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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Feeling Kinda' Belgian

Back when there was more cycling on TV, I used to enjoy watching the spring classics in Belgium: the Fleche Wallone, Het Volk, Gent-Wevelgem. Cold, wet, windy. The place for hard men, not me. But, every spring, I like to think of myself as Roger de Vlaeminck, battling the elements. Cotton cap under my helmet; long-fingered gloves; rain jacket; shoe covers. Skunk stripe down the back from muddy water spray. Today was one of those days down by the Spokane River. Not a lot of cyclists; more people walking their dogs (or in the case of a big, black Newfoundland, walking his owner).

The path was strewn with old tree trash - pine needles, leaves, small branches - all turned red from the recently-melted snow pack. A few geese were flying over the river, which was swollen and running fast, boiling around bridge pillars. Must have opened the Post Falls dam yesterday.

I was really eager/anxious to see how my new electronic shifting system would behave in the rain. The quick answer, flawlessly.

Back in July, a dog plowed into me on a ride, giving me a concussion, two broken ribs, and a displaced right thumb. The concussion and ribs have healed; the thumb never did. Problem was, down-shifting on my rear cassette using my right thumb was more than a bit painful.

Campy Chorus 9 Shifters
When I ordered my Davidson titanium bike frame (my lifetime bike, I told myself) in 1995, I had it equipped with Campagnolo running gear. Beautiful polished alloy components, shapely, shining. So Italian. The only real alternative then was Shimano, a Japanese company that also made fishing gear. Easy choice - Italian cycling heritage vs. an impressive bait-fishing heritage. And, I loved the Campagnolo group. Crisp, clean, multiple gear shifts. Logical finger and thumb levers. Of course, it was sometimes hard to adjust the front derailleur trim, but it was Campy.

After taking two months off for my ribs to heal, I got out for a few rides last fall, but the right thumb was just too sore. What to do? I hit my local bike shops with the idea of buying a new bike. Carbon. Light. Fast. Shimano thumbless shifting. I fell in love with the Cervelo R3 and thought seriously about buying one with Shimano's Ultegra Di2 electronic shifting - until I was reminded that I'd bought the Davidson as my lifetime bike.

Polished Campy Rear Derailleur
After some conversations with Bob Freeman at Elliot Bay Bicycles in Seattle (also home to Davidson Bicycles, I decided to send the frame back to see if Bill Davidson could convert my old titanium frame to use Shimano Di2 with internal routing. He could. Drilling here, removing derailleur cable guides there, shaping holes to accept electronic cable grommets, refinishing the modifications, putting on new decals. Took two months, but it was worth the wait.

First off, Bill does great work. the bike looks new, with no trace of the removed cable guides remaining. The electronic cable guides and grommets fit snugly into the frame; no chance of rain leakage. The derailleurs and electronic brain were set up perfectly. Shifting is quicker and quieter than my old Campy group (the shifting paddle setup is different than Campagnolo, but three weeks on the indoor trainer while the snow and ice melted, gave me time to adjust). Light tap, shift one gear. Light hold, shift two gears. Longer hold, sweep all the way up or down the cassette. No adjustments needed; the front derailleur pivots slightly to avoid chain rub even in severe cross-gear configurations. I have small hands, and the ability to reduce brake reach with just a few turns of an Allen bolt was wonderful, and the brakes are just as responsive as Campy's.

Shimano Di2 Shifters
One drawback. Aesthetics. Campagnolo parts look like industrial jewelry. Shimano parts look - well - industrial. Chunky, broad shoulders, grey finish. But they work, and they work well.

I had a few minutes to admire them after my ride as I hosed off the road grime, finishing just before a sudden downpour, accompanied by hail. The bike's drip-drying in the garage; my jerseys and shorts are hung from a drying rack in the mud/laundry room. Ribs are slow-baking in the oven (yeah, I know, should be fries with mayonnaise and a bottle of Stella). Looking forward to dinner - and another ride tomorrow.

Shimano Brakes, and Port for Electronic Cable in Downtube

Shimano's Electronic Brain

Ultegra Di2 Rear Derailleur

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