I wanted to love the C17, the non-leather Brooks saddle, but after a few weeks of riding, I have to give it a failing grade. Sure, it looks great and the workmanship and quality of material are excellent. It doesn't require breaking in as the leather models do and the C17 is impervious to the weather.
The only problem with the C17 is that it's uncomfortable.
For one thing, it's hard. And it doesn't give the way the leather models do, plus, it will never conform to the rider's anatomy. In the end, it's just another "plastic" seat.
My new career as a bicycle tour guide has me riding a company bike with one of those plastic saddles. Since I'm doing rides of just around 50 miles, I thought I could put up with the discomfort but after my last tour I decided that I need a Brooks.
Sure, I could have taken a leather Brooks off one of my bikes but I saw this as an opportunity to try out the new non-leather C17. It's basically a B17 except instead of cow hide, the saddle is constructed of rubber and canvas.
I have been curious -and a bit skeptical- about the comfort of the C17 since it's not designed to conform to one's anatomy over time the way the leather version is.
But, not to be a luddite, I took the plunge and laid down 144$ for my new saddle. I bolted my new C17 onto my Trek 520 touring bike and took it for a test ride today and my initial impression is posative. It's difficult to describe the feel of the C17. It's hard, like any good, new B17, yet it somehow seems to provide just the right amount of support and give.
One area where it shiines is in aesthetics. Mine is the slate color and it looks very cool; sleek and stylish almost like a race saddle with a very neat texture. It's the complete opposite of the classic, but clunky-looking, B17 and Champion Flyer.
Will the new C17 measure up to a nicely broken-in B17?
Only time will tell.
I'll be spending more time on my new C17 in the coming weeks and file a more comprehensive report as soon as I know more.
One of the challenges to riding with front panniers is the resulting unweildness all that extra weight introduces into handling—especially at slow speeds. It's even worse when you are stopped and trying to keep the front wheel from crabbing as you dig around in your Ortliebs. Because of the added mass, the front wheel wants to sway to one side or the other, causing the bike to 'get away from you'. I've provided bystanders all over the world with laughs as they watched me try to contain my bike as I ran around in circles like a dog chasing his tail.
One sure fire solution is to hook the front wheel to the downtube with a strap, but that only works in stationary mode and it doesn't do anything for slow speed handling.
Back in the day, there used to be a gadget we called a flickstand. It was a neat little widget that would flip down and engage the wheel so that it wouldn't flop around. Though I couldn't locate one of those gems, I did find this device on line. I've used it on a couple of tours and it works wonders. It dampens handling at slow speeds and, though it doesn't entirely eliminate wheel crab while stopped, it does slow it down enough to make accessing the front bags a reasonable endeavor.
My tool bag finally gave out in Nepal and I replaced it with a zippered, ccounterfeit North Face case that I bought in a trekking shop in Pokhara. It worked fine and I was more or less happy with it until I received a Mopha Tool Roll for my birthday.
Now, I wonder how I ever got by with my old bag. The Morpha Tool Roll is that handy. B.F., (before Mopha) I would have to rummage around to find the right widget. A small inconvenience, but still... A.F., (after Mopha) I can put my hands on the right tool for the job almost without looking. Plus, it unrolls to provide a clean surface to set nuts and bolts on during repairs so they don't get lost in the roadside gravel.
The Mopha is constructed from a tough waterproof canvas with stout stitching and leather reniforcements at the stress points. It looks like it will stand up to the abuses of around-the-world touring.
Bicycle tool rolls have been around since dirt, and I had been vaguely aware of them, but never gave them much thought. I considered them to be just one of those fussy affectations retro bike guys liked to strap onto the backs of their Brooks saddles to go with their wool bicycle knickers and tweed spiffy caps. I'm not ready to go full Rivendell, but I am definately on board with the tool roll.
I can fit a couple of wrenches, a patch kit, tire levers, spare tube, pliers and a screwdriver in the Mopha, which is adequate for most roadside repairs. I still need a larger tool bag for long distance rides and more serious jobs, but even when I head down to South America next winter, you can bet my Mopha will be making the trip, too.
Touring bikes come equipped with triple cranksets and they can be tempermental when it comes to shifting. That's because there's a lot of real estate between the smallest and the largest chainring, which can cause some pretty weird chainlines. Ideally, the chain should always form a line paralell with the frame so that it rides on the chainring without rubbing against the adjacent chainring.
In certain gear combinations, when the chain is on the largest cog in back and the middle chainring in front, (a no-no) for instance, the chainline gets so out of whack that during shifting it can get hung up between the chainrings and cause the chain to jam. This is not a good situation, it can even be dangerous.
Luckily there's a simple technique to avoid the problem of 'chain suck.' Before shifting the front deraileur, make sure to shift the rear deraileur so that the chain is riding in the middle two or three rear cogs.
To add life to your drivetrain and keep shifing smooth, use only the low third of the rear cogs while you're in the small chainring up front, the middle third on the middle chainring and the high third on the big chainring.
And of course, never shift when you're pedaling hard. That's just asking for it!
Rims There are two ways to build a bicycle wheel. One is by a computerized machine and the other is by hand. It is generally accepted that a good hand-built wheel is superior but I went for a set of machine-built Velocity Dyad wheels with Shimano Deore mountain bike hubs because they were a fraction of the cost of hand-built wheels. And they turned out to be pretty good up to a point. They made it across North America and into Europe but that was about as far as one of the wheels was going to go.
I had spent the night in a campground on the Elbe River in Germany and the next morning as I loaded up my bike I noticed that the back tire was low. I pumped it up to the normal 85 PSI and took off down the road. But the first time I applied the rear brake, the wheel locked up and nearly caused me to crash. When I inspected the wheel I discovered that the now fully inflated tire had caused a section of the sidewall to bulge about an inch. The bulge had caught on the brake shoe and stuck. I was able to make it to a bicycle shop where the only thing available was a cheap replacement wheel. It was serviceable but turned out to be quite a headache. It started going crooked the second day and by the time I’d reached Rome I was having to stop a dozen times a day to re-true it.
Later, back home in Seattle, I had wheels hand-built built to my specifications. After months on the road I’d learned what makes a good touring wheel and I was determined to equip my bike with the best. I kept the Shimano Deore hubs because they had performed well. I took them apart and inspected the bearings and races. They were smooth and shiny and after cleaning and the application of some waterproof grease they spun like crazy.
But the rims had to go. The rear rim that failed in Germany had split along the braking surface and the front rim showed a lot of wear along the sidewalls, too. I consulted a Velocity Wheel Company rep and he recommended their Chukker, a rim designed to withstand the rigors of bicycle polo. “See if you can break these,” the rep said, chuckling, “you’d be the first.” The Chukker features an extremely deep V construction for added strength.
So I took the plunge and acquired a couple of Chukkers, then, it was off to my favorite wheel builder for some advice on how they should be mated to the hubs. He suggested that I go with stainless steel, triple butted spokes in a three-cross pattern for the back wheel and a four-cross pattern for the front. The ‘three- and four-cross’ reference has to do with the number of other spokes each spoke crosses between the hub and the rim. The more spokes crossed, the stronger the wheel.
His recommendation that the front wheel should be stronger than the rear confused me until he explained that on a loaded touring bike the front wheel can get more stress. “With all that weight over the front wheel, steering puts a lot of torque on it. Sure, the back wheel needs to be strong, too, but it’s always going in a straight line, not getting thrown from side to side like the front.” I guess he knew what he was talking about because so far the wheels have performed flawlessly requiring only a few routine adjustments.
Touring wheels take a real beating especially on the cobblestone roads of a lot of old European cities so don’t scrimp. Spend the dough on good hand-built wheels with no less than 36 spokes. There are a lot of possible rim/hub combinations but make sure the hubs are of the strongest kind. Phil Wood makes the best touring hubs but they are very expensive, running into the hundreds of dollars. You can get good, reasonably priced mountain bike hubs from several companies but in my travels, I’ve mostly seen people using Shimano Deores. They’re inexpensive, reliable and you can lubricate or replace the bearings if they get sluggish.
All touring rims these days are made from extruded aluminum and come in a variety of designs. There are two schools of thought when it comes to touring rims. Some companies, such as Mavic, go with a flat rim: that is, the part of the rim with which the spokes connect is a continuous, flat surface. Other rim companies such as Velocity take the ‘deep V’ approach: the surface where the spokes enter the rim protrudes in a V or triangular shape. Years ago I toured with flat rims and never had a problem but for ‘round-the-world work I now prefer the latter design. It’s no more than personal preference because I’ve seen a lot of people using the flat design. Still, it seems to me that the V configuration just has to be stronger and that’s what touring rims are all about.
Spokes You wouldn’t think spokes were that important to the strength of a wheel but they are. After all, they’re what connect the hubs to the rims. A broken spoke, especially on the drive side of the rear wheel, can put a real crimp in your tour. The best and strongest spokes are made from stainless steel. There are cheaper chrome- or zinc-plated carbon steel versions but they don’t hold up nearly as well and are prone to rust.
Besides different materials, spokes come in different designs, too. There are single gauge spokes, which are the same thickness throughout their lengths, and butted spokes, which are reinforced at each end where the most wear occurs. A butted spoke will be less likely to break than a single-gauge spoke because it’s thicker at the ends and thinner in the middle. This thinness allows the spoke to flex instead of break when the wheel is exposed to unusually high stress. You’ll pay a premium for good, stainless steel butted spokes-usually a set will cost more than the hub or the rim-but not having to worry about a broken wheel miles from nowhere is priceless.
Nipples Nipples are the little nut-like things that connect the spokes to the rim. They are also what you turn to true your wheel when it gets out of round. And though small, they are critical elements to a good touring wheel. Like spokes, nipples come in different materials. Cheap nipples are made from aluminum and have the nasty habit of corroding and seizing the spoke so that it can’t be tightened or loosened, which means the wheel can’t be trued. Aluminum nipples also strip easily producing the same result. The best nipples are made from nickel-plated brass, which doesn’t have all the faults of aluminum. I remember during my short stay in the US Navy spending hours polishing brass fittings. The navies of the world use brass because it’s a superior material for adverse weather and wet conditions: the exact conditions your wheels are exposed to on a ‘round-the-world bicycle tour. So take a tip from the Navy and go with brass.