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The Bearings We All Forget

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Bicycles run on bearings.  Starting from the front of the bicycle, there are bearings in the front wheel hub, which allow the wheel to spin on its axle.  There are bearings in the headset, which is the assembly that connects the front fork to the frame, and permits the fork to turn for steering and balancing.  There are bearings in the bottom bracket, which allow the crankset spindle to rotate freely.  There are bearings in the rear wheel hub and the freewheel attached to it.  There are bearings in the two rear derailleur pulleys.

Bearings Bicycle.png

Cyclists pay lots of attention to the bearings in wheels and drivetrains.  These are the bearings which help the bicycle’s forward progress.  Any reduction in friction (loss of watts, in cyclist’s parlance) is highly sought after.  These bearings are regularly serviced. Steel bearings are often replaced with ceramic bearings, which have a lower rolling resistance.

Headset bearings get less love.  Bike mechanics should check headset adjustment when servicing bikes.  Occasionally a headset needs tightening.  It is usually only after the rider feels roughness, notchiness, or uneven drag while steering, that headset bearing get serviced or replaced.

And the bearings we all forget?  The ones in our pedals.  Cyclists notice when their cleats need replacing.  The wear is visible, and that wear is often made tangible by clipping in and out of the pedals requiring either too much or too little force.

Pedals just seem to go on and on doing their job with no fuss or bother.  That adage about the squeaky wheel is certainly true where pedals are concerned.

I bought my Alchemy Eros, and the Speedplay pedals that I specified for the bike, in June 2015.  I had given my pedals little or no thought since then.

A week ago the bike developed an irritating click.  Lim, the mechanic at The Bike Artisans, thought that my pedals could be the source of the noise.  The pedals were spinning too freely on their spindles, which is a sign that they needed regreasing.  He didn’t have a needle-type grease injector gun, so couldn’t do the quick and easy pedal maintenance via the grease port hole built into the pedal bodies.

When I got home I consulted the Speedplay website.  Speedplay recommends that the pedal bearings be regreased at least every 3,200 km / 2000 mi, or every two months.

Bearings What

That means my pedals should have been regreased between five and twelve times by now.

I found online instructions to disassemble my pedals.  The Spindle Screw was held in place by some Loctite Threadlocker Blue, but I got the screw to turn without having to heat it, as mentioned in some posts.  The fiddliest step was removing the retaining ring.

It is possible to replace the bearings – Speedplay sells a pedal rebuild kit for USD100 which replaces everything but the spindles.  I just cleaned all the parts, flushed out what grease was left in the bearings, flooded the pedal body with fresh grease, and reassembled the pedals.

Bearings Pedal Disassembly

Diagram courtesy of

So far so good.  The pedals are turning smoothly and quietly.

Unfortunately that irritating click is still there.

Bearings Irritated


I have found the source of the click.  It was coming from the rear dropouts.  A touch of lubrication between the QR faces and the dropouts, and silence was restored.

Thank you Uffe Lindhardt for the link to Keep It Quiet!  Jim Langley’s wide-ranging bicycle blog is an excellent resource.

New BB for the Alchemy Eros

Bottom Bracket (BB):  The bottom bracket connects the crankset (chainset) to the bicycle and allows the crankset to rotate freely.  It contains a spindle or axle that the crankset attaches to, and the bearings that allow the spindle and cranks to rotate.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In my post about my broken saddle, I mentioned that I was told about the snapped rail after I sent the Alchemy Eros to Meng Thai Cycle for servicing.  The bike needed a service because the BB was clicking sporadically.

The bike came with a Chris King BB.  After the crankset had been removed, the mechanic discovered that the BB bearing on one side of the BB shell was almost frozen.  As the BB bearings came out of the BB shell, a gush of water followed.

The Eros frame does not have a drain hole in the BB shell, or in the chain stays.  So the water that found its way into the frame, most likely by wicking down the seat post, accumulated in the BB shell.

This is what a new Chris King Press Fit 30 BB looks like.

Chris King PF 30

Photograph courtesy of Chris King

This is what came out of my frame.


Clearly, the water in the BB shell had not done the bearings any good.  The damage was so bad that the BB had to be replaced.

Chris King BBs are hard to find in Kuala Lumpur.  Meng Thai Cycle had a compatible Tripeak Twist Fit BB on hand.

Tripeak Logo

Logo courtesy of

I had read about twist fit BBs in the past.  They were touted as an elegant solution for creaking press fit BBs.  In April 2015 BikeRadar published a piece about Legit Engineering’s twist fit BB.  Seventeen months later, published an article about the similar Token thread fit BB.

Both versions feature bearing cups wrapped in a plastic and fibreglass composite material.  This prevents metal-to-metal contact between the bearing cups and the frame, thus eliminating creaks.

The clever part of this solution is that the bearing cups thread together, tightly sandwiching the BB shell in between the cups to prevent movement.

Tripeak PF30 Twist Fit BB 4

Photograph courtesy of

The Tripeak name was new to me.  It turns out that Legit Engineering has been rebranded as Tripeak.  Click on the link on the URL shown on the Legit Engineering Facebook page and you get taken to the marketing site for Tripeak.   The Legit Engineering Twist Fit BB (upper photograph) and Tripeak Twist Fit are are identical, save for branding.

Legit Twist Fit BB 1

Photograph courtesy of

Tripeak PF30 Twist Fit BB 3

Photograph courtesy of

After more than 15,000km / 9,300mi on a Chris King PF30 BB, my cranks now turn in a Tripeak Twist Fit BB.  So far so good.

Chris King BBs come with a 5-year built-to-last warranty.  I sent photographs and a description of the problem to Alchemy Bicycle Co.  Alchemy was whom I had “bought” the Chris King BB from when I purchased my fully built-up bike.

Alchemy has submitted those details to Chris King, but have not yet heard back from them.  It is a limited warranty, so it is very likely that damage or failure due to water in the BB shell is not covered.

Which reminds me to take my Alchemy Eros outside, remove the seat post, and turn it upside down.  I have been on some wet rides lately.

N.B.  Taiwanese brands like Tripeak are often hard to find in the United States and Europe.  Wheels Manufacturing now offers a range of threaded BBs to replace press fit BBs.

4,000 km / 2,500 mi Update: Alchemy Eros

Alchemy Eros Full Side

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

I wrote an early review of my Alchemy Eros in October 2015.  At that time I had ridden the bike 1,400 km / 870 mi.  Today it has more than 4,000 km / 2,500 mi on it.  I have had some long days on this bike, including a 220 km / 137 mi brevet.

My impressions from last October still hold true.  This is a stiff frame with sharp handling, thanks to the large-diameter titanium tubes and the excellent welds, which meet the American Welding Society guidelines.  It tracks precisely through turns.  I have yet to induce any shimmy at high speeds.  This frame flexes very little, if at all.  The integrated rear derailleur dropout helps in that regard.

The tradeoff for this degree of stiffness is that the frame does transmit road vibration to the saddle and bar.  This is not a silky-smooth riding Ti bike.  I continue to steer around as many of the ruts, cracks, patches and other rough stuff on the roads as I can.

Fortunately the wheels that were specified with the bike, ROL Race SLs, certainly help to smooth out the ride quality of this frame.

Photograph courtesy of ROL Wheels

Photograph courtesy of ROL Wheels

The rims are 23mm wide, which allow me to use 25mm Continental Grand Prix 4000s.  I can run 80psi in the rear and 70psi in the front, which certainly helps dampen road chatter.  The ROL Race SLs are not super light at 1,555grams for the wheel set , but they are excellent value for the USD675 asking price.  The build quality is excellent, and the wheels have taken some significant hits – potholes and the like – without any ill effects.  The wheels are as true today as they were when I took delivery of this bike.

A few days ago the bike went in for its first tuneup since it left the Alchemy Bicycle Company.  The SRAM drivetrain needed a slight adjustment to offset the normal cable stretch / housing compression that happens during a new drivetrain break-in period.  And the Cane Creek 40-Series IS headset that came with the frame had loosened slightly, probably from clattering over speed bumps and the like.

I reckon it will be another 4,000 km before this bike needs another tuneup.  Assuming I don’t inflict any damage on the bike by dropping it, or, heaven forbid, crashing it.  By then I will be looking to replace the chain, and perhaps the brake pads.  In the meantime, this “Twin Towers” Eros will continue to be my ‘go to’ bike.

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

My New Best Bike: The Alchemy Eros

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

It has been two months since I laid my hands on this Alchemy Eros.  Since then this bicycle has carried me a little over 1,400km / 870 mi.  That is not an extensive amount of time or a huge distance.  But enough for me to like this bike.  I like it a lot.  So much so that I was comfortable selling the two Alchemys that came before this one.

Alchemy has what they call a Baseline DNA Chart.  Alchemy has rated each of their current lineup of bicycles on three dimensions:  ride comfort, drivetrain stiffness, and steering precision.

Chart courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Chart courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

This chart nicely summarises what I like so much about my Eros as compared to the bikes that came before.

My first Alchemy was this mostly steel frame.

Alchemy ISKY 1 1

It has Columbus Muscle carbon seat stays, and an Easton EC90 SLX carbon fork.  This was my first road bike, built for me in January 2010.  Alchemy’s builder then, James Flatman, spent a number of hours talking to me about the kind of riding I did, and what I wanted to do with the bike in the future.  At the top of my list was comfort.  I was just starting to ride longer distances.  The BP MS150 was still an aspiration.  I had yet to ride an imperial century.  I wanted a compliant bicycle to get me through those longer rides to come.

If that steel bicycle were on the Baseline DNA Chart, I would think it would score 2 (compliant) for ride comfort and drivetrain stiffness, and 3 (moderate) for steering precision.  It is certainly not a bicycle that translates every last watt the rider puts through the drivetrain into forward motion.  It does have some get up and go, but it is designed for comfort.  It is a lovely bicycle for long rides.

In January 2011 I was talking to James again.  I had been bitten by the cycling bug.  It was time to upgrade.

I had covered 3,000km / 1,864mi on the steel bike.  I still wanted comfort, but also wanted a bicycle with better power transfer.  James’ answer was this bike, with a titanium front triangle, a Columbus Muscle carbon rear triangle, and an Edge carbon front fork.

Alchemy ISKY 2 1

In Baseline DNA terms, I would score this bike 2 (compliant) for ride comfort, and 3 (moderate) for drivetrain stiffness and 3 steering precision.  This bicycle is as comfortable as the steel one.  Blindfolded, I’m not sure if I could tell the difference in the ride quality between the two.  But this frame certainly flexes less than the steel one.

Come mid-2015, and I had conjured up an excuse to upgrade again.  Alchemy had moved to Denver, and had expanded their lineup of offerings.  These offerings were also becoming much more sophisticated as the Alchemy design team developed their craft.

Ryan Cannizzaro is a founder of Alchemy Bicycle Company, and I have known him since his Austin, Texas days.  He and I exchanged emails and chatted over Skype about what I was looking for in a new bike.  I wanted a stiffer, better handling bike, and still in a metal frame.  Given the characteristics of the two Alchemys I already owned, Ryan suggested the Eros.    He felt that the Aiolos would be too similar to the titanium bike I already had.

Ryan’s recommendation was spot on.  As you can see from the DNA Baseline Chart, the Eros has greater drivetrain stiffness and steering precision than my previous bikes.  In fact, identical to the Alchemy Helios and Alchemy Aithon.  So I have carbon characteristics in a fully titanium bike, apart from the Enve carbon fork.

This bike frame has no discernible flex, at least at my decidedly non Cavendish-like power output.  The Eros is rock-solid at speed.  I have descended on it at 80kph / 50mph.  No sign of shimmy or a wobble.   It certainly has a sharper response to steering input.  This improved handling does come at the cost of ride comfort though.  I do find myself steering around rough patches of road much more than I did on my other bikes.  Or lifting off the saddle if I have to ride through the rough stuff.

The additional road vibration is a small price to pay for the increased performance.  I will miss Alchemy 1 and Alchemy 2, but I wouldn’t trade my Eros for them.

For more on the Alchemy Eros, Road Bike Action magazine has a review in their October 2015 issue.

A Bicycle for the Cognoscenti Adventure

Alchemy logo

Do all avid cyclists do this? Rationalise the need for a new bicycle based upon the flimsiest of arguments?

In my case, the arguments were that the Cognoscenti rides would be in Boulder and the surrounding area. Alchemy Bicycle Company is in Denver. The two places are only 56 km / 35 mi apart. I would need a bicycle for the ride. If I bought a new one in Denver, I would save the hassle of having to travel with a bike from KL to Boulder.

Of course I needed a new bicycle!

I looked at the Alchemy Bicycle Company website. I am an avowed metal frame rider. So my options were the titanium Eros, the titanium Aiolos, or the stainless steel Skylla.

An email exchange and then a Skype consultation with Ryan Cannizzaro of Alchemy followed. Ryan’s suggestion was to go with the Eros, which is more performance-oriented than the Aiolos. Interestingly, Alchemy is considering removing the Skylla from their line of offerings. Stainless steel is a great material for ride quality, but it requires care to prevent corrosion and ensure durability.

Alchemy already had my frame dimensions. This would be bicycle number three that they have built for me. Read about the first bike here.

I stuck with a SRAM Red 22 drivetrain.  I have SRAM on my other bikes.  I must admit that if the SRAM Red eTap wireless electronic groupset was already commercially available, I would have opted for it.

The handlebar is a Ritchey Carbon Streem II.

When it came to choosing a wheelset, Ryan told me that Rol Wheels share workshop space with Alchemy. Ryan recommended a pair of hand-built Race SLs.

All I needed to do was bring my Speedplay pedals and my Selle Italia SLR Superflow saddle with me to Denver to complete the bike build.

The bicycle that Alchemy built for me is gorgeous.

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

There are a couple of personalized touches on this bike.  My first Alchemy bike is purple.  The second is orange.  As a nod to those bikes, the front fork is painted orange and purple.

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Each of my Alchemys has a decorative element related to where I was living when I got the bike.  One bike has a Texas star on the seat tube.  Another has the crest of the City of The Hague on the seat tube.

And for my KL bike . . .

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Photograph courtesy of Alchemy Bicycle Company

Ryan took me out on a 70km / 43.5mi shakedown ride along the Cherry Creek Trail.  This bike rides as nicely as it looks.

Cherry Creek Trail Ride

The Cherry Creek Trail is very picturesque.

Photograph courtesy of Lennar Corporation

Photograph courtesy of Lennar Corporation

If the riding in Denver was anything to go by, the riding in Boulder promised to be spectacular.

Ritchey Break-Away Road Ti / Carbon Review

Ritchey Breakaway Ti

I have had my Ritchey Break-Away for exactly two months.  We have done fifteen rides together.  I do try to be fair and alternate between my three bikes.  Although by default any rides that involve significant travel will now be on the Ritchey.  We covered 1,025 km / 635 mi.  There has been about 7,100 meters / 23,300 feet of climbing.

My other bikes are a steel framed Alchemy with carbon chain stays and fork, and a titanium framed Alchemy with carbon seat stays, chain stays and fork.  The Alchemys have identical geometries.  The Ritchey has a 56cm frame.  The tube lengths and angles of the Ritchey are as close to those of the Alchemys as dammit is to swearing.  All have SRAM group sets.  All have Ritchey carbon seat posts and cockpits.  All have Easton EA90 SLX wheels.  I like the tried and tested!

I include all that detail as a prelude to describing the differences between these bikes.  In the hope that it heads off a potential firestorm amongst all you aficionados out there around the relative virtues of steel versus titanium as a bike frame material, and the effect of tire choice, frame geometry, tube size etc. etc. on the ride quality of said bike frame materials.

The only differences that I can discern between the two Alchemys are that the titanium bike has a more ‘damped’ feel to it, and the steel bike has more flex.  A little less road chatter gets transmitted through the titanium frame.  I am no road racer but I can make the steel frame flex under pedaling load.  Not so with the titanium Alchemy.

I love the ride quality of my Alchemys.  They are very comfortable, even on the chip sealed back roads of Texas.

I love the ride quality of the Ritchey Break-Away too.  I don’t feel a difference between the titanium Alchemy and the Break-Away.  Logic tells me the Break-Away should not be as stiff as the Alchemy.  After all the Ritchey frame is in two pieces, connected at the seat tube / top tube junction and just in front of the bottom bracket.  Perhaps my senses are not tuned enough to pick up the difference.

That probably is part of the answer.  If I tested bicycles for a living my senses would be developed enough to feel some differences.  I think another part of the answer is in how well the Ritchey design eliminates flexing at the joints.

The top tube and seat tube are held in alignment by the seat post.  One bolt above the seam between the tubes and another bolt below the seam lock the tubes together.  What looks like a connection between the lower bolt and the top tube in the photograph below is actually a bracket welded to the lower bolt housing.  That bracket holds the rear brake housing stop slightly away from the top tube.

Photo courtesy of Jon Sharp at

Photo courtesy of Jon Sharp at

The down tube is split just ahead of the bottom bracket.  The end of the down tube has a neck that slides into the fitting at the bottom bracket.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

A hinged compression clamp fits over the lips or flanges on either edge of the joint and holds the two parts of the down tube together.  The two derailleur cable couplers are visible below the down tube.

Photo courtesy of Jon Sharp at

Photo courtesy of Jon Sharp at

This simple design uses just three bolts tightened to 4Nm to hold the front and rear triangles together.  Very securely I might add.  Nothing worked itself loose during my rides.  The bike tracked as expected.  There were no vibrations or unexpected wobbles.  Even at better than 65 kph / 40 mph down the relatively straight Smithville Hill during the BP MS150, and close to that on the switchback descent from Genting Sempah.

Top marks for the Ritchey Break-Away as an excellent bike to ride.

That brings me to the differentiating characteristic of this bike.  The ability to fit into a case that meets airline size specifications for checked luggage.  66 x 66 x 25.5 cm / 26 x 26 x 10 in.  The staff at the check-in counters at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Denver International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport in New York City didn’t bat an eyelid when I put the case holding the Ritchey onto the weighing scales.  They tagged the case and sent it on its way without a second glance.

Speaking of weight, bike and case weigh 15 kg / 33 lb.  Well within the limit of 23 kg / 50 lb for a checked bag in economy class.

I opted for the S&S Edge Pull Butterfly Latch Hard Case.  I recommend it over the Ritchey soft case, which is universally panned in all the reviews I have read.  The hard case weighs more, but the added durability and protection is worth that extra kilo or two.

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

I recommend a set of compression members to keep external pressure from pushing the sides of the case into the packed bicycle.  These are strong enough to stop the side bowing inward under the weight of a person standing on the case.

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

I also like the TSA security net.  The net keeps the frame, wheels, compression members and whatever else you have packed together if a TSA inspector opens the lid of the case.

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

Packing the bike takes some practice.  There are a number of suggested ways to fit all the pieces into the case.  Ritchey includes an instruction sheet with the bike.  Ritchey also has step-by-step videos on their website.

I tried a variety of packing methods.  I prefer the S&S packing sequence, which is actually for an S&S coupled bike, but works very well for the Ritchey Breakaway too.  The first time it took quite a while to wrap all the tubes in the supplied pads, and to get all the pieces properly aligned in the case so that the lid would close.  The tricky bit was getting the handlebars into the case, and lining up the front wheel such that things like the bottom bracket fit between the spokes.  I get better at it each time I do it.

The Break-Away came through two domestic flights in the USA and one intercontinental flight from the USA to Asia via Europe unscathed.  Reassembly after each flight was straightforward and the bike was ready to ride right out of the case.

I have had one road trip.  Knowing that the case would not be subjected to any abuse, I didn’t use any of the supplied tube wraps, and I didn’t bother with the compression members and security net..  I also left the crank in the bottom bracket and the rear derailleur attached to the hanger.  That made packing simpler.  The bike was none the worse for it either.

A big help was the shorter steerer tube.  As delivered the steerer tube made the fork too long to fit flush against the edge of the case.  Which put the rest of the front triangle in the way of some of the other parts.  I had the steerer tube cut down.  Everything fits in the case much better now.

On road trips I can get away without any padding because the titanium frame is unpainted.  One of the few complaints about the painted steel frame is that it scuffs, scratches and chips easily.

Top marks for the Ritchey Break-Away as a bike that packs easily into an airline-friendly case.

I am delighted with my Ritchey Break-Away.  There is nothing about it that I am unhappy with.  It says a lot about the clever design and ride quality of this frame that the only weakness other reviewers have found with this bike is that the cable couplers sometimes rattle against the down tube on rough roads.

If you want a travel road bike that doesn’t compromise performance, the Ritchey Break-Away is for you.  Just be sure to get a hard case to go with it.

How To Join a Bicycle To a Car

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Bike and Car

This meme promoting cycling over driving pops up in various guises on the internet.  At least one blogger recently checked to see if the sentiment holds water.  Your results will vary.

I was able to keep bike and car separate.  Well, in the beginning anyway.  When I started cycling in Houston I was able to roll out of the Commerce Towers car park onto Travis Street and pedal away.  Everywhere I wanted to get to was within cycling distance.  That is until I decided to commission a custom built bicycle from Alchemy Bicycle Company, located at that time in Austin.  As part of the process of deciding what frame material and geometry would best suit me, James Flatman wanted to see what I was riding at the time (see Jumping Into The Deep End for more).

It is possible to ride a bicycle from Houston to Austin (See Austin Or Bust, 2011 BP MS150, 2013 BP MS150 Day One and 2013 BP MS150 Day Two).  But not there and back in a day, and certainly not together with my biker chick.  The hybrid bike made the trip in the trunk of the car.  Which was only possible because the car had fold-down rear seats.  The resulting space was deep enough to accommodate the bike as long as the front wheel was removed.  Most importantly the trunk lid closed without squashing anything.

C Class Boot

I mulled over the idea of getting a bike rack on that first trip to Austin with the Trek in the trunk.  There would be a custom road bike to transport to Houston in a month or so. I decided to get a Saris Bones 2.  It looked simple enough to attach and remove, and would fold down into a relatively compact form for storage.

Saris Bones 2 Bike Rack

This rack attaches to the rear of the car via a series of hooks and straps.  Once the rubber feet are properly positioned and the buckle straps tightened the rack sits very securely on the car.  Ratcheting straps lock bikes to the adjustable arms.  An unexpected bonus was that the buckle straps are long enough so that the ends can be used to tie down the wheels and handle bars to stop them spinning and swaying.

Saris Bones 2 on Car

Once I linked up with the West End Six Thirty cycling group the Saris Bones 2 got more and more use.  We had to drive to get to any sort of hill, and to get to the start of some of the organized rides we signed up for.

The Saris, and the car, came with us to the Netherlands.  The rack sat unused for a year.  All my rides started at the entrance of our apartment building.  Even the starting points of the first few organized events I did were within riding distance of home.  Then I did the Ronde van Vlaanderen with Eugene (see I’ll See Your JZC and Raise You an RvV!).  That involved a drive to Sint-Denijs-Westrem in Belgium.

The Saris came out of storage to carry our bikes.  As we drove south I noticed that I was the only one with a Saris or similar bike rack.  All the other cars had either a rack on the roof or a tow-hitch mounted rack on the back.  Complete with a turn signal and brake light bar and number plate.   It turned out that my bike rack was illegal because the bicycles obscured the car’s turn signals, brake lights and number plate.  I was also told not to worry too much about it.  This being the bicycle-crazy Netherlands, the police would likely turn a blind eye.  Which may have been the case as I got back to Den Haag without being stopped.  I didn’t test my luck any further.  I went back to putting my bike in the trunk.

I did consider a tow hitch mounted rack like this one.  I had taken the car to the local dealership for a routine service.  They had a rack and light bar on sale for something like €200.  Which was a great price.  The catch was that our car didn’t have a tow hitch and ball mount.  The dealership was of course happy to install the required hardware.   I was not happy to pay the €1,500 for that to be done.  My bikes would continue to make do with being hauled around in the trunk.

C CLass Tow Hitch Bike Rack

The following year I made a return trip to the Ronde van Vlaanderen, this time with Richard.  He had a Thule roof rack.  We decided his compact car might be a bit small for both of us and our stuff.  Which meant moving his roof rack onto my car.

A clever part of the Thule design is the huge number of fitting kits available.  The racks, load bars and feet are standard.  The fitting kits contain custom pads and brackets that fit the specific contours of a vehicle’s roof, or attach to an existing roof rail.  The standard feet attach to the brackets.

Thule feet

Naturally the fitting kit for Richard’s car didn’t fit my car.  A quick trip to Richard’s local Thule dealer solved that problem.  Thule makes fitting kits for vehicles from over eighty manufacturers.  A Thule 3049 Fixpoint Fit Kit was all I needed to attach Richard’s roof rack to my car.

I was so impressed with Richard’s Thule roof rack that I decided to get one.  That led to the “Het is niet mogelijk” moment that I retell whenever I can.  I went to a shop, which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty, that sells Thule products.  I told the salesperson what I wanted:  two Thule Outride 561 bike carriers, a pair of Thule 960 Wingbars, and four Thule Rapid System 753 feet.  He asked me what car I had, and consulted his computer.  A few seconds later he uttered that most-frustrating of Dutch phrases.  “That is not possible.”

“But it is,” I protested.  “I had that exact configuration on my car a few weeks ago.”

“Nee.  Het is niet mogelijk.”

There is no point arguing when faced with that phrase.  All you can do is admit defeat and move on to plan B.  In my case that was to go to the second Thule dealer on my list, A & P Verhuur Service, where it was possible to purchase what I wanted.

Thule 561 Outride with Bike

The roof rack and I made a few more road trips in the company of the Not Possibles cycling group (you can probably guess the origin of the group name).  The Thule system is easy to install and remove.  The feet and front fork attachment are lockable.  Bikes sit rock solidly  on the carriers, all the way up to the maximum rated driving speed of 130 kph / 80 mph.  The only downside is the wind noise.

The Saris and the Thule racks came with us to Kuala Lumpur.  The car stayed in the Netherlands with its new owner, together with the Thule Fit Kit.  The racks haven’t seen any use in Malaysia.  Even though I have to drive to rides in Kuala Lumpur.

My biker chick kept her car here while we were away.  I could have hung the Saris off the back of her car.  I see a few trunk-mounted racks around.  I also see too many rear-end collisions to be comfortable driving around with my bike between the rear of my car and the front of the car behind me.  So it was back to the bicycle in the trunk routine.  In the meantime I was on the lookout for a car for myself.

We live in an apartment building in Kuala Lumpur.  The apartment came with two indoor car park spots on an upper floor of the parking garage.  All very convenient, except that the headroom clearance on the ramps between floors is insufficient for bicycles on a roof rack.  That narrowed my choice of vehicle down to a hatchback with enough trunk space to fit a bicycle or two.

Which is why I drive a Perodua Myvi.  Among its most important attributes . . .

Myvi Boot Area Seats Folded

Plenty of room for bicycles.  I’ve transported two bikes with no problem.  I could pack in three or four.  This weekend I will find out if I can get the Ritchey Break-Away in the trunk without having to fold down the rear seats.

S&S Case

Bike Fit

My introduction to the concept of fitting a bike to a rider came via James Flatman.  See Jumping Into the Deep End for details.  What James did on that occasion was a static fit.  So called because all the body measurements are taken while the individual is standing still.  Using a tape measure, a plumb bob and a goniometer.

One year later things had moved on at Alchemy Bicycle Company.  Ryan Cannizzaro, James’ partner in the business at the time, had begun using a dynamic fit methodology.  So called because body measurements are taken while the individual is pedalling a stationary bicycle.  It was a testament to James’ static fit skills that his results of the previous year were identical to the results of the dynamic fit, except for a +5mm change to my saddle height.

The dynamic fit technology that Ryan used was from Retül, a four-year old company based in Boulder, Colorado.  That system uses a series of light-emitting diodes and a motion-capture camera to record measurements in three-dimensional space.  The geek in me was impressed with the technology, and with the range of data it produced.  The system seemed easy enough to use.  I wondered, somewhat abstractly, if the Retül system would catch on.

The topic of bike fitting has come up in conversation since then, but I hadn’t given it much attention.  Not until I got back to Malaysia that is.  Road cycling has become very popular here.  It is not unusual to be in the company of fifty or more cyclists on some of the routes on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.  My experience has been that it is also not unusual to see people that do not look comfortable on their bicycles.  Some people I have ridden with say they get sore backs and knees when they cycle.  Cycling-induced aches and pains are a sure indicator that the cyclist is riding a poorly-fitted bike.

I’ve been looking for things to do to keep me busy in Kuala Lumpur.  Providing Retül bike fits could be an option.  I did a bit of asking around and found that few bike shops in Kuala Lumpur offer a bike fit service.  GH SpeedBikes is a Specialized Concept Store and they offer the BG Fit.  A few others do static fits.  No one in Malaysia offers Retül fits.  The closest certified Retül fitters I can find are in Singapore.

My next step was to do some more research about what I would need to do to become a Retül fitter.  The short answer was to get certified and to buy the equipment.  The equipment isn’t cheap but it isn’t outrageously expensive either.  It made sense to me to do the certification course before deciding whether to invest in the hardware and everything else that comes with setting up a business.

The company has set up the Retül University to provide certification and other bike-fitting related courses in a variety of cities around the world.  The Transition to Dynamic Bike Fit pre-requisite and the Motion Analysis Certification courses were being offered in Brisbane, Australia in February 2013.  Of the cities where Retül offer courses, Brisbane is the closest.  So I signed up for the courses, started doing the pre-work, and booked my flights and accommodation.

Speaking of accommodation I must give airbnb a plug.  My biker chick has used airbnb to find great places to stay in a number of cities around the world. The place she found for me in Brisbane, The Last Resort, was no exception.  The home and the hosts, Paula and Thommo, were excellent.

The courses were conducted by Nick Formosa and Aaron Lean at Cadence Performance Cycling.  The class size is limited to five students.  Each of us got lots of personal attention as we worked our way through Fitting Terminology, Mechanics of Motion, and the various parts of the fit process:  the Rider Interview, the Pre-Fit Physical Assessment, the Fit, the Bike Measurement, and Report Generation.

Ryan, Nick and I discussing what the measurements mean.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Lean at Cadence Performance Cycling

Photo courtesy of Aaron Lean at Cadence Performance Cycling

By the end of the three-day certification course Nick and Aaron had us doing bike fits for some of their paying customers.  Here Ron and Andrew are fitting eight sticky dots onto Alex Wohler of Team Budget Forklifts.  The light-emitting diodes attach to these dots.  Getting the dots in the correct place on the anatomical points is the most important thing to get right for accurate measurements.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Lean at Cadence Performance Cycling

Photo courtesy of Aaron Lean at Cadence Performance Cycling

Alex is wired up and being scanned.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Lean at Cadence Performance Cycling

Photo courtesy of Aaron Lean at Cadence Performance Cycling

We must have done well because we all qualified as Retül Certified Fitters.  Nick, me, Andrew, Ryan, Aidan, Ron and Aaron marking the moment.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Lean at Cadence Performance Cycling

Photo courtesy of Aaron Lean at Cadence Performance Cycling

The hardware has been updated since Ryan did my Retül fit in 2011.  The motion-capture equipment is now wireless.  This is the camera.

Retül Vantage

Photo courtesy of Retül

This is the wireless harness and five of the eight light-emitting diodes.

Retül Harness

Photo courtesy of Retül

There is now a wireless tool called the Zin which is used with the motion-capture camera to measure the dimensions of a bike.

Photo courtesy of Retül

Photo courtesy of Retül

The entire base system comes in a carrying case.

Photo courtesy of Retül

Photo courtesy of Retül

A nice-to-have, but definitely an expensive option, is the Müve Dynamic Fit Bike.  This is an easily adjustable fit bike that is used to fit a rider before he or she buys a bike.

Photo courtesy of Retül

Photo courtesy of Retül

I am now a Retül Certified Fitter.  Able to use their system to capture dynamic data, review the results and make adjustments to the bike to help the rider pedal more efficiently, reduce the risk of injury, and increase comfort on the bike.  I now need to decide whether I want to invest the time, effort and money to get into the bike fitting business.

Something to think about on my rides to come.

A Rite of Passage

I was eager to take my new road bike out onto the streets of Houston for an inaugural ride.  However there was something I had to learn to do before I went out on the road.  My hybrid bike had a pair of these . . .

My new road bike came with a pair of these . . .

Clipless pedals were new to me.  James F. had recommended these Speedplay Zero pedals because they are dual-sided.  That would save me from having to flip the pedals around to the ‘right’ side in order to clip in.  I just had to align the cleats on the bottoms of my Sidi Genius 5-Pro Mega cycling shoes with the pedals and push down.  An audible click would signify that the cleats were locked to the pedals.  Clipping out of the pedals seemed easy enough to do too.  Rotating my heels outward would release the cleats from the pedals.

I practiced using my clipless pedals in the safety of the parking area in my apartment building.  I pushed one foot down on the pedal, heard a click and felt the cleat engage.  I turned the crank to get the bike moving.  I put my other foot on the opposite pedal and pushed down.  Another click and I was clipped in.  As I circled the parking lot I mentally rehearsed the action to release my cleats from my pedals.  Rotate heels outward.  Rotate heels outward.  I unclipped, came to a stop and put my feet on the ground.  Success!  I repeated the process of clipping in and out or my pedals a dozen times.  Each time without mishap.  I was ready for the road.

My apartment building had a multi-story car park.  I was on the third floor.  I clipped in to my pedals and set off.  I successfully negotiated the turns and ramps down to the ground floor.  I rolled through the car park exit and made the right-turn onto Travis Street.  As I approached the intersection with Walker Street the traffic light turned red.  I squeezed my brakes and lifted my right heel.  My cleat did not disengage from the pedal.  Unclipping had gone so well just minutes earlier.  I lifted my right heel again.  My cleat did not disengage.  Why wasn’t this working?  I was two yards from the intersection.  The light was still red.  Panic rose in my chest.  I yanked my heel up.  And toppled over onto the street.  To the amusement of the six or seven people at this bus stop.

Perhaps it was embarrassment that made the lesson stick.  ROTATE your heels, not lift.

Jumping Into the Deep End

With each cheese and potato breakfast taco I thought more and more about getting a road bike.  My hybrid bike with the platform pedals had served me well from the moment I first dipped my toes into cycling.  It had taken me from those early heady days of 20 kilometer rides to keeping up with the Six Thirty group through 55 kilometers.  My fellow riders were suggesting that I join them on organised rides of 80 kilometers and more.  To do that would require a bike more suited to long road rides than my hybrid bike was.  A road bike.  But how to decide on exactly what to get?

I started paying more attention to what my Six Thirty friends were riding.  I took a closer look at the Specialized, Moots, Ibis and Independent Fabrications frames on display at West End Bicycles.  I browsed the Trek and Cannondale websites.  I read online reviews.  The choices boggled the mind.  Carbon, steel, aluminum or titanium frame.  Performance or comfort geometry.  Campagnolo, Shimano or SRAM groupset.   The decisions to be made didn’t stop there.  The options for pedals, handle bars, stems, saddles, seat posts, headsets, wheels, tires and other bits and bobs can and do fill catalogs the size of telephone directories.

As I did my research one thought stayed in my mind.  I had been sold a bike that was too small for me.  Bicycle frames come in a range of sizes.  Unfortunately manufacturers do not use a consistent method to measure the frames that they produce.  So the right sized frame for an individual of a given height and reach is a combination of stand over height, top tube length, seat tube length, seat tube angle, bottom bracket height and some eye of newt.  Throw in riding style and personal preference and the choice of an ‘off-the-rack’ frame often comes down to selecting from a range of two or three sizes.  Which will it be?  The larger frame or the smaller frame?

The more I thought about it the more attractive a custom built frame became.  A made-to-measure frame would solve the fit problem.  Being able to choose the paint design and other elements to make the bike uniquely mine added to the appeal.  A few of the Six Thirty group rode hand-built frames.  A chat with them convinced me.  I would bypass retail and go straight to bespoke.  It was time to go all in and find a frame builder in the area.  The list of exhibitors at the recent 2nd Annual Texas Custom Bicycle Show was a good starting point.  Some builders were immediately eliminated from consideration because they built only Dutch-style city bikes, or worked exclusively in carbon, or had a long waiting list, or were too far away from Houston.  That narrowed the list down to two or three frame builders.  I devoured everything on their websites.  I drooled over their gallery photographs.  And I made a telephone call to each of them.

The Alchemy Bicycle Company builder profile stood out on the Texas Custom Bicycle Show website.  There was something about the tagline “The Passion to Transform” that I liked.  James Flatman answered the telephone when I called Alchemy.  We spoke for more than an hour about where we were from, when James started building frames, the relative merits of various frame-building materials, what I was looking for in a bicycle, what sort of riding I did, and what else I should think about if I wanted to continue down the path to a custom frame.  I had a good feeling about James.  I was impressed that he devoted ninety minutes to a telephone conversation with a speculative contact.

I took James up on his suggestion to visit the Alchemy shop in Austin.  He asked that I bring my hybrid bike so he could see what I had been riding.  ZAZ, my ‘biker chick,’ came with me.  This bicycle was going to be my birthday and Christmas present from her for 2009.  James and I talked bicycles while he took all sorts of measurements.  He made suggestions about what material he would use to build a frame for me.  I tried out groupsets from Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM.  We talked about components.  We looked at colour combinations.  After three hours in the shop ZAZ and I had made our choices.  Two months later James delivered this.

He made me a steel frame with carbon seat stays and fork.  He built it up with a SRAM Force groupset.  The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed the Red crankset.  There was a problem with the Force crankset and James swapped it out for the higher specification Red crankset at no charge.  Easton EA90 SLX wheels, a Chris King headset and bottom bracket, a Ritchey seatpost and handlebars, and a Selle Italia saddle and Speedplay pedals completed the package.  James and I agreed that a sterling silver head badge would look best.  This cool-looking badge is a blend of the old alchemy symbols for silver and gold.

There is one custom touch that makes this bike unique to me.  A Texas star on the seat tube.

I have pedaled almost 11,000 kilometers on this bike.  I don’t think I have to say any more about what a pleasure this bike is to ride.

There have been some changes at Alchemy.  James has left and Alchemy has just moved to Denver, CO.  The company has continued to grow, adding the capability to build frames using proprietary carbon tubes.  If you are in the market for a first-class hand-built bicycle give Alchemy Bicycle Company a call.