Saturday, September 03, 2011

Bike Chains, Wheels, Gears, Brakes and other Parts 

Continuing the exploration of better biking facts and the details of small wheel bicycling. Recently I was in Philadelphia for a conference and hence out there riding the streets in the evenings. The downtown streets are challenging with old trolley line rails, cobblestones and just the normal city hubris of road works, pot holes and dug over tarmac, not to mention my kerb hopping to get around obstacles and diversions. The good news is that everyone bikes in the city so traffic expects bikes everywhere. The river areas out beyond the Franklin Museum toward the boat houses and rowing clubs are better off with bike lanes and smooth road areas and jogging paths.

Certainly it is a good way to check out how good your wheels, spokes and hubs are and my latest SparCo 451 wheels passed perfectly absorbing the punishment without complaint or consequences. Not so much for my favorite Kirkland vintage aluminum water bottle cage – it split at the weld between the rails and base. Lesson learned is that solid one piece water bottle cages are needed for extended off road and rough road trips.

Then the latest configuration on my Bike Friday Crusoe held its own well with the local group ride folks doing laps on the parkway. Not least of course because it’s so flat and I’m used to having to deal with serious hills on my daily riding. However I did notice the derailleur starting to make grinding and chunking noises in certain gear settings, but I put it down to the excessive rattling and shaking at high speeds on bumpy roads.

Back to wheels and chains, on my return home I installed new Specialites TA chain rings, KMC X9-SL chain and Paul Motolite brakes. Another lesson learned, if your gear changing is off, the derailleur noisy and general road pace down – you need a new chain! Modern chains wear out quite quickly in typically 1,500 miles of use; old chains did not that much because they were near tank proof and gear systems limited to 5 or 7 cogs. Now chains are tuned for modern extended gear systems and although a 1/8th of inch stretch limit does not sound much it really effects how the chain works with the chain rings and your overall power transfer. Having installed new TA chain rings from France, and a new KMC X9 gold chain, and then adjusted the FSA front changer the effect is dramatically better. Smooth precise changing with the shifters, quieter drive train and more efficient pedalling. All is goodness with this setup so strongly recommend this combination with 54T / 42T and the Capreo cassette. Plus they look absolutely amazing on the bike. Everything Specialites TA claims about their chain rings definitely I can’t fault. The changing and power transfer feels awesome, they made a believer of me, the whole ride quality and handling is now the best ever. Life is good as they say. Which also applies to the Paul linear pull brakes, these are pricey, but buy them off eBay direct from Paul Comp. No doubt that their design is the best out there when it comes to getting precise fit and alignment and stopping power on to the rims.

The travelogue with my Bike Friday doubtless continues with some more trips planned, but at least I am now very satisfied with the components and ride quality. The limiting factor at this point is truly myself and not how I have the machine optimized and setup for what I have invested in the components and frame. I will have to see how this stacks up compared to high end Dahon bikes if I get a chance to road test one of those. I highly doubt there will be much difference at this point as the gear ratios, bike weight and wheel sets appear very comparable so riding style and ride quality may be the determining factors.


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