Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wherein I venture into the world of big wheels

Black and yellow 2008 Redline Monocog 29er.
For more than a year I've conceptually evaluated the idea of myself on 29-inch wheels. I've had intermittent rides on several big-wheeled bikes, interplayed with a continuous internal discussion weighing the tradeoffs of wheel size, proportions, etc., and underlaid with convoluted self-justification for bike acquisition. All the while, I've been selling off underutilized bikes and equipment with a goal of more easily managed rolling stock. When a used 2008 Redline Monocog 29er frameset showed up on Craigslist priced entirely too reasonably, my last excuse was vanquished.

New-to-me 2008 Redline Monocog 29er, size XL (21").
As long as it has wheels and she gets to run along with it, Scout approves.
I really like the Monocog's Atari-esque '80s style graphics. 
The plunge was made easier by the fact that since I'd been clearing out the stable a bit, I'd built up a decent bundle of bike spendable loot from the proceeds. At the same time, many of the parts to build out the frame had either been in my stash for years, or had recently shown up, meaning that it wasn't much of a stretch to finish out the build. However, instead of just using only whatever parts I had on hand, I decided to splurge a little. The Monocog would be more than a personal testbed for 29" wheels, but also for a few key pieces of equipment that I've been wanting to try for some time. After cleaning and waxing the frame, I got down to the fun of putting it all together.

Nothing groundbreaking here, just dependable Avid BB7 disc brakes; 160mm rear, 180mm front. The Redline chain tensioners make for rock solid wheel placement. A 20-tooth Surly cog is obscured from view. 
Even though the frame came with a square taper bottom bracket, I opted for the 175mm TruVativ Firex crankset Gypsy Nick left with me during his last visit. I installed a new Surly 32-tooth ring and a bash ring.
VP Components VP-001 pedals are much flashier than their name implies. Gold, of course, to complement the Monocog's Pac-Man graphics.
Nicely wide Salsa Rustler Bar 2, Ergon GP1 BioKork grips, and Avid levers finish off the controls.
As I was making plans for what I wanted to do with the Monocog, a non-negotiable element was to be a wide handlebar. I'd initially wanted to find a 780mm wide Salsa Whammy bar that I so enjoyed on the Surly Krampus, but they seem not to exist outside of the stock Krampus parts kit. Instead, I discovered the 750mm wide Salsa Rustler 2, as newly spec'd on the stunningly cool Salsa Horsethief. The Rustler features the same 11 degree backsweep as the Whammy, but with a preferable (to me) 15mm rise and 6 degree upsweep compared to the flatter Whammy.

The Salsa Rustler bar does not disappoint. The frameset came with a no-frills Redline 100mm stem with a 31.8mm clamp area that, when mated with the Rustler, makes for a super stable and confidence inspiring tiller. I can't believe I rode with much narrower bars for so many years, as was the style beginning in the late '80s and continuing for a couple of decades. I remember having bikes back in the old days with bars in the 540mm neighborhood, some of which I cut down even further for some long forgotten reason.

I finished off equipping the frameset with a few odds and ends from my parts bin, including a Thomson Elite non-offset 26.8mm seatpost, a Specialized saddle, the single-speed WTB rear wheel from Julie's Raleigh XXIX, an off-the-shelf WTB/Deore front wheel, and a pair of barely used WTB Exiwolf 2.3" steel-bead tires. Decent, pragmatic, journeyman-type parts to mix in with the sparkly, splurgy new bits.

However, I wanted to enter the 29er world fully, and felt the transition demanded something more. In this new world, tubes would be a thing of the past. I explored the options and decided to go with what some term 'ghetto' tubeless, but what I will call, for a more enlightened audience, 'handyman' tubeless. I pieced together the process from a number of online resources, of which vast numbers can be found with a quick search. It seems to me that the 'handyman' method has many more than one correct answer, much like any handyman endeavor.

At this point I'm certainly no expert, but I'll outline what worked for me in the following photos.

Start with the bare rim. I inserted the wheel in a truing stand for convenient access, then cleaned the rim with rubbing alcohol and let it dry.
One inch (25.4mm) wide Gorilla tape is inexpensive and comes in a roll long enough for about four 29er rims.
The Gorilla tape fit just inside the bottom of the channel of my WTB Speed Disc rims (labeled 26mm) just right, without going up the sides where the tire bead will be seated in a subsequent step. I overlapped it about 6 inches at the valve hole.
I cut an x-slit in the tape over the valve hole. I then cut the Presta valve assembly out of a damaged tube, and inserted the valve through the slit in the tape. Next, I  tightened the valve stem retainer nut down to force the rubber around the internal valve opening into the rim channel, making a seal. 
The next step is to install the tire (sans tube) on the rim, and thread on a Presta to Schrader adapter, if, like me, your air compressor is Schrader only.  
These items come in handy.
At this point, a test inflation helps to determine if your tire/rim combo will work tubeless, or if it will need some adjustment. I used the compressor to air up the tire, quickly at first, then somewhat more cautiously until I heard a couple of popping sounds signifying the air pressure seating the tire beads on the rim. Most resources agree not to inflate to more than 40 psi, lest risking the bead blowing off the rim. Sometimes a little soapy water on the tire bead can help it seat. With the tire/rim combo holding air, the test is a success. On to adding some sealant to make sure that the air stays put, regardless of what the tire may encounter. The next step is to pop part of the bead on one side of the tire to the outside of the rim, in order to make a gap to inject some sealant.
I used a little more than 2 ounces of Stan's sealant per tire, assisted by a syringe. Once the sealant is in, pop the bead back into the rim and air it up again. Remember, 40 psi max.
Once the sealant is in and the tire full of air, spin the wheel around, twisting and turning it to ensure sealant is spread all over the inside. The sealant quickly found and patched a hole in the tire, as evidenced by the gooey spot on the tread in the photo above. Hooray! 
I've now been riding the Monocog for a couple of weeks, and have really been having a lot of fun. With a single gear, I know that the bike's performance anywhere vertical would suffer, mostly due to the limitations of its human engine. However, it's fast on the rolling suburban dirt trails around where I live, and the simplicity of the whole setup makes me feel a bit like a kid on a BMX. The handyman tubeless setup has been working flawlessly, and I've since found some home brew sealant recipes that I may try sometime down the line.

I will say that even at this early stage, I have to deem this experimental testbed a success. Unsurprisingly, I've confirmed that the big 29" wheels feel more proportional to my body size than standard 26" wheels ever have. The bike also has an instant familiarity to me similar to that of my Pugsley, with its similar rolling diameter on 26" x 3.8" fatties. Added to that, it is astonishing how a wide handlebar creates a nearly perfect symbiosis between rider and bike. If you've never tried wide bars and are an XL-sized dirt bike nerd like me, going wide may change your off-road life forever. Any dirt bike with a bar much narrower now gives the impression that I'm on a tiny circus bike.

So far, I'm really impressed with the Monocog. Though its straight-gauge 4130 chromo steel tubing makes it ipso facto not a light weight, the bike feels well balanced and spritely, which is what matters to me. I don't know what it weighs and don't particularly care.

Time will tell what the future holds for this bike. Perhaps some gears at some point, possibly via internal hub. Maybe a 100mm -ish suspension fork. Hopefully some camping. In the mean time, I can say with confidence that the Monocog is vying for top ranking with the Pugsley as the best dog bike in the household, and will likely rack up more than its share of outings over the coming months.

Test fit: a Revelate frame pack built for a 20-inch Pugsley on the XL Monocog.


  1. Welcome to the cult of the 29er, we've been expecting you.

    Sweet ride, excellent build. I'm a longtime fan of the exiwolves, now that you have dabbled in tubeless I may have to give it a try, been thinking I might tap into Nicholas's expertise when he gets back up here.
    I too searched all over for whammy bars with no luck. I settled on the OnOne Fleegle bars and couldn't be happier, though the Rustler bar looks pretty sweet too.
    I think we all used to cut our bars down so we could squeeze through trees on tight sections of singletrack or something silly like that. Now it seems to make more sense to cut the trees and not the bars.

    1. For a mass produced, low cost frame, the Momocog had surprisingly good welds and decent quality construction, quite worthy of the ore upscale parts. Tubeless is frosting on the cake, delivering a better ride, and astonishingly easy to do. Nicholas is full of helpful tricks, I'm sure. Next up for me will be tubeless fatbike tires, but I may have to take the Gypsy correspondence course to tackle that.

      I like the look of Fleegles. Maybe I'll have to give them a try. The Exiwolves have a nice, rounded but grippy profile, perfect for the hard pack around here. I got them for $5 for the pair from someone who considered steel beads unworthy. Fine by me.

      I do remember tree clearance as a reason for narrow bars, but in reality, if narrow bars won't clear, neither will shoulders. Such is fashion, though.

  2. Sweet! What a great bike for you-- the perfect not-MTB oversized BMX bike, for the urban Rustler.

    Sadly, I did not point out the RaceFace Atlas 1 1/4" riser bar before I left. It comes in gold, wide, and rise. Matches the VPs nicely, and there was one in stock at Salvagetti when I was in town.

    Nate, I'm comin', Dec. 16th is tubeless conversion day in Anchorage. I'll see you there.


    1. It's been an enjoyable BMX-ish Many Terrain Bike (MTB) for this urban cowboy. As a rolling experiment, I have a few ideas as to other places where it might excel. High plains cow trails of Wyoming come to mind, as do the velvety back roads of rural North Dakota.

      The Atlas looks like a good bar, and the color would be perfect. I know gold is sort of Lael's thing so I understand how you took notice at Salvagetti. I might have to shift bars around and acquire one.

  3. Congrats on the new ride, Andy! I like it. I had burping issues with the ghetto tubeless set up you have. When I went to the split tube technique it eliminated it. Different rims/tires play differently together, though, hopefully you'll have no issues.

    We may be in Denver in a few weeks. I'll be in touch if we go.

    1. So far no real problems with the setup, just a little intermittent seeping of clear fluid which has me a bit puzzled, but the air holds fine. I'll be trying the split tube method on my Pugsley at some point in the future.

      Whenever you get to town, you're welcome to stay with us. Just let me know.

  4. I can remind you why you kept cutting-down your MTB "straight" bars: It was 1993 : You were an amateur cross-country racer : In the pointless pursuit of weight-saving you upgraded your bars to stupidly light/stupidly expensive aluminium ones : Every time you crashed (this happened a lot, you were younger then) the bar-ends (remember those) crumpled the end of the handlebar and you had to cut an inch off each end for symmetry : When they got ridiculously narrow you purchased another set and repeated the process!
    - That was my experience anyway ;^)

    On a serious note, I just found your blog searching for Big Dummy experiences and have enjoyed clicking through it. I am a fellow XL Pugsley owner with a house full of children and bicycles.

    Keep the rubber-side down,
    - Antoine

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Antoine. During my previous career as a desk jockey, I was a regular visitor to a prior iteration of your blog. I think I started following it about the time that Jakub from Poland visited you with his tiny purple Pugsley, and you with your towering version of the same hue. Seeing your reports about fun on fat tires nurtured the seed in my brain, though it was years before I could make the leap to getting one of my own. I'm honored that you've discovered my blog.

      Your handlebar assessment is mostly correct, though even in the old days I was slow and had no lofty illusions as to my prospects as a racer. I was, however, a weight weenie. Those days are long gone, and I no longer know how much my bikes weight. I still have a couple of pairs of bar ends floating around. A couple of years ago, I tried using a pair as foot pegs for passengers on the v-racks of my Dummy. I repurposed some aged and wispy, cut-down bars for the rear passenger area of the Dummy, too.

      If there is any question, I couldn't more highly recommend a Big Dummy. Good to know that there are other bike-y Dads out there who are instilling the fun of two-wheels into the next generation.

      Best wishes,

    2. Classic, it's a small world. Jakub actually lives in Auckland, he's a bike-shop-monkey - I purchased a mountainbike off him for my younger son. My Pug is almost 8 years old now, his was pre-production, and I have yet to run into another fat-bike in our city of 1.5 million!