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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Steeling Away On A Light Tourer: Some Great Steel Bikes For Touring Taiwan

This weekend Chris B (pictured below) toured around on his brand new Surly Cross Check. The Cross Check is one of my most recommended bikes when riders or prospective riders email me to find out what kind of bike they should ride in Taiwan for a little of this and a little of that.

Although carbon fiber race bikes are all the rage, the aggressive geometry and lack of expansion is really limiting to most riders who are not interested in racing.

A better choice for a multipurpose bike for Taiwan's roads is the Cross Check or other similar bikes. Unfortunately, the margins on steel are lower than carbon or aluminum, and thus the big retailer/manufacturers really don't want to put their customers on a great steel bike, and would rather offer race bikes or flatbar aluminum XC bikes.

The Surly Cross Check is technically a bike designed for cyclocross racing, but its designers understand that racers are in the minority and keep the design to the loosest affiliation with the muddy sport.

What the engineers have done a great job of, is isolating the aspects of cyclocross racing that enter our daily lives, and concentrated on putting those qualities into a frame that can be the jack-of-all-trades.

The Cross Check can be a commuter, a light tourer, cyclocross racer, drop-bar, flat-bar, city, country beast of burden.... You can beat it all to hell and the 4130 CroMo steel frame will buck up and take the abuse.

Chris was looking for a bike to do it all from a loaded commuter to weekend recreation... from sunny day touring to muddy day single track.

Also, Chris is a really big guy.

The frame is 4130 CroMo steel. It is not a featherlight bike and comes in at about 5lbs heaver than my titanium Seven. Still, it is better to take the weight off the ass, than pay out the ass for just a few grams. As a non professional racer Chris could care less.

The steel frame with long chainstays gives a stable, supple ride to take the bite out of the asphalt. The bike is a bit of a truck, but it can easily crank up to speed. I found the handling to be very stable and forgiving. You can look away to chat with friends without worrying about rocketing into a ditch.

The relaxed geometry suits Chris very well. He has some weight to lose and it puts less pull on his lower back to stay in position. He can also be more upright to enjoy the views or keep an eye on traffic and not just the wheel in front of him.

The Cross Check, like other cyclocross or touring bikes, comes with cantilever brakes to accommodate fatter tires (up to 45mm), which means Chris can switch out tires from skinny road slicks for asphalt, to fat, knobbies for the dirt. The Cross Check comes with Ritchey Speedmax tires that are ok for the road, but wear out after a couple months. They stick well on hardpack or sandy roadways.

One downside about the cantilever brakes is that they don't have the stopping power of a good set of discs or caliper brakes. A change to Swiss Stop or Kool Stop pads will get them a bit closer.

The cable routing along the top of the top tube allows for shouldering the bike up stairs or over obstacles. When I was riding my old Salsa around Taiwan I found this cable routing to be optimal.

The bottom bracket is finely TIG welded and felt stiff enough. The ride was compliant more like a tourer, but over rough terrain it will save your ass.

The stock Cross Check comes with a wide array of Shimano and Tektro parts to bring the cost down. These can all be upgraded or changed out if the rider feels they can do better. The important factor here is that the bike can be adapted to grow with the rider.

Another feature that is lacking on so many other road bikes in Taiwan, is the use of both rack and fender mounts. You can throw a rack on the back, add a pannier and load up on supplies for work or a camping trip.

The rear cog is a 9spd 11-32 cassette that, when combined with the 48/36 tooth chainrings, should be perfect for most rides and climbs, as long as you are willing to train for it. This avoids the need for a road triple.

The front derailleur is Shimano Sora and the rear uses Deore... again... it can always be changed and should be fine for Chris... for the moment.

One thing that is a bit different about the Cross Check is the bar-end shifters. These are often preferred for touring rather than racing. The Bar-end shifters are great when you are in a more upright position, hands on the bar-tops and you want to shift as opposed to the more aggressive road positions optimal for speed. Personally, I like STI shifters, but I think this is great for where Chris is now, and I don't see anything wrong with them.

The fork is an all steel fork, so it should be strong and also soak up the road chatter.

This is really a bike that can be configured to do it all and last a long time. With a little frame saver sprayed inside the tubes this bike should last Chris as long as he wants the bike.

This is really the bike so many people are asking for, but not enough people know they want it or that it exists.

Chris paid NT34600 at:

Famous Bikes
Manager: Tom Jian
No.5 Xitun Rd. Sec.2
Taichung City, Taiwan
Tel: 0933239055

Famous also carries other brands of similar, steel-framed light tourers.

Dom A. bought a nice Louis Garneau steel touring bike from Famous with a similar configuration of Shimano and Tektro. Dom has taken his bike around Taiwan and abused it very well over the past year and a half.

Famous Bikes is a Salsa dealer as well. Salsa sells several great light and heavy steel and titanium touring frames that are well speced and don't cost a fortune.

If you are seriously considering a frame like these, go contact Tom at Famous and be prepared to wait. Many of the frames over 54cm have to be imported back to Taiwan and it can take a couple months to receive a shipment.

Taiwan in Cycles Shill policy: HERE

Feeling Like A Kid Again: Chris Enjoys First Adult Ride Through Gaomei Wetlands

Saving A Fallen Comrade

This Sunday I had the pleasure of taking a friend out for his first real ride since childhood.

What is really special with this ride, is that it marks a new stage of his commitment to himself, his family and his life.

When I first met Chris last year he was-- well-- shall we say... fat. He was 6'1" and 348lbs (158kg). The only numbers he was putting up were some pretty scary ones at the doctor's office.

What it all really boiled down to was that he had to make some radical changes in his life if we wanted to have any chance at enjoying a long, healthy future. Moreover, he felt the need to better educate his little boy on the lessons of leading a healthy lifestyle. Chris saw no other way than leading by example.

Chris has since become a strict vegetarian. He made the time in his schedule to start running and swimming.

Then, about 6 months ago, he approached me for advice on buying a bicycle for commuting, exercise and general transportation. He was looking for every possible way to get and keep fit.

After 6 long months the bicycle arrived, and it is a beauty. He bought a Surly Cross-Check (detailed in another post) to suit all his needs, and he has been gradually building up his strength.

With the bike as a carrot, he dropped to 242lbs. (110kg) and has strengthened his cardiovascular system to better support harder efforts.

By Sunday he seemed about ready for a group ride.


We met with Dom, Jeff, and the indomitable Michael Turton for a morning of pedaling through the flats around the Gaomei Wetlands and back to Taichung. It was steel bike day, so I brought out my La Cruz for a lazy spin to join the theme of the day.

Jeff and Michael

It is always great riding with these guys. The atmosphere is always friendly and the saddle talk is laddishly jovial, but also slyly intelligent.

The first part of the ride was "the hook", where we roll very fast down a hill to introduced Chris to the addictive sensation of velocity before an easy roll through the flats to the Taichung Harbor Port.

Chris and Dom
Wolfman Jack

We hit one of the local bike trails and rumbled up toward the Gaomei Wetlands.

Just as we coasted through the narrow lanes of Gaomei, we ran smack into the blue smoke and commotion of a religious procession.

The wetlands were filled with people wading out onto the mud flats and scouting wildlife through expensive optics. Some of the local ragamuffins showed up to flip a little sass our way before we cruised up the sea wall in search of food.

The trails back to the Highway 1 are quiet and, if you look closely, you can spot some rare vegetation, mud skippers and swarms of crabs.

Just at the Dajia end of the Dajia Bridge (by the Bridgestone Tire Center), there is a lane that goes wending off into the fields. If you have the time for a little adventure, the roads play out like a child's maze. Michael knows the route better than anyone, so we followed his guidance past the burning stalks of rice, up to Houli.

With only one minor hill, we all charged up above Taichung and happily spun into town.
Chris was full of energy and managed to keep up without any problems. It was awesome to see him out there with a smile on his face astride his first new bike since childhood.

There is just something about riding bikes with your friends that brings back the joys of childhood and makes a person wonder why they ever stopped.

I am looking forward to more rides with Chris and the rest of the guys. I will probably be taking a few weeks off, but I will be back... and in greater numbers.

Well done Chris, and thanks!