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  1. #1
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    Ken Kifer, help me clarify some of his ideas please!

    The Late Ken Kifer is one of my (Cycling) heros. I read his pages often and enjoy them immensely. There are a few sections however that i find fascinating but have trouble comprehending a 100%. Maybe you guys can help me out!

    --
    Ken Wrote:

    "I consider gearing to be a prime example of flimflam. A number of years ago, "touring" bikes had 10 "speeds" but only 6 useful gears from 100 down to 40. Then the range was extended down to 32, or thereabouts. When the "15-speeds" came out, they only had 7 or 8 useful gears, and the same range. Then everyone went to the "18-speed" with 9 or 10 useful gears, but no greater range. Then everyone went to the "21-speed" bike with 11 useful gears, but the same range. And so on. The latest hybrid bike with a 9 rear cogs, allowing 27 "speeds," still has the same gear range and only about 13 useful gears. It would not take a great deal of effort to get more useful gears and a wider gear range. My own "15-speed" bike, for instance, has 14 useful gears, evenly spaced, with a range from 100 down to 20. The extra range and gears provide a real advantage, while increasing the number of rear cogs does not."
    --

    How does Ken Accomplish this Range and so many usefull gears? What kindoff (non indexed, he didn't like the 'modern' stuff) casette or gearing system does he use? A double or a Triple? How many gears in the back? What ratios for the Sprockets/cassette? I understand the idea that due to chainline only certain combinations are really viable but what makes Ken's tourer setup unique and dare i say better? How can i reproduce his drivetrain cheaply with older/good components? Anybody know exactly what he used and if this is still available?
    --

    Ken also wrote:

    "Myths about bicycle equipment are encouraged by the manufactures, who make a lot of money from them. These are some of the most stubborn myths as well.

    The bike chain receives more attention than any other part of the bike. I read one magazine article that spend five pages on the loving care that must be devoted to the bike chain -- and then the author suggested throwing it away at 1,500 miles. The variety of chain preparations is endless. Yet, none of this gunk has any effect on speed or the life of the chain. A study at John Hopkins found that lubrication had no effect on chain efficiency, and I often go 1,500 miles without even bothering to spray some WD-40 on my chain -- and I never do much more than that -- yet my chains last up to 10,000 miles (those with expensive rear cogs should replace the chains sooner). As long as a chain is not dirty or rusty, it is OK."

    --
    I find this riveting stuff, so many products are in existence and so much care is devoted to chains. I have also done this type of thing: oiling the chain daily and usually the only result i get is too much oil on it which attracts dirt and gunk. Eveything Ken writes would seem to be in total discrepancy with about 10% of the threads on BF since those all deal with a million different lubcricants, cleaning techniques, routines, replacement times etc.

    I have found only a few times that really warrant (a little!) lubrication:

    1. Riding in the rain when the lubrication washes off and/or there is a lot of dirt splashed on the drivetrain, especially if rust also results.

    2. When the chain is really dry (as soon as you can hear it, despite it not being dirty).

    3. Other times when the chain really corrodes (salt on the icy roads etc.)

    But even in these scenarios i find that cleaning the chain (by simply removing grime and rust with a copper wire brush is actually the most important, the lubrication is just to prevent it from happening again and less critical than the cleaning).

    I also found it best to spray WD 40 liberally, let it set for minutes or if possible longer and then wipe away nearly all the excess with a cloth. The oil will get a chance to penetrate where it is really needed and by wiping away the excess one can ensure that as little dirt and roadgrime as possible will stick onto the drivetrain.

    So what are your thoughts on these things? Is lubrication vastly overrated and mostly a waste of time unless you are a pro racer or cycle in the rain all the time? Are all those products (semi) dumb and worthless as they cost a bundle and don't have any added function that is measurable?

    Thanks!
    http://www.rhizomes.nl/twenty.html
    My Tweaked and modded Raleigh Twenty. Lots of pictures and lots of general info on for example a different & Cheap Bottom Bracket solution as well as fork solution.

  2. #2
    You need a new bike supcom's Avatar
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    Ken Kifer was likely using a half step set of chainrings - at least for the largest two rings. I believe Sheldon Brown (www.sheldonbrown.com) has an article that discusses half step chainrings. Basically it is having two chainrings that have ratios such that the gear ratios from the rear cogs using one of the chainrings are halfway between the ratios using the other chainring. This give you more gear combinations that are not near duplicates of others.

  3. #3
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    Hey Supcom, thanks for that input! After reading Sheldon Brown I am still a little confused on the whole issue. Especially as i think think Ken used a double chainring (not sure),.. 7 * 2 = 14 and 8 * 2 = 16 but still he says on his page that he had 15 gears,... of which 14 were usefull... hmm. Doesn't really matter that much as i will be using hub gears for the foreseable future but interesting none the less.
    Last edited by v1nce; 12-25-05 at 11:59 AM.
    http://www.rhizomes.nl/twenty.html
    My Tweaked and modded Raleigh Twenty. Lots of pictures and lots of general info on for example a different & Cheap Bottom Bracket solution as well as fork solution.

  4. #4
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    It's important to note that more gears isn't just good for extended ranges of gearing but for finer gradations in existing ranges. Nowadays with 10 spd. cassettes, you can have a 12-21 straight block. So with all due respect to the late Mr. Kifer, it isn't necessarily "flimflam".
    Last edited by neilG; 12-25-05 at 01:23 AM. Reason: spelling

  5. #5
    Drive the Bicycle.
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    Quote Originally Posted by v1nce
    "The variety of chain preparations is endless. Yet, none of this gunk has any effect on speed or the life of the chain. A study at John Hopkins found that lubrication had no effect on chain efficiency, and I often go 1,500 miles without even bothering to spray some WD-40 on my chain -- and I never do much more than that -- yet my chains last up to 10,000 miles" (The Late Ken Kifer)
    --- My beliefs about chain lube are based upon my own experience, and not upon magazine articles. When I lube the chain (with Tri-Flow) the bike shifts smoother and pedals easier.
    "The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man's metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well." Ivan Illich ('Energy and Equity')1974

  6. #6
    Humvee of bikes =Worksman Nightshade's Avatar
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    I think that more than anything Ken was speaking from personal experience
    as to what works day in day out.

    His observations delt with facts that had no market spin on them to convince
    the reader that his rig was not the "latest and best" available. This is the type
    of marketing that's used from TV's to Cars to sell you what you don't need.
    Ken was also not afraid to ignore the market to build truely useful machines.

    If you want his gearing (by the way I agree that his spin that for most folk's
    to many gears set up wrong was no more than voodo) then take it to a bike
    shop (or build it yourself) to dial in "your" set of gears based on YOUR bodies
    pedaling ability. Me? I get by just fine with 5 in back and 2 in front. Besides
    I like the strength 5 in back gives my rear wheel by not dishing the hell out
    of it.

    Like Ken I also just keep my chain fairly clean with a few drops of 3 in 1 oil
    in the spring with not one problem so far. I clean it in the fall with WD40 as
    part of the winter storage process.

    I guess more than anything Ken advocated the fun of cycling more than the
    fussiness that all the bike merchants want to foist on us. Buy a decent quality
    bike........then go out an enjoy it.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by supcom
    Ken Kifer was likely using a half step set of chainrings - at least for the largest two rings. I believe Sheldon Brown (www.sheldonbrown.com) has an article that discusses half step chainrings. Basically it is having two chainrings that have ratios such that the gear ratios from the rear cogs using one of the chainrings are halfway between the ratios using the other chainring. This give you more gear combinations that are not near duplicates of others.
    Nope, I don't think that a half step will do it. He must have been using something like a 48/38/28 crankset with a 13-34 freewheel. Uh - he can have it. I'd rather have 27 gears with lots of little steps between the high and low.

  8. #8
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    Thanks for that input, it all makes quite a lot of sense actually. I am sure Ken wasn't a 100% right all the time but is nice to hear a voice of reason, experience and even dissent among the cacaphony of Marketeer speech and Double talk.
    http://www.rhizomes.nl/twenty.html
    My Tweaked and modded Raleigh Twenty. Lots of pictures and lots of general info on for example a different & Cheap Bottom Bracket solution as well as fork solution.

  9. #9
    barnfullagts
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    It's obvious that Ken put his time in with a gear inch formula to actually get himself a front chainwheel/rear cassettes combination that would give him less overlap. This from the folks at "Bike at Work, Inc".

    Gear Ratios and Gear Inches
    The overall gear ratio of a bike, trike, or other type of human-powered vehicle (HPV) is determined by the size of the sprockets (gears) and the wheel diameter. The effective gear ratio of a particular sprocket combination on a bicycle is easily calculated using the following formula:

    # of teeth on driving sprocket
    ------------------------------------- X wheel diameter
    # of teeth on driven sprocket


    If the wheel diameter is measured in inches, this formula produces a result in units of gear inches. Gear inches are often used to compare the gearing of different HPV's.

  10. #10
    Senior Member leilin's Avatar
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    Ken's set up is

    By the way, my own setup of 52-48-24 and 14-17-21-26-32 is both alternating (the outside pair of chainrings) and jumping (the inside pair). This means that there is double the gap between the lowest gears, something I'm not completely happy with. However, I do get 14 useful gears out of 15 this way. Also, the second chainring should be a 47, so with a 48, I alternate between 8% and 12%.

  11. #11
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    There is an upper and lower limit on practical gear ratios for most folks. Very few people can "spin" a 52 X 12 combo, even on level roads. Low gear ratios could be made that would require fast spinning to move at all.... But you'd have a really big rear cog...Hehe.

    An upper ratio that allows you best speed where you ride the most, and a low ratio that will get you up the hills in your area, with fine-tuned steps in between...What more could you want?

    So many variables; rider strength and weight, terrain ridden in, gear carried, etc. I bought a Trek 2120 with the triple 105 setup, and find I never use the granny gear where I ride 95% of the time.
    At the university where I do bike patrol, I normally never shift out of the middle ring and only use four cogs.

    As for chain lube, it's pretty obvious that most problems are caused by the extremes. You see rusty, squealing chains from NO lubrication, and gooey, gunked-up messes from over-lubing.

    Less may well be more except in extreme riding conditions.

  12. #12
    52-week commuter DCCommuter's Avatar
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    What Ken is talking about is "usable" gear combinations. His point is that even if you have 3 gears in the front and ten in the back, you don't really have 30 unique, usable combinations -- first, due to chainline angles you can only use about 5 rear positions with each front gear, and second, a lot of those combinations are redundant. His claim is that modern bikes don't really have any more usable, unique combinations than ten-speeds from the seventies. I'm not sure I agree with him, but I see his point.

    I do like his riff on how tire sizes change every few years for no apparent reason.

  13. #13
    Year-round cyclist
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    If you want to see a mathematical explanation of Ken's point of view, throw the data into Sheldon Brown's gear calculator. Out of 15 possible combos, there are 13 or 14 different ratios ranging from 20.3 to 100 gear-inches. Depending on how much of a diagonal chainline you want to tolerate, I would suggest there are 12 or 13 useable ones.

    If you look at a modern road bike with a compact 12-23 or 13-25 nine- or 10-speed cassette and a 52-42-30 crankset, you get 15 or 16 different ratios, because all others are very close duplicates (i.e. within 2-3 %). Strangely enough, a straight block seems to offer more ratios, though covering a smaller range. Some people have "solved" the problem by going to a wide range double, which offers about the same number of ratios; however the wide range double is problematic when one needs to ride at a speed between the small and large chainrings.

    A better solution would be a combination of a close-ratios cassette with wider non-standard rings. Something like 54-40-28 and a 13-25 cassette for fast road riding, or 48-37-22 and a 13-32 megarange cassette (i.e. 13-26 8-speed plus 32) for touring. That way, you get the most useful ratios possible, the widest range, avoid most double shifts and get close ratios... you have your cake and eat it too.

    P.S. These are just examples of ratios. The best cogs depend on individual preferences.
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

  14. #14
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    It would seem we have quite some 'gearheads' here. Thanks for all that info. Here's another question which may be hard to answer... If i use my 7 Speed S-Ram hub,.. is it feasible (and worthwhile) to mount a double on my Raleigh Twenty folder (short chainstay)...? I would like to have a 'do evertything' range and ratio. I use the Twenty in the city but also intend it for touring with medium load. I am not a super strong rider at all btw. Cheers!
    http://www.rhizomes.nl/twenty.html
    My Tweaked and modded Raleigh Twenty. Lots of pictures and lots of general info on for example a different & Cheap Bottom Bracket solution as well as fork solution.

  15. #15
    Senior Member onbike 1939's Avatar
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    <I am not a super strong rider at all btw.>

    WHAT! You're not a super strong rider and you live in Holland! I find that hard to believe as every Dutch rider I've met have been enormous and have huge muscular legs having ridden a bike before they could walk.....and that's only the women.

  16. #16
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michel Gagnon
    If A better solution would be a combination of a close-ratios cassette with wider non-standard rings. Something like 54-40-28 and a 13-25 cassette for fast road riding, or 48-37-22 and a 13-32 megarange cassette (i.e. 13-26 8-speed plus 32) for touring. That way, you get the most useful ratios possible, the widest range, avoid most double shifts and get close ratios... you have your cake and eat it too.
    Well, I did that once. I built a bike that, I think< had a 48/38/28 crankset and a 14 to 18 5-speed straight block. It was kind of cool to ride as long as you could stay on one chainring but the big double shifts that were occasionally required weren't pretty. That 38 to 28 chainring shift, for example, always came at the base of a hill and generally ate up all of my momentum.

    I've got pretty conventional gearing, with overlaps between the chainrings on my current bikes and I like them better. I think that a certain amount of overlap is a good thing. It allows you to make a choice as to when you make the slower front chainring shift.

  17. #17
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    @ Onbike, Lol... Well you see,.. i am import, i wasn't born in NL but in South America.
    http://www.rhizomes.nl/twenty.html
    My Tweaked and modded Raleigh Twenty. Lots of pictures and lots of general info on for example a different & Cheap Bottom Bracket solution as well as fork solution.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by v1nce
    It would seem we have quite some 'gearheads' here. Thanks for all that info. Here's another question which may be hard to answer... If i use my 7 Speed S-Ram hub,.. is it feasible (and worthwhile) to mount a double on my Raleigh Twenty folder (short chainstay)...? I would like to have a 'do evertything' range and ratio. I use the Twenty in the city but also intend it for touring with medium load. I am not a super strong rider at all btw. Cheers!
    You're not going to get the Sram Spectro 7 low enough as one with a tripple or 20 inches. Email Sram and find out the technical aspects of that hub before you exceed it's limits and destroy the internals.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 77Univega
    --- My beliefs about chain lube are based upon my own experience, and not upon magazine articles. When I lube the chain (with Tri-Flow) the bike shifts smoother and pedals easier.
    Ken was a minimalist. I often think his anti-lube was the result that he didn't have the money to buy a quality product or just didn't like to spend. I do agree with him that many parts are sold for practically nothing today and cyclists disgard chairings and cassettes all the time that show little or no wear.

  20. #20
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    Ken's writing reflected common sense...a very rare thing in cycling in 2005. Thirty years ago, Schwinn was selling five speed bikes geared from around 40 inches up to 90 inches...exactly the range that most recreational cyclists need, unless they are doing loaded touring, or riding through the Alps.

    Today, many "thirty speed bikes" have only about five or six distinctly different gears in the range between 40 and 90 inches (and lots and lots of "duplicate" gears)...and many of 2005 bikes have five or six speeds between 90 inches and 140 inches...ranges useful to a Pro sprinters, but of zero value to the average cyclists. I'm sure the knee surgery business benefits from "Joe Average" trying to spin those "mega" gears though.

    Run a chain without oiling it? On my older bikes, using chains designed for five to seven cogs, I lube them about three times a year. Really work in a lot of wax lube. Then, I take a lot of time to remove all the wax that is on the outside of the chain that would attract grit and lube. I clean the chain fifteen minutes after lubing, while it is wet, and twelve hours later, when it has dried. As long as I don't run through water or mud, the chains remain clean and working well for many months.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by leilin
    Ken's set up is

    By the way, my own setup of 52-48-24 and 14-17-21-26-32 is both alternating (the outside pair of chainrings) and jumping (the inside pair). This means that there is double the gap between the lowest gears, something I'm not completely happy with. However, I do get 14 useful gears out of 15 this way. Also, the second chainring should be a 47, so with a 48, I alternate between 8% and 12%.
    I would love to run your setup using the same size chainrings. What type of derailluer are you using for the front? I now have a 52-42-30 chainring setup. By lowering the 30 to a 24 I could climbs the hills in my area a lot better. Will the derailluer that I now have work with a 24?

  22. #22
    genec genec's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 77Univega
    --- My beliefs about chain lube are based upon my own experience, and not upon magazine articles. When I lube the chain (with Tri-Flow) the bike shifts smoother and pedals easier.
    Tend to agree with that and the last thing I would use is WD-40 for chain lube.

  23. #23
    Year-round cyclist
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    Quote Originally Posted by Retro Grouch
    Well, I did that once. I built a bike that, I think, had a 48/38/28 crankset and a 14 to 18 5-speed straight block. It was kind of cool to ride as long as you could stay on one chainring but the big double shifts that were occasionally required weren't pretty. That 38 to 28 chainring shift, for example, always came at the base of a hill and generally ate up all of my momentum.
    The actual gearing I have on my touring bike is: 44-34-22 in front, with 12-14-15-16-17-19-21-25-34, so I have 6 closely spaced cogs and 3 widely spaced ones. Between the granny and middle ring, there is just a little overlap, so it could be bad if I am fighting a grueling headwind (it happened once), but it works fine when climbing hills because I loose speed anyway. Between the larger gears, there is just enough overlap that I usually choose the middle ring on flat terrain, loaded or with a headwind, and the large ring on slight downgrades, unloaded or with a tailwind. And regarding the gap at the top, I rarely use the 44/12, except downhill with the wind at my back; I'm built for the long distance, not for speed!

    At first, I had done something like that with the tandem : 48-38-24 with 13-15-16-17-18-20-23-26-34. Great when I had just my 9-year-old stoker, but not enough when I also had the 5-year-old second stoker. So I now have 48-38-28-18 with 12-15-16-17-18-20-23-26-32. The "18" super-granny has been used twice on 17% grades.
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

  24. #24
    One Tough Cookie. Black Bud's Avatar
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    Kifer was what one might call a practical cyclist, who hated to spend money, change his "spots"...and duplicate what he did not have to. Like the usable gear ratios. I don't know how he managed 14 usable different ratios on 15 available on his bike...but I'd bet he did NOT use a "triple" to get that. It would likely be impossible to get that many different gear ratios with one. Too much overlap.

    I see gearing as needing to be fit to the job the bike is intended to do. With the advent of the "compact" double crankset, most people on light sport and light touring bikes--unless they live in the mountains-- probably do not need a "triple". Indeed, I have found "road" triples (52-42-30) to not be all that useful. I rarely used the "granny" (too low) and the "big ring" (too high) properly...ended up cross-chaining to get the ratio I wanted, and that the only really useful ring--the "middle" one--did not cover enough of the desired gearing range.

    But, for heavy-load touring bikes, a triple can be useful. BUT, again, not the "standard" road triple (too high a range at the "top", and not high enough at the "bottom" even with a "tight" rear cluster). The "old" style mountain triple...which I refer to as a "hybrid" triple (48-38-28 or 26), with a suitable wide-range cluster (12-32), is more than high enough, but gives the lows needed for heavy-load road bikes. Any more "compact"--or with bigger rear cogs-- than that is really off-road or "biking through the snow" stuff.

    Internal-gear (epicyclic/planetary) hubs? For most uses, a 42-44 T chainring and a 16-21 cog works, depending on the range of the hub gearing seems to work. I have never used one of these hubs on a light touring bike, though, and I might want a much larger chainring if I did, to bring the gearing higher.

    Single-speed? My Bianchi "Pista" has the highest gearing in that group, I think it comes out to 74 gear-inches (48-18), which is somewhat lower than the "stock" gearing. Any higher, and I'd not be able to reliably use it in the "rolling-to-hilly" terrain around here.

    As for chain maintenance? Most people do too much. IMHO, chain life depends more on one's riding style--and the quality of the components (the cheapest and most expensive components--and the chains spec'd for them--seem to have the shortest life span). Lube is more for rust protection (so the links don't "freeze up", especially bad on derallieur bikes since it screws up the shifting), and, occasionally, to stop "squeaks" in an old chain. Cleaning them? I try...we all try. It can do some good. Probably impossible to get them really clean though, since the rollers and pins trap dirt inside...where you can't get it out with the methods we must use, if any method at all would work! The mileage you can get out of one varies from chain to chain...and, again the use of the bike and the rider's style.
    A bad day on the bike is better than a good day at work!!

    My discussion board, another resource for the "utility" and commuter cyclist: "Two Wheeled Commuter: The Everyday Cyclist"

  25. #25
    mousse de chocolat Moose's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Black Bud
    Kifer was what one might call a practical cyclist, who hated to spend money, change his "spots"...and duplicate what he did not have to. Like the usable gear ratios. I don't know how he managed 14 usable different ratios on 15 available on his bike...but I'd bet he did NOT use a "triple" to get that. It would likely be impossible to get that many different gear ratios with one. Too much overlap.
    How do you make a 15 speed drivetrain without using a triple?

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