Friday, April 27, 2012

A Little Bit Big Cat, a Little Bit Hello Kitty: Meet the Pink CATillac

After three years riding ‘bent, I’d never tried anything but a Carbent. I’ve been itching to branch out. And I’m a sucker for small-run, American-built bikes. I like the knowledge of the honest work that goes into them. In addition to my Carbents, I’ve owned two Cannondales, a Teesdale, an Ibis, and a Chris Chance. Yes, Virginia – once upon a time, Cannondale was a small company that hand-built its bikes! Being part of the craft process of bike building was the lure of working for Bike Friday, for sure.
And…kudos to those fine folks in Marketing! Something in that teaser video just got my attention and wouldn’t let me go. Was it the taiko drums? The dynamic tension created by the blowing leaf at 1:06? The checkerboard socks? I’ve never been a hands-off gal, but – if the bike’s that stable, shouldn’t I at least give it a whirl? Whatever it was, I was hooked.
So I started my inquiries. But it turned out that I was TOO LATE – the CatBIKE Musashi was going out of production. Aaaah. Then, unthinkable grace: one more production run! Mark Egelund very generously offered to put a bike in the queue for me. I jumped at the chance. The only question was COLOR.
It had NOT escaped me, sports fans, that one MORE nice thing about the Musashi was that I could pick a color. My Carbents came in any color I want – so long as it was black. Other brands have few or no color choices (even if you like orange, apparently it is not an option…).

I LOVE baby pictures - this is my frame being welded.

So – I like pink. It’s not that I like pink to the exclusion of all other colors, or even that it’s my “Favorite” color. But pink and me, we go ‘way back. Here’s some takeaway advice for you: if you’re getting a bike built, and you can have it whatever color you want, it’s not a time to dream small, or dream safe. And if your jersey collection happens to look like mine, you’d best get the pink bike:

Turns out I was doubly in luck on the pink front. Not only does Catrike make a pink bike, but – they were making a run of “bubblegum pink” bikes –a paler shade of pink that I thought would be absolutely smashing. Did it hurt one bit that I’d just scored a great price on a set of bubblegum pink Velocity training hoops on eBay? No, it did not. So – Bubblegum pink it was. It would take a couple of weeks to get the frame built…and a couple more waiting for finishing touches. If you’ve ever had a bike built just-for-you, you know that’s a pretty fantastic turnaround.

The final frame color was even a little bit paler than I’d imagined – I love it! The first time I saw it, it reminded me of something…but I couldn’t quite place it. Then, during an incredibly sleepy drive up the 101, Bill cranked the tunes to keep us awake. Wouldn’t you know it – the first song that came up was The Boss: “Pink Cadillac”. THAT’S IT!! The bike is the color of a 1950’s Cadillac. How cool is that? 

And so she became the Pink CATillac. Once I got (ahem) rolling on the “Pink Caddy” theme, it just kept getting better. A couple of Cat cages, painted metallic silver: dual exhaust pipes! I repainted the boom and handlebars white because I thought that would look cool. Memo to self: it does.
Pink CATillac before parts installation. Click on arrow below for theme music!!

I started accumulating parts in anticipation of the frame’s March arrival. The parts mix runs the gamut from indulgent to practical. I put on an FSA K Force Light crankset, with an unusual 52/36 chainring set. 50/34 would’ve been stock on the bike, but I wanted a little more top end. Since I NEED more low end to make it up some of Humboldt County’s more famous hills, I stepped it up to an 11-36 cassette. If I need more than a 1:1, I’ve got no one to blame but me, right? A SRAM X0 rear derailleur isn’t really a luxury item, but finding it in pink takes some doing. Ditto for the KMC “Pink Lady” chain(s). I’d also like to give a shout out to – they make color-matched decals for cranks. I had a devil of a time finding the best front brake – there was more drop on the fork than I anticipated, so I needed a fairly long reach brake. I found it – in white, no less. Thanks HoosierBike!

mid-build. Getting closer...
The front derailleur is a DuraAce that I had lying around. And I’m driving the whole works with Ultegra barend shifters, set to friction mode –again, something that I kinda just had lying around. Yes – Shimano and SRAM. Ebony and ivory…together in perfect harmony. I had a bugger of a time figuring out why it didn’t work at first –the same setup works perfectly on Bill’s bike. The relevant difference was that Bill’s bike has the shifters mounted on Paul Thumbies (see Larry Varney’s excellent review here). It turns out that the SRAM shifter takes more pull than a Shimano does, and what limits the pull on a Shimano barend shifter is hard interference with the shifter boss…so moving the shifter to a thumbie makes it cross-compatible with a SRAM derailleur. Who knew? Bill just got the Thumbies because they’re comfortable.

extremely gratuitous dog shot - say Hi, Cog!
white cockpit.
The Pink CATillac

here's what's goin' on in the back...

if it's worth doing, it's worth derailleur and chain. 

pink and white goatskin leather - heated leather seats, anyone?

Bike setup is is incredibly straightforward. The chainlines are good, and the cable routing is clean. For some reason I was thinking that I would be using a few links less chain than I do with the Carbent; turns out that I use a couple links more (good thing I got the light stuff, right?). The seat – wow. Very, incredibly comfortable. The only “problem” I had with the seat, if you can call it that, is that it is so transitionless that I couldn’t decipher where to plunk my butt down at first. With a hardshell seat, yeah, you’ve got options, but you’ve also got...guidance. The first time I set the bike up, I ended up perched on the edge of the seat, so I had the boom extended out further than I needed. When I brought it back, I was more “in” the bike. Nice!

The headrest is nicer than any other that I’ve used or seen. It’s light, easy to adjust, and well-padded. And it’s pink. Apologies in advance to Mark for ratting him out…these really only come stock in black and it’s extra nice of him to get one done up in pink. Please, please don’t inundate him with special requests. But mine is cool, huh?

Fit-wise, like on most recumbents, there’s a dynamic connection between knee clearance, sight lines, and arm reach. I solved the equation by using an extra long tweener bar and a very long (135mm!) stem – so the front end goes OUT a long way to accommodate my knees, and BACK a long way to make a comfortable reach. I was fitted to the “small” frame. My X-seam is a paltry 41.5, but it’s complicated because I have cruelly long femurs – which means extra tweaking to keep my knees off the bars. With a small front wheel, there’s no issue with sight lines – I’ve got a great view of the world in front of me.

So – after all of that, it’s time to actually ride the thing, right? Oh, my my, Oh heck yes! The ride is sweet. After a few shorter rides, I took the bike on the local Latte Warriors Sunday ride - a group ride to Trinidad and back. The low-speed handling is exceptional - no "slow wobble", and the descending speed and handling are better than I expected (and I expected a lot). And the bike eats up Humbolt County "pavement" - a gritty, gravelly network of potholes loosely bound by cow flop - like nobody's business. Who says aluminum can't be comfortable? 

After a Latte ride that was as much birthday party as anything Bill and I took off for a side trip to one of Humboldt County's more famous hills: Fieldbrook. Fieldbrook isn't the longest climb around, nor the steepest, but it's the modal local hill - nearly everyone climbs it often, and it's enough of a challenge to be representative of "climbing". The Musashi weighs a bit more than the Raven - I've got it dressed out something north of 25# as opposed to the 19# Carbent. So far the climbing speed is comparable, though. The Musashi responds very well to being pushed on at low cadence - a habit of mine that the Raven clearly resents. Although I don't have a definitive time, I wasn't as far behind Bill as I usually am - though he could have been dogging it. 

He was NOT dogging it on the way down Fieldbrook, though. The descent off the far side is the local measuring stick for descending speed. Again, I didn't have a cyclometer up and running (mine is still set for a 700c front wheel), but Bill set his personal PR of 60.0 mph - and I was gaining on him at the time. That compares favorably to my personal best of 56.1 on the Raven, and I never felt like I was approaching the edge of comfort.

The next ride was a legit century down to the Avenue of the Giants. In addition to having a great time and really enjoying riding the bike, we got another chance to test out the Musashi's stability. A big truck close-passed us along 101; at the time we were hauling along pretty good and were mainly staying ahead of a bit of a crosswind. Bill was (aHEM...) behind me at the time, on a high racer - one of the most popular Blue Bikes out there. He felt the truck buffet him and his bike gave him a slightly disconcerting shudder. Not a huge one, but noticeable. He was however alert enough to notice that my bike didn't budge when the truck came roaring past. Yep - I felt it, too...but the bike just didn't seem to care. It just kept on doing what it was supposed to do. That impressed both of us. 

The bike felt ridiculously low at first – I find myself working extra hard to make eye contact with drivers, just to make sure that they see me. Which should not be a problem – it is really, really, REALLY pink. I have noticed that, despite the bike industry’s fascination with “Screaming Yellow” (this is an actual Pearl Izumi color name!), PINK is a lot more visible to drivers because it is the epitome of “unexpected”. If there’s a pink-jacketed, pink-helmeted, pink-shod (yes, really) woman out there on a pink bike, it gets noticed. I’m reminded of Chris Hopkinson, who was pinked-out to the max for the Ring of Fire timetrial a few years back. Someone asked him if he was cycling for, um, you know, “awareness” – to which he replied, “Yes. Awareness. Of car smashes.” Hey, maybe pink IS my favorite color….