Friday, May 11, 2007

Cylcing: A New Set of Wheels

And now, for the first time in months, a post that's not about our dog.

I can't remember if I've mentioned this (and I'm too lazy to go look), but I try to do a lot of cycling during the summer. A few years ago, though, I injured my back, which made riding a standard bicycle painful after about half an hour. I was ok for commuting to work, but nice long rides through the countryside were right out.

About four years ago, I found a solution: recumbent bikes. I'd seen them around, and been curious about them, but I was used to my diamond-frame mountain bike. However, with my back problems, they started to seem like a good idea. I did some online research and visited The Urbane Cyclist in Toronto for advice, and finally settled on a Rans V-Rex, a "short wheel-base" recumbent.

The V-Rex has been a great bike. I've put between 1000 and 1500km on it, which is not bad when you consider I haven't left the Toronto city limits (except for a couple of rides into Mississauga). I've done the Toronto Ride for Heart twice (50km each time) and, last year, did a 105km tour of the city.

This year, though, things started off rocky.

I live about 4km from work, so it's a quick ride in and home each day. At least a couple of days a week, though, I try to ride "the long way home" (as I call it). It's about 25km, depending on the exact variation I use (sometimes, when I'm feeling energetic, I head through Moore Park Ravine and the Brick Works instead of through Rosedale).

The first time I tried that this summer, I got about halfway down the Belt Line when I got a serious front-tire flat. Fortunately, I wasn't far from a service station, so I walked the bike down and filled up the tire, then cut straight down Avenue Road to get home as quickly as possible (I had to make it home for 6:30 so we could get to Cobalt's obedience class on time!). Within three blocks, the tire was flat again.

I'd called L to come from picking Cobalt up at daycare to grab me and the bike, but she ended up stuck in traffic. By chance, though, I was a couple of blocks from her office. She arranged for me to stash the bike in her cubicle 'til after the class, and the next day I took the wheel in for repair.

Two days later I did the long ride again, and things went well. Nice and refreshing!

Two days after that, though, I only barely got past Old Park Road at the north end of the Belt Line when my pedals stopped going forwards. Something had jammed them completely.

When I got off the bike to look, I discovered that one of the chain links had caught on the chain guide tube and broken. Recumbents have very long chains, since the pedals are well in front of the rider's seat. Many recumbents have chain guides -- long plastic tubes that cover the chain to keep grease off the rider's legs. My V-Rex didn't come with guides, but I got the guys at Urbane to improvise some. They did a great job, but after a couple of years of riding, they'd shifted or something, and the chain caught the guide so hard that it not only bent the guide mount, it bent the idler wheel mount the guide mount was attached to! That's more serious: the guide wasn't an expensive piece of hardware, but the idler wheel mount was welded directly to the frame, and it looked like the welds might have been cracked.

Fortunately, by chance, I was only a few blocks from our accountant's house (Anita Goren of Silver & Goren -- highly recommended), and Anita & her husband were good enough to put me up while I waited -- again -- for Lori to come and rescue me.

Now, last year after that 105km tour, I had started to think about getting a new bike. The V-Rex is great, but it's above-seat steering puts the handlebars pretty close to the rider's chest, forcing them to sit in what's known as the "praying hamster" position. After six hours, your elbows tend to lock up! So I started to research under-seat steering as an option. Also, the V-Rex has a rigid frame, and after that long ride, suspension was sounding like a good idea.

That led me to the Street Machine Gte, HP Velotechnik's update to their Street machine Gt touring bike. It costs about 1/3 more than the V-Rex, but it's a very smooth, comfortable ride -- at least, as far as I could tell riding Urbane's floor model around Grange Park.

So last week, while the V-Rex was still in the shop for the chain mishap, I bit the bullet and plunked down the cash for the Street Machine -- and here it is:

Street Machine Gte

Street Machine Gte

It's a little customized -- from the factory, the Gte has a SRAM DualDrive hub, which means only one gear in the front, which means no post to mount the front deraileur on. Unfortunately, without handlebars above the seat, that also means nothing to mount the GPS on! So Urbane swapped out the Gte's front boom with a boom from another HP Velotechnik model that does have the post, so I could get my GPS & light mounted.

I've only put 33km on it so far, and I haven't taken it on the long ride yet (haven't had a chance), but so far it's been great. The ride is incredibly smooth, and the seat is very comfortable -- though it needs adjusting still (I'm told it takes time to get it just right).

My only complaint is the gear shifters. They're the same style as the ones on my V-Rex: Rings mounted on the inboard side of the handlebar grips that you twist to change gears. They're great on the V-Rex, but lousy here, because the under-seat mounting means that the rings are under your pinky and ring finger, instead of index and middle! The floor model had nice knobbly shifters that mounted on the ends of the grips, which worked a lot better. I'm going to have Urbane swap those out.

This weekend will see my first long rides on the new bike. I'm really looking forward to it.


jamesh said...

Congradulations on your nice new bike! I receved a used Rans V-Rex for cristmass, and have really loved riding it (It's my first 'bent). I was wondering how you repaired the bent idler wheel mount from your mishap. I was taking a turn a little too fast, and slid on the bike's side, which snaped the idler wheel mount off the frame. Were you able to re-weld the mount or fix it with an ad-hoc clamp?

Thanks, and enjoy riding your new bike!

James said...

In the end, I didn't repair the bent idler wheel mount; because I decided to upgrade to the StreetMachine, I didn't bother with the problem. It could probably be re-welded without too much difficulty, and I'd recommend that over an improvised clamp.