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

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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.

 

Oval rings, wider bars

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Two weeks on the road, with chain factory grease still going hard.

So I recently gave my daily driver a big birthday – including an absoluteBLACK oval chainring and wider bars.

Chainring
Two weeks in, I think the oval thing has well and truly stuck. I didn’t notice a huge difference – likely because I’ve been oval’ed on my MTB for a while now. However, the summary of my experience is:

  • Hills are still hard. Damn.
  • I can keep a cadence more easily – essentially if I’m riding flat and come to a hill, I can push a little longer before dropping gears
  • My hips and knees are very much less stressed
  • Standing and mashing pedals feels more effective
  • It’s a very bling bit of kit! The attention to detail is amazing.

So far, I’m really liking my family of notround chainrings. It’s safe to say the kool aid glass is empty here. I haven’t tested other oval chainrings to see if there are benefits to different ovality or clocking – but I’m so far very happy with absoluteBLACK’s design choices.

Wider bars

I’m pretty tall, at 187cm, and broad shouldered. Switching from 44 cm to 46 cm bars has been immediately noticeable – I can open my chest up more and breathe better! I’ve also noticed the extra leverage off road. It’s really nice to have that slightly wider lever when rattling along singletrack with a laptop in my backpack. Canberra – what a place to commute!

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Happy trails!

I’m pretty stoked on riding to work and back right now. Which is a nice place to be. Happy trails!

Happy birthday, Fuego del Fuego!

My Fuji Altamira CX 1.3 is just about 9 000 km old now. 8 700 officially on strava, and quite a few off the books – so not precisely 9000, but very nearly or maybe more.

So it’s time for a big birthday service! And a look at what 9 000 km of commuting and gravel riding does to a carbon fibre wonderbike with curly wurly bars. My pre-rebuild photo in the workstand came out blurry, so here’s one from out on the trail.

Commuting in Canberra
The Altamira CX 1.3 in fine form

Far from the highly tuned racing life this bike is made for, she’s (yes, it’s a girl!) been my daily driver – logging kilometres in all sorts of weather conditions, on all sorts of trail surfaces. I haven’t done any epically long rides, but with new slighly lower gearing coming that will probably change. So what’s happened to it over nearly 9000 km?

Drivetrain

The first part of the drivetrain to go was the bottom bracket. I replaced the SRAM unit with a wheels manufacturing/enduro BB set at about 3 500 km (after the first winter). The replacement is still spinning like the day it was installed, and has remained creak-free. It’s been through 3 chains – two KMCs and a shimano Ultegra chain that I threw on because I couldn’t get anything else at the time. All shifted acceptably on the SRAM cogs.

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Enduro/wheels manufacturing BB – it stays

 

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SRAM Force 1 chainring vs 9000 km

 

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Some pretty worn cogs.

The chainring and cassette have had an extraordinary life! I was expecting to change both at around 5 000 km. So well done SRAM, the 1170 cassette and Force CX chainring have gone the distance. The cranks have had no issues – no creaks, no oddness, just reliable transmission of power.

I should mention the clutched rear mech. This is a superb addition to a 1x drivetrain on what is essentially a rigid MTB-lite. SRAM were exactly on point transferring their mountain bike system to a cyclocross oriented group.

Frame and forks

Not much to say here. No cracks – only a few stone chips and and unfortunate loss of clearcoat after catching a nail in my rear tyre. I’ve had minor niggles with the headset vibrating loose, because the tensioning nut slips loose inside the carbon steerer. I’ve replaced the alloy topcap bolt with a steel one, so if I notice any play I can quickly and easily fix it. This is not surprising, given the rattling Fuego gets out on the trails. Headset bearings still smooth, no unusual wear on any internal surfaces. Good work, Fuji!

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Nails in tyres don’t make carbon frames happy. Fortunately just a clearcoat chip.

 

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Normally you only ever see Yoan Barelli’s CX bike from this angle! Undercarriage check, all good.

Wheels and tyres

The Oval 527s have been excellent. They still roll like new, no crunching or grinding. The rims are true and strong and easy to set up tubeless tyres on. I haven’t cracked the rear hub open before – it was nice to see clean grease in there. One minor niggle is that the drive side endcap works loose every now and then, which lets a little moisture in and contributes to minor corrosion on the axle (shown below). The freehub bearings could use replacing soon, although the main wheel bearings are still rolling like the day I built this bike. I replaced the rear wheel spokes with DT Alpine IIIs, because I mashed the drive side spokes with my chain at about 3000 km old. Since then, lots of abuse and no dramas at all.

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Inside the CX 527 hub. Rolling on a nice fat axle! Yes, those spokes are not the factory versions, they’re DT Alpine IIIs. Correct tools for the job. Bearings still rolling like a boss.

 

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3 pawls, nice and simple. The grease in here was still clean – but those bearings were not 100% happy.

Tyres – I’ve used a few sets. The OEM Challenge Grifos lasted about 1500km, then their replacement Vittoria GX Pro did around 2 000 km, then some Maxxis locusts for about another 1 000 km, some random cheap tyres just for fun for another 500 -1000km, and for the last 3500 km I’ve been using Vittoria Revolution city G+ tyres. These have been great for daily driving on all surfaces, even mountain bike tracks. I would not race CX on them and can’t run them tubeless, but I am very happy with 3 500 km and one puncture. Yes, just one! I’m looking forward to Vittoria’s new G+ semi slick CX tyres, but I’ll stay on the revolutions until then.

Cockpit, controls, brakes

I really, really like SRAMS exaggerated horns out front. When I’m riding down hills that are not made for CX bikes, I can stay confidently on the hoods or go to the drops – either way feels safe. The Oval bar tape has held up exceptionally well, and the 310 bars are still comfortable.

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Lots of hand on bar tape time – it’s held up well, and so have SRAM’s hoods.

 

Braking is still precise – I haven’t felt the need to bleed the brakes yet. Gear shifting is still precise, and I’ve finally stopped accidentally up shifting on the double tap or looking for something to rest my left fingers on.

My butt did not like the Oval Concepts 710 saddle, it was replaced early on with a Pro Condor – essentially a touring perch – which has been much more agreeable.

 

Upgrade time – what’s going on, what’s coming off

So now it’s time for a full drivetrain swap, what’s the program? Given the durability of the SRAM driveline, it’s another PG-1170 cassette in 11-28. I also really like the ratios used on this one. Up front is an absoluteBLACK 42t oval direct mount chainring. I’ve really liked how the oval ring has worked on my mountain bike, so I’m looking forward to some less stressed knees and hips on the daily driver.

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Oval 42 vs round 44.
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Close up – absoluteBLACK use a shorter, broader tooth. Let’s see how it goes.
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Direct mount – it’s pretty!
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Installed!

Also, dropping a couple of teeth from the front will open up new horizons. I’ve avoided long rides in the hills around Canberra simply because 44/28 is a hard ratio to push up a hill at the end of a long ride. I’m not brave enough to go much faster than I can pedal the current gears, so I’m pretty happy that I’ll be OK on the downhills too. Connecting them up is a SRAM red 22 chain.

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New cassette stacks are also pretty, especially this part. Worth appreciating before it gets hidden away.

New rotors and brake pads have been installed front and rear. The rear 140mm had a fair bit machined off it in 9 000 km. The front rotor is still safe to use, but it’s birthday time and I’ll keep the old one as a spare.

Finally, a new gear cable and housing is a good excuse for new bars! I wanted to go a little wider so I’ve gone from 44 cm Oval concepts 310 bars to 46cm Oval concepts 310 bars. I was happy with the stock bars, and they’re great value. The new bars also feel slightly lighter, have a deeper groove for cables, and a 4 degree outward sweep on the drops as well as the 4 degree sweep on the top. I’ve also used Oval concepts bar tape again, it was excellent.

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New 310s, 46cm

 

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All taped up! Job done.

Would I recommend this bike to my mother in law?

Oh yes I would!

 

Summary – 9 000 km of Altamira CX

This bike is designed for CX racing. It is very light, stiffer than the equivalent road version (far less buzz absorption in the seat stays), very quick handling, and strong. I’ve repurposed it as a daily drive/gravel grinder, and it has been truly amazing at that job as well – making commuting a lot more diverse and fun than it would otherwise have been. I really don’t know how I’d improve this bike – maybe put thru axles in, but I’ve never felt the need for more direct steering out on the trails. Very occasionally I get a small brake rub, which thru axles might help. But really, it’s been a no nonsense machine that is very capable and a lot of fun.

I’ve found the ride excellent, and the geometry really sorted – quick handling but not twitchy, stable at speed, and predictable in absolute rocky chunder.

I don’t ever catch the external brake hose (and to be honest, I prefer it there). As a ‘buy it and ride the hell out of it’ proposition, all the bits are in place on this machine. For the cash outlay, though, it’s what you would expect. If you can make the stretch to get a hold of one, it will take you further than a road bike should, while letting you travel the world efficiently and in style.

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Finished

Where can you buy it?

These beasties can be had from any Fuji dealer, or click and collect from the importer Oceania Bicycles. Unfortunately Oceania don’t have any 2017 CX bikes in the standard lineup, but you can get a great deal on remaining 2016 and 2015 models. And a brand new aluminium frame gravel ride is coming in – the Fuji Jari. These actually look pretty exciting as an all terrain, all the time cycle riding machine – and would tick the ‘can I tow trailers’ box that the Altamira CX is way too badass for.

Mine was supplied by Cycle Canberra – who can help you to source one too.

Disclaimers

When I built this bike I worked for Cycle Canberra, who sell Fuji bikes. I left in January 2016 because PhD = done! I’m not obliged to write anything either good or bad about Fuji products, and I’m not being paid by the shop to write about Fuji bikes. However – I do like to support people who support me, and Cycle Canberra still give me pro deals on parts.

I am on the absoluteBLACK ambassador program – so I am supposed to write about my experiences (good or bad) with them.

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.