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!