Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Falling. Also, In Love.

Well, I've been falling over kind of too often lately. Good news is, it has been pretty fun.

The bike I've enjoyed falling over on so much is the replacement I bought with the insurance money after the theft of my beautiful fixed gear, Summer. I'll bet the visually astute among you caught a couple of cool features already.

The bike I bought is a 2014 CUBE Men's Touring City Bike. Touring City Bike? Wha? Exactly. CUBE is a German company with a pretty good rep, mostly for mountain bikes. Translation of bike model names isn't always the greatest. Germans love a good all-purpose bicycle and with this thing you can tell. After seeing the specs on it I bought it from Chain Reaction Cycles, the online monster based in Ireland.

When you see the following spec list, I'm hoping you will understand why I skipped the LBS on this purchase...

  • Frame: Aluminium Lite Trekking Comfort
  • Forks: SR Suntour NEX HLO
  • Chainset:Truvativ E400, 42T, 175mm
  • Bottom Bracket: Truvativ BB Power Spline
  • Shift Levers: Shimano Nexus Inter-8 SL-8S30, Revoshifter
  • Rims: Schürmann Yak19, V-Brake
  • Front Hub: Shimano DH-3N31, Hub Dynamo, QR
  • Rear Hub: Shimano Nexus SG-8R36
  • Spokes: DT Swiss Factory 2.0, Black
  • Tyres: Schwalbe Spicer Active 40x622
  • Front Brake: Shimano BR-M422, V-Brake
  • Rear Brake:  Shimano BR-M422, V-Brake
  • Brake Levers: RFR 520 Aluminium Black
  • Handlebars: CUBE Rise Trail Bar, 660mm
  • Grips: CUBE Ergo Grip Shift
  • Headset: FSA No. 10 Semi-Integrated
  • Stem: CUBE Performance, 31.8mm
  • Saddle: Selle Royal Freccia
  • Seatpost: CUBE Performance Post, 31.6mm
  • Seatclamp: Scape Close 34.9mm
  • Pedals: Trekking Aluminium
Weight: 16 kg
Extra Features:
  • Front Light: Busch&Müller Lumotec IQ Fly T Senso Plus
  • Backlight: Busch&Müller Toplight Flat Plus
  • Kickstand: Standwell Centre Kickstand
  • Mudguard: SKS Black Shiney Pro
  • Bell: Humpert
  • Carrier: Standwell Bag Carrier

See, unlike most North American bikes, which need accessorizing after the fact, this thing came with EVERYTHING I was after and then some. I wanted an internally geared bike and that is where I started. But when pre-installed dyno, lights, SKS fenders and a rear rack showed up along with pretty good brand-name components including good spokes and tires, I was SOLD.

Am I crazy, or is this bike spec'd out really well?

I am absolutely loving this bike, despite a few shortcomings that I will cover now.

1) Size: It is too big for me. Bike fit is great when riding, but standover height is too high. Those among you who are thinking "I told you so" about not using a local bike shop are absolutely right, so back off, you bastards! The sizing chart lied to me. My suspicion is that they didn't adjust the chart for the suspension fork. I wasn't interested in returning this awesome bike by shipping it across the ocean, whether at my expense or not. I am so pleased with everything else that I will a) get used to it and do nothing or b) try a rigid fork that will lower the crossbar height somewhat. Despite some online forum goons saying it may mess with the handling, I don't believe it would hurt anything the way I'm using it and if I'm careful to find a fork with some rake to it. My winter tires are 32c instead of the the 38c ones that are on it, and that will help a tiny bit too.

2) Suspension Fork: I am not a fan of suspension forks for road use, harsh urban or not. CUBE has more offerings in their 2015 City lineup with rigid forks, so it would seem I am not alone. That said, I found this one acceptable because it has a lockout feature which I use most of the time. When I'm out in "falling over land", I let the fork do its thing and quite enjoy the cushy ride.

3) Grip Shifters: I hate grip shifters. Just a personal preference I guess. However, grip shifters combined with the Nexus hub seem more acceptable somehow. I don't know why, but it just isn't bugging me the way a grip shifter with a derailleur does.

4) Cable Guides: The cables came attached to the guides on the frame by little metal clip things that pop off rather easily. Nothing trusty zip ties couldn't fix, but a tad annoying and surprising in a bike of good quality otherwise. CUBE has moved to internal cable routing in 2015 models.

That's it for my complaints.

This bike rides beautifully, partly of course because it has big slicks on it. It is heavy, but so am I, and the solid feel is good. When I weigh 160 lbs again, I'll gladly start caring about how much my bike weighs. The gear range seems perfect so far, because I have yet to need gear 1,2 or 8 on my in-city rides, meaning it will probably be fine if I challenge some bigger hills or hit some really fast and flat terrain.

The chainguard, not mentioned in the specs, is clear and black and cool looking. If a chainguard could be cool, that is. The ergon-like grips are really good, and unlike some other imitations they have lock down screws that keep them from twisting out of position.

The Busch & Müller lights, pre-wired to the front dyno hub, are awesome! They aren't crazy blazing bright, but the beam is super wide and useful. They have a light sensor in them so during the day I get running lights and when its dark they go full on. They also have a capacitor so that when I'm stopped they won't go out for several minutes. I know this is old news to some, but I am totally loving not thinking about lights for the first time ever; they take care of themselves. When I'm extra worried about being seen, day or night, I activate my helmet mounted superflash but otherwise I just don't worry. It's great! The points where the wires disappear into the frame seem flimsy to me. I intend to reinforce them with a dab of silicone or something.

Of course, this particular model of CUBE bike is not to be found anywhere for much longer; the model names have all changed for 2015 and I can't find an exact equivalent. In addition, they will likely never be distributed in the USA due to patent problems with the rear suspensions on their mountain bikes. Lastly, there appears to be a new Canadian distributor: http://www.cube-bikes.ca , which makes me happy .

So, if you're in the USA and wanted a CUBE bike, you should probably do what I did and order it online. I have no idea if duties or taxes are much different for my US brothers and sisters, but my bike, all-in (taxes, delivery, duty, everything) cost me $1350 CAD. When I look at the extras, that price blows my mind.

I would not recommend buying a bike online to anyone who is not comfortable doing their own assembly, repairs and adjustments; it isn't fair (in my opinion) to ask your lbs to fix the business you chose not to give them. Also note that I got semi-burned on the sizing thing. What's all that worth? I don't know. 

Yer Pal,

PS - I have not received anything from anybody for this review.


GreenComotion said...

Lovely ride and a great selection of features, Patrick.
Congrats and welcome to the hub-dynamo club :)
You are gonna love the IGH and the dynamo mon ami.
Happy Trails!
Peace :)

PS. VAT is refunded when you purchase the bike. I think the excise duty in the USA is different and that may be collected by the courier - DHL, for instance. Even with the excise duty, Shipping, etc, the prices are quite competitive and the quality is usually very good.

John said...

Congrats on the new arrival. And a slow and painful death to all bike thieves. =)

cafiend said...

Lots of great stuff on that bike. Love my dyno hub and B&M lights.

Not sure what you know about front end geometry. Your comment that you would look for a rigid fork "with some rake to it" doesn't tell me if you know how front end factors work together. I'm not a math whiz spec geek, so I would research specific cases as they arise.

A shorter fork steepens the head angle. Theoretically a fork with a lot of rake in that case would diminish trail, making the bike more squirrelly. But if the amount of steepening and the amount of rake don't add up to a significant decrease in trail you probably would not notice major ill effects. Trail stabilizes the steering. Too much makes the steering sluggish. Too little makes it twitchy. Negative trail acts really weird. Bent rigid forks from jumping (a 1990s phenomenon before widespread adoption of suspension) would demonstrate the effects of negative trail.

Some builders in the 1970s tried to make "touring bikes" out of frames with main angles derived from sportier designs, just by putting long chain stays and raked out forks on them. The result was pretty bad all around, with or without a load.

If you have trail specs on your current frame-fork combo, use that as a starting point for calculating your modification. If you want to get really detailed and calculate the change in head angle from a shorter fork, look at specs on frames with similar head angles and intended uses to get your modification into the working range.

When suspension forks were all after market, critics pointed out that they pushed head angles back, theoretically making bikes handle more sluggishly. In spite of that, suspension-equipped bikes came to dominate. Manufacturers adjusted frame geometry to compensate. This led to longer rigid forks, so remember that as well when shopping. Many rigid forks are "suspension compensated," so you may not lower the height of the bike by much if you get one with long blades.

A lot of suspension forks, especially lower-end models, just make great anchors. Even if you did not lower the bike by substituting a good-quality rigid fork, you might make it feel sportier just by shedding three pounds from the front end.

RANTWICK said...

Thanks All!

Cafiend, I was hoping you would pipe up on the fork thing, and you came through! I went fork shopping for my stolen fixed build and learned something about trail and rake and all that way back then. I have since forgotten all of it and may have even mixed up the terms. I did remember that for this purpose I would need to avoid a "suspension adjusted" fork.

I will see what I can find on the frame geo and keep trail in mind as the main determinant of whether I am going to mess up the steering.

Steve A said...

Dump the bell and get a squeaky toy equivalent to Kermit!

cafiend said...

Ran some calculations when I got to work. Started with a nominal head angle of 72 degrees. Got excited and posted my findings here prematurely. Spotted my mistake and refigured. First time I used only top tube length, but the bike would pivot down from the rear axle. Added a rough chunk of centimeters to my original length, resulting in a less drastic change, but still significant. Lowering the front end 2 inches makes it 74 degrees. Three inches makes it 77. Using a fork of the same rake, trail is cut nearly in half with a 2-inch drop and dwindles to insignificance with 3. Some math whiz can double check me. I just drew it out on graph paper and the bench top.

greatpumpkin said...

Nice ride. The Germans build the best utility bikes and equipment, because they take bikes seriously (they take everything seriously) as vehicles for transportation, combined with their well-known meticulousness. I have been running B+M LED lights since 2009 (on my recumbent trike) and the daytime-running version since 2010 (on my folding touring bike). I've always liked dynamo lights--got my first set in 1966. As for the discussion of handling... It's all rather surprising sometimes how one bike handles better than another. My Dahon Speed TR rides and handles very well, feels confident to go anywhere, but a Dahon Speed D7 with the same frame felt insubstantial and insecure. When I rebuilt a 1980s mountain bike into a commuter, changing the handlebars and stem, the handling got a bit squirrelly (it had been very stable before) and contributed to the accident I had on it in 2009. And I owned one of those 1970s touring bikes Cafiend referred to, which was basically a racing frame stretched out. Nice bike, very light, comfortable on long rides, but rather vague in the handling department and very hard to set up, with some odd angles.

RANTWICK said...

Thanks Cafiend! I've been crunching numbers too, comparing original fork length and available replacement forks, doing some kooky arcsin math from Sheldon Brown, etc. My results match yours quite well. The real head angle is 71 degrees. Wheelbase 1088mm. I've used some online trail calculators as well. It seems to me that to achieve a significant drop in standover height I have to give up too much trail. A surley check fork, for example, at 400mm length and 44mm rake, would create a 75 degree head angle and 49mm of trail. The bike as currenrtly configured, with its 477mm fork (rake unknown, estimated at 45mm, typical of suspension forks), has a trail number of 74mm.

I'm really liking how this bike rides as is and I'm starting to think there's too much potential for making it twitchy by dropping the front end with a new fork.

RANTWICK said...

Hey pumpkin, thanks for your comment! I can do math until I'm blue in the face, but there are so many many contributing factors when it comes to handling that I agree, you never really can tell until the thing is set up. The dyno lights are making me so happy.

Steve - I heard somewhere kermit might retire... maybe he should reitre to London Ontario and stay with me... (hands rubbing)

cafiend said...

Since trail is simply the amount by which the front tire contact patch falls behind the intersection of the steering axis with the ground you can just use a straight edge down the center line of the head tube and measure back to the contact patch. You can come pretty close measuring rake, too.

jhon said...

Great article.

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