Juxtaposition: A Tale of Two Bikes

There is a bridge called the George Washington Bridge that connects the island of Manhattan to the state of New Jersey. This is the main escape route for New York City's roadies, and I would estimate that it sees the highest volume of Fred traffic of any roadway in the entire world. In fact, if one were one to seal it off completely, the city would swell and swell and swell like pimple until it exploded in an atomic blast of Lycra, crabon, and pie plates.

This past weekend, I joined the legions of cyclists who use this bridge, and just a few of the things I observed while on my ride included:

--A gentleman wearing a Bert and Ernie jersey and riding a Colnago Ferrari;
--Another gentleman wearing a sleeveless base layer with no jersey at all, complete with teardrop aero helmet;
--Yet another gentleman who proved the old adage "the bike goes where you look" when he turned to admire the scenery and rode right into the guardrail.

I of course was astride my gleaming new Ritte Fred Chariot, which I've ironically parked in front of the words "No Parking:"

(I don't need "society", your yellow letters mean nothing to me.)

Having finally maneuvered through traffic and up and down moderate hills and around wayward triathletes I'm pleased to report that the bike rides beautifully, and while I have no intention of subjecting you to incessant "foffing off" over this thing I do realize that in last Friday's post I failed to include certain images that are mandated by the American Bike Dork Society of America. Therefore, I will dispense with these Obligatory Bicycle Shots (OBS) so that I can avoid being subject to further fines and we can then move onto more pressing matters.

Firstly, here's the Obligatory Derailleur Shot:

Notice that the bicycle makes use of something called a "derailleur hanger," which is "replaceable." This is so when you "crash" because "some guy with a TT helmet and no jersey on" runs into you, the bicycle will be easily repairable--provided all the damage is limited to the derailleur hanger.

Next, here's the Obligatory Non-Drive Side Dropout Shot:

Notice it's "cowled" to provide more surface area for the oversized blahblahblah. Alas, notice that the dropouts are vertical, which is the only reason I haven't yet converted this into a sweet, sweet fixie. The wheels use "Itchey" hubs, and Itchey apparently employ a marketing technique known as the "Trifecta System." Ordinarily I prefer handbuilt wheels, but when you have 17 children like I do it's very difficult to sit around building wheels because kids like to do stuff like eat nipples and put spokes up their nose. Therefore, in the interest of time I took a gamble on "instant" wheels, and I guess I'll just see what happens.

This, of course, is the obligatory Seat Tube Junction shot:

The tubings are being made from stainless steel because I tend to wet myself when I'm excited or tired (on a good road ride you'll be both excited and tired at various times), and they are joined by a revolutionary new process known as "welding." It'll have to do for now--at least until I get those fake stick-on lugs.

This is the Obligatory Head Tube shot:

Given the collapse of the world economy, I'm putting all my resources into Chris King headsets based on the relative strength of the Chris King Headset Composite Index (CKHCI). As you can see, the stem is not "slammed." I'm not sure why a "slammed" stem is a good thing anyway; it's the equivalent of having your saddle jammed all the way forward. I'd think you'd want a bit of adjustability in either direction. But what do I know?

Here's the Obigatory Head Tube Badge shot:

The head tube badge is essential because it tells you what kind of bicycle you have in case you forget. I think it's the first head tube badge I've ever had that wasn't plastic and mounted with foam tape. There's also a spare one on the seat tube:

And lastly, the most obligatory of obligatory photos, the Beefy Bottom Bracket Shot:

The plastic band is a chain catcher anti-drop thingy, because the bottom bracket is so incredibly beefy I'm afraid its gravitational pull will overcome the strength of the derailleur cage and draw the chain to it.

And that's my road bike, big freaking deal.

Moving on to the "more pressing matters" I alerted to earlier, these matters concern a bicycle that is not mine but that I am in fact "testing." The bicycle looks like this, and it is called a "Base Urban:"

(No, I don't have any idea why the top tube is shaped like that, and no, a U-lock does not fit through it.)

Now, few things are more subjective than aesthetics, and while aesthetic considerations can sometimes overlap with practical ones, other times form and function can be mutually exclusive. In other words, sometimes something that's really ugly can work great, and sometimes something that's really beautiful can work like crap. And what's ugly to one person can be beautiful to another, and so forth.

As it happens, I think this bicycle is wildly ugly. To me, it evokes throbbing dance music, and flat brim caps with the stickers still on them, and cars with neon underneath, and the smell of cologne, and all manner of other things I find aesthetically offensive. Nevertheless, I agreed to test it for a simple reason:

It has an 8 speed Alfine hub and a belt drive.

Belt drives have been debunked to a certain extent where hard recreational offroad use is concerned, but for commuting purposes this particular combination seemed intriguing, since arguably a drivetrain with no chain grime or derailleurs that still offers you the ability to shift and coast is the commuting ideal. And never having ridden a belt drive bicycle in any application before, I was eager to try one, and I figured if it worked well I could overlook the bike's questionable aesthetics in the same way I don't really care what my toilet looks like so long as it accepts waste and flushes reliably.

Anyway, I've only just taken delivery of the bike, so what follows are first impression.

Firstly, the hub shifts by means of this STI-type lever:

This may look familiar to you as shifters in this configuration are sold variously as Microshift (I think technically it's "microSHIFT," and you should always be sure to shout the second syllable), Nashbar, Samson, and so forth. The lever body feels pretty much exactly like the last generation Shimano levers did, and you shift by means of these nubbins:

It's all fairly intuitive and comfy, but the shifting isn't anywhere as quick as with a derailleur drivetrain--though it's perfectly adequate for riding around town. I'd argue that there's little point in a riding-around-town bike that looks like a race bike but doesn't shift like one and that also weighs many many pounds, but that's more of an aesthetic quibble, and the bike does have practical features such as fender eyelets on the fork:

And both fender and rack eyelets in the rear:

Though arguably the fender eyelets are of little use since the fork crown is not drilled:

And neither is the brake bridge for that matter:

And anyway even if they were it's tough to imagine a fender strut clearing the brake caliper:

Not that I tried it, mind you, but it's pretty clear to me that this bike does not want fenders since it's guarding the integrity of those holes like a [insert bad prison joke here].

Speaking of the disc brakes, they're Avid BB7s, a brake with which I have considerable experience and which I generally find to be excellent:

On this bike, however, they feel almost disconcertingly spongy. It could be that they need to wear in a bit, or it could be a cable routing issue, but I've never experienced this with new BB7s in the past, and even my Big Dummy with it's roughly 900 foot long rear brake cable housing has never felt this vague. Though ostensibly a bad thing, the brake's sponginess was in keeping with the overall feel of the bike, which basically rides like the eponymous airplane in the movie "Airplane!":

("Sluggish...like a wet sponge.")

I suppose this is what happens when you take not particularly supple tires and very heavy wheels and spongy disc brakes and not-crisp shifting and assemble them in the shape of a road bike when they really want to be one of those department store chopper bikes. As for the belt itself, I thought the idea was that they were quiet, but as I rode it made a rhythmic creaking noise, which made me feel like I was in a cheap hotel room with thin walls and my neighbors were having a "collabo:"

Granted, I've only just taken delivery of the bike and have not had time to try to adjust it out, but from what I can see while riding, the chainring (or belt ring, or belt wheel, or whatever you would call it) has a wobble in it and as such is moving laterally in relation to the belt. It's very slight--about as much as a typical chainring wobble--but evidently with the high tension the belt requires it's enough to make a racket.

Again, this is just a first impression, but overall so far I'm pretty impressed by how poorly thought through this bicycle is, right down to the fact that the bars were wrapped backwards from the factory so the tape kept peeling under my hand:

All of this for the low price of $1,750:

Though you do get one (1) set of bottle bosses and a bottle cage.

In the coming days I will invent paces for this bike and then put it through them, but given that you could buy a pretty decent road bike and an inexpensive singlespeed commuter for this price (my Scattante rides quite nicely and is still serving me well as a commuter two and a half years later) instead of merging the two concepts into one bike, I'm sort of struggling to see the point of this.

But in the interest of science, I'll keep trying.

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