Saturday, December 14, 2013

A new commuter(?), the Performance Ascent SS

The Performance "Ascent" SS road bike.

My last entry described the untimely demise of my commuter bike, the Motobecane Jury, due to a break in the bottom bracket. I wanted a new commuter frame quickly, ideally a lugged steel single speed (SS) road frame, with clearance for wide (28c or better) tires and fenders. Oh, and please make it under $300 please! Well, I couldn't find much. There were some TIG welded steel SS's around, but I figured they would probably share the same fate of my Surly Steamroller and Motobecane. I decided to settle for something ridiculously cheap, but which seemed to be well made, the Performance Bikes "Ascent" SS road frame. It's welded aluminum! Something really different for me, but I figured for the price ($90 minus 20% on sale), I could afford a short term gamble until something more attractive could be found.

I didn't expect too much for this price, but what you get is a decent enough frame. It has 2 water bottle cage mounts and steel inserts for the dropouts for the rear wheel, which is a nice feature for an aluminum frame. The paint is almost like a stain, a nice shade of red but none too thick. 

Rear dropout. Note the steel insert also note the ghastly looking welds.

The frame geometry is pretty conventional. The frame size goes by seat tube measurements from center to center, rather than center to top. Because of the fat aluminum tubes and the long extension of the seat post collar, this could lead one to think he/she got too big of a frame. However, the top tube is pretty short and standover clearance seems fine. I got the 58cm size and it is really close, (when you measure the seat tube to the top of the top tube), to 60cm, which is my size. Still, not a lot of seat post showing. This frame does not come with a seat post collar nor a fork, You must come up with your own. I found a nice looking steel fork at Nashbar, also on sale for $70, shipped. (Incidentally, the Ascent is the same frame as the Nashbar "Nekkid". The Nashbar frame comes in blue and was $10 more, if you prefer blue, go with them!) The steerer tube on the Nashbar fork was actually just the right length, I didn't have to cut anything off, what an easy installation!

Here's the Nashbar fork, pretty nice with the lugged crown and the chrome finish!

For the rest of the bike, I used some of what I had on the Jury, including the Sugino crank and the wheels. I thought the honey VO saddle looked better on the red bike, so I took that and the seatpost of my Mercian. I needed short reach brakes, so I put on the Campy Centaurs I had removed from my Pacer. I also used the 3-ttt handlebars from the Pacer and the 120mm VO stem worked out well. I installed a silver Crane Creek headset (1 1/8) to finish off the silver theme. It all went together very easily and I'm happy with the look. After assembling the bike I was fairly satisfied, but there are a few issues with this frame. Mainly, tight clearances. 

 Front end, with a 28c tire: You're not going to get a fender in there!

This bike has been designed for fast riding with narrow tires.I always use 28c tires at a minimum, so as you will see, this bike barely qualifies! The Nashbar fork is equally tight, as you can see above.

 Adequate room between the chainstay's anyway!

Thankfully, there is enough room between the chainstays for the 28c tire. That would have been a deal breaker.

 Rear tire clearance at the brake bridge.

Again, the rear brake allows a minimum amount of space with a 28c. Of course, with a fixed gear, the brake is optional, but even without it, there's not a lot of room. I won't be putting fenders one this bike. In general, this bike is going to be a compromise. I'm not investing a lot into it, it just has to hold up until something better comes along. There is still one issue I have to resolve to make this a useful commuter; the lighting has proven to be problematic. I can't mount my Lumotec Lyt at the brake because of clearance issues with the headset. I'll have to get some sort of new bracket to make it work. Meantime, I can use my Sigma Pro battery powered LED. It's still a pretty effective light.

The final setup was fairly straight-forward. I'm not thrilled where the rear axle ended up with my 46X18 gearing, I might experiment with different cog combinations to bring the rear wheel up a little in the dropout. I took the Ascent out for a ride through the low foothills and really did enjoy the ride! It is nice and responsive, yet not really twitchy. It felt better with no-hands on the bars than the Mercian did at first! Really nice and comfortable. There is no toe overlap with the front wheel either, something that was a problem with the Jury, (although that was mainly due to the fenders). So this should be a fun bike, just not a perfect commuter.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Uh-oh, Motobecane Jury frame failure! (Do all TIG welded frames fail?)

Close up of the crack in the weld and tubes.
 I had an unpleasant suprise recently when I was working on My Jury commute bike. I had replaced the fenders because the rear stainless steel one had broken off at the brake bridge. After installing new fenders and reconnecting the tail light wiring I discovered a small line across the weld of the bottom bracket(above). Pushing down on the crankarm expanded the line! I got a cracked frame at the bottom bracket (hereafter refered to as the BB)!

An uncropped view to show the extent of downtube crack.
 In the picture above, you can see how the hairline crack traveled from the back of the BB and along the downtube, then it curves downward.

Another close up.
This final shot shows the crack at the BB again. The weird thing about this is that it is almost identical to the failure I had with my Surly Steamroller about 3 years ago! The failure was again at the BB and it also took an almost identical track across and then down the downtube!

I wonder if this is a common problem with fixed gear, TIG welded bikes? Or is it that the Surly and Motobecane are just too cheaply made to be good fixed gear platforms? I'm not really hard on my bikes, I'm 57 years old, weigh 175 lbs, and both of these bikes were used soley for a relatively flat commute of 26 miles a day, (round trip), but I don't ride every single work day. So, I really don't think I'm putting an unusual amount of stress on these frames. Now, I realize that the Jury is a bargain basement frame, so it is no huge shock that it failed after 3 years of use, but I thought the Surly was a better quality frame, maybe not...

I'd be interested to hear from anyone regarding this type of failure on a TIG frame, please feel free to comment!

On the plus side, this has given me the chance to shop for a new frame! I had to be thrifty though, so no exotic lugged steel custom job right now. I went bargain hunting, since my commute to work will only continue for about 7 more months, (then retirement!)!  I'm going with another welded frame, but this time something completely different. I found a Performance Bikes "Ascent" aluminum single speed road frame on sale for $89, then another 20% of for a Black Friday sales event! I also found a nice Chrome-moly fork from Nashbar to go with it.

I have never owned an aluminum road bike before, so this will be a fun experiment, and if it does crap out, it will be interesting to see if it does so faster than the TIG welded steel!

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Grass Valley Loop.

Really? Only 2400 feet?!

I was finally able to ride my Grass Valley "century" in September this year! My schedule just worked out that way this year, very late indeed. I'm looking forward to retiring next year so I can maintain a more efficient riding schedule! Well, there are advantages to doing this ride in the ninth month of the year, temperatures are starting to trend cooler, and the sun isn't quite so strong now. Indeed, because of a recent cold front passage, temperatures were downright cool at the start of the ride. Anyway, I got started around 8 a.m. and proceeded through Lincoln and Sheridan, then headed for Camp Far West...
Between Sheridan and Camp Far West.

The rice fields have been harvested and mowed down. Still, a nice view across the valley. Camp Far West Road was in normal condition. There was considerable washboard. Because we had had a little rain a couple of days before, there was practically no dust! That was nice. The washboard did induce the first mechanical issue of the ride...the front fender bolt under the fork crown loosened and the fender started to rattle a bit. I stopped and tightened it down. (Have to Loctite that bolt when I get home!)
At the junction of Camp Far West Road and Waldo Road.

Other than that it was smooth sailing, the Mercian behaved very well on the gravel. 
End of the dirt at Chuck Yeager Road. 3 hours into the ride at this point.

The only other mechanical problem I encountered on this ride was a flat while on Highway 20, just before Penn Valley. It took me a few minutes to dig out the thorn from the inside of the case-note to self-pack a small knife in the tool kit!

Indeed, the rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. I reached Grass Valley at 5 hours 23 minutes into the ride and stopped for a break at the Raley's there, buying some liquids and eating a sandwich I'd packed. No physical problems were encountered during the ride,  although I almost had a cramp climbing out of Meadow Vista, but avoided it by downshifting and sitting for a while.
In Auburn! (At 8 hours, 7 minutes).
Finally rolled into home at 8 hours and 49 minutes, a little slow for me, don't know why, have to try harder next year! 
The Mercian's looking pretty good after the ride.

Mechanically, the Mercian worked quite well. The handling was very good in the gravel, and as usual, its road manners were very nice. Other than the flat and the loosened front fender there were no problems. My major problem was with the saddle. I got a blister from it on the left side. Not sure if the problem is with the saddle or the shorts. The saddle doesn't feel bad initially and on short rides, so I'm not sure of the culprit here. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mercian is finished!

The completed K.O.M. on a recent ride around Folsom Lake

It's been almost 7 months since the Mercian frame arrived, (and a year since the order was placed). I think I now have the bike finished to my satisfaction. Oh, I'm not saying I'll never add or change anything from here, but I feel I have got the combination that will work well for years. Here is a summary of recent changes and additions.

 Front end shot showing the Dimension 17 degree stem and Noodle bars.

A friend recently offered me a Nitto "Noodle" handlebar. I haven't been entirely happy with the feel of the Cinelli Giro d' Italia bars, so I decided to try these. After getting past the sort-of weird look of the bend of the flats of the bars, (they sweep back towards the rider on top), I have grown fond of these. The ramps, the portion just above the brake levers, is flatter than the Cinelli's, I find this very comfortable. The unusual bend of the upper bar also fits the hands quite well when you're climbing. I also changed the Velo Orange, (V.O.), 6 degree stem with an 11cm 17 degree stem from Dimension. This gave me a comfortable position while also improving the look. I like look of the classic "7" shape stem.

 Sora 8 speed indexed shifters.

I switched from the Dia Compe ENE friction type shift levers to an 8 speed indexed Shimano Sora lever. The reason for this is a little embarrassing; As my hearing has become rather degraded, it's become difficult to "trim" the rear derailleur by sound. I would often find the drive train skipping as I increased pressure on it in climbing! I finally gave up and after some searching was able to find these Sora levers. They're not bad and relatively inexpensive. I haven't missed a shift with them yet!

 V.O. compact double crank and Shimano A520 pedals.

I decided to install the V.O. 50.4 BCD crank onto my LHT, since that bike would need lower gearing than this one. In it's place I installed a more conventional 110 BCD compact double, another V.O. product. With rings of 48 and 34 teeth, and a 11-28 in the back, I should have low enough gears for most any hill I encounter. I've also installed Shimano A520 platform SPD pedals. These afford a bit more support to my foot, and they look pretty nice, too! Their only detraction would be having only a single side rather than the double sides of a mountain bike pedal.

Overall shot. I've also re-installed the V.O. saddle and Ritchey seat post.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Surprise from Taiwan; the Ducas "Bicycle/City Bike front Steel Carrier"

The Ducas rack even comes with a bag!

I've been toying with the idea of putting a "Rando" style front rack on my new Mercian lately. However, there was a problem, my Mercian came with cantilever brakes and the fork crown had no hole where one would insert a brake bolt on a conventional bike. I wanted to keep the installation clean, so I intended to install a rack using the cantilever brake mounting bolts to secure the arm, as in the Nitto M12 or Velo Orange Pass Hunter. Unfortunately, both of these require the hole in the crown, and I couldn't bring myself to drill the crown so I searched for a long time. The V/O Randonnneur rack has a metal tang that would work with the front fender bolt, but it requires brazed-on eyelets or worse, "P-clips" stuck on your fork. I finally found a rack that may work on Amazon, from a company on Taiwan, Ducas, who seem to be pretty new. They offered a cantilever mounted rack with a tang bent for fit on a brake bolt, but it looked like it could be modified to fit my bike. Best of all, the price was $21 shipped! I figured it was worth gambling on at that price!

 Ducas' shipping dept needs some help!

Ordering through Amazon was pretty routine, although Ducas does state on their page that it will take several weeks to be shipped. I didn't worry about it but apparently Amazon did as they threatened to cancel the order after a while since Ducas hadn't shipped in a timely manner.  A day or so after the Amazon note came Ducas' announcement that the item shipped! Anyway the rack arrived via Taiwan airmail in not so attractive packaging, (see photo above). Fortunately, the rack was not scratched! 

 The price of economy!

Well, the rack itself is not anywhere near Nitto or even V/O quality. It seems rather heavy, the quality of the welding is so-so, I've pictured the worst of them. They seem strong enough, just not very pretty.

 A view of the rear tang which I modified.

Despite these quality lapses, the rack is a decent example of this style rack at an uber-affordable price! The view above shows the tang that I would have to bend to work with my fork's configuration. It turned out to be a fairly simple job, I simply put the tang into my bench vise and pressed it flat. The metal bent pretty easily  and the finish was too badly marred, I did note a few small flakes of chrome were lost.

The not-so-perfect fit on the Mercian.

I then attempted to fit the rack to my new Mercian. As shown in the photo above, you can see the rack does not level out properly, and the vertical part rubs the brake cable. Definitely not optimal! This was after I had already bent the tang a couple of times to make it fit. I decided that maybe this was not the rack for this bike.

I thought that maybe this would be more appropriate on my Surly LHT, so I gave it a try...


By fitting the tang to the "Daruma" bolt which fixes the front fender to the bottom of the fork crown, the rack fit onto the LHT almost perfectly! (I think the quality level of this rack may be a little more in line with the Surly too).

My next project!

With my new Rando rack now fitted to the LHT, I can now begin planning my next project, converting my old Rivendell/Carradice "Boxy" handlebar bag to use on this rack. I will have to add a strap or two to the bottom of the bag, and one to the back in order to secure it to the rack. 

Stay tuned!

Update-07/13/2014-- I just checked on Amazon, the price for the Ducas as of 07/13/2014 is now $58!!  you can get a Nitto M12 currently  for around $65 shipped, so I don't think these guys are gonna sell a lot of these now!! Incidently, I finally got around to modifying the Rivendall/Carradice Boxy Bag, it's currently on my Mercian atop a Nitto M-12. More about that later...

Mercian with Nitto M12 and Carrradice Boxy Bag

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Loomis-Colfax-Iowa Hill-Foresthill loop.

At the Iowa Hill General Store

It's getting to be the time of year to put in some longer days in the saddle. I'm also preparing to climb Mt. Shasta, so I need to be in shape. The best type of riding for that preparation is climbing, and this ride has a lot of that! And this ride is a tough one, starting from my home in Loomis, following Placer Hills Road along I-80 through Auburn and Meadow Vista on into Colfax. That alone is a respectable ride, but for this trip, it's just a warmup. From Colfax, I turn onto Iowa Hill Road, down to the North Fork of the American. From that point you begin an amazing climb to the small village of Iowa Hill. Some references report grades of up to 15% this part of the climb. It is intense!

A quick descent from Colfax to the North Fork of the American River 
A brief rest stop before...
...the monster begins!

The picture above shows the start of the serious climbing from the American River. There are some very steep sections here, and the road becomes fairly narrow. From the rest stop where this picture was taken, I strapped my helmet to my saddle as I knew I wasn't going to be moving very fast for the next couple of hours, and I needed the ventilation! Fortunately, it wasn't very hot this day, and there was a reasonable amount of shade on this side of the canyon. sometimes bugs flying around your face can be annoying on this stretch, but there didn't seem to be too many this year. 

 One of many hairpins!
 Iowa Hill's general store is a good place for a break.

Iowa Hill is an interesting place. They just got phone service a couple of years ago. There is no electrical utilities here, just solar panels and generators. The general store has two ancient propane powered refridgerators, but those must be for special items like milk and beer, gatorade doesn't rate. It is in an ice cooler. The day of my ride, a Tuesday, there was no ice, so the Gatorade was around room temperature. It still tasted pretty good to me!

After Iowa hill, you still have a little work ahead of you! There is still a bit of climbing to Sugar Pine Reservior, including a stiff climb along the dam, and a more gradual climb all the way to Foresthill Road. It surprises me that it takes almost 2 hours, (1:50 to be exact), to ride from Iowa Hill to Foresthill Road! 

From that point you have a wonderful 10 mile descent to Foresthill, a really welcome break from the hours of climbing!

 It takes a surprisingly long time to reach Foresthill road.
Another break at Worton's in Foresthill to replenish fluids. 

At Foresthill I stopped at Worton's to buy some Gatorade, chocolate milk and water. It's nice to get off the bike for a few moments and take in the view. There was a really massive thunderstorm off to the East.

Pulled in at home just short of 8 1/2 hours, phew!

As the photo above shows, my final time including stops was almost 8 1/2 hours. It's a long day, but a really great ride. I don't have an exact distance figured out, but I estimate it's about 75 to 80 miles. 

I rode the new Mercian with a compact double gearing of 46/30, (V-O Gran Cru 50.4 BCD crank) in front and 11/28 in back, and this proved more than adequate, even for the grades I encountered on this ride. On the steep descent from Colfax to the American, the Tektro 720 brakes performed beautifully. I'm quite happy with the ergo's on this bike now, though  I do intend a few more tweaks.

I have been having pain in the balls of my feet on long rides, this time I removed my shoes and massaged my feet during my short beaks. This seems to have helped and I had no problems until near the end of the ride when I didn't take any breaks after Foresthill. I carried three bottles of water, one in the cage and the others stowed in my Pendle Saddlebag until needed. That way the water in them stayed cool. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Foresthill, Yankee Jims, Colfax.

The finest view from a supermarket that I've ever seen!

I decided to take a day off to enjoy the beautiful Spring weather. What better way to appreciate the conditions than a bike ride? Today, I chose a rather challenging ride for me, a loop that would take me up to Foresthill, across the rough dirt of Yankee Jims road to Colfax, then return to Loomis via Placer Hills Road through Meadow Vista and Auburn.

 View from Old Forest Hill Road.
My route takes me through Auburn via Indian Hill road, then down and up Old Foresthill Road. I avoid the new road due to the endless seismic retrofit work which has been going on the massive Foresthill bridge for a couple of years now, with no end in sight! The lanes open are really too narrow for comfort. I made it up to Foresthill and stopped at Worton's market for a break and to enjoy the view. While there I met a couple of other older cyclists. One was riding an interesting Cervelo, he had a mountain rear derailleur on it which allowed him to use a 34 tooth cog in back. The bike was incredibly light, he said that with the small saddlebag, it weighed 16 lbs! The other impressive thing was the price! He said new ones were around $6,000! He got his used at half that! Wow, Shelly, I hope you appreciate how much money my retro tastes save us! After the break, I started down Yankee Jims Road. This starts with a brisk descent down a good road and eventually you come to the small hamlet of Yankee Jims. No services there. Shortly after that village, the road turns to gravel. This year, the road seems to be in pretty good condition. I believe Cal Fire had some work done during the terrible fire down there last year.

Yankee Jims Road; So far, so good.

At the junction of Yankee Jims and Shirttail Canyon. This is close to the point where the 2012 fire started that threatened Iowa Hill. Also a popular place for target practice evidently.

Plenty of water flowing now, here's a nice waterfall I hadn't noticed before. There's a nice pool at the bottom that would be great for soaking in!

The background is a little busy, but I thought this was a nice shot of the Mercian.

Typical conditions of the rougher stretches of this road. Still, 28c tires were fine.

At the bottom, you cross the North Fork of the American. Here's a look back at the bridge.

Nice panorama; I'm looking back while on the north side of the river now, heading to Colfax.

Road conditions on the north side of the river were better than the south side.

Here I am trying to show the hillside covering of lupine and poppies.

Here's a close-up!

At the start of the pavement, on the way to Colfax.

Back on pavement, I headed for Colfax. I didn't actually go into town, but took the overpass south of town, up to Placer Hills Road. After a short snack break, I headed back to Auburn through Meadow Vista. Climbing out of Meadow Vista I felt the first tingling of a cramp starting in my inner thighs. Gearing down helped and after I started descending they went away and I didn't have anymore trouble.

The bike performed well. The bolt fixing the front fender to the underneath of the fork crown loosened a bit at the start of the ride. I tightened it and it held for the rest of the ride but I will need thread lock for that. It handled the dirt very well, even with 28c tires, it was stable and tracked well. Shifting was very good and my missed shifts are becoming rarer. I feel very comfortable on the bike even after the almost 7 hours I spent on it today!