Some comments on the 2018 Silverback Slade Comp

TL;DR

The 2018 Silverback Slade Comp was a fairly decent spec yet inexpensive 27.5+ recreational MTB. The bike build that I ended up with is however, far superior, in weight, quality of components and geometry.

Silverback supplied two bikes (the original bike, and its replacement) both with the same major frame defect; subsequently shipped a frame replacement with a worse defect; after 14 months from the original purchase (thanks, Covid) supplied an upgraded frame that was acceptable. During that process, due to frame incompatibilities, Silverback and the retailer (Evo Cycles) upgraded the dropper seatpost, the entire drive train, and the BB twice.

Silverback effectively supplied (to one customer, me) 4 frames with a 75% failure rate. That is astonishing.

Evo performed 2 complete buildovers and upgraded components at no cost to me – their performance was, in general terms, far past what I could reasonably expect as an average customer.

Background

I bought a 2018 Silverback Slade Comp a few weeks ago, but unfortunately had to return it due to an irreparable problem. More concerning is that the replacement has essentially the same problem, and is indicative of more widespread problems with other frames from the same batch.

This has given me the opportunity to compare 2 examples of the same model, and I would have to say that there are some fairly concerning trends visible. I’ll cover these first, then move on to a serious issue with the frames on both bikes.

The bike

For not much money, you get a great looking bike with dropper seat post, Suntour XCR 120mm air fork with crownset lockout and rebound damping control, midfat tubeless ready rims and tyres (27.5 x 2.8″), hydraulic disc brakes (180/160mm), true Boost spacing front and rear (15/110 and 12/148) and a 2×9 groupset.

On the other hand, for not much money, you also get a bike with very average paint finish, that weighs over 16kg (inc pedals), a fairly uncomfortable seat (YMMV), quite messy cable routing, and it seems, a fair amount of grief dealing with multiple issues from new.

There’s a lot to like about the bike. With a much longer wheelbase than my current 2012 Trek 3900, and larger wheels, the Slade is remarkably faster on bumpy terrain and downhill. I’m a fair weather recreational rider so not overly concerned about the weight, though lighter is of course always better.

Minor Issues

The first bike had several issues that showed that not enough care had been taken during manufacture and assembly (either at the factory, or at the retailer).

  • No grommet on the seat dropper cable seat tube entry hole (cable had nicks from the sharp edges).
  • The front derailleur had been set up with too much clearance between the large chainring and the guide (even though there is a label clearly indicating the correct clearance). As a result, the guide was lifting the chain when using small sprockets (not that you should ever run the chain in that combination). No big deal, and the retailer fixed both of these issues immediately.
  • The cable clamps on the front of the downtube had not all been fitted correctly. One had been reversed so the countersunk screw was sitting against a flat surface. This is a tiny detail but one that speaks a lot about the level of interest or care taken during assembly.
  • There was a small dent on the underside of the top tube (most likely before the paint finish was applied).
  • Paint finish is a bit rough around cable lugs etc.
  • Welding between the seat stays and seat tube not great.
  • Front fork lockout stopped working after one ride. More concerning was that the “tech” at the retailer seemed to think the fork air pressure had an effect on this, which is really not the case (lockout/damping and suspension pressure are in opposite legs of the fork and are not related). Worse was the “tech’s” attitude about this – I’d have to say that within seconds, we’d pretty much established that I was an old fart who knew nothing and he was young and arrogant and knew even less.
  • Rear wheel very slightly out of true.

On the second bike, there were similar issues.

  • Two curved cuts into the left chainstay close to the bottom bracket, these appear to be from the facing tool when the bottom bracket had finish machining after painting the frame.
  • Again, the cable clamps on the front of the downtube had not been fitted correctly. One had been reversed, and 2 different types of screws had been used – and all were of the wrong type.
  • Deep scratches in the paint on the right crank – exactly as would have been made by carelessly using a crescent/adjustable spanner to fit pedals.
  • Gears not indexed as positively or as smoothly as the first bike.

Most of the above are just cosmetic or minor and/or easily fixed and inconsequential, but none of them should exist on a bike sold as new (rather than ex-demo).

The one, big, very major frame issue:

On both bikes, the seat and head tube are very clearly NOT coplanar – the worst of the two bikes has an error of about 1.5°

I used 4 different methods to assess the problem since I can only do this with equipment I have at home.

In both cases, the bike is set upside down, the wheels appear to be true and central in the forks or stays, the fork appears to be straight and steering is free with no evidence of a bent steerer tube. Rotating the fork 180° made no difference to the measurements, so the fork is not the problem. The front wheel is set parallel to a straight edge held against the rear tire sidewall casing (not the tread knobs).

1. Eyeball:

Both bikes showed a problem – the shoulder of one tire would appear well outside of the other, even if aligned at the bottom/top.

This is the first bike:

This is the second bike:

The misalignment is not quite as bad as the first bike, but still very easily visible, comparable, and in the same direction. But how bad is it really?

2. Straight Edge:

Holding a straight edge against the tire casing on the rear tire and setting the front wheel to be parallel to the straight edge showed an offset between the front tire casing and the straight edge at the brake disc edge height of about 10mm for the first bike, and about 7-8mm for the second. As best I could tell, the straight edge aligned with the inner face of the brake disc on the second bike. Rotating the straight edge up away from the axle showed more clearance between the front tire casing and the straight edge as it moved further away from the axle. Using this method it is only possible to assess the offset for the part of the wheel that is accessible by straight edge.

Photo shows first bike:

3. Straight edges on each wheel:

I have 2 heavy 1250mm aluminium straight edges, these were held snugly against the tires and had enough area to fit comfortably over 2 or more tread knobs. The distances at the top and bottom of each straight edge was measured to a vertical laser plane and the angles calculated. The error measured this way is calculated as 1.3°.

This is the second bike:

4. Laser level offset to rims:

A laser level is set up well behind and about 200mm offset from the bike wheels. Bike has a small wedge under one handlebar grip, this is adjusted to make the rear rim vertical and thus parallel to the laser plane. Laser is rotated horizontally until parallel to the rear rim, so all four points (top, bottom, front, rear) of the rear rim are offset from the laser equally. This dimension is 202mm. The seat tube appears to be parallel to the laser plane.

The front rim front and rear offset to the laser plane are also equal, and both measure 192.5mm, so the wheels are parallel but offset at axle height.

The front rim top and bottom measurements are 185mm and 200mm respectively. This means there is a difference of 15mm over the 600mm diameter of the rim, which calculates to an angle of about 1.4°.

The measurements (for the second bike) at each location are shown in the graphic below:

I would estimate that the offset at the tire contact patch is a bit more than the 15mm measured at the rim, on the first bike it appeared to be about 20mm, and a little less than that for the second bike.

Interpretation of these results is left as an exercise for the reader 🙂

Does it matter?

The offset at the tire contact patch is a bit more than the 15mm at the rim, on the first bike it appeared to be about 20mm, and a little less than that for the second bike. On pavement the bike appears to ride OK but I would expect tire wear to be excessive. On gravel, and in mud, painful personal experience shows the front wheel tends to wash out to the left and steering is not precise.

I have a 2012 Trek 3900 that has zero discernible alignment errors when checked by eye or with a straight edge. Likewise for budget Silverback bikes like the Stride.

When researching this topic I find countless articles and videos on using a string to check rear stays/dropouts and very little other discussion – alignment of head tubes appears to be taken as always being perfect and is never raised as a specific issue, possibly because this is not repairable or not at all common. I must admit I’m a bit surprised at what I’ve found and even more surprised to find it on consecutive examples, it really is quite unexpected.

It has also been very disappointing as every bike I’ve owned in the past has been ready to go straight out of the box and given years of trouble free service. I bought this bike a few weeks ago and have spent a lot of time on this and other issues, and very little time riding it and I am nowhere near having a roadworthy MTB. And this is after the retailer workshop “checked” the bike before delivering it as a replacement for a bike with the same problem.

I’ll be returning the second of these two bikes in the next week or so, and very disappointed to be doing so. I often prefer to support alternatives to the big name brands, as competition is always good, but would have trouble rationalising purchasing another Silverback, even if not all the issues are attributable to them directly.

On the other hand, I did raise this issue with Silverback in Germany directly and their response has been very interesting, they are communicative and seem to be concerned about this issue and I’m hopeful they will deal with it effectively. I’ll follow up with what they decide to do.

Update:

After some correspondence with Silverback, they offered to replace the frame – the new frame was airfreighted direct from China and arrived early November.

Since then, however, the process of moving the build over to the new frame has been a disaster:

  • The replacement frame is a Sphere, and not a Slade; it may not matter, but there was no warning or discussion about this, and it is not what I paid for or expected to be getting.
  • The replacement frame looks nothing like the original Slade, being bright red and dayglo orange. Not really what I was after considering I quite liked the utilitarian look of the original. Again, there was no explanation, warning or discussion about this.
  • Sphere geometry is slightly different, most notable would be a higher BB and shorter wheelbase.
  • Sphere frame may be lighter, not confirmed yet. Neither do I yet know if it is straighter.
  • The real showstopper though, is that the bottom bracket (and hence the entire groupset) is totally incompatible; the retailer is trying to resolve this with no success so far.
Silverback Slade Comp, (the original defective frame(s))
Silverback Sphere Expert (the replacement frame)

There are multiple issues with the bottom bracket/crankset. Silverback indicated that I would just have to move the existing components over to the new frame, which would be straightforward and easy.

In practice, however, there are multiple bottom bracket compatibility issues – the Sphere bottom bracket is press fit, the Slade was threaded. The replacement crankset has to be suitable for the 148 Boost frame, as well as able to take the Slade 2x chainrings; there may also be further issues around the fact that the Sphere is described as a “single chainring specific design”. I don’t know what that entails, and have asked Silverback to clarify, but haven’t heard back, but it doesn’t sound good. The fact that the bike has now been with the retailer who is trying to sort this mess out for 2 weeks, and they’ve ordered in 3 different cranksets, indicates this is far from an easy build over.

IMHO it would have been easier, cheaper and far less hassle for all concerned if Silverback had just shipped a replacement bike – they would have come out of this looking like they supported their customers, retailers and product, instead of looking like they want to send some random frame and didn’t even know their own product well enough to realise it was quite different.

Its been pretty disappointing, I went to quite a lot of trouble to fully inform Silverback about what may be a quite widespread problem with one model and size of their bikes, and so far, they’ve been unable to respond with any kind of appropriate fix for even one bike!

And then, it gets even worse!

After further discussions with Silverback last night, they’ve now said: ” …our engineers … have advised that the Sphere frame is only 1x compatible. There may be a way to get 2x to work however this will not be ideal

There has been no further communication from them – no suggestions for a way forward.

This is worse than useless, Silverback shipped a warranty replacement frame that never had a chance of working, wasting everyone’s time, and are at present not showing they have any interest in correcting the situation.

It is also very difficult for the retailer, who are working on their side of the problem with what seems like no guidance from Silverback. They’ve been trying to get things sorted and have been looking at Shimano BBs, as the 2018 Slade Comp used a Shimano SM-BB52.

These have had the problem of the chainrings being too far inboard on the Boost 148 frame. This may be fruitless as the bottom bracket is actually a Race Face press fit BB92, which has the bearings outboard of the frame to provide the extra offset for the chainline on the Boost 148 frame. These appear to be a variation on a BB92 PF standard, possibly wider than normal.

And it continues (20/12/2019):

After some delays the retailer has been in communication with Silverback, suggesting that Silverback approve that the retailer supply and fit a 1×12 SRAM groupset or propose an alternative. I consider that to be an acceptable way sort this.

However, Silverback has said they will supply components to get the bike working. We were just waiting on confirmation of what they were going to supply, and as I cynically predicted, this was interesting.

Silverback are really not looking at this from the customer’s perspective. They are just trying to do the minimum possible to get the bike running, and don’t seem interested in the eventual configuration of the bike or how long this is taking. This quite frankly, sucks. The time is well past when it would have been cheaper and quicker for all concerned to just ship a complete replacement Slade.

And Now:

Yesterday we had confirmation that Silverback are going to supply a Shimano 1×11 groupset, similar or the same as the Sphere specification – a 11-42 cassette, and a 32T chainring.

My immediate reaction was that this was completely unacceptable, because this totally changes the nature of the bike that I bought and transforms it into something far different. I’m not averse to 1x groupsets, but the Slade 2×9 groupset gave me a range of 538%, and at a cadence of 60, a top speed of around 27km/h. The gain ratios run from 7.0 to 1.3. Gear development works out to 7.4m in top gear, 1.4m in low.

The Sphere groupset has a range of only 381%! At a cadence of 60, the top gear speed is about 23km/h, the gain ratios run from 6.2 to 1.6. That is 6.6m in top gear to 1.7m in low.

(Calculations all from Sheldon Brown’s (may he RIP) online gear calculator – https://www.sheldonbrown.com/gear-calc.html )

This means that I would lose top end speed quite significantly, and lose climbing ability in the lowest gear as well.

For the type of terrain I ride – quite steep but generally grassy hills around the lakes, but accessed by long flat and exposed gravel road (where you sometimes have a strong tailwind in one direction if you are lucky) the 1×11 groupset being supplied is completely unacceptable. It might be fine for riding on trails only (which I guess is the kind of market it intended for), but not for a mixture of road and trail.

Even a high range 1×12 groupset (which is what the retailer preferred to fit) would still have compromises, but a larger ratio (at 510%) would come much closer to the Slade groupset, even though there would still be a compromise at both ends and with larger steps between gears.

I think I made my position quite clear, and I understand the retailer is going back to discuss this with Silverback but I don’t see me getting this bike back any time this year; perhaps never. I’m really at the stage of having to walk away from all this – the only reason I’m so reluctant to do so, is because the original Slade (if it had a straight frame) was astounding value for money, a really solid spec with all the features I wanted that was only matched by bikes twice the price. Also the retailer has been pretty good through all this.

They’ve offered a demo bike while this disaster gets sorted, I’m becoming increasingly doubtful I’ll get my own bike sorted before summer is half over.

The delays caused by Silverback have now dragged this debacle into Christmas and New Year, which means even more delays as I’m pretty sure Germany shuts down completely over the holidays. And this is a bike I bought way back in August, and have only ridden a very few times.

Here are the spec sheets of the two models for comparison:

December 2019 – March 2020

Evo very helpfully loaned me a demo bike until mine is back on the road. So over the the summer I’ve had “to put up with riding” a Trek Remedy – a long travel full suspension bike. The bike clearly has been pretty badly beat up, with one wheel replaced and (judging from the dent in the chainstay) a crankset replaced also – but it is still straighter than anything I’ve seen from Silverback.

It’s been great.

Thanks, Evo!

28/03/2020, update:

And this all gets even worse. This is just unbelievable.

Evo delivered my rebuilt bike on Wednesday, just hours before the NZ wide lockdown (no activity for the next 4 weeks, possibly longer). I can’t fault Evo for any of this, they have been absolutely superb and while things have taken longer than I’d like, that definitely isn’t Evo’s fault.

I’d describe this as a new bike, because although Silverback replaced the frame, Evo did the build over. That should have been straightforward, but due to Silverback being asleep at the wheel (I’m being charitable) the buildover also included new:

  • Complete SRAM NX 11-50 cassette, chain, derailleur
  • SRAM Dub bottom bracket, cranks and 32T chainring
  • Bontrager 31.6mm seat dropper post, cable and control

Silverback totally messed up here, not even realising the Slade and Sphere have different seat tubes (Slade is 30.9mm, Sphere is 31.6, most likely due to the thinner seat tube wall thickness on the Sphere).

Of the original Slade, only the wheels, brakes, forks, and handlebars are still being used (I already upgraded the seat and pedals).

Most of this has AFAIK been done at Evo’s cost, since Silverback would only agree to replace the frame, and after further discussion, to supply the inadequate Shimano 1×11 11-42T groupset.

Silverback’s position (as stated by email) is that they have supplied a better frame than the original Slade, so although the groupset isn’t anything like what I originally purchased, what’s the problem? They are looking at this from the viewpoint of costs to them, rather than how satisfied their customers are.

As you can see, the bike really does look great – I was able to take it for a ride down to Bluff Point at Pencarrow just before it rained on Friday. It is great on the gravel road, comfortable, fast and easy to ride; and pretty good on the hills around the south coast. The 50T gear makes for great climbing and the dropper post works really smoothly. The forks and hardtail are a significant compromise offroad compared to the Remedy I’ve been riding for the past 3 months (no surprises there), but it is still more than adequate for my needs, and this bike is much better on the gravel. The Splade as configured seems a really good compromise for what I use it for – just about perfect.

My only criticism after riding it for some time is that the short wheelbase, combined with the short chainstays and rearward seat position does give a pretty noticeable pitching motion when passing over humps and bumps, even on tarseal.

Looks great, doesn’t it? Silverback’s designers did a good job, I should be happy that the end result is so good – due in very large part to EVO’s involvement – and now I can move on and enjoy it.

Not so Fast:

Unbelievably, when assessing wheel alignment, Silverback sent a replacement frame that is far worse than either of the previous 2 Slades that I had; the wheels show a 2° misalignment of the headtube, and in the opposite direction to the Slade frames.

Great job, guys…SMH.

As you can see from the wheel alignment, this frame is all kinds of ugly. Even eyeballing the wheels is disconcerting, the alignment doesn’t make any sense.

When sighting the headset spacers and seat post from the front of the bike, the difference in angle between the two is clearly visible. They should always be parallel when viewed from the bike centreline.

A flat ruler when held against the seat post shows the headset to be at an angle relative to the seat post. Measuring this angle after importing the image into a CAD application shows the angle as being 2.9°

Note that we don’t know whether the seat post is actually correct relative to the frame, so not much can be read into this measurement, other than it follows all the other evident trends here, and not in a good way.

A straight edge should be able to contact all 4 points – front and rear points on the sidewall – of both tires if the frame is correct, but on this frame, a straight edge held against the rear tire lines up with the inside face of the front fork dropout – which means the wheels are offset at axle height by about 22mm! (rear tire is 67mm wide, the front dropout is 110; (110-67)/2=21.5mm) as well as having about 20mm of twist over the diameter of the front wheel rim.

Measuring the rim edges offset to a vertical laser plane gives the results shown above – the wheel rims are offset 20mm and the wheels are not parallel, by about 20mm over the rim diameter of 600mm, this will be approaching 2°.

Measuring the centreline of what would be the contact patch for the front and rear tires from the vertical laser plane gives a difference of 32mm! That is insane! Even the folding bike I had as a child was much better than this.

Note that the handlebars needed a wedge under one end to get the rear wheel vertical. Measuring the height of the handlebars from a horizontal laser plane with the bike set up as above, gives a difference of 25mm over the 710mm handlebar width. This is an error of 2°, which while not too much can be read into because we don’t know how exactly square the stem etc is, if we reasonably assume the stem is accurate, this correlates with the other measurements above.

This means that when riding the bike upright, one hand grip is 25mm higher than the other.

When comparing the seat post to the handlebars on the image above in a CAD application, the angle is shown as being 2.5°.

Running straight edges on both sides of the rear tire to the head tube shows that the seat tube is slightly off centre but the top flange of the head tube and the top tube is centred between the two straight edges; there are no gross or obvious issues. This would indicate the rear triangle and dropouts are probably correct and the error comes from a misaligned head tube.

Calculation using the measurements shown also indicates most of the error could be explained as a misaligned head tube – 30mm offset at the bottom of the front rim, 20mm offset at the axle, and 10mm offset at the top of the rim is in line with 0mm offset at the head tube, which is of course as it should be, and is what the straight edges show.

That calculates out to an angle of just over 1.9°, and I’ve seen reviewers get far more exercised about slacker or steeper head angles with less difference in spec than 0.5° in the forward/aft direction! If this was related to frame slackness a number like 1.9° would be polarising 🙂

Riding:

When riding the bike, there is a clear misalignment, quite visible when you know what to look for.

The bike is difficult to ride hands free; it falls to the left. When riding in a straight line, the front wheel is clearly steering to the right, and is angled to the centreline of the frame. Lining up and viewing straight down so both top and down tubes are about equally visible, the right shoulder of the tire approximately lines up with the right face of the top and down tubes, while the left shoulder of the tire projects about 1-2cm from the tube faces (and remember, this is a 2.8″ mid-fat tire).

It is clear that the bike frame is crabbing, which also implies the rear tire is scrubbing, which will cause excessive wear.

The only rational conclusion:

To me, this indicates that Silverback have no control over the quality of their product – I’ve had 3 essentially random frame samples and ALL of them – every single one – have unacceptable errors. Two from the same batch would be bad enough, but to then encounter a worse error on a (supposedly) much more expensive frame from a different model produced at a much later date is appalling. Even more so, given that they were supposed to check this frame before shipping as a replacement, and I explicitly raised that issue with them before they shipped it.

While they may be checking manufactured frames against tooling they clearly haven’t validated a fully built bike, or they would have seen that there is an error (either in design or manufacture). They may not know they are producing complete crap.

From my experience I would think every Sphere owner has real reason to be concerned, and retailers shouldn’t be happy, either – a misaligment of this magnitude may even be a safety issue. I have seen no evidence that owners of other Silverback models should have any confidence in the brand, either.

Not sure where to go from here, I’ll let Evo enjoy their time off (since they can’t do anything for the next month – or two – anyway) but we’ll see what Silverback have to say. If my next email to them doesn’t ruin their day, they aren’t paying attention.

Many months later (September 2020)…

Well, quite a lot has happened (yet at the same time, little has happened) over the past few months.

Silverback seemed a little embarrassed to have produced yet another bad frame (the Sphere) and had said back in March, that they would discuss internally. The result was that they would send yet another frame, but would not elaborate or go into any detail as to what they were actually sending. Then due to the pandemic, DHL completely stopped shipping to NZ, and although alternate methods were available, it seems that thinking outside the box isn’t something that Silverback is keen on doing – I had received an unrelated package from Germany during this time, it took about 10 days via UPS.

When DHL eventually resumed shipping, I alerted Silverback and they sent back a tracking number.

Shipping took about 3-4 weeks, and the package arrived in the state shown below. The box had been opened by Deutsche Post for inspection, and hadn’t been repackaged correctly. It had then been crushed and torn in transit, with some quite large openings.

There was a DUB BB and spacers in a box inside the package, the SRAM box these were originally in appeared to have been ripped open for inspection, then left open during the remainder of shipping. I have no idea whether the fact that two of the spacers were threaded on the BB is significant, and nor do I know if all the other spacers were there or if some were lost in transit.

Also loose in the large package was a single head tube top bearing, with no sign of the corresponding lower bearing, which would easily have been able to fall out of the package. Neither was there any documentation to explain what was including in the original shipment, or why.

The frame that Silverback sent looks great!

This is closer to the original 2018 Slade Comp than the Sphere was, but with a currently fashionable slack and long frame. This has internal cable routing and a decent chainstay guard, threaded BB, ISCG mounts and low standover. It weighs about 2.36kg with the brake line, derailleur cable outer, rear axle and chainstay protector. I’m really looking forward to riding the final result, I think it will be a significant improvement from my original purchase – IF IT IS STRAIGHT, of course.

The 120mm fork from the original Slade Comp appears to be roughly compatible with the 140mm fork that the Slade Trail would normally have been built with, having roughly the same crown to axle length, and similar offset.

The NX crankset should be compatible if the right combination of spacers are used on the shaft, which from the SRAM documentation appears to be a single outbord 4.5mm spacer on the drive side. (https://www.sram.com/globalassets/document-hierarchy/user-manuals/sram-mtb/drivetrain/95-6118-021-000-rev-a-dub-mtb-and-road-cranksets-and-bottom-brackets.pdf )

However the seatpost size is now the same size as the original Slade Comp, and smaller than the current seatpost fitted to the Splade, so EVO have to either find the original seatpost, or get Silverback to supply yet another replacement – Silverback should have fitted the correct seatpost before shipping the frame.

So now everything is back at the shop, this is the second buildover and the fourth frame from Silverback. Counting the demo bikes from EVO, I’m now on to my 5th bike in the past year. While this is all a pain, looking at the upside, it is a great way to try several different bikes over a year. 🙂

Geometry Comparison

The following is a table showing the main geometry attributes for the three models of frame supplied by Silverback. I’ve taken the liberty of adding attributes for frame error (this is almost certainly all head tube misalignment) and for contact patch error.

I’ve made allowance for the different size tires, but have assumed the forks are roughly equivalent.

2018 Slade Comp (M)Sphere Expert (M)Slade Trail (M)
Frame Error~1˚ – 1.5˚~2˚ – 2.5˚0˚
Contact Patch Error~15, 20mm*~32mm*0mm
Head Tube Angle68.5˚68˚66˚
Seat Tube Angle73.5˚73˚76˚
Reach418.7421440
Chainstay Length445422430
BB Height299315303*
Wheelbase113811211156
Head Tube Length9090110
Stack612611.8634.9
Seat Tube C/T440440420
Top Tube600608610
*2x frame
samples, error
same direction
*error opposite
direction to
Slade Comp
frames
* allows for
27.5×2.8 tire
(bike spec with
29×2.6 tires)
Geometry comparison between the three models of frame delivered

Of particular interest is that the newer frame has more “modern” geometry. The seat tube is steeper, by 2.5˚, and the head tube angle decreased from 68.5˚ to 68˚ on the Sphere, and then to 66˚ on the Slade Trail.

Wheelbase decreased with the Sphere, then increased with the Slade Trail.

A comment about Silverback:

It is hard present Silverback in a positive light over this disaster. Sure, things sometimes go wrong, and how they are dealt with separates the decent brands from all the rest, and Silverback have at least been responsive.

They have sent 2 frames, so credit there for sure – and if the end result is a straight bike, even though it has taken more than a year, I’ll be very happy and very appreciative of the end result, though Evo probably deserves more credit for their part, than does Silverback.

But this was a real PR opportunity for Silverback, and they missed it. I was dealing with the Head of International Communications, (who also happens to be the founder’s partner) and yet there was only perfunctory minimal communication happening: how hard would it have been to include documentation in the package, or a note thanking everyone involved for their patience, or some Silverback branded gear like a hat or a T shirt? They’d even benefit from some random promotion from their continued stuff ups here.

They seem to be addressing this from their viewpoint – how to minimise effort and direct costs to themselves, whereas I think they should have been looking at the best way to keep a customer happy by exceeding their expectations.

Silverback have won several design awards for their products in recent years, yet they unknowingly ship bikes with twisted frames. I’ve been involved with design and architecture over the years, so my skeptical view of how awards work is confirmed here – they are a marketing tool only, and mean almost nothing, which is sad for those who put in the hard work designing and building the product in question.

Silverback is also not alone in using ISO 4210 as a marketing tool, whereas in fact it really only establishes the bare minimum requirements for safety aspects of bikes in general, for example toe clearances to front wheel, or fitting reflectors, but it doesn’t specify acceptable limits for frame parameters – such as alignment.

Going forward – and this is pure speculation on my part – I’d have concerns as to how Silverback (and other low tier manufacturers) are going to cope with quality issues. The world is simultaneously facing huge demand for bikes of all kinds, as well as a lack of manufacturing capacity for componentry (as evidenced by the arrival of previously unheard of brands appearing on the market). I can easily see this leading to retailers having to take whatever they can get – they need some kind of product to move to stay in business – and not enforcing their leverage to hold manufacturers to account.

Another demo bike 🙂

Meanwhile, Evo have loaned me another demo bike – this time a Trek Fuel EX, which is interesting. This isn’t a bike I’d ever consider buying, but I’m more than happy to take it for a few rides. As you can see, this bike has had a hard life. Apparently it was (as was the Remedy I was previously riding) an ex-rental fleet bike.

The frame has a serious dent in the top tube, a stuffed soggy seatpost (I had to use a hose clamp and piece of inner tube to clamp it in a usable position), and pretty poor brakes – the Trek Remedy (with 27.5″ wheels) was a much better bike to ride IMHO. Please, if there is a problem when you are loaned a demo bike, let the shop know when there are problems with it – otherwise they won’t know what needs to be fixed.

Meanwhile, the bike is great to get out and about on, despite it’s shortcomings, and I’m really appreciative of the loan of it.

So, now we wait to see if Silverback managed to go 4 for 4 defective frames, or the best possible, but still completely unacceptable failure rate of 75% – either outcome is just appallingly shocking and should never have happened.

A week later…

I had a brief conversation with Evo, and they seem to think that the buildover is generally going OK, but did run into a hiccup – the brake line fitted in the frame is incompatible with the original Slade brake components (don’t you love standards?), and the original Slade Comp line (which was moved to the Sphere) is too short for the internal routing. So we are waiting for a replacement line.

Meanwhile… 🙂

The End Result? WOW!

22/10/2020:

Evo delivered the re-rebuilt bike yesterday – and it looks great! Visual inspection shows the wheels are correctly aligned and so the frame is probably acceptably straight.

It is straight enough for there to be no meaningful errors when measuring offsets from a laser plane, and in reality the trueness of the wheels is a bigger factor than frame error seems to be – which is as it should be.

I like the move back to a threaded BB (73mm BSA, I think), as the Slade Trail doesn’t creak as the Splade one did, occasionally, with the press fit BB. Evo also re-fitted the original Sector dropper post (which I would rate as better than the Bontrager, despite having only 120mm of travel), and fortunately left the Bontrager control on the bars – this is a far more solid lever than the original that came with the Slade Comp.

Weight with pedals is about 15kg, similar to the Splade configuration. Now I just need some decent weather to take this for a ride.

Silverback achieved a score of 75% defective frames, for a sample of all the frames I’ve owned here. That is probably reasonably considered to be an epic fail on their part. At least they did eventually (it took 14 months) get the problem sorted, though only with Evo stepping up and exceeding all expectations.

A quick ride yesterday down to the lighthouse was a lot of fun – this bike is comfortable, fast, and best of all, STRAIGHT! Rides easily hands free, which was something no Silverback frame I’ve previously had was able to do.

Surprisingly, tire noise on seal and gravel is noticeably less – the tires aren’t scrubbing as they were on the Splade. Maybe tire wear will improve, too.

The geometry is significantly different to the previous Sphere frame, and far superior. The longer wheelbase and more forward seat position means the bike doesn’t pitch and buck as badly as the Sphere did, even when riding over bumps on tarseal. A huge improvement.

The slightly longer wheelbase and the head angle is definitely better off road and the mid-fat tires just float over the areas of fine gravel often deposited on the road by storms. It is comfortable, capable and fun.

It is a vast improvement on the original and I cannot imagine a better outcome. I’m all set with a great bike for summer. It also happens to be a pretty decent platform for some future upgrades 🙂

Here’s the Slade at Bluff Point, with the already upgraded front brake disc…

And here at the S.S. Paiaka wreck:

Conversion to tubeless:

The original bike was described as “tubeless ready” and now that the frame issues seem to have been resolved, I went ahead with tubeless conversion. The rims were already taped, but particularly on the front rim, the inner tube had abraded the tape on the edges of some of the spoke holes – easily fixed with a layer of electrical insulation tape over the holes, and a layer of Gorilla tape over the existing tape. The front tyre was relatively easy to seat, but the rear tyre bead was (despite having had a tube in it for over a year) quite badly kinked and difficult to seat, even with an air compressor.

Once seated, the tyres don’t seem to leak, at all – they hold pressure for weeks; and the sidewalls are pretty beefy and don’t weep sealant as some of the lighter tyres I’ve seen tend to do.

The original tubes fitted were 27.5×3.0, with brass valve stems, and weighed 800g – so some considerable weight saving there, even after adding sealant through the valve stems.

Here’s the bike with an upgraded rear disc, after the conversion to tubeless. The bike now has a 203mm rotor on the front, and 180mm (the old front rotor) on the rear. This seems to be a cost effective upgrade for the entry level brakes fitted, without having to upgrade the entire brake system at this stage. With both brake levers moved inboard (in fact the front brake is inboard of the NX shifter control), and some adjustment to lever reach, one finger braking is easy and feels really good.

I don’t think any other upgrades are worthwhile, for now, though a short stem might be inexpensive and interesting.

Here’s the bike at Baring Head, now with 785mmx25mm rise Spank Spoon bars. These are quite a bit wider and very slightly higher than the 720mm Sector bars fitted originally.

Out and about – a trip away with the Slade Trail:

A recent opportunity to travel without our greyhounds for a couple of weeks was an excellent time to take the Slade on some interesting trails. Traveling with the bike was surprisingly easy, barely an inconvenience. We have a late model Lafesta/Premacy which, with one back seat folded down easily and securely fits bikes upright with their front wheel removed – and in fact, since I bought another bike while we were away, even fitting 2 bikes in the car was not a problem.

Trail riding around Taupo

I was lucky enough to be able to ride the trail from Whangamata Rd to Kawakawa Bay (Orakau trail) and then the K2K trail over the headland to Kinloch. Even in midwinter, this is a great ride – I only met 5 other bikes over the entire trail.

Apart from a couple of trees that had fallen over the track due to recent extreme weather, the track was in fantastic condition, fast and flowing, damp but not too wet, and mostly downhill all the way to the lake. The bush is particularly great as you approach the lake, and there are a couple of really deep chasms that have bridges over them which are worth stopping and looking at.

The Silverback is ideally suited to this kind of trail riding, and was very comfortable, quiet and fast.

The K2K starts with a climb for the first 2.4km. There was some comment made to me by a couple of other cyclists about it being quite steep, and that I’d need the granny gear: I’ve also seen YouTube videos which also indicate the climb is quite steep. Bollocks – the climb really isn’t at all hard, I didn’t need granny gear and in fact it is nowhere near as steep as some of the rides down around Pencarrow.

The view from the top is spectacular, with rewarewa poking up through the bush canopy all around.

Ride down to Kinloch is again easy and smooth, and perfect for the Silverback.

Following day I did the ride from Taupo to Aratiatia and back via Huka Falls. It was OK, in some parts – particularly the redwoods and pine forest – but a lot of the trails run through scrubby farm perimeter or on gravel roads surrounded by blackberry. Trail was quite busy with families as this was during the school holidays.

Karangahake Gorge

A couple of nights staying at Athenree was ideal for the chance to ride through the Karangahake Gorge Rail Trail. Despite its popularity I didn’t particularly like most of it – the initial ride from Waihi is through farmland beside the river – pleasant enough. Soon that changed to blackberry or swampy areas with warning signs about toxic materials.

While the Silverback was OK to ride on this kind of trail, it really is overkill since the trail could be ridden on almost anything with wheels.

There is a very picturesque cutting just before Waikino, which is where the trail does start to get more interesting.

The Victoria Battery is quite spectacular and a great example of ambition and a destructive attitude to the environment. Gold mining is extremely toxic, and on this scale would have had a significant effect on the river below it.

One of the highlights is the transition across a rail bridge straight into a 1km long tunnel, then straight on to another bridge at the other end of the tunnel.

I decided not to ride the rest of the way to Paeroa, since it was again mostly farmland, instead deciding to ride back through the most interesting part of the trail to Waikino to be be picked up there.

A couple of nights in Turangi was ideal for a quick ride up the Tongariro River trail and back – early morning meant there wasn’t too many people about. The trail is more suited to the Silverback, a narrow winding track through mostly manuka and kanuka. Very necessary to watch the wide bars on such a narrow track, especially at speed.

Having ridden the Silverback on a wider range of trails now, I definitely think it is a superb bike – easily as good a hardtail as I’m ever likely to ride. Its strengths are on flowing bush trails with ascents and descents; it is somewhat wasted and slow on flat gravel roads and rail trails.

This suits my preferences, as I really enjoyed the bush trails, but not the rail trails particularly.

The bike was completely reliable and gave no problems. The bike has no rattles or knocks, and runs almost completely silently. I’m really impressed with it – I’ve got it configured exactly the way I think it should be, although a future upgrade would probably be different tires.

An (almost) new addition

While I was away on the trip above, the opportunity to buy a barely used (just 4 rides) Giant Trance X 29/2 at a considerable discount (about $1000) arose. Since this bike was one I’d been considering as a full suspension upgrade, and is currently only available by preorder with delivery in November (perhaps), and I was in a position to collect the bike with minimal hassle, I now have 2 decent bikes.

The Trance is about 4x the price of the Silverback, and maybe 10-20% better. I like the better forks, comfortable seat, amazing brakes and the rear suspension – but it took some attention to get this sorted.

For example, even though this bike had been barely used – it was perfectly clean and hadn’t even needed to have the chain cleaned or lubed – it had a surprising number of issues.

The brakes! The pads seem to have not been bedded in when new and despite everything I tried, I could not get them to grip or stop squealing. I replaced the pads with GPVN organic pads from Outspoken Cycles, and now they are silent and very responsive.

Apart from a couple of warranty issues that I’ll need to get sorted ASAP, most of the other issues were just related to setup. For example tire pressures were set at 8psi; both suspension pressures were way too high (the previous owner was about the same build as I am, so maybe they were expecting to be riding big hits); the brake lever clamps were set against the ends of the grips (which is way too close).

The derailleur had not been set up, at all. The B screw was completely backed out, and had never been set (the paint on the mount had not even been marked by the screw end) – so the cage was way forward, which meant the chain was so slack that it almost dragged on the chainstay protector in the top two gears. The tension switch on the clutch was set to OFF, which would not have been helping, either. For some reason, the NZ models of this bike all seem to have MRP bash guards and chain guides, this may have hidden how slack the chain actually was. Additionally, the limit screws had not been set – in fact the low limit screw was set so far inboard that the only thing stopping the chain from falling into the spokes was the cable tension – this is not the correct way to do this. Fortunately the dork disc was still fitted at this stage.

Even with the derailleur set correctly and running quietly, shifting is pretty clunky compared to the NX groupset on the Silverback, for example. It is possible, I guess, that this might be due to Giant fitting a KMC chain instead of the Shimano HG+ chain. Got a M7100 chain coming.

The warranty issues are a really loose left fork bushing, so the bike feels as if it has a loose headset especially on downhills, and rattling loose cage mount rivnuts. Neither problem should exist on a bike that costs this much.

The bike is of course nice to ride – the suspension works amazingly well; the groupset is OK, but not as good as the NX on the Silverback, and for a stock seat, the Romero saddle is very comfortable – though my Ergon seat on the Silverback is better on longer rides.

The bike has 35mm alloy bars, and on rough ground – especially with high suspension and tire pressures – are absolutely brutal. Got some OneUp carbon bars coming.

Powering the Z-Cam E1

Some comments about powering this camera.

TLDR: use only high quality and low resistance cables to power this camera reliably (or at all).

There are several cables available online that work with this camera, some of the ones I’ve seen recommended are relatively expensive. However, there are cheaper choices that will work, two of them were tested here. One of the best cables was only about $3.40, it certainly not necessary to spend $20 for a functional cable.

Unfortunately there are very many more cheaper cables that will NOT work with the camera – the Thin Cable (2) sample tested is fairly representative.

It is entirely feasible to make your own cable, the parts are inexpensive and you can then make cables with thick conductors and no longer than you need, which will improve performance.

The camera is more forgiving of poor cables if the battery is in place, especially at startup. However unless your power supply and cable are capable of supplying more than 0.800A at idle, or 1.300A while recording, the battery will eventually discharge.

For most of the testing I used a Wavlink powered USB hub, and you can see from the table that even at high current drains the voltage output form the unit did not drop below acceptable limits.

The Smooth Q gimbal is also capable of powering this camera (without battery, a useful weight saving).

Table

Z Cam PSU

Notes:

  • LCD power drain not measured (all done with display on)
  • Lumix 45-150 lens current draw is approximately 0.100A
  • Estimate resistance of test equipment (meter and leads) to be about 0.250Ω and at the low voltages and high currents involved with USB, this can be significant.
  • Resistance of link used to measure voltage at camera port for cable tests not known and may have an effect.
  • Voltage measured at camera port with multimeter or USB tester.
  • Use of a pass-through USB tester to indicate voltage and current severely affected the camera performance, not recommended. Using a USB tester to measure voltage at the camera port was fine though.
  • Instances where camera failed with no battery and the DIY Cable (3) – camera will run if battery is present for startup and subsequently removed. Where Thin Cable (2) was tested, camera would not start under any circumstances.
  • Charging with Thin Cable (2) was limited to 250mA
  • The Z Cam PSU shows very stable voltage output under load.

The testing setup:

All testing was done using a Wavlink powered USB hub, except for the last table which shows the Z Cam PSU performance for reference.

For measuring the current drain of the camera in various scenarios, 2 multimeters and a very short cable was used, configured as shown.

P2200516

For measuring cable performance with the camera in various scenarios, a Keweisi USB Detector was used. This was wired with a short cable inserted into the path near the camera port and is accurate enough to show what was happening. The configuration here shows the DIY Cable (3) being used while recording 4K30 with the battery inserted.

P2200521

 

The cables used (links may not work as they age):

Fat Cable (1)

Fat Cable (1)

Search Ebay

Fat Cable (4)

Fat Cable (4)

Search Ebay

Thin Cable (2)

Thin Cable (2)

Search Ebay

DIY Cable (3)

DIY cable USB

Search Ebay

DIY Cable tail

Search Ebay

DIY cable balun

Search Ebay

 

 

 

 

Giant Trance x 29 2 2021

An (almost) new addition

While I was away a trip in July, the opportunity to buy a barely used (just 4 rides) Giant Trance X 29/2 at a considerable discount (about $1000) arose. Since this bike was one I’d been considering as a full suspension upgrade, and is currently only available by preorder with delivery in November (perhaps), and I was in a position to collect the bike with minimal hassle, I now have 2 decent bikes.

The Trance is about 4x the price of the Silverback, and maybe 10-20% better. I like the better forks, comfortable seat, amazing brakes and the rear suspension – but it took some attention to get this sorted.

Identifying and Resolving Initial Issues

For example, even though this bike had been barely used – it was perfectly clean and hadn’t even needed to have the chain cleaned or lubed – it had a surprising number of issues.

The brakes! The pads seem to have not been bedded in when new and despite everything I tried, I could not get them to grip or stop squealing. I replaced the pads with GPVN organic pads from Outspoken Cycles, and now they are silent and very responsive.

Apart from a couple of warranty issues that I’ll need to get sorted ASAP, most of the other issues were just related to setup. For example tire pressures were set at 8psi; both suspension pressures were way too high (the previous owner was about the same build as I am, so maybe they were expecting to be riding big hits); the brake lever clamps were set against the ends of the grips (which is way too close).

The derailleur had not been set up, at all. The B screw was completely backed out, and had never been set (the paint on the mount had not even been marked by the screw end) – so the cage was way forward, which meant the chain was so slack that it almost dragged on the chainstay protector in the top two gears. The tension switch on the clutch was set to OFF, which would not have been helping, either. For some reason, the NZ models of this bike all seem to have MRP bash guards and chain guides, this may have hidden how slack the chain actually was. Additionally, the limit screws had not been set – in fact the low limit screw was set so far inboard that the only thing stopping the chain from falling into the spokes was the cable tension – this is not the correct way to do this. Fortunately the dork disc was still fitted at this stage.

Even with the derailleur set correctly and running quietly, shifting is pretty clunky compared to the NX groupset on the Silverback, for example. It is possible, I guess, that this might be due to Giant fitting a KMC chain instead of the Shimano HG+ chain. Got a M7100 chain coming.

The warranty issues are a really loose left fork bushing, so the bike feels as if it has a loose headset especially on downhills, and rattling loose cage mount rivnuts. Neither problem should exist on a bike that costs this much.

The bike is of course nice to ride – the suspension works amazingly well; the groupset is OK, but not as good as the NX on the Silverback, and for a stock seat, the Romero saddle is very comfortable – though my Ergon seat on the Silverback is better on longer rides.

The bike has 35mm alloy bars, and on rough ground – especially with high suspension and tire pressures – are absolutely brutal. Got some OneUp carbon bars coming.

Getting out and about

Swapping out the bars was straightforward, I’ve left the bars at their full 800mm width for now. I think the bars may be slightly more comfortable than the Giant bars, but haven’t really ridden much where the difference would be really noticeable yet.

Did a quick ride up to Bluff Point, and another to Baring Head – the slog back on this bike into a stiff northerly was fairly uncomfortable, especially on the stock seat.

Caroma Urbane Toilet Suite review

It is frustrating when purchases that should be straight forward are just basically, crap. This is particularly true of the Cleanflush version of the Caroma Urbane suite.

Normally a toilet suite has a couple of basic functions – the cistern has to hold a predetermined amount of water that is isolated from the mains water supply until it is required; then that water is used to remove the contents of the bowl without contaminating the environment around it.

The Caroma Urbane Cleanflush fails to do both of these, and fails miserably.

First, the cistern:

After a straightforward installation (on Christmas Eve, no less 🙂 on returning home after visiting family for dinner, the bathroom floor was soaking wet under the pan – and since this is a timber floor with steel nails there was considerable damage from black staining, too. Fortunately this is a ground floor installation, or the damage would have been a lot worse.

What followed over the next days was a slow process of figuring out what the problem was. What a great way to spend Christmas – you’re welcome, Caroma…

Since there are so many connections in the bottom of the cistern, it is logical to eliminate these first. This is harder than it seems, since any leak can travel across the top surface of the pan under the cistern, and then appear at a distance from its origin. For example, water dripping down a fixing bolt thread, or the inlet hose, could originate from somewhere else.

Examination showed that the fixing holes in the cistern base are severely misaligned with the corresponding holes in the pan, but by a similar amount, and only in the front-back direction. I believe this is a design error. As a result of this, the rubber washers that fit under the plastic nuts are offset from and barely cover the edge of the fixing holes – see the photos below.

The pencil mark here shows the edge of the washer, and how close it is to the edge of the hole.

While it is highly likely that at one stage this may have been a cause of one of the leaks, with more careful assembly this may have been resolved, very difficult to say with certainty. Further investigation showed something else.

After removing excess water from the pan top and drying everything out, very careful (and lucky) examination showed a drip on the bottom of the cistern that didn’t seem to be associated with any of the penetrations. Drying it all out (again) and then examining the cistern showed a couple of defects.

In the left rear corner, inside the cistern is a couple of deep splits, shown below.

However, this is well away from where the leak appears to be happening, and there is no evidence of damp on the outside of that corner of the cistern.

On the bottom of the cistern is another defect, exactly where the dripping appeared to be located.

This was clearly still quite damp in the area of the defect, even though everywhere else was dry.

Inside the cistern was a similar defect, matching the same location:

Seems pretty conclusive that Caroma’s QA is rubbish, and a leaking cistern and floor damage is the result. This should be a direct warranty replacement, though obviously that isn’t going to happen at this time of the year.

Since I didn’t really want our visitors flushing our brand new toilet with a bucket, drying everything out and coating the inside with sealant got us back up and running, but really? This is a >$1,000 toilet!

Flushing performance.

The good news is, the contents of the bowl are removed, though there seems to be little difference between half and full flush, and even full flush varies in duration considerably. Cistern fills quickly and quietly, though initially it did burp a little as the inlet valve closed, possibly due to trapped air perhaps.

OK, what about the pan?

This is the Cleanflush model, which doesn’t have a box rim. Have a look at these images.

As you can see, flushing covers the underside of the lid, and top of the seat with water! This is so bad, that if the lid is open, sometimes water splashes out on to the floor, or your feet – which is quite disconcerting. The toilet is supposed to safely remove the contents of the pan, not spread them around the bathroom!

Here’s the underside of the seat, which is thoroughly wetted. When lifted, the lid and seat are so wet that excess water runs down and sits at the back edge of the pan, around the hinge area, which seems unhygienic.

Sometimes, water even escapes under the seat and runs down the outside on the front of the pan. On a modern toilet, this is unacceptable.

Summary:

The cistern as supplied, leaked badly and damaged the room it was installed into. This was caused by a defect that competent QA would have rejected. There are other defects in the cistern (splits, hole alignment, flush mechanism) that didn’t contribute to the leak but should not appear in a premium product.

The cistern would appear to be a clear warranty issue.

The Cleanflush pan does not work as advertised and does not retain the contents when flushing the pan.

The issues with the pan are so serious I would wonder how this is certified for use in NZ, and whether MBIE should be taking an interest…

February 2021 update:

Early in the new year I contacted Caroma using their online contact form, and to no one’s surprise there was no response at all. Companies shouldn’t bother with online contact forms if they have no intention or systems to manage them.

This Wednesday I visited Plumbing World (the retailer) and their reaction, especially when they realised this article was online was reasonably fast – they contacted Caroma very soon after my visit. I was expecting a visit from a Caroma rep because this was not going to be a straightforward repair. I had a call from Brockelsby Plumbing – the Caroma service plumber – that afternoon; I wasn’t particularly happy about that and wondered how seriously Caroma were going to take all these issues.

Brockelsby must have realised this was more than a simple repair and kicked it back to Caroma, because the website traffic stats show multiple visits from both Brockelsby and Caroma, and a Caroma rep did call in on Friday.

Paul immediately saw the problem, was particularly concerned about the splashing (as he should be) and authorised a replacement of everything, and a work order for Murray (the original installer) instead of their service plumber. I’m pretty happy about that outcome – though the offer of a discount back through the retailer would have gone some way to compensating for the damage, hassle and huge amount of work required to identify the problems.

So we’ll see what happens next. The cistern leak is an easy fix, but the alignment of the holes and excessive splashing from the pan are both issues I’m less certain are fixable.

It is interesting that as the pan has aged, the splashing has reduced considerably, but is is still quite disconcerting to feel water droplets on your legs and feet when flushing 😦