So yesterday I bundled up and took it out on a proper ride:
Clothing choice was important, because not only was it cold, but it was also windy–so windy even the porta-potties had to adapt an aero position:
Prior to heading out, I also made some small changes to the bike. Firstly, after some deliberation I decided to go clipless. Rather than use my usual Time pedals, I figured I’d hew closer to period-correctness by going with the Shimano M737s Paul from Classic Cycle had sent with the American M-16:
Oh, and I’ve since put the flat pedals that came with the Rock Combo onto the M-16:
Not only do they look better than the platforms I had on there, but they also feel better, since I pedal (and walk) with my toes pointing out so the rounded profile feels slightly more natural to me.
Also, in putting the Rock Combo together, I had noticed it was missing a ferrule on the rear brake cable housing, and that the cable stop was sort of digging into the housing as a result. So rather than undo the brake cable, remove the housing, and put a ferrule on properly, I instead found a plastic one and cut it in half:
My plan here was to kind of sandwich it on there. However, when I did so the ferrule would not fit all the way in the cable stop–probably because I’d deformed it in the process of cutting. So instead I just used half a ferrule and called it good:
Not only is it successfully doing the work of a full ferrule, but it was also way easier than installing an intact one–and, most importantly, it saves weight! This is yet more proof that laziness is the mother of ingenuity. Or something.
For my route, I more or less duplicated my ambitious singlespeed mixed-terrain outing from last week, though I did leave out one section of trail in the interest of time. Nevertheless, the route still featured plenty of pavement, dirt, and singletrack. And while peak foliage season may be over and the scenery is considerably less colorful, the exuberant decals on the Rock Combo more than made up for it:
So how did it fare? Well, on the trails it was quite nimble, and yet riding in the drops offered plenty of stability. The only time the bars seemed like maybe they were a bit of a liability were on steep, rocky climbs, but that may just have been because I wasn’t yet used to the bike. Also, the narrow tires may have been a factor, and even more crucially all that foliage I was talking about is now piled on top of the ground:
The upshot of this is that you can’t even see many of the roots, rocks, and holes–plus they’re quite slippery–which makes all-terrain cycling more challenging on any bicycle.
Then there were the bakes:
People love to complain about cantilevers. Yes, setup can certainly be finicky, but I’ve never really had much of a problem with them as far as stopping power. Granted, I’m not exactly pushing the limits of performance, but in years of mountain biking and cyclocrossing I’ve generally found them to work sufficiently well for my meager purposes.
That was not quite the case with these brakes. While I certainly wouldn’t say I found them disconcerting or grossly lacking, I did have to apply quite a bit of pressure to the brake levers, and I did long for additional retarding force on the more mountain-bikey portions of my ride. I’m not sure if this was a function of the brake design, or the aged pads, or the nearly virginal anodized braking surface of the rims, but there was certainly room for improvement, even by vintage bike standards.
Speaking of safety, it wasn’t until about 15 or 20 miles into my ride that it occurred to me to worry about the integrity of my 31 year-old tires:
Those knobs look about as secure as truffles in a Godiva gift box:
Besides the novel proto-gravel bike aspect of the Rock Combo, another aspect of the bike I find compelling is that it is pretty much a contemporary of the M-16, which gives me a chance to do a side-by-side comparison of the componentry of the era. For example, the Combo has mid-range Suntour components, and if you look at the cogs you’ll see they don’t have all the ramps and stuff we now take for granted:
The result is that the Rock Combo shifts with the “chatter-chatter-chatter-ker-THUNK” with which old people and riders of vintage bicycles are all familiar.
Meanwhile, the M-16, what with with its fancy high-end Deore XT Hyperglide drivetrain, shifts much more quickly and quietly, and feels like a major upgrade in comparison:
Of course, it’s important to note that the Suntour components on the Combo is not their top-tier stuff, whereas the Deore XT was shimano’s flagship mountain bike group at the time (this was before XTR ), and if you’d like to dork out on the Rock Combo’s stock specs you may do so here.
All that aside, the Rock Combo was more or less ideal for an all-terrain ramble of this nature–and yes, I did the whole ride in jeans:
These jeans are definitely the Rock Combo of pants–an I mean that in the best possible way.