Humble pie, and how to eat it.

A few weeks ago now, I got involved in an online discussion about fork valving modification. I proposed a shim stack change, which would theoretically reduce high speed compression damping for the fork involved, aiming to make it a bit more sensitive to small bumps.

What I actually proposed was a modification to the mid valve shim stack, which, well, was actually a really awful idea (very few people actually want less mid stroke support). Fortunately I was quickly corrected and took down all my posts on the topic.

So this is my confession. And what did I learn from the experience?

  1. read the manual
  2. read it again, properly this time
  3. test any modifications myself before recommending them to anyone
  4. let the real pros (eg Cyclinic, NS Dynamics, Vorsprung, TFT) do suspension valving changes

I’ll still service bouncy parts, but I’ll leave messing with valving to the experts.

My bikes and why I ride them part 2: it’s mountain time!

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This is a Liteville 301 MK11, built with a pretty reliable set of goods – Syntace bars and grips, Hope pro 2 Evo SP hubs on Stan’s Flow EX rims, SRAM X01 divetrain, Formula RX brakes, X Fusion Sweep RC HLR forks and an X fusion HiLo strate seatpost. Right now it’s just been given an absoluteBLACK oval chainring, and new Vittoria Morsa/Goma tyres.

It’s my go-to weekend bike, and gets occasional commuting duty when I feel like taking some extra time to go see the trees on the way to work. I race it in gravity enduro format, and the occasional local club DH round. It is a mountain bike, built for one purpose: to ride mountains.

Why did I choose this bike?

I’ve been riding in the woods since 1998, with a few distractions like travelling here and there. So it’s fitting that after ticking over 40 years of existence I should finally build myself an appropriate bicycle.

After a lot of deliberation, I took the plunge on the Liteville 301. What led me to this bike? It’s actually hard to say, it was definitely not love at first sight. And I could have saved a fair bit of cash going round to the local big brand dealer and buying something off the floor. But then I saw this video, started reading more about the company and the design philosophy behind the bike, and was pretty much hooked. I wanted a bike for riding mountains. It needed to be precise, agile, efficient and reliable. I wanted to be able to race it, and also ride 50 km randomly on a Sunday, and also head into the random mountains of randomness. I wanted something low-ish, long-ish and slack-ish – hitting modern mountain biking geometry right on the head. So the more I pondered a bike to suit my needs, the 301 became a lot more attractive.

After a few years of wishing, and a good few months of cash burning a hole in my pocket, the 301 turned up.

…and how is it working out – how has it changed my life?

It is an improbably good platform for cycling evolution. I’ve learned more about how to ride a mountain bike since I’ve owned this machine than in my entire mountain biking existence before it. That’s no exaggeration, it really is a tool for personal development, and I feel like riding in mountains has become exponentially more satisfying. I’m probably not much faster on this machine, but I see the trail totally differently. I can extend my own limits, face some fears, and push myself to learn and grow with confidence.

How do I ride it, how does it feel, what do I do with it to make it work for me?

There are a few quirks about the 301 – it is not as low as some people would like, and the chainstays are unfashionably long. But it’s plenty slack! It prefers to ride in ‘unshakeably stable’ mode – and requires a touch of body english to pop and play with.

I’m a big unit, and found that I blew through all the rear travel too quickly – so adding larger volume spacer to the shock helped a lot. I’m also finding that a shock with more mid stroke support would be awesomely helpful, but that is for later. I run about the recommended sag, and generally leave my CTD shock fully open in descend mode all the time. Rebound is about 3/4 open – so pretty quick. It recovers quickly when I jump off stuff, but needs a bit of conscious control at launch time.

Up front I ride with very little high speed compression damping (fully open), and about 3/4 closed low speed damping. This helps immensely riding big bermy things. Like the rear, rebound is pretty quick. Sometimes maybe too quick! But – I like it to spring back with authority after landing a drop, and be ready to skip around on rocks. After decades of riding hardtails, I still prefer to dance rather than plow.

Overall I find this thing needs to be ridden in the middle of the bike. There’s plenty of reach to move around and shift your weight. I found myself dropping chains a bit, but realised that this was a function of me sitting too far back on the bike. Hammering into a chundery rock garden, shift forward a little and give the forks some work to do! It is a good strategy so far, and the bike responds extremely well to assertive riding. It’s tidy and predictable in the air, and, well, it just works!

…and would I recommend this bike to you?

Yes. I would very happily help you set up on a Liteville.

…and what would I change, if anything – would I buy another one?

I will buy another one if this one dies, I think this is my go-to mountain bike for as long as I can ride. The one thing I would change on my current version is the shock. It is fantastic for normal riding, but doesn’t have enough mid stroke support for racing. Liteville now specify a shock that is well known for it’s mid stroke support.

Sometime in the near future, I’ll replace the air can with a Vorsprung corset, and if that isn’t up to the job, probably aim for a Fox Float X2. I would also like to experiment with a slightly slacker head angle, but that’s for another day. Also, I would probably put a different seatpost on it, the Strate has been great, but I’m after a bit more travel. I’m caching some coins for a 9point8 150mm travel post next, but I also hear great things about KS posts. Oh, and then there’s Eightpins

In summary

This bike is the boss, and I’m extremely happy to be able to ride one. The end.

 

 

 

 

My chainring isn’t round anymore!

I recently added an oval chainring from absoluteBLACK to my mountain bike. After a few rides on it now, these are my impressions.

First of all, the thing looks quite incredible, and it is insanely light! For something which replaces the chainring and spider on my X01 cranks, I wondered if this piece of CNC artistry would hold up. So far, so good. Installation was problem-free, the chainring fit nice and snug on the splines which hold it in place.

So how does it pedal? I came straight from a round chainring in the same diameter. Straight away I noticed that my cranks kind of ‘fell through’ a segment of the pedal stroke – which took about 20 minutes to really get used to. After a decently tough hour and a half out at Mt Stromlo, I realised a few things. First, the ovalness was no longer odd. Second, my knees and hips seemed a lot happier, and finally, I had to change timing of pedal chops to get up steep rocky sections  just a touch.

On the knees and hips thing, I’m pretty sure that the spiel about modern oval chainrings is actually true – I think my knees are getting less stressed because there’s that little segment of the pedal stroke I don’t have to push through each revolution now. I notice it jumping back on my commuterbeast, which still has a round chainring  (for now).

I didn’t go any faster. But thats OK – I feel like I got some fun factor back!

…would I recommend absoluteblack chainrings to you?

Yes, I would! I will keep making notes about them – how many kilometres they last, how they hold up to being abused and so on. But on first impression they’re worth investigating if your knees are unhappy, or you’re in the chainring market.

My bikes and why I ride them part 1: the commuterbeast

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This bike is my replacement car. I use it nearly every day, and ride from home to work and back again – with some tweaks on the side because I can. It’s a 2015 model Fuji Altamira CX 1.3, quite the ostentatious beast – which I described here. My ‘road bike’ before this was a Norco Threshold A1, a wonderful and serviceable aluminium-framed commuting bike. But I was working for a Fuji dealer, it was coming up to racing season, and my boss said ‘which bike would you race from the Fuji catalogue, if you could?’. The answer was this bike – and two weeks later a box turned up, and I was handed a new race machine. Annual bonuses can be pretty good at bike shops!

So why did I choose this bike?

I’m not absolutely convinced about carbon as a frame making material. I probably should be, but something about what happens to it after my bike wears out keeps bugging me. I suppose it will turn into amazing garden stakes! So – a carbon bike? Obviously it is very light, but also amazingly comfortable. My butt and lower back are supremely happy with carbon, even though my ethicalomemeter is still slow on the uptake.

The primary factor in the choice of this particular bike had to be the drive train. One gear up front, 11 in back, clutched rear derailleur, hydraulic disc brakes. Racing aside, this is pretty much the perfect recipe for the daily drive. Simple, will survive a broken spoke and still brake, and brake well all the time. I’d been riding SRAM’s 1×11 setup on my mountain bike for a while, and was completely sold on the idea of no more front derailleur.

Lifestyle was also a huge choice! I was working full time on my feet, commuting a minimum of 35 km a day, parenting and trying to write a PhD. I saw in this machine a way to help ease the energy cost of simply getting around. If I can get to work and back on 20% less energy, that’s huge.

…and how is it working out – how has it changed my life?

It’s nearly 8000 km old now (as of May 2016). Looking back on those first days, this bike really delivered! It was a LOT easier to get to work and back. It also opened up whole new ways of riding around Canberra. On the old bike, I’d pretty much stuck to the roads and bike tracks – it just took too much effort to go exploring.

With the new ride, that all changed. Cycling to work on trails, dirt roads, unusual routes became the norm. And now – I’ve moved jobs and houses – I can take advantage of this bike’s abilities and cycle through forests most of the time, avoiding cars, and even other bike traffic. In a way, it’s a machine which has enabled a serious increase in ‘quiet time’ in my life. Nothing but breathing, turning the cranks, and the odd kangaroo. What a way to bring some focus into life!

I haven’t raced it much after that first season. I will again – and it is very good at racing – but I like it most because of where else it can take me.

…and would I recommend this bike to you?

  • If you were after a versatile, fast, fun and efficient means of transport with a simple and fuss-free set of stuff on it, yes.
  • If your budget allowed it, yes.
  • If you were carbon-averse, no.
  • If you wanted to bolt on racks and tow trailers or have mudguards, no.

…and what would I change, if anything – would I buy another one?

My one lasting niggle is the press fit bottom bracket, but that is a theoretical issue at the moment. I replaced the original bottom bracket without fuss at about 3500 km. Whether I would buy the same bike again? That’s tough. If I could, yes! But more likely I will replace the frame with a titanium or lightweight steel one. Only so I can tow trailers… But really, I’m perfectly happy with my life-enhancing commuter.

Welcome

Hi. You might or might not have guessed that this space will be about bicycles. Bicycles as a tool to help your evolution, however you choose to go about using them.