One Last Ride on My 1998 Lemond Zurich

After being my bike since 1999, my Lemond Zurich took its final ride with me this past weekend during the 2018 Tour de Mesa. It deserves a tribute.

Here’s a little story about it that epitomizes what that bike was all about.

I was riding in the Taylor House Century in Flagstaff. Sarah (my wife, for newer readers) and I were both on our Lemonds, and a third Lemond rider joined up with us. We had a nice little group going, but I noticed a nearby rider right from the start and I knew he was trouble. I don’t know if it was the socks pulled all the way up his ankles, the neon windbreaker or his 1970s pornstache, but that guy was full of bad vibes.

lemond zurich
My Zurich fresh back from the paint shop with a little Liberace sparkle.

Sure enough, we encountered him on the roughest patch of Route 66. It was a pot-holed mess, and this guy had no idea how to handle his bike. He was about 50 feet ahead and slightly to our left, and he was just all over the place. My sixth sense told me to back us off a little bit, so I signaled the group that we were gonna slow down. Right then, Pornstache slammed his rear wheel so hard into the trailing edge of a pothole that his tube blew out explosively – as in so hard I could see vapor escape the tire. He tried to turn and head to the side of the road, failing to realize that’s a really bad idea with no pressure in your tire. As I knew it would, his rear wheel slid out from under him.

lemond zurich
Getting advice from my coach before the start of El Tour de Tucson.

And he was headed straight for me, sliding along the ground toward my front wheel. My first thought was that Sarah would get taken out if I crashed. So I had to get around him.

I took us to the right toward the space that Pornstache didn’t yet occupy. I refused to look at him, even when I could hear the spokes of my front wheel chopping at his windbreaker. I braced for the feeling of sliding along pot-holed, cheesegrater pavement.

But I never fell. Sarah and our third Lemond rider sailed right through. No problem.

I’m pretty sure it was really him …

I’d never been that scared on a bike before. I was riding to save not just my own skin, but Sarah’s.

I probably could’ve done this on any half-decent road bike. Probably. But my miles leading up to that gave me a ton of confidence in that bike. And that near-miss made it seem even more unflappable and capable. Really, I am that bike’s only limitation.

Well, that and time. Today, road bikes are a little different. They have cool mountain bike-inspired stuff like disc brakes, through-axles and frame clearance that allows bigger tires (which allow us to venture off the pavement – great for shortcuts and getting away from cars).

lemond zurich
My Lemond Zurich before repaint and reassembly.

My hope is to find a new home for the frame and fork, plus a few of the other bits. The drivetrain will go straight onto my new ride. I know there is someone out there who’d like a classy US-made steel frame.
I’m excited by the thought of riding a capable, modern bike that can do a little bit more than my 1999 Lemond Zurich. But it will always be a special bike to me. It was dependable, elegant and confident in its domain. I hope its next owner appreciates it as much as I did.

Just in case you’re wondering, my Lemond Zurich went out on a high. My time won’t compare well to the top finishers, but it was my fastest 60 miles ever. I’ll have a full race report of the 2018 Tour de Mesa soon – be sure to watch for it!

This is the Worst Place in the World to Go Mountain Biking

The Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua is absolutely the worst place in the world to go mountain biking. If you ride here, you will go back home. You’ll prep your bike for a ride and get yourself to what used to be your favorite local trails. You’ll straddle your bike at the trailhead, look down the trail and think "Well, this is a bit pointless."

That’s because your local trail doesn’t beckon you with the fragrance of spruce. It isn’t protected from the sun with a canopy of redwood trees and ferns. Its ground doesn’t grip your tires just right.

What I’m saying is that, next to the Whakarewarewa Forest, your local trail probably sucks. I’m sure you love it. I used to love my favorite local trails, too. But within 6 minutes of cruising through the Whakarewarewa Forest, I felt like it ruined my local trails for me. I thought of my usual rides -- mile after mile under a punishing, unrelenting, angry sun through acre upon acre of dried-up Tattooine-like dirt that is practically unfamiliar with concepts like moisture or wetness.

worst place in the world to go mountain biking
I could ride here every damn day.

I’ve ridden in some cool spots like Whistler, BC. But the trails there didn’t make me think I’d hate returning to my local trails.

Seriously, This is What It’s Like to Ride the Whakarewarewa Forest

I started my ride out by renting a bike at Mountain Bike Rotorua, which is perched right at the edge of the trail area. My Giant Something-or-Other full-suspension bike, some packets of Gu and a map cost me $60 NZ for 2 hours, but I planned to go longer (they promised to make up the difference later). I brought my own pedals and a helmet. Just one thing: I was so eager to get out on the trails that I forgot to get a pump from the staff. This would come back to haunt me. No fault of theirs at all, and everyone was perfectly nice and accommodating.

Anyway, the trails meander uphill, but not consistently. They roll and dip upward. You might gain 100 feet of elevation but climb for 160 feet. Jeep roads radiate up the hill and intersect with the trails. Much of the singletrack is directional, with a general net loss of altitude. I guess locals go up the Jeep roads, then grab the trails on the way down.

So all these trail intersections make it really easy to get lost. And it’s easy to lose your place on the map. I made life harder by taking photos of the map before handing it over to my wife so she could hike – the important one came out blurry.

The trails themselves feature lots of changes of direction rather than relatively straight, fast runs. You’ll do a lot of steering, and you need to pay attention. There are steep chutes and the occasional drop-off. And you’re going to work hard: I climbed 1,800 feet in about 20 miles.

Worst Place in the World to Go Mountain Biking
My ride for the day

How was the Rental Bike?

A mixed bag. It was my first experience with a 650B/27.5 wheel. It thought it handled almost indistinguishable from a 26er, which is nice considering the sharp turns and switchbacks. It was also my first time on a 2X11 drivetrain, which I found really agreeable. This one wasn’t very well tuned, though, and the chain often wandered in the first two cogs. It probably worked fine in the bike stand, but things change when a drivetrain is under load.

I’ve been on the other side of this equation. There were a few creaks and groans throughout the whole package, too. The Fox fork worked well. Overall, the Giant just didn’t have that meticulously maintained feel of my personal bikes – but hey, what can you expect? It’s a rental, and it wasn’t built part-by-part by a guy like me. And it doesn’t get broken down to bare frame and rebuilt regularly like my bikes.

Tell Me About That Missing Pump

Welp. I got a flat. I had a patch kit, but I made the mistake of leaving port without a pump. I nearly brought my own on this trip (I also forgot to bring an SD card for my GoPro, so I took the ill-advised route of one-handed cellphone camera videos).

Anyway, I walked a good way looking for someone with a pump. I went through six riders before finding a few that had pumps. The upside is I got to banter with some nice people. My patch kit and borrowed pump saved the day; the Mountain Bike Rotorua staff seemed inordinately surprised that I used my own stuff to patch the bike up.

worst place in the world to go mountain biking
One of the many trails that make up the worst place in the world to go mountain biking

I wasn’t really thrilled to be out there without a pump, so I tried taking some roads as a shortcut back, and I got really damn lost on all those roads. And my blurry map photo was no help. I actually got to a place where I was clueless about my whereabouts, and I was genuinely nervous. I thought back to my training from Cody Lundin, and cultivated my "party on" spirit – which involved riding back to the last location where I knew where I was – even with legs about to cramp and no Gu left. Sure enough, that got me back where I needed to go. My 2-hour ride had ballooned to nearly 4 -- but the Mountain Bike Rotorua folks didn’t charge me for the extra time because of the flat.

So is Whakarewarewa Forest the Worst Place in the World to Go Mountain Biking?

Yes. I have a six-hour race the weekend after I get back from New Zealand. All I can think about is how I’m gonna keep from falling asleep of sheer boredom turning laps on this dry, dusty, barren expanse of trails. I mean, I had strep throat a week before my trip. I haven’t been training per se during my two-week trip. But hey – I’m not expected to win. And six hours isn’t that long for the physical effort. But man, mentally it will be hell after riding in the Whakarewarewa Forest. I’ve actually thought about not showing up, but I just can’t bring myself to not do something I signed up to do.

I suppose I’ll get over it and start taking my pleasure in my local rides again. But my wife and I have both the phrase “the next time we’re here” already, and you can bet I’ll have some serious mountain bike plans when that time comes. And may it be sooner than later.

What the Bicycle Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know

bicycle industry
Sixteen years and going strong. That’s a steel bicycle for ya!

This post is pretty old- if you want to know what’s REALLY up with modern steel road bikes, be sure to check this one, too!

There’s a bike the bicycle industry doesn’t want you to know about. And it’s in my garage.

Its frame is a top-secret alloy that is light, easy to fix, smooth-riding and strong. Cared for well, it can last indefinitely.

Sounds impressive, right? What is this new machine?

It’s a 1999 LeMond Zurich. It’s made out of heat-treated steel. And the thing handles just as great as the day I bought it.

So why is this bike such a threat to the bicycle industry? Because it absolutely flies in the face of everything the cycling industrial complex wants you to believe: that carbon fiber is the material of the future, that you need to buy a new frame every few years, that everything needs to be shiny/new/fancy.

English: Lemond Zurich 2000 repainted by pro p...
English: Lemond Zurich 2000 repainted by pro paint shop.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Steel: The Bicycle Industry Secret

Right now, there are plenty of cyclists who have never ridden a steel-framed road bike. They grew up on aluminum, with carbon, maybe with aluminum with carbon stays.

Put these cyclists on a quality steel bike, and I promise they’ll rave over the smooth ride. They will not, unless that are at the absolute apex of the sport, notice the weight.

Let’s call an upper-end steel frame four pounds. A carbon frame? You can probably get one to about 2.5 pounds. That’s 1.5 pounds. If you have an extra 1.5 pounds hanging off your torso, don’t look to a lighter frame to make yourself faster.

The bicycle industry has made bikes like my Zurich an endangered species. The closest I can find to it is the very, very slick Kona Roadhouse. That’s about $2,400, where my Zurich was about $1,700 in its heyday. It also has a classic/classy look, refusing the current trend to look like a NASCAR racer or a stealth bomber.

steel road bike
Hey! That’s me on my freshly repainted, re-vamped Lemond Zurich. Amazing what a steel road bike with a new paint job and a fresh Ultegra group can do.

Committing to Steel

Here’s the thing: A steel bike like the Roadhouse will stay with you. You’ll need to replace a few bits here and there, as I did with my Zurich. So far, that’s been a rear shifter (I now need a front shifter), a fork (carbon – it has a limited lifespan), the headset, the stem and the handlebar. The bicycle industry has definitely endangered my Zurich by making 1-inch threadless carbon forks a rarity. The Easton fork I use is no longer made. And then there’s my reliable 9-speed shifter/cog combo.

I’m having one helluva time finding a left shifter that’s anywhere on the same planet – a Sora left shifter would be kind of an odd pairing with a Dura-Ace right. This means I’ll probably wind up needing a new set of shifters, which means a change to 10 or 11-speed, which also means a new rear cogset and possibly a new rear wheel with the compatible freehub body.

How necessary is all this? Not very. An awesome rider will still be awesome with a 9 or 11-speed rear cog. And if you suck, you’ll suck just as bad with a 9 or an 11.

The Bicycle Industry Loves Carbon

I know what I’m saying is a tough pill to swallow, especially if you shell out faithfully to prop up the bicycle industry every few years with a shiny new carbon bike. But try a steel bike sometime. Borrow one from a friend who’s been riding a good long time. Use any means necessary short of stealing one. It’ll surprise you, I promise.

Now, I know exactly what bicycle industry apologists are about to squawk: It’s better for customers to buy more. It helps drive the prices down. And you’re wrong. Do you think Seven Cycles or Independent Fabrications succeed on the notion of disposable bicycles? No. They count on you to love and keep their products – maybe even turn them into heirlooms.

If buying your rough-riding, limited-lifespan bikes makes you happy, do it. It’s OK with me. I know that some people love new shit. But at least take a ride on steel sometime and see what you’re missing.

Want to know more about cycling’s big secret? Read this post about some really cool steel road bikes you can afford.