Paul Strickland

Paul Strickland

Building my Kaffenback

This year I have been trying to cycle to work three times a week. The ride is quite pleasant; I can avoid most of the traffic and the route is quite scenic. However, to get to work I have to cycle about 14 km and climb about 145 m. Not a great deal to complain about I know, but it is a tough ride for me. So far I have been using my On-One 456 mountain bike. It has Panaracer Crosstown tyres on it, which reduce the rolling resistance somewhat, but with 70 cm bars and 26 in wheels, it is not optimal for commuting. And finally, I want to use it for what it was built for — getting muddy from riding off-road!

All these factors were used to justify spending money on a new bike. Having been impressed by my On-One frame, I looked to its sister company — Planet X. Steel was the only real option for my budget, but I was also impressed with it from my mountain bike. I therefore bought a black Kaffenback frame in February, and have been selecting and ordering components for it ever since. With almost everything delivered, I finally started building the bike.

Bare Kaffenback frame and fork set up in work stand
The starting point — the headset was installed for me by Planet X.

Wheels

I decided to build the wheels for this bike. It is actually the second set of wheels I have built, but I have never actually ridden on a set of wheels I have built, and I thought it was about time I did.

I chose Shimano 105 hubs, Mavic Open Sport rims and DT Swiss double butted spokes for the wheels.

Building the wheels went quite smoothly. I used the book available from Wheelpro, which provides comprehensive instructions on all aspects of the build, even including instructions for building your own truing stand. By far the most time was spent truing the wheels. I found that the key was to work slowly, and to apply tension to the wheels gradually, checking at each stage that the wheel dish, lateral true and radial true were all OK. By doing this, the spoke tension tended to sort itself out and not need any major adjustment. I got a bit carried away trying to finish the rear wheel, and ended up with quite a significant warp. After a bit of frustrating time spent with the spoke key, I eventually released the tension in all the spokes and started re-truing. This time the build went much more smoothly.

I have no experience with road tyres, and frankly they look far too narrow to be capable of supporting me! However, after some research I ordered a pair of Schwalbe Durano tyres.

Front and rear wheels are both laced in a 3-cross pattern

Drive train

Bottom bracket

The first job on the frame was to install the bottom bracket. An English thread is needed for this frame. Installing it was quite frustrating to do, as it is easy to cross-thread the cups as you screw them in. Unfortunately, whilst the left hand side went smoothly, the right hand side did end up being slightly cross-threaded. At this point I was in a position of having greasy hands with little bits of swarf getting in the way. After cleaning the threads as well as possible, I was finally able to get the thread correctly engaged and tighten it all up.

Close-up of bottom bracket
The bottom bracket was installed after a small amount of trouble

Crankset

With the bottom bracket installed, the crankset is installed fairly easily. It is a tight fit though, so it was a case of pushing the axle of the crank firmly until it slid past each bottom bracket cup. After that, the left hand crank is attached the axle splines and everything is torqued up. I chose a Shimano Tiagra compact double crankset that will be initially paired with a 12-25 cassette.

Front and rear derailleurs

Installing both derailleurs is straightforward. The front derailleur is attached by a simple band clamp to the seat tube — the key thing here is to align it so that the outer plate of the cage is parallel with the biggest chainring and also that the height of the derailleur above the chainring is correct.

Front derailleur alignment showing outer plate being parallel to the big chain ring Front derailleur alignment showing height above chainring teeth
Aligning the front derailleur with the large chainring.

On this frame it is possible to swap the drop-outs to change from a derailleur-geared bike to a single speed or hub-geared bike. The red pieces of metal shown below are therefore removable. The rear derailleur is simply attached to this removable drop-out.

Rear derailleur installation onto removable drop-out
The rear derailleur is bolted to a removable drop-out.

Brakes

The Kaffenback is marketed as a do-it-all frame — with swappable drop-outs that include disc brake mounts, builds of this frame could be anything from lightweight singlespeed to laden touring bikes. My primary use for it is for commuting, and had I bought a pure road bike frame, I would have simply installed a set of road calliper brakes. Unfortunately, the frame does not have the correct mounts for callipers, and I was left with choosing between cantilever and linear-pull brakes.

After doing some research and looking at availability of different brakes, I chose a set of cantilever brakes. Installing them to the bike was the easy step; I then began the awkward process of setting them up.

Cable stops for the cantilever brakes are achieved by the use of hangers fitted to the steerer tube for the front brake, and to the seat clamp for the rear brake. The rear hanger gave me a bit of trouble. It hangs off the seat clamp bolt and originally protruded too far into the seat tube, obstructing the seat post. I fixed the problem by sanding off a small amount of the offending edge on the hanger until it did not interfere with the seat post. Getting the length of the outer cable housing correct was a bit of a guessing game, but I ended up having the cable follow a shallow bend around the seat tube.

Rear brake cable hanger Front brake cable hanger with cable fitted
For cantilever brakes, cable hangers are required.

To be able to adjust the brakes, I needed to fit the handlebar and therefore the stem as well. I also fitted the wheels at times.

Frame with handlebar and brakes fitted, ready for adjustment
With the handlebar fitted, the brake cable can be routed and the brakes set up. Note that the gear cables have been routed as well.

The main problem with adjusting the brakes is that, for the pads alone, there are five separate adjustments to be made, but on my brakes there are only two bolts to tighten. This means that the pad has to be held carefully in place whilst gingerly tightening the bolts up. If it isn’t right, you have to start again. According the various sources, cantilever brake setup is crucial to them performing adequately, and since I have been used to the luxury of hydraulic disc brakes on my bikes for the last four years, I wanted at least a hint of braking performance.

After a rather frustrating time, I had set up all four brake arms as best I could. I tried to ensure that each had an amount of toe-in to avoid squealing braking.

Front brake alignment with rim Front brake as seen from the front
Aligning the brake pads with the rim was a fiddly job, but it got done.

Adjusting up the pads was just the first step in getting my brakes set up. Next to try my patience was getting the cables installed and adjusted. Basically I needed to set up the straddle cable for each brake so that the leverage was sufficiently high when the brakes were applied. On the front this was hindered by the very wide brake arms; these limited the extent of adjustment possible whilst still allowing the arms to be disconnected to install or remove the wheel. The profile of the rear brake arms is lower, making the setup a bit easier.

With straddle cables set, the brake cable running from the brake levers could be adjusted. The main effect of adjusting the attachment of the brake cable to the straddle cable anchor bolt was to alter the amount of slack in the brake levers and clearance between the brake pads and the wheel rims. Once all of this looked all right, I tightened everything up, and just hoped it would be able to stop me!

Chain installation and gear setup

The chain installation was a fairly straightforward process. After measuring the required chain length, remeasuring it after realising I had had it on the wrong chainring, I finally removed the correct number of links using a chain tool. All that was required then was to route the chain correctly and join it using a special pin.

With the chain installed, I set about adjusting the limit screws of the front and rear derailleurs. Finally, with the limit screws set to keep the chain where it belongs, I was able to begin setting the indexing of the gears. This was surprisingly easy, and I soon had smooth shifts across the majority of the gear range. I knew it would be likely that things would be different under load when riding, so I left the gears as they were, tightened down the anchor bolts and cut the excess cable.

With the chain installed, limit screws and cable tension could be adjusted, before cutting the excess gear cable.

Bar tape

I bought the bars and shifters as a single unit, and they came with white bar tape fitted. I considered leaving that on, but as the bike began to take shape I knew that I needed to have a different colour of tape. In the end I went for safe black, and bought some Arundel cork bar tape.

Fitting the tape wasn’t as difficult as I thought, but was a bit awkward around the brake levers. I found a guide from Park Tool Co. to be useful. The end result is a little rough, but I am happy enough with it for now.

First attempt at wrapping bar tape — not too bad and it should serve its purpose.

Steerer tube installation

With the bike starting to take shape, it was time to carry out a particularly irreversible act: cutting the steerer tube. Compared to everything else so far, the idea of taking a hacksaw to a new component seemed quite severe. However, it obviously needed to be carried out. I was quite uncertain about the stem height at first, so I added a bit extra to my original calculations just in case I couldn’t ride comfortably.

To cut the steerer tube as accurately and as neatly as I could, I used a cutting guide. This was clamped onto the steerer tube and basically constrains the motion of the hacksaw blade. It did a good job, and after carefully filing off the burred metal with a Dremel it was time to fit the star fangled nut.

The tube cutting guide keeps the hacksaw blade at the right angle, making the job much easier.

Compared to cutting the steerer tube, I expected fitting the star fangled nut to be a piece of cake, but it wasn’t. The problem was simply not being able to force the nut into the tube in a controlled manner. Eventually I had the nut in the tube, but keeping it set at the right angle was not going well.

The correct tool for a particular job is often nice to have, but it is not the end of the world if you don’t have one. In the case of fitting the star fangled nut, however, the right tool makes all the difference. After fitting the tool to my wonky nut, only a couple of taps of a mallet was all that was required to set the nut properly.

Finishing off and the first ride

With all the major components installed and set up, plus some additional initial adjustments such as saddle position and handlebar angle, it was time to take the Kaffenback for its first ride.

As strange as it sounds, I was quite nervous at riding the bike. This was mainly due to a previous incident on a bike’s first ride, but there were also some legitimate concerns:

  • This was my first road bike
  • This would be the first time riding wheels built by myself
  • I had ridden with powerful and reliable hydraulic disc brakes for the last 3 years and I would be hoping that cantilevers would stop me
  • Compared to mountain bike tyres, the thin strips of rubber adorning my wheels did not look like they would offer any sort of grip
  • Narrow drop bars and a steep head angle were bound to feel different to wide riser bars with a slacker head angle

On the morning of 13 May I wheeled my bike outside for the first time. Gingerly, I started riding it, checking I could use the STI shifters, checking that the brakes worked and that the wheels weren’t falling to pieces. Given my apprehension about the ride, it turned out to be quite an anticlimax. Everything seemed to work and there were no major issues. Yet I didn’t feel immediately comfortable on the bike, and there were a couple of niggling issues.

The most noticeable problem was interference between my left heel and the chainstay. My right heel interfered too but it was less severe. After riding for a while I had moved my heel out a bit, but that then put pressure on my foot and knee. The other immediate issue I had was with the bars. I felt every single bump in the road and it was all transmitted through the base of my thumb. At the time I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to ride a long distance on the bike. The drop bars too were a novelty. Riding on the hoods felt all right, but as soon as I tried out the drops it just felt like I was in a very uncomfortable position.

I rode about 14 km on the first ride. Except for the minor problems described, nothing terrible happened. Although I was going to have to get used to the bike and tweak a few things, there were hints of a good bike showing through. It was noticeably lighter than my mountain bike and it felt a bit quicker to accelerate. Climbing with it felt pretty good too, although the gearing felt so high compared to the gears I was used to on my mountain bike.

Overall, although slightly underwhelmed by the first ride, I was not disappointed with it. I knew I needed to get used to it before being completely happy with it, so decided to put it straight to work as my commuting bike.

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