How Low Normal Can You Go?

Like people, bicycles are subject to various ailments, and my Specialized RockCombo is coming down with a case of progressive Awesome-itis:

While I suppose “Awesome-itis” would technically mean a swelling of the awesome, I am of course using the suffix colloquially, and what I really mean is experiencing more of an outbreak of upgrades that are together making it rather a fine bicycle. (Though yes, I realize these things are highly subjective, and that to many this bike is horrifically ugly and dated.) The most major improvement thus far came via the XT-hubbed wheelset that conferred upon the bike Hyperglide cassette compatibility. Less dramatically, I gave it some new pedals over the weekend:

As I convert to flat pedals almost exclusively I realize I need a wider and more rectangular platform than the beartrap-style pedals I was using, and as a pathalogical bargain-hunter I figured I’d try these cheap plastic numbers. So far they feel good, though I was way off on the color, which I naively hoped would match the turquoise of the frame–though the funk factor of the bike is so high I don’t think it really matters.

Along with the Normcore Nostalgia Bike, Paul at Classic Cycle sent me two “bonus” items. One was this book by an obscure American cyclist:

Seen here partaking in a mid-speech refreshment:

And the other was this XTR derailleur:

Experts will note from its hyper-extended resting stance that it is a “RapidRise” model. There is no surer sign that you are under the thrall of Grant Petersen than when you adopt the low-normal derailleur/friction shifter combo that he espouses as the ne plus ultra of bicycle transmissions. The final step in surrendering completely to this sandaled svengali is to start spelling derailleur as “derailer,” and while my muscle memory simply won’t allow me to type that, it has adapted quite readily to the aforementioned combo. Indeed, with a low-normal derailleur and a friction shifter the chain leaps to the largest cog like a puppy into your lap, so I was delighted to receive the above specimen and eager to low-normalize another of my bicycles.

After much consideration, I decided to grace the RockCombo with it. Certainly the Altus I’d put on there for better spoke clearance with the new wheels was functioning just fine:

But the XTR derailleur would elevate the bike’s transmission from “quirky” to “exotic,” which I thought it deserved. Here are the two units together, by the way:

Some say RapidRise went away because riders didn’t like it. However, I suspect it was either the aforementioned hyper-extended resting stance, which makes them annoying to store and package relative to a regular derailleur (see above), or else a trademark dispute with the people at Fleischmann’s:

Pro tip: Fleischmann’s RapidRise and water makes for a fantastic tubeless tire sealant!

Anyway, I swapped the derailleurs with a minimum of fuss, and while I’ve only done an up-and-down-the-block test ride so far, it feels great:

While I was at it, I also gave the bike the Brooks from my Brompton:

In the not-too-distant future I will likely change the shifters, which do handle the wider 8-speed cassette of the new wheels but are at the very edge of their range, at which point the bicycle will have reached either Terminal Awesomeness or Pathological Absurdity, depending on your own velocipedal sensibilities. Either way, I’ve somehow acquired a sub-collection of 1989 bicycles, so clearly I have an affinity for the technology of the era:

Oh, and the Nashbar shirt came, which means I am going to absolutely destroy the Five Boro Bike Tour!

Speaking of various eras in cycling, I found myself at a popular chain sporting goods store over the weekend, where I got a sense the ubiquity of both ebikes:

And gravel bikes:

I have no interest in removing the downtube shifters from the Normcore Nostalgia Bike, but it’s worth noting that the integrated levers on the sporting good store gravel bike would probably be a direct fit:

I may act all haughty when it comes to ebikes and gravel bikes, but the ready accessibility of both to the casual shopper is a net positive, and when you factor in other stuff like (gradual) bike lane network expansion:

Hopefully it’s a harbinger of a good things to come:

And yes, I did take that picture from the driver’s seat of THE CAR THAT I OWN, but everyone else had also stopped to do the same thing. So that makes it okay.

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