SF Cyclotouring

Ride reports and other ramblings from a San Francisco cyclist.


Low-Cost Handlebar Bag + Front Rack Project

Another rack shot
Originally uploaded by jimgskoop
Following up on a previous post about budget front-rack bicycle bags...

I really like those classic Berthoud bags and shiny Nitto racks, but those accessories don't come cheap. For cyclists on a budget, or especially those of us simply curious about trying out a front bag plus rack, there's no real entry-level option. I wasn't about to drop upwards of US$150 on a combination that I wasn't even sure I'd like! Since I already had a front rack, and I knew that passable modern handlebar bags could be had fairly cheaply (under $35), I figured there must be a DIY option...

The bag is a cheapy from Performance, while the rack is the infamous cheap front mini rack from Nashbar. I modified the rack by chopping off about 2cm from the lower legs and re-riveting the mounting L-brackets to some new holes I drilled. The rack now sits lower, closer to the top of the wheel, which is better both aesthetically and functionally, since it locates the load lower relative to the bike. I also tossed the rack's wimpy-thin steel mounting strap, instead using some thicker aluminum stock (3/4" x 1/8") to fasten the back of the rack to the fork crown. Finally, I fabricated the "decaleur" out of more aluminum stock (1" x 1/8"), resulting in a bracket that runs from the rear of the rack, up to the lower handlebar clamp bolt on the stem. The bag's quick-release plate, which would normally get clamped to the handlebars via a couple of u-shaped brackets, is instead fastened to this upright bracket. The bag still easily clips on and off its mounting plate, except now the bag sits on the rack instead of waving about up high in front of the handlebars. Like most similar bags, this one has an internal frame & plastic stiffener to maintain its shape.

The total cost of this system was around $50 (I already had the aluminum stock, which is available at most good hardware stores/Home Depot/Lowes/OSH/etc.), and took me one late evening to build. In retrospect, I think I subconsciously drew inspiration from the front rack on the bicycle pictured on the cover of the book The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles.

More photos


There may be something to this low-trail business after all.... That bag, plus its contents, weighs around 8lbs according to my bathroom scale. So figure the total load of bag+rack at around 10lbs. Although it noticeably affected the steering of the bike -- making it feel somewhat slower -- it didn't adversely impact the handling of the bike. I don't have much experience with front-loading on a bike (see this and that) but I can say that the Kogswell P/R with this handlebar bag felt better than either of those previous experiements. I even rode the bike off-road and things felt generally OK! More experimentation needed, obviously....

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Hmm...maybe he needs some low-trail?!

(via cycleicio.us) Ouch. Maybe this wouldn't have happened if he'd been riding a low-trail bicycle?


Losing Focus

Confession time! I didn't ride this weekend. I didn't ride the weekend before that, either (but I was out of town, so I do have a valid excuse). On top of that, I haven't done a big ride since mid-April. I did ride 52 miles to work on Bike to Work Day in mid-May, but that route was entirely flat so it hardly counts...

I was going to ride on Saturday, but had some familial obligations so I shifted it to Sunday. I had intended to wake up, gulp a quick breakfast, swap some tires around on the Kogswell, and head out for a half-day's saddle time. Instead, that Sunday I woke up and ended up fettering most of the morning and early afternoon away in front of the computer, lulled into a YouTube stupor, blasting old Peter Gabriel videos (more) on the PC speakers. I'd always loved PG's music in high school and college, and re-finding this stuff was like opening a lost Christmas present... I also learned that his excellent bassist is Tony Levin, and Tony invented a nifty bass-playing gizmo called Funk Fingers. Oh Interweb, curse you for being a most random and excellent time-waster! My wife got pretty exasperated..."I thought you said you were going out for a bike ride?!?"

I know that everybody needs an occasional day of doing nothing, but I'm not sure that's what's going on here. Generally, I eat, breathe, (over)think, and sleep all things bicycling -- too much so. So why then, given a perfectly nice day and a solid chunk of time to go outside and enjoy it, am I entirely unmotivated to go out and ride? For the past several weekends, getting out on the bike has been like pulling teeth, and I just don't understand it! It seems that, unless I have confirmed plans to meet folks for a ride at a specific time, that I just end up lallygagging about.

Ironically, I do know that the new Kogswell is part of the problem.... Not that it's a bad bike, but it (or I?) needs lots of tweaking, adjusting, and experimenting to figure out this low-trail thing. So that adds some mental overhead to riding -- instead of just heading out for some miles, I've got to futz with the bike and keep mental notes of what works and what doesn't. Plus, I don't yet feel as if I've worked out all the bugs, so I'm not confident enough with the bike to take it on longer or mixed-terrain rides. I've been tempted to just ride other bikes, but if I do that then I'll never "finish" the Kogswell.

Tangent: One of the downsides of owning lots of bikes is that one or more of them always needs some kind of attention: repairing/fixing/cleaning/adjusting/whatever. I'm half-tempted to box up a few of my bikes and shove them in my attic or something to reduce my "mental clutter"!

It's like when I was in school, and had a big exam the next day: I'd find any excuse (even laundry or housecleaning) to put off studying, procrastinating until the last minute and then frantically studying all night...

Maybe I need some psychoanalysis, I don't know. What I do know is that, unless I find some motivation, I'll never sort out the Kogswell, and I'll never be in good enough shape to attempt (let alone finish!) the La Ruta Loca mixed-terrain 200k on July 19th!

What tips or tricks do you use to stay focused on riding?



More Low-Trail Experimenting...

Kogswell Test Rig
Originally uploaded by jimgskoop
To the dismay of my other bikes, lately I've been mostly riding my Kogswell 700x P/R. The adjacent photo shows how I've been outfitting the bike for the various test-rides I'm doing. I recently lowered the saddle 1cm (but then raised it ~5mm during the last ride), moved the saddle forward ~2cm, switched to a longer 120mm stem, and also tried 700x30 tires inflated to 75psi. The first set of tweaks are all aimed at dialing in my position on the bike; the tire swap was done to learn its effect on low-trail handling characteristics -- I had 700x35mm tires @ 55psi mounted previously, but I was advised to try 700x30mm tires @ 75psi since I wasn't feeling the low-trail love. I can say that the narrower tires do seem to reinforce the expected characteristics somewhat, although I definitely prefer the ride of the larger tires, especially during fast twisty descents.

After swapping the tires, I took the bike for a ride late Saturday afternoon, in cool and windy conditions. I rode across the Golden Gate Bridge and down into Sausalito, picking up the Mill Valley Bike Path as usual. The path is usually beseiged by winds in the afternoon, possibly due to the shifting tide and/or the fog rolling in -- one of those "Sheesh there's a headwind in both directions" occurrences that seem common in the SF Bay Area. Saturday was no exception, and as I pedaled along, I noticed that the bike felt "interesting" in that, as I got nudged left and right by the blustery breezes, the front end of the bike seemed to exibit a self-centering effect. It felt uncannily like the invert-a-broom-and-balance-it-on-the-palm-of-your-hand trick -- aka the upside-down pendulum. Pretty neat!

I left the bike path and climbed Camino Alto, one of my favorite hills. Due to the late hour, I turned around at the top and dropped back down towards Sausalito instead of continuing on towards Tiburon or Fairfax. The last time I rode down this hill on the Kogswell, the bike wore the 700x35mm Panaracer Pasela tires (at 55psi), and descending on that bike with those tires put a big grin on my face! For the first time ever, I felt hugely confident in the fast curves and rarely had to grab the brakes. Today was different, though, and the bike felt quite unstable. So much so, that as I dove into one curve, I though I'd overshot the lean and was about to go down, but in an instant I stopped panicking as I realized that no, the front wheel wasn't slipping out from underneath me, and the bike completed the turn and I emerged unscathed, but with a racing pulse!

Returning to Sausalito and back on the Mill Valley Bike Path, I remembered the many discussions on load distribution and how that may affect low-trail handling, so I stopped to shift some weight from my seat pack to my Rivendell Candy Bar handlebar bag. As I continued my ride, I noted that the front end indeed felt heavier, but I couldn't say whether the handling grew better or worse with this change (and that in itself may be a positive result!). Note that I've never done this test on any other bike, so the results here are inconclusive.

Later, I rode down to Fort Baker to check on the new resort hotel that's opened there. As I rode past, several times I looked back over my shoulder to check out the grounds and the rennovated buildings -- and, certain that the bike had wobbled and lost its line, I turned my head forwards again to find the bike pointed exactly where I'd left it. Pretty cool!

I left Fort Baker and climbed up towards the Golden Gate Bridge. By now, it was pretty late in the day and the wind blowing over the Golden Gate was very strong. As this air blows over the bridge, a curious swirling pattern is generated as the breeze is split by the bridge's two support towers -- and riding around them at this time is always challenging. I'm hoping that the Low-Trail Effect (henceforth: LTE) and its reported resistance to cross-winds will come into play here, but so far I've been disappointed. In fact, on this ride I actually got knocked off my bike by the blasting wind and had to stop, put a foot down, and then dismount and walk my bike around the pylon. Whether I'd have fared any better on another bike, I don't know...

So, conclusion-time: I think the skinnier tires amplified the LTE somewhat. Presumably the added pneumatic trail from the 35mm tires was cancelling the LTE, so the narrower/harder 30mm tires minimized that issue. In spite of this, I will definitely be going back to the 35mm tires -- they just feel so much better, especially on twisty downhill roads! I also definitely want to test the bike's other fork -- currently it's built with the 58mm offset fork (expected 42mm of trail), but I've also got a 67mm offset fork (expected 32mm of trail) -- that should give me a better dose of LTE with the 35mm tires. I need to ride one of my other (high-trail) bikes and try the heavy bag up front to see what effects that'll impart. Finally, on an unrelated note, I want to lower my handlebars 1-2cm since I think they're still too high, most noticeable during out-of-saddle climbing. I may also want to try a set of narrower Nitto B115s; I've a feeling those would be the perfect 'bar for this bike.