Bike Redesign Based on CT Experience
There were a couple of issues that I want to correct with regard to the design of the Spank My Brass which I took on the Colorado Trail. These are somewhat nitpicky design features, but necessary in my opinion to improve the riding experience. I’ll build the new bike with the following considerations:
Problem: The bike was a bit light in the front end which caused it to be annoying to steer (especially with a loaded bike when you’re tired) on steep uphill sections. This usually manifested itself with the bike wandering off trail on these steep uphill sections. Which often led to putting a foot down.
Solution: Lower the front end a little. I initially designed the bike more for general trail riding than bikepacking. Hence the 140mm travel fork. I think a 120mm travel fork with the similar geometry will work fine; I may go with a 130mm fork if I can sneak in the right amount of front-end drop without going to 120mm. I will probably also reduce the head tube angle from 68° to 67° to both reduce the front end height and improve downhill characteristics. But basically, I’m going to drop the front end of the bike 15 to 20mm to get a more cross-country feel without (hopefully) sacrificing much in the way of downhill capability and fun factor.
Problem: I didn’t have enough on-bike water storage. This meant I had to keep more water on my back, rather than on the bike. Keeping the water on the bike means less weight on your body and, consequently, less fatigue, back ache, etc. Additionally, for the sake of filtering, it is nicer to have a few smaller bottles (i.e. typical bike water bottle or Nalgene) than one large bladder. A few small bottles (clear ones are better) makes pumping less mentally and emotionally challenging; filling up a large opaque bladder can feel like it takes forever.
Solutions: Add mounts for an oversized water bottle cage/gear holder under the down tube near the bottom bracket shell. I want to be able to have a 32 or 48 ounce Nalgene mounted under the down tube. Also, add the ability to mount water bottles on the fork. This is standard issue stuff on most touring bikes. Before the CT, I was definitely anti-water bottle cage; I just preferred to have a bladder in my backpack (which works great for normal riding). After the CT, I definitely want to be able to keep water bottles on the bike, itself, during bikepacking trips.
Problem: If my freehub body had an issue, I wouldn’t have been able to repair it on the trail. I spec’d the bike with Shimano XT hubs largely because they are pretty good and pretty cheap. That said, they require a huge 15mm hex wrench to service and require a full freehub body replacement rather than just the replacement of parts within the freehub body. The wrench and freehub body would be prohibitively heavy to carry around.
Solution: Switch to a DT Swiss hub. DT Swiss’ Star Ratchet system is durable, lightweight, and easy to service. Service or replacement of the Star Ratchets requires no tools and the only spare parts required are spare Star Ratchets and springs (which are light and small).
Problem: Although frame bag storage was never an issue, I could have maximized the area inside my front triangle to add storage space. Again, in order to have a more fun bike, I opted to keep the front triangle pretty small. This meant I had to use a smaller frame bag.
Solution: Make the front triangle big enough to fit the next size frame bag. I had a medium Revelate Designs Ranger frame bag. I can easily redesign the front triangle to accommodate the large frame bag without really sacrificing anything except a little more weight from having a slightly longer seat tube.
Problem: I used a Shimano 1x11 with a 30T front ring and 11-46T rear cassette. The range wasn’t quite low enough for fully loaded, really steep stuff when I was tired (and not tired). It was also not high enough for some of the downhill or flat road sections.
Solution: Switch to a 1x12 with a 32T front ring and 10-50 rear cassette. Right now, this means running SRAM GX Eagle, but will likely include Shimano options in the future. This will lower my low-end just a bit and increase my top-end fairly significantly. Should be perfect!
Problem: Mounting the front roll and frame bag around the head tube was not optimal. I always ran into a problem with strap tensioning, cables rubbing, etc. as a result of the single strap that connected the front roll and the frame bag to the bike.
Solution: I need to devise some kind of frame-mounted loop that will allow for easier mounting of at least the front roll. I may also include a way to better connect the frame bag, but the biggest issue was the front roll.
Problem: The bags I had were just a little too big and cumbersome. A smaller front roll definitely makes steering much easier. A smaller seat bag would also improve the feel of the bike. I’d prefer to go with slightly smaller bags even if this means I have to pare down my packing list a bit.
Solutions: Besides the frame bag, I’m going to cut down on bag size as much as possible. Smaller bags mean a bike that handles better. This will require some re-thinking of gear and food (and definitely a smaller sleeping pad). I bought a small Revelate Designs Sweetroll (to replace my medium Sweetroll) and also a Bedrock Bags Dragon seat bag (to replace my Revelate Designs Visacha). In addition to just being smaller, the Dragon seat bag will also allow me to use almost all the travel on my dropper post. Whereas the Visacha bag only allowed me to use an inch or two of travel.