Saturday, February 23, 2019

Ascent Bolt Mini Velo: Introduction

Out of all the types of bikes that I have ridden, two of my favourites are E-bikes and mini velos. E-bikes are very popular in Europe, as they allow people of different fitness levels to cycle together, while making climbing slopes lots of fun instead of being something to dread.

As for mini velos, they are also fun to ride, as the small wheels provide a nimble ride which is what you cannot find on a bike with larger wheels such as road bikes or mountain bikes. For city riding, a mini velo is very suitable as it is easy to ride even at slow speeds, while the shorter length (due to smaller wheels with same wheelbase) makes it easy to store, transport in cars, or go into elevators.

Folding bikes can also provide the same fun ride, but they are heavier and need more maintenance due to the folding joints. If you don't need the folding feature, mini velos are your best choice for city riding.

I have previously built the Wheelsport Fantasy Mini Velo, as well as the very lightweight Java Freccia Carbon Mini Velo. Regardless of a flat handlebar setup or a drop bar setup, a mini velo is fun to ride.

Recently, Ascent Bikes have a lightweight mini velo that looks very good, with a high quality lightweight aluminium frame and a reasonable price. Compared to a Tyrell, it is both cheaper and lighter, which is fantastic.

I was offered a chance to borrow a mini velo from Ascent Bikes, and I took the chance to try it out and see how it differs from my other mini velos. It has a different setup which I have not tried before, which is hydraulic disc brakes on a mini velo. I am a fan of hydraulic disc brakes, as they provide good stopping power in all weather conditions, effortlessly. This can be seen most clearly on the Canyon Endurace road bike and the Fabike C3 commuting bike, which are my two main bikes nowadays.

The demo bike for the Bolt mini velo from Ascent Bikes, which looks really good with the 451 wheels and black components.

External routing on this aluminium frame, for easy setup and servicing.

Tall head tube on the frame, which is also a good place to strap on a set of front lights.

The welding on the frame is excellent, as the welds are polished to achieve the joint smoothness which makes it look really premium.

Excellent welds at all the joints, plus the very smooth paint and clear coat, as you can see from the reflections.

Bottom bracket area. The smooth finishing on the frame makes it super easy to wipe off any grease or dirt, unlike the matte finishing on some carbon frames.

The highlight of this Ascent Bolt mini velo is no doubt the frame, as the paint job is of very high quality, plus it is also quite lightweight (1380 grams) for an aluminium mini velo frame, according to Ascent Bikes. This is already considered lightweight for an aluminium mini velo frame, as the Wheelsport Fantasy aluminium mini velo frame is quite a lot heavier at 1759 grams.

Carbon front fork for the Ascent Bolt mini velo!

The front wheel looks pretty lightweight, with an attractive spoke pattern and low profile wheels. You can also opt for high profile carbon wheels if you prefer that look.

This carbon front fork (100m OLD) can also accept road caliper brakes instead of hydraulic disc brakes, if you prefer it that way.

I was told that this carbon front fork was specially designed to accommodate both 406 or 451 wheels. If you use 406 wheels, you can use wide tires, while 451 wheels will use narrower tires but still with plenty of clearance. There is also a choice of road caliper brakes or disc brakes. If you choose 406 wheels, you have to use disc brakes as caliper brakes cannot reach the rim or go around the wide tire. For 451 wheels, either caliper brakes or disc brakes will work. Front fork weighs about 390 grams according to Ascent Bikes.

Post Mount disc brake mounting on the front fork, with a default rotor size of 160mm. Also note the mounting point for a front mudguard if you want to install one.

Rear OLD is 135mm, with Post Mount disc brake mounting and the same default rotor size of 160mm.

Note the two mounting points for a rear rack and rear mudguard if you want to install them. This frameset is very versatile as it can accommodate all these add-ons if necessary.

The design of the 6 bolt rotor is nice, with a black aluminium spider and stainless steel braking surface.

Same as the front, the rear can also use a road caliper brake which is mounted on the bridge between the seatstays.

In-house crankset by Ascent Bikes, which uses a Hollowtech II type of spindle with forged crankarms. The narrow-wide chainrings are of direct mount type and the size can be changed as necessary.

A standard 68mm wide road bottom bracket is used, which is really good for serviceability. Left side crankarm is installed in a similar way to a Shimano crankset.

1x10 speed drivetrain, which is pretty much all you need for city riding.

Deore M6000 rear derailleur, plus a 11-32T 10 speed cassette gives you good range and gear step for city riding.

Carbon handlebar, plus aluminium stem and ergonomic grips.

Deore 10 speed shifter, paired with Shimano BL-MT200 hydraulic brakes. Affordable yet works well.

View of the full bike again! Clean lines, good looking frame and an affordable price makes this mini velo a good choice.

This mini velo weighs 7.8 kg without pedals or other accessories, which is what you see in the picture above. This is a very good weight, considering that these are mostly average components without any weight weenie parts. A folding bike with an equivalent setup, such as the Dahon MuEX, will weigh about 1 kg more and also cost more. As mentioned earlier, if you don't need the folding feature, a mini velo is a better choice than a folding bike, if you want a small wheeled bike.

If you have the budget, you can save quite a lot of weight by upgrading to even lighter components. The best thing about Ascent Bikes is that they allow full customization of the components that you want, and they will build the bike for you. This means that you can specify exactly what you want, to meet your specific needs.

Want wide tires for light off road? Go for 406 wheels plus disc brakes.
Want to ride fast? Use a drop bar with aerodynamic high profile carbon wheels.
Want to use it as a commuting bike? Attach a rear rack and mudguards for more practicality.
and so on...

In the next post, I will compare the Ascent Bolt mini velo to the Dahon MuEX, and also do a ride review. I was able to borrow this bike for a couple of weeks and thus I was able to customize it slightly and also use it for extended rides for a better feel of the bike.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Strider 12 Sport Balance Bike

One of the most popular push bike for kids is the Strider, which is famous for their well designed kids bikes. On a recent trip to Japan, I came across the Strider at BIC Camera, with a wide range of colours and types. Since there was a sale, the final price was substantially lower than if I bought it in Singapore. Therefore, I brought it back from Japan for my kid!

I believe that push bikes are better for kids who are learning cycling, as the emphasis is on learning to balance on two wheels, instead of relying on the extra two training wheels. When I see kids on bikes with training wheels, they are often leaning on one side, using the training wheel as support while cycling. Although this allows them to cycle easily, it does not provide the opportunity for learning how to balance on a bike.

The Strider came in a small box, with the bike disassembled. As you can see below, some assembly is necessary. If you are mildly technically inclined, it should not be an issue at all. Let's take a look at some of the features!

Fresh out of the box! Just need to put in the front fork, handlebar and seat post. The extra seat post on the bottom right is for taller kids.

It is very easy to assemble, just put in the parts and use the quick release levers to tighten them.

Solid tires with 5 spoke resin wheels. These are 12" wheels.

Instead of using bearings, the headset is just a bush type, as the load is not high. This saves some weight too. I lowered the handlebar all the way down.

The grip diameter is extra small, for the small hands. This is one of the unique features that not many kids bikes have.

A cushioned wrap across the handlebar prevents the head or face from hitting the handlebar hard.

Japanese wording on the top tube. This is a Sport model, which has some newer features that the Classic does not have.

Saddle can be set really low if needed, which is useful if you want to start your kid early. A quick release seat post clamp makes it really easy to adjust the saddle height.

Saddle shape is shaped and sized for kids

No angle or fore/aft adjustment possible, as the saddle simply clamps to the top of the seat tube.

Chain stays with black grip tape, this area is for the kid to rest the feet on when they are cruising.

Pretty well designed kids bike, with some nice features such as a small diameter handlebar and a seat height that can be adjusted easily.

The whole bike is only 2.9 kg, so it can be easily lifted or put down by a kid. So far, the training progress is slow as the kid still does not know how to push off with both legs simultaneously. Now, it is more of running while seated on the bike, which is also fine as they are learning how to balance on two wheels.

The Strider can be a bit pricey, even with a discounted price. There are cheaper ones such as those from Decathlon, but the adjustment range is not so big while it is also heavier.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

S-Ride vs SRAM: 12 Speed MTB Groupset

In the recent few months, 1x12 speed MTB groupsets have become more popular and commonplace. It all started with the SRAM Eagle groupset a couple of years ago, followed by a few other upgrade kits by smaller manufacturers. Late last year, Shimano finally followed with a 12 speed XTR groupset.

On my Polygon Cozmic CX3.0 MTB, I have tried the S-Ride 12 speed upgrade kit, and also the SRAM NX Eagle 12 speed upgrade kit. The links showing the bike build can be found here.

Polygon Cozmic CX3.0 with S-Ride 1x12 Speed
Polygon Cozmic CX3.0 with SRAM NX Eagle 1x12 Speed

These two groupsets are actually very similar in terms of specifications, but the SRAM NX Eagle upgrade kit is slightly more expensive. Let's do a quick comparison of the 12 speed components!

For a 1x12 speed setup, there are only a few components to take note. The main component is definitely the 12 speed cassette, with super wide range cassettes the main selling point. The rear derailleur design is also important, as it has a really tough job to ensure good shifting across the wide gear range. A narrower 12 speed chain is needed to fit between the more closely-spaced sprockets. Finally, the shifter needs to shift across 12 gears accurately and efficiently.

S-Ride Cassette
S-Ride 12 speed cassette, with a 11-50T range. Only the top 2 sprockets (11T and 13T) are loose, the remaining 10 sprockets are riveted together.

Standard Shimano 9 spline design enables this cassette to be retrofitted onto almost all older 8/9/10 speed MTB rear hubs.

Red aluminium spider makes this cassette stand out. This spider reduces weight and improves the stiffness of the larger sprockets.

4 sprockets are riveted to the aluminium spider. Last 2 sprockets are offset towards the non-drive side, overhanging the drive side flange of the rear hub.

S-Ride 11-50T 12 speed cassette weighs 596 grams, which is heavy compared to higher priced cassettes that weigh less than 400 grams.

SRAM NX Eagle Cassette
SRAM NX Eagle 11-50T cassette looks to be more lightweight, with the large cutouts on the sprockets. 

The 4 largest sprockets are riveted to the stamped/forged aluminium spider.

The remaining 8 sprockets are loose, which makes it easier to remove and clean thoroughly. I like the design of the cutouts which look like sport rims of cars.

Unfortunately, the SRAM NX Eagle 11-50T 12 speed cassette actually weighs more, at 613 grams.

S-Ride Rear Derailleur
S-Ride 12 speed rear derailleur with clutch weighs 265 grams, which is quite good.

Top and Low limit screws are located on the Outer Link. It is not of a low profile design unlike the Shadow construction of Shimano MTB rear derailleurs.

Resin cable guide to route the inner cable, similar to the design of SRAM MTB rear derailleurs.

Long cage rear derailleur with a small offset for the guide pulley. Both pulleys are 11T.

SRAM NX Eagle Rear Derailleur
SRAM NX Eagle rear derailleur weighs much more at 339 grams. 

Includes a Type 3 (version 3) clutch in the rear derailleur. Only Shimano Shadow+ rear derailleurs have an adjustable clutch resistance.

Cable roller and cable guide to route the inner cable to the cable fixing bolt.

Cage length seems to be shorter than the S-Ride. 12T guide pulley and 14T tension pulley. Large guide pulley offset to reach the larger sprockets.

S-Ride Shifter
S-Ride 12 speed shifter, with 2 way release lever. Just 108 grams!

Even though it is lightweight, the gear display is already included! Useful if you tend to get lost in the large number of gears like me.

Bottom view of the S-Ride shifter looks so much like a SRAM shifter.

SRAM NX Eagle Shifter
SRAM NX Eagle 12 speed shifter has a detachable clamp band.

With the clamp band installed. Clamp band looks very lightweight! No gear display on SRAM MTB shifters.

Resin levers makes this SRAM NX Eagle shifter even lighter than high end SRAM shifters which have aluminium main levers.

Weighs exactly the same as the S-Ride shifter, even though there is no gear display.

Based on this comparison, the S-Ride upgrade kit is more lightweight than the SRAM NX Eagle upgrade kit! The shifters weigh the same, while both the cassette and the rear derailleur of the S-Ride groupset weigh less than that of the SRAM NX Eagle groupset. I assume that the chain weight is the same.

S-Ride Rear Derailleur, Cassette, Shifter: 969 grams
SRAM NX Eagle Rear Derailleur, Cassette, Shifter: 1060 grams

The SRAM NX Eagle does have a more low profile rear derailleur, and a shifter that feels slightly better than the S-Ride shifter. Which groupset is better depends on your priority.

If your priority is on a very affordable 12 speed upgrade kit, the S-Ride is the better choice. Not only is it cheaper, as a bonus, it is also more lightweight! However, the SRAM NX Eagle components does look and feel better engineered than the S-Ride components, although it comes at a higher price.