Tuesday, September 9, 2014

New China Carbon

I started thinking about getting a Chinese carbon bike frame (ie, an unbranded frame direct from the mainland China factory) last fall after riding a demo on a nice (but far too rich for me) Trek Superfly. Regular reader(s) will know that I'm a steel guy at heart, so I moved into carbon with a half hearted, tentative step by picking up a used Sette frame off ebay:

Somewhat to my surprise, I found I really like the Sette. It was smooth like carbon is promised to be, but it didn't feel dead and wooden like an earlier carbon frame I tried. This galls me a bit to say, but it feels like a good steel frame, just much lighter.

Of course, now that I had a carbon bike I liked, I couldn't leave well enough alone. Ideally, the top tube would be a hair shorter, the chainstays a bit shorter, making for a tighter handling package. And if I could get a carbon fork that matched, so much the better. I had a bulge in my bike fund from selling the Krampus that just about matched the cost of the new package, so this summer I took the carbon plunge again and ordered an IP-106 from iPlay in China.

There are many worries ordering from China, but in my case it was a smooth, fine transaction. "Peter" from iPlay was easy to communicate with, and the box came through fine:

The frame was well protected:

So light!

How light is a reasonable question that shall remain a mystery, as my cheap (Chinese) fish scale has died.

I ordered a matching fork, headset, and a few miscellaneous bits as well:

You really need a torque wrench and carbon paste if you're going to be working on carbon bits, especially bits that are keeping your face off the ground:

I got the main parts roughed in:

The frame had enough clearance for my 2.4 Vee Mission tire in the rear:

Though this is somewhat tighter than the Razzo.

My new fork has a carbon steerer, which takes more thought than a steel steerer. You can't leave more than a few millimeters of spacers above the stem, since the stem needs to clamp on the expander plug. And most fork makers recommend a maximum of 40~50mm of spacers under the stem. Interestingly, no one specifies a maximum stem length, which probably has a greater effect on the bending moment the steerer tube sees than the stem height does. Hopefully there's a good factor of safety built into the whole system.

Anyway, I measured and cut the steerer, which is always a nervous moment:

The frame had full internal cable routing, which proved very easy to use--just push the cables (for the shifter) or cable housing (brake) on through, and it's all done:

My first quick demo showed the bars to be too high and too close. The IP-106's top tube is about 20mm shorter than the Sette, so I should be able to run the bars a bit lower than my typical saddle height. Not wanting to cut the stem again, I just flipped the stem:

That seemed to position me pretty well. This is mark 2 of my "simple, reliable, versatile" bike concept: minimal drivetrain (1x9, with a 32t Race Face narrow-wide chainring driving an 11-36 Shimano cassette), and a Knard up front for comfort. I set up the Knard tubeless--my first try at this. After adding extra fluid and using my small air compressor to get the bead to seat, it seems to be holding air now (that being said, I haven't felt any magic effect of the tubeless setup)

I've only had the IP on one real ride so far, and it was a mixed bag. The short chainstays and wheelbase really seemed to pay off and make the bike more fun to flick around. However, the ride didn't feel as smooth and responsive as that of my Razzo. Looking at the flat seatstays on the IP, I expected softtail like comfort, but the bulky rear stays of the Razzo somehow do a better job of absorbing trail shock.

I need to give this some trail time to get used to it, but in the meantime, I'm not letting go of the Razzo.

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