Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Prophet V 3.0

This September my mountain bike turned ten years old.  I remember the day I bought it, back in September of 2005.  I got it from  Big Shark Bicycles in Saint Louis, MO, and my wife and I would visit the Cannondale factory in Bedford, PA that October.  There we got to see Cannondale mountain, road, and commuter bikes being built by hand in America.  It was an impressive sight to see!  And I was excited to see the facility that created the many Cannondales I've owned over the years.

Since then, Cannondale has been purchased by a global sport conglomerate, and that factory was closed, with the firm opting to move production to Vietnam.  Simultaneously, the bike industry has also seen prices for their products quadruple in the past four years, with some bikes retailing for over ten thousand dollars.  And this is for products that are mass produced in south east Asia. 

I'm bringing all this up, because over the past year or so, I've been thinking about getting a new bike.  However the combination of financial constraints, along with romantic ideas surrounding my existing hand built bike made me strongly reconsider purchasing a new bike.  That is, I'd spend more to get a new bike that was probably "less than" the bike I was currently riding.  But there were features coming on new bikes that I definitely wanted.  Over the course of a few months and a little bit of research, I'd find out that these  features could be purchased for the fraction of a new bike.

The new parts I were interested in including a 1x ("one by") drive train and a dropper seatpost.  The 1x drive trains were an innovation of SRAM.  During a test ride a year ago on a high end mountain bike featuring their XX1 brand drive train I got to see first hand that it provided ratios low enough to climb trails in Steamboat Springs, CO.  I was really looking to change over  to this style of drive train for a few reasons.  One of the reasons was simplicity. 

The removal of the front derailleur would also eliminate the front shifter on the left side of the handlebar, improving through simplification the "user interface".  I noticed even on a demo bike that I was no longer thinking about shifting.  With a 2x or 3x system, you're often thinking about what combinations of gears you should be running between the front chain ring and rear cogs.  I noticed on the demo bike equipped with a 1x drive train that all of that thinking just didn't need to happen.  You shifted up or down on one shifter.  That's it.  Easier user interface and more thought going toward the ride.  Or less thinking!  Either case is a better deal.

With this in mind I started looking into the SRAM 1x drivetrains that were available, but I found them to be overly expensive.  So, I started looking into conversion kits for 2x10 drive trains.  I found the various conversion parts relatively inexpensive, but many of the reviews I read indicated that while the conversion kits appeared to be an inexpensive "stop gap" for getting to 1x, they weren't as good as a true/pure 1x system, as they were stressing some of the components involved, namely the rear derailleur.  On top of this, I would be purchasing new drive train components, and purchasing a conversion kit on top of this added expense and all had the appearance of "bail wire and duct tape" solution to my end goal.

A few months ago, I read of Shimano's new 1x drive trains that were coming available in XTR and eventually XT brands.  As the XT 1x drivetrains were released, I saw that they were pretty inexpensive compared to their SRAM or Shimano 2x drivetrains (+ conversion kit).

I found the XT 1x drivetrain for about $400, and the online retailer allowed me to customize the bundle.  I had been looking at online gear ratio calculators, and with some of the steep climbs on Colorado's front range, I opted for a 30 tooth front ring and a 42 tooth rear cog.  This was as low as the Shimano 1x system offered, and it would provide a similar ratio to the 34 tooth cog and 22 tooth chain ring in the legacy 3x9 drivetrain it would be replacing.

Since my existing drivetrain included Shimano's integrated "Dual Control" shifters/brakes, I would have to get new brakes too.  Dual Control was an innovative idea from Shimano about ten years ago, an idea that didn't quite catch on.  It was the mountain biking version of STI shifting, where the brake levers were moved up or down to shift the bike.  The concept simplified the controls a bit, and I felt it worked well, but I always preferred the separate triggers and brake levers on other hard tail mountain bike.  So, the upgrade on the Prophet would allow me to replace the controls with a more traditional and preferred trigger and brake lever set up.

As I started shopping for brakes, I noticed that Shimano released a new brake to go along with the release of their new drive train.  The M8000 series brake looked great, but I also noticed that it was selling for considerably more than their previous release, the M785 series brake.  I did a bit of research online, and folks were saying that there was minimal (no?) difference in the brakes between M785 and M8000.  Made sense to me, as they probably focused their engineering efforts on the drive train, and adjusted the look of the brake (more black!) to release it simultaneously with the updated drive train.  So, I opted for the older but very similar M785 series brake, and found them from a store online for about 60 dollars less than the M8000 per brake.

Lastly, I shopped around for a dropper seat post.  Unfortunately most of the modern dropper seat posts come in diameters to large for my Cannondale's 27.2 seatpost will allow.  This limited my options to the Gravity Dropper Turbo or Gravity Dropper Classic.  Luckily my research on dropper seat posts found that the most reliable dropper seat post on the market was the Gravity Dropper series of posts.  It turns out that the modern hydraulic actuated dropper seat posts are very easy to use, however they tend to have issues with durability and reliability.  That is, they fail often, and leave their users with the seat post stuck in the lowest position in the middle of a ride.  Meanwhile, the Gravity Dropper post uses a cable, mechanical switch, and spring to actuate the dropper mechanism, all of which provide a more robust solution to a component that's under a lot of stress and strain.  So, I found a great deal on a Gravity Dropper Classic in the 27.2 diameter.

So, with the parts ordered  and waiting for them to come in the mail, I started taking the bike apart, removing all of the legacy drivetrain components.  The bike was essentially stripped down to the frame with the exception of the front fork.  I took the opportunity to thoroughly clean the bike, getting into all the hard to reach places.  I even took the time to put two coats of wax on the bike, improving the paint's sheen a bit.
Bike is stripped down the frame, cleaned up, and even polished!
The parts arrived just before the holidays started to get into full swing, so they had to wait a while on the work bench in their respective boxes, as my time was spent with family.  But as time availed itself, I set to work... first with the brakes.  I mounted the front and rear brakes, noticing that the brake lines were definitely too long and were going to need to be trimmed. 
New brake lever mounted beside the XT 11 speed rear shifter.

New rear brake caliper mounted. 
Next I mounted the new bottom bracket, a Shimano BB70.  I mounted the bottom bracket per the instructions, with most of the spacers on the drive side (I'll talk about this a bit later).  I installed the new cranks, and mounted up the derailleur and rest of the drive train.  Everything mounted easily.  It took a bit of figuring out on how much chain to remove for the proper set up.  That 42 tooth cog takes up a lot of chain!  I ended up removing three links from the original 116 link XT chain. 

New crank mounted. 
One by!  Very clean up front without the front derailleur. 
New XT cog set on my wheel.  That 42 tooth cog is huge!  Pie plate!

Lastly, I mounted the dropper post.  I ran the cable for the dropper post along the top tube, and secured it with some black mini zip ties.  I've heard some folks bemoan the lack of internal routing for the Gravity Dropper post, but I like that I'll be able to maintain the cable with very little fuss. 

The Gravity Dropper seat post mounted. 
With everything installed, it was time to tweak and adjust everything and getting it working in unison.  One of the first things I noticed with the new 1x drivetrain was the extreme chain line angles that resulted from the chain moving along 11 rear cogs and remaining on the same chain ring.  I had installed the bottom bracket, with all the necessary spacers, per instructions, however the instructions predated 1x drivetrains.  Clearly the 1x drivetrain is designed to run more extreme angles than a 2x or 3x drivetrain, but I wanted to be sure the chain line was straight in the middle of the cog set, and not too extreme on the highest or lowest gear.  So, I removed the bottom bracket, and balanced the spacers between drive and non-drive side.  By balancing out the spacers, I effectively move the chain ring and drive side crank closer to the frame, and in so doing, reduced the extreme angle I was noticing when the chain was on the largest cog.

Checking the chain line.  The 1x drivetrain can create some extreme angles for the chain!
Next, I trimmed the brake lines and bled the brakes.  The brake lines were a few inches too long for my particular bike, so I trimmed them back.  I also took this opportunity to route the rear brake line between my front fork and frame, which wasn't possible as this space is too small to fit either the caliper or the lever.  So, with the lines trimmed and reinstalled, I re-filled the brakes with Shimano mineral oil and bled them, giving them a nice positive feel. 

Lastly, with the bike on the floor, I adjusted the angle of the levers, ensuring a comfortable 45 degree angle as well as adequate spacing between the levers and grips.  I like a nice "moto feel", with ample space between the grips and levers.  I also adjusted the location of the dropper seatpost trigger and shifter trigger to ensure they moved freely and were in a comfortable location. 
New brake lever beside the trigger for the dropper post. 

And now, for a test ride.  Unfortunately, the front range has been hit with plenty of snow, which makes for great skiing...  as well as the need for some terrific patience, waiting for drier weather to run this new/old bike for the first time! 

Upgrade to V3.0 completed! 

Upgrade to V3.0 completed! 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Gear: Upgrading the Shop, Il Grotto di Volpe v2.0!

Well, I got a new job, and with it a new house!  Figures: just when you get everything dialed in your's time to move.  So, we moved to Denver, Colorado, which will provide wonderful recreational opportunities on the bikes and on the skis.

First things first: get the shop in order!

The prior owner (original owner) hadn't done much to the house, and this included the unfinished basement.  There was a rudimentary work bench-thingy, but was very inadequate  as it wasn't properly built, and wouldn't withstand any of the forces that come with a work bench, nor was it optimized for storage.  So, I looked online for a suitable plan.  In Saint Louis, I had a prior existing steel framed workbench from which to improve upon; in Denver I'd be starting from scratch.

Panoramic shot of the workshop space before...

Panoramic shot of the workshop after...
I found a design online that inspired my workbench.  It was to be a basic frame, mounted to the concrete basement walls.  The online plans called for a monstrous 16' workbench...and I decided that based upon the material and the space I was building to, I'd simplify it to 8' wide. The original plans that inspired my workbench are here.

Frame for the workbench complete...
So, to avoid any joints in the actual work surface, and to ensure the bench didn't take up too much space, I kept the length at 8'.  I built the worksurface frame, mounted it to the concrete foundation/wall, and attached a couple legs on the front.

The workbench frame mounted to the concrete foundation...
Next, I built a 8' long shelf frame, that fit within the legs supporting the actual workbench.  The upper workbench is 24" deep, with the shelf underneath 21" to fit between the wall/foundation and the legs.  Both frames are mounted to the wall using concrete mounting bolts.  It was fun to get the hammer drill out, the tool necessary to drill the mounting holes in the foundation wall.  :)

Frame for the lower shelf complete...
After building the frame, I took a moment to install adequate electrical plugs behind the workbench.  I "daisy-chained" five plugs together, ensuring more than enough power for the workbench tools, chargers, and anything else I might need to plug in.

Electrical outlets installed behind the workbench...
Following the successful installation of the electrical outlets, I mounted a 4x8 particle board on the wall immediately behind the bench.  I like a full piece of wood rather than drywall, making any installation of mounting hardware or peg board much easier.  I painted it white, too!  I also cut and mounted my plywood work surfaces to both the bench and the lower shelf.  I bought a more expensive hard wood plywood, ensuring the surface would be durable.  

Plywood worksurfaces installed, caster mounted drawers completed,
and particle board installed behind workbench...
Lastly, I built the caster mounted drawers.  The original design called for the sides to be made from 1x6s, however the previous versions I made in Saint Louis were quite a bit taller, so I opted for a slightly larger wood stock: 1x8.  I found that the drawers I built in Saint Louis were a bit too deep, however as I measured my tools and other items that would be in these drawers, I figued the additional two inches of board width would help make a slightly deeper, and hence slightly more practical drawer.  These caster mounted drawers are perfect for storing those large, heavy tools like hammer drills, circular saws, and anything else you want to get out of the way.  Also, take note, that I had mounted the shelf slightly higher than the plans called for to ensure there was enough room for a taller/larger drawer below it.

Workbench and adjacent work areas, including miter saw and bike repair stand

The completed workbench!  Peg board mounted, and tools organized (for the most part).  Fun, practical project.

Workbench completed!  

Bikes: Ultimate Commuter! ...Cannondale Bad Boy

I purchased this bike in fall of 2009.  I originally purchased it in Italy to replace my cyclocross road bike.  I lived atop a mountain (literally) there, and finishing each ride going up my 45 degree drive way was punishing.  So, I thought a bike like this would make it easier to climb.  Especially with a child on the back.  I put a European child seat on the bike, a design I haven't seen available in the US, that allows the seat to be removed with the touch of a button.  So, this bike made it possible to grind up the long hills, a feat I was unable to accomplish on the higher geared road bike.

Turns out this bike is great for commuting, too.  I love it!  We just moved to Colorado, but while we were living in Saint Louis for six months I enjoyed commuting 6 miles each way to work on this bike.  It's great for commuting! fact, considering that I've been bike commuting regularly for over ten years, I should have bought one sooner!  Instead, I had been riding older, used bikes.  As you'd imagine, I end up spending more time and miles on the commuter bike than my fancy and expensive mountain bikes.  So why did I ride, old, worn out, crappy commuter bikes, bikes I typically rode more often and further than my new, light, and wonderfully functional "recreational" bikes?  I can't answer that, but I did alleviate it!  I bought a Cannondale Bad Boy.

What makes this bike so terrific for commuting?  It's the mixture of mountain and road bike parts...  The frame and drivetrain are from a mountain bike, ensuring the bike is relatively relaxed to ride, and it can easily climb any hill.  The disc brakes offer great stopping power in all conditions.  Oh, don't forget the front suspension, also from it's mountain bike "roots".  You can turn the suspension on or off with the flick of a switch.  Having the ridged fork is great for speed, but when you want to smooth out a rough street, just turn the switch, and you get to enjoy the benefits of suspension.  Meanwhile, the road wheels make this bike incredibly fast!  They're taller, and slimmer...ensuring less rolling resistance.  I've  installed Michelin's Pilot Sport tires, with the Protek HD, to provide better traction on wet roads.  This was key for safety and performance in Italy, where I found the roads to be very slick with even a bit of dew, let alone rain.  So, these tires provided the appropriate traction in a country where they put slick marble in the asphalt!
I love this bike, and I look forward to commuting to work in Denver!