October 27, 2017

Freehold Friday: Practical Prepper Bike Project #2

Howdy Freeholders,

So it has certainly been a while since I’ve written a post, I’m just going to jump right back into things.

The Writing Update

For the obligatory writing updates, I have completed Season Two of Solar Storm with the publication of Episode Six: Homestead, a few weeks back. The story is not complete, as I have some ideas in my head for season three, plus some more fleshed out ideas for spinoff books. I’ll post more about those wind I have more to share.

In Wildfire news, I’m finally getting close to publishing the next book in the series, Oathkeeper. This book will chronicle Cooper’s first mission after leaving the SEALs. I’m going to be sending it out to my ARC Team (advanced reader copy) very shortly so I’m excited to see what they think.

The Practical Prepper: Bike Project (continued)

As for what’s happening in real life, my bike, the subject of a post back in July finally failed after almost two decades of faithful service. I went on a fitness ride and return to find the rear wheel’s spokes had crumpled, rendering the rear wheel useless. It wouldn’t even turn. On its own, that’s not such a hindrance—they can be fixed. After doing some research however, I found I could buy a few tools probably fix those spokes myself. However, the bike was using 28 spokes per wheel, which isn’t really a standard anymore, from what I can tell—almost everyone uses 32–36 spokes—especially for a bigger rider like me. 28 spokes just wasn’t cutting it, as evident by the failure of the rear wheel. When you combine that with the fact that the bike was probably in need of a professional tune up—after not receiving any love and care in about 20 years…so I investigated the possibility of doing so at several local bike shops. I was unanimously told that the price of a tune up and repair would be more expensive than just buying a new, modern bike.

So I did some more research, and after several weeks of checking out local like stores and what they had for offer, I discovered that I wouldn’t be able to get a decent bike without spending less than about $800-$1000. Unfortunately that’s something I was just not prepared (<—see what I did there?) to do, so I looked into a more do-it-yourself, self–reliant option (being a prepper means being an individualist, right?). What I found was a place called the Bikes Direct. If you look up this place in search for opinions on bicycling forums, you’re going to find a mixed bag. A lot of people swear by them, and a lot of people—just as many in fact—curse them and warn people away.

This confused and intrigued me at the same time.

How can one company, innocently providing bikes to consumers, garner such loyalty and animosity at same time? None of the reviews I saw indicated the company itself was at fault, their customer service was usually quick and reliable. The prices were fantastic—hundreds and hundreds of dollars less than what you would pay in a bike store.

However, the detractors were correct: there were certain consequences for dealing with Bikes Direct. For starters, you, and only you are responsible for the set up and first tune up of your bike. It comes a big box—in pieces—and you have to assemble it. Once it’s assembled, you’re responsible for tuning it up, making sure the brakes are properly tensioned, making sure the gears shift properly, making sure the tires are true, and all the bolts are tightened, and the handlebars are set in the proper position, etc., etc., ad infinitum.

To most people these days, doing something like that yourself is a daunting, nigh on impossible challenge. They would gladly spend several hundred dollars for someone in a bike shop to take care of that for them. And that is exactly why the prices in the bike shop were more expensive, coupled with the fact that many of them offer long-term service warranties and guaranteed tuneups, etc. for any bike purchased in their store. Slap on a couple hundred dollars for a name-brand sticker and there’s the difference.

As a woodworker, I’ve never been one to shy away from using tools. I’m not exactly the most mechanically inclined—I don’t work on my own cars besides simple things like washer fluid, putting air in tires, changing wiper blades, that sort of thing. I do change the oil and service my tractor, but that’s about the extent of my mechanical experience. However, I figured if I can run a table saw, miter saw, and bandsaw without losing any digits, I should be able to turn a couple wrenches (Allen or otherwise) and use a pair of pliers to get a bicycle in shape. I mean honestly, other than the moving parts (the crankshaft) and the chain, there’s not much to a bike, right?

My first stop was to acquire a copy of a book called Zinn and The Art of Road Bike Maintenance. You see, a while ago, I decided I wanted a bike that was faster, sleeker, and more capable on roads than my tank of a mountain bike. That bike must weigh close to 25 or 30 pounds. It was a big, bulky, and heavy. Kind of like me. However, my goal is to get in shape with the new bike, so I wanted something to inspire me to a more slim, streamlined appearance. So I settled on finally getting a road bike. Besides, they just look cool as hell with those drop handlebars. I have no aspirations of becoming a Tour de France winner, but there’s something to be said for the ability to drop down low and pick up to speed (on hills). I can tell you without a doubt, after doing so with my new bike, it’s a real adrenaline rush!

My Precious

So after thoroughly digesting the maintenance book, I realized I could take care of my own bike. The book was laid out in such a way that I knew exactly what tool to use in certain situations for fixing the chain or the brakes or just about anything—at least that I can think of—that could go wrong with the bike. Armed with this knowledge, and knowing just enough about tools to be dangerous, I selected my bike from Bikes Direct (thank you YouTube reviews!) and pulled the trigger.

My choice? A 2018 Gravity brand Liberty CXD cyclocross bike. Now back in my day—damn, that makes me sound old—there were really only two types of bikes: mountain bikes and road bikes. I don’t think I remember seeing a single road bike on campus at the University of Delaware…everyone, I mean everyone, from students to professors, rode mountain bikes.

So the bike I selected has 11 gears with 21 speeds, drop handlebars, a fancy carbon-fiber fork, and a frame that’s considered compact—which after much reading, I discovered was better for smaller rider and also for large riders who wish to have more a upright writing experience. I don’t have best the back in the world, so I figured leaning over the handlebars all day probably wasn’t the best thing for me—I noticed a bit of discomfort with my mountain bike when it worked, where my weight was shifted over the handles too much because the frame was too long. So I found the correct size—for me it was the biggest one they offer, surprise, surprise.

This bike also came with disc brakes, something that I’ve never heard of on a bicycle before, but after looking into it, found that they were considered the next big thing. Many bikes still have the old rim breaks that my mountain bike had, but I discovered that disc brakes have better stopping power and aren’t affected by rain and mud as much as rim brakes. So I figured why not?

The other benefit of a cyclocross bike is that it is essentially a road bike designed to use wider tires and ride in the mud and off-road sections of a cyclocross race. That seemed like a good combination for me—I don’t especially relish the idea of riding roads with cars, but there are many, many miles of gravel and paved bike trails in my AO. I live in a neighborhood that has wide roads and about 3 miles of quiet routes through the development. I figured this was a way to have my cake and eat it too!

According to Bikes Direct, this Liberty CXD would retail around $1200 – $1300 in a comparable brand like Trek or Specialized. However, because I was responsible for doing the maintenance and assembly myself, and I wasn’t buying it with a Trek sticker on the side, but one that read Gravity—which from my research, seems to come from the same Chinese factory that makes other name-brand bikes—I was able to snag this bike for well less than half what was charged in a local bike store.

Once I’d taken the plunge and clicked purchase the only thing left to do was wait and track the package. Bikes Direct told me I would get the bike in 7 to 10 business days. In fact, the FedEx truck pulled up my driveway only three days later. It was like ordering something from Amazon!


The box was bigger than I expected, and quite unassuming—also weighing close to 30 pounds.


The bike was listed at 17 pounds, so I was relieved to see that the bulk of the weight inside the box consisted of cardboard and packing material. The bike came unassembled of course, and looked like some sort of perverted jigsaw puzzle, held together with zip ties as I pulled it out of the box.



I’ve got to sort through all the pictures I took during the assembly process, so next time I’ll give a proper write up of how I put it altogether. Then I can actually get going with what I originally intended to do this summer: document rides and fitness routines. I can say, though, that since I received this bike a few weeks ago, I’ve ridden close to 30 miles and since July, when I started this bicycle journey, I have lost almost 10 pounds.

Of course, as Jon Snow has said before, Winter is Coming, so I’ll have to adjust my writing schedule. I found this bike to be so much fun and the exercise so addictive, though, I don’t perceive slowing down too much unless the roads and paths are covered in snow or ice!

Till next time, keep your head down and powder dry, my friends.