Thursday, April 12, 2018

Berd spokes.

Maybe a year ago I became aware of a new technology being used to make bicycle spokes.

By and large spokes are made from steel these days, primarily because steel makes for such a great blend of weight, cost, and durability.  Experimentation with aluminum and composites has happened and will continue to -- that's how the breed improves.

Spokemakers have, in recent years, embraced straight pull spokes (of steel and aluminum) for reasons of, um, marketing, best I can tell.  They haven't been proven to do anything better than j-bend spokes, other than introduce a confounding choice onto an unsuspecting and largely uneducated public.  I think the conversation probably went something like this:

Marketing hack A: "How do we sell more of something without actually improving it?"

Marketing hack B: "Divide, confuse, and conquer?  Oh, plus new colorways!"

My perspective is that straight pull spokes are a "solution" to a non-existent problem.

Ahem.  Did I digress?!

I'm writing today about Berd spokes.  You can read their shpiel here -- it's the same stuff I read when I first heard about them.  The reading isn't particularly compelling, but it's informative enough if you pay attention.  Basically, these spokes knock a good chunk of mass off of any wheel when compared with steel spokes, they don't give up any strength or stiffness in so doing, and they add a measure of dampness to a wheel.

Lighter, stronger, and more comfortable?  What's the catch?

Glad you asked.  The catch is in cost per spoke, as well as in increased labor time to build each wheel.  Which also adds more cost to each wheel.  Basically, a wheelset built with these spokes is expensive relative to any other spoke available.

Your next question is undoubtedly some variation on "How much?" immediately followed by "Are they worth it?"

The answers are "quite a bit" and "it depends".

Let's not get ahead of ourselves...

My ears perked up when I learned that the source material is Dyneema, which I know and trust from the HMG packs that Jeny and I have used for years.  The stuff is incredibly light and unbelievably abrasion resistant.  I know there are a lot of other attributes that are important in a pack, but for me those are the big two.  After years and years of abusing our HMG packs -- bushwhacking through alder and devils club in AK, grinding and dragging them through dry scrub oak and wet slot canyons in the Colorado Plateau -- and them being dirty but otherwise none the worse for wear, I've come to think of Dyneema as an incredibly impressive material.  

"Sure", you're saying, "for a pack".  But, good enough for bicycle spokes?  

Read on.

It takes a good chunk longer to build a wheel with these spokes.  Some of that is in the lacing process, as the loop at the head of the spoke needs to be pulled through the spoke hole in the hub, and this isn't as easy as it sounds.  Then you slip a little 'rod' of Dyneema through that loop, pull the spoke tight by hand, then move on to the next one.  It isn't complicated -- is actually anything but -- it just takes a little more time than you're used to.  Home builders that love the process of building their own wheels will get to spend more time enjoying that process.  

There is additional time required in the tensioning process, because the material these spokes are made from has inherent stretch.  Basically you need to bring the wheel up to ~final tension, do some stress relief cycles, tension it again, stress relieve again, tension once more, then hang it up for a few days and let the spokes elongate.  You do not finish a wheel built with these spokes in one sitting.

Come back to it a few days later, get it true/round/dished to spec, *then* balance it out at final tension.  The guys at Berd will help you with the nuances of your spoke calc, and they'll also provide numbers appropriate to whichever tensiometer you're using.  Expect to take 2+ hours on your first one, then maybe a little less on each subsequent.  I can't see how you'll ever get build time equivalent to a steel spoked wheel, nor do I think it's important that that happens.

I only have hundreds of miles on these spokes, on two different bikes, so the jury is still out on long term durability. Once I have thousands of miles I'll feel more confident in saying what they can and cannot handle as far as abrasion and impact.

I did take a sharp shears to one, under tension, just to see how it would react, as sort of a crude abrasion test. It took several hacks at the thin section of the spoke to get it to cut, and even then it wasn't like you could cut immediately through the whole thing -- there were several strands that just wouldn't cut completely without several hacks and a lot of effort. In the video above I am not 'lillydipping' with the scissors -- I'm really cutting hard.  The result of this crude experiment is confidence inspiring when considering sharp schist or shale plates that get thrown up, or even just incidental contact with the local square-edged sandstone and granite. Just one indicator, but an impressive one.

The ride is subtly different from anything else I've ridden before.  I should clarify that on my first build with these I took an existing wheelset using DT 240s hubs, Derby carbon rims, and DT SuperComp spokes -- a wheelset that I'd ridden over 2k miles already -- and cut out the SuperComps, then relaced with the Berd's.  I even re-used the same tires, at the same pressures, such that the only thing that had changed was the spoke material.  This single change created a net loss of 110g per wheel.  Not a misprint.

I could call them "damp" but you might get the idea that that means "slow".  I could call them "quiet" but you might misconstrue that as "muted".  Nothing about the ride is extraordinary relative to a normal steel spoked wheel, it's just a little different.  I am princess and the pea when it comes to minutiae like this, and it's possible that what I feel when riding the Berd spokes just won't be noticeable to you.  Put differently, there is no discernible difference in overall wheel stiffness in any plane, no change in how the overall package handles what you're throwing at it.  They are still stiff, strong wheels -- they just got a lot lighter and now seem to absorb more vibration from the trail.

I'm not a hard-core numbers guy so I can't say that they make me feel x% fresher at the end of a ride.  And I'm not fast so I can't say they make me faster.  But I can say that I like the feel -- enough that I'm lacing another set for myself.  The absorption of trail vibrations is noticeable enough that, were I still an endurance nerd out chasing sunsets, I'd emphatically be using these for both training and racing.

I'm willing to build them for customers effective immediately.  Expect to gasp audibly at the price -- $8 per spoke plus extra labor time, on top of hubs, rims, and (probably) shipping.

Don't hesitate with questions.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Meriwether fatbike for sale.

Selling Jeny's custom bike.  She's moved on up to a chassis (also a Meriwether) that can handle 5.2" Vee 2XL tires, so her original Meriwether needs a new home.

It could be considered a Medium or a Large, depending on which school of thought you subscribe to regarding modern bicycle geometry.  It has a 24.25" top tube, which means it'll fit a range of people from ~5'7" up to about 6', depending.

This bike was built to be a flotation bike first and foremost.  She's ridden it on snow 98% of the time, with two notable dirt/sand bikepack missions.

Grip shifter because big gloves/mittens in winter make operating a trigger more difficult.  Also because twist shifters have fewer moving parts and are thus less likely to fail.  Carbon brake levers because they're much warmer to the touch in cold temps.

DT hubs because they are among the lightest, least expensive, most durable, and most easily maintained hubs on the planet.

Fork is 15 x 150mm spaced, and uses a RockShox Maxle to secure the wheel.  Frame is 12 x 197 spaced, and uses a Shimano thru-axle to secure the wheel.  Frame uses a replaceable Paragon derailleur hanger, and yes you get a spare with purchase.

Depending on lighting, the paint can appear white, creme, or pink.  It *is* white, but with a red fleck to it.  The pic above is probably the best example.

RaceFace Next carbon cranks with 26t n/w ring.

Potts Type-II style fork, complete with cage mounts.  We did briefly run a dynohub on this bike, so yes, the fork is set up to accommodate.  The fork is suspension corrected so if you want to add some squish in summer the overall geo won't suffer.

Surly Bud and Lou 26 x 4.8" tires, run tubeless on Bontrager Jackalope rims.  The ease with which tires inflate tubeless on these rims cannot be overstated.

Spokes are DT Swiss Competition butted, with DT Swiss Prolock nips in red.

Stealth dropper routing is there if you want it.

Shimano XT 11-46t cassette, SRAM XX1 chain, and SRAM X1 rear der.  

Looking closely at all of the pics here, you can see some smudges or discolorations on the paint.  These are there because I absolutely refuse to pressure wash our fatbikes.  Doing so introduces moisture into bearings and cable housings, not to mention shifter, derailleur, and brakes.  Moisture freezes.  We'd much rather have a bike that's a bit cosmetically imperfect than have to deal with frozen hubs, shifting, or braking.

Syntace stubby stem.  For soft-snow riding a short/upright position is beneficial.  Ti bolts on the faceplates, carbon spacers and top cap.

23* sweep bars for all-day comfort.

Direct caliper mounting on both frame and fork.  Bottle cage mount on both fork legs.  Hayes CX Expert mechanical brakes to match with the aforementioned carbon levers.  Want hydro's?  I've got a set of Hayes that I'll happily throw in.

Bottle cage mounts both above and below the downtube.  

Bonus!  Integrated rear rack that installs/removes with 4 simple screws.  Bikepacking seatbags are all the rage these days and we use them too -- in summer.  For winter trips where the sheer bulk of needed insulation makes packing more difficult, a rack solves many problems quickly.  This one is light, simple, and elegant -- also made by Meriwether.

Custom framebag included, along with a Revelate Gas Tank and Jerrycan to keep things handy on the top tube.

+ + + + +

This package would cost north of $7k today, not to mention you'll need to wait a ~year for your build to come up in Meriwether's queue.

Selling this package for $4475 including shipping to the Lower 48.

Happy to ship to AK or Canada, but shipping costs will be higher.

Need pogies to complete the package?  Or studded tires?  29+ wheels for summer use?

Happy to accommodate.

Contact me at

Monday, April 9, 2018

Paradigm shift: Waltworks pics.

Last week my DSLR was back at Canon being cleaned, so it's only just now that I've had a moment to take some detailed pics.

Don't hesitate with questions.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Paradigm shift.

Sorry if that sounds needlessly dramatic -- I realize this is just bikes.

For the past 15+ years I've experimented intensely with bicycles and their attendant bonuses and compromises.  Like you, I use them to take me places, to interact with the world, to carry my gear when I'm too weak (or the objective is too ambitious) to carry it all on my back.

I also use them for basic exercise and to have reptilian local fun after work and on weekends, often with friends or Jeny, just as often solo.  In short, I ask a lot of my bikes and am always trying to improve them.

Devin Lenz, Brad Bingham, and Whit Johnson have been my main enablers over the last 15 years, taking my ideas (often little more than random mumblings while tugging at an ear hair) and turning them into functional works of rolling perfection.  Or at least as perfect as they can be given the constraints that each project bumps up against.  Rule number one of bicycle design is that every bike is a basketful of compromises.  If you think you have the one, true, perfect bike you either have an incredibly narrow field of view or you simply need to get out more.

My body is failing in myriad ways but my curiosity hasn't begun to be sated about undeveloped and often remote parts of the world.  I walk with a gimp across level ground, stooped over and often falling, and that's without a pack on my back.  Add in that weight and imbalance and I am a hazard to any group unwise enough to have me along -- if what we're doing is all afoot.

But give me a bike to ride and/or lean on and I can more or less hold my own regardless of terrain.  As our local trail situation becomes less sane I find myself riding further and further on the fringes -- off of trail systems entirely and often just poking around dendritic drainages, both wet and dry.  That's a key perspective to seeing the world as I age and my body fails: To look at the bigger picture, to seek understanding where previously athletic accomplishment overshadowed all else.  Seeing beyond contrived trail systems and riding the world is the direction I'm heading.  I should have gotten there sooner. 

And while this probably sounds eccentric and even esoteric to most, I'm also not really interested in having a fleet of bikes around to trip over and have to wrench on.  3 seems like the right number: A commuter to get to the shop, the grocery, the bank, and the post office.  A fatbike to ride off piste and on snow.  And a mountain bike to do "everything else".

I currently own a ripping DH bike -- modern relic of a previous mindset -- but can't really ride it.  Please buy it!

To the end of creating a mountain bike that can carry a pile of gear, suspend my aging carcass through corrugated terrain, and keep up with the Joneses, Lucks, and Wixoms while ripping local trail in the off seasons, I knew that 29+ tires were mandatory.  I figured 5" of travel, give or take, was about the right amount.  The above more or less describes what I'd evolved to with the Lenz bikes I've ridden the past few years.

This past winter I spent some time aboard a few carbon wonderbikes and while their geo was nowhere near my preference, the compliance of this foreign-to-me frame material opened my eyes a bit.  While doodling on the frame's particulars it seemed like a good time to think outside the bun as far as frame material was concerned.

I've also always wondered if it was truly possible to go too short on chainstay length.  (In a similar vein I once wondered if it was possible to have too much bacon.  Pshaw.)  If so, what would that feel like?  If not, how beneficial would centering my mass over the rear wheel be, and when would it manifest itself?  My experience is that the shorter the rear center of the bike becomes, the happier I am -- and this holds true both on and off piste.  Why *not* go shorter?  I've never found a good reason.

To the end of answering that question I approached 4 framebuilders about this project.  One never responded.  2 pondered ever so briefly before saying they weren't interested.  Only one said yes -- Walt "Don't call me Justin" Wehner at Waltworks.  Not coincidentally, Walt has mucho experience with 29+, FS, and short stays.

Without further ado I present the latest addition to the family.  7# 5oz of (primarily) Supertherm, with geometry that seems like the next logical step *to me* but that's way, way, way north of what you can buy at any bike shop these days.  Most of the numbers mimic what you'd find on any modern trailbike  -- 66.x* head angle, 74.x* seat angle, reach and stack appropriate to being ridden off road, 140mm travel up front, 120 out back.  This chassis deviates from the formula in a low-for-me but seemingly-astronomical-to-everyone-else 14.1" BB height.  But the real standout number is the chainstay length of 410mm.  Not a misprint.  Keep in mind 29 x 3" tires.

I've had it a little over a week.  4 rides in thus far, just over 100 miles total.

It rides like a bike.  A really compliant, damp, quiet, yet sporty and lively bike.

I'm experimenting with other ideas -- as always -- in the get to know you process, like new rubber and non-traditional spokes.

Gearing is low, braking is prototype (and exceptional), position is upright and comfortable.

And those short stays?  For now I can only say that if there is a limit we haven't yet reached it.

Much more on this bike at a later date.

Don't hesitate with questions.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Leaf out.

A walk around the neighborhood on a Monday morning revealed ample evidence that the wheel of the seasons has turned yet another notch.

Reading between the lines, it's time for all of us procrastinators to accept that the myriad improvement projects (including self-improvement) we've been putting off all winter can no longer be swept under the rug.

Time to face the music, or at least embrace the sun.  It's coming.

Thanks for checkin' in.