Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bike Profile - Wabi Lightning
A very bad photo of a very good bike

I can't recall why I ever thought a SS/FG road bike would be a good idea.  I ride in the foothills of the Eastern Rocky Mountains, where 10,000'+ peaks jut out of the prairie.  Headwinds and hills - that's all I ride.  Having gears on your bike makes a lot of sense here.  There have been many rides where the fight against the wind is constant, but "as soon as I turn around, I'll have a sweet tailwind back".  Of course, just as I turn, the wind changes direction, and I push into it all the way home.  That's probably why so many of us abandon our skinny tires in June when the mountain bike trails dry out.  Trading headwinds for bears doesn't sound too bad after 3-4 months of battling the air [the hills are always there]. 

At the time that I was looking for a new SS roadie, the fixie thing was still in high gear.  The pistadex was sky-high, white belts were still cool, and Fonzie was still on approach.  I had already purchased and ditched an IRO Rob Roy two years previous, determining it to be one of the worst frames I'd ever thrown a leg over [somehow noodly AND harsh - it takes talent to do that].  Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I was much pickier.  I had good luck converting the Trek 8500 into a CX bike, but after 12 months on it I wanted something lighter, less finicky and more dedicated for summer use.  I was prepared to spend a bit more than on the IRO, which would be difficult not to do.

Steel, steel and steel was all I could find.  $400+ lugged frames with track geometry and sweet colourways made from gaspipe 4130 were commonplace.  You wanted to mount front and rear brakes?  Surely, you must be joking.  Heaven forbid that I want a reasonably-priced 853 or Columbus frame with road geo and track ends.  Aluminum?  Not a chance.  I found myself in the niche of all niches, with no viable options in sight.  Wandering through Fixed Gear Gallery, I happened upon a review of the Wabi Lightning.  What's this?  Scandium?  Slack front end?  F/R brakes?  Track ends AND a bottle mount?  ZOMG!

I conversed with Wabi's owner [Richard] a few times before taking the plunge.  I opted for the full bike in black, as I didn't want to have to build up wheels or buy a bunch of parts for a frame I wasn't sure I was going to like/keep.  Also, the black was all stealthy, while the orange would likely receive a little too much attention in the Ship bike rack.  Richard said that I could get a discount on a scratched frame if I wanted.  Sure thing - odds are I'd scratch it myself within a couple of days anyway.  When it arrived, we were heading out the door to ride at Fernie, so I had to leave it tucked in the basement for a few days.  When we got back, I was barely in the house for 5 minutes before tearing open the box and starting the build. 

Nice frame!  The welds were nice and clean, the powdercoat was very even, with no pitting or imperfections.  I had to look really hard to find the scratch, but it was there: 1/4" on the back of the seat tube.  At present, I think it's covered by dirt. The stock parts were serviceable, but nothing fancy.  Decent drivetrain, a somewhat uncomfortable-looking saddle, heavy-ass bar and stem and questionable wheels.  The build took minutes and I went out for a spin.  The saddle was uncomfortable.  Not oh-pain-ow-please-make-it-stop uncomfortable, but not great.  Getting it up to speed was pretty easy.  The wheels felt indestructible and flex-free.

I rode it like that for the remainder of the season, taking it as far as 40km on a leisurely jaunt around town.  It handled great, with loads of stability but still plenty of agility for playing in traffic.  I had to change the tires to Ultra Gatorskins - the stockers just felt too flimsy, and I wanted 25C.  When I put the Lightning away for the year in late November, I started thinking about upgrades...

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