Saturday, March 28, 2020

OPEN U.P. and say aaaaaaaaaah! - 6 monthly check-up

The dentist, the luddite and the Superbike.  
Glossary here.

I suspect it's no coincidence that OPEN make bicycles with model names like OPEN UP and OPEN WIDE. If this is not a clever subliminal marketing attempt at the well-healed "dentist" portion of the bicycle market, then I don't know what is. Unfortunately I do not fit into this demographic in any way, so the following review you may like to take with a grain of salt. Some might say I am more in the Luddite category, but then they would, wouldn't they.

This will be a pretty wide ranging post, because it covers a lot of new ground for me. My first 1x groupset. My first complete through-axle bike, only my second Press-fit bottom bracket, and my first SRAM hydraulic system, vs Avid, or Shimano.

The OPEN U.P. could be regarded as the first high-profile, modern, carbon "All-road" bike, if we disregard the bikes of old, that allowed the use of wider tires than was deemed normal at the time, and may have even been called touring or rando bikes. The OPEN U.P. (Unbeaten Path) was styled so differently to anything else out there at the time, with its fat frame lines and minimalist branding. Most people see it and say, "What brand of bike is that? Oh, never heard of them, where is it made? Switzerland?" It was the complete opposite of the cycle-tourist look, without rando bags or racks, appealing more to the Rapha ethic of minimalist gear, travelling with a credit card, a C02 and a Shakedry in your pocket.

OPEN's timing looked to be perfect with the resurgence in supple and fat tires, 650b wheel-sets, and a move away from road riding where riders have to share with an ever increasing number of cell-phone distracted car users - #gravgrav was becoming a thing.

The running gear out of the box.
Out of the box, the OPEN U.P. came with the Easton/SRAM Force 1x kit. A pretty solid build. Easton EA70ax wheels and bars, Maxxis Rambler tires, a Thomson seat-post and stem, and a very sexy, but painfully narrow Brooks Cambium saddle. The 130mm perch was a good 40mm too narrow for my butt so it was eventually swapped out for a Selle San Marco Regale FX, an acceptable compromise between weight and comfort, but not a serious saddle for back to back long days in the saddle. I also swapped out the Easton bars for some Thomson KFC cross bars which have a very fat and wide feel to them, and a weener UNO stem.

The frame
The frame alone costs more than 3 times the cost of the previous whole bike I bought, so it's pretty much a superbike by my definition. Normally I'd go for a more fiscally conservative option, but the stars lined up and a demo bike became available, along with a "dream-bike-build" pass, from my long suffering wife. My favourite and most adaptable bike up until now has been my Surly Karate Monkey The OPEN U.P. could not be further away than the Karate Monkey, at 1040 grams the OPEN's frame weighs less than the Karate Monkey's fork, but is still 160 grams heavier than the OPEN U.P.P.E.R model, which is significantly more expensive. Be prepared to OPEN UPPER your cheque-book even more for that model. Given the amount of off-road riding I am doing on it, I am happy to have the beefier frame of the U.P., although the designers say the UPPER's frame is no less robust. The guys at OPEN, Andy Kessler and Gerard Vroomen get credit for the dropped chain-stay design that gives them clearance for fat tires and yet still obtain road-bike levels of Q-factor. Q-factor is very on-trend in marketing circles these days, although Shimano seem to be bucking this trend recently with their wider GRX groupset.

The OPEN U.P. is a massive change for me in terms of the technology that passes for normal on many bikes today. It is supposed to be a "quiver killer". You could in theory get rid of your CX bike, your road bike, your touring bike and your bikepacking bike and replace it with this machine. This is assuming a few things. One of the things it assumes is that you have a spare set of wheels and enough gearing to cover all the different scenarios. I did manage to get rid of all of the above bikes, except the road bike, it's just not worth trying to sell.

The OPEN frame has 3 separate bottle cage mount points, which is a must for bikepacking, and a slightly sloping top-tube, which is also great for a frame bag, or even better, a half-frame bag, if you want to use all of those water bottle mounts. It also has mounts on the top-tube which make mounting of a gas-tank very easy, (or even another water-bottle).You can either bore holes in you current gas-tank for mounting, or use magnetic mounts.

The frame fit is interesting. I am 5" 10" and I have short legs, and a long torso, and yet I have a decent amount of seat-post sticking out on my medium sized frame. Typically, I would end up with not much seat-post showing on a medium. I know several people who have accidentally ended up with the wrong sized frame for their bodies, so a bit of research needs to be done to make sure you get it right. I think I have more work to do on nailing my position still. There is plenty more to read about the internally routed cabling of the bike below, but one thing that I found disappointing was that the rear derailleur cable exit point from the chain stay is only really compatible with a road styled derailleur, not a great feature for a bike that you might like to throw an MTB derailleur on. I wonder if it would be possible to have multiple cable exit points? I know of one guy who has managed to by-pass this by routing his cable out the bottom of his bottom bracket and running it on the underside of his chain-stay so he can use a clutched XO 10/11 speed MTB derailleur . A lot of fuss just so he can get clutched 2x shifting, in SRAM. SRAM 11 speed road shifters work with SRAM Exact-Acuation derailleurs in Road or MTB. Not a problem if you are a Shimano GRX user of course. Shimano still believes that there is a place in the world for 2x thankfully. The geometry seems pretty standard by current gravel norms with a 71 degree fork angle and a 73.5 degree zero-set-back seat-tube angle. All I know is that it feels good to me.

Stealth gas tank mounted on the provided location.
All of my experiences so far relate to the SRAM Force 1x groupset that it came with, so bear this in mind. I am sure another group-set would yield a completely different result. At this point the gearing is still a bit of an issue for me. Much time has been spent poring over gearing calculators, weighing up the pros and cons of 1x vs 2x. There is plenty of info on the OPEN website about the options, but so far my glass of kool-aid remains full. I still want at least the equivalent of a 44 front and an 11 rear, to nail the long tarseal descents on my commute to work, AND the ability to climb a hill with at least 21.8 gear inches down low, thats a 36/46 front rear climbing combo on 700 wheels.

When delivered, the OPEN came with a 42 tooth chain-ring on the front and a 36 on the back. That is not going to get you very far in Wellington NZ. That's not even 1 to 1. Actually, I found one scenario where it was acceptable, the Tour de Gravel in Marlborough was quite doable with a 42 on the front, for my fitness at the time anyway. Commuting on the flat was alright as long as there is not a lot of extended downhill. The steepest climb I am likely to do is called the "Tip-track" and it is mostly made up from two 15% sections on loose 4wd. With a 650b wheelset on with a 36 on the front and a 46 on the back, it is doable. But then if a couple of days later I wanted to do a local bunch ride, I would have to take the 36 front ring off and replace it with the 42, and swap the wheels. Unfortunately the standard short-length cage Force 1 rear derailleur was pretty hopeless, it only allowed me to shift to a 36 on the back. It was replaced with a medium cage Rival version, which incidentally weighed the same, a portly 271 grams. That's quite heavy for a derailleur that is only supposed to work in 1x mode only. A SRAM Red derailleur weighs in at 145 grams, almost half. Not that I am ever going to buy a new SRAM Red derailleur, but there are plenty of people who will.

SRAM medium-cage Rival derailleur on left, Force short-cage on the right. Rival shifts to a 46, the Force only to a 36.
Bottom bracket
My fear of technology is at its zenith with press-fit BB's and it was no surprise to me that it started creaking pretty much straight away. Bear in mind that this was a demo bike, so it already had some miles on it, you might even think of this as a long-term test, rather than just the 6 months that I have had it. It was a plastic SRAM BB, more on this latter, but it has been perfectly quiet since its replacement. I've not looked up the actual BB height just yet, but it has never been a problem in any of the riding I have done, even on the most technical trails I have never had pedal strike. I am pretty sure the SRAM Force crank-set has 175 long arms.

Is Force 1x or mostly 1x?
Over the time I have had the OPEN I have managed to use a bunch of different front sprockets on this bike, a 36, a 38, a 42 and a 44, with 2 different rear cassettes, an 11-42 and an 11-46, all running the same length of chain, so I started to wonder if it was truly a 1x derailleur . According to the "internet" and the little diagram SRAM did, it's 1x only. I started to experiment a bit with running two different chain-rings on the front in "shift-with-a-stick" mode. On the front I had a 44 and a 36, and on the back I tried 11-42, and 11-46 cassettes. The drive train seemed to deal with it very well. The 44-46 combo was pretty ugly, but everything else was acceptable. So that's an 8 tooth gap on the front. Is that enough to warrant keeping the existing porky derailleur, or would you rather go for a more typical wider range front combo, 46/34 up front, with less of a dinner plate on the back, and a road based derailleur? If you are a weight weener you will know that that the monstrous 1x rear clusters can weigh more than a front double ring and front derailleur combined. This is still largely "1x talk", but relevant in the choices that the OPEN gives you, to deal with the different options as you will see below.

Maxxis Ardents front and rear. Not really enough room for the 2.2 on the back. I swapped to a 2.0 Specialized.

Tires and wheels
I can safely say, I don't have another bike that handles as well as this one. On the road with my 38 mm Compass Barlow Pass tires it inspires a ton of confidence. These really are the default tires on the OPEN for me, as they are still a very capable compromise off road on the dry hard-pack trails around Polhill or Belmont where I do a lot of riding. "Quiver killers" are all about compromise....

The 700 x 43 mm Panaracer Gravel Kings are a very robust tire which I used for the recent Akatarawa Gravel Fondo. They obviously lack the suppleness of the Compass tire, but there is no place for suppleness when riding on parts of the Karapoti Classic course anyway. I probably should have had the 650b wheels on for the Aka Fondo, but I was hoping for an easier ride on the faster stuff. The Gravel Kings still track really well on the road when heeled over at speed, but they obviously feel a lot slower than the Barlow Passes, with their substantial tread. They are a really solid grippy tire. With the 700 wheels it's a good idea to put some tape on the back of the seat-tube as you can get scuffing from the tire, maybe there is a bit of vertical flex in there, I was quite surprised to see it as it appeared to have plenty of room. In fact, I've just checked, and that is my error, the OPEN UP is only specced to accept 40mm tires, not 43mm, because of the diameter, NOT the width. Of course all tires are different in the real world.

SP dynamo hub in 650b. Easton ARC 24 rim.
In 650b mode I am running a Specialized Fastrack Control on the back at 2.0 inches, and a 2.2 Maxxis Ardent on the front. This is a ridiculous tire for a weight weener bike like the OPEN, and at 730 grams the tire weighs 3/4s the weight of the bike's actual frame. (They were cheap). The fat front 650b tire had quite an impact on the handling compared to the 700 tires. Not bad, just different. You get used to it, but it is just obviously more "MTB-like". There is something about the accurate steering of a narrow tire that I enjoy when on the trails on a gravel or cross bike. Despite the weight of the front tire, in 650b mode, the whole bike still weighs less than my carbon road bike. I enjoy the 650b wheels in the weekends on the trails but the default wheelset is the 700c Easton EAX with the Barlow Passes for commuting and unplanned excursions. I've recently swapped the Ardent out for a Specialized Fasttrack S-works 2.0 on the front and it feels really nice.

One of the rear Easton wheel bearings has worn out already and the Carbon-Ti X-12, 12mm  through-axles have taken a bit of getting used to. Once or twice I have failed to torque the rear one up enough and it has come loose mid-ride. It's usually only noticed when shifting deteriorates or you hear a clunk from the rear. Once I had over-torqued the front and was not able to undo it with a multi-tool so I definitely need to re-calibrate my arm.

I have a dynamo wheel built up in 650b and used the 47mm WTB Horizons for a short time. They felt quite dead and slow to me, actually, a lot like an old Specialized Armadillo. The Horizons do look very robust, so it would be a hard decision to pick between them and the 700c Gravel Kings for bikepacking. Having the dynamo in 650b mode would likely swing it. I guess there are plenty of other fast rolling 650b tires to look at as well. The Horizons just look like they should be faster than they actually feel.

K-Lite dynamo lighting kit on the 650b SP hub with an Easton rim. Looking forward to the dark again

I was initially very apprehensive about the brakes, having had only bad experiences with Avid hydraulic brakes. The "Easter Island" styled flat-mount brakes have on the whole been a pretty good experience so far. Currently the front one sometimes rubs/squeaks, and sounds like a Grey Warbler under braking, and the rear brake has developed a bias towards one side, which I need to deal with properly. But they are very powerful, which means I tend to ride more on the hoods than I normally would. The high vertical profile gives me confidence that my hands wont bump off in the rough stuff. The discs are 160mm at both ends, and it is very easy to accidentally lock up the rear. In fact, on my first ride off a very steep and wet street, I accidentally locked up and slid into a major road-way. The organic brake pads have not lasted well for me, even in dry weather so I will be going back to sintered metal. One thing I have noticed about the brake levers is that the lever surface is way more robust than that of my buddies Shimano GRX, which seems to have the surface covering peeling off it in a very short time. The fork feels strong and flex-free despite only weighing 390 grams and I have not had a peep out of the Cane Creek head-set to date.

Sram Force. (Easter Island) Very high profile, feel less dorky than they look. No left shifter. DOH! 
Tinkering with bikes
I've always been a tinkerer, its part of the enjoyment I get out of personalising my bike, for aesthetics or performance. It's not unlike the satisfaction that my wife gets out of planting and maintaining her garden. I kind of expect most people to be like this, but I know they are not. This is why I have mostly rejected running tubeless tires for so long. It's not uncommon for me to swap my tires 3 times in 2 weeks, depending on what I am doing, commuting, a Hill Climb, a Gravel fondo. I just cant be bothered with the mess of tubeless. I suspect it's also what happens when you join the "One-bike-for-all" team. But now I've bitten the bullet and got a "tank" and tubelessed my 650b wheels. The 700's had gizz in them when running the Gravel Kings for the Akatarawa Gravel fondo, but a few days later I de-gizzed them and went back to the Barlow Passes with tubes for commuting.

Top, 2x shift with a stick, 44 and a 36 (hidden). 11-42 on the back with Rival medium derailleur. 
The OPEN is a very pretty bike, and to date, I have never read a bad thing about it, apart from the price. But the aesthetic comes at a cost. After swapping out my rear derailleur to get a better gear range, my cable was now deformed, it would not thread back into my new long-cage derailleur. No problem, I will just replace the derailleur cable. Not so fast....

There is a good reason why "dentist bikes" all use electronic shifting.... the cables are all on the inside of the bike. Any time you want to change a derailleur cable on the OPEN, you will need to remove the crank, and bash out the press-fit Bottom Bracket.

This was a very new thing to me. I could not believe it. I emailed OPEN to confirm this, and Andy Kessler, one of the owners of OPEN, to his credit, replied in minutes, (they really are a 2-man company) but I was gob-smacked. To make matters worse, at my local bike shop, the proper extraction tool was not working on the stubborn plastic BB. Eventually we got it out by bashing out one of the bearings independently, as it was causing a very tight fit. Once that was trashed, we were able to whack out the plastic BB shell. This was a very traumatizing experience for someone with a $5,500 dollar light-weight frame, and repeating the procedure every time I need to replace my derailleur cable, or change from a 1x to a 2x set-up does not encourage me to want to tinker with this bike's shifting mechanisms. So yeah, maybe there is a use-case for electronic gears after all. Probably SRAM AXS. It's just a shame I am not a dentist.

Enter here if you want to change your derailleur cable. But first remove the bottom bracket.
I don't think the design of the OPEN has changed much since it first popped out of the mold in 2015, and it's a credit to the designers that it is still one of the most desirable bikes out there. I suspect that other more recent arrivals to the #gravgrav train like the Hakkalugi MX are encroaching on its territory with a dropper-post ready 31.8 mm seat-tube, friendly cable routing access and a better rear derailleur cable exit point to allow the use of MTB derailleurs. The Hakklugi also has a screw-in T-47 BB and mudguard mounts. If I was a dentist with a healthy practice this is one of the bikes I would also be looking at.

Whether you take your OPEN bike-packing or not probably depends largely on your running gear and personal inclination. If you have a cafe/weener build you might like to replace some of those light-weight carbon accessories with alloy ones, and make room to stow away your derailleur charger. I know of a few people who have used theirs for bike-packing and they seem very happy with them. You probably would not want to do the Old Ghost Road on one, but the Tour Aotearoa or the Kiwi Brevet would not be a problem. Not having accessory mount points on the fork is a downside, but I guess you can always buy a new fork for bikepacking, and leave this one looking pretty.

The brave new world of direct mount chain-rings. Kill all your spiders and save a few grams !
The OPEN is an amazing bike. It has become my goto bike for everything. Commuting, hitting the trails, and all manner of events. It's crazy light, it handles like a dream, on and off road, and I do love the colour. For me I feel that it works best in most situations with the 700 wheels, but then again I seem to be using the 650b wheels a lot right now, commuting with the dynamo front wheel. It doesn't make sense that you can have so much fun off-road on a bike like this, that looks pretty much like a road bike.

So I think that covers most things. A lot of what I have mentioned relates to 1x and SRAM's groupset more than it does to the OPEN itself. Initially I was a bit peeved at the 110 BCD SRAM Force crank with its hidden chain-ring bolt nonsense but once I realised how easy it was to remove the crank, and access the chain-ring bolts that way, I got over it. This crank has probably been on and off more times than all the cranks on my other 10 bikes over the last 2 years. The direct drive system for mounting sprockets without spiders was all new to me as well, but rather than getting out an allen key, and a torx driver to change gears, I'm more likely to opt for one of those old fashioned front derailleur things. I guess I am a bit of a Luddite eh?

Tire nerdery appendix
Some recent events 'Ive done in the last 6 months and the tires I have used.

Original tires - Maxxis Ramblers 40mm, (435 grams)
The Tour de gravel - Compass Barlow pass, 38 mm, (360 grams)
The Boganduro - Panaracer Gravel Kings 43mm, (490 grams)
Short test rides - Panaracer Pasela 38mm, (420 grams)
Short test rides - WTB Horizons, 47mm, in 650b (505 grams)
Vets Hill climb - Specialized Roubaix 32/30 (390 grams)
Akatarawa Gravel Fondo - Panaracer Gravel Kings, 43 mm, (490 grams).
Vets Hill climb - Compass Barlow pass, 38 mm, (360 grams)
Casual weekend trail riding, in 650b  - Maxxis Ardent 2.2 (730 grams) + Specialized Fasttrack 2.0 (530 grams).
More Casual weekend trail riding, in 650b  - Specialized Fasttrack 2.0 (485 grams).
Commuting more recently, 650b  WTB Horizon on the front, and a Barlow pass 700 on the back, reverse mullet.

OPEN website
The OPEN website, is one of those frustrating one-page ones. Google is not that kind to OPEN as OPEN is a very common word, as is UP ! The best part of the site is the "Customer build showcase"  and the "blogs" where punters ask Andy and Gerrard questions about gear compatibility and where they announce new initiatives.

Gearing geekage
Combinations of gearing with a SRAM Rival medium rear derailer and a 44/36 shift with a stick double on the front. Running the one length piece of chain. Black cassette is 11-46, silver is 11-42. It seems to tell me that a range of 8 teeth between your front 2 rings means you can get away with a 1x rear derailleur. This could be an acceptable hack for bikepacking.

More disturbing links from a weapons-grade nerd

Drinking the koolaid: Something that people believe, despite obvious evidence indicating that its not a good idea.
Derailleur: A device that derails and re-rails your chain into an appropriate location in your drive-train - Mentioned 32 times in this post.
1x: A marketing initiative to simplify the drive-train of a bicycle by giving the rider less choice in gearing and creating heavier, more complicated and faster wearing componentry, while simultaneously creating a bad chain-line.
Dentist: A disparaging term for a cyclist who is usually not quite young anymore, and has a job that enables purchase of highly expensive cycling equipment, even if their dedication to cycling as a hobby is not intense or long lasting.
BB: Bottom bracket. What the crank-arms attach to. Conveniently located towards the bottom of the bicycle.
Q-factor: Quack factor, relating to the width of the bottom bracket, and how it might make you feel like a duck when pedaling.
Tubeless: A clever marketing initiative by BIG LATEX to wrest control of the "inflated tire" sector of the market from the conservative tubed area and spawn a massive new component industry around fixing flats, without actually having to touch a tube. Based on the clever Sea Monkeys marketing model of topping up your ever-fattening tire until you can observe (feel) the "latex-monsters" inside. Changing tubes can be complicated and dirty, compared to owning a compressor and blowing gizz all over yourself, at home, on the trail or on the road.
Gizz: Sealant, Stans, tire milk.
Gas-tank: Bento-box, tool-bag that sits on top-tube.
#gravgrav: The new phenomena that is breathing life into a bicycle industry marketing teams. #egravgrav will be next.
#allroad: The predecessor to #gravgrav. A lot more about "spirited riding" than "shredding the gnar".
#gnar: That which must be shredded.
#grinduro: A special event for millenials where it doesn't matter if you get dropped. Everyone is a winner.
#boganduro: A grinduro for bogan millenials.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Akatarawa Gravel Fondo

This event was the brainchild of Upper Hutt svengali Kim Hurst. It was an awesome event with a short and a long course. 50 kms and 87kms. I patched up some amateur footage from my Gopro.


2677 metres climbing. I rode an OPEN UP with 700C wheels shod with tubelessed  Panaracer 43mm Gravel Kings. Gearing was a 38 tooth on the front and an 11-46 Sunrace cassette on the back. Fitness and traction were more limiting than the gearing.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019


Update 1. Weather is looking good !
The Welly contingent will go for a beer to the Sprig and Fern on Tinakori road after the ride.

If you have any questions then email me using the contact form.

Cheers, Jeff

Details below...

The Boganduro is a casual gravel grinder in the Grinduro format with self-timing based on the STRAVA app installed on your phone.

It will be on gravel where possible, with around 1600 metres of climbing. The Boganduro starts in Wellington, or the Hutt Valley, and takes in Battle Hill and Belmont Regional Parks.

This is a chance to catch up with your buddies and have a good old chin-wag, and if you are up for it, lay down the hurt on a couple of climbs or downhills, if that's your thing.

Don't forget to dress sensibly, it could get cold, bring food and water, tubes and tools. Have the course at least on your phone or GPS. ( you may like to download the GPX file below ). Familiarise yourself with the course in the event that you get lost. Course notes  below. Please read them at least once.

Starting point:
Wellington Train station. 8am and
Petone Wharf 8:40am, Saturday November 23rd.

Cost: Free
Food availability: Pauatahanui Cafe / Dairy enroute.
Bail-out points: Judgeford, return to Hutt Valley via Haywards on the road.

It's fully self supported, bring tools and a couple of spare tubes and kit.

Be prepared for all weather and to ride for up to 96 kms max, but around 74kms if you are only starting in the Hutt.

Use #boganduro to share  related bumpf in your social media if that takes your fancy.

To give you an idea of the terrain, here are the STRAVA timed segments that will most likely be on the course. My suggestion is that you will want at least 35mm tires.

The full ride on Strava can be seen here:

The Strava timed segments are shown here.

I have done a couple of reccies on the 3 of the 4 sectors of the #Boganduro. The downhill segments are both mint, and the climbs are... climby : ) the major climb (Puketiro/Cooks Road) you should be able to do in a 1 to 1 gear, so a 32/32 or similar, but YMMV. Strava tells me that there is at least 1 km at 20% on this first sector, but overall it is 8%.

96 kms from Wellington to Wellington

Boganduro fly-by here:


The latest NEW stuff is here now (just below).

*Course GPS (GPX file) here:
*Course notes here. (Dropbox)
*A large map here.  (Dropbox).
A large live zoomable map here:  (Web)

*Read comments below on Dropbox.


* WARNING. Dropbox have deliberately made the download procedure confusing so that people THINK that they need to join up and login to dropbox. You do NOT need to.

When the big white login button appears, click the small grey X in the top right, and continue on, repeating what you have already done.

Once the file is saved you can Drag n drop the file onto your GPS or smart phone. I don't know what you do if you have an Iphone but I heard recently that Apple were going to invent "drag n dropping" of files. Fingers crossed!

There are plenty of phone apps that allow you to view a GPS file. The one I use is called New Zealand Maps.

Youtube of the Bull Run track here. This is the only technical part of the course. Slow down if you are not a confident rider. There are only a couple of small drops in the course.  Another version of it here with better lighting.

Looking at your segments
After you have finished your ride you can upload the file using Strava. Go to the Boganduro segments under your results, look under the "LEADERBOARDS" for "Todays" results.

Results from last years Boganduro are here.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

K-Lite 2nd impressions

I was very excited to get a hold of the latest kit from K-Lite to run through its paces recently. Kerry is constantly iterating his designs but recently he has launched a couple of very cool additions to his line-up. His new rear flashing lights, (QUBE) and a new USB converter with dual outputs.

If you followed the world's gnarliest bikepacking events, like the Tour Divide, or the Silk Road Mountain Race you would have noticed that many of the riders were using various models of K-Lite kit. These guys are using the kit in the crucible of fire, if anything can possibly go wrong, it will.

Dual-port USB-charger, QUBE flashers, switch wire/loom and front light.

The flashers
Kerry makes the only dynamo powered flashers, in the world, called the QUBE, available in 1x or 2x formats, or front and rear sets, for attaching to the seatpost, seat stays or bars.

Runs for 3 mins after a 15 second spin of wheel.
Somehow he has crammed little super capacitors into them so that a 15 second spin of the front dynamo wheel means your rear flashers will go for 3 mins before needing more juice. Not many traffic lights take that long to change. 

The QUBE flashing pattern seems quite random, but in fact, the LONG/SHORT flash-pattern is actually what NASA use. It is the best for judging the distance to the rider, and also catching the eye from a distance.

They are very bright and yet Kerry tells me they draw less than 30mA intermittently, a typical rear dynamo light draws 110mA at all times. That's a big difference. If it means anything to you, the standard bikepacker's GPS, the Etrex 30, draws 50mA-110mA (back light dependent) at 5 volts. 

Even in the daytime the QUBE's are a great addition.
Kerry has also done something smart with the optics, so that the further you are away, the brighter they look, the idea is that the rider behind, sitting on your wheel, is not blinded, but a car, in the distance gets full blast, clever stuff. These QUBEs are the only item that Kerry is building by hand these days, so he only does a run on them when he has a big enough order. Check your local K-Lite dealer for stocks.

The switch / wire loom
Mount the switch on bars, stem, or steerer
The switch wire/loom comes in two styles. The first one is where the USB-charging out-puts are active all of the time, and you just toggle the front light off and on. This is the mode you will need if you are wanting to run the QUBE flashers.

In the second style, you just flip back and forth between front lighting, or USB charging.

The USB charger

Kerry has some clever smarts hidden in the new dual-port  USB-charger to help with charging supercap systems like the QUBE. He has more smoothing caps than any of the other USB chargers out there. This does make it a little larger, but it allows safe direct connection of phone or GPS to USB charger, should your USB cache battery stuff up.

Normally connecting a sensitive USB device direct to a dynamo charger (without an inline cache battery) is not advised, as the output can be a bit "choppy" due to the AC conversion done on board. This can cause re-sets and crashes of sensitive USB devices. In the new K-Lite charger with its extra smoothing, it offers another layer of back up, in an emergency situation.

The new design retains the little LED activity light introduced in the previous model, so you know if the power is making its way from the dynamo to the charger. Apparently the new USB charger lets you run your SPOT-tracker and charge your USB cache battery at the same time, because the SPOT trackers draw so little power.

The SPOT-tracker will run from the dynamo all day and automatically switch to it's own battery only when you have stopped moving. You can even power your SPOT tracker with no batteries in the bay, just plug it in to the USB-charger and get pedaling. I haven't tried this out myself as I don't have a personal SPOT tracker. As in his previous model Kerry has all the plugs going in and out of the USB-charger at the same place, this is great for space saving in your gas-tank, if that's where you store your electrics.

Here are a few potential scenarios that you might hope to run from your dual USB-charger. Obviously it depends on whether its day or night, and the terrain, as the front lights will use a lot of the power coming from the dynamo hub at night time.

Night-time riding
  • Front lights and QUBE F and R flashers
  • Front lights and QUBE F and R flashers and GPS (Etrex and Edge as they are low powered)
  • Front lights and QUBE rear flashers and GPS and SPOT tracker. In this scenario you'd need a USB splitter as there are only two out-puts from the USB converter. It's not until the demand exceeds 500mA that you start to rob power from the front lights. Flashers+SPOT+GPS should be under 500mA if you are moving at any kind of pace.

Day-Time riding
  • Charge cache and run SPOT tracker
  • Charge cache and run QUBE F and R flashers
  • SPOT tracker and GPS 
  • SPOT tracker and QUBE rear flashers 
  • SPOT tracker and QUBE rear flashers and GPS (need a USB splitter).

Obviously the idea is to charge your cache battery in daytime if you can as there is a lot more power available when the front lights are off.

My experience with the USB charger and the Etrex GPS was pretty good. Basically, if you have it plugged in to the USB-converter, and you are moving, it defaults to the dynamo for power. I found that it wasn't until I dropped below 9 kmh that I got the nag-screen. However, if you run the GPS via a cache battery you don't get the drop-out at all. Etrex AA batteries last for 4 days anyway, and are easily available at most stores or gas-stations, which is why they are so popular.

My buddy ran his Garmin 1030 without a cache battery in the Japanese Odyssey last year with no problems using his K-Lite kit. It would just drop down to the internal battery when the dynamo power was too low. The 1030 is a much more sophisticated piece of equipment than the old Etrex though and you have to look at the pros and cons of each device. Matt pointed out that in Japan a lot of the riders used phones instead of GPSes for navigation. In an event where most of the people are topping up their devices in accommodation over-night it's an option.

The lights
The lights have undergone a weight-loss programme that shaves a bit more meat off them but they still share the same internals as the previous model. Coming in 2 variants, the Gravel/Road and the MTB, the major difference being that the MTB has a wider more diffuse spread for the great outdoors, vs the more punchy beam of the Gravel/Road light which has to compete with urban light pollution.

In both variants the outside lights come on first and are supplemented by the centre beam at higher speeds. Everytime I go out I am amazed at the strength of these lights.

The new K-Lite kit also contains an adaptor for the Universal fork crown mount, allowing easy connection to Supernova or B&M style mounts. The GoPro mount is still a very popular mounting mechanism, and rightly so, with thousands of cheapie variations of it available online.

I did a bit more field testing in the weekend with a proposed trip down south to do the Old Ghost road. There was always the chance that the weather was going to be bad, so I had to be open to other options, and I had plans to visit my parents 120kms away in Nelson. As it happened, the trip was cancelled and after some local riding, I rode over the Mangatapu Saddle that links Nelson to Marlborough. I had installed the Dynamo Kit on my Santa Cruz Tallboy mainly for safety as I knew I would be on the seal for at least 60 kms. The dazzling brightness of the rear QUBES made me feel a lot safer on a main road with no shoulder, on a Sunday afternoon. What really impressed my though was the low speed at which the QUBES kicked in. I confess I haven’t checked it with a computer, but for most of the 14.3% hike-a-bike section on the Mangatapu saddle the little buggers were flashing away maniacally. That was an average speed of around 3.3 km/h. Impressive.

Kerry is always tweaking and launching new stuff, so if you want to get the heads-up on his next thing, its best to follow him on  He has quite a few things going on in the back-ground just now.

If you want to get a feel of what is behind the K-Lite ethos then tune in to this podcast, I guarantee you will be entertained. Warning, contains occasional expletives.

Related links:


Thursday, September 05, 2019

A hidden epidemic

I walked out of the office the other day and saw one of my workmates chilling in the hallway. She was wearing a peaked hat and dark sunnies, and yet it was overcast and raining outside. She'd just stepped out of a crowded meeting room for a break, she was overstimulated and needed to get out for a few minutes to relax.

I hadn't seen her for quite a while, but I knew the reason behind her absence as I'd heard the rumours. She'd had what is often called a "concussion" or a TBI (traumatic brain injury) depending on how you want to call it. Her fatigue levels had reduced down to the degree that she was able to do some work, but exposure to artificial light, and even computer screens had her feeling nauseous, hence the hat and sunnies.

We had a chat and she talked about her progress and the advice she'd been given by another woman scientist at my work who is still recovering from a head injury she received one and a half years ago. The advice was to take the time to come right slowly, don't try to come back too work to soon.

These are highly achieving people who typically find this kind of advice hard to take. Another buddy of mine, also a woman scientist, but not at my work, was also badly concussed recently in a cycling accident, but her recovery has been pretty swift, by comparison to the first two. The first weeks were pretty bad, and being the co-leader of a 12 million dollar project, she's not the kind of person who thinks its acceptable to take a nap half-way through the day.

If I do a tally up, I can think of 4 people I know of at my work, or who work with the scientists at my work who have received head injuries in the last 2 years. All of them very highly intelligent professionals. None of them risk-takers, all of them with access to good medical advice and an understanding work-place.

What if you didn't have access to all the support systems that a well paid professional with a PhD has? What if you were young and bullet-proof and a risk taker by nature? What are the chances that somewhere along the way you are going to get a good smack on the head, give someone else one, or get head-injured in a car accident? What percentage of people in jail have undiagnosed head injuries? Do you know what some of the side-effects of a head injury are?

Disinhibition, low tolerance to stress, depression, emotional lability, difficulty concentrating, sensitivity to noise or light, aggression, impulsivity, irritability, confusion, sleep disturbance, visual problems, memory problems to name a few.

If you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, with poor support, these behaviours could easily see you in trouble with the law, especially if you medicate with drugs and alcohol.

I've also met a few cyclists on social media who are recovering from head injuries, and sadly as time goes on, I watch new people join them. Hitting someone's wayward dog at 50kmh has that kind of an effect.

So what can you do, not go outside? It wouldn't have helped the two women at my work, one banged her head on a cupboard and the other slipped in the shower. Just look after yourself, the best way you know how. And if you come across someone who has a head injury, try to understand what might be going on on the inside.

  • NZ's ACC's statistics show that in 2015 most brain injuries happened at home (5674) or on the sporting field (5394).
  • The major causes of brain injury are car crashes, sports injuries, assaults and falls.
  • Shockingly, the highest risk groups of New Zealanders for traumatic brain injuries are not our rugby players or our boxers - it's our toddlers

Reference. The hidden epidemic of brain injury, Stuff, 2016.

Artwork by Ash Lyall

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Wildgripper homage saddle

With the single-speed nationals coming up I needed to get a bike ready. I didn't have a lot of choice in the end and it came down to repurposing my 1993 Litespeed Ocoee. The Compass Rat Trap Pass tires had to go, and I figured the drops could go too. The obvious tires to use were the Simworks Homage's which were currently on my 26 inch Santa Cruz Superlight.

Once the tires were mounted it seemed fitting to me that I needed a matching saddle, and I had a dead Michelin Wildgripper that was screaming out to be repurposed.

I cut one up and glued it onto a spare carbon weener saddle that had been doing nothing. I thought it looked alright. The carbon base was very very stiff tho....

Michelin Wildgripper Homage version 1. Carbon base.

A couple of days later I decided I better do my first single-speed ride since the nationals in 2013 and I went out for a 3 hour ride with Mossieur Veganburger. I didn't use the Green saddle, but used a yellow Tioga Spyder knock-off. It was very very comfy.  What if I could combine the comfort of the Spyder with the looks of the Wildgripper Homage?

There is a lot less surface area in one of these saddles, so I would have to sew the pieces together first, with mint flavoured dental-floss, then glue it on.

It worked better than I thought. I'm not going to put Busymanbicycles out of a job anytime soon, but it was a lot of fun.

Michelin Wildgripper Homage version 2. Plastic base.


Fingers crossed it hangs together for the nationals in Te Mata peak this weekend !