The New Whip

Last August, I posted up an update to why I ride what I ride. You can read about this build’s previous incarnation here. Earlier this season, I made some big changes component wise from a mix of Sram XO/X9 which was a 1×10 setup (and ran a Wolftooth 40t cog for a bit too) to a Shimano XTR M9000 1×11 setup. You can read about that change here. This next incarnation dials in my own mountain bike even further. I read somewhere a few days ago someone asking opinions on how builders’ view “Tuning” their builds. I’ll do my best to help explain my own methodology with this whole notion of tuning the ride. So let’s get started!

Proper

Let’s Tune some rear triangle: One of the big changes with this next incarnation was a move away from a QR rear. Two of my prototype single speed’s sported 12x142mm thru axles in the rear. The power transfer was noticeable without losing any of steel’s notable attributes in the resiliency department. In combination with how I bend/form my chain stays for added lateral stiffness, I was really happy with how the bike felt with power through the pedal into the rear wheel. So making the move to a Thru Axle rear was a must on the bucket list of changes slated for this prototype. Paragon Machine Works DR2065 dropouts made that an easy jump.

12x142

Being that this was also a Shimano drivetrain, I also used their B4033 Direct Mount hanger. This removes part of the linkage in the rear derailleur and is supposed to make rear wheel removal a bit easier (I’m going to argue that Sram’s Cage Lock System actually does a better job at solving this problem now that I have experience with both). But Paragon’s B4033 is a thing of beauty all by itself, so it was deployed for a clean look. One thing I noted though when running through gears with the cage lock in the “ON” position was that shifting progressively got “stiffer” in feel. Thanks to their new Shadow Plus adjustment system, you no longer have to remove the cover on the mechanism. There’s a cap that pops off to reveal a hidden adjustment bolt, and a simple turn of the allen key adds or removes tension from the clutch mechanism. I backed off on some tension and shifting felt a lot smoother and back to normal. I noticed that shifting was smoother when the clutch was in the “off” position, hence my search for the reason of what was up!

Let’s Tune some wheel parts: I also upgraded the wheel set to a set of Industry 9 Torch Trail (32 Spoke version). This incorporates all their new guts in the hubs including the new one size fits all their hubs end cap system. This makes swapping parts a cinch since the end caps pop off and you can adapt to any axle standard. I wanted this current and more refined set up on this build since I all my personal bikes are bikes i take to shows, so the upgrade made sense. The added stiffness of the wheels was unexpected, so dialing in tire pressure took some time to get that “just so” feel. 15-16psi seemed to be the working pressure with these wheels and my new set of WTB Trail Boss tires. 2.4″ up front and a 2.25″ out back (which is more like a 2.3″). I’ve been loving the switch over to WTB tires and the Trail Boss’s have been treating me well. Just enough meat to satisfy the bigger lines and rougher terrain where you need some bite, but small enough so when the going gets smooth and you need to pedal, they roll relatively quickly. These are a really nice “trail” tire. A true mountain bike tire I’d say. Very versatile and the lite versions I’m running have been holding up really, really well here against NH’s granite.

Junctions

Let’s Tune some clearances and tube junctions: With this build, I wanted internal routing to keep the top tube clean but also to squeak JUST that much more room for the 2nd water bottle. It’s a game of millimeters with stuff like this, so every little bit helps. The weight penalty for internal routing is noticeable with tube in hand from my perspective, but the cleanliness it creates for the visual lines of the bike are something to consider. I also wanted the ability to show a potential client bikes with and without routing (My SS has external routing and can be built as a 1×11). So this also covered that base. But with a little tweaking of the drawing, I was able to squeak out just a bit more room for that second water bottle to be tucked in to that small space. This one has more clearance than the previous version, and does not dumb the Down Tube as before… When I place the strut between the seat tube and top tube, I’m considering all the transitions so things come together smoothly without sharp transitions and tube but’s are taking into consideration too when placing a structural piece like this. Everything is considered.

Let’s Tune some Seat Tube’s: So one of the big things that happened earlier in the year was how I make my radius seat tubes. I invested a lot of time and effort into tweaking this process. I now can do it more accurately, repeatability is a cinch between parts and the radius now allows for me to place the saddle with more set back than previously with more clearance capabilities between tube and rear wheel. That’s the problem with building 29er’s and shorter stays (16-16.5 is short in my book – which I can do). The bend is more consistent and a bit tighter of a radius than before. This allows the seat tube to be kicked forward a bit more, allowing me more clearance between tube and tire but also allows me to slacken up the seat tube angle (so a 72 deg. seat tube angle places the saddle where it would be if it were a straight tube at 73 degree’s). Here’s 2 shots of it in process:

Let's make some seat tubes...

With tire in place:

Clearance for Meat and 16.5" C.S. Length

And a close up once finished down by the bottom bracket:

1x11

I can do 31.8mm and 34.9mm O.D. seat tubes, so I can now offer 30.9mm dropper’s. To keep the weight down on this build, I went with a 31.8mm seat tube on this build. That is one penalty of the bigger dropper compatible seat tube is weight, so this is something I decided to weigh (pun intended) when the entire build came into play. Save a little bit in a few spots and suddenly that number adds up as the build comes together.

Further Tuning the ride, let’s tweak some geometry: Over time I’ve gone from a slack front end (69 deg) to a slightly steeper front end (70.5) and have settle in now around 70 degree’s for a head tube angle. Not too steep, not too slack. Kind of a great all around number in combination with a chain stay length of 16.5″ and a bottom bracket drop of 2.25″. Gets the bottom bracket low enough to quicken steering, and add stability through turns, while not being too low where you’re knocking pedals off rocks. Those 3 add up to how the bike handles when playing off one another. Over time I’ve also lengthened my top tube length to open up the cockpit some. This has been a moving target for me. As I’ve aged, my lower back has also aged… I’ve got some early signs of arthritis in my lower back and working with a physical therapist, learned I had to adjust my posture while standing, sitting and when bending over. Basically what i was doing wasn’t helping the issue any. These simple adjustments in posture throughout the day have dramatically helped my overall well being and with added exercises in the gym 2 times a week, this is manageable. With this slight problem, I’ve noted over the course of a ride that I get lazy as I get tired. So a conscious effort to keep my back straight and flat especially while descending has helped that immensely. It takes a lot of effort mentally to keep this all happening, and I catch myself often, but that’s good as I constantly correct myself and my posture now. So lengthening the cockpit some also really helped me open up and flatten my lower back. I’d say over time the cockpit has been lengthened close to 19.05mm / .75″. That’s not a big number, but it’s just enough to allow me to relax a bit more and without feeling too stretched out and have too much weight over the front wheel (that new seat tube and subsequent increase in saddle set back position also helps this too I think). So I’ve further tuned or rather REFINED my posture and matched the geometry and setup to aid in that posture on the bike.

Mean Machine

Component Tuning: Shimano XTR 1×11 is the big change drivetrain wise as well as moving from a 32t front chainring to a 30t. If I were racing I’d most likely run a 32 or 34t? But the 30 allows me to use all of the cassette and the 30t + range on the cassette really starts to feel like a granny as you approach the 40t cog. That means over the course of the ride, my chain is not crossed over as much and that means less wear on the system over time. A big change coming once this bike comes back from John and the Radavist will be to swap the Fox Float 32 to a Fox Float 34 with their new FIT4 damper. Speaking with a client recently, he stated that the slight weight penalty of the 34 is made up by the inherently stiffer feel of the 34mm stanchions. As my fitness has improved and I’ve gotten stronger on the bike, my speed in descents has increased and I feel I’m reaching some limits with the 32 platform at times. It will be interesting to me to compare the two and see what the true differences are between the two sizes and how they match up in the same terrain. More on this later. Last review I was running a set of e13 cranks. These were ditched for Race Face’s Turbine Cinch set up so we can eliminate the spider and go with a true spiders set up with only one adjustment to make and take care off. The other big jump was from Crank Brothers pedals and back to Shimano pedals. I chose the XTR M9000’s to match the drivetrain… Couldn’t. Be. Happier. Positive “click” in, adjustable tension, and a really nice “POP” when you dis-engage. Almost ejects your foot from the SPD mechanism. Not to mention their is a lot more platform and positive feel these pedals. Like I said, I couldn’t be happier.

The shake down happened last night on a group ride for the Hampshire 100 to show any racers interested in the terrain who were unfamiliar and give them a chance to warm up the legs. This was an ideal time for me to put the new build to the test and work out any kinks adjustment wise. The clutch mechanism was one of them along with a clean / re-grease of the cassette. The bike handled well and the new cockpit length fit just so. Power transfer through the pedal to the rear end was really good thanks to the 12×142 thru axle and the WTB Trail Boss tires handled themselves well in the variety of conditions the trail network here sports. We made frequent stops and chatted about the course and spoke about where everyone was from. Seemed like riders were super stoked on the new trails and were excited for today’s race – I’ll be headed over to Oak Park soon in Greenfield, Nh to start my sweep of the 100 miler’s H100 course. Bike is cleaned up, water bottles are chillin’ in the refrigerator. Going to apply my “drink when thirsty, eat when hungry” game plan for this 35 mile ride. I’d take a wild guess that the course is over 1/2 single track and a good amount of it is in the main network of Greenfield’s trail system, with some tough sections to be cleared later in the race by racers. I’m looking forward to speaking with riders at the line and get their thoughts as i know how much work the Greenfield Trails Association put into this years race and especially the ones who set out and planned the course attempting to make it as versatile as possible. So no one skill set could rule the day – a really well balanced rider will come out victorious. That’s what mountain biking is all about and what I try and build into each bike I build. This one is no exception and it’s days like today, yesterday and others that really help me further refine and tune how the bikes ride and what I can do with the setups to further refine the ride. This is tuning to me. It’s not just in tube selection. It’s not just in the components you select. It’s about choosing components, tubing, techniques of construction, and adjusting the overall set up of the build that really starts to hone how the bike performs. That’s tuning to me. This is my build and it’s one of the most refined one’s I’ve built to date. See you out on the trail!