Thursday, 28 February 2013

Where would you ride ?

Just the other day I took the photo below which is right around the corner from my apartment here in Niigata city. The photo shows a typical street scene here in winter, snow, frozen snow ruts, hard pack ice ( yeah its the same stuff they have in the antarctic ) and ice sprinkled with a fine dusting of snow. So I thought I would run a quiz for my blog followers hence the title of this post. Where would you ride , take into account the bicycle you would be riding on is a standard MTB without studded ice tyres. Please post your answers along with the number in the comments.

Thank you to everybody who posted their comments on the above question and in reality there is only one correct answer which is no. 1 - riding in the thick snow at the side of the road gives you plenty of traction and a normal MTB and even a Cyclo cross bike can handle that depth of snow quite easily. Position no 2 would be the next best option but the risk of slipping on some ice is greater as it has been heavily compacted by those horrible 4 wheeled things with large engines . Position no 3 & 4 is only for riders trying to impersonate ice skaters and no matter what kind of bike you are riding you will fall off in spectacular style much to the amusement of anybody watching . If your bicycle had studded tyres you could try any of the above positions with a lot more confidence and as for the comment re take a taxi , even driving in the above conditions is dangerous and slower due to all the traffic jams . Snow tyres work for cars work great in snow but are hopeless in ice . But as the snow has finally melted I will not see these conditions again until next year thank god !

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Freeload rack system

A while back when I became interested in bikepacking I found a post that mentioned the Freeload rack system and was surprised to see it was designed in Dunedin , New Zealand. On further research I discovered it was now the rack of choice for many long distance off road cycle tourists and endurance racers. Although I will never complete the Tour Divide I was looking for a rack that did not require braze on rack bosses and could be attached to the back of my new Kona Unit hardtail 29er . Today the Freeload TR-1 rack arrived and I fitted it to my bike, it was very easy to assemble and adjust. I choose the TR-1 model as I liked the look of the side bars for hooking straps onto or attaching a pannier bag etc. At present it is serving no other purpose than a fender , but come some decent warmer weather and it will be used to carry my 2 man alpine tent on some overnight bikepacking trips , plus it is rated to carry 25kg if needed . This rack come with 3 pairs of different length metal stays so you can adjust it to fit either the front fork or the rear stays of any type of bicycle no matter what the design. Pictured below are a few photos I took of the rack this afternoon.

Lovey box which was stamped designed in New Zealand made in Taiwan 

Pictured above is the TR- 1 deck with side bars for attaching pannier bags etc, there is another model available that has a slightly curved front section with out the side bars 

A close up of the very clever ratchet strap fitting system that uses strong webbing and rubber spacers to securely hold the rack to any diameter of tube. The system comes with a security key that can be used to unlock the ratchet system for removal

Fully adjusted and fitted to the rear end of my 29er 

Monday, 25 February 2013

Kona Unit custom

Well as mentioned in a previous post I had been waiting on a couple of parts to finish upgrading the Kona Unit to make it more suitable for commuting and longer distance riding. Just the other day I fitted a new Salsa Pro Moto 3, 100mm stem in 15 deg which now gives me a far better riding position than the short 70mm stem at only 6 deg rise.  The other part that I fitted was one of Surlys fantastic stainless steel 4mm thick single speed cassette cogs in size 13T so now I can ride at a reasonably fast pace . Surly makes a great range of cassette cogs with the smallest available the 13T that I ordered , using a cassette hub on a single speed in my opinion is the best way to go as it gives you the option to fit a wide range of different sized rear cogs compared to the limited choices currently available in single speed freewheels.

Pictured above is the new Salsa Pro moto 3 100mm, 15 deg stem , a great value stem for the money with a nice solid wide 4 bolt clamp area .

The new rear 13 T stainless steel cassette cog was easily fitted by removing a couple of links from the chain and sliding the dropouts back at little. If you are interested in purchasing a 29 er single speed check out the Kona Unit and take it for a test ride. The standard rear 18 T cog  that comes stock on the unit is designed for off road use but easily changed to give more speed if needed. 

The photo above was taken on the ride into work this morning, the Kona handles the snow rather well once you let some of the pressure of of the Maxxis Ikon tyres which provide great grip in most conditions. This morning there was still a lot of ice about so I have been riding slowly to and from work each day. Yesterday Feb 24th was the worst winter conditions I have ever cycled in as the entire city iced over mid afternoon and a strong wind blew in from the sea of Japan . I had a company meeting that finished around 9.30pm at night and by then it was - 4 deg with snow and strong winds. Amazingly I did not slip in the ice but could not feel my hands on the ride home and thawing my hands out under warm water on arriving home was very painful. I used all my best colorful language on the ride home but alas it did not really help the situation at all. I think now that next winter I will be investing on some good quality pogies  ( winter handlebar grip covers ) to protect my hands from the extreme cold winds we often get here as cycling with frozen hands is dangerous and not a lot of fun. Roll on spring !

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Winter Cycling

As mentioned earlier not many people bother to cycle in Niigata in the winter , lots of rain, snow and temps down to - 3 deg and like last night - lots of black ice. I rode to work yesterday in powder snow which was quite easy but coming home last night was really dangerous as there was black ice everywhere, of course I rode quite slowing trying to pick the safest line possible and when I saw a patch of deep snow I rode in that instead of on the road. But there was one section of road that took me by surprise , the main route back towards my house was quite dry but the sides of the road where the cars ( God bless them ! ) had compacted  the snow was solid black ice and could not be avoided easily without riding in the line of traffic. On approaching one large patch of black ice I had nowhere else to go so tried riding slowly through it. But the black ice was thick and slippery and my front tyre washed out towards the traffic and I came down and rolled to the side of the road and just managed to pull my bike out of the way of a large bus. Thank god for my natural padding , helmet, gloves and several layers of clothing otherwise I would have been seriously hurt for sure. From now on I will be lowing the air pressure in my tyres and taking the back roads to work rather slowly. So for all you brave winter cyclists out there , take care !.

Pictured in this post is my bike outside my bicycle shop yesterday

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Porcelain Rocket

When I first heard about bike packing , I searched the net to see who was making good quality bags and two companies products seemed to be very popular and had received good reviews from riders who had used them on endurance races such as the Tour Divide etc. Also not long ago my bicycle shop became a dealer for Sim Works who carry some great custom made bicycle items , frames, parts and bags and one of their products is Porcelain Rocket.  The bags Scott Felter makes in Calgary , Canada are of the highest quality and have been tested by various riders and improved until the design is perfect. I decided to buy the mission control handlebar setup as I want to make sure that my sleeping bag stays nice and dry and the added front pocket is also a great place to carry other smaller items that you can access easily.

The bag is very well made and reinforced were needed and easily adjusted to different handlebar / head tube diameters etc. . The main compartment opens at both ends and rolls up in the style of a waterproof dry bag, my bag that was sold in Japan also included the recommended Outdoor Research 10 ltr dry bag in which to store your down sleeping bag / clothes etc. When riding with the bag full it does not affect the handling of the bike and when adjusted firmly with the super tough velco straps and adjustable buckles it it does not move around at all. Pictured below is the right hand side opened and the dry bag which fits neatly inside the main compartment. 

With the bag adjusted you can easily alter the height of the main bag on the handle bar and the front bag can also be adjusted at the required angle e.g low or high. I imagine the front bag would be useful for carrying small items such as a wallet, compact camera, snacks etc . I tested it with a 110cm  Abus shadow chain lock which is quite heavy and the bag held firmly on my 16km daily commute. 

Thursday, 14 February 2013

My new bike !

Well after riding my 2012 Kona Jake cyclo cross bike since Dec 2011 when I first purchased it, I came to realize that for the type of cycling I like to do which these days is mainly commuting the 16km into the bicycle shop and back and the occasional longer ride on my day off or a bike shop ride I do not require the 30 gears that came on the Jake , in fact over the winter I took off the outer large ring just to make it easier to clean which turned it into a 20 speed instead. I started cycling back in the early 1980s and pretty much have only used MTBs for my main mode of transport on a daily basis , although when I lived in Australia for 3 years I only had a 50 inch replica ordinary / penny farthing as my daily ride. Ever since the 29 inch MTB came on the market I have been interest in them and have test ridden a number of the different models that I have sold at the bike shop. In the last month I had been riding the Jake in the middle ring 39T - 15 T and managed to easily get to work in a reasonable time even in snow. So I decided to purchase a 29 inch single speed MTB, my options were

Surly - karate monkey
Kona - Unit
Kuwahara - Decade 9
Charge - cooker

In the end I chose the 2013 Kona unit because I really like the fact the Kona is willing to give a frame a lifetime warranty in this day and age when most of manufacturers will only give a 3 year warranty !, the sliding dropout system in my opinion is the best design for a single speed MTB and with an after market hanger it can also be turned into a 1 x 9 or put a IGH in the rear such as a Shimano Alfine or even a Sturmey Archer mountain disk hub. It comes with Maxxis Ikon tyres which are fast rolling even on the road and the ever popular Avid BB7 mechanical disk brakes - the gearing is a bit low for road usage as it is 32T - 18T which would be perfect for off road riding but to give a better gear for commuting I have ordered a Surly cassette cog in 13T as the rear hub is a cassette type which also offers the rider a better choice of gearing rather than a standard freewheel were your options are limited.  The bike pictured in this post is the 2013 Kona Unit in raw steel size 16 inch which is the same as my bike , later on I will post some photos of my bike once I have fitted the rear cog and a longer stem. I am also keen to try some bike packing this year and I am sure the Kona Unit will be up to the task , basic, simple and strong .