26 August, 2022

Six Must-Haves for Your Home Shop

We're all a bit geeky when it comes to tools here. A lot of us have worked in shops and have a variety of tools in our own tool boxes that are not the box standard tool box entries. 

1) A "secret sauce" item in the tool section is Lilly Lube chain oil. Connor discovered this product when he worked in a local shop in Maryland. Lilly Lube is designed and manufactured by Jason Lilly, out of Southern California. It's made of a proprietary blend of wet and dry lubes, and formulated to offer the benefits of each. Application is simple - drip it liberally on your chain, allow it a few hours to set up, then wipe clean and enjoy a noise free drivetrain for hundreds of miles to come! It doesn't splash onto your pants like a very oily wet lube does, and doesn't attract the dirt and dust like a thicker, drier lube does. 

2) Reaching back into the memory banks, the JA Stein Crank pullers for TA or Stronglight cranks is one of those, if you need it, you need it, tools.  The threading on TA and Stronglight cranks were, well, different, and thus won't work with a standard Park tool crank puller. Thus the great machine workers at JA Stein created these crank pullers to fulfill the needs of those of us using these great cranks.

3) A product that embodies the ideal of a tool - beautiful to look at, wonderful to use and comes in silver and gold is the Runwell 15 mm wrench. This gorgeous tool is great to use to tighten up the hub nuts on your track bike or the kid's 20" wheels after you fixed that flat, again. Brilliantly thought out in terms of how the handle is shaped, as well as how the head is angled so you don't end up jamming your hand between the fork or seat stays when using it. 

4) Finally, everyone needs a knife. You can go two ways with a knife. You can go classic with an Opinel #8 Carbone Knife. Works for a huge number of tasks. I use my daily when cutting up strawberries at home for example - and they are easy to keep sharp and clean. Igor has had his for years and uses it for camping. If you want to quickly patina the carbon blade, check out our article about using onions for a quick patina!

5) On the more modern side of the spectrum, the Expedition #8 Knife is the do-all knife that can handle almost any situation. The stainless steel blade is a mix of plain edge and serrated which is useful for: cutting rope or tomatoes, emergency whistle built into the plastic body, and since the body is plastic, there is no worry about wood damage. You can even use the cord on the end of it to attach it to the deck rigging on a kayak or hang it at your campsite.

6) Lastly, every shop needs a good set of hex wrenches. I'd venture to say 98% of the bolts and screws on your bike use metric hex heads - on Adrian's Neutrino the only bolts that aren't hex are the dropout screws. Look, I know these VAR wrenches aren't cheap, but they exceptionally nice. They're a joy to use and their tolerances are excellent. We use them every day and they haven't failed us.

19 August, 2022

What Makes a Good Rando Bike?

by Scott

Keith Barr Randonneur

Some say that the best bike for the job is the one you have. And for many things, I think they're right.  You don't need something fancy for commuting for example. A mid 80's mtb is a great starting point for a commuter that is tough and ready to hit the urban streets.  For other cycle-born adventures, something a bit more specialized is sometimes required for the task. Take for example a bike for randonneuring. What is randonneuring you ask? Well, check out my post about it here for a detailed discussion. But to sum it up, randonneuring is an "organized ride of a distance equal to or greater than 200 km (125 miles) along a set route with a series of check points (controls) along the way. Time limits exist for the rides." 

Photo courtesy of Chasing Mailboxes

The basic touchstone that I've always worked from for a rando bike is that the bike must be comfortable, efficient, and reliable. Going back to that blog post, a key aspect of brevets is self-sufficiency. You need to have a bike that doesn't break down and the parts are robust. And if something does break, can it be repaired roadside or commonly found in a bike shop?

Igor's bike got hit by a car during a lunch stop. Wheel was un-taco'd and fender straightened roadside.

As far as personal must-haves for a good randonneuring bike: solid and dependable drivetrain, comfortable handlebar and saddle, fittings for fenders, and clearance for wide-ish tires (28mm minimum) is a solid foundation. Hub-powered dynamo lighting, from-saddle accessible luggage, and electronic navigation would be the next step up - but not completely necessary.

Bike fit is absolutely paramount. You want to be comfortable on the bike for hundreds of kilometers. Super aggressive positions are rarely encouraged. An even saddle and handlebar position is a good starting point, with many opting to raise the handlebars a bit higher. We've always encouraged people to leave 5-10mm on top of their threadless steerers for future adjustment when building up their bikes.

My actual brevet bike before hanging up my reflective vest

Does it have room for fenders? While it may not be a necessity if you live in Southern California, brevets are held rain or shine and 200km (the shortest distance) is a long way to go with a wet bum. If you have room for fenders, I'd always suggest installing them, for peace of mind and protection against that rain storm or errant puddle splash that is sure to happen if you don't have them fitted.

Build list here

Does the bike have sufficient clearance for a reasonable size tire? Again, take a look at what you have installed already on the bike. If your bike has something between 28-35 mm (for 700C tired bike) you're probably in good stead for staying comfortable on a brevet. If your bike has 25mm, check and see if there is room to put wider tires into it. Can you ride a brevet with 25mm tires? Yes, but it can be uncomfortable for some, particularly those of us over 40, whose hands and backs are more "sensitive" to bumps and such. For 650b, it seems like 38-42mm is the sweet spot for quality tires. 

When we were designing the Pass Hunter and Polyvalent, all these questions came to mind. We wanted to have frames that had sufficient clearance and fender and rack fittings for different setups. I think a Pass Hunter with a set of cable actuated disc brakes, a solid 10 or 11 speed set up with a compact double crank would be all I'd need to get through a full set of brevets this year and for many more years to come.

There is a huge variety of randonneur bike styles, so by no means is this comprehensive, just my opinions from years of riding brevets. Some people ride electronic drivetrains and time trial bikes, others ride super traditional setups with big, boxy bags. Someone even rode PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris) on a scooter back in 2015. It really comes down to what works for you and what you're comfortable with!

What is your favorite randonneuring bike? What makes it so special to you? Let us know in the comments and share it with the wider world.

12 August, 2022

Microshift Advent Super Short X Neutrino Mini Velo - Ride Review

by Igor

We usually recommend Shimano Zee or Sram road 1x derailleurs for Neutrinos, but those derailleurs and accompanying components can be hard to find reliably nowadays. So when I saw Microshift launch their new Advent Super Short groupset, I was thrilled. We ordered a group, mounted it on a Neutrino and started doing some testing.

Some background on the Neutrino drivetrain: because of the smaller wheel, you'll want a more compact (shorter) derailleur that ideally has a clutch. Basically something that has good range and good chain retention. The Shimano Zee (downhill components mostly) was really the only game in town for a while. But with supply chain interruptions it was very difficult to find Zee stuff. 

10sp Shimano Zee

We've also run Sram Rival and Force 1x rear derailleurs, but they are a bit longer since they are designed for full-size wheels. There isn't really a worry about them touching the tire when fully extended, but if you bump/bend your derailleur hanger, clearances are reduced. For the record, I've been running my Neutrino with a Rival rear derailleur and an 11-32 cassette for a long time without issue. For a much more in depth article about Neutrino drivetrains and setups, check out our Neutrino Tips and Tricks post!

The chain is close, but it clears fine.

Enter the Microshift Advent Super Short groupset. This group was originally designed for some of the new kids and smaller-sized mountain bikes that use 20-24" wheels. The idea is that you don't need enormous 10-52t cassettes for smaller wheels, the simpler 9 speed system is more affordable and easier to maintain, all the while having some really good performance for off-road activities. Honestly, it's kind of perfect for the Neutrino.

Fully extended, the longer upper cage design solves the problem of the aforementioned Sram rear derailleurs. The bottom of the cage is miles away from the tire and there is ample room between the tire and chain above the chainstay. There is also a clutch you can turn on and off by way of a switch. I just leave it on because I didn't notice any difference in shifting with the clutch disengaged and you never know when you want to get rad.

I never really noticed my chain slapping around on the trails or off curbs around town, so that tells me the clutch is working. Paired with our 1x Crankset with Narrow-Wide Chainring, I haven't had any dropped chains.

The cassette range of 11-38t is generous. Smaller wheels naturally have a lower gear ratio, so you never really run out of gear on the lower end. The cassette is a little on the heavy side, but everything shifts very consistently and without any drama on the lowest end. Sometimes the big gear jumps on 9 speed super wide range cassettes aren't the smoothest, but no problem on this one. 

The indexed flat bar shifter is simple with a thumb button for getting into an easier gear and a trigger for harder gears. There is a little rubber pad which makes for a nice grip when shifting. 

All-in-all I've been very pleased with the group's performance! It's easy to use, shifts great, and has a perfect range. If you've been thinking about this group for your Neutrino, you won't be disappointed.

Furthermore, we were talking about this group's application, and we think it would make for a really good way to do a 1x conversion on a full-sized wheel bike.

You can find the complete build list for this bike right here, and a link to this group here.

01 August, 2022

Growtac Reviews and Sale Items

By Scott

We've had a great response to the Growtac Brakes that we introduced to the US market in April. We've been overwhelmed by the kind words folks have sent after getting their brakes, installing them, and realizing their actual power and braking abilities out on the trail. Additionally, the diversity of colors we offer has really livened up people's bikes and allowed for a lot of customers to brake out (see what I did there) of just plain black brakes for their bike.

We've also had lots of folks test out the brakes and publish their findings. The great people at Outpost Richmond wrote about the brakes here. Russ Rocca did a video comparison of the Growtac brakes vs the Paul Klampers vs the Yokozuna brakes here. And last, but not least, Bike Rumor did a review of the brakes on their site here. Some great comments there and all unsolicited from us.

We've also being sorting through products here at VO HQ and we have added some more items to our Specials Page. We have some Diamond Polyvalent frames there, plus we have 26" Snakeskin and Stainless Steel Fenders, Randonneur Handlebars, Noir Porteur Bars and Diamond Handlebar tape. So take a look and see if something there tickles your fancy.