Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Day Ride

Once again, I managed to get out for a Christmas bike ride - a tradition I've managed to uphold a lot more often than a person would expect for Northeast Ohio. There have only been a few years when the weather was too cold or too snowy to ride either on Christmas, or at least the day before or after (which I still count). And on the few occasions where I couldn't ride, I was able to get out for a little cross-country skiing.
A quiet, soggy, gray morning in the Cuyahoga Valley.
After opening presents with the family (I got Smartwool socks, a sweater, and a gift card for the bike shop -- all very satisfying) I figured I had a few hours before relatives started arriving so I suited up for a fairly manageable 30 degree ride under gray skies. We still had some snow on the ground from about a week ago, but Saturday, Christmas Eve, saw drizzly rain and temps in the 40s, which got rid of most of the snow save for a few patches here and there.

I headed down to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to explore some of the quieter, more scenic roads in the area. I rode the Rivendell Long-Low because even though the rain had stopped, I knew things were likely to be soggy and I wanted a relatively light road bike with fenders to keep the mess to a minimum. It's probably my favorite bike for casual rambles through the valley.

By the old covered bridge near Hale Farm & Village I ended up having to take a little detour from my planned route. The road past the bridge has been closed by the park service for a few years now, though it is still passable by bike or on foot - one just needs to thread their way between the barricades. Of course, being closed to traffic, it also doesn't get plowed or salted and the snow that covered the road had turned into a thick layer ice. It was treacherous even to walk on, much less try to ride over with fine-tread road tires, so I figured it wasn't worth the trouble. I crossed the covered bridge and found a different way.

I was surprised that I didn't see any other riders along my way. I saw a couple of joggers, and that was it. Overall, it was a nice quiet Christmas morning ride.

Wherever you are, I hope you're enjoying your holiday - and if you're able to get out for a ride, so much the better. Merry Christmas from the Retrogrouch.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Current Commuting Numbers

I've just wrapped up another semester at work and it's time to look back at how I did on my bike commuting numbers. Overall, there's some good, and some disappointment.

First, I should remind regular readers, or inform new ones, that as a full-time teacher, I mark the passage of a year not from January through December like "normal" people, but from mid-August through May: fall semester, and spring semester.

A morning in August - with a bit of mist over the still-green
 farm fields. 
At the start of this year, I made it my personal goal to ride at least 60 days by winter break and the end of the semester. My all-time record for the same period was 63 days (set last year) and I knew I would be unlikely to beat that, but I wanted to get close. Although I was doing quite well, especially through November and even the first week of December, nasty winter weather hit us suddenly last weekend and has continued through this last week of the semester. We had snow and freezing rain at the start of the week, and single digit temperatures by the end of it. I ended up at 58 days -- so close, yet frustratingly short.

Here's what that translates to:

Riding 58 days works out to a bike-to-work average of about 70%. At 28.5 miles per day, that's 1653 miles ridden in 4½ months of commuting. With an observed average of 30 mpg in my car, and gas prices averaging just over $2.00/gal for the past few months, I estimate a savings of about $115 in fuel costs.

Most of my morning rides start in darkness, but until November
I'll get to see some gorgeous sunrises before I arrive at work.
 By late November, it's dark from start to finish.
My best months were September and November, during which I managed an average of about 80%. I had only driven three times during the course of each of those two months. The worst month was December, which really shouldn't be a surprise, but with the lousy weather and bitter cold of the last week, I only managed 50% for the month.

My goal for the whole year is to reach at least 90 days by Memorial Day and the end of the school year. That would give me a bike-to-work average of about 50% for the whole year. Being nearly ⅔ of the way there at the half-way point of the year sounds great -- I need only 32 more riding days over the next five months. Keep in mind, however, that the reality is not so certain. Remember that three of those months are January, February, and March - which are typically the lousiest months imaginable for riding a bike here in Northeast Ohio. Still, the more days I can ride in the fall semester, the better my odds are for reaching my yearly goal. And while 58 days is not quite where I wanted to be at this point, it's still pretty good for the longer goal.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Louis Vuitton Buys Pinarello

I'll bet a lot of Retrogrouch readers remember this:

Or this:

And almost certainly this:

And even though there's nothing even remotely retro-grouchy about it, even the young ones probably remember this:

Well - as Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan once said, the times they are a'changin'. One of the most successful bike brands in Tour de France history (12 wins) has just been sold. The story has been circulating for months as a deal was apparently in the works, but now it's official: the luxury brand conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) has acquired Pinarello. The storied racing bikes will now be part of the luxury boutique products family that includes such names as Moët Chandon champagne, Hennessy cognac, Louis Vuitton handbags, Givenchy and Christian Dior fashions, Bulgari and TAG Heuer timepieces, DeBeers diamonds, and many more.

Giovanni Pinarello (from the Pinarello website)
The brand was founded in 1953 by Giovanni "Nani" Pinarello, who had achieved some fame early in his racing career for finishing in last place in the 1946 Giro d'Italia, earning him the "maglia nera," or black jersey. Knowing he had no chance of winning the race against riders like Magni and Bobet (who would go on to win the general classification and the mountains leader respectively), he actually worked to secure last place because in those days the maglia nera was celebrated at the finish alongside the race leaders.

He opened his bike shop Cicli Pinarello in Treviso, Italy, after being sidelined from the '52 Giro. He gradually began building his brand, offering frames and bicycles, sponsoring small teams in the 1960s, and growing his reputation. As I understand it from reliable sources (though it's not mentioned on the history page of the company's website) the early frames were contracted out to other reputable builders, which may have included such names as Cinelli and Galmozzi. Eventually, framebuilding was brought in-house. The first big racing success of the Pinarello brand came in 1975 with a Giro d'Italia stage win with Fausto Bertoglio on the Stelvio Pass.

Many Americans will fondly remember American cycling "coming of age" in 1984 with Alexi Grewal winning the Olympic Gold Medal in Los Angeles, astride a Pinarello, and with his hands flung high in the air. The brand saw a surge in popularity in the U.S. soon after.

In the 1980s, leadership of the company began to transfer from father Nani to son Fausto, and in 1988 Pinarello got their first Tour de France win with Pedro Delgado. A few years later would come a long string of TdF victories with Miguel Indurain and his five successive wins, followed by Bjarne Riis in '96, and Jan Ullrich in '97. More recently, Team Sky with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome would bring the brand's total to 12 TdF victories.

The bikes have obviously changed a lot over the years, and the romantic notion of old Italian craftsmen wielding torches and building bikes by hand has been replaced by computer-optimized carbon fiber frames popped out of molds (and probably not even in Italy anymore). Even though the romanticized image is long gone, I still can't help but feel something is being lost.

Bicycling as an industry seems more and more to be directed away from working class and middle class people, and towards people with means. More luxury goods for the 1%, expensive toys for the rich, to be bought at expensive boutiques and bragged about alongside their golf clubs, polo mallets, Porsches, and speedboats.

Bicycle racing has strong working-class roots. Many racers of the golden era came from poor families, and saw racing as a way up. Stories abound of riders who scraped money together for an affordable bike - or club racers who used their bike for daily transportation during the week, and then would strip off their fenders, change their wheels, and go racing on the weekends. Okay, so it hasn't been like that for a long long time. But it's also clear it will never be like that again.

This movement of bicycling towards the investment and leisure classes began some time ago (consider so-called Halo Bikes) and certainly won't end here. The acquisition of Pinarello by LVMH will very likely be good, financially, for the bike maker. And I'd absolutely expect to see similar deals in the works being announced with other storied bike names and luxury brand conglomerates.

I won't be surprised when it happens. But I won't be celebrating it, either.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pearl Izumi Softshell Pants

Regular readers know I do a lot of bike commuting, and I try to be a year-round rider even here in Northeast Ohio. That sometimes means putting cycling gear to the test, and pushing the temperature limits of my clothing. As the weather keeps getting colder, and I'm still out there riding, I recently picked up a new pair of riding pants that I think are worth recommending - Pearl Izumi Summit Softshell Pants.

The Summit Softshell Pants are billed as MTB wear, but they are a nice choice for commuting, too. Being pants, as opposed to tights, they have several pockets, including a zipper "cargo" type of pocket on the right thigh, and two zippered pockets on the hips that can be opened to reveal some venting for comfort. Though a serious cyclist gets used to strange looks from people for their cycling apparel choices (and have the self confidence to not give a crap what people think), the pants don't shout "cyclist" when you're off the bike. Nobody will mistake them for normal casual wear, but they do look like the kind of typical athletic sportswear we're getting used to seeing at the coffee shops and elsewhere.

The pants have a close fit, but are meant to be worn as an outer layer, so depending on the temperature, they can be worn on their own (likely over a pair of cycling shorts, as there's no chamois), or over some type of base layer or other tights. They are cut for cycling, so they offer good freedom of movement on the bike, even when combined with another layer. The pants fit closer on the calves and ankles so there shouldn't be any concern about them getting caught in the chain.

The Summit pants are made with a combination of thermal and softshell panels which offer some wind protection and water resistance (but they are not rain pants!), and provide some warmth. On their own, the pants are just right in temps in the upper 30s to low 40s, which is just as Pearl Izumi claims. In the low 30s, I've worn them over a pair of lightweight lycra tights and felt very comfortable. If temperatures dip below that, say, into the 20s, I feel confident that combined with a pair of thermal tights these would still be toasty. One thing worth mentioning is that because they don't fit tight around the ankles, then the ankles or lower legs can be exposed to the cool breezes more than they might with a pair of tights, so I recommend tall socks.

For fit, I have a 32 inch waist, and a slightly longer inseam at 33 inches, and I bought the size medium pants. Fit in the waist for me is perfect. There is no fly, but instead there is wide, flat elastic and shockcord drawstring to fine tune the fit. I am finding them to be pretty comfortable. The length of the pants works for me -- but only just. This is something I've seen with other Pearl Izumi tights in that they'll work for me, but absolutely nothing left to spare. If someone is particularly long-legged, they might find the length lacking. I know there are people who don't want anything bunching at their ankles, but I'll generally prefer to err on the side of having pants (or tights) an inch too long than too short. I'm thinking that PI needs to start offering pants or tights in "regular" and "long."

Like so much cycling-specific clothing today, the price on these is "up there" at about $170. Because of some coupons and specials, I was able to get them for around $135 from my local shop - so I was happy to buy locally.

On the whole, I think the Summit Softshell pants are a nice looking, functional pair of cycling pants that can help comfortably extend the riding season for us commuters.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Old Is Good: Mavic Monthlery Rims

I'm gearing up to begin another wheelbuilding project, and that means locating more classic components. I recently wrote about a nice set of hubs I'll be using: a pair of Campagnolo Record hubs with the HiLo rear hub -- 32  front, 36  rear. Now I have my rims picked out: a set of vintage new-old-stock Mavic Monthlery Legere tubular rims. I should state right from the beginning that these are not intended to be wheels for everyday use, and certainly not for commuting, or anything other than special wheels for a special bike to be ridden on nice roads on the best of days. Nothing to do with necessity, and nothing "practical," other than the desire to build something really unique and something that I would have drooled over in my youth.

I've always had good experiences building with Mavic rims, so that was a prime consideration as I was making a selection. And since I had decided I want to use NOS vintage instead of current production, I had made the job of locating suitable rims a bit more difficult. The fact that I needed to find a 32 and a 36-hole rim didn't help either.

In the '70s and early '80s, Mavic's Monthlery rims were among the company's best tubular rims -- with a polished aluminum finish, and made with double eyelets at each spoke hole for extra durability. They came in a few different variations for different applications, and the prices varied accordingly.

At the lower end of the Monthlery line was the Monthlery Route. These were about 22 mm wide and advertised at 420 grams. According to the Mavic catalog from the mid-80s, the Route was meant for OEMs (original equipment), training, cyclocross, or for "difficult" road conditions. That weight puts them into clincher rim territory, but they were probably bomb-proof when built into a wheel by a competent builder.

From the 1980 Mavic catalog. (scan from Velo-Pages)
The Monthlery Pro was next, at 20 mm wide, and advertised as 395 grams (I believe 400 grams was probably typical in reality). These were a real mainstay rim for aftermarket wheels. Their weight was a little on the higher side for top-line racing wheels, but they were strong, reliable, and a good choice for a wide range of applications. If someone couldn't afford separate wheels for training and racing, the Monthlery Pros were a really good way to go.

The Monthlery Legere ("legere" means "light") was the same width as the Pro, but because of a slightly thinner-walled extrusion, they were advertised as being only 310 grams. Numerous sources claim the reality was somewhere between 330-340 grams. Mavic catalogs described them as "interesting for road racing. Excellent weight/resistance ratio." Obviously translated from French by someone with only a part-time experience with English. No doubt they meant something like "well-suited" for road racing. But they did represent a good balance of strength and low weight.

The Legere was not the lightest thing going, however. There was another rim called the Extra Legere (advertised in a 1974 flyer as the Golden Monthlery) which was listed as weighing only 260 grams! I've seen sources that listed actual weight as somewhere between 270-280 grams. The Mavic Extra Legere, or Extra Light, would have competed directly with a couple of other rims of the day, the Super Champion Medaille d'Or (advertised 260 g), and the Fiamme Ergal Gold Label rims (advertised 280 g). I've never used the Fiamme Ergal rims, but there are numerous stories of them cracking or breaking at the spoke holes. In the latest issue of Bicycle Quarterly, Jan Heine actually describes them as having a tendency to shatter! I don't know if that was hyperbole or not, but the cracking spoke holes was a common story. I have used the Super Champion Medaille d'Or - they were the first set of wheels I ever built, and despite my diminutive weight at the time (I was only 125 lbs at age 18) they needed constant truing. Was that because of my beginner-status as a wheelbuilder? Or because the rims were just too ridiculously light (probably a combination of the two) I don't know, but at my age and current weight, I'm no longer so willing to sacrifice durability in order to shave a few extra grams.

Anyhow, I decided to go with the Legere for the reason that I wanted something light, but not stupid-light. I think they represent a good balance.

Now, looking for NOS vintage rims makes things a bit complicated. Searching eBay as well as online sellers who specialize in vintage bike parts, I found that availability seemed to be exactly in proportion to the weight of the rims. The OEM-level Monthlery Route is definitely the easiest to find. NOS examples seem to abound, with prices ranging from $80 - 130 per pair. The mid-level Pro is slightly less plentiful, but still available, and the going rate seems to be around $100 - 150 per pair for NOS. The Legere is pretty scarce. I had found a single 36-hole rim some time back for about $50, including shipping. It took a while before I could find a matching 32-hole for the front. Just out of curiosity, I've been searching for months for the 260 - 280 g. Extra Legere, and they simply don't come up for sale. I'm not sure I've ever seen one.

This line of rims from Mavic did evolve over time. By the end of the '70s, there were anodized versions available. The silver-anodized versions were labeled "Argent" (which means silver) while gold-anodized were "Or" (umm. . . gold) and the anodizing treatment was said to "improve the finished appearance and facilitate upkeep." In these anodized versions, the Legere model was re-named the Argent 10, and the Extra Legere was the Argent 7 (later Argent 8).

from VeloBase
In the early '80s, dark gray hard-anodizing became all the rage, and the 400 gram Monthlery Pro formed the basis for the GP4, a popular all-round racing and training tubular rim. I can't find confirmation of it, but I'm pretty sure that the "G" stood for "Gris" (gray) in reference to the dark gray hard anodized finish, and "P" was probably "Pro." My second-ever wheelbuilding project used GP4 rims, and while they were probably overkill for my still-flyweight physique (at the time), I literally used to ride those wheels down stairs and bunny-hop uneven railroad tracks on a regular basis. I replaced a few headsets, but never had to re-true the wheels. Not even once. The Legere became the GL330 (Gris Legere 330 grams?) and the Extra Legere would have become the GEL280 (Gris Extra Legere 280 grams?). The '84 Mavic catalog claimed that the hard anodizing increased the surface hardness by a factor of 10, and that it increased the rigidity of the rim. I am not aware that the supposed increase in rigidity was in any way noticeable or if it made the rims last any longer, but in the '80s it definitely became the must-have fashion. What I decided I didn't like, however, was that after only a few rides, the gray finish would start to wear off the sidewalls - and it never wears off evenly. For that reason more than any other, I still have a preference for standard non-anodized aluminum for rims. If it gets scratched or dull over time, you can always bring back the lustre with a little bit of aluminum polish on a soft rag.

By the way, there was an older Mavic rim with a similar name, but was not part of the same lineup. Some readers may recall a model called the Montlery (note the lack of the "h" in the spelling) Championnat du Monde which was a pretty common OEM rim in the early '70s. Several sources state that they were original equipment on early '70s Schwinn Paramounts, for example. These were a single-eyelet rim that had knurled sidewalls (remember those?) that were supposed to improve braking, but generally just made the rims howl like banshees when stopping.

My pair of NOS Monthlery Legere rims ended up setting me back about $115. Without a doubt, that's a lot higher than what these rims sold for when new, but current model Mavic Open Pro tubular rims generally sell for between $70 - 80 each, so that puts it into some perspective. And at about 330 grams (or so) each, the weight is lower than most aluminum rims made today - and even on par with a lot of carbon fiber rims costing much, much more.

When built up, these should be just the right thing for a vintage bike restoration, and another example of Old Is Good.