Reba Rebuild

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Thanks to Two Wheel Drive for the use of tools and shop space, as well as for providing expertise and repair parts.

I’ve kept away from suspension forks for a long time.  Part frugality and part aesthetic rigidity, there have also been some real concerns that a suspension fork is not prudent for “the long haul”.  Enter: Lael’s secondhand Reba fork, acquired last fall before embarking upon the Colorado Trail.  Re-enter: memories of my early 2000’s Gary Fisher Tassajara with tight mountain bike geometry and a Rock Shox Pilot suspension fork.  Expect: a summer of trail riding in diverse conditions all over Europe.  In the past, I have argued for the utility of a fatbike for diverse and rugged conditions.  In the same vein, I plan on taking a true mountain bike to Europe– a steel Raleigh XXIX 29er with a suspension fork.  The right tools will allow the full realization of an idea.  A suspension fork may be the right tool.

I removed the lowers from Lael’s Rock Shox Reba fork and replaced the dust wiper seals and lubricating foam rings.  All parts were cleaned, degreased and regressed.  This is no more challenging than repacking a loose ball bearing hub.  This reduces some of the mystery of the fork, and inspires confidence in the technology.

The main suspension functions (air, springs; dampening, rebound) are housed in the “uppers”, which are the brass colored rods shown above.  The inner diameter of the “lowers” house the uppers and act as a track for the suspension travel.  A precise fit, good seals and lube allow the two to travel past one another with ease for many thousands of cycles.  The Reba is an entry level quality  fork, in contrast to the inexpensive forks found on budget bikes.  For the price, the fork provides a highly tunable ride, and smooth operation.  A common term when dealing with fork maintenance is stiction, which quite literally means static friction.  Static friction is the force required to engage an object from rest– less force is required to overcome kinetic friction and to continue the same motion (once already in motion), ceteris paribus.  Thus, clean lubed suspension stanchions allow smooth operation and respond to subtle trail inputs.  Really, it is all quite simple.  Below, the seals and foam rings are removed on the left .  Old parts in place on the right.

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New foam rings on top, and rubber wiper seals on the bottom.  These parts were $22.99.

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Old seals.

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New foam wipers, soaked in SRAM Red Rum oil.  A 15w oil is recommended for this fork.  Heavy oils are likely to remain for longer.  Lighter oil may reduce friction (and stiction).  Finally, install the seals and reassemble the fork.

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SRAM provides detailed technical documents for all of their forks here.  Specifically, this document provides a nice pictorial overview of Reba maintenance.

Out the door: 1987 Raleigh Seneca Mountain Tour

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Another great bike out the door at Two Wheel Drive.

I am mesmerized with the chameleonic nature of vintage ATBs.  Able to swallow chunky rubber for off-pavement exploration, while still appearing balanced with a lean preparation for riding in-town or cross-country on a variety of surfaces, these bikes do it all.  Unlike the vintage road bikes and touring bikes of the era, most of these old klunkers have been under-appreciated in the used marketplace, keeping prices reasonable.  This 1987 “Northwest Salmon” colored Raleigh Seneca is a fine example of the kinds of bikes consumers were hungry to ride back in the day, even if they never found themselves “mountain touring”, or even mountain biking.  With copious mounting points for racks and fenders, as well as an integrated spare spoke holder and chainstay guard, this bike is a great platform for a modern commuting or touring bike, or even a casual cruiser.  Gearing is 6-speed Suntour XC Sport with thumb shifters, offering both a friction and index setting.  Brakes and levers are Shimano, and wheels are Shimano hubs to Araya rims.  This thing was a sweet ride back then, and is still a sweetie today.  At half the price of basic commuting bikes, this thing is steal, especially in this condition.

This bike has a unique story.  It was available on Craigslist when I first arrived in Albuquerque this fall, and I liked it– I wanted it– but I knew I didn’t need it.  Then, in January a customer entered Two Wheel Drive with the bike, claiming that she had been commuting on it but felt it was too heavy.  Too heavy?  Yes, too heavy to lift onto the bus racks.  We bought the bike from here and sold her an aluminum commuter frame with a lightweight wheelset.  The combination satisfied her.  Ironically, she was carrying an extremely hefty U-lock on her rear rack; the combination of rack and lock must have weighed over 4 lbs by itself.  Anyway, I have been staring at this bike for weeks.  Still, I don’t need it.

As the weather turns towards spring, friends have begun asking about “getting a bike”, which almost always means they want a good bike for cheap.  This is not always an easy task.  In this case, it was easy.  Jettie is tall and stylish, with a sense of utility and irony.  This bike is tall and stylish, with a sense of utility and a dose of irony.  She’s moving to Oakland soon with this bike, and I’m sure she’ll be the envy of bike-nerds wherever she goes.  It’s not mine, but this arrangement is even better.

She requested a basic cargo system, and we decided the Wald basket was most appropriate as it allows casual use of a handbag or backpack, and is also very inexpensive at just over $20.  As you know, Wald products are still made in the USA, in Kentucky.  The basket struts were left uncut to allow future adjustments to handlebar height.  I think Wald basket look “right” when mounted at an angle.  They’ve been attached to American bikes that way for almost a hundred years.

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More from the “Out the door” series at Two Wheel Drive here in Albuquerque, NM.

Correspondence: First ride on a fatbike

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Hey again Nick,

Thanks for writing back!  I’m really lucky to have met some people like you and Jeff who can help me get oriented here in the early stages, so thanks for that.

Hope all is well.  Have had the bike out a few times and am going to ride again today.  We have some nice mellow singletrack right behind the house, in addition to rocky doubletrack trails and sandy arroyos, so the new Pugsley provides a good bang for the buck.  Nothing spectacular or difficult but a great place for a couple of beginners.  Yesterday, we found a little bit of everything from deep mud, to ice, to snow, to rocky single track.  The Neck Romancer is a blast and seems very forgiving with the wider tires.  It’s a smooth ride (I let a little air out) and just plows through mud and eats up rocks.  It almost feels like a full suspension bike with the tires running low.  It was the most fun I’ve had on two wheels!  I have a lot of work to do though – there is a nice short but steep climb that I’m going to make my goal to be able to get it by the end of the month without having to walk the last third (part of it is I need to work on my shifting, etc.)  Anyways, I’ve attached a few images just for fun – nothing amazing.

Do keep in touch, I would probably drive you and Cass absolutely insane with how slow I would be, but hopefully I will start getting some legs under me and get out there.  I will keep you posted as well about any cool rides in the future.

– Matt

For some amazing photos, check out Matt’s photography website.

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“Correspondence” is a series I began with this post, in which I share some of the conversations I have with friends and acquaintances about bikes, equipment, touring routes, and other aspects of bicycle travel.  Matt and Cammie live on the Navajo Reservation that spans the Arizona-New Mexico border, and have access to vast expanses of remote country.  Above, Cammie is riding and pushing a 26″ wheeled full-suspension Specialized, which Jeff recently converted to tubeless for desert exploration.  But, she’s ridden a Moonlander around the block…


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A few days away, finally.  Three, now only two days out of town.  Overnight– on a very familiar bike.  Since last time, the Pugsley has a new chain and cassette, tubeless tires, and a full luggage system from Revelate Designs.  I use a large Carradice Camper saddlebag for longer tours as it offers twice the capacity of the Revelate Viscacha seat bag, and also fits my MacBook Air.  But this seat bag rides nicely, and is lighter.  Up front, I typically us a compression dry bag for my sleeping gear, but I opted to try this large handlebar stuff sack called the Sweet Roll, paired with my Revelate Pocket accessory bag.  The Pocket makes a great mini-messenger bag when not attached to the bike.  The included shoulder strap is always attached, and provides daily use over the shoulder.  I bought all of these bags last May directly from Eric in Anchorage expecting that Lael would use them over the summer, but she didn’t have enough gear to necessitate so much space.  Mostly, she used the seat bag and Gas Tank top tube bag on her Hooligan.  Without a computer, I could easily pack for long distance excursions with these bags alone– another nail in the coffin of racks and panniers.

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Charlie at Two Wheel Drive is an invaluable resource for local route planning.  Over that past decades he has ridden everything in this part of New Mexico, and beyond.  Over the past few weeks, TWD has become the fatbike shop in NM.  Coming soon, monthly fatbike rides– arroyos, snow, forested trails, and the moon!

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Out the Door at Two Wheel Drive

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Two Wheel Drive has been central to Albuquerque’s cycling community since opening in 1982.  Longtime owner Charlie Ervin is responsible not only for developing the culture of cycling in town, but for many of the area’s mountain bike trails including those near Cedro Peak and Otero Canyon.  He has also had his hand in urban advocacy efforts, by which Albuquerque now claims the honor of being a bike-able livable city.  There are over twenty bike shops in town.  This is one of the best.

I work at Two Wheel Drive one day a week, building, tinkering, and if lucky, talking to customers about riding bikes.  Last week, a Surly Ogre left the shop with a comfortable upright bar and medium-volume commuting tires.  A 700c Surly Disc Trucker came and went in a hurry– a special order for a customer planning a mixed surface tour around New Mexico this spring.  And a young customer approached about a bike capable of a spring tour in Europe– most likely a Cross-Check or a Long Haul Trucker, according to his research.  When riders enter with such requests and inquiries, I can barely conceal my elation at the possibility that they may actually ride a bicycle somewhere.

Civia Halsted

This bike is a special order for a friend and customer that is moving to San Diego in the coming months.  His new house will be less than mile from the beach, and a bike is the perfect way to get to and from.  But what about the dog?  Especially in the busy urban environment?  The Civia Halsted features a broad front platform for large or unusually shaped loads.  The 20″ front wheel ensures that the load is low, minimizing its impact on the steering.  The bike comes stock with a 1×9 drivetrain, comfortable handlebars, powerful brakes and big tires– there’s nothing not to like about this build.

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Notably, the load is secured to the frame, not to the fork.  Thus, the steering remains light, even if the bike carries some additional inertia due to the weight of the load.  This kind of attachment is useful on bikes designed for large loads and urban use, such as postal bikes.  It reduces the heavy handlebar flop experienced when making steering corrections at slow speeds.  The platform is made of recycled plastic in Minnesota.  To safely carry a dog, a custom carrier will be constructed of wood.

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Bars turn, but the load remains in position in front of the frame.

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Solid, simple attachment.  4130 steel.

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Wide-range 1×9 drivetrain, ideal for simple urban riding.

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Room for a rear rack, fenders and an internal gear hub (IGH) or single-speed wheel.

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And bigger tires.  This Kenda tread is 26×1.75″.

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This one is 20×2.2″.  V-brake rear, disc-brake front.

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Surly Neck Romancer Pugsley

Jeremy’s Neck Romancer Pugsley has finally arrived.  Of the Surly line of fatbikes– the standard Pugsley, Neck Romancer build, and the Moonlander— this is my favorite build.  It features 82mm Rolling Darryls, with weight-saving cutouts, a symmetrical 135mm from fork with clearance for Moonlander sized rims and rubber.  The fork is also drilled for extra water bottle cages or the Salsa Anything cage.  The Nate rear tire is also a winner for the immense traction it provides in the kind of situations that are inevitable on a fatbike: sand, snow, or steep.

Considering the other options: For ultra-soft conditions, the Moonlander takes the cake.  For all-season riding including winter commuting and summer exploration, I love the current Pugsley build (stock with top-mount thumb shifters and Marge Lite rims!).  The Pugsley is the best value in the fatbike market.  For the best of both worlds, this Neck Romancer is the ticket.  Technically, it is a Pugsley frame with a different fork and an upgraded build kit including wider rims.  And, it’s all black.

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The symmetrical 135mm fork leaves a lot of room for bigger tires and rims, as well as some mud.  One benefit of a symmetrical fork is that wheel builds are much less complicated.  Building fatbike wheels with offset is easy, as many rims are drilled with options for offset lacing.  All modern Surly rims are drilled with 64 holes for symmetrical or asymmetrical wheels builds with 32 spokes.  However, building 29″ wheels to the front of a normal (asymmetrical) Pugsley fork is a bit of a challenge due to the 17.5 mm frame offset.  It’s possible, but not ideal.  More on this in the next few days, as I am planning a 29″ wheel build for Joe’s Pugsley.

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Surly Mr. Whirly crank with the Offset Double spider and 36-22 chainrings, 11-36 cassette, 82mm rims, and Nate.

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Darryl (82mm) and Larry up front.  Jeff set these up tubeless without any foam or duct tape.  He simply cut a wide tube (20″ or 24″) into a rimstrip, mounted the tire and inflated it.  The tire mounted by hand and the tire seated without hassle.  Now, we have converted every bike in Surly’s line of “husky” bikes to tubeless systems– the normal Pugsley, Neck Romancer, and the Moonlander.  In nearby Santa Fe, Cass has even given the homemade tubeless treatment to his Krampus.  Two Wheel Drive has quickly become the fatbike shop in town.  Charlie was there the first time fat tires were en vogue, and he’s leading the town again.  This time, the rubber is twice as big.  It’s 1984 all over again.

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Direct mount dérailleurs save a bit of weight and complication over the e-type derailleurs of yesterday.

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This Surly Mr. Whirly crank is fully customizable from a single ring set-up to a full triple.  In this configuration, the rings sit further outboard than normal to accommodate a wide rim and tire in conjunction with a full range of gears.  This crank is a nice investment

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A lot of black, and barely there graphics.

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Another big gulp, out the door at Two Wheel Drive.

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For now, I’m at TWD on Tuesdays only.  Stop in for a visit from 10-5.

Tubeless Moonlander

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Update: Check out my updated Tubeless Fatbike Guide for the non-split tube method.  The method shown below is still relevant, and may be more reliable in situations where bead retention is of greatest concern, such as on rough rocky trails.  The non-split tube method described in the guide mentioned above is a little lighter.  For the most reliable tubeless system, consider adhering the split-tube to the tire bead to create an airtight unit, much like a tubular tire. (2/16/2014)

My tubeless Pugsley has been a blessing in the land of cacti and goatheads– no pinches, punctures, or burping.  Burping is modernspeak for a tubeless tire rolling away from the rim, momentarily, losing a little pressure and sealant.  Two Surly Moonlanders are rolling out of Two Wheel Drive this week here in Albuquerque, NM.  Their owners will never know the annoyance of slow leaks in 4.8″ tires, nor the weight of supersized tubes.  Even in temperate zones without thorns, tubeless fatbike wheels are the way to.  Surely, it is the cheapest way to lose almost a full pound on the bike, especially out of the wheels.

Over the past few weeks, Two Wheel Drive has become the premiere fatbike shop in Albuquerque, perhaps even the entire state.  Out the door– two Moonlanders this week, a white Pugsley last month, and a Neck Romancer Pugsley in the next month.  Jeff and I are well versed in tubeless systems for wide rims and tires, and I can heartily attest that these bikes are for much more than riding on snow. Here’s what we have learned in converting six fat wheels to tubeless:

All fatbike rims have deep rim channels, and most fatbike tires fit loosely which means that any air injected into the tire will escape from under the bead.  The solution is to build up the rim bed for a tighter fit.  My solution is to use thin foam, a strip of duct tape, and then a rubber rimstrip made from a repurposed tube.  Twenty inch (20″) tubes work best on 26″ fatbike rims, as the tube fits tight to the rim and makes tire mounting easier.  Look for 20×2.75-3.0″ tubes; 24×2.75-3.0″ tubes also work.  It is necessary to use a Presta valve with a removable core (Q-tubes, from QBP are all removable cores), or a standard Schraeder valve which all have removable cores.

Our first effort used a narrow foam strip.  The tire mounted onto the rim easily and nearly seated with air from the compressor.  Still, it remained limp.  Try again.

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A second time, with a wider strip of foam.  For reference, we cut the foam about the same width as the cutouts in the rim.

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A layer of duct tape secures the foam, and adds a little bulk near the edge of the foam to ensure a tight fit when seating the tire.  The foam used was a cheap camping pad from Sports Authority, about 5-8mm thick.  We have also used foam pipe insulation front the hardware store.  Punch a hole for the valve.

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Cut a 20×2.75-3.0″ tube along the outside seam, opposite the valve, to create the airtight rimstrip.  It may be possible to do a tubeless fatbike system without the rubber rimstrip, but Jeff and I reckon this method is less likely to burp and the tire is less likely to “walk” along the rim at low pressures.  Our system is refined, but not yet perfect.  We strive to develop a simple, replicable system of cheap lightweight parts.

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This Moonlander receives some more aggressive tires.  A Lou replaces the Big Fat Larry in back, and a Bud will do the steering up front.  All tires are 4.7-4.8″, but the Bud and Lou borrow a taller, more aggressive tread from the Nate.

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Fit the tire over both sides of the rim to start.  Pull one bead up and over the rim, taking care to keep the rubber rimstrip between the tire and the rim.  This will ultimately provide a tight seal and an airtight junction.  Try to do all of this by hand, to avoid pinching a hole in the tube.  If necessary to use a tire lever, pull the damaged rimstrip outward so that it will eventually be trimmed away.

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Both sides mounted, inflated.  Remove the valve core, deflate, inject about 6 oz. of Stan’s sealant through the valve.  Re-install core, inflate, shake the wheel to allow sealant to contact all internal surfaces.

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Trim the excess rubber for a clean look, and to shed some grams.

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Lou– fat and mean.

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The giant cardboard box in which “Lou” arrived will be the basis for a Halloween costume ten months from now.  Painted yellow with a cylindrical yellow dot on top, Jeff plans to be the Lego Man next Hallow’s Eve.