I didn’t get out of town for Labor Day weekend and with the weather improving, I decided to go for a good ride. This time I headed north on the Burke-Gilman and Sammamish River rail trails, entering the trail near Matthews Beach Park in the northeast corner of Seattle and passing though the bedroom communities of Lake Forest Park, Kenmore, Bothell, a side trip into Kirkland and turning around in the town of Woodinville.
I was up for a good urban adventure last Wednesday, so I loaded up the bike and took off for a loop through downtown Seattle using as many rail trails as possible. I live in the northeast quadrant of Seattle and it is about 7 miles to the downtown area by the most direct route, but using rail trails and some connecting streets, I made a trip to the west side of the city, along the waterfront, back through the city center and back home in a 27 mile loop.
I got a new bike a couple months ago and it has been a great addition to my lifestyle.
My wife has a Jamis Coda Sport “urban” bike supplied by her employer to help reduce parking congestion and comply with the Washington State Commute Trip Reduction law. I had an old yard sale hybrid bike in storage and I tuned it up so we could take some weekend rides together. It was okay, but keeping up with my wife wasn’t easy, what with the fat tires on my bike and the 32c commuter tires on hers. I was in a thrift store soon after we started and found a pristine Trek PDX — for $69.95!
I’ve found that bicycles are like cars when it comes to design and customizing and the customizing bug bit me on this one. I’ve been experimenting with tires, handlebars, lights and racks to get this bike outfitted for my needs.
The bike came with 700x28c road tires and after using a bike running fat tires, I appreciated the speed of the skinny tires, but they scared me on the lumps and bumps. We live close to the Burke-Gilman Trail that was reclaimed from a railway that ran from the north end of Lake Washington to Puget Sound near the Ballard neighborhood. The trail is a fantastic urban biking resource, but it has a lot of bumps from roots that have raised the pavement, particularly in the area near the University of Washington. Hitting one of those sharp bumps with a 28c tire at 15mph is bone jarring and it can be hard to see them in the areas with mixed sun and shade. I tried some 35c tires, but they were a little big for the 622-15 rims and there was a speed penalty.
I have gotten a lot of great bike advice from Max Dilthey’s blog, Max, the Cyclist . Max has done some extensive touring and he has been a patient tutor for me. One of Max’s recommendations was for Schwalbe Marathon tires and I think he is right. I ordered up a pair of 700x32c HS420 tires and they are working well for me. They have a 3mm thick rubber insert for puncture resistance and the tread pattern is a good balance of traction, rolling resistance and durability.
Handlebar height was an issue for me. I have a bit of arthritis in my neck and looking up while leaning over the bars is difficult. The bike came with a set of aluminum hybrid style bars with about 1″ rise and swept back about 25° and mounted on a 150mm/15° stem. I have short arms for my height too, so raising the bars and reducing the reach are both helpful. I started off by trying a steerer tube extension. The extension was a quick and dirty way to raise the existing bars, but adds to the complexity and looks patched too. My first question was to the strength of the arrangement, but I had no issues using this over a period of a couple months and there was no tendency to loosen or odd steering feel.
I was looking at different handlebars with a thought to a stem with less reach and bars with more rise, but I ran across the Origin8 Classique CargoUnit basket and handlebar combination.
The handlebars have 80mm rise and are an inch narrower than the stock Trek bars. They have two mounting bars, so they can be raised another 4″ if needed. With that and juggling the stem height spacers on the steerer tube, there is a good range of height adjustment. I tried the lower bar first with the stem at the bottom of the steerer tube, but that was too high, so I opted for the upper mount with the stem mounted at the top of the steerer tube.
Stem design was some concern as all the cargo weight is carried on the stem, with no stays or supports running to the fork. I’m not a “performance” cyclist by any means and don’t plan on crashing down some single track with this rig, nor any plans to haul heavy loads. But this load carrying basket called for a stem with a four bolt clamp for the handlebars and I found a used flat black stem with a shorter 50mm reach at Recycled Cycles, near the University of Washington.
My Alchemy Goods Pike model messenger bag fills the basket well and that is about what I had in mind. I can bring home a bag of groceries (or even a 12 pack) with no worries. The assembly is flat black and goes with the bike perfectly. While I was at it, I added some Origin8 Pulsion lock-on grips.
The mirror is a Mirrycle Mountain mirror that I found in a thrift store for $1.99. It’s perfect and allows me to keep an eye on traffic behind me on the street and the bike trails too. I picked up the bell at a flea market for $2. Bells can seem fussy, but they really help notifying pedestrians and other cyclists when I’m passing. The computer is a recent purchase, a wireless SunDing SD-548C that has more than enough functions for my needs: speed, mileage, and clock are all at my fingertips. You can find them from US suppliers on eBay for $6.99, including the shipping. I was surprised how well it works. I did break one by dropping it hard and one of the buttons went flying, so I just bought another complete unit.
My next project was the rear rack. I had a Planet Bike rack on my other bike and hacked it to work with the Trek. Disk brakes make the left side of the rear hub very busy. The previous owner had installed SKS fenders and did a good job of bending the stays to fit around all the brake hardware. The Planet Bike rack wasn’t designed for disk brakes but I was able to use P-clamps to hang it on the seat stays, That left the rack farther forward and higher, so I had less heel clearance and anything carried on top of the rack tended to bump me in the butt. I ended up putting the rack on my daughter’s bike and tired one of Performance Bike’s Transit TD-1 racks designed for disk brakes. They are very inexpensive at $24.99 on sale and it worked okay, but I really wanted to clean up that rear hub area.
I found a Toba Roger rack at a local bike shop. The basic Roger model is study in simple elegant design and it is made for disk brakes. It also incorporates a rear fender as part of the support, so I could get rid of all the SKS stays at the same time. But I was concerned that the Roger model would not allow enough heel clearance and I found a variation on the design, a Roger The Randonneur rack that has all the elements of the basic Roger model with a top rack as well. That model allows moving panniers back farther on the rack as well as trunk bags or other items strapped to the top. I swapped the stock skewer for a Shimano 178mm version. The original was about 3mm short of reaching the end of the acorn nut and I wanted full coverage with this critical part.
Before and after:
I think it is well suited to the overall design of the Trek and makes a good pairing with the Origin8 basket. It begged for a light and I found a cool bolt-on fender tail light: a Spanninga Pixio Xb. It is very bright, but lacks “blinky” modes. Toba needs to step up to the plate and make a rear light for these integrated fender racks, as well as making a matching front fender.
I looked for a flat front fender to match the Toba. I found flat Civia fenders in pairs only and held off on ordering them. I was in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood the other day and took a look at the Dutch Bikes shop on Leary Way. One of their helpful staff understood my design concepts and came up with a used front fender from a Dutch WorkBike. I think it works well with the rest of the accessories on my bike and it is flat black, of course. It came with a great Bibia mud flap too– all for $15.
I am experimenting with front lighting. I got a Blackburn Voyager and Mars light set which are small and light and good for identification, but I wanted something to light up a dark path at night. I have used Fenix flashlights and headlamps for hiking and found a Fenix bike handlebar mount. It is plastic and a bit large and clunky. One side clamps to the handlebars, or in this case to the side of the bottom tube on the basket. The other side holds a flashlight from 18-28mm diameter and rotates with a detent, simply twisting to the angle you want. It rattled and I took it apart to see if I could cure that. The two sections pivot on a shaft that has a washer and “e” clip holding it all together. It should have some sort of spring or spring washer to keep it snug. The shaft would have to be longer to add a spring and I chose to remove it and replace it with a screw and aircraft style lock nut. That allowed me to tighten the nut to the point that it didn’t rattle and the locking style nut would stay put when adjusting the light.
I thought I would try one of the Ultrafire C3 flashlights with an extension tube using two AA batteries and rated at 15o lumens. It has a click switch on the bottom and is single mode: on or off, with no intermediate levels or flashing. What a piece of junk! If the tubes are tightened together, it won’t stay lit. I assume the batteries and spring are putting too much pressure on the switch and distorting it somehow. If the tubes are rotated just a bit, it will work normally. It was $12 and change on eBay and I’m afraid it is a classic case of getting what you paid for.
I’m also experimenting with one of the Nite Ize Lite Ride GT flashlight mounts that has a plastic saddle with two of the “‘gear ties” to hold it in place. It is very light at 0.8oz and easy to install. It works better than I expected and can also be used as a simple stand for your small flashlight.
That’s about it for my modifications on the Trek to date. Here is the whole bike as it is now: