Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tandem newbie Inclinations

I'd only ever ridden a tandem twice before. The second time was with my wife on the back, and it mentally scarred her so much it just reinforced her fear of bicycles. Many years were to pass before she was to step over a top-tube again. The next time she rode it was as a result of the Bikewise ride to work month. All of a sudden she was commuting the 20kms into Wellington and back, and even joined the Voodoo Lounge team one year when we went over and did the 100km Grape Ride in Marlborough. She even did a Frocks on Bikes ride. That was probably the last time we had a summer in Wellington, so since then riding has not been high on her agenda.

I was starting to pine for the outdoors in the wake of the Kiwi Brevet and suggested that we load up the Jville Cycles Tandem and head for a short  over-nighter somewhere close to home. Finding somewhere was a lot harder than we thought, so we ended up just taking the Hutt Valley River trails and riding from Lower Hutt to the top of the Rimutaka Incline and camping out there.


The little Trangia stove
Tandems are a bit of hard work. (I now have massive respect for the people that used them in the Kiwi Brevet). They are so bloody heavy and getting them around the many stiles we encountered on the Hutt River Cycle way was a real team effort, a kind of two stage process whereby both of you loft the front wheel up in the air, and grab the second set of handlebars and steer it on the rear wheel. In fact the Rimutaka Incline itself was a doddle compared to the Hutt River Cycle way with all its little hurdles; all to keep bogans on motorbikes and 4wds out I guess. What really impressed me was that except for a few hundred metres you can get all the way to Te  Marua on the River Trail. So much work has been done on these trails over the years. Credit needs to go to someone.

I noticed the rear cog on the tandem was very hooked, and had to wonder if it was not just my imagination that someone was pedalling backwards at times! Getting a sore butt seemed to be the major problem for Kay so many short stops were called for. I think the fact that you really need to be still on a tandem so as not to cause balance issues is partly to blame, as the seat was comfy, and also sported a suspension seat post. Obviously a lack of ride time for my stoker was the main issue, but by the time we finished our ride there was less protestations on the downhills and I got far less arm-pump from over braking than I did on day one.


On the way back
I installed my two Freeload racks on either end of the bike, and my handlebar harness was made from an old Webstock Conference satchel. Other than that we had small back-packs on with a few little bits and pieces.

We borrowed my daughter's tent and managed to repack it into a smaller package for stowing. Other items we took were two sleeping bags and mats and a small cooking kit with my little Trangia stove which I brought for the Kiwi Brevet but had not yet been used. One dehydrated meal for tea, a couple of porridge sachets and some Milo and we were set.


More suspension than we could handle!
It was a nice warmish night in our little tent, although I gave my air mattress to Kay and I put up with the crappy closed foam one which is a poor substitute even on the smooth ground. Overall it was a big success with only the sore botty detracting from it. We will have to work on that ! With a few more miles in the legs for Kay it would have been a far more enjoyable experience.

If anyone is interested in hiring the Jville Cycles Tandem then get in touch with its minder, Peter Colvin who is building up a fleet of hire bikes and currently has 3 tandems. Peter and his lady have toured overseas so he knows a thing or two about setting one up. By the way this one seemed to have about 6 inches of travel on the front so it was a bit wasted on us! 
Contact for Pete:
021 480 775

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Drop bar set-up and STI on Karate Monkey

I have been experimenting with the positioning of my brakes on my Salsa Woodchipper handlebar. Although I really like the bar I feel it can be difficult to set up, especially for people like myself with smallish hands.

Old DA 9 speed shifters (left), much closer to bar than "aero" levers (right).

If you are serious about off-road riding then you will likely want the brakes more forward on the bar so you can access them when on the drops.

If you are more inclined to be gravel grinding or bike-packing then you are likely to want them to be higher on the bar, so you can make use of the different positions available. This was one of the main reasons I didn't use my Karate Monkey on the Kiwi Brevet, with my smaller digits its a real reach for the brakes while on the drops, and it causes me a pressure point after about 3 hours riding. This pressure point is in the very same spot on my hands when I rest my hands on the hoods.

A couple of views on how you could set up your drop bars.
I have just scored some old Durace 9 speed STI levers which have been a revelation. Not only is the reach about 1cm shorter than my existing brakes, but they are lighter than my bar-end and brake lever combo, and I now have snappy gear changing at my finger tips. Check out the photo above to see the difference in reach.

Obviously I had to swap my MTB-pull Avid BB7's with the Road-pull version. My next move will be to bring them further down the bar to see where the best position of compromise is. (I did - see below). 

I have just discovered the pitfalls of trying to use STI road levers on an MTB. Its a bit of a mess.

The rear derailleur is sweet. On the front, unfortunately STI levers only pull 69% of the cable that an MTB lever pulls, so STI levers and MTB derailleur on the front is not really compatible.

  • MTB's all use top-pull derailleurs. 
  • Road bikes all use bottom pull derailleurs. Suck.

What are the alternatives? Surprisingly few.

1. A pulley device for changing the direction your cable comes from Problem solvers.
2. Another device to change the direction from the speen.de guys, (good luck trying to understand it). A better description here.
3. A special top-pull road-style derailleur made for CX application.
4. I just tried this one, and its 99% successful. Clamp the derailleur cable on the other side (back-side) of the bolt. It effectively shortens the lever, giving more pull. Not all derailleurs can be tweaked this way.

A very good link to derailleur stuff.

 See here my drop-bar set-up with the bars rotated forward so I get a much more comfy position for my hands and wrists while on the drops. The more horizontal the drop is, the better my OOS afflicted wrists like it.

Also note how the drops themselves are less than 2 inches below the flats on my standard XC bike (Santa Cruz Superlight), and that is with the stem in the positive position on the Superlight. If the stem was flipped they would be identical. Not at all aggressive.


Okay. My top-pull CX-70 Cyclo-cross front derailleur has arrived!  It really works a treat. See below.