Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Peugeot PX10 for L'Eroica Japan

This bike was donated to me by Iggy Ray, who must have figured that if he gave it to me, he would be forced to pull finger on that new titanium bike he has been  talking about for years. Ray gave me the Peugeot at the same time that I was thinking about doing L' Eroica, a vintage biking event which is now franchised around the world. L'Eroica started as a way to save and promote the limestone roads that are part of the scenery of the Tuscany region. It was also a nod to the "Heroic" era of cycling before electric gear shifting and disposable bottom brackets arrived.

We had our eye on the Japanese  Eroica as it would work in well with a family holiday. My buddies Matt and Ran both do a fair bit of work in Japan and there was a chance that they would make it too. In the end it was only Ran that could swing it, Matt will be a week late. Ran is also riding a Peugeot.

The original bike here.

Ray's bike came with Mafac brakes and 27 inch Mavic rims on some smooth Sansin hubs. Ray bought it new in Paris in 1974. Its a Peugeot PX10. I think the wheels and crank were not original. The rear derailleur was a low-end shimano that had been mounted on a tapped Simplex hanger.

I had a play with it, replaced the crank, after the left arm fell off while I was riding home on its first commute. I reached into my parts bin and found an old Campy Record Strada crank to put on it. I found some 33mm Cyclocross tires, and rode it down the Transient trail in Polhill. I was very impressed with the brakes. I imagine the direct mount ones must be incredible, mine are just the cheaper centre mount variety.

Mungo bars with the original 27 inch wheels.

 I got the frame powder-coated at Seaview, I'd rate the finish about a 7 out of 10. I got a sticker set from the UK, and my buddy Paul gave me a lovely Campagnolo Nuovo Record rear derailleur and shifters which his friend's husband used in his younger days.

I was about to learn that Italian Campag derailleurs don't fit on French Simplex drop-outs... and anyway, why would you mix Italian and French. Was this an early case of engineered incompatibility? I have no shame.......

Shimano to the rescue in the form of an old Durace 8 speed rear derailleur.

I installed my Brooks Swift titanium saddle on it, and splashed out on some faux leather tape from Ritchey.

Lounging in the lounge

The Kennedy-Good Bridge and Hutt River

Old Coach Road Normandale


I had a few issues early on with precession, the inherent tendency for a French or Italian bottom bracket to unwind itself, due to their crazy threading direction. Then I had an issue with the loctite I used to try to fix it.... Lets just say its been a learning experience. Everything in moderation...

The bike has a very relaxed feel. Its like a comfy armchair, especially with the Compass Barlow Pass tires on it.  They are actually about 33 mm wide and a lot faster than they look. (Have stretched to 35 now). I came across an old 8 speed 11-30 MTB cluster that seems to work surprisingly well with the Durace rear derailleur which was probably only specce'd to shift up to a 23 tooth? Anyway, my buddy Paul turned up with a donor bike with some more relevant (old and crappy) wheels ; ) so I was looking more and more legit all the time. One problem... the new hub was narrower... Hack time, I took off the 11, put a skinny spacer behind the 30, and now the little sprocket is a 13 !  Hmm, a 49-13 is not that tall for hanging with the Fat Fathers Club ride, so I put the 54 big ring back on. Cue a new longer chain.

New wheels, look nicer in chrome, much narrower braking surface though.
 I've just realised that the only original parts on the bike are the frame and the brakes. But, the only new parts on it are the paint, bar tape, cable guides and decals. Thanks to the many people who donated me the rest, especially Paul Turney, and Dean who loaned me the pedals, and of course Ray.

I have never had so many people comment on the look of a bike as this one, peaking at 3 comments in a 15 minute ride across the CBD one evening!

Frame Peugeot PX10
Mafac Competition brakes, calipers and levers
Campag Strada Record Crank: 54/42
Campag Nuovo Record shifters
Shimano Durace 8 speed rear derailleur
Suntour Front derailleur
Shimano 13-30, 7 speed cluster (modified)
Shimano 600 hubs with Mavic 190 FB rims
Brooks Titanium Swift Saddle
Cinelli bars and stem
Ritchey Bar tape
Compass Barlow Pass tires on here, but will be riding Specialized Roubaix after a sidewall cut.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Dental hygiene and sidewall cuts

Any item that serves a dual purpose while Bikepacking is something that immediately saves you weight. I always take two tire boots made from a piece of old road tire with the bead trimmed off, and although I've never had to use them myself, I have given two to different folks in two of the Kiwi Brevets I have done.

I had heard that people use dental floss for mending tubular tires, because it is strong and comes pre-waxed. Mouth hygiene is important when doing long days on the bike, so, if you are already carrying dental floss, the only other thing you need to effect a temporary repair on a big gash in your side-wall is a needle. They don't weigh much, and a few Frankenstein stitches can stop the sidewall bowing out, which a boot wont do.

I did the repair below and it seems to be holding up well. The white (rim) tape is stuck on with some F2, but in the field I reckon you could get away with just a tube patch to stop the dental floss thread rubbing on the tube, (assuming you are now using a tube!). You should then be able to ride into a town where you can buy a new tire.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Hacks and bodges for the poverty-stricken cyclist

The last complete I bike I bought, my
Diamondback Apex . Cairns, 1996.
It occurred to me the other day, the last time I bought an actual "complete" bike was between 1993 and 1996. A DiamondBack Apex. It was funded by my wife's redundancy package. Ever since then my bikes have been built up from parts that I managed to acquire by various means, rummaging through other peoples rubbish bins, doing contra deals for people, usually in the form of websites in exchange for bits and pieces, or being at the right place at the right time, or just by knowing someone who had some spare gear to move on. I was very lucky to provide webmastery duties for Kiwi Pro MTBer Kashi Leuchs for quite a while when he was a pro cyclist, which meant I had access to some fruity kit in exchange for web services. This post is a bit of a ramble on some of the cost saving hacks I have done through that difficult poor/married-with-children/paying-off-a-mortgage time of your life, the period that lasts just long enough that by the time you get through it you are really worried about what you are going to live on when you retire.

Tri-spoke conversion and cluster to fixed conversion in use.
IP Masters track worlds 2007. Dunc Gray velodrome
Tri-spoke hack
Once I brought a very cheap HED trispoke off the Internet in the early days. I was disappointed to see when it arrived that it had a screw-on cluster. There was no mention of that from the dodgy seller, not that you need any more than 8 gears to Time Trial successfully, but it was the principle that erked me. I spoke to one of the Neil's in at VIC cycles. The shorter Neil said to me, We can convert it to a front if you like mate? Piece of cake. With the old internals pressed out and a new set of bearings pressed in, I think from a Sansin hub, I had a new front trispoke that performed very well on the local vets and nationals time trial circuits, and is still in use today.

Patched Corimma disc.
One day I came across a buddy Ed selling his carbon Corimma disc. He was in the NZ cycling team, and the airline had been kind enough to poke a hole through his wheel while returning back from his training camp in France. My buddy Susie was an ex yachtie and her Dad, a multiple world Duathlon champ in the over 70s class knew a thing or two about working with fibre-glass and resins. He patched it up nicely and with a new sticker over the blemish it was good to go. It turned out to be a very good and cheap disc on the whole and it saw plenty of action at Nationals and local events.

Converted disc, road to track
Another HED-job
I got into track racing for a short time and some how got gifted an old HED screw-on disc. I cant recall where it came from, but it was pretty old. I did some research and found that I could convert it to a track wheel with a kit brought from the US. I did a post about it here and it often gets hits from trackies and fixed gear aficionados from around the world.

Marcos re-cycled Litespeed
Back in the late 80's and early 90's as a masters MTB racer I was always coming up against Marco Renalli. Marco was the opposite of me. I was poor and married with children. He was a bachelor with a shed full of shiny toys, but he was always very generous with his old gear. If something lighter came out, I could often get the previous years model with a bit of wear and tear and usually a whole bunch of extra holes bored in it, at a very discounted price.
Straightened 1993 Litespeed
One day while Marco was commuting to work he was sadly knocked off his bike and sent to hospital with a broken leg. Marcos bike was bent and written off by the insurance company. I had a look at it and showed a buddy Mark who worked at BRANZ. They had a large hydraulic press there. One of Marks buddies did some measurements on it, tweaked it under this press, remeasured it and declared it a success. A couple of years later, on that bike, built up mostly with Marcos old discarded parts on it, I won the Masters 2 national MTB series on it and beat Marco into second. Thanks moit !

Spider swapping
Tune spider swap hack using track-bike
Being Kashi's webmaster meant that I had access to some very fruity gear that became surplus to his requirements and was often traded for webmastery duties. For a while he was a privateer between gigs, after the dissolution of the Volvo Cannondale team and had some help from the fruitiest of all component makers - Tune! Somehow I ended up with a lovely Tune Big Foot crank. I cant remember why, but at one stage I learnt that I could swap out the crank spider from the ATB format to the Compact format, or vice versa. The problem was how? There is probably actually a special Tune tool that costs 400 Euro for this actual task. I found that if I undid the spider locator bolt, installed the crank on my track bike, and pedaled backwards, I could unwind the crank arm off the spider! A very hand hack for the hundreds of you out there with Tune cranks and track bikes ; )  details here.
Axel swapping

Cheapie Tune QR to Thru axle conversion.
My cousin Paul, who is not really my cousin but might as well be, given his Luddite tendencies sent me over a QR (quick release) Tune front hub one day, because it wasn't through axle, and he had just joined the "big hit" brigade. I did a bit of research and found that I could punch out the bearings from the QR front hub, and replace them with the same externally sized bearings that Hope use in their rear wheels, and poke in a new Tune thru-axle axle. This was a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a Tune thru-axle swap kit complete with bearings from Germany, or a new Tune TA hub $$. I got it built up into a new wheel for the only bike I have with a thru-axle fork. Once again, not much use if you don't have a Tune hub, but its the thought that counts. Full details in a post here.

Bikepacking Hacks

The poor mans Diablo (PMD).
This is a sound alternative to the expensive Exposure Diablo, which has a pretty legendary reputation amongst Bikepackers. Based on the same 18650 battery, which also powers most lap-tops (easy to find) and a cheapie 10$ torch you can get some reasonable candle power. Full details here. In my latest iteration I have replaced my helmet mount with a zip-tied on pump mount, it's more robust, some of that Chinese velcro is not much cop. Copyright Doozy.

Natures Zip-tie" Harakeke/Flax
In my tool-kit I always carry a tiny scalpel blade with me, they are light and obviously very sharp. Many places in NZ have Flax growing on the trail or side of the road. You can always slice of a thin piece of Flax and use it much the same way you would to tie up broken stuff with a zip-tie. It's incredibly strong.

See some more (external) bikepacking hacks here:
and here, although some of them are a bit stupid, exercise caution in interpretation of this list:

I guess the point is that you don't always have to spend a lot of money on kit if you are willing to fix, hack, bodge or make-do your way to a solution more in keeping with your financial situation.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Rat Trap Pass Tires on all-road 26 inch hack

2 to 2.3 inches. Rat Trap Pass.
I have had the Compass Rat Trap Pass tires on my "allroad" bike (bastardised MTB) for around 6 months now so here is an update. As I said in an earlier post, I had always wanted to build a drop-barred, slick fat-tired 26er after seeing Mr Danger-pant's Firefly on a forum in 2011. Then when Firefly built Jan Heine's titanium allroader, I just had to do something with a pair of those fat supple tires and my old Litespeed Ocoee. Previous tires available for 26ers, while being fat, were heavy and slow due to their heavy sidewalls. I purchased the heavier of the two Rat Trap Pass tire options, not being sure how the more supple sidewalls of the lighter version would handle NZ's rough 3/4 chip roads and the off-roading I had in mind. The difference in weight was only 36 grams, 418 vs 454 grams, according to the Compass site. Mine weighed in at 460 grams.

The bike's build was to go through many many iterations, mostly involving cranks and forks, and it probably still has many more to go.

Iteration 1, with 98 SID.
I was excited at the promise of 2.3 inch wide tires but was a bit under-whelmed when they barely measured 2.0 inches when mounted on my old-school Rolf Dolomite rims. My dreams of PHAT-ness had fizzled. They were also a bit of a challenge to seat correctly, despite the very impressive full colour documentation that arrived with the tires. I rode around for a week hoping that they would settle in, but eventually I had to unmount them, soap the bead and generally tug and pull them into a good position. They are great now.

Mosso alloy fork
I was very impressed with the speed at which they rolled on the open road, I was able to push a much taller gear in comparison to the other slicks I had thrown on while waiting for the Compass tires to arrive. They still gave a surprising level of purchase in the rough stuff, a lot more than you would expect from a tire that is closer to a slick than a semi-slick, they climbed particularly well in the dry and were sweet in the gravel on the flat. I haven't had the pleasure of any spirited descending in the loose gravel to date, but they did cope well with the hard-pack. Actually I did some particularly brutal off-road descending last weekend which was enough to cause me to over-heat my vee-brake pads. The tires held up well but had me wishing I had a disc on as it was a very steep and sustained grade.

The front after 1000kms
Mostly I have been commuting on the open road with the Rat Trap Passes with occasional forays into the bush for about 15 minutes at the end of my commute, while running them at around 30 to 35 psi. Obviously the rear tire has worn a lot more than the front which still looks pretty good. It's certainly not due to skidding as I don't think the rear brake has a skid in it. This bike and tire combo is so much fun its pretty much been the only bike I have ridden in the last 6 months. When I say ride, I mostly mean commute. I am still amassing brownie points after my Tour Aotearoa from 2016 so my mileage is probably the weakest it has ever been at just under 1000kms on these tires. Often I commute via the Wellington CBD and this bike is great in that urban environment. It seems to accelerate away from the lights faster than my other bikes and feels very sure-footed when coping with the behaviour of random pedestrians walking into the traffic with noses in phones and the ever present puddle-duck taxi drivers halting flow.

This is the only time I have ever consciously recorded the mileage of my tires, and it was very easy to do. Because I enjoy riding this machine so much, I have hardly ridden any of my other bikes.
The rear after 1000kms
On the road, these tires, matched with a set of old Shimano XT parallel v-brakes on the front have boosted my descending confidence to a degree I never had before. Its more like riding a motorcycle.

Having the protection and comfort of the fat tires means that I can easily jump up onto a curb to make way for traffic in some of the more squirrely commuting routes I take home. I hope to log some more kms on these tires off-road when and if our summer actually arrives, and build my fitness back to a level where I am game enough to do a Friday Morning bunch road ride. At that point I should be able to see if fat really is fast.  Right now, I cant see a time when I will get my carbon road bike out again. This bike is just so comfortable.

Having never actually monitored a set of tires for wear before, I am not sure if the mileage so far is good or not. It is just the grooves that are wearing thin on the back and I am hopeful to get a lot more out of them yet. My gut feeling is that they are wearing at a similar rate to a pair of Stans Ravens which would be the next most similar tire I have used. One thing I have noticed is their puncture resistance, not one puncture in 6 months. That's pretty good compared to my road and wider 700 tires which netted me 4 unrelated punctures recently in 2 weeks.

More about the 26er "allroad" bike build

98 SIDs with Green Michelins
The bike, a 1993 Litespeed Ocoee started out with my powder blue 1998 rock shock SID forks on it, and some very old Wildgripper Comp Michelin tires. I kept the SID on it for a while, for several reasons, It was awesome on the gravel, and it had a reasonable amount of steerer on it. I also had a cheapie Mosso alloy fork on the way from Aliexpress.

The Mosso fork has the advantage of having both disc and canti posts on it, but so far I have stuck with the canti posts as the XT vee-brakes are more than powerful enough for me in most scenarios. I use the Problem Solvers travel agent converter. The modulation feels great. I could run canti's without a converter, but I am yet to meet a canti I wanted to spend that much time with. There is a decorative one on the back, after I accidentally broke my other vee-brake's locator peg.

Light-weight steel Spinner fork.
I tried hard to source a light-weight steel Spinner fork and eventually I got one that had just enough room to run a stem, although it is way too slammed for a crusty like me to be comfortable with long term. I will probably go back to the Mosso with its longer steerer and have a play with a disc option at some point, or use a stem extender, which will add 225+ grams. I noticed that using the Spinner fork improved the handling a bit as it was not suspension corrected like the Mosso fork was. I recall back in the day how my Mag 21's made the handling a bit floppy.

My Tiagra shifters seemed to have a lot of clicks in them so I was keen to try and sort out a triple crank option. I had done a lot of number crunching and figured that a closer ratio rear cluster with a triple would give me better options than a 2x on the front with big gaps on the back that would probably be noticeable at commuting speeds.

"Shimano Deore M591
10-speed Front Road Derailleur"
I'm not sure about that description
but that is what it was advertised as.

I had read of someone making a Shimano Deore M591 front derailer work with a shimano 3x shifter so I got one cheap online, as I was having no luck with my existing stock of derailers. In the end I got much better results out of my old Shimano LX crank than I did from my Tune crank so I went with the LX. There are times when I have to "trim" the shift one way or another, but I love having the range and closer ratios that the triple gives me. I probably could have gotten by with the 46/32 on the front but for me, having the option to ride very steep off-road climbs is worth it, even if its only now and then. One thing I did notice, this rig is affected by tail-wag a lot with a rear seat-bag. I am not sure how this is, by comparison my Karate Monkey is rock solid. Maybe its to do with the wheel size, as the wheel-base is identical.  I was commuting a lot with my seat-bag but it is enough to make me wear a back-pack which I'd also rather not do.


Some history on the bike

Looking back at the Tip-track.
This bike has done a lot of kilometres. When I got it second hand in the late 90’s, it’s previous owner had already used it as his do everything bike for 5 years. Marco used it 5 days a week for his 2 hours return commute, a bunch ride on saturday and a race on sunday, when there was one on. He did at least 5 national MTB series on it, (5-6 races in each series)  along with every other local race available during the height of the MTB racing boom in the early 90's in NZ. He rode it at the MTB worlds in Masters in 1993, (France) 1994, (Vail, Colorado), and 1996 (Cairns). He also won the masters national series on it a couple of times in NZ. He only sold it to me when he was run over one day while commuting and the frame was written off. I took it to BRANZ where they had a hydraulic press. One of the guys straightened out the rear stay and it became my new race bike.

Riding up the Tip Track.
The geometry wasn’t as good as that of my Diamondback Apex, but I was a bit of a weight weener so was happy to have a bike a good pound lighter. I campaigned it for quite a few years taking out the masters national series in 2001 on it.

I suspect that after this bike was built Litespeed tried to compete too much with the new lighter carbon bikes and their frame longevity suffered. This bike was one of the good ones, and shows no sign of giving up yet, 24 years on. Not a big deal for a steel bike, but pretty good for a titanium one.

Commuting via the wharf with my 2nd favourite saddle on.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Hand numbness while bikepacking 101

Some thoughts on hand numbness from bikepacking long distances.
Its taken me a while, but I think I am getting a better understanding of the causes of the numbness/palsy/neuropathy that I picked up during my Tour Aotearoa in February. I'm not over it fully yet, but at least I can turn the key to start the car, pick up a handful of nuts from a bag, operate a zip, and finally, tie my own shoe laces. Its been 5 months so far. In the beginning my right (front braking) hand felt like it was in a pitchers mitt. It felt numb, and sensitive at the same time. My fingers felt like fried sausages trying to burst out of their skins. It was the top two fingers closest to the thumb, and the thumb itself. Classic carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, from median nerve compression.  The other really common version of this that many riders will have experienced is the ulnar nerve compression which affects the other two fingers, well actually the lower one and a half fingers. One of the professionals I spoke to said the nerves travel a long way along your body and like a garden hose, they can be constricted at many places on their paths, necks, elbows, palms, but the hands tends to be where you feel it.

 Some people get muscle wastage as well. I was lucky not to get this and I still had a good range of movement and only about a 30-40% loss of strength, so there wasn't really any therapy advised to help in this area. My GP said up front the options were rest, drugs or an operation to relieve pressure. I opted for rest, which wasn't that hard, given I was tired, and it was very uncomfortable to ride. After a while, a month or two, I got very frustrated, and wondered if it would ever come right. The waiting was worse than the affliction itself, but it was helpful to evaluate the importance of cycling with respect to the "big picture".

This is a personal critique of my own set-up, but it might be relevant to you. It's not what to do AFTER you have "achieved numbness", its what you might do to STOP it occurring in the first instance.

Just remember, there are people who might say that riding a bike for 18 hours a day for 11 days, is not a particularly intelligent thing to do. They might be right, but it is possible to do it with minimal trauma to the hands, as my riding buddies and many others did, to a large extent.

Hand numbness is not uncommon in long distance bike riding, the problem is, with so many variables involved, you cant really effectively test your set-up, because it can take 4 days of riding 18 hours a day, before you even know if your set-up is going to work for you. Even 4 days may not be enough in an event that takes 10, or 16.  I had done 4 bikepacking events of distances over 1000kms and never experienced any hand numbness issues, but my set-up for the 3000kms of the Tour Aotearoa Dirt Brevet was not so forgiving. My issues surfaced on day 5 after a rough 20 minute white knuckled descent.

After 4 months of retrospection I have have come up with the following factors which could have lead to the hand issues some of us experienced.

1. Get a proper bike fit from a professional. If you know of a legitimate fitter with bikepacking experience then feel free to share them in the comments at the bottom of this post. Word of mouth would be the best criteria in choosing someone I would think. But someone whose experience is mostly in fitting roadies or triathletes for their bread and butter is unlikely to have the best background.

2. Multiple hand positions. I used to think this was the only thing that needed addressing, but I was proven wrong in the Tour Aotearoa. It's no use having lots of different positions if your overall position is not optimal, but it could help delay the inevitable and get you through a shorter event without issues.

3. Gloves. Wear padded gloves if you like, but if your position is rubbish, its probably not going to make that much difference in the end. I lost my gloves on day 1 of a 5 day event once and never missed them, I was on a fully though. A riding partner wore no gloves at all and he was on a rigid drop-barred CXer. Our riding positions must have been good enough for 5 days riding with no ill effects. Edit. Some gloves can make your hands more numb, beware!

4. Suspension. Bikepackers can get a bit obsessed about saving 800 grams by riding a rigid front fork. Ask yourself if it's worth it. Plenty of people move very quickly even on a full suspension bike. Maybe as we age its a good option to consider a hard-tail or a fully instead of a rigid? 51 year old Brian Alder just came 5th in the Tour Divide and admitted that front suspension of some kind could be a big help.

5. Weight bearing balance. This is the seat-to-hands weight-bearing aspect. In the Tour Aotearoa, my butt was completely mint. I didn't think this level of comfort was achievable when riding 18 hours a day for over 11 days. This was the first time I had ever experienced ZERO butt-trauma, but also the first time I had hand numbness. I suspect my fore/aft balance was way wrong. Is there a way of measuring this? I don't honestly know. Scales under the wheels? If your bars are set up too low, or too forward, the weight will transfer from your butt, to your hands/arms and over-load them over time.

Head angle looks too extreme while riding on the drops. My back is too flat to enable a more upright head angle without cricking my neck. Photo Matt Dewes.
6. Bar height. I had been riding on Salsa Woodchipper drop-bars for several years, and never had any problems. I also had aero-bars, so I thought I had plenty of different hand positions. Even more hand positions than my previous flats/bar-ends/aero-bars combo. I am never more comfortable than when I am on my Karate Monkey, on the Woodchippers, or on the aero bars, I could fall asleep in this position I feel so relaxed. Where did I go wrong?

All the cool kids say, when riding off-road on dirt specific drop bars, you should "ride on the drops/hooks" not the hoods. It makes good sense, you have more control, more braking leverage in your hands in this position, more pedalling power for short pitches, and the curve of the bars keeps your hands locked in when the terrain gets squirrely. This was how I rode mostly, when on the trails.

BUT, what if your bars are too low or too forward? When I was braking on the drops I believe my bars were possibly a bit too low, and had to angle my head up in order to see ahead. I spent at least 20 minutes like this on day 5 of the Tour Aotearoa on a particularly rough descent and I suspect this is where I came undone. 20 minutes with your hands clamped tight and your head at a crazy angle is a pretty bad nerve stretch in hindsight. Some people DO have a tendency to set up their drop bars too low, more like they would on a road bike.

There is also a thing called lumbrical incursion where during flexion of the hand the muscles are forced into the carpal tunnel causing nerve damage. My theory is that median nerve damage, caused by the above, is just as likely (maybe more likely) to happen while resting or hard-braking on the hoods, or drops, as it is from resting your hands on the tops of yours bars. The lower your bar is, the more pressure on the hands, and the less on your butt.

While my bars could have been a bit higher I think I would have benefited a lot more from a much shorter stem with more rise.
 7. Cock-pit length. I suspect this was the biggest error I made with my set-up. Make sure the length of your cockpit (top-tube/stem combo) is suitable for you. You don't want to be too stretched out. If you are stretched out you will be canting your head up on a funny angle again which can cause nerve compression in your neck. About a week before the Tour Aotearoa I rode my buddies bike. Both of us on 29er steel MTBs with Woodchippers. His stem had to be at least 3-4 cm shorter than mine, and we both have similar length torsos. His bike felt completely different, his more typically MTB, mine more like a Cyclo Cross rig. A bunch of nerves called the brachial plexus come out of your spinal cord, down your neck and into your arms. These nerves can be affected detrimentally by over-stretching and wearing heavy packs. I wore a very light back-pack every day, so that is another thing to think about. It's feasible that with my upper buddy extended beyond a natural range that the back-pack could have had an effect, over time, despite the fact that it had very little in it. I was aware of muscle soreness on the undersides of my upper arms at one stage so this may also point to being over-extended with my cock-pit length as well.

The other side to this argument is, that if your cock-pit is too short, you may not be able brake or ride on the drops anyway as it will be too cramped, unless your bar is set up a lot higher. I guess you have to make up your mind at the start. Are you going to ride and brake on the drops, or are you going to do what many people do, on AND off road, and just ride on the tops of the bars or hoods. It would be wise to base this decision at least in part on the level of technical riding you are expecting in the event.

Check out these links on dirt-drop-bar set-up if that's what you use: Guitar Ted's link , Matt ChesterJason Boucher and Shiggy.

8. Head position. As above. If your bars are so low that you have to angle your head up, then you are asking for trouble. There is some good stuff on "Points of contact" here from John Hughs, and a link to Steve Hoggs stuff where he says that if your neck is angled at more than 85-90% of its range then you are in dangerous territory, and he is not even fitting people generally for all day riding.

It looks like the angle of my arms is too flat, and I have my head angled down, probably for comfort. (front rider). Geoff (in the red) is also on the aeros but his head is in a more natural position. Photo Matt Dewes.
9. Peaks? I wear a peak, as I have prescription glasses, it protects me from the sun, rain and dirt. I couldn't understand why more people didn't wear peaks, but  if your peak is too  low, you will once again have to cant your head up on angle to see ahead. Having your head at an awkward angle will compress the nerves in your neck. Adjust your peak to make sure it doesn't interrupt your vision when you are getting in to your most aero mode. My peak is adjustable on the fly, but I don't think I even thought it was an issue. I did not feel any discomfort in my neck.

It looks to me like my peak is obscuring my view and probably causing me to angle my head back more. Photo Matt Dewes.
10. Be conservative. What works for you in a 4 day event may not work in a 16 day event. Aero is good, but not at the expensive of nerve damage. Aero does not equal low, aero equals smaller frontal area (mostly).

11. There is no one best handlebar. To my way of thinking these things are very personal, a lot like saddles. The best handlebar is the one that allows small hand movements that can change the fore/aft pressure on your hands and butt. You should have a set-up which allows these micro adjustments as you ride. This is why I like drop bars. But if I am going to continue to ride on drop-bars, and brake and ride on the drops, I will look at a higher position for the bar compared to what I currently have. Google "LD" stems, that is the style of stem you are getting close to for really comfortable drops-based braking for extending periods.

See Shiggys weight distribution change with
each differing position on his drop bars.

If I change my style to just braking from the hoods, stem/bar height is not an issue. Many of my buddies brake this way, but they are better riders than I and they have more confidence bombing descents with their hands resting on the hoods. Mini-cross levers were Josh Katos solution for confident braking on the top of the bar.

After the the 2015 Kiwi brevet, Joe Jagusch suffered from debilitating Carpal tunnel Syndrome for a year. This is the set-up he used in the Tour Aotearoa to combat his earlier problems. Scores high on the "LD scale" but it worked for him.

12. Aero bars. I think aero bars are great, but as mentioned above, don't get sucked into an uber-low position. They are there to relax onto, and increase your aero-ness a bit, but don't set them so far forward that you over extend your arms and end up tilting your head back in order to see ahead.

A lot of people are using the fred-bar styled arrangements that give the aeros extra height and clean up the "handle-bar-real-estate" area.

People who throw on a set of aero bars at the last minute are asking for trouble because generally.
1. They wont have had time to adapt to them.
2. They will probably use them a lot more than they thought they would, making any problems worse than they thought possible.
3. My gut feeling is, the longer the event, the more likely it is that you are going to use your aero bars.

13. (A late addition). Bar tape. If you have big enough hands, think about double wrapping your tape or using appropriately placed gel inserts.  Some people swear by double wrapping.

14. (A later addition). Core strength! A strong core will help you in many areas, but it will help support your upper body weight and keep some of it off your arms.

15. (A later later addition). Finger exercises to relieve numbness on the bike as practiced by Cliffy in this years Kiwi Brevet.

These are just the things that I have observed that I believe effected me. There are quite a few factors in there to be considered. In isolation you might get away with a couple of problems, but the longer you are out there, the more chance they have to come into play. This ramble is very "drop-bar-centric" given that that was my experience, but I believe most of the things I have looked at are universal. I used Salsa Woodchippers, but there are many other drop bars out there. Read the comments on Guitar Teds link to see what other drop-bar users use.

Maybe a check-list could be something like this:

1. Choose your bar/s.
2. Decide how you will use it
3. Determine the optimal cock-pit length
4. Determine the optimal stem/bar height
5. Make sure there are varied positions available possibly with bar extensions and or aero bar add-on options.
6. Try to get the fore-aft butt-to-hands balance right.
7. Check that with the above all done, your head angle is comfortable over time.
8. If in doubt, err on the side of comfort over speed.
9. Maybe look for a proper bike fit first, if there is someone close. It might give you a better starting point?

It might feel nerdy, but get someone to take some side on shots of you in varying positions with you bike on a stationary trainer with the front wheel level to the back. I don't know the exact angle your upper arms should be at. Its likely to differ a bit, depending on how low the bars are, and whether or not you are using a fred bar mount or risers of some kind on your aero-bars, if you are using aeros.

Its now 6 months since I started the 2016 Tour Aotearoa. My hands are at 97.5% I reckon. Time heals. It was the best event I've ever done. I look around at some other events that have been and gone in that time, and others that are just about to start, and I realise how lucky we are in NZ to do such a diverse ride. Would I change anything?
Sure, I'd put on a shorter stem !  

The 2nd Tour Aotearoa starts Feb 2018.

You can read about my other ailments and prevention here : ) http://jeffsbike.blogspot.co.nz/2015/09/what-is-your-achilles-heel.html

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Some slick and fat tires for fun and performance

The bike that inspired
my interest in fat slicks
I was intrigued by "Mr Danger Pant's" fat tired Firefly when I first saw it 5 years ago on MTBreview forum. It had some very interesting kit on it including WTB dirt drop-bars.  I always thought it would be cool to build something like this. Its a 26 incher with Schwable Super Motos.

More recently the guys at Firefly built an All-road/rando styled bike that they thought might appeal to hard-core-randonneur Jan Heine. They got mostly high praise from Jan who tested it while touring in Mexico. Its a beautiful bike, and has motivated me to convert my old titanium Litespeed 26er into a light-weight drop-barred do everything bike.

Slick and fat
While you have always been able to get big heavy fat slick tires for 26ers you can now get some more light weight ones, and also 27.5 (650b) slick tires in wider widths are  starting to appear. The Compass Rat Trap Pass 26 inch tire is listed at 2.3 inches and 418 grams in its lightest format. I will try these on my repurposed Litespeed Ocoee and see how they roll. I am not keen to try the lightest tires on our crappy roads but will settle for the 454 gram version.

See below a list of the tires I dredged up for a potential tourer or commuter. Some are heavy, some are light, some are fast and supple. Most of the 27.5 ones are not that wide but I am sure there are more coming. Some tires I haven't listed here are the Stans tires but they are verging into semi slicks and there are a whole lot more tires in that field. You might even class some of these tires below as semi-slicks. This site is pretty interesting if you believe in rolling resistance values as measured in the lab. They rate the Schwable Big one as the fastest MTB tire they have ever tested.

The Fire Fly all-road rando

29 inch
Schwalbe Big Apple 2.15 - 2.35 http://www.schwalbetires.com/bike_tires/road_tires/big_apple
Scwhalbe Big One 2.35  http://www.schwalbe.com/en/tour-reader/schwalbe-big-one.html
Maxxis Grifter 2 - 2.5  http://www.maxxis.com/catalog/tire-474-grifter
Maxxis Hookworm 2.5 http://www.maxxis.com/catalog/tire-472-123-hookworm

27.5 inch /650B
Compass Switchback hill 48mm https://www.compasscycle.com/shop/components/tires/650b/compass-650bx48-switchback-hill/
WTB Horizon plus 47mm http://www.wtb.com/products/horizon
Maxxis re-fuse 2.0  http://www.maxxis.com/catalog/tire-511-re-fuse
Scwhable Big One 2.35 http://www.schwalbe.com/en/tour-reader/schwalbe-big-one.html

26 inch
Maxxis Hookworm 2.5 http://www.maxxis.com/catalog/tire-472-123-hookworm
Maxxis DTH 2.15 + 2.3 http://www.maxxis.com/catalog/tire-314-123-dth
Compass Rat-trap-pass 2.3 (52-54 mm) https://www.compasscycle.com/shop/components/tires/26-inch/compass-26-x-2-3-rat-trap-pass/
Schwalbe Big Apple 2.15 - 2.35 http://www.schwalbetires.com/bike_tires/road_tires/big_apple

A few fatter slicker tires.

First draft for the new "format". Tires and fork on the way.

Update: So far, so good. One ride in. Very fast, and beautiful on gravel at 30psi. Not sure whether to go with a period steel Spinner fork, or go with a disc or vees on an alloy Mosso.

Dropped the granny, and swapped out the 42 for a 46. with an 11-34 on the back. It should cope with most things. I have heard that a deore front deralier can work with 3 speed road shifters, this medium old XTR one is certainly not coping with it. I dont really want to go bar end.
Back with the 96 SID on.

Ok, now working in all three cogs with a new "Shimano Deore M591 10-speed Front Road Derailleur", whatever that means..... Heaps of clicks in the 3 speed shifters for trimming. Spinner fork on front, still need more steerer. So much fun to ride.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Bam-Boozled by the Lauf

About the time that the Tour Aotearoa finished I started noticing the Lauf fork making a few more appearences in "Social Media Land". A local rider Gary Moller took one to the Masters MTB world champs a few years back, but a misunderstanding about the course meant it wasn't the best solution for him on the day. The guy that did the fastest ride in the 2016 Tour Aotearoa used one, Jacob Roberts, and there were at least 2 others on the course as well.

Someone popped up in my Instagram feed one day, having just done a respectable time at the Karapoti Classic with one.  He did a 2:52, he was also on a Boo Bamboo bicycle, and single speed to boot. He was obviously pretty fit. Only the hard-core go under 3 hours on a single speed at the Poti ! Long story short, Vijay, being the good brand ambassador that he was, offered it up any time I wanted to take it for a spin.

Time passed, the numbness in my hands from the TA was starting to subside and Vijay was heading back to University in Baltimore where he had come from, for his study swap at Massey Uni in Wellington. I needed to hurry if I was going to try it out. I picked it up on a thursday night but only managed to get the one 2 hour ride in on it in the weekend.

The first thing that I noticed was the gearing, it was quite low, Todman street in Brooklyn posed no problems, and I did the Transient Serendipity trails on it before heading out to Revolution Cycles where Owen was working saturdays. He'd mentioned that he had done some work on the bike for Vijay so it was a good chance to hear his views on it as well.

It's hard to get a really good impression of a bike in 2 hours, with its funky handlebars, which I did like, and while the reversed (American styles) brakes did work better for my numb right hand I obviously wasn't going to go crazy on it. I came back and rode along Highbury Fling and did some out and back on the Car-parts trail. One thing I noticed straight away was the pedal clearance. I should have been getting pedal strikes but I wasn't. A quick measure back home showed me 315mm of bottom bracket clearance which was a lot more than any of my other bikes. Vijay pointed out that it had an eccentric BB and that while it was only at "4 oclock" it could have been part of the reason. It didn't make the bike feel ungainly but then it didn't make me feel like hammering like a nutter either.

I guess I was looking at it as a potential bike-packing rig. I have no idea how well these tubes all hang together with a load on after 1000 plus kms but the finish looked damn good to me, and the feel was very nice. Currently weighing in at around 71 kgs, I couldn't make it noticeably flex. The feeling was more akin to a carbon bike than anything, but not a stiff one, a compliant one. As much as you can tell these things. Anyway, I liked the feel of it compared to something like my Carbon Giant XTC hard-tail.

Its pretty hard to describe the fork. To me the closest thing it resembled was a rigid fork. It went where I pointed it, and didn't have that vague feeling that I often get with suspension forks of going generally in the direction they are pointed. I actually like this feeling. Its a lot like riding your Cross bike off road and enjoying the precise nature of the steering.

Apparently the forks come in two spring  "strengths" and I don't know which this one was, presumably the stiffer of the too, as the less stiff one has a weight limit of 70 kgs. When you are out of the saddle, as you often are in a single speed, there was not the mushiness that you would expect  from an unlocked suspension fork. I couldn't really tell how much of the 60mm of travel that it was using. The small bump compliance didn't seem that great to me, and I asked myself, what would I want for Bikepacking, given the "non-big-hit" nature of it. I decided that some kind of relief in the 2 to 3/5ths travel area might be ideal, or at least doable. I am sure the low impact stuff takes its toll over time, but anything that responsive is likely going to be a bit annoying. This I guess is why a lot of bikepackers go rigid. No big hits, and a small weight saving.

A typical rigid carbon fork comes in at around 500-800 grams, so the Lauf, at 990 grams is a reasonable compromise for a bit of comfort. A new Rock Shock SID suspension fork weighs in at 1366 grams, but you have a reasonably complicated device there, so if you are one to get paranoid about that kind of thing then the Lauf might appeal. The old wheel between the knee test didn't show the Lauf fork to be any different than my usual suspension fork in sideways flexing.

I am not known for my technical skills so this fork, given its limitations was a fun ride, especially for a rider who spends most of his time on a rigid-forked steel Karate Monkey. I think it shows real potential as a bikepacking fork. And given that bikepackers are the last people to worry about looks, the funky looking design may not be a problem at all : )

Thanks Vijay.