Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Custom Bicycle (Part 3): Hope on the Horizon

If you've missed the first two posts in this series, you can find the first by clicking here, and the second by clicking here. If you're all caught up or don't care to read the initial happenings, feel free to carry on from this point.

Lest I scare off potential custom frame customers (which is not my intent at all), I should say that I don't think my experience is typical for custom built bikes. Most people I know or with whom I've spoke about their builds have had wonderful experiences, and the pains they had prior to the custom were mostly if not completely eliminated with geometry made to the riders needs or specifications. The problem was that I didn't think I could get to a good point with this particular custom. I had tried to push forward in the hope that one day it would simply be right, but at some point I had to accept that this wasn't working for me.

One thing I pride myself on is being able to own up to my mistakes. I guess I've made so many of them it's easy for me to accept that I'm not infallible. When it comes to bicycles this couldn't be more true. For those who know my history in adulthood with bikes, you know that I seem to think one thing will be ideal and then come to terms with a reality that is often quite the opposite. I've made my peace with making errors, but I really don't like losing money; and I have to say, having mistakes with new, and particularly custom bicycles is a costly endeavor.

In all of this, I had begun communication with other bicycle makers and a couple of days after I'd sent off my notes to builders, I received replies from each. I already felt better knowing that I was able to communicate directly with someone, rather than having a go-between. I didn't know if they'd be able to provide answers to what had gone wrong, but I knew that I needed to be able to move forward. During my electronic communications, one reply stood out among the others and I started conversing with the owner (Dan) of  R+E Cycles in Seattle. They are the makers of Rodriguez bikes.

As you may recall, a Rodriguez was on my list of potentials when I went with the original option, but because I am somewhat acquainted with the manager of a local shop and I really preferred having a local contact, it seemed appropriate to go with the IndyFab. As I was reading Dan's reply though, I felt relieved that someone seemed to understand what I was going through - even if the reply was mostly perfunctory at that moment. As we continued to chat, he wasn't judging me or condemning me for my choices, but rather offered up some thoughts on how he might be able to help. He also advised me to give my LBS the opportunity to resolve things, and perhaps even contact IndyFab myself. I thought this was admirable, especially for someone who could easily have fed into my emotions about the custom bike which would've made the situation even more tense. Instead, he wanted me to think about possible resolutions and come to rational conclusions.
One of the first images I received from Dan.
There was more conversation with Dan during the first three days of our back and forth than I had through the entire process with the other custom build (come to think of it, there was more discussion in our first day of emailing). Dan had me send information about bikes that have worked for me (at least somewhat) in the past, the current custom specs, and we chatted about what was working, what wasn't, and what I was looking for in a bike. I received links to articles to read, CAD drawings/overlays of bikes I've ridden and owned, and so much information that I knew I was heading down a much better path, even if there still wasn't a definite outcome or resolution.

The biggest problem now was that I knew I had to convince Sam that another custom bike was the way to go. Yep, I was at the point that I was considering a second build - scary as that sounded even to me. I liked the information I was receiving and the direction everything was heading, and it all made sense or paralleled my personal experiences. Through our conversations, I was finding a way to better explain what I wanted from someone who has the know-how and many years of experience.

I really didn't want to have the conversation about another build with Sam though because I knew that he was very much opposed to another long distance bike venture, let alone having another custom bike built, but I was convinced Rodriguez was the way to go. Surprisingly, Sam was pretty easy in this regard. I'd expected a bit of kickback, but after explaining the conversations I'd had with Dan, and providing some information about Rodriguez' policies, he accepted the reality that this was likely what I should have done in the first place. Without much of a battle, Sam was on board with looking at another build.

Of course, when I've had a not-so-great experience, it can be difficult to let go of my own doubt. Despite Dan's reassurance that he could see some issues with the geometry of the former custom for me (and I was already well aware of this fact), and even after all I'd read, I couldn't help but wonder if another build would really provide better results. I wanted to believe it was obtainable, but I have to admit I was terrified of another possible bad outcome. It helped that R+E wants their customers to be happy and will work with them if it isn't right, and Dan was more than convincing in his messages, but still the doubt clung to me like an annoying fly buzzing around my head.

At this juncture, I had put the former custom up for sale. I had to somehow fund the start of a new build, and of course it only made sense to let it go now rather than holding on to it and allowing it to age and lose more value. Just because the frame wasn't right for me didn't mean it wouldn't work for the right person. Plus, I know me, and if a bike frame sits around, I want to have it built up - even knowing that it will only cause physical pain. There was a lot of interest in the frame on the surface, but no one was ready to move forward with a purchase. I can't say I blame those who were looking. It's a lot of money to spend on something that might not work for the new rider either. It had to be the right person who would come along in order to make the set up work properly.

Even though I was waiting on the sale of the former frame, I made a decision to move forward with having the Rodriguez built. Our nicer weather was fading quickly - as in, it was pretty nearly over - and I knew I wanted to get the new frame underway. After having spoke with Dan for a few weeks via e-mail, the team at R+E was quick with getting my frame into the queue and I was told it would be just weeks until the new bike would be ready. Yikes! I sold off a few items to get the deposit I needed and prayed that the "old" custom would sell quickly.

As luck would have it, I didn't have to wait too long for the right person to come along to buy the frame. There was both a sense of relief and a little sadness watching the frame go off to its new home. It gave the whole situation a sense of finality, but I knew deep down it was exactly what needed to be done.
*Image from R&E Cycles
So many choices (and even more not shown)!
In the meantime, I set about picking a frame color. I'd asked if it would be possible to just clear coat the steel, rather than painting it, but was informed that they've actually tried this in the past and the frame rusted under the clear (bummer); and because I wasn't ready to watch a custom bike turn to rust before my eyes, I decided that I'd better make a decision on paint.

I am really, really, really horrible at picking paint colors for projects. One might think that it would be easier for me being a painter myself, but in truth, I love so many different colors and color combinations, and dependent on my mood, I can swing from loving something very subtle to something over-the-top bright. If you remember the (very long post on) the VW project, I stewed and pondered for a long time about what color to paint the Beetle. It is just paint, but I wanted to make sure it was something I would like, and after the failure with the former bike build, I was definitely against painting the new version purple (though part of me thought perhaps painting it a similar color would provide some redemption).

I had also debated whether or not to do a frame/fork only or to have R+E build an entire bike. Ultimately, I decided that I needed a fresh start and if they built it from the ground up, I would be speaking to people who would know exactly where we were starting, should something go wrong with the fit when it arrived.

As insane as this story sounds (and has been), I'm learning a lot through all of it - perhaps even more than I ever wanted to know. I'm not done with the process and am in the midst of waiting for the frame to be built, but I seem to feel a lot more at ease this time. I think it helps that I've had communication throughout the process, and if I have questions along the way, there is always someone who is able to answer in a timely manner, rather than having a go-between who may not necessarily get all the information to the parties who need it. There is a level of patience and information sharing that has been unparalleled in my experiences with other shops, despite the fact that we are geographically 1,300 miles apart.

I've  also learned that I couldn't see myself completing another custom build with a company that I am unable to speak to directly. I think for some folks (and maybe even the majority) having a go-between works out well. It provides a cushion and another source of information or another opinion. The problem was that the go-between didn't seem to be working for me, but rather assumed a lot and didn't provide any options or opinions along the way. The go-between also never provided specific information before final decisions were made. I made the assumption that because I had a connection with the local shop, things would somehow work themselves out, which is entirely my fault, and ultimately was the disservice or really the demise of the build in the end.

A part of my reasoning for not choosing Rodriguez initially was that I had read one short, insignificant review somewhere online that indicated that the person hadn't had an ideal experience with their bicycle. When I searched high and low, I couldn't find anyone who had anything negative to say about their IndyFab, and in fact, everything I found was glowing and recommended the company and their bicycles highly. While I cannot say that one company is better than the other (because I truly don't believe that), I should have known better than to allow one less-than-stellar opinion/experience to influence a decision so greatly - particularly from an anonymous source I don't know personally. It wasn't the only factor involved, but I know it played a part in the final decision.

I have no way of knowing what will come with the new custom at this point, so to judge or compare the tangible goods at this juncture is impossible. I could very well end up in exactly the same situation - with the very important exception that I know R+E will work with me to resolve any problems, even if it means (heaven forbid) re-making the frame. I will say that I have far greater confidence this time around and have high hopes for what is to come. With the information that has been shared by R+E, I've begun to understand that the issues I had with the first round frame weren't going to be resolved with a different stem, seatpost, or wheels, much as we tried.  I know I am particularly fussy about set-up and position, but it has been glorious to have a professional recognize so quickly why the frame wasn't working for me. In the end, I think this is what has been invaluable - the years of experience and work R+E has done with its customers to make sure the fit is correct for each rider.

So, this is where I leave you for now. Still a bit of a cliffhanger I am aware, but there will be a "part four" of sorts when the time comes to provide more information down the road. As the post title indicates, there is hope on the horizon, but without making the leap of faith and trusting that this will be a better experience, I wouldn't have the opportunity to know whether a properly built custom could be the answer I've been seeking. I have entered into this round understanding that there will be tweaks along the way and that likely no one could get it perfect out of the gate, but I think there is a far greater understanding between manufacturer and customer with this round. Whereas the first round I was worried throughout the process (justifiably so, as is apparent on this side of things), I find that I can simply let it go with this build, and trust that when there is a decision to be made, I'll be asked and/or guided to a proper answer - and then it's up to me to make the decision. At this point, that's really all I can ask for in a fresh start.

I am excited about what is to come. One of the benefits of being someone who often lives in the future is that I don't set up a nest in the past, the mistakes made, or dwell very long in what - if I really spent a lot of time thinking about it - could be viewed as quite a mishap full of physical pain, grief, and loss of money. As I've stated before, I tend to be someone who learns lessons the hard way. Mother can tell the toddler in me that the stove is hot, but unless I touch it for myself, there is always doubt in my mind and I wonder just how hot the stove is exactly. The new bike will arrive as winter weather is close to hitting, which means I probably won't get a ton of time to test things out; however, the future looks brighter with this round, and I'm holding out hope for a much happier ending with round two. Hopefully, the stove is turned off this time too - I don't particularly enjoy getting scorched.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Custom Bicycle (Part 2): George Washington or Benedict Arnold

If you missed the first part of this post and would like to get caught up, you can find it here. Otherwise, feel free to carry on to part two below.

I was starting to think I was crazy, and that I'd spread my insanity to Sam. Had he just fed into my thoughts of what had been happening? I know that if anything he is a very sound and reasonable person, so odds are he'd sway in favor of the bike being fine and just needing some adjustments, but he seemed to be just as frustrated with his findings as I'd been with riding the bike over the weeks prior.

Expecting that we would experience a ride similar to the Crown Jewel - at least generally speaking in reference to set-up, we went to a bike shop to test a version of my former carbon road bike (my bike would be a now nearly 4-year old version, so we'd have to find the closest match). I couldn't recall with any kind of great accuracy the sensations I had while riding that bike any longer, but I remembered feeling fast and not weighted. Now, I simply wanted to know if I had invented an experience that never existed, or if it really was that I am simply not in the shape I was last summer.

I took the test bike out first, and over some very rough terrain - rougher than anything I ride on the roads locally. The road had huge gaps, cracks and potholes and was covered with chipseal, so I knew it would be an equivalent, or even worse than the rough roads I ride. What I noticed almost immediately was that I didn't feel any of the roughness or rattling like I had on the Crown Jewel. The ride felt soft - not noodle-like or squishy - but it wasn't hurting, and I could actually climb to get up a hill without feeling as though I was going to wipe out and my energy was going toward something that propelled me forward. It was all very confusing and I thought that certainly I was inventing all of this in my head, so I went back to the starting point to let Sam have a try. I said nothing to him and let him set out to make his own evaluation.

When Sam returned he said, "It feels like your old bike - easy to ride and it doesn't cause pain. I can actually pick up speed when I'm on it." He shook his head and said, "Honestly, I really didn't expect to feel such a huge difference between them, but it is more than obvious that something isn't right with the IndyFab."

I had to try it again. I got back on and rode through a shorter version of my earlier test and came to the same conclusion. While this bike was in desperate need of a tuning (it was definitely not shifting well), and it wasn't set up quite properly for me, there was no denying it had a completely different feel than the Crown Jewel. We left, scratching our heads and still thinking that there must be something wrong about the setup on the CJ at home.
An experimental ride with the IndyFab Crown Jewel during a stop off to see Sam at work.
After some reading, we thought the tires I'd chosen for the Crown Jewel were too harsh and perhaps causing some of the rattling that was ringing through my body while riding. We put the softer Schwalbe Durano tires I've had on prior bikes on the IndyFab and decided to give that a try to see if it would dampen some of the road vibrations I was feeling. After all, if we take things one problem at a time, perhaps we could figure out a solution for the whole bike.

During the research, we also discovered the possibility that the wheels on the bike could be causing the heavy/dragging/weighted sensation. I questioned this possibility as the wheels had worked fine on the prior carbon bike without issue. Additionally, when spun freely, there didn't seem to be any kind of drag or stopping taking place. Would I have to replace the wheels in order to really find out?

The next day, I decided to do a direct, back-to-back experiment with the Crown Jewel and the Hillborne. I took the CJ on a 25 mile ride, followed by the exact same ride on the Hillborne. I intentionally took the CJ first because I knew I'd be fresher and ready to take on the ride. If anything, this would give the Crown Jewel an advantage, and since it was currently at a disadvantage, I wanted to give it all I could to stand a chance.

To put it bluntly, the CJ ride did not go well. I had to stop multiple times over the first 12 miles just to get the numbness in my hands to stop. While riding, other people passed me on bicycles as though I was standing still, and while that is often the case for me, I could feel the effort I was putting in, and yet, there was nothing I could do to prevent them from easily zipping by. I was tired by the time I rode the Hillborne, and definitely in pain from the Crown Jewel, but I somehow still managed to travel more easily - even being on a bicycle that outweighs the CJ by at least 15 pounds.

Sam had given up. He stated his opinion as simply as he could when he advised me to give up on this Crown Jewel and get something that would actually ride properly for me. Yes, it would be difficult to lose the money and mentally painful as I had picked out what I wanted, but it was insane in his mind to continue to try to adapt something that apparently wasn't resolvable.  As difficult as it was, I was starting to swing to his side. In fact, as I'd been riding the Crown Jewel during my experiment, all I could think about was being done with the ride - the exact opposite of what I would hope for in a bicycle. I want to want to ride. I don't want to dread being on my bike or make excuses as to why I'm not out using it.

Looking over the information that had finally been e-mailed to me by the bike shop, I realized that the top tube had been made more than two centimeters shorter than I typically ride. I know they had concerns about my weak and damaged hand/wrist, but I had explicitly stated that what I'd been riding was working fairly well with some small exceptions. Why would they randomly change this - and particularly without telling me? It just seemed like a dramatic change and I couldn't help but wonder if this was playing a role in many of the issues I was experiencing.

One of the biggest issues with this custom build is that I wasn't speaking to Independent Fabrication myself. Instead, I was going through a mediator - the local bike shop - and who knows what information was given to whom, and how that information was being interpreted. In that moment, I wished more than anything that I'd selected a company I could speak to directly, rather than playing this game of telephone - for which I seemed to be using a tin can with no string attached. It's a horrible realization to suddenly comprehend that because the bike shop determined that I didn't need to know any of the actual measurements, I was now potentially left with a bike I couldn't use.

I felt all sorts of emotions. I was angry - both at the LBS and myself. I was frustrated - because it felt like there was nothing I could do to resolve any of this. I felt stupid - for having thought that a custom bike was the answer I'd been waiting for all this time. I was in pain - literally from all the weeks - and now months - of riding something that just wasn't right. I was feeling all sorts of craziness and it was difficult to put it into words that weren't laced with profanity.

E-bay searches were quite common for about a week or so. I wanted to know what prices others were getting for their IndyFab's. I had passed the stage of caring what happened with this bike and just needed to know how much money we were going to lose. My searches were a bit eye-opening. It was easy to see that I would be lucky to get half of the cost back I'd spent on the frame and fork. Selling the bike whole wouldn't provide much more return, and with that thought, I was left to ponder whether I was really prepared to give up on this bike.

As we discussed the issues taking place with the CJ and the potential loss, Sam reiterated that he was perfectly fine with losing some money, as long as I got a bike that would work for me. In my frustration, I agreed that the Crown Jewel was not working  - however, in the back of my mind, I still couldn't stand the idea of giving up on it. I'm a bit hard-headed with certain things and this seemed to be my current fixation, but I agreed that I probably needed to look at something else.

People - friends, family, and even occasional passers-by would ask about the Crown Jewel. Those who knew me wanted to know how it was working and if I was still happy with my decision to get a custom bike. Honestly, I never knew how to respond. While I wasn't sorry about the actual act of working on a custom bike, and I wouldn't discourage anyone from moving forward with their own, I was really struggling many days to find the good in this new bike. My responses were always vague and non-committal. What else could I do at this point? I wasn't ready to bash the bike or its manufacturer because some small part of me still believed it was possible to get it to a place that worked. I know how finicky I am about bike set up and maybe this was just part of the process, even if it seemed like it should be going more smoothly.

The next decision was to try switching out the wheels on the bike. We had another set that were of supposed lower quality from a past build that had since been parted, but maybe it would make a difference. The wheels were supposed to be heavier, so I was doubtful it was going to improve the situation, but when trying to find solutions, it's better to give all avenues a try, rather than stubbornly avoid something.
At least the summer wetness left us with beautiful greens that lasted much longer than is typical.
As much as I believed there was no way the wheels were going to make any difference, they in fact made a change to the bike - enough that the Crown Jewel felt rideable - for at least very short distances - without causing me to break down in tears on the side of the road. We'd also switched the stem again, and put a different (though exactly the same model) saddle on the bike (this saddle has more miles on it, so it's a bit softer in feel than the previous one). This particular outing was better than many I'd been on with the CJ and I was glad to feel that the wheels did seem to resolve some of the problems. A lesson to be learned - no matter how expensive a set of wheels, it doesn't necessarily mean they are the best.

Of course, the wheels didn't fix or lessen all of the problems, and the twitchiness still remained. I figured this was merely something I would have to make peace with because even the longer stem we'd switched to wasn't entirely helping. The extreme hand problems seemed to have slightly lessened, which was great, but they were still present to greater or lesser extent, depending on the day/ride/route. In part, some of the pain may have been caused by the wheels, but I think it was also the roads I chose to ride (which are often chipseal and/or full of large holes) and the fact that I wasn't giving my body a break between experiments/rides. I also believed some of this was due to the reach on the bike.

One day I decided to just go on a quick spin in every day clothing - no gloves or padded anything - just to see how I felt. I wanted to pay particular attention to anything that seemed odd or out of place. I didn't take a GPS because I didn't care how fast or far I was going. I just wanted to know if there was any possible resolution. The things that were almost immediately noticeable:

1) The pressure on my hands was greater than almost any other road bike I've owned. This would explain (at least in part) why my hands go numb quickly into rides.

2)  I found myself wanting to move my hands back from the hoods about 2 inches. When they were sitting on the hoods, I had no bend in my elbow, which I know can create problems as well. This caused me to think that even though the top tube is shorter than other bikes I've had, the reach was somehow too far (I'm sure adding a longer stem hadn't helped matters).

3) When I'd scoot my rear end closer to the handlebars, I could avoid the "stretched" feeling, but then my knees felt as though they were going far too forward over the pedals. When I moved back to a proper pedaling position, the arm/hand issues began again.

Even though I traveled a fairly short distance on that ride, it was evident that there are flaws in this build for me that I wasn't sure could be resolved. We thought about a shorter stem (which we'd already done), but it had made the bike even more twitchy and it hadn't seemed to resolve the numbness either. The seatpost has a very small amount of setback, so we pondered putting a zero-set back seatpost on the bike, but I thought that would only result in the same pedaling issues I had during my experiment and would definitely affect power when riding.
I was fairly convinced that the numbers on the areas with purple arrows were the major contributing factors to my problems
Overall, the fit on the bike had improved somewhat from our initial days and weeks together, but I was not at all prepared to say that it was perfect (or even close - or for that matter workable) at this juncture. After reviewing (yet again) all of the measurements that had been sent, we realized that the reach seemed wrong. On prior bikes, this measurement had been several centimeters less, but I wasn't sure if it was that number alone or that number and other angles/measurements combined. It seemed strange that the actual top tube could be much shorter, yet the reach was so much longer. Something was wrong, I was sure.

At this point, it is more than safe to say I was disillusioned about the custom frame process. As of that moment, I couldn't state with certainty that it was worth the cost to have my own frame built. Many of the problems I had prior to the build persisted, and while I didn't fault IndyFab or the LBS for this entirely, I had serious doubts as to whether any custom frame would make enough of a difference to ever try this again. The problem is that the only way to really know would be to have another go-round, and I knew I was not prepared for that option (financially, physically, or emotionally).

I also had a couple of regrets as far as my decisions during the process of the build (again, these were my decisions, and not the fault of anyone but me). I wished that I had purchased a matching steel fork and that I'd had the frame built with eyelets for fenders and racks. As time progresses, who could know what I may want to do with the bike? While it's possible to attach racks by other add-on means, it would've been nice to have a bike with a top tube that isn't too long (eg: the Hillborne) for longer sorts of rides... but, at the time, my purposes for this bike were not focused in that regard. I'm not sure any of this would've mattered anyway, as the fit for my proportions just didn't seem to be working.

There are times when I really beat myself up (not literally, of course, because I'm not some crazy Jim Carrey wannabe), but it's hard not to think back on some of the things I do and wonder where it all went wrong and why I seem to make such bad decisions. IndyFab is not a poor choice for a custom build, and in fact they have a great company with lots and lots of very satisfied customers, but it was the wrong choice for me at that moment in time. As I wallowed a bit in my self-deprecating thoughts, I had to regroup and figure this out.

At this point, the IndyFab was being dismantled. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it after my final attempt to see if I could make it work. I had gone on another short ride after my plain-clothes test and returned home with aching hands and other various problems. As I had headed out on that ride, I thought to myself that this was the Washington vs Arnold test and there would be no turning back. When I returned and uploaded the ride, I titled it Benedict Arnold it is then, and decided at that moment that as much as I didn't want to give up on the CJ, the bike had won and I wasn't willing to sacrifice feeling in my extremities because I was crippled from pain.

It was a tough day to watch as the bike was taken apart. I felt as though I had failed in this attempt to find something that really would work. I was upset because I knew I had talked Sam into letting me do this and now it was a gigantic failure. He was angry, and I was back and forth between tears one moment and anger the next. Suffice it to say, it was not a good time for us. I knew Sam didn't blame me for it, but it was hard not to take on the guilt from such an expense and feel completely responsible for its demise.

Sam was encouraging me to go and try out bikes again locally. We went one weekend and I rode a few different models that were similar to bikes I've owned in the past. I wanted a road bike again that was at least somewhat comfortable to ride because summer was screaming by and I knew I didn't have much time left to get in longer rides. However, I wasn't ready to make a decision based on what I'd tried in the local bike shops. Something inside me knew I had to go back to the start and take another look at my options.

One day as I sat pondering all of this mess I decided, with much trepidation, to type a couple of notes to bike builders. I honestly wasn't sure what I was doing or why I was even bothering to try to get answers from someone else, but I knew that it was important to figure this out. Bicycles are a huge part of my life and not having the one bike that allows me to put in more miles was causing a lot of anguish. Frankly, I don't know what I expected out of the e-mails. Perhaps I was looking for some validation, or maybe I just needed to believe that it was possible to find something that would work. Not really knowing what would come from it, I sent the notes off to builders who I thought might be able to offer some input.

This will be the stopping point for round two of this tale. I'm fairly certain I can get the rest of the thoughts up in the last of this series very soon.

Part 3 can be found by clicking here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Custom Bicycle (Part 1): When Excitement and Frustration Collide

I feel I must preface this post with a bit of a deep breath. I'm always happy to share my personal experiences with a bicycle, but this has been one I've tried to keep to myself for at least a small amount of time because I really needed to work through some things. I've had a number of requests to share more about the IndyFab and how it's gone thus far for me, so I suppose I'm caving a bit in that respect.  Believe me, it isn't that I haven't wanted to provide additional information, but sometimes time allows things to be resolved (although sometimes it doesn't), and what might feel like an enormous trouble initially can turn into something surprisingly small in the rear view mirror. I'd hate to start rambling about something early on, only to find that it was easily solved down the road. The time has come to share more, however, and with that said, I've been keeping notes along the way so that hopefully it will provide a realistic re-telling of what has happened. It's a long story and I don't want to overwhelm anyone, so it is probably going to be split up into multiple parts (apologies in advance to those looking for a full-dumping of the story here and now). But with that, here we go...

In July, I wrote about a custom bicycle that had been built by Independent Fabrication for me via a local bike shop. That post had more to do with the actual experience of the build than information about the bicycle, so I figured it would only be fair to write a bit more about the bicycle and the experience after a small bit of time has elapsed. My goal here is not to provide every single small detail since obtaining the bike, but to hit upon some of the points that have seemed important along the way, or that at least provide a bit more of the story.

Prior to receiving the new bike, I had been debating for about a year and a half as to whether or not it would be wise to move forward with a custom frame (and contemplating-from-a-distance the idea of a custom even longer). After lots of back and forth and chatting with potential builders (or representatives for builders), I opted to go with Independent Fabrication. I was also unsure as to whether I wanted to try out titanium or stick with the material I have known to suit me well: steel. Ultimately, after some convincing from the local bike shop owner and the realization that our budget would handle it a little easier, I opted to go with the material I've known to work in the past.
My first ride on the Crown Jewel was a distance of 40+ miles. I wanted to know how it would feel on something longer than a few miles of testing, so it made sense to try it out over a more substantial distance. When I returned home, I was a bit fatigued, but I was still on the high of having a new bicycle. I had mentioned to Sam that there were likely some adjustments that needed to be done, but I was still happy and overall I was pleased with the bike. It hadn't been my fastest average as far as speed, but I knew I was just testing things out, so I wasn't overly concerned. I'd completed a climb that I never enjoy, though it had been on the difficult side, and I was confident that things were going to be great.

I didn't ride the CJ for another eight days after that initial ride though, other than to quickly test parts that were being adjusted. I was riding, but I kept choosing my heavier, slower, steel bike (the Hillborne). At the time, I honestly couldn't exactly explain why I kept opting for the Hillborne instead of the new lighter bike. I was just enjoying the feel of the Hillborne and I wasn't ready to dive into dealing with the Crown Jewel because I knew there were some things that needed to be addressed. I assumed my choice to ride the Hillborne had something to do with the fact that when I'm on a lighter bike, I find it more challenging to just enjoy riding. It can feel like a race or a challenge to see what I can do and frankly, I was happy doing my slightly slower rides on the Hillborne. I wasn't prepared to commit to "working" on riding.

On that eighth day though, I decided I had to actually ride the CJ. I couldn't keep ignoring it as though it wasn't there. We'd spent a lot of money to get this bike ready for me to ride, and I'd lost a lot of my training season on bikes that were attempting to substitute for a lighter road bike. I set out with the intention of doing somewhere between 40-50 miles. I had a sort of plan in my head as to where I was going and told myself to just enjoy it. I ended up setting 3 personal time records and received a QOM (Queen of the Mountain) on Strava over a quick section on a local road. However, I only completed 22 miles of my planned ride. I'd averaged a pretty decent pace (for me), but I was beat and there was no way I was going to get in another 20 miles that day. I was also still having foot problems, hand pain, and I just couldn't seem to find a position to actually get any power on the bike.

I kept telling myself that it was me. I knew I hadn't done the time in the saddle I had during previous summers, and I just needed to make more adjustments. The thing is, when I'd received my custom bike, part of me truly just wanted everything to be right from the get-go. I didn't want to have to put in time and effort to get things to a place that worked. Why couldn't it just work right straight out of the gate? In reality, I could see that it was a starting point, but there was definitely some work in front of me to be completed. I kept reminding myself not to be a wimp about this and to suck it up and do what needed to be done. On the rides to follow, I would focus on what was happening so that I could attempt to explain the issues and find resolution.

A couple of days later, I got back out on the CJ. This time, there was a storm rolling in, so I knew I wouldn't get very far before I'd probably need to head home. While I don't mind getting rained on, I'm not a fan of lightning and thunder storms, so I knew it would have to be another short ride. I went to climb one of my least favorite hills, knowing that the return trip would be fast and downhill. I had one of my worst average times in quite some time on any bike, but I was starting to really understand the things that weren't quite working with this bike.

One of the things that really bothered me was that the front end of the bike felt twitchy and kind of scary. Every time I'd reach for a water bottle, I'd feel as though I was going to lose all control. My hands were absolutely killing me at the end of a ride and were numb beyond belief. I expect this somewhat when it comes to my "bad" hand, but even the good side was having a lot of trouble. I also noticed that I just felt heavy and slow and went back to blaming myself and my body for its failure to cooperate with what I wanted to get done. It's difficult not to get down on myself when there seems to be so many problems taking place. My feet were also continuing to go numb on every ride, but I'd told myself that this was likely due to back issues that have gone unresolved.

My next venture out was with a local friend. She was looking for someone to ride with and even though I was pretty beat up, I thought it would be nice to actually have someone to talk to for a bit. I warned her that I wouldn't make it very far and that it wouldn't be fast, but I was up for some time together. As we rode, we chatted about the Crown Jewel. She mentioned that it looked really great and appeared to fit me well. We also spoke about her potential desire to have a custom bike built. I told her I'd be happy to send her a link to some information, and our conversation continued on in this manner for the 25 miles we rode together. What she didn't realize is how much effort I was putting forth during our ride. I had shared that I was tired, but even when I'm not exactly up to par in regard to energy, I've often put out some of my fastest cycling times. That would not be the case on this particular ride. No matter how hard I struggled to go faster, I just couldn't make it happen. I apologized several times during the ride for being slow, while she simply smiled and said I was doing fine. I knew better though.

Routinely on these rides I had been experiencing somewhere between 1-2 miles average per hour slower (sometimes even more), and it didn't seem to matter if they were shorter or longer distances. Yet, I felt as though I was putting forth all I had in my tank. I returned to the self-bashing, insisting that my body was failing me. I try so hard not to go in this direction, but when my body appears to be the problem, I can't help but think it's the engine failing to keep up.

We had been having some conversations in our household regarding not having seen the specs for the CJ frame. During the process of having the frame built, I'd been told that I would receive a kind of cut sheet of what they planned to do before it would be done, but that never happened. I was a little miffed about this because I thought it was crucial to get this information myself before any welding or cutting actually began, but I let it go, assuming that others who are experts would know better than me. I also never received any kind of information about the geometry or measurements when I picked up the bike. At the time, I was so deliriously happy to have the bike that the thought hadn't struck me as important, but as time was moving forward, I really wanted to know what they had decided was going to work for me. Besides that, it's always good to have measurements for a bike for future use. I went by the bike shop and asked if they could get me the information. It wasn't readily available, but they said they'd work on e-mailing it to me.

I continued to ride on my own and occasionally with other cyclists, and at home we kept making adjustments to the bike. Sam was convinced that the stem was too short and replaced it with a 20mm longer version. It seems like a big jump, but it was what we had sitting around, so we thought it was worth a try. Sam moved my saddle too (which always seems to be a big no-no for me, but I was game for anything at this point). At various points we moved the stem up and down as well.

My riding was continuing to progress as far as distance is concerned, but it wasn't happening on the Crown Jewel. I was still finding myself choosing the Hillborne over the lighter bike and it was frustrating me. In reality, I was so tired of being in pain that the thought of going on another "test ride" to see what would happen on the CJ was not something I wanted to do. I was riding the CJ, but I did my best to keep the rides around 20 miles to not inflict any more pain than necessary.
Six days before I was supposed to participate in a local organized charity ride, I was really sick. However, I knew I needed to put in a longer ride on the Crown Jewel if I had any intention of riding it a few days later. I pulled myself together and managed a 53-mile ride that day on the CJ. I was so out of it on this ride that I hardly paid attention to anything that seemed wrong with the bike. I figured if I could make it through that distance while ill, there was no reason I couldn't do a similar distance when I felt better. Unfortunately, the sickness progressed and I actually experienced a worse version of being ill the day of the ride. I did complete the event, but it was slow and a bit painful at times. I chalked all of it up to being ill. The bike did better than I'd expected, which I suspected had to do with the change out to a longer stem, but it was hard for me to notice much of anything as I coughed and wheezed my way through most of the ride. The good that came from it, however, was that I truly believed this bike was getting to a point that was improving. If I could ride this distance on it, there must be hope.

One weekend morning, Sam wanted us to go on a ride together. I was feeling bad about the reality that the summer had consisted of a lot of pretty horrible rides together. Ninety percent of our rides had involved me whining about something that was hurting - and this had all started prior to even obtaining the IndyFab - but it hadn't seemed to improve after its arrival either. I have admitted several times to Sam that I've been exhausted by the time the weekend comes around, and the idea of going for any length of ride by weeks' end was low on my list of priorities.

On this particular day, we decided to go on a shorter ride of about 25 miles. As we got going, I knew things weren't great, but I wanted us to be able to ride together. Summer is short and I wanted to take advantage of the time we had with nicer weather. As we rode, I just couldn't stop the pain from coming. At about 8 miles in, I had to pull off to the side of the road. I mentioned to Sam that maybe he should just go on without me, and I'd meet up with him on the return trip since I didn't seem to be able to get any sort of momentum or speed and the pain shooting through my hands was becoming unbearable. He wanted to stick things out together though, so we continued on.

By the time we returned home, Sam was mad about the pain I was having. I had been frustrated and at times angry, but it was disturbing to see him so upset about something I was going through. He decided he was going to take the Crown Jewel for a ride and see if he could reach any conclusions from his perspective. It may seem a bit strange to do this, but we often ride each others' bikes for comparison purposes. Sam is acutely aware of my patterns of likes and dislikes, pain-free and painful positioning, and proper geometry for my bicycles. When something is off for me, he seems to be able to tell almost immediately when he rides, despite the fact that we prefer different setups. He returned from his test with a variety of thoughts.

First, he believed that we are capable of resolving anything. This gave me hope. There have been plenty of bikes in my past that seemed completely off and yet we were able to execute solutions to get a given bike to a point that was at least tolerable -- and this bike was made specifically for me, so there definitely should be solutions to everything taking place.

He also found that there were a variety of issues happening. He could feel the rattling sensation through his entire body from the road, and his hands - which are normally pain-free and strong - were aching (and they'd continue to hurt days after this short trial ride). The front end of the bike seemed twitchy to him, and no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't seem to get any momentum going on the bike. He'd even taken the CJ up one of the short neighborhood hills he likes to race up and discovered that he just didn't have the momentum or ability to stand to power through to the top as he normally would. He's done that hill on much heavier bikes (and bettered his own records on them in fact), but there was just something "off" about the Crown Jewel.

Although there is more to come, we'll leave off here for now. Part two can be find by clicking here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Using a GPS Thoughtfully or Just for Fun

A bit of a love-hate relationship has developed for me with my cycling GPS. For quite awhile, the idea of having a GPS for my bicycle(s) was unneeded and unwanted. At some point along the way, I decided that it made sense to track mileage - not only for my own training purposes, but even to be able to track mileage on bikes to have a better idea of how long parts have been used and how often a tune-up could be in order. In many ways, having that little device strapped to my handlebar or stem provided a way to push myself too. I know exactly how fast (or slow) I'm traveling and if I want to cover a certain distance in a given amount of time, I know I need to speed things up or that I'm on pace to complete the goal.
*Image found here
At some point, however, things seemed to turn a bit. I found myself always in a "go faster" mode, and I didn't like it. I had to remind myself that it's okay to slow down and that not every ride has to have purpose or be intended to complete some sort of cycling goal. Whether for transportation or just a joy ride, there are times when it's nice to let the electronics go and just concern myself with the view around me.  Most recently I have found myself attempting to discover balance between being able to track mileage and speed, and enjoying actually being on a bike. However, I still want to be able to get in mileage from time to time.

Perhaps you've come across some of the people who use their bicycles to create images as their GPS ride results? I've viewed several instances myself, such as wishes for a happy Valentine's Day, a rat and jellyfish, or even marriage proposals. People get pretty creative with the images they make using the device intended simply to track mileage, speed, elevation and so on.  Over the last few days, a news story has gone around about a rider who created an image of a bicycle using his GPS while covering just under 200 miles.

I've also found myself intrigued by groups whose goal is to ride every road within their own city, such as this group with Strava. It's amazing to look at the maps and see how many roads these riders are able to cover on a bicycle. The heat maps created remind me of a tightly wound spider web in many ways.

The idea of traveling every local road by bicycle is intriguing, and it's had me thinking. I wonder what the experience of a longer ride (let's say some distance between a metric and a century) would feel like if I only rode local, within-city-limits roads? With cooler weather setting in locally, I'm pondering the idea of taking on this self-made challenge simply to see if 1) it's possible to complete a long ride using only in-city roads in a city that is far from the largest out there, and 2) if going up and down neighborhood streets would be a welcome change or if it would be more challenging than I think.

Have you ever created an image (either intentionally or unintentionally) with your GPS? Have you or would you join a group whose goal was simply to ride their bikes on ever local road? Have you done a long-distance ride only on roads within a few miles/kilometers of home? I'd love to know if anyone has done any of these or has considered it. In the meantime, I'm attempting to get out and enjoy the beautiful autumn days, and I hope you are too.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bicycle Greetings Based on Gender?

Several months ago, I made a casual observation. I noted that when riding my bicycle, most of the females I passed going in the opposite direction gave no response to my nods, waves or 'good mornings.' My initial response was to think that I simply hadn't really been paying attention, and the odds of a person, regardless of gender, responding to my hellos had to be more equal. So, I started paying better attention to those I was greeting.
As it turns out, my initial response was fairly accurate (with some exceptions that I'll note in a bit). At the time of my original observation, the majority of my cycling was taking place on back roads, on a more standard road bike intended for longer distance training rides. As I started to pay closer attention, I realized that the majority of the time, women who were riding alone didn't even look in my direction. If there were multiple female riders in a small group (2-4), they often stared generally at me as they rode by (the sort of look that says: Why exactly are you waving to me?), but didn't offer up any sort of acknowledgement to my greeting either. No sooner did I start to think that this possibility was a bit strange when a single male rider or small group of males would ride by and nod or wave in my direction. What gives? I thought.

I should note, that not every male cyclist heading in the opposite direction acknowledged me either, but the percentage who made some kind of attempt to offer a reply - or even initiate a greeting - was far higher than the females.

Soon, I started paying attention to the cyclists I passed on roads in town. If I casually waved or smiled at a rider, regardless of gender, the person on a bike was far more likely to respond in some fashion. However, I also realized that many of the transportation cyclists I was passing were male, which may have skewed this as any sort of valid theory/test/observation (not that any of this has any real or accurate measurement, as it's simply one persons experience). But, overall I did come to realize that the females I did pass seemed far more likely to offer a greeting when cycling for transportation.

Why does any of this matter? You may be asking yourself. I asked it of myself too when I started obsessing over this idea that seemed ridiculous. In the grand scheme of life, perhaps it doesn't make much of a difference, but I couldn't help but wonder about the cause or the motivation for the females on two wheels to all but ignore other riders on the road.

Random thoughts regarding this theory I was making started to develop. Perhaps those on a bike in town were moving at a slower pace and simply more aware of those around them? They weren't necessarily focused on getting a certain speed or rhythm to their riding and perhaps this plays a larger role than I would think. Maybe the female cyclists who were in training mode get harassed by male cyclists and have made it a policy to pay strict attention to what is directly in front of them, rather than glancing around them? It is entirely possible that this is a matter of geography and other locations in the country and world don't experience this same phenomena, or it could be that it is entirely just luck of the draw and I seem to happen past riders who choose not to greet other cyclists on the roads.

Though somewhat a different issue with possibly different answers, I have found that if I'm stopped on the side of the road, most male cyclists will ask if I have everything I need or if I require assistance, whereas it is pretty rare that a female will ask the same question(s) when passing. This scenario is perhaps a bit trickier to get into based on gender, and pretty much any observation made for either greetings or break-downs would require a lot of assumption-based theory, but I do find it interesting.

Obviously, I don't have any accurate findings to make purely on cycling by another person, but I am curious if anyone has experienced something similar, or to the contrary, or if you have any thoughts on why this could be taking place? Perhaps this is all just happenstance? Although it is certainly no skin off my nose if a cyclist doesn't respond, I am curious as to why there appears to be such a vast difference in response based on a riders gender. Could it be that there are simply more male cyclists and it just appears that more of them respond because there are higher numbers? Even given the higher percentage of males, it still seems that there are very few females responding. I love to see other women out on the roads and I suppose I simply have found this situation a bit curious and am trying to make a bit of sense of it. If you have a moment to respond, I'd be curious to know if you personally greet other cyclists, respond to others' hellos, or if you've observed anything in regard to passing other riders?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Book Review: Thoughts on Rusch to Glory

Here's the deal:  I love a good book but the problem I have found over the last decade or so is that if it doesn't immediately catch my interest, I have a very difficult time finishing a read. I wish I could count the number of books someone has recommended to me that I started and gave up on during the first 50 pages (I will say that I can't count them all on my fingers and toes combined because the number has far surpassed that total). I have the attention span of a small child sometimes, so there has to be some pull that makes me want to continue on and learn more about the characters, the idea(s) being shared, or something that excites me about moving forward. If that doesn't happen, I find the book in a drawer many months (or years) later and it inevitably ends up in a donation pile or given to someone else in the hopes they will enjoy it. Note to self: The library is my friend - Stop buying books you're not going to finish.
A real-life spotting of The Queen of Pain
While in Leadville in August for the LT100, Rebecca Rusch was in town participating in the ride and promoting her book, Rusch to Glory (You'll recall that I got one brief glimpse of her during the ride as I stood on the sidelines - you know, waiting to miss getting decent photos of Sam). Sam and I walked by the tent where she was signing her book many, many times over the course of the weekend. Did I stop and buy a copy? Nope. Did I even begin to walk by the tent with the idea that I was going to buy a copy? Not really. We did have one brief conversation in which we discussed the possibility, but it was more of a fleeting thought than anything else. I had the opportunity to be face to face with The Queen of Pain herself, and I passed. I can always get a copy at home, I thought. Do I really need to stammer my way through an awkward conversation with a celebrity during which I will likely make a giant jackass of myself? Since I didn't really want to find out, we decided to get a copy later.

I think it's safe to say I saved myself some embarrassment because I have no doubt I would've said something completely stupid (I just can't seem to help myself), but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted a copy of the book. By the time I was ready to brave the possible foot-in-mouth syndrome, the book signing was over. Oh well, I thought. It's not like I need a personal autograph. I would pick up a copy later. When I got home and took a look at Amazon, I realized that I wouldn't be able to get a copy until mid-October. [Huge sigh] I placed the order anyway and figured it would give me something to look forward to as the season started to get cooler and less riding would be taking place.

When I arrived home one gorgeous early September afternoon, there was a package from Amazon waiting for me. What the hell did I order? That was the thought running through my head, truthfully, but I soon realized it was my copy of Rusch to Glory inside. I would like to say that I kept my cool and just let the book sit there for a bit, but I immediately dropped everything and started reading. I mean this literally; all other items that were in my hands just plunked down to the floor. I was really excited to get into this book.

There are times in life when something comes along just when I need it. Sometimes it's a passing person with a message they may not have been aware that I needed. Other times it's been a job that financially I couldn't have done without.  In this case, it was a book. I spent the first quarter of this book reading through tears - not because it was anything horrendously sad, but because it was causing me to take a look at my own life and path, and wonder a bit where the journey took a turn.
*Image from Velopress or Rebecca Rusch's site here
Early on, Rebecca notes that we (the reader) will likely have more in common with her than we might think. I have to say I didn't find much of significance that we share in common based on what I learned. Let's see, we are both Virgo's, we've both lived in our old cars at some juncture in our lives, we both have lived in southern California, and we both ride bikes - granted for different purposes and at extremely different levels of speed. At one point, she referred to her genetic line as "more oak than willow," which I could certainly identify with, but her "oak genes" are definitely not the ones I received, as it is apparent her physique has suited her well throughout her career and she definitely doesn't deal with the battle of the bulge that is ever-present in my life.

Even with little in common, there was something that drew me into the story of Ms. Rusch. The path her life took, the choices she made, and her career in endurance sports and mountain biking are amazing, and I appreciate that she has found a way to push past any obstacle that appeared to get a task completed.  Let's face it, she's broken down barriers. What I did identify with in the book is Rebecca's easy style of writing that allows the reader to feel a part of all that takes place. It's been reported by those who know her personally that she is an easy-to-speak-with individual, and if her writing is at all an indicator, I would have to agree. She has on paper what feels to be genuine and down-to-earth qualities, despite her incredible drive and endurance. Two things that one would think are at odds with each other, somehow come together in The Queen of Pain.

Throughout the book, no matter what adventure she is engaged in, Rebecca makes it seem as though it (whatever the current adventure is) is something anyone might consider doing if they had interest. I actually started to find myself thinking things like, why haven't I ever tried 'x' or believing that anything really is possible. A good chunk of the tale is a re-living of her adventure racing days and while that section perhaps contained a bit more detail at times than I needed, I can see how it must have influenced her and led her down her current path, helping make Rebecca the woman so many admire or look up to today. Throughout the read, Rebecca feels like an everyday sort of person who just happens to complete incredible feats of strength and endurance, and as she reminds the reader at various points, she credits so much of it to being able to overcome mental barriers - the biggest of which most of us experience (including The QOP) is fear.

I don't want to provide too much information on the book itself because I really don't like reviews that give everything away, especially when it comes to books, so rather than offering up specific tales from Rusch to Glory, I will simply say that I think Rebecca is correct when she states that there is something for anyone to identify with in her book. We may not all be winning endurance athletes or even have the desire to do all that she has experienced, but we have the ability to take the lessons and apply them to our own lives and our own goals. Maybe we'll even find ourselves wanting to imagine bigger in regard to our personal goals and stretch for something that seems a little out of reach. For me, the book provided a period of self-reflection and caused me to take a good gander at what I'd like to see as I move forward - tough as that can be sometimes. If you've been wondering if you should pick up a copy, I can say I believe it is definitely worth the easy and fun read. It has its down moments, but that is the roller coaster of life. If nothing else, perhaps you'll discover a bit of your own adventure racing spirit!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Random Psychedelic Bicycle Photos

A few days ago, I was riding my bike to kickboxing. Normally, I don't take my cell phone with me because I live close enough to the meeting spot that if something happens, I figure I can just walk home (additionally, I just think it's rude when phones are going off in the middle of class), but because I had some extra time prior to the workout, I decided to take a ride, thus causing me to err on the side of caution and bring my phone along. Feeling lazy when I left, I just tossed my phone in the front basket and didn't think anything of it.

Later in the afternoon, I was trying to find a photo I'd taken a couple of weeks ago with my phone and when I went to look for it, these photos were the first thing I saw.








Somehow, the camera got turned on and took pictures on its own. I'm pretty fascinated by this. First, it's amazing to me that photos snapped at all as it requires a finger to actual press the screen. I've tried in the past to use other means of touching the phone screen and it just doesn't work, so how these were captured is beyond me. Second, how did the camera get turned on at all? I have a habit of completely closing out everything on the phone each time I'm done using it and locking the screen, so it seems odd to me that the camera decided to turn itself on as well.

Beyond the weirdness of the situation, I'm kind of mesmerized by the photos. Particularly, the second, third, fourth and final shots. I sort of want to do something with these, but I can't quite decide what precisely. Any thoughts? I also want to try again and see if I can get it to happen a second time, but also figure out a way to have a bit more control over the photos. There's something cool about the randomness of the shots, but it would be interesting to see what would happen with just a bit more precision.