Thursday, February 24, 2011

Journey of the Boardwalk: Part 4 (Kojak & 9 Speed Cassette)

Previously, I documented the change of the crankset to the Shimano 105 crankset, and how it greatly improved the stiffness of the cranks. Today I will write about upgrading from 8 speeds to 9 speeds, and things to look out for when upgrading to 9 speeds.

In order to upgrade components, I bought some stuff from Chainreactioncycles, and it was the first time I ordered from them. Delivery speed was not too bad, took only about 1 week plus to arrive. Ordered a pair of Kojak tires and also a SRAM 8 speed cassette, 12-23. Also added some bike tools to the order.

In the meantime I also changed the chain to a SRAM 9 speed chain with a Powerlink (PC-971). This was because the original chain actually rusted when I didn't ride for 2 weeks. Probably because it wasn't lubed properly, but I wanted to change to a shinier-looking chain anyway haha.

Wanted to get lighter and faster tires, which is why I got the Kojaks. Duranos should be even faster, but they are too narrow for my liking and require very high pressures (around 115 PSI) for optimum performance.

Bike with practically no accessories. Has a very clean look.
First ride with the Kojaks!

First thing I noticed was that the Kojak tires look really good on the bike, it fits the rims and frame very well. Tested the tires by going on a ride at West Coast park. First impressions: Comfortable enough for me, although it was slightly more bumpy compared to the Marathon Racers. Not a major issue there. The noise level is much lower compared to the Marathon Racers (MR), especially on the tarmac road. The MRs used to give a humming sound at higher speeds, but the Kojaks remain silent all the way. Very shiok.

Another thing that I found helpful was that the Kojaks, due to its slick surface, tend to collect much less dirt on the tires. On the other hand, the MRs will bring in dirt and grass and other things in the surface treads of the tires, dirtying the floor at home.

I also bought the 12-23 8 speed SRAM PG-850 cassette in order to mix and match the sprockets with the 11-28 one that I already had. At this point I had not yet decided to change to 9 speeds. I realised that I hardly ever used the 11T sprocket on the cassette, so decided to get a cassette with the 12T small sprocket, to improve and reduce the jump between gears.
Took out the 21T sprocket from the 12-23 cassette, and added the 28T sprocket from the other cassette. Final sprocket sizes: 12-13-14-15-17-19-23-28. The gear change is pretty smooth, even from 19 to 23, and from 23 to 28, even though the jump is quite big.

However, with the benefit of hindsight and more testing, it seems that the gearing is not fine enough for me. I can still feel a significant difference in gear ratio even with this finer gearing. This is due to the "missing" sprocket with 16T. Because of that there is a missing "sweet spot" between gears 4 to 5.

Because of this missing sweet spot, I decided to take the plunge and upgrade the whole drivetrain to 9 speeds. Read up a bit and realised that the difference between 8 and 9 speed cassettes is only the width of the spacers. The sprocket thickness is actually the same, as is the width of the whole cassette. Therefore we can actually mix and match 8 and 9 speed sprockets, with best results if the cassettes are from the same company.

In order to create the sweet spot, with an even finer gear ratio, while maintaining the gear range, the only way is to add more sprockets/speed, and this can be achieved by going to 9 speeds. For 9 speeds, we need 9 speed compatible wheels, cassette, chain, rear derailleur and shifter. I already have the wheels and chain. As for the rear derailleur, although it is said that the Neos derailleur can only support up to 8 speeds, I believed that it can probably do 9 speeds also, since the derailleur does not care if it is 8 or 9 speeds, it is the shifter that does the indexing of the gears. Therefore what I needed was the cassette and the shifter.

Decided to get the SRAM PG-970 12-23 9 speed cassette as it fulfills my requirements for a close gear spacing. It was also on sale, got it at S$50 as compared to S$100 now! Also ordered the 9 speed version of the SRAM Attack shifter because I have been pleased with the performance of the SRAM Attack 8 speed shifter. Not that I have much of a choice, since it is quite difficult to find 8 speed shifters by Shimano in Singapore.

9 speed SRAM Attack shifter!

Merged the 9 speed 12-23 and the 8 speed 11-28 cassettes. Re-assembled the 12-23 8 speed cassette and sold it easily. As for combining the 2 cassettes, it was actually quite simple. I took out the 21T sprocket from the 9 speed cassette and added the 28T sprocket from the 8 speed cassette.

End result: 12-13-14-15-16-17-19-23-28

Sweet orange spacers!
Shiny new cassette!

Multiple gears for the higher end, with small jumps in the number of teeth from 4th to 9th gear. Always a sweet spot! As for the larger jumps between gears 1~3, it is not an issue since they are seldom used, and for low gears the big jumps don't affect cadence so much anyway. With the new customised cassette, I can now cruise comfortably while maintaining my cadence.

On hindsight, I should have just changed to 9 speeds in the first place, instead of dabbling in 8 speeds. This would have saved effort, time and money. But without all these tinkering, I would not have learnt so much about the drivetrain. I learnt how to install and remove cassettes, take apart and customise cassettes, install shifters and derailleurs and many other details.

In the next issue of the Boardwalk Journey, I will document the changing of the derailleur to the Shimano Ultegra SS derailleur and the adding of some gold bling to the bike.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Journey of the Boardwalk: Part 3 (105 Crankset, OTA Seatpost & Dahon Tour Bag)

Went out to buy a Dahon Tour Bag the moment it was available in Singapore. It was the ideal bag for light touring/commuting: Waterproof, strong outer shell, ease of removal, comes with carrying strap, and has many compartments. Note that only the newer Dahon bikes come with the front mounting point required for the support truss.

Also managed to get the lightweight OTA seatpost from a friend, who brought it over from Taiwan. It weighs only 350g, as compared to the original D7 seatpost that weighs 590g. Looks good too! Only problem is the seat clamp, which had dimensions that were slightly off from the seat rail width. Had to do a bit of bending and squeezing before the seat could be mounted properly.
Was in Hong Kong for a short holiday in July, and came across these two bicycle shops along Tung Choi Street in Mongkok.

The shops are quite interesting as they sell many different things that can't be found in Singapore or other places. For example, just for Dahon seatposts, they have like 6 different types of seatposts for sale. You can see the prices on the seatposts if you enlarge the image, and using the exchange rate of SGD $1 to HKD $5.5 at that time, you can get a rough idea of the price. Not cheap. By right photography was not allowed, but luckily I was not caught and chased out haha.

Tried my luck asking for Dahon specific skewers, which has a 74mm front width, as opposed to the usual 100mm. I was in luck as they had one pair in stock, in a nice gold colour. And that was how I got my special, unique skewers for my Boardwalk.

At this point, the only major component that has not been upgraded was the crankset. Read some reviews and found that the Shimano Hollowtech II cranks are really light and strong, and the external bearings make the cranks really stiff too. Decided to look around for good deals. As always, the first stop to look for good deals would be at Gee Hin Chan.

Brought my bike there one day and asked to upgrade the crankset to Shimano 105 crankset, with new Bottom Bracket too. Had a choice of last year's black 105 cranks, or the 2011 version of the 105 cranks, in silver colour. Decided that the black matched my bike more than the silver one. Because the 2011 version has just arrived, they didn't have it in black colour yet. For some reason the newer 2011 version was also cheaper by around 10%.

Of course must change the crank bolts to gold, to match my gold skewers! And as I expected, gold goes really well with black, especially on the 105 crankset. Removed the inner 39T chainring as I didn't need it.

Had thought of changing the BB to also a gold coloured version, probably a Token brand one. But it would have costed 3 times more than the 105 BB. In any case, the 105 BB works well and looks good on the bike, being an intermediate colour between the frame and the crank arm.

Could feel an immediate improvement in the stiffness of the cranks! There is no flexing when you push down hard on the pedals, and it feels smoother due to the sealed bearings in the 105 BB. Definitely worth the upgrade, although it is rather pricey. 10/10 for the looks of the crankset alone!

In the next part of the Boardwalk journey, I will talk about how I changed the bike from 8 to 9 speeds, changed the tires, and customised my own 9 speed cassette.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sports Gels

Recently bought a whole lot of gels to try, at the race pack collection for Standard Chartered Marathon. I wasn't the one running, but Bernice who took part in the 10km run helped me buy different brands and flavours of gels to try. Got the gels at a good price too, think it was mostly $10 for 4 gels.

Accel Gel:
Strong flavours, might be shocking to those trying gels for the first time. Quite watery, which is better than those gooey kind which makes your throat sticky. Not sure where to get.

Milder and more pleasant flavours, good for those who likes Lemon Lime or Cola flavoured gels. Also watery. Think can get from a few shops at Velocity/Novena Square

Sticky gel, only Chocolate has an acceptable taste. First gel I tried was the Tri-berry flavour, was quite horrible. Chocolate is fine because it tastes like the chocolate cream in the Yan Yan snack. Can be found at GNC stores.

Science In Sport:
Best gel in terms of taste so far. Its watery and refreshing, with good tasting flavours. However it comes in larger packs, so it will take up more space. Can buy at many stores around Singapore, check out The nearest store to my place is at Bikes and Bites, at the old Bukit Timah fire station. $3.50 each.

Have not tried Hammer Gels or other brands, let me know how they taste like! Most important thing to note when trying gels is the taste. Best is to stick to the brand/flavour you like and use only that when you need, instead of trying new flavours all the time while out riding.

Monday, February 7, 2011

On-Road Review of SRAM X9 shifters and RD

After logging about 50km on Sunday during the CNY ride with LovecyclingSG group, I can now safely say that the X9 shifter + X9 RD combo is working really well.

From steep downslopes to steep hills, the derailleur has not missed a single shift. The RD shifts the chain precisely onto every sprocket without error. Coupled with the SRAM cassette and chain, the gear changes can be very quick, usually requiring only half a revolution of the cranks. This is especially useful when downshifting under pressure.

I am also getting used to shifting without using the gear indicator, and shifting based purely on effort and feeling. This normally works well, except when I am nearing a traffic light and I need to downshift so that I can move on later. I will not know how many gears I need to downshift as I am unable to tell what gear I am currently in.

Also had a good ride along Mandai Road, with the undulating terrain challenging and exhilarating at the same time. Great to blast down the road at almost 50km/h on the downhill, and work hard on the long slopes.

Me and Eddie taking a walk along Ulu Sembawang PCN

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Specialized Mountain Bike with Top End Components

Came across this very nice MTB with high end components. See only also shiok.

Bike for show only, never been ridden!

Super lightweight crank and XTR front derailleur

Very lightweight carbon rims, at 1250 grams per pair, its even lighter than the 20" Kinetix Comp wheelset! (~1500 grams)

Top end X0 shifters and Avid Juicy Ultimate disc brakes

Very good looking X0 rear derailleur with some gold bling.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Upgrading Raleigh MV7

Just came across this Raleigh MV7 mini velo, looks pretty good! Although the stock components are nothing to shout about, the frame actually looks decent and very upgradable. Not sure what the frame material is, but the low price of $269 means that you can buy it and slowly upgrade all the parts.

Imagine changing the wheelset, crankset, brakes, shifters, rear derailleur and cockpit of the bike to that of the Dash X20. This might set you back around $1500? Add some extra money for the other little items like seatpost and stuff like that, and the total cost of the bike would be around $2000. Not nearly as good as the Dash X20, but certainly far more affordable. Also, it would be fun to upgrade and choose exactly which components you want, and can upgrade slowly in instalments.

After upgrading, the MV7 would still be slightly heavier, has only 10 speeds at most (because no front derailleur), and cannot fold. But once again, it would be much cheaper than the Dash X20 ($3200) or even the Dash P18.

XT vs X9 Shifters: Conclusion

Just came back from a short but intense ride. Got to test out my Boardwalk fully, especially the shifters and the wheels. No problem with the wheels now, after I changed the tubes and put extra rim tape. Hopefully it holds with no further problems.

Comparing XT and X9 shifters: Conclusion
Disclaimer: XT shifter is being used with Ultegra RD, while X9 shifter is being paired with X9 RD. These different derailleurs may contribute to the difference in feel when using the shifters.

Both the XT and X9 shifts extremely well, both up and down the cassette. On the repair stand the X9 shifts better, but when riding the bike, both of them perform flawlessly.

The XT shifter is smoother, so smooth that sometimes I hardly feel the shift. The X9 has a more definite click when shifting, thus I always know when it has shifted. This tactile feedback is helpful as the X9 shifter does not come with gear indicator, while the XT does. I'm slowly learning to shift by feel and not refer to the gear indicator.

Also, the XT shifter mainly uses the thumb-finger combo to shift gears. Its quite good, as the thumb gets to rest sometimes. The instant release of the XT upshifting is really good, as it shifts almost immediately without waiting for the lever to recover.

On the other hand the X9 shifter uses thumb-thumb shifting, which is good in another way. For me I can switch easily between these two types of shifting, while some people cannot switch easily.

Final Say:
Both the XT and the X9 are almost the best that Shimano and SRAM has to offer for MTB shift levers, with the top end being XTR and X0. It is commonly said that the difference between XT and XTR (and X9 and X0) is the finish and presentation and price, with the shifting performance almost similar. Thus the XT or X9 is a good choice for those looking for top performance without the top end price.

If you want to use a Shimano road or MTB derailleur, get the XT shifter. Else if you like SRAM, get the X9 shifter and derailleur. I can't really recommend one over the other, because they are both excellent. If you die die need a gear indicator, get the XT. Also, you can choose based on your shifting preference (thumb-thumb or thumb-finger) or any good deal that you may come across.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Journey of the Boardwalk: Part 2 (SRAM Attack 8 Speed)

This is part 2 of the story, documenting the upgrading of the Boardwalk. Previously I described how the wheels, tires and brakes were changed from the stock Boardwalk parts. The next major upgrade to the Boardwalk was the changing of 7 to 8 speeds.

To change to 8 speeds, several components needed to be changed. I needed an 8 speed cassette and an 8 speed shifter. The same 7 speed chain can be used as the sprocket width and spacer width of the 8 speed cassette is similar to the 7 speed cassette. Main difference is that the 8 speed cassette has one more sprocket and spacer, thus it needs a wider freehub for the cassette. The new Kinetix Comp wheels are compatible with 8 or 9 speed cassettes, so no problem there.

The original Dahon Neos Derailleur can also still be used. Since the indexing of the gears are all within the shifter, the rear derailleur actually does not care how many speeds there are, it just shifts as instructed to by the shifter. Besides, the Neos derailleur also shifts very well, with its crisp and quick shifting.

Decided to get a SRAM cassette as they have the cassette in the 11-28T configuration. This gives a wide enough range for speed and also for climbing hills. However Treknology, the SRAM distributor in Singapore, does not carry the cassette in this configuration. No choice, have to buy online. Got the PG-850 cassette with 11-28T configuration. 11-12-14-16-18-21-24-28

Sourced around for suitable 8 speed shifters, and realised that its really hard to find 8 speed stuff nowadays. Large stores like Rodalink only have 9 speeds and above stuff. Looked around the neighbourhood bike stores nearby and there were some Shimano shifter+brake lever combo. But don't really like it since I already have the excellent Avid brake levers. Seen below are the combo 7 and 8 speed shifter+brake lever.Once again, went online to find suitable 8 speed shifters. Discovered the SRAM Attack 8 speed trigger shifters that are compatible with the Neos RD, but shipping was expensive. Found that actually Treknology has those shifters, and MBS can help me get those. Had to wait, while the stock for those shifters arrived.

Finally everything was ready. SRAM Attack 8 speed trigger shifters and 8 speed cassette. Brought everything down to MBS in order to change the parts, because at that time I didn't have the correct tools. Actually I also changed to the Kinetix Comp at the same time, while I changed the cassette and shifters.

Since the shifter has been changed from grip shift to trigger shift, I can no longer use the original grips which is shorter on the right side. Went to Soon Watt to get Ergon grips with bar ends, model is GX-2 with magnesium bar end.

At this point, the Boardwalk has been extensively modified, with the wheels, tires, brakes and shifters being changed. Certainly a good 8 speed bike that performs well with good components all around.

From the pictures I remembered that I had also bought a 2nd hand Biologic Postpump for my bike. A very good pump on its own, best of all is that it hides inside the seatpost and does not need to be clipped anywhere on the bike. It is nearly as good as a full sized floor pump, and much better than a hand pump. Will come in really useful if needed on the road. However I later changed it out as I realised that I did not really need it and it was heavy anyway. On hindsight, I should have kept it instead of selling it away as it would be really useful for overseas cycling trips such as to Pengerang or Desaru.

In the next part, I will be documenting other upgrades on the bike, such as the seatpost and crankset. Stay tuned!

Bike Testing After the Rain

Finally had a bit of good weather today! Ground was still wet but at least it was not raining. Decided to bring out the newly upgraded Vitesse for testing. Major upgrades include Kinetix Comp rims, Kinetix/Avid brake set, Ultegra RD and XT shifters, 9 speed cassette and chain. With so many changes at once, it is important to test out the bike nearby before going on longer journeys.

Went to the nearby Bukit Batok Nature Park for testing, because it has a long straight for me to test out the high gears (and top speed) and also a steep slope for testing the lower gears.

With the newly added fenders, I no longer have to worry about small puddles of water! I used to slow down to a crawl to go through the puddles, so as to avoid splashing the bike with water. However I can now go through at a good pace and the fenders will block everything. Although the fenders means the bike does not look so fast or lightweight, its really practical, especially if wet roads are expected. Saves a lot of cleaning too.

The XT shifters on the Vitesse are quite amazing. On the bike stand there was a bit of hesitation when shifting from gear 5 to 4, but during actual riding there was no problem at all. The chain shifted smoothly up and down through the whole range of 9 gears. Some of the upshifts are so smooth that I'm not sure if it has shifted, the only indication that it has shifted coming from the increased resistance at the pedals. The shifts are really crisp and fast and silent. Fantastic upgrades.

Next it was the Boardwalk's turn to be tested. Rode the Vitesse home and brought out the Boardwalk. However it started to drizzle again when I went downstairs. Thus I just rode circles around the void deck testing the gears. Somehow the shifting of the X9 is not as crisp as the XT, even though it was the other way round on the repair stand. I believe its because I was pedaling very slowly, thus the shifting was hesitant. Have to test it in a proper riding condition before conclusion.

Hope to go for a ride tomorrow (Wed) before the Chinese New Year weekend!

Changing Shifter Cable for my Boardwalk

Previously in the XT vs X9 shifter review I said that the X9 shifter comes with a short gear cable, which makes it difficult to route my cable properly. To solve that, I have bought a new gear cable and gear housing, think its about 2m long each.

Its actually quite tricky to change the X9 shifter cable, because the top cover of the X9 shifter needs to be removed.

The picture shown was not taken by me, its just a picture I took off the internet. Tricky part is to ensure that the spring does not come loose or fly away. Also, the cable has to be threaded through the little holes on the red plastic disc. Not easy as the cable end tends to fray and get caught along the wall of the narrow channel.

Luckily I have the X9 left shifter as spare, thus I could practise on it before trying out on my right shifter. Took me about 10 mins to change the cable, with my thumb on the spring all the while, just in case it jumped out, haha.

After re-routing the cable housing on the bike, the cables look much neater too. Now both the Boardwalk and the Vitesse are 9 speeds with X9 and XT shifters respectively. Just need the weather to clear up so that I can go test the bikes!