Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Another 1x11 review

This year I swapped both my mountain and cyclocross bikes from 2x10 to 1x11 drivetrains. Like I mentioned, this is simpler, lighter, easier to use, and tends to keep the chain in place better with the big chainring teeth and clutched derailleur. And like I did with the mtb drivetrain, I figured I should get a little use out of the new cx parts before giving it much of a review.

I collected these parts from various places, and had it installed just in time for week 2 of our Wednesday night series. With Rolling Thunder, it's seen use in 6 races plus some general riding for a total of 550 miles. I think that's enough time and I've been out in a good variety of conditions- racing on a few different courses, riding on pavement, dirt, gravel, up hills, and even some time out on singletrack. Like with the MTB, it's a big improvement over the previous setup with the front derailleur, but it does have a few slight shortcomings.

The main issue I have with the mtb drivetrain is the shortened gearing range. It's a little tougher on the low end, and runs out up top. However, the 2x gearing on my cx bike was really narrow, so with a wider 11-32 cassette instead of 11-25, I was able to ditch a chainring and front derailleur with no loss in range at all. That's really the trick to this whole 1x thing- instead of more gears up front, they use more on the back. My old Shimano 105 derailleur was only meant to be used with an 11-28 cassette. With the new Sram Apex derailleur, I can throw a 10-42 cassette if I want. Why bother? Well, there's the weight and simplicity and better chain retention, but also a rear derailleur will always shift more smoothly and better under load because the chain is being moved on the untensioned side and the gaps between the gears are much smaller. A front derailleur, on the other hand, has to deal with a 10-16t jump plus any tension put on from pedaling.

While I have the same range as before, I shifted things a little to the easier side. On the top end, the 42x11 is still plenty to pedal at 30ish or so. I would have considered a wider cassette, such as 11-36, and a smaller ring, like a 38-40t, but this also came down to cost. Because I got the ring used from Cory and the 11-32 cassette was only $35, going with different gearing was going to be another $70 or so. 42x32 is still not mtb gearing, but it gets me up things like snowbowl road and butler creek a little easier, and I even rode it up the ravine trail although another gear or two would have been nice on that. And then it's tall enough to make it through Wednesday Worlds (if I didn't have a road bike).

Alright enough gearing nerdery. How's it work? Well, pretty good. With the sram shifter there's only one lever. The first click and release gets you an upshift down the cassette, and if you push the lever past that to the next click, it downshifts. You can downshift three at a time. A full sweep of the GX mtb lever will get you 5 shifts, which combined with the much bigger gaps in an 11-42 cassette, gets you a really big change of gearing fast. Having a front derailleur does the same thing- You can pedal into a ride-up in the big ring, and then drop to the little ring when you run out of speed. With the 1x I have to sweep the shifter, sometimes more than once, all while trying to pedal up a steep hill and pick my way through rocks, logs, and other racers. It's easier to wind up in the wrong gear and might make it more likely to drop, break, or jam up a chain. When you look at the pros, there are still quite a few racers using a double, probably for this reason. It's also true that shimano doesn't offer a clutched 1x setup for cx, but with di2 you can just use a mountain bike derailleur. Or maybe that is not an approved setup for the sponsored racers.

That's one downside- it takes longer and more effort to dump a lot of gears. I suppose a wider range cassette would improve that slightly and give me easier climbing gears, but then there is the worry about big gaps. 11-32 is a pretty close ratio cassette for 11 speed and I don't really notice on the road but 11-36 would probably have been a better choice.

Whoops, there I am talking about gear ratios again. So here's the other issue: sometimes the shifting is not quite perfect. This problem seems to only come up with multiple downshifts. The first shift is fine, sweeping all the way across usually works, but going up two gears will sometimes only get one. The click happens, but the chain doesn't get on the next gear. Giving it more tension tends to make the upshifts slow, so I think I've got the indexing right. The upper pulley could be a little closer but the b-limit is pretty much all the way out. Another possibility is play in the freehub. I fixed this with a new bushing, but there is still a bit of wiggle which could be part of it. There is also a short section of old cable liner through some of the cable guides, which is necessary on this frame. The fully sealed cables were a neat idea originally but now I think it results in a little more cable friction.

That still leaves another possibility- the fact that this is the cheapest group available. Yes, apex, rival, force, red, all have pretty much the same shifting mechanism, just with fancier materials on the more expensive stuff, but I'm starting to think there's a little more to it. Obviously, compared to force/red/cx1, the apex stuff uses more steel and aluminum instead of things like carbon and titanium. But now I'm starting to wonder about the tolerances of the shifter parts. Maybe the ratchet mechanism is just a little off, or needs some de-burring, or there's more play in the pins or something.

Or maybe I just need to go in there again and clean it out better after it was packed full of sand during a race on a golf course. Maybe it's just one of the previous mentioned things or a combination of some sort. Or something completely different like a tweaked derailleur hanger or manufacturing defect in the shifter. Maybe I'm just too picky now that I have a bike with dura-ace di2, but my "cheap" GX group works perfectly and so did the 10-speed sram rival on the old road bike. I suppose I'll try a fresher piece of teflon cable guide, and clean out the ratchet a little better. Still, I'm wondering if a spending a little extra on a rival shifter would have been worth it.

I suppose the conclusion here is that a 1x setup is almost always a good upgrade, and I'm happy with it despite the slight shifting issue (which doesn't happen often). On those long forest road climbs I appreciate the new gear range and it's easy to change with a different cassette or chainring. It also dropped enough weight to be noticeable when riding.

Well I guess that covers it. A set of decent wheels for this bike and it will be good to go for at least a few more seasons, which is good because a new CX bike is not on my radar at all. "Oh no, it does't have disc brakes," you say. Well, on a race course, and even riding down singletrack the new mini-vees work just fine. or much better than the old cheap cantis anyway. The head tube's not slack, and the bottom bracket isn't low like newer bikes, but for racing that's not really important. Geometry chainged on newer bikes I think to make them more suitable to riding on gravel and stuff. But it's a cyclocross racing bike, not a gravel bike. Wait, there's a difference?  Anyhow, a little money spent on a new drivetrain and brakes has made this bike a lot more enjoyable to ride, so I'm going to keep doing that.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Words about my new road bike

I mentioned a new road bike awhile ago, but didn't really go into detail. I've been riding it all year and figured it was time, since I want to get a little more into talking about equipment and different rides and routes instead of myself all the time. I guess posts about trail work and the zootown derailleurs would be good ideas too.

Yeah, about that new road bike. It's nice




I would never have even considered this because new, it's really, really, expensive. I don't even want to say what the msrp was. My original plan was to either piece together something by buying a replacement frame and using some parts off my old cracked caad, or buy a reasonably priced new road bike. I was fairly set on a supersix with ultegra which would have cost me about 2k- pretty good for a new carbon bike with decent parts. The only reason I wound up with this is that Alex Gallego and I are almost exactly the same height. He owns Missoula Bicycle Works, and goes through a lot of bikes, which is really convenient for me and a couple other guys in town. This was his road bike and anything he's riding is pretty much for sale. I didn't actually have the money together, but one day before Wednesday worlds he told me to just take it and pay him over time. That was pretty nice, right?

My last bike was a Cannondale, and so is this one. It's not that I'm picky about brands; it mostly comes down to what Missoula Bicycle Works carries because I get a discount. This time, instead of the old aluminum caad, I got a supersix evo, which is carbon. The geometry between this and the caad are pretty much identical and they are both meant for racing. That means light, responsive, a low and aggressive fit for better aerodynamics, and no provisions for stuff like racks and fenders. Just what I want in a road bike. There are two versions of the supersix- the regular, and the hi-mod. This is the hi-mod. What's the difference? Well, it costs more. The carbon is more carbon-ey. But really hi-mod stands for "high-modulus," which means it is stronger. Using stronger carbon in the layup means  you can use less to make the bike lighter. It might change the feel and performance slightly but I think it's mostly about weight. Yet, with all things bike related, using less somehow makes it more expensive.

In addition to the fancy frame, the parts on this bike are fancy. The groupset is dura-ace di2. Dura-ace, which I believe is pronounced "duracchi," is the nicest stuff Shimano makes, and all the parts are inhabited by the spirits of long-dead samurai. That means it's expensive. Di2 means the shifters are electric, which also means it's expensive. Instead of pushing a lever and pulling a cable and moving the derailleurs, on this bike you push buttons and the derailleurs are moved by electric motors. On the plus side, you don't have to push as hard or as far to shift gears, which, if your hands are frozen and wet actually makes a difference. There are no cables and housings to wear out, stick, stretch, or break, so it shifts exactly the same every time. A motor instead of a cable and spring might also let the derailleur move more quickly and firmly to improve shifting.

While I might not go out of my way to buy a brand new bike with di2, I do like it and appreciate a lot of the features. There are hidden buttons under the hoods and you can program them to do things like change pages on your garmin (if you have the wireless adapter) or shift gears. Mine are set up to shift the rear derailleur which is kind of nice. You can add extra shift buttons wherever you want, and holding the button down shifts multiple gears on the cassette. Shifts up to the big chainring are incredibly fast and smooth.  You just tap the button and it's on there and you don't even really have to ease up on pedaling. On the minus side there is a battery which needs to be charged (I've needed to once in 2100 miles), and also due to the batteries and motors this weighs more than the cable shifted version. It's cool I guess, and this is about as good as shifting gets, On the other hand, with fresh cables and good adjustment, even the lower end mechanical groups work great these days.

The frame is good, the group is good, and the wheels seemed to be good too. The Shimano RS-81 is like a Dura-ace wheel but not quite as fancy (the hubs and stickers are different?). It has an aluminum core and brake track  bonded (glued), to a carbon rest of the wheel. The benefit is that you get the braking performance of aluminum but it's lighter and stronger. Supposedly. My rear wheel blew a spoke after about 15 rides and went irreparably out of true. So I'm on a cheap mavic rear until I decide what to do there. A replacement isn't actually too expensive, but I feel like I want to go with something else given this one's track record. And sure, I might have done some riding in the dirt and mud and maybe found a few potholes on the hell ride, but this is a first after all the miles I've done on road, cross, and mountain bikes.

Also that happened on my birthday, and I was in Canada and couldn't ride my new bike for like a whole month. Still kind of mad about it. I think the problem is that they weren't dura-ace- those samurai are good at dodging things like bumps, potholes, and swords.

Well, that's the new fancy bike. All the carbon and dura-ace stuff means it weighs 15.5lbs, with ultegra pedals, cheap bottle cages, an aluminum handlebar and stem, and 25mm gp4k clinchers. With a few changes it would be pretty easy to get under 15. In comparison, my old caad 9 was closer to 18lbs, which I still considered fairly light.

How does it feel? The geometry, fit and tires are essentially the same as my old Cannondale so it rides a lot like it. If you can pedal hard it goes pretty fast, it's stable, comfortable to ride all day, and responsive when you put the pedals down. Getting out of the saddle and having the bike just jump forward immediately is one of those things I love about road biking. You just don't get that efficiency and instant response anywhere else. My only issue is that it seems a little sluggish to turn- I'll find myself a little behind and missing apexes unless I really pay attention. Partly I think because it's a big bike, a 60cm frame, and also because I've been spending so much time on my cross bike, which is smaller and has a steeper headtube angle. That steep headtube (74 degrees!) is great on a race course with lots of tight turns, but at higher speeds makes the bike seem unstable. I have just never been comfortable going faster than about 25-30 on anything but pavement with that bike. Conversely, you want a road bike to be stable at high speed so it's fine that it doesn't turn in quite as quickly.

In conclusion, it's a pretty cool bike and nicest thing I've ever ridden. #worthmorethanmycar is actually true. Would I buy it new, at retail price? Uh, no. Probably not even if I could afford it. A high end road bike is really only incrementally better, and not a new mind blowing bicycle experience that can only be achieved by spending nearly ten grand. That nice regular carbon supersix with ultegra I mentioned goes for less than a third of the price. And this is a little bit embarrassing and stressful to own and ride. You get a lot of "woah, dura-ace?" "how much did that cost?" and "what was that noise?" (oh, just my derailleur shifting). I'm not really excited about the maintenance it will need, and I'm terrified of crashing it or breaking something or it getting stolen. I literally have nightmares about it. If I didn't have other bikes to buy first (full suspension mtb, gravel touring, fat), I would actually consider a 2nd not as nice road bike for things like crit races, traveling, and bad weather.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Rolling Thunder Cyclocross 2017

Rolling Thunder tends to mark the end of the season, and not just for racing, because winter usually shows up not too long after. This year we got cold weather and a big snowstorm a few days later (although it's been nice since and I've been out riding a bunch).

Like last year, I made sure to get out and help Shaun with the course. Thunder takes quite a bit more work than the standard Wednesday night series. Mostly it just comes down to driving in stakes and running tape but there is some other stuff that needs to happen too. Without any help Shaun would end up doing all himself and I had free time, so really it was about the least I could do. There is also a really nice benefit of helping with the course and that is being able to get very familiar with it before the race.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Wednesday night cyclocross

Cross season is over for me, and there won't be much more outdoor riding this year, so I guess I could write about it. Once again we had a 6-race Wednesday night series plus Rolling Thunder. I went to all of those, but did miss all the out of town Wild West series races again. Partially because I never got around to buying a USAC license, and partly because it's a lot of time and expense to go travel every weekend to race. I was also afraid of getting burnt out by the time thunder came around.

Friday, September 29, 2017

New parts for the CX bike

Cyclocross season just started, and this will be my 4th season on the Orbea. Apparently that is a long time to have a bike now, and I've heard "you should get a new one" quite a few times. I guess that would be nice, but I already bought a bike this year, and the cx bike just needed a bit of maintenance. Until now, about all I've done is put on new tires when they wore out. And replaced the chain once. So, after all that time and a few wet and muddy events, the shifting quality was not like new. It still worked, but sometimes shifts on the rear cassette were slow or I'd have to overshift to get to a bigger cog. Of course fresh cables and housings would have fixed the issue, but where's the fun in that?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Summer in Canada

This summer, I wound up in Canada for awhile. Probably not a surprise, seeing how I'm a Canadian and all. This trip wound up taking a little longer than I'd planned due to a constriction project, and there were some comments as to "I didn't think you were coming back" upon my return. Thankfully I had anticipated being there more than just a week or two and brought some bikes with. Un-thankfully, Lethbridge, Alberta, sucks for riding.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sram GX 1x11 MTB drivetrain 1000 mile review

This spring, I finally caught up with the rest of the world and got rid of the front derailleur on my mountain bike. Now I've got some good miles and a few races on it and thought I'd write some more words. I see way too many reviews of stuff that consists of "hey check out these new parts, looks cool, right?" Well, try it out for an extended period of time and get back to me. So that's what I've done, and the conclusion is that it's pretty good.