Tag Archives: Rohloff

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Instead of a proper post this month, for reasons of lack of time just a few impressions fom the first commuting cycleride this year. Taken in brilliant spring weather, the 65 km roundtrip was a nice start to the season.

Nature is awakening, and cycling to work makes for a very much more relaxed working day than driving, especially now as locals petitioning and pressurizing authorities for cyclepaths has not (yet) succeeded.

 

The relatively heavy KFS bike with the Rohloff hub is still my vehicle of choice for those rides as I need to carry much luggage, too much for any lighter cycle.

Over the winter some direly needed servicing brought a change in the sprocket, me choosing the largest there is. My rationale behind that was that I wanted to try to use the higher 7 speeds as much as possible to get out of the ratios that produce a grinding sound which I feel also makes pedalling heavier. This was successful as there is hardly any more of that nasty sound at least. Should have done that years ago.

Now, looking at my time budget things have not improved over the last years, and while in the beginning of this blog (seven years ago now!) I was full of ideas and energetic about it, I feel now that my posts have become less than inspirational. ATM I´m pretty sure I´m giving he blog up.

As I have no idea regarding the rules pertaining to a disused blog, if it will eventually be taken down or so, it might be a good idea for readers to scan it for any possible photos or info they want to keep, unlikely as this may be, and download them. Always the optimist, me.

 

 

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The Thing That Makes All the Good Weather

We´ve had quite a remarkable autumn this year; the weather was fine quite frequently, so I could get a few miles under my belt which I had missed out on during the season proper.XRhof

XRfullsunfl

I haven´t told you yet about the mishap I had while doing a century ride, have I? Early this year I decided that I didn´t want to do all that many miles in the car anymore, so I did a lot of what we call Sternfahrten. This is basically a normal century ride, but the miles spent on the bike en route to the event also count. Of course you meet less people that way, also the fee stays the same but you don´t profit from food stops, but, as I said, it means less driving.

Of course less driving also means less compatibility of flea markets and cycling events. While I´m definitively shrinking my collection of vinyl and shellac discs, I still can´t pass by a fleamarket. In the car – no problem. You just throw the records in and forget about them until you´re back home. On the bike you need to plan your route more diligently to include the car boot sales, and also there´s the problem of carrying, say, 30 discs on a randonneuse. So what to do? I decided to press my Rohloff equipped touring bike into RTF service, because years ago I had found out a quite foolproof way of transporting LPs on it.

For this reason, I take my winter mitts even in 30 deg Centigrade weather, and I always take both of my trusty, by now 30 y-o Agusport panniers.

XRbagsbadgeXRBagsrearXRbagsmittsThe two small Agus make a very trustworthy platform, and the mitts are wrapped around the bag with the records under the spring clip

XRbagsdiscsrearand just aft of the seatcluster,

XRbagsmittsfrontand Bob´s your uncle. I have carried close on 50 LPs in one go this way, and there´s no problem whatsoever. OK, granted, on steep descents the weight makes itself felt in some sort of weird rear end shimmy, but that´s a small price to pay. One Saturday this summer I bought 25 LPs and then went on a 120km ride.

One wonderful side effect is that the cyclists you meet during the small portions of the RTF route that you have to do in order to validate your license entry have a hard time guessing what´s in the yellow bag. One actually made me show him the discs as he wouldn´t believe that I took LPs on a century ride.

Anyway, back to the mishap. On one of these Sternfahrten with a carrier rack full of LPs, and about 35km from home, a pedal axle snapped, just where the adjustable cone starts, at the end of the thread. I was lucky enough to be quite close (10km) from the home of a friend who also is into bikes, so I was able to borrow a pedal, but I do hope that this is the last prank the cheapo stuff on the original chain store cycle has played me. You might remember that I bought the Rohloff used (and the Maguras, and the lighting, and…) hung on a frame which was so cheap as to be nearly unridable.

I then decided to get a decent pair of pedals and bought the heavy version Shimano reversibles.

XRPedflat XRpedspdThey´ve been fine so far. I usually keep single pedals, far too thrifty to throw a good pedal away, but I binned the un-broken one this time.

Another funny thing about my bike is this dead spider

XRheadlspidin the headlamp. It must have crawled in when the first owner of the chain store bike put the machine away after about 50km of use. And, no, neither the spider nor its net makes a shadow on the road.

What else? Oh yes, the Rohloff´s been fine, and I have decided to perform the yearly oil change tomorrow. Well, bi-annual, this time. Sorry, hub. BTW, there´s a great write up of “Rohloff how to and why” on Marten Gerritsen´s m-gineering website (whose third Tubes and Coffee will be on Dec 20th, and unless something horrible happens you bet I´ll be there).

I can´t resist in offering some impressions from this wonderful autumn´s rides, beginning with a marvellously dangerous and rusty steamroller which has been stationary on our neighbourhood playground for decades. Kids can fall off, put their hands in holes, bang their heads on protruding things, cut themselves on sharp edges – they hardly ever do, and they love the machine.

XRSteamrbadge XRSteamrfull2 XRSteamrfull

Here´s one half of a Beetle. Before I chanced upon Volvos I used to be a dyed-in-the-wool Citroen 2CV man, so I guess that this is the best thing you can do with a beetle – cut it in half and use it as a stopgap in the hedge.

XRVWThis is a bike which I happened to see on one of my rides – a real cross frame ladies roadster, more precisely a Utopia Kranich (Heron). As so often in German bikes – good idea, cheapo build; just look at those lugs and the seat stay top.

XRUtseatcl XRUtreardo XRUtheadb XRUtfull XRUtforkcr XRUtcross XRUtbbUtopia started in 1982 and have always used steel frames, which is good, of course, but all Utopia frames I have seen were relatively coarse and, if I´m allowed to say so, priced in a way that I never bothered: A Kranich frameset is now +/- 1.000 Euros.

Kranich_gruen

Photo courtesy Utopia Velo

However, pricey as they may be, they are known for their ruggedness. A former neighbour of ours who is 6´7″ and weighs in accordingly has used a London, the gents´ version, with a Rohloff for more than a decade as his exclusive means of transport without a problem.

The frames are made in the Netherlands at van Raam bike speciality workshop in Varseveld near Doetinchem in the Achterhoek region, funnily enough only about 40km from where I spent my youth. The firm has been going strong for more than 100 years at different locations. If you look closely, the Utopia frame pictured above does look Dutch, too. According to their website, van Raam employs three framebuilders at the moment. Actually, the boxlining on some of the forks is done by Henk Kluver who, at 93 years of age, is the oldest employed person in the Netherlands. He´s been working at van Raam´s for an unbelievable 70 years.

Utopia have also had a strong connection with Rohloff and were presented with a pair of specially engraved Speedhubs for their 25th anniversary.

XRweatherfull XRweatherbadgeSome kilometers away from our village an automatic weather data gathering station was erected some years ago. Is this responsible for all the good weather?

Rohloff Test

A Rohloff Cheapo

Last October I started to put the German bike supply system to a test.

Our local bike shop had had the opportunity to sell two seriously expensive electrically assisted bikes which are all the rage over here (and many of which have been tested as life endangering failures by the German equivalent of “Which?” magazine, btw) under the proviso that they´d accept a very strange bike in part exchange, so they did, luckily for me. The very strange bike was equipped with a Rohloff 14sp hub, Magura HS33 brakes, a rather nice Shimano/Busch und Müller lighting combo and some other useful stuff. So what was strange about that?

That it still was a cheapo. It was made for a large volume selling chain store dealing in bicycles (couldn´t very well call it a cycle chain store, could I) who fished for bargain hunting customers with the big names on the bike, but nonetheless managed to produce an unrideable (as in undrinkable, opposed to non potable) vehicle. First, in order to attain their price point, they saved a lot on labour, throwing the thing together in a way which allowed me hardly to leave anything untouched.

Next, the cheap presumably Chinese frame and especially the telescopic front fork were of such a quality as to bring tears to the rider´s eyes. The front fork wouldn´t budge when riding, but when applying the brakes it would nearly throw me over the handlebars because it dived to the bottom straight away. The carrier rack was so narrow as to be unusable, the sprung seatpin had no end of side play, and so on. This was, for instance, what the Rohloff cable entry hole in the down tube looked like:

RRKabelführgIntern

Rain water would enter without any problem, and standing the bike on the handlebars after a few rainy rides would have water gushing out of several of these holes. The hole had sharp edges, too. The chain was so badly aligned that there would be a constant noise from the rear sprocket. Both left and right hand chain stays had a thread each underneath for the Rohloff cable stop. The fashionably short front mudguard was that fashionable that dirt would be thrown up everywhere when cycling in averse weather conditions. I swapped it at once for a stainless ´guard I had taken off a fifties bike as being unoriginal.

Buying a Rohloff and not Using It

So the bike had been ridden a max of 50 miles by its first owner; small wonder. You could tell looking at the rim brake surfaces, brake blocks or those nooks and crannies on a modern bike you can´t get dirt out of if you life depended on it. After five years the first owner just wanted to get rid of the bike and next, so did the bike shop: It was October. We agreed on a price which was considerably less than what you usually pay for a used Rohloff hub alone, my plan being to ride the bike over the winter, then break it for its more expensive parts, sell them at a profit and junk the rest, unless I liked my first Rohloff 14sp hub, in which case I would try to get a decent frame. So the first part of my system test had been successful: How cheap can you get a Rohloff equipped bike? Very. It had taken the best part of 15 years, but still.

The next part of the test was: Can you make a good bike out of a chain store cheapo? After a Saturday afternoon´s worth of wrenching and a few hundred kilometers the answer was No. I had replaced the carrier rack with one from my used spares box, and the seat pin had been swapped out for a non-sprung one, plus a good Brooks Conquest, also from my box, but no way.

I kept riding the bike regardless because I must admit that the Rohloff and the modern Maguras grew on me very quickly. I like hub gears, always have, and this one must be the zenith of them all. Contrary to what some people say I find changing gears easy (the secret seems to be to leave the cables rather slack), and the noise and vibration the lower half of the gears emit can also be greatly reduced when a steel frame is used. Sure, the energy needed to produce the noise and vibration felt through the soles of my shoes must come from somewhere, and on a bike there is only one source of energy, but the hub gear concept is neat and clean, and I like that. On the whole, I´m not becoming one of those Rohloff addicts, or disciples, or whatever you want to call them, but for me, the hub´s shortcomings do not outweigh its advantages.

The Way to a Decent Rohloff Bike

I decided to get a good, hard wearing and not too fancy frame about half way through this year´s very long winter, so the next part of the system test followed: Sourcing a lugged steel frame in 65cm c/t with Rohloff OEM dropouts. I don´t like the excenter method of chain tensioning, neither can I stand the long torque arm or an external switching box. Neatness, that´s the hub gear principle. No problem if you want to spend a couple of grand, a number of frame builders will be pleased to oblige. There are beautiful OEM dropouts available, but they all have their prices of course.

Things look rather different, however, if you want something down to earth you can for instance leave well locked in town while doing your shopping. Used frames – forget it; 65cm is just too exotic. Re new frames our local, provincial bike shops drew blanks for various reasons, most simply not regarding steel to be a suitable material for framebuilding at all, a number of them obviously not willing to look a little deeper into the matter than their ususal wholesalers´ catalogues. (Are they in for a surprise; they are completely overlooking the recent steel renaissance.)

I had nearly given up, the system failure seemingly not allowing me to get a decent, but un-fancy and un-hype-name Rohloff bike going. Note this, my budget for the frame/fork was up to 500 Euros, which to my mind isn´t nothing. So I had all but made my mind up to break the bike, squirrel the Rohloff away and recoup as much as possible of my money through selling the rest.

This was when the system´s saving grace in the form of freshly opened Dortmund cycle shop Radbude showed up.

RBasleep

RBawake

Tobit Linke, its owner, not only knows that steel can be a very feasibe frame material (he tried on PBP, among other long rides), but he also was willing to spend some time looking for a frame which would suit me. He has a lot of interesting stuff you won´t easily come across in your run of the mill bikeshop and caters for the enlightened cyclist who is willing to spend a quid more.

RBwindow

This is a short film my son made:

It was the third try which scored, and I ordered a new off the peg bike frame, something I hadn´t done in about 25 years. Lugged, oversize tubing, shiny black, no transfers or stickers of any kind. Well made, in the heavy German tradition, just what I wanted.

Problems and their solution

After a while it arrived, and off I went to Dortmund with the cheapo bike in the boot, to have Tobit swap round the parts. He had to show me the ropes with the Maguras as well as with the Rohloff, both being firsts for me, so there was some work in it for him, too. We also reused the bottom bracket/crank and the handlebar/extension assemblies from the cheapo.

RBWorkshop

After we had done this, I proudly went home to assemble the rest of the bike. I even found a 30mm seat pin in my box, but then disaster struck. I have been re-using used stainless bolts all my bike wrenching life, which is close on 30 years now, without a hitch, but the cheap chain store bike had one last nasty surprise for me. When trying to mount the rear mudguard, a stainless screw just gave when its thread was halfway down the thread in the frame, the head coming off without any effort at all. Tobit later told me that this is not an infrequent occurrence when working on cheap bikes, so I assume I have been pampered, missing out on all of these nasties.

RBWorksh2

Anyway, off I went to Dortmund again, very much p/o, to have the offending half of the bolt drilled out or otherwise dealt with, and asked Tobit to finish the bike, which he did, using some rather clever tricks. I usually take pride in being able to do 95 per cent of the work necessary to keep me going on the bike, including wheelbuilding for my randonneurs, so having someone build my bike was new to me. Of course, there were things left to do like locks, the bottle cage, speedo, some brake fine tuning after the new blocks had settled in and other stuff Tobit couldn´t know about, so I still can say that the bike has been partially built by myself.

RBShirtssaddles

I must say that I like visiting Radbude; it´s nice to have a cycle shop again which sells this sort of bikes when they can get at them:

RBOlmo

The Bike

So, after all this, what does the bike look like? Here are some snaps.

The frame was obtained through a wholesaler from Krüger, a manufacturer situated near Bielefeld, who mostly caters for the cycle industry. I am trying to get an appointment at the workshop and will report if it works out.

The frame seems to be well made, rugged, and not overly refined, but the price is very good, and the frame seems to be well worth its money. There are loads of useful braze ons, and hardly anything has to be banded on, which is great. One thing I don´t like are the kick stand threads on the left hand side dropouts. I can´t help thinking what happens if the droput is bent. That´s why I used the standard stand from the cheapo.

The ride is surprisingly lively, and I have not succeeded in inducing front end shimmy, which is something. The bike feels quick at low speeds, and I hope that once the tank track like Marathon Plus tires are replaced by something lighter and more responsive, it will be at high speeds too.

I would have preferred a more traditional geometry, but the slope in the top tube is not too bad and the Rohloff OEM dropouts make for steep seat stay angles anyway; something which can´t be easily helped.

I like the large diameter cable eyes under the top tube and the fork; they easily accomodate Magura pipes and all sorts of other stuff.

Kfullrhd

Kbb

Kbottlecage

Kcableroutbrazeon

Kforkbrazeons

Kforkcrlwrheadlug

Kftmudflap  Khubsprocket

Kreakbklock

Kreardo

Kseatcl

Kttcableeye

With the system test completed, I hope I will be riding this bike for a long time. However, there´s possibly one more stage to the test: Is it possible again, after many decades, to have a bike with all German main componets today? Once the rims will have worn out or the strange spoke pattern will have given rise to problems, I will replace the Shimano dynamo hub with a Son. I also could put in a German made bottom bracket bearing and a carrier rack. So let´s see what happens next.