Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Addicted to Old Steel

Uh oh... I think I may be developing an addiction. No, it's not to pain pills (although I did spend a few days in a very pleasant Percocet-induced stupor after the surgery on my arm). My addiction is to cheap old bikes on Craig's List.

It started so innocently when I ran across a 1982 Trek 311 on CL last fall. I’m not sure why I was even looking at bikes on CL, it’s not like I needed another bike. But I’ve always heard great things about those old lugged steel Treks, and for $75 I couldn’t afford to not buy it, right? I bought it in the same way you might pick up a box of those deep-fried jalapeno poppers at Trader Joe's after they hand you a sample on a toothpick.

That Trek 311 turned out to be a really great old bike and I’ve had a lot of fun fixing it up and trying out different configurations. I’ve come to love the the simplicity of friction shifting and a two by six speed drive train. Since I bought it, the Trek has become my most ridden bike even though I already had two much newer and "nicer" bikes.

The only thing about the 311 that isn’t quite perfect is that the frame is just on the edge of being too big for me. The problem is that back in the day Treks came in only five sizes: 19.75" (or occasionally 19" instead), 21", 22.5”, 24" and 25.5". The right size for me is really about halfway between 21” and 22.5”. The 311 is a 22.5” and I’ve made it fit by using a shorter stem and scooting the saddle forward a bit. It’s very comfortable as it’s currently set up, but I’ve really wanted to try a similar Trek in the 21” size so I could find out if that works even better.

As a result, I've spent the past several months scouring Craig’s List looking for a similar Trek with a 21” frame. The idea (aka, "rationalization") was that I could buy it, try both for a little while and then keep the one that fits the best and sell the other. Well, last week I finally found a good candidate. It’s a 1984 Trek 560. The price was reasonable and it was in decent shape, so I bought it. It’s not quite in as good condition as the 311 which was virtually unused and totally original when I bought it. The 560 has most of the original parts, but somewhere along the way it got some funky replacement wheels and a new saddle, and the frame shows it's age with a lot a scratches and chips. But mechanically it's all there and working well.

So, here’s where the addiction comes in. I've only ridden the 560 a couple times, but I'm definitely feeling like I have to keep both bikes. The 560 is completely different than than the 311 (somewhere, my wife just rolled her eyes at that comment). The 311 is a "sport touring" bike with a relatively long wheel base and solid predictable handling, while the 560 is a full-on racing bike with short chain stays, tight clearances and snappy handling. The larger frame of the 311 allows a more upright position that's really comfortable for all day rides. The smaller frame of the 560 puts me in a more aggressive position that just makes me want to ride hard and fast. So you can see why I need to keep both, right? Right?

The good news is that Sarah hasn't dropped the either-the-bikes-go-or-I-go ultimatum on me yet, and it's cheap old bikes we're talking about here rather than boats, cars, motorcycles or methamphetamine. Still, just to be safe I think I'll lay low for a while and try to stay away from Craig's list. I suspect 1980s Treks are just a "gateway" bike. It won't be long before they no longer get me high and I'll move on to Italian or French bikes.

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