Sunday, September 4, 2011

Berthoud Aravis Saddle

Finally got an official ride in on the 1985 Trek 620. I've been on about some 30/40 miles, but they were just pottering around. Today I rode about 50 miles, only stopping for a couple of water breaks.

Overall, the bike performs well. The 35mm tires do slow one down, no doubt about that.

On my previous rides, I had observed that the Berthoud Aravis saddle is absolutely rock hard. In addition to this, it is very flat longitudinally along the top, not having any sag.

By about mile 35, this was starting to severely bother me. In addition to general discomfort, the flat along the top was making it impossibly painful to ride the drops.

You do the geometry.

I pedalled along thinking about this, in the way that saddle discomfort demands attention and thinking about all the Brooks B17 saddles that were comfortable right out of the box. I was also thinking pessimistically about how long it would take to break in a saddle with leather as thick as that of the Berthouds.

Finally, I remembered observing that the saddle had come w/some built in tension, not fully loosened the way Brooks customarily are when new. So I stopped, pulled out the 5mm allen wrench and backed off the tension a full turn.

This had a pretty dramatic effect. I'm not going to say everything was immediately sunshine and lollipops but it was a lot better. After another 5 miles, I gave it another half turn of loosening which further improved things.

On this ride, it was a little hard to tell if this will yield an acceptable comfort level, as I was pretty beat up and sore by the time I got around to detensioning the saddle a bit. But I am a lot more optimistic about it than I was midway through the ride.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Grizzly Roars To Life

Regular readers of this blog may be wondering what ever happened to my 1988 Bianchi Grizzly that was nearly completed back in July.

The short answer is nothing at all happened, the bike has just been sitting in a corner.

Until today when I resolved to do the 30 minutes of work necessary (cable fitting mostly) to get this thing on the road. And my resolve was undaunted as I was then able to take this out for a short hop on some errands:

The biggest unknown for me was how would the drop bars work.  Periodically, I get tempted into making some sort of rugged duty, urban commuter/utility whatever out of a mountain bike.  This is all well and good until it comes time to actually ride it and I rapidly lose interest because of the flat bars.  I seem to be able to abide flat bars only in a true MTB situation.

So this time I decided to put on some drop bars and while it was only a short ride, I would give the geometry and feel a go at this point.

The stem shifters I installed are fun and quite convenient, but you have to be secure in your manhood (or just plain be in your senescence) to enjoy them:

This bike has bio-pace chain rings.  I couldn't really tell any difference in the feel between these and normal chainrings.  They still look utterly dorky, though.

Overall, I think the drop bars on this are a winner.  I haven't done much else to the bike so far because I wanted to ensure that I was ok with the drop bars before doing much other work.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Phoenix Project - MKS Custom Pro Pedals

Background on The Phoenix Project is available here and here.

I love the looks of a classic road pedal.  But the nib most of them have on the outboard edge of the cage interferes with using street shoes when necessary.

Fortunately for us, MKS (Mikishima = "Three Islands") has a fairly new, very high quality release with a subdued, almost vestigial nib, called the MKS Custom Pro:

These pedals share the same body with the MKS Custom Nuevo:

Here are the hints of a nib:

The cages are bolted on, just like in the good old days:

Incidentally, the MKS site ( helpfully explains that in MKS-ese, sealed bearing indicates sealed cartridge bearing whereas sealed mechanism means good old fashioned loose cup and cone bearings with some sort of seal in the equation.

Street Cred

MKS has been making pedals for decades along the full spectrum from dirt cheap models up to very high end.  All have a stellar reputation for toughness, serviceability, and reliability.  I've never heard a complaint about them other than the cheap ones can be stingy on the grease when delivered from the factory.

Gizmo Lust

Other than the excellent finish, which includes much beloved chromed spindles, how excited can one get over pedals?

Well, when I unwrapped these and spun those precious chrome spindles, I was floored.  They spin as smoothly and evenly as some precision machine tool, sort of the platonic ideal of a rotating axle.  No resistance and no play detectable whatsoever, it is almost eerie.

They are also nicely, but not insanely, light at 293 grams.


With these pedals, it is official.  The 1985 Trek 620 has no traditional, repackable, cup and cone bearings in any component.

Tweed Factor

Tweedies love MKS, but are traditionally much more likely to go in for cheapo MKS Sylvan variants.

In recent years, MKS has been an enabler of the increasing weirdness in this quarter with things like these "Grip Kings":

If the stock situation isn't enough for you, there are little aftermarket screws to put in all those holes to make them into a real bed of nails.  This is just the thing for cruising around in the aftermath of an oil spill, I suppose.

Phony Accent

Racing pedals?  Cycling vanity, thy name is slow middle aged guy.

Lily Gilding

There is no excuse at all for the price I paid for these.

Honorable Mention

I really like Specialized Touring Pedals produced by MKS back in the late 80's or so:

These have a traditional road pedal look but with the support of a platform pedal.  Further, the rear cage and platform is slightly curved.  This conforms to one's foot and is supremely comfortable.

However, they had sealed mechanisms instead of sealed bearings.  Furthermore, they were a gross violation of the "no vintage parts" and I couldn't think of a reason to grant them a waiver.

I sure wish MKS would bring back a modern rendition of these.  The guy I sold my last set to is actually contacting MKS ( to inquire about this.  Maybe if enough readers out there in Fuji Otaku-land join him in this, we may see it happen.  It would be a great part to get back into production.

Another pedal I considered was the White Industries Platform Pedal:

I've been intriqued by these for a while.  But the urban/commuter vibe didn't quite fit this project.  Plus, I have some reservations about the durability of the extremely cantilevered flip tab when rendered in alloy.  That is in a pretty exposed position and one good whack seems like it would break it off.

Running Tally

$3981 USD

We bring forward $3839 USD.  The MKS Custom Pro pedals were a whopping $142 USD inclusive of shipping from

The Sausage Factory

Always grease those pedal threads, always.  Future generations of bike collectors will thank you.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Phoenix Project - Final Concept Buzzwords

Background on The Phoenix Project is available here and here.

Throughout the seemingly endless duration of The Phoenix Project, I have struggled with coining a term for what type of bike is the end product.

seems distinctly vague and is sounds like somebody trying to tart up a cheap bike. Sensible cycle reminds me of platform pedals and oddballs with oddball gizmos while extreme cost of this project is anything but sensible.

Although the frame and gearing support touring, this is not a touring bike, as the rack space is limited and it is not fully ruggedized. The same goes for camping bike, not to mention I sort of hate camping.

The 35mm tires rule out randonneur bike, at least in the modern sense of the term.

The list goes on, but none of the pre-existing categories exactly seemed to express the combination of elements in what we've done with the 1985 Trek 620 in The Phoenix Project.

But this morning, the category, a new one of my creation, finally came to me in a flash. So after a meeting in Bethesda, I took the long way home to snap a few pictures to see if I could capture the essence of this category. Here is the best of the lot:

So here it is folks, an estate bike™. First and foremost, an estate bike™ is tasteful and refined, extremely high quality but not flashy.  Stylistically, it carries on traditions and elements of its predecessors but is not a slavish or cartoonishly self-conscious reproduction.

As the pastoral name implies, it is comfortable and accomodating in all weather both on and off pavement but makes no pretenses about club racing or anything more daunting than gravel and moderate mud.

The parts on an estate bike™ are the products of established vendors at the pinnacle of their domain and are exquisite renditions of proven designs rather than the latest cycling marketing trends.

A perfunctory Googling shows that this is not a preexisting category, at least not a well-identified one - I'm glad that I thought of this term before Grant Petersen, who came up with country bike.  Admittedly, estate bike™ is a similar concept, but a little less rowdy, a bit more elegant, and perhaps with a trust fund in the background somewhere.

Proceeding with dignity toward the local village on an estate bike™, one is supremely unperturbed by skinny tire racer boys whipping by except to the extent that it brings to mind fond memories of one's mint but very dusty full C Record Colnago hanging in the garage.

Oooh, I do love this picture, but it does mean I am going to have to lose the plastic water bottles and get some stainless ones.