Originally, the 3rd installment of my “Why I build” series was going to be on my own personal fat bike. I’ve decided to shelve that one for a bit as I have some special updates for the 2015 Winter Season in order, which I think will be best addressed with the current build and compare it with the newer prototype. In contrast, many have sounded the alarm that they’re looking forward to my write up on my own personal singlespeed, so I decided the 3rd installment will be on my own personal singlespeed. So without any further delay, let’s roll up our sleeves and get right down to it…
As you can see from the picture above, we’re looking at a completely different beast than what is in some ways my “signature” look. This is more of a traditional diamond set up. I’ve layered on some modern twists and tuned the geometry, component spec and set up for my local terrain and with this build: my typical ride duration. Most days as I’ve mentioned previously, I have an hour or two to spare at the end of the day and most weekends, riding isn’t necessarily an afterthought, but sometimes gets pushed back in time for later in the day as we’ve been working on house repairs these past few years (which is never ending…). So with an hour or so to spare most rides, the itch for a fast, flickable, fun ride is in order. I’ve built up my singlespeed to reflect that ethos. A radius seat tube gets that rear tire packed beneath the rider, deeply curved seat stays offer plenty of tire and heel clearance. Custom formed chainstays add lateral stiffness so the power transfer goes from pedal to rear wheel quickly. The added heel clearance also is a benefit when the stays are run super short (this one has adjustment from 16-16.8″). Drastically sloping top tube gives you plenty of clearance.
EDIT: There are 2 big reasons for this more traditional diamond build setup as a singlespeed apart from the purity of form/function. First being that I get a lot of inquiries about traditional diamond mountain bike frames. My “signature” frame appearance which balances form and function isn’t always for everyone and some just crave that traditional look. Clients want to know how I would handle that kind of build and having one like this in the stable, allows me to speak directly to not only a traditional diamond frame but also to the idea of a dedicated build (in this case a singlespeed). I also can speak to some of those touches that I transfer to a diamond frame (sloping top tube, radius seat tube, deeply curved/formed seat and chainstays…). The second reason, and more of a functional one, is the higher connection point between seat tube and top tube. This fully supports the seat post and allows me to fine tune just how much top tube clearance is balanced with power transfer while seated in the saddle. Too much seat post extension, and you start to bob a bit. Too little, and yes it’s stiff, but you lose some of that clearance and passive suspension. So given the clients inseam amongst other measurements, I can fine tune that small detail of top tube clearance and balance out passive seat post suspension with stiffness while seated cranking.
It started life as a fully rigid setup with a Whisky No. 7 tapered disk fork up front. This was a non-TA style fork. It was rigid at the end of the day, but offered some vibration soaking treatment up front as carbon lend itself to. The biggest factor for me was actually getting used to THAT light of a front end. For NAHBS, I was offered the newer Whisky No. 9 Tapered Disk TA fork. Axle to crown was about the same, so on it went for the show. First ride out I came to an almost immediate conclusion: That fork is STIFF. So much so I was beat up for a few days afterwards. I really had to check speed in tech and I was getting thrashed – literally thrashed… even with adjusting tire pressure to no avail. The barrage of tech here is constant. There really is no let up – even if it’s small stuff. It’s just constantly roots, rocks, obstacles. So after a few rides, I had enough. There really is a level of stiffness that just is not worth it. I opted to run a Fox 100mm 32 Float. What. A. Difference. The lockout works well. The fork is plush and the trail adjustments really fine tune the ride. Sure it’s a bit heavier, but my hands, back and shoulders were happy again. The two forks Whisky offers are really night and day in terms of the degree of stiffness. The No. 9 felt too stiff to me, where the No. 7 although not a TA fork, still offered some resiliency while keeping with stiffness where you want and need it. IMO: They should really offer the No. 7 with a TA option. The internal cable routing on the No. 9 is novel, but I felt it was not necessary and a hassle if you switch between suspension and a rigid setup with hydraulic brakes. I had to cut the line 2 times and use 2 new olives and barbs to install and then remove the fork. A simpler solution would be a much better idea for that fork.
Front end sports ENVE Mtn. Risers, XTR Trail Brakes, Cane Creek 40 Series headset (cheap, light, affordable – all 3 in one reliable option) and a Thomson Elite Mtn. Stem. If you look closely in the side shots of the bike, you’ll take note the Thomson stem is a touch longer than my other builds which are all 90mm’s. This one is 100mm in length. Why that extra 10mm? Well, I noticed in long sustained climbs on my singlespeed, my lower back was getting sore. So out of curiosity, I threw on a longer stem to see if that helped give me a little more room to relax and spread out on long, out of the saddle climbs. No more pain. Go figure. Both this bike and my geared mtn. bike are the same in terms of cockpit and top tube length with a 90mm stem. That little extra spread gave me what I needed to spread out and relax on long climbs. The top cap is an older Cane Creek top cap. Why? Simple: That was the first head set upgrade I ever made and that is that headset’s top cap. Little piece of fun history on there for me to look at when I’m in the pain cave. Grips are of course Yeti Lock-on style speed grips. The bars are uncut at a whopping 740mm in width. Especially on a singlespeed, that extra leverage to rock the bike back and forth up the short, punchy climbs is a must. Tight tree’s be damned. End caps are MASH road bar caps. Light. Small. Simple single expansion bolt design. Protects the end of the bars if the bike gets laid down.
Seat stays sit at 16″ slammed. They’re currently in the 16.5″ range (adjustment via Paragon Machine Works hooded sliders goes to 16.8″). I was running a 32t chainring in combo with an 18t cog for a long time, and the chainstays sat around 16.25″. I wanted to try a 19t cog, and deployed Endless’s offerings in a black 19t cog. This changed the overall length of the chain a touch, so hence the stays were dialed out a tad more. The big difference here is the pickup of the bike with obstacles. It’s quick, but not like what it was when sitting at 16.25″. A slight tradeoff, but the flip side is the 19t cog allows me to spin a bit more and not have to grind as much up some of our short steeps. A 29er with 16″ stays hopped over an obstacle, you would be surprised just how fast that rear wheel follows you over the object. 16-16.25″ chainstays are incredible for quickness and agility in the 29″ wheel size (and that is with room for a 2.5″ tire btw). The immense trade off in those two cases is long term comfort. 2-3 hours in and you’re wondering what is going on. You get beat up and it catches up with you. 16.5-16.75″ is kind of a sweet spot (more so 16.5″) for long term comfort and maneuverability. That’s just what I have found. Also: I opted for the titanium combination bolts that Paragon offers. If you do get a custom SS with these style dropouts, pay the extra cash for these bolts. The sockets are deep, accept a 6mm drive and you can really get them tight. A little grease on the threads and they come off easily.
Cranks and chainrings are e13. I have a set of Race Face Turbine Cinch cranks on the way for my 29″ geared mountain bike actually. Those cranks are what I have been hoping and wishing for a long time. Elimination of the spider, a true guideless single ring setup in a 3 piece crank. YES: 3 piece cranks. The way cranks should be made. None of this spindle tied to one crank arm bull shit. Seriously. This is what made square taper so good: Spindle length options. The spindle length options for the cinch cranks appear to be rear end specific for now, but perhaps they will offer different spindle lengths in the future. This would really aid in the ability to gain some tire clearance and give you a bit more breathing room with crank, chainring and chainstay clearances. Q-Factor on a mountain bike, for the general public rider is a bit meaningless. We’re not really squeaking out that last bit of performance, and we need our drivetrains to work well. A few extra millimeters would go a long way, and the ability to dial in chainline with movement of the spindle from left to right etc. would be huge. So that’s my one last wish: make different spindle lengths again. But I’m really looking forward to these new Cinch Turbine cranks. For those who want a spider for a double or triple, they’ve got you covered. It’s really brilliant and simple. AND it uses a common tool to put it all together. I was struck dumb by that one gem…
Water bottles fit fine. Big water bottles too. And that is something that I really wanted on this diamond frame too. I’ve got mine as low and tight as they can go. This centralizes the mass of the bike when loaded up, and without a hydration pack, I’ve been using a seat mounted tool roll (home made – I have a Singer industrial sewing machine and use it often). It’s filled full of just the essentials. Any food I carry is in jersey pockets. Pump is mounted on the seat tube beneath the bottle cages (King Cage of course!). I love these striped bottles from Team Dream btw. They’re the Specialized Purist bottles. Nozzle is a tad large in feel at first, but I noted in colder weather, they don’t freeze up actually. The contents of the bottle will begin to freeze before the nozzle does. Little inside “From the North” reportage to all you cold weather ballers. Pump sits on the seat post to get it up and out of the way of the spray from the front tire.
Tires are my personal favorites: Schwalbe Hans Dampf up front in a full 2.4″ tire and their 2.3″ Nobby Nic out back. I realized when replacing one of these Nobby Nics lately that it appears Schwalbe tightened up the tread pattern a bit. I did notice a little dead spot in them on some terrain types, and the tighter nob spacing is kind of a great treatment from the older profile. The loamy soil we have here needs a little more soft compound and these two tires have the deep lugs to bit in, but the softer compound to deal with the loam and exposed rocks we have nicely. The larger volume tires also let me rail corners and pop obstacles easily. I love laying into turns with these tires. There is no guessing. They hold their line. Sure they are a slower rolling tire, but I’m not really caring about that as much as I am about the traction and confidence they inspire. They are setup tubeless and are the snakeskin variety for added protection. Wheels they roll on are Stan’s ARCH EX, and Industry 9’s SS rear hub and 15mm TA front. These are their older classic hubs. The engagement is second to none. The build up is light and durable. I9’s customer support and good cheer are top notch (Ted is THE MAN). And they’re all made in their Asheville, NC production facility. That’s a good thing. Quality. The quick engagement puts power into the pedals instantly and the lack of back pedaling in tech to set the pedals up right isn’t something you need until you have it. They it’s a game changer and you realize what compromises in performance you were taking with your other hubs which have something like 12 degree’s of engagement? Basically a huge dead spot between ON and OFF.
You’ll also note that on all my mountain bikes (fat bike included) I run a 160mm rotor out back and a 180mm rotor up front. The difference being I tend to use a little more front brake for control and that added width gives it to me – sorry moto guys, I run my rear brake on the left… I’m not a skidder nor a rooster. I’m not a burly rider either. Or a clydesdale as they call it. I’m more of a finesse style rider. I like to pick my lines apart and the goal is to be smooth, link lines with flow and have commitment with line choice even if it’s the wrong one (if/when I go down, the last thing I’m letting go of is my bars – must be that BMX background…). I love that aspect of riding when everything is clicking, everything is focus and you’re kind of lost in that zone of just acting/reacting to the trail at hand. Those different rotor sizes gives me the control I’m looking for and Shimano’s XTR Trail brakes provides that stopping power and modulation. These really are some of the best brakes on the market. Out of the box, it’s kind of no questions asked.
Enve set back post with a touch more extension offers up that passive suspension. A single wedge style bolt makes adjustments and leveling of the saddle a piece of cake. Saddle is a Selle Italia SLR Ti. If you are going to invest in a saddle, no matter what the profile, there’s two things to consider other than the actual fit. Buy a natural, leather saddle. Buy a saddle with Titanium rails. Both of these factors make the saddle more pricey, but the Ti rails from my experience do not bend (or are hard to bend). The steel ones I’ve had in the past all have bent. Sometimes on the first ride. The synthetic saddles I have had heat up and cause hot spots. The natural fiber saddles dissipate heat and help to prevent hot spots. On long rides, these two factors other than fit are very important. And a huge tip: ANY SADDLE can be made to feel 110% better by placing your bike on level ground, putting a flat object from tip to tail across the saddle and with a level on top of the saddle… LEVEL the saddle. Seat post binder is a Salsa. Light and not too harsh on the pocket book. Nice thing is it uses a bolt and barrel. If either strip… they can be replaced as they are common parts at a hardware store. TIP: Add a little grease to the bolt head and threads before installation on any binder. And be sure to not OVER tighten the pinch bolt. If you tighten it so tight and you hear the bolt creaking, do yourself a favor and get a torque wrench (Park makes a nice small one). Follow the manufacturers torque specs always.
Geometry wise, head tube is sitting at 70* (sagged), seat tube is 73*, bottom bracket is in the 12.25″ height, and chainstays have adjustment from 16-16.8″ thanks to Paragon’s hooded sliders. Internal cable routing to keep that top tube clean. This IS a dedicated singlespeed. No routing for a rear derailleur. HOWEVER, if Shimano does come out with a true “wireless” Di2 mountain setup (and by wireless, I mean no wires from shifter to derailleur), this would be one slick bike to rule them all. Dedicated singlespeed in one instance. Change out the dropout with Paragon’s modular system, and add a derailleur, shifter and new chain along with a different rear wheel with appropriate cassette and you’ve now got 2 bikes. One can wish on that aspect I suppose.
But that’s it in a nutshell. Why this one’s built the way it is. Flat black with gloss decals to give it that low key, hot rod appeal. Traditional diamond frame because well, there’s nothing like a diamond frame with a few modern twists. Simple. Elegant and functional. Sloping top tube gives you plenty of clearance and that added seat post extension softens the ride a touch more. 44mm tapered steerer to keep things on track, larger O.D. tubes (1.375″ O.D. TT / 1.5″ O.D. DT) helps to stiffen the package up front to keep things tracking in combination with that 44mm tapered / 15mm TA Fox 32mm Float with trail adjust. Build rounds out in the 19 lb range with a little change to spare.