I wear many caps, but perhaps none fits me more poorly than that of Official Spokesdork for the Five Boro Bike Tour:
Indeed, so checked out am I that I completely forgot it’s this coming Sunday!
Fortunately, like Five Boro legend Lawrence Orbach, I have been training. In fact, as recently as last Friday I was stalking the lower Hudson Valley on the Vengeance Bike, which of course I borrowed for last year’s Tour and have so far failed to return:
I remain shocked by how much I’ve come to like this bike, which I had only planned to keep for a short time, but which has now been with me for a year and was even my partner for an Alpine tryst back in early September:
Holy fuck was that amazing:
I realize I’ve alluded to this trip several times, but I’ve mostly remained reticent about it because I wrote a story about it for Bicycling and didn’t want to babble too much in the meantime. However, last I heard it’s not going to appear until at least October, which means by the time it actually comes out (assuming it does) it’ll have been over a year and I’ll have to read the story myself in order to remember it. Therefore, it hardly seems untoward to share a little bit more about it in the meantime.
Basically, this tech company I’d never heard of put on a big ride through the Swiss Alps, which included Tadej Pogačar. They wanted a journalist along too, and I guess my name must pop up when you do an Internet search for “cycling writer,” because I can’t think of any other reason they’d invite me and they certainly didn’t seem to know who I was. Naturally I said yes, and while I didn’t quite know what to expect, I wound up having perhaps the most profound cycling experience of my life:
Admittedly, at least some of that perceived profundity might have been due to the extreme physical distress of pushing a 42×21 up several giant mountains, and perhaps if I’d ridden a bike with a 28-tooth cog and a compact crank like a sensible person it would have seemed less like a religious epiphany and more like, I dunno, a really nice ride around Switzerland. Or maybe it would have been just as transformative no matter what I’ve been riding, who knows? Certainly I’d never experienced riding switchback after switchback after switchback while enveloped in fog for what seemed like an eternity…
…only to finally reach the top in a state of complete surrender and utter elation:
It’s hard not to convey what that feels like without resorting to Rapha marketing clichés, so I’ll just say it was pretty cool and leave it at that. However, I will add that on the descent that followed this, one rider’s rear disc brake failed. He was fine but it was rather disconcerting and ultimately he had to get in the van. Meanwhile, my allegedly terrible Delta brakes didn’t give me a lick of trouble the entire time. (Well, except early in the trip when I discovered the front one was loose, but fixing it was a simple matter of pulling over and snugging up the mounting bolt.)
You’ve now read 90% of the Bicycling article.
Anyway, as attached as I’ve become to the Vengeance Bike, I wonder if a fitting end to our time together would be for me to ride it one more time at the Five Boro Bike Tour…
…and then return it to Classic Cycle’s collection:
Not only would this be poignant, but it would also give people a chance to visit the museum and see the legendary Vengeance Bike in person. As much as I’d miss it, it also seems unfair to deprive the public the chance to experience what is now undeniably a piece of cycling history.
We’ll see. These are the sorts of major life decisions I have to make on a regular basis. Semi-professional bike blogging is not easy.
In the meantime, while riding yesterday I did contemplate what my life would be like without the Vengeance Bike, and if the Normcore Bike alone would be enough to fill the ’80s road bike-shaped hole in my heart:
As with the Vengeance Bike, I’ve invested an embarrassing amount of time in getting the Normcore Bike to run smoothly:
It does run smoothly, too. Generally it runs more quietly and smoothly than the Vengeance Bike, which exhibits some creaks and rattles. The Shimano 105 stuff is also generally less fussy than the C-Record stuff on the Vengeance Bike, though the shifters don’t feel as nice. The Campy shifters feel like spreading smooth peanut butter, whereas these are a little more like spreading chunky style:
That’s in friction mode of course. In index mode they feel…indexed. But I don’t use them in index mode because indexing isn’t compatible with facial hair.
Also the brake levers aren’t as comfortable as the Campy ones, which are currently my favorites:
Then there’s the designer looks as well as the sheer overbuilt-ness of the C-Record, which is beguiling if you’re a bike dork, but which also accounts for the aforementioned fussiness. You do get the sense you could probably keep rebuilding C-Record forever, assuming you’re willing to do stuff like pay lots of money for tiny parts on eBay. However, you could probably also keep that 105 stuff going forever without having to rebuild it at all, so there’s that. There’s also a lot I find beguiling about the 105, such as the sort of blued steel finish on the brakes and hubs:
I’ve also always thought these brakes feel really nice, and I love them for exactly the opposite reason I love the Deltas, which is that they’re extremely simple. As for what “really nice” means, I dunno, they just feel really smooth and they work. If you need more than that, go read something like this:
He lost me at “noticeable hammock:”
Watch out for that “bite force.”
Besides the Campy stuff, the Vengeance Bike also just feels better in general, which like most things bike is probably just down to that ineffable mélange of fit, materials, parts, geometry, aesthetics, what you ate for breakfast that morning, and how snugly your banana hammock happens to be fitting. Nevertheless, I also find the Normcore Bike both satisfying and enjoyable, and the fact that it’s so pedestrian when juxtaposed with the Vengeance Bike’s dated opulence endears it to me even more. Then there’s the fact I used to own this exact bike, and there are times I’ll shift or get out of the saddle and the wind will carry some sort of seasonal fragrance to my nostrils and I’ll remember some ride from many years ago and how I felt and what was going on in my life, and there’s not really an upgrade you can buy that will do that.
Moving on to more pedestrian matters (literally, since the “ped” prefix pertains to the foot), it’s now been over six months since I received the “entry level” Pearl Izumi Quest shoes:
I’m incapable of saying where in the hammock the sole flex is when I’m in the power phase of the pedal stroke, so instead I’ll say I’ve been using them for all my clipped-in road rides during that time and I like everything about them, and they get bonus points for being fairly easy to walk in by road shoe standards.
Hey, I may not know anything about bite force and power bands, and I may have holes in my knee warmers, but at least my socks kinda match my jersey: