21 Feb 2019
It’s well into 2019, so I’m quite late, but here’s my roundup of readings from last year.
Disappointingly, my book count dropped significantly this year compared to previous years. I began several new hobbies this year which cut into my reading time: road cycling, mountain biking, rock climbing, power lifting, and more time spent with Argentine Tango and snowboarding. So this past year has been a very physical year for me. For the upcoming year, I hope to balance things out more, and divert some additional inner-development time to reading. This new year also comes with a new job–I’ve left Google and begun work at Aurora Innovation, so I hope the startup life doesn’t impact this resolution.
That being said, here are the 18 books I read in 2018.
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24 Sep 2018
First Ride Impresssions
At the end build day 3, I went out for a basic test ride. I wanted to get a sense for fit and ensure all critical systems worked before finalizing some component changes–like cutting down the fork steerer or wrapping the handlebar tape. So I threw on some cheap regular platform pedals (I didn’t want to worry about learning how to use clipless lockin pedals yet) and brought her outside to the Mission District.
My immediate impression was: wow this thing is smooth. The derailleur shifting was like butter all the way up and down the 2x11 gears, I wanted to shift gears all day to hear the soft click of the shift lever, followed milliseconds later by a satisfying thunk heard and felt in the back of the bicycle indicating the gear shift completed. And the brakes–even before bleeding them–were hyper responsive. Just slight pressure from one of my fingers was enough to modulate the braking force–anything I wanted from a slight frictional hiss to a sharp and sudden stop. It’s sublimely confidence inspiring to have such precise control over the drivetrain. I’m a 100% hydraulic disc brake convert.
Two days later, on my first free Sunday, I took her out past the Golden Gate Bridge to try to climb and descend Hawk Hill. The climb was relatively uneventful, I did really appreciate the lightweight bicycle and low gearing ratio which made the climb significantly easier than any I’d been on before. But it was the descent that was the real test. The Hawk Hill Descent is a long steep and windy 18% decline. At these speeds, a crash would result in a critical injury, if not fatality. So I had to have confidence in my own build skills–bear in mind this was my first bike build ever. Every bolt needs to have been tightened in properly, every component adjusted to millimeter correctness, and most importantly, the brakes needed to be bled correctly (any air or water in the sealed system would heat up and compress, resulting in critical failure in the brakes). I took the calculated risk and went for it, deciding to trust in my attention to detail during the build and shoot down the descent.
That I’m writing this spoils the result–my bicycle held together fine, the descent was the most exhilarating experience of my life. Bombing down Hawk Hill is like grabbing a dragon by its horns, there’s this seemingly endless source of power that you’re tapping into (gravity). And while you’re riding the dragon, you’re sneaking quick glances to the left at the view of the ocean cliff–both breathtakingly beautiful and harrowing at the same time. The mix of adrenaline, endorphins, and fear you get is unlike any other experience. You’re in control of your own fate, and you’re flying.
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16 Aug 2018
The hardest part of the this journey was definitely twiddling my thumbs waiting for the frame to be completed! I approved the final CAD drawing on May 9th, and Waltly claimed to deliver the frame 30-45 days after final drawing approval. So that meant I should have received it by June 9th-23rd. Unfortunately, it took quite a bit longer than that.
When the target completion dates approached, I sent a an email to Sumi. She kept telling me the frame was almost done for a few weeks, until she eventually informed me that their logo printer was broken, and that they needed to purchase and install a new one. After an additional 2 weeks of waiting, they finally sent me a photo of my completed frame, with decals showing where the bead-blasted logos would be applied. The frame looked good from what I could tell, but there were some issues with the logo placement.
Sumi was glad to reprint and re-position the logos, but it took another week for some reason. I eagerly awaited the final photos:
On receiving these beautiful photos of my frame, I immediately sent the remainder of the payment via PayPal, and they shipped it that day via EMS post. EMS is an okay way to ship things from China. Basically, packages wait around until they can be piggy-backed onto commercial flights, and the final leg is completed by local carriers (USPS). Tracking information is pretty sparse. I got a status update on the first day, and then I got another notice a week and a half later that it was in LA and en route to SF.
The final date of arrival was Wednesday July 18th, which was 69 days after final drawing approval, quite a bit longer than the quoted 30-45 days. This annoyed me somewhat, but ultimately I was far too happy to complain now that I finally had my frame.
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04 Aug 2018
My last post detailed the initial ideas for my titanium build, this post jumps a few weeks forward(full of intense delibration and decision-making) to initiating contact with a manufacturer and going through the design process.
Selecting a Manufacturer
There are three main titanium manufacturers in China that are willing to fabricate one-offs for western customers, Titan, Waltly, and XACD. I sent an inquiry to all three to get a price quote and to feel them out.
XACD is the oldest, they’ve been doing custom titanium bicycle frames for over a decade and for awhile they were the only ones doing it. That presumably means they have the most experience, and perhaps the highest quality. I had read that they were the only one of the three who did double-butted tubing, but that has changed recently since both Waltly and Titan offered that feature to me for an additional fee. In general, XACD would most likely be able to accomodate exotic requests, like a titanium-carbon hybrid, but they’d also probably charge quite a bit extra for it.
Their main caveat is their point of contact, the infamous Porter. He’s gotten quite a few negative reviews as being impatient and rude. Although some other reviews appreciate his promptness and directness that push the process along as fast as possible.
My own brief experience with him wasn’t bad. After sending my initial inquiry, he responded within hours with a full invoice and asked for a downpayment. I felt quite rushed!
Waltly is a relative newcomer compared to XACD, I believe they’ve been fabricating frames for less than a decade. The frame designer you work with is Sumi or Amy who are both very polite and helpful. Quite a few of the custom builds on Spanner were done by Waltly, which inspired some confidence.
Even more of a newcomer, Titan has only been in business since 2012 or so. There are also quite a few builds on Spanner by Titan, although there is a very negative experience from one customer. With Titan, you work with Eric, who is also very polite and helpful.
I ended up choosing with Sumi & Waltly Titanium. The price was marginally better than the other two, but mainly I felt that Sumi was really helpful, quick responding, and would carefully guide me through the frame design process. I also saw many successful builds on Spanner (1, 2, 3) that were quite similar to mine, so I knew they were capable of building a quality frame based around my feature set.
My second choice would have been Porter & XACD, but I felt a bit intimidated. I knew that the frame design process would take several iterations. I predicted asking a lot of questions, wavering back and forth on decisions, and changing my mind as I educated myself about frames. Although Porter might accommodate these requests, I wouldn’t feel comfortable and I could imagine him rushing me forward through te process. As for Titan, I didn’t get very prompt replies from Eric, which was a negative predictor of how the overall experience would go.
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24 Jul 2018
I’ve been riding a fixed-gear bicycle in San Francisco for the past 4 years. It’s great for commuting and getting from point A to point B efficiently–avoiding terrible traffic, as well as unsanitary and unreliable public transportation. Throughout this time I’ve become more and more of a gear-junkie, delving deeper and deeper into bling-y but totally unecessary fixed-gear bicycle components, and deeply learning how to fix/assemble a bicycle along the way.
Awhile back I stumbled across Spanner Bike, a blog that chronicles the titanium bicycle builds of westerners who work with Chinese manufacturers to affordably fabricate custom frames. I’d briefly toyed with the idea of building up a fully-custom titanium fixed-gear commuter, but couldn’t begin to justify it.
But earlier this year, I started borrowing friends’ bikes for long rides past the Golden Gate Bridge into the Marin Highlands, and got thoroughly hooked. I briefly shopped around for carbon race bike from local bike shops, but I just wasn’t feeling the carbon calling.
Most carbon frames had really flashy and gaudy color schemes. And the subdued ones just looked sorta bland. I also didn’t like the need to baby these fragile carbon frames. So when I recalled the Chinese Titanium idea, I latched on and began planning. My goal was something subtle, technical, stealthy and sleek–something like this:
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