Sunday, March 27, 2016

NTU Bike Rally 2016 98km

After taking a break from the NTU Bike Rally last year, I decided to join the NTU bike rally this year! For this year, they had two different distances, the 98km route and the 168km route. For me, the 98km route is a good distance as it is not too long to be torturous, and yet long enough to be a challenge.

Bike Rally 2014
Bike Rally 2012

This year, I decided to ride along with my friend who is taking part in the NTU bike rally for the first time. For a first timer, the 98km route should be a good distance that is doable, although it will still not be easy. It was held on 06 March 2016, starting at the F1 Pit.

For this year, the registration and the flag off timing for the 98km and the 168km are separate. This is good as it prevents riders going onto the wrong route like previous years. The 168km riders started off earlier at 6am, while the rest of the 98km riders will move off at 7am. I had prepared and packed breakfast to eat while waiting for the 98km flag off at 7am.

Both of us took our Wheelsport Fantasy mini velos for this ride. This mini velo rides very well and is a good choice for round island rides. Of course, if you want to go faster, a road bike is a better choice, although it can be less comfortable due to the more sporty riding posture.

Wheelsport Fantasy mini velos ready to go! Beautiful scenery too.

My friend's mini velo front wheel felt a bit under-pressured, and so I decided to pump it up using the Lezyne Micro Floor Drive. This hand pump is able to reach 100 PSI quite easily, so no issue there. However, when I was unscrewing the pump head from the valve, the removable Presta core of the valve came out! Seems that it was not tight enough, and it unscrewed together with the pump head.

Valve core of the Presta tube came out with the pump head.

This was a big issue as I can't pump up the tire without putting back the valve core. The last resort would be to change out the inner tube of course. I tried looking for an adjustable wrench to screw back the core properly, but could not find one even at the tool area of the organiser. In the end I had to use two Allen keys like a pair of chopsticks to screw back the core. Not sure if it is tight enough, but I think it will work OK.

After fixing the inner tube issue, it was almost time to go! We lined up at the start point just before 7am, and I was glad to see that the flag off timing was at 7am sharp! Great work by the organisers to be able to stick to the scheduled timing. At this time the sky was still dark and so our front and rear lights were on. This time, I am using the Garmin Edge 510 to track the route, so I will not need to plot the route manually.

7am, Set off from F1 Pit, 0 km
From start point to West Coast Highway

Since I have done the NTU Bike Rally a few times, the route would be pretty straightforward and predictable, even though the route is not disclosed before the ride. From the F1 Pits, we turned towards Shenton Way and went all the way to Keppel Road. After that, we carried on to West Coast Highway. From the start till this point, everyone was very energetic and rode rather fast. We were at 30km/h all the way along this stretch.

The danger area is near the Sentosa entrance, where there is a need to filter two lanes to the right to go straight, past Vivocity. There were a few Cisco outriders with us at this time and so it was not too chaotic.

As always, the first water point is at West Coast Park. We did not go in to rest as it was still early in the ride and we did not need to stop. Besides, it is a good idea to cover more distance early in the morning while it is still cool.

740am, Jalan Buroh Roundabout, 15.5km
Passing by Jalan Buroh roundabout

After West Coast Park, we went towards the Jalan Buroh roundabout (shown by the black dot). This is the point where the 168km and 98km route splits. Although the 168km riders are supposed to have left at 6am, there are still quite a large number of 168km riders at this point. It is easy to differentiate them from the 98km riders from the colour of the number tags.

The 168km riders went left towards Tuas, while 98km riders went straight towards Jurong Town Hall road. I was a bit surprised at this point as I thought everyone will turn left, and 98km route will turn turn at Pioneer Road North towards NTU.

As we went along Jurong Town Hall road, and passed Boon Lay Way onto Bukit Batok road, I realised that the 98km route will not be going to NTU! That was a surprise for me as I thought the NTU Bike Rally will always go through NTU...

805am, Choa Chu Kang Way, 26km
2nd water point on the 98km route

We we planning to go for the second water point, which would be a good time to refill our bottles and grab some bananas. As we went past ITE College West, there were some marshals indicating that the water point is nearby. However, as we turned left onto Choa Chu Kang Way, there were no signs or marshals indicating where the water point is. We thought it was further down the road, and so we went straight. It was only after some time that we realised we must have missed it as it was too far down the road. Later on, we found out from other riders that we had to turn in (at the black dot on the map) for the water point.

Now we had already missed two water points, but luckily we still had water and still felt fit enough to continue without resting. I wonder where the next water point will be...

845am, Start of Mandai Road, 38km
Going up Sungei Kadut Drive to Kranji Way, before coming down to Mandai Road

After passing through Choa Chu Kang, the route brought us northwards towards Kranji Way, before coming back down along Woodlands Road. From there, we turned left to travel along Mandai Road.

At this point, we still had not stopped for a water break or snacks, as we had skipped the previous two stop points. Luckily it was still early in the day and it was not too hot. Mandai road had some up and down slopes, but it was not a big issue for us as we still had energy. The key is to spin slowly and not to mash hard, as it is important to avoid getting leg cramps.

930am, Yishun Stadium, 47km
Stop point at Yishun Stadium

Finally, our first rest stop! This is the third stop point on the 98km route and we finally stopped for a break. We refilled our water bottles and had some bananas for energy. After about 2.5 hours, we covered about half the distance of 98km, which is a good timing. At this rate, we will finish just past noon!

After leaving Yishun Stadium, we continued eastwards towards the Yishun Dam, and onto the two islands named Punggol Barat and Punggol Timor. The sun was getting strong at this time and so I wore my armsleeves and put on some sunblock to protect against the hot sun.

Crossing the two islands towards Punggol

The next stop point was along Punggol Waterway (shown by black dot above), and it was rather well hidden and cannot be seen from the main road. Again, more water and bananas.

The official route would be to continue southwards towards Sengkang, and cross over to Tampines before going to Pasir Ris Drive 3. We decided to take the more scenic (and slightly shorter) route from Punggol to Pasir Ris, which is to go along the Punggol waterway PCN, cross the Lorong Halus bridge before appearing at Pasir Ris.

The more scenic route along the Punggol waterway, and crossing over to Pasir Ris to rejoin the route.

Stop point at Changi Beach, shown by the black dot

Next stop point is at Changi Beach, just after the SAF Ferry Terminal. By now the weather was getting really hot, although it did rain for a few minutes while we were passing by Changi Village. We had lots of water and also kept a couple of bananas for later use.

Route along Changi Coast Road

It was getting pretty tough for my friend as we had clocked plenty of distance by now, and the sun was really beating down on us. After what seemed like a really long time pedaling mindlessly along Changi Coast Road, we finally turned into East Coast Park. We had our own rest stop and had the banana, as there is no stop point from Changi Beach all the way to Tanjong Rhu.

Final stop point is under the Benjamin Sheares Flyover

After successfully navigating the crowded East Coast Park, we finally reached the final water point, which is located under the Benjamin Sheares Flyover. By this time we had already clocked over 98km! Bonus distance as usual...

At this time it was already past 12pm, as our pace slowed down significantly for the second half of this ride. Nevertheless, we were close to the finish point, with just a few more kilometres to go. I was still feeling pretty good even after clocking almost 100km.

1245pm, F1 Pit Finish, 102km
Overall route of 102km!

Final distance clocked is 102km! This was despite us saving a few kilometres at Punggol waterway. It was a really good ride for me, with a decent average speed.
Ride statistics. Average speed of 22.4 km/h, not fast or slow, but a good pace.

In summary, this was a good ride with a distance that I can handle. There was no confusion between those attempting the 168km route and the 98km route, as the flag off timings are different and the signs were clear at the splitting points (Jalan Buroh roundabout and Yishun area). Many thanks to the route marshals who braved the hot sun to direct the participants onto the correct route!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Wheelsport Ultegra 2x11 Speed: Part 10 - Ultegra 6800 Mechanical

The Wheelsport Fantasy 2x11 speed mini velo that I have is currently using the Ultegra 6870 2x11 speed Di2 groupset, which was inherited from the Dahon Boardwalk folding bike that I had previously. On the other hand, the Merida Scultura 5000 road bike is using the Ultegra 6800 2x11 speed mechanical groupset.

My plan is to swap the groupsets for these two bikes, so that the Di2 groupset goes onto the road bike, while the mechanical groupset goes onto the mini velo. I started with disassembling the mechanical Ultegra 6800 road shifters from the road bike. The Ultegra rear derailleur was already removed from the road bike previously, while the front derailleur was exchanged from a band type to a brazed on type.

With the Ultegra 6800 shifters, RD and FD ready, the building process for the mini velo can begin! First, the Di2 components were taken off the mini velo and put to one side. These Di2 components will be installed onto the Merida road bike later on.

Since the Wheelsport Fantasy mini velo is already using the Ultegra 6800 crankset, and an 11 speed cassette, it is actually not too difficult to disassemble and assemble the bike since it is already half done.

Started by removing the Di2 components from the mini velo 

Reinstalling the parts that are required for mechanical shifting. The cable guide that goes under the bottom bracket, and the cable adjust bolts for adjusting the cable tension for the shifter cables.

Cable guide goes under the bottom bracket...

...while the cable adjust bolts go onto the outer casing stoppers that are located under the downtube

New polymer coated shifter inner cables and outer casing for smooth and light shifting

Ultegra 6800 2x11 speed mechanical shifters from the Merida road bike!

Ultegra 6800 11 speed short cage RD also from the Merida road bike

Ultegra 6800 front derailleur installed onto the custom FD mount for best performance

Road shifters installed, bar tape wrapped!

Full Ultegra 6800 drivetrain (with Dura-Ace cassette and chain)

View of the full bike! Ultegra 6800 groupset looks really good on this mini velo

The hand pump and the tool bottle mounting was rearranged as the Di2 batter mount has also been removed

Simple graphical guide for trimming the front derailleur with the new road shifters

Yet another project has been completed! The Wheelsport Fantasy mini velo has been successfully converted from Ultegra 6870 Di2 to Ultegra 6800 mechanical shifting. It still rides and shifts beautifully, especially with this lightweight build. In fact, it rides better and faster than the Dahon Boardwalk folding bike that I previously had as this mini velo frame is much more rigid and does not flex when pushing the bike hard.

Finally, the full specifications and weight of this bike! Lightweight at less than 7.8 kg without pedals.

Friday, March 11, 2016

What is a Side Swing Front Derailleur? Shimano SLX Side Swing FD-M672

In the new 11 speed Shimano XTR series, a new type of front derailleur (FD) was introduced. This is the side swing FD that is different from all FD before this. Previously, FD design was either by top swing or down swing type, depending on the frame design.

For a comprehensive list of FD types and mountings, check out this excellent article by Bike Radar.
Front Derailleur Types and Mounts Explained

With this new Side Swing technology, the FD swings sideways during activation, and it has some advantages over traditional top swing or down swing types of FD.

Main Advantages:
1) More efficient cable routing
2) Improved tire clearance
3) 100% more powerful outward shifting
4) Multiple mounting style

More efficient cable routing refers to the path that the inner cable and outer casing takes when running from the front shifter to the FD. By taking a shorter or straighter path, it reduces the friction loss at bending areas. It is said to be 15% more efficient when used together with the new polymer coated inner cable.
More direct cable path from the front shifter to the side swing FD improves efficiency

One big reason a side swing FD was created is to provide more tire clearance, especially for bikes that have a larger wheel (Eg. 29" bikes), a special rear suspension frame design, and yet need a shorter chain stay to maintain agility. Previously, the limiting factor was that the tire would touch the FD mechanism. The workaround was to have longer chain stays or do away with the FD totally with a front single setup. With this side swing FD, tire clearance is improved, allowing bike frame designers to incorporate an FD without compromising on other frame geometry.
15mm more tire clearance when using side swing FD compared to previous top swing FD 

As for the claim of more powerful outward shifting, it comes from the new design, where the link axle of the chain guide is closer to the chain touching point. This gives more leverage and provides a more direct force to push the chain onto the larger chainring.
Shorter distance between link axle and chain touching point improves the outward shifting performance 

Lastly, the side swing FD is designed to be mounted in 4 different ways, in order to fit all sorts of frames. This means that there is a suitable FD to use regardless of what frame design you use.
Clockwise from top left: High Clamp, Direct Mount, E Type, Low Clamp

After learning about the side swing FD, I was interested to know how well it will actually work, and whether it is actually better than the current FD that I am using. Since side swing is now only available for MTB FD, the only bike that I can install a side swing FD on is my Polygon Cozmic CX 3.0 MTB.

For now, side swing is only advertised as for 11 speed MTB drivetrains, on XTR M9000 and Deore XT M8000. However, I found that 10 speed versions have also been quietly introduced. The SLX grade FD-M672 and Deore grade FD-M612 are 10 speed compatible side swing FD. I decided to get the low clamp type of SLX FD-M672 to replace the current FD on my MTB.

Mechanism and cable fixing bolt are located above the chain guide, instead of behind the seat tube

Top and low limit screws face forward at a 45 degree for easy accessibility. Also uses a very small alignment block (in white) to preset the FD for easy setup

Stopper for inner cable. A plastic end cap is required at the end of the shifter outer casing.

Axles and guide spring for the FD are located vertically due to the side swing construction.

Weighs 135 grams for the L sized (diameter 34.9mm clamp, without adapters) FD

This FD does come supplied with M sized (left side) and S sized (right side) for diameter 31.8mm and diameter 28.6mm seat tubes respectively.

Correct orientation for installing the adapters can be found in the user manual

Before installing the new side swing FD, let's take a look at how the cable routing and the FD looks when using the old top swing FD.

The stock Deore FD-M590-10 is activated from a top pull position, with the shifter inner cable coming in from the top as shown. The inner cable runs along the bottom of the top tube and behind the seat tube, down to the FD.

Since the FD mechanism is located behind the seat tube, it reduces the clearance to the tire. In this case there is still plenty of clearance though due to the hard tail frame design.

Installing the new FD is straightforward. Since my seat tube is 34.9mm in diameter, I don't need to use any adapters. Just clamp it on and adjust the FD vertical setting and parallelism setting. The only new part is the routing of the shifter inner cable. All adjustments are done the same way as traditional top swing or down swing FD.

Side swing FD mounted! Inner cable has also been clamped on.

Plenty of tire clearance, since only the FD clamp band is between the tire and the seat tube.

The front shifter cable will run along the bottom of the downtube, together with the cable for the RD and also the hydraulic hose for the rear brake. From there, it will join smoothly to the side swing FD.

Although this frame does not have any dedicated cable mount for side swing FD cable routing, it is easy to convert it for side swing FD use. The original FD cable routing is now left empty.

I was surprised at how easy it was to do the cable routing for the side swing FD, even though the frame does not have any dedicated cable mount for side swing FD routing. Also, the end result gives a rather clean routing of the cables which is nice to see.

As for shifting force, I measured the shifting force required at the left shifter before and after the change. The difference is between the old top swing Deore FD and the new side swing FD. There is a 10% decrease in shifting force when I changed to the side swing FD. This amount is not that significant as a 10% difference in shifting force is not that obvious. However, any decrease is always good as it means easier and lighter shifting.

Finally, for shifting performance, is it really 100% more powerful? Unfortunately, I am unable to confirm this as the original Deore FD already works very well, and so I cannot detect any improvement in performance when it is already near perfect. Perhaps there will be an improvement when I try to make an outward shift during high pedaling torque, but it is difficult to test it objectively, unless it is a controlled test using a standard testing machine.

In any case, this is a nice upgrade as I get a lighter front shifting force, as well as the chance to try the side swing FD. If you are having problems with tire clearance with your current FD, you might be able to solve it by changing to a side swing FD!