Tag Archives: Shimano

There is a New Bike in the Garage

After much deliberation and the uncovering of a sweet deal at a Performance Bike retail location I have a new bike in my garage:


It’s a Breezer Radar Expert.  All in, I picked it up for a little over $600 which seems like a steal compared to bikes I have bought in the past.  If you are a cyclist from the 1990s, especially a mountain biker, spending just north of six hundred dollars for a bicycle that is reliable and competent seems amazing.  I remember there being component groups that were cobbled together and barely worked when new let alone a few months down the road.

Also, if you are a historian of the bicycle industry the name Breezer should be familiar.  Joe Breeze, the name behind Breezer, was one of the founding fathers of mountain biking along with other luminaries like Gary Fisher.  The company that makes Breezer bikes today is not the same bespoke operation from the 1970s through 1990s, but it retains some of the mystique.

It checks off almost every criteria I had for a new bicycle:

  1. Steel frame—This is a personal preference. I ride steel bicycles.
  2. Disc brakes—One nod to modernity. One ride on a friend’s disc equipped bike converted me in an instant.  One ride in inclement weather with finicky cantilevers made me actively seek out a replacement for the dirt wagon.
  3. External headset—Chris King had a famous online post about why integrated headsets were essentially the devil reincarnated as a bicycle design trend. The world seems to be going to integrated and zero stack systems despite the proven longevity and maintainability of good ol’ external headsets.  Plus, is there a cooler looking component than a Chris King headset?
  4. Threaded bottom bracket shell—You can take your creaky press fit bottom bracket and enjoy the disharmonious symphony on group rides. I will take my old school threaded bottom bracket shell and its quiet labor any day of the week.
  5. Non-integrated seatpost binder—This seems like a trivial bit of frame design, but dealing with problems related to integrated binder bolts will drive even the most patient person to question the very nature of their existence. If the non-integrated seatpost binder starts giving you trouble just replace the damn thing.  Five minutes of work and no frustration.

The components are nothing special—Shimano Sora all the way around with some OEM wheels, WTB tires, SRAM crank, etc.  However, for a little more than $600 I am on the road riding which is in the neighborhood of what I was looking at spending on a frame and fork combo.  Sure, the frame is not as good as the model I was considering purchasing.  How great of a difference would it have been and would I have noticed?

Now I am able to upgrade the bits on the bike on my schedule.  This equates to buying the upgrades when I find them on sale and replacing components piece meal.  Thankfully most bikes these days do not spec pedals because it is such a personal choice.  I usually go with Shimano M520s.  I think that for an average price of around $30 you cannot go wrong.  However, for Christmas I was gifted a pair of Shimano PD-M8020s which are normally outside of my price range.  I am fairly stoked about the stainless axle and bearings that can be replaced because I have chewed through bearings on the M520s.

One change that I made immediately was to swap out the stock bar for a Salsa Cowchipper 44cm from my previous gravel bike.  The stock bar was quite narrow owing to the smaller frame size and not compatible with my broad shoulders.  I am giving the drop bar a second chance since the geometry of this bike is much less aggressive and I feel that it will put less stress of my hands.  Also, I put gel vibration pads under a cushy EVA bar tape to hopefully help out with some of the hand pain issues that I was having on longer rides.

Today was the first day that I have gotten out to ride and…it hurt.  I also forgot how much work it is to dial in a new bike.  It is going to take a few rides just to feel comfortable on the new bike but it is close as is right now.  A more comprehensive report is forthcoming.

Get out there and ride!


Building a Better Gravel Grinder Part I

I should probably have considered the new wheels and tires that I put on my bike a month or so back to be part I, but I had not yet decided on what path this transformation was going to take so I punted.

The two things that I am trying to achieve with this transformation are simplicity, e.g. reducing the number of failure points, and comfort. Unlike a lot of riders who crank out a twenty mile ride at a twenty mile per hour clip I find myself in the saddle for three hours or more on the weekends and about two hours per ride on the weekdays. That is a lot of saddle time for someone who works in an office job full time. Comfort is critical and I do not want something to fail twenty miles from my start point because it is a long way back. Trust me, I found out the hard way that I had not replaced the twenty six inch tube with a 700c tube until I was looking down at a slow leak sixteen miles from my house. Whoops.

The first change that I wanted to make was to get rid of the front derailleur. Several times this season I had to clean out masses of limestone dust, sweat, and grime from the pulley mounted on my seat tube in order to regain the ability to shift the front derailleur. Considering how little I used the second chainring I deemed the entire front shifting regime to be expendable.

Thankfully, the world of single chainring drivetrains has taken the road world by storm in the last year or so. Okay, maybe not the road world but definitely the sub-segment of riders who spend a majority of their time on less than ideal surfaces like gravel, crushed limestone trails, or straight up dirt. Full-up OE crankset solutions exist, but I am cheap. I wanted to go with an aftermarket conversion that replaced my two OE chainrings with a single aftermarket chainring.

Dropped chains you ask? Yes, if you just removed the front derailleur and went on your merry way with the original chainrings there would likely be a lot of dropped chains in your future. This new breed of chainrings takes care of that problem by using a “narrow wide” tooth configuration. This helps prevent dropped chains and removes the need for a chainkeeper. A lot of 1x riders are also using so-called “clutched” rear derailleurs that restrict chain movement to only the times when a shift is activated. It is a bomb proof solution, but I am going with the down and dirty solution for now to see if I enjoy the single chainring experience.

Two manufacturers of narrow wide chainrings caught my eye in preparation for this project: Race Face and Wolf Tooth Components. Both offered a 110 BCD chainring to fit my OE FSA Gossamer Compact crankset. Initially I considered the Wolf Tooth option to be preferred—small company making their stuff in the U.S.A.—but a trusted rider of the gravel who also rides a converted single chainring rig swayed me to the Race Face chainring. I am sure that the Wolf Tooth is a quality component and there are a lot of online reviews that attest to the fact, but I was convinced by the opinion of someone I consider trustworthy that I would not go wrong with the Race Face chainring. It was a judgment call.

In terms of tooth count a range of options were available, but I settled on a 42 tooth chainring. Using the Sheldon Brown “Gear Calculator” I figured on the following gear inches:

Gear Inch Table

You can see the two original chainrings on the left and right with the chosen narrow wide chainring in the middle. With the narrow wide 42 tooth chainring I am losing a little on the top and bottom end, but I am keeping a pretty good amount of the overall range. Unlike a lot of group riders who are worried about cadence I ride mostly by myself so the difference in steps is not a critical issue for me. The calculations are based on 700c wheels with 35mm wide tires and 170mm crankarms.

The cassette was considered for replacement, but considering that I spent 90% of my time riding on one of the cogs I figured that there was another season of life if I spent more time in cogs with 11, 12, and 13 teeth.

Installation was a snap. If this is something that you want to do make sure that you get the correct chainring bolts otherwise you will end up making another trip to the LBS in anger. I had a set from a single speed build I put together years ago.

All told the look is a lot cleaner:


But how does it ride? Stay tuned for a long term report.

Note: I paid retail for everything mentioned in the above post. No one sent me anything to test nor does anyone expect any kind words in return for the use of their products. I would love to be one of those lucky people, but instead I just ride what I think will work best.

There’s a New Ride in the House

I came home one Friday night after my daughter’s swim lessons to discover a box waiting for me in the entryway:

Bike Box

Given how crappy the past six or so months have been—coping with my father’s suicide and the daily dealing with of estate details—my family members got together and decided to surprise with a new bicycle.

Why? Because my attachment to my long-time bicycle is legend. Anyone who has owned a bicycle and ridden it for more than a decade can attest that it becomes part of your personality. You unconsciously understand the little squeaks and creaks from the frame. You instantly slide into a comfortable position and can ride for hours without much consternation.

There comes a moment, however, when it comes time to retire the old friend and I did not have the heart to do it myself. I probably should have hung up the Bontrager a few years earlier, but I kept it moving down the trail with a lot of TLC and some new parts. At the end of last summer I could tell that it was going to need a complete rebuild of the drivetrain because some of the parts were still original. Yes, it has a pair of nearly twenty year old derailleurs.

My wife could see me toggling between screens of components and pages with complete bicycles at night after the kids were put to bed, but I would never pull the trigger on either. A complete rebuild of the drivetrain was going to be expensive and a new bike seemed like treason. I think she got sick of me spending so much time on indecision and collaborated with her mother to execute a plan.

Inside was this red beauty:

New Bike

It is a steel cyclocross bike from Nashbar.

As loyal readers will know I noticed a problem immediately after unboxing; one of the Shimano 105 STI levers was broken. For those of you familiar with STI levers will know, if something goes wrong it is usually a complete replacement. Even if it is just a nickel’s worth of plastic. Dumb. Nashbar was most excellent and sent me a replacement lever lickety split.

It’s a steel bike. I am not a retro-grouch or cro-mo curmudgeon, but I prefer to ride steel bikes. I have an aluminum Gary Fisher Big Sur set up for singletrack. It’s not a bike that I could ever really get used to riding over the long haul. I cannot speak to exotic materials like carbon fiber or titanium because my budget has never allowed me or I have never allowed myself to spend that kind of money on two wheeled transportation.

It’s also a fairly yeoman’s setup in terms of components. The critical bits are Shimano’s 105 value gruppo. Bicyclists are a bling obsessed lot and Shimano 105 is not a bling gruppo. No one gets excited about Shimano 105. You can, however, put mile after mile of trouble free cycling on these components and not be out an arm, leg, and lots of donated plasma when something finally goes tits up. Except for the god damned STI levers which retail for like $200. What a joke.

The wheelset is no-name hubs laced to Alex DC19 rims shod in Kenda Kwik 32C rubber. Having not put many miles on the bike yet I cannot speak to the durability or ride quality of the wheels. I do not have my hopes set very high as most OEM wheels are uninspiring at best. This is one of those upgrades where I wait until the end of the season to snag a nice wheelset on the cheap as stocks are cleared in anticipation of next year’s fancy gear. An upgrade is an upgrade whether it’s this year’s model or next.

It did not come with pedals. I am a mountain biker at heart, so mountain-style SPD pedals are the name of the game for me. I am also cheap. I use Shimano SPD M520 pedals exclusively. You can get a pair for anywhere between $25 and $50. It is almost impossible to beat the performance at that price. In all my years of riding I have had zero problems with these pedals.

The critical feature of this bike, for me, is that the headset and bottom bracket are the more standard type as opposed to internal headsets or BB30 like bottom bracket solutions. It might seem silly, but I agree with Chris King’s perception of the flaws with internal headsets. I plan on upgrading my headset to a Chris King NoThreadSet over the winter. There is no finer component on the market.

Before my first ride I also changed out the no-name OEM saddle for a Selle Anatomica Titanico X, of which I will write about at a later date, and re-wrapped the bars with a less corky/foamy bar tape. The bar tape that comes on bikes is absolutely awful.

Here is to a season of great rides.