Brooks B17 – About One Year In (+a bit of rambling)

   I bought my first brand new leather saddle last year after the bike swap. I originally meant to write a review immediately and then again after 500 miles. But guess what. That’s not how things went down. In the end I had it on a bike that I didn’t ride as much as I originally thought I would, mainly because the weather really held out for so much of the past winter that I was able to ride my slightly fairer weather bike most of the time right up until I had to switch to my full-on winter bike. Basically I built up a bike that didn’t actually fill a niche in my collection. So in the end I removed the Brooks from that bike after about 300 miles and left it sitting on my dresser for most of the winter. 

   Then, when I finally had to put Judi away for the winter I stole her C17 and put that on my foul weather bike since its weatherproof. Recently I took Judi down off the wall and got her prepped and ready for the spring. When I went to put a saddle on her I ended up going with the B17. The original Fuji saddle was black, so this black leather number looks a little more, I don’t know…traditional. 

   But most importantly, I ride Judi more than anything, and I know that the B17 is less likely to destroy the crotches of my various pairs of pants. The Cambium is super comfy but it also wears out pants like sandpaper. It’s worse on pants with some texture to them like jeans or cords. So that’s how I ended up finishing out the first 500 miles for the new saddle on Judi. And for now that’s probably where it will stay. But enough backstory. What do I think of this thing when it’s pressing into my nethers?

   I went through a few phases. The first few rides it felt immediately comfortable, but they were all pretty short; maybe three or four miles tops. When I finally managed to take some longer rides I noticed that it would start to feel a little uncomfortable after five miles, and the longer I’d go the more I would get this soreness in my inner thighs. Sexy, I know. But now is not the time. Luckily most of my rides during the break-in process were of the shorter, more comfy variety. 

   After I put it away for a few months and then put it on a different bike it felt comfortable and pretty much stayed that way. So I’m not sure how much it was the change in my riding position because of the different bikes and how much it was just my having ridden it 300 or so miles already.  At this point it’s got well over 500 miles on it. I did a 27 mile ride recently and did not have a sore ass afterward, so that’s something. 

   I should mention that I’m no expert in this area. I’ve ridden on a bunch of different saddles, but most have been original saddles on vintage bikes.  None were all that great.  The rest have been soft, squishy gel seats in a variety of designs; lots of cut out centers. My first bike had a Zéfal seat of that type. I rode it a lot. I didn’t do any long rides back then. Five miles still kicked my ass. Oh, and I just remembered that at some point I replaced that seat with a cheap eBay saddle from china. That one was hard plastic with yellow leather over it. It wasn’t more or less comfortable than the squishy Zéfal on those short rides. Other than that I have owned a couple of used leather saddles. One was nearing the end of its life. It was an old Brooks that was so stretched I couldn’t read the imprint on the sides. I’m pretty sure it was a Professional model.

   The other was a B17 narrow that the original owner had overtightened early on, but I managed to sort that out and save it. It never did get all that comfortable, though. It retained a sort of wooden quality. To be fair, I didn’t ride it as much as I could have. 


   So in the end what I did was get myself a combined birthday/xmas gift from the parents, as is my occasional right as a late December baby. I got the aforementioned Brooks Cambium, and I’ve basically been comparing the comfort of my other saddles to that. It is very comfortable. I can ride on it for hours and never give a second thought to my butt. It disappears beneath me and I love it, except for the also aforementioned pants-destroying properties. 

It matches my shoes!
   So I say all that to say this…the B17 is very comfortable, but it’s not yet reached Cambium level comfort. I feel like it will get there. In fact, I’m pretty sure that what it needs is some long rides, and I’m looking forward to testing my theory this summer. I spent last summer escaping from an impressively unpleasant job into an infinitely better one (that’s accurate so far since my enjoyment of the job hasn’t yet ceased to wax), and thus didn’t get to do much riding at all. But this new job comes with the perk of a 40 hour work week as opposed to 60, so that’s 20 extra hours that I should be able to spend riding. Subtract some of that for family time, like, 10 hours (15 if we’re being honest), and I still get to go on a couple long rides and another longish one. So maybe we’ll see how things shake out and revisit this at the end of the summer. 

The Long and Windy Road

   I took a ride out to Freeport yesterday, then turned around and headed right back. The funny thing is, all the way up Route One I was getting hit with a mild but noticeable headwind, and so when I got to Freeport and saw that I needed to head back in order to deal with some prior obligations I was looking forward to some sort of tailwind pushing me along.  But when I began my return journey I found myself riding into a much stronger headwind. This one was enough to slow me down on a descent, and it didn’t let up the whole time.

None shall pass!!!

   I stopped in Yarmouth for a slice of pizza to refuel. My legs had been feeling less and less willing to keep up the revolutions, and I had made the whole trip to that point on one fried egg, a piece of buttered toast, and two cups of coffee. I knew I was going to be late by then so I contacted people and rescheduled enough things that I could relax and enjoy my lunch in the sunlight. 

   I got back on the bike and after about five minutes of riding and digesting I felt much better able to haul my butt through the shoving, bullying wind. Bridges presented the most challenging sections, but only the Martin Point bridge was bad enough to get me weaving across the bike line in my lowest gear.  I let out a barbaric yawp or two since I so rarely get a reasonable opportunity to do so these days. 

   I eventually made it home with just enough time to let the dog out, “enjoy” a quick visit from my soigneur, Monsieur Le Foam, and then take a short, scorching hot soak before I had to meet someone about a bike. But I was happy to see that all of that exertion didn’t wipe me out. When I got home I felt like I could have kept going much longer if I hadn’t had responsibilities. But since it was my first long ride since last summer it’s probably best that I took it easy. 

Monsieur Le Foam

   I definitely did much better than on my first 25 mile ride. That one ended in double leg cramps that propelled me off the couch and onto the floor where I remained until I was finally able to drag myself down the hall and into the bath tub where I sat punching my thighs until the hot water covered them. It wasn’t my best moment, but luckily I was alone. And also luckily, the action of dragging myself backwards down the hallway rug helped to pull my pants down for me so that I didn’t have to bend my intensely cramped legs to get them off. Ah, memories. 

   I took this ride to scout things out for a near future ride with my son. The last time that we rode, or attempted to ride to Freeport it was autumn and it got way too cold for us about 14 miles in.  Also that time we rode up Route Nine which is not as bike friendly as Route One. Route Nine has many sections where the bike lane disappears and you are left to hug a very scrappy and unsafe few inches of the road while cards whiz past you, sometimes giving you a little leeway. Route One has a bike lane all the way up, I was happy to find.  And it is also significantly less hilly than Route Nine. Although I should mention that they are currently doing construction on a few parts and in those areas it is down to one lane.  They have to stop you in one direction and let traffic continue before you are allowed to go. But the cars were content to let me ride along and no one tried to crowd me out since there were construction people watching. And maybe out of the goodness of their hearts.  So now my son and I just need to pick a nice, wind free day for our adventure to the north.  And I look forward to trying it again by myself on a pleasant afternoon to see how my time compares. It’s not so much that I really care about my average speed, but I do tend to notice it from time to time.

Minor Tandem Update

   I looked over the rear seatpost and found that it is actually in good shape. There was a bent up aluminum shim around the top part and that made it look a little jacked up. But I removed that and cleaned it up, tightened the seat clamp and ta da!  I also got a better look at the weird clamp mechanism dangling from the rear seatpost, and it appears to be more or less intact, but missing a semicircular wedge piece that would form the bottom half of the clamp.  The seatpost itself has some spring to it for shock absorption, and that all seems to be in working order. 

   I also scraped off the jockey wheels and lubed the derailleurs and the chains. I checked the chains for wear, but both are totally fine. The brake pads also seem to be original and very much not worn. I need to look into it, but there’s a small (adjustment?) screw on each brake pad that I imagine might be used to adjust the angle for toe in.  

   I took the rear seat post to the Gear Hub and dug around in a box of parts, and I did find a wedge that should work. It was a millimeter or so too wide to fit between the two screws on the clamp, but luckily I recently purchased a bench grinder, so when I got home I put on my safety goggles and my work gloves and my denim jacket (and I finished attaching the protective shields to the wheel) and I carefully ground it down on both sides until it fit. Then I went ahead and switched out the front saddle onto that clamp and put the whole thing on the bike. 

   I had an old Avocet laying around, so I put that on the front of the bike just to give me something to ride on for now. If I ever plan to take a long ride with someone I’ll probably switch it out for one of my regular saddles. And it’s an old fashioned clamp mechanism on the front seat, so I will have to get one that adjusts easier to replace the front one. But on the bright side, I should be able to turn that old clamp upside down and put a saddle on there, then keep that one handy for rides with Ezra. By reversing the clamp and flipping it the saddle height in the rear becomes and inch or so lower, and that should just about allow Ezra to reach the pedals and ride comfortably as a stoker. Then when I want to ride with an adult I can just switch out the whole rear seat post. Quick and easy!

   I did a little bit of test riding today since the sun decided to come out. The rear derailleur works well, but I had trouble shifting the chain onto the largest cog. The jockey wheel was bumping up against it. It’s possible that the chain will need to be on the smallest chainring in order to get there, but the front derailleur also needed some adjusting and I ran out of time. Boo!  The shifting was smooth, though, otherwise. The bike will need a thorough cleaning, then I’ll re-lube everything and give it another go. And I still need to adjust the position of the two sets of crank arms so they are in synch. Either way I’m still really happy with the purchase. I feel like I found pretty much what I was looking for, and it doesn’t require any major work to get it rideable. Now I just need some good weather, some spare time, and a friend with the same. 

The Great Maine Bike Swap was…pretty great!


   The Bike Swap was this morning at the USM Sullivan Center. The line began around 8, and by 10 when it officially began the line had filled out very nicely. There were over 1,000 bikes inside and more kid’s bikes and bargain bikes for less than $50 outside. There was a coffee truck from The Gorham Grind. Eventually there was pizza for the volunteers. So really everything you need to survive in this crazy, mixed up world.    

   Just before ten they made their announcements and then got the line moving. Within five minutes there were people coming out the doors with bikes, giving them the once over with the on-site mechanics, then taking them out for a test ride and, one hopes, falling instantly in love with the new bicycle in their lives. 

   As a volunteer I can tell you that the flow of people didn’t stop for the full three hours of the event. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, both volunteers and attendees. Lots of smiles and giddy excitement as folks queued up for their test rides. Several people commented on how nice it was to be able to grab a bike inside, then grab a helmet and a lock at one of the booths outside. It’s a regular one stop shop. 

   I really enjoy the bike swap as an event!  The folks who work it are always very bikey people in the best possible way. They’re all big fans of bikes and cycling, and they all get so animated when they get to talk about bikes with someone else who is at least almost equally interested. As a bicycle-type person myself I understand this emotional response. Pretty much all of the people in my life with whom I’m the closest have minimal to no interest in bikes, and many of them seem to find it strange how high the percentage of bicycle related books and movies I ingest on a regular basis. They also find it difficult to imagine that so many such books and movies exist. 

“Didn’t you already read that book?”

“No. That was a different book about cycling infrastructure.”  

“So <pregnant pause> does this one cover a lot of new ground?”


  And so many people who show up there really want to get people on bikes. It’s the best part of the whole event for me. I only sell bikes that are as fresh and as road ready as possible there, and I always include a new bottle of lube and a small multi tool for adjustments because I don’t want to leave any room for excuses not to get out and ride one of the bikes I’ve worked on. Any time I see one of my former bikes locked up around town (or being ridden, though that happens less often) I get a swelling of pride.  Egoitis, some might call it. But it fills me with joy to know that I took a useful object that had been lacking for use, fixed it up and made it as desireable as possible, and that someone else is doing the exact thing that I had hoped for; making good use of that really useful object.  It makes all my efforts feel worthwhile. It makes me feel appreciated, even if I only see it locked up outside the library one random afternoon. And it is that kind of sentiment that everyone at the bike swap seems to share. I love attending and volunteering because I find myself surrounded by kindred spirits. 

   If you would like to feel that way you should do any number of the following:

-Continue to read this blog.  

-Check out (or your local equivalent) and see what they’re working on. While you’re there maybe make a donation or consider joining. 

-Keep an eye out for upcoming bike events in your area. The swap is great fun, but I also love our local alley cat races. And the Gold Sprints was a blast-and-a-half. 

A Random Tandem

I finally found a tandem!  And I bought that tandem!  I have been looking on Craigslist and elsewhere for the perfect starter tandem. I have no guarantee that my wife will be for realz down with riding, and my son is still at least one growth spurt away from being stoker sized, so I couldn’t possible spend multiple hundreds of dollars on a bike that I’m unlikely to ride by myself. But I also didn’t want to get something too cumbersome or too crappy since that wouldn’t really create the kind of tandem experience I seek. So I contacted a few people and asked a few questions, but nothing I found really fit the bill. Then I went in for my Bike Swap orientation on Saturday evening and lo and behold!  The KHS Tandemania Comp from, I believe, 1995. 

   I’m not very familiar with the KHS brand, but I’m getting there now that I have a good reason. And as a side note, just like when you learn a new factoid and suddenly it starts to come up everywhere, I have seen so many KHS bikes around town in the last 24 hours. It’s a Taiwanese brand that makes some decent, affordable bikes. Solidly middle of the road, and reliable enough that they don’t come up for sale used as often as many more expensive brands. 

   This one needs a new rear seat post and a saddle to go on it, but other than a cleaning and a tune up it doesn’t seem to need much else.  I’m planning to move the current saddle to the rear since I’ve ridden on an identical one before and I think my wife will like it. I’ll probably just transfer my C17 to that one whenever we’re going to go for a ride. 

   I’m really looking forward to working on this thing!  It will all have to be done in the front yard since it can’t make it up to my attic workshop.  It’s all Deore components, which ain’t too bad no matter what decade they’re from. Tandems are different in some obvious ways, and this one has an eccentric bottom bracket in the front, which I’ve seen before, but never personally experienced or dealt with. I’ll need to do some research ahead of time, which only makes it more exciting for me. But mostly I’m looking forward to riding it. 

   I did get a taste of it on the night I bought it. I don’t have a tandem rack for my car, and I’m not even sure my car can take one without some other support structure in place. So I ended up riding the bike home from the orientation meeting, then going back for my regular bike afterwards. The bike rode well and the brakes were more than sufficient for just my weight.  It was a little weird riding on the clipless pedals with regular shoes, but I managed. And I think I have some pedal-correct shoes someplace.  I shifted the rear derailleur a little bit, and it worked alright, but far from smooth. Though in the end I didn’t feel like the hearing was bad. Riding in the middle range felt like riding other bikes I’ve owned in the past. The rear end felt a little odd, but the weight and acceleration felt very familiar and natural. So that’s a plus!

   I’ve got a couple things I’d like to get for this, mainly to aid in my wife’s future comfort. Fenders and a rack of some sort for starters. So I’ll have to post an update later on. 

Gold Sprints stationary bike race at Oxbow Brewing


   This past Saturday the new bike club in town, the WHARF Cats, put on its first planned event at Oxbow Brewing on Washington Ave. They had two stationary bikes with identical gearing set up on rollers, which were hooked up to a computer. People could then race head-to-head in a virtual 250 meter race. The results were displayed on a large screen behind them, so the audience had to participate, shouting out the countdowns and wildly flailing their arms to tell the racers when they could stop pedaling. And that was necessary because there was no resistance on the rollers, so racers were really focusing on spinning their legs and not much else. 

   After each race the board would show your time and your top speed, which usually landed between 65 and 75mph. 

   Racers showed up and signed in between 7:00 and 8:00, brackets were filled in, and then the races began. I won my first race (as well as a preliminary test race…ahem) but lost my second bout. Although I lost to the eventual winner, so I can’t feel too bad. But then again, first prize was a brand new, unpainted track frame in whatever size you required, so I can feel a tiny bit bad.  

   There were buttons for the WHARF Cats and buttons for the Gold Sprints event itself. And some really cool wood cut printed posters. There are several talented artists and creative types in this new bike club, and it shows. 

   The group was in great spirits since the beer was amazing, as always.  And the space was really perfect for the event. I really enjoy Oxbow on a lot of levels, and I’m definitely not a big beer guy. But they do great things and I love the staff in general. Plus it feels like a speakeasy that I’m cool enough to know about. Just explaining its location to people makes them think I must be “in the know”. 

   Overall this was a wonderful, fun, successful event that helped benefit the Portland Gear Hub’s move from St John St to Washington Ave. They will be relocating to the old Casale’s Garage sometime next month. To see what other events theWHARF Cats have in the works you can keep an eye on this site or look around at all the bulletin boards in town on a regular basis. For now, at least. 

Overhauling Judi’s Freewheel

While I was working in the attic with Ezra he noticed that Judi was quite rusty in parts, mainly because I put her away without properly scrubbing everything down. And so I took apart her drivetrain and he helped me scrub. But when I went to reassemble the rear wheel I noticed that it felt a little loose and wobbly. The middle gears had felt a little strange when riding lately, and that explains it. So I took apart the freewheel and overhauled it. Now it is running smoothly.