Friday, October 27, 2017

Heidi's Packed Plusser

Oh Shit I said it.....or I typed it....right there in the title....the "P" word.  Before long I'll be throwing around other lay terms like "boost" and all the other adverbs and adjectives surrounding all the dubious marketing brought to you by the likes of those that need to sell a few more bikes this year.  Before I even realize I'll be answering the generally innocent question "Is that a boost plus bike?" with a perfectly frank "Yes."  Dread.  Terror.  What has this webspace become?

Taking on this project was about as big of a pill for me to swallow as the marketing jargon of the present day industry.  I'm sure there are bikes at least somewhat like this in size available on sales floors around the world, but when a smiling and excited customer standing 5'2" shows up wanting the full gamut of options whipped together in a trail-ready bikepacking format with maximal suspension travel, I tend to raise my eyebrow before agreeing to such a project.  This one needed some research and design work up front to make sure all the requests would (quite literally) fit the order.

The order was for a bikepacking rig with 120mm front suspension, clearance for 27.5x2.8 (plus...there, see that!) tires, dropper post,  rear rack provisions, 2x drivetrain, all while keeping the resulting frame as light as feasible for the duty load.  Sounds quite a lot like the bikes I've been building of late until you start to consider that all these provisions must fit onto a frame whose rider is 5'2".  The first consideration for me when taking on a project is ride quality.  There can be no compromises here.  If customer requests add up to a package that I think will in any way provide a less than stellar ride I say no...simple as that. 

The first order of business was to measure her existing bike in a consultation setting and determine any changes that would be made.  Her existing ride was a Small size Transition Scout.  While it looked as though it was a lot of bike for her frame, she seemed to like it and a later ride would show me she was quite able to throw it around despite its heft.  Next a scale drawing was rendered to make sure that a fork and wheel of that size would fit into Heidi's new cockpit with an appropriate bottom bracket height, seat angle, and handlebar position, while still having room to attach the top and down tubes to the head tube.  For a given set of contact points, losing the rear suspension and travel reduces the available space for which to place a front triangle as the static bottom bracket height (and therefore the rider's height off the ground) is lower relative to the full suspension.  Keeping all else equal, placing contact points onto the lower BB height eats up space in the head tube and I'd need at least 100mm of oversize head tube to join the top and down tubes.  120mm would be the max fork travel and would allow her to keep a handlebar level to her established saddle height using a flat bar and a 100mm head tube.

With the cockpit and contact points a go, I accepted the project.  The details were far from being worked out, but as the parts were provided, one problem was solved at the time.  Since the front end was established the rear end was the next to be considered.  This is really the only part of the frame that is three dimensional, but all the parts specifications, bends, and tolerances need to add up exactly.  After watching Heidi ride and considering how this bike was to be used, I determined that a short stay was not going to offer her the benefits that others may see.  The yoke I use to tuck rear ends in tight and keep maximal tire clearance adds a half pound to the frame weight, and the benefits didn't outweigh the costs on this frame.  The chainstay length could kept be the same as Heidi's existing bike without a yoke or curved seat tube, and the seat tube angle would be 3 degrees slacker (73 degrees instead of 76) placing her seated weight further toward the rear axle.  This configuration at a horizontal chainstay of 425mm would allow plenty of clearance for a Maxxis 27.5 x 2.8" tire with a boost spaced double front chainring.

The boost spaced crankset was mated to a 157mm thru axle rear end to give the best possible chainline with slight favor to the lowest gears.  When drawn out and measured the boost 148 rear hub is better served to give an improved chainline with a standard spaced crankset.  How is this and who am I to make such a claim you might ask?  Well, I measured the parts in hand...several times...and yes I saved my work.  I feel a better explanation is due; perhaps another blog post is coming on, but in essence MTB chainlines haven't measured out to match between cranksets and cassettes since we ran 2.1" tires and square taper bottom brackets...

The rear end was assembled keeping a close eye on clearances.  A large diameter and wide rear tire, a disc rotor, a double chainring crank, a front derailleur, a dropper seatpost, and a rear rack all need to fit into this space, and on this bike that space is a lot more compressed than on others.  Plate style thru axle dropouts were chosen to keep overall rear end width to a minimum with the wider rear hub.  The seat stays extend directly from the plane of the top tube and, as the seat tube is as short as it is, those stays attach a little more forward into the top tube than usual, maintaining the space for the seat stay bridge.  

The finished product is what you see.  The color fades from dark metallic blue at the head tube to dark metallic green at the dropout...and the finish was aced out by Nick at Mountain Shine Finishing here in Flagstaff.  He's gotten really good with the fades.  I sent Heidi out the door on this bike a few months ago, that ought to say how behind I am on these blog posts.  She's been out shredding the west, but I had a chance to catch up with her this fall and to hear her thoughts about her new steed.  Her first comment was, "Sometimes I forget which bike I'm riding."  Well considering her other bike is a Transition Scout, I'll take that as high praise, THANK YOU!  On a ride shortly thereafter, the review fell as the words "I love this thing!"  

From my perspective: its rare that I get to make a bike in this size range, especially one that asks all the demands that this one did, and that said I have no personal tangible way of knowing how this bike will ride save for rider feedback.  My designs originate from years (over 20 at this point) of studying bicycles, particularly mountain bikes, from comparative analyses of geometry tweaks between bikes or all sorts, and from watching riders ride bikes in demanding conditions.  We can't push design forward without pushing limits of these machines in use, and with that evolution in machine comes evolution in the canvas of terrain.  Today bikes (particularly hardtail bikes) are being ridden on terrain I would have never thought possible 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, and Northern Arizona continues to open my eyes to what is possible on a bike.  Thanks, Heidi for this project, and for allowing me to continue to push my limits as a builder.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Camper Special

Bike packing is all the rage these days....I guess that's what its called now.  There are companies out there specifically taking on and marketing to people pursuing this activity.  I've always just know this means of travel as "touring".  Going for a tour means freedom from plans and embracing the unknown.  Anything can happen.  Your only resources are yourself and your buddies and what you have on hand in any given moment.  To me "bikepacking" sounds like an activity based on a plan, but a Tour implies the pursuit of freedom from.  I guess somewhere they meet in the middle and I suppose that middle is your vehicle.  Your trusty (we hope) steed.  I'm calling my new one "The Camper Special".  You know, like a '72 Chevy: Reliable, servicable, maybe not the most efficient thing ever created, but it always got the job done without so much as a hiccup, it probably even left you surprised once or twice about what you just got through.  The Camper Special was a parts and trim package offered by big three American auto manufacturers on their heavier 3/4 and 1 ton pickups from the early 1960s to the late 1980s.  Heavy Haulers.  Typically trucks bearing the camper special emblem had two-tone paint, upgraded brakes, axles, and wiring for towing or a drop-in tailgate camper shell.  Following in the footsteps dredged by internal combustion Americana, the Camper Special (bike) replaces a fuel hungry V-8 with an appetite for adventure and heavy human-powered hauling.

Conceptually this personal project has been in the works for over two years, but if you've been following along here over any length of time I'm sure there is evidence of many of the concepts in play coming into fruition well earlier than that.  Selection of parts and frame interface components was directed at keeping a functional timelessness to the package, as well as the ability for everything on the bike to just plain last under performance.  It has been my hope in the design to create a fully rigid bike that is equally at home maintaining comfort and strength on loaded multi-day, multi-week tours as it is on the gnarliest gravity-fed single-track northern Arizona has to offer.  Control and efficiency are the primary concerns here rather than speed.  Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

The result starts by utilizing 650B x 3.0" tires (you could call them "plus" tires) on a horizontal dropout short-stay frame for adjustability between lines of duty.  The "Coco-Moto" dropouts (these are just lovely by the way) were pried from the very hands of Mr. Steve Garro himself as was one of his new custom drawn Columbus 38mm down tubes.  Bolt-on hubs meant retaining a 135mm outer lock-nut dimension, so the rear wheel was laced with symmetrically between the hub flanges kicking the cassette body out 7mm to the drive side for proper chainline when matched to a boost crankset on a standard 73mm BSA threaded bottom bracket shell.  The rear end of the frame is then built asymmetrically to accept this wheel.  Tire clearance on the short (420mm minimum) chain stay is accomplished by a plate yoke milled in house and a curved seat tube rolled across town.

Parts spec is pretty standard for one of my personal builds....a mix of what I have around, what I know works, and what I want to try out.  Race face cinch cranks get the nod for their flexiblity between 1x and 2x setups with proper chainline.  Touring I would expect to run a 2x front ring with a fixed seatpost, daily riding with a 30T 1x and a dropper post.  Drive train is 10 speed with X.0 gripshift, XT 36T cassette, and GX rear rock catcher.  A Hope bottom bracket, 4 piston brakes, and floating rotors are spec'd to try out.  Hadley hubs are laced to Syntace W40 rims with Trail Boss TCS tires.  A Cane creek ZS 110 headset, Thomson BMX stem, and house-made riser bar finish out the build.

 The dedicated rigid fork utilizes my own custom thick-walled, externally-tapered steerer tube and raked blades at 50mm offset.  Headset is straight 1-1/8" on a 44mm headtube allowing for a better join area to the 38mm downtube than would an external cup head tube.  I have not embraced the 1-1/2" tapered steerer for steel rigid forks as this is an excessively heavy piece of metal that cuts down on the surface area of the blade miter at the crown.  I find the steerer tube with a diameter matched to that of the crown area of the fork blade to be the most appropriate for brazing as the miter of the blade then wraps the steerer tube rather than being attached only to the side of it.  The whole area is then flooded with molten bronze creating a very strong joint.  Again, this is a rigid specific bike so swapping to other forks is not a consideration.  Rigid specific is the only way I build my forks as there are just too many compromises in anything else:  There are rigid bikes and there are suspension bikes....your choice, but the one bike that attempts to do both depending on the mood makes too many compromises to the ride of either bike's personality it is trying to emulate.  Basically:  Suspension correct is incorrect.  This fork will, however, accept a 29"x3.0" tire and wheel if I ever wanted to try it, though after initial rides I think this combination would unfavorably influence the steer-ability and climbing of this bike.

When it comes to gear hauling on a bicycle, I'm a racks guy.  Yes, there is the weight penalty.  Yes, they're expensive.  Yes, the soft packing setups these days are marvelous and if that's your thing, Great!  To me though you just can't beat the stability and overflow capacity offered by a good set of racks.  I accept the weight penalty.  I've never known how to pack light anyway.  I never know what I'm going to pick up at the next stop or where I might need to tie it on.  The racks for this bike are derived from personal touring setups on trips to Mexico, the Cascades, and the Colorado Trail, and offer refinements to the systems used on these trips.  I have always been a fan of the front (non-low-rider) panniers for how they balance the load and weight the front tire climbing.  Most of your time on a bike and especially on tour is spent climbing so the longer you can spend pedaling your bike without getting off to walk the more efficient your use of calories will be.  Every starting effort whether walking or pedaling with the kind of load I've been known to carry costs precious calories.  If your bike is still tracking, you just need to keep the pedals turning.  Easy enough, right.  The pit-falls of front panniers can be their general poochiness and flop.  Clips that aren't tight enough and attachment points that promote steering lag quickly degrade the benefits of where that weight is placed.  This is all highly noticeable when the terrain turns rough.  Everything secured to the front end of the bicycle should be as tight and as close to the steering axis as possible. 

This rack takes those points and makes some accommodations.  Clip on panniers are ditched in favor of standard 10 liter dry bags that are cradled by the rack then strapped to the side.  The rack's attachment points at the dropouts and above the head tube promote flex of the stays and damping through the load being carried while cutting down on braking flex in the fork.  The upper struts extending from the front platform serve to secure overflow loads to the steering axis without interfering with the cables.  This can also be used as a means to attach your backpack in less demanding terrain, a much needed relief at times.  The ability to transfer gear from body to bike depending on terrain is something to consider when heavy biking.  Hiking a steep grade or mountain pass is the time to carry weight on your back rather than pushing it on your bike, cruising a dirt or pavement stretch is just the opposite.  Your body will thank you.


The rear rack is a bit more of an experimental design in being a light weight top loader.  I carry my bedroll here and pretty much nothing else.  It could have been kept a bit more minimalistic, as my sleeping bag/pad weighs only around 5 pounds, but it seemed like a bit extra area for tie-ons would be useful leading to the lower structure below the platform.  My thought in keeping the attachment points forward of the axle is allowing the flex at the attachment points and through the stays to provide some damping control to the rear of the bike through the load on the rack.  The load carries its own inertia and in doing so works to resist the movement of the bike through the jarring of the rear wheel.  All hardware is 6mm stainless and frame attachments are backed with nylock nuts.  No attachment points directly on the frame or fork are threaded save for standard frame H20 boss placements, rear derailleur hanger, and bottom bracket shell.


I got the chance to take this bike on a shakedown ride for a week on the Kaibab North Section of the Arizona Trail, and since have managed a few rides on the trails around the shop.  This bike is a blast to ride.   I've found its confidence inspiring and feel as though I can hit the same downhill lines as with my 140mm hardtail at almost the same speed.  Steering is still quick and playful as I'd have it and the vertical inputs maintain a lively response.  Climbing is an improvement over that bike as expected.  I haven't felt a rim hit on the front rim in a while.  The tire pressure is a delicate balance on the TCS Lights and I'm thinking that I may favor some tires with a heavier casing down the road.  I had been thinking that the rear tire would see some rapid sidewall wear with a frequent occurrence around here being threading a rear tire between sharp rocks.  So far this hasn't seemed the case, but I have a 2.5" Breakout on stand-by.

An interesting point of discussion here for me is the stability of this bike.  It's not particularly low as I prefer pedal/chainring clearance and a higher center of gravity, though maybe a bit lower than others I've owned recently.  Apples to oranges; BB drop is 39mm.  This bike hits a marked point of straight line stability at around 6 MPH.  It'll steer out of it when you want it to keeping it fun.  I would have to guess that a fair bit of this is the volume and mass of the tires, but this bike stays glued to a straight line like nothing I've ever ridden.  I'm talking take your hands off the handlebars on the washboards to take pictures kind of stability.  Anyway,  its been a new excitement to get this bike rolling and dialed in, and I'm looking forward to some extended adventures on it in the coming months.  Thanks for following along....

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Touring 29er FOR SALE

Time to sell off one from the personal fleet:

Asking $2500 complete as pictured, but price is negotiable with build.  Custom frame fork and bars by me.  Frame was built in 2013, but never saw all that much use and probably has about 2000 miles on it.  Its been parted out and re-built once or twice and that said is a versatile platform for a good number of builds, and I am happy to keep, trade out, or re-build the build to make this bike fit your needs.  Price will vary of course.  Frame bag from D-Bo goes with the frame.  Fits riders 5'7"-5'11" or so.

Frame Features:
  • True Temper Supertherm main triangle with custom bent 4130 rear triangle and lugged seat tube.
  • Horizontal bottle opener dropouts with custom adjustable chainstay disc mount optimized for rear rack use and single-speedability.
  • Custom 4130 segment crown fork with rack mounts
  • Touring geometry and tubing selection for heavy loads and all day comfort
  • 3 sets of H2O Bosses
  • Lots of tire clearance: up to 29x2.4" or 27.5x2.8" rear/29x3.0" front with room for mud

Frame Geometry:
  • 585mm/23" ETT
  • Good Climber 71/73.5 deg HT/ST
  • 420mm/16.5" seat tube center to center
  • 435mm/17.125" minimum chainstay
  • 54mm BB drop
  • 130mm x 44mm head tube for straight or tapered steerer
  • 27.2mm seat post
  • 475mm axle to crown fork for suspension correct rigid (pictured) or 100mm Rockshox

Build as pictured:
  • Wheelset:  handbuilt XT M756 hubs laced to WTB Frequency i25 rims with front quick release and rear bolt-on conversion.  Tubeless ready.  Less than 200 miles on these. 
  • Drivetrain:  XT/XTR 3x9 with XT cassette, XT Shifters and direct mount front derailleur, XTR m952 rear derailleur, Hollowtech crankset and Shimano external BB.
  • Brakes: Avid BB7 with Avid levers, 180mm front 160mm rear rotors.
  • Thomson stem (whatever size you need to fit) and seatpost, Specialized Phenom Saddle.
  • Chris King mixed tapered headset in Brown (no longer available) I have a matching BB available as an upgrade.
  • Custom handlebar in house ~12 degree sweep

$2500 complete, negotiable

(this frame new would be almost that much)

please email if interested:


I'll be out of town June 5-11 and will answer emails when I get back

Thursday, April 20, 2017

AZ Road Dirt

As noted in the last post, paved roads are sparse in the northern half Grand Canyon State.  At least are the sort of paved roads one would want to ride a bicycle upon.  Dirt roads, however, are endless....everywhere.  We have a distinct dichotomy to these dirt roads, with those ranging from (at times) smoother than the highway surface to those that are rougher than the nastiest mountain bike trails. 

For the adventurous, a ride aimed at putting in even a slight distance on the roads of our national forests quickly turns to mountain biking.  Bearing this knowledge from my own adventures here in mind, I set out to build a capable and confident dirt road bike for Kristin.  Not a mountain bike, nor up to the extremes pictured above by any stretch, this bike is designed to keep it fast and comfortable on the improved to unmaintained roads rather than the two tracks and logging/mining roads, and still hold its own during those instances of adventure where she finds herself unexpectedly mountain biking.

The major design premise of this bike is the handlebars.  The "shallow drop" bars are a three piece design first conjured from a project titled "The Widest Drop Bars Ever Made."  The reach of the forward bend of the typical drop bar is significantly reduced and the hoods position is mimicked with extension/lever clamp area.  This shorter reach allows for the front wheel to be located further forward through a longer top tube than a traditional road or cross bike would allow, which has the effect of lengthening wheelbase, smoothing the ride, and calming the steering.  All these effects to handling become particularly important on the rocky descents of Arizona dirt, and save energy over the course of a long day in the saddle.  Width at 600mm also aids comfort and stability, though would vary with rider preference.  This bar also forgoes the familiar integrated shifter brake lever controls in favor of mountain bike/22.2mm clamp shifters and brake levers.

The frame design places the rider fitting in the cockpit with the primary riding position in the drops where braking is the strongest with a 90mm stem.  The taller head tube length is achieved from this position and this particular fit required a sloped top tube.  The tops of the bars toward the stem clamp will offer a slight upward position for reprieve, as handlebar drop from the saddle is very slight on this particular bike.  Angles are traditional NORBA: 71/73 head/seat and BB drop is 66mm.  Tire clearance is for 40mm with room for that nasty AZ mud. 

The build kit on KP's Dirt Love is some-what non-typical, even by my standards.  The Industry Nine cross hubs are mated to WTB KOM i21 rims and Nano 40 TCS tires, tubeless of course.  From here we diverge a bit.  I just had to try the new Yokozuna cable actuated hydraulic brakes.  They're meant to make for an easy conversion for use with short pull (STI) levers and seemed like a good fit if ever a traditional drop bar were installed.  So far performance exceeds all expectations, especially considering they cost about the same, maybe a hair less than the Avid mechanical discs I was initially going to spec.  They did require a bit of material be removed to achieve proper adjustment with the 160mm rotor atop the Paragon front IS disc tab (not the first brake I've had this issue with).  Long term verdict is still out, but pending a seal failure, these units feel and work great.

 The drive train is the newest 11 speed offering from Box Components.  I was curious about the shifter thinking that a traditional rapid fire or Sram trigger shifter might interfere with the main cross bar of the handlebar....all work fine, but the Box offering has a good feel and works well with this handlebar.  The derailleur leaves a little bit to be desired in terms of adjustment, it seems that the inner limit just isn't quite inboard enough, even with the limit screw backed all the way out.  It seems to shift fine through the range.  Its not the nicest stuff out there, but is priced accordingly.  The 11-46 cassette fits the traditional HG freehub and is value priced.  Its looks fit the price...cheapest cassette I've bought in years...but it utilizes an aluminum spider (a must) and actually shifts quite well mated with a Sram 11 speed chain.

Crank is a Sram Apex 1x unit with a 42t narrow/wide chainring.  Its mated to the new bottom bracket from Hope Technologies.  I am hoping that this BB will far outlast the stock offerings from Sram and Shimano.

The rest of the build is my typical Cane Creek/Thomson mix.

This year's cycling event will take us to the Sawtooth National Forest for Rebecca's Private Idaho 100 miles of gravel.  We'll see if the roads of the Sawtooth are as harsh as those of the Coconino can be.  Should be exciting!