I was on my Jamis Dragon, riding along, minding my own business, tooling around my usual trail route when my smooth, serene, rhythmic pedaling up hill was abruptly and crudely interrupted by a biting resistance in the pedals. I resisted the urge to push harder, put my leg down on the ground to balance, leaned over to a stop, and looked to see what was stalling my drive train. A stick had somehow worked its way with ninja stealth and precision into my rear wheel and pulled apart my rear derailleur. It even bent a couple spokes before I even noticed it was there. Anyway, instead of shelling out $50 for another low end derailleur, I had decided to give single speed gearing a try. Single speed was okay, if not kind of fun. However, I soon realized that the chain tensioner I needed to keep the chain hooked up to the drivetrain had the same potential for wheel sabotage as the more expensive and much more efficient derailleur. This got me thinking about ditching the old Dragon, and finding something different. Maybe something that might have horizontal dropouts or an eccentric bottom bracket which would enable chain tensioner free single speeding. All perfectly logical reasoning, right?
New Bike Rationale
I, (state your name), do solemnly swear, from this day forward, under penalty of shame, pain, financial loss, and frustration, that if I a decide to purchase a bicycle, that it will be from a bike shop and I will take it exactly as spec’ed from the manufacturer, no matter what I think of said spec or what other great ideas I concoct to the contrary.
I feel like oaths are kind of a thing of the past, but maybe they have their place. I recently decided to upgrade my hard tail mountain bike. There wasn’t really anything wrong with the one I had. I bought it new barely three years ago. I never really loved that bike, but I certainly liked it. It was a Jamis Dragon 29 from 2013, a steel hard tail 29er. My very first mountain bike had a steel frame and I think riding steel bikes reminds me of the fun I had on those early rides. The Dragon’s brakes behaved temperamentally, and the geometry strongly preferred uphill to down. Those, I guess, were my biggest gripes, but no pressing need to replace it existed. All was just fine for quite some time. I admittedly spend way too much time looking at mountain bike stuff on the internet, and maybe this was a wake up call, but it all seemed harmless at the time. I regularly scan the same bike forums and web pages, like Pinkbike, MTBR, and watch all sorts of Youtube videos. All over the magic interwebs people started posting pictures and articles of mountain bikers putting 27.5+ sized wheels in their 29er frames. The posts were popping up all over the mountain bike forums. The mountain bike media sites like MBR and Bikerumor were picking up on the plus size fad too. And as with anything internet, I knew I should remain skeptical. Time passed, the buzz grew, and just like with those angry birds and pokemons, the hypnotic internet eventually prodded my subconscious into a subliminal need to see for myself.
The internet kept pulling my attention from forum to classified site, to retail site, and back to forums in an inescapable online undertow. Eventually, I honed in on a used Stans Hugo 52 wheelset on Pinkbike and went about making an offer. Off I went one day after work to meet up with the seller in NY and not long after I attempted stuffing 2.8 tires into my 29er frame. My rough measurements proved close enough as the 2.8 tires cleared the rear triangle. However, I wrongly assumed the rear triangle would be the limiting factor, and neglected to survey my Rockshox Reba fork. 2.8 tires on 52mm rims, not so much.
So, I just spent a bunch of money on these beautiful Stans wheels,and they don’t fit my bike. Now what do I do? I thought about using a rigid fork which would have the necessary clearance. Then I started looking into it, and found that most rigid forks would measure slightly shorter than my Reba fork. With angles corrected for suspension sag, it was close, but 27.5+ is only close to the same height as 29, and I already didn’t like the bike’s geometry with 29 inch wheels. According to my crude interpretation of the science behind bicycle geometry, this meant 27.5+ wheels would make the characteristics I didn’t like in the existing 29 inch wheeled setup even worse with the 2.7.5+ wheels on board. So, that wasn’t going to work. I briefly thought about an angleset headset to further change the geometry, but that just didn’t seem worth the cost and effort. Another complicating factor had revealed itself over the prior summer.
I started looking at frames online and found the Surly Karate Monkey. Besides having a steel frame like my Jamis Dragon, it features a more progressive geometry, has sliding dropouts for singlespeed compatibility, and is designed around the 27.5+ wheel size. The other thing I found cool is that the Monkey has Gnot Boost spacing which accepts 135mm, 142mm, and the new standard of 148mm rear hub widths. Basically, instead of buying into the new wheel standards, I would be sticking it to the man by keeping my current 29 inch wheels from the Dragon, and also be able to sub in my newly purchased Stans wheelset. Also, I would be able to fit Boost spaced hubs should I choose to upgrade to the present standard several years from now when it becomes current to my own personal retro grouch timeline. I was going to have my cake and eat it too. The other kooky thing I decided to throw into the mix was to use the shifters and cassette from the old Dragon, which, of course use a 10 speed drive train, which has been outdated twice already by 11 and 12 speed drive trains. The man was really gonna get it this time.
So, to the local bike shop I went. I am very lucky to have Pedal Power in Middletown as my closest bike shop. They claim that “We making Riding Fun”, which I agree with, but would add that they make going to the bike shop fun as well. Sometimes my trips to the bike shop are like going to the dentist. I tend to maintain my bike with almost to just about adequate diligence, so my head is often hung low on the way in the door. It’s kind of like when life gets a little hectic and your 6 month teeth cleaning ends up scheduled 12 months after the previous one, and to make it worse, maybe you had a penchant for cookies, candy, and soda over the course of that year, like this guy I know, in Rhode Island.
So this was back in November, and the KM had not been released yet , which I discovered when I talked to the sales person at Pedal Power I can’t remember if the staff at Pedal Power tried to sell me on buying a brand new complete bike instead that day, but I would understand if they did. It would have been the smarter thing to do. They may have not bothered if they remembered me from other such visits as the 26” fork purchase last year or other “seemed like a good idea at the time” DIY projects that landed me at the bike shop. I take full responsibility that nothing about this latest project really made a whole lot of sense in retrospect, but somehow, in my mind, all the parts had come together like a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Well, except for that one piece.
Time went by, my life got busy and the KM project took its place on the back burner. I finally got the urge to get things rolling again in January, only to find the bike was on back order until the end of February. Katie at Pedal Power ordered the frame for me, and the wait began. As time got closer, I made some more changes to the original plan and decided to add a dropper post and change the grips. I also changed my mind on brakes as I have a bunch of Shimano mineral oil left over because I use Shimano brakes on my other bike and for some reason decided to buy to big bottle of brake fluid which I’ll never finish. Bring on the Zombie Apocalypse, I’ll still have properly working brakes. Through all my changes, Pedal Power supported me. I sold the parts from my Dragon that I wasn’t going to keep, and kept the obsolete parts I was going to carry over to my new bike. I had every intention of putting the bike together myself until the bike finally came in right about the same time work and family life got even busier. I asked them to quote how much the assembly would be in case I decided to go that route. I’m so glad I did, as the quote was very fair especially considering the premium at which I suddenly found my own time to be at. In the dismantling and selling of the Dragon, I managed to lose a few key parts including a spacer for the bottom bracket and new parts were needed to make things work together like my Shimano brakes and Sram shifters. The KM didn’t come with a headset, and I had ordered a different rigid fork from what was the OEM spec so that my wheels would fit. Spencer was able to figure it all out and patiently work through the whole assembly. I think he had help from Tim and maybe some other staff, and after a short wait finally I was able to pick up my new ride.
So fast forward and we’re in early Spring and I can’t wait to get back into the groove of regular rides. Wednesday was a tease of beautiful weather with sunny skies and temps around 60. It took some creative scheduling but I was able to fit in time for a quick loop around Wadsworth Falls State Park for a fun maiden ride of my new bike, plus tires and all. I didn’t get to do a full test of its capabilities, but from what I riding I did, the bike performed just the way I was hoping. It climbs almost on par with my old Dragon but is so much more fun to ride everywhere else. It whips around turns and holds traction around corners with grip I’ll have to learn to trust. It will take some getting used to, and some fiddling with the tire pressure, but so far I’m impressed. Unfortunately, the weather in New England has been indecisively shifting from blizzard conditions, to sunny spring days, to monsoon like rain, and rendering the trails unrideable, even when I can find the time. Today, my bike is bolted on to the trainer I bought from a guy on The Northeast Bike Classified Facebook Group. Luckily, the trainer is compatible with my 135mm QR hubbed 29er wheelset from my Dragon. “So, I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.”*
I’m excited about how the bike finally turned out and can’t wait to get more rides on it. Running a bike shop must be a tough business today when there is so much competition from big faceless online retailers. The wide variety of really good and really well marketed products that tantalize customers must make stocking a brick and mortar bike shop a strategic and financial nightmare. I make sure I try to support the local guy when I can. I’m sure there are many shops out there who have owners and employees who are truly passionate about cycling. I’m lucky to have Pedal Power, where not only is everyone super passionate about cycling, but also super passionate about their customer service, even when they have crazy customers to service like me.
So, maybe I’ll keep my oath and buy my next bike “off the shelf” and save myself some trouble. More likely, though, I’ll come up with another idea which “seems like a good idea at the time”. And as long as there are more people out there doing the same, we’ll need to have the local bike shops to pick up the pieces.