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Saturday, November 26, 2016

An Overhaul (part 5) - Brakes and Shifters

The brakes and shifters on my gravel bike are not the latest, greatest, gotta-have, gee whiz-bang shindigs.  To the contrary, these simple, durable, old school components just work well in most conditions.  They have never left me stranded out in the sticks and are unlikely to do so.  Eventually, they will wear out.  Let's see how they're faring.

Keeping it simple.  Simple brake levers, rim brakes and friction bar end shifters.  No worries.
Brakes (Shimano XT V-brakes/Cane Creek 287V levers).  Like the front derailleur, I pulled this set of XT V-brakes off my old Torelli cyclocross bike when converting to cantilevers.  For well over ten years, they collected dust in my parts bin before recalled for deployment on this gravel bike.  Teamed up with Cane Creek 287V levers, these V-brakes have provided all the power and modulation I've ever needed for rough road riding.

On close inspection, the calipers show some age, but still function without flaw.  The springs and pivots look good and move right.  Maybe I'll look for an upgrade to a set of Paul Components or other higher end rim brakes next time around.  This time, with some minor buffing, these V-brake calipers go back on.

Simple Shimano XT V-brakes, about 15 years old, or so.
The brake levers have weathered more than a few mishaps, but have never malfunctioned.  As one who rides on the hoods most of the time, I find these levers comfortable for long rides.  If I had to replace them, which I don't, I'd buy the same set again.

So, for the brakes, I'll replace the pads, run new cables and housing, and expect many more miles of comfortable, confident braking.

Rivendell Silver friction bar end shifters.  Move the lever, move the derailleur.  Simple.

Shifters (Rivendell Silver Bar End).  If the square taper bottom bracket somehow escaped attention, the friction (!?!?!) bar end shifters scream "RetroGrouch!"  For the younger crowd, with friction shifting, one slides a lever to find the desired gear, rather than punching a lever to precisely click into a specific gear.  Think playing a trombone, rather than a trumpet.  Admittedly not lightening fast, these shifters define versatility and perform well in all sorts of nasty conditions.  I like them and will put them back on, along with a fresh set of new cables and housing.

All told, these brakes and shifters have worked as intended and should continue to do so for the foreseeable future, with regular maintenance and replacement of cables, housing, and pads.  I love it when a plan comes together.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

An Overhaul (part 4) - Drivetrain

Other than multiple flats, catastrophic failure of the drivetrain is probably the most common mechanical deal breaker in a gravel race.  Rear derailleurs and chains are particularly vulnerable to jams and breaks from the small, odd-shaped chunks of gravel that can travel with muddy soil.  And the rest of the drivetrain is far from immune.

I focus on prevention by prioritizing durable components, frequent maintenance and careful operation in adverse conditions.  That is, I choose heavier (not race light and not carbon) components, clean off any accumulation of anything, and stop pedaling when something doesn't sound or feel right.  Sure, I've broken stuff, but this approach has carried me through many messy miles, including the infamous 2014 Odin's Revenge 180 mile gravel race, where only six racers finished ahead of a long, muddy trail of broken bikes, parts and dreams.  (Yes, I passed a fellow racer holding up a broken carbon frame.)  Now that this drivetrain is disassembled and really clean, let's see how it's held up after all those miles.

Damage assessment after the first Minimum Maintenance Road at the 2014 Odin's Revenge.
That was it for some racers, over 150 miles of rough roads short of the finish.  (photo by Scott Redd)
Rear Derailleur (Shimano Deore LX).   Even cleaned up and polished a bit, this rear derailleur looks like it's been through some medieval battles.  Scuffs and scratches abound.  But, more importantly, the main spring, joints and pulleys look solid, feel good and move right.  I don't have to do much of anything with this derailleur.  Remarkable.  It's going right back on.

Front Derailleur (Shimano XT Top Pull).  Practically new when pulled off my old Torelli cyclocross bike in a single speed conversion, this front derailleur is elegantly simple and functional.  The top pull design allows the shift cable to run along the top tube and down the seat tube directly into the derailleur.  No need to run the cable below the derailleur, around a pulley and back up, as required by a bottom pull derailleur.  That's one less spot to collect mud and debris that can cause failure.  Cleaned up and polished a bit, this derailleur looks and works great.  Back on it goes.

Go ahead, call me a curmudgeon.  I am not removing the front derailleur for a 1X drivetrain, which inflicts considerably greater lateral forces on the often gunked up chain as it moves across the breadth of the now necessary wide range cassette.  I know experienced cyclists who love their 1X drivetrain for this application and that's great.  It's certainly the trend and may be the wave.  But I like closer spacing in mid-range gears.  I also know from years of single speeding how little a chain wears when the drive line between the chain ring and cog is always perfectly straight, and how much greater a chain wears even when properly operating a 3X drivetrain, let alone a 2X.  Cranking through gunk with a chain torqued from a single chain ring to a 36, 42 or even larger cassette cog does not fit my design criteria for this bike.

Functional, durable, serviceable.  Choose all three.
 Cassette/Chain (Shimano Ultegra 12-27/SRAM 971).  Yes, I still run 9 speed, mostly on the relatively close gear range of a 12-27 cassette and occasionally on a 11-34.  That's plenty of gears, especially for this curmudgeon whose other bikes are all single speed or fixed.  So, I don't need to even address the relative merits of 10 or 11 speed systems.  Although this Ultregra cassette would not make Guitar Ted's page of #bikeshophorrors, it's worn enough to warrant replacement.  This time, I'm moving to an even more road-like, closer range 13-25 cassette, to close down a couple of mid-range gaps.  I can always switch to that 11-34 for a long ride with particularly steep, technical climbs or for a bike packing trip.  With a new cassette, I'll put on a new chain, since I replace the chain about once a year anyhow.

Crankset/Chainrings (FSA 50/34).  The crankset and chainrings take some serious work just to get clean, even with a chemical assist.  Whoa.  Those rings are beat.  I'm surprised I haven't experienced chain skips or drops.  And that basic crankset, never pretty to begin with, simply will not clean up or polish up.  I could install some new chain rings on that dowdy crankset.  Instead, I'm replacing the whole enchilada with a Velo-Orange Grand Cru crankset with 48/34 chain rings.  Much better.

The right crankset for this bike.
Pedals (Time ATAC Alium).  I like Time ATAC pedals.  I have ridden, raced, commuted, toured and goofed with various versions of ATACs on every type of bike since my first pair in 2001.  They are functional, durable and mudophilic.  Once the cleats are worn in a little, they engage effortlessly without a thought and disengage only when truly needed.  Not so great in the snow, but clipless pedals just aren't.  This three year old pair no longer looks new.  In fact, they look pretty rough.  But I don't see anything wrong functionally to warrant replacement.  Their track record carries them back on this bike.

Bottom Bracket (Shimano UN55).  Nothing says "retrogrouch" quite like a threaded, square taper bottom bracket.  However, nothing says durable, dependable, serviceable and replaceable quite like one, either.  Once committed to square taper, the alternatives to Shimano's best are limited to high end offerings costing several times as much from the likes of Phil Wood and White Industries.  I tried the White Industries bottom bracket on my single speed mountain bike a few years ago.  It exploded within a year of moderate use and left me walking out on an important ride.  Not doing that again.  This one is barely broken in.  Back on it goes.

In sum, I'm replacing the cassette, chain, crankset and chain rings, but not the rear derailleur, front derailleur, pedals or bottom bracket.  I think that's doing pretty well for all those rough miles.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

An Overhaul (part 3) - Wheels and Tires

The overhaul of my Black Mountain Cycles gravel bike moves to wheels and tires.  When I built up this bike in early 2014, I simply put on a spare cyclocross wheel set from my parts bin.  The aging Shimano Ultegra hubs still spun smoothly, but the Mavic CX rims were road-bike narrow, relatively heavy and pretty beat up from years of single speed cyclocross abuse.  So, about a year ago, I upgraded to wider, tubeless compatible H Plus Son Archetype rims laced to Shimano 105 hubs.  Really nice new.  Looks good for this application.  Let's take a closer look at these wheels after about 4,000 rough miles.

After a thorough cleaning, I scrutinize each wheel on a truing stand.  No wobbles.  No dips.  Just a couple of minor tweaks per wheel to return them to true.  I'm pleasantly surprised that these rims remain practically spot on, given the pounding they have endured.  The hubs spin nicely and the spokes are undamaged.  Functionally, these wheel are ready to roll.

Final inspection by Mila, a particularly persnickety cat.
Aesthetically, the modestly deep rims proudly display their hard earned miles.  OK, they look a little beat up.  I first spend some energy on the brake surfaces, scrubbing off embedded lines of stubborn, sticky residue with a degreaser soaked brush.  That helps.  But the side walls of the rims need more attention.  I reach into the restoration tool kit to pull out an old can of NEVER-DULL Wadding Polish.  That's the ticket.  It takes a couple of episodes of "The Rifleman" on a quiet Saturday morning to work through both wheels to buff up that shine.  Looks better than new to me, with a few resilient scratches remaining to honor those challenging miles.

All dressed up, just waiting for some new shoes.
On to the tires, I switched to tubeless 40 mm Schwalbe G-Ones in March and could not be more pleased.  For my type of riding, they are the Goldilocks blend of comfort, control, flat protection and durability.  Now, after over 3,000 miles, the knobs on the centerline are essentially gone and those on the edges are almost.  When removing the tires, I find some sealant remaining, but cannot see how.  The front tire has a large gash from a broken bottle encounter, along with several thorns still sticking through.  The rear tire has two smaller gashes and more thorns than I count.  Somehow, they both still hold air, although those gashes probably explain why I can not keep tire pressure above 40 psi.  I order replacements.

Schwalbe G-One tire seated on a H Plus Son Archetype rim.  Now, that's a match.
This combination of rims and tires easily sets up tubeless in a few moments with just a floor pump, even for this recent convert.  No more work than old school tubes.  Here's to the next few thousand miles.

Addendum.  I'm open to offers, preferably a trade for something unique, for a pair of barely used 45 mm Bruce Gordon Rock 'n Roads.  Many like those tires, but they're not for me.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

An Overhaul (part 2) - Frame and Fork

It's no secret that I love my Black Mountain Cycles gravel bike.  For the rough road riding I enjoy, it's   a magnificent fusion of form and function.  Hard to imagine anything better for me.

Now, after over 30 months and 12,000 miles of rough roads in all kinds of conditions, it's time for a complete overhaul of everything.  That includes the frame and fork.  So, I carefully remove the components, then scrub the bare frame and fork with a soapy toothbrush.  Next, a close inspection.  I hope to find no structural damage, but know full well the history of all those miles.

There's a keeper.
Relief.  I discern no cracks, dings, bends or other post-fabrication structural modifications.  The frame and fork look good.  Very good.  Good for another 12,000 miles at least.

I spot a couple of superficial issues.  The underside of the down tube appears, at first, to have suffered a substantial number of paint chips.  However, almost all turn out to be grimy splotches of petroleum-based somethings that eventually clean off with the right solvent and some elbow grease.  I did find a half dozen or so actual paint chips, primarily on the frame on the drive side chain stay near the crank set.  That's not unexpected nor uncommon.  I patch those with hobby store enamel.

I also find some paint rub where the Revelate Designs frame pack contacts the frame, but only enough to slightly dull the paint in a small area in a few places.  "That's just normal wear and tear, dude."

The graceful curve of a steel fork helps smooth out those rough roads.
No need to replace this frame or fork.  Not yet.  But if I did, it would be for the current monster cross from Black Mountain Cycles.  Mike Varley recently tweaked this beauty by slightly increasing the fork offsets and the head tube height, adding a third set of water bottle bosses, and changing to a Pacenti fork crown with even greater tire clearance.  A fine bike refined.

I'd like a new one just to hang on the wall, although not riding it would be a crying shame.  So, no new gravel frame or fork for me.

Addendum 1.  I did not remove the Velo-Orange Grand Cru head set.  There's really not much to do with this, other than clean it up a bit and confirm that it's working properly.  Again, no issues here.

Addendum 2.  This is a rim brake only, steel frame and fork, which for me is a major advantage in ride quality.  I do not find disc brakes or carbon anything to be an upgrade, contrary to conventional marketing.  But that's beyond the scope of this post.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

An Overhaul (part 1) - It's Time

For over 30 months now, my beloved Black Mountain Cycles gravel bike has faithfully carried me thousands of miles on every sort of road in all kinds of conditions.  Daily commutes, weekend explorations, all day and into the night races, sub-24 hour and multi-day bike packing trips, Black Hills BackBone reconnaissance and attempts, and just tool-around town rides.  So capable.  So comfortable.  Such a joy.

I built up this bike from the frame precisely for that type of riding, selecting each component with a priority on function, durability and serviceability, and I maintain it with care and attention.  However, eventually regular maintenance is not enough.  After about 12,000 mostly rough miles, that eventuality is now.  Time for an overhaul.  A complete, everything-off-the-frame overhaul.  Each component I'll remove, clean, inspect, replace if needed, and consider for upgrade.  Let's see what's really holding up.

Tested and proven road worthy.  Time to refresh.