Friday, May 11, 2018

So, That's Why That Does That

Ever watch the front wheels of a shopping cart?  When you start pushing the cart, the front wheels spin around and point back toward you, automatically.  When you pull the cart backward, the wheels spin around toward the front of the cart, again in the opposite direction from the cart's movement.  It does so by design.  I don't know the science (nor am I nerdy enough to learn) but it makes it easier to steer the cart.

It turns out your bike does the same thing ... any bike ... at least any production bike in the last 100 years or so.  The fork and head tube angle are designed to put the front tire (where it contacts the ground) behind the steering axis (imaginary extension of the head tube), just as cart casters are offset so they can spin around in back of its pivot bolt.  The term is called trail which represents how far the front tire "trails" behind the steering axis .  Here's a pic:

You can find more information about trail on the web.  You can also find trail calculators and plenty of internet fights about the subject.  Have at it if that's your thing.

It turns out the Soma Wolverine has more trail than most bikes and considerably more than most road racing bikes.  Trail equates to stability, so the Wolverine has a very stable ride, especially at medium+ speeds.  Great for touring, too.  More trail also means more "wheel flop" (less derogatory than it sounds) where the front wheel wants to turn easily.  Less trail and less wheel flop equates to more responsiveness and maneuverability, giving road bikes that nimble feeling.

The Wolverine's long trail, and subsequent wheel flop, explains a few weird things I've noticed:

1) I've had trouble riding with no hands .. thought it was me and a weak sense of balance.  Turns out its the bike's wheel flop tenancies.  The wheel wants to turn with even a slight lean.

2) Adding a handlebar bag affects steering.  The bag's weight, even when only partly full, seems to amplify the floppiness.  So much, I've considered switching to a frame bag for touring.  Of note, the weight of front panniers doesn't seem to affect handling in the same way, perhaps due to the low mount points.  Front panniers on my bike also don't improve handling like some people report with their touring bikes.

3) I seem to have more confidence on downhills than others.  Stability at speed is what trail provides. I thought I was just braver.  I also have slightly less maneuverability than others in the corners, but that can be compensated for with riding technique.

4)  The bike feels a bit unwieldy at slow speed.  I'm used to it now, but I wrote about this after my inaugural ride on the bike. The Wolverine would not be a good choice for older people or anyone that consistently rides slowly.

Anyway, I now understand why my bike does some of the things it does.  Racing cyclists would call my bike sluggish, which is fine ... there are always tradeoffs.  My bike is more comfortable, durable and stable which meshes more with how/where/why I ride.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Spoke Too Soon ... Or Not

In my last post, I bragged about my Gates belt still chugging along without issue.  I also spoke fondly of my new VP Vice pedals.  Fast forward three weeks, and I may have jinxed myself. 

With less than 200 miles on those shiny new pedals, an audible squeak started chirping from the drive train ... every pedal stroke ... both pedals.  Some choice words for the VP Components company swirled through my mind, without making their way to my lips.  200 miles?  Both pedals?  Really?  Now apologies are swirling.  The squeaking wasn't coming from the pedals, but from my publicly praised Gates belt. It sounded off even when I pushed (or pulled) on the belt by hand.

Was this the beginning of the end for my belt?  Is squeaking the first sign that failure has neared?  Nope.  A quick internet search landed me on the Gates' FAQ section of their website.  Here's what it said:

The belt can make noise when forced to run hard against the flanges on the sprockets. This can be due to sprocket misalignment, wheel misalignment, or run out in the drive caused by damaged components. Spraying water on the belt may quiet the drive for a few minutes, but the permanent solution is to correct the alignment or replace the damaged components. Another possible source of noise is a loose front sprocket. Using thread lock on the sprocket bolts alleviates this problem.

In some cases, the noise can occur when riding in dirty conditions, particularly when mountain biking if grit and water temporarily stick to the belt.  This noise in no way indicates a problem with your Gates Carbon Drive.  In most cases simply hosing off the belt and pulleys after a ride will end the noise.  If noise persists, the solution is simple: spray the belt with water, wait for it to dry, and apply a thin coating of dry silicone spray to the tooth side of the belt.  Dry silicone dries instantly, helps shed grit, and does not affect the longevity of the belt.  We recommend this product.
Per the first paragraph, checked the sprocket alignment, wheel alignment and for damage.  Nothing found.  Front sprocket was tight too.  Next paragraph.  Okay, if you've read my blog, you'll know I don't clean my bike often ... annually at best ... but its been a year, so why not?  Washed the bike, hosed off the belt, let it dry.  Nary a sound ... absolutely squeakless!  Hit the teeth with some silicone spray just for good measure.  I recommend the stuff from Walmart.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Marking History

This post is more for me than anybody reading.  I've found this blog to be an invaluable reference for myself.  A running history of sorts, so I plan to update it occasionally ... just for me (but you're welcome to read).  I also recommend blogging the experience to anybody venturing into their own bike build.

1.  I switched to tubeless tires in August 2017, going with a Stan's NoTubes kit and Tubless Easy Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tires, on my non-tubeless Andra 210 rims.  There was some swearing involved, but I got them mounted.  I also learned enough where I could do it again with an 80% reduction in cuss words.  So far, love them, and can run 'em at a lower pressure for a more comfortable ride.  Zero flats is particularly nice, too.  Half the weight of the Marathon Plus tube set  up.

2.  In preparing for a 12-day tour, the Ergon GP-1 grips got swapped out for GP-5's with bar end grips.  Didn't find much use for them on tour.  The alternate hand position was nice but the bar ends felt far too wide to be comfortable.  I'm going to slide the brake levers, shifter and grips farther onto the handle bars to test a slightly narrower hand position.  I might be shortening the handlebars ... or not, depending on how the test goes.

3.  The original NSBike pedals gave out a few months ago.  They were cheap but I honestly expected more durability from them.  When the creaking first started I thought the chainring bolts were loose ... nope.  Then I swapped out the bottom bracket but the creaking continued.  I now have VP Vice pedals.  They have three bearings in each pedal so they should last longer.  They can also be rebuilt with a $20 rebuild kit.  Oh, and I got them for about half the retail price.

4.  [KNOCK ON WOOD] The belt and brakes keep on ticking without issue. [/KNOCK ON WOOD]  I have no idea if or how a belt shows its nearing end of life.  Does it just suddenly break?  Does it start to wear?  Does if show cracking?  Who knows?  I'm ordering a replacement for whenever its demise comes.  Honestly, I didn't expect hydraulic brakes to be this maintenance free.  I'll I've done is replace pads.

5.  Rohloff now offers splined rear sprockets that install with a C clip.  No more threads.  They also have a new carrier so existing hubs can use the splined sprockets ... and it works with belt-specific sprockets too.  Got a new carrier and splined sprocket in my parts bin for when the time comes.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Emperor Has No Clothes

I get it, its human nature to stick with what we've always done, what we were taught, and what everyone else is doing.  Its human nature, sure, but those are the worst three reasons for doing anything, especially when the known, popular way we were taught is dumb.  The typical slotted chainring bolts found on just about every production bike manufactured in the last forever is a dumb design.  There, I said it, and I'll say it again.  Its a dumb design.  A dumb design that should have never lived beyond the prototype phase.  Its scary that nearly the entire bicycle community chooses to ignore said dumb design as if nobody wants to be the one to tell the emperor he's naked.

Double hex bolts exist and have for some time.

Torx versions too.  Its not as if these designs demonstrate genius, it just seems so in a world of the ubiquitous slotted [dumb] version.

When I bought a set of double hex bolts I didn't install them right away.  Not because I wasn't itching to replace my creaking dreaded slot bolts, but because I couldn't get said dreaded slot bolts off.  Nothing had rusted mind you.  Nothing corroded or caused the threads to freeze.  They weren't even particularly tight given the struggle I had getting them just barley tight enough.  Nope.  Just couldn't get enough bite using the lousy specialty tools.  So, I googled.  Here's a few suggestions from others who struggled as I did:

1.  Use a paint stripping heat gun
2.  Drill the bolts out
3.  One guy hooked an open ended wrench over his chainring teeth and wedged it into the slot.  He was able to apply enough force to hold the slotted end of the bolt.

How did we as a bike community turn something so utterly simple, essentially a bolt and nut, into something so freaking complicated that we start reaching for heat guns and drills?  Better question: Why do we still embrace such a terrible design?  I used a pair of vise grips to pinch the slotted side against the chainring.  Geesh.

BTW, I read some guy claiming the slotted design helps keep from over tightening the bolts.  Sure, in the same way famine helps people from getting fat.

Monday, May 23, 2016

None, none, none, none, none, none, none and none.

Okay, I'm a bit overdue with this post.  I promised back in February I'd give an update on the Gates belt after 1,000 miles of use.  Well I passed that mark some time ago ... here's the update, albeit late.

I duly report, that I have nothing to duly report.  Not. A. Thing.  Nothing, nil, nada, zilch, squat!

Problems:  None
Adjustments:  None
Maintenance: None
Lubrication: None
Noise: None
Greasy Pant Legs: None
Cleanings: None
Visible Wear:  None

The belt has replaced the most tended part on my bike, the chain, with one of the least tended parts.  I don't even think about it (much) ... you know ... like not thinking to post an update.  Admittedly, its not as far in the back of my mind as the little nuts on the valve stems, but its close.  And yes, bike snobs, I still use those little valve stem nuts.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Flatless or Flat Less?

I had a total of three flats on my Wolverine's Schwalbe Supreme tires in the first 1,000 miles.  Changing tires and patching tubes is just part of bicycle life and every 300-350 miles is quite tolerable.  I was happy and really liked the tires.

Without scientific evidence to support this claim, it appears goathead thorns become much more prevalent in the late summer/fall here ... to the tune of about 15 flats in the next 800 miles (all thorn caused!). I started getting punctures in my patches, literally, and all these flats started sucking the fun out of riding.  

The next 1800 miles yielded exactly zero flats, because I switched to Schwalbe's Marathon Plus line.  The ride difference was negligible, at least by the way I ride, and zero beats the crap out of eighteen, but there's a down side.  The Marathons have a wire bead and are a pain in the sphincter to mount.  I pinched three tubes with the tire levers before getting them on.  But, hey, they're "flatless" according to Schwalbe's website, so I'd never have to do it again!  Who believes that?  

Two weeks ago, I hit a sizable piece of crushed rock that flattened my flatless rear tire, and changing it was as frustrating as it was the first time.  At least they go flat ... less.  Two days ago, I get a second flat, though oddly the tube wasn't punctured ... maybe someone let the air out, who knows.  Of course I didn't realize this until after removing the tire from the rim.  At this point, I considered switching back to the Supremes, for fear I wouldn't be able to remount a tire out on the road.  Then I found this video:

I feel like I'm the last one to learn these tips, but the video helped me get the tire mounted without levers ... as in hands only.  Thanks random guy in red shirt with cool accent.  Perhaps posting this passes on the secret to someone else as clueless as me.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Third Time's [NOT] A Charm

Still loving the belt drive, but something weird has happened, not just once or twice, but three times in a fairly short period of time.  Its also something that never once happened with the chain.

When stopped at an intersection, I usually back spin the right pedal into position for an impending take off.  The belt, with its relatively prominent teeth, like to grab things and pull them up into sprocket.  Twice those things were shoe laces, once a pant leg.

The shoes I often wear have rather long laces so a triple knot takes up all the extra lace (almost all).  Despite being short, the loose ends can lay nicely in the belt teeth and ride their way into the cog.  The one day I didn't wear a strap around my right pant leg proved the belt isn't bias toward shoe laces.

BTW, getting the snag undone seemed more frustrating than getting a pant leg caught will pedaling forward.  You can't just back pedal to get loose, as backpedaling pulls the lace/pant leg farther into the sprocket. One must lift the rear wheel and pedal forward, similar to stopping in the wrong gear on a derailleur bike ... except the right leg is right in the pedal's immediate path.  So, its more like standing on one foot, lifting the rear wheel and pedaling forward.  I think I'll just tuck my laces from now on.