Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dissecting The Gravel Grinder Set Up

I mentioned last week in this post that I wanted to break down my Black Mountain Cycles "Orange Crush" rig for you all to let you in on the "why" of each choice I made on it. Well, now is as good a time as any.......

First off, this is just my opinion. This works for me and my needs for a lighter, more speed oriented gravel grinding rig. You may or may not agree, and that is fine. I encourage each and everyone of you thinking about a gravel grinder bike to carefully consider for yourself what might work, and then go test it out for yourself. That's what I've done. This works well for me.

Black Mountain Cycles "Monster Cross" frame and Fork:

I won't go into a whole lot of detail on this choice, since I want to do a separate full review on it, but this fit my needs in several ways. It is steel, which as long as I wasn't going to spend the dough for titanium, was my only choice. I just prefer how it rides. The BMC also has cantilever brakes, which I wanted, (reasons for this in the brake section), two water bottle mounts, (Not all cyclo-cross type frames have this), slightly longer chain stays than most CX bikes, single speed capability, and a bit taller head tube than many CX bikes out there. Finally, it has bigger tire clearances, which was key for me.

Ritchey Classic Series Seat Post and Stem: I wanted a silver component group for my gravel grinder. I like the classic look, and it looks better when dusty! The Ritchey Design Classic Series stem and seat post were no-brainers in the category of parts I was looking at. Light, well designed, easy to install, and ultimately invisible when in use.

So far I haven't been disappointed in their performance in use either. The seat post holds its position for the saddle like a vice, but is easily tweaked if needed. The stem holds my bars with a similar vice-like grip, and seems to be plenty stiff torsionally when yanking on the bars in climbs.

Revelate Designs Tangle Bag: My Revelate Designs Tangle Bag is a mainstay of my set up, since it can easily pack my 70 oz. Camelbak reservoir. (Note: Newer Camelbak reservoirs are wider and may not fit in a Tangle bag. Be sure you buy a reservoir that is long and narrow if you plan on stuffing one in a frame bag) Plus, I can get my tubes, tools, and a few other things in there as well. This is huge since it gets everything off my back.

I could even add a seat bag if I needed more storage, but this will do for 90% of the rides I will do with this bike. I also use a Banjo Brothers Top Tube bag. This thing works fantastically well. It is super simple to open, holds what I need it to, (Usually a couple gels, a camera, and a phone or more food), and is stable on the bike. It isn't too wide, so it doesn't graze my legs in out of the saddle climbing either.

Ragley Bikes Luxy Bar: The drop bar choices for rough/off roading have been getting better, and the Luxy by Ragley Bikes was the latest to be offered. I tried them and liked them quite well. Certainly, they are not for everyone, but they seemed to do the trick for me. I especially like the hooks on this bar. The silver color is a bonus as well. (Note: Curiously, Ragley Bikes does not list the Luxy as one of their products on their site. However; Chain Reaction Cycles shows them in stock)

I could use any ol' bar, but I like the Luxy, or a Woodchipper best so far for gravel grinding.

Velocity A-23 Wheel Set: Sure, I could have built my own wheels, but these Velocity A-23's were built by hand in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and they roll on great hubs that should hold up well. My big attraction to these was that the rims are 23mm wide, and therefore provide a better platform for my Bontrager XR-1 tires to work off of. So far, the A-23's have not disappointed, and spin up fast. They have shown me that they have good lateral stiffness, and that's all I need for a gravel grinding set of wheels. These get stopped by some old Shimano cantilevers. I chose cantilevers because they are lighter weight in terms of not only the brakes, but in terms of the hubs as well, since the hubs do not need to be disc compatible. I could get some lighter brakes, and I may do so, but right now the brakes are working very, very well. I would be hard pressed to make this any better, in terms of performance.

Components: Here I just went with Shimano stuff. Ultegra 9sp STI, non-series R600 compact crank set, an Ultegra long cage rear derailleur, and an old STX mtb front that works to shift the compact front gearing. Pedals are Shimano SPD's, and the saddle is a Bontrager Inform RL. The bars are double wrapped Bontrager Gel. I used two Velocity Bottle Traps for water bottle cages. Solid stuff that has worked well so far. I may change the front crank to a more CX like gearing, but so far the 50 X 34 is okay. I mated that with a 11 X 34 rear cassette for ridiculously low gearing. (I figured I'd need it for the Dirty Kanza 200, but....) I may change the cassette to a more reasonable 11 X 28T at some point.

So, that's it. I like everything I picked well enough to ride it just the way it is for a long, long time, but there are always ideas and small tweaks will happen, I am sure. Let me know if you have any questions, I'd be glad to answer them.


Matt said...

You noted you liked the frame for the single speed capability... do you have an idea of what wheels you would use if you ran it single speed?

For the bars - how much higher do you have to have them than if you were using Carnegies (which I know you have on other bikes)?

blackmountaincycles said...

When I first saw the photo of the frame and fork against the fence, my first thought was "(expletitive), the fork broke?!?" The steerer tube blends in well against the backdrop. :)

Barturtle said...

What's it weigh when loaded and ready to grind? (minus water)

Do you find much use for that much gearing on the top? My century ride is geared 46/34 13-30 and rarely do I need more on either end, but that's with 28s, 50+mm tires might make me want a 32 or 34 in the back.

Scott said...

"First off this is just my opinion. This works for me...." Honest. Refreshing. Thank you.

Small Adventures said...

NIce looking ride,GT :)

I like the looks of that type of drops,looks much more comfy than "regular drops" (Origin 8's) I'm running on my road/gravel rig.

mw said...

i have a future bike in the works that will be my nice weather gravel bike, on the light dury side. i've always enjoyed mtb's on gravel...so comfy. i'll trade some speed anytime, as i got none to spare.

Guitar Ted said...

@Matt: I used a set of 80's era Sante' wheels as single speed wheels for several weeks when I first got this bike together. As for bar height, I actually am running the drop section of the Luxy lower than I would with a Carnegie's Bar.

@blackmountaincycles: Sorry for the scare! No- everything is great with your frame/fork. But now I see that the steer tube does look invisible!

@Timothy: I have not weighed it dry, but I'd guess below 25lbs.

I do spin a bigger gear on down hills sometimes, but it doesn't look like I get down into the highest two or three gears much. I think a 30T out back is as low as I really need.