Pipedream ALICE bikepacking upgrade

In Cycling, Equipment
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A few weeks ago, I hadn’t heard of a star fangled nut and so had no inclination that I’d shortly be drilling one out of a steerer tube and subsequently refitting a replacement. It’s a longish story derived from my wish to upgrade Alice the ALICE for remote, rough Euro autumn mountain touring, including an autonomous power source for independence from wall sockets. My Goal Zero Nomad solar panel worked pretty well in cloudless Greece but was much less happy when the sun went in. After much research on gizmos that talk to a dynamo hub in order to make its current usable I, unfortunately, settled upon the expensive Cinq Plug5 Plus buffer battery system. This lives in your steerer tube (once you’ve terrifyingly removed that star nut by drilling out the centre and bashing it with long screwdrivers) and, in theory, replaces the top cap in tensioning the headset. It also allows ‘through charging’, provides back up at low speeds and delivers output via a USB-C port at the stem. Sounded great.

While some reviewers have had great experiences, mine was short-lived. The manual is dreadfully vague and unhelpful. I contacted Tout Terrain, the German manufacturer, with some technical questions about the instructions, who responded by asking me to read the attached electronic version of them. My follow up was completely ignored. In trying to tighten the retaining bolt to an eye watering recommended 8nm while not twisting the cap I damaged the tiny wires that had fiercely resisted such compression. A local electronics technician repaired them and it was with some elation that I greeted the device’s blinking LED as I spun the front wheel. However, to my extreme dismay and much profanity, when I set the bike back on the ground the headset was as loose as The Sun’s journalism, despite the excruciating bolt torque.

A new star fangled nut and top cap atop its Xmas pudding-like packaging, housing the rest of the upper headset assembly (with defunct bottom bracket perched on the new cassette box).

Tightening it yet further resulted in only a partial improvement. I added a 3mm spacer to the stack, with some success, and then another. Finally, with the bolt screwed in as far as physically possible and the stem at a silly height, there was no more play in the fork. Alas, no more blinky light; disassembly revealed shredded wires and that the force had pulled the top of the unit off. I’ve no idea how it was holding the fork in place.

Congratulations to those, like the owner of the AgeHIGH channel, who have got the thing to work consistently — and thanks to him and Phil Sturgeon for their responses to my questions — but for me it was only an (albeit successful) experiment in generating the greatest capital expenditure to wattage ratio in electromechanical history. With many thanks to the ever helpful Mike Fitchie at Pipedream Cycles for the headset gear I refitted the star nut and returned the stem to low-torque, reduced height normalcy. I’ve replaced the Cinq with a Sinewave Cycles Revolution charger — watch this space.

Until I chanced upon SickBiker’s heroically excellent walk-through for fitting a new gear cable into SRAM HRD brifters, I’d been convinced by other guides that it was going to be akin to targeting a Death Star exhaust port with an X-wing’s proton torpedo. When it emerged from the housing after only minimal prodding I celebrated as if I’d just dribbled the length of the pitch from full-back to drive a swerving half volley into the top corner from 35 yards as the Golden Goal in a World Cup final.

Amazed and delighted that the gear cable smoothly emerges from its curved path through the housing, just like in the video.
Making notes from a video on hydraulic brake bleeding — yes, I’m that mechanically inept and/or have a deficient short-term memory!

My incredulity at my own failure to screw up minor engineering projects was taken to another level when, thanks to yet another great video tutorial, I fitted the new long-cage derailleur to operate with the upgraded e-thirteen 9-46 cassette (to prevent me spinning out on my 32t bikepacking chainring at around 17mph)…and they worked! Hat-trick completed. Giddy on my entirely unexpected triumphs, I even bled the brakes and fitted a new bottom bracket.

My ‘gear photo’ reality. One of two levels of the house currently taken over by kit. No, I’m not packing the Benbo tripod, nor even the Manfrotto. Yes to the Gorilla Pod.

Simon Worley at Reepham Cycle Workshop (see more of his handiwork here) built my new wheels from Shutter Precision dynamo and DT Swiss 350 front and rear hubs, respectively, threaded to DT Swiss EX471 hoops. It was Simon who suggested looking at DT rims and I found that model on sale online before I was aware of this video. Should be no issues there, then.

MBM Produce, a local potato wholesaler, has conveniently blue branding.

A huge shout out to Nick Smolinske and his talented sewing team at Rogue Panda for pulling out the stops and delivering a beautiful custom frame bag way ahead of the requested schedule under a Covid-19 working regime and during a period of unprecedented demand.

The bag is so lovely it deserved a photo shoot of its own before loading the rest of the road test kit. Front tyre is a Conti Mountain King 2.4, with a Cross King 2.2 on the back.
On test along the section of the F2C bikepacking route that runs from Melton Constable to Stalham.
Felmingham Station, featured on the ‘Nature, History and Trains’ Overnighter.
Our ‘large’ tent, hilariously dwarfed by the neighbouring wedding marquee-like structures, Grove Farm campsite, Catfield.
I’d missed meths.
North Walsham churchyard. The stones were removed from plots long ago and arranged to form a border — no walking on graves occurred.

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