Mr Howdy And His Merry Wheelmen

May 5, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — howdy @ 07:13

To a new location.


August 20, 2011

Study in Blue

Filed under: bikes,rants — howdy @ 20:31

There is a school of thought among comfort cyclists that the frame of the bike should be large. Considerably larger than, for example, by following traditional road bike or cyclo-cross sizing. One rule of thumb is that the frame should be selected as big as possible while still maintaining a bearable stand-over height – the rationale being that in such a way the handlebars can be brought at a comfortable height. We are sure that many a cyclists have reached their bike heaven following these methods and we’re cool with that. It’s just that the claim of being able to raise the bars with a bigger frame doesn’t really hold water as it’s not the frame size that determines the handle bar height but it’s the fork length. OK, of course it’s obvious that there is a connection between a frame size and handle bar height as with small frames and long forks one ends up with ridiculously long steerer tubes which are considered uncool, especially with threadless forks.

If one puts the cool factor aside for a moment, an alternative method of selecting a frame for a ‘comfort bike’ could be:

  1. Decide on the length of stem – most people prefer longer stems for the extra stability.
  2. Pick the handlebars.
  3. Pick the seatpost, straight or setback.
  4. Pick the seat.
  5. With the above selected components, seat fore/aft set midway, select a frame (a top tube length) that gives you the optimum reach.

The above method should provide plenty of flexibility tuning the riding position later on. One point to keep in mind is that with a longer stem, changing the degree of rise raises or lowers the height of the handlebars more than with a shorter stem.

Of course, going along with this method, you’d first need to know the optimum reach. It’s easy if you already have a bike, with similar handlebars and a seat that fits you perfectly. If you have no idea what it could be then one way of finding out might be a visit to a local bike store with a measuring tape and simply test riding bikes with different reach.

So, did we use this method selecting a frame for the bike in pictures (with that ridiculously long steerer tube)? Not really but it doesn’t sound that crazy. Of course, if one is so proportioned, with any method, one might still end up with a huge frame and hardly no stand-over clearance.

September 27, 2010

DIY Hub Dynamo USB Charger Inside Handlebar

Filed under: DIY — howdy @ 19:47

Smart phones are quite power hungry, especially if you use features like GPS or continuous data streaming. After a couple of hours navigation or tracking a training ride, it’s time to start looking for a charger. If you mobile charger happens to be that of the USB type there are some options to get your phone juiced up en route, both commercial and DIY. We did an online search for words dynohub USB charger and among the DIY crowd basically two types of designs popped up.

One idea is to use a set of four NiMH cells to regulate the voltage from the hub generator and, in to the bargain, also provide intermediate power storage allowing removing of the battery pack and using it for charging or power source also off-board.

The other option is to use a low-voltage-drop 5-volt regulator to directly feed the USB power source. The following link provides excellent step by step instruction for building just such a device: and we are stealing it here with pride.

A slightly modified parts list and a schematic are repeated here for convenience.

  • Parallel Strip Veroboard
  • 5 Volt Regulator LDO (Low Dropout) LM2940 (CT)
  • Heatsink for LDO (optional)
  • C1             2200uF   16v
  • C4             .47uF      Tantalum bead
  • C5             22uF       Tantalum bead
  • Bridge Rectifier, 1.5A, 100V
  • Heat shrink tube 19mm
  • Terminal block (two pin)
  • USB-A connector
  • USB-A extension cable

We wanted to build the charger with the approach of fit and forget and what we came up with (unsurprisingly) was to use some tubing on the bike to hide the electronics. There is actually one commercial charger unit available that is installed  inside the steerer tube but we went for something slightly less arduous and decided to use the handlebar tube instead.

As can be seen in the pictures the layout of the veroboard is such that it keeps the board narrow and fairly long. We used a USB-A connector in one end and a terminal block in the other. This design means that the total length of the device will be quite long as the USB connector in the end of the extension cable adds to the total length quite a bit. We put the contraption inside a Salsa Woodchipper so the length was not an issue but for a shorter tube section a better option would be to use a terminal block in both ends. In most cases a terminal block is preferable to directly soldering wires to the board as it makes the connections more versatile and robust.

The device was placed inside the handlebar the USB connector inside first (unlike in the picture). We used a standard USB-A 1-meter extension cable. The cable was measured in such a way that one end reached the middle of the handlebar and on the other end the extra length was tucked away inside the tube. The USB cable, along with the input cable from the hub dynamo, were routed under the handlebar tape in a similar manner to a bar-end shifter or brake cable. The input power cable was directly connected to the hub generator making the device always-on.

The USB extension cable was actually pretty thick and it would’ve probably made more sense to use a charging-only extension cable with only two wires inside it if one been available. After the proper cable length was measured, a section of a 19mm heat shrink tube was pulled over the whole unit along with the USB cable and the device was plugged inside the tube. After wrapping the handlebar tape back on we simply put some electricians tape to cover the bar-end as the two cables coming from inside the tube and going under the handlebar tape didn’t allow any standard plug. When the job was finished, the only visible part of the setup was the USB connector in the end of the extension cable that was peeking from under the handlebar tape.

If the handlebars had already been crowded with existing cables from shifters and brakes it would certainly have been more convenient to use a thinner two-wire USB cable. Depending on the setup the two cables could also have been made to come out  from both ends of the bar.

After a reasonably long while (a couple of years), the charger finally got a worthy bar plug. Two custom bar plugs were crafted. One regular and another one with a slot to incorporate the cables coming from the charger and going under the handlebar tape. The plugs were milled in house, the diameter fitting tightly the inside of the handlebar (no room for bar tape).

Here are some pictures of the job. The picture of the plugs is straight from the mill without sanding or varnish. In the second picture the whole rig is visible with the finished plugs and a mount for the phone connected to the charger. The charger is still fully functional after a couple of years use and keeps the phone (low-end HTC) fully charged riding with a SAT NAV application on.

For some readers it might be of interest that we used this tool to generate the gcode for the plugs.

September 12, 2010

Wheelmen Archives, On-One Pompino

Filed under: bikes,components — howdy @ 08:54

On-One Pompino is a frame that hardly needs introduction. Most people build them as fixed or SS. We built it around a 3-speed hub, or actually we built it around two separate 3-speed hubs. The first one was a Shimano. It was on the bike for a few months but the first gear on the hub was very inefficient and the kick brake was a bit annoying to a rider who was used to hand brakes so it was exchanged for a SRAM T3 freewheel version.

The bike was eventually ridden for well over 10000kms. The component on the Pompino worth mentioning were

  • Dimension Disc Cyclocross fork
  • Hayes MX-2 XC front disc brake
  • SON Disc front hub
  • Brooks Flyer saddle
  • Busch & Muller Seculite Cross Bracket

The drop-outs were originally of the mountain bike width, 135mm. The 120mm drop-out Pompino would have been a better option but they were not available at the time so the drop-outs were cold set to roughly 120mm for the internal gear hubs. The OLN width for the SRAM T3 is 117mm.

The bike was actually crashed after a couple of months on the road and it got quite a violent hit from a van. The rear wheel was smashed but the steel frame only suffered couple of hardly visible nicks.

Overall the bike was a fast and reliable ride. After some 9000kms the SRAM rear hub started to make squeaking noises and it was overhauled. It had gathered some rust from the water leaking from the non-freewheel side. The bottom bracket was exchanged at around 8000kms. The bike consumed a total of two pairs of brake pads over its lifetime.

Some remarks on the bike. The clearings on the forks were quite narrow. So much so that putting on a studded winter tire at the back was always a bit of an exercise. The widest winter tire it would accept was 32mm with fenders. But to accomplish that the rear wheel had to be placed at the rear end of the drop-outs with the chain length adjusted accordingly. The original front fork was too narrow for such a tire but the Dimension Cyclocross fork managed the winter tire quite easily. Having a disc front brake was very useful riding around city giving a sense of security whatever the weather. One small detail was the use of Busch & Muller Seculite Cross Bracket that mounts one of the rear brake bosses and the rear light is fixed to the bracket. The bracket doesn’t prevent using the rear brakes and the light is visible and secured reliably.

September 9, 2010

Salsa Woodchipper

Filed under: bikes,components — howdy @ 07:41

Our 2-speed Cross Check recently got an upgrade in the form of Salsa Woodchipper handlebars. There are two versions of these bars, 42cm and 46cm where the measurement is basically the length of the straight top section. We are using the shorter 42cm version.

As we noted in earlier post the length of the drop section on On-One Midge bars was starting to become an issue with the Tectro RL740 interrupt lever which is clamped to the end of the bar and used in a reverse manner. Comparing the drop sections of these two bars the Woodchipper is almost 5cm longer so that clamping something to the end of the drop actually starts making sense. Regarding other measurements, the flare of the drops is somewhat bigger with Woodchippers and the tops with our 42cm version are roughly of same length.

Overall the bars are quite similar and the riding position with Woodchippers is not much different from Midges. The increased comfort riding from the drops is obvious as there is now plenty of room. Also the drop position is somewhat narrower than with the Midges. Both are nice bars but it seems a bit hard to justify the shortness of Midge drops.

One difference we noticed with the Woodchippers is that the bends with the tubing are somewhat sharper. It means that routing the cable for the reverse brake lever can’t be done as smoothly as with the Midge bars. As we are running the Sturmey Archer drum brake at the front the sharper bends in the cable run decrease the mediocre braking efficiency slightly more.

As a side note we reused the Brooks leather bar tape from the Midge bars. No problems doing that. In all honesty the Brooks leather tape is there more for the looks (and maybe durability but it remains to be seen) rather than anything else. There are others that offer more comfort and grip.

Overall the Woodchippers seem a great improvent with our setup. The longer drop section adds more comfort (especially with the reverse lever) and the slightly narrower drop position feels more natural and maybe even gives a slight aerodynamical advantage.

September 3, 2010

Cross Check Update

Filed under: bikes — howdy @ 11:18

Cross Check has now seen road for a few months. It’s time to sit back and take a look at how well the expectations were met.

The performance of the SA front drum brake has continued to improve, though not dramatically. The stopping power seems adequate for normal riding situations but it’s still hardly possible to lock up the front wheel even on gravel surface. Such a performance would make many wince but in practice it still feels pretty decent. It feels as if the stopping power decreases along with the spinning velocity so that the early bite when riding fast is pretty good but just doesn’t increase when the speed goes down. There was one surprise with the front brake on one afternoon when the bike had spent the day at work place after an exceptionally wet  morning ride. When leaving work the front brake initially didn’t bite at all. The situation didn’t last long. After a couple of tugs on the levers the condition was cured. It was a reminder of the fact that the brake drum is not actually completely sealed but some water might seep in either through condensation or by leaking in.

Nothing much to add about the performance of the kick brake. It hasn’t seen much use but works smoothly when needed. The two speed kick hub is simply FUN!!!

The frame has mostly served as expected. The adjustable stem has now been replaced by a Salsa Moto Ace  40 degree 105mm fixed stem placing the tops of the handlebars roughly on the level of the saddle.

The 60cm frame was mainly selected in order to get the bars high enough. The assumption was that once the correct handlebar height was achieved it would be easy to tune the reach by adjusting the stem length and saddle fore-aft position. After some experimentation we are starting to have second thoughts about the 60cm frame size. The overall reach for our 186cm rider is pretty long. One factor is the Midge handlebars that have a fairly long reach with their short drops. If the saddle is moved to the fore end on the rails the reach is about right but it wouldn’t hurt being still a bit shorter. A further tuning of the position is very difficult as it would only be possible by using a very steep high rise stem which are not available.

With the availability of stem raisers we are now starting to think that at least for this particular rider it might be easier to find the best riding position by opting for a slightly smaller frame and installing a stem raiser. This would allow a far wider range of tuning options by  altering the stem lenght and rise. Of course a custom frame would solve all these issues but a stem raiser costing just 5 euros is hard to beat and at the back of our heads we are still building the Traveller’s Check which would be the most cost effective frame with S&S couplings.

The Midge bars have been ok but the shortness of the drops is starting to take its toll. Especially with our unusual setup of using a Tektro RL740 brake lever as a reverse lever at the end of the drop the space left for the right hand is simply too narrow. A solution to this problem might be the Salsa Woodchipper bar. It has some 5cm longer drop section and on paper seems absolutely perfect. It will be installed in the near future on this bike so stay tuned.

December 28, 2009

Wenger Swiss Army Biker Knife Review

Filed under: bikes,tools — howdy @ 14:57

Santa payed a visit (after all) leaving behind a brand new toy to play with, the Wenger Biker 37 swiss army knife. It’s a beautiful piece of equipment, shiny red sides and shiny chromium colored tools. It also looks reasonably heavy duty weighing in at 170g.

There are hundreds of different Wenger knife models available with different combinations of tools. For this one to qualify as a biker knife can mostly be attributed to the inclusion of the chain rivet setter and the spoke wrench tools. It’s not a comprehensive bicycle multi tool though, as it’s lacking many essentials. For example it only holds one size allen (5mm) key. Nevertheless, we don’t consider it a big shortcoming as different bikes need different set of tools so that combining this knife with a couple of bike specific wrenches one has a perfect ride companion.

Overall, the tools in the Wenger knifes are of exceptional quality. We have handled the Wenger Watch Makers Knife in the past and the precision tools in that one have left us really impressed. The Wenger knifes offer very good value for money, maybe even more so than brands like Leatherman which are good tools in their own right.

The Biker 37 boasts the following tools.

10 mm detachable hexagonal wrench – Screwdriver – Spoke key (3.3 mm and 3.5 mm openings) – Extension lever. This is a detachable tool that serves many purposes. It can be used to open the other tools, especially the universal wrench and the phillips screwdriver which are pretty tight when folded. It can also be used as an extension lever with the chain rivet setter tool as the smaller hole fits the 5mm allen wrench and of course the other way round using the knife as an extension to the 10mm hexagonal wrench. It also has the 3.3mm and 3.5mm spoke key slots and the flat screwdriver head. The tool could also be used as an emergency tire lever.

85 mm – Large blade. There is no locking mechanism in the blade so no pushing with this one.

All-purpose wrench (exclusive). This is good for hexagonal nuts from 5mm to 8mm. It’s fairly thick at 2.6 mm. The wrench seems to get a reasonably good grip with a few tried sample nuts. The universal wrenches are usually not very good with rusted tight nuts or bolts so it remains to be seen how this one fairs on the road.

Can opener. Once again this is a typical swiss army knife tool and something that might not be included with a bike specific multi tool. The tip and the cutting edge are very sharp so that it can also be used for cutting. Not as easy to use for opening tin cans as a traditional cheap angled tool.

Chain rivet setter. The screw in this tool is also a removable 5mm allen key. As was mentioned, this is the only size allen key available with this knife but it might actually be feasible to insert a 6mm allen head with a 5mm allen socket at the end of it and still maintain the foldability, making the knife just that one bit (pun intended) more useful. The frame of the rivet setter looks convincing at 7.4 mm thick and the tool is fairly easy to use.

Corkscrew. Nothing much to say about this. I works as good (or as bad) as any similar tool.

Flat screwdriver with safety lock system – Cap lifter – Wire bender. The screwdriver head is reasonably wide at 6mm. If that is too wide for the job at hand it is possible to use the narrower one at the end of the detachable tool. As the wheelmen mostly enjoy canned goods the cap lifter hasn’t seen any action yet.

Nail file – Nail cleaner – Screwdriver for small cross head screws. The tip of this screwdriver is sharper than in the phillips screwdriver below. A metal file would have suited a bike tool better.

Phillips screwdriver with safety lock system (exclusive). This is a strong screwdirver which locks in to place once pushed. This tool seems to fit better for most of the phillips heads on our bikes than the tool above which is a good thing as this tool has a dedicated phillips tip.

Reamer. This tool might be good for cleaning the end of the cable housing after it has been cut, if it has been cut that is, see below.

Slip-joint pliers (exclusive) – Wire crimper – Inside and outside wire cutters – Nut wrench. The pliers are quite delicate and are most appropriate as a crimping tool. The wire cutter is meant for electrical wires and not for steel cables. The pliers are probably not up to wrenching tight nuts such as rear hub axle nuts so for them it’s best to keep a fitting spanner in the saddle bag.

Toothpick. This is a nice extra which is not usually available on Leatherman type multitools. Besides its intended purpose it can also be used as a non-metal-scratching small tool.

Tweezers. We haven’t figured out any use for these yet but once we do we’ll sure to let you know.

Conclusion: High quality Swiss tool built to last. Not a comprehensive traveling workshop but complemented with a couple of allen keys, a set of tire levers, and a wrench for axle nuts if necessary, would make for a basic road kit.

December 1, 2009

Cross Check on the road

Filed under: bikes — howdy @ 20:44

The first impression was that it was surprisingly difficult to brake by back-pedalling. The muscles just didn’t seem to like putting power in a backwards way. It sorted itself out after a couple of rides though and maybe also the kick-brake bedded in and became more effective helping in the process.

The reviews on the SA front drum brake were on the mark in that the brake was not very effective out of the box. The brake actually bites instantly as the lever is applied but the bite just doesn’t increase much when the lever is pressed harder. After a couple of weeks the brake has become noticeably more efficient, though, so it remains to be seen how it compares with disc in the months to come.

The frame didn’t give any surprises. A solid, very practical steel frame. Loads of clearance on the forks etc. The 60cm size seemed to be an ok choice for the 186cm rider but to get the top of the bar at the level of the saddle it needed a stem with a good rise. Currently the bike has an adjustable stem but once the most comfortable position is figured out, a corresponding fixed stem will be installed. So far it seems that a stem with a roughly 10cm extension and a 45 degree rise works best.

The Midge bars with the lever setup of one reverse at the drop and another at the top, both actuating the front drum brake, give two nice hand positions with an instant access to the levers. It was thought that the use of an interrupter type lever clamping to the bar, rather than a bar end lever, especially with the short drops, might compromise the hand position, but it really hasn’t been the case. One can feel the clamp and especially the bolt in the clamp but if the lever is rotated slightly away from the vertical so that the bolt moves downwards, the clamp doesn’t seem to be an issue.

Some recommend that with the Midge bars the tips of the drops should roughly be pointing towards the rear dropouts but from our experience the tips need to be pointing more upwards than that to achieve a more comfortable hand position. If the tips are pointing too much downwards one gets the feeling of hands slipping down and losing grip which is  especially apparent riding in a standing position. Nevertheless, the quest for the perfect cock-pit length vs. bar height vs, bar angle continues.

October 31, 2009

Surly Cross Check Build

Filed under: bikes — howdy @ 20:47

The idea was to build a Surly Traveller’s Check with low maintenance components. Due to the high price of TC and the fact that it’s somewhat risky to order a frame without test riding it first the plan morphed into building the cheaper Cross Check with a similar spec instead.  Following is a list of components in the build:

Duomatic two-speed rear hub 109 Hubstripping
Sora Road Double cranks 23 Ebay
On-One Midge Bar 28 Planet X UK
Shimano PD-M324 pedals 39 Ebay
Orbit XL II headset 26 Ebay
Sturmey Archer X-FDD dynohub with drumbrake 84 SJS Cycles
Schmidt Edelux headlight 162 SJS Cycles
Tektro RL740 brake levers 33 Rivendell
Surly Cross Check Frame 60cm 343
Brooks Bar Tape 32
Brooks Flyer Saddle 74
Mavic A319 rims 29 a piece
DT Swiss Competition Spokes 49 a box of 100
Shimano 68×110 bottom bracket 13
B&M Seculite Plus rear light 21
Kalloy seat post 8
Salsa Moto Ace 40degree 105mm stem 27.5
Misc. Stuff 50
Total 1162.5 euros

Here are some thoughts behind the build. As was said, the goal was low maintenance, all moving parts hidden under the hood.  The goal was also simplicity and avoiding any expensive and fancy parts in the build.

Sturmey Archer X-FDD hub

Sturmey Archer X-FDD hub

Not long ago, Sturmey Archer introduced a new dyno-hub, the X-FDD, with an integrated 70mm drum brake. They received quite favorable reviews on the web. Most comments noted that the initial performance of the brake was disappointing but improved considerably over time. Also, the dyno part of the hub wasn’t strictly according to spec. producing too low voltage at low speeds and too high at high speeds possibly frying halogen bulbs, but with this project, it was thought that combining the hub with good quality led lights with built-in over voltage protection should make that a non issue.

The main benefit of a drum brake over disc is the possibility of using basically any fork that can withstand the forces introduced by the brake arm, meaning that we could stick to the stock CC fork. As a matter of fact, there are not too many 28″ disc forks available. We have used Dimension disc-only cross fork in the past but this time we chose differently. The rim and spokes where Mavic A319 and DT Competition, respectively. The spoke length for this combination was 283mm with a 3-cross lacing.

Ok, enough with the front wheel. Let’s move up, onto the bars.


On-One Midge Bars

The bike was built for a rider of height 186cm (6’1.2). The steerer tube was kept as stock and a stem with a healthy riser angle was used to bring the bars roughly on the same level with the seat.

The two main drivers for the bars were comfort and quick access to the brakes. The comfort factor manifested itself as On-One Midge bars. They are wide and have a shallow drop.  Not the best choice for a time-trial but perfect in the city providing good handling from both the top and drops and with the shallow drop the ride position doesn’t get to extreme. The quick access to brakes factor, on the other hand, meant ignoring regular (linear pull) drop bar levers and going for a reverse lever at the drop and a separate cross lever at the top. This of course results in losing one hand position at the hoods but the hood position is not considered that important with the Midge bars where the drop position can be used most of the time and the plan was to dial in the bars in such a way that the drops would be the main position.


Tektro RL740

As there is a kick-brake on the rear hub, we only had to worry about levers for the front hub. There was still enough to worry about as the SA drum brake needs a linear pull lever instead of a short pull that is a standard issue on drop bars. For a reverse drop lever the best option would’ve been a bar-end lever – but there is none available in the linear pull category. So we went with the Tektro RL740 for both the top and the drop. This was a tricky choice as the Midge bars have very short drops and as the Tektro cross lever is clamped to the bar instead of bar end, it consumes the valuable bar resource and might get in the way of the grip. Nevertheless, the combination seemed to work reasonably well


Sachs Duomatic hub

We are fond of single speed and fixed gear; simplicity, aesthetics, and the fun factor – but we consider that some gears just usually make the bike more practical in the type of use we have them for; mostly urban utility, commuting etc. For these purposes we have usually found three-speed hub gears to be a good compromise between a number of gears, hub efficiency, size/weight, maintainability etc.

but as this bike was originally going to be a Travellers’ Check, where the frame can be split in two, the idea of having no cables between the two frame parts seemed a perfect idea. The TC never materialized but the Duomatic stuck and actually in a possible TC build in the future we might try the Sachs Automatic hub instead to see how it compares with the Duomatic.

Schmidt Edelux

We were very curios to see how the new Schmidt Edelux front led light compares with the previous generation led dynamo head lights. And it certainly didn’t disappoint us. Very bright with a good pattern.  The on-off switch is especially handy at the top of the lamp.

For load carrying it has the Carradice SQR block on the seat tube for attaching the Carradice Slim bag.

The remaining components in the build are pretty standard. B&M Seculite Plus rear light, Brooks Flyer saddle, Brooks leather bar tape, Sora road double converted to single etc.

Stay tuned for impressions from the road!

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