Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hand Positions on the Dahon Boardwalk X20-R

Have you ever tried riding a bicycle equipped with a drop bar? Usually, only road bikes are equipped with drop bars, unlike mountain bikes or almost every other type of bike that comes with a flat handlebar. Drop bars are used for road bikes mainly because it offers the rider an option to get into an aerodynamic position, minimising the drag. Besides the aerodynamic advantages, there are also other ways in which drop bars are different from bullhorns or flat handlebars. In this blog post, I will take a look at the drop bars which I recently installed on my Dahon Boardwalk X20-R, and see what gripping positions it offers.

1) Riding in the hoods
This is the primary riding position for drop bars, as it allows shifting and braking. This is one of the most comfortable position to maintain over long periods of time. Not as good as the primary position for bullhorn bars, because you may tend to get numbness in the hands if you grip too tightly.

 Some people like to put their index finger over the front of the shifter.

Use the 2nd and 3rd finger to push the brake lever or release lever in order to shift gears

 2) In the drops
If you want to chase down a breakaway group or fight the headwind, assume this riding position. Getting into the drops of the handlebar gives you a smaller aerodynamic profile, reducing the drag acting on you. This is more obvious when you are going fast.

Braking and shifting are both possible from the drops, although shifting is a bit harder compared to from the hoods as it is difficult to exert strength in this position.

Assuming the sprinting position

Braking from the drops

3) Centre of handlebar
This gripping position is useful when climbing hills, as it gives you a bit more leverage and something to pull on when charging up the slopes. Also good as an alternative on longer rides to prevent hand numbness.

I have added cyclocross brake levers (otherwise known as interrupter levers) to allow me to brake when I am holding the centre of the handlebar. Not a necessary feature, but good to have, especially if you are used to flat handlebars. Shifting is not possible from this gripping position.

Gripping the centre of the handlebars

Braking is easy!

4) "Driving" the bicycle
An unconventional gripping position, this is. Not a primary riding position, as braking and shifting are not possible. However, it is comfortable, similar to the primary position for bullhorns. The bends help to support the palm and steering is easy, somewhat like a steering wheel in a car. Good alternative for long, uninterrupted stretches of road.

"Steering wheel" on a bicycle!

5) TT riding position
This must be one of the strangest way to "grip" a drop bar. When in this position, the hands are actually gripping thin air! However, because the side of the hands are able to push outwards against the shifters, this is actually more stable than it looks. The main advantage of this position is that it allow you to rest your elbows on the top of the handlebar, and puts you in a low aerodynamic position similar to when in the drops.

Tricky to maintain for long stretches, as it may be unstable, especially if there are crosswinds. Shifting and braking are of course not possible from this gripping position. However, this is excellent for long, unbroken stretches of nicely paved straight roads.

Push outwards with your hands to maintain good control when in this gripping position.

These are the 5 gripping positions that I use on my drop bars. When compared to bullhorns or flat handlebars, each type of handlebar has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Main Advantage of Drop Bars: Aerodynamic positions available
Main Disadvantage of Drop Bars: Less stability and control for downhills

Main Advantage of Bullhorns: Extremely comfortable
Main Disadvantage of Bullhorns: Less stability and control for downhills

Main Advantage of Flat Handlebars: Good control and stability for all terrains
Main Disadvantage of Flat Handlebars: Less comfortable for long rides, less aerodynamic

As you can see, each type of handlebar has its own merits and downsides. Depending on your riding style, you can choose the handlebar that suits you best. If you are not sure, just try another bike that has a different type of handlebar and see how it feels like!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Journey of the Boardwalk: Part 18 - Boardwalk X20-R

Ever wanted to have a road bike that folds? Imagine how much convenience this can bring to you. You can cycle at a good speed on your foldable road bike (perhaps not as fast as full sized road bikes), but at the end of the ride, when you are tired, you can just chuck the bike into a taxi or take an MRT for your trip home. Or, you can do a long one way trip, and take alternative forms of transport back. This is especially useful for routes that start and end at different places!

Previously, I had changed my Dahon Boardwalk to a bike with bullhorn bars. The bullhorn bars are pretty good, with many advantages over flat handlebars. You can read all about the advantages here at this post. Of course, the folding will not be as compact, since the road shifters and the bullhorns stick out so much from the side of the folded bike. But there is no problem with bringing it along in a car (no car rack needed) or on the MRT.

After 3 months with my bullhorns, my hands are itchy again! Time for more upgrades! I want to use road shifters, but the poor cable routing is a major issue with bullhorn bars, since road shifters were not designed with the shape of the bullhorns in mind. With the Shimano Tiagra 4500 shifters it is still fine, since the shifter cables come out from the side of the shifters, thus they are not affected by the sharp corners encountered by the brake cable routing.
Shifter cables for the Tiagra 4500 shifters exits from the side of the shifter

At this point, I was very happy with the 18 speed Boardwalk that I have. However, I would like to use dropbars, as I have realised that bullhorns are actually just dropbars without the drops! So in fact, with the dropbars I gain a position in the drops, which will be really useful when the headwind gets strong.

So if I'm changing to dropbars, I can use any road shifters I like. What I noticed is that for the new higher end Shimano road shifters (7900, 6700, 5700), both the brake cable and shifter cables are routed from the rear of the shifter. This means that the shifter cable will not exit from the side of the shifter, and I prefer this setup as the area in between the dropbars will be neater without cables.

For me, a suitable set of road shifters would be the Shimano 105 5700 road shifters, with all the technologies of the Ultegra and Dura-Ace shifters, but at a more affordable price! This also means that I will need to upgrade the rear drivetrain from 9 to 10 speeds. For me, it is not a big problem. I already have the 10 speed compatible Shimano 105 5600 crankset, the Ultegra 6700 10 speed compatible rear derailleur and the Shimano Dura-Ace 7901 10 speed chain. Just need to get the 10 speed cassette and shifters!

Without further ado, I present to you the Dahon Boardwalk X20-R, a 20 speed folding bike with a road bike setup!

ABR Anatomic Dropbars (Diameter 26mm), an affordable aluminium dropbar, weighing in at a healthy 220 grams.

One thing to take note is that the clamp for the Dahon handlepost is for 25.4mm handlebars, but I managed to squeeze in the 26mm dropbars. Together with Fiber Grip, there is no issue with looseness. Do not try this with carbon handlebars!

Bontrager Gel designed to be placed under the bar tape, for greater comfort!

Very nice Fizik bar tape, good to touch. But I find it a bit too thin.

10 speed Shimano 105 5700 cassette. 12-27T (12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 21, 24, 27)

The highlight of the 20 speed drivetrain: The Shimano 105 5700 Double road shifters!

Jagwire Inline Cable Adjusters. Essential for adjusting the cable tension for the front derailleur, since my bike does not have frame or shifter mounted cable adjusters.

1 mm shim needed when installing Shimano 10 speed cassette onto 8/9 speed freehubs

Ta-da! Shiny new 10 speed cassette!

Don't you love a clean cassette?

With the experience gained from installing the bullhorn bars, the installation this time went much more smoothly. I knew how to estimate the length of the cable housing required, where to tape and locate the sections of cable housings, how to route the cables along the bike. Also important is how much extra length the front brake cable housing needs, so that it does not snag or get overstretched when the handlepost is folded down.

Brake cable routed on the inside, shifter cable routed along the outside of the dropbars.

View from the other side. Bar tape not yet put on, need to go for test ride to finalise position of road shifters before wrapping up the handlebar.

2 brake cable housings and 2 shifter cable housings. Any simple and elegant way of tidying up this?

 Beautiful Jagwire inline cable adjusters. I decided to locate them in front of the handlepost for easy access and adjustment while riding.

 In case you are wondering how the cyclocross brake levers fit in, here it is! Split the outer cable housing, and install them either side of the brake levers. The brake inner cable is a continuous cable!

Sweet view of the Shimano 105 shifters. I am using the 10mm adjustment pad to reduce the reach of the shifters, this makes it easier to grip while holding the hoods.

Front view of the bullhorn bars with road shifters

 Side view of the bullhorn bars. The dropbar is tilted downwards so that the drops are comfortable, while the shifters are tilted upwards for more comfort while holding the hoods.

 At the other end of the bike, the 10 speed Shimano 105 cassette with 10 speed Dura-Ace chain, installed on my gold Wheelsport wheels!

After finalising the angle of the dropbars and the positions of the shifters, the Fizik bar tape went on

Practice makes perfect!

With the gel padding underneath the bar tape, it makes the handlebar seem fatter. But it is nice and comfortable to hold!

Shimano 105 Road Shifters in black

 The bell has not been forgotten! Installed at the end of the drops, it does not affect the grip, unlike when installed on the bullhorns.

 More pictures of my Dahon Boardwalk X20-R

I have had this road bike setup for about 3 weeks already, but haven't had much time to test and ride the bike due to the rainy weather. But I must say that the more I ride this bike, the more I like it! The hoods are really comfortable to hold, and is a good primary riding position. The drops are really useful too on long stretches, as it allows you to reduce your frontal profile and reduce aerodynamic drag. Notice that the drops are not so low anyway, due to my relatively tall handlepost. Which is the way I like it, not too much of a drop that requires me to bend over a lot! This road bike riding position really encourages you to cycle fast...

Since the cable routing is now better, the braking feel is also much improved! It no longer feels sticky and draggy as the cable routing is smoother compared to the routing used on the bullhorns. With the new 12-27T cassette, together with the 53/39T crankset, the gear inches for this bike is now 29" to 88". Slightly on the low end, but it is customised to my needs!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Wellgo M142 Flat Pedals

Just a short review of my new pedals! Previously I was using LitePro pedals, which are very decent pedals in itself. It has relatively smooth bearings, and looks good too! But the problem is that the platform is rather small. When I cycle in my covered shoes, the size is still OK. However, when I cycle in my slippers, which I do quite often, the larger slippers mean that my feet cannot rest on the pedals properly. The fourth and little toes will tend to hang over the end of the pedals.

Since Chainreactioncycles has free shipping for now, I decided to make use of this opportunity to get new pedals for my bike.

Welllgo M142 Flat Pedals

LitePro G017 Flat Pedals
These pedals actually look very similar, I think they are probably made in the same factory! The axles are practically the same. The main difference is the length of the pedal platform. The Wellgo pedals have a longer platform, which means that my fourth and last toes will have something to rest on! First, a closer look at the Wellgo pedals.
Grease port on top, for you to inject new grease if needed. Don't think I will ever use this?

Time to compare the two pedals, the smaller LitePro pedals with the larger Wellgo pedals.

 Comparing the lengths with the help of a ruler

When the axles are laid flush with each other, the longer Wellgo pedals extend about 1.5cm more than the LitePro pedals. This is approximately a 20% increase in pedal area. The Wellgo pedals actually come with screw studs at the end of the pedal for improved grip, but I removed them because they are too sharp.

 The LitePro pedals have rounded edges, while the Wellgo pedals have sharp corners for better grip.
If you want to compare the dimensions of these pedals with your current pedals, the end of the Wellgo pedals is 100mm from the crankarm when installed. The width is 60mm, while the thickness is 20mm at the thickess part (top of the edge) and 15mm between the "valleys" on both sides.

What I don't like about these pedals is that the edges are too sharp! They are meant to be sharp for better grip, but then again I didn't have any problems with grip when using the LitePro pedals. Just have to be more careful so that you don't cut your legs with the pedals.

Weight wise, these two pedals have very similar weight, about 220 grams per pair. The smoothness of the bearings on these Wellgo pedals are not as good as the other pedals I have tried.

Smoothness of axle bearings:
MKS FD-6 > LitePro G017 > Wellgo M142 > Stock Suntour folding pedals

When you spin the pedals with your fingers, you can feel the difference in smoothness easily. However, when pedalling, the friction from the pedals are quite negligible, you can't really feel any difference in the smoothness.

These pedals are quite decent for the price, and looks pretty good too. Lightweight construction and relatively good sealed bearings are the other plus points.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Busch & Muller IXON IQ Front Light Review!

In Singapore, the roads are usually pretty well lighted at night. The street lighting is usually bright enough for you to identify objects on the road and avoid obstacles such as potholes and other things on the road while cycling. Because of this, a front blinker is usually enough for night cycling. The blinker will be bright enough to alert other road users to your presence, but will not be enough to light up your path.

Singapore road at night. Good street lighting! Photo credit: Eric Dimaandal

However, there will be times where a front blinker is not enough! Sometimes you will need a more high-powered front light to actually light up the road. Examples will be when the streetlights are out, which is encountered quite often on Tuas night rides. Or during night cycling trips that bring you to ulu places such as Neo Tiew road. The most recent one was on the night visit to the newly-opened Punggol Waterfront PCN. Although it is mostly lighted, there are some stretches where the lighting was not installed yet. It can be quite dangerous to ride without being able to see the road in front clearly.

At those rides, I had an Innovity 3W front light, which is actually pretty bright, with a decent spread and runs on 3xAAA batteries. However, one major issue is that the battery life is quite short, about 4 hrs before the light intensity drops drastically. You can see the Innovity light here at the Minoura Space Grip review.

I decided to source for a more powerful front light that will light up my path when the street lighting is not bright enough. This front light will work in conjuction with my S-Sun 1W blinker.

My criteria for a front light:
1) Bright enough to light up a pitch dark road
2) Powered by rechargeable batteries
3) Mounted as a single unit (unlike most high powered lights that come with an external battery pack connected by a wire)
4) Not too pricey!

After asking around, the Busch & Muller IXON IQ  Front Light was recommended. The most important feature for me is that it is installed as a single unit, without a dangling wire that connects to an external battery pack. The B&M IXON IQ light has the batteries integrated within the light itself.

Nice packaging for the lights!

Comes with 4 rechargeable AA batteries and a power adaptor for charging.

Single powerful LED with specially shaped reflectors

Green light that flashes slowly when fully charged. The flashing becomes faster as the battery level drops.

Supplied with 4 AA rechargeable batteries. The light has an integrated circuit to charge the batteries! Don't even need to remove the batteries to charge.

Connector at bottom of light. Plug in the supplied AC adaptor to charge the batteries inside the light.

The coolest thing about this light is that the charging circuit for the AA batteries is already integrated into the light! To charge the light, just remove the light from the clamp and plug the AC adaptor into it. Or you can just plug in the adaptor with the light still mounted on the bike. No need to take out the batteries at all, very convenient!

Also, since it uses standard batteries, you can always bring along extra AA batteries for overseas trips, where you can't charge the batteries. This light costs $100+ SGD, excluding shipping. Not cheap, but well worth the money for the bright light it generates!

The light has 2 lighting modes, bright and super bright! No flashing mode, as a flashing front light is illegal in Germany (where this light is made). To switch on the light, hold the button for 1 sec. To switch between modes just press the switch without holding it down.

City Mode: 10 lux. Minimum brightness of bicycle front light as required by German StVZO rules. Can last 20 hours!

High Power: 40 lux. WOW is the only word to describe it. Can last for 5 hours!

The Busch & Muller IXON IQ light uses lux to measure brightness, which is different from lumens that is used by many other light manufacturers. These are 2 different units that measure different things, so it is not possible to convert and compare these 2 units.

However, one downside is the weight. At 190 grams including batteries, it is relatively heavy compared to other front lights. Also, when switched on, it kills my wireless speedometer! Apparently it is so high-powered that it emits electromagnetic inteference that stops my wireless speedometer from receiving signals. When I place the light near the transmitter near the fork, the speedometer works. However when I place it near the computer at the handlebar, the signal disappears. Not a crippling issue, but something that you need to know if you are using the light.

The supplied clamp had a pretty poor rubber shim to fix the clamp onto the handlebar. The contact area was only 3 small areas, so in the end I took out the supplied shim and installed my own rubber shim, problem solved!

Now for some pictures comparing the brightness of the light. Note that the brightness as seen in the pictures is not accurate, as they are taken using my humble phone camera. The actual lighting as seen with your eyes are much brighter! But the pictures are useful for comparing the different lighting modes.

B&M IXON IQ light in high power mode (40 lux). I like the rectangular lighting pattern, no light lost to the sides! The brighter part is further away, which enables the lighting to even out when cast onto the road.

 10 lux, from 2 metres away. Again, the rectangular lighting pattern is really useful.

40 lux, from 2 metres away. Much brighter than the 10 lux mode!

Decided to test the light outdoors at night, for a more realistic comparison! Bukit Batok Nature Park is a good place. Went to a spot where there is not much street lighting to test the lights. The photos are much dimmer than what you see with your actual eyes.

S-Sun 1W front light. A very good blinker, and is also quite bright. Beam is nicely concentrated by the lens. One of the best front lights around in terms of its small size, affordability and features. However, beam is relatively small and bluish in colour.

B&M IXON IQ at 10 lux.  Slightly larger spread, and a bit brighter. Whitish light shows everything in a more natural colour.

40 lux! Much brighter, with a much larger spread of light. You have to see the actual light to appreciate how bright it is!

I have no doubt that this light will light up the road even if it is pitch dark. In fact, it is so bright that it hurts the eyes to look at the light reflecting off the wall! The rectangular shape of the beam means that it lights up a path in front of you, with minimal light loss to the sides. By making the beam brighter on top, where it lights up the further part of the road, enables the final lighting pattern to be more even throughout the entire stretch in front of you.