One Bike to Ride Them All

If you read my previous posts you can review the on-going evolution of my hybridized mountain bike. I decided that I want just one bike for local errands and recreation. I live in Seattle and the region has many rail trails and local governments that promote cycling.  So my bike needs to handle city streets and the obstacles as well as asphalt and gravel trails. Comfort, maneuverability, and load-carrying take precedent over speed.
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New tires: Continental Country Plus 26 x 1.75

I’ve been running Schwalbe Big Ben 26 x 2.15 tires for most of the time I have owned my Novara Bonita bicycle. It originally came with WTB WeirWolf Comp 26 x 2.1 trail tires. I travel pavement and gravel rail trails and I don’t need an off-road tire; in fact, they are noisy and slow on hard surfaces and I got two flats in one 25 mile gravel trail trip from blackberry thorns.

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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.

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Thrift store Novara Bonita bike test ride

After a rousing fall storm Saturday night, we got a little break in the weather and I got my thrift store Novara Bonita mountain bike out for a good ride.

My intent is to make this bike into a mini fatbike bikepacking rig– I’m going to call it “BabyFat.” I have a rigid fork on order that should arrive early next week.  As I posted previously, I have alreadt swapped out the stock WTB Weirwolf trail tires for a pair of fat Schwalbe Big Ben 26 x 2.15 universal tread tires and added an Axiom rear rack.

So I got 20 miles in on the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle, along with some city streets and dodging buses, car traffic and narrow lanes by doing a four block run up the back alleys in the University District.

So far so good! The bike is nimble and the tires roll fast and smooth. With a 55PSI maximum, they took on the asphalt root bumps across the trail without the bone-jarring thump of the 32C tires on my other bike. Expansion cracks and other pavement faults were far less daunting.

I was reinforced in my decision to go with a rigid fork. I don’t like the sudden changes when maneuvering with the suspension fork. The fat tires soak up enough of the bumps and I have zero plans to do anything approaching technical or single track riding: asphalt and graveled rail trails are my cycling world.

In fact, I like the handling and fit of this bike enough to put my Trek PDX on the market. I considered having the Trek wheels rebuilt and going with wider 37-40mm tires, but the frame is just a tad tall and long for me; the shorter reach of the Novara works form my body type.

I am going to leave some extra height on the steering tube of the rigid fork so I can play with the stem height. I have an adjustable Zoom stem on it now and I have good access to used stems, so I can go anywhere I want without spending too much. I ordered more spacers when I ordered the fork. I had to order a disc brake caliper mounting adapter too, as the caliper bolts directly to the bosses on the suspension fork where the rigid fork requires a right angle adapter. Lets hope that I have chosen the right parts. The fork itself is an experiment. When converting from a dynamic fork to rigid, it is necessary to include the height of the fork with the rider’s weight in place. The general technique is to measure the axle to crown height and then subtract 15-20% of the travel of the particular fork. The Manitou Trace 80 axle to crown distance is 470mm by my measurement and the rigid fork is spec’d at 453mm, so I should be close.

While I was out on my ride, I worked in a visit to the Recycled Cycles bike shop on Boat Street (no puns) and picked up a pair of Kona Jackshit platform pedals for $25. I wanted a bigger pedal– quite literally a platform– and I spent an evening on line shopping pedals. There is no end of pedals to choose from and at this point I really didn’t want to spend too much. I did want to get away from the shin bashing alligator-toothed touring/quill pedals I have been using. I’ve drawn blood just walking the bike, let alone riding. The Kona pedals have pins so they won’t be gentle, but they are HUGE and give good support. I put them on tonight and went for a quick spin. I was pleased with the result and I swear they improve my balance and control as well as being able to mash down on the crank.

Kona

Thrift store bikepacking bike

I walked into a Goodwill store a couple weeks ago and got this Novara Bonita mountain bike for a paltry $40. I’m still amazed.

The specs as found:

  • 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 tires

It is a women’s bike, but with my short arms and legs and long torso, it fits me better than any other bike I have owned. It has a shorter top tube and although it is spec’d as a 16″ frame, with the steep angle of the tube make it ride like a taller bike.

 

Novara Bontita bike

Changes and upgrades to date:

  • WTB SST saddle
  • Zoom adjustable handlebar stem
  • Axiom Journey Disc rack.
  • Novara trunk bag
  • Sunlite 95458 Pro Alloy Mini bell
  • Resin body/alloy cage trekkng style pedals
  • SunDING computer
  • Schwalbe Big Ben 26 x 2.15 tires
  • Mountain Mirrycle mirror
  • Greenfield kickstand
  • Klean Kanteen bottle cage

Saddle: I’ve tried a few, looking for the right level of firmness. The bike came with a women’s specific WTB saddle, which I swapped out with a Selle Royal Viper. The Viper was okay, but it was a little firm for 25 miles of bumpy gravel trail, so I’m trying a WTB SST now.

Stem: I have arthritis in my neck and it makes it difficult to look up while riding in typical “race” position. The bike has a steep angle on the top tube and a riser handlebar, so I added a Zoom adjustable stem that gives me a couple more inches of rise when set at about 45 degrees. As I mentioned, I have short arms and legs and a long torso, and the combination of frame geometry and steering gear makes a good balance of rise and reach for me. It rides well enough that I have entertained selling my Trek PDX commuter-style bike.

Rear rack: I need a rack for the way I use a bike. I like to run errands and have some cargo capacity. I’m not much for riding with a backpack and prefer panniers. I’d like to try some bikepacking as well. Disc brakes complicate rack mounting, with the rear caliper hardware getting in the way of the left side of the rack. I installed a Toba Roger Randonneur rack on my commuter bike, but it uses the skewer and I thought I would try another design for rough gravel and dirt travel. The Axiom Journey Disc rack uses an adjustable leg on the left side lower mount and it fit the dropout on the Novara well. The only problem with the Axiom design is that it lacks the typical lower “j” shaped pannier mounting hooks and has a notched plate. The problem is that the plate is about 8.5″ from the top of the rack where the racks with the “j” hook have about 12″ from the hook the rack top. I emailed Axiom about this and they suggested shortening the bungee cord lower mount on my panniers. This is a non answer as most panniers using a bungee cord can’t be shortened enough to make a difference. I did get a set of Hyalite LTW Panniers that have R&K mounts and they will work with the Axiom rack. The topside of the Axiom has a typical sheet aluminum deck and works with my trunk bag.

Novara trunk bag:  I got this one on eBay for $20 and has all kinds of bells and whistles. It works great for town and day trips. It does have a rain cover, but I think I would opt for a dry bag for bikepacking trips.

Bell: we ride rail trails a lot and a bell works well when passing pedestrians and other riders, especially on the more urban trails with more traffic and noise. I opted for a simple mini bell from Sunlite. It has a rotating striker so it can be adjusted for the best angle to reach with my thumb. It simply “pings” when the striker is thumbed. The mini style bells are light, cheap and mostly out of the way.

Pedals: the bike came with some Wellgo LU-206 plastic platform pedals and I swapped them with some trekking style take-offs from my Trek which have an alloy cage and resin body. I’m looking for some metal platform pedals like the Wellgo MG-1. The trekking pedals work well in motion, but they can be mean on the shins when walking the bike or sloppy stops. I’ve fallen over on my bike and had more injury from the pedals than from road rash. I’m not a fan of straps or clipless pedals. I’m not a performance rider and I want to get clear of the bike when needed.

Clipless pedals are supposed to give extra power by allowing the rider to pull on the upstroke side, but Grant Peterson claims that testing shows otherwise in his book, Just Ride. Evidently the testing shows that everyone “mashes” down on the pedals and even the experience road racers mash and don’t lift on the upstroke. Interesting stuff, given the amount of money spent on cycling shoes and pedals. I wear hiking shoes, as I might end up walking back to the car or out to a highway. It’s not unusual for me to be 12 or more miles from my car. That doesn’t take long to cover on my bike, but it’s a good long hike on foot. Walking 12+ miles in clipless shoes would be painful I think!

Computer/speedometer: I could probably get by without it, but it’s handy to know distance and speed and I get a clock in the bargain. I found the SunDING SD-548C wireless computer on eBay. They are ridiculously cheap– about $8 with shipping. I’ve been running one on my city bike all summer and it has worked well. It matched my GPS for speed and distance.

Tires: the bike came with WTB Weirwolf 26×2.1 dirt tires. We went for a spin on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail last Sunday and I was having a ball with the bike and taking on the loose gravel and bumps. I had no faults with the traction and handling with the tires, but after stopping for lunch I found the front tire losing pressure and found a thorn stuck in the smooth rubber between the knobs. I’m a might spoiled with the Schwalbe Marathon tires on my city bike with ZERO flats all summer long and I was surprised that a lil’ ol’ blackberry thorn could stop the party. I had a fresh tube and got things going again with little fuss, but the next morning I found the back tire was flat— two flats in 25 miles!

So I got on the Web and started looking at the fatter Schwalbe offerings. I wanted something that would give me good performance on gravel and pavement: I really don’t give a hoot about single track stuff. My whole idea is to make a poor man’s bikepacking rig. With my liking for a bargain, I got on the local Craigslist ads and found a pair of Schwalbe Big Ben 26×2.15 tires that were fresh take offs from a cargo bike. I had them in hand by dinner time.

Schwalbe Big Ben tire

They look like good universal tread tires to me and strike me like the little brother to the monster fatbike tires. I read one review by Rivendell Bicycle Works staff that states, “This tire is Perfect. It’s obviously the Perfect tire. Why do we even sell anything else?” It is the RaceGuard model, so it doesn’t have the thick insert that the Marathon line does, but it does have two layers of nylon under the tread. I’ve had a chance to ride them around town a bit and they are far faster and quieter than the Weirwolfs, which is no surprise. Cornering is good and they certainly soak up the bumps. Time will tell on puncture resistance.

Mirror: I gotta have a mirror. It helps with my neck issues and lets me know what is rolling up behind me. I tried a sunglass-mounted mirror but it was just weird to use. I found a new Mountain Mirrycle mirror in a thrift store for $3 and I’ve been using that on my city bike. I had no problem deciding to add the Mirrycle to this bike. It does hang out there and needs some caution when loading the bike on the car rack or other close quarters. It use it is just like the side mirror on a car and easily adjusted.

Kickstand: kickstands are handy, but extra weight and fuss. I had this old aluminum Greenfield kickstand in my parts drawer and I’m using that for now. It just clears my foot and the tire and I’m not fully satisfied with it. Massload and others make kickstands that mount father back on the chainstay, but the chainstays on this bike have a deep asymmetrical cross section  and with that and the disc brake hardware, it may be difficult to find one that will bolt up.

Bottle cage: I like to have a water bottle handy and use cages on all our bikes. I was in Recycled Cycles the other day and found a Klean Kanteen bottle cage for $2 and I couldn’t resist that. I tried a stainless bottle in a conventional bottle cage and it rattled badly, so this looked like the cure. Works great!

Finally, I do want to go bikepacking with this steed and I wanted some waterproof panniers. Ortlieb panniers are popular, but they aren’t cheap. They are fairly heavy for the volume too. I looked very seriously at Arkiel Dry-Lite panniers, but they were just too small for multi-day trips. I found a pair of Hyalite LTW panniers on sale and went that way. They just clear the hardware on the rack and the rest of the bike and give me about the same volume as I’m used to for multi-day hiking at 2684 cubic inches for the pair, or about 44 liters. I’m a practitioner of ultralight hiking which makes a perfect blend with backpacking. I can take off on a three day trip with about 22 pounds including gear, food, water and fuel. The panniers are a little heavier than my ultralight backpack at 3 pounds and there is the added weight of tools and spares for the bike, but I’m ready!

Hyalite LTW pannier