Thursday, December 29, 2016

Commuter Chronicles - The Specialized Alibi

A special thank you to Bums On Saddle team for allowing me to test the bike. Here goes my experience. 

It has been about a week since I damaged the rear brake pad on my MTB. During an attempt to re-seat the rear wheel, I managed to get the disc hit the brake pad vertically which ripped it right off the metal plate to which it is stuck on. So this bike switches to maintenance mode. The single speed was awaiting service (just a bike wash and chain lube) and Spesh Alibi arrived just in time for some worry free commutes. For those new to the blog, my commute is rougly 26-28kms depending on the route (one way). I have often contemplated taking road bike for commutes but this finally turned out to be pretty close. A no-nonsense hybrid but with the rolling resistance of that of a road bike. The headset is extremely light. I've not experienced such lightness even on road bikes priced 4x-5x higher. Next comes the Shimano Altus drive train. One of the entry level drivetrain from Shimano. A basic group set delivering a better than basic performance. It has been impeccably good. Sometimes the shifting of the chain isn't even felt at the crank .and I've been astonished. It is a 42t Chainring with chain guard and though a 7 speed cassette (14-34t) looks inadequate but it is plenty enough to ride anywhere in Bangalore. The infamous Girinagar/padmanabnagar or even the long Maratahalli flyover). Brakes are brilliant and have the bite needed for those emergency stops. For a rider with a track record of experiencing extensive punctures over the last few years, riding without a puncture repair kit, a pump or having slightest concern of the road conditions is a big boon albeit at the compromise of ride comfort. To put things in perspective, if you are switching from an MTB or a hybrid, you'd feel this too rough. However if this is your first bike or if you are used to a road bike road bike (with 23c tyres at 100PSI or more), this feels not very different from that except that the geometry is more relaxed and an excellent choice for the city. All you need is a multitool kit to make those fine adjustments to the bike to make it fit one better thereby enhancing the ride comfort. One would truly feel the worth of these Nimbus Airless tyres especially during the rains. Do you remember the effect of a cheat code on ammo for combat games? The Nimbus is your cheat code for a puncture free ride until the tyres wear out :). Commuting on a single speed with aggressive riding position for more than a year and suddenly switching to the 'comfort mode' (upright posture and a softer saddle and cushioned handlebar palm support) was a welcome change. If you own the Specialized Alibi two components will make you feel you own something exquisite. The solid tyres and the rust free chain. However, there a few more things that make it even 'exquisiter'. Let me explain. 
Bike is designed in California. 
Made in Cambodia 
There are traces of Australian Connection. Hard to believe? Here's the proof.

Designed in California

 Made in Cambodia

The Australian Connection

 Photoshoot post bike wash

The valve hole covered with 'spesh' tape for easy conversion to pneumatic setup :)

The simply sublime 7speed shifters

The superb bar grips

'Bell' and whistle to be heard

Attempting trackstand

Hard to miss logo especially with this paint scheme

Attention to detail. The rubber caps to cover the otherwise exposed eyelets !

Neither a behemoth nor a weight weenie

1. A unisex bike perfect for city.
2. Sublime 7spd drivetrain offering seamless shifts. 
3. Solid/foam 700x38c tyres. (Its now OK to forget the puncture kit at home)
4. Quick release wheels. Easier to carry about. 
5. Specialized Body Geometry Contour, lock-on handle bar grips. Worked really well for the week long commutes on all sort of roads and... no roads. 
6. Eyelets on the front fork and rear to add carrier. 7. Improved aesthetics owing to Internal Cable Routing.

1. Cable rattles from the internal cable routing over rough roads. 
2. Limited colors. Per catalog there are only 2. 
3. Relatively rougher ride owing to solid tyres. 

Spec Sheet :: 
Color :: Marine Blue / Hyper Reflective 

Monday, October 10, 2016

SingleSpeed Bus1Express

I would hate to miss a ride with my brevet partner and Master Shifu :). The plan was simple, he rides my single speed commuter, 'The Silver Shadow'  and I get the Bliss Mobile, KHS Flite 300. We catch up in the morning by 5.30 and quickly swap the seatpost as my commuter gets an upgrade to a lightskin seatpost that has integrated tail lights. Installed a stock saddle from the carbon KHS. A sore miss for a commuter is the water bottle holders. However, not to fret, there's the APB 300 Btwin cage mount that just wraps around any tubing on your bike. The ride starts by about 6AM and we settle into the cruise mode and average about 25kph. A couple of bananas and Tea served us well for the ride to base followed by the tricky climb. I would not have blogged about this ride had it not been for that crazy bit, Opendro rides a single speed, which honestly I didn't think was possible especially when I had swapped out the cog from an 18 to 16t and I've been contemplating a change to 14T. Why not make this ride interesting and post Kanakpura, I switched to singlespeed and the search for the correct gear to match the pedal strokes of the single speed began. soon enough,  the perfect match was with 1x7 (so that translates to 34t chainring and 13t ring on the cassette). So it was decided that it was going to be a day of single speed riding. Right, now all I had to do was forget that there were shifters on my bike. Once we reached the base with the very first slope, my gears started to skip pretty bad, so I had to switch to bigger chainring and find something comparable on the cog and this turned out to be 2x3 (50t on chainring and 21t at the cassette / 8 speed 2300 groupset). Not an exact match and I was slightly at an advantage but there was no skipping of the chain. For the first km, we kept company and stopped twice. Then settled into a rhythm and just slalomed all the way to the summit with one stop in enroute. Next, as soon as I started the descent found Opendro just about a 100mts  so urged him not to stop and he rode all the way to the temple another km ahead. The Borewell at the temple was dry so we decided to get back to the exit gate where there's a water source. However, we managed to get water from the locals who also were kind enough to invite us for lunch. However, we made do with water and continued our journey. The good news for the riders is that there is no gravel on the road unilke last time and its a lot safer. Challenging the next single speed timing for this climb. 43mins. 

Whattay climb 

At peace under a tree right opposite to the temple

The 'single speed' bikes for this trip

Start (From the base and not the gate which is about 50mts ahead):: 9:33AM
End time (The gate at the summit) :: 10:16AM 
Number of stops :: 3 Each for approximately about 30secs. 

Tip :: If you are planning for food stop at Kanakpura, this is a great option for cyclists as there is a secure basement parking and the hotel itself is at the basement so you have the bikes always in sight. Look for hotel Gokul. If you are headed from Bangalore to Mysore, it is located on the right side.

There's a further deep dive into the specifics of the climb and I urge you to review this blog by Opendro: How steep can you climb?

Friday, September 30, 2016

Welcome the Blue Wonder - Toyota Corolla H2

A sabbatical from driving for nearly 5 years and I was back in the market for a set of wheels. Auto Consulting to someone looking for a car turns out easy however when it comes to oneself, there's a plethora of options and one can only be lost in the time sucking vortex from hell. The Internet !! 

This was intended for my brother so he could drive and I could use it occasionally. Only petrol as the usage would be on the lower side. My brother only wanted a hatchback, preferably a small car like 800/Zen and go bling with with alloys headers and the rest of bells and whistles that could give the 'fizz' effect like James May. So the exhaustive list of cars that I've skimmed over the last 4 months. Starting budget was 50k but managed to 'boost' it up to a Lac so now the options switched from a pool of small cars and bigger sedans started showing up in search results.  

For a budget under a lac (in the order of search results for the budget):
1. Maruti 800/Zen/zen classic   << Serves only purpose of learning.
2. Fiat 118NE / Premier Padmini  << Mostly will be at service center/spares issue
3. Contessa   << I was more inclined to owning the classic but reliability kept me away. 
4. Alto/Estillo/Palio  << As good as pt 1. 
5. Esteem/1.3 or a 1.6 petrol Ikon/Accent  << First car a Ford so looking for something different
6. Lancer

7. Honda City type 1 OHC  << Very inclined to these as there were options in 1-1.5lac.
8. Type 2 (1.3/1.5/vtec) << The best in my mind among the lot. 
9. Honda Civic. (Low GC and expensive spares relative to Honda City)

So with the options above ended up test driving a couple of OHC. One was in a pretty bad state but the exhaust note with headers was sweet. However during a test drive the car choked within a km and the owner was honest to admin it was one of the cables from the set of 4 that pop out and just re-seating it gets working. A deal breaker for me this one. 

The next one was a very nice looking type 1 OHC and it stuck on my mind like glue the moment a test drive was done. The modifications done were neat. Engine bay looked reasonably good for a 16yr old car. 4 lenso Alloys to give it a beautiful stance with spacers. Half headers to ensure you get the oomph factor without causing any nausea on long drives. Just a perfect blend of components I was after. Owner wanted to deal with only cash transaction and didn't seem very keen on selling it as there was no proper/timely response. So it kept getting postponed by a couple of weeks. Yet another deal breaker. 

A week later visited BEL circle near Jalahalli to test a Type2 Honda city 1.5 with alloys, headers from Raj and shabbir (best in bangalore and in south India if I'm not mistaken) FC till 2020 but pretty loud car. I'm floored with the sporty exhausts but they surely are police magnets so was the carbon fiber finish spoiler. I wondered this type 2 Honda City is a better choice than the OHC checked earlier however the owner quoted 2.60 and was ready for 2L. The deal was again being postponed by a couple of weeks and after a feedback from my family we decided against this vehicle due to the mods done. Parents won't certainly like to be in the constant roar of the thunderous exhaust on long drives. 

Now I start looking for deals outside Bangalore and a ton of options show up under a 2L budget. I'm now drooling over Camry's/Volvo S60/Jetta/Corolla/BMW. The City Vtec seems to be a rare bunch and finding one in a good nick even rarer. So the options are now narrowed down to only Honda City Type 2 or a Toyota Corolla. Upon searching there were quite a few listed and the color choices that were on offer and the one to please the family turned out to be this Blue one. The white/black/silver are the most common. Red and Blue look to be the exquisite breed. Took a colleague of mine who's the trained eye and he did the test drive and confirmed the suspension needed work and front bumper needs refit. Apart from that no major work that is needed on this baby. Hence the negotiations start and we finally seal the deal at 1.75L within a week. The price quoted on advert was 2.6L. Today my brother joins the automotive club with this Blue Wonder, The Toyota Corolla H2. 

The Goodies (Features that I've not been accustomed to. Simple and subtle for many but a 5 Star for me) :
The AC is truly a chiller and auto mode works impeccably. I thought Figo had the best in class AC and I'm sure this is at par with the Ford. I wasn't aware that the mirrors were motorized. I only realized it the next morning when I inserted the key and then the sweet sound of the mirrors unfolding. Wow. Goosebumps! The engine is so refined but not as silent as the Maruti. Yet, coming from the likes of a diesel Ikon 1.8D you can imagine the grin on my face driving about in the 'silent mode'. The armrest had two storage compartments. TWO! The parcel tray on the front passenger area unfolds in a controlled manner and not like a freefall in the Ikon. Even the spare wheel is an alloy. The interiors are just superb with the fabric type that I always wanted in a car. Talk about being cocooned in luxury. Brakes being all 4 discs are sharp and with potential to stop on a dime. With the fog lamps on, it looks sweeter at night. I had my brother drive around the block while I just stood still admiring the looks. (Secretly though still have a soft corner for the Civic and City Vtec Type 2). I must thank my family for putting them up to a sufferfest and persistent requests for sanity check while shortlisting (actually a longlist) vehicles over the last four months. Even went to the extent of checking for options in Delhi and Mumbai looking at an Camry/Cedia. Everything on the inside of the car just works as it should. The first owner has maintained it very well. There are a few scratches on the bumper and cosmetic issues are to be sorted next year. The alloys show their age and have an orang-ish tinge but I can live with the dash of sportiness. The funny part is this car has a 6CD changer and a cassette player. I still have a dozen cassettes left however not a single MP3 CD in this age of AUX/USB streaming. 

Issues that need attention:
1. Right wheel has knocking noise. (probably the ball joint/lowerarm/suspension/bushings) 
2. Rear left wheel has a sound as if some sort of metal plate is loose and it has no pattern but just appears at random. Needs more inspection. 
3. Front bumper on the right needs a re-fit as there is a considerable gap between it and the headlight.
4. Rear tyres need replacement not immediate but going by the looks there is still about 8-10k kms life left on it. 
5. Wiper pipe is disconnected so yet to find the right socket to connect it. 
6. Front right power window sometimes is slow to respond but allow it a few minutes and its back to normal. 

Pic update

This blog has captured the very essence of owning a Toyota Corolla: 

Update 8th Nov :: 
1. Right wheel has knocking noise. (probably the ball joint/lowerarm/suspension/bushings)  (Resolved - Struts and mount plates replaced)
2. Rear left wheel/axle has a sound as if some sort of metal plate is loose and it has no pattern but just appears at random. Needs more inspection.  (Pending)
3. Front bumper on the right needs a re-fit as there is a considerable gap between it and the headlight.  (Pending)
4. Rear tyres need replacement not immediate but going by the looks there is still about 8-10k kms life left on it. (Pending)
5. Wiper pipe is disconnected so yet to find the right socket to connect it. (DIY - resolved)
6. Front right power window sometimes is slow to respond but allow it a few minutes and its back to normal. (Pending)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Kalhatty love - Part 2

With the first team excursion on 6th May 2016done and dusted, we discussed on the possibility of 'when next' during the return drive. Kalhatty is a climbers delight. The urge to repeat started a couple of days after the body and mind had switched back to Bengaluru mode. Checked the feasibility of one more resource joining the ride, the plan was confirmed by mid week. Now the painful process of wait starts and there wasn't much planning to do nor packing as it was just the two of us so logistics wasn't an issue . More good news awaited as I got the confirmation from Putta that we could start by thursday night thereby getting a chance to drive to and fro with least disruption from the crazy traffic on the Bangalore - Mysore highway. Come thursday, we started by midnight and the first pitstop was at Cafe Coffee day after Maddur and an uneventful drive till Gundlupet CCD. We stopped for a nap for about an hour and started for the Bandipur checkpost. There was a long line of trucks and cars waiting for gates to open at 6. Then the madness starts and cars trying to overtake trucks with the incessant honking. I pity the truck drivers as most are helpless due to the heavy loads they carry, narrow roads and usually oblige one's request to overtake with just a honk from cars trying to pass. The Mudumalai checkpost had a considerable line of waiting traffic. However, not as bad as the one we experienced the earlier trip (a weekend). Like a moth that is amused by the light source, we roadie scum are quite similar when it comes to hill climbs and Kalhatty in particular stands out. We park at CCD, order a double Espresso and finish it off with bread butter and orange marmalade. I thought it was perfect considering an all night ride and caffeine should help stay awake for the entirety of the climb. But the beauty of nilgiris is rather experience best than put in words. Right at the first couple of kms, the heart rate shot upto the 180's and stayed there for a good bit and slowing down to try and reduce. There are no flat sections for recovery at kalhatty which made matters worse. Yet I wanted to attempt a non-stop so continued the climb. I was so tempted to stop for a masala tea at 4kms to the summit. Yet spurred on with a few thoughts and the music that kept me good company for the last few kms to maintain tempo. The bread butter and jam vanished in thin air. I waited to Putta sipping sprite and considered riding down to accompany him. Rode down and he was just a few hundred mts away. Reached the climb and the customary photoshoot started. As the Viper (Polygon Helios 500) cooled Putta too chilled at the summit. Since our only task planned was complete we decided not to enter ooty and just ride to the nearby lake Sandynulla. The winding road are road bikeable towards Gudalur. We stopped for a couple of photos by the lake and continued to ride on to find nature's balcony. Found it 2kms on a left curve right opposite to a small church. Unlike the ride on 6th May, this ride was a hard one and surprisingly the cadence computer did record and the stats are uploaded to Garmin and Strava. 
Garmin activity ::
Finishing the Kalhatty  ::

A good amount of wildlife was spotted with this trip and the list includes:

Barking deer
Wild boar
Indian Bison
Herd of Deer
Herd of elephants

Waiting for gates to open by 6AM - Bandipur

Enroute Thepekadu

Gate timings

 Lovely roads to Thepekadu

Kalhatty Backdrop

A Selfie with Lord Gans

Putta finishing the climb

At Sandynulla lake 2kms from the gudalur - ooty- kalhatty junction

The road on the right is the Gudalur - ooty highway

Basking in Natures Balcony a mighty relief from the climb

The Pro-Lite chakra :)
A Harley meet at CCD Masinagudi


Friday, May 6, 2016

Kalhatty Love - Part 1 - Team CW

Kalhatty in May, are you nuts? One question that pops into most minds. For riders who love Climbs things can't get better in terms of gradient as an option here in the south. I was a little skeptical of the climb with a 12-28 cassette as i've always rode the Flite 300 which has a perfect ratio for climbs 11-32. However, looks like the 12-28 is a good deal to tame Kalhatty. A meme that sums up the situation with travel plans:

I think there are many that could relate to this :). Anyway, the turnout held strong till the last hour so with all the excitement, as always, with hardly any sleep, Kiran, Putta and I started 3hrs earlier and we planned to stop at the checkpost for a nap till the gates opened. The second group (Opendro, Anantha and Chidambaram) had agreed to start much later after some early sleep. Putta, Kiran and I reached the CCD at Gundlupet by 3.45 and attempted to get some sleep but there were bugs that didn't allow much rest. While I sat in the chair at CCD and gazed upon the sky thinking about road bikeable routes around,  the lights turned on and CCD was awake. Got myself an Espresso and waited for the other two warriors to wake up. Soon Putta was awake and we were joined by Opendro and team. We started after an hour and managed to find some great traffic at Bandipur exit. A traffic jam for about a km. It took more than half hour to clear this stretch due to extended checks at the checkpost. We were on our way to CCD Mavanalla/Masinagudi but didn't spot much wildlife. Soon we reached CCD and since we had breakfast in the car (chappatis and jam) during the traffic jam, we didn't have to stop for breakfast. All 6 started riding at a steady pace to the base. With the Garmins ticking and pedals clicking we started steady climb. It was a steady climb with Opendro as he had been unwell. It was a ride to take in the sheer beauty of the ghats. Traffic was relenting and most giving way to us and slowing down on seeing oncoming traffic. I got to do my part of informing drivers at the hairpin bends that they could make the turn by gesturing a go ahead or slow down. The relief that one gets right at the summit is indescribable. One by one the entire team was present and Opendro had carried the brevet pack (handle bar bag) with breakfast which we finshed and headed towards Kotagiri. Ooty city traffic was nasty with packed intersections but enough room for road bikes to squeeze through. Once we made it to Doddabetta we decided to turn back as Kotagiri was another 23kms and we had very little time to do 46kms and might end up not exiting the checkpost on time. We stopped for lunch at a hotel at Ooty. Post lunch we descended the ghats. Opendro and I were fully fueled and just raced downhill at some good speed in less than 30 mins.