The Struggle is Real

With a lull in my bike build process (waiting on the rest of the components to arrive), thought I’d be productive by putting tires on my Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheelset. Just a quick 15-minute job that would get me one step closer to riding this thing. I grabbed my tire lever and a pair of Vittoria Corsa 25 mm tires with bitchin’ tan sidewalls (which I worry are becoming so popular–more than half the field at a recent race had them–that they are losing their retro exotic beauty) and got to work.

Two hours later I finished. My skin was coated in a couple layers of sweat and my knuckles were bleeding. I could barely move my raw, beet-red fingers and my blistered thumbs were numb. My meager accomplishment, two wheels with tires and inflated tubes, leaned against the wall as if to mock me. I looked as if I had made the tires myself in an ancient, sweltering factory.

What happened?

Well, the bead was tight. So goddamned tight. Tighter than a…well, you can fill in the blank (how’s that for a Rorschach test?) Maybe I’m doing it wrong or something, but I’ve never had problems with putting on tires. Not like this. My self-taught, awkward method usually works reasonably well (except when group ride companions are gathered around watching like leering middle schoolers at the monkey cage). It didn’t work for these tires. I pushed with my thumbs, yanked with the tire lever, pulled with my fingertips. Nothing worked. I worked myself into a lather, opening cuts on my hands, taking a break to punch a pillow. Followed my dad’s strange suggestion to spread dish soap along the rim. Nothing.

I sincerely wondered, at many points during the process, if I would ever succeed. Bringing a half-on tire into a bike shop results in permanent riding license revocation and endless shame, so obviously that was not an option. And my hands were so mangled that I saw no way those last few inches of sidewall were going to stretch over the rim.

Finally, as I considered giving up for the night or maybe the month, I made one last desperate attempt. Wrapping the tire lever in a smelly t-shirt to prevent further hand mangling, I pushed it in between the rim and tire and pulled as hard as I could towards me. It didn’t budge, and then it did. Done. The tire was seated. I collapsed to the floor, too frustrated to be happy.

The tires do look pretty rad though.


Groupsets and Guilt

Well, I made a decision. Decided on a frame, clicked a digital box, paid invisible money. It will be here in a couple days.

I went with the Cannondale CAAD 12 Black Inc., which seems to offer the light weight, race geometry, and badass looks of the Canyon I had planned on buying, at a similar price. From what I can tell, the whole “Black Inc.” thing doesn’t really mean much; it’s the same as the CAAD 12, but with a cooler paint job. Works for me–a paint job doesn’t make a bike, but it can certainly break one.

So, with a frame and wheels figured out, I’m on to the final step: groupset. I know I want to go electronic–I made that decision when my shifter cable snapped 60 miles into a century last winter. I waffled between Sram Red eTap and Shimano Ultegra Di2. eTap is more expensive, but there are no wires to deal with, and even a mechanical novice like me can supposedly install it. Di2 is about half the price and offers many of the same shifting advantages, but isn’t cable free and is reported to have some issues with cables popping out of batteries and the like.

I’m leaning towards eTap. Here’s why

  1. This is the last bike I will buy for a long time. As Donna says, treat yo’self.
  2. I spend more hours per week biking than on any other voluntary activity (work does not count as a voluntary activity, since the purpose of it is to accumulate money and vacation days to spend on biking.)
  3. I’m getting a sensible aluminum frame and aluminum wheels, not elitist, fragile carbon, so I can allocate money elsewhere in the build.
  4. Shifting is the aspect of riding I notice the most, so why compromise?
  5. Cables and seat tube batteries intimidate me. I want to be able to (mostly) put this bike together myself, from scratch. I want to actually attach all the various pieces I’ve assembled, to see the bike go from a collection of objects to a fully functioning machine. That’s one of the main reasons I opted not to buy a complete build. While I suppose I could figure out how to install Di2, it seems a hell of a lot more complicated.
  6. Early adopters look cool when the technology becomes ubiquitous.

But these could all just be post-hoc justifications of my wanting something that is maybe a little too nice, a little too expensive, a little too unnecessary. Rationalizing a want, rather than wanting something rational. For the difference in price between Di2 and eTap (or between either and a perfectly good mechanical groupset), I could literally save children’s lives in Africa by donating to the Against Malaria Foundation (one of the world’s most effective charities that distributes anti-malaria mosquito nets around the world). That fact is not lost on me; I am aware of my own selfishness. Yes, I already donate monthly to charity, but I could donate more and spend less on this bike without affecting my own happiness in any substantial way. Peter Singer’s famous analogy gnaws at me because I know I could do more, because I know that lots of what I buy is by any definition unnecessary.

Or, think of it this way: for the $1,000-$2,000 difference in price between groupsets that are ultimately 95% similar in performance, I could buy more than 10 Buffalo bikes for people who need bikes to go to school and retrieve clean water, needs which make mine (things like “my mental health” and “getting a good workout in”) seem pretty puny. The truth is that any of us cycling-obsessed people could. All the money spent on kits and racing and bikes, most of it to look cool or be a few grams lighter, doesn’t really make us happier. It could do more good elsewhere. Ultimately, I think we would still enjoy cycling with vastly less stuff. Fewer bikes, fewer jerseys, fewer wheelsets. If everyone had a perfectly decent aluminum bike with Shimano 105, we wouldn’t stop feeling the wind in our faces or seeing beautiful vistas or laughing with friends.

I’m not lecturing. Just plumbing my own guilt. Because despite knowing these things, I am still going to get eTap. No doubt, it will be crisp and wonderful. But it won’t be morally defensible. Not really.

Canyon Let Me Down

I’ve eagerly anticipating the Canyon USA launch for months now, waiting to order the Ultimate ALX frame which I would then build into my beautiful new road machine. I already have the Mavic hoops, leaning quietly up against my wall, waiting for some pavement to roll smoothly along. Handlebars, saddle, pedals: all ready to go.

And, as promised, Canyon did launch in “late summer.” I was thrilled to check the website today and see the text below the close-up of Tony Martin’s face during a staged time trial had changed, announcing that they are finally open for business stateside. I grabbed my credit card, excitedly navigated to the Ultimate page, and found…four carbon bikes. No aluminum, complete or otherwise. Their other offerings were similarly limited.


Well, kind of.

I had read the fine print about a launch of “some” of their products but they never said which ones that included, so I assumed my dream bike would make the cut. Guess it didn’t. I called Ian in customer service, feeling sorry for him because I’m sure they are being besieged by calls right now from Americans starved for German-engineered bikes made in Taiwan or wherever, and he said that they don’t envision selling aluminum framesets in the USA anytime soon.

So. What to do?

I’ve spent most of the day reconsidering my options. I could get an aluminum frameset from Trek or Cannondale (Specialized offers one, but it’s an aero crit beast, not a well-rounded lightweight style I’m looking for) or find a boutique aluminum frame maker like VYNL, or switch my path altogether and go with a handmade steel frame. There’s no shortage of great builders. But my wallet isn’t bottomless, and I really hate the look of external cable routing. Call me vain.

I probably shouldn’t decide anything yet. Sit on it for a couple days, sort through the different possibilities.

But, come on Canyon. I’m disappointed in you.

Free at Last

If you were a fly on the wall (weird), you would have seen me in my living room last night, wrestling with the near wheel of my bike wielding scissors and knives like some kind of demented surgeon. There was cussing, strange noises, and things breaking. What in the world was I doing?

Only trying to remove the dork disk, the world’s most harmless-looking, unnecessary, frustratingly difficult bike component. You’ve seen them. Maybe you even have one on your own bike. They are the dinner plate-sized plastic discs that bike shops are required to insert between your spokes and cassette, Trojan horses of goofdom that remain unnoticed on people’s bikes for way too long, sneaking home with you like a tick in your armpit. I’ll say it again: they are unnecessary. Sure, maybe your chain could slip off your biggest sprocket. A lot of things could happen. A childish ape could become president. But come on.


The dork disc had remained on my Jamis Renegade for way too long. I tried a few times to remove it, wildly attacking it with dull scissors, but I was unsuccessful. Since it’s my get-around bike and I don’t ride it too often, I was content to let the disc remain, though I was never happy about it. The risk of being judged by a fellow in-the-know cyclist while running errands or camping in a state forest was pretty low.

But in preparation for this weekend’s bikepacking trip, I decided the disc had to be demolished, once and for all. The scissors wouldn’t work. I would need another tool. What could I find in our sparsely populated kitchen drawer?

Dull butter knife, can opener, plastic fork. No, no, no. Then the epiphany. That little-used (quite frankly, terrible) Christmas gift from a couple years ago: super strength knife set. The kind you see on infomercials that can apparently cut through granite blocks or a human femur or whatever. I’ve never used them for food, and thought I gave them all to Goodwill before my last move, but luckily somehow one was still lingering in the back of the drawer. Bingo.

I began sawing through the disc, and sure enough, the knife worked. Damn, the infomercials weren’t lying, I thought. Halfway through, I ran out of space; the knife was dangerously close to the near derailleur cable, and I accidentally put a few saw marks into a spoke or two. So I turned to my other tool: brute force. That’s where the cussing started, as I tussled with the disc, sliding it around, finally breaking bits of it until I could get an opening to saw through the rest. Towards the end I just pulled until the plastic shattered.

Then, in a glorious gesture of triumph, I ripped off the last chunk, heart rate spiking. I looked at the pile of plastic, which now appeared so meek and fragile, like it was innocently saying “what do you mean, I caused you so much frustration? I’m just a little bit of plastic.”

But I knew better.

Dork-free, finally