Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rewriting Bicycling

Here's a new blog post, where I rewrite a Bicycling magazine review of a lugged steel bicycle. If you like this one I'll do more, so leave a nice comment down there.

once sequestered editorially by this very magazine in the mid 90s to the realm of custom builders and every fat guy who doesn’t race, steel is making a comeback (!) in bikes perfect for daily riding. here are some steel framed bikes we rounded up and took pictures of at the local multiplex bike rack.

Raleigh Record Ace
Ugh, do I have to write this? The frame is nice, but since the brakes are both spec’d mid slot, permitting at best 700x27 tires (thank you Rivendell!), it’s not as nice as it could have been. Could have been in my dreams, I mean. It’s got a vintage looking paint job, black head tube, subtle and a bit hard to read Raleigh and Record Ace decals in a flowing script on the top and down tubes, and the fork has a rather goofy high bend that looks like the designer couldn’t decide between a straight or curved fork so combined the two. It doesn’t look right to me. Look at hundreds of forks with a clean smooth low bend on a daily basis and it won’t look right to you either.

What's up with the NAME!? Unless it has a Snoopy on the top tube dressed as a World War I flying ace attempting his PB up the local mountain, a bike like this should have its own modern moniker. None of the parts are either Record or Dura Ace so WTF Raleigh?! Besides, it looks nothing like the old fashioned Raleigh Record Ace from 1951! 

How's it RIDE!? It rides like any bike with tight clearances, seriously. It has pleasant road manners, is rather compliant. If you ask me about bottom bracket stiffness I’ll kick you in the groin and ask you to forget what you’ve read in this magazine in the past and accept you can make your own judgements about what it means to trim a front derailleur and ride a bike down the street while chewing gum at the same time. Tight clearances means you can’t put fenders on this retro-for the sake of retro looking bike. It’s great for daily riding in AZ, SoCal, and for agoraphobics everywhere! Nor can you slap on bigger tires to tame all that bad pavement that’s coming to an area near you as the state and local governments run out of federal highway repair dollars (tax cuts!). Never mind that the best riding is had on roads that don’t get a ton of traffic and the worst pavement tends to be on drivers avoid like the plague or $800 auto repair bills.

Parts is parts. Okay everyone, huddle up. You might not know this but a steel frame like this Raleigh will likely outlast its original owner. Ergo, the parts that come stock, which are perfectly decent, will still crap out in 10 years, at which time the new owner can slap on anything he or she may have laying around. This Raleigh has vertical dropouts, which makes it downright stupid to convert into a single speed or fixed gear. So in 10 years when you see one of these on Craigslist or Google+ or FaceBook Bargains or Etsy, keep digging for a lugged steel bike 25 years its senior that has horizontal dropouts. Any steel DeRosa made prior to 1993 will do, and it will be far less generic than this Product Manager’s special. Some modern Raleighs have horizontal dropouts one can use to tension a single speed chain, but those frames are Tig welded, not lugged. So in 10 years the scratches will just be scratches on welded tubes, not "embellishments" in the patina of an otherwise decent looking lugged frameset.

When I was out riding this bike with my professional rider friends I got dropped. Before you call me an out of shape douche, let me ask: How many of you have friends who are professional athletes? Ok, so shut up. So I got dropped. But it had NOTHING to do with my bike, because blaming your bike when you get dropped is an EXCUSE for not riding enough to keep up next time. Because my bike weighs more than their bikes means I get to get in shape faster and when I drop them after two months of hard training all they're going to be able to do is take more drugs. I got dropped because those guys are fast and they take their "vitamins" every day. Since “chamois time is training time,” and I have to write to earn my bread, I got dropped on the second to last climb on our weekend friendly 60 miler. Instead of attributing getting dropped to my weighing 20 pounds more than my least svelte pro riding buddy, I could blame this Raleigh Record Ace, but in truth it’s the bread I eat. I like sandwiches and damn, they put on the pounds when paired with a pair of ice cold Dogfish Head 90 Min IPAs. This bike descended nicely, in part because I’m fat and heavy and the wheels rolled smooth on the Cali Tarmac around Laguna Seca. It did not descend faster than any other bike I ride, contrary to what all the other magazines may tell you.

SIZE WE TESTED 57cm (c to c) with a 68mm bb drop *
PRICE $1800
WEIGHT 2 and ⅔ gallons of 2% milk
FRAME lugged for what it’s worth

stay tuned for more steel bike reviews coming soon!