It is not an NFE!

posted on August 29, 2015 by Glen

“Nice NFE!”

I get that a lot. Thanks. But it’s not, it’s just the color. I threw it in with one of the batches cause I’m cheap sometimes and it was starting to rust after a year of bare metal.

This bike started as a quick experiment in a low-trail cross bike, and is turning into a variation of something I’ve never been a fan of, a do-it-all bike. (with caveats, i.e.; multiple forks) I’ve always been firmly in the high trail camp for cross bikes, but Jan Heine had written something about low trail potential on cross bikes and it was enough to make me give it some thought. Plus, I had a great fork around from another project that that went through some big changes, which was like half the work done already. (385 x56mm rake) So I built a frame to go with the fork, and it is pretty close to an NFE: 73st, 72.5ht, 430 cs, 56tt, 70mm drop. But 700c, not 650b. For the most part, I used tubes that I had around with no distinct purpose going forward…true temper S3 top and down tubes, a fairly light seat tube left over from some neat bikes I made for another company the year before, NFE seat stay/wishbone parts, and some ridiculously thick, heavy old single bend mountain bike chain stays, possibly Tange Ultrastrong. Might have been a pretty light frame, save for those turds. Here’s how it looked in that first incarnation:

I rode it a lot, it was pretty okay, took some getting used to. I was not a fan of steering a little bit to avoid a rock in the trail and finding myself on an entirely different line. I would also get a bit of shimmy with hands off, not a surprise with about 47mm trail, ultra-light top and down tubes, and a standard headset. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have liked racing cross on it, although at that time I was not participating in any races.

What I did find is that I was very comfortable on it, I had built with a fairly long head tube and had the bars up pretty much level with the seat, and was enjoying the ride more than any other bike I had set up at the time. Once it got powdercoated I decided to build it as more of an all purpose road bike, essential changes being a 105 5800 compact road crank and some Stampede Pass ultralight tires. Here’s how that looked:

This has been my go-to bike for 2015. Other than the mountain bike, almost every ride has been on this bike. Other than occasionally putting a porteur rack on the front, it has been in this configuration right up until the last week of July. I had been racking up miles, feeling pretty great, exploring some of the parts of Spokane’s Midnight Century course, and decided I need to modify it a little further.

Enter v3…

The Midnight Century course had some pretty severe washboard- mile upon mile of it, in fact, and I had stashed away a NIB Rockshox Ruby sl pro fork 15 or so years ago that was finally going to see the light of day. It wasn’t exactly bolt-on ready, as it had a 140mm threaded 1” steerer and miserly clearance for a 25mm tire at best…But I spent the better part of a Sunday in my shop machining and welding and rebuilding and came up with a heavily modified fork that easily cleared a 32mm Stampede Pass tire, and significantly changed the geometry and handling of the bike (for the better). I’ll have to do another post about the fork sometime.

The fork was amazing, the bike was amazing, I had a terrific Midnight Century, and this bike was starting to feel like the most versatile bike ever.

With the longer fork, fully extended, the head angle tipped back to about 71.25, maybe half a degree steeper in use, and the seat angle changed accordingly, and obviously the trail changed though I didn’t take the time to calculate it. I got to thinking that the Ruby fork, when fully extended, was a bit over 1cm longer than a standard carbon cross fork, and the actual height when riding was probably right about the same (+-395) so this thing might end up being a really excellent cross bike after all.

But first, a little light touring modification…

We took a couple days in the San Juan islands to ride bikes and hang out. So back on went the steel low trail fork, front rack, and since I wanted cush and generator capabilities, I borrowed some Hetre tires to go on some 650 wheels I had around. With the disc brakes, an easy swap. I don’t think I even had to adjust the calipers. Bottom bracket lowered some, not enough to make a difference. First time I’ve ridden those tires. Roll out nice. Felt a little squirmy in the corners. In this configuration, I felt like I could just keep cruising all day. Super smooth and comfy. I’m a little late to the game, but I get it. If I ever get a real NFE I think it will live with this size tire, or maybe the 48mm Switchback Hill.

And that brings us to today’s version…a straight-up cross bike.

I installed an entry level Shimano crank with 46/34 and one of the new Ritchey carbon disc 1 1/8” cross forks last week. To my great disappointment, yes, it eats up washboard dirt roads much better than the steel fork with a ton o’ rake (but nowhere near as well as the Ruby). I’m going to race the local races on this this season, there may be a change to a single ring set-up, since I don’t think I’ve ever really raced with a double. My initial rides were with the Stampede Pass tires, but I’m going to try some of the various cross tires laying around here this week to see what works best for our dry dusty environment. First up Michelin Jet. Not much traction, up or down, roll ok. Pretty bouncy. I think there are about five different treads around the shop to try out clincher-wise, Unfortunately I have no 135 disc tubular wheelsets. May have to do something about that.

So anyway, I think when cross season is over, the compact road crank and stampede pass tires will return, and some fenders for the winter and spring, if can figure a way to get fenders on that carbon fork. If not, There may be a straight-blade steel fork for fender use in its future. The Ruby fork will go back in it’s box until the first Saturday in August every year.