A few months ago I built a gravel bike. Not that a few of the bikes I already had couldn’t be called gravel bikes. My old (2007) Bianchi Volpe was used as a commuter for a good number of years and saw it’s share of rough roads and unpaved use. My Handsome XOXO has also seen plenty of gravel, including part of the D2R2 route and quite a few long rural rides in northern Vermont.
I recently passed the 6-year mark with my Handsome XOXO (60cm frame) and it has long been one of my favorite bikes. The combination of road bike geometry and wheel diameter make for responsive handling, while the 26×1.8 tires provide comfort and stability over all surfaces.
My build is an all-rounder for paved roads, dirt/gravel, bike paths, and lightweight single-track.
While the Micargi California is a great value in a 26″ wheeled tandem, mostly thanks to its well designed frame, it does have its weak points. The stock wheels are fine for casual use – we’ve ridden them on several short neighborhood rides and one longer ride on one of my usual road loops – but their single wall construction, 36 spokes, and low flanged hubs raise concerns for long term durability.
On their own none of these are particularly problematic but wheel durability, especially for tandems, depends on a lot of things including rider and luggage weight, terrain, riding style, tire width/pressure, and expected performance. A light team riding unloaded on smooth roads can use a relatively low spoke count and/or lighter rim without having to true it very often. Change some of those factors and you impact the durability so maintenance goes up.
Given our intended use for the tandem I wanted a wheelset that would handle any road (paved or not) and a light touring load with our ~325lb team. There are a number of pre-built or custom options to meet these requirements but I like building my own wheels for the extra options it gives in terms of choosing hubs and rims. I also wanted to keep the cost down.
In my earlier rundown of the Micargi California tandem’s provided components I identified the drivetrain, specifically the cranks and bottom brackets, as a potential upgrade area.
The stock cranks and bottom brackets are functional if not fancy. The steel bottom brackets were well adjusted to spin freely without play. While the riveted chain rings would require the stoker drive crank to be replaced eventually as the chain rings wore out, you could likely go thousands of miles on the provided cranks.
I came across a Truvativ Elita road tandem crankset with bottom brackets for a great price and thought it would make a worthwhile upgrade to the stock crankset and bottom brackets.
My wife and I recently became interested in the idea of a tandem for paved and dirt road use. I want to use 1.75″ – 2″ tires with fenders so 26″ wheel tandems seemed a good starting point.
Looking at the options for lower priced tandems I came across one I’ve been unable to find much info on – the Micargi California. In some ways it’s the Giordano Viaggio of 26″ wheeled tandems but there are some appealing aspects:
- aluminum frame vs steel (KHS Sport, etc) for potentially lighter weight
- frame has both V-brake posts and a disc caliper mount on the rear (the included fork is V-brake only)
- 6 bottle cage mounts, though only 4 of the spots can hold a 24oz bottle and one can hold a 32oz bottle
- eccentric bottom bracket up front (the Viaggio uses an idler tensioner)
- kickstand plate
- priced between $500 – $600 new
Welcome to the new blog. Same as the old blog except where it’s different.
I’ve moved to Word Press, which will make updates easier and hopefully more frequent. We’ll see. All the old content is gone for now but I’ll be manually pulling most of it back into the new site.
For some time now I’ve been wondering about road bikes. I really enjoy the combination of speed and comfort my Bianchi Volpe provides; the 35mm tires can handle everything from bad pavement to unpaved trails while still being fast enough on the road. It’s a versatile commuter and exploring bike.
By comparison a road bike seems almost limited. Still the idea of a lighter, more responsive bike than the Volpe in its current guise has appeal. Modern road bikes made of aluminum and carbon fiber don’t interest me very much so I began looking at classic ’80s racers and their sleek steel frames.
I recently altered my commuting route to include more back roads at the cost of adding only a few miles to the round trip. The ride is now much more enjoyable, as if it were a ride I’d choose to take on a weekend rather than a commute.
The new route takes North Road through Great Brook Farm State Park, which has rolling hills and is mostly tree covered with a few open areas like the one pictured below.
On the ride home I take the Narrow Gauge Rail Trail from Bedford up to Billerica. It is unpaved and I rarely encouter other bikes though walkers and joggers are not uncommon. The surface is well packed for most of its length and it rides like a dirt road.
As part of my goal to find more of the dirt roads and trails in my neck of the woods I headed out this morning to explore an area I’d seen on the map but never visited.
View Gas Line Trail in a larger map
When I set out to find this path, I was hoping it would be more like a dirt road and less like the trail it turned out to be. Still, the 35mm Paselas handled it well.
Now that I know where it is, I’m planning on making use of the trail on additional trips to the Billerica State Forest and eventually out to the Bay Circuit Trail in Tewksbury.
Today I headed over to Great Brook Farm for my Saturday morning ride. The weather was great, starting out a bit cool and warming up during the ride.
We’ve had a few days of rain making for some wet sections on the trails. This was the first real test for my new fender, a Zefal Deflector RM60, and it performed well. It is sturdy and holds its position while riding, yet will move if it hits the ground so as not to break. Coverage is perfectly adequate for the 36″ wheel.
This ride has a great variety of terrain. The 36″ unicycle is a good match for the road and wide trail sections on this ride and when I’m up for a challenge riding some of the trickier trails in the woods is a blast.