Monday, November 19, 2007

Betasso, Brake Bleeding, and Bike Tites

[Before I get started, let me just say that I'm dreadfully in arrears on updating my blog. I keep thinking I'll go back and fill in the blanks; but the truth is, time flies, things happen, blah blah... I actually have several posts waiting in the wings for me to organize and upload some pics, so I'll set aside some time this coming holiday weekend to get them published. In the meantime, I didn't want to wait around on yet another post...]

Today was quite possible the longest 3-mile ride I've ever done. How does that work? Let me explain.

Earlier this past week, I suggested Betasso as a first trail ride for Michelle on her new Yeti 575. She had never been there before, but I thought she would enjoy it because it's fairly short and smooth. (Turns out I was wrong--more on that later.)

The first task was to finish checking over and setting up Michelle's 575. When we first unpacked and set it up, I noticed that the brake contact point was very different between the two levers. The front lever firmed up after only a small bit of travel, but the rear lever was nearly parallel to the bar before it became firm. Personally, I prefer the latter--but since Michelle preferred the feel of the left lever, combined with the fact that the levers should have been set up the same in the first place, I concluded that the rear brake needed to be bled.

Michelle's 575 has Avid Juicy 3 brakes. Aside from the namesake, they don't share many similarities with the Juicy Ultimate brakes I installed on my Sugar earlier this year. Most notably, there is no contact point adjustment on the Juicy 3 brakes. Fortunately, the Avid Bleed Kit is compatible with all the Avid Juicy brakes, and I had purchased one to set up the hose lengths on my Sugar (which I have yet to do!).

I must admit, I had reservations paying what seemed like a lot of money for essentially a couple of syringes, some small pieces of vinyl tubing with hose clamps and bleed port fittings, and a small bottle of "performance (DOT 5.1) brake fluid". I finally concluded that it was unlikely I would find the fittings necessary to fit the bleed ports on the Juicy brakes without considerable effort, so I bit the bullet and splurged on the namebrand kit.

After using the kit per the instructions, I must say that it was well worth the price. I watched some seriously large bubbles come out of the system, so clearly it wasn't bled properly when it was assembled. Bleeding the system fixed the problem, and all that was left was to adjust the lever reach per Michelle's preference and we were done. Piece of cake!

Next on the agenda was figuring out how to fit the bikes into the back of the Jeep. Usually seat clearance is the problem with our bikes; and since Michelle's 575 came equipped with a quick-release seat post clamp, this was a non-issue. Instead, the problem was with the height of the handlebars. The 140mm fork, combined with a rather upright bar position, made it so the handlebar could not clear the lip at the top of the Jeep's hatch. I had hoped that the travel adjustment on the Talas fork (which is the main reason I upgraded to it from the originally spec'd Vanilla) would sink the front end enough to clear, but no dice. Pushing the bike deeper into the vehicle wasn't an option either, as the angle required to make it fit behind the folded rear seats would have precluded fitting a second bike next to it.

The only reasonable solution I could conjure in a short period of time was to reduce the height of the Bike Tite itself. I removed the individual Bike Tite mounts from the base piece, then mounted them to the side of a leftover piece of wood. (Incidentally, the leftover piece of wood was a section my dad and I had cut off the 36" solid core door we used to make the garage workbench. Yes, I'm a packrat, but sometimes it pays off.) With this modification, the 575's handlebar just barely clears the Jeep's hatch.

At long last, I loaded the Sugar next to the 575, reinstalled the headlight on the Jeep (another project, another story), packed up our gear, and we headed out to Betasso. It was already 2:15pm when we left the house. With the early sunset of winter days upon us and Michelle's (understandable) reluctance to ride in the dark, I was worried we would not get much riding in.

In retrospect, I should have checked my Sugar over before we left. When we got to the trailhead my front lever would travel all the way to the handlebar, even with the contact point adjusted fully out. D'oh! That's what I get for being lazy and trusting the factory bleed. Pumping the lever with the rear end of the bike in the air to put the master cylinder vertical got the lever to a "good enough to ride" state--thank goodness Betasso requires almost no braking.

Betasso was surprisingly unbusy. For those who haven't been there before, bikes are not allowed on Saturdays and must ride the 3 mile loop in the direction indicated by the arrow at the trailhead. The idea behind the arrow is to facilitate traffic flow with hikers/pedestrians generally opting to go the other direction--it's easier for a bike to yield to oncoming foot traffic than it is to try to pass from behind. Today the direction was counter-clockwise. I've only been to Betasso once before, and at that time the direction was clockwise, so I wasn't really able to give Michelle an idea of what to expect.

The trail was rather loose in spots, kind of a gravel/sand consistency. I don't know of anyone who truly prefers riding in this stuff, but I had forgotten how much scarier it can be for a novice rider since the tendency is to freeze up rather than relax when the wheels start slipping and sliding every which way. Michelle did just fine, but the anxiety got to her and prevented her from truly enjoying the ride. Michelle was also pretty tired, so the climbing (which is truly one of her strong points!) took its toll as well. After one particular loose steep section just before the end of the first loop, the combination of these two factors led Michelle to proclaim "I hate this trail!" Not quite the "this is my favorite trail, ever!" response I had been hoping for!

I had originally mentioned doing at least two loops, but I told Michelle that one loop was enough for today. That didn't sit very well with her because she thought my reason for stopping was because I was upset with her. I had to explain that a) it was clear she wasn't having fun, so why force another loop? and b) a second loop would almost certainly mean we would end up riding in the dark. The first argument wasn't too convincing (Michelle has a very stubborn "never give up" attitude--in a good way!), but the second convinced her before I had even finished the sentence. Did I mention she doesn't like riding in the dark?

The ride wasn't a complete loss, though. Michelle learned how to use the travel adjustment on her Talas fork, and she said that made climbing much easier since she could put down more power with the front end lowered. She also concluded the seat has to go. Fortunately we have a small stash of spare seats in the basement, so the stock Yeti seat will soon be replaced with a WTB Speed She Team. We also need to do some tweaking to the cockpit, starting with a proper fore/aft seat adjustment and probably a shorter stem. She complained that the bars felt too wide, although they're just as wide as the bars on the demo 575 that we rode. A shorter stem may make the reach manageable; we'll see, I guess.

I was very proud of how Michelle rode. I know the scary stuff still makes her anxious; but when I'm riding behind her, she looks like she's just cruising along, out rolling the trail like she's done a million times before. Her lines are good, and she climbs very well. With a little confidence and some practice on the technical stuff (when to brake and when not to brake, weight shifting, etc.) I think she'll be a monster on her 575! I look forward to seeing more smiles like this:

The evening wasn't over, though. The coworker friend of mine that talked me into the Nikon D40 and helped me plan the Yellowstone trip for our 1st wedding anniversary in September had graciously offered to give us a primer on Photoshop use with digital photographs. In just a couple of hours, he opened up a whole new world to us! I'm very much looking forward to using our new skills with the photos we brought back from Yellowstone. I may post some on here, but my real motivation is to print some enlargements to display around our house.

By this point we were starving, so we stopped at the Flatirons Mall on our way home and ate at PF Chang's (a first for Michelle). We stuffed ourselves with delicious food and rolled on home. Michelle went to bed immediately (something to do with getting up at the ungodly hour of 5:45am to go to the gym before work!), but I stayed up to bleed the front brake on the Sugar and (of course) make this blog entry. I'm going to be worn out tomorrow, but at least it's a short work week!