Building a bike for the Tour Aotearoa
is not that easy. With the TA just around the corner ( feb 21 for wave 1) we have finally got to the pointy end of things.
I am going to take a look at a few of the local riders bikes, my
own, Bills, Matt G and Matt D’s. Bill has been tweaking his gear with the kind of
diligence that would get him a job at NASA if he wasn’t slumming it as a
lawyer. As older gentlemen we both appreciate the comforts that modern
bicycle design can bring, but my build tends a bit on the zombie
apocalypse side where as Bills is a bit more of a armchair ride. Ive
always been impressed with the attention to detail in Bills bikes so it
was a good chance to ask him some questions about it. The Matt(s) bikes are a bit more simpler in their approach, but are still completely different in many other ways.
will start with mine. Its taken me 2 years of testing potential rigs for
the inaugural 3000km Tour Aotearoa. I had plenty of bikes to choose
from, a light Carbon 29er frame, a supple steel CX frame, a 29er alloy
fully, a steel rigid and a 26er alloy fully. I narrowed it down, and
went through countless iterations between my Karate Monkey and the Giant
XTC. Racks, bags, flat bars, aero bars, drop bars, cranks, derailleurs.
Bottle mounts. I tried several of the iterations more than once.
I even wrote a blog post on the pros and cons of racks vs seat-bags.
There are many reasons for my final pick, and I have tried to list most of my gear choices and their rationale below. The weight of the carbon Giant was tempting but the way you can just duct-tape or radiator hose-clip something onto a tubular steel frame just appeals to me. There is a 2 pound weight penalty but I don’t feel that is much in the big picture, especially were peace of mind is concerned.
|Same bags, different bikes…
Frame An early steel Surly Karate Monkey, 4130 steel, horizontal drop-outs incase of derailleur failure so I can SS. This happened to me in my last Kiwi brevet, and the drop-outs saved my bacon. You could also argue that if I had a replaceable drop-out, and I replaced it I would have been better off, but these modern derailleurs are so flimsy I suspect it would have died as well.
Carbon. Nothing flash.
Rear-9 speed old school Deore XT derailleur. Strong pivots. Cable adjuster at the back so its tunable without inline cable adjusters when used with drop-bars. I ranted about it here once….
Front-3 speed old school STX narrow profile. Simple design. More clearance for my wheel than the modern designs, allows me to run the Karate Monkey with the short wheel base it came with. Some modern front derailleurs are really long.
A circumcised Brooks B-17. I love this saddle, but that’s easy to say when it hasn’t been sat on for 3×18 hour days in a row so far. With the crappy weather expected I will need a cover.I was really happy with my Brooks Swift, until I tried the B-17. I think the width is what makes is so comfy.
Woodchippers and Profile aeros for maximum comfort, positions and aeroness. I had a spell without the Woodchippers, but I was so glad to return to them. Each of the many positions allows a completely different weight distribution for your arms and butt. The Woodchippers give a much more aero frontage than flat bars too. Aero makes a difference, even at slow speeds. I have to claw back some watts lost via my dynamo hub too I guess.
Durace 10 speed on right. A gift from a friend. They work well. Not as bullet proof as bar-end shifters, but if they broke, I would adjust the cable to mid cluster and still run the three front rings and still have a massive range.
Bar-end shifter on left. Its not easy to get 3x shifting on drop bars with “brifters” and MTB cranks hence the bar-end shifters. Pauls make a trigger mount that would work but I am happy with the simple 3 speed in friction mode for simple trimming
|My Tune Bigfoot in early 2x configuration
cable BB7s because they are rock solid and work. No surprises with cables
Stealth Seat, Top-tube and Frame bags. Home-made front harness. Supporting local grown industry! The Stealth stuff has been totally bomproof in daily commuter use as well as weekend rides.
XT. More reliable than XTR and not keen to go the Crank Bros route again!
Tune Big Foot : 22/34/44 A gear for every occasion. I love this crank. I’ve had it for years. It has a swapable spider, but I prefer the compact to the ATB style of BCD.
|White Industries. Square taper FTW !
White Industries cromo BB, square taper. If my crank falls off, I can probably find a compatible one on the side of the road somewhere. Most of my bikes are square taper. The Giant has a press-fit BB which was another point in the Karate Monkeys favour.
SP dynamo hub with Exposure Revolution light. Will use for main lighting and USB charging of Etrex and phone where needed, also the 18650 rechargable lap-top batteries for my cache and torch. I may take a 2xAA torch as back-up. I wrote a piece about charging these batteries using the dynamo hub here.
3x plastic Topeak. Cheap off T7. Applied with insulation tape. Seems rock solid so far.
DT Swiss front. Stans rear. I have been told they make Stans rims oversize to fit non-tubeless tires better. They are not compatible with many of my first choices in tires. On the other hand, a wire-bead WTB Nano beaded up perfectly on them, apparently a Nano TCS wont fit.
WTB Nano TCS front, WTB Nano wire-bead COMP rear. I am not really a fan of tubeless in general. Hoping to save a bit of rolling resistance, I don’t have great expectations for their self-sealing abilities given past experiences, especially with sidewall punctures. The Nano is a strange tire, and seems quite capable when you actually put your preconceptions aside. I cant see it as being confidence inspiring on wet roots though : )
|Trialing Trevs bottle mounts.
|I promise, no more tinkering!
And now for Bills bike, a beautifully set up Salsa Spearfish. Armchair comfort with a sensible gear range for oldies like ourselves.
|Salsa Spearfish, why yes, his chain is blue!
|Bills rear seat box.
Bill is the type of guy who spends a lot of time thinking about his kit and how it can best deliver the goods for him in the outdoors. If there is not an option good enough he will build his own.
Q. Is there an overall theme for the way this machine has developed Bill or is it just one iteration of many?
When I bought the Salsa Spearfish in 2014, it came with a Revelate frame bag which would be difficult to better, so I turned my attention to finding a way of making seat bags and a bar bag that better suited my needs. I didn’t want to just buy the off the shelf versions even though there were, by then, several well thought out and professionally made options.The inspiration for the top tube bag box came from you, Jeff, when I saw a picture of your bike with a spare bottle mounted on the top tube. It seemed to me that, if you were going to use all of the top tube, then you would be better off with one box going the full length of it rather than setting three different items to it.
How long have you been working with carbon fibre for, and how did you get into it?
I have been playing with carbon fibre for many years. That probably started before it was possible to buy decent lights for bikes and I wanted something better than the plastic drainage tube holders for Halogen bulbs that we were all experimenting with at that time. As a teenager, I was involved and sailing dinghies which meant that I learnt how to use fibreglass at an early age. Carbon fibre is just fibreglass with a more modern and cool looking fibre.
How many carbon items on the bike have you built? The seat box, top-tube and front roll?
I spend my day providing clients with advice and documentation. At the end of each day, I have a little physical evidence other than a mound of paper to show for that. I love making things in my spare time so that I have the satisfaction of seeing something physical for my efforts
I understand you worked with Michael at Stealth Bike Bags for your top-tube bag?
Yes, Michael at Stealth Bike Bags made the cover for the top box and was great to work with once he understood what I was after. It’s great to see someone of his age being able to combine talent and passion into a viable business.
The mono stay aero bar, where did that originate from, I remember Trevor Woodward had one in stainless steel in one of he early Kiwi Brevets?
The single aerobar was inspired by Trevor’s 2010 Kiwi Brevet with a stainless steel version. I’ll give him credit for that now since he has since stolen (and bettered) my idea for a dual mount for bottles on the downtube.
|A aero bar that rivals the Black Adders codpiece!
There are plenty fullies out there at the moment, was there a particular reason that you went for the Salsa Spearfish?
After the Scalpel, I bought a Salsa Dos-Niner and loved it. Getting older, I looked for a bit more comfort and found that and performance in the Spearfish. An added attraction was that no-one else I knew had one.
Do you think that some riders in NZ tend to copy the trends of Tour Divide riders with rigid rigs regardless of the local terrain?
|When the sewing machine chokes, get out the awl.
Yes, but I don’t see anything wrong with that either. We need to start somewhere, take other’s ideas and adapt them to suit our own needs. It’s part of the development process.
I see you have the Jones Bars, do they give you enough positions for your hands or are you on the aeros most of the time anyway ?
The Jones bar provides lots of options for hand positions, especially with the bar bag mounted well below that by the carbon tube spaces. However, I find myself riding mostly on the Aero bars so a lot of the Jones bars’ benefits are not utilised by me.
What does your light kit consist of, K-lite with a Lime-fuel for cache?
The dyno light set up was provided by Kerry Staite of K-lite. I have added a Lime Fuel Blast as a cache battery after trialling several other options. I’ll place my faith and Kerry’s advice in this regard as the remainder of the setup has proved very dependable.
|Plenty of room here in Bills carbon fibre sandwich top box with fabric zip top.
Do you think the added complexity of a dynamo system is worth it in the NZ style of Bikepacking where you have a compulsory 6 hour stand down each day, stopping potential all-nighters?
I don’t need the organisers of the TA to impose a six hour compulsory stand down each day. I intend to impose that (or more) on myself. Having said that, I would still back the dynamo system for those intending to ride 18 hours as it is important to minimise the time spent looking for places where you might charge the various devices on which we have become so dependable. All of my electrical items can now be charged via USB – headlamp, 2 rear lights, my iPhone, my iPod and my Garmin GPS.
If time and money were no object is there anything you would change on this set-up?
If money was no object, I wouldn’t be wasting it on new bike parts. I would be working less, spending more time with my family and riding my bike. More time riding would result in a much better performance than any changes I might make by throwing more money on my bike. That doesn’t stop me dreaming about other bikes, though. My ideal setup would be a Black Sheep custom frame with a Lefty front fork, Project 321 adapter and hubs, carbon wheels built by Oli of Roadworks, a Gates carbon belt drive and Rohloff gearing – with homemade bits made from carbon fibre by yours truly.
Your bike seems very aerodynamic, is this something that was done on purpose or did it just evolve that way ?
Aero? “I’m a Wellingtonian! Wind has a big influence on our days here. The urge to be as aerodynamic as possible goes back to the time spent messing around with triathlons. We did our wind training outside, not on rollers in front of the TV. I was a useless runner, so needed to gain as much of an advantage as possible on the swim and bike legs. There’ll be plenty of wind on the TA to make it well worth being as aerodynamic as you can be. But, it’s also essential that you be comfortable in the aero position. I do wonder about those who are trying to fit aero bars to their TA bikes a week or so out from the event. Not ideal.”
The next bike is Matt’ Gs sadly recently discontinued Singular Gryphon. A bike he got specifically for the first Kiwi Brevet in 2010. It has been added to over time with fruitier bits including a new Igleheart fork which was a replacement for the original one that met with a stubborn bollard one day.
|Trialling the Bruce Gordon Rock n Roads, grippy but a bit slow on the road
What Matt G thinks.
Unlike Jeff, I have not put two years thought into my set up, and it likely shows. I built up a Singular Gryphon a little over six years ago for the first Kiwi Brevet and it completely changed – and made – my love for off road riding. I was disappointed to learn recently that Singular won’t be making the Gryphon any more; I have had my heart set on a Ti Gryph since I first saw one.
Since then I have had little desire to move away from it, and I did not consider anything else for the Tour Aotearoa. I have become a massive fan of dirt drops. I put quite a bit of thought into the set up for that first Kiwi Brevet, but since then I have mostly only made changes when replacing bits whose lives had come to an end. Occasionally I can be rather overly particular when those changes are made, and I’ve got to thank Mike Anderson who has put up with endless faffing from me when helping me get the bike together and keep it running (unfortunately, I still maintain my triathlon influenced mechanicing skill)
Three of the main decisions I needed to make were tires, bag system and tent vs bivy:
Tires: I have spent quite a bit of time with both fat and skinny tires on the Gryphon. For the Tour I couldn’t get my head around the need for fat tires given the amount of road and gravel time and the competence and comfort I have found many skinny tires have in technical riding. Quite possibly I will change my mind in a few weeks time! I had been using Bruce Gordon Rock n Roads on my SSCX for quite some time, including a mountainous tour in Japan, and I am pretty enamoured with them. I feel like I am really giving up very little with them, even on moderately technical single track, So I initially planned on using them. After quite a few kms and wearing one down to the threads, I was pretty certain that they “felt” slower on the roads than I wanted. At that point I swapped to WTB Nano TCS 40s and have not looked back. I am running them tubeless and while I definitely do not feel as confident on them as the Rock n Roads, I am comfortable enough and they feel great on the roads. Having said that, I am infinitely more confident on them than on a previous pair of Stan’s Ravens! They do feel a little floaty at times in loose gravel, but all-in-all I am pretty stoked with these tires.
Bag-system: In the past I have run Freeload racks or Freeloads and an Ortleib handlebar bag. My set up has always worked well. This time I was determined to use panniers, dammit. I struggle with many of the reasons and logic I see for the superiority of bags over panniers for most bikepacking. I will skip that fight for now, because, here I am, with no panniers, and with no racks.
I pretty quickly decided I wanted a holster style seat bag because I did not really fancy the idea of fighting with loading a standard bag and I also really liked the idea of a dry bag. I went for a Revelate Terrapin, partially influenced by the long lead-in-time required for a Porcelain Rocket (and my late planning). I have been very happy with the Terrapin, until I broke a buckle today. Operator error? Probably, but I am suspecting my dexterity and mental acuity will not be impressive after I get a couple of thousand kms in me. It’s all fixed and sorted now. I hope. A key goal was to try and reduce the load I have carried in the past (maybe I have succeeded) and I also hate the look of a framebag. Yes, I know. Priorities. I also wanted to carry water bottles in standard places, so I had a custom half frame bag built up by Stealth Bike Bags. It’s been exactly what I needed.
I need to carry a little more up front (where else will my Aeropress fit?), so I went for a Fairweather handle bar bag, which has a drybag which opens on both ends, plus another moderately sized pocket and a map-pocket. It has performed flawlessly. I can get my tent and sleeping quilt in it and have room for a bottle and plenty of food. I strap the tent poles to the outside of it.
Tent vs. Bivy: There was no real debate here. With two to three weeks (four!?) in NZ, it’s going to get wet and grotty. I want to sleep out as much as possible so I ruled out a bivy. I have used them in the past and they have been sufficient, but I was looking for more. For reasons I cannot quite recall I decided on a Tarptent Protrail. The size and generally performance is certainly very good. However, after a night in 150kph gusts with either poles getting knocked down or pegs rocketing across the tussock, I decided I need a change – strong wind is a regular occurrence in this fabulous country. I am sure someone more clever and determined than me could make it work (that’s why I sold it to Jeff), but I just did not want to deal with the uncertainty from it. After doing a bit more research I have switched to a MSR Hubba NX 1-person. I will never look back.
Everyone around me was going for dynamos. I thought it was an interesting idea, but I was not quite ready to commit to one. After seeing them in use for a while now, I think they are a very interesting idea, but I think I will wait until some of the supplementary electronics become a bit more robust; I suspect it should not take too long. I will probably pay for one in AA and AAAs during the Tour.
Frame 2009 steel Singular Gryphon with some 4130 steel. It has a seized EBB so, should disaster strike. I won’t have that option! It also has a riv-nut mounted bottle cage on the underside of the downtube.
Fork – Custom Igleheart – a beautiful fork I needed after Jeff dropped a bollard in front of me.
Deraillers – Rear-9 speed XT Shimano. Front-3 speed shimano.
Seat-post – Eriksen Ti. Ohhh the plushness of it. I think. What would Jan Heine say?
Saddle – A Brooks Cambium-17. I have a couple of these and I think they are the vegan-business.
Bars – Salsa Woodchipper.
Shifters – Shifters – Ultegra 10 speed for the rear (after only recently moving on from a ca. 1996 DA 9sp Sam Raphael special). Thanks for the donation Owen! I never quite sorted the front, so I have a DA Bar-end shifter. As Cousin Biwl says, Friction..
Brakes – cable BB7s.
Bags – Stealth half frame-bag. Fairweather handlebar bag, Revelate Terrapin rear seat-bag.
Pedals – XT.
Cranks – Middleburn 22/34/44 Possibly an obscene amount of gears for a Singular.
BB. -Square taper Race Face, EPO-injected in the early 2000s
Cluster – 11-36
Lighting – Fenix BT-10 bar mounted light (4xAAs), 350 Lumen at 4.5 hours, a lot less at 16 hours; Ali Baba Special Torch with a helmet mount (2xAA) and a generic rear light (2xAAA)
Cages – A couple of beautiful Nittos and a generic cage.
Bar end plugs – Simworks Simdrop(s)! I am a fanboy.
GPS – Garmin 810 (USB charged)
Charging devices – TP-Link 10,400mAh power bank, 4xAA power bank, and possibly a third.
Rims – DT Swiss XM490
Hubs – Chris King Gold Delights.
Tires – WTB Nano TCS 40mm tubeless.
Stove – Esbit Titanium solid fuel stove that is smaller than my thumb
Coffee maker – Aeropress
Grinder – Porlex custom Ti (I wish).
What Matt D thinks.
The other Matt, (Matt D) has gone all CX on us. The alloy Cannondale took over from his beloved Surly Straggler as his rig of choice in this years Hutt Cross Cyclo cross series. Normally I wouldn’t suggest a CX bike for Bikepacking in NZ, but having ridden with Matt D on Barryn’s “Brevets Little Brother” and seen his skills I suggest its not going to slow him down much at all.
About the bike choice
Initially like others, I had trouble deciding on the bike. My choice was between a carbon 29r, steel cyclocross bike and an alloy cyclocross bike. In the end the alloy CX bike won over. The deciding factor probably came down to researching the TA route and the fact there will be a lot of time spent on tarseal and gravel. I also like the dropped bar setup as I think it’ll be great to have plenty of hand positions. Of course there is going to be the odd section where the bike will not be ideal but I feel for the most part it will be.
I’m fairly new to this style of riding, so it’s been great riding with seasoned brevet riders in the lead up to TA. They’ve been an invaluable source of knowledge and great to bounce ideas off and speak to about gear choices.
I have put a lot of thought into everything and there has been a real tendency to over-think every aspect of my setup. I’m ready now and looking forward to getting in to it.
CaadX 105 alloy frame with carbon fork
11 speed road setup running 11-40 on the rear and 34/46 on the front. A Wolftooth Roadlink mounted to the hanger has allowed me to run a decent sized cassette on the rear giving me a large gear ratio.
Bars are Salsa Woodchippers and I find these really comfy. Have opted not to run an aero bar as I’ve never really been into them and I’m not a triathlete.
Bags are all Stealth; Seat bag, top tube bag, harness, frame bag with loads of space. It’s been great having a locally based manufacturer to deal with and have done many trips out to Eastborne over the last year or so. Water storage goes in a bladder in the frame bag and in a basic camelback.
Lighting/charging: I went with a SP dynamo hub with Exposure Revo light and Limefuel blast cache battery.
Charge spoon saddle is nothing fancy. I’ve done some pretty long rides on it and it’s remains really comfortable.
Brakes are BB7s. When they’re set up correctly you can’t fault them.
Wheels Stans Arch on the rear and Crest on the front.
Tires are tubeless WTB Nano race 40c. I am a little worried about the rear wearing quickly so I have a spare in waiting Wellington at the half way point.
|Ready to roll.
|One of these Matts is not like the other.