It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster these past few days. The new Ribble Winter/Audax frame arrived last Thursday. All the happy new bike stuff feelings are tempered by removing parts from YellowBike and preparing it for retirement.
Right up until the end, I still really liked YellowBike and looked forward to every ride. It had taken years to tame it, and with the switch from Gatorskins to Grand Prix 4-Seasons a year ago November, it became a pleasure to ride without reducing its friskiness one bit. It was a really nice combination of comfort, performance, and utility. Not to mention it was still fairly cheap, even after all my upgrades.
I will miss it tremendously.
But as I learned early, and have repeated often when asked for advice, “The purpose of your first bike is to teach you what you want and need in your second bike”. This applies too within categories of bikes.
As my first road bike, YellowBike taught me what I wanted and needed in both my primary, four-seasons, all-conditions commuting bike (Mr. Portland) and in my other sport/club bikes (Jeeves and Blue Steel). Without its lessons, I could easily have gone off the rails.
As I prepare it for retirement, it continues to teach me. It taught me that I get really nervous when I have only one commuting bike. Having a backup, ready to roll at any time, is very reassuring.
It taught me that I like variety between different bikes too. I’d been offered a Portland frameset to replace YellowBike, identical in size, color and even model year to Mr. Portland. Mr. Portland remains the one bike I’d own if I could own only one. But when I can own others, I’d like them to be different from one another.
It taught me that although there are training benefits to studded snow tires, I really don’t want to ride them if they’re not required. This winter I began to resent having to ride Mr. Portland if it wasn’t snowy or icy.
And as I disassemble it, it’s teaching me that all the advice form mechanics about preparing for dis-assembly while building-up a bike, pays off. Even the bottom bracket—which hasn’t been touched since January 2007 and has been ridden through every winter and countless rainy days—unscrewed easily, and after degreasing, looks nearly new. Not a single part was stuck or frozen in place. I still have to drive out the headset bearing cups, but they’re pressed-in, so some effort to remove them is expected.
Ah, but that’s for another day, along with its final cleaning and polishing before being hung on the wall. For now, it’s in the box the new frameset came in. I’m tying not to think of it as a coffin.
First, I’m very impressed the with the new frame. I’d searched and searched for an aluminum road frame with rack and fender eyelets that could fit full fenders over 28mm tires (even though I currently run 25s on it). The only one I found that was available as a frame-only or frameset-only (not a complete bike) was the Ribble Winter/Audax.
(There appears to be a misprint on the Ribble web site. It says, “Designed to accept tyres upto 700×23mm”. It should probably read “32mm”. There’s plenty of clearance with 28s and full fenders. 32s shouldn’t be a problem, depending on which brakes and fenders you choose.)
The price, $136.01, was both relieving and concerning. It was relieving in that I could easily afford it, even if it turned out to be a mistake (like with the tire clearance). It was concerning in that I had no idea of the sort of quality I’d be getting.
I liked that its frame geometry chart looked nearly identical to that of Jeeves. I’ve come to appreciate Jeeves’ “classic” geometry. It fits my riding style well. Jeeves “disappears” beneath me more often, more completely, in more conditions, and for longer periods of time, than any of my other bikes. With the new frame, I’m hoping to find out how much of that is build, and how much is the geometry.
The new bike varies from Jeeves some. The top tube is 2 millimeters shorter. The head tube is a bit longer, but when the integrated headset is installed, the measurement from the fork crown to the top of the headset is identical to the same measurement on Jeeves.
The rear triangle is 2 centimeters longer, which helps accommodate the larger tires, and should stabilize it when carrying a load in the panniers. YellowBike’s only remaining fault was that with its shortish chainstays, it got squirrely with more than 20 pounds or so on the back.
The out-of-box-experience was full of pleasant surprises.
The cobalt-blue paint is flawless under a good thickness of clearcoat. (And near as I can tell, it’s the same shade of blue as Blue Steel.) I’ve of two minds on this. Old reviews I found of the frame faulted the paint as being thin, and the decals were exposed—no clearcoat. I had hoped I could de-badge the bike, so I liked the idea of no clear-coat. But they’ve improved the paint, and clear-coated over the decals. Nicer finish, but I can’t de-badge it.
All the screws and fittings were included. Bottle cage screws, rack mount screws, the seatpost collar, the downtube cable stops, and the cable guide that goes under the bottom bracket shell were all there and installed.
A real surprise was a bolt-on version of a braze-on front derailleur hanger. Mr. Portland’s original 6603 FD (replaced with a 5703 when I was experimenting with the 5703 levers) has a removable band clamp. Voila! A braze-on mount FD!
So along with the fork and bars, the FD makes only three pieces that won’t be moved over to the new bike. And the bottle cages. YellowBike will keep its yellow bottle cages in retirement.
YellowBike’s Wound Up Road Fork with fender eyelets can’t move over, since it was made with a one-inch steerer tube to fit YellowBike. One of the decisions I had to make when searching for frames was whether or not to buy an older frame to fit the fork. Ultimately I decided to change with the times. And luckily, I’ve had two offers to buy the Wound Up. It will go to a good, new home, and it’ll pay some of the cost of the new bike.
It’s the same issue with the bars. YellowBike’s bars use the old standard 26mm diameter clamping surface. Newer bars are 31.8mm. Besides, I have to hang YellowBike with something. I’ve seen pictures where folks use handlebars. Attach the bars to the wall, and place the bike in the drops. It will also be a perfect way use that last box of yellow/blue splash bar tape I have in the cupboard.
Ribble sells two carbon forks with mudguard eyes for the Winter/Audax frame. There’s the $91 (when purchased with the frame) CSN Black Storm fork, and the $115 Dedacciai Black Rain fork. I’ve never heard of CSN, but I know Dedacciai makes high quality stuff (and they’re Italian). So despite the extra 70 grams, I spent the extra $24 and got the Deda.
It was the same for the headset. The Cane Creek integrated headset was only a couple of dollars more than either a no-name one or Ribble’s house brand one. Both Mr. Portland and YellowBike have Cane Creek headsets, and they’ve been flawless, so I went with the Cane Creek, which Ribble kindly installed before shipment. (Although strangely, the crown race wasn’t pressed on the fork.)
I like the $35 Dura-Ace cable sets, so a set each of Dura-Ace brake cables and derailleur cables—in blue to go with the paint—filled out the order.
In all—frame, fork, headset, and cables—with shipping, exchange, and the bank’s international service fees, was $392.20.
On Fleabay I found bars identical to Mr. Portland’s, but in 38mm width, which I find I’m preferring to the “standard” 42mm. They were under $20 including shipping, so for a shade over $400, I have a whole new commuting platform for the tried, true, and trusted components I’ll be moving over.
The package had been delivered to work on Thursday. I brought it home on Friday. Friday night I pulled YellowBike’s fenders and wheels and slipped them in place on the new frame. The rear wheel was cock-eyed. I tried again, turned it around, and tried that way. Same thing. I pulled Blue Steel’s rear wheel to try. Same damned thing.
Under the brake bridge, instead of the brake mount being centered over the tire, it was over the edge of the rim! In the chainstay bridge, it was the same, only in the other direction. Near as I could tell, the frame was twisted. (But I confirmed the bike will fit 28mm tires with full fenders.)
I was crestfallen.
I left it overnight. On Saturday, I emailed Andy, local framebuilder, bike club member, and a mechanic at Full Moon Vista. I asked if I could bring the frame over to check on his alignment table. He said Sunday afternoon would be fine.
I waited a whole ‘nother day.
In a snowstorm, 11°F, and winds in excess of 20MPH, I packed the frame and rear wheel on my backpack and rode over to Andy’s.
We started out in the workstand. Andy installed the wheel and remarked, “Gee. It looks pretty good to me.” I thought he was joking. I looked, and gee, it looked pretty good to me too.
I can’t believe I put the wheel in crooked—multiple wheels, multiple times, in exactly the same way. But here was the proof.
As long as it was there, Andy put the frame through the same alignment tests he uses on the bikes he makes. I had no idea there were so many things to check and so many ways to check and double-check, and verify each one. I learned a lot.
Lastly, we put it on the frame table. It’s a large, machined iron table that’s certified to a particular level of flatness. Somewhere way past incredibly flat and stupidly flat. Perhaps even beyond absurdly flat.
The front triangle’s head tube and seat tube are within 0.001” (one one-thousandth of an inch) of parallel. This is beyond excellent. The bottom bracket is, in Andy’s words, “Dead nuts”.
End-to-end—that is head tube to rear dropouts—the bike is within less than a half-millimeter of square. That’s in the excellent range. But Andy’s a perfectionist. A couple of passes with a rat-tail file through drive-side dropout and Andy pronounced it perfect.
“It’s as good as when I make a bike,” he concluded. “It’s excellent for a production frame—better than some that come into the shop, and certainly well done for the price.”
Confidence restored, now I can start to build it up.
I had hoped to take it on the inaugural run today. It was a beautiful day for a bike ride today, and a day off for government employees. But having lost several days, it was only today that I stripped the parts off YellowBike and degreased everything.
The forecast is for studded tires through to next week, so I have plenty of time to put everything together, do the rough, basic fitting, and get the fork’s steerer tube cut. Maybe next week we’ll have the first ride.
Meanwhile, my apartment looks like a bike shop exploded. I’ll have to deal with that next weekend.