Sunday, November 9, 2014

Definitely NOT a Touring Bike (but still fun)

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On a recent visit to my friends Larry and Meg in New Jersey, I noticed a bike behind some unpacked boxes during a tour of their beautiful home. Further inspection revealed the bike to be a Fuji Track, a fixed-gear model theoretically meant for use in a velodrome, but now used by most riders as an urban "fixie". The bike, vintage early 2000's, had belonged to Meg's late husband, Ron Stone, the sorely missed principal of Newark's Weequahic High School. Ron brought this inner city school back from the edge, a story documented in the film "Heart of Stone". I never had the pleasure of meeting Ron personally, but I am quite sure he would be pleased that Meg has found a new home for his bike with me.

Getting the bike down to Florida was a bit of a challenge. I had assumed that it would be easier and cheaper to have a local bike shop pack it and ship it, rather than packing it up myself and shlepping it with me on the plane.  Once back in Florida I make some calls and found a shop a few miles from Larry and Meg's house that would pack it up for a reasonable $50. Larry dropped the bike off and relayed the details a day or so later: the box weighed 37 pounds and measured 53 x 30 x 9. I entered those numbers on the UPS and Fedex sites and discovered that the box was 3 inches too big, putting it in an oversize category that made shipping much more expensive. I called the shop, but they insisted this is the only box size they have. In the end I went with Fedex "Home Delivery" (ground service), which ran about $118. UPS was considerably more -- like $150 or $160! If the shop had used a 3 inch shorter box, the shipping cost would have been about $50. By comparison, back in the day (pre-2006) Kathy and I shipped our tandem to and from upstate NY in a huge, BikePro Race Case for about $100 each way. The case with the bike in it weighed something like 90 pounds, as I recall. Times have changed, I guess.

ANYWAY... the bike appeared at my house three days later. Even if there were a velodrome next door, the chances of me riding on an actual track are nil, so my plan was to add a front brake and use it as a "fixie". Riding a fixed gear is reputed to be both fun and good training. The late, great Sheldon Brown has several pages dedicated to the topic and the virtues of fixed-gear bicycling.

Since the bike arrived, I have added a front brake (twice, actually, because after the first time I found some narrower handlebars I like better) and some chain tensioners to make it easier to get the rear wheel centered more precisely. On the second brake installation, I also mounted a brake lever on the other side of the handlebar for comfort and a more balanced look, even though the second lever isn't attached to a brake. I will be doing more pimping of my new ride as time goes on, I am sure.

My first ride was about 11 miles, starting at my house (meaning there are hills that cannot be avoided). I found that it is really not much of a problem to climb hills up to 7 or 8 percent with the current gearing (46 x 20), but more than that could be a bit much for my old knees. On the flats I easily hit 17 or 18 mph. The ride, however, was pretty harsh. I have already ordered some 25 mm tires (the widest that will fit in the fork) to replace the 23's that are on the bike currently. I'll run the 25's at lower pressure to give a more comfortable ride.