Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Costly mistakes - your worst (and best) bike-related purchases

We all make mistakes. When it comes to bicycles, this trial and error process is even more evident. It is unlikely that you will love the first bike you own. Adjusting to the bike, finding a comfortable position, realizing what type of riding you want to do - it all takes time. Sometimes you buy a bike thinking about it as the best bike in the world, only to realize later that it is much less perfect than you originally imagined. It lacks some features, it is uncomfortable, it is difficult to ride. Then, once you keep riding, gain experience, you learn what makes you happy and comfortable on your bike.

I have been in such situation relatively recently. When I bought my Lemond Poprad, I quickly realized that this was the best bike I ever owned. And it is still true. However, after I started to ride longer and longer distances, I learned that the bike was far from being perfect. I started looking for some ways to improve it. First, I replaced the saddle with Selle An-Atomica Titanico and so far I can tell that this was one of the BEST bike-related purchases ever. Pain in the rear end was finally gone. The front end was still a bit of a problem but after replacing the stem and handlebars with Salsa Cowbell, I am a happier man again.
Bontrager Race All-Weather Hardcase 700c 23mm tires - don't bother.

The bike came with off-road 700x35c tires and since I wanted something faster to easier roll on the pavement I bought 700x23c tires - Bontrager Race All-Weather Hardcase. And this clearly was one of the WORST purchases ever. The tires are quite terrible. Very rigid - resulting in harsh ride, stiff, not folding, heavy (390g ea. vs 300g for my "heavy" off-road" tires!) and if that's not enough - they sit so tight on the rim that I need multiple tire levers to remove them. I guess there is only one positive thing of these tires - they are thick, so it is difficult to get a flat. But this wouldn't change my verdict - I would never buy them again.

At some point I also found myself in the situation when traveling by bike with a tiny frame bag just didn't work too well. I needed something larger. I searched through multiple handlebar bags options but nearly all of them look too retro and plain ugly to be considered. Then I looked at the saddlebags but the situation here wasn't much better either. I ended up buying a rear rack - a lightweight Tubus Fly, and strapping a small stuff bag with some bungee cords. This worked quite well but I missed the ease of simply opening a bag to get the stuff inside. Removing the cords to get to the bag and reinstalling everything was just not the best solution. Tubus Fly - being a very nice rack, didn't really work for me so buying it was probably a BAD decision.
My bike with a nearly fully-stuffed Pika saddlebag.

What did work was Pika (I plan a separate review - stay tuned) - a large, elongated saddlebag by Revelate Designs, designed to be used unsupported - attached to saddle rails and a seatpost. Pika is large enough to fit all the stuff I would need on a longer, self-supported ride, yet still compact and lightweight to be unnoticeable when riding.

The next item that left me very mixed feelings were Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tires. After I manage to ruin two of these within the first few days of riding, I decided that they just won't work for my style of riding. And not just that - I just can't afford replacing a $62 tire that often. Just like in case of the Tubus rack, these tires are great and work flawlessly on paved road, but they are not good for me. I need something more durable for road-to-trail riding and while Marathons roll beautifully on asphalt, their sidewalls are much too fragile on rough trails.

On a positive side, I love my Planet Bike Blaze 2-Watt light. I needed some kind of front light for those situations when I return home from a ride at dusk. Investing in a generator light just didn't make sense. I don't ride in darkness often enough to justify the cost. The Blaze 2-Watt costs only $60 (you can even get it cheaper) - much less than any generator system but offers a very good performance. In high beam mode, I can ride at about 30km/h (18mph) on a pitch black paved road comfortably. Two AA Eneloop batteries last easily 3.5hrs in high beam mode, before requiring a recharge. Surely, there are more powerful and even longer lasting lights on market. But for this price, the Blaze 2-Watt is simply an amazing deal.

Yes, we all make mistakes. And that's OK, as long as we learn from them.

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