Evolution of a Rail Trail Bike

I’ve continued with the evolution and adaptation of a Novara Bonita mountain  bike for use on rail trails and gravel roads.

I started with the bike as found at Goodwill:

  • 16″ 6061 aluminum frame
  • Hayes MX2 disc brakes
  • Manitou Trace Comp 80 fork
  • Shimano Hollowtech crank set
  • Deore/Alivo drivetrain
  • WTB SpeedShe saddle
  • WTB rims and Weirwolf tires
The Novara Bonita bike as it came from the thrift store.
The Novara Bonita bike as it came from the thrift store.

To date, I have made the following changes and upgrades:

  • WTB SST saddle
  • Axiom Journey Disc rear rack
  • Sunlite Gold Tec front rack
  • Jaand trunk bag
  • Mini bell
  • Duracell 250 LED flashlight
  • Fenix flashlight mount
  • Cateye LED tailight
  • Mountain Mirrycle mirror
  • SunDING computer
  • Nashbar rigid mountain fork
  • Schwalbe Big Ben 26 x 2.15 tires
  • SKS Velo 65 fenders
  • Zoom adjustable handlebar stem
  • Profile Design Boxer bar ends
  • Origin8 lock-on grips
  • Kona Jackshit platform pedals

Upgraded Novara Bonita

Novara Bonita

Front rack:

The Sunlite Gold Tec front rack is a recent addition. It was just $15 on eBay, including the shipping and it’s not bad. I’ve looked at a lot of handlebar packs and bags and they all seem to conflict with the cables and levers. My plan is to use the rack for a small dry bag, a sleeping pad or both if it will work. The rack is rated for 40 pounds, but I’m thinking of no more than 10 pounds. I’ve found that a plastic 50 caliber ammo can fits perfectly and straps in place with a flat bungee cord run through the handle so it can’t escape.

Packs and bags:

I have the Jandd trunk bag and panniers for the rear.  I don’t think much of the bikepacking style frame and seat bags. I could see using them for single track travel, but that’s not what I have in mind. I found the Jandd for $20 in used gear shop a couple weeks ago. It has an expanding top section that increases the capacity by nearly 50%, so it can carry quite a bit. It is a challenge to swing my leg over the top of the trunk bag when it it fully expanded.

Tires:

With the Schwalbe Big Ben tires and the rigid fork I am aiming at a kind of all terrain bike with emphasis on rail trails with packed dirt, gravel and asphalt surfaces. I’ve had a chance to do a couple trips on packed dirt and asphalt and I’m pleased with the tire and suspension combination. The tread is fast enough and the fat tires take most of the shock out of tree root bumps and other surface defects. I’m sure most of my rides will be day trips, with a few multi-day camping forays.

Lighting:

I’ve been trying a few LED flashlights and mounts as a headlamp. At the moment I’m using a Duracell 250 flashlight from Costco that has low/high/strobe modes and runs on three AAA batteries. I’ve experimented with a Fenix swivel mount as well as a Nite Ize Lite Ride mount. Neither make me jump for joy. The Fenix rig is large and clumsy, but it does grip well. The Nite Ize alternative needs some care to get the twist ties snug, but it is lighter and more compact. I have used a Black Diamond Nightray headlamp with it zip-tied to my helmet. I’ve been using a small 2-led headlamp on my helmet for a general purpose identification light in town. My tail light is a typical red blinky light. I have a Planet Bike Superflash tail light that works well clipped to the rear strap on my trunk bag and will clear the panniers.

Handlebars:

I’ve been studying handlebars. I need an upright stance to help with arthritis in my neck and I’ve tried several options for raising the handlebars and keep the reach in line with my arm length. This bike had a rather short top tube that works well for me and I swapped out the stock stem for an adjustable version. The bars have a couple inches rise for a workable combination. I’ve been considering butterfly trekking style bars, with the Humpert Contest model looking like the bast option. I would need to order one and at $72 it’s a little expensive for an experiment.

In the meantime,  I picked up a pair of used Profile Designs Boxer model bar ends for $5. They clamp on my existing bars and give me an alternate hand position and help with climbing too. I was surprised to hear that bar ends are considered old school and some clubs have banned them from group rides due to accidents caused by riders locking bars– something that can happen with drop bars too. They are light and cheap and require no major adaptation. My only complaint is that they complicate using a handlebar mounted mirror, but I have worked through that by swinging the mirror down below the handlebar level rather than above.

Pedals:

I wanted larger pedals and got a pair of Kona Jackshit platform pedals. They are huge and heavy– 500g/pair. They are comfortable, but this bike has little heel clearance on the chainstays and I bump my heels now and then if I’m not conscious about my foot position. I tried a pair of Wellgo WR-1 pedals that are very light and have quite a bit of spacing between the platform and the crank arm, but the platform was too small.  I’ve tried rat-trap style road pedals and chewed my shins up just walking the bike.

Fenders:

We took a trip on the Larry Scott Memorial Trail  in the Port Townsend, Washington area a couple weeks ago. The trail is mostly packed dirt and when it started raining on the return leg we got coated in mud and grit. I’m still finding pockets of it after cleaning the bikes.

Clearly, fenders were in order. I had a pair of wide Planet Bike ATB fenders that fit my wife’s Trek Navigator bike well, but they weren’t a good match for my Novara, particularly with the disc brakes. After an evening of surfing on fenders, I found the SKS Velo 65 fenders. They are 65mm wide and SKS offers a brace kit as a separate item. The fenders were just $19.79 for the pair and the brace kit was $8.99 via Gregg’s Cycles here in Seattle. I was able to do a store pickup, saving the extra freight for the Internet-based order.

I like the design of the fenders themselves, but it was necessary to do some jury-rigging to get them mounted. The front fender needed a link to reach the crown of the fork. I knew this was going to be an issue with any fender and it turned out that the light mounting strap that came with the Sunlite front rack was just right. But that made for a wobbly connection and they front brace was needed. with the disc brakes, I had to use an asymmetrical approach, mounting the right side on the traditional brace eyelet next to the dropout and I was able to bolt through the disc brake mounting tab on the left side. With a little bending and trimming it all fell into place. The brace snaps into a hook molded on the inner side of the fender and the ends use adjustable plastic eyes. The coverage looks good and the front rack extends the coverage even more. When going fast on pavement in the rain, I had a steady stream coming off the front of the tire that curved up and hit me right in the face, so I’m hoping that will help.

Sunlite rack and SKS Velo 65 fender

Fender brace adapted to disc brake tab (see red caret)
Fender brace adapted to disc brake tab (see red caret)
Asymmetrical use of SKS Velo 65 fender braces
Asymmetrical use of SKS Velo 65 fender braces

The rear fender uses a snap-on clamp on the seat tube with a clever rubber band on the clamp hooks to secure it. The top mount is a typical eye that bolts to the caliper brake cross-brace. That left the tail end to secure, and with the disc brakes, using the brace wasn’t an option. I was able to pull up on the fender a bit and bring it up to the light mounting tab on the rear rack. I drilled two small holes in the fender and used a zip tie to secure it. It is stable and looks great to me, with a motorcycle-like flare to the end. If the high mounting doesn’t work, I may try a spacer block between the rack deck and the fender.

Axiom Journey Disc rack with SKS Velo 65 rear fender
Axiom Journey Disc rack with SKS Velo 65 rear fender

This is another photo showing the “cockpit” view of the handlebar. This is a Truvativ XC Riserbar made of 6061-T6 aluminum. It has 45mm rise and is 645mm wide. It is mounted with a Zoom adjustable stem that has a range of 0°-60° rise angle and 41-105mm reach (reach varies with the angle of course). The setup has Origin8 lock-on grips, Profile Designs Boxer bar ends, a generic bell, Mountain Mirrycle mirror, Duracell 250 LED flashligh, Fenix flashlight mount and SunDING computer.

 

truvativ handlebar setup

After some trial rides, I decided to try some different bars and my setup today looks like this:

origin8 handlebar setup 1

The bars are Origin8 Urban Riser MX with the grips, mirror and computer from the setup above. REI had a sale and I picket up a Planet Bike 2 Watt LED headlamp. If you look carefully below the computer you can see a Mirrycle Incredibell mounted below. The bars are 560mm wide (60mm reach) and there wasn’t enough room left for the bell.  They aren’t bad around town and I like the “Urban Assault Vehicle” look but I question how they will be on a long ride. The crossbar is handy for mounting gear but it does get in the way of one of the step clamp bolts; I had to use a ball-head Allen wrench to tighten it. The stem is a Profile Design BOA that has about 65mm reach and 70mm rise.

origin8 handlebars 2

So my next experiment is an Origin8 Citi Classic handlebar. It is a North Road style bar with 580mm width and 50mm rise. It should be more comfortable on long trips and it will allow me to sit up a bit more by bringing the grips closer to me along with the rise– about 10mm less than the MX Riser bars.

 

Origin8 Citi Classic handlebars
Origin8 Citi Classic handlebars

 

The Citi Classic bars arrived this morning. Sunday postal deliveries! I went to work and got the bars installed. The shifter cables were barely long enough, but it all works. I had to swing the mirror under to keep it away from the outboard side of my palm and that is acceptable.

So I went for a test ride with a 5mm Allen wrench in my pocket and I found that the bars needed to angle down a bit more than I thought to get good ergonomics for my wrists. That done, I went for a ride and I like ’em. With my arms closer to my body, I have more flex in my elbows and my back is straighter. I do feel like I am sitting up higher and I may need to play with the seat a bit. As I’ve read, changing the angle of you pelvis makes for different weight transfer to my “sit bones” and I could feet that. Not bad, but different. It will take a long ride to see how it works.

All in all, what was a mountain bike feels much more like a city cruiser comfort style rig. That works for me. I’m not planning on single track or really rough surfaces and looking more to travel on pavement, gravel roads and paths.

I also swapped out the Axiom Journey Disc rear rack for a Topeak MTX Explorer disc brake version model. I found a matching MTX trunk bag that has drop-down panniers in the zippered side panels. I’m not impressed with the fabric in the bag, but the mounting system is sweet– it slides into grooves built into the rack top deck and has a big snap catch that engages the horizontal bar on the front edge on the rack. I also upgrade the tail light to a Portland Design Works Red Planet lamp. The rack is lighter, cleaner mounting– and I got it in a thrift store for $5. I did replace all the mounting hardware to better quality stainless stuff, so I’m into it for $7.50 now and the bag was a $15 Craigslist find. I plan to use this bag for town and day trips and go to a Jaand Rear Rack Pack II or a roll top dry bag plus rear panniers for camping trips.

topeak rack and bag

 

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2 thoughts on “Evolution of a Rail Trail Bike

  1. mdilthey December 13, 2014 / 10:19 pm

    Would love a close-up of the handlebar setup.

    I like watching this bike evolve but I admit I am not sold on the tilted front rack, though I imagine it works fine.

    • dalesjournal December 14, 2014 / 12:31 am

      Hi Max! I added some photos and comments on the bars and the current and future variations.

      The tilted rack works great. It is a small package rack and not for panniers. My plan is to use it for my sleeping bag and pad– think handlebar bag type of loads.

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