Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Introducing the Finish Line Fiber Grip for my Boardwalk TT!

Since I recently upgraded to bullhorns, the handlepost top clamp has been working overtime keeping my bullhorn in place! You can read about the upgrade here.

More pictures of the bullhorn handlebars below!

As you can see, the quick release clamp in the middle needs to be closed really tight to prevent the bullhorn from rotating downwards. However, I realised that even when it is super tight, (any tighter and I cannot close it!) the bullhorn will still creep downwards overtime, as I rest my weight on the barends.

This realisation came during the recent Tuas night ride, where the road can be rather bumpy along some stretches. With the bumps and the weight at the barends, there is a torque that will cause the bullhorn to rotate downwards.

To solve this problem, I went to get some Finish Line Fiber Grip. This gel is actually meant for carbon fibre parts, which cannot be clamped too tightly to prevent crushing the tube. Examples would be carbon fibre seatposts, handlebars, stems etc. How this gel works is that there are tiny plastic balls within the gel, that will deform and fill in the gaps between the surfaces when you clamp it. When you spread the gel, you can feel the gritty texture. This rough texture will help to increase the friction between surfaces, allowing the components to grip tightly even with lesser tightening torque.

Even though it is designed for carbon fibre parts, it can also be used for other materials, since the working principle can be applied to any surface.

Have not tested its effectiveness so far, but it seems to be pretty effective according to reviews! Hope it works and solves the issue!

One other curious thing to note is the rust on my 9 speed SRAM chain. There is 1 inner link that is totally rusted, and only realised it when the pedaling sound seemed different. The links in that area was stuck, and could not go around the rear derailleur pulleys properly, giving an unusual clicking sound.

Upon closer inspection, it was found that other links have some little signs of rust too. Quite surprised as I do regular maintenance and will keep the chain nicely lubed for smooth operation. I only put chain lube at the pins as that is where the friction is. This leaves the chain links uncovered, which may be why they are rusted.

The only link that is totally rusted!

Chain links that are supposed to rotate becomes stuck, while the handlebar that is supposed to be stuck ends up rotating! Need to ensure that only the proper parts rotate!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Highlights from Interbike 2011 at Las Vegas

 Chris King headsets going cheap!

"Holey" SRAM XX Cassette! 

 Your carbon crank is not hollow after all...

 Dura-Ace Di2, with MTB long cage!

Tern Eclipse P9, very sweet with disc brakes!

Tern Verge S11i with Alfine 11 hub!

Any colour to match any bike!

How many "wheels" are there on this bike?

Surly rims for your surly tires!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Boardwalk TT Review: Taking comfort to the next level

It has been around one week since my Boardwalk TT was officially completed! Since then I have done a few short rides nearby and also longer rides to work. I'm pleased to report that there has been no major issues with the upgrade! The most significant change to the ride is the increase in comfort, due to the better hand positions possible with the bullhorns.

With the bullhorns, I have a lot more hand positions for greater comfort! Previously on the flat handlebars, I only had the usual grip position and the bar ends. This is fine for short rides, but for extended or faster rides, this is not really sufficient. It is common to get some numbness with the limited hand positions.

These bullhorns offer up to 5 hand positions, for very different purposes and riding style! There are hand  positions for leisure and also other hand positions for speed.

1) On the top of the handlebar 

In this position, the grip height is relatively high, which puts me in the most upright position. Very relaxing position, most suited for leisurely rides, such as LCSG Sunday rides! Allows me to see far and enjoy the scenery around me. I also installed cyclocross brake levers on top, so that I can brake from this position! Although I cannot shift gears from this position, I can select the gear I want before that, before settling into this comfortable riding position.

2)  At the corner of the handlebar

This is a position that is rather uncommon. I find this actually quite interesting, as it feels like I'm holding a steering wheel! Gives me good control over the handlebar, as it is a wider grip position than the 1st hand position. Still allows me to stay upright and comfortable. No brakes or shifting from this hand position.

3) Traditional bullhorn grip

This is the most basic and common hand position for these bullhorn bars! In fact, it is the most ergonomic position, better than the grip position on a flat handlebar.

Try a little experiment. Hold your hands out in front of you. Try rotating your palms to face up, face each other, and face down. You will find that the most comfortable position is when your palms are facing each other. This is due to the structure of the arms and shoulder, which puts your hands in this position.

Translating this hand position to the bicycle, you will see that gripping the bullhorns this way is the most comfortable hand position for riding. This is also one of the main reasons why I changed to bullhorns! Braking is easy, just pull on the brake lever with the fingers. Shifting is also easy, just push the levers inwards with the fingers. At all times my palm is resting on the grip, so I am always in control.

In this position, I can also ring the bell easily, by reaching up with my left hand and turning the ring surrounding the bell. More reach is achieved in this hand position,as it allows me to bend over more. Less upright riding position, but still very comfortable. 80% of most rides would be spent in this hand position.

4) On the hoods

Gripping the bullhorn in this position is very similar to riding on the hoods with a drop bar. The difference is that in this case, instead of gripping the rubber hoods of the Dual Control Levers, I am gripping the upward-tilting corner of the bullhorns. Very good position if I want to go for speed, as it extends the grip even further, putting me in a low aerodynamic position. Control is good too due to the self-centering effect and the wide grip.

Shifting is possible in this hand position, by pushing the levers inwards with the fourth and little fingers. However braking is not possible as the fingers cannot pull on the brake levers in this position.

5) Time Trial (TT) position

This is the hand position that gives the longest reach! Grip the ends of the bullhorns and rest your forearm on the handlebar.By doing so, the elbows will be at almost 90 degrees, which puts me really low and aerodynamic! Although this is not as aerodynamic as proper TT bars which puts the arms closer together, this is much better that having none at all. Perfect for windy stretches of clear straight road, such as at Pengerang ,Tuas South or Changi Coastal road.

One disadvantage of this hand position is that my arms will become tired more quickly than usual, because the arms are now supporting more of my weight. Still need more practice in this position, to find the ideal angle and location for gripping and resting the forearms. My neck also becomes more tired as I will have to make an effort to look up to see ahead. Not safe to just look down and pedal on!

Ringing the bell is easy, I just need to twist my hand as I am already gripping part of the bell!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Shimano Alfine 11 Internal Hub Review

Update: I now have my own Alfine 11 bike! The Avanti Inc 3 with Gates Belt Drive and Alfine 11 Internal Hub.

So this is the Alfine 11 internal hub that many people have been talking about, and how they would like to use it on their bikes. I had the chance to try out a bike equipped with the Alfine 11 gear set over the weekend.

This bike is actually a Montague bike, which is a full sized mountain bike that can be folded. When paired with an internal hub, it creates a wonderful bike that is able to tackle rough terrain, is low maintenance and still folds! Quite an unique and amazing mix of features.

The Alfine 11 is a new internal hub released by Shimano late last year, and has a completely revamped construction from the previous Nexus and Alfine 8 hubs. This actually makes it slightly lighter than the Alfine 8, even though it has 3 more gears!

Good for off road too! No more chain drops or bouncing/broken rear derailleurs. Works perfectly even without much cleaning!

The Alfine series of internal hubs is able to accept disc brakes, unlike the Nexus series which only accepts roller brakes instead. To me, this is a great feature, as disc brakes with internal hubs makes the bike highly weather resistant, looks really good and works really well!

Chain tensioner is required for frames without horizontal dropouts. The chain seems to be longer than required, but is not an issue with the chain tensioner.

Another highlight of the Alfine 11 is of course the 11 speeds available! Other than the 11 speed drivetrain by Campagnolo, the Alfine 11 is the only drivetrain with 11 speeds on one shifter.

The 11 speeds available gives a really wide range of gearing, and can handle uphills or downhills with the spread of gears available. If there is a need to shift the whole gear range up or down, the size of the rear sprocket can be selected to give your desired gear range.

11 speeds! Without the indicator, it is easy to lose track of which gear you are in, because there are so many!

Other than the excellent internal hub, the Alfine 11 shifter also works brilliantly, just as a high end shifter should. The new construction means that the main lever downshifts, while the release lever upshifts, just like all high end Shimano MTB shifters. The previous Alfine drivetrains had the functions of the levers reversed, due to a different hub construction.

As with high end Shimano MTB shifters, it has 2-Way release, Instant Release and Multi Release features built in. This allows you to easily shift multiple gears both ways. The Alfine 11 is also perfect for commuting, as it allows gear shifting when the bike is not moving. Downshifting while stationary at the red light is now possible.

Had the bike over the weekend, and brought it out to the LCSG ride! Quite a few people were interested in it and had a go on the bike. Everyone who had tried the bike said that the shifting is very smooth and quick! In fact, some of them commented that compared to the other internal hubs, this Alfine 11 is way better. Also, it is hard to actually find and test ride an Alfine bike in Singapore as the LBS don't bring in these bikes due to low demand.

The smoothness of the gear shifting is largely due to the oil lubrication of the internals, the helical gears used and better designs. All these results in lightning quick shifts, where there is no need to wait for the chain to climb or drop onto the next gear. As soon as the lever clicks, the gear change is done, no delay.

The good stuff!

Of course, the shifting is not perfect everytime. When pushing hard on the pedals, sometimes the gear does not shift. This is very different from a bike with a derailleur, where you have to continue pedalling in order to complete the shift. For an internal hub, it helps to pedal lightly when you shift in order for the shift to be successfully executed.

The main downside to this internal hub is probably the weight. At around 2kg for the whole system (hub, chain tensioner, shifter), this is quite hefty compared to a conventional rear derailleur (rear hub, cassette, RD, shifter, around 0.9kg in total). It certainly does not come cheap too, due to the complex internal construction and precise tolerances required to manufacture the hub.

Most bikes should be able to use this hub, with its hub width of 135mm. Even bikes with a rear width of 130mm might be able to use it, although it will be a tight fit.

Overall, it can be said that this is a really good alternative for people who wants to have a low maintenance drivetrain, yet have multiple gears to use. The ease of shifting when stationary is definitely a plus, although the weight penalty is something that has to be overcome.

Great bike, great hub system!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Journey of the Boardwalk: Part 13 - Dahon Boardwalk TT

Disclaimer: Major upgrade poison ahead! Read at your own risk!
Ever looked at the Dahon Speed Pro TT, Vector X27 or the Verge X30 and wish you had the bullhorn handlebars? Now you can! With the correct components and some mechanic skills, you can install bullhorns on almost every Dahon folding bike. The bike will still be foldable, using the folding method described in an earlier post.

Advantages of bullhorn handlebars over standard flat bars:
1) More hand positions for better comfort and versatility, especially over longer rides.
2) Longer reach is possible, especially for people with longer upper bodies.
3) More aerodynamic when certain hand positions are used.
4) Brake and shift using the same levers, and reap the ergonomic benefits of the Shimano Total Integration (STI) levers.
5) More natural hand position (palms facing each other) when holding the sides of the bullhorn.

With all these in mind, I set about gathering the components that I needed for the upgrade. In fact it took me more than a month to gather all these parts. Needed to do some research and ask around too for advice. No hurry to do so since I can ride my bike in the meantime anyway.

Components required:
1) Shimano Tiagra 9 Speed STI Levers
2) Shimano 105 RD
3) Kinetix Pro TT bullhorn, clamp size 25.4mm
4) Inner cables and cable housings - LONG ones for the rear brake and rear derailleur
5) Travel Agents by Problem Solvers
6) Tektro Cyclocross brake levers
7) Lots of cable ferrules for covering the cable housing ends

The hardest component to find were the STI levers, it is difficult to find 9 speed ones nowadays. 105 and above level are all 10 speed already. Finally found a pair of second hand Tiagra levers from Togoparts after some time! Taken off a new bike so they are in great condition.

Previously I was using the SRAM X9 shifters with the X9 rear derailleur. Since I will be switching to Shimano STI levers, I will need a compatible Shimano RD. Once again Togoparts to the rescue! Second hand Shimano 105 RD, from the older 5600 series. No problem, black colour can already haha.

Most of the time, the STI levers are paired with caliper brakes, so that the cable pull when braking is compatible. However, I cannot mount caliper brakes on my Boardwalk, as there are no proper caliper brake mounts and also because the caliper brakes will intefere with the fenders. Caliper brakes are possible! Check out the next part of the series here.

In order to overcome this incompatible cable pull issue, I got these Travel Agents from a company called Problem Solvers. What these things do is to alter the pull ratio of the cable, such that the STI levers pull enough brake cable to activate the V-brakes properly. Without them, the V-brakes will feel very spongy and the brake pads will need to be very close to the rims.

To further complicate the upgrade, I decided to add cyclocross brake levers! (No challenge if the upgrade is too simple! LOL) These brake levers are mounted near the middle of the handlebars, and goes between the main STI levers and the brake calipers. They allow braking even when holding the middle of the bullhorns.

First step is to remove all the components on the handlebar, so that I can swap the handlebar! Not easy because I will also need to loosen all the cables and pull out all the cable housings. I cannot reuse the cable housings or cables because they will be too short to route the cables on the bullhorn handlebars.

After this, I needed to open up the chain so that I can remove the current X9 RD. On the SRAM chain that I am using, there is a Powerlink that can be opened up by hand. However, I found it difficult to open by hand most of the time, because it is quite tight and also because I have to work against the chain tension.

Got the KMC Missing Link Chain Pliers and a X-Tools Chain Connector Aid from CRC.

Hook the 2 ends of the chain connector aid around 2 chain links, such that there is no chain tension across the Powerlink. Squeeze the side plates of the Powerlink together (not shown), and use the pliers to push the 2 ends of the Powerlink together.

With the chain pliers, it is very easy to open the Powerlink! Also, the chain connector aid helps to remove the chain tension before opening the link, and holds the chain for you after opening the link! Simple but really useful tools, saves you from sore fingers and dirty hands.

Time to install the new components! See the new bullhorn, STI levers and Cyclocross brake levers! The gold coloured stem is no longer required to extend the reach.

Running the brake cable housing out from the STI levers is not easy, as the cable housing needs to come out at an angle, and then turn sharply to run along the handlebar. This causes more friction for the inner cable. A short section of housing is laid from the STI levers to the cyclocross brake levers, and then a longer housing all the way to the brake calipers. The inner brake cable runs all the way through everything to the brake calipers.

The inner brake cable first loops around the smaller circle, then around the larger circle. This results in the short pull of the STI levers being converted into a longer pull suitable for the V-brakes.

Setting up the shifter cable is much more straight forward, coming out the side of the STI levers and going to the RD.

Before I wrapped the bar tape, I went for a test ride around the neighbourhood, to finalise the positions and angles of the levers. This has to be done before the bar tape is wrapped, else adjustments would be almost impossible.

Wrapping the bar tape also takes quite a bit of skill. Not just anyhow wrap in any direction you like, you actually need to wrap it properly if you want it to last. Check out the youtube link here.

Note the interesting rotating bell on the left bar end, originally from Bike Friday!

Managed to fit my two front lights and cyclecomputer on the bullhorn!

So far have not had any problems with the bullhorn bars. Initially I was worried that the clamp in the middle might not be able to hold the bullhorn properly, allowing it to rotate if I placed weight on the handlebars. But it has been rock solid so far, no slippage at all.

Lastly, a picture to wrap up this wonderful upgrade!

Will be discussing the hand positions possible on the bullhorn handlebars in a future post. Stay connected and check back often!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Journey of the Boardwalk: Part 12 - LitePro Pedals

Finally found some time to write about the LitePro pedals! Previously I was using the MKS FD-6 folding pedals, which are very good folding pedals indeed. The MKS pedals have very smooth bearings, which is why many cyclists with folding bikes have changed to the MKS folding pedals.

However, being folding pedals, the folding joint is ultimately the weak link in the whole pedal body. After using it for about one and a half years, there is some looseness when the pedal is unfolded. The outer half of the pedal will have some play relative to the inner part which is bolted to the crank.

Of course, there is no big deal, as the pedals still work fine. Another reason I changed pedals is because with the new folding method that I am using for my Boardwalk, I find that there is actually no need for folding pedals. The pedals will actually be kept within the folded package, even without folding the pedals.

Comparing the pedals, these LitePro ones are actually much lighter than the MKS pedals. According to my slightly inaccurate weighing scale, the MKS pedals weigh 440g a pair, while the LitePro pedals weigh only 220g a pair, half the weight!

New LitePro pedals!

MKS FD-6 folding pedals

Installation was not too difficult, it only requires Allen keys of the correct size and some muscle power. Some people have asked me why I didn't get the gold coloured LitePro pedals instead. Actually I had considered it, but a whole slab of gold would look out of place. Also, I wouldn't bear to step on the shiny gold pedals! Black would fit the cranks better and not dirty so easily.

These pedals are actually about 1 cm shorter than the MKS pedals. Initially I was not used to the smaller platform, especially when I was wearing my oversized Crocs haha. However, when I used my cycling shoes, the size was just right. As long as you don't have huge feet, these pedals would not seem too small.

Size of the pedal fits my shoe nicely!

Also, since there is no folding joint, the pedals feels much more solid when I pedal hard. Can feel a slight improvement in power transfer. Even though the bearings in the LitePro pedals are not as silky smooth as the MKS pedals, I can't really feel the difference when pedalling.

Besides the seat clamp and these pedals, some other LitePro products that I am using include the gold chainring bolts and the gold stem for the handlebar.

Gold chainring bolts on the crankset

Gold stem to extend the reach of the handlebar!

More info regarding the LitePro chainring bolts and stem can be found at the previous blog entries!