An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Monday, January 6, 2014

The New and Improved MTB

Back in December I wrote about finding a set of brake levers buried in my parts bin, forgotten, and how they triggered a thought to rebuild my MTB (which I usually keep at work for lunchtime rides) into what amounts to a single-speed monster-cross bike.

I had planned to upgrade the bike anyway, with a new fork, wheels, and disc brakes which would do several things:

Warning Will Robinson!
* Tame down the steering. When I bought this frame on the cheap, I just swapped everything over from a cracked frame onto this one, which included a dirt-cheap fork I'd bought from eBay for $12. It "fit" in that it had the appropriate diameter steerer tube. Everything else about it was wrong -- short for current mountain bikes, and a lot of rake. The outcome was very short trail that created scary handling.

* Improve the braking. I don't hide my disdain for cantilever brakes. It was the main reason I sold the Surly Crosscheck last year after owning it for a total of 4 months. Especially off-road, I hate the sound of hearing my rims grind away to sludge on any wet ride, and I hate having to clean the rims of the black dust (which makes for messy tube changes). And I hate, HATE I TELL YOU, the performance of cantilever brakes. Or lack thereof.

FSA Pig headset installed.
So it was a bit of a cascading effect -- upgrading to disc brakes required a new fork and wheelset, the disc brake calipers I had were actually for a road application (the real difference being the amount of cable pull required for actuation), so I didn't need to use MTB brake levers, and I've never really been comfortable on flat bars (I just end up carrying too much tension in my arms and shoulders due to elbow position).

I found a Salsa 29'er fork with a good A-C length (axle-to-crown), which boosted the head tube up and made for a slacker head tube angle, and with only 43mm rake, it drew the trail out to a nicely tame dimension. And the black color is MUCH more appropriate than the 80's purple of the previous.

A set of SRAM X7 hubs laced to WTB Laserdisc Trail rims (the same wheels I have on my gravel bike) and a new FSA headset completed the needed equipment, and I'm off to the races (okay, the work stand).

The headset went on/in smoothly, if not easily. The wheels required the use of Stan's rim tape, another easy install. Setting up the brakes was straightforward. New cables for the brakes... It went together in a short time, though I needed to trim the fork steerer long and install the star-nut and tension bolt to get the headset snugged enough to ride (sometimes I can just press it all together enough by hand to tighten down the stem and do some short test rides).
Disc good.

Plenty of clearance, Clarence.
Position-wise I had it initially set up with the same saddle-to-handlebar drop and reach as my gravel bike. I'll have to check, but along with the slacker head tube angle comes an equally slacker seat tube angle (not really a bad thing), and coupled with the 175mm cranks, it closes up my hip angle a bit. I'll raise the bars a bit and see how that goes.

Taking it out on the trail... Revelation! My upper body is a LOT more relaxed, not just from the hand position (more like reaching out to shake someone's hand) allowing me to drop my elbows, but also from how tame the front-end manners are now. Much like my gravel bike, I can ride no-handed at almost any speed, and the bike stays on line without having to muscle it.

In the wild...
The brakes still need some bedding-in, which will improve their response, but the amount of hand-force needed is drastically reduced. Long descents will now be a one-finger affair than the forearm-pumping ordeal of before.

Downside? Hmm... Haven't come up against any yet, in the five hours or so I've put on it since the conversion. In fact, I find that I'm no longer just getting on the bike because I need to get a ride in, need the exercise and it's the only opportunity in the day, but I'm wanting to ride it because I like the ride.

Happy trails.

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