Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Dynamo shizzle pt 2.

I've just realised that I've been posting most of my Tour Aotearoa stuff on my Instagram instead of my blog, which is pretty hopeless as far as being a resource for anyone else to look at.

What I hope to show you below is a graphic timeline for creating my "charging regime" for the Tour Aotearoa Brevet.

I started with an Exposure dynamo Light, I saw a hell deal on Evans cycles and picked it up for around $350 NZ plus $20 shipping. A light AND the Exposure branded SP hub. That is cheap. It was an impulse buy. It is a 9mm QR hub with 28 holes, possibly why it was cheap, with through-axle being more in demand these days for some people, and 28 hole being more suited to a road application than off-road.

I got a new rim and spokes and Francis at Jville Cycles built up the wheel.

It was great. Free light for as long as I could pedal! But this was just the beginning. Nathan Mawkes told me what he did, and as it was a very cheap option I followed suit. Even cheaper than Nathans option. I brought a 10 US$ torch, and an 8 US$ charger/power-bank, with a couple of 18650 rechargeable batteries thrown in.

I ran some tests. This torch is as bright as buggery. It has high, medium, and low modes plus a few more. It lasts for 3.5, 7 and 14 hours respectively.

18650 batteries are what is found in lap-top cases. I almost started a fire breaking one up. If you do this, exercise caution.

These are unprotected cells. Don't put them on charge and go out for the day!  The good ones are about $18.50 each NZ from MrPositive (if you cant gut an old lap-top without maiming yourself).

You need a way to charge these batteries, as your dynamo won't do it "out-of-the-box" . You need a USB-converter, the Sinewave one is good, but not cheap.  I got Kerry at kLite to build me a switch as well so I could easily toggle from lights to USB charging.

The plan goes like this:
1. Start with about 3 fully charged 18650 batteries.
2. Use one as a cache-battery inline between my dynamo and my "device" be it GPS or phone.
3. In the evening, I can also use one of the batteries as back-up in the spare torch which I can strap to my noggin.

The cheapie charger/power-bank allows "pass-through-charging" which you need if you are going to be charging and being charged at the same time.

The white thing inline here is just temporary. It is measuring the load from my GPS.

A rather crowded dash-board.

Most of the gizmos will fit in here. A Stealth Bike Bags top-tube bag.

So far my testing has been pretty minimal. But I can say this.

It all fits.
I rode around the bays the other day and charged my phone from 5% to 72% in about 1.5 hours.

Isn't all this TECHNOLOGY risky?
Of course.

The fall-back plan
I will take a spare USB cable for my phone.
This is also spare for charging my power-bank device.
I will take a 3 pin USB plug and a tiny 3 port hub to plug into it, should my dynamo explode leaving me with no electricity, forcing me to charge in a motel or such-like.
I will take my original dynamo light harness as a spare in case my switch/harness gets damaged.

Basically if I have a "power-transmission" outage I will be USB charging my batteries, phones and light from 3 pin plugs. 3 x 3.5, 7 and 14 hours is a lot of light. This is what most people will be doing anyway, its just my back-up.

That's the theory anyway : )

PS. Don't burn down your house messing around with this stuff.
If I told you to jump off a cliff would you?

Is technology your friend?

Some people think that the Tour de France is at the bleeding edge of tech as far as the bicycle goes, but I suspect that apart from wider tires and rims, TDF tech probably plateaued at least 5 years ago. To me, most "advances" seem to be adding complexity and trying to fix problems that weren't there in the first place. Electronic shifting and a multitude of bottom bracket standards don't really trickle down in a useful way to the man on the street. Aero frames won't add that much value to your commuting day. Maybe disc brakes will be adopted soon in the peloton, although I cant see the average roadie actually wanting to bleed the brakes on his road bike. I know I hate doing it on my MTB's, and they are not even the "problem-brakes". The difference in performance doesn't actually look that big in this test with GCN, until it gets wet. (Video).
Kogel Bottom Bracket chart.
It seems to me that there is useful technology, and there is tech-for-tech's-sake, which is mostly just there to sell new widgets. I am as much a geek as the next person, maybe more so, but sometimes I ask myself if this stuff is good for the cause of the bicycle, which is in essence an inherently simple and elegant device.

The owner of this narrow wide
1x sprocket was cutting them out
in 2 to 3 weeks. He changed
brands which helped a lot.
You might say that taking an MTB drive-chain down from 27 or 20 speeds to 11 speeds by eliminating a front chain-ring is simplifying the drive train, but it would be a shame if the trade-off was advanced wear in shifters, chains, front sprockets and added weight and complexity in the derailer, and the fact that you could either ride to the trail at a decent pace OR actually ride up the hills, but not both. Not a problem if you don't ride in hills, or on the flat I guess. Where I live we actually ride to the trails. 1x11 is a Race Day Only compromise in my view. Why did we need 1x11? To save weight for XC racers? Why did we need narrow-wide chain-rings and clutch derailers? To stop the chain dropping off because we removed the front derailer. Fixing a "problem" that created several more actual problems.

I guess this is what you get with design. The more you hone a design to excel in one area, the more unsuitable it becomes for general usage. A Formula 1 car will cost a bomb, and will go like stink, but you wont want to drive it to work. This is where your Carbon road bike is right now, light, fast, and mostly uncomfortable. I used to own a Moto Guzzi Lemans, and while I loved that throbbing V-twin on the open road, it was a pig around town, where I preferred to ride my Honda CT90 postie bike.

Ideally the marketers want us to have many many bikes (N+1 is the number) rather than one bike that will do most things. New niches are constantly being created for the latest thing, Enduro, Gravel grinding or Bikepacking or what ever people have actually been doing for years anyway, but without a label. People used to ride their old steel road bikes off road, now its a "thing".

It would be interesting to see what people think the biggest recent "real" tech advance in cycling is. I suspect that its not electronic gears, maybe wider rims? The 650B wheel format that has been the norm for randoneers for years has been rebranded as 27.5 to create more confusion for the poor people who have only just changed from 26 inch to 29 inch wheels, (29ers just being 700c rebranded anyway.) If you think about it logically why would anyone make the move from 26 inch to 27.5 inches. The difference is too small. From a marketing point of view you would be better to go from 26 inch to 29 inch, then back down to 27.5 inch, which is the way it has panned out.

 Listen to a very  interesting podcast here on frame building and 650B vs 700  and how in this chap's view a 650B might serve most people better than their 700c roadie. It gives a bit of background on how 700c bikes got to where they are today.

This is a great piece with a similar angle on Why Are Bicycle Sales Declining  where the writer asks the question: "Imagine if car dealers only sold recreational cars. Cars for racing and off-roading. Cars not really suited to daily use". It's probably the most relevant read I've seen for years and answers the question of why my road bike sits unused in my garage even though it's probably the fastest, lightest and most efficient bike I have.

I think its really sad to see the adopting of bad designs or the creation of unnecessary designs. Company A comes out with a new bottom bracket standard called SPF3000. Company B says its rubbish and A will regret it. Buyers flocks to Company A like moth to a flame, and before long Company B is losing so much market share that they have to adopt the same standard or come out with their own new bottom bracket, PFTT 50210. This is probably what happened with Shimano going to 1x11 speed. Purely conjecture on my part though.

Now we are in the amazing situation of having our shifting available in electronic, wifi and hydraulic forms. Was there really anything wrong with cable shifting? There is a lot more fun coming up with the new axle standards too. I am not following it too closely, given that most of my 7 bikes run 9 speed I cant really be called an early adopter.

In Bikepacking circles (also known as Bike Trekking or Cycle Touring) there is a thing called MYOG, make your own gear, where people are building their own luggage systems. This is an example of something that is needs based, not "marketing-based". Some folks get so good at it that they go into business, like Revelate or Porcelain Rocket. Now some of the big guys are jumping on the bandwagon for a piece of the action, big hitters like Thule or Blackburn. Whether they can react to demand like the way the small guys can is yet to be seen. 2014 Tour Divide winner Jefe Branham still builds his own gear, such is the culture of DIY or "self-supportedness" in that scene.

Lael Wilcox. Image from Revelate's Instagram
To check out some "useful" tech in action look at some of the Tour Divide bikes.  Lael Wilcoxes bike has a carbon fibre frame with a state of the art luggage system with an internal skeleton. A dynamo hub that powers lights or charges GPSs, phones and spare batteries. On this bike she was able to cover over 260kms of wilderness riding each day to finish the 4418km Tour Divide in 17 days. Tour de France riders average a paltry 160kms a day and take 21 days to cover 3360 .

Did technology enable her to ride faster for longer? Possibly, but there are pros and cons. Her press-fit bottom bracket failed her and was replaced mid-route, as did Jay Petervary's. (Jay's Bike). Jay is a legend in Bike Packing circles having won most of the major endurance events of that genre and he was riding the latest hi-tech offering from Salsa, the new carbon fibre Cutthroat, a purpose built Tour Divide bike. I'm not sure how long it took to replace Jay's BB on route when it failed, but the guy who won, Josh Kato only did so by around 20 minutes. 20 minutes after 14 days in a non-drafting race is as good as a sprint. What was Josh's tech level like? Not very high. Josh rode a 3x9 speed titanium Salsa Fargo with bar end shifters like you get on time trial bikes, with a "friction" option. Almost anti-tech. No fast wearing narrow-wide chain rings or overly complex clutched rear derailer for him. Instead, the much maligned XTR rapid-rise (my favourite). If your cable breaks it defaults to the biggest rear sprocket, and at 34, instead of a 42, its going to offer a lot more options if your front shifting is still working. Following his incredible (failed) attempt at the Tour Divide the year before (an amazing read) he was leaving nothing to chance and was probably hauling a lot more gear than most. He didn't use a dynamo hub for lighting or charging, but he did have a spare GPS after seeing his partner's one fail the year before.

Editor of Bikepackersmag Neil Beltchenko's rig.
Tour Divide drive-train placings
1st, 3x9, Josh Kato,
2nd, 2x10, Jay Petervary,
3rd, 1x11,  Neil Beltchenko

Australian Jesse Carlson has just finished the TransAmerica, a self-supported 6,800km race across the US. He finished in 18 days, 480kms ahead of his next competitor. Thats 377kms a day, double what the Tour de France riders do, but unlike the Tour Divide, it's all on road. Check out his bike, a plush titanium Curve with hydraulic disc brakes, electronic shifters and  dynamo hub powered lights. Don't look at his seat. Not much padding on a 98 gram seat.

Some of his gear is from the high-end German manufacturer Tune and some of it is from his own company Curve Cycling. Jesse's SP dynamo hub was not only charging his kLite lights, but also his, Shimano Di2's external battery and his Iphone and Garmin Etrex 30 GPS. Why an Etrex 30 and not an Edge series GPS? Safety.The Etrex series has a longer burn time than the more modern touch screened versions and it can take batteries from a gas station or convenience store on route as an emergency back-up should his charging regime fail. Did Jesses charging regime fail? It did actually. This year the temperatures in the race were so high at times that his USB converter, which alters the current from the dynamo to enable charging of his devices, got cooked in the heat. His GPS also suffered temporary thermal shut-down and his Iphone charging cable fried. With weather hot enough to cook cables he changed tack, deciding to do more riding in the cooler evenings, as the dynamo hub and lights were unaffected. He went to plan B for charging devices which meant a USB charger in power sockets. Always have a plan B where tech is involved. Specs on Jesses bike and kit.

Another one of these endurance events, which is closer to Henri Desgrange's original ideal of what the TDF was meant to be is the Transcontinental . It's another self-supported race that this year went from Belgium to Istanbul. Around 4239kms for the winner; you get to choose your own route. The winner Josh Ibbet cranked it out in under 10 days. 423kms a day. Here is something to think about when choosing a sleeping mat, a quote from Josh.  "Last year, I thought I was travelling really light with a lightweight air mat. After the first or second night I really couldn’t be bothered to blow it up". Now he uses nothing. That's low-tech. The fact that there is next to no time traveling in the wilderness means they don't need too much gear, but it's interesting the lengths he goes to for comfort while riding. 28mm tubeless tires, aero bars and hydraulic disc brakes like Jesse's TransAm bike. This is the kind of bike you could commute on, although he mentions that previous riders who used Di2 say the batteries flatten after around 11 days of constant use. Check out his kit list here for more details.

I will finish off this rambling diatribe with two (mostly) different approaches to tech. The 1st and 2nd place getters in last years 360 mile Oregon Outback gravel race. Jan Heine's almost retro looking rando bike and  Ira Ryans Breadwinner cycles custom rig.

I think it would be safe to say that the only thing they have in common is frame material and down-tube shifters. Yes down-tube shifters, like in the olden days, well, sort of like in the olden days. Ira's used a mechanism tweaked to accept 11 speed TT shifter internals, while Jan's is a two levered system. Nothing much to go wrong there. But they are both very usable bikes that are unlikely to let you down, which is what you want when you are out in the boonies.

RIDER  Jan Heine Ira Ryan
Frame Rene Herse steel custom rando bike Breadwinner B-Road, steel
Fork  Steel, made by Kaiesi Enve carbon CX disc fork
Wheels  650B 700 c
Tires  42mm Compass babyshoe Pass Extralight 38mm Panaracer Pasela Tourguard
Front rings 46/30 Renee Herse crank. 50/34 Shimano Durace 
Rear Cluster 5 speed 14-22 11 speed shimano 11-25
Derailers 1930s Nivex rear, custom built suicide shifter front Durace rear and front
Brakes Mafac Raid centerpull (1970s) TRP Hylex hydraulic disc
Saddle  Brooks Professional Sella Italia Flight  (90's)
Shifters Down-tube 2x5 Down-tube 2 x11
Bottom bracket Press-fit (Edit) see Jan's comment in the "comments" Threaded english 68mm.
Extras Dynamo hub/lights and mudguards

*Most of this info was gleaned from CX Magazine. Ira's Bike and Jan's Bike.

Check out Jan's cluster. 5 gears, with a beautiful Rene Herse crank. Imagine how strong and light a 650B wheel with 5 sprockets could be. Read the links to CX Magazine or go to Jan's blog for a fresh angle on the bicycle.

It does make you think about how important the "technology" is on your bike. Is it an advance or a liability?

Jan Heine's Rene Herse custom. 2nd in the Oregon Outback. Image from Bicycle Quarterly

Ira Ryan's Oregon Outback winning Breadwinner B-Road

Links from this post.

Jay Petervary -
Jays bike
Jan Heine's bike in CX-Mag.
Ira Ryans bike in CX-Mag.
Breadwinner cycles
Josh Ibbet pre-TCR
Josh Ibbets bike and kit.
Revelate Designs
Josh Kato interview
Josh Kato's kit list.
Josh's Bike
Josh Katos 2015 TourDivide scratch. Amazing read.
Curve Cycling
SP Dynamo hubs (plays annoying music)
kLite Lights
Road Bike Review - Do-disc-brakes-stop-you-faster-than-rim-brakes

Disclaimer: These are my own personal views, and opinions, and are no more or less valid than anyone else who has a blog's view.  They come from my experiences as a rider and consumer of cycling products across several genres: XC, CX,Track, TT, Road and Bikepacking. I have never worked in the industry. I do 95% of the work on my own bikes and would like to keep it that way. I currently foolishly have 8 bikes but if the zombie apocalypse comes the one bike I would like to have at my disposal would be my early model Karate Monkey. I am not afraid of technology, I have been using a PowerTap power meter for years and have recently brought a dynamo hub and all the accoutrement's.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tune axle swap. 9mm to through-axle

Is your old Tune hub looking sad and neglected cos you dropped her for some swanky new model?

No problemo.

1. Bash out the old axle  (on the right), using the closest approximation to the official tool that you have ; )
2. Bash out the old bearings. (15x28x7mm).
3. Bash in some NEW bearings. The same bearings that you get in a Hope rear hub.
(17x28x7mm). I got them from ShockCraft.
4. Insert the new oversized axle that you bought from Krischan at

And whacko-the-diddle-oh chicken treat. You are good to go.

Sell your old axle to a weener on

Monday, August 24, 2015

So why don't pedestrians get bagged for doing dumb things on the road?

I had a bit of an epiphany the other day as I was commuting through the CBD on my bike. If I catch the first set of lights past the train station I can often make it all the way to Manners Mall before there is a red light. It seems like the lights might be phased for about a 30kmh average, if that's the way it works. The only other impediments to my progress are the pedestrians trying to nip across the road without looking.

A sheepish pedestrian
Some pedestrians remind me a lot of the sheep I used to come across when I was learning to ride my motorbike in the country as a teenager. When I saw a sheep on the side of the road, a chill went down my spine. The sheep might let you pass no problems, or it might do a 90 degrees pivot turn and spear across your path, taking out your front wheel, dumping you on the road and filling your school shorts with gravel. All of the accidents I had in my formative years were as a result of wandering stock on the road. Sheep, cows, even dogs. It taught me to expect the unexpected, and somehow I managed to make it through the next 17 years of motorcycling with no real accidents to speak of.

Now most pedestrians are not that bad, but with the "rogue" ones, there is a part of their behaviour that can appear as random as a sheep's, and there is often a bit of a herd psychology going on when one has a crack at a marginal road-crossing move and another one quickly follows because everyone knows there is safety in numbers.

Here is my question.
Why don't people standing around the "water-cooler", and in the Stuff "comments" bleat about the "Bloody pedestrians" as well as the "Bloody cyclists" ?

The simple answer. Empathy.
Most car drivers have walked at some stage in their lives. They can relate to pedestrians. It's likely that some of them may have even walked on that very day that were bleating about the stupid cyclist who jumped the lights. (Yes, it annoys me too). Maybe they even walked through the CBD at 5:15 pm when I am passing through and they are trying to sprint diagonally across the road on a 90 degree  corner that they cant actually see around, protected only by the imaginary force-field emitted by the cell-phone pressed hard against their heads.

When you can relate to someone or something you are willing to cut them some slack.

What is the answer to this predicament?
Get the car drivers on bikes. Grow them some empathy. Hmmm. There must be a downside right?
I haven't thought of one yet. Maybe some drivers will decide they like cycling and make the roads a less crowded place?

The  Greater Wellington Regional Council must have known about this empathy thing as they have been getting bus-drivers and cyclists to swap seats for a few hours to spend some time in the other guys shoes. Follow the link, but don't look at the comments. Stuff comments are written by the same people who scratch messages on toilet cubicle walls.

The other campaign we are seeing that humanises cyclists with pictures on the backs of buses, with labels on their shirts like: Father, Sister, Uncle, Son is also a move to create empathy.

I actually think something is working. The amount of times that I notice a car cautiously driving behind me, waiting for a safer opportunity to pass is on the increase from even 5 years ago. But if you are a cyclist, running the lights and hoping for the "Herd immunity" offered by other people doing the right thing, then you should think about this ad too. "Other people make mistakes". Potentially 50% of the people in any accident are without blame. You don't wont to think about what happens when both party's are ignoring the rules.

Disclaimer. No pedestrians were harmed (permanently) in the writing of this blog-post. I have been known to pedistrate myself. Some of my best friends are pedestrians, even though I don't think any of them are paying road user charges for walking on our roads.

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.

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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