At my UBI frame-building class, we learned the basics of why almost all bikes have fairly similar geometry (or "virtual geometry" in the case of compact-style frames), at least within their class -- road, MTB, cyclocross, BMX, hybrid, etc., etc. As a frame builder, you can experiment with changes ... but will usually quickly find out why your novel geometry just does not work for its intended purpose.
So for the Yamabushi, I followed the traditional geometry pretty carefully, starting with frame measurements from my last two road bikes, and adjusting for a cyclocross build -- with slightly longer chain stays, 425mm instead of 405-410mms, and allowing for a longer fork.
I built up the bike with a Ritchey cyclocross fork, which has a vertical measurement of 391mm from the fork crown to the axle, and an offset (rake) of 45mm. This is a bit short for a cyclocross fork (they range 390-410mm), but noticeably longer than a standard road fork of 365-375mm. The extra length allows for fatter tires and mud clearance, of course. Anyway, the Ritchey works perfectly, and the result is a bike that is comfortable to ride and handles well. The Yamabushi is not as nimble as, say, my 2007 Cervelo R3-SL was, but it is stable, and it responds well, going just where I point it, when I point it.
Last weekend I put on the bike a new fork with disk brake mount, attached the new Avid BB-7 disk brake and my recently built wheel with a disk rotor. I added "The Plug II" (USB charger off the dynamo hub), and was excited to find that everything seemed to work.
I went out for a spin.
The brake is great -- much more control, and better stopping power, than the V-brakes I have been using. The new front wheel with 50mm carbon clincher rim feels very fast. The Schwalbe Ultremo 700x28 tires roll fast and are very comfortable with the extra air volume -- perfect for a Brevet that will go over good quality roads.
But the bike seemed to steer oddly. It felt as if I was steering a boat, with a very little rudder pushing against a strong current. At first, I thought something was wrong with the headset or the fork installation -- too tight, or too loose? Or maybe the disk brake cable was gumming up the steering? After eliminating these choices, I decided to compare the new fork with the one I had removed.
|Left side -- a fork too long.|
The feeling was odd. Very odd. Size does matter. And shape.
I will try again with another fork as soon as it arrives.
UPDATE: I got the new fork, which has the same rake as the Ritchey (45mm) and is in between the two in length 400mm). The handling is no longer boat-like. The wheel seems very fast and the disk brake very nice. The steering is more Cadillac than Porsche, but that seems very stable, and fine for most uses. Tomorrow I will ride it to work and if all is well, give it a real test the coming weekend.
UPDATE2: As an experiment, I switched back to 700x35 cyclocross tires (Continental "Speed" version -- for hard packed dirt and pavement, roll reasonably well) from the 700x28 slicks I had tried before. This increases the effective diameter of the wheel and this the "trail" of the wheel's contact point a bit more, and the handling shifts from Cadillac in the direction of Porsche. It is a bit odd that fatter tires with more tread result in nimbler handling ... but that is so.
Still, the cyclocross tires definitely roll slower than normal road tires. I ordered some 700x30 Grand Bois touring tires that randonneurs seem to rave about (distributed in the U.S. by the rider who completed Cascade 1200 with the fastest time this year ... so they may be fat, but they're not slow!)
UPDATE3: I noticed that the FSA headset I have had on the Yamabushi (used, removed from frame I rode 2001-2006) was noticeably gummed up. Some lubricant helped a bit, but still the steering seemed a bit resistant. Maybe this was at least a contributing factor to the "boat" feeling. In any event, I put on a new Cane Creek headset I ordered last month. Yes, I have a headset press and a removal tool,which have now pretty much paid for themselves by getting their first use! With the new headset and the Grand Bois tires, the front end us very responsive, slightly toward the "twitchy" end of the spectrum. But when I put an Ortlieb handlebar bag off the front, the handling seems really perfect -- as close as possible to "neutral". I will ride this combination on a cold 400km Brevet tomorrow.
UPDATE4 (February 3): I have now used the disk brake and 400mm fork on the 400km Brevet, and since for almost 3 weeks of commuting and riding in the city. I have come to the conclusion that the bike handling issues I had were at least significantly the result of the gummed up, very old FSA headset. The bike handling has been just fine with the new headset, with any of 3 sets of tires, with or without a handlebar bag. If I get some extra time, I might even try swapping back in the 410mm/more rake fork just to see if it is more rideable now with the new headset ... but no time right now.