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DALMAC Ready! Two Weeks Early

Technically, two weeks from, today we’ll be finishing up with dinner on day three, look toward the final 72 miles. I’m stoked for this year’s tour, in fact, I can hardly contain myself. For the last four years, I could never really relax on the ride. I was always waiting for the call that something went horribly wrong with my company and I’d have to rush back. It was miserable. I couldn’t get away. Until this year… so, finally, I get to do this ride free from the mental torture I put myself through (for no good reason). I’m looking forward to just being in the moment with my friends.

I just finished getting the Trek ready to go. Notice the wheels:

I made room for the carbon fiber wheels by picking up a new set of 105 brakes, brand new BR-R7000 Shimano 105 brake calipers, they’re fantastic:

Now the bike is completely blacked out… and as an added bonus, it stops A LOT better.

Now, technically all of this happened just in the nick of time. The idea for the Trek was to leave the alloy wheels on it, then swap them out for my good wheels for the tours I take it on, Midwest, our up north road trip, DALMAC, but while cleaning the alloy wheels up after the new calipers went on, I found a hairline crack at one of the spoke holes in the rear wheel. Eventually that wheel would have failed. For the time being it’s holding its true, but the hoop will have to be replaced.

Before yesterday, the Trek would have been sidelined till I could get a new rim. Instead, I just swapped out the brake pads, slid on the good wheels from the Venge, and I’m ready for today’s Assenmacher 100 and DALMAC in a week-and-a-half.

I never thought I’d be able to get that old 5200 to where it is today. She’s come a looooooooooong way from the good old days.

Now, if I had a dollar for every time I wrote here that the Trek was finally done, I’d have… um, carry the one… ten bucks. The point is, I’m there. Again. So I’m not going to write the words again. I’ll just say I’m excited for where the bike is. Again.

For me, it started as a shop loner and has been transformed into a personalized work of mechanical art. Lance never had it as good as mine is today when he won the TdF on his. To me, that’s kinda neat.

How to Turn an Entry-level Road Bike into Lean, Mean Racing Machine on a Budget

For those of us who have contracted the cycling virus, almost across the board, we entered into the sport thinking $1,000 to $3,000 our first road bike was a helluva lot of money to throw at a bicycle.  Then reality punched us in the face.

Sadly, we usually find out, pretty quickly, that $3,000 is a good start, but that was about it.  Worse, we learned that $1,000 for a road bike was a drop in a bucket.

There are some things you can go without and some things you can’t if you really want a lightweight steed out of the deal.  Now, I went the long way around getting my bikes to a point where I can be satisfied and done with the upgrades and I’m writing this post to help those who have a family to think about before cycling.

First things first, unless you’re riding at the upper echelon of your cycling community, an entry-level bike, as is, right out of the bike shop, will do just fine unless you’re north of your 40’s starting out.  Most should be able to, with a little effort, “want to” and some discipline, become fit enough to crack out a 16 to 17-mph average on a decent entry-level bike – even on a hilly course.  The trick is when you’re north of 20-mph – that’s when the lightweight and aerodynamic gear make a big difference.

I can keep up with our 23-mph club group on an 18-1/2 pound Trek with a decent set of alloy wheels.  It’s a lot of work, but I can do it – and I even stuck in with a group for just shy of 60 miles at a 23.8-mph average pace on the same bike.  That speed is a lot more reasonable on my Specialized, though…  So, if you want to get to the next level, let’s get into the proper way to go about upgrading that bike to get you some free speed without killing the bank account or causing a divorce.

 

Okay, so going from newest to oldest in the photos, I started with the $3,000 entry-level race bike, so I was starting with a very light, aerodynamic, stiff, carbon fiber race frame to begin with – most won’t be so fortunate.  Still, this won’t matter for the post.

The very first thing to broom is the original wheelset.  I don’t care what gearing you have on the bike you bought, I don’t care about the shifters or anything else – entry-level wheels tend to suck.  They’re heavy and slow.  I tried going with less expensive alloy wheels but now that I’ve got a set of $400 carbon fiber wheels from Ican, if you’re under the weight restrictions, as I am, I’d recommend starting there.  I have more money into my lightweight alloy wheels that the Ican’s and the Ican set is noticeably superior in comfort and speed.  I’m very impressed with that wheelset for its cost.

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With a good wheelset on your steed, it’s time to look at a few important things, and a plan will help avoid blowing your cash on things you don’t need.

Having to do it all over again, I would save the handlebar upgrade for last.  I chose the S-Works bar and it was almost as much as my wheelset.  The handlebar was only good for a pile of “style watts” and a handful of actual watts and it didn’t save any weight over the alloy bar that came on the bike.  It was unnecessary, if entirely awesome.

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Moving on, we want to look at the drivetrain because a great crank will save a lot of weight and operate much better.  I went with the S-Works crank because it was light, almost three-quarters of a pound lighter than the FSA Gossamer crank that came on the bike, and it fixed a nagging issue (dirt getting into the bottom bracket).  The crank is going to be a big cash item, though, so this is why we come up with a plan.  If you’ve got a 9 or 8 speed transmission you’ll have to upgrade the drivetrain first (and we were getting to that next anyway) because they don’t make decent cranks for 8 or 9 speeds anymore.  You might get lucky on eBay or some other swap site, but don’t hold your breath.  If, on the other hand, you have a 10 or 11 speed rig, you should be able to upgrade easily (though 10 speed probably won’t be available much longer).  Also, if you don’t know all of the little nuances involved in picking a new crank, it might be a good idea to let a bike shop acquire it for you…. picking a crank with the proper chainrings, right arm length, for the correct bottom bracket can be a little daunting unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

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So, if you’ve got Shimano 105 or better on your entry-level bike (I did), don’t worry about upgrading the drivetrain unless you want to.  With an 8 or 9 speed rear cassette, getting into an 11 speed would be a good idea and it’ll actually save you some weight over both the 8 and 9 speed transmission.  You’ll need new shifters, new derailleurs, a new cassette and enough know-how to put it all together… along with the aforementioned crank.  This upgrade is expensive.  I’d go with 105 for a budget and Ultegra if you’ve got some cash to spend.

That’s all of the big weight savings items.  Depending on your original equipment, you’ll be down about three or four pounds at this point.

Next in importance is the stem.  Most people just go with what comes on the bike, but you can save almost a quarter-pound with a decent stem upgrade.  I went with a FSA carbon fiber wrapped alloy stem and saved about 100 grams.  This upgrade own’t make a difference in performance so it’s not entirely necessary – especially considering a good stem will set you back almost $200.

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Lastly, and this could be a big deal depending on how entry-level your bike was when you bought it, I bought a decent set of brakes for my Venge.  The 105 brake calipers that came on the bike were fantastic but I dropped a little weight picked up a lot of style points for the upgrade.  If you’ve got something like Axis brakes on your bike, the upgrade should save a little bit of weight and your brakes will likely work much better.

 

Last up, you’ve got the bottle cages.  Alloy cages are heavy.  Plastic cages are a little better, but decent carbon fiber cages can really add to an already nice bike’s looks.  They add nothing in terms of aerodynamics and only drop a handful of grams, so they’re unnecessary unless you’ve got the want to and about $60 to $80 for the pair.  Mine are from Blackburn:

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In the end, you’re going to want to figure out what you need and what you want… and what you can live without.  The wheels are a must.  Decent brakes are wise.  The crank and drivetrain are nice if you’ve got some money to spend, and the brakes and stem are more in the luxury category.

Whatever you do, push those pedals hard and ride that ride with a smile.

Modernizing a Classic Road Bike; The Trek 5200, for All the Right Reasons

The initial question that must be answered when considering whether or not to modernize a classic road bike is, “Do I want to alter the bike from what was originally intended?” With my Trek, I struggled with that question mightily… for about five minutes.  For others, especially when it comes to older bikes, that Q & A might not be so easy.

I bought the 5200 used in January of 2012 because that was about all I could afford and the first road bike I bought was entirely wrong.  Too small, down tube shifters, and old-timer heavy wheels.  Over time I took the Trek from a nine speed triple (27 gears) to a ten speed compact double (20 gears) that I’m absolutely pleased with. I like the bike a lot more now than I did when it was a triple, and the reason for this is a little geeky.

So, the 5200 has been my “rain” bike since late in the 2013 season when I bought my brand spankin’ new Specialized Venge.  The Specialized became my “A” bike the day I brought it home.  Over the years, though, I came to appreciate the simplicity of the Trek and how it’s built.  External cables, exceptional components…  As parts wore out, it became increasingly clear that I wanted to use the Trek on multi-day tours rather than the Venge.  The Specialized was great, but if anything went wrong with the Trek, I knew I could fix it blindfolded.  The Venge is a little more labor intensive that way.  Going back to geeky, I knew, from the voluminous articles I’ve read about road bikes over the years, that triples have a lot of overlap gears – doubles, therefore, are more efficient.  Let’s look at the new gearing versus the old:

The top speed is a little misleading – I can get 40-mph out of the 50/34 (I’ve done it).  The 52 tooth big ring is closer to 43-mph.  That said, the granny gear is what’s important to me – I travel to a lot of places with hills, so I want to be able to climb anything that comes at me.  You can see, the new gearing and the old are almost identical at the low-end.

Getting back to the overlap, look at the triple chart.  52/15 is almost identical to 42/12.  52/19 & 42/15.  52/21 and 42/17 match up exactly… and you can do the same thing for the baby ring and the middle ring.  You’ve got another five overlap gears between those two.  You’ve got 27 gears with the triple, but you only need 19 or fewer because of all of the overlapping gears.  In other words, the triple is inefficient.  Using the compact double, there is some overlap (50/24 & 34/17 for instance), but I use a double different than a triple on the road.  The overlap isn’t quite as wasteful.  The transformation was slow, though.  It took some time.

As purchased in 2012 (with the addition of a modern saddle – the original was too wide):

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The first thing to give out on the Trek was the wheelset. The Rolf wheels were bombproof as wheels go, but one too many rides in the rain and the brake track thinned and blew out – the aluminum brake surface wore too thin. The wheels were simple enough to rectify because, even being a ’99, the rear dropout width was the modern 130mm. I had a spare set of wheels that went on the bike. The headset was next to give out. The original headset was a mess after decades of abuse, so when I got the bike painted the stock headset was upgraded to a new Chris King. Shortly after the paintjob, the right shifter broke – again, after almost two decades of hard use, they were simply beat. Rather than change the drivetrain, I decided to go with MicroSHIFT 9sp. shifters to save money. They were only $75 shipped to my doorstep and I installed them myself. They worked flawlessly.

Painted, new headset, saddle, carbon fiber seat post, stem, handlebar and 9sp MicroSHIFT shifters 2016:

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Eventually, a friend was selling an Ultegra 10sp. component group that I put on the Venge and I took the 105 drivetrain off that and put it on the Trek.  A used Shimano crank for ($20), some new chainrings ($60), a new Ultegra bottom bracket ($40 installed) and I was ready to roll.

Today – 2018: New compact crank, new Ultegra bottom bracket and bearings, 17° stem (flipped), 10sp Shimano 105 drivetrain:

Whether good or lucky, my ’99 Trek was easy to upgrade – at least the parts I installed myself were easy (everything except the bottom bracket and headset). The headset was a little tricky because, if memory serves, there was only one available on the market that would fit the bike. The bottom bracket was a happier story; ultra-easy. I did agonize over the stem for a bit, though. I was stuck between going with a 17° and a full-on-crazy drop with a 25° stem. I’m glad I went with the 17 in the end. The 25 would have been too much drop for me to reach comfortably.

Other than that little bit of consternation, everything fit and worked perfectly.

I think, eventually I’m going to change the brake calipers to something a little more black but that’s way, way on the back burner.

So, from a 21-pound 52/42/30, 9sp. triple to a 18-1/2-pound 50/34, 10sp. double…  Having to do it all over again, would I alter the original again (obviously, the worn-out parts had to go anyway)?

In a heartbeat.  I was never much for nostalgia anyway.  The bike is faster, lighter by 2-1/2 pounds, and more enjoyable to ride… not to mention, it looks a lot better.  In the end, it all comes down to personal preference.  1999 was the only year the triple got it’s own designation as the 5200T.  In reality, what I did was upgrade a rare bike – doing what I did in the automotive world would be a pure travesty.  Thankfully, as bike geeks go, it’s less about altering a classic and more about making an old bike into something that’s more fun to ride.  I’ve taken that bike on every tour I’ve done for the last two years, and I couldn’t be happier.

I took a fine classic and perfected it.

Would the whirling dervish purists get their undies in a bunch over what I’ve done?  Without question – but they’re not riding the bike, so let them whirl.

Screw Riding Up Grades… Buy Upgrades? M’kay, I suppose, but why not Both? My Submissions

The guys (and gal) over at GCN, on the tech show, have a new segment – a spinoff of the old Eddy Merckx quote, “Don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades.”

While I think throwing the greatest cyclist of all time under the bus is a little uncalled for, I do love the premise! Of course, I prefer both.

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2013 Venge Comp

ORIGINAL:

Tarmac bend alloy handlebar, Specialized adjustable stem, Axis 4.0 wheels (1990 grams!), FSA Gossamer crank (172.5mm), Shimano 105 10sp. drivetrain.

TODAY:

S-Works Aerofly handlebar, FSA 110mm carbon-wrapped alloy stem (-90 grams), S-Works crankset and carbon spider (-340 grams), Ican 38mm carbon fiber wheels (-570 grams). Shimano Ultegra 10sp. drivetrain (-200 grams), Blackburn carbon bottle cages (-46 grams), SRAM PG-1070 cassette (-50 grams-ish), SRAM 1091r chain (–30 grams-ish). 25mm Michelin Pro 4 tires (+30 grams)

Before:18.8 pounds.

After: 15.75 pounds.

Then there’s my Trek 5200T 1999

1999 Trek 5200

The only parts on that bike still original are the brakes and chainring bolts. It went from a 20 pound Ultegra 9sp. Triple to a svelte 18.5 pound Shimano 105 compact double (50/34) 10sp. drivetrain. The drivetrain for the Trek came over from the Venge – the plan was hatched to upgrade the Venge to Ultegra and put the 105 components on the Trek after the original shifters went bad and were irreplaceable so I went to the Chinese MicroSHIFT equivalent (which worked spectacularly by the way). Then a friend announced on a ride that he was interested in selling his Ultegra 10sp drivetrain that he’d just upgraded to 11sp. I jumped on it.