Ti Not?

Not so long ago, one of our shop regulars colluded with us to build the bike of her dreams. Doing custom builds is one of our favorite things, and we'd rather everyone who leaves the shop be riding exactly the bike they want, rather than one merely "good enough." We want them dialed in and grinning from ear to ear, which is why one of our favorite sayings is, "Have you thought about this?"

Kari, one of our shop regulars, has spent the last couple of years training and playing on an All City "Mr. Pink." It's a full steel do-it-all bike. On it, she can keep up with the "A" group shop ride, and climb any hill she wants. But she was always a little ... envious of those lighter bikes everyone else was rolling.

But she didn't have her eye on carbon. She wanted something more refined. Something tougher. Titanium. On top of that, she wanted disc brakes. Last year, she tried conquering the LandRun50, but the mud proved to be too much for her old-fashioned brakes. Two things. Enough to build a dream from?

Absolutely. She chose a Lynskey GR250, and then hand-picked all the components. And THEN we let her build it.

Why did you pick that particular frame?

Kari: I knew I wanted titanium. I love the look of the Kona Rove, so was seriously considering it. I compared the geometry of the Rove with the Lynskey Urbano, and different little aspects of the Lynskey started winning out. And then the day I was going to order the Urbano, the GR250 came out. It was really more geared for gravel riding, and that got my attention right away. The geometry of it and what it is built to do: "...adventure geometry that is designed for the rider to be in the cockpit rather than on the bike..." and its massive tire clearance won me over. I also like that Lynskey is US-based and has a long history of building great quality Ti bikes. I love the look of titanium. But more than that, I wanted a material that would dampen the road vibration and provide a comfortable ride. I wanted it to be super sturdy and relatively light.

Did you have a “vision” for what you wanted in a bike?

Kari: I wanted a bike that would be awesome on gravel, but that I can also throw a rack on and do some longer touring/bike-camping/adventure rides. And I most definitely wanted disk brakes. After attempting Land Run last year (and not being able to finish due to too much mud in caliper brakes and not enough clearance), and also running caliper brakes at the Pig Trail Gravel Grinder down some super steep downhills, disk brakes were a must.

Why not buy a complete bike?

Kari: I wanted something no one else had. There were also some upgrades/changes I would have wanted to do right away (handlebars, wheels, tires, carbon seat post, saddle) if I were to buy the complete GR250, so it just made sense to build from scratch.

Once all the parts were there, how did you like building a lot of the bike yourself?

Kari: It was awesome! I loved being able to be involved. It's rewarding, both watching it being done and working on it yourself, to know what all is involved in building a bike. Especially having hand-built wheels. A LOT of time and effort goes into making sure they're done right.

Now that you’ve had it a for a little while, what do you think?

Kari: It's so smooth and just such a great ride. It's smiles-per-hour and looks good doing it, too.

What’s your favorite part?

Kari: The hand-built wheels & Chris King mango hubs.

What’s your next upgrade?

I'm not sure. Nothing for a while; I'm pretty much loving it how it is. I would like to get a set of road wheels. And maybe down the road I will switch over to electronic shifting, but that won't be for a long time. 

If you'd like to build the bike of your dreams, stop by the shop and talk to Jake. 

We Can Rebuild It

I have a black Surly Straggler – The Struggler. The wife conspired with Jake to get it for me for Christmas in 2014. I assume they chose it for at least two reasons: 1) it’s black, like my soul, and 2) it’s a Surly, like my attitude.

Either way, it was love at first sight. Imagine, if you will, a shiny black steed with road bars and giant, knobby 41mm Surly Knard monster truck tires (that was before; now it looks like the above picture).

The Struggler was a machine built for gravel, and I’ve put it through its fair share around Kellyville and in Osage county, as well as two Land Runs. I did most of last winter’s Night Ops rides on it (the better to survive potholes that go bump in the night … ).

It’s an insanely comfortable bike, but also, a starter project. My road bike isn’t something I need to upgrade. The Struggler, on the other hand, well … Let’s just say I think I could do better than the stock Shimano Tiagra component set. But man, bike stuff. You have to budget. You have to plan. You have to budget and plan.

Here’s what got me off high center; Steph started talking about making another pilgrimage to Mt. Scott. What Mt. Scott is to a bicycle rider is about 1,000 feet of climbing in three miles, ranging from seven percent to 18 percent grade. It will punish you.

When last we did this, I’d had my Scott road bike for about a month. It was great on the climb, though I thought I was going to hyperventilate and die, but on the descent, it scared me. The crosswinds blew it all over the place, and I didn’t feel at times like I had enough braking power.

When Steph mentioned the return trip, I knew it was time to modify the Struggler. At the very least, slap some road tires on it. I assumed the weight of the bike would combat the winds, the disc brakes would help with stopping power and control when I needed it.

I mentioned the mission to Jake. He’d had heard me complain about the Tiagra stuff. It wasn’t that it was bad, it was that my road bike has Ultegra, and the transition between the two was jarring. When I mentioned the Mt. Scott trip and my desire to put some road shoes on the Struggler, he had another idea. He said: “I have a killer idea. I just got my hands on a better group set for you. SRAM Rival, hydraulic brakes … great price.”

I said, “Okay, but you have to let me build it.”

He said yes. He mostly lied. We rebuilt it a couple Mondays ago. There was bourbon involved. And in addition to the upgraded components, there were also new bars, a new seat post, new cranks and chainrings, and a set of 32mm Gatorskins. Even ended up upgrading from a 10spd rear cassette to an 11spd (which Jake accomplished by hauling my rear wheel to the machine shop).

Sure, I was trading weight for control, but … as it turns out, despite probably a significant weight difference between my carbon bike and the steel one, I didn’t feel I sacrificed a whole lot of speed, and I had another climbing gear out of the deal. Mountain climbing ready.

The Struggler was real.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I'm not a bike junkie. Don't get me wrong. I love riding bikes, but I don't get into the weight savings, or geek out about some magical component. I don't even really know as much as I should about the maintenance and care of my bikes. I appreciate those things, mind you, but I don't obsess about them. Because that's not why I ride. 

And to my thinking, why you ride is more important than what. What only comes up when it gets in the way of riding or not riding.

Riding = good. Not riding = bad.

The Thursday before last was one of those days that reminded me why I ride, because sometimes in the chaos of everyday life, when you're overburdened with responsibilities and stress ... you need a reminder.

I walked into the shop after work, tired and beaten down. I didn't want to ride, hadn't ridden in almost a week. It was dark. It was cool. Did I mention I was tired? Fred was on his way out while I was coming in. 

"Hey, are you riding with us tonight?"

"Yes."

"Great!" And it was the tone in that "great" that got me. He was happy I was going to ride, the same as he was happy everyone else was going to ride, too. My mood started to lift. 

Meanwhile, up near the workbenches, there was a crowd of people talking, smiling, laughing, drinking beers. Most of them weren't dressed to ride, mind you. They were just there to see each other. To hang out. It was tempting to just hang out and not ride. They're my people, after all, but we'll get back to that. 

I changed, gathered my gear, trod outside and hopped on the bike. At a couple of minutes after six, four of us rolled out and headed for the trailhead at the Jenks bridge. We picked up another handful of riders at the parking lot, crossed the bridge, then single-filed up on the trail and headed for downtown. 

We settled into a fast, but easy pace, one bike after another, headlights cutting through the pools of dark. No one talked much. Well, Ryan and I talked about our Mini Coopers, but after that, everyone seemed to relax and pedal. It was almost peaceful. The air had just enough bite to keep you cool, but not enough to chill. It smelled clean and fresh. It was difficult, in that moment, to think about anything else, which is as it ought to be. 

We re-crossed the river at 71st, climbed to Turkey, then barreled down the hill, outracing the view distance of our headlights, which was both exhilarating and terrifying. After that, the train of bikes reformed and headed toward downtown, then across the new pedestrian bridge at Southwest Boulevard, then back on the trail to return to Jenks. 

Everything continued smoothly until Lance missed a turn. We didn't, but Lance did. We yelled, told him to turn around. He didn't hear us, though we thought he did. When we finally got through the neighborhood detour and to the park at 41st & Riverside, someone said, "Where's Lance?" which then turned into a should we or should we not go look for him. Finally, Ryan did, which was when Lance showed back up. So we waited for Ryan. ... Who cares. Bike riding.

The guys tried to hammer it a little on the way back. Tricia and I fell off for a bit, Lance, being the nice guy he is, slowed up to pull us back to the group. I didn't care. I was just happy to be there. 

Something about riding at night changes things. Maybe because you have to be a little more careful, you can't be as focused on what your speed average is or how many watts you're cranking. Maybe you don't worry that you're not hitting your mileage goal for the week, or whether or not you're drinking enough water. Somehow, the dark distills it down to its essence. It's the closest feeling I get these days to feeling like a kid again, back before I had stress and responsibility, before I worried about the future of my country, my species. In this form, it is a pure therapy. It heals.

Back at the shop, beers were had. We ogled Kari's new titanium gravel bike. We talked about work and world events. We talked religion and politics like we'd been friends for years and that was the thing that mattered. No one got mad. We toasted and celebrated just being alive. 

And the thing about all of this is: this happens more than it doesn't at the shop. Sure, you can buy things. Sure, Jake will take make sure your bike is in perfect working condition, or help you build the custom bike of your dreams. All the things you'd find in any bike shop anywhere in town are there.

But I wonder about the community. I hope the other places are like this, too, because everyone should get to have it, this sense of community. And if you don't, and it sounds good to you, we're there all the time. We ride, still, most Tuesday and Thursday nights, and we're cooking up a regular shop ride for the weekends. We have a gravel group, if you're into that thing (and if you're not, you should be because it's the next best thing to night riding). 

I'll be back next week with a gravel report. Jake, Stephen, Bobby and I went out a couple weekends back and took a lot of cool pics. It's worth writing about ... unless I have a better ride come up between now and then. I also had the opportunity to ride a couple of really sweet bikes: A Kona Wheelhouse and a Kona Sutra, and I'll write up that experience first chance I get. The short version the Wheelhouse is that it is the single most comfortable bike I've ever ridden. I might get a second job to buy one of those. 

Anyway, high five. Hope to see you for the next night ride.