Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sam Hillborne Modifications: The Quest for Perfection

Recently, I wrote about my ongoing struggle with the set up on my Sam Hillborne, and my dilemma with choosing whether to take him or my Public Bike for an upcoming fundraising ride. After having him built up for a year now, and riding him regularly, I am a bit frustrated with not being able to get him to a place that is ideally suited for me. While I realize I need to follow my own advice and not give up on tweaking things to my liking, I have to say that the process can become frustrating, exhausting, and did I mention, frustrating. The idea of building a bike up from the frame alone is exciting, in theory, but when it just doesn't feel right during rides, the fairy tale-like expectations begin to fade, and the reality of the struggles one can face become all to real.
I should say that I do so very much love the Hillborne, and in general, it rides like a dream. However, due to issues with my hands and wrists, I often struggle with being able to take this bike on longer rides. I tried several months ago switching out the Nitto Noodle handlebars for some mustache style handlebars with failed results. The Hillborne is already a bit of a stretch for me in size, and the handlebar change out made the reach almost impossible for me, not to mention creating a highly uncomfortable situation. The drop bars went back on the bike, and I figured I was going to have to deal with the hand issues. 
Mustache handlebars on the Hillborne for a very short time
About a month ago, I was reading a blog (wish I could recall which one at the moment) and they were discussing albatross handlebars. While I had understood prior to reading the post that they are different from mustache bars, I never gave them a thought for the Hillborne. Suddenly, a light bulb went on and I wondered if it would be possible for these bars to work for me on this bike, and so off I went to find some sort of deal on an albatross bar. Fortunately for me, I didn't have to wait long and the transition was made.
On albatross bars, the side portion stretches out closer to the rider, while the mustache
style bars end at approximately the same spot as the head tube.
I have been on a few rides now with this set up and they actually seem to be a good fix for many of my ailments. While they look similar to the mustache style handlebars, they don't have the same extended reach, and they do provide me with several places to move my hands while riding. The switch hasn't completely eliminated discomfort, but I have found that it takes much longer for the aching to start (which for me, is a complete win), and I can ride longer before my hands fatigue. The biggest issue with the drop bars was that I couldn't use the drop portion of the bar because it stretched me too far, and ended up using the flat portion of the bar far too often, creating needless stress on my hands. This bar seems to be a nice compromise. I have also realized that I may just be someone who has to stop every 10 miles or so to let my hands have a break... and I'm okay with that, particularly since I'm not looking to win any speed records. 
I will continue to do minor adjustments with the handlebars until I find the spot that is most comfortable, and overall, these bars seem to be better for me than the drop bars, so I'm happily moving forward with them. Taking a recommendation from the late Sheldon Brown, I am also working on using more of my leg and core muscles to hold myself up, instead of my hands/arms to hold my body up while riding. The only real "problem"   I've noticed thus far with the set up is that cornering, at times, is not easy. The bar end shifters tend to hit the thigh area when I take corners that are tight, but I've decided that the benefits outweigh this slight down side.
Though actually steeper than it appears here, there are several similar hills across the routes I often ride
The other issue that has been taking place is figuring out hill climbing on the Hillborne. When we first built up this bike, we put a road bike crank on it that had 53/39 tooth cogs. It was set up as a 2x9, and neither Sam nor myself could foresee that this would be an issue for me to utilize. In fact, generally speaking, it wasn't a problem (though I think it may have been contributing to some hip issues). But, around here there are several hills to climb, and some of them are steeper than I can really handle with the smaller of the cogs on the former crank. Don't get me wrong, I made it up the hills (huffing and puffing), but I also realized that perhaps I needed a crank with a smaller number of teeth for the truly brutal hills. We decided to look for a crank similar to what is recommended by Rivendell for the Hillborne, and ended up purchasing a crank with 46/36/24T. 
Unfortunately, the crank wouldn't work with the bottom bracket on the Hillborne (we used an external bb with the former crank), so that was an added expense (though small in the grand scheme of things). There are arguments for both sides as to which kind of BB is better, but basically, if I wanted this crank, I had to use what works with it. I have to say, the ride seems much smoother (though I don't completely comprehend why it feels smoother simply due to having smaller cogs), and the hills are much, much easier to climb having more of a "spinning" gear. I'm certainly not speeding up the hills, but I wasn't doing that prior to the change either. I had to laugh the first day out with the new crank as I was climbing the hill pictured above and a guy on a mountain bike just went zipping past me up the hill. I guess it just goes to show that we're all different (or perhaps I just need to be riding up that hill multiple times a day!), and we all have our own strengths.
The last minor modification that still needs to be made actually has nothing to do with the ride, but rather with the changes that have been completed. The front derailleur that was on the Hillborne was intended for a dual, rather than a triple cog, so we made a temporary switch with another bicycle, and will have to get an appropriately sized derailleur to give this one back to the bike it came from. This one isn't quite the right size for the Hillborne, and forced the temporary removal of my second water bottle cage. An easy fix, that will soon be remedied. 
As for the Chain Thong, I do intend to keep it on the bike, but we were out of zip ties at the time of the changes, and couldn't lower it without cutting the ties. It may not be the most attractive piece on the bike, but it was cost-effective, and does help keep my right leg clean!


  1. Love, love, love the albatross bars. Stunning!

  2. Thanks so much! I think they're gorgeous too (and functional, which was their true purpose).


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