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How to get a Singlespeed

The-Nzo-SS

 

Getting yourself a singlespeed is an exercise in self-flagellation.

You can go and find one pre-existing. Good luck, they are out there.

You can also conjure one up yourself. Any mountainbike can be converted to singlespeed.

By far the simplest conversion is on a hardtail. Doesn’t matter what it is, nor how old, in fact an old crusty dunger is ideal in some respects. Trust me, brakes and suspension that are not state of the art will be the least of your worries when you are deep in the woods with no gear lever.

You can pull the derailleur off the bike, along with the cable and gear lever, and remove the cassette from the rear wheel. A singlespeed sprocket can be bought for bugger-all, and it comes with some spacers designed to slide on to your cassette freewheel where a gang of sprockets used to be. Procure and mount a straight cut chainring (ideally a 32 tooth). Shorten the chain, or replace with a cheap new one.

Now your only problem besides having to ride the thing is functional chain tension. That greasy old derailleur you binned didn’t just change gears for you, it also kept the chain at an optimal tension, and those spring-loaded jockey wheels took up a heap of slack.

The complicated but awesome solution to this aspect of your build involves tracking down a steel frame. Not common these days, but if you can find one you can take it to a reputable frame builder (an even more endangered species than a steel framed mountain bike) and have the dropouts switched out for something allowing some adjustment of the position of the rear wheel in the frame, to take up any slack in the chain. Or even crazier, have them install an eccentric bottom bracket. You can then rotate the thing to the right position and ride around looking smug, at least until you have to ride up a hill.

You can also buy, for not much coin, a device that mounts where your derailleur was, and is a spring loaded jockey wheel that makes your chain run correctly.

That old bike you never ride but is not worth selling can become your singlespeed, and you will have a thing you can use to beat yourself into shape, improve your strength and generally torture yourself every winter.

 

Revised wearable map available now

Woodmap010916

 

The Nzo shorts project we have been immersed in for the last six months shows promise at last: it has been a long time coming, but we are now confident we are on track to present some really great new shorts…

Meanwhile, my life-long experiment in physical fitness continues. My thesis will be on how long it takes an average person to get back in to the same shape he/she was in before ceasing all superfluous exercise for repeated periods of various durations, factoring in gradual loss of faculties due to advancing years, with a small allowance for imaginary benefits delivered by a constant upgrading of exercise equipment (bicycle stuff).

I will publish the results from a 24 hour care facility when I am beyond delivering meaningful results, or Mars if our most realistic long term retirement plan pans out.

The latest episode has been the usual crushing disappointment. A minor health niggle, a virus, crap weather, the Tour de France, and the Olympic Games created a perfect storm of excuses to break my usually rigourous winter riding schedule of getting out thrice a week.

I had hoped that no bike riding for a month would lend a sparkling freshness to my return to the forest. No such luck.

Before the lay-off I had a rare streak of hot form. I rode a singletrack climb with a woman I know who can ride rings around me and most other people. If I can engage her in a conversation about something that interests her, and I can make sure my end of it only requires a single syllable, uttered every sixty seconds or so, I can stay within earshot of her for sometimes 3 minutes at a time. Only a month ago, we talked about nosebleeds for almost the entire ascent of Sidewinder, a nasty kilometre of grovelling that pays off in downhill options.

After my layoff, on the same trail, I talked with my demons, at walking pace, until I had a nosebleed myself and had to stop. Unlikely, but true.

Five rides into bashing myself into shape, and feeling more than halfway back, I accompanied a non-mountain biking visitor on an early morning hour of trails, just to show him what it is all about. He took my flash bike, I rode the singlespeed. He may not ride offroad, but he is a very good triathlete, and I spent an hour on the rivet in one gear keeping up with him.

Later on, I couldn’t help sneaking out again, it was such a stunner of a day and the forest has started to feel like summer.

Note to research folder: 6 rides do not amount to enough preparation to support two rides in a day, especially if one is on a singlespeed.

Another short layoff is required.

 

Shifting gears

The great Gino Bartali tries for a gearshift on his way to winning the 1948 Tour de France. A sidenote: Bartali had won the 1938 Tour, ten years before, leaving a ten year gap between his victories. He was active in the resistance during World War 2 and is credited with saving many lives. The great Gino Bartali tries for a gearshift on his way to winning the 1948 Tour de France. A sidenote: Bartali had won the 1938 Tour, ten years before, leaving a ten year gap between his victories. He was active in the resistance during World War 2 and is credited with saving many lives.

The Tour de France is on again, once again putting cycling in the evening news.

Just a couple of weeks ago we were in Auckland, where a couple of our friends were holding a garage sale of their surplus bicycle stuff. There were at least a dozen vintage bikes for sale, as well as bins full of parts, and tables covered with accessories.

I was only there for moral support. Fortunately, my mates are both too tall for their excess bikes to fit me. I already have plenty of old junk that used to be cool, and while quite a few things in their old junk piles were well on their way to being cool again, they were not cool enough to tempt me.

However, and this is the Tour de France connection, I kept coming back to gaze at a bike that is not for sale. It is a Benotto, built in Italy around the time of the second World War. It is immaculate, with complete period parts, and painted a fetching olive shade. With an unlikely dark blue accent that shouldn’t have worked but looked amazing.

The other thing about this bike that shouldn’t have worked but looked amazing was the gear change system. Called Cambio Corsa, it was an attempt by Tullio Campagnolo to develop a multi speed drivetrain before he produced a parallelogram derailleur, the fore-runner of what most of us use to change gears today.

The Cambio Corsa works like this: Two levers on the seatstay (the tube running from the rear hub to the seat junction) operate the system. Right there is the first issue: to change gear the rider must reach down behind their right leg and fumble around near the spinning rear spokes. Finding the first lever, they flip it over. This releases the rear axle from the frame! Yes, you read that correctly. With the quick release open, the rider adjusts the second lever, to push the chain onto a bigger or smaller sprocket.

Today’s derailleurs take up the difference in the amount of chain needed for a different sized sprocket by means of a spring loaded pair of jockey wheels. With Cambio Corsa the chain or gravity moves the wheel backwards or forwards in the bike frame. Shifting to a bigger sprocket requires a bunny hop. Then the rider re-clamps the axle to race onwards. The wheel stays in line during this episode because the axle has slots cut into it that correspond with teeth in the frame. It sounds awkward and elaborate, and it is!

Gino Bartali won the 1948 Tour de France using this technology, and Fausto Coppi, one of the giants of cycling, rode what many consider to be among the best exploits ever when he won the 1950 Paris-Roubaix.

We don’t know how many functional Cambio Corsa setups exist in New Zealand, but there can’t be many. The owner of the Benotto performed a gear shift on demand, but he had to ride up and down the road several times to make it happen. While we watched him do it, it was suggested that Coppi probably planned his gear shift locations before the race.

It definitely wouldn’t work for trail riding.

A period drawing of the hot setup for shifting gears in the 1940s. A period drawing of the hot setup for shifting gears in the 1940s.

A selection of fine 1970s sleds, suitable for long-legged people of discerning taste. A selection of fine 1970s sleds, suitable for long-legged people of discerning taste.

 

Yes, we have no bananas

hangers

 

We have been getting a lot of emails over the past month with enquiries about where our mountain bike shorts have gone. Our most popular models are out of stock in the most popular sizes, and people are asking when they will re-appear. It is an excellent question, so this blog post is a sort of Nzo status report.

Nzo is coming up on its 20th birthday, and we have been growing the re-invented direct-to-consumer version of Nzo for nearly 7 years.

We have found that Nzo works best with a small range of mountain bike shorts and original printed street gear. We have been really humbled by how well it has been going, and this business model is sustainable for us: it’s fun, we love talking directly to customers, and we like the process of making and marketing unique products we believe in, for a sport we love.

Our manufacturing partners let us know some months ago that they could not expand production to meet the demand we are experiencing. Frustrating for them, but also for us, because they were doing a great job, but nothing we could do would make them change their position.

The process of developing an Nzo supplier takes time. It takes many months of effort to get a factory geared up to make a product we are happy to offer to our customers.

Nzo is on track to deliver new versions of our most popular models for our Southern Hemisphere spring.

Our projections based on past performance told us that we had enough stock to see us through, but the strongest autumn we have ever had proved us wrong, and so we are out of some product lines.

We are sorry about that, and we’re really looking forward to the next season.

POSTSCRIPT ADDED 28/11/16:

Stock for spring was optimistic as it turns out, but we have established the best production relationship we could have dreamed of, and the first products from our new manufacturing partners will appear in mid-January.

 

No pressure then

EJ Potter, RIP, built his first V8 powered drag bike when he was at high school. He raced (and wrecked) numerous iterations as a travelling pro during the 60s. The one in the picture had no clutch, he would start the fuel injected V8 with the bike on the stand you can see trailing the rear wheel, wind her up, and rock forward on to the track. He never entered any bicycle races on it. EJ Potter, RIP, built his first V8 powered drag bike when he was at high school. He raced (and wrecked) numerous iterations as a travelling pro during the 60s. The one in the picture had no clutch, he would start the fuel injected V8 with the bike on the stand you can see trailing the rear wheel, wind her up, and rock forward on to the track, letting wheelspin take care of the excess power. He never entered any bicycle races on it.

Here it is: cycling will once again make the ‘evening news’. This is not the massive achievement that it was when we actually had evening news, but it is still a golden day for cycling when it can make primetime without involving Lance or a huge crash.

We have the first case of a hidden motor being found in a competitor’s bike.

When rumours first surfaced in 2010 about secret motors in racing bikes we were conflicted. We were torn between disbelief and trying to find out where to order one. Disgusted that such a thing should even exist, but fantasising about dishing it out with an extra 250 watts on board.

Forget about the whole e-bikes on trails debate: nobody would know about your little helper except you and your conscience.

But we never really expected anybody to think they could get away with using an electric motor in a bike race.

But here it is. And the woman involved said what anybody would say when caught with an electric motor stuffed into their seat tube: it was not my bike. I grabbed my friend’s by mistake. I can’t tell the difference between my bike and somebody else’s. And neither can my mechanic.

Or something.

The most interesting aspect of this situation is that word has surfaced that motors in seat tubes driving the cranks is old hat, and kind of primitive. The hot setup now is a hideously expensive electromagnetic drive system using the rear rim, and there is a six month waiting list to get one.

And we are not telling who is on the list.

The things that drive the development of secret power sources are the same things behind medical cheating. Pressure to perform, pressure to earn, pressure to get selected in the first place.

It is nice to go for a bike ride with the only pressure being whatever we are running in our tyres

 

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