Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Fastlane


Here is a bicycle I have been riding a lot lately, a Gunnar Fastlane. The frameset was handmade at the Waterford factory, in Wisconsin. "Handmade in the U.S.A.," how many things can you say that about? It's tig-welded steel, with kinda slackish angles (72.5/72.5), a low bottom bracket, and room for big tires and fenders. The kind of bike most people should be riding. I might not call it a randonneur bike, but it is definitely in that class-stable, versatile, comfortable and responsive. Dependable. All-weather, all-season, day or night, with some cargo-carrying ability for commuting or light touring.

When I first built it I mounted 23c tires, which were light and fast and fun, but it lowered the bike enough that the steering trail was too short-the handling was not neutral-it wouldn't hold a good line in corners and was just too much work, I thought, to ride. I tried 32c's, which helped, but now I have 37's mounted, which seems about right for the 10-20mph that I normally travel around town. The manufacturer's spec says that the trail is 45mm-I don't know what size tire that is with, but whatever amount the larger tires added to that means that now I can ride no-handed figure-8's in the parking lot. And the frame is quite straight as well-on the road when I let go and sit up it just goes right ahead without having to lean to one side.

You will notice that I have mounted Campagnolo ergo levers with disc brakes. The Avids are well-made and very strong, and modulation is nice with the Campy levers. The feel reminds me of the old Campy Delta calipers, with the better pads. These Avids are good brakes alright, but I have one complaint: a squawk from the rear brake right at the most useful point in the power curve. I can squeeze a little more gently, and it won't make a sound, or squeeze a little harder and go past the squawk into the grind, but in any case I don't feel like I have complete control over brake balance front-to-rear. It's annoying. Not intolerable, and not what I would call a Fatal Flaw, but annoying. I've cleaned the rotors and resurfaced the pads but it still is there-I'll break down and replace the pads sometime soon.

The sharp-eyed gear wonk will say that there are no Campy-compatible hubs for disc brakes. Which is true. And which is why I am using a Sram cassette on a Shimano-compatible hub with Campy shifters. I would not recommend this to a customer. It's way too adjustment-sensitive, but I've been able to dial-in things well enough for personal use. Shifting is good where I expect it to be, but at my commuting speeds I was always in a crossover gear, which is noisy and increases wear on the drivetrain and with the present shifter/cassette combination I had too much cable tension in my lowest gears. So I changed the little chainring from 34t to 38t-now my most useful gear range is out of crossover territory. That's what I never liked about the compact double, 34-50, chainrings...for me, anyway, averaging 16mph I'm in either a small/smallish or large/largish chainring/cog combination. And when I want just a little higher or just a little lower gear, the single shift on the rear puts me into even worse, noisier, combinations with the chainrings. So I would end up making three shifts with the rear derailleur and one with the front, just to get a slightly different gear, which ends up to be four times more shifting than I care to do. What a pain in the neck. The 38t chainring solved that-it makes the crossovers less useful, and being just 12t lower than the big ring, whether I want a slightly different gear or a completely different gear, either is accomplished by a single shift. I think that I might eventually go with a 48t outer ring, but it's OK for now.

Fenders are great in the Winter and useful year-round, and I think that everyone should have a bike with fenders. Not saying that every bike should have fenders, of course, but if a cyclist can own at least one bike with fenders they'll be riding a lot more. These are made by SKS.

The pack is actually for handlebars, but I have shimmed and mounted a threadless adjustable stem to the seatpost, with a short stub of a handlebar for the pack to clamp onto. Don't worry about the Record Carbon seatpost-it's already pretty scratched and gouged, repaired and strengthened internally with two-part epoxy and part of an old aluminum handlebar. I don't mind lowrider panniers when carrying a large load, but I absolutely dislike carrying stuff over my front wheel-it badly disrupts the handling and parking of the bicycle, is scary terrible in a crosswind, and on rough terrain I want to look down and see exactly where my front tire is rolling. I don't get how the randonneurs can stand riding with their stuff under the handlebars-to make it work out right you have to have just the right steering geometry, and just the right pack, mounted low and back with just the right decaleur and stem and front wheel and rack support and fenders that don't rattle against it, with the right hardware that won't all come apart and jam in your front wheel and kill you and even if you do get it all right if it's not cotton and leather and brass and French you still can't be a member of the club. Ridiculous. Put your stuff behind the saddle, either like this or in a saddle bag or on a standard aluminum rack. Handlebars are for holding onto, not carrying luggage.

I'm pretty proud of my rear light mounting. I fabricated a small flat steel bracket that holds the light and also fastens onto one of the fender struts, all simple and light. The headlight is a different story, though. While I think this is a good light, it's ugly; too many wires and black plastic. It comes off easily, which is a benefit, but I'll continue to look for something more elegant, perhaps mounted to the fork crown or front of the fender.

10 comments:

k said...

Nice move on the campy shifters with disc brakes! Have you thought about throwing a SRAM rear derailleur on there? I'm thinking about doing this with a bike I'm putting together (based on this article http://velonews.competitor.com/2008/03/bikes-tech/can-you-run-campy-shifters-with-a-sram-drivetrain-sure-why-not_73404 ) but I'm curious if anyone else has tried it, and how sensitive the setup is to adjustment.

Thanks!

canali said...

i'm also considering that bike...or their sport model...any difference in weight and ride that you know of?...i am drawn to fast lane as it can take wider tires and fenders vs the sport is more limited to fenders and 25-28 (select 28s i've read)...and the fast lane can take some 50 lb of touring gear too....

anyone comment: is there a diff in ride?
jwcollinz@hotmail.com

canali said...

i'm also considering a fast lane...can anyone comment how it differs in ride from their sport model?

i do know this newer model takes up to 38tires with fenders (i think) and about 50 lb vs the sport which is more limited...but maybe the sport is a quicker ride?...any comments...am looking at both models for a fast club rider/cc touring/daily commuter 'all rounder' without the weight/beef (LOL)

paul said...
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paul said...

The Fastlane geometry is almost identical to the Sport, except for the disc brake and tire clearance. Both ride excellent, but the Sports I've ridden seem a little cushier or smoother maybe for the smaller-size tire. -Paul

paul said...

What I meant to say is, that Gunnar perhaps spec'd lighter tubing for the Sport, not just for the weight but for shock-absorbing qualities by its flex. Also, one would think that a 'cross bike should be tougher generally. Due to disc brake requirements, the fork of the Fastlane is notably beefier as well, which certainly stiffens-up the front end. Large tires help to counter-balance this trend toward rigidity. I am using 37c Continentals with fenders with no clearance problems, although the front fender hardware is customized a bit to work around that disc brake.

Mai said...

Now that was a great review! I too have a Gunnar Fastlane, love it to bits. Your post made me want to do an all out review now, thanks for the inspiration mate! and great looking Gunnar!

Dave said...
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Dave said...

What is the name of that color? It is sharp looking!

Matt said...

What size frame is that? I'm looking at a getting a fastlane frame and curious what larger sizes look like...