Schwalbe Kojak Perfomance Wired MTB Bike Bicycle Tyre RaceGuard Black 26 x 1.35

I’ve used street tyres on my mountain bicycle for many years and found the smaller, more responsive and better rolling tyre to be a good combination with the rest of the bike set-up. It’s not just a better performing tyre – it actually feels better. Originally the slick tyres were fairly large diameter, but I was soon on 25mm rubber and this has been where my commuting set-up has stayed for a while. If you’re getting around town on a bike with suspension – give narrow street tyres a go for commuting.

Almost always the first question I ask when someone comes to me with a bicycle problem is about tyres, because in my opinion if the tyres aren’t right – then the feel of the bicycle won’t be right. Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, tyres can make the biggest difference to the ride quality of your bicycle. The only thing that is cheaper – is tyre pressure.

So the Schwalbe Kojak 26 x 1.35 is actually a step up in fatness for me. I went with the Kojak for a few reasons that boiled down to the recommendations of Jan Heine from Bicycle Quarterly about medium sized tyres with pliable side walls performing as well as hard, narrow road tyres, and from my perspective they were aesthetically pleasing, had reflective qualities, claimed to be puncture resistant and fairly light at 295g. When I bought them they were actually for another bicycle I have in the shed, however I learned a thing or two about wheel size when they arrived – and now they’re on my mountain bicycle.

The ride from them is good, but they aren’t as light and responsive as I had imagined they might be.  I had high expectations and so after having had them for a while and letting my preconceived ideas fade, I’m pretty happy with them. Having a larger tyre allow some wiggle room with regard to tyre pressure. I’m using the recommended pressure as my bicycle has front suspension, but if I was on a rigid bicycle, I’d probably ease off a little to use the pliability of the side walls. It’ll take months of riding for me to be totally convinced but my early impressions are that the tyre rolls well and is comfortable which is what I was looking for, the big question is durability which you generally pay for in extra tyre weight. More tyre casing material means more weight and the more weight in your tyre the more watts of energy you need to accelerate, and the more friction required to decelerate. The Kojak is a light tyre if it is as durable as described, only time will tel how well this is achieved in the Kojak.

If you are approaching cycling in a conventional fashion, there are generally 5 places where you touch a bicycle whilst riding it. Two feet on pedals, two hands on the handle bar and of course your derriere (which s randonneur speak for bottom) on the seat. Needless to say, these are all important places for the proper control of the bicycle, and as you’ll be getting personal with all these parts of your bicycle, it’s worth paying attention to them all with regard to your ongoing comfort and support.

Pedals, need to be sturdy enough to bare 1/2 your weight (each), rotate freely and provide a solid platform. ‘Serious’ cyclists use clipless pedals so as to eek out every watt of performance from each cycle stroke, and my experience with this style of pedal really focused my mind on posture, cadence and efficiency. So much so that the restricted feel of the pedals pretty much consumed my experience of cycling down to these elements. Perhaps I didn’t use clipless long enough to really get used to them and forget they were there. Who knows! The impression they left on me was that they certainly improve performance, but I felt they took something away from the pleasure of cycling. Some parts of touring, and most parts of racing leave the fluffy enjoyment bit at home, and concentrate on pure efficiency. In these uncompromising circumstances they have their place, but most commuting, touring and transport around town should be done with a smile and at a comfortable pace. Perhaps in these circumstances, you just don’t need them. When I began my search for pedals, I looked for something simple.

As with all bicycle components, there are literally hundreds of options for pedals. As they all serve the same basic function I wasn’t after anything too fancy or flash, but my preference was for those that looked light, durable, cheap and not too ugly. What I came up with was the Wellgo M142 sealed bearing pedals.

The specs are:

Body: Aluminium 6061 Extruded, CNC machined
Spindle: Cr-Mo CNC machined
Bearing: DU / Sealed
Size: 100* 60 * 24.5 [mm]
Weight: 236 g/pr

After a couple of rides they seem pretty good, and well worth their price. Before installing them I wondered if they would be big enough, and they are – just. My size 44 feet are comfortable enough when wearing firm soled shoes, but I need to take care with softer soles to place my feet suitably. Once my feet are in place, the extra grippy platform does not let my foot slide around. They seem well constructed, nicely designed and have been silky smooth.

Having said all the above, perhaps they could be a little wider, and they won’t suit someone who doesn’t do footwear. What they are is a light, study, smooth and handsome commuter pedal, that can be obtained for a good price.

My only caveat here would be that if you have a big hoof – these may not be wide enough for you. I’m 185cm and have a biggish foot and they are just big enough.

I have spent some time now going over the geometry of the tourer/commuter bicycle that I’d like to have built and think I have come to understand some more of the balance of bicycle dimensions.

Bottom Bracket placement

Bottom bracket drop is the measurement of the distance between the centre of the bottom bracket and the plane or line between the font and rear axles.  This measurement is not to be confused with bottom bracket height which is the height of the centre of the bottom bracket above the ground. Bottom bracket height changes significantly with tyre size and so is prone to variability depending on variables associated tyre choice. Bottom Bracket drop is most often used to describe bottom bracket placement as it relates more closely to the actually geometry of the frame. Having said that, the measurements are relative to each other and when added, should equal the height of the axle above the ground.

High bottom brackets with a 6 -7 cm drop are generally considered in situations where high clearance and pedaling around corners is required. Think velodromes, cross country racing and down hill racing and/or generally acting like a hooligan. Wheel size also plays a part in these very different disciplines, as this will raise or lower the bottom bracket relative to the ground. At the other end of the spectrum we have bottom brackets that go as low as 8 cms in drop or sometimes lower. These are road race and touring bicycles. Lowering the bottom bracket lowers the centre of gravity because in doing so you lower the height of the the top tube given that the optimal distance between pedal and hip is maintained. A low centre of gravity is great for fast descents and general touring stability. So bottom bracket height is a significant design feature functionally, but is also a factor in the aesthetics of your bicycle.

Lowering your bottom bracket also slightly increases the length of your chain stay and down tube, which are apparently the most stressed tubes in the bicycle frame. So bottom bracket height should also be considered with your choice of frame materials and need for frame stiffness. Longer spans means that a more elastic material like steel with provide a more pliant ride, whereas an un-lugged aluminum frame may not like the extra stress. higher bottom brackets, shorter chain stays and down tubes all add to stiffness, where as longer chain stays and down tubes, with the right materials may provide more comfort, and soak up more vibration.

All this got me thinking again about those sport picnic, randonneurs and french bicycles. If for example you quickened up the steering by reducing the trail, but didn’t lower the bottom bracket height, you might end up with a shimmy prone, and slightly twitchy ride. If however you wanted to keep the advantages of a low trail, and avoid some of the potential negative side affects, perhaps lowering the bottom bracket is part of the answer.

Crank Length

Crank length is a consideration for efficiency of pedal stroke and ground clearance. With regard to ground clearance, as you lower the bottom bracket, and effectively increase your likelihood of pedal strike on the ground, some may opt for shorter cranks. But the more important factor here is efficiency. Now I wouldn’t believe a word I said about the details of pedal stroke efficiency as I know nothing about it and there are some fairly serious bio-mechanics involved. But to summarise what I have gleaned, there are optimum limits for your leg and knees to operate in, and if you ride a lot it is worth having a suitable crank size to limit the possibility of knee injury and make the most of your effort. For more information, here is a calculator, and here is what Sheldon Brown has to say.

Software

The established standards are 7cm bottom bracket drop and 170mm cranks. But what would you design? BikeCAD is here to help, select quick start to start quickly. I found this application pretty intuitive and within a short time had the dimensions of my bicycle in front of me. In my extremely limited experience of having custom built bicycles (zero – but talking with Mercian) I have found that it is a useful tool in designing and communicating what you want and what is possible. It’s also fun.

There is something so brash about the opening scenes of this movie that you are compelled to wade through it. It begs the question – how deep does the patriotism rabbit hole go? So as the light disappears and you are drawn in, assaulted with unabashed product placement and ship loads of metaphysical cheese, a story emerges, and the ride is fun.

The basic premise is about two brothers, with bad DNA, that are gifted athletes. Their chosen medium is cycling. The cycling scenes are pretty entertaining, there are some sketchy references to race tactics, the bicycles are retro-cool, and the associated girls in very deferential roles, are as hot as the weather in the Rocky Mountains.

Some things to look for are, the post space-race helmets of the Russian cyclists, the shorts (or perhaps some of the girls just forgot to wear their strides), a certain Belgian cycling superstar, oh and of course those racing bicycles.

The plot is thin and predictable, however the acting from Kevin Costner and the main cast does much to make up for it, and considering the films opening scenes the movie does pretty well to keep you seated from there on. American flyer isn’t a bad title considering it is almost a flyer for every possible product that they could fit into a movie, but it might have been just as aptly named ‘the Hell of the West”, which is the name of the race, and the probable vantage point from which many communists would view this movie.

Is it worth watching? Yes – but I would prescribe viewing the movie “They Live” in the days following to calm your mind and balance the propaganda.

There are so many great frames around, it really is hard to choose. It’s hard to find out, without already being very knowledgeable about the industry, what are the real reviews and what is simply brand propaganda. It’s easy to be swept up in the carefully constructed stories around the different brands and the amount of choice is mind boggling. It’s a voyage into your own heart of darkness and fanciful whim. I considered many frames from far and wide, but the few I have listed below are the ones I have considered as seriously as a normal person might consider the pros and cons of particular bicycle frame nuances. There is much to like about them all – but making a choice requires some introspection and frank personal discussions with yourself. A decent into madness – anyway here goes.

Velo Orange Rando(nneur) was the first frame that I really looked at. This frame seemed to cover a fair bit of ground in that it could do light touring through to commuting. On the website they don’t mention the type of tubing that they are using – so I have assumed stove pipes (and am probably wrong). This looks like a great frame if you starting Randonneuring on a budget.

From the VO website

Velo Orange Polyvalent below is a very idiosyncratic and beautiful frame. Some of the builds that can be found online look practical and handsome. While I was considering this frame I read a fair bit about low trail geometry. They certainly look like a great urban bicycle capable of bearing weight above the front wheel. In the end the cost of the postage from the US was a big factor – it is all out of scale as far as I’m concerned. With the Polyvalent frame, while I was captured by the functional beauty, historic geometry and 650b reviews by Jan Heine of off the beaten path, I am not convinced I really want to carry that much weight over the front wheel. I may not buy a frame from them this year, even though I really like the polyvalent, it’s pretty certain Velo Orange will get some of my cash as their racks, mudguards, seats and accessories are all made beautifully and are very stylish.

The Singular Osprey again looked like a great frame and suitable for touring and commuting. Interestingly with this frame you have the option of choosing a low-trail fork. I made a few enquiries and Sam, the owner, answered all my silly questions quickly and courteously. Postage to Australia from the UK is much cheaper and for what they are, these frames are great value, but just not exactly what I was after. At this point I felt I was perhaps being too picky and I should just get a frame, or a complete bike and start customising it to suit me.

osprey built

Still not convinced, I began broadening my horizons from the low trail, somewhat french inspired geometries and came across the beautiful Soma Stanyan. I hadn’t moved far, barely into the next metaphysical suburb, as again this lugged steel frame is built with a pretty classic European road / touring geometry. But this frame was just another step in my sentimental journey. Soma are based in the US and therefore to bear the indignity of paying US postage I suppose I had to be really convinced that this frame had everything I wanted.

A Pedal Revolution build (http://pedalrevolutionblog.wordpress.com)

While all of the bicycles above are quite different, I would be fairly satisfied with any of them as they are reasonably close to my general requirements with the exception of one thing or other that could be easily over come with an extra braze on, rack mount or other. I started to think that I was the problem and not the bicycles. As I was going through the description of the Soma Stanyan bicycle, a single word stood out. TANGE. A strange word that suggested quality tubing, lightness and strength.

I looked around again and sure enough, I could find relatively cheap 2nd hand bicycles on ebay with similar geometries and high quality tubing – but would they fit? Then on a whim I checked around for custom bicycle builders and found that in Australia they were so expensive that it was simply unrealistic for any sane person – or at least so I am told. Overseas however they were perhaps $300 – $500 more expensive than an ‘off the peg’ bicycle, but for the extra expense I could get a hand built bicycle, using high quality materials and shoot the breeze with an experienced frame builder to tweak the geometry to my special needs. So was it worth it? I am not sure, and perhaps I never will be. The Singular Osprey really is a great bicycle for the money, and the Polyvalent is so practical and good looking. Perhaps there is something overly and overtly self indulgent about having a hand made custom frame when I could easily make do with the excellent bicycles I found while I was looking around. But I think I have finally decided that this is the way that I will go, and that I won’t regret the extra expense on a bicycle that will be high quality, unique to some degree and as suitable as I can specify within my budget.

The frame builders I am likely to go with are Mercian. They have been around for 50 or so years, have produced frames for time trial champions (I have no delusions of grandeur) and have great reviews from all over the internet. They offer a variety of lug, frame and tubing styles and their process for designing seems pretty good. Check out their frame builder software on their website at your own financial risk – It is cool. They have a skype channel which is great so I can chat with them face to face about the frame from my house – which is about as convenient as it gets. It will take a few months to get the frame – but I am looking forward to the process and of course, the result.

The Maryville Riviera

The bicycle, on first glance, is obviously heavily themed in a quaint ye olde fashion, good looking for a girls bike and probably a heavyweight. Its large mud guards, colour matched everything and enclosed chain guard give it a very solid appearance. Lifting it proves the hypothesis – however it’s ever so slightly lighter than it looks.

Hub Dynamo

Nice and appropriate alloy pedals

There are plenty of bells and whistles, including the very useful hub dynamo, rear light, leather sprung saddle and white wall tyres on 650b rims that I believe are worth their weight in safety, control and comfort. The rod brakes, newspaper holder and rear wheel lock looked to be exceptions and not something I believed would add to the efficiency or practicality of the ride.

Light and newspaper holder

Rod set-up is pretty

Brake levers are incorporated into the handle bar – very swish.

My first ride was at night and my initial impression was that the bike felt light and nimble, it was well geared, the lighting was OK without turning night into day,  quick enough without being fast, and relatively comfortable for a bicycle that is too small for me. It soaked up road bumps nicely, but had a few rattles that needed ironing out. To be fair the bike had just traveled 800km in the back of a largely unloaded removal truck so had probably had the stuffing shaken out of it, but with the rattle and the light feel through the handle bars it felt strangely like riding a pressed tin toy.

rear wheel lock

Where the brake pads meet the rim.

My second ride in light morning rain to pick up an espresso provided more feedback from the bicycle. Again it felt nicely geared, but if anything the handling felt a little to light for my liking. Braking hard resulted in a lot of heavy chatter from the front brakes and not much stopping power. I’m thinking a brake pad upgrade or fine tuning the rods to remove all the slack from the system may help, however my gut feeling is that at least some of the chatter will remain due to brake arm flex. Standing up on the pedals to get the bicycle up an incline produced plenty of rubbing and flex so I sat down again. I’m probably 3 or 4 inches too big for the bicycle so I was pushing it a little to see how it would handle the extra pressure. Our local park is pretty churned up from being renovated with new kids play equipment so it provided a chance to check out the off road handling. Over mud, gravel and bumpy ground it was very good – a product of the sensible tyres, light steering and low gearing. This bicycle, devoid of rattles, would handle the cobbled streets of Europe quite nicely.

When pushed the bicycle doesn’t respond solidly, but climbing hills and hard riding isn’t the point of the bicycle. It’s a cruising bicycle that is capable and comfortable when the surface gets uneven. A three speed hub would increase the speed of the bicycle, but I wouldn’t suggest riding the bike too hard with any extra weight because of the limitations of the rod braking – so it may not handle commuting with kids on board. Its recommend retail is above $1500Aus and for that you get a hub dynamo, reasonable lighting, brooks saddle and a double powder coated, fully lugged, hand built steel frame that has a nice feel to it – not bad value – but I’d want to effect some changes on the standard set-up. First port of call would be upgrading the braking and shedding some weight, but perhaps that’s just a personal preference.

The bicycle gave me an experience of using 650b wheels and 650x35a tyres. I’m not sure I’m a convert, but as part of this set-up they certainly seemed to handle uneven ground pretty well. Food for thought.

Road, Track and most Triathalon bicycles are designed for a very specific purpose that doesn’t include comfort, picnics, staying relatively dry or carrying anything other than a water bottle filled with very light water. So essentially this rules them out for this project.

Mountain Bicycles with suspension are again great at what they do, but not great at touring as you loose a fair bit of cyclist effort into the suspension. Modern suspension systems limit the loss, but now we are getting complicated about something that I don’t necessarily need and I’d really like to keep things simple – less maintenance and less things to break. Mountain bicycle frames without suspension and cross country frames are worth considering, and so it would come down to geometry. Often these bicycles use 26 inch wheels and so are unlikely to have toe over lap issues. There is a category of MTB called Monster Cross that looks interesting – My explanation of it would be cross country touring. What I end up with could be classed at the light-weight end of this spectrum if I go with a MTB frame.

Touring Bicycles are built for comfort, efficiency and carrying weight – but not necessarily speed. They can be tweaked for cross country episodes – but aren’t a serious mountain vehicle. They have slightly more relaxed geometry and often these bicycles have 700c wheels. Touring bicycles have a nice utilitarian look about them, and they are usually pretty high quality bicycle builds with lots of thought and design invested in them – and this brings up to randonneuring.

Randonneuring is essentially touring as a sport/ passtime. Very long distance events where you have a time limit, but not necessarily a winner. Just people who have finished. Because these events are usually long, over various terrain, and riders are expected to cater for themselves, cyclists usually have water, food, clothing, lighting systems, etc on their bicycles – It’s a touring picnic thing, and you have to be home by the time the light poles come on in the street (as per mum’s request). So what is all this about? With this sort of organised picnic trip comes technology. Randonneuring bicycles are gaining in popularity and there is an interesting history of frame design that goes along with the sport.

When touring, I’ve shied away from carrying loads on the front wheel because the extra weight has a detrimental affect on the handling. It just didn’t feel right. I have always gone with rear panniers and racks, and when things got heavy, I opted for a bob trailer. Well through Randonneuring I’ve come across low trail geometry bicycles. The trail is the amount of distance there is between the point on the ground following a straight line from the head tube angle, to the point on the ground that is at the centre of the contact patch for the wheel. As the trail decreases your handling quickens, and weight transfer across the centre plane of the bike is less pronounced. Low trail geometry is something that was used with ye olde cycle couriers of the 40’s and 50’s transporting loads of newspapers or whatever. Anyway this is now finding it’s way into the randoneuring community, and by this route back into cycling generally. Joshua Putnam describes Bicycle Steering Geometry very nicely on his site. Velo Orange have a very nice frame called the polyvalent  that uses low trail geometry here.

The longer the chain stays the more they flex – so the more of your pedal power goes into them. You find track bikes have chain stays only long enough to accommodate the rear wheel. Whereas touring bikes will have longer chain stays to use the flex to absorb road vibration and bumps.

In summary – I am interested in low trail geometry, but am not sure how much load I would actually put on the front of the bike. If I was getting a custom frame I would probably be looking for something at the low end of ‘mid-trail’ or the high end of ‘low trail’ – say 45-55mm.

What about aesthetics? I like the classic straight top tube, and am leaning away from oversized tubing. In a word – classic.