Category Archives: cheap

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. 

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!

Gear Review: Butane Canister Refill Tool

Update 16/10/17: Wow, 4 years later and this is still the most popular page on my site! The Camping In Taiwan store has changed some URLs, so I updated them accordingly.

Update 13/05/13: It has been noted by someone that the company’s policy of shipping their adaptors in simple sealed, unpadded envelopes can cause problems – the unpadded envelope may rupture, leading to package loss. I suggest voicing any concerns with shipping to the owner.

An $8 piece of equipment which I highly recommend to any canister stove or lantern user is this butane canister refill tool. I managed to find it from the Camping In Taiwan website/webstore, here (scroll down).*

The bayonet-to-threaded refill adapter
With butane, there are two standards: the wide and squat EN417 threaded style canisters used in camping applications, and the thin and tall bayonet-style butane canisters often used in home applications. This above tool allows anyone to refill their isobutane/butane blend EN417-threaded canisters with the bayonet type butane cartridges. The benefit of using these bayonet cans to source fuel is obvious: they are cheap, cheap, cheap! But, because they have a bayonet fuel mount, then this adapter is needed. The adapter converts the large nozzle on these butane cartridges into a smaller nozzle – just large enough to fit into an EN417 valve and refill your favourite isobutane cartridge.
If you are partial to using the small isobutane canisters (like me – I always use the 113g/4oz. cans), so that you aren’t carrying the heavy and larger 227 or 450g cans, then using this refilling adapter will save you even more. Lets do some math:
  • MSR Isobutane (113g): $4.90
  • Primus Isobutane (450g): $10.00
  • North 49-branded Bayonet Canister (227g) : $2.99
  • Generic Bayonet Canister (227g): $1 to $1.50ea (look for these in 4-packs @ your nearest Asian food market)
These work out to (g per $):
  • MSR: 23.1 g/$
  • Primus: 45.0 g/$
  • North 49: 75.9 g/$
  • Generic: 227.0 to 151.3 g/$

The substantial savings become obvious when comparing like that. Note also how much more you get per dollar when using the larger isobutane canisters compared to the smaller ones. Asian markets carry lots of the bayonet cans at dirt cheap prices, since curved woks won’t work on regular electric stove elements, and the butane home ranges are often used instead. But seeing as I don’t live near any Asian food markets, I recently have relied on Canadian Tire’s North 49-branded bayonet cans as fuel (and sadly, have been paying the mark-up on  price).

The break-even amount I have found is 2 full refills, using my MSR 113g and the North 49 refills. The adapter has already paid for itself a few times over.

Its just a small piece of machined aluminum and two rubber seals. Weight: 3g.
Here’s how you use it. You’ll need a kitchen scale, the adapter(duh), a threaded isobutane canister, a butane refill, access to a freezer and a marker.
1. Weight a full EN417 isobutane cartridge. If you don’t have a full can, you can often find the full weights online. I have recorded this weight on the can’s bottom, for future reference:
232g —> the mass of the butane gas (113g) + canister itself ( 119g)
2. After a few weeks, once your can has been mostly used up, weight it again:
My refill apparatus, with mostly empty MSR cartridge ready to be refilled. In my case, a fully empty MSR canister would weigh ~119g
3. Now, put the empty can into the freezer, and let it chill. This will help create a pressure difference, and drive the butane into the canister far more quickly.
4. Remove from freezer, and place the adapter into the valve hole.
5. Take the bayonet can and place it into the orifice in the adapter. Press down firmly. If you don’t it may leak a bit of butane gas (you’ll smell it). Hold it down for a few seconds.
The connector should look like this when ready to go to the next step.
6. Place the refilled can onto the scale, less the adapter. Aim for a similar weight to that of the full canister. Try not to go over. Under filling by any amount is fine, and overfilling by a few grams shouldn’t matter either.
Refilled MSR 113 Cartridge. In reality, the full weight was to be 232g – it is really easy to over shoot the target.

As in the above picture, I’ve managed to over fill. By adding these extra 11 grams, I have increase the total fuel by ~10%. Since this refilled can is just pure butane now, instead of the usual isobutane/propane mix, the cold-weather performance should be noticeably less exciting. Butane boils at 0C @ sea level, and so this technique will really only work for spring/summer/fall use. Isobutane boils at -12C, and Propane boils at -42C, and so these fuels should work much better in the cold.

However, this allows us to exploit the higher boiling point – we *can* over fill by some degree with impunity. This can occur without the canister bursting because pure butane won’t make as much vapour pressure at room temperature as isobutane/propane will. Slightly overfilling is a good way to cut down weight if you should need more fuel – more fuel for less space and per packaging weight. A way to do this with minimal risk is to let both cans reach room temp, then try at filling a little more. The pressures should equalize to a safe level, and you should still get a little extra fuel added. BUT if something does go wrong, I don’t take any responsibility.

* This is not an advertisement for Camping in Taiwan, nor have I had any compensation for this review.

The All-Rounder

Without further delay, I present to you the Origin 8 CX700-framed-all-rounder:

Origin 8’s Cx700 frame allows me to run 29er tyres, yet doesn’t
look out of place running skinny rubber.

The specs:
– Origin 8 CX700 Cyclocross/Touring/All-Rounder frame, 56 cm *
– CST Critter 29 x 2.1″ tyres *
– Mountain Equipment Co-Op Alloy Seatpost (rebranded Kalloy Uno) – 27.0 mm *
– Brooks B17 Standard, Honey
– Nitto B-115 – 40cm/25.4 mm clamp
– RSX 3×8 Brifters
– Avenir adjustable threadless stem w/ Origin 8 Spacers*
– FSA “The Hammer” 1 1/8 in Headset *
– Shimano BB-UN26 Sq. Tpr. *
– Alivio 22-32-42 Crank
– Victor VP-196 Pedals w/toe clips (VP-565 Platforms shown in pictures)
– SRAM 12-32 7-Speed Casette
– Alivio F. Der, 31.8mm clamp  *
– Alivio R. Der
– KMC Z-Chain *
– Wheels: Alivio hubs laced to 36h Araya PX-35 rims
– Jagwire “Basics” Cables + Housings *
– Tektro 720 Cantis
        A “*” means bought new. All other parts are scavenged from my other bike.

FSA “The Hammer” Headset; dirt cheap, but so far,
smooth and strong.



Misc Odds and Ends:
-“Greenfield” seatstay/chainstay kickstand
– Mountain Equipment racks (Blackburn Knock-offs)
– MEC “Wedgy” Seat bag
– Zefal water bottle cages
– Planet Bike ATB Pump

I must say that I am *very* pleasantly surprised at how well this new bike handles, and with the overall quality of the budget-conscious build. As I ripped almost all the parts from my previous “main” bike, the total build cost came in at $428 CAD, all told. Thats actually $28 over what I wanted to spend, but oh well; I wasn’t about to reuse my a 17-year-old bottom bracket and grind the old front derailleur to 31.8 clamp dia.

The Frame
The Origin 8 frame was a big surprise for me – it is a relatively new offering, not like the tried-and-true Surly Cross Check or LHT. But, without taking risks, I would have been missing out on something great. What makes this frame a better all-rounder base is the extra-wide clearance for up to 2.3″ 29er tyres, which is substantial considering the ~ 42mm tyre limit for the LHT. The specs for the Origin 8 clearly said “Fits 2.1″ tyres”, but they lied, because there is quite a bit more room to shove in a larger tyre. With my 2.1″s on, there seems to be just enough room to install a fender, albeit tightly.

2.1″ 29er tyre and still going strong; the Origin 8 CX700 frame
probably can squeeze in a 2.3″, if you don’t need fenders. 

The wheel can gain a few extra inches clearance if pulled back in the rear-facing
track-style dropouts (track ends).

  What I also like about this frame is the thoughtful lay-out of the rack mounting points. On the rear, they are placed high above the dropout, in the seatstay, which allows standard racks to be used with the over-sized 29er tyres by giving extra clearance. They also provide a helluva lotta heel room; about 3″ more to my pannier bags as compared to my old bike. Oh, and this layout also allows the unimpeded use of disk brakes on the rear. The only problem is that there is slightly less space to strap things to to top of the rack, as there is less room between my seat and the rack’s deck.

Rack and fender mounts are up and forward, in the seatstay.

As for the frame weight: For a $165 steel frame, its pretty good. The weight of the 56cm  frame and fork(uncut) together totaled 3.1 kgs, or 6.8 lbs (measured on fairly accurate digital scale). However, these numbers mean nothing without a frame of reference, which I will provide: the equivalent Surly CC weights 7.07 lbs frame+fork, the LHT weights 7.3 lbs, and the only truly off-roadeable frame, the Karate Monkey, weighs in at a good 8.1 lbs. Salsa’s “Fargo” is also slightly heavier for the same size; 7 lbs 14 oz (~3.5 kg), according to their website.  So, is my frame a “lightweight”? No. But it is a decent weight, and beats out some of the brand name frames and forks, for under half the price.

To have a 29er – im pretty pshyched.  The CST Critter tyres are dirt cheap; I found a pair for under $25. They are pretty puncture resistant, as I’ve ridden over nails/ construction rubble and no problems have reared their ugly heads. The rolling resistance is definitely higher than I’m used to, what with my road tyres, but they off-road and mud/dirt traction is amazing (to me at least). No comparison can be made to any tyre under 45mm wide, if only for a 29er’s ability to “float” in the muddier bits, as opposed to getting bogged down (as with my skinnier tyres!). More testing to be done, but so far, thumbs up on traction in most regular conditions; seek a tyre with greater volume and more aggressive knobs for the very soft stuff, or mud, but otherwise a very good all-round 29er tyre. Schwalbe “Big Apples” or similar might be warranted for lighter off-road riding, or just light gravel use, as the rolling resistance of the Critters could be a “drag” for long distances.

MMmn…big tyres =  traily fun and offroady goodness
The tyres do surprisingly well in light mud and on rock,
like on this crushed-brick-and-mud-based
road.

More gallery shots, for your viewing pleasure (click to enlarge):

Muddy hub.
Cockpit View

How to build a $33 Touring Rig

Many thought it impossible; to construct a fully-fledged loaded-touring bike for under $500. I have gone to the “possimmpible” – the land beyond impossible, to a place where the possible and impossible meld and intertwine. Reality must then surely be warped, I can hear you all saying, if I was able to build up a touring rig for under $50 dollars!
 It all comes down to the fact that many people in Canada, especially the now-ageing baby-boomers, want to get rid of (*gasp!*) their old bikes cluttering up their sheds/yards/garages/evil laboratories, and so can be had for free most of the time, sitting sadly by the roadside of many suburban residences. No, I did not lick out and find a nearly-complete touring bicycle that I used $35 dollars on to refurbish. But, I did the next best thing, which was to convert an old 70’s Peugeot UE-8 frame and wheelset to touring quality!

I must correct myself; for there are those Peugeot junkies here on the interwebs that are going to correct me if I don not; the Peugeot UE-8 was what in the day the French called a “touring bike”. Basically, it was the version of their ever-ubiquitous UO-8 model with fenders, a dynamo lamp and a chromed steel rear rack. Hardly what I would call a touring bike by today’s standards (it doesn’t even have a decaleur to its name!). Again, even “specialized” bicycles like these were mass-produced by the millions in European and North American cycle factories, so they too should be easily obtained. As long as the front fork has at least one set of eyelets, and the rear dropout has at least one set of eyelets, basically any  road bike frame and wheelset from the 60’s, 70’s or early 80’s can be cheaply converted to a basic, light to medium-load touring bicycle.

What I set about then, on this project, was to:
– Change the 2×5 gearing (aka 10 speed) to at least a 3×7 setup
– Change the crappy drop bars/stem friction shifters to flat bars with indexed shifters and bar ends
– Add a front rack!

That’s about it- but it required a lot of parts, which had to be gotten cheaply in order to fit the under $50 bill.
I lucked out again when I found a discarded mountain bike in a snow-bank; I brought it home, called the police and had it checked to see if it was stolen/lost, and satisfied that it was just a dumped bike – I started chopping it apart. From this salvage, I acquired a square-taper BB spindle, a triple crank, a 7 speed freewheel, and front + rear derailleurs.

I already had a flat bar and old MTB 3×7 brifters from updating my other bicycle, so minus cabling, I was good to go!

Procedure:
– I pulled of the $h!tty cottered Peugeot crankset and pulled out the cottered crank spindle. Unfortunately, French-threaded sealed BB’s are hard to find, or expensive, for these old French frames. So, I had to settle upon re-using the old cups with the newer square taper spindle. I then re-attached the triple crank to the spindle.
– I next pulled off the rear wheel, and unscrewed the freewheel. I was lucky; most french bicycles have (once again!) the obsolete “French thread” on their freewheels as well, but this hub had standard threads. Using this, I replaced the 5 cog block with the newer 7-speed Shimano block. I have put the new derailleurs on the frame, but am still missing cabling, which I am in the process of procuring.  However, I have to call this a victory.  Score count: change gearing; CHECK!

– Later, I pulled off the drop bar and stem mounted shifters, along with the old racing stem. Again, the French stem clamp size is an odd one, so I used the stem from the found MTB along with my handlebars and 3×7 brifters to finish the job. Bar ends from the MTB allowed me to get to this point without spending any money. This part was super easy.   Score count 2: drops to flat bars; CHECK!

As of now, I have spend $7.50 on brake cables, and will likely have to spend another ~$7-10 on shifter cables. All that there is left to do is mount the $13 front rack and hook up and tune the derailleurs, and it’s good to go. Total Cost: under $33, for a (soon-to-be) fully-functioning, indexed, 21-speed touring machine.   This rig is destined to be used by my el-cheapo friend, who is looking for an economic way into cyclo-touring. Stay tuned for the pics, as right now I’m far too lazy to go and take pictures of the progress!

Tube Amp

I have other loves in life other than cycling – some of them being electrical projects. I’ve been working on this baby for a while – but, only recently has it recieved its power transformer. I pulled the transformer from an old ceiling fan; 120v to 24 volts, with ~ 1/3 amp supply capability. And that voltage happens to be *almost* exactly what I need for the heater filament of the single 25EH5 tube that comprises the amp. However, measuring the wall voltage at an actual level of 126 volts, the voltage coming out of the transformer is actually above 25 volts (ie. 120/24=5, 126/5= 25.2 volts). This is well within the 10% tolerance of  the vacuum tube’s operational voltage range, being only .9% off of ideal. Right now, until I find/build a proper wooden cabinet for it, the entire amp resides in an old margarine container.

Fire hazard: kids at home, never mount a transformer to anything
using tape. Even if the tape is electrical tape.

The rest of the amp’s circuit is very basic; it is “single-ended”, has a simple solid-state bridge rectifier (although I was contemplating a tube rectified version…), and uses random bits and bobs for its other electrical organs. Yes, low-fi, but still should have that “mellow”,  interesting tube-based sound.

The dark (and tangled) underbelly of the beast….

I’m still waiting for a cheap 1 watt resistance-matched output transformer, from the 5000 ohms of the tube’s plates to 8 ohm for the speakers. As this has only cost me $15 for all the parts so far, I’d rather not pay $30 for a single part if it can be had otherwise!

Crappy 15-sec B&W exposure of the tube in operation

The Frugal Man’s Patch Kit

Because of all the punctures I’ve had to patch, I came up with a use for the beyond-use tubes I have lying around…. I made them into new patches! Turns out you can use strips of the butyl rubber from old inner tubes to patch other inner tubes quite reliably. The extra stretch compared to regular patches may also be a bonus for high-pressure tubes, or for tubes in really wide tires. At the current price of $2.50 for a patch kit with 10 patches  and two tubes of rubber cement, that’s $.25 every time I patch. However, the glue usually lasts longer than the ten patches, and so I can use about 10-15 more strips of inner tube as patches, halving the cost to ~$.12 per patch.

Complete inner tube first-aid kit

However, if I were to buy just the glue and inner tubes, the price would drop further. Rubber glue is ~$2 for a large tube, and a whole inner tube is $3.00 at my LBS, meaning I could patch about 50 tubes  for $5 dollars. I estimate each inner tube would make 100 patches, so the real cost is in the glue…. maybe I can buy the rubber cement by the jar?

1/2 tube left; just enough for 5 patches!