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Posts Tagged ‘commute’

There are numerous races both large and small that make up the pro cycling season.  However, none get quite the attention of the three grand tours:  the Tour de France, the Giro de Italia (Tour of Italy) and the Vuelta a España (Tour of Spain).  However, this year I’ll also be doing three of my own grand tours:

* My wife Melissa will be with me on these two rides

Wait.  The Tour de Ross’s Commute?  What the heck is that??

For over three years now, I’ve been commuting an average of 3 days a week between my home in Sacramento, CA and my work in Palo Alto.  It is about 125 miles or so by car.  Of course, I don’t do it by car.  However, after a couple of the “Oh – did you ride here from Sacramento” jokes from coworkers as I rolled my bike into the office, I decided to make it so that I could actually answer “Yes!”

That’s right, I’ll be throwing my faith (and bike, and life) into the hands of Google maps and their new bike route mapping to plot my safe path the 139 miles I’ll be riding.

There are some interesting challenges and points of interest in my route:

I don’t fully know what to expect of this ride yet.  That is part of why I am so excited about it!

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My new (used) Cannondale R300 has proved to be a little challenging to transform into a reasonable commuter bike.  Specifically, I’ve found it a little challenging to be able to carry the amount of stuff I want, with the flexibility I want, on this frame.  I’m really attempting to take a low-end “racing” geometry bike, and turn it in to a touring bike.  No small feat.

Fitting the Tubus Cosmo rear rack was pretty straight forward, thanks to the advice (and assortment of adapters and conversion parts) of Wayne from TheTouringStore.com.  However, the short chain stays on this bike still gave me issue with heal clearance from time to time.  Also, this rack (as seen in the picture) has a lower set of bars in addition to the upper set – and this is where I wanted my panniers to hang.  Why on the lower rack?  First off, I carry a fair amount of weight at times, and keeping that weight lower has advantages for bike handling and stability.  Secondly, I like to put stuff on the top at times – like other cargo, or a rear “trunk” bag I have that straps to the top rails.  Either of those two things make it so you can’t take panniers on and off without a great deal of trouble.  There was also a bit of an annoying issue where the bolts that hold the hangers on the panniers were hitting various spots in the rack preventing them from hanging securely in some positions.

Unfortunately, moving the panniers to the lower rack moved me from a situation where I might hit my heel on the bags under certain circumstances, to a situation where the heel was definitely going to hit the bags each and every pedal stroke.

However, the solution to this was actually another idea that was given to me by Wayne from TheTouringStore.com.  Basically, it is a small modification to the bags to make them hang at an angle instead of straight up and down.  Picture the side view of a bike with a pannier hanging on it.  Then, picture moving the rear, upper corner of the bag up slightly.  You’ll realize that the front bottom corner – the place you foot would hit, will actually swing back slightly giving you more clearance for your heel.  This was the modification I was going to make.

My particular bags kind of, well, suck.  Generally speaking, panniers are made to carry most of their load in a vertical orientation – that is to say, they are taller than they are wide.  This is due in a large part to the heel clearance issue I was facing.  My bags, however, are oriented horizontally.  Kind of a pain in the butt.  These are another one of those items that I bought early on in my cycling experience, when I didn’t really have all of the information I needed to make the best product selection.  However, I have them now and I’m not in a super big hurry to replace them, especially if there is a simple modification that can make them more functional for me.

There is, however, one thing about these bags that made this modification a whole lot easier.  As you can see from the photo, the bags can actually be detached from backing that attaches to the bike.  This backing is a hard plastic sheet covered in canvas, sporting both straps and zippers on both ends.  The zippers are how the bags are attached, but you can also use the straps (sans bag) to attach stuff that might not fit into the bags – think sleeping bag here.

This makes things easier for me, because what I need to do is rotate the attached aluminum bar in a way that will cause the front, bottom corner to rotate back and up.  The aluminum bar is simply bolted through the plastic sheet on both ends.  All I need to do is unbolt the back end of this bar and drill a new hole in the plastic lower down.

Before Modification

After Modification

Drilling through the canvas actually turned out to be surprisingly difficult.  I was using a standard drill bit, so I’m thinking it just never “grabbed” – and thus getting through the canvas was more of a friction / wearing down operation than a drilling operation.  However, I was able to get cleanly through the plastic sheet on the inside once the canvas was pierced.

I chose to rotate the bar down as far as I could – which put me right up against the riveted pin that anchored the bungee cord.  It would actually have been possible to rotate further by also relocating the bungee cord anchor, but I decided to try it without that extra step first to see if it worked out.

After I drilled the first pannier, I stuffed the bag with towels and a ubolt to simulate a fully loaded bag and mounted it on the bike.  It was a good, stable fit on the lower rails, with the vertical bar going up to the upper rails in the rear actually providing additional stability.  I had the bike already mounted on my training rollers so that I could actually test the fit out in as close to real-world as possible without actually going outside.  The result?  I had about an inch of clearance with my heal artificially stretched out as far as possible while clipped in to the pedals.  Success!

This simple modification took me maybe 30 minutes at most – including my silly mistake of drilling the wrong end of the second pannier!However, it saved me perhaps a couple of hundred dollars or so in the short term.  At some point I’m going to have to upgrade to something a little more weatherproof anyhow, but as we head into spring this is probably something that I can put off for now.  And even after I do get different panniers, these bags will be a lot more useful and usable for trips to the store, camping, or whatever else may come up.

Again, a big thanks to Wayne for the whole idea of modifying these in this way, and for the great service getting the rack itself fit to my bike properly.  One of these days I’ll pick up a set of forks that are the same geometry, but with eyelets in ’em and get a rack on the front too.

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It wasn’t exactly cold, but it was a little chilly.  And there was a constant drizzle that was just on the borderline of being called rain.  The weather report said the gusts were in the 15-20 mph range.  Generally not the ideal riding conditions.

And I was loving every minute of riding in it.

It had been about two full weeks (or is it three now?) since I’d last really ridden my bike on a regular basis.  I was trying really really hard to do the right thing and allow the nagging iliotibial issues I’ve been suffering with heal (I already whined about these in a previous post).  Well, actually, the knee pain wasn’t really the whole story about why I hadn’t been commuting.  I’d also demolished two of the three of my chainrings and was waiting for replacements to arrive at my local Independent Bike Shop.  To make a long story short, it looks like I probably lost one of the 5 bolts that hold the large chainring onto the spider.  This caused the ring to flex, which resulted in in snapping at one point.  Then, at the break, the chain dropped off of the big ring and crammed itself in between the big and middle rings – also bending the middle ring.  Sigh.

City Bicycle Works had the big ring (a 52) in stock, but the middle ring (the 42) had to be ordered.  Well, that came in the day before yesterday, and I stopped in to pick it up yesterday.  That made last night wrenching night.  The new rings were actually an upgrade from the previous.  The new ones are pretty much Shimano 105 stock, while the older ones were Shimano … well, circa 1980 something.  Even upside down on the bench I noticed the shifts were quicker compared to the older (and now demolished) chainrings.

The drive train wasn’t the only thing new.  Those of you following along will recall that my current commuter bike was a recent placement for one that got stolen.  Well, the Cannondale I picked up to replace it made it a little challenging to put a rack on the back to carry my laptop, clothes, etc.   It has no eyelets on the forks, and the only eyelets on the read dropouts were directly under the seat stays – making it tricky to get a rack support bolted on vertically.   There are also no mounting points on the seat stays, so I’d have to work around that too.

After some digging and searching, I got in contact with a guy named Wayne at The Touring Store.  He sells racks made by a German company named Tubus.  Every reference I could find to these racks was positive, and coupled with some good feedback I got about both Tubus and The Touring Store from a coworker I’d already decided to go that route.  After a couple of phone calls with Wayne, and sending a couple of photos of the bike, he recommended a particular rack and some additional fitting hardware to make this all attach snugly and securely to my bike and I was on my way.

So, here’s my Cannondale – complete with shiny new chainrings and a uber-cool rack on the back to hang my bags off of.  My knee was feeling good (i.e. didn’t hurt) and I was up and ready to go.  It was time to get to work the way I like to get to work – on my bike.

That’s a long, forking story that doesn’t do much but illustrate why I can honestly write:  It was rainy and windy – miserable riding conditions – and I loved every minute of it!

Ride Safe!

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