"Brevetizing" your MTB (First posted June-11-2007 at 08:24 pm)
"Brevetizing" your MTB (First posted June-11-2007 at 08:24 pm)
Nobody said you could not do it on anything other than a "Road" bicycle and I use the term very loosely here (any bicycle with drop bars) A few will look in disbelief and even disapproval at you, so what? The important thing is you want to join in the fun. Getting any bicycle, MTB or not, ready for brevets involves investing time and money. I try to keep the cost low.

So what happen when a rider decides to use a MTB on pavement? I have not experienced weird handling effects from slapping a pair of slicks onto a MTB but other may disagree with me; it may be weird the first mile but after that it is fine. Once you adjust the seat and stem and maybe a few other things everything is cool. Most of the time I just replace the tires and ride off. Just like when I ride my 20" folding bike for the first time in months, at first it feels out of place but that soon goes away and I am happy as I can be, after all I am out there riding.

Ridding a MTB (or any other non-traditional road bicycle design) on a brevet is not only possible it makes a lot of sense. You have a sturdy frame, low gears and with some adjustments the very comfortable position. Thinking of doing a ride (of any type) but think the bike you have is not up to the task? A little flexibility is all you may need. Don't pay attention to the marketing crap and/or peer pressure, use what you have, put your leg over the seat and pedal away into the night.

Here are some points I consider when selecting/using an MTB for brevet riding:

  • A comfortable saddle ($50), one that has proven getting along with your unspeakable parts.
  • A neoprene saddle cover ($20). They provide you with added insulation from road vibration and water protection to your saddle. They are marketed primarily towards triathletes but let me tell you they are great for any type of riding.
  • A riding position that does not have you to stretched out over the frame ($20-40) Most modern MTBs come with the bars to low in relation to the saddle and the top tube on those frames tends to be longer. Older MTBs relied more on the stem to adjust the cockpit so these older frames are better suited for brevet riding, unfortunately they are a tad heavy. For brevet riding I like my bars at most 1-3" below the saddle. A steep angle stem can be found for less than $20 at Nashbar or Performance. Most "comfort" bicycles come with them. If what you have is a modern MTB frame replace the stem with a very short but steep stem. I like the adjustable stems, they are cheap and you can play with the angle that best suits you, however most of them are heavy but now Ritchey has a new one that sells for about $40.
  • L shaped barends or trekking/butterfly bars (like the old Scott AT-4), ($15-30) They provide more hand positions and help on those flat windy sections. I tried them both and decided on the simplicity of the L shape barends. Also if for any reason I need to radically adjust my riding position during a brevet I can simply move the barends to any angle, even point all the way up like some people do on their Walmart bikes.
  • Rubber foam grips all over where your hands will grab ($10) Remember the full coverage grips of old 10 speed handlebar bikes? Well, they still sell those grips, they are just the ticket for covering bar ends and provide insulation from the cold hard metal. I found the ultra cheap rubber-foam grips are very forgiving on your hands and body. As an added bonus they are lighter than most regular grips. These long grips are sold for both traditional MTB and road handlebars and also for cruiser handlebars, in my case the grip set made for road handlebars fitted my L barends perfectly. If you use a "trekking" bar like the old Scott AT-4 the cruiser grip set may fit better. These style of grips are cheap as they are supposed to be used by low end bikes.
  • If you have very narrow handlebars better use some regular width handlebars ($20). Narrow racing bars demand more out of you, you want to save your energy for other more important things like fighting mental fatigue. Some people, including me, try to use handlebars that are as wide as their shoulders.
  • Some skinny slicks  ($12-20). I use the cheap PerformanceBike City Slick 1.3" tires. They are comfortable, offer decent flat protection and roll nicely on roads. Have ridden with them many thousands of miles. IMHO, a good road tire for 26" wheels.
  • If you even suspect rain, full fenders ($30). They may add a little weight but they will make your life (and others riding with you) a lot easier when the skies decide to cry. Planet Bike are good, cheap and easy to install.
  • Rigid Fork. ($40) There is no point on having the added weight and complexity of a suspension fork. A rigid fork is lighter and there is little to go wrong with it and make your riding on paved roads, typical of brevets, more efficient.
  • I like V-brakes over cantilever ($40). Either system would do but v-brakes are easier on the hands saving precious energy. While descending at 3am on an unfamiliar road is nice if your hands are not tired and the brakes work with just the right amount of pressure.
  • Decent lights, front and rear ($100). For the rear almost any modern blinkie should do, they are cheap and bright and a set of batteries should last even the longer events. In the last couple of years I have noticed most randonneurs in San Francisco, including me, use the Cateye TL-LD600. It is an amazingly bright rear light that can be installed on the seatpost or seat stays. For front light there are two camps, the hub/dynamo folks and the battery ones. Since this is about making your MTB bike randonneuring ready without breaking the bank I'll recommend the battery options, hub/dynamo options are more expensive as they require a new front wheel, the lights themselves and some other hardware. Having a main and a secondary light is a good idea. For Secondary light the overwhelming majority of the San Francisco Randonneurs (again including me) use the Princeton Tec Eos headlamp, about $40. This is a 1 watt LED marvel that runs on 3 AAA batteries and it is amazingly bright even on its medium setting, it last trough a night and has a focused beam, great to read road signs or cue sheets; it comes in two versions a headlight with a rubber strap to wear it around your head and a bicycle version that also includes a handlebar clamp. For primary light there are a few alternatives for about $50 or less, again a popular choice among SFRs (not me in this case) is the Cateye HL-EL500 and the newer HL-EL530 Headlights. They are also 1watt lights but have a little wider, but not by much, beam. I personally like the Planet Bike Super Spot 1 Watt LED Headlight, also a 1watt LED which has a wider beam. However LED technology changing so rapidly and prices dropping by next year (2008) I bet we'll have 3 watt headlights at this price level.
  • The right spare tubes ($7). Most people ride "road" bikes on these events that means there will be lots of 700cc tubes  to borrow but that does not do you any good right? Carry two 26" x 1"-1.5" tubes. Also any other stuff you particular bike may need. (BTW, a 650B or 650C size tube should work on your 26"wheel but I have never done it.)
  • Bags to carry all that crap you'll need ($20-200) Some love camelbacks some hate them. Some like handlebar bags some don't. Some like saddle bags some don't. Whatever you choose make sure it is small yet it allows you to carry all you need and then a little more. But don't fill it up form the start, you'll need the extra space later when peeling layers of clothes or stashing those little powered donuts and burrito leftovers. I use a large camelback and a big Jannd Mountain Wedge III saddlebag another popular bag among SFR is the Carradice Super C saddlepack.

I think that covers most of the stuff you need, bike-wise, to turn your loyal MTB into a very good randonneuring bike. BTW, this same setting sans the primary light, can be used for touring and even commuting so time and money invested (about $350 if you need to buy most of the stuff) will leave you with a nice rig. If you already commute on that MTB you probably need to invest very little.

Ride and let ride.
(First posted June-11-2007 at 08:24 pm)

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