Cycling in Melbourne Australia
After two very wet winters and summers here in Melbourne, I started to think about what would be the best bike for commuting from home to work each day. I cover about 5,000km a year commuting, which was fine on my old Avanti road bike until the rains came!
Last year my wife and I took our road bikes to Spain to follow La Vuelta on a cycling tour. As my wife did not want to lug her bike around after the Spanish leg of the holiday, we took my old commuter bike for her to ride and then sold it to a local for 100 Euros. He was happy and so was my wife, but now I had to get a new commuter for when I returned home.
Arriving back in late September, I started researching bikes to meet my specification which included; steel frame for comfort, road bike drop bars, disk brakes for wet weather and most importantly, internal hub gears to reduce maintenance. I also wanted a carbon belt drive instead of chain drive but that proved difficult (more on that later)!
I first looked at off the peg bikes and found that cyclo-cross style bikes were close to my desired specification but without the belt drive or internal gear hub. I could have bought a Kona Honky Inc and then changed out the 105 derailleur gears for an internal hub gear but that was going to be expensive. I also did not want an ugly chain tensioner and with vertical drop outs, this would be a problem.
I then found a range of flat bar road bikes that had most of my requirement including discs, Shimano Alfine 8 hub gears and eccentric bottom brackets for chain tensioning (no ugly tensioner required). The problem was that they were flat bar bikes and I wanted road style drop bars. I could have bought a Charge bike then swapped the flat bars for road bars but what gear changing options existed for the internal gear hub?
I found that there are STI style shifters for the Shimano Alfine hubs but no other brands. This fixed my hub choice as there isn't an STI shifter for Rohloff or SRAM. (I now see a Melbourne company is selling electronic shifters for Rohloff 14/500 hub with two push buttons that work with drop bars called the shiftezy 3 see http://www.edsanautomation.com.au/EdsanProducts.htm )
I decided that I did not want to convert a flat bar bike as the frame geometry was not quite right, it had to be a cyclocross style frame with rack and mudgaurd mounts. After much searching, I settled on the Salsa Vaya II in Orange which met all my needs other than not having a split in the rear chainstay/dropout area for inserting a carbon belt drive. The Vaya was not quite the holy grail of frames for my spec but went bloody close so I ordered one from Germany (the only place I could find one in my size 54cm and in stock!).
I ordered all my bits and pieces from all around the world; a wheel set from the UK (ex display stock with Shimano Alfine 8 hub and disc brakes), Versa 8 shifters and Alfine cranks also from the UK, Avid BB7 disc brakes from the US and an eccentric bottom bracket from Germany (Trickstuff Exzentriker) which fits a normal 68mm English bottom bracket. Other parts I had or reused from other bikes like my Easton EC90 stem and bars. I also had a set of full length mud guards unused from my Kona Smoke.
After a month of patiently waiting for all my parts to arrive, I finally began the built. I was keen to get going as I had been commuting on an old Malvern Star with a Sturmey Archer 3 speed for about five weeks.
The build went well and I had few issues installing all the parts. I had to get some English installation instructions from Trickstuff for the very nice eccentric bottom bracket (only came with German instructions) and watch a few Youtube clips on the Alfine hubs but it quickly came together. The eccentric bottom bracket kept the clean look of a single speed intact and I used all black components which work beautifully with the orange frame. The disk brakes were Avid BB7 mechanical brakes which again I had to learn how to set them up but that was fairly straight forward. Now it was time for the road test!
From the start, the Alfine hub felt a little funny and I put this down to a lack of familiarity. The Versa 8 shifters work in reverse to the normal shimano STIs but that was only a minor matter to get used to. The shifters also have a bit of a cheap feel to them compared to my Shimano 105 shifters, they work well but sound and feel plasticy. The disc brakes are good and very progressive compared to rim brakes and work well in the wet. When the first rainy day came, I found the full mud guards brilliant, no more dirty water bottle, filthy legs, mucky shoes or sodden gear bag!
After only 60km of riding and only a few kilometres from home, I rounded a bend on the road (a quite back street) and went to pedal when the Alfine 8 hub locked up and failed catastrophically. It went with a bang and such force it pulled the rear wheel out of the horizontal dropouts (yes they were bolted on tightly and using the correct anti-rotation washers). Luckily I skidded to a halt and did not crash. I was able to put the wheel back in and ride home in first gear only. The supplier in the UK was excellent; they refunded me the cost of the whole wheel set and suggested I buy a replacement hub in Australia which I did.
I have since pulled the damaged Alfine 8 hub apart myself and found that a gear carrier was smashed to bits and a part on the central axle had snapped off. The circlip that holds the carrier in place at the non drive side had come off (I wonder if this was the problem) and teeth on some of the planet gears where chipped. Not much of it was salvageable as even the alloy housing was gouged and had two small holes in it as some parts punched a hole from the inside out when it exploded! I was very lucky this did not happen at speed as I would have crashed for sure.
Now back to my question I posed at the start, is this the perfect commuter bike for Melbourne? Well no, it has a few shortcomings but it is still very good. It does not have the belt drive so grit still gets in the chain and requires cleaning regularly and the Alfine 8 gears are poorly spaced especially at my favourite cruising speed. I was initially scared of the new hub once it was installed expecting the same failure could happen again, but to date after over 1000 kilometres it is fine.
The gear shifting in 4th to 5th is at times causing a crunch even though the cable adjustment seems spot on. Today I saw a Youtube clip that demonstrates the correct method for adjusting the cable tension. The clip shows that you have to shift the gears from first up to fifth then back to forth then check the alignment of the yellow marks. I was just going straight to 4th and then checking it so I will see if this makes a difference and eliminates the crunch after shifting.
The 700c Alex rim DP17 disc specific wheels are running well and I like the Continental 28mm tyres as they are comfortable and grippy. I love changing gears either whilst standing still or whilst pedalling and that I can have STI style shifters and drop bars. I also have my trusty AY UP lights for winter which I run in flash mode all year round.
I ride this bike most of the time and it would make a good tourer. Since building the bike I have of course now found someone selling one which meets all of my specification and it is called the Civia Bryant. I can't find a local distributor though and would have to buy it from overseas. The Civia Bryant even has a Gates carbon belt drive. Maybe at some point I may get the frame modified for the carbon belt drive and upgrade to a Rohloff hub with electronic shifting although I see Shimano will release their Di2 shifting on the Alfine later this year including an STI shifter version.
Now to the cost. It cost me around $2300 to build and that is based on the fact that I had some parts such as the seat post, seat, stem and bars. This is expensive compared to the Civia Bryant which is under $2000 in the USA.
Even though it was more expensive building this bike when compared to an off the shelf bike, it was a lot of fun (except the faulty Alfine Hub incident!) and I can recommend this type of project to anyone with the desire to build a bike that you want and not what the manufacturer's think you want!