More Rohloffs? Yes, no, yes, no, yes, no, oh go on then.

In 2008 we bought our VSF T400 Rohloff touring bikes. After a couple of years struggling with cheap bikes with cheap components we were fairly sure we knew what we wanted. Hub gears, hub dynamo with good lighting, wider tyres and a steel frame. For a while we considered upgrading the Moose and the Troll with Rohloffs and hub dynamos. This would have been around EUR 700 cheaper than buying the VSFs. Damae liked the idea of new bikes so we ended up getting the VSFs. It turned out to be a very good idea and we spent a long summer touring round souther Norway on our new steeds.

After the summer holiday Damae started a new job and started cycling to work on her old touring bike. I bought and fitted a new front wheel with a Shimano hub dynamo and upgraded her lights. It served her well for two years pootling between Utrecht and Nieuwegein. I ended up adding a Shimano hub dynamo to the Troll and it carried on working too, just as well as it ever had.

The problem was that the summer cycling round Norway with a Rohloff had made us realise how much we disliked derailleur gears. Over the next couple of years we kept revisiting the idea of ugrading the Moose and Troll to hub gears. I investigated SRAM S7s, Shimano Nexus 8s, the fragile Sturmey Archer 8 speed, Dual Drives, SRAM iMotion 9 speed hubs and so on. All of them had disadvantages and all of them weighed as much as a Rohloff. None of them had the range of gears we needed without using double chainwheels. Plus none of them would give us the low gears we wanted unless we ignored the manufacturers recommendations for chainwheel to sprocket ratios.

The issue came to a head when we realised that Damae’s rear wheel had a soon to be terminal case of rim wear. The Moose made it through to the end of her last year working in Holland, and without any resolution to the problem we took the bikes with us to Norway.

Here, we carried on wondering if we should splurge out on some Rohloffs for our old bikes. Most people would say that this was madness. There’s no point upgrading a EUR 330 bike with a Rohloff. But then again, the VSF T400 Rohloff is based on a EUR 700 derailleur bike, yet that is a great bike. Also we still like the way the Moose and the Troll handle and they are comfortable.

It was time to bite the bullet. The choice was either we upgrade the Moose and the Troll or just chuck them away. Without a pair of Rohloffs in their back wheels we’d never use them again. They could be useful as town bikes or winter bikes with studded tyres on all the time or as spare bikes when we have visitors. We decided to go for it. So tonight I ordered some built wheels from Roseversand. Maybe to celebrate our first year in Norway, maybe to reward the old bikes that gave us a love of cycle touring.

It will make an interesting comparison: the Moose and Troll upgraded as I first suggested vs our VSF T400 bikes.

Our cycling season is about to start

The snow has almost disappeared from Hallingdal. We’ve seen cyclists clad in lycra on racing bikes in the last couple of weeks, here and in Numedal. In Drammen we saw normal cyclists of all ages and sizes all around us. It’s time for us to dust down our tourers and get on with exploring the local area. We are also thinking about a potential summer tour and simply enjoying the wonderful scenery we encounter wherever we go.

New location, same old blog

When I first installed WordPress I didn’t realise that I should put it in a sub folder in the blogs folder. The idea was that there would be a couple of blogs rather than just one. Having the blog in the blogs folder meant I’d either have to move the blog within the website or create another folder somewhere else.

The first step, to correct this error, was taken today. I have done a quick test of all links and everything seems to be working fine. Please let me know if you spot a broken link.

The 16 speed Brompton project is not dead, just resting. Damae’s Syncro interior is taking priority at the moment.

Revenge is sweet but not fattening

I bumped into this collection of short stories, about Spike the Bike. I suspect many commuting cyclists will have fantasised about this type of revenge after a thoughtless or a deliberate act of intimidation by a motorist.

If you don’t get why cyclists might feel like this then search on youtube for something like ‘cyclist dangerous driver’. A motorised vehicle can easily be used as a lethal weapon and sadly, all too often is.

Site upgrade

This blog runs on WordPress on the server. I’ve just upgraded to the latest version. So far all seems to have gone fine. I used the WP-DB-Backup plugin to create a backup of my database first. This plugin seems to do what it says on the tin. I say, ‘seems to’ because I haven’t needed to restore the database from the back up file it produced. As ever, YMMV.

But my thanks to all those at WordPress for creating and updating this software and all those creating useful plugins for WordPress.

16 speed Brompton – update

A little good news: the Brompton and the Nexus hub have been re-united in Gol. The only problem is that I am not in Gol. I had to travel back to Holland for a few days to pick up my van and the remains of our stuff.

If all goes well then I should be back home in Norway next weekend. I hope to be able to find some time to start building the back wheel soon.

16 speed Brompton: Part 4

Well there is good news and bad news and good news and good news.

The good news is that my spokes and front mech have arrived from SJS Cycles.

The bad news is that in three weeks time we’ll be emigrating to Norway. I can’t justify taking the time to build a wheel.

The good news is that I haven’t got the time to go anywhere with my Brompton so I won’t be chomping at the bit wanting to build my wheel.

The last bit of good news it that there are plenty of dark winter nights in Gol for me to fill with exciting projects.

Watch this space.

16 speed Brompton: Part 3

I’m still waiting for some spokes from the UK to do the wheel build. SJS Cycles have assured me that they should get them from their suppliers next week. So hopefully not much longer to wait. The question is when will I have time to build the wheel? In a month we will be packing up for our emigration to Norway and I have loads of work to do on the van still.

In the meantime, here is a link to a Shimano Alfine conversion done in the UK. These pictures show how you can avoid the gear change cable fouling the front wheel hook when it clips onto the rear fork during folding.

That’s a neat solution.

16 speed Brompton: Part 2

My SRAM gears have been having problems recently when back pedalling. The chain would go slack and then suddenly tighten up, or pull the chain off the chainwheel. It just didn’t feel right so I dismantled my Brompton and on checking the SRAM hub’s bearings I discovered I’d overtightened them. I loosened the bearings off and all was well again. However once the rear wheel was off I decided that I’d had enough of the Brompton 6 speed and today, right now was the time to start my Nexus 8 conversion.

I’d printed off this page from the AtoB site-link long since dead which gives reasonably clear instructions for modifying the Nexus hub and spreading the forks. I’d bought the bits to make the spreading jig already so it was just a case of fitting the bits together and bolting to the Brompton rear fork dropouts.

Then with just a little trepidation and with Damae standing by for moral support I started turning the inner pair of nuts. Slowly but surely the rear of the Brompton forks widened and at approximately 136 mm (under tension) I decided to check the width against the modified Nexus hub. I removed to the tool and the forks sprung back to around 120 mm width at the dropouts. The hub didn’t quite fit but I realised that I’d not filed down the outer lock nut on the left hand side yet as the instructions suggested. I took the hub into the garage and removed the lock nut and filed it down and re-fitted the locknut. A little to our surprise the Nexus then fitted in perfectly and I hadn’t managed to break the forks. It was very easy to do. (NOTE: I ended up using the tool again to open out the forks a little more. When I fitted the dropout washers it was quite hard to get the hub in and out. This time I wound the tool out such that the gap (under tension) was 138mm. The Nexus 8 fitted more easily after I did that.)

Widening the forks had been my biggest worry. If the forks had broken then I’d not only have lost the use of my Brompton, but I’d would have needed to shell out for a new rear fork and then fit them. Now the forks had been widened I turned my attention to modifying the dust cover. This is made of two components and large plastic cover and a smaller metal cup that fits on the outside of the plastic cover. The central sleeve of the black plastic cover needed to be filed down by about a millimetre but the metal cap needed some more drastic surgery.

I fitted the cap to part of the jig and clamped the assembly in the vice. Taking an angle grinder with a thin cutting disc I carefully cut off the shoulder of the metal cap and dressed the cut edges. When I fitted the cap and dust cover back on the hub still just fitted in the forks. Although people do run Nexus hubs without this dust cover I didn’t want to do that as I’m aiming for maximum reliability.

I had to try to work out the offset of the rim and hub so I could work out what size spokes I’d need to order. With Damae’s help we measured the clearance between her Brompton rear wheel rim and the non-drive side of the rear forks. This turned out to be 13mm. We then placed the rim round the hub and bolted the hub back into the Brompton forks. With some careful measuring and re-measuring I came up with some figures that I would be able to put into an online spoke calculator. I’ll put the correct figures in the blog when I know what they are ie after building the wheel 🙂

I found that SJS Cycles do some short spokes that should be suitable. This means that it will take at least a few days for the spokes to get here. In the mean time I want to be able to use my Brompton. So I had to find a way to get my SRAM hub back in my Brompton forks. To do this I had to put some spacer washers on each side of the hub. This seemed to work fine and the wheel went back into the forks with only one real problem. As the forks have widened the two speed changer is now too far out to be able to pull the chain onto the larger inner cog. So my Brompton is now a three speed Brompton. Another minor issue is that the SRAM gear change cable and the chain tensioner now foul the front wheel when the bike is folded. This should not be a problem with the Nexus hub in place as the gear changing mechanism is on the inside of the forks and I will be using a different chain tensioner.

As luck would have it SJS Cycles had a 50/34 double chainring with steel rings at a very reasonable price. I was getting a bit fed up with the cost of the Brompton chainrings each time I needed to replace them. When I fitted this double chainring a few days ago I noticed that it felt considerably stiffer than the standard Brompton chainring. On accelerating it felt like the power was going straight to the rear wheels. I realised that there must be a lot of flex in the standard chainrings and cranks. I’m sure that any theoretical efficiency losses of the Nexus 8 over the SRAM three speed will be cancelled out by using a stiffer crank and chainrings.

16 speed Brompton: Part 1

Bromptons are beautifully styled bikes with an amazingly simple and compact fold and generally enjoyable cycling characteristics. A Brompton makes me think of the original Austin Mini. Both were designed around a brilliant idea and set new standards in their respective markets. Both are examples of the tradition of inspired British engineering. However, outstanding packaging apart, the Brompton like the old Mini, suffers from a lack of gears and some truly awful detail design, particularly where gears and brakes are concerned. Here in the Netherlands where the terrain is mostly flat you can live with three or six gears, and good brakes are not that important, except if you load your Brompton up with camping gear and go touring.

Since the arrival of our Rohloff Speedhub equipped VSF T400 bikes with Magura rim brakes, our six speed Bromptons have taken a large step backwards in the perfection stakes. Whilst the Brompton brakes work they do so eventually and with considerably higher brake lever pressure than even cheap V-brakes. The six speed gears consisting of an SRAM three speed hub and the Brompton 2 speed derailleur changer have become an annoying distraction rather than just mildly irritating. The two speed changer is the least appealing feature of our Bromptons. The changers which seem to have a mind of their own, are very sensitive to chain wear and grit. They can work for weeks on end without problems and then decide not to shift at inopportune moments. Not what you want whilst racing through town on your way to work.

Our life plans now involve a move to Norway, a country not known for its flatness. We’ve cycled through lots of it and know that, if we are ever going to our Bromptons again, that they are going to need a gear range from 18-80 gear inches. So is it time to give up on our Bromptons and get used to using our 24 speed Dahon folders? Well after customising the Bromptons so that we can carry lots of luggage and fitting more adjustable handlebars we’re not going to give up just yet. But fitting any hub gears other than the Rohloff will not give the range we need and the only 8 speed hub that will fit the Brompton rear fork without modifying it is the Sturmey Archer 8 speed.

A while back I ordered a Kinetics Sturmey Archer 8 speed kit, well more than a year ago actually. At the time of writing the order had not been fulfilled so I decided to cancel it. However this is probably a good thing, as in the intervening period I have discovered that even the current SA 8 speed hubs still have significant reliability problems. I’ve been looking for a more reliable solution but after a chat with Steve Parry about putting Rohloffs in Bromptons we’ve decided that our Bromptons aren’t worth throwing that much money at. In the meantime I stumbled across this page on the AtoB website detailing how to squeeze a Nexus 8 speed hub into a Brompton.

Now whilst the Nexus 8 speed has had some reliability issues in the past, the newer Premium models have better seals on them. This has apparently improved reliability according to information I have managed to glean from internet forum postings. Two other things are in the favour of the Nexus 8 speed are 1) availability and 2) price. A Premium Nexus 8 hub can be picked up from about Eur 115. So should the hub go pop after two years replacing it with a new one doesn’t really break the bank. Eur 115 every two years compares quite favourably to the cost of changing the cogs, chain and chainwheel on a 6 speed Brompton in the same period.

So is this the way to go?

Well I think it might be. A simple 8 speed will not give us the gear range we will need. However, a Nexus 8 speed when combined with a double chainwheel would. See the chart below (thanks to The HPV Drivetrain Analyzer). Using a 16 tooth sprocket and a 34/50 double chainring give an 18-80 gear inch range without exceeding the Shimano recommended minimum sprocket/chainring ratio.

After a considerable period of deliberation I’ve decided that this is the best method to get the range of gears we want. So I have started a new Brompton project, the 16 speed Brompton. I ordered the Nexus 8 speed hub, from Roseversand and a double chainring and 36 spoke 349 rim from SJS Cycles a few weeks ago. All I have to do is order some spokes when I know the relative position of hub and rims in the Brompton rear fork.

This is the most expensive Brompton modification I have made to date, and will also include my first wheel build. At the time I writing I have take the first steps of modifying the Nexus hub and spreading my Brompton rear forks.

Watch this space for some scintillating updates.