Why I'm riding a steel, hardtail, plus bike.
Yes, you're eyes are lying to you. That picture above looks like an old classic steel hardtail, straight out of 1990. Classic lines, real paint, racy geometry, ready for the NORBA circuit... Well, look closer because this bike is almost the polar opposite of that! It's really a plus bike, a fast one at that. Have I piqued your curiosity yet? Good! Grab a coffee (or beer) and settle in. I'll walk you through this whip and why you need one.
Let's get this out of the way first. This bike was built as a display bike for NEMBA fest. I wanted to show folks that steel hardtails are alive and well. Being a custom bike builder, it's not like I have stock bikes laying around to take and display so I needed to build something for the fest. So, what better customer to build a bike for than myself! Yes, that bike is built and spec'd out for me and my riding style.
One of my favorite moments of NEMBA fest occurred on an early morning ride. I needed to get some miles in before the festival opened so I grabbed this bike and shot out on the trails. For those of you not familiar with NEMBA, its situated at the Kingdom Tails in northern Vermont. The trails flow well and roll nicely. I won't go as far as to call this place mountainous but you're certainly either going up or down the majority of the time. Many of the climbs incorporate switchbacks, I'm not sure if it's to keep the incline gentle or to keep the trail system compact. Regardless, as I rolled up to a longer climb I see someone two or three switchbacks above me pushing their bike up the hill. I figured they must have had a mechanical problem as this hill certainly wasn't too steep for a modern bike. As I rode I decided I'd earn some good trail karma and help whoever this poor soul with the mechanical. When I was maybe 100 or so feet away, the pusher turned, looked at me and said “Man, an old steel hardtail. That thing has to weigh a ton, I can't believe you're riding that here!”. I chuckled a little, made some joke about being an old retrogrouch and dismissed his statement. I was curious though, why was this dude walking his bike uphill... I mean it was obviously a modern bike. I looked closer and noticed it was a demo bike from one of the vendors. All carbon, at least 6” of suspension front and back, a new Sram Eagle drivetrain, carbon and bling everywhere. So now I'm curious...
“Hey, you ok? It's a beautiful morning for a ride let's get you fixed and riding”...
He looks a bit taken back and says
“Fixed? I'm not broken, this bike is too heavy to ride uphill”.
Now I'm uncomfortable... This guy just made fun of me for riding a steel hardtail in the hills because it's heavy and he's pushing his uber cool carbon bling bling totally awesome machine. On top of that, he then starts in on some diatribe about how awesome the new panty dropper 8005mm, penta link, zirconium coated, hyper, uber cool rear suspension was. I mean, I've been in the bike industry for a long, long time but he was spewing technobabble that I'd never heard of! Worse, it was evident his verbal barfing of made up tech wasn't going to end anytime soon... Then I realized... Koolaid. He drank the marketing Koolaid. The marketers told him that this bike not only is the best bike to ride but will make him handsome and simultaneously get him laid... And he believed. As he was explaining to me how the flux capacitor modulated the muffler bearing I interrupted telling him I had to meet a friend at the top of the climb in 6 minutes and had to roll. Not wanting to be too rude (but already knowing what the outcome would be) I offered him join up with me to the top and to continue the ride. He looked at me strangely, declined and started pushing his bike up the hill again.
Yeah, had to be the coolaid... Throughout the weekend, I saw lots of folks pushing this same brand of super bike around. All smiling, all speaking the same technobabble, with a crazy hypnotized look, almost never riding. Have we lost our way? I hope not.
Back to that “heavy steel hardtail”... It seems that when people see this bike one of the first things they asked was how much it weighs. I usually shrug and tell them that I have no idea. Well, I got sick of everyone asking and finally weighed it. 23.8 lbs (10.79 Kg for the portion of the world who uses the correct measuring system). So, that qualifies it as pretty light in my book. Especially when considering it has 2.6” tires on it! Anyway, back to the bike (and why you should ride one).
Now, the second most asked question is “What size wheels are those (and are they carbon)”? Well, for those of you who don't personally know me I'm vertically challenged... Since I knew I'd be building a plus sized bike I chose to utilize 27.5” tires. This particular build was optimized for what I'm considering “plus lite”. Optimized??? Yeah, I intended it for tires in the 2.4-2.8” range. This particular spec is a 27.5 x 2.6”. Now you're probably wondering what I mean by optimized. Let me explain. I've done lots of riding on 27.5 x 3” tires and don't get me wrong, they're awesome. Lot's of traction, lot's of cush, the ability to run nice low pressures to “tune” the ride. What I don't like about 3” tires is that when I decrease the pressure to maximize traction and grip the handling gets “wanky”. As in the bike starts to self steer and I get an uneasy feeling of the tire going one way and the wheel another. Add to that an uncontrolled rebound after compression and you've got the perfect recipe for weird! The fix is easy, more pressure. Unfortunately, though you fixed the wanky handling you broke the awesome float and traction. Through some experimentation I've come to realize that the 2.6” width seems to be that sweet spot. I'm personally running 16 psi in the front and 17 psi in the rear and at those pressures I've got totally solid handling (no tire flexy wankyness), great cushion and incredible traction. The rebound of the 2.6” tire seems more controllable than the 3”. Why? This is a guess but I think it's just because there's less travel (compression) in the tire in the first place. What's more is the 2.6” tire at 17 psi seems to balance the 100 mm travel fork seamlessly! Meaning this bike actually feels like a short travel dually! Score! Oh and yes, they are carbon hoops... Carbon rims are all I'll ride and I suggest you try a set...
Let's talk quick about the ride. It's fun. Like big bmx bike fun. How so? Well let's start with how quick it is. First off, no rear suspension to sap the feeling of acceleration! Now don't get me wrong, not having a rear suspension can be a detriment on long ride or super technical sections but remember that big tire... It makes up for 99% of it. Second, and I hate to say this, weight. Being a relatively light bike this bike surges forward. What's more, that low weight is apparent when you sling this bike through corners and have to man (or chick) handle this. Less weight just makes it easier. Which brings me to the handling... I often read reviews that speak of very specific geometries, like 430mm chainstays or 67 degree head tube angles... Let me tell you, as a custom builder, a lot of that is smoke in mirrors. I'm not saying that heat tube angle doesn't affect handling, it does. What I am saying is that there's a ton that goes into how a bike handles. To me, one of the most important issues is weight distribution. Though this topic is way beyond the scope of this blog, let me glaze over it by saying that if you really want to have an incredible handling bike, work with spot on bike fitter (Noel Bonk at Bonkwerks is great) and a knowledgeable builder, tell them what you like, and let them design a rocket... (and don't get caught up in the numbers, that's their job). Once you do that, I believe you'll have a bike that is exactly what you want! You'll find yourself taking lines you normally wouldn't, railing corners like an enduro pro and enjoying your riding experience more than ever (oh and not walking up hills with a 30 lb bike).
I know that this was long winded but I want the take away to be the following: Buck market trends. Unless you live out west or on a big mountain, you most likely don't need a 6+” travel bike. Take a good hard look at the trails you actually ride and make your bike choice based on that. For me and 99% of my riding a short travel hardtail with big(ish) tires fits the bill.
If you have any questions about this blog be sure to comment below!
Oh and if you're interested in buying this bike or one like it: Bicycles
For this year's Nemba fest I decided to build a bike to bring and show off. I prepared a list of what I wanted the bike to be and set off to build it... For those of you wondering here's some inside dirty details of this build.
Frame- Steel. Dedacciai Zero and Zero Uno oversize tubing to be exact. I'm not going to go into the nitty gritty details on diameters and butts but know it's steel, stiff, relatively light and modern! Geometry follows the latest long and low concept with a slack head tube angle, steep seat tube, long front and center, short stays and low bottom bracket. It handles superbly, is stiff but doesn't beat you down.
Parts: Well initially, my goal was to make this an "affordable" build... Then the Quarq power meter and carbon Ferretti wheels ended up on the bike, pushing the price up and the bling factor high! Anyway instead of me describing all the parts, I'll put some images up so you can see for yourself!
Morning all- In a previous post I talked a bit about experimenting with a mountain bike cassette on my gravel bike. I was playing around with a 42T chainring with a Shimano 11-40 cassette on a Sram Force bike. It worked well enough that I decided to push the envelope a bit further.
For those of you who've been following along on facebook and instagram you may know that I've been hinting about a stock bike I'm bringing to market. Though this blog isn't about that, I can say that the bike I'm speaking of has been my test mule for the gearing set up I'm using! So let's get down to it, shall we?
I've decided to go with a wide range mountain cassette and a 1X front set up. In this case a Sram Apex 1 derailleur, driven by Apex 1 hydro levers, a 40T Wolfstooth chainring and a 10-42 mountain cassette. I went with Apex level components for 2 reasons. #1 I have a tendency to cheap out and #2 I've not used the new stuff so I wanted to see how well it works!
First up, gearing range. As I mentioned, 40T chainring, 10-42 cassette. This yields a huge gearing range. Less than 1:1 on the low end (.95:1 to be exact) and 4:1 on the big end (enough that I can roll my biggest gear at 28 mph on the road). Most of my test riding has been on local mountain bike trails and I can say this gearing is pretty good for it! Our local trails lack any long straights that would tax the high end of the gear range. On the low end, the 40-42 combo is getting me up everything I want (on mountain bike trails while riding a gravel bike...). That said, If I were to set this bike up exclusively for trail riding, I'd certain put a 38 or maybe even a 36 tooth chainring on. That would lower the gear range even more! Now, for the rail to trails and dirt roads that I've hit... Again that 40T with a 10-42 has been perfect! Low enough for long extended climbing and high enough to blast when needed! That said, Joe or Jane racer could install a 42, 44 or if they got the engine even a 46 T chainring for their watt producing pleasure. All positive right??? Sort of! One niggle I do have is the large jumps between gears, that's where a 2X system is going to win. If you come from a road background, I'm pretty sure you're going to notice the large gearing changes each shift. If you come from a mountain background... carry on, this feels exactly like what you are used to!
Ok, as promised a quick blurb about the Sram apex 1. It's pretty darn good!!! Shift accuracy is on par with my Sram Force 1. What I do notice is a difference in feel. The force set up is more refined, smoother. Without breaking out the scale I can't give you numbers but the Force kit is certainly lighter, as is you wallet after you buy it.... For now, I'm going to spend the rest of this season riding gravel and CX on Apex.
I know we all lust after the N+1 being the perfect number of bikes but what if I had a solution to help you control the size of your bike quiver while avoiding the dreaded domestic spat that can arise from a new bike purchase... Yeah, a new set of wheels. So instead of throwing down the AMEX card on a new bike for summer trail riding, instead buy a light and fast set of plus size wheels!
What you're looking it here is a set of carbon rims, laced to fat bike spaced hubs. This will allow you to convert your fatbike to a plus sized bike for the summer. This particular wheel uses Whiskey Parts new 50mm carbon rim. It's tubeless ready and even includes tape and a valve! Hub duty is being fulfilled by a set of Hope Fatsno hubs with a Shimano Driver. Spokes and nipples are Sapim.
Being a custom company, we have the flexibility to build you up almost any hub/rim/spoke combination you can dream of so don't be afraid to ask!
Just a quick behind the scenes view of a few of the steps that go into building a custom wheel. Though I spec'd this rim, I still measure the ERD (effective rim diameter) to verify that the manufacture produced what I spec'd. This is a critical measurement, it is one of the determinants of the eventual spoke length!
The next measurement that I make is the spoke hole offset measurement. Basically, it's the measurement from left spoke hole centerline to the right spoke hole centerline. This measurement only happens on pretty wide rims where the left and right side spokes do not share a common centerline.
That's all for today!
As of late I've been experimenting with mountain bike cassettes for gravel road riding. This set up is a Shimano 11-40 cassette, Sram Force CX1 rear derailleur with a 42t narrow ride chainring up front. I'm enjoying the super low (almost 1:1) low gear. It makes climbing almost (not really when you're a chubby boy like me) easy! The high gear may be a touch low for me, especially with any tail wind or loss of elevation. That's easy to rectify with a bigger chainring or using a xD driver and a cassette with a 10t cog. Racer types may find that they need a 46 or 48 t chainring to make this set up work. For the rest of us mortals, I suspect a chainring in the 38T to 42T will be a great compromise between easy climbing and reasonable flat road speed. What are your thoughts?
The Quiver of One Wheelset: Why we should move toward the boost 148 spacing for gravel.
If you own a late model cx or mountain bike you could have any of the following rear hub standards: 130 x 9 QR, 135 x 9 QR, 135 x 9 TA, 135 x 12 TA, 142 x 12 TA or 148 x 12... Sigh. Front hubs are slightly, very slightly better coming in at 100 x 9 QR, 100 x 12 TA, 100 x 15 TA and 110 x 15 TA. Ok, catch your breath. That's 10 possible sizes between front and rear. My lack of statistics skills and motivation prevent me from calculating all of the possible combinations that could arise from those variations but suffice to say, it's a bunch! You may be saying to yourself “Who cares”. Well, you do... If you're of limited financial resources and want some sweet new wheels, walk out to your bike, see what it has and order them up. Oh, and then walk over to your other bike, notice the dope wheels you just purchased won't fit... You just spent $1500 to upward of $3000 on a set of wheels that you may only be able to use on one bike. Somethings gotta change!
Well, we had a solution for a hot minute... 100 x 15 front TA and 142 x 12 rear TA. This is all fine and good as many CX, Gravel and mountain bikes share that particular set of axle spacing. Then boost, in all it's glory came along. It promised us stiffer rear wheels and extra tire clearance! For the most part, it has succeeded if not surpassed it's goals. The issue is, mountain bikes have pretty much embarrassed boost spacing yet CX and Gravel have not. Well, why haven't they? Some would suggest that the stiffness and clearance offered by boost isn't needed for cx and gravel. I'm here to tell you, if it's not needed today, it will be soon. That's evidenced by the current trend so stuffing the largest tire possible into gravel bikes. As a frame fabricator, I can tell you a point comes when tire and chainring clearance is minimized based on the width of the rear axle... So, boost to the rescue! The 6 to 18mm (depending on your current set up) could add just enough width at the chainstays to stuff a 2” tire in... Though this isn't as much of an issue with cx, wouldn't it be nice to be able to ride a big fat tire on your cx bike for the one or two gravel races you may do? The front end could become a compatibility issue, cx/gravel have stuck with 100mm spacing (but commonly use three different axles, 9mm QR, 12mm TA or 15mm TA). I'm noticing a trend for cx forks to move toward a 100 x 12mm axle, Perhaps we could get in the manufactures head and let them know about the potential need for a gravel/cx fork that accepted a 110 x 15 axle...
Where am I going with all of this? Here's your point to ponder... Would it be nice to have a Gravel/cx bike that used Boost spacing and had big tire clearance? Imagine being able to tell your significant other that the sweet/awesome carbon, bling bling hub wheels you just dropped 3K on will work on three of your bikes! Gravel, cx and mountain!!! How's that for a selling point? Imagine... three bikes, one wheelset... A boy (or girl) can dream!
If you've been following along you may know that I've been pursuing education on that magical composite, carbon fiber. In fact, I just returned from a repair class with a leading carbon expert, more to follow on that... for now, my point is that I've been studying up on carbon!
Today, I just wanted brush on a topic that get's me going... Carbon wheels. If you know me, you know I love them. What's amazing to me is how adverse many are to carbon rims manufactured in the orient. I believe that when manufactured in a ISO manufacturing facility, Asian carbon wheels can rival, and in some aspects exceed the quality of others. To illustrate that, I'll leave you with a quick video from carbon expert Leuscher Teknik showing cut aways from an asian carbon rim and a US manufactured rim.
Not a lot of words here today... Instead I'm going to show you the difference between the stock wheels on a mid-level triathlon bike (approx. $3500) and a hand build set of Ferretti Aero wheels.
Weight Comparison, Front wheel including tire/tube and quick release.
Rear Wheel: Weighed with Sram 11-28 Force cassette, quick release, tire, tube, ect.
Pricing: Tough to determine...
So surfing around the interwebs I was able to find several sets of the Oval Concepts 950F (wheelset pictured), in used condition, for sale averaging $675. Currently, I'm offering the Ferretti Carbon wheel for $899.
Weight Difference: 275 grams (or 0.6 lbs depending on your preference).
Are you ready for a set?
I've been alluding to this for a while now. Wheels... Yes, frame building is continuing. Wheel building is just an additional service I'm adding!
So let's talk aero carbon tubular wheels for a second. This is a set that I spec'd up using 55mm carbon tubular rims and personalized hubs. I'll get the big questions answered straight away... 1498 and 899. Oh, that's grams and dollars if you're wondering.
Rims- as I mentioned these are 55mm deep. They are a nice 25mm wide, accommodating the current crop of wide tubulars. Digging a little deeper, you'll notice that these rims are primarily a 3K weave overwrapped with unidirectional cloth for a nice clean look. There's extra 3k at both the spoke and tire bed to augment strength. The front rim is 20 spokes and the rear is 24. If you're a big, powerful rider I can build these up with more spokes!
Hubs- So I'm showing you black, laser etched with my logo... Don't let that stop you from dreaming though! I can build with silver, red, blue and a few even wilder options! Tech wise, these hubs are light and use standard, easily obtainable cartridge bearings. If you're looking for upgrades, we can even provide you with hybrid ceramic bearings! An additional great feature is the alloy driver body has steel inserts, no more gouged driver bodies from cassettes having loose cogs. If none of this suits your fancy, dream big... I can set you up with almost any commercially available hub.
Spokes and nipples... I'm a Sapim guy. There are some great choices out on the market, I've settled on Sapim because of their strength. This set of wheels was built using Sapim lasers. Super strong yet light weight. As far as nipples, black brass. Yes, I could have dropped some weight using alloy nipples but designed these wheels to be all arounders... Race them, train on them, beat them. Light and strong!
So, dream... dream big... Let me know what you'd like and I can get you a price!!! Oh and if you have any additional questions about these wheels, leave me a comment!
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