Bike Noises

I’ve never thought of myself as being neurotic or OCD in any real manner.  Generally speaking, I can pretty much accept or ignore a lot of things that seem to bother others.  In fact, I’m quite adept at filtering out most everything around me, especially when taking notice would require that I take some kind of action to address the source of the issue.  This is probably most evident when dealing with my autos.  Is the “check engine” light on?  I’m okay with that.  In fact, that light has been on for about five years straight.  I change my oil twice a year – whether it needs it or not.  Rust, rattles, squeaks, leaks and most other issues can readily be accepted and adapted to as a new level of normal.  Don’t buy a used car from me;  you’ve been warned.

In contrast to my normal modes of operation, all that seems to go out the window once I get on my bike.  My bike is supposed to be a silent, smoothly operating tool of riding efficiency.  I will pull things apart, clean and lube them just to make sure they are at their optimum.  My rims are pretty much true to within fractions of a millimeter, even now that I’m running disc brakes.  I could probably have saved myself thousands of dollars over the years if I treated my cars with the same care and concern.  Too bad I hate cars.

I used to do this when solving problems at the board.
A sound less bothersome than my bike.

This spring, I noticed that my bike had developed a very annoying creaking sound while climbing.  You might not think of this as much of a problem, but I would notice it all the time – even when climbing on rough terrain.  It only takes a very slight motion between two metal surfaces to create a surprisingly audible noise.  Everything can feel completely tight, but the combined stresses of putting your body’s weight into the bike can bring out a ping or creaking sound.   There only needs to be the most subtle amount of play to make a noise that will get on my nerves.

Unfortunately, the noise proved not to be transient.  It persisted and actually grew worse over the following weeks.  My focus was distracted by my constant analysis of the source.  Was it my seatpost?  No, it was there while climbing out of the saddle.  Chainrings?  It didn’t seem to be there when I backpedalled, but that’s not always conclusive.  It would almost go away while spinning on the pavement… almost.  My rides soon turned into diagnostic sessions.

While not on the bike, I would pull things apart to see if I could correct the source of the noise.  I spent an evening pulling off my cranks and bottom bracket.  I removed the bottom bracket  from the frame.  I scrubbed the frame threads out with a brush and cleaned the entire bottom bracket assembly.  Everything was re-lubed and the threads wrapped in plumber’s tape before reassembly.  I took apart my chainrings, cleaning every surface meticulously.  The chainring bolts were cleansed and a thin layer of anti-seize compound applied to them.  I regreased all of the crank arm surfaces according to specs.  I even removed the pedals and gave their threads the same type of treatment.

Where's Waldo? I don't know, but he's easier to find than a elusive bicycle noise.
Where’s Waldo? I don’t know, but he’s easier to find than an elusive bicycle noise.

I actually enjoy this process as long as I’m not feeling pressured to complete the job with a limited amount of time.  There’s something very relaxing about putting on some good music and working with my hands.  Building wheels has the same kind of feeling to it.  When it’s all done, there’s a real sense of satisfaction in having a well functioning bike as a result of my efforts.

I was actually looking forward to my next ride since I was pretty confident that I must have addressed the squeaking with all of that work.  I hit the trails after work the next day… ARG!!!  The noise was still with me.  There didn’t appear to be any change at all.  Now I was left with the task of trying to enjoy the ride while the bike was continually distracting me with an irrepressible sound.  More analysis ensued.  Could I induce some creaking by torquing on the bars?  Was it related to leaning the bike?  I checked the quick releases to make sure that there wasn’t any extra play that could be creating the sounds.  All my tests were inconclusive.  It was hard to tell exactly where the squeaking was coming from but it seemed to be coming from the front end of the bike.  At least it seemed that way, but I know that sound can resonate through a bicycle frame in strange ways.

I took out the tools again.  The bars were removed from the bike and the stem removed from the steerer tube.  I also disassembled the headset for good measure.  The steerer assembly received the same treatment as my cranks – thoroughly cleaned and well lubed as appropriate.  I wasn’t sure what I was looking for so I attacked everything I could remove.

On my return to the trail, I was again disappointed.  I might have been starting to obsess about this a bit.  I gave more attention to the relentless creaking noise as I rode.  It even seemed to be there when I was descending.  That was odd.  It also seemed to confirm the idea that it wasn’t caused by my drivetrain.

Looks rather squeaky.
These look rather squeaky.

With my mind now fully preoccupied with the quest to eliminate this creaking sound, I turned to the wisdom of the internet.  It’s usually a pretty sad state of affairs when I have to go looking for help.  It’s like stopping the car to ask for directions – an open admission of defeat.  Likewise, I keep my owners manuals hidden in a drawer for such dire occasions.  Generally, the internet is more full of opinion than facts, and I think most of us know how much opinions are worth.  Still, there are a lot of good mechanics out there that will respond to questions on various discussion boards.  So, after reading through many, many recommendations to do the same things that I’ve already done (and some that shouldn’t be done), I did stumble across a few ideas that I hadn’t explored.  In particular, it seems that sometimes the headset bearing races can creak inside the cups or the cups can shift ever so slightly if there’s a tiny imperfection between the surfaces of the frame and the cups.

I thought that might be a direction to pursue.  Unfortunately, the bearings on my headset aren’t replaceable without sending them back to the manufacturer.  Maybe something was wrong with them.  They have at least 3 more years under their warranty (thanks Chris King) but I wasn’t about to go without my bike for the few weeks it would take for them to be shipped out, get serviced, shipped and then reassembled.  I wasn’t about to let that happen during the prime riding of the summer months.  Not a chance.

just dumber
Not quite the most annoying sound in the world.

So I opted to install a new headset.  Yes, I was that bothered by the creaking.  I was a little reluctant at first, but it was the logical next step in my crusade to eliminate the world’s most irritating noise. So, lacking a proper headset press, I dragged my bike down to the shop and left it with them to do a professional install.

I picked the bike up after work later in the week.  I went out for a ride that same afternoon and found true bliss.  Elation.   Nirvana.  Whatever it was, it didn’t make creaking noises.  The only sound I could hear over my breathing was the sound of root and rock impacts echoing in my tires. It was truly a wonderful thing.  I climbed seated in near silence.  I stood up, mashing the pedals and pulling on the bars without a peep from the bike.  I lost myself in almost two hours of squeak-free riding that afternoon.

I’ve since found that the problem was in the cup/frame interface, not the bearings of the original headset.  I could correct the problem with it by applying some Loc-tite 640 to the cups when installing.  Maybe I’ll do that some time in the future, but, for now, my neurosis has been subdued.

 

NOTE: After taking several months off, I think I’m back at this.

 

Review: O.W.L. Energy Bars

[Reposted from MTBVT.com]owlbarOne of the many things that makes Vermont so great to live in is the abundance of small, local businesses who make great food or beverages.  I could fill pages with various examples, but, specifically, there are a surprising number of options for locally made energy bars: Garuka BarsMonkeychew, and Battenkill Brittle.  I may write a bit on these at some point, but I’m wanted to focus on my personal favorite, O.W.L. energy bars (O.W.L. = Original, Wholesome, Local).

I first got a taste of an OWL bar while at the VMBA festival at Ascutney a couple of years ago.  The owners were there with some free samples for anyone at the festival to try.  Their bars made a pretty good impression on me and the owners were genuinely nice people to talk with.

The bars only come in one flavor, but at least it’s a good one.  They have a moist, nutty flavor that’s lightly sweetened with honey.  I understand that food can be a very subjective thing since not everyone has the same tastes, but I think these have a pretty good appeal.  Everyone in our family likes them.  They’re also soft enough that taking a bite out of one is very easy. (Anyone remember trying to take a bite of a certain well known brand back in the early 90s?)  Even at winter temperatures they are manageable, even though they will firm up a little.

Regardless, the bars really do taste good without having an overbearing sweetness.  For me, if something is too sugary, it’ll taste really bad when exercising hard.  I’ve made the mistake of trying out new energy bars during races or long rides only to regret it later, primarily due to the sweetness factor.  When I’m racing or otherwise working hard, my mouth gets dry and it can be difficult to get something like that down.  These bars are moist enough to avoid that issue.

For whatever reason, I have a bit of a sensitive stomach when exercising.  Maybe that’s because I don’t have enough sense to not push myself too hard, but it’s always been an issue for me. Many of the sport drinks or bars end up making me feel sick.  Fortunately, O.W.L. bars are one of the few that have passed my personal hard-ride nausea test.

IMG_3857

One  bar contains just over 300 calories.  Remember, it’s an energy bar, not a low calorie diet bar.  On the plus side, those calories come from natural fruits and nuts – no corn syrup to be found anywhere in the ingredients list.  If you’re looking for a scientifically engineered, pre-digested, blood glucose infusion system, look elsewhere.  These bars are actually food, not the results of a lab experiment like some other energy sources marketed to cyclists.

They contain no eggs, dairy, or wheat for those who have issues with those foods and are also gluten free.  More important to me is the fact that they don’t contain any preservatives, artificial flavorings or other man-made chemical concoctions.  They’re just made with ingredients anyone can recognize.  Of course, if you have allergies to nuts or peanuts, you’d probably better run the other way.

O.W.L. bars come in a 2.7oz. bar or by a bag of “pellets”.  The pellets are a smaller, 100 calorie, individually packaged mini-bar that is intended to be a bit easier to eat on the fly.   At $3 for the individual bars, they’re a bit on the pricey end, as the products of many small, local food companies tend to be.  Still, they’re great to bring along on a ride, as a recovery food or whatever you happen to be doing.  For me, one of the advantages of mountain biking is that it strengthens my body; it’s nice to have something to eat that doesn’t work against that end.

The regular size vs. the pellet serving.
The regular size vs. the pellet serving.

29+ Followup

I’ve put up a couple of posts about the Carver Gnarvester in the past.  I thought it might be a good time to follow that up with an update on my experiences and thoughts now that I have a full season under my belt on the 29+ rig.  I got my Gnarvester at the beginning of the mountain biking season in May.  Since then I’ve put almost 1500 miles on that bike and all but a handful of those miles were off-road.   It’s pretty easy to get excited about a new bike when it’s actually still new.  Having that same enthusiasm about the same bike several months later is more of an accomplishment.  If anything, my favorable opinion of the 29+ has grown even stronger.

It's all good.
It’s all good.

Here are some of my observations about 29+  in general, not specific to my Gnarvester:

Descending on steroids.  This one puzzled me at first since I’ve always been a lousy descender.  I’m genuinely faster on the descents with my fully rigid 29+ bike than I was on my race bike with a Fox 32 fork up front.  When playing around with Strava, I’ve racked up more personal records on the downhill segments in one season than I had accumulated before.  I’ve also found that I can comfortably keep pace with other riders on full suspension bikes.  I totally didn’t expect that to be the case.

Climbing is slightly slower.  It’s not something I ever felt on the trail but I could see it when looking at GPS data from my rides. If I were to put a measurement to it, I’d estimate that the loss is somewhere under 10%.  That’s not something I’d stay awake worrying about.  I would still run this bike as my race rig, if I were still racing.  I was not as strong this summer as previous years, so that may factor into the reduced speed.

It can be raced. (photo by someone else)
It can be raced. (photo by someone else)

The flats.  Riding flat terrain is probably the bike’s strongest point.  The extra traction in the corners makes tight and twisty single-track an amazing experience.  I’m able to lean into corners noticeably more than I could with 29×2.4″ tires.  Some reviews I’ve read claim that the bigger wheels are sluggish and slow handling.  I’m not sure what bikes those people have been riding, but it’s not a quality that I’ve been able to notice while actually riding my bike.  It certainly isn’t specific to the wheel size.

Mud and sand.  Obviously, with bigger tires you’d expect better performance on soft surfaces.  The bike definitely delivers in this area.  At 200lbs., I’m able to safely run 12psi. This gives me a relatively huge contact patch with the ground that allows the bike to float over soft ground.  Even beach sand is manageable.  Riding across lumpy soft grass fields doesn’t suck nearly as much energy out of my legs.  The only condition in which I’ve found it lacking is when riding greasy, slime-like mud.  In those conditions, the ability to slice down to the firm soil below is where you find an advantage.  With that one exception, I’d call this one a definite net positive.

Fun.  Ultimately, the 29+ platform isn’t about performance – at least not in my eyes.  I have no doubt that I could climb faster with a lighter bike with lighter wheels.  A full suspension bike might even give me better downhill control and higher speeds, if I were interested in that.  Much like my fat bike, the first word that comes to mind when I think about this bike is “fun.”   I finally have a bike that feels like it’s optimized for every situation from groomed single-track to bushwhacking along old tractor roads.  I think of it as my fat bike for the summer.

 

Multi-speed

Since I had to get out of the single-speed business, the next logical step was to get some gears.  I got this work of art from Carver Bikes in Maine.  The Gnarvester!  It’s their 29+ bike (29×3″ tires, similar to the Krampus).  It’s taken a while for me to gather up all the parts it needed, but it did come together eventually.  I’ll have a full review done some time in the near future.  After taking it out for it’s maiden voyage this weekend I can say that it was worth the wait.  Photos added to make Wil happy.

It started out like this.
It started out like this….
When done, it looked like this.
When done, it looked like this.  It’ll never be this clean again, ever.
(comment goes here)
(comment goes here)
the cockpit view
the cockpit view
Gears!!
So many gears!!
First ride.
First ride.
IMG_1641
More dirt!

 

 

Yard Sale – Part 2

I just posted my Giant for sale but this one is a bit harder.  I don’t really want to get rid of this bike, but I can’t continue to ride single-speed (more on that later) so I need to fund the geared replacement.  This is a 2013 Vassago Jabberwocky.  Everything is cleaned up and in good working order.  Tires have seen better days but still serviceable.  $950.00 firm.

The Jabber
The Jabber
  • New 2013 Jabberwocky frame (less than 200 miles on it).  Size medium (18″)
  • Vassago Odis fork.
  • Hand built wheels: White Industries ENO disc hubs, double-butted spokes, Salsa Semi Disc rims.
  • Nearly new White Industries ENO freewheel (19t) with less than 200 miles of use.
  • Chris King bottom bracket
  • Race Face cranks (32t)
  • Avid BB7 disc brakes & levers.  Rotors: 160mm rear, 185mm front.
  • Sunline bars and stem.
  • Cane Creek headset.
  • Bontrager seatpost.
  • Pedals NOT included.

My review of the bike can be found here and here.

Vassago’s specs on the frame are here.

jabber2013

The elusive 2013 Jabberwocky sighted in its native habitat - single-track.  Be careful not to spook it.
The elusive 2013 Jabberwocky sighted in its native habitat – single-track. Be careful not to spook it.

Again, I’m not interested in any weird deals.  Contact me at yaardvark@gmail.com for more info.  In person exchange only.  I will not do escrow games, money orders, pay pal, or trade for anything (other than a Surly Krampus or a 29+ wheelset).  I will not ship the bike for you.

 

 

 

Yard Sale – Part 1

It’s spring and it’s now time to start clearing out the basement.  First item up for grabs is my Giant Seek0.  This is still a great bike, but all it’s utility is now served by my Jamis ‘cross bike.  This bike makes an awesome commuter.  So here it is, for sale.  Pretty much everything is stock except for the grips which are now a set of white Kona lock-ons.  It is in great condition and fully functional (okay, the rear brake may need to be bled).   This is a size “Large” which is roughly a 21″ frame (23.4″ top tube).  Giant still has the specs for this model on-line.  Asking $550.

The actual bike as it is today.
The actual bike as it is today.

My original review of this bike can be found here.

Giant Seek 0
Stock Giant Seek 0

You can contact me at yaardvark@gmail.com if interested.  I’m only doing an in person sale.  I will not do escrow deals, money orders, or trade for anything other than a Surly Krampus.  I will not ship the bike anywhere.  At all.  Ever.

Light and Motion Urban 700 Review

[Originally posted at MTBVT.com]

I discovered Light & Motion‘s headlights while checking out the vendor booths at the Vermont 50 this fall.  After checking their lights out a bit and talking with their rep., I really wanted to get my hands on one.  That was after I recovered from the semi-permanent blue spots I got from accidentally turning one on while looking into the business end of the light.  I was particularly intrigued by the fact that all of their lights are manufactured in the U.S. – it’s not often that you hear that about any cycling product.  I was able to get an Urban 700 model just as the days started getting short around here.  Since then, I have used it extensively for commuting as well as mountain biking and even more winter fat bike riding.

Everything you need: manual, charging cable, helmet mount, light and a sticker.
Everything you need: manual, charging cable, helmet mount, light and a sticker.

Features:

Verdict:

I began using this light for my daily commute once the mornings started getting dark.  It didn’t take long into October before it was still fully dark at 6:30 am and I was able to get a good feel for how this light performed.  For the record, 700 lumens borders on being overkill for riding on the road; I think oncoming drivers would have preferred that I used my “low beam” option.   On high power, I could see down the road so that I could descend the longest hill on my ride to work at full speed – usually around 35mph – just as I would during the day.  I found that most of the time the lower settings were plenty of illumination for normal cruising around 20mph.  Even in these modes, it was able to put out enough light that in several instances I thought there cars were coming up behind me because of the bright reflection off the road signs.  In contrast to some other lights I’ve used with a super bright center spot and weak peripheral area, the Urban 700’s beam covers the road well with a nice, evenly distributed brightness.

As I mentioned earlier, I used this light quite a bit for off-road riding and fat biking.  Light & Motion makes several models in their “Performance” line that are intended for off-road use.  I’m not sure what more you’d gain from a light that can put out 2000 lumens, other than blinding any wildlife within a hundred yards of the trail and leaving a wake of sunburnt foliage.  The Urban 700 performed very well in the woods.  The shape of the beam was pretty good and certainly bright enough to show the terrain well in single-track.  In very tight cornering situations with the light mounted on my bars, the edges of beam didn’t go quite as wide as I would have liked to give full view of the inside of the corner.  A small helmet mounted light would compliment the bar mounted light well in this context.  The light showed no sign of any effects from the vibration, rain, snow, extreme cold (-12F) and everything else that off-road riding in a Vermont winter entails.

It even works in the cold.
It even works in the cold.

The light is mounted to the handlebar with a heavy rubber strap that lashes the light to the handlebars.  I wasn’t too keen on this design at first, preferring a hardware clamp mechanism.  I didn’t expect it to hold very well but that expectation proved to be unfounded.  The light stayed in position well even when getting rattled on  a rigid fork over root-covered terrain.  It fits 31.8mm bars without issue.  Probably the nicest thing about the mount, aside from keeping the light solidly in place, is that it’s very easy to move the light between bikes.  It is also handy to be able to easily remove the light if you are going to be leaving your bike unattended, such as being locked up while at work.

Unfortunately, I did run into a problem with this light.  After a month or two of use, the light stopped being able to take a charge.  I was more than a little disappointed by this.  I contacted their support phone number shortly after the holidays to see what could be done about it.  In my work, I’ve spent a LOT of time on the phone with various vendors dealing with support issues and Light & Motion is certainly one of the few that I would characterize as excellent.  No byzantine phone menu systems, no third-world staff who barely speak English, no endless hold times, no haggling.  I was able to talk with a real human being in my native tongue.   The guy I spoke with quickly worked though the light’s symptoms with me and a replacement arrived in my mailbox within a week along with return shipping for the dead light.  Any product can have a defect, and L&M stand by theirs when something isn’t right.

On the trail...
On the trail…

Overall, the light has performed exceptionally well.  With a full charge I have consistently gotten at least the advertised run time out of this light.  The pulse mode gives an almost ridiculous 12 hours of run time and is plenty bright enough in most situations.  It doesn’t just blink like some lights, but softly cycles its brightness up and down about once a second.  The light also gives a nice colored indicator on the back about the status of the battery.  That’s very handy, but if you’re not paying attention it also gives you a warning that things are about to quickly get really dark  by rapidly blinking the headlight for several seconds before shutting down.  It’s a warning that you can’t miss and gives enough time to safely stop the bike.  Fortunately, I only put myself in that position once through my own miscalculations.

I’m continually amazed at what we have available for headlights now.  I recall when night riding involved weak little lights powered by standard batteries or halogen bulbs using heavy lead-acid water bottle batteries with a tangle of wires and mounting hardware.  All this is outperformed by a small LED light with lithium ion battery that you can easily stuff in your pocket and light enough that you could forget about it.  Light & Motion has put together a very high quality product that is so simple and small that it’s easy to take it for granted.  Even with the minor hassle of the warranty replacement, I can say that I would definitely buy another one of their lights if I were in the market for a new one.

It illuminates snowy single-track as well.
It illuminates snowy single-track as well as snowy deer tracks.

Rating:

  • Innovation: 2/2
  • Function: 2/2
  • Aestheitcs: 2/2
  • Features: 2/2
  • Quality/Price: 2/2
  • Overall Rating: 10/10

Pros:

  • Bright!
  • Very good construction
  • simple effective mounting system.
  • long run times.
  • Made in the U.S.

Cons:

  • long charge time.
  • USB charging cable doesn’t come with a wall adapter
  • You can get similar lights for less money (but I wouldn’t expect their quality to be as high).

Package

Specs:

  • 700 lumens on high (med: 350 low: 175: pulse: 175)
  • weight: 112g
  • Run time: 1:30 on high to 12:00 on pulse
  • charge time: 6 hours
  • battery: Lithium Ion
  • mounts: bar and helmet
  • MSRP: $159.00