Sunday, March 04, 2018

New Winter Bike

About a decade ago, I picked up a set of Nokian A10 700C studded tires and began cycling through the winter snow on a more regular basis.  A couple of years previous, I had picked up a pair of used 26" Nokians, which I mounted on my Fat Chance and which started me on riding through snow and ice. The bike wasn't the most efficient for my long commute, so the 700C studded tires sped things up a bit, and eventually I built up a bike around an aluminum Nashbar touring frame as a dedicated winter bike. The frame had a nice, Kelly Green paint job with a light metal flake and no decals at all.  I don't typically name bikes, but since this one had no branding at all, so I dubbed it Zhongguo Zixingche, which is Google Translate's version of "Chinese Bicycle." I still ride the Fat Chance on days when it gets below 10 degrees F, as I have a set of snowmobile bar mits that fit it.

The ZZ had a great, stable ride and I fitted it with a triple crank, Suntour cantilever brakes, a Nashbar carbon fiber CX fork that was twice the price of the frame, and a dynamo hub.  Initially, this was a Chinese-made SRAM, but I upgraded it to the nicest hub on the market, a German-made Schmidt SON 20, which cut the drag significantly. The headlight was an equally nice (and also German) Supernova E3 and I eventually added a matching Supernova taillight, which must be the smallest bicycle taillight made, and exceptionally bright.  The ZZ had one flaw, and that was that under certain conditions the brakes were borderline useless. This wasn't really a problem, as I have lots of experience with rim brakes and know how to think ahead to avoid surprises, but I often found myself dropping down the long hill off the mountain in icy conditions, silently beseeching the brakes with thought like "Any time you want to wake up and begin slowing this bike down a bit will be fine."

The CX fork was setup for either rim or disc brake use, and I toyed first with the idea of switching to road V-brakes, and then with mounting a disc just on the front.  About the time I decided to do this, I found a new, 2013 Marin Lombard frame on eBay for $200 with the right geometry, and bought it.  The Lombard is setup specifically for disc brakes, so the gears were set in motion to rebuild the ZZ.

Since I was planning on using many of the parts from the ZZ on the Marin, and knowing that it would take a fair amount of time to complete the parts switchover, I decided to try the front disk only on the ZZ while collecting the rest of the parts I needed for the Marin.  I was impressed with the performance of the disc brake and found no problems at all mixing it with the cantilever rear.  Since I needed to switch out the hubs, and desiring to stick with the dynamo, I opted for a Shutter Precision unit, as they have received excellent reviews as a less-expensive alternative to the Schmidt, with supposedly superior performance. This reputation was not at all reinforced in my experience.  Although the hub got better with a little use, I have no explanation for the YouTube videos that show the SP hubs spinning much longer than the Schmidt in side-by-side tests. I found the SP to have significantly more drag than the Schmidt with the lights on or off. The difference was dramatic.

Here's a run-down of the build.
Rear hub: Shimano Deore XT (new). The Marin uses 135mm spacing, while the ZZ was 130mm.
Cassette: SRAM 11-32. I bit the wimp bullet, finding that at times the 28 just wasn't low enough for comfort. I have a couple of 17% pulls on the big climb up the mountain and when it's too slippery to get out of the saddle, it can be a bit of a yank, even with a 30t sprocket on the front. I also went from 8 to 9-speed, swapping out the fingertip shifter levers. Time will tell if the wider spacing of the 8-speed is better when the rear end is caked in snow and ice. There have been times when I only had a couple of gear options left toward the end of my 18-mile commute.
Rear derailleur: Shimano XTR "low-normal". I like the bar-end shifters for winter use, when things can get iced up and gloves are bulky.  Also, I do a lot of my winter commuting in the dark, and it's nice to have the lever angle as an indication of what gear I'm in.  What I don't like is hitting the right lever with my knee and shifting into a higher gear when muscling the bike up a hill, out of the saddle.  I may hate the low-normal arrangement, but I'm willing to give it a try to get the lever out of the way.  I had thought of switching to downtube shifters on the ZZ, but the Marin has no shifter bosses, so that's no longer an option.
Front Derailleur: Ultegra triple, from ZZ
Brakes: TRP Spyre mechanical road. These are great, with excellent modulation and good centering. I had a bit of difficulty setting up the rear caliper as the mounts on the frame were not machined and a bit of filing proved necessary to keep the caliper from twisting when tightened. The Lombard is not a high-end frame, though it is otherwise well-made. I went with Jagwire Pro compressionless cable housing. I can't say that I can tell any difference between it and wound housing, which I had initially used for the disc front. I ran the cable for the taillight alongside the rear brake cable for a cleaner look.
Rims: DT R460DB These were a bit of a disappointment, based on the reviews I had read. They were twice the price of some others I was considering and there was nothing about them that screamed "quality" as I built them up. This model is a pinned, non-eyeletted rim that has noticeable irregularities at the seam. I used rim washers on the rear. Since the rims are said to be "tubeless-ready", I decided to try it, even though the Nokians are not considered to be tubeless tires.  Thus far, with a couple of months on the front wheel, they are working fine with Orange Seal sealant. I chose Orange Seal as it has a low temperature rating and has been rated well on independent tests against other brands.  I have had flats at 10 degrees and it hasn't been fun fixing them in the wet and cold, with tires that are stiff even when warm.  The flats I've had were caused by the studs causing excessive casing movement against the tube, so the idea of going tubeless, and the self-sealing qualities that result seem especially appealing for this use. Spokes are butted 14/15 ga black DTs with matching nipples, laced cross-3.
Front hub: Shutter Precision PD-8.  I've already written about this disappointing piece.  Still, I'm too frugal to use a Schmidt on a bike that is intended to be sacrificed to MetalMunch, the god of road salt.
Headset: FSA integrated (Campy style), new
Seatpost: American Classic
Saddle: A very broken-in and decades-old Brooks Pro
Stem: Ritchey. I may end up swapping this out for a slightly longer one.
Handlebars: Specialized (probably from the 1990s)
Brake levers: Tektro. Nicest standard levers for the price, hands-down, and that price is cheap.
Fenders: SKA Longboards. These are only a year old, and I like the extra coverage they provide, which has done a great job keeping snow and slush off the crankset and drivetrain, but I was surprised to find the rear cracked almost completely through at the bridge (which was also cracked). I patched the section using a piece I cut out of an old license plate and attached with JB Weld and some rivets I made from aluminum nails and which look much like the factory rivets used elsewhere on the fenders. I have some nice, aluminum fenders on another bike, but find it difficult to keep them from rattling on the dirt road.
Crankset: Campagnolo Mirage Triple. This one is on its second set of chainrings. Square taper bottom bracket has lots of miles on it and still is smooth. While I agree with those who say that the Shimano HollowTech II / GPX is the current ultimate design, and that those pushing competing alternatives should be drawn and quartered while stretched across the giant anthill of marketing ripoffs, there's nothing wrong with the venerable square-taper design.  The Campagnolo square taper cranks are attractive in their lightness and simplicity. While I could easily scrap the big ring for winter use and a MTB double might be a better choice, I may find myself extending the riding season for this bike. It's quite slow when slogging through the slush on 800+ gram studded tires while wearing layers of clothing and heavy boots, but the big ring would come it useful when skimming along in warmer weather in stretchy clothes.
Computer: Quite old Sigma Sport unit.  It does what I need it to.

All the parts listed from the seatpost to the computer were from the ZZ.

I'll write a ride review after getting a decent number of miles on the bike, but I'm pretty happy with the way it came out.  The Marin frame has some interesting details, such as a grippy, reflective material that is mixed in with the paint in places.  CX frames are made to be carried over obstacles and this feature makes it easier to shoulder the bike as I wind my way around the tight landing on my basement stairs.

This bike will never be this clean again, so enjoy the pics!
Spacers are a work in progress

Nokian / Suomi A10 tires are fine for ice or light snow cover. Not so good in deep snow.
The grippy material in paint shows up well in the camera flash
Square taper BB is tried and true. Those who claim they can tell the difference in stiffness between square taper and modern pipe designs likely also believe they can feel thin steel frame tubing give under strong thumb pressure and the difference between 3-cross and radially spoked wheels.
Custom bracket to connect the svelte taillight to the Blackburn rack. American manufacturers have long ignored light and reflector attachments.
I usually ride this bike with both battery and dynamo lighting, front and rear. In this area, drivers don't see many cyclists in the winter. Since 1972, I've never found another saddle to be as comfortable as a Brooks Pro.
The shifters are new, but the housings are from the 8-speed ones that I used before.  Why scratch up the new ones?
Low-tech fender repair. I cut up a license plate from our old Subaru.