Overhaul time: Why is My Bike Soooo Sloooow?

January 21st, 2013 by henry

Almost done; Just a little more Dremel action to make room in the chaincase for the Nuvinci hub’s large shifter unit.

Here is a techie tale of real world, long term product testing and what an enormous influence bike maintenance can have on your cycling pleasure. You may recall that I use my own bike to test components and accessories, usually for a couple years unless something just sucks. Then I just remove it as quickly as possible. If I really like something I just call it “mine” and leave it in place until I have a reason to do otherwise.

About a year ago during a several week cold spell I decided that my own Fr8 was deadly, painfully slow compared to others. But I hate repairing my own bikes so I just kept on riding it through the winter, spring, summer, fall and some more winter until a couple days ago. Nothing was really broken nor made even an annoying peep; I just had the feeling I was pedaling pretty hard while grandmas with flowers in their hands and moms on bakfietsen loaded with four kids glided on past. Was I just a little tired… for an entire year? Cycling on this bike just wasn’t as much fun as our others but usually I wouldn’t notice it and if I did notice I’d forget about it shortly after locking up (or not!) and walking inside.

This is exactly why we exhort you to regularly service your bike, unlike yours truly. A well maintained bike is just nice to ride and a crappy running bike is less so, even if you don’t actually notice it. Why sweat more than you need to? Why feel that click, clack or sloppy drivetrain when you can daily enjoy the pleasure of pedaling along silently and effortlessly. This must be one of the world’s cheapest pleasures.

I assumed the abundant friction in my bike had something to do with the NuVinci N360 infinitely variable hub since that’s its most unusual feature. With the bike in the lift the rear wheel required a good tug to turn and it didn’t spin at all. I was totally wrong about the hub but will get to that later. We’ve discussed the Nuvinci friction thing ad infinitum on the @Workcycles Facebook group. Unfortunately a Facebook group can’t be searched so finding those discussions again would mean hours of scrolling. No doubt Mr. Zuckerberg is snickering this very moment while he employs his own powerful FB search engine to scan the Groups for info about Nuvinci hubs and Workcycles Fr8’s.

I spoke to the folks at Fallbrook/Nuvinci. They assured us that that the cold should have little influence on the hub’s efficiency so there must be something wrong with my hub. A replacement hub was quickly dispatched. It then waited patiently for a half year, for the day that I have both the time and willpower to pull my Fr8 apart, build a new wheel and put it back together. The other day the temperature dropped well below freezing and my rear brake and shifter cables froze. After spinning madly to school and work for a few days in the tiny ratio it was stuck in I declared my bike officially “broken”. The operation could commence. I gathered several other new parts to try and stripped my bike.

With the wheel out of the bike and the rollerbrake removed I clamped the axle in the vise and spun. It spun rather well I must say. I mean this ain’t my track bike whose unsealed, oiled bearing wheels will spin for several minutes before gradually stopping, but the Nuvinci wheel did spin almost as well as most other multigear hubs do. Further, spinning axles with my fingers, I couldn’t detect any difference between the 18 month old, ridden daily and stored outdoors Nuvinci and the brand new one. As far as I can tell this hub is as good as new.

monark-centerstand-workcycles-gr8 1
A fresh, clean Monark centerstand, aka “The Mother of All Centerstands” on the same bike when it sported skinnier tires and a single gear.

What then is dragging my ass down? Could it be the Hebie Chainglider, which “glides” along the chain instead of being attached to the frame? It and the chain running through it were both filled with a gritty, slimy paste of oil and dirt. It was vaguely audible while riding and sounds take energy to create. I decided: Away with Chainglider! I only put it on this bike because I was too lazy to cut up a real Hesling chaincase to fit around the Nuvinci’s shifter interface and the Monark “Mother of All Centerstands”. Actually I’m still kinda lazy; I removed the Monark centerstand and installed another Ursus Jumbo. I’d previously tested and broken one of these but it’s apparently been improved since then. Time to try it again, and very convenient that it just barely fits together with the chaincase.

Fr8 Henry 2012
My bike in the spring with the sludgy Hebie Chainglider still installed. I’m very happy to have a real, silent, frictionless Dutch chain case on my bike again.

Still, I couldn’t believe that either the Chainglider or the filthy (but almost new) chain were really causing so much friction. Spinning the crank backwards the friction was negligible, despite the scraping noises. So the Chainglider wasn’t helping the bike’s efficiency but it also couldn’t have been the root of the problem. Nonetheless a real Dutch chaincase is always better if it fits. After half an hour of Dremel grinding and careful adjustments to the brackets the chain ran through the Hesling case silently and with no friction whatsoever.

Eurobike 2009 14
Shimano Rollerbrakes exposed; The IM80 rollerbrake has a much bigger, sturdier brake unit.

Next stop: Rollerbrakes. The Shimano IM80 rollerbrakes on this bike have performed admirably since I installed them. They stop the bike with authority and have good lever feel too. The braking power was confidence inspiring even while cycling in the steep hills of Brussels with two kids and baggage aboard.

Orange Bike Days-2011 14

Little did I realize, however, that my powerful rollerbrakes were braking ALL the time. Once the rear brake was in my hands it was obvious who the real culprit was; A fine paste of Shimano’s sacred, expensive rollerbrake grease and road dirt filled the brake unit requiring serious hand force to rotate it. The front brake was better but not much. Did I screw them up myself by putting too much grease in them? I don’t remember.

With copious quantities of brake cleaning fluid and compressed air I removed every trace of everything from the brake units. Wonder of wonders they spun almost freely now, rather like the name “Rollerbrake” would imply. No way I’m going to sludge these babies up with that stupid grease again! What else could I put in there to keep them from rusting and lubricate the innards? After a quick inventory of the dozens of little bottles and cans on the Workcycles shelves we decided that a thick, clingy OIL ought to work, even if it violates all instructions, death-warnings and warranties. After all these brakes are fairly well enclosed and don’t see any substantial heat here in cool, mostly flat Amsterdam. The most likely problem I anticipate is that they’ll have to be oiled periodically but whether that means monthly or half yearly remains to be seen. Even generously lubed with oil the rollerbrakes spun quite freely. Back in the bike the rear wheel and brake now spun totally normally.

While I was at it I adjusted the front (dynamo) hub cones: They were waaaay too tight, as delivered from the factory. Now my front wheel spins and spins as if it weren’t filled with magnets and coils. Take that, hub dynamo haters!


Of course I also had to fix the problem that pushed me to tear the bike down in the first place: All four cables were removed and given the super special Workcycles anti-freezing treatment. That was when I discovered that the Nuvinci shifter’s adjustment barrels had rusted solid. I just replaced the whole shifter, noting that the new one came with smoother, drawn cables. This is then the only problem the Nuvinci hub has had thus far, an excellent record for a first generation product.

The last update for the day was swapping the older 44T steel crank for the new Sugino 38T forged aluminium crank we’ve begun using. The 44/20 gearing had always seemed a little on the tall side so I figured 38/20 should be about right. Like the Shimano Nexus 8sp hub we fit thousands of, the Nuvinci’s 1:1 ratio is in the upper middle of the range. That is, these hubs have somewhat more undergearing than overgearing, generally quite handy for heavy duty bikes with full sized wheels.

Everything back in place, grips securely glued to the handlebars… and let’s see how it rides. I rolled out the door, pedaled along and Lijnbaansgracht and immediately found myself spinning out in the highest ratio? Huh? I did lower the gearing but not by so much and it was too high to begin with. It was dinner time so I just continued my spinning session for the kilometer home to deal with the gearing later.

That little silver thing next to the chain is the shifter interface and has to rotate most of the way around the axle – thus the cutaway.

The following morning I hung the bike up again and pulled the wheel to check that the shifter was installed correctly and reaching the full range of ratios. It was. Then I swapped the 20T cog for an 18T making the gearing almost the same as the old (too tall) 44/20. That was a considerable improvement but bizarrely the gearing is still much too low. Once up to speed on any flat road I just twist it into the highest ratio. Even the steepest bridges require shifting down to only about halfway through the range. So I’ll try 17T and 16T when I find them.

The upshot is that I’ve basically been dragging a plow around behind my bike for at least a year. Fixing the brakes, chaincase and front hub wasn’t just a “marginal gain”. It has improved the bike’s efficiency by so much that it can be ridden much faster with the same effort. I can’t be bothered to do the math but it really must be at least a 25-30% speed difference. That’s huge. Faster is funner and easier is nicer… so maintain your bikes folks! It really matters.

Damn Near Lost My Fr8 Bike

December 26th, 2012 by henry

Reenactment of the scene of the crime that could have but didn’t happen… except that P1 is happy in this photo instead of P2 going full-on tantrum boneless.

To cut to the chase I allllmost lost our beloved Workcycles Fr8 bike. In most every other alternate universe it would have been stolen.

Monday morning I couldn’t find the Fr8’s keys. I never, ever lose keys, so of course I assumed it must have been the fault of “she who misplaces keys”. We checked all the likely jacket pockets but with four year old already ambivalent about going out to play and quickly losing patience I just grabbed the Cargobike keys instead. But just before heading downstairs I looked outside to see who rode the Fr8 last. We park it in one of several racks in front of our house, usually where it is in the photo below.

bike racks outside our home in amsterdam.
Two of the five bike racks in front of our home. Fr8 is in the upper left of the image (with light blue carriers).

But wait, I could see from the window that the saddle was adjusted for me, not for “she who sometimes misplaces keys”. I was thus the last one to ride the bike so its keys are wherever I put/left them a few days ago when the Fr8 was last ridden a few days ago. The plot thickens. P1 and I go the three flights downstairs to the outside world and before unlocking the bakfiets we check the Fr8. Could he who never, ever loses keys actually have left the keys in the bike? Yep, there they were just hanging in the rear wheel lock. The (very protective when actually locked) Abus Granit City Chain was still wrapped in its bundle around the child saddle frame. It’s the perfect place to keep your chain lock by the way. So there it is: I left the keys in my €1500 bike for several days in the middle of Amsterdam, one of the bike theft capitals of the world… and nobody took it. I’m guessing nobody noticed it.

How could I pull such a boneheaded move? Well, firstly I’m just a bonehead sometimes. Just ask the trainer at our Wednesday evening track racing classes. But also anybody with young kids understands the general scenario: You’ve just arrived home with 2 year old daughter who you picked up at daycare after work. It’s the Friday before the Christmas vacation so the kids are partied and danced out. On the way home we stop at the grocery store to pick up some needed items. Maybe papa refuses to buy some strategically placed holiday item that little girl wants, or perhaps little girl is just hungry and tired. In any case little girl does just what any self respecting two year old does when they don’t get their way: Tantrum! Turn instantly into a desperate, crying, writhing, wriggling invertebrate creature. After succeeding in wrestling the writhing, now screaming invertebrate two year old into her bike seat you ride the couple minutes home in the driving rain hoping she won’t somehow manage to Houdini her way out of the five point harness. Needless to say the child saddle behind the handlebar is NOT appropriate under such conditions.

Upon arriving home you find an empty spot in the bike racks, carefully release the now frantic storm of a child from her seat, holding her securely around the middle. You grab your bag and the groceries from the bike’s bin and dash inside, out of the rain, of course carefully picking your way across the bike path thick with the evening’s bike and scooter traffic. You get inside warm home, remove wet clothes and shoes and two year old usually snaps seamlessly back into normal child mode. Family sits down for dinner and all is fine. Except that your bike is unlocked outside with the keys hanging in the lock.

I assume this sounds familiar to most every parent because I hear it all the time at Workcycles, usually while discussing the details for a new bike to replace the stolen one. People say “It was my own fault; I left the keys in the bike.” No, that’s total BS. Keys in the bike or not it was stolen. Yes, you made the job much easier but the asshole who took your bike is still a thief. An honest person would leave it alone. A good Samaritan would find a way to help you, perhaps locking the bike and leaving a note with their phone number or email.

Anyhow I’m tremendously relieved that we still have our Fr8.

Racing Bikes at Workcycles? Really?!

November 14th, 2012 by henry

Baan wielrennen 2012-14
The Workcycles crew, plus and minus some at the Amsterdam Velodrome. Is it still there Johan?

Yeah really, seriously. A point I’ve been repeatedly hammering home over the years is that, in typical Dutch style, we just dig cycling in all it’s many flavors. Just because one gets around by bicycle doesn’t mean they can’t also get a kick out of cycling just for the fun of it. I write periodically (as periodically as I can manage at least) about bike touring with my family, bike racing, my weekly training at the velodrome and this is totally typical of the Workcycles crew and the Dutch in general. Amongst us we’ve one ex trackie/roadie, a couple globetrotting bike tourists, several vintage bike nuts and the tiniest, cutest little BMXer you’ve ever seen. And you can’t work here unless the bike is your daily transportation. Show up for your job interview on a scooter, no job dude. After all, how can you be an expert in bikes if you don’t ride one? All in all there’s a whole lotta bike love going on here. A bit of scooter dissing too, but for good reason. Not only do we ride all kinds of bikes, we also build, repair and restore them… more about that below.
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Amsterdam’s First Holiday Sale… @Workcycles!

November 7th, 2012 by henry

We always joke about how the Christmas sales and decorations and all that stuff come earlier every year. But now that I think about it I’ve been hearing this since my childhood so it can’t really be true. Even if the commercial exploitation of the holidays have been beginning just two days earlier each year the lights and fake snow would be going up just about as the kids head back to school, still brown from the summer holidays. So I guess it’s just one of those things we just think and talk about even though it’s total BS.

Here in the Netherlands the crass commercialization of Christmas isn’t nearly as crass and ridiculous as I remember it being in the US, partially because Sinterklaas (Santa’s grittier, politically incorrect, arguably racist Euro cousin) banished Santa long ago to the US and the North Pole. We don’t even have a Grinch here! Actually Dr. Seuss, the bestest kids’ books in the whole wide world are almost unknown here. Unfortnately for the Dutch, some things just don’t translate well.

Regardless of what and when the rest of the world is selling for Christmas we at Workcycles are having a really cool sale, starting now and running through the holidays. It’s really cool because it’s a great offer, because discounts on Workcycles bikes are as common as jet powered reindeer, and because Workcycles bikes are just plain old cool. At least we think so, even if we also crassly exploit the holidays commercially.

Here’s the deal:
Purchase a new bike from Workcycles in November or December and get up to 15%* of the value of the bike in gifts**!

You can choose gifts such as:
Crate, basket, saddle cover, kick scooter, runbike, panniers, gift certificate, maintenance, repairs, child seat, canopy, windscreen, box cover, book, LED light, helmet, special options and adaptations such as winter tires, another bike… basically, pretty much everything that’s not bolted to the bike.

* The 15% offer is valid for city bikes, Fr8’s, Gr8’s and kids’ bikes. For two-wheeled cargo bikes and three-wheeled cargo trikes (bakfietsen) 10% applies.

** Exceptions are: the bike and its components, such as front and rear carrier, the Fr8 child saddle, bike insurance and basic options such as gearing and brakes.

Here’s an example, just to be 100% clear about how the deal works:
Jan-Kees has done his research and has been plotting for a while how he can justify the purchase of a Workcycles Fr8 cross-frame with City front carrier and child saddle for his daughter (€1239 with VAT). She who wears the pants (or “trousers” for those in the UK!) in the family is skeptical. Wisely and magnanimously Jan-Kees takes (for FREE!) a pink Micro Mini scooter as Sietske’s x-mas gift, and… he secretly brings girlfriend Femke’s bike into Workcycles for a set of fresh tires, a sturdy 2-leg parking stand and a new saddle to replace the one that’s spilling its gel guts out. Jan-Kees, you see, is a romantic guy just like me! The women are happy and so is smart Jan-Kees ’cause he’s riding in style on his dream Fr8 with Sietske between his arms. We call that a win-win situation.

You can visit to buy the bike or you can order by email, by phone, or perhaps even try your luck ordering by Twitter or Facebook. We’re happy to ship just about anywhere the brown truck goes. Or visit Amsterdam for the holidays and bring a bike home…

Tell your friends and family. Get them cycling around town too and maybe some of those freebies will even find their way back to you as holiday gifts. What would we call that anyhow? “Meta-gifting?” “Me-gifting?” “Gift inducing?”

Workcycles bikes; The bike that keeps on giving! Or something like that.

Bikes on Dikes

September 12th, 2012 by henry

Aemstelhoeve bike camping trip 19

The wife and kids are back from their hot and lazy summer in Japan so we’ve been working double time the last couple weeks to get some proper Dutch summer family activities it. And we’ve been thankfully lucky enough to (finally!) have good weather too. Our favorite weekend activity is, as I’ve previously written about, bike touring with the family. Even a little two day tour within Holland gets everybody outside and is a great adventure for the kids. Sometimes we sleep in a hotel, sometimes we camp. Of course the young ‘uns totally dig sleeping in a tent… and whether it’s in verrewegistan or in a nearby park doesn’t matter at all. A tent’s a tent and that’s not a house and that’s apparently what counts.
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My Wicked New ANT “Road Bike”

July 30th, 2012 by henry

henry's ANT road bike on amstel

In and of itself me getting a new bike shouldn’t be all that interesting to you. This particular story though has connections that make it worth telling. There’s the story of why Mike Flanigan of ANT built me a bike. There’s the story of how the plan for a family touring bike became a road/time-trial race bike which later became a more versatile all-around road bike. Then there’s the bike itself which is a sort of Workcycles of the road bike world.
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Sleeping on the Bike

June 18th, 2012 by henry

There’s something about the rhythmic motion and sounds of cycling that lulls kids to sleep. My kids doze off in all manner of situations, some convenient and some rather unhandy. They’re obviously going to sleep on the way home in the evening from a long day out but climbing one handed several kilometers out of a valley in Burgundy while cradling your daughter’s head is an exercise in patience and subtle anti-cramping techniques. In a bakfiets it’s no problem at all; the bottom of our bak is actually lined with egg-crate foam for this purpose. Regardless I just can’t resist taking pictures of the tots crashed out on the bike. Below some of my favorites with commentary:

Henry P1 Amstel
We began practicing the various head supporting techniques shortly after P1 began riding in a seat (rather than in a Maxi-Cosi cot in the bakfiets). At 9 months old he would fall asleep after about half an hour of squealing glee on the road.
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Bikes, Trains, Planes and Automobiles

May 29th, 2012 by henry


Bike transport is a constant challenge at Workcycles. People from all over the world mail, call, skype, tweet, facebook, flickr and visit to buy our special bikes but unless they live in the Netherlands actually getting that bike to them can be expensive. Customers are sometimes incredulous at what it costs to ship a utility bike or trike to their home in another country and sometimes respond with something like “But Chain Relaxion will send a crabon racing bike to me for €10.” Perhaps they will but that’s really a horse of a different color. That crabon, Campagimano equipped Pinarosa weighs less than a ciabatta and can be packed, wheels off, in a torsionally stiff, vertically compliant box the size of its compact geometry frame. Further Chain Relaxion ships about a gazillion packages per day so they get enormous discounts from the shipping firms who want them dearly as customers, and really aren’t all that flexible with high-maintenance, low turnover, little customers like Workcycles.
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Where’s Cargo?

May 15th, 2012 by henry

Where's Bakfiets?

My friend and former colleague Alex in Vancouver sent this picture of a Workcycles Cargobike buried under a tasteless display of kickballs in a Whole Foods organic grocery store. Wouldn’t it be better to just ride it, or maybe loan/rent it to customers?
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One Day Without Shoes

April 12th, 2012 by henry

one day without shoes

One Day Without Shoes

Thanks to Odin Heyligen for the photo.