Thursday, November 12, 2009

FSA V Drive MegaExo Crankset Review

Bought this for a Trek hardtail replacement frame that I have been using for a wet weather commuter.  Since I now have a new dedicated commuter, I'm slowly changing the frame back to a mountain machine.  I thought this would be a good choice because a) I'm a new fan of external bottom-brackets and b) it was pretty cheap.  The chainrings look pretty nice - pins and ramps abound.  The cranks are pretty lightweight - hope they are durable, since I have read some mixed reviews about their strength.

The bottom bracket cups went on pretty smoothly.  I had a "BB7000" model, which has a plastic "sleeve" between the two cups that the spindle goes through.  While this is cheesy, I'm pretty sure that it is largely irrelevant to the operation of the cranks (many external BBs doesn't have a "sleeve" at all).  The cups only require a Park BBT-9 tool to install, which works on Shimano and Campy external BBs - obviously someone screwed up since it does not require a proprietary tool (although FSA does have it's own version of the tool).  The crank  comes with a Torx wrench for the chainring bolts, in case you don't have one (and if so, might as well suck it up and get some - they are the future).

The only confusing part about mounting the cranks is that there appears to be several sizes of the BB and you need to know which one to use to determine how many spacers you need to install.  I never saw anything about different BB sizes when I bought the thing, so I'm not sure what the deal is there.  The one I have was supposed to be used for BB-mounted derailleurs, which I don't have.  I ended up guessing that the derailluer mount was about the size of one spacer and acted accordingly - I, of course, backed it up with caliper measurements.  The problem was that the chainline was off when after I installed, so I had to remove at put the spacer on the left-side cup (I initially put it on the right, since that is where a BB-mounted FD would have been installed).  Chainline was perfect after that.  FSA really needs to work on their installation instructions regarding spacers, BB size, and chainline.  By the way - one of the o-rings already came installed on the spindle.  This was a little confusing, since the instructions say there are two, but there is only one loose one (for the left side).

The spindle does not inspire as much confidence as my Campy cranks.  In my opinion, the hirth joint on the Campys appears much more stable than than the FSA - which is basically just secured to the left-side crank by a fixing bolt and two opposing 5MM bolts on the crank arms.  There are splines on the spindle that match up to the crank, but they are fairly shallow.  I'll see how this works out - I can imagine potential slippage due to a lot of touque, but only time will tell (might just be paranoid).  Once installed, the resistance on the cranks was way more than a normal, adjusted BB, but about the same as my external Campy BB when I first installed it (it loosened up after 500 miles, or so, but still has more resistance than a conventional BB).

As far as their operation, they are nice and stiff compared to the Shimano sealed BB I had on there before.  No creaking when riding and the bearings are loosening up (but don't think they will ever be as loose as a conventional BB).  The chainrings shift very smoothly.  So far, so good.  I'll update of there are any problems.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Seal Line Urban Backpack Review

Finally retired my Timbuk 2 bag after 10 years of daily use - the waterproof lining was pretty shot and it just wasn't waterproof anymore.  So, I decided to go with the Seal Line Urban Backpack.  I wanted something that was super waterproof (living in Seattle) and was a backpack.  I looked at Banjo Brothers biking backpacks and Ortlieb messenger bags.  Banjo Brothers pack was kinda ugly and the Ortlieb was a little on the expensive side and, well, are kind of everywhere in Seattle.  I ended up buying the Seal Line at Amazon for a pretty good price with free shipping.  The reviews I read were good (but were done by people getting free backpacks from Seal Line) and it is made in Seattle.  I also bought the organizer at Amazon.  I think that the organizer should be included with the backpack, but, alas, it is not.

First of all, this pack is quite roomy.  Out of all the backpacks I looked at, this was by far the biggest.  It was also lighter than the Ortlieb - not that I am a weight weenie, but lighter can't hurt, as long as it is durable.  I haven't really loaded it down yet, but I hauled a pretty good load the first day I was using it - including an eight inch cake still in the pan (long story).  The cake fit very nicely flat on the bottom, since the pack kind of has an oval shape.  All in all, I probably had a good 15 pounds in it.  I could really load this thing up with clothes and/or groceries, but haven't yet.  The organizer isn't so hot - it needs some bigger pockets, but it is better than nothing - I put a wallet, phone(s), checkbook, keys, pens, and a few other small items.  It also has a built-in outer pocket (the black "patch" on the outside) which is pretty roomy.  I put a small frame pump, some tools, and an ID badge in it - still a lot of room left over.  The pack does pretty well with a small load, but you can't "roll it down" more than the three recommended rolls, but it collapses fairly well and doesn't look that huge.

As for comfort, it is much better than a "messenger style" bag.  The sternum straps and waist belt stop any movement well.  I think you may not really need the waist belt, but I haven't tried it without yet.  I have an 11 mile each-way commute and it it felt great.  I'll have to wait for the summer months to try out the 40 mile "detour" (which was hell with a messenger bag).  One thing I noticed was that it doesn't help you keep your back straight, which a messenger bag tends to do, since it rides lower on your back.  This isn't a problem, but I always liked being forced to straighten my back, since I tend to bend it.  Overall, I really feel it is a better fit and design than a messenger bag.  One thing to note - I think this bag really does increase your wind resistance.  The design of the roll-down flap keeps the upper part of the bag sticking out beyond your shoulders.  I had a 15 MPH head-wind the other day and I'm pretty sure I could feel some slow down (above and beyond the usual).  This is a little concerning for me, but I'll live with it.  It also obstructs vision very slightly - a very casual glance back to look behind you and you see some of the top of the bag - I need to twist my head a little but more, but it is not a big problem at all.

Finally, for waterproofness.  The first day I used it I rode in a pretty raging Western Washington November storm.  It was raining, heavily.  After 40 minutes or so in this, everything in the bag (including the outer pocket) was bone dry.  I wonder about durability of the lining, but no way to tell about that after having it for a week.  The bag material is different than Ortlieb, which kind of looks like it is vinyl.  The Seal Line has kind of a cordura-like material, with what looks like a coating inside.  don't know the difference between the two, but they are different - might be worth some research.  The other concern I have about durability is the zipper on the outside pocket.  While it looks totally durable and is waterproof, I think that lots of use may take a toll on it.  Overall, I think it will work great and all I have read makes it seem like it will last, you never know until people have been using them for a long time.

Overall, so far, so good.  Comfortable, waterproof, light, and roomy.  Downsides are wind resistance and very slight vision obstruction.

BTW - Shoes in the photos are size 10 1/2....

UPDATE: Well, it's been almost six months with daily use of this bag.  It is holding up great.  There are no cracks/wear in the lining and the outside zipper is still working perfectly.  It wasn't the rainiest winter on record, but this thing was fully waterproof through some pretty heavy downpours.  So far, very durable.  I do not ride with the waist strap unless I am carrying a very heavy load, but the bag remains stable.   The only additional drawback I have noticed is a tendency for the straps to loosen slowly every few weeks.  Not a big deal - you just tighten up the Fastex buckle and you are good to go.