After enduro, perhaps the hottest new trend in cycling right now is gravel grinders, also known as adventure bikes, also known cyclocross or CX. While it’s not exactly a new thing, CX seems to have caught the fancy of a lot of bikers… including me. I liked the idea of having a bike that can handle pavement with respectable speed, and still handle gravel roads and moderate trails with acceptable deftness. Such a bike would also be ideal for touring long distances where pavement is the terrain of choice.
However, I wasn’t ready to plunk down a lot of money and buy another bike. Thankfully, there was another way. And it’s called Multi-level Marketing lalo na kung open minded ka sa business…
Just kidding. After doing several upgrades to my mountain bike, I ended up accumulating a lot of excess bike parts and components. Somewhere along the way, I realized that with all these extra bits and pieces, I could actually build up a whole new bike.
I had a spare 29er frame that I was reluctant to sell. This was the bike frame that I used in some of the most awesome rides I had ever done–Bobok Bisal Trail, Baguio, Batanes, and countless rides to Maarat and Sierra Madre. Selling the old 29er would feel like betraying an old friend who had remained loyal to me through good times and bad. I looked at it and I could swear it was crying out to me.
So what to do? I decided to give the old 29er a new life, this time as a CX or touring bike.
I thought it was about time I had a bike that can handle roads even if my main interest was mountain trails. I have friends who regularly do long road rides and they’ve been nagging me for the longest time to join them.
Since the bike was going to be cobbled together from a lot of leftover parts, I had no illusions about whether it was going to be a thing of beauty. I thought it was going to look something like Mary Shelley’s reanimated monster, or those things created by that evil kid called Sid in Toy Story 1.
Anyway, the parts I had for this Frankenbike project were as follows:
- a rigid seatpost that I wasn’t using anymore since I shifted to a dropper post
- a set of 25mm 29er rims that I would never go back to after upgrading to 35mm wide rims
- a 640mm handlebar that just seems too narrow after upgrading to 740mm bars
- an old 8-speed Shimano Acera drivetrain and brakeset that’s been lying around since my first bike 8 years ago.
- Shimano Acera and SLX hubs that had to give way to thru-axles
- finally, my beloved old Venzo Scud 29er frame
There were still a lot of parts missing so I went to my trusty LBS to get everything assembled.
Cheap rigid fork
Since this rig wasn’t going to see much action on the trail, I could do with a rigid fork. I opted for a cheap Mosso 26er fork. I could have gone with something more specific for a 29er, but this fork lowers my front end, which would be just perfect for the road. I thought the bladed fork also looked pretty cool.
Since I wanted this to be touring bike, MTB tires were not an option. They’d be too heavy and bulky for the road. But I also didn’t want slick road-specific tires because I also wanted to ride it on dirt roads. What I needed were cyclocross-specific tires. The bike was thus kitted with Ryder Urban Barrier 700x38c tires which were good enough for the road, but still grippy enough for gravel.
About the pedals, I finally opted for clipless. In my many years of mountain biking, I never gave a thought to going clipless. I’ve tried clipless before when I was still primarily a road biker, and I have to admit they felt pretty damn efficient when spinning the cranks.
But on mountain rides where you mash the pedals up technical climbs, the payout from “efficient” spinning seems kinda dubious. After watching bikers fumble with their cleats in the mud, or slip and slide on rocky hike-a-bikes during races, I just didn’t think the supposed efficiency of clipless sytems made up for their clunkiness. On technical terrain where the ability to quickly put your foot down is a must, clipless just seem like too much hassle. I know that racers swear by clipless pedals, but since I seldom take part in MTB races, I think flat pedals with aggressive pins mated to sticky Five Ten rubber is the perfect combo for all mountain rides.
However, for road rides, I have already seen the advantages of clipless pedals. On long 100km rides, some of that much ballyhooed efficiency would come in handy. I got the Shimano PD-A530 SPD dual platform bike pedal. One side has cleats, while the other has a more traditional cup for those times when you want to wear regular shoes.
I also had the bars shortened further. On road rides, you don’t really need a wide bar for control. Meanwhile if you’re commuting through traffic, a narrower bar means you can have an easier time squeezing through cars, and sometimes pedestrians.
Drop bars were not really an option because that meant having to get a road specific-groupset. But that would have complicated things because road groupsets won’t necessarily fit in MTB frames. Besides, I already had an ultra-high-tech-top-of-the-line Acera groupset that was the envy of the whole mountain biking universe :p
I know CX purists will cry foul and say that only dropbar-equipped bikes can qualify as CX. But in the US, they do allow flatbar equipped bikes in cyclocross races.
For grips, I bought some cheap generic Ergon knock offs from a stall in the Bike Tiangge in Timberland. These grips have palm rests and bar ends which are pretty comfortable for long hours of riding.
I just got the cheapest velo seat available. It was pretty comfy.
Finally: Riding the Bike
Like I said earlier, I was expecting the finished product to look like some fugly Frankenbike. I had low expectations. But instead, it ended up looking like some stunning mestiza born out of a pogi Pinoy father and a hot Brazilian momma.
Well, at least, that’s how I saw it. Beauty is in the eyes of the beer-holder as they say. Anyone who has ever had a bike assembled knows how great it feels when you finally see the finished product. It’s like a writer completing a story or an artist finishing a painting.
I have been using this bike for over a week now, and I just think it’s awesome. It just whips through traffic and accelerates like crazy compared to my mountain bike. I rode it to Shotgun in Mt. Maarat and despite being out of shape, I was able to finish the ride without passing out in the 10am April heat. The bike felt featherweight compared to my MTB which felt like Brock Lesnar after going to a Viking’s buffet.
One of these days I’ll be taking this rig to Marilaque on a 100km ride just to see how good it stacks up as a touring bike. I know that it’s probably not gonna win me any Strava KOMs, and most roadies will think it’s a freaky jolog machine, but I don’t care. I am happy that I gave a new life to my old 29er. I am also happy that this bike rides like a dream.