Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Shutter Precision: Hate the Hub, Hate the Website

This post has been redacted due to the hub failing after less than 100 miles, which is documented in this updated post.

I think few will disagree that flashing text and autoplay music are two things that just shouldn't be on a website.  That said, I only half hate the Shutter Precision 8 Series Dynamo Hubs webpage.  Unfortunately, the half I dislike is a considerably larger half as it's the half with loudly blaring bagpipes.  What sort of connection does a Taiwanese camera company have to bagpipes?  It reminds me of the Starburst Scottish-Korean commercial, but having now just re-watched that commercial since starting this sentence, I'm not sure I understand exactly what Starburst was going for.  I don't think Korean people with Scottish accents are contradictions as much as they are unexpected.  I guess they were just throwing something out there in the hopes that viewers would meet them half-way.  I will not.  In any case, websites should not be allowed to have loud bagpipe intros unless their URL is something like or, both of which are currently available.  Don't wait!  Buy those domains while you can!  Use promo code "TROYMUSTACHE" at for a 75% discount.  Good until 2020!

Now that the Alfine is dead (R.I.P.), it's time to talk about the new kid on the block.  Not that the Alfine was old (only a little over three years), just that in relation to the current new, it's the old new.  Out with the old new and in with the new new.  And the new new is a Shutter Precision PV-8 Dynamo Hub (I will not be linking the website again as it's a clickable bagpipe minefield).  When researching potential new dynamo hubs, I took a few things into consideration: reliability, durability, efficiency, weight, and price.  I took a look at the different options on the Peter White Cycles website, and it looked like I was going to end up getting another Alfine.  The only hub I would have preferred on their site was a Schmidt, but that at nearly $300, I couldn't currently justify that sort of expense (Do you know how many bicycle tours it would take to make that up?).  Plus, I'd had my old Alfine for 10,000 miles, and as a mid-level dynamo, I was very happy with that number and willing to get a second.  Also, I already knew that the Alfine would work properly with my current electrics, so I wouldn't need to worry about output power or connection type.  

As always, though, I bounced my ideas off of other bike people before moving forward with a purchase, and this was how I stumbled onto those terrible bagpipes.  Travis (of Bicycle Revolutions) told me about Shutter Precision, saying that while he didn't have much experience with them, he'd heard good things about their capabilities and price point.  I was intrigued but skeptical.  I did some research, and it looked like SP produced an Alfine-priced hub with Schmidt-level weight and efficiency using their own, brand-new, patented technology (Polar Series Alignment Dynamo™).  What was the catch?  As best as I could tell, the big difference was time in market.  Shutter Precision is a very young company compared to Schmidt and Shimano.  Founded in 2007, they've only mass produced hubs since 2009 (Before that, they were a precision camera optics company, but their green-streak pushed them into bicycles.  You can read more about that here.).  They also don't come with a "50,000 miles before service" guarantee like Schmidt, so that definitely knocked the price down a bit.  I didn't need 50,000 miles from my hub, at least not on Bionic Tibor.  I'll go with a fancy Schmidt hub on my next bike, after this blog blows up with six-figure ad revenue and I stop buying my jeans at Marshalls.

Back to the hub and why I think it's the bee's pajamas, here's a review of SP Dynamo Hubs from Bike Touring News, a more reputable source than myself.  I now had my heart set on the SP PV-8 hub, so I ordered a 36-spoke version and impatiently waited.

While I was moving to a brand new hub type, I still wanted to stay with my existing Velocity Dyad rim.  That rim took the same thumping my Alfine had, but lived to tell the tale.  Sort of.  My grand plan was to get the hub and then rebuild using my old rim.  More specifically, I wanted to rebuild it myself under the tutelage of a seasoned wheel builder.  I'm fairly average on a truing stand, at least good enough to get my own wheels to acceptable levels of true, so I figured the next step would be to learn how to build one from scratch.  So when the hub arrived, I scheduled some after-hours shop time with Kyler, and when I brought in my hub and rim, he took one look at my rim and said that building on that rim was a bad idea.  Recognizing the "huh" look on my face, he showed me that the rim's sidewalls had enough brake wear that I had most likely already passed their half-life.  His recommendation was to get a fresh rim rather than to build on an old rim that may need to be rebuilt again sometime soon, possibly in the middle of a tour.

A few days later, I had my brand new hub as well as my brand new rim, and was ready to party.  Round two of the wheel build was much more successful, though not entirely successful.  We went into the shop on the second Tuesday in November, and due to other goings on that night which will remain unnamed, we only had time for him to show me how to properly lace the hub and get started on tensioning and truing.  I wasn't able to finish that night, but I got a solid foundation on wheel building.

It was a solid foundation that I promptly forgot when I went back to the shop on my own a few days later.  That day I made the rookie mistake of being impatient.  While truing in an every-third-spoke pattern, I overly tensioned some spokes, trying to reach ideal tension at a speedy pace rather than at the recommended slow and steady.  Does anyone know what happens to aluminum when you pull it really hard in one direction while holding it in place in the other direction?

After ordering a second new rim, I decided to leave wheel building to the experts, and here is the end result:

Yes, that fender is held on with duct tape and zip ties, but that is not what you should be looking at.  What you should be looking at is that beautiful, new wheel with its fancy hub and durable rim.  What's that you ask?  Are those light and durable double-butted spokes?  No, they're straight gauge.  Stop judging me.

I finally had my new dynamo-hubbed wheel, but that was not the end of the story.  No, because when I brought that wheel home, and I put that wheel on Bionic Tibor, and I wired up the connector, and I secured the connector to the plug on the hub, and I gave that wheel a spin, only my headlight lit up.  My taillight stayed dim as ever, no matter how fast I spun the wheel.  Hoping increased speed might help the flow of electricity (not a thing), I took BT out for a test ride.  On that test ride, my USB charger worked once I gained enough speed (this is normal), but my taillight still stayed off.  

When I got home, I inspected the wire running from my headlight to my taillight.  There were a few nicks in the wire housing, and when I pulled back part of the housing, I could see powdery, blue corrosion on the wires.  I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it was still just out of reach.  An hour and four solder-points later, I replaced about a foot and a half of wiring, and - Voila! - the taillight again lit up.  Bionic Tibor is once again whole.  Up next, that guy needs a thorough cleaning, degreasing, re-greasing, and rust-removing.  A bicycle owner's work is never done...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

I Broke It: Genny Hub

Well, the hub was, in fact, completely shot.  That Shimano Alfine hub had over 10,000 miles on it, spanning more than twenty states.  Wyoming tried to break it with tank track and hail.  Alaska tried to drown it with days and days of rain.  Hell, this hub had been through the white-outs of Burning Man and the off-road, desert terrain of Jungo Road that leads there.  Not to mention, this hub had ridden the pothole-riddled streets of Philadelphia since 2013, no small punishment for any bicycle.

If you couldn't tell by my back-patting, I'm pretty proud of my deceased hub (and clearly myself).  My original plan was to write out a full eulogy for the little guy, but since we don't hold funerals for severed limbs, that speech will have to wait for the day that Bionic Tibor passes on to the bicycle afterlife.  Oh man, I don't even want to think about that.  Never!  I won't allow it!  I'll just keep getting him welded until he begs me to let him die!

Anyway, after all the rain, hail, snow, mud, sand, dust, and more, that hub was a hub no longer.  Time and the elements had degraded it down to a poorly designed paper weight that would roll away from any table that wasn't perfectly level, not that the inside of it would spin, but the outside was definitely still circular and we all know what circular things do on hills.  

Now is the time for solemnity and reflection while looking back on the years of memories dutifully brought about by this now fallen hub.  Memories of sunrises over smoky mountains.  Memories of friendships made over continental divides.  Memories of accomplished goals and lessons learned.  Death, or in this case mechanical failure, is a serious time for serious people.  That said, who wants to see what the inside of a dynamo hub look like after three years of riding without any service???  Travis and his fellow shop workers down at Bicycle Revolutions had a go at it, and he sent over some pictures of what they found...

Photos courtesy of Travis at Bicycle Revolutions

Holy moly!  That is an awful lot of rust and corrosion, an awful lot of awful rust and awful corrosion.  Serviceable?  No way.  Did I make the right call to end my tour a few days early?  Definitely.  Does it matter that I put those last fifteen rainy miles in Virginia on that raggedy hub?  Eh, I couldn't have ruined it any more than it was already ruined.  It was reassuring to see the inside of that hub, if only to let me know that buying an entirely new hub was the right call, which I had already done a few weeks back.

Now that the autopsy is complete, I feel like I can finally move on.  So much so, that I have already a new wheel built with a new type of dynamo hub.  A new hub which, in my opinion, is way prettier.  Alfine, you were a solid workhorse and you will never be forgotten, but what am I supposed to do?  Lock myself in my room, alone forever?  Sorry buddy, but it's a big world out there, and I need to get out and live in the now.  And the now is a Shutter Precision PV-8.  More on that later.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Culpeper, VA: The End of the Line

About fifteen miles south of Culpeper, VA (not spelled incorrectly), I started to hear the little pops of gravel kicking off of my front tire and into my fender.  This surprised me a bit, as I was riding along the "shoulder" of VA-15, a paved highway with no gravel and little debris.  Shoulder is in quotes, as the width of the space that I rode in did not quite span the distance across an infant's shoulders. A few miles later, it sounded as though the issue was not gravel, instead VDOT had in fact laid down a thick cover of invisible cinders to prepare the roads for the invisible snowstorm that was on its way.  I hadn't realized that VA's DOT had such a large budget, as invisible cinders, custom made as they are, tend to be on the expensive side, but who am I to tell a commonwealth how to spend it's tax dollars.  Anyway, while I didn't find the notion of invisible cinders that odd, I did find it unbelievable that a blizzard was on its way.  It had been in the 90's all week, and I was almost certain that it does not snow while the temperature is that high.

Based on that meteorological assumption, I decided to pull over to see what was causing the racket.  Upon my initial inspection, I noticed a small zip-tie hanging from my frame near my front rim.  I wasn't sure what it had been connected to, but it probably held a cable or wire in place, so I pulled it off and then inspected my wheel for loose hanging bits that could be clanging off of my spoke into my fender.  Nothing.  I hoped it was just the loose zip-tie and continued on my way.

It wasn't the zip-tie!  It wasn't a cable-tie either, if you had been silently correcting me from zip to cable.  My hope at that point was to just ignore it and hope that the sound ceased on its own, an optimistic if not realistic approach to problem solving.  With around ten miles of highway separating me from the city missing a 'P', the sound of gravel kicking off of my fenders finally stopped, but it was replaced by the sound of pebbles kicking off of my spokes.  Invisible pebbles, as you all well know, are where I draw the line.  It was time for drastic measures.

Drastic measures, in this case, meant pulling off of the highway entirely to give a thorough inspection of my front wheel.  Stated like that, it doesn't sound like a drastic measure, but it most definitely was not something I was looking forward to, as the only place to pull over off of the highway was into the thigh-high grass alongside the micro-shoulder.  The tall grass was also a tall, soaking wet grass, as it had been drenched by the steady drizzle of rain that had been falling for the past two days straight and was, at the time, still falling.  Additionally, the sun had already disappeared from the sky, forcing me to find the headlamp I had stowed in a rear pannier.  Dark, wet, roadside repairs were hardly something to look forward to.

Lamped-up as car zipped by just feet away, I lifted up the front of my bike and gave the wheel a spin.  After little over half of a rotation, the wheel wobbled to a stop.  My front hub was a dynamo hub (Shimano Alfine), and the wobble was the magnets within the hub fighting to get the wheel to stop in a specific polar groove.  The wobble wasn't the problem, it was the lack of desire to rotate.  The amount of resistance my hub was exerting meant that this wasn't going to be something that could be fixed with a little grease.  It meant I needed a shop.  I didn't have a shop, so I did the next best thing, which was to pretend nothing was wrong and keep riding.

So ride I did.  For the next ten miles I listened to my poor hub degrade from little pops, to moderate pings, and finally giving way to a loud grinding noise with scattered snaps and cracks.  Along with the advent of the grinding came a steady side-to-side wobble to the wheel and a flickering of my dynamo headlight.  The reason I was on VA-15 was to avoid the hilly side-roads.  There was no way to avoid the hills entirely, though, and every time I reached a downhill stretch, my heart raced as I gained gravity-augmented speed, expecting my front wheel to entirely collapse, tossing me into the highway underneath an F150 with a raised suspension and stars n' bars bumper sticker.

I couldn't have been more relieved to see the glowing sign above the Red Carpet Inn at the southern tip of town.  The front office smelled of home cooking and body odor, a scent profile I'd have found more disconcerting in less inauspicious circumstances.  After checking in, I headed to my room, which was one of the last rooms in the hotel, making it one of the last rooms in the whole town as well as some of its neighboring villages for reasons I still can't imagine.  Less a motel room and more an ashtray with a roof, opening the door released an exhalation of smoke leaving me to wonder if the designation of "Smoking Room" meant that people were allowed to smoke within its confines, or if the room itself actually smoked, and if the latter, where would a hotel room even buy cigarettes?

Stripping out of my wet clothing as quickly as possible, I grabbed a quick, hot shower before bothering to look at what I by now assumed was a thoroughly demolished hub.  Clean and dry, I popped all of the panniers off of Bionic Tibor and then removed my front wheel.  I could barely make it budge without a strong tug.  After 10,000+ miles, my hub had finally given out.  You done well, partner.

It was the last day of September, and I had ridden over 1,100 miles since Jackson, MS a couple weeks prior.  With less than 250 miles to my final destination, I called it a tour.  I wasn't going anywhere without a wheel and I wasn't getting a wheel in Culpeper, VA.  If they couldn't even spell the name of their town right, how could I trust them with a proper wheel build?