Monday, September 24, 2007

Pulau Ubin Group Ride

'Decided to join the "old boys" for a ride (although that meant getting up at 5 AM and riding to Changi Village from Dairy Farm on off-road tires. Ugh!).

Pulau Ubin Jetty. The last time I stepped on this island was in 1992. It is no longer as rustic as I remember it; many of the locals have switched from farming and prawn-rearing to earning tourist dollars.

After being turned away at the entrance to Tanjong Chek Jawa, we went up and down some nice rolling hardpack roads before taking a break at a rural drink kiosk.

The owner keeps a pet wild boar. Despite its fearsome appearance, it is actually very friendly and is as curious as a puppy. Pity about its scent though...

The kiosk owner warned us that it would rain shortly. We expected that, but we didn't know that the deluge would be so heavy and last so long. The moment it started pouring, I instantly lost 50% of my braking power — the other 4 riders, using disc brakes, remained unaffected. Later, all of Freddy's chain grease got washed away and his Specialized repeatedly suffered chain suck. After unsuccessfully looking for the BMX track, we entered an uncompleted track (managed by DirTraction, I believe).

In there, it quickly became apparent that narrow singletrack with tight switchbacks is not Cloe's forte. Due to Cloe's long top tube, I could not turn quick enough and repeatedly toppled over. Freddy was the perfect gentleman, patiently waiting for me each time and always encouraging.

So, it was raining cats and dogs (and perhaps, a few elephants as well). Although my clear Oakley M-frames were fogged up, I kept them on to shield me from mud sprays. As a result, I could only see 1 meter (3.3 feet) ahead. It didn't seem to be a problem as we were climbing slowly. Then, the trail crested and we started descending, turning and twisting through the cool, rain-soaked, tropical forest...

One moment, I could see the bluish blur of Freddy 1 meter ahead...

Then... suddenly, Treebeard this tree suddenly appeared out of nowhere.



After the stars cleared from my head , I discovered that my left foot had unclipped from the pedal, but not the right. My right hand was hanging on to the tree. My left foot and rear wheel was in the air, hanging over a 70-degree slope studded with boulders. Only the front wheel was touching the side of the trail.

I dangled there for sometime. Those tree-hugging idiots at UC Berkeley would have been proud of me.

15 minutes later, Freddy got tired of waiting and backtracked. He sees this guy dangling from a tree, with a bike hanging from his right foot, all suspended over a steep, rocky slope.

He stands there and laughs.

BEN:  WTF! Dude, either take the camera from my bag and take a picture or help me!

FREDDY:  Pull yourself up!

BEN:  Very funny! You are asking me to do a 1-arm pull up with a 10 kg bike attached to my foot! [Muttering] I think you watched too many reruns of Cliffhanger!

Freddy laughs again, walks over, grabs and unclips Cloe from my right foot so that I can shimmy up the tree to get back on the trail.

Much, much later, we found the rest of the guys at the seafood restaurant beside the jetty. From left, clockwise: Yew Tiam (Dude, I still owe you the ferry fare x2!), Ahmad, Peter, and Freddy.

Cloe didn't shine in today's ride because her geometry wasn't designed for tight, narrow, singletrack. She was built for the wide open, hyper-fast fire roads in Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Deer Flat Road, Mount Diablo.

Bobcat Trail, Marin Headlands.

On trails such as these, it is not unusual to hit 48 mph (76.8 km/h) whilst descending. I also learned that Ritchey Logic V-brake pads melt when stopping from such speeds. Here, rather than being a handicap, a long top tube is advantageous as it enhances stability while carving high-speed turns.

Next trip to Pulau Ubin, it would be Ivy's turn  :-D

Total distance:  cyclo-computer 66.1 miles (105.6 km) / GPS dead
Total elevation climbed:  Altimeter 2230 ft (680 m)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Race Face X-Type BB bearings upgrade

Before clocking 900 km (562 miles), the Race Face X-Type Bottom Bracket (BB) bearings began to squeak and drag.

"DO NOT DISASSEMBLE" is stamped on each BB cup, but the units can be successfully taken apart by anyone with average mechanical aptitude. I will not duplicate Hercubus' excellent write up on the procedure (also applicable to Shimano External BBs). Chewieez also shot a 24-step pictorial of the process.

A combination plastic dust-cap-and-shim sits on both BB cups.

After the plastic dust-cap-and-shim is (carefully) removed.

There was no grease left in the cartridge bearing, only water. I never wash my bike using a pressure hose, or even a garden hose; all I use is a scoop; and I remove the seatpost and flip the bike upside down thereafter.

The non-drive side was pretty much in a similar state. There was almost no grease left, just a milky film. What do they use in there? Half-and-Half?

To have this occur within 563 miles (900 km) is unacceptable. Not surprisingly, the Race Face X-Type BB scored very low in MTBR Reviews.

Peter Verdone has an interesting take on the design flaw in Race Face's X-Type BBs:

Bryan and I did a little research on my failed Shimano and Race Face bottom brackets, and this is what we learned. The Shimano bearing cartridges were labled HIC (Japan) 6805RD, (25 ID,37 OD,7 WD) with 15 x 1/8" bearings and a steel retainer. The seals were superior to the Race face unit in every way. The side that failed did so because it was contaminated solid with grit, but the bearing still worked and not too poorly either. The good side was clean and greased and rolled very smooth. The Race Face bearings on the other hand had branded seals (always a bad sign) labled RACEFACE X-TYPE 6805 LLU MAX. This is a full complement bearing, meaning that they forgo a retainer and put as many balls in the bearing that will fit. These bearings for example had 30 x 1/8" balls. Full compliment bearings are only meant for high radial loads. They are very prone to failure under axial loading due to the cutout required to assemble the bearings. These types of bearings have no place on any part of a bicycle (not even for suspension links). The reason that the Race Face BB froze was because the full complement bearing only left 0.050" of gap for all of the bearings to share. Besides the fact that these bearings were rubbing against each other almost contiually, once the seals failed and some dirt was allowed in, the unit resembled more a mortis and pestle than a bearing. No gap was left for the dirt to go, so it was just go ground in by the bearings until everything locked up.

Since there wasn't any grit in the bearings (unlike this), I decided to try and salvage the bearings. Here, a grease gun proved invaluable.

Repacked non-drive side BB bearing.

Repacked drive side BB bearing.

Bearing seal replaced.

The salvage operation turned out to be a failure. Despite the introduction of fresh grease, the non-drive side bearing was pretty much gone.

Options available at this point:

Complete units:

Shimano XTR M970 External BB (fully compatible with Race Face X-Type) US$29.95 x 2 (much cheaper in Singapore at SG$60 a set)

Enduro Ceramic Hybrid Outboard BB Bearing Cup Set US$109.99

Enduro Chromium Steel Outboard BB Bearing Cup Set US$56.99

Reuse (fragile) dustcap/shim and BB cups:*

Boca Stainless Steel Bearing Kit US$94.95

Boca Ceramic Lightning Yellow Bearing Kit US$118.95

Boca Stainless Steel Race, Ceramic Hybrid Bearing US$67.95 each (need 2).

Phil Wood Part# PWX05 Mfg# 6805 Bearing US$23 each (need 2).

Reuse BB cups:**

Enduro Ceramic Hybrid Outboard BB Bearing Upgrade Kit US$65.99

Enduro Chromium Steel Outboard BB Bearing Kit US$14.00

* = Bearing press required. E.g. Phil Wood Outboard Bearing Replacement Tool.

** = Proprietary bearing press required.

I went for Enduro's Chromium Steel Outboard Bottom Bracket Bearing Kit and had them pressed in locally at Chapter 2 Cycle.

Race Face BB bearings (bottom) have an inner diameter of 25 mm, and require a 0.5 mm plastic shim. The red seal faces outwards, and the black seal, inwards. Shimano External BBs also employ a plastic shim.

Race Face X-Type BB bearing specs:
6805 LLU MAX
Outer Diameter (OD) 37 mm
Inner Diameter (ID) 25 mm
Width 7 mm

Enduro Outboard BB bearings (top, pressed into BB cups) possess a smaller inner diameter of 24 mm, doing away with the plastic shim.

Enduro Outboard BB bearing specs:
Outer Diameter (OD) 37 mm
Inner Diameter (ID) 24 mm
Width 7 mm

There are 2 problems with the plastic shims employed by Race Face and Shimano. In addition to rendering the crank spindle / Bottom Bracket assembly less rigid, it also makes cleaning and repacking the bearings more difficult. As the picture evinces, the plastic shims are also fragile. The one on the right broke when I removed it for the second time. The shims are critical for proper spacing of the crank spindle. Without them (or with a broken shim), the crank spindle would rattle around the bearing and ruin itself in short order.

Integrated plastic shim + dust cap specs:
Dust cap OD 40 mm
Shim ID 24 mm
Width 9.3 mm
Shim thickness 0.5 mm

BTW, if you think removing the plastic shim / dust cap without it breaking is difficult, wait till you try putting it back in  :-P

Doing away with the plastic shim / dust cap, Enduro supplies 2 pairs of auxiliary silicone seals with their outboard bearing kits.

Auxiliary seals (use one or the other)

Blue seal
OD 37 mm
ID 24 mm

Red seal
OD 40 mm
ID 24 mm

Both types of seal have an angled "lip" on the circumference, and a V-shaped, double-contact lip on the inside.

The instructions (PDF) state that the steel-backed o-ring seal outside the bearing MUST be removed. Some local vendors mistakenly reinstall them and then, upon discovering that the 40 mm red seal no longer fits, direct you to use the 37 mm blue seal instead. This is wrong. Enduro clearly states that the o-ring seal must be removed or it will interfere with the new sealing system.

Again, as official instructions (PDF) exist, a duplicate write up is unnecessary.

To reinstall the BB cups into the frame, I prefer Park Tool's new BBT-19 instead of the more common design, BBT-9. Sonny's Bike Tools makes a similar tool, X-Type / Outboard Bearing Cup Installation and Removal Tool, but it is made of aluminum and costs more.

In addition to offering a more secure grip, the other advantage of the Sonny's Outboard Bearing Cup Tool or the Park Tool BBT-19 design is that it allows the use of a torque wrench. Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance suggests a range between 35 to 50 Nm. I tightened mine to 42 Nm.

Enduro bearings are packed with Super-Web Grease. This grease is incredibly sticky and stringy — think Natto or chewing gum on asphalt on a hot summer day. However, as stipulated by Chris2fur (of Enduro) on a forum, additional grease MUST be applied outside the bearing seal:

You should apply grease on top of the cartridge bearing so the silicone seal is lubricated.

Lacking a tube of Super-Web Grease, I used Finish Line's Premium Grease. Again, a grease gun is a very handy tool to have here.

Slip on the red auxiliary seal, install the crank, and torque to 30 ft/lbs. OEM instructions here (PDF), or continue following Enduro's instructions (PDF). Check for side-play or side-loading:

Anytime you change anything on your outboard bottom bracket setup, you ALWAYS have to re-check the bearing side-loading. If you have the Hollowtech II, this is easy, since all you have to do is snug up the spindle end cap. If you have an outboard system that uses a standard crank bolt that gets torqued down, then you must test the tension as you torque the bolt down. Since the reddish orange silicone seals are slightly thicker than the blue spacer/seals, a Race Face type setup using a crank bolt may require the removal of a spindle spacer. Our online instructions (PDF) for this type of outboard system are pretty clear about this.

It will take a couple hundred miles (320 km) for the bearings to break in, but the increased stiffness in the cranks was immediately apparent.

Sometimes new is not better. While the external bottom bracket designs may be stiffer, bearing life seems to be significantly shorter. In comparison, traditional square taper bottom brackets last forever. The Shimano UN-71/72 lasted 8000 miles (12800 km) on Michelle, my 1992 Bridgestone MB-3.

With regards to square taper-spindle-to-crank-arm durability issues, I have a suspicion that loose or rounded square taper crank arms are principally the result of improper assembly procedures. E.g. not employing a torque wrench during installation, and consequently, failure to torque the crank bolts to proper specifications. Or, greasing the BB spindles — square taper bottom bracket spindles must never be greased. Square taper bottom bracket spindles should be cleaned of oil and grease before crank installation. Grease may allow the softer aluminum crank arm to slide too far up the steel (or titanium) spindle, causing it to round out.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bukit Timah Trail Group Ride

Victor couldn't get up and Guan Peng changed his mind, so it's just the 3 of us: (right to left) Mel, Nic, and moi.

When it comes to fingers, more is better.

What you should do when you come round a bend and spot your riding partner lying on his face...

First, check if he is conscious by softly calling out his name.

If he is, administer several swift kicks to his head before you make off with his singlespeed Surly  :-P

While Nic was busy humiliating squishies (riders with full-suspension) with his rigid singlespeed, Mel was practically a red rocket on the trail.

Post-ride grub: double-portion longtong.

Total distance:  cyclo-computer 9.3 miles (14.9 km) / GPS dead
Total elevation climbed:  Altimeter 670 ft (204 m)

Saturday, September 15, 2007


'Spent the week restoring Michelle, my 1991 Bridgestone MB-3, to operating condition. What's left: repacking the headset bearings; inspecting the cartridge bottom bracket; replacing cables and housing; lubricating thumbshifters (!!!), and servicing / replacing the ancient Shimano DX skipping freehub. Set up for touring, Michelle is a veritable workhorse. E.g. she has a lowest gearing of 24 x 34.

The first job Michelle found herself saddled with: hauling a pair of Shimano XT IS disc brake wheels from Upper East Coast to Upper Bukit Timah. This set up is the brain child of Peter. In this configuration, Michelle weighs at a hefty 39.8 lbs (18.1 kg).

Front view.

In this unique case, panniers actually improved handling by lowering the center of gravity. The green bungee cord was originally in place of the red cord, but it snapped as I negotiated Newton Circus.

The red bungee cord snapped just as I pulled into Dairy Farm. Note to self: you can never have too many bungee cords (or, for that matter, duct tape and cable ties).

Ahmad set up the rear light.

Riding with this load was interesting: sudden movements or changes in direction would cause the tires on the rack to yaw.

Nothing compared to this fella's skill (and strength) of course!


Monday, September 10, 2007

Kong Kong Group Ride

A road ride through Johor Bahru to the fishing village of Kampong Kong Kong. Ahmad, Peter, Au, Yew Thiam, Mature Nic, Recruit Nic, and Arthur started from Cycle Craft at Still Road, Upper East Coast. John started from Bendemeer. I joined them as they rode along Upper Bukit Timah Road. Melissa and Kit jumped in at Woodlands.

At the Woodlands (Singapore) Checkpoint, the immigration officer asked a host of questions: where were we going; what were we going to do there ("Eat," I replied); is it a difficult ride; do we do this regularly? Hmm... Maybe she's a cyclist too?  :-D

** = Images with filenames appended with an "A" were taken by Arthur.

Outside the Johor Bahru (Malaysia) Immigration Checkpoint

Bicyclists are supposed to use the lanes for cars at the Singapore Immigration Checkpoint, but are required to use the motorcycle lanes at the Malaysia Immigration side.

"We are heading east, right?"
"No, west."
"Uh oh..."

"My Brooks saddle is so comfortable. You guys are gonna suffer!"

View Larger Map

Anyways, this is the road by the Straits of Johor; it passes by the Johor Sultan's palace, Istana Besar.

I'm taking "last man duty." The rest of the riders are in front. Over the course of the day, we would grow to envy John's spring-suspended Brooks saddle more and more.

We were lost for about 7.5 miles (12 km) in Johor Bahru, giving us plenty of opportunity to brush up our bike handling skills in traffic.


Straight ahead! (I think...)

Rest stop.

Arthur and the gals.

Behind the gas station, the Smokers' Corner.

Our steeds baking in the sun.

In Malaysian, their signs for toilets (restrooms) can be rather misleading.

IMHO, this is closer to the truth  :-D

Another rest stop, this time at a coffee shop in Masai. My hair hates my helmet, or my helmet hates my hair; one of the two.

Ahmad chillin'.

JOHN:  This is nothing! In my days, we used to cycle this every day, with one arm tied behind our backs; pedaling with one leg (the other, busying kicking off rabid dogs); on 22.7 kg (50 lb) Flying Pigeon, all-steel singlespeed bicycles; with wild boars chasing us...

Meanwhile, Mel bangs her head on the table, and the gentleman in the red and white jersey proceeds to throw up.

Here's John on his singlespeed Surly, with panniers too!

Peter on his very nice Ellsworth Truth.

Taking a break while Peter chases down the guys who overshot. Instead of heading west at one of the junctions, they continued north.

Please take your time to find them!
Please take your time to find them!
Please take your time to find them!

Aww rats! We didn't even get 10 minutes.

Leaving the madness of JB city traffic... (There are still heavy trucks though.) Filming with my right hand meant that I couldn't shift my rear derailleur. Now I know that John and Ahmad on their singlespeeds are truly mad.

Mel's gesture says everything.

Finally, quiet, village roads.

Mel and Arthur in front.

1% of the ride was like this. (I'm serious). The rest of time, we were busy dodging motorbikes, buses, trucks, potholes, dead/smashed/flattened/oozing animals, and, oh yes, cows.

Those lulled into a sense of peace and serenity by this downhill were brutally awakened by the 2 climbs round the bend.

After being brutally awakened...

JOHN:  This bench sucks. My Brooks saddle is more comfortable.
AU:  I think my legs are falling off.

At this point, Peter encouraged us by telling us that there is only 5 km (3.125 miles) more to Kampong Kong Kong.

True to his word...

...but he didn't say what the 5 km consist of  :-P

A closer look.

Lat 1.5167, Long 104.0000: Kong Kong Tai Son Seafood Resort. Time for grub.

Just in time too! Kit's about ready to throw herself into the sea.

PETER:  No need for that. Here, try this new version of CPR.

Next, Peter demonstrates the Vulcan death grip on Mel.

Bringing Falun Gong to Kong Kong.

100 Plus or Heineken?

I think the ratio of bottles of beer to cans of 100 Plus was 1:1.

The rest of the gang. By the way, Peter rode a full-suspension Ellsworth Truth with 2" slicks on this ride. And invincible Kit didn't sleep the night before.

Food! Food! Waitress, where's our food?

Mel wanders off and spots this pair of giant fish (Arapaima gigas).

MEL:  Hmm... How do they cook it?
AHMAD:  I'll go ask.

A very nice Zodiac.

A closer look. It is actually closer to Pulau Tekong from here than from Woodlands. Recruit Nick shouldn't have turned back at Woodlands  :-D

A little note about the restaurant: unless you truly believe in recycling everything, you may want to skip ordering the mollusks (molluscs for the tea-drinking crowd who lost the War of Independence). E.g. clams, mussels, gong gong, cockles, et cetera.

The toilets directly drop — yeah, drop — the "deposits" into the water. 20 meters (66 ft) away are nets holding mussels, gong gong, et cetera. These organisms are filter feeders. Al Gore will love you. Mmm...... extreme recycling. Ah, sedapnya!

After lunch. 40 km (25 miles) back to Johor Bahru.

As we surmounted yet another hill, these self-propelled chunks of steak thundered across the road, in front of us.

Oh yes, it's warm. 100 F (37.8 C).

Everyone got broiled.


Helmet Hair Dude.

When the tai-tais around here spot me in my trunks at the pool, their sunglasses are gonna crack  :-P

By 2 PM, we were pretty much done.

Even trooper Mel looked a little tired. On the plus side, I discovered a new flavor of 100 Plus: Aqtiv. It's clear, and tastes like 7-UP.

After a minor adventure at the Johor Bahru Immigration Check Point — where some of us had to play dodgeball (hantam bola) with buses and motorcycles in an alley — we crossed back into Woodlands around 4 PM. The group dispersed from there: Ahmad & Co. went east, while Arthur, Mel, Kit, and moi headed toward McDonalds to put back on the calories we so painstakingly burnt  :-P

Something else I discovered on this ride: Coke Float  :-)

Total distance:  cyclo-computer 80 miles (128 km) / GPS dead
Total elevation climbed:  Altimeter 2960 ft (902 m)
Temperature range:  82 F to 100 F (28 C to 37.8 C)