thirty five – an overdue review.

This review has been a long time coming. Nearly a year in fact! Around June 2017 I strapped a pair of Formula 35 forks to the front of my bike. These have been reviewed by professional reviewers heaps of times – for example here; and here. I’m writing another one – after riding them hard on the front of a Liteville 301 for a while.

Impressions

Here are some photos to help you out. Firstly, how they turned up in a nice, minimal box.
…which made me happy! They are incredibly, noticeably light. That was impression number one. Impression number two is that they are filled with neat detail. Most noticeably the steampunk compression adjustment assembly atop the damper leg. It’s sweet!

Here’s how they look fully assembled and stuck to the front of a bike. Classy and burly – the tubes on the 301 are fat – and the 35s fit in beautifully.

How do they work for me?

Forks are forks, right? They bounce and stop you from getting too beat up on the trails. Well sort of. At this level, a fork is a precision tool for controlling your ride. It’s not meant to smooth the trail out for you, it’s meant to keep your front wheel in touch with the ground, help your bike stay balanced as a unit, and ultimately keep you able to control your ride at speed.

I’m no fork expert – I’ve ridden Pikes, Yaris, Fox 36’s, and owned X Fusion Sweeps – but I don’t have a long term picture of all of them.

Having said that, the formula is the first fork I’ve jumped on and thought ‘wow. really. wow’. So why is that? To flesh the story out I’d been riding on XF sweeps for a while, and had most recently taken a demo bike equipped with Pikes for a good thrashing. On advice from the importer I had strapped the formulas  on, and pumped them up with no other adjustments. I took them to a trail I was very familiar with, and blew my fastest time out of the water.

I railed into the fist big berm, laid the bike over and instantly thought ‘what! something’s going on here!’ – the formula magic was at work.

What was the big difference?

Formula’s key system is allowing both the damping piston and air spring piston to slide when under lateral load.

All forks experience lateral load when you corner – and the formula solution simply works well to overcome fork binding when this happens. It is the key difference between the 35s and all of the other forks I’ve tried. I believe the hype!

How are the forks going a year later?

First impressions been and gone – I’ve ridden the forks at Thredbo, Stromlo, Majura – picked up some PRs, and had a heap of fun. The 35 perfectly balances the rear suspension of the 301 (super supple to sag, then progressive), making it an incredible platform for playing around on in the dirt.

The forks are stiff – I can hold a line and plow into all kinds of crap. Yet supple, and supportive, and magical. You know how you huck a 5 foot drop and your bike sucks it up smoothly, then rebounds with perfect pose at perfect speed? That’s my life. I’m one happy cat.

Here is how they look now

I now run them with the standard compression valve fully closed; about 10% less pressure than recommended for my weight; and I’ve recently installed a neopos – after running an extra 10cc of oil in the air spring to add some progression. I haven’t ridden them enough to really feel whether the neopos system is working magic or not – but they do feel incredibly composed – a little more than the usual, incredibly composed norm.

A lowers service is truly simple, and can really be done with some Ballistol and a 4mm allen key. I just replaced the dust wiper seals and air spring o-rings – really easy. And I’d recommend a regular service (see below), because a quick inspect and check is so quick.

What issues have I had?

Nothing that is the fork’s fault.

I ignored warning signs to replace the seals  overly long and have a minor polishing of the anodised coating after letting Stromlo grit get at for a few rides. Fortunately, Eightyonespices can replace the uppers and recalibrate the bushings for a really reasonable price. Something to consider in another 50 hours time.

How have they evolved my riding and myself?

Since this site is all about evolutions and revolutions, this is the standard question. Stepping up to these units has taught me a couple of things. Firstly, be decisive. I was planning to buy these when I built the 301 in 2015. I could have, but didn’t after much vacillation. That was a mistake!

Next, it’s another level of confidence and control I have on the bike. Which means I can play more, ride more, learn more and crash less. All good things.

Would I buy them again?

Without hesitation. Next time I’ll get the EX version, to keep my bar height level when eventually stick the -1.5 degree headset in my bike. Or a Selva if I replace the 301 with another 301 and 29 inch wheels.

In Australia, get in touch with Eightyonespices and get sorted out!

 

Measuring a hub

Imagine you have a hub. You don’t know anything about it and can’t find any manufacturer specifications. However, it’s a really great hub that you love, and want to build a wheel on it!

You can jump online and see how to find the parts you need to measure – this screen grab from the ProWheelBuilder.com spoke length calculator shows what you need to know.

The key observations are PCD – or the diameter of the spoke flanges; OLD – or the distance between the two hub end caps; locknut to flange – or the distance from each end cap to flange centres; and flange to centre – or the distance between the centre of the hub and the centre of each flange. For reference, the DT Swiss spoke calculator uses the same data.

But how do you get these data if you can’t look the hub up online?

I use a few simple tools. Here, I have some hubs; a pretty basic set of calipers, a right angle rule, a piece of corrugated card, and things to write with. It helps if the card has at least two edges at a proper right angle.


First thing is to measure PCD. That’s simple – use the caliper. You could also create a tool to measure this out of card – get creative!

Notice I’m not trying to measure the middle of the hole – just measure between the top of  the hole on one side and the bottom of the hole on the other. It’s the same as centre-to-centre difference.

These hubs have different sized flanges, so I had to do this four times. Unlucky!

Next, measure the flange to flange difference. This is where the card comes in.

Here, since the flanges are different diameters I have the large flange off the edge of a table, pushed up hard against the edge of the card. I’m pressing down on the hub body hard enough that the smaller flange makes an impression in the card – you can mark each edge and hey presto – you can measure flange to flange!

Measure from the card edge to the far edge of the impression; and add the flange thickness (use the caliper to measure that).


If your hub has identical flanges, you can just push both into the card at once and make your life easier. Just ensure that your impressions are far enough into the card to allow for the whole hub to be measured up each side.

Next, taking the flange to locknut distance for one side. Here, use the right angle rule to ‘drop’ the end of your hub on the small flange side down to the card.

Again, for hubs with symmetrical flanges you can do this for both ends while the hub is still in it’s ‘impressions’ and save a bunch of effort. This time, however, we need to do it the long way and do some quick maths. Now that we know our OLD (hub spacing from end to end), our flange to flange distance and one locknut to flange distance we can infer the rest.

Mark out a couple of ‘axles’ and transfer your measurements across. From here, you can work out the hub centre; then the flange to centre from both sides.

In this picture, the rear hub is marked out at the top, and the front hub at the bottom. Note, I’ve transferred my measurements of the partial hub (from one flange across) from the other side of the card. This side also has a neat right angle to work from (upper right corner). Lining the hub up, it looks pretty good.

…and you’re done! Combined with your PCD measured at the start, you can go to a spoke calculator and determine which spokes you need!

So how did I go? I made:

PCD: (rear) 49/58 (front) 45/58

Brake side locknut to flange: (rear) 36 (front) 25

Drive side locknut to flange: (rear) 50 (front) 14

Flange to flange centre: (rear) 54 (front) 58

Flange to centre (brake/drive): (rear) 20/34 (front) 23/36

…and Novatecs own specs are here (from weightweenies.com). Note Novatec’s F2F measurement is from the outside of the flanges – not centres.

So not too bad! What’s the next step?

I usually use both prowheelbuilder.com and the DT Swiss calculator. If both are around the same, I go ahead and order spokes! If not, I check my measurements and try again.

For reference, I always use and recommend double butted spokes at a minimum. Because engineering that you can googlify because it’s over my head.

 

Fox Metah Helmet

New helmet time is always amazing, because old helmets get worn to death. This time I grabbed a Fox Metah from mountainbikesdirect.com.au. Here is a picture of me wearing it.

You can see it instantly turns any ugly bugger right into a hardcore bike ninja supermodel!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t hide wrinkles or the fact that I’m bald. I rely 100% on people looking from far away and not taking a second glance. You can see in this side on photo that indeed, on second glance, even the overpowering mojo of the Metah can’t screen everything.

It does, however, snug my cranium snugly and feels nice and safe. It’s coverage is well on par with the Bell Super 2 it replaced. And it is just as cosy to wear. Those huge vents are a plus over the Bell – Australia is bloody hot, making head ventilation is a winner in my book. I have to wear my pirate bandana to prevent helmetburn in summer anyway, so moar vents is moar goodness – to a degree. I don’t want a large log to be able to fit through them.

I expect the clever magpies will find a way to peck my head in new and more painful places come springtime. I don’t do that zip tie porcupine thing, it looks stupid, wastes zip ties, doesn’t work and risks poking them in the eye, enraging them further. Fox designers clearly don’t live anyplace near magpies, hence massive magpie-penetrable venting – but I still think the massive vents and the instant mojo are a plus. Mostly the mojo. And the vents.

My summary? I like it, I don’t notice it when I’m out riding, and it looks the biz. Three stars for the Metah! If I ever test it in anger, I’ll let you know exactly how many metres shorter the mountain is afterward.

…but if you’re like me, make sure you ride fast. As awesome as the Metah is, the ninja rockstar mountain biker mojo field it exudes can only cover so much for so long. If you are an actual ninja rockstar mountain biker, then this is your helmet. Well, really, any helmet is your helmet unless your head shape is totally wrong for it – but the Metah is a winner from the fox folks in my book.

3 600 km of absolute black

A month or two ago my absoluteblack CX oval chainring passed it’s 3 600th kilometre of week in, week out, all weather commuting plus a few longer road rides and gravel grinds. One of these was 82 km and 1800 vertical metres. A ride to the corner shop in the European alps, but a pretty big deal in Australia.

How’s it travelling? Check the photos. Even in a ‘just got back from a dirty ride’ state I’d say it’s doing just fine for a while longer. Tooth profiles still look good, anodising worn off but that happens. And it is still nice and straight – despite it’s feathery appearance. It’s solid!

That’s really all. It’s pretty, fuss free, and still lets me keep a good cadence just that little bit longer up hills. I’d say worth the fuss. It’s now up to 4 200 km and still doing just fine.

Weekend review: Breezer Supercell team

Breezer supercell team image

I’m getting my rear brake rebuilt – so while my actual bike is in sick bay, I have a totally different style of machine on loan to play with. It’s a Breezer Supercell Team from 2014. These are Breezer’s hootin’ tootin’ ‘trail’ 29er bikes, with the team machine being near the top of the tree. It retailed for over $AUD4000 back in 2014, and a current Supercell team is going to tick just over $5k. Naturally, this is a level of bike where you expect it to function extremely well.

Here’s how it went – and bear in mind I’m coming from the viewpoint of normally riding a purpose-built gnar devourer, so the supercell is a big step back into ‘normal’ mountain biking.

Geometry/frame stuff

Let’s talk first about geometry – you can read the link above to get the. The tl:dr version is that the Supercell is a conservative bike, winding back a bit from the LLS (long/low/slack) steamtrain that I usually travel on with a first class ticket . It’s very upright, quite steep, and bit hard to wheelie. This, however, managed to not translate to a terrible ride. Which we will get to.

My one main gripe with the M-link is that it is hard to clean. This gripe is shared among many, though. Cleaning the beast takes second fiddle to some ideal about suspension rates and curves.

Parts

Read the details here – basically reliability is the go. Top-of-the-tree suspension for people who just want to not have to care about it, the ever reliable shimano XT groupset (down to hubs), and Fuji’s house brand bar/stem/seatpost. The shop had wisely installed a 50 mm stem, a long way shorter than the stock 100 mm unit. Modern rims would be a bit wider,

How does it ride?

Suprisingly well. With close to 100 mm less wheelbase than usual I totally killed all the uphill switchbacks. It handled cruisey flowy trails really well, and was stable on rocky parts – although finesse is required. 29ers are definitely adapted to rolling along, and the supercell did just that – really easy to keep momentum up.

At moderate speeds it’s a spritely, playful machine up and down hills – I agree with every other reviewer of the breezer range here, once underway its slight portliness in the grams department seems to melt away. Irrelevant.

Pointed down, it handled predictably. Fast enough to be fun, but definitely not stable enough to balance on that ragged millimetre between speed and destruction that my usual ride handles so well. In the Supercell’s defence, it also flies OK – hucking the odd double and doing some smallish drops. The rear suspension gets through travel quickly – but really, the Supercell prefers to stay grounded, keep your bum comfortable, and let you swing it sideways on the odd occasion when the mojo strikes.

Who is this bike for?

It’s for anyone who wants a fuss-free ride that doesn’t need wrestling through uphill switchbacks, or thinking too far ahead, and is happy to just take it to the mechanic when they want a service.  You can ride it sideways, but it’s most comfortable and most fun when you’re not pushing the boundaries in  to the absolute limits. In other words, you want to just head out and chew up some cruisey, fun trails and ride all day if you want without any fuss.

Here is the link to current specs again (2017): http://www.breezerbikes.com/bikes/specs/supercell-team

How is this bike going to help me evolve?

Yes, this is a standard question for all my reviews 🙂 So this bike – for me personally it helped me to see mountain biking in a different lens. It was actually a lot of fun to go ride a normal-ish, not cutting edge exotic mountain bike. So it was nice. I got to see the world from a less rushed point of view. For a potential buyer? It’s going to give you the confidence to just go ride – I really can’t see much going wrong here. Keep it clean and maintained, and I think it’ll let you stress less about heading into the wild.

Summary

A well-built, well thought out, old-school-ish package made for riding trails. If you baulk at all the newfangledom and want a bike that is fun and you understand, Joe Breeze has your back.

Because my old boss still gives me a great deal on parts, if you like this bike and live in Australia go talk to Cycle Canberra ( who sell whatever in the Fuji/Breezer stable makes it to Australia). If you’re nice, I’ll even drop in and watch them build it for you while making glib comments about back when I was a full time mechanic…

Shimano SH-M163 RRLTR, welcome SH-ME5

I recently replaced a pair of Shimano M163 mountain bike shoes. So I thought I’d get to giving them a really, really, really long term review. I’ve ridden them more than 9000 km. They’re my daily commute shoes as well as getting a good workout on in the mountains.

Yeah, yeah, they’ve been reviewed a lot when they were new and shiny – but since when do normal people ever get stuff in time to do a proper long-term ‘pre release’ review? Never – so here is the ‘non-current model’ version.

Cutting to the chase – my pair are black (and were when I got them), had two opposing velcro straps and a ratchet strap to help snug feet into place, and a spot underneath to put cleats. At size 46 they fit my size 46 feet.

What I liked most about them was Shimano’s adoption of the ‘way back is way better’ approach to cleat positioning. They also solved a problem with the previous M162 – which had a seam in the ratchet strap that pulled apart in very short order. I got these M163’s as the second warranty replacement for my M162’s.

What can I say after 9000+ km? They are still alive. Well done Shimano! Also, you can still buy spares for them. Well done x2! There’s an extra vent ( ie hole where the mesh material has been devoured by my nasty foot sweat) forming between the toe cap and the crank-side strap holder bit on both shoes, and the sole is looking pretty beat up – exposing the cleat if I walk around. But that’s pretty much it – the 163s have been a solid, reliable shoe that is still kicking and will now be my wet weather/spare/?? pair of kicks. Thanks Shimano, well done x3.

Finally, I’d like to welcome my new SH-ME5’s. They are also black and have the same super far back cleat positioning. Straight away I see that Shimano have fixed things so that the new vent will no longer appear – the front of the shoe is one continuous piece of material. Shimano also solved the dangly strap thing, with very neat hidden ratchet straps, and added some inside cuff protection from menacing cranks. Here’s a stock photo of them from Shimano’s product page:


First impressions? Very solid feeling, comfy, a little slimmer fitting than the 163s but the wear in is proceeding well. A wide version is available, and if you found the 163 a super tight width it may be wise to consider those. I like the reverse buckles, and I think these are a great iteration of a fine bike riding shoe. I’m looking forward to another long and dependable relationship.

If ever I would stop thinking about bikes and politics…

Being able to paraphrase Michael Franti in a blog post title is awesome. And even better, this post is relevant to one way of interpreting the song. For those unfamiliar with his work, google ‘If ever I would stop thinking about music and politics’, ‘Disposable heroes of hiphoprisy’ (yes it’s an old song by now), and ‘Michal Franti and Spearhead’ (and probably more). It’s a song that has stuck with me for decades now – but really, the message has taken a really long time to start sinking in. Let’s look at one small part:

If ever I would stop thinking about music and politics
I would tell you that the personal revolution
is far more difficult
and is the first step in any revolution

What does that mean? And where does it fit into the context of a web page which is ostensibly about bikes (so far)? And why am I writing about this now?

To answer the first question, Michael Franti echoes an ancient anecdote to speak about the difficulty of evolving oneself to look inward from the outside. To see ourselves as active agents in our destiny, rather than passive drifters on the seas of chance. The second question is easy – we’re also talking about evolution here. As for the third? It follows from the recent US election, which on the surface is the tip of an iceberg of ignorance.

I care about this, although I’m half a world away, because it represents an enormous challenge and an even more enormous opportunity. I’m certain many analysts will dissect the reasons for Trump, brexit, successive conservative governments in Australia, the rise of nationalist right wing movements elsewhere, the retreat from humane, empathetic approaches to refugees, the almost-frenzied destruction of our living planet.

I’m going to simplify it a lot, and boil many essays down to one word: Fear.

Specifically, fear of the future, fear of uncertainty, fear of the other.

…and fear of our own selves. How can this be so? How can we be afraid of ourselves? Look again, consider – what holds you back? Why do you get angry about stuff? If you believe that other people are somehow different from you, what drives that belief?

Consider the words quoted above. The hardest step is an internal revolution, which must be undertaken before external change can thrive. We must first evolve ourselves, our attitudes and outlooks, before the change we wish to see can take root and thrive.

Speaking for myself, yes, I’m awash with fears of various things.. and my journey to evolve is only proceeding slowly. Fatherhood has helped. So has passing through the eye of a needle in terms of the unemployment/stability/PhD/family/reemployment matrix. Growing older, and of course, spending time in the wild, breathing the air, being with the wind.

So why is this internal revolution the hardest? Ever been rock climbing? How hard do you try to hang on to that hold, realising you’re about to fall, before you let go, relax, and fall into the safety of the rope. That’s why. It’s that same kind of hardness – the difficulty of letting go, of shedding the old. I’ve fought many unnecessary battles for precisely this reason. I could not just relax and let go.

Back to politics – viewed one way, things look pretty grim. Viewed another, these times may just be the motivating spark that we need to start our internal revolutions!

How can we make change? Start in ourselves. Taking from another great source of inspiration:

A warrior trusts other people because, first and foremost, he trusts himself.
– Paulo Coelho, the manual of the Warrior of Light

This is actually really difficult. To trust that everything will be as it is meant to be, and to trust wholly that we are here for a purpose even if we never gain any form of conscious knowledge of what that is. There’s always something we are here to do.

For now, my task is to shine a light within, find my fears and let them pass through me – so that I can shine a light for others too! To trust myself, and the universe. To speak out honestly, kindly, and firmly. And encourage everyone I can to do the same. I might never become a politician, or a billionaire, but that doesn’t mean I have no power. I have more power than I can imagine! My question is: what is stopping me from using it?

And the same goes for you. We are made from exploded stars. What could possibly be more awesome?

We are the best and most powerful tools for our own evolution. So right now, in these crazy times, take courage. Change will come, and we will bring it – so long as we can begin first with ourselves.

I hope this kind of potted philosophy has lightened your day. Go listen to some of Michael Franti’s songs – or some other awesome music. Treat your soul! Ride a bike too. Catch some wilderness time, go see what really matters. And then come back, refuelled and ready to see a different world take shape.

Oh – I never answered the second question. Why write about this now? No idea – seemed like the right time…

919 km of absolute black ovalness

img_20160929_162514232 img_20160929_162456152

I’ve been running an absoluteBLACK oval chainring on my mountain bikes since late May 2016. Winter hit, and PhD deadlines hit, and I really haven’t been out on the big bike enough to give you a great impression. My first ride impressions on that chainring still stand – except I’ve adjusted my timing for technical bits and now, well, I just pedal more smoothly with less stress on my old man bones.

The acid test, however, was always going to be an oval ring on my daily drive. This has a few substantial testing benefits:

  • My commuterbeast is also a 1×11 system, but it has a 42t chainring. The chainring is likely to be subject to quite a bit more structural stress
  • It clocks up vastly more kilometres than my mountain bike
  • I like to point it up longish (for Canberra) hills from time to time

Now I’ve put in 919 Strava km, so I feel like I can tell you how it’s been working out. You can see here that the ovalness of the 42t ring doesn’t seem extreme, and I didn’t really notice it when I first took it out for a spin. This is likely based on acclimatisation using my mountain bike – but there was, and still is, a subtle difference from pedalling a round chainring.

I feel this difference most when climbing. Getting the pedals over the top of the chainring is just smoother – there’s a point where I would really have to push on a round ring, and that spot has disappeared. The end result is that I can hold a cadence for longer up hills, and I’m going to repeat myself a lot here – put less stress on my hips and knees. This is important once you hit 40! So I’m really happy with my absoluteBLACK oval chainrings this far in. My daily drive has become that bit less wearing on my body, and I can steam up hills on a single 42 tooth chainring.

The photos at the top show the chainrings in their current state after a relatively normal springtime commute to work and back (yay Canberra). The anodising has stripped from the sides of each tooth, but shape wise the teeth look pretty fresh. I’ve had zero issues with chainring flex or creaking noises, and haven’t taco’ed it yet (yes, I have turned chainrings into tacos… Hefalump!).

Performance aside, they are also some serious bling. I have yet to be mobbed in the streets by adoring admirers of good taste in bicycle parts, but I feel that day will come.

[Bikes – fun] = commuting? Nope, not here…

This morning I went for a pretty fun commute to work – up Mt Stromlo on the road, down on the trails, over to dairy farmers hill via pine forest and dirt roads, up the road, across through the cork oaks to the bike path, then a lap and a half of Black Mountain. Made possible by an awesome cyclocross bike!

It was also my first venture up Black Mountain on the oval ring, but that’s another story. My main point – I think curly wurly bars and good times can go together – and modern CX/gravel bikes have evolved to make that happen. Win!

My bikes and why I ride them, part 3: the other training bike

img_20160918_081848737

This is my last bike, and the most recent addition to the stable. It’s a roughly 2013 Eastern Thunderbird, made for doing massive whips on massive dirt jumps. It’s a chromoly frame, and those forks have 36mm diameter chromoly stanchions. The front axle is 20mm, with a 14mm bolt at the rear. Ohyeah, chromoly 3-piece cranks with a spanish BB complete the picture. The front wheel is the original, the rear is a novatec DJ hub on an Alex Supra-FX rim I stuck on it. Unbreakable! It has one brake.

It’s the cyclist equivalent of ‘do you even lift, bro?’, and pretty much gets cobbled together out of spare bits when something goes wrong.

So why is it here?

It’s main reason for being was to ride with Joe an Oli, who had also bikes with one gear and terrible brakes – so whenever we go someplace to ride we are on a pretty even footing. They’ve also grown to like riding and scootering at the skatepark, so I obviously needed a new bike to suit!

…and what does it do for me?

It’s my proper training bike. It doesn’t teach me how to get Strava KOMs out on the Uriarra road, it teaches me how to get better at manuals, bunny hops, riding transitions, pumping, and landing sideways. It also makes my shoulders and biceps bigger – no need for a gym with this beast – and sometimes teaches me that my ideas are not yet matched by my skills.

This translates, of course, to riding other bikes. I’m a better mountain biker because I learn to handle a bike properly, I’m a better cyclocross/gravel monster because my core and upper body is stronger, and I’m a way cooler dad because I can get involved with my kids, help them learn the ways of the skatepark, and I also have to get off and walk wirth them when the hills are steep.

…and I occasionally manage to bust out an impressive move. Winning all around.

Would I recommend you buy one?

Of course! I know next to nothing about dirt jump bikes, but every grown up should own one and learn how to use it (respecting your limits, of course). I can’t tell you the subtleties of why the Eastern is better or worse than any other dirt jumper. I know I’ll never break it… but if you are wishing to evolve your life/riding/relationship with kids, it is potentially a great tool*

*Caveat and disclaimer – ride responsibly! These things can also be quite dangerous when concrete gets involved.