Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Varsity Day 2 --

I spend most of my time in the drops, even climbing, thanks to the traditional-bend handlebars and riser stem. Flipping that over seems like a good idea, though it'll take some extra effort, because I'll have to loosen the shifters to get off the faceplate. It's a 4-bolt stem, surprisingly enough, and it looks like it weighs a ton. Flipping it over might make it a sort of ridiculous drop. I THINK I have a 110mm stem in regular old diameter, and a 1" shim, hiding around here somewhere.

Most of the time has also been in the 42 x 18 gear; I'm comfortable there because that's how my fixie is set up. Plenty of times, as I'm about to go down a slight hill, I'd upshift on my normal road bike, but I don't on the Varsity, because it'd take too much time to make things shift properly. Twice already today I've fouled a shift, making things bang and jam before the bike finally found a gear. Of course, both of those times I was going uphill, out of the saddle. Apparently, shifting at that time is Not Supposed to be Done then. My fancy SRAM-equipped race bike, what with 1-gear jumps, shift ramps, pins, even "open-glide" missing teeth, is too forgiving.

Right now, I'm going up McMurray in Tacoma, another of the plethora of 500-foot-gain climbs I can find, and at the steepest bit I shift down to 42 x 24. Back off a bit, click, then hit the gas again -- okay, that worked. I think. I get back out of the saddle and reflexively cringe, but there's no sudden jump of gears. Okay, then. I crest the hill, cruise through the little neighborhood, and then swing back down the descent to the harbor. Heading down, the Varsity feels a whole lot slower than my race bike, but I'm really not sure if it's the resistance, or the feedback. Steering is slow and predictable; the 25mm tires are cushier than race rubber.

This is the first time I've had the chance to really descend with the Varsity, since my first ride was pretty wet. The brakes aren't spectacular, but in the dry they're okay. I think with some better pads and holders they would be as okay as on most entry-level bikes. I am going to try and dig out my backup mount for my Garmin Edge, as well, since this is one of the only places where average speed might be interesting.

Other notes:

* The saddle that the bike came with is surprisingly not so uncomfortable, though it's heavily padded. From what I can tell, I'm not the most discerning rider in this area, though. One concern I'd have about it's long-term viability is that it's got a bunch of simple foam padding. That'd probably break down pretty quickly, and then things would be bad. Fortunately, saddles are cheap. Or, at least CAN be, holy crap, $240? Anyway, this one feels all cushy and comfy for the first few miles, but doesn't lend itself to performance-style riding. I'm replacing it tonight with a more normal road saddle, for my anatomy's sake.

* Nuts and Bolts and Screws: the bike is full of them. Regular nuts bolts, the kind that take a box wrench, and phillips-head screws. I don't think most actual modern road bikes have anything on them that isn't allen key, except for derailleur limit screws and the like.

* Finally, I just checked out the stem closer, and two things stood out: it is 1 1/8", and it is steel. Tonight I am going to replace it with a zero-rise stem, change out the saddle, and make the bars make a little more sense. Next thing to try is tires.

Ride time: 1:25
Miles : 23
Total miles : 43


  • At 4:41 AM , Blogger Eben said...

    Hey man, been following your experiment with a half smile/half grimace.....wouldn't be caught dead riding that bike! I'm glad to hear you have been giving it enough mechanical attention to keep it from falling apart or crippling you.

    Regardless of the advisability though, it sounds like a fun distraction while you acclimate to your fancy cat 2 racer boy status ;-)

    "* Nuts and Bolts and Screws: the bike is full of them. "

    In my experience this is what actually spells the demise of these department store bikes. Long before the parts wear out they go out of adjustment, just like any bike. The problem comes when you strip out a cheapie nut, bolt, or screw trying to get things back into adjustment. For most beginning riders the bike is now functionally dead and a suitable replacement part is going to be hard to find for any price one could justify.

    Good luck with the clunker and with the racing, I'll be looking forward your updates on both!

  • At 10:29 AM , Blogger Argentius said...


    I'm beginning to agree with you. The thing that concerns me most are the shifters. I've tweaked them a couple of times already, and they are mounted with a cheapie screw. Should they fail, I can either source a 7-speed Sora STI, or I can mount barend shifters.

    This project is painful to me, too! The past two days I've done several few hours on my real road bike as well as the short rides on the Varsity. The difference is pretty huge.

    Glad you're at least interested. I have had so many people who have considered trying cycling, but the sunk cost is prohibitive. I know you've helped friends build bikes out of parts bins because of this!

    I've always wondered what the most basic ride you could reasonably get started with was... so, I'm going to find out!

  • At 2:14 PM , Blogger STOKED I AM said...

    After your weather whining, you owe us a salute to sunshine. :)

  • At 11:07 PM , Anonymous IcemanYQQ said...

    Thanks for the update, it's been great reading your progress. Your good bike must feel like a feather compared to the varsity.

    This is a great experiment, but I think that $500 might be a better target for a decent roadbike, especially if you go used.

  • At 1:05 AM , Blogger Argentius said...

    Iceman -- Yes, you're right, $500 would buy a nice used bike. That's sort of my point! I know you can get a good used roadbike for $500. We cyclists all have a pretty good idea of what that looks like.

    Someone who knows what they are after can put a pretty good bike together, out of used parts, pretty cheaply.

    But, what about a random beginner?
    That's 250% increase in price on this shiny piece of equipment. If they took their $200 ($217 in WA!) and went to the W-M, would they get a decent, rideable bike?

    I was pretty curious -- what IS the renaissance of the cheap department-store 10-speed road bike?

    We'll find out.


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