Sunday, January 22, 2006

Kogswell Model G Impressions

Product reviews are always subjective. If you've bought something, you have an ego invested interest in somehow showing that you are not a fool who has recently parted with your money. If the item in question was given to you, the question must always be asked as to how much you are biased by the gift. You can try to fill your review with objective facts but at some point there will be some subjectivity. But, of course, we experience the world subjectively. We bring ourselves into the process and if we are fond of numbers or think in terms of metaphors, those things come out in our discussions. We are not just talking about the object of our review, we are talking about our relationship with the object.

I don't know enough to review the Kogswell Model G. I own one now. The frame and a few other key bits were a gift from Matthew Grimm. I was able to put it together with some other bike parts I'd accumulated and saved over the years. The only new part I added to the bike was a single speed chain. I've invested this machine with gratitude and time, a tiny bit of money and a sense of what my bike should be. I can't review it, but I can consider it. I've only got about 70 miles on the bike so far, so at best these are initial impressions.

The Kogswell is solid. I know that solid is not a very sexy adjective but when I pulled the frame out of the box and put the whole thing together my thought wasn't "wow, this is light" or "wow, this is pretty". It's not the lightest frame out there and yeah it's got some decent looking lugs and the powdercoat finish looks quite good but the overall impression is one of strength. And when the whole bike came together, it didn't build up as a super light bike. I don't know what the whole thing weighs but I'm pretty sure it's heavier than my old PX-10.

Speaking of my PX-10, that's the bike from which I took measurements to guide my in putting the Kogswell together. Then I tweaked a few things. On my first test ride the Kogswell's saddle felt a bit high and the stem felt a bit long. Going back and rechecking the numbers it turns out that my impressions were right and my measurements had been slightly off. I did have the saddle a bit high and the bars were just a bit too far forward. The bikes aren't identical but my bikes all tend toward very similar layouts in terms of the relationship between bars, pedals and saddle. When it's right I know it and when it's off I feel it.

In terms of gearing, the Kogswell and the PX-10 are the same: 170 mm cranks with a 42 tooth chainring and a 16 tooth rear fixed cog and both bikes have decent wheels shod with heavy, flat-resistant Specialized Armadillo tires. But the two bikes feel different.

The PX-10 feels quicker. It feels more lively. It seems like I can feel the frame flex more over bumps. The Kogswell, on the other hand, feels solid. Not at all uncomfortable, it actually feels very comfortable and if anything I think I'm less aware of road shock than I am on the PX-10. But the PX-10 feels faster.

Climbing, the PX-10 feels quick. Descending, it feels a little racier. The Kogswell just doesn't feel as fast.

But here's the thing: I like the ride of the Kogswell better. It's like when you have a good mattress you don't think about it, you just sleep. If you have a mattress with a lump, you learn to move around so you don't sleep on the lump. So I'm thinking that the Kogswell is my lump-free mattress. Once again, not a really sexy description. I've got a bike that's solid and comfortable.

And I like the ride. I mean I really like the ride. It's just right. I almost wrote predictable, but that's not right. You don't predict the way you like your morning coffee, you just know it. If it is off you know it and if it is right, it is just right. The Kogswell rides right.

Now I haven't weighed my Kogswell but I'm pretty sure it's heavier than some other bikes. I have not weighed it because there isn't much I'd be willing to do to change the weight. I know what wheels, tires, saddle, bars, and so on work for me. Knowing what all that plus the frame weighs isn't a number that is of any real use to me. But I'm pretty sure it is heavier than the PX-10. And the PX-10 feels faster.

So just when I figure that I'm OK with having this solid, comfortable, right bike and that Ghandi was correct when he said that "there is more to life than increasing it's speed," I found the most interesting thing.

The Kogswell seems to go up the hills just fine. That solid feeling seems to translate whatever I'm putting into the pedals into moving the bike up the hill. Downhills I don't feel that the bike is getting away from me but it's easy to spin the pedals as fast as I need to go.

I don't feel fast, but I sure don't feel slow. And the numbers on my cycle computer look perfectly fine. Oddly, they look better than fine.

I commuted to the Bike Alliance on Friday on the Kogswell and I got there a few minutes earlier than usual. Probably a fluke.

I rode home Friday night and again I'm a little quicker than I thought I would be.

Yesterday, I rode up to my weekend job at Sammamish Cycle. Again on the Kogswell, again quicker that I thought I would be. Going home, the same thing.

Once could be a fluke. I suspect that four fast times is not a fluke. It's a pattern.

The Kogswell doesn't feel as fast as the PX-10 and it's not.

It's faster.


My friend Ken has a fondness for old French bikes and shares my belief that life is simpler with fewer gears and less stuff. Ken also has an old Compte bike that has various dire problems including a headset with a deathwish. Even Ken has finally admitted that his Compte is too hazardous for him to ride.

Ken needs a bike and I've got at least one bike too many right now.

He's picking up the PX-10 on Wednesday.


Keep 'em rolling folks. Maybe I'll see you on the road someday. I'll be the guy on the Kogswell Model G with coroplast fenders and a powdercoat finish the color of duct tape. The guy on the solid, comfortable, right bike.


PS. For those of you waiting for pictures of my new machine, you will have to wait a while longer. I loaned my camera to a friend who was headed off to research and write a book on chocolate. I don't have a pressing need to photograph the world right now and it's always good to have a semi-pro chocolate dude owe you a favor.
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