Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sky Pilot

With my recent trip to Oregon came all the excitement and uncertainty of plunking myself down in a completely unfamiliar place. I knew I would surely want to do a lot of exploring. My natural inclination was to bring a bike along, but I was quickly discouraged by the steep asking prices from the airlines and parcel carriers. Even the 26" folding bike frame I own would have been considered "oversized" and subject to their steep penalties. Renting a bike for a three-week span of time would have also cost a small fortune.

My solution: find a cheap beater bike on Craigslist, ride it for the duration of my stay and unload it as I prepared to leave.

I started seriously surfing the Portland craigslist a few days before my departure. Several promising bikes were gone the day they were listed. It seemed that used bikes moved fast around there. I found an ad for a Skykomish Granite Point, a Pacific NW regional brand mountain bike with Shimano Deore components, a huge seat, a pair of clip-on fenders, and an asking price of $60. I called the number in the ad. The woman who answered still had the bike and was willing to hold it a couple of days and meet me somewhere after my flight arrived. We stayed in touch by phone and arranged a meetup.

Upon arrival at PDX Airport, I took the MAX light rail to a nearby stop and met the seller (and her father, a wise precaution for a rendezvous with some random stranger from across the country) in a nearby parking lot. The bike (and for that matter, the seller) did not disappoint in person. It was a solid machine that looked to be of an early 1990's vintage, with Tange Chromoly frame and forks, Shimano Deore components, and a paint job that was even more obnoxiously bright than in the photo. The only downsides I could see were excessively brake-worn rims, a clunky adjustable stem and the aforementioned huge seat, which proved as chafingly uncomfortable as I had imagined. It was easily worth $60 or more, especially given how cool and accommodating the seller had been.

I paid and thanked the young woman and hopped back on the MAX. Upon arriving in downtown Portland, I got off and quickly found an upscale bike shop. I bought a big Wald basket (under $20 new) and proceeded to crudely and quickly install it on my new Skykomish right on the sidewalk in front of the bike shop. I later refined and lowered my quickie basket install, bought and installed a nice used Zefal rear rack (in which my U-lock stowed snugly) added water bottle cages and swapped on a better used stem at the excellent Citybikes co-op (public workstands FTW!) I love it when a plan comes together! I took to my new ride immediately, and it took me all over Portland and beyond, on and off-road, with little complaint.

There was one problem. I was growing fond of this bike. Trips to bike shops and bike co-ops had allowed me to customize the fit and specs of the bike to my liking, as well as meet and chat with some cool people. I traded in the ginormous "comfort" seat for credit toward a new saddle that suited me better at Citybikes. The twice-weekly evening sessions at UBI (where students can work on their own bikes after class) had enabled me to get it functioning better than ever with a new 7-speed cassette and new bearings in both hubs and the bottom bracket. The rims were pretty wasted, so that was a strike against selling or donating it to someone who might keep riding it until a rim failed. I did not need another bike, certainly not another mountain-cum-commuter, as much as I approve of the genre. My rationalization powers (they can be formidable at times) kicked in and I decided to send the Granite Point back east.

I remembered that Greyhound ships parcels station-to-station for short money. I don't live far from Union Station in Hartford, so this option was full of appeal. I spent the last evening work session at UBI disassembling the bike and the wheels (I kept the hubs and tossed the worn-out rims) I obtained a bike box from one of the local bike shops and packed it full of the Skykomish, my "Thesis wheels" from the wheelbuilding course, books, tools, and protective padding in the form of scrap cardboard, pipe insulation and generous amounts of dirty laundry. On the eve of my flight home, one of my UBI classmates drove me to the bus station in his veggie oil-powered Mercedes 240D (The sole time I rode in a car during my three week sojourn was still unmistakably Oregonesque). Price-wise, shipping came to about a dollar a pound.

My parcel arrived in Hartford, well-scuffed but intact, one week later. My transplanted bike has been unpacked and awaits future tinkering in the basement. This bike is not a huge priority, but I do have a plan for its enhanced city commuter makeover: New handlebars (North Roads or some swept-back equivalent) new cables, a more permanent pair of fenders and a new set of rims laced to the hubs. I'm leaning toward building my first set of 650B wheels for it, as the frame has plenty of clearance for them and they would better suit the smoother terrain where this bike was at its best. Also, I have difficulty leaving well enough alone, but you probably knew that already. One way or another, the mighty Skykomish will ride again, and you'll probably see it around when it does. With that paint job, it'll be hard to miss.

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