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.

919 km of absolute black ovalness

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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

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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.

 

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.