Monday, December 29, 2014

Merida Scultura 5000 - Ultegra 6800 11 Speed Wheelset

Major upgrade and lots of pictures in this blog post! When I purchased this Merida Scultura 5000 road bike, I was told by the bike shop owner that the best upgrade for this bike would be to upgrade the wheels. How true is it? Let's find out!

Stock Merida Comp 24 wheelset

Front wheel weighs 940 grams, which is heavy for a road bike front wheel!

Rear wheel weighs 1190 grams, which is also heavy for a rear wheel.

Stock QR skewers. Not a good design, as you can read more in this article.

The total weight of the stock Merida wheelset (including rim tape) is 2130 grams, which is considered really heavy for a set of 700C road bike wheels. This is partly due to the high number of spokes on each wheel (32 spokes). It is likely that the rims and hubs are also on the heavier side, which contributes to the overall weight.

Since this stock wheelset is heavy, finding a lighter wheelset is not difficult, and it will reduce the weight of the bike by a fair bit. There is such a wide variety of road wheelsets available that it is difficult to choose. There are low profile wheelsets that are lightweight and good for climbing, and high profile wheelsets that are focused on aerodynamics.

Function-wise they are quite similar, but differ mainly in weight, appearance and of course pricing. Prices can range from $300 for a decent wheelset to $3000 or more for a high profile carbon wheelset. For me, my priority is to get an affordable and lightweight wheelset to replace the heavy stock wheelset.

I found that the Shimano Ultegra 6800 wheelset is actually available at an affordable price of less than $400 from CRC. The claimed weight is 1640 grams which is almost 500 grams lighter than the stock wheelset! Most importantly, it also allows me to complete the Ultegra groupset with the Ultegra wheels. To reduce another 200 grams of weight will require forking out close to $1000 for a wheelset, an amount which I am not prepared to pay.

Ultegra 6800 front wheel

Ultegra 6800 11 speed rear wheel

Comes with a 1.85mm spacer if you want to install a 8/9/10 speed cassette on the 11 speed freehub body.

2 spoke wrenches are provided. The slotted end holds the bladed spoke while the other end turns the spoke nipple.

Ultegra quick release skewers!

Very nice finishing on these QR levers

These QR skewers use an internal cam mechanism to tighten the skewers.

Weighs 120 grams, not lightweight. Same weight as the stock QR skewers.

Tubeless valves are provided with this wheelset

These Ultegra rims are tubeless ready, which means that they can use tubeless tires without needing any special sealing rim tape. If you are using normal clincher tires with inner tubes, no rim tape is required since there are no spoke holes to cover.

Both the front and rear wheels come with valves for tubeless tires

The pair of valves weigh 14 grams. Since I am using the Schwalbe One clincher tires, I won't be needing these valves.

Ultegra front wheels weigh 720 grams, 220 grams lighter than the stock front wheel

Rear wheel weighs 940 grams, 250 grams lighter than the stock rear wheel

After deducting the weight of the tubeless valves, this Ultegra 6800 wheelset weighs about 1650 grams, which is just slightly above the claimed weight of 1640 grams. Also, it is a huge 480 grams lighter than the stock Merida wheelset! There is no other component on the bike where you can save so much weight with a single upgrade.

Ultegra series wheelset

Tubeless ready rims, no spoke holes on the rim means no rim tape is required

Reinforced spoke holes for the spoke nipples

Valve hole appears to be slightly offset to one side on the rear wheel, due to the asymmetric rear rim profile

Hidden spoke holes and lightweight looking cutouts on the hub flanges.

16 straight pull spokes on the front wheel. This is half the number of spokes when compared to the stock front wheel (32 spokes).

Ultegra logo printed prominently in the middle of the hub shell

Ultegra rear hub, 20 straight pull spokes

11 speed compatible freehub body. Freehub body is made of steel for durability and to prevent the cassette from cutting into the freehub body.

For Ultegra and Dura-Ace hubs, there is a feature called "Digital Click Bearing Adjustment". This means that it is easy to adjust the pre-load of the bearings by rotating the cone of the bearing unit. The only tools required are 2 x size 5 Allen keys to loosen the end caps of the hub, no cone wrenches required.

Adjustment of the bearing pre-load is possible only because loose cup and cone bearings are used in this hub. If adjusted correctly, this kind of ball bearing structure will last longer than cartridge type of ball bearings. The downside is heavier weight and probably less smooth rotation.

When I received the wheelset, the rotation of the bearings felt a little rough. Therefore, I decided to adjust the bearing pre-load to see if I can make the ball bearings spin more smoothly.

To adjust the bearing pre-load, the first thing to do is to pry off the plastic dust cap. This can be done by inserting a sharp object into the slot at the side of the dust cap.

This is how it looks after the dust cap is removed. The next step is to remove the silver end caps to expose the adjustment cone underneath.

2 x size 5 Allen wrenches are needed to loosen the end caps. The end caps are tightened very tightly, thus I needed to use extra long wrenches and a lot of strength to loosen the end caps.

How it looks after the end cap and spacer (not shown) is removed. The cone can then be adjusted by hand to give the desired bearing pre-load.

After adjusting the cone, the hubs are able to spin smoother, as they were tightened just a bit too tightly when they came out of the factory. Time to install the wheels onto the bike!

Ultegra front wheel mounted onto the Merida road bike!

Ultegra rear wheel installed onto the road bike. I also had to move the Ultegra 6800 cassette over from the stock rear wheel.

Comparing the stock Merida front wheel with the new Ultegra front wheel. The Merida wheel has 32 spokes, which is double the number on the Ultegra wheel.

The new Ultegra rear wheel has 20 spokes, as compared to 32 on the stock rear wheel. That said, the spoke lacing pattern on the stock Merida wheels are actually quite attractive.

Picture of the Merida Scultura 5000 road bike in stock condition.

Latest appearance of the Merida Scultura 5000!

To sum it up, here are the main differences between the stock Merida Comp 24 wheelset and the new Ultegra 6800 wheelset.

Merida Comp 24 Wheelset: 2130 grams
Ultegra 6800 Wheelset: 1650 grams

Number of spokes:
Merida Comp 24 Wheelset: 32 on front, 32 on rear
Ultegra 6800 Wheelset: 16 on front, 20 on rear

Number of freehub engagement per revolution:
Merida Comp 24 Wheelset: 15 points of engagement (One click every 24 degrees)
Ultegra 6800 Wheelset: 20 points of engagement (One click every 18 degrees)

The rims on the Ultegra wheelset is also tubeless ready, which means that you can mount a tubeless tire on it without needing any sealing rim tape. Also, since there are no exposed spoke holes on the rim bed, there is no need to put on any rim tape when using a clincher tire with an inner tube.

I have tested these new Ultegra wheels for about a month, and there are some differences that can be felt when riding. Since I cycle commute to work, I take roughly the same route every day, at about the same time. This means that external factors such as traffic, weather conditions, traffic lights are similar for most of the testing.

Therefore, the only differences would be the bike that I ride and my physical condition. As I ride relatively short distances regularly, my physical condition is quite stable, with no big differences in power or fatigue. After repeating the same route with different bikes and components, any differences in speed (calculated by a speedometer) and power requirement (estimated) would be quite obvious to me.

These new Ultegra wheels definitely accelerate better and get up to speed faster and more easily than the stock Merida wheels. Where the stock Merida wheels feel a bit lethargic and heavy during acceleration, the Ultegra wheels feel really light and responsive when accelerating.

Both the stock Merida wheels and new Ultegra wheels perform similarly when maintaining a cruising speed of around 30-32 km/h. I don't really notice any difference during cruising, as both set of wheels are able to maintain the speed quite well.

The Ultegra wheelset feels stiffer and is able to hold the line very well when cornering, whereas the stock Merida wheels can feel a bit uncertain when cornering hard.

I have rode up NTU slopes on these wheels, and they feel really responsive when powering up the slopes. Even though this road bike does not have as low a gear as my Dahon Boardwalk, it is actually easier to climb the slopes on this bike due to the light overall weight of the bike.

Merida Comp 24 wheelset

Ultegra 6800 wheelset

Overall, the differences in these wheelsets are not as great as I expected. I had expected big differences in acceleration and cruising speed, but the final result is that although there is a difference during acceleration, cruising performance remain similar.

I would say that this new set of Ultegra wheels is a nice upgrade for the Merida Scultura 5000, as it improves the acceleration of the bike and also reduces the weight of the bike by almost half a kg. For the price of less than $400, it is great value for money. However, I would say that although it is good enough for an enthusiast rider like me, it will not be light or aerodynamic enough for someone to ride more competitively. For that, you will have to look for lighter and faster wheelsets that will cost a few times more than this set of Ultegra wheels.

With that, there is only one more component left, to fully complete the Ultegra groupset on this road bike!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Topeak Weatherproof DynaWedge Saddle Bag

This has to be one of the most lightweight and simple saddle bag I have come across. Ever since I started cycling, I have used only Topeak saddle bags as they are well designed for function and are also very durable.

I came across this new lightweight saddle bag while browsing at bike shops, and decided to get this saddle bag to try out. Wonder how it will look on my Merida road bike?

Topeak Weatherproof DynaWedge

Very lightweight at only 45 grams!

Very simple attachment methods. Uses velcro straps to fix the saddle bag under the saddle.

Actual weight is 46 grams, perfect for weight weenies

Special sealed zippers makes this saddle bag weatherproof, which probably means rain proof. Not waterproof as you cannot dunk this saddle bag underwater.

As the zipper opens along the bottom, there is a netting inside to prevent the contents from spilling out when the saddle bag is unzipped.

As shown on my Merida road bike! This size is perfect for one spare tube, tire levers, CO2 cartridge and multi tool.

Slim and compact size

Overall view of the saddle bag on the road bike

1) Super lightweight
2) Simple velcro attachment method allows easy transfer across different bikes
3) Weatherproof

1) Slightly too small for my usage as I usually bring more tools
2) Not sure how secure the velcro straps are
3) No hook for hanging a rear light on the saddle bag

Seems that this is a saddle bag that is equally good or bad, depending on your preference and usage. It is great if you want a lightweight and compact saddle bag that is also weatherproof. However, if you are like me, and want to carry more stuff in your saddle bag, this one is not for you. In the end I decided to sell it off as it does not really suit my usage.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Merida Scultura 5000 - Ultegra 6800 Crankset (Compact 50/34T)

Continuing from the previous post about the upgrade to Dura-Ace 9000 BB and chain, in this post I will write about the upgrade to the crankset.

The Merida Scultura 5000 (and many other 2014 Merida road bikes) come with the Shimano non-series 11 speed crankset, FC-RS500. This is an affordable 11 speed crankset that is quite a bit cheaper than the Ultegra or Shimano 105 cranksets. By using this lower cost non-series crankset, the bike OEMs will be able to lower the price of their bikes.

Stock crankset, the non-series Shimano 11 speed road crankset, FC-RS500.

11 speed compatible, and in compact gear combination of 50/34T.

The machined chainring cutouts and the black finishing is actually quite attractive, and makes it easy to match the appearance of almost any bike frame.

Weight of left crankarm + crank bolt is 249 grams.

Weight of right crankarm + chainrings is 546 grams.

Together, the FC-RS500 non-series crankset weighs 796 grams (some rounding off error).

Now, this non-series crankset actually performs quite well and I have no complaints about it. Shifting is fine and it also looks quite good. With a crankset weight of 796 grams it is actually not very heavy for this grade of crankset.

The Merida Scultura 5000 comes with some Ultegra 6800 components, and it is my wish to have a complete Ultegra 6800 groupset on the bike. This means swapping out some components for Ultegra 6800 components, and the crankset is one of them. One of the components which had already been changed to Ultegra is the cassette, which was upgraded a while ago.

By upgrading the crankset to the Ultegra 6800 crankset, the expected differences are lower weight, better shifting, stiffer crankset and better appearance.

Ultegra 6800 crankset!

Same compact 50/34T chainrings, length of 170mm.

One thing to note is that for newer cranksets (Dura-Ace 9000, Ultegra 6800 and Shimano 105 5800), the crank arm fixing bolt is now longer than those on older cranksets. This is to improve the thread engagement of the crank arm fixing bolt onto the spindle, so that there is less chance of it dropping off or stripping the thread. Another reason is to allow the left crankarm to be tightened onto the spindle even if a BB spacer is placed under the right side BB cup.

Same serration profile for old and new crank arm fixing bolt

The new crank arm fixing bolt on the right can be seen to have twice as many threads as the previous version.

One thing that I really like about this new Ultegra 6800 crankset is that it looks really good. The matte/glossy grey anodised finishing looks very high end, and I think it looks even better than the chrome + black finishing of the Dura-Ace 9000 crankset.

Another big difference is the 4 arm design, which is radically different from previous generations of 5 arm crank designs. At first it may seem weird if you are not used to it, but after seeing this 4 arm design for a couple of years, I actually find it quite special, and it helps to identify the groupset series on the bike.

Ultegra 6800 crankset with the iconic 4 arm design

11 speed compatible, also compact 50/34T chainrings. Both standard 53/39T and compact 50/34T cranksets share the same crankarm, with the same BCD.

Outer chainring is made of 2 parts bonded together, as you can see from the picture here. The outer layer with the chainring teeth is bonded to the inner layer which creates this hollow outer chainring.

Some shifting ramps and pins on the inside of the outer chainring to improve shifting.

34T inner chainring made of aluminium

The crankarm is also made of 2 pieces bonded together. In fact you can still see some sort of hardened epoxy oozing out near the 4 arm area.

Lots of codes and numbers for identifying the part and batch of this production

No I did not cut open my Ultegra crankarm. This cut-away sample is from the display at Shimano Cycling World, showing the hollow crankarm and its two piece crankarm construction.

Hollow crankarm of Dura-Ace 9000, with even thinner walls for lighter weight.

Left crankarm + crank arm fixing bolt weighs 197 grams.

Right crankarm + chainrings weigh 480 grams.

Together, the full Ultegra 6800 compact crankset (170mm) weighs 677 grams.

The weight of the Ultegra 6800 crankset is 677 grams, while the non-series RS500 crankset weighs 796 grams. This gives a weight reduction of 119 grams by changing the crankset.

Previously, I had also changed out the BB from the Tiagra BB to the Dura-Ace 9000 BB, which saved 26 grams. Together, changing the crankset and BB from RS500 + Tiagra BB to the new Ultegra 6800 crankset + Dura-Ace 9000 BB saved 145 grams.

Comparing the appearance of the non-series RS500 crankset with the Ultegra 6800 crankset.

Yet another picture of the great looking Ultegra 6800 crankset

Recent new components that have been installed on the Merida road bike. 

Installed the Ultegra crankset into the new Dura-Ace 9000 BB

Another look at the Ultegra crankset and Dura-Ace BB

No need to re-adjust the FD position, as the size of the chainring is still the same.

Re-installed my favourite PD-A530 SPD pedals onto the new Ultegra crankset

View of the drivetrain side of the crankset

Full view of the bike with the new Ultegra 6800 crankset!

I think the new crankset matches the bike frame and the rest of the components really well. The new Ultegra crankset is also lower in weight than the original RS500 crankset. As for shifting performance, it feels the same before and after the change. For a comparison with the previous generation of Ultegra 6700 10 speed crankset, you can check out this post.

On the other hand, the improved stiffness of the crankarm can be felt when I perform a static loading test. How I do it is to point the crankarm downwards at the 6 o'clock position, and step on the pedal to provide a loading force. The crankarm will deflect inwards and this can be seen quite easily if there is any flex.

When I perform this test on the RS500 crankset, there is a noticeable deflection of a few millimeters inwards. When I tried it on the Ultegra 6800 crankset, there is almost no deflection at all. This difference in stiffness can be seen visually and also felt through the feet.

So far, with the weight reduction from the Selle Italia SLR Kit Carbonio Flow saddle (save 215 grams) and also from this new crankset and BB (save 145 grams), there is a weight saving of 360 grams over the stock set up.

There are still some components which are not of the Ultegra groupset yet, so there are more changes to come!