Tuesday, August 30, 2011

{Part 1} The Surly Pacer: Finding a Steel Road Bike for Me

As some may have noted, I recently spoke about "another bike" that has popped up in the fold. I've avoided really discussing it for a couple of reasons. First, I needed to have some time with the new bike in order to make, at minimum, a semi-educated evaluation of its functionality, at least for my purposes. I also hesitate to talk about a bike that I'm not entirely certain I plan to keep, but at this point, it looks as though it will remain here, so it seems fair enough to talk a bit more about it.
I recently went for a long test spin on a Surly Pacer after deciding that I really wanted a lighter road bike for rides when I don't need to carry anything and I'm going out simply for exercise or general riding purposes. I'm never one to focus necessarily on speed, and I enjoyed the Pacer test ride, so it seemed like a logical choice. After the test ride, I found that I just couldn't get it out of my head. It felt quite speedy in comparison to the approximate 40 pounds I typically haul on the Hillborne, and actually reminded me of the good feelings I had when riding the hooptie bicycle from last summer. It's still not a "light bike" by roadie standards (in its current form, it weighs in at 23 lbs, without carrying an extra tube, tool, etc), and rest assured that I still fall far behind when climbing (I'm soooo not a climber!), but the fact that it feels lighter seems to help, at least somewhat, with fatigue on longer rides.
So, after hemming and hawing about whether or not I wanted to invest in another bike, I went for it. Almost immediately after purchasing the Pacer I went into a state of buyers remorse. "Why did I do this?" and "I didn't need this bike" were just a couple of the more tame thoughts that ran through my head. After all, it's difficult to justify an added expense that really wasn't a necessity. I have a bike (I have more than one bike), and I started feeling extremely guilty about spending money (which had actually been set aside for this purpose) and I felt the money could be better used for something actually needed (like fixing the backyard, which, after four months is still completely consumed by dirt and weeds... but I digress, as usual).
I rode the Pacer a few times, but not more than a few miles each trip. The first ride was only about 7 miles because things weren't adjusted properly and I didn't have the tools to make the fixes on the road. The second ride was only a bit longer, and I was short on time, so I had to head home. The next ride I intended to head out on a nice, longer ride (somewhere between 25-35 miles) to really get a feel for the bike. This number turned out to be less than 8 miles total because I was in so much pain about 4 miles into the ride that I couldn't stand it. At this point, I was feeling as though karma was turning on me, and this was revenge for spending money frivolously. When I got home, I called Sam and told him that I was selling the bike because I couldn't ride it without being in pain and there is no reason to keep a bike that causes this sort of agony.
To spare everyone needless information, I've left out several details, such as the multiple saddle changes (fortunately, they were on loan and didn't cost us), constant saddle adjustments - both height and tipping up and down, and even moving it front to back to find a "happy" spot, as well as adjusting the handlebars, brakes and so on, which is of course typical of finding comfort for anyone on a new bicycle. I was simply frustrated and really feeling down about the whole process. While I wanted to be happy with the Pacer, the bottom line is that I wasn't - at all. How could I be so comfortable on the bike during the test rides, and now find myself in such agony so quickly on rides? Something just seemed wrong.

Not allowing me to give up on this idea, Sam suggested that we continue to tweak some things. The first item to be changed was the handlebar stem. Most of my issues with bicycles (that aren't easily resolved anyway) tend to have something to do with the handlebars (the type of bar, the height, angle, etc). We swapped out the stem from Sam's Surly LHT with the stem on the Pacer, which brought the  handlebars up and closer to me so that there wasn't quite the strain on my hands. It may sound as though I purchased a frame that is too large, but in reality the smaller size is simply too small for me, causing constant strikes from my knee to the handlebars, and making me to feel like a big bear riding a much too small bicycle in a circus.
Standard Surly Pacer stem (apologies for the fuzzy photo) versus the replacement with the Surly LHT stem
As I mentioned, we had also been fiddling with the saddle, trying to come up with the right option. I tried a couple of Terry models, the original Surly saddle, and the saddle which is currently on the Pacer: the original saddle from my Public Bikes J7. It seems like an odd choice, I am aware, and it is definitely not the saddle that will remain on this bike, but out of the options thus far, it has been the most cooperative and comfortable, so it remains for the time being. It is, perhaps, a bit wider than it needs to be, but I seem to have more troubles with too narrow a saddle than too wide a saddle on this bike.
Rather than allowing me to give up on this bike, I'm glad Sam talked me into trying out more modifications. It is infinitely more comfortable than it was on the first few rides (I was able to take it on a quick 12 mile ride after the changes without issue), but after riding it during the Venus de Miles over this past weekend, I have discovered that there are limits to the length of time I can ride with the current configuration... but, hopefully that will be resolved soon. There are additional changes in store for the Pacer, which I will definitely share down the road. Basically, the plan is to use the Hillborne as a model (since it is comfortable on rides both long and short) to set the Surly up in a somewhat similar, but lighter in weight manner. I have a few parts on order, but for now, it is certainly usable and I'm enjoying getting to know the Pacer a bit better. I'm also slowly learning what types of things work for me on bicycles, and perhaps more importantly, which items don't. A lesson that seems to be ongoing for me.
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Post Script: I just wanted to say that in no way would I want anyone to be under the impression that the Surly Pacer is an uncomfortable bicycle. For most people, I'm certain they would find it to be a joy to ride as it is built. However, I have damage to my hands and wrists which prevents me (try as I might to deny it) from using certain set ups on a bike. This is a constant struggle for me, so learning what works and what doesn't is often a very trial and error process - sometimes with me making the same choices more than once, hoping for different results (that is the definition of insanity, right?). As with most things in life, your results would likely vary from mine. If you're looking for additional info, there is an update that can be found here.

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