Thursday, July 31, 2008

RJ's LHT + Xtra

Photo: EcoVelo

RJ's nice looking LHT + Xtra was posted on EcoVelo. The LHT is a great bike and I've now seen a few Xtracycle conversions which look quite nice. I'm wondering how the fully loaded rig handles with drop bars. Although I'm going to try and make the Titec H-bars work for my unpaved touring adventures my fallback is a set of drops. If you've tried drops on a Big Dummy or Xtra I'd love to hear what your experiences were.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Freeloader Surgery

I got around to fixing the torn mesh at the end of my Xtracycle Freeloaders. I haven't done anything about the holes that have worn through the inside of the bags where they rub against the Big Dummy's frame. I think the long term solution will be to get a second layer of more durable material sewn on to the bags where they rub against the frame or perhaps just use Shoe Goo to glue on patches in problem areas.

Given how much damage they've sustained in a short period of time I'm not sure what the lifespan of these bags is.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dempster Highway Photos

I've posted my Dempster Highway Tour photos on Flickr here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dempster Highway Report Card

I'm back early from my Dempster Highway tour due to a hand injury. I'll write a trip report as my hand gets better, but I thought I'd post a quick analysis of how the Big Dummy performed on this demanding tour.

Just to give you a bit of an idea what the Big Dummy went through the road surface was quite variable from rocky, to gravel, to sand...with lots of potholes and washboard. About half of the 449kms I cycled was dry and half was really wet. When that road got wet it was a total mud fest.

The Good:
  • the Big Dummy handled the rough roads very well
  • the long wheelbase was both comfortable and confidence inspiring
  • the wheels handled the pounding they rec'd without complaint
  • the Marathon XRs were nice on the dry road and awesome once things got soft
  • the Ortlieb panniers and Old Man Mountain front rack were great
  • the Titec bars provided a ton of control when bombing downhill or dealing with mucky conditions
  • the Selle Anatomica saddle was the most comfortable saddle I've ever used
  • the Rohloff was flawless handling both dust and mud without any change in how it shifted

The Bad:
  • the way I routed the rear brake cable put too much pressure on the housing and it broke where it left the brake lever. I could still use the brake, but I had to push the lever off as the spring couldn't overcome the added friction.
  • the loaded bike was a bit slower than I would have liked due to a combination of a lot of gear, heavy bike and wide tires. OTOH I used just about everything I brought and the heavy parts/tires were welcome when things got EPIC.
  • the front disc brake pads are more than 50% worn after 2 days of muddy roads. I'd have to change them at least once a week on a longer tour with similar conditions.
  • the front disc brake also req'd lots of attention to keep it working in the wet/muddy conditions and braking performance suffered.
  • transporting the Big Dummy and dealing with it when off the bike was more hassle than a typical touring bike. I needed a lift down the Dempster and my options were limited due to the sheer size of the bike.
  • the Xtracycle Freeloader bags are a very versatile design, but they are quite fragile. I managed to wear several holes in them from rubbing against the Big Dummy as well as tearing the mesh at the end of the bags in a couple places. By comparison my Ortlieb panniers have seen much more hard use and look almost new. A pair of Freeloaders costs $178, but when you compared them to other bags sold for outdoors use [panniers, backpacks, dry bags] in that price range their materials and workmanship aren't even close. I hope someone like Ortlieb makes a higher quality version of the Freeloaders.
The Ugly:
  • something about the ergonomics of the Titec H bar and my left hand didn't work as I ended up with an acute case of carpal tunnel syndrome. These bars hadn't given me any troubles on previous tours, but I think I was simply riding longer each day on the Dempster and the rough/wet conditions made me grip the bars tighter and change positions less often.
What I'll change:
  • I'm adding Ergon Grips to my Titec H-bars as well as adding lots of padding to the rest of the bars. Hopefully this will solve the problem. The H-bars work so well I'd hate to have to get rid of them.
  • I'll keep my eyes open for an aftermarket replacement for the Xtracycle Freeloaders. Hopefully something more robust. Given the cost of the stock bags an aftermarket company should be able to make something much nicer at a similar price.
  • I'll carry less on my next tour. If I can get one or two other people out we can split up group gear like tents, stove, fuel, pots, etc.. Not only will there be less for each person to carry, but it will be lots of fun to have company.
  • I'll rework the front and rear brake cables so they don't bind and have enough slack not to put any unnecessary pressure on the housing.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Bike Forums Question

I rec'd this question on Bike Forums, but for some reason can't get my posts to work there properly. With time running out I'm putting my response here so I can link to it and save myself the effort of what is going won't on that forum.

"Vic, thats the problem ... with world touring, especially in countries with unsealed roads, we are bound to run into some very bad weather and very bad touring conditions. We are also going to experience some extreme descents. That is why I wanted a disc braked, "rohloffed" Big Dummy (which Surly doesn't make in a small enough size). If I do go DF I still want the Xtracycle, rohloff and discs.

I'm not so concerned about cost, this will be my only vehicle, and I want it to be safe, comfortable and sturdy for 2 to 5 +, non stop, years of touring. I am also not concerned about speed, I want to take a few years and enjoy the ride!

So Vik, if I Xtracycled an LHT frame and used a more upright fork for discs, would I get a Big Dummy ride?"

Here are some options:

LHT + Xtracycle

If you want discs I'd just skip the LHT frame entirely. The main benefits [long wheelbase, geometry & fork] really aren't being utilized with discs + Xtracycle and the frame isn't suspension corrected for a taller front fork. Of course you could just forget the disc brakes and then adding an Xtracycle to a LHT would make loads of sense. I would suggest 90% of world traveling bikers are using rim brakes and doing just fine so I don't think that it's a show stopper. That's why Thorn, Surly, Trek, Koga Miyata, Cannondale, etc..are all selling rim brake touring bikes.

MTB + Xtracycle

If you are adding an Xtracycle to a bike I'd just make sure the donor frame was very strong..such as a Surly 1x1 or even better a Surly Instigator. Then use either the stock rigid fork or get a suspension fork. If you go the suspension fork route with some fat tires [say 26 x 2.0" Marathon XRs] you'd have a very comfortable touring rig....the tires, suspension & wheelbase would combine to make the equivalent of a touring Cadillac!

If you are touring for that long stuff will wear out so just plan for it and have stops scheduled en route in nice places where you can receive parts/supplies for maintenance. If you got a simple coil/oil fork you could overhaul it once a year and then replace it after 2 years....that wouldn't be a bad service life for hard use. You'd be able to run disc brakes on a suspension fork without issue.

Custom Bike

Given your requirements [small frame, Rohloff, discs, Xtracycle, long world bike trip] maybe you need to get a custom bike built??? Certainly seems like a trip worthy of one and then you could specify anything you liked. No reason you couldn't get a smaller Big Dummy made. If cost isn't an issue this would be the most satisfying option with the least compromises.

Big Dummy vs. Xtracycle

Although I think the Big Dummy has some advantages over a MTB + Xtracycle [stiffer/stronger integrated frame] the obvious downside is shipping/transport. The MTB + Xtracycle can be split into two pieces which will both fit into a normal bike box for travel. To get the same effect with the Big Dummy would require expensive S&S couplers.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Packed for the Dempster Highway

After lots of futzing around I finally got my Big Dummy loaded for the Dempster Highway. I've got quite a lot of stuff, but it isn't too heavy as I've got clothes to deal with +5 to +30 deg C weather including rain, sleeping bag, thermarest & tent. All of which is bulky, but light. The unfortunate part about touring solo is that you have to carry the same group gear that would serve 2 or 4 bike tourists and you can't enjoy the economy of scale that a group can.

Here is what I ended up taking:

Big Dummy
• Fenders
• Marathon XR 26 x 2.0
• Bike computer
• BMX pedals
• kickstand
• Xtracycle V-racks & Freeloader bags
• OMM Cold Springs front rack
• Ortlieb Bike Packer front panniers
• OR Dry Bags x 3
• Mirror [attaches to glasses]
• Bell
• Water bottle cages + bottles x 4
• bike lock

Spare Parts/Tools
• Marathon XR 26 x 1.75 folding tire
• Spare brake cable x 1
• Spare shift cable x 2
• Spare disc brake pads – 2 sets
• Patch kit x 2
• Tire levers x 3
• Spare tubes x 4
• Bike multi-tool [w/ chain tool]
• Mini - Leatherman
• 8mm box wrench
• 10mm box wrench
• Fibre-fix spokes x 4
• Chain lube
• Rags
• Zip ties
• Mini-duct tape
• Straps x 4
• pump

• Rain Jacket
• Rain Pants
• Gore-tex socks
• Long warm socks x 1
• Short cool socks x 1
• Baseball cap
• Toque & fleece gloves
• Shell gloves
• Ferrata Jacket
• MEC fleece sweater
• Long underwear top & bottom
• Capris
• TNF black long pants [converts to shorts]
• Ex-Offico boxers x 3
• Performance Ts x 3
• Sun Shirt
• Tech Amphibians
• Bike gloves
• Buff
• Bug shirt
• Bug hat

• Tent
• Sleeping bag
• Thermarest
• Sil Tarp and guylines

• Stove [gas]
• Fuel bottles x 2
• pot
• Spork
• Lighter
• Water filter
• MSR Water bag
• Collapsible basin

• Toothbrush & paste
• Floss
• Tweezers
• Bio-soap
• Hand sanitizer
• TP
• Bag balm
• Vitamins
• Ibuprofin
• Towel
• Lip balm
• Nail clippers
• Eye drops

• Headlamp
• Sunglasses & cleaning cloth
• Credit card & bank cards
• Copy of documents
• Health insurance
• Digi-cam x 1
• Notebook & pen
• Accessory cord
• Ear plugs
• Bear spray x 3 [one old one to test fire]
• Bear bangers
• F/A kit
• Maps
• Bear Canister
• Ziplock bags
• Reading book
• Trowel
• Tennis elbow brace
• Bug spray

• Camping Dinners x 7
• Dried fruit
• Beef jerky
• Nuts
• Chocolate bars
• Cliff bars
• Oat meal
• Granola bars
• Fruit
• Tea

Feeling Radical

I've hauled all manner of things with my Big Dummy the last couple weeks. More often than not the cargo was not an easy size/shape to strap on my Big Dummy, but the Xtracycle Free Radical bags came through every time for me. I'm pretty amazed how many different ways you can configure them - smart design.

Val Kleitz - Cargo Bike Interview

Spotted on EcoVelo and originally posted on Cargo Bike. Val talks about bikes + life while getting his Xtra on...=-)

My favourite longtail quote from the interview:"...once I started riding it there was no going back!..." Amen.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Would I Rohloff again?

Galen dropped me an email asking: "...I actually have an Xtracycle set up on a Specialized stumpjumper, and I'm considering moving over to a Big Dummy so I can have my mountain bike back... I've found your blog very informative, and I'm wondering if you were to set up the BD again, if you'd still go with the Rohloff Hub? It seems like a big investment, but I've read nothing but good things about it... Is there anything else you'd change?"

Great question so I thought I'd answer it as a blog post instead of replying by email.

The simple answer is yes I'd buy another Rohloff if I was starting from scratch with a Big Dummy. Nothing that has happened so far has changed my interest in finding out what a Rohloff is like. It has performed flawlessly and has not needed any attention once installed. However keep in mind that one of the reasons that I bought it is to see what they are like in the long haul. So in part this is an experiment for the sake of field data.

In comparison to the MTB/trekking drivetrain on my LHT the Rohloff really has not added anything significant into the mix so far. In other words had I built up my Big Dummy with a inexpensive deore/LX MTB drivetrain I think I'd still be completely happy and have $1000+ in my pocket. That's not a slam against the Rohloff as much as it is a testament to how well a normal MTB drivetrain works and how cheap you can get them for. As the miles accumulate on both my LHT and my Big Dummy I'll compare how they are both aging and what pros/cons come up with them.

To be fair the Rohloff does have 4 benefits over the MTB drivetrain and 1 potentially serious con:
  • The first benefit is that you can shift at a stop with the Rohloff. This isn't life altering, but when you've got the back end of your cargo bike heavily loaded it's a very nice luxury when you've stopped at the bottom of a steep hill in high gear.
  • The second benefit is that it's immune to sand/mud/dirt/rain with all the important bits inside and no springs to clog up it will shift and work for you as long as the chain can go round.
  • The third benefit is that drivetrain maintenance is minimized and once you wear out your chain/cog/chainring on one side you can simply flip them over and wear them out all over again. How important these last two benefits are really depends on where you ride. If dirt roads and offroading in the rain are part of your life this could be key. If you live someplace where it's raining all the time and you don't want to futz with your drivetrain a Rohloff and Scott Oiler could mean zero maintenance until the chain skips 'cause you've worn everything out - cool.
  • The fourth benefit is the rear wheel is zero dish. That makes it very strong. Now Rohloff kind of screws up this benefit by then only offer 32H hubs. So instead of using a 36H or 40H standard hub you use a zero dish 32H hub. That makes it pretty much a wash. Although 32H rims are ubiquitous and so far easier to locate should you suddenly need a replacement.
  • Well now we come to the serious con. It's simply that if something does goes wrong with your Rohloff that needs parts and/or servicing you are screwed. During my Big Dummy build I forgot to order a couple small parts for my Rohloff and my build stopped in its tracks while they were ordered and shipped from the US. It took 3 weeks to get things going again and that's from the US to Canada - with email/fax/cellular phone at my disposal 24/7 - plus I was ordering some common Rohloff parts. Imagine if I was in Peru and I needed an obscure part or worse still I had no idea what I needed and my hub wasn't working. Even something as simple as replacing the cog on a Rohloff takes a special Rohloff tool that nobody has. The gamble with a Rohloff is that nothing will ever happen to your hub. It seems like Rohloffs, by and large, work for years trouble free for their owners, but one read of the Thorn Rohloff Forum tells you that problems do occur and in many cases the solution is shipping the hub back to Rohloff or a major Rohloff dealer like Thorn Bikes. Contrast that with a problem you have with a normal MTB drivetrain in rural Mexico. Your derailleur is toast so you ask around the small town you're in for someone with a cheap MTB, you buy their rear derailleur and install it. You flip your bar end shifter to friction mode and you ride away. Problem solved 2hrs. There is something to be said for using parts compatible with 60-80% of the bikes in the world.
I guess another way to answer this question is would I buy a second Rohloff if I was building up another cargo bike? No - I'm happy to have one and I want to see how things go with it, but at the same time I don't have another $1000 to invest in a specialized internal gear hub. I'd just use a MTB drivetrain [I've got at least one spare one I could throw on] and I'd accept that in a few situations I'd have been better off with a Rohloff.

Who knows give me a few years of Rohloff happiness and I might change my tune. Instead of being "the cat lady" I'll become "the Rohloff Guy" with Rohloffs as far as the eye can see on all of my bikes...=-)

Shipping the Thorn Sherpa

Since my Big Dummy essentially pushed my Thorn Sherpa touring bike out of my fleet I guess it was fitting that I hauled the Sherpa to the post office with the Big Dummy.

I warn you be careful of those longtails...once you've gone long you'll never go back....hahaha....=-)

The lure of the longtail...

James, the manager of Campione Cycles [my neighborhood LBS], took a spin on the Big Dummy. When I stopped in to ask for an empty frame box. He remarked how smooth the ride was. Maybe we'll see a Big Dummy as their shop bike sometime soon?...=-)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Mosquito Creek Tour Photos

Photo by Anna

I went on tour with some friends this weekend including Joel the other Big Dummy owner in Calgary. We had lots of fun and the Big Dummies got a good work out hauling beer and the group camping gear. I've posted some photos on Flickr.

Joel and I are planing on taking our Big Dummies on the Canadian portion of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in August. The Dummies should be ideal for that dirt/gravel road & double track ride.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Big Dummy goes on tour - again & again!

I had so much fun riding my Big Dummy on my spring Bow Valley Tour that I've decided to take the Big Dummy to the arctic for my Dempster Highway tour. In fact I liked the BD so much I sold my Thorn Sherpa touring bike since I can't see myself taking it on tour over the Big Dummy. Beware the Big Dummy she can be a home wrecker!...=-)

To make sure the BD is dialed I'm taking it on a 2 day tour in the mountains this weekend with Joel [the other Calgary Big Dummy owner], Anna plus our new Korean Bike Friday buddies Eddy & Mir.

Enjoy your weekend!

Shipping an Xtra Rig

Andrew came out for our weekly Wed Night Coffee Ride on his electric Rocky Mountain w/ Xtracycle. He was a nice guy and his bike was pretty cool. One thing he mentioned that I thought I would share was that he was able to pack his MTB and the Xtracycle in a normal sized bike box. Very nice! That makes touring with an Xtracycle so much easier as you'd only have to deal with the normal sized box for getting on a plane or shipping. As Rob notes below the weight of an Xtracycle is in the same ballpark as 4 panniers and 2 racks. So without any shipping hassles and at a similar weight an Xtracycle becomes a very interesting choice for a touring rig.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Big Dummy Cost Increase

From the Surly Blog:
"The good news is that we managed to squeeze in another run of Big Dummy frames. That's one whole production run more than we had originally planned. It is much easier to type about adding another production run of frames than to actually implement such a thing. We did it because of demand, because you people have embraced the Big Dummy and other bikes of its ilk instead of simply buying a somewhat more fuel efficient car. There are not enough thank yous to express how gratifying that is. So more BD frames are coming in a few weeks, and then late this summer we should get even more. The bad news is that steel prices and transportation costs have increased significantly of late, which means our costs are going up and so are yours. While the price increases will be felt across the line, there are a lot of people waiting on Big Dummy frames who may have paid a deposit already. If you are waiting on a Big Dummy, or if you are a shop that has quoted a price to a customer for a Big Dummy (or Long Haul Trucker for that matter), check in with whoever you need to and update your agreement. MSRP for a Big Dummy frame and fork is now $1050. It was $895. We've actually factored into this number another impending and definitely happening price increase so that we won't have to do this again anytime soon. So that's that. Again, this will affect the prices of everything we sell, but it should be of particular importance to those of you who have been waiting and budgeting and maybe even paid some money down at your local bike shop in anticipation of your beautiful new whatever... Big Dummy, Long Haul Trucker, what have you. Sorry to get all business but sometimes cold got to be."