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44HQ X Shimano XTR M9000 Shake Down

XTR M9000

Well, it happened. I ordered myself an XTR M9000 drivetrain for my trail bike. I had been running Sram X9 on this build for some time and it was in need of a change since the cassette and chain were well worn and the derailleur was starting to show signs of wear when shifting (yes aesthetically it was worn, but functionally it was starting to show some signs of wear that I was just working with and putting up with). Sram has treated me well. My fat bike sports XX1 and I have been thoroughly pleased with the gear ranges and set up overall. Part of what I do (build bikes) and what I ride happens to be rolling examples of my work. I find myself often taking these bikes to shows, using them in catalogs and online. I have to admit I don’t have a strict allegiance to either SRAM or Shimano. I will say I have preferences which is reflective in my builds that show a mix of components that get the job done best for the type of riding and terrain I frequent. But admittedly, it would be really nice to have a Sram build and a Shimano build at shows to display and speak to customers or potential clients. Literally show everyone I’m speaking with the benefits of both, how they compare, what works better than others, why they are the way they are and let the customer decide (with guidance of course!).

The backstory: Truth be told, what stimulated this whole “thing” was my switch some years ago from my trusty Shimano M636’s to a set of Crank Brothers Egg Beaters. At the time, I had been on that set of 636’s for a good 12-15 years. Almost every single ride I had been on was on those pedals. However, in comparison to current offerings at the time, they were big bricks and I was looking to lighten the load some. Enter Crank Brothers Egg Beaters. Light. Simple. Minimal. Just what the doctor ordered. Spring tension? Can’t adjust it… oh well, I’m not that fussy. They worked well and I got a second set for my other bike (so the old ones went off, the new style went on my primary trail bike). That’s when trouble hit. Seemed like the new design’s springs would wear out quickly. They’d rattle 3 months from purchase. This last set, well within 2-3 rides they were rattling and have less than optimal retention. That’s no good. So I was looking to go back to Shimano pedals this season. Well that didn’t happen as suddenly, Shimano had changed their policy towards Frame Builders and I was no longer able to purchase or provide them to clients. That has since been rectified and I can now offer them again to clients. What I ride is what people come to me to build. So being able to ride what you sell is important I think – it’s been vetted, and I KNOW how it works since I thus have experience with it, riding it, wrenching it. So two sets of XTR M9000 pedals arrived late this spring:

XTR M9000 Pedals

O.K. Totally blown away by fit and finish but I realized I didn’t even know what I had been missing. Positive pop in AND pop out. First ride the cleats felt a little sticky as they meshed with the SPD engagement points. That went away in a few rides as things started to mate up and sharp corners got rounded off a bit with use (we’re talking subtle things folks – really subtle). The pedals offer just enough platform to stomp on, but good positive SNAP when engaged or disengaged. And adjustable spring tension to fine tune the release and retention. Something I did miss but again, I like to set things and just ride. I don’t fiddle too much – I like to wrench my bikes but it’s mostly cleaning and the occasional mid season break down of the drivetrain when things get dusty. The only gripe if you can call it that is the lack of a pedal wrench flat on the spindle. Small gripe mind you – but it’s not a deal breaker.

Well after riding them for a few weeks, my mind was made up: Time to order up a XTR M9000 drivetrain! I also was working a plan. Since I build what I ride and then show what I build/ride making my bikes rolling examples of my work, I decided to rebuild my single speed so it had the ability to be run as an SS but also be a 1×11 Sram XX1 or X1 build. This way, I would have options to bring to shows, and compare / contrast the two different builds side by side when speaking with clients. I have been running Shimano XTR M980 brakes for some time. These, hands down, are some of the best disc brakes money can buy. Honestly, there is no competition according to my opinion. So let’s get back to the new XTR goodies…

Shimano announced a while back that they would be handling all the distribution basically for OEM accounts. My order was fulfilled through their new B2B website and was a cinch to use (I’ve used it in the past, but it is well organized and painless). When I have had questions, I’ve called Shimano directly and they have been very helpful. Occasional orders come in several boxes some times from the same distribution center which is odd, but things arrive. My only gripe there would be to ship everything at once and save on packaging materials.

Out of the box, XTR M9000 is spectacular. Smooth. Sexy. Refined. Ease of set up. Some include instructions for specs/setup, others you have to go online. One thing I noticed was unfortunately the chain does not come with directions for recommendations on how much chain is required for overlap when wrapping it around the largest cog/chainring. I had to go online for that. I thought it was two, but had to confirm. If they included this as part of the graphic on the packaging or as a small graphic on the wrapper (which they do do for chain orientation) I think that would be pretty slick. Again, small gripes, not deal breakers. Got the brake set up, lines shortened and all back together. No bleeding necessary. I used the existing rotors (XT ISO 6-Bolt) that were on my Industry 9 wheels – so no ice tech rotors here unfortunately, just XT down low from when I was running XTR M980’s which were still in really good shape with little wear. Here’s the cockpit all set up:

XTR M9000 Cockpit

One thing I noticed is iSpec II is indeed different and not available here yet. That would have been nice to rid myself of that extra clamp, but it’s very minimal and doesn’t take up much room. You’ll note that I’ve used some heat shrink tubing around the housing end caps. One small step more to seal out the weather – I do this at both ends. Aesthetically the only thing “OFF” to my eye was the relatively square look and feel of the shifter body in relation to the brake lever body. Most likely due to the nature of the shift mechanism, but it did feel a little different – when mounted up things mate up well. First ride was to bed in the new pads and stopping power was back to what I would expect. Shifter and shifts at first felt a little stiff and clunky. Speaking with a friend, apparently the previous shifters were thought to be too soft? I don’t know or have experience there. But the shifter itself felt kind of cold and hard between shifts. What has been interesting though is that “feel” has really gone away and smoothed out as I’ve been out each time. I’d say last nights ride things were down right crisp and snappy without having that tough feel I first experienced. Things meshing and improving as you use them? Maybe so! Big change for me from the M9000 vs the M980’s is the lever being carbon vs alloy. When temps get colder here in NH come winter, my fingers can get prematurely cold on rides due to the levers getting cold. The switch to carbon is mostly weight savings, but it will be REALLY interesting how this effects the feel in colder weather for me. Back to the shifter: Shimano offers this as a “2 Way” shifter. So you can push or pull one of the levers to drop down the cassette. I’ve carried over from Sram that “push-push” tendency. I did note it’s a little cumbersome to pull when the shifter is rotated to how I like it – basically the handlebar is in the way to really pull it all the way. Maybe once the iSpec-II mount is available this tiny aspect will improve. But I’m very happy with the ability to push-push my way up and down the cluster.

Personal setup wise, here’s how I like things: I align the start of the lever body of the brake with the edge of the grip. I don’t like them slammed up against the grips (ODI Yeti Lock-on Speed Grips for the win kids – nothing finer! And… Made in the USA). I like about .75-1″ space between grip and clamp which puts that lever body in the single digit “just-so” position. For the shifter, I align the tip of the thumb lever with the grip’s edge as well. I have longer fingers and wide palms, and prefer to run my hands almost to the very end of the grips when Shredding, this puts my thumb just in the right spot to snap off shift up or down the cassette using Shimano’s 2 Way shifter setup. So if you wondered, that’s how and why I set my own shifter/lever up.

And let’s get to the rear end now:

Waiting on a direct mount hanger from Paragon...

First note: Yes I am not using a direct mount hanger. Paragon Machine Works is currently out of their direct mount hangers in black. Clear anodized is out of the question! Not on this build… I spoke to Donna Norstad at PMW and they are about 4-6 weeks out till they come back into stock. No problem Donna! I’m a patient man. I have used them on other customer builds and it drastically improves dropping the wheel when needing to pull the rear wheel off. So admittedly, I did miss Sram’s Cage Lock mechanism. I won’t lie. Spring tension is controllable and tunable which is interesting. Set up was a little different than Sram’s set up steps but it’s small things in terms of alignment of cogs/pulleys, how much tension to put on the derailleur cable, how things are routed, etc. Just different – not necessarily bad. First ride out I noticed a little odd clicking far up on the cassette. Few adjustments later that night and clicking went away to be replaced by an odd click-creak-click-creak. It has been REALLY dry here in NH the past few weeks. The trails are very dusty this early in the season and I had a hunch maybe it was the cranks interface with the bottom bracket that might need cleaning/re-greasing. Pulled that after the 3rd ride, cleaned, re-greased, assembled and tested in the yard outside the shop. Halfway through my ride last night, well that clicking odd noise returned and it definitely was coming from the cassette. The cassette’s carriers is made of a individual clusters mounted / riveted to a carbon composite spider. XT apparently sports alloy spiders. I noted that the very last cluster sits and meshed on part of the next in lines composite spider and just pushing on this with one finger I was able to replicate the noise (which basically sounds like you get sticks or small grit/gravel between things) and I want to say my ear is hearing this. Next step is to take this apart and apply a really thin layer of grease on these two mating parts to see if that abates the noise. IF it does not, I’d actually consider getting an XT M8000 cassette which has alloy spiders. Anything plastic/composite etc. on the drivetrain is just waiting to creak or explode (My own opinion). I don’t know if anyone else is experiencing this same problem, but it’s literally only happening on the 31t and 35t cogs. (EDIT: Appears many others are experiencing the same thing… My grease theory may work – and I’ll try the carbon paste too.) For the record, I’ve wrenched my fair share of bikes in the past and know all too well how noise can travel. This REALLY sounds like it’s coming from the cassette and my initial thought or hunch that it might be coming from the carrier interfaces was brushed aside since “It’s brand new, that CAN’T be it” and hence looking at the crank first!. But, everything else is just dandy. Transitions between cogs is amazing. Smooth and usable all the way through that range from 11-40t. I really, really like that 40t when you just need to sit back and pedal up a steep climb.

I recently switched over to a 30t chainring (Wolftooth Drop Stop to be exact – and yeah, ignore that Egg Beater as this is an older picture…):

44 Bikes X Race Face Cinch

For years I ran a 32t chainring up front. It really was that perfect or near perfect trail setup 1x ring for me. The only problem was I noticed I was mostly in the upper range of my cassette over the course of the ride. The terrain here in NH and the Northeast typically is made up of short, steep technical climbs. So my drivetrain was crossed over most of the ride on any given ride. Not bad per say, but it did lend to wear more readily. Admittedly, I felt like a big time puss for going down to a 30t. But, instantly I noted I was able to use practically the entire cassette and now for the majority of the ride I was in the middle of the cassette. Good for the drivetrain and I also noted that when in the 40t, to me, it really felt like a granny again which is good for my aging lower back… 10 speed, it really felt like they got the transitions right. 11 speed even more so and as I mentioned above, XTR M9000’s cassette cog transitions are pretty close to heaven if there is one.

As an aside, my build above is sporting the new metallic sparkle silver top mount decals from SSSink. Really digging the little things and these really bring the build together.

All in all, with exception to the small clicking noise I’m still working through in the 31t / 35t cogs which happens only out of the saddle for the most part, (seated climbs seem ok) Shimano has nailed it, again. Consider me transported home. I don’t think I’ve run a Shimano drivetrain since 1998, and I want to say my own full shimano drivetrain wasn’t present since my very first mountain bike, a florescent yellow Trek Antelope 830! Good grief… Even then in ’98, it was a mix of the then Shimano LX and a set of Grip Shifts and a pair of Shimano M636’s – I had the very first set of Shimano SPD’s which were a hand me down from a friend. I then got a set of 737’s for my road bike and got those 636’s for my mountain bike. They all treated me well over the years and carried me on practically every ride up until my switch some years ago. But I always preferred the snappy “POP” of Sram’s shifter and the push-push nature of things, hence why I was riding it. But, it’s nice to return to Shimano and have this build in the quiver. I’m very pleased with it and I’m looking forward to sharing it with clients when they pay a visit at the shop to talk bikes and decide. Whatever the case may be, in the end, I’l have builds to show them both sides of the coin (SRAM and Shimano) so we can speak to both advantages/disadvantages of both setups and why choosing one over the other or using a mix of components to fine tune the ride can be a good thing.

More later once I’ve had more time on this set up mid season or late into the fall. Till then, keep pedaling and as always: Swear to Shred.

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Marauder 2×11

Head

Next up as a result of all those patient clients waiting for top mount decals is a long time client out of Arizona who used to call Lyndeborough, NH home. This one’s built around a 100mm Fox Fork, will take a 30.9mm dropper and can go dedicated 1×11 or 2×11. Classic external cable routing to keep things clean and simple. Flat black powder with gloss silver metallic decals. This one went out the door as soon as the decals were applied and has been built up. Just waiting on that first shake down ride notes from the stoked owner. Here’s a few to keep you warm at night. Looking forward to more of these builds as they come up in the list! Enjoy.

44 Bikes X Marauder 2x

The Details…

Details: Made in NH

Details : Swear It

Parting Shot. Check those seat stays! Lots of heel clearance. Lot’s of mud/tire clearance. And those curves add some compliance for a nice snappy ride.

44 Marauder X Tail

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Proud Customer

Proud Customer

My parents were up this weekend for a visit. Leading up to the date, I was prepping a bike for my Dad. When I built the next version of my own fat bike, I made some upgrades that left me with essentially a parts kit for another bike… I was originally going to sell everything off but I got to thinking. My Dad had been really curious about my fat bike and speaking with him, I got the hunch that perhaps the Plus sized tires would actually be right up his alley. He does a lot of mixed terrain, some single track but he also needs something to take him off the beaten path to access some lake shore lines as well as crossing fields and such as he does a lot of arrowhead hunting back home in PA. My hometown and surrounding area is littered with old farmers fields that if you know what and where to look, you’ll come back with pockets full of percussion flakes and the occasional point/artifact. This is something as a kid, he taught me and we shared many afternoons searching together. A plan started to formulate and I made a few slight upgrades with new brakes, grips and I had a spare set of Jones Loop Bars too which are perfect for carrying a small load. Rather than sell this beast, I decided to keep it in the family so to speak.

So up above is my Dad with his brand new 29+. This bike was technically Proto #3 and was built to take both 5″ fat bike wheels and 29+. Like I said above and after speaking with him a bunch this weekend, 29+ seemed to fit the bill! With a few adjustments things fit him well (actually I guessed on the saddle height and it was perfect…).

For the record, this is the guy who 44 Bikes is largely inspired by and where the number comes from… His number was “44” and why I basically wore/chose “44” as my own number. Much of what I know and what made me who I am is because of him. Super proud to have Dad on a 44 and he was really looking forward to getting his new bike home, re-assembled and hitting some dirt. I can’t wait to hear about all his adventures and where this bikes takes him. (Love you Dad and it was wonderful to give you the bike.)

Here’s a few shots of the build for all to enjoy…

Dad's 29+!

1x10 Drivetrain

Made in NH

My Dad chose his lucky number to be 138. This is the street number of my parents home in PA. What I did not know is that the numbers 1, 3 and 8 kept popping up for my Dad. Apparently it was the last three digits of his first car’s license plate (318) and ironically his room number in his barracks in the Air Force (318). Nice little piece of number history.

Lucky No. 138

Parting Shot.

Dad's 29+!

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Huntsman X Candy Blue

Huntsman X Candy Blue

Up on deck next is a Huntsman with room for 40mm tires and built for a 2×11 setup as well as Disk Brakes. Parts kit included ENVE Tapered Disk CX Fork, Thomson Collar and a Cane Creek 110 headset. This one’s headed north to Vermont and will cruise a mix of dirt roads and pilot the owner over that next hill to destinations unknown. This particular powder coat is a two stage candy blue. Base layer of chrome gets applied, baked and then a translucent blue clear is applied for the second coat/baking. Only trouble is that this particular candy was giving the powder shop the fits. So she had to go back 2 times before it was “just so”. I take a lot of pride in my work and the paint or powder needs to reflect that. QC is key and the powder shop was good to stick with it to solve the problem and make things right. Sometimes that happens and so it goes with the powder process. But, the result is drop dead gorgeous (in my opinion) and worth the fuss. I finished things off with the new metallic silver top mount decals. Here’s a few shots from the studio for all to enjoy.

Curves

Huntsman : Sans Stand

Huntsman

Made in NH

Parting shot.

Negative Space

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Huntsman X Flat Black w/ Reserve Stock Gold Decals

Amateur Hour is Officially OVER

Up on deck once the decals arrived was Jimmy’s Huntsman. Jim’s currently deployed overseas, so we’ve been talking about his build via email when he can get a connection. Once decals arrived, there was a slight hitch with my signature flat black/gloss decal look. The two new decals (Swear to Shred and Made in NH) have an overprint of mylar which actually is a field instead of an outline like the large DT Script. Kind of standard practice since they are small and on the delicate side. Well, on flat black, the gloss black field of powers the black letters of the smaller decals (large decals are fine) and you just see that outlined field. Ok, but not so ok. We discussed this and decided to add some flair. I opened up the reserve stock to Jim and now I’m kicking myself for not having more Gold printed… So a phone call is in order to SSSink in the near future! But check it out. This build really came together and I have to say Gold is my new favorite combination. I’ve got some special projects planned that are coming up, so be sure to see these pop up again at a later date on some unique builds.

Huntsman : Back in Black

Tail

And, it’s all about the details. Made in NH!

Made in NH

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The Eagle Has Landed

44TSB-1

44TSB-1

44 Bikes Technical Service Bulletin No. 1 : Attention all clients of the past. For immediate release, an official 44 Bikes Decal Kit of your choosing in Black, White, Silver, Red or Blue. (Gold is a special reserve stock for special projects temporarily until we can get more printed). Please contact me directly, contact information via my website if you would like a kit to replace your existing Vinyl decals! Huntsman’s get the large SICK & Single Decal Kit, mountain bikes/fat bikes get the Double Trouble Down Tube Kit. I’ll include the 44 Bikes HT Decal for your car, coffee cup, computer or tool box. I’ll ship these out with special instructions for placement guidelines. Free of charge.

These decals are printed right here in the good old U.S. of A by Gary Prange and crew of SSSink. Gary’s very knowledgeable and his staff are more than capable. So when it was time to choose a specialist, there was only one choice. It was a pleasure to work with them on this project and I’m already cooking up more colors to be printed…

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Made in New Hampshire

44 Bikes : Made in NH

I’ve been attempting to get my top mount decal art sorted. These will be printed by none other than SSSink. The logo and logo font have been finished for some time. The one piece that has had me a bit stumped was the “Made in NH” art. I’ve been working on and off for a few months now when inspiration hits me, and in between other design work or between frame builds. But this has one just seems to be evading me for some reason. Nothing felt right… Or “Just So” as Poppy would say. A good majority of the time, when I create graphics like this I have good direction, inspiration abounds and things come together. For whatever reason, things were just not clicking for me on such a simple piece (and maybe that was the problem?). But like all things I do, it has to have meaning. Nothing I do can’t for some reason, and perhaps that is my attention to detail oriented personality. I think it’s part and parcel to the knowledge and training passed along to me that everything should be considered and nothing left to waste or not to have meaning. If it’s a detail in the design, it must have a purpose otherwise it’s just a kind of tinsel.

I was working on this again this past week, again getting no where fast when it occurred to me the parallels between artifacts and bicycles. Both are tools, purpose built with specific intention. Materials are chosen and used. Methods perfected and hopefully passed along to the next generation to be once again, perfected, honed and perhaps from repetition and use, new methods or advancements are made. It’s a really interesting cycle. And it’s a cycle I find many parallels with when it comes to building bicycles. And I only just realized it this past week when sitting back looking at these artifacts I found as a kid and teen.

Where I grew up, if you know where to look, Native American artifacts abound. I was lucky enough to have a Father who at a young age, took an interest in all this and began arrowhead hunting in the fields surrounding his house in Red Hill, Pa. Back then, from his back door (and later that same backdoor of my grandparents), he could take to wide open fields which dotted the Perkiomen (a local stream). This was later the home of a large reservoir which was created as a feeder to Philadelphia I believe. But as I grew up, he often retold stories of his adventures by himself walking the farmers fields which dotted our valley and followed the Perkiomen. Many of which when I grew up, had been surrendered to the lake and thus these stories of these special places now locked under several feet of water were retold.

My Dad’s actually a great story teller. He has a special way of telling something simple that captures the imagination. At least it captures mine and I am all ears when he begins a story. One particular place was the old Judge Knight Farm. When the lake is low due to a drought, we’d “sneak” out and rake the exposed beach in time before a summer rain. This acts much like a plow would in a farmers field and brings any chips or pieces to the surface to be washed clean. So this habit of his carried through to adulthood and as a kid, he would take me out to specific sites/farmers fields to hunt arrowheads. He taught me about the materials used, what to look for in a potential site, where in the site to look, and “how” to look. That’s an important piece of information passed on mind you. Anyone can look, but it takes a discerning eye to actually SEE what you are looking at. This carries over into many things I do I have found. Looking is one thing, but to truly see is something very different and very subtle.

Anyway, one of my first points I found was the Perkiomen Broad Point. A specific piece to my region where I grew up that has a distinctive shape. These are points roughly 5000-6000 years BP. AKA possibly older than the dirt they’re sitting in. I have one piece that’s is close to 13,000 years old. Makes you feel kind of trivial when you hold this piece in your hand. But those in the know, it’s kind of a right of passage to find one I think, or at least that is the impression my Dad gave me when I came home with said point. The day is kind of etched in my memory. I remember I had ridden my bike to a field out by the Perkiomen Heights and spent the better part of the day picking up chips throughout the newly plowed field. It was getting late in the day and I figured I’d give one more row a once over before heading back home. Patiently walking, hands behind my back combing the dirt, I saw the end sticking out. This is the moment you spend all hours waiting for actually. If you don’t know what to look for, you’d pass this up. Often, pieces like this are broken and rare now complete. So you pick them up with a bit of hesitation. Could it be a perfect point? Often they are not, which this one was not (the very tip of it was knocked off making it a touch over 10cm in length and 7.5cm in width). But my heart raced and sank all at the same time at finding this one:

Perkiomen Broad Point

So thinking on this, I had some direction. I know my home is in New Hampshire now, but I can’t help but think about where my heart will always remain. That’s outside in those fields and woods of the Upper Perkiomen Valley. I have fond memories of exploring those hills just outside of town both with my Father, his best friend Marshall and later on my own as a young teen either by myself or with my best buddy. So that’s what this little piece is all about. Made in NH. But the “X” marks the spot where my heart is. The arrowhead / artifact at the bottom is a nod to where my heart is but also to all those times exploring which now ties into the creation of bicycles as tools. I’ve taken a little liberties to stylize the art a bit more based on other similar pieces from my collection so it’s not an exact copy of the piece above but more a take on several for the record. But that’s the story and once printed, these will adorn each frame at the base of the down tube just above the bottom bracket. Kind of the heart of the bike, so a fitting location for this little simple graphic up above. Here’s the finalized decal kit ready to be sent off to SSSink:

44 Top Mount Decals