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.

11 comments:

Daniel said...

If you can't find anyone already in production Eric Parsons of Epic designs can probably either help fix the current one's so that they stay fixed, or replace them with stuff that'll work.

http://epicdesigns-ak.blogspot.com/

d.

Vik said...

Thanks Daniel - good tip!

boc said...

"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'm so there! How much is a plane ticket from LAX? :D

Vik said...

I fly to LA a lot and usually it costs between $550 & $850.

I'd be happy to host a Big Dummy tour in the Canadian Rockies next summer.

Oldyonfoldy said...

Really enjoyed looking at your touring pics on the BD! Makes me itchy to get one. Hope your hand heals quickly...

Josh said...

I'm thinking maybe a set of custom thin gauge aluminum box-style freeloaders? The Dummy is already a fat ass I'd want to keep the weight down.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with your evaluation of the Freeloaders. Good design, could be improved upon but the materials and construction are lacking for heavy duty use. For the price it's very disappointing.

I pinged Pat at PAC Designs. She is doing some for herself and a customer as well as she picked up an Xtracycle. But she said she is backed up on work so it may be a while yet.

- Sean "Ralfieboy" Ralph

Vik said...

I'm working on a better alternative. I'm post something when I have something concrete to share.

Anonymous said...

Someone with a sewing machine and an internet connection could make a killing on this. I personally would pay "xtra" for any kind of freeloader without text all over it... and a choice of color. Good materials and craftsmanship would make it a no brainer.

This is what cottage industries are all about. Maybe Arkel should jump on it?

Anonymous said...

With your brake problem I would suggest using hydraulic disc brakes if you're touring near towns and cities so parts are easier to get. The difference in performance is incredible. I used Avid cable discs then changed to Avid Juicy 3's with 160mm rotors and the extra power is great. You could even go for a 203mm rotor which is 45% more powerful than the 160mm. The only time you need to take the brakes in for work is to change oil every 3 or 4 years. And if you get sintered pads the 2 day wearing problem will be gone plus you will have better wet weather braking.

Choccy...

Vik said...

Choccy,

I'd be very hesitant to put hydraulic brakes on my Big Dummy as I don't feel the need for more braking power. My concern is for fast wearing pads which won't be solved by hydraulics, but might be solved, as you suggest, by aftermarket pads.

My other concern, using the Big Dummy as a touring bike, is the availability of spare parts in more remote areas, such as rural Mexico or even small town Canada/USA. Again hydraulic brakes won't be a be a better choice than mechanical discs and I think ultimately v-brakes are the best choice for this sort of tour since they are ubiquitous.

Replacing cables/housing on a mechanical disc brake is something just about any bike shop can handle and has the parts for. If I walk in with a set of hydraulic brakes I don't think bike shops outside of larger cities would be able to help me.

Finally the issue I had with how I routed my brake housing on the Big Dummy was an installation problem that would have adversely affected any kind of brakes I put on the bike.

Thanks for your suggestion though,

Vik