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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Gone Fishin' tour of New Zealand

Plans for this years tour are beginning to firm up. Flights are booked - I'll be departing for Dunedin on October 19 to spend a month touring mostly the back roads around the bottom of the New Zealand's Southland.

From Dunedin I'm going to ride part way along the Otago rail trail then take to the back roads and head north across Danseys Pass and Hakataramea Pass to Lake Tekapo, before turning back south for Wanaka. I did the Tekapo – Wanaka section last tour, this time I'm going to divert cross-country from Omarama to rejoin the Otago Rail, then head to Wanaka via Thomsons Gorge.

I will take a detour in to Mount Cook Village this time, but the main reason for returning to Wanaka (apart from it being a spectacularly scenic place) is that I want to ride the Crown Range Road (the highest in New Zealand) over to Queenstown, where I will take the old steamer TSS Earnslaw across Lake Wakitipu and then ride the back roads to Mavora Lakes, where I'm going to spend some time fishing to see if I can catch some trout in the lakes.

Then I'll head to Te Anau for some more fishing will and probably take an excursion to Doubtful Sound, as I've already visited Milford Sound. From there it'll be right down to the bottom through Invercargill, stopping to see the world's fastest Indian, then on to Bluff, before retuning along the Catlins coast to Dunedin.

There is a new tour journal on the menu where I've posted the details so far. More to come.

Fush'n'chups anyone? :lol:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What about the Rohloff?

The cost of a Rohloff Speedhub is not particularly an issue for me, and unlike other buyers I perceive no need to defend or justify my choice. It's a big ticket item in cycling terms and naturally, one that I expect to deliver significant value for the the expense. So if I'm not satisfied with it, I'm going to say so.

When you read comments and reviews by Rohloff users, it's easy to get drawn in by their obvious enthusiasm for the product. It's rare to find negative comments. Typically positive comments are likely to be:
  • easy to shift
  • wide gear range
  • evenly spaced gears
  • low maintenance
  • legendary reliability
  • great factory support.
Much of this commentary originates from Rohloff's marketing. I had some reservations about the gear spacing - my preference is for close ratios, but otherwise I was won over.

So now with 3000 kilometers of riding with the Rohloff under my wheels, what do I think about it? Well, I would have to say I'm distinctly underwhelmed:

  • The Speedhub is generally easy to shift, but I don't find the twist grip shifter very ergonomic. And it does not shift well under load, so shifting technique is no better and perhaps even a little inferior to derailleur gears. But, and this is a big but - the shift from 8th to 7th gears is problematic, and if you don't get it right you can easily find you're in 14th gear just when you don't need it. Yes, you do get used to it, but it's not what I expect from the Mercedes Benz of bike transmissions.
  • Yes the range is impressive, but there are only 14 gears to cover the entire range. For me, the steps between the gears are too wide. This means that the gear I'm using is alternatively too high or too low, so I'm frequently hunting up and down the gears to one with a comfortable cadence. Which leads to the next point.
  • I have long felt that derailleur gears with typically close ratios in the high range and wide ratios in the low range was a serious flaw, so evenly spaced ratios was one the main attractions of the Speedhub. I've since come to realise the derailleur gear systems have it right - the ratios are close in the most commonly used gears where they need to be, and wide at the infrequently used gears, where there will be a significant drop in pace anyway.
  • By repute the Speedhub is very reliable, but dig a little deeper and you start to find reports of cracked flanges, worn bearings, and oil leaks. Not an avalanche by any means, but enough to dispell any notions of infallibility.
  • And by all reports it seems that Rohloff do provide excellent support. But the hub has to be returned to Germany in the advent of a failure, and that may seriously disrupt travel arrangements. There has also been reports of some countries charging import duties when the hub is returned.
  • Finally, there is one flaw that is seldom mentioned. In the lower gears the Speedhub is noisy. In seventh gear it's very noisy. Annoyingly noisy. Embarrassingly noisy. "You paid all that money to put up with that racket?" Tsk Tsk.
On the road, the Speedhub provides little to improve rider comfort or performance, apart from the ability to change gears while stationary - something I rarely need to do anyway. Intangibles like ease of  maintenance may be of value to those who are mechanically inept, reliability and support of value to those on a long tour. If like myself you are mechanically competent, or only have time for shorter tours, a derailleur gear is probably a better choice.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Van Nicholas Pioneer update...

Nearly 3000 kilometers have passed under the wheels since the Pioneer build was completed, so it's a good time for an update.

Remarkably, the bike has required little in the way of adjustment or fine tuning since putting it on the road. A minor tweak to the angle of the bar ends, and a tightening of the headset is about all.  Oh, and a tightening of the chainring bolts, which worked loose.

That is not to say there have been no changes - the Supernova E3 Pro lightset has been installed. The 26" x 2.0" Schwalbe Marathon Dureme tyres swapped to narrower 1.6" Marathon Supreme for the urban riding that I'm mostly doing. The Rohloff hub now has a 17 tooth sprocket to lower the gearing a little, and to correct a minor chainline misalignment, the original 118mm bottom bracket was replaced by one with a 122mm axle. And I added a mirror. Yes, me - with a mirror on my bike.

On the road, the Pioneer is a real pleasure. The cockpit is roomy, and it is easy to pedal out of the saddle, but the reach remains comfortable. Despite having the tyres inflated hard for urban riding, the titanium frame soaks up road vibrations and provides a lovely smooth ride. The brakes are extremely powerful, and I'm confident they will easily control the speed of the loaded bike on any steep mountain descents. The steering seems agile enough, yet very stable, and I'm getting used to the flat bars. Although wider than preferred, they cannot be further shortened.

There is one aspect of the bike that is a little underwhelming - the Rohloff hub. I will post about this  separately, but for now suffice to say that it does not quite live up to my high expectations. I'm keeping and open mind about it until I have completed a loaded tour - who knows, my views may change.

So how does the Pioneer compare with the Sabbath? Very favourably I think. As an expedition bike it is definitely heavier, but the handling and ride qualities are very similar, and the brakes are much better. I'm looking forward to my next tour when I'll be tackling a few back country roads in New Zealand. More about that later.