New commute needs a new bike

I just changed jobs and the new commute is shorter and uglier. Rather than the ride I was doing that was mostly along the Bay going from Mountain View to Menlo Park, I now go South into the industrial bowels of Sunnyvale (industrial on a Silicon Valley scale that is). So rather than a mostly quiet and mind-clearing (my wife says emptying) ride through Shoreline Park and along the Bay trail I’ve been taking Evelyn then cutting over to Arques. The other option is Central Expressway but that’s basically riding on the shoulder of a freeway as far as I can tell so I don’t think I’ll be doing that.

Since I have showers and a gym at the new job I can now sprint to work whereas I used to have to avoid sweating. Plus, when I get to the gym I’m all warmed up and ready to tackle that goal of bench pressing 1/2 my body weight (hey, I’m a cyclist!). So the new commute had me thinking of either changing my MTB fixie conversion/town bike to make it faster or figuring out another option. I’m lucky enough to have quite a few serviceable parts around since I’m a part hoarder and I need to maintain bikes for my wife (she also races a bit) and me.

That’s my red fixie in the picture below

red bike with blue bike

The great thing about my MTB fixie conversion is that NOBODY IN HIS RIGHT MIND WILL STEAL IT. I still lock it but it’s not desirable at all like the true fixies you see around. And even if someone parted it out on ebay the parts fit in that nice niche where they are too new to be ‘vintage’ and too old to be ‘modern’. So the downside of retiring that bike is that I might have to worry about the new bike getting pinched. I had a thought that I could convert my old Trek road frame to fixed. So before I went too far, I thought about what I really wanted and came up with this list of features:

  • Fast
  • Able to mount a rear rack
  • Not too desirable for theft
  • Fender mounting option
  • Low maintenance

A fixed gear conversion fits this list pretty well. With skinny 700c tires and tall gearing it would be fast. The Trek frame has sufficient eyelets and other bits to mount a rack and fenders. It might be a bit more of a target for thieves but I didn’t really expect it. I was excited about this option. As efficient as bikes are, one of the areas that is still sub-optimum is the drivetrain. It really hasn’t changed that much since the first derailleur was developed and is due for a design breakthrough. Shift cables need frequent adjustment and get sticky and dirty in wet weather and the shifting performance goes south quickly. If I could avoid having to change gears, I’d still have my low maintenance bike.

However, when I started to shop around for the bits to convert my vertical dropout frame to fixed, I was shocked to find that the cheapest option was about $150. And for that kind of money I could just buy a basic steel track frame. And no, don’t even get me started on using a ghost ring for chain tensioning.

ghost ring

So I had to rethink this. I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money. And, one must admit, the rear derailleur is a mechanical device of great beauty. Plus it is even quiet when tuned well. The front derailleur on the other hand is a compromise. None of the beauty of the little jockey wheels and the exposed parallelogram linkage of the rear derailleur – just a couple of metal plates to push the chain to either side. You don’t really shift the chain on the front chainrings you DERAIL it. The large difference in the number of teeth between small and large chainrings is such a big jump that it can’t be anything but clunky. And you’re prone to dropping the chain if things go too far out of adjustment. So I would build up my old Trek with a single front chainring and use a 9 speed mountain bike cassette on the rear. That would give me a huge range so I could toodle to work on lazy days or drop it down into the small cogs for some good top-end speed for my bike lane sprints. And jettisoning the front derailleur gave me the bit of the simplicity I was looking for.

So over to the parts bin to see what I had. Amazingly I had almost everything – even some nice new bar tape to finish the job. Over a few hours of the long weekend I built it up, took it for a little shakedown ride and had my first commute on it last week. And it was FAST. Well it is a road bike so it should be. But even better, it has already made me think about some other changes I want to make…I just hope I have the parts.

Trek 9 speed

Soquel Demonstration Forest Flow Trail Build Day

Walk to the site

Really great to actually get some digging time at the Flow Trail! I had seen the plans but had not seen the trail until Saturday when I went out for the first official volunteer trail building day. A lot of work had already been done to machine-cut the trail but there is still more on tap to shape the trail and provide good drainage. When it’s all done we’ll have 4 miles of berms, rollers and other features to keep us entertained. It’s great to see this happening for Mountain Bikers.

Seeing ~35 volunteers turn out was impressive and we had a large selection of tools to pick from:


I was told that over 30 volunteer crew leaders had been trained over the last few months. The crew leaders for my team were Robert and my old friend Norm. After a safety discussion we grabbed a selection of tools and walked down to our section of trail where we discussed the work we had to do for the day.

That’s Norm on the left and Robert on the right at our lunch break. In the middle was Dirk who was another volunteer.

Lunch Break

The Stewards of Soquel Forest sponsored the workday which meant they had plenty of good food and drink both before and after our effort.

And we had 3 trail dogs along to entertain us. I didn’t get the name of this little fella but he was having a good time and those little legs of his were working overtime.

Mutant Dog

Keep an eye out on if you would like to help out on the next dig day on March 8 & 9

MTB riders really shouldn’t use @Strava

Trail Closed to Bikes

So I know some of us ride illegal (I call them undocumented) trails. I don’t advocate it but I understand it. In many communities even skateboarders get more love than the lowly mountain bike rider. Look at the proliferation of skateparks that allow skaters to do their sport the way they want and to progress it. There are few examples of similar public agency support for MTB riders so I understand the frustration – I was young once.

So now that is said, what if I told those people riding undocumented trails to do the following right after every single ride:

  • Call the local Sierra Club chapter and tell them where you rode
  • Let all your Facebook friends know, too
  • Email the local land manager – she is interested, too
  • Since your at it, tweet the cops

Give them information like: number of riders, your speed and don’t forget to let them know about any new trails you found.

Sound ridiculous? Nobody would ever do that, right? Well, every time you upload your ride on an undocumented trail that is what you have done.

So here are the new rules:

  • Ride open trails only and use Strava
  • Otherwise turn off your tracking device and don’t give the people who work against MTB access ammunition

Simple, huh?

And on the subject of using ‘handles’ on Strava rather than your real name –  it may protect YOU (probably not) but it doesn’t protect the SPORT. Don’t be your own worst enemy.