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Bike mechs

Sometime in the distant past, I upgraded from the best bike I could afford when I was in college (Suntour, downtube shifters, Reynolds aluminum, etc.) to a pretty modern CF with 9 gears and brifters! [1] [2] I thought that was pretty sweet, and didn’t ever really see the point in upgrading.

Until, after probably 100k miles, the only place I could get chainrings and cassettes new was on eBay from some dude in the Ukraine for more than $300. See, that bike had the 9-speed mechs that Shimano used for about four years. You couldn’t just upgrade to 10 because the cassette was too wide, and that meant buying new wheels. Not that that’s the worst thing, but when you add up the costs, the parts start looking like more than the cost of an equivalent new bike [3] and why start upgrading an old frame when there’s 11 speed Ultegra, power meters, and disk brakes available on much more aero and forgiving frames?

So after a couple of G&Ts one night, and far too many hours spent on bike forums and eBay, trying to decide whether that Ukrainian dude was really going to send me a new set of chainrings (and after wasting money on a knock-off set that never worked properly), I surfed over to the devil’s website, and found a custom-shop endurance bike in the proper upper-mid range [4] on sale, and sank the cc underwater a bit more.

And that’s been a great bike! Fat frame, moderately adjustable road bike suspension for the increasingly worse roads around here, disk brakes, 11 speed Ultegra, built in mounts for lights and computers and such. No power meter, and no electronic shifting, but that would have been $3k more, as that bike wasn’t on sale. I’ve probably got more than 40k on this bike and it’s fine.

Then the recent events. Bikes hard to find, less travel, gyms closed — bike exercise went up. I started looking at what it would take to get a power meter and electronic shifting on the newer bike. See [3]. Then I lucked into the last upper mid range climbing bike of this years model available in the US, it seems (gathering dust in a store in Texas where people run over bikes, they don’t ride bikes). After shipping here, I had a new modern climbing bike with a power meter, and electronic shifting. Pretty sweet!

Of course, once you have a power meter and electronic shifting, you’re not going to be happy without it, so it’s either sell the other bikes or start upgrading.

Long story short, bike parts started becoming available again, new stuff came out, and the not-so-old bike now has a power meter and electronic shifting! [5] Pretty sweet!

The old bike has been gathering dust except for the occasional commute to work. It still fits me better than the other bikes, though that is probably because after 100k miles, my body is warped to fit it. Some dude did win a number of TdFs on this particular frame, basically unchanged over a number of years [6].

I could have sold it during the recent bike shortage, after getting the new bike, but frankly it’s not worth that much so hardly seemed worth the bother. Sentimental value.

But now I have a complete set of Ultegra 11 speed in a box. The bike tech tells me that the modern 11 speed are much more compact than the old 10 speed, and will fit on the old bike wheel no problem. One new freewheel, new cassette, and new brifters later (and it turns out Ultegra rim brakes are on sale for next to nothing cause nobody wants them anymore), so for less than $1k (including installation), the old bike now has new mechanics [7], better brakes, and a much cleaner cockpit than the old mess. I even got a discount on a power meter, so it’s rocking that too.

Even though in that era, they thought only bozos and groms would use anything bigger than 23mm tires [8], turns out there’s clearance for 30mm tires [9] so now it’s rocking fat[ter] tires and 70 psi instead of 100.

I still think the old bike is a better fit, I like the shaped handlebars better (even if they’re smaller diameter and a PITA to wrap), and I think it’s still faster up hills, even though all three bikes weigh basically the same. It’s clearly the slowest on descents though. The new bike is downright frightening.


[1] does anyone still say that?
[2] c. Yamaha A-970II, Beogram 3404, Klipsch Heresy 704, which I kept using much longer than the bike
[3] funny how that works. Still true today.
[4] Not the top end $10k bike, but with most of the good stuff
[5] Review of relative merits of SRAM and Shimano some time in the future
[6] or so the story goes. That was another time, history has been erased, and none shall speak of it again
[7] that parts should be available for until I’m done, though I wonder if I ought to buy some spare chainrings, a cassette, and brake pads, as it looks like mechanical shifting and rim brakes are about done.
[8] my bike coach, who’s won a WC and Olympic medal, still says he would never ride on anything bigger than 23s, not interested in any evidence otherwise
[9] now I’m wondering about those cheap Chinese CF wheels and tubeless… these KSLs aren’t going to last forever