Bikes Gear

It is about the bike.

January 3, 2010


I’ve already posted a couple of pictures of the sexy, handsome and enigmatic Precious, but I’ve not yet explained how we ended up marrying our fortunes together. Precious and I are now a force to be reckoned with. This is no brief fling, no Vegas mistake with annulment looming. We are in this for the long haul. We were simply meant to be.

When I first got the idea of doing the Transamerica tour, I never really thought I’d be ponying up for a bike that cost more than, I dunno, a grand maybe? So how did I end up spending two thousand dollars?

Who can explain love? It’s not stupidity on my part. It’s fate. I didn’t do it on a whim with no brain juice involved. Research was conducted, other opinions and expertise drawn upon. I have Precious because he was the right fit and the right temperament for this adventure. And he has a future beyond this trip, which I don’t think I was considering for the other steeds on my list. I wasn’t planning on taking them out the back and shooting them exactly – I don’t do that with men either – but I also wasn’t planning on keeping them beyond their initial tour use.

Precious is a keeper.

What is Precious?
Precious is a 2010 Specialized Tricross Comp. A size 49. His color is a little bit copper, a little bit dark gray, but his heart is full and red and beating like a tribal drum.

If he’s so great, why did you change him?
Precious was built to race over hill and dale, through mud and muck, with spokes afire and water flinging into the face of hungry pursuers. Which is AWESOME, btw. So, so awesome. But not quite right for touring across these great United States. The two biggest areas for tweaks were wheels and the crankset, which came standard as a double. Precious needed to get stronger, tougher, meaner. Streetwise. He is now mightier than us all, with an ego to match.

Gears of War!

Ok, be a bike nerd. What were those changes exactly?
Unfortunately, I’m not much of a gear head. I can’t rattle off things and sound knowledgeable. I relied on the help and guidance of Will at Toga New York. He patiently explained gearing and wheels and took into consideration the Appalachian grades, and the neat elevation of the Rockies, and road surfaces, and the fact that I would be towing a Bob trailer and he upgraded the bike accordingly.

The new triple is a 30/39/50t, while the rear cassette is a 10 speed 12-27. For those who are interested in such matters, my cranks are 170mm and I crunched these numbers through the Sheldon Brown Gear calculator for this ugly chart, which has something to do with gain ratio and is the hotness. Since this is the area most people seem to have a strong opinion on, I await the “you’re doing it wrong! Your granny gear should be a sub-30!” onslaught. Or maybe it will be “wtf are you taking a trailer for? Panniers ftw!” I gratefully accept all comments, which I will carefully consider and, knowing my stubbornness, ultimately discard before barging on and making my own mistakes.

NOTE: I’ll be doing a few fully-loaded trial runs before I go to assess the gearing rightness and equipment etc. There’s still plenty of time to change things.

The new rims are a set of DTSwiss TK 540’s, which have more spokes than the Rovals that were on the bike originally. A number is floating past my face. That number is 36. Yes, I just got up and counted them, there are 36 spokes on those wheels. They are apparently hand-built. Solid. If you believe the hype. On these magical rims, we have Specialized Armadillo tires.

DT Swiss rims with Armadillos

Today I watched a video of people riding over glass on them. I don’t really know if I believe the bulletproofness of them, but we’ll see. As a side note, I’ve had two flats already, both of them were kinda weird. The first actually happened in Toga bike shop after getting the cables adjusted. Apparently the tube had been pinched between the rim and tire for two weeks, they added air, the tire went BANG! (I’d like to point out that I did not install this tube…no comment).

The second occurred while I was watching TV and not paying any attention to Precious. A sharp BANG! from across the room. This time the rear tube. I examined it and it’d burst at bottom of the valve for some reason. I didn’t recognize the brand of this thin and shitty tube, but you can bet I won’t be using that brand again. Still trying to work out if Precious was just trying to get my attention because he was feeling lonely.

Anything else that’s cool?
Not sure if cool’s the right word, but other things of note include bar-top brake levers, which I hear come on some cross bikes nowadays. It was pointed out as being a bit weird while out on a group ride a few weekends back, simply because the roadie had never seen that before. Truth be told, I’m actually kinda stoked about this addition, since it gives me another safe riding position where I don’t have to scramble for the brakes when a wee doggie darts out to nibble and gnaw on my ankle.

Having recently had a BG fit done, I also needed to get a new seatpost to put me further back on the bike for my perfect riding position. The new seatpost is a Specialized S-Works Pavé SL Advanced Composite with the zertz thingo in it. I’m also trying out the saddle that came with it (Specialized Rival 143) for a while, to see if it’s tolerable over long distances. If not, I’m looking at the Selle SMP Pro Lady saddle (weird looking), and the always well reviewed Brooks B17 (which I hear takes some breaking in).

I also threw on a set of SKS Race Blade fenders and nabbed a Niterider MiNewt X2 headlight which is a giant FAIL. No matter how much jiggling you do with the cable where it goes into the battery, it will not stay turned on (that’s what she said). Finding that perfect position for the cable in the battery so that the charge light comes in is also a lesson in patience. I have sworn so much at this damn thing. Once, it stayed on for a whole 20 minutes, then zapped out right in the middle of traffic. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried fiddling with a cable to get a light to come back on while flowing along in NY traffic at night, but it’s kinda hairy. Toga told me to bring it back, since they’d never had one fail before, so we’ll see how the next one goes. Certainly not how I expect a $200 light to behave. I’m also having a small niggle with the front fender touching the wheel when I stand and move side-to-side while demonstrating my awesome and soul crushing climbing power. Can’t seem to adjust it out of it either. Still playing with it.

Triple the fun

You went with the ‘pedals for dummies’ setup again?
I know you are referring to the Speedplay X5s on Baby. I had a lot of good reasons for going with those – knee pain, ankle pain, and complete n00b status. We were going to go with Speedplay Frogs for Precious. Same kind of play, but also giving me a walkable cleat. Unfortunately in the shop, I could not get the right foot to engage. Will was very patient and I was getting frustrated. I looked like a tool of epic proportions. Then he’d had enough and made me get off Precious, take of my right shoe and tried to get it to engage. It wouldn’t. Was weird. They didn’t have any others in stock, so Will just threw on some Shimano M770 MTB SPDs. Let me tell you something for nothing. All those people who make you scared about clipping in and out of pedals should shut their mouths. These were easy damn peasy. I don’t want to say I like ’em more than the Speedplays – they’re MTB pedals, so different ballgame I expect – but I really really like them.

But seriously, why a cross bike?
A couple of reasons. I think that I can skimp on accommodation and gadgets and clothes while on this trip, but the one thing I can’t skimp on is the steed that will get me from one coast to the other. I started my research with the two bikes everyone seems to ride on the Transamerica: The Surly Longhaul Trucker and the Trek 520. After umming and ahhing, I actually had decided on the Surly LHT and went to Toga to get it. The ever helpful Will looked into both of these bikes for me: the gearing, the components etc. He explained wheelbases and what makes a good touring bike, and was all set to order me the Surly as I wanted. (He wasn’t impressed by the Trek’s components, so we ruled that out).

But as we were doing my BG Fit (which was something I’d been meaning to do for a while), we started talking about cyclocross. I’d become somewhat enamored with it. This sparked an idea. Since he knew I wanted to tow a Bob trailer rather than attach panniers, he told me I should also consider a cross bike and convert it for the tour. He hit a nerve. I had planned to sell the Surly after the trip was over, but perhaps a cross bike could be a great winter bike AND get me into cyclocross next year? I looked at one in the shop, weighed up the price (it cost more), and thought it over. With a few conversions, we turned that puppy into what I hope will be a touring dynamo. I think if I’d decided to do this with both front and rear panniers, Precious would be a bit less appealing. He’s got carbon forks and rear-stays, and although features brazons for panniers, I’m not sure how he’d hold up. That said, I’m watching the blog of these two intrepid souls who are doing an amazing adventure around the USA on just this very bike. With panniers.

Why did you buy Precious now? The trip is ages away.
First of all, it’s not ages away. May is creepin’ up on me at a fair rate of Don Knotts. But here’s the skinny. I wanted to get this bike early so I could ride him around for a long while before going off on this adventure. To iron out the kinks, identify issues and get them fixed BEFORE I’m out in the wilds with nothing but my nous and Macguyverishness to help me. Winter in NY is a great proving ground, and in fact, Precious is doing swell. The rider, not so much. I seem to draw the line at temps below 20F. And strong winds kill rides. And I also balk at very slushy, snowy, icy conditions. Not just because I don’t want to fall off, but I don’t want salty snow crap all over this glorious, handsome hunk of bike meat.

I can’t think of anything else to mention about him, but you can follow him on Twitter @yesiamprecious. I think on the trip, he’s gonna be the one reporting all the speed and distance stats. Or else complaining more about the extra weight I’m carrying on my winter-fatted body.

Over the next few months, I’ll be adding gear, some of which will end up on Precious. I’m also still working on the Transamerica section of this blog, but it’s not ready to launch just yet. Hopefully in the next few weeks it will be up and running and I can make some announcements on how to follow me and some other stuff. Stay tuned.

Ride on!

UPDATE: Precious got his name from LOTR. Not that other movie. When you say his name, say it like Gollum does and we’re golden.

Tool Time with Toga

April 28, 2010

One year in cycling

December 20, 2009

Meet Precious

December 8, 2009

  1. Reply

    Kris R

    January 3, 2010

    Very nice write up. Some thoughts and user experiences:

    – My Brooks B17 took about a thousand miles to break in, which seems more or less par for the course from what I was told, but once it was broken in it was very comfortable. They tend to be on a slightly different angle to the normal seats so get some help installing them correctly. Also, they don’t like getting wet, and there’s some tricks to taking care of them and helping them break in sooner. The rule of thumb is if it doesn’t already feel comfortable off the shelf, it’s probably not going to be super comfortable once broken in. The Toga guys probably know a lot about it.
    – I have the M770’s as regular pedals on my Trek. Very happy with them too. 3000+ mi, no trouble clipping out or in, no failures to speak of.
    – The Toga guy’s right, the Trek isn’t better component-wise. However, the geometry personally fit me much better than the Surly LHT did. It’s why I rode 190 mi on a bike with the only upgrade being brakes. Including the saddle.
    – To answer your question from before, I haven’t drawn the line on riding weather yet. I’m sure there’s a temperature I won’t ride in. Like when penguins refuse to come out.

  2. Reply

    Kris R

    January 3, 2010

    Oh, and get some buddy flaps for the front fender if possible if you plan to be riding through inclement weather. Precious’s drive train will love you.

  3. Reply


    January 3, 2010

    Kris – RE: the Brooks. I think that’s why Will wants me to try that Selle SMP first (they let you try them out for a week or so to see if you like them before buying). He said it was a bit funny looking, but takes less time than the Brooks to wear in. I read a few reviews from people – they seem to love them. I don’t think I’ve done enough saddle time in the Rival yet to decide if it’s a no go.

    The Surly wouldn’t fit me right either. I think the best thing I did was get the BG fit first. It helped narrow choices.

  4. Reply


    January 3, 2010

    Nice piece. Precious…love that. And I was Golluming the name from the start (not staring down into a pit in the floor with my…well, nevermind).

    Anyway, I’ll be doing the TransAm this coming May, too. Using a Trucker that I’ve been tweaking since last May. Gratuitous, obsessive Flickr photoset in 3, 2…

    You planning for West to East or vice versa? I’m in Ohio but leaning hard toward an Oregon start in late May.

    My wife and I just spent two weeks on the road (in our truck) and we took Idaho’s Route 12 up to Lolo Pass (also part of the TransAm). Can’t wait to do it again on the Trucker!

    Hope to get a WordPress site up in the coming months to track more prep’ for the trip.

    Thanks again for a fun write up here. Good stuff.

  5. Reply


    January 3, 2010

    Dylan, dude – those mods are sick! Love the handlebars you’ve got going there, and the powdercoating.

    I’m doing East to West. Perhaps we shall meet half somewhere along the way? 🙂

  6. Reply

    Kris R

    January 3, 2010

    That’s some really sweet modding of your bike Dylan – especially the handlebars. And I recognise those racks too :). Janeen, if Westcoast met Eastcoast, that would rock in so many ways words would not describe it.

    Best of luck to both of you! Maybe I can get some time off to go cross country in 2011…

  7. Reply

    Chris A

    March 18, 2010

    I love me my Brooks B17! I actually kinda cheated though and bought the “Aged” one. Shortened the breakin time significantly! My ass is very happy with my purchase:) That custom LHT is awesome!!! Clearly no expense spared, but well worth it… excuse me a second while I wipe the drool off my chin!

  8. Reply


    July 23, 2010

    @Janeen – Great article! Precious meets the gang, too funny! Is there a whiff of jealousy? 😉

    On the bike “mod”, well, uh (trying to pretend I’m a biker nerd) :

    “wtf are your riding a triple for? fixies ftw!!”

    Seriously, looks like some good mods. Will be interesting to see how they do in the real world testing. I recall John Steinbeck crafted a sturdy cabin on a truck, and his only major change was to get tires that could handle the additional pressure, he kept blowing them out. So the extra planning and testing is good, but I supposed some fixes could be made underway.

  9. Reply


    August 10, 2010

    Just one small suggestion- I’d consider dumping (and by dump I mean post home) the race blades for full length fenders like SKS Chromoplastics. I use race blades on bikes that don’t have the clearance but full-length provide much better protection/coverage and also stay in place far easier. Literally put them on, ride for 10,000km and you won’t have to touch them once. They also fit the Tricross great; I had I one myself before it got stolen 🙁 You can get full-length fenders in any local bike shop on the way. Most of the time you don’t need them but when you do you will be glad to have them!

    Good luck with the ride.


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