Archive for April 5th, 2008

What bicycle? Propulsion

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

Our other major debate was Shimano XT groupo vs Rohloff Speedhub for the gear train. In one corner we had Keith (go with a derailleur!), Bryan in the other corner (the Rohloff is really nice, and virtually maintenance free!), and Peter somewhere in the middle. It wasn’t quite that black and white, with Keith enthusing over the engineering of the Rohloff, and Bryan pointing out that if something goes wrong with the Rohloff, it will likely be hard to fix.

I had been hoping to be able to see a Rohloff hub in action (and maybe even ride a bike with one), but even at BicycleMan they’re pretty rare. They’re much more common in Europe, but in North America everyone uses derailleurs instead of hub gears. Peter mentioned that some of that is related to different import duties for hub gears vs. derailleurs in Europe. In any case, the Rohloff is very expensive here (a 35% premium on an already expensive bike by my calculations), but it does provide a much better-encased shifting system, and has proven to be very reliable for many people on long tours. That said, the Shimano XT system is very good, and extremely refined. I expect if we go the XT route we’ll spend more time maintaining the geartrain, where the Rohloff is very low maintenance. However, if something does go wrong with the Rohloff, very little is user serviceable, and what we could service is very different from a normal geartrain. We’ll need to do some work learning to adjust the cables on the Rohloff before I’m comfortable, but I need to improve my bicycle maintenance skills in any case.

Another option is the SRAM Dual Drive 24-speed (this is the base configuration on the StreetMachine).  For extremely long distance touring, I think this has the downsides of both a hub and derailleur. It is difficult to service and get parts for the hub, and the cassette and derailleur are exposed to mud and dirt, requiring more frequent cleaning and maintenance.

What bicycle? Analysis and more analysis

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

Friday was dreary, wet and intermittently rainy, so we didn’t end up test driving any bikes. We did spend many hours at the BicycleMan shop though, looking at options and discussing. Since it was a grey, dreary day we pretty much had the shop to ourselves, and were able to take a lot of Peter’s time as well as some from Keith Gregory, the service manager. I didn’t realize until later that Keith is also a national cyclocross champion. Obviously, I should have paid more attention to the jerseys on the wall.

Along with extensive conversations with Peter, Bryan Ball (managing editor of ‘BentRider Online) happened to be in the shop, so we picked his brain for several hours too. It was very helpful talking to all of you, thanks guys!

Our final contenders for our trip were the HP Velotechnik StreetMachine Gte (Bryan’s review here), and the Oracle Omega City and Tour (Bryan’s review here).

StreetMachine and Omega Tour

We rode the StreetMachine and both Omegas on Thursday, and I liked them all, but Becky had trouble getting either Omega set up for her. The biggest issue for her was reaching down to the handle bars. This is partly because the under-seat steering bar under the frame makes it a longer reach to the handlebars. This can be partially corrected by adjusting the handlebars higher (as shown in the first picture here), but it wasn’t enough to make Becky comfortable on the Omega City on Saturday.

When the handle bars were moved up to the highest position, she could reach, but it was a stretch, which meant it wasn’t a natural position. Even a short ride led to fatigue in her arms. Winner: StreetMachine

She also found the headrest very uncomfortable with a helmet on, and it is not removable. Peter recommended cutting it off with a hacksaw, but didn’t want us to do that to his demo bike (I wonder why?). The StreetMachine has a removeable headrest as an extra-cost option. Winner: StreetMachine

The shorter wheel base of the Omega City results in the seat being slightly higher than the Omega Tour, so the Tour might have been a better choice. Unfortunately, the chain length on the Omega Tour was set up for someone my height or a bit taller (6’0″) and when we brought the boom in to allow Becky (5’6″) to reach the pedals, the chain was too long to allow her to shift. HP Velo provides a front boom quickadjust with quick-release levers and chain length compensation for this sort of demo environment – Oracle may want to consider something similar. Winner: StreetMachine

The other missing bit on the Omega is a second pannier rack below the seat. There may be an aftermarket rack option for under-seat panniers, although it requires some adaptation. Winner: StreetMachine

Becky also found the seat on the StreetMachine fit her better than the Oracle seat. We tweaked the seat adjustment a bit, but couldn’t make it as comfortable for her. Maybe with some more tweaking we could have fixed it though. With the StreetMachine, the seat needed adjustment too, and when we got it right, Becky felt her power increased significantly as she could push off the rigid seat with more of her core body strength. Winner: StreetMachine

Both of us found the Oracle Omegas rode very well, handling potholes and gravel well. We took all the bikes through potholes, gravel roads and washboard, and they handled the conditions with aplomb. Winner: Tie

The Omega is also designed and built in Canada, and is much less expensive than the StreetMachine in the configuration we’re building (close to $1000 cheaper). Winner: Omega


Overall, I found the Omega Tour very comparable to the StreetMachine, and would seriously consider it. (I spent very little time on the Omega City). Becky had problems getting either to fit her well, but I’d recommend anyone interested in a StreetMachine (or an Optima Dragon or Lynxx) to seriously look at the Oracle Omega City or Tour. It is well worth doing an A-B comparison.

Update 2008-04-27:

I just discovered that Anna Lee Husband, owner of Oracle Cycleworks, has started blogging as well, and she put a post up a few weeks ago responding to our experiences here. I’d encourage folks reading our experiences to check out her post, and talk to Oracle (which we have not done):