30 June, 2021

Bike Commuting - One Month In

by Connor     

    When Igor asked me to start writing posts for the blog, I began to wonder what kinds of things I could write about that readers might enjoy beyond basic technical knowledge. As a bike mechanic of just over 9 years coming over to the manufacturer's side of the industry, my brain still looks at a bike from the technical side of things:

"Is this the right stem length for that bike? How will this drivetrain pairing work? Is this tire going to work well with the internal width of that rim? Those wheels aren't tubeless compatible? Ugh..."

All day.

    And I'm sure that perspective is unlikely to change, but technical jargon doesn't make for good writing, and in turn, doesn't make for good reading. I can attest that riding bikes is certainly more fun than wrenching on them, so I'm going to talk a little bit about this new, crazy, never-before-seen sect of cycling: commuting.

    That's right, someone call the Radavist, make sure they get the early scoop on this one. With the glamour and excitement associated with the Gravel boom keeping the big companies occupied with providing mass-produced 'cross bikes with longer wheelbases and room for a fender, the little guys are simultaneously in a race to make the coolest, wildest looking wide-tire drop-bar bike you've ever seen. Not to mention everyone and their mother is squeezing a gravel event into wherever the state forgot to repave.

With gravel events slowly leeching their way into the D.C. area, I had to try it out

    It sometimes feels like everything else has been left to the wayside. Sure, full-sus bikes now come with travel ranging in increments of 5mm per model, and practically every bike on the Tour this year has disc brakes and tubeless tires- there's a lot to be excited about. But not everyone (and by that, I mean most people) is buying these bikes. 

    As Scott said to me today, "If the bike industry were like the car industry, we'd all be driving F1 cars to work." Ferraris Monday-Friday and mudding through swampy doubletrack in our Rover Defenders over the weekend. But we're not. This is not Car and Driver, I drive a pre-owned Golf. 

    And don't get me wrong, there's much to be enjoyed from the fad waves as they ebb and flow through online forums and bike magazines. Innovation sparks improvement, which is an ethos that we at VO have humbly applied to our bikes in recent years, evidenced by thru-axles, tapered head tubes and disc brakes on currently available models. But I'd be willing to bet that the majority of bike riders (and by bike riders I mean the aggregate of all people who hop on the saddle and pedal) are just out to get somewhere and have fun doing it. Enter cycling's unspoken majority: The Commuters.

    Whether you're a college kid just trying to get across campus, a paralegal trying to get to your city office a few minutes faster in the morning, or you're the kind of person who, like Igor, would feel rather silly getting in their car to drive less than a mile to the grocery store for half a backpack's amount of food, you're a commuter. And it's not all about Ortlieb panniers and waterproof suit bags, either (though it honestly should be... So dope). It can be much simpler than that- Sneakers and a backpack, sandals and a handlebar bag. 

    Having spent my first month here at VO commuting 22 miles roundtrip most days on my 2nd-gen All City Nature Boy, I've had ample time to reflect on my setup, how I got into a morning routine to accommodate the time it takes to ride in, and the benefits I've seen thus far after a month. I started out with some takeoff flat bars (which were too wide), an original Blackburn MTN Rack (which rattled a ton), and some vintage 80's panniers (which billowed). A valiant first effort.

So much rack, so few things

    It was after my first week that a riding buddy of mine was towing me to work one morning, and he goes "Man... that left pannier is like a parachute. Why didn't you take it off? And that right one isn't even full. Why'd you put the rack on there? And you're so upright, it's great coasting behind you." And while I was trying not to over-analyze my commuter bike, I could see he was right. To carry a small lunch container and a change of clothes, I'd bolted on what was likely more than enough equipment to facilitate a 2-day camping trip. And I could definitely tell that the wide flat bars had me in an oddly upright position. So after some scrounging in the parts bin, walks to the warehouse, and a couple days later...

"The Glow-up", as the kids say.

    I have to admit, the build turned out spectacularly. We stripped it down to the frame and put as much VO gear on it as possible; stem, seatpost, headset, saddle, brakes, cranks (a proto with a narrow-wide chainring), and bottom bracket. Splash tape on the Dajia Far Bar and a Safety Pizza for... well, safety. Retro bottle cages add a little flare, and the Rando canti rack, in my opinion, is one of the most innovative and well-engineered things we sell at VO; I frequently admire it across the room at the office. It integrates flawlessly with the Rando bag, which, coincidentally, is the perfect size for a change of clothes, a meal, and your phone. 
    Additionally, I reduced the overall weight of the bike (for all you weight weenies out there), and the swept-out Far Bars feel very secure at high speeds on all surfaces (for those of you who take more adventurous routes). I won't get into the components here, as I'll be racing this bike in the coming months in gravel and CX events, and will have more to say about their durability and performance after more rigorous testing.

Cantilever-post mounted Rando Rack, nestling the Rando Bag up between the Far Bars

Safety Pizza topping the Roadrunner saddle roll

Tall Stack Stem is pretty but subtle enough, you just might miss it

    There's something to be said about looking down and the aesthetic of your bike contributing to the experience of your ride. Not only is your bike doing what you built it to do, but it looks damn good doing it. It's not everything, but I can't deny that it's a contributing factor. 

    I've owned this bike for many years- it's been a campus crusher, a DC city commute brawler, a cyclocross race rocket, and a flat bar, singletrack, do-it-all, beer blaster. This is without a doubt my favorite setup of the bike yet. It's still very light, looks sharp, and holds just the things I need- perhaps the ethos of a good commuter bike. Beyond that, the changes have made the bike much more enjoyable to ride, so much so that I get mildly disappointed if something comes up and I have to drive in, which is a new thing for me.  

    So. Buy that cool rack or that utility bag! It may change everything about your trip to work or the store. One thing's for sure; if you use your commuter bike to get to work every day like I do, even the little improvements go a much longer way than a $300 Kogel pulley on your weekend machine. You're still on your bike, the most important thing is that you enjoy it.

If you're interested in a comprehensive build list, click here: https://velo-orange.com/pages/all-city-nature-boy-gen-1-build-list-lightweight-commuter

22 June, 2021

1x11 Shifting Components are in!

by Igor

Sensah Components has been in the drivetrain game for a number of years producing shifters, derailleurs, cranksets, and cassettes for just about every type of drivetrain and bike. More recently, they've gotten into 1x (1by) drivetrains for mixed-terrain and off-road touring bikes (read: gravel). And so, we are pleased to now be offering SRX and CRX components for 1x drivetrains!

1x drivetrains are here to stay. They're easy to maintain, quick to set up, and are simple enough for anyone to hop onto. And as such, they are great for commuting, touring, and all-around adventuring. I've personally converted several of my bikes from double drivetrains and I really like the simplicity, minimal aesthetic, and clutch'd derailleur offerings for off-road use.

In testing out their components, I outfitted my Polyvalent Low Kicker with a suite of SRX drop bar shift/brake levers, rear derailleur, and 11-46 cassette. I've taken the bike on all sorts of rides and terrain from gravel to single track to pavĂ© and I'm happy to report performance has been absolutely flawless. Let's go through each component and discuss their features!

SRX 11 speed Rear Derailleur

The SRX Rear Derailleur features aluminum alloy and steel construction for durability and has a max cassette range of up to 52t. 

The derailleur features a spring clutch so it keeps the chain from bouncing around too much on rougher terrain. I put mine on max and find the shifting action still easy.

There is also barrel adjustor (without detents) for quick adjustments.

SRX 1x11 Integrated Shift/Brake Levers

The SRX brake/shifter levers are 1x11 only and have excellent ergonomics. For anyone who has used integrated shifters, the shifting action will be right at home. To shift into a harder gear, a light tap of the blade will release cable tension and provide you with a satisfying clunk of the rear derailleur. Pushing the whole lever will increase cable tension and move you up (easier) the cassette. You can do 3 gears at a time with a full sweep.

The left lever is purely just a brake lever. Nothing much to see.

Each lever has a simple reach adjustment. A turn of a 2.5mm allen wrench can move the lever closer or further away from the handlebar. A major convenience for those with smaller hands. 

There is also a nice bit of flare in the blade for easier shifting and ergonomics.

CRX 11 speed Flat Bar Shifter

The Flatbar CRX shifter has the same pull ratio as SRX, so you can use the SRX Rear Derailleur. The shifter is simple and effective. There are two levers. The lower one can shift up the cassette changing a maximum of 5 gears with a full sweep.

The upper lever has dual-action meaning that you can shift into a higher gear with either a press of your thumb or a pull of your index finger.

11 speed 11-46 Cassette

While you mostly see 1x drivetrains on modern-looking bikes, a 1x conversion is perfect for older bikes, too! This 11 speed cassette uses Shimano HG splines, so if you have a 8-10 speed freehub body designed for Shimano HG cassettes, then you can upgrade to an 11 speed drivetrain.

While the derailleur technically goes up to 52t, we have found that 46t is about the max that provides consistently good shifts without significant jumps in gearing. 11-46 is a very generous range and when paired with a 42 or 44t chainring, you still have that magic sub 1:1 gear for steeper climbs.

I pull around our son in his trailer or our dog in her trailer up hills with a 42t x 11-46 drivetrain and don't find the need for anything lower. For us, anything lower would be slower and less efficient than walking.

11 speed Chains

What can I say?? They're 11 speed, solid pins, and have a simple quick link. There isn't much to them and they work well. And they're silver!

Other Chains

It's been pretty obvious that for the past 15 months consumables like chains have been hard to come by. So, we imported a bunch of 5-8, 9, and 10 speed chains. They're quality chains. And like the 11 speed version, they have solid pins and a simple quick link for installation. And they're silver!

15 June, 2021

Small Shiny Stuff from Forager and Runwell

by Igor

Forager Cycles makes these super fun little ends for your cables dubbed Cable Cherries - and we have them back in stock! They're made in the USA, easy to install, and come in a variety of fun colors. I put some gold ones on my Low Kicker to match the warm tones of my brown handlebar tape and saddle.

Hubs Nuts are too often overlooked I say! So we were very excited to hear that Runwell was working on some premium Hub Nuts for bolt-on track hubs and after many weeks of waiting, they're here! These have magnificent construction and are a pleasure to install and use. They're currently available in M9 (front) and M10 (rear) in black finish. Silver is coming next week with the next Runwell restock.

We also just received a nice re-stock of Runwell Tools including these 4-Way Wrenches with a simple and elegant VO logo on the head. They're a really convenient addition to your tool kit. Instead of fumbling with a super compact multi-tool or multiple wrenches, the most-used hex wrench sizes (3, 4, 5, and 6mm) are quickly and easily accessible on this 4-way wrench for adjustments on the go.

Also straight in from Japan - more Runwell Punk Bolts! These have been a mosh pit favorite since they were first introduced. Dress up your unoccupied braze-ons with these fancy and slightly intimidating spikes. 

04 June, 2021

Diamond Frame Polyvalents Are In!

by Igor

The Polyvalent has always been the workhorse of the VO lineup. It's happy to be loaded up with a week's worth of groceries, sloshed through mud on a bikepacking trip, or boxy-bag-front-loaded in a traditional randonneur style. The platform of the Polyvalent is dependable, simple, capable, and flexible. And today we're releasing the Diamond frame variant of the gen 5 Polyvalent.

In VO style, this frame is dripping in details. The rear end features strong yet elegant thru-axle dropouts, vertical derailleur hanger, IS disc brake tab, and double-decker spool braze-ons for fenders and racks.

The fork is a perfect blend of timeless design and modern functionality. The thru-axle dropouts have mounts under and over for fenders and racks, and the gracefully bent fork blades also have 3-pack mounts for cargo cages or regular water bottle cages. There are also spool braze-ons for a Randonneur or Flat Pack Front Rack.

The seatstay cluster is simple and elegant. The seatstay ends wrap gently around the integrated seat collar into points that *almost* touch. 

The rear brake routing features a brazed internal tube so that there isn't any need to fish for cables and housing. Simply push the housing in and by magic, it comes out the other side. We've found that TRP Hylex hydraulic hose doesn't fit well in the internal routing since it is closer to 5.5mm in diameter rather than the regular 5mm. Every other hose fits fine.

Here's the summary of details of the frameset for you and/or the mechanic building it up: 
  • Frameset material: 4130 double butted chromoly steel
  • Fork: 1 1/8" threadless, 4130 chromoly steel with elegant bend
  • Wheel Size: 650B or 26" 
  • Tire Clearance: 650B x 48mm, 26 x 2.3" (either with fenders) / 650b x 2.1 or 26 x 2.3 knobby (without fenders)
  • Rear Spacing: 12 x 142mm, thru-axle with replaceable hanger (included)
  • Fork Spacing: 12 x 100mm, thru-axle (included)
  • BB: English threaded 68mm
  • Brakes: IS mount disc, 160mm or 180mm rotors suggested
  • Seatpost: 27.2mm
  • Front Derailleur Size: 28.6mm
  • Water bottle mounts: Triple on top of downtube, one set on the seattube, one set on underside of downtube
  • Fender bosses: seat stay bridge, chainstay bridge, under fork crown
  • Frame Eyelets: Double eyelets on rear dropouts for racks and fenders. Internal eyelets on seat stays
  • Fork Eyelets: Double eyelets on fork dropouts for racks and fenders. Triple thru-bosses on the blades for lowrider racks. Hourglass braze-on for Randonner and Flat Pack Front Racks
  • Rear Brake Routing: Easy internal routing for rear brake cable housing/hydraulic tubing
  • Paint: Sage Metallic
P.S. We also got a run of Randonneur Handlebar Bags in! There was a bit of an issue with the grommet placement in that they are slightly too close to each other. The bag mount fits, but you do have to wrestle it a little. If you order a Rando Front Bag and a rack that includes a bag mount (anything with an integrated decaleur or headset mounted decaleur), we'll go ahead and install the bag mount on the bag for you.

02 June, 2021

Klunkers and More Back In Stock

by Adrian

The day is here. Container Day. Get ready for a fresh restock of a plethora of items - get them while they're hot! Included are:

This list is not exhaustive, you'll see a scattering of replenished products across our webstore. Not everything is back in stock quite yet, so if you're holding out for an item you don't see in this restock, rest assured there's more coming. We're expecting another container at the end of this month, and a big one likely at the end of July. Then several more throughout the remainder of the year. The best way to keep track of items coming into stock is to sign up for email stock notifications on the product pages. 

Thanks for being so patient as we work our way back up to regular stock levels. Like most industries, pandemic-induced manufacturing delays and ridiculously long shipping timelines (this container was delayed two months for example) have consistently pushed back our ETAs. We're expecting to continue to catch up over the next few months, and should have normal stock levels from then on out. 

Happy riding!