Posts in Category: tech

What the Fork?

Hunter at Lubars

I miss this setup.  I would love to be able to add a nice mini-rack on my Seven Mudxium, attach my Bailey Work D-Rack Bag and have my coffee kit with me on all rounds.

In essence the dream fork will be:

  • Tapered
  • Disk brakes
  • Fender tabs
  • Crown hole
  • Mid-fork screws for rack mounting
  • Room for 45mm tires, possibly

With the recent announcements of the Specialized Sequoia I was reminded that there isn’t really a reason not to have rack bosses on carbon forks.  So I started looking for options in the market.  So, what do we have on the table?

  • Seven Max 45 Tapered Disc Fork – this fork has room for loads of rubber and fender tabs.  Sadly, I can’t figure out how to add a rack to this.
  • Whisky Parts No. 9 Carbon Thru Axle Cross Fork – This one has loads of room, fits the bill pretty well but does not have any way that I could find to add a rack.
  • Rodeo Labs Spork – This looks like the absolute winner.  It has everything on my list.  The price point is much lower than the rest ($380) and it looks super sexy.  This may end up on the Mudxium very soon.  Stay tuned.

So you need new rims

Velocity Rims-1050116After only one year of riding the Velocity Blunt SLs they developed cracks.  At close investigation the cranks are only on the drive-side.  It’s never boring in Bike Land.

It’s time to replace the hoops and reconsider weight, stiffness and satisfaction.  A quick call with one of most respected wheel builders in Germany, brought forward a few options:

The big difference between the rims above and the Velocity Blunt SL I was using is a mere 40-50 gram as the SLs are advertised at 420 g.  I had to scratch my head and ask myself can 40 gram makes such a difference?  I also thought that an interesting option, in the same price range, would be Kirk Pacenti’s SL25.  The rims weight 450 gram, are 24.5mm wide and measure 26.0mm high.  So I contacted Kirk and asked for his opinion.  Within a few hours Kirk responded recommending the use of different spokes than the ones I used so far (Sapim CX-Ray) and pretty much assuring me that even with the style of riding the wheels endure, I should have no problems.  After all, these rims were used by Mark Beaumont to ride clear across Africa – these roads could not have been better maintained than the paths I take around here.

Kirk’s note also sent me to the Sapim website to check out some data points.  It turns out that the CX-Ray weight 272 gram for 64 pieces at 260 mm.  They are rated for strength at 1600 N/mm2.  The D-Lights come in at 307 gram while the Race model weights 363 gram.  Both D-Light and Race, however, allow for “only” 1300 N/mm2 of tension.  As the good folks at Sapim write on their web site, “high tension is always better.  The higher the tension the stiffer the wheel.”  So back to said wheel builder we go and entrust him with making the right decision on building a wheel that’s stiff, light and robust enough to cary my rather large skeleton.

So here we have it, loads of data, but the real question is still open – what wheels to build.  The discussions seems like a rabbit hole, especially since one can easily find articles such as these that dissect at great length the concept of wheel stiffness.  Decisions?  Since Kirk is such a nice guy and I am interested in trying his SL25 rims out, I’ll go with these.  This is by no mean a statement about the rest of the options.  I rode H Plus Son for a while, but they are not Tubeless compatible and suffer from the “been there” syndrome.  I rode a lot of Velocity rims and managed to kill all of them.  So it’s really time for something new.  And new, as we know…is always…better.

The Nutter Bicycle Multi-tool

This multi-tool, from a kiwi designer behind The Full Windsor, is looking to fulfill both smart, durable and “has great user interface” requirements which many tools are lacking.  I’m not one to spread hate, but I am less than impressed with my Park Tool MTB 3.2 which has everything, but fell apart after a few days (I was able to rebuild it) and generally seems to offer too much without much quality.

This might just have to get on my shopping list.

European Manufacturing: Blahol Messenger Bags

It’s not the first time that I mention that I have a small, or perhaps not so small, fetish for bags.  I also like to support European manufacturers.  Blahol has been on my radar for a few years now, ever since I bookmarked their saddle toolbox.  So on a recent visit to Warsaw, Poland, I got in touch and asked if I can come visit.

As I was walking down the industrial building staircase towards the basement I could not help but notice traces of the past, evident also in many similar buildings in East Berlin – the exposed pipes, the concrete, the ceiling that’s barely 2 meters high and the utilitarian nature of the whole environment.  This was clearly a space with deep history and stories of its own, and our little cycling world was taking over.

The staircase wall was painted with a beautiful mural showing a track racer in grotesque position, muscles pumped and determination that only eastern block athletes used to posses.  There was no way to become a professional cyclist during the days in which Europe was split into two, so every cyclist, no matter how good, was an amateur cyclist.  This painted guy did not look amateur at all.

The staircase opened to a corridor filled with bikes.  I had to watch my head since the ceiling was roughly the height of my head and at times was cross by pipes.  Some of the bikes had alley cat cards in their spokes, one even proudly presenting Blahol’s logo.  None of the bikes were fancy and all were steel.  The first door marked with the industrial looking sign proclaiming Cech opened into a room filled with bikes, each in various stages of repair – this was a bike workshop, a velo-surgery room, a safe-house operating table for Warsaw’s elite two wheeled transporters.

Blahol-1020276

My goal was the door at the end of the corridor.  I was heading towards a room, no larger than 4×4 meters, that hosts, for another two weeks until the boys move to a new space, the Blahol workshop, order processing unit, web operations and storage space – the whole operations is hosted here.

Blahol-1020273

Blahol started 7 years ago by making messenger bags.  In its initial 5 years the operation was an after work activity that developed slowly and allowed the young artisan to develop his skills, supply chains and product offering.  Two years ago, Blahol gave his day job the middle finger and started working full time for himself.

Brothers

Together with his brother, they operate the two sewing machines and take care of the customers.  At times, Blahol tells me, his girlfriend helps as well.  The name of the company is actually the nickname of the man himself.  He explained that when a friend of his helped with the logo, said friend suggested that the name of the company will be the nick name.  7 years later the logo and name are a perfect match for this young and independent operation.

Blahol-1020274

I did mention that I’ve got a little bag fetish, but in all the years I’ve been chasing bags around the planet, from the first messenger bag I bought in London in 1993 (hello Rasta colors Timbuk2) through the rather large collection of Chrome bags I own, I never got to see the bags being made, from scratch.  Blahol sews all the bags exactly where I found him using two Juki Japanese industrial sewing machines.  For material Blahol uses only the best elements, some, like the straps, from Poland, while the main fabric, Cordura, he sources from Italy.

Fabrics

For a small company one of the biggest challenges is getting the material.  A large fabric manufacturer like Cordura, is interested in selling fabrics in 1,000 meters pieces and not in small batches.  So Blahol sources his materials from other manufacturers that buy in bulk and sell him smaller pieces.  This means that at times the colors he has, like the Swedish military cameo bag he had lying around,  can be wild and unique and also run out quickly.  Through the website the customers can create the color combination they want and Blahol and his brother make each bag when the order is made.  Each bag also gets a unique ID enforcing the concept behind “this is your bag, no other bag like it exist.”

Messenger Bag Demo

The messenger bag that Blahol demonstrated to me had some pretty cool features and looked to be indestructible.  It had a double strap for those instances when you really have a lot of stuff to cary.  The strap looked cushy and the buckles industrial strength and massive.  I could totally see these bags being used and abused by bike messengers in Warsaw, but when I asked Blahol about the local messenger scene, he proclaimed that there are not a lot of these dudes in his city and that the bags mostly go to individuals that like to use these shoulder-strap style bags.

There were really a few other pre-made bags in the studio.  One was a waist-bag.

Blahol-1020244

And the other was a hip bag.

Blahol-1020243

And U-lock belts.

Belts

Another bag, that lucky for me was in the studio and has not yet left the shop to the customer, was the new wave backpack.  This is a brilliant backpack with roomy and fully waterproof main compartment that’s actually configureable by removing straps from their default positions to a different position, closer to the top of the bag, to allow for longer things to be packed.  It also has a deep pocket on the front where you can keep your pens, cables, chargers and what nots.  Another secret feature is the quick access, left and right pocket that’s located in the middle of the bag.  It seems like Blahol thought about everything – you can even velcro-off the back-pad and wash it or use it as a seating matt.  Brilliant.  The Swedish cameo bag he had is one hell of a zombie-apocalypse gear which I found difficult not to snatch out of his hands immediately. I knew that Blahol could out run me in a second so that never happens.

New Wave Backpack

For such a small business I was surprised to see an order management system that ensured the customer is able to track exactly when his or her bag is being made, finished and shipped.  The brothers schedule their production by days and work diligently to get each bag out the door as soon as possible.  These days, when every customer is the Western World, is used to near-instant delivery from the likes of Amazon, even small businesses have to compete with standards that were near impossible to meet only a few years back.  Blahol seems to have his order management and customer order tracking system well under control.

Workspace

I am stoked on this find.  The bags are rock solid, made with attention to details and utilitarian mind set.  The boys behind the bags use them and know, from first hand experience, what is important to the user.  Even though the company is small, the bags are affordable – something that can not be said for many other bag companies, even those who manufacture in the far-east.  I know the Blahol brothers will do well and can whole heartedly recommend giving their bags a chance.

The man behind Blahol:

Blahol Himself

And his brother:

Brother

Introducing: Seven Mudxium S

Looking at my Strava statistics climbing up, my rearranged work schedule around a Wednesday morning ride, the utter detachment with which I look at bikes on the Internet (well…that’s an exaggeration), and the beautiful machine hanging on my wall, I feel rewarded having made the plunge into the titanium custom bike pool and choose to swim with the big sharks – Seven Cycles.

In June, 2013 I had a face-to-face meeting with Rob Vandermark at Ride Studio Cafe (RSC in Lexington, Massachusetts, U.S.A ) which was the culmination of months of internal debates and consultations until I decided to pull the trigger.  I routed a flight to Washington, DC through Boston, well, it’s on the way and arranged for a day at RSC.  Rob and myself discussed how the ride should feel, what was I going to do with the bike, what the handling should be like and how far I’d like to ride.  Tech talk was kept to a minimal and apart from explaining that I’d like to be able to mount big tires on the bike (45mm) and would like disk brakes, we did not talk shop.

Prior to sitting with Rob, I took out one of Seven’s Mudxium S rides for an hour or so.  Patria, the amazing curator at Ride Studio Cafe, made sure I’m comfortable on it, that it was dialed to my size, even replacing the stem, and loaded me up with a Garmin GPS so I could ride in a terrain I was completely foreign to.  I had a blast, got muddy and excited and after she pumped me with some more excellent coffee, I sat down with Rob.

Rob also measured me on the same Mudhoney I took for a spin and also on my other bike, my Hunter, which I just happened to have have with me.  I love riding my Hunter and made it clear that both bikes are not supposed to compete with each other.  Hunter is the touring bike, the bike that I can load with panniers and take over the world.  My Seven is there for everything else.  All weather riding, road riding, gravel racing, whatever.

I picked up the frame on my next visit to the U.S. which was in October and brought it home in November.  Then I started collecting components.  This was a mistake since the beautiful frame and fork were hanging on the wall begging to be ridden, but were missing on a group and brakes.  Then, just as I was ready to order the last piece – the brakes, TRP recalled their Spyre and I was scratching my head trying to figure out alternatives.  Lucky enough, TRP managed to replace their Spyres quickly and with that the last component was procured.

With a box of components I went to my local bike shop – Pedalum Mobile, and had them built the bike.  This was decided after reading an excellent post by Probably about buying custom bikes.  He made the point that there is something very rewarding about going to the shop and picking up your finished bike.  And I did just that.  And he was correct – I did not see it get created, but within a few days it was ready, and I hit the streets with it.

WOW.  What a ride.  The Mudxium just needs someone to sit on her and she takes off.  Peddling is highly optional.  She is responsive to your intentions before you even know where you want to take her.  She is comfortable even on the cobblestones that plague the city.  She feels just as one would expect a custom made frame – she feels like she is made for me.  And for this reason, we spend so much time together.

 

Rick Hunter Workshop Visit

Come in, take a tour in Rick’s workshop.  WOW.  Just…wow.

Longing for Mountains

Helmets made in Italy and beautiful video. What’s not to love?  The Church that the riders visit is the Madonna del Ghisallo, saint patron of cyclist.  It is located at Magreglio, near Como Lake.  Now that could be a nice target for a tour…

NAHBS 2014: Moots and Campagnolo

In what perhaps is a revolt against the “cooler than your bike” video, the titanium builder from the Colorado rockies teamed up with the Italian components manufacturer Campagnolo to produce a beautiful road bike for the North American Handmade Bicycle Show

The Great Disk Brake List

While building the Mudxium, I decided to try and figure out if there are alternatives to the old trusty Avid BB7 mechanical disk brakes. Don’t get me wrong, my Hunter uses Avid’s BB7, but if you’re going to build a new steel horse why not look at what’s in the market.
In recent years, especially since UCI announced that disk brakes are ok (and is now considering receding that rule), disk breaks for drop bars-type levers started appearing in the market.  As with every new technological development the competition is fierce and the market is experiencing some challenges.  This week TRP announced a STOP SALE on their Spyre models and Shimano, only a few months ago, did the same for the CX75 brakes (which is why the current model is called CX75).  You’d think that such recalls are only experienced by new comers but hey, Avid also announced a recall on Hydro-road brakes. Campagnolo, possibly the only big name that did not join the party just yet, just confirmed recently that they are working on disk brakes.  So with all these developments these are exciting time for a technology that is, in the mountain bike world, comfortably dominating.

The list below is by no mean an overview of everything that’s in the market.  There are other options, but I’ve focused on these guys since they are the market leaders and seem to appeal to folks who race.  For the record I do not belong to the Folks Who Race club.  All weights below are provided by manufacturer who, sadly, don’t always take great note of what does the weight include.

Company Model Weight (grams) Price (Euro) Comments
Avid BB7 329 48.95 The classic mechanical brakes
Avid BB7 Road S 197 108
Avid BB7 Road SL 170 105
Shimano CX77 152 69.95 Some sources claim that these don’t work well with Campy due to cable pull differences
Tektro Lyra 148 45.53
TRP HY/RD 195 135 Mechanical/Hybrid brake system
TRP Spyre SLC 146 94.50 Really narrow, dual sided. Just recalled by TRP
TRP Spyre 154 85.95 Really narrow, dual sided. Just recalled by TRP

Riding with GPS

 

A few years ago I found myself in Rome, Italy having breakfast with Marc Weiss, Ph.D. Dr Weiss is one of the GPS pioneers and is also one of the guys who created the first GPS receiver.  He told me that the GPS receiver that he created in the early 1980s is still functioning today and is actually being used by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  Dr. Weiss is now working on teleportation.

The original GPS receiver is significantly bigger than the current GPS receivers each one of us is carrying in his or her pocket.  For years I resisted getting a GPS navigation system since the iPhone has exactly this ability and I firmly believe that less is more.  I argued that everything that I need already exists in the iPhone – a GPS receiver, maps, speedometer and trip recorder (Strava for example).  Not only that, but an iPhone can make phone calls which is sometimes a plus.

There has not been a single ride since the start of the season in which I returned home with any battery life left in my iPhone.  I always stopped counting the number of times I needed to stop, switch on the iPhone, figure out where I was and where I was going, put it back in the jersey pocket and ride on.  Sure I could mount it on the drop bars and get an external battery for it, but that still did not solve the issue of the lack of proper navigation application that was able to record rides as well as show me the path.  For some reason, Strava and anything (for example bikemap) always ended up in the phone or the app crashing.

This became annoying, a great way to loose riding time and at times frustrating.  This also meant that I adopted the “lets get lucky” style of riding.  I would point myself to some direction and then try to see “what’s there?”  Sometimes there were great surprises and sometimes there were long distances of boredom.

I probably would have continued this system for many more seasons, but then I visited Patria at Ride Studio Cafe and she got me to ride a Seven Mudhoney SL.  Since I am certainly not the most oriented person, she created a loop for me to follow, downloaded it to a little Garmin and attached it to the stem.  Her instructions were simple: follow the little arrow and click here when the screen goes to sleep.  It was a great ride and I felt like I knew where I was going all the time – a feeling that was only familiar when riding in Berlin.  Here I was, tearing down some trails, in a completely new area feeling like I actually knew where I was heading and knowing that I can also make it back to home base.

A week later I was riding in Maryland with friends.  One of them attached a GPS to his stem before we started the ride.  Since the ride included a circular loop in a forest I jokingly asked him if he is afraid of getting lost.  He answered that the Garmin device was just there to record his ride and to later Synchronize with his Strava account.  “Novelty” I exclaimed, but my mindset already started shifting.  Here was something useful and it even worked with existing technologies.  Oh…how little did I know.

Two weeks later I was the proud owner of a second hand Garmin 800.

Unlike the iPhone, the Garmin took a while to get used to.  Luckily for me, the web is full of Garmin tutorials, videos and howtos.  The Internet is also full of web sites designed to enable anyone to create riding maps and downloaded them to the GPS.  Once all plug-ins were installed and the appropriate number of chickens sacrificed, I downloaded the first batch of maps to my new GPS, choose a loop of 100 km and took off.

I absolutely loved the way the Garmin attaches to my stem using a clip system that’s both effortless and sturdy.  At no point during this first ride did I feel that the small device could detach itself from the stem.  It was also easy to see where I was supposed to be heading and as soon as I left the path, Garmin notified me that I was “Off Course” and did not let it go until I was back on course. This behavior could be configured of course. Old habits die hard and I certainly had to get off the path a few times.  The Garmin continued tracking me and showing the path while letting me know that I was no longer in Kansas, or on the intended road.  This was actually a useful feature since when getting off the track, I typically would like to return to it, and even when the path was no longer on the screen, as soon as I got back to it, the “Course Found” alert came up and I was directed to where I should have really been going.

Garmin also recorded the ride which meant that once it was connected back to the computer, I could synchronize Strava with it.  So the iPhone, which I still carry on rides, was now back to its basic functions: a mobile phone and a camera.  It also is able to receive GPS courses from various websites such as ride with gps or GPSies. The more I used the Garmin the more features I discovered.  For example, while from a user interface design perspective, having the same function on different locations is a big no-no, Garmin’s ability to configure each course (i.e. a planned GPS track) is actually very useful.  Sometimes you want notifications and recalculations and sometimes you most certainly do not.  So far I stick to riding courses, but proper training programs with targets and challenges are also doable with that little GPS computer.  These might be in my distant future.

After riding close to 1,000 km with the Garmin 800, I also started discovering the device’s transcendence qualities.  I find myself getting upset at the little computer and event cursing it’s little inaccuracies while fully realizing that the map is likely to be the blame and not the actual computer.  Last weekend we (Garmin and myself) certainly had the following exchanges on more than one occasion:

“Really!?!?!?!  Off Course ha!  I don’t think so!  Get it together” I shout at the device mounted on the stem.

“Off Course” it answers and insists that I am really off course even though I am clearly on course since I am literally on the bike which is on the course.

“Course Found” it suddenly informs me even though I most certainly did not change course.

“Nice!” I shout back.

It may be the effect of riding many hours without seeing any other cyclists, but the GPS device is slowly gaining the position of a riding partner – it’s a little scary, but the goal of every successful digital product: enhance the life of the user.  This little GPS device most certainly does.