Soma Smoothie: Pt.6, the first ride.

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At the time of this photo: 40 miles on the frame and fork. 300mi on group set. I am VERY satisfied.

The density altitude figured up at 11,400 feet at high-noon today. 100 degrees, high, thin air and like Stephen King’s Under The Dome taking place inside a gigantic hair dryer. That’s exactly what it felt like. Hardly a time to go on a moderate ride after literally no training volume this year, but I wanted to ride a standard twenty-something mile loop on a newly built-up frame. Curiosity got the better of me. I turned down a hard pack road used in last year’s Boulder-Roubaix race. I rode the eighteen-mile course to see how it performed. I knew this would be a much different ride. I expected immediate amazement. I didn’t get that, well, the instant amazement part. What I got was the slowly warming amazing of what a bike can give the rider when it can go most anywhere, AND, still deliver a performing ride.

My build goal was to build a fast and durable bike that would easily tackle a surface like the legendary cobblestones of Belgium and France. The key ingredients of such a build would rely upon the tires and the frame. Both would have to absorb bumps and vibrations but the frame would also need a responsive performing feel.

The Soma Smoothie has the same tube angles of a Cannondale CAAD9 aluminum race frame. It just weighs about 800 grams more. That’s all. To preserve the racy frame angles and handling, I picked the IRD Technoglide headset for its shorter than average 11mm stack lower cup and matched it with a Kinesis DC07 carbon fork for it’s lesser axle-crown measure than most, at a very reasonable price. This combination allowed a long reach fork with a minimal change in stack height to the front end. About 6mm, or, a quarter of a degree to a third perhaps. With decent Easton EA70 wheels, Shimano’s 5800 series 105-11spd group set and some Michelin Endurance Pro4 v2 tires, the whole ship came in at about twenty-one pounds. That first hit down the hard pack gravel road told me I had chosen my parts well, and the frame was a great selection.

It’s not just the steel frame that absorbs road vibration, it’s the tire size that the frame allows. The 28c Michelin tires, that measure true to 30mm on my 17.5mm internal width rims, really did the extra trick. As a whole package using an aluminum seat post and cockpit pieces, the pavement vibration was nicely absorbed by the frame and fork and to be honest, I felt it was at first marginally better than the aluminum frame I had been riding before, but as the miles ticked by, I realized something. I was moving faster down rougher roads than before. the 32mph coast down a rough dirt hill was chattering before and now, fun! That’s right, 32mph, down hill, over washboard dirt and gravel on 30mm tires was downright enjoyable and at no point did it feel like I was getting shaken down for lunch money in the hallway by my previous CAAD9 aluminum. Weather encountering manhole covers or surface cracks or rail tracks, I rolled through them and through washboards and other light bumps. Notice I didn’t say over. Through is the word. I felt especially smooth on this stuff, where the previous CAAD9 would jar my body as well as physically slow the ride. Now, large bumps on the previous magnesium frame? Well, it would roll through as well but do so and come at me with a baseball bat in hand. Peculiar for sure, like moonshine – an unstoppable and unforgiving force once on the roll. Not a single moment of anything like that with the Smoothie. In fact, this steel bike on that 50% dirt road course is a faster bike because of the ride quality.

Any cycling enthusiast would be happy to discuss the merits of Steel vs. Aluminum vs. Carbon and what they’re good at or deficient with. When I put power into the Smoothie, there was hardly any more flex over what an aluminum race frame delivers and to get to a point where this frame is reaching it’s limits and impeding your abilities would take some serious trained rider ability. It takes bumps. It absorbs road vibration. It is not a wet noodle on power. It’s comfortable and a fantastic all-around bike that you could actually race, because, it can do most any road you see and that’s more gravy on the Thanksgiving plate. I chose this bike over a Cannondale CAAD and a storied magnesium alloy frame. It fits better than they did and rides better and takes better tires. It’s very close in stiffness and feels great on a downhill.

I recommend this frame. Be advised, there is prep work to accomplish upon receipt. Standard facing and chasing of bottom brackets and head tubes are common in a steel frame and this is no exception, but $400 for frame alone and this becomes an absolutely great deal especially when you shop around for others, finding the equivalent weight and quality costs much more. You’re not getting anything lighter and for a higher Reynolds number material for three times the cost, you don’t get much different performance. This Smoothie is a true race geometry and responsive steel frame that can fit tires that measure true at 30mm. Zero complaints. Get yourself one.

The end of my ride began fifteen miles in. I saw climbing a shallow gravel road with my heart rate near 180. At the top I realized the water I just drank was hotter than my body. I could have made tea in that bottle. At the top, I was able to ride down a long shallow descent of coasting in the mid twenty-mile-per-hour range. I took what was last of that bottle and sprayed myself in the front, everywhere, to cool off. At first, the water burned as it soaked through, but then evaporated away in the wind, doing it’s job and cooling me to immediate effect. I stopped at the small general store five miles from home to cool down and get some colder water, not to mention their excellent slice of cherry pie. Many other cyclists stop through here and all of them had their head low and stumbled around a bit. It was not just hot, but painful hot today. After thirty minutes I could see straight again and went home. Twenty-one miles was all I could do. Sixty wasn’t a problem in February, but seeking, finding and getting a new job got in the way until today. This bike is now the go to ride for any training and specialist competition involving a mix-up with  dirt packed roads.

Thank you for reading.

 

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Soma Smoothie: Steel road frame build and review, pt.5.

It’s built, however, I’m nervous. Everything went on nicely, but in adjustment, I discovered that the newer Shimano 5800 11-speed group has a new style of front derailleur. The shift cable attaches to the derailleur arm and pulls down. The result is the derailleur pushes out, putting the chain on the big ring, but the arm tilts in as a lever would, where the cable attach point is VERY close to the tire sidewall. This is the case for anyone running a near true 30c tire. although I am on officially 28c Michelins, the actual measure is 29-30 and I have probably 2mm clearance to that arm when in the big gear. this isn’t really an issue if I’m on perfectly clean roadways. SOMA fabrications claim this frame can fit 28c tires. Their spot on and exact 28c is the safe tire to use here. So the moral? If you plan to run fatter road tires, check the group and make sure that the equipment clears everything when shifted to it’s limits on both ends of travel. The taller shifter arms might not let you run the fat tire. Now, Were I to run a 1×11 drive-train, I could run 30c+ tires all the time. but those 1×11 setups are not only expensive, but the gaps of a 10-40 cassette might be a bit wide.

Long reach brakes? Not required on the back and it’s fork dependant on the front. I picked that DC07 fork from Kinesis and it’s more of a mid-reach fork. A good thing because my 105-5800 caliper works, just barely. I slid the pads to the bottom most position and they just cleared the rims so they work fine and I don’t have to buy new calipers.

I have my personal fit reflected on this bike and there’s not much more I can do besides finding a lighter seat post. The saddle is from my cyclocross bike and works nicely on the road but it’s not much heavier than something else. the only places to reduce weight would be the tires (80g over 25c race tires, each.) The seat post (80g saved with a Thomson aluminum) aaaaand if I really wanted to, a full carbon fork would only save another 200. Yep, If I wanted to spend all that money I would save 440 grams, or, 1 pound. I could go after new calipers and save up to 510 grams but that would put me just under 20. Big deal. This is firm, solid, responsive and already up and down the street a much more comfortable ride than I’ve had yet. The best steel bikes on the world tour were twenty pounds. The best aluminum were eighteen….and those were the best. I’m doing just fine.

Tomorrow I’ll try to get out there for a two hour ride and really feel it out.

IRD Tange Technoglide headset has arrived! (Soma Smoothie update-4)

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This is a very nicely constructed headset and the lower cup height is exactly the eleven-millimeters they said it would be. It’s lighter than my previous Ritchey Pro.The pieces are definitely milled from a solid piece and it all fits together tightly. The bearings glide very well. I can also see the areas of contact have been given angular and flat smooth places, so when the cups are pressed in, there are no rounded corners or funny flanges. Everything with a surface has another surface to match on this headset. Even the top cap has a flat area for spacers to sit and for the top star-nut cap to match. Once installed, it will look very nice and be exactly what I’m looking for. Many folks have commented it’s as good or better than a Chris King headset but for much less money because, face it, Chris King has a brand name. What does IRD know? Well, the people who make this headset is the Tange company, the folks who bring you great steel bicycle tube sets for makers around the world. Tange Prestige, the metal of my Smoothie frame. They kinda know exactly what they’re doing.

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In case you were wondering, they do have many many colors to pick from, as well as matching color spacers if you pick something interesting. I found mine online for just over $72.

Now to wait for my fork. Nine days after ordering, it finally shipped out of The Netherlands to the USA. We will see how long before it passes through customs and then to my door. A shame because I’m relly anxious to get this thing together. I’ll just have to build the rest of it today and then celebrate Forking-Day next week.

Soma Smoothie: Steel road frame build and review, pt.3

When fitting the rear tire to the frame, something was odd about it. After a few attempts, I confirmed that the dropouts were definitely not right because the wheel was tilted several degrees from vertical. An email and picture sent, a reply to try it installed backward, and I was looking closer. I discovered that the left side dropout was indeed very snug, so much so that the axle of the wheel had to be squeezed past the entry corner of the dropout itself and then… “pop” it seated past that point and all the way in. The wheel was now perfectly straight. Removing the wheel was the same experience. I had to leverage it out the same way with a finger wrapped around the chain stay and seat stay intersection, and a push with my thumb on the axle to squeeze it out of that point. “pop” again and it’s out. Not only is the rear spacing probably 1mm narrow (not a bad thing because steel flexes slightly)  but this new ‘feature’ will assure that the wheel will never go anywhere in case of a loose quick release.

With the wheel in place, I test fit my Shimano 5800 – 105 brake caliper on the rear and there’s definitely room for adjustment. The only thing to try now is to see if it can actually handle a 31mm measured tire.

I called around to check prices on moving over the bottom bracket and crank, facing the head tube, etc. I decided to have it done by an actual bike manufacturer: REEB. they’re local and they also make beer, known as Oskar Blues. Their material specialty is steel and Titanium and they will prep my frame, face and chase the bottom bracket, face the head tube, spray it with frame saver, and move over my bottom bracket and cranks from the Paketa to the Smoothie. I’ll pick it up tomorrow and put the rest of the parts on. I might be able to ride it around the block. I’m kinda excited. While I was there I found out the shipped to me weight: 4 pounds, 13.2 ounces. Or: 2188.6 grams. A little bit heavier than I estimated, but they say their 56 frame weighs 4 pounds, so I’m in the ballpark of reality.

My new expected weight of the frame, hs, and fork is now 2850g, or 6.3 pounds.

This frame, the more I test part fits and locations, is impressing me. It feels solid, very solid, so far. I’m excited to see the end product.

Soma Smoothie: Steel road frame build & review, pt.2

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The frame was delivered a few days later. I am VERY impressed with the finish of the bike and the quality of appearance. the joints and welds look wonderful. It’s a great loking bike and the frame feels light. LIGHT! I do know it’s four pounds, yet, it doesn’t feel that way. The other parts are on the way. There was much head scratching to choose those parts because I had a problem. If I wanted to run tires nearly 31mm in real size, It’s constantly recommended I use long reach brakes to get around their fatness, and that means I ned a long reach fork.

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Long reach forks are used for fitting larger tires AND fenders. Good stuff for the daily commuter or long range randounner. Out of my curiosity, one of the first things I did was try to see how much tire wouuld fit on this thing. I grabbed one of my cyclocross wheels and I’ll be darned if it didn’t fit.

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Here was a road race frame with about the maximum size tire anyone should run on it, something that probably measures 33mm. This bike could even run some gravel grinder races if it’s not too cruddy out there.

 

but for the cyclist craving the low rolling resistance of the fatter tire and the fast bump absorption all within a fast road machine, it adds to the problem. The long reach fork’s difference from standard. They are 10mm longer or more over a traditional fork. The result raises the front of the bike higher than designed and that action tilts the head and seat tube angles back farther. So my 72.5-degree head tube, raised by 12mm of extra fork, suddenly becomes a 71.5-degree tube and that changes the handling, as well as forcing my saddle more forward in adjustment to maintain the rider’s position. I may now not have the range of saddle adjusting because I’m already using zero setback seat posts due to some kinda short hamstrings.

Long story short, I couldn’t find any reliable information on what tire actual measure would fit in what normal fork. I had to get that long reach fork but it’s inherent issue to total geometry had me worried. I decided to find a measurement of both the fork axle-crown distance plus the bottom headset cup height for a total length. The lowest combination would win.

 

On a typical fast road geometry bike, 12mm of extra fork length would change the frame angles by nearly a degree. That’s not very noticeable until the bike is really driven hard and the most possible is asked form it. For example, downhill switchback turns, maneuvering in a tight and fast group ride, or desired general sensitivity. This is a race geometry frame after all. It was designed to an angle for a specific handling feel for a  reason so it would be a good idea to maintain that as much as possible.

I made a list of long reach fork lengths and lower headset cup heights. I now know that under the head tube of an external headset bike, the lower cup stack height for Ritchey is 14+mm, Chris King: 13mm, Cane Creek: 12.6, Interloc Racing (IRD): 11.3, and one other Italian parts maker has one in the 8’s but it’s twice as much as the rest and very boutique, as in, where do I get replacement bearings? So it was useless to buy that one. The forks all had ranges of length and they varied quite a bit.

The shortest long reach fork I could find is the Kinesis DC07 winter fork, at +6mm over what I have on hand and IRD has the shortest headset I could find at 11.3mm, for a total change of +5.8mm. Together that’s less than a half degree change, more like a third. That would be unnoticeable for all but the most sensitive professional racer. Mission achieved so the parts were ordered as well.

The Kinesis DC07 fork at 550 grams and, with a discount coupon, $135!

The Tange Technoglide headset, 110 grams and $72.

Frame, headset, fork together should weigh all up to around 2500g, or 5.56 pounds. We will see when it all arrives. I’m looking good for coming in under twenty pounds.

Next items to sell for build capitol: Ritchey basic fork and headset, Specialized carbon setback and Thomson aluminum setback posts.

Part 3 coming up when I get the headset, fork and bottom bracket installed professionally. Probably a real time week or so from today.

 

Soma Smoothie: steel road frame build & review, pt.1

Soma Fabrications designs steel bicycles in San Francisco’s bay area. Taiwan has excellent fabrication skills and they build products turning out as the customer wants. Together, bicycles are made, shipped and enjoyed. These bikes are not for pure competition nor are they for boasting facts and figures. Not a single person will look at the Soma name on that downtube and think, “Hey, that bike won the tour last year,” or,“ that’s a sub-kilogram fame.” No, they’ll think to themselves, if they recognize the name, that it’s a great ride that person has. Any review on a Soma bike praises the fabulous ride and the capability their Prestige steel generates. I will discover that soon. I just ordered a Soma frame.

If you have read parts of this poorly constructed blog you would know by now that I not only need writing classes, but that my road cycling has been a brief experiment thus far. I started with a CAAD9 aluminum race frame, a great frame, and found around 60 miles becomes buzzy and fatiguing. I went to a magnesium alloy frame (shocking craigslist find) that I was sure would fit me, but in the end, it did not by just a degree too far back in that seat post. It was a confusing frame overall. If it was indeed built for century rides and compact, relaxed geometry, then why would it fit only 23c tires? The bottom bracket was at least as high as the CAAD if not a touch more, and the tube angles were a degree slacker, near as I could tell. Overall I didn’t know if this was for a 6’7“ criterium racer on long cranks and a long stem or an old inflexible century rider. Either way, I was riding with a Thomson setback seat post turned around backward to move my seat forward enough. I also felt like I rode on top of the bike. How was the ride? Road noise vibration was absorbed very nicely but the bigger bumps hurt terribly. Were it is a stiff power transfering thing that saves me a few beats a minute up a hill over the CAAD, it was also a firm reminder to the backside of the price  attached. The CAAD was more flexible on climbs and descents but at least those big bumps didn’t hurt as much. I had a frame with entirely new group set parts and an older bike that didn’t justify upgrading with those parts, besides, where would I put the old parts? Nobody wants to pay for lower spec, heavy 7-year-old triple 9-speed groups.

I sold the CAAD. The parts on the Paketa magnesium frame will come off to build a new bike, the Soma, the only bike I will have. I’m changing jobs and a great carbon race bike is not necessary. There is no way I will carve enough training time to improve myself when in endless training class schedules for the next two months. Then it will be fall-winter. I will be in worse shape for cyclocross than last year so that bike goes on sale too. It was also looking to go, really, when I pick up cross again for the fall of ’17, after my second-year paycheck kicks in, i’ll be on disc brakes and in much greater shape than ever.

What I do need for health and what training I can do, would be a perfectly smooth steel bike That will be good for decades and any challenge. I don’t want long ranges on buzzy aluminum race frames. I want long ranges on comfortable yet responsive frames that don’t feel like I’m horsing them around. I want low rolling resistance. I still want a sporty position but not downright criterium sprint. I don’t want a money carbon bike that is valueless less than a decade later; I don’t have deep pockets, I’m about to take a pay cut. Everything I have had was 18–19 pounds to begin with, so if I can keep the frame/fork combo down a bit, I should hit under 20 with my parts on hand.

Who has a thousand bucks or more for a steel frame? Not this guy. Everywhere I looked for a steel frame that fit me in a decent steel set, was either expensive or what I considered heavy or built for the super commuting/camping group. I kept landing on the Soma Smoothie. For this frame of reference, By the mid-nineties, the last steel frames racing in the world cup of cycling were just under twenty pounds. In fact, all bikes winning the tour de France before our buddy Lance began winning, were still in the 18-pound range. Then Lance led Trek into the 15-pound territory and that’s what we have today, only recent weight mania. So we can see that a sub-twenty pound steel bike is actually doing very well. I still need to drop twenty pounds myself to see any sort of ultimate race weight, but a great steel bike will work just fine and honestly, the Smoothie frame from Soma Fab is just the ticket. In my size it should clock in at 4–1/8 pounds. That is the lightest I have seen without spending a thousand bucks, and this only costs  $400 retail.

Why the Smoothie? Frame angles and measures are exactly what the CAAD9 has, with 10mm shorter of a top tube and 3mm lower bottom bracket. This frame is billed as their steel race frame but it has more flexibility for fit and use:

– Fender mounts if I choose: that’s WITH 28c tires. This means that without fenders, I can run tires larger and when the 28c Michelin measures out to 30–31mm, this means I will have much lower rolling resistance as well as a plush ride, making some gravel or packed dirt, dare I say cobble stones, fabulous rides.

– Top tube is 1cm shorter, and honestly, that’s kind of where I wanted it in the first place. I could always throw on a much longer stem with a flatter rise and get my racing on, and in fact this frame could definitely do that, but this lets me be flexible with the fitting I need at any particular moment.

In the end, it can be a racy endurance frame. A frame that’s basically a Specialized Roubaix in steel form. The ride will be plush from larger tires which also give lower resistance. The frame will be like all other steel frames are; raved upon for the ride. I will return to actually a proper fit. All of that combined is a win-win. So I’m starting my build trilogy posts of the Soma Smoothie steel bicycle frame in the slick-black color.

 

Garage cleaning + new bike: Soma Smoothie

I’m cleaning house. This is nothing new for anyone with a garage of accumulating cyclery. N+1 is true, but there has to be a critical mass trigger. I have not ridden the CAAD9 since last fall sometime around when I built the Paketa magnesium. I should ride it soon for comparison before I let it go during my garage cleansing. I decided to have one bike for a while that fits, rides nice, isn’t fatiguing and is a joy.

Currently, I have a cross bike, it’s stock wheels, two sets of pave’ Roval SL wheels and tires, the CAAD9-6 triple, with two mis-matched very basic wheels, all looking for a good home.

I tried to sell the Paketa earlier for the price of all it’s used parts and I only had one person trying to talk me down to, “make it worth the long drive up to see it.”

I’m sorry, I don’t give people gas money.

Regardless of the deal that it was for a cyclist taller than myself, I received only that one email. I now am changing tactics and going with my origional thought from even last fall. Build a frame that actually fits me, has wide acclaim of enjoyment, then sell the rest of my stuff. Enter the Soma Smoothie.

Why the Soma Smoothie?

I scoured the field of bikes that have good reviews and decent performance. Every time I saw one I liked and was somewhere near my price bracket, I wrote it down to investigate. I ran down the whole gamut of geometry figures and even had to learn a bit of basic calculus to figure out exactly what would be where. The bottom bracket height combined with the known vertical height of my saddle (cosign calculations used.) and then a base position of that saddle fore and aft combined with the “stack” and “reach” measure of the bike itself gave an evaluative position of just where the head tube top center was located. I also knew, from my Paketa experience, what seat tube angle I required for proper fitment. The result confirmed what I pretty much knew last fall.

Bikes I looked at: CAAD9-60, CAAD12-60, Soma smoothie-60 & 62, ES-58 & 61, Salsa Colossal 58 & 60, Soma doublecross disc 56 & 58, Fuji cross cop 58, Niner RLT9 steel, LeMond Zurich

The LeMond seemed like a nice used bike option in full 853 steel. The unknown was the max tire size as well as the future upgradability for new parts and wheelset I have. Also, t weighs the same as the Smoothie. I have a CAAD9 bike and the CAAD12 was a new geometry, both in aluminum, which I don’t want this time around but I used them for reference points for frame measure. The Soma ES bike is a much more relaxed endurance bike that can run gravel roads as well but the geometry was not really fitting. I found myself in-between sizes.  The Salsa Colossal 58 and 60 are nice and I found them to have troubles fitting 30c tires…the clearance was very close depending on the rim width and tire brand used, plus the 60 size had a much too far reach and the 58 size was just too small. I needed, again, a 59. The Doublecross disc would be nice but I’m not looking for disc brakes yet and that might still be the fall bike for next year when I return to cross. I own the Fuji 58 and used it for size comparison. The RLT9 is a great bike and would fit but is over a thousand dollars and out of my budget.

What about Rivendell, waterford, Gunnar, etc.? Honestly, the Gunnar is a touch heavier and not as lively, the others cost way too much and even then, for the price they’re not much lighter either. For the money, The Smoothie is one of the best deals. Here’s how I sized it up for me.

Out of the whole batch of bikes, I narrowed down the attributes I had to see to make the frame acceptable. The reach in addition to where my saddle would be sitting at 79cm vertical above the bottom bracket plane, and how far of a drop that height would be to the stack measurement. (That means how far I need to either stack up the spacers, or lean forward. I’d like to reduce both) In relation to the CAAD9 that was professionally fit to me and my experience riding it and where any further adjustment would be made, I was able to quickly see the three bikes that fit the desired profile of a long-range good riding frame. These are the winners:

Niner RLT9 steel:             The drop from saddle height to the stack height meant the head tube is structurally set up for endurance handlebar positions, including moving those back 10mm, allowing good choices for stem length.

CAAD12:                           The changes from the CAAD9 put it into a range of size that is actually better for me, however it is a $900 frame and fork set. A bargain even at that price. In addition, it’s aluminum. I don’t need that, even if it’s the best aluminum we’ve ever seen. I don’t need it yet. I’m wanting steel this time.

Smoothie 62:                   It’s much closer to the CAAD9 I ride but the stand over is way too high and the reach, although very similar, is still a bit longer than desired. There is easy selection of stem to fix any of those problems. That leads me to the

Smoothie 60:                   The winner because the reach is in the target area as well as the drop from saddle to stack height inn an ideal place that gives the stand over height a great position so I’m not squashing the furniture when I hop off the thing. The smoothie 62 and larger ES had the same problems. Besides, the weight of the frame at 4.1 pounds, plus my 580gram carbon/aluminum Ritchey fork in possession, means it will be under six pounds and that’s something the rest of these choices can’t do. Even the nice 853 steel Zurich. One downside is the ritchey fork only handles up to 25c tires, so for only $120 and another pound, I can have the steel fork and run 28c tires for the full effect. We will see. I’ll just try the 25s I have now and enjoy not spending $220 more on tires and a fork. What I have now works fine.

All of the other bikes examined had some strange measures that made them require major adjustment or major crotch interference along the way. I have an inseam about an inch short of what I should have for my height. All I need is $400 to order that frame, strip down the Paketa parts, directly use the exact same parts, and sell everything else. This bike will also be the kind that I can keep for a very long time. Steel endures over time and it’s hard to find any of these for sale second hand they’re loved so much. I hope to have good news to report on the next entry.

Wish me luck in clearing the whole house and going down to one good long lasting smooth enjoyable bike that still has some guts when I put the gas to it.