27 August, 2015

For The Love Of Frame Bags

by Scott

As Igor mentioned in a post a year or so back, each of us here at VO seem to have our own little fetish about different parts. Mine is bags. I love bags, all sorts- handle bar bags, seat bags and for the last year or so, I've been using a frame bag and loving the versatility of it.

I first used one last year on our tour of SE Iceland. I loaded the frame bag up with a water bladder and some quick snacks  and lunch items. It was great to be able to reach into the "black hole" and grab some snickers bars or to throw some dinner items in there on the way from the supermarket to the camp site.

Now a year later, and the Piolet in production, I'm still using the same bag on my production model frame.
This year our riding has been more local in scale, but our mixed terrain rides still use the Piolet and Camargue and we still use frame bags. I toss a water bottle, tube, pump and multi tool along with some snacks into the frame bag and it is still as easy to get to as before. I like that the frame bag keeps the weight low and with the internal divider, I can pop a water bottle in place vertically next to the seat tube and keep the snacks and repair stuff easy to get at. The smaller left side pocket keeps my keys, wallet and phone secured. This is handy for trying to take photos on a ride -still working on that while riding on gravel.
The main triangle of the Piolet isn't that far off that of the Camargue, so our frame bags fit the same size range on both bikes.

21 August, 2015

Building a Bike From the Frame Up - Drivetrain History and Gearing

by Igor

We are spoiled today with the abundance of cassette and crankset options available. 10-40+ tooth cassettes, wide range triples, mid-range double gearing, 1x chainrings, and time trial gearing. You can mix and match to get the perfect gearing for your next adventure or just to get up and down that darned hill on your commute without walking. Alas, it wasn't always like this. Back in the days of guns mounted to bikes, moustaches that hipsters can only dream about, and fantastic riding wardrobe, your options for gearing were basically non-existent. Bicycles have come a very long way from simple beginnings, so let's explore gearing options ranging from fixed/single speed, internal, external, and nuances.

Safety Bicycles were the successors to Penny-Farthings/Ordinary/High-Wheelers. They were called "Safety" because if you hit a curb or bad cobble, you wouldn't have to worry about taking a header and ruining your day. Early safety bikes were fixed gear that often did not have brakes, or, if you were a serious rider, leather-padded rod-style brakes that were speed modulators at best. Riding a fixed gear drivetrain means you have one gear and the cranks will continuously turn as they are directly connected to the rear wheel via chain.
Fun fact: If you look closely at photos of wheelmen from this era, you'll notice many bikes had foot rests on the fork blades so that the rider could remove his feet from the pedals as he traveled downhill. Isn't fixed gear grand?
http://www.louisvillebicycleclub.org/page-917031
This style of gearing has become a staple for simplicity and a "connected" feeling to your bike. Today, flip/flop style rear hubs are popular because you can get two gears with just a flip of the wheel. 
http://www.all-about-hubs.com/start.php?action=naben_galerie1_en
Going into the 1920's, internal hubs were basically standard on most English-made bikes. These 3-speed hubs are hearty and rarely fail, even with little to no maintenance. Think about it, you get an uphill, flat, and downhill gear. What more do you need? Today, you have your choice of internal gearing ranging from the modest 3 speed to the complex Rolhoff 14 speed. 
If you're looking at doing a fixed, single speed, or internal you need to be aware of a few things. Ideally, your frame has horizontal dropouts like the Polyvalent or Camargue to keep chain tension. A frame that has track dropouts is great as well, but mounting fenders can be more difficult. If you have vertical dropouts, you'll need a chain tensioner. Fine for freewheel gearing, but tensioners are not a good idea for fixed gear.

Pros to fixed/single speed: Simple, reliable. Cons: Severely limited gear range on the fly. Have to carry a 15mm wrench to remove wheel.

Pros to internal: Simple and reliable, perfect for city bikes. Cons: Limited gear range, low and mid-range models are not suitable for touring as the gearing typically cannot be made low enough for extended use. Rolhoff drivetrains are very reliable and surprisingly light, but are a significant monetary investment. Have to carry a 15mm wrench. Changing flats is a pain, even more so with modern systems with "quick release" cables.
http://www.cyclingburylancs.com/velocio.htm
The invention of derailleur style gearing is commonly, mistakenly attributed to Tullio Campagnolo, but in fact it was a French cyclist, Paul de Vivie (who wrote under the name Velocio) who first conceived the derailleur. The story goes that he was passed during a race by another cyclist smoking a pipe and thought that if he increased his gearing he would gain speed on the flats, but struggle uphill. Decreasing his gearing meant that he would gain time uphill but lose it all on the flats. What is a man to do?

By first installing 2 chainwheels and moving the chain by hand, and later modifying his hub, he was able to gain 4 gears by pedaling backwards and adjusting the gearing of the proteon hub. A revolution!
http://www.classicrendezvous.com/Events/Cirque/Cirque_05/photos/cirque_2005_lawn_party_pics2.htm
Campagnolo Cambio Corsa is perhaps the very first "1 By" drivetrain system. A single ring crankset paired with 4 cogs on the rear wheel provided the rider a whole 4 gears. Moving the gears involves releasing tension from the hub to the dropouts using the upper lever, pedaling backwards and moving the lower level to achieve the correct ratio for the hill. Then, the wheel moves forwards and backwards in the dropouts depending on chain wrap. Lastly, closing the upper lever. Check out this video to see how it works in practice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIZhSNdO_Zo

Granted it's a weird mismatch by today's standards, but it works well for rooty East Coast mountain biking.
The modern 1x systems are characterized by a single crankset, multiple cogs on a cassette, and a rear derailleur. This drivetrain style is gaining popularity with mountain, cyclocross, city, and more recently road cyclists. The allure is simplicity and lighter weight by ditching a front derailleur, shifter, cable, and housing. Wide range cassettes (11-40T+) give riders a low range that used to only be achieved by the use of multiple chainrings. In addition, a 1x drivetrain allows the use of wider tires for off-road bikes without the worry of chainrub. I'm even using a 1x system on my Piolet.

For city bikes, simplicity is king and a 1x system with a medium range 11-32T cassette just makes sense. Novice riders would also benefit from this system. Click one way, gets easier, click the other way, gets harder. No need to explain cross chaining and duplicate gears between chainrings. Just hop on and go.

There are some downsides to consider with a 1x system. Low gearing for MTB is nice with a small front ring (less than 34T), but this leads to gearing that many riders feel is too low for flat and downhill terrain. Unless you're using a narrow-wide tooth profile of chainring, you'll need a chain keeper, like above, to prevent dropped chains off the chainring. In addition, most tourists I've spoken to say that they need at least two chainrings to get a proper gear ratio to get up the hill and not spin out on flat land.

Pros for "1by": Simple, lightweight, great gearing options, perfect for novice riders. Cons: The use of narrow-wide chainring is suggested for off-road, gearing might not be suitable for tourists, use of super wide range cassette (40T+) requires special adjustments and/or derailleur.
http://cycling-passion.com/2013/06/22/top-10-cycling-innovations/simplex-champion-rear-derailleur-1934/
Enter the double drivetrain, my favorite by far: 2 chainrings, 2 derailleurs, 2 shifters, multiple cogs. Lucien Charles Hippolyte Juy, who started Simplex, is credited with inventing the first cable actuated rear derailleur. Chain tension was kept by a single jockey wheel and a piston moved in and out to select different gears. Simplex was wildly successful with more than 200 race wins in 1932 alone.
http://velobase.com/ViewComponent.aspx?ID=C9705308-3BC1-4BCD-AEDF-8F22D18BF3EC&Enum=108
In 1949, Tullio Campagnolo perfected the rear derailleur and released the first parallelogram version dubbed Gran Sport. Though they were not as accurate as Simplex, they were more durable and could be used with more gears. The Simplex system needed different cage/plunger styles to accommodate greater number of gears, which was difficult for shops to stock.
http://www.disraeligears.co.uk/Site/SunTour_Skitter_derailleur_%281st_style%29.html
In early 1960s, Suntour perfected the slant parallelogram design rear derailleur with the introduction of the Suntour Skitter. This redesign allows the jockey wheel to stay a constant distance away from the variable sizes of the cogs, allowing for easier shifting. With obvious influences from Huret, this layout had improved adjustment screw locations and pivots. This design is what most manufacturers use today.
http://www.bikeraceinfo.com/photo-galleries/derailleurs-50s.html
In the 1940's Simplex introduced a front derailleur which was a simple lever and cage. It worked well to move the chain form one ring to the other. Simple and beautiful. Campagnolo perfected the front derailleur parallelogram design which was paired to a shifter on the downtube. "All Campy".
Doubles are easy to maintain and can have a wide range suitable to touring, commuting, and racing. A wide range cassette (11-32T) paired with a wide range crankset (30-46 or 34-48) such as the 50.4 or Fluted Double gives you plenty of gearing on the low end and flats, without having to really worry about spinning out on the downhill. Seriously, if you're spinning out in 48-11, you will benefit a lot more by tucking and saving energy than from furiously spinning.
As far as compatibility, pretty much all friction shifting in the Campagnolo, Shimano, Simplex, Suntour world is compatible. Derailleurs move around by tension in the cable, which is what the shifter is creating. I love friction shifting.

Indexing is where things get weird. Shimano, Campagnolo, and SRAM all use different pull ratios. Shimano's compatibility is easier than the rest, which is why it is the standard for quality touring rigs. Many of my bikes use Shimano components for indexed system because it is so damn simple, reliable, and affordable. Otherwise, Campagnolo for friction.

If it is 8 speed or higher and does not say "DYNASYS", you can mix and match pretty much everything. That's how I'm using a 10 speed shifter Ultegra 6600 shifter with an old XT derailleur on my Piolet.

If it says Dynasys, you are limited to only mountain pull shifters and derailleurs. This is the more common question we get. Dynasys only works with Dynasys.
Doubles are very popular for off road touring and mountain bikes, too. Paired with a wide range cassette, Shimano's Deore 38/24 crankset is fantastic for an all-rounder such as the Camargue. This crankset is also compatible with 73mm bottom bracket shells for those using 2.4" tires on the Piolet.

Pros to doubles: Huge variety of options for gearing and drivetrains from "corn cob" to "climb a tree", make it as simple or complex as you'd like, many classic crankset options. Cons: Indexing compatibility can be variable, might not be enough low gear for some riders, heavier than 1x system.
Triples are still popular for the hardcore tourist but have fallen out of use with many cyclists in favor of a wide range double with wide range cassette. This falling out is probably due to over complication compared to doubles and the number of duplicated gears. Scott clings to his triple for his touring Piolet.

Compatibility is slightly hairier than doubles because of the additional little ring. Indexed shifting requires a triple compatible shifter for that extra click. Front derailleur typically need to be longer to grab the chain off the tiny ring.

Pros to triple: Super wide range of gearing options, never have to worry about not being able to get up the hill, fine tuning the gear you're in. Cons: More complicated and heavier than double, indexed front requires triple compatible shifters, duplicated gearing.

To sum up, gearing is a vital part of your bike build. Gearing that is too high can lead to aching knees and walking hills. Gearing that is too low can lead to inefficiency on downhill/flat portions. Think about what type of riding you plan on doing, what terrain you plan to conquer, and if you're anticipating carrying a load.

What's your ideal gearing? What's the wackiest combinations you've seen out and about? Quadruples? Internal + cassette + Schlumpf? Let us know in the comments!

18 August, 2015

Toe Strap Buttons are Cufflinks for Your Bike

by Igor


A well-adjusted and fitted toe clip and strap system can have just as much pulling power as a clipless pedal and shoe combo. In fact, many powerful track riders still use toe straps for additional foot retention to prevent their cleat from popping out of their pedal during sprint efforts. These nifty Toe Strap Buttons are not only handsome and have just enough flair for the nerdiest of cyclists, but they are useful to grab and pull when starting off the line. In addition, they prevent the strap from going back through the buckle should your legs be "strong like ox".

A tidy, laser etched Grand Cru logo adorns the top and a set screw underneath keeps the button secure.
These work with our Grand Cru Toe Straps, other standard-width straps, and weigh 3 grams each.

I have a good feeling clips and straps will be making a comeback.

13 August, 2015

PBP Starts This Weekend

by Scott

The quadrennial randonneur cycling event known as Paris Brest Paris starts this weekend. The event starts in the Parisian suburb of Saint Quinten-en-Yvelines at the national velodrome, and heads west to the port city of Brest, where one turns around and goes back to Paris. A 1200 km (750 mile) brevet, it is one that attracts over 5000 cyclists from all over the world.

The year of PBP is the Olympics of the randonneur community. The year starts out with the qualifying rides of 200, 300, 400 and 600 km's, Once those are done, the logistics of flight planning and booking hotels starts along with registering for the event itself. You can feel the excitement build during the year on the brevets as riders talk about when they are flying out, first time participants are counseled by veterans, and veterans try to hide their nerves about this audacious undertaking.

For some folks, like the Australians and New Zealanders, they tend to get to France early - usually a week or two early, to acclimatize after a cold winter down under. For the northern hemisphere riders, most tend to arrive around a week before.

Most of my North American friends riding the event have started to arrive in Paris this week and the Facebook pages and Instagram photos of warm up rides have started to appear on line.

The organizers have created a tracking page if you want to follow the action. Each rider is given a number (frame #) and at each checkpoint that they go through, the organizers update the web page to show who has traveled through which checkpoint.
You can go to the PBP tracking page (http://suivi.paris-brest-paris.org/index.php) and enter the riders last name and it will come up with the frame # where you can see which check point/controls that rider has passed through.

For those of us not in France, we wish all the riders Bonne Route and we'll sit down with a Paris Brest cake this weekend, toast them, and wait to hear the stories that are sure to come.

If you're riding PBP this year, feel free to comment with your frame number and we'll watch along this coming week.

10 August, 2015

Custom Fit Your VO Campeur Rear Rack + Bonus Frame Teaser

by Igor

Racks should sit level and low for balance, strength, and aesthetics. A low center of gravity contributes to better handling when going into corners. When standing out of the saddle, rear bags mounted too high can cause luggage sway and contribute to a noodly feeling all the way through the frame to the handlebars. So let's put on our Constructeur hats to modify a Campeur Rear Rack and get a nice, low center of gravity; the process is easier than you might think.
As above, this setup is technically fine. Although, my compulsion for better integration was rearing its ugly head.
The Campeur rack's dropout tang has 4 pre-dilled holes. These can be cut off to fit different bike designs. At this step, we had two choices. 1) cut to the lowest hole and mount the rack to the fender or b) mount to the second to lowest hole and not mount to rack to the fender. This bike will be going on trips where assembly and disassembly is needed, so we decided that ease of use is more important than complete integration. The last thing you want to do is search for 4mm long button-head screws when you're assembling a bike in an airport.
Measure the braze-ons under the rack and the height of the rear loop in relation to the fender. In this case, the forward braze-on sits closest to the fender, so that is the constraint.
Mark the middle position between holes. I used the end of the tang as the constant for both sides for an even cut. There are many ways to actually cut the tang. Hacksaw and a fresh blade is the most typical way to get your cut as you probably have one in your garage or shed. Dremel is the next, but Chris hates dremels for an overwhelming number of reasons. Chop saw would probably work, but not everyone owns one and the racks don't fit within the path of the blade.
I know my co-workers don't want to hear "eeka-eeka-eeka-eeka" for minutes on end, so I went with bolt cutters. One swipe and it's done. Be sure to make the cut perpendicular to the tang and wear eye protection.


This raw cut will need to be filed down and rounded off to eliminate burrs on the corners.
Re-install and enjoy!
I'll leave you with a small teaser of the shall-not-be-named orange bike. Hypothesize away!

05 August, 2015

Rustines Restock Received

by Igor

Just before France went on August holiday, we received a nice Rustines package. We've restocked on Rustines patch tins in the Small and Expedition sizes. We think the old world charm of their packaging and branding is superb. It's cool that it hasn't changed much in over 100 years.

http://goo.gl/51VJci
We got some more Constructeur Grips, which are finally available in white. Quick tip for cleaning: spray on some diluted Simple Green or similar cleaner and wipe with a clean rag for a new pro look.
The worst feeling is when you've finally located the slow leak, you've sanded the area, you're ready to patch, only to find your glue is dried up in the tube. If you need more, we've got you covered. 5gr and 20gr cement tubes are now available.
We're going to get snazzy Rustines patch kit displays for shops. Details to come later in the month.
Customers have really liked the Rustines Caps, what do you think about this rose color?

29 July, 2015

If You Could Only Have One Bike...

During a recent VO staff meeting a topic of conversation was what bike we would choose if we could only have one. I've recently been thinking and reading about the idea of simple living so this really interested me, so much so that I asked our staff to write a few sentences about what they would choose if limited to one bike.


Adrian: Well that's a commitment and a half! If I could only choose one...I'd have to be my 26" Campeur. As a 5'5" lady, I've become quite enamored with that wheel-size; it suits me well. Aesthetically, I like the classic styling of the Campeur. It's a solid daily driver for my commute to work, that handles well when full-loaded for weekend touring. It's all the bike I want and need.

Scott: I'd go with a Piolet. I got to test one out last year, and it is my mid-life crisis bike. It takes me back to when I was in my early 20's, riding all over the place, on and off-road in BC. This is the bike that I can see taking back to Iceland and doing gravel road tours with my wife for years to come.

I can run it with wide touring tires for the rough roads of Iceland and also put 2.4 MTB tires on it so I can ride the single track near our home in MD. It's the do anything bike that I dreamed of and now it's a reality.

Clint: I'd go with the new orange Bike-That-Must-Not-Be-Named. As much as I love the trails, I spend more time on the bike as a means of transportation. But that's not to say I couldn't put some knobby 32s on You-Know-What and hit up some singletrack. The Orange Lord was great loaded on the C&O, great for groceries, and this Friday I'm riding up to Baltimore for Bike Party!

Mark: The Pass Hunter would be my choice. It suites the style of riding I actually do:  fast road rides. Plus it's red and it's proven that red bikes are faster.

Brandon: I would choose the Piolet. It is the bike in our line-up that is most capable off-road. It is the frame that I can most easily customize. It has a ton of braze-ons and fittings so I can run it with all sorts of racks and parts on it. Plus it has disc brakes and the teal color looks fantastic.

Igor: Campeur, hands down. In four years it has taken me everywhere I've wanted to go and plastered a smile on my face for every mile. Loaded or stripped down it has neutral and confident handling. The frame fits tires wide enough to be confident on gravel, flowy singletrack, and poorly maintained country roads. The metallic grey with a tinge of purple gives it understated and timeless styling. But honestly, it just feels so good passing roadies on carbon fiber wonderbikes with a bike that has racks, fenders, and downtube shifters.

Annette: Oh, you people are so fickle, with your heads turned by the latest pretty thing. Have you all forgotten that the oldest bike in our fleet, the Polyvalent, means "multipurpose," and by design is "the one"?

Alec: I like to ride fast and to not slow down no matter the road surface, or lack of same. So it has to be my Red Pass Hunter.

Chris: A few years ago I would have chosen a Pass Hunter, and this is still the bike I ride most often. But as I've grown older I've been drawn to larger tires and to unpaved roads, so I'd choose the Camargue. It's a bike that's nice enough on a paved road, but really shines on gravel farm roads and double-track. It also makes a great city bike, especially if you live in a town with old brick and cobblestone streets, like Annapolis, or if you like hopping curbs.

What about you? What would you ride if you were limited to a single mount? And do you really need more than one bike?

21 July, 2015

1111th blog post: Bro-vet

by Clint

There's not much going on at VO HQ this week so I figured I'd write about my weekend trip with the new Piolet and this other orange frame I can't talk about.  Met up with a couple buddies and we biked out to Harpers Ferry via C&O trail.  The campsites were buggy and the trails were muddy, but we still had a pretty good time.  The temperatures were in the 90s with high humidity all weekend which meant no sleeping bags at night and a lot of shirtless dudes.

Weekend Thighlights. For the ladies.
We set out Friday night and got to the campsite around midnight.  In the morning, we had coffee at the campsite with one of my coworkers who was also out on the trail that weekend with a friend.   Had to pack up camp pretty quickly with the oncoming storms.  We rode through the rain all morning.  From that point on, everything was covered in mud.
Found a big tree.
Good climbin' tree.
Quick swim to cool down and clean up.
We jumped in the water by Harpers Ferry; we needed to clean up before going into town for lunch. Didn't stay for very long.  Harpers Ferry was great and all, but we wanted to make our way back to the campsite.
Pretty Great Falls.
The next day we rode straight back.  Made a quick stop at Great Falls to see what we had missed on the first night out.  Made it back in time to crash on the couch and watch bad Sunday afternoon TV.
Post-ride hose down.
Both new frames were perfect for the conditions this weekend.  The disc brakes were fantastic for the rain and mud.  Andrew, who is primarily a mountain biker, was on the Piolet.  He described it afterwards as "a valiant steed shepherding you through grand adventures."  I was on the orange bike for the weekend.  It was stable enough to handle the load and nimble enough to navigate the city at the start and end of the ride.  Plus the porteur bag up front was filled with snacks!  Keep an eye out for more on the new orange bike.