Thursday, June 04, 2015

Dynamo lighting 101. Part 1

I have recently set up a bike with a dynamo hub for use in the Tour Aotearoa and while it's all fresh in my mind I will share the basics so you might find it easier than I did. There are many resources out there but a lot of them assume you know more than you do.

A few disclaimers from the start.

1. Dynamo lights are not magic, and as far as I know, they only come with bike mounts, as opposed to helmet-mounts. You cannot ride singletrack fast with a bike mounted light alone. Optimally you would also have a helmet mounted light for seeing around corners. Obviously for commuting a bike mounted light is more than enough. This post is angled at a "bikepacking" end-use (although commuting is a no-brainer for dynamo lighting).

2. When the going gets slow, your dynamo light will put out a lot less light than you would expect from a typical battery powered light, depending on your set-up and how fast your "slow" is, this is why people will often run a spare light-weight helmet mounted light.

How dynamo power is typically used

Lighting only
Requirements: Dynamo and light

Lighting and/or  powering
Requirements: Dynamo, light and usb converter (and a device to power; eg Phone, GPS etc)

Lighting, and/or powering and/or storing power
Requirements: Dynamo, light, usb converter and a power-bank/battery (and a device to power).

Handlebar switch from kLite
A fourth scenario is to have all of these things working with a switching system. Kerry at kLite builds these to order and probably knows more about dynamo lighting in relation to bikepacking than anyone out there. A switch means that you don't need to stop and unplug and replug devices.

Some jargon

What is a standlite?
A smaller battery or capacitor built into or attached to the light so that the lighting does not disappear immediately you stop moving. Many dynamo lights have them built in.

Sinewave USB converter
What is a USB converter?
This device changes the current from the dynamo from AC to DC so that it can be used to charge devices like GPSes, smart phones, cameras or power-banks (batteries). A very popular device seems to be the Sinewave for bikepacking needs. Another popular choice is the Ewerks.
A well researched list of hub-dynamo USB converters is available here.
Some very good instructions on building your own converters can be found here, and here, just don't ride too fast and make them explode. (This could happen - read ALL the comments : )

What is a cache battery?
It's just a battery/power-bank you run inline, after your usb-converter but before the device you are powering. Eg.If your GPS sends up a nag screen saying "lost power" because you are riding slowly up a steep hill and not generating enough power, the cache battery, (if it has some charge in it) will supplement the GPS and stop the nag screen. The rich kids will use an Exposure Diablo or Joystick head-light as it serves double duty as cache battery/power bank as well as its original use as a helmet light, should you get into some gnarly trail late at night. When looking for a cache battery/power bank its helpful to have one with "pass-through charging". This means you can charge the battery and use it to power other devices at the same time. Rob Davidson used a Plox branded one in his Tour Divide.

Some connection scenarios rendered in an "ascii diagram"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

( hub )  - - - -  * LIGHT *

( hub )  - -
               USB-conv - - - - - { BATTERY }

( hub )  - -
               USB-conv - - - - - *] DEVICE [* - - - - - -

( hub )  - -
               USB-conv - - - - - { BATTERY } - - - - *] DEVICE [*

( hub )  - - - -  * LIGHT *
               USB-conv - - - - - *] low-drain-DEVICE [*

Obviously some set-ups might let you charge or power, and use the light at the same time but its unlikely you are going to be making enough power to do both equally well, but it depends on the load. If you read Kerry at kLites info page you will learn that some devices are more power hungry than others. Cell phones vs GPS for instance. You may still be able to use your lights and power your low-drain GPS.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

A very good primer can be found here:

Some popular dynamo lights
I'm not sure how useful the bottom two are but the top two are very robust and proven in Bikepacking circles.
Exposure Revolution
Supernova E3 triple
Son Edelux

The best dynamo hubs seem to be the following. Some are just licensed versions of another.
Shutter Precision
SON Schmidt

It's my understanding that the Supernova and Exposure are licensed versions of the Shutter Precision (SP) hub. The SP hub is not user serviceable but can be overhauled for a reasonable fee after sending back to the factory. The SON hub is user serviceable, if you are keen. SP claim their system is more simple hence robust and therefore is not high maintenance. SON has been around for a long time and many people will say they have had no problems despite commuting 50kms a day through a monsoon for 5 years solid! The SON can cost twice what the SP hub costs but it is worth shopping around for prices. The Exposure Revo hub/light kits are amazing value if you can get one, as the Exposure parts, (lights) are incredibly expensive bought separately.

The best Dynamo lighting resources I have found are from Kerry at kLite, (in Australia) and the  Peter White Cycles sites (US).

Here are a few more real life cases where people are using dynamo lighting systems in Bikepacking situations.

Ollie Whalley.
Rob Davidson.
Composite MTB.
Mike Hall.

More to come as I discover it!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Seat-bag vs rack, Kiwi designs

In 2016 a 3000km dirt brevet called Tour Aotearoa will be held for the length of our country, New Zealand, and like many others I will be looking at what gear I will take, and how I will carry it.

Luckily NZ has been the testing ground for a fair bit of outdoor equipment, and we even make a few items of our own. Two of these items will be the subject of my review. The THULE  Pack n Pedal rack (previously known as the Freeload), and the StealthBikeBags seat bag. These two items come from completely opposite ends of the spectrum and as I have found offer very differing advantages and disadvantages. While this review focuses on the pros and cons of these particular items, you will find that a large percentage of the outcomes can be applied to many other brands of seat bags and racks.

Freeload (THULE) rack with DIY bottle cage holders
The THULE was designed and initially built by the Freeload guys in Dunedin New Zealand and surfaced in time for the first 1100 kilometre Kiwi Brevet in 2010. I was one of the many riders using them in what was essentially their first production test in the wild. The advantage of this rack is that it can attach to the seat stays of a full suspension bike, or a front fork: suspended or rigid. There are very few scenarios it is not compatible with. It is generally used with a dry bag strapped onto it, if you are using the sport model, but there is also a more touring oriented deck that can be used with add-ons for pannier bags. This review just looks at the sport model.

Seat-bag from Stealth Bike Bags in Eastbourne NZ
The Stealth seat-bag is the product of Michael Trudgen from Eastbourne Wellington and is a typical seat-bag in the style of the Revelate Viscacha, Apidura saddle-pack or Porcelain Rocket Booster Rocket Seat-Pack. It attaches via two Velcro straps around the seat-post and via webbing belts with clasps through the saddle rails. It is constructed from 600D Kodra plus with a plastic stiffener inside.

A Freeload Rack in use on the notorious Port Underwood in the inaugral Kiwi Brevet . Image Caleb Smith.

Comparing Stealth to Revelate for depth and length.
Water tightness
While made of waterproofed materials the seams on the Stealth bag are not sealed which is the case for most seat-bags. Some bags have a higher inherent level of waterproofing than others, but generally you are advised to use a dry-bag inside them for 100% water tightness. Obviously you need to use a dry-bag as well on the THULE.

Leg/butt clearance
THULE. You are slightly more likely to find your legs kissing the front edge of your dry-bag using the THULE than you are using the Stealth which has a very narrow profile. Funnily enough, despite the height of the Stealth I did not come into contact with it when hanging off the back of my saddle in technical riding, whereas with the THULE I could feel the dry-bag brushing against the inside of my thighs in this scenario. Despite this, I would not say that this is an issue in any way. One is good, the other is better.

Ease of attachment
Comparatively speaking, attaching the Stealth is pretty much a doddle, although I found a technique which makes it even easier. If the bike is hanging vertically from a hook (ok, this is only relevant for commuting and you have a hook at your house) you can attach the seat-post velcros first, and then loop the belts through the seat rails and crank up the clasps. If the bike is horizontal you have to wrangle the weight of the Seat-pack as you try to thread through the clasps and attach them. This is not an issue if the seat bag is not packed at this time. It's the packed weight that makes it difficult. You can pack it while it is attached, or pack it while is off the bike. 

A Freeload rack ready to build up.
The THULE Pack n Pedal, well, I would have to say this is it's Achilles heel and possibly puts a lot of people off. The first time you assemble one of these things, it might take you 30 to 50 mins, screwing all the bits together. Actually there are only 6 screws but there is some threading of webbing too. This is a one-off operation though. Mounting it to the actual bike might take you 15 to 30 mins the first time. The ratcheting system is very very good, and anyone that breaks one has to be incredibly ham-fisted (and very strong) or turning it in the wrong direction with a hell of a lot of force and a distinct lack of mechanical empathy.

Rack mounts left on for racing.
Ease of removal
Removing the Stealth is as simple as undoing two Velcros and two clasps.
Removing the THULE is another story. Understand that you would only want to remove your THULE at the end of a tour or to lend to a buddy, or to put it on another bike. Most of the time I actually leave the black plastic ratchet mounts on, and just remove from the stainless steel struts up. The THULE pack n Pedal comes with a dinky little tool for deactivating the ratchet for taking it off the bike. I don't bother with the tool but instead use a small flat headed screw driver. If you do lots of riding in pumicy, gritty or sandy conditions the grit can get in the webbing and can make un-winding it a tedious process. The screw-driver also comes in handy here for picking out the webbing. This sounds like a fuss, and compared to a "normal" rack, it is. But this is not a normal rack. You cannot mount most normal racks to a full suspension bike or to a front fork. If you only ever intend to buy one rack, for all of your bikes, this is it.

Toting two racks on the Team RTD tandem.
Ease of packing
The Stealth is a pretty normal seat bag in most respects and packs that way. It is useful to pack the lower wedge of the bag with something quite compressible which helps give the bag rigidity. The opening to the Stealth bag is a lot narrower than other similar bags on the market but it makes up for it by being longer and skinnier with much better wheel clearance. You have to make the decision on your packing approach. To try to jam a pre-packed dry-bag into the seat-bag, or to put the dry-bag into the seat-bag and pack from there. Probably best that way. An another approach might be to forget about the dry-bag and have an external rain cover. That is not a feature of the Stealth bag at this point. Packing the THULE is as simple as strapping your dry-bag onto the rack, but even there you need to take care. If you have pointy or hard items in your dry-bag you best have them well wrapped so that pressure from your straps does not wear a hole in your dry-bag. I have an old piece of camping mat zip-tied to the rack so that a full day of off road hammering does not rub a hole into the bag.

The amount of kit I used for testing. Sleeping kit plus tool kit, hat and wind breaker.
Ease of access
The Stealth bag, like most seat bags has good quick "un-click and roll-back" access in comparison to a dry-bag which is strapped to a rack. It will always be a bit more hassle to un-cinch a dry bag on a rack and then re-set it. The speed at which you can access your goods determines the nature of the goods within.

The narrowness of the Stealth bag makes it easy to compress the contents quite a bit before even calling on the compression straps. Compression in the THULE scenario comes down fully to what kind of a dry-bag you use and if it is one of the compressible kind. While weight is an issue in Bikepacking so is bulk. You don't really want a big fluffy mess hanging off the back of your bike.

Quality of construction
The workmanship in the Stealth bag is impressive and the material appears very robust. The proof of the pudding in the design of the THULE rack is that it has remained unchanged since its launch in 2009. The chunky look to this rack may put a few people off, and I often say "simple is always better" but I have to say, the THULE/Freeload racks are bulletproof. I have actually sat on mine in order to be more aero on a long downhill stretch and it felt rock solid.

The generation 2 Stealth bag with deeper cross-section. Still heaps of tire clearance but with one larger seat-post velcro instead of two.
When you first try a seat-bag there is a that little tail-wag thing that you notice, and then don't notice again too much, until A. You drop into a sharp corner at speed, or B, you take the bag off and on your first ride you notice you don't have to compensate for it. Its just something that you adapt to very quickly and the Stealth bag feels pretty much the same as the Revelate Viscacha. The THULE is different again. The feeling is there, but its a more solid feel. No wag as such, but a definite rear weight bias that takes a bit of compensation until you don't notice it anymore. It’s the same with the Stealth although the Stealth’s weight is higher, but not by as much as you might think. Check out the image with the rack and the bag on the bike at the same time. I think most people would agree that having the weight down lower is more desirable.

A front mounted THULE/Freeload.
Need for tweakage
Something that you will likely experience is the "settling" of your "kit". Whether its a seat-bag or a dry-bag on a rack. Sometimes, depending on the terrain you may need to stop and give the straps a tweak. In a seat bag it will likely be the straps that go through the seat rails; in a rack set-up it will just be the straps holding the dry-bag on the rack. In the case of the THULE, I recommend installing your rack well in advance of your trip and give it some good testing, maybe even deliberately wet the webbing of the mounts. Check that there is not another "click" available in the ratchet after some big rides and those mounts will not move again until you go to take the rack off.

Suitability for very rough terrain
This is a tricky one. Both these systems work exceptionally well on rough terrain with pros and cons. When on a full suspension bike you need to check that your seat bag has room when you bottom out on the rear. Too little room and your bag will let out a loud "zub" as the rear wheel starts to rub a hole in the bag's bottom. In a similar but opposite scenario with the THULE, the dry-bag may come into contact with the underside of your seat. Not a real problem unless you have something brittle in there. On a hard tail, with the THULE, there are no problems, with the Stealth you should have no problems either. For some people the early model Stealth bag was prone to slippage with aggressive riding on rough terrain. The new cammed clasps fix this and are a free upgrade if you send your bag back to Michael. The very narrow design of the Stealth bag gives it more wheel clearance than any other bag I have yet seen.

If you ride a small 29er you will want a decent amount of clearance for your wheel.
Complexity of construction
The Stealth seat-bag looks very simple compared to the THULE Pack n Pedal. The Stealth has a plastic stiffener inserted in its base to help with rigidity. You need to be aware of this when packing this bag, as it is possible to push aside the velcro responsible for keeping the stiffener in place. If you know about it, it shouldn't happen. I believe later models have a tweak to stop this. I've mentioned the complicated look of the THULE Pack n Pedal before, but I've have never had a bolt unwind on any of mine since 2010, so while it does look complex, the engineering behind it really does seem to stand up to the job. Bear in mind that I am talking about the Sport version of this rack as I have not had extensive experience with the Tour rack running Panniers. See my first unboxing and installing of my rack here in 2010.

The newer version has one large
velcro for the seat-post attachment
The Stealth bag will fit on any bike with 100mm of exposed seat post available, due to its narrow style of construction. This is a boon to people with short legs. By comparison the Revelate bag requires 127mm of seatpost. So far I have managed to fit the THULE Pack N Pedal on all of the bikes I have ever tried to fit it on. It has 3 different sized steel struts with sliding ends so it is very adjustable. Sometimes people stress about disc cable/hose routes but I just push them to the side if they are ever in the way.

The ride feels a bit harsher on the really rough stuff with the THULE Rack on, as it feels like the weight of the rack's load is going directly to the wheels. With the seat-bag option I feel like the load is a bit more suspended and it feels a bit more smooth.

Stealth bag, 430 grams, not including dry bag.
I always assumed that the THULE/Freeload racks must be heavy, and that is why the Bikepacking crowd in the US hadn't warmed to them so much, but a recent look at the website for the OMM (Old man mountain) racks shows this not to be the case. THULE tells us that the sport rack weighs in at 760 grams. So far I have not been able to weigh any of mine accurately to confirm this.The lightest of the OMM racks is 750grams with the others coming in at 900 or 1000 grams. An important thing that I have just realised is that although the Pack n Pedal is relatively light, it will not let you run panniers in that mode, unlike a normal rack. You would have to install the special side-racks to the touring model version, which would add another 430 grams I believe.

Kiwi Brevet 2014 set-up. Set and forget.
The fat alloy tubes used in the THULE Pack n Pedal are very useful and well angled for attaching stretchy mount rear lights and also water bottle cages attach easily with a couple of radiator hose-clips, presuming you are not concerned with more rearward weight on you bike. The Stealth bag has provision for maybe a rain jacket or banana under its crossed elasticated straps on the top of the bag.

I found both systems great for commuting, the only issues are covered above in ease of attachment, assuming you unclip the Stealth bag, or unstrap your dry bag using the THULE option.

At the bottom of Serendipity after a balls-out loaded run.
Testing environment
For the THULE Pack n Pedal (Freeload) I have to declare I have used this system three times in New Zealand's 1100 kilometre Kiwi Brevet. Twice on a 26er fully, and once on a drop-barred rigid 29er. I also subjected it to my new local "accelerated bike-bag test course" which is a route I often take on the way to work. It's is a 3.1 km winding downhill course with many tight turns, some roots, a drop and some G-outs, depending on how fast you are going. I went as fast as I could, on each run, on a half-loaded bike. The course takes in the Transient and Serendipity Trails in the Polhil Aro Valley area. I did many runs on my rigid drop-barred Karate Monkey with both systems. Apart from 2 weeks of 20kms each way commuting, and a couple of long gravel grinds this was the extent of the testing I did on the Stealth bag which I borrowed off a friend who had just finished this years Kiwi Brevet with it. If Strava can be trusted, and I don't believe it can, the difference between both systems was about 15 seconds over around 12 minutes. Not a margin large enough to say if it was real in my view. If I was just tootling up and down the River Trails I would not have learned much at all about these systems. Anything will work in that environment.

Four Freeloads at Murchison, Kiwi Brevet
Plus+ sizingThere is a big movement into "plus" sized tires. It started with the Surly Knard, a 3 inch wide tire 29er tire for their Krampus and ECR models and has now moved into 27.5 plus and 26 plus formats. These are tires from 3 inches wide upwards. Not forgetting the original plus format; FAT, which I think starts around 4 inches. Obviously these tires will not work with the THULE rack due to their width. Thanks Michael for reminding me of these formats : )

Bottom line
Both of these set-ups do the same thing, but are coming from completely different angles. The organised bikepacking I've done in NZ always has some fairly rugged stretches in it. You don't want to find yourself coming up short with broken kit. Both of these Kiwi designed systems will do the job very well, whether you are commuting to work or going all-out into the boonies. They are also systems that have a very high level of compatibility. By this I mean they will fit on 93% of bikes out there. The THULE because of its adjustability and the Stealth bag because of the narrow cross-section which gives superior wheel clearance for shorter riders.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
This kit was collected by various means. Initially I borrowed a Stealth bag from a recent Kiwi Brevet rider, and then spoke to Michael himself at Stealthbikebags. He loaned me two bags for further evaluation. I also borrowed a Revelate bag from another rider for comparison and used my own Freeload racks for the other part of the testing. I also tested some pannier bags from Stealth bags as well in conjunction with the THULE touring deck and sides. I was very impressed with the way these worked but that's another story. Michael can custom build pretty much anything you need and is always keen on feedback so he can develop his designs further, quicker.

Stealth Bike Bags
Kiwi Brevet
Tour Aotearoa

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Internet, social media and the Kiwi Brevet

 The following is a brief story of my introduction to the Internet and its impact on the Kiwi Brevet via social media.

My first introduction to the "Net" came in the late 80's where I became aware of email at my work-place, and then the Usenet. The Usenet was a bit like a series of  "bulletin boards" where there were topics of interest for people to join, or even create, like and alt.binaries.misc. There was a strict etiquette and FAQs, and pecking orders with a user-base that was either from an educational, science or military background, as these people were usually the only ones with access. This lead to the idea that the  people using this "thing" were relatively intelligent. There were no trolls as such, but there was the odd bit of "flaming". FAQ and Flaming were probably terms that came out of the Usenet.

The Mosaic Browser home page
This content was all viewed on the command line... you know, white or green text on a black background. The first web browser wasn't yet available and most people were viewing this stuff on monitors hooked into main-frame computers because there weren't that many PC's about.

Many workplaces eventually shifted to PC's and in 1993 the first web browser "Mosaic" was available.

In those days the world wide web was so small that there was a list of new websites each week, and even an Internet yellow pages was published annually.

VORB forum
Out of the world wide web came web-based forums, and Paul Kennett started the NZ mountain bike forum on  and later on Tama Easton started VORB. These forums were a lot more accessible and easier to use than the cryptic Usenet or bulletin-board type affairs and the Internet soon became frequented by people less likely to be nerds, but still keen on sharing and learning new things.

In 1999 I discovered Pyra's Blogger, and used it as a CMS (content management system) for a few sites. Kashi Leuchs (NZ's top MTBer) and the Wellington Vets Cycling Club to name a few.

Blogger by Pyra, before Google
Blogging became a bit of a "thing" but I didn't start doing it myself for quite a while as I didn't think I had anything to say that anyone else wanted to hear. Eventually my fear of strangers knowing stuff about me passed but I still didn't put anything on it about my family.

Web-based Forums on any number of themes ruled for many years, and then in 2004 a thing called Facebook arrived. Most people didn't "get it" to start with and figured it was a place where "people without actual lives" could hang out. In 2006 Twitter was the new kid on the block and once again it took a while to figure out just how to use it and how to get the most out of it, as a "reader" or "poster" and the delineation between the SMS part of it and the internet part of it added another layer of confusion.

All of a sudden no one was worried about privacy anymore. In 2007 the Iphone launched and then in 2010 fortunately Instagram appeared on the scene as an app to enable Iphone users to share their images. Android users had been able to share photos since 2008 but there wasn't a personal "stream" available for them, and Instagram for Android followed later.

With the advent of tablets (the Ipad) in 2010 the emphasis shifted totally from a web base to an app base with increasing numbers of the people using phones and tablets to get their information fix instead of their desktops. In early 2014 Mobile internet usage passed desktop usage in the US.

Blogging was being replaced by Tweeting, Instagramming and Facebooking and SMS texting was being replaced by snapchatting, vibering and gchatting. The line between cellular and internet based networks was becoming blurred. In a few years time I imagine the new users wont know how to distinguish between them.

1993 Mosaic web browser launched
      1999 Blogger
           2004 Facebook
             2006 Twitter
              2007 Iphone
                 2010 Instagram
                 2010 Ipad

Q. How useful are these new "media" as a record of our lives; who holds the information and is it accessible by us, our friends, or only the clients of the "media platform"?

I can go back to the Usenet archives and find every silly question I asked in the late 80s; I am sure I could  go to the Vorb forums and find similar things. (NB, Google seems to be looking after the Usenet archives at the moment. Maybe we should be worried.)

In 2002 Google brought Blogger from Pyra and it became part of the massive Google information gathering empire. Every thing I ever posted on Blogger is still out there and probably by virtue of its association with Google it is all completely searchable. Blogger have dropped the ball as far as keeping up with their "Blogging" competition but they were probably thinking that Google + wasn't going to be so slow to catch on.

How searchable is your content?
How searchable is Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? I've heard Facebook is used as an example of poor usability so it is possible that I am just not skilled enough to find something I saw an hour earlier on FB, let alone a week later. There is no doubt that Facebook itself knows where everything is but that is for them and their clients to know. Maybe that will change?

On Twitter, it seems it is searchable using tags, and you can just scroll down a person's feed for as long as you can be bothered until you get to the end of their timeline. Instagram is similar although Instagram is an example of the shift to a complete mobile (phone and tablet) focus. You cannot (officially) upload photos to Instagram via the desktop, or search Instagram via the web directly, although you can browse a persons "stream". Currently there are 3rd party sites (like ICONOSQUARE) that will allow you to search Instagram, but that's not to say that this feature will remain if Instagram pulls their card, like Twitter did to companies using their API. You can search Instagram via hash tags or users on the mobile app, but not on the desk-top.

An example of the rapidly changing face of Social media can be seen over the last 5 years since the first Kiwi Brevet.

The first Kiwi Brevet's web presence  started as a blog using the Blogger platform in 2009, and was promoted using the VORB Mountainbiking forum. For this, and the next Kiwi Brevet, riders shared their experiences by writing their own blogs, many of which are still linked to via the Kiwi Brevet blog.

For the 2nd Kiwi Brevet in 2012 there was less talk on the forums, but it was still the go to place for  information, along with the actual Kiwi Brevet blog which became a portal of sorts. More individual rider blog links were added. The event organisers used Twitter to share news and updates and riders were encouraged to tweet using the KiwiBrevet hash tag.

For the 3rd Kiwi Brevet in 2014 the VORB forum got a lot less use and and Facebook had taken over as the method of sharing progress during the event. With linked "apps" it was possible to post to a Blog, Facebook and Twitter simultaneously. The blog was also populated with news as it happened and riders were still blogging about their experiences afterwards.

For the 4th Kiwi Brevet in 2015 Facebook and Instagram had taken over pretty much from the VORB forum. Despite the unwieldiness of Facebook, it had the numbers and for the people who could figure out how to do it, they could follow their friend's progress, or befriend the organiser and follow his commentary during the Brevet. Instagram was also very popular using the KiwiBrevet tag, and the use of a 3rd party aggregator meant that people who were not actually on Instagram could also see the posted images that were uploaded. The blog was added to with news as it happened as usual.

The big losers in 2015 were the forums, and Blogs. So far in 2015 we have only 3 known blogs. In 2015 there were over 261 Instagram posts, but only 7 Twitter posts. It looks like people have opted for the quick and easy, formats Facebook and Instagram, with Instagram being the only one that offers a useful record from an outsiders view point, provided they know how to use a hash aggregator. It would be difficult to say how many comments or views Facebook has had.

There is an element of gear-freaking in Bikepacking so the rider/gear profiles have been very popular on the Kiwi Brevet Blog, although hits have come down over the years as people become more comfortable with finding their gear selections. Page views on the 2012 profiles are at 16,000 hits, which has dropped down to 5,600 for 2014 and 3,169 for 2015.

               Year VORB postsVORB viewsBlogsTweetsInstagram posts

The Blue-dots that the blue-dot junkies follow for 4-8 days in February!
One thing that has remained steadily popular and has done more than anything to spread the bikepacking phenomenon are the spot tracking websites that allow people to watch the rider's progress via the GPS trackers that they carry with them. The followers; known as blue-dot junkies, can share in the excitement as their loved ones ride on into the dark, or take wrong turns down no-exit roads! It also gives a level of protection to the riders as they are able to press a button on the device if they are in peril.

Without the spot-trackers the Kiwi-brevet would have had limited interest as a spectator sport. In 2015 a different spot tracking service was used to previous years.

Things change quickly in the Social media world and we don't know what is around the corner, but I cant help but think that we need something less cumbersome and more open than Facebook to build the community for these events, if you know of anything that is out there give me a comment or email me via the form. It would be nice to take back control of our content.

kiwibrevet Instagram tag in

Thursday, March 12, 2015

My favourite derailer Shimano XT M750

An awesome CX derailer and will even go to 36 teeth.
Do you like using drop bars off road?
Do you like using large rear sprockets?
Do you use Shimano?

See below my favourite derailer. Its my favourite for many reasons.

1. It is very robust
2. It has a lot less moving parts than the more recent designs that have (a) clutches and (b) sacrifical mounts that don't actually sacrifice themselves because the derailer construction is too light to actually take a hit anyway, plus they introduce two much thinner areas to develop play in instead of one wider more robust one.
3. It works on a wide variety of drive trains.
4. It works with large sprockets on the back, up to 36 teeth anyway.
5. Its cheaper than a more high-end MTB derailer (which isn't road compatible anyway; dynasis 10 isn't) and you might well find one in your LBS's bin, you will have to look hard though because there will be a pile of shimano shadow derailers on top of it !!

These are the three bikes I am using this derailer on currently with indexing.
An 8 speed MTB
A 9 speed cyclocross bike with 9 speed durace road shifters
A 10 speed MTB with 10 speed durace road shifters

It will also work on a 5, 6, 7 and 9 speed MTB setup.
So 5-9 MTB and 9-10 road.

Why  is the 9-10 road important?
Because if you are a tourer, or monster-cross or cyclo cross rider and you like big hills you may want to use a derailer that works on sprockets up to and over 34 cogs. This derailer will do that. It came out in 1999 but was supersed with the bottom normal derailer in 2003. That flopped, and with egg on their face Shimano relaunched an identical 1999 derailer again in 2005.  Another good to reason to use one is because they are dirt cheap, and even though I have used them for at least 3 years of cyclo-cross I have never come close to tearing one off. How many people can say that?

Most people matching MTB derailers to integrated road brake/shifters (Americans call them "brifters") use SRAM, because for 10 speed at least, SRAM road talks to MTB, and you can go 1x with a clutch derailer on the back. I think this compatibility may have changed with 11 speed. Other people spare themselves the grief and use friction bar-end shifters which may suffice for touring but would suck big time in CX.

Best derailer ever. 255 grams. 

This guy also makes a 9/10 speed long cage derailer for touring.

Read what Sheldon Brown said about derailers and marketing hype.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Francis Hoen, Johnsonville Cycles

It's 11am on a Saturday morning at Jville Cycles and a guy walks in off the street with a flat tire. A mum shopping for junior's first bike is asking a multitude of questions and the people who have turned up to drop off and pick up their bikes are starting to fill up the tiny shop. For me it would be like being the first medic at the scene of a plane crash but Francis Hoen is as calm as the Dalai Lama. It's what he has done for years. The subconscious load balancing and priority setting is a skill that only comes with experience.

Francis tweaks a wheel that has seen better days. 

I first met Francis in 1987 when I had mostly weaned myself from my motorcycling addiction. I had tapered down to a 1973 Yamaha 350 that was so old it had two sets of ownership papers. My attempts at keeping it roadworthy had me visiting a place in Lower Hutt called the Bike Spot.

Bike Spot was run by a guy called Al Heinie with the front desk being manned by Francis. A few years later as the mountainbiking scene hit critical mass in Wellington I was to come across Francis again as the proprietor of Johnsonville Cycles. The scene in Wellington back then was like the wild west with shops popping up all over the show as the local appetite for mountain biking exploded. The Kennett bros and Brent Hoy's Muddy Trails made sure that there were events on continuously pretty much throughout the year. Wellington differed from most places in that the events were managed outside of a bike club which worked well for a long time.

I asked Francis for sponsorship help in 1996 before the MTB Worlds in Cairns and have been a Jville Rider ever since. Francis manned the shop with a fiery red haired sidekick called Blair for many years until Blair went off the grid and moved down to the west coast with his lady where they still live. I recall a rumour that Blair would hide the "Jville Cycles" sign that used to sit on the corner of the street, to stop a steady stream of punters coming in to hassle him.

Unlike most of the other local bike shop owners at the time Francis was a competitive MTB rider and was usually on the podium, winning the master 2 category outright in 1993 and podiuming many other times. This is no mean feat as a bike shop operator with all the travel that was involved at the time. With the best 4 results from 6 races from all around the country counting, it was quite a commitment. Francis raced at the MTB Worlds in Vail, Switzerland and Canada from 1994 to 1998. He also has the record at the Karapoti Classic of 25 finishes on the full course.

The bike industry went through hard times with online sales but somehow Johnsonville Cycles   survived. A few helpers came and went over the years, but eventually Francis went back to working by himself for the most part and has reached that delicate balance. Some days he is run off his feet and other days he has time to sneak in a bit of work on his beloved VMX (Vintage Moto cross) bikes.

His old school approach is the antithesis of the modern "concept store". His solutions often don't come in branded packaging but more likely from a greasy box in the corner of the workshop. I can't count the amount of times I've seen him give a pre-loved item to a customer with the line "Nah there's no charge for that" when he could be selling them a new high dollar item off the rack instead.

A home-made tool for a job that needed doing.
He's not someone to have the latest high-tech gizmo-tools but he will find a way to do what those tools would do, using alternative techniques. I have seen him using what I presumed was an antiquated technique on something and said, "There's a tool for that now Francis". He goes "Yeah I've got it, but it doesn't work as well as this home-grown method".

When I see him dealing with a mum who would otherwise feel out of place in a shop staffed by youngsters I know his concern is bonafide. No matter what kind of newbie questions she is asking she gets his full attention. A client was telling me one day how when she first came in to see Francis she was well over 100 kgs and since she had been biking and working out she has shed about a fifth of her body weight. Another woman I met on Sunday while helping out on "Bike the trail" told me she'd go back to see Francis at Johnsonville because he was lovely. She was a solo mum riding with her daughter and didn't know I was a Jville rider.

It's a hard way to make a living and there has to be a fair bit of passion involved as the financial rewards aren't great. I'm sure Francis's BA in Philosophy was a great help as he weighed up his decision to soldier on in the face of online competition. He adapted his business to excel in the areas that the online competitors can't compete in; service. His wife Kathy is also a small business owner; this is one very hard working couple. Francis is a very rare person, a business owner with socialist leanings who would give you the shirt off his back.

Like so many things that come and go under the guise of improvement, the bicycling industry is full of hype with products that fail on release, as the consumer beta-tests them to short-term destruction. If you want to know what works, and lasts, check out what Francis runs. The Jville Cycles "shop rides" go rain or shine Wednesdays and Saturdays and if a component fails it will likely fail on one of these rides, and it won't be used again. So if you are keen to ride some trails around Wellington in places that you didn't know existed, give Francis a bell or pop in to 11 Burgess Road and join the shop ride. Everyone is welcome at Jville Cycles.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

World's fastest Karate Monkey

My long running fascination with the adaptability of the Surly Karate Monkey reared its head again recently and I made plans to revisit my earlier attempt at the unofficial Karate Monkey World Land Speed Record. The previous attempt resulted in a fairly pedestrian 35kmh average on a "sporting" course to use the parlance of the Time Trial crowd.

This time I was going to go all out and use my HED 3 trispoke (in honour of the late great Steve Hed), and my rear power-tap wheel with disc covers, that way I could use my power-tap for monitoring speed, (and power) plus it was easier to strap the PT harness on than going online to try and work out how to change the wheel diameter on my insufferable bike computer.

At the last minute the battery in my Power-tap hub died so I was going to have to race the time trial totally by feel. Not that that would be a problem. I've probably done more laps on the 5.9km Liverton road circuit than most people. Even so, I got a surprise when I glanced down at my watch to see that I had done the first lap in under 8mins 20 (which equates to about 42kmh). I had no idea what top speed I was doing with the 9kmh tail wind, but the 48-11 had me spinning a good cadence that was neither too high nor too slow. Just right, and proved to be a good governor to stop me blowing out my legs by pushing too tall a gear. I just needed to try and keep it together on the undulating return legs into the southerly.

I hadn't done a time trial for almost two years as I was injured the previous summer after the Kiwi Brevet and that particular pain that you get when TTing was like being reunited with an old friend. Pain is your friend.  I was very happy to come in at 4th place with an average of 41.4kmh, surely a new SURLY Karate Monkey land speed record?

What a cheeky monkey

The Iconic HED3 trispoke

 The next week I took my "proper" Bianchi time trial bike out and raced, knocking a massive 7 seconds off my Karate Monkey time over 23.4kms. Which goes to show, dedicated time-trial bikes are faster, but the aero position did some damage to my nether regions which took 3 days to come right. Speed has a cost! The Brooks saddle on my Karate Monkey was like an armchair by comparison.

My proper TT bike, the Bianchi D2 Chrono is a real chick magnet
I replaced the batteries in my Power-tap for the 2nd run on my dedicated TT bike and got an average of 276 watts. A long way from the 302 watts that I once maintained for a 45kmh average on my Bianchi (in good conditions). I'm keen to try it again on the Karate Monkey (with power) and see if the more relaxed position nets me more power, which in turn gets soaked up with the poorer aerodynamics. If I find that the power is similar, it would imply there are a lot of things I don't understand about aerodynamics.

Once again, it appears the Karate Monkey is the do-everything bike, although I believe that if you want the same bike today you have to buy the Ogre. The new Karate Monkey Ops loses the canti studs and bosses.

The day after the TT the Karate Monkey was back in commuter mode, and the next weekend was in full Dirt Brevet mode for an over-nighter with my wife. Try that on your Specialized Shiv !

Back in commuter mode

On the Rimutaka Cycle Trail

More Karate Monkey ravings here,  here, and here.

Contact me if your Karate Monkey is fast or faster and we will start a leader board.

If you think I might be in need of medication, check out this guy. He is the UK 12 and 24 hour Time Trial champ and his bike is a custom made MTB that he commutes and tours on.  It's so similar to my Karate Monkey I couldn't believe it when Andy Kerr sent me the link after my latest TT.

Andy Wilkinson's Dolan time trial bike >>

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Return to Mount Climie

Jonny in the early 90's
Return to Mount Climie - With pix by Ricoh Riott.

A couple of weeks back I was looking through some old piccies from back in the day. I found a goodie of local rider Jonny Waghorn descending Mt Climie on his state of the art (at the time) Yeti so I scanned it and posted it on Facebook. A a bit of banter ensued and a few weeks later Kim Hurst announced a project she had been mulling over for a while, a fundraiser to help get her favorite wrench and world renown botty grinder (Ricky Slack-boy Pincott) overseas for some hi-end wrench-action at the World 24 Hour Solo MTB champs. The plan was to create a grass-roots homage to the original Mt Climie Hill Climb/Downhill event that used to precede the Karapoti. There have been some pretty famous riders take part in these events including David Weins and Dave Cullinan from team Diamondback. The Climie uphill/downhill combo was also used to great effect in the two-day Tour De Tunnel stage race that the Kennett bros introduced in the early 90's. The 610 metre climb is a beauty but you are very lucky if the weather at the top is good.

Lower Climie
Some people really got into the spirit of it dragging out their old retro bikes and trying to relive the day. Jonny was on his still original Yeti with admittedly a bit less travel than he had back in the early 90's, and Simon Kennett had also recently just come across a new (old) bike which was the same as the one he campaigned the nationals on in the infancy of the New Zealand MTB scene.

Simon and Jonny discussing gear selection
The Downhill guys were also out in force obviously although I didn't know many of their names. Upper Hutt local Ed Banks was there. Ed is always up Climie, anytime there is a chance of snow he's up there like a rat up a drain-pipe.

The last time Jonny would look over his shoulder and see Rob's "race face".

Its worth the trip to the top for the scenery.
You could ride each event separately or together with lowest combined time winning the Mountain Ninja Class.

Ed togs up in pants that have been banned in many countries.
Steve Bale was taking it pretty seriously forgoing handle bar grips for skate-board deck tape. It must have been fun descending on his 8kg rigid bike with those. Hopefully he had some well padded gloves.

Steve Bale

Lee Campbell
One of the most exciting rides I saw was from Lee Campbell on his Specialized Fat-bike. He had been terrorising the Cyclocross fields for the previous few weeks on this machine and despite having no suspension as such I think there were only about 3 riders in the "Mountain Ninja" Class that descended faster than him. He went past me in a blur like an out of control Monster Truck on nitrous. When asked if he had any "moments" he said, "about four".

A rider getting some air shortly after the start.

Ricky Slackboy Pincot himself won the Downhill proper with his home made rear disc wheel and we were all treated to some exemplary home-brewed beer from Ricky's Mud Cycles cohort, and home-made baking back at base-camp.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Hauraki Rail Trail

This is not a tale of epic endurance and sleep deprivation, far from it. Its a story about 6 over 50s casual (very) riders doing the Hauraki Rail Trail.

We had a lovely holiday earlier this year with our friends Janet and Colin who now reside in Tasmania. They are great travellers and are always looking for a reason to come back to NZ. Janet is from the Arnst family down south which has a great cycling legacy associated with it. Janet and Colin have recently acquired electric bikes which has enabled them to cover parts of Tassie with less effort than would normally be required. Our plan was to spend some time with them chilling out at Hahei near Whitianga, and get started on the  Hauraki Rail Trail and meet up with Janet's sister and brother in law part way through.

Hot-water beach.

Hahei beach
We had almost a week together resting up at Hahei sampling some fine Wellington Craft Beers which I brought, and Colin obviously didn't have access to in Hobart. In fact there wasn't much sign of Craft Beer anywhere we went up there, so be warned! Hahei was lovely and a very nice warm change for us as Wellington was already starting to get colder. The accommodation was well appointed but each day we got a new surprise at the cockroach's new hiding places. They kept us on her toes. They like the warm. There were critters everywhere actually. Big black crickets in the grass, massive tiger slugs and on different days there were quail or pheasant walking just outside our bach.

New Chums beach near Whangapoa
In typical Coromandel style, the day we tried to leave for the start of our Hauraki Rail trail experience it bucketed down, trapping us in Tairua. No worries. There was still  plenty of accommodation and the road was cleared early the next morning.

The next day we tootled in to Thames and collected Colin and Janet's bikes from the Rail Trail HQ and we were away. We left the car there as I was intending to ride back to get it after we got to Paeroa, our day one destination. The trail was fast and well manicured. It skirted the edge of Thames for a while and then on to Kopu, Matatoki and past Puriri, where I once lived, (our house was gone) and on through Hikutia and on to Paeroa. The trail, to me, pretty much resembled a very well maintained cattle-race with views best described as "rural New Zealand", not really anything like you would see on the Otago Rail trail. Lots of green grass and the hills of the Coromandel just to the left.

Janet Kay and Colin somewhere between Thames and Paeroa.

 The people that "organise" the Rail Trail have done a great job at promoting it, and getting locals to open up their homes as Bed and Breakfasts and making visitors feel welcome. We stayed with a semi-retired couple of a similar age to ourselves. Apparently there just wasn't a lot of accommodation in Paeroa as it was, so it has been great for stimulating the local economy. Paeroa, apart from the large concrete Lemon and Paeroa bottle is mainly known for its Horse Racing and Motorcycle street racing event.

I rode back to pick up the car while the others relaxed and thought about where we were going to have tea.

The next day in Paeroa we met Janet's Sister and brother in law, Jennie and Rob  and we hit the trail to Waihi via the Karangahake Gorge. Our accommodation in Waihi was a very recently built home that we had all to ourselves for the night. As per agreement, our gear had been dropped off by the shuttle so all we had to do was ride there.

Waikino on route to Waihi

The famous five.

Ooh! A rainbow at the trail's end at Waihi.

Martha Mine in down town Waihi !
The next morning Colin and I jumped on our bikes and did a lap of the Martha mine which is pretty damn impressive. It was of particular interest to Colin who when we worked together years earlier, had done some work in the area. The last time I was in Waihi was for the Waihi to Waihi time trial and I had no idea the giant hole in the ground was even there. We did our loop and and hit the gravel back to a point on the Rail trail where we were to meet the others who had taken the "train-option". Its not sure which is faster, bike or train. Probably the bike I suspect. The train goes from Waihi to Awakino.

The Cornish pumphouse.
 We regrouped and continued on the trail until we got to the Karanghake Gorge again where we did the "Windows walk" through the old Talisman and Crown mining operations. It was well worth a look and even a typical Coromandel apocalyptic down-pour didn't dampen our spirits too much. There is a lot of info on the Karangahake Gorge here.

It rained a lot, for a very short time

Doing the "Windows" walk. It was a high-light for me.

We grabbed some lunched and headed off to our next destination which was Te Aroha, basically just hang a left when you get back to Paeroa !

Some random cycle tourists on cross bikes

A lone wheel barrow full of free feijoas in the middle of the trail from Waihi to Paeroa

Heading into the Karangahake Gorge

The Victoria battery
 It got a little bit wet at times and there was some pretty serious flooding left over from the previous day's downpour. One last stop for scones and tea on route and we rolled into Te Aroha and found our cute little "Miners cottage" which had underfloor heating in the bathroom. A great way to dry out our wet gear. Janet's bro-in-law, Rob, and I got shuttled back to Paeroa and we brought the cars back.

Ye Olde Gold Miners Lodge

It was a fun trip and and would score highly for those who live towards the sedentary end of the "Couch Potato" scale. The hire bikes used were reliable, if a tad heavy. Not that there were any hills. It's a much more achievable ride than the Otago Rail trail for the less athletic adventurer. The organisation of the shuttles and accommodation via the Rail Trail people was faultless.

If you were in a hurry (and a bit fit) you could no doubt do the whole thing in one day but it would probably be best to do that kind of thing mid-week. On the weekend when we were on the return leg from Waihi to Paeroa the trail was very popular with lots of young kids out amongst it. There were also alot of middle-aged people out there like ourselves. Janet's brother in-law was hammering away on the last day trying really hard to catch up to some people out in front of him. When he finally caught them he realised they were 60-70 year old ladies!  We got chatting to them as we waited for a shuttle at the train station and it turned out that I had ridden the first Kiwi Brevet with one of the lady's sons, Nick. It's a small world. Lets hope we are still getting out in it like these ladies were, at the same age.

Thames to Paeroa = 33km
Paeroa to Waihi = 25km
Paeroa to Te Aroha = 21km

Map borrowed from here.