Thursday, October 21, 2010

S.S. Dolphin---Fitting Out

I've begun to think of my Dutch Dolphin as a ship...a ship in which I am the Kaptein---Master and Commander. As such, she deserves to be fitted out for duty...duty, which, in this case, is as my unhurried urban commuter. I see voyaging her to distant lands like Berkeley and back, but not much further than that, for she is now tipping the scales at an even 50 lbs with a full water bottle ballast. I must say that on a trip to downtown Oakland today, she performed smoothly with no problems whatsoever. I'm getting used to the gestalt of this ride which is, in a nutshell, getting her up to cruise speed (12mph or so) and holding her there in 2nd gear. The weight carries the bike along on the flats and the gear ratio to keep her rolling is light and spinny at the pedals. It works well and seems effortless. This is by design...I can appreciate that now. On the contrary, going up the slightest incline is felt, and major inclines feel as if the anchor was dropped behind, dragging through the cold mud of the ocean floor.

One of the most pleasant aspects of this bike is that no special wardrobe is required other than my helmet. I get on it in my regular clothes. I don't even have to cuff my right leg. Ah... the freedom to just go! I'm lovin' it.

So let me show you the recent additions I've made to increase the usability of the bike:

Here she is with the recent fitments:
1. Mesenger sprung saddle
2. Bulldog U lock and hanger
3. Water bottle and cage
4. Flash Industries rear basket
5. Inner tube wrap of rear rack
I made the basket from recycled/repurposed dog kennel wire. The flat sheet of wire measured about 3' x 2'. I designed a fold-up box, cut and bent the wire to shape. Note the handy torch-bent hooks on the back of the basket. The basket will easily hold two supermarket bags. I left the rusted oxidation as this speaks of entropy. I also re-purposed some inner tubes by cutting them in half lengthwise, then wrapping the tube around the top rack tubes to protect them from the rusty basket wires. The basket is attached using 4 zip ties. Easy!

Here's the business end of the Mesenger saddle, which is one of my all time best dumpster dive finds. Note the sturdy dual springs. The saddle body is metal, covered in some kind of vinyl. It's heavy, but very comfortable. The bag holds a small adjustable wrench, two metal tire irons, a tube and patch kit. If the rear flats I intend to pull the tube off while still on the bike and patch it as it is too difficult and involved to pull the rear wheel. Trust me on this. That's how they do it over in the old world, so I've been told.

Lastly, this bike does not have bottle cage mounts, so I wrapped a piece of black leather around the downtube, and mantled two automotive hose clamps to the cage. I flame-distressed the clamps with a propane torch to change their color from chrome to burnished metal. I like this treatment and it goes further towards the sub-vibe suggested by the basket. The massive 2.8 lb U lock nicely fills the huge void that is the frame triangle, and suggests nothing less than a piece of ordnance.

Handlebars, arm and shoulder form a circle that subtly highlights the rider’s position. We also test Dolphin behind the scenes with the most current technology. The steel frame absorbs major bumps in the road effectively and small vibrations are transformed into the humming of your balloon tires. You will feel like sauntering to an opera premiere – even if it's only on the way to work." (edited Retrovelo marketing hype)

Another similar in-production bike from the UK, the Pashley

Roadster Sovereign
A whale amongst minnows. This imposing bicycle provides an unsurpassed ride due to it's 28 inch wheels and regal riding position.

The Roadster Sovereign features a traditional lugged frame and five speed hub gears with full chaincase, gold-lined mudguards, steel rear carrier with fold down wheel stand, hub driven dynamo headlamp, LED rear light, frame fit lock, leather sprung saddle and coatguards


Price: $1595

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Dutch Treat---- The Kaptein Dolphin

(click photos for large view)

I've finally found an authentic Dutch city bike. Where did I get it? Ebay? Craigslist perhaps? Nope. Found it at a second hand shop in Oakland, sitting atop an old desk, its handlebars twisted, tires flat, a layer of dirt graying its colors. But I knew what it was and bought in on the spot. Oh Joy! Like finding treasure.

After transporting it home to the Flashco workshop, I discovered it would need more than just cleaning. Two rear spokes were broken, the shifter would not shift, the lumpy old road racer saddle would have to be replaced, and the tires needed inspection. To my surprise, the Victory Supreme tires and tubes held air. (these would soon de-laminate) After an hour long search mission in the dark recesses of Stone's Cycle shop I found matching heavy duty spokes and installed those. I purchased new shift housing and cable which was all that was needed to fix the 3 speed shifter. I adjusted the drum brakes, greased the chain, set the dynamo clearance and fixed the loose wire to the front headlight. Ready to roll!

Front drum brake and metal fender, halogen light, 700x 38 tires

Interesting Dolphin graphics, pink and gold over the dark metallic green paint. Note the pinstriped rear fender

Front fork details include brazed on dynamo hanger. Reflective stripe on the tires is a nice safety touch.

The business end of the bike. Lots going on back here. Integrated 3 speed drum brake hub, totally enclosed chain guard, fender attachments and other bits make removal and re installation of the rear wheel feel as easy as pulling the transmission in a '92 Volvo.

Here's the cockpit with the twist shifter and a classic bell. Note the stem and handlebars are one piece, the bars cannot be adjusted for angle, but the stem is super long for height.

The view cars see. Heavy duty painted rack with bungee eyelets, and Basta light. The light is only 2 LEDs, rather puny by today's standards, the rest of the housing is just reflectors.

So how does it ride? Like a Bentley, I'm guessing, having never ridden in a Bentley. Smooth, stately, composed. It gets to the speed it wants to go and we go that speed. Which is very civilized, not too slow, but not fast either. 2nd gear is just a tad too low for the flats, but 3rd is noticeably too high. The drum brakes are smooth and effective, but not powerful, but then they don't need to be at these low speeds.

This bike is unlike any other bike I've had. It feels grown up and utterly sensible. It is solid and well made, the parts are all high quality, it is an all weather, day or night machine. It might be 20 years old or 100 years old, for this is truly a timeless design enjoyed by generations of cyclists. I feel very lucky to have it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Adventuring 101

Old Tunnel Road from Sibley Ridge

Impossible to Ride!

Today's experimental outing on wheels came about as a result of a spontaneous route change undertaken by Brian and myself two weeks ago. We were traversing Piedmont, that street through the Berkeley Frat houses, when quite suddenly I called for a halt followed by a left turn up the hill. A hill with a street named Panoramic. It's called Panoramic for the simple reason, as with most streets that rise up at extreme angles, amazing views open up when you round a corner and everything falls away under you.

That day we had clawed our way up to the top, where the pavement turns to dirt and continues on over hill and dale. It is really unrelentingly steep to get up to this point, and we could not really go much further because we were on our road bikes, and our skinny smooth tires were just not cutting it in the dirt. I made a note to self to return here with my mountain bike and press on regardless, all the way across what seemed to be a valley to Grizzly Peak, far off in the distance.

So today was that day. I prepped my Rockhopper for dirt duty, as these days it is pulling exchange student commuter duty for the most part. I put on my road saddle, SPD pedals, tightened the headset, lubed the chain, strapped on a pump and tool bag, and BARTed out to Ashby st. in Berkeley. I slowly climbed through the town and up Panoramic. Its a long grind. I thought it would be easier on a mountain bike because of the low gearing, but the extra 12 lbs + weight over the road bike seemed to negate the gears for the most part. I was able to ride up where I had to walk my road bike two weeks ago, but it was slow going. But then, on an expeditionary jaunt like this, speed is not the point.

I made my way to the point on the fire trail where Brian and I had had to turn back. This point is punctuated by a very steep grade, which I tried to pedal up but soon realized I would have to walk it, pushing the bike. This is harder than it sounds, the bike gets very heavy and my feet barely got traction on this slope. (Another reason I use mountain bike cycling shoes rather than road style). Flushed, I finally surmounted the hill and found a descent on the other side...sawtooth ridges...OH NO! Up then down then up again. The second grade seemed just as steep as the first, but even longer. I pushed the bike up again, breathing hard and sweating in the sun, my calves starting to get a crampy feeling. Ok, now for some more downhill, then a section I could actually ride as it was merely ordinarily steep. Then a four way crossroads in the middle of nowhere. I wondered where the other ways went, but pushed on straight towards Grizzly Peak, which I could not see from this point, then turned a corner to see the Mother of All MoFos. (2nd photo above)

I mean, this dirt road went straight up, it was a field of sharp jagged rocks, with loose sand in between. I tried to push the bike and just got to a point it would not go up anymore, It felt like a ton of bricks, so I dropped the bike and just tried to hike up, and I could barely do that, I mean, this is a wicked steep pitch, my shoes not getting traction and sliding backwards. What kind of fire truck could even drive on this road anyway?

So, I had the queasy feeling of being defeated. Doesn't happen like this very often. I had pushed deep in and now I had to pay the price for that. I didn't relish going back the way I came, because of all the reverse course pushing of the bike I anticipated. So I coasted back to the crossroads and investigated the south direction, which was down, down, down into some Eucalyptus trees and darkness. The other way went north somewhere. I knew that I was on the hill north of Claremont Canyon, so that meant Claremont Ave. was to the south of me. Good chance the decending fireroad would take me there, so I chose that and dove down into it.

It was really steep so I was massively applying the brakes. The rear wheel was losing traction and skidding every two seconds or so. Then something caught me off balance and the rear wheel was in the air, I was hanging over the front wheel and the view was like looking over a cliff edge. Before I could grasp the implications, the rear wheel returned to earth. And then the entire bike skidded sideways.

My left foot was already out of the pedal before I started the descent, and as the bike went sideways I put it down like a kickstand and as it gained purchase, the bike hopped up with me on it, then down again as we slid further, then my foot stuck earth again, and the bike lifted again, and so on at least six times. Like a pogo stick we bounced down the hill. I really thought I was going down hard on this ungraceful maneuver, I mean really, I've never been in this position before and so I was just hanging on, but I felt in the moment that I could control it so kept cool, and then the bike stopped its gyrations and stopped. I remounted, and gingerly continued on down to Claremont. I emerged at that first big hairpin turn about 2/3 of the way to the top. I was happy to see familiar terrain.

I climbed to the top then plunged down the other side, Fishranch Road. It didn't feel like I was going that fast for some reason, but I was keeping in touch with the cars ahead of me. At the Caldecott building, I veered right up Old Tunnel Road in Sibley Park. Here is a sweet section of road I found two weeks ago, which has only recently been opened as regional parklands.

Yes, the old ORIGINAL Tunnel Road is now open for riding! And it is as awesome as it is short, for near the top of the hill it, like Panoramic, turns to dirt road. Another reason I brought the mountain bike.

I feel like this area is my new private playground. There are very few hikers out here, no other cyclists to be seen, its just wide open area. Dry and desert like, windblown and sunbaked, it is a compelling area to explore. Old old Tunnel road is in good shape, pretty smooth, a few weeds poking through cracks here and there, but amazingly intact. The dirt road it turns into is hard packed with some gravel, but easy to ride. There are numerous side trails going off to who knows where, grist for future explorations.

I rode mostly uphill over to the backside of Roundtop, the dormant volcano that is the crown jewel of Sibley Park. I stopped for lunch at the labyrinth, a Hippie era art work down in an old abandoned quarry. Its a desolate feeling place. After a climb out of there, the trail turns into a rocky field not unlike Eldridge Trail on Mt. Tam, and soon enough, I was in the very familiar Sibley rest stop off Skyline Blvd. My legs were shot, my glutes were aching, my lower back smarting, but the smile on my face said that it was all worth while.

After a short rest I descended the hill via some upper Montclair side streets, the mountain bike really shines as it feels like a mini motorcycle on twisty fast descents, and I was having a great time making it last as long as possible.

I was back home about 4 hours after setting out. I guess I only made about 25 miles, but man, what a 25 miles! Super steep ascents, super technical descents, moments of grave doubt, moments of elation, whole new areas bagged and a thorough workout had. So there you have it, a story about how I do it and why I do it, but after the ride, when I am standing in the shower, I reflect on it and am amazed that I did that---that I was able to do that--- on a bicycle, the most awesomely efficient machine ever invented.