The Ubuntu Phone OS made a noticeable splash as its initial developer preview was released for public download February 21st – and rightly so, as the Unity and screen-edge-based interface set this smart phone experience apart. Though this developer preview lacked a lot of functionality – an ‘alpha’ designation would be appropriate – the preview demonstrated a lot of interesting features that show a lot of promise.
Initial Impressions: The design of the unlock/welcome screen is well thought out, in that the reticule in the centre warmly greets the user back to their phone. Once up and running, an animated version of the unlock screen should be a visual treat. Definite strength here. Once inside the phone, I really liked the unique layout of the separate screens: one for Music, one for Apps, and others for other content. It uses the page idea common to android and iPhone, but makes it so that one is specific to a type of content. I can see power users loving the ability to switch quickly between functionality, but this being a problem for organization of long app lists or long lists of music albums/artists/songs. Points for speed, but at this point (since it is not-functional), I can be unsure how large arrays of icons will be organized in this format. The sidebar from unity’s dash is very well implemented here. It is well optimized, even in its alpha stages, for either one or two handed use – which I believed could be a problem. Holding it with one finger allows a slow scroll through the apps, and releasing the finger opens that app. This works well when only one hand is available. For two hands, quickly holding and releasing on the left edge of the screen opens the tray and keeps it there, until an option is selected. The gestures supported by Ubuntu phone allow really speedy transitions between apps, with the unity launcher quickly opening new ones. Right-to-left swiping takes the user to their previous application. There is no ‘open applications’ tray in the style of Android – instead, a swipe back to the home screen lists open apps, just above the app list. I think this may make transitions between more than two applications a little slower. Again, until more applications become available, this is a toss up.
Swipe/gesture-intensive interface: Will be welcomed by power users, but the learning curve may mean many accidentally close apps and program switches before a user gets the hang of things. As Canonical states though, this OS is intended for professionals and power users, so perhaps this is well thought out.
Colouring: Unike Android’s white-text-on-black-background approach to much of their OS, Ubuntu phone makes no such effort. Much of the interface is vibrant, and their drop-down menus or keyboard is off-white coloured. While visually attractive, this poses some issues. In a dark environment, this light colouring may strain eyes, and it cuts down on visibility somewhat because of lower contrast. Another additional problem comes from OLED-screen devices (like the Galaxy Nexus), which actually use much more energy displaying white or vibrant images. Battery life could become an issue.
Keyboard: I did not enjoy the keyboard’s design. The roundedness of the keys meant that there was even less real estate for me to press the proper key with my fingers. An alternative to this keyboard, while still in keeping with the general ’rounded edges’ aesthetic of the design, would be to make the bottoms of the keys rounded, with flatter tops. This could make the keyboard appear a little less… small for users. Without some sort of remedy, I believe typing speed could compromised somewhat, as users feel less confident of their virtual keystrokes.
Other than these few minor gripes, I feel that the Ubuntu phone OS will be a very welcome entrant to the market, with many useful features being brought to the smartphone table. The OS will continue development over the next year, hopefully with a polish coming as it rolls out releases, just as Google has done with their Android 4.1 and 4.2 releases.
Update 13/05/13: After one bicycle trip abroad and probably 2500km more, I have not developed any issues with this headset. Nor have I disassembled it for maintenance – the seals have held up and it has been a solid performer through-and-through.
After a little more than 1000km, I thought I’d start doing a follow-up on some components. Full Speed Ahead’s (FSA) The Hammer headset is the first up for review.
The FSA “The Hammer” headset is a cheap/economical loose-ball headset for threadless systems, and I managed to purchase mine for $16 + ~$2 shipping. Not bad for any headset, especially one billed as “Heavy Duty”.
But how has it fared? Well, when I bought it, the box had opened during shipping, and the bottom bearing seal had fallen out. Disappointing, but no fault of FSA. So, in order to use it right away after installation, I used to top seal on the bottom – not a great seal, but more protection that none at all. Later, the seller sent me a replacement bottom seal after contacting them, and I switched the seals around again.
I installed the headset myself to save on installation fees, so in it went not with a headset press, but with a few whacks from a hammer on a wooden block. Despite this… traumatizing installation experience, it hasn’t shown it to be any worse for the wear.
The top seal, in its proper location.
As can be seen, using the top seal on the bottom meant it has been stretched, and the seal is slightly compromised now.
Despite being a loose ball headset, it has not developed any symptoms of indexing, or rough rolling when spun. Unlike other headsets I’ve owned on other bikes, this one does not exhibit any tendency to ‘prefer’, or index to, the straight-forward position, even after 1000km. Only 200kms ago did I add a front fender, so mud, dust, dirt and water have splashed against the bottom seal without much of an impact. That’s pretty impressive, in my opinion. The top seal, however, isn’t as great, and its design leaves a little to be desired, since it is essentially a plastic cap with little else to stop dust. Rain probably won’t get in, and hasn’t ever posed a problem, but if you plant on leaving this exposed often, it may become a sticking point (literally!).
Supposedly the construction uses oversized ball-bearings in the races, so this may be why it has been so trouble free. The races are full steel, black powder-coated inside and out, so I expected worn-off paint chips to cause grinding in the headset, but this hasn’t been the case either. It continues its smooth performance, even off-road with a lot of stress load. What is noticeable somewhat is the light friction the headset has on road when turning. It may be smooth, but it has a slight grease-like internal resistance for rotation, which is noticeable when comparing more expensive headsets to this one.
Certainly, this headset won’t be as durable as any Chris King would be, but I give it a 4/5 star rating, because of its smoothness and durability. It loses the 1 star because despite smoothness, the headset isn’t the most freely moving, and the design of the top seal means that dirt and contaminants can easily enter.
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.
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.
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.
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 Positionfor 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)! Asalways, 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. Brakesare 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….
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 beforeassembling 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 dotrust 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.
I wanted to see how fast this bicycle would go when it had on more road-oriented tyres, so I pulled off the hulking CST Critters and pumped up my discount Nashbar buys – the now-discontinued “Transition” line of tyres. They are basic commuter/ touring tyres, with a 35mm tread. I picked them up after I had a terrible streak of annoying tire flats on crummy $5 rubber. These Nashbar models feature a layer of kevlar protection, just under the tread; it works – no flats to date, and these year-olds have been tried on >350kms of glass-covered city streets. I give the thumbs up to Nashbar for this one, but I have a sneaking suspicion these are re-branded Panaracer models (if one looks carefully, it has a “Panasonic” hidden on it).
The rear tire is the Nashbar, the front is a 23mm Hutchinson road offering…
Anyway, they are a ton faster than any bulbous mountain tire could be, as anyone should expect. I’d say average rolling resistance for its width, due to the circular dots used for the tread. If it had a directional tread, I would expect less resistance, but I’m not complaining for $7.50 + S&H. Frame of reference: compared to 35mm Vittoria Randonneurs (on my dad’s bike), they are a little softer @ the same PSI, offer more cushion and are more gravel-road worthy, but are noisier, and roll slower. My Rating: Definitely worth it – good tires for a commuting, touring or general road set-up, with superb (kevlar) puncture protection, and which can also take light dirt and gravel trails.
However, what you are seeing in the pictures are not Nashbar tires – that funny candycane red tire on the white deep-vee rim is a Hutchinson Nitro 23mm race tire, à la fixed gear. That is, the whole front wheel/tire combo was snatched from my Fixed/SS bike. The rim is Weinmann, and as such, is spectacularly heavy – something like 700g a rim. But the formula sealed hubs are nice, and the Nitros roll easily enough to make the weight penalty negligible. I simply decided to see what it would be like to ride “roadie” for a day, and so switched the wheel; I like it a lot, and it makes the bike’s additional tread clearance look almost comically large.
Sooo muuuuch clearnce!!
Although the tires are very stiff, the deep-v rims even stiffer, and one would assume that a straight (not curved) fork w/ disc tabs would be too, the ride quality of the O8 frame is good. Road noise is what I’d call average, but small bumps, cracks and ‘blips’ in the road are absorbed by the well-designed frame/fork combo. My Rating: Thumbs up for a road-oriented set-up with this bike frame.
Oh, and you may have noticed the new (old!) front rack I’ve added – more about that next post!
All is well on the bike front, and I’ve now made it up to the 200km mark. I know, not a lot of riding in three weeks, but I’ve been completing the final push of school into exams (I finished my Chemistry exam today, yay! Only physics left, which is tomorrow). The tires are wearing well enough, but the compound of the CST Critters is fairly soft, so even gravel skids have worn the rear tread down a *weensy bit*. Just enough so that the “herringbone” pattern imprinted on each of the knobs is barely visible.
The Herringbone pattern is wearing away quickly… the skid spots are worse than the above picture.
So far, here’s what I’m liking:
– Off road handling – On road handling! – Overall weight – Load Capability – Comfortable seat/steam/handlebar height and position – Top Tube length is good – Rolling resistance ( Speed!) – Gear range (it hasn’t been changed from before)
After about 125km offroad (light trails, gravel, a bit of chip seal road and a few muddy+technical bits of singletrack), I’m happy with how well the bike works. Lots of BB clearance for the roots/logs. The CST Critter’s are claimed at 2.1″ wide, but they are closer to 2.0″, in actuality. As many other tires are over-stated for width (see some tire specs here), you could fit a 29 x 2.3″ tire, if you want to really squeeze some large rubber in there. On road, the Critters sap energy, unless they are pumped up to their 65 psi limit. At this pressure, the small contact patch makes it pretty easy to stay going fast.
Below 40 psi, the tire makes a great shock absorber for trails. Exceeding the reccomended limit is sometimes reccommended.
The overall wight is 35lbs, complete. This is only 1 lb less than my previous bike, despite its frame weighing a fullfour poundsmore than the O8 frame here. My hypothesis: the wheelset is the heavy hitter here, and adding 750g tires and 200g tubes to each wheel is only exacerbating the problem. When its time for those club rides/ summer rando sessions, you can bet I’ll shed these heavy tires and tubes and go for the 26mm semi-slicks I’ve got tucked away…
The frame nice dimensions to it, and the top tube is perfectly sized out so that the handlebars are not too far away for riding in the drops, and not too close to ride upright in the hoods or using the flat part of the bar. This upright riding is a lifesaver for quick downhill switchbacks & fast offroad turns, as well as getting over roots + rocks. An all-around nice ride quality and comfort.
This cheap Avenir stem is actually quality. Lightweight, and it allows adjustment for offroad/touring/road handlebar heights.
Ooooh…. “Custom drawn”…. and “airplane grade”: economic, and still fairly light, Cro-Mo tubing.
The 17-year-old Alivio rear derailleur is shot, and has so much play that it allows ghost shifting and shifting under load, but won’t shift when the time comes! A well-loved (aka, used) Deore-level or higher mech. might be finding its way on the back as a replacement – “Bike Pirates” of downtown Toronto has a million of such used derailleurs in a box for dirt cheap. And such good quality derailleurs, if not too badly worn, can be cleaned up and will perform like new. The rear cable stop also poses an odd challenge – it was meant for full-housing cables, so I had to “improvise” with a ziptie, and was placed too far from the derailleur (the cable is almost too short).
I need to replace this.
The wheel sits slightly too the left in the rear triangle, and I’m fairly sure it is because of the dropouts being misaligned. OTOH, it could be because of my 130-spaced hub, as I did add a washer to the left of the hub, and it helped a bit. The high-up rear rack allows lotsa tire+fender room, but it is so close to the seat, that only a few small bits of camp gear could fit atop it. The kickstand is overly bent, and mounts awkwardly on the rear of this new frame, and so a Pletcher 2-legger may be warranted soon, as well.
The cantilever brakes work well too, but lack a bit of the “punch” that V-brakes or disks manage to have. No regrets, though.
Overall impressions bode well, and I think this will stay my primary rig for the foreseeable future.
This is the first post of what I like to call “2010 in Review” – a review of all the notable events and achievements of the past year.
1. Started to do some real UEing (that is to say, urban exploring) this year. What an experience, I didn’t know what I was missing! I particularly like draining:
Trying my hand at ‘light painting’ – look it up. Taken in “O’Malley’s Lair”
# Drains explored: 5 # Building explored: Really, none, but that’s cuz there are no abandones in my area! (There are, however, lots of little tunnely-drain things!)
Map of some recently found or explored drain systems.
I’ve never done really technical drains, only the fairly linear systems. A good few to check out are “Beefy McFistpunch’s Tunnel” (nick-named after my burly friend who showed me it) and “O’Malley’s Lair” (another friend’s nickname – we like Irish nicknames). Nothing dangerous in these – the first is actually a cira 1900 stone culvert under the bridge on Scarborough Golf Club Road, and the second is a small storm drain serving about 25 homes, opening onto a ravine. See the map above for details.
Warning: The author holds no responsibility for your safety – you are solely responsible for your actions. The author does not condone this type of exploration, especially where signage indicates that it is prohibited.
Whoow. Just had to spew out that legal mumbo-jumbo. Who knows where I could end up if I don’t? The legality of drains is kinda sketchy at best – it technically should be legal to access these public works, if there is no “Do not enter” kind of signage. But try explaining that to El Policia. Best not to get caught, period.
As a note to anyone who wants to try draining, take a look in the UER forums for tips and tricks – it’ll keep you at least a bit safer. And always remeber: No Drains when it Rains; check the weather first.