Sobriquet 96.1: Introducing the Québécois

Note: The following entry was part of a short-lived side-blog called The Ride.

Although I've had no shortage of bike-related stuff to write about in the six months since I last updated this blog, I've been unable to actually sit myself down and tap out a single entry. I wanted to write about my first RAGBRAI experience (especially because the event rolled through the town in which I reside), my first century (the Ramapo Rally in northern New Jersey), my first ride over 110 miles (an out-and back jaunt on southern Minnesota's Root River Trail), my first major cycling injury (the result of a spill on Iowa's Cedar Valley Nature Trail), my discovery of the rolling Allamuchy Allegory loop, and all the cool gear I accumulated over the last half year, but I just never got around to doing so. While I still hope to draw upon some of those experiences for future posts, I'm going to continue putting them off for a while so that I can turn my attention to documenting a project that may interest some readers: my first bike assembly.

The Backstory

After I graduated from college in Minnesota, I had the local bike shop disassemble and pack up my Trek hybrid so that I could ship it to my parents' house. Although I'd planned on reassembling the bike, I ended up leaving it in the box at my parents' place when I moved to Montréal for graduate school. After a year or so in the city, I decided to start riding again and, since my Trek was still in a cardboard box several hundred miles south of my then home in Québec, I bought a cheap CCM Metric hybrid at Canadian Tire to use until I could be reunited with my "good" bike. Despite it's cheap quality, however, I ended up really liking the Metric and brought it with me when I moved back to the U.S. for my doctoral studies. Over the next couple of years, as I moved from one apartment to another, the bike was largely neglected and, eventually, it ended up sitting on a porch for a few months. Then I loaned it to a neighbor's brother, who did not treat the bike very well. When it was returned to me, the frame was scratched up, the rear derailleur was broken, the chain was messed up, the brakes were in bad shape, and much of the metal was encrusted in a layer of rust. It wasn't in rideable condition, so I grudgingly put it in storage and eventually bought a cheap mountain bike to take its place. 

In the years that followed, that terrible mountain bike somehow hooked me on cycling and I finally had my old Trek reassembled, which meant that I really hadn't any use for the poor little Metric, so the battered steed languished forgotten in the garage, collecting dust and gathering cobwebs. On one or two occasions, I tinkered with the bike, fixing what I could, but never enough to get it back on the road. Eventually, after I had accumulated a few more bikes and had begun encountering pinch flats and started tinkering with pedals and handlebars, I started using the Metric as a mechanical guinea pig. Before trying out a new tool or attempting a new type of repair on one of my working bikes, I would experiment on the Metric first.

Eventually, an idea that has been floating around in my mind for quite some time took purchase, and I began planning to rebuild the Metric. At first, I though I would simply salvage what working parts were left and replace the broken or decrepit components. The more I tinkered, however, the more I realized the bike wasn't really worth restoring. After all, I already had a perfectly good hybrid bike that I had modified to serve as a touring bike. Rather than simply repair a bike for which I would have no use, I decided to build a bike for which I would have a use.

The Québécois is Born

Since the Metric had become the bike upon which I would experiment, I felt it was only natural to regard the build as a learning process. I know I could easily purchase a decent bike with a higher-quality frame for less than I am going to spend to build this one, but I am moving ahead anyway. I figure once I learn how to build a bike from the frame up, I can always swap out this frame for something better. But, you know what? I rather like the idea of taking what is, essentially, a decent 18" chromoly frame with enough clearance for some fairly wide tires (not to mention a nice dark green paint job) and using it as the heart of a one-of-a-kind bike. To hell with the cost, I say! It'll be an investment in my own education!

Once I decided to build a bike, I immediately knew exactly what sort of rig I wanted to build: a dedicated gravel grinder. Living in rural Iowa, I am surrounded by miles and miles of quiet, rolling gravel roads that offer some of the best cycling in the Midwest. While I've ridden hundreds of miles of gravel on my Trek hybrid, the ride can sometimes get a little dicey when I'm rolling along on anything more than the hardest-packed gravel and I often find myself longing for a steadier ride. Although I could certainly swap my town-tread tires out for something a bit grippier, there simply isn't enough clearance for tires in the 38-40 mm range, which seems to be the sweet spot for gravel grinding. Of course, both the 26'er mountain bike and my fat tire bike roll smoothly on gravel, but they're heavier and slower than I'd like for the sort of longer rides I enjoy. Likewise, while bar ends or butterfly bars (which work wonderfully on my touring rig) can offer some variation in hand positions, I want the flexibility and comfort offered by drop handlebars, which would necessitate an expensive reworking of the brake system to work on the other three bikes.

Happily, the Metric frame seems to be pretty well suited for the sort of riding I hope to enjoy once the build is complete. In particular, it meets three crucial requirements:

  1. Steel frame. Steel is excellent at absorbing and reducing vibration, which is a real concern on gravel roads.
  2. Relaxed geometry. As much as I like the aggressive geometry of my road bike when on pavement, I strongly prefer the more upright sitting position offered by a hybrid bike when riding on uneven surfaces. While I intend to use drops rather than, say, risers, the seating position will likely still be significantly less aggressive than a road bike, which should provide additional stability.
  3. Wide tire clearance. With terrain as unstable and variable as gravel, it's important to outfit your bike with wider, grippier tires such as Surly Knards or Clement X'Plor MSOs. The Metric frame can accommodate both.
Once I consulted with the mechanics at my local bike shop to confirm that the frame was worth working on and that it could accommodate the parts I wanted, I set to work getting the frame ready for it's new life.

But it needed a name first.

At first, I thought of naming it "The Gravel Grinder," but quickly dismissed that as hokey. Then, I thought of calling it "The Quebecker" because of its French Canadian origins. While I still refer to the bike as The Quebecker in my Anglophone mind, I have decided to dub it the Québécois because, frankly, the French just looks so much better.

So, here's to the Québécois! I'll try to be more diligent in posting as the project moves forward. 

Until next time, then, Au revoir!


Popular Posts