Monday, July 23, 2012

Fixed Gear Mercian, Freed and Re-Tyred

Mercian with Freewheel, Altered Gearing and Grand Bois Cerfs
I've had a Mercian Vincitore since last Fall, riding it as a fixed gear fitted with 28mm Panaracer Pasela tires. Those tires are not known for their raciness, but honestly that suited me just fine, since my fixed gear riding style is best described as "pottering about." Still, eventually I got curious what this machine was capable of if fitted with faster road tires. I also wanted to feel what the bike was like to ride non-fixed. Now the Mercian sports 26mm Grand Bois Cerf tires and has temporarily been turned into a freewheel single speed.

Mercian Vincitore Lugwork
The bike rides better than ever. The tires have a lighter feel to them and the ride quality - which I didn't think needed improving at all - is nonetheless improved. I should note that right now I have an old cheap flip-flop hub wheelset installed and not the nice Phil Wood wheelset we originally built it up with. This does not seem to make any difference. The bike feels as if I am riding on narrow balloon tires, with the speed and maneuverability of a fast roadbike.

Mercian Track Ends
"Freeing" the drivetrain changed the feel of the bike in several ways. It made me more aware of how responsive it is to pedaling efforts. It made me want to alter my positioning - namely to move the saddle back a bit and lower the handlebars. It also made me wish the bike had gears! I didn't miss them at all in fixed gear mode, but now the bike seems to "want" them. It's probably just because I have never ridden a non-fixed single speed roadbike before. It will be interesting to experience it this way for a bit. After that I will change it back to fixed. 

Mercian with Freewheel, Altered Gearing and Grand Bois Cerfs
I will also be making some component changes in the coming year. The gearing has been lowered twice already and it's clear that it needs to be even lower to suit my pedaling style. The Campagnolo crankset makes that impossible, since the smallest available ring is 49t. I will replace the drivetrain with something that will afford a categorically lower gear. Also, now that the bike is no longer fixed, I realise that the (Veloce) brake calipers aren't just "a bit weak" as I thought before, but simply do not work here; I must have been compensating with my feet more than I realised. We will try replacing the brake pads, but I doubt that will make enough of a difference. A better solution seems to get a set of plain ol' Tektro medium reach calipers. The initial build was based on the parts that were available to me at the time more than anything, but I like to spin fast and I like brakes that work well, so the components will have to change.

Crankbrothers Candy 2, Mercian
I've enjoyed riding this bike tremendously over the past year and think it was the right choice for me for a fixed gear bike. I like the versatility and can see myself putting fenders and a rack on it in some distant future. In the nearer future, I am curious how a radically lowered gearing will affect my experience of the bike, in particular when I use it for recovery rides. I think it's the right way to go. 

51 comments:

  1. What gearing will you install, and what did you start with?

    I found myself gearing *up* as I rode fixed more -- and from being a definite "spinner" became a masher.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My current ring is 49t. I've been riding it with a 19t cog for a while, and we recently changed it to 22t(!) but it's still not low enough.

      I am not 100% positive at this stage what gearing I need. I am happiest spinning at around 90-95rpm, and the more I ride the higher my preferred cadence seems to get. I think a 34t ring would give me the most versatility as far as cog choices for that style of riding, but I am not sure. Unlike before, I now have the benefit of knowing several local cyclists who ride fixed gear roadbikes so I'll be talking to them before I do anything.

      Delete
    2. That surprises me. A 49/22 combo on your bike with a cadence of 95rpm only puts you at slightly more than 16mph. To get the bike tp 20mph would require you to pedal at a cadence of 119rpm!

      If you like riding fixed gear, maybe a new Sturmey Archer S3X 3-speed fixed gear hub may be an interesting solution; it would allow you three narrow gear options on the fly while riding fixed in each of them. I tried out a bike equipped with an S3X hub, and it was really neat!

      Delete
    3. Re your 1st par: Considering my use case scenario for the bike, the numbers you describe sound reasonable. A little lower would be even better.

      I did not like the S3X hub when I tried it.

      Delete
    4. What didn't you like about it?

      Delete
    5. The simplicity and sense of feedback/connectedness that I get with single speed fixed gear was missing. I could also feel what I guess is called a "dead spot" at the end of each revolution. It was disconcerting.

      Delete
    6. Your initial gearing 49 x 19 equates to 69.6 gear inches while 49 x 22 is 60.1 gear inches. Charles Holland the British rider who rode in the Tour de France in the 1930s trained on a 59 inch gear. By the 1950s British club riders were using gears in the low 60s. The secret of riding fixed is to spin the gear, so your 22T sprocket sounds about right if it is comfortable. You should be well able to spin at 119rpm and even faster if you are fit. Fixed gear will teach you how to pedal smoothly and if you spin, your leg muscles and joints will become very supple. Mashing will not have the same effect, as the concept is strength to turn the gear. A simple test will confirm this: a 10 mile time trial on a 72 inch fixed gear, masher -v- pedaller. The pedaller will win, because of the suppleness, ability to rev and roll the gear, i.e. spin.

      Re: brakes. Try fitting some Weinmann centre-pulls with decent brake blocks. The 1970s ones would be deep enough for your frame. Should be easier and cheaper to source than Mafacs which are also very good.

      Re: Hubs on cheap wheelset. They look like cartridge bearing hubs made in Taiwan. They actually are actually a good hub, made by Novatech I believe. I haven't tried riding a single freewheel in a Mercian. You could try a Sturmey AW3 with a 22T sprocket which would give you a neutral gear of 60.1 inches, top gear of 80 gear inches and bottom gear of 45 gear inches.

      Delete
    7. I ride my 1984 Pinarello fixed gear over flattish to rolling terrain with a 41/16 combination giving 68.4 gear inches. So far, my five century experience has been satisfactory. The 1984 Campy Super Record original brakes have always seemed fine, and I am not a lightweight wirey climber type.
      blog: jwanermanbikeblog@blogspot.com

      Delete
  2. Oh wow, I think I may have seen you riding this bike in town! Do you feel safe on it in the city?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Fixed vs. free positioning -- yep, I wrote about that.

    Tyre = Tire

    You changed the wheels AND tires at the same time -- you can not tell if wheels alone affected the ride quality.

    Riding fixed is fine if you don't ride a lot of road. Otherwise you can't mash if you need to recover. Better still if this is your recovery bike then gears would work better of course for that purpose.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've ridden both wheelsets with 28mm Paselas in fixed mode and I'll be darned if I can tell the difference between the nice wheelset and the budget wheelset. Maybe I got exceptionally lucky with the latter.

      Delete
    2. Quote: "Riding fixed is fine if you don't ride a lot of road. Otherwise you can't mash if you need to recover. Better still if this is your recovery bike then gears would work better of course for that purpose."

      I ride mostly fixed and all on road; what's not to like? And as I mash on my 72" and 75" fixed gears. Recovery comes from pedaling slower -- and (this is the big desideratum) you have to anticipate, say for a hill or wind, and adjust your effort accordingly beforehand. That (in my book) is a large part of what makes fixed riding so fun.

      I tried fixed off road (60" gear) and found that, while I didn't mind mashing up hills, I hated, hated, HATED flailing despairingly downhill and on fast flats. I swapped to a 63" freewheel.

      Delete
    3. I think it all comes down to pedaling style. Some people prefer to mash, others to spin.

      As far as recovery rides, the idea is that you spin faster than normally and avoid mashing. This is supposed to be a better "morning after" remedy after a hard ride than not riding at all. So a fixed gear with low gearing is great as a recovery tool, but if geared too high it's counter-productive. All of this only matter *if* you're using it for recovery rides, which does not appear to be the case for you (and wasn't the case for me when I first started riding one).

      Delete
    4. Bertin753-
      I never had alot of fun riding trails on a fix, but it may be worth noting that those who DO enjoy it tend to run a gear a few inches larger than what they'd run on the same bike/terrain with a freewheel.

      Delete
    5. V -- if you have big tires on a bike inflated to the "proper" (subjective) psi it kind of is a layer of honey btwn the two. Paselas are known to ride smoothly too.

      Bertin -- we are talking different scales and intensities I suspect. Yesterday I ran around in my 50x17 and had to ride today -- ouch!

      Alright time for a second recovery ipa.

      Delete
    6. Re:Paselas
      the cheapest Pasela is an equivalent of the Grand Bois in speed (BQ 5/3 page 20) and ride, the Pasela TG is a little harsher and slower, and the white Pasela is a totally different (much crappier) casing and a much slower, harsher ride than all but the very worst tires available.

      I doubt any one could feel the difference in wheels using the white Paselas, they are for show not performance riding.

      In the 700c big tire world the Challenge PR stands alone as the highest performance; Paselas and GrandBois are a whole notch below, but great for every day use.

      Delete
    7. Ah that could explain it. Naughty of them to make the white Paselas this way.

      I've used all of the Pasela tires, I think. The one and only time I rode with the non-TG, I promptly got a flat. After that I used the (black with tan sidewall, not white) Pasela TGs on a few bikes and thought they were fine. I've also ridden lots of others' bikes with those tires, they are popular. To me, the Cerfs feel nicer.

      Delete
  4. I am surprised you want such low gearing. I run 49/17 and it's fine for the street.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Nice bike. If you like to corner sharply, think about some 165's for your new crank. I have struck pedals in corners on a 170, but can really cut on 165's and have never clipped the ground.

    I'd experiment slowly with the gearing changes. What goes up has to come down.

    I really don't get the attraction of a single speed. No advantage, no fun.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My previous fixed gear was a converted vintage racing bike and even with 165mm cranks there was occasional pedal strike. But this frame is fixed gear-specific and the bottom bracket is sufficiently high for cornering with 170mm cranks.

      Delete
  6. I thought I liked the cream tires you had before, but the bike looks even better now! Why not the wider Cerfs?

    ReplyDelete
  7. How are you finding the durability of those tires? I've been looking at a pair for when my current set wear out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll have to get back to you in a year! But the first set I tried was a borrowed one and they were very well used with the owner reporting no issues. I did my 100 mile ride to Maine on the borrowed older tires without problems.

      Delete
    2. Been riding the wider Cerfs since February 2011 on my weekend fun bike. Mix of paved and limestone paths and urban to somewhat rural streets. So far not one flat. Boy these tires are Cush!

      Delete
  8. When you state that the Veloce brakes "simply do not work here," is it due to your use of stainless rims? I've found that those require an inordinate amount of strength to stop with, compared to alloy rims, especially when wet.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Looking forward to a photo of this bike in five years time. By then it should be settled into what it was meant to become. Bikes are at their best when they show wear and tear which comes along with enjoyment and use. At this stage it's still too boring and pristine -- a trophy bike. Fenders and rack will help, along with grease and dirt :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. ??

    How is it that the brakes "simply do not work here"? Which lever do you have? Does the lever reach fit your hands? Is the lever correct for use with road brakes? It should be possible to set up Veloces so they work fine.

    Lovely frame, and I keep threatening to order a Mercian (I've owned two in the past). I would have avoided the lengthened BB tangs in a frame that size, in the interst of preserving resiliency and damping. Minor comment.

    ReplyDelete
  11. A minute of searching finds Stronglight for Campagnolo 44T and 46T rings at sjscycles at about 20 pounds sterling. Stronglight rings are attractive enough for your Vincitore. One way or another the rings you want are available. Track racers generally start with a 46 and a 48 and eventually they will have every size from 44 to 50 in their track box. These are racing parts and you are covered. Even if it's sometimes hard to find. You wouldn't use anything lower than 44x22 so keep the Campy crank.

    Sooner or later you will get more rpm. Try putting the saddle lower for a ride or three and see if that helps. A while back you made a note of watching your friend downhill at high rpm as if that was something unusual. It's not. Track riders just have to be able to do 150 in a sprint, most people can do 200 downhill or on rollers. Having an everyday range that can briefly go to 120 or 130 makes ordinary riding and group riding in particular much smoother. I'm a 6 foot tall old fart (longer levers move slower and old guys get stiff) and on any group ride I warm up at 110-120. When the pace picks up to 30mph I'm still normally on 50x16. Pushing big gears makes me stiff quick. Your size and age it should be no big thing to have a broad speed range in one gear.

    Something is wrong with your brakes if they won't stop the bike. Veloce is good strong parts. Something small and easy to overlook is my guess.

    ReplyDelete
  12. There's no need for new cranks to lower your gearing. The Campagnolo track cranks are super strong, pretty, always very concentric... and you can fit a chainring much smaller than 49T.

    I have the same cranks on my track bike and they're just 144mm bolt circle. That means you can fit rings down to 42T. Campy's current selection of track rings is pathetic but Sugino, Shimano and Miche (amongst other) track rings also fit perfectly since track gear has thankfully been largely standardized for decades. The high end rings such as Sugino 75/Zen and Dura Ace will run at least as perfectly as the Campy you have.

    If your chainset is 3/32" instead of the more common 1/8" kit there are still options. My preference is for (new) old Campagnolo Nuovo and Super Record road chainrings. They're always perfectly round and smooth running, and not very expensive. Dura Ace track rings have also been made in 3/32" but they're expensive and rare. TA rings aren't consistently concentric enough for single-speed use.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. " TA rings aren't consistently concentric enough for single-speed use."

      Which TA Rings?

      My single speed bike has a Carmina Crank with Hegoa ring. Works perfectly.

      Velouria - Camina is worth considering if you change cranks. The Spider is easily swapped, allowing you to go from a 1/8" Single Speed to 110, 130 doubles or even 94-58 triple configurations using the same arms. I've had a world of fun fooling around with mine.

      Delete
    2. TA only makes one model chainring with 144 BCD. It's called Classic or something like that. Sure, some are good and some are not. Look around the fixed gear and track forums and you'll see more than a few riders complaining that the TA rings they bought were too eccentric. You'll never hear that about Campagnolo, Dura Ace or the better Sugino's.

      Perhaps the most wonderful thing about a fixie or single-speed is that perfectly smooth, silent drivetrain with no backlash. An imperfect chainring or cog makes that impossible to achieve; There's always a compromise in the chain tension and adjusting the chain is a hassle. Yes, they work anyway but it's just not as nice. On the track it's really best to avoid eggy rings since flipping a chain is really bad news.

      Over the years I've collected a big stack of 144 chainrings for track use, mostly new or lightly used road rings. Of those only the Campagnolos are good. The others, random old Sugino, Shimano, Ofmega etc are all eggy so I don't use them anymore.

      Delete
    3. Yes it is 144BCD. As with many things bicycle-related, I hear conflicting accounts re the wisdom of using non-native chainrings with the Campy crankset, particularly the TAs for reasons Henry mentions. And while it's easy to experiment with swapping for someone who's got a box of 144BCD compatible rings (and a bike shop!), someone like me has to find and buy the right one. All these nice TA/Carmina/etc rings are expensive - which is why I am weary of buying them online and would rather do the swap in person with someone I know, so that we can see right away whether it works. It may also simply be easier to sell or trade my Campy crankset complete and get something that suits me better in exchange.

      Delete
  13. Anon 4:39, Henry, etc - Changing the ring if I find a compatible one would work of course; I realise that I don't necessarily need to replace the entire crankset. It depends on what parts I am able to source/ trade for, ideally locally.

    Yes we're trying to understand the brakes issue. I have no theory at present, but I am not alone in judging them as non-functional. Whatever is wrong is not obvious. The levers are fine.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I love the bike!

    Many, many years ago--when I was young and skinny (Yes, I was both, once!), I bought my first track bike. It came with a 49T chainring. Even then, it was too big for me.

    Henry has the right idea: Your crankset more than likely has a 144mm bolt circle diameter, which means that you can use some road rings (some vintage) as well track rings from brands besides Campagnolo. For that matter, I think Campy offers other sizes of track rings.

    As for the brakes: I once tried a road bike with them, and thought they were weak. Then again, I've never been a fan of Campagnolo's (or other Italian companies') lower-priced offerings. Better to go with a Tektro or Shimano. Also, Dia Compe makes some nice dual pivot brakes that aren't too expensive. Or, if you like, you can use a vintage Campagnolo or Sun Tour Superbe sidepull. Either would look great on that bike. I'll bet someone in your area has one of those brakes and might part with it for not very much in terms of cash or barter items.

    Finally, I've never tried the Cerfs. However, I agree with your assessment of Paselas. If you can work out a deal, or save some money, try Continental Grand Prix 4 Season tires in 28 mm. They'll give you the grip and durability of Paselas, with a more responsive ride. They're what I've been using on my Mercian fixed gear and road bikes.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Anon 4:39 here. Henry made me check. I'd thought Campy had rationalized everything to 135bcd. Maybe I saw a Record Pista like that once upon and memory tripped me up. If you have a 144 crank as Henry says (pretty sure he's right) these are very common parts. If you're using 3/32 as most riders are now try CL. Anybodies old parts box. If you need 1/8 and a Campy logo those are a little scarce and a little pricey. If Sugino/Stronglight/Andel is OK those are common too. Half your respondents here should have some.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Why can't you just 'spin and recover' on your road bike?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I surely can and do. And I also like riding fixed gear.

      Delete
  17. hmm, so currently you are running 59.6 gear inches.
    i myself use a double crank with 45-40 rings to a 17-19 dingle cog.
    it lets me use a range from 70.8 to 63.4 to 56.3. i'm quite happy with that range, using the high gear for most around town rides, the low gear for hauling groceries and the like, and the middle gear for sporty rides when needed. i'm a little surprised 59.6 still feels high for you, but perhaps you need something in the low to mid fifties? i'd be surprised if you would need something lower, unless you were playing bike polo or riding a singlespeed mountain bike.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Honestly I am surprised too. In theory it seems absurd to me that I want such low gearing, and initially I thought 49/19 would be plenty low - which is why I did not anticipate the Campagnolo crankset would be a problem. But well, here I am with 49/22 wishing it were even lower. I am not going to change anything yet. Will get the brakes issue sorted first and ride the bike as is for a while longer, then see whether I still feel that I want to go lower still.

      Delete
  18. I've got Veloce brakes on one of my roadbikes and changing to Kool-Stop salmon pads was a worthwhile improvement. Not "Oh My God!" better but better. About like giving old weather beaten rims a good thrashing with scotch-brite on the brake surfaces.

    I have a couple of sets of vintage G.S. and Nuevo Record brakes and even a set of SunTour Superbe Pros(probably the only Campy copies that equal the real thing). Lately I've been thinking I'd like to try one or more of them again to see if progress has really passed them by or if maybe modern dual pivots are just lower effort.

    I hope you get it sorted, fixies and singles are such simple, direct bikes that the character of the brakes seems to make a bigger than normal difference in their personality/charm. I really don't think about the Veloce's shortcomings on that geared bike(they actually stop satisfactorily for me) but the brake on my fixedgear really bugged me till I got every aspect of it as perfect as I could. I had to go as far as lacing on a new Mavic Open Pro rim to get nice freshly machined surfaces before I was "done". I don't think I would ever change a rim on a geared bike just to tailor the brake feel.

    Spindizzy

    ReplyDelete
  19. Just out of curiosity, how fast do you like to spin on your fixedgear? I find that I like to maintain a higher RPM on my single speeds(fixed or not) since they just make me feel snappier. If you really like to wind it up a bit and aren't trying to maintain a high speed while you tool around I can understand wanting an even lower gear.

    I just put a computer with cadence function on my new(ish) 'cross bike(it's such a homely old thing I wasn't worried about spoiling her looks with all the wire, zip-ties and tape) and find I actually spend more time above 90 RPM than I would have thought and am still using a higher gear than when I take the fixedgear on the same rides with the same group.

    Spindizzy

    ReplyDelete
  20. As I have mentioned before, my Mercian started out as my geared race bike about 25 years ago. After being cannibalized for another frame it sat for a long time until my son built it up for me as a fixed wheel,(best father's day present ever). I rode it that way for a while but, in my late 60s, found I suffered some knee pain. I switched to freewheel and really enjoy riding it. As you can see on my Cyclofiend post, it actually has a range of manually changable gearing from around 50 to 70 inches. A gear for all occasions. It is such a delightful ride that, like you, I have thought of returning my Mercian to full derailleur operation; easily done since my bike has Campagnolo front opening horizontal dropouts.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Brakes: Does this bike, by chance, have the special brake levers intended for modern cantilever brakes? These have been available with various names on them: Cane Creek, Dia-Compe, Tektro... and they look like the brake levers on this bike.

    In that case your brakes will feel very snappy, have lots of clearance to the rim... and perform miserably. They have much too little leverage for a sidepull or dual pivot caliper.

    Replacing them with high-leverage brake levers that your fingers can actually reach will be a challenge. I haven't tried them all but can at least rule the current Shimanos out. They're even too big for my largish hands. On both my and my wife's bikes I put a shim between the rear of the lever and the handlebar to angle brake levers downward. It helps a little.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are Tektro R200A brake levers, and I've never heard that they are canti-specific. I've used these levers on 3 other bikes with side-pulls (modern and not) with zero problems. It could be that this specific caliper & lever combination is somehow a bad match.

      Delete
    2. Nope, then the brake lever leverage isn't the issue. There's nothing strange about your brake calipers so like others have suggested try some better, more aggressive pads. Given the condition of the bike I'm assuming the cables are running smoothly. If not a fair amount of power is lost to friction..

      Or you could stop polishing your rims with silicone and floor wax.

      Concerning the cross-compatibility of 144mm track cranks and rings, as long as one sticks to either 1/8" or 3/32" throughout their system it's all totally universal. They all fit each other perfectly. Just choose a quality, real track ring with a shape, finish and price that pleases you.

      Delete
  22. Is your chainset 144mm or 135mm BCD? TA do a 46T 144 outer, OK it's 3/32" not 1/8" but there are plenty of 3/32 fixies running out there. If 135mm then the TA Vento goes down to 46T

    ReplyDelete
  23. Have you published the frame geometry and build list - I am in the process of ordering a mercian and I think anyone considering a hand built bike would appreciate the information. Interesting to hear how much you like those tyres and that they feel fatter than their real world girth.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Haven't checked in for a few days. I think you usually look at these late comments.

    I'm the guy you once credited with getting you to try 49 x 19. That was a reasonable starting point. It would also be at the high end for everyday use, esp. for a lighter rider. 49 x 22 is at the low end. I'm glad you've tried it. It's also a perfectly reasonable gear, nothing wrong with it. If you want to try lower yet, that's fine, it can't hurt. But it is vanishingly unlikely you will fit a much lower gear and use it for long. What look like numerically small steps down will feel huge. A 46 ring would be useful.

    The Cerf26 feels as cushy and comfortable as a heavy duty 32 with stiff casing. It rides like a good 26. If you want to feel what 32 feels like get a GB Cypres, those are balloons. One of the neat things about good tires is you can play around quite a bit with different inflation pressures. Your tire will not be slow if the pressure goes down a bit. It will not be skittish or harsh if inflated a bit more. So try a range. Most riders pick a single pressure but there's no hard and fast rule and the experience is quite different at different pressures. I'd guess anything from 50psi to 95psi would work well enough, the range you like probably a lot smaller.

    ReplyDelete
  25. This was a great post! I have been wanting to "free" my fixed gear bike for a while now but I don't want to put a cheap BMX freewheel on the hub. What freewheel are you riding with? Do you like it? Were there any others you were considering? Thanks so much! Keep up the awesome blog!

    ReplyDelete
  26. I was just reading your post and the comments about the chainring selections. You CAN find Campagnolo 144 BCD chainrings in smaller sizes, though they may not be in current stock or catalogs. Search eBay, and you can find some nice barely used or NOS rings in smaller sizes. I use the same crank you have with a 46 tooth Campagnolo ring. Much cheaper than a new crank.

    ReplyDelete