Adventures in Retrofitting

My first official cyclocross season came and went without amounting to much of anything.  I found a bike in September, just before the season’s first race.  Finding the bike had been a challenge of it’s own.  Let me put it this way: had there been a handful of cyclocross bikes to choose from, I may not have ended up with the one I’m riding.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great bike, but it’s mine simply because there wasn’t another choice.  There just aren’t many bikes available in the small size I ride, which is probably fodder for another blog post.  Nevertheless, I finished a couple of races and then experienced a series of flats which resulted in a few DNF’s (Did Not Finish).

Since I had only one wheel set, I very quickly found myself in a place where I needed to make some changes to said wheel set in order to get back into the races AND finish.  The choices were 1. to use a conversion kit on the stock wheels that would result in a tubeless setup or 2. to upgrade the wheel set to a tubeless ready system.  In other words, choice 1 costs around $80 and choice 2 closer to $500 and up.  Since I wasn’t sure how long I would keep the bike, I decided to go with choice 1 and consider choice 2 next year after I had a few more races under my belt and a better sense of whether I wanted to keep the bike.

After doing some web searching, watching videos, and reading step-by-step instructions, I was confident in my (husband’s) ability to successfully complete the conversion under my supervision*.  The Stan’s No Tubes web site even states “Converting requires very little mechanical ability but it is important to follow the Instructions.”  I was confident that even a non-bike mechanic gal like myself could supervise this project flawlessly.

I purchased the cyclocross conversion kit.   The process of cleaning the wheel, drilling the valve hole, and applying the rim tape was easy enough.  The problem we encountered was that the rim was chewed up enough to leave a gap large enough that the rim tape, tire, and sealant combined weren’t enough to close that gap.  Yes, we tried the compressor.  It resulted in a shower of Stan’s sealant all over a friend’s garage before we finally gave up.  Here’s an image of the rim to give you an idea of the kind of ding that prevented this conversion from working.

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I wish the very thorough instructions and videos on the Stan’s web site would have mentioned that your rims need to be ding free in order to work with the conversion kit.  Unfortunately for me, the conversion kit was a failure and waste of money.  On the bright side, I have a sweet new wheel set on a bike I may or may not keep and another wheel set that is very likely to become wall art. I’d say everyone won in this case!

*Disclaimer:  I’m not a bike mechanic.  I don’t even play one on TV.  But I do have a very handy husband who helped me with the conversion.

Handlebars, headsets, and tunnels. Oh my!

Last year I did a couple of cyclocross races and got bitten by the bug.  I started shopping for a cyclocross bike in late July because bikes in my small size are few and far between.  I was scouring online forums and bike shop web sites for something, anything in my size so that I would be outfitted come race day in September.  It was suggested that I visit a certain bike shop in Boulder because it was known to be “the” cyclocross bike shop in the area.

I dedicated an entire afternoon to making the drive up to Boulder with the intention of test riding as many bikes as I could find to fit me.  The first (and only) bike that I rode was a Focus Mares CX Disc 105.  I rode along South Broadway in Boulder to some open space where I could take the bike on the dirt.  Overall the bike felt large and sluggish.  I gave this feedback to the sales rep who was helping me.  He suggested swapping out the stem so that I would feel less stretched out on the bike.  We went to the back of the store where he did this while we chatted.

He asked me to take the bike in a loop around the parking lot before departing for the open space just to get a general sense of whether it felt any better or not.  I gave him the thumbs up and once again headed south on the sidewalk parallel to Broadway.  I was bunnyhopping, jumping, and generally riding aggressively on the bike as I pedaled alongside the busy road.  By the time I reached the tunnel that passes under Broadway, it became evident that there was a problem with the bike.  As I entered the tunnel and it became darker, I became very confused about what was happening.  I realized that while I was still going straight forward on the bike, the handlebars were turning sideways.  I had absolutely no control over the direction this bike was going.  I gingerly placed one hand up to run it along the tunnel wall and bring the bike to a stop.  As I rolled to a stop in the dark tunnel, six kids came charging through the tunnel as they rode their bikes home from school.  I was subjected to bells ringing and verbal reprimands for stopping so foolishly in the dark tunnel, which only added to my confusion and fear.

After dismounting the bike and pushing it back into the light, I was able to confirm what had happened.  In swapping out the stem earlier, the sales rep had failed to properly tighten down the headset.  All the jumping and aggressive riding I’d done between the tunnel and bike shop had loosened the one bolt that he had tightened.  I started the walk back to the bike shop.  As I walked by all the obstacles I’d jumped, I wondered how it came to pass that I had not lost control of that bike and veered off into the traffic speeding by on that busy road.

When I finally arrived back at the bike shop, a couple of their team members snickered as I walked by with the bike.  I suppose it was quite a sight: me in my loose fitting shorts, t-shirt, and shop-loaned helmet walking a bike with the handlebars turned completely to the side.  When I entered the shop, one of the sales reps looked at the bike in horror asking what happened.  I rolled the bike toward her and told her I was sent out with a loose headset.  As the gravity of that sank in, I retrieved my driver’s license from the sales rep who swapped out the stem.  He seemed as appalled as I was by what had happened and took full responsibility for it.

Later that night I received an email from the shop owner inquiring about the situation.  He assured me that this incident was the first of its kind at his shops.  We exchanged a couple more emails and ultimately he reassured me that he’s ridden for years and nothing has ever stopped him from getting back on a bike.  I knew it wouldn’t stop me from riding either.  I’ve had too many good experiences on the bike to let one incident like this stop me from riding.  I also knew, however, that a most basic level of trust had been violated.  The nightmares I’ve had about biking since this incident confirm that it affected me on a very deep level.  As I said before, it hasn’t stopped me from riding, but it has stopped me from returning to this shop.