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.

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.

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?

Ditch Front Derailleur?

I bought my Rocky Mountain RC-30 about 7-8 years ago. It was a pretty standard mid-range configuration that I have not altered significantly except for upgrading to a disc brake in the rear a couple of years ago which was definitely worth the expense!

Now, I’m nearing the end of life for my front sprockets. The kind folks at West Point Cycles have pointed out that the set-up is unlikely to last through the winter. A year ago or so the smallest sprocket already died, but I didn’t replace it, but simply got rid of it and had the gears adjusted so that I only have two settings in the front. So, I went from 3*8 gears to 2*8 options. Now I’m thinking whether I should not go fixed in front.

Advantages?

  • lower maintenance, particularly since I don’t myself maintain derailleurs. They have always bugged me as they rarely keep their setting/configuration despite the best initial set-up by qualified mechanics. Derailleurs get bumped, cables stretch, the whole thing is a nuisance.
  • less clutter on the handle bars by getting rid of one shifter
  • some weigh reduction by dropping another sprocket and shifter, cables, etc.
  • workout benefits as I would go with a large sprocket in front
  • better use of gears as the lowest and highest gears are not really usable on front sprocket because this sets the chain off in an angle that means friction at the derailleur

Disadvantages

  • obviously, fewer gears. If I go with a large sprocket in front, the 8th Ave bike route will be a challenge for example.
  • maybe a fixed large sprocket works for me, but what when I finally buy a new bike and hope to pass this one on to one of the kids?