Quick Impressions of the Bella Ciao Superba & Pilen

Saturday, October 29, 2011 |

I stopped by Flying Pigeon Bike Shop today to test ride the Bella Ciao Superba (the Lovely Bicycle edition) & a Pilen Lyx. Though I'm in no place to purchase either at the moment, I do enjoy test riding different bikes to get a feel for the range of what's out there (plus I like to dream). I'll try to give a short review of both here.

Bella Ciao Superba

First I tested the Bella Ciao. It sure is a beautiful bike. The first thing that stood out to me when I was handed over the bike for the test ride was the soft cork grips (unshellacked -- almost seems a shame to shellac a material that feels like velvet, though I know it helps the cork last longer). Once I hopped on, I couldn't believe how extremely comfortable the B72 saddle was -- like butter! I guess I've only tried the B66/7 with it's textured surface (or my own Velo Orange saddle), but my goodness I can see the appeal of Brooks with that saddle.

The ride was extremely comfortable. It reminded me a lot of my 1970 Raleigh Ladies Sport (in it's slightly sporty positioning & handling), just an extremely comfortable version. The Schwalbe Delta Cruiser tires absorbed most bumps I went over and added to the creamy feeling the bike had (both in handling and looks). I also loved the constant click-click-click of the Sturmey Archer hub (similar to my Raleigh, though a little louder), reminding me of when I put baseball cards in the spokes of my bike when I was younger. The bike was easy to accelerate and the handling wasn't overly responsive. I enjoyed the three speeds, finding them well spaced (though I wasn't able to test it on any hills). Overall, I would compare the bike to a delicious cup of rich, creamy espresso -- smooth, peppy, and well worth the cost.
Source: Pilen

Next I test rode the Pilen. The larger frame felt more my size, though the handlebars immediately felt like they should have swept back more towards me (as I thought they would before I test rode it). The ride felt extremely smooth, though I have to echo Veloria's observation: acceleration was initially difficult no matter what gear I was in. This is apparently a problem of weight, and I thought I would be heavy enough to be exempt from this (around 140) but unfortunately I am not. The only other problem I had with the Pilen was a slight vibration I felt constantly through the pedals, both when pedaling and braking. My thought was it was the hub, though the lady at the store didn't find any vibration -- maybe it was again a question of weight?

Other than that, I found the Pilen to be an extremely stable and sturdy bike. I found it to be especially sturdy starting from a stop, something that I find I don't have in my Raleigh. I love the twin rat-trap rear rack and the spinning bell. I feel like it is a bike that would be very versatile -- a great city bike you could easily take on unpaved roads. Its well-made frame and sturdiness might be good for someone looking for a bike to survive the zombie apocalypse with.

I walked away from the bike shop surprised with what I found: I expected to love the Pilen and only like the Bella Ciao, though the inverse seems to be true. I'm disappointed that the Pilen seemed to have so many problems with me but know that it would be a great bike for many people. Of course, now I'm adding the Bella Ciao to my list of Ideal World Bikes (i.e. in my ideal world I would own a Dutch bike for relaxed but sturdy city rides where I need to carry things, a Bella Ciao for fast and fun rides when I want to still ride an upright bike, and a touring bike with drop bars to go on long rides with my boyfriend).


Wednesday, October 5, 2011 |

I've started my temp job at the farm scooping up goat poo (it's a glamourous job, I know), and in between I've been finishing up a painting, one that I started many moons ago.

I quite like how it turned out. It combines a couple different things I've been interested in painting lately and I enjoyed painting it. I'm going to a local art league meeting that my grandma signed me and herself up for. It served as a good motivation, as the monthly meetings include an artist speaker who judges paintings and awards prizes. From what I can tell it's fairly informal and the prizes consist of a ribbon and a mention in the newsletter, but its still exciting nonetheless.

I also recently took a trip downtown to the LA County Art Museum for a free day of art.
There's nothing that really compares to seeing beautiful art in person, and none of these pictures do any of the pieces justice. I absolutely love walking around museums, especially art museums, and was reminded how important they are to me. Maybe it was my upbringing near Washington DC, but I've always found something nourishing and comforting about museums. Oh how I miss the dark, formaldehyde-y smell of the Natural History Museum and the light, airy spaces of the National Art Gallery.
There was also an exhibit on "California Living," what amounted to a bunch of funky but stylish 60's home decor (including a famous interior designers' living room styled during that time period that was transported there for the exhibit). There was a bathing suit there that especially interested me.
Since Lovely Bicycle! wrote a post about wool bathing suits I've been interested in them. They had one on exhibit there that was especially nice -- not to mention the lobster suit in the back. I also love the little buttons on the shoulder of the wool suit. Though I'm sure the wool underwear made today would serve as a perfect substitute, it's always fun to look at things worn in the past and the thought behind them. The designer that made this suit made it "without understructures to create suits that clung daringly close to the bodies of unfettered wearers," contrasting against other suits made at the time that shaped a woman's body to something more "idealized." I find this sentiment of acceptance of one's body appealing and am sad that such a sentiment hasn't been more prevalent in today's society.

Ride Report: The One Where My Bike Decides that the Gutter is a Good Place to Be

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 |

It was a beautiful summer day and my boyfriend and I had just finished building up my new road bike, Moon Flower, the Hippy Love Child Bike ("love child" because she was the product of my vision and Boyfriend's mechanical abilities, i.e. he did everything). We decided it would be unjust not to go for a ride, so I slathered on some sunscreen, we grabbed some Clif bars and water, and we were off.

Moon Flower is my first road bike, one that we have practically brought back from the grave. Back when we were still looking for a touring bike for me there weren't many (affordable) options that included all the necessary braze-ons and such -- until we encountered this 1988 Schwinn Voyageur (the year I was born -- it must be fate!). After we bought it and I rode it around for a while, I knew in the back of my mind that it was much too big for me, but it seemed that I could make it work somehow. So we got it powdercoated and added different components to try to make it fit. The result was a beautiful bike that intrigued and inspired me to ride fast and far.
Look how fast I go! You can't even see me.

It was a very nice change from my Raleigh -- to be able to climb hills (or rather, in the Land of No Hills, overpasses) and have a decent range of gears to choose from. It was especially fun to pretend I had any ability to go fast. One thing, though, that was supremely different than the Raleigh was that it was much harder to navigate traffic on it. The brake hoods felt a mile away, and the new (old) 45mm stem I put on it made the bike twitch if I even thought about moving. Luckily, our time amongst the cars was not long on this ride.

We eventually found a bike path that we had heard about but never ridden, the San Gabriel River Trail. As the name would suggest, the trail runs along the San Gabriel River all the way to Seal Beach, and goes an impressive ways inland in the other direction. It's not always the most scenic trail in the world. The extent of development along the river had led to it being restrained by a concrete flood control channel. Otherwise, the natural process of the river "snaking" along the landscape and flooding each winter would effect the surrounding development. The Control of Nature by John McPhee is a great book on this subject, and we won't go into my feelings on it right now.

We passed the Long Beach Water Treatment Plant along the trail. The combination of the Fallout: New Vegas-like surroundings and the pipes pouring green foamy liquid into the river made for a strange scene. Contrastingly, an adjacent portion of the river featured palm and willow trees working their way through the concrete and bright white storks flying between them.
It wasn't long before we reached the ocean. Even though I live so close to it I am amazed every time I see the ocean and smell the air.
The trail ends at the aptly named River's End restaurant, a spot my family and I had gone to before. It felt different getting there by bike, a bigger sense of accomplishment ("My muscles brought me here! My muscles!").
After dipping our feet for a while in the extremely warm water we turned back. On the return trip I felt a supreme lack of energy, though I trucked on as fast as I could as I didn't want to slow down Boyfriend (though in reality he doesn't mind at all, I still feel bad for being The Slow One). I could tell that my seat wasn't adjusted right and was putting a lot of pressure were there shouldn't be. My hands hurt, despite the biking gloves I was wearing, and it was a struggle to keep them on the tops of the handlebars, let alone the hoods. My neck was sore from keeping my head up.

We eventually got off the trail and were about to enter an area with traffic. I took one last opportunity to stretch my neck out. In the back of my mind I knew that I was taking a little bit too long to stretch, and that I was headed in a direction that may not be best if I was at all interested in staying upright. But my neck hurt so much and just needed a little bit more time to stretch -- and before I knew it I hit the curb and was on the sidewalk.

I quickly got up. Nothing hurt too bad -- and then I saw Boyfriend's surprised face and the blood running down my leg. I started to cry -- not from pain, but the shock of falling off my bike. We sat on the curb and he poured some water on my wound. I found more than a few bruises already starting to form.
There was a fire station right across the street and we decided to see if they had any hydrogen peroxide or the like to clean out the cut on my leg. We found a nice, and slightly confused, firefighter who let me rinse out my cut in the bathroom. He seemed less than impressed by my wounds, and explained that he got a similar gash from his mountain bike pedals on a ride once.

After we thanked him and left, we got back on the bikes. I felt an adrenaline rush from the crash and entered traffic with a renewed energy boost (nothing like gouging out your leg to wake you up!). We made it home, cleaned out my wounds once more, and showed off my cuts & bruises to my family.
This is from a second crash a week later, but you get the general idea.

I felt super hard-core to have taken my first spill on a bike and survived. Of course, I didn't know that I would crash again a week later on Moon Flower, leaving me couch-ridden with a sprained ankle and some serious road rash, but for then I was one bad-ass biker.


Monday, September 12, 2011 |

This is just a quick peek into the painting that I started a while ago and plan on finishing soon. It's a larger painting than I've usually done, and I'm pretty excited about it.

Also, I'm slightly less unemployed!

I got a job at a farm for the month of October. It's during their pumpkin patch event, and I will be tending their petting zoo. The hours are below minimal and the pay is what one would expect, but I am happy. The thought of receiving ANY sort of income that isn't a handout from my parents or from selling things on Craigslist is amazing.


Another One Bites the Dust (Me)

Monday, September 5, 2011 |

Well, I gone done it again.
I crashed my bike for the second time in two weeks, though this time resulted in a sprained ankle. A few days post-crash I went on a small hike without realizing that I had sprained my ankle, which only aggravated my injury more. Now I'm couch ridden and hobbling around on crutches. I feel pathetic.

I've decided to lay off riding Moon Flower the Hippy Love Child Bike for a while. Despite how much I want to make her work, she really is too big for me. The two times I've gone on significant rides on her I've crashed both times. 
Her handling has become too twitchy for me -- especially after I start to get fatigued at the end of a ride and my neck hurts so I'm not looking too far ahead to see, say, a patch of water on the road. And when I have such thin and slick tires that the bike completely slips out from under me when I hit that patch of water and Boyfriend doesn't have enough time to react and completely runs me over.

Luckily my Love is quick thinking and called my dad to come pick us up immediately after we crashed, while I'm there sitting on the sidewalk crying and screaming in pain. A jogger and some people in their backyard asked us if we were ok or needed help, which was very nice of them. Not to get too graphic, but the gash on my ankle had hit something white, and I was freaking out that it was bone (luckily it wasn't).

So now I'm taking a break and trying to decide what to do with Moon Flower. My sister (who is a good 3" taller than me) might buy it, but if she doesn't I might release it into the (Craigslist) wild to run free -- as she was meant to.

A Review of the Raleigh

Saturday, September 3, 2011 |

Now that the Raleigh is completely built up to a errand-running machine, I thought I'd give a review of it and list the changes I made to it.

Back in February 2011, Boyfriend and I decided, on a whim, to stop in at a bike store up in our mountain town of North Carolina. He laid eyes on a white Specialized hybrid that he fell in love with. Having recently sold his old heavy mountain bike, this bike bike was light and agile in comparison. So he bought it after a test ride. Thereafter, I became enamored with the idea of riding bikes with my boyfriend.

Being unemployed, I had a lot of time on my hands to, via the internet, better picture this obsession I was forming. I eventually found a number of bike blogs written by women, including Lovely Bicycle, who wrote a number of entries recommending vintage 3-speeds for the beginner woman bike-rider/commuter. Just for kicks, I looked for one on Ebay. There was a 1970 green Raleigh Ladies Sport for $100 that was absolutely beautiful. But could I justify buying a bike when my bank account was dwindling?

Somehow I justified it and purchased the bike.

I waited for days as the bike was shipped to me. When I saw the UPS truck pull up I jumped up in the air and ran to the door. Poor postman had to carry that behemoth across our snow packed yard and icy walkway to the door.

Slowly I acquired some upgrades for the bike: new tires and brake pads, as well as a helmet, lock, and battery lights. I also got some leather conditioner for the old saddle and a scratch awl, a tool to hammer holes into the skirts of the saddle to lace it up. I spent a lot of time adjusting the saddle and handlebars. I added oil to the rear hub by purchasing a small baby syringe from a pharmacy and using that to inject cheap motor oil into the hub. I replaced the brake cables, which made it easier to brake. Eventually the rear 18-tooth cog was replaced for a 22-tooth cog (to make it easier to go up hills) and I replaced the chain. I've had to manually adjust the indicator chain (that controls the tension of the derailleur cable near the hub), as it will occasionally (and annoyingly) pop into "neutral" after switching gears when the indicator chain is out of alignment. I also learned that easing up off the pedals (by either not pedaling or lessening pressure when stopped) while shifting made shifting easier and prevented the "neutral" problem.

I rode it occasionally in the mountains of North Carolina, but found it extremely difficult to ride on those hills. I'm now living outside of Los Angeles, where it is extremely flat, and find that this is where the Raleigh was meant to be rode. It's perfect to ride around the corner for groceries, especially now that I have it equipped with a rear rack and a basket.
I bought a Wald basket and a Greenfield "rat-trap" rear rack from my LBS, as well as a rack bungee strap and bungee net that have proved extremely useful. I can throw my purse in the basket and strap anything else (from a rolled up blanket to a 12-pack of beer) to the back. I also invested in a new leather saddle from Velo Orange (Model 8). It is extremely comfortable, especially compared to the old and cracking original Brooks. I've sanded the rims & brake pads to reduce squeaking (though occasionally find it still present), and added a small square from an aluminum can to prevent the seat post from sliding down in the seat tube. I got a "ring-ring" bell. I polished the brakes and the head badge with steel wool and metal polish. 
I've found this bike rides very well. It's definitely not a sporty road bike, and "prefers" to ride slowly and at a steady pace. It's the kind of bike that doesn't necessarily want to get to places quickly, just comfortably. Though I haven't encountered any rain, I've found the fenders have saved me from backsplash from plenty of errant puddles. The chain guard protects my clothes from grease & teeth. It still needs maintenance every once in a while and isn't quite the worry-free bike I want it to be, but I have gotten a long ways from what it once was.

Unfortunately, I've recently realized that this bike is too small for me. I've spent hours trying to get the adjustments right but can't find a spot that it's comfortable for me. You can see in the photo how high I have to raise the seat. This makes the distance to the handlebars feel cramped. It's fine for going around the corner, though it would be nice to have at least one bike that fits me well.

I love the Raleigh. Every time I look at it I am struck with how pretty of a bike it is, and the thought of selling it for the sake of another makes me sad. Despite it's quirks, I've put a lot into this bike and an attachment has grown out of that. It was the first bike I purchased myself.
If this bike were my size, I would probably be thinking about doing some other things to this bike: replacing the heavy steel rims for lighter alloy rims, installing a bottle dynamo & light, replacing the rubber hand grips (that are hard and leave impressions in my hands after long rides) with cork or rubber, and eventually getting some nice creme Schwalbe tires (though not until the others are thoroughly worn).

If I were to sell my Raleigh, I would want it to go to someone that would actually ride it, not just have it sit in their garage. It would be a great transportation bike for someone slightly shorter than me (I'm about 5'8" and the frame is 21"). It would be very hard to part with this bike, but someday it might have to be done.