Thursday, September 29, 2016

Rugged Wheels: SM Pro Platinum build for WR250R

The last few weeks have been particularly busy as I work on getting my new business up and running, Rugged Wheels Inc. -- "Rugged Wheels for rugged rides!"

As part of setting up and testing my processes, I've been ordering hubs, rims, spokes, and other goodies from my suppliers, including DT Swiss for bicycles wheels, and Central Wheel Components for moto wheels. Having recently rebuilt my mountain bike wheels, it was time to test some wheel upgrades on my trusty WR250R. The stock rims have taken a beating from trail riding and the front certainly needed replacing.

Central Wheel Components in the UK is an OEM of premium hubs, rims, spokes, and complete wheel sets for several well-known motorcycle brands. Their brands include SM Pro hubs and rims, and Bulldog spokes which are renowned for quality, but don't seem to have much of a market footprint in Canada. Having become a reseller for their parts, naturally I wanted to test them out on my WR, so I ordered rims and spokes to use with my stock hubs as well as a complete front and rear wheel kit with SM Pro hubs. I'll eventually put knobbies on the SM Pro wheels and mount street-oriented tires (probably a Mitas pair of E 07's or other tires to test) on the rebuilt stock wheels.

Everything arrived nicely packed.

The hubs look great: clean machining, laser-etched logo, good bearings, and slick seals and axle inserts.

These are the Bulldog polished stainless steel, straight-gauge spokes with aluminum nipples--the recommended combo for my application. 

The SM Pro Platinum rims are made from 7050 series aluminum and independent testing shows they are both stronger and lighter than the Excel A60 and Takasogo rims. The finish is excellent and so far has proven entirely resistant to scratches from tools and spokes during wheel building.

There is a rainbow of colour options for these rims to match your bike, and the spokes can be ordered powder-coated as well. I often for boring black with silver spokes and nipples, but may rebuild them with black spokes another time.

First step is to coat the nipples with anti-seize. I use Rock-and-Roll ceramic since it's on hand and has proven to be excellent in all sorts of uses on my motorbike. 

Next up is lacing. Here's the front wheel under way. 

Finally there's the meticulous process of truing and tensioning to spec. I found that both rims trued up pretty well--I could get them within 1/2mm laterally and radially without too much trouble. For a rugged wheel, it's also important that all the spokes are evenly tensioned or the wheel will not stay in true and has an increased risk of failure. 

The finished wheels look great! For now I'll transfer my old rotors and sprockets to these wheels, but the rotors are due to be replaced and I'd like to run a smaller sprocket with the street-oriented tires to get more top-end speed. My current setup is 13-48 which is great in the dirt but tops out at around 100km/hr--barely enough for secondary roads around where I live. 

Looking forward to trying these. And soon I'll be able to accept orders for wheel parts or complete custom wheel-sets. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Dual sport on your doorstep: James Gamble homestead on Peter Robinson Road

As I described in a recent post, Peter Robinson Road between March Road and Old Almonte Road runs through a desolate swamp that, incredibly, was the location of some optimistic and tenacious homesteaders in the late 19th century. In my last post, I described the James Carter homestead which sits on a large, gently sloping "island" in the middle of the swamp. But as the old Huntley Township map of 1879 shows, there's another even more isolated homestead that belonged to James Gamble, situated on smaller island that lies close to Old Almonte Road.  The outline of what must be the foundation is obvious in the aerial photo:

As you can also see from the aerial photo, Peter Robinson Road in this location is just a muddy, rocky track that's usually flooded year round. The scrub and mush completely obscures a view to the island. This is all you see from the track, and there's no way I was going to try to use through that to the island:

Instead, I continued a hundred metres or so further down Peter Robinson to a clearing on the right at a slight rise in the land.

From here I backtracked through the underbrush directly behind my bike, crossed a stream, and bushwhacked a little further south before I finally emerged from the undergrowth to see the entirety of the island:

Even when I visited at the end of a remarkably dry summer the bugs were awful. I can't imagine how tough it must've been in the summer 100+ years ago, with no screens on the windows and the heat of a wood-fired stove radiating in a small cabin!

A foundation was indeed located right where I expected. It's little more than a depression in the earth, and quite easy to miss unless you know exactly what to look for. This is the view from in the foundation. Just to the left another depression with a dead tree sticking out of it. Not sure what it was, but it could've been either a cold storage cellar or perhaps a latrine, although it was located only a few metres from the home. There may not have been another location at this site where it was possible to dig this deep without hitting rock or the water table.

Some dry-laid foundation stones were clearly visible.

This is looking into the second depression with the dead tree. Clearing away the overgrowth might reveal some hints to its purpose. 

I couldn't find much information about James Gamble to determine who he was, what family he had, and what he did to make a living. Hopefully with a little more research I can fill in more of a picture of his life.

Something I have deduced is that this area was not ravaged by the great fire of 1870. One nearly contemporary account of the fire describes how a group of men took a wagonload of tools down to create a firebreak near Hugh Kennedy's home on the Long Swamp Road (now called Old Almonte Road), which was the site of the former community of Clandeboye. However, it's reported the fire bypassed this area altogether. Both the James Carter and James Gamble homesteads are shown on the 1879 map, but since that's after the fire it's not clear when they were actually built. My guess is that much of Huntley township was depopulated for several years after the fire, since there was very little left to rebuild with (no timber for construction, no forage for animals). Sustaining even a rough, pioneer lifestyle. would've been very difficult without the means to import resources until the land could recover. 

For the hardscrabble homesteaders in Huntley Township, the allure of green pastures opening up in the North American west after the end of the US Civil War proved too much to resist. Many families emigrated out of Upper Canada. This story repeated across the region from Ottawa to Georgian Bay, resulting in many of the abandoned roads and ghost towns we see today.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Mountain bike wheel upgrade: DT Swiss XM401 rims

Every five years or so there seems to be enough cumulative small improvements to bicycle technology that riding the newest bike models can feel like a whole new exciting sport. Short of replacing your entire bike though, there are some strategic and affordable upgrades you can make to reinvigorate your riding and extend the life of your bike.

On mountain bikes in particular, you’re probably already familiar with the wide range of handling and control improvements achieved by simply changing tires to better match terrain and riding style. Less familiar to many riders though is how profound a difference upgrading your wheels—or at least your rims—can make in how your bike feels and performs. There are some solid technical reasons why wheels make a sensible upgrade.

Let’s use my bike, a 2014 Santa Cruz Tallboy 2 Carbon, as an example. This 29er is at the XC end of the spectrum but is built much more durably than a fragile race machine. The wheels are WTB i9 Frequency rims at 19mm wide, laced with DT Competition butted spokes to DT Swiss 350 Classic hubs. Pretty decent spec that’s representative of many mid-level XC bikes.

The problem with 19mm wide rims is that their narrow platform offers little stability for mountain bike tires. You can see this by grabbing the hub of your wheel and pushing it from side-to-side to flex the tire against the ground. That sideways movement is amplified by your body weight when riding, causing a squirmy feeling in the wheels. Large knobs increase the squirmy feeling because they enable more flex to occur between the rim and the terrain.

Mounting the same knobby tire on a wider rim increases the tire’s lateral stability and reduces the squirmy feeling. It’s the same principle as why standing with your legs wide apart can brace you against a sideways push. But there’s another source of lateral movement that’s less obvious: rim flex that occurs as the rim itself tries to resists forces from pedaling and trail bumps.

In cross-section, a typical bicycle rim is essentially a “D”-shaped tube. Since the spokes are all attached to the rim in one line (unlike on some fatbikes and adventure motorbikes like BMWs, where spokes are laced tothe outside edges of the rim), there is no lateral bracing to help the rim resist twisting forces that can arise, especially when hitting bumps. Torsional/bending strength therefore relies mainly on the rim design itself. Large diameter wheels (29ers) are more susceptible to these forces for a given rim width than 27.5” or 26” wheels. However, increasing the cross-sectional area of the rim—making it a larger “D”—greatly increases the rim’s ability to resist twisting. As a result, upgrading to a wider rim not only improves tire bracing, it provides a more rigid platform for the tire to push against as it engages with the terrain, reducing overall lateral flex in the system.

Sure, interesting theory--but how does it actually feel in seat-of-the-pants riding? Is there enough benefit to justify changing your rims?

To test this, I rebuilt my back wheel using the same hub and spokes, but swapping the WTB 19mm rim for a gorgeous new DT Swiss XM401 23mm wide rim. (As a DT Swiss dealer, I ordered a bunch of these—let me know if you want some.) The XM series is aimed at the more aggressive end of the XC spectrum ("All Mountain" on the DT Swiss scale) and is meant to offer strength and durability over pure light weight, but it isn't as heavy as their Enduro or DH rims.

Here's the new rim, still in its plastic, resting on the wheel. 

As you can see, edge-on the original rim had taken some damage beyond what truing could fully overcome without creating a weak and unreliable wheel.  

Rebuilding was straightforward: I taped the new rim to the wheel and simply transferred each spoke one at a time to the new rim, using the included Squorx aluminum nipples and washers instead of the original brass nipples. 

Almost done!

Careful truing and tensioning to the DT Swiss spec resulted in a beautiful, strong wheel.

Some DT Swiss rim tape and a lighter valve stem completed my tubeless build.

A dose of Stan’s and a good shake resulted in a perfect seal the first time. No air lost overnight.

Even though it’s a wider rim, the XM401 it’s still remarkably lightweight: the complete rear wheel weighs only about 40g more than the original build with the 19mm WTB rim! You may balk at replacing anything on your bike with something even slightly heavier, but consider what you gain: the increased tire bracing, torsional strength, and air volume together achieve a remarkable performance upgrade.

Indeed, a two hour test ride on fast, flowy trails with rock gardens and roots showed a profound improvement in the feel and handling of the bike. The rear wheel simply felt more planted in response to bumps, and more precise in its control. There was none of the squirmy or vague feeling I had previously felt on off-camber corners or in rock gardens, and cornering traction improved as a result. It also felt like the suspension was more in control, not like there were two separate systems of wheel flex and shock conflicting with each other in reaction to rider and trail input. While I can’t quantify these effects, qualitatively it almost felt like I was riding a new bike. All this from just changing a rear rim! 40g is peanuts to trade for this massive improvement.

Update: I've also swapped out my front rim but haven't had a chance to try it other than a few laps around the driveway. Front end feels noticeably more solid, although a more rigorous test is needed to assess how it affects steering and suspension feel. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Dualsport on your doorstep: Lost communities near Corkery Road

Halfway between the 417 and Almonte, just west of Ottawa on March Road, lies the Corkery Ridge, an intriguing bit of history, and forgotten communities.

Cresting the ridge reveals a spectacular view west: a long, shallow valley runs north-south, with exposed limestone on the slopes, swampy ground at the bottom where Peter Robinson Road and then Upper Dwyer Hill Road cross March Road,  scrubby vegetation eking out an existence among the rocks and swamps. A few pioneer log homes dot the area, as well as some magnificent Eastern White pines that are possibly remnants of the original old growth forest.

At the top of the ridge lies Corkery Rd running south, and just past the corner is St. Michaels Catholic Church--another remnant of the pioneer days and the mostly Irish immigrants that settled this little pocket of Huntley Township in Carleton County.

On the far side of the valley lies a large quarry run by the Cavanagh family. Behind the quarry and up on the far ridge lies Burnt Lands Provincial park, an alvar that is remarkably rare in the world and home to rare plant and animal species found nowhere else.

Most of this view can be taken in with one quick glance. It’s a pretty but unremarkable view of rural life today: Some old farms, some newer ones, a few McMansions placed imperiously. I’ve seen this view thousands of time on my daily commute into Ottawa. But I always wondered, who was Peter Robinson and what lies down the unopened section of road between March Road and Old Almonte Road, that bears his name?

Here’s the view of Peter Robinson Road as seen from the Old Almonte Road. 

Since it’s in a swamp, it’s usually filled with water. However, this year’s dry summer dried things up enough to convince me to take a look. 


Turns out there’s a solid layer of rock beneath the dirt, making it easy to ride. Just a few puddles to run through.

After a couple hundred metres, the swamp gives way to a gentle rise that turns into an island of sorts, surrounded by swamp in all directions. It’s a beautiful location: quiet, breezy, completely remote and invisible from the surrounding area.

So I’m surprised to note what appears to be an old building up on the rise. Sure enough, it appears to have been a fine log home with high ceilings, large windows, a rubble foundation, and at least two doors. The roof has long since caved in, but inside are the remains of plaster wall coverings. This was no shanty – it was clearly a loved home.

There’s too much overgrowth to get much of a closer look. 

A few dozen metres away lay the remains of a significant barn structure, and possibly the original shanty that the settlers built until they could erect a more permanent home.

There was also recent evidence of visitors: shotgun garbage scattered on the ground. Otherwise the site appeared to have been abandoned for many decades, probably not even used as a hunt camp in at least 50 years.

The old road continued past the farm, but soon became impassable swamp, so I didn’t risk it and turned back.

Now I was intrigued: Who lived here? What’s the connection with Peter Robinson? What’s the story behind this forgotten pioneer home surrounded by swamp and clearly isolated from any recognizable community?

Some online research revealed part of the story and a few more surprises. Peter Robinson was well known by 1834 as someone who arranged for many shiploads of poor families to leave Ireland and settle in Huntley Township. He worked tirelessly to give them an opportunity for a better life and seems to have been widely respected for these efforts. Many common family names around Almonte and Corkery today, including the Cavanaghs of quarrying fame, can trace their roots back to Peter Robinsons ships.

Consulting a map of Huntley Township from 1879 revealed that the land where the old log house lay belonged to James Carter. It even showed a house in the same location as the ruins. More sleuthing uncovered obituaries in the Almonte Gazette for Elizabeth Carter (nee Kelly) and her husband, JamesCarter, who was born 1824 in Tyrone, Ireland, and died in 1894 in Huntley Township. The family grave is just up the hill at St. Michael's. 

James arrived in Canada in 1845. Although there were a few James Carters on the passenger lists of the Peter Robinson ships, it's seems clear he wasn’t one of them. He originally settled in Ramsay Township (home to Almonte) and then later moved to Huntley Township. There are only three lots registered to a James Carter in Huntley, and they are adjacent to the one with the ruins. Clearly this was the homestead of James and Elizabeth Carter, and their ten children--one of whom, Patrick, continued to live at the homestead.  

I’m guessing the home was built after the great fire of 1870 which swept through the area from Almonte to Ottawa and destroyed pretty much everything in its path. And it was obviously built before 1879, the date of the map. It was probably built between 1871-1878.

Here's the satellite view of the site:

Peter Robinson Road is visible along the treeline at top right; the house is the smaller square rectangle at lower right. The faint white lines indicate the unopened road allowances which are still registered with the Province of Ontario. 

How did James and his family get to and from the home? Where did they connect with their community? The swamp route along Peter Robinson Road was probably not viable for most of the year. I’m guessing there’s a higher path that leads towards Upper Dwyer Hill Road. Remarkably, there were several options for nearby community, although nothing remains today.

The old map shows that the intersection of Corkery Rd and Old Almonte Rd (where today stands a modern home) used to be called West Huntley, where there was a store and post office. These buildings were destroyed in the 1870 fire and presumably that was the end of West Huntley.

On Old Almonte Rd near the intersection with Upper Dwyer Hill Rd was another community called Clandeboye, also home to a post office. Nothing remains today except a few modern homes. The former Herb Garden across the road was probably part of the hamlet.

Most intriguing is that at St. Michael’s Church on the crest of March Rd, the original path of Corkery Rd continued across March Rd and along the slope where today there’s a rural subdivision. This road descended the ridge at a lower slope and met up with Carroll Road where it crosses Peter Robinson Road. Many years ago, before the subdivision on the ridge was built, I met the owners of the farm at this intersection and they invited me to mountain bike up the ridge to the forest beyond. The satellite image of the ridge shows signs of a vestigial road in this location. Little did I know, the route I’d cycled from Almonte through the Burnt Lands, down the old Carroll Road allowance, and up the ridge was in fact one of the original routes into Almonte before March Road was opened through the steep ridge beside Cavanagh’s quarry.

Also intriguing is that along the Carroll Road where it rises into the Burnt Lands was another hamlet called Powell, where there was a hotel and post office. Today it’s just bush but now I’m really curious to see if any signs of the former buildings remain.

All of these locations are marked in orange on the following map. The blue rectangles indicate the approximate views of the satellite images. 

Here's the vestigial road down Corkery ridge. It's barely visible as a diagonal depression running from top right down to the farm house at bottom left:

Here's the probably location of the Powell hotel and post office on Carroll Rd:

James Carter and his family lived in what was probably a more bustling farming community than today’s sleepy rural farmland would suggest. However, the lure of fertile land drew many of the Huntley pioneers west, and those who remained would’ve faced soul-crushing work rebuilding their lives after the total destruction of the region by the 1870 fire.

Here's a class photo (dated maybe 1924?) from the old school #6 that used to be located near the present-day firehall up on Old Almonte Road past Corkery Road. The indicated Carters are not children of James and Elizabeth, but may be grandchildren or great-grandchildren descended from Patrick, who continued to live in the home. If so, then the old farm may have been inhabited in 1924.