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Friday, May 22, 2015

An All Road Bike

One great thing about riding remote roads is that many types of bikes work just fine.  You probably already have, or could borrow, a bike that would do.  I've ridden 100+ miles of gravel on a front suspension mountain bike, a rigid hybrid bike and a twitchy cyclocross bike.  At gravel events, I have seen all of those, as well as road bikes, full suspension mountain bikes, tandems, fat bikes and even a banana seat Schwinn Lemon Peeler with a 5 speed top tube stick shift.  Run what 'cha brung.  And have fun.

All that being said, the more you ride, the more you know what you like and what works for you.  For long rides on remote roads, I decided to build a bike that worked better for me than what was in my stable.  What follows is a general description of that bike and large doses of personal opinion of what works for me.  For better and worse, I deliberately selected each component and put it all together.  I even chose the light blue color to represent the expansive prairie sky.  It's spot on for me.

Simple, strong, durable.  Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike, fresh off a dusty ride.
 So, last year I built up a Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike specifically for long rides over rough roads, whether pavement, gravel, dirt or rock.  An all road bike.  I did not want a sluggish touring bike, or another road race bike, or another quick, highly maneuverable cyclocross bike, or another bomber mountain bike.   Rather, I wanted a road bike, with comfortable road manners, that could take me on regular paved roads, as well as remote rough roads and beyond, and then bring me back.  As such, the design criteria for the frame, fork, wheel set and every other component focused on long road ride comfort, durability and serviceability.  No catastrophic failures in the field requiring a rescue.

Mike Varley of Black Mountain Cycles designed this steel "monster cross" frame and fork around a 35 mm - 45 mm tire on 700c wheels.  For you mountain bikers, that's about 1.4" - 1.8", which is less than a standard 2.0" - 2.25" mountain bike tire, but much wider than standard 23 mm road tires and even UCI sanctioned 33 mm cyclocross tires.  The Black Mountain steel frame and fork I chose are designed for rim brakes, so I put on Shimano XT V-brakes pulled by Cane Creek drop bar levers.  That's plenty of braking power and modulation for this type of riding.  Yes, I purposely rejected a frame beefed up for disc brakes.  I prefer the smooth ride of a slender, gracefully curving steel fork made possible by the use of rim brakes.  The result here with the Black Mountain is one smooth ride, even on rough roads.

Front end ready for action, with clearance below for mud and above for lights and bags.
Consistent with my design criteria, I selected a strong wheel set with a wide rim profile:  Shimano 105 hubs laced with 32 spokes to H Plus Son Archetype rims.  These wheels are noticeably livelier and lighter than the Shimano Ultegra/Mavic CXP wheels on my cyclocross bike.  The 23 mm wide rim profile also flattens out the tire contact patch for those wide 35 mm - 45 mm tires, which further smoothes out the ride.  And 32 spokes?  I'm not about to go bouncing down a rock strewn, gutted dirt road, hours from any town, on some go-fast, low spoke count race wheels.  Just me.

For a lot of folks, that's a lot of spokes.  32.  And that's just the front wheel.
My all-purpose gravel tires are 38 mm Schwalbe Marathon Racers.  Marathons are pretty hefty, but the Racers are the lightest of the line, roll well and, most importantly, have excellent flat protection.  A set of 35 mm Schwalbe Kojaks, with the same flat protection but no tread, is on deck for later this summer.  No, I do not run tubeless road tires.  I just don't have flats on the Schwalbe's, even with my advanced mass, and I'll let that tubeless road technology sort itself out a bit.  I occasionally run 43 mm Bruce Gordon Rock 'n Roads for increased traction on really rough stuff, although they have significantly less flat protection and I have significantly less confidence in them.  Tubeless for the Rock 'n Roads is probably a good idea.

I chose a simple, strong, durable 2 x 9 drivetrain, with Shimano LX/XT derailers, a 50 x 34 compact road crank set and a 12 - 27 cassette.  This drivetrain is a proven survivor of nasty conditions, like the 2014 version of Odin's Revenge, where only I was one of only six finishers ahead of a long trail of broken chains and derailers.  Also, this gear range has proven to be more than enough gears for me on long gravel rides and events, including Odin's Revenge, Almanzo Royal and Dirty Kanza.  For the BackBone, I'll keep the 2 x 9, but will switch to an 11 - 34 cassette to gain a couple of easier gears, due to the length and difficulty of the route and the weight of all the additional food and gear.

Yes, that's a vintage top pull Shimano XT front derailer, which eliminates the necessity of wrapping shift cable around a low hanging pulley.  That's one less thing to clog, misfire, malfunction or break in muddy, gravelly conditions. 
For pedals, yes, this is a road bike, but it will take me places where sometimes I may have to walk a bit.  And I'm not about to walk on rough stuff on road style pedals with exposed cleats.  Time ATAC pedals have adorned all my mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes for 15 years, working flawlessly in all conditions, especially in mud.  Never an issue.  No reason to change.

Rivendell Silver bar end shifters fit the simple, durable, serviceable design focus, as do the Thompson seat post, collar and 4 bolt stem.  But, really, bar end shifters?  Yep.  I kept with the design focus and did not follow racing technology dictating lightening fast shifting.  Bar end shifters work in practically all conditions and will more likely survive mishaps that would take out shifters located on the brake levers.  Besides, as a confirmed single speeder for 15 years, I don't shift much.  As a bonus, the cable routing along the handle bars clears out the front end for lights and bags, and is one less thing to snag.

My other bikes are single speeds.  And this one may be one, too, after the BackBone.
A 44 mm Salsa Cowbell handlebar completes the build.  With its relatively short reach, shallow drop and slight flare, the Cowbell is simply the most comfortable road bike handlebar I have ever used.  Bar none.  Double wrap the bars around Cane Creek brake levers, add a silver Crane bell and the Black Mountain Cycles monster cross is set.

Simple, strong, durable.  Ready to go remote.  Let's ride.

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