Protecting your Bike Racks

Ortlieb panniers come with small plastic inserts to allow a snug fit to a variety of bike racks. There have been numerous reports from other cycle tourists that these inserts can come loose and get lost resulting in a rattling rack set up.

On a long tour the pannier mounting hooks can also get a lot of wear and tear as can the pannier racks themselves. Repeated rubbing against the rack rails can damage the powder coating and steel racks can begin to rust. Having seen other bike tourers’ attempts to reduce this with gaffer tape or other material with some success I decided to try a more robust solution to address both problems.

After scouring the internet I found some reinforced clear plastic tubing with an internal diameter of 10mm (the diameter of the tubing used on Thorn steel racks) and an outside diameter of 15mm (slightly smaller than the 16mm Ortlieb pannier mounts without an insert).

Reinforced tubing used to protect rack

The tubing and tools required … oh, and add some zip-ties

Thorn Low Loader Mk V with protective tube

The finished front Thorn MkV Low-Loader

Rear rack covered in tube protection

The finished rear Thorn Expedition rack

After the North Sea Cycle route tour of about three months in 2013 there was little noticeable wear on the protective tubing. After the second trans-Europe tour in the Summer of 2016 there was still little wear on the rack tubing.

It works well and is not an expensive solution!

Rohloff Rear Cog Wear

The Thorn Raven Tour is equipped with a Rohloff 14 speed internal gear hub. One nice feature is that the single drive cog can be reversed so that additional kilometres can be obtained from it as it wears. Being a single cog it functions as a single speed drive with no lateral chain movement hence less chain wear compared to derailleur gear systems. I like both derailleur and internal hub gear systems. I prefer the Rohloff hub for reliability and durability on long tours. So far there have been no problems with the Rohloff on tour.

Rohloff Cog after 10450km

A 16 tooth Rohloff cog after at least 10450km

The cog above was used on my first long tour of 6124km back in 2013. It was reversed about half way through that tour and reversed again prior to the summer 2016 trans-Europe tour. The picture shows the cog and drive direction at the end of this second 4326km long tour. It has since been reversed again as the ‘shark fin’ wear pattern had become quite pronounced.

I hope to get another 5000km (or more!) from the above cog before fitting the new one below!

Rohloff Cog New

A new 16 tooth Rohloff cog for comparison

If you have a Rohloff on your bike, how many kilometers/miles have you squeezed out of your rear cog?

Comments welcome below!

SR Suntour SP12-NCX Suspension Seat Post Review

A suspension seat post can be a useful thing if you are a hard-tail mountain bike rider. It is important too for the long distance cycle tourist to make the bike as comfortable as possible.

A good suspension seat post removes the lumps and bumps and generally makes the ride a bit more comfortable (together with the trusty steel frame). There are simple seat posts with a spring to absorb the rough stuff. SJS Cycles have a good range of suspension seat posts. There are also several makes of the parallelogram style post such as the Crane Creek Thudbuster and the SR Suntour SP12-NCX. The idea of the parallelogram design is to minimise the shortening of the operating distance between the saddle and the pedal. This improves contact with the bike as well as maintaining the position of the rider in relation to the geometry of the bike.

I decided to go for the SR Suntour SP12-NCX. It was redesigned in 2012 boasting improved brass bushings. Travel is 50 mm with a rider weight range stated as 60-100kg. The on-line reviews seemed good and the price was quite a bit less that the Thudbuster. I had also read that the Thudbuster can bounce up and down a bit depending on the combination of elastomers used. I have never used the Thudbuster but it also seems very popular. I was looking for a solid seat post that would only absorb the bigger bumps and pot-holes without loss of power transfer caused by a ‘bouncing’ saddle or saddle with springs.

Full technical details of the SR Suntour SP12-NCX, can be found on the Suntour web site.

The Suntour arrived in plain packaging which is how they are supplied in bulk to retailers. I purchased it from Practical Cycles in Lytham in Lancashire, England. They provide a wonderful range of utility bikes and bike parts. Service and delivery were excellent.

Seatpost top and Brooks B17 rails for comparison

On arrival I was a bit concerned about the fit. The above photograph shows the upturned Brooks and the seat post top. With the B17 Select saddle there is not much forward-aft adjustment possible with only about 6 mm of leeway available. Perhaps a small Suntour redesign would sort this out. I fitted it without a problem though. I was able to set up the bike into a comfortable riding position despite this limited adjustment with the Brooks saddle.

The point where the post would operate was tested by cycling over some bumps and pavement edges. The adjustment as delivered was almost ideal for my weight (71 kg). After tightening a little by adjusting the hex bolt in the seat post the correct setting was established. On numerous day rides I liked how the post would only absorb the larger bumps. There was no bouncing and in operation the post would absorb the bump and immediately return to a solid position in one action. I was happy with the purchase. A neoprene dust cover adds protection to the moving parts. This was purchased separately.

This Summer I set off to complete the North Sea Cycle Route. The seat post performed well on a variety of surfaces from smooth Norwegian roads, rough forest track in Denmark, tree roots under some Dutch and Belgian cycle paths, sand dune cycle paths, to pot-hole damaged sealed and gravel roads that we love to nurture in the UK. Really big bumps and holes were handled with confidence and no doubt prevented some serious back jarring and possible injury. The instant return to a solid seat post position after a bump helped in controlling the bike on rough terrain and complimented the Thorn Raven Tour’s inbuilt stability. It is a fit-and-forget item once the correct spring tension is set for your weight and preference.

Wear caused by rubbing against Brooks B17 rails

During the trip I examined the post a few times and discovered that the top had been rubbing against the Brooks saddle rails each time the post absorbed a bump. There was some wear to the corners of the post. There was no damage to the saddle rails other than the black paint having being worn off. There was no sign of any rust on the saddle rails. The wear in the photograph looks worse than in real life and has not affected the bushings.

Viewed from the right side …

Suntour SP12 NCX right view

… and from the left side of the bike …

Suntour SP12 NCX seatpost left view

After 14 weeks of daily use, and over 6200 km, the seat post performed very well. Initial spring tension remains as it was set before the tour. There were no indications of additional wear to the saddle rails or to the Suntour SP12-NCX. In operation the seat post now clears the saddle rails.

The neoprene cover did rub through as shown in the photograph …

Wear of the neoprene cover

The neoprene cover worked well. During and after the tour closer inspection of the mechanism showed little wear or signs of dust ingress. The bushings and contact points appear undamaged and intact.

Seatpost wear after more than 7000km

All in all I would recommend the Suntour seat post for your touring or mountain bike. I hope to compare it with the Thudbuster one day. For the moment the SR Suntour SP12-NCX does the job!

PROS

  • Solid well-made construction
  • Micro-adjustable spring to obtain the right ‘bounce’
  • Good quality spring without any loss of tension on the tour
  • Quality brass bushings
  • Effective neoprene cover
  • Good value
  • Cool black colour

CONS

  • Tight fit with a Brooks saddle
  • Initial slight clicking sound until it wears in
  • Neoprene cover must be purchased separately
  • Not tried the Thudbuster yet

Yarrowford and the Three Brethren

Near the top with the Thorn Raven Tour

This was a warm day for this particular Summer. A breeze and some showers moved across the Scottish Borders and I decided to go for an exploration. Leaving the town I headed towards Hawick and took the small road down to the Ettrick Valley. There is a short cut that runs steeply down a rough stoney lane and after the recent heavy rains, the last section was flooded with over a foot of water. Not a problem for the Raven Tour.

Crossing the road and through a farm yard lead to a short grassy path to a footbridge over the River Ettrick. The path re-emerged on a small road leading past Bowhill Estate and taking the old single track road I finally arrived a few kilometres later at Yarrowford. The rain was now heavy but it was warm. I had intended to head up the valley to St Mary’s Loch but saw a small sign to Innerleithen via Minch Moor. I thought I would have a look.

Soon the road turned to a good track, then to a path, and finally a sheep track. It was of course sign posted for walkers, not cyclists. I passed a group of walkers who looked at me strangely as they had just completed the path from the Tweed Valley. They never expected to see a cyclist on a walking path! The path led up a small valley and looked very steep at the top. I would have a look. I could cycle some of it and the 38 chain ring coupled with the rear 16 tooth cog of the Rohloff was pretty effective even on some steep sections.

Soon however, I had to walk the bike, then push up the last fairly steep 50m climb to the Southern Upland Way path that let along the top of Minch Moor. I knew the route having walked it a few years ago so headed East towards the Three Brethren. The track was rutted, and flooded in parts but some sections were pretty smooth. The Raven’s sturdy steel frame made for a comfortable ride. The Magura Odur suspension forks did their job. I was thinking of a new seat suspension tube to ease that end of things!

At the top a stiff breeze was blowing. There was no one. No mountain bikers, no walkers, just me and Torla my trusty Thorn Raven Tour.

View of the Eildon Hills

A brief rest and it was all down hill now! The numerous sheep did not hear me approach and they ran startled as I got nearer. The track down was heavily pitted with water filled holes and brick sized rocks. I found that the Magura Odur suspension fork was stable, very controllable, and very sure-footed on this rough terrain. I would not use it on a road tour but for all off-road terrain like this it is ideal. There is a dynamic lock-out function which would be useful on a mixed on and off-road tour.

Eventually I arrived back at the main road. Somewhat relieved but not looking forward to the climb back to the top of the town, I continued a smooth grind up hill to home. The distance was not great, and it was only a ride of just over 3 hours, but I was exhausted. The dark storm clouds had arrived, I just made it back as the heavens opened. I hosed down Torla and had an early night.

Statistics:

Trip: 27.06km
Moving Time 03:16
Stopped Time: 01:15
Moving Average: 8.3km/hr
Total Ascent: 552m
Total Descent: 624m