I always have a few thoughts and ideas about some possible upgrades to my current cycling equipment.
What cyclist doesn't have those thoughts and ideas?
That bolded question was meant for my wife in an effort to let her know that I am normal. I usually wait until something breaks or gives out before doing an upgrade. The bikes I have been riding for the past few years are still all in fine shape and simply need the usual maintenance to keep them going. Some might be due for new chainrings, chains, a fork overhaul, tires. etc.. this year, but that's the way bike maintenance and ownership works. So many different standards have come and gone since the last time I purchased a mountain bike, I can't even keep up with it all. I just keep using what I have and replacing parts when they break or wear out.
One such upgrade due to something breaking came about recently. I snapped the chain on my Karate Monkey and rather than fix the aging chain, it gave me pause to think through my set up a bit.
I sort of went SS the quick and easy way on the KM a few years back. I had purchased a set of wheels way back when (years ago) and for some reason, the wheels arrived at my front door and in the shipping box along with the wheels were about a dozen+ Gusset SS Conversion Kits. That seemed strange since I hadn't ordered any and was not in the least bit interested in singlespeed cycling. I was not invoiced for them and wondered why they were in my shipping box. So I emailed the shipper wondering about what I should do and was told to just keep all of them and not worry about it. Super strange to me at the time, but okay. I was the owner of more than a dozen conversion kits with no idea what to do with them. So they sat in my parts bin for years before I ever decided to pull one out and slap it on my Karate Monkey (which I ran geared for 9 years) in the Fall of 2012.
The Gusset SS Conversion Kits look like this...
It's a pretty slick and easy kit. It just slides right onto the free hub body with the spacers provided giving you a great chainline provided your ring up front is placed correctly. The kit comes with two cogs, one is a 16T and the other is an 18T. I'm not really a wanker when it comes to the subject of singlespeed bikes by any means, so I just went with what I had in the parts bin to make things work a little over three years ago. I liked it so much, I sold my 2003 camp stove green KM...
...and got one of the new stretch pants black frames with the upgraded geometry and rear disc brake mount. I read up on straight ratios; gear inches; gain ratios and scratched my head enough to make the conversion.
I had a 29T Titanium ring in my parts bin that would fit on an old Race Face crankset I had in the parts bin. I happened to have a nice brand new bottom bracket to go with it that fit the Karate Monkey frame. According to my calculations at the time the 16T and 18T would work with that ring and provide an easy choice, and a harder choice when it came to both climbing hills and spinning on the flats. Forging ahead at the time, I set up my KM which ended up with the need to purchase a Surly Tugnut and an older pair of Shimano XT QR skewers to hold the rear wheel in place.
Fast forward to three years of riding the KM with the Gusset SS Conversion kit. Last June for our trip out to Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, and South Dakota, I knew I would need to use the 18T to do all the climbing at altitude. It turned out to be a great gear for everything I rode and the pace was perfect for riding with Tara whether we were on slick rock in Moab, or climbing straight up a rim in Aspen-Snowmass. However, here in Iowa the 18T (46.72 gear inches) typically has me spinning like a mad man to ride the flats and connector sections even though it is perfect for all of the climbs (never have to walk). So I would swap to the 16T (52.56 gear inches) which was better on the flats, but made a lot of climbs some serious grunt efforts for me, my age, and my weight that made me always think ahead to other gearing possibilities to try. Made sense to me.
Using the 16T out at Banner Pits on an early morning frozen earth ride December 27th, I stood up to muscle my way up one of the short steep hills and heard a "ping". I wondered what it was at the time, but kept on riding with no issues. On the next steep climb about 30 seconds later, I once again stood to muscle my way up the climb and the chain broke in half and I nearly impaled myself on the stem of my KM before coming to a stop. I guess my luck finally gave out on my cobbled together conversion, but I thought that getting 3+ years out of an old used chain to begin with wasn't bad. It had lasted three full years of singlespeed riding around the neighborhood on dog walks, recovery rides in town and on local trails, Fall/Winter riding at Ahquabi and Banner, a wonderful vacation last June riding in the mountains, until finally on 12/27/2015 one of the pins gave up the ghost.
Rather than repair an old beat up chain, I decided to use the opportunity to do an upgrade. I had a new SRAM chain in the parts bin and I ran some calculations thinking that maybe a 17T would be a nice gap rear cog to have that would be the best of both worlds that the 16T and 18T cogs provided. So I ordered a Niner 17T cog and some spacers to go with my new chain. It all arrived the other day and I did the upgrade yesterday...
Ride number one was a simple 40 minute recovery ride out and about town on snow covered sidewalks and streets...
It feels pretty good and seems to have met my expectations based on what I thought it would feel like when I ordered it. I think I will be able to adapt to this cog rather easily. It's not quite as hard to climb the hills as the 16T, and can go a bit faster on the flats before spinning out than the 18T.
Is it the Goldilocks cog for me?
I'll need some off road testing at my usual stomping grounds (Banner and Ahquabi) to weigh in on my final thoughts, but that may not happen for a quite some time with our current snow and winter conditions. Regardless, the upgrade to a new chain and a new rear cog with the spacers is complete with yesterday's installation. Thanks to the Tugnut, I set the chain's length with enough slack to run the 18T if I don't like the 17T for riding heavy climbing trails, and there is plenty of room to pull the wheel back in the dropouts if I wanted to run the 16T for flatter conditions.
Upgrade #1 for 2016 is now complete.