02 October, 2015

This and That

By Chris

A few random things:

The Piolet frames are selling well. The XL size is already sold out. We're just now sending 18 of them to a shop in Asia. One thing that I've noticed is that a large percentage of Piolets go to folks in the bike industry for personal use. The percentage is far above that for any other frame we've sold. I'm not sure why this is, but it's really a great endorsement that so many bike professionals want to ride Piolets.

We recently had an order for over $800 worth of VO brake pads from a relatively small bike shop. It turns out that they now use only VO pads and shoes because they feel they are the best available. I frequently see emails from customers praising these pads and have noticed more shops ordering large quantities recently. I wish I could take credit for developing these pads. But what happened was that I was at the Taipei bike show with an employee who insisted that we stop by this tiny booth displaying brake pads from a little factory I'd never heard of. "You've got to check out this one brake pad rubber formula these guys have," he said. "They don't squeal and they stop really well." I was skeptical, but we got some samples--they were great. Now I don't claim that they will never squeal under any circumstances, but they do eliminate noise on the vast majority of bikes we've tried them on. And they stop as well as any pads I've used in both wet or dry conditions. Try a set and see for yourself.
Sir Derek & Sir Brandon, defenders of the fenders.  (photo by Clint)
We just unloaded a container, lots of boxes. So we built a castle.
Dia Compe has introduced these cool and beautifully machined roller cable hangers. We have a small stock available. Constructeur style!
Our inexpensive alloy front cable stop is now also available in black. They match our noir brakes and headsets.

We now have a good stock of black replacement fender hardware.

Milan and Tourist bars are back in stock. A lot of you have been waiting. Those are our most popular handlebars; thus we ran out.

That is all.

29 September, 2015

Imperfection Sale

by Scott

We're selling some VO frames that are either prototypes/demo bikes or have a small imperfection. They are "bargain priced". And you do still get the 10% discount on anything you order to build them up (in the same order). Here's what we have; they won't last long:

Pass Hunter Demo 57 cm frame

Camargue 53 cm frame

Pass Hunter 59 cm frame

Piolet Prototype 53cm frame

Pass Hunter 53 cm frame

Campeur 57 cm frame

Don't think of them as imperfect, they're wabi sabi.

23 September, 2015

Brief Debriefing of Interbike

by Clint

Now that the industry is back from partying at Interbike, I've seen a number of summary blog posts go up about the show.  This was my second year there.  I can navigate the "L" shape of the expo floor now.  I figured I'd share my experiences and a few biased opinions.  Hopefully they're a little different from what you've already read.

I went up early again for the outdoor demo.  I miss riding out west: hadn't shredded rocky trails like that since last year.  Got to try out a few of Litespeed's offerings, the new Santa Cruz Bronson, the Jamis Dragonslayer, and a couple Ritchey mountain bikes.  I was taking the Ritchey P29 out to the trails and was passed by Tom himself.  Definitely geeked out a little.  I rode both days until my legs were too pooped to party.

The demeanor of the first day was a little grim.  I think I was just around the wrong people all day.  On the shuttle over I was sitting near guys talking about injuries, and at lunch I sat next to guys talking about their friends who had died in riding accidents.  One of my buddies did lose a few teeth at the demo last year, so I promised myself I'd take it easy anyways.  Trail conditions were fantastic the second day of the demo. Spirits were up too.  New trails and new bikes, I really can't complain.  I had a great time at the demo.

The expo itself went smoothly.  As it was with the outdoor demo, it seemed that many of the usual vendors weren't there, but we socialized and saw all the shiny new bike stuff.  Always good.

Now if you're reading this for the biased opinions, here they are!  I'm personally not nuts about Las Vegas and I don't understand why they hold Interbike there.  I think there are better options.

Physically, the city has the accommodations for the venue and lodging, not to mention nearby trails for the demo, and cheap flights.  I'm aware of all of that, but the city is absolutely terrible for riding.  I built up a Traveler's Check recently for future endeavors and figured I'd give it a trial run during this trip.  Google maps depicts bike lanes all around the city.  I'd been to Vegas a few times before, but never had the chance to explore.  Not sure why I thought riding would be easy.

Besides the location and infrastructure, Vegas is still a pretty terrible place.  It has the nightlife and all that, but it's super sleazy.  Take that rather offensive sock in the goodie bags this year.  I'm sure there's a certain crowd who thought the sock was cool and funny.  I've overheard some conversations supporting this.  I understand the whole shock value as a marketing tactic.  I don't know if that's what they were aiming for, but it was appealing to some while alienating to others.  As a whole, the bike industry is trying expand their market and target new audiences.  I'm not suggesting the city is tainting the reputation of the bike industry with one event per year, but I would like to see Interbike held somewhere more appealing to a greater portion of the industry.  Like the sock, Las Vegas is entertaining to some, but distasteful to others.

Las Vegas is great for the nightlife and venue accommodations, but why not have Interbike in a more bike-centric town?  I'm sad to see so many vendors pulling out of Interbike, but hopefully this will lead to some improvement.  Overall Pros: Outdoor demo, Cons: Las Vegas.

-Young Curmudgeon

P.S. On a side note, we've got Rhodia notebooks back in stock and some cool new stuff as well.

22 September, 2015

Safety Issue with Dia Compe 610 Brakes on Mixte Frames

By Chris

I hope this doesn't effect any of our customers, but I understand that a few folks have been using incorrect extra long straddle cables with the Dia Compe 610 brakes. This is usually done to make the rear brake work with a mixte frame. Don't do it! The extra long straddle wire can pop out rendering the brake useless!

Use only the straddle cables that come with the brakes or the correct replacements that we, and other companies, sell. I know that Dia Compe makes some longer cables, but those are intended for other models of brakes, not for the 610. I just spoke with the president of Dia Compe and he says that they plan change the cable attachment so that future versions will work with longer straddle cables. There are a few workarounds if you really can't afford a new rear brake for you mixte, but I'm not satisfied that they work well enough.

By the way, these are super brakes that I use myself (with the proper cable).

Also, a big thanks to Aaron of Aaron's Bicycle Repair in Seattle for bringing this issue to everyone's attention.

18 September, 2015

Packing Tips for Your Next Adventure

By Igor

Adrian and I will be touring Denmark and Northern Germany for the next two weeks for a very special event, but before we left I wanted to share a few tips for packing bikes, equipment, and clothes you can use for your next trip.

See if you can pick out why this is a special trip
Our experience in hiking and backpacking always comes in handy when we're building a gear list for trips on and off the bike. The key is simply to take less stuff, and what you do take is light, simple, and compact. Having a light load allows for longer riding and less fatigue at the end of the day. Who wouldn't want to travel further, or longer, and be less tired?
Igor's Campeur
Adrian's Campeur
You have to be real with what you are taking, especially for airline travel. For example, we are not bringing a camp stove. Not even for coffee! We're going to be in civilized areas with fantastic food and drink. Eat hot foods when you can, grab a smørrebrød for later, and don't be afraid to try new things.

Bring clothes that have more than one use. I'll be wearing a hiking shirt for riding. It dries quickly, packs tiny, and looks like a regular button-down off the bike when I go into restaurants and shops. Jerseys are so passé.

For packing clothes, rolling your clothes uses the least amount of space and means that you can use a smaller pannier (even less weight).
If you're going out for more than a weekend trip, wash clothes instead of bringing more. No washing machine? Bring a small cutting of Savon-de-Marseille and hand wash your clothes in a sink. Multiple uses!
Packing and unpacking bikes is the least fun part of a trip. To expedite your assembly, keep bolts and washers in the places where they will be sitting when you assemble your bike: fender R-clips and rack screws stay in the dropouts, fender screws stay in their bridges and fork crown, and upper hardware for the Campeur Front Rack stays in place on the rack and cantilever bosses.

When you're packing your site in the morning, don't hang around and linger. This is our routine: wake up, break down tent, drink some water, load up the bikes, and go. Eat a granola bar on the bike. This process takes less than 10 minutes and we're gone before others have even ground their artisanal coffee beans. You'll probably come across a coffee spot within the first hour of getting back on the road where you can also grab a breakfast. Now you've woken up, put in some kms, had breakfast, and are ready for a day's worth of exploring.

What are some tips you have for packing? Do you take any luxury items?

04 September, 2015

A Piolet Build for the Grand Cruz

By Igor

Here is our latest Piolet build. It'll be heading over to the Grand Cruz team for demo rides and general ogling. Since the Cruz is cruising into the great Southwest in a couple of weeks, the Piolet will be in its natural habitat.

They'll be making their way through Arizona, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and into Texas by way of Austin, Dallas, and Houston.

Rolling on Maxxis 29x2.4" tires
Raceface Crankset with 32T Narrow-wide chainring
SRAM Apex 10sp shifters + SRAM S500 Left Brake Lever
11-36T Shimano SLX Cassette + SRAM GX 10sp clutch'ed derailleur 
Rando Handlebar creates a nice cockpit
Clint did a cool, subtle harlequin wrap job on the handlebars...
....and chainstay!
Still lots of room for a front derailleur if you want to run a double or triple.

01 September, 2015

Midday Getaway

by Igor

Everyone needs a secret spot for a quick getaway close to home. Here's mine. It's just far enough to get a brisk ride in, but not so far that I have to worry making good time. How do you like take to midday vacations?

Perfect spot close to home
Can't ask for a better view
Pack simple
Ride light

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?
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. 
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!