Monday, April 25, 2011

An ode to the Serotta

When a stranger asks what I do for fun, I'll probably respond that I ski, snowboard and mountain bike, likely in that order.
In the past few years that's actually become quite fitting of the order that, at least those three activities, would fall into as far as priorities go in my life.
And yes, the answer leaves a lot to be desired if you read this blog. No where in that response is there for example, mention of hiking, fishing, or hunting.
Then again, usually when someone asks a question like that, let's be honest, they're probably looking to make conversation, not trying to get a biblio in one breath.
Anyhow, the point is, there's one activity that has always been absent in that answer, and it's sort of ironic when I think about it: road biking.
For example, if this stranger I'm having a conversation with were to have asked me if I rode bikes, I would have said, "ya, I mountain bike."
Mile for mile though, I probably should have answered that I ride pavement.
Despite a long-standing dislike of roadbiking and roadbikers through my younger years and into the summer following my freshmen year of college, since the fall of 2005, most of my mileage has been on the inside of the fog line (or at least withing a few feet of it anyhow).
After I got into racing in college I learned that as much as I hated roadbikers and their rainbow spandex suits, being a so-called "dirt and singletrack purist" wasn't going to lead to any wins.
I gave in slowly at first, fitting my old GT hardtail with slick tires and exploring the roads of Saratoga County.
The big change came in the winter of 2006 when Ben Serotta of Saratoga-based Serotta bikes gifted several of his company's coveted frames to Skidmore Cycling.
Included in that gift was a supple practically made-for-a-mountain-biker steel Fierte that was passed on to me.
The Serotta, in its infancy in my form room in early winter of '06. I was beside myself when I got this frame.
 Though I was on the road, no pun intended, to building up my own skinny tire rig before this, my limited student budget was making it tough to do.
The Fierte, valued at $2,500 for just the frame alone, got me started, and early that spring a former Trek rep who lived in the area held a blow-out style yard sale that allowed me to pick-up more parts for dirt cheap. All in all, I was able to put the Serotta together for a grand total of about $750.
The Serotta in early summer '06. Just looking at those tires and big trucker bars scares me. Also, can't see it, but those are Sora shifters. Can you say thumb blisters?
Since then I've probably cranked out 20,000 miles or more on it, chewing up two drivetrains, two wheel sets, a seat post, and a saddle.
Manhattan, somewhere, a hundred miles down, fall '07, T_Roe on my wheel.
The Sera's wheels have spun over the hot metal of a trainer on cold winter days, slipped on ice and been coated in heavy wet snow in early spring and late fall, ridden the streets of downtown Manhattan and been mired in muck in remote Alaska.
A typical sight in the back room at 99 Lawrence in '06 and '07.
That doesn't even begin to scratch the surface either. If that bike had a glory period it had to be the summer of 2007 when I relentlessly attacked the Middlebury Gap, doing double gap out-and-back rides and uphill time trials nearly setting new PRs weekly. That November would have been something of a golden end to that season as, after the trails froze up but the snow crept slowly south out of Canada, Andrew and I coasted on strong seasons on frigid long epics though the southern Adirondack Park every weekend before setting a new course record at that year's "Sweat'n Ice Century."
Headed down the Brooklyn Bridge in fall of '06, about mile 110 of a 115 mile day.
Since then, my riding has come down in what was largely a planned descent from that peak.
Indeed, these last few years in Alaska paired with my recent lifestyle has not been kind to the Serotta.
The uninspiring roads of the central Kenai Peninsula made road riding more of a chore; the dust and grit on the highway further ground it down; and a short season paired with a seasonal fishing lifestyle kept it shuttered up inside for most of the year anyhow.
Rolling into the finish of the MS Century on the fall of '07.
Late this March, I finally took stock of the Serotta, sitting in a corner of my apartment only pulled out once a week for a spin.
Roadbikes are the stoic breed in the two-wheeled family. They run for thousands of miles requiring only occasional maintenance until one day, they make a noise. You fix the noise, the bike goes back to running. a far cry from their attention hogging mountain bike cousins who squeak groan and cry for time in the stand often and endlessly.
When I looked at the Serotta now though, tears just about ran from her drop bars.
The carbon seat post had a crack that ran about two inches long and though showed now obvious signs of straining, was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off on the next section of washboard dirt road or a big effort.
Road bike purgatory, note the head tube, fork, brake and seat post are coated in snow. April '09.
The wheels were both showing their age and neither had a full season left in them.
The 2x9 drivetrain had stopped shifting cleanly sometime last fall and the teeth were worn down and stained black with crud. Finding 9 speed components rings wouldn't have been impossible, but as I learned when I tried to hold the line with eight speeds a few years ago, resistance is futile. In this consumer-driven world more is better, whether you like it or not.
All of that could have been dealt with for about $750 though, more or less, but there was one other major problem.
Starting last spring, and again in the fall, but particularly this past winter on my weekly spins, my knees have been bothering me.
Not in a dangerous, or frightening sharp-pain or tearing kind of way, just, as was obvious by anyone who might have watched me ride, that I was too drawn out and I was sitting too far behind the pedals, even though my saddle was as far forward as the rails allowed.
That, was the frame, and you can't fix that.
February '10, ya, that's gravel and ice under those tires.
I don't know why that didn't bother me for the previous four years, maybe I was too young and dumb, or maybe I'm just getting old and weak, but knee pain is not something to mess around with.
A year ago, this might have posed more of a financial issue, but I'm in a very fortunate position now in that regard, and after five years of hard service, rebuilding a bike that no longer really fit me for the third time in its life just didn't add up when compared to the price of buying something new that did fit.
On Sunday night I was thinking about all of this and more.
Alaska hasn't been all bad for the Serotta. Kenai Spur Highway, spring '09. (Photo courtesy Moon).
A brand new, jet black, sleek, carbon fiber Scott CR1 Elite leaned against a nearby wall. With less than 100 miles on it, it was already well-coated with muck from Anchorage's Upper Hillside backroads and snot drip marks dotted the top tube.
As I finished disassembling the Serotta and cleaning accumulated grit and grime from its hard to reach nooks and crannies, I wondered what road it would head down next.
The future, already as dirty as my car, though worth about the same...


Anonymous said...

Indeed. Biomechanical pain caused by bikes is nothing to mess around with. I heard they can also mess with your back.

Andrew J. Bernstein said...

Having been present for your last cycling peak, I'm looking forward to being around for the next one, at Kulane Chilkat!

Also, even covered in mud, that's a hot-looking bike. The Serotta was many things, but it was never a looker.