New Outside Column! New Shifters! New Everything!!!

Hello! I’ve got a new Outside column, and it’s about commuting:

Astute readers will note that also used to commute to my radio show, which means I didn’t really take a 14-year hiatus, but consider that an important lesson about never trusting the corporate media.

Speaking of commuting, yesterday I, uh, commuted. Though I’ve been riding the Homer, I went with the Eye of the Tiger Bike, just for a little variety:

While the air was considerably clearer than it had been, there was virtually no bicycle or pedestrian traffic, and the relatively few people that were out were mostly wearing masks:

We’ve become very well-trained animals, and it’s remarkable how quickly and dutifully we now revert to catastrophe mode. Please note this is not me saying MAN UP AND BREATH THE SMOKE YOU WOOSIES!!! Obviously when the air is as bad as it was it makes perfect sense to take reasonable precautions, and to stay inside if you’ve got nowhere to be. I just find it interesting that society now has two modes–the in-person mode, and the virtual mode–and it’s becoming more and more normal to simply toggle between them. (Apart from people who have jobs that involve actually doing stuff, that is, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.) Sometimes I wonder if we’re becoming too afraid of the world, but I suppose it’s all part of humanity’s evolution, and the gradual process of uploading our collective consciousness into the digital realm.

This isn’t to say nobody was riding. Of course people were, and some of them even had saddles that looked like extreme close-ups of flies:


Still, the West Side Greenway in particular was very quiet, even later that evening:

And I can’t say I minded the elbow room because it can be a real shitshow:

Meanwhile, the smoke had finally relinquished my view:

All in all, things were looking rosy…or whatever those flowers are, I’m not a Flower Fred:

Then this morning, having obtained a new pair of brake hoods, I resumed my aborted friction shifter retrofit operation on the Milwaukee. Obviously the first thing I did was remove the STI levers, paying close attention to the condition of the cables, since I’d recently learned that they’re supposed to destroy them:

They were totally fine:

The cable seems like takes a fairly straight path through the lever body, at least for the first few centimeters, so I’m not sure why the head would come off, as people seem to say they do. There was a bend further up, though overall it seems like the cable has to bend a lot less than it does on a downtube shifter:

Maybe it has to do with what kind of ferrule you use, or what kind of housing you use, or how you cut it, since I guess I could see the cable getting worn away where it enters and leaves the cable as you shift. Or maybe it’s something else altogether. But you what? IT’S NOT MY PROBLEM ANYMORE! In fact it never was. Not only have I never even had the issue in the first place, but now the Milwaukee is officially equipped with downtube friction shifters:

I reused the old dirty bar tape because it came off in one piece, plus I figured there was no sense using new bar tape just in case I didn’t like how things turned out and I needed to unwrap the bars again. Well, I doubt that will be necessary, because as much as I’d been enjoying the integrated shifting, as soon as I headed out on the reconfigured bike I knew I’d made the right decision:

How silly worrying about the slight differences between Shimano and Campagnolo cassettes seems when you’re using a smooth and elegant shifter that doesn’t give a shit what’s going on back there. Campy? Shimano? 7, 8, 9, 10? It’ll work perfectly on all of them, and more. I did wonder if I’d miss the comfort of the STI levers themselves, what with their modern ergonomics and all, but I didn’t because the shape and position of the regular old-fashioned levers felt great:

Not only that, but the brakes felt more powerful–not that there was anything wrong with them before, but I still noticed it. This could be because I’d changed the cables and housing. Or it could be because I think the STI levers I was using have a revised cable pull, but those brakes don’t, and neither do the traditional brake levers I’m now using. Or maybe it was just my imagination. Anyway, the bike stops really good is what I’m saying. It also rides really good, and I’d argue it looks at least as good as anything you’ll find at one of those custom bike show circle jerks:

So who knew? All these years my dream road bike was right there under my ample proboscis. Go figure.

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