“Handlebars Like A Xanax” – Cycle Life I
During the summer I had the opportunity to build a single-speed bike. It all happened thanks to my friend Charles that introduced me to his friend Henry that is a bicycle enthusiast with over 10 years of experience building, riding, and selling in the Bay Area. I was welcomed to a world that I do not know too much about that took over my summer during Covid. It all started with a simple conversation about cycling that eventually became four hours. Henry has so much passion and enthusiasm for the sport that a lot of the questions I had reserved were finally answered.
One of the first things Henry did for me and shout out to him is let me demo the three bicycles (Bridgestone 100, Trek 300, Chromoly fixie) he currently holds in NYC. The rest he sold back in Oakland. This allowed me to determine many factors for my build primarily the weight and the type of bike. This would also mark the first time I would be riding a road bike. I instantly fell in love with the speed and ease of the pedals; something I was not accustomed to since my last bike was a Gary Fisher F4. It was full suspension and very heavy around 35-40 pounds. After two months of riding in-between Henry’s fleet, I finally decided on a build. The frame had to be steel, lightweight, and require as little maintenance as possible. We settled on building a single-speed from a bike frame we can source from the internet for cheap.
The first idea I had envisioned for my bike build was having Aerospoke rim(s) as a set or just for the front or rear. The reason for this was that when I was younger I told myself that if I ever had the chance to own or build a bike, I want them on my build. I did not take into consideration any of the other important factors such as your budget and use for the bike. The only thing I immediately visioned was a white rim. The first frame I bought was a bargain find on eBay from Henry. It was a deal I could not pass up for $135 shipped. What I got for my first frame was a Centurion Lemans RS in Cherry red. I could not pass it up since it was a tange 2 frame made in Japan and weighed in at just 7 pounds! This made it easier for me to layout the rest of the build since I had a clear theme of what I was going with because of the frame and its color. My efforts shifted to obtaining the chainset and bottom bracket. Each country has its unique process of how their bikes are created i.e. Japan, Italy, USA, or England. Bottom brackets differed in size. This reminded me of the way car manufacturers from different countries each respectively engineered their machines.
Since I had a Japanese frame, Henry instructed me to look at different regions from all over the world with how they race and build bicycles. Everyone does things differently and he wanted me to compare and contrast elements that I could incorporate in my build. It was natural I fell in love with the simplicity of Japanese racing bicycles. Plain to the naked eye, but it’s when you get a second look that there is more. For those that do not know the NJS, it stands for Nihon Jitensha Shinkokai, which is the Japan Keirin Association. It is now replaced by the Japan Keirin Autorace Foundation that is a public sport the government invented in Japan to promote legalized gambling. What was born out of this is the rich racing history of Japanese bike builders and their respective riders. People always want what the best are using at the professional level and the bicycle culture is not exempt from what inspires cyclists.
I was only missing a few more important components such as the rims, handlebars, rim tape, seat post, and the seat. NJS components were on my mind, but their prices even on the used market tend to be more on the expensive end. Because of this, I started to look at other alternatives. I made it a goal that what mattered was the overall value I was getting for the price. Henry instructed that I do some more research on my own along with guidance from his valuable resources such as Sheldon Brown’s website that is a master guide for everything you need to know about bicycle ownership. It would take another two weeks for me to decide and finalize the parts I wanted.
The next component I spent a lot of time researching on was the rims. There is no point in having a good bicycle without a proper set of rims that are lightweight and durable. I still wanted Aerospokes, which is now the company Encore. I could not pass up a set of Campagnolo Zonda C17. I ended up getting a set half the cost of just one Encore wheel. The C17s are much lighter 1540 grams for the pair versus 1490 grams for one Encore rim. Since a good portion of the money went to rims, I had to save on cost with other components such as the brake pads, brake lever, and handlebars. The handlebars I obtained were an NJS thanks to Meritt Robinson a local bike tuner from Long Island City that gave me an amazing deal. I preferred an NJS dropdown handlebar because I love the aggressive low position it forces you to ride the bike. I originally had Campagnolo Athena brakes from 1996 but due to issues with it not fitting with my frames socket, I had to sell them. I ended up buying a Shimano 105 brake set from Henry.
My only real complaint with any of the components I bought would be the Tour de France edition of the Continental Grand Prix 5000 tires. The only difference with the regular GP 5000 tires is that this one has a beautiful light tan sidewall. Compared to the road bikes I have been riding in the summer from Henry’s stable were Gatorskins and other puncture resistance tires. Those have a slower rolling resistance but have much better puncture protection. Upon my first ride with these tires, it was a night and day difference with rolling and pedaling. Aside from performance, everything else about the tire is terrible. The cost of it was quite expensive at $75. The rear tire developed a cut from the road at about 400 miles. The front started to gash to at about 600 miles. I finally had to retire the tires at about 950 miles when I got my fourth flat and both front and rear tires became unrideable. I ended up purchasing Continental’s Grand Prix tires. They can be compared to the Gatorskins for classic road bikes and look a lot better in my opinion and cost less.
At this point, it was nearing the middle of August and I just wanted a bicycle I can ride. I was patiently waiting and it took over my summer. On 8/13/20 we finally completed the build. I went on my first big ride that was 48 miles the next day on Friday 8/14. I looped Western Queens to Manhattan to Williamsburg Brooklyn back to Western Queens. One thing I did not consider was the shim we placed on the seat post I first bought. We placed a beer can on the post so that it holds when we place it on the bike. A little more than halfway through my trip, it was when I was going downhill on the beginning of 7th avenue that the post did not hold its height when I hit a pothole. Luckily my new tires did not blowout. I was close enough to walk to Echelon Cycles on 8th avenue and obtained a seat post there that was an exact fit. We called it even on a pack of cigs and I was good to go. I appreciate the tech that helped me that day.
It was during this first long bike ride I realized that the frame is too small. I thought we could salvage it with a higher seat post but it was just too uncomfortable for long periods. I did so much work and research I was bummed out about it. I would have to find a frame that fits all my components so it will be an easy swap I hoped. We were back to the drawing board with the bike build. I needed a new frame that needed to be steel. I fell in love with the durability and construction of lightweight metal bicycles. The ride has a good feeling of absorbing the road compared to carbon fiber frames. Please take into consideration my riding is primarily on the streets of NYC and the parks that have paths for road bicycles. I do not race or need to shave the most amount of weight but I wanted something balanced. The price point for affordable frames of quality metals is a great bargain compared to riding a carbon fiber frame on the streets.
I was once again assisted with an amazing frame find by Henry. The new bike was a white Greg LeMond Zurich frame that is 54 cm constructed of a carbon fiber front fork on an 853 Reynolds steel frame that brings the weight in at about 4 pounds. Despite having to get rid of the old frame I learned so much more about the culture and history of cycling. Henry raved about Greg LeMond and his significance in sports. I did not know anything about him prior, but when I did my research I understood the importance of having the bike and appreciated the entire process even more.