Wednesday, September 5, 2012

From those who like to tinker, for those who don't like to waste money!

I've always been a bit of a tinkerer. My cars, my computers, my bikes... I like to "personalize" them. I like to "upgrade" and attempt to fix all those problems that don't really exist. Do I need to overclock my video card to get one extra frame per second? Does my car really need bored out heads for a few more horsies? No... However it's fun as hell to work on it and see those tiny gains from blood sweat and curses.

My Bike(s) are no exception to this rule. If anything, they have given me a huge media to explore... and let's be honest, if there is anything triathletes love, it's new toys. Some have been great, some not so great, a couple of big wastes of time and money, and just a few that are downright dangerous. I'm going to go over some of them here, with my thoughts on how it all turned out. We'll start with the easy stuff first!

Carbon Crank Cover
So what happens when you want all the "cool kids" look of a Zipp Vuma / FSA Chrono TT ring, but don't want to just stretch packing tape over the holes in your crank? You buy some sheets of carbon fiber and make your own!

This was a fairly easy one, it cost about $60 give or take (depending on what you already have in the garage) and it looks great installed. You'll need the sheets of carbon fiber (I suppose fiberglass would also work) which are available on ebay, some epoxy (for composites) and some plastic wrap. Take the crank you want a cover for, cover it with the plastic wrap, and lay the carbon (carbon, epoxy, carbon, epoxy) and allow it to cure. Then cut away the extra carbon and drill/dremel holes for the crank bolts.  You can skip the holes if you don't mind glueing / epoxying the edges of the cover to your chainrings. I was personally a bit worried that I'd get reprimanded at a race for a "fairing" so I never epoxied mine. It's now sitting in the corner of my garage. It's also kind of a toss up as to whether or not this "mod" would actually DO anything (in terms of actual performance gains) as there has been some debate as to whether covering the crank is helpful. Nonetheless, it looks really cool.

Chopped straps
 This one takes a few seconds and won't cost you anything, but could save you a few seconds over your next bike split. Most tri shoes have an excess of strap length that ends up hanging off the side of your foot (in the wind!) during your ride. Chopping those bad boys down will clean up your profile just a bit (as will trimming all that excess chin strap off your helmet!!) and if one thing can be said for me, I love to make the little things add up. As always when it comes to cutting... measure twice, (and mark it) cut once! Just don't cut them so short that you cut off the "tab" that holds them in place.

"Oversized" 13t/15t wheels
You probably saw these once upon a time in the Tour (2010 I think). David Millar, Fabian, Contador, Schleck and even Lance were riding on these odd derailleurs.
David Millar's setup
A company called Berner made the one's you saw in the tour. They were certainly interesting, and claimed a much more efficient drivetrain. Building my own (you don't want to know what the Berner kits cost...) was not a cheap undertaking. The problem becomes the cage you need to accept the wheels, along with the wheels themselves (15t is a bit of an odd thing to be looking for) pretty much being custom jobs. You would think a Long cage derailleur would be acceptable, but it isn't (the 15 won't work) so you need something custom built. (It's possible a Mtn bike long cage would work... possibly a shimano shadow derailleur?) Enter Fiber-Lyte. They custom made the 13t/15t wheels, along with the outside carbon cage. That left the inner cage...

I sourced one on ebay (from a foreign seller) and when it arrived I met problem #1... that is, Shimano does not want you taking their beloved derailleurs apart. Oh sure, you can unscrew the cage, and then "BAM" the loaded spring shoots parts everywhere! Finding everything is the easy part, now you have to put it back together. Let me say, it's going to take some seriously manly hands to get the tension back on the spring AND get the screw set in the back of the cage. It took me 3 hours spread across two days, a couple of beers and an extremely sore hand before I finally got it.

Then there's the other problem... the chain. If you look at Millar's setup you can see the stretch that the derailleur is under. Trying this for yourself, you are going to run into a no-win situation. On the one hand, you lengthen the chain... at which point you are going to have too much slack in certain (bigger) gears. On the other, you shorten the chain, and completely lose the ability to shift into your top 4 or so cogs in the big ring. (Not that you should be in them anyways.) Which is not ideal. Also, the custom plate I bought had just a little space in the "nob" that keeps the chain from skipping off... when I would go from big to small ring it would sometimes *catch* for just a second. It never did any damage, but it always worried me, and eventually I took it off and returned to the good old fashioned way. As far as performance goes... I never noticed anything, but there were never any claims that it would make some huge jump anyways... I'd skip this one unless you just love the look (it did look cool)

DT Shifters
I get asked about these more than anything else on my bike at races. "Where did you get those shifters??"
Well, from ebay actually... but I digress. There are 7800 Dura Ace downtube shifters (they still make em!) mounted to the plugs from regular 7800 bar end shifters. (You will need to cannibalize some bar end shifters to make this work btw) These guys give you a lot more leverage to shift in aero (or they do me at least) and they look really cool. They are a bit longer than regular bar ends, so you may need to trim your bar length to make up for it. I still use these and love them.

Custom Mount
This is another easy one that doesn't require much. I took my Virtue bottle (the best bottle for this kind of mod since it has a non-round shape and sits at the bottom of its cage flush) and drilled new, lower holes for it to mount in. This brings it all the way into the bottom of the triangle of my frame (the same way the virtue sits in a transition/shiv stock) and both adds a small bit of stability to the bottle (its actually sitting on the downtube) as well as closing in the "gap" it had stock. (which *should* be superior aerodynamically) Sometimes it's the little things that count.

"Cobb Hack" front Brake

David Millar's 1/2 Hack

This is the dangerous one. Let me put this one out there up front... the cobb hack WILL NOT stop you reliably! Do this mod at your own risk! (Seriously, I'm warning you, don't come crying to me when it fails at the worst possible moment) That said...

... So you want an aero brake, but don't have the cash to drop on an Omega / Simkins / Hooker / whatever. Well, this is an old trick from Mr. Cobb. You are only going to be out the cost of your brake if (when?) you screw it up. The first step is to cut the top arm (as in David Millars pic above) and drill a new hole for the cable to run through. On mine I started with a wider hole (enough for housing to sit in) and then made it shallower out the other end. (just wide enough for the cable itself)

-------If you stop at this point-------
You can still stop the bike  reliably. What you're essentially doing here (that you care about) is making it a little easier to route your front brake cable housing "cleanly." (like a center pull aero brake would basically) Besides having to replace the cable a bit more often, you shouldn't have any negative side effects.

-------If you keep going-------
You will cut the other arm off as well (right past the point that holds the cable) and then drill and tap a new hole through the side of what's left of the arm. Now, obviously you need to make SURE you tap it right. Then, find the right screw and shave just a tiny nub into it (where the cable will fit when it's secured) and then red loctite the crap out of it. shave another nub into the brake arm (very slight, you want the cable to sit there, not fly out) and say a prayer to whatever god you see fit to ask mercy from.

I used the full mod for one Time Trial.  That was enough for me. I'd rate stopping power somewhere around that of a poorly adjusted Modolo Kronos / Delta Brake (that is, nonexistent)  Afterwards, on a training ride, the cable stripped the threads out of the tapped hole (not sure why to this day)

Those are just a few of the more *interesting* things I've played around with. I'm currently playing with creating my own carbon parts, which is a bit more expensive (and time consuming) than most of these things. Updates will come at some point, if I ever craft anything worth showing off!

Until then, keep tuning!

- Christopher Morelock 

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