Archive for the ‘Gear’ Category

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):

I want to buy a bicycle …

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like

by Queen

Change the word “ride” to “buy” and you’ll have the song that has been going through my head for the last day and a half.

We have this grand plan of riding our bikes around the world, but we haven’t yet identified what “our bikes” will be. We each currently have mountain bikes and touring bikes, but we are not certain that either are ideal for the trip.

Unfortunately, I find that my road bike causes stiffness and pain in my upper back. I also fine that my wrists and hands can get very unhappy. We read about recumbents as an option, but hadn’t really tried them … until today.

We have ventured to Alfred Station, New York to visit Peter Stull – the Bicycle Man. Peter’s shop is in an old building that was purchased for $5,000 in 1979. It doesn’t have running water, but it does have electricity, composting toilets, and a lot of recumbent bicycles (14 different brands and around 100 bikes in stock). I did notice a few regular road bikes and mountain bikes hung from the ceiling too, but his shop definitely focuses on recumbents.

One thing about recumbents is that they are all different. This meant that you need to test drive quite a few to determine which suit you best. It has been quite the alphabet soup trying to sort through the taxonomy. USS vs. OSS, SWB, LWB, CWLB… Fortunately Peter has a nice glossary on his website, which we studied before arriving. Recumbents aren’t just different from regular bikes – they’re very different from one another too!

The bikes we rode today included a variety of features such as:

  • Under-seat, under-bar steering. (USS)
  • Under-seat, over-bar steering. (USS)
  • Over-seat steering. (OSS)
  • Big back tires with small front tires (26″ or 700c with 20″ front).
  • Big front and back tires (26″ or 700c).
  • Small front and back tires (20″).
  • Short wheel-base. (SWB)
  • Compact Long wheel-base. (CLWB)
  • Long wheel-base. (LWB)

Today, Titus (one of the guys working at the BicycleMan store) helped us try out:

Note, I may not have the classifications 100% right. I’m not clear on short wheel base versus compact long wheel base. Here are a few action shots …

Scott on an Oracle Omega Tour

Scott on an Oracle Omega Tour.

Becky on a Linear

Becky on a Linear

Scott on a Linear

Scott on a Linear.

Becky on a RANS Stratus.

Becky on a RANS Stratus LE.

Becky on a RANS Rocket.

Becky on a RANS Rocket.

Becky on an HP Velo

Becky on an HP Velotechnik Streetmachine Gte.

Scott on the HP Velo.

Scott on the HP Velotechnik Streetmachine Gte.

Accepting the kindness of strangers

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

I woke up this morning and was trying to visualize how we would camp during our shakedown cruise around Lake Ontario in June, and I couldn’t quite see it. It will be difficult (not to mention expensive) to find campgrounds every time we want to stop, since we’re planning on riding about 80 km per day. The idea of going up to people’s doors and asking to camp in their backyard seems like an imposition, and finding a place to camp where we’re invisible seems tricky even in Canada, let alone in the US.

I am inspired by Kevin Kelly’s 2007 Christmas Essay about willingness to accept generosity, although it will certainly require effort to reach out past my shyness and ask.

One might even call the art of accepting generosity a type of compassion. The compassion of being kinded. One year I rode my bicycle across America, from San Francisco to New Jersey. I started out camping in state parks, but past the Rockies, parks became so scarce I switched to camping on people’s lawns. I worked up a routine. As darkness fell, I began scouting the homes I passed for a likely candidate: neat house, big lawn in the back, easy access for my bike. When I selected the lucky home, I parked my bag-loaded bike in front of the door and rang the bell. “Hello,” I’d say. “I’m riding my bike across America. I’d like to pitch my tent tonight where I have permission and where someone knows where I am. I’ve just eaten dinner, and I’ll be gone first thing in the morning. Would you mind if I put up my tent in your backyard?”

I was never turned away, not once. And there was always more. It was impossible for most folks to sit in their couch and watch TV while a guy who was riding his bicycle across America was camped in their backyard. What if he was famous? So I was usually invited into their home for desert and an interview. My job in this moment was clear: I was to relate my adventure. I was to help them enjoy a thrill they secretly desired, but would never do. My account would make an impossible dream seem real and possible, and thus part of them. Through me and my retelling of what happened so far, they would get to vicariously ride a bicycle across America. In exchange I would get a place to camp and a dish of ice cream. It was a sweet deal that benefited both of us. The weird thing is that I was, and still am, not sure whether I would have done what they did and let me sleep in the backyard. The “me” on the bicycle had a wild tangled beard, had not showered for weeks, and appeared destitute (my whole transcontinental trip cost me $500). I am not sure I would invite a casual tourist I met to take over my apartment, and cook for him. I definitely would not hand him the keys to my own car, as a hotel clerk in Dalarna, Sweden, did one mid-summer day when I asked her how I could reach the painter Carl Larsson’s house 150 miles away away.

The other option is to stealth camp, which requires finding a quiet corner of wilderness (or abandoned area). This will require a fair bit of bravery the first few times I expect. I try to remind myself that it’s all about opening myself to the experience.

On a more practical note, I found a great article on erecting a tent in the rain which clarified my thoughts about that. I’ve always done the “spread out the the fly first” approach, but never with the elegance of the author’s approach. I’ll try it with our Mountain Hardwear Viperine 3 and see how it works. Since the poles anchor to the tent with clips and not sleeves, we should be able to do it.