The Power of the Bicycle

 

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Riding with a plethora of ladies at Cyclofemme Madison

Freedom- it’s the first that that comes to mind when I think about cycling. Buying my first road bike was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. After high school I moved to Madison, WI. A college town that in the 13 years I’ve lived here, will forever have issues with parking and cramming traffic riddled streets with cars. Cars trying to navigate the tiny isthmus between our two massive lakes.

I found riding a bike to be one of the most efficient and inexpensive ways to get to where I needed to go. I started riding out of necessity more than anything, but it opened the door to some pretty amazing experiences.

My love for two wheels really started to grow when I decided to purchase an 80’s Raleigh Sportif. It was an old 12 speed bike with a step through frame and friction shifters. Having little experience with maintaining a bike with actual gears, I decided to ask a friend to help convert it to a single speed, in order to simplify the riding experience.

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The Raleigh Sportif decked out in hipster glory.

That bike took me between my two jobs, on bike camping trips, to commutes to the grocery store, and everywhere in between. I loved it. One of the  two jobs I rode it to was at a local bike shop. A friend helped me get a job on the sales floor and it inspired me to sign up for my first ever charity bike ride. Working at the shop afforded me access to inexpensive or even free gear from fellow employees. I was able to purchase my first “road”, technically it was a cyclocross bike, for the ride. I had chosen to purchase a Surly Cross Check.

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The Surly CrossCheck that fueled my passion.

I picked it due to it’s versatility. I could put smooth road tires on it, I could outfit it with a rack or fenders, and use it for commuting. It fit the bill for everything I needed out of a bike.

My training rides consisted of rides around our beautiful lakes, commutes to my job across town, rides on the Capital City Trail, rail trail excursions, and even let me to do my first really long overnight ride. My partner and I rode to Governor Dodge on Military Ridge and back to Madison.

It became my obsession. All I could think about were bikes and cycling gear. I obsessed over components, what clothing to buy, commuter gear, and getting as many miles in as I could on that bike. I had worked hard all summer to save up for the bike between my two jobs. I wasn’t in school at the time and had been staying practically rent free with my partner in our tiny one bedroom in downtown Madison. It was a wonderful time to start a new, expensive hobby!

That summer we had also completed our first Wisconsin Aids Ride, known as the ACT ride. It was 300 miles in four days across Wisconsin’s famous Driftless region. Each day we cycled a different portion of the state and we camped at local schools at night. It was hot, the hills were hard, but it was incredibly satisfying to get to the finish at the Capitol Square, in the heart of downtown Madison.

Many hours of training, fundraising, and agonizing over gear to bring all paid off for that experience.

It truly changed my life and it’s led me to a passion that still burns within me. I enjoy telling people my story about how I got so involved with the world of cycling, because I started out to it being completely new and absolutely clueless. Yes, it can be intimidating coming into a new activity where you know absolutely nothing, but it’s worth trying it out. You never know where it may take you.

We have all been there and you are never completely on your own when starting something new. Just a reminder as you may be looking to hop into something that is new or scary.

Cycling led me to where I am today and it’s opened my eyes to so many wonderful things. It helped give me the confidence I needed to know that I can make it through something that is extremely challenging. It provided me mental and physical strength I never knew I had and I want to take a moment to reflect upon that and thank cycling for what it has provided me.

It’s a wonderful stepping stone into wellness and I would encourage everyone to give it a go!

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A recent photo of myself. I took up mountain biking within the last couple of years.

Soma Doublecross Build Longterm Review

A year ago I had an idea for a fun winter project, build my own bike up from parts. I’ve had some experience wrenching on my own bikes over the past few years, but never built a bike from the ground up. I was looking for a bike that I could use as a commuter, light tourer, and something I could use for century rides.

I had a Surly Crosscheck in my stable, so it may not have made sense to buy another steel framed cross bike. The Doublecross is a bit of a different slightly different breed. The frame itself is about a pound lighter, the geometry is slightly more slack, the quality of the powder coat was noticeably better, and the frame also had more included braze ons. To be fair Surly has since improved upon their powder coat and newer models also come with more braze ons, but I owned an older model and had been lusting over Soma’s frames for a long time.

I pulled the trigger on the frame. This was before Soma offered any complete bikes, but I’m glad I went with a custom build as it allowed me to a) learn new bike skills and b) allowed me to spec the bike the way I wanted it.

Over the winter months I started buying up parts for the bike. I knew I wanted to reuse some of the existing parts that came off of my Cross Check and also source some reliable, classy bits for it as well. If you’d like to see how the build started, click HERE.

My final build list is as follows:
Frameset- 48cm Some Double Cross (I’m 5′ 5″ and it fits nicely with a 90mm stem)
Wheels- Suzue RXC Touring Wheelset (Incredibly smooth bearings and true out of the box)
Skewers- Salsa Flip Off Purple
Tires- Resist Nomad 35c (Supple, fast rolling tires- not a lot of flat protection though)
Crank- Shimano Tiagra Triple
BB- Shimano Tiagra
Pedals- Crank Brothers Candy 2 Orange
Front Der.- Shimano 105 Triple
Rear Der.- Shimano XT 9 spd.
Shifters- Shimano Bar End Shifters 9spd
Chain- Sram 9spd
Cassette- Shimano 9spd
Shifter Mounts- Paul Thumbies
Headset- Tange Sekei Purple 1 1/8″ (Very nice looking and smooth bearings)
Handlebar- Nitto Noodle 41cm (Much more comfortable than the Randonneur bars)
Handlebar Tape- Velo Orange Leather
Bar End Plug- Fyxation Locking
Stem- No Name Silvery Goodness
Brakes- Tektro CR720
Brake Lever- Tektro Short Reach
Cables- Jagwire
Seatpost- Ritchey Classic
Seat Clamp- Salsa Lip Lock Purple
Saddle- Velo Orange
Front Rack- Nitto M18
Front Light Mount- Paul Threaded Braze On Mount
Fender- PDW Origami (I swap these from bike to bike as I hate full coverage fenders)

I’m extremely happy with the build. The only real changes I made from the original build was the saddle and the brakes. I wanted to re-use the Paul Mini Motos I had on the Cross Check, but the way some of the cable routing was on the bike…I just couldn’t quite get them set up as they way I liked. They are currently living in my parts bin awaiting a future project or I may opt to sell them off.

The original saddle I had on the bike was a Brooks Flyer. The saddle had been good to me over the years, but it’s heavy as hell and has started not being as comfortable. I adjusted the tension on it somewhat just to see if that would help and it hasn’t, so it’s going to be used at wall art in my home office or at the shop when it opens. I received the saddle as a gift, so I don’t want to sell it off.

The new Velo Orange saddle is incredibly comfortable right out of the box. The only thing I’ve done to it was put a little proof hide on it to protect it from the elements. It’s a big improvement from the Flyer. The textured top and laminate they use to help the saddle hold its shape make a big difference. Also, you can’t beat the price! The saddles aren’t made of English leather, it’s Australian, but the quality matches Brooks for a fraction of the cost. I would definitely buy the saddle again and recommend it to anyone who is leather saddle curious.
The handlebar tape I have on the bike is leather as well. Kind of fancy, I know, but I really wanted to build a beautiful bike. There’s nothing like having a matching saddle and bar tape. The bar tape is actually Velo Orange branded as well. It’s the same color as the saddle and is super comfy. Much like a saddle, it does take a little time to break in, but proof hide helps. Once the tape has been broken in, it feels like an old baseball mitt. It just feels right on the hands. I’ve been working on learning to ride without gloves over the past couple of years and have enjoyed it so much better with this bar tape. It’s not super padded, but for me that’s a good thing because too much padding actually pinches and doesn’t feel good on my hands.

The Paul thumbies have made me really happy. I used to nail my knees on the bar end shifters when I had them on my Cross Check. They’d also get scuffed up and were just not in a great spot. Having the shifters mounted on the top of the bar makes for a cleaner look. I also don’t have to worry about real estate on the handlebars as Paul makes a super kick ass light mount that threads into braze ons. The shifters themselves are in friction mode. When mixing and matching road and mountain parts, it just makes things easier. There’s not as much tweaking you have to do on the derailleurs, you can just use the shifters to trim as needed. I also like that I can dump several gears at once without having to index.

The bike rides really smooth and is extremely comfortable on long rides. The bike is a little on the heavy side. Mostly because the wheel set is a very sturdy 32hole build with a 24mm wide rim. The wider rims are nice for putting fatty tires on. I’d like to experiment with the new Soma Cazadero tires on it at some point, but I will probably wait for the weather to turn before swapping tires out.

I also have all alloy parts and absolutely no carbon on the bike. I do see the potential in the frame for being a good, comfortable cross racer. Throw a carbon fork, bars, seat post, and carbon railed saddle on the bike and it would ride like the wind. Currently I own an aluminum Raleigh cross bike, but it’s not the most comfortable thing to ride on weather beaten roads. Steel may not be the lightest material in the world, but it sure is a lot more forgiving!

Soma has done a fantastic job on their overall bike line up and the Double Cross is no exception. I get tons of compliments on the bike and the color of the frame. The pearly blue is extremely classy looking and the powder coat has held up incredibly well. The logos and the frame badge are also gorgeous. Color me in love with the bike and the Double Cross frame. I should note that the newest color of the bike is more of a gunmetal-ish grey, but still very beautiful.

If anyone reading this is debating between the Surly Cross Check and the Soma Double Cross, I would highly recommend considering the Soma. It does has a taller head tube on it which means it’s not as aggressive, but for the price I think it’s just a slightly nicer frame. That’s not to say I’m not down with Surly. I love them as well and would buy a dirt tourer or one of their many cool fat bikes,  but I just love the Double Cross more if doing a straight comparison. One other major plus, for me, is the fact that Soma uses vertical drop outs and not horizontal drop outs. I know why Surly uses horizontal dropouts and it makes for a more versatile frame, but they can be a pain in the ass when changing a rear flat. I also used to have issues with the wheel pulling to one side no matter how tight the rear skewer was on the Cross Check. I haven’t dealt with that what so ever on the Double Cross.

To wrap things up,  I plan on owning my Soma Double Cross for years to come. The bike is an absolute pleasure to ride and is a true stunner. Keeping a steel bike in your stable is always a good idea, especially a cyclocross bike as they are incredibly versatile and can allow you to ride places your skinny tired road bike wouldn’t. So, if you don’t already own one…I highly recommend looking into a good steel steed 🙂

Cap City Trail Recon

Madison often boasts that its bike paths are cleaner than the streets after a large snow storm. That’s usually the case when referring to the Southwest Commuter path, Madison’s most used bicycle path that runs through the isthmus (downtown).

We can’t really say that for the Capitol City Trail. For those not familiar with Madison’s route set up, the Capitol City Trail is a route that extends past the major SW Commuter Path and heads out to the South Eastern burbs and then back into Madison near the Alliant Energy Center. (You can then continue back into downtown or ride the lake loop through Monona.)

It’s not maintained as regularly as our beloved SW path, but is still a nice ride. Today I decided to take a journey on it to not only get a lunch ride in, but to also report on the conditions. Starting from the Verona frontage road the trail was hard packed snow and ice. Not terrible, but not amazing either.

Riding downhill was a little sketchy in some spots, but overall it was decent conditions. Hardpack is a lot of fun to cruise on with knobby or studded tires. The overall view was very beautiful. The path is surrounded by trees on either side, so it doesn’t melt as fast as some of the other  trails. The trees looked untouched and there is still significant snow on the ground around the trail.

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I did happen to come across some ruts, skate ski tracks, loads of animal poo (seems folks think they don’t need to pick it up in the winter?), and even a frozen possum that seemed to have passed somehow on the path. (poor thing)

The new studded tire (I only use one on the front right now) performed amazingly on the hard pack. It cruises a lot faster and smoother than on dry road, that’s for sure! In areas that had deeper snow or a bit of slush, having a loaded back end helped greatly. I have a fairly heavy saddle, a rear rack, and a half loaded pannier when I ride. I treat snow commuting much like snow driving. Keep weight in the rear, take it slow around corners, keep eyes on the trail to pick the best line of riding, and if I start to fish tail or slide…just power through it and DON’T PANIC or hit the brakes!

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I rode about a 3 mile stretch of the trail before I had to take to the streets to hit my destination. From the point of where I started to ride the trail, all of the offshoots had been plowed or cleared to some capacity, but for some reason the junction I needed to ride up wasn’t. I had to hop off and do a minor amount of trudging before I could get back on the bike. I’m glad I had my Bogs on! (They make for great winter riding boots btw. Future review?)

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A minor annoyance in an overall pleasant ride. It seemed like the maintenance crew just kind of decided to call it good enough.

I’m considering checking out the trail conditions in a few days after the weather warms up. Forecasts are calling for up to 40 degree weather, so there may be some slushy conditions ahead for daily path riders.

On my way back to work I decided to ride on McKee, which was not as pleasant as the ride on the trail. I didn’t have much time to enjoy the scenery, but it’s a straight shot to the work place. There was a huge headwind and my studded tire made the bike ride like a slow moving tank. Cars were also not feeling very  generous when I was trying to avoid chunky snow debris in the road.

If you’re looking to hone your winter riding skills with a serene environment, I would highly suggest checking out the Cap City Trail in the next couple of days before the snow starts to turn into muck!

Side note: Today I decided to wear regular poly/cotton socks, Bogs, regular stretchy skinny jeans, a short sleeve Road Holland jersey, the new Surly long sleeved jersey, my Patagonia down jacket, Ibex balaclava, Pearl Izumi long finger gloves, and my helmet. In the morning when it was 19 out, my thighs were the only part of me that was cold.

During lunch and on the ride home I was pretty warm up top so I unzipped the top two layers and wore the balaclava as a neck gator. I probably could have dropped the down jacket, but I wasn’t in the mood to stop and take it off.

I’m happy to report the PDW fenders kick ass and I have no issues with interference like I do with full length fenders. I also removed my usual Crank Brothers Candy pedals and installed the VP Vice flat pedals. They have an awesome, wide platform with tons of grip. There will be full reviews as the season progresses.

Also, a BIG shout out to all the new followers. We’re happy to have the support. Please e-mail us with suggestions, comments, etc. We want to continue to improve upon the site 🙂

-Cassandra

 

Favorite Things: Surly Cross Check

Everybody has their favorites. Whether it’s foods, coffees, cars, restaurants…the possibilities are endless. Like Oprah, I have my favorite things. Unfortunately I don’t have a screaming, wild audience of middle aged ladies and gay men to throw my favorite things at, nor the money that Ms. Harpo herself has to gift these items. Nonetheless, I’d like to share them with the world.

Today I’d like to talk about the Surly Cross Check. Yes, it’s an obvious and super popular choice. Many a blogger has written about the Cross Check. I don’t care. I want to tell my story and continue singing its praises.

My cross check (seen above) is the 2008 or 2009 model. The color is Beef Gravy Brown, or what I like to refer to as Foxy Brown, 50cm, and 100% awesome. This bike has taken me through two Wisconsin AIDS Rides (600 miles 0f hardcore Wisconsin road riding), all the training for those rides, commuting to work, bike camping, rail trail riding, single tracking, hauling of groceries  w/the Burley in tow, and the occasional cruise around town for fun.

I purchased the bike as a complete with all stock components and have since changed it up quite a bit. The original build is pretty similar to what Surly has listed on their current website, but with a few minor changes such as front derailleur and headset. (They now have a lower grade front d and a Cane Creek headset rather than Ritchey.)

Currently I have it set up as the following:
Fork & Frame stock Foxy Brown
BB: 118 Velo Orange
Crank: Added a granny ring and am using Sugino Chainrings
Pedals: Crank Brothers Candy 2’s
Front Der: Shimano 105 Road Triple
Rear Der: Shimano SLX 9 SPD Long Cage
Stem: Civia (?) Silver 100mm w/17 degrees of rise
Top Cap: Thompson Silver
Spacers: no name silver
Handlebars: Salsa Poco 40cm
Seat Post: Ritchey Classic
Saddle: Brooks Flyer
Brakes: FSA Cyclo Cross
Cassette: Shimano HG (?) 12-32 (?)
Chain: Shimano fancy road 9spd
Wheels: Cycle Ops Powertap G3 Alloy training set (Demo set I was given to aid in product testing- Yes, I feel silly riding with a Powertap on a Cross Check. I get strange looks from roadies all the time!)
Tires: Vittoria Randonneur Hypers 38c folding bead
Cables: Jaguar Racer kit
Handlebar tape: Lizard Skins DSP

The three things I haven’t changed yet are the headset, bar end shifters, and the seat post clamp. Oh I guess the crank arms are the same Andel or no brand ones.

I plan on changing the brakes again as I’m not a fan of the current ones I have on the bike. They don’t work that well for hauling a lot of gear, which I’ve been doing a lot of lately. I also want something that works a little better in crappy weather. I’m looking at the Paul Mini Moto’s. I’ve also decided to purchase the newest CC fork. It has all the fancy eyelets, so I can mount all sorts of awesome front racks on it and turn it into a load carrying machine! The fork won’t match the frame, but I’d rather have an ugly functional bike that won’t get jacked if I leave it parked downtown. (Madison has a crazy amount of bike theft, but it’s usually dumb asses who don’t know how to lock their bikes or leave their bikes either unlocked or locked poorly on their porches. I’d rather be safe than sorry!)

I’ve also all the sudden become really picky about component color matching. This means I’ll be upgrading the chain rings once again (probably due for it anyways as I’ve ridden the hell out of them), upgrading the headset, swapping out the seat post clamp, and maybe even getting some fancy stainless steel water bottle cages to boot. Dunno if I want to be that classy or not yet.

Enough about components. I apologize dearly for the nerdery. I simply can’t help myself!

Benefits of this bike are that you can set it up for pretty much anything and will feel pretty good. I don’t think the bike does one finite thing really great, but it does a lot of things well. (Does that make sense?) I’ve put skinny road tires on it without racks and it rides fairly zippy as most cross bike to road conversions would. I’ve fully loaded it up and commuted on it with full racks, fenders, panniers, and it still rides fairly well. A tiny bit sluggish, but what bike wouldn’t feel like that fully loaded? At its current state it doesn’t feel as heavy and sluggish as some of my friends more touring oriented bikes while fully loaded, so I see that as a plus.

The set up that I love the most on this bike is putting big, fat, cushy tires on it that are fairly light weight for the width and riding it rack free. I road that way for the AIDS ride this past summer and had used a new stem to raise the handlebar more up to seat level and it was sooo comfy. I was able to climb hills well with the granny and flew over the potholed back roads that South Eastern Wisconsin has to offer. I feel like I had less fatigue than the folks rocking aluminum road bikes and uber skinny tires. I passed a lot of people by on my bike and felt damn proud to fly my steel is real flag!

You don’t see too many folks riding steel on long distance charity rides. I don’t know if that’s because Trek is huge in these parts and when people walk into a shop, that’s the easiest thing to sell on of their many mid level aluminum road bikes (mmm yeah, that’s it right there) or…never mind.

Moral of the story. It’s a f*cking awesome bike and if you are a person that needs only one bike or has room for only one bike, I’d definitely recommend it. I’ve gone back and forth considering selling my Cross Check for something with a little more style, but I just can’t get over how dependable and awesome it has been to me over the years. You can put pretty much any combination of parts on that frame and it’s going to work. Flat bar, mustache, drop bar, STI’s, bar end shifters…it can really handle it all.

The complete bike may cause sticker shock to folks looking for a basic commuter bike, but it’s the Swiss Army Knife of bikes. You aren’t just getting one bike, you’re really getting a dozen due to its versatility. I started out as a total bike NOOB and owning this bike now has be lusting over a new build every few months! It’s just so fun to change up.

I give the Surly Cross Check 4 1/2 out of 5 spokes. I’m docking half a spoke because they upped the price and lowered the component level on the most current models. I know there’s inflation and such, but being a part of QBP, the largest distributor in the US, means that you probably aren’t hurting for money. You can’t throw a rock in a major Midwestern city without hitting a Surly! I also kind of expected more for my $$$ when first purchasing the bike a few years ago. The stock components aren’t the best and are kind of lead weights. I noticed as soon as I swapped them out that my bike was significantly lighter.

Full disclosure: I purchased the bike at a discount because of the shop I was working for at the time. I would still purchase the bike today at full retail value. Well…I’d probably purchase the frame and then do a custom build as I’m now a bit spoiled component wise…either way, I aim to be as fair as possible with my reviews and was in no way paid by Surly or associated with them.

Thanks for reading!

-Cassandra