Back in the saddle

The cadence is going to pick up here.

Less seat-tube gazing. More threadlock and cable routing.

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(For instance, there will only be this short redirection rather than a circuitous detour about how life is defined by bicycles of ever-greater range from the time I was 3 years old through to 51. I still relate to my bicycle the same way 15-year-old me did when I first rode myself out of town, away from home. My bicycle means freedom. It is adventure. A bike means conquering the unknown and defining myself by ability to take risks, overcome adversity, power through challenges and figure out solutions. That’s life.)

When first I conceived to put together a new bicycle I thought I’d do so with an aluminum frame again. Despite the technological advancement of and monied fascination with carbon fiber, despite the nostalgic obsession with and romantic delusions caused by steel frames, aluminum had proved itself worthy. The idea of making a different kind of bicycle so I could pursue a different kind of riding – trail riding, for instance, or cyclocross maybe, or a more upright and suitably outfitted touring bike – was never seriously under consideration. I like most of all riding on paved roads, the smoother the better. I can go farther, faster. What else could I want?

I was looking at about $500 on the low end to get the kind of used frame I sought. I did find some powder coat resources in town, but that meant hundreds more. A conservative estimate for an aluminum frame was $750. Very conservative.

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On the Nashbar website I found a carbon-fiber frame, no-name and black, for a third less. My cursory research revealed there’s a vaxxer-like discussion in corners of the web about carbon fiber. It was not convincing.

I ordered the frame.

A fat Nashbar seatpost fit the cavernous 31.6 mm seat tube.

I smeared a daub of carbon anti-seize lube on the seat tube – it’s lubricant, but with tiny grabby bits to stop slippage within the slick carbon tubing, slippage all the more likely because of the limited torque on the seat clamp. The anti-seize part comes from the lube acting as a barrier between the alloy of the seat tube and the carbon fiber, stopping any exchange of electrons that happens between dissimilar metallic surfaces creating a rudimentary battery and inducing an electrical charge that bonds the material. Without the lube, a seat tube can seize up, stuck for good inside the frame.

The seatpost was long and straight. Spoiler alert: A better option would soon present itself and the Nashbar seatpost would be thrown off the roster.

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Until then, though, the seatpost was perfect. The fragile frame – weak against certain kinds of forces, very strong against others – was not an option to hold the bicycle-in-the-making onto the workstand. I couldn’t risk using the clamp to hug the top tube of the frame. Anything going crossways could crush the carbon tubing. So I turned the workstand clamp 90 degrees, snugged it around the aluminum seatpost and flipped it closed with a few tightening twists to finish the job.

I’m intrigued by the weight of this bicycle, but not obsessed. To wit: There is no question about weight when it comes to the saddle. The Brooks Team Professional is the only bike seat I’ll ever ride unless someone wants to pay me to do otherwise.

Form and function in equal measure.

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The Brooks makes me think immediately, directly and exclusively of a 1972 Peugeot 10-speed. When I was a kid that was the bike, that was the ride. Coolest bicycle on the planet. Beautiful still. Utter nostalgia. That’s what made me call a New Orleans bike shop in 1998 and have them sell me a Brooks saddle. I rode it, my sit bones broke in the treated leather and the most comfortable saddle ever was born. Every other bike seat I’ve ever ridden caused pain. Not the Brooks. After scores of miles sitting on it in a day, and hopping on the next, it’s a pleasure to ride.

For Hugo Black I found this one. Black leather. Copper-plated rails. Hand-hammered rivets.

I can’t wait to break this one in. Let’s go for a ride.

  • Carbon road frame:  1070 grams

  • Carbon fork:        419

  • Seatpost:      304

  • Saddle:             540

  • Running total: 2324 grams, 5.123543 pounds