Introducing: Crunch

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There’s a phrase in Chinese that perfectly describes a strong aspect of my personality: 糾結. Literally, it means tangled, as in long hair tangled on a windy day, but in regular use it describes a person in ceaseless self-struggle, never seeing things in black and white, existing in a gray zone, constantly second-guessing oneself, and never feeling certain of anything. If you can think of a good equivalent English word, phrase, or idiom, please comment below! (note: “indecisive” falls far short of the full meaning of the phrase)

As you can imagine, the state of 糾結 is a constant source of anxiety, and as a result most decisions are dreaded tasks. Ordering food from a menu, for example, can be an exquisite chore. Alas, life requires us to make decisions.

You may recall that I’ve never bought a new bike, and I avoid buying things in general, especially new things. I struggled about whether to do this for years, but a few months ago I finally decided to bite the bullet, buy a frameset, and build up a bike. This is an extreme repudiation of my anti-consumption stance, and I still don’t feel completely comfortable with it, but these are the reasons behind my decision:

  • During my time in Angola, I got to know old Champy pretty well, and its lack of attachments for racks, cages, and fenders resulted in a LOT of time wasted spent messing with p-clamps, zip ties, and other half-measures that inevitably turned out shoddy;
  • I’m now based in Houston where the used bike and bike parts community is much smaller, much more diffuse, and much less accessible than it was in the Bay Area. I miss the ease of using Craigslist and Nextdoor to buy/sell/trade in Berkeley. I also miss the bike co-ops, tool library, and other public resources for bike repair and maintenance;
  • In June, Surly (I’d been eyeing the Surly Ogre for years) announced a 20% off sale. My understanding is that Surly doesn’t run sales often;
  • I’m planning a long trip that will demand much from myself and my equipment. As a wise man once advised me, use the best tool for the job;
  • Since I’m planning a long, demanding, self-supported tour, it’ll be useful to know exactly how to repair and maintain every part of my bike;
  • The process is fun. Researching components, looking for deals, putting everything together, these are all things I enjoy. It reminds me of building a computer, something I loved doing as a much younger person.

So here it is. You should be able to identify all of the components from the photo. It’s mostly Shimano XT, with a few exceptions. I’ve made peace with all of the choices, but I still have reservations about two items. First, the cranks and chainring are Deore, the lowest tier of Shimano’s mountain biking groupsets. This means that it’s heavier and lacks some refinements of the higher levels. I bought it because it was on sale and the crank length I wanted was apparently sold-out nationwide for the nicer groupsets.

The second is my choice of brake caliper. There’s a perennial debate about hydraulic vs. cable brakes for long-distance touring. Hydraulics function better and require less maintenance, but cables are easier to repair. Ease of repair weighs heavily in off-road touring and in developing countries because there’s a high risk of SHTF without a bike shop nearby.

I chose the Juin Tech R1s (made and designed in Taiwan), which are cable-actuated hydraulics. According to internet experts, they’re the best of both worlds… or the absolute worst. I look forward to joining the fray soon with my own experience. The choice of brake calipers was perhaps the most draining part of this project so far. It’s hard to estimate how many hours of research went into this decision, and how many times I flip-flopped. I went so far as to buy a set of SLX hydraulic brakes when they were on sale. 糾結,like so many things in life, can be managed, but I’ve come to accept that it will plague me as long as I live. Now I’m doing my best to enjoy what’s in front of me: the messy process of birthing a new bike.

You might be thinking “Where the hell are the wheels?!” Rest assured I didn’t forget about them. Since they’re arguably the most complicated and fun part of the build, they deserve their own post. Also, note that I will use Shimano XT brake rotors instead of the Juin Tech ones in the photo, and I included the cassette, which will physically be attached to the rear wheel, because it’s more appropriately classified as part of the drivetrain.

Thanks for reading! I plan to start writing regularly again after a 10-year hiatus. I also have a backlog of thousands of photos from Africa that I want to distill into a handful of posts. I don’t want to promise too much, but these are my intentions!

One Reply to “Introducing: Crunch”

  1. It’s fascinating how unique people’s personalities are because we couldn’t be more different! I make decisions quickly, but not rashly… I take time on the when, and maybe that gives me time to refine my decision. So I can only imagine you thinking about buying a new bike for years and finally doing it, congratulations!

    I know nothing about bikes (I can’t ride – bicycles) and I’m wondering, is Crunch the name of your bike? Why Crunch? Looking forward to reading about the adventures you’ll embark on…

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