"What the hell are you riding?" is not a question that I'm entirely unaccustomed to. This morning's ride got a few new iterations of that question.
The short answer is that it is a fixed-gear touring bike. I call it Tuna Casserole Surprise. If you grew up in the 70s, you may remember dinner on those nights when no-one felt like shopping and pretty much everything in the cabinets and fridge ended up getting tossed into a casserole dish with a can of tuna, some mayo and crunched up potato chips on top. It came out of the oven a little while later as a "meal". That pretty much describes the life of this bike so far... and it gets re-invented on a regular basis.
I use it mostly as a commuter, but I'm really preparing it for a trip on the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal (Pittsburgh to DC) either this fall or next spring.
The bike is based on a Surly Troll mountain bike frame. http://surlybikes.com/bikes/troll The troll is a particularly versatile frame... designed as a 26"-wheeled mountain bike with all the things you need to use it as a touring bike (rack and fender mounts and lots of tire clearance). I built mine using 700c wheels, 45mm tires and really long aluminum fenders. The frame has rear-facing, horizontal dropouts in back, so it is perfectly set up for single speed or fixie use. A bike that gets this much use really works much better with disc brakes. They're reliable, durable and have great stopping power. I sized the bike so that it fits correctly with drop bars.
I've been riding it in this incarnation for about 5 months now.. putting close to 2000 miles on it in that amount of time. It has proven to stable, reliable, comfortable and a lot of fun to ride.
The newest addition to the bike are front racks and panniers for carrying stuff. I've got a long history of shoulder injuries, and having a bike that I can commute on and not have to rely on messenger bags or backpacks is a good thing. It additionally gives me the ability to do something like a 3-day, 420 mile tour without having to cobble something together to carry all the things I'll want.
The racks are from Tubus. They are the Duo model. The Surly fork is designed specifically to work well with this rack, as it requires rack mounts on both the inside and outside of the fork. It lets the racks be small and minimalist without sacrificing the ability to carry two fully-loaded panniers up front.
I chose Ortlieb classic roll-top panniers for up front because they're compact, great in bad weather and virtually indestructible. They also come in a lovely color of orange that matches the bike.
I know what you're asking: Why put all the weight on the front wheels? Doesn't it handle strangely?
As a fixed-gear bike, it actually handles much better with the weight up front. With a fixie, most climbing is done out of the saddle and by sprinting hard on the pedals. Over the years I found that if I have a rack with bags on the back, the whole back end of the bike wags and bends along with the extra weight. This makes the bike a handful to control and forces me to ease off the power going up hills, thus making climbing a lot more difficult.
While having the weight on the front wheel takes a bit more effort to initiate a turn, the climbing and sprinting ability of this bike is GREATLY enhanced. As long as the load between the two sides is relatively balanced, it is stable enough for me to ride confidently with no hands.
What's next with this bike? Yes, there are still many things that need to be completed before it is really considered "done".
The next two projects are a Dixie Drivetrain (please ask) and a generator light system.... both of those are topics for another day and another blog entry. :D
Hugs and kisses,