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  1. #1
    Senior Member mtalinm's Avatar
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    finally finished my from-scratch "Xootrcommuter" dream build

    (Note: I put a shorter version of this on the Xootr thread but thought others might be interested as well. I am eager to hear critiques and what you might have done differently.)



    My 13-mile one-way commute is a bit two-faced. Half of it is brutal plowing through the cracked/potholed streets of downtown Boston, which would call for a mountain bike. The other half is on glass-smooth suburban streets, which would indicate a roadie. And you never know when it might rain...or rain so hard you have to take the train home. So you need a bike that is 1) fast 2) comfortable 3) foldable 4) rainproof 5) capable of carrying stuff 6) lit up at night 7) impervious to pothole damage.

    I bought the frame (and fork, for you purists) from Xootr and build it up from scratch. It has drop bars with Tiagra STI brifters, a mirror mounted on the left and a bell on the right. The cockpit also has an AirZound horn (115 db for getting attention!), a Garmin GPS mount, and a blindingly bright MagicShine headlight .(I'm sometimes mistaken for a car with one headlight.) Mated to the headlight is a taillight of the same make, plus a Superflash blinkie on the cargo bag, which is seatpost-mounted to be in the slipstream unlike a side-mounted pannier. "Campus" pedals accept cleats on one side for speed and are flat on the other for riding around town in work clothes/shoes.

    Previously I had built up the bike like that but had not thought about the rain or potholes. I had a (Brooks) leather saddle on it, which can become deformed when rained on (such as when you need to jump off the road and dash into a convenience store during a nasty downpour). I had rim brakes back and front, which was not acceptable in the rain. Moreover, the sidepull brakes would only accommodate 451mm rims, and the 451 tire selection is dreadful...not much wide, and nothing with studs for ice. (Why wide? Narrower tires take more of a thump from a bump, and it's worse with the smaller wheels you need for a folder.) Also, the thin rims kept getting knocked out of alignment by potholes, and I even broke a couple of spokes on particularly nasty bumps. Bent rims + rim brakes + rain = accident waiting to happen.

    No more! The new "shoes" are a pair of handbuilt wheels by Harris Cyclery (possibly the planet's greatest bike shop, though I didn't know it when we lived 1000' from there in West Newton). The rims are 20"/406mm Sun Rhyno Lite, which are sometimes used for BMX stunt riders and are thought to be semi-indestructible. Stephen Phillips, who is trying to break the round-the-world cycling record, runs Rhyno Lite rims on his bike.

    In the back this is laced to a Shimano Capreo hub, which uses a teensy 9-tooth cog to generate higher gearing for small wheels. (Otherwise you end up spinning out on the descents.) Standard V-Brake with Travel Agents (yes, they work fine) to work with the short-throw levers and of course, KoolStop salmon pads. In the front, the rim is laced to a Sturmey-Archer 70mm drum brake. I'd had bad experiences with the Shimano drum brake on my Soho, but Sturmey-Archer is a breed apart. Stops great. I had wanted the 90mm but the tech at Harris just shook his head - he was right; it would have been overkill. I thought of getting one in the back as well, but that would mean a standard cassette with a huge "pie plate" chainring up front to get the same gearing. A little annoyed that the Sturmey doesn't support a quick-release skewer, but then again it's theft-deterrent and I just have to carry a small 15mm cone wrench.

    As far as tires were concerned, I had a pair of Schwalbe Marathons that I really loved...at least for the smooth, suburban portion of the ride. Once I got into the city, running those at full-ish pressure meant about four miles of fairly constant pounding on my spine. So, despite my distaste for the name as a Bostonian, I picked up a pair of the Schwalbe "Big Apple" balloon tires, which are are full two inches (50mm) wide. They fit fine up front, but I had to pull the wheel back a centimeter in the rear dropout to stop them from rubbing on the chainstays. To make sure the wheel wouldn't shift in the dropout, I replaced the quick-release skewer with a bolt.

    the Big Apples do not disappoint. They are wide enough that you can run them well below max pressure, and they soak up the road vibration and minor bumps like a good carbon frame (Xootr is aluminum, though fork is steel). For the really nasty bumps, though, you need more and that's where the Thudbuster seat post comes in. If you can't see it in the picture it's that black parallelogram sitting just beneath the saddle. When the bike hits a bump that halts your forward motion, your body wants to keep going. That's what the parallelogram does - flexes to keep you moving and then catches the bike up with you. Hence, you hear but don't feel the bump. Hard to describe how cool this is, but it works great. Now I can plow through torn-up sidewalks and such without worrying about reinjuring my cervical discs.

    The final touch, a "shoe" of sorts, is the saddle. I was a big fan of the Brooks until the local bike store convinced me to try the Specialized Romin Expert. At first I pooh-poohed it when they said "Team Saxo Bank uses it." Pffft. But it is amazing. Comfy and with a solid platform for generating power, not flexy like the Brooks. I'd still consider a leather saddle for a really long trip, but this works great now. Took me all of 2 hours to sell the Brooks to an enthusiast.

    Best part is that the only non-black-or-silver item on the bike is its name: "swift" in yellow. What about the salmon-colored brake pads in back? I painted them. I even replaced the water bottle because my other one had red decals.

    If this all seems a bit much, keep in mind that I spend a couple hours a day on this bike, and it saves me a couple hundred dollars a month in gas, parking, and MBTA fares. Maybe more now that regular gas is $4/gallon. Now to your bike-geek questions:

    Q: Drum brakes not disc brakes???
    A: I looked into the possibility of a disc brake, but it requires a tab on the fork. I would have had to have a tab welded on and then repainted the fork, which could cost hundreds of dollars. The drum brake just needs something to hold its arm stable against the fork, which was a $3 hose clip from Pep Boys. I kid you not.

    Q: Why not an internally-geared hub or a belt drive?
    A: I used to commute on a bike with an IGH and belt drive. It's a great bike in theory, but in practice I hated it. The hub was noisy, and if anything went wrong I had no idea how to fix it. Changing a flat was a nightmare, in part because of having to deal with the belt...which also needed tension adjustment now and then. The one thing I do miss is being able to shift while stopped, but it's a reasonable tradeoff vs. not being able to fix things when they break. Oh, and the 8-speed Shimano hub had terrible spacing - I always wanted to be in between 5th and 6th gear.

    Q: But a Rohloff hub would solve all of that!
    A: Maybe so. But it would also double the cost of the bike.

    Q: You can't really believe this is as fast as a road bike, can you?
    A: Not quite, but reasonably close. With all the gear and the heavy-duty rims it simply isn't as light as my road bike, so truth be told I may ride the road bike on days when 1) I absolutely positively know it won't rain 2) the temperature will be fairly constant, so I don't need to lug around cold-weather gear 3) I don't need to carry anything else either. But this will be the workhorse, and I've damaged my road bike rim on potholes & so am not eager to repeat that.
    Plus, I feel just a little bit safer on the folder. It is unusual, so people notice it. Those manical motorists who for some reason resent the "spandex" crowd don't lump you in with them when you're on a bike with BMX-size wheels. And it's way more fun when you blow past people on full sized bikes

    Q: For that money, why not a Bike Friday?
    A: Fair question. All told, this cost about $2k plus a lot of trial and error. (Probably 1800 without the accessories.) BF has some drop-bar bikes for around $2k, but I think you have to spend extra for the heavy-rider option (which I would need), plus I can't see a combo with drum/discs and drop bars (Pocket Lama has discs but no drops; Pocket Rocket has drops but no discs). And I think the favor 451 rims except on the off-road models, and as noted above I insisted on 406. Maybe they could have built me a custom bike, but I can't help but think that could have doubled the price.
    Trek Domane 4.5 (commute/distance), Specialized Roubaix (climber), Xootr Swift (winter/travel), Trek Soho (around town)

  2. #2
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    Your post is quite interesting to me especially since my goals and priorities are so close to yours ( although I don't ride far ). If you don't mind:

    How much does your bike weight?
    How much does your front wheel weight? Drum brake is an interesting idea, I'm going to look into it.
    I'm also considering Rhyno Lite (among few others like Envy Lite)? I'm theorizing that wider rim (even if just few mm) will work much better with wide tire at low psi - what is your experience?
    It looks like you have dual chaining up front - which RD do you have? I added double chain ring (53/39) but noticed that standard RD does not have capacity to pickup slack making 1/2 of the gears unavailable...

    Overall your bike looks highly practical and shows a lot of attention to detail. It's obvious you build on previous experiences. If I was going to question anything, it would be the seat-post mounted bag carrier which is putting a lot of additional stress on the seat tube. Also, it's interesting that you've decided against IGH as I'm planning on getting 3-speed IGH with 14t cog and 53/39 front since I do like the idea of shifting at will and I think it's work 1lb penalty.
    Last edited by bbmike; 04-08-12 at 11:34 AM.

  3. #3
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    Nice build, I just checked the Xootr site and the frames are sold out till May. I wish they would bring back the black frame singlespeed.
    Speed Uno
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  4. #4
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    FWIW, Human powered Machines in Eugene Oregon has Swift type bike ..
    Small Builder so You can have Input on details before the powder coat goes on..

  5. #5
    jur
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    The Capreo small cogs will wear faster; that's one item I would have done differently. Commuting is extreme duty and if wet dirty roads are involved, that wear is greatly accelerated. But nice build! I am tempted by the choice of saddle.
    My folding bike photo essays www.dekter.net/

  6. #6
    Senior Member mtalinm's Avatar
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    How much does your bike weigh?
    How much does your front wheel weight? Drum brake is an interesting idea, I'm going to look into it.
    It's a good question. i don't have a reliable way to weigh the bike or the wheel. I could probably compute the weight of the wheel though: the drum hub is 770 grams, rhyno lite is 565 grams, big apple tire is 380 grams, plus whatever rim tape and 36 spokes weigh (200 grams?).

    I'm also considering Rhyno Lite (among few others like Envy Lite)? I'm theorizing that wider rim (even if just few mm) will work much better with wide tire at low psi - what is your experience?
    I'm a clyde, so I don't run them particularly low, but they are quite wide rims indeed. Happily, I found it easy to mount the tires.

    It looks like you have dual chaining up front - which RD do you have? I added double chain ring (53/39) but noticed that standard RD does not have capacity to pickup slack making 1/2 of the gears unavailable...
    It's a standard 105 RD I think, but don't quote me as I bought it secondhand.

    Overall your bike looks highly practical and shows a lot of attention to detail. It's obvious you build on previous experiences. If I was going to question anything, it would be the seat-post mounted bag carrier which is putting a lot of additional stress on the seat tube. Also, it's interesting that you've decided against IGH as I'm planning on getting 3-speed IGH with 14t cog and 53/39 front since I do like the idea of shifting at will and I think it's work 1lb penalty.
    I just had way too many headaches with the Shimano Nexus. Maybe the Alfine 11 is better. Certainly the Rohloff is, but it's a pretty penny. I do miss shifting when stopped, however. it happens to me maybe a couple of times a week that I end up mashing because I stopped quickly and didn't downshift.

    As for the seatpost bag, that's a standard config with this bike. the seatpost is wide and well anchored, so I think it is low risk. time will tell...

    Nice build, I just checked the Xootr site and the frames are sold out till May. I wish they would bring back the black frame singlespeed.
    Xootr seems to carry a very light inventory. When I bought my frame it was one of two they had in stock. They have been out of wheels for months. I think they were surprised by the popularity of the black frame (I wanted to buy one with a hanger, but they only had a singlespeed version for some reason). It must be a low-margin business.

    FWIW, Human powered Machines in Eugene Oregon has Swift type bike ..
    Small Builder so You can have Input on details before the powder coat goes on..
    Thanks, HPM was my best option for getting a disc brake. They offered to weld on a disc tab and ship it back to me. I thought about it pretty seriously but was convinced to go with the drum.

    The Capreo small cogs will wear faster; that's one item I would have done differently. Commuting is extreme duty and if wet dirty roads are involved, that wear is greatly accelerated. But nice build! I am tempted by the choice of saddle.
    You know, I still wonder about that one jur. It looks like my Capreo cassette is already wearing down, and they're $80 to replace. Maybe I should have built my rear wheel with a drum brake and just put a larger chainring up front to get the higher gearing. Maybe I'll build another one that way. I placed this order before I read your posts about having "pie plates" up front..
    Trek Domane 4.5 (commute/distance), Specialized Roubaix (climber), Xootr Swift (winter/travel), Trek Soho (around town)

  7. #7
    jur
    jur is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by mtalinm View Post
    You know, I still wonder about that one jur. It looks like my Capreo cassette is already wearing down, and they're $80 to replace. Maybe I should have built my rear wheel with a drum brake and just put a larger chainring up front to get the higher gearing. Maybe I'll build another one that way. I placed this order before I read your posts about having "pie plates" up front..
    I read somewhere that smaller cogs wear faster due to fewer teeth taking the load so the stresses are proportionally higher, exacerbated by the smaller diameter which means higher torque as well, so a double whammy, basically.
    My folding bike photo essays www.dekter.net/

  8. #8
    GN BIKN
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    Looks like a GREAT commuter setup. You clearly know exactly what you need. By the time my Swift becomes my ultimate commuter it will look quite a bit like yours. Biggest differences would be mine has a rack (Burley Moose -- for pulling my child on our Piccolo trailerbike) but no cargo bag because I prefer the weight on my back so I can more easily hop curbs, etc.; and no Capreo.
    blindingly bright MagicShine headlight
    Please be sure to turn your MagicShine off or aim it down when you're on shared paths! The MagicShine has an especially broad beam, and unlike car headlights lack a top cutoff to keep from blinding people. We're actually having a lot of complaints from non-cyclists (and cyclists) around here about riders with "too-bright" headlights. This has mostly been since the MagicShine came on the market and made 600+ lumens available for under $100. It's a great thing that now everyone can afford a bright light, but unfortunately its beam pattern is not optimal for urban riding.
    I had a (Brooks) leather saddle on it, which can become deformed when rained on (such as when you need to jump off the road and dash into a convenience store during a nasty downpour).
    Have you looked at the Selle An-Atomica Titanico saddle? It's leather suspended from a steel frame like the Brooks, but it's much softer and the leather has some sort of laminated layer that effectively makes it waterproof. Sounds hard to believe, I know. I have three of them, and have been riding them in the Portland rain for over 5 years now. They're the most comfortable saddles I've ever ridden, though they are VERY expensive. I will check out the Specialized Romin, though.
    I'd had bad experiences with the Shimano drum brake on my Soho, but Sturmey-Archer is a breed apart.
    My wife has a Shimano Nexus roller-brake hub, and the thing is an embarrassment. Fortunately the bike (Bianchi Milano) has a good (non-roller) front brake. It's only after testimonials from people like you and bendembrowski that I'm getting close to buying one myself!
    In the back this is laced to a Shimano Capreo hub, which uses a teensy 9-tooth cog to generate higher gearing for small wheels.
    I'm fortunate to have discovered (in part after years of riding singlespeed) that I'm satisfied with a top gear in the 85-87" range. This works out just perfectly with 20x1.5" tires, the stock 52t chainring and an 11t small cog. I use an 8speed 11-34 cassette for maximum range (I'm weird - again as a reformed singlespeeder I actually prefer big gear steps, and less frequent shifting). I am going to pop a smaller inner chainring on this spring, so I can have go even lower than 52x34 for touring. Manually shifting the front chainring to start, but I am at least considering putting on a front derailer. Looks like you have one -- did you use the pricey Xootr adapter to mount it, and do you think it's worth it?
    As far as tires were concerned, I had a pair of Schwalbe Marathons that I really loved...at least for the smooth, suburban portion of the ride. Once I got into the city, running those at full-ish pressure meant about four miles of fairly constant pounding on my spine.
    Were you riding the usual 20x1.5 Marathon, or the harder-to-find 20x1.75? I'm thinking of putting a 1.75 Marathon on the front of my bike to up the comfort factor and get a little more rubber on the road.
    BF has some drop-bar bikes for around $2k, but I think you have to spend extra for the heavy-rider option (which I would need), plus I can't see a combo with drum/discs and drop bars (Pocket Lama has discs but no drops; Pocket Rocket has drops but no discs). And I think the favor 451 rims except on the off-road models, and as noted above I insisted on 406. Maybe they could have built me a custom bike, but I can't help but think that could have doubled the price.
    Most BFs are custom; the "packages" they show on their web page are just suggested configurations, so further customizations aren't necessarily that expensive. I called BF last year, and it sounded like they could build me a drop bar Llama with discs (with barcon shifters IIRC) in the low teens.
    Last edited by GlowBoy; 04-08-12 at 11:19 PM.
    I like bike lanes. I also practice VC when I'm not in them.

  9. #9
    Senior Member mtalinm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GlowBoy View Post
    Have you looked at the Selle An-Atomica Titanico saddle? It's leather suspended from a steel frame like the Brooks, but it's much softer and the leather has some sort of laminated layer that effectively makes it waterproof. Sounds hard to believe, I know. I have three of them, and have been riding them in the Portland rain for over 5 years now. They're the most comfortable saddles I've ever ridden, though they are VERY expensive. I will check out the Specialized Romin, though.
    I've heard about it many times, but I no longer trust myself to choose saddles. I just buy what the LBS tells me b/c they will take it back if I don't like it :-)
    [/quote]
    My wife has a Shimano Nexus roller-brake hub, and the thing is an embarrassment. Fortunately the bike (Bianchi Milano) has a good (non-roller) front brake. It's only after testimonials from people like you and bendembrowski that I'm getting close to buying one myself!
    glad I'm not the only one who hated that roller brake. Trek got crucified on the user-feedback pages and then dropped the roller for the 2011 model.[/quote]
    [quote]
    I'm fortunate to have discovered (in part after years of riding singlespeed) that I'm satisfied with a top gear in the 85-87" range. This works out just perfectly with 20x1.5" tires, the stock 52t chainring and an 11t small cog. I use an 8speed 11-34 cassette for maximum range (I'm weird - again as a reformed singlespeeder I actually prefer big gear steps, and less frequent shifting). I am going to pop a smaller inner chainring on this spring, so I can have go even lower than 52x34 for touring. Manually shifting the front chainring to start, but I am at least considering putting on a front derailer. Looks like you have one -- did you use the pricey Xootr adapter to mount it, and do you think it's worth it?[quote]
    you must pedal faster than I do. the stock setup is 52/11, but I find that I spin out on descents and find it hard to exceed 25mph.

    I did buy the Xootr FD adapter - two of them actually, one for each of my Swifts. I guess you could shift manually but this is much more convenient.

    Were you riding the usual 20x1.5 Marathon, or the harder-to-find 20x1.75? I'm thinking of putting a 1.75 Marathon on the front of my bike to up the comfort factor and get a little more rubber on the road.
    Most BFs are custom; the "packages" they show on their web page are just suggested configurations, so further customizations aren't necessarily that expensive. I called BF last year, and it sounded like they could build me a drop bar Llama with discs (with barcon shifters IIRC) in the low teens.
    1.5 on the marathons. hadn't heard of the 1.75s.

    interesting point on the BF. too bad I'm too fat for their bikes :-(
    Trek Domane 4.5 (commute/distance), Specialized Roubaix (climber), Xootr Swift (winter/travel), Trek Soho (around town)

  10. #10
    Part-time epistemologist invisiblehand's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jur View Post
    I read somewhere that smaller cogs wear faster due to fewer teeth taking the load so the stresses are proportionally higher, exacerbated by the smaller diameter which means higher torque as well, so a double whammy, basically.
    Essentially this is true in my experience. Although, from my hazy memory, it still lasted close to 3K miles of touring and club rides. My second cassette seems to be doing better since I change chains more frequently now.

    Quote Originally Posted by mtalinm View Post
    My 13-mile one-way commute is a bit two-faced. Half of it is brutal plowing through the cracked/potholed streets of downtown Boston, which would call for a mountain bike. The other half is on glass-smooth suburban streets, which would indicate a roadie. And you never know when it might rain...or rain so hard you have to take the train home. So you need a bike that is 1) fast 2) comfortable 3) foldable 4) rainproof 5) capable of carrying stuff 6) lit up at night 7) impervious to pothole damage.
    I think you did a nice job.

    The Sun Rhyno Lites are a great value. Although unless you're the weight of a tandem bike, I think that 36 spokes is probably overkill with super tough rims and wide tires; but given your description, I would be conservative too.

    You'll have more wear with the Capreo hub. But I now replace the chain more frequently and use a dry/wax lube to keep it clean and the cassettes appears to be lasting a longer time. The nice things about a Capreo hub is that you'll have better shifting in the front and you can use an SS rear derailer with a double ... Shimano road groups are designed to handle their road doubles with their biggest road cassette.

    FWIW, Bike Friday has a ton of variations on all of their models. If you wanted disc tabs all you have to do is ask. And you can get a Pocket Llama with drop bars.

  11. #11
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    On my BF, the BB7 disc is something I have to be careful with,
    in a 20" wheel, 160 disc,
    the braking is likely to stop the bike sharply,
    but the rider will continue in motion..

    The Drum brake in that case is a good choice.. I've got SA drums
    on my studded tire bike , and in the context of a bike
    on a already sketchy surface
    the smooth Modulation is an asset ..

  12. #12
    jur
    jur is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by invisiblehand View Post
    Essentially this is true in my experience. Although, from my hazy memory, it still lasted close to 3K miles of touring and club rides. My second cassette seems to be doing better since I change chains more frequently now.
    The best practice I have found down the years is to have a compressor at hand and after _every_ wet ride, blow the chain dry immediately, followed by a WD-40 treatment, blow dry again, then lube. This has made by far the biggest impact to withstand wet riding. I have gone through all the various chain lubes that can be found but now settled at the thickets hypoid gear oil, followed by wiping as much excess as possible.
    My folding bike photo essays www.dekter.net/

  13. #13
    Senior Member mtalinm's Avatar
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    Wondering how to think about cognitive biases?

    http://hbr.org/2011/06/the-big-idea-...decision/ar/pr
    whether you are Kahneman, Lovallo, or Sibony, I am honored by the comment! (also an academic here)

    thanks for the tips on the Capreo chain. I think mine is getting to the point where I ought to replace it.

    I didn't really ever look into the BF option - I thought this would be a simple matter of putting 451s on a Xootr frame. but then I learned about the poor tire selection, which took me back to 406. if I had it to do over again I might check out Bike Friday.
    Trek Domane 4.5 (commute/distance), Specialized Roubaix (climber), Xootr Swift (winter/travel), Trek Soho (around town)

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