Sunday, April 3, 2011

Part 4 of Bill Gets A New Bike

Bill's Elephant bicycle frame has been expertly crafted by Glen and delivered back from the powder coating.  Though the frame is complete, the bike is far from finished as Bill rides, experiments, switches parts, rinse - repeat.

In its first week, the Elephant made a trip up Sagewood in the hail, and down Hatch in the freezing fog, covering familiar loops and new territory with various tires, wheel sets and 3 different saddles. I’ve logged about 150 miles on it and so far I couldn’t be happier.

It never ceases to amaze me how switching out bits and pieces and making little tweaks can make a bike feel so different. 

In terms of components, the bike is set up with Ultegra shifters, 105 derailleurs, Ultegra triple crank and a 12-25 10speed cassette, Nitto Randonneur bars, FSA headset with integrated cable guide, and Origin 8 cantilever brakes. I can swap out wheel sets with the Trek - this way I have access to both the 20 spoke front & 24 spoke rear that came stock on the Trek, and the more sturdy 32 spoke wheels I had Two Wheel build up last year. As a general rule I’m not a particularly flashy guy, but I do have a professed weakness for the classic look of a black bike with cream tires, so I popped for some white Paselas, figuring the 28mm width would be a nice tire for a wide variety of surfaces.

The very first place I headed with the Elephant was to do the Hangman Valley loop with a little extra climbing. Heading down Hatch Rd., I was impressed with how comfortable I felt taking a hand off the bars to signal for the left onto Hangman. It was a cold day with a bit of rain, hail, and wind so I kept a pretty mellow pace through the valley.  The route from the bottom of Hangman, up Baltimore, across the Palouse, and up to the top of Sagewood gives you a sample of long grinders and then some seriously steep road. I know these routes so well it seemed like a good first test. The bike climbed fine, but to be honest, no real fireworks. I was going to need to withhold judgment as I had put in a long day on the bike the day before and my legs were far from fresh; I’m used to climbing on a 38t front ring and this set-up has a 39, plus there was a headwind on Sagewood and it was hailing most of the way.

Over the next few days and rides I swapped out saddles, repositioned bars and hoods, and installed a set of seriously ugly fenders for the sake of practicality.

Although I didn’t really have the budget for it, I picked up a Bontrager Evoke saddle for my wide sit-boned butt. I have an inForm RXL on my Trek and love it. For whatever reasons most other saddles I have tried make my hips hurt. I had picked up a Brooks earlier on this winter, thinking it would end up on this bike, but I just can’t seem to get comfortable on it.

For my next run at Sagewood, I swapped the white Paselas for my lighter wheel set with 25mm UltraGatorskins. Faster tires and fresher legs put to rest any concerns I had about it being a fun bike to climb on.

My main motivation for the Elephant was to be able to spend more time on gravel and dirt. So a 50+mile trek was planned that involved some long stretches on gravel roads. I wanted to see how the bike would be with some wide tires, so I swapped out the 28mm whites for a set of 36mm Paselas. Even with these fat tires it still has tons of clearance. I immediately knew I had found my go-to set up for the bike. I preferred these tires to the 28’s in every aspect and although I will throw the Ultra Gatorskins on for long paved rides, the 36’s rule on gravel and generally crappy road surfaces.

A friend took me out north up to Lehman Rd., a nice longish paved climb and then eventually to Temple road, which consists of a gravel climb that just seems to keep going and going. Despite the rain (which turned to snow by the time we reached the top), it was a great ride. I had no problem finding my rhythm in and out of the saddle, on both the paved and the gravel. With some bikes it feels like I am pulling the bike up the hill, or it is only comfortable if standing or sitting; I am always aware of the bike’s presence. I like it when I can just concentrate on my breathing, my legs, and what is going on around me. I like it when the bike “disappears”. 

Heading back home via Newman Lake, the bike was fun to ride on the rolling hills and easy to keep at pace on the flats of the Centennial Trail. My next big challenge is to get comfortable on some of the more technical non-paved descents.

The only less than stellar part of the bike is some of the powder coating looks a little thick in places. I’m sure this would bother some, but luckily I’m not one of them.
This is how Bill looks when he is happy.

Obviously I’m happy with my bike, and will heartily endorse Glen and Elelphant Bikes whenever I get the chance. Now, the only question is what type of bike do I need next? 

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