2019: Ibis ==> Rohloff

The Continuing Conversion of The Ibis

Here is the story of the acquisition of our Ibis Forte, it’s restoration and the later upgrade of the drivetrain to a Rene Herse 10-speed triple.

Here is a post about shearing off the tabs on that Rene Herse spider.

Here is a series of posts about converting a custom road frame (from Franklin Frames) to Rohloff in advance of our trip to Tibet.

The Spring of 2019 was a tough one for me.

After the failure of the Ibis’ spider, I mounted another Rene Herse crankset that I’d taken off of the Fuji.  (I’d replaced it on the Fuji after wedging a chain into it and feeling pretty certain that I’d bent the crank and not a chainring.)  When I put it on the Ibis I was surprised to find that it worked acceptably – after I got the right chainrings bolted on I could get it into all three rings and it seemed to shift okay.  However, by the end of 2018 I was having issues with shifting and I was getting anxious about how long it would be until the cranks gave out on me.  About half the time when I went to shift up from granny the chain would slip between the two rings and not engage.  It had been about 1,000 miles since I’d had the bike serviced so I took it in to R+E before New Years for regular maintenance.  They called me all excited to say that the spider was bent and the chainrings were warped by about 5mm.  I told them that I  knew and that I intended to do something about it eventually.  I confirmed with John that I could put the original Specialized triple back on and that it would work with the 10-speed derailleur and chain.

Knowing that I needed to deal with the Ibis’ drivetrain got me thinking about where it fit in my quiver.  I was simultaneously dealing with the consequences of not being able to get the right front crank arm tight enough on the red tandem (I must have ridden it loose all the way through Spain.)  After some agonizing, I decided that I wanted to set the Ibis up to be bullet-proof and to make it the bike of choice for wet rides, long climbs, and unpaved tours.  I also wanted a tandem where I didn’t have to put up with a constant stream of  suggestions from the back about shifting down to a smaller chainring.  It seemed to me that a Rohloff setup would do the trick on both counts.

I figured that the extra weight of the Rohloff system would be a smaller percentage of the total on a tandem than it was on the Franklin.  I figured that I would still be able to get the bike into two cases that weighed under 50 lbs.   I knew that Rohloff hubs wouldn’t come threaded for a drum brake so I’d need to convert to a disc brake if I wanted a drag brake for my stoker.  If I was going to have a disc mount welded on, I figured I might as well have the braze-ons added for the OEM Rohloff configuration, and avoid the torque-arm I’d had to accept on the Franklin.

I talked to John about the project and he laughed about it being cheaper to just buy a new bike.  Mike gave me a funny vibe about maybe scheduling it for September and about it costing eight or ten thousand dollars.  He went silent when I asked him about next steps and when I followed up he said he would get back to me in a couple of weeks. I finally leaned on him for a quote and he asked me to outline exactly what I wanted.  Here’s the email I sent him at that point:

1) R+E will build a wheel on a Rohloff hub that they source (36 spoke, 26″ rim, disc brake)
2) R+E will build a wheel on a SONdelux generator hub that they source (36 spoke, 26″ rim)
3) R+E will weld a brace on the seat / chain stay, install hardware for disc brake and remove the drum brake attachment
4) R+E will weld on the hardware required for the OEM Rohloff configuration
5) R+E will repaint the rear triangle (grey to light-grey fade)
6) R+E will install the specialized crankset that I provide on existing phil wood bottom brackets
7) R+E will source & install a single chainring on the stoker drive-side crank and will source & install new chains as required
8) R+E will source & install a Gebla Robox, cables & cable splitters
9) R+E will source, modify & install Campy 11-speed brifters
10) R+E wil source and install a rear disc brake, cables & cable splitter (mechanical drag set-up with existing bar-end stoker lever)
11) R+E will retape handlebars

We will use existing tires, big squeeze cantilever brakes, seat posts, handlebars headset, etc.

I’ll deal with racks & lights. no need for new padding

Mike then told me it would be a couple more weeks before he got back to me.  I was increasingly worried about how long the drive train would last, so I got fenders for the red tandem in order to have a bike I could ride in the rain.  By March, when I hadn’t heard from him, I emailed and learned that it would be yet a couple more weeks because the owner was out of town.

I was unhappy about another encounter with no call-back, so I decided that I was done and that I would wait until he called me.  I noted that the first bike I bought at R+E was a 1999 Stellar – I’d been a customer for 20 years. I figured that between regular maintenance, the custom tandem, the two touring bikes and the work on the Ibis and the Franklin,  I’d spent well over $50K in their shop.  They probably have other customers like that,  but even a little guy ought to get called if you say you’re going to call him.  Even though I’m an admitted  retro-grouch who shares most of their positions about steel frames, rim brakes, etc.,  I concluded that there were other bike shops in town and that I needed to find one that showed that they wanted my business.  I still wondered if I was being unreasonable or unjustifiably cranky or if it was a personality change related to aging or getting hit by cars.  After thinking about it I decided I’d always been like that.

When I’d taken the red tandem in for service I’d called out the loose crank and I got it back with no comment about that problem.  It was riding okay even with the worn crank and despite the warp the Ibis was rideable, too – so I wasn’t in too big of a hurry.  I was also dealing with some other situations that made me wonder AITA.  In mid-March I had a difficult PNA finance committee meeting where I directly asked the executive director if she was taking anything under the table.  Ultimately I resigned as an officer and director saying that I didn’t want to be associated with certain of their business practices.  The president requested details and I gave her a couple of pages of specifics, and then – radio silence.  I was pretty convinced that I didn’t have any alternative, but I still wondered if I was being unreasonable or unjustifiably cranky or if it was aging or the cars.

At the end of May Odette and I went to Corsica with the red tandem,  Normally I would have serviced the bike before a tour, but I was still waiting for a call from R+E and only had a little over a thousand miles on it since it was serviced in January.  Instead I took my Rodriguez Adventure in to Recycled Cycles to have them build a new wheel.  (I beat up the rear wheel trying to keep up with Alex on the Grand Ridge trail and then trashed it trying to fix it myself.)  I’d always had that bike serviced at R+E but there was no doubt in my mind that the guys at Recycled Cycles could do just as good of a job with it.  Their next slot was over a month out so I dropped it off with them planning to pick it up when we got back from our tour.

Unfortunately, even though I torqued it down really hard,  the loose crank on the red tandem made horrible noises and kept moving for the whole trip to Corsica.  When we got back we took a couple of rides on the Ibis and kept dropping the chain, so I decided that it was time to deal with tandem maintenance.   I decided that I’d take the red tandem in to G&O Family Cyclery –  a shop in our neighborhood that sells cargo and  long bikes.  I told them that I wanted a basic tune-up and that I wanted to replace the loose crank.  As I expected, they weren’t able to source a DaVinci crank and besides, they figured  that it was not likely that DaVinci would sell a single, non-drive-side crank for the front of a tandem.  I said that I’d buy the parts at retail but that I wanted them to do the installation because I was concerned about getting the chain length right.  They decided that they could work on a tandem (although they suggested that I should really take it to R+E) but it would be a month until I could get an appointment there, too.

Shortly after making that appointment I got an email from John at R+E asking what had happened.  I replied that I’d gotten the message that they didn’t want my business but that if they were willing to convert the Ibis I was still interested.  (It turned out that one of the guys at G&O was a former R+E employee.)  I felt victorious, and doubly so since I had learned in late May that the PNA executive director had announced her resignation.  (I don’t think that it was a coincidence that she stepped down a matter of weeks after I made a scene, or that a couple of months later they were looking for a new bookkeeper.)

I ordered a full set of DaVinci tandem cranks (partly because the style of spider for the timing chains had changed but mainly so that I could get a set of matched chainrings installed by somebody who knew their way around tandems.)  I had self extracting bolts and a 53-42-30 set of FSA chainrings installed (compared to the 56-44-28 rings that I had been riding with. )  I kept riding the Ibis and cussed every time it dropped the chain.  John at R+E got me a quote for the conversion and it was right where I expected it to be (and comparable to what we spent converting the Franklin).  He had questions about decals and painting that were easily resolved.  I agreed to proceed with the conversion and said I’d bring the bike in a put down a deposit right after the 4th of July holiday.

Odette and I were scheduled to do the RCC Mazama ride over Washington Pass at the end of June (just before my appointment at G&O) and I wasn’t sure that the crank on the red tandem was going to make it.   I thought I’d substitute the right front Specialized crank that had originally come on the Ibis.  Then I realized that as soon as I had a reliable tandem to ride I needed to put the Specialized cranks on the Ibis – so I thought it made more sense to “borrow” a Rene Herse right front off of that bike – but I needed to have a tandem to ride while the red tandem was in the shop. I had a couple of non-tandem crank sets in the parts bin and I figured I could use one of those and just screw the pedal in backwards.  Then it hit me that I’d saved the crank that remained when the rear spider on the Ibis failed. The threads on that were correct – so I mounted a Rene Herse skeleton with fracture lines from where the spider had broken off and it actually looked and worked okay.  (Here’s the crank with the broken spider still on the Ibis.)

We rode 150 miles and climbed 10,000 feet on the red tandem with no issues and before the 4th of July holiday I delivered the bike and the new cranks to G&O to be serviced.  I also installed the Specialized cranks on the Ibis – splicing in a section of 9-speed chain to the timing chain since the rings on that side went from 30T to 36T.  I left the drive-side chain alone, even though the gearing went from 50-36-28 to 54-42-32.  The first time we took it out the spliced section of the timing chain broke (one of the links broke, not one of the master links.)  I had a 10-speed master in my toolkit in case something happened to the drive chain, but I didn’t anticipate breaking a timing chain so i didn’t have a 9-speed link.  Odette took a Lyft home and came came back in the car to collect me.  The next day things went better.

The G&O guys did the service and installed the new cranks, calling me three or four times in the process.  They weren’t  familiar with tandems and couldn’t ever get the rear shifting adjusted to their satisfaction.  When they gave it back to me (after three days of work) they said that they didn’t have a tool to tighten the S&S couplers and told me that I should go to R+E and have that done.  They also recommended new cable housings and shifters, and maybe a new rear derailleur.  (I’m pretty sure that the shifters and derailleur are in good shape.)  The new chainrings made a real difference in the way the bike rode and I found the shifting to be pretty good (it isn’t quite right in the middle of the cassette, but the front works much better than it ever used to.)  It is funny that a 3T difference in the big ring means that instead of only using it when I crest hills, I’ve gone to riding in it most of the time.  A 2T smaller middle ring changes how quickly I spin out there, too.  I haven’t used it much yet at all, but the bottom doesn’t go down as far with this new set up.  That’s what the Ibis is going to be for.

The Tuesday after the Independence Day holiday I took the Ibis in to R+E.  John asked me if I wanted the derailleur hanger taken off when they removed the drum brake attachment (I said no.)  He said that they would need to add a rear eccentric, but he felt that the cost for that would be about $500.  He told me to expect about a 6-week turn-around.  I went home and ordered lights and wires.  Then I waited…

After seven weeks I emailed John asking for a status report.  He replied that the frame work was done and that the rear triangle was in the paint shop.  He said that all of the  parts were in house and that he expected it to be done within a week.  That was on Tuesday.  On Friday he emailed me asking if I wanted them to install a disc brake, indicating that they would have to order a rotor which would take a few days.   I told him that, yes, I wanted a disc brake, set up as a drag brake controlled by the stoker and using the existing bar-end lever and cable routing.  He said okay, it would be ready by a week from Saturday.  Then the next day I got a call from Mike.  He said that they didn’t get the dynamo hub on Friday that they were expecting and that it was going to be another week – evidently not knowing that John had already set that expectation.  He wasn’t familiar with the lack of a rotor saying that they’d had everything they needed for the brakes in the shop.  I refrained from saying anything about checking your parts list before you’re scheduled to install the stuff.

On the Saturday after Labor Day, almost exactly two months after I dropped it off, I got a voicemail saying that the conversion was done.  I rode the red tandem over to the shop to drop it off for service and pick up the Ibis (The wait time to get a tandem serviced at R+E was under a week.)  Odette drove over (I was faster than she was!) to haul the old wheels home so that I didn’t have to lash them to the rack.

The Ibis looked great.  It definitely looked cleaner and less jury-rigged than the Franklin did post-conversion. They did a fabulous job routing the cables with a little fin on the chain stay to mount three cable stops.  The hardware required for the OEM installation essentially meant new dropouts with trillium cutouts – which look really cool.  (They had to put curves into the seat-stays to make everything fit but it works for me and they did remove the derailleur hanger in the process.)  They went with a new 42T chainring saying that it was the best fit for a tandem in combination with the 16T cog Rohloff recommends. Surprisingly, they cleaned the spliced timing chain but didn’t feel that it needed to be replaced. The brifters are Campy Chorus 12 speed and not 11 speed (not that it matters.) The repainted back half blends really well with the original paint job on the front – it just looks nicer.  They comped me the rotor.

I got it home and went to work mounting the lights so that we’d have them for a rainy ride the next day. (R+E built the front wheel with a SON28 hub instead of the SON Delux I thought I wanted –  probably a better choice since it means I can splice in a charger if I ever want to.)  I found that soldering the co-axial plug for the wheel hookup was more than I was prepared for that evening,  so I just crimped on some spade connectors and voila, the headlight worked.  I improvised the taillight installation since the rack didn’t have any holes – two little P-clamps did the trick really nicely.  I didn’t have a crimping tool so I was removing insulation with a leatherman blade and it wasn’t pretty.  For some reason plugging in the taillight made the headlight shut off – which I finally overcame with an extension to run the ground to a bolt on the fork  (instead of to the headlight mount.)  I’m not sure what was going on there since the taillight doesn’t ground to the frame, but the lights worked for our maiden voyage.

I still need to get a co-axial plug on the headlight cable – if I can’t make it work with my soldering gun I’ll send it back to Peter White and have him do it.  If I end up doing that I’ll have him fabricate a cable for the taillight with a co-axial connector at the mid-point.  Either way I want to switch to straight cable runs attached with cable-ties.  I need to put lock washers on the taillight bolts.   I’ve got a pair of lowrider brackets that I’m going to mount to see how they work with 26-inch wheels.  When these tires wear out I’ll get wider ones.  Otherwise it’s converted.

No photos with lights and bags, but I strapped on a large size Swift randonneur bag and we were off.

We rode it up Capitol Hill and around the southern end of Mercer Island before riding the northern part of the loop around the lake and then up to the ridge so that we could get a feel for how it climbed.  The answer was not well – we averaged 10 mph on a route that we would probably have done at 12 mph on the un-converted bike. I did, however, determine that converting to Rohloff doesn’t eliminate the stream of advice from the back.  (Afterwards Odette told me that her legs ached and that it had been a lot more work than it should have been.)  I think that the speed and effort thing is mainly learning curve (although the 26-inch wheels don’t help with speed.)   The plan now is to persevere – we need to stop shifting down too soon, we need to stop shifting down so far, and we need to stop being so cranky all the time.