The right stuff

The recent cold snap in most of North America hasn’t kept Mike off the road. He sent me this picture taken before his 19-miles-each-way commute through Madison, Wisconsin. It was -10F (-23.3C) with a stiff wind. Now I have a good answer for people who ask whether Stokemonkey’s good in cold weather:
-10F

The fact that people like Mike use Stokemonkey fills me with huge pride — the humble, not complacent kind. I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about Stokemonkey being compared to other kinds of powered bikes or even scooters, with the frequent implication that motors are only for people who don’t like to bike or aren’t fit to, just as Segways are for people who don’t or can’t walk (or bike, or breathe hard). The fact is that Stokemonkey lets bikers bike more, when most of the “pure” bikers get in cars, or on the bus, or just stay home. My hat’s off to the very few people who ride unassisted regardless of distance, load, or conditions, especially to the vanishingly small number who have families, regular employment, can’t quite remember being 30, and ride by choice. I know you’re out there, all five of you. One of you whittles your own bike parts.

Mike reported some figures in comments elsewhere that are worth rolling into this post:

I spontaneously decided to try time trialing (TT) into work today. I had a dr�s appt that went long, and I needed to get into work quickly. I thought I should use the car as I only had 1hr and 15mins to get in. I decided to take the bike. Starting out I felt quite strong, so I put the hammer down, hoping to hold the TT pace for at least 1/2 the ride.

Checking my speedo 10 miles in to the 19 mile ride revealed a 23.3 mph average pace. 23.3 is a blistering average for in-town riding. I was starting to sag before I looked at my speedo, but the high average buoyed my spirit.

The second half of the ride is more uphill than the first,so I expected a bit of a drop-off in speed. I hammered on a few of the hills, and took it easy on a couple. Again Stokemonkey kept the average speed up until I could catch my breath.

Turning the corner into the cooldown stretch, the speedo read 23mph average. Total time to work: 49 minutes. It takes 32 minutes to get here by car travelling at 70mph, and burning 1 gallon of gas. Time difference: 17 minutes. Non-renewable energy consumption difference: ~2 orders of magnitude. Joy factor: Priceless.

One last thing I’d like to point out, though it’s been mentioned in comments: Mike’s bike was designed for 700C wheels, but he’s running 559s (aka 26ââ?¬Â³ or MTB standard). He was able to substitute smaller wheels because he’s got disc brakes. I suggested he try this, and I’m delighted that he did, and that he finds the ride much improved. Why?

When you convert a bike to an Xtracycle, some good and bad things happen: the good things are obvious (cargo!) while many of the bad are more subtle (and controversial–this is an expression of opinion. Substantive disagreements are for the comments, OK?). They include:

  1. More weight is borne on the front wheel than usual, resulting in a heavier steering feel and an increased tendency for the wheel to “flop” into turns and at walking speeds, like a chopper. People who like this sensation call it “stable,” which is one of those terms like “responsive” that’s a bit too subjective to be useful.
  2. The bottom bracket (crank axis) is high on mountain bikes for obstacle clearance. but on a (street) cargo bike, you want a low bottom bracket so it’s easy to put a foot down to stabilize the bike while stopped, without having to lean the laden bike over too far.
  3. A heavily laden bike moving at speed over, say, potholes really can use some suspension, but there’s no way to use mechanical suspension on the rear of an Xtracycle-equipped bike.

There is one way to address all of these things with a single measure: use smaller wheels than the frame is designed for. Using a frame/fork designed for 700C or so-called “29ââ?¬Â³” MTB wheels with disc brakes, and substituting 26ââ?¬Â³ wheels changes the steering geometry to make it feel quicker, lighter, more neutral (item 1). They also lower the whole bike, making it easier to stabilize, mount and dismount (2). And they let you run extra super fat cushy tires like the 2.35ââ?¬Â³ Schwalbe Big Apples that might not clear the frame with the original larger rims. All that extra air smoothes out the bumps without fussy expensive heavy mechanical suspension (3). To boot, smaller wheels are stronger than larger with the same build quality, and the fat tires spare the wheels further stress.

There’s a movement afoot to convert older road bikes to somewhat smaller 650B wheels with fatter tires. It works only because certain rim brakes have enough adjustability to accommodate the smaller rims. This is the same idea, just carried further thanks to disc brakes.

28 thoughts on “The right stuff”

  • 'Full Throttle' Mike
    'Full Throttle' Mike February 25, 2006 at 2:10 am

    Thanks for your kind words Todd.

    I would like to add .02 to your note about purist bikers. I consider myself an avid bike rider. Like other avid bike riders, I have built up enough endurance and strength to be able to commute myself and my gear to work or store. Given the good possibility that oil is becoming scarcer, and that people are dying and being injured for that oil, I consider it a responsibility of avid cyclists to do something about the gluttonous consumption of oil here in the US. We can use our investment–the strength and endurance–to help out. I set a personal goal to reduce my consumption of gasoline by 50%. I accomplished the goal by commuting by Stokemonkey-assisted bike 2-3 days/week. I expect to be able to go 4-5 days/week once the weather improves. I challenge other avid cyclists, the purists especially, to do the same. A purist might be able to rail at the bastardization of the bike by the inclusion of a motor, but in today’s world, that reaction is more puerile than purist; if the purist is not using his or her abilities to help solve one of the biggest problems we face as a society.

    Reply
  • Bill Manewal

    Yeah, what Mike said!

    I USED to be an avid cyclist until a major accident laid me up for a couple of years and age has made some unsettling changes to my tendons and ligaments. I can still function as an avid cyclist thanks to Stokemonkey and haul more than I ever could when I was 20 years old.

    It seems to me that, from the perspective of what’s happening on our planet right now, the purist vs. bastardizationists distinction is a tempest in a teacup. I see “purists” all the time with $2K+ bikes atop their 6000 lb. luxury trucks each of which has enough power capacity to run several homes’ worth of energy. They use all this power to haul their super-light bikes and spandexed butts 20 to 100 miles outside the city so they can ride where there aren’t a whole lot of OTHER SUV’s!

    Oil prices will change this. Gasoline lines and rationing schemes will change this. Finally, not finding petro-agricultural food on Safeway shelves will change this.

    Consciousness is usually slow to change, but, when conditions are ripe, it can be done relatively quickly. Look at the fact that Irish pubs are banning smoking. Of course the problem with the coming oil shortage is more insidious than smoking since the cheap oil fiesta has been our milieu for the last 100 years and most of us can no more be aware of it than a fish is of water. Smoke in your face is easy to see. Carcinogenic petro-solvents in your drinking water are more difficult. And even more difficult to grasp: the food in your fridge took an average of 1200 diesel-driven miles to get there after having petro-inputs to till the soil, plant, water, fertilize, pesticide, fungicide, harvest, package, refrigerate.

    So it comes down to perspective: will bicyclists pedal into a viewpoint that sees their rarefied sport transformed into a contribution to help run the planet without cheap fuel? I think about $10/gallon should start the spoked wheels rolling.

    I personally enjoy being proactive and have signs on my rig: One simply reads “HYBRID” and the other phrase I stole from Todd: “What Gas Prices?” I enjoy talking to curious onlookers and spreading the word. A hand-out sheet would be nice.

    Bottom line: it’s not about us vs. them. It’s about being on the same side to survive and thrive. I see guys in San Francisco on track bikes riding through traffic, no hands on the bars, no helmets, talking on cell phones. I admire them, fear for them, bless them and am thankful they’re not being oil gluttons.

    Reply
  • Mauricio Babilonia
    Mauricio Babilonia March 10, 2006 at 12:29 am

    There are 6 of us. Yesterday it was 17 years for me (okay, on and off, but I started bike commuting in 1989). I still love to ride, and it’s my number one reason for riding.

    Reply
  • David Crow

    I have an 700 Xtra, and like your ideas about the 559′s. However, to do this, I would have to replace my front fork, and add the disc brakes. Instead, I’m just replacing my rear wheel, with a heavy duty custom built one from my LBS. It seems the only disadvantage for me, with keeping the 700′s, is that I won’t have so much air in my wheels to provide more cushiness, especially if people are riding on the back.

    Is it possible to run V brakes with a 559 tire in the front, without having to replace the fork? If this is possible then I might go ahead and do this…

    And, really how much more suspension will I notice if I have 2.35 cushy tires, compared to a 700 X 38 tire?

    Reply
  • Todd

    David, I don’t think you can manage going from 700c to 559 on the front with the brake studs in the same position. replacement forks can be had for not much more than $50. I am astonished at how plush the Schwalbe Big Apples (2.35″) feel. You say the only disadvantage is the amount of air: there’s also the handling to be considered. You may be quite happy with the handling now, but maybe you don’t know how much better it could be?

    Reply
  • David

    Hi Todd,
    That is true. Maybe I just have never felt how good the handling could be. To be honest, maybe the only reason I would like the bigger tires, is if my gf could sit on the snapdeck and be more comfortable with the bumps and such…

    Basically, I would need to make this decision in a few days, otherwise my LBS will be building the 700 wheel for me soon. I really think it would be good to have your setup…

    But I’m thinking it would cost me more… he said if I got another fork, then he would recommend me just getting a whole new frame too…

    I want to be able to haul stuff, go touring, go on trails to go camping, haul people…etc… and I want to never have to worry about my bike once I get it all fixed up. The 700 wheel they’re building for me is supposed to be super strong… he said it was going to be bombproof, and he has built a ton of wheels. I’m a tall guy as it is, so I don’t think the handling will feel much different… I feel like I can manuever my Xtra very well as it is…

    But I guess if it could be cushy in the back for passengers with the 559′s, depending on HOW cushy, then I would look into spending the extra money to get what I need to do that.

    Reply
  • Andrew Janjigian
    Andrew Janjigian May 15, 2006 at 9:48 pm

    David -

    While there undoubtedly may be other advantages to switching to a 559 wheel, you do have the option of getting the Schwalbe Big Apples in a 700c size instead, as long as your frame/fork can handle the extra width:

    http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/schwalbe.asp

    Andrew

    Reply
  • Todd

    David, I don’t want to make you feel dissatisfied with what obviously isn’t a problem for you. So feel free to forget about all this. Andrew, you can’t run a 700c 2.35″ tire on the Xtracycle – there’s no clearance.

    Oddball idea: build the rear as 559 and run a superfat tire (Wallbike stocks the 26″ Big Apples). 700c wheels can be super strong, yes, but the same build quality in a 559 will be stronger yet. Keep the front wheel as is, running whatever you’re running now. If it’s a lower-volume tire up front, the bike won’t be tilted so far back (we’re only talking a centimeter or two of tilt). If you like it, you’re done. If you don’t like the more laid-back handling this will probably produce, swap for a 559 fork, either canti or disc, and run the same fat tire up front. Your LBS knows more about your bike than I do, so I can’t comment on cost to change the fork, except to say that suitable (1-1/8″) replacements are well under $50 wholesale (I’m thinking Surly 1×1 or Karate Monkey). I said it was an oddball idea and your LBS may hate it on those grounds alone.

    Reply
  • Andrew Janjigian
    Andrew Janjigian May 16, 2006 at 3:05 am

    My Bad, I hadn’t thought of the XC clearance. So, just to be clear, with 559s on board, you have plenty of room for the 2.35″s & fenders? What about V- or canti brakes?

    A

    Reply
  • Todd

    Andrew, I will be able to confirm this very shortly — I’m building up a Karate Monkey thus configured. Aaron Goss of rideyourbike.com can comment now if you ping him. I’m guessing you’d need very wide rims to make it work with V-brakes.

    There’s lots of general propaganda on these fat tires here: http://www.balloonbikes.com/ .

    Reply
  • David

    Todd,

    Okay I see what your saying again. I really like the idea of more suspension…for the cargo, passengers, and me… this is nice since I don’t have rear suspension like you said.

    The only problem I see…is what about flat protection? Right now the wheel i’m going to have built (they’re still waiting on some parts) is going to have kevlar.. its the armadillo tire. How do you protect your Big Apple tires?

    I’m seriously considering your ideas. Maybe I wouldn’t mind a little tilt in my bike to be honest… I have no idea what it would be like anyways, but it doesn’t sound like it would be bad.

    The guy at the LBS told me that I could call him and it wouldn’t be a big deal to not build the wheel…since he would just put all the parts back in stock. So its still possible for me to go with the 559.

    Reply
  • Todd

    David, you can simulate the effect of unequal wheel sizes to some extent just by running the fattest and thinnest tires front and rear, swapping them. Or you can temporarily install the Xtracycle “wrong” by hanging the tongue from the chainstay bridge instead of resting it on top. This just as a low-cost way of confirming that you’re not going to hate the results after paying for a 559 wheel.

    The Big Apple has kevlar. But I have had some flats; it’s reasonably thin tread and a very supple casing for feel. In general, I usually accept some flat risk versus running really heavy, harsh tires — just a personal preference.

    Reply
  • uroburro

    Adding $.02 to really muck things up:

    I run Schwalbe Marathon Plus 26×1.75 tires. They’re bullet-proof. They aren’t as cushy as Big Apples, but they are quite supple, with great cornering characteristics. I chose them for the compromise of ride and strength. I do a lot of night riding, and I can’t see the glass/nails/etc before I’m on them. I got really tired of changing flats in cold/very cold, windy, dark, me miserable conditions. Me very happy with these tires. I believe they also come in 700c.

    Reply
  • Andrew Janjigian
    Andrew Janjigian May 16, 2006 at 6:07 am

    Anyone here use Slime type self-healing tubes? I started using them at the same time I put kevlar belted tires on most of my bikes, and I haven’t had a flat since. I’m not sure which of the two is more effective, or if its the combination.

    Andrew

    Reply
  • Andrew

    David, why not just get a foam rubber pad for your passenger to sit on?

    Reply
  • Bill Manewal

    I did a little research on slime and puncture resistance and basically took the same route: I’m running a Specialized Hemisphere Armadillo tire on the rear and a Maxxis Hookworm on the front, thick “thornproof” tubes, both filled with Specialized Airlock Sealant which my internet research showed to work better than the Slime equivalent. No flats in over 2000 miles of San Francisco city driving.

    I run then at max psi: 85 rear and 65 front because I like low rolling resistance to get the range I need and get my cush from a Thudbuster seat post, Brooks spring saddle, and front suspension fork.

    The other day, I noticed the front tire was low and traced it to a bit of the dried sealant product that was keeping the valve from fully closing. Removed with a pair of tweezers and all is well again.

    Reply
  • uroburro

    Schwalbe will not warrant their tires or tubes when sealant is used, as it appears to degrade the rubber.

    I’m running my tires at 55psi, as it doesn’t appear to make a noticeable difference in speed to run them higher, and I’m getting more passive suspension at the lower pressure.

    We use a little pillow for the deck when transporting passengers. Works well so far.

    Reply
  • David

    Thanks for all the suggestions and stuff… but I think I’m going to keep with what I have being built for me. I absolutely HATE flats…and never ever want to have to deal with them.

    I think I’ll look into a little seat thing for passengers… I don’t think my soymilk is going to care if I go over a bump… so I’m going to hold off on the fat tires…although maybe one day I’ll get some.

    Reply
  • Lexxa

    How difficult is it getting those Big Apples
    on and off the rim?

    Reply
  • Todd

    Lexxa, I have had much less trouble getting them on/off than Continentals.

    Reply
  • Ian Hopper

    Lexxa, if you want the ultimate tool for removing/ mounting tires, check out the Speedlever from Crank Brothers. By far the easiest fastest way to mount / unmount a tire for swapping tires or changing flats. I’ve used one before and thought it was the coolest thing, and I’m sure I’ll be kicking myself the next time I have a flat for not tracking one down. DOH!

    Reply
  • Ian Hopper

    I have a question for Mike: what’s your gearing setup? I’m currently riding a 48/38/28 in the front and a 12-28 in the rear. On the steeper hills (say, 12Ã?Å¡ and steeper), I usually shift down to my smallest chainring and find it still too high. Todd suggests the 44/34/22 for the Stokemonkey, but that gearing seems to be kind of low given the fact that you’ll have an assist: wouldn’t that make higher gearing easier to run? Someone please enlighten me: I’m dying on the vine with the hills I have to climb with big load with the gear ratio’s I’m running. To add to the complication, I have a 2006 Marin Novato 9 and it came with a splined bottom bracket.

    Reply
  • Todd

    Ian, yes 44/34/22 is low, especially with a 12 instead of an 11 as your smallest rear. Mike has opined that 22 is too low with the assist. It is for 99% of cases, probably, but it’s good for hauling multiple family members and stuff around San Francisco. It’s nice to know that there is no hill you can’t haul quite a lot of stuff up: it can take you places other bikes just don’t go. It’s also good for walking loaded bikes up stairs. The other consideration is philosophical: I don’t think your gearing should depend on the assist. You should be able to get home should you ride beyond your charge or (hope not) something malfunction, big loads and hills and heat and all. So the low gearing is there for the human side of the house. As for high gearing, a 44T max is a compatibility thing; many newer MTB frames can’t accommodate a bigger ring and have the drive chain clear: 44T is the so-called compact MTB standard big ring. If your frame can accommodate bigger, there’s nothing preventing you from going bigger. You’ll spin out on a 44/12 on the flat before you reach the max speeds SM can support. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, from a safety and efficiency POV.

    With the splined BB, your choices are either to replace the BB with a square taper (e.g., 113mm Shimano UN-53) and go with my cranks, or keep everything but your left crank arm and pedal, replacing it with a spare, spline-compatible right spider and right pedal mounted on the left side (loctite on the pedal threads). Here be some dragons, though… we’ll talk about options in detail when I’m ready to ship yer kit… “soon”

    Reply
  • [...] Dave Gray at Surly has uttered the L-word about Stokemonkey even though he’s only semi-crippled now. (Check their blog, the 6 October entry). There you see an Xtracyclified, Monkeystoked Instigator hauling the prototype Big Dummy longtail frame to a classified facility for torture testing free of Geneva Convention restraints, like toddler and grocery stress positioning, Winter, and I’m not at liberty to say what else: [...]

    Reply
  • AC

    I'm convinced about the benefits of balloon tires, but I have a question. Currently, I'm running a 1.75" tire on a relatively narrow ~16mm rim. With a passenger or some other heavy load, I feel what I think is the tire folding over when hitting a tiny bump while turning, or a small bump while going straight. Will a wider tire and a wider rim stop this from happening?

    Reply
  • Val

    AC: I remember that effect from my days of running 700 X 35c tires on 20mm rims. I actually kind of liked it, but it does make life more interesting. You certainly would not want to put larger tires on without using a wider rim, and, yes, the fatter/wider combo will stabilize the handling and give you a much larger margin of safety and cush both with and without a load. 2.35" Big Apples on something Rhyno Lite sized or wider seems to work marvellously for most of us. Give it a try!

    Reply
  • Richard

    I am currently running 700c road tires and want to go to a smaller wheel for a lower center of gravity. Does anyone have any experience with a 24" wheel on the xtracycle?

    Reply
  • Tinker

    Has no heard of the Schwalbe Big Apple 29er? This (622x60) is the same 2.35" width as the 26" tire. If all that's holding you back from 26" tires is the fear that your front end can't handle it, then don't!

    Reply
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