Budget SRAM 1x

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SRAM yesterday announced an expansion of their 1x offerings, now ostensibly for “road” bikes as they’ve dropped the CX from Force CX1 and added Rival 1 at a lower price point.  While more options is (probably) a good thing, there has always been a way to do this on a budget.  I recently switched my commuting bike from single speed to 1×10, and it was a relatively easy change.

I guess the first question is why?  I’ve started increasing my range of errand-running on this bike, and I feel like some gears will give me more options.  Since this is also my fat tire bike, it also opens up the opportunity to try out some trail riding.  I opted for 1×10 rather than 2×10 because I like the idea of being able to more easily swap back to a single speed, especially during the winter time when salt and muck covers everything and a simpler drive train is easier to keep clean.

Wolf Tooth chainringI had been planning this move from when I first built this bike, so I already had the first important element, a special “narrow-wide” chainring from Wolf Tooth Components.  The idea is that the alternating narrow and wide teeth help prevent the chain from jumping off the chainring when the chainline is at the extremes of the cassette.  This is the same thing SRAM uses in their 1x rings (although at higher cost).  There are other aftermarket options, notably Race Face, but I liked the simple look of the Wolf Tooth better, and being from Iowa I thought it made sense to support the Minnesota-based company.  The chainring can be mounted on either the inner or outer position on the crank.  I had originally placed it on the outer and just adjusted the spacers to get straight chainline with a single cog.  Now that I have a whole cassette back there, the outer position gives a bit more cross-chaining at the bottom of the cassette, but I’m spending most of my time in the first few cogs anyway, so it hasn’t been a big deal.

20150321-D7K_2644In addition to the different chainring, the commercial 1x groups all use a rear derailleur with a clutch.  This basically just means that there is a spring that maintains tension on the chain, also with the goal of avoiding dropped chains.  While until yesterday the only “road” option was the Force CX1 at about $250, the nice thing about SRAM is that their moutain and road derailleurs are compatible.  This meant that I could get a mountain X7 Type 2 (type 2 = clutch) that would work with either road or mountain shifters.  It also means that there is a 10-speed option, which I needed because I have 10-speed wheels.  The other advantage of the mountain derailleur is that it allows for a wider range cassette than traditional road models.  I went with 11-36, which when combined with a 42t chainring gives me just about as much gear range as my road bike with 50-34 chainrings and a 12-27 cassette.

20150321-D7K_2646The final step was shifters.  While I had originally put this together as a flat bar bike, I found that I really didn’t like that as much as a drop bar.  So I took this opportunity to swap that over as well.  Since I put on short-pull mini-V brakes when first building the bike, there was no need for a change there. For shifters, I found a set of new-old-stock 10-speed Rival brake/shift levers on Ebay (you can pretty much only find the 11-speed version at retail now).  I then used the instructions at CX Magazine to remove the left side shift mechanism.  While those instructions recommend that you first remove the brake lever, I found it basically impossible to get the pin holding the lever in place out.  Instead I used a small allen key with a right angle bend to push the pin holding the shifting mechanism out of place without removing the brake lever.  This seems vague, but look at the photos in the link and it should make sense.  You can get a matching brake-only lever from SRAM, but I found that since I was looking at the older 10-speed model it was cheaper to just buy the set of shifters rather than a single shifter and single brake lever.  The end result is pretty clean, and you wouldn’t know it was modified in any way.

When all is said and done, I find the bike so much more fun to ride.  Partly because I just feel more comfortable on a drop bar, but partly because the gears make it easier to spin up hills and to pedal down the ones I was spinning out on before.  I’m finding that I definitely ride a bit faster, and take a bit longer detours on my commutes with the new setup.  This was also my first time ever using SRAM shifters, having only tried shimano before.  The double-tap system is easy to adjust to – a short click to upshift and a long “double-click” to downshift.  I would say that my Shimano feels a bit smoother, but SRAM seems to shift a bit quicker.  On Shimano its more of a “click, then smoothly shift” and on SRAM the click and shift happen simultaneously.  I also like the adjustable reach to the brake levers, which isn’t an option on the older Shimano Ultegra on my road bike.  I never noticed before that I had to stretch my fingers a bit to grab the brakes on the road bike, and now when I switch back to that one it bothers me.  Overall, I’d say this has been a very positive change and I think it will make me choose this bike that much more often.

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Building a Commuter Bike: Making Fenders Fit

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When picking out parts for my new commuter bike, I went with mini-V brakes so I could use a Sparse light and be compatible with road levers.  After carefully measuring the clearance on the Cross Check fork, I thought I would barely be able to fit them in there.  Turns out barely was right:

Front brake clearance Rear brake clearance

As you can see, the brake wire rides just above the fender.  I actually had more trouble fitting things in the rear, which I didn’t think to measure ahead of time.  The rubber boot over the end of the brake noodle actually rubs the top of the fender, but in practice this doesn’t seem to cause any trouble.  In retrospect I could have gone with cantis in the rear where clearance was tighter.  For now it’s working fine.

Building a Commuter Bike: Parts Selection

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With the frame decided on, I needed to make a few more key choices for parts to build up my new commuting bike. I knew that I was going to start out single speed and with a flat bar, but I wanted the option to switch to gears and a drop bar later on. I had also come across a couple things I definitely wanted to include, and they would further dictate my component choices.

While it may seem silly, the two things I knew I definitely wanted to have were a Sparse headlight and PDW full metal fenders.

The fenders were a more practical consideration.  I’d used Velo Orange fenders on my Raleigh and while they were an asthetically good match, the installation wasn’t straightforward (partly because the frame wasn’t really built for fenders) and they always seem to have a bit of a rattle.  I’d read a good review on the Blayleys blog and the appearance fit what I was going for.  The city version are 45mm wide and PDW says they work with 28-38mm tires.

The Sparse light I first saw on the Firefly Adventure Team bikes, and wanted it just because it seemed cool.  No other reason.  I could say because it was theft-deterrent, but I just like the way it looks.  Now the problem is that you can’t use the Sparse with center-pull or cantilever brakes, because it sits right where the cable should run.  I already had the Cross Check, so I’d committed to cantis.  V-brakes would be an option, but I wanted to keep

Extensive searching lead me to the mini-V brake.  They are linear pull brakes just like regular Vs, but with shortened arms so they work with road levers.  This chart at Gravelbike.com lists all the available models with arm lengths.  The Paul Mini-motos definitely had bling going for them, but I ultimately decided on TRP CX8.4, again mostly because I felt like they were a good asthetic match.  These would run the cable off to the side allowing for my Sparse light and would work with drop bar levers in the future.  In the meantime, I got a set of SRAM 700 flat bar levers that were designed for road-style short pull brakes.

I wanted to start single speed, but eventually add a cassette, so after finding an old-but-unused SRAM Rival compact crankset on craigslist, I picked up a Wolf Tooth drop-stop chainring.  This would work single speed, but would allow me to convert to 1×10 in the future if I wanted to.  I made a similar decision about the wheelset, picking something with a freehub body so I could use a single cog now and switch to a cassette in the future.

In the end, this is what I ended up with:

  • Frame: Surly Cross Check
  • Wheelset: H+Son TB14 with 105 5700 hubs (10-speed cassette
  • Brakes: TRP CX 8.4
  • Crankset/BB: SRAM Rival with GXP bottom bracket (craigslist find)
  • Chainring: Wolf Tooth 42t
  • Cog: Surly 17t and Surly spacers
  • Chain: Slightly used ultegra I had sitting around
  • Brake levers: SRAM 700 flat bar levers
  • Bar: Ritchey comp (craigslist)
  • Stem: Ritchey comp (to match the bar)
  • Seatpost: Richey WCS (again to match, they don’t make a comp in 0 offset, which I need for my relatively short legs)
  • Saddle: Fizik Antares (craigslist)
  • Fenders: PDW Full Metal, city version
  • Headlight: Sparse
  • Taillights: Fizik on the saddle + PDW Radbot for the seatpost and eventually on the rack

With all this together, I can put together a bike.

Building a Commuter Bike: Choosing a Frame

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Surly Head BadgeWhile I love my Raleigh, I wanted to get something a bit sturdier for year-round commuting.  I wanted a frame that could take fenders and racks obviously, but I was also looking for something that could change as my needs do.  For now, I have a short commute, only 2-3 miles each way depending on which location I’m working that day.  But given how much driving in Boston infuriates me, I also wanted the ability to go a bit further.

Being able to run single speed was important, as I thought this would be an easy way to get started and would allow for something lower-maintenance, especially during the winter.  I wanted the options of gears however, in case my commute gets further/hillier, or if I decide to use this bike for more than just the daily back and forth.

The other big choice was braking system – caliper vs. cantilever vs. disc.  My thinking was that disc was probably the best option, but also carried with it a higher cost, both for the braking system and for the wheels. For that reason, I was willing to consider cantis as well.  Calipers were last on my list, as they would likely limit

Finally, I needed something affordable.  I wanted this to be a solid bike, but it couldn’t break the bank.  For this reason I was looking mostly at made-in-Taiwan steel frames from a number of US companies.  I ultimately considered the following bikes:

  1. Soma Doublecross/Doublecross Disc: A steel frame that would take the racks, fenders, and wide tires that were my basic requirements.  Color options are nice and plain (grey and black), which is what I was looking for.  Comes with standard vertical dropouts
  2. Velo Orange Polyvalent: All the rack/fender attachments, canti brakes, semi-horizontal dropouts to allow for single speed setup.   But, it has a 1″ threaded fork.  While the classic appearance works with this frame, I felt like it would be limiting in terms of options for bars, as most are made for “oversized” 31.8mm threadless stems these days
  3. Soma Wolverine: This was released just as I was looking for frames.  Seemed like a perfect option – built for discs, has slider dropouts to allow for single speed, and even a split chainstay to allow for a carbon belt drive.  Seemed ideal, but was the most expensive option, and wasn’t yet available for purchase at the time I was looking
  4. Surly Cross Check: The tried-and-true option.  People seem to love this, or feel like it’s completely overhyped.  It checked all the boxes for me in terms of mounting options, tire clearance and horizontal drop outs.  Cantis instead of discs, though.  I also thought about the disc-brake Straggler, but that came at a higher cost and I wasn’t thrilled with the purple “Sparkle Pony” paint job.

Ultimately, as the image above suggests, I went with the Cross Check as I was able to get the prior year “Dark Dusky Blue” frameset at a bit of a discount, and that along with canti instead of disc brakes would make things easier on the budget.