Slow Rider

No matter how slow you go, you are still lapping everyone on the couch.

Those who know me know that finding exceptional deals on things is something I enjoy doing.  It’s a game and one that takes patience, knowing what you are looking for, being willing to ask for your terms, and being ready to walk away if the seller isn’t wanting to play along.

My son and I enjoy finding deals on musical instruments.  Often times, they need repairs to make them playable and/or in a condition to sell to others.  We also have a larger-than-needed collection of instruments that we enjoy playing and having available to play.  Some instruments are sitting in storage waiting for the right time to take in for repairs.

Once we realized that long-distance cycling was something that we were going to do on a regular basis, I applied my deal-making skills to building our fleet of bicycles and equipment.  Good deals found on Ebay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, pawn shops, trade-ins at the local bike shop, and contributions from friends and supporters have helped us develop an impressive collection of required cycling gear.

While preparing for the Katy Trail ride, I began researching gravel and trail bikes.  We had several hard-tail trail bikes that we could use for the ride, but they just felt so heavy and slow when out on the road.  The thick tires and front-fork suspension would be welcome on the trail, but I was (not so) secretly wanting something that would also ride more quickly on hard-packed dirt trails.

The RAT 1000 is a dirt-road and trail race across Texas from Texarkana to Tucumcari, New Mexico.  I belong to the RAT 1000 interest group in Facebook and before our Katy Trail ride, did some research on the types of bikes used by gravel racers.  The Salsa brand is one that came up a lot in the online posts and discussions.  After looking at prices of Salsa bikes and comparable models by Specialized and Trek, I decided that I couldn’t justify the cost of a new bike.  I already had a road bike and a trail bike–spending a thousand dollars for a hybrid-type bike wasn’t something that I could justify doing.  Our trail bikes worked out very nicely for us.  We were not rushed for time and the slower pace probably made the trail ride more enjoyable for all of us.

In the months after the Katy Trail ride and right before our second January ride across Texas, I saw an interesting post on  There was a strangely labeled listing for a Shimano bicycle.  Shimano is not the brand of a bicycle, it is the brand of the shifters and derailleur system.  I clicked into the listing to see exactly what was up for auction.  The pictures showed very little detail, but it looked like a steel-frame bike and one that might work well on trails.  The wheels were detached from the frame, it didn’t look like pedals or a seat/saddle was included, the handlebars were unattached, and a rack was included among the pile of parts.  Besides the frame looking distinctly steel with cantilever brakes, there was very little else to identify exactly what it was…except for one bit of evidence that eventually caused me to bid on and win the bicycle.  The handlebar stem had a distinctive “Salsa” label printed on it.  The fork and other characteristics of the bike didn’t line up with the Salsa bicycle models that I investigated, but I felt like the bike was still worthy of bidding on and purchasing if I could get a good deal.

For $41, I won the auction.  It was a pick-up only auction, but fortunately it was in Austin and I had a friend driving through there on the way back to Abilene two days after the end of the auction.  Yada, yada, yada…the bike made it back to Abilene and after several hours of online research, I was able to match the serial number and frame characteristics with well-respected brand and model.  It turned out to be a Surly Long Haul Trucker!  That is a magnificent find.  With wide tires, it would be great for future trail rides.  And with wide tires, it would be a smooth ride on our chip-seal roads and highway shoulders in this part of Texas.  It’s a smooth and comfortable ride–it’s also pretty heavy.


I’ve kept the Surly at school with our fleet of BRAT bicycles.  It’s nice having it handy for training rides with our team.  When riding with students on our training rides, most of them are new or getting back in cycling shape.  Despite my heavier bike with wider (42mm) and softer tires, I am able to easily keep up with the neophytes on their 25-28mm tires.  I have been planning to bring the Surly along on our upcoming ride across Texas.  It is a monster to lift onto the bike racks on our trailer and would be annoying to load and unload as a second bike each day, but it is SOOOOO comfortable out on the road.

In the past few days, I’ve been riding the Surly in place of my carbon-frame bike while the carbon bike is in the shop getting its shifters replaced.  When riding by myself without students and on the normal roads and routes that I usually ride on my carbon bike, I’m finding that comfort is less desirable than speed.  I give up an automatic 1.5 mph on the steel bike compared to my carbon bike.  For the same amount of perceived exertion, the heavier bike actually feels heavier and more sluggish.  When riding with the wind, it isn’t a problem–riding into the wind is an entirely different story.

Now only a couple of weeks away from our next ride, I’ve decided that the steel bike and its fat tires will be THE bike for future trail rides, but that carbon and fast is where I want to be with the upcoming ride.  I will continue to ride the steel bike while the carbon bike is in the shop and on training rides with new generations of developing BRAT cyclists.  It’s nice to have options and the proper equipment for each particular type of challenge that we set out to conquer.

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