Bike commuting for the WIN and a review of the Timbuk2 Tuck Pack! 

Ok, so soon, I’ll get back to building frames. I just need to finish some component designs first and machine them up! 

Meanwhile, I am really excited to be able to say that I was able to make a tank of fuel last 1 month! Yes siree, today is May 21st and the last time I filled my gas tank was April 21st! 

I drive a 2004 VW Passat Wagon with 160-something thousand miles on the clock. I did the timing belts at 140k and that’s about it. (engine wise) It’s been paid off for a while now so all I’ve been paying on it is fuel, oil changes, tires and brakes. My last job was 36 miles each way and I was starting to hate the accelerated wear and tear on it. 

As an added bonus, I’m going from 2 tanks/week to 1/month! At ~$3.10/gal that’s about $280/month I’m saving! 

Maybe I’ll get a cheap fat bike for winter duty but for now I have the best dang blue commuter/cross racer to ever come out of my garage! 

To celebrate, I just ordered a new Timbuk2 Tuck Pack roll top back pack. I absolutely LOVE my Timbuk2 Raider pack but it is really only good for carrying a few things. Since I eat a lot, I have room for my days food and that’s about it. The other day I wanted to bring a few other things and the Raider pack was TIGHT!!! 

As you can see my Raider pack is pretty full and this is just enough food to get me through a 10hr day! 

The Tuck Pack is a simple bag with a large opening on top, a side access zipper for a laptop (which I never really plan to carry) and a front pocket that opens vertically. Timbuk2 makes a lot of packs with vertical zippers so you can get to your stuff by pulling one arm out and slinging the pack around to your side. 

Probably the coolest aspect to me since I don’t like the idea of wearing grey/black when I ride (you know, the color of pavement) is that this pack is flaming bright ass, stare into the core of the sun orange!!! Also for added visibility there is a strap towards the bottom of the bag for an additional tail light. BE SEEN!!!!

And it looks great with a Yellow Lab!

But then again, what DOESN’T look great with this handsome son of a mother. By the way, for this pic (above) I put the Raider pack INSIDE the Tuck Pack! 

Chillin’ with a seal at the Minnesota Zoo. To give you a size reference, I’m 6’3″ and about 200lbs. 


If you ever read a review and the reviewer has nothing bad to say about the product they are reviewing then they were probably paid for the review! So, onto what I don’t like about the Tuck Pack. There are very few pockets inside. True it has a laptop sleeve but there are really few places for other smaller stuff. I always keep a small first aid kit, a tube, keys, a spare shoe laces, patch kit and other random things in my bag. The first aid kit fits into one of the few pockets inside the main compartment really well but my tube is just tossed in the bottom. No biggie really. The front pocket is the same. Large with no added pockets. Now, for the FRONT pocket, that is A-OK with me but the only thing I feel is a MUST that the Tuck Pack doesn’t have is that little safety latch for your keys. You know the one that’s on a little piece of “ribbon” for lack of better terms? I really miss that! I will probably add my own soon! 

Still, I would highly recommend this bag! Bang for the buck, it’s unbeatable!

My bro-in-law, @unfunnymike on IG, introduced my wife and I to Timbuk2 about 6 or 7 years ago when he worked for them. We have sinced gotten backpacks, messenger bags and even luggage and even my wallet! We haven’t been disapointed with any of it!   

Here is a link to the Tuck Pack if you wanted more detail. 
My wallet:

 

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Winter Riding

Ok, so I’m a big wimp!  Especially when it comes to riding in the cold. Yes, I’m from New York originally but I’ve spent a 3 years in the Caribbean (St. Kitts) and 4 years in California so my blood has thinned. Plus there’s a reason why we left NY and it’s not in search of better pizza! 

Well, now we live in a place that is colder than Alaska and winter just will NOT quit! 😂 We had 16″ of snow down here in Bloomington over the weekend of APRIL 14-15 (2018)!!!!!

A couple of weeks ago it was nice enough and almost all the snow was gone so I figured I’d go for a ride. 38°, a light breeze, cloudy skies and a few flurries. Seemed like as good a chance as I was going to get. I bundled up, light layers, insulated running pants over my shorts, 2 pairs of socks, long sleve tshirt, thermal shirt, sweatshirt, Home Depot work gloves and a 45North cycling cap under my helmet. Good to go?

I set out and seemed fine once a little body heat got built up. Then I hit a slight downhill headed into the wind. My face was FREEZING, especially my eyes! It had gotten painful to the point that I was about to stop and take my glasses off so I could put my bare hands over my eyes to warm them back up but I pictured all of the people fat biking on frozen lakes out here and decided to forge on. (Told you I’m a wimp in the cold!)

Once making it past the downhill headwind I was fine. Rode to Bush Lake and snapped a couple pics.

On the trip back, it was all tailwind, even the downhills were better but my face was still cold. When I got home I questioned how the hell I was going to make it here in Minneapolis and it dawned on me. You don’t have the right gear! “DUHHHHH!!!” all you northerners are saying. 

I ordered ski goggles and a blacalava! 

In this time I started a new job that’s only 3 miles from my house! So I put my new stuff to the test at 29°! I added a soft shell jacket, ski gloves and jeans over my insulated running pants. As soon as I set out on my new fraction of a commute I was AMAZED by how comfortable my face and especially my eyes were! Even the same downhill section was nothing! My head was a little chilly but I could always add my 45North hat to the blaclava. I was really happy with my purchases and the fact that I was able to ride below freezing!

I’ve commuted a few times in similar temps and I can say that I could probably ride at 20° with the same gear just fine. 

The next test is the snow. Luckily we we’re dealt enough to give a snowy ride a whirl. I bundled up in the same commuting gear AND the 45North cap, aired the WTB Nanos down to 30psi and head out. We had about 4-6 inches by then. Pointed my ship to the nearest uphill in the neighborhood to test traction and was quite surprised. The Nanos dug down and pulled me uphill with ease. Then I tried a sidewalk with more like 8-10 inches on it and was totally stopped dead! Ha, so I guess I found my limit there!

By the way the temp was 25° and the goggles, hats and ski gloves we’re all working VERY well together! I rode myself over to a local highschool that had been recently plowed and the bike handled great in the roughly 2″ on the parking lot. 

Just about then I saw lightning! Thunder rolled across the sky from North to south and I figured I’d better boogy on home. I was hoping for a longer ride but I also don’t like being struck by lightning. But as for comfort, I was just right! I am very confident I could commute down below 20° at this point and that really warms my soul!

My main takeaway from all of this is that you need to take measures to take care of yourself! I was at a job with a few toxic people that was too far from my family and home. So I waited and found a job where the people are welcoming, positive and appreciate the skills I bring to the company! An added bonus is that I can now commute to work by bike! Between these things they have already made a noticable effect on my mental and physical fitness. So don’t expect things to change. Get out there and do it yourself! 

Have fun! Be safe!

Allan

My son raced his first Cyclocross race!

I told my 8 year old son, Ethan, that he could race cyclocross if he wanted. His reaction was “REALLY?!?!?!?” ,with the widest eyes ever! So naturally it’s father/son bonding time! Minneapolis, Minnesota, as it turns out, has a great ‘cross scene with races every weekend and “Kid races” at every event! 

What bike would he ride? I really wish this was another frame build post but the darn kid is growing so fast, and I’m not exactly that fast at this yet. He had been riding his 18″ MirraCo BMX bike but it was getting a bit small (even for a BMX bike). Well, my wife used to race BMX too and we still have her trails bike! Perfect! 20″ We The People Ovoid! I replaced the grips, pumped up the tires and raised the seat a little bit. Perfect “BMX” fit! 

Time for his first cyclocross race!!! If you’re thinking of taking your kids to a ‘cross race, do it! They do such an awesome job of encouraging the kids! 

All-City put on a great event at Buck Hill, a ski center just south of the cities.

He was SO pumped after his first race! 

RevoX Cross was a lot of fun! We got to almost take a full lap around the full course after the kids race. That’s when he realized how difficult a cross course can be! 

The water was surprisingly warm! 

Next up was FreewheelCX at Rebecca Lake.

After FreewheelCX he asked me for a bike with gears! Ha! He’s starting to get it!!! Soon enough buddy!!!

We found a bitchin’ playground at the park just after the race! 

A firetower with slides!!!!!

Next up was Green Acres CX, this is the biggest race we’ve been to so far and also MY first race! Ethan did well but struggled with the one speed. He asked the person starting the kids race if their was a single speed kids class. Haha! 

There was a really fun berm at this race! “Go high or go home” was being heckeled at the big guys so Ethan wanted to prove that he could “Go high”! He definitely went higher than some of the big boys! Not bad for an 8 year old.

So yeah, I raced. Holy shit it was probably the hardest I have ever worked on a bike! Also some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike! I realized that I don’t have the legs I had in California. No real excuses in that department, but it was still a great time! The atmosphere at Green Acres CX was like a festival with a food truck, beer, HED and Salsa booths, team tents and trailers, a place to hose down bikes and even a Shimano repair guy! They also had a fire pit which was good because us Californians aren’t used to 50° with a breeze! Haha! 

Next up tomorrow is Little Guy Racing’s event! I’m sure it will be as good as the rest so far. I’ll continue to update this post as we hit more and more events.

Edit: 10-30-17

This past weekend was Karma Cross! The venue was great! A park in New Brighton, MN with a spot for a hockey rink, a warming building with bathrooms, a playground for the kids and a sand pit! (Volleyball court really) I didn’t race but I did get to take a couple full lap. The course was soft, twisty and muddy. 

I loved how they had the kid race on a shorter but still longer most of the course! Probably the longest kid course I’ve seen! Perfect place for Ethan to try out his “new” mountain bike. 

The fatter tires and gears served him well on this course! 

Time to warm up and dry off with his buddy Rocky. 

For now, have fun and stay safe out there!!!!!

Allan

Yeah so we’re moving to Minneapolis!

My wife got a once in a lifetime opportunity so for 3 years we will be living in what I’ve heard is quite an amazing bike town! Very excited!!! So at the end of August we’ll be headed out there. So keep an eye here as I’ll post some road trip pics and stuff.

I’ll definitely miss what LA has to offer but look forward to new adventures! 

My Interview on the Locked In Show! 

Here is the interview Mike from the Locked In Show on YouTube did with me! 

Let me set the scene here for you. Mike came up to my garage (shop if you will) and I gave him a little more rear end clearance. His rims are really wide so it made the 35mm wide tire both wider and larger in circumference. So he got a seat tube dimple! Now he has 3 mm of clearance! 

Mike uses the same pedals I do so I tossed my shoes on and took it for a little rip. First thing to note was the weight, 18 lbs with 29er wheels and 35mm tires. Acceleration was WOAH! Second thing of note was the smoothness when seated and the stiffness when out of the saddle! IDK how that’s possible but… Columbus Spirit I guess. The third note is how cool eTap is! 

Oh, also, it was 110°F before we closed the garage door to do the interview. So, call it 115° during. 

Well, without further adue, click the pic below! 

Two things for me to take away from this.

1. People tell me I really sound like this! 

2. Mike is rad and it was really fun doing this! 
The bike came out bitchin! Just wait till you see what he has in store for the paint! 

Till next time, hug your kids, adopt your pets, do good shit like donate a few bucks to your local food bank when you can (some of your neighbors rely on that), wear a helmet, turn on your lights, buy something little for your partner to say you love them just be-freakin-cause, eat desert and say “Hi” and smile when you see people! Anybody! Doesn’t matter who or what they look like, what they’re riding, (or not riding), what color, religion or country they’re from because a smile is a universal symbol of peace and we need a shit load more of that in the world! 

Wow, that got deeper than it was supposed to! 

Have fun!

Allan Varcoe

Gear Shift Lever Boss Replacement Sauce! 

I got a message from Jorge that he needed help with replacing the DT shift lever bosses on his Surly.  I’ve never done gear shift bosses before so this is the perfect chance to make a fixture for doing so! 

Come to find out Jorge was referred to me by Jared Jerome of Jerome Cycles in Los Angeles. Jared builds some of the sweetest city bikes you’ll ever see so it was an honor to be referred by Jared. 

Jeorge came up to my place to deliver the victim and we had a nice chat. Turns out this guys got a ton of bikes. My kinda guy! 

When it comes time to design and build a new fixture you don’t have to twist my arm. Hopped onto Solidworks (which I am JUST starting to get a handle on the very tip of that iceberg) and put my ideas down on pixles. Came up with this little guy. 

Took the model over to Mastercam and blasted out some high speed tool paths!

Then since our 4 axis was busy, I stood the part up and drilled the holes. First with a normal length drill and then took it up to level obserd with the really long drill! 

Whalah!!!

Now onto the real thing! Here are the mangeled bosses. 

Fluxed and heated the old bosses came off nicely. 

Then I soaked off the flux and filed the brass off. Now for the new fixture! Cleaned up the tube and bosses, refluxed and rebrazed! 

It held great! The bosses are colinear and level! Exactly what we want! 

I posted a few pics of this on Facebook and IG and got some interest in this fixture. So I plan to knock out a handful or so more of these in the near future. Probably the last week of July (2017) so if you’re interested, shoot me an email.

allan@varcocycles.com 

$50 shipped in the USA (little extra for the rest of the planet)

So, as always, till next time, keep your frikin’ head on a swivel, turn your lights on day or night, wear a damn helmet and go have some fun! It’s summer!

Allan Varcoe

The Gravel/Do All Frame That’s Light Too!?

A little while ago I got an email proposing a really cool project. It was from Mike Shrewsbury of the Locked In Show on YouTube. His channel is mainly focused on fixed gear products but he is starting to branch out to cover Mikes other cycling interests. Mike wanted a custom frame that could fit his long torso and clear a 700x35c tire. He had some good miles on a Specialized Tarmac and felt it was a very close fit for him. Mike most recently had a Specialized Crux which he liked but wanted a little crisper steering and didn’t need the bigger tire clearance down in Long Beach California, land of sun and sand. (and no mud really)  He was also looking to keep with the weight (minus pedals and cages) at 17 lbs! 

Hell yeah I’m in!!!

This was a job for Columbus Spirit! Many classic builders regard Spirit tubing as the holy grail of lightweight and ride quality so I had to give it a try while adding my modern twist. By modern twist I mean a sloping top tube, internal cable routing, no shift cable guides (SRAM eTap) and flat mount disc brakes! Oh yes!

Spirit, Paragon and Lewllyn lugs! I wasn’t able to use the lugs because I didn’t realize that he only makes this set for 1″ sterrers. So, Long Shen “Slant 6” lugs were a better fit. Thankfully Nova Cycles was awesome for the whole return/exchange.

Got to work with some engraving. A little Mastercam-ing and some CNC-ing.

Next I wanted to machine the “Gaviota” logo into the HT directly instead of a badge.  So…

With those two done it was time to start on the Spirit tubes! They are so thin, lightweight and brightly finished I was hoping they’ll be as nice to work with as they are to look at and handle. 

I used brass for the cable guide tubes in my VarcoCross build so I wanted to try stainless and I’m glad I did! I like the idea of using stainless on places where things touch the frame. I also needed to use some sort of cable guides reinforcements because of how thin walled this tubing is. 

Sawed a set out then I finished the shape on a bench grinder. 

I brazed the guide tube in first to make sure I got a good attachment before adding the reinforcement plates.

Finished off…..

Out of order here but… This build will also mark the first time I use my frame fixture/jig for the entire build so there was a little learning curve for that but it went pretty smooth. 

Paragon Flat Mount dropouts are great because you don’t need a fixture for the post mounts. Just braze them in. Here are the dropouts brazed to the chainstay but there are more pics of the flat mounts further below.

Because the rear triangle was to be short and the seat stays attach low, I needed a little bit of extra room up at the seatstays for the wider tires so I decided to give my fork raker a shot at bending these. 

For slotting the seat stays to accept the dropouts I have a neat little fixture to hold two of them at the same time. 

Now, seat tubes are only single butted so they are thinner at the top. If you are going to join the seat stay tops to the seat tube it isn’t a bad idea to reinforce the seat tube. I cut a section of tube and shaped it to mock the contour of the seat lug. 

Ahhh, plenty of room! 

Next up is the internal HT reinforcement. 

And a few braze ons… (Water bottle mounts in 3 places)

Soak it and clean-up…..

You can see the flat mounts brazed in here. 

And here. 

There it is. My first Gravel Grinder build! And, it weighs just 4.25lbs!!!! For a 56cm!!!!

Check out Mikes channel for videos about this build! Locked In Show

That’s it for this one! Keep on checking back because I’ll post pics of his complete bike as he finishes the build! 

As always, wear a damn helmet, turn your lights on and LOOK where you’re going! Have fun and ride safe out there! 

Allan Varcoe
Progress shot!!!!

6-19-17

7-1-17

Got this beautiful pic texted today. 

9-14-17

He’s got it all painted up and looking amazing! 

The VarcoFrog?

Yes sir, the VarcoFrog! My buddy Lawson aka: Frogi was looking for a frame that fit him to be used in fixed gear road crit races and to bomb around the streets of the ATL on. 

We chose Columbus Zona tubes because of it’s toughness, ride quality and light weight. The top tube is 7/5/7 wall but to add to the stiffness I used an 8/6/8 wall downtube. These numbers refer to the wall thickness of the tubes. Most tubes used in bikes have “butted” tubes. This means the wall thickness is thicker at the ends, where the junctions are and thinner in the middle where strength is not as important. 7/5/7 means the tubes wall thickness changes from .7mm at one end, tapers to .5mm in the middle, then back up to .7mm at the other end. 

Miters need to fit tight even under lugs! 

Vent holes. I’d like to make em bigger. 

This frame has a 100mm head tube so the lugs had to be modified to achieve such a diminutive number. 

Here my QC department checks that the seat tube slot lines up with the slot in the lug. 

They’re not impressed. 

120mm track width!

Doing a fastback again. I love fastbacks thanks to Ben Serotta!

Next is badges. I wanted to use the Gaviota logo and add some type of BB tag with name and number of the frame. 

This Froggy is done!!!

Frogi is going to paint it himself so I can’t WAIT to see what he comes up with. I really like the way this frame came out and I hope he does too! I also hope he rides the shit out of it!

Have fun and stay safe everybody! 

Allan Varcoe

Frame Jig Rev2.0

After I built my frame jig I noticed flaws immediately! It was almost too adjustable and I didn’t make a good way to release the frame from the jig while keeping the dummy axle in place. Ya doof! 

So, with a little advice from David Saul from Diesel Frameworks, Joe Roggenbuck of Cobra Frames and good ole Google Images, I came up with an improved design that worked in my head. You know, the cool thing about frame jigs is that as long as the components of the jig are nice and aligned up, there is almost (note the “almost”) no wrong way to make a frame jig. Sure there are BETTER jigs out there but they all hold tubes at angles to one another.

David Saul makes jigs for other people and his jig was similar to what I had in mind so I asked him some questions. Getting advice from an expert is so paramount when investing some time and money into a project like this and I think it paid off. 

Joe Roggenbuck made sure I wasn’t a complete moron when designing the rear dummy axle fixture. Thanks buddy! 

Here is my first rev. You can see the rear dummy axle is just a piece of threaded rod and the HT and ST angles are not all that easily adjustable. 

First to address was the ST angle and BB attachment. I ordered a piece of Aluminum and got designing on Mastercam.

Then onto the Horizontal CNC. Unfortunately we didn’t have the right inserts for our face mill so the surface came out a little shitty. 

…and because I can, I did a little engraving. 

 I also added the upright extrusion on the right for the HT fixture but based on Davids experience I later changed that to slide along the main extrusion. You’ll see later. So, here’s the HT plate all Mastercamed up. 

Now, I had to mount a frame in there to calculate the the bottom bracket centerline and adjust the cone accordingly on it’s 1/2-20 threaded center stud. In this pic you can see how the HT and ST cones are higher than the tubes. 

Taking Joe’s word on using Anvil dummy axles, I got 137mm and 122mm. 137mm is for 135mm frames like QR mtb’s and 10-11 speed road bikes. The 122mm is for track frames as they are 120mm wide. 

Designing a way to hold the dummy axles was the next task. The reduced center diameter is 2.500″ long so I machined the holder 2.495″ thick to allow the axle to come in and out easily. As you can see below there is a clamp that allows the dummy axle to be removed from the bottom by loosening one bolt. 

Next I designed and machined a plate to mount the whole rear dummy axle fixture onto and it’s pinned into the slots in the main extrusion to allow it to slide back and forth easily. 

Now, I mentioned being able to slide the HT fixture along the main extrusion. Well, it’s a simple plate with holes for guide pins and bolts. I made it L shaped so the weight of the HT fixture would be somewhat centered over the guide pins. The plate has a bunch of extra holes in it because it was once a machining fixture. Sometimes you just can’t turn down free material! 

At this point it is a usable frame jig BUT I still need to mount it to some sort of stand. A mill vice on a plastic stool just won’t do. Haha!

 Giving this a try. For $40 it’s a decent platform to start from. Harbor Fright! (Not Freight)  

It needs to be about 20-25″ taller. I’m 6’3″ so this would work great if I had no femurs. I’m thinking of a height adjustable multi hole system. I’ll update this post as I progress on that. For now, I have to finish the “VarcoFrog”! A small street crit frame for a small, strong track racer named Frogi! Look for a post on that soon!
Eventually I will buy nice handles to make the jig easier to use but for now I am really happy with how Rev2 came out! Can’t wait to use it! 
For now, keep it rubber side up! Have fun and ride safe! Turn your lights on and watch yo asses out there! 

Edit: Raising the Jig! 3/1/17

I’ve never MIG welded before and this was a perfect spot to try it out. So, I hacked up the engine stand, drilled some holes, made bushings and went to the MIG welder. 

This mod raised the jig up 16″as it’s currently set up. It can still go up another 6″ and down 6″! 

I have another build about to be finalized so I’ll be throwing some Spirit tubing in the jig and making a light weight gravel bike! 

 Allan

As per request from romeo via the comments: a photo of the BB fixture. 

Cyclocross Frame Finished, Assembled and Ridden! 

I thought this deserved it’s own post. I had the frame powder coated and I couldn’t be happier with how it came out! 


I run a shim in the seat tube because my son’s trailer bike has a 27.2mm clamp.

Green headsets are cool. 

Now, onto riding it! The fit seems right on! Really comfortable. Steering is responsive but calm on the road and seems to be razor precise off road without reacting to every imperfection. The 425mm chain stay length makes for quick response and a “light” front end when it comes to lifting the front wheel over bumps/ruts/rocks….

These WTB Nano tires are AMAZING! They are smooth and fast when going straight on the road but they absorb a LOT of road noise and bumps. Even at their max pressure of 65psi. But off road is where they shine! I’ve ridden it on packed dirt, sandy dirt, rough crushed stone (larger stuff too, 3-6 inch stones) and rocky/rooty trails and the Nano’s have handled it all! 

While I’m talking about WTB, the Volt saddle is probably the nicest fit for me I’ve ever found. 
I went with a SRAM X7 10 speed derailleur because they are silent and cheap! Paired with an Apex group shift lever the shifting is really effortless. After going over 500 miles on a 1994 Bridgestone RB2 with DT shifters I only reached for the DT a few times. Surprised myself!

The Rival1 crankset with 42t Narrow/wide chainring is silent! I was wondering if the narrow/wide tooth profile would make for a grindy sound like a fixed gear bike but it is dead quiet! 

Disc brakes are new to me and DAMN do they work! The BB7 caliers are like a vice to the 160mm Avid rotors! I still have to completely bed the pads in however. 

Basically, a total blast to ride! And all with fairly low cost components. I have under $1200 total into this bike! Way WAY more satisfying than going to the LBC and paying $1200 for an off the shelf Trekalized! 
If you aren’t the type of person who needs the latest iPhone or the biggest TV available, then using 10 speed drivetrain and mechanical disc brakes with a custom steel frame or a frame off of Craigslist may be a great way to get an amazing new bike without spending a ton. If you build a bike piece by piece from the ground up you will learn SO much about cycling. 

I built this frame to closely resemble the geometry of a Cannondale SuperX. Slightly lower TT, steeper HT angle and slightly lower stack height than their 61cm frame. So I get a custom fit, and saved $7300! Some would think “But you’d get better parts on the Cannondale.” Well, I find it hard to believe that you’ll be $7300 faster on an 11 speed bike with hydro brakes! 

Well, if you’ve made it this far, THANK YOU! I really do appreciate it! Let me know what you think. Leave me a comment. 

Go find a trail and ride it! (and wear your helmet!)

Allan Varcoe

My first YouTube edit.