Clarity: Oil and Water

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Shot with a Canon 5D and 50mm f2.5 Macro

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Continental Gatorskins: The Definitive Answer

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For those who choose to travel on the road less traveled

I commute on some of the worst roads possible, rocks, pebbles, pot holes, glass shards, minute car parts strewn around and uneven pavement for about 60% of the way to school.  Some spots are downright treacherous since there are no bicycle lanes which forces me to be on the very right edge of the road where all the gunk is.  You know that off-white color path that is right next to the curb?  Yeah, that’s where I find myself when the roads get really tight and i don’t want to be hit by a car.

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After my stock Kenda tires got completely shredded up over a 1 month period and then eventually getting 2-3 flats the next month, I decided to upgrade to something with a bit more protection.  I bought a pair of Bontrager R1s, but I did not have too much luck with those either, plus they were heavy and slow even when pumped up to the maximum, for some reason they always felt a bit mushy despite being hardshells.  After getting the same results with a guaranteed 2 flats per month, I finally resorted to looking online and scouring the forums for suggestions.  What the internet giveth…it also taketh away.  There were so many suggestions and conflicting accounts that I just didn’t know what to make of it.  Specialized Armadillos? Gatorskins? GP4000? GP 4S?? Michelin Ultras?  Thickslicks??  The thing I realized that these are all excellent tires for commuting, but there was one that stood out for being rather light as well for speed.  I own a road bike for a reason and I want it to be nibble and fast.  I didn’t want anything larger than 700×25 either.  Of course there are larger 28/32 tires that could withstand a direct nail probably but tires like that wouldn’t give me the handling and lightness that I wanted.

Enter the Gatorskin, they’re relatively cheap costing around $40, easy to find and contain soft rubber protected by a really durable inner anti-puncture strip.  They are a pair of tried and true commuting tires.  The only other tire I think that beats it is the Continental GP 4seasons which is quite a bit more expensive. Continental is renowned for for their black chili rubber compound which they put into their premium line of tires, the GP4000s.  Despite the Gatorskins not having black chili, the engineering used to create their tires is more of less the same so I knew I was getting a quality tire for my needs.  GP4000s most likely has marginally more grip than the Gatorskins, but not enough for me to tell the difference.

I’m not going to get technical with TPI and cross stitched membranes etc, I’m just going to tell exactly what you need to hear in order clear up all the uncertainty on the internet.  Ride the Gatorskin Ultra (folding bead) or Gatorskin Hardshell with confidence.  There you go.  If you decide to choose the Conti Gatorskins, know that they will not let you down. Period.  They’re grippy (it’s hard to fool around and skid with these tires because they’re so grippy), can withstand very tough roads and they’re light, taking off from a start is not difficult at all with them.  They’re also very smooth and quiet.

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And overall, they’re just damn good looking tires!  Go get them and don’t even think about tires again for another 3,000 miles!

Brooks England B17 Imperial Saddle: A Sight for Sore Bums

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 …and sore groins as well

I prefer the bespoke aesthetic of olden days, I’m just not a huge fan of the saddles that looked like they came from an alien ship or bloated ones that have discolored gel inserts for comfort.  Nowadays, you can’t really have comfort and the vintage look, or inversely, the vintage look and comfort.  I’ve tried Selle Italia saddles but they just didn’t fit my style despite how comfortable they were.  Then I tried buying some vintage “look-a-like” faux leather saddles off Ebay, but they made my balls numb after a short ride.  Now I love bicycles and riding, but I’d prefer to keep everything in working order down there to avoid complications.  Most saddles I have used caused a scrotum and thigh inducing numbness where I felt like my balls would just eventually fall off due to lack of circulation.  I thought that maybe I had a bony ass? Or maybe my sit bones were awkwardly shaped?  I felt like I didn’t need to pay $250 for the top of the line Selle Italia saddle for comfort even though I had no interest in the looks of those new fangled things.

So I discovered Brooks.  After 150 years of being in the bicycle saddle making business, I was hoping Brooks seats would relieve my pain and also satisfy my taste in vintage items.  Brooks England satisfied both.  Their saddles ARE vintage.  Nothing much about them have changed over these 15 decades, they provide brochures and photos of their old seats made in the 1800s.  They look virtually the same as the seats they make now.  Obviously these seats are not completely hand made nowadays, but the formula is still the same excepted automated because Brooks saddles are used everywhere in the world now, that’s how awesome they are.

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When you first take it out of the box, the saddle is going to be very firm and will require a break in period in order to, more or less, mold to bottom.  I’ve read testimonials where they had to break their saddle in for over 500 miles…Well for me, mine was nice and comfy after the 40th mile which was just about a weeks worth of commuting.  Even when it’s broken in, it’s still quite firm but that is a good thing.  Those ultra comfortable mushy gel saddles? Well they’re actually not very good for you, your sit bones or your posture.  In the end, you will be in more long term pain with those gel saddles.  The Brooks saddle is firm but most importantly supportive in such a way that it isn’t uncomfortable, nor too comfortable.  Imagine yourself sitting in a chair, upright, versus lounging on a couch.  Another example which is analogous to this are Mercedes car seats compared to Lexus car seats.  Often times, Mercedes seats are very firm and people complain of discomfort compared to the more lush seats of the Lexus.  Again, the cars seats of the Mercedes are designed in a way to be supportive and comfortable instead of just comfortable.

Some people recommend getting some “Proofhide” to condition the leather every few months.  I haven’t done that yet, but I know if you don’t take care of leather every now an then, it will deteriorate.  I wish I took care of the leather seats in my car more, now they’re just cracking and wasting away.  I definitely don’t want that with this beautiful Brooks saddle.

But back to how awesome this bicycle saddle is, It’s very comfortable.  It’s like sitting on a sort of…firm leather bar stool? I don’t know how to explain it, it’s just very firm and supportive with no numbness or pain anywhere in my thighs, legs or nether regions after hours of heavy riding.  That’s my definition of comfort.  It looks like a million bucks, it has class, style and hardware that harkens back to days where quality was expected and not a premium you paid for.

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There is a tensioning bolt to laterally tighten the saddle if it ever begins to sag or get loose.  I would not recommend tampering with this bolt unless your saddle has really become that soft because you risk over stretching the leather.  On the B17 Imperial (which has an anatomical cut out…you know to uh…release tension on my crotch), there are also eyelets on the side for you to tie a lace around.  This allows you to also tighten the saddle.  Because there is a cut out on the Imperial version, there is less tension on the leather over time, compared to the Flyer and Standard B17.  On the supports, there are 2 rings for you to attach a saddle bag to.

Often times I ride without hands and I just plop myself and shift all my weight directly onto the B17 and it feels great.  I could ride the bike like a unicycle for an entire day easily with a Brooks B17 Imperial saddle.

The only remote downside I can think of for the B17 Imperial is the weight.  It has chrome bars as support and the thick leather can be quite heavy compared to your usual run of the mill seat.  The B17 Imperial easily weighed 200grams more than the existing saddle that came on my Bianchi, or over 300 grams more than sleeker Titanium seats. You can definitely feel it when you pick up the bike.  Everyday of my commute, I have to carry my bike over my shoulders to traverse difficult terrain on foot for about 100 ft or so and I can definitely feel this seat add on a lot to the my already semi heavy steel bike.  Also heavy rain will damage this saddle and make it sag prematurely due to its leather construction, be wary about riding in heavy rain.

I may give the Brooks C17 Cambium a try due to its much lighter and waterproof design as well, stay tuned for that.

The Bianchi Pista in Chrome

Is it really the hipster’s fixed gear?

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It really just depends on how much you paid for it.  I paid $350 for mine, which is a rather beat up version with gunked up wheels and peeling clear coat.  Once you get over the hype and didn’t overpay and realize what the Bianchi Pista is ( an Italian designed bike made in Taiwan, a poor man’s foray into a world of finer bicycles,), there really is no shame in using one.  I bought one because I’ve always immensely enjoyed the look of the bike.  Hell even if this bike was made out of crap hi-tensile steel, I would probably would have still bought it.  I mean, look how beautiful this bicycle looks.   Shiny Chrome, classic track geometry, 1/8 silver chain on a brushed aluminum Shimano crank that was infinitely stiffer than whatever came on my old Gravity.  Look at those drops, this bike really just calls to the elegance of Italian design.

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Due to it’s Chromo 4130 steel construction, this bike is BUTTERY smooth on pavement and absorbs bumps very well on more jarring surfaces such as cracked/dented concrete, pebbly surfaces and gravel.  Yes, I’ve ridden this bike on extended gravel paths and it handles it with aplomb.  It has a pretty short head set so the bike is also very nimble and maneuverable  with a very small turning radius.

It’s a simple bicycle, but very solid in its construction.  There isn’t anything too special about it as far as details.  It’s your basic track bike.  One gear, fixed and power grip straps to keep me connected to the ground.  Crank is very smooth and ultra responsive.  The Pista has your standard track drop outs so adjusting for larger gear ratios is a cinch.  I enjoy skid stopping, but I value the wear of my tires so I put a front brake on it for those long descents and emergency stops.  I’ve got 25mm Continental rubber on the wheels, a GP4000s ii on the front and a Gatorskin Ultra folding on the rear.  I’d say it can fit up to 28mm, but save the 32s for your wide tire bike.  The Bianchi Pista akin to a sleek and sexy race car.

It doesn’t pick up speed quite that well though.  It is a heavier bike with all that steel.  The stem and handlebars, despite looking so good, are grotesquely heavy.  I think if I swapped them out for aluminum bars and stem, the bike would easily shed 3 lbs!.  Not to mention the old school brooks saddle on the rear, this bicycle really doesn’t pick speed as quickly as my old aluminum track bike.  But speed isn’t the most important thing here.  It really is the look of the bike.  If you’re really important, people will wait and trust me, you’re going to want to ride a bit slower because this bike is a head turner.

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Traversing difficult terrain, sometimes this bike is a little overbearing on the shoulders especially when I’m carrying a backpack full of my every day carry and the bike over dirt and rail road tracks.  Don’t even ask me why I have to do that.  Road closures till December can be a bitch, so I had to find a slight detour through some foliage and backroads in order to get to my destination now.  Perhaps in the future I will change out the handle bars, stem and get some lighter wheels.  Doing that alone would shed at least 5 lbs off the bike and make for an easier commute.  But for now, the looks of the bike is honestly enough to keep me from complaining.  Besides, I’ll just look at it as exercise, my legs have gotten stronger and more muscular already just by riding this bike.  All i have to do is look at it, even with its semi peeling clear coat and faded wheels, and realize that I’m owning a piece of gorgeous piece of machinery.

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What a beaut and it rides wonderfully too.  Until next time!

*RIP* Gravity Swift2 in Aluminum with Carbon Fork

A great starter bike…

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I didn’t see many reviews for this bike when I was making my decision on Bikes Direct so I’m going to post my thoughts in order to better help anyone who might decide to purchase this as their beginner fixed gear.  I was looking for something in the $300-$500 price range. It has been a really long time since I’ve ridden a bike (about 10 years) but last year, I decided to bike to school instead of drive in order save some gas and incorporate cardio into my daily routine.  I didn’t realize how expensive bikes have become!  I figure that they’ve always been this expensive and I’ve just been accustomed to bikes from bargain stores as a kid.

The Gravity Swift2 AL with a carbon fork retails for $309 at Bikes Direct which is a very good price for a brand new beginners bike.  It’s extremely light coming in at only 16 lbs, I can carry this on my shoulder over difficult terrain all day if needed.  Because of its aluminum construction, the bike is extremely bumpy and very twitchy on the road.  The carbon fork helps ease out some of the vibrations, but due to the poor seat that came with it, my butt was in a constant state of soreness and my thighs got numb after rides that lasted more than 40 minutes.  Aluminum bikes can be very unforgiving and absorb very little of the shocks from the road compared to a smoother steel bicycle. It took quite a bit of getting use to on the school commute as the ride was always very jarring over less than ideal urban pavement.  75% of the commuting road on North Tryon does not possess bicycle lanes.

The components are bare basics and cheap.  The crank and pedals creak quite a bit when mashing up hills but never did anything actually break or come loose.  It’s a good bike, just rough around the edges.  The Alex R500 rims that come on the bike are decent and not that heavy.  The tires that come with the bike are garbage though, I got 2 flats in the first week and decided to upgrade to a pair of Bontrager R1’s for slightly better protection and eventually a pair of Continental GP4000s which gave even more protection along with a slightly smoother ride.  The top tube slopes down so you don’t get that classic track bike geometry, aesthetically, the Gravity Swift isn’t the prettiest bike on the planet compared to its Mercier Kilo TT and Windsor Hour counterparts.

Being a mere hobby bicyclist and not knowing too much about bicycles in general, I was ready to keep this bicycle for a couple years.  I enjoyed its clean black paint, the fact that I didn’t have to worry about rust due to its aluminum frame, and its outright speed.  This bike can easily pick of some very good speed on the straights and downhill.  With a 46/16 gear ratio, it’s perfect for the level ground, easy enough to climb hills and won’t spin out too quickly on the descents.  But mainly it picks up speed because it’s so damn light!  I just wish the crank and arms were stronger such that it didn’t flex when under stress.

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Sadly, my Gravity Swift2 was stolen after I decided to take the bus and lock in a sketchy part of town during a snow storm.  The next day I went back and the bike was gone 😦  That taught me to get a stronger U-lock instead and to also look into nicer bikes in existence 😉  Stay tuned for my newest bicycle…

 

 

My Thoughts: The Chrome Citizen *Night* Messenger Bag

A Great Messenger Bag with Clever Urban Camouflage

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The Chrome Industries Citizen Messenger Bag, what else can I say about this that hasn’t been said before?  While there are a lot of reviews on the interwebs and youtube by hipsters and fixed gear fanboys touting the greatness of this bag,  I’ve yet to really come upon a review that gives a dispassionate take on its merits and shortcomings, besides Carryology.com.  I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a fixed gear fan boy myself but I also value functionality of my gear and not just what everyone else says about this bag.

So here goes, I used the bag for a month but realized that it just wasn’t suited to what I needed.  There are some great things about this bag that I really liked, but there were enough downsides for me that I ultimately sold it on ebay for a slight loss and got a Mission Workshop Rummy instead.  Now I’m not saying that bag is perfect either, but it was more suited for my needs.

I’m going to go over the great things about this bag and there are a few technical details and innovations that Chrome Industries got perfect with the Citizen Night.  I LOVE the way it looks.  The outline of the bag is modern and sleek, the big reflective stripe running across the front flap is bold and really makes the bag pop.  I like the placement of the Chrome’s logo on the front as well, the black and white fastening straps and the reflective area on the lower flap.  Aesthetically, this bag is beautiful and it really has the classic rectangle and rounded corner  bike messenger shape.  The densely woven ballistic nylon is also weather proof.  It’s not waterproof persay since water will eventually soak through nylon if it sits on there long enough, but the bag is also protected with an 18oz tarp liner which will definitely keep everything inside dry.

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My favorite feature of the bag is the camouflaged reflective surfaces.  Chrome used a special type of 3M reflective paint that appears silver/white during the day, but turns into a extremely bright reflective strip at night when any type of specular lighting or head light shines onto it.  The entire bottom half of the flap is dotted with this paint also and gives off a bright shimmering reflection as your riding in the dark.  I wish more bags had this function or used this paint, it’s simply amazing combined with the sleek and modern look of the bag.  Love Love Love this feature!   But there is also a caveat, despite how great this paint is.  For some reason on my bag, the paint started to chip off after just a couple days use of tightening and loosening the fastening straps.  I thought that was really strange for a higher end bag like this and it didn’t sit too well with me.  I had a strong feeling that the paint could potentially flake off after a couple years of heavy usage and that just wouldn’t be worth it.  I’ll never know if that will really happen, but the fact that it started flaking off so soon after a couple thunder storms didn’t sit too well with me despite how awesome and helpful it is at night.

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The inside of the bag is compartmentalized very well with separate compartments for your water bottles, notebooks, tablets and keys.  The problem with the Chrome Citizen is that when the bag begins to fill up, it gets harder and harder to reach for the items on the outer most compartments because the inside if pushing against it.  It’s best to use this bag at slightly less than its full capacity or else it will be hard to pull out your smaller, but no less important items.

The aesthetics inside are also beautiful.  I love the waterproof tarp lining which can be separated from the outer wall of the bag so you can potentially store clean clothes/soft items that you don’t want to get dirty or wet.  I wouldn’t suggest putting anything delicate in that spot because without the liner, all that is between that “item” and the ground is the nylon fabric which probably won’t do a very job of protecting it.  Items in the tarp liner get an extra bit of protection due to the liner’s thickness.  But by no means can you toss your 17 inch Macbook around in this and expect it to not break.  I always set my bag down gently on the ground.

This bag can store a ton of stuff, approximately 27 liters worth.  It can’t really store much more than that because doesn’t really use a roll top design.  So as you store more items in there, you raise the top flap more and more which will expose the interior to the elements.  Even with the bag at less than full capacity, shown above, rain water was already getting into the inner flap of the bag.  It is easier to “pull stuff out in a hurry” with this bag due to the lower front lip, but you have a higher risk getting your items wet during a storm.

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At full capacity, your pens are definitely going to get wet 😛

One of the features that everyone likes about the Chrome Citizen is the seatbelt buckle.  I’m actually not a huge fan of it because it’s so heavy and swings like a pendulum when disengage it.  No matter how careful you are when you take it off, it will find something to bang against make a racket.  When I used it, I usually just threw the bag over my head to take it off.  Another thing that I didn’t like was the fabric used for the strap.  It’s supposedly seat belt material just in appearance, the webbing is actually very supple and it doesn’t feel very strong.  There were many times where it got tangled and twisted up in the buckle as I was using the quick release to lengthen and shorten the strap.

The major downside of this bag is the design of the strap.  It is thick and comfortable, but that’s only when the bag is at about half capacity.  Due to the way the strap is attached to the bag, items will start to protrude into your back since the strap does not allow the objects to away from your back.  It’s a bit hard to explain, but you’ll find out when you purchase the bag and decide to really fill it up, it’s just not very comfortable and does not hug your back when fully loaded, the way that the Mission Workshop Messenger bag does.  Because of that I had to pass it down to someone who didn’t fill it to the brim all the time.

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Overall though, it’s a good messenger for students, parties (since there’s a built in bottle opener on the front buckle) and a trip to the beach.  The major downside is that it’s just not that comfortable to wear once it’s fully loaded and that was disappointing because I really love the way that this bag looked.  Agree with me, don’t agree with me or have any questions? Leave them in the comment section below!