Tuesday, February 28, 2012

bicycle cheapskate

I was going to call this, "Bike stuff: what I spend money on, and why", but that seemed to take it more seriously than I really want to.
I hang around with bicyclists, many of whom ride more expensive bikes than I do, wear more expensive clothing, and use more expensive gear (and some who do not). I’ve been thinking about where I spend my money on bicycle gear, and I came up with this breakout:
Wheels: I spent money on these. As I understand it, the physics of a bicycle mean that the effects of the mass of a wheel are multiplied. I know that my current wheels are not much lighter than the wheels they replaced, but I can definitely feel the difference. Last season, when I was having a (hard-to-find) spoke replaced, and put on my old rear wheel, the difference, even with a single heavier wheel, was noticeable.
Saddle: Oy. Saddles cause a certain amount of discussion, both online and in-person, in bicycle circles. Some people seem to have almost religious feelings for saddles, ascribing to them miraculous properties and offering single-minded devotion. However, what works for one, won’t work for everyone else. I was lucky: the first replacement saddle I bought, the Specialized BG2, suited me perfectly. But I’ve mostly worn it out… and Specialized isn’t making them anymore. After more modification than I care to recount, I’ve made a Selle An-Atomica work, but it’s not ideal: it’s heavy, the nose twists to the right (more a cosmetic problem than a comfort or efficiency problem), and the company refuses to allow discounted sales.
Some riders belong to the Cult of Brooks, saying that the right Brooks saddle (usually, but not always, the B17) will solve all your saddle woes. Well, Brooks saddles don't fit everyone, and not everyone wants a saddle as expensive, or as heavy. And what I like about both the Selle An-Atomica and they late, lamented BG2 was that they flex: Brooks (and most other saddles) don’t. Flex is not the same as gel, either. I want a hammock, not a pillow.
GPS: Before I got the GPS, I got cheap wired computers; they work fine. From a computer, I want distance, speed, and time data, and it’s hard to find a bike computer that does NOT provide this stuff. But last year on the Anchor House ride, a rider died, and there was some evidence that he was checking a cue sheet when he ran into the car in front. I’m perennially lost, and that scared me enough that I spent the money on a GPS, onto which I can download ride directions, and find my way back home. It was an inexpensive model (it was out-of-date, and I got it on sale), but it was still way more than the cheap bike computers I use. (I’ve got two or three of the cheap wired computers in the garage… do you want one?)
Controls and Drive Train: I made my bike up with a SRAM Rival drive train, which is neither the top nor the bottom of the SRAM line. I got a good price on it, and the specs wre better than the corresponding Shimano line. I like it a lot. It may be sour grapes, but I have this idea that, for the top-of-the-line stuff, gear manufacturers may give up some durability to save weight. And for this rider, the best way to lose riding weight is not to take it off the bike, but to take it off the engine. Ahem.
Frame: After riding with, and talking to, a number of riders in the Princeton Freewheelers, I decided to go with a titanium frame for my bike build (at first, I just used the parts from my previous bike, a Giant on which the headset got too loose to ride safely; since then I have upgraded all the parts). Titanium had the right combination of low weight, durability, comfortable ride quality, and boutique-bikey weirdness. I found a source for a comparatively inexpensive titanium frame, and I love it.
The latest-and-greatest in frames is carbon fiber, but there is some evidence that carbon has a limited life. I wanted a frame I could ride until I was unable to ride anymore, and titanium suited that criterion.
Tires: I tried cheap tires, and they just didn’t work for me; too many punctures. Very expensive tires are either light race tires (also puncture-prone), or heavy puncture-resistant tires. One of my local bike shops has a mid-range tire that has proven puncture-resistant: I’m on my third tire with the same tube. Riders will tell you how unusual that is.
Pedals: I use spring-loaded, clip-in pedals. I’ve seen the cheap ones break: the spring pops out past the limit, so the clip will no longer hold the shoe. But I’ve found I don’t need adjustable tension on my pedals, nor ultra-light weight (see the note under “Controls and Drive Train”).
Jerseys : When I ride the fast bike, I wear one of those “looks like a superhero in training” outfits, similar to the ones the pro bikers ride. My jersey (shirt) is usually a solid color, with no advertising, art, cartoons, or whatever. My sole funny jersey isn’t, frankly, that funny. Printed jerseys are quite expensive (the process is different than that for t-shirts), and I can’t see paying a premium for art that’s not my taste, or for advertising somebody else’s product. I don’t follow bike racing, so I don’t have a team with whom I want to identify. I’ve got a new Team Poland jersey for this summer, which my wife got for me (her family is of Polish descent, and it’s a good graphic), and I got a previous-season Anchor House jersey for a good price when I did that ride. But my jerseys are cheap. They wick the sweat, have the right pockets, and keep me covered; that’s enough.
I frequently ride sweep (towards the end of the group, keeping track of people who fall behind the main group), and for a while I had the idea that the solid-color jersey made it easier for the leader to find me. But that’s an arrant rationalization: I wear solid colors because they’re inexpensive.
Helmet: Cheap ones protect as well as expensive ones. Expensive helmets provide ventilation, light weight, and style – primarily the last. If you read the previous section, you know how much of a bicycle-style follower I am.
Stem, Seatpost, Risers… Oh, please. Expense for most of these items is either about weight or bling. Hrmph. Are you even reading this?
Chain: I waited too long to change a chain on my old bike, and wound up having to change the cog (the gears on the rear wheel) as well. Cogs are expensive. It’s way cheaper to buy cheap chains and change them about every 1,000 miles (I’ll be up for a new chain in about a month, if the weather cooperates, and the replacement is already in the garage).
Eyewear: I am amazed by how much money people can spend on glasses for riding. Glasses for riding are essentially safety glasses, and/or sunglasses. I wear glasses all the time, but I can see well enough to ride without them (although I need reading lenses to see the computer). As I wrote in a previous post, I use safety glasses, either clear or shaded, with a bifocal section. They go about $12, plus shipping.
Bar wrap: I like “cork” wrap, because it’s easier on my hands. I’ve seen leather wrap, and wrap that gets shellacked to the bars. But I change my wrap at least once a year, when I change my cables and housing. Since it’s only gonna last a year, there’s no point in getting good stuff.
So there it is: why I spend what I do on my bike stuff. You may disagree… but you’d be wrong, of course.
EDIT 2/29/12: TOOLS: What I spend on tools varies by the amount I expect to use it (less use leads to lower expected cost); whether it's replacing one I already have (I tend to move up in quality); whether my previous experience with a less expensive tool caused a problem (I have a collection of tire-removal tools, including big aluminum tire "irons" [and the ones I ride with are smaller, but aluminum, also], after having some knuckle-bleeding experiences trying to remove tires from toy bikes at the Bike Exchange); and other factors. I have good Allen wrenches, good box wrenches, and a good set of regular ratchet wrenches. I have good screwdrivers, but I never use 'em; I have too many of those cheap four-way reversible-bit screwdrivers ready to hand. My torque wrenches (you need two: for higher and lower torques) are "good enough": after a problem with a cheap needle-indicator torque wrench, I went with the breakaway-type... but since I only need the high-torque one for the bottom bracket, and I only set that once a year, I didn't get an expensive one of those. The other thing for which I have apparently developed an addiction is metric-and-SAE tape measures: I have one on the workbench, one in the bike tools box, and one in the car. (I'm trying to get to think in metric. I've got a good idea of a millimeter and an centimeter, but for larger measures, I still think in feet and yards... and a foot, for me, is still the diameter of an LP record.)

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