A shakedown ride

Last Sunday, after spending Saturday morning swapping bits on the Karate Monkey, I subjected it to its first shakedown ride. Since the KM is slated to be my gravel rig for 2012, I wanted to ride some gravel, and some hills, and some hilly gravel. Unfortunately, we only have flat gravel around here (that is, rail trails), so we threw in a few hills on the way to the trail, just for fun.

Here’s the lowdown on Strava (which I still haven’t figured out how to embed here). We worked our way through the west side of Madison to the beginning of the Ice Age Trail park connector, swooped downhill to the Military Ridge Trail, rode to Mount Horeb on the trail, stopped for second breakfast (or lunch) at Schubert’s, and then rode back home via the MRT and the SW Commuter Path. Nearly 57 miles in nearly 4 hours of riding.

The Bike

I did a few things to the Karate Monkey to get it more in line with how I want it to be for the upcoming year of gravel rides and such. Before I got my mitts on it on Sunday morning, it was running fixed with a front disc brake–but that was never more than a stop-gap setup, so I did the following:

  • Swapped the Surly/Mavic disc-only wheels for a fixed/single White ENO (non-eccentric) + Salsa Delgado Cross rear and Surly + Salsa Delgado Cross front. Continued to use the massive Schwalbe Big Apples.
  • Removed the front Avid BB7 (the rear had been removed when it was converted to fixed-wheel, because I was using a Velo-Solo bolt-on cog). Mounted a pair of Shimano Deore LX V-brakes; they’re inexpensive, easy to tune, and more than powerful enough. Kept the Avid levers.
  • Swapped the On-One Mary bars for a pair of Jones-designed Titec H-bars. Kept the same stem and grips (Ergons, all the way).
  • Mounted the Revelate Tangle frame bag for carrying tools, spares, food, and whatnot.

All of these changes were definitely improvements (even though the Tangle still seems to brush against my knees when it’s very full and also makes it hard to get the bottle out of the cage on the seat tube).

But there’s still more to be done before I throw myself into a 100 miles of gravel, especially if it’s at all hilly:

  • The drivetrain is still geared a bit tall at 38×16. I can climb hills of reasonable incline and distance both in and out of the saddle at this ratio, but I suspect it would start to take it’s toll after 60-70 hilly miles. I’ll probably knock it down to 36×16 and see how that works.
  • The cranks (175mm Stylo) are still too long. They were always too long. I just haven’t gotten around to sorting out a replacement BB so that I can use my favorite 170mm set.
  • The tires, oh, the tires. It turns out that Schwalbe Big Apples are pretty good on firm and slightly mushy gravel. On the firm, they fly. On the mushy stuff, they float. But I tend to think anything less amenable will probably require something like the WTB Vulpines that I rode at the 2011 Almanzo. Just as much volume, a bit more grip, and an appreciable loss in weight.

But all in all, it’s coming along. And with different wheels and handlebar, it rather feels like a new bike.

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