While I was attempting (and failing) to write an episode thirty days in a row here at Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas, a kid named James, known as the Iron Cowboy, today wrapped doing 100 full-length triathlons in 100 days.
Yep, 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, followed by a full-ass 26.2-mile marathon.
100 times. In 100 days.
He did it to raise funds and awareness to rescue children from sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, so maybe he’s crazy, but it’s the right kind of crazy. My pals at Fezzari Bikes are proud sponsors, and I love them for that as well.
I can only imagine how it will feel for the Iron Cowboy to take a day off tomorrow. Congratulations, James!
According to the Velominati, the correct number of bicycles to own is n+1. However, I’m pretty content with two.
I bought the first bike in 2014. I went in to a Mom-and-Pop-and-Kids bike shop and told them I would be commuting on a bike but I didn’t need anything fancy. They pointed me to the Escape 0 by Giant, which I think was discounted because it was being discontinued. It is a “hybrid” bike aimed at commuters – mountain bike drive train with lots of gears (important for skinny-leg people carrying lots of stuff), an upright posture good for traffic awareness, but narrower tires intended for road use.
I kind of fell for the upsell when I chose that bike, but I have no regrets. And I had a list of other stuff to load up on before I even left the store: cushier seat, floor pump, helmet of course, and on and on. I left a fair chunk of scratch at the bike store, and I’ve paid quite a bit more since, yet conservatively all of that has been paid and then some with gasoline not burned driving to and from work.
To say nothing of the other benefits. Health, happiness, and Yet Another Bike Episode here at MR&HBI.
Over time I’ve added a beefier rack, gone through a few different panniers (the bags that attach to the rack), put fenders on for rainy days (I kind of like the rain), various lights (including Revolights, which were a great idea but never found their market), and on and on. My mantra was, “the weight I take off the bike should come from my gut.” I’ve put a lot of miles on that fine machine; many good hours being out in the world instead of boxed in metal and glass.
When I commuted by bike regularly, I started to recognize some of the others out there. A lot the other riders were decked out in tight-fitting bike gear, riding their fancy bikes. I would measure myself against those riders, pushing a little extra to maybe catch up with the Big Bald Guy at the next light. I could sometimes keep it close with one spandex-wearer, but if another came along, that was it. they would vanish over the horizon with a wink of light.
Most of that, of course, is because I’m a skinny-leg big-belly graybeard, but it turns out the hardware matters as well. Enter the Fezzari.
When the pandemic came down, I had not been riding regularly. Early on I took the disruption of my life as an opportunity to rebuild some good life habits, and the bike was at the center of that. Things were going great, until a mechanical issue during a major supply-chain disruption left me with no bike for a while. Late one night, I thought, “What if I buy another bike?” The only bikes available were the really high-end ones, but if I was gong to justify another purchase, it had to fill a different role than my commuter bike anyway.
You know how that turned out. And now here we are.
Wednesday I rode the Giant to work, lugging along a change of clothes, a laptop, shoes, about five pounds of food, and other odds and ends. Even if I could fit all that in a backpack (doubtful), then my back would be a swamp by the time I got to work. No problem on the Giant. It is a stable ride, comfortable, with an upright posture and wide handlebars for easy control. Thirty different gear ratios to choose from and that good ol’ cushy seat means that while I’m riding I’m just traveling, getting where I’m going with a minimum of fuss. It’s not a bike commute, it’s simply a commute.
It’s the bike I ride to the store (usually the bike store).
When I got on the Fezzari I discovered a new sort of bicycling. The bike is small, and twitchy, and fast. I’m still learning to ride it, still getting used to the more aggressive seating posture (I’m very happy I asked them to set it up with a “relaxed” posture, adding a bit of height on the handlebars so I’m less hunched over.) My hands tend to go numb on long rides; I’m still searching for the right posture and grip to deal with that extra weight on my arms.
But there are times, many times, when all that is forgotten and I’m cranking along to the sound of my tires whooshing over the pavement and it’s sublime. I love that bike.
I think, in fact, I love it more because I still put in the miles on the Giant. I am constantly reminded just what makes the fancy road bike special. Without that contrast would I start to take my new bike for granted? (Actually, probably not, but it’s still a good reminder.) And what about my faithful pack mule? I love it more, too, for having ridden the Fezzari; I appreciate the comfort and the capacity and the simpleness of riding it. It’s the perfect tool for the job.
Special bonus: twice the time tinkering in the shade of the tree in our backyard.
There is a section of my favorite bike trail, a sinuous stretch that winds between ancient trees, that is far enough from picnic spots that there is little foot traffic or large family bicycle outings. Along that stretch, I am occasionally able to flout the local speed limit and really have fun. Or to be precise, a different kind of fun, because it fills my heart with gladness to see a whole family out there enjoying the air and the trees and some of the good things about life.
And now there are bike helmets for kids that are awesome. I saw a young girl with a unicorn lid today that was just plain cool. I could be tempted, is all I’m saying. I’m never going to grumble about having to slow down for groups like that; in ten years I’ll be the one getting in the way of the girl who has eschewed her unicorn for an aero helmet. Hakuna-matata, or something like that.
But I digress.
I am thankful for the quieter stretches, on this trail and elsewhere, over which I can put my head down a little bit, and see what I can do. The stretch on Coyote Creek Trail was always one of my favorites, but then I got the new bike. The Fezzari Empire changes things in ways I could never have imagined.
The Coyote Creek segment is flat by bicyclist standards, but it rolls a bit, with rises that seem gentler than they used to, and descents that seem more fun than ever. Ascending, rather than drop down a couple of gears and pedal enough to preserve some of my momentum, I’m more inclined now to stand up and mash, the challenge to never break my cadence as I attack the slope. Often now I’m going faster when I get to the top of these minor obstacles and my heart is pumping harder and I feel good.
Then through the twists and turns, and as confidence increases (see Rule 64) I find myself slicing through the corners, my bicycle eager to carve a path as my tires hiss over the pavement and my shirt ripples with the wind. It is a singularly awesome moment.
I mentioned somewhere in Part 4 that the new bike loves to turn. In fact, it is much like the little two-seat sports car that is buried under bike stuff in my garage. Quick, twitchy, and communicative, if a little more demanding and rougher than my good ol’ Giant commuter bike. The Fezzari is talking to me all the time, and listening as well. And if I don’t pay attention, things go astray much more quickly than when I am on my other bike. Kind of like my storytelling.
Perhaps now is the time to mention, for people who don’t know me, that when I speak of my recent triumphs on my new bicycle, that the successes are relative. I will not be competing in the Tour de France any time soon; I am a gradually-less-overweight guy with skinny little legs who has earned his long white beard. Most of the Spandex Crowd** still passes me. (Hehe… most.) I’m probably not saying anything here that experienced cyclists don’t already know. But maybe the experienced cyclists out there have forgotten just how awesome getting on a good bike and riding really is. And that joy is what I’m here to tell you about.
On the subject of communication with a bike: Never has a chain lube given such instantaneous gratification before. I had not considered that the repair stand I owned would not work on a bike with a through-axle, and I suddenly found myself scrounging. It was 250 miles before I did the first cleaning/lube (factory chain lube is supposed to last a while… right?) and I had identified a rumbling feeling coming through my cranks. I thought it might be an alignment problem with my fancy derailleur, but nope, after routine chain maintenance it was like I was pedaling a cloud. A badass cloud. The sound of the tires actually rises and falls with my pedaling cadence. Zhoosh-zhoosh-zhoosh.
Along the Guadalupe River Trail there is a brief, very steep slope up from the river to the top of the embankment. The other day I stood up and mashed, increasing torque on the pedals by pulling upward on the handlebars. The front wheel was lifting off the ground as I pushed up the slope, and I leaned forward to put more of my weight over that wheel.
Like a real goddam cyclist. For the rest of that outing, my longest single ride ever, I was taking it easy to conserve energy, especially while fighting a fierce headwind for the first half, but for the few uphill bits I turned into a maniac.
How does my Fezzari compare to a Trek or Specialized with similar components? Honestly I have no idea. Fezzari is a smaller outfit out of Utah, and they make a big deal of their production techniques. The marketing copy sounds convincing, anyway, and there are some good reviews. And for a bike with the same components I’d be out at least another $2000 to go with the big name. Probably more. That’s a lot of dollars. And the water I carry weighs more than the frame does.
Someday in the future I will haul my pedals down to visit my roadie friends in San Diego, and try not to destroy their gear as we ride about more slowly than they are accustomed to. Maybe then I can do a comparison. In the meantime, I can only gush about the game-changer I’m riding now.
The Fezzari folk are awfully friendly as well, although I think this road bike is new for them. In a couple of cases I feel a bit like a beta tester — a couple of conversations with their staff were a little confused, the assembly instructions didn’t apply to this bike at some points, and the brace for the seat post needs a little design work. The front derailleur was not adjusted properly when it arrived, but they may have been rushing because I was pestering them with “is it ready yet?” messages every seven minutes and they just wanted to give an excitable old man his bike.
Would I recommend the Fezzari Empire to other cyclists? Oh, heck yeah. Am I the guy other cyclists should be taking advice from? Only if you love to ride.
* As well as a fair number of miles on my old Giant. ** The term is not to disparage; I will be a member of this crowd soon enough.
It was before noon when the package arrived. My new bike. “I’m pretty excited,” I told the FedEx guy.
“New bike?” he asked as he lifted the large box.
He handed me the box with no thought about whether a dumpy gray-bearded guy could handle it. It was bulky, but not very heavy. I opened the box and set to work.
It took me a while to get everything put together. This was mostly because I wanted to be very careful, and partly because there were parts in the shipment that didn’t apply to me, that I had to come to terms with mentally. At the bottom of the box was a pistachio shell. The human touch.
But before long the bike was assembled, and almost ready to ride.
“Almost” because this bike does not use traditional cables to shift gears, instead it uses an electrically-actuated system that can make subtle adjustments based on the gears selected. Which means my bike uses batteries, and the batteries were shipped with no charge.
The good news is that the day cooled somewhat over the three hours it took to get the batteries charged (I will need to recharge them monthly or perhaps more often if I ride a lot, but I can plan ahead and not be held up again.)
Finally, the batteries were charged. Then came the firmware updates. I now have an app on my phone for my bike’s drivetrain.
You might be wondering whether this hassle is worth it, but I have been waiting for three months now for a tool to help me maintain the cables on my other bike. It will get here eventually. In the meantime, I have a bike with no cables.
Batteries charged, firmware installed, it was time to ride!
My first trip was a loop around the neighborhood to get a feel for the bike and think about seat height. It was unlike any other experience I had ever had on a bicycle. First impression: This bike wants to turn. I’m going to have to get used to such a twitchy ride. Second impression: This bike wants to move. With tires hissing as I pedaled I was going faster than I had before.
A lot of that has to do with weight, obviously; the new bike weighs half what my faithful Giant, loaded with commuter gear, weighs. But there was a time when I weighed less, and the combined weight of rider and bike then was not that different than me on the Fezzari now. But this is an entirely different feeling.
I got home from the loop, nudged the seat up a bit, loaded up with beverages, and headed out for adventure. As I did, I made two mistakes. Afraid of damaging the carbon-fiber frame, I did not crank down the seat post clamp hard enough. It could happen to anybody. The BIG mistake was that I didn’t bring the adjuster wrench with me. As a result, I was soon riding with a seat much too low, and my brand-new seat post got some pretty bad scratches in it as it moved with my pedaling.
On the maiden voyage on any bike, bring all the tools.
But oh, what a ride. You know what you don’t worry about when you’re commuting? The lines you take through corners. And while my default route is pretty flat, there is one small climb that I literally laughed out loud while climbing — I reached for the granny gear on the bike and it was way too low. I pulled up that brief slope with confidence.
Were it not for the seat problem, I would have added a more serious climb at the end of my ride.
Strava runs on my watch while I ride, and every once in a while I would look at my wrist and just shake my head. I had to remind myself to be a responsible rider when other people were on the trail ahead of me.
Toward the end of my ride, back on urban streets, I caught up to a man who had his headwear held on by a scarf that went under his chin, his sandaled feet pushing the pedals of his bike. We stopped a light together, and I said hello.
“How are you today?” he asked.
“I am very happy,” I said.
He was a little surprised at my response, I think, but after he adjusted. He smiled. “That is good,” he said, as the light changed.
Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod, my new bike os ON THE WAY.
Quick recap for those just joining in: I have a very nice bike, a sturdy number with a massive cargo rack and a cushy seat and good mechanicals and several thousand miles of bonding time. But I need a new wheel, and what I thought would take days has instead taken weeks.
While I waited for my faithful bike to be road-worthy, I started drooling over much fancier bicycles. Bicycles I could buy RIGHT NOW and be riding again. But then I started looking for American small businesses, accepting that maybe I would pay yet more but I would be supporting something I believe in. In my search I found a bike that had my ideal drivetrain and glowing reviews for about 60% the cost of the big guys.
I am not one to underthink anything. I searched and scrabbled, but these guys seemed real. Finally, I placed my order. That included providing many, many measurements, so they could get the bike set up as close to perfectly as possible without actually meeting me.
First note about Fezzari – if anyone there has any doubts about the bikes they are building, they do a damn fine job of hiding it. The pride in what they do oozes from every communication. Second note – they take customer service seriously. They are a friendly and enthusiastic bunch.
In my previous installment in this series I mentioned that I would have to wait a few months to get my bike. After I placed my order I got a phone call to go over what I had requested and whether I had any questions. I had a couple, and the guy had easy, technically-trustworthy answers. We parted happily. A few seconds later, I got another call from Fezzari. Same guy. It seems he had forgotten to ask me an important question: If I was willing to forgo the teal color highlights in favor of olive, I could have my bike in four weeks instead of four months.
Big “fuck yeah” to that. In anticipation of the arrival, I ordered from my local bike shop pedals to match my shoes and light mounts so I could move lights from one bike to the other.
Four weeks shrank to four days, and now FedEx is bringing me my bike. Delivery estimate: Sunday. Day after tomorrow.
I was ready to wait months for this thoroughbred, confident that my trusty pony would have its new wheel any day now. My Giant is a great bike, and will always be my commuter vehicle, when the day comes that I commute again.
But I am giddy with excitement. I have planned my first ride on the new bike, which is essentially my default ride with a hill-climb option at the end. I have started to worry about not having padding in my pants. I’m telling my knee that soon all will be well.
My Fezzari arrives Sunday, some small amount of assembly required. If it’s late in the day when my new ride arrives, I’ll have to take Monday off. Mental health day.
Since the previous episode, when I had my eyes on a fancy bike that was sold right out from under me, I did not stop lusting over fancy bikes. I pored over the bike shop’s listings so thoroughly that when I went in there a few days ago to check on my wheel progress (I am unbiked right now while I wait for a wheel) I recognized individual bikes in the inventory. “Oh, that’s that sweet demo model with the 58cm frame!” (Too big for me.)
Side note: while I was at the bike shop, a family was shopping for the kid’s first bike. A big moment! They were looking at a few models but none was perfect. “If we order the other color, how long?” Mom asked. “About a year,” the bike store guy replied. “September 2021. Bikes are hard to find these days.” Dang.
I saw a matte gray bike from their “high-performance pack mule” line. I had studied the range of gear ratios between the two drivetrains offered at the top of this line — the SRAM 1×12 and the Shimano 2×11 drivetrains. For the nerds: SRAM has a lower granny gear, Shimano has a taller top end and smaller steps between gears. But you know how to stop having problems with the front derailleur? Don’t have one. 1×12 is simpler and lighter. And more expensive.
In person, I was struck by just how dang graceful the offerings from Trek are these days. Those are some pretty bikes. And there they were, just one credit-card transaction away, as I learned that one of my wheels was still in transit, and the other wasn’t set up yet.
(Iso-speed, a voice whispered in my head. Trek technology that reduces vibration reaching the rider, thus improving endurance.)
I had walked to the store, I could have ridden home. I did not. I might have given in, but I had already found a new object of desire, one that demanded less in return. Today I did two things at the same time: I ordered a new bike and I became one of those people who rides way more bike than he has any business riding.
The bike comes from Fezzari, an outfit out of Utah, known mainly for mountain bikes. They pioneered a construction technique that, rather than make carbon-fiber elements and join them together, builds the frame all in one go. No joints. The version of the drivetrain I most wanted in the world comes at an enormous discount on this frame, compared to Trek, Specialized, Giant and the rest.
This frame-is-a-single-piece thing allegedly also reduces vibration and rider fatigue, along with blah blah blah bike stuff. And this frame has apparently passed some series of mountain bike strength tests. Most road bikes could not pass those tests, my new best friends at Fezzari assure me. While true roadies might not find this important, I sometimes fall over. A tough frame can be nothing but good. Especially if the frame weighs less than two pounds.
Aesthetically, where Trek is a dolphin, Fezarri is a stealth fighter, angular and aggressive. In the almost-inconceivable world where my bike frame aerodynamics make a difference, I might have to upgrade again. In that world, I’m a professional bicyclist and someone else is picking up the cost.
This bike will be a pretty good climbing bike. Were it not for the big belly I carry around, I would have a climbing physique. I’m kind of… itching to climb. (Not so keen on descents.) I’m already scouting hills in my neighborhood. While long climbs around here involve interaction with cars, there are some great sprint-climbs nearby with no traffic. When I get my wheel I’ll start measuring myself on them with my current bike. When the new bike arrives a few months from now, I’ll be ready for the polka-dot jersey.
Yeah, a few months. The wait time is 16-18 weeks. Not a lot of uncertainty, but a lot of waiting. It is NOT the instant gratification I set out looking for; it is not the get-me-riding-right-now fix that started me on this quest. But the new bike will provide a riding experience that I think will keep me over the wheels for years to come. Although I will have to adapt to riding a bike that has no kickstand. Weird.
But when it’s raining, or when I need to carry stuff, or when I need my head up in traffic, my faithful old Giant will be there. It’s a great bike, and shall always be loved. While the Fezzari will become my bicycle, the Giant will remain my car.