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A new set of wheels

A new set of wheels

Following my wee altercation with a traffic hump, I found myself in need of a new wheel and saw an opportunity. My Norco Volante has disc brake mounts on the frame but came fitted with V-brakes and I have long wanted to change this. As I happened to have a set of MTB Avid BB 7 Mechanical sitting in a cupboard (which I bought by mistake for the Genesis Croix de Fer rebuild project), this seemed the ideal opportunity to use them.

Of course there was the small matter of the front forks which were not disc brake compatible. Cue a rather long search for a 700c fork with mounts for disc brakes. This turned out to be more difficult than I had expected it to be, every time I found a suitable alloy or steel fork, I also found that it had just been discontinued and was no longer available. So I started to look for a carbon fork at a reasonable price and was fortunate to find a Kinesis DC19. So next up were the wheels themselves, I started out by looking around for the best prices on the hubs and rims, with the aim for having them built locally the way I did last time, but then I was pointed towards the Laufrad Konfigurator by Poison Bikes.

This is a great site if you have a little German (or a native speaker to translate to hand). The Laufrad Konfigurator, or Wheel Configurator, gives you a really simple way to choose the component parts for your new wheel(s), they then do the building and send them to you, from order to delivery takes about 10 days. The initial price of the component parts doesn’t look a great deal, but there is no charge for the building. So even after the €10 charge for delivery to the UK, they still work out cheaper than if I were to buy the individual parts at the best prices I can find online and have the wheels built locally. If you are thinking of trying this for yourself, here are a few handy hints:

  • the wee green symbols to the left of the wheels are the types of brakes
  • Step 1: Choose the rim
  • Step 2: Select the hub (choose from a variety of hubs, hub gears and hub dynamos)
  • Step 3: Select the spokes
  • Step 4: Select the type of nipples you want (note aluminium or Prolock nipples will extended delivery time by about 2-3 days)

Also a few quick translations:

  • Cyclocrosser = x-bike
  • Rennräder = road bike
  • Felgenbremsen = rim brakes
  • Diskbremsen = disc brakes
  • Felgen = rim
  • NabeVR = front hub
  • NabeHR = rear hub
  • Speichen = spokes (Silber = silver, Schwarz = Black)
  • Nippel = nipples (Messing = brass)

OK, so now you are already to order. Actually I am a wee bit surprised that no one has thought to offer this service in English.

When it came to configuring the new wheel set, I decided that, instead of getting the new set for the Norco, I would swap the wheels off the CdF onto the Norco, then configure a wheel set with a slightly wider rim for the CdF. The thinking behind this is that as the CdF project is intended as a touring/general bike, having a wider tyre than the current 28c GatorSkins would give greater flexibility. The current Mavic Open Pro rim allows for tire widths between 23mm to 32mm, but I don’t need a tire narrower that 28mmm, so changing to a Mavic A 119, would give a width choice of 28mm to 47mm. Also, with both bikes now using the same braking system, I can swap the wheels between them (although this would mean swapping cassettes at the same time). The final spec of the wheels I had built is here

Rims: Mavic A 119 (black) 536g each (tbc)
Spokes: LRS DT Competition (Black) 192g 32 pcs. (tbc)
Spokes Nippels: LRS DT brass (Black) 32g 32 pcs. (tbc)
Front Hub: Sram X.9 Disc 184g (tbc)
Rear Hub: Sram X.9 Disc 396g (tbc)
Rim tapes: Velox Fond de Jante 16g each (tbc)

The wheels didn’t come with rim tape as I had missed the Zubehör für dieses Produkt (Accessories for this product) button below the main configuration, I hadn’t seen the option to add rim tape (or order tubes, tyres, cassette, etc.), so I just reused the rim tape of the wheel set I was decommissioning. I also recycled the Continental GatorSkin, but as these tyres have seen over 5,000 Km of hard use it is a shame I missed the opportunity of getting new tyres at a competitive price.

Note if you were to order an extras with the wheels there can be mounted for you, but only on request, that is what the “Kassetten oder Bereifung wird auf Wunsch montiert muss aber im Textfeld „Weitere Hinweise für die Bestellannahme“ angeben werden” (Cassette or tyres will be mounted on request, if indicated in the text field “Additional Notes for the Order Entry”) bit at the bottom of the info is about.

All in all, I can recommend buying wheels by using the Poison Bikes Laufrad Konfigurator.

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Bike build project (part 6): Finishing off and finally riding the thing!

Bike build project (part 6): Finishing off and finally riding the thing!

As some of you will now know, I have been building a bicycle based on the frame and forks of a Genesis Croix de Fer (2009 model) for some time now. Finally, I have reached the bit you have all been waiting for: I am now riding the thing. Before I go any further, anyone new to this, who wants to know the whole story, start here.

In any bike build project you reach the point where the bike is not quite finished, but it is ridable. At this point it is a good idea to find somewhere quiet to take it for a test ride, somewhere you don’t have to stop suddenly (just in case the brakes fail), and somewhere you can stop suddenly (just in case you need to) without being run over. So what did I do for the first ride? I rode it over to a local bike shop to check whether I had set up the brakes correctly. After a wee bit of tweaking, they declared them fit for use, actually the most useful thing they did was to true the front rotor. I am new to using disc brakes, so I don’t know if this is a normal procedure, but the fact that they had a special tool for doing it suggests that it is. Unfortunately, the mechanic who was truing the front disc, while his colleague was fiddling with the pad alignment on the rear, got bored after finishing the front. Consequently the bike stills makes a zzzing zzing noise as I ride.

Riding home again, I found that the brakes were far more positive. I have been told that disc brakes need time to bed in before they reach their full effectiveness. So, as I ride, I have been giving myself plenty of time to slow down on the approach to junctions, but now I feel more confident. Approaching a major road, I am riding on the hoods, brake a wee bit harder. As my weight moves forward, the right brake lever slips down the bar and I loose pressure on the leaver. In order to stop before crossing the oncoming traffic, I have to deploy both anchors (feet applied firmly to the deck), the important thing is that I stop. After that, I rode the rest of the way home more cautiously, hunkered down on the drops. Having gotten home, I made very sure that I tightened up the bands holding the STi levers, so this wasn’t going to happen again.

Having gotten the brakes sorted and the STi levers securely tightened, the next job on the list was to add some bar tape. I have chosen to use Fizik Microtex bar tape, not the gel stuff, just the ordinary tape. It is not as cushioned as some tapes, but it is strong and said to be relatively easy to apply. As I had never applied tape before, I wasn’t sure where to start, so I did a web search, read a few web sites and watched a few videos. Everyone made it look so simple, so I knew it wasn’t going to be. The best tip I picked up was to try wrapping the bars a few times before you remove the backing from the adhesive strip. I wasn’t helped by the fact that the 3T Bio Morphe Handlebars are ergonomic, not just round, and so far more fiddly to wrap. That is my excuse for not having the most neatly wrapped bars, I will talk about how they feel in use later.

The final thing I felt I needed to add to the bike was mudguards. This bicycle is about function not form. It is not about looking pretty, it is about transport, so mudguards are a must. I wasn’t sure which mudguards, so I took myself off to a local bike shop, in this case Bike Trax, on the basis that they stock the Genesis Croix de Fer, so should ken which guards fit. I walked in with bike and said I was looking for some mudguards. The sales assistant went off and got two sets of guards: Crud Road Racer MkII and SKS Raceblades. I was instantly drawn to the Cruds, they just look so much better. I was a wee bit sceptical that they would fit, as the general wisdom is that they are for a maximum tyre width of 25mm and I have 28mm tyres, but I was persuaded that they would. When I came to fit them, the tyre width wasn’t a problem, frame clearance was more of an issue. Crud Road Racers are designed for road bikes with minimal clearance between the tyre and the frame, but the Croix de Fer is a cyclo-cross bike with loads of clearance, which makes the setting up a wee bit fiddly, but it does work. A really nice touch. Ideally, I need to add some wee brackets to move the guards away from the frame down onto the tyre, which would make them almost invisible, I might get round to this one day. One the features I like about these mudguards is the way the bottom of the rear guard wraps around the tyre to protect the chain and running gear.

But what is it like on the road, I hear you ask. Well it is great fun! It is slightly lighter than my other bike, but not much. It feels faster, but that is more wishful thinking than stats so far, after all, it is using the same engine. Being a cyclo-cross frame, the geometry is more relaxed than a full on road racing bike, this makes for a comfortable riding position. The Shimano Ultegra drive train is really smooth, although I am still getting used to the STi gear changing. I tend to forget which gear I am in (there is no indicator on the leavers, as Shimano would like you to buy it’s Flightdeck computer), and also which lever shifts up and which down, but that will come with practice.

Contact wise, so far I am happy with the Fizik Antares saddle, although I haven’t had a long enough ride to really test this. The 3T Bio Morphe Handlebars are also really comfortable, even with the thin Fizik bar tape. I don’t find that I need any extra padding, indeed, I have found that I can comfortably ride without wearing mitts, which is something I haven’t done for years. Overall, I am really happy with the way the bike has turned out. So all that is left is to take the obligatory bicycle in the kitchen photo.

Finished Genesis Croix de Fer rebuild


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Bike build project (part 5): Putting it all together

Bike build project (part 5): Putting it all together

So measurements have been taken, the wish list drawn up, then the bits bought, the wheels built, and now comes the part we have all been waiting for: putting it all together! Yes, my new mostly new (apart from the frame forks and bottom bracket) bike project has reached the build phase. Now if, like me, you have never actually built a bike from scratch before, there are three ways in which to approach this phase:

a) get a bicycle shop to build it for you. What! I have already spent enough on this bike to buy a new one outright (OK, but not one with these components).

b) watch videos on-line and surf a few cycling forums to get advice on how to do it. Yes, this is a steep learning curve but it should be do-able, although it may take a little longer and you may have to sort through contradictory advice on what to do when things go wrong.

c) marry a spouse who has a relative who is an experienced bike builder, then invite him over on holiday to help you with the build, should someone give you a redundant Genesis Croix de Fer 09 frame-set. This solution either requires extreme forethought and devious planning, or a great deal of luck, the latter in my case.

As I say above, building a bike from scratch involves, if you have never done it before, a steep learning curve. First up, how to fit a headset? There are two techniques for doing this, either use a collection of expensive headset fitting tools or, if you don’t have one to hand, gently tap the headset into the frame with a hammer. Well, we didn’t have a headset press or crown race setting tool, etc., to hand, so we started with the second technique and got the crown race onto the forks. However, the cups were a bit tight and we decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and took it to the bicycle repair man down the road and got him do it.

Another of the early lessons for me was that parts which have been discounted heavily might not have sold well for a reason. For instance, the 3T Bio Morphe Handlebars, could it be these were less than popular because it is an absolute sod to fit Shimano STi’s to them? The band on the STi’s doesn’t allow for a lot of adjustment, and so getting it past the Bio Morph bits is rather difficult. I suspect that 3T, being Italian, would respond to this by suggesting that I should have used Campagnolo, but I don’t know because I haven’t actually asked them.

Next step up the learning curve, do your homework carefully before buying the parts on-line. Knowing that Avid BB 7 are available for road bikes is not enough, as when you do a Google search, you might find yourself on a web page from an internet retailer offering “Avid Ball Bearing 7 Mechanical Disc Brakes” at a very good price, but not saying if they are road or mountain bike (Chain Reaction Cycles expect you to know what you are looking for). Knowing that there is a difference will save you from the embarrassing experience of bolting your shiny new disc brake calliper onto the frame, only to spot that it has “MTB” written on it. It also saves you the frustration of waiting several days for the new parts to arrive, but this does give you time to start writing a blog post.

Even if you don’t have the brakes, there are still other things to get on with, such as fitting the cranks and setting up the gears. I hadn’t bothered to replace the bottom bracket, as the one that was there was suitable for the crank-set I had in mind. However, as the pedals were turned over for the first time, the gentle grinding noise reminded me of the last thing Steven had said to me when he gave me the frame, “… the bottom bracket’s a wee bit worn and probably needs replacing.” Doh, why hadn’t I remembered that before now? Next came the dérailleurs. As I had decided to go for a triple chainset rather than the double which came with it, I had given the old dérailleurs to the Bike Station, without first removing the spacer inside the band on the front dérailleur. Cue a trip to the Bike Station to try and recover it, fortunately they hadn’t yet used the bits I had given them, and we were able to get it back. Phew.

Putting the wheels on prompted a discussion on tyres and tubes. My choice of Continental Ultra Gatorskin 700×28 was considered a reasonable one, but Continental GP 4 Season 700×28 would probably be better, as they would save around 70g per tyre. As for the inner tubes, well the cheapo Airwave ones are, by my own admission, a poor choice. They are really heavy and the one place where saving weight on a bike really makes a difference is the wheels, as the lower rotation mass makes it easier to do things like accelerate and steer. So something like Schwalbe SV20 extra light inner tubes would have been a better choice, as this would save another 100g per wheel. OK, they are intended for 18-25mm tyres, but they can be used with 28mm tyres, you just have to top them up a wee bit more often.

Addendum: after a four day wait, a package from Planet X Bikes (not the cheapest but they had the road disc brakes in stock) finally arrived, but my excitement was short lived when I found they had sent me only one. A quick check of the delivery note showed that I had indeed ordered two, and a phone call confirmed there had been a picking error. So at the time of writing I have yet to finish the build and take the bike out for a test ride.

The bike build project continues

Next: Bike build project (part 6): Finishing off and finally riding the thing!

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Bike build project (part 3): A new set of wheels

Bike build project (part 3): A new set of wheels

Time for a update on my bike build project (based on the frame of a 2009 Genesis Croix de Fer), in the last part I talked about spec-ing up the wheel set. Well, the wheels are now built and I just thought I would re-visit the subject with a wee bit of hindsight, not that I have any regrets. It’s just that a discussion I had with Steven (who gave me the frame in the first place) has set me thinking about it some more.

When I drew up the specification for the wheels which I have now had built, I considered a range of rim options. Looking back at them now, I am not sure why I came to the conclusion that the Alex TD17 (Disc) is possibly the best rim for my purpose, this would give me a choice of tire widths from 25mm to 37mm, suits my just fine. Looking again the Alex XD-Lite (Disc), which was part of the original specification, thiswould be also have been a good choice, as it has a tire width range of 28mm to 40mm, and is also lighter at 470g. Maybe I was swayed by the TD17 having an “Anti-Snake bite” design, but I think it was more to do with the narrower internal width. Either way, it is academic, as Alex rims are almost impossible to source in the retail market. Also, I think my final choice of Mavic Open Pro rims is also good for my purposes, even if the tire width range of 23mm to 32mm is a little narrow.

Moving on to the hubs, as I am using Avid BB7 disc brakes, I immediately started looking for six bolt hubs, but could I have used centre lock hubs? Well, it was only after I had had the wheels built that I came across the Avid G3 centre lock rotor and started to wonder if using centre lock hubs could have been an option after all, but, is there any advantage to using centre lock over six bolt?

The main advantages of Centre Lock are:

  • Rotors are always centred on the hub
  • The hubs can’t be written off by a stripped bolt
  • Rotors are stiffer and less prone to bending
  • Rotors are easier and quicker to remove
  • Lighter hubs (about 20g)

The main disadvantages Centre Lock are:

  • The rotors tend to be slightly heavier (about 20g)
  • Limited availability of non Shimano rotors
  • Rotors tend to be more expensive
  • The need for a Centre Lock tool
  • Centre Lock hubs tend to be more expensive

So, at the end of the day you pays your money and makes your choice. I made mine and, having had my wheels built, I find that I have a wheel set that weighs in at 2.1Kg (without rotors fitted), which is no bad.

Next: Bike build project (part 4): Buying the bits.

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Bike build project (part 2): Gathering bits

Bike build project (part 2): Gathering bits

I thought it was time for an up-date on my bike build project, which is slowly making progress. Just to recap, my project bike is based on the frame and carbon fork of a Genesis Croix de Fer (2009), which I have been given for free. Since my last blog post on this subject, I have been gathering advice and making a wish list of parts.

First up there were a few decisions to be made, such as: do I use straight bars or drops, and do I reinstate the disc brakes or do I try change to cantilever brakes? As well as this, I had to think about which chainset I would like, do I go for double or triple chain rings?

The choice of bars was easy, as I had been given a pair of Shimano STI 105 dual-control levers in a box of bits that had come with the frame. I had also been given drop bars and a stem, but these were not the ideal size for me, so I decided to replace them with some that fitted me, and by getting another pair of drops I wouldn’t need to get new levers. This did mean that I was tied in to using Shimano, but I don’t have the budget to stretch to Campagnolo anyway, nice though that would be.

Next up, reinstate the disc brakes or change to cantilever brakes? The frame and fork both have mounting points for disc brakes, but the forks don’t have mounting points for cantilever brakes, and come to think of it nor does the frame. So that is easy then, disc brakes it is! As I am going to be using drop bars and STI levers, this means that I have to use mechanical disc brakes, and I have been advised that Avid BB7 are the best, so that is sorted, too.

That leaves the chainset and the decision on double or triple chain rings. Having read around a wee bit, I found that the left STI shifter fitted to the Croix de Fer is a triple, even though in its original spec it had a double chainset. So I have the option of using a triple chainset should I wish to do so – which I do, as I am planning to be able to use the bike for touring. The next thing to decide is the range of components to buy. For the 2009 model, Genesis had fitted Shimano 105 components (for the 2010 model this was downgraded to Shimano Tiagra). But the question for me was, if I buy carefully, can I upgrade to Shimano Ultegra? Cue a web search for prices. After some hunting around for the lowest prices I discovered that I could get all the Ultegra bits I wanted for just £20 more that the 105 equivalents. Great, Ultegra it is, then.

I have been lucky with finding discontinued lines for things such as the handlebars, seat post and saddle. I had budgeted for a mid range pair of alloy handlebars, but then I came across a pair of 3TTT Carbon bars at 72% off and in the size I wanted. Together with an alloy stem they came in at £5 under budget! Looking for a saddle, I had the Selle Italia SLR on the possible list, just the standard model with titanium rails, but was delighted when a Selle Italia SLR Carbon Time Ulteam Flow version turned up at about the same price. Isn’t the internet wonderful!

One lesson I learned the hard way when bargain hunting, be quick, I saw an Ultegra Chainset Triple FC-6603 at a very good price, but wasn’t sure is it was a better buy than the FC-6604 (I still haven’t quite worked out what the difference is). So I asked advice (by e-mail) and went away for the weekend, thinking I would buy it on Monday. Sunday evening, having got home, I checked to see if it was still there, only to find that it had sold out and was discontinued, no longer available to purchase. Damn.

Looking back over the above, I realise there is something missing, the wheels. Having asked around a bit, it is generally considered the best way to get a pair of wheels is not to buy factory made ones, but to choose the components and have them hand built. Besides, finding ready made 700c disc wheels is not straightforward. I did try asking Hugh at the Tri Centre (he does a wee bit of cyclo-cross riding, so should know), but then I lost the bit of paper with his suggestion on it, when I went back and asked again, he had forgotten what he had suggested. I did consider trying to build the wheels myself, but I am on enough of a learning curve with this project as it is.

To spec up the wheel set, I decided to start with the hubs and work my way out. Probable the best disc hubs in my price range are Shimano XT Disc Hubs (six bolt), yep, back to the Japanese fishing reel maker again. OK, so Hope hubs are better, but the ones the guys in the bike shop recommended (Hope Disc Pro II) wouldn’t have left much in the pot for rims, let alone spokes and labour. Next up, spokes, well a spoke is a spoke, isn’t it? I thought I would just leave that to the wheel builder to decide. Rims, after much searching for information, I came to the conclusion that the Alex TD17 (Disc) is possibly the best rim for my purpose. It is light (for a disc rim) at only 505g, with a 17mm internal width, which allows for 25mm to 37mm tyres. But there is one small problem, I can’t find anywhere that sells just the rims. The next best disc rim option is the Mavic A317, which is heavier at 538g and, according to Mavic, take tyres between 28mm – 47mm (but I don’t think that can be right a 47mm tyre is very wide for a 17mm rim). The other option is to use Mavic Open Pro rims, technically this is wrong as theoretically disc brakes put greater torque on the rims. However, Open Pros has a reputation for being bomb proof and are widely used with disc brakes on the road. They also have the advantage of being lighter at 435g, but they are narrow at 15mm, which only allows for 23mm to 35mm tyres.

While there are still other details to sort out and I have still got a lot of stuff to buy, I feel that I am making progress…

Next: Bike build project (part 3): A new set of wheels.

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