Saturday, 24 January 2015

Hints and Tips: Carbon Bike Frame Protection

Carbon bike frames are surprisingly robust; they can withstand big drops, heavy weights and constant pounding terrain. What they don't deal so well with, is chips; small pin point hits that tend to pierce the layering in the carbon and potentially weaken the weave.

Chipping on bike frames is most likely to occur in a few select areas: the chainstays and the downtube; where problems like chain slap and pebble dash are likely to bombard the frame. Luckily, there are a few cheap and neat tricks that you can do to protect your frame in these areas.

Chainstay Protection

Most people know that the drive-side chainstay on a bike is vulnerable to chain slap; that annoying clacking as you ride over rough surfaces, and the chain bounces onto the stay. At best, it will chip the paint; at worst, it could cause more serious frame damage.

On any frame, it is worth protecting the chainstay on the drivetrain side of the bike. My preferred method is a stick-on protector like the Lizard Skins Carbon Leather Chainguard; or if you prefer, there are the neoprene tube wrap-around protectors (also available from Lizard Skins). The advantage of the stick-on patch is that over time, they don't collect dirt and oil like the neoprene tube wraps; that gives a cleaner and neater look. They're dead simple to fit and do the job very well; really it's a no-brainer to fit one and protect your frame from chain chips.

Downtube Protection

The second area of the bike that tends to really suffer from chips, is the downtube; which is constantly bombarded by gravel and small stones that get thrown up from the trail.

Again, the solution is pretty simple: I use a combination approach, with a Lizard Skins Carbon Leather patch on the underbelly of the bike (which takes the majority of hits), and then clear 3M Helicopter tape up the remainder of the downtube up to the headtube junction. Both of these help to protect the frame from chips, and are virtually invisible; or at worst have just a mild impact on the bike's appearance. Avoid the pebble dash look!

Cable Rub Protection

Chips are one thing that damages carbon bikes, cable rub is a significant other. Moving to a 1x10 set-up on my mountain bike cut down one of the cables that touches the frame, but the rear brake cable is still an inevitable threat. A simple Clear Lizard Skins Patch avoids the cable gradually wearing a groove in the headtube.

Toptube Protection

The top tube is the final part worth protecting. It's an often overlooked area, but it can take a significant hit during a crash, when the gear shifters or brake levers can be flung around and give it a real pin-point hit.

A simple frame protection patch can be all the protection required, and will hopefully help to avoid that accident requiring a very expensive frame repair.

I hope the above hints and tips have been helpful, and will keep your frame looking and performing at its best for longer. Get out and ride!

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Search For The Ultimate Commuter Bike

2014 is fast fading into our memories, one thing that I will remember from it though, is the hours of fun on a bike - 815 hours (20,040 km), in absolute terms. Of those hours, around half of them were on my commuting bike: a battered and beaten, but strangely beautiful (to me at least) steel Peugeot - equipped with a vintage 7 speed drivetrain and pannier rack.

With so much time spent on that bike, I find myself constantly thinking about what the 'Ultimate Commuter Bike' would look like. Of course, you can commute on practically anything, from a single speed road bike to a fat bike (there are frequently both of these in the Wiggle bike shed); all you really need is two wheels to get you from A to B. Yet, there are always things that could be more comfortable, more practical and more 'fun'.

I've tried most bikes for commuting: at university, I spent a year commuting 15 miles a day on a single speed steel mountain bike, a real old beater. When I had knackered that, I moved to a geared mountain bike with a pannier rack and disc brakes; that was an improvement, but after a winter of riding through the snow of Warwickshire, the front mech was seized solid and the drivetrain and wheels were pretty much ready for the bin as well.

Moving away from mountain bikes, I switched to using my touring bike for commuting; the steel Peugeot, with its Reynolds tubing and simplistic set-up, has remained in service ever since. It is, probably, the best commuting steed I've used to date, and it has been modified heavily for the role...

Wide (44cm) flat top bars and a fairly short 100mm stem give a comfortable and stable cockpit. A strong Topeak pannier rack sits on the back, which will happily hold two Ortlieb Classic panniers and their contents. The drivetrain, is a seriously wide ranging 3x7 setup, that lets me get up the hills even when I'm completely shattered. The gear cables are fully sealed, so that the winter muck can't interfere with the gear indexing. The wheels are cheap and heavy ProLite Gardas, but they have cartridge bearings for easy servicing and maintenance. The tyres are 28c Vittoria Rubino Pro Techs, which help to aid the weight carrying and deal with rough roads. The SKS Chromoplastic mudguards, provide unparalleled protection from road spray. Even the pedals have been considered, and I opt for basic Shimano M520 mountain bike pedals, which means you can happily walk off-the-bike without clunky cleats. All in all, it is a customised, comfortable and practical bike; despite being made largely of very budget parts. [More photos below].

That said, there is always something that can be tinkered with and improved on a bike. After much thought, I reckon there is one main thing that would make my commute even more interesting and 'fun'. That is, the ability to take the less travelled track; heading off-road on some fire-roads and bridleways on the way home (especially in the summer), could add some great diversity to my rather monotonous commuting route.

In order to make this 'ultimate' commuter, a number of things have floated into my mind as potential requirements and questions...
  1. The mudguard problem: On a commuting bike, full length mudguards are a must for me. The protection from road spray and muck makes things far more bearable in the middle of winter, and keeps components running smooth(er) for longer. The problem, is that going down dirt tracks with 28c tyres squeezed into full length mudguards, is a recipe for coming to a grinding (quite literally) halt - there just isn't enough mud clearance. I need something with more clearance.
  2. The braking problem: It's not just mudguards that suffer from a grinding sensation when heading off-road, so too do rim brakes. Even just riding on the road in winter is hard on rims and brake pads, and I can often get through a set in a month on my commuter bike; I'd hate to think how quick the binning process would happen if I started riding off-road as well. Perhaps, disc brakes would be a good idea.
  3. The weight problem: There is no denying that my current commuting bike weighs a bit. In fact, it weighs over 13kgs; add a full pannier to that, and you're closer to 16kgs. I like having something that is 'bombproof', and the steel frame certainly achieves that; but if I wanted to throw the bike around off-road, then perhaps I need something lighter. Aluminium might be the best bet.
So, what would my ultimate commuter bike look like? 

I reckon I've found it - the GT Grade AL X

The GT Grade is one of the new breed of "Gravel Bikes", built to take you on the 'Road Less Travelled'. The top of the range carbon models have innovative glass fibre seat stays for comfort, which is what first got this bike in the press; the Grade AL X carries a lot of the virtues of its higher spec' brothers though, and it is made of robust and durable (and cheaper) aluminium.

What makes this my 'Ultimate Commuter Bike' then? 

For starters, the frame and its geometry is built for comfort and practicality; the rear triangle will give a bit of flex to absorb the road bumps, whilst the tyre clearance is enough to accommodate cyclocross tyres. Second, there are a lot of features that make this a perfect 'all-weather' bike; for example, there are mounts for full length mudguards, and there are the new Shimano hydraulic road disc brakes to ensure that you can stop, even in the wet and when you're fully loaded. 

Despite the Grade AL X being made of alloy rather than exotic carbon, it's also impressively light. Additionally, the all-alloy construction holds the benefit that you could fit a seatpost panner rack to take panniers. Even the small details on the Grade lend themselves to making this a robust and practical bike; such as the full length cable housing to keep out the muck, or the wide ranging compact chainset and cassette. 

For me at least, this could be the ultimate light load lugging, adventure seeking steed.

What does your ultimate commuter bike look like? 
Leave your thoughts in the comments section at the end of the post.  

A few photos of 'The Tank' (The Peugeot) follow...
The Lezyne Micro Drive is a compact and high powered rear light
The Charge Spoon is a comfortable and durable perch
Full length mudguards and a triple chainset. It's all about practicality rather than looks on the commuting bike.
Pro-Lite Garda wheels, Vittoria Rubino 28c tyres and SKS Mudguards.
She might be heavy, and she's certainly not the best looker; but, the Peugeot does more miles than most carbon bikes.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

#MyGoal(s) for 2015

MaxiNutrition asked me a few weeks back, what is #MyGoal for the 2015 season? It got me thinking. What do I really want to achieve in 2015 on the bike?

In order to try and make it a reasonably succinct reply, I came up with:

"Ride Further and Ride Faster in 2015" 

That could mean a whole host of things though, so here's what I mean in depth:

Ride Further

In 2015, I hoping to do more ultra challenges; that is, more long distance non-stop rides. In 2014, I completed the Trafalgar Way from Falmouth to London in under 24 hours. The 300 miles route was a real challenge, but I enjoyed every minute of it (even the hours of rain between Salisbury and London). This year, I'm hoping to go one further, and do an even longer ultra endurance ride, perhaps in the Alps or the Pyrenees.

Ride Faster

Everyone always wants to ride faster, but what I really mean is I would like to race better than I did in  2014. I'd like to regain my 2nd category licence, which I let slip away from me. I would like to do more mountain bike racing. Most of all though, I would like to finish in the top ten in an event at the International Island Games in Jersey in June. I'd like to ride faster!

Time to get training...

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