Sunday, November 20, 2016

Tale of Three Bikes: Rebuilding the Gunnar (Part 2)

The Gunnar frame is in Waterford, Wisconsin, home of the Waterford/Gunnar factory, for a repaint and a few modifications.  The bike will largely be returned to its original look when new, including the decal configuration that Gunnar used at that time and the two-step paint job that produces a cool sparkly red finish.  Kind of a "candy-apple red".  The last post has a picture from the Richardson Highway -- I think it's a lovely looking bike.


When I get it back, it will be time to rebuild -- probably just in time for the Christmas holiday.  I've been planning this for a while and looking forward to an opportunity to do it right.

The Group

I ride Shimano groups on all of my bikes with the brand new exception of the fat bike (Sram X7).  Frankly, Shimano does everything right:  the groups are reasonably affordable, the top end seems to me to compete with the top end anywhere, and the idea of trickle-down technology is real.  A new Ultegra 6800 part is as light and as well engineered as a Dura Ace 7800 from a few years back.

I have been wanting to build with a Dura Ace group for years.  With full DA9000 groups at $1300 or so on Merlin Cycles it was tempting.

But then Sam shared with me this blog post from Art's Cyclery, breaking down the places to splurge and the places to be cheap.  In terms of blog posts that actually add value, it is hard to beat that one.

In short, Art's argues that the rear derailleur is more or less indifferent as between groups; the brakes do not make a meaningful difference; and the crank, while a great place to save weight, is not worth the up-charge for Dura Ace.  In contrast, the brifters and front derailleur matter greatly.  With a little shopping around, I found DA9000 brifters and front derailleur and Ultegra 6800 crank, brakes, and rear derailleur for a total of about $650.  I had a new Ultegra 6800 cassette already.  Somewhere I came by a Dura Ace chain.  (Art's would have gone with the 105 brakes and rear derailleur, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.  The price differential at the sale prices I found wasn't great, anyway.)

Here are the parts waiting to be attached.

6800 Crank.  52-36 gearing.

Ultegra brakes.  Sam swears by the 6800 vis a vis the 6700, which is the model I have on more than one bike currently.

Long-cage Ultegra RD.

DA9000 FD.

The coup de grace:  DA9000 11-speed drifters.
I'm particularly excited about the 52-36 gearing on the front derailleur.  I've been riding 50-34 for a while and have 53-39 on the race bike; it has always seemed to me that 52-36 bridges those extremes nicely.  I do have that on the triathlon bike on which I rarely shift between chainrings anyway.

The long cage rear derailleur was a judgment call and I'm not sure I called it right.  I have long cage on the Salsa, the Specialized, and the Ritchey.  The Gunnar might have worked well with a short cage given its use model.  There aren't many hills one can't get up with 36-28 gearing if the day is lasting less than 15 hours.  Long cage and the 32 (or more)-tooth cogs that they permit are really for touring applications.  I think.

I'm psyched about the U6800 brakes.  Sam swears by them.  I am hard pressed to see how one can improve on the U6700, but I am eager to find out.

Wheels and Tires

With Damon's help I found a great deal on Zipp 404 Firecrest carbon clincher wheels over the summer, marrying a front wheel for $600 from BikeTiresDirect with a rear for $800 (after Active Junky discount) from  It's a sweet wheelset with the cool black graphics.

Front wheel.  Photo from
I couldn't resist and put them on the bike even before the build.  As Sam has proved, deep dish wheels on a steel or titanium bike are awesome.

Aero roll-down tests with Flo wheels on the Ti-Cycles frameset.  Sam has the data, which (spoiler alert!) shows that a disc wheel is faster than 32-spokes with Open Pro rims.

And, here on the Gunnar.

Gunnar, pre-rebuild.

Those green-walled tires are 27mm Vittoria Open Pave CG clinchers, the tire of choice for rough surfaces -- or at least the Velominati report.  (This site too.)  The good news is that the 27mm Vittoria mounted on that Zipp wheel clear the frame and the Easton carbon fork. At $37/tire from Competitive Cyclist, I loaded up on two pairs.

Finishing Kit

I first tried the Thomson seatpost when I first bought the Gunnar, which came with a straight Thomson Elite post.  My first reaction:  I loved the two-bolt adjustment, which beat all the one-bolt crap I had been using since time immemorial.


Thomson Elite post.  Tightening one and loosening the other allows for micro-adjustments that are not possible with a one-bolt stem.

Nitto post.  The bolt is found on the underside of the head.  Tightening it or loosening it changes the pitch of the saddle.

Other fixing methods, notably the Specialized one-bolt approach on the Cobble Gobbler, eclipse Thomson's as the most elegant and usable clamp.  But I fell in love with Thomson's design and stuck with it.  Since that first straight stem, I have gone to a set-back version, seen on the pre-rebuild picture above.

At some point I added an X4 stem and later changed that to the Thomson X2, a road-specific stem that looks sleeker and weighs less.  That is it on the picture above, hidden by the helmet strap(!).  And below, although I more recently have built (and will again build) with the stem turned the other way for a flatter look.
Thomson X2 stem.

Finally, just this year -- before breaking the leg -- I added the Thomson carbon drop bars.  I used the Cyclecross  bars to gain a little flair in the ends, which I thought might make for more comfort in the drops.

Doggone bars won't sit sill to be photographed.  44cm Thomson Cyclocross bars.
I have a theory that apart from unique innovations, like the Cobble Gobbler post or maybe the Redshift shock absorbing stem, these parts all perform about the same.  Mostly they are there to look good.  And Thomson does that as well as anybody, with understated graphics and solid coloring, either black or silver.  My one gripe about Thomson is the choice of 3mm hex heads in the stem.  Who carries a 3mm wrench?


What's left that is interesting?  The saddle, tape, cables, cages, and any cute touches like color-coordinated bolts or cable crimps.  Here are two on which the jury is out:

The cages.  Those are King Cage stainless steel "Iris" cages and a regular stainless steel cage from the same manufacturer.

King Cage "Iris" in stainless steel.

King Cage stainless steel.
With the three sets of mounts I would use the Iris inside the triangle and the other on the underside of the down-tube.  But I am frankly not sure.  The ordinary alloy cages in the pictures above look sharp; the Iris may be a little too decorative for a bike being built with Zipp wheels.  Votes welcome!

The cables.  I found braided steel cables with a clear coating from Velo Orange.

V-O Braided Steel cables
I am trying to achieve a look I had thought I found on the Firefly site some time ago (but can't find today).  These braided external cables may be a failed experiment, with the fall-back's being the elegant gray that comes with new Dura-Ace brifters.

More to come  

Next, I suppose, I should report on the saddle, tape, and plans for the frame.


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I'm looking forward to the final product! I've had 52-36 on the Felt, and 36-28 was enough to get me through RAO, so I have a hard time imagining why one would need a 32t cog. Maybe for South Fork, or whatever the name of the thing we hit halfway through the first day on Big Savage SR600.