and neck impairing movement. Another annoying issue is that the tail of the jacket pulls up as the rider bends forward on the bike allowing cold air to hit the sensitive small of the back. Aside from these comfort issues there are the fit problems.

The extra material bunching up where it should not be and pulling on your body in unnatural ways makes reaching your normal position very hard. Even with proper cycling specific clothing the added layers can still impair your ability to ride comfortably in your usual position.

Typical changes the we make for winter accommodations include: …

We’ll save that one for next time.

Highroller Shop Clothing Review

15 Feb

I know this time of year is not when you would normally expect to find a review of summer riding clothing. However, a recent occurrence triggered me to want to put this review up a little before spring.More on that later.

Many of you may know about our shop’s custom clothing that we put on the shelves back in November. If you don’t, then allow me to introduce you to it a little more. This may sound a little like a sales pitch, and it is in a way, but you will find out why.

I have ridden and raced bikes for a long time now. I started when I was too young to know the difference between good clothing and bargain basement junk. Then I started going to college and couldn’t afford the good stuff that I knew was out there. Once I started racing it was hard to pass up the “Team Kit” ( note, Kit refers to a clothing bundle that is designed to match and be worn together.) Even though the majority of the clothing in these kits was sub par still.

Last year we had the opportunity to purchase a Highroller “Kit” that we can sell to our customers. I was very excited to be involved with the process of selecting design, fit, and materials. I knew we could provide something that I would enjoy wearing and offer it at a good value. We worked with a couple of local designers for the layout, and sourced the clothing from Pearl Izumi, possibly the leader in quality cycling apparel.

The following is a long term review of the clothing. As any of you that come into the shop know, I always review a product critically and don’t hesitate to point out features that I think could be improved upon. I have been riding it since last November and this is what I came up with.

The first time I used the kit was in a Microcross race

THE JERSEY

My first impression was “wow this is a very well ventilated jersey”. I got chilly that night even going a bloque (all out). Many of the other people wearing it confirmed this that evening.  The following pics outline some of my favorite features of the Jersey.

The ventilated neck is cool year round.

The zipper is ergonomicaly designed for easy up down use.

The jersey is full zip and offers a media port.

The media port is accesed through a weather resistant pocket.

THE SHORTS

I was impressed by the feel of the pad on the shorts, though they did seem to move around a little on the mounts and remounts. We later got the bibs in which took care of that problem. On my longer road rides the pad in the shorts performed very well.  I would definitely recommend the bibs though for any application where you are moving around on the saddle a lot.  Using the shorts for more than 2 hours proved very satisfying. I never felt any bunching or “squishing of the pad material. We chose to use the Pearl Elite 3D pad and it was worth the extra investment.

.

THE SHORTS

The short construction is also very high quality. I am used to a pretty flimsy lycra and low panel number. These shorts did not follow suit. The material is almost supportive, but without being restrictive.  The flat lock stitching makes them comfortable even on longer rides, and you don,t get those annoying seam marks on your thighs after you take them off.  Another thing that I love about the shorts is that they don’t have the traditional elastic at the leg opening. This makes them very comfy and keeps me from having to flip the band up to keep the silly grippers off my skin.

The leg openings are non constricting

The red stripe on the shorts matches one on the jersey.

One thing that I didn’t like too much about the shorts is the waist band. For some reason a drawstring feature is included. It is my opinion that if a person selects the correct size they will not need a drawstring. I promptly removed this useless addition.

THE REASON

So, the reason I decided to write this in the first place is that I decided a couple of days ago to do a roller workout at home. I normally ride in only bibs or shorts and no short. This time, I decided to show off the kit to my wife and wore the jersey too. I was amazed at the wicking aspect of the material. I was actually sweating less because I was wearing it. I had been wanting to post something about the kit for a while but thought I would wait for warmer weather. Who knew? You don’t need warm weather to enjoy the Highroller Shop Kit.

Roller ride front view

Side view of the roller ride

The Pitch

So why would you want to get the Kit?
First, all the cool kids are doing it.
Second, We have a variety fits to meet any need.
Third, Economy we are actually selling the kit for lower than the price of a comparable pearl clothing piece
Fourth, from today onward we will be giving a free kit with any bike purchase of a regularly priced bike $2000 or more.

Men shorts – $100
Women shorts – $100
Men Bibs – $125
Men team fit jersey – $95
Men club fit jersey – $95
Women jersey – $95

Buy any two items and get 10% off

Thanks for reading
Branton