Saturday, March 31, 2012

Endurance geometry...

There has to be a catch phrase, buzz word, feature/benefit for just about everything these days.  A new bike model was launched by one of the big bike companies this week.  I have no doubt that this is the type of bike 95% of the riders on the road should be riding.  However, the fact that this type of bike gets high praise is not rocket science.  Sure there all kinds of fancy-schmancy bits of technology that are engineered into the frame.  Actually, I'd bet that there was a fairly large team of engineers and brand managers who spent countless hours creating this ride.  And you're sure to be the cool kid on the Saturday morning ride when you show up on one of these (be prepared to spend more time talking about your new bike than riding it the first time).  

According to a report on, the company developed "prototypes with adjustable geometry..." and "eventually...decided to lengthen the wheelbase (using longer chainstays), decrease the head angle, increase fork rake, increase the seat tube angle and lower the bottom bracket."  According to the manufacturer's website, it took over two years to come up with this geometry.  Really?  Two years?

Yep, two years.  It's been well known for ages that longer stays, shallower head angle, and more fork offset (the two actually go hand-in-hand) produce a more stable, comfortable ride.  In the 80s Klein had a model called the Stage that had these attributes and was sold as a stage race machine - good for all day rides, day after day.  You know, stage racing.  However, the more popular model in the states was the Quantum - a quicker, faster handling bike.  I even had one.  For some reason, the states developed a taste for steep, quick handling road bikes.  

When I started the development of the current iteration of Masi, I found I was preferring frames with slacker head angles, more fork offset, lower bottom bracket, longer chainstays...  Essentially, a classic European geometry.  And now the American companies are finding that the classic geometry is more to folks' tastes.  I'm happy about it because my road frames have, get ready for this, longer chainstays, slacker head angle, more fork offset, more bottom bracket drop...yep, endurance geometry.  

There is one aspect of that bike bike company's new geometry I don't get:  steeper seat angle.  I'm a big fan of a shallower angle and you should be too.  Most people aren't super fast spinners and should be back a bit further (this is a generalization).  However, when I check out photos of the pro's bikes, it seems that their seats are always slammed back on the rails giving them a virtual slacker seat angle.  So, why don't the manufacturers build in a slacker seat angle?  Slamming the seat means that the rails hang off the back more giving you a longer lever on the rail resulting in more broken seat rails.  Go figure.

The new domain of the big bike company's fancy-schmancy, endurance geometry built frame also says it has clearance for bigger tires - 25s with fenders.  Which should also mean 28s without.  Oh, and you can pick up one of these new bikes now.  There are two models available - one for $11,896.47 (forty seven cents?) and one for $4,619.99.  Almost $12,000!  Yikes!  

Today, you can pick up a very sweet Black Mountain Cycles frame with endurance geometry (I hope they don't trademark that term), clearance for 28s with fenders or 33s without, and a full Ultegra group for about $3,000.  And if you order today, you'll get free brakes because my free brake deal goes through the end of this month and today is March 31.  

62cm Road Ultegra

(What's playing:  KWMR)


Friday, March 30, 2012

From QRs to hub adjustment...

A comment yesterday on the quick release post got me to revisit another subject I had been meaning to write about.  What had originally inspired me to write about this was a new tool I received.  Anyone who has used the Park axle vise knows what I'm talking about when I say that even the "heavy duty" axle vise is barely tolerable, even when brand new.  There are aspects about it that are usable (pedal jaws and solid axle hubs) which is why I keep one around.  However, the J.A. Stein hub axle vise blows away everything else. 

I used to frequent a forum or two.  Used to.  I did it and contributed because I thought I had something to offer.  Not that I claim to know everything or be a bike expert, but I know a thing or two.  One thing I do know is how to adjust a bicycle hub that uses loose bearings between cones and races.  I recall on one forum someone asked about proper hub adjustment.  I commented on the proper method and technique and promptly another forum member claimed I was wrong.  Now, I'll admit when I'm not correct, but in this instance, it just wasn't true.  I think that was a turning point where my interest in these forums and contributing useful information began to wane.  

Yesterday, James posted a comment on the Quick Release post asking if it was possible to over-tighten the quick release on loose ball type hubs, thereby compressing the cones and axles and rendering a perfectly smooth feeling hub bearing too tight.  The answer to that is yes, but not if this type of hub is properly adjusted.  

What is the proper adjustment to a loose-ball hub?  The proper adjustment to a loose-ball hub is to adjust the bearings with a slight bit of play when the hub is out of the frame.  That play in the bearing is removed when the hub quick release is engaged.  If the hub is adjusted so there is no play when it is out of the frame (or fork), the bearings will be over-tight when clamped into the bicycle and on its way to prematurely wearing out.  All new hubs out of the box are adjusted like this.  However, there is a bit of break in with new hubs so it's best to readjust after a few rides.  Higher end hubs don't have as much break-in as a lower end hub.  This has to do with the higher quality of bearing used and the higher degree of precision used in the machining of the cones and races. 

The J.A. Stein hub axle vise makes this adjustment a breeze.  With a standard hub axle vise like the Park version, to get the adjustment perfect, you adjust the hub in the axle vise, remove, install the quick release, install in frame, verify there is no play, and potentially remove and readjust.  Pain in the ass.  The Stein tool allows all this to be done with the wheel in the vise in one step.  Time saved.  Better hub adjustment.  Longer life in your hub.  

The Stein tool also doesn't wear out after 20 hub adjustments like the Park tool.  The Stein tool is also incredibly simple with just two steel parts and your own quick release.  The quick release is fit through the washer-like part then though the hub and then threaded into the t-shaped piece that is then clamped into the vise.  With all these parts installed, the quick release can then be clamped down simulating the hub clamped into the bicycle.  The adjustment is made with the qr clamped down.  When the adjustment is made in this configuration, you get a perfectly smooth, no bearing play adjustment is achieved.  This is one tool I really like and use a lot.  

The T-shaped part is to the left.  The washer-like part is installed on the qr skewer.

The whole thing installed and held in place in the vise.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Quick, release...

Everyone knows the story.  It was November, high in the Dolomites.  On the snowy Croce D' Aune Pass, Tullio Campagnolo's frozen fingers failed him in his need to loosen the wing nuts on his race bike as he attempted to remove his wheel to flip it to the other side for a different gear.  His failure and time lost resulted in his moving from first place to finishing in fourth.  It was reported he stated "bisogno cambiĆ  qualcossa de drio."  Translated:  "something has to change in the rear."  A few years later, the quick release axle skewer, and hence, the hollow hub axle, was patented and released for sale.  

The Campagnolo skewer became the standard.  When people asked how much force should be used to secure the quick release, the answer was "you should be able to read "Campagnolo" in your palm."  There was never any doubt that your wheel was secure when using a Campy QR.  And by using the same clamping force with a Shimano quick release, you were assured a solid wheel connection to your frame and fork.

Then sometime in the early '90s the in-line quick release became popularized.  The Salsa quick release was a collaboration between Salsa Cycles and Cunningham Applied Technology.  It worked well, it was light, it was available in different colors, and, because it was easier to produce, it displaced the enclosed cam type quick release on all but the lower-end bikes.  It also needed more frequent servicing (lubing the pivot) than the enclosed cam QR.  There is some very good information on the quick release skewer on Sheldon Brown's site that I don't need to duplicate here. 

I build a lot of wheels with Shimano hubs.  In addition to being great hubs that are long lasting and easily serviced, you also get a set of outstanding Shimano quick release skewers.  When I build wheels with the other hubs I like (White Industries and Chris King), quick release skewers are not included.  My first choice for a QR used in conjunction with these great hubs is always a Shimano QR.  Second choice is a Salsa Flip-Off, but not when used with a horizontal dropout.  If you're running horizontal drop outs, make sure you are running an internal cam QR, such as Shimano, to ensure the wheel doesn't slip under hard pedal efforts.  

There's also something that just feels right about operating a Shimano quick release.  The cam action is smooth.  When you close the lever, you know the wheel is secure.  The edges of the lever are rounded and comfortable to your hand.  I can't say enough about how great this lever works.  It belongs on more bikes and more people need to get over their weight weenie tendencies in choosing a skewer that is meager at best.  I have Shimano quick releases on my main riders.  I do have Salsa skewers on some bikes that have rigid forks and vertical dropouts.

The wing-nut.  Just in cast no one has ever seen one on a bike.  They disappeared years ago.

The venerable Campagnolo quick release.

What your palm is supposed to look like after clamping a Campagnolo QR with proper tension.

I'm not even sure how these even make good sense.  They're light, but that's about it.

One of my favorite Shimano quick releases.

The old Mavic quick releases were also a nice alternative that did save a little weight at the same time they held your wheels securely.

The original Salsa quick release before the nylon or plastic piece was added.  This more accurately represents what was created with Charlie Cunningham as his quick releases don't have the plastic interface, yet are very accurate and clamp properly.

Cunningham 2
The Cunningham quick release.

The plastic insert of some in-line quick release that has been mashed to the point it doesn't to its job as well as it could.

A nice line-up of Shimano hubs and Shimano quick releases doin' that thing they do so well.

(What's playing:  Iggy Pop Lust For Life)

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Blu-Ner...

Charlie Cunningham's bikes have always been uniquely unique.  They are a reflection of him.  When you bought a bike from Charlie, you were buying into his methodology, his concept of what the ideal mountain bike should be.  You agreed with his thoughts on how we should treat the land.  How riding mountain bikes on single-track trails is a sign of respect for the land.  You agreed with his concept of form follows function.  His bikes performed like Swiss watches.  

Charlie's bikes did not look like every other mountain bike on the market.  A lot of them were built with drop handlebars more commonly found on road bikes.  His bikes has strange brakes that he made himself.  Charlie fiddled and modified almost every part on his personal bikes to make the part perform better.  Everything Charlie did to his bikes or parts was done for a reason relating to function.  Sometimes, that function meant that the part looked cobbled together and that turned off some people.  Some people want the same thing everyone else does.  Sheep.  

This bike represents the sheep people and their desire for a bike just like every other balloon tired bike available in 1982.  The story goes that this bike was requested to have more in common with other mountain bikes at the time.  It also sports more subdued decals compared to the tradition large, Helvetica "Cunningham" that adorns most other top tube.  Virtually all of Charlie's frames were unpainted.  The blue paint on this one was very close in color to the first year Specialized Stumpjumper.  The bike's name (the Blu-Ner is a mix of "blue" and "ballooner").  Even though the frame was made in 1982, it wasn't sold until a year or so later, hence the later components.  If this was built in 1982, it probably would have had Mafac tandem cantilevers, Suntour derailleurs, and Sugino cranks.  

This bike came to me to be rebuilt with parts from the era.  The original owner had installed Shimano XTR M950 series parts.  The plan was to build the bike back up with Mafac cantis, Suntour derailleurs and shifters, Magura brake levers, and Specialized riser bar.  Between the time the bike arrived here and I got to work on it, the new owner had been in communication with the original owner and all the original components were found and sent over to me.  The bike is now complete with original parts, including cables and housing.  Only the shift cables were replaced, but the brake cables and straddle cables are original to this bike.

The bike as it arrived with XTR components.

After the original parts were reunited with the frame.





Bob Reedy BMX pedals from the late '70s.




Type I fork with the rare "Cunningham O Potts" decal.


Front der mod
Modified front derailleur - oversized 31.8 front derailleurs were rare in 1982.  This Suntour front derailleur has had the clamp modified to fit around a 31.8 seat tube (from its original 28.6 size) and the bolt was bent to accommodate the larger curvature.

Original Oakley B-1B grips




(What's playing:  Raul Malo Every Little Thing About You)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Frame sizing...

Recently I sold a frameset to a Bay Area resident.  He's also a member of an on-line bicycle related group.  After he picked up the frame and set about building it, he sent me the link of this review of the frame.  The summary of his first ride report was summed up with these two words:  "Pure win."  Works for me and thank you!

Further down the comment list to this post, there were comments about frame sizing and wishing I would have made frames in 2cm increments instead of 3cm.  I would have preferred to do that as well, but I couldn't afford to have produced that many frames and stock that many sizes, initially.  I may make some changes in the future.  It is wise to start off small and modestly.  

Regarding the sizing and how frames are sized, it's all over the board and I do agree there should be some consistency.  There is, however, consistency in the main dimension that I am most interested in how a bike fits me:  top tube length.  Effective top tube length, that is, since most frames these days have sloping top tubes.  Back when all frames had horizontal top tubes, frame sizing was center-to-top or center-to-center.  That's center to the top of the top tube or center to the center of the top tube.  However, as soon as top tubes started sloping, there was no one consistent angle to the sloping top tube and frame size numbers started receding.  

During this time of shortening seat tubes, I still rode a frame with a top tube length at least 60cm long.  I personally don't mind if my frame has a horizontal or sloping top tube - as long as my three contact points (seat, bottom bracket, handlebar) are where I need them.  Well, where I need them without going to extreme measures to get them there.  On a road bike, I'll use between a 12cm and 14cm stem and usually a 300-350mm length seat post with an inch of offset. 

Even though the standard size determination on frames through the horizontal top tube years was the c-t dimension (center to top of top tube), when I created a complete line of frames that featured sloping top tubes for Masi years ago, I kept the c-t size designation by designing the frames based around a theoretical horizontal top tube, even though the top tube sloped and the actual size was smaller.  It made sense to me.  

Now that I have my own frames, I called out the sizes based to the actual length of the seat tube, center-to-top of seat tube.  The top tubes have about a 2 degree slope to them so the traditional center-to-top of top tube dimension yields a smaller frame.  On all the frames, there is 25mm of seat tube extending above the top tube.  So, if you want a c-t dimension, subtract 2.5cm from my frame size.  I ride the 62.  The c-t dimension would be 59.5.  However, saying that it's a 59 (rounding down) gives a false impression of the actual size of the bike when it's not taken along with the top tube length (605 in this case).  It's my decision.  I try to make sure it's clear by spelling out that the size is the length of the seat tube.  

Recently, some folks have tried to create a new method of sizing a frame:  Stack and Reach.  This system cares not if your top tube slopes.  If you know your ideal stack and reach, then it's simply a matter of picking the frame size based on the closest stack and reach to your bike fit.  I've thought about including stack and reach in my geometry chart and may add it at some point, but definitely will include it with any new frames I bring to market.  

While pondering this post, I composed a little visual based on three frame drawings of what is, essentially, the same frame size.  The only difference is the length of the seat tube and therefore what the size of the frame may be considered.  Even with fairly significant changes in the frame "size" (seat tube length), the Stack and Reach remain exactly the same.

horizontal tt stackreach
This drawing shows a frame with a horizontal top tube and a seat tube of 60cm center-to-center.  Stack is 603.3mm, reach is 415.1mm.  

2d slope tt stackreach
This frame is sporting a 2 degree sloping top tube (like my frames).  Seat tube is now 580cm.  Stack and reach remain unchanged.

sloping tt stackreach
This next one has a more dramatic slope to the top tube.  Seat tube of what was a 60cm c-c frame is now down to 54cm and the actual top tube length has been reduced by 16mm.  Stack and reach are unchanged.  

What I'm seeing when I see these images are dramatically shortened tubes.  Lopping 16mm off a top tube and 60mm off a seat tube can result in some decent weight savings.  Hmmmm...not that I'm a weight weenie, but ...

Friday, March 9, 2012

650b conversions...

Seems, the way it's being reported, that 650b is set to take over the world (or a small slice of it) this next year. I think the segment that's being targeted is a good one. Not 100% sure what that segment is called these days. It seems that with every 20mm increase in suspension travel, there's a new name for that type of bike. I digress.

The bike industry is looking at longer travel bikes and figuring that 26" wheels are dead, 29" wheels are too big to fit into long travel suspension designs. Ah, let's create, not only a new niche, but let's fit it with a "new" wheel size. Always looking for that edge, the bike industry is. Looking for the next new thing. That's also a good thing. The industry is being driven by innovation. That's where the money is. The money is not in maintaining the status quo of 1980's bicycle technology.

So, where was I? Oh yeah, 650b conversions. With 650b more on the radar of bike geeks, there are more and more who seem to want to convert their 26" wheeled mountain bike to 650b. Breathe new life into the old girl, so to speak. This can be good or bad. Good if you have a frame that has clearance for larger diameter wheels. Bad because the larger wheels will raise the bottom bracket (which could be good if you ride in a super rocky/rooted area) and makes you feel like you are high up in the air.

Maybe not everyone will feel like you are perched up on a sky cycle. If you are of average height, it might not be so bad. At 6'3", I already have the feeling I'm pedaling with my head in the clouds sometimes. I converted a 26" wheeled bike to 650b a while back. On my first ride, I almost fell over when I came to a stop. I went to touch my toe to the ground, but the ground wasn't there. Just that increase in height with the larger wheel caused me to have to relearn my way around the bike and where the ground was. I did feel like I was sitting up much higher. It wasn't crazy bad and I did get used to it. Maybe you will too. I eventually sold that frame and built up a frame that was designed around a dedicated 650b wheel. I like how it rides a lot. I also like how my 26" wheel bikes ride and I like how my 29" wheeled bike rides. I just like riding bikes. I would probably draw the line at a mountain bike with wheels smaller than 26", however.

Where am I going with this? I don't know. I just wanted to create a fifth post so I could have one post for each day of this week. I don't think I've ever written five in a row. And I think I'm going to build up some 650b wheels in the coming week for folks who want to try converting their bikes to 650b. I've got a bunch of Velocity Blunt and Synergy rims in stock and a stack of Shimano XT 6-bolt rotor hubs that will make nice wheels. I've also got 650b tires from Kenda and Pacenti.

retrotec 007
Here's a 650b conversion I did on a Retrotec a while back.

Here's the frame I converted to 650b several years ago.

This is the Rawland Sogn I rode for a while before selling to a friend. I really liked this bike and the ability to go between 650b x 2.3 and 700 x 45. Super versatile and comfortable. And it rode great.

(What's playing: Tom Waits Heigh Ho)

Thursday, March 8, 2012


What's this? Four days this week so far and four posts? Let the roll continue with some titanium on this Thursday. This Merlin came to the shop a while back to get a new Steve Potts Type II fork. The plan was to also convert it to a single-speed bike. When it came in, it had a heavily customized RockShox Judy fork. Customized in that the lowers were carbon fiber and it had a very cool carbon brake bridge. The problem with this is the frame was made well before suspension forks hit the market and replacing the original rigid fork with a much taller suspension fork produced "chopper-like" handling.

A plan was hatched. The owner was happy with the location of the bars in relation to the seat with the taller fork. The Judy has a bolt-on crown which allowed me to drop it down the stanchion tubes and replicate the position of the new, proper length, Type II fork. Then we could create a new stem position with a Salsa fit-finder adjustable stem that matched the current fit.

After getting all that dialed in, we came up with a stem that needed to be 25 degrees x 150mm. I took the stem dimensions to Steve Potts for a new custom titanium stem. It just so happens that 25 degrees is the maximum angle Steve can create based on the extension tube diameter and the height of the Paragon Machine Works stem parts.

Fast forward several months now and all the parts are ready. The changes to the bike, in addition to the Type II fork and ti stem, included adding a front Avid BB7 disc brake, the new Jones cut H-Bar, Paul Love Levers, new King ISO disc front hub and overhauled rear King Classic hub laced to Velocity Synergy rims, 34t Salsa ring, Soulcraft chain tensioner, and a new Phil Wood bottom bracket axle.

img 233
The before picture (it's the one in the front).

Merlin single speed
The after picture (the steerer was trimmed with 10mm of spacers under the stem).

Type II
New Type II fork with Avid BB7 disc brake.

Soulcraft chain tensioner. We could have gone with a White Industries Eno Eccentric hub, but the bike already had the King hub and fixing the hub in one location means the brakes are always dialed perfectly to the rim.

Jones Potts
Potts stem with the Jones bar.

Paul Jones
Jones H-Bar with Paul Love Levers for canti brakes. More on the brakes - the rear brake is a WTB Speedmaster roller-cam brake which requires the cable pull of a canti lever. This brake was paired with Avids BB7 road disc caliper which has similar cable pull requirements to the roller-cam.

Cook Bros Racing
Cook Bros. Racing cranks in single-speed mode. The original bottom bracket axle was 128mm. This gave a much too wide chainline. I replaced it with a Phil Wood 17mm x 113mm axle to get a really dialed chainline and a much narrower crank q-factor.

Soulcraft tensioner and a King cog.

Fresh bearings
There's a couple of fresh bearings newly pressed into the bottom bracket shell.

(What's playing: Louden Wainwright III Number One)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

March frame special...

I thought I would come up with some sort of March special since folks seemed to appreciate the February tire frame special. After going off the deep end (maybe it wasn't so deep) on the subject of brakes last month, I thought "brake special." And that's what the Black Mountain Cycles March frameset or complete bike special is: free brakes!

Details - for the month of March, if you purchase a Black Mountain Cycles cross or road frame, you'll get a free set of brakes. Pick up a road bike and you'll get yourself a set of Tektro R539 brake calipers in black or silver. That there, readers, is about a $70 value.

If the cross frame/bike is what you are after, you'll get a a bike's worth of canti brakes; either the Tektro CR720 or Avid Shorty 4, your choice. This is about a $60 - $65 deal, so to make it even with the road special, I'll also throw in the steerer tube mounted cable hanger so that you can run your canti brakes properly.

There, those two deals are about even-steven. That's it. Have a great Wednesday. Call me, email me, or come on in to the shop for your new frameset or bike!

Jack Brown 33
The Tektro road caliper mounted to the road frame.

Bruce's Bike 003
Tektro CR720 mounted to the cross frame (orange cross frames are sold out. Brown only)

Ken's Bike 013
I can't find a photo of a bike w/ the Avid Shory 4. These are the Shorty 6 brakes. The arms are the same, but with more of a matte finish and the pads are not cartridge type pads, which is a nice feature and is found on the Tektro CR720.

(What's playing: KWMR Hump Day)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

You say you want a fat tire road bike...

Over the past week, I've seen several things posted on the interwebs that proclaim fat tire road bikes are coming to a bike shop near you. They are already here at Black Mountain Cycles. Been hear for over a year and I've been putting in miles on these for a few years.

The Black Mountain Cycles frame is here and it will fit your fat tires. These arrived just over a year ago. The supply is still good. This one will be heading to its new home down south in San Mateo County this weekend. It's a great looking bike. The new owner had it built up with a little creativity in choosing my #1 Cross Build and then upgrading the hubs to silver, change the brakes to fit the road frame, change the bars to Nitto Mod. 177/Noodle, change the stem to a silver Cane Creek 100, and build it with as many silver parts as possible. It turned out really nice looking. Simple, understated, and ready to hit some mixed-terrain rides.

59cm Road

Nitto Mod. 177 Noodle

White Industries
The new owner has his own set of quick release levers. These black ones were used to keep the wheels in place during the build.

Jack Brown 33
Clearance, Clarence. If I would have shot this shot from a little lower, it would have shown the true (more) clearance with the 33mm Jack Brown tires installed.

(What's playing: The Beatles Good Morning Good Morning)