Saturday, October 31, 2009

SASS meets 650b

I finally got the funds for a wheelset. Since I already have a a rigid Single Speed Bonty Conversion , I wanted to do something to make the SASS unique. My decision was to go with a 650b (27 ½”) wheelset. The SASS has a lot of room for big wheels/tires; the bike comes stock with 2.40 tires. My criteria for the wheels besides 650b, was the rear had to be both disc and rim brakes compatible (needed for a flip flop hub and drilled cog) and the front just disc compatible. I looked around for a wheelset under $500 and found only one; the Stan's NoTubes 355. My other choice was to build a wheel with Velocity Dyad rims and a Shimano Deore or XT hub. I decided on the Stan's wheels, which with ZTR hubs (re-branded WTB Laser-lites). The next decision was tires. I found a bargain on Kenda Nevegal 2.35 and went also for the folding bead.

About a week later the big brown truck showed up with the wheels. Almost all new wheelsets look nice, so I won't bore you the owws and aass. Two issues I had not thought through and they involved the hubs, specifically the rear hub. First the hubs are not easily converted to a solid axle and the freewheel shell is aluminium. After I mounted the rear wheel I found the outside cam QR that came with the wheels, could not hold the wheel in the sliding dropouts. I switched over to a Shimano (interior cam) and it seemed to hold. However, now I didn't trust a QR, so I added a Surly Tuggnut tensioner to be safe; I also later upgraded to a Surly BMX cog with a wider base. I first mounted the tires with tubes and went for a ride; it was like magic. So nice, I realized it was also the weather and trail conditions, not just the new wheels. Still I liked the bigger wheels. For those of you that need to know such things; the bigger wheels fit the SASS frame perfectly and resulted in a 11 1/2" bottom bracket measurment.

Once back home, I got the idea of converting the wheels to tubeless. The Stan's wheels are obviously made to be tubeless, but there are no tubeless 650b tires as of yet. However Stan's has advertised from the beginning, to be a means of converting standard tires and/or rims to tubeless. They sell a spoke tape and rim-strip for this purpose, along with their sealant. The Stan's rims come with their version of spoke tape, and their “Olympic Valve stem”, which is a stand alone valve stem, designed to work with just the spoke tape (no rim strip) . The Stan's web site said most applications using the Stan's rims, work with the spoke tape and Olympic valve. Kenda tires are on the Stan's recommended list, it also recommends wire bead tires, especially for 29er tires, but with the exception of Intense, IRC and Hutchinson (they also recommended to my riding buddy, not to use WTB 29er) tires, most standard tires should work; so I figured the Nevegal's folders should work.

I first tried mounting the tire with soapy water and a floor pump; that did not work. I do not have a compressor, so I went to a gas station and used the tire “pump”. The first station's pump did not have enough air volume to work. I went to another station (across the street), which was a little better. I still had to use the pump is short bursts so it could build up pressure and volume. After 3-4 bursts, the tire sealed enough to start filling up the tire and you could hear the beads snap into the “bead socket”. Okay, that worked, but I still had to pour in some Stan's sealant. I returned to my house, deflated the tire and broke the seal on one side. I then poured in the sealant and took some time nudging the loose tire bead onto the “bench” (the flat area that divides the center spoke groove; Stan's rims have a wider benche than other rims for better sealing). I used my floor pump with about 5-8 quick pumps and the bead sealed; a few more pumps and the bead seated. I mounted the other tire much the same way, using a tube to seat the tire before I poured in the sealant. I pumped both tires up to about 40 psi.

My next ride was at Wilder Ranch; the Eucalyptus and Enchanted loops. This may sound over the top, but I now can not understand why anyone that rides with a rigid fork and can afford them, does not use tubeless tires. The combination of the 650b and tubeless, smoothed out the bumps, holes and roots to a new level; even technical climbing was easier. I have previously tried running standard 26" 2.30 Hutchinson Pythons @ 30 lbs with a rigid fork and front end wallowed badly. There was none of that with the tubeless.With the rolling nature of the 650b and the suppleness of the tubeless, I now have to reset my limits with a rigid fork. Another way to explain it is, it's like the wheels now have a dampener. I'm faster, with a smoother ride, more in control, and climb technical sections with less effort. OH BTW I tried to drill a Shimano BMX cog to mount on a disc hub, but a cobalt drill wouldn't even leave a mark; I have since ordered a Tomi Cog.. Hmm, but you no what? I think I need more riding time. I'll get back to you...But when it comes to mountain bike wheels and tires I am now spoiled. Damn.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bianchi SASS Fixie

I got a new bike. I certainly didn’t expect to get a new bike but my friend Spike gave me a frameset. But not just any old frameset, but a shiny chrome Bianchi SASS; SASS is Bianchinese for Shiny Ass Single Speed. Now if the truth be known, I really didn’t need another bike, but I was on the look out for a SASS, Why? Well, umm, er, you see...hey, it's a Shiney Ass Single Speed, that's why! And the idea came to me; a fixed gear mountain bike. Yes! I have heard stories about these, but never seen one in person. If singlespeed is the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest, fixed gear is like doing it without extra oxygen. The most logical build would be a fixed/freewheel fliop/flop rear hub. They only catch is a SASS is made disc specific and you can’t have a flip/flop hub with a disc brake since you only have one caliper. The answer was simple, a cheapo side pull brake would do the job. For components have a Planet X chrome BMX crankset that I bought in parts for no particular reason. I also have some Ritchey handlebars, stem and seatpost and Shimano brake levers, so all I need (besides wheels) are the brake calipers and a seat. I decided on a Avid BB-7 w/ 185mm rotor, a generic, but long throw canti-brake and a THE seat, on sale and looking a lot like a old style Bonty seat ; the total price, less than $80.

Now about the wheels. Finances as they are, I do not have the funds to buy/buid a new wheelset; I’m thinking 650B. I do have a rear wheel off my rigid SS bike, with a flip/flop free/free, non-disc hub/rim; that will work for the rear. I also have a front disc wheel off another bike, they only difference being the caliber is setup for 180 rotor, rather then the Avid 185, but I figured it would work okay and I figured right. As I said before, I wanted to have the option to run this bike as a fixed gear. Now, track cog with thread onto a hub made for a BMX freewheel, but there are no reverse threads to lock it down. A work around involves using an old loose ball bottom bracket lockring. These rings thread the same direction of the track cog, so you cannot completely rely on them to hold the cog under reverse torque. But, they are an added precaution and with the aid of some locktite, (which I did not use), it came be a reliable fix; but a bugger to remove. Since I will have a rear brake, I will not rely exclusively on rear torque to stop/slow the bike, so I figured the locktite was not necessary.

So, I put it all together and headed out to Soquel Demonstration Forest in Santa Cruz to try out this fixie mountain bike thing. Today was the day. Spike showed up in his van with his new Sette 29er dingle speed and I had my SASS fixie. In case you didn’t see it, here’s another pic; I added the rear brake and lever. SASS frames are disc only, but my plan was for a fixed/free, so a disc would not work. The plan was a Demo Forest ride (Santa Cruz, CA). The ride is about 13 miles, starts with 1000 foot climb on apaved and fire road, 2000 foot downhill singletrack (we road Tractor), and 1000 foot climb back out to the lower trail head; difficulty is somewhere between medium/expert to expert. The first climb was not much different than usual, perhaps a little easier because of the fixed gear. In the middle of the climb there is a single track, which gave me my first real taste of off road fixed gear riding; very awkward at first. When setting up for an obstacle, once tendency, especially on a flat or down hill, is to stand up and momentaarily coast; this of course is not possible on a fixie. I have read the technique is to lock up the rear wheel just before the obstacle. My first inclination was to just go for broke and hope I wouldn’t catch a pedal; this worked exactly 5 times. Number six didn’t result in a fall, but convince me I needed to start working on locking the rear wheel; the technique is easier than you would think, especially with a rear brake. After 3-4 tries, I found when the release point was and after that I started actually looking forward to the numerous log crossing on the trail.

There were also a number of ruddy downhills. I first tried to stay seated, but that was too painful and unsteady. The trick is to standup, brake and pedal at the same time; again something that takes some practice, but is picked up fairly quickly. By this time we were at the top entrance to Demo Forest and the Ridge Trail. It’s pretty much downhill after this and my original plan was to switch to a freewheel at this point, but I decided to continue on with the fixed gear. Using my newly acquired skills I continued on and found I was able to negotiate increasingly more difficult terrain. On my mind however, was a small patch of downhill baby heads after the helipad. Again I had planned to switch to freewheel before the baby heads, especially since I had crashed the last 2 times I had ridden them. But, again I had already negotiated the trail to this point, so I again decided to continue. The baby head section is very rutted, so you really have to pick your way through without the front wheel washing out. I took the section to the right, which is less rutted, by requires a quick right at the bottom. I put my mind in “I’m going for it” mode and before I knew it, the front wheel dropped down at the bottom and to my surprise I made the turn and rode to the second section. This section is longer but not as steep and I made it through feeling very good about myself (especially since Spike took a minor spill in the first section). We finally reached the trail head to Tractor. Of the 5 main trails at Demo Forest, Tractor slightly less technical than Braille or Sawpit, but has a number of long sweeping turns and can be ridden a very high speeds. I picked it because if I did fall, I would do less damage to myself then the other two, which have some very steep downhills and no safe place to land if you fall. The ride was a hoot and I actually found myself wishing it was more technical (next time). Once I got to the bottom I was pretty much done, but it was a great ride. I expected my legs would be toasted, but it was my upper body that was feeling worse for ware. I pretty much crawled back to the lower trail head (a 1000 foot climb out). I was left with the realization that a fixed mountain bike is very rideable (if I can do it anyone can) even over technical terrain. It was a HOOT and it’s something I want to do again!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Our Burley Tandem (OT; no SS)

In 2004 my bride and I rode the Solvang Century on a tandem. We were married about a year earlier, but even prior to that, she realized that if she was going to spend enough quality time with me she would need to ride with me. Having no history of bike riding, a tandem was in order. Now usually this would be a dumb idea; 9 out of 10 times (or so; maybe it's 99 times out of 100) when one buys a tandem for this reason, the bike will sit unused after a few rides. This is because one only rides a bike because one is basically a masochist and endorphin attack, and neither love nor money will lead anyone to sit on the back of a tandem unless it's something they really want to do. Turned out my bride is actually 1 in a 1,000,000; however both love and money also figured into it. After looking around we decided on a Burley “Rock and Roll”. The Rock and Roll is a mountain bike tandem. The 26” wheels are actually stronger than 700c wheels and the Rock and Roll actually comes as a road bike and DaVinci still pushes 26” wheels as the best wheel for a tandem. First I kicked myself for not getting the “road kit”, but I never leave anything stock, so in the long run it worked out. The one thing we did do is special order the color; dark blue (same as the Samba). The 2003 color for the Rock and Roll was orange and my bride hates orange.

After riding the tandem off road a few times, I switched out the handlebars. The OEM handlebars were Ritchey risers with SRAM Gripshifters and MTB brake levers. I picked up a MTB mustache bar that were Gripshift friendly and a stem with a steep rise; that’s what we used at Solvang (sorry no photo). Pictured here is a 2002 Samba; it’s basically the same bike with lesser components.

After Solvang we rode one more ride, the Strawberry Fields Ride in Santa Cruz and then rode infrequently after that. The next incarnation started with some bar end shifters I had purchased many years earlier. My original plan for them had long since faded, but they remained in the back of my mind. The Gripshifters and MTB brake levers were never a very elegant solution and I had always wanted to use aero brake levers with V-brakes, aka Tektro Road V-brakes. I decided the handlebars would be Nitto Albatross or Mustache; the bars and brake levers are available for Rivendell. At the time I was putting together , Luisa's Long Haul Trucker and decided to use the brakes and levers (Shimano LX on her bike). This left a need for some V brakes for the tandem. I had always liked the Avid Arch Rivals. Although they are no longer in production, I found a set on ebay and I was set. Arch Rivals were Avid answer to Shimano's Parallel-Link V brakes; very strong and without all the moving parts.

The first set of bars I bought was the Albatross bars. Both the Albatross and Mustache bars are bar end shifter compatible. After I mounted the bars they seemed a little long; hmmmm. Oh I know, I’ll cut them down. Wrong; bad idea. It seems the ends of the bars are internally relieved to accept the bar ends, but only for 2 inches. I cut the ends of the bars off and they were now the same size as the mustache bars, but no longer bar end shifter compatible. Damn. Okay, now I have to order another $70 pair of handlebars. Damn. Oh well, it is what it is.

Anyway, the bars, brakes and shifters went together without incident and blue handlebar tape put it all together. My bride and I did Solvang again this year and it was a blast. The photo shows the most recent build and us riding. Nothing better than quality time with the wife.