Archive for the Bike & Gear Category

Another Nice Upgrade

Posted in Bike & Gear, Preparations on June 27, 2010 by Scott McGee

After upgrading my drivetrain to XTR components, it became apparent just how mediocre my original Magura brakes were. They were about 8 years old and the master cylinders no longer returned to the original position, and as a result the brake pads dragged on the rotors, producing a horrible squeal when braking. To counter this, I had to increase the distance between the pads and the rotor, but then I had very little braking power. It was barely tolerable when riding to and from work – there was no way the old Maguras were going to handle 2,300 miles across Europe – through, up, and over the Alps.

So, I once again opened the wallet (very wide) and upgraded. I replaced the Maguras with Hope Tech M4 hydraulic disk brakes. These are like the Ferrari of bike brakes. The calipers and lever bodies are CNC machined out of solid blocks of aircraft-grade aluminum. The calipers have 4 cylinders (2 on each side) providing the braking force. Of course, the important thing with brakes is how well they function – and these brakes are superb. But they also are just outright eye-candy – 100% bike bling! I had lunch at a downtown cafe today, and while I was eating there was a constant stream of passersby stopping and gawking at my bike. It was very entertaining watching them pointing at it and bending down to get a good look at the brakes. I saw more than one person mouth the word “Wow!” These things are just so much more than what people are accustomed to seeing on a bicycle. They have fantastic stopping power and look absolutely awesome – and despite the cost, they are definitely a worthy upgrade.


View of the front caliper and rotor


Close-up view of the left-hand side of the front caliper. The two black things are the caps on the cylinder bores. There are two additional cylinders on the right-hand side of the caliper.


Top view of the rear caliper. The entire caliper is carved from a single block of aluminum, rather than the typical design of having two separate halves bolted together.


View of the brake lever. Like the calipers, the lever body is machined from an aluminum block. The lever has two adjustment thumbscrews - one for the lever reach and one for the master cylinder "bite point", or the amount of lever action needed before the brakes kick in.

Trimming Pounds

Posted in Bike & Gear, Preparations on May 1, 2010 by Scott McGee

My OTR bike has 9,162 miles on its current components, and while the chain is a bit loose and I can’t hit all gear combinations, it’s still quite rideable for my typical day-to-day activities. Normally I’d keep riding until it’s obvious a part needs to be replaced, but I don’t want to worry about mechanical stuff on the OTR ride. So today I replaced the entire drivetrain – from the shifters all the way back to the rear cassette – with Shimano XTR components. It was an expensive retrofit, but it shaved another pound and a half off the weight of the bike. I’ll definitely appreciate that on the long uphill grinds through the Swiss Alps! And boy, it really is a sweet shifter now – I can hit everything from the lowest low gear to the highest high gear.


Bike with XTR components installed

My bike now sports an all-XTR drivetrain. Click to see a larger version.


Up front, there's a new XTR Hollowtech II crank and XTR front derailleur.


At the back end is a new XTR rear derailleur and XTR cassette. And it's all operated with new XTR shifters.

Goodbye Fat Tires

Posted in Bike & Gear, Preparations on April 26, 2010 by Scott McGee

Front view of my funny-looking skinny tires (no, nothing's wrong with the fork - it's a Cannondale Lefty)


I wasn’t looking forward to cranking ~2,300 miles on my fat knobby tires, particularly when virtually all of those OTR miles will be on pavement. So today I  swapped my 2.1″ off-roads with 1.5″ Panaracer T-Serv road tires. I have to admit, it looks really weird now. I’m not used to seeing such skinny tires on my mountain bike – it’s kind of like looking at a low-rider car with tires that are three sizes too small. I’ll get used to it eventually. But the really great advantage is the drastically reduced rolling resistance of the skinny tires. In addition to being narrower than my off-road tires, they’re pumped up to 65 psi instead of 40 psi, and weigh 1 pound 2 ounces less. All this makes a big difference in pedaling effort – and the road tread is super quiet compared to the knobbys. I expect these quicker tires will cut at least an hour off my daily rides, leaving more time to sample some of the fine German beer that’s sure to cross my path.


A soft ride - full suspension plus a Thudbuster!

Riding Turnagain Arm

Posted in Bike & Gear, Preparations, Rides on April 24, 2010 by Scott McGee

We’ve been having a cool and cloudy spring in Anchorage, so when the weather forecast called for sun and a temperature around 50° F for today, I hoped it was correct. Well, it was, and I figured what better thing to do than go for a bike ride.


Carpathian Peak

Carpathian Peak rises 5,856 feet above the Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm in Alaska


I estimate I’ll need to average about 75 miles per day on the OTR ride, so to get an idea of what that would be like, I rode from Anchorage to Girdwood and back to Anchorage, a round trip of 80 miles. The route followed the Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm, which is the main highway from Anchorage to Seward. It’s a busy 2-lane highway, with a lot of curves and fast traffic. I normally stay away from roads like this, but I’ll have to ride similar roads on the OTR route, so I figured I should take a test ride and try to get acclimated to the idea of riding on the shoulder of the road a few feet away from speeding traffic.

As it turns out, it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, which is surprising because of all the traffic that the sun brought out. As I said, we’ve had a cool and cloudy spring, so our first warm, sunny day spurred a lot of people to get out and take a drive. And the Seward Highway is, by far, the most popular drive in the Anchorage area, so there was a lot of traffic – big trucks, Corvettes, Mustangs, multitudes of noisy motorcycles, State Troopers patrolling and keeping the order, and even an old Ford Model T-type car. And although the traffic was whizzing by, my position on the shoulder of the road provided enough separation between myself and the vehicles that it felt safe enough. So I was able to enjoy the scenery and not worry about the traffic.

Total time for the round trip was 7 hours and 58 minutes, which included snack breaks. Riding time was 6 hours and 45 minutes, for a moving average of 11.5 miles an hour. Certainly not fast, but I wasn’t qualifying for the Tour de France, and this was on my mountain bike with knobby off-road tires. But I think it’s a fairly realistic example of what my daily OTR schedule will be like, so all-in-all it was a good test ride.

To see and explore my route on an interactive map, click here. Be sure to play around with the map to get the full effect. You can zoom in and out, pan around, and switch the type of base map. Try the Satellite and Terrain views, and for something really cool, try out the Earth view. If you currently don’t have the Google Earth plugin installed in your web browser, when you click the Earth button it will prompt you to download and install the plugin. Once that’s done, spend some time playing with it – it’s worth it! And after you’ve played with the map view, click Player in the upper right corner – that will let you play back an animation of my ride, complete with all sorts of statistics (TIP: play the animation in full-screen mode!!).


Dall sheep

Dall sheep live on the mountainside above the Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm