Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Avanti Inc 3: Red Colour Gates CenterTrack Belt

Hello to all with Gates belt drive bicycles! If you are riding a Gates belt drive bike, you will be using either a CDC belt or a CDX belt on your bike. Although there are other companies that also make belt drive systems for bicycles (such as Bridgestone), Gates is the most well known brand for bicycle belt drive components.

Ever since I got my Avanti Inc 3 belt drive commuting bike, I have loved the simplicity and maintenance-free feature of a belt drive system. With no worries of rust, I can ride the bike in the rain and not have to dry, clean or lube the belt at all.

I have previously changed the length of the Gates belt from the original length, because I wanted to lower the overall gear ratio of the bike. The new gear ratio fits me and my riding style much better, as I can use more of the 11 gears that are in the Alfine 11 internal hub.

Recently, I found that Gates has introduced a new, limited edition red coloured CDX belt. This is interesting as it can add some colour to the bike, which would otherwise be limited by the plain black belt.

Getting a red coloured Gates belt is not easy, as you can't just buy it off the shelf in Singapore. The only place I know where I can buy the red belt is on, which is based in the US. Although it is possible to ship to Singapore, the shipping charges are quite expensive. Therefore, I took the chance to send the parcel to a US address, and picked it up when I visited the US last month.

The limited edition red Gates CDX belt!

The belt has carbon cords inside, which make them very strong and durable with practically no stretch.

Since I am only swapping the belt without changing the front or rear sprockets, I just needed to get the same length (113T) as the previous belt.

Same pattern and construction as the old belt, except for the colour.

On the inside surface, the red belt has a black coloured coating, while the old black belt has a blue coloured coating.

Installing the new belt is quite easy, much like changing a new chain, except that you won't get your hands dirty changing a belt! For more details on how to change a belt on a belt drive bike, you can refer to the earlier post about modifying the gear ratio on this bike.

I planned it such that I was able to change the belt at the same time as I upgraded the brake rotor on the rear wheel, as this means that I only have to remove and install the rear wheel once. Being an internal hub with axle nuts, a wheel change is more time consuming and thus any effort saved is always good.

New red Gates CDX belt on my Avanti Inc 3! It is a very striking red colour.

A very visible red belt on the bike that really stands out from the black frame.

Other than the red belt, the only other place on the bike with colour accents would be on the Fizik seatpost ring. I had previously used a blue coloured Fizik seatpost ring, but now, with the new red belt, it is only right to get a matching red coloured seatpost ring!

New red Fizik seatpost ring from Taobao

It can act as a seal between the seatpost and the seatpost collar to minimize water entry into the seat tube. This is especially useful for this bike as I do ride it in the rain.

The new red Fizik seatpost ring

Same diameter as the old blue ring, just in a different colour

As seen installed on the bike. The red colour stands out nicely against the black frame.

New red Gates CDX belt and red Fizik seatpost ring!

Looks totally like a commuting bike, with fenders and rear rack. Not sleek like road bikes or fierce like off-road bikes, but super practical for commuting.

Overall view of the bike with the new red bits!

With an eye catching red coloured belt, it is obvious that this bike is something different. From the previous stealthy all black setup, there are now some red accents on the Avanti Inc 3 that makes the bike look a little more interesting. No performance improvements with the red belt, but it does score some points for design!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Avanti Inc 3: Shimano RT81 Ice-Tech Centerlock Rotors

Continuing from Part 1 of this brake upgrade, where I upgraded to Shimano Deore M615 hydraulic brakes, I will now upgrade the brake rotors too! By changing to new brake rotors at the same time as new brake pads, this eliminates the risk of contaminating the new brake pads with residue and oil from the old brake rotors.

The stock brake rotors on the Avanti Inc 3 are Shimano RT64 brake rotors. These are mid range (SLX-Deore class) disc rotors that are found on many bikes with Centrelock brake rotors. Before installing the new rotors, I will have to first remove these rotors from the hubs. This is the first time that I am removing the brake rotors ever since I bought the bike 1.5 years ago.

Original RT64 Centrelock brake rotors

To remove this Centrelock brake rotor, I will have to first remove the lockring in the middle. This is not a 6 bolt rotor which requires loosening 6 individual mounting bolts.

As shown from this illustration, removing the rotor lockring requires the use of a tool for lockring removal. This is the same tool as cassette lockrings, so no special tool here.

Nevertheless, I took the chance to get a new lockring tool. This tool can be used for both cassette and Centrelock rotor lockrings. It also comes with a central pin for alignment with the hub axle.

This tool is good because the lockring tool is already attached to a handle, which means no need to insert and align the tool within a separate wrench. This makes it much easier to apply force to the tool without the risk of the wrench slipping away from the tool.

As you can see here, the cassette lockring tool can also be used for the rotor lockring. However, the rotor lockring and the cassette lockring are not interchangeable.

Ready to remove the rotor lockring! It is really easy with this tool.

The braking surface vs the untouched surfaces on the old rotor. The braking surface can be seen to be much darker in colour and more worn out.

The replacement rotor that I decided to get is the RT81 (Deore XT grade) Ice-Tech rotors. These are Centrelock rotors (to match my Centrelock hubs), and they have an aluminium layer sandwiched between the steel braking surfaces for better heat dissipation. Honestly speaking, I have no need for better heat dissipation as I am not going fast enough or braking hard enough to actually accumulate too much heat in the rotors. What I like is the large 5 arm aluminium spider in the middle of the rotor which looks really good (much like the 5 arm design on the Ultegra 6700 crankset).

Comparing the RT64 rotor on the left with the new RT81 Ice-Tech rotor on the right. The main difference is the size of the aluminium spider in the middle of the rotor.

Steel lockring from the RT64 rotor vs the more lightweight aluminium lockring from the RT81 Ice-Tech rotor.

Weight of the RT64 rotor + lockring is 157 grams...

...while the RT81 Ice-Tech rotor + lockring is 129 grams. The weight savings is partly due to the large 5 arm aluminium spider.

Smart looking Ice-Tech rotor! New and shiny.

160mm diameter rotor with Ice Technologies

Model number is SM-RT81-S. The "S" stands for small which is 160mm. There are also 180mm (M) and 203mm (L) sized rotors.

Lightweight aluminium lockring from the RT81 Ice-Tech rotor

The nice looking 5 arm aluminium spider in the middle of the RT81 Ice-Tech rotor

If you look closely, you will be able to spot the aluminium layer that is sandwiched between the outer stainless steel layers.

I took the chance to remove and reinstall the tires (the tire tread was facing the wrong way, ever since I changed to Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tires), and weighed the wheel. The weight of the front wheel alone (without rim tape, tube, tire or brake rotor) is 1124 grams. This is a heavy front wheel!

RT81 Ice-Tech rotor installed on the front wheel!

As for the Alfine 11 internal hub rear wheel, I also weighed it (without rim tape, tube, tire and rotor), and it is a massive 2711 grams! This is so much heavier than the Ultegra 6800 rear wheel (940 grams).

While changing the brake rotor for the rear wheel, I discovered this rotor spacer underneath the lockring of the stock RT64 rotor.

This is because the Centrelock serration is further in on the Alfine hub than standard MTB hubs

Without the rotor spacer, the lockring cannot reach the rotor at all to tighten it.

This is why the rotor spacer is required, to act as an intermediary for the lockring to tighten onto the rotor spider.

With the rotor spacer, the lockring can now be tightened properly onto the rotor.

RT81 Ice-Tech rotor successfully installed onto the Alfine 11 internal hub!

Another view of the rotor on the Alfine 11 hub

Black coloured rotor spider is not really visible when placed against the black bike frame

RT81 Ice-Tech brake rotor as seen mounted on the front wheel

Both the new rotors have been successfully mounted on the Avanti Inc 3 bike! Adjusting the centering of the brake calipers is also easy, as the rotors are nice and flat without warpage. However, I did notice some issues with the clearance between the rotor and the brake caliper.

As can be seen from the two pictures below (showing front and rear brakes respectively), the two red arrows point to the clearance between the rotor and the brake caliper. Due to the large aluminium spider on the rotors, there is very little clearance between the spinning rotor and the caliper body of the brake calipers. From my estimate, there is barely 1mm of clearance between these parts.

Minimal clearance between the rotor spider and the brake caliper on the front wheel

Same situation for the rear wheel

Although the clearance is very small, I did not notice any interference between the rotor and brake caliper when I spin the wheels. After test riding the bike, I also did not notice any abnormalities caused by the small clearance. Thankfully there is no problem, but I am not so comfortable with this setup as the clearance is really small.

Since there is no problem now, I will leave it as it is. There is always the option of adding a washer underneath the brake caliper mounting just to put it a little bit further from the rotor.

With the new brake rotors and the new brakes, the whole braking system on my Avanti Inc 3 is completely new. As with a new rotor or brake pad, there is always a settling in period where the braking performance will gradually improve as everything is worn in. This process can be accelerated by some hard braking.

Once the brakes have attained their full performance, I found that the braking power has been noticeably improved compared to the previous stock setup. I also had to get used to the new, shorter brake levers which affects the braking feel and ergonomics. Overall, I am happy with this new setup as I get shiny, good looking new rotors and improved braking performance.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Avanti Inc 3: Shimano Deore M615 Hydraulic Disc Brakes

For a wet weather commuting bike such as my Avanti Inc 3, the bike components will come into contact with rain quite often. Aside from rust, the other concern would be the braking performance in the rain. Normal rim brakes such as V brakes and road caliper brakes perform well when dry, but the performance suffers greatly in wet weather. Disc brakes don't have this downside as they work as well in the dry or in the wet. That was the main reason for choosing a bike with disc brakes for wet weather commuting.

The stock brakes that come with the Avanti Inc 3 are the Shimano entry level BL-M445. These are basic hydraulic brakes that are very affordable and perform very respectably. You will be able to find these brakes on many mid-to-entry range mountain bikes that cost below SGD 1000.

BL-M445 hydraulic brakes that come stock with the Avanti Inc 3

These brakes have performed well over the 1.5 years that I have been riding this bike. Over these 1.5 years, I have clocked an average of 80km per month on this bike. This distance seems short, but considering that I mostly ride this bike only when the ground is wet or when it is raining, that is 80km per month of cycling that I would have missed out if I did not have this wet weather bike.

Although these brakes are still working well, I wanted to upgrade the brakes because I would prefer to use more high end brakes for better braking power. A very affordable MTB hydraulic brake would be the Shimano Deore BL-M615 hydraulic brakes. These are designed with reference to the highly regarded XTR and Deore XT brakes, at a much lower cost, slightly heavier weight and only slightly reduced performance. Therefore, I decided to upgrade the brakes on the Avanti Inc 3 to the Deore brakes.

Comparing the shape and length of the brake lever. The BL-M445 is designed for 3 finger usage, while the Deore BL-M615 is designed for more "pro" usage with a 1.5 finger lever shape.

The Deore BL-M615 brakes come pre-bled with the brake calipers, all ready for installation.

Designed to look like the high end Deore XT brakes

Instead of a knob for tool-less adjustment of the lever reach, an Allen key is required to turn the bolt for reach adjustment.

Special profile inside the bracket to guide the piston, for a Servo-Wave effect. Open clamp band design allows installation or removal of the brakes without removing the grips.

Uses mineral oil for the hydraulic fluid. At the bottom left corner of the picture, you can see a hole on the clamp band, which is for I-Spec compatibility. You can mount an I-Spec shifter on this same clamp band with the appropriate adaptors.

Deore BR-M615 hydraulic brake calipers. Does not have the features of the higher end brake calipers, such as a banjo fitting for adjustment of the brake hose exit angle.

Comes stock with resin brake pads, which can be swapped out for metal brake pads if higher braking power is desired.

High power hydraulic brake hose SM-BH90 used by many Shimano hydraulic brakes.

With the same hydraulic hose lengths, swapping the M445 for the M615 brakes is easy without the need to cut and re-bleed the brakes.

Weight of BL-M445/BR-M446 with 70cm hose is 271 grams.

Weight of Deore BL-M615/BR-M615 with 70cm hose is 277 grams. Slightly heavier, but no big deal for me.

While changing out the brakes, I noticed a little clip on the inside of the Avanti front fork for the hydraulic hose. This was not used for the stock brakes.

 There are even Avanti Inc decals on the inside surface of the front fork! Talk about details...

New Deore brakes! I still had to remove the grips as I needed to remove the M445 brakes which did not have an open clamp band design.

Deore brake caliper mounted on the frame. The rear brake caliper mounting is located inside the rear triangle, which makes it very neat and compact. The downside is that it is harder to reach the brake caliper mounting bolts.

Before I review the braking performance of the new brakes, I would like to state that this is Part 1 of 2 for the brakes upgrade. For this first part, the brake levers and calipers were upgraded. In the upcoming Part 2, I will be upgrading the brake rotors! I wanted to upgrade the brakes and the rotors at the same time, as this would mean that fresh brake pads would come into contact with fresh rotors. This means almost no risk of contamination of the new brake pads with residue or oil from old rotors.

New brake rotors coming up next in Part 2!