Decision Time

After many years of learning more, hesitating, narrowing options, I have put in an order for a new bike.

It will be a Velotraum XXL Pinion C12. Phew!

Now all I can do is hope that the bike is all I dreamed off when I sit on it for the first time.

Criteria

What finally drove this decision?

  1. Large frame appropriate to my height/physiognomy
  2. Gates drive
  3. Pinion gears

In the end, there were no alternatives to the Velotraum.

Size

Duh! I’m tall, so I need a bike that works with my size. This was in fact what initially led to my searching for a new bike to replace my trusty Rocky.

But, this has been surprisingly challenging. The main problem has been that a) bike companies don’t seem to want to cater to tall riders, and b) bike stores really don’t want to cater to tall riders (by ordering large frames).

Belt

I have never liked derailleurs, etc. Chains need frequent replacement, are grimy, etc. Blech! Belt drive has been available for some years now, I don’t see any reason not to want it.

Gears

Like I said, I hate derailleurs. They never quite work right, need frequent adjustment and the range isn’t that great. Consequently I removed two front sprockets on my Rocky and switched to the largest front/smallest back sprocket/cassette possible. From the beginning, I’ve been looking at hub gears, either Shimano or Rohloff. Rohloff has the huge advantage of giant range and my sympathy for German engineering.

But then I discovered Pinion. Nice engineering, great range (after half an hour with a Pinion rep, I’ve decided for 12 gears), AND a central centre of gravity given the placement in the middle not on the hub. If you have a chance, try it out. No weight on the wheels is what it feels like.

Decision

Once I arrived at these criteria, a year-long stay in Germany was the obvious time to look for a bike as more tall options seem to be available. And so, I ended up at Velophil (partly on recommendation of the Pinion rep) and now I am eagerly awaiting delivery.

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Berliner Fahrradschau

It’s been a very long time that I’ve posted on this blog.

I’m currently spending a year in Berlin, Germany and really enjoying public transit. Meaning, I don’t even own a bike. But roughly half-way through that year (if you’re curious what it’s like to return to Berlin after a long absence, see my amateur flaneur notes at sabbaticalers.wordpress.com/).

But, spring is in the air and I visited the Berliner Fahrradschau, time to put some thoughts about the new bike I’ve been seeking for years, down in pixels…

Point of Departure

My Rocky Mountain Whistler RC-30 has been a trusty bike commute companion for over a dozen years now. It’s changed massively in that time, but there’s nothing I can update about the frame which ultimately just wasn’t the right fit for me. Also, I can’t stay chains, chain stays, and all that clunky, need-to-be-replaced-and-never-quite-work-right tech.

So, I’ve been looking to replace that bike for some years.

The main obstacle has been that there are not that many options of large frames with a belt drive that I can test ride. Yes, some N American manufacturers make such beasts, but Vancouver bike shops don’t usually stock them.

So, I’ve hoped that with tall people a larger part of the market here in Berlin, perhaps I’d have some luck.

What I’m looking for:

  • gates drive
  • tall
  • full fenders, rack, possibility fo lights, perhaps ideally with a dynamo
  • visibility
  • quality (I ride approx. 4,000km a year, hope to ride this bike for 10+ years)

Things I Discovered at the Fahrradschau

Obviously, these kind of shows/expos are really cool. I didn’t have enough time to spend all day, but easily could have.

There’s the tech to drool over, the curious, the geeky, the stylish, the (too)hipster, all right there to look at. I managed to see and feel some brands that I’ve been following online (e.g. PedalEd), and discover a number of brands that I didn’t know.

 How My New Bike Thinking is Evolving

The biggest recent shift has been that I’m thinking about moving my attention from a 8 or 11-gear hub gear system (Shimano not Rohloff) to the Pinion system.

Why?

  • new German tech
  • almost-no maintenance (though similar as hub gears)
  • central centre of gravity
  • cool

This idea has been reinforced by the C-12 model that Pinion has come out with. Having downsized from an initial 24 to eight gears on my old bike, 12 seem plenty, especially given the range that the Pinion can cover and the option to adjust this with different gears at installation.

Unfortunately, however, the Pinion system is only beginning to show up in production and is still fairly pricey although the C line is less expensive than the P.

Well, the search for the perfect bike continues, and maybe Velo Berlin will bring more answers.

15 Months with the Vulpine Long Sleeve Merino T-Shirt

I’ve had my Vulpine Long Sleeve Merino T-Shirt for two winter seasons now. It’s time to discuss how it is holding up beyond first impressions. In a word: brilliantly.

No pilling, no tears, no holes, no stink… what more would you want from a baselayer.

That’s what the shirt is to me, I wear it almost exclusively under my Sugoi RSE NeoShell Jacket. The Vulpine shirt is thus in rotation with two merino Patagonia zip-tees of different weights.

I don’t generally wear any of these on their own because I find that the wind blows through them and I feel cold with just a wool layer. I have been thinking about adding a windproof gillet to my selection and then might wear wool jerseys as a single layer on my arms more often. While the wool is knitted tightly enough that it is quite smooth and comfortable on the skin, it is loose enough to let the wind through. Surely that’s a bonus when wearing the shirt under a jacket to add breathability, but that’s in part why I don’t really end up wearing it on its own a whole lot.

In the meantime, however, the Vulpine shirt keeps me nice and warm under the water/wind-proof jacket, but not sweaty. Given the open neck, it’s my go-to baselayer in not-so-cold weather. The construction of the seams around the shoulders is very comfortable and not in the way in any riding position under any version of a jacket.

The wool is holding up VERY well. No pilling, not wear as far as I can tell. The overall quality is really terrific even after months of daily use. I wash the shirt in a primitive N American toploader then hang-dry so not particularly gentle in treating it, but there is no sign of wear even on elbows, no loose threats. This quality (rather than functionality) would justify the price entirely in my mind.

The blue colour has also stayed true all along. It continues to be much more handsome a shirt than I am or than my bike is.

Some more critical thoughts:

  • As I noted in my first impressions, the sleeves are a little too short. Off the bike, they are just right, but in a riding position, they leave my wrists uncovered which I don’t like much. [Yes, a bit of a theme, i.e. I like to stay warm!] While I am quite tall (1,96m), most of that height is in my legs and I don’t order long sleeves on dress shirts, for example, so it seems like the proportions on the sizing are a bit off for my body type.
  • Likewise, the longer back is also not very long. Worn by itself (i.e. not tucked in) the shirt covers the edge of whatever pants I’m wearing, but not much more.
  • I have never used the pocket on the back, in part because I mostly wear the shirt as a baselayer, but also because the most likely items would be keys or a wallet and those either would likely rip the pocket (keys) or don’t fit (wallet)
  • As I wear the shirt under a jacket, the reflector on the back pocket is also turning out to be less essential than I would have anticipated.
  • I do like my neck warm, so I wouldn’t mind a slightly closer collar.

Bottom line: Definitely high quality and very nice to wear. As it turns out for my use as a baselayer, some the functionality is not necessary.

 

Betabrand Bike-to-Work Pants

Betabrand is another one of those brands that I’ve been keeping an eye on for their bike-specific hipster ware. So, when they were having one of their sales (sign up for their newsletter or follow on Twitter) I jumped in and ordered olive bike-to-work pants.

The main attraction to the brand is, er, the brand. Hip, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but functional and good looking.

Well, the bike-to-work pants didn’t really turn out to be a winner.

I ordered them in 36, my usual side, but the waist was a bit big, while the thighs (I do commute by bike after all) were tight. The sizing was odd since I also ordered one of their beautiful cordarounds in a 36, but that was too small.

The bike-to-work pants weren’t massively too large, but I would have needed a belt off the bike which means wearing the belt on the bike and that’s just not that comfortable.

In the end, I was also a bit underimpressed by the bike functionality and the quality.

I had ordered “olive” but my order confirmation already said “mushroom”. The pictures of olive looked like a light green, but the colour turned out to be a pretty bland, meh shade of, well, mushroom.

Because the fit wasn’t right, I didin’t quite try them riding on the bike, but the coverage in the back seemed adequate. The cut didn’t seem obviously conducive to riding.

The reflective flap that folds out of the left rear pocket is terrific. Nice to have a bikeware item designed for right-hand-drive traffic too.

But that’s pretty much it for bike features, i.e. lower-in-front-higher-in-back, no seams to sit on and pocket and rolled-up-pant reflectors. Terrific and new a coupl of years ago, but so-so now.

Finally, I just wasn’t that impressed with the quality given loft prices of US$100+ (pre-sale). The pants really seemd liked a pretty regular pair of chinos that could have been Dockets or some similar ho-hum brand.

Obviously, I can’t report on durability and fit on the bike, since I returned them…

 

First Impressions: Vulpine Rain Shorts

It’s the first day of Spring in Vancouver. Appropiately, my Vulpine shorts arrived today to usher in the end of another rainy season. Also an appropriate time to take up the blogging call again after a long break.

I’d been looking at these shorts for quite a while after having noticed Vulpine for their merino shirt.

I have two pairs of cycling jeans, one pair of knickers, so shorts were the next obvious steps.

Wow, are these shorts a quality product and wow, do I look good in them if I say so myself.

Everything seems thought out in terms of design and functionality.

The fit is right on. I ordered an XL (=36″ waist) and they fit just right.

The epic fabric is soft and fairly slippery; feels good.

Features:

  • hook in the right front pocket for keys
  • hidden zipper pocket in left front pocket
  • reflectors on outside at bottom of leg (seems like a great spot for shorts and they are discrete yet give me the sense that I will be visible)
  • low cut in the front to sit on the bike
  • right rear pocket with magnet closure
  • the flap on the rear pocket folds up to reveal a bright green patch and reflector underneath
  • inside the waistband is a rubberized strip that will keep the shorts from sliding

Design:

  • “indigo” means purple, but it’s actually a very nice colour
  • terrific how much thought someone has given the seams which appear in contrasting green on the inside, and the zippers which are red
  • the V-shape on the main button is also a nice touch

Obviously, these are not cheap, so I waited for Vulpine’s second anniversary event to off-set the price a little.

No thoughts on the epic fabric yet other than it’s nice feel. I’m not sure that I really need rain-resistant shorts. In Vancouver either it’s the rainy season (Nov – March) and kind of too cold to wear shorts, or it’s shorts-weather and thus rarely rainy.

Also, will have to see how they wear with regular use (I still commute every day).

Only concern so far is one that a reviewer mentioned as well, i.e. that the seam in the back is not elastecized, so there’s some risk of exposure depending on the shirt I’m wearing.

Update some weeks later:

Some nice early Spring weather has given me a chance to try the shorts out on the bike. Great! The “slipperiness” of the fabric makes them very comfortable, though I can definitely feel the thigh seam. They are not restrictive in the thigh, but definitely not loose. Coverage on the lower back is a bit of an issue because the seam isn’t elasticized.

The hook in the front right pocket actually works for my key chain.

 

 

 

How Cool is That: Bike Trailer for Camping!

I’m sure other people have know about this thing, but I just came across the Kamp-Rite Midget Bushtrekka. Granted, it would seem like you could also just get a trailer and pack your tent on that. Probably simpler, actually… But a trailer camper van for biking? Definitely cool and clearly not just a gimmick given the well-designed (by specs and photos anyway) storage and overall structure of the trailer.

26kg is pretty hefty, but then it’s a solid trailer and has the tent built in. Next thing they’ll come out with a generator accessory and then you’ll be ready to hang with the big RVs!

First Impression Muxu Socks

I’m not a big fan of the socks-that-dont-even-cover-your-ankle genre, esp. in winter. Is there some particular reason bicyclist want their ankles cooled?

Even though I don’t particularly like these short socks, even the ones that barely go over your ankle, that’s pretty much what’s available for riding.

At least the Muxu Ride Sock comes with the added bonus of a reflective stripe on the heel.  That way the sock is no longer your, er, Achilles heel of visibility, I guess. The socks themselves are a nice blue tone (there is also a black model) and feel quite nice on your feet. They are neither particularly thick, nor particularly thin and a wool-synthetic blend.

I haven’t been able to ask a motorist who was approaching from behind how visible the reflective stripe is, but it’s literally woven into the fabric in a criss-cross-pattern and is lasting through washes just fine.

These will be particularly nice in the summer with shorts, I think, as the dayglo green velcro bands around the ankles are a safety-only-beauty-be-damned accessory with shorts.

Unlike many other current socks, they don’t come as a rightie and leftie and aren’t overly engineered for fit, but just a regular, handsome sock.

Going Bamboo

As I’m in my fifth year of commuting by bike every day now, I’m beginning to think about a new bike. Not that there’s anything wrong with my old bike, but I’ve been making continuous improvements for years and a new bike would be an opportunity to leap ahead across some features.

Given my size (mainly the length of my legs), one of the main areas for improvement would be the geometry of a frame, I would hope. Other areas I would want to deal with is the gearing. Even now that I’m down to an 8-speed, I would love to get rid of derailleurs entirely, so internal hub it is…

As I’m looking around for new bikes, I’m also looking for a builder whom I can meet and talk to (i.e. strong preference for a local manufacturer, if not a local builder), as well as some innovation in the bike.

So… bamboo comes up as a choice. As far as I can tell that means Grass Frames in Vancouver.

Intuitively, bamboo makes total sense to me. Flexible, but strong, light, sustainable, what’s not to like.

I went to visit the Grass Frames guys and had a great time. I had a ton of questions and got many of them answered. This is definitely an option in the running!

Some of the things I learned:

  • not that much of a weight advantage over chrome alloy
  • sustainability not only in the material, but in all steps on the production process. I was really impressed that their workspace didn’t smell chemical at all.
  • 30 of their bikes on the roads and they’ve been building for 2 1/2 years
  • background in joinery and boat-building
  • given individual variations in pieces of bamboo, the build process is fairly individualized in any case, so adjustments in the geometry are feasible at a much lower price differential
  • my hope for a fork dipped in reflective paint would be a possibility, because the fork is the part that is bought separately
  • with so many variables (gearing, size of frame, brakes, etc.) test-riding a bike just for the qualities of its frame doesn’t tell me that much

Some of the things that came to me on the bike ride home:

  • can the top tube be extended to accommodate a hood ornament?
  • any light innovations that can be built into the frame?
  • add colour pigment to the resin?
  • some other innovation? shoe holster? field hockey stick loop?
  • bamboo rack?

To be continued…

Down to an 8-Speed

So, I finally made the move that I had been contemplating for a while, now I’m riding an 8-speed.

Frankly, gear shifts have bothered me for a while. Unless they’ve just been serviced (I have never learned to do much servicing myself), they are noisy, cause friction, don’t actually quite work (slipping on hills, chain rubbing against chain guide, etc.), and why I would need the 24 gears that my bike came with is completely beyond me, even when I do ride up the 8th ave bike route some times.

So, when my smallest sprocket lost one of its bolt a year ago or so, I was happy to ditch it, going from the original 24-speed to a 16-speed set-up.

When my bike was in with West Point Cycles some months ago they warned me that the teeth on my sprockets was wearing out and that I’d need a renewal sooner rather than later. Well, about three weeks ago, my front derailleur got so gunked up by the 16th Ave grit that it would no longer move. I took this as the perfect opportunity to leave the chain on the middle sprocket (smaller of the two remaining) to test my plan to go down to one sprocket. Seemed to work just fine.

Then, last week, the chain started slipping. Of course, this usually happens on a climb so that your leg goes flying and painfully connects with the handlebars. Obviously a sign to take action.

The folks at West Point Cycles didn’t think my plan strange at all, so I picked up my bike today and it rode like new. Of course, much of that is the tune-up that it enjoyed with nicely tightened brake cables, new break pads, the new chain and all.

What configuration am I riding now? Well, single sprocket in the front with the derailleur functioning as a stationary chain guide for a 46-teeth sprocket. New cassette in the back ranging from 11-28 teeth. The next days will tell.

My first impression is that gear 1 is too small, and gear 8 not quite big enough, suggesting a further adjustment. That would mean a 50-teeth set-up in front and 11-32 teeth (I think) in the back up. I’ll try to go up and down some hills in the coming days and test things out.

In the meantime, only the bell remains on the left half of my handlebars making me think that I should install something there. Compass? Hands-free-BB10 set-up? Third light?