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Back on the Brew:
Gravel on a Dustbowl Budget PT III

The pandemic, a house move, and general life chaos saw my cost conscious but ultra capable gravel grinder right royally mothballed. However, Ursula’s 2x10 upgrade gave rise to a 32 tooth, 1x10 Deore and as usual, one thing led to several others ..... Michael Stenning carries on building.  Get the prequels here ...... Part I ........ and Part II.

Out from Hibernation & Back to the Drawing Board

A very wintry March saw someone wave a 2x10 Deore crankset under my nose and at a price that would’ve been rude to decline. I already had a left hand Microshift bar con and reckoned that Ursula’s Shimano STX front mech from 1999 could come out of retirement, so costs were minimal- even the existing KMC chain was the correct length-just a question of replacing the magic link. 

bicycle bottom bracket

I could’ve sold the Deore on but then got looking at the teal frameset cocooned in bubble wrap.  The next thing I knew, I’d cleaned out the frame threads, blasted some preserves into its inner sanctum added some Peaty’s Bicycle Assembly Grease  to the bottom bracket shell and spun a Hollowtech II bottom bracket inside. 

bicycle chain ring crank gravel

Some speed grease on the Deore Axle and everything slid together nicely. I’d also acquired a 1inch Stronglight A9 headset (albeit with balls, rather than the iconic and ultra dependable needle roller bearings), which had a 38mm stack height, so fitted like the proverbial - once I’d got busy with the headset press and found my old school headset spanners. 

bicycle cycling headset br

Enlightenment & Revisions

Since I had the frameset unearthed, I gave the paintwork a liberal helping of high - quality wax and began checking a few things. I’d originally believed the cantilever mounts had been moved to entertain 700c hoops.

bicycle bike forks cantilever brake mounts

Offering one up confirmed otherwise - still 26-inch, but no hindrance, since I had Ursula’s other wheelset. I’d recently stripped the XT hub, overhauled the freehub and introduced new 10 grade balls with a liberal helping of Muc-Off Bio Grease.

bicycle cassette hub derailleur

This also presented an ideal opportunity to confirm I’d got bearing tension bang on - which it was. Despite being carefully masked during the refinishing process, paint (powder coating in particular) can be very invasive and it’s important to carefully clean out the seat tube to ensure posts will slide in and out without scratching. 

I was convinced the seat post diameter was 27.2 but after persistent, judicious sanding of the seat tube with fine grade paper, to rule out overspray/similar contaminant and periodic testing of a 27.2 post I began wondering if it was in fact, 27.0. Time to reach for the Vernier. This confirmed my suspicions - yup, 27.0.

 A decent quality binder bolt is another wise investment and easy to overlook.

A lot can change in five years. Having confirmed the Shimano Zee was a non-starter, I’d also needed to poach some of the original Sun Race Driven components- derailleur and brifters specifically, when Ursula’s Microshift components imploded in 2020 and again, in 2022. Deore crankset aside, I’d also a long cage Alivio rear mech, which would not sync with a road brifter. 

Now, brifters are nice and undeniably very convenient. However, they have more moving parts and are vulnerable to knocks and crash damage. Bar end shifters are the way forward but would need to be at the right price and monies recouped through the sale of unwanted components. 

bicycle brake levers

A therapeutic thumbing through the braking box unearthed some unused Tektro RL340, several cantilevers, cable hangers, straddle wires and cable inners. The cantilevers were fine but would need some basic TLC and replacement pads. Pennies.

Contact Points 

bicycle headset

The WTB drops and Salsa stem combination remained obvious, since I’d found an inch and an eighth quill to ahead adaptor in the contact points box. 

bicycle drop bars wtb

My main concern was the stem’s height-it seemed a little taller than the adaptor’s 40mm. Thankfully this wasn’t so. 

bicycle suspension stem bars gravel

Then I got the urge for something a little more exciting - the Redshift Shockstop Suspension Stem was an obvious candidate.  This would be a non-starter, far too long with a late 90s semi compact geometry frameset, since the top tubes tend to be proportionately long. Ursula is a case in point.  There was some umming and ahhing on my part and only real-world miles will tell.

Staying with bounce, given the Edge’s seat tube is 27.0, this ruled out the Cane Creek Thudbuster ST G4. I’ve never been completely sold on its single bolt saddle clamp but in everyday terms, it hasn’t presented any issues for 70kilo me. Decent quality posts are tricky to find new, in this diameter. 

BBB Skyscraper was a decent default and still available in these and other sizes common to older (80s and 90s) mtbs. However, I wasn’t in a rush, and I spotted a USE suspension post on one of the auction sites. There weren’t any bids, and the auction was closing soon, so they accepted my fair offer of £30. I wasn’t going to risk anymore, even allowing for the seller’s feedback. 

Besides, this was about getting the best bang for minimal buck, not blowing budgets. Now, I could always go for one of the older G3 Thudbuster  and employ a suitably long shim. Cane Creek and others still produce some decent examples and are a far cry from those notoriously associated with seat collar damage back in the early 1990s. 

seat post

The USE post was 27.0, so slid straight in.  Saddles were easier and I opted for a 143mm wide Pro Turnix Gel saddle was lightweight and compatible with my derriere. It had been a feature of my fixed gear winter/trainer for some time. 

bicycle saddle seat

Pedals-wise, I was tempted to go for an original set of Spuds from 1990 and Time’s ATAC were another good bet, although the brass cleats wear a little faster than SPDs. These Wellgo MO94B won the day. They’re nicely finished, turn on buttery smooth cartridge bearings and being silver, have aged very gracefully. SPD pattern also ensured I could just step in with any of my regular gravel, or touring shoes.

Wheels/Tyres      

“Use what you got” goes the mantra of an old, sadly deceased friend (and bike dealer who sold me Ursula all those years ago). He’s sorely missed, and one of my better influences. I digress... Point being, there’s no sense in buying another wheelset, when it could share one of Ursula’s. In this instance, the Sputnik/XT and Ryde/Alfine. Both rims have machined sidewalls, so no issues with rim brakes.

Given the brief, I was seeking something more trail orientated. The Schwalbe Marathon Mondial Dual Defense would’ve been the ideal choice for general, all terrain fun but. They’re swift, rugged and ultra reliable. Our set had racked up too many miles-I'd needed to pension one off.      

Schwalbe Land Cruiser are a little weighty but surprisingly capable starting points for lumpy roads, green lanes and dry, unmade dirt roads. The Schwalbe Billy Bonkers are quick, compliant and fun when it comes to dry trails and green lanes. Then along came some Maxxis Ikon, which are a beefy 2.2 inches but still promise similar qualities as the Schwalbe Marathon Mondial Dual Defence and with better puncture resistance than the otherwise likeable Billy Bonkers and Land Cruisers. 

Nearly There

I am likely to make a bottom race boot from scrap butyl tube to protect the headset bearings from being blasted with dodgy, corrosive muck.  I could go this route up top but for me at least, it's not strictly necessary. Before fitting cables, I also applied strips of “helicopter tape” at localised parts of the frame to prevent unsightly and unnecessary cable rub, or stone chip damage.

Stay tuned.

PUBLISHED MAY 2023

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