Tuesday, April 25, 2017

New dual sport tires: Mitas E-09

These just arrived from MX1 Canada today and I'm excited to try them out, as they've been getting rave reviews in various ADV forums as excellent all-rounders (50/50 dirt/road) with terrific durability.

Front is a 90/90-21 in the Dakar version of the tire, which in the Mitas line means it incorporates a stiffer sidewall than non-Dakar versions. The Dakar versions are recommended for bigger DS bikes. While I'm putting these on my WR250R, the regular version of the front was not available and hopefully the Dakar isn't too stiff.

Rear is a 120/80-18 in non-Dakar version.

The knobby on my front wheel is an MT-21 with about 3,000km of mostly dirt riding.

These Mitas tires incorporate Kevlar fibers to increase tread durability. Riders consistently report getting well over 10,000 km out of a set of these tires, which is insanely good mileage -- especially when you have to flog it on long sections of pavement to get to the good stuff.

Will post a more detailed review once I get these mounted up on my second set of wheels.

MX1 just received a major shipment from Mitas in early April, so selection should be good.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Road wheel upgrade: DT Swiss 350 hubs with RR411 rims

In 2003 I had the good fortune of being able to order my first full-custom road bike, where price wasn't the main consideration. After test-riding various options in titanium, carbon, and aluminum frames, I decided on a Canadian-made Marinoni Delta Xtra built around a Columbus Airplane tube set with a Columbus carbon fork and rear triangle, DuraAce transmission and brakes, FSA carbon cranks, bars, and seat post, and a set of Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels. Custom painted and decaled in Ferrari red, it was a pretty trick bike for the time, weighing a respectable 17 lbs for a 58cm frame. Since then I've ridden it thousands of kilometers each year, getting in long slow mileage to build fitness base.

Here's me with Guiseppe Marinoni, the legendary frame-builder who made my bike in his Montreal shop, just before a ride in 2016. Pepe was in Almonte to promote a film about his extraordinary career, called "The Fire in the Frame". It's a must-see, even if you're not much of a cyclist. Pepe holds the world hour record for his age, so it was a real honor to ride with him (and keep up!) on a short tour around the local countryside.

Anyway, all this to say that those lovely Ksyrium Elite wheels, despite having performed flawlessly through my abuse over rough country roads, are finally showing their age. Tonight's inspection revealed two fatigue cracks in the rear rim at the nipple holes. Not surprising: this gracious warning is how you want your wheels to fail, rather than via some catastrophe that ends in a hospital holiday.

These are finicky wheels to build and service, and parts ain't cheap. So it was time to decommission the Mavics. Maybe they'll become a winter rebuild project.

Fortunately, I recently built a set of road wheels for a customer and thought it would be a good idea to build a second set at the same time, just in case I needed them myself:

These wheels consist of DT Swiss 350 straight pull hubs laced to DT Swiss RR411 rims with DT Comp spokes and ProLock aluminum nipples. 24 spokes up front and 28 in the rear. Weight is 710g front, 900g rear--just 40g more than the Ksyriums but at about 1/2 the price. Also, they are a tubeless setup. With 25mm tubeless tires and DT skewers, final weight is comparable to the Kysyriums running 23mm tires with tubes.

Unfortunately, I discovered that the rear clearance in my frame is probably too tight for a 25mm tires,  so for now I'm running a 23mm in the rear and 25mm up front.

A short test ride shows they ride flawlessly and are holding air well. A little more shaking with sealant and they should be good for a long ride this Easter weekend. Weather even looks great! 

Update (next day): Went for a 20km test ride and found the Continental 4000 really doesn't like to hold air. Back wheel was fine (used a different tire), but the front leaked like a sieve when I checked it under water. Couldn't get it sealed so reverted to tubes. Will need to research a tubeless-ready tire. At least the valve stem and rim area sealed perfectly. 

Coming soon: I've placed my next order for my Rugged Wheels custom carbon rims and will be building some slick 29er wheel sets for mountain biking, using 350 hubs and an asymmetric profile.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Leatt Dual Axis Knee & Shin Guards - first impressions review

First, some context. Two seasons ago I sprang for the Olympia Motoquest suit which, although good value then, has revealed some shortcomings.  Just guessing here, but based on the Olympia marketing materials, the design intent of the Motoquest suit is not really aligned with my type of woods riding which favors dirt and technical trails on a small bike. In this application, the suit feels unbearably hot, restrictive, and bulky. It's also incompatible with a neck brace, awkward with a pressure suit, leaky in the rain, fussy when having to stop to don the separate rain layer to ensure staying dry, the pockets are poorly sized and placed... I could go on!

In its favour, the suit's materials and construction have proven reasonably durable. No worn seams or scuffing in high-abrasion areas like the seat, cuffs, waist, etc. However, the supplied armor inserts were a joke, so I replaced the knee inserts with 3DO inserts and removed all the jacket padding in favour of a Fox Titan pressure suit.

Last summer's RAP ride, which consisted of about 1200km of rough trails and fire roads over 3 days, convinced me that while my current suit was probably OK in the general scheme of DS riding, it really wasn't the best combination of protection, comfort, and ease of use. Going full MX isn't really practical for me either, so the search has been on for a new suit/protection combo that ticks all the boxes. A piece-by-piece approach allows me to tune fit/performance to my specific needs.

Here are the Motoquest pants with the upgraded D3O inserts for sizing.

For reference, I'm 6'1" (~184cm) and around 190 lbs, with most of my weight in my legs thanks to years of competitive cycling. These knee pads are the marginally larger version offered but are still pretty small relative to the pant. They don't reliably stay in place because of the looseness of the pant, yet the pant is tight enough that after sitting for a while the pads create uncomfortable pressure on my kneecaps. This discomfort grows when the vent flaps are unzipped and tucked into the pocket over the knee. This became my least tolerable gripe with the suit, so I've been looking for better knee inserts which ultimately led me to the Leatt Dual Axis model ordered from Fortnine (great services and prices) in Montreal.

On opening the shipping carton I was taken aback at how beefy and heavy the Leatts are. This is a significant chunk of armor! It was pretty clear my game plan would need to change, because I couldn't see fitting these things under the Motoquest pants given my thigh/calf size and the relatively slim fit of the pant. More about fit in a moment; let's look at the construction, because there are few details of these pads to see online. 

The guards are anatomically designed for left and right legs. Padding and straps are thoughtfully positioned and materials appear to be good quality with good finishing details. 

One strap attaches just above the knee, two below the knee. Velcro allows adjusting the fit once, then using a clip to snap each strap on and off easily. The system works well and is easy to put on and adjust. These pads are the L/XL size, which was perfect for the hard amour portion and offered just enough strap adjustments to fit around my legs. 

Protection quality is CE Level 1 for impact and CE Level 2 for abrasion. 

Trying them on, it's immediately obvious how comfortable they are over the knee: the cup barely touches the kneecap, even when bent. The double-hinge design is far superior to single-hinge designs because it allows the armor to follow your joint without dragging the pad up or down. With single-hinge designs, bending your knee either requires the pad to stretch to follow the increased length of the outside of your leg (not going to happen with solid armor), or causes the top or bottom segment to pull out of place depending on which end is more firmly attached to your leg. (Excuse the unsexy, winter-white and puffy off-season gams. It's been 8 months since shorts weather.)

Surprisingly, there was no discomfort wearing these pads inside my moto boots, although it does look silly--especially with no pants on (actually, this is how we ride in Canada when it's above -12C):


Unfortunately these guards aren't quite a home run for me yet, mainly because I need to figure out how to best incorporate these into a new riding outfit.

  • Well made, excellent coverage and CE-rated
  • Comfortable, anatomic fit and flex with good adjustability
  • Seem to stay in place
  • Reasonably good side protection, including an effective "slider" function formed by the pivots
  • Reasonable price (~$128 CAD)
  • Not the best integration with moto boots. Better suited to a short boot, which poses tradeoffs on protecting your feet/lower leg.
  • Doesn't fit under a touring pant like the Motoquest unless you don't plan to bend your knee.
  • Despite the venting, they will undoubtedly be hotter than a simple kneepad insert, because of the straps. 
Bottom line is there's no one perfect set of gear for all applications and rider body types. Since my boots need replacing anyway, maybe it's time to consider some of the new shorter options that are MX-lite but a lot easier to walk in, coupled with something like the Klim Overland pant. Then it's a slippery slope to new jacket and armor upstairs. A TekVest looks intriguing.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Rugged Wheels: Carbon fat bike wheels

Pretty excited by these wheels I just built on the weekend: my custom carbon 80mm rims on DT Swiss Big Ride hubs with DT Competition spokes. Tubeless setup; rear hub converts to 190/197mm with simple swap of end-caps.

Will be offering this build as part of my regular wheel set packages. Pricing to come!

Friday, March 3, 2017

WR250R tail tidy, the hard way

Honda and Yamaha have a knack for designing rear fenders that look like the spawn of Jar Jar Binks mated with an escalator:

On second thought, it looks more like Princess Leia when she snuck into Jabba the Hutt's lair:

Unfortunately, the WRR fender tangles with your body and scenery precisely how most princesses would not:

After slicing myself on the license plate yet again, it was the last straw and time to relocate the plate to a better position. Unfortunately, Ontario Regulations on motorcycle safety inspections suggests that installing some of the more popular aftermarket tail tidy kits I found for the WRR could risk a ticket. On the other hand, Regulation 1. (3) states: "No part of the motorcycle shall have a broken, bent or sharp edge that protrudes in such as way as to constitute a hazard to persons or vehicles."

This seemed to be a good enough justification for moving the plate. And the Edge 2 tail tidy kit ($121.99 at Kimpex, the cheapest option I found), which relocates the plate higher and incorporates a new tail light, looked like the best way to do it. However, because I'm cheap, I wanted to reuse the original Yamaha Jar-Jar-eyes turn signals. I also wanted to retain the three reflectors to hopefully avoid other regulatory problems. So, some mods were in order to fit everything together with the Edge kit. The result was a disproportionately epic project that provided several nights of entertaining fabrication, using stuff around my shop.

My concept was to make a C-shaped bracket that bolts onto the Edge 2 where some optional LED signals are intended to mount. The first step was to create a pattern, with the dotted lines indicating where I'd bend the material at right angles.

Here it is transferred to some 3/16" T6061 plate aluminum I had on hand and cut out with a jigsaw. Some filing cleaned it up. 

I scanned the part and can send you the PDF if you want a starting point to make your own.

The teardrop-shaped holes are for the rubber bases of the signals, which just press in and are held in place by friction and a moulded lip. The small end of the teardrop should face forward; I ended up flipping the bracket around to get the right fit which required reversing the hole orientation. 

Ignoring all common sense and my experience with material properties, I then stupidly tried to bend the ears 90 degrees to form the bracket. Oh snap.

Vincent van Gogh would've appreciated my craftsmanship. I decided to cut off the other ear as well so at least the problem was symmetrical. Then some extruded aluminum angle I had lying around inspired the idea of making some corner brackets to reattach both ears. 

The brackets were cut oversize to make alignment easier, then drilled, epoxied, and riveted in place. 

After filing them back to the original profile, they looked OK. 

Since the extrusion was fairly thin and I didn't want it cracking when the signals got hit in a fall, I added some JB Weld to fillet the inside corner. The result was pretty solid:

Black paint does marvels to cover imperfections:

While the paint was drying, I mounted the tail-light and connected the wiring. Here's the original harness under the left body panel:

The original fender used separate wire bundles for the tail light (3 wires; big white plug) and plate illumination light (2 wires; yellow plug). Since the Edge integrates the plate lights with the brake lights, it needs just three wires which connect to the original brake light plug. I cut off the mating plug from the original fender wiring harness and soldered/heat-shrunk it to the new Edge cable so I could just plug it in to the existing harness. The yellow plug (for the plate light) on the bike is no longer needed, so I just wrapped it with electrical tape to keep it clean.

Lights worked fine. Although the taillight is smaller than the original LED unit, it's quite bright and almost painfully so when the brakes are on. The plate illumination is also plenty bright.

Now back to the bracket. The tail lights squeezed in quite solidly.

Assembly with the Edge bracket proved a little tight, so some minor filing was needed to fit everything together. Although not shown here, I found I needed to bend the signal mounting tabs on the Edge so that when I mounted my bracket, the signal lights aimed horizontally and not up.

Here's the wiring routed to avoid interference with the mount points for my custom rear rack.

Here's a simple bracket I made from some stainless steel salvaged from a dishwasher door, to mount a rear-facing reflector under the plate. There's a subtle notch filed into the side of the bracket that locks with the anti-rotation pin on the reflector.

The Edge 2 kit comes with some small steel angle-brackets (not shown) for mounting after-market LED turn signals. The brackets are just the right size for mounting the side reflectors to the license plate bolts.

Here's the finished assembly.

It's a much cleaner look with more clearance than the stock fender.

It also shaves off nearly a kilogram from the stock configuration, in a location where loads adversely affect handling. Overall a win and I'm looking forward to testing it on the road.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

14T vs. 13T countersprocket on WR250R (updated)

Stock gearing is 13/43 on the WR250R. I've been running 13/47 with good results, and thought that bumping to 14/48 would give better highway performance while leaving the easy option to swap to a 13/48 for dirt use without requiring much chain adjustment.

Unfortunately, a 14T with chain leaves uncomfortably low clearance on the bike if also running with a case saver like the one I made.

Here are pics of a new Dirt Tricks 14T compared to a worn 13T. I'll be sticking with 13T and have opted for a 45T sprocket on the wheel to test with some Mitas E-07 tires that I'll be testing this year.

Here's view of the 13T with 48T rear sprocket with new chain mounted to show clearances. It's a bit tighter on the rear than I'd prefer, and I expect the guide will show accelerated wear. May need to look for aftermarket sliders and guides made from harder material and with more clearance. 

Note: Yes, I had a brain fart and accidentally installed the quick link clip backwards (closed end should face chain direction). I fixed it after taking this pic.  

New carbon road wheels

As part of my Rugged Wheels packages I'm offering two carbon wheel sets.

The first is a 38mm rim with DT Swiss 350 disc brake hub (centre lock or ISIS), laced with DT Competition straight-pull spokes and ProLock nipples. This is aimed at cyclocross or gravel riding.

The second wheel set is a 60mm deep rim with a DT Swiss 240 hub (Shimano or SRAM), laced with bladed spokes and ProLock nipples. I'm still trying to work out a reliable supply of spokes but my goal is to offer DT Aero Comp in straight-pull. This is a rim-brake wheel aimed at TT or regular road use. The braking surface is basalt and the wheel includes special pads for either Shimano or Campagnolo brakes.

Both wheel sets are built tubeless-ready.

Optional end caps are available to convert between thru-axle and QR, and DT Swiss skewers are available as well.

For more information and pricing, contact your local bike shop or Rebec & Kroes or Almonte Bicycle Works.