5.19.2010

CUSTOM PAINT JOBS

When we got this great idea to ride our bikes a long, long way, we thought it would be fun to build bikes from scratch.  I.E. get an old school frame, restore it, buy all the necessary components and create a rig that was a “one-of-a-kind”.  It turns out that used frames can be unreliable and very expensive to build up from scratch.  So after much research, we decided that the Bianchi Volpe was a good fit and would take care of our needs.  It is a “cyclocross” bike, something between a road bike and a mountain bike from the early 90’s.  The frame is chromoly steel. It has drop handlebars similar to a road bike and really “beefy” wheels. 

One of our main reasons for wanting to build our own bike was to have a custom paint job.  Since we did not buy old bikes we had to paint the new ones that we bought.  It took a little anxious anticipation before I could completely disassemble a fully tuned, brand new bike with an immaculate factory paint job, but the need for some custom artwork overtook the urge to leave the bike in its factory condition. 

First, I took apart the bikes piece by piece, carefully labeling each part as it came off the bike, making notes of bearing orientations, brake lever settings, where all the shims & spacers went etc… Second, once the bikes were completely disassembled and the entire frame was sanded with 200-grit sandpaper.  This created a good surface for the primer coat of paint to adhere to.   Next, the bikes were each “shot” with a coat of automotive gray primer.  I actually liked the way that this looked, and contemplated leaving mine this color.  Cari on the other hand was not so satisfied with a primer gray bike.  She wanted a pink leopard print bike.


Cari’s Bike:

So the leopard print paint job began.  I took some time pondering how I could pull off a pink leopard print job on such an awkward shaped item (by awkward I mean the bike has lots of nooks, crannies, tubes that change dimensions etc…). It’s not like painting on a flat sheet of paper or canvas.  All my experience with painting has been with car parts using spray paint.  Spray paint has always been my favorite media to work with.  So for any of you who know what using spray paint is like, it requires A LOT of masking tape.  Essentially, everywhere you want a “line” or color break to be, there needs to be a piece of tape to mask the color that you are spraying and leave the color that is underneath.  When you paint with spray paint, everything needs to be painted in “layers.”

Cari’s Bike was painted in 4 layers (not including the clear coats… I will explain). Cari wanted the bike’s base color to be silver, and have black spots with pink centers.   The first layer was the primer coat that was shot over the entire frame.  This gave me a blank canvas to work with.  Once the primer was allowed to dry, the entire frame was shot metallic silver.  In performing this coat, I noticed that the metallic based paints behave much different than the enamel paints that I am used to working with.  The metallic paints tend to not coat as uniformly as the enamels, so with a little practice and frustration, I was able to figure out how to get a nice even coat. 

Following the Silver coat was a coat of clear.  This allowed me to sand the bike with 2000-grit sandpaper and remove any dust, bugs, or any other contaminants that got in the wet paint.

Now the fun part…  Every part of the bike that I wanted to remain silver had to be covered with masking tape.  In order to mask off the silver, I needed masking tape that was cut with leopard spots.  I made sheets of “masking paper” to do this; I took a bunch of sheets of binder label paper from work and removed all the labels.  This gave me a blank sheet of wax paper that tape will not adhere to.  Then I took 2” wide masking tape and covered the entire sheet of wax paper with it.  This essentially gave me an 8 ½” x 11” sheet of masking tape.  With that, I drew a leopard print on the masking paper and cut out the pattern with an x-acto knife.  When the pattern was all cut, the centers of the spots were removed (I saved the centers of the spots to be used at a later time) and I had a pattern that I could overlay on the silver coat of paint.  Here is a picture of the bike when the layer masking of the silver was complete.


Once the masking of the silver was complete, the entire bike was shot with a coat of clear paint.  This fills all the gaps in the masking tape where the next color might leak under the tape.  Once the clear dried, the entire bike was shot with a coat of metallic pink.  Everything that was not covered with the masking tape was now pink. (Keep in mind that the outsides of the leopard spots are supposed to be black, not pink).  In order to make the centers of the spots pink and the outsides black, I put a piece of tape in the center of each spot.  After all the centers of the spots were masked, the entire bike was shot with a coat of metallic black.  Once the black was dry, the masking tape could finally be removed.  

I was like a child at Christmas while removing the masking tape from the bike, slowly this all black frame began to transform into a silver, pink and black leopard.  I was very pleased with the look of the bike when the masking was removed, but there was still work to do.  When masking tape is removed, it leaves sharp edges where all the edges of the masking tape were.  Essentially, there was a rough “ledge” about the thickness of a sheet of paper where each color transitioned.  In order to smooth the paint out, the entire frame was again sanded with 2000-grit sandpaper.  This removed the sharp edges and smoothed the surface out quite nicely.  But sanding paint also leaves it dull, so in order to restore the glossy shine, two more coats of clear were shot over the entire frame.  This made the paint job look shiny and new and once the paint was complete, the bike was rebuilt, and viola, a leopard print touring bike!


Mike’s Bike:

Well if you made it this far through the paint job section of the blog, I will try not to bore you with the fine details of my bike.  With Cari’s bike being so extravagant and fun, I definitely could not just leave my bike primer gray.  I needed something wild, something that would potentially grab some attention while alongside the pink and silver cat.  In the end I chose a green, black and blue argyle print…  Argyle wild? Argyle fun?  Well maybe it wasn’t the wildest print I could have chosen, but it gave me a very interesting challenge to put onto a bike frame.

In order to get the argyle pattern, the entire bike was shot green over the primer coat, and then everything that was to stay green was masked.  All areas that were blue or black were left uncovered and shot with a coat of blue.  Following the coat of blue, the parts that were to remain blue were masked off and the bike was then shot black.  Once the black dried, the masking tape was removed and I had a frame that was covered with green, black and blue diamonds.  In order for it to be true argyle, it needed a thin lines crisscrossing through the centers of each diamond.  In order to do that, I masked off everything except the lines “swirling” in one direction, shot the bike with a coat of cream white, removed the masking, re-masked the lines that “swirled” in the other direction and then shot it with another coat of cream white.  I then removed all the masking, gave the bike a 2000-grit sand and shot it with two coats of clear.  The end result… an argyle painted bicycle.

Looking back on the paint jobs, it was by far the most challenging paint job I had ever done for anything.  The entire process was a blast and the end results turned out much better than I had hoped for.  There is roughly 30 to 40 hours of time invested in each bike and that time was well spent and enjoyable.  People have often said “you should do this as a side job”, but unfortunately, nobody would ever consider shelling out a week’s worth of pay for a bicycle paint job.

5.11.2010

25-DAY JITTERS

I have been walking around in an anxious haze for the past month and it’s only getting worse. This dream seemed so far away when we originally thought it up, but those 8 months have flown by (as time always does), and now the reality of it is knocking at our door.  We’re down to our last 25 days of life as we’ve known it for the past several years and soon we’re going to wake up in the morning without a job, without a house, without a schedule and without a plan.  I am a tumbling whirlwind of emotion, catching myself crying tears of excitement and anticipation one moment and tears of sadness and fear the next.  I no longer get the occasional nervous chill shooting down my spine when I think about this trip; it has now consumed me and there is a constant ‘pins and needles’ feeling in my neck and spine, butterflies in my stomach and the general disbelief that we’re actually going to go for it.

Everything is winding down.  We are almost completely moved out of our house and it seems like only yesterday we walked into this empty place with visions of how to make it our home.  Both of our employers know of our plans and are working to replace us.  It’s a strange feeling watching your life be overtaken while you’re still living it, but that’s the way it goes when you voluntarily choose to step out of life for a while. 

I was talking with a friend the other day about why this adventure has such a different feel than any other trip I have ever taken before. We realized it’s because, unlike the majority of vacations, this one has no set end date and no established life that we know we’ll be returning to.  There also seems to be a sense of finality as our departure date approaches.  I desperately hate saying good-bye, but know deep down that this is a major transition period and I have to say farewell to many of the people, places and things from this segment of my life.  Everything is open ended, which is one of the most exciting aspects of this trip, but it’s also an extremely frightening concept to grasp!  

5.05.2010

OTHER PREPARATIONS AND MAJOR PURCHASES

Once we figured out how we could financially make this trip happen, there were only about a million other things to figure out next.

We have a fully furnished, two-bedroom house, a garage full of tools and a “bike room” loaded with bikes, camping and climbing gear.  It didn’t seem like we had a lot of stuff until we started thinking about where we were going to put it all while we were gone.  Renting a storage unit is ridiculously expensive around here and it’s not much better even if we hauled it out to the central valley where things are “cheap.” 

However, we got lucky….very lucky!  Mike’s parents are letting us store stuff in the loft of their garage, various friends and family members are using some of our furniture and watching over our hundreds of plants (for some reason we think we need to live in a jungle) while we’re away, and our friends Char and Dan are allowing us to use part of their garden shed to store the larger, heavier items that cannot be carried up a ladder into a loft.  Although all of our belongings will be spread out all over the bay area, we are appreciative to have family and friends who are willing to help us out.  It is a huge money-saver for us and we cannot thank you all enough!

There is a lot of gear we’ve gradually been purchasing over the last 6 months.  First, we needed the correct bikes for this type of riding.  We’re both racers and have always been drawn to the fastest, lightest, carbon fiber bicycles.  Unfortunately, the geometry is not conducive to touring and would undoubtedly break down on day one, unable to handle the load that we’ll be carrying.  Our original idea was to build our own bikes out of old parts, so we visited a bunch of local bike shops and got price quotes on frames and major parts, but walked away completely discouraged after every visit.  Each shop told us the same thing: 1 - It’s incredibly more expensive to purchase all the parts individually and build a bike from scratch than to buy a brand new one.  And 2 – You cannot trust old, used bike parts.  It’s hard to know if there’s anything wrong with them until sometimes it’s too late.

On to Plan B.  After researching various touring bikes, we concluded the Bianchi Volpe was the best fit for us.  It got great reviews, was in our price range and so Mike made the splurge and bought them for us for Christmas.  They were sure beautiful, all shiny, dark green in color and without a scratch, but kind of boring at the same time.  We wanted custom paint jobs, which was part of the original lure of building our own bikes, so shortly after they arrived we took the sandpaper to them.  It took me a few minutes before I could bring myself to scratch up a pristine paint job, but I had a vision in mind of what I wanted, so I clenched my eyes shut and went for it.  Mike was the master of the paint project so I’m going to leave it up to him describe in a later post the process of how he turned our bikes into the argyle and leopard print masterpieces they are today.


The original bike


Mike's argyle bike



Cari's leopard print bike

Panniers and racks were our other major purchases for this trip.  Again, we researched online and visited REI over and over debating which ones would work best for us.  We found the perfect set of large, waterproof Ortleib panniers from an online source based in Colorado.  Thank you Wayne at TheTouringStore.com for all of your insight and helpful advice!  We will soon be putting your gear to the test!

We may regret our decision to set aside our lightweight, down, mummy sleeping bags and instead spring for the super heavy, bulky, synthetic, square, zip-together bags, but the thought of being unable to snuggle together for the next year was unacceptable.  Besides, I don’t think I could handle sleeping in a claustrophobic mummy bag for that many consecutive nights.  It drives me nuts that I can’t move!  I won’t have to worry about that in these new bags.  They’re huge!  When zipped together, they’re about the size of a queen sized bed….room for visitors, I guess!  Ha!

I love taking photos and I only plan on taking about a million over the course of this trip.  I have a camera that takes excellent pictures, but it’s getting old and every once in a while decides to act up, make funny noises, or just not turn on.  I didn’t want to risk not having a camera whenever I wanted, so that was another major purchase.  As much as I would love a big, fancy SLR that takes outrageously high quality pictures, I have to remind myself that I have to personally carry everything myself and weight and space matter big time.  I settled for a small, very lightweight Canon and I’m sure it will do the trick.

Our final purchase was a tiny netbook (thank you Ken) which will be used to edit and organize pictures as we go, keep in touch with family and friends and do the best we can on posting to our blog.  I’m not sure how well it is going to hold up with all of the bouncing around it’s going to have to endure, but we’ll soon find out.

We have only a month to go before we depart and only a few more things (insurance and phone) to get straightened out.  It’s hard to believe it’s almost here!

MONEY

The concept seemed simple at first…just pack up and go; put life on hold, enjoy life and each other’s company and travel around for a year or so before we really have to “grow up.”  Ha!  How could I have been so na├»ve?  Once we actually decided to make this happen, it became apparent that it takes an awful lot of planning, preparation and money to take off on a plan-less adventure!

Money.  Simply put, we weren’t going anywhere without it, and unfortunately, our bank accounts at the onset of this idea were not going to support us for any length of time.  Granted, we were planning on living uncomfortably and eating simply throughout the trip, but even that takes money.  We began saving our pennies and finding ways to scrounge up extra cash wherever we could.  In the back of our minds, everything became, ‘do we buy this, do we really need that, or do we go without and instead earn ourselves 1 or 2 or even 3 more days on the road.’ Don’t laugh…we went to extremes in some cases, but it’s working and we’re leaving in just over a month!

We stopped eating out and going out.  I love to cook, so this wasn’t an everyday thing for us anyway, but a few meals a week were at restaurants and Mike typically bought his lunch at work everyday.  Wow…who knew we spent so much on entertainment, food and drinks?  Our monthly credit card bills were cut almost in half!  It has been a satisfying adjustment and it makes the infrequent times we actually DO treat ourselves to a night out seem more special.

We froze.  Some people think it doesn’t get cold in California.  Our house, known to many as “the double wide in the ditch,” is exactly that; a little cabin down in a culvert, next to a river, surrounded by a lush, damp environment. It gets cold down here in the wintertime…believe me, I come from Minnesota and I know what cold is!  Our brilliant money saving idea last winter was to go without heat.  It was painfully uncomfortable, but we were both too stubborn to give in.  Instead we simply wore our down jackets, hats, mittens and long underwear around the house.  It was a bit cumbersome trying to cook and eat dinner with all of those clothes on, it was ridiculous seeing our breath inside our own house and it was pretty pathetic that we had to go outside to warm up because the temperature was higher outside than inside, even with frost on the ground!  I’m not exactly sure how much money we saved doing this, but I’d like to believe it was worth at least a couple of months of travel!

We sold things…bicycles, a TV, furniture and my car (which was really sad for me).  I am not someone who holds onto “stuff” and I’ve never before been connected to a vehicle, but I truly loved Green Bean. Perhaps it was because she still had a faint new car smell even after a year and-a-half of use, or she was still spick and span clean, shiny and new, or the fond memories of fabulous road trips and adventures taken together.  I wanted to keep her so badly, but it was inevitable, she was not a “she” but rather an “it”, simply a possession that was impossible to make loan payments on without an income.  I sold Green Bean a few weeks to a great couple.  It was a bittersweet end.  I kissed her goodbye, paid off my loan, never looked back and surprisingly, I didn’t even cry!  

We recycled.  All throughout the Bay Area I have noticed recycling sheds with people standing in line to be reimbursed for bags full of bottles and cans.  I wasn’t sure how much money they were getting for their efforts and I was positive it wasn’t much, but I thought I’d join them.  Between biking and running, we spend hundreds of miles out on the roads each week and the number of beverage containers strewn along the roadways makes me sick.  We began picking them up and collecting them in our garage.  I was embarrassed at first…very embarrassed!  Some people said "thank you" as they passed, but most just looked at us funny as we ran down the road with arms full of recycling or jersey pockets overflowing with beer bottles and cans.  It's a dirty job, but a satisfying one as we watched the roads around us become cleaner and the garbage cans of recycling pile up.   I quickly accepted the humility of this project and now when passersby ask me what I’m doing, proudly say, “recycling!”  Over the past 7 months, we have taken several truckloads full of recycling down to the sheds, stood amongst the homeless folks waiting in line and realized the irony of it all in that soon, we too, will technically be homeless. It takes a lot of cans and bottles to get a few bucks, but it slowly and surely adds up…


We stopped cutting our hair.  Have you ever added up how much your family collectively spends on hair stuff every year?  Although neither of us are particular about or pay much attention to our dews, it turns out to be a lot!  Like enough to buy us a plane ticket to South America!  It has been almost a year since either of us have cut our hair and we’re looking very shaggy, but we’re finding it rather fun and figured since we won't be cutting our hair while on our bikes, we might as well start our scrubby vagabonding look early and save a few bucks.

10 months of no hair cuts!