Most of us like tinkering with our bikes, However, some jobs are easier than others. But being able to ride a bike you’ve maintained yourself is a gratifying feeling. It not only can save you money, but the skills and knowledge of what works (and more crucially why) will help guide your equipment choices. Honing everything down to what works for you.
But some jobs, some jobs I would recommend not attempting yourself.
Its not that a competent home mechanic cannot successfully do these jobs (because they absolutely can). But that some jobs have a fairly high cost of entry. Not only in the expense of the tools required, but also the knowedge and experience needing to do them.
Wheel truing and building, rear shock servicing and in this instance, frame pivot bearings. These are all the kinds of jobs that I would suggest taking to your LBS instead of tackling yourself. Again this isn’t saying that a home mechanic cannot learn these skills. But the cost of the tools and almost more importantly, the time it would take you to do the job. Can add up and tip the scales in favour of going to the bike shop.
I don’t own a truing stand, so to dish my wheel correctly would leave me with not much change from £200 before I could mess the job up first before getting it right. Wasting time and getting stressed in the mean time.
So sometimes, sometimes its better to go to the pros and spend your time elsewhere.
We all love new bike parts. Part of the hobby (if it can be called that) is afterall, the equipment that allows us to ride what we want to ride. Whether it is a slick new fork, brakeset or even just a stem. Seeking out and researching the best upgrades for our performance or budgetry requirements, and sometimes, for pure bike vanity is a constant distraction to the commited cyclist.
Upgraditist is a very real thing afterall.
But in reality, do most of us really need the udgrade? Will we really notice the marginal performance improvement? Have we really worn out the part that is being replaced? More often than not, I would suggest that we are swapping out perfectly servicable equipment for something new for the sake of something new. So do you really need that upgrade? probably not, now I’m not suggesting I am any different, we all catch upgraditist from time to time.
What this results in however, is all of us who have been riding for a long time, having a large collection of spare parts. Just sitting in greasy boxes becoming more and more redundant (or unfashionable) by the day, in our sheds. Most of these 9 speed drive trains, front deraileurs and non-dropper seat posts, will be of little interest to most modern riders. But when they were replaced, they probably weren’t that redundant. Not many riders would have gone from a 9 speed with a triple to a 1x 13 speed for example.
Progress is incremental, and the upgrade cycle that we run our gear through, for most of us, is also incremental. But when making these incremental upgrades I try always to find what I want (as need is rarely the driving factor) second hand first before buying new.
I do this for two main reasons, the first is purely financial, nice bikes are hella expensive. So finding a boutique brand stem or high quality dropper lever that actually works second hand, can allow me to run a bike I couldn’t afford if I bought everything new.
There are however parts that I will not buy second hand, normally things that will wear out. I am suspicous to the level of wear and tear that those parts may have been through. Cassettes and chain rings for example, is it being sold with 50km on the clock because the seller prefers Sram over Shimano or is it for sale because its been through the mill? SCrew it I’ll get a new one.
But if a part was top tier when new, I wont normally worry too much about its servicablility. I have for example bought Hope and XTR on a good nember of occasions. But as always, I try and look things over and make my purchasing decisions on a case by case basis.
The second reason is slightly different. When trying to assess and reduce the waste caused by single-use items in my homelife, why would this stop at the shed?
So when I do need (more often want) a new crank/shifter/dropper etc, I have a stalk about eBay and the various facebook buy and sell groups. The search can be far more rewarding (and not to mention distracting) than the more prosaic scroll through Chain Reactions or Wiggle (both are the same thing anyway).
So theres my take on it, second hand parts for the win, almost everytime.
Looking for a backup light for spring & summer evening rides?
I was sent the ALLTY 1000 by Magicshine, and after enjoying the transformative powers that their Monteer 6500 brought to my night riding, I had high hopes for it. This light delivers 1000 lumens, it has an internal battery that is USB re-chargeable, is waterproof and like the Monteer, uses a standard Garmin base mount.
1000 lumens is not going to replace your main night riding light, but it could be a really good secondary light. With a brighter lamp on your bars this could be an solid option for a helmet mounted light. I however, have been using it as my “get you home” light for my evening rides. During the spring it is all too easy to lose the light and get caught out. Whether heavy cloud or tree cover, riding longer than expected or simply misjudging it, we all sometimes need an emergency light to get us home safely.
The ALLTY weighs only 132 grams, and is small enough to fit in your pocket whilst riding without noticing. The 1000 lumens is delivered as a very usable spot of light rather than a broader flood. This works well as a second light with a flood on the bars, but it is broad enough to give you ample light to ride at pace in darkened tree cover. It is not enough light to ride at full pace on trails I don’t know (but you probably shouldn’t be riding new terrain blind at full speed in the dark anyway).
The running time matches the quoted numbers on the box, but if running in sub zero temperatures, I would expect the running time to drop. My only concern about the build quality, is that the Garmin base mount is not as solid a connection as that on other lights or accessories that use this mounting system. There is a small amount of play, only a few milimetres, but this isn’t noticable whilst riding.
All in all, if you’re looking for a small, self-contained light as second, backup or commuter light, then you wouldn’t have many complaints about this one.
When I was recently looking for a new tyre insert option, I came across Rimpact. A UK based insert maker, producing their SendNoodz “pool-noodle” style insert. The profile looked interesting and being UK made was another draw, but the biggest thing that caught my attention was the price.
£36.99 for a set of enduro happy inserts with specialist valves. With CushCore coming in at three times that amount, makes these a very, very interesting prospect.
This post, which is of the badged up TranzX in disguise variety, is available from a few places. But most famously, from Chain Reactions where it is frequently on sale south of £100. Not only is it a post with 120mm of drop for less than a £100 (that 82p per mm of drop!), it also comes with a warranty. Which surely I will be needing if it is that price?
It comes with a under the bar shifter paddle style lever as well as all the gear cables and outers needed to install the post. So with the lever kit being in the range of £25 on its own, the value is frankly astounding.
Once installed, I have to say, the post looks the part. The only obvious weak link is the lever, which has a ferocious amount of slop and what looks like a barrel adjuster nut that will snap as soon as you look at it. But after 1000km of use, the lever is immaculate and not withstanding a crash, I can see the lever going the distance.
The post however, has a niggle or two. The post no longer returns to full height under its own steam, 10/15mm short of full return. A strip and service might bring it back to full life but if not, the mechanism is built around a sealed replaceable cartridge which will certainly do the job.
But if you had a Reverb that had that as its only issue after one year, then your more than lucky.
So this isn’t necessarily a good post for the money, its just a great dropper and a solid contender.
Nothing beats riding packless, and the OneUp Components EDC tool system helps in that quest. It allows you to carry all the tools and small misc parts either in a mini pump or more excitingly, inside your forks steerer tube. But how does it work? Is it any good? and who is it for?
The Monteer 6500is Magicshine’s top tier offering, coming in £200.00, it features an array of 5 CREE LED’s which are powered by a large separate battery pack. It certainly lacks the convenience of some of its competitors self-contained units, but what it lacks in compact form factor, it makes up for in sheer brightness.
allot of light for the money.
Magicshine might not be the first name that springs to mind when thinking of MTB specific riding lights. But I have been using some of their smaller units for commuting and as backup lights for a number of years. I have been nothing than impressed by the longevity of the lights. They may lack some of the features of other top lights, but their simple rugged approach is not without merit.
Solid head unit.
but does heat up quickly.
The unit itself feels very solid and made of good quality materials, the same can mostly be said for all the ancillary parts. The CNC Garmin style bar mount for the head unit is nicely finished and comes with rubber shims for different bar widths, the battery housing has a reassuring heft but mine had fine hairline cracks. Nothing that would stop me using is but I am keeping a close eye on them to see if they get worse with use.
Little details done well,
possible weak link with the battery pack.
Once fitted and on the trail the power of the lights is hard to understate, the rated 6500 lumens is more than a credible headline. The range of settings is a welcome feature, with 15 different light settings that are easily navigated through using the single button on the head unit. This allows for you to find the right amount of brightness for the climbs saving battery life for the descents where you need the full power most.
You get some warning of remaining battery life with the on/control button changing colour at preset intervals (100%, 70%, 30% and 10%). It is relatively vague, but enough to give you ample warning.
Yet very usable.
No noticeable halo or dark spots.
The bad news, the cabling and battery placement. the cable exits the head unit at a fairly awkward angle, this makes for a messy run of the power cable. The cable itself is also a fairly odd length, too long to mount the battery close to the head tube, too short to get it near the bottom bracket or set tube.
Awkward by todays standards.
When you need to be visible from space.
However, this is just nit picking, as once the light is on and you can see through time on the trail you don’t care how messy it makes your bars. Besides, no one can see it in the dark anyway. In reality it is cheaper than some of the more established names, but it is still an expensive luxury accessory for you riding. However, the performance is greater than that of equal and sometimes greater price tag.
You know that little switch on your clutch mech? That magic little mute button? Well does that clutch affect your suspension?
I had a hunch that the clutch on my mech was inhibiting the initial movement of my rear suspension. We already know that anti-squat (pedalling) and anti-rise (braking) affect the suspension ability to do its job properly. So it is only a small leap of logic to assume that the clutch inhibiting your mechs movement, (thus affecting chain growth) is adding to that mix.
I’d proposed this question a few times and was always met with two responses;
“There are bigger influencing forces, like rocks on the trail! The clutch exerts such a small amount of force that it makes no difference!”
So with no way to prove or disprove my hypothesis the debate always ended there, that is until I had an extended loan of a Shock Wiz. The Shock Wiz is a suspension setup aid, it plumbs into the air valve of air forks and shocks, monitors them on the trail and offers setup advice and feedback. With the latest update to the app, this little unit now offers a far more nuanced tool for suspension tuning. It also offered the opportunity to experiment and get some data to further my curiosity on the subject.
Time for the science bit.
The experiment was simple, I had gotten my Shock Wiz score to 88% and I was feeling pretty happy with how it was all feeling. I would do a control run of a fairly typical piece of natural Scottish single track, then again with the clutch switched off. This direct comparison would show if the Shock Wiz detected a difference in the shocks behaviour.
The test track was a lovely little ribbon of prime condition singletrack on the southern edge of Aberfeldy. Comprising of fast and pedally sprint sections, drops and root matrices, so providing a good variety of trail conditions to test on. After a few runs it was time to consult the app and see if the Wiz had noticed a difference.
My prediction was that the Shock Wiz score would decrease and the low speed compression would need increased by a few clicks and maybe a few more PSI in the air spring. My thinking being that the clutch would inhibit rider induced movement and would be more active to small bump input.
So in short, yes the derailleur clutch does impact the suspension,
Suggestions with clutch
All good on the detections
Whilst the suggestion after the first run was that with the easier breakaway more air pressure was required, however after successive runs it settled back to the green. So, my prediction was partially right, the compression was affected, but it was in the high-speed over my predicted low. So in short, yes the derailleur clutch does impact the suspension, now the question was, how much of an impact does it actually make?
Well the initial suggestion, with the mech activated was that the high-speed was far too firm, listed fully in the red. So by the apps measure, it needed adjusted by three or more clicks softer. Now the Cane Creek Inline, has an adjustment range of four full turns on HSC. So if we take one half turn to equate to one click of adjustment, three or more clicks is a significant tweak that the app is looking to make.
Improvements on highspeed more than low speed.
No change here.
However with the clutch turned off the app was only looking to make an adjustment of one to two clicks, so maybe a single half turn. That is more or less in the right ball park in my view.
Something that I did find interesting, is the lack of a braking shudder feedback that I experienced with the clutch turn off. With the clutch on, when I was at full chatt through a rock garden I had significant shudder from my rear brake. My reckoning was that this was my shock and clutch fighting it out due to brake jack. With the clutch no longer fighting the HSC the shudder didn’t occur. Shock was able to do its job and the bike just monster trucked along.
Did it make a difference to what I experienced as a rider? In some circumstances.
Was the bike louder? Well, yes.
Did I drop a chain? No, I have a chain guide and narrow wide front chain ring for that.
Did the the app measure an improvement with it turned off? Yes, the tuning score improved by 5%.
Will I run the mech with it switched off form now on? In some circumstances, yes I will.
Will this be a definitive answer to this question on STW? HAHAHAHAHAHAAHAAA, sorry was that a serious question?
New standards, everybody loves them, wait no the other one, nobody loves them. Pink bike keyboard warriors love them, nothing gets them going like a new axle width. What do I think, well, I don’t care and neither should you.
This little shed based rant/vlog I cover the ground I previously wrote about in this post.
They sell more t-shirts than bikes. They fight fire with fire with the trolls online. They make bikes that are not for everyone, and you can’t just order one stock or from a dealer. They hand build steel hardtails in the UK, but they don’t do custom frames. They mix materials almost as much as their metaphors, their full suspension frames blending titanium, carbon, steel, or aluminum to achieve the perfect balance of strength and flex. They want you to own their bike for life, not until the end of the next season.
And with all of this, Timothy David Allen and Jordan Childs are making and developing some of the most exciting bikes I have seen in a long time. They have extreme geometry (that’s not hyperbole: a hardtail can have a wheelbase of 1.4 meters, or more) for extreme old skool riding.
Don’t like it? Buy another bike. Sick Bicycles are not for everyone, but that mono-focus allows them to build some truly special bikes.
Fittingly for a bike brand that is known for its social media as much as its bikes, I met Tim and Jordan online after selling them a tiger proof rock and some tire inserts. I had seen snippets and heard the name “Gnarpoon,” but Sick Bicycles wasn’t on my radar, yet. The EWS had just visited Millau and a semi-privateer had just piloted one of their prototype hardtails far higher up the results than common sense would have allowed a hardtail to go.
It was punk, it was raw, and Sick Bicycles had my attention.
After a failed Kickstarter, they turned to what they knew: self-funding development through sales of limited edition hand printed tee-shirts. They tested their extreme geometry ideas through hardtails, but from the beginning, longer travel suspension frames were always the plan: long-legged bikes for the kind of riding best described as dicking around in the woods.
Very quickly, a titanium and carbon full suspension super-bike (the Have Blue) surfaced. It was successfully tested and received positive press, before being shelved. It relied on eastern carbon fibre manufacture, and as such, suffered from the lack of environmental waste management of the by-product produced by the less regulated nature far eastern manufacture. This did not sit well with Tim and Jordan, hence the difficult decision to mothball the project.
However, the Have Blue (named after the stealth bomber’s development code name) garnered a lot of interest in its short time in the sun, so plans were put in motion. A UK carbon manufacturer was found, and the project revived.
This journey is indicative of Sick Bicycles: ambitious plans for large scale manufacture of accessible, high-performance bikes but not at the expense of environmental or ethical concerns, all framed with an ultimate ambition to return as much of the manufacturing to UK shores as possible. They sell hardtail frames, tee-shirts, luggage, and courier bags that are all made in the UK, but pragmatically and only when it makes sense.
Sick Bicycles are not your normal bike brand: they have a personality, and that guy might not be for you. Taking their fair share of flack online, but instead of ignoring the “it wont climb, it will never work“ comments, they call the trolls out and better them at their own game. They also have the dubious honor of having received a cease and desist order from Kanye West’s lawyer–true story.
After one year, they have a range of hardtails and three suspension frames in development, each with a different suspension platform, including the radical and reverential Heathen.
Whilst looking backwards at what has inspired them (Brooklyn Machine Works being an obvious influence), they are not afraid of new technology. Gearboxes and additive manufacturing (3D printing), as well as more conventional processes, all come together to make bikes where form follows function.
So at the onset of year two, I put some questions to them to see whats next.
Callum Kellie, Singletracks: What led you to start a bike company? With the recent growth in boutique builders, if you wanted a specific bike for you, why buy a cow for a pint of milk and start a bike company?
Jordan Childs, Sick Bicycles: Well if anyone would buy a cow for a pint of milk it would probably be me and Tim.
But it wasn’t that there isn’t any good bikes available, I think the reason we really did it was to see if we could. It was almost like a dare, to be honest. Now we are really just struck on a development cycle where we are kinda more interested in testing theories than selling bikes. It’s pretty exciting to push the envelope with design. Now we know we are starting to streamline things, we are enjoying the last bit of truly out-of-the-box thinking. It’s fair to say we might be restricted on that going forward.
Singletracks: What have you and Tim tried to bring to bike building from your past work and life experiences? How has a background in Tattoos and Toyota shaped how you’re building Sick?
Sick Bicycles: Well I worked for 3M not Toyota (that frequently gets muddled up) but I’m a big fan of the “Toyota Way.” I’ve mostly had a background in consultancy, making companies more competitive by being efficient and driving down waste. Our business has to be lean, we don’t have capital, so we have to ride the lightning quite often to keep innovating. This means not drawing a wage and reinvesting, working for free is draining, but not on something you love.
The excitement of prototyping and the highs and lows keeps me going significantly. We’re friends working together. If me and Tim can’t handle something, Lee, Zam, or Bry will know how to. I own and operate a tattoo studio. In this respect, I guess my acumen for running a team and non-standard, clear and open marketing probably natively comes to me. I like bikes, I like tattoos and tattooing, but I’m not particularly keen to have them define me.
Singletracks: In the UK there are a number of what are essentially very skilled “men in shed” bike companies. Some are a little larger–Shand Cycles, for example. But Sick seems to be trying to make it clear that whilst the hardtails are made by one of these builders, that is not who you are or what you’re aiming to be. What is the ambition?
Sick Bicycles: I have no interest in standing ’round in coveralls with a cup of tea telling everyone who will listen that I am an artisan. The media loves that gritty image. I think Hope Tech have shrugged that off so they can get taken seriously on the world stage. I’d like to be a global leader in a decade, to be big enough to step down and let someone run the minutia, so me and Tim can innovate, raise our families, and ride in peace is the goal. At the same time, I don’t want to downplay the cottage industry in the UK, the things we/they can do here. The progression in products that lead the industry often starts at the bottom, and people WILL pay for that bespoke craft. It’s not my vision. I’m not coming for their business, but we are here to stay.
Singletracks: I come from an art school background, and within fine art and design there is a differentiation between making and building. Making is experimental and testing: it generates knowledge and experience. Building starts with a plan, and what you have at the end matches the plan. Building normally follows making but not always. Does that sound familiar from year one?
Sick Bicycles: Yeah I think it’s pretty apt! We are detail-orientated and curious people. We want to know the limits, so we take things there, sometimes at great personal cost. At the moment we very much make bikes. Until there is cohesion in the brand, then we are not truly building. We’ve been making bikes 7 months, we’ve been careful, but I think we’ve been underestimated as chancers, or lucky. But no one is that lucky.
Singletracks: All business enterprises need initial capital to develop product, marketing, and buying inventory. Often startups use savings, bank loans, outside investors, or all of the above. Have you guys used any of these traditional revenue generators or has it all been tee-shirts and frame sales?
Sick Bicycles: We fund the business forward by selling garments or out of our own monthly [salaries] from our day jobs. Many projects have been pure financial loss ongoing, some have required us to sell our old bikes and components to fund. It’s certainly been a year of bootstrapping. I’m not against investment, but we’ve not even had any real offers. I guess it’s just working fine, or investors feel we are too volatile, or we are not valuable enough to want to retain and control. With special projects like the HB, LUXE or DFA, customers have paid upfront for the prototypes at cost price to have the right to retain the finished item down the line. We are lucky in that respect.
Singletracks: Some people have found your approach to social media… abrasive, shall we say. I feel that Sick is a brand that has a personality, and it is this “personality” that helps align riders with the brand. Would you say that is a fair assessment, and how much of the brand’s online persona is representative of its founding fathers?
Sick Bicycles: People find everything abrasive at the moment; the internet gives people a voice to disagree just to be heard. People are comfortable with the very fake customer service and business models eBay / Amazon etc. employ, but it’s an iron fist in a velvet glove–make no mistake, those guys are monsters. I’d prefer to be honest with people even if that means we will clash heads. I’ve grown weary of it though because I can’t stand dull repetition. After a year of it, I’ve really heard it all again and again. I totally respect the Mike Sinyard and Gary Fishers of this world–they were renegades and hellions back in the day. Later on, they just made it pay the bills. MTB was road riding’s wild sibling. Now, not so much.
Singletracks: You have also been increasingly vocal about environmental and ethical factors steering business decisions, even if it contradicts previous actions. What influences the decision making processes for how projects develop and what you make?
Sick Bicycles: I think if you are worried to contradict yourself you are treading a bad path. We each force each other not to be stubborn. We can admit we are wrong and progress on a path contrary to where we started if it’s the right thing to do. We both have strong environmental concerns, the implications were very wide, the media tried to make light of “silly boys hating carbon whilst everything is bad” when we never implicitly said carbon. We even went into detail about paper waste and QC rejects.
We are very young in the industry. We have been pretty knee jerk in the past because we are passionate about protecting our sport. In the end, it’s a case of lead by example because, as a generalization, turns out the consumer base actually doesn’t care at all. So for us, we don’t want to clean up and chase other companies. We have our own business to run, and we’ll run it as clean as we can, we don’t even bother to shout about it.
Singletracks: The brand has always been very upfront online in terms of demystifying the bicycle industry and your ambitions to use UK-based manufacturing as much as possible, but also pragmatically. How do you find the suppliers and fabricators that you work with, and couldn’t this possibly constrain your growth in the future?
Sick Bicycles: I think in real terms there is a disconnect with what riders SAY they want and what they can afford. Our end goal is to have a significant portion remaining in the UK. But our best-selling products are lower priced, that’s economics for ya. So people are vocal about their choices but then you get to the checkout, it’s how much do you want to pay? We will split lower priced frames offshore and retain home production. Which is quite frankly vanity. I want to always have a physical hand in things, we all do.
Singletracks: Ok, now for the elephant in the room: Brooklyn Machine Works. They are a pretty big influence. Influence is something that is not very common in the bike industry, but if you were a metal band, no one would bat an eye lid. Have past exploits shaped your outlooks on homage and reverence and how that translates into bikes?
Sick Bicycles: There is a deep-rooted respect for several brands: Rotec, Karpiel, Brooklyn, and Spooky. These brands were the offshoot from the main industry, did they produce the best race bikes? Nah. Did they make beautiful living breathing monuments to excess? Well, you know the answer.
I mean, you can’t put it any better than the metal band analogy, when people bring up plagiarism, like in music. I usually bring people’s attention to one of the earlier innovators that they missed as they’ll accuse us of copying X, when we were really influenced by Y. And you can only slice the pie so many ways. If you make a single pivot bike, there are a few ways of making it work, when its steel too? Well it’s going to look a certain way. People said the Gnarpoon looked like the Shan 05, well, duh, PP are our friends. I loved that bike, but its identical as long as you agree geometry and travel have no effect on a bike… that a frame is managed only by superficial similarities. We all know it’s not true.
Is it fair we get a hard ride over that when people are riding Chinese catalog bikes that have only had the decals changed brand to brand? That everything is still using the same horst link 4 bar? It seems if you do something enough it’s no longer plagiarism. Is the Heathen a modern retelling of the Brooklyn Race Link? Well Yes. Is it ok to have a homage to your heroes should you have the chance? Well… would you?
Singletracks: Now, speaking of bikes. You have Blue, Gnarpoon, and Heathen 3–very different bikes with totally different silhouettes. Is this a theme we can expect to continue, or can we expect to see a consolidation of frame styles to one that will be recognizably Sick, in the same way that Orange’s and Evil’s bikes are instantly recognizable
Sick Bicycles: No, I’m afraid you will see that variety disappearing. Consistency is something that customers REALLY want even if they don’t think they do.
From 2019, convention and silhouette becomes pretty important. We are working way ahead of time to bring things into line. There will be predicable processes now and standards we will adhere to. We already have cohesive dropouts, seat tube diameters, head tube, and BB. Even if the industry is all over the place. We will still have standards and we will fight to keep them relevant for us. Aesthetically, there will be formal rules we stick to.
Singletracks: Mountain biking used to constantly draw influences from outside of itself, but it now feels like it mostly looks inwards in terms of ideas and style. What, if anything, outside of bikes gets you excited enough to try and bring it back in?
Sick Bicycles: Riding bikes outside of competition. Y’know, fun! Making competition bikes is a great engineering challenge and allows you to measure yourself against other brands. I wanna bin that off. We are big fans of skateboarding and BMX. A challenging but relaxed environment with its own aesthetic.
That’s why we wanted to do an event like Raveduro. Bring partying back to riding. Pitch up a tent. Hang out with your mates. Send it into a pond on a BMX with sunburn
Singletracks: The last year has looked like a whirlwind of stretching the envelope of low and slack whilst looking like an Ed Roth painting on a mountain bike. What can we expect in year two, and what are the ultimate ambitions for Sick?
Sick Bicycles: I think we’d like it to be a full time job. Employ an adult to run the numbers and make sure everything is on time in full. Get ourselves dug in to prototyping and testing full time. That’s the dream. Might even happen.
With a recent offering of more affordable hardtails and plans for a matured product range on the near horizon, all the signs point towards Sick Bicycles settling down and becoming a more predictable–and dare I say, a more conventional–bike brand. But I suspect the reality will be more interesting than that, with making cool stuff and getting their hands dirty core to Tim and Jordan’s take on what a bike company should be.
At the metaphorical dinner party of bike brands, Sick will always be the one you wish you were sitting next to, whilst you’re being bored by the guy talking about Super Boost.
Co2 cartridges, small, light and fast. Its like they come from the future. But I’m increasingly not a fan. Here is why I don’t trust Co2 carts as far as I can throw them, and I have a terrible throwing arm.
Absolutely nothing!? maybe? I don’t know, lets talk it out.
So there is this perennial myth in mountain biking, that “big MTB” is creating new standards to devalue our existing bikes and force us into buying new product.
142X12, Boost, Super Boost, Plus tires, 29er Plus, BB30, PF30, 1.5 straight Steerer, Tapered Steerer, 20mm, 15mm, 12mm, 10mm and good old QR axles to name but a few. It can become pretty easy to look at all of these new “developments” and start believing that the Illuminati has been confirmed.
I just don’t care, I really don’t
Now I am no “industry insider“, I don’t own a shop, I’m not a frame or component manufacturer, I am at the consumer end of all of this. Frequently however, it is the consumer end of the chain that has been the most vocal against new standards. You do not need to wade far past the “looks like a session” comments on Pinkbike to find the hate for any fresh standard.
So here is my opinion on the proliferation of new standards. I just don’t care, I really don’t. Whilst that sinks in, let me illustrate why this is with a story.
I had a Honda HRV, I loved the car, he was called Henry. Henry Snapped a drive shaft pulling out of my drive one day.
Was my reaction;
“Thank goodness for industry standards! I’ll pull the RH drive shaft from my wife’s Citreon and go and get a replacement from my local autoparts shop.”
No, of course not, that would be ridiculous. I as the consumer, sourced and ordered the correct part, based on the manufacturer, model and the year of my car. It arrived, and I repaired my car.
In almost all of our consumer goods, we accept that component parts are not interchangeable. The heating element for my Kmix coffee maker is not interchangeable with any other drip coffee maker for example. So why as a consumer, do I expect that of my bicycle?
Arbitrary standards based on what was historically available or what is used on road bikes makes no sense. The width or length of an axle should be based on what a bicycle requires to be a better bicycle.
But we have a problem, a bicycle manufacturer does not make bicycles, they manufacture frames. Even with the big box brands that have their own branded components on their build kits, rarely do they actually own the factories making those parts. Component manufacturers produce the parts that engineers at Trek, Spesh et al have to conform their designs too.
DT Swiss make the hub, the engineer and product managers at Trek see what is available from the catalogue. They then make a choice as to what is most appropriate for the frame design and target price point.
Sometimes, an engineer at for example, Trek, has a hunch. Increasing the axle width will lead to a more evenly dished wheel, a straighter chainline and a stiffer rear end. Trek speaks to DT Swiss, they explore the possibility of making a hub that will fit this new standard. Trek wont tell Specialized whats happening, but DT Swiss will, after all they now have this new hub width to sell. Before you know it, Boost is a thing.
There have even been occasions when a bike brand has co-invested with the component manufacturer, lessening the initial outlay in bringing a new product to market. Trek payed for the molds for the Reba 29er lowers to be produced for Rock Shox’s. That is a 100K investment. Arguably, without the Reba the 29er wheel size concept could not have been proven. It kick started the development and growth of the wheel size, and introduced another new standard to the world. Another debate for another time perhaps.
There are also times when brands have genuinely made their own components, with varying degrees of success. Specialized Future shocks anyone? Trek however do not make suspension or cranksets. They may own Bontrager, but they don’t make everything a bike needs. So product managers still have to rely on other component manufacturers to complete their bikes.
This is one of the major differences between the bicycle and automotive industries. Whilst some car makers do use OEM parts made for or by other manufacturers, they still manufacture and sell the entire car. Bike companies frequently only make one part of the puzzle.
Component manufacturers also want (and need) to sell to as broad an after market as possible. This goes without mentioning that more experienced riders are just as likely to buy a new frame instead of a complete bike from their LBS. These riders are typically the most vocal when it comes to the adoption of new standards. They bemoan having to buy new hubsets and cranks when upgrading their existing frame. Or how they can not simply transfer all of their existing components to the new frame of their choice.
Is the expectation that you can transfer any mid to high end wheel/crankset/brakeset to a new frame unrealistic? Yes. Does it suck if you dropped £600 on a new wheelset, only for them to not be compatible with a new frame a year later? Yes. But please acknowledge that the rider who spends that level of cash on parts and who also changes their frame on a regular basis is the minority within the market. Stop your whining.
So who in the bicycle food chain do new standards really harm?
I don’t buy that argument. If I am upgrading or building a bike, I just order the correctly specified part for that bike or frame. Just like when I repaired my Honda. When 650B came on the scene, did my 26 inch wheeled bike explode in a puff of small rimmed obselance? No. The bike still worked as a bike. “The industry” did not force you to upgrade, you chose too.
Yes and no. Now I don’t work in a bike shop, so my views here are from the outside so may be inaccurate, please correct me in the comments. but I don’t see many expensive top tier big ticket items sitting in glass cabinets anymore. Sure they have some more common standard wheelsets in stock. for example, 135mm QR rear hub wheels. But I have seen a set of those wheels sit unsold in one shop for several years.
If I wanted a custom wheelset made up, I would speak with my shop wrench and we would work out the best mix of hub/spoke/rim for my needs. I would tell them what I frame had and they would order the parts they required.
In the same way I do not expect my independent garage to have the driveshaft for my Honda in stock “just in case” why would I expect my LBS to carry every conceivable spare or upgrade? That, I feel, is unrealistic and unreasonable of me as the consumer. My LBS is a service centre and knowledge base, not amazon prime. That is not to say that the proliferation of standards is not a right pain in the ass for the LBS. I am sure there where more than a few eyes rolled and groans at the news of “Super Boost”.
Here you go, this is who I think is really harmed by shifting standards, importers and distributors. Distributors bring product into a country and distribute it amongst their dealers (LBS and online retailers), they are typically a B2B business.
Now when I go to my LBS and we look at the big Saddleback pornographic catalogue of components whilst discussing that dream wheelset build. They will order the CK hub from the aforementioned distributor. It is then the distributor who has to make that initial investment in inventory. It is the distributor who has to hold an ever diversifying inventory when new standards emerge. It is also the distributor who is left with dead stock taking up space and tying up cash-flow when the world forgets 142×12 hubs.
The Consumer Again!
Sort of, I have no way of knowing other than what I would do in that business. But if I was a distributor with a damaged balance sheet due to redundant stock. I might try and increase prices elsewhere in the product range to try and mitigate that loss.
Now what if we thought about this whole question differently. What if we as the consumer re-wired our expectations and what if the component manufacturers became consolidated with the frame builders into one holistic business.
The engineers could build the best bike they could build, not being restricted by the need to conform to a limited series of standards. Being able to base decisions such as hub width on the engineering, not what products were currently available. knowing that the suspension division could build the right fork for the application, the correct drivetrain for the suspension kinematics. No more off the shelf forks or shocks with a “modified tune” fitted to every bike at the same price point.
A bike where each element was designed as part of a whole. You know, like the automotive industry. Imagine what that bike would look like.
I’ve recently been looking at the Brand-X Ascend Dropper.
Now this is a budget dropper post distributed by Hotlines but primarily sold by the mighty CRC (Chain Reaction Cycles). This dropper post falls firmly into the budget end of the spectrum, with other droppers with similar specs easily retailing at twice the price of the Ascend, which has a respectable RRP of £139.99.
The Ascend has been well received by both reviewers and riders, meaning it has built up something of a reputation as bit of a giant killer. It may not have adjustable air pressure but the Infinite adjustability, internal cable routing, replaceable internal cartridge and the stonking 2 year warranty offered by CRC makes it hard to overlook.
Now those who have been paying attention to such things will be aware that the post is infact a TranzX post, namely the TranzX model YSP12(see foot note). What we have here is a bought and badged product or what is known as a private label product.
A private label product is something that has been made by one company, to be sold under the name of another. It is in essence, a form of outsourcing and one that is common in many industries. This can allow companies to offer broad product ranges or simply the same product under different brand names at different price points. This is usually done so as to not devaluing an existing premium brand.
We are all familiar with the supermarket home brand that is just as good as the name brand product. Turn over the packaging and you wont have to look far for two products to share the same address of manufacture.
There are some very successful businesses that have based entire business models on this approach, for example, Superstar Components. A budget, online, direct sale bicycle components brand based in the UK. They now offer a made in the UK range and manufacture with their own CNC machines. But browse closely and you will find the remnants of that private label beginning. Stems, bars, brake pads and floating brake rotors that are all available else where with different branding.
Superstar Components Alpine EVO Rotor
Uberbike Radiator Floating Rotor
This is not a criticism of that business, Superstar identified that consumables like brake pads had a unjustifiable mark up. Bought from the same factories making for other big brands, put their logo on it and undercut the competition. Good for them and good for riders.
So how does this relate to the Ascend dropper post?
On closer inspection on the CRC website, I realized that parts of the post looked very familiar, namely the actuation mechanism at the bottom of the post. With further comparison between different spec sheets, I came to the conclusion that several brands where selling the same post.
Brand X Ascend
I found that the PNW Rainier and the Shimano Koryak Dropper are most likely the same post or derived from the same post. They all have a replaceable internal cartridge, no air pressure adjust, and have either 120m or 125mm (in the case of the Rainier) of travel.
The lever is also a sign towards them being the same post. In the Tranz X catalogue two lever variants are available, a thumb lever and under the bar trigger style lever.
Brand X Ascend Lever
Shimano Koryak Lever
PNW Rainier Replacement Lever Kit
Now there are some variations as well. The Shimano seat clamp is a one bolt system similar to the Specialised Command post and the other two use the same two bolt design. The seal head is different on the Koryak to the other two which have the same as the catalogue model.
But it is not Inconceivable that Shimano specced sutble and easy to produce changes to an existing model as part of a manufacturing deal. The seal head is an easy alteration as they just turn a different pattern on a lathe. The clamp would be a different die for a cast, expensive in tooling, but not for the likes of Shimano.
In a way, there isn’t one, but interesting when one of the companies you suspect is selling this dropper is the infaliable Shimano.
But Shimano wouldn’t do something like that! Sure, they are generally slow with innovation but they are solid and dependable, right?
Well, yes and no.
Shimano are one of the largest sporting equipment companies on the planet. Whilst it might make some people think a little less fondly of the brand for them to learn Shimano don’t actually make everything that they sell. It would be naive to think that they did.
Buying a proven post from a catalogue is a far faster way of filling a gap in a product range than designing your own from scratch. It may in fact be a stop gap solution whilst Shimano finalises their own design, time will tell.
So whats does this mean? Nothing, absolutely nothing. In reality all it means is that it must be a reliable component for Shimano to buy in, stick their name on and then have to uphold the warranty. It also means that whilst Shimano are not known for having the most comprehensive spare parts catalogue, finding that replacement internal cartridge might be easy than I first thought.
So at a black friday sale price of£89.99 on CRC, it might just be the bargain of the season.
All images are screen grabs off of various websites, I do not own the images.
Tranz X are a sub brand/company of JD Components. JD Components are probably the largest component company you’ve never heard of. Making OE equipment and parts for all manner of bike brands and manufacturers. Their components and systems are everywhere from power assisted town bikes to proper rowdy all mountain rigs.
The evolution ofSven the Speshcontinues, this time returning to a single speed setup.
The how is a fairly straight forward process, converting your MTB (or any geared bike) into a single speed wunder-hack bike requires a conversion kit and a selection of basic tools.
Cassette Removal Tool
The how is only part of the story, more interestingly is the why?
Running a single speed is like riding in the wrong gear, almost all of the time. You spin out on the flats, hurt more than you want on the climbs and once up to a certain speed, pedaling is essentially a futile gesture.
But it is for these reasons that it is such a useful exercise in helping your overall riding, or so the theory goes.
The idea is, riding single speed will make you a smoother rider, let me explain.
There are a few situations where riding single speed in a sloppy style will make for a slower ride. To maintain speed with single speed you have to ride smoothly and aim to keep a more consistent average speed.
For example when coming into a corner, if you come in too fast and end up braking hard round the corner you will lose speed and risk stalling. With a fully geared setup, you can drop through the gears and pedal hard to build your speed back up. This results in a fast-slow-fast-slow clunky riding style.
With a single speed rig, if you ride like this, as you exit a corner having lost all your speed, your gearing will generally be too high to easily build your speed back up by pedaling. To keep speed on a SS setup, you are forced to focus on your form and ride smoothly. Braking hard before the entrance of the corner, being slow in and building speed back up as you exit the corner.
On descents and flatter undulating sections of trail, on a fully geared setup its all too easy to just mash the pedals. With SS once up to pace (something around 15mph), there is little pace to be gained by burning the legs and mashing the pedals. Working the bike and pumping the trail will build pace. Keeping the bike light and hopping over rougher sections and making better line choices by joining up contact patches.
Flowing down the trail, smooth is fast.
Climbing is probably the biggest hurdle stopping those who have not a ridden single speed from trying it. I’m not saying it isn’t harder, but on the climbs you are forced to keep a consistent cadence and keep good even pedal technique. Constant, smooth circles.
And aside of all this but not to be other looked is the simplicity of the experience and the mental energy it frees up. Riding fast down hill is a very complex task, lots of technical actions are carried out instantaneously and unconsciously by a rider. Shifting gears to match an approaching trail feature or your pace requires a level of concentration. That concentration can be applied elsewhere when there are no gears to move between. The experience is simplified, I wouldn’t say it is better, it is different and worthwhile.
There is certainly a learning curve, I found myself shifting fresh air for a few KM’s but once familiarized, it can be a refreshingly simple way to ride. At the very least every rider should try single speeding at least once and winter is the perfect time of year to try.