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The Beauty of the Road Bicycle; It’s all in the Details

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I’ve never gotten into the details of a hobby like I do with cycling. I never bothered trying to learn out how to run faster, I just ran. Way back when Google wouldn’t even be a thing for another six years, I was into inline skating.  I just skated – and I was very fast over fairly long distances (eight miles 24m30s on a hilly path). I did get into the details a little bit with the in-line skates. I bought the high-end bearings and looked at different compounds for the wheels, and my skates did get me for more than $350 (and back in ’93 that was a lot of money to a 23 year-old kid).

Cycling has been a different level altogether, though. The bikes, wheels, brakes, bar tape, stems… it’s all customizable for fit, function, and fashion. Most important is fashion err, wait, function. Yeah, that’s it. Going back to the fashion for a minute, I spent the better part of seven years putting my Trek 5200 together before finally getting it done and right (in my humble estimation, which is the only estimation that really matters because I’m the one in the saddle). My Specialized came together a lot faster but at a much steeper cost. I’ve only been at that four years:

While some details will affect the performance, even the tiniest detail can throw off the look of a bike… and I’m not about to say I got either the Venge or the 5200 perfect. I think I did a really good, passable job on both. The trouble with “perfect” is there will always be room for someone else to chime in to play spoiler. Take the Specialized handlebar on my Trek:

By now, I very well could have swapped that out for a Bontrager handlebar (that bar has been on the Trek for years), but I’ve kept that one thing specifically because it doesn’t belong. It’s a contrarian, “against the rules”, as they say. It’s a geeky thumbing of my nose at the orthodoxy that is perfection.  Or something.

One thing is certain, no matter the age of your bike, if the details are tended to, the vintage won’t be a negative.

Some simple things to look out for, other than the obvious like keep the bike clean, are things like the brake pads being level when you look at the bike from the front or back (the right one on the Trek has been raised slightly since that last photo was taken). Make sure your cable ends are snipped to a decent length (1-1/2″ to 2″ with a max of 2-1/2″), have a proper end caps on the cable ends (colored to match the bike if possible). Watch the cable housing lengths – you don’t want them too long or too short. Make sure you’ve removed your plastic spoke protector from behind the cassette, but only if you know how to keep your bike properly tuned… the spoke protector is a bit like a pocket protector.

A big thing to look out for is the bar tape… It’s too easy for a noob to make the mistake of not wrapping the bar tape so the loops are opposing. Zoom in on that bottom head-on photo of the Trek… Most new to the art of bar tape wrapping will, accidentally, wrap the bars the same on both sides of the handlebar (I did this twice before the owner of our local shop showed me what I did wrong). You have to wrap the bar so the two sides loop to the stem.

Another thing to watch, as much as is possible, everything that sticks out off the bike or the frame should be as symmetrical as possible. Make sure the shifters are level and square to the handlebar drops, or if you like them toed in a little bit, make sure they’re equally toed in – you want to avoid unevenness, in other words. Also, loose, clicking, ticking, parts should be secured.

Finally, and eventually, we are going to come to the question of how much a bike should be bling’ed out. How far should the color scheme be taken? What is the proper balance between gaudy and great? This is going to be up to the tastes of the cyclist but a modicum of restraint should be employed.

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With my Venge, I think I’m walking the fine line of good taste. Red bar tape would be, without doubt, over the edge. Also, the next set of chainrings will be black, but let’s not get lost in the woods here. The point is, watch how far the bling is taken.

The Trek is a finer example of restraint. I was so very tempted to try to go all in with the red, but even adding a single red bottle cage (exactly like I did with the Venge) looked horrible. I took the bottle cage back and went with black everything else because the bike looked too elegant to get gaudy with it.  Where gaudy is good on the Venge, it looked off on the Trek.  I think this mainly has to do with the Trek being a vintage classic (while it doesn’t quite make the 21 years-old “requirement”, it is a first generation full carbon race frame).  Newer bikes, with their oddly shaped tubes, allow for a little more flash.  I think the older, straighter, rounder tubes require a little more restraint.  Maybe that’s just me, though.

To wrap this post up, once the bikes are set, all that’s left is to match the kit (clothing) to the bike and we’re all set. Here’s a post for that.

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