Thursday 7 July 2016

The end of a work-horse

My cross bike is dying. The bottom bracket bearing, a twelve year old Campagnolo Centaur square taper, is failing noisily. But, as a steel bearing in an aluminium frame which has survived being ridden on the salted roads of twelve winters, it is completely seized and is unlikely ever to be successfully removed.

After a race, Carstramon
My cross bike is my real work-horse. I’ve ridden it in Scottish Championship cyclo-cross races, but that hasn’t been its main role. It's the bike with which I tow my trailer, and consequently the only bike which can effectively replace my car. I need it to fetch groceries, and to take my recycling to the coup. I use it to go camping and touring. I have used it, over the past three years, to commute to work through the streets of Glasgow. It's the bike I really cannot do without. It's also (obviously) an old friend, and much loved. We've been a lot of places together.

But now it needs to be replaced. Bicycle technology has, needless to say, moved on in twelve years, and so there are choices.

The simplest possible thing to do is just buy a replacement frame and bottom bracket (and probably crankset as well). An equivalent aluminium frame, from Dolan, would cost £250; adding the other parts I need to replace would bring the cost up to around £400.

A quiet afternoon ride along the clifftop
However, this would produce a bicycle essentially identical to my current one; it would take no account of improved technologies. And many of the parts I'd be carrying over are already suffering from years of hard treatment.

The next step up is to choose a carbon frame. A carbon cross frameset from Dolan would cost £700; but that frameset is designed for disk brakes. I would really like hydraulically operated disk brakes, they're a huge improvement on cable rim brakes (and the brakes on my current bike can be extremely sketchy in heavy rain). But disk brakes means not only new brakes but new wheels. I currently have two wheelsets for my cross bike, one for road and one for off-road, although of course I could get by with just one. So the price of buying a carbon frameset realistically goes up to at least £1,000.

However, my existing Campagnolo levers won't drive hydraulic brakes, but only cable operated brakes, and cable operated disks are not a big improvement over cable operated rim brakes. So in practice I'd need a whole new groupset, costing £500 or (probably) more.  Of course Campag haven't yet released a hydraulic disk brake; I could use cable operated disks with my current levers, and plan to upgrade in a year or two when (if) Campagnolo do get round to it; or else go for the Rotor Uno group, which looks really interesting but also very expensive.

In the long run, derailleur gears are probably not the best choice for a high-reliability workhorse - although they're not a terrible choice. Epicyclic gears would probably be better. Edinburgh Bicycle co-op would sell me a Marin bike with 8 speed epicyclic gears, belt drive, and hydraulic brakes for only £900, but that bike has flat bars, which I really couldn't live with, Shimano components which I'm a bit snobbish about, and an aluminium frame. Adapting it to drop bars would cost quite a lot and may even not be possible. Also it has an aluminium front fork, which is going to be harsh off road, and it probably cannot pull my trailer.

Looking at better bikes, Shand Cycles would build me a cross bike with belt driven Rohloff 14 speed epicyclic gears and hydraulic disk brakes. It would be hand made for me here in Scotland, and would be an absolute dream bike - by far the most practical, most durable and most reliable bicycle I could buy. But, it would cost at least £3,600, which is, for me at present, an awful lot of money.

Getting cross in winter
And then there's Cannondale, my other favourite bicycle maker. They're currently building a cross bike with a short travel monoblade suspension fork, which looks extremely interesting. It's available either with Shimano components - about which, again, I'm snobbish - or with SRAM; but the SRAM option costs £3,000, which is still an awful lot of money.

Furthermore, the Cannondale definitely can't take a hub dynamo (which is not necessarily important in these days of much better battery lights), and, since it comes with a through-axle on the rear wheel, can't by default pull my trailer. Whether it can be adapted to pull my trailer is something I don't know, and must find out. It would also be substantially less durable and reliable than the Shand, although it would probably be a lot more comfortable off road.

Dolan would sell me their carbon frame built up as a complete bike for £1200, but with cable
Three wheels on my wagon
operated brakes; I don't have a price for hydraulic, but probably £200 more. That's cheaper than buying a frame, wheels, and groupset separately, and building it myself. It's probably the best option. But I need to think about this.

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