Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Wheel Truing Stand

I'm reasonably competent at bicycle mechanics and do virtually all my own maintenance, but there has always been one area I've left well alone - wheel building. I've always considered wheel building a bit of a black art, something that only the chosen few can perform, something that requires a lifetime of experience to get right...

My Homemade Wheel Truing Stand

My lack of experience also extends to wheel truing. I think I've only ever attempted to true one wheel. I was 19 years old and thought I'd have a go. Over about 30 minutes, I progressively turned a slightly out-of-true wheel into a pretzel. Eventually, I gave up and I had to walk the wheel 3 miles to the bike shop. Mal, the shop owner, sorted it out in about 3 minutes!

To be honest, I've not exactly missed having these skills. Despite riding lots of miles, I just don't seem to break wheels. In the intervening 25 years, I've only ever broken one spoke and perhaps got the LBS to true a wheel a handful of times.

Built to the design in Roger Musson's ebook

Once I'd dreamt up this Canada project, though, I knew I'd have to revisit this area, at least to know how to replace a spoke and true up the wheel by the roadside. But then I thought, why not conquer your fears and learn how to wheel build properly. Hey, that's a great idea!

I thought about going on a course, but they're a bit thin on the ground and I couldn't find one locally. So, I started looking for a self-teach method, something like a book or a video. After a bit of researching, this ebook was continually being recommended: Roger Musson's "The Professional Guide to Wheel Building".

Adjustable pillar (left) to cater for different hub widths

I downloaded the PDF for the princely sum of £9. I was immediately impressed. The book was extremely detailed covering components, tooling, building, repairing and wheel design. One of the first things I noticed was that Roger Musson recommended that you build your own truing stand and ancillary tools. The complete plans for his own wheel truing stand were included in the book. I thought I'd have a go at making one, as I like a good woodwork project...

As you can see, it all turned out rather well! The truing stand can be used to build a variety of wheels with different hub and rim sizes. The right pillar is adjustable, allowing the distance between the two pillars to be varied between 100mm (for a standard front hub) and 150mm (downhill MTB).

Close up of wheel truing stand dropouts

It was very cheap to make, just a small sheet of MDF, nuts and bolts (Stagonset is good for buying small quantities), white enamel paint and some black foam card. My brother made the metal dropouts for me, but these could be fashioned out of wood, if you've not got access to metal tooling (or a handy brother). There are some other nice fabrications of Mr Musson's design here and here.

So, I'm learning the theory and I've built the wheel truing stand. My first foray into wheel building will be to rebuild a pair of faithful and well used Campagnolo Record hubs into new training wheels. I wonder how I'll get on!

Monday, 25 January 2010

My Brooks Saddle. Peace at last...

When I ordered the Raven Nomad, I thought I'd buy a nice Brooks saddle as well. I'd never owned one before.

To the cycling fraternity, a "Brooks" is a classic and covetous item. My saddle, the B17, has been around in one form or another for over 100 years and is still made by hand in England. It oozes craftsmanship and has a near legendary reputation as a long lasting, supremely comfortable perch for your bottom, allowing mile after mile of carefree bicycle riding...

There is one further aspect to a Brooks saddle that is also legendary - the break-in period.

Although some people find the saddle comfortable from the off, a lot of people do not and emotive words such as 'torture', 'suffering', 'pain' and 'murder' have all been used to describe the aforementioned period. I too have had a fraught time with my new Brooks and was, for a while, damaged. This is my story...

When the bike arrived, the first thing I did was rap the Brooks saddle with my knuckles. It sounded like knocking a wooden door. Undeterred, I set the saddle up, as I usually do, dead level with the nose 60mm behind the bottom bracket axle. It was then that I noticed that the B17 has very short saddle rails. I had to push the saddle right back to it's limit to set my position.

After a few rides, I had very sore sit bones (bare in mind I've been cycling long distances for 25+ years). It was probably down to the combination of the Nomad's more upright seating position and the new Brooks. I also felt like I was sitting on the metal rivets at the back of the saddle. After checking my measurements, I noticed the saddle has a shorter nose than modern racing saddles and needed to go back a bit further, but because of the short rails, I was out of aft adjustment...

Before and After the break-in period. Notice the depressions my sit-bones have made on the saddle in the picture to the right. There's still a way to go though...

I needed another seatpost with more setback. This was easier said than found. It was difficult to source a non-carbon seatpost with a lot of setback. I finally tracked down a Velo Orange Grand Cru 27.2mm Alloy Post with 30mm of setback and installed it. (It's actually a very nice post, polished aluminium with a two bolt design to precisely set the seat angle and with a generous setback, ideal for Brooks users struggling with the short saddle rails).

After a few more rides, the right sit bone was 'rescued' but the left one still hurt and seemed to be getting worse. I took a break from riding and took stock. After a bit of forum surfing, people recommended tilting the saddle, most saying nose up. I tried this, but it didn't help much. Then I tried nose down...

This helped the left sit bone a lot and things were improving, until the right sit bone got very painful again! (I must sit funny on a saddle). I'd now had the saddle for nearly 3 months and ridden 1500 kilometres. Ouch! I was thinking about throwing in the towel. It's relatively well known that not all people have a "Brooks Arse", as it's known in the UK, perhaps I'm one of them?

In a final attempt to salvage the situation, I set the bike up statically in the kitchen. Without shorts on (to sense everything), I repeatedly sat on the bike after tilting the saddle up and down, up and down, hunting for the most comfortable position.

It was definitely better when tilted nose up, I decided, but that had previously hurt my left sit bone, hadn't it? I thought I'd try it again anyway, because at least I'd get relief on my hurting right one for a while! Low and behold, the next ride wasn't too bad. It wasn't comfortable but at least it was bearable.

Over the last few rides, things have been getting better! I think it's now safe to declare that my Brooks saddle and I are at peace and looking forward to a long and happy relationship and that I'm just the latest in a long line of Brooks owners who've had to go through this painful initiation process to move a step nearer to cycling nirvana!

The Nomad does an Audax

I decided to introduce the Raven Nomad to Audax riding on Saturday and entered the 'Little Willy' 115 km event starting from Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire.

Nomad kitted out for an Audax

I arrived nicely in time, after packing the bike into the car and racing around the M25. I had a quick cup of tea, picked up my brevet card and was soon on my way, along with about 25 other riders.

The first leg was out to Pangbourne on a relatively direct route via Beaconsfield, Marlow and Henley. It was quite fast without any real hills. The roads were a touch busy and the winter weather had left the tarmac in a sorry state. I had no problems with the roads on the Nomad, of course. (I think the pot-holes were a bit scared, actually).

I tanked along feeling pretty good and I was still with the front group when we reached Lou La Belle in Pangbourne.

A great café, Lou La Belle. We timed it just right, with most of the riders from the 'Willy Warmer' 200 km already gone and not many locals around. Service was fast and after a cake and more tea, I was on my way again, accompanied by a guy from High Wycombe CC.

We chatted for a short while about my forthcoming Canada trip, but he was riding a racing bike and the Nomad's weight was beginning to take it's toll on me, so our pace wasn't matched. He'd slowly edge in front of me and then stop for some reason, allowing me to pass him. He did this several times and it affected my karma a bit...

The route back across the Chilterns, via Christmas Common (they actually grow and sell christmas trees there), Lane End, Flackwell Heath and Wooburn was comparatively lumpy, but nothing too serious except for Windsor Hill out of Wooburn. That had me grovelling a bit, as I was pretty tired by then! The Nomad's crawler gear range was engaged. There were also some stupendous pot-holes on the Flackwell Heath 'road' just before. Some looked a foot deep! One had even drawn a crowd of people as I passed!

I was very tired at the end, but pleased with my effort. I averaged just under 23 kph. The Nomad takes about 6 kph off my averages, when compared to the Seven, so not bad at all for January!

Thanks to Paul the organiser. I chatted to him during the afternoon, rather than rushing off and it was good. Great after-ride food as well, served up by his daughters. Thanks guys!

It was also good to catch up with Steve O again. I've known Steve for nearly 25 years. We meet occasionally at Audax events. We chatted at length about my trip, as he has also biked across Canada! I also found out he has a Thorn eXp Rohloff bike, so we had to have a long discussion about that as well...

A rather nice day, all in all.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Thorn Nomad Mk2

Thorn has published a brochure for the new Nomad Mk2 (PDF, 13MB).

(Update: The suspension version of the Nomad Mk2 is detailed in this brochure: Thorn Front Suspension MTB and Touring Bikes (PDF, 11MB)).

I've had a browse and this is what I think has changed compared to the Raven Nomad (soon to be known as the Mk1, I suspect):

Nomad Mk2 is now suspension fork compatible

This seems to be the main design change focus. The Nomad Mk2 has been designed to accept suspension forks (either 80mm or 100mm travel) as an alternative to the twin crown plate 531 touring forks. The new frame has a more pronounced sloping top tube than the Mk1 to accommodate the greater stand-over height required when using suspension forks.

The Mk2 frame also has a reinforcing "open ended gusset" at the interface of the down tube and head tube to supposedly provide additional protection when hitting obstructions at speed with a heavy load.

Nomad Mk2 is available with or without S&S couplings

All Mk1 Raven Nomads came with S&S couplings. Thorn acknowledge in the brochure that they weren't really sure whether people were buying the Nomad Mk1 because it had S&S couplings or inspite of. So now the S&S couplings are a £400 option.

Nomad Mk2 has different sizing options

The 2009 incarnation of the Mk1 was offered in five sizes (497L, 512L, 537L, 562L, 587L). The new Mk2 has six size options (510M, 540L, 560M, 565L, 590L, 620L). The following is apparent:
  • The smallest frame size is now 510M. The extra-small frame has been deleted, the reason given that it would be incompatible with a suspension fork;
  • There are two 'medium' size frames with different top-tube lengths;
  • There is an extra-large frame (620L) suitable for very tall people (up to 2.03m / 6' 8" apparently). The 620L can't accept a suspension fork though, because of it's head tube length.

Nomad Mk2 has a new colour option

The Nomad Mk2 is available in a brand new colour Tonka Yellow and this appears to be a gloss coating. Matt Black is the only other option and both are powder coating finishes.

There's an interesting couple of paragraphs in the brochure, questioning conventional wisdom by discussing having a bike in a stand-out colour as a theft deterrent and as an aid to bike recovery!

Nomad Mk2 price

The Nomad Mk2 frame & forks package with S&S couplings is £899. This is £100 more than the 2009 Mk1. The frame & forks price without the couplings is £499. Interestingly, this option is exactly the same price as a Raven Tour.

The headline "complete bike" price is £1,899, reduced from the £2,099 charged for the 2009 Mk1 (included couplings then though).

Rohloff eXp continues, eXp R deleted

Thorn's "hand built in Somerset" eXp continues to be offered (with it's inevitable hefty price premium), but it is stated as not suspension compatible. The eXXp is apparently suspension compatible but the details are now contained in another brochure not available at the time of writing. (Update: That brochure has now been published: Thorn Front Suspension MTB and Touring Bikes). The eXp R appears to have been deleted.

New prices for the eXp: add £1,000 (without S&S), add £1,500 (with S&S). 2009 Mk1 equivalent prices were £700 and £1,200, respectively.

My comments

The Raven Nomad has been revised after three years and the changes, as they say, are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, perhaps indicating that the Nomad was already a pretty sorted expedition touring bike. Apart from the geometry change to accommodate the suspension fork option and an additional reinforcing gusset, nothing else appears to have changed materially.

It could be argued (and the brochure concedes this) that most Nomad Mk2s will probably be sold with conventional steel forks, thus making the most significant change the ability to specify the bike without S&S couplings, saving the customer £400.

It will be interesting to see if many customers go for the suspension fork option. I'm not sure suspension forks are desirable on a multi-month tour, but they could give you the flexibility to extend the Nomad's (already considerable) comfort range in some circumstances. I can see suspension forks being purchased at a later date perhaps.

I'm not sure why the custom build eXp isn't being offered with a suspension fork option? Maybe because of the 853 tubing? Maybe because the eXp and eXp R models have been merged and the eXp re-positioned slightly? The price premium for the eXp seems to have increased significantly as well.

I'm wondering about the apparent blurring of differences between some of Thorn's product range, the Nomad Mk2 and the Sterling in particular. Perhaps the Sterling is being re-positioned as a vanilla Rohloff MTB offering? (Update: The Sterling appears to be continuing in its multi-purpose format. See Thorn Front Suspension MTB and Touring Bikes). Also, the Nomad Mk2 and Raven Tour frames are available for the same price and both are described as capable of world touring.

Finally, I'd love to hear some statistics with regards to customers' decisions over suspension v. no suspension, S&S v. no S&S and most importantly, Tonka Yellow v. Matt Black!

Thanks to Stuart (www.lifecycler.co.uk) for the heads-up regarding the release of the new brochure!