15 September, 2014

The Wald 520 (Official Bicyclist Abroad Review #1)

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Wald Sports is an American company that has been quietly manufacturing bicycle components and accessories since before the invention of the automobile. Based out of Kentucky, they’ve produced parts for many other American bicycle companies, most of whom have long-since been sold or relocated overseas, yet they still remain committed to manufacturing their products in the USA. These days, their offerings consist mostly of steel baskets, one of which I currently own: the 520 twin rear basket.

To many, baskets are synonymous with beach cruisers and Dutch bikes, while serious commuters use a rack and pannier system; this, in my opinion, is an erroneous assumption. I’ve found that having a rear basket, especially the Wald 520, has multiplied the utility of my bicycle beyond what a standard pannier setup could offer.

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(Above: baking brownies for an air show.)

The biggest difference for me is the ease in which items can be inserted and removed— a bike with the rear basket installed is almost like a pickup truck in that you can literally toss things in or grab them out without having to first uncover or open a compartment. If I want to bring a backpack but not necessarily wear it while riding, I set it in either basket and go on my way. Bringing recyclables to the redemption center is pretty easy, too and there’s no concern over something leaking or spilling onto the fabric of a cloth pannier. 

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Another perk of having a steel basket is its intrinsic modularity: you can add anything with straps or clips to the outside of it, or zip tie anything without. I typically have a small patch kit in a velcro pouch snapped to either side; it protrudes very little and doesn’t get in the way of anything I put inside the basket.

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My favorite feature is not really a feature per se, but I think it’s handy—the basket serves to prop the bike upright when it’s leaned against a wall or tree, making for a fairly stable loading/unloading process. Previously, I had spent way too much time finding a surface on my bike that I wouldn’t mind getting scratched up by a hard surface, but now I just prop it up against the basket and don’t have to worry about it.

As far as weight goes, I expected the Wald basket to weigh significantly more than a set of panniers, but depending on your setup, it oftentimes weighs less. This is because the basket is also the rack that mounts directly to your stays, so there isn’t any superfluous structure in the design. Altogether, it’s just about 5 pounds, which isn’t a lot considering it’s plated steel.

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The only drawback, and you’ll see this fairly often in ‘'one-size fits all” products, is that the installation can be a bit tricky, if not downright frustrating. With the Wald Twin Rear basket, this is because the two lower support arms are either too long or too short to match up with the rack eyelets, depending on your frame size. What should really come in the package is a pair of rubberized “P” clamps, because that seems to be how most people end up attaching theirs to their bikes.

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Otherwise, I’m very satisfied with the basket, and consistently regard it as the single greatest utility multiplier for a bike. Add to that the fact that it’s made in the U.S. when many products no longer are, and the price is an incredibly reasonable $39.00 (a rack/pannier combo will set you back triple that amount), I could not say enough positive things about it.

Official Bicyclist Abroad Rating: 9/10

You can buy it here:

Or from the WaldSports website: [link]

 

- Bicyclist Abroad

08 September, 2014

Op De Hoek

IMG_0983The local bike shop. It’s either the one closest to you, or the one you like the most, but either way, it’s where you go when you don’t want to do it yourself or don’t want to shop online. In my case, it was the former—because as much as I enjoy working on bicycles, there are two things I absolutely do not enjoy: installing headsets and installing new tires, and the Soma needed some new shoes.

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Granted, I’ve been told that until the tube starts to show, you will be “okay”, but I would rather not wait until that point. The cracks in the tread alone didn’t bother all that much, but any sidewall deterioration makes me uncomfortable. So, on the sunniest of summer days, I rode on  down the street, across the Dutch border, to the Fietservice Op De Hoek or “Bike Shop on the Corner”.

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Here, there is the proprietor—a nice man with an un-ironic curled mustache- his garage full of tools, and a showroom filled with Dutch bikes, classic road bikes, and a couple of e-bikes for good measure. There is also the obligatory wall of saddles and miscellany, and a couple shelves of tires in every size.

The cream-colored Panaracers currently on  the Soma were the first pair of tires I had on it and so I’ve been riding on them regularly for the better part of 4 years. I don’t know whether or not that lines up with other people’s tire lifespan, but I’m sure everyone’s mileage varies dependent upon their usage. (I have original tires on the Univega in that States, and they’re still doing fine). I had originally picked them out because Panasonic tires are easy to come by in Japan and, I’ll admit, because of their color. (At the time I was inspired by the path racer bikes I had seen in pictures). 700 x 23C was pretty narrow for me, but I grew accustomed to it and soon that was all I knew.

Now, four years later, I had learned a bit more about what qualities make for a good all-around tire. Skinny was out, cream was still cool, but not a necessity, and softer rubber is a must for winter riding. I was also looking into puncture resistance, though in the time I was riding on the Panaracers, I never experienced a single flat. 

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[Above is the last photo of the Soma with the Panaracers.]

So, after browsing the tire selection, I settled on a pair of Continental Touring Plus tires at 700 x 32C. In black. (Change is good, I told myself). I wanted something wider, anyway, and 32 seems like a pretty popular tire width for a mix of pavement and dirt/gravel roads. So I had the old tires removed and the new ones installed as I leisurely walked around the block, enjoying the sunshine.

Upon returning, the bike was all done.  So I paid the gentleman, said my thank-yous, and set off to test things out.

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The first thing I noticed was sluggishness. Not strength-sappingly sluggish, but definitely noticeable, like how it feels to pedal after riding for several hours. I was so used to the 23s zipping along, the added width and Kevlar puncture protection kinda slow things down a bit. But—the tradeoff here is that the ride is smooth and cushier—it’s certainly not transferring as much of the road vibrations as the Panaracers did, which I appreiate. Once you get up to speed anyway, the extra rolling resistance is negligible, at least in my opinion.

I have to say my only complaint so far is rather petty, but the tire information is printed on the reflective sidewall portion, making it difficult to make out the recommended tire pressure. Everything else is what I expected from a heavier, touring-style tire, and I’m pleased with the performance so far, though I will be sure to report any other issues as the seasons progress and I ride on them some more.

Ultimately, every change made to the bike is a little step towards what I’d like it to be. I think it shows how versatile the Soma is, becoming this type of bike or that type of bike depending on the riding style I’ve adopted at the time. And a wearing through a set of tires sort of feels like a milestone for any bicycle owner, so I’m kind of proud of that too.

- Bicyclist Abroad

31 August, 2014

Reunited!

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It was the end of April when I last saw my sizeable stable of bicycles and bicycle-related items, wrapped in brown paper as they were and packed inside a giant wooden crate. I adapted to riding whatever other bicycles found their way into my life after that point, but in the back of my mind I was missing my Soma Stanyan. This was the first bicycle I built component-by-component back in 2010 after the Mrs. and I returned from our extended vacation in sunny Iraq. I had no idea what I was doing, but I managed to put together a fully working bicycle, and after riding it for hundreds of miles, must not have missed any major steps in said assembly. [Ed. note: Yesterday, courtesy of a friend, I learned that the wheel set is, in fact, for a 29” MTB and not a 700c road bike. Who knew!]

Fast-forward to August and we receive notification that all of our stuff is here, minus two crates that can’t quite be accounted for.  Luckily, of the crates that did arrive, one of them contained our bikes.

IMG_0931(Mannequin, for scale.)

So the once empty garage was now filled with numerous cardboard boxes and the joyful silence of stationary wheels. I immediately took to the task of inspecting everything for transit-induced damaged, and found only some scuff marks on one of the Mrs. bike’s top tubes. After the reattaching the handlebars and pedals, airing up the tires, and one or two adjustments to get the brakes just right, I took the Soma out for a quick re-acquaintance ride.

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The Soma felt quick, light, and smooth, attributes that I didn’t necessarily notice when I rode it more frequently. I did however, start to feel back pain while in the drops, and knew it was because of the stem length stretching my riding position beyond what was comfortable.

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The current stem was a titanium Specialized I had found on eBay, and aside from being shiny, I thought it might dampen road vibrations, too—but, it turned out that was not the case.  So, I decided to reinstall the Velo Orange stem I originally had on the bike, which was a bit shorter, had a much less aggressive angle and, due to my oversight at the time, required shims to mate to the handlebars.

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I’ll probably reinstall the Wald rear basket again, and use the Soma for my everyday bike, running errands and bike camping alike, though it seems like the latter is always on my to-do list but never gets crossed off. Oh, right, that’s because of this guy:

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Well, his dog trailer is my next project.

- Bicyclist Abroad