January 22, 2009

Ceremonial saddle burning and bag worship.

Dude, today was one of those "hard to dress for" days. I recently had a pannier failure - which probably represents the last time I'll purchase anything that is purposefully waterproof, unless it happens to be a nice set of Ortlieb panniers, maybe Arkels: in this case, the stiffer PVC fabric and roll-top design of my Axioms presented issues when it got really cold, to the point where seams that are ultrasonically welded tend to come apart... it also creates a bag that is void of pockets, neat zippered pouches and handy shock-cord external storage. This company makes really good stuff that lasts for a long time, and I know several commuters that use this brand - but this particular model, well, it's got its limitations when it comes to versatility. I still got over a year of solid used out of them, so no hard feelings.

Until I decide on a new brand or model to try out, I've got ye olde Camelbak out of the closet. So far, I'm wondering WHY I stopped using this Camelbak H.A.W.G. model in the first place: but I remembered via a conversation with Crowbar that is had a lot to do with my need to take the laptop to and from work. a practice that has since ceased since the discovery of some wicked-cool remote access software. I digress a little, but all-in-all the Camelbak was a solid solution, never bothered my back, never felt too hot, too heavy, too cumbersome - or any of the things I'd cited as a reason to go full-on pannier and rack in the first place. I ran the Camelbak for the first three years of my commuting existance, with no complaints. So, because of an untimely equipment failure, it's back in service.

One thing I noticed immediately: it makes the bike-n-bus transitions REALLY smooth. I rack the bike, hop on, and sit down. Easy. Granted, leaving the panniers on the bike and doing the same thing was even easier once on the bus... but hefting the Krudwell with full bags onto the bus's front rack, well; that's a lift. Not a deal-breaker by any stretch, but it's a lot easier to just toss an unladen bike into the rack. Especially the Krudder, which isn't exactly a lightweight to begin with. So, even though I have something on my back again for a while, it's not NEARLY as cumbersome as the messenger bag, which was my original laptop solution simply because it was so much bigger. The reason I went from the messenger bag to the panniers: by direct comparison, the Camelbak - while not as trendy or "core" as a messenger bag - has these stand-offs on the back panel that hold the pack off your back a little and let air circulate. That's the reason I never complained about the heat while wearing it. Also, the insulation on this upper-end Camelbak is far better than the insulation on the smaller, cheaper Camelbak I'd tried back in August for the 10th Anniversary 200K. That bag left me with nothing but 50 oz. of warm water after a few hours. The H.A.W.G. model always kept my water ice cold, even during the July 2003 300K where temperatures broke 102º for most of the ride. A few inches of sun-heated water in the exposed portion of the drinking tube, followed by ice-cold water from inside the pack. Brilliant. For commutes, the water bag stays home. Easy. Wearing it again, it feels instantly familiar, just in these past couple of days riding with it again.

To be fair: messenger bags are simply marvels of bag construction. I'm pretty sure the one I invested in from Chrome is probably bullet proof. It's heavy, waterproof, reinforced everywhere, and is something a working messenger would actually use. You can get it stuffed full of next-day envelopes, blueprint tubes, flat-rate boxes - and in my case a full change of clothes, a laptop, a six-pack of beer, and a tub of HEED - and the seams won't even get stressed about it. The Camelbak simply won't do all that.... but for 22 miles in traffic in the summer heat and humidity of Kansas, the heavy material pressing against my back supported only by my left shoulder, well, it proved to be too much. The Camelbak solves those problem areas, and holds just enough for my workday, so it's a good compromise trading off some storage capacity.

That brings me to today's reminder of one of the few limitations of the Camelbak platform: storage space. It's a cavernous backpack, really: I've got notes in my journal from back before I even had a blog or web-page, citing evenings coming home from my then 2nd job, rolling up to the liquor store for a 4-pack of Guinness cans, and getting them all inside the bag with my clothes and whatever else I was hauling home. Granted, and to the previous point about the messenger bag by comparison, I wasn't going to get much else inside the Camelbak on those Friday night beer runs, but it worked. Where the messenger bags are seemingly made from recycled tank plating, the Camelbak fabric feels really thin; but as thin and lightweight as the fabric seems to be, don't be fooled: I have YET to rip out a Camelbak seam with any load. Finally, regardless of cargo capacity, the hydration feature is really the highlight. Coupled with their fantastic harness system, you almost don't feel exactly how much weight you're really carrying. I rode my fastest 400K (a smidge under 18 hours) with this H.A.W.G. on my back, 100 oz. of water and all, with no fatigue that could be related to the bag. Regardless of my previous mentions of riding brevets and having a goal of keeping things light-weight and minimalist, I can't deny that most of my fastest rides were with that bag on my back. Hydration? Perhaps.

Part of me is thinking this may be a happy accident that those pannier seams gave way, because right in step with my plans towards a successful 2009 training season and future goals, I have returned to the same commuting platform that I used in the most successful of years. Surely that's not THE silver bullet, but it's interesting. But, to my original comment about the limitations of storage space, today, with temps starting below freezing and rising to nearly 70º by the time I got home, I had layers bungeed and tucked in every available pocket on the thing. It worked, but it's nice that I don't always have to worry about wicked 45 degree temperature swings. Weird day!

Counter to my experiences with bags this week, I have really had a hard time with saddle issues. Don't get too excited, because this is again on the Krudwell. I know exactly what the problem is: the saddle I'm running is NOT a circa-1999 Selle Italia Flite Trans-Am. I have two of those saddles, and three bikes... and the Krudwell is the odd ball. I've posted about this briefly before and I thought I could just gut it out, but duuuuude, lemme tell ya. It ain't worth it. The Old-school Selle Italia Tri-Matic with "Genuine Gel" (read: Genuine Hell) inserts is absolute torture. When I'm riding to the bus stop, no worries... a few miles never hurt anyone. In the afternoon, however, just adding on those extra 12 miles makes me want to cry by the time I get home. Combined with the fixed gear, which equals no coasting and therefore no standing on the pedals for a bumm-rest... you get the idea. It was annoying at first, but the cumulative effects of riding this saddle for this past week have almost made me go inflatable donut shopping. It's stupid. It's a real shame that it's such a cool dumpster-find, tho: Celeste green with Bianchi logos screened onto the leather, and contrasting dark blue Kevlar corner treatments for anti-abrasion. It's a saddle that would have looked good on my old Bianchi road bike... assuming I like to only LOOK at bikes and not ride them. This saddle has GOT to go, but what to do? ...the Krudder is supposed to be a beater, so I'm not going to scour the globe for a third Flite T/A, or anything else for that matter. The only solution is to put the Kogswell back into service, and truly use the Krudwell only for snowy, wet-road winter conditions, and many the occasional mountain bike single-track attempt coming this spring. That should give me time to heal.... yes, heal. It's THAT bad. To that point, indoor training usually makes even the nicest saddles feel horrid, but I tell ya: last night when I logged some trainer time on the Kogs while watching some crit videos, my old fave saddle felt like a Lazy-Boy by comparison. I've got an old, hard plastic BMX saddle hanging in the garage, and I swear it might actually end up on the Krudwell. Then, I can burn the Bianchi Genuine Hell Tri-butt-matic saddle in a bizarre full-moon ceremony behind the local VFW hall. I'll bring the lighter fluid and matches... you bring the whiskey. Then I'll take the skeletal remains of the Cro-Moly rails and turn them into some sort of miniature war-mask.

It's late... now I'm getting delusional...

By the way, if you even only half-way enjoy what yer reading here, please feel free to "Follow" my blog -- the link is over in the right-hand frame. Together, we will rule the galaxy as father and son...

Crap, wrong movie.

G'nite, and stay tuned!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have (at least) two of those Selle Italia Flite Trans-Am saddles. One white and one black. I need one, but holler at me some time and I'll arrange for you to acquire the other.