Saturday, June 5, 2021

Crust Canti Lightning Bolt: Build Notes


I bought a Crust Lightning Bolt frame (the cantilever brake version) and here are notes and photos from the build.

Frame and fork weight

It's always helpful to weigh the frame and fork before building a bike. My XL/61cm frame weighs 2.22 kg (4.9 lbs), the fork comes in at 0.89 kg (1.96 lbs).



When the production version of the Lightning Bolt came out I was very close to buying it right away, but the brown color really turned me off. On the box, it's called "Champagne Brown," which sounds ridiculous but actually makes some sense: Yes, it's brown, but a brown with a light sparkle to it. When I sent a photo of the bike to my mom, she responded, "Oh, a golden bike! How pretty!" I've come to the conclusion that the color is actually pretty nice and classy.


I went with a cheap-ish Tange-Seiki Levin headset for the build. Roller bearing headsets are hard to come by these days, and my low-trail Gunnar works fine with a regular headset. Reading other people's build reports, one thing that was mentioned that headset installation was difficult because of an oversized crown race seat. My own measurements showed that the diameter is almost 0.1 mm above spec. I tried getting the race on with my crappy DIY tool made from a PVC pipe, but it quickly became clear this wouldn't work. I took it to the LBS and they got it on no problem -- actually the mechanic complimented the "tone" of my fork when hammering it in. Uh huh. Pressing the cups also took a lot of effort and I was glad to have borrowed a friend's Park Tool headset press rather than relying on a DIY solution.



I haven't bought a new frame for over 10 years, and so I figured I may build it up with the nice parts from my stash. I had a NOS set of Dura Ace 7800 downtube shifters that I had been saving for years. This is the relatively rare 10-speed version that can be switched between friction and indexed shifting in the rear.



Transferring over the Velo Orange fenders from my SOMA was unproblematic. The distance from the fender to the seat/chainstay bridges appears to be slightly smaller than on the SOMA, meaning I didn't need as many washers. 

Cranks and Bottom Bracket

The chainstays on the Lightning Bolt are seriously shaped and crushed to maximize tire and crank clearance. I suspect I may be able to get use a shorter bottom bracket than on the SOMA and get a lower Q factor that way. The cranks are IRD Defiant subcompacts with 46/30 rings.

And indeed: With a 113 mm bottom bracket (IRD actually recommend a 118 mm), there is a lot of clearance:


A 110 mm bottom bracket would definitely work, and maybe a 107 mm would fit as well -- the limiting factor may be the small chainring clearance and possible derailleur issues.

Because of the shaped chain stays, I opted for shellacked twine as a chainstay protector. I ran out of twine and so it's a little short for now.

The prototype for this frame had a frame-mounted rear cable hanger. The production version does not, and so I used a Surly hanger. Space between the bolt and seat post is tight, and I filed down the hanger to make it work.


For the rear I transferred over an old Shimano STX RC, a mid-range 7-speed derailleur from the 1990s. In the front I installed a new Shimano CX-70 derailleur. I have this one on my Gunnar as well, as it was recommended as working well with sub-compact drivetrains. My own experience has been mixed -- there is a lot of trimming required to avoid chain rub. This seems to be the case on the Lightning Bolt as well, and I'll have to try fine tuning the positioning of the derailleur. It doesn't help that the big chainring has a small amount of wobble...


Shimano CX-70 derailleur and IRD 46/30 crankset


Brooks saddles often require seatposts with a large amount of setback. On the SOMA I had a very hammock-like Brooks B17 Imperial mounted on a Velo Orange Grand Cru long setback post. On the first ride my position felt very wrong, and this was mostly due to the seat being too far back. I have since replaced the VO seatpost with a Thomson Elite.

Thomson Elite setback post with an old WTB saddle that has titanium rails (yay) but isn't all that comfortable (boo)


The decaleur is the weakest link in the build at the moment. It's the cheap Velo Orange decaleur, which has worked surprisingly well on the SOMA. On this build, however, it ends up too low for my bag. Because the Lightning Bolt has less headtube extension than the SOMA, I can't get it up high enough with a bag as tall as mine. No decision yet on how to address this.

Velo Orange decaleur: Too low for my tall bag



Tektro CR-720s are my go to affordable cantilever brakes. I may eventually replace them with something more blingy, but they look nice and do their job.

Overall impressions

Transferring parts over from one bike to another made for a quick and fun build. The only obvious flaw of the Lightning Bolt is a lack of cable guides for my generator hub. Eventually I'll clean up the cable routing, but with a frame at this price point and aimed at long-distance riders, guides on the fork and frame would have been nice. I don't anticipate making any substantial changes to the build in the foreseeable future, except for the decaleur. Stay tuned for a separate post on ride impressions.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Round and round and round: Track cycling 101 at the Kenosha Velodrome


Me, high on (the) track

When does a thought enter your mind? How does it mature, disappear, resurface, and eventually lead to an action, and maybe a temporary(?) obsession? I'm doing some mental archaeology of the process that had me participate in a track cycling clinic last weekend and now obsessively watching track cycling YouTube videos and sending pictures of track bikes to my SO (who's clearly rolling her eyes). 

Maybe it started here: A couple years back, at a bike swap in Madison. Browsing the aisles for bargain bike parts, I stopped at the table for the Washington Park Velodrome. They were raising funds to repave what is the oldest still operating velodrome in the US. Maybe I threw some money in their donation jar, maybe I didn't. And I don't remember any other details -- clearly at that point a velodrome was something abstract: Related to biking somehow, not related to me. But something must have stuck, and at some point it was clear to me: Here was an opportunity to try something new and different, and an opportunity that I wouldn't have in many other places. After all, there aren't many velodromes left in the US.

Art, one of our coaches and race official at the velodrome

For a few years I tried to recruit some bike friends to make a group trip to a cycling clinic. While there was interest and enthusiasm (or maybe they just were humoring their weird friend), we all have busy lives and nothing ever came of it. This year I was committed: Pick a date that works for me and just do it. If people want to come: awesome. If not: I'll just do it anyway!

In the days before the clinic I kept refreshing the weather forecast. It didn't look promising: Showers throughout the day, maybe some thunderstorm. I was prepared for an email from Chris, one of the organizers, calling it off. But that email never came. It seemed safe to assume that the organizers knew what they were doing, and so we booked the rental car and hit the road on Sunday morning. Just like the forecast had promised, on the way to Kenosha we hit several rain showers. They never lasted long, and so I was cautiously optimistic that there would be at least some riding.

In front our our little group, practicing paceline rotations

 At the velodrome, I signed a liability waiver, paid my $10, and then a volunteer set me up on a loaner bike. The club has a small fleet of track bikes in various sizes, and I ended up on a 58 cm Felt. I'm 6'5" and usually ride a 62 cm frame but for a couple hours the 58 was just fine. Maybe my knees were a little close to the ends of the handlebars, maybe my neck was a little strained, but it worked. 

We were sent into the warm-up circle in the infield of the track, and I did many loops to become familiar with the bike. I have been riding a fixed-gear bike as my everyday bike for several years (with wide tires, fenders, racks, lights), and so riding the track bike wasn't a completely new experience. Sure: I've never ridden tubular tires, I haven't ridden tires that skinny for a long time, and my everyday fixie has a front brake. But it was still just a bike. 

I saw some other riders leaving the warm-up circle and starting to make laps around the main track, and eventually I followed suit. The banking looked very intimidating. As I later learned, they're angled at 30 degrees, i.e. at a gradient of 58%! Would I slide off or fall over if I took them at slow speed? I didn't know, and so I just did some circles on the level part of the track. I observed the other riders who were going on the banked parts of the track at moderate speeds, and clearly they didn't fall over. So I tried it. And it felt weird. And I went quickly back to the level part of the track. Let's wait for some instruction on this... 

Keeping a safe distance from other riders for now


Instruction came: Leading the clinic were a team of seasoned track riders. Chris, Art, Bob, Lucy, and Mike. We started with some theory: How to slow and stop on a bike without brakes? What do the different lines and markings on the track mean? What to do and not to do to keep yourself and others safe? Will your bike slide down the banking if you go too slow? Then it was time to ride! The group was split into two, with a coach in the lead and in the back. After a couple laps in the warm-up circle, we entered the track. Group 1 got a half lap lead and then we followed. With the knowledge that I didn't need to worry about losing traction on the concrete, I quickly got comfortable riding on the banking. After a few laps low on the track, our leader took us up high, and then we changed between riding high and low.


Next were drills to rotate out and back into a paceline: The lead rider keeps their effort constant but goes high into a turn, thereby converting kinetic into potential energy. The paceline passes below, and the former lead rider drops down the track and gets to the back of the line. This quickly became my favorite sensation. At a 30 degree incline, the loss and gain of speed when going up and down the banking is exhilarating! After a drill to practice safely going around other riders we did a first mock race: I don't remember the name of the race format, but basically it's an individual timed effort over 200 meters, with a flying start. You build up speed over the course of a lap and a bit, and then it's all out for 200 m. At the beginning of the last 200 meters you want to be high on the track to get that extra boost of speed when you move down. My time was middling: between some sudden headwind gusts and no intuitive feel how hard I could go without blowing up, I did the distance in a little over 16 seconds. At maximum effort you can really feel how the bike wants to carry you up through the turns!

Finishing those 200 meters

The final opportunity to ride was a scratch race. I have no idea why it's called scratch race, but it's simple: You have a neutralized group start, a fixed distance, and whoever crosses the finish line first wins. It was neat to ride in a paceline, but also a little disorienting. The fast folks pulled away quickly and I settled in another small group, as the third rider behind another novice and Lucy, one of the clinic coaches. I figured sitting on her wheel was safe and probably not slow. Out of the final turn we were passed from behind and I tried to hang on as best as I could across the finish line. 

All in all I had a blast. If Kenosha weren't a two-hour drive from Madison, I would do this regularly. And I say this as someone who has zero interest in participating in road racing. Tuesday night is race night at the velodrome, and there are all kinds of race formats: Races where you don't know how many laps you have to do; points races where the winner of the first lap earns 1 point, 2 points in the second lap, and so on... Special laps that earn you dinner from the burger joint across the street; and many more. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend doing the Track 101 clinic. All you need is a helmet and 10 bucks and the commitment to just do it.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

For sale: SOMA Grand Randonneur 65 f/f/hs


Time to sell my SOMA Grand Randonneur. It has served me well, but I've parted it out and moved components to my new Crust Lightning Bolt. This has been a wonderful all-purpose bike for me: able gravel bike with space for 650x42B tires and full fenders (48 mm without fenders), long distance randoneur bike, and it also works as a front-loaded tourer. Skinny Tange Prestige tubing for a lively ride. Frame shows some signs of use (see photos), but no dents or dings. Included is frame, fork, and a Miche roller bearing headset (these supposedly improve handling on a low-trail bike like the Grand Rando). SOMA labels this a 65, but because it has an extended seat and head tube, it's more accurately described as a 61 (see geometry chart). I'm 6'5" and it fit me well, with a good amount of seat post and stem showing. 


Price: $350. There were multiple versions of this frameset, and this is usually described as V2: Original paint, but a somewhat less dog-legged fork bend. Takes cantilever brakes and the fork is 1" threaded. Local pickup in Madison preferred, but I can ship, with buyer paying all fees. Leave a comment on this post if you're interested or have questions.




Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Cracking Bike Rim: From one cracker to another?

 It's been a long time since I've had to deal with a cracking rim. Back then, my sidewall failed under heavy braking, and it prompted me to write an article about measuring rim sidewall thickness (which turns out to be one of the most popular posts on this blog...). 



This time around it wasn't wear that made my rim crack and it wasn't the sidewalls that were affected. A few weeks ago, when changing tires, I noticed cracks around several spoke holes. The wheels had come to me used, and I had been riding them for several years and thousands of miles. In the back of my mind I recalled reading complaints about this specific model of rim, the made-in-Australia Velocity Synergy OC rims. This was one of the rims that was available in 650B size early on, and the off-center design made it nice to build with. Some googling confirmed: The Synergy OC indeed had a history of people reporting cracking at the spoke holes (you have to scroll down quite a bit to the relevant post), maybe due to excessive spoke tension, maybe not. I had no idea how long the cracks had been on the rim. Early on in my ownership I had to replace a broken spoke, and a few weeks ago I felt a slight wobble in the wheel. But I attributed that to a badly seated tire -- the other thing that Synergys were known for was loose tire fit. In full avoidance mode I decided to deal with this once the season was over.


That didn't quite work out. On a leisurely ride on Saturday, I suddenly a pretty bad wobble on the rear wheel. I immediately knew was up, and visual inspection confirmed it: The cracks no longer were just around the holes but had started pulling out sections of the spoke bed. I made it back home alright, but immediately took the wheel apart. 


What to rebuild with, though? Fortunately there are still a bunch of 650B options for rim brakes available, e.g. the HED Belgium, Velo Orange Voyager, or Pacenti Brevet. But hoarder that I am, I actually have a pair of brand new 650B rims sitting in the basement. These are Pacenti SL23s, which I had gotten at a sale many years ago. Convenient, isn't it? Well, except for one thing: The SL23 also has a reputation for cracking at the eyelets.


I have another wheelset with SL23s, and they have been working just fine for years. So I'm willing to take the risk. The wheel has been built. Now we'll have to see how they'll hold up.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Off-topic: Fixing a leaking steam wand on a Saeco Aroma

 Yes, this still is a bike blog. But we all know there is some overlap between the bike and the coffee scene. So please allow me to publish a very brief post on fixing my espresso machine. 

I have a Saeco Aroma, bought refurbished in 2013. It's just enough espresso machine for my needs, and it's been working reliably for years. There always had been a little leakage from the steam wand into the drip tray, but only recently the dripping increased to a point where I needed to do something about it.


I spent a good amount googling around for a solution. Every espresso maker is a little different, and there are lots of different kinds of leaks and causes for them. Eventually I found a link to what sounded like a solution to my problem. However, the link produced this:

A 404 error :(


Internet Web Archive to the rescue!The page was indeed archived. What was missing, though,  were the pictures. Fortunately, espresso makers aren't particularly complex pieces of technology, and so I could figure things out based on the text alone. For the sake of posterity I thought I'd document the process.

  1. Unplug the machine. Make sure the machine had enough time to cool down. 
  2. Remove the water tank and loosen the two Philips head screws that hold the metal cover in place. Don't lose the serrated washers
  3. Remove metal top
  4. You can see how the steam knob has a snap ring and a washer on it. Those two parts prevent the knob from being turned all the way out. 
  5. Remove the snap ring. There's a good chance it'll fall somewhere into the machine, but it's easy to get it back out with a magnetized screwdriver. 
  6. Keep turning the steam knob counter-clockwise until it comes out. Put the large metal washer to the side.


The lid is off

Snap ring


Snap ring removed; washer and knob still in place

Knob removed. There appears to be some corrosion on the tip

After rubbing off the corrosion, you can see that there are two grooves in the tip of the knob. This is what is causing the leak. 


The original instructions said to use use 220 grit sandpaper and steel wool to remove the grooves. This is where things got a little tricky: Without a visual reference, I wasn't sure how much material to remove.So I took it slow, starting out with extra-fine steel wool. The grooves were still visible when I tested thing the first time, and indeed there was still dripping. I removed a little more material, now using sandpaper. Brass is soft, and so it doesn't take long to remove a lot of material -- be careful, and maybe use a finer grit sandpaper. The second time round it seems like I got it right. There are still a couple drops when pulling a shot, but way less than before.

Pretty smooth now!


Reassembly is easy, except that I couldn't remember which of the two grooves on the know the snap ring went on.

If you found this post helpful, buy some stuff from Amazon through my affiliate link! For example, some Lavazza Super Crema.