Monday, August 15, 2005

Hope Mono M4's

With the purchase of my new steed I looked around at all the hydraulic disc brakes available and at the time the Mono M4's were one of the top options. Not only did early reports indicate that they worked well but they also had some nice engineering features such as different sized pistons to aid modulation. They also look the dogs...

I'd spent three happy years with Hope C2's and they never gave me any trouble. However, brake techonology had evolved since then and I also wanted to try a larger diameter disk in exchange for more power for less effort. On some of the longer decents in Wales, I found that the C2's could give me Popeye like forearm "pump" as I squeezed the hell out of 'em.

The M4's were duly purchase and fitted to my 5Spot which was a fair hassle as the IS mounts mean that aligning the calliper against the disc requires re-shimming a whole bunch of washers. I also hoped that the first few rides would free up the odd lazy piston but in the end I had to remove the pads, hold 3 pistons back and pump the lever to free 'em up. Repeat until all pistons move equally(ish).

I eventually chose 180mm rotor's front and rear which seems more than adequate to haul up my mass. However, I would be interested to see if a smaller 160mm rear disc would be a better match as I have to be slightly more careful with the rear brake. It's not a problem as you soon get used to it, but then I do like to ponder and tinker...

Ensuring that the disc tab's are straight 'n' true is highly recommended as any misalignment seems to result in noisy, squealin' brakes.

The levers fit snuggly next to my SRAM shifters and have a reasonable feel, not grabby and nor are they vague.

The complete brakeset (front & rear) incl'g the 180mm rotors, etc weighs in at around 2.1lbs. Which compares favourably with C2's that had smaller 160mm disc's fitted to my ol'Marin, coming in at 2.7lbs all in.

After being thoroughly bedded in on our local trails, we headed over to Afan for some proper testing. I found that full stop braking was easily achieved with single digits and that I was now riding much smoother as I had such a powerful reserve of speed shedding ability. I was also pleased to find that my forearm's weren't aching anymore.

More miles were put on the brakes and they've performed reliably, in both the wet or the dry. They did have a few weeks where they squealed throughout entire rides but I've since put this down to pad contamination, possibly after using car wash 'n' wax. This was soon cured after blasting the pads and disc's with Isopropyl Alcohol, as found in Maplins for cleaning circuit boards. They occassionally howl after standing for a day a two but they soon scrub up and shut up after a couple of stops.

By the end of the summer, I'd managed to put something like 900 miles on them with the original pads still having around 3/4's left. However, one wet, 18 mile around Cannock Chase soon saw the pads disintigrate and braking was limited throughout which has been the only hiccup in thier performance. I wasn't alone tho, 'cos by the end of the ride our pal uphilla (with his Shimano XT 4-pots) were also down to their backing plates.

If I have one gripe it has to be that the pads don't retract into the callipers very well which causes a little brake rub every now and again. Provided the discs/pads are cleaned with Isopropyl then I haven't found squeal to be a regularly annoying problem like many reviewers sugguest.

After the wet ride around Cannock, I've had a pair of Galfer pads in the rear which appear to be quieter, have the same feel / bite and don't seem to wear as quickly as some would suggest. Although our "alpine" stlye Bedfordshire trails aren't that demanding...

Overall, I must say that I'm impressed with their performance and if the long term niggle of dragging pads could be resolved then they'd get 10/10.

Monday, August 01, 2005

New Bike: Trek FuelEX 9 WSD

Posted on behalf of Chipmunk...

Having ridden a Marin Rock Springs for three years and never really feeling 100% confident or comfortable(!) we decided that it was time to look around for a replacement. It's also reasurring to see that manufacturer's are now gradually expanding their range of women specific rides. A rough short list had us looking for; Trek FuelEX9 WSD, Scott Genius Contessa, Specialized FSR XC (& Comp) Womens.

It took a while to locate any local bike shops that stocked women's bikes let alone those that we willing to let us have a test ride. Eventually our perseverence paid off tho as Pitsford Cycles had a medium/16" Trek FuelEX9 WSD demo available. A number of laps around the lake later and mucho fiddling with the settings by Farqui (can't he leave anything alone!) and we'd found a machine that felt much more stable, was easier to pedal (with less bob), lighter and much more comfortable. The Rockshox Poploc system on both the front and rear shock really rewards all your pedalling efforts in the locked out position and even Farqui had trouble keeping up on a blast over the damn. Whilst there, we found that another lady had just test ridden a Specialized FSR XC Women's and even tho they'd just put down a deposit she was kind enough to let me have a spin around the car park. Compared to the FuelEX it didn't feel as immediately comfortable but it did have a crackin' saddle! - a lady's BG2.

We managed to kick tyres and whiz around the car park on a Scott Genius Contessa over at Rutland Cycling but as it was their display model we weren't allowed to venture around the lake. A few more calls and the most helpful Buckingham Bikes were able to source a medium Contessa for a weekend demo. A return trip to Pitsford allowed us to compare the FuelEX against the Contessa over the same terrain and overall I'd have to report that the Scott felt more nimble, racy and had the most un-female friendly saddle on the planet ! The 3 position, adjustable rear shock was good and made a marked difference to the ride.

A couple more return visits to Pitsford comfirmed that the medium FuelEX was top of the shopping list, especially after trying the smaller 14" which felt much too cramped. Shopping around we found that Cycle Surgery were offering us the best deal and although supply was thin (with new stock on the horizon at this time of year) they were confident that they'd be able to source one. A few weeks later and Rob graciously collected my new ride which was in fine health apart from a sick rear wheel, which was temporarily replaced with a nasty, heavy Specialised unit Trek could source a replacement a week or so later. The first few rides around our familiar local trails were very encouraging and so much easier than my old bike.

A few weeks on and I felt that cockpit was perhaps a little cramped. As the original stem was only 70mm we sourced a 120mm replacement which calmed down the steering nicely. After a couple more rides, I still thought that the cockpit could be made a little longer so the 5mm layback seatpost was swapped out for a 20mm. The next ride was around the unfamiliar territory of Sherwood Pines and I immediately felt much more relaxed and almost 100% more confident, if that's possible. That such subtle adjustments can alter the ride so much is quite amazing. Reading the latest magazine review of a women's FuelEX it appears that this is not an uncommon complaint which is comforting that we already understood the issue.

The only other adjustment has been to fit a Specialized BG2 women's saddle like the one I briefly tried on the FSR XC. The original Bontrgager saddle was exchanged at the point of sale for a Specialized Dolce which looked comfortable but still left me with hot spots.

So I'm now the very proud owner of a bike that I find hard to fault. It's pimped out with carbon loveliness, top flight Shimano bits, reliable Rockshox suspension and I've found that I even like the Shimano integrated, flippy shifter thingies - which drives Farqui nuts when he's trying to setup the gears, hehe.