Ancient MusikYep. Winter is icumen in. That can only mean one thing to the dedicated road cyclist. It's time to break out The Rig. The winter training Rig that is.
by Ezra Pound (No relation to Dick)
Winter is icumen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm,
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
An ague hath my ham.
Damm you; Sing: Goddamm.
Goddamm, Goddamm, 'tis why I am, Goddamm,
So 'gainst the winter's balm.
Sing goddamm, damm, sing goddamm,
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.
I'm going to do a short series of entries on what comprises a Rig, how to build it up (if you're building) or what to look for on a Rig. I'll share a few hacks I've figured out, and I hope you will contribute as well. If you have some comments, leave them below; if you have pictures or more detailed discussions about what needs to go into or on a Rig, drop me a line in email. My address is on my blogspot profile over yonder a piece on the right side of this here blog.
A Rig isn't your ordinary fluffy race bike with fenders on it. No, it's special.
What is The Rig? It's that rugged bike you keep around to keep you company on long, cold winter rides when you're struggling to build - or merely maintain - some basic level of fitness despite the short days, long hours of work, family commitments, cold and precipitation. It's a trusted companion that will get you up the mountains and over the over side, then back again in spite of freezing sleet that starts icing up your bad self along with and frailer running gear. It's a bike that will keep running, even when other more delicate road bikes are starting to freeze up and fail you. It's your daily pal that you treat worse than you should ever treat a friend. It won't complain if a washdown means hitting it with a semi-frozen spray of water once or twice a week, and if "detailing" means squirting WD-40 on the chain, wiping it clean, and using the back of your glove to wipe the mud and ice off the seat. And on those days when you can't get outside to frolic in the road grit, salt, high wind, and occasional patches of black ice, it's cool with you strapping it to a trainer and riding hard, which is the most abusive thing you could ever do to a bike other than sell it to me or maybe Joel Gwadz. The Rig doesn't care if you're fat ass is sitting there in front of the TV watching The Burning Bed on Lifetime, weeping and drenching the headset with bitter tears and sweat while you do L3 intervals.
It won't let you down because it's rugged, it's unpretencious, and it's got nothing to prove to anybody. It's just a damn bike but it's the only way you're going to be able to make enough deposits in the pain bank to buy yourself some decent finishes next spring and summer.
Fancy dancey little French poodles of bikes need not apply. Yes, you can doll up your Pinarello Prince to pass for a Rig, with little strap-on accessories like Knog lights and strap-on fenders and so forth, but we all know that other than a particularly well-made brand of tools, strap-on accessories are a poor substitute for the real thing. Yes, I'm talking about fenders that bolt on. A rig usually has places you can screw things, like eyelets on the forks and rear dropouts and seat stays. Things like fenders, and maybe even a rack. It might have braze-ons for three water bottles; not like you'll need them in these temps though. The seat might well have some brass brackets on the bottom side that facilitate mounting a really large tailpack, perhaps a Carradice bag or even a rack if you commute on it as part of your training - or train as part of your commute. It could even come with a little protrusion from the handlebars that is nice for mounting a set of lights. The Rig is built to handle some accessories.
The Rig isn't skinny either. A Scott Addict could never be a Rig. But an old steel Ross that originally retailed for $279 at Sears could if it's got a decent saddle and pedals on it. An ancient Colnago can become a Rig, with the proper modifications, but a nice carbon Colnago Extreme Power with the pretty blue, yellow and white paint job can only look on its great uncle with admiration and awe.
The Rig doesn't care that it's heavy. The Rig knows that it needs to be stout to stand up to the inevitable low-side crashes, the load of accessories, and the occasional surprise hunk of road debris or pothole that would crack a lesser bike's frame. The Rig also knows that when it gets put away in favor of the 12 pounds lighter Wunderbike, that you will feel much stronger as a result of pushing the Rig's weight up and down the mountains. In its dinged up, rusty, salty, scratched self, it is comfortable. It will miss you but it knows you will be back; you'll come back after next season in your time of need, when you know the lesser bikes will fail you. Until then it will sit in your attic, your shed, or out in the rain waiting. A little water and a little rust doesn't bother the Rig. In fact, the only thing that bothers it if is you don't ride the damn thing.
I come to praise The Rig, not to bury it.
There are two approaches to The Rig. You can buy a rugged, pre-built (overbuilt) utility road bike and add a few accessories to turn it into a rig. Or you can run what you brung and convert an old bike on hand - or near at hand on Craigslist or your LBS - into a Rig.
The key considerations for The Rig are availability (this ain't no $8500 exercise, pal), ruggedness, the ability to fit accessories, reliability, and an understanding that this bike may be lovely but it is going to get systematically destroyed, sacrificed so that you can do the stupidest thing possible with it, ride through the winter.
The Rig: Bike Options
Good new bike options for The Rig are utility 'cross bikes like the Surly Cross Check or the touring Long Haul Trucker, the Soma Double Cross; and the Salsa La Cruz. Fitted out these will run you $1000 - $1500 which is probably a bit steep for a Rig, but if you commute year-round or do a lot of dirt road rides, they can be useful. The higher end pure racing cross bikes can sort of be fitted as rigs, as many of them have useful eyelets and such, but they are more fragile race machines, not as suited for constant heavy beating as the utility bikes, and really, do you want to known as That Guy Who Jury Rigged a Cargo Rack to an Empella Carbon SL? Don't be that guy; do go for a rugged, economical, versatile options.
Good used bike options include older rugged road bikes (e.g. Cannondale Criterium, Raleigh Technium, a Schwinn Varsity, a Fuji Dynamic, a Bridgestone XO-1, Fuji S-12 touring bike... you name it. If it's older, more heavily built, has a gruppo on it that you don't mind destroying with road salt (such as 105s, or something with reliable downtube shifting) it will be perfect. I would recommend something with relaxed geometry - a touring or cross frame, or "traditional road geometry" with slightly higher bars than your race bike. You'll be bundled up, trundling along, and not super flexible; plus it pays to be very comfortable when you ride at this time of year. Every bit of effort adds up, and you want get the most mileage out of your energy reserves, not burn them up fighting with an uncomfortable machine. If you don't have one of these older, rugged used bikes around you can hit up Craigslist (they don't sell fast usually) or your local bike shop and pick one up for anything from $50 to $250 dollars, depending on the quality, age and condition of the bike, and market conditions on the day you are looking.
I recommend against building up a mountain bike as your winter trainer. Based on my limited experience commuting on a mountain bike, they aren't comfortable over long distances with steady pedaling. And you are going to go long, right?
We'll discuss drivetrain, brakes, and accessories in other posts.
Tires are the next consideration, and we can touch on them just briefly thanks to the excellent work by the GamJams network in evaluating winter training tires. Go here, and follow the linkage. You want a training tire for The Rig. There is a lot of gravel, busted glass, bits of wire, staples and other debris that accumulates on the side of the road during the winter. You are also going to be doing your base miles training, logging some big miles. You need tough, flat-resistant tires that are also durable over the long run.
On the Surly, I'm partial to fat (700 x 27 - 32) touring-style tires like Continental Contacts, Specialized Armadillo All-Conditions, or comparable thick tires with a mild tread pattern. They have relatively low-ish rolling resistance for such fat tires, but they are also thick, puncture-resistant, and durable. There's a lot of crap on the shoulders of the roads in winter and frost heaves bust up the surface, and there are more expansion joints and potholes to deal with.
For bikes with narrower clearances, a 700x25 tire is good. The gold standard in pure winter tires is probably the Specialized Armadillo, but be advised, like most tough tires it has crummy traction when it's wet. The Continental Gatorskin is a bit better, and is light and offers low rolling resistance but without the extreme "f*** you broken glass!" attitude offered by Armadillos. The benefit to Gatorskins is that if the weather is dry out, they are a perfectly decent-handling tire, and the kevlar-belted (folding) version is particularly nice riding and race tire light. There are a lot of other options in the cheap, durable training tire realm, and you should check them out.
If you're rocking tubulars, there are a lot of stout tires sold as "training tires." Many of them probably work fine, but I'm actually familiar with the Tufo S22 and S33. Both have thick rubber and a nicer ride than even the best clinchers, and although I've never tried them the Continental Gatorskin tubulars look like a fascinating possibility. Tubies are indeed wonderful; that smooth ride makes even the longest, most boring training rides a lot more pleasurable, or at least a lot less painful. Just make sure you're packing a spare tubie or some Vittoria Pit Stop or comparable sealant - you don't want to get stuck out in the cold, miles from cell phone coverage, on a bike that is unrideable.
Tomorrow or the next day: Drivetrains, and Fenders