Thursday, October 16, 2014

Like single speed but need gears?

Sturmey Archer is likely to be a name many of you are familiar with from childhood ... time spent riding, breaking and trying to fix bicycles that in reality should have been left in the skips you retrieved them from. Those of you that know what I'm talking about will be well aware of Sturmey Archers most 'succsessful' product ... the AW 3 speed hub, a product that might well be responsible for coining the phrase 'F*ck me, this f*cking f*ckers f*cking f*cked'.

Much has changed for Sturmey Archer since that glorious summer of '76, the company is now owned by Sun Race in Tiawan, they've realised that aluminium actually makes a good material for hub shells and even discovered some bikes have disc brakes these days. Don't go thinking things have gone all high tech' though, the range of products still includes all the classic hubs of yesteryear, it's just that there's been a few upgrades and the odd new product added to the line-up.

They've been making things for quite a while.

One product that's received a makeover is the Duomatic 2 speed hub, it's been around in one guise or another for years but a 120mm OLD and no disc capability left it languishing well below most peoples radar. In practice the Duomatic has 2 gear ratios, the first is a direct drive, so just like a single speed and the second produces a 38% overdrive. There's no shifter or cable, a quick kick-back on the pedals is all that's required to shift from one ratio to the other ... cunning?

If that sounds like a good idea but you wished it was available to fit your mountain bike, then you might be glad to know that someone at Sturmey Archer had the same idea and produced the Duomatic S2K ... 135mm OLD? - yep, 6 bolt disc mount? - present and correct , aluminium hub body in a range of anodised colours to match your handbag? - depends on the handbag.

20,21 and 22 teeth guess which we picked.

The S2K will fit any mountain bike, obviously a single speed(able) frame is ideal otherwise you'll require a chain tensioner but anything with 135mm spaced drop-outs and disc brakes is a potential candidate. The hub uses the same sprockets as other SA hubs and the same 3 spline and circlip fitting arrangement. Sprockets are available in sizes 13t up to 22t, either flat or dished to fit both 1/8" or 3/32" chains ... at £2.99 each there's no excuse for not having a few around to try. The hub features a nutted axle and comes supplied with the corresponding nuts and anti-turn washers, just make sure you fit them.

Tool free changes, 3 splines and a circlip.

The first sprocket I tried was an 18t mated up to a 32t ring. A quick blast down the lane followed by a slow tootle back, lead me to seek out a more forgiving ratio ... a rummage round the workshop revealed  20, 21 and 22 toothed sprockets. The 22t seemed like complete overkill until I thought about the overdrive gear. If I used the 22t allied to a 32t up front, I'd have a direct drive  ratio of 1.45:1 which means easy climbs ahead ... if you fitted that ratio to a single speed, it would also mean spinning like crazy on anything that even hinted at going downhill. However, if I 'change gear' in the hub, the same 32 x 22 would produce something that feels similar to a 2:1 ratio or 32 x 16 in single speed speak ... which is more than enough for the flat bits on a 29er.

Given that the hub is adapted, rather than designed for mountain bike use my only concern at the moment is hub sealing ... never a strong point on SA hubs but never much of an issue either. Allowing for the fact that the hubs are easy to work on and spares are readily available and cheap, hopefully any ingress of too much liquid sunshine will be easily remedied.

The video below hopefully demonstrates how you change gear more clearly than words.


While the hub's internals are common to other SA models (so easily sourced), sadly the same can't be said of the SK2 hub itself. I couldn't find one in the UK when I first discovered them, so I contacted the importers ... they'd never heard of it and thought I might have imagined a 135mm Duomatic with disc mount. I assured them I hadn't and intrigued they went off to contact the SA European head office. Oddly, they too were unaware of the existence of such an item and so had no intention to distribute it amongst the weary cyclists of Europe. So, if you'd like one you'll have to visit the world wide web in the US and buy one directly - expect to pay around $90 (£56).

I'll be back to let you know how it's coping with the onset of Welsh Winter.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Plenty up front ... Velocity Dually.

There's a lot of interest at the moment regarding 'plus' ... you know, a wide rim coupled to an oversize tyre. It all started with Surly and their Krampus and its 50mm Rabbit Hole rims and 3" Knard tyres, which resulted in something Surly termed '29+'.

I have to say that I was somewhat sceptical about the whole concept at first. I loved the monster-truck looks but couldn't help but wonder whether the increase in weight would offset any potential gains offered by 'going plus'. My initial scepticism was laid to rest when Travers Bikes sent me one of their Rudy Fat 29+ bikes to test ... yes the wheels and tyres were heavier but the pros still outweighed the cons, so whilst I didn't rush out and buy a 29+ bike I could certainly see the attraction particularly when fitted to the front and riding rigid ... and no, it wasn't just for the monster-truck aesthetics.

Fast forward 12 months and a new bike had taken up residence at the Bear Bones cycle storage facility in the shape of a Stooge ... not a bike designed for 29+ but a bike with a front end that lends itself to it. The general consensus seems to be that any rim wider than 35mm (such as the Velocity Blunt / P35) will accommodate the Surly Knard but a wider rim will produce the best results. A couple of emails to Shona at Keep Pedalling found me in possession of a Velocity Dually laced to an SP dynamo hub ... all I needed now was a tyre. Right at this present moment the only 29+ tyre available in the UK is the Surly Knard, which although round and knobbly is much better suited to the conditions we've enjoyed over the previous months rather than those we're likely to endure over those coming. 

There's the promise of more tyres from Maxxis, Vee Rubber and Bontrager but the eta for any is somewhat vague and realistically could be nearer months rather than weeks. 

It looks much bigger in the flesh.

Not wanting a silly thing like not having the correct (read optimum) sized tyre stand in the way of messing about with bikes, I opted to see what affect the 50mm rim would have on a 'normal' tyre. As luck would have it, the tyre fitted to the existing wheel was a Continental X-King in 2.4" flavour, an ideal candidate. The 2.4" Conti' is a pretty big tyre with plenty of volume even on a 25mm rim, so I was interested to see how doubling the rim width would do.

X King on Dually.

X King on 25mm rim.

As you can (hopefully) see the Dually rim has made quite a difference to the tyre and so far with no negative side effects. I was a little concerned that the extra width of the rim would cause the profile of the tyre to become a little too square, something I don't like. The profile has certainly flattened a little across the top but it's still very much 'rounded' so doesn't feel like you're about to ride of the edge of the world at anything approaching a reasonable angle of lean. The tyre footprint has certainly increased and the volume has been 'opened up' considerably, so in theory an increase in grip and comfort should be on the cards.
A 3" tyre will be finding its way on to the front of the bike at some point and I'll report back when it does but for the moment I'm very happy to exploit the benefits the Dually offers more conservatively sized rubber.

More soon.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Trekkertent cuben tarp ... light just got lighter.

I've long been a fan of the humble flat tarp. What they lack in whistles and bells, they more than make up for in simplicity, versatility, pack size and low weight ... and shelters don't come much lighter than the Trekkertent cuben flat tarp.

Ample room as a half pyramid.

The tarp's made from 25g/m cuben and features 8 perimeter tie-outs plus a single 'lifter' tie-out in the centre, that might not be many but it's enough to allow a good variety of pitching options. I'm glad to see the tarp measures a full 1.5m x 2.5m which is that little bit longer than the majority of solo tarps ... the extra 100mm - 200mm really does make a difference, particularly if you're on the tall side.

Careful where you get undressed.

Seams and tie-outs are always a potential weak point on cuben shelters, to prevent any nasties, Trekkertent have triple layered and bonded these areas, the tie-outs are actually stitched through 9 layers of cuben! ... there's not much point having an ultralight shelter if you can't use it in anything worse than a gentle breeze.

3 layer bonded centre seam.

The tarp weighs 125g, that's right 125g which is about half of what a similar sized silnylon tarp weighs. If you add another 150g for lines, pegs and a pole, then you've got yourself a full shelter set-up for around 275g ... which is less than the weight of 80 tea bags.

Cuben does have a bit of a reputation for making taught pitches difficult, the problem is usually attributed to the materials lack of stretch. It's not really something I've had any issues with in the past and this time was no different, no creases, no flappy edges, just a nice tight pitch without needing to over-stress the material ... maybe I'm just lucky. Something else cuben won't do is stretch when it gets wet, so no matter how much it rains in the night, your perfect pitch should still be a perfect pitch the following morning.

Taught pitch ... easy.

It's very easy to think that something so light (and nearly see through) must be fragile, well besides being handmade in Scotland, the tarps are also tested there. Quite often the venue for testing is at the top of some of Scotlands highest mountains. It's probably a fair bet that if they can withstand the conditions up there, then you won't do it much harm even with regular use.

Something else cuben has a reputation for is been expensive. Due to the basic material costs all cuben shelters appear expensive when compared to anything else, so while £140 seems like an awful lot of money it's actually 'cheap' when compared directly to 'like for like' products from other manufactures ... have a search on-line and you'll see what I mean.

So, if the 'fast and light' ethos drives your adventures, then the Trekkertent cuben tarp will help you get lighter ... but getting faster's sadly down to you.


Monday, October 6, 2014

The Mytimug is dead - long live the Mytimug.

The AlpKit Mytimug has been a favourite of cost conscious outdoor types for a good number of years. Since its introduction it's undergone a couple of makeovers, the first was 2008 and the second was last week ... the Mytimug is dead, long live the Mytimug.

Numerous adventures - adventures to come.

The first and most obvious difference between the old and new is the size ... the latest version has a smaller capacity than its predecessor with a 100ml reduction in the size of your brew. The drop in volume corresponds to a reduction in height, down from 110mm to 100mm but it has gained a tiny bit around the middle with the O/D increasing by a whole millimeter - although it does actually look more than that, weird.

The fold-away wire handles are still present but they're set a little lower which is good news, as it gives more room for a 'lip guard' around the rim. The design of the lid is simpler than before but there's no steam vent holes and less pressing / forming used in production.

Old and new ... which isn't as fat as it looks.

So, does a smaller mug mean a lighter mug? Yes it does, it's not much in the great scheme of things but a reduction is still a reduction. The latest generation weighs 94g (74g mug + 20g lid) against 102g for the previous incarnation (84g mug + 18g lid). The lids are interchangeable between the 2 mugs and they actually work really well switched ... new lid on old mug results in a very secure fit as you can see below, while the old lid on the new mug sits nice and low, in fact it's almost flush.

Old mug with new lid produces a 'rattle free fit'.

I can't say that the new Mytimug is better than the old one, after all there was nothing wrong with the old one, but it is different. I certainly think it's more deserving of the title 'mug' as I always considered the 750ml capacity of the old model placed it firmly in the 'pot' camp. In theory the reduction in its dimensions should make it potentially easier to pack and any reduction in weight has to help the cause. If you're looking to simplify your cooking kit and carry a single pot to cook in and eat / drink from, that doesn't require a sharp intake of breath as you click the 'buy' button, the new Mytimug is about as good as it gets.

Mytimug ... £20 from ALPKIT

Thursday, October 2, 2014

On-One Gravel Road tyre - mini review.

Having the 'right' tyres can make life a great deal easier and conversely rolling on the 'wrong' tyres can make life so much harder than it need be. Recent forays along the seemingly endless network of Welsh farm tracks and forest roads, would suggest that selecting the 'wrong' tyre for your crosser / gravel racer / call it whatever is not only easy but also makes a massive difference to your cycling pleasure / effort ratio.

The tyres fitted to my crosser are / were 35c Kenda Kwickers. I'd love to say that they found their way on there after great consideration and deliberation but in reality they found their way on there because they were fairly light, had a reasonable looking tread and very importantly ... they were cheap. This years mild Winter presented the Kwickers with a perfect opportunity to shine. The aggressive tread allied with the 35c width allowed them to cut through the gloop and find a reasonable degree of purchase on the sodden ground. Fast forward a few months though and the Welsh countryside had undergone quite a transformation, everything was baked hard and the Kwickers positive Winter attributes now seemed to be working against me, rather than with me ... new tyre time.  

Kenda on the left, Gravel Road ont' other side.

Anything called a 'Gravel Road' should be good for riding on gravel roads - right? On-One describe the tyre thus "The Gravel Road is for tough endurance riding in challenging conditions" and "Built for the challenges of gravel riding, but versatile enough for everyday multi-trail use". They also say, "excelling as it does on soft to medium ground" but seeing as I wanted a tyre for medium to hard ground I chose to ignore that bit and promptly ordered a pair.

Upon arrival I cut the packaging label off and paid a visit to the shrine of geekyness and the home of the Bear Bones scales. On-One quote a weight of 450g for the 40c version and the scales of truth backed this up by registering 446g - not stupid light, not stupid heavy. In a blur of luminous pink tyre lever (I've only got the one) the tyres were fitted and the bike duly ridden round the yard. Mounted on a 19mm rim they measure up at 38mm across the widest point and have a nicely rounded profile without starting to become 'pointy'.

The double row of centre blocks are closely spaced and feature directional ramps to help minimise rolling resistance, while the edge tread is less pronounced with much more space between the blocks. They also feature dual compound, a 120tpi casing and foldable bead ... which in theory should make them ideal for the rigours of forest tracks and farm roads. 

Happy in its natural enviroment.

The first thing I noticed was just how well they roll, the second thing I noticed was that there was no shortage of grip available, even when provoked. On any ground you could term as 'hard' the rolling resistance is negligible, it actually feels like you've gained an extra couple of gears ... they don't half roll well. Venture onto the softer stuff and there's more than enough grip whether you're climbing, descending or pootling along the flat without sacrificing speed. As with the majority of 'cross' tyres how much air you stick in, can have quite a dramatic effect on how the tyre feels. My initial impressions were based on running 40psi front and back but in an attempt to soften the ride I dropped the front to a shade under 35psi and promised myself I'd 'ride lightly' ... Straight away you could feel an extra level of drag that wasn't there before and although the reduction in pressure did smooth things out a little, it also made pinch flats appear with boring regularity. I also tried upping the pressure to 45psi in a quest to further minimise effort and maximise speed but didn't gain anything worthy of note, so play around with your tyre pressures, you might be pleasantly surprised, plagued with punctures or have your teeth rattled from your head.

Even though I ignored "excelling as it does on soft to medium ground" when I fitted the tyres, I'm hoping that statement is correct and that they'll continue to perform well with the onset of Winter, if they can't handle the impending slop I can always re-fit the Kendas but if they can, then I think we might just have discovered the perfect 'all year' tyre for gravel roads.

Available in 33c and 40c for £14.99 per end from On-One

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

20° but feels like 8° ... Windproof tops.

We've all experienced the affects of 'wind chill' and it doesn't need to be particularly windy before we feel them ... just think how much colder you are at the bottom of a long descent than you were at the top.

A windproof top can make the ideal 'extra layer' to stuff in your pocket or bag. They usually weigh very little, generally pack down to nothing and can make all the difference, even on those summery rides. Most manufactures have their own take on how best to produce a windproof, while they all strive to fulfill the same role they do come in numerous guises ... here's 3 to get you started.

Ooh get you.

The OMM Sonic smock is about as basic as a windproof can get. There's no pockets, no hood and only half a zip. It's made from something OMM call Point Zero, a very light, highly breathable fabric that weighs pretty much nothing. The wrists are elasticated and also feature thumb loops which do help seal out any unwanted draughts. Around the bottom there's a simple drawcord arrangement, which I have to say broke very quickly on mine although I can also say that I haven't missed it. The zip finishes just below your moobs and adds just enough venting for the climbs. The outer face has a DWR coating which I'm sure must help repel a certain amount of moisture but certainly doesn't make the smock even remotely waterproof ... just resistant.

If you're interested in carrying as little weight as possible, then you'll be interested to know that a medium weighs just 68g on the scales of truth and can literally be stuffed into the smallest space. Although the Sonic uses a very light material I've not managed to tear, rip or generally damage it yet (apart from the drawcord but that might have been a manufacturing fault, which I'm sure would have been remedied under warranty if I'd been bothered) after 18 months and some less than careful treatment.

Ideal if you want minimum weight without the whistles and bells.

Paramo ... no nonsense.

Paramo tend to do things a little differently ... while their Fuera smock is without doubt the heaviest of the 3 and certainly has the biggest pack size, it's the one that feels like it'll outlive cockroaches in a nuclear strike. It's made from Nikwax Windproof which just like the others has a DWR coating but the water repellency of Nikwax material can increased with the use of Nikwax products like TX Direct, which is always handy. All the features you'd usually associate with a heavier jacket are present - full hood with a wired peak and rear volume adjuster - large 'Kangaroo' front pocket which is big enough for an OS map or baby marsupial - adjustable velcro cuffs and an elasticated, drawcord hem. The zip is 240mm long but feels shorter mainly because it finishes higher up, which gives you the option to really seal the elements out if need be. 

A small (yes Paramo sizing is generous) tips the scales at 282g but if you want something to wear year in year out, that offers maximum protection and maybe can leave to the grandkids, this is probably it.

Half way to becoming a tea pot.

Haglofs Shield Pro is a windproof with a bonus or maybe an identity crisis depending on your point of view. The shell fabric feels similar to that used on the Sonic, however it does feel slightly thicker and has a minuscule rip-stop weave and the obligatory DWR coating. This is a jacket not a smock, so there's obviously a full zip which is nicely backed with an internal baffle. A fairly basic and lightly elasticated hood takes care of upstairs and yes, it does fit easily under a helmet. Pockets are limited to a single hand warmer that's placed quite high on the right hand side ... big enough for your keys but certainly not a map. The hem shares the same part elasticated structure as the hood as do the cuffs, which also benefit from thumb loops. So what's the bonus? Insulation. The front of the jacket contains 40g synthetic insulation ... nothing in the arms, nothing round the back, just the front where you'll get maximum benefit. When you pick the Shield up you can tell the front's that bit thicker but it's not until you put it on that you really feel it. 40g/m isn't a lot of insulation but it does make a huge difference, so much so that I've taken to using the Shield as an 'evening camp' jacket through summer.

Adding insulation obviously pushes the weight up and increases the pack size but only slightly, a medium weighs 122g and still packs down to the size of a Granny Smith. While the Shield might not be as light as the Sonic or as tough as the Fuera it does offer a level of versatility that's ideal for the colder months.

All 3 tops are easily sourced on-line but shop about as often the rrp doesn't reflect the price they can be bought for. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Plastic fantastic ... lighter than Ti, cheaper than chips.

A while ago I posted something about cooking without a cooker but if you're really wanting to push things, could you go further? Maybe there's a way you could dispense with the pot / mug altogether and replace it with something much lighter, infinitely cheaper and available pretty much everywhere ... the humble plastic bottle, that's right I did say plastic.

I've chosen the thinnest, poorest quality one I could find. It's not special, it once contained spring water from somewhere or other like countless bottles on the shelves or in the bin ... something a little more substantial will obviously last longer, maybe even a couple of days use. Have a rummage through the bins and see what you can find.

The first thing you'll need to do is light yourself a little fire. It doesn't have to be worthy of Guy Fawkes, just enough room for your bottle to be placed in the middle.

You'll be needing one of these.

When you've got a reasonable amount of hot embers, scrape a hollow in them and place your bottle in it. Remember to remove the lid first and only fill it 3/4 full to allow a little expansion (water) and contraction (bottle) room.

Oi - take the lid off first.

Add a bit more fuel to your fire concentrating around the outside of the bottle. Don't go mad, you do need some flames but you're not trying to re-make the Towering Inferno.

Pop the bottle on and put a put a bit more wood ont' fire.

Sit back and relax. You'll obviously need to keep feeding your fire but within a few minutes you'll have lovely boiling water.

Hard to see but the water is boiling here.

If you're going for the full dirt-bag approach just empty your favoured powered beverage straight into the bottle and give it a little shake.

Not pretty but enough life left for the mornings brew.

Although not exactly unscathed by the ordeal, your bottle will still hold water and should be capable of a couple more 'burns'.