Monthly Archives: February 2012

All-Rounder: 9-Month/1000km Follow-Up

UPDATED 07/03/12: Now with pictures!

I’ve had the O8 CX700 for nearly 9 months now, and so have put it through its paces by now. That’s about 1000kms of mixed onroad/offorad/singletrack with tweaking, tuning, and general fettling in appropriate proportions.

The Good:

1. Big Wonkin’ Tires. There are quite a few things this bike has going for it, not least of which includes the capacity for large tires. I’ve concluded that you can shoehorn a 29×2.3 with fenders in there if you wanted.

The 51mm (2.1in nominal) wide CST Critters have been a good fit so far.
There is room for maybe 2.3in tires w/fenders, or 2.4 without.  

2. A Nice Fork Design. I have had a good experience with the straight bladed fork that came standard with the frame. I know many people dislike them, because of the ‘harsher ride’ they supposedly give, or for their non-traditional look. Well, I can say that the ride certainly didn’t feel “harsh” when riding road with 23mm tires @ 110psi. It was easier on my wrists than other bikes I have used, absorbing the cracks and bumps in the road surface very easily, albeit with a little additional road noise feel than my other bikes. For offroad use, the fork is superb, with enough spring to make the bike forgiving on rougher terrain, without compromising the strength that has given me confidence to shoot some trails faster than might advisable. Oh, and did I mention the fork has double eyelets standard?

All the mounts you need: the double-eyelets here
are supporting both highrider and lowrider racks,
as well as fenders!

3. Great Frame Geometry, due to the cyclo-cross heritage of the frame, makes the CX700 especially versatile. It bridges the area between mountain bikes and road bicycles, which makes this a veritable monstercrosser. Therefore, the geometry of the frame makes it a perfect trail runner for anything from light gravel to muddy dirt single track, and even manages to cope with the occasional root or rock. I’ve had no end of pleasure to riding around the many winding forest trails near my home. It’s head tube angle makes it easy to direct on trails, but also seems to naturally follow the flow of the trail. More than this,  it works well on the road. It has lively-enough handling and corners well onroad – better than most mountain bikes.  The BB drop is well-calibrated, so that standover is easily achievable with hybrid and road tires, but that it is also still comfortable enough to dismount/mount with the wider-diameter 29″ rubber. The slight slant of the TT improves groin clearance and standover height, but be forewarned; wiping out in technical terrain still won’t be pretty (get a true MTB for this!).

I think the paint job and decals are top-rate as well.
Lay of black primer, then powder-coated, then clear-coat.
Nice. 

4. The Cockpit of the bike has been custom-tailored to be the near-epitome of cycling comfort and performance for my needs and tastes. A 40cm Nitto B-115, which I had thought would be too narrow, is comfortably spaced in the drops, with a very nice Maes bend. Many day-long ride on road have convinced me of this bar’s comfort.

Cross levers and 8-speed ‘Brifters on a Nitto 115 bar.’ 

Coupled with an Avenir-branded alloy adjustable stem, I have the ability to raise the bars far above the seat for cruising the trails or lazily pedaling around town, or drop them below for a little better speed performance. If you have a threadless fork, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you buy your own adjustable stem – the ability to tune it to fit your mood, or your exact riding style, allows superior comfort. I also have only good things to say about Tektro’s cross levers, and Shimano’s STI road levers, which have made it easy to brake no matter the hand position, and caused shifting to be precise and easily achieved every time.

Adjustable stem allows a lot of fine-tuning for one,
or multiple, riding styles. 

5. Gearing. This is important on any bike, but I have been fiddling with the setup for a while, and am pretty happy with it. The old alivio 22-32-42 crankset with a 12-32t SRAM casette, although only 7 speeds, has offered a reliable and generally trouble-free setup. With a low gear of 18in, and a top of 94in, I am able to power through mud and fly down roadways.

The drivetrain

6. New Fenders! Enough is enough – a set of 29er Cascadia Fenders from Planet Bike (the full wheel-covering design) have finally been added. The cheapest full 29er funders I’ve seen, and lets hope, most effective I will own. Even though a recent addition, I can easily say they will be staying. They have cut down on the mud splatter and prevented the ‘skunk stripe’ many MTBers are familiar with. The design is great:

They come with REALLY nice/useful rubber mudflaps.
Derailleur clearance is a *bit* tight,
to make room for the large tires.
A small gap had to be cut into the front fender to fit in
the relatively-tight front fork.

The Bad:

A few things have made this otherwise near-perfect bike frame less than spectacular.

1. Rear-triangle Alignment. First of all, this is the issue which I thought I had resolved, but has actually been continuing. With vengeance. It appeared as though the spacing was off, which was tilting the rear wheel to one brake stud. Not so – measuring shows that one chain stay was incorrectly welded slightly off, and that  the right rear canti stud (viewed from back) was welded too far up (!). Not unusably so – but just noticeably. The only way I was able to fix the brake issue was to reduce wheel/tire clearance, and move the rear hub farther forward in the dropout, to gain rim space. To correct for the crooked wheel, I had to re-align the rear of the bike, along with the dropouts. The frame was usable before, it just sucks that Quality Control from Origin 8 did not catch this.

As the red lines show, because of the frame being off-kilter,
so are the angles of the brakes at rest. Performance isn’t harmed,
though a bit of brake clearance is lost. 

2. Track-Ends do not a great friend make. They are easy to set up on single-speed bikes, and I recognize that this frame was designed to allow derailluer, fixed or SS set ups, but track ends make removing/re-installing the wheel messier. I don’t want to have to pick up the chain to wrap around the cogs with my bare hands. This wheel-changing inconvenience can be avoided if a front-facing dropout were used.

I added a second adjustment screw to the rear dropouts.
Now the wheel stays straight all the time.

3. Rear rack and fender mounts aren’t in the best place with this frame. Putting them up so high on the chainstay certainly removes any possible interference with disk brakes, but makes the centre of gravity quite high. And it also means that there is less room on top to pile on gear before it hits your saddle. Traditional-style fenders also don’t bolt on there (don’t even try) – you MUST mount them using washers and bolts onto the holes in the dropout.

The fender is mounted with rubber grommets
sandwiched between washers high in the dropout.

4. Saddle Position for my Brooks hasn’t been ideal. There really isn’t anything wrong with the B17 saddle that I own ( its downright comfortable, in fact)- it is simply that the old design used for the metal rails doesn’t allow much forward/aft adjustment. Right now, with my 20mm setback seat-post, it always seems as if I am too close to the handlebars. This is especially annoying on long road rides.

5. Derailleurs. —-> FIXED (see below)! As always, finicky at the best of times. The front derailleur, because it is a mountain style mated to road-style levers, doesn’t move 100% of the proper length needed for shifting. Downshifting to the granny is mainly the problem. The rear, OTOH, has generally been worry-free.

6. Brakes are a must have for any bike, but the power of this bike’s Tektro CR720 cantis has been less than inspiring. Partly resolved due to repairing frame alignment, the rear brakes continue to be particularly weak. They only grab in dry weather, and locking a wheel in the wet required me to whale on the brake levers. The front brakes stop effectively enough, but lack the ‘ooph’ to lock up the wheel in anything but loose gravel. Needless to say, stopping from the brake hoods requires a lot of force to do. See the picture in #1 for the minor brake crookedness. 


The Future! – What’s in Store:

1. Derailleur Tweaking. Not really an upgrade, but maybe some derailleur mods are in order? The front derailleur will most likely be bent to better facilitate shifting, and the rear one may eventually be replace by a shiny new Deore unit    —–> DONE! I swapped on a new Alivio RD-M430 9-speed unit to replace its ageing 7-speed counterpart. Shimano has really upped the quality for Alivio, since adding a few extra lower tiers. I’d say that today’s Alivio components are equivalent in quality to Deore of 5 years ago (and, of course, now Deore has moved up accordingly). I’m really happy with it – smoooth shifts, and quickly too, with much better chainwrap capacity (it has a longer arm).

New Alivio RD-M430 R. Derailleur

2. New Seatpost to solve the setback issue of the saddle. The VO Grand Cru or Nitto with similarly large setback are likely to replace the MEC/Kalloy affair currently affixed to the bike.

Holy Setback, Batman: VO’s Grand Cru Seatpost

3. New Rims – mine are getting old. They haven’t failed me yet, but the scratches in the concave rim are warning me that retirement is in short order. A new set of 700c Sun CR-18s will replace my aging Araya PX-35s, and because they have similar rim dimensions (equivalent E.R.D., for those who must know), they can be swapped onto the same hub and spokes in short order.

4. New Tires, because who doesn’t love riding around on Fat Franks? These tires are made specifically for those who want the plush, cushy ride of wide tires, but with the rolling resistance of street tires. Despite this, the tread pattern is apparently well-suited to light MTB trails. Me Gusta.

Final Verdict – Yay or Nay?:


It’s kinda hard to to make this kind of decision, especially considering my bias. However, even taking this into account I will still say….

yay!
I recommend this bike frame because of its excellent overall value, weight and versatility (and I love the paint job too). Not many frames out that with that kinda bang-for-your buck, and especially in one that is so all-rounded. Despite me receiving a defective model, I cannot let this be my sole judging point – after all, I’m certain only a small minority are improperly made. If you do buy this frame, as with any other, check it for defects with a plumb line before assembling it, so that you don’t get stuck in a point like I was where I couldn’t return it. This bike *is* the one I am bringing to Italy for a two week cycle tour, so I do trust that it is well-enough assembled by me and those at the O8 factory to carry 220-230lbs of weight all told, and love the overall build quality; the one-off imperfect rear alignment is the only major sticking point. 

Italian Trip in the Planning

From early June this year, for two weeks, I’ll be in Europe. Mostly Tuscany, to be more specific – since my dad and I are planning to do little father-son bike trip in Italy this summer. Italy isn’t quite the most cycling friendly nation out there, I will admit (the Netherlands, Germany or France would be much better choices), but the Mediterranean climate, Roman ruins and picturesque scenes wherever one goes have swayed us.  That, and I kinda want to say “Hi!” to the pope.

Pisa’s Leaning Tower. I bet you a nickel this is
the image that appeared in your brain when you read “Italy.”
As a veteran map-reader (from my boy-scouting days), I have been assigned the somewhat-daunting task of planning the cycling route, and all of our destinations. With a guidebook or two, and tips from friends, I’ve got the basic event agenda structured. But, what is really difficult however is the route forming; Italian roads are notoriously narrow (no shoulders!) and the drivers frequenting them are just as notorious for their high speeds and impatience. 
Google Maps is a wonderful tool for this, and I have been using its full potential to see possible routes, right down to the elevation, and (thanks to street view) whether or not there are provisions for cyclists. Street view certainly also helps when trying to determine the road’s traffic volume. 
Check out the Route:
View Cycling Italy in a larger map
Itinerary (So Far):
Day 1: Arrive by plane in Florence. Tour the city for the day, then sleep off the jet-lag.
Day 2: Cycle from Florence to the historic San Gimigiano. 
3: San Gimigiano to Pisa
Days 4-10: Pisa, south along the Italian west cost, arriving in Rome. (The route has been mapped, but not the stops)
Day 11: Rome!!
Days 12-14ish: Train south to Naples, visiting Pompeii and the Amaplhi coast. 
If you have any suggestions/tips, feel free to leave some below in comments. 

6 Months Later, Pt. 2

In the spirit of comparing how things have changed over the past half year, I thought I’d continue the theme, but this time, with a little trail construction.

June 16th:

And we’ve come a pretty long way since then, with the trail going out a good 300m more than before.

February 11th:

Yes. Quite the change, as the trail is now rounding the promontory made by the bluffs, and we can clearly see the beach of Bluffer’s Park, whereas we could only really see the tip before. The story is that the breakwater is to be connected up the the beachfront trail at Bluffer’s Park, so that it can form a single multi-use trail.

But what if we turn our gaze from westward to northward, and look at the bluffs? Why, we see this!

If you don’t see it already, there is a small dwelling leaning precariously off the bluff’s edge. Here’s a closeup:
Hello, Mrs. Van! Is Billy home?

This Meadowcliffe Drive building has actually been hanging off the bluff’s edge on  since early 2008 when a large chunk of bluff collapsed. This house once belonged to Billy Van,  the Toronto-born singer, actor and comedian. Huh.

You can see some better pictures of Billy Van’s house up-close here.

Rotation, Rotation, Rotation!

Don’t the size of the tires, on some degree, define what bicycle you have and who you are? Bikes such as monstercrossers aren’t that different than a regular cyclocross bike – just with wider rubber. And what about the veritable 29er? Not so different than a hard-tail 26in-wheel mountain bike in everything except wheel size! As it stands right now, there are four well-known sizes for bicycle wheels: 26in, 700c, 29in, and 650b.  Yes, 700c and 29in wheels and tires are technically the same, but for the purposes of everyday cyclists (and morover, the cycling industry), 29in is a buzzword for width.

26in is by far the most common – the VW Beetle of bike wheels if you will. Ubiquitous all around the world (especially the 3rd world, as the Beetle used to be!), and often easy to find cheap replacements, it is loved for its smaller size as this increases its durability. If you ride this size, you are a no-nonsense, function-over-form kinda cyclist. 

36er?!? Now you’re just showboating!

700c is for those who love the open road, and speed – the sports cars of bike wheels. The large diameter wheel and thinner profile tires make them roll over road bumps more easily, and have low rolling resistance. Often a little harder to find and slightly more expensive, the can be slightly more delicate as their larger diameter makes them less forgiving to rough treatment. If you roll on 700c, you are concerned about speed, and love the cruising on the roadways.

29in tires and wheels can be likened to SUVs in the car world – requiring a lot of energy to roll fast, but  fun when off road or in the gritty stuff. Also like SUVs, they can have a bit of a “status factor”. They can be a little more delicate the their 26in cousins, but that special ability to roll over all obstacles often makes them desirable for the offroading crowd. If you have a 29er, you like to be proud of what you ride, but you are willing to have fun along the way.

And of course, how can we forget 650b? They are the Austin Mini of the cycling industry, in that they once were very popular, but fell out of favour and production was stopped. With a ‘rebirth’ into the nostalgic minds it was launched, so just as new Mini Cooper, the 650b tire is making a come-back in popularity. An odd size in-between 26in and 700c, but with a 29er’s thickness, it is the French tire size from a bygone era. If your bike is equipped with 650b wheels, you may just be a “Retro-Grouch, loving the “tried and true” of yesteryear. That or, you are a hipster trying to keep up with the latest, if not most functional, cycling trend.


Of course, these are stereotypes – but I think from the websites of Velo Orange and TwentyNineInches and the endless personal and forum experiences we’ve all had, we can say they are often true!

Homemade White Gas "Still"

Almost everybody is familiar with the venerable Coleman suitcase stoves and pressurized lanterns – both of which run on what is known in N. America as “white gasoline”. White gas, camp fuel and naphta are all different names for the same fuel. It is essentially a more refined version of gasoline (petrol for those of you in the UK!), with fewer smelly, carcinogenic compounds like benzene, toluene and octane-boosters. These additives are good for cars, but can clog stove generators and jets as they form viscous gums, which is why the more refined white gas does without them.

Unfortunately, the camp fuels sold at stores aren’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination. Here, a 3.78L (1 US Gallon) can of the cheapest camp fuel fetches about $15.50. Well, what about regular gasoline then? It’s relatively cheap, and readily available, but can clog stoves and burns with an odour. Following my grade 11 chemistry background, I decided to try making a “gasoline still”. Because chemicals like hexane and octane boil at lower temperatures than other additives, boiling gasoline will yield vapours of chemicals I want, and the chemicals I don’t want stay in the retort. The gasses pass through a tube and condense to liquid, then drip into a separate container.

Disclaimer: What I have done here is extremely dangerous, with potential for serious burns/loss of hair and/or dignity. If you should attempt to follow my example, godspeed to you! But, I do not accept any liability. 

Not being one to spend much, I skipped the lab equipment and went straight to fabricating this odd contraption:

Gasoline Still – note the high tech device (rag)
used to prevent gases from escaping and causing a fire.

The Zippo lighter fluid can was filled with gasoline and then was boiled (very carefully!) over a candle flame. The gasoline boiled off and went through the straw into the watering can, where it condensed. It took a while, but eventually enough was collected to use.

The watering can was filled with a clear liquid and the Zippo can was filled with a yellow sludge, proving that there were a lot of additives. The clear liquid still smelled a little like gas, but not nearly as much as before. If one were able to control the temperature more, I’m sure the result would be even better.

The “white gas” I distilled burns fine in stoves, still with a bit of an odour, however. I hope to get some  better equipment (and a hot plate for sure) to produce this faster and in greater volume, but as a proof of concept, I’d say it works!