Mike's Bikes

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1979 JC Penney Racer
[Shimano/Suntour/Italian & French 6-speed x 2]

56cm Tange single-butted 1020 Hi-Tensile 1/.7 gauge frame (with long-point, hand-painted gold-outline lugs). Current weight w/pedals: 24.2 pounds

Hand-cut & painted lugs on a ... seriously ... sub-$200-complete department store bike. The manufacturer remains a mystery, but similar lugs are seen on Centurions of the time. There is a "JAPAN" sticker on the seat tube above the bottom bracket and serial# 9278565 (likely meaning 1978 manufacture) stamped adjacent on the downtube. 

I bought this $179 JC Penney catalog bike with my first paycheck in the summer of 1979. It was originally equipped with Shimano Titleist/Selecta components (including centerpull brakes -- note the seatstay bridge) and weighed 28 pounds, but a few paychecks and a season of mail-order deliveries later it was a 21-pound Pan-Euro mutt in sew-ups. I've recently re-porked it to 24.2 with some era-correct things. Half its heft is probably in the Brooks saddle.

All original components changed-out for: Universal 68 sidepull brakes; Brooks Pro Team saddle, Suntour Cyclone rear derailleur; Shimano 600EX downtube friction shifters, front derailleur, & crank; SR Campy-copy pedals; SR Cinelli-copy stem, bars, & seatpost; Alfredo Binda toe straps; Christophe toe clips; Sedis Sport chain; Shimano 600 headset. This monster once rocked Fiamme tubular rims that were lighter than paper clips ... sort of silly considering the 6+ pound frame weight ... but carbon fiber was many decades away and I wanted to flirt with the then-magic 20-pound road bike.  I replaced the "touring" fork with a 45mm-rake chrome Tange Champion race fork after being on backorder for three months at Bikeology (remember them)?

Long chainstays and relaxed angles make for a languid ride.  It's easy to rub the front derailleur cage under power.  But once underway the bike motors just like any other bike, and it has proven indestructible. Still going strong after four decades. I need to ride it more.   


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1982 Colnago Super
[Centaur/Record 10-speed x 2]

60 cm (Colnago ctt measurement. Actual is 57.1cm ctc) Columbus Cromor double butted .9/.6-.7/.9 gauge lugged frame. Current weight w/pedals: 22 pounds

Everyone lusted after a Colnago back in the 80s, right? But the frame alone cost more than I paid for my first car then. Time and eBay finally made my poor college student dreams a reality, and it was well worth the wait. This is a low-key paint job with headtube spray that makes the colors of the Italian flag and the chrome club cut-out headtube lugs. There are surprisingly few compromises in running a new 10-speed brifter setup on an 80s bike -- spread & re-true the rear triangle, use Ergo-friendly bars, and you’ve got modern shifting on a classic steel frame.

So how does the fabled Colnago compare to the "Hi-Tension steel" JC Penney Racer above?

I fully buy into the hype on the frame, as this bike really does have "magic" qualities about it. There’s an over-the-road resonance and return on energy expended that’s missing in every other metal bike I’ve ridden, and despite the short wheelbase and steeper frame angles, it's every bit as comfortable as the more touring-geometried department store bike above -- maybe ... though my memorization of the geometry differences prejudices me otherwise ... more comfortable.  There's nothing overwhelmingly inferior with the 1020 JC Penney steed in back-to-back rides -- it's a fine, stiff, honest bike that has taken me everywhere, and it's on its way to lasting forever ... just no supernatural "zing" like this one.

More pics of this bike here.

1997 LeMond Zurich
[Chorus/Record 9-speed x 2]

53 cm (long-ish effective toptube makes this fit fine with seat/stem adjustments) Reynolds 853 double butted .7/.45/.7 gauge tig-welded frame. Current weight w/pedals: 19.2 pounds

Poke around on eBay and you'll see a nice Waterloo-built 853 Zurich or Maillot Jaune come up every now and then. I got lucky here as the previous owner built this in full Campy/Cinelli and took great care of it. It is tough to compare this to the Colnago, because at this weight the bike just disappears under me. It's four pounds heavier than my CF bike, but only the scale tells.


2004 Airborne Valkyrie  [Shimano 105]

56 cm 3AL/2.5V titanium tig-welded frame. Current weight w/pedals: 18.5 pounds

The XB-70 Valkyrie was a massive delta-winged Mach 3 bomber powered by six General Electric YJ93 turbojet engines that proved too over-the-top for even the go-go 60s. It was perfected just as Russia developed anti-aircraft missiles capable of hitting it. Two were built, one was crashed, and the survivor now lives at the United States Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. This Airborne Valkyrie was also doomed, introduced in the midst of squadron-upon-squadron of carbon fiber raptor attacks during the rapid Fe-Al-Ti-CF materials evolution of the new millennium. It's Ti at the peak of its game, and you can pick up something like this on eBay for a fraction of the price of a modern boutique Ti ride. The massive shaped chainstays (GAMS ... Graceful Arc Maximum Stiffness ... a literary/engineering masterpiece if you ask me) ensure great power transfer, but the rear bites back more than the steel and carbon triangles on big bumps. Any attempt to trail brake on wet curves will bite back even harder. I recently rebuilt this in the latest Shimano 105, and now it's my very favorite rain bike of all time. Smooth, fast, tough. Feels forever.

Gary Turner GTR SRAM
2010 Gary Turner GTR
[Sram Rival 10-speed x 2 compact]]

"Medium" (55 cm) carbon monocoque with full carbon dropouts.  Current weight w/pedals: 15.6 pounds

This is the only bike I've ever purchased from a bike store. It was on end-of-the-year clearance at Performance and really only needed a good wheelset (Blackset Race clinchers) to hit the sub 7 kg club ... and become the lightest, best climbing, best handling, and without-any-doubt most sublime bike I've ever ridden. Carbon really is the current state of the art for the reasons you might suspect: Everything is fat and stiff where it needs to be and spare and feathery where it doesn't. You can't replicate this in metal. The rear triangle is so tight that the engineers called up the wisp of a crescent void at the back of the seat tube for tire clearance -- sort of like those gimmicky 70s Schwinns, but here this is no gimmick.

Over small bumps and chipseal this bike reads the road like a steel bike filtered through 1/8" rubber bushings ... or titanium filtered through 1/16". It glides/floats over the bumps and eliminates the tingly sensation you feel with metal bikes on rougher asphalt. Over bigger bumps the frame's damping abilities are exceeded, so a major frost heave can be a pretty mean experience compared to the quick, light spring-over snap you feel on a steel race bike.

Back in the steel era, Ernesto Colnago once said that everyone wants to climb on a 16-pound bike, but no one wants to descend on a 16-pound bike. I think the ability to manipulate the stiffness and shape of CF tubes puts that worry to rest. The bike never feels nervous.


The Gotta Ride It Factor: CF vs Ti vs. Steel vs. Steel in a Road Bike

For anyone who cares
, some thoughts on Carbon Fiber, 3/2.5 titanium, modern OS steel, and classic 80s steel on a skinny-tired road bike.   

The carbon fiber GTR is a fast, light, comfortable and feels like it will play nice on any road. Zero bb flex and straight up the hill you go. The bike never hints at being fragile, and the glide-over-small-imperfections carbon factor makes for more confident forward progress on iffy roads than even a fat-tired steel mountain bike. It's probably a perfect modern road bike. (Update: Eight years now with this steed in rotation. It's been tough and faultless).

The Ti Valkyrie is a few beats smoother than steel of similar geometry over chipseal, however, the geometry and tube sizes that allow light, stiff, and sprightly to play well together in a metal bike make for nasty work over sharp bumps compared to carbon, and especially steel. A fast, dreamy, bomb-proof ride on any half-way decent road. Probably the bike you ride around in the apocalypse when it's in town.

The 853 LeMond is likely the finest steel bike I've ever ridden, but I rode it for over a decade with the wrong wheelset before I realized this. After swapping out low-spoke-count semi-aero rims for a set of Blackset Race clinchers ... WOW. A smooth, light, unobtrusive bike that just becomes part of you. I can't make insightful ride comparisons about a bike that feels like it isn't there, so instead I'll just give props to the craftsmen in Waterloo and the guy who designed it, America's greatest probably-non-cheating bike racer. This is a masterpiece.

The Columbus Cromor Colnago is the most supple and playful of these four bikes.This skinny-tubed racer from the classic days gives up nothing in speed or handling to the others, but is every bit has happy dawdling through haphazard urban infrastructure as it is flying down the highway. Cross gravel parking lots ... run some ruts ... fjord the sidewalk for a few blocks. It's got your back.

Since all of these materials can be made into first-class race frames and subjective ride arguments rage all over the internets, here are some cold, hard subjective ratings based on the race frames I've ridden on 700c 23s with identical tire pressures and using (important) similar seats and bar tape:

Material      Road Buzz/Sharp Impacts  (Lower = Better)

Steel        3/2
OS Steel      3/3
Aluminum   5/5
Titanium      2/4
Carbon        1/3

 The Zen of the Hipster ...

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2005 Bianchi Pista [Sugino 48 crank x DuraAce 16 cog]

55 cm (Bianchi ctt measurement. High track bb makes this fit more like a 56 ctc road bike) Reynolds 520 double butted .8/.5/.8 gauge tig-welded frame. Current weight w/pedals: 17.4 pounds

Fixed is great exercise, just like "they" say. It changes the way you think about your ride, and it forces your legs to do things that are good for fitness and recovery between road bike workouts. I don't ride this in traffic. 

This is a beautiful and responsive ride on perfect pavement, but I've discovered all kinds of small wavy ruts on less than perfect roads that my other bikes never reveal. This frame feels stiffer than any other I've ridden ... but is IMO really too rough for use as a go-anywhere commuter

OC OD on this bike:   The Pista Passion Page


The Around-Towners ...

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2004 Schwinn Ranger Hardtail
[Shimano Tourney 7x3/SRAM twist grip shifters]

17.5" straight-gauge 1010 steel tig-welded  frame.   Current weight w/pedals:: 34.9 pounds

I rolled this out of Target, adjusted the front derailleur, put steel pedals & toe clips on it, and it rocks. After 15 years and several thousand miles of puttering and late-night neighborhood lapping it’s the best $115 I’ve ever spent in bicycling. Everything works, and save for one flat tire and chain lube, maintenance has been -0-.

Since this is a go everywhere bike, I’ve Pee-Wee Herman-ed it with headlight, taillight, bell, etc. My wife has hidden the clothespins & playing cards.

These very inexpensive "Chinese Schwinns" that are now sold in the large retailer channel are often rabidly bashed on the web by the bike snob crowd, but don’t overlook them if you just want a solid bike. You will not find a better or more durable recreational ride at any price. The whole she-bang costs less than practically any one high-end bicycle component, and if you really find it dramatically inferior to an entry-level & many-x-the-price bike shop bike after a few days of riding, you can take it back to the big box for a full refund.  And to steal a line from an old cycling scribe, this bike is so heavy (32 pounds) that you may dismount and throw it at muggers and dogs with lethal results.

Gravity Basecamp 1.0
2013 Gravity Basecamp 1.0 [Shimano Altus 8x3/EZ Fire Triggershifters] (Added clip-on plastic fenders -- my lovely laundress approves)

18" 6061 straight-gauge aluminum tig-welded frame. Current weight w/pedals: 30.4 pounds

Shipped quickly from Bikesdirect.com and packed well. The assembly was marred by component bolts that were *way* overtightened at the factory. The back disc caliper bolts will need to be drilled out if that piece ever needs replacement. The fronts finally yielded to WD40 and a long hex key with a breaker bar. I might not have noticed if both calipers weren't assembled well off the centerline of the brake rotors when the wheels are centered in the forks. Once the conquerable robo-tightened components were repositioned and adjusted, all was well.  One odd note about the Shimano EZ Fire shifters: the rear shifter's bottom trigger wouldn't return from a shift without manual intervention. After checking cable tension I partially disassembled the shifter and found that it shifted as designed only if the bottom dust cover was slightly loose. No such issue with the front shifter trigger, and nothing appears to be binding in the defective trigger ... so this may be the first low-end Shimano component I've encountered that doesn't think it's Dura-Ace in shabby clothes. Handling on the Basecamp is nimbler and a little busier compared to the steel Schwinn Ranger above. Frame tube diameter is very similar to the Ranger, so I attribute the livelier ride to four pounds less weight and slightly different geometry. A serious off-trail rider would probably find this bike competent for rut dodging, but on the street this is getting closer to an upright road bike for my purposes. The stock setup on this bike is otherwise great: geared for anything with a bright orange rust-proof frame, we will be going many dark, wet places together.


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1974 Schwinn Speedster [Schwinn & Schwinn-approved parts; Sturmey-Archer three-speed]

21" 1010 steel electro-forged frame. Current weight w/pedals: 43.2 pounds.

This bike has the longest wheelbase of any bike I have. It has the widest, springiest saddle. It weighs a bump-crushing 43 pounds.  And it's the most uncomfortable bike I've ever ridden, mainly because my butt's conditioned to narrow saddles. 

But if hold my upper body perfectly still during the ride, everything's fine.

It does give you that regal English Racer upright perch ... and makes the classic Sturmey-Archer clack-clack-clack in second & third gear.  It has fenders and heritage.

I picked this up for $25 plus shipping on eBay; spent a day degreasing and repacking all the bearings (the headset had no grease at all); trued the wheels, and then sprayed the really-scratched-up frame down with WD-40.  This works swell as a rain bike, and the steel rims give better braking than I expected in the wet. It's a nice Sunday afternoon neighborhood ride too.

As fun as this bike is as a retro-rain ride, I'd say that anybody who derides modern "fake" Schwinns (above) as poor imitations of "real" Schwinns hasn't ridden or worked on a "real" Schwinn in a while ;).


1970 Schwinn Continental [Schwinn & Schwinn-approved parts; Schwinn-branded Huret derailleurs/10-speed]

22" 1010 steel electro-forged frame. Current weight w/pedals: 32 pounds

Beat-up, banged-up, bent, and scratched on eBay, but with a story. It's the childhood bike of NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young.  Steve must have carried offensive linemen around town on the handlebars and chainstays during junior high. Parts of this bike are bent where I've never seen a bike bent. I replaced all the consumables and tortured the potato-chipped steel Schwinn rims back to almost true. It's the full 70s Schwinn time travel experience: Sky Blue, Randonneur bars, safety levers, and TwinStik stem-mount shifters ... plus a story. Ain't eBay neat?

The Bike in the Basement  ...

On the Trainer: 1989 Schwinn Traveler
[Schwinn-approved parts; Shimano/DiaCompe mix/10-speed]

56cm True Temper 1020 Hi-Tensile steel lugged frame. Current weight w/pedals: 27.5 pounds.

My wife and I have taken turns pedaling this thing like mad for hours on end, but after several years we haven't gotten it to move an inch.    The ride is pure steel, though: it feels like you're riding on carpet.