Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Day/Night/Wet/Dry/On Road/Off Road Urban Assault Bike Build

I've been wrenching on my bikes again.  It's a fun hobby.  I put them together, then take them apart and put them back together differently.  This is the beauty of bikes.  They are accessible.  Simple.  Easy to work on.  And the variations are endless.  Here's my latest and how it came to be.

Plz clic pics

I've increased my commuting by bike to work up at Chabot Space and Science Center.  I was using my Lemond road bike, which is by far the fastest and easiest way to get up the hill.  But the Lemond is relatively fragile, especially the tires, which have suffered on the mean streets of Oakland.  I also want to keep it clean as I have bad memories of riding it 200 kilometers in the rain and the major work I had to do on it after that.  I've also ridden my fast commuter, the Miyata, to work, and while almost as fast, it's a harder grind because the gears are too high, and again, the tires take a beating.  The streets of urban Oakland are in bad shape and I find myself constantly dodging potholes, cracks and seams that could not only wreck a wheel, but cause me to crash.

A few years ago, while in the midst of a steep hill climbing phase, I modified my Specialized Rockhopper mountain bike with smaller, fast rolling tires, and rode it up some of the steepest streets in all of the Bay Area.  Marin Ave. in Berkeley, for example.  Very, very steep, up to 25% grade, or more.  While the ultra low gears of this bike served me well in this endevour, the overall heavier weight of the bike made it hard for me to keep up with my riding buddies on road bikes.  After a 40 mile hill ride on the Rockhopper, I was beat like an abalone.  So I wrenched it back into a dirt bike and it was a favorite ride of my exchange student, Lorenz from Germany.  So favorite in fact, that upon returning to Deutchland, he bought an even better mountain bike.  In fact, the last time I had an off road adventure, this story developed from it.
I encountered this bike 2 years ago and was inspired by the audacity of the thing

The Rockhopper has been hanging on the wall, awaiting a new purpose.  I didn't do any dirt rides on it this year.  So one evening, my inspiration fueled by Charles Shaw merlot, I decided to resurrect the road version of the Rockhopper.  It was just what I envisioned:  A ruggedized bike frame with bomb-proof wheels, wider but still fast rolling puncture resistant tires, front shock absorbers, powerful U-brakes, and low gears for getting up the 7 mile hill to work.  And I would need fenders for wet roads.  And lights for when it gets dark at 5pm.  And reflectors.  Lots of reflectors.  I got to work.

For tires I use some generic kevlar belted city tires from Performance, the City-K, size 26x1.25.  They look like baby tires compared to the knobbies they replace.  But the small diameter also serves a secondary importance: they provide fender clearance.  For fenders, I stole some 1975 vintage rusted steel parts of my junk project bike I call "entropy".  I never ride it anymore, and it is just sitting outside rusting away.  But I've always admired the rust on top of the old chrome fenders, and their sturdy construction.  The Rockhopper was never designed for touring type fenders so I had to get creative with the mounting, relying on zip ties, bolts, and even Gorilla glue.
Front fender detail:  metal fender tab affixed with 2 zip ties to the fork bridge, and Gorilla glued to prevent sideways slippage

Rear detail:  the bike's left stay has a rear eyelet to bolt to, but none on the right side, so I used a piece of bent wire and a loop of cut innertube to create a flexible but tight connection.

The fenders are bent to a 27" arc, so they are a tad large in diameter, thus the generous tire clearance fore and aft.  I cut a rubber mud flap for the front and bolted that on.  One of these will greatly deflect road spray off your feet.

Here you can get an idea of how well the reflector tape works, even better in the dark under car headlights

Next, I installed my largest saddle bag, and put into it my Park Survival Tool, a spare tube, and other tools.  For night riding, a rear LED tailight, a front LED headlight, and the Bikeglow e-light wire for the frame, taken of the Kaptein Dutch Bike.  I also made a vestigial mount for my Nebo Redline 220 lumen flashlight which will light the pitch black road of Skyline Blvd. at night.  I also will run a 2 LED flashing red light on my helmet.
Bikeglow battery pack and Topeak pump. Note front mud flap

Lastly came a set of ultra bright yellow stick on reflectors by Nathan, available at Alameda Bicycle.  I put these on the bike and on my commuter helmet.  They glow intense yellow when lit by a bright light, just what I want.  I also applied a large yellow reflector triangle on my backpack for the ultimate light throwback.
Night riding is the most dangerous time for bike riding, I want to be seen a half mile away, I think I've achieved that.  The road going weight with everything except a water bottle is 33 lbs.  That may sound heavy as many of us ride road bikes almost half that weight, but it doesn't feel that heavy.  50 lbs feels heavy.  33 lbs feels normal.

I rode this bike to work yesterday, and while not as fast as the road bikes, it is not slow either, it's moderate, which is fast enough for commuting uphill.  It takes me 10 minutes longer to ride up the hill.   Downhill however, is a blast, as this bike runs like a small motorcycle, has front shock absorbers, and powerful brakes.  This is my favorite downhill bike, even better than the Lemond, which is a sterling downhiller.  The upright position is much more fun when going fast as I can see more not being hunched over.

A funny thing happened on that ride yesterday:  as I was climbing Skyline, I got the sudden urge to go offroad.  I considered the smooth tread tires but also considered that this is a mountain bike after all, so why not try it?  I turned off the pavement at the Sequoia-Bayview trail, which is flattish and hardpacked, and instantly my ride was transformed into something almost religious as the cathedral of trees towered over me. "This is my commute to work!  How lucky am I?"  I mused.  I knew the trail eventually got steep at the Sequoia horse arena, and I was prepared to walk, but to my amazement, I was able to ride up the soft slope in my lowest gear.  Using street tires.  A revelation!  So after work I hopped right onto West ridge trail to Graham trail, and enjoyed about a mile of dirt downhilling. More slowly than usual, to be sure, but still, I was doing it and the bike was handling fine, and I was loving it.  The fenders did not fall off.  Here was icing on the cake in terms of my one-bike-does-all build!

This bike is making me really happy for some reason.  It's a great 20 mile ride machine, and can handle anything in that 20 miles short of challenging dirt riding.  I feel more confident on it, that I don't have to worry about breaking it, that I can roll over holes and other crap and it will just suck it up in stride.   And even if I wanted, I could not buy this bike.  There are many variations on urban bikes out there, but none exactly, or even close, to this.  It's safe to say it's unique.

Build it and Ride It My Friends,


  1. As always a fascinating read. You are quite the master tinkerer. You make it all sound easy, but I assure you it's not for those of us who are NOT mechanically inclined. You have quite a skill.

    I'm really impressed that you're riding up Skyline to work. You are one cycling machine!

    Keep riding and writing.

  2. Hello, Jim. This is Paul, whom you met on Saturday as we were riding along Embarcadero. I am looking forward to perusing your blog. We must be the only two BikeGlow users in Alameda, incidentally. I have red and green, er, fluorescent yellow, on my cruiser frame for Christmas.

  3. Hi Paul, actually there are more Bikeglow people on the island, its a well kept secret! Nice meeting and riding with you. We are neighbors,so let's not be strangers, you can contact me at work 5103367417. I'd be happy to show you my bike collection.
    Debi, thanks for reading, as always, and enjoy your 1:1 gear ratio.