Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It's all in my head(set)

CAUTION: This post contains minute details of bicycles and is unlikely to be interesting unless you like, err, that sort of thing.

Head-tube angles are currently the new-favorite-argument on the bicycle internet forums that I read. Or is it wheel-size now? Hmm, I may have missed the boat. Anyway, I have chosen not to join any of these riveting discussions as I really didn't have anything to add. Now I do, and like a true coward I am going to write them on here where it is unlikely that anyone argumentative will ever read them, and they can't reply even if the wanted to. Ha.

Firstly, my Knolly got a new (to me) fork. The venerable 2007 Marzocchi 888 that I had on there was suffering a bit, and never really allowed me to go around corners. Before we went to China, Lina's "big" bike got a RockShox Domain (318 version with 115mm-160mm U-Turn) to replace the sadly-flawed Marzocchi 55 TST that came on it. The Domain was very cheap from a nice young man in Port Moody and seemed to get on with the job of holding the front end of Lina's bike off the ground without complaint once we got the spring right. While we were in China I spied a 180mm travel Domain for a similar bargain price, from a similar nice young man in Port Moody. Paul being a prolific bicycle-part-bargain-hunter himself agreed to secure the goods for me and they sat in his shed for months. 

A few weeks ago, having survived the ravages of apartment renovations and getting all my tools back from storage I set about attaching the Domain to the front of my bike. With some excellent bodging, namely creating a headset made from parts of three other headsets, the fork was attached and Knolly was rolling again. Having gone from a 200mm travel dual-crown fork to a 180mm travel single-crown changed... almost nothing. Same weight (heavy), same axle-to-crown length (long). What did change is the new absence of rattling noises and the ability to navigate corners tighter that a gently curve without having to stop and move the back wheel around with a forklift truck. The White Elephant bike is now even more white and just as elephanty as ever. It's great.

It's all white.

Between returning from China and fixing my Knolly I had solely been riding that old Blur 4X I told you about. I rode it so much that I figure I about equaled a year of my normal twice(ish) a week riding in two months. This resulted in the amusing destruction of one of those Chinese carbon rims I told you about. Still, it was nice while it lasted.

This is what happens when you use untested components for things they were never intended for. Who knew?
The point in all of that is that I'd got pretty used to riding bikes with slack head angles. Both Knolly and Blur are about 66 degrees... probably. I haven't measured them of course, because guessing is much more fun. Once I unearthed my favorite (Orange) bike from storage I was keen to get out and appreciate its zesty goodness. As soon as the trail turned downhill though, I realized something had changed. The hundreds of hours riding on choppered-out bike left me feeling a bit precarious on my normal(ish) geometry hardtail. The way I ride has changed a little over the past year thanks to a year spent descending on wet clay riding a Chinese touring bike, then a month of whizzing down endless swoopy singletrack on our Idaho (and beyond) road-trip. I've become more used to going faster, and riding on smooth but slippery surfaces. The orange bike just wasn't feeling eager to help me get my cornering lightsaber working.

And finally, we arrive at the point of all of this. I bought a new headset. It's a Works Components -1 degree angle headset which fits the quaint old 1 1/8" head-tube on the Orange Bike. The result of fitting this thing should be 1 degree of slackness in the front, a bit of steepness in the seat-tube angle (which was pretty steep anyway - we'll see how that works), and a smigdeon lower bottom-bracket height. I'm off for a wet and dark ride on the Shore tonight, which is a great place to test out fast and smooth cornering obviously. Ok, it's not... but we'll see how it goes.

Angle-dangle... oh, and check out my vice, it's a beauty.