Category Archives: Dynamo

Reality bites…

…and it doesn’t hurt that bad.

This time I’m going to revamp the One Bike idea a bit and make an attempt to bring it back to reality.  My last post was a mental exercise prompted by another post over at Singularity.  In summary, if you could only have one bike, what would it be?  No holds barred.  Spare no expenses.  Win the lottery.  Mine turned out to be an A. Homer Hilsen.  (Or a Sam Hilborne, but I don’t much care for slopey top tubes.)  I think there’s some merit to this exercise, but there’s a little problem, too.  A new A. Homer Hilsen costs $2,300 for the frame and fork.  While that may be realistic for lots of folks, I can’t swing $2,300 for an entire bike.  Half that is more realistic.  Half again, and use the existing bits and pieces I have lying around is completely realistic.  That said, let’s rewrite the rules.

  1. One frame-set only.  We’ll save this one for last.
  2. Multiple wheel-sets are permitted.  This is what makes one bike possible.
  3. Multiples of a given component are permitted.  Not as necessary as #2, but awfully convenient.
  4. Cost is not a factor.  Name your price.  Obviously, no one expects anyone to talk about their money in public.  But be realistic.  Figure out what you’d need in a bike and then try to track down something that works.
  5. As few variations as possible.  Not a problem.
  6. As little hassle as possible.  I really don’t ever try to build in hassle.  It just happens.
  7. Call your shot.
  8. Justify.  7 and 8 kinda go together.  e.g. I need a trailer hitch because I tow the kids around in the trailer.

That’s just one variation.  Price.  This little change requires much more flexibility in the finished product.

  1. The 7-speed stuff is still on board.  This was a surprise.  I’ve had difficulty finding decent quality 7-speed cassette hubs, spaced 126 OLD.  The pickier I get, the scarcer and pricier they are.  That’s the way when you have to troll eBay and Craigslist for old parts.  If the One Bike were based on a new frame, rear dropout spacing is likely to be somewhere between 130 and 135mm, which changes the game entirely.  The RM40 is a low-end, current production 7-speed hub from Shimano.  Alternately, I can simply use modern 8/9/10-speed  road or MTB hubs with a little 4.5mm spacer behind the cassette.  A third option is going back to eBay.  Unlike road hubs, MTB hubs, spaced for modern frames, from the early 90s are plentiful and much less expensive.  Plus, I have my own stash of 7-speed shifters.
  2. Instead of two sets of identical wheels, we’re now at two sets of wheels.  One front wheel has a dynamo and the other doesn’t.  Looking at the wheels currently in my possession, I can do this if I settle on 26″ rims instead of 700c.  I have more than one set of 700c wheels, but they’re all different enough from each other that I’d have difficulty swapping them.  The rims are different widths, which would require brake adjustments.  The hubs are different widths, which will probably require derailer adjustments.  If I were to use my existing 700c wheels, I’d be violating rules 5 and 6.  Parallax hubs are cheap and plentiful and for some unintentional reason I have a box full of them.  I currently have two MTB rear wheels built on Parallax hubs.  I’ve given away more of these hubs than I currently posses.  Odds are, if someone puts a mountain bike that didn’t come from a department store on the curb, it has a Parallax hub.  They’re everywhere. So I have two 26″ rear wheels, and both have rims of similar width.  Within a millimeter of each other.  I have two front wheels, also with similar rims.  One of them has a dynamo hub, which solves the night riding requirements.  This leads me to the conclusion that my One Bike needs to take 26″ wheels instead of 700c.
  3. Tires.  I decided I’d need three sets.  Utility, winter and fun.  For 26″/559ISO rims I currently have some Bontrager Satellites, Nokian W106 studded, Panaracer Fire XC Pros and a few other mismatched tires.  The Bontrager and Nokian tires satisfy the utility and winter requirements.  None of the other tires really contribute to sporty road riding, but they’re there, and they’ll work in a pinch if I need a spare.  That’s 3+ pairs of tires for 26″ rims, adding more influence to the 26″ decision.
  4. I don’t have a Sugino XD crank, but I have several crank sets that I could put to use.  There’s an MT60 triple and a matching bottom bracket in the parts bin.  There are a couple long cage rear and a couple triple front derailers, too.
  5. Some place to attach racks.  I have two bikes that, so far, could be made to serve as the One Bike, but neither has any accommodation for racks, aside from drop out eyelets.  I’d have to use P-clamps to secure racks to the seat stays.  This works in the sense that the rack is attached to the bike and can hold panniers, but the rack will wiggle a lot more than if it was screwed directly to the frame.
  6. Drop handlebars.  Both of those existing bikes are mountain bikes.  Mountain bikes tend to have longer top tubes than road bikes.  I don’t think drop bars are a good solution on most mountain bikes because of that.  Combine this with the rack problem, and it’s pretty obvious that I need a new frame.
  7. Now I have to concede another sticking point.  The brakes.  I specified caliper brakes instead of cantilever.  With all my other nits, like wide tires, this was the sticking point that led me to the conclusion that those two bikes from Rivendell were the only current production models meeting all of my requirements.  If I make an exception for cantilever brakes, this opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Let’s break it down.

  1. 26″/559ISO wheels
  2. Road bike geometry
  3. Rack eyelets
  4. Well under $1000.  Closer to $500 is better.

I can think of a few off the top of my head, the most obvious being the Surly Long Haul Trucker, but there are others.  As it stands I already have nearly every part necessary to build up a new frame set.  I might need a chain and cables and maybe a few odd small parts, but it’s pretty obvious that if I accept reality I could have the One Bike.

One bike to rule them all…

…and in the something something.  I can’t think of anything catchy.

Over at Singularity there’s a little challenge to do some thinking and come up with one bike that would fit every possible need.  A mental exercise in minimalism without sacrificing functionality.  I can do this.  A while back I came to the conclusion that 3 bikes is plenty – just put different handlebars on each one.  Paring it down to one should be easy.  In theory.  Let’s take a look at the rules.  (My thoughts about each rule look like this.)

  1. One frame-set only.  We’ll save this one for last.
  2. Multiple wheel-sets are permitted.  This is what makes one bike possible.
  3. Multiples of a given component are permitted.  Not as necessary as #2, but awfully convenient.
  4. Cost is not a factor.  ORLY?
  5. As few variations as possible.  Not a problem.
  6. As little hassle as possible.  I really don’t ever try to build in hassle.  It just happens.
  7. Call your shot.
  8. Justify.  7 and 8 kinda go together.  e.g. I need a trailer hitch because I tow the kids around in the trailer.

Let’s get started with 8, shall we?

Let’s.

I do some utility riding.  A lot of this is stuff most people would do in their car.  We’re fortunate to live in a suburb with lots of services nearby.

Getting both kids to school is a 2.5 mile round trip.  3 miles if the little one isn’t ready to go and I have to come back after dropping off the big one.  The big one rides her own bike.  The little one can ride her own bike in the mornings, but traffic is too heavy after school.  When the weather is nice enough she rides an Adams Trail-a-bike.  When it’s not she lounges in a Wike trailer.  I need hitches for both of these.  I still haven’t found a really good way to get her bike home if she rides it in the morning.  A utility trailer with a bike rack would work.  Let’s add that to the list.

Let’s.

Stop that.

A grocery run is about 3 miles round trip.  I’ve used the Wike trailer for this, but typically a set of panniers gets the nod.  I only have touring bags.  They work in the sense that they can be stuffed full of groceries, but I usually end up re-bagging everything to make it all fit just right for the ride home.  I’ve had a Wald Giant Delivery Basket on a couple bikes at one time or another.  Simply dropping the grocery bags into it is super easy, but it’s big, heavy, and makes the bike steer for crap.  Grocery panniers might be nice.  Racks, of course, are a given.  Most of the grocery runs are at night.  I like dynamo lighting.  Battery lights are for suckers.  We’ll put a dynamo wheel on the list.

Currently, those are the two big utility requirements.  I’ll do local errands on the bike, too.  If I ever rejoin the ranks of the gainfully employed this bike will probably be put to use as a commuting machine at least some of the time.

Did you notice how I never said “unless it’s raining”?  Fenders are required.

Recreational rides include the local bike club, JRA, S24O and the occasional weekend “long” ride.  I did a mini-tour last year with Doc.  Three days.

Bike club rides are not of the pace-line variety.  Our club classifies the ride pace as A, B, C or D.  A-rides are generally treated as training rides for the racers and wannabe racers.  B-rides have pace-lines, too.  I go on the C and D rides, where the pace-line is less line and more amoeba.  And there’s no pace, either.  Any bike will work for these rides.

JRA means “just riding around”.  Any bike will work for JRA.  In bike shop jargon it also means “just riding along”.  This is a reference to numb skull customers who think the mechanic can’t tell how a fork got bent.  “I was just riding along and it bent back like that when I hit the brakes.”  

S240 means sub-24-hour-overnight.  This, by itself, is reason enough to ride a bike.  There are few activities as fun or as cheap as going bike camping.  “Cheap” is relative.  You gotta buy a bike and some camping gear.  But once those are accounted for it’s pretty close to free.  Food and maybe camping fees.  The bike needs some way to carry camping gear.  Racks, panniers, saddle bag, small front basket, etc.  Same stuff I’d use for grocery getting. These bits are also useful for the 3-day mini tour.  I’d just need to bring more food and a few extra changes of clothing.

I think that covers rule #8 and sorta touches on #7.  Let’s get more specific.

I really like 7-speed cassettes.  There’s nothing wrong with 8 or 9 or 15 cogs, but I like 7.  All the parts are less expensive and more durable.  Derailers and shifters are easier to keep in proper adjustment.  If an indexed shifter stops indexing, friction is perfectly usable.  I can get the range I want, from about 20 gear inches up to about 100, with readily available parts without having to fuss with silly things like half-step gearing or close range triples.  2 of my 6 bicycles are currently set up with a 7-speed cassette.  One of my bikes has a 7-speed freewheel.  One of those 3 even has indexed shifting.  7 is the sweet spot.  Everything since then has been good for racers and those strange people who want the latest and greatest.  The problem with 7 is that the currently available parts are on the low end of the quality spectrum.  This means that I’d have to track down high quality old stuff, or put up with the new cheap bits.  At this point, I believe that for my purposes either of those options is better than going with 9 or 10 or 11 speed cassettes.  So that’s how I’d build both of my rear wheels.  A 135mm hub with a 7-speed body could be nearly dishless.  One should have a K-cassette (13-34) and the other could be geared a little higher.  Maybe 11-28.  Add touring rims and 36 stainless spokes.

There should be two identical front wheels.  Both should have the same rims as the rear wheels, 36 stainless spokes and mid-range dynamo hubs.  I currently have an Alfine dynamo on one bike and a SRAM D7 on another.  Either of those would be fine.

I’ve had good luck with Alex Adventurer rims.  So those are cool.

Having two sets of identical wheels goes a long way toward rules 5 and 6.  Easy wheel swaps, simple redundancy.  Multiple wheel-sets make the one bike thing possible.  Wheel and tire damage is probably the number one reason a bike gets sidelined in favor of another.  “Got a flat, ride a different bike” becomes “put on the other wheel”.

I’d need 3 pairs of tires.  The first pair should be a bullet proof (ok, flat resistant), durable commuter/touring tire.  Schwalbe Marathon Supreme, 700c x 40.  These tires would be the daily use tires.  I don’t have time to fix flats when I’m taking the girls to school.  I don’t want to fix flats at 1am when it’s 20F outside and I’m on my way home with groceries.

The second pair of tires is the fun pair.  Panaracer Pasela.  At least 32mm wides, preferably 37mm.  These would live on the higher geared wheels and be used for club rides and JRA.  I’d move them to the low-geared wheels for S24O and touring.

The third pair would be studded.  Nokian A10 or something like that.  These would replace the Marathons from the first snowfall until the end of February.

Two saddles and two seat posts.  One saddle should be made of thick leather.  I like my Velo-Orange Model 1.  A Brooks Pro or a Berthoud would work, too.  The leather saddle should be attached to a really nice seat post, like a Nitto Crystal Fellow.  This is the fun ride/S24O/touring saddle.

The second saddle should be plastic and attached to a cheaper post, like a Kalloy.  The Trail-a-bike hitch goes with the second one.  This is the utility, all weather, day to day saddle.

7-speed bar-end shifters.  I have a pair of Shimano 600 shifters that index.  They’re ancient and they still work perfectly.  Rivendell Silver Shifters on bar-end pods are my second choice

Sugino XD-2 crank.  26/36/48.  SKF bottom bracket.  MKS RMX Sneaker pedals.

I’m indifferent about derailers.  Long cage for the rear and a road triple for the front.  Something mid-range or better.

A slightly flared drop bar.  I’m not entirely sure which one.  After trying quite a few I’ve found that I really like both the Nitto B115 and the Salsa Cowbell.  I do like some variety in handlebars.  Having a second, different bar with its own levers and cables would make the occasional swap fairly painless.  I’m undecided on the specific second handlebar.

Shimano Dura-Ace brake levers for the drop bars.  Update:  I’ve changed my mind.  Tektro or Cane Creek levers.  They have a quick release button that really helps open up the brakes.

Fenders.  Berthoud stainless or Planet Bike Cascadia.  No SKS, no VO, no Honjo.

Lights for the dynamo.  B&M has a new super bright headlight with a USB charging port.  It should be available soon.  I want one.  This would be great for keeping the GPS and phone charged while on an S24O or tour.  The Toplight Line Plus is the most perfect dynamo taillight ever designed.  Fact.  I’d like a switch to turn it off independent of the headlight, so as to not blind the little one while she’s being towed.

Nitto Big Back Rack and some sort of top rack for the front that can hold a basket or handlebar bag.

That pretty much covers all of the rules except #1 – the frame-set.  It has to take racks and handle a camping load.  It has to pull a trailer.  It need clearance for 40mm tires and fenders.  It must be steel.  I prefer vertical drop-outs.  There’s a big, big list of bikes that will do this.  I can already hear a bunch of you saying “don’t be an idiot, get a Long Haul Trucker!”

I want side-pull caliper brakes.

WTF, Sloth?

That narrowed the list down a bit, didn’t it?

As far as I know, there is only one non-janky long reach brake that will handle 40mm tires and a fender.  It’s made by Tektro.  R559.

The only production frame I’m aware of that will do all of this is the Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen.  So there it is.  My one bike to tow them all.

Coming back down to reality, I can’t afford an A. Homer Hilsen.  With the current price of $2, 000 (that’s just the frame and fork, folks) set to increase in a few days to $2,300, it’s way out of the budget.  I could have a TIG-welded custom made for less if I kept it simple. If any of you are aware of another current production bike, complete or frame-set, that meets the requirements listed above, lemme know, because this little exercise really has me thinking.  The wife-type probably wouldn’t be thrilled with the initial expenditure, but I bet she’d be ecstatic about the reduction in clutter.

Another update:  The current batch of Sam Hillborne bikes also meet my needs.  It turns out the old ones had cantilever brakes.  The new ones have calipers.  Whee!  Civia had a bike in 2011 called the Prospect.  Looking at the pictures it should be able to handle a 38mm tire with fenders.  If I could track down one of those it would be even more affordable than the Sam, leaving more cash for the wheels and other do-dads.

Yet another update:  The Civia Prospect has horizontal dropouts.  I’m not sure how I missed that, but it’s a deal killer.  So we’re back to the two bikes I can’t afford.

Peace out, yo, and go ride your bike.

Tried and liked – 2010

Per the annual iBOB tradition, it’s the Tried-and-Liked list for 2010.

  1. Geocaching – The engineer got me into this.  It’s all his fault.  Then he went and gave me a premium membership.  And the wife gave me a snazzy new GPS device for Christmas with a handlebar mount.  It’s like they don’t want me to stay home.
  2. Low trail geometry – I’ve had front loads on bikes before.  I’ve had relatively heavy front loads on bikes.  Case of beer, etc.  I’ve wrestled poor handling bikes home from the liquor store.  Then I put a VO Porteur rack on a Nishiki International.  72 degree head angle and 63mm fork offset.  This translates to about 40mm of geometric trail, or whatever it’s called.  Heavy loads no longer require wrestling.
  3. Park TS-8 – This replaced a borrowed Performance truing stand.  The TS-8 only does one side of the wheel at a time, but it’s accurate and build quality is top notch.
  4. Bicycle Quarterly and “The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles”.  Jan Heine has outdone himself.  Bravo!
  5. Tree Fort Bikes.  They have, more or less, replaced Jenbar as my go-to online bike parts supplier.
  6. Motorcycling.  After a 5 year absence, I’m back, baby!  Hide your teenage daughters.
  7. Toplight Line Plus dynamo taillight.  This is, by far, the best taillight I’ve ever used.  Seriously, if you don’t have a dynamo lighting system, get one.  Batteries are for suckers.
  8. Schwalbe Delta Cruisers.  I haven’t really put too many miles on these yet, but who doesn’t like creme tires?

Not a bad year.  Nothing spectacular, but not bad.