Reader Jorge contacted us and stated that he likes to write and has a bike. He built his bike from scratch and writes about his rationale in choosing his build and shares some of his hacks. Enjoy!
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Hi. This is my bicycle. It rocks. I'll tell you some of the reasons why... and share a handful of my very own bike-hacks.
First. Well, it's a bicycle, right? If you are reading this you already know... I hardly need mention that a bike can be an object of respect and lust; both sexy and utilitarian, sleek and rugged, and above all, it can be a tool that bestows on its user many great powers… powers that are just a few watts shy of super-powers. We may not fly. But we can bunny-hop. We may not be able to dead-lift one car to save a baby. But we can pass a dozen as they slog toward a traffic light. And while we are at it, we can make funny faces at the occasional back-facing baby.
I built my bike from scratch and christened her Golondrina. It’s Spanish for swallow (the bird, not the verb)… It comes from this famous old Mexican song in which the author considers the little black migratory bird and wonders longingly “where could she be heading, so fast and exhausted?” That seemed like a good motto for my new bike… and I upon it. They know not where, but go fast and exhausted!
When I moved to California last year, I found myself temporarily in urgent need of a means to commute 6 miles to work until my truck and motorcycle arrived from Rhode Island. A bicycle might do the trick. Since I already owned two bicycles (also, for the time being, on the wrong coast) I wanted to keep my investment cheap bordering on disposable while hoping to avoid the Walmart look. For $150 I got my hands on a used fixie.... It came with cyclo-crossish tires, which urged me to venture out on the dirt, and soon I was loving all the new found trails, and my new found lungs... and the cheaply made crank-set was falling apart, and the wheels were showing signs of irreparable damage. So I decided that I would build myself a new bike.
This would be the first time I built a bicycle, and I decided it should be the last. What I mean is that when you get to select every bit of bike... from stem to rear hub, from spokes to handlebar tape, you have time to think… what is it that matters to you?
My own answer was easy: durability… toughness, resilience, permanence, if at all possible (without going into Titanic territory) indestructibility. My new bike – I decided before I tightened the first nut – should be built to be my last bike.
I’m not that original. I got the idea for my project from reading the book “It’s all about the Bike” (http://www.robpenn.net) in which the author lovingly describes the process of building his dream bike. By the way, I am in no way affiliated with him. But as a fellow lover of the bicycle, I wish him well. May he sell lots of books! At any rate, I suspect other self-described bike-hackers will probably enjoy the read as much as I did.
Anyway, as I was saying: durability. This to me meant two things.
Number one. Stainless steel. Wherever possible. Frame. Crank-set. Chain-ring. Cog. Spokes. Hubs. Even my water bottle is stainless. But it’s not a perfect world so, if something must be aluminum (rims and handlebar), then double walled, reinforced, and extra thick, if you please.
My stainless steel frame is a Surly 1x1. So, you never heard of a Surly? Well, a year ago, neither had I. But once I heard about them, I started hearing more… like, check this one out, a Surly on its way to the South Pole.
Number two. Simplicity. Simplicity is awesome. Simplicity means there are few things that can break. Simplicity means that, should you somehow contrive to break one of them things anyway (because, like, you were careless, and dropped your bike from the third floor window) you can probably fix it with a crescent wrench and a hammer.
And what – dear reader – is simpler than a fixed gear bike? (except perhaps a unicycle) No gears. No derailleurs. No brakes (optional). And thus, no cables. Not even a freewheeling rear hub!
So, you say a fixie is not your cup of tea? Fine. But I'll tell you something, I have ridden bikes for 30 years. I rode my first fixie only this year... and I’m never going back to gears. Maybe it’s a midlife crisis thing… trying to hipsterify myself at 40. But whatever the cause, it got me to fall in love with pedaling, all over again. I can't quite explain it, but if you are fixie-curious, just give it a shot... you'll see what I mean.
Fine, you say, a fixie may be good enough if you intend out of it nothing more consequential than strolling harmlessly about the neighborhood. Or even (if you dare), doing crazy brake-less street tricks. But a single gear is not for serious long-distance bicycling. Ah. Yes. Well. They forgot to tell this guy riding to Everest on a single speed.
It took me a few months to build Golondrina: the bike that is good for everything, if you intend everything to be hard. On any kind of a long descent, my legs turn to blenders. On any respectable climb, I find myself standing, cursing, vein-a-popping, grunting, snarling, and inexorably, walking.
And yet somehow... I've never once missed my old gears! Especially when I'm pedaling alongside my wife... her steed clinking and clanking and chain-skipping, while Golondrina hums along in perfect stealth silence.
Ah. But is seems I've gone astray and written way long, and I haven't mentioned a single hack. So let me... um, change gears, and share with you my humble contributions to the universe of bike-hacking.
Browsing through the bike isle at REI I came upon my answer. A little (stainless steel) “incredibell”. It fit perfectly (well, kind off) in the hollow space where the rear-brake lever used to be. And there was even (arguably), a certain logic to the unusual arrangement: should I find myself about to rear-end some unfortunate pedestrian, I have two options: a) slam the front brake and probably flip rear-hub-over-head, or b) give them a courtesy “ding-ding!”
2. I don’t know why, but the mounts that came with my fenders, did not hold the fender close enough to the tire. This looks goofy, and probably defeats the point. So, I provided a solid but flexible mounting point for my rear fender using a wine-cork, 2 zip-ties, and an appropriately sized doohikie (I used a plastic dry-wall anchor, I’m sure a pen-cap would work fine). See Figure A for a better explanation.
3 & 4. I provided additional solid but flexible mounting points for my front and rear fender using pieces of braid-reinforced hydraulic hose like the one shown in Figure B. I simply bolts (stainless steel) with nuts and washers to attach the fender to a cut-to-fit length of hose.
5. I mounted my trailer hitch (for towing two hooting monkeys… aka my offspring) onto the rear disc-brake mount (where, as previously discussed, no brakes will ever live). My axle bolt was not long enough to engage all the threads of the trailer hitch nut… and I’d be damned if I was going to mess with that rear wheel after I spent several hours lovingly threading each spoke myself!
6. After a brief and terrifying experience wherein my right shoelaces were chewed in one side of the chain ring and spat out the other (while my ankle bent in an unusual direction)… I came up with this one. Both ends of my shoe-laces now come out on the “outboard” side of my shoes. When thus tied, my shoelaces are less inclined to ever want to kill me again.
7. A few yards of camouflage gorilla tape, wrapped around my top-tube… Why? Because you never know when the zombie apocalypse is going to hit… and if you don’t have some duct tape handy, your chances of survival are significantly reduced!
8. Presta or Schrader? Yes. Figure C shows a Presta valve with a Schrader adaptor. This way I get all the pros (Presta is easier to hand-pump and the small diameter penetration through the rim means… you got it, durability. But of course, Schrader is in every gas station, ready to do my bidding) none of the cons (All my life, I kept breaking the stupid lock-nut doohikies on Presta valves… maybe I’m a slow learner).
My bike rocks.
And so (I’m sure) does yours.