How to Buy a Modern Steel Road Bike

steel road bike
Conan’s dad knew it – steel is what you can trust whether bike or sword.

This post is really outdated. The bikes here are no longer modern. This post has what you REALLY want.

Awhile ago, I let you in on the bike industry’s big secret: the secret of steel, that strong, relatively light, reliable, repairable, smooth-riding wonder material.

Fact is, you can’t find a steel road bike like my 1999 LeMond Zurich growing on trees. The odds of finding one used are ever out of your favor. So what is a steel-curious road bike owner to do? Let me share a few ideas for you. These are the steel road bikes I’d consider if someone swiped my LeMond and I had a bunch of insurance money to buy a new ride. (BEFORE I GO ANY FURTHER: None of the companies mentioned have in any way compensated me for mentioning them. I would genuinely put them on my list. They earned their way here by making products that caught my attention.)

Kona Roadhouse

steel road bike
My Zurich fresh back from the paint shop with a little Liberace sparkle.

The Roadhouse oozes class, even with its many modern accouterments – disc brakes, carbon fork, 1-â…›" headset. a mix of Shimano Ultegra and 105. Of course, the heart of this bike is Reynolds 853 steel tubing. That’s the same stuff as my LeMond. One question that remains is -- where is the frame made? I’m not saying it has to be US-made to be quality stuff. But I like to support American people doing skilled jobs. This is a question I have about many of the frames in this blog post. Still, you could do a lot worse for $2,400-ish.

Ritchey Road Logic

steel road bike
That is a classy custom steel road bike – for a reasonable price.

This is a beautiful, elegant lightsaber of a steel road bike. It’s made from Ritchey-branded tubes. If I’m reading the website correctly, the Road Logic comes with a Ritchey carbon fork for a very reasonable $1,050. The downside here is that it’s frameset only. That might be good for someone out there with a garage full of parts. The rest of us are gonna have a hard time not getting bent on the components.

Curtlo Custom Road

If you’ve been riding bikes awhile, you’ve probably heard a few whispers about Curtlo. It’s a small operation that somehow makes quality hand-made custom frames for a very reasonable price. My guess is Doug Curtiss found the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine, and just makes frames for nice people because he likes to -- and he doesn’t mind barely making money. Or perhaps he kidnapped a bunch of Santa’s elves, and has them wielding blow torches in a dimly lit basement somewhere, subsisting only on fruitcake and eggnog. The frame-only price is $990 for a frame with a single powdercoated color. I think it’s entirely feasible to get a made-to-order Curtlo Custom Road with a mid-level component group and a carbon fork for about $2,500. One custom item I’d be sure to add is pegs for a full-size frame pump.

steel road bike
A fine, classically influenced steel road bike.

Raleigh Record Ace

If you want to go full-on retrogrouch, the Raleigh Record Ace is your bike. Steel fork and Campagnolo parts – none of this Shimano or SRAM nonsense! (Disclosure – I’d happily ride a mid-level group from any of these companies -- Veloce, 105, Rival, whatever.) I have some quibbles with this bike, even at its $1,900 price point. They are: shitty hubs, a lower-end Reynolds 631 tubeset, iffy rims. The wheels are an easy problem to overcome. The tubeset is still decent – but you’re only a few bones away from a better one. And again, where is the frame made?

Breezer Venturi

A few weeks ago, this bike was making me drool with its Ultegra/105 mix and really, really ridiculous good looks. But I can no longer confirm that Breezer still makes the Venturi. It no longer appears on the Breezer website. You might be able to find a few on closeout, but that usually means limited sizes. I’m not sure of the tubing’s origins or where it’s being welded.

Greg LeMond Washoe

steel road bike
This Gunnar Roadie is absolutely stunning.

It’d be wrong not to mention the latest iteration of a LeMond steel road bike. That’s the Washoe, and it’s a US-built Reynolds frame with a top-end ENVE carbon fork. I have to say, though, that Greg might be putting a high value on having his name on the bike: A list price of $3,150 for a bike with a Shimano 105 group doesn’t sit that well with me – especially next to the artisan Curtlo frames. Honestly, there’s something a little off aesthetically, too. I won’t say it’s ugly … but it doesn’t make me drool.

Bianchi Vigorelli

I love the color many people know as Celeste Green. If you feel like fighting over whether it’s blue or green, go somewhere else. That’s not all that’s nice about the Vigorelli, though. $1,750 (Street price, not MSRP) for a mostly 105 group. I’d definitely ask some pointed questions again about where its Reynolds 631 tubes are welded. But I’d almost feel like a heel at that price.

Gunnar Roadie

Oh, these Gunnar Roadie frames are awfully nice: An off-the-shelf frame for $900, with another three-and-a-half Benjamins getting you a full-custom fit. True Temper OS frame tubing, US made. Not bad at all. I see one big downside: You’re on your own for components, or at the mercy of your local dealer. And honestly, it is never as economical to piece it all together. Still, I will not quibble with Gunnar quality, and its frame prices are very reasonable. I also do like the option of selecting my own color.

So What Steel Road Bike Would I Buy?

I love small companies. I like picking my own damn color. So unless the waiting list is 6 months or more, I’d go with the Curtlo. I’d ask him to mirror the Zurich’s measurements because it’s always been a nice fit for me. But – and pay attention, I say, pay attention here – I’d also want Doug’s input for my measurement. For all I know, I might think the LeMond fits me perfectly without it actually being true. Doug’s expert eye would likely notice what I really need versus what I think I need.

Do you have a favorite source for steel frames that working people can actually afford? Let me know if I missed it!

48 Hours in Utah

In the mountains near Logan, Utah.

Believe it or not, I did not cause a single person to spontaneously combust during my visit to Utah. I understand why this might be a concern – after all, I am a long-haired, heavy metal, craft beer character. And Utah. Well, take those three things, and spin them 180 degrees.

Still, I enjoyed my visit. Here are a few completely random observations about a two-day stay in Utah, which took us from Salt Lake City to spend two night in Logan before returning to Salt Lake City for the flight home. We were there for Sarah to run her first post-baby marathon, which was the excellent, well-run, super-scenic Top of Utah Marathon.

Driving a Prius Kind of Sucks

This is less about Utah and more a general observation. We both loved the Prius gas mileage. The steering, breaking and acceleration, however, were absolutely porcine. Possibly even bovine. If Subaru dials its hybrid XV Crosstrek in for better gas mileage (and a halfway decent name), it will have people like us volitionally selling our current Subarus and getting into hybrids.

Ogden – a weird little Utah town.

Ogden is a Weird Little Town

I don’t know quite what to make of Ogden. The first person I saw there was a shambling homeless dude who was not firing on all cylinders. The town seems to have a homeless problem, which for us culminated in a dude stinking up the entire first floor of the Grounds For Coffee. This coffee shop, by the way, has some weirdness of its own. One day, the barista cranked out some quality cappuccinos for us (attention, espresso snobs – they only offer one size). Two days later, the barista did a pretty half-assed job -- possibly because she had a crowd of local hipsters clamoring for her attention. I dunno. Personally, I’d poke my nose in and see how big the crowd is. If there are more than two people in line, I’d cross the street to the friendly Pearl Milk Tea Club.

Ogden, though, has some cool old buildings that have been gentrified silly. They are home to trendy, spendy shops. Nothin’ wrong with that. I also have a place called The Barrelhouse that I need to mock: On a chalkboard listing its craft beers, it listed Stella Artois. People, this is Europe’s Budweiser. It is made by the tanker ship load. It is not in any way “craft.” That’s like saying Justin Bieber is kvlt.

How could we NOT pose for this photo?

The Mountains are Cool

The drive to Logan (Utah) is dotted by some moderate-sized mountains. They look brown and dry, which reminds me of The Remarkables, those beautiful, stark, cinematic mountains you may have seen in Lord of the Rings -- or lining the adventure sports capitol of Queenstown, New Zealand.

Logan is Exceedingly Pleasant

On the surface, Logan is a 21st century Mayberry – a walkable city center, little farmer’s markets, awesome old-school brick houses. Ahhhh, Americana. Yet you can find a yoga class (not on weekends, as easily) and a decent coffeehouse in the form of Ibis.

A bike shop got creative with its old tires.

It has trees. It has rivers. It has a beautiful park or three. And even a place where you can acquire freshly harvested bull semen. OK, maybe that’s not so Mayberry -- or is it, Otis?

But Logan Have Three Problems (As Borat Might Say)

Food, blight and a – ahem, how shall I put this? – fermented beverages.

First the food. Here’s the honest truth: For the better part of 24 hours I didn’t want to eat anything. My prime suspect is HuHot Mongolian Grill. I woke the morning after it, and my stomach wanted nothing. Every food commercial on TV and every smell made my stomach feel like it was full of live frogs. I only got better after a handy purchase from the pharmacy, which led me to Jack’s Wood Fired Oven. There, a pepperoni pizza with smoked cheddar cheese led me back toward normalcy. Sarah didn’t exactly give rave reviews to an Indian place she tried, even though Anneka approved enough to attempt snagging a platter of naan from a nearby table (cute babies can get away with nearly anything).

Some hard-partying Logan residents were here. Jones Soda – scandalous! But at least it’s not caffeinated.

So, blight. I mentioned all the awesome, cozy-looking houses earlier. But walk away from the nicer areas, and there are some areas that just look flat-out abandoned. Some businesses seemed more closed permanently than closed for the day. Lots of empty buildings, and more than a few boarded up.

And onto fermented beverages. OK, I get it – this is a very Mormon city in a very Mormon state. But the archaic beer laws got repealed years ago. And if not beer, let’s talk about all that honey that makes everyone around here swell with pride like a tick gourging on a moose’s rump. Turn some of that into mead! If Superstition Meadery in Prescott is proving anything, it’s that people will love mead once they try it. What’s not to love about wine made out of honey? And if the local honey is that awesome, do those hard-working bees some justice!

That wraps up my ramblings of Utah. I’d like to stay a little longer – but some mead or craft beers would make my return far more likely. As-is, I think Colorado is a better bet for a guy like me.

Hey! I have other stories about being in Utah. Check ’em out!


Don’t Make This Mistake if You Visit the Desert

You know why so many post-apocalyptic movies are about scarcity of water? Because water is really, really, really ridiculously important for the functioning of the human body and little things like growing food.

After reading stories about a French family’s disastrous experience with the a desert hike in the American Southwest, I felt awful.

If you haven’t heard, here’s the quick version: A vacationing French family went for a hike near White Sands National Monument in Mexico. In August. With barely any water. The parents died; their 9-year-old son, Enzo, survived, but will have to live with the most awful memories and probably a terrible case of survivor’s guilt.

"How stupid! Didn’t they realize what they were doing?" squawked many people.

I understand this knee-jerk reaction: The national park authorities did everything possible to alert people of the dangers, with more than adequate warning signs. I can’t say why Ornella and David Steiner didn’t obey them. This unbelievably sad situation was unnecessary and easily avoidable.

I think I found the real identity of the doctor who wrote about water intake for the New York Times.

But I feel a great deal of sympathy. Maybe they just didn’t understand the basics of human physiology and the critical role water plays in it. Or exactly how the hot, dry and unbelievably vast desert can suck moisture from a person’s body, especially during physical exertion. There is just nothing in France that can prepare a person adequately for the desert Southwest; it may as well be a different planet. Irresponsible articles like this mind-boggling piece of shit in the increasingly out-of-touch and haughty New York Times don’t help matters. The staggering ignorance of the comments is nearly equaled by the author’s ridiculous generalizations. The writer also failed to prove the harm in drinking 64 ounces a day, even in cooler, more humid conditions.His attitude encourages American to stay inadequately hydrated, fatigued, over-caffeinated and overfed.

hemp clothing
Your author (right) with Cody Lundin, putting our water knowledge into practice in the best laboratory there is – the high desert!

Where I live, people need to get rescued from Camelback Mountain – which is right in the middle of a city – every single year. In 2014, first responders went on 120 rescue missions (remember, this is just one mountain among many in the Phoenix area). Nearly every one of these rescues can be traced to dehydration – from getting immobilized by heat exhaustion to the lack of mental sharpness induced by dehydration. That leads to bad decision making, which leads to falls and injuries. Note to the New York Times: Precisely zero people have been rescued from Camelback Mountain due to the effects of hyperhydration. No adult is going to get hyper-hydrated by drinking that often-stated 64-ounces-a-day standard.

My foreign friends, especially those from Europe where deserts aren’t really in your frame of reference, I don’t want this to happen to you. I want you all to get back home safely. So I’m going to give you a few things to think about:

  1. The deserts in the American Southwest are huge. In many cases, they’re bigger than the countries you live in. Do not underestimate their size.
  2. Drink a lot. If you drink three liters a day as a baseline (more for increased heat and/or physical activity), you’re going to be in at least somewhere close to your needs.
  3. If you’re exercising or hiking or doing any physical activity, you need some electrolytes to go along with your water. Drop a few Nuun tablets or a few scoops of Skratch Labs mix into a liter of water, and you’ll stave off cramps and other effects of heat exhaustion. (NOTE: Nuun and Skratch Labs did not compensate me in any way for being mentioned. They’re just what I use whenever I exercise outdoors in the desert. Use whatever tastes good or makes sense to you.)
  4. Don’t forget to bring a snack. Raisins and nuts are compact and calorie-dense, and can balance the calories you burn.

There are a great many tips for staying safe in the desert. I can’t even scratch the surface here. If you plan to visit a desert region, I recommend picking up a copy of 98.6 Degrees by Cody Lundin. You will learn incredibly valuable information on hydration, desert safety and other wisdom that can be the difference between life and death. I’m not exaggerating. If Ornella and David Steiner had read this book, they’d still be alive and Enzo would still have parents.

Thoughts On Sith, Jedi and Redemption

CAUTION: What follows is a major digression from this website’s usual travel/adventure topics. But if you like Star Wars, this post will be a thought-provoking ride. Some of these thoughts contradict each other – but this is all just reflects my stream of consciousness and gives us a chance to talk about something fun. Enjoy!

One of my friends recently made a Facebook post with a Star Wars: The Force Awakens prediction – that Luke Skywalker would turn to the Dark Side. Sure enough, someone made a reference to Darth Vader being "redeemed." That led me down a rabbit hole of thoughts about redemption, motives and Sith Lords. Let’s have a look.

Why Did Darth Vader Save Luke?

Everyone assumes it was for love of his son – the son whose hand he severed, the son he was oh-so-close to shooting down over the first Death Star, the son whose junior-varsity T-16 races he’s never been to.

sithNo. I don’t care what he said in his dying moments. Vader acted out of hate for Darth Sidious and for his own ambition. Sidious engineered Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader, and Vader knew it. Sidious brought about the death of his wife, the loss of much of his Force sensitivity and the loss of his limbs (and at least one other appendage, and don’t think for a second that’s not humiliating and emasculating – just ask Theon Greyjoy). He forced Vader into a hideously uncomfortable armored suit that he needed to survive. He made Vader dependent on him for nearly everything. There was no love, no trust, no camaraderie at all between these two Sith. Vader loathed Sidious for all that happened to him.

Luke and his still-developing powers were Vader’s ticket out from under Sidious’ thumb, possibly even out of the suit that tortured him every moment of every day. And what better final "peace out, sucka" to Sidious than Luke enabling Vader to become the senior Sith?

A good baptism washed Delmar’s sins away. What’s it take for a Sith to get a clean slate?

Luke thought he could "feel the good" in Vader. But maybe what he detected was Vader’s willingness to usurp Sidious. A good act, sure. But a sign of more good acts to come? I have a hard time accepting that Vader would’ve renounced his Sith name, re-assumed his Anakin persona and gone on to a virtuous post-Sith life.

Can a Sith Actually Be "Redeemed"?

OK, Darth Vader did something good by tossing Sidious down that shaft. Does that wash away his crimes? There might be more than one answer to this. Had Vader survived his injuries and been brought before a New Republic tribunal for war crimes, my bet is an emphatic "Oh, hell, no."

But the remaining Jedi -- how would they view it? Are Jedi like evangelical Christians, where you can be history’s biggest murderer and yet have your immortal slate washed away by turning to Jesus and writing a blank check to live the rest of your life righteously? I can’t answer that.

Nor can I answer what a Sith would need to do to turn away from the Dark Side. Something tells me, though, that one good act couldn’t – in the eyes of the surviving Jedi or the New Republic – wash away the mop-up of the Jedi who survived Order 66, Alderaan and who knows how many other acts of mass and one-on-one murder.

And that, Padawans, is why we avoid anger, fear and aggression.

And Something Else

Yoda clearly said "once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny."

Now, that means jack and squat to me. The prequels reveal Yoda to be an out-of-touch, arrogant, catchphrase-gushing phlegmwad. If Yoda hadn’t been marinating in his aura of wisdom like a two-bit Croatian faith healer, he might’ve noticed a Sith Lord twerking the Jedi Council AND the Republic right under his nose.

So that whole "forever" stuff is probably more nonsense that he cooked up to frighten Padawans from thinking bad thoughts. If anything, that makes think a Sith could actually turn away from the Dark Side.

If Vader Had Lived By the Jedi Way, Luke Would Be Dead

How many warning did Anakin Skywalker receive about attachment? "Be mindful, Anakin. Miss them do not. Mourn them do not." And so on.

Did Darth Vader learn his lesson? It’s easy to say no – that his attachment to Luke motivated him to rebel against Darth Sidious.

On the other hand, if he’d acted as a Jedi should, he would’ve let Luke die. So, to perform the good act of saving his son, he had to act out of attachment -- like a Sith.

That’s All I Got

I hope you had fun joining me for a few random and oddball Star Wars thoughts. I can’t remember ever hearing anyone say anything like this before, so I thought it might be fun. Throw your comments in – I’m not offended by people who disagree. I just like talking to people who like some of the same things that I do. I’d love to hear some other thoughts about Star Wars that haven’t occurred to me.

Cool Stuff Roundup – Summer Edition

la compagnie
La Compagnie’s 757s look stylish inside and out.

I just realized that’s in been months since I’ve done a Cool Stuff Roundup. I aim to correct that today with a few very interesting tidbits I’ve culled from various locations online.

Let’s start with some air travel.

You know it’s a favorite of mine – and that I don’t love to hate airlines nearly as much as many people. And an airline like La Compagnie could make us both like airlines even better – it’s an all-business class airline operating between Charles de Gaulle Airport, London Luton Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey (which is the Paris of the Eastern Seaboard -- kind of. OK, not at all). La Compagnie also charges a barely even premium economy price.

La compagnie
Two of these seats for a $2,500 round trip for two? Yes, please.

For example, I priced a flight for one adult at less than $1,500. Word is a couple traveling together gets an even better price. Here’s what you get for that price: A Boeing 757-200 (previously owned by the excellent and meticulous Icelandair) holding less than 80 people; two by two seat layout with 180 degrees of recline; outlets at the seats; wifi; on-demand entertainment; seasonal menus; and a few other niceties I’d like to sample. The only downside I can see is that La Compagnie doesn’t seem to have airline alliances. So I’d have to book my flight to Newark separately, which creates a possible vector for problems. Still, I’d give La Compagnie a try next time I head to Europe. I’m sniffling and whinging a bit since I only found out about La Compagnie days – literally days! – after booking a trip to Europe on another airline for about the same price. In economy class. Grrrrr.

OK, let’s get a little closer to home with some coffee news.

If you’ve read this blog at all, you know that craft beer and top-quality coffee are my favorite beverages. When I was in Portland, I got hold of a super-delicious treat at Stumptown Coffee Roasters: a nitro-charged cold brew. It had the texture and look of a pint of Guinness, but tasted better (look, people, Guinness is mass-produced mediocrity – there are way better stouts out there).

Now, I no longer have to go to Portland for my nitro cold-brew fix: Songbird in downtown Phoenix is now pouring nitro cold brew. And soon, local newcomer Hazelrock will also be pouring nitro. This is a good time to be a coffee enthusiast in Phoenix!

Let’s shift gears back to transportation.

Ready to roll on Amtrak? If you’re in business or first class, you might get free digital newspapers to pass the miles.
Sorry, but I have to mix my metaphors by bringing up trains. Amtrak clued me into a nice new feature for its business and first-class passenger service: They’ll be able to enjoy unlimited access to the New York Times and Washington Post newspapers via the trains’ free onboard wifi; previously, Amtrak had distributed paper copies. Amtrak views this as an environmentally friendly move that will save 25 tons of newspapers each year.

I’d recommend swinging a deal to get the Wall Street Journal – I love that paper for its mix of serious news from around the globe and its often snarky, sly humor. Still, from a green perspective, this seems like a very nice move. Let’s also not forget that the newspaper format is kind of an unwieldy pain to handle – I’ll take it in electronic format any day.

OK, I’ve mentioned planes and trains. Let’s get boats in here – or rather, container ships.

I piqued the curiosity of two of my good friends last night by mentioning that people travel around the world via container ships. Not as crew – just as self-loading cargo. This article makes it sound awfully interesting. I could see this being a very interesting way to pass some time to do some writing, exercising and sleeping without the distractions.

If you just graduated college and you’re looking for something oddball to do, this is your answer. Right here.

The Born Adventurer
Meet the Born Adventurer.

Let’s wrap this up with a look at, a new blog I’m publishing.

This one is about a pretty big change in my life – being that dad to a new little girl who I hope will follow my interest in seeing the world. She’s not even 9 months old, and already has a passport and been camping. This story about her first milestones is really what the blog and my style of being a dad is all about. Give it a look, and spread the word -- I’m hoping to connect with like-minded parents to see what we can all learn from each other.