Saturday, December 26, 2015

Bikes Of 2015: Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross

Surprise, surprise! You knew this was coming, didn't you?
When I started this  series on bikes I used during 2015, a lot of you probably thought that this would be showing up sooner or later. It has been in "regular rotation" as a bike I generally use since I purchased the frame and fork four years ago or so. The funny thing about this one is that I get asked a lot about it and what components I have on it. More so than anything else I own.

The Bike: This is a bike from a bike shop with the same name- Black Mountain Cycles- which is located at Point Reyes Station, California. This one is the Monster Cross frame and fork. I call it "Orange Crush", but Black Mountain Cycles founder, Mike Varley, can't do that for obvious reasons. You can get a full build kit from BMC, but I got just the frame set. While I often modify this bike, the basic set up is as follows with this one:
  • Crank Set: Older Shimano Non-series five arm 110BCD w/46T/36T rings
  • Cassette: SRAM 9 speed 11-34T
  • Rear Derailleur: Older Ultegra 9 speed long cage.
  • Front Derailleur: 90's vintage top pull Shimano STX
  • Shifters/Brake levers: Gevenalle- These are the older non-linear pull type which I mounted Shimano 9spd bar end shifters to. 
  • Wheels: Either Velocity USA polished A-23's or HED Ardennes+ with various tires.
  • Brakes: Tektro cantilevers
  • Stem & Seat Post: Ritchey Classic
  • Headset: Origin 8 sealed bearing threadless. 
  • Handle Bar: Salsa Cycles 46cm Cowbell
  • Saddle: WTB Pure V
  • Rack: Velo Orange Pass Hunter
  • Bags: Front Rack-  Out of production, sorry!, Frame- Revelate Tangle Bag, Medium, Top Tube Bag- Planet Bike Snack Sack
  • Fenders: (When Used) Planet Bike Cascadia ALX
Obviously I like this bike a lot. It just plain works and is comfortable. It is by no means perfect from my point of view though. The bottom bracket is too high, and the head angle a bit too steep. This bike gets kinda squirrelly when things get fast and loose, which I am not comfortable with. But mostly it is fun and it can swallow huge tires and have the capability to run fenders all without a truck-like wheel base. Actually, it is a pretty amazing design, and one I often point to when I get feedback from other bike companies saying, "We can't do that.....". Obviously, you could, and the proof is right here in the Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross rig. Now if I could only get Mike Varley to design a disc brake version with a lower BB and slightly slacker head angle.........



Zed F. said...

Nice rig! Mind if I ask a few questions?

Why 9 speed? I'm still using 16 year old 105 5503 3x9 speed setup. Is there anything I should know before making drivetrain changes? Do 10 & 11 speeds have drawbacks?

Given your front bag is discoed, what would you recommend for a smallish bar or rack bag (~100 c.i.)?


Guitar Ted said...

Jim Mearkle- Great questions!

9spd because I had 9spd bar end shifters when I built the BMC back in 2011. The Gevenalle shifter pods can accept any Shimano bar end shifter, but did not come with any when I got them.

Before you make a drive train change, (and I assume you mean going from 9spd to either 10 or 11 speed), you should research your choices. You will probably need to retrofit the entire drive train- chain, cassette, chain rings, shifters, and derailleurs- to get where you want to end up. Be advised that triples are somewhat out of fashion, so "alternative" choices for crank sets from sources like Velo Orange, IRD, or Rivendell may be required to keep your drive train a wide range/familiar one for your needs.

You may even want to look at upgrading your wheels instead, as that is a better place to start with upgrades, and keep maintaining that 105 drive train for the time being. 9spd parts will be available for some time to come, so no need to hurry up and get more gears now.

Bags: Gosh, I really don't keep up with this side of things, but this Gilles Berthoud front rack bag is about as close as I've seen- both in style/function and price- to the one I have. Check it out at this link:

Zed F. said...

Thanks for the advice. I'm saving up for wheels this spring, and maybe brakes. Any driverain stuff is unlikely before next winter, but I'd like to get it sorted before I start buying.

Barturtle said...

The Gilles Berthoud GB999 is actually the smaller front rack bag, with the 587 being the larger rear bag.

Riv's Sackville Trunksack Small is about the only other off the rack choice in this bag style currently.

Guitar Ted said...

@Barturtle: Thanks!

Adam said...

Curious if you've taken a Soma Wolverine for a spin. The geometry looks similar, but with the slightly lower BB you're looking for (same head angle, however).

Guitar Ted said...

@mostdece: I've seen one, but its owner is a lot shorter than I, so I didn't ask to try it out.

Actually, the Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross and the Soma Wolverine are nearly identical in geometry. The biggest difference is in claimed chain stay length, with the Soma's being shorter. Here's the Wolverine's chart:

Here is the BMC geo chart for comparison:

Basically the frames are pretty much identical from the point of other geo characteristics. Of course, one is disc brake, the other cantilever. Obviously, it may be more advantageous for someone like myself to strongly consider the Soma. That is something I have done.

The Wolverine's shorter chain stay length, to my mind, isn't what I am looking for. I have my reasons for that which this format is too limiting for me to discuss that in detail. The other thing is that I really have a distaste for those slider drop outs. I think they are ugly, for one thing. I also just noticed it has a break in the chain stay for belt drive which is another thing I wouldn't want.

So, close, but no cigar on the Wolverine. At least in my opinion, and only when considering it for my own riding needs.

Andy Askren said...

Excellent review and in particular wanted to ask about your HED Ardennes+ wheels... I am running the same wheels on my BMC monster cross (pink) and despite using a Shimano skewer, still get some slipping. I'm experimenting with stuffing a star washer on the driveside skewer to see if that extra bit will help. But also wanted to see if you might have some magic tips for this situation. Thanks!

Guitar Ted said...

@Andy Askren- Thank you for the nice comment!

Early on, I did have a lot of trouble with the axle slipping forward, so I did two things. One- I used a set of XTR skewers, which, (along with XT ones), are much better than other skewers at clamping force. Secondly, I used some axle adjusters on both drop outs, which screwed into the threaded holes in the back of the drop outs and rest against the axle.

Between those two things, and then by using a lot of force to cam over the skewer, I was able to get the wheel to stay put no matter what. You could also remove the paint where the axle and skewer contact the drop out, which eliminates one more potential cause of slippage.

As a point of reference, I have also found that Velocity USA skewers, which use an internal cam mechanism, also work on the Black Mountain Cycles frame to keep the wheel from slipping in the drop outs.

Good Luck!

Adam said...

After one or two experiences with the rear hub slipping forward on the driveside, even with a good Shimano skewer, I threw a Surly Hurdy Gurdy chain tensioner on and have never looked back.

Unknown said...

Hi Ted (and other BMC Monster Cross/MCD owners!):

Thanks for your thoughts on this cool bike. Do you have any experience running it with Schwalbe Thunder Burt 2.1" 29er tires? They measure out to about 51mm on the nose on my Stans Crest rims. I know this is slightly wider than Mike says will clear, but am curious if anyone's gotten away with it and, if so, just how tight of a fit it was ...

Thanks again,

Guitar Ted said...

@Unknown aka "Matt" - No way that will fit on a Monster Cross frame, and if it did the canti studs would make insertion/removal a real pain. The MCD? While Mike showed his with 2.0" 29"er tires, I'd not recommend it. There is ZERO room for error and absolutely no mud clearance. The widest I'd consider 'good' on a MCD is 48-49mm tire width.

Adam said...

yeah - i've run a 2.0" Maxxis Ikon on my V5 pink monstercross, and while it fits, there's very little clearance. After a wet&sloppy ride, all the paint on the inside of the fork blades and inside of the chainstays next to the tire ceased to be. Not really recommended.

If you're looking for the widest, fastest tire that you can fit, Rene Herse's new 700C x 48 mm Oracle Ridge might be what you're looking for. I like the 42mm version because there's room for muck and slop to clear.

On the MCD side, I heard that the the first V1 MCDs - the Olive Oil and Pink ones - had tighter clearances than Mike intended, you couldn't even really fit a 2.0"/50mm tire. The V1.2 MCDs - Desert Orange and Mayfly - do genuinely fit a 50mm tire, but like the rim brake frames, it's tight. Might be OK if you're riding in dry&dusty terrain, but zero mud clearance.